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My parents grew up in India and follow the Hindu religion. I was born in the United States and follow Hindu religion as well. Similarly, one of my best friends is Muslim and her parents grew up in Pakistan. We have been good friends since second grade in spite of our different family backgrounds. At times, the controversial relations between India and Pakistan flare up; however, none of this ever enters the picture and there is never any thought of animosity between us. Often, we talk about the different customs that our families follow and not only do we accept these traditions, we’ve grown to take interest in them.
I remember one cold afternoon during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, when we had to stay inside during recess because it was raining. I had always wondered what the Muslim prayers were like, and sitting there with nothing to do, I decided to ask her. She described the entire process of namaaz, in which the devotee prays to Allah, the Muslim god, five times a day, facing the holy city of Mecca. When I showed enthusiasm in learning about her culture, she offered to show me the different postures and verses that they recite each time they perform namaaz. After she had finished, she asked me what the Hindu customs were like. I told her how we perform different pujas to worship different gods depending on the occasion. As we sat there analyzing the purpose of Islamic worship as compared to the purpose of Hindu worship, we came to realize that the goal of each was much the same! This brought us even closer, just knowing that in the end, everything leads to the same thing, even though religion is a miniscule part of our wonderful friendship.
Throughout the time we have known each other, and especially in the past few years when we became really close, she has always been there to cheer me up when I’m down. On those unbearable, cold, depressing days, we know that we can always count on each other to cheer each other up!
Our neighbors, who also happen to be Muslim, are another wonderful family whom we can always count on. When it comes to friendship, it doesn’t matter what your ethnicity or religion may be—friends are people who care for each other at all times. Just a week ago, in fact, we were driving down to Los Angeles where I was going to perform bharatanatyam, South Indian classical dance, with others in my dance school. With all the commotion going on in our house due to last-minute packing, we completely forgot to take the most important item—my dance dresses! After about three hours of driving, we suddenly realized that we had forgotten them at home! There was no time to go back to get the dresses. My heart raced as we tried to think of what to do. We called our neighbors who always have the keys to our house. They came to our house, found the dresses, counted the pieces (bharatanatyam dance dresses have multiple pieces), and confirmed with us over the phone, so that we could be sure nothing was missing. One of my friends who was also to perform with me had not left yet, and so my neighbors drove to her house to drop off the dresses. I finally got them late that night. I will never forget that fateful day, and I am so grateful that my neighbors were nice enough to do us such a big favor. They, in my opinion, represent the true meaning of friendship.
It is my hope that our strong friendship is infectious enough to spread like a wildfire to more and more people. Just this month, India and Pakistan held their long-awaited high-level discussions and have agreed to continue their dialog to resolve their dispute politically. Hey, maybe they heard us, their two little ambassadors of friendship! Who knows? Someday, I may even see the whole world as a happier, friendlier, and more peaceful place.
Anjali Thakkar’s essay won first place in the 6-8th Grade Category of the Growing Up Asian in America contest in 2004. Growing Up Asian in America is the largest celebration of Asian heritage in the nation and is a signature program of the Asian Pacific Fund, San Francisco. The program begins each year in January with an essay and art competition for students in grades K-12. Winning students are honored in May, sharing $27,000 in savings bond awards and merchandise prizes. www.asianpacificfund.org