Do you wonder about your purpose in life? Well, I do, incessantly, passionately, consistently. At times I envy those who appear to waltz through life, with abandon, like the soft touch of a butterfly’s wings – easy and bright. Not so with me. I think, I brood, I ruminate and I try to find meaning. The feather-touch approach to life is definitely not for me. But I digress. The Lord said, ”seek and ye shall find” (whose Lord? Well isn’t that the million dollar question), and find I did. I now know the purpose of my life – to try in every way I can address discrimination based on diversity. In simple words, I rejoice in and root for “the different” and I was blessed with the only tools one needs to counter the divide – personal experience and words. And this how my inter-faith love story led me to my calling.
This was before words like Islamophobia and Jihad became commonplace, with Google and Fox News telling us all about whom to fear and whom to love. Those were the days, you retained enough mind- space to have independent thoughts and come to your own conclusions. Those were the days I was in my twenties, and unabashedly naïve to the ways of the world, the politics of religion and the narrowness of visions. Some people get worldly-wise early, I certainly did not. Brought up on a steady diet of books and cocooned in a warm loving home, I was irreverent, wonderfully idealistic. The world was black and white, mostly white and for sure there were no greys.
So when life put a gentle, handsome, brilliant 6 footer in my path, I didn’t once pause to ask- “but pray Sir, which God do you owe your allegiance to?” We discussed books, higher education, my inability to do simple math, his three years of running championship in Math Olympiad, my lack of knowing how to cook beyond a simple omelet, his expert hand at curries, my inability to keep quiet, his endless patience and calm, till one day the ‘he’ and ‘I’ had metamorphosed to an ‘us’ and it seemed just right and meant to be.
And that was when we came face to face with the GREAT DIVIDE. It appeared in the form of parental horror at the choice of partner. But it wasn’t limited to that. We found the divide gaping at us when perfect strangers felt comfortable saying ”don’t we hate them?”, when ‘open-minded’ colleagues let judgment seep casually and unconsciously into their conversations. We saw, for the first time, how the world perceives, fears, loathes, judges, criticizes that which is different.
And in the midst of it all, we got married, started a life together. Soon, we received unconditional love from each others’ families and settled into blissful matrimony. As I learned about a religion and a way of life which I had no exposure to, I continued to be amused at how unabashedly people asked me questions about “what they eat”, “how they live”, “what was expected of me”, and many such questions. I discovered one basic truth- all discrimination stems from one root cause- fear of the unknown. Religion never was and never has been to date, the topic of a single conversation between us, and hence the fact that even today when we are introduced, the flicker of surprise, curiosity and/or judgment leaps into people’s eyes, never ceases to amaze me.
I am not a religious person hence I don’t stand for or pretend to explain the whys, why nots and hows of any sect. I have been strongly spiritual all my life and a vociferous reader, hence I dabble in a lot of religious literature across sects. My job has taken me across the globe, to scores of countries and everywhere I went, the firmament of the human spirit was the same. The only difference being, having been sensitized to any discrimination, I recognized it and empathized with the recipients, everywhere. The faces of it were different, the recipients different but the fear and detachment the same. Distancing and judgment based on sex, sexual orientation, language, color, race, religion, gender, wealth, physical and mental ability and so many more stared out at me everywhere.
And that is when I knew, this was my life’s purpose- not in board meetings, not on stages and pulpits, not through loud vocalization but through small gestures- through standing beside, through talking to, through sharing a coffee with, through holding a commuter-stop conversation with, through dinner conversations, through the dishes I cooked, through my written word and life lived I would extend a hand to those at the fringes of society. And perhaps it is easier for me since I am closer to the fringe myself, a minority- a working, financially independent, childless, brown-skinned, vocal woman married outside her religion. It’s a potent package and ticks many of the “she’s different” boxes. I revel in it, deriving enormous satisfaction from being at times the only brown-skinned, 5 feet 0 inch, woman in a corporate boardroom filled with tall white men.
It has been quite a journey and for every time I have flinched inwardly or seethed visibly at prejudicial reactions, I have counted my blessings at being able to take independent decisions and demonstrate through my life choices that all it takes is empathy and desire, to tweak the fabric of today’s society and punch tiny holes in it, letting the light stream through.
- How My Inter-Faith Love Story led me to my Calling! - August 22, 2018
- This heartbreakingly beautiful poem on #metoo is a must read - October 17, 2017