Gayathri Sankar: Be Donald Trump

Islamophobes are an interesting breed of people the world over. They might not be that easy to spot (take a suspicious look at the people sitting beside you right now). And even when called out, tend to deny that they harbour some extremely bigoted views.
Here’s a checklist. If you say yes to more than two of the below, congratulations! You are a closeted Islamophobe. This quiz is only for Indian Islamophobes but I am sure it can be tweaked for other countries as well.

  1. Religious affiliations of those involved in incidents of violence are your immediate concern.
  2. Despite belonging to a majority community in India, you feel victimised and taken advantage of.
  3. You believe intolerance and aggression is synonymous with certain communities.
  4. In your opinion, Kashmiri Muslims are just needlessly troubling the Indian state and deserve to be airdropped into Pakistan.
  5. While you believe that Islam is intrinsically more oppressive you do make exceptions for your friends from that community.

Here’s the thing, my Muslim friends don’t want to be exempted from their community. You can’t be selective when making a generalisation. If you decide when insulting a community that you’re not counting anyone you know personally, and you’re not counting all the nice or pleasant members of the said community (“exceptions!”), then what will be left of the community but the ones worth insulting? If someone, say a person from Punjab, told me that they generally dislike people whose parents come from Kerala and Bengal yet they find me alright I would personally be offended and so would my parents.

The fact is, I can do the exact same thing. Since most bigots enjoy making generalisations based on limited information I can also say that my best friend, a Muslim, is one of the kindest and gentlest boys I know. As the owner of two very fluffy cats, a love for irritating pop music and an inexplicable fear of bunny rabbits, he is quite possibly the least dangerous person I will ever know.
And if you forward me a picture, of a Jihadi beheading a hostage, as your evidence for how regressive the entire religion is, I’ll forward you back a picture of Faraaz Hossain who refused the chance to escape death because he wanted to stand by his friends.
But that’s neither here nor there, because I know the absurdity behind stereotyping a community based on specific examples. So stop with the examples right now and go ahead and claim your badge – I am an Islamophobe. Come out of your closet of bigotry.

Often a long discourse on how religion is a breeding ground for terrorists is followed up with a dismissive shake of the head and the statement that it is all politics anyway. That is simply not acceptable anymore. No – please decide. Politics and religion are very different matters. If you tell me it’s politics, then you are blaming a corrupt government and dishonest leaders, you’re saying different countries played their roles in creating the situation we face today. If you tell me it’s religion, you are telling me that ordinary practicing Muslims are responsible for the persecution of their own community and others. Then you are insulting my friend’s identity. You cannot drag a religion, and then end the conversation by saying “it’s all politics”. If it was, you would not have brought religion into the matter. Say no to hypocrisy. It’s a beginning.

It’s not enough to be compassionate to only the people you interact with under the guise of being a tolerant person while also holding onto your prejudices. People exist outside the ones you talk to and the ones the media focuses on. It’s not enough to speak up only about anything that may affect you or your loved ones.
And yes, it’s awful when things happen in Paris or Brussels or Mumbai or Delhi because those are places you and your family live in, those are places you may go to on vacation. But to then deny the magnitude of lives being wrecked by people outside those who we know? To ignore the fact that it is after all more Muslims being killed by ISIS than any other community? And now to brand them all as inherently cruel is to foolishly consider ISIS as the mouthpiece of Islam. It is to ignore the fact that this is precisely why the community faces double-edged persecution: from terrorists who adapted and manipulated their religion to oppress them and a worldwide persecution from the rest of us.

So why pretend that we care for all lives equally when we assign more importance to some deaths over others? The most credible figures cited that two hundred thousand people have been killed since the uprising began in Syria between 2012 to 2015 (the figures increasing daily), not to mention those who have gone missing, political prisoners and hostages. And this is only Syria. There is Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan – the list goes on. But a hundred white lives being lost will garner more attention, let’s not pretend otherwise.

