Enjoying the difference

The other day I had taken the kids to the dentist. As he cleaned N's teeth tching tching at how she needed to learn to brush better, H noticing his beard and cap, asked in not too quiet a whisper (he is completely incapable of whispering), "Mama is he a Muslim?" I nodded a trifle embarrassed. Undeterred he went on, "Muslims wear caps na ma? That's how I know. We read about it in class." "Yes they do", said I hoping the questioning would end right there.

Even as I struggled with the feeling of embarrassment I wondered why I was feeling so uncomfortable. From H's point of view it was a perfectly innocent, though a tad personal, query. I asked myself whether I would have been equally embarrassed had he asked, "That aunty is wearing a bindi, does that mean she's a Hindu?" I still do not know.

I was reminded of a similar incident while on a recent holiday at Lucknow. At a curio shop outside the Bara Imambara I found myself standing next to two burqua clad women. One of them picked up a small box and asked the vendor, 'What is this?" and he replied off-handedly, "It's of no use to you, it's a sindoor-box' (vermilion powder used by married Hindu women). The ladies smiled and put it back. I noticed the easy exchange wondering at how simply the religious difference had been mentioned, accepted and dismissed.

Perhaps that's something special to Lucknow - that acceptance of the difference without attaching any judgement to it, where being a Hindu or a Muslim is just a way of life, where one can point out the difference without fear of being misunderstood.

While the uneducated/politically motivated lot insists on the 'I/We are the best' philosophy, the apparently educated/balanced lot go with the 'We are equal/same' philosophy.

Girls and boys are the same, all religions are the same, people from all regions are the same. That is so very confusing for a child. The thing is -- they obviously are not. They are very different. It is the difference that gives them their identity - why take it away from them? Our lives would be richer and perhaps easier too if we accepted and enjoyed our differences.

Next time, I hope I won't be thrown off balance when the kids put up a question like that. I hope I can allow them to question, understand and accept them with the ease and innocence that only children can.

On a vaguely related note here's a conversation we had yesterday morning during the school-time chaos:

H: Mama may I be a Muslim?

Me: You may be whatever you want but why do you want to be one?
H: They have so much fun. They get to go to the fair at the Idgah and get all kinds of goodies to eat and they even get Eedi.

They've recently read Premchand's Idgah at school. I presume that's what brought it on coupled with the fact that today is Eid and the excitement of his Muslim friends is very infectious.

I wish I had the time and the patience to explain that religion was much more than a few sweets and some pocket money. Unfortunately we were running late (as usual) and I had to let it go. Another time, another chat, perhaps.

Missing my hometown sorely today, I thought I'd cook up some sewain in honour of Eid. Mercifully a friend dropped by with a huge bowl of Sheer Khurma and saved the kids from at least one of my cooking misadventures. It turned out to be absolutely delicious.

Eid Mubarak everyone!

Doesn't it look wonderful?

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