‘Huge blessing in small virtues'*
Maj Gen SPS Narang (Retd)
Like a large percentage of secular Indians, I am deeply anguished at the lynching of Akhlaq in front of his family in Dadri recently. The murderers, probably with political patronage or following the diktats of some fundamentalist organisation, shred the secular fibre of our country.
It is against this backdrop that I have an incident to share which may awaken the conscience of some of my fellow men.
The incident goes back to nearly a year, and even now evokes poignancy in my heart. Last November, I was driving back to Dehradun from Chandigarh — a fascinating four-hour journey, with the added attraction of visiting Paonta Sahib Gurdwara. I had to break on the way to give myself and my car some rest. 
And what better than entering the abode of the Guru. Besides the soothing kirtan, it is the langar that one savours, seated on the floor among a multitude of people from all walks of life. Some partake of all meals as they have no means to satiate their hunger. Breaking bread with them gives an indescribable spiritual high, and to experience this, one doesn’t have to belong to any one religion. I, too, enjoyed the langar and came out to get on with my journey.
I stopped to buy some knick-knacks from a kiosk outside the gurdwara. 
Just then, I spotted a family of Gujjars (Muslims nomads who rear cattle in semi mountains and sell milk), in an intent discussion in front of a tea vendor. 
The family comprised an elderly couple, two middle-aged couples and four children. Three women were partially veiled. They seemed poor as the eldest gentleman (probably the father) counted coins and some crumpled notes.
Undoubtedly, the issue was how much they could afford to buy. They asked for three cups of tea and four samosas (popular Indian snack). 
Gathering courage, I asked him, “Kya aap sab khana khayenge?” (would you all like to have food!!) They looked at one another with a mix of surprise, apprehension and a hurt self-respect. There was silence. Sometimes, silence can be loud. The innocent eyes of the kids were filled with hope. “Hum kha ke aaaye hain,” (we have eaten already) he responded. There was an instant retort, “Kahan khayaa hai subeh se kuch bhi, Abba?” (we have not eaten anything since morning, Papa!!)
Hearing that, a dull ache in my chest caught me by surprise. The stern look in the eyes of the three men and the pleading moist eyes of the women said it all. I insisted that they come with me. They agreed, reluctantly. 
We entered the gurdwara (Sikh Temple of God) . A good feeling descended over me as I deposited their shoes at the jora ghar (Shoe deposite room in all Gurdwaras) . The elders were awed by the architectural marvel. However, there was fear in their eyes, which was understandable. They were entering a non-Islamic place of worship for the first time. But the children couldn’t care less, their innocent faces single-mindedly focused on food. Some onlookers flashed strange looks from the corner of their eyes. But then I followed the children, adopting their easy attitude as they excitedly chose head wraps of different colours. (everyone is supposed to cover their heads inside a Gurdwara). 
Except for the eldest member, all accompanied me inside, and emulating me, bowed their heads and touched their forehead to the floor. Many others must have noticed, as I did, that these children went through this ritual with utmost reverence. They took Parshad (offering) from the Bhaiji (The Priest) ) who asked them if they needed more. The children gladly nodded.
We entered the Langar Hall and I took the kids along to collect thaalis (plates) . They did it with joy, like only kids would. Seated opposite us was a newly-married couple. The bride, with red bangles accentuating her charm, asked the children to sit beside her, and two of them sat between them. The way she was looking after them, I could tell she would make a loving mother.
Langar was served, and though I had already eaten, I ate a little to make my guests comfortable. One had to see to believe how they relished it. The initial apprehension had vanished and they ate to their fill. I have no words to describe the joy I experienced.
We had nearly finished when an elderly Sikh and a youth with flowing beard (perhaps the head granthi and sewadar-helper) sought me out. I was overcome by fear, and more than me, my guests were scared. I walked up to them with folded hands. He enquired, “Inhaan nu tusi le ke aaye ho? (Have you brought them in?).” I nodded. 
The next question had me baffled, “Tusi har din path karde ho? (Do you say prayers every day?).” I almost blurted “yes”, but it would have been a lie. So, with utmost humility I said “no”.
Expecting an admonishment, he surprised me, “Tuhaanu tha koi lorh hi nahin. Aj tuhaanu sab kuch mil gaya hai ji (You don’t need to. Today you have got everything).” I was flabbergasted. Was it advice or sarcasm? He added, “Inha nu Babbe de ghar lya ke te langar shaka ke tusi sab kuch paa laya. Tuhaada dhanwad. 
Assi dhan ho gaye (By bringing them to the Guru’s abode for langar, you’ve got everything from God. Thank you. We are blessed).” Then, with folded hands, he walked up to the elderly couple and requested them, “Aap jad bhi idhar aao to langar kha ke jaaiye. Yeh to uparwale da diya hai ji (Whenever you happen to pass through here, please come and have food. It is God’s gift).”
