Persia under the pines

I’m in Tel Aviv this week. Mind and mood throwback to a lakeside retreat in Maine twelve years ago. At that unforgettable fortnight-long meet for writers and teachers, convened by the international pacifist organisation, Seeds of Peace, I found myself part of a privileged Indian trio (with Nandini Purandare and Anil Sethi), living and learning with delegates from eight South Asian and Middle Eastern countries.

It was the month of Ramadan then. It is now too. Called “Narratives, Moral Imagination, Educational Action”, the conference saw speakers address issues of empathy, leadership, negotiation, non-violent communication, critical thinking, civic engagement, community exploration and transformative growth.

But the most memorable gift the trip gave us all was incredibly meaningful personal interaction. Professionals from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan and Gaza, we ranged in age from 22 to 62. Our daily encounters were charged with emotion, confusion and outright anger. With wide-ranging traditions, polarised politics and conflicting worldviews, there was bound to be escalating debate and discussion, heated and stormy.

Boil cooled to simmer a couple of days before we bid our mutual bye byes. Travelling out of campus, breaking bread on the same table, critiquing films in a bunch, the big chill shrank slowly into a gradual thaw. Realisation ruled. Understanding set in – that differences are worth cherishing. Everyone sat up to find out more about each other’s roots.

The solitary Zoroastrian, I generated great curiosity. Where had my ancestors originally come from? “You look like us, Meher. Arab,” claimed Ismail from the West Bank. “Tell us more about your prophet,” requested Aliya from Palestine. “Lucky we have you here,” said Tamar from Israel. “I’m coming to Mumbai to meet more Parsis,” declared Hoor from Jordan. She did, that Christmas, with Bahia from Jerusalem. Bahia, who shared the same cottage rooms with me and Shehr from Pakistan simply said, “So many Indias in India!”

It was overwhelming. I felt grateful and empowered to be invited to share some bedrock beliefs of my faith. Warmed by a gentle sun under the whispering pines which softly swished windswept cones down to our feet on the forest floor. Fellow campers admired the churidaar-kurta I wore and asked, “Is this Iranian?” Touching the weave of the dupatta draped on my shoulders, I answered with unconcealed pride: “It’s Indian.”   


This article has 2 comments

  1. Niloufer Gupta Reply

    Memories,Meher are precious.
    Thank u for sharing.
    Yes Ramzan or Ramjan as we in western india ,pronounce the month of fasting ,are strong bonds all over,for the indians .
    Once again,the persian influence permeates us,indians.
    Niloufer gupta.

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