This picture was taken from a kite. The photographer rigged up the camera onto a large kite and flew it so that he could get kite's eye view of our wide and varied land.
Islam is in the news - again. Yesterday because of the riots in Kolkota which seem to have started from the protests against the Bangladeshi writer Tasleema Nasreen - as well as moves to highlight the violence that Muslims have suffered at the hands of the Communist Party of India - Marxist cadres in the 'reclaiming' of Nandigram district in West Bengal.
At the same time we have an advertisment today's paper about a Discover Islam Conference and Peace Exhibition organised by a group that seeks to win the world for Islam - and sponsored by Peace TV - a global Islamic TV channel. The front man in the ad is Dr. Zakir Naik - a well-known Muslim apologist.
We are of course walking a fine balance. On one hand we have two failed states flanking India - the wounded wings of the Land of the Pure which was carved off from the rest of India at partition. On the other hand we are the second largest Muslim country in the world with the third largest to the north (China) and the fourth and fifth being just around us.
At the local level we continue to see more and more ghettos being formed. Post the 1993 riots the Mumbai scene led to shifts in local Muslims moving out of previously mixed areas into localities with high Muslim populations like Bhiwandi and Mumbra.
Our composite culture - much talked about by Amartya Sen and others - seems to be increasingly unravelling - if it ever really existed. The local religious right-wing brands every Muslim as a sympathiser with violence. The left does not know what to say - especially since it was clear that most of the people in Nandigram were Muslims and that there were clear orders to 'teach the locals a lesson' by the Party Command.
What does the kite's eye view tell us?
As we look at the beautiful domes of the Jama Masjid in Delhi we marvel at its beauty and the poetry in stone that the emporer Shah Jehan oversaw. We see very little of the daily life of our Muslim brothers and sisters as live in the varied dwellings that squeeze in around this largest of Indian mosques.
There is a lively debate going on between various apologists. For a number of years Jay Smith - a UK based American - has been vigorously talking. With the advent of youTube much of this has gone on the web. For an example, click: here and here and for a take on Islam in India: here. The beauty of YouTube is that you can also see responses, for example: here. There are multiple websites with various levels of apologetics (a google search will get you into a dizzying array).
What we don't see is a loving debate taking place at the local level. In our homes and with our neighbours. Part of it, I think, is fear.
We are afraid of the other. We are afraid to talk. Things have become so soured and so tight with the horrors of the Iraq war, the daily reports of horrific acts of suicidal terrorism, the many years of cyclic riots etc. here in our beloved country (when the press talks about tension between "two communities" you know that it has a Hindu-Muslim angle).
Lets come down from the kite's eye view - and lets honestly and lovingly share who we are with each other. We don't need to be afraid. But at the same time we are not helped by acting as if we do not have differences. True love casts out fear. We need to talk with each other - from the heart - with respect - but also knowing that it is false to act as if there are no differences.
Sadly I don't know of a single Muslim in my building of 7 stories and 4 flats per floor. If they are there, they don't stay for long. Hussain - our charming soft-ware engineer neighbour shortly after we first moved to 'Happy Valley' was only here for a few months. Where are you now brother Hussain? Where has the gentle young man from Ratlam gone?