“Don’t marry a Muslim”

My grandmother slit her wrists today.

To assure the inquisitive, prying world it had nothing to do with the inner politics of the family, I was asked to stick to the discussed story that she found out she had an incurable injury. The truth is she couldn’t handle the apparent shame my actions in the past two months had brought our prestigious family name.

Everyone in India barks about tradition. They say our country stands tall on an intellectual platform because we’ve been following a social structure that’s been untouched for centuries. One of the core ideas behind this structure is absolute obedience towards elders. The logic is easy enough to understand. They have more experience. The possibility of them making the right decision in a dilemma is higher. Tradition, I have been told is the platform for a good family life.

Except that I flouted this rule.

I fell in love and married a girl whose ancestors had a different idea of a creator than mine. They followed a set of beliefs called Islam. As it unfortunately stands, everyone in my family believes that Islam is an absolute abomination. They don’t believe this out of a sense of logical progression or reasoning. They just believe it.

I had lost any sort of a connection with my family the day I married Shazia. Yet, if you’ve drawn the conclusion that my grandmother lost her will to live because of my choice of life partner, you’re mistaken. My grandmother killed herself because she realised that it was Shazia who saved her life.

Granny had had a small accident on her daily route to the marketplace. She needed blood during the surgery to save her life. It took me a massive amount of courage to tell her that due to the fact that no donors had been available during the emergency, Shazia was forced to donate blood to keep her alive. At first, granny – who for me has always been a symbol of calm my entire life heard the news like I thought she would. She nodded and kept nodding, mostly to herself. After a minute she burst into a hysterical rage, cursing at mortals and her Gods, begging to know how elaborately she had sinned to deserve a fate so bad.

I had been prepared for a certain amount of chaos, but granny’s outburst shook me to the core. Is it that bad, following another religion? After living on this planet for eight decades, do you not understand that life is way more precious than a doctrine that’s been created to help us live well. What kind of tradition objectifies blood! Is it not the same source of life that flows inside you and me?

I went home deeply disturbed about her behaviour. I had informed someone that my wife had been instrumental in keeping her alive. Gratitude goes a long way off, but acceptance is the least I had expected. Flashes of my childhood came back, where my family would be praying in Sanskrit. No one understood a single word of what was being said. We were all singing in a language that had been used for centuries to appease our Gods.

We’re Brahmins. It means, a couple of thousand years back – people paid us buckets of money to act as a connect between them and the Gods. For some reason, it was only us who God listened to. It was because of this unique talent that we asserted our right to be educated. It was almost like a feeling of sexual triumph, the way my father would drunkenly tell anyone who listened that our blood has been pure for the past 16 generations. I would ask him why he still prayed in Sanskrit, when he himself didn’t understand what was being said! It was elitist. A language only we were entitled to understand.

Father died when I was young, and I travelled. I read. I reasoned. I realised with time that I was following a set of beliefs that I had never questioned. I slowly divided myself from the lot. It was hard, but I willed myself to be away from a system that does not make me feel happy.

I stopped laughing at jokes I found hurtful to other religious ideologies. We had been watching a cricket match, where my cousins made a crude joke at the circumcised penis of the opening batsman of the opposing team. I walked away. I was sent a joke about Jesus not being able to sexually arouse himself while on the cross. I asked the sender if he would have tolerated a joke of a similar nature about one of our Gods who legend swears, carries a snake on his neck. I was met with silence.

I distanced myself from my family as I could no longer be happy in their culture. I am sure the problems I see are problems that are faced by reasoning individuals of any religious background. I was asked by a kid who God is. I told him the truth. “We don’t know”. I told him no one knows. But if he finds peace or salvation believing any theory that gives him happiness, he shouldn’t bother with the opinions of anyone else, provided he doesn’t harm them or maim them in an effort to convince them about the validity of his beliefs.
Being agnostic was the best thing that happened to me, till I met Shazia.

Shazia and I fell in love. She had lost her parents early, and her guardians were atheist. My family told me that expecting any sort of support in mixing bloodlines was a futile effort. I couldn’t care less. We wed in a quiet ceremony where people who love us and not our expectations were called. We joked that the devil would be quite dumbfounded about our fate, as he’d have creators of two opposing faiths hurling instructions about our fate. We were together, that’s all that mattered.

