A steel web of hearts and minds
Ramadan is a time of introspection and it would be worthwhile, don’t you think, if we, each in our own way, made a clear distinction between the extremists on either side and those of goodwill – and held on there? Renuka Narayanan writes.india Updated: Sep 05, 2008 23:25 IST
It’s Ramadan again and I recall last year’s iftar and dinner at a mainly Muslim university, where dignitaries from several Islamic countries were among the guests. I couldn’t help noticing that many Indian ladies (Muslim), both hosts and guests, had some element of saffron on their person: a blouse, a sari border, a gauzy dupatta or embroidery on a sharara. To my eye, automatically registering such details, it seemed like a silent assertion of their Indian identity while observing Ramadan with foreigners. I don’t think they planned it; I felt very bad that I even noticed, zamana aisa ho gaya. For who was there to receive the signal anyway, except the foreign guests and the Pakistani ambassador? It makes me think of how Mrs Ansari, our Vice-President’s wife, wore a sort of tricoloured sari at his swearing-in.
Now one school of thought would say, “Well done!” while another might say, “Isn’t it unnecessary?” I’d submit that it’s entirely a matter of personal choice. The colour belongs to us all, the clothes belong to us all and why should ‘she’ not celebrate her fabulous composite culture, too? It’s not only about modern Hindus nonchalantly eating kababs at their Muslim friends’ homes, is it? The love, respect and apnapan meet halfway and cross over. As many of us ask ourselves, where do we Indians leave off being ‘Hindu’ and become ‘Muslim’ or vice-versa? (And aren’t Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Jews feeling left out, while H and M slug it out?).
But what are we going to say, meanwhile, to my Uzbek friend, a Persian scholar who adores India? She married an Indian not so long ago and I believe she’s named her newborn son ‘Ram’. Well! I was startled into a most unladylike whistle when I heard. Personally I don’t care, she could just as well have named her son Nebuchadnezzar and good luck to the poor little fellow (there’s always deed poll later, but think of all the fistfights through school).
The point is, nobody forced her into this, you know. She wanted to, just like all those Hindus and Sikhs in the last twenty years naming their sons ‘Aman’ and ‘Armaan’ to show cross-cultural solidarity and proclaim their belief in peace, in the idea of India. It’s all of a piece, the saffron touches at the iftar and the hundreds of little Amans and Armaans growing up across old Bharatvarsh. It gets even more ‘integrated’ to hear of a little Hindu miss owning up to Yasmin or Ayesha as her handle, simply because her parents found those names so pretty.
Alas for us all, we mostly hear of the horrible extremist deeds and words of political men and sometimes women. We don’t realise our own phenomenal capacity for productive peace. Did you know, for instance, that the Jamaat-e-Islami-Hind and the Ramakrishna Mission volunteers worked shoulder-to-shoulder during the tsunami? Right now, the Jamaat has sent money and medicines to Bihar while a team from the Ramakrishna Mission must have reached the Nepal border on Thursday night. Both organisations expressed perfect willingness to work together again for the country.
Ramadan is a time of introspection and it would be worthwhile, don’t you think, if we, each in our own way, made a clear distinction between the extremists on either side and those of goodwill – and held on there? So that peaceful Hindus and Muslims stay connected, reinforce each other and make a steel web of hearts and minds – like the warp and woof of the Universe, as expressed in Yajnavalkya’s great disquisition to Gargi in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad?
Otherwise we shall be condemned to mutual regret and pining, like Mirza Ghalib: “Kabhi neki bhi uske ji mein gar aa jaaye hai mujh se, zafaayen karke apni yaad sharma jaaye hai mujh se/Khudaaya, zazab-e-dil ki magar taaseer ulti hai, ki jitna khenchta hoon utna khinchta jaaye hai mujh se/Udhar wo badgumani hai, idhar naatvani hai, na poochha jaaye us se, na bola jaaye mujh se…” ‘If she ever considers being kind to me, she grows abashed recalling her cruelty; My heart’s desire, O God, leads but to the opposite: the more I try to attract her, the more she goes away from me. Such pride there, such weakness here, that neither will she ask after me, nor can I speak a word.”
Moreover, “Muhabbat mein nahin hai farq jeene aur marne ka, usi ko dekh kar jeete hain, jis kaafir pe dum nikle.” ‘In love, there is no difference between life and death, we live by the same infidel for whom we die.’