Much Ado About Marriage

She opened her bleary eyes when the cat, all seven pounds of squirming flesh, climbed onto her belly. Squinting into the sunlight streaming in from the open window, she discovered that she was now the weary possessor of a pounding headache, and at some point, had managed to lose both a tooth and a spouse.

Running her fingers lazily through the cat’s thick, soft fur, Mira lay back in bed and let the defiance of her body to move an inch triumph over her acceptance of the morning and the memory of the past twenty-four hours. While her head pounded, it was not a patch on the way her heart hurt. As she glanced to her left at the empty bed next to her, a tear streamed down her cheek.

Mira and Dhiraj Chowdhary had been married for eleven years. To say that it had been a smooth ride throughout would be a gross miscarriage of the truth. Nothing about the union of these two people had been ordinary, right from the beginning. A little over thirteen years ago, a young, eighteen year-old Mira Malhotra (at the time) had been driving home from her best friend’s place in Bandra in Mumbai, enormously hungover after a wild party. All she wanted to do was douse herself in big cups of coffee and dollops of ice cream and get in to bed in the hope of extinguishing the beating of hell that her head seemed to be receiving mercilessly.

Instead, as if on queue, her car began to sputter and then the engine shut off and the car came to a stop by the side of the road. It was 8 AM in the morning when the skies were only just beginning to reveal the first rays of the rising sun and the roads were largely empty.

Just when she had finished groaning and pacing up and down wondering what to do, her knight in shining armor pulled up next to her in a shiny motorbike to save the day.

The rest as they say, was history. Dhiraj Chowdhary fixed a broken down car one morning, unaware of the fact that this act of kindness was to earn him a girlfriend and eventually a wife after a two-year long dating period.

The wedding affair itself had not been without its fair share of obstacles. To begin with, Mira’s orthodox parents had not been the most approving of her choice of spouse. The motorbike-riding, long haired and unshaven Dhiraj whose under-whelming job was as a Car Salesman had not found any favors in the Malhotra household. But the adamant and deeply-in-love Mira’s decision had prevailed and the begrudging senior Malhotras had been left with no choice but to surrender to the whim of their only child.

As Mira reflected on their beginnings on this bright sunny morning, the light seemed very different. As if suggestive of the devastation that had taken place this weekend and a final blow to the happier light in their relationship’s formative years.

It all started with Dhiraj’s perpetual habit of forgetfulness that was the epitome of irritation these days in Mira’s life. For the past year her husband, not the most organized of human beings, had started to forget a lot of pertinent, though seemingly minor things that had begun to irk Mira. From forgetting to pick up the flowers she had ordered to forgetting to get the groceries, or simply forgetting to call the plumber, they mostly resulted in only minor upsets but the number of these upsets had been going up and in recent times, had resulted in many an argument and even larger shouting matches.

This weekend, however, had been unforgivable. It was Friday afternoon and their five-year-old daughter Diya was at school while Mira was busy with important work meetings. Being an architect, she was immersed in two big projects simultaneously. Dhiraj had promised to pick up their daughter from school, drop her home with the babysitter and then run and do the groceries for the party they were throwing later in the evening for Mira’s birthday. Mira was looking forward to the end of the week after an unusually exhausting few days.

She was on her way to a client’s office at the other end of town when she got a text from Dhiraj. “Heading out to meet some of the guys for some tennis. Will pick up Diya after.”

She glanced at her watch. There was time. “Okay”, she replied and got back to work.

Two hours later Diya’s phone rang in the middle of her meeting. It was Diya’s school. School was over and no one had come to pick her up. She was crying. Diya glanced at her watch again. Dhiraj was a half hour late. “We will be there soon!” she promised and hung up. She tried Dhiraj’s number a few times but there was no answer.

She panicked. “I’m so sorry but I have to run. Can we pick this up later?” she pleaded with the client who was looking visibly unhappy. She flew out of the building, got in her car and raced towards Diya’s school.

A rage was building inside her. She knew she couldn’t think about it right now or it would explode.

Picking up and consoling a howling Diya forty-five minutes later, Mira reached home. Furious now, she left Dhiraj many messages and then went for a long shower. She suddenly remembered the groceries. As she picked up her car keys again, her phone buzzed. It was a text from Dhiraj. “So sorry! Got caught up with something, hope you managed to get Diya. I’ll do the groceries on my way, leaving now.”

She replied with a simple, “Don’t bother.”

