It's the NRI (non-resident Indian, or non-reliable Indian or non-required Indian: take your pick) season in Ahmedabad, when far-flung sons and daughters of the soil return for weddings, family meets, looking up on loved ones, or just a bit of shopping.
It's a mixed bag of feelings - as a couple, Nino's Dad and I have pretty much lost most of our friends to foreign lands, so we relish having our favourite adult company back and around, so much so that even school-nights have a party feel to them. But with these dear friends, comes the attitude that some expats are famous for: a right towards India, but no responsibility.
All these years, we had to grapple with the that's-what's-stopping-India kinda comments. They cribbed about not being allowed to vote, when I know for a fact most of them were too tied up personally/professionally when they were Indian citizens and had to exercise their vote. At times like these, we'd politely point out the positive changes, pull them up when they broke traffic rules, or pee-ed in the open, only because, well, you can't do it abroad.
This year, unnervingly, it's all been about religion. It could be because of the recent bombings in the country and this city and it definitely is because all of the expats we know belong to one religion. Removed from what the citizens are going through, or the people of India are going through, are these sons and daughters who believe in exercising their opinion on racial discord loudly, and repeatedly. Needless to say, Islam has taken a beating here - the recent activities of the so-called Indian Mujahideen being to blame.
And increasingly, I find myself side-lined as I look at friends I bonded with years ago. The words drip with hate, the verdicts are extreme, the judgement severe and unashamed. And as they turn to me, mouthing the now-famous phrase every right-winged person uses, 'pseudo-secularist', I wonder what happened to my friends who loved Mughali cuisine, spent hours listening to Sufi music, admired Mughal architecture, and adored artists/singers/painters/poets who all happened to be Muslim.
It was pointless reiterating the Muslims who've lived and loved India in a far more fitting manner than us. It was pointless quoting statistics that the world's fascination with Islamic militancy has managed to cloak the other terror acts in the world, and in India, that kill and maim more people and homes than Muslim extremists do. My voice struggles to be heard over the verbal gherao - and I wonder who these people are, who don't live here, but who come, to divide and help someone like them rule.
And then, I found this picture. And as the tears began to flow, I realised my friends could no longer look at this picture and marvel at its detail, the peace on the face of the subjects, the sharpness of the the camera. They wouldn't see the resplendent colours of the Indian flag, the child's curiosity, the father's loving glance. They would see a cap and a beard, and no more.
I remember my mother telling me a few days back that she had walked into my grandmother's room in the evening, to find her bowing her head, hands clasped to the forehead to the sound of the prayers read in the Mecca, on tv. Amma, 90, Tam-Bhram, had said, verbatim, 'I love the way they pray. It sounds so good. This tv channel is very nice, it shows all Gods.' Amma passed away a few days ago, and my uncle, one who's labelled 'pseudo-secularist' much more often than I am, had said that Amma was a 'true Hindu'. One who believed in the powers of the almighty, no matter what his/her name. One who believed in the power of spirituality to heal, no matter what the name, the method, or the requirement. One who believed in believing in the best in people. Just like the scriptures said - just as Hinduism, quintessentially a philosophy not a religion, urged. I hope to be a Hindu like her too.
For those, who are willing to listen and see, let's start with this. And then write to me, we'll talk it out.
pic courtesy: Reuters
3 hours ago