An ode to the ordinary Muslim this Republic Day

Annie Zaidi
Annie ZaidiJan 26, 2015 | 12:40

An ode to the ordinary Muslim this Republic Day

Sometimes I look to you, minority citizen, to understand what it means to have faith in the motherland. 

There was a time when many of you could have left India. Hundreds of thousands did, after all. Perhaps they were no longer sure if they were safe in their villages, or mohallas. Perhaps they were not sure that the government in a newly independent India, where the majority was Hindu, would make room for their representatives, and protect them – physically, socially and materially. Some were your neighbours, some family. 


Whatever their reason, those people left the land of their ancestors to start new lives in new lands. But you did not go. You stayed. 

You must have held faith in the idea of India – a sovereign, socialist, secular republic. You must have told yourself that a dark and terrible year would pass, that your compatriots were ultimately more interested in living – rich, colourful, musical, love-filled lives – than in killing. 

Many of you were landless workers. But you had always worked on your particular stretch of land. You knew the soil, its power, its gifts. You knew the trees, their yields. Your hands tossed out grain so the hens could feed. Your hands petted the goats. You walked the sheep out to open pasture. You still do.

Your hands slit the necks of your animal wealth. You cut with precision and skill and strength. You cooked with delicacy and patience and finesse. You learnt to treat animal skins and put them to good use.

Many of you were artisans. You made the things that defined a hundred facets of the jewel that is Indian culture. You made shoes and bags, sofas and paintings, statues of gods and goddesses. You tailored frocks. You put zari on saris. You put flowers into chikan, sparkle into mukaish. You melted glass for bangles and chandeliers. You baked roti and the pau that fed tens of millions of workers in huge metropolises. You still do.


Some of you were engineers. You worked on bridges and television sets. You were doctors working twelve hour days. Or you were policemen and soldiers. Or filmmakers or school teachers. Or you set bones. You listened to people who had stomach aches or nervous breakdowns. You did not probe a person's religious affiliation before setting a bone. 

If you had four walls and a roof, you gave thanks. You prayed for the health of your parents and children, and celebrated with whatever you had – sugar, flour, ghee, fruit. You bought cinema tickets you couldn't really afford. You tried to buy enough land to be buried on, and if you couldn't, you hoped they would bury you anyway.

You sent the kids to the best school you could afford, and when you couldn't afford any kind of tuition fee, you sent them to a madarssa, even if you wished they offered modern, more practical learning because to be lettered in any language is better than to be illiterate. You suffered the consequences of not having an education yourself, but you kept hoping the next generation would get it right.

You voted. You stood for elections. You exposed corruption. You died at the hands of the corrupt. You stole or did forgeries too, and you went to jail when you got caught. You heard of people brokering power and amassing wealth in your name. You were betrayed by your leaders. You did not know what to do about that.


They call you “ordinary Muslim”. Some talk about your innocence when they really want to say that you are a victim. You rarely show your scars. Many of you weep into the crook of your arm. Many of you feel beseiged, and bewildered by suggestions that you are not you, that this is not home, that you are not deserving of state protection. Your heart breaks. But you go on watering the field, baking the bread, tending the sheep, making apps, building software, finding novel ways of harnessing the wind, playing cricket.

This is an ode to you, ordinary citizen, who has trusted in this republic. As long as you can believe in India and the Constitution, there is reason to celebrate. Happy Republic Day. 

Last updated: January 26, 2015 | 12:40
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