PRAGUE -- So we are on a date. On a grassy hilltop behind Prague's historic castle. And this little girl comes frolicking in our direction, sees me, stops dead and starts running back screaming for her parents who are somewhere in the distance. Only she doesn't quite make it back unscathed: she trips, falls down flat, gets up and limps back to shelter. We snigger. And then my Czech date mimes, "Mama, I saw a terrorist." He obviously feels he's crossed a line, so he hastily adds, "but like a sexy one." The conversation veers to fashion altogether: his hair, my beard; my Calvin Klein jeans, his Zara shoes; my Prada shades, his Sony watch. We're both eager to ignore the T-bomb that he accidentally dropped. Mostly because I've given up trying to educate people on political correctness altogether. I'm actually an Indian Hindu. But I have an anchor beard. It makes me look, according to most of my dates, "Middle Eastern" or -- as one specific Tinder user too tortured by hormones to have any time for political correctness put it -- "u luk so sexily terroristic." Fantasies aside though, Indians with a beard do indeed look like Indians. But in this part of Europe they don't get many of us. Hence beardless Raj Koothrappalis from the "The Big Bang Theory" exemplify the typical Indian instead. And bearded Raj Koothrappalis are, well, equal to "Middle Easterners." Case in point: I was dancing in a club in central Prague once, and this random woman comes up to me, fondles my beard and giggles "Allahu Akbar" in my ear.
This little girl comes frolicking in our direction, sees me, stops dead and starts running back screaming for her parents. And then my Czech date mimes, 'Mama, I saw a terrorist.'
"You can't altogether be sorry about it," the hormonal Tinder user continues when I recount this episode to her, "because like all things considered, the Middle Eastern terrorist -- the villain -- is bound to be sexier in people's imagination than the Indian IT guy -- the supporting actor." She then goes on about how all the villains in Hollywood films are the new sexy: the Joker, Lucifer, Harley Quinn, the guy in "Deadpool" etc. before launching into a theory about how easy it is to be infatuated with someone who can hurt you. "Like a terrorist," I fill in. There is a noticeable pause before she answers. "Yeah, but like a fashionable one."
I was actually in Paris when the November 2015 attacks occurred. Like literally in the 10th arrondissement. For a conference dinner by the third course of which the death toll had crossed 40 and everyone had lost their appetite. Back home in India my parents weren't actually worried about the negligible probability of me getting killed in the attacks but rather of the enormous probability of me being hurt after the attacks thanks to my "new fashion statement" (the beard is something I got recently, to the bombastic disapproval of my mother). By the next morning though the death toll had crossed 100, France had sealed its borders, and even I began to be a little concerned about wandering out alone in the city. And, of course, that's exactly the situation I was put in on the same evening when I had to stay back at the conference venue for a meeting while the rest of my cohort went to a bar in the Marais district in Paris. This isn't London. That was the first thought that crossed my mind as the sunlight began to recede through the windows of the conference hall (I go to London every now and then for research trips). I didn't know how multicultural Paris really was. All I knew was that it felt nothing like London. There I could have risked tiptoeing to the grocery store even after a genocide. Honest. It is a 15 minute walk, said Google Maps. The probabilities are low, said I. So beers before bruises, I intoned, because it was my last night in Paris and well yolo etc. As I exited the conference hall though I remembered what my Czech date had said: a fashionable terrorist. So yeah, and I'm not quite sure whether I should be ashamed of this or not, I took off my overcoat and decided to carry it in my hand and bear the cold. Why? So that any passerby with -- well -- cruel intentions got a full view of the impenetrable shields of Western capitalism that simultaneously decorated and branded me as "undangerous" from head to heel: Prada, Zara, Gucci and even a Samsung watch which all my friends always thought was an Apple Watch (even better).
And so I walk towards Marais, one of the most heavily patrolled districts of Paris after the attacks, get a fair share of stares from passersby (I look at my Samsungian Apple Watch, pretending to be in a hurry), and have groups of chattering people turn dead silent when they pass me on the street. Yep, this is not London. The armed policemen are nice though, they mostly pretend not to be looking at me. Or maybe they actually aren't, idk. I avoid a rather dark and dingy street and take a five-minute detour through a better lit street. And finally reach the bar where my white friends, my ultimate human shields, are. Before I make it to their table though, I get stopped for the first time. The owner, or whatever he was, blocks my way and asks me what I want. Because obviously I couldn't be here for a drink, right? So I point at my friends and they are actually a group of 15 Europeans. They wave at us and he decides to disappear for the best. Poof.
I took off my overcoat and decided to carry it in my hand and bear the cold. Why? So that any passerby with -- well -- cruel intentions got a full view of the impenetrable shields of Western capitalism that simultaneously decorated and branded me as 'undangerous' from head to heel.
In fact the strategy was altogether so successful that the next day I decided to wear, in addition to my shields of brands, a hot pink tie. I don't know whether it was the tie that did it (I'd like to think that it did) but I passed through the strictest security Charles De Gaulle airport has had in a generation without a single passport check. And that's including the fact that France had apparently sealed off its borders. Diplomatic passports, ladies and gentlemen, ain't got nothing on my tie.
A month later we were in Berghain -- the swankiest, sleekest and most gloriously depraved club in Berlin -- talking about the Paris attacks. So here we are in Berghain, that is to say, after having stood for three quarters of an hour in the legendary queue that trails up to the venue. We go dancing for a considerable time and somewhere in the drunken night I find myself chatting with a German girl and an Italian guy at the bar. About the Paris attacks. "I could be bothered about getting bombed at the Stade de France," chuckles the Italian, stirring his cocktail, "but not in Berghain. No way. Nobody here cares whether they live or die." The German nods, takes a sip of her drink, and humorously adds, "Plus the terrorists won't make it past the bouncers anyway, not with their sense of fashion."
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