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Saturday, March 06, 2021

Children’s Day: A letter from a teacher to her son

I never thought I would be talking to you about stuff like this in an open letter, that too in a national daily, but, maybe, it’s best this way.

By: Express News Service |
Updated: November 9, 2014 1:00:04 am
(Courtesy: Lalita Iyer) (Courtesy: Lalita Iyer)

‘A hug has no religion and neither does a kind word’

Dear Re,

I never thought I would be talking to you about stuff like this in an open letter, that too in a national daily, but, maybe, it’s best this way. I have, over the past few years, been queasy about a few things and what they mean to me, to your father, and for us as a family, and the more I write, the clearer it seems to get.

I still don’t know most of the answers, but as long as we keep sending our questions to the universe, some light will emerge. Rehaan Iyer-Agarwal. I know by now that you wear your name proudly and love to say it aloud. I knew I always wanted you to have both our surnames because your father, an Agarwal and I, an Iyer, brought you into this world together.

Maybe you don’t realise we are two totally different people with very different backgrounds, upbringings, rituals, cuisine and even festivals, but just the fact that our names sit pretty together with your name means that it doesn’t really matter. Someone asked me why I named you Rehaan, pointing out that it’s a Muslim name.

I found out it has its origin in Arabic and it meant “messenger of God”. Our help at the time of your birth, Zulekha, asked me if I named you Rehaan because I liked Aamir Khan. I was confused. She explained that Aamir Khan was named Rehaan in the movie Fanaa and that he played a terrorist in it. I haven’t watched Fanaa and this should have made me a little afraid. It didn’t. I just loved the sound of your name.

Then we applied for your passport and the man who came to our house for the police verification gave me a lecture on why I was confusing people by highlighting three different communities in your name. A Muslim first name and a south-Indian meets north-Indian last name. But you are you first and everything else later.

The south-Indian meets north-Indian bit? To be honest, that just gives us more festivals to celebrate. You also have two sets of grandparents who wear rituals very differently. I am the child of one set, so it’s possible that my ideas of lighting diyas, agarbattis, bowing before a shrine, waking up early and drawing a rangoli on Diwali day — emerge from that place. Rituals have always defined us and sometimes they become us, too. But sometimes, they have a way of preserving what is pure.You are going to have a lot of friends who have parents from different faiths. You are also going to have your own views about faith and religion and that is important. But I just want you to remember that every religion values a good human being in pretty much the same way. A hug has no religion and neither does a kind word.

Soon, you will be all grown up and people will ask you where you are from. I still don’t know how to answer that for myself, and I keep changing that every time. Sometimes, I say I am from here and now, sometimes I get defiant and say I’m from Bombay, sometimes I say I’m from my mother’s womb and sometimes, I ask them how does it matter where I am from, as long as I stand before you and listen to what you have to say.

People do this because they are very comfortable as long as they can put you in a box. It’s neat, it’s compact, it can be labelled. The world loves boxes. But then, in the end, you are the only one who can decide if you want to go into a box at all.



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