The rage inside her had grown and turned into a seething ball of fury. Mira could, for the first time, feel the languishing thread that had become her marriage and she knew if this continued, the thread would snap. But she couldn’t let her parents have the last laugh. This was her choice and she had to somehow see it through.

The evening passed in silence when Dhiraj finally got home. He followed her around the house like a puppy trying to apologize and explain that his friend needed some urgent assistance which had been the cause of the transgressions of yesterday but Mira was too angry to even look at him, let alone respond. Eventually he stopped trying.

When the guests arrived, Mira and Dhiraj behaved as if nothing untoward had transpired in the last twelve hours but they avoided speaking to each other as much as they could.

The next morning Mira was woken by the sound of a phone call and Dhiraj’s voice murmuring into his phone. He hung up briefly and came and sat next to Mira on the side of the bed. “Babe, I’m so sorry for yesterday. I will make it up to you, I promise. I’m just going for a run. Will be back soon.” He kissed her on the forehead. Mira nodded without meeting his gaze and pulled the sheets over herself again. She was tired and drifted into a deep sleep again.

Her phone rang again at 12 noon. Diya had come into her room with her dolls and climbed on her stomach. Kissing her daughter on the cheek, she answered her phone. It was her mother. Her father had had a heart attack and was being rushed to the hospital. Her heart pounded in her chest and she lost her voice. She managed a muffled “I’m on my way” and hung up. Grabbing Diya, she hastily put on her shoes, grabbed the car keys and dialed Dhiraj’s number from the car. No answer.

The anger from the previous day returning, she flung her phone aside and kept driving.

In the hospital, she barged into the room that had been allocated to her father, with Diya in tow.

Seeing her father strung up to what looked like a gazillion tubes, his body looking unusually frail and different, Mira couldn’t help herself. She broke down and cried. As her mother leant forward and hugged her, she gently asked, “Where’s Dhiraj?”

I have no idea, Ma.” And then she cried some more.

He’s going to be alright, darling. Don’t worry. The doctors said he will be fine.”

They all spent the whole day together in that hospital room, sitting in silence while her father rested. The doctors wanted to keep him for observation for the night.

Mira returned home at 5 PM in the evening with Diya. As she walked into the house she saw Dhiraj sitting in the living room, legs crossed nonchalantly, loudly discussing football with a buddy on the phone.

Something inside Mira, like the thread that had reached the final, frivolous sliver of its strength, finally snapped.

Shutting Mira in her room, she came back to face Dhiraj who had now got off the phone and was asking her where she was.

I want a divorce.” With a calm voice she delivered the blow as she set about picking up Diya’s toys from the floor and packing things into two suitcases.

What are you talking about? Come here…lets talk…..”

Don’t touch me and I don’t want to talk! Because you are never around, Dhiraj! Do you even know where I have been today? Do you even answer my phone calls? My father had a heart attack!”

Mira had unleashed her fury that had manifested itself in the form of screams that were emanating from her entire being, not just her mouth.

A shouting match ensued that only reaffirmed the fact that there was no room for course correction. There was no coming back from this space, this ugly turning point in their marriage. No matter how much Dhiraj’s screams of defense turned into pleading sobs for second chances and empty promises in the heat of the moment, it was all to no avail. Desperate to make her see reason, he clasped her arm tightly and tried to pull her towards him. “Just listen to me, damn it….” But Mira was quick to respond and pushed him so hard that he fell on the glass table that shattered on the floor and took him down with it.

In a rage of his own now, Dhiraj bounced back up and instinctively, delivered a fierce blow on the side of Mira’s face. The blood rushed out instantly.

Shocked and crying now, Mira stared into Dhiraj’s eyes for a long time before quietly turning around, packing up some of her clothes and Diya’s belongings, picking up her daughter and walked wordlessly out of the house. This time Dhiraj did not stop her.

Jolted out of her thoughts of the events of the weekend by her parents’ cat who had now decided to jump off her belly and run off, Mira looked around her childhood room in her parents’ house where she was living for the time being with Diya.

Yes, the light in her post-war world felt very different from the light that used to stream into their own, loving home, pre-war. It was lonelier now, and less sonorous.

The pain in her gums returned as she was reminded of the tooth she had lost as a result of the blow to her face by her husband’s hand. Her husband had hit her!

She couldn’t believe that any of this was real. And yet here she was. Her parents had been right all along. She had lost and they had won.

As she finally heaved herself off the bed, she crossed a side table that held a framed picture of Dhiraj and her on their wedding day. How happy they looked.

