It was a Monday morning and I was getting ready for a dash to the office. There was a meeting so I was busy working on a spreadsheet document on my laptop. "What are you doing?" Said a voice. I turned around to see it was Tanu, our maid's daughter who sometimes accompanies her mom to work. "Can we watch songs on your computer?" She asked. Yes, I replied nonchalantly not wishing to be distracted. "Can you show me a favourite song of mine? We do not have a television set at home."
She'd asked me with such innocence and enthusiasm that I didn't have the heart to say no. Very quickly I asked her the name of the song and searched for it frantically on YouTube and let her watch it. "Can you repeat it?" She said. "I want to learn the dance movements." No. I said abruptly. Not possible now. I was in a mad rush to reach office on time.
"[W]hoever you are -- leftist liberal, atheist, feminist, Sufi, conservative religious or, nearer home, 'sickulars', 'bhakts' etc -- let's start saying hello to each other."
"OK," she said as she went on to play as if nothing had happened. I couldn't help but admire her composure in the wake of her wish being rejected. She is a very bright child, always happy about something or the other. Her mother is raising her on her own, single-handedly, with lots of difficulties yet she never complains. I thought I must learn from her. How good she is at letting go gracefully. If we choose we can learn from anybody -- in fact, more from people with whom we think we have nothing in common.
The other day I read something on Facebook. It said, "Become friends with people who aren't your age. Hang out with people whose first language isn't the same as yours. Get to know someone who doesn't come from your social class. This is how you see the world. This is how you grow."
So true. More so in this day and age when nobody is talking to each other anymore. We are now victims of technology. We have become so bad at respecting an opposite view. We have friends in real life as well as on social networks who all think like us. It's like literally being on the same page. We have just lost the art of dealing with conflicting views.
There are some of us who still read and know there's a different world out there. Yes, perhaps it is not for you but that doesn't make it any less good or less interesting. But our unwillingness to engage with the many other such worlds is so worrisome.
We are living in very interesting times. It is the age of immigration, globalisation and interconnectedness. We are raising kids who speak two or at times three languages. This has tremendous potential for breaking down barriers and promoting dialogue. Yet the exact opposite is happening. At no other point in history have we been more aware of these connections and the differences we have than now. We are being pulled in two completely different directions. Xenophobia, bigotry, intolerance, stereotypes are so rampant. Narrow-mindedness and hardliners in one country create more hardliners elsewhere. It's a vicious circle.
Identity politics is the order of the day. It feeds on our insecurities and creates a scenario of us vs. them. On top of it, us is supposed to be better than them. It reduces us to one single thing. Fanatic concepts have assumed epidemic proportions. Judgment has been thrown to the winds. On social media people have lost their reason. It's like the blind leading the blind.
Amidst this frenzy we forget that we all have a responsibility. To make this world a better and a more just fair place for the future generations. To do that we must understand the world, not just ourselves.
"Xenophobia, bigotry, intolerance, stereotypes are so rampant. Narrow-mindedness and hardliners in one country create more hardliners elsewhere. It's a vicious circle."
So whoever you are -- leftist liberal, atheist, feminist, Sufi, conservative religious or, nearer home, "sickulars", "bhakts" etc -- let's start saying hello to each other. If we don't talk to each other we cannot have empathy. By hearing each other's stories we can, despite a bias, try to understand one another. We can all coexist peacefully and have the power to overcome identity politics.
What can you possibly learn from someone who speaks like you, whose world view is exactly like yours? Whose voice is an echo of yours? Nothing. But someone who is different can challenge you and you can challenge that person and both can benefit from it. Multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism are the need of the day. We need differences. We need diversity. It is possible to have multiple belongings, rather than a single identity.
As for Tanu, I got hold of her on a Sunday and together we watched all the songs she wanted to learn to dance to. I casually asked her, "What do you want to be when you grow up? Become a trained dancer?"
"No, I want to go to office and do a job, just like you," she smiled.
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