I find myself more religious whenever I am by myself, away from my family and out of my country. I tend to be more conscious of following certain rituals, offering namaaz on time, dressing more modestly and conducting myself in a manner that will make my parents proud. All of a sudden, I become that ‘Tall Indian Muslim girl’ wherever I go. (I can’t help the tall part though.) And that’s why I try my best to be a good representative of my religion and my country too.
So you can imagine the slight awkwardness when I stood in front of the Hindu couple who rented me their room in New Zealand when I went to study abroad. Since there wasn’t enough space in my room, I was seeking permission to offer my namaaz in the common hall of their apartment where they had a beautiful mandir. To my relief, they had no objections and I settled in comfortably in their apartment. Believe me, there were times when, due to their job and my classes, we would all be praying together in the same hall before we headed out. It was such a peaceful feeling that is still fresh in my mind.
I loved to observe how they prayed together daily. They considered the baby Krishna as their child and I was fascinated when I saw that they treated the idol like one. They performed the rituals of waking up the baby Krishna, bathing it with milk, then dressing it up before lighting the dia and incense in front of it. It was then followed by the aarti. Similarly, at the end of the day, the baby Krishna was put to sleep by changing clothes, tucking it in a tiny blanket and turning off the lights. When the couple went away on holidays, they requested my Hindu roommate to carry on the ritual in their absence. I was constantly amazed by their devotion towards baby Krishna.
Once they were going away on a trip and were disturbed because my roommate was unavailable that weekend. They were surprised when I offered to conduct the rituals for them.
“But isn’t that against your Islamic views?”
“Islam teaches me to do the best I can for everyone around me. Of course, I consider Allah as my only God, and won’t be able to perform the aarti, but I know God will be pleased if I took care of your son, baby Krishna, for you.”
And believe me, there was such a divine feeling in my heart when I offered namaaz next morning and then went to sit by the mandir and got the Baby Krishna ready for the day. At night, after Isha prayers, I covered the idol in the tiny blanket, turned off the lights and slept with a peaceful smile on my face.
I had lived with the couple just for a few months during which we celebrated Rakhabandhan, Eid and our birthdays together. They guided me at every step, encouraged me to try new things and eased my move to the new city. They made sure I felt loved in that distant land away from my family. To this day we keep in touch and I know I have a home away from home in New Zealand whenever I visit next.