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It was lunch time at Saba's office and she was happy that the day, which had started on a lazy note would now become a little interesting. Saba, had been working at this PWD office as a clerk, for last 8 years and was a favourite amongst her female as well as male colleagues for the sumptuous and tasty dabba's she brought. Lunch time was fun and she looked forward to it everyday. What have you got for lunch today?..was a question she was now accustomed to hear everyday, and that satisfying look on people's faces, after they tasted her food would always bring a smile on her face too. She always fed people who by chance forgot to bring their dabba's and sometimes herself remained hungry. She even forgot her worries for a few moments and even after trying a lot she couldn't prepare poori aloo like Mrs Gupta and the kheer from Mr. Sharma's home was her all time favourite.
She had started her career from this office and was unmarried then. Even at that time lunch packed by her mother which included tasty biryani's, Kebab's and korma's made her popular and helped her strike a chord with her seniors and colleagues. Within a month of her joining, she was almost everyday accompanied by 10 other people from different departments at the lunch table and her friends always requested her to get an extra dabba if there was something special. She remembered how after eid even an extra casserole of Sevaiyan apart from her dibba proved to be less. She was now married for last 5 years and apart from her husband and son who loved every dish cooked by her, even her MIL and FIL were all praises for her. She owed all this appreciation to the age old recepies taught to to her by her mother.
Saba sometimes use to wonder how such a simple thing like food, could be a reason to connect, to share ones joys and sorrows and how powerful it can be in giving you lifetime friends. Meeta, her colleague and best friend in office was from another department, and their friendship started when she had asked her about her special mutton biryani recipe.
But today there was something wrong and abnormal. 15 minutes of lunch time had gone and she was still alone on the table. Sharma ji, her senior and Mr. Saxena were sitting on another table and looking at her sheepishly. She saw many other people, who usually lunched with her sitting at other tables and with other groups. Meeta, was on a half day leave and would only join after lunch. Saba had work to finish, so she quickly finished her lunch and was back at her workstation.
Even in the evening at home, she couldn't stop herself from thinking about that lunch thing but was soon engrossed in work and forgot everything. Next day, she had specially cooked a mutton korma, for Meeta and was eagerly waiting for her to come. When Meeta came and was just going to sit with Saba, Mrs Verma, who was sitting on a table next to them, asked Meeta to join them. She said, " come Meeta, join us, you never know what your best friend brings for lunch. We can't trust these people anymore and when you thought you had eaten mutton or chicken, from their tiffin, these beef eaters can make us eat it too and bring disgrace to our religion.
Meeta and Saba were stunned and shocked by what Mrs Verma's had just said and all Meeta could say was, " sorry Mrs Verma, I can't join you and will share my lunch with Saba as usual. She is the same person who has fed us many times when we forgot to bring our lunch or were hungry and in problem, I know that my best friend herself remained hungry but had never refused anyone from taking her food. She can never do a thing to hurt my or anyone else sentiments. Its more in our minds than in reality and for me the person I have befriended and her feelings are most important than anything else.
Only Saba knew that her entire family had never even thought of cooking or eating beef, which was sacred for her fellow country men and there was no way she could prove it. She had tears in her eyes and a thank you which Meeta understood well.
Meeta's words had given her a lot of comfort but it was the suspicion in everyone's else eyes and the discrimination she was facing, that was heart piercing and would be unforgettable forever. These were the same people who till a couple of days back were singing praises for her food and were ready to exchange their dabba with her happily and today were not ready to sit with her. She now realised that the recent killing of that boy in the train, who was just going to buy new clothes for eid and today's happening were connected. What was his fault?..or what is the fault of any such innocent human whose life is taken away like this..it leaves a whole family shattered. Her son always took vegetarian food to school, but she didn't know if her husband was facing the same thing in his office. After all everyone doesn't think like Meeta. A chill ran her spine thinking what could happen to her and the likes of her in a country which they always knew was their home. She had now returned to her workstation and knew that this year,on eid, only a small dabba of Sevaiyan would be enough for her and Meeta. There was no one else left to share it.
I was inspired to write this write up after I read a piece of news where this kind of discrimination had actually happened with someone. There can be a hundred reasons to hate and divide ourselves in the name of caste, creed and religion but I could never imagine food to be one of them. Discrimination of this kind and suspicious looks from people who you always thought were your fellow men can break anyone's heart. Our country has much more depth religiously and culturally than this. When there are people like Mr Sharma and Mrs Verma, there are also people like Meeta. Its just that hopefully more people start thinking like Meeta.
Food, which is a basic necessity for everyone according to me can only be a reason to bring a feeling of happiness and contentment on faces and can be a reason to love and connect. I have myself seen when Mumbai was heavily flooded on 26th july 2005, how people gave food and shelter to many souls in trouble. They didn't ask their religion before saving their lives and giving them biscuit packets. There are many such examples where a religion called humanity supersedes everything else. Its true that there are people in every religion and community, whose wrong doings and fanaticism becomes the reason of cruelty, barbarism and shame for not only that community but everyone else too and most of the time it is innocent people who pay the price and become victims to such intolerance. The irony is that many educated people who can actually stop all this sometimes are the ones who start it.
We as fellow countrymen will definitely not want our future generations to follow or believe in such fundamentalism and this mob killing culture needs to stop. Our children should learn to love and respect every religion and community and we need to teach them that every religion teaches only one thing and that is love and coexistence in peace.
My husband still recalls how he used to celebrate eid with one of his best friends and how we were amongst the first people who got invited to his marriage. Am looking forward to attend his child's naming ceremony and our love and blessings will always be with them. A warm bhaabhi jaan from him is what I am waiting to hear.