A few days ago, I received a wonderful piece of news — that my older cousin sister, Nauseen baji, had become a grandmother. I was thrilled and decided to travel to Allahabad to congratulate her in person. The following evening I landed in Allahabad and went straight to her home, thinking she would be gobsmacked by my surprise visit. When my niece greeted me at the door, I asked “Where is your mom?”
“Ammi has gone to Mansoor Ali Park with Badi appi (her elder sister),” came the reply.
I paused for a second and repeated, “Mansoor Ali Park?”
She nodded and said that women in Allahabad, inspired by the women of Shaheen Bagh, were protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act at the park. Women from different localities were gathering under a tent at the park every night and observing sit-ins. Nausheen baji, along with her elder daughter and one of their neighbours, Nandita, had also decided to join the sit-in.
‘When Women of the Nation Are Out on the Streets, How Can I Sleep?’
I was at sea. “Nausheen baji at a protest!’ Was I hallucinating? While I have seen her in myriad roles such as that of a sister, daughter, a proficient homemaker and a concerned mother, I don’t remember seeing her ever sharing her thoughts on any political issue, openly or covertly.
I began to dwell on this momentous inflection — what led her to this change? This thought stayed with me for sometime.
My niece immediately called her mother to inform her about my visit. I was sitting perplexed, and shortly, Nausheen baji came home. Hastily, I congratulated her for becoming a grandmother and decided to quit ruminating. I plucked up my courage and whispered, “Baji! You and Mansoor Ali Park?” She smiled wryly and softly replied that, when the women of the nation were out on the streets road even on bitter cold nights, how could she sleep at home?
She responded instinctively with such emotion that I could not question her further. We continued our tête-à-tête. Later I got to know that her daughter in-law was still in hospital with her newborn baby and her chartered accountant husband.
‘Are We Committing a Crime By Observing Peaceful Protest?’
The next morning, while we were having breakfast, I received a call from Nausheen baji’s son (my nephew): “Uncle! Just now our gynecologist came and informed us that the baby was suffering from shortness of breath. It would be better if we consult a specialist. What should I do?” This news had pushed him over the edge. Without further ado, I discussed the condition with one of my known pediatricians. Thank God, he was available and asked me to see him with the infant at his clinic ASAP.
After visiting the doctor, we left his clinic to go back to the hospital. My nephew was driving the car, I was in the passenger seat, and Nausheen baji was in the backseat, carefully holding her baby grandson in her lap. We were en route when I heard Nausheen baji pipe up, “Do you guys reckon we are committing any crime by observing peaceful protests? Don’t we have the right to voice our concerns? In my view, liberal democracies ensure that their citizens enjoy the right to express their views in every conceivable manner, including the right to dissent against prevailing laws!”
I was gobsmacked by this.
A Reticent Mother Registers Her Protest
Assuaging her concerns, I told her that there was no gainsaying the voicing of our views in a peaceful manner. But people would demur if folks blocked any public road for weeks. I think she got the drift of what I was saying.
Anyway, throughout my Allahabad visit, this new avatar of Nausheen baji was more astonishing than her queries. Finally, the CAA has forced a veiled, reticent mother to think, voice and come out of her comfort zone. I was dazed — should I celebrate this moment or mourn?
The rumour I had heard about these women — that most of them come to these protests because of ‘money and biryani’ — was that a lie?
(The author is Director at an engineering and IT services company in Hyderabad and a columnist. This is a blog. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)