*IT STILL LIVES.* by Deepti Prasad I have come to the city of Lucknow for my mother’s knee replacement surgery. We are staying in the Officer’s Mess in the quaint old Cantonment. It is a flashback to a nostalgic old lifestyle. The "bhaiyya" brings “bed-tea” sharp at 6.30 am. The “bhaiyya” then serves us cooked Indian breakfasts on the coffee table with napkins and cutlery. The “safaiwala” comes to clean the bathroom and floors everyday. And even the laundry is attended to by the old style “dhobi” who collects the bundle of clothes in a “gathri” tied in a sheet every morning and brings them back crisp and sun-dried and ironed wrapped in a starched clean sheet in the evening. Today is “Navami”, the ninth day of the Navratri fasts. It’s the day of the ritual of “Kanya Pooja”, where all Hindu homes invite and worship the little girls in their neighbourhood to honour the goddess. I remember the delightful feeling of being treated so special back in the days of scampering around in frocks and slippers. I remember sitting cross legged on the little wooden platforms in the fragrant Pooja rooms (Prayer Rooms) and being worshipped by the families dressed up in their beautiful silk and finery. I remember the taste of the offerings of poories and halva and black chana. And the thrill of all the one rupee coins all us little girls collected as blessings. The Dhobi didn’t show up on time this morning. When we called him to remind him to pick up the laundry, he explained he was delayed taking his little girls around to all the officers homes where they had been invited this morning to be worshipped in the “Kanya Pooja”. Eventually he showed up with one of his little girls in tow. A skinny, bright-eyed 7 years old with an eager smile. “Namaste aunty ji” she chirrupped in her high pitched little voice. She’d obviously had a very special day being worshipped as a goddess and was feeling wonderful! “What’s your name?” we asked the dhobi. “Mohammed” he said. My heart skipped a beat. And then when I realised the full importance of what I had just learnt from just a name, it made me smile. A little Muslim girl worshipped as a goddess in Hindu homes!!! And they obviously know well that she is a Muslim. Her father had been working for those homes for years. My heart swelled with pride. My eyes dampened with joy and pride. This.....THIS is the India I grew up in. It still lives ! It lives in the hearts of those simple, joyous, generous, tolerant, inclusive and kind Indian folk of all religions. My India is still alive and doing well, after all ! May it never succumb to the disease of intolerance. Ever !