Five minutes away from my house is a cremation ground that makes its presence felt every time I look out the window from one of the rooms. I can see smoke rising from a chimney, and sometimes an odd smell of burning flesh grips me. Bang in the middle of my life is a reminder of death.
Every time I have walked out of that cremation ground, my senses have become acutely aware. Saying goodbye to a loved one I did not expect to lose so soon is always a bit instructive. Seeing death at close quarters reminds me of own limited shelf life.
I resolve to use my time more responsibly. I vow to let go of grudges that have refused to leave. I promise to write gratitude notes to those I haven’t thanked enough, and apology notes to those I have hurt or wronged.
When I told him that I would like to visit Pakistan again, and work for peace between both countries, he rolled his eyes
Nisarg died five days after I met him. It now occurs to me that I didn’t even ask about his age, education, profession, Facebook account, phone number, or purpose in life. Few interactions in Mumbai happen without the exchange of such information, especially in the circumstances we met – four times in five days. Each occasion was special because our time together was mainly spent in prayer.
Though he got to know me only through his parents, as part of a Buddhist spiritual and cultural organization called Soka Gakkai International that we are all part of, he welcomed me into his world instantly. He was warm, chatty and friendly.
Despite our ideological differences on the matter of India-Pakistan relations, we found collective joy in chanting parts of the Lotus Sutra – a text that affirms the potential of all beings to end their suffering and achieve their highest potential through strong determination and sincere action.
I love it because it offers every individual the opportunity to be in charge of their own happiness, however difficult their circumstances might be. There is no need to sink into despair, however murky one’s past might have been, because one can learn to change poison into medicine – transform negative thoughts and tendencies into solid opportunities for growth.
It is this coming together through faith that enabled Nisarg and I to have a deeper conversation that moved beyond point-scoring. He was terribly angry with Indian actors who had spoken up in support of Pakistani actors who were made to feel unwelcome in India. He called these Indians traitors, and also identified for me the source of his views – all that he had been consuming from television talk shows.
I did not interrupt him when he spoke. I did not try to correct his view or impose mine. Once he saw that I was willing to acknowledge his feelings, and continue to be respectful, he too became open to hearing about my experiences in Pakistan. I agreed with him that Hindu minorities do face discrimination in Pakistan. He agreed with me that Muslims in Pakistan can be and are hospitable towards Indians who visit – even if their government is at loggerheads with the Indian government.
We managed to find common ground. There was a discernible lessening of intensity as far as his anger was concerned. And our shared language of prayer assured us that we could learn to wish for the well-being of even those who made us furious.
When I told him that I would like to visit Pakistan again, and work for peace between both countries, he rolled his eyes, and said that he would pray for me to reach and return safely.
As I saw his body burn on the pyre, I thanked him for teaching me that engaging patiently with those who hold opposing views is a worthwhile enterprise. Nisarg, I am sure, would have loved reading this piece.
Chintan Girish Modi is a Mumbai-based writer who believes that Indians and Pakistanis can live together in peace. Tweet to him @chintan_connect