Category Archives: Religion

The printed wor(l)d


In  the last few years a new phrase has come to being. The saffronisation of Indian school text books. It was being bandied about quite often and usually in the same breath as the (in)famous Hindu right wing fundamentalists. Then another tribe started growing in the age of the internet — the internet Hindus they were called. Once a new term is coined, it feels like something far more tangible than just a thought a group of people had, doesn’t it?

While I heard about all this, there was never any need to encounter them, I thought. And I just pushed them into that corner of my mind where all hateful things lie, coloured in a deep red hue, unable to make out form from faction. Religion is something I am not comfortable discussing, mostly because I am so ambivalent and vague about what I believe in that to rally about my beliefs when I am almost apologetic about it, is very difficult.

Then I started work on my current work project where I (we) had to refer to all state curriculum text books across the country, and that’s when my moment of aghast began (am still to recover). The first textbook I referred to was my home state and couldn’t get over the self-congratulatory tone of Shivaji’s exploits. But then, since I am the first to dismiss any marathipan, from my Marathi surname, I didn’t say much. Kept it to myself thinking maybe only Maharashtra’s textbooks were doctored? It’s always easiest to be ashamed of one’s own..

Then I moved on to textbooks from North and South India and realised Maharashtra’s biggest folly was perhaps only bad language (and Shiv Sena ignoring Shivaji’s most important lesson of being fairl and tolerant a king above everything else but who knows if that is doctored). Most textbooks glorify all Indian kings for fighting against the “Muslim” rule but still being “tolerant” by allowing their subjects to practice Islam. Most textbooks refer to “ancient Indian texts” as a source of reference for everything, including the technology for airplanes. After all “Ram did return in an aeroplane.” So what if we are getting mythology mixed up with science?

What was scarier was the next line. “Logical people disagree with this.” It galls me to see school text books encouraging to blindly believe myth and reject logic and proof because it does not fit their stories. What’s worse is that child who is going to, in all likelihood, mug it, will grow up with this as part of his psyche and won’t understand the reasoning of why we call this “indoctrination.”

The child then grows up and decides to investigate for himself and turns to the internet, where he meets the scary tribe of internet hindus and because he has not been taught any style of application in education, he accepts with looking for logic or reasoning or even questioning why.

Talk about far-reaching effects!

And then, there are people who will believe almost anything read on a website, forgetting that even websites are written by people and one should only but use a pinch of salt with it. The internet is very important today as it gives so much information  but it becomes imperative to have some sort of filtering mechanism, one that is based on your own thought process and not a borrowed one.

And then I finished reading this book, where he discusses how this book can be taught from a dharma-that-caters-to-a-universal-religion perspective rather than a religious text and it makes complete sense to me. That, of course, in the hindu in me but the difference is I realise it. What also makes the book even more palatable is the initial embarrassment Gurcharan Das talks about when people mention his name and holy books and studies in the same sentence. It’s something many urban hindus face today ( or I would like to imagine they do .. I know I do).

We need to save the opinions of children for tomorrow, don’t we? At least long enough for them to able to make them up on their own (and as I write this I realise how small and inadequate it seems as the problem seems as vast as India itself and blame to be ascribed to all political parties, for meddling where they have no business meddling).


You gotta have faith


Books I have read recently have only convinced me how faith is what you derive out of any particular word, book or symbol. Anything can give you faith and it has absolutely nothing to do with religion. It can have  signs, it can be rituals, it can be meditation or it can be gazing into a big tomb of a book.

If you have faith, it doesn’t matter where it helps you from. Which also means the books really had nothing to do with it. It’s how I chose to interpret what I read. Since books forms such an important part of my life, it made complete sense that cementing of faith had to come from a combination of them.

I’ve read a varied series in the last few months and each one left me awed —  for all different reasons.

book cover_EGThe first was – Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. This book had taken the world by storm and in my experience, most such books can be full of hokum.

While this book talks about one journey one woman makes, it doesn’t necessarily have translate into a lifestyle solution, ‘now available on the shelf’, for the reader. Which is what I think the book aimed for.

The book starts off well (but I have a sneaking feeling I loved the beginning only because the gastronomic treat the first section is). It’s very easily divided. Italy, the first part of her journey, where she lives for a few months to learn to speak the language better. Pray, when she comes to India to discover herself  (I know!) and Love, when she lives in Indonesia with a healer for a focus that seemed blurred.

It’s only when you reach Pray section, the second phase, you realise her epiphany-laden journey  may or may not continue in the same vein, for you, the reader. This part is based in India and I had to fight against my innate objections of India being typecast as a place to come and ‘discover your true being’. Thankfully the book does not classify the whole of India but only that ashram, as the very place to achieve oneness.

At this point in the book I remember thinking it takes very little to go from a non-believer to a believer. She thinks she knows what she wants and yet her body tells her of other things she needs.  It’s a painful time for her. But it’s faith that keeps her going. Not faith in any one person or one philosophy. Just faith that she needs to get from one point to another.

It told me how a path of ‘getting better’ does not necessarily mean improvement or ease of method. It was like something made complete sense after that. It did not mean I need to go into an ashram but it meant believe in what you want, your actions will reflect what you believe in, therefore a self-fulling prophecy.

The third part in Indonesia was the blurriest to me. It spoke about love. It spoke about generic love and spoke about the need for love and for some reason, there was no resonance. It ends just like it starts, with no apparent focus. But that’s the best part. The open-endedness of the whole journey. Allowing any reader to go on it, and come away with what you are seeking.

book cover_BBThe second book to partially alter my thinking stream was Bill Bryson’s A short History of Nearly Everything. (As an aside, this is how textbooks should be written).

It’s a book  that, among other things, makes you aware of your scale. How big or small or important or insignificant you are.

How are there are *so* many things you still have no clue about and how there are stranger phenomenons that have to happen to convince you of your reason to be.

Last few days, even weeks,  I have been going through a faith upheaval as it were. Nothing I say or thought matched my actions. And I wondered what was teaching me a lesson.

I lamented the lack of an obvious focus and need to prove myself. Like I heard in a bad movie some days ago, I stopped betting on myself. Suddenly, after an argument yesterday, it became clear. I had vaguely formed my milestones but that argument cemented it. It was the change faith had shown me but I was refusing to accept it.

Now how I reach the other end of the milestone is another matter altogether. But that’s where a third, unrelated book comes in. The third book was the Book of Ram by Devdutt Patnaik. I was reading the book in continuum to understand Sita better but did get a different takeaway.

The books says: “According to AdhyatmaRamayana, Ravan is our ego, that part of us that is constantly seeking external validation. Having submitted to adharma, our ego has abducted Sita, our mind. That is why we constantly seek to dominate the world around us and that is why we do not accept it for what it is.

We have to rescue Sita. We have to unleash the power of Hanuman, our intellect, cross the sea of life, overpower Ravan, burn his golden Lanka and reunite Sita and Ram, who await discovery within us.”

This emphatic conclusion of the book is reminscent of that one powerful line from one song of Swades:

मन से  रावण  जो  निकाले, राम उसके मन में है.

We should always pay heed to the other side.


An interesting speech to read in these times of the Jinnah Controversy.

I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.