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The Cards of Culture and Religion

Short story By: Saba Hilal
Religion and spirituality



People use the words “Religion” and “Culture” not for the meanings they were defined for. It is a story about how these words are used to play games.


Submitted:Jul 26, 2009    Reads: 60    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   


"There is a Muslim with us who is trying to spread groupism and that is what we will not permit at any cost". It was this sentence by the Principal Director that let her to refocus on what was being said. It was in between an urgent staff meeting that was called a day after "The Director Emeritus" had come to visit the College, suddenly, after a long time, and nobody there knew for what? …. but yes, in the absence of Principal Director. He had also come to her room, where she had stood up in respect and had wished him remembering he was the founder of the College and Principal at the time when she had joined there six years back. After that he had called a meeting where he had made his presence felt, scolded the staff members, and clearly indicated that he was not satisfied with the current working atmosphere of the college. He had also called the Principal Director using his mobile during the meeting, but had left before he came.
Later, that day she had known that Principal Director had not approved his visit. And there were those who had surrounded Principal Director, talking with enthusiasm, expressing their loyalty to him against the Director Emeritus. It was at that time that her wishing "Good Morning" to an elder having white hair was equated to be a sin.
And now this was the meeting that she was attending. The Principal Director has started with asking "Who among the faculty members was passing information to Director Emeritus? When nobody answered, he continued. She was also sitting there wondering what had happened between both the Directors. They had been known for showing the behavior like the father and the son in the past, but now what has happened? She knew that Director Emeritus was a very influential person and now if the things were not good as before, it was the cause of worry for the Principal. But all staff members were with him, all including her, she thought. And if they all were doing their best, best for the College, with obviously as per the orders of the Principal, how can someone's perspective change the things. She was in midst of her thoughts when something being said about Muslims made her to refocus. She was a Muslim and there were two others from the Library who were there in the meeting. Then she remembered about the office girl, Lisa, who was known to be in good books of Principal Director, but she was absent that day. So, there were all together four Muslims in the College having a staff of more that a hundred, where the three were on adhoc posts and she realized then, that she was the only permanent one.
"We should be careful", Principal Director was continuing. "There should be something why people are not trusting Muslims all around the world", he was saying. "A Muslim from our staff told another Muslim to keep a track of what was happening in my room." " So, you will come here and spy?", he then looked at her. She felt shocked. Why was he not naming the person? Why is he putting somebody's blame on the whole community?
"Muslims are famous today for spreading terrorism", he was saying. She started to get angry now. She tried to speak, but was stopped. The Principal now came again on the previous agenda. Now he was talking to his most trusted men. "Agar Chaar log Kisi Ko Utha kar phenk Dein College Se Neeche, (What if four people throw somebody down from the College Top?) Then what will happen? Nothing will happen. Police will come and everybody will say we didn't see anything."
She was now too shocked to feel even the anger. She wondered, "For whom was it being said? For someone who was a Muslim or The Director Emeritus!
Shortly after that the meeting was over. The Principal Director went back to his room. And she went after him. With permission she entered his room. "Kindly tell me Sir, who that Muslim is? Who is that who asked to spy on you? I know there are not many Muslims here, and I think it is not right to blame the whole community for one person."
She clearly said that. Soon there came his favorite men. They came and sat there, as if they didn't need the permission. "It is you. You have asked Lisa to spy on me and she has told me that", he told her.
"What!" she exclaimed. What the hell they were trying to do! And why were they using her name? Why was she being blamed? Why was she being framed for something that was beyond her thought?
"I don't do these things, Sir." "Don't you know me?" "I have always given my faithfulness to this chair of yours", and why will I need to do this?", she said that in spite of the fact that she felt if she was wrongly being blamed, there was no need for giving the explanation.
Then there were his men taking to her. "Why should we trust you? Lisa has given us in writing. And that it is you Muslims who are doing all the terrorist activities around the world", one of his men was in the mood of fighting. She had to answer that, she felt.
"You stop raising you voice against me, and do that instead to condemn terrorism", she said, sternly. "I use blog postings to denounce all the activities that lead to people's sufferings, but have you done something in this regard, except fighting with me?", she added. "I know she is different from others", the Principal said to his men and tried to cut off the talk. As Lisa was not there the talk had to end that day.
