Muslim, Christian & Hindu: Kiran Manralby Vinta Nanda October 30 2020, 1:40 am Estimated Reading Time: 10 mins, 34 secs
Some time ago in pre-COVID times, I was in a room full of friends and when I sit back to recall, what comes to mind is that which perfectly defines the interdependence of people in Mumbai upon each other, writes Vinta Nanda in the introduction to this wonderful interview with author Kiran Manral.
Among the lot who inhabited this get together were three Hindus – one Gujarati, one Shetty from Mangalore and I (the Punjabi), there were two proper Christians, one half Maharashtrian Hindu and half Catholic, two Sindhi’s, one Parsi and four Muslims of which, two were Bori’s and the others were, ummm… Mohamedans maybe?
This group expands and contracts subject to the availability of its members and we have been the closest of friends for far too many years now to be able to count.
This is a city that has integrated itself to a syncretic culture over much more than a century and now we, who belong perhaps to the third generation of people habituated to coexistence, if not more i.e. - will find it extremely hard to change the praxis of relating with each other as co-travellers, irrespective of the religion that we follow.
As a matter of fact, almost everybody I know, celebrates Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Parsi and all other festivals with as much zeal and enthusiasm as they celebrate their own. If it is Eid, the Muslims bring on the biryani, if it’s Christmas then the pudding is had at the Catholic homes and if it’s Diwali, it is most likely that cards are played in Hindu homes – not necessarily by that dictate though.
It is the reason why most Mumbaikars of my generation are more amused about the heated arguments and debates surrounding Love Jihad. The Tanishq ad has been an awakening for most who live in the city of Mumbai – because almost everyone we know is, if not married, then related by blood to people belonging to different religions.
Now with the discussion raging across the media and among people all over the country, the question that often comes to mind is, how do we reverse this contemporariness that we practice? Or else, how do we bring the rest of the country up to speed with ourselves and make them see the advantages of experiencing life that rises way above differences and celebrates cosmopolitanism with great pride?
Well, the answer is hard to find but can’t say that Bob Dylan’s famous lyrics don’t come to mind:
How many roads must a man walk down/Before you call him a man? //How many seas must a white dove sail/Before she sleeps in the sand? //Yes, 'n' how many times must the cannonballs fly/Before they're forever banned? //The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind/The answer is blowin' in the wind…
But, I got lucky.
I stumbled into a conversation with Kiran Manral, former journalist and author of eleven books and ready to release her twelfth in weeks from now. She’s a Mumbaikar and she’s half Muslim, half Catholic, married to a Hindu Rajput. Now isn’t that really saying something in Love Jihad times?
So I wanted to know a whole lot more and therefore reproduce this lovely dialogue between us.
I’m sure you will love it, as much as I did – and I’m also sure you will see that it isn’t as difficult to be a person above the religion you follow. There are problems, one cannot say there aren’t any, but then let’s agree that the problems are not bigger than say – the pandemic and crisis around it?
So here we go!
The times are weird. Mumbai - our precious Bombay - had moved way ahead from the rest of India and its cosmopolitanism had made it one of the most forward cities of the world. Maybe not in terms of the way the city has been managed but certainly in terms of its attitude. What are your thoughts about it?
If there is syncretism and cosmopolitanism in India, Mumbai is the thriving, living example. For decades, we have coexisted in neighborhoods, uncaring of class, culture, religious divides and for the most, been a wonderful melting pot of the richness of our diversity in India. For that I am grateful. I grew up in a bank housing quarters with Maharashtrians, Punjabis, Tamilians, Gujaratis, Goan Catholics, Uttarakhandis, Bengalis, UPites and more as neighbors - we celebrated all the festivals in the society, every religion was respected. As a child, I remember celebrating not just Eid and Christmas in my house, but also being part of Diwali celebrations, Ganapati, Navratri, Dussehra, Pateti, Pongal, Onam in all the houses of my friends. In school, in college, there was a cosmopolitanism that one took for granted not realizing that perhaps it didn’t exist quite in the same way across the country.
Having said that, while there was always cosmopolitanism but there was certain ghettoization too.
Back in the mid 1990s, when my mother and I were searching for a house to buy for her to live in post retirement, we did come across many societies, which clearly told us they would not sell to us because we had a Muslim surname or because we were just mother and daughter. (My father had passed away when I was nine years old). Finally we booked an under construction flat from a builder developing a township. Years later, when I was a married woman with a surname from a different religion and house hunting, I had brokers tell me, very openly, that certain building societies we were looking at didn’t allow non vegetarians or Muslims, in a manner that I should consider it a positive. So I think the cosmopolitanism we think Mumbai has is there, till a point. Beneath that level, there has always been a divide.