She removed the picture from the frame, tore it in half and threw it in the bin as she made her way out of the door.

 

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Much Ado About “Bhindi”

It’s one of the few vegetables that my siblings and I did not dramatically resist eating in our childhood. In fact, to my delight I was to learn the many different ways in which this green queen of Indian vegetables – Lady Finger as it has been christened in the English language, could be cooked and eaten. The dry, fried, uncut version was always my favorite.

My cousin, a devout foodie and very particular about the way he likes his food cooked would insist upon the “Judi Hui Bhindi.” (The uncut version) My husband, however is a staunch fan of the traditional cut style.

Having admittedly never really cooked anything but pasta and Maggi noodles before marriage, my novel adventure down this path of Indian cooking commenced with this very vegetable. My husband’s work moved us many miles overseas to Germany where while the sausages were delicious, our Indian khaana called out every so often. It became clear that I would have to get on board this train sooner rather than later. And so out came the YouTube videos and before we knew it, we had declared Bhindi easy to cook. After the first burnt attempt, of course.

We now live in the UAE where the luxury of part time cooks comes as easy as the ‘desi’ population. So it happened that Mr. Singh ( ‘Maharaj Ji’) as my elderly Rajasthani cook is reverentially called began to grace our kitchen once a week.

We had soon grown attuned to each other’s ways and I would promptly do my grocery shopping in time for his weekly Sunday visit. One day, he called me to the kitchen. Ninety percent of the Bhindi I had purchased had been placed in a plastic bag and placed prominently in one corner. The remaining frugal amount was on the chopping board which he was staring at with a pensive frown.

On seeing me, he let his frustration loose verbally.  Apparently I had purchased Bhindi incorrectly. My mouth fell open as he proceeded to curtly reprimand me on the faulty Bhindi that in his opinion was now a waste and was going to make its way to the trash. Using his index finger he animatedly began to explain to me how I had not tested the tip of each Bhindi adequately enough.

My insistence that I had indeed, tested the Bhindi was met with an expression of visible disbelief.

And so it transpired that after another similar chiding session and having to witness another ruthless “trashing” of my hard-bought Bhindi, I decided to hand over the stressful task to the great Maharaj himself. He was now to buy the Bhindi on his way each time we wanted to eat it.

Just when I was crossing off this line item of domestic stress from my list, content in the knowledge that this was no longer my problem, he called me promptly one day from Carrefour, one of the larger grocery store chains to announce that from the mountainous heap of Bhindi that Carrefour generously offered its patrons, not one piece merited a purchase.

Perplexed, I dared to ask, “Are you sure? Not even one?” and I almost bit my tongue when I was berated once again on the importance of buying “the best” Bhindi and how any compromise on this topic was unacceptable.

We ate Gobhi instead of Bhindi that day.

Bhindi continues to be a staple in our meals. And the great ‘Maharaj’ continues to be a staple in my life once a week. At least the Lady and all her Fingers are being vetted by the Lord himself!

Of Hill-station friendships

High up in the foot hills of the Himalayas, perched atop winding roads and steeped residential hill dwellings is the town of Shimla where my grandfather had rented out an apartment in a building owned by the Cecil Hotel many moons ago.

This apartment was our home away from home (Chandigarh), for many years during the school summer holidays. From the mall walks to the horse-back riding that would make our day – my siblings and I having picked out our favorite ones by name – to even catching glimpses of the relentless monkeys trying to steal bananas from our kitchen, it was a sort of hall pass to heaven for us.

My parents soon befriended a retired army Colonel who resided in the neighboring apartment. He came up to Shimla often and stayed here with his German Shepherd, Buddy. Needless to say, Buddy found himself some enthusiastic company in three eager, inherently dog-loving children next door and every morning the front garden would come alive with us chasing him while Buddy would show off his perfect training while playing Catch.

The magnanimous Cecil hotel loomed large across the road from us. Our building was annexed to it through a cavernous underground tunnel. Having read enough Enid Blyton adventure novels, the prospect of venturing through this forbidden tunnel was the epitome of temptation as far as a curious thirteen-year old was concerned.

One day there emerged from the stairs going down towards the tunnel, a young girl, about my age clutching a raggedy doll with all her might, accompanied by her guardian. It was love at first smile.

Soon I found myself having surreptitiously ventured down the stairs and into her home which was located in the basement, just a stone’s throw away from the end of the stairwell.

