This Can Only Happen In India: A Personal Recount Of Humanity

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By Tulika Narayan:

Assalam Alaykum Baba, if I may call you so. I am your grandson’s new tutor. From today I’ll teach him Science, Math and Hindi and I must tell you he managed to impress me on the very first day itself,” I said with a bit of hesitation to a septuagenarian. His aged skin was moulded into an almost permanent beam. Years of ups and downs were etched by every deep line and wrinkle on his face. Yet his unruffled eyes never seemed to be permanently lost deep into his thoughts and unhappiness. His lips were slightly turned down and his forehead had deep creases that pulled his eyebrows losing. Constantly struggling with the melancholy that washed over him, he raised his eyes to greet me. “Namaste beta,” he said humbly folding his hands before me. “I am glad you are able to take out time for my grandchild and his friends. Mind you, they are all very naughty; they might get you on nerves,” added chuckling.

“Don’t worry, I am not going to throw in the towel provided you get me some stories I know grey beards are always loaded with.”

Pleasure would be mine. I am bored to death. You are any time welcome to my home. And it’ not a compensation, it’s an invitation. No strings attached,” saying this, the grey head of the old man drooped again.

And then it became a custom. Daily after my engineering classes, I used to teach my students, if I may say so, for an hour or so and then rush to Baba’s room. He started telling numerous invaluable things which I would never find in any book. His age demanded restrictions in movement, but his thoughts were still liberal, unobstructed, loud and clear – music to my ears. Day by day, the family became a part and parcel of my life – my student was more like my child and Baba more of an inspiration. He narrated me stories of holy Quran, didn’t miss an opportunity to come closer to the two longest epics where I actually found I knew lesser than him, gave a daily food of thought, philosophy of living and the strength of an independent mind.

I can never forget his remarkable message, “Remember, it’s possible for you to join the rest of the world and still retain your liberty and ideals. Being honest is not enough; it has to be in a right direction. There is no point admitting honestly with pride I am a killer. Your honesty should follow your deeds and then humility. Mistakes are meant to be acknowledged, don’t court it with excuses and problems of life.”

A hapless language-freak that I was, he started tutoring me with Urdu. I had entered the doorsteps of his home as a teacher least and pleasantly knowing, I myself would become a student of such an adorable teacher. Going back home, I used to write my name in all possible languages I knew and cherish. By then I had added another book to my shelf.

I had celebrated Eid many a times with my friends back in school, college and otherwise. But that was an Eid I observed closely. Seeing Appi (that’s how I used to address Baba’s daughter-in-law and my student’s Mom) and other family members arranging for prayers and feasts used to excite me and I placed an urge to keep a-day fast to get a better feel. To my surprise, he agreed. He explained the rituals that are followed, Appi was given the charge. I still remember how much I had eaten on the grounds of fast for the next day and Baba could only laugh at my full-toss drama. I tried mugging the prayers to be offered and the prostrations. But disappointed I sat next to him, “Baba, I am a disgrace. I couldn’t remember the prayers – the words seem too difficult and time is so less. I should better postpone this thought of keeping fast until I am prepared.”

He said, “God, be He your or mine, receives only one language – submission. If you have good intention and an innocent heart, these scriptures and verses do not matter. I am a learned man, so I will teach you how to pray but do you know why to pray?” Those words had a magic. Faith and love cannot be persecuted and my faith meant no harm. I was not to be bound in the pool of compliance, I wanted to float and swim in it. I was made to prostrate next to Appi. I closed my eyes and murmured, “My Lord, I am a child and in plain words I have a wish list. Baba said you are a polyglot, so says my Mom. So here I am. I seek your attention. And this selfish girl has her wishes to be fulfilled.” I touched Appi when she was offering Namaz. It was bliss, an inner peace and to my wonder the very next day I received what I had prayed for. I got my Eidi – my first Eidi.

Children celebrated Diwali with me and shared the Diwali gifts my biological family had sent. Baba showed so many dimensions of life and righteous. The marked words used to remind me of my father – same thoughts worded out from different mouths. We discussed, argued, complimented each other and squabbled around like pals. Then a miscible part of the family, Appi expressed, “I wish you were a Muslim. I would have made you all mine.” Even I cherished. But the words of the egalitarian grand old man I can never forget, “You don’t have to amend yourself to be my daughter. This would be grave to my teachings, love and blessings. I adore you the way you are and it’s your innocent heart I would always want to keep with myself. Life teaches one to play many roles and abide by many relations with a single name. That’s its beauty. Don’t ruin its magnificence.” He then whispered some Quranic verses in my ears and said, “You are my daughter. That’s how we welcome our children when they are born. It’s just an expression of showing affection. Be the same. God doesn’t seek a name, he seeks a moral heart.” Saying this he called all my students who were there standing with a Rakhi to be tied on their wrists by me. That day was Rakshabandhan.

Indeed Baba, you didn’t change me, you added a new me.

Last year when you left me and this world, I am left with these reminisces and memories. I still don’t remember the prayers, but when I close my eyes and somehow He listens promptly. Whenever I give up and the dawn breaks, I muster up courage to give one more try. I am still selfish, but trying to learn the art of forgiveness. I am still stubborn, but don’t ruin my apology with reasons.
But at the end of the day, I miss you. May you rest in peace!

Inaa lillaahi wa inaa illayhi rajaoon (Baba, don’t laugh if you find it wrong)

And I know you had asked me to keep us at low because the world is too blind to understand humanity. But as you had taught, if even a single candle is glowing somewhere, there is still a hope. If even one person could make out what I learnt from you that would be my tribute to you.

I was weak; He came as an Al-Mukeet
I wanted to be heard; He heard, Al-Mujeeb
I was a sinner and my tears dried
None but He raised my with pride
I am not judgmental
I am not a convert
I am a Muslim
In the name of God..!!

I pray for strength to carry on
I do not wish to judge
And when I close my eyes in His name
I only know I am loved
I am not a fanatic
I am not a convert
I am a Christian
In the name of God..!!

They consider them pure
Even I worship; they ignore
I shadow my brain
To lighten my heart
I am not an aristocrat
I am not a convert
I am an untouchable
In the name of God..!!

My heart liked following you
You walked ahead, still I didn’t pry
But today, out I live yet I die
I can’t dance on my own music, I ask you why?
I am not a lost identity
Not a stuff to be clawed
I am an existence; a daughter
In the name of God..!!

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4 comments

  1. human love is not bound by age or religion …. you showed it so well through your story… loved it …..

  2. Anuva Kulkarni

    Wow! Very touching :)

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