By Rizwan Rahman:
“Sometimes Christ, sometimes Moses myself,
Sometimes as Pharaoh, I have ruled and issued orders;
Sometimes as Mansur, sometimes as Shams-Al-Huq,
I have invited troubles on my head;
Sometimes as Darius, sometimes as Alexander,
I have overrun domains;
Sometimes Ayaz, sometimes Mahmood,
Sometimes a slave, I have called myself.
Sometimes as Laila, sometimes as Majnu,
I have wailed in the lanes;
Sometimes as Zuleikha, sometimes as Yusuf,
Sometimes as the emperor of Egypt, I have appeared;
Sometimes Rama-Sita, sometimes Laxman,
Sometimes I have also been Ravana;
Presently, I have come here assuming a name
And sung many a song of spirit.”
When I ponder over the various experiences that I have had while travelling across this colossal melting pot of varied cultures, languages and religions, called India, I find myself contemplating about my true identity. It just so happens that every time I visit a new place, every time I meet new people, I find a piece of me in them. And after every such visit, I spend sleepless nights, trying to find myself again, fighting hard the unmistakable feeling of Déjà vu. The only question that plays in my mind is “Who am I?”.
Growing up in a traditional Pathan family, I was lucky to have had the opportunity to experience and appreciate different religions and their practices, for my family was comprised of a few members from the Hindu community. And my father, being part of the Armed Forces, had to travel across India, with us accompanying him. This meant that I had sufficient exposure to people from varied communities. Moreover, for reasons best known to the Almighty, I always felt a deep connect with the other side. I was enchanted by the scriptures of the Hindu mythology, the sheer vitality of it took my mind to a different dimension.
I remember staying hooked to the television on Sundays, watching Ramanand Sagar’s ‘Shree Krishna’. I was completely mesmerised by the ‘Vardhamaanah’. Back then, I used to imagine God as a giant shadowy sage seated on top of the solar system. Even today, I don’t have a complete idea, I doubt if anyone does. Nonetheless, the seeds for a never ending quest for religious identity were sown in my mind. I started reading different scriptures to gain insight on the core of different religions. I used to love to sit and listen to bhajans in the Krishna temple every morning, and in the evenings, I visited the Sufi shrine to drench my soul with heavenly music. I always felt an awkward hesitation on being asked about the particulars of my religious identity. I could never fully relate myself to any particular theory. I found bits and pieces of my soul dispersed in different texts. I remember Abdul Chacha and his toothless smile whenever he saw me coming from a temple with a Tilak on my forehead, asking the same question each time, ‘Aur khan Sahab, aap Brahmin kabse ho gaye?’. He referred to me as ‘Khan-Brahmin’. Thus continued my journey towards self-discovery.
As I read more about Hinduism and Islam, I had this gripping feeling that on the surface, probably there are no two
dissimilar religions. Islam is fiercely monotheistic while polytheism finds place in Hinduism. Hindus face towards the east to pray, while Muslims face the west. Hindus are considered ‘kaafirs’ by the Muslims, who in turn are seen as ‘Malecchas’ by the Hindus.
But at the very core of these two great religions, is a connection which is so strong that it cannot be done away with, regardless of the dissimilarities, which are mostly at a superficial level. I continued reading different texts, about different prophets, and slowly but steadily I came to the conclusion that all faiths are the exact replica of one another. The core values are the same, just the implementation is a bit different.
The three major monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam share a common idea about God-Man relationship, but in different roles. In Judaism, it is that of a Divine Father-Son relationship, while Islam has a Master-Servant relationship. Many Muslim names have a prefix – ‘Abd’, which means a servant.
As I travelled across more parts of the nation, I collected more information about the people and their beliefs. As I toured Punjab, I developed a penchant for Sikhism. I sat from dawn to dusk at the Golden Temple, listening to readings from the Guru Granth Sahib. It was here that I learnt about the symbiotic association of Islam and Sikhism. I had no idea before coming to Amritsar that the land for The Golden Temple had been donated by a Muslim ruler and that the foundation stone was laid by the famous Sufi saint Mian Mir.
As I went ahead with my journey across this great nation, the doubts in my mind seemed to grow even stronger. I had left home with a name and identity, but somehow after all this travel, visits to great cathedrals, temples, mosques and meeting with people with knowledge in this regard, I realised that I had lost myself somewhere. And so, with a conflicted heart, I reached my final destination – Varanasi.
After the customary visit to Jantar Mantar and the Ramnagar Fort, I braced myself for the Ganga Aarti at the Dasashwamedha Ghat. As the Aarti started, I casually took a seat on the banks of the incredible Ganges. With the mantras in the backdrop and a cool breeze blowing, I sat there, amazed at the calmness of the scene. The faint ripples of the Ganges and the hymns in the backdrop acted as a serene lullaby. And at this very point, somehow, I was reminded of the entire tour I had undertaken. I was reminded of my friends, relatives and loved ones. Memories from the past came racing back to my mind. I realised that I could see myself in everybody and everything. For the very first time, I felt good about everything in the world. And for the briefest of moments, I felt that the entire world was mine. I felt a melancholic peace too sweet to be described, it was there at the ghats of the Ganges that I realised that Abdul Chacha was right. I am neither a Khan, nor am I a Brahmin. I am a Khan-Brahmin, and a proud one at that.
‘Nahi kuch subbah-o-zunnar kei phandey mei giraayi,
Vafadaari me sheikh-o-brahmin ki aazmaayish hai’
There is no holding-power in the noose/coil/snare of prayer-beads and sacred thread,
In faithfulness is the test of the Sheikh and the Brahmin.