Out of the blue, yesterday, I get a call from Frying Now studio, claiming that they have found me hand in gloves with some anti-national elements who are out to destroy India. Absolutely gutted and paralysed by fear I stand still for some time. The person on the other line, however, sounding not at all concerned about a response from my end, goes on to say that I will have to reach the Frying Now studio right now; then he hangs up before giving me a chance to say anything. I immediately leave for their studio. Foghorn wants to talk to me on the phone line while I’m on my way. I request him to wait till I reach the studio as autos are not the best places to make yourself heard when the other person is shouting at you. While I’m navigating traffic, Foghorn lights a cigarette and asks his subordinates to prepare a file of containing all my information.
On my way I see my life flashing before my eyes. I try recounting a single act which went against my nation. I am amazed at how a happy-go-lucky girl like me can end up being in trouble like this! All my life I have tried to be a good Samaritan who routinely ask people not to litter, at the cost of getting mocked, pay all my taxes, look for avenues to do charity work and celebrate the diversity of my nation. I am flabbergasted at the charge of colluding with anti-national elements–what? How? From where?–and the odd thing is that I feel awfully scared, even after being completely aware of how I’ve been living my life for the past 31 years.
When I enter the studio it is already 8:45 p.m. I look around for someone to talk to but everyone is running helter skelter. There is sheer chaos everywhere. It seems as if the entire crew is getting ready to go to a war and they are soldiers conducting last minute preparations. I start deep breathing to calm down before I am hastily shown a chair where crew members force me to sit. As I keep trying to inquire what on earth has happened. I get a curt reply by someone from the team who said, “There is no room for questions, it is time for Crying Time. The nation is ready with its questions.” Hearing this, my heart sinks a little and I start wondering who has written these questions that have been sent to Hobnob.
With my head filled with questions and my body nervous with trepidation, I see Foghorn appear from his cabin like a messiah journalist and a shadow of awed fear descends on the studio. A well-groomed man in his 40s with six hefty files all clutched in his right hand he sat in the centre of a robust panel of people comprising a journalist, an activist (both of whom, I must admit, were looking rather perturbed), a Retired Army officer, a young student and an award-winning actor who has always claimed to be apolitical.
Foghorn starts the debate without making eye contact with anyone but the camera and announces that no one will be allowed to speak over someone else. I sigh in relief at the explicit assurance of being heard.
Foghorn (With great élan): Good evening ladies and gentlemen, we are coming live to you from the Frying Now Studio to discuss a very pressing issue of National Security. We, ladies and gentlemen, have been fooled by some so called “liberals” who may sell our Nation to our enemies any day. Now is the time to make a call. Now is the time to decide whether they have a right to live in our Great Nation. I want you all to pay close attention and be ready to participate in a poll at the end of the debate. I will be exposing these “liberals” one after the other. I have these files here which contain confidential information about each one of them.
He starts with a reputed journalist whom I have long admired. An award-winning investigative journalist, she has put her life on the line of duty to find out the truth time and again. I think to myself that she must have been instrumental in finding out this “confidential information.”
Boy, was I wrong!
He turns to her and starts bombarding her with questions. She graciously said, “I will answer all your questions one after the other.” But just as she starts presenting facts, two other panellists, the former army officer and the apolitical actor, jump into the debate. They start talking about unrelated issues like wars, Indo-Pak relations and an exodus. They start alleging the journalist and even the activist of being bigots, for never writing about how bad Pakistan is, never praising the government (which, in my opinion is not their job as an investigative journalist and an activist). Said journalist tolerantly starts addressing these unrelated questions– but just then, Foghorn decides to take charge.
Foghorn: Shut, up! I have had enough of you.
Watching Foghorn silence the journalist instead of the panellists who broke the rule he had laid out right at the onset leaves me amazed. He then starts quoting random statements from a confidential file which has the journalist’s name printed on the cover.
Foghorn: Is it true that you were present at the screening of a Pakistani movie named ‘Manto’ in Mumbai?
Journalist: Yes, I was.
Foghorn: How dare you watch a Pakistani movie, ignoring all the hard-hitting Indian movies?
Journalist: But, I watch Indian movies too.
Foghorn (even more loudly): How dare you ignore the hard work of all the Indians working in Bollywood?
Journalist: But, I like Manto.
Foghorn (at this point, he is literally frothing at the mouth): Oh, you like him! Don’t you like anyone in India? What about all the great writers of India? Who will like them?
Journalist: But, I just watched a movie.
Foghorn: Did you like it?
Journalist: Yes, it was a nicely made movie.
Foghorn: Anti-Nationals like you are a disgrace to our nation.
Journalist: (looking absolutely alarmed and amused at the same time): What!
Foghorn: You have no shame. So many soldiers die on the line of duty, protecting our Motherland and you are busy liking a Pakistani movie.
Foghorn: Major, please tell her all the wars you’ve fought protecting our Great Nation.
Retd. Army Major: The first day I looked the enemy in the eye I got filled with anger.
