Welcome to India ---- A Father’s Diary
My dear kid, the sweetest one! It is still months you are to arrive. This is my first letter drafted for my yet to be born daughter – later fondly named Tanvi (Tinni) way back on December 13, 2004.
Your mom and I took some time to come to terms with the reality as doctor said that finally you would join us. ‘Welcome to India’ I would often murmur. As your mom and I wait eagerly to welcome you, there is lot of astonishment and excitement in us, and it is predictable. Life has been going on like that --- generations after generations in every civilization and in every country. Every father has perhaps hoped of a great time for his children. Every father has dreamt and also had few demands off his kids.
A few days after receiving the ‘good news’, I mailed a few words to my younger brother, Nirmal, fondly called Raja! This is what copy-paste passage reads:
“It feels great – I can tell u. But u also feel a hell lot of responsible more than the excitement part of it. May be one sees a lot of dreams. Perhaps the world has grown like that -- generations to generations in perhaps every family and every civilization.
You will of course be an important figure in all that drama to unfold. As 'Chachu' or kaku -- or whatever name u will get -- u also will enjoy that relation.
To give you a brief background, your uncle Nirmal is damn organized person as compared to often the charge of carelessness I am deservedly given.
My brother and my wife always say that I was very bad as financial manager. I was spent thrift on unrealistic matters. Never could I realize that counting every pie in life was the secret of accumulation of wealth. I considered it as a vice. Nor I understood that putting everything on the expenditure tray with hardly a thought of tomorrow could leave me only poorer. But I did save some money by traveling in city bus or taking long walks. But at the end of the day, call it my ego, oriental orientation or some kind of a gut feeling, I was eternally confident and remain up to this day that no hurdle could really stop my movement.
The following passages - My diary notes – including much of anecdotes – written haphazardly with primary objective of telling you about this world in my unique fashion - dwells around this country --- length and breath across India that I have lived and experienced both in my profession and in life. May be these passages will provide some help to you and people of your age to prepare better to face the life, especially in the context of being an Indian.
Actually, the very issue of ‘being an Indian’ could be only half wrong or half-truth --- the way you look at things as you grow up gradually step-by-step. You could also realize how different - nay difficult – it is to be a “Bharatiya” than an Indian. Scholars will tell you that while “India” has progressed, the other half of our nationhood ‘Bharat Varsha’ has lagged behind.
Few civilizations have perhaps witnessed such transitional phase in history than India. Yet, it is to our strength that the country has made giant strides. The colonial invasion, gory past of bloodshed or the nefarious caste system – actually nothing could mar the spirit of optimism – the countrymen display braving all odds. In the words of longtime India watcher Mark Tully, the famous BBC journalist, “India is often likened to an elephant lumbering along unstoppable”. Yet Tully wrote in his one of the numerous masterpieces on our country, ‘India in Slow Motion’ that the country has been “never going anywhere”. In fact, he suggests quite lucidly that the elephant, that is our India, is most of the time seen “shackled”. Another writer and former CEO of Procter and Gamble India, Gurcharan Das argues rather passionately. “…. India will never be a tiger. It is an elephant that has begun to lumber and move ahead. It will never have speed but always have stamina”.
My friend in PTI Siddhartha Kanungoo on his transfer from New Delhi to Bhopal told me once that to an extent he has moved into a “village”. I was shell-shocked, “Bhopal is after all a state capital and it is not in Bihar”, - I tried to reason. Siddhartada shot back, “unlike Delhi or Mumbai, in Bhopal I have to travel for quite sometime to reach a cyber café”. This was in November 2004 and he was giving his reasons for not being able to e-mail me regularly.
There can be a list of one thousand points how and why India has not been able to make optimum use of the potentials. In the following passages, I try to touch upon various such factors and also celebrate our great spirit of survival. In deed, the value system I have been talking about is more prevalent among “Bharatis”, the faceless simpleton folk rather than the urbane elite “Indians”. The ivory tower experts have only sought to offer ideas --- indulged in lectures on television channels - most often not backed by actions from their end.
