Enjoying the difference

Enjoying the difference

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The other day I had taken the kids to the dentist. As he cleaned N’s teeth tching tching at how she needed to learn to brush better, H noticing his beard and cap, asked in not too quiet a whisper (he is completely incapable of whispering), “Mama is he a Muslim?” I nodded a trifle embarrassed. Undeterred he went on, “Muslims wear caps na ma? That’s how I know. We read about it in class.” “Yes they do”, said I hoping the questioning would end right there.

Even as I struggled with the feeling of embarrassment I wondered why I was feeling so uncomfortable. From H’s point of view it was a perfectly innocent, though a tad personal, query. I asked myself whether I would have been equally embarrassed had he asked, “That aunty is wearing a bindi, does that mean she’s a Hindu?” I still do not know.

I was reminded of a similar incident while on a recent holiday at Lucknow. At a curio shop outside the Bara Imambara I found myself standing next to two burqua clad women. One of them picked up a small box and asked the vendor, ‘What is this?” and he replied off-handedly, “It’s of no use to you, it’s a sindoor-box’ (vermilion powder used by married Hindu women). The ladies smiled and put it back. I noticed the easy exchange wondering at how simply the religious difference had been mentioned, accepted and dismissed.

Perhaps that’s something special to Lucknow – that acceptance of the difference without attaching any judgement to it, where being a Hindu or a Muslim is just a way of life, where one can point out the difference without fear of being misunderstood.

While the uneducated/politically motivated lot insists on the ‘I/We are the best’ philosophy, the apparently educated/balanced lot go with the ‘We are equal/same’ philosophy.

Girls and boys are the same, all religions are the same, people from all regions are the same. That is so very confusing for a child. The thing is — they obviously are not. They are very different. It is the difference that gives them their identity – why take it away from them? Our lives would be richer and perhaps easier too if we accepted and enjoyed our differences.

Next time, I hope I won’t be thrown off balance when the kids put up a question like that. I hope I can allow them to question, understand and accept them with the ease and innocence that only children can.


On a vaguely related note here’s a conversation we had yesterday morning during the school-time chaos:

H: Mama may I be a Muslim?
Me: You may be whatever you want but why do you want to be one?
H: They have so much fun. They get to go to the fair at the Idgah and get all kinds of goodies to eat and they even get Eedi.

They’ve recently read Premchand’s Idgah at school. I presume that’s what brought it on coupled with the fact that today is Eid and the excitement of his Muslim friends is very infectious.

I wish I had the time and the patience to explain that religion was much more than a few sweets and some pocket money. Unfortunately we were running late (as usual) and I had to let it go. Another time, another chat, perhaps.

Missing my hometown sorely today, I thought I’d cook up some sewain in honour of Eid. Mercifully a friend dropped by with a huge bowl of Sheer Khurma and saved the kids from at least one of my cooking misadventures. It turned out to be absolutely delicious.

Eid Mubarak everyone!

Doesn’t it look wonderful?
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30 Replies to “Enjoying the difference”

  1. This was such an innocent post Tulika. It actually made me ponder that all religions are not equal and that is how they are meant to be.. Di versed yet one.. The best we can do is accept them just the way they are.. Lovely read 🙂


  2. This post made me think about how living in Bangalore will give my son an acceptance of diversity in religion and cultures with children of other religions studying with him at school as opposed to living in any Hindu dominated area such as my hometown in Delhi.

  3. Kids are so innocent and curious sometimes…they ask questions without malice, without judgement. It's as we grow up and take in society's judgements, we have filters and biases and can't speak our minds. Interesting post Tulika…

  4. This was such a nice read, Tulika. Once again, I felt that our experiences are so similar. My younger son also the other day said that Muslims are different. Their women wear that black thing and their men have beards and cap. Though, he spoke this at home, I felt a bit uneasy. I answered yes to him. Then he asked what we were. I said Hindu. He then wondered if that was because we spoke Hindi. And I said no that is because of the Gods we worship. I think this was the first time we spoke about religion. He also mentioned that he had studied about different religions in school. Hence the curiosity. I do agree with you that we need to be open at sharing our cultural and religious diversity with our kids and actually enjoying the differences. Once again a thought-provoking post.

    1. That's the thing we don't speak enough about religion and how it's okay to be different. I grew up in a culture where we absorbed all of this subconsciously but for our kids I think we need to spell it out.

  5. Lovely post and I am excited to know you are from Lucknow. I have been there many times 🙂
    Also, I am glad you are exposing your children to Premchand. Idgah, Bade Bhai saab and so many lovely stories. A sevai on Eid is perfect! I miss my hometown a lot during Ramzaan. As school children, we used to go to friend's place for a lot of Iftar parties. Now in Bangalore, once a year I go to the street where Iftar food is organized. It's like that feeling of being at home 🙂

  6. I remember asking my mum questions like these not many years ago. And she too was at a loss as to how to explain to me that religion ain't only about the festivals and all. it's about believing that a Holy Almighty exists!

    Amazing post, Tulika! 🙂

  7. Children asking such innocent questions only to learn and we as adults often feel, unfortunately, ambarrassed. I think if we all accepted others as is and their differences, there would be no awkwardness, shyness, or embarassment. 🙂 <3

  8. I can't help but just smile, Tulika. Well written and kids do ask the questions that are more difficult to answer. But I guess it shows that they're being brought up in a tolerant household. That really is priceless 🙂

    1. I wish that were true Sid. Actually they have a very vague concept of religion. They do go to the temple with us but I don't think they have given much thought to the difference. And they associate religion a lot with celebration.

  9. Lovely thoughts as always tulika….your blog is like a ready recknor for moms to handle tough situations:)

  10. Lourde got it right. 🙂 Children ask the simplest of questions and those are the ones we find most difficult to answer at times. And yes, the khurma does look delicious. 😀

    1. And it gets worse as they grow. I think the tweens and the teens are the worst. After that they at least know what they should ask where. At least I hope so.

  11. I love this innocence of Kids, it's the elders who ruin them by their judgements. When people from two different communities work or live closely, the awkwardness of the questions also disappear. Beautiful thoughts, I am sure your kids will grow into broad minded adults 😀

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