Thursday, September 11, 2008

My First Namaz'!!

It was a Friday. The one on the Bakra`Eid day. A very special day for the Muslims.

They looked surprised, both Basha and Malik. Although they hid it well, I caught an under-pulse of surprise on their faces. Their surprise was on my request. My request (a very casual one) went like this, "Hey Guys, today being such a special festival for you, I was wondering if I should come along with you to the mosque to offer Namaz". I thought they will be thrilled and happy. They were plain surprised.

Anyways they took me along. Basha had to stay back to finish some urgent work in office, so I went with Malik. Malik is an Indian Muslim, born in Bihar and raised in States. The mosque was in Bellevue downtown, and hundreds of Muslims, from India, Pakistan, Middle East and some American Muslims too, had gathered for the afternoon Namaz. I got reminded of my school days in Delhi when I used to go to Jamma Masjid to play with some of my Muslim classmates.

The mosques (and even temples for that matter) in the US do not quite look like the mosques and temples here. Many times you find regular buildings converted into mosques and temples, and hence you miss all the lovely religious architecture we enjoy in India. Yet you feel a sense of purity and sacredness as soon as you enter such a place, for the prayers of devotees can turn a ‘Khandar’ into a ‘Mahal’!!

As we entered the mosque I sensed an uneasy feeling drawing over Malik. The reason, I learned was that non-Muslims were not always welcome to enter mosques. Its different with Dargas. Anyone is welcome at the hundreds of Dargas around the world. Sufism in that sense comes very close to Hunduism! I was born in Ajmer and have been to the famous Darga of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, and have loved it. But this was different. I caught on to the uneasiness and was soon wondering if I did the right thing by coming along.

Then suddenly, this thought came over me, 'Hey! Wait a minute! What we do say on the course!?! 'I belong to you'! Every human is One. God is One!'. The next second i was flashing my 1000 watt Art Of Living smile and walking like I was entering the Vishalakshi Mantap in the Ashram!!

As we entered the mosque, Malik whispered in my ear, "Do exactly what I do". "Ok" I said. And so I watched him closely and copied him move to move, word to word. We first went to wash-up. And it was quite a wash-up. Folded our pants to the knees, folded our shirt-sleeves to the elbows - washed our faces, hands and legs. I was impressed with the diligence with which each person was cleaning the physical body before we entered the holy mosque.

Then we went inside and the namaz started. Many times we bent down and stood up again, many times we looked to the left and then to the right, and many times Malik looked at me to make sure I was not goofing up! I noticed that just like in temples or churches, no one was smiling! They had a serious appointment with God and were busy prioritizing their demands from the Almighty. I sat down and meditated for a few minutes. I remembered the stories Michael Fishmann had told us about Guruji meditating in Mecca and some of the oldest Jewish synagogues in His trips to Palestine.

The old noble Maulavi explained to us the essence of Islam, and encouraged all to do kind things to others. In my head, lines from the Indian Ocean song popped up.

"Vo hi baat madina mein hain, Jo hain baat Shivalay mein". So true. All faiths preach the same old ragged truth, and yet humans cleverly succeed in misunderstanding and manipulating the truth!

We got ready to leave. I was disappointed to realize that there wasnt any "prasad"! I was hoping to find some hot sevaiyas!! I bowed to Allah once again and exited.

.................Today is Ganesh Chathurthi and the commencement of Ramzan, a day which marks the beautiful blend of these two faiths. India alone is a nation on the planet which can boast of a cultural heritage that peacefully allows all traditions to express their beliefs without any conflict (unless provoked politically)!!

Bismillah al rahman al rahim

Ganpatti Bappa Moriya!

Monday, September 1, 2008

To the Americas and Back!!!

Warning: Long sentimental Write-Up!

4th August, 2003. It's about 1am in the morning…….the scene is abuzz at the airport. Mom n Dad, sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews, friends, cousins, neighbors, ex-girl friends, more friends – all there to wish me good luck. Amidst the never ending lines of advice from elders, and the continuous reminders to keep in touch from friends, I steal the last glance of my motherland as I bid farewell to my family and friends. I leave a part of me behind in India. I make a promise to myself – I will return one day. Come what may!!

Within a few hours, I enter another planet. The US of A. I am living the American dream!

Time goes by….I learn new things….and forget few old ones……I train myself to roll my tongue when I say "r", I learn to call it the 'skedule' and not the 'schedule' (who cares what the Queen said), I change my DNA to throw in as many 'thankyous' and 'pleases' as I possibly can in every sentence. I am amazed by the roads, and by the sizes of things……

We create a mini India where we live. I return every evening to old bollywood songs and chai….we discuss cricket and Indian politics over tortillas replaced for rotis, we spend hours chatting with family and friends online…we graduate from school….join the IT army in the US.

There are times I cry and times I laugh….times I regret I left India and times I feel glad that I am not in India……..but there never is a time when I feel shaky about my decision to return – never. I know I will go.

And one fine Jan morning, the day comes for me to implement the plan…… bid farewell again…..I buy, for the first time, a One Way ticket to Bombay!

I come back with dreams and apprehensions……there is a shine of hope, mixed with a cloud of uncertainty, there are fears (some real, others unfounded), and there is excitement and happiness. Mostly, there is contentment. I am keeping the promise I made to myself. I come back to contribute to my country, for it needs good sons. I went as a boy and I come back as a man! I come back with skills to blend the Orient and the Occident, I decide to take the best of both the cultures and make my own. From the quick NY head nod of 'wassup, to the authentic folded namashkar, from pesto salads to bhel-puris, from Starbucks mochas to Nukkad Cuttings, from Minus 20 degrees to + 40, from bald eagles to peacocks………..I can do it all!!!

28th August 2008: Today, its been 6 months that I came back……I now live in Bombay.

As I sit by my balcony on this rainy wet night, I see the city wrapping up for the day. Although it never sleeps, Bombay does quieten up a little towards the night you know!

Tonight, there are approximately two thousand one hundred and fifty seven thoughts in my head!!! I take a stroll back to the Orange streets of Syracuse on a cold October evening, and I can still smell the hot coffee as I walk past the big old tree in the quad!

I catch glimpses of my life in the US while I do my mundane bits in the routine day. It’s just the same feeling that we get when we move to the US for the first time and keep seeing flashes of India now and then!! There are times I feel like running back to Seattle – and there are times I want to just be here. There are times when I feel like walking to the middle of nowhere and just vanishing into thin air!!

As I said, it’s been 6 months now. India has successfully swallowed me, just the way it does to anyone who comes to its shores. Some people pat me on the back and proudly call me a ‘True Indian’, others think I made a wrong decision in moving back to the rut of the Indian life. I take both and make nothing of them.

I have learnt that it’s not the place where you live – it’s how you live!!

"Mitti ki jo hain khushboo, tu kaise bhoolaayega
Tu chaahe kahin jaaye, tu laut ke aayega"

"The greatest journeys are the ones that bring you home"!!

Jai Hind – In God We Trust!