Henceforth, we were inseparable. The parents, now in the know, had sanctioned supervised visits and our friendship blossomed. I do not remember her name but I will never forget the image and often, the whiff of memory of the time, the place and that grinning raggedy doll.

The adventure of the tunnel was soon forgotten and the days began to fill with the newly acquired “buddies”. Both Buddy the dog and the girl with the raggedy doll became our friends in the hills, just as the Colonel become a friend and confidante for my parents.

And then one day our affair with the hills came to a halt and before we knew it, so did our childhood.

Eighteen years later, I am filled with pangs of nostalgia not only for the cool winds, the mall road walks and the horse -back riding that is now so etched in my childhood memories.

I am also reminiscent of those brief friendships with strangers that remain a large part of these treasured memories of adventures up the hills that feel like they occurred in another lifetime.

Sometimes it is strangers that make a difference to our lives without even knowing it. Sometimes it is those close to us who become strangers before we even realize it.

Perhaps a trip up the hills once in a while can reaffirm our belief in life and its people while we breathe in a different kind of mountain air.

The Lesson

He was my hero. And I was convinced he was immortal.

That morning I went to his room and sat with him while he prepared for his breakfast of milk and porridge. He stared into the distance while he ate, slowly. A sudden cough broke the silence and as I leaned forward to help, it felt like something in the room had changed. I looked closer at him and I felt my stomach churn. I couldn’t breathe. My grandfather had turned snow white.

He was gone.

For 14-year old me, the lesson was learnt in profound grief – even heroes fall sometimes.

Punjabi and Proud

(Published in The Tribune , India)

I was on a flight back from London to Delhi a few years ago, on my way home to Chandigarh. Not one for idle chit chat on long flights, I settled in with my book and the excitement of going home for the holidays. (I was a postgraduate student at the time in the UK).

As our readiness for departure was announced and I was giving myself a mental fist-bump for being the proud owner of an empty seat next to me, an ample-bodied, turban-clad ‘paaji’ came and perched himself on the empty seat. With a sinking feeling, I silently prayed that my neighbor shared my fondness for a silent, peaceful journey.

Alas, no such luck. ‘Paaji’ presently introduced himself and that was the end of my reading. Dan Brown would just have to wait a little longer to reveal to me what buried secret Robert Langdon had just unearthed.

“Tussi Kithon?” he enquired after my home-town.

“Chandigarh”, I replied. “Tussi kithon?” I decided to humor him. After all, there was no escaping the Punjabi prowess of persistent small talk.

“Ludhiana. Oye, Chandigarh!” His face lit up and before I knew what was happening, he had called out to “Jassi and Pinky” seated at the front of the cabin, across from us, evidently forgetting that it was a public space. In a frenzied diarrhea of words, he relayed to the family that a fellow Punjabi had been found and the hoots of applause followed suit.

But I couldn’t help smiling. You can take a Punjabi out of Punjab but you can’t take Punjab out of a Punjabi. Even on a 7-hour long Virgin Atlantic flight from London. Under the mask of embarrassment, I was proud.

Some more animated chit chat ensued that revealed that the enormous Paaji family were residents of Canada and were on their way home for some “sarso da saag te makki di roti” time.

I suppose that was another thing we had in common. Punjabi food was irreplaceable.

By the time the captain announced our descent towards Delhi I had been showered with a generous helping of laddoos and an invitation to their house in Ludhiana. I thanked them profusely and proceeded to reciprocate their hospitable invitation. I felt like I was home already.

We talked some more and he asked me about my plans after my studies. I reluctantly conveyed my desire to get a job in London, though it was laced with a confusion of what it was I really wanted to do. He said everyone figures it out eventually and it would come to me too.

Paaji, in a revelatory mood, confided that Canada may have been home for many years but Ludhiana was where his heart was.  As I reflected on this, I realized that we were no different in this – he and I.

I have been living away from home for many years too. I have met some wonderful people and been acquainted with myriad cultures and traditions but nowhere in the world can one match the hospitality of a Punjabi family.

If you are a fellow Punjabi, you qualify for a free laddoo and a heart-warming story. As I de-boarded and bid Paaji and his family adieu, he handed me a slip of paper.

“God bless you”, he whispered in Punjabi.

With a full heart and a lingering smile I walked away and glanced at the slip of paper.

In a penciled hand, Paaji had written his address in Ludhiana and at the bottom, three words:

“Sada Safal raho.” (May you be successful always.)

