Monday, July 24, 2006

इतनी कुर्बत हैं तो फिर फासला इतना क्यों है?

1980. Chotu, my 3-year-old nephew asked me, "Is Vandu masi a musalmaan? She keeps repeating ‘Allah mian'." My sister was studying in a girls’ college in a predominantly Muslim locality. She would tell us how some Muslim girls came to college in burkas and once inside the college gates go quickly behind a tree to remove it and emerge in jeans and even miniskirts.

When Chotu joined school, he came back home one day all excited because there was a 'Saif Ali' in his class too. All these years he had thought I was Saif Ali!!

Bachpan ki Eid

These instances apart, twenty-five years of growing up in Bhopal taught me nothing about Hindu-Muslim differences like the years of living outside it have. Things that seemed so commonplace then, now emerge with special relevance.

That everyone preferred to call me ‘Sultana’ because I was born in the Sultania hospital. That the sepia-colored memories that lie in a tattered album at home show me in shararas stitched by Khan auntie, my godmother. And though she moved to Aligarh three decades ago, we still talked of her rumali rotis and the fine mulmul kurtas she stitched for Papa, as if it were yesterday. That Ayesha Khan, the burly Pathan with feisty sisters - Amina and Nagina - was one of my closest friends since kindergarten as was the very feminine Sameena Ali in college. That Eid was celebrated with Chacha’s big family of daughters, sons, and grandchildren. The college bus driver, Chacha was the only Muslim living on the campus and not visiting his home for sevian and dahi-wadas on Eid was unthinkable.
That on the first day of my Urdu class in college, Akhlaq Asar sa'ab, the Urdu Professor, taught the first letters - ‘Ra’ and ‘m’ - ‘Ram’, and the constant complaint of the Sanskrit teacher, Ms Neelam in school was that while Nikhat Saba excelled in Sanskrit, I trailed. Prof Zamiruddin helped kindle my lifelong passion for Frost’s poetry (my Frost site). That my daughter, who had to be delivered through the caesarian section, was on common consent that it was an auspicious day, brought into the world on Eid. I still preserve the little scrap of paper on which Papa noted the time as he heard her first cry and scribbled under it ‘Mohammed’ ‘Shakila’. 

Now in Bangalore, I find instant affinity with the Muslim shopkeepers and autowallas, when, the moment I speak, they ask me where I am from for my zubaan is so much like theirs.

When Holi came with its hearty, all-encompassing spirit that never pauses to think before it pulls someone into its fold, when all differences vanish among the merry crowds drenched in colour, we decided to have a Holi Milan at work. My spirits dampened when the moment they heard about it, the only two Muslim colleagues announced that they’d leave early. Out came the demons of the past. Looking forward to a Holi back then, in college, I was appalled when a Muslim classmate remarked that she was told that if the gulal as much as touches her, her skin would burn. But the warmth of Holi returned when I discovered that it was only a teaser and at the end of the day Rehman, Imran and I were the only people drenched unrecognizable in colour.


  1. Anonymous12:44 PM

    U amuse. brilliant nostalgia writing. some juss feel, some juss narrate, some do both so effortlessly. looking forward to more of it. don't feel like waiting till next monsoon. let nostalgia flow this winter...

  2. nasuk lamhoon ko piroyaa hai in lafsoon mein...

    soobhaan allah...

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