The former ISIS hostage Nicolas Henin clinically assessed the situation in Syria in 2013 and instead of focussing on the horrors he experienced while a hostage, he asserted that “We should at least have the decency to try to understand the disgust of Syrians, who after two hundred thousand people have been killed, see that the West have only been affected by the beheading of its hostages” (Jihad Academy, Nicolas Henin). He repeatedly says that we are playing into the hands of the Islamic State because there is no better breeding ground for extremism than entire populations in despair – the challenges posted by this crisis are new and require a comprehensive response that eschews discrimination and marginalization.

Let’s keep that in mind when talking about these places, about states like Jammu and Kashmir – a state devastated for years. A state whose people underwent horrors that the average citizen of India can’t even begin to comprehend. Please be careful about what you may say about the people living there. If you expect them to be placid, if you expect them not to react with anything less than outrage after what they have endured, then it’s like telling a victim of rape to love their rapist.

You mention cases and perceptions about Muslims and their crimes to illustrate your understanding of the community. Did you read about this incident? Sick, intolerant, regressive. Donald Trump insults Muslims and bans them from entering his country and you call him intolerant with a shake of your head. You laugh at a sexist joke forwarded on a Whatsapp group but when Trump degrades women you gasp in shock. What is he doing other than explaining the logic that lies behind your jokes, the reason you find them funny? There is a slight difference that accompanies his terrifying honesty– the world knows him as a xenophobic, racist and sexist. You refuse to accept this about yourself.

I attended a speech by a man who had lived through the Emergency in prison. He said that prior to the Emergency people tended to talk unthinkingly. Talk about how sometimes they wished that the country could be run by a ‘benevolent dictator’ instead of the ineffective government they were subjected to. Talk irritably of ‘social justice warriors’, a troublesome group of people who tended to make a fuss about nothing.

And then came the Emergency, and the horrors that accompanied it. And after it had passed there was a … hush.

The hush of people learning to value their freedom, of people giving more importance to justice. The hush of people being more careful with their words. Bigots being shoved deep into the closet.

And then, as every major event in world history does, this one passed too. Before World War II, there were perceptions and stereotypes about Jews, like the stereotypes against black people and Muslims today. And they culminated, perhaps first in the form of whispers and jokes and facts gathered from random sources. And then Hitler emerged and finally, someone said what most were thinking. Bigots stepped freely out of the closet and the world realised the cruelty it was capable of producing.

And when it was over there was shame. The shame of educated intelligent people who had fallen into the trap of making generalisations and unthinking statements. The shame of people who never fell into the trap but never stood up against those who did. And the people who continued to stick to their prejudices were exposed for what they were – bigots. And so in today’s world almost no one makes generalisations about Jews anymore.

But here we are again, new leaders emerging, new communities being dragged through the mud, new generalisations being made.

And the ones of us that are silent or the ones that crack jokes or pass careless statements, it’s what we’re calling on ourselves. It’s what we are allowing to happen.

As for the closeted bigots – it’s time to come out of your closet. I’m not asking you to change your beliefs – that can take years, sometimes forever. I’m just asking you to accept what you are.
“You’re right, I don’t like Islam.”
“I have prejudices against the black community.”
“I cracked a homophobic joke because I’m homophobic.”
Say it for me, so I know what I’m dealing with. Say it for yourself and be at peace with who you are. Say it so that you imbibe the one positive trait about Donald Trump – the man is openly an asshole. Don’t be an asshole that hides behind jokes and subtle slips of your tongue.
Assholes of the world: be Donald Trump.

 

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Ishaan Singh: Building a Dream

It was 2012. We landed in India, after a trip to Singapore.

‘You know what I’ll miss the most?’ I said.

‘Hmm. I know,’ Mumma replied.

Little did I know that three years later that ‘Hmm’ would result in the opening of a library!

My journey with books, it is said, began with a picture book on dinosaurs. I still have that book. It is torn, has food-stains, but it continues to survive. I don’t remember when my love for reading began though. It doesn’t matter how far I look back, books were always a part of my life. In fact, Mum says I used to be upset and confused when I met someone who didn’t love books. But I gradually learnt that not everyone loves books. I still feel bad for them.

With the beginning of school came libraries. I was looking forward to this bit because in many books that I had read, libraries were described, as places were children could read books, come and go when they want, issue any books that they want, and return them when done and not wait for one whole week! And then there were the million adventures that unfolded between shelves. That’s how I thought libraries would be in real life too.

