Celebration across religions
Friends from different communities celebrating the festival of Holi.
I have no love for bigotry and dogmatism in religion, and I am glad that they are weakening. Nor do I love communalism in any shape or form. I find it difficult to appreciate why political or economic rights should depend on the membership of a religious group or community.
The segregation of India
Each time I visit Mumbai, I make a pilgrimage to an old five-story building with crumbling balconies on Nepean Sea Road. It’s where I lived during the ’60s and ’70s — the first two decades of my life. I went back a few weeks ago. Standing outside, I thought about the diverse, cosmopolitan city I knew, and how it has changed.
We lived in a single room. Our flat was shared by four families: We were Hindu, the other three Muslim. Our landlord, who lived in the room next to ours, had a kitchen in common with us; down the hall were two communal toilets. Muslim families lived on the two floors above us, but the top floor family was Hindu, as were the shopkeepers below.
Our differing religions almost never caused friction. Once in a while, my mother might complain about the smell of beef being cooked by the landlady. We’d occasionally grill tiny pork sausages over the toaster in our room, in secret retaliation. Usually, though, religion came up only in the context of festivals: The neighbors gave us fresh meat each time they slaughtered a lamb for Eid; we invited their children to light firecrackers with us to celebrate Diwali.
Which is not to say we lived in blissful harmony. There were frequent (often spectacular) altercations — over kitchen counter space, the limited water supply in the flat’s storage tanks, a common electricity bill, a shared doorbell.
The inter-communal mix of my formative years has been lost. As the writer Naresh Fernandes describes in his book, “City Adrift: A Short Biography of Bombay,” some suburban areas are acquiring the feel of religious ghettos. Mumbra, one of the largest, is over 90 percent Muslim. It suffers daily power failures much worse than those in neighboring Hindu localities. To the west, the clearly demarcated Muslim parts of Jogeshwari are snidely called “mini Pakistan” by Hindus across the “border.”
The world I knew is gone. Will the entire area become a sprawling gated community one day, designed to filter out the city’s diversity?