Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I have converted

One of my Nana’s (maternal grandfather) good friend was Muslim. Apparently, one day when my Nani (maternal grandmother) had organized a Satyanarayan Puja, he showed up. She asked him if he wanted the prasad. He accepted it readily with both his hands. But within seconds, he threw the religious offering on the floor, stomped it, and spat on it. My Nana didn’t say anything, but my Nani, who was four feet eleven inches of fierceness, fiery temper, and indescribable beauty, decided to teach this fellow a lesson.

A week later, she told my Nana’s friend that she wanted to visit a mosque. He was thrilled, but informed her that she couldn’t enter the place of worship. My Nani confirmed said she was fine with it and would be happy to see it from the outside. As the three of them drove up to the entrance, my Nani turned to this man and said, “Oh brother, is this where you sacrifice pigs?” My Nana’s friend threw a hissy fit and asked my Nani how she could ever say something so sacrilegious. She retorted back, “The same way you could insult my prasad.”

After that day, the families didn’t speak with each other. My mother’s family grew up with that anecdote deeply embedded in their subconscious. How powerful was that story, you ask. Even decades later, I can regurgitate it as if it happened yesterday. And I can bet you the man’s family wouldn’t ever erase that one interaction with my Nani. As a result, two families of different religious faiths grew up generalizing, stereotyping, and mistrusting “the others.”

Truth is, my Nani and the Muslim man weren’t exceptions in their “judgment” or “reaction” to the other community. At least they had the guts to express (To the other person’s face) what was on their mind, however inappropriate on the social and sentimental front. Every family has its own personal story that it considers sacred and uses it to defend against the “enemies.”

Most people from my parents’ generation were born around the time of India-Pakistan’s partition. It was impossible for them to see the good in another community because of their experiences. And a broken heart is mistrustful and sometimes unintentionally malicious. The potion of hatred was brewed in all homes. People drank from it and passed it on to us. And apparently the same happened in Pakistan.

The first time I realized that we hear only one side of the story, is when one of my Pakistani-American friends narrated the India-Pakistan partition horror to our professors at Columbia University. At first, I was affronted. How dare he badmouth India? We didn’t do any wrong. But as his stories got descriptive, I backed off. They sounded just like what I had heard from Indians. The only difference was that instead of Hindus being victims in his story, Muslims were the suffering characters.

I conceded that it wasn’t just Indian women who were raped or brutalized by the “enemy.” It wasn’t just Hindus who had lost their land or were embittered. When a country is divided, both sides deal with excruciating pain. The British Government then was the master of this puppet show. And they made sure the two sides hated each other with a passion. The young Muslims were told that Hindus killed uninhibitedly while the Hindus were informed that Muslims massacred without a blink.

Because of where we live, the truth presented and often available is only one-sided. We all grow up with baggage. Our parents’ experiences influenced our thoughts. Their stories shaped our opinions. But I wonder if they blinded us, even if partially?

Our ancestors were a part of the history that cost them their loved ones and homes. It won’t be easy for them to forgive, forget, and move on. But what about us? We still have the time to make a difference. Can we move past the notion that every Hindu is a Shiv Sena representative, every Muslim is an Islamic fundamentalist, or every Christian is on a mission to convert the weakest link?

Isn’t it our responsibility to make an effort to blindly not accept everything presented to us? Our parents didn’t have the same exposure as we do. Thanks to them, we are well educated, well traveled, and well read. So why are we fooled by the games of politics every single time? Why do we fall prey to the guile of riot-causing, home-wrecking, people-burning, self-centered politicians? It is in their best interest that religion be the choice of weapon. If there is anyone in the world enjoying deaths and differences, it’s people in power.

A friend said to me, “What? You like Pakistanis more?” I replied, “I don’t have such a big heart, yet. But I am learning to not label all of them as murderers out to get Indians. I am trying to see the difference between the Pakistani government, whom I still don’t trust, and the Pakistani populace.”

Some one dear to me recently shared that their closest friends, who happen to be Pakistanis, are petrified about moving back to Pakistan. This couple has boys of impressionable age. The parents aren’t sure how the government and school will tamper with the kids’ minds and show them the “wrong” way. As far as I see, the government is causing the mess even in Pakistan, like other countries.

Why can’t we choose to absolve humans of the religious faith they were born into? Most of us weren’t born into acceptance, but we have to at least make an honest effort to break the shackles of bigotry. Shouldn’t we stop punishing today’s generation for the mistakes committed by their forefathers?

When I was talking to a writer-friend in London the other day, she said, “I like what you write. Your voice and the force of truth.” I said to her, “I discover myself and the world around me with writing. And it’s not always pretty. It’s not a surprise my husband thinks I will be on the death list of "people" before I turn forty.” I am unsure if I should add a smiley or a sad face at the end of that last sentence.

More until next time,


Copyright © 11.10.2010

“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” Friedrich Nietzsche


Anonymous said...

Good one again Sweta. I am surprised to read about the anecdote about your Nana’s friend & Nani’s reaction.
My mother was also a non trusting Hindu woman who would easily befriend muslim people but couldn’t eat at their place. She always avoided eating at their house by saying that she is fasting for Tuesday or Thursday or saraswati puja or for basant panchami. She was caught couple of times but her friends stayed her friends. They loved eating at our place. Were never invited to any religious ceremonies but always came to birthdays/wedding.
One of my son's best friend from Pakistan just married a Hindu girl. Their parents had hard time accepting this union but gave in….times are changing. Signs of changing times.

s said...

As always, Sweta, an interesting and insightful piece. I agree with all you wrote and how we give in to stereotypes, even if we believe ourselves to be "oh so evolved" .