An Ode to a City that will always be Home

It was just another Saturday. At least, it started out that way.
After a lazy afternoon of beers and banter at the magnificent St. Regis Hotel that faced Saadiyat island’s inviting sandy beach, accentuating the stunning blue of the ocean, some down time on my couch seemed like the perfect next step.
While I headed home to snuggle into my couch in front of the TV for a while, the boys (my husband and his friend) decided to keep the beers coming and make their way to another bar. I decided to catch up with them a little later.
After a much-needed siesta and recharged for a night out, I got dressed and left for Coopers later in the evening, a popular weekend bar in the city. As the taxi began making its way, weaving through Saturday night traffic, that familiar nostalgia swept over me again and I let my thoughts wander to the city that had been home for the last two years and the friends that had become family. Night outs without our motley group would never be the same.
Munich had been our home for the last two years before we moved to Abu Dhabi early this year. We adjusted to our new reality with new dreams in our eyes but heavy hearts yearning for the old friends who had been left behind. A large gang of impressively mixed and diverse nationalities, each with their own unique traits, backgrounds and lifestyles, stories and struggles, wit and wisecracks that defined each one of us, and yet all miraculously fit together like pieces of a large, global puzzle. One big happy multi-national family. The thread that bound us together had the same name in every country, religion and culture. It is called Friendship.
Love and friendship – words that are being trampled on today by hate, violence, murder and blood baths – an escalating satanic epidemic that seems to literally be sweeping across the world city by city and in a spate of horrific acts, felling men, women and children faster than the fall of dominoes.
It has already become hard to open one’s twitter account or news site without noticing that the number one trending item almost every morning is a city that had just been attacked. The body counts are going up and the fabric of humanity seems to be withering away, one gunshot or stab-wound at a time.
The taxi pulled up with a sudden stop outside Coopers and pulled me out of my reverie.
I could hear the din of the music from inside the bar. It sounded great and my spirits lifted a little. A little song, dance and liquid courage was just what I needed.

As I entered the bar and made my way through the crowd, the DJ blasted a familiar tune with ample bass and the bar had transformed into a club, packed to capacity. I found my husband and our friend who was visiting from Munich at the bar and joined them. Ready for a great night and having ordered a cocktail I flippantly picked up my phone to browse through it quickly for any important messages before I retired it in my handbag.

That’s when I saw it. And I felt my heart stop.
“Shooting in Munich shopping mall, 7 dead”
A teenager had shot and killed 7 people in Olympia Park shopping center and wounded several others. The shopping center was just a few kilometers away from where we had lived. I had a lump in my throat the size of a peach. It was suddenly hard to breathe.
I looked up at my husband who had just read the same piece of news and was staring disbelievingly at his phone. We were still shaking our heads in shock when the second shoe dropped a few minutes later.
“Firing heard at Marienplatz metro station in Munich”
Even in that crowded bar with piercingly loud music and swarms of people around us, the three of us were suddenly alone and grappling with the weight of this news. The city that gave us its all, the city that unflinchingly opened its doors and its hearts to the thousands of migrants and refugees that flooded its streets, and was going to be ‘home’ for us for far longer than it really was, had become today’s victim in the on-going game of violence and terror. We didn’t want to believe it was true.
The three of us sat at that bar sipping our drinks in silence and at a complete loss of words while the world around us danced to the DJ’s tunes. We couldn’t join them and we couldn’t leave. The tears came to me without warning as the body count increased to nine and as I wiped them away, we raised our glasses to the city that taught us the value of love and friendship, surpassing countries, cultures and color of skin. The city that gave without expecting anything back and brought countries together by knitting their people together as one family.
As I watched the people around me having the time of their lives, so many people together in one big room, ushered in by their love for music, friendship and each other, I wondered about those who converge together around the world in a similar way, with the common deep-rooted desire of spreading hatred and death. Perhaps their DJ, their song and dance is a different one.

Just before we finally decided to call it a night, we raised another glass – to the families of those who had lost their lives – for their loss may be insurmountable but the city of Munich will mend their broken hearts and help them to learn to love again – within its borders and beyond.

Are you Indian or Pakistani? Why it shouldn’t matter

(Published in Dawn: http://www.dawn.com/news/1256207/are-you-indian-or-pakistani-why-it-shouldnt-matter )

Born to a Hindu father and a Sikh mother, I grew up in a family that embraces multiple religions and beliefs. Every Gurpurab(Sikh festival), we would go to the nearby Gurudwara to bow our heads and every Janmashtami (the birth of Hindu deity Krishna), we would go to a Hindu temple.