You will be proud to note very quickly in life that despite odds, the common people in this country have tried to uphold some of the values. Be it in northeast of India, so often described as the hotbed of extremism, or in Gujarat where riots of 2002 had approval from the “common people”, I have found citizens extending their helping hand to each other.
If you think your father that is myself, born and brought up in the far-flung northeast India and who made a chance beginning with the profession of journalism, has come some way ahead in places like Mumbai or Delhi --- undoubtedly I owe it to hundreds of those who never expected anything in return. No dear! They need not be one of those relatives or family friends.
On the contrary so much self-seeking motives drive near and dear ones; I always thought friendship bond --- especially between two hitherto unknown people - has been always stronger than the blood relation.
You know how does a poet sing: “mere dil ke andar chhupa hae ek bachcha, baro ki dekh kar duniya bara honey se darta hae”. This could be true of the world in general but from my experience I would say this applies to middle class kith and kin more than anyone else.
Our world, the world of elderly people, is truly ruthless more often.
I don’t want to scare you nor I want you to grow with skepticism about life and other human beings around you. In fact, human life is the best of gifts the God Almighty could have gifted. Here you have an opportunity to serve your fellow beings. As a Bengali, it has nothing to do with my parochial sentiments that, I have always been touched by the childhood tale of Swami Vivekananda, one of the greatest Indians born ever.
I hold him such high esteem despite my disagreement on many issues and also on his latent Hindu chauvinism.
During his childhood Narendra Dutta, Vivekananda’s real name, on one occasion when he touched his mother’s feet – prompt came the blessing, “bless you son so that you can do good to others”.
I feel tempted to shower all such blessings on you knowing fully well in months and years to come I will be selfish, if I have to use that term, and perhaps would bless you, “Long Live Baby and so on”. Naren was transformed perhaps that very day. Swami Vivekananda was actually born on the day his mother blessed him to do good unto others. It is the gold mine that produces gold and how shamelessly many of us cannot understand something so obvious like this.
Dwelling more on my selfish motive vis-à-vis my offspring, like any ambitious or rather patronizing father, I also dream great dreams about you.
History belongs to dreamers, they say, in my case I also want that history should belong to you. Well, to sum up my dream cum ambition about you, I can only refer to what Oscar Wilde had said years back, “anybody can make history only a great man can write it”. I want you to that.
Indian fathers are truly patriarchs and if history recorders and analysts are to be believed even the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi was no exception to this. The shadow of Bapu hovers large over our national psyche. But there have been stories and pages written on the ungenerous manner Gandhi treated his children.
As regard his son Manilal Gandhi, a longtime editor of ‘Indian Opinion’ founded by his father, vis-à-vis his keenness to marry in South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi behaved like the classic Indian patriarch. He had flatly told his son that he could not marry though he preceded the communication with the phrase, “You are a free man; so I cannot force you to do anything”. Rejecting his son’s proposal, Gandhiji wrote, “you cannot forget that you are my son ….. If you enter into this relationship, you may not be able to render any service. I fear you may not be the right person to run ‘Indian Opinion’. It will be impossible, for you, I think, after this to come and settle in India”. (Courtesy: ‘Gandhi’s Prisoner – The Life of Gandhi’a son Manilal’ by Uma Dhupelia Mesthree)
Historians are not quite respectable lot in this country. Interestingly, they have only compartmentalized themselves – right wing and leftists.
In India we talk about Pakistan on daily basis --- at practically all levels of the society on cricket, terrorism and the history of partition; but surprisingly the children do not study Pakistan in their formal curriculum.
In the words of US-based Amitava Kumar (Author of Husband of a Fanatic – a Penguin publication), there is also substantial provocative rumuor dished out as history. “One writer named P N Oak has been claiming for some years that the Taj Mahal is in reality an ancient Shiva temple called Tejo Mahalya – more magnificent and majestic before it was reduced to a sombre Islamic cemetery”, writes Amitava Kumar.
My own profession - journalism is also better known as the “first draft of history” - a different kind of history writing. Therefore, I do not want you to write tales of victors or paint sketches of glorifying someone and someone’s ideology that gives you monetary or other worldly benefits. Nor I want you to be in journalism, which I think has already lost its luster. Well, to quote from a fictional work ‘Letter’ by Hejmadi, “it is hard to have the mind of a man and heart of a woman”.
