A House Divided

My father tells the story of the judge from Chhapra, and how his family converted to Islam.

Theirs was an upper middle class Hindu family, well known in the community. They lived a conventional, traditional life—until the day his father brought his Muslim mistress home. The house was large enough to accommodate her, as apparently were the hearts of the immediate family, including his wife and children, but the rest of society was another matter.

When his sisters were old enough for marriage, his father began to look for suitable matches from his community. Suitable boys are hard to find, and like every good Indian father, he was prepared to persevere, but the rejections piled up. As time went on, it became clear that no one, absolutely no one, was willing to marry into his family. He realized that his daughters were going to have to pay for the choices he had made. That was something he could not accept.

So it came to pass that the entire family converted to Islam and the daughters found suitable Muslim mates. The family continued to live in the same house and the same neighborhood. Their social status was not much changed, albeit now in a completely different religious community.

After recounting his family history to my father, the judge remarked: “At one time only one of us was Muslim. Today, 56 of us are Muslim, children, grandchildren and all. And we are increasing in number.”

I couldn’t put this story out of my mind. How does a family convert en masse? What anguish did they go through before making this decision? How did they turn their backs on the heritage of millennia? Or was the decision an easy one, given the social hell they had just been through? What role did the women—the wife and the mistress—play? It is hard for me to imagine how tradition-bound Hindu society must have been back then, where bucking social norms meant total ostracization.

With time, I’ve come to see behind the judge’s defiant words and chest thumping a measure of hurt and indignation, a sentiment that has been amplified and transmitted to later generations. The family felt it had been wronged by society, and its only recourse was a complete break.

I sometimes wonder how many other families have stories like this one. How many Indians are nursing hurt and anger without finding resolution? Did this family’s conversion solve the problem, or merely postponed it to a later date? Is reconciliation possible? If so, how will it come about? In what form?

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वक्रतुण्ड महाकाय सूर्यकोटि समप्रभ । निर्विघ्नं कुरु मे देव

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