You know what’s the best part about travelling and exploring the world? If you have travelled then you do, and those of you who haven’t, this one is especially for you.
I’m afraid what I’m about to tell you might just shatter your feelings but No! The best part about travelling is not finding Instragram worthy posts. It’s okay; take a moment to let that sink in.
Now that we got this out of our way, let’s hop on to the real deal. So I was born in Palghar, a small village on the outskirts of Mumbai. Fortunately I was only born there; my parents raised me in a popular suburb of Mumbai. I said fortunately, because I take pride in the fact that I come from THE cosmopolitan city of India. I went to a convent school and my first two friends at school were Muslim, and Parsi. I was constantly surrounded with classmates from different religions and backgrounds.
I grew up praying to Jesus every morning, then praying to Ganpati Bapa every evening while simultaneously hearing the Adhan calls. Every year I celebrate Diwali, Christmas, and Eid. Honestly, the latter is just about eating Biryani and Sheer Khurma.
As I grew through my teenage years and entered the young adult phase, my personal life complications kept me so occupied that I forgot to address God, religions, and form an opinion on the same. All these things just existed in the background. On the foreground however, my belief in God kept decreasing. I didn’t pray daily, I didn’t visit temples and I became agnostic. I couldn’t decide whether God existed or didn’t. I didn’t even try to understand Hinduism, let alone our fellow religions and their significance. By 23 I had quite a handful of friends but they all were Hindus, maybe one or two Christians. Remember my Parsi and Muslim friends from school? Well, over the period of time I lost touch with them too.
I was quite indifferent towards any religion. In fact I even occasionally blamed people’s annoying behaviours on their religions/castes. I did that because their stupidity would fit perfectly in all the stereotypes I had heard about all the castes and religions. Heard… not experienced.
To be honest I had become too lazy to care and understand why the world was divided based on their faith in God, why people were at war, and why were religions a defining factor. Until one day when I magically and quite unexpectedly landed in an African Muslim country. How and why was it magical and unexpected? That is a story for later. Today, I’ve sat down to write about what my time in Egypt, and travelling across the country taught me on a deeper level.
I met people from all across the globe who’d also come to Egypt to work and travel. My friends are from Brazil, Georgia, Tunisia, Columbia, Germany, Mexico, Kyrgystan, Spain, Jordan, and Canada. I lived with a few of them and we exchanged our ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and learning. However, three months out of the four, I lived with a bunch of Egyptian girls; A bunch of Egyptian girls… that’s a bunch of Arabic Muslim girls. That’s a bunch of girls who wore veils every time they stepped out of the house, and read Quran five times a day.
To be honest, before I flew to Egypt, I had inhibitions about Muslims. No offence, and nothing personal but the fear media, and society had ingrained in me, led me to believe it’s a territory I wouldn’t dare to explore. I was better off living in the dark, believing what I was told by filtered sources. And then there I was, willingly moving in with these wonderful girls.
Honestly, the most comfortable I felt throughout my time there was with my Arabic Egyptian friends. I could connect with them without even understanding their language. We ate the same food, lived in the same house, used the same washrooms, and slept in the same bedrooms. We had similar insecurities, fears, and worries. Our core values were the same. Our parents taught us to not disrespect people, to be compassionate, honest, caring, independent, bold, smart, value education, build careers, and not just have opinions but also voice them. Through my Egyptians friends I made some more Egyptian friends, and by the end of my stay I had more Egyptian friends than I have Indian friends.
They told me about Allah, the teachings of Quran, why they wore veils, why was fasting so important during Ramadan, and how was praying five times a day changing their lives. By now I know as much about Islam as I know about Hinduism and Christianity. I learnt a lot of life lessons in those four months; it wasn’t all flowers and rainbows but I’d still without a doubt say it was the best time of my life.
This time for the first time during Ramadan, I was more aware of why half the world was strictly fasting during the day. I ate the delicious Iftari with a sense of familiarity of where it was coming from. I’m still an agnostic, but only this time I am more aware of different religions and have finally formed my personal opinions.
For a change, after a long time in the midst of all the hullabaloo of my city, I paid close attention to the call of Adhan. It took me back to the memories of the Adhan I heard five times daily while travelling across Egypt.
So going back to the beginning, the best part about travelling is (without a doubt) realizing the fact that irrespective of our faiths, we’re all just humans, after all.
P.S. Now you know how Adhan called out to the writer in me and awoke the slumber of my blog.
P.P.S. Penning down this post has honestly been quite difficult because of the constant recurring of words like Religions, Castes, Hindus, Muslims, Christians etc. I strongly feel if only the world was a secular place?