“That red one – is the Muslim, and that black one – is the Hindu!” – Thus announced the uncrowned leader of the group.
Daniel retorted – “How do you say that?”
Rohan carefully picked up the black ant and placed it on Daniel’s forearm. The ant scuttled directionless for a few seconds before Daniel shook his arms to get rid of it. Now, Rohan picked up a red one and placed it on Daniel’s foot. The red ant sunk its stings into Daniel’s flesh. He jumped and screeched in pain. Rohan smiled and explained his demonstration with pride – “Look, the red one bit you. It’s the Mussalman ant! It doesn’t bite the Muslims, but bites the Hindus.”
Daniel had just seen ten years of his life. He was convinced with Rohan’s argument. Daniel’s real name was Ujjwal. His father taught at a senior secondary school. While reading Robinson Crusoe once, he had asked Ujjwal if he liked the name ‘Daniel’. It was a fascinating proposition for Ujjwal. His father gave him an English name – Daniel, and thereafter, Ujjwal insisted everyone to address him as Daniel.
One evening Daniel with his parents went to a family friend’s place. Ujjwal’s parents were seated out in the verandah and he was having dinner with the youngsters of the house. There were a couple of boys who were roughly three years older than Daniel. One of them blurted out of nowhere – “You know Ujjwal? Um..No!. Daniel! Daniel it is – right? – That the Muslims are exact opposite of us. They do everything differently.”
Daniel – How? I don’t understand.
Boy – You see, we write from left to right, they write from right to left.
Daniel – How’s that possible? How can they write from right to left?
Boy – Because they hate us. They want to display that they are different. You watch cricket matches, don’t you?
Daniel – Yes, I do. I love Sachin.
Boy – You see, most of ours are right-handed batsmen. Have you noticed the Pakistan team? Most of them are left-handed batsmen and bowlers. They don’t like us. They are not like us. But I have a question to them, we take in food from our mouth, where should they take it in from then?
Boy smiled at Daniel as if he sought an approval of his joke.
“Maybe nose?” Daniel said with a loud laughter.
Daniel couldn’t understand what the boy was trying to signify. Just when the older boy was about to explain what he meant, Daniel’s father came in to see if he was done with dinner. The boy kept quiet and kept smiling as Daniel left with his parents.
Daniel’s quandary was taxing his mind. He had many friends at school, but he seldom spoke to ‘Tabrej’. The reasons were unknown. He was just not able to decide.
One of these days, Tabrej went up to Daniel.
Tabrej – Hey Daniel, I see you have many friends. I want to join your group. It seems so cool.
Daniel – Sure. Why not? I will tell everyone.
Most of them liked Tabrej’s easy friendliness but there were beings who were exchanging wry glances while Tabrej was talking.
Tabrej – Today we are celebrating Eid. Why don’t you all come to my place? My mom will prepare Sewaiyaan. And..and she would love to meet you all.
“Bring your parents as well.” Tabrej added after a few seconds of childlike thoughtful pause.
Just when Daniel was about to jump at the invitation, Rohan pressed his hand and burst out in nervousness – “W.. we….we might be going out somewhere today. Let’s do this. We will all decide and tell you whether we will be able to make it. ”
Tabrej thanked them and nodded in affirmation.
After the school was over, the group met and Daniel put out his mystification to Rohan.
Daniel – Why didn’t you let me speak?
Rohan – Because you don’t understand anything. They are not like us.
Daniel – What do you mean?
Rohan – They want us to be cow-eaters and that’s why they invite us for Eid. Has he ever spoken with us before?
Daniel – No, but…
Rohan – Daniel, they mix cow meat with sewaii and feed to Hindus.
Daniel – Who told you that?
Rohan – My Mom says that Daniel. She never lies.
Daniel kept quiet at this and crossed the school gates. His father was waiting there. Daniel ran and jumped upon the scooter with his water bottle vacillating around his neck. Once home, and at the dining table, Daniel noticed an ant crawling towards his plate. His mom saw it too and tried to whisk it away gently.
Daniel asked – Mom, why didn’t you kill it? Because it is a Hindu ant?
The parents were startled. They had never dreamt of such a thing coming from their ten year old son. They knew they had to handle the situation with caution.
Daniel’s mother caressed his hair and asked him – Who told you that beta?
Daniel – Everyone!
She replied – Ujjwal, they say so because they don’t know. What do you do when you don’t want to have milk?
Daniel – I make stories but they don’t work with you.
Mom – They also make excuses for not liking people. They don’t know, so they make these stories. Don’t let those false stories work on you. I didn’t kill the ant because we must protect every living being. God has given us power to protect the world and not to destroy it. That ant might be going to his own Mom for food after school. If he has lost his way, is it not our duty to give him some food? Would you not protect me when I grow old and weak and you become stronger? Would you not take care of your younger brother? That ant is your younger brother, Ujjwal.
Daniel was smiling. His perplexity had faded away in a moment. After all, that’s what he wanted to believe in. Daniel told them about the Eid invitation from Tabrej.
His father was listening to Ghalib’s ghazals that afternoon. He called out Daniel for a glass of water.
Father – Daniel, Will you bring me some water?
Daniel rushed out to the porch with a glass of water.
Father – Thank you, Hold on! I have a new name for you Daniel.
Daniel – What is it Papa?
Father – ‘Mirza’. How’s that?
Daniel – Mirza! I like it.
He hopped around in joy and informed his Mom of his new name. The family went to Tabrej’s place for Eid celebrations that evening. None of the friends had come though. Tabrej ran up to Daniel and hugged him.
Tabrej – “I’m so happy you came, Daniel. We are friends.”
Daniel smiled and answered with an innocent swagger – “Tabrej! Call me Mirza!”