|Women of India||.|
The Muslim Girls and I
by Vikas Kamat
When I was twelve (in 1979), once I had to travel to Bangalore (a city) from Honavar (a small town). It was an overnight journey by bus, and my uncle had pre-purchased (reserved) a seat for me by the window.
It so happened that the two passengers who shared my seat were two beautiful, Muslim girls, barely 20, and also traveling by themselves. They were probably sisters, lived in Bangalore, and were returning after spending a long vacation in Honavar. Apparently, they were very popular. Every Muslim youngster worth his salt in Honavar was at the bus station to bid them goodbye, as if to his sweetheart. See, Muslim girls of the period in Honavar were restricted in movement due to conservatism, poverty, and just lack of recreational means in the town, so it would have been impossible for a young Muslim man to even talk to another Muslim woman unless she was a relative. (Most Muslim girls did not go to college then, although there was an open-again, close-again girls only Urdu school in Honavar during the 70s). So my thinking is that the fact that these boys could just talk to the sisters on the beach, must have been a great source of fascination.
The farewell took a long time, but the driver and conductor were glad to oblige. The sisters had to constantly refuse goodies, and promise to write letters. I had never seen so much adulation for non-film stars in India.
I sat stiff in my seat, taking caution not to touch the girl at shoulder or at waist even by mistake. I was a Good Brahmin Boy, and did not want any trouble. There was no talk whatsoever. After a couple of hours into the night, a gentleman wanted to switch seats with me. To my great surprise, the girls quipped "No way, he is with us!" It was not until many years later that it occurred to me that it was their way of keeping the unwanted advances away.
We reached Bangalore in the morning, still no exchange of words between us. As I got off the bus, the girl who had spent the night sitting beside me smiled at me -- it was a pure, beautiful, and a memorable smile. Then I looked at the other girl and received the same smile again!
I moved to Bangalore years later, and whenever I was in a Muslim neighborhood, I'd prepare to run into the sisters. Of course, I never did.
I write this today because it occurred to me for the first time, that even though I grew up in India, a country of 180 Million Muslims, the number of Muslim friends I have had is fewer than five (two of them I met after I left India), and that I have never had a conversation with a Muslim woman. The closest I got was the two girls in the bus.
This upsets me, because Muslims in India are progressive, affectionate, friendly (most of them anyway) people. Earlier generations of my family have had long standing friendships with the Nawayatis (Islamic community of Persian descent) and Daldis (Konkani speaking farmer and fishermen community). My father has photographed a number of Muslim women in the past, something that he is afraid do today.
Why are we closing communication channels between the people, rather than widening them? Don't we know what happens when there is no communication and understanding between the various communities of the earth?
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