The school library came as a rude awakening. It was not like the libraries that you read about in the books where kids can just be! You have to walk in neat lines, sit at one place, and you just get five minutes to pick a book! You can’t issue any book that you want. Imagine if I, a ninth grader, issued a book for an early reader or a so called girl’s book!’ My classmates would never let me forget that!

We could not wander away to choose a different book, neither could we come to the library anytime we want. We could go there only when we had the “library periods”.

I gave up. The libraries in books were clearly fictional.

But then we went to visit our cousins in Singapore. The National Library at Singapore proved that dreamy librariesindeed existed. Unfortunately, we visited this library on the last day of our visit. I had found the place of my dreams. But only for a few hours.

I came back home, with a heavy heart, but a big plan. Our own library! In my home. For my friends! This involved a lot of arguing, shouting and then grumbled agreements, after a glare from Mumma, about which books we would be keeping in the library. Both my brother and I were clinging on to the favourite ones! Library cards were designed and posters made. We were, needless to say, disappointed when no one showed up! The posters were eventually used up as rough sheets for maths, and for designing paper planes. Some just ended up in the bin.

The idea of opening a library was dropped.

Last year, we got new shelves, made a tiny reading corner at home, and Mum discovered a book-scanning App. These events triggered the library idea all over again and I started scanning the books in the hope that one day all would be scanned and then I could issue them out! We have too many books. And far too less of free time. So it didn’t happen. Again.

This year, out of the blue, Mum declared that she was going to open a library. I casually said, ‘Yeah.’ I wasn’t too sure about it all working out. There were many reasons. One was that I was sure about not getting many books, because they are expensive. Ours were rationed, after all. Another was that I thought we wouldn’t get any readers, because there just aren’t many.

But behold! Books started coming in! The day the first carton of books came, it was ripped open. We were surprised at the number of books that were donated!

There were all sorts of books in there with their distinct memories tucked between pages–we found a postcard, a picture, a school certificate, and two hotel bills. And the smell! They were all old, wise, and widely read. The doubts were beginning to melt.

Helping out in the library involves working for hours with dusty books, new books, books of all shapes and sizes–it’s just the kind of thing that I love! At first, it was endless hours of opening up cartons of books and sorting them. Just when we’d be done with one carton, another one would arrive. After that, we moved on to scanning them and vehemently disagreeing about age groups. Then came the nightmare of sticking the different types of labels. Of course, I tricked some of my friends to help me with it. That bit was fun!

After the sorting, scanning and sticking came my favourite part: Shelving them! I admit, I forbade everyone from touching the shelves till I was done. And so, it will take me a long time to get things in order. There are too many things to take care of–size, genre, series, publisher–you get the drift.

All this helped me learn some things about myself. The most important thing being that I can always get a job as a librarian when I grow up. On a, well, deeper level, there was a warm glow of happiness inside me because I was helping in spreading the joy of reading to others. By reading I don’t mean Ruskin Bond, Charles Dickens and J.K. Rowling. These are wonderful but then there are others too. I am looking forward to my friends discovering the works of other wonderful authors like Rick Riordan, Brandon Mull. Chris Bradford and Anushka Ravishankar to name a few!

I know it will be tough to get people to read. There is too much of academics and too little time for anything else. To add to it, a lot of people think reading is useless. But it will happen and the library will grow from one room to many floors. I just know it.

And one day, someone from Singapore, on his way back will say, “You know what I’ll miss the most?”

Ishaan Singh studies in Class IX of DPS, Faridabad. He has just helped his mother to set up the Reading Raccoons Library in Faridabad.

Nishna Singh: My Akanksha Experience

Kids are annoying.

I have always maintained this; kids are just annoying. They’re cute when they’re born, of course, and cute when they say their first words and cute when they crawl and even cute when they first begin walking. They’re cute up until they aren’t.

I have always maintained this.

