For a state long known for its history of communal violence, Gujarat also has the perfect example of how members of two communities can not only co-exist peacefully but as a happy family.
Haroon Khanderao and Amit Ramanlal Mali are not related by blood, and that has never mattered to either of them. Their families have been living in the same house, sharing the same kitchen and taking care of each other for 50 years now. Together, they have also been looking after the family business of growing and selling flowers.
'Sun flower phool ghar (flower house)' is a small shop in the congested and more than 100-year-old Katopar market. Inside, the fragrance of rose petals and incense sticks mingle to create a virtually sacred ambiance. It's a busy weekday morning and both "brothers" are in the shop, Haroon at the counter and Amit supervising the workers. They are reluctant to talk about their lives and how the two families continue to stay together.
Murtaza, their neighbour and the owner of the adjoining shop, is more forthcoming. "Amit's father Ramanlal Narayandas Mali and Haroon's uncle Mohammad Khanderao worked in the flower shop as teenagers and became friends. Later, when the original owner decided to shut shop, the two took over. At that time, both were bachelors and sharing a room above the shop," he recalls over steaming cups of tea.
As time went by, the business flourished and so did their friendship. They bought a house on the banks of the Narmada. Soon after, both got married and started their families in the same house, Murtaza reminisces. The friendship continued into the second generation, where Mohammadbhai's five daughters and Ramanlal's two daughters and a son grew up together, each stepping in when the other needed help.
"My mother does not eat non-vegetarian food but cooks it for the rest of the family. Her food is cooked separately," Amit finally shares, adding that that's about the only division in the house. Haroon turns down a request to visit his house and speak to the rest of the family, saying it would be a bad omen. The superstition goes back five years, when a foreign television crew interviewed the family. Ramanlal died in a road accident soon after and Mohammadbhai passed away a year later.
Neither Haroon nor Amit, in their late 20s, can explain how their diverse family has survived the communal strife and tension in the state. All they know is that they are family and that's all that matters.