Rasheed gets uneasy at the suspicious glances of his fellow-passengers as he boards the underground tram. He has gone through this agony so many times before. At times he feels as if the clock has been pushed back to yesterday. The same crowd accompanies him every day, yet the stern glances of his fellow-passengers never fade away. In the beginning he tried to exchange smiles with them. After all it is expected of the natives to welcome the others. But no one reciprocates the friendly approaches of this German-born Bangladeshi boy. Rasheed picks a lonely seat, puts on his headphones and listening to Bollywood songs opens up his geometry book. It’s been almost 20 years that he has been trying to integrate into the German society; a boy born in Bad Godesberg and raised amongst German lights and winds. Initially, it was a pleasant kindergarten for him. He picked up the language and German kids took him to be one of them. His friend Mathias would, at times, come to his house for sleep-overs. Mathias became a great fan of Bangladeshi food and picked up a few Bengali expressions from Rasheed’s mother.
One day Mathias’ father took them both to Koblenz on a bicycle ride along the tracks of River Rhein. That day everything changed. Mathias stopped inviting Rasheed to his birthday parties and even Christmas gatherings. This was the same Mathias who had once long before snapped at an old German woman when she asked him why he was so friendly with an auslander. He had retorted angrily: “He is German. Why do you call him a foreigner?” These were the same boys whose families never forgot each other on their special occasions; Rasheed’s mother used to cook biryani for Mathias and Mathias’ mother never neglected to bake extra cookies for Rasheed.
All that has changed now, their bonds have fallen apart. By a recent law Rasheed has lost his right to privacy. He can avoid the policing by being extra careful, but the lonely journey every morning and all those suspicious glances seem to be getting on his nerves. At this time, a torch bearer pops in….. Like any other day Rasheed is sitting alone for U-bahn No.16 when a bearded man sits beside him, scrutinizes Rasheed’s eyes as if looking for something special. The uneasiness increases. The bearded man suddenly takes over Rasheed’s hands.
“I see you are a Muslim like me. Do you know that we are part of the Muslim brotherhood. So why do you wear jeans and T-shirt. Our religion does not allow for this. Tell me, do you say your prayers five times a day?”
“What! You don’t. Hell will be your destination. Anyway, I see you sitting sadly in the tram every day. No one talks to you. You do realize that you can never be accepted as a German here. You are a Muslim, a stranger and an enemy to them.”
“But why? What did I do?”
“Because the west is conspiring against the Muslim Ummah; it’s scared of out power, wants to destroy us. We are going through a new crusade by the big and small Bush.”
Rasheed is drawn into the sincere tone of the stranger. The sympathy moves him, giving his lonely mind an alibi.
“So what should I do?”
“I can take you to a place where you will find a lot of others like us who will be your friends and who never ignore you.”
As if abducted by affection, Rasheed follows the stranger spell bound. His mystic eyes and spiritual conversation shakes Rasheed to the core. Religion was never important to him, yet now he can’t help but oscillate between his German identity and Muslim existence. There was a time when even the words of the priest at Mathias’ grandmother’s funeral impressed him. But all that changed in the last 15-minutes. His whole world shifted like it does on the anesthesia table at an operation theater. The man leading him on in broad daylight was walking with bare hands. For Rasheed it was a walk amid darkness; the only light he could see was coming out of the stranger’s hands. So he followed him towards the unknown.
Rasheed’s parents appreciate the change in him: getting up early in the morning, praying, gazing solemnly at the earth, reading religious books while trying to be cool about all this. They even accept his long robe-like dress and beard without mustache. But the crowd becomes more suspicious than ever. Maybe he is even being branded as a radical cleric or a conspiring jihadi off-shoot of some terrorist wing. Rasheed stops going through his geometry book on the tram every morning. Instead he reads spiritual essays, convincing himself that this change in him is beyond his control, getting more and more conservative and possessive about his sister Rebecca.
Rebecca with her tight jeans, plunging neck-lines, smoky eye-make and regular visits to discos has to be stopped at once. Rasheed has reached the stage where his mind conjures up his nightmares. He believes his sister in the other room is busy sms-ing her male friends. Fuming with anger, he enters her room and announces: “I need to talk to you.” She didn’t hear him enter; she had headphones plugged to her ears. Rasheed tries to draw her attention…. fails and then slaps her. It was a bolt from the blue; stunned by this unwarranted behavior Rebecca has no idea how to react.
