When the children flew away leaving us with ‘empty nest syndrome’ to grapple with and a spare accommodation to take care of , we decided to rent out a big room on the first floor.Two girls were occupying the room and there was a vacancy for the third one.
It was late in the afternoon when a mother-daughter duo came looking for accommodation for the young girl who had just got admission to first year B. Tech. course in the university but could not get a hostel seat. They liked the accommodation and gave token money as advance. As they were in a hurry to go back to Saharnpur the same evening, it was decided that the tenancy agreement and the paper work formalities would be completed when Ainam joins after a week, the day her classes were to begin.
I developed an instant liking for the small town simple girl. Ainam looked excited, but at the same time a little nervous as she was to stay away from the family for the first time. It is quite normal for women to open up with females and make friends with the strangers, her mother started chatting with me. She told me over a cup of tea that her husband was working in Dubai and she herself was a working woman. When they were about to leave, the mother showed me a hand-made card, made lovingly by Ainam’s younger siblings wishing her good luck. It was when I read the surname ‘Khan’; I realized she was a muslim girl. How was I to know her religion? She looked like any girl from this part of the country-almost the same features and built, similar skin tone. The concerns shared by her mother were the same like any other mother . You can not make out the religion of any person unless one outwardly supports the religious symbols or swears in the name of religion.
Not that I had any issue with the religion but was a little apprehensive about the reaction of the other two girls with whom she was to share not just the room, but also a bathroom and a kitchen. One was a Punjabi Sikh girl and another was Hindu girl from Haryana heartland.
My apprehensions were misplaced. To my pleasant surprise the girls gelled remarkably well. Their room became a symbol of perfect religious harmony. On one table in the room were placed the idols of gods and goddesses. Every day in the evening the room was filled with fragrance of agarbatti. Guru Nanak Dev ji’s picture adorned a wall of the room. Also there was Quran kept on a table neatly wrapped in a green cloth, whether Ainam offered namaaz five times a day I don’t really know but there was never an issue on any account.
Evidently the girls were not atheist. All the three of them followed their religious practices with devotion yet they respected each other’s faith. The experience restores my faith in the modern, educated young generation that it will not let religion become a divisive force. I would like to dismiss all the stories of fanaticism in the country and believe that India stands for religious harmony in which there is absolutely no place for religious intolerance.
(Published in HT Chandigarh on Oct 23, 2016)