Despite being a Naval Officer’s daughter and living in the secluded Navy Nagar, my sister and I went to a local, nondescript Christian school on Colaba Causeway. We, the defense children, were a minority and so were the Christians and Parsis. Muslims were a majority. And Muslims were my first friends ever – acquaintances, classmates, seniors and best friends.
They still are.
My father’s namaste was no different from his father’s aadaab and my mother’s dupatta and her mother’s hijaab never stood out at a PTM. But yes, his tiffin box had food much more interesting than mine, and she always stole my snack box! We took each other for granted… Because we loved each other… Because we were children…
But also because there were never any jokes or snide remarks or taunts or prejudices communicated to us about them being Muslims or us being Hindus. Not once did my parents object to my choice of friends or spell out our differences. Nor did the school. There was no them and us – there was synthesis and a consistency in the inner life and the outward social reality – our identity was not our religion.
Was it Bombay? Was it the era? Was it us? Who knows… All I know, it was accepted and encouraged and normal.
It still is. But…
I am now a mother and bringing up two humans. They are Hindus, but I don’t drill it in. I choose not to. But the Citizen Amendment Act 2019 changed everything. It was not enough answering their “Who is a Hindu and whose a Muslim?” There is a history attached to this…
Is this the right time to tell them?
Yes. It is.
I thought the 21st century would be free of the misinterpretations of history. We would have evolved to look beyond the fault lines and look at each other first with empathy and respect. I am not entirely wrong. And I don’t want to give up.
My children may not comprehend it yet, but I am sowing the seeds for them to be free to choose their religious identity – anything or nothing. And deep down I want them to choose nothing. Nothing at all.
We were still in the thick of the CAA debates when I went back to Bombay for my school reunion. The protests and its recent fallout among different sections of society was on everyone’s mind, albeit not discussed as openly as I wanted them to talk about it. But then, I didn’t want to push anyone either.
Memories of our childhood need not be dissected just because they now don’t fit into what is playing out in 21st century India.
Love and respect is all that matters. And I am propagating that through my children.