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As a rule I would not stay in a Hindu locality.
It is not that I dislike Hindus or anything like that -- some of my closest friends are Hindus -- but the Mumbai riots of 1993 made me realise for the first time that we Muslims in India are different from Hindus.
I have seen Hindu mobs looking for Muslims in the Hindu locality where I then lived, to kill them and burn down their homes. The mobs managed to lay their hands on some of my friends, but some lucky families, like mine, escaped.
That incident affected my psyche so much that I then decided I would never live in a Hindu locality again.
After the Mumbai riots, we shifted to a Muslim locality in 1994.
Last month I met a Sikh friend in New Delhi and asked him how he felt living among Hindus post the 1984 riots.
Nothing," he said curtly and added that the anti-Sikh riots that followed Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's [Images] assassination happened more than 21 years ago and everybody had forgotten it. "These things don't matter to Indians now," he said.
I was impressed by his statement. I got the feeling India has changed and moved on.
When my Sikh friend feels that way then I as a Muslim should also feel the same way in Mumbai, I told myself. After all, 13 years was a long time in Mumbai's history, Mumbaikars also must have changed and moved on, I felt.
So when I started looking for a new house I thought, should I look for a house in a Hindu area again?
My wife, who is also Muslim, was a little sceptical because she too had similar experiences in the Mumbai riots and been through identical hell.
So I said okay, let's move to an upscale Muslim locality with better facilities.
I didn't know then what I was heading for.
It seems I am house-hunting at a very wrong time. Real estate prices have skyrocketed and there are very few flats available in the market.
Even if they are, no one wants 100 percent cheque payment. Those who were okay with full cheque payment either did not own good homes or if they did, they were way too expensive.
Faced with this Catch-22 situation, I felt maybe I should move to a Hindu locality.
I duly visited a property exhibition in Mumbai and found some great homes.
Sadly, the prices were so high they were beyond the reach of a middle class person like me. The only way I could afford them was to scale down my expectations of a 2-bedroom apartment, since my budget was around Rs 25 lakh (Rs 2 million).
I zeroed in on a one-bedroom apartment in the Kandivli area in Mumbai's western suburbs. The exhibitors were happy at getting a customer. They explained the ins and outs of the housing complex and said I could come visit the site anytime.
All the bonhomie dried up when I handed over my visiting card to one of them, the shock all too visible on his face.
"Sorry sir, we cannot sell the house to you as Muslims are not wanted in this locality," he told me in so many words.
I couldn't believe what I had just heard.
When I asked him to give it in writing, the person in charge said he would not, and added that anyway this is the understood norm in the locality, so what was the fuss all about?
I wonder why people blame Muslims for not being part of the national mainstream. When there is no room for them in an ordinary housing complex, how can you expect them to join the mainstream? When they want to stay in a mainstream locality they are kept away.
My experience led me to find out more about other housing societies in Mumbai. I discovered discrimination existed against not just Muslims but towards other communities as well.
For example, a Maharashtrian will not find it easy to find a house in a Gujarati locality.
One of my Maharashtrian friends said although her aunt lives in a housing society comprising non-vegatarians she is not allowed to cook fish because the neighbours cannot stand its smell.
I find such discrimination shocking.
Why do we call ourselves Indians and want to take pride in our multi-cultural, multi-religious land when we cannot stand our neighbours who belong to different religions and cultures?
My Sikh friend in New Delhi may be right about the situation there but I think it will take a little longer to change mindsets in Mumbai.
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