BY FLORENCE HANDIQUE RABHA
My earliest memories are of my kindergarten days at Air Force Station, Barnala (Punjab). Whenever we would visit the station temple, I vividly recall the sight of a mosque, a gurudwara and a church – all situated side by side. There was a feeling of the positive strength of the combined aura emanating from them. It was a similar experience at every other air force station that my father was posted in. As a result, we grew up without being conscious of any religious divide. When it came to festivals, we never felt any need to attach or identify them with different faiths. After all, everybody in the station celebrated every festival – together. Fortunately, this sense still remains. The values instilled naturally in our young minds by those surroundings have remained so even after all these years.
We had close friends visiting us who belonged to different religions and states of India. As a child I remembered that one God above us whenever I heard mantras being chanted from a Hindu temple, Gurubani from the gurudwara, the azaan from the mosque and the sound of church bells. They still have the same kind of effect on me – a feeling of awakening in my heart and soul. I just close my eyes and bow my head for a few seconds before that Supreme Power. We were taught that there was only one God to whom I still bow and pray whenever I see any place of worship – be it a temple, gurudwara, mosque or church. As I grew older, I also learnt to say ‘Thank you’ to God out of deep gratitude.
My father’s next posting was in Srinagar in Kashmir. We stayed there for five years. We got to celebrate Eid and every local Muslim festival with our friends there. My best friend in Kendriya Vidyalaya, Srinagar was Shagufta Shaheen, a local Kashmiri. (Sadly, I don’t know where she is now.) She would sometimes come and stay with us during the summer and winter vacations. We used to talk in whispers and giggle all night in our room. Our landlord was a grand old man with a long grey beard popularly addressed as ‘Haji Baba’. He had about a hundred children in his joint family living in one big mansion. As a school kid I was just amazed at their delectable Kashmiri cuisine that was served especially during Eid, other festivals and marriage functions. There would be at least ten non-vegetarian dishes at every wedding which used to melt in my mouth. And then there was our part-time maid who used to be so beautiful. Her name was Akhtar. I still remember her sweet smile. Wow, I remember everything! There was definitely something so charming about those beautiful people, their hospitality and love for us that I will always remember.
I moved back to Assam after marriage and made a number of new friends. Now when I count their list, interestingly, my Muslim friends outnumber my Hindu friends! Hey, there must be something extra nice about these fun-loving sweet friends – Naaz, Tahrin, Farhana, Jasmine, Zebin, Najnin, Nazia, Sabah, Faizur da, Adib da, Akid da and many more. First of all I love these beautiful names and then, all of these friends are such kind and fabulous hosts. Whenever they invite us home on Eid or any other occasion, all the delicacies that they serve – like biryani, mutton, chicken, parathas, sewaiyan, et al, start dancing in front of my eyes. My daughter and I hardly eat during the day so that we can really eat well at their place. I wonder how their dishes taste so rich and delicious. The same dishes are never as tasty when prepared at my place!
So on this 7th of June, when I realized that it was the beginning of Ramzan, I naturally took to wishing all my dear friends on whatsapp. (They spontaneously come to mind being so close to my heart). But then, I must admit that there I have two selfish reasons too. The first reason is that I want to be in their prayers to Allah. I request them to remember us too in their daily prayers. I am a firm believer and have experienced the power of prayers. And my second selfish reason is the sumptuous and mouth-watering food that they serve at ‘iftaar’. Who doesn’t look forward to being invited to an Eid ‘daawat’? I am aware that most of my Muslim friends cannot party during the entire month of Ramzan. So we too ‘slow down’ and hardly party during this period. I have utmost respect towards their holy ‘roza’. I am amazed at their dedication and sincerity when I see most of my Muslim friends offer namaaz five times a day and not eat or drink anything during the fast. They willingly experience hunger and sacrifice food the whole day in order to develop compassion for the less fortunate and practice self-control. Oh my God, this is really tough considering the fact that I myself can never fast! My morning visits to temples are inevitably preceded by breakfast followed by a bath. I expect my kind God to understand me and my weakness. Charity forms an important practice during the whole month of Ramzan. It’s a time to worship, read the holy Quran and for doing virtuous deeds.
I wish all my dear friends a very happy and fulfilling month of Ramzan and ‘Eid Mubarak’ in advance. Let us all pray for love and peace together. On the day of Eid, I will continue to enjoy seeing my Muslim friends in new clothes, distributing sweets and hugging each other after the formal mass prayer. I feel like one amongst them, a part of them. Eid is a day of joy and thanksgiving forgetting and forgiving old grudges towards each other. I also wait for the new moon and that big multi-storied tiffin (I call it ‘Eid ka dabba’) that we receive at home from a good friend from Railways every year on Eid!
Thank you God for everything! Eid Mubarak!
Florence Handique Rabha is a school principal, TV anchor, actor and former radio jockey based in Guwahati, Assam.