Recently, we had our 25th school reunion and all 53 of us converged on Dehradun from across the world to celebrate the occasion in our alma mater, a reputed boarding school.
Many of us had joined in Class 2, but surprisingly each one had only pleasant memories. Reminiscing nostalgically about our time together, we realised that although we were taught a great deal about history, art, literature and sports, none of us had the faintest notion of religion as a practice. No, we were not atheists or agnostics. Far from it! All of us prayed regularly, but because no individual religion was ever given preference in our school and, without having a particular picture in our minds, we all just believed in God.
The birth of Krishna was celebrated with great excitement and we would 'create' the baby God in a basket, atop his father's head, escaping from Kansa's wrath. Gurpurb meant waking up early in the morning in the freezing cold and looking forward to the 'karha parsad' in the gurdwara. Before the onset of the winter vacation, we would be singing 'Rudolf, The Red-Nosed Reindeer' and 'Silent Night, Holy Night' to usher in Christmas. The senior girls would prepare a beautiful manger, complete with donkeys and cows, and baby Jesus in his cradle.
Gandhi Jayanti meant singing bhajans on the prayer platform. The entire staff was given leave that day and all of us were assigned tasks ranging from cooking, cleaning and serving to washing up. We would sweep the grounds and clean our classrooms, all without a grumble. Every occasion ended with us standing erectly to the soulful rendition of the national anthem. Our teachers taught us to empathise and have compassion for fellow beings. We held classes to teach children of lower-rung school employees and made friends with them. There were never any long-winded religious discourses, but our principal would come to each class with a simple and meaningful story, exhorting us to revel in our good fortune but, at the same time, to be merciful towards the needy.
As we roamed around the campus and exchanged notes, we realised how caste, colour, creed and religion never came in the way of our relationships in school and also in our present lives. We all prayed to that one God in all his avatars, be it Allah, Ram, Jesus or Nanak. I came away recalling the Dalai Lama's words: "My religion is simple. My religion is kindness".
Benevolence is the greatest virtue, and we can each in our small way contribute towards making a difference with a helpful gesture, a considerate approach and a big smile!