(Forceful religious conversions, making a spouse give up their personal faith in inter-religious marriages, is one of the very poignant issues, prevalent across our society since ages, which is what inspired me to come up with this fiction.)
It was 5 pm. As the rickshaw took through the traffic jammed roads and briefly halted by St. Mary’s catholic church, absentmindedly, Shefali’s hands went up to cross herself, but she instantly recovered and stopped. The act did not escape her husband Amit, who appeared to be looking outside, for, unaware to Shefali, he had caught it through the mirror. He did not react but by the time, Shefali happened to look at him, he seemed to be lost in his own thoughts…a little disturbed.
Time had flown. Sixteen years into an enormously blissful matrimony and blessed with two wonderful children, 14-year-old Aarav and 10-year-old Asmita, their family had been complete. Their equation had remained enchanting, as always. He still remembered those days of their lovey-dovey courtship, where they would not step back from anything, for the rapture of just being at each other. Not a thing had changed. As he recalled the lengths to which Shefali had gone, in a blind bid to be with him, his heart overcame with love, gratitude and pride for the loyal companionship she had brought. She had never minded any of those sacrifices though he had never asked for it.
His extremely conservative family had been apprehensive and unwilling to accept Shefali, a thorough catholic Christian. But Shefali, not willing to give up, came to meet them and saw to it that they did. The dialogues between his mother and Shefali would remain etched in his heart forever, for they held nothing but her love for him.
Mom: Shefali, how is this possible? You are a Christian and we are extremely religious Hindus.
Shefali: But Aunty, I will not be able to live without Amit. Besides, I love your family values and culture. I am willing to convert myself or do whatever the needful to be a part of your family. I will fully adhere to all your cultural practices and do everything you say. Knowing fully-well how religious your family is, it is my promise to never do anything otherwise. I will always sincerely strive to learn whatever you all teach me and never attempt to offend you anytime.
‘Unlike your culture, there’s no such thing as conversion in our Hinduism. You will always remain what you are and we will be what we are. How can one even adjust to another religion, forget adopting it. Conversion? Huh! Impossible!!!’, Mom was just about to retort all this, but held back. The genuine plea in Shefali’s voice had touched her core. She could not ignore it. She had found it difficult to refuse her outright.
Yet, mom had tried to stay a little curt.
Mom: I’ll have to consult our other family members. I cannot commit on anything.
But Shefali had not been the one to budge.
Shefali: Ok Aunty. Kindly let me know when I should come to meet them. – she replied nonchalantly.
When no response arrived for the next few days, Shefali again turned up at their doorstep. By now, Amit’s mom had understood that it was pointless. The force of love was powerful and unstoppable. When the heart wants what it wants, it simply wants without any logic or reason. Was there any point in trying to fight it? His mom realised that Amit liked her too and if the family consents, nothing else would make him happier.
Shefali was a neighbourhood girl, whom they had known very well for the last six years. She had grown up into the woman she was, before their very eyes. A motherless Catholic Christian, she had been brought up by her late grandmother and father, as per their faith. A simple, sweet girl, she had been a close friend of their daughter Suneeti as well and that’s how she had arrived into their family circle.
As for Shefali, when the 18-year-old Amit walked into her life, everything changed. He came from a joint family where the members were very religious and sincerely followed their rituals. Every morning, without fail, the male members could be seen offering water to the sun. Inside their house, was a large temple, where people did their pooja, maybe thrice a day by offering, Kapoor aarti, dhoop and prasad. It was at these times that she loved the clinking sounds of the hand-bell, that came from their house and more than that, she loved seeing the handsome Amit, walk out donning that saffron teeka. He was so sincere, matured and obedient that she couldn’t help the feelings of love surging through, whenever she looked at him. Though she had kept her feelings to herself, it was by chance that Amit and Suneeti had happened to discover them and once they did, there was no looking back.
A sixteen year old innocent Shefali had been naive when she had fallen in love with Amit and unaware of what lay ahead. But her resolve stood firm. As an only daughter, her father completely respected her wishes. Amit’s family appeared reluctant and unwilling, but the siblings, Amit and Suneeti stood firm in their support of her. Though, the siblings had never been comfortable with her promise, at that time, this is what seemed the most sensible thing to do, in the face of the situation. And eventually, after they were married everything settled down, for true to Shefali’s word, she always kept her side of peace and adherence.
She had blended extremely well with the family members, given up eating non-vegetarian food, learnt their ways of life and almost forgotten that she was a Christian. The children too were never informed, for the question never arose. Eventually, his parents had passed away and after Amit had found a new job in Mumbai, he, with his own family, had permanently shifted there.
Today, for the first time, Amit realised that even though Shefali had given up all that was hers by birth, just to be with him, something of it still resided inside of her and that was her identity…her origins. She had subjugated it, side-lined it, discarded the recognition of it, for the sake of keeping up their happiness, but how can one miss it’s calling?
Doesn’t a true union of partners ask for a complete acceptance of each other faiths? And, doesn’t that include giving due respect to each other’s spiritual beliefs as well? He now realised that their so-called mutual love had always lacked in equilibrium, because, an ideal interfaith marriage demanded recognition of the divinity prevalent in both the faiths and non-interference into their partner’s freedom to pursue their spiritual goals. While he felt extremely grateful for being blessed with a life partner like her, regret tugged his heart, for he had neglected her in that sense, all along. Morality demanded that, at least now, he reciprocate her love with an equal vehemence and in the same spirit. It was high time, he set her free.
Next day, he returned home with a small gift-wrapped box.
“Surprise!!!”, he loudly announced.
“What’s it, daddy?”, the children came running.
“…For your mom.” He declared.
“Show us what it is… show us please”, they began insisting.
“Wait, let your mom open it”, saying thus, he handed over the packet to Shefali, who took it, completely surprised.
When she unwrapped it, she stood stunned. It was beautiful Holy Cross in gold.
“But Amit..”, she was speechless. The children looked astonished
“But daddy..”, questioned Aarav.
“Yes son. We never told you. Your mom is a Christian by birth. Treating faith as a secondary concern, years ago, she gave up everything, mainly her identity, only to be with me. It is my duty to give back what is rightfully hers.
Shefali, the promise you made, was to my parents and my family. Today, they are no longer around us. I could never dream to deny you of your basic right to exist the way you should. Your religion is your birth right…something that your parents have conferred to you and no one has any right to take it away from you. No one can decide what you should or should not follow. I’m very sorry that I had taken it all for granted. So, henceforth please follow everything that gives you satisfaction, peace and happiness. It will be my duty to ensure that no one comes your way.”
He then turned to address the children:
“As for you children, remember that true love would always stay above any religion…there can be no greater proof of this than your own mother. You must also know that your identity is hybrid. We’ll decide about your future at the right time, but for now, going forward, if your mother is comfortable, we’ll accompany her to the mass, as often we can.”
She stood looking at him with tears welling up her eyes, as the children proceeded to hug them both.