was a Sunday night, driving in towards Washington DC from
New York. We came to a complete halt reaching near the Baltimore
Harbor Tunnel. On May 5th of this year some bombs were apparently
found here. For once there were no terrorist relations in
this finding. A construction worker discovered five while
excavating as part of a state project to prepare the site
for redevelopment. Authorities said the bombs might have come
from the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea, the aircraft carrier
that was taken apart there. The story didn't make news headlines;
it only had one key word "Bomb" and missed other
keywords like "Terrorists" or "Al Queda"
so it was hardly news.
DC, New Jersey and New York had been under high security alert
for the previous few days; the dwellers of these states had
been living under the Orange alert, expecting explosions and
sometimes even forgetting about the whole ordeal, and then
again being reminded by certain abrupt pauses like the one
we were at.
moved at the speed of snails on valium, three police cars
drove by on the service lane going the opposite direction
of the still traffic. Each one looking suspiciously at the
faces of the drivers and passengers who sat looking half alarmed
and half annoyed.
it should not have, my heart still jumped a bit while the
police cars drove by our car looking directly at our branded
South Asian faces, faces which carry all symptoms of being
related to certain terrorists maybe. I didn't look away neither
did I look straight at their stern paleness. Perhaps I wanted
to remain somewhere between being oblivious and being concerned,
a place where it seemed a bit safer, where I wouldn't be attacked
by terrorists or American cops.
cars over someone was pulled aside. A yellow taxi cab, the
driver had our dark skin, a thick black moustache, he had
few strands of just-formed-sweat along his forehead, a tired
face who had been earning cash all day, driving demanding
passengers from one destination to the other. He was being
questioned, pulling out his license and registration forms
he was looking around helplessly; perhaps in his mind he was
cursing the cops in the lowest of desi slang. I would
too. But these are the precautions America has taken to save
us from terrorists. Should I feel insulted-- would I feel
insulted if I were of a different race? Should I feel relieved
to see there are strict security checks? Or should I feel
worried about the stability of the ground I stand on, and
the skin deep issues like my features, my complexion and the
sound of my name…
home safe that night, slept cozy and woke up the next day
to go on with my life of 9 to 5. Until a few days later when
our car was pulled over by one from the American cop clan.
We were confused, we were driving by the speed limit, had
no alcoholic beverages and didn't cross any red light or didn't
ignore any yellow light, so what was the problem, which law
did we threaten to break?
with an extra layer of fat over his face (the kind of fat
which adds a numb-and-dumb appearance) came to the car window
with a concerned and semi-authoritative voice. After asking
for license and car registration he asked if we had any alcoholic
beverages or sedatives. The answer was obviously no. Then
he pointed to our rear-view-mirror and said "nothing
should be hanging from one's rear-view-mirror in the state
of Virginia." Puzzled, we asked if this was a new law
which we hadn't hear about yet. Ignoring our question he just
repeated himself with his thick voice. He let us free after
a few minutes, the poor fake elephant's tooth necklace that
hung from the mirror was taken off temporarily being treated
like a criminal without a crime.
most parking permits are hung from rear-view-mirrors; most
people are fancy enough to hang some tidbit or other on their
rear-views, from graduation tassels to hanging Homer Simpson
dolls. While we drove back home I looked closely to all the
cars around to see if they had something hanging from their
rear-view-mirrors or were they also not abiding by the law.
And most of them were law breakers, the non-existent-spur-of-the-moment-made-law
by the cop who profiled us by our races that night.
watching a movie long time ago, or was it a fairy tale that
I read, where the protagonist wakes up one morning with a
totally different face, an unattractive almost scary one,
the man was unaware of his transformation, but everyone around
him saw it and pushed him away into his dark abandoned corner,
a bit like Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis but in this case the
transformation was not so dramatic.
I think of that man quite often, as I also have acquired a
new identity without changing a bit in my own head. I have
became more unattractive, unwanted, cornered, typed and stamped.
But at least I am not alone, like me many are being confused
by what the mirrors say, what the minds say and what the people
say. Sketches of our sketchy faces drawn now every day…sketches
of us beyond our recognition…feeding the ego of racial
(R) thedailystar.net 2004