For years now, our tickers have been among the most diseased in the world. In 2016 — months after the daytime lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq at his home in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh — the World Health Organisation reminded us that Indians contribute to a fifth of all heart disease-related deaths. I’m sorry to report that as our cardiovascular systems are pumped with a regular supply of hate and disinformation, our heart health grows more precarious with every passing day.
As surveys focus on the mood of the nation ahead of the 2024 general election, I feel it is my duty to share widely the results of my “State of Our Hearts” rumination. I hope it will nudge you to examine the health of the central organ of your cardiovascular system.
A key finding of my survey is that the amount of hate required to shock our hearts rises with every passing week, indicating that our hearts are getting increasingly infected. Think of it as alcohol addiction where you have to drink more for the same effect. There’s enough evidence to show that in 2023 our hearts need a higher level of hate to feel anything more than they did a decade ago.
Some of us recognise this inability to feel for what it really is. As Mohammad Rafi famously sang, our hearts are breaking into a thousand pieces, falling here and there.
First, the biology. A hate-fuelled myocardial infarction is caused when a part of your heart muscle only gets blood that’s tainted with vitriol. Hate is a wide umbrella in modern India but as you know, the heart doesn’t discriminate. It is affected equally by any hate you imbibe, whether it’s Islamophobia or casteism or hatred for anything that goes on inside a church. It could be hate against the LGBTQIA+ community, chiefly trans people, or that old favourite, hate against women, especially if they belong to any of the above groups.
Your family history, your voting history, your lifestyle (for example, how much television you watch and how many family WhatsApp groups you belong to), your favourite colour, your residents’ association membership and your state of residence — all affect how diseased your heart has become. As a parent, you have the heady power to transmit this disease to your children. Here are some early symptoms that will alert you that your heart is in danger: Your chest feels tight, squeezed or aches when you hear church bells, the azaan or the sound of your child’s voice clearly asserting her right to choose a life partner.
You break out in a cold sweat when you find out that a case has been filed under the Atrocities Act. You may or may not feel nausea. It was just a regular crime right, why use this act? Some of you may suffer from what can only be described as a version of hyperhidrosis, a medical condition in which a person sweats excessively and unpredictably. Except, your condition is predictable and triggered by any of the following: Dalit man on a horse; Dalit man proud of his moustache; Dalit child picking up cricket ball; Dalit woman resisting harassment; Dalit drinking from a pot of water meant for you and yours. The list of everyday actions that can evoke your sweat fest is endless. You are at increased risk if you live in a state such as Madhya Pradesh.
You feel lightheadedness or sudden dizziness when you hear feminists talk about criminalising marital rape or when you think about the forthcoming verdict of the marriage equality case pending in the Supreme Court.
You feel an irregular heartbeat — arrhythmia — when you spot a Muslim citizen praying. Pain or discomfort spreads quickly to your shoulder, arm, back, neck, jaw, even your belly, when a Muslim family tries to buy an apartment in your building. The very mention of the word Muslim or Mughal or Eid may give you heartburn or indigestion — even without going near any festive feast.
Your conversations are premised mainly on whataboutery and perceived historical slights. You feel fatigue and shortness of breath every time someone uses facts.
I’m sorry to inform you but your heart is diseased. The only hope for you is to switch off all your news sources; spend time with friends and family who don’t see red when green and orange stand together and who don’t think that their “merit” is what afforded them the best educational opportunities and made them successful. Look for inspiration — you’ll find it in love, in sport, in the idea of a chosen family. It resides in interfaith and inter-caste marriages; in the record-breaking teamwork of the Indian 4X400 men’s relay team comprising two Muslims, a Christian, and a Hindu; or in the career of javelin champion Neeraj Chopra, who invited his Pakistani contemporary to stand next to him as he stretched out his arms and held behind him the Tricolour that enveloped them both.
It’s a long, hard climb, but the view of humanity from the top is guaranteed to heal your heart.
The writer is a Bengaluru-based writer and co-founder of India Love Project on Instagram
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