“Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls.”
(Excerpt from ‘Where the mind is without fear’ – by Rabindranath Tagore).
Fear; we’ve all felt it. Fear for ourselves, fear for others, fear for the future. It’s a really powerful and unsettling feeling. It can make us feel sick, panicked, stressed. It has the ability to make us turn cold towards others. To put up isolating barriers.
History tells us that in times of fear and uncertainty, it’s all too common for this to happen – for people to turn away from one another. The sentiment expressed by Pastor Martin Niemöller in his poem “First they came for…” is no less relevant today – when fear and intolerance threaten to divide us.
Never before has the need to break down barriers been more important.
Tagore wrote his iconic poem ‘Where the mind is without fear’ in 1900. In it, he sketched his vision of the nation he wanted India to be. He dreamt of an awakened country where freedom of the mind and spirit would remove all fear of ‘the other’. Where differences of caste, creed, religion or any other prejudices aren’t cause for division and separation.
Five years later, in 1905, he witnessed the British try to break up Bengal on the basis of religion. In one move, a close-knit community of Hindus and Muslims would be pulled apart and set against each other.
Rather than allow his beloved country to be divided, Rabindranath-ji made a stand for unity by invoking the spirit of Raksha Bandhan (in Sanskrit, ‘the knot of protection’). He asked the people of Bengal to take to the streets and tie rakhis on one another as a vow of protection and mutual respect between Hindus and Muslims. The statement was clear: Do not divide us. We are all brothers and sisters here.
We wholeheartedly share in Rabindranath-ji’s vision, and we believe it is now our turn to say: Do not divide us. We are all brothers and sisters here.
So last Raksha Bandhan we made our own call for unity. Every person that visited our cafés on the day of Raksha Bandhan was offered a rakhi – white, as a symbol of peace – and invited to tie it on someone of a different faith, nationality or culture, as a vow of solidarity and protection.
Tying one of these rakhis created a bond, which meant that you would stand up for that person, regardless of who they are or where they are from.
The bonds that were tied last year, still exist now and hold a deep and important significance for us all. They show that we are all committed – bonded – together to protect and care for one another; that tolerance and compassion visibly outweigh intolerance and prejudice; and that we choose to support each other and celebrate our differences, rather than be divided by them.
We can think of few more apt things to do at this time and so this year, we’re celebrating Raksha Bandhan again and inviting you all to tie rakhis on one another. We hope to see as many of you (if not more!) joining us as we strengthen the bonds that bind us.
With February comes a gladdening of spirits, lighter morning skies and discernibly louder birdsong. It is also the month to bid farewell to our winter cocoons (at least partially) and tune back into the world beyond our blankets. Allow us to ease the de-hibernation process, by sharing some of the things piquing our interest this month.
“Who wants to see some magic?” Chef Arun calls out. He flings the rolled out dough into the air, sending it soaring above the counter. It spins and twists, a graceful dancer in the air. The children watch its arc, their eyes wide with wonder, until it lands gently back in the chef's hands. The children shriek in delight.
January is a most divisive month. For some it heralds the hopeful turning over of new leaves; for others it is a month to trudge begrudgingly through towards the promise of spring. Whichever camp you find yourself in, we have plentiful diversions to share. See them as the cherry atop your already gleeful January cake, or a welcome distraction while you await winter’s end.
I AM HERE, dear reader, slovenly and slouched, staring into my drink at the end of the bar in our new restaurant in Battersea. My mind is still down and out, sifting around in the dregs of ’23 but of course it knows that I should really straighten my back, raise my chin and look squarely up into the cold new light of ’24. My drink – Choti’s Punch – clear and strong, sweet with a little salt, may help.