Many years ago I had a most interesting lunch at an Indian restaurant. In India.
To come right out with it, I enjoy Indian food; hit me with that tikka masala sauce or a carefully prepared curry or any of the four thousand or so other items of Indian chow and I’m a happy tandoori camper.
I found it fascinating that this particular restaurant was a place of tolerance and diversity. By that I mean the staff was a sort of UN of different religions and beliefs, yet everyone seemed to be working in a high degree of peace and harmony.
And they were proud of it. When they learned that the American customer was interested in such things, they came over to me, singly or in pairs, enthusiastically telling me about their religion and how well they got along with everyone else working in the restaurant.
There were Hindus, of course, and Muslims, along with Sikhs and Buddhists and a few glimmers of other faiths I wasn’t so familiar with. (There was one chap who followed an unusual doctrine I did know a little something about: Christianity.)
But what blew me away was not just their pride in their beliefs but that they were also eager to tell how impartial they all were and how they worked together and got along so well.
Reason why this impressed me was that this all happened many years ago; in fact, I was there as the long British raj was coming to an end. For several centuries the English had been involved in India –“the jewel in the crown” - and some folks believed that if the British left the various religions would fatally tear each other apart. From the tolerance and cooperation I saw in that restaurant I was pretty sure that was not true.
How wrong I was…
British rule in the country came to an end just a few months after my meal at that restaurant. Sort of as predicted, the religions began tearing each other apart.
Earlier, when I had been in Pakistan it was part of India; it was British. Now it was a different country, a Muslim land. Hindus by the many thousands had to get away, to go south; just as many thousands of Muslims felt they had to go north to a Muslim country.
So many people ripped from their homes and forced to travel; it was the largest migration in human history. The resultant slaughter of the religious fighting was almost unbelievable. There were nearly a million casualties.
And it is indeed a sad fact that this – possibly a thermonuclear version of it this time - could begin again at any moment.