Torn between two worlds

The dissonance between what I see on my phone and what is in front of me is sometimes disorientating, says Hussain Haidry 

A Muslim man is brutally thrashed by a Hindu mob during the 2020 Delhi communal riots (Photo: Getty Images)
A Muslim man is brutally thrashed by a Hindu mob during the 2020 Delhi communal riots (Photo: Getty Images)

Hussain Haidry

I just got off a long phone call with a friend who was telling me how, over the last few days, he has been feeling a constant weight on his chest due to relentless anti-Muslim news. I told him that I have begun to feel the veins bulging on my forehead due to the stress, and that I have barely slept in the last few weeks.

I told him that a few months ago, I was thinking of going to a psychiatrist, but I didn’t because the psychiatrist wanted a friend or relative’s number as a reference, and I felt ashamed to ask someone. So now, I suggested, the two of us could both go visit a psychiatrist and give each other’s names as reference.

My friend said he couldn’t afford a psychiatrist. In my mind, I quickly calculated that while I could afford a psychiatrist’s fees and the medication for a few months, eventually the cost might be equal to my monthly rent… so maybe I would just have to do without.

In the last six months, I have written around seven or eight new poems, but I have not put them out on social media. Everywhere I look I see ‘relatable content’ and wonder if I might end up sharing ‘negative thoughts’ through my poems.

I also write five to six tweets every day, but I do not post them. Because I fear the reactions—not of the State or my probable future assaulters—but of my friends and colleagues who will judge me, and who I might accidentally end up offending, which could lead to the unnecessary loss of work opportunities for me or social ostracisation.

Last year, I was nominated for an IIFA Award for Adapted Screenplay. In the past month, five of my songs were released. But I did not post so much as an Instagram Story even, about any of that, because no time feels like an appropriate time to talk about any of my achievements in the ever-flowing stream of anti-Muslim hate.

I watch almost every hate video that calls for the killing of Muslims on Twitter, because I do. I also watch how people are trying to save missing cats on Instagram, because I must. This digital ordeal is a part of my everyday life, along with cooking my meals, cleaning my house, attending meetings, and doing my work.

I have to switch off my phone for a day or two when I have to write screenplays or dialogues, because I know that watching one video or one hateful tweet will throw me off into a vortex of shock, outrage, anger, helplessness, and I will go numb.

I tell myself, I am a professional writer, and my emotions are partially on hire when someone pays me to write—it will be grossly unprofessional of me to misallocate my emotions elsewhere.

If, in an afternoon meeting, I am asked to write an edgy, Hinglish, funny, romantic song for a duet, then I must comply and deliver—for it should be of no concern to anyone whatsoever that the very same morning, I have watched videos of a policeman shooting three Muslim men in a train, and read about the hundreds of Muslim homes getting bulldozed.

I have made peace with the fact that these everyday spectacles of violence and genocidal chants are coffee-break conversations at some of my workplaces. Most of the well-meaning people begin with “It’s gotten so bad, ya,” and end with, “Chalo, let’s get back to work.”

I am unable to tell them that because it has gotten so bad, sometimes I’m quite unable to get back to work. But work I must—and what can these well-meaning people do now to undo what so many of them did back in 2014, anyway?

This dissonance between what I see on my phone and what is in front of me is sometimes disorientating. When I go to an expensive café or restaurant, the world is not burning. When I go to a shopping mall, nobody is killing anyone.

When I am inside a plush office space, there are no mobs screaming terror chants. E-mails, air-conditioners, bank transfers—everything that runs the modern capitalistic world appears to be functioning just fine.

This makes me question myself every day: which of these two worlds is real? And if both of them are real, when will they collide? And if they collide, to what lengths will I go to stay alive? I do not know the answers to any of those questions.

I feel in my bones the burden of politeness I’m compelled to carry despite the madness of the daily violence that has bloodied my eyes. I’m deeply disenchanted with the empathy of most of those who may want to listen.

So even if I did know the answers to any of those questions, I would have ended up just smiling politely, and said, “Chalo, let’s get back to work.”

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