Back in her room she analyzed the sequences that had happened. Why was all this happening? She was aware of her competitors, and those who didn't approve her. And they were many. But they were always there in all parts of her life.
She thought about Lisa. Lisa came from a very poor family, where there were too many kids to feed and only one earning member, Lisa's father. Last month Lisa's mother had died after two month long struggle on the ICU bed of a private hospital. And she was the elder one. The College had provided the poor girl the support in her bad times as that situation would have been very tough for her, everybody had known that.
But, they were saying that Lisa has given in writing something she knew was not true.
Why will Lisa do that to her? She wondered. She has always stood by her when her mother was sick, when her mother had died, when she was in pain. She knew well that Muslims who are poor and weak are used, often bought to make scenes against their own community, and this was the easiest game played by powerful against powerless people and now she knew that the card was being played against her. In spite of that realization, it was very difficult not to trust Lisa. Lisa was by birth a Muslim, may be for namesake, though her name also didn't reflected her being a Muslim. It was only the time when Lisa's mother was sick that she had shown her need to know Allah. Lisa has then come to her crying, and told her she wanted to pray, pray to Allah for her mother's health. She has then told her, what she has always herself believed in, that Allah listens if you pray with your heart and when Lisa has asked her to give her some prayer written on a piece of paper, she has given her a prayer containing Allah's names. The only thing that she has thought about at that time was how to help a poor girl gain strength in her worst time. And now she wondered over what has come in return to her.
Next day, Lisa had come to the College. And she has asked her why she has told that lie to Principal Director. Lisa has straight away refused and said, "I didn't say anything about you Maam, to anybody". Then she has gone to Principal Director again and told him that she has already talked to Lisa and that he can call her and remove whatever misunderstanding he had about her. This time the principal had reacted very badly and had refused to talk further about this matter.
She did'nt know what to do. Whom to trust and whom not to trust? She looked back.
She was born in a Muslim educated family. Her parents were pious people, both teachers, who have always believed in the need of right education. They have sent her to the best school in the city, the St. Mary's School. She had been the only Muslim child there throughout from LKG to tenth. And today she realized that all her teachers and friends were Hindus! She has just then realized that they were also Hindus who have loved her dearly, whom she had herself loved dearly, whom she will always trust on beyond word. It was however a sad fact that the communal riots were part of the continuing history of India, but these were also the times where people can form opinion that can stand for Hindu-Muslim unity through out their life, she thought. She remembered her friend Renu. Once when her city was rioting, Renu had holded her hand while coming from school and had brought her home showing the way between the temples, when Renu had felt it was not safe for her to go home via the main road. She also remembered the days when she was a college student. And her teacher, who was closest to her heart even that day, was her Preeti Madam.
When she had joined the College, things were not as difficult for her as they had become in the past two-year. It was from the time in 2003 when the new Principal Director had taken the seat. It had suddenly come in form of the culture and values strengthening and in the form of faculty development programs. She had seen a number of changes since then. Hawans have become a routine activity in the College. The naked walls were painted with Shilokas to give the College, a temple like look. Facultys were sent for new age religious programs, which were run in form of health or in the name of holistic learning. And these programs were also made the part of internal College routine. And often the organizers made sure that she was their important participant, especially when some Sadhu came to introduce his way of education. It was then she had started to resist, resist from all things that she considered was against her Iman, where worshiping only Allah was allowed. It was then she has started refusing all invitations for Hawans. It was then she refused to chant Shilokas in the name of Yoga. It was then she avoided sitting with Sadhus who often came to introduce their programs for she knew that her photo would be hanged as motivation for others. It was this resisting, that made others feel strange about her, for the other three Muslims have already submitted themselves to the new change. It was then some senior faculty members had surfaced and frankly asserted that if someone couldn't mold into their ways, the person should be removed. It was then she had started feeling insecure. It was then she had realized she has to find her own ways, the right answers. But Allah is with her and He will help her in this, she had thought every time, when she felt alone. She was not really lonely, for there were some friends, friends who have suggested, "Why don't you leave the job here and go to some Muslim University?", and then added "It will be better for you there". But she knew it was not all true. She also knew that when it was a matter of competition, people try to over power others, and had at times not considered even the people from their family, what to talk about religion. It was after all a competition game being played every time by a different name. She had replied, "I have been taught by all Hindu teachers for fourteen years... and I owe them my Guru Dakshina. I can't pay them that for all the love and knowledge they have given me, but I will try to return that to the next generation, by serving with love in this College, giving all the knowledge without bias, for atleast fourteen years". She smiled. She has got her answer. She knew the only way to win this game from those who spread hatred, or those who didn't want to give her the right to exist, was to return "words of love" and "deeds of love".