I wouldn’t say that we were a deeply religious family — perhaps what I grew up practising was just a function of what trickles down the familial hierarchy, spanning generations, and eventually catches up with you.

Stories of the eleven Sikh Gurus, the Mahabharata and theRamayana — that were a mandatory part of our academic curriculum right up till middle school and the idea of God and him ‘watching us’ — formed the premise of my moral upbringing and education in my formative years.

Having grown up with an amalgamated idea of God, the hard-hitting realities of different religions and religious wars that are rife today were things that eluded the conspicuousness of my daily life, like background music.

I hailed from what is today the ‘Indian Punjab’ (even though my grandparents are originally from Lahore). I didn’t have much interaction with Muslims, perhaps because there were very few to be found in my school.

It was not until I joined the University of Nottingham in England in 2007 for my post-graduate studies did I have the opportunity to befriend many Muslims, not to mention also reside in the same student halls with some of them.

Anyone studying abroad will tell you that one of the most exciting and enriching experiences is the hordes of expatriate students you get to interact with — people from all parts of the world whom you meet and live with under one roof, and ostensibly learn so much from about new cultures, traditions and lifestyles.

One of the very first people I met in my postgraduate student hall was a boy from Lahore whose sense of humour was as alarming as it was a riot.

Very quickly, he became an in-house entertainer for the entire building. Owing to the obvious overlap of culture and languages between us, we soon became fast friends and as it turned out, were also in many of the same classes.

A prankster, he would often find himself in a pickle with our house wardens who made it abundantly clear from the beginning that they were not his fans.

It made me like him even more. I would often have long chats with him and another Muslim girl who had moved in two doors down from me on my floor. We would converse on politics, Kashmir and India-Pak conflicts. Their views and sentiments, I found, were mostly aligned with my own.

He would say, “It’s the political parties and governments in power on both sides of the border that are spewing most of the trouble. My friends, family and many common people, like us, often discuss how sad it is that we harbour an unnecessary hatred towards those who are fundamentally our own.”

She would nod in agreement and then laugh and say, “Your Bollywood movies have made me fall in love with dancing around trees.”

To which I would respond,” You have Fawad Khan!”

If only these were the kind of conflicts both India and Pakistan had to spar about…

I cherish those memories even today while day dreaming at the back of a taxi in Abu Dhabi, where I live today.

I am snapped out of my reverie by my taxi driver Ajmal Khan who asks me: “Madame, you are British?” (Something I get to hear a lot here, including all those who are fair-skinned)

I smile and reply in Hindi, “Hindustani hoon. Aur aap?”

After a shocked silence, he quips: “Pakistani. Ek hi baat hai na lekin?”

This is common in Abu Dhabi. Most of the taxi drivers are from India, or Pakistan. They are also the friendliest.

An appeal for Indo-Pak peace

Recently a video has gone viral on social media, stunning everyone who has watched it into introspective silence.

In the video, a young girl named Gurmehar Kaur from Jalandhar, Punjab — who lost her father at the tender age of 2 in the Kargil War — has implored the governments of both India and Pakistan to stop bloodshed and hatred-spreading one-upmanship and resolve problems once and for all.

Through a series of placards, Kaur conveys how she hated Pakistan and Muslims whom she blamed for her father’s loss. It was her mother who made her understand that it was not Pakistan that killed her father, but war.

I’m reminded of an incident that took place at my university one busy morning in 2008.

We were in the midst of our morning routine of rushing to get ready for class when we learnt that a Muslim student at one of the campuses of our university had been arrested for using the computers on the premises to research topics relating to terrorism and extremist outfits.

The boy was put behind bars for about a week, while investigations were carried out. He was later released after it became clear that he had downloaded the manual for a thesis he was writing for his course which had no connection with terrorism.

I remember how I feared for my own two Pakistani friends, even though the incident was far removed from them. The gravity of that situation brings me spiralling back to the flawed perception rife today of how terrorism is associated with Pakistan.

In equal measure, it is immensely unfortunate how religion becomes a tool for misuse. From the Muslim beef-lynchingepisode in India to the Hindutva hue and cry rampant today to the BJP’s insistence that Indians must shout ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ as evidence of their patriotism, it is incidents like these which give birth to societies, governments and countries that may very well be on their way to full-fledged fascism.

Instead of this overt display of nationalism and hate, why can’t we reconcile our differences?

Isn’t it time we listen to Kaur and become ambassadors of peace ourselves?