Of Festivals,Religions and Neighbors



Our faiths were miles apart but our houses shared walls. Our little residential colony –housing provided by the Indian Institute of Technology, India, my dad’s employer—was a potpourri of prominent religions of the world. Our Muslim family was flanked on the left by a Hindu Brahmin family and on the right by a Christian family. We shared the fruits of the mango tree that stretched its limbs from the Christian courtyard into ours and also the pomegranates from the Hindu tree that bore copious fruit in the few branches on our side.
There was a schism in our religious beliefs: we did not believe in idol worship but left neighbors did, we believed Christ was a prophet of God while right neighbors celebrated him as the son of God. Our foods and cultures were disparate: the left Hindus were strict vegetarians, we ate halal meat sans pork and the right Christians ate all meat. Despite the differences, we were all one close-knit extended family.
We, the kids, a common pool shared by all Aunties to run small errands. Their word was our command. “Beta, go, hurry, get milk for me for Rs.10.I have to serve tea to guests”, the left Aunty asked me, slipping a stainless steel tumbler and Rs.10 in my hand. I dropped homework, moved with the agility of an antelope to save my Aunty’s honor, come sweat or shiver. The right Uncle promptly dropped me to school on his scooter if my bicycle was punctured. Mom was best friends with the Aunties and shared her recipes and deepest secrets—worries and fears concerning kids and husband—with them. We were well-oiled machinery.
It was the era when cellphones were not conceived and house telephones were installed only in houses of officers in the highest echelons. Our neighborhood did not qualify for that privilege until the late 1990s.  Folks just knocked on doors at any hour or straight walked in each other’s houses if the doors were left open by careless kids. Sometimes the door creaked open when we were eating lunch and if the left Auntie’s head of well-oiled black hair popped in, we scurried around like squirrels, hiding away or covering the meat curry we were eating, lest she is offended. The left family never ate anything cooked in our home because our pots and pans were tainted with meat. Knowing that she wouldn’t sip her lemonade or tea, sometimes mom asked me to go get a soda for the left Aunty from the corner shop.
Our religious festivals played a significant role in further fostering the community camaraderie. We visited Hindu families on Diwali, Christians on Christmas and they showed up in droves at our doorstep on the day of Eid. Besides eating the festive snacks while visiting, there was also a customary exchange of special festival food between families. Hindu families celebrating Diwali sent us a sampler of poori (fried bread), potato curry, okra fry, and rice pulaav with peas and gulaabjamun (sweet akin to donuts); Christian families sent us cake and meat snacks with a verbal note that it was cooked with halal meat only. On Eid, mom cooked creamy sewiyan (thin noodles cooked in sweet milk and garnished with almonds and pistachios) and sent us running around with bowlfuls to distribute in the neighborhood. For those friends who did not eat our home cooked food because of our meat eating habits, dad bought boxes of sweets from the market. No malice, just protocol.
On Eid, we opened the front door of our house; other times, we used the side door only. There was an unwritten caveat that men came through the front door to greet dad and women through the side one. We offered sewiyan and other vegetarian savories to not offend anyone but some vegetarian uncles—who entered through the front door—asked sheepishly for the chicken kebabs (fried chicken patties) that mom always made for Eid. Dad also called me to ask mom to fry some eggs for another Uncle. I carried the plate of eggs, peppered and aromatic, to the Uncle—all the time thinking it wasn’t even breakfast time.
Only later, did I realize that it was the only day in the year that these men sampled a meat dish or pierced an egg yolk, while still keeping it a secret from their staunchly vegetarian families. Our left Uncle was one of those men.
The festival of Eid for us meant the culmination of the month of Ramadan—end of the month-long fasting— which was celebrated with sumptuous food, new clothes, and shoes­, but for them, it meant a day of innocuous but clandestine pleasure. And they indulged in it knowing that the secret would lay buried in the extended family’s bosom forever.




Featured in BlogAdda's Spicy Saturday Picks

Comments

  1. What a fascinating community you grew up in. I love the thought of such diverse religions mingling together and helping and supporting each other. That's the way it should always be! You painted a great picture!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, wish we could be more tolerant in these times too!

      Delete
  2. Wow, what a culturally rich community you grew up in. I loved the mango tree and the Pomegranate tree - what a wonderful metaphor for the entwining relationships. So many complexities here but you chose the perfect details to bring it all to life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So many details come to my mind when I start writing!Thanks for reading my post Laura!

      Delete
  3. What a wonderful way to grow up! I love the little details that show us your blended extended family, like the errands you ran. But I especially liked all the references to food, because food is culture.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, most religions are so particular about what not to eat and most festivals are centered about food too.Thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  4. This sounds really nice. What a beautiful thing it is when people can put their beliefs aside to break bread in community with one another :-) I agree, the world would be such a different, and better place if we could all behave like your wonderful neighbors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, I loved your Fear Dragon post, too. Thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  5. Relived those days through your words... Whole film ran in front of my eyes while reading... Those were such lovely days

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, there's no going back to those days sadly.

      Delete
  6. This is such a beautiful post, Sara. Your words have woven a beautiful tapestry that will being a smile to my face whenever I picture it. Such a well deserved win this post is!:)

    ReplyDelete
  7. this is such a beautiful post... love how fondly you remember those memories. I still remember the awesome dishes that aunties would send to our home and in turn, my mom would send her special kheer. Fun and loving times :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks a lot for your kind words.

      Delete
  8. nice post sara but now we find close doors of our neighbours

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment