Why I refuse to call myself a Hindu

Can we just be human, pleeeaaassse?

My good friend Girish Pradhan was stopped from entering the famous Kapaleeshwarar temple in Mylapore yesterday. The temple authorities wanted to ascertain that he is a Hindu. Girish sports a beard and apparently that’s why the “clarification/proof” was sought.

I have been thinking about this episode ever since Girish’s wife Weena posted a status on Facebook last afternoon. And interestingly, adding to the discourse brewing in my head, I ended up watching a Subhash Ghai film “Black & White” (2008, Anil Kapoor, Shefali Shah, Anurag Sinha) on TV last night. The film deals with some searching questions on Hindu-Muslim unity, on how a terrorist is born and why most acts of terrorism are led by Islamic fundmentalists. While the film was engaging for most parts, it didn’t quite answer all the questions it raised. And that is the problem. No one seems to have the answers – even though a majority of people think peace, think secular! We are all, as well meaning citizens of the world, stuck in a situation where a few people hold us to ransom with their anti-human ideas of religious fundamentalism.

Before this post is conveniently misinterpreted and given a communal flavor, I must hasten to confess that I was born to Hindu parents. But I refuse to call myself a Hindu. My religion is humanity. Period. And Life is my God. In fact, later this month, on 29th April, Saturday, I host famous dancer Zakir Hussain on my popular show – The Bliss Catchers – at Odyssey Bookstore, Adyar. Now, Zakir is a Thirupaavai Upanyasam expert. Had Zakir and I tried to enter the Kapaleeshwarar temple, and if we were asked to prove ourselves as Hindus, undoubtedly, Zakir would have won himself an entry ticket! And I would have failed miserably – I don’t wear my poonal (sacred thread), I don’t know any shlokas and, of course, I may have well refused the test. To me, a God who resides in the smelly, dark, sanctorums of a temple, or for that matter who is ensconced in any “place of worship”, watching over apathetically, even as people fight each other in the name of religion, is no God at all.

Clearly, we cannot afford to be like God. Not anymore. We must not sit back and allow the rot to happen. I believe each of us has a responsibility to heal our world. I am not even talking of healing the entire world. I am suggesting we begin with our small Universes, our circles of influence.

AVIS-Viswanathan-The-difference-between-divinity-and-God

First, we must make religion irrelevant in our actions, in our pronouncements, in thought. Let me explain. I have another friend, who often brags that he prefers keeping his second apartment locked up, but he says he will not give it to Muslim tenants. Such thinking must stop. Religion, if at all it must be practiced, is a deeply personal affair. And must be kept that way. Flaunting your religious belief is what makes it relevant. And when there is a mass relevance, fundamentalists seize advantage, they want to induce fear, control you and brainwash you. Some of them take it to a destructive level – they turn barbaric and murderous. Sadly, this is what is happening around us, with alarming frequency. Second, let us understand the difference between divinity and God. Divinity is Life’s way of expressing itself – you will find divinity in a sunrise, in a raindrop, in the stillness of a valley, in a bird chirping, in a child’s eyes, in you, in me and in every aspect of creation. God, on the other hand, is a human invention, who does nothing to save the world from anarchy and extremism. Yes, there is a Higher Energy that governs, guides, nurtures and protects all of us. And we are all created by that Energy and we carry that Energy in each of us. So, to me, every form of creation is God. I don’t relate to God again as one Supremo who resides in a designated place of worship. This theory and its belief is downright divisive and abhorrent. Finally, can we just soak in the essence of this immortal song from Yash Chopra’s directorial debut Dhool Ka Phool (1959, Manmohan Krishna, Mohd.Rafi, N.Dutta) “Tu Hindu Banega Na Musalmaan Banega, Insaan Ki Aulad Hai, Insaan Banega…”? Sahir Ludhianvi’s inspiring lyrics remain relevant to this day – can we just be human, pleeeaaassse?

I know millions of people out there echo these sentiments that I share here. The time has come for all of us like-minded folks to step out and speak up for humanity. My prayer is this: let’s stop being closet secularists. Only when we make religion irrelevant in the public domain, can we make religious fundamentalism irrelevant and powerless.

 

Make your Life’s work memorable

Whatever may have been your Life’s story, however bitter the experience may have been, if, at all, you can leave behind a legacy where people can remember your work – and perhaps be inspired – your Life may have well been worth it!

           

 A new book from Harper Collins, by Akshay Manwani, “Sahir Ludhianvi – The People’s Poet”, celebrates the Life of one of India’s greatest poets and one of Bollywood’s iconic lyricists, in this context. Manwani’s book is rare because it examines the Life of both the poet and the person in Ludhianvi. Manwani believes that it is impossible to look at one while ignoring the other! Manwani reveals that Sahir’s childhood was plagued by fear and anxiety – his mother was the eleventh wife of a landlord, whose clutches she sought to free and her son from. Sahir carried these scars and memories all his Life. In his later Life, he became an alcoholic after two failed love affairs – one with the renowned writer Amrita Pritam and the other with singer-actress Sudha Malhotra. Yet his ability to express himself through his verses never faltered.

He fell back on his Life’s experiences to produce some immortal lines. My favorites remain:
“Hum Dono” (1961)
“Mein Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhatha Chala Gaya
Har Phikr Ko Dhuen Mein Udaata Chala Gaya
Barbadion Ka Shok Manana Fizul Tha
Barbadion Ka Jashn Manata Chala Gaya
Har Fikr Ko Dhuen Mein Uda…”
It means: “I played along and went with the flow of Life, I blew (smoked) away all my worries…To grieve over misfortunes are a waste, so I celebrated my misfortunes and blew (smoked) away my worries…”
“Kabhie Kabhie” (1976)
“Mein Har Ik Pal Ka Shayar Hoon,
Har Ik Pal Meri Kahaani Hai,
Har Ik Pal Meri Hasti Hai,
Har Ik Pal Meri Jawaani Hai”
It means: “I am the eternal poet, my story is eternal, I am in every moment, my youth is in every moment.”
“Pyaasa (1957)
Yeh Kuche Ye Nilam Ghar Dilkashi Ke
Yeh Lutthe Hua Caravan Zindagi Ke
Kahan Hai Yeh Muhafiz Khudi Ke
Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Par, Woh Kahan Hai”

I won’t even attempt a translation. It is impossible to translate the pain and the pathos in this verse into English. The song portrays the sentiments of the main protagonist of “Pyaasa”, Guru Dutt, who, while passing through a red light area, laments at how the selflishness of man, the greed for a woman’s body, ruins so many lives…and he asks, where are those who feel proud of India, when we can’t even protect the dignity of our women? Hearing Mohd. Rafi’s rendition of this song, it is said that the then Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was moved to tears.
“Dhool Ka Phool” (1959)
“Tu Na Hindu Banega, Na Musalmaan Banega
Tu Insaan Ki Aulaad Hai, Insaan Banega”
This verse was penned by Sahir based on the post-Partition experiences that he had been through. He had briefly shifted to Lahore, after Partition (he was born Abdul Hayee in 1921 and Sahir Ludhianvi is his pen name), but he could not bear being away from his Hindu and Sikh friends. So, he returned to Bombay, via Delhi. The song means: “You will not be a Hindu, nor a Muslim, you were born human, so you will be (a) human…!”
Sahir’s poetry lives on, long after he’s gone. It’s 34 years now. But each of his songs are relevant even today. In a way, his Life and his verse, are his message. And the learning is that if we can express ourselves, in whatever way we can, our Life’s work too can be meaningful – not just when we are alive, but also be remembered even after we’re gone!