Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Power of an Isolated Act of Goodness in a Jaded World

The world has always been a violent place.

In those days after the Persian Gulf War, the USSR had collapsed, Divya Bharti had fallen to her death, and the Babri Masjid had been demolished. The adults around me were always discussing these issues quite literally over my head, but the grownups and the children lived in two separate worlds, two different realities. I was a happy-go-lucky middle-school student living in a protected environment far, far away from the mess of the world, at least in my head. From the safe bubble of my home and school, all the monsters were confined to the newspapers and radio broadcasts. They never gatecrashed my friends' birthday parties or told me that I couldn't have burgers and fries when I wanted to.

That random schoolday, my friends in my 6th grade class had been acting shady all morning. During recess, however, they approached me as a group, all smiles as they eagerly presented me a handmade Eid card.

I was one of a tiny handful of Muslim students in my class of forty-something Indian students. My friends were from all over India, they were Christians, Hindus, and a Jain. In a school where most of the students were Hindu and where Muslims formed a tiny minority, we got along. One's religion was never a reason for discrimination or debate but more like one of innumerable personal traits like having curly or straight hair.

The Eid holidays were approaching where we lived in Muscat, Oman. My friends had painstakingly got together to make me an Eid card. The carefully executed surprise was top-secret. Without my knowledge, my friends had decided to do something genuinely nice for me.

It's been almost twenty years since that happy day. The world is still a violent place, and somedays I can't bear the ugliness of it. When I now look at the card, I see its careful pencil outlines and think about how meticulously a bunch of 11-year-olds traced it over with felt pens and colour pencils. They didn't have to do it. They didn't get anything from it. I don't even know how they came up with the idea. I do know that it was a big deal to them and that they spent all morning fairly dividing the art work and logistics amongst themselves, making sure I didn't get a whiff of the secret project. I do remember their beaming faces as they gave me the card during recess. Now I realise that nomatter how many times the world hurts my feelings and walks all over me, there are people out there who don't see me unidimensionally for my religion, race, or nationality. And if there are some of those, there's gotta be more. I believe in that.

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