Ten years ago this week, I began working in Priya Manna Basti, a Muslim settlement in Howrah. That was the beginning of my personal journey to build a bridge between my life and the lives of ordinary Muslim fellow-citizens. That was a personal mission. It was rooted in a programme to initiate and sustain community empowerment efforts, focussed on poor women and children.
It has been a unique and intensive personal experience. All that I sought to do remains unaccomplished. But what has been accomplished is that today I am accepted as much as - or I could even say, more than – any Muslim by the Muslim community of my city. I am one of them. And those Muslims who know me, know also that they are one of me and mine. Just being a Muslim does not make someone special for me. He is just another human being, as good or bad, high or low as any other human being. So I know Muslim crooks and cheats, just as I know Hindus of that ilk. And I know, look up to and love several Muslim people, as much as I do Hindus. But yes, all the while I am aware of the discrimination, prejudice, segregation and deprivation faced by Muslims. The "difference" and the fact of conflicts - gives a special positive "charge" to my engagement and relationship with Muslims. Equally, the fact of my being Hindu makes me special to them.
The truth is I am dismayed and distressed to live among people who are full of scorn, hatred, apathy and insensitivity. I feel a stranger among them. Hence I feel more alive and at home among my Muslim friends. With them, I feel full again. I can participate in discussions that are open, free, fun-filled, boisterous, no-holds-barred, devoid of rancour. We are comrades, in desiring and seeking a better, happier future, for all.