The Srinivasan’s are an unusual yet utterly typical Indian middle class family, based part in Bengaluru and Mumbai. Their Tamil origin sits gracefully with their imbibed Bengali culture where Tram Baba, the village story teller was the re-incarnate of their lost grandfather in regaling them with stories of yore.
Three Rama’s, Saguna for Amma Meenakshi S, Maryada Purshottam for Shobha di and Nirguna for garrulous Venkat, who put his Ma’s anguish into cleansing positive action. At Ashirwad in Bengaluru this writer was privileged to break fast with the faithful of all colours last Saturday, share Amma’s precious thoughts, nibble dates and khajoor and then after forty five minutes of soul enriching conversation partake of the inevitable delicious Kareem ki biriyani!
What was so unusually precious about this Iftar? We too participated in several last year, in Malad and Kurla and Bandra as communities came together in our very own Mumbai and stood up and firm against the politics of hatred being perpetrated in the name of Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti! Worse were the hate wounds being inflicted because both last year and this, on the Muslim community, piously and sincerely observing the fasting in the Holy Month of Ramzan. Yes we spoke then through Iftars and campaigns and we continue to do so now.
The special difference between our efforts and the Srinivasan’s was and is the stoic reverberations of an individual’s convictions, religious and spiritual that moved her family into action. Meenakshi Srinivasan’s faith in Ram means love, respecting, a shared humanity. Meet her in person this mathematical, football loving septuagenarian and you are awed by her multiple dimensions evidence of a life richly lived! She was, and is agitated by the unseemly targeting if hijab-clad young women in her home state of Karnataka because both as a woman and mother she knows what it takes for a girl and woman to navigate family social mores to experience the joy of books and education.No wonder then that evening, just day before yesterday, we heard wise words of course from the family (see videos below) but also young stars like Nisha and Nasreen. Nisha poignantly hit the nail on the head. “Check in,” she told the audience. “Check in on your Muslim friends, Muslim neighbours. You have no idea what conversations are going around in Muslim homes. Venkat checks in. Please all of you must check in. Young champion of AltNews Mohd Zubair was there giving a zing to the gathering. I was humbled to be a part and be asked to speak.
The evening has left so much more than a feeling of peace and positivity. For me personally, it has redeemed my faith in the Hindu. A faith and followers who so urgently and desperately need to speak up!
Amma’s Iftar 2023
During our trip to Yercaud 2022, we learned of the riots on Ram Navami through YouTube videos. This news caused concern for my mother, who was looking forward to spending the holiday with friends from Bangalore. This was our first holiday after the pandemic. The organised nature of the riots hinted at deeper motives beyond what was visible.
The news disheartened my mother; something significant to her was being taken away. I spoke to my sister, Akka, who was also uneasy and struggled to articulate her thoughts. Violence and hatred contradicted our fundamental values as a family.
We were taught that the purpose of religion is for self-reflection and praying for others, as praying solely for oneself could be viewed as selfish in the eyes of God.
Years later, I realised that our household of three had two Rams (pedantically two and a half). My mother saw Ram as sagun (has a form), embodying the qualities of Maryada Purushottam, who guided her to be mindful of her responsibilities towards herself, her family, her relatives, and society. Those who know her would know Maryada is “responsibility & dignity.”
In contrast, my understanding of Ram was Nirgun, discovered through poetry, love, travel, and interactions with inspiring people. My sister seamlessly switches (conveniently) between the two interpretations, and Sagun Ram of my mother, Nirgun Ram of my world, and Akka’s Ram all represent love.
Through this lens, Kabir and Surdas occupy the same shelf in the library of love.
In this context, we felt we must respond; it was obvious the answer to hate is love; we said we would have an iftar party and celebrate an evening with Muslims. Iftar is also a way for the family to reflect on how we fight this hate; as a family, we do not know it yet but feel it must start with a show of love and solidarity.
We hosted an Iftar party in 2022, and people came over; All attendees reminisced fondly about the conversation and the delicious biryani served during the event.
Amma said in Iftar,
“Lord Ram resides within every individual, and thus hurting others goes against the teachings of Ramayana (and Mahabharata). Amma encourages everyone to practice kindness and compassion towards all, as it reflects the teachings of all faiths.”
We invite people to Iftar on 08 Apr 2023 in Bangalore.