"Mishra," Ahmad announces out of nowhere, startling me, from across the table of an open-air restaurant.
"You're a Hindu Brahman, right?" he asks.
"I am an atheist but my surname surely confirms that."
"Yes, but you've grown up in a Hindu family, following Hindu traditions and participating in Hindu religious activities. You don't even eat non-vegetarian food."
"Yes, that's right," I say wondering what is the point of this discussion.
"And your family hates Muslims?"
"I don't know about that but my father surely won't enter the Red Fort or the Taj Mahal because they were made by Mughals."
"Yet you're extremely, openly critical about Muslim lynching."
"Looks like someone has stalked my Facebook," I say and giggle, "Yes, I am critical about it and I don't understand how that is even a question. It is an inhuman act and every sane person should be against it."
"Haven't you heard about Love Jihad or any Jihad for that matter?"
Shocked at that question, I Iook directly at him, however, he stares back blankly at me, smiling coyly.
"Well, please do not take any offense but I have not only heard of it but I have met a few Muslim men who believe in the practice."
He breaks the gaze and suddenly the cold glass of water, kept in front of him with droplets tripping down its edges, becomes more interesting to him.
"But," I continue, "I have met plenty of Muslim men whom I call 'Bhaiya' and I know they won't hesitate in playing the role anytime I need them. I have a Muslim girl as my best friend with whom I share anything and everything that's on my mind. I have grown up in a house beside a Masjid, waking up every morning to the melody of Azan. Back when I was a kid it used to be a timely reminder for the women chatting and catching a bit of sun as their only time of relaxation on the terrace in the evenings.
My house was next to the house of a Muslim family. I've flown kites with their kids and have also been scolded by them as one of their own children at throwing garbage in their house. They would hand back our cricket balls and shuttle-cocks every time they fell in their backyard without being annoyed for a single time. But the best part was the after Ramzan feast. Every year there used to be a 'Bhandara', as we used to call it, where khichdi was distributed in the Masjid. I've never tasted anything as good as that and I remember bringing lots of it back to our home every single time. Sometimes they also used to send us Sewaiyan of Eid and it used to taste heavenly."
Ahmad stares back at me with one of his eyebrows shooting upwards. It is his turn, I guess, to search for a point in the discussion.
"My point is, I have met few Muslim men who believe in the practice of Love Jihad and I have also met few Hindu men who believe it is okay to rape a woman as long as she is of some other religion, none of which justifies genocide on either of the communities. I am still living in the time when Hindus and Muslims weren't two different communities but mere neighbors following different traditions. When one would save sewaiyan for the other on Eid and the other would share their crackers with them on Diwali. And I know that almost everyone has had this phase in their lives. I just wish we could be mature enough to fly kites together and exchange sweets and crackers once again."
After staring at me with a smile on his face for what felt like ages, he breaks the silence by asking, "So, you'll help me choose the ring then I suppose?"
"Of course! I know my best friend's choices better than you'll ever do. I am already hoping to have sewaiyan with the newly married couple soon," I tease.
"In Shah Allah! But spare me the crackers. I'll rather prefer your Holi gujhiyas in return."