Each of us has a role to play in rebuilding our world and reuniting humanity.
A relative who lives in Madurai was coming home this week. Since he was visiting us after several years, my wife suggested that he join us for a meal. He accepted the invitation but made a specific request that his meal be cooked by my wife and even the vegetables used for the various preparations be chopped by her. He said he did not like a “non-Brahmin” maid or helper to be involved in the preparation of the meal that he would have. We were appalled at this regressive request. We politely requested him to not eat at our place. Some years back, while performing a pooja for my father-in-law’s 80th birthday, the priest objected to the presence of a north-Indian cook from Bihar in the room where the ceremony was taking place. I called the priest aside and told him politely that he was free to stop the proceedings half-way if he found it difficult to accept a human being as one. I pointed out to the learned priest that my father-in-law who had just come out of hospital then, was looked after for weeks and months while there by a nurse named Abdul and was currently under the care of another one called Mary. But the priest was unwilling to consider any of my secular appeals. Though the ceremony was happening at my residence, as my father-in-law lives with us, I had to “back off” respecting my brother-in-law’s wishes, who was leading the birthday celebrations for his father.
Such repulsive casteist prejudices and behaviors leave me numb. I somehow don’t get it. How long more is it going to take until we have a world where we respect all human beings as equal? When are we going to stop allowing ourselves to be divided by caste, creed and religion? Nature has not created this planet with boundaries. Bad enough we have nations. Worse that we have states. Sad that we, in India particularly, were victims of caste and religious divisions. But wasn’t that all a vestige of an underdeveloped nation? It is shocking that such thinking is still prevalent in urban society today.
I would like to share a story I read recently. Despite his often-controversial public image, Bollywood super star Salman Khan is a do-gooder. His “Being Human” Foundation supports a lot of people in need. When Salam as shooting for his super-hit film Dabangg on location for several weeks, near Panchgani in Maharastra, sometime in 2009, his car had to cross throngs of school kids every morning. He made a few enquiries and discovered that the kids lived in a settlement about 5 km from their school. In the absence of any public transport, these 200 kids trudged up and down every day. Salman immediately asked his Foundation to donate each of these 200 kids a bicycle so they could ride them to school instead of having to walk. In a few days, all the kids received their bicycles. The day after the bicycles were distributed, one of the kids flagged down Salman’s car as he was proceeding to his shoot. The kid requested Salman to take back his bicycle and instead help his best friend who couldn’t come to school anymore because he had a hole in his heart! Salman was moved by the child’s compassion and asked his Foundation to provide the other child the best medical care. While I do laud Salman and his “Being Human” Foundation, I am moved by and salute the young child’s spirit of sacrifice and brotherhood that helped him look beyond himself and seek support for his ailing classmate.
Here’s another story, from Mother Teresa, the Apostle of Love and Service. She once told a gathering that she was addressing: “One night a man came to our house and told me, “There is a family with eight children. They have not eaten for days,” I took some food and I went. When I finally reached the house where the family lived, I saw the faces of those little children, they were struck by acute hunger. There was no sorrow or sadness in their faces, just the deep pain of hunger. I gave some rice to the mother. She divided the portion into two and went out, carrying half the rice with her. When she came back, I asked her, “Where did you go?” She gave me this simple answer, “To my neighbor’s – they are also hungry.” I was not surprised that she gave – because people who have nothing are generous. But I was surprised that she knew they were hungry. As a rule, when we are suffering, we are so focused on ourselves we have no time for others.”
I believe anyone who does not see another as a human being needs to be sent for some very urgent counselling. It is not as if divisive tendencies are prevalent only in politics or in religion or in the remote parts of our country and among the uneducated, illiterate masses. The fact that they are striking closer home, in our own families, as is evident from the experiences I have shared here, is very disturbing. The two stories, from the kid in Panchgani and from the hungry woman that Mother Teresa talks about, remind us that humanity is still alive. To continue to keep it alive each of us has a responsibility. Which is to say no to anything and anyone that divides us on national, geographical, racial, religious or caste basis. Only then can we hope to make our divided and decaying world any better.