Ultimately…What Is It That Matters?

About a year and a half ago I was waiting at Barcelona airport, all agog for my first exposure to Spain. I was travelling to meet the bestie and this was to be the trip of a lifetime. It was all that and much more! But sitting in 2021 and seeing the things playing out around me, where I live and the world at large; these few snippets of memories came back to me.

I’d booked my airport pick-up from a vendor that works around the globe and to my surprise, the gentleman who was coming to pick me up was called Banarasi. I was naturally curious and a bit relieved to find an Indian in a place so far away from home and completely unfamiliar outside books and movies.

Turns out Mr.Banarasi was from Kashmir and had never been to Banaras. They had the last name Banarasi because the family originally hailed from there but had relocated to Kashmir and were Kashmiris for all practical purposes- angst and sadness included. That he was a Muslim, never came up in the conversation. It was evident from his first name. He was all praises for his new home, Barcelona, and spoke about the places I could visit and how the protests in Europe were saddening him because he felt they’d left that kind of a life behind when they left Indian shores. When he dropped me off at my hotel, he said Namaste and left-an Indian saying goodbye to an Indian. I don’t think he noticed I wasn’t of his religion or region.

These days when I see some who take up the cause of religion like it is a sacred duty and consider anyone who has a contrary opinion as being a blasphemer or just someone to crush underneath their religious vigor, it worries and upsets me. My father belongs to a family of people who were utterly and completely displaced by the Partition. Some key members from my mother’s family felt the backlash of the religious tensions of the Partition. During the 1984 Delhi Riots, my family gave shelter to a individual who used to ply his cabs in the city and my father and other men of our neighborhood took up a neighbourhood watch that lasted for a few days. Majority of the people in our neighborhood were from my hometown in the Eastern part of India and had settled down in New Delhi. None were from the faith of the people being attacked either.

In February 2002, my train passed by Godhra an hour before the Sabarmati Express was set on fire and my roommate and hostel mates were people from Godhra who had to bear the less than muted whispers about their community while walked the halls of our hostel. We were in lockdown even then with Section 144 imposed across the city and no end in sight of the violence that was spreading.

My interview for a job in a hospital in South Mumbai was deferred for a few hours since the doctor who was to interview me was held up, in rounds and the crazy Mumbai traffic. I was already on my way when I got the news and headed back home only to find out there was a blackout of the cellphones and the news of the bomb blast in the city. Panic and pandemonium prevailed. And still it didn’t occur to me to blame religion. Because it’s not religion’s fault how people choose to interpret it.

I like the vastness of the Hindu religion, the myths, allegories, temple architectures etc but I dislike having it thrust upon me as a way to prove “how much” of a Hindu I can be and I am. Red somehow, also comes from a family which respects each others’ faiths and doesn’t put on a show about their rites, rituals and beliefs. I said somehow because we are fairly different in how we approach our lives and definitely in our upbringing. We also belong to two completely different parts of the country and each one has enough of God-fearing people in the main and extended family.

We have also told TO not to dissect religion because it’s too vast, too old and intricate to be neatly pigeonholed. Before he was born Red and I decided on many things, pertaining to his upbringing and living in India, a child needs to have a stance on religion since the question gets posted to him/her before long. We told him could take take solace from the commonly-held belief of there being a Being who watches over us all. That is, if he so chooses to. If he chooses to be more scientific in his outlook and opts for things he can empirically understand; more power to him.

Why this sudden serious and long-ish post? Well…in this day in age, I think relying on a sense of community is what may get us through the vagaries of life and not just the ways prescribed by certain people who feel they are alone “in the know” of how members of a particular group ought to behave and what they ought to believe.

Might go a long way in easing the turbulence in our minds and in our society.

L’Chaim

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