When I was in Middle school in a small town in India we used to have visitors from the foreign land- a land filled with mystique in my then, soft clay like brain. The visitors, who were actually relatives travelling from South Africa, looked like us, but smelt different (mixed aroma of perfumes, aftershaves, shampoos..I can now guess), communicated nearly always only in English, brought gifts and were generally a very welcome break from the monotony of school and home for me.
But even though they loved to look around the town and marvel at the roadside dentist, optician, palmist, blacksmith, potter and florist at the "purana bazaar", some of them would insist on taking the long and often tiring journey by train, taxi, bullock cart and foot to my mum's village, which is where their great or greater grandad came from.
I am ashamed to say that I have not yet visited the village in question and as a little girl I was not able to understand, their need, to see for themselves, where they had originated from. Today I try to retrace that journey and realize it was probably a quest to answer the crucial question- "Who am I?".
Years ago people in England, would belong to a church, would be part of each other's lives in birth, death, sickness and marriage.But, as times changed and polygamous kings challenged the authority of churches and their views on divorce and abortion, numerous other churches came into being and today less than 1 in 10 people will call themselves Christian in England. Local commnunities have ceased to exist and politicians talk about mending broken society in Britain.
This has resulted in ironical situations. A British Airways employee went to court and lost her appeal to be able to openly wear her cross. A nurse faced disciplinary action for "offering" to pray for a very sick and old patient.
Yet, we have seen a resurgence of wavy beards, skull caps and hijabs, even amongst professionals like doctors and cricketers. Infection control has stripped Consultants of ties and jackets but the wavy beard is here to stay, in multicultural Britain.
Do religious doctrines, help people hold on to their faith in times when it comes under attack? Does it help answer the question about who they are, where do they come from, what do they believe in? Are youngsters attending Sunday School, less likely to play truant and be directionless?
We will never know. What we do know is that people are different and trying to club them together in the name of secularism and multiculturalism doesn't help. That is the reason, politicians continually and successfully play the various cards- race card, religion card, region card, caste card, class card, Europe card....all over the world.
People live an anonymous existence, especially in big cities and yet the need to belong to a group remains. The popularity of various groups on internet, a throbbing community today, is witness to this need.
We should recognize our need to belong....accept and celebrate our differences by practicing tolerance (quite successfully done in a majority of diverse India), rather than disregard our identities and try to be like each other (like the Hindu Indian NHS Consultant in the early 90s whose house was decorated like a market fair for the Christmas party he liked to host, all in an attempt to "fit in").