You don’t always have to respond to every opinion with your own!
My Blogpost yesterday, I have shed my Hindu affiliation to reclaim my right to being just human, elicited a couple of interesting responses. One person felt that I was being “unfair to my roots”. Another felt that I need not necessarily be giving up my Hindu affiliation to reclaim my right to being just human. To both messages, which came on WhatsApp, I just replied with a “:)”!
I have realized that in matters related to personal opinion and preference, a “:)” works best. Ideally, just silence should do. But in a WhatsApp and FB Messenger era, a “:)” works just as well.
Just 10 years ago, I was different. I was always vociferous with my opinion. I remember having an ugly spat some years ago with my school friend at a restaurant, even as a class reunion party was on, when he ridiculed the former Indian Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh as “Maun”mohan Singh! I have often had abrasive and violent run-ins with my mother over fighting her opinions. And at other times I have cooked within myself when I have not been able to express my opinion to someone – either because I feared the consequences of saying what I felt or I did not want to hurt them with my views.
But the past decade has taught me a valuable Life lesson. Which is to respect the right that others have to their opinion. I have learnt that just as I am entitled to my opinion others are too. While on the one side I now realize that I need not always be right, on the other, I see great value in not even wanting to be seen as right – even if there is ample opportunity to prove my point of view.
This does not mean that you must not express yourself. Of course, you can and you must. You must say what’s on your mind and say it straight – without mincing words. But any counter to your view does not necessarily merit a rejoinder. I feel that just remaining silent in response to another’s opinion is a very intelligent response. And, as in the case of responses to my Blogpost yesterday, if a “:)” can embellish the silence, all the better!
How do you stay sane in our beloved, insane, Incredible India?
Sonu Nigam’s point about “forced religiousness”, being woken up by azaan (the Islamic call to prayer), had me thinking. I too support the view that in a country like India where we have been secular and plural in our culture for centuries, we cannot be waylaid by hysterical, loud expressions of religion. But this is India. Every street corner has a temple or a mosque or some place of worship. And all year round some festival or tradition gets the high-priests of religion in each neighborhood to champion their God, and more so their clout, to gain mileage for their communities. The loudspeaker on the Indian street is a ubiquitous fixture – it is like stray dogs and cattle or garbage – how can we ever get rid of these? And we certainly can’t expect intelligent discourse on this matter by tweeting to express ourselves. Not with the trolling janta lying in wait to pounce on you and shred you the moment you utter a word or make a point that holds up a mirror to them or that’s inconvenient for them to accept.
And this is not about religion or freedom of expression alone. This is not just about one’s right to peace and privacy either.
It is about the insane Indian culture that declares that hum-toh-aise-hain-bhaiyya, we-are-like-this-only, in the way we conduct ourselves in public. Where there are a million stimuli that assault your senses when you walk the streets. Where every solution in public interest has a thousand problems popping up to prevent or delay its implementation. Where there is scant respect for an individual’s right to privacy and dignity in public spaces. Where sound, fury and mob behavior rule the roost in everything online surely – but hold us hostage on our streets as well. Where we are, as a people, irreverent, insensitive and uncouth about the way we walk, talk to each other or into our mobile phones, park, drive, dispose garbage, relieve ourselves, stand in queues or walk our pets. Where the very way in which we are Indian today demands a review, a critique and repair.
So, how do you stay sane and anchored in our beloved, insane, Incredible India?
The answer is pretty simple – breathe deeply, take it easy, let go and move on. India is not a spiritual country anymore in the sense that it once may have been hundreds of years ago. But India offers you the ability to turn deeply spiritual. If you respond to every provocation that you receive here on our streets, from your neighborhood, from the way you are governed to the way you are transported, you will lose your sanity. And if you try to protest, or if you want to strive to drive change in public behavior and attitude, you will be pounced upon, shredded, trampled on and soon left, battered, beaten, licking your wounds. So, the only way out is to steel yourself.
Practice detached determination. Be clear about what change you want to see around you. Be that change yourself first. But be detached – don’t whine, don’t lament, don’t preach, don’t indulge in activism. Fight the system, legally, constitutionally, if you will, but without expectations. Train yourself to focus only on your efforts and never on the outcomes. Which is why I feel everyday living in India offers you a great spirituality opportunity. To be in this world – and yet be above it! To be shaken, but not stirred!! To be touched perhaps, but not moved!!!
And in case you are not inclined to fight the good fight, if you are not the sort that wants to contribute to saving or changing a system, then just practice plain, good ‘ol detachment. Again, don’t fret or fume, don’t lament or complain, and don’t offer perspective on the rot, any rot, if you are not contributing to fix it yourself.
