‘The sounds of Ave Maria, Hassan-Hussain and Jai Mangal Murti are all part of my consciousness

October 26, 2015

Mahesh Bhatt, son of a Hindu father (Nanabhai Bhatt) and a Muslim mother (Shireen), grew up in the predominantly Hindu Shivaji Park area of Mumbai. He studied at Don Bosco, a Catholic school, imbibing, as he says, the cosmopolitan character of Mumbai and “never faced any dilemma or schizophrenia, no religious leaning as such” 

Madonna and Ganesh are still the enduring icons in my memory. My mother was a Shia Muslim, but she was a closet Muslim, as she wanted to immerse herself in the image of a Hindu woman. We didn’t know then that they were not legally wedded. So, she practised her religion behind closed doors, she never imposed any faith on us. We celebrated all the religious festivals, Diwali and Christmas with our friends. I went to my aunt’s house for Id and the taste of sevaiyan still persists.

So I never had any problem at all. In fact, the multiple layers you call India were present in my childhood. My mother, who was the driving force behind my life, the lifeblood of my existence, died in April this year. And I found a Quransharif under her head and a Cross that she had made with her own hands on her chest. My father came chanting shlokas and offering Gangajal. Secularism was a habit, we did not have to labour to embrace it or rise up to acquire it — it was an actuality in our day–to–day life.

But in a way I was more Christian, the whole theatre of Christianity was very attractive to my way of thinking. At the same time I enjoyed the masochism of the beating of chests, of Maatam at Muharram. I have a strange fascination for Ganesh, but as an icon Jesus appealed more to my sensibility. But for a very short while. 

Slowly I got out of it, I found God irrelevant and religion had no answer to my problems. But my mother was almost pathological about prayers, she numbed her anguish with prayer. She would go to the Satsang as well as to the Imambara for Muharram. I remember her in sari with a flaming red tikka on her head at Diwali, as well as blank–faced, and dressed in a black chaddar for the majlis. I also remember her standing transfixed in front of Jesus on the Cross and touching the blood, then lifting us up and touching our foreheads to the blood too.

So the sounds of Ave Maria, Hassan–Hussain and Jai Mangal Murti are all part of my consciousness. That’s the case with most post–Independence urban Indians. But I find the tale of Jesus very attractive and identify with the relationship with the mother, since my mother was also a single parent. I also identified with the tale of Ganesh fighting with Shiva when he wanted to interrupt his mother’s bath, and having his head cut off. The Arabic sound of the Quransharif is strange to the ear, very exotic.

I inherited my vegetarianism from my father. People say I am more Hindu in my way of life, but also have the aggression of the Shia Muslim. It was further confused when I married a Christian girl. For me it is a physical fact that I am half-and-half, not an ideology to embrace. I am not an atheist, because I see an atheist as someone who wants to convert others to his way of thinking. I respect all religions and think that all human beings are entitled to their beliefs. Though I also think that only people who believe are the ones who kill. I am the odd man out and not at all with odds with it.      

As told to Deepa Gahlot
(Deepa Gahlot  is an award-winning film critic)