Journalist: – I respect your service to the nation with all my heart, but–
Foghorn: Oh, shut up! How dare you speak over a soldier? Many of his men made the Supreme Sacrifices so that people like you can watch Pakistani movies.
Journalist: But I respect that Foghorn.
Foghorn (again paying no heed to the journalist’s request to speak): Go on Major. The nation is not interested in such people. They don’t matter. They are Anti-Nationals.
Retd. Army Major: We had to face such horrors but the love for our Nation was the source of inspiration that kept us going.
And he speaks of a few important operations in detail for a good 10 minutes or so. The journalist by the end of the entire monologue looks like someone who has been proven guilty at the end of a trail. I feel sorry for her and start dreading what is in store for me.
Foghorn then turns to the human rights activist who has been working for the rights of Dalits, and opens a second folder. He gets treated in the same manner. First Foghorn asks him a barrage of questions and without even waiting the reply, invites the apolitical actor to jump into the debate. He asks him to share his experience when he was forced to leave his home. Accepting the invitation to drown out the activist’s voice the actor starts narrating all the horrors he faced. After the actor’s monologue Foghorn questions the activist why didn’t he come to his rescue at that time.
The activist tries to explain that he was not even born at that time but no one shows any interest in listening to him. Making concluding remarks the actor and Foghorn reach to the conclusion that he is a fake activist. This leaves the activist dejected and with his head hung low he looked defeated. He didn’t even get a chance to present his case.
And before I could comprehend and make sense of what is going on, it was my turn. My heart starts palpitating and I feel an intense urge to run away, but I’m chained to my chair by what feels like the entire studio’s collective condemning glare. Foghorn, along with the only two panellists who have been allowed to speak, are watching me like hawks.
I decide to hold my ground and not succumb to the colossal pressure they are undoubtedly about to subject me to.
Foghorn: Do you Ms. Passi have any idea what you have done?
I: Umm… No
Foghorn (Giving a sly smile): Could you tell me where you were on the 16th of October, last year.
I: In Delhi.
Foghorn: Yes, but where in Delhi?
I: I can’t recall. It was a very busy time as I was preparing for a family wedding.
Foghorn: Let me remind you that you were talking to a friend from Pakistan in your home.
I (Absolutely astonished): How do you know that I have a friend in Pakistan?
Foghorn: (Again, yelling on the top of his lungs): So you are admitting on National Television that you have a friend in Pakistan? I’d like to bring to your notice ladies and gentlemen that this lady here also has some Kashmiri friends.
I: Yes, but those–
Foghorn: Do you know that this is seditious behaviour? The Nation wants to know details of your conversation with your friends. What important information have you been sharing with your friends?
I: Oh my God, nothing. We just talk about life in general.
Foghorn: Life in general you say! Can’t you talk about life with those friends who don’t hate Indians?
I: But they don’t hate Indians!
Foghorn (Turning towards the apolitical actor): Could you enlighten Ms. Passi about your trials and tribulations during your exodus and how no one came to your rescue?
Foghorn: You will not interrupt a man of such stature. Hear him out and let him expose Anti-Nationals like you.
I: But he doesn’t even know me!
Foghorn: I have had enough of you. I am bringing your mic down.
The actor then starts sharing all the troubles he faced to make ends meet after he was forced to leave his home. I find myself feeling bad at what he went through. I had already heard to such stories of exodus of my grandmother who had to leave her ancestral home in Rawalpindi, Pakistan and from many of my Kashmiri friends (both Hindu and Muslims). It was extremely difficult to hear his sad predicament and I too start feeling guilty, forgetting how he has made a name for himself.
Then Foghorn starts lecturing me on Nationalism. He rants about how Pakistan is India’s Enemy. He informed me that because of my act of Treason I am now an Anti-National. A threat to the Sovereignty of India and I should surrender myself to the Police with immediate effect to interrogate me further.
At this point I got so scared that I decided to runaway. I couldn’t think of anything else. I ran for my dear life as Foghorn continued to shout without even being aware that I have left the debate. But the crew members and the audience notice, and they start charging after me, as Foghorn’s belligerent shouts feeds and carries forward what seems to be a mob behind me.
I run faster straight out of their studio, covering my face and looked for autos. The auto drivers stopped but one look at my face and they started leaving one after the other.
Some of them even heckled me and call me Anti-National, Enemy-Lover, Nation-Traitor. I am left stranded at night all by myself. After a couple of minutes I see a group of people reluctantly walking towards me, I smile at them but the colour of their faces change after they saw my eyes. I hear someone announcing, “It is her, don’t let the Anti-National leave alive!” First though that comes to my mind is, this is it, these are probably my final minutes. I stand still screaming, as I have nowhere to go. I am trapped. I start crying and shouting as the first hand touches my shoulder…
…and I find myself being jostled awake by my mother. I gape awake, waiting for my racing heart to come back to its normal, humdrum beat. None of it was real. Not for me at least. Not today, at least.