The other day, we went to a nearby park with little Biyadiya. This one, near my house, is frequented by all nearby kids, including kids from nearby construction sites who do not know any language other than Tamil. It is a great experience to watch all these kids treating one another as just playmates, no strings attached.
That evening, there were two kids, who were evidently Muslims. The boy was young, five or six years old, with a skullcap on. The girl was slightly older, and wearing a worked-on red churidar. Both of them were conversing in Urdu. Now there are three slides in the park, one for big kids and two that are more toddler-friendly. While my little one is not scared of slides, he is usually reluctant to actually slide. This girl held him while he slid down, like the protective elder sister. The boy then tried to climb up the slide, but his big toe got stuck in a hole on the slide (did I mention that this park is maintained by the BDA?). He started crying. R tried to take his toe out, but it was stuck tight. The girl then cried "arey, Allah ka naam le ke nikaalo, aa jayega!". After some struggle, the toe came out, and everybody was happy.
I was amazed at the girl's maturity. She was helping kids onto swings and merry-go-rounds, held on to little Biyadiya because he was not comfortable sliding down the slide. She was but only slightly older than the boy, but had already taken on the role of a nurturer, a person who was capable of comforting others. One may say that girls are wired that way, but this one was extraordinary. She was far too intelligent, nay, mature for her age. What would she grow up to be? Would she grow up to be a Benazir Bhutto or a Taslima Nasreen? I wondered about the boy, too. Would he look up to his sister as he did now? And the other kids - would they (including my son) treat these two kids as somehow different when they grew up? I, an adult with reasonable sensitivity and intelligence, was thinking so much about the girl just because she was a muslim. This, in spite of knowing about cases of women-abuse in my own community!
Now, before people start accusing me of looking at people with colored glasses, let me make it clear that I have had, and still have muslim friends. And I think that it was much easier for us to befriend people from other religions, than it is for today's kids. Some boundaries are vanishing, but other, more unsurpassable boundaries are rising.
The truth hit me hard when we listened to some older children (probably 10-12 years old) talking in another park. One was asking another "Hey, what caste is yours?". When we were young, we were taught that asking about another's caste was wrong. I am definitely going to teach my children the same thing, but with so many divisive forces around us, is it possible?