Which is why, when I decided to volunteer at an Akanksha school in Mumbai, I thought I was signing my life away–at least for those few weeks. A place where I cannot be mean to kids to have my way. But I figured I owed it to myself to at least try. Interning with the Akanksha Fund in New York was an experience of its own, but it was limited to desk work and dinner registrations. I wrote descriptions of the fund for other people, explained what we did over the phone, and sent out packets of brochures full of photographs from Akanksha schools in India, but I had no direct contact. (Akanksha works with underprivileged children and focuses on English, maths and life skills for these students). I knew this in theory, but I had not seen it in action. I was curious, I was curious, I was curious.

And the perfect opportunity presented itself when I was in Mumbai for the summer. I wrote some emails, made a few phone calls, visited the main office, and then found myself standing in a crowded municipal school just minutes away from my aunt’s air-conditioned bedroom. As a volunteer I was not allowed to speak in any language but English with the kids, and of course, was not allowed to use violence as a means of teaching.

They put me with four-year-olds.

The first day, in a nutshell, was exhausting. It was hot, and there were many little kids all over, constantly calling me didi, didi, didi. I was the assistant to the class teacher; I wrote English letters on small, personal chalkboards, wrote numbers on some more, and was put in charge of a smaller group within the class. The smell of coconut oil filled my nostrils. I realised these kids were more comfortable speaking in Marathi, a language I had studied for two years but learned nothing in.

A for apple, C for cat, T for tree.

They surrounded me, the way kids seem to always do. Kept trying to touch my hair or my jeans or trace the mehendi on my hands. Some were angels, doing their work quietly and correctly, and some were complete ruckuses. But I knew the rules. I had to be nice.

Patience is not a quality that comes naturally to me. I have never been one to wait on the side and be calm in tense situations. But I had to learn.

But there’s more under the surface. I’ve learned so much in such a short amount of time, but it is not obvious when people look at me. I haven’t learned lessons, and I have not gotten over my fear of little kids, and I have not learned how to be a teacher.

But I have learned their morning prayer.

And I have learned the prayer they say before they eat.

Thank you God, for the food we eat…

Nobody in their right mind would not have been moved by seeing all these tiny, adorable kids give thanks to whatever God is up there for the food they eat. For the clothes on their backs and for the education they are receiving. For their teachers.

These kids have nothing. Many come from broken homes, from slums far away and from families that do not necessarily believe education is the most important thing.

Each kid had two outfits that they constantly repeated.

Two shirts. Two pairs of pants.

Three weeks.

And then I would come home to my overflowing closet.

I guess it’s safe to say I became infinitely more grateful. I am lucky to have been born in the family I was born in. I am lucky to be able to live the way I do, to receive the opportunities I do.

The funny thing is, these kids are brilliant. They had mature and interesting conversations with me. They told me about their families. They looked over my shoulder when I was correcting books and pointed out errors. They greeted me happily every day and bade me goodbye as though it were the worst thing in the world. I know they will not remember me in a few months, but they made me feel valued and wanted and I hope to God I made them feel the same way, even if for just a few hours.

I learnt that giving money to the underprivileged won’t help. Simply donating our clothes and shoes and handing over money is a temporary solution. It helps their present, yes, but it does not at all help their future. We can make them as comfortable as we want, but eventually it’s going to be up to them to do it themselves. Charity is one thing. But they don’t want our charity. All they need is an education.

Kids are annoying. It’s true. They’re annoying and loud and disruptive.

But the way I feel about them has been tweaked in the most amazing way.

Kids are annoying. But they are also insightful and loving and wise beyond their years, and they thank God for the scraps on their backs and get excited about my earrings. They run towards me and give me a hug around the knees and force me to pick them up and swing them around. They cry easily, and they are stubborn. But they include me in their games and fight to be on my team.

What’s sad, though, is that these are a fraction of the kids in the same situation. There are millions more working in factories or at home taking care of siblings or on farms. These are the select few Akanksha has touched.

They are brilliant. And they could all have the brightest futures if they had access to the same things I did growing up. And if I enjoyed Akanksha last year, I fell in love with it this year. The teacher I was helping was devoted and unconditionally supportive and kind to her students, and the helper ladies were affectionate and loving.

Akanksha is doing something that can only be described as honourable. I can’t imagine anything more worthwhile. Giving these kids, so hopeless by birth, the resources they need to be whatever in the world they wish to.

They see the kids for the human beings they can be.