Am I being very demanding? But that’s one area that you could try to excel and serve your fellow beings. Actually every spheres of life in this country is passing through transitional period and therefore some crisis or the other. Here is the opportunities for you do something – repay the life and this great country!
You just have to nurture a solid will power.
Crisis to your nation and community
Now it is my obligation to tell the younger generation about the real crisis afflicting both the nation and the community – I and we belong to – India and the Bengalis. Choosing of the title to this chapter is deliberate so that people of your generation can identify directly with what I am trying to say. But before saying all that, I must glimpse you a quick recap of history of both our nation and the Bengali community. It is the past that is the foundation of present and similarly, my sweetest one; the present signifies to a large extent what future is stored in. Indian history as much as that of Bengal or the community of Bengalis, in 19th and 20th centuries, is akin to a creature tied to the earth but with the desire to flight. There are truly certain inherent paradoxes to such a situation. In the words of a former Mexican ambassador to India, Octavio Paz, what surprised him most about India “was the diversity created by extreme contrast: modernity and antiquity, luxury and poverty, sensuality and asceticism, carelessness and efficiency …..”. (Courtesy: In Light of India) In fact, his list could go on. He is also right that the co-existence of Hinduism and Islam is a remarkable aspect of India. But the religious affiliations are also our unmaking.
The two religious communities over the ages have only grown mutually suspicious about each other.
Indian Muslims as a group had a very fond memory of their “hey days” when --- enthroned at Delhi, “they reigned supreme” from the Himalayas to down South. Muslims have for all practical reasons not been able to give up the obsession of that golden period. “It was an image which spurred them to demand first a special political position in British India and then in the nineteen-forties, independent statehood should the British leave,” wrote P Hardy in ‘The Muslims of British India’ (published in South Asia by Foundation Books). On the other hand, the Hindus’ views about Muslims, even in contemporary setting, is also guided or prejudiced much by the happenings during this golden era of the Muslims. Even the violence in Gujarat in 2002, according to Hindu chauvinists, and not surprisingly will include your next door neighbours and even friends and relatives, sought to avenge the ‘injustice’ meted to Hindus during the period.
After all, the Sangh Parivar’s much talked about movement vis-à-vis the Kanshi, Mathura and Ayodhya temples is also aimed at undoing the destruction of Hindu temples by Muslim rulers. In the context what I have said about Hindu-Muslim disunity in India, I tend to agree to pertinent question raised by Octavio Paz. “Are they two civilizations occupying a single territory, or are they two religious nurtured by a single Civilization?” The question ought to be answered.
On this backdrop I must tell that as the Britons prepared to leave the Indian shores, the division surfaced to the hilt and two countries were carved out mercilessly from the body of mother India.
Ace Bengal poet Kazi Nazrul Islam’s idealistic lines, “Ek hi brinte dooti Kusum, Hindu Musalman; Hindu taar noen moni, Muslim taar pran” (Two buds in one stem, Hindus and Muslims – one complimentary to the other) had just died within the pages of books and rhetoric of the netas.
The partition is the worst known event of contemporary history when religious affiliations were used for the first time in human civilization to create two warring countries --- in continuous one-upmanship and relentless competition against each other.
Ironically, Pakistan, which had promised a haven for Muslims could not keep its eastern limb of Bengalis together for long. Bangladesh was carved out of it and by the quirk of history Kazi Nazrul Islam was designated as national poet of the new country.
Creation of Bangladesh only deepened the crisis of confidence between Islamabad and New Delhi. Pakistan virtually vowed to avenge Bangladesh for Indira Gandhi’s role in helping Bengali Mukti vahinis. They eyed towards Muslim-dominated Kashmir with a new vitriolic approach and the beautiful valley and hills of Jammu and Kashmir soon became a new destination of killings and arson.
