I went to Nino's school today to share a small chat with the children about Eid-ul-Fitr. Years of winning inter-school and then inter-college debates have left me with a laid back attitude about speaking in front of a crowd, a very matter-of-fact confidence that comes from having bellowed your opinions on stage (then) and on paper (now).
I was surprised therefore to feel actual qualms that kept me up at night, had me hyperventilating in the morning and generally made paisa-vasool of my deo. It was not just because I wondered how to explain the significance of the festival to kids between two and six years - it was also because of the various hyperboles this festival has come to be associated with.
When Nino's teacher had asked if any parent wanted to speak about Eid to the kids - I saw grown women shuffling feet and looking at each other. I volunteered, and one mother remarked that maybe I could teach them about the festival as well. Unlike its currently socio-political image, Ahmedabad was founded by a Muslim king, and his dynasty ruled over it for generations. Most of the city's famous landmarks are Islamic in nature or design or origin, and old city was once home to the kind of diversity that inspirational books are made of.
Today, Ahmedabad is a twin-city. Majority-dominated and economically-affluent western suburbs and Minority-dominated eastern suburbs. Deepening the divide is the Sabarmati that splits the two suburbs - the same river, on the banks of which, Mahatma Gandhi launched his satyagraha movement for a free, but united India. Most schools in the western suburbs are dominated by Hindu students, and our children have fewer, and more often none, Muslim friends. It's a sharp cry from my own childhood - my best friend in the early years was Nazia who later migrated to Saudi Arabia. Eid in college was marked by sharing yummy biryani from one massive plate at friends' homes. It was even better when Eid and Diwali were celebrated almost together - the lights, the smiles, the joy, the hopes - all were the same.
As I walked into the class area, armed with sewaiyan, I hoped to talk about a festival that's also called Methi Eid, where hearts and stomachs are made sweeter by the joys of bonding with family and friends. Nino was pleasantly surprised, but all grown up, and he let me talk with all his friends, smiling smugly as they called out my name and told me their favourite sweets: strawberry ice-cream topping the list.
I talked about the crescent moon, celebrating Chand Raat with mehendi and shopping, and warm hugs to be shared. Eid Mubaarak, I said, and the words echoed back, dented in a few places by small tongues using new syllables. I smiled, hopeful that I had managed to give them a peek into a religion that many of them are likely to grow up to fear or hate. Someday, I hope to read to Nino Faiz and Ghalib, as we soak in the setting sun on Sarkhej Roza, stop by the Siddi Syed Jali with the words of Iqbal echoing... Mazhab nahin sikhata apas men bair rakhna, Hindi hain ham, watan hai Hindustan hamara! (Faith does not teach us hatered, we are all the people of the Indus valley, and our nation is the land of the Indus, India!)
Sweetened mouths and fuller tummies later, we parted ways at the gate as the kids streamed out to greet mothers/grandmothers/fathers. 'Why are you here?' one mother asked. 'To talk about Eid.' 'But you are not Muslim, are you?' she said. 'No,' I said. 'Eid Mubaarak to you as well.'
I've just come to know that Nino has reportedly embarked on a hugging-spree. Frantic calls from the mother-in-law, whose concern over sewaiyan-stained tapestry has reached Valium-prescription levels, say Nino has hugged the living room furniture, the plants in the balcony and the puritan brahmin cook with single-minded dedication: 'Eid Mudaarak - kheer aapone' (Eid Mubarak, give me kheer!)
3 hours ago