Thank you God, for the food I eat…

Nishna Singh is seventeen and a senior at Scarsdale High School. 

Gayathri Sankar: On Capital Punishment

31 July 2015

In class today we discussed capital punishment, and I was beyond distressed when a large portion of students, including half of my closest friends, supported it.

My cousin Meera and I went on a walk with the dog (who appears to have no opinion on the matter), and I managed to gather my thoughts enough to write them down a while later. I also realised I had been too heated and involved in the matter to debate it properly, but am not anymore. So, here are the reasons why I do not approve of capital punishment.

First, I would like to establish some facts:

  • Capital punishment does not deter people from committing heinous crimes any more than prison does.
  • Capital punishment is more expensive than giving a criminal lifelong imprisonment.
  • Four percent of people facing capital punishment (specifically in the USA) have been wrongfully convicted.
  • Capital punishment is now being used not only on rapists and murderers, but also on people involved in cases of criminal conspiracies, which raises questions as to what precisely a ‘heinous crime’ is.

Once I explain this to a person, the usual argument presented is:

“Are you content to allow rapists and murderers who have violated somebody’s fundamental rights to live, because you don’t want to violate theirs?”

The question, framed in that manner, almost demands that I reply in the negative, but I shall go out on a limb and tell you my answer – yes, yes I am. But I do have my reasons.

  • Tit for tat is not the answer.

This argument, I have noticed, is met by immediate ridicule (and it does not help my case that I am a firm believer in most Gandhian principles, principles that are increasingly being viewed as simplistic).

‘An eye for an eye makes the world go blind’ is something children are told to prevent scraps in the playground—it is not a statement used to prevent inter-communal, political or religious fights, not if one wishes to be taken seriously. And yet, particularly when it comes to these issues, I’ve noticed that adults become increasingly like children. Because when it comes to these issues we tend to get personal and child-like. If you attempt to convince me that the Hindu-Muslim riots were carried out by mature, rationally thinking adults then this argument is as good as over. Which is why I will relentlessly spring my idea that “violence is not the answer” on you, however naïve I may be considered for it, because if you look at it from my point of view, it’s those who disagree with the concept who are truly naïve. Violence from what I’ve observed is inherently childish and it is not simplistic or idealistic to believe that it is not a solution.

Which is also why I do believe an argument essentially based on the concept of revenge is irrational, that killing a man who killed someone else—to prove that killing is wrong—is illogical.

  • Misplaced empathy

When the Nirbhaya case first came up the responses were passionate and heated, which was gratifying, but they were also occasionally very worrying: “The rapists should be castrated, they should have their fingers torn off, they should be tortured…” and so on.

At first I agreed, too overcome with despair for humanity to say otherwise. Then I reminded myself that if I wanted to stay sane in human society I’d have to accustom myself to incidents as terribly inhuman as this one. This is not to say I’d have to accept it; that making a change isn’t an option. In fact, I’d say, it’s precisely the opposite. The moment you react with something as barbaric as the sentences above, the moment you make acts like that acceptable, that’s when you take a step back from the civilised, from any kind of progress.

When I agreed with those things I felt like it was showing how truly affected I was by the case, almost a form of expressing empathy – this is such a terrible thing to happen, how could one not react in that manner? But that empathy, I realise now is the wrong kind, because it’s terribly misplaced. It’s the root of any overly radical movement, when you feel so strongly that you cross a line somewhere, between what is acceptable and what is not.

And when you cross that line then people, if anything, are more likely to take you less seriously, because your rationality is as far out the window as the person committing the crime.

It’s not easy keeping a calm head when you hear stories like that, but I promise it makes you no less sensitive if you do. It shows no less sadness or sympathy when you express yourself through measured, refined words as it does when you spew threats.

  • Thinking for one’s self

Something I noticed in the case of my friends is that each and every one of us appeared to mirror the judgment of our parents, myself included. While I like to believe that we’re all objective in our opinions, it seemed like too much of a coincidence.

And so I thought about the Yakub Memon case, the one that triggered all of this, as thoroughly as I could, from every vantage point that I could, to form what I hoped would be an unbiased opinion. I still hold the opinion I did in the beginning, for reasons not only related to the sanctity of capital punishment but many other factors included.