You were born here and grew up here as well. How would you compare those times to what they seem like now in the city? Do you think like I do, that Bombay has moved forward too fast and now the rest of India is holding it back - until it catches up?
I am thankful that Mumbai is a living, throbbing, vibrant and all encompassing city that welcomes all those who come to her, even though she’s straining to accommodate everybody. Mumbai is truly the city of dreams, the El Dorado for so many from the rest of the country who come here to earn a living. Here, there is hardship and despair; there is also opportunity and dreams within one’s grasp. The city truly does not judge anyone, it lets you be, it lets you do what you do, and there is also immense support for those who need it.
Honestly, I don’t think that this city could ever stagnate. It grows and molds itself to the various changes that come its way, it adapts, it shifts and it does the jugaads it must. There is a survival instinct to those who live here, we may decry it by calling it the Spirit of Mumbai but the fact remains that Mumbaikars get on with the job. There is a level of professionalism, and dynamism we don’t see in most other cities. I don’t think the city can be held back by anything.
You have one parent who is Christian and one who was Muslim. How did it work?
Thankfully, it worked wonderfully because each followed their own religion even after they were married and didn’t compel me to take up any one faith, so I’m happily all encompassing when it comes to faiths.
And, then you got married to a Hindu Rajput - how did that happen and how does it work in terms of celebrating festivals, carrying out routine things like weddings, births and deaths in the family?
As it would be if a Hindu Rajput married into the house, I have never felt that I am an outsider. I do the pujas, celebrate the festivals and participate in the rituals when required.
You know why I'm asking the questions above - Tanishq being case in point. So how did it work between you and your mother-in-law and between your husband and your mother?
I think when you put people first, everything works out. There is and has always been respect first, and that makes everything okay. I think if one sees religion first and people second, that’s when the trouble crops up. I’ve been lucky to be welcomed with love and affection into my marital home, my sisters in law are closer than sisters would be with me, in fact they pamper me and indulge me silly. My mother in law realizes that I’m never going to be a domestic person and handles all the home responsibilities, freeing me to focus on other stuff - that is such a blessing and luxury, that I am indebted to her. My son is perhaps the most pampered of the next generation from all the family. I may not have been brought up in Hindu ritual and tradition but I have read a lot about it and sometimes I tell my husband I know more about your religion than you do, and he agrees. I think if there is love and respect that comes first, everything else follows.
Also tell me a bit about how it worked out between your parents and your very diverse grandparents? - Those times were different right? Or were they more progressive times?
Ah. My mother had lost both her parents. My father only had his mother alive when they married. She did have a bit of a time adjusting to the very different culture and lifestyle, but my father himself was a very progressive person - so it made things easier. Also they lived apart from the joint family, so that helped. I don’t know if the times were different then, but prejudices always existed, they’re just more open today about them.
So what are you bringing up your child to be? Does he follow all religions? How does it pan out?
My son follows the Hindu religion simply because it is the religion followed at home and I am not a religious person. I think you need some basic grounding in a religion, any religion. All religions have the same basic precepts of humanity - goodness, kindness, generosity and those are lessons we all need to learn.
You've been a journalist before you became a full time author - tell me a little about the times that you worked as a media person. How different was journalism some time ago?
I gave up full time journalism back in 2000 so that’s almost 20 years ago. I don’t recognize most of what passes as journalism these days, specifically news television. Biases are out in the open, agenda driven news is the norm, on television basic civility is non existent, I can only say I’m glad I’m not a journalist anymore.
Why did you decide to become an author - what was the trigger? And where are you now?
It was me turning 40 in a few months that was the trigger, specifically my mother would religiously ask me every year, when I planned to write my book, because sometime in my distant bachchpan I must have told her I will write a book one day. So I wrote one book in panic when the 40th birthday was around the corner, also to get mom off my back and then never stopped. I’ve written many books and short stories now barely nine years since my first was published, my 12th comes out next month.
A little about your latest due for release please?
This is a fun book called The Kitty Party Murder; it is less murder and more humor to be honest. It is a laugh out loud book about the escapades of a Mumbai mom who fancies herself solving crimes, infiltrating a kitty group to figure out the death of one of its members, and a deeper layer about trying to find purpose and meaning after dropping out of the workforce to have a child.