Why are there only narratives of feeling ‘the Other’? Of social tags marring the persona of the individual in front; of community ghettos in our cosmopolitan cities? This is not to trivialise or dismiss blatant discriminations and injustice but the dominant narrative comes to vitiate the atmosphere. The malady penetrates deeper though with well-meaning intentions to the contrary.
I was always proud of the diversity of my country but felt deprived of its experience. Born and brought up in a homogeneous locality and having studied in the neighbourhood school I yearned for a Muslim friend. I wanted to know Islam, of what it was to be a Muslim; of why in a country of many religions does Islam become the face of antipathy to the majority faith. Luckily, I did get a friend who was a Muslim. In early adolescence and particularly in an all girls atmosphere, petty quarrels erupt which dissolve as uncharacteristically as they arise. On one such instance where my Muslim friend was on the other side of the dispute did she comfortably take recourse to her “Otherness” and charged me with discriminating unjustly. Thus was a puerile confrontation blown up to communal proportions. I’m sure she wouldn’t have steered in this direction if she had been a Christian or Sikh or Jain or Parsi. That was my first experience of communalism in our society. I don’t blame her. That’s how she had been taught to perceive the world around, that’s how entrenched her religious identity had gotten into everyday affairs. I wasn’t lucky a second time. I did cross path with many Muslims in life but none progressed to a concrete association and I was mindful of not looking at them as exotic beings out of an innocent curiosity.
As I started reading obsessively, layers of Islam and the Muslim identity drew me closer filling me with awe. Best moments in company have been the times spent in relishing Urdu poetry with a friend, with the help of our Hindi and the Internet. We have deeply regretted not having been schooled in Urdu and not having a Urdu scholar to guide us into the enchanting world of Shayari. We have marvelled at the depths of surrender that a believer of Islam can go to. The trailing breath of ‘Fida…’ throbbed our hearts more than any poem of love.
Why don’t we have narratives of the likes of Sardar Singh and Manto anymore? Why don’t people take the cue from a small report tucked in a corner of the newspaper about a Muslim family securing a Hindu marriage in the thick of the Khishtwar violence? Rushdie wrote of a Hindu-Muslim romance in Kashmir not as an exceptional event but as one very natural occurrence. Why do we hail Dr. Kalam for being a liberal Muslim who reveres the Bhagavad Gita? Countless Hindu families in Punjab pray to the pirs buried in their villages. I met a Hindustani musician who had a garlanded image of the Hindu goddess of learning Saraswati at his home, not to mention that his faith was Islam.
Of course the pen draws from reality and the literature of every period in history reflects the then existing scenario. But the written word is potent enough to create an intellectual and social climate. It’s a cyclical relationship. What we need is an atmosphere of normalcy that’s not self conscious. Isn’t everyone a human being first before getting ascribed to social identities handed down by birth? So Salim is Salim and a man wearing a white cap is A man wearing a white cap. Right to dignity implies to be respected for the individual we are. By emphasising on Muslim identity we are only alienating those of our Muslim countrymen who have faith in humanity, who proudly sport the Indian flag on August 15, who value the nation for what it has given them and who believe there’s not a better land to live in. May all fortunate people tell the story of vibrant syncretism in their lives to drown voices of cynicism and truly celebrate the richness of this land.