I am not fiercely patriotic. Or fanatically religious. I never have been. However, for as long as I can remember, there was always one thing that would make me immensely proud—almost goosebumps-inducingly proud—when I heard it: that our country was one that epitomised "unity in diversity."
But over the past decade or so (perhaps even longer), I have realised something. We remain divided because of our diversity. Somewhere along the way, we have become more divided about things that had united so many of us growing up in the pre-2000s. Of course, tensions and issues existed then too. But it has gotten alarmingly worse over the last few years.
I once promised myself that I wouldn't write online about religion or politics. It was mostly because discussions on social media around these topics always have a tendency to turn vile (and wild). However, I believe I have personally reached a point where I can no longer feign that I am not affected by all this.
Tolerance is about riding out, together, this giant wave of suspicion that crosses our minds when we look at someone who is different to us.
Much of my childhood was spent in a vastly multicultural, inter-faith, geographically diverse milieu. Adults and kids, alike.
I remember being excited about having friends from different states and countries, who spoke different languages. It ensured that I grew up curious about other cultures, not cautious.
It also meant that I had an opportunity to pick up new languages, interact with people from different places and therefore open a treasure trove of experiences. To me, having these sort of friends meant that I had so many more festivals to celebrate than just the ones that were "predominantly" for one state/country/religion. And that has somehow helped shape me into that religiously and politically tolerant person that I am proud to be today.
In fact, I vividly remember one Eid when we opened our doors at noon to find a huge container of freshly cooked mutton biryani on our front porch. I was initially taken aback, not because of the sudden appearance of food, but because adorning the top of that container was the gorgeously stuffed head of a goat. On one hand, I was drooling over the delicious aroma of the meat-laden biryani. On the other, I was totally in shock over the head. But my father just smiled. Our neighbours were from Sudan, and apparently, where they come from, it is considered to be one of the highest honours to be offered a stuffed goat's head along with the biryani. It signified respect. And that's something you earn, not demand.
And today, when I read discussions about people ghettoising territories on the basis of caste, creed, race, religion and a gazillion other factors, I find myself longing for simpler times; in many ways, technology is the culprit, as much as it is the solution. I fear for the generations to come, who may be inadvertently forced to make friends only from within their faith or geographic circle. I fear for the very things that make all of us human.
My parents have shown me what tolerance truly is. And for that, I will always be thankful to them. I parent in the hope that I'll be able to bring my son up the same way.
Now I am not against people having their own faiths or even being immensely proud of their culture, religion or heritage. In fact, that's what keeps the diversity intact. But what we seem to have forgotten is that along with that diversity comes the need for tolerance. Religious. Geographic. Political. And all other kinds.
So, what does tolerance mean to me?
Tolerance is not about showing the other cheek when someone slaps you.
Tolerance is about realising that we can all live together without the need to impose our faiths, beliefs, food or political affinities onto others.
It is about riding out, together, this giant wave of suspicion that crosses our minds when we look at someone who is different to us.
It is about coming together to support a cause for the betterment of humanity, our kids, the future, our planet—the common greater good, despite our individual choices.
It is also about learning to realise that segregation is never the solution to our problems. Standing by each other is.
I have my battles with my parents. On a number of things. From weight loss to achievements in life. But they have never let me be biased about any person or place on the basis of religion, faith, beliefs, food or anything else. They have shown me what tolerance truly is. And for that, I will always be thankful to them.
I parent in the hope that I'll be able to bring my son up the same way.