Re-visiting batch of 1978

I remember my early years in the Medical college where I studied. We had Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Atheists all under the same roof. We knew where each one was in terms of their religion and faith. But it never mattered. What mattered was, we were the batch of 1978. We are still the batch of 1978. My roommate was a Hindu and a Marxist. Yes we had our share of politics, but that was in line with the dominant political movements of those times, but never in the name of religion. Some of us who were not happy with the dominant political movements, remained apolitical and that was respected by the politically active. Some of us were strong in their religious faiths. I being one such example. But that never reduced our friendship or relationships in any way.  We respected each other’s faith and beliefs and gave space for that.  I did not even know the caste of any one - nor do I know till today!

I remember five of us deciding to go on a tour. This tour took us to a Christian Mission Hospital in Tamil Nadu. All of us enjoyed the hospitality and the opportunity to learn medicine there. I enjoyed the bible teachings in the hospital along with the rest of the opportunities.  Later one of our Muslim friends spend a few months working in one of those hospitals. Our visit took us to some temples, where our Hindu friends took part in Puja’s and rest of us helped them in getting Puja materials at a lower price from a Malllu merchant who was trying to make a fast buck. At that time, I never thought about how diverse our group of 5 was. Now reflecting, one was practising Hindu, one a Hindu and Marxist, One a Muslim, One a catholic, and I a Protestant Christian.

Almost 40 years have passed; we still keep in touch. Our batch of 1978, the relationships still remain strong. Some of us who moved out of the state are not too actively engaged, but as part of a social network group we all are active.  When one observes the messages people send in the social networking group, one realises that some who were religiously neutral has become more religious. Some more atheistic. Some are now activists. Most of them are in very influential positions, some as principals of Medical colleges, many in state government services, some in very prestigious positions in their fields. But these changes and or differences does not seem to have affected our relationships. We still remain the batch of 1978.

Why did I write this – for me this is India. Diverse faiths, backgrounds, cultures, positions but accepting each other. Not only accepting but celebrating the differences and variety, whether it is language, culture, religion or ethnicity or backgrounds. At the same time, holding on to our own faiths and beliefs.

But as I read the newspapers, as I travel to various parts of the country, I find this changing. There is intentional division created by the various powers that be – to divide and rule, to divide and conquer, to unite based on certain backgrounds and put down those who are not part of these backgrounds.

How can we as people in influential positions, use our areas of influence, to challenge each other to be “like the batch of 1978” – true Indians…. Celebrating God given (or nature given as some of us may put it) variety and differences in our midst.

This is freedom – to celebrate each other, diverse as we are….as God’s unique creation….

How did this change happen? Freedom to celebrate each other diverse as we are?

This did not happen overnight or naturally nor is complete. It is an ongoing journey.  But many played key roles in this transition. (I, for most times was a silent observer!)

We started off as being forcibly put together due to circumstances, as a batch of 1978. We had to live together come what may for the next 5 years at least. And so we were forced to “tolerate each other”. We formed our cliques and groups where we were more comfortable within the batch itself. For that matter, there were multiple groups and group allegiances. The dissection group was the first. That was outside our control. The rest were within our control. The political groups out of political leanings, the day scholars, the hostellers, the local paying guest groups, the Young Turks (Pre degree group), the seniors (Achayans) etc. We even had an apolitical group named as “Moofens” – not sure how this word originated! In the initial months “Tolerance” was expected in the larger group, but “Acceptance” was within these sub groups. As we lived and grew together, we started enlarging our boundaries of “Acceptance”.

Let me clarify these terms a bit. Tolerance is – out of compulsion of living together though internally we do not want to like each other. There might even be “negative emotions” internally but we mask it for the sake of living together. Let me do a personal confession here – there were times I despised some of the behaviours of friends, holding on to a “Holier than though attitude” in my heart! That was tolerance! But acceptance is “Unconditional”. Whatever the other person might believe or do, I still accept him or her who he or she is, because she and he also are created by God in His image (or as others might want to see – chances of nature, but unique). This took time for some of us, for people like me (to be specific). But there was a time by which we were a group which accepted each other with all the differences. By the time we left – we had taken steps towards this unconditional acceptance. But then life separated us.

But that is where we had to build the next level of friendship – by being a community. A community which is united by the foundation of “unconditional acceptance”. But a community which has to be kept together (even if distances separate us) by a common purpose. There were these champions who wanted to build this ‘distant but together community’, by yearly get-togethers, E group, Web page and finally the WhatsApp group for the purpose of being a supportive caring community. And now we observe how we have started to celebrate each other. Each other’s accomplishments, family and children’s accomplishments and each other’s differences!  

It is this transition; our nation has to go through in this 71st year of independence. Diverse as we are, we need these transitions if we need to move ahead. From Being a “Tolerant Nation” to being an “Accepting Nation”. From being an “Accepting Nation” to a “Community with a Common Purpose” a purpose of building our nation. And finally becoming a Nation that celebrates the diversity and differences in our midst, because we are part of one family….

How can I be facilitator of such a movement and transition in our nation? 

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