My grandmother had begged me to consider breaking the wedding. She followed a well written script that targeted the listener using an elaborate combination of emotional blackmail, threats and monetary rewards. I smiled at the end of it and asked Shazia to make us tea and coolly answered with a negative. She had been living with me at my apartment. Granny spat and left. I didn’t blame her. She was guided by dogma.

If there are two communities my family would not tolerate, it is the blacks and the Muslims. This bewilders me. Most Hindus, including myself have a skin tone that’s darker than the night. Islam, I have warned, has rituals that ‘make no sense’. If I start to make a list of customs which we follow without any idea, it would take me a painstakingly long time. Worshiping a phallus and feeding milk to snakes are glazed cherries on the top

But why am I writing all this? This is a confession. I want to make it clear that I would have asked Shazia to donate her blood only for the most selfless reasons, to save a life. I hoped that for one moment, my family would gain how futile quarreling over imagination is. Like Sagan said, the world is so exquisite, with so much love and moral depth that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there is little good evidence. It’s far better to look death in the eye, for the brief but utterly magnificent journey life provides us.

For what I wanted to really tell granny was that, the blood that spilled out of her veins when she slit her wrists, in an effort to cleanse herself, was never really Shazia’s. It was mine.

The one time when it mattered most, I had lied.

And I was happy…

____________________________________________________________________________________

Image

Artwork: Gavin Aung Than’s Zen Pencils, arguably the best inspirational blog on the internet I know of.

http://zenpencils.com/comic/carl-sagan-make-the-most-of-this-life/
This story is a work of fiction.

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411 Comments

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411 responses to ““Don’t marry a Muslim”

  1. Dhananjay

    You have the art of story telling. Great story. wonder why some people don’t understand why the granny had to die!

  2. This is a powerful post, with a great and necessary message about intolerance of other religions, cultures, etc. But deep down under our differences, we are all the same. We are all humans no matter what culture we came from. I’m sorry about your granny. You are a wonderful storyteller, btw.

  3. Reblogged this on The Richness of a Simple Life and commented:
    I fell in love with this post when I read it for the first time two years ago. I stumbled across it while browsing through posts I liked. I shared it on a recent link party and now, given it is almost 2 years from the day it was published and today is Sunday, I decided to share it. If you haven’t read it before, read it until the end, it’s well worth the read.

  4. Pingback: “Don’t marry a Muslim” | Powered to Change

  5. Hi. I like your post, but I must disagree with one point. At its core, much of Hinduism is intentionally symbolic. It takes much study to comprehend the deeper meanings behind what superficially appears to be the worship of idols. In fact the Shiva linga is not a phallus at all; that misunderstanding is largely the result of 2000 years of invasions and other historical events which led to the rewriting of Hindu theology. Read up on Taxila and Nalanda to understand where Indian theological roots were prior to the invasion of the subcontinent. Think about it this way. The average person drives a car, they know basic elements such as steering and breaking. That doesn’t mean the average user of a car understands the physics of steel or the chemistry of petrol. Yet for most people, it is sufficient to turn the key and get to where they want to go. Similarly, Hindu epics, shastras, are for the majority of people a vehicle towards exposing one to a place of understanding that the divine exists. Now if you are interested in building a car, you can go to engineering school. Similarly, if one wants to learn the deeper meanings within Hinduism, one can choose to. This is, for the most part, unique to Hinduism. Unlike most religions that rely on a single book as the basis of their theology, a Hindu can spend their entire life reading a different book once a week and still never complete the entirety of Hindu literature. It’s that exhaustive and thorough. It is regretable that many Hindus today don’t even have awareness of this simple fact. Now this has nothing to do with racist, classist or ignorant behavior amongst Hindus, Muslims or anyone else. All that proves is that human beings are flawed. If you think Shiite and a Sunni families would accept each other, think again. They are both Muslims who would rather die than accept the other sect into their families. Your grandmother was not wrong, she was simply misguided in understanding the message of the divine. Perhaps you can raise your children without any prejucide.

  6. Reblogged this on Rants of a beautiful Heart and commented:
    The religious dogma that surrounds us is appalling. Why some people cannot treat living entities equal instead of being divided on the basis of fictional characters is beyond me.
    In a country where even Atheism or being Agnostic is treated as a taboo, there is no real idea as to when the real progress will come in

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