LOVE JIHADIS ARE SNEAKY — They can love you even if you insist on hating them

These days I call myself a Love Jihadi. It amuses me no end.

My husband was at the local electricity supply office a few days ago, trying to inspire the officers to restore the electricity connection to a factory space he is in charge of.

“We cannot come in the way of nation-building,” he was saying. “You and I must contribute towards this collective goal. Restoring electricity to this factory is your duty towards the nation’s economic growth.”

He turned to look towards me to make sure I was playing my role of intimidating media-person who must not be messed with. I was distracted from his concerns. “I’m just a Love Jihadi,” I was thinking in my head, but I quickly tried to look stern and cross at the same time.

Myself Love Jihadi

Our children are learning to read Arabic on the weekends these days. They made good progress in the early weeks and then began to look like their heart wasn’t in it.

“Tell them stories,” I said to their teacher. “They like stories.”

Last Saturday, my daughters came to me and began to tell me the story of Prophet Musa and King Fir’aun.

“The king had a dream that a baby boy would be born who would grow up and kill him.”

“Just like King Kansa in the story of Krishna,” I added, getting excited.

“He ordered that all newborn boys should be killed. So Musa’s parents put him in a basket and set him afloat in the Nile river to save his life.”

“Just like Krishna! I mean like Karna,” I said. It was fascinating to hear stories from a different land that seemed so familiar to me. After this I behaved myself and listened attentively to the story my children were narrating. My eyes grew big with wonder.

Afzal and I got married in 2002. Both of us had witnessed the aftermath of the riots in Gujarat that year. He had gone to volunteer in the refugee camps in Ahmedabad after I had returned from a work assignment as a broadcast news videographer.

My friends Barkha, Rachna and I had been filming the aftermath of the violence in Vadodara when some people drove up to us in a Honda City. A young woman got off and and said she had been looking for us since she had heard that our team had arrived in Vadodara. She wanted us to visit her home.

It looked like the Greater Kailash-1 of Vadodara when we drove into Ayesha’s neighbourhood. Her home had been set ablaze by rioters. Some parts of the floor were still so hot that it was not safe for us to enter every room. A charred refrigerator, a heap of ash where the dining table had been. I remember the shoes I was wearing as I stepped over the rubble filming the devastation with my video camera. Barkha was talking to Ayesha and some other people in her family. There was a wrought-iron swing in their lawn. I touched it tentatively.

That swing was life. Their life as it had been.

In November 1984, my brothers and I had gone to the roof of our DDA flat in New Delhi to witness a mob setting fire to a white corner house in Panchsheel Enclave. The home had been looted the night before and the Sikh family had fled to safety. For years I used to peer outside the window of my school bus, staring at the ruined home every day.

“They won’t come back,” my brother had explained to me. “They will probably sell this off for whatever it is worth.”

Our hearts break and somehow they keep working. Lives are ruined and people get back to building their homes again. We lose hope and then we find it again. It’s trendy to be cynical but we are all creating, restoring, healing, trying to put back broken pieces all the time.

The first time I began to have a conversation with our firstborn about why we were celebrating Eid even though her school was not, she interrupted me to let me know what she knew.

“I know, Mamma,” she said. “Prateeksha told me.”

“What did she say?”

“She said I am a Pandit, you are a Muslim.”

“Excellent,” I thought, biting my lip. “Good job, Prateeksha.”

It’s weird when you look at it in isolation. We are encouraged to hate. Love is hated. Hate is loved. If I can hate vocally and violently, I’m in. Love means go and stand outside the classroom and reflect on what you did wrong. It can get me expelled. In 2020, it will get me killed.

But Love Jihadis are sneaky. They are good at love. We can love you even if you insist on hating us.

After our visit to the electricity supply office, my husband took me to the local police station. He needed to file an FIR to report a missing electricity meter.
“I’m a journalist,” I practised these words in my head a few times in case I might need to exert authority to inspire anyone to do the work they were being paid to do anyway. We must have looked menacing enough because the paperwork got done smoothly. I stared at a man sitting on his haunches in the corner. His wrists were tied together with a jute rope that was then tied to the iron window grill next to him. Accused of a petty crime, he was in police custody. The state was taking care of him.

“I want to go to the temple,” I said to my husband as we walked out. I felt emotionally exhausted. I needed to restore myself. We walked across the road from the police station towards an impressive new Jain temple I had never been to before.

My seven-year-old daughter’s words echoed in my head as I crossed the threshold into the inner sanctum.
“Mamma, can we go to a temple even if we don’t pray?”

An ice-cream vendor’s table in Lucknow Zoo. I’m not the only Love Jihadi I know.

This essay is an excerpt from the book “My Daughters’ Mum” by Natasha Badhwar. Published by Simon and Schuster

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Natasha Badhwar

I write to live. It slows me down, makes me see, reflect, explain, forgive. Writing is my self care. My books : My Daughters' Mum and Immortal For A Moment