My detractors

I was sitting with my best friend in the college canteen, when an Asian girl sat down with us. Soon we were having a friendly chat. She was explaining that her whole family had converted from Islam to Sikhism for marriage. Though I knew nothing about either tradition then, I found this conversation fascinating.

But across the room, my detractors were growing very excited, waving at that girl and begging her to join them. Eventually, she got up and wandered over. When she returned, she told me that they had told her not to sit with me, or else I would be after her.

I said something like, “Oh, I’m such a bad person,” but she just smiled at me and told me to ignore them. It was hard for me to do that, though, because this was an ongoing saga, which never seemed to end. We were months into it by then. A close friend of mine had recently turned his back on me. It followed unceasing sneering comments on their tongues whenever I passed by.

Even so, this episode was fairly easy to forgive, because I know it to be true. I was there, and saw and heard everything with my own eyes and ears. For those moments, it was easy to eventually say, “Nevermind, water under the bridge.” That’s what I’d say to that pair if I encountered them today.

Another tale is harder to deal with, because all I have is the account of an acquaintance I didn’t know very well, who nevertheless insisted that all he told me was true. That was the tale of a vindictive plot against me, in which I was supposed to respond to a pair of eyes so that karma might do its thing.

Fortunately, that same acquaintance was on hand at the time to prevent me from doing anything stupid, saving me — he claimed — from being beaten to a pulp. This one was harder to forgive, firstly because I have no idea if it’s true, and secondly because if it was, it would have been the height of spitefulness. My crime: to believe that the possessor of those eyes was a nice person at heart.

If I found out that tale was true, would I still forgive them? Well, a quarter of a century later, the answer to that is easy. Though I threw up when my friend told me of it a year afterwards, all these years later it would have to be the affirmative. In this, I must be guided by my faith.

Hate no one, no matter how much they’ve wronged you. Live humbly, no matter how wealthy you become. Think positively, no matter how hard life is. Give much, even if you’ve been given little. Keep in touch with the ones who have forgotten you, and forgive who has wronged you, and do not stop praying for the best for those you love.

Attributed to Ali, the companion of prophet Muhammad

Those events were not the worst things that have happened to me in my life, though perhaps they occupied me more than other significant events at the hands of strangers. Perhaps they occupied me because they occurred at the hands of people in whose company I spent months of my life. They were not just bored youths on a sink estate, fiddling with knives, or a gang cruising in search of their next victim.

Perhaps those events hurt me so profoundly because it all started with me thinking the best of strangers. And so it must end the same way. To think the best of them once more.

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