Abrar Ahmed Khan is Bangalore based writer. He can be contacted at abrarkhan351[at]gmail.com.
Done with his ‘Isha’ prayers, he deposits himself on the sofa to have a peek at the day’s news round-up on TV. High decibel debates on the problems plauguing the country greet him across channels. He spends some time switching channels and hits the bed after a while.
He wakes up the next morning to news that brings a delight on his face – His long-pending dream to visit the Middle-East had finally materialised. He spreads the word around in the house, even as he takes repeated looks at his first visa to an Arab country on his email inbox. Pilgrimage notwithstanding, the Middle-East was an oft-discussed ‘must visit’ destination in his family circle after all.
They see him off at the airport, the kids telling him the kind of chocolates and toys they expect him to bring along on his return, the teens asking him not to miss out on looking for gadgets in vogue and a few among the more matured lot requesting for perfumes.
He waves them all good bye and boards the flight. In a matter of hours, he finds himself on the tarmac of a country he had always wanted to visit. He gets his passport stamped at the immigration counter, smiling at fellow passengers in the queue holding the similar navy blue book, the words ‘Republic of India’ inked in gold on the cover. He meets his friends, relatives and acquaintances who greet him and promise to take him around the best spots in the country.
He spots a mosque in practically every street. He puts on his kurta pyjama – It’s what Muslims wear, he was told all his life, and proceeds to one of those Masjids. He offers his prayers and looks around. “Antha Hindi? (Are you an Indian?)”, a Kandoora-clad Arab asks him. He nods in the affirmative and responds to his ‘musaafiha’ (handshake). “Aapki taareef?” the Urdu in him slips out. It’s the language that came naturally to him, every time he spoke to pious-looking men wearing longish robes. “La! La! (No, No)”, the Arab responds, signalling his cluelessness in deciphering the lingo. He figures out the unintentional folly and switches over to English. They greet each other and move on.
As he walks back from the mosque, the conversation he just had with the Arab plays on his mind. He senses what he was wearing was something ‘Indian’, and not ‘Muslim’ – that his nation had evolved over centuries after a whole lot of give-and-take. He realises how bespoke his mother tongue is, the very genesis of which was to create a bridge between Hindus and Muslims ages ago. He stops by a fast-food joint and orders a ‘shawarma’. As he sinks his teeth into the stuffed roll, it strikes almost instantly to him that something is missing – Oh yes, ‘Masala’ it is.
Coming from a country that is crazy about cricket, he had to visit one of those parks and parking lots where folks from Asia spend time wielding willows and rolling their arms over. All these years, he had followed Team India take on teams from across the border on his TV set but here he was, all set to get involved in the action himself – His teammates putting up a good show even as tall, lanky youth from Pakistan try to bounce them out, those from the Lankan isle trying to spin a web around them. The games are intense and he gets a first-hand experience of how his contingent pooh-poohs the Pakis, the Lankans and the Bangaalis, reminiscent of their bid to earn bragging rights every time the men in blue locked horns with their Asian neighbours on the Sharjah turf in the good old days.
He flies back home, as expected, with souvenirs for all, including a sweet-smelling ‘attar’ for his granny who would go on and on about how his grandfather had marched shoulder to shoulder with like-minded patriots in their fight to oust the British from the country. He has a special gift for his cousin who couldn’t see him off at the airport, nor register his presence to receive him – he is away serving his fellow countrymen donning the army uniform.
His kids push him to take them along to the market. Independence Day is around the corner and they don’t want to miss out on the preparations of the same. He obliges. Even as his children, excited about sporting the ‘Bharath’ badge to school, are engrossed in accumulating I-Day gear, he comes across a group of people, claiming to be fans of a self-proclaimed ‘Hindu Nationalist’ leader, who tell him – “The time has come. Time to pack you guys off to Pakistan”. A smile is what he trades in return.
Even as he makes his way forward, he overhears the group continue with its stream of invective. He keeps walking until his gaze takes note of a group of devotees paying their respects to a saint at his shrine. The world calls him ‘Sufi’ but here he is, receiving respects from Hindus and Muslims alike. Many of them Hindus still, but paying their respects to the man for the unconditional love he showered their ancestors with.
It’s I-Day finally and as he watches his kids take part in the school celebrations, the sight of the unfurling tricolour fills his heart with content – the petals that descend down are a mix of different flowers, of different colours and different fragrances. That’s the India he has always been part of, an India that hundreds like him take pride in. It’s this idea of a diverse, vibrant India that keeps his smile intact and he prays it stays on.