‘I guess I am prejudiced because of my own experience of them. I will pay more attention the next time’
He also has some misconceptions about the animosity between Hindus and Muslims – the petty wars between them he has watched on TV or has read about. He is surprised at me saying that in spite of bit of fireworks and the sectarian violence, a few border disputes, Hindus and Muslims in India live in harmony. That I for one, grew up right next to the pre-dominantly Muslim neighborhood of Bhindi Bazar in Mumbai. That Zahir, a Muslim and I are as good friends as anyone else baffles him.
He is astonished when I tell him that after Indonesia, India has the second largest Muslim population in the world. As of 2014 census, to Indonesia’s 209 million, India has 176 million Muslims to Pakistan’s 167 million. That the Bollywood is dominated mainly by Muslims and majority of our idols like Shahrukh Khan are Muslims, and are most beloved on the sub-continent. That even though up until very recently Hindu Marriage Act prohibited Hindus from polygamy, India’s Muslims were allowed to have up to four wives, justified under the fundamental right for those who practice Islam. I totally forget to mention that during the short history of independence, of the total of thirteen, India had four Muslim presidents.
By now I have managed to totally confuse poor Joe. And I tell him how proud I was of the country of my birth when CNN sponsored debate between India and Pakistan that took place in Mumbai early in the 2000s, moderated by their star anchor Wolf Blitzer, that three of the five panelists on the Indian team were Muslims.
‘This is all new to me. Let me find my daughters, I want them to hear this. They are somewhere around her.’ With what I am saying, I am shattering Joe’s deeply rooted convictions.
And Joe disappears in the crowd. I strike up a conversation with his wife Yvonne, up until then the onlooker. I find out that they have been married for like 45 years, still happily together – albeit with the usual ups and downs of any coupledom.
Soon Joe reappears with his two stunningly beautiful gems of daughters. Appropriately named Amber and Crystal. Earlier I had noticed Amber around the buffet table. A beautifully sculpted angular face and shining cinnamon color skin, her dark hair pulled up, tall, she could have passed as an artist’s muse. I presumed her to be the older of the two. But the younger looking Crystal at 42 looks like she is in her early thirties. She is darker – the color and the texture of dark chocolate and has the shoulder length billowing hair framing her round face.
‘I want you girls to listen to this gentleman. He used to work for Playboy!’
‘Playboy?’ Exclaims Amber. She twists her nose in a disdainful gesture.
‘You obviously have never read the magazine?’ I ask pointedly.
‘What is there to read?’
I give them the same spiel as how only 36 some pages of the magazine are the nudes.’ And I tell her about the in-depth articles, fiction and the interviews. I mention Gabriel García Márquez, which draws a blank.