Partition and Politics
No matter how much is talked about, written and read; the ‘Partition’ remains an absorbing subject in the history of the subcontinent and it will continue to cast its shadow over relations between India and Pakistan and more so between the Hindus and the Muslims. But the creation of Pakistan also left manifold ramifications for Muslims for all the time to come. In his landmark book, ‘Prelude to Partition’ (Oxford University Press), British writer David Page is forthright: “Until the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, most Pakistanis saw the emergence of their country primarily as a religious or ideological phenomenon. This view was shaken by the secession of East Pakistan, which raised important questions about Pakistan’s identity as a homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent”.
There was a major strategic change in the subcontinent geo-politics that would both interest and baffle the students of South Asia and India pretty more.
Nationalism became a powerful yardstick in determining practically all issues including even gentleman’s game – Cricket. Years of independence both for India and Pakistan have done very little to remove the mutual suspicion between the Hindus and the Muslims and between Pakistan and India.
During his stint after taking over the reins of Pakistan in a coup, Gen. Zia-ul-Haq launched operation ‘Topaz’ aiming to foment internal division in India, especially on communal lines and reportedly hundreds of ISI agents and ‘Indian khabris’ were put on the job to spread canard about Hindu-Muslim relationship.
The ISI have fomented trouble for India even in the eastern front and used Bangladesh territory and support of radicals to trigger off series of law and order problems in northeastern India by landing all sorts of help to various northeast based insurgent groups. Needless to add, in many cases, Bengalis have been at the receiving end and subsequently the Hindu Bengali --- especially those who left eastern Pakistan - mindset has got clouded with long term affect.
I for one despite my utter affection for northeast in general and the state of Nagaland in particular later decided to fend for greener pastures in the mainstream India.
There is also another story. As Hindu Bengalis felt disturbed and made compromises for survival in north-east, the flood-gates of influx remained opened all along despite utterly parochial ‘Bongali kheda’ movement in Assam. Bangladeshi Muslims did cross over regularly into northeast and entered various parts of thinly populated region.
But the bitterness between the Hindus and the Muslims did not end up there. In the words of David Page, “partition is (has remained) an event of such momentous significance for states, for families and for individuals that it needs to be examined in many different ways and re-interpreted by every new generation”. Similarly, events of communal nature --- whatever be the provocation and circumstances -- in northeast, Jammu and Kashmir or in Gujarat also had a lot of “momentous significance” and thus indifferent nature of various communities ought to be understood in that spirit.
Here, I cite the instance of Bengali Hindus. Very often we tend to give communal or parochial colour to everything - that the entire world is against Bengalis and the line that we have been wronged. There could be exaggeration in stating some of the obvious facets of history but the history of Bengalis, especially Hindu Bengalis from East Bengal (Bangladesh and those of us are also called ‘Bangal’), have been really turbulent in last 60 odd years.
It not only got carried forward but with perhaps a greater intensity in free India, which nevertheless had embraced parliamentary democracy on the basis of adult franchise.
Hindus, Muslims along with other religious communities and groups got equal rights. But with the democracy came in several inherent problems and occasions when Hindus were drawn at dagger hands with Muslims. By mid-eighties and nineties, things had reached a zenith and communal riots became a political terminology for greater milestone.
Muslims forgot quite often that their Hindu neighbours have been friendlier to them since ages. Similarly, the Hindus forgot the immense contribution of Muslims in nation building and also during freedom struggle against the British.
In retrospect, the Hindus or the hardliners Vishwa Hindu Parishad or the variety of Narendra Modi are not only to be blamed. The other side, the so called secular forces have only spoken about appeasement to minorities --- Muslims, Christians and others. The Congress party and the communists are also to be blamed as much the advocates of radical Hindutva.
I have dwelt a few points in the book ‘Godhra – A Journey to Mayhem’. The common Hindus, especially the upper caste by tradition and the middle class by economic stratification, found only BJP as a political outfit trying to protect their interest and respect their sentiments. The Ayodhya movement played a great role in cementing this unity among commoners to endorse the Hindutva cause. The overwhelming participation of middle class people in the post-Godhra violence in Gujarat only showed that the Hindutva had become the new mantra for the Gujaratis and other Hindu population in Gandhi’s state.
