Sunday, 10 November 2013

The extraordinary stories in our ordinary lives: The story of a Muslim daughter-in-law

Shahida and I were roommates at Kamrupa hostel when we were pursuing our Bachelor's degree from Delhi University, in the early 2000s. We used to pray together. In the mornings when I would place an incense stick in front of my little Ganeshji on the study table, she would come and stand by me. I would go and sit with her when she performed her namaaz. We fought and hated certain things in each other, but were very fond of and learnt a lot from each other too. Later, when I married a Muslim and she a Hindu, we joked that God perhaps got confused who was Hindu, who was Muslim because we both prayed together!

               catching up with Shahida after many years. with our husbands. Mumbai 2010

Many moons ago, when I was about eleven or twelve years old, Dad and I were forced to move our car into the nearest garage, somewhere near Guwahati Medical College, when it suddenly broke down on the road. It was some minor thing that had to be fixed, thankfully, and dad and I spent the next fifteen minutes with the owner of the garage while his men worked on our car. Dad and the man started chit chat and I, in the absence of any attractive option, listened on. A little into the exchange of pleasantries and the man started lamenting about the hurt his Muslim daughter-in-law was hurling at his family. "She performs Namaaz. She refuses to apply sindoor," seemed to be what had disturbed him and his wife most. And I remember being furious at him (maybe, my soul knew what was in store for me several years later!) and telling my dad later when we were on the car again that the man was insulting his daughter-in-law by talking about her to people like that; and that now that she was family and living with them, he should accept her for what she is, how she is no matter how bad or good that is for him. And my dad gave his consent to my opinion (maybe his soul also knew what was in store for me several years later!) No wonder my dad and I are soulmates :)

Anyways, I am glad that things have turned differently for me and a few of my friends who have got into inter-religious marriages. My father-in-law is unabashed about the fact that he has a Hindu daughter-in-law; and for the past five years he has regularly wished me on every Diwali. It goes without saying that this gesture means a lot to me. So is the case with my friend Shahida Hussain, married to Deepanjan Ghosh. Her in-laws have never cried about her being a Muslim, even while considering the fact that Deep is their only child. They could have harbored ideas about a daughter-in-law from their own culture, community, (Shahida is an Assamese and Deep a Bengali) etc. etc. But nothing like that. Shahida's in-laws are nothing like the man I encountered in that garage in Guwahati years ago. They don't freak out at the sight of their Muslim daughter-in-law performing the namaaz. And acceptance came quite naturally to not only her parents-in-law but also extended family like grandparents and uncles, aunties and of course the cousins. 

A few years ago, Shahida, a senior manager in a bank, and her husband (an IT professional) got themselves posted to Kolkata to be with the latter's parents, retired and settled in the city. They live together and there is not a single festival that is not celebrated in that house: Eid, Diwali, Janmashtami...etc. Shahida jokes that Christmas is the only festival when she enjoys a holiday; "all other festivals are celebration at home so lot of work and preparations!" Her late father-in-law had told her on last Eid that this celebration should never cease to be observed at this household. "The year he expired, as a Hindu custom, all festivals in the family were not celebrated except for Eid, which the extended family got together at my place to celebrate to respect one of Baba's last wishes," Shahida says.

Ayaan stays at home with his Thamma (paternal grandma) the whole day when his parents are at work. Shahida had feared that like many of her working friends and colleagues with long corporate working hours, the mother-child relationship would get affected. "But fortunately it has not happened with me. And it is mainly because of MA, my mother-in-law. MA would always keep saying good things about me to Ayaan. Also would explain to him why his mummum (Ayaan refers to his mom as such) goes to office. Of course being with his grandma makes Ayaan least worried about his mother's absence!" speaks Shahida with a lot of gratitude for her mother-in-law.

"My Hindu mother-in-law encourages my son to learn namaaz from me," reveals Shahida. And in a lighter vein adds, "But the little one gets a bit confused at times and starts bowing his head in sajda in his grandmother's worship place, which is full of Hindu deities! Ayaan understands Assamese because his father was strict that all lullabies and child talk that I had with him during his infancy were in his technical mother tongue, i.e. Assamese." 

After her father-in-law's death recently, Shahida's family comprises of her husband, child, mother-in-law and Kaku. "Deep's father and Kaku were good friends who decided to stay together post retirement. So they built their houses in the same apartment and shared their lives together for a couple of years till one friend departed. Kaku is a renowned neurosurgeon of the country and a Brahmin by birth. So the same roof houses a Brahmin and a Muslim who are bound in a father-daughter bond. Kaku is a father figure for both Deep and me and is the Nanaji of Ayaan."

Ayaan 's  full name is Ayaan S Ghosh. He gets the "S" (Syed) from his mother. Shahida wanted it in his name and the family made it happen. 

I post here a few pictures from Shahida's album.

                 Shahida with her husband Deepanjan and son Ayaan on Eid. Home, Kolkata.

                       Shahida celebrates Durga Puja with Deepanjan and Ayaan. Kolkata.

                      Little Ayaan all dressed to celebrate Rongali Bihu, the Assamese New Year

At times I can but only wonder how a person who is truly educated in the holistic sense of the term, will always preach and practice tolerance for diversity. Will not seek to impose one's way of life on others, because the person will know that there is not just one way of life just as there is not one single way to claim God. This wisdom comes with holistic education, whether that education has been received in an institution or outside it. And I have noticed, in many cases, wisdom and education has nothing to do with the premiere institutes you go to. I guess, forgive me for my audacity, one has to be blessed to gain this enlightenment. It frees the spirit immensely. Shahida and I are lucky to have wise people around us. Who love us. Who support us. Who let us be.


  1. This is truly an eye opener for a lot of people who do not think as wisely as people around you and Shahida do and very rightly said that wisdom is not at all a function of how highly educated you are but rather what you are inside as a human.From the time i have known Shahida Mam, i have always felt how lucky she is to have such beautiful individuals around her and would always want these blessings to remain with her forever as well as you Mam :)

    1. Thank you, Anushka, for sharing your thoughts :)


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