Respect your elders and love those younger than you,
Was the first lesson I was taught.
Gray, wrinkled and beady-eyed my grandmother
Put me to sleep with stories of the past.
About love’s goodness winning over evil,
Ram winning over Ravan.
About the courage, perseverance and belief of a young lawyer,
to free his country from the shackles of imperialism.
About the struggles, victories and losses of kings and kingdoms,
that have been immortalized by the passage of time.
About the melodies in a sitar, humility in greeting with folded hands,
that have been passed on from generation to generation.
But she also told me about being married at sixteen,
Because that’s what was expected from girls from good families.
About fighting to get an education after marriage,
Because society could only see her in roles of a mother and a wife.
About the millions of unnamed yet somehow very defined girls,
Who are violated of their very human essence.
I woke up to get ready for school,
To the morning prayers at the temple
Played in the fields by the salty air of the sea,
To the evening Namaz from the mosque
Sat around the dinner table filled with aromas of spices,
To the choir’s rendition of hymns from the church.
Every festival was celebrated with unbridled exuberance, family,
Decadent sweets filled with pistachios, saffron and hospitality.
This is where I learned to exist alongside those,
Whose differences I appreciated.
But this is also where a five year old girl was stoned to death in a temple,
For believing that a hijab was necessary for her modesty.
She was followed by displaced Muslim immigrants that are being stripped,
Of their right to vote in the largest democracy in the world.
Every road, every corner, every building had
A color, character and story to it.
The old house down the road, brown like it’s crumbling walls,
Stood strongly against the imminent growth.
The tall buildings, cemented, gray and proud,
Stood menacingly high.
My house, nestled in its bubble of quietness amongst the chaos,
was surrounded by mango, coconut and palm trees.
Every summer these trees became sources of fragrant mangoes,
Cooling coconuts and endless imagination.
But it was also surround by homeless children,
Who had nothing but the streets to call home.
Lack of food, clothing, shelter and education was stark in comparison,
To my life filled with luxuries I didn’t deserve.
I grew up in paradoxes.
I grew up in a country which has a long way to go,
To abolish these paradoxes.
It taught me to appreciate the unity within diversity,
But it has left me hopeful for a place
Without paradoxes for me to grow old.