Even Muslim cops got a feel of the change in the wind with many of the IPS officials dropping their nameplates. Loot was carried out driven by middle class greed but there was a refrain that they wanted to loot only Muslims. Mind you not the common Muslims, but the political leadership of the so called secular variety only repeated utterances seeking only to appease Muslims and other minorities. This had left Hindus aggrieved and thus such polarization.
Honestly, the polarization was not confined to Gujarat alone. Even from other places, the common Hindus endorsed the violence directed against Muslims. In Mumbai, where the riots of 1992-93 were still debated, many Hindus spoke in private that the English press was constantly toeing an anti-Hindu line and that the Hindus ought to stand up firmly to protect their rights in their own land.
There is no gainsaying for me to point out that among other vices and limitations, Indians as much as we Bengalis are also ill-informed. The reading habit is negligible and most of the time assumptions and presumptions are created following the word of mouth; - most of which are either deliberately distorted or based on rumour and originating from the rock bed of ignorance. And importantly these runours need not be innocuous or driven by innocence.
The Hindus read very less about themselves not to talk about Muslims and minorities read much less about themselves than they presume they know about themselves. The people of your generation, one hopes would be able to brave through this “lack of knowledge and reading habit” --- but this only augurs bigger challenge because of the advent of technology, internet revolution and the television industry.
As you grow up and take a closer look at these issues, you must try to analyze the Muslim mindset and how the community leaders like Shahi Imam Bukhari have only harmed their interest.
Taking a historical look you will take interest in what Hindu monks and leaders, worth calling them, had to speak about Muslims, Hindus and the relationship between the two communities.
Islam, for Vivekananda, was built upon a degree of narrow-mindedness and claims of knowing God’s will. “This bred a great degree of arrogance among its followers. The march of Isalm was on the strength of sword in one hand and the Quran in the other hand,” writes Jyotirmaya Sharma, one time resident Editor for Times of India (Hyderabad) in his book ‘Hindutva – Exploring the idea of Hindu Nationalism’. Sharma’s analysis has been that Vivekananda felt that Islam was too “bound to itself” which resulted in own dynamic of selfishness and immortality. Sharma also felt that Vivekananda found Muslims hate for Hindus maximum and “more than the Jews and Christians”. Hindus, to Muslims, Vivekananda’s interpretation was, also “hated kafirs, idolators and deserved to be butchered”. (Hindutva, published in Viking by Penguin Books India 2003).
If this school of thought is believed, India stopped progressing during the Muslim rule. “The question of progress did not arise, says Vivekananda, because all the energies of the Hindus were directed towards self-preservation,” writes Sharma.
Another hardliner advocate of Hindu Rashtra, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, echoed almost similar sentiments when he argued that before the Muslims invade of India, Hindusthan was a “land of peace and plenty”.
“At last she (mother India) was rudely awakened on the day when Mohammed of Ghazni crossed the Indus …. That day the conflict of life and death began”, Savarkar said (couresy Sharma’s ‘Hindutva’).
Along with India’s freedom from British colonial masters, Savarkar longed that “all territory from the river Attock to the Indian Ocean was to be freed from the hands of the Muslims.
But Savarkar was unlike Vivekananda or even unlike Aurobindo and Dayananda Saraswati. Sharma, who also lectured at universities at Hull and Oxford, says Savarkar had very little to do with matters of faith. “…. Yet, unlike anyone before or after him, Savarkar politicized religion and introduced religious metaphors into politics …….His life exhibited an unwavering pursuit of a single ideal: to establish India as a Hindu nation. Even today, Savarkar remains, the first and most original, prophet of extremism in India”.
But Savarkar had rightly acknowledged that Muslims also had certain qualities which were missing in the Hindus. “…. The community that is out for the propagation of their faith and is taught the fierce doctrines of believing other religions as passports to hell …. is better fitted to fight and vanquish its opponents,” Savarkar said in praise of the single-mindedness of Muslim religiosity and the sense of solidarity.
Savarkar though believed that as an individual, the Hindu common man was as “valorous and devoted to his faith as a Muslim”, unlike the Hindus, the Muslims were “fiercely united by a theocratic patriotism that incited them to do or die under the banner of their God. The Hindus, therefore, had to learn a great deal from them about building “a commonly shared national life and consolidating the place of faith in their commonly shared lives”, writes Sharma.
