Tuesday 24 May 2016

A bowl of milk n a spoonful sugar

I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation.' -Hundreds of men and women sat spell- bound, enthralled, captivated as they heard these powerful, moving words of Swami Vivekananda, at the world's Parliament of Religions in 1893.

The story of how 'the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation' found its new roots in India is equally captivating, and it has a lesson or two for all of us today, we who seem so uncertain and undecided about how to integrate ourselves into a larger whole, be it a family, a community, a country) or even the 'global village.'

In the 8th century AD, after the fall of the Persian empire to the Arabs, the people there had only two alternatives: death or conversion to Islam. Rather than see themselves and their ancient faith die out, a few brave souls chose to flee the land. To escape from the clutches of the marauders was as much a matter of luck as sheer courage. Some succeeded, some didn't. Those that managed to go out of reach of the Arab conquerors  led a wandering existence for a while, until at last in 936 AD, they reached Safijan, a small fishing village on the west coast of Gujarat.

The local Hindu king, Vajjaa-deva (belonging to the Silahara dynasty), welcomed them and made arrangements for their stay. A day was fIxed for a special meeting to which all the citizens were invited. The king presided over the meeting. The Persian refugees now known in India as Parsis were seated in the centre of the assembly. Their frail old priest, carrying a small Afarghan with the sacred fire, was the spokesman for the group. An interpreter was nearby to help.

The king asked: 'What is it you want from us, 0 strangers from a distant land?'

'Freedom of worship, Your Highness,' said the old priest.

'Granted,' said the king. 'Anything else do you wish to have?'

'Freedom to bring up our children in our own tradition and customs.'

'Granted,' said the king. 'Anything else?'

'A small piece of land for cultivation, so we won't be a burden to the people who've welcomed us.'

'Granted,' said the king.

Leaning forward with a mischievous smile lighting his face, the king asked the old priest, 'Sir, you are all now a part of us. 'What will you do for this place which is now your own?'

Grave and solemn, the priest requested that a bowl filled with milk be brought to him.

The king asked an attendant to get it at once.

This was done. Next, the priest asked for a spoonful of sugar. This too was given to him.

Aware that the eyes of the whole assembly were riveted on him, the priest poured the sugar slowly and carefully into milk and stirred it well. Holding the bowl up in his trembling hands and with his voice full of emotion, the priest addressed the assembly: 'Is it possible to see the sugar in this bowl of milk.

There was silence.
Turning to the king, the Zoroastrian priest said, 'Your Highness, we shall try to be like this insignificant amount of sugar in the milk of your human kindness.'

There were murmurs of approval from the assembly. The priest then signalled his fellow-refugees, and all of them, men, women, and children - prostrated themselves full length on the ground. Every one of them picked up a handful of earth and, with tears streaming down their faces, they pressed it to their eyes and forehead. Then, after washing their hands and feet, they turned their faces toward the sun and recited the Kusti prayer and performed the Kusti ritual.

The atmosphere at the meeting-place was charged with some mystic power. People rose from their seats and embraced these atits from a distant land. They welcomed them in their homes and in their hearts. 'Don't ever think of yourselves as refugees,' they were told. 'You are one of us. We are all one. '

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