Loneliness sits flat on my chest. Nine months into the pandemic, I have come to the conclusion that there is no depth in loneliness, no awakening or lessons to be learnt from silence. My body bends forward in desperation grasping for in-person interaction and I am becoming acutely aware of how sound affects my body, the sound of Urdu and Farsi as waves moving across spatial realms, settling into every part of my body. After all, language is embodied like home. My mother sends a similar voice note each morning, “Salam Wajiha, kaisi ho, beta apni khairiyat se mutela karo, apna khayal rakhna, namaz parhti rehna, Imam-e-zamana aur panjitane paak ki zamanat mein diya.” Her voice creates home. I left home at seventeen and through this pandemic I have spent months questioning my move, what does it mean to live life with no roots, in a strange land.
Every day, I speak with my Iranian friend. We are both aware of each other’s loneliness and our everyday conversations have developed a repetitive pattern to the extent that we know what the other person is thinking and going to say, we laugh at the same jokes day after day. Everyday on his way back home from work, he asks me if I remember what central London looked like, he says it is quiet like a ghost city. I think about how performances of sounds create spaces. Specifically, I think a lot about the chants of “azaadi” (freedom) by Muslim women that were reverberating the entirety of India in December and January, oscillating through bodies and spaces to reclaim, reconstruct and reimagine belonging to the Indian nation. Sounds lay out networks for how we listen. The narrative laid out by colonial government set the beginning for how postcolonial India set out to manage its Muslim population. Narratives around Muslim women have historically focused on silences and absences, thus, the surprise surrounding the “impossible” in the protests led by Muslim women during the anti-CAA protests in India suggests the Islamophobic ways in which Muslim women are placed out of spaces. The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 brought forth a call for azaadi (freedom) from bodily-spatial violence embedded in the nation-state, reflecting the places of Muslim resistance led by Muslim women.
The response to this call for “azaadi” was anti-Muslim progrom in Delhi. Soon after, the advent of COVID-19 pandemic brought a new Islamophobic rhetoric in India. Indian Muslims were accused by leaders from ruling party for a campaign of spreading Covid-19 to the Hindu majority through “Corona terrorism” and “Coronajihad.” Sounds construct networks of power, through connecting certain bodies and excluding others, the presentation of Muslim body as bearer of terror and virus- the coronajihadist- suggested that a personal Muslim pathology was at work. The use of the words such as coronaspitters, biojihad and corona terrorist invoked a rhetoric of sickness where, in the struggle between health and decay, the coronajihadist is a dangerous and decaying body.
As Indian Muslims were being blamed for spreading COVID-19 in India, there was violent manifestation of Anti-Asian racism related to COVID-19 across Canada (and globally) and months after, silence around Black Lives Matter in the predominantly white space I lived in. There is a visceral context to how we listen, speak or choose to stay silent, sound constructs political and social subjectivities and spaces of marginalization. Through these long ten months, I have felt simultaneously displaced and present across multiple geographies, I often think about the predominantly white space I lived in. My voice shrunk in that space, living day after day on a survival mode surrounded by whiteness. Since being once ordered quite aggressively by a white person to declare my respect towards their love for their settler-colonial nation, I have been thinking about the role of sonic power in disciplining of the speech of racialized Others’ in establishing abstract spaces like nation and borders, how expansive whiteness is and how loud and empty land acknowledgements engulf these stolen Indigenous lands.