When the Information Technology (IT) boom happened in Bangalore in the mid- nineties, its echo reverberated in the world of real estate. House rent went through the roof, causing a lot of despondency. We found ourselves in that situation, when the landlord asked for three times the current rent to renew the lease of our rental accommodation. That was beyond our means and we had to look for a new place, far away from the heart of the city. Frustrated after looking at many possible places that would be within our budget, we finally just decided on one in an unfamiliar, out of the way locality.
It was a newly constructed, independent house on a busy street; the vehicular noise sometimes drowned our conversations, but the house was aesthetically built, it was well ventilated and the huge glass windows ensured that we had enough natural light. It did entail quite a bit of stairs inside, but we were young and healthy. And the constant stair climbing would definitely be a boon, as it would absolve the guilt of foregoing a regular exercise regimen.
However, the biggest advantage of this house was that it had a large bedroom on the ground floor, next to the dining area. That was a primary requirement for us, as my mother –in – law stayed with us, and being totally blind, she could not have managed the stairs easily.
The legal papers were checked and finally, the contract was signed. Three years. Unless there was any major upheaval, we were safe in this house for at least three years. By that time, the house that we were constructing would be ready, and we would be all set.
The packers came on a Friday. And on Saturday morning, after a heavy breakfast procured from a next-door Darshini, the move took place. The newly rented house had been cleaned earlier, but we had to do some additional scrubbing. Then there was the herculean task of unpacking our personal stuff, which obviously could not be left to anybody else. In between the cleaning and unpacking, we were whisked away to a friend’s house for lunch, and again elsewhere, in the evening, for dinner.
It was close to midnight when we retired to bed, exhausted. We would have liked to sleep in late, the next day being a Sunday. But that was not to be. Early the next morning, the crackle of a loudspeaker shook us rudely awake, and we took a few moments to register a muezzin’s thick voice calling the faithful to prayer with his cry of ‘Allah ho Akbar’. Shocked, we realized that not only was there a mosque right behind our house, but that it was even sharing our boundary wall. We had failed to notice this while checking the locality, and this could have changed our decision on renting.
I should mention here that we have always lived a very secular life. We have close friends from all religions. Our house prominently displayed, and still does, a cross, an Islamic Nazar and a Jewish Menorah. Our Puja room has the scriptures of all religions and we feel comforted by that. But in this case, we were really worried. Worried about the possible reaction of my mother-in-law, a very religious woman and a devout Hindu. She never criticized other religions, was equally affectionate towards our Christian, Sikh and Muslim friends, but she would probably not take it kindly if her morning Puja and meditation were disturbed with Azaan every single day.
The house came to life soon after, and the usual bustling of the morning began. After the breakfast business was over, my mother-in-law pondered over her tea and asked, ‘Is there a temple next to this house?’
‘Why do you ask?’
‘When I was doing my early morning Puja today, I heard the Gita being recited in a rich voice. It was an exhilarating experience.’
My husband Subroto and I exchanged looks, convinced that old age had probably affected her hearing. We could have let it go, but we did not want to withhold the truth from her. Subroto then hesitantly admitted that there was actually a mosque, not a temple, behind our house, and that the voice was not reciting the Bhagavad Gita; it was the Azaan – the muezzin’s call to prayer.
We expected disappointment and disapproval. We braced ourselves to receive her chastisement for poor diligence on our part. But there was none.
My mother-in-law remained quiet for some time, mulling over the information shared. After what seemed to us like a torturous period, she said, ‘Oh, I see. You know, I think this particular mosque must be very special.’
‘Why do you say that?’
‘Because the One who is worshipped there must be very powerful.’
‘Don’t you see how He makes the Azaan sound like the Gita recitations to a non-Muslim like me?’ She smiled.
*published in Deccan Herald on 14th April, 2012