I grew up in a small town on the foothills of the Western Ghats, were people of different faiths lived in harmony for many years. Having grown up in a secular household, I had friends from different faiths. Like every other child I was fascinated and intrigued by their customs and religious practices. When I first visited the local church with my Christian friend, I was in awe with the statue of Mary carrying Baby Jesus. I was equally enthralled to see my Muslim friends reading their holy book Koran in a musical chant. Our ways of life were different; nevertheless we remained good friends.
Our idyllic small town life remained peaceful. Most of the businesses were run by Muslims and the Hindus were predominantly land owners. Good number of Christians and Hindus were employed as teachers. Educated youth from all walks of life were taking up jobs in government offices, banks and LIC. As a teenager I was not aware of the conflicts underlying our peaceful existence.
The bazaar right in front of the historical Hindu temple was lined by various shops run mainly by Muslims. As was the norm, these merchants used to gather for Namaz everyday in one of the shops. All of a sudden, a Ganesha idol appeared in the middle of the market square and this sparked a disagreement between the communities. Alas! Simmering tensions erupted into violence! The following days witnessed police action. Community leaders tried to restore harmony and religious heads attempted to soothe the frayed tempers. Over time, the community slowly limped back to normalcy, though minor transgressions had the potential to flare up the situation.
One of those days, I went to the bazaar with a Hindu friend to buy some stationary items. While we were gaily examining the new fragrant, multicolored erasers with great enthusiasm in the stationary shop, a violent mob carrying sticks and sickles came charging down the bazaar. We saw people running helter-skelter and shop owners downing shutters. Paralyzed with fear we did not know what to do. The shop owner, a septuagenarian Muslim gentleman, asked us to get into the shop and closed the shutter behind us. As we sat in a dazed stupor, we heard the mob pelting stones, shouting slogans and chasing people. The shop owner was on his knees praying all through. Once it became quiet, he opened shutter only to find mayhem outside. Calm after the storm! With great care, he sent us home with an escort. That day, a perfect stranger taught me the most profound spiritual lesson on humanity. A lesson that stays with me to this date!!!
15-Jul-2010: A Spiritual Lesson for Life was published on Writershideout.net
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