Our opinions are always coloured to a certain extent, by what we hear around us when we are growing up. I’d like to imagine we can shed those influences, not allow oneself to just accept them uncritically. Don’t be pulled by one argument and then another, don’t let the media tug you in different directions with contradicting stories.

Meera told me about her obsession with a man who possibly possessed more conviction in what he believed to be right than any other in the history of the world. “Hitler must have possessed absolutely unfaltering faith in what he supported,” she said, “if he was able to advocate the death of millions of people without any remorse. What does that tell you about the working of his mind?”

Hitler is just an example (possibly the greatest one) of how absolutely dangerous an inflexible opinion can be. And so I request everyone to occasionally question themselves. Research what you discuss, formulate opinions based solely on what you believe to be right, but don’t make those opinions absolutely inflexible either.

I’ll admit that my friends and I belong to one of the most privileged sections of society, attend one of the best schools in Delhi. In spite of our protected lives, completely unharmed by criminals, some of us still advocate the most violent of punishments to be inflicted on criminals. Can any of us understand the compulsions and behavioural impulses of most of these criminals? Don’t misunderstand me, it isn’t even a question of justifying their crimes, but it is a question of taking a poke at the relatively comfortable bubble most of us reside in.

Can one unlearn one’s own beliefs? Well, it’s time we at least gave it a try. The next time you start off something with “I believe…”, PAUSE. Think of what you believe in; why you believe in it. How you came to believe it. Ninety percent will end up holding on their beliefs even more strongly. Why? Because the ego is a competent warrior and it knows only to kill anything that threatens the stability of your consciousness. The ten percent who dare to poke a hole most probably will find themselves in an abysmal void. Let’s dare to create some voids within us, for we have long been a-voiding them.

Gayathri Sankar is fifteen years old and a student of Class XI of Mothers International School, New Delhi.

Arjun Srivastava: Review of “Talking of Muskaan”

Talking of Muskaan is a very interesting book on a very sensitive subject. It is about LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights. The main character Muskaan is not accepted by the students of her school and her friends because of who she is. She is expected to be “normal” like other girls in her class, and is supposed to be only attracted to boys. She is treated horribly by her friends and even their parents because she is a lesbian and chooses to be herself.

I enjoyed this book because it is a very well written novel about a very sensitive issue worldwide. It has a good plot along with some humour; but only for readers above thirteen because then only it will  be appropriate. Girls may be able to relate to this book better than boys because it addresses some girly experiences, like waxing.

My favourite character is Muskaan because she is headstrong and she does not let anybody’s opinions affect her. She goes through various obstacles that show her bravery and confidence about herself. She is a relatable character because there is always that one person who is different from everybody else and is not afraid to show it.

I dislike Prateek because of his attitude. He is always being rude and judgmental to a few characters like Muskaan and Subhojoy because of their differences. He is a very relatable character because he reminds me of a normal school bully.

I would love to read more, and I would have preferred if the book did not have an abrupt ending. Overall, it was a very well written book and I enjoyed it a lot.

Arjun Srivastava is thirteen and studies in Class VIII in The Ecole Mondiale World School, Mumbai.

Anjali Kamat: Belief

It is 6:00 am. Ordinarily it is the shrill beeping of an alarm clock that rouses us. But not for me, no. For me, it is the faint jingling of a bell and the chanting of prayers- in that typical tone one employs while chanting prayers -that greets me everyday as I wake up. 

I get up, get dressed and go downstairs, only to go through my own prayer session in the prayer room. My mother sees that I was about to enter the room with shoes on, her eyes as wide as saucers. I hastily take them off before she can start yelling and mumble the only prayer I completely remember in the dimly lit room. 

Then in school, we go through the whole process again. The prayer group in the morning assembly sings an unbelievably long prayer as we stifle yawns and try to recall the words that make no sense to us at all. 

Then we go home and later to tuitions. On the way, theres a crowd near a temple which slows us down. At my teacher’s home, her old mother totters around, reciting prayers to herself continuously.

Later at night, I can hear the call from the mosque as I sit in the garden. 

