“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.
For every rakhi that you tied, we donated £1 to Seeds of Peace, a charity that helps teenagers from conflict regions to learn the skills of making peace. In total, we – and you – tied 8,000 rakhis and therefore donated £8,000 to this extraordinary charity.
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.
Thank you most sincerely for supporting us last year. If you too would like to make a donation or learn more about the fantastic work of Seeds of Peace, please visit www.seedsofpeace.org.
IT HAS BEEN an annual December habit of mine, these past ten years since we embarked upon this restaurant business, to sit alone, with myself, and reflect on the year gone by. I am grateful to be here in the Permit Room in our restaurant in Shoreditch scribbling and writing, the oddly enjoyable taste of splintering wood from my chewed up pencil smoothed by my decently strong drink.
These are the last few days, the dregs of 2019. It’s my habit to sit here in the Permit Room at this time. I am the be-stubbled and dishevelled regular, cherishing his precious drink at the end of the bar. Weary, I sit here pondering the year, attempting to figure out what it was trying to teach me. What wisdom can I glean from it?
I love to truly understand and appreciate the origins of a dish, and learn how communities have adapted a recipe over time to make that dish unique to them.
We have arrived at a very sad, but inevitable and clear choice. As of now, all Dishooms are now closed to diners.