“Stop this shameless nonsense, or else you will be sentenced to hell. Do you even know that?”
Rasheed delivers a long sermon to his sister on the rights and wrongs of life. A harmless, young girl born in Germany, like him, Rebecca has no clue as to what’s wrong with her brother. Soon afterwards, she is sentenced to home-jail. Rasheed collects a long piece of cloth from their mother, and throwing it towards the poor girl orders her to keep herself covered: “No one should even see your hair,” he barks out, pointing at hair that have been recently highlighted with mahogany streaks. Her cell phone and DVD player are confiscated, and she is grounded at home unless she surrenders to the rule of her brother.
Their mother tries to confront him, so does their father but in vain. Life has already taken Rasheed to the point of no return; his desperation has crossed over to the relm of western resistance. His father tries to argue against it: “Not everyone here has resisted you or given you reasons to become an extremist.”
Rasheed counter argues with his haunted red eyes: “I tried my best to integrate. You should know that I had secular beliefs. What did I get in return? They looked at me through the eyes of religion and skin-color. I was born here, raised here, tried to make friends here, but at the end of the day I was still an auslander for them.”
Understanding all this, his father tries to appease his wrath: “This is just a temporary phase, perhaps one day everything will be fine. Both sides will get over misunderstandings and confusions. Till then try to restore faith in humanity and cool down son.”
But the battle rages on. Rasheed’s mother asks him to release his sister from house-arrest and let her have a normal life. Rebecca’s on hunger strike, wailing tediously under the shock of her brother’s radicalism. Oblivious to the havoc he has created, Rasheed stands firm and unbreakable, taking refuge on the prayer carpet in his room. The whole house reverberates with his recitation from scriptures; his loud murmurs turn into huge waves of praises for his Creator, anchoring strong faith in His directives.
“Please don’t be so loud,” his mother interrupts.
“I am showing gratitude to my Creator. What’s wrong in that,” he retorts.
“The neighbors might suspect you and call the police. You know that now under new security rules the authorities can arrest you and we’ll all be in trouble,” Rasheed’s father dejectedly tries to reason out with him.
“For Heaven’s sake, why? I’ve never been to Afghanistan, was never part of any training camp, I am not even a pilot that I will attack the Statue of Liberty. I am not a suicide bomber. So what will they arrest me for: uttering words of peace! This is my way of out letting all the pent up frustration and everyday insults this very society has given me.
Unveiling a bullfight
A hazy night with profounded pathos envelopes this household. Rebecca goes to sleep hungry; salty tears drying up on her cheeks, her mother warms up dinner in the microwave and requests the others to gather at the dining table and her father watches CNN’s breaking new: Suicide bomb attack on Ashura rally, 70 killed in Iraq. Watching any news channel these days means counting the dead. The culling of flu-infected birds is competing with human casualties of suicide attacks. For all we know, it could be same virus of suspicion, hatred, inequality, ego and intolerance.
Rings of matadors are forming around us: Osama rushing like a ferocious bull and Bush trying to beacon him with his red flag and bragging for those in the gallery. Laura cheers for him from the VIP box as Osama surges forward with his angry horns and Bush gets ready to tackle him. With every pull and push oil prices hit the bull, US economy staggers, jobless Americans sitting at the wooden benches have no idea who to clap for. With each shove of the horns, people die in Karachi and Kabul, with every wave of the red flag security tightens at Heathrow and Tegel International. With every fuming look of the bull a new iron curtain is raised somewhere. And with every smile of the flag-owner the republican vote bank is shuffled, even though most of them prefer not to interfere in the matters of the ring. After all it’s a choice between a mad bull and a psychopath bull-fighter. Rasheed, Rebecca and Mathias are all spectators in this Spanish tragedy, sitting on wooden benches, whispering in their hearts for the blind bull-fight to end. It is a rare lucky day for them. Laura screams out: “Give it a break honey. Let’s go home. I have to bake cookies for Larry King.”