As the Principal Director had brought the issue to the front, in front of all staff members in the meeting, some started playing games in the open. Some even felt it was their way of showing loyalty to the authorities.
It was then she had noticed, a peon who distinctly wore a big tilak and saffron clothes, forgot to say "Good Morning", and started saying "SalamAaalekum" with loud voice. So, they have forgotten everything about her, except of course her religion, she realized.
She was ordered to be moved to the new staff room. The reason that was announced was "like people should sit together". She went to the new room gladly. There she found an empty table and chair place for her. And on her table was placed a big statue of Ganesha. That statue she had not noticed before, although she had often gone to that room. She felt uneasiness. Where to place her purse? Should she shift the statue or not? Whether to touch it or not? She instead holded the purse in her lap and sat cautiously moving the chair somewhat far from the table. Soon one of the Principal's men came there. He came and with joined hand bowed before Ganesha. He called the peon loudly "Table halke sarkana, Ganesh Ji ka dhayan rakna", he ordered him. Although he looked at her, smiled mischievously and left. She new, "It was the part of the game they were playing with her, but what was their next move?" Were they really trying to create a situation for something that was beyond her imagination? The only thing that she was sure about was that everything that they will do or create will belong to "Culture" and that "needs the strengthening" and whatever she will do will be "Religion". She tried to prepare herself for their next moves. The quite answer was to go and sit somewhere else. She returned back to her old room. Fortunately for her the place where she was previously sitting was too congested for others to gladly occupy.
After two days, she went to call somebody from the room where Ganesha's statue was placed. The statue was not there. Her eyes were searching it. Yes, it was there. Placed on the old Almirah top, half hidden behind the old files.
They kept on playing with her, and for some this has become a war. She kept on avoiding their moves like she had avoided sitting in the new room. But it was not always easy. There were some who have taken the oath that they will surely bring her to the right path… their "Culture" and she knew well that in this new definition of "Culture" it was fully taken care of that people with even the little identity like hers doesn't fit. It was again and again announced in all official meeting that the mission of the College has become "culture strengthening", however, without the limit imposed "how to and how much".
So, people started experimenting with whatever they thought was their style of culture strengthening. A senior member introduced her to one of the dignitaries who have come to attend a function. He slightly lengthened the pronunciation of her name. She felt like they had been talking about her. The gentleman stood and with folded hands said, "Jai Shri Ram, Jai Shri Krishna". She smiled "Good Afternoon, Sir". "Jai Shri Ram, Jai Shri Krishna", the gentleman repeated loudly and was not ready to accept her style of wishes. Now she had become the focus of all present there. This time she folded her hands in Namaskar form and smiled with respect.
"Jai Shri Ram, Jai Shri Krishna", the gentleman was looking straight into her eyes now, forcing her to surrender, forcing her to repeat the words with him, trying to use his deliberate brain washing tactics. "What if I repeat the words, and let the man feels happy? It will not make me less devoted to Allah, but why was all this needed after all!", she thought in the instant of that moment, and said loudly, "Jai Hind, Sir". Yes, this was the intelligent answer. The gentleman was in a fix. Although he was not pleased… but "Jai Hind" was something he couldn't refuse to accept in public. Shortly, after that the "culture strengthening", statements in the new meetings were changed. There was a new addition, which she noticed being frequently added. "It is the intelligent people who do much harm. Those who do not have the brains are better".
