My conversation with dancer and Thirupaavai Upanyasam expert Zakir Hussain for my ‘The Happiness Road’ Series that appears in DT Next every Sunday. Read the conversation on the DT Next page here. ‘The Happiness Road’ is also my next Book. Photo Credit: Vinodh Velayudhan
“Being myself is happiness to me”
There’s an endearing quality about Zakir Hussain. He doesn’t mince his words. And he’s clear about who he is and what he does. “Being myself is happiness to me,” he says as we sit down for this conversation at the legendary Krishna Gana Sabha. He was born and raised a Muslim, he went to a Christian Mission school and he devoured Andal’s Thirupaavai out of sheer passion. So, who then is the real Zakir? “My bliss is to inspire audiences to soak in the beauty of Andal’s Life and the message of Vaishnavism while promoting secularism. I am blessed that my profession and my passion blend to give me boundless inner joy,” explains Zakir.
Even so, I wonder how he manages the pressure and challenges of being a Muslim, a male Bharatanatyam dancer and also one who is a Thirupaavai Upanyasam expert. “Every moment, you are facing and overcoming challenges. So, I don’t single out my identity and calling to conjure up a special challenge there. Yes, what I do may appear to be unusual. But I am doing it to spread harmony, to inspire people to be happy being who they are. I don’t see anything wrong. If someone has a problem with it, I just let them be. I don’t see any need to justify anything. Discretion is the key to happiness,” he says.
Zakir adds that living your Life in full public view means that critique and criticism are unavoidable. “When people’s remarks hurt me, I sleep over them to douse my anger. Silence is a good weapon. No one can fight anyone’s silence,” he points out, laughing heartily.
But why exactly does he dance or spread Andal’s message through his Upanyasams? “I am convinced that I am able to be in communion with the divine. You must live in this real world and experience divinity here, in the now. That’s what happens to me when I dance or when I deliver Upanyasams. I see myself as offering my mind, body and soul to the divine. I become that,” avers Zakir.
As a parting line, he reiterates that he is not unique: “I truly believe that we can all learn to be happy and content with who we are, with what we have, when we carry in us the constant awareness of our impending, unavoidable, death.”
That truth about Life is like Zakir himself is – unputdownable!
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.
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.