Sunday, July 31, 2016

A little boy always pops into my heart

A little boy always pops into my heart - he has shining eyes, a bubbly smile and laughter that is almost melodious and lyrical. I can close my eyes and see his face burst into smiles. He's a miniature "me" - so to speak. And maybe that's why I adore him more than words can express.

A few months ago, a senior Seva Dal in Puttaparthi had the most surprised look on his face when he saw a little boy called Vihaan Rajit remove his sandals carefully before entering the room, do a full padanamaskar in front of Swami's portrait and then come to answer questions related to his identity and passport. He bowed to the Seva Dal with a bright smile, his hands folded in namaskar, saying:  Sai Ram.

The Seva Dal turned to my father and asked, "He's your grandson from Sydney?"

When my father nodded, the Seva Dal looked stunned and he said, "We rarely find our kids show humility or respect to elders these days." 

I told you guys - he's "miniature me"! Okay, I better not irritate my sis....

Vihaan Rajit turned 7 years old last week. How quickly he has grown up!



Vihaan is my sister's son. We like to call him the ''little poojari" because he likes to take charge of ''pujas" at home, chants mantras and sings bhajans almost effortlessly. He loves the certainty of rituals just as he loves sports and swimming. Every evening, when he wraps up his prayers, he distributes vibhuti with the solemnity of a real life priest. He's serious and sincere about his prayers and fun loving by nature. And he loves his french fries and pancakes like kids usually do. That sounds like me by the way.....*grins*

It's quite an experience of sorts when Adi and Vihaan get together. They are up to all kinds of pranks. Vihaan adores "Adi chetta" and tries to do everything he does.   When he was a toddler, he first began to crawl up the stairs in my parents' home when he saw that Adi can easily climb the stairs!
He also tried using Adi's tricycle for the first time and the two had quite a "It's mine, it's mine" tussle around it. As kids do, they both wanted to use it at the same time! 

I recall an instance when an older kid told Adi, "Lets go out to play but leave him behind...."

Adi's reply was instant, "I can't do that. He is my younger brother."

Whenever I recall this, I say a silent prayer to the Almighty: May this always be. Let this love not lessen or change.

They always hug each other tightly and sleep. And when one of them has to go somewhere or be apart, the other one cries, mopes around and doesn't even eat properly or watch cartoons.
If you ask , "Are you missing your brother?," you receive a noncommittal, boyish reply which means nothing and can mean everything if you choose to interpret it. 

Guys, i tell you! Why can't they loosen up a bit at least with moms? 
The moment the other returns, all hell breaks loose and there's madness all around that you wish for some peace and silence once again.

A few months ago when we were sitting together in Prashanti Nilayam, Vihaan asked me a question: "Do you love me or Adichetta?"

I like to tease Vihaan a bit so I asked him, "Well, you know the answer. So, what do you think?"

He gave me that super sweet smile and said, "I know you love us both equally."

Another amazing thing is the effort he takes to win over people's trust and love! He doesn't hesitate to call Sanand and chat with him like for 45 mins at a stretch! When Sanand and Vihaan hang out together, everyone else have to take a step back because the two guys get along so well and just leave out the rest of us!

The sweetest conversation I've heard between Vihaan and Sanand was when Aishani - my sister's daughter - was born. A thrilled Adi told Sanand on the phone, "She's my carbon copy, Acha. If you compare her baby pics with mine, you will think we are the same."

Immediately, little Vihaan takes the phone from Adi and tells Sanand, "Actually Valiyachaa, she's my carbon copy too...you have to believe me..."

Whenever I think of my boy Vihaan, my world feels whole and perfect. He makes me feel that I have one more son to treasure and a rich new world of sparkling laughter and innocence that I can look forward to. 
The power of love is strongest when it comes from the heart, untainted by expectations or desires. And when such love begins with you, that makes you the richest person in the world.

Trust me, that's how I feel - because of my two boys - Jyotiraditya and Vihaan.  

They are my world. And I love them both. Equally.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Say a little prayer for me in the language of love

Recently, I saw the blurb of a book which asked, "How many of you (Hindus) have seen the inside of a Muslim home and how many of you (Muslims) have seen the inside of a Hindu home?" The question provoked a spark of anger in me because I do not view relationships through the prism of caste, community or religion.

However, I understand what the distinguished writer was trying to say - we are so insulated in our ways that even when we talk about tolerance, we still don't dare step beyond the boundaries of our community, caste or religion. 

When I say this in North India, I am told, "You have only read about Partition. You haven't lost a family member or seen a tragedy unfold before your eyes - it's easy for you to talk like this." Maybe...

However, one of the many advantages of having grown up outside India and then during my teens, in Kerala, is that I never learned the social distinction between "Hindus"and "Muslims." There was never "we" versus "them" debate - it was always "we."  It didn't ever matter that we had different names for Gods or for our beliefs. 



My father is a doctor. A majority of his patients are from the Muslim community. Whenever there is an occasion in our home and prasad is distributed to everyone, no one refuses and if they have, my father would not take offence. Once I asked my father, "What is the saddest moment in your life which you wish you could change?" 

His reply was, "My best friend Dr. Moideen had to stand outside a temple for my marriage because he is a non Hindu and cannot enter - but I had told him to come in because it doesn't make a difference to me. He said no, this is not about you and me - it is about faith and I cannot disrespect or dishonor your faith."

Today, when I see my Facebook timelines filled with angry posts from Malayalis ranting for or against beef, hitting out at each other's religions and the beliefs, I find myself longing for the bygone era when a Dr. Raghu and a Dr. Moideen could eat their meals together, their wives could cook whatever they wanted without worrying about the different names of God or the beliefs they personally held on to. 

It was the same in Africa, where the Asian community always stood together. The Indians, the Pakistanis and the Sri Lankans were one people, alienated from their homes and cultures and therefore, more loving and welcoming in celebrating unity in diversity.

When my mother and I first joined my father in Africa, we were first welcomed to the new country by Mohammed uncle, a Pakistani. 

A lovely meal was prepared by his wife and we stayed there for a day till we could shift to our new home. Even after we shifted to our new home, the two families remained close and always invited one another to celebrate important occasions. This meant that Eid was celebrated in Mohammed uncle's home with his family and Onam and Vishu were celebrated in our home with his family. 

There was never a talk of "Hindus" or "Muslims" and yet there was always warm understanding. Aunty took care not to serve beef to my family when we were invited to their home and my mother took care to make sure there were several non vegetarian dishes when they were invited. 

In Africa, where we lived, I would head out to Kasim Uncle's home where I spent time with his daughter. Kasim uncle, a Pakistani, was one of our dearest friends till we left the country. 

That reminds me of something very tiny but significant. 

Months ago, I received a WhatsApp message from a friend who wrote to me from a Gulf nation. It read like this: " Just wanted to let you know that the gift you had sent is special to us. My mother uses the prayer mat daily, the one that you gifted. In our daily prayers, we pray for the well being of your family too."

This message warmed my heart and restores my faith in myself. 

Continents away, religions apart, there is a family that remembers me in their prayers. We have different paths that we believe in. Our gods have different names and so have the holy books we follow. 

Whenever I see angry posts on my Facebook timeline, people hitting out and accusing each other in the name of religion, I remember this friend, whose family prays to a different God in a different way but they find it in their hearts to include me in their prayers.

Can we look deep within ourselves, look beyond our prejudices, nurture love and trust each other despite our differences once again?

That, to me, is the essence of God, religion and prayer.

And when you do pray, say a little prayer for me.

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