“Paavam, kozhandhai, let her touch and play” – Benazir

When I was 8 or 9 years old, one of my neighbours took to me to the house of another neighbor during navratri when brahmin households keep golu (figurines arranged over a step-like apparatus). The hosts were traditional brahmins who lived in a grand house, the uncle – who would have been around 50 then, was tall, dignified with a booming voice and his wife was one of the few brahmin women I had seen who actually wore a madisaar, the traditional 9 yard saree, everyday.

I was grubby and sweaty from playing in the street that evening, was introduced to the hosts as “Benazir”, daughter of the neighborhood doctor. But before they could even welcome me properly, I dashed off to the colorful figurines and started playing with them with my grubby hands (I did not know it was a religious thing, I simply thought they were dolls).

The neighbor who took me there was understandably embarrassed and told me “dear, please look without touching”. I did not even deign to turn back, but I still remember vividly the uncle’s voice booming from behind me “paavam, kozhandhai,,.. (poor thing, she is just a child), let her touch and play”

Now I do not know how many muslims kids visit hindu households during religious ceremonies these days…or vice versa… but growing up in the 90s, it was taken for granted that we would pop into each others houses – we lived in a primarily Christian neighbourhood with a fair number of Hindu and Muslim households as well.

Today, when I see Muslim women take to wearing burqas when their mothers and grandmothers did not bother to and getting brainwashed by Wahhabism, when suddenly cliched images of Hindus and Muslims hugging each other have to be circulated in social media to remind us of brotherhood- I think of the time when a brahmin uncle allowed a muslim child with grubby hands to play with the golu dolls without a second thought because all he saw was a child – and it makes me very very very sad…

India was no utopia in the 90s, but the depths to which we have been polarized today is heartbreaking.

Apologies for the probably too sappy (for some) post…funny how googling the recipe for white channa sundal (the navratri staple) can trigger so many bittersweet memories…

(Courtesy: Benazir’s post on a social networking site)

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