She has gradually learnt how to reply humbly to the games played with her. And often she enjoyed the moves played to her and especially when somebody played a stupid move. That day in the morning newspaper she read about the high propaganda about some religious text being circulated by a history department teacher of a central university. And that had created the high wave of disapproval within different religious groups and they had come on road to show their discontentment and had made the headlines that day. Now, the poor history teacher was giving explanations that her name was not written on the text and somebody else was framing her, while all knew that she was the government minister's daughter.
In the mist of this news, her College people started playing their new games. It started with Lisa. She found Lisa running after her, "Madam, please stop!". She stopped. Lisa came running to her.
"Madam, I was looking for you", she said. "Madam, you have to help me, I have lost that prayer you gave me when my mother was sick". "Please write it for me and give that to me again", she said.
"I do not remember what prayer I had given you", she replied.
"No, I know the prayer, it is on the Internet also, but please write it in Hindi for me", Lisa replied.
"If you know it is on the net, try to find out the related sound files, I have lots of work to do today", she replied hurriedly and left. Lisa was not to be trusted anymore, she knew that, but what she didn't know was the reason of Lisa's quick and continuous promotions, and her ability to become highly trustworthy of all the Principal's men.
It was that same day, an old man came to her room. She recognized him to be the Pandit Ji, the person who performed the Hawan rituals in the College.
"I have been given a new task by Principal Director. He is making a research cell for comparative religion studies and I am writing book for that. I need your help. In your religion there are different names of Allah. I want you to give me some names, names starting with O, A, M and write their meaning. In fact, I was sitting in Library and I have seen such text on the Internet.", he said and also named a Muslim in the library who has helped him in searching. Now, he wanted the same text from her. She wondered, if he had already known that whatever he needed was on Internet, why he has not taken a printout of that from the attached printer. So, were these things related? The news, Lisa and him and if this was a game then, who was the player behind this? She thought about herself. Was she being too suspicious? Where has her trust gone? Who was responsible for such feelings of mistrust in her? May be the gentleman really needed that for academic purposes. She really wanted to help him. "Sir, Internet material often contains public opinions, and the information you get from there is often not correct. So, it will be better if you search the material or translations you need from any reliable book". She guided him about the related books.
She was not surprised when Pundit Ji kept coming to her room, daily, for not days, not weeks but months and kept on insisting her to give him some Islamic text, in either her writing or from Internet or anywhere but of course through her hand. And each time he came and she softly refused him giving one reason or other, she strongly felt that she was right not to trust him.
Then finally came her chance to win. And her win was to end such useless plays.
She was having lunch that day with other colleagues in her room and the lunch was served to her from the College canteen. As she was to finish the lunch she saw that it contains something that was not the supposed mushroom. She exclaimed, "This looks like a meat piece!" This made her colleagues look into the plate. She shifted that with spoon. Yes, it was a meat piece. It was prohibited to bring even the cake having eggs in the College. And she knew that it was the rule. Now, the question was, "How the College canteen served that?" For her it was seeing the breaking of the rules, the rules that she had valued ever since she had joined the College. Although she was a non-vegetarian herself, she has never brought that in College, and has always asserted to her students and team members that College rules should be followed. Now, she wondered, "Why the administration has failed to specify the College's Cultural Code to the Canteen person, and so he had dared to serve that in her plate." But what came to her as a shock, was their actions when she reported that to the administration. First they asked her what the problem was, if she was a non-vegetarian herself? "I eat only Halal meat", she replied adding, "and that too not in the College premise, and don't you remember it was a rule?" Within minutes she saw him coming. The gentleman with all white hair, he who was known to make black the "white", and white the "black", who was always there when some major fault was to be protected or when some innocent was to be framed. And she knew it was all done through enquiries and reporting and all in very professional and official manner. She did not know what happened after that, but the Canteen kept running, without any problem. But something changed for her. People there who felt that she was the protector of their values, started to trust her again. And that was something that she had herself needed badly when her own trust was getting hazy. Some even came to explain the reasons, especially the Pundit Ji, who claimed that the reason why Canteen person was given the green signal was because they were trying to become liberal. But then they stopped playing frequent games with her.
But she kept on praying daily, "Make myself believe and love all those who are near me" and "save are country from all destructive games, all the games people play in the name of Religion, Culture and Liberalization".




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