‘Namaste!’ she said, as all of us in the New York church turned to greet whoever was sitting by our side on Christmas Eve. For a moment I was startled. I was thousands of miles away from home, and the last thing I imagined I’d hear was a ‘Namaste’!

She saw my surprise, and asked, “Aren’t you Indian?”

“Yes,” I said proudly, “Then namaste!” she said again.

I smiled. It felt mighty good being recognised as an Indian. I had to fly halfway across the globe to leave behind the doubts and slurs by country leaders who had started deciding who was Indian and who was not. Who was more Indian and who was less. But a simple greeting by an African-American made me realise that whatever the present dispensation thought, the rest of the world knew I was Indian!

And she must have known what it was to be black, if not she then her grandfather or grandmother, who by the colour of their skin were judged to be less American, less equal then the others. And those same forefathers of hers would have put their head down, accepting the slurs of their white brethren, till bold men like Martin Luther King fought for equality and won it for her. She was worshipping in a church where there was no segregation anymore, where nobody told her she was not allowed in because of her colour.

Did she know that from the land of Namaste, the fight had only just begun?

How easy to divide a nation? How easy to tell some they are superior to their neighbours, not because of better education, not because of gentler culture, not because of more money, but because of how they worship God! How easy to brand people as ‘us’ and ‘them’!

If I had told her that in my land there were leaders and their followers who felt I was not worthy as much as they to be ‘namasted’, she would have shook her head and said, “But why? You all look the same? Can anyone be less Indian than you?”

“No,” I would have replied, “Not for a moment have I ever thought of myself as less Indian, but there has come a group of those who garner votes by promising some they are more Indian than others!”

Her fight to gain equality was a hundred years ago, but the fight rages on as men like Trump have latched on to a white America and ride the white wave just as leaders back home garner votes doing the same.

But that ‘namaste’ said it all! To the world I was as Indian as an Indian can be, and so are each of you who live in Bharat that is India, and with a smile and a greeting loud and clear I shouted proudly back to her, “Namaste..!”

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