Sharma also interprets Savarkar’s thinking on how he thought it was pertinent for Hindus to prove their strength and seek retribution for the wrongs done to them as a nation and a race.
“Any attempt to extend a hand of friendship to the Muslims or accept a hand extended by the Muslims, had to be based on perfect equality”. No wonder, the modern proponents of the Hindutva -- likes of RSS, VHP and BJP hardliners, often echo similar words with the commonly used refrain that for long due to the reason of history and also since independence Muslims have been pampered.
There were also other deeper questions raised by the proponents of the hardliner school of thought who believe that Hindutva is as good as Bharatiyata (Indianness). Savarkar had pointed out that in fact by virtue of inheritance of the Hindu blood or otherwise hundreds of Muslims had love for ‘Hindusthan’ just as hundreds of Muslims, say in Kashmir, follow caste rules similar to the Christians from South. Thus to an extent, the common feasts, festivals, rites and rituals formed essential unifying factor for the apologists of Hindutva.
Bohras and Khojas cherished a lot of Hindutva. They worshipped “ten incarnations” of Vishnu and only added Prophet Muhammad as the eleventh. Sharma’s analysis was thus rather cryptic: “From the perspective of rasthra, jati and sanskriti, Bohras and Khojas identified with Hindutva and were undeniably Hindus”.
But when it came to Gujarat 2002, VHP and its supporters did not spare Bohra Muslims. Most of them expressed shock that despite following several Hindu way of life strictly, like preferring vegetarian food habits, they were singled out and subjected to a systematic ethnic cleansing during post-Godhra riots. You can read more on these in my book ‘Godhra – A Journey to Mayhem’.
The gravity of the issue of the Hindu unity despite caste divisions should be understood in all their metaphysical and pragmatic contexts. I take you back to Gujarat 2002, where despite intra-Hindu differences based on caste, the “Hindu laboratory” (Gujarat) was successful in cementing an unprecedented Hindu unity --- when Hindus of all caste and creed participated in and also cherished the anti-Muslim insane rage.
The theory of Hindu unity vis-à-vis Vidharmis (non-believers) has not come out of the blue or all of a sudden. Apologists for Vivekananda, says Sharma, have often seen him as a great opponent of caste; but this was “only partially true”.
“….. the caste ideal was central to his (Vivekananda’s) plan for the regeneration of India”. Vivekananda perhaps saw in the caste system “the greatest social institutions the Lord gave to man”.
The caste system, to Vivekananda, was a natural order but he understood the magnitude of the misuse of the system and thus advocated for a new caste order where the need was to “raise” the lower caste to the higher caste rather than bringing down the higher caste.
He was not against Brahamanism and in fact termed ‘Brahamanhood’ as the idea of humanity in India but he also wanted to raise the Chandalas, the lowest among Sudras, to the level of Brahaman. His strong advocacy for the Hindus in general and the lower castes in particular to learn Sanskrit should be appreciated in that paradigm of things.
Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) and even Swami Dayanand Saraswati (1824-83) in fact took to the argument that Indians or the Hindus had been great in the ‘past’ and had declined because of compromises in Brahmanism and also the bravery of true Ksatriyahood.
The cyclonic monk, as Vivekananda is described, was perhaps more farsighted than his time when he envisaged of a future for India, where the Sudra caste would be eliminated altogether “because machines would do their work”.
Vivekananda also felt that the Kalyuga, the contemporary epoch, would belong to the Sudra as all the first three castes had their day and by the theory of cycle, the Sudras would have to inherit or for that matter even snatch authority in India. Thus, his convictions were neared to Biblical thought, which propounded the cherished philosophy that the meek shall inherit the earth.
In respect of Hindu-Muslim relationship, Vivekananda was a strong believer in the theory that Hinduism was the repository of such tolerance, acceptable and sympathy. He also did not miss the point that for any kind of relationship and to study it objectively, history would be somewhere a living tower casting its shadow on the very concept of one-ness and fellow-feeling. Sharma again says Vivekananda wanted that, Hindus must build churches and mosques in India “despite the hatred, brutality, cruelty and the vile language of the Muslims and Christians”.