I escorted my guests out of the Langar Hall. Just as we were about to pick our footwear, one of the children said, “Humme aur halwa do naa.” (Get us some more sweet offering). We five went in to get more parshad.
Finally, as they were about to depart, the elderly lady whispered to her husband. I enquired, “Koi baat, Miyaji?” (is there any problem, Mian Ji!! Almost pleadingly, he said, “Yeh keh rahin ki, kya aap ke sar par haath rakh sakti hain? (She is saying, can she keep her hand on my head)!! I bowed as she blessed me with tears in her eyes.
A wave of emotions swept over me. Is it my imagination, or for real, that I often feel the beautiful hand of a Muslim lady, wrapped in purity and love, on my head? Touching
This is the real fabric of our country.
* Article published in The Tribune. I received this by email from E X Joseph
 E X Joseph adds:
Profound thanks to Mr Tharakan for forwarding this radiant piece.The institution of langar in every Gurudwara is truly divine. For Guru Nanak spirituality was nothing but love. Religious organisations have created divisions and hatred. I wonder why churches and temples and mosques cannot give food once a day to all those who are hungry. It is significant that one of the miracles of Jesus was feeding those who came for his sermon. When will our religious organisations realize that love alone is true prayer.The real fabric of India is seeing the divine spark in every human being, in every living thing.Those who seek power –whether it is political power or social power or economic power or even spiritual power- cannot experience the profundity of love. 

My response:
Many thanks for forwarding this profound, beautiful narrative. Human beings, by nature, are blessed with the desire to help each other and live in harmony(.
The test which brought me closer to E X Joseph (The written test for selection of clerks to AG’s Office Trivandrum in 1964) included an essay on “Modern science has stifled Human Values”. T N Kuriakose during interview was asking many candidates the meaning of the word ‘stifle’. I was selected.
In 1993, during Bombay riots, for completing some legal formalities in Kerala, I had to travel from Mumbai to Badagara (50km from Kozhikode). I had reserved sleeper-class tickets from Mumbai Victoria Terminus to Badagara and back. I was aware of the happenings in the city as we were commuting from Goregaon to Fort area and back everyday by a contract bus. Still, as the trains were running, I decided to travel to Kerala. I could feel the intensity of the ‘riot’ situation, once I boarded the suburban local from Goregaon to reach Mahim from where I decided to change train for VT. At Mahim, I saw crowds running in panic on the platform and elsewhere. Sitting in the train, en-route to VT, I saw on both sides huts and some petrol stations going up in flames. At VT station thousands were sitting, lying down and moving about, reminding a very panicky situation.
When I entered the reserved compartment, it was overcrowded. Still, when I reached my seat, the person who had occupied that seat vacated for me.  Opposite to me was a young man reading some book. On my left was sitting a lady with a seven-year old boy in her lap. Well-dressed and with a basket in which some dress and some currency notes, I found squeezed in carelessly. The person opposite to me started making some comments in Malayalam, about the lady and the child. I signalled him to keep silent.
Till Pune, the entire crowd was accommodated in the compartment and there, all unreserved passengers were pushed out of the compartment by Railway staff with police support. The lady on my left was a ‘proud’ daughter-in-law of a conservative muslim family in Kozhikode and was traveling to leave her son in Kerala and come back to Mumbai. They could not enter their house in Masjid area after the riots started and last two days, staying with some Hindu friends, had no contact with her husband also. The previous day, this seven year old happened to witness the brutal killing of a neighbour and asked mother: “Umma, just like a goat is killed, they killed men…I saw that…Will they kill us also?”
She decided to leave the boy in Kerala and come back and search for her husband.
On the day she had boarded the train for Kerala, she borrowed some cash from a Hindu friend and picked up whatever was with her, whatever her son and she were wearing (including some imitation jewellery) and the balance cash was visibly lying open in the bag which we noticed. She did the make-up and changeover because she was going to her In-law’s place to leave the child and did not want the M-i-L to see them in ‘bad shape’. I had no answer to many questions she raised, like “See, we are in this train. If I or you needs a help, we will be extending it without bothering about the community each of us belong. In the area we live, both communities have been living in harmony. What has gone wrong with all of us, in these few days?” That boy must be around 30 now. Hope he and his mother returned to Mumbai, completed his education and is living peacefully.
Third day when I reached Badagara Railway Station to board the train for Mumbai, the situation in Mumbai was worse. Railway staff tried to persuade me not to travel. I insisted that, if the train is going, I was traveling. The compartment I was accommodated had 72 sleeper-berths and only two were occupied from Badagara to Victoria Terminus. Changing two suburban locals and walking some distance I reached RBI’s Gokuldham Quarters to find my family safe.


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