When my Christian cousin described the communion bread as sweet and melting on the tongue, my elder sisters and I became determined to get a taste of it during a mass we were attending. Just before our turn, the school matron magically appeared and gently took us aside — communion bread it seems, is not for the unbaptised.
Growing up in a household with Christianity and Islam flowing freely, we were exposed to an intermingling of cultures that can only make one’s childhood richer. Sometimes it led to faux pas like the one at the church, or this other time, when my sister, thoroughly confused about whose side of relatives was visiting, exclaimed, “Adaab Amma”, to an old conservative Christian relative of my mother. That innocent confusion led to immense awkwardness but gave the family an anecdote to laugh at forever. And, of course, our quest for the sacramental bread is still on.
My parents had an inter-faith marriage in 1970, when it was difficult but not against any laws of the state. They faced their share of opposition from their respective families, but none enough to deter the two, who remained happily married for 39 years till my dad passed away in 2009.
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While growing up, we often called ourselves half-Muslim and half-Christian, but in truth, we were always just a bunch of kids, who had the luxury to say that they knew a little bit more than the others about a second religion. In our liberal home, we even had the liberty to criticise both religions. My father, a physics lecturer, had always placed deep emphasis on education first and then theology, if any at all. We celebrated Eid with as much fervour as Christmas and Easter. I remember singing hymns with carol singers on foggy December evenings just as vividly as we would sing Nauhas on sultry summer Muharram nights with our cousins.
In 2011, my own inter-faith marriage met little to no resistance from either of our Muslim/Hindu families. Questions about food, oddly topped the list of concerns from some relatives. While I am a vegetarian Shia Muslim (yes we exist), my husband is a biryani-loving, fish-hating Hindu Bengali from Delhi. He’s the type who would appreciate shami kebab, only if the recipe didn’t have any chana dal in it. I’m the boring non-foodie who unabashedly admits that baingan dishes are her favourite food item —much to my mother-in-law’s consternation.
My husband and I met while doing a Master’s in mass communication in Delhi. Love happened, as they say. What specific alchemy made it happen is a mystery we are still unravelling; being rule-breakers probably had a lot to do with it. We dated for eight years before we had our three marriage ceremonies, to make assorted gods happy, including the ones governing the land.
The nikah ceremony saw full attendance from the in-laws’ side. Curiosity for a different culture and the famous Lucknow cuisine were top reasons for the high turnout. Come to think of it, we should have walked the aisle to honour the Christian side too.
I remember how a guest had remarked, “how Muslim I looked” on the day of the nikah and how Bengali I looked on the day of the Bengali shaadi. To me, however, I looked like any other bride, neither Muslim nor Bengali. Just a happy bride!
My husband and I are two fiercely independent individuals, and religion hardly features in our daily lives. We have mutual respect for our communities and cultural backgrounds, unless, of course, the conversation is around the best golgappas in the country. While my vote undeniably goes to Lucknow, he sticks strong with Bengali Market.
We are now raising our son called Dylan Jafri Roy (whose name will surely keep all those he meets over the years fascinated). Our son inherits an even richer culture than me, in so many ways! And yet I hope he gets to be Indian before anything else.
What is it about inter-faith relationships that makes people sceptical or unsure about a match? What is it about another’s culture that makes people feel the need to protect theirs? In an ideal world, it would be no one’s business whom a woman should choose to marry. Women are leading in all fields, surely they are capable of finding their own suitable boys. At what stage did the state feel the need to step in?
I feel uneasy breaking down people into their religious identity or to even further dissect them and divide them into castes and classes. Not fitting into any one box is the biggest legacy of a mixed cosmopolitan upbringing. The liberty to choose, to celebrate and accept is undeniable. Why, even the freedom to criticise and question one’s culture is perhaps the biggest boon of this amalgamation. In a country that seems to be at the brink of losing this freedom to proposed new laws, my only prayer is that the Dylan Jafri Roys and the Meera Pamela Jafris (my mother) of the world increase their tribe. The tribe that stems from love and love alone.
This article first appeared in the print edition on December 2, 2020 under the title ‘Our tribe of love’. The writer is a cinematographer