Now, perhaps we could come to a bigger point of debate and when we find Sharma maintaining that “Vivekananda could never take that all-important leap into rejecting sweeping racial and religious stereotypes. When he says Muslims, he meant all Muslims and so with Christians. The subtlety of the idea of rejecting English rule but not the English had to wait for more than a decade for Gandhi to formulate it”.
Patriotism of Hindutva icons:
Now we come to a more complex issue- the sense of patriotism of Hindutva icons. Let us examine various facets including the fact that the political Hindutva takes on many guises.
To Sri Aurobindo, patriotism was a “national religion”. Under his philosophy, new nationalism was only an attempt to bring about a happy union of religion and politics. He strongly believed that the national awakening was impossible without religious awakening. He, therefore, wanted that all Hindus must come to a common agreement about the need to cherish Hinduism as a sacred and inalienable possession.
In Hinduism, Aurobindo found a “non-dogmatic inclusive religion (which) would have taken even Islam and Christianity into itself, if they had tolerated the process”.
It will be interesting to note how Sharma also analyses that Aurobindo “welcomed pan-Islamism and the rise of a separate Muslim self-consciousness”. Sharma argues that in that process Aurobindo “saw it as a sign of the vitality of nationalism and as a part of nation building”. But he was opposed to separate electorate and believed it was the colonial masters who wanted to fuel the differences between Hindus and Muslims.
Umpteen times, his philosophy has been interpreted, referred and misquoted by the votaries of Hindutva – the VHP and the RSS. One area is rather rampant and that is Aurobindo’s argument that Muslims should not be flattered nor should they be approached with weakness and cowardice.
Sharma says, Aurobindo was “prepared to meet the Muslims in a manner chosen by them”. It could take the form of the firm clasp of brother or the resolute grip of the wrestler.
A ‘hero’ of Bengalis Aurobindo, however, did not attain the immortality of Subhas Chandra Bose or celebrity status of Rabindranath Tagore. Often credited for giving a sophisticated form of Hindutva, ironically had his primary and longer innings of education in west under the influence of European scholars. His father Dr Krishna Dhan Ghose had forbidden his three sons to come under the influence of Indian mysticism. Sent to England by his father, Aurobindo was also given a western middle name – Ackroyd by his father. He was put under the charge of Latin scholar Rev Drewett.
Having done well at King’s College, Cambridge, he did not remain confined to western circles alone. He joined and also took up as secretary of Indian Majlis in Cambridge and just before he left England, he had become a member of a secret group called ‘Lotus and dagger’ formed by Indian students. Today, the Lotus is symbol of Hindutva’s political wing BJP and Dagger (if it is taken for Trishul) is symbol of Hindu awakening and militant Hindutva under the tutelage of VHP, Bajrang Dal and RSS.
On his return to Indian shores, Aurobindo approved of clearly the efficacy of violent revolution and also worked towards organizing secret revolutionary activity as a preparatory stage for open revolt and insurrection.
It is also interesting that Aurobindo was charged with sedition and jailed in Alipore jail for his “inflammatory” writings. Aurobindo’s views on Hindu-Muslim relationship kept on undergoing significant transition from time to time. By 1910 he had taken upon himself to cease from participation in active politics and also become a Maharshi.
Few years later, Aurobindo did not hesitate in cautioning Muslims: “It is no use ignoring facts, some day the Hindus may have to fight the Muslims and they must prepare for it. Hindu-Muslim unity should not mean the subjection of the Hindus”. (India’s Rebirth, Page 164).
Ironically, in 1909 Aurobindo himself had rejected such a resolution by Hindu Sabha dubbing it as “low motive”.
Aurobindo’s life and works also needs to be analyzed in another context. He in more ways than one symbolized a more universal response to the splits which colonialism induced. Someone brought up culturally as a European child he did own up his Indianness. His spiritualism was also a language of defiance which sought to challenge the cultural aggression of the colonial masters. But importantly he had a universal appeal all throughout and never gave up the western culture and values had had imbibed. For him the western culture remained a vehicle of his creative self-expression, says Ashis Nandy.
To be Continued …………