With stars above me and waves crashing at my feet, I danced. The drum beats of heaven echoed from inside and joined a chorus on my skin. An euphoric existence blossomed from a heap of withering grass, from the dirt and gathering ash. Life came full circle and my heart found a home; I floated to a distant place, with the sound of Om.
Turn it to stone, with eyes of a Gorgon
In shameful hanging, an abysmal black.
Like one there’s many; for many only one
An objective defined; suffering undone.
Forsake its living, ignore its words
Remove civility; its existence – mute.
He becomes it and it becomes nothing
Its lesson learned; evolution comes.
Turn it to dust, with time or fire
Put up a stone, a picture – a tale.
Never forget it, its words and actions
But never – ever – let it happen again.
We are rebels by nature. From birth we resist gravity. Even the simple act of standing up is an act of defiance against the overwhelming centrifugal force pulling us down. And this simple act defines our existence – against all odds, where droplets and oceans coexist, with individual identities.
Indivisible from the collective, yet standing alone.
I would not exist if it weren’t for Muslims. In the mid-20th Century, when religious violence was tearing apart the remnants of British India, my father was born in the Bangladeshi port city of Chittagong. My grandfather, a well-reputed Hindu businessman, had many Muslim friends.
By the very nature of their circumstances Hindu-Muslim friendships meant both friends were at least moderate in their understanding of religion and humanity. And considering Muslims and Hindus were killing one another much more than saving one another at that time, they were exceptional minorities.
As the violence got worse my family’s safety in our homestead quickly evaporated – a Muslim mob burnt down my family’s ancestral home. There was imminent danger to children of prosperous Hindus, who risked being kidnapped for ransom, torture and/or executions.
So my grandfather steadily and secretively began smuggling his very large joint family, starting with women and children, across the border into the newly formed Republic of India. This exodus included my father, who arrived in Kolkata in 1960 – he was 10.
At every step of this process, our Muslim friends helped in every manner possible. They provided safe-houses, pulled strings to ensure safe passage – they risked their own safety to save my family. Not one family member fell victim to the carnage. In fact, after emigrating his entire family to Kolkata my grandfather remained in Chittagong to liquidate his affairs until 1980, entirely under the protection and safekeeping of our Muslim friends.
Personally I grew up knowing these people as my uncles and aunts who lived in Bangladesh. I looked forward to Tulu kaku (uncle) visiting because he always brought me toys. I distinctly remember the stench of shutki maach (sun-dried fish) when they lugged over heaves on their visits.
I did not know them as our Muslim friends; I didn’t know they were Muslim – I didn’t care. It was much later that I understood the worldly differences. By then I had come to a far truer understanding – they are my family; among the faithful, they are angels.
Over the last decade and a half, as Islamic religious fundamentalism has changed the face of this world, I have watched in horrified sadness as a violent and unforgiving minority of extremists have desecrated the name of Allah. This has given the world a false image of Islam; the wrong perception of a Muslim.
True followers of Allah are only capable of kindness; they love and love and love. They feed you till you are full and then some more; they protect you and everyone you love; they come to your aid when your own turn you away. Their capacity to give defines my existence; by their grace, born a Hindu.
Stand tall with your thorny crown;
Sketch: Use legs if they tie your hands.
Tell the tales only you can imagine.
Express the things you find lacking.
Paint: Use ink if they take your colors.
You will be remembered.
No violence can hinder;
Your story’s each timber –
Tell, immortal tale.
There was once a man who didn’t believe in God.
Born into a family of priests, he felt out of place.
He believed only in what he sensed with his senses.
And God, he theorized, did not exist in those places.
One day his father fell gravely ill.
His family gathered to pray for his father.
As they prayed, his father took his last breath.
It was God’s wish, they said to his sobbing mother.
A melancholy overcame him that day
He left home and wandered into the hillside
He was angry with his father, his mother – with God.
He was angry that everyone saw God except him.
As he lamented, a bird’s nest fell in front of him.
He looked up to find a hawk mauling a dove.
Feathers rained down from the disturbed treetop.
In the nest were two cracked eggs and a baby chick.
The man quickly picked up the chick onto his palm.
Its eyes were barely open and death had taken its mother.
So the man sat beneath the tree, cradling the baby dove.
He picked insects from the ground and fed the chick.
In its care, the man lost track of time.
Weeks went by as he sat beneath that tree.
One day the chick turned into a dove and flew away.
An unexplainable feeling overcame him that day.
In euphoria, he skipped deeper into the woods.
He would have danced his way to heaven’s gate.
Except, all of a sudden, the sloth bear that stood in his way.
She was dining on a honey comb when the man pranced in.
Enraged, she charged at him; her claws grazing over his chest.
His dusty robe turned red as he wheeled from a nervous quake.
Gathering all his strength, he desperately ran away from the beast.
Where he was he no longer knew, as he came upon a rivulet.
At the bank, he collapsed – his brows drowsed.
Then his senses blanked; a darkness overcame him.
In the heart of that darkness he heard a dog’s bark.
Then, a point of faint light appeared.
The light got brighter and brighter.
A chattering got louder and louder.
Then suddenly, he opened his eyes!
He was surrounded by his family.
His mother had bloodshot eyes.
His brother had grown creases.
His cousins huddled by his shoulders.
Their dog had nestled by his feet.
To him, it all happened so fast.
Just a moment ago he was running from a bear.
But in the universe outside him it had been weeks.
Then he heard a unison of gasps, cries and weeps.
The dog began barking and short-pacing on the bed.
The man had a dull pain in his head; his chest ached.
But he was thankful he had lived through his trek.
He did not know how, but he had been saved.
And just then, the dog darted out of the room.
On the umbrella tree in the courtyard, a dove had perched.
The territorial dog began barking, pawing and clawing the tree.
And the man’s brother said, “Oh, it’s that blasting bird again.”
“What bird?” the man asked.
“The one that’s been harassing Dover for weeks,” the brother said.
“That’s how we found you.”
“Dover chased it into the woods the day we found you out there.”
When you look for a support system and find a basket of expectations, life becomes a bartering game. Then you wander the universe in search of unconditional love and find conditions instead. A suffering emerges – the body grows tired and will power weakens from a blazing sun to a flickering flame. Better, therefore, to not look for anything but yourself – to be a mighty oak, building upon itself, outstretching its presence to bring others under its shade.