I never thought I would be talking to you about stuff like this in an open letter, but maybe it’s best this way. I have, over the past few years, been consistently queasy about a few things and what they mean to me, to your father, and collectively for us as a family, and the more I write, the clearer it seems to get.
I still don’t know most of the answers, but as long as we keep sending our questions to the universe, some light will emerge. So this Children’s Day, I wanted to talk to you about divisiveness.
About your name. I know by now you wear it proudly and you even love to say it aloud: Rehaan Iyer-Agarwal. I knew I always wanted you to be an Iyer-Agarwal because I am an Iyer and your father is an Agarwal and we both brought you into this world together. May be you don’t realise we are two totally different people with very different backgrounds, upbringings, rituals, food and even festivals, but just the fact that our names sit pretty together with your name means that it doesn’t really matter.
Someone asked me why I named you Rehaan, pointing out that it’s a Muslim name. Yes I found out it has its origin in Arabic and it meant “messenger of God”. There’s no one Arabic in our family tree, but that was hardly a concern. Our help Zulekha at the time you were born asked me if I named you Rehaan because I liked Aamir Khan. I was confused. She then explained that Aamir khan was named Rehaan in the movie Fanaa. She also told me that he was a terrorist in the movie. I haven’t watched Fanaa and this should have made me a little afraid. It didn’t. I just loved the sound of your name. I like it even more when you say it and the fact that you don’t like it shortened.
Then we applied for your passport and the man who came to our house for the police verification gave me a lecture on why I was confusing people by highlighting three different communities in your name. A Muslim first name and a south-Indian meets north-Indian last name. But you are you first and everything else later. The South-Indian meets North-Indian bit? To be honest, that just gives us more festivals to celebrate.
Regarding the confusing bit, you have travelled at least five countries in the last five years and no important officials who stamp passports have been confused so far. Neither have you, and hope you will never be. I hope you will always ask us when you are.
You also have two sets of grandparents who wear rituals very differently. I am the child of one set, so it’s possible that my ideas of lighting diyas, agarbattis, bowing before a shrine, waking up early and drawing a rangoli on Diwali day – emerge from that place. Rituals have always defined us and sometimes they become us too. But sometimes they have a way of preserving what is pure and that’s the bit I like.
You are going to have a lot of friends who have parents from different faiths. You are also going to have your own views about faith and religion and that is important. But I just want you to remember that every religion values a good human being in pretty much the same way. A hug has no religion and neither does a kind word.
Soon you will be all grown up and people will ask you where you are from. I still don’t know how to answer that for myself, and I keep changing that every time. Sometimes I say I am from here and now, sometimes I get defiant and say I’m from Bombay, sometimes I say I’m from my mother’s womb and sometimes I ask them how does it matter where I am from, as long as I stand before you and listen to what you have to say.
People do this because they are very comfortable as long as they can put you in a box. It’s neat, it’s compact, it can be labeled. The world loves boxes. But then, in the end you are the only one who can decide if you want to go into a box at all.
This was part of a series of letters written by parents to their children on Children’s Day. To read all the letters, click here: http://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/feelings/12-letters-every-parent-every-child-should-read-on-childrens-day/