When I call my best friend to make plans to go out for the latest chick-flick, she cancels, since she has to go to church at that time. 

At night, as I am just about to fall asleep, my dad pops in the room and reminds me to pray before I sleep. 

All I can think is, its true what they say. God really is omnipresent. He is literally everywhere!

One day I asked one of my favorite teachers, “What if I don’t believe in God?  I don’t think that it’s because of Him that we achieve things. I don’t think that if you pray everyday, good things will happen to you. I think it’s our hard work that gets us there. Why must I pray for  something I don’t believe in?” 

My teacher, who I always believed was less like an adult than most adults, and whom I could tell anything I wanted to, listened to me quietly. What she said next, I don’t think I’ll ever forget. 

“This world is a scary place. Sometimes, we find ourselves in situations which are too hard, too much for us to bear. Even the strongest of us fall sometimes. We find ourselves falling into a deep dark pit from which theres no way to escape. 

God is like the light which shines from within you, in that darkness, It is nothing palpable. It is something you believe in, something you hold on to, something which gives you hope.

And it doesn’t have to be God. It can be anything you consider to be pure, to be the one thing that conquers all. You just have to believe in it. It has to give you strength and hope.

Because it is too hard to go this world alone. You have to believe in something. I myself don’t believe in God either. I believe in love.” 

And so that’s what I did. I started to believe in love.

Anjali Kamat is sixteen and studies in Class XI, Navrachana School Sama, Vadodhara.

Suzanne Sangi: My Home in the Hills

On and on it goes, like the steady beating of a heart–nobody to coax it, to command it. Each time you’d expect it to falter, it picks right on–the same rhythm, the same rhyme. Until after some time, you cannot distinguish it from the sound of your breathing, from your neighbours moans, from the bird’s evening call–everything is one. Like it started. Like it should end.

That is how I felt when I stepped into a circle of drums and singing and dancing; there is nothing more beautiful than finding beauty.

It took me three rather long and desperate days on a train and another two hours of rickety flying to reach my destination. By the end of it, I had never been more weary–body and mind, yet my heart’s desire was being fulfilled with each step I took closer to the land of my ancestors– my far-flung home in the hills; merely ‘far’ for not having been situated in the land of those who ventured too far.

And here I was, breathless with anticipation for sight and smell of all that I had lived with only by tales; suddenly doubting my abilities of speaking a musical language which harboured single words meaning more than five different things, separated only by a slight shift of tune–like strings that slightly bend to produce different notes.

I saw the houses first–squatting by the slanted edges, they stood on air. Like homes built on rivers, they floated on the clouds that drifted across – close enough to touch, like they were softly kissing the mountains.

I stood enthralled by this sight for so long that the little children who had been driving a flattened tyre up and down the road, forgot their merriment and paused to gawk at me.

Then came the snaky roads–long, winding pathways that slowly unravelled before the eyes without giving away what was lurking beyond the next bend. Yet the one behind the wheels remained unfazed–navigating smoothly while chatting in a language that resembled the very paths on which they were found. This was a land where you could not hurry neither with your gait nor your words–how else would you see the beauty the surrounded you? How would you notice the humming of the clear brook that flowed even at the dead of winter if you stumbled past the pebbles without a glance? How would you catch the red streak of a slipping sun spread across the horizon where the mountains meet the sky, when your eyes are fixed on gutting out the soil?

I understood why bedtime stories were told right after whispering fervent prayers for protection. The stories explained everything–the spirits of the think, tall, tenacious trees, the rushing, ruining, rejuvenating rivers, the whipping, wailing wind–all were as alive as the tiger that prowled the edges of the village, the poisonous roots that creeped menacingly close to the little plot of agriculture. But now, the tiger had sucked out all the poison and retreated to the remaining trees and rivers and winds.

Hurray. We were free of threat.

Until we became the threat.

That is how I remember my Home in the Hills when I journey back to the plains that have claimed me–my home has become a spot for an adventure, a trip to the heart of wildness, a sport of travelling business, a survey of what could be.

Yet, I do not hurry back. For how else could she acknowledge me as I unravel before her?

Suzanne Sangi wrote her first novel Facebook Phantom when she was sixteen and it was published when she was seventeen.