My parents were visiting me in the US for the last couple of months. It was really interesting- and different- to see the US from their point-of-view. There were things that they really appreciated, and stuff that they totally disliked (like all of us).
So when they were here, my father would scour the local Indian magazines and newspapers, for interesting Indian social, cultural and religious events. He methodically made a list of events, dates, locations and addresses- that he wanted to attend/visit.
When it came to religious events and places, he went to all of them. He visited the Sai Baba temple, the Hindu temple, the Balaji temple, the San Jose Gurudwara, the BAPS temple, our own Guru's temple, Chinmaya Mission events, random satsangs... any and everything. He went to every place with equal shraddha and devotion. For him, it wasn't a South Indian temple or a North Indian god or a Sikh Guru- they were all paths of devotion and he loved each of them equally.
And when it came to cultural events, we attended two major ones. One was a Punjabi "Miss India" USA held quite close to home. Most (99.5%) of the audience, the participants, the presenters- everybody was a Sikh. Everything was in Punjabi. It was one of the most enjoyable lively and fun events I have ever attended. All the dancing, the fun, the poetry, the people added up to a wonderful day. It did not matter that nobody spoke Hindi.
The second one was a Mushaira held by the Alumni Association of the Aligarh Muslim University. My dad graduated as an engineer from that school. So he actually found out the existence of the AMU Alumni Association and got in touch with quite a few of the members. Then we got to know about their annual celebration, held in honor of the school's founder, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. This was to be a Mushaira, hosting some of India, Pakistan and the USA's most famous shayars.
This was an event well worth the wait. I have time and again written here about how my Mom inculcated a love of ghazals in me. And my Dad, with an AMU background, speaks fluent Urdu (and can read brokenly). So we all went, and had the time of our lives in this amazing event. The shayari was incredible. The beauty of the evening was in the poetry, the people, the place, the tehzeeb. And we all sat together, not caring for boundaries of religion or language, immersed in the sheer love and appreciation of fine poetry. The entire evening was conducted in fine Urdu, the language of ghazals and Ghalib and Rumi and Kabir. The language did not matter. The camaraderie, the love, the sheer oneness of the room, did matter.
It was when they left and I was remembering all the stuff that we did that I started pondering over this. My parents have never cared for community or language or religious barriers when it came to friends. Obviously, being from Aligarh, some of my Dad's best friends are Muslims. His longest lasting friendships are with his roommates from his engineering days- A Bengali, a Jaat and a Sikh. Spending most of his life in the army reinforced this as he met and made friends with people of every state, creed and community.
Yes, they did not adapt to a lot of non-Indian food (though some of it, they loved -especially falafel and garlic bread. Yes, they fell insanely and instantly in love with garlic bread :) Yes, they might still have some problems about accepting people from every country and race in the world, as is common in the US. Given time, I am sure they would do that too. But you know what, when it comes to India, they get it. They know that both worship and friendship are not restricted to the same caste or community or even religion. The only thing this allows for is loss of a good person. And nobody taught them that, it just comes naturally to them. This coexistence, be it religious, cultural or social.
I felt incredibly proud of them. And hopefully, I can do the same in my life. But I have lofty footsteps to follow!