Punctuate Life

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The United Nations of the World

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This post was meant to be on segregation and casteism and all the ugly covers we use to judge and divide us. But my wonderful husband told me this – your blog is about the positive, not about the negative. So I did not publish that post. Instead I have taken just the good points from it with the intention of sharing them with you.

Growing up, we were never really pukka Malayalees because we lived in Chennai and spoke mostly English at home. Part of it had to do with the fact that my parents never grew up in Kerala either. My mom had attended Benares Hindu University and was very fluent in Hindi. In fact she went on to be a very good Hindi teacher. My Dad grew up in Bombay and went to a school in Yercaud. I was born Hindu, went to a Christian school and said the Lord’s prayer everyday and lived in a neighborhood where everyone was Muslim.

Our Muslim neighbors burst crackers during Diwali and we shared sweets with them. During Ramzan they would send plates full of biriyani for us to enjoy. I don’t recall having any Malayalee friends in school. Lots of cousins, yes, but no friends. My best friends were Punjabi, Tamil, Telegu, Kannadiga and Bengali. It didn’t matter. No one made me feel like I was different. We all wore the same uniform, had the same rules to follow in school and our parents were friends. Some of the wonderful friends I made in college are Malayalees but that was not the reason I was friends with them!

I never really understood the impact of this kind of environment and upbringing until much later. Somewhere deep inside I knew that religion was just the way and that God was one indivisible being. I didn’t understand it even when 9/11 happened. Some of the best girls I know are Muslim and they are so gentle, loving and accepting. It didn’t hit me when I moved to the U.S. and the friends I made hailed from all over India.

But then slowly the hatred and bias that had been building up over the years started to spill over and I started hearing and seeing things that shocked me.

What really spurred me to write this article is something that came up in the news this week. It was about a boy who was one of the first responders when the 9/11 attacks happened. He lost his life trying to save the people trapped in the tower. His name was not mentioned along with the first responders. Why? Because he was a Pakistani Muslim. My good Indian friend L who lives in the Middle East told me that her best friend is Pakistani and I remember Benazir Bhutto’s last interview before she was assassinated. She talked of a deep love for her country and its beautiful people painted black by the media. She said that is why I fight for my country. That one sentence changed the way I as an Indian saw Pakistan. It is a country full of people like you and me, with families, with hopes and dreams. The real enemies are the politicians with their murky agendas, not the people of Pakistan.

I was also saddened by the news about the people from the North Eastern states having to flee Bangalore in the wake of threats of violence against them. What have we come to? Maybe the states should not have been divided based on language. But why should that divide us. What is wrong with speaking Hindi in Tamilnadu and why should every South Indian be called a Madrasi? I never grew up with those biases and so they seem really pointless and petty to me. I urge all of you to do the same. Get out of the narrow space that you have carved out for yourself. Explore the possibility of befriending someone outside of your limited religious or linguistic circle. My life is richer because of that. I learn so much about food and culture from my friends. And I almost always find so much similarity disguised as differences.

My kids now grow up in America and most of their friends are not Indians. I had to drop my bias against Westerners as well. I should have dropped it when I saw my friend S’s  husband who was German eat rice and curry with his hands. Or when G’s European fiance travelled all the way to India to meet her family and ask for her hand.  You see bias is a dangerous thing. Once you let it in, it colors your vision of the world and your life will never be the same again.

Don’t believe all that you see on television. The divide and rule policy is alive and well in every country’s government! Use your own experience to guide you.

I urge you to drop your veils and see the oneness that is us. It is what you have been seeking all your life…

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