“20 years? Maybe more. I cant recall…its been so many years”, mom said. That’s how long ‘Mashi’ (aunt, in Bengali) has cooked for us. Akima, that’s her name. But me and my sister never knew any other name to call her, it was always Mashi. My mom (a practising Hindu) would introduce her (a practising Muslim) to everyone as ‘my sister’. One of my fondest memories was to open the lunchbox that Mashi used to send on Eid. It would always be full of finger-licking chicken and home made sweets. I still remember how Aamir, Mashi’s little son would deck up in new clothes and bring that can of food in his little hands and say ‘Namaskar’ (a Hindu greeting). So much dignity in such a young boy, we would crack up in admiring smiles. When Ghoton, my dog joined our family as a puppy, Aamir had a new best friend. Me and my sister would boast around saying we didn’t buy Biriyani (an Indian delicacy made of long grain rice, meat and saffron) from restaurants, because Mashi cooked the best one at home.
Years have passed by. I left Kolkata and moved through different cities and countries. Mashi had stopped working for bad health. Eid fun is a distant memory. This year I just happen to be in Kolkata after many years. Morning 11 am. The doorbell rings. Its a young man about to cross his adolescent years, decked up in fresh white Pathani suit. And then I saw the lunchbox! It took me a fraction of second to recognise Aamir. He smiled and said ‘Namaskar’. Nothing has changed. Even in her hardship Mashi hasn’t stopped sending her yearly love.
As mom was asking Aamir about Mashi my eyes welled up in tears; even as the world is trying to crack a religious divide between us, people on basic human level are still the same. We do not want to create distance. We do not want to see each other differently. We do not want to hate.
This is not a celebratory wish of Eid. I’m an atheist and I believe religion has only divided people. There are facebook posts showing how Muslims rescue a Hindu dead body and cremate him in Hindu rituals or how Hindus/Sikhs help Muslims break their fast. It was never their religion folks. It never is. It is always individuals who can look beyond religious differences. In spite of religion. It is always the people. The humanity of human being.
So no glorification of religion for me. No happy Eid. No happy Rathayatra. Happy humanity maybe. Happy common sense. Happy solidarity.