I passed my passport over to him at the counter. He took a good look at it and then looked at me. He didn’t stamp my passport, instead he said, “Take the exit corridor, the officer there will guide you further.” I didn’t like the tone in his voice, but I didn’t have any other option. As for now, I had to take his word. As I walked over to exit door where a queue had now formed, I looked over to the other passengers making their way to the luggage counters their eyes momentarily resting towards the direction of the exit corridor. A handful of heavily guarded army officers were stationed along with an immigration officer specially assigned to the “exit corridor.” I joined the queue. The man in front of me turned and said, “They are going to kill us all like how they killed the Jews, and the rest of the nation is just going to watch us all get murdered.” Seeing no response from my end he looked away. A sudden gloom took over me. Maybe he was right, but I hoped otherwise.
It was true, this was not the right time to come back to this God-forsaken nation, but I haven’t heard from my family in months. The last I heard, they were taken to an unknown concentration camp somewhere in India. I just had to come. I just had to.
The exit corridor immigration officer examined my passport. He stamped my passport and said, “Move along.” Mustering all my courage, and as politely I could, I asked, “Sir, could you please tell me where this corridor leads to?” I didn’t get any reply from him, but instead I heard over my shoulder, “Move along, you Muslim fuck.” The army officer who took the pain to answer me hit my shoulder with the edge of his Ak-47 rifle. I didn’t fight back. I didn’t say a word back. I looked at him like a hurt mute animal. He then pushed me through the exit to a corridor that had no windows. A straight path that led to another room guarded by another set of armed officers they didn’t offer any explanations either to anyone who came out through the exit door. It was truly an exit corridor, but an exit to where? They grouped us men to one group, women and children to another. They locked us up in the specially designed holding cells with nothing more than one filthy closet dug on the ground with no privacy even for women.
All Muslims who came in from the flights from all over the world were now being detained in holding cells, not just here at this airport but all over the nation. There was tension building among the people at this point, loads of questions and uncertainties. We were made to wait. With more flights arriving and more people being sent to the holding cells, all of them confused asking us, who were previously held there, questions to which we held no answer. A cloud of uncertainty filled the air, which now reached a tripping point with some losing their temper demanding answers only to be ignored totally by the guards stationed. They started emptying the holding cells towards the evening. They made us walk in a long file to the open grounds of the airport. We were given neither water nor food. I felt a pang of hunger mixed with dread, and the combination wreaking my already tired legs. Each step ahead felt heavy. I prayed for strength, but I got none.
We were told to board the trucks that were already waiting. More army officers poured in to control the crowd. They were rude. There was a lack of respect even towards women. There were children crying, women wailing, and men arguing. I stood by the sidelines watching the mayhem unfold. There were slaps and heavy blows dealt to those who resisted. Shots were fired into the air. All those who protested fell back in line quietly and quickly. I stood watching all of this thinking, show your might and men would naturally crumble and bow down before arms, accept defeat without putting up even a fight, but I am a coward too. I didn’t protest either. As I boarded an already overcrowded truck, I couldn’t stop thinking of what must have become of my family. The thought kept coming back to me. That last phone call my father had made telling me that the whole nation has gone insane, that all our assets were frozen, that every Muslim, men, women and child in the neighborhoods were being told to report to certain locations within the city, and that those who failed to show up would be forced. My father being a peaceful man who avoided any form of unpleasant confrontations decided to take the family and go to the said location. I never heard from them again.
My initial rage at being manhandled, my initial disbelief that this was happening to me, the shock was wearing off and was being replaced by a sense of harsh reality. It was waking up within me. Coming back was surely a mistake, but staying away and not making an effort to find my family, a sin. I began to worry deeply what must have become of them. I began to wonder what would become of me. The women, men, and the older children were separated had all finally boarded. Echoes of crying and wailing; I made myself as numb I could. Our hand luggage was taken away. My passport now held a seal that read Passport Invalid all this because I was born a Muslim in the wrong era and in the wrong country. The trucks started moving followed by a squad of army men in a jeep.
I felt like an outcast. I am an outcast. After 15 years of right-wing Hindu radical democratically elected political party rule, it had finally come down to this, the rounding up of the muslim population of India in the last few months. They call us outsiders. They say we don’t belong to this soil, because Muslims came to India with the Mughal invaders. Their political logic states that the descendants of those Muslim invaders who stayed behind are still invaders, that they don’t belong to India, that we don’t belong to India, that I don’t belong to India, that we Muslims lack patriotism because we are not of this nation, that we only work against the nation that we only bring destruction and divide. They say we are a burden to the nation, they say we do nothing other than steal the livelihoods of the indigenous Indian people. So they say we should be rounded up and be forced to pay the nation back what they say was rightfully theirs. They say we should be sent to concentration camps where we can be then used for the benefit of the nation.
I have read somewhere that history repeats itself often. Here was proof and this was happening right before my own eyes. The man next to me said, “Wiki Leaks say the excess work force is being executed. Can you believe this?!” I didn’t want to listen any further. I didn’t want to believe in those rumors. A part of me just didn’t want to believe.
It was still evening. The truck carrying us all cramped up together moved along a steady pace. Every street held saffron flags held higher than that of the nation. So much for their patriotism! Destroyed mosques being rebuild as temples under the pretext that all the mosques were build on top of ancient Hindu temples. Is it true that you pay for the sins of your father?! If that is so, what generation of the perpetrators of today will pay for their sins of today?! My nation has always been divided into economically liberated slaves and the economically dependent slaves. The former afflicted by the disease of apathy. It’s the easily deluded latter that are easily swayed who are so easily provoked and used. When a nation starves spiritually, it is easy to plant the seed of discord, and it has been planted deep and watered well. The children on the streets threw stones at our truck, and many bystanders were egging them on, calling us names. I looked into the eyes of my countrymen for help, for an ounce of hope, but they looked the other way. There was fear in the eyes of my countrymen. I saw defeat there. I saw shame there, maybe when they looked into my eyes, they saw the same too, my fear, my defeat, and my shame.
It was night now. The truck had been traveling for a while. It started raining a very slow drizzle drenching us all. We drank the rain water, thanking the heavens for this ounce of mercy. I used to love this rain, but tonight, I took no joy in it. Foreboding of an impending doom, nobody spoke a word. Maybe they were all regretting their decisions to come back to this wretched nation, pondering about the hours and days to come. They took us to the far end of the city. The other trucks that started along with us were nowhere to be seen. Our truck was followed by a lone army vehicle. Where did the other trucks go?! I tried not to think too deep into that matter. They told us to get down. It was pitch dark except for the lights of the army vehicle and that of the truck, and it was still drizzling. After we got down, they made us walk in a line to the front of the truck. In the yellow light, they took a head count. They took our passports and ordered us to stand in a straight line, one next to the other. One man tried to make a daring escape. He was shot. A single shot to his back. The sound of gunfire numbs my ears.
Panic calm and an eerie resolve.
The officers now screamed at us, ordering us to turn and look away with our backs turned towards them. We all did as we were told. I took a good look at the man next to me. Unlike me, he wore a head cap and sported a beard. The last face I would ever see. I said, “Asalamu Alikum.” He smiled and replied, “Wa Alaikum Aslaam.” The last smile I would ever see. He then did something unexpected. He turned to face the army officers and stood his ground. I don’t know why, but I turned along with him and I too stood my ground. My last act of defiance. They opened fire at us all. I felt the bullets rip through me. As I fell knee-first, amid the sting and the building pain, I thought to myself I should have asked him his name.
Mithun Moosa (Kalki)
Genre: Short Story