No, I have no hidden cameras

I had no part to play in the production of the Tehelka issue which carried the expose of the Gujarat riots. Life has been much the same as it was before the expose. Except for having to write home twice a day because my family imagines I will be bumped off. In the week that followed the expose I realised that some friends who have been in rural India or abroad have not even heard about the story. I had to tell them about it when I spoke to them. I told them about it casually because why should they feel like the world has ended? It hadn't.

This is all ridiculously deja vu too in a way. You know the moment political consciousness arrives? (Yes, yes it leaves too but remember when it arrived?) I was 20, the Staines murder had shaken me. I have never had faith, never had religion, can barely remember that I am Christian, have in fact referred to myself absent-mindedly as Hindu several times...but right then, dosed on Holocaust literature as I was... I was convinced that my family and I would be lined up and killed. My friends and I ran a little campus newspaper called Enthupataki (dont ask) which we used to sell for a rupee. I wrote a grim little piece in it. A day later one of my teachers dragged me off to a seminar on communalism. I was very reluctant since all the lectures I had ever been to until then had made me cry from boredom. This one too was mindlessly dull with white-haired old men droning on. Then Teesta Setelvad came on stage. She spoke and I was electrified. She listed incident after incident, had statistics at the tip of her fingers, told sardonic, chilling anecdotes about Thackeray. On the way back to college I nearly blacked out in the car.

Several things happened after that. RR, another teacher and now one of my dearest friends, called a meeting of students to discuss communalism. Two wonderful women from an NGO called Samvada turned up to get the discussion going. I think even they were appalled at some of the things that were said in that classroom that day. A classmate said that "If Christians and Muslims chose to stay back in India after Partition they better deal with whatever they get." Then I didn't know whether to giggle or throw a book at her. Now that she is a TV journalist I get to change channels.

That meeting ensured that my tame little life got a little less tame. One of my friends from then (whose previous plans included running away with her 19 year old boyfriend) woke up too. She has always been fierce and is now an Amazon of an activist. I trundled along only knowing that I was tremendously bored by people who delivered crappy little speeches that began "If Christians and Muslims chose to..." Them I avoided. Instead I got myself a boyfriend who told me that people like me who were vegetarians were responsible for the deaths of poor Muslim butchers. (He also told me that I had betrayed feminism and him by learning to cook. These days I wish I had written down everything he told me.)

Getting a BJP government ensured visions of a saffron dystopia again but by then a little more exposure to the world and its miseries had taught me that I had a lot of nerve feeling oppressed. Watching Lesser Humans and a few hundred documentaries over and over again takes care of that. A year into my master's degree I started applying for a job in Tehelka (My mother moaned and moaned). The woman who is my boss now wrote kindly to me saying that they were neck-deep in trouble with the government for the arms expose and perhaps now was not the time.

I went back to Bangalore and started working in a chaotic brilliant NGO where I saw at least one burnt and beaten six year old domestic servant rescued every day. I heard through the jholawalas' grapevine that Teesta was saying that something was going to happen in Gujarat. And a month later Gujarat exploded. Two months later I heard through the grapevine that Karnataka was next in the list. And things began happening in Karnataka too. Again I filtered this news through an understanding that many things were wrong in the world and the Sangh Parivar was one of them.

When the BJP lost the next elections I cheered and clapped and pranced around as if it were a cricket match. I continued to hear about things that were going crazy in Karnataka. Bababudhangiri simmered annually. Thatha told me that his parents' Christian friends had stopped celebrating Onam. Several women suddenly took to wearing a hijab. I still wandered about without faith of my own but a better understanding of why people needed it. After the tsunami I was in Chennai at a meeting and I found myself in a committee in the ridiculous position of telling a nun that I thought it was okay that the Sri Lankan survivors were turning to monks for succour than 'trained counselors who could provide psychosocial care'.

I have been working for Tehelka for some months now. Not a single acquaintance fails to ask about our stings and what part I play. In the summer I was incredibly ill. The 60 year old doctor who was examining me wanted to know whether I had hidden cameras. But I have got used to being around incredible courage and treating it like a normal workplace as if it was only unusual because my editor astonishes me by reading more than I do and knowing more about Bipasha Basu than I do. I love being star-struck and overhearing people say "Bloody (Insert name of movie star) has been irritating me this week.) I have learnt to make fun of and enjoy my own low-brow pursuits in the magazine. A couple of weeks ago I contributed to a news story with my tiny inputs on how beef had become taboo because of our yellow-tinged thugs. Throughout that week I kept making silly jokes about having just given up vegetarianism (I had). I did occasionally think of an incident in 2000 in Bangalore when the VHP filed a complaint in Peenya saying that the police better close the butcher shops in the vicinity or they the VHP were not responsible for what they would do.

I read the Gujarat expose feeling no shock no surprise. Hadnt we heard this already? Didnt we know Modi was evil? Didnt we know that this was planned? Didnt we know all this? I read Ashish Khetan's reporter's diary and had goosebumps. In the week that followed the expose nothing happened. And then I became afraid. Only I didnt know it yet. I was planning to move house, fighting with my lover, making up with my lover, worrying about being fat, staying up till 5 am talking to Bent about love and trust and all our friends and Bangalore and Delhi. Ulysses, Paharganj, cheesy chicken, graphic novel project with the Piranha, graphic novel project with the Bottle Imp, my book, my book, fat, my book, goodreads. I have proofread dozens of pages of letters from appalled readers from around the world. Worked on articles for the next issue. Read that Ehsan Jafri's widow's plea to admit the confessions as evidence was rejected by the Gujarat High court. Checked out movie reviews. Heard people say cleverly that Modi orchestrated the expose so that he could win. Wondered whether I should go watch No Smoking. Heard rumours that the government is killing the story because it is terrified that the Hindus would turn against them. Talked to a friend who is accompanying a bunch of strange people around Karnataka who are trying to understand the Indian consciousness. Moaned the end of GIlmore Girls and celebrated the arrival of Ugly Betty.

Today I was talking to the Princess online. We talked about work, boyfriends, Ian McEwan and then I remembered to tell her about the expose. The Princess is something of a news junkie but she had not heard about the expose either. Working in the finance world in London her news fixes are different these days, something she is always apologetic about. Suddenly I found myself telling her that for the first time since the Staines murder I have begun feeling unsafe again. Once a day I think of emigrating. I brush it off but I have not stopped thinking of it. She was sympathetic, warm..."Are you sure its that bad? Are you sure?" Yes it is. My holocaust fears have returned. I wish I could be as patronising of my younger self as one usually is ( "He said what about monogamy and you believed what!") Many things that used to be the surreal stuff of my dystopia is normal here. It is common practice for poor Muslims in my locality to give their entire family Hindu names so they can apply for jobs as maids and drivers. In public I think twice before calling out my lover's name because he is known to me and everyone by a pithy Muslim nickname. The first time I passed the BJP party office in Delhi my breath caught. I no longer get to cheer that they are not in power. What does it matter? The world turns on its axis with such speed that you can barely keep up but in the week that followed the expose nothing happened.


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