Short Story: Jokes and Genocide
[Note to Reader: First, Content Warning: Religious Slurs / Abusive Language ; Second, I wrote this as part of a writing workshop where we were supposed to take two intersectional identities and bring them in conflict with each other, so that’s what I’ve tried to do.]
Saad: Hey I need to talk to you about something?
Saad is typing…
Dhruv: Are you writing an essay bro?
Saad: We’ve known each other for so many years, literally our whole lives, we’ve grown up together, all through school and college we’ve been best friends. From day one you’ve stuck by me, and I treasure our relationship more than anything in the world. And so with that of course I have also given you a certain level of comfort, a certain leeway, not just to you- to Shobhit, Bunty, Matthew. Because I know at the end of the day you all have my back. But things are changing now and some stuff that was acceptable no longer is, and I need you all to understand that.
Dhruv:Huh? What do you mean, what leeway?
Saad: I mean, Muslim, Biryani, Terrorist …should I go on?
Dhruv: What?? Where is this even coming from? You know it’s always been a joke. You’ve made these jokes yourself and laughed with us all the time. Haven’t you yourself called Matthew – Jesus lover, missionary?
Saad: Yes, I have. And I may have laughed and made jokes before, but I don’t want to be part of this anymore, isn’t that my right?
Dhruv: Why are you talking about your rights? Come on Saad, dark humor is our thing. You have always hated how offended people get about jokes as if joking about dead babies makes us baby killers.
Saad: I’m not sure about that anymore. Have you seen what’s going on in our country? Have you seen what they are doing to us, how they are coming after us, dehumanizing us? Do you even know?
Dhruv: Are you saying that we are the same as these hooligans who go around vandalizing and killing people?
Saad: They aren’t just hooligans; they are Hindus who have been radicalized by the leading Hindutva party to hate me and people like me because we are muslims.
Dhruv: So what’s what got to do with the five of us?
Saad: Because the ‘jokes’ you are making, that’s part of the same narrative they have out against us.
Dhruv: It has always been a joke, and you cannot just read it a certain way because of the political situation.
Saad: But don’t you understand, it is no longer the something small, something happening in the fringes, something that will go away. They are literally making plans to come kill us all.
Dhruv: Why are you being so dramatic? You know it’s just media frenzy and pre-election schemes, nothing like that will happen.
Saad: Are you for serious right now?
Saad: ITS ALREADY HAPPENING.
Saad: OPEN YOUR EYES AND LOOK AROUND YOU.
Dhruv: Why are you screaming??? I know things are bad but don’t act like doomsday is at our doorstep.
Saad: Okay tell me something. What do your parents think about muslims?
Dhruv: What does that mean, how is that related?
Saad: Tell me that they don’t think that muslims are terrorists, we are dirty, we mistreat women, that we are the cause of our own poverty, that we should have all gone to Pakistan.
Dhruv: Why are you saying we, you know it’s not like that between us. My parents love you; you know that.
Saad: It doesn’t matter if they love me. It’s not about me, it’s about my religion and people who are like me.
Dhruv: When did religion become so important to you? And why are you talking about people like you. Do you not think you and I have more in common than someone who you share a religion with?
Saad: Do you think the mob cares about that? What do you think they see when they hear that my name is Saad Ansari?
Dhruv: Yes, we all know assholes exist in the world. We were the ones that got that ABVP member who abused you in college, suspended. Because we know there’s a difference between jokes we make, and what assholes say and do. We – the five of us- we are a safe space. Why are you not seeing that?
Saad: I cannot believe you are using that to justify your bigotry.
Dhruv: Excuse me??? Is that what you really think?? That I am a bigot?
Saad: You are certainly acting like one. What, am I supposed to feel grateful that you don’t let others call me names but of course your right to dark humor is sacrosanct? I DO NOT FEEL SAFE IN YOUR FUCKING SAFE SPACE ANYMORE.
Saad: You know what, I had expected this from Shobhit or Bunty but not from you.
Dhruv: What does that mean, why not from me?
Saad: You know why?
Dhruv: No I don’t know why – please enlighten me.
Saad: Because I thought you’d know what it felt like to have your identity reduced to a few insults and names.
Dhruv: Are you really throwing what I told you in PRIVATE on my face to win your fucking agenda.
Saad: I’m not throwing it on your face. Maybe that’s your problem. You are so fucking obsessed with fitting in, with never being different, never disagreeing with anyone or anything which isn’t the norm that you think something specific about your identity, just because it is a deviation from the group, is an insult.
Dhruv: oh my god. Stop it. Just fucking stop it. It’s not your place to tell me what I should and should not be comfortable with.
Saad: Oh but I’m supposed to listen when you tell me that I should be okay with your stupid and bigoted sense of humor.
Dhruv: Those are NOT the same things.
Saad: And who gets to decide that YOU the all-knowing arbiter of humor.
Dhruv: You know what if you want to turn around one day and decide that you no longer want to be the person you have been YOUR WHOLE LIFE. Please go ahead and do that but don’t expect us to change. We are happy with the way we are.
Saad: I’m not expecting them to change, am I? I am expecting you. Why don’t you think with your own god-damn mind for once in your life? And my whole life- I lived with the fear that I couldn’t think or want things that were different because if I did, I wouldn’t have the friends I do now. I don’t think dark humor is always appropriate. I don’t think we did the right thing squeezing out Priya because she wasn’t on board with the way we talked about women. I don’t think jokes exist in a vacuum and that it isn’t somehow related to all of the fucked-up stuff that goes on in our world.
Saad: The world is changing Dhruv. We cannot go about our lives pretending being apolitical isn’t just a way for us to not be bothered by the things that don’t personally affect us. Sometimes I fear Shobhit, and Bunty are beyond redemption. But I know you, I have been right there with you laughing at things we don’t find particularly funny, abiding by stuff, we aren’t always comfortable with.
Saad: We don’t have to be okay with things we aren’t? And if they don’t accept that, then fuck them.
Dhruv is typing…
Saad: I cannot believe you told them. I cannot believe I thought you were different.