I am not being defeatist here. I am not even saying India is beyond redemption. A billion+ Sonu Nigams must bloom for change to happen…until then…all I am saying is, here’s an opportunity to train yourself spiritually – to be detached, to be determined in a quiet way, to drop anchor and be peaceful within you first. When you turn peaceful, you conserve energy – that you may well deploy in your fight, in case you plan to take one up. And even if you don’t (want to) fight, when you are at peace, your world immediately ceases to agitate you!
Affiliation to a God or a religion or a ritual is a personal choice.
The administrator of my apartment block’s facilities came by the other morning. He wanted a contribution of Rs.100/- that the apartment owners’ association was collecting to conduct a puja and distribute prasadam to the poor and needy. I told him that I don’t make any contributions in the name of God, religion or rituals. He seemed a bit lost with my reply. It was evident he wasn’t expecting that response from me. So I explained to him that I preferred in celebrating the God within each one of us, in bowing to humanity than being part of any practice that was divisive and bred either a superiority complex or instilled fear among people. My perspective was lost on him, surely. I guess he must have gone back and simply reported to the management committee of the association that I refused to pay up. And the members of that committee may have drawn their individual inferences from my decision.
But I couldn’t care less.
I am fine with feeding the poor and needy. We must all support and be there for each other. But why bring our efforts under the umbrella of religion? Why bring God into the picture? God is a personal concept. Affiliation to a God or a religion or a ritual is a personal choice. And that’s how it must be. Inviting God into our social contexts, into culture, is what’s messing things up. Which is why I ask, why color any socially relevant, beneficial initiative with this God thing?
I see it like this. I am not sure if there is “a” God like the way it is popularly perceived. But I do know that there is a Higher Energy that is powering the Universe. An Energy that is clearly beyond human comprehension. So, if we just offer whatever we do to the Universe, to this Higher Energy, it is enough. Why do we want to label this Energy? Simply, the breath that each of us takes, what keeps us alive, is the same. You don’t live any longer or problem-free because you have a Hindu breath or a Muslim breath or Christian breath. In the grand, beautiful, inscrutable scheme of Life’s design, religion and God, are totally irrelevant. It appears to me that humans have invented religion and God to control each other. So, no God or religion for me please, thank you! I simply surrender to this Higher Energy a.k.a Life and I am humbled being able to serve humanity in my own, limited, small way.
I certainly believe the time has come for us to stop complaining about the rot in our social fabric and culture and instead do something about it. Anything that pits one human being against another on the grounds of God, religion, rituals, caste, race or creed, must be expunged from the face of this planet. My thinking and effort may be too irrelevant, and laughable too, but at least it makes me happy that I am able to make a small contribution to make our world a better, inclusive, pluralistic, place.
Your friends’ attitudes are what you need to review when associating with them, not their economic backgrounds or their religious affiliations.
A former colleague, who is also connected with me on Facebook, posted on his wall that he was deleting a bunch of his Muslim friends. Reason: he felt they were anti-Hindutva. Facebook seems to have promptly deactivated his account. And I don’t blame Facebook. I think it is high time we dumped parochial perspectives and embraced a purely human outlook to people and Life.
First, let us understand who we can call a friend. Just because you grew up knowing somebody, it is not necessary that they must share your opinions or outlook. It does not also mean that they don’t have a right to change over time. What is important is to know that just as you are entitled to your opinion, others are too. And just as you have changed, others have changed, and will change, too.
I learnt this lesson the hard way. A school buddy and I went drinking three years ago. When, after the drinking bout, which involved downing several pegs of whiskey and vodka between us, he insisted on riding his motorbike to go back home, I stopped him. He got angry with me, asked me to mind my own business and slapped me. I still stood my ground and, much to his chagrin, asked a cop – who had joined us by then – to seize my friend’s vehicle. The cop seized the motorbike, issued a charge to my friend, asked him to pay a fine and collect the vehicle the next day. Although I did not have money with me, I still arranged for the fine amount to be reached to my classmate the next day. He had his vehicle released, using the money I sent him, of course, but he launched a tirade against me in the online school group we were both part of; he unfriended me on Facebook and sent me a mail saying that I must, in future, mind my own business. I was distraught. I acted to save a friend from committing hara-kiri and in the process I seem to have lost his friendship. That’s when another classmate from school, who knew both of us, called up and told me this: “Don’t worry about losing his friendship. You must know that some people are probably not worth being friends with, because they are no longer the same people we once knew.”
Over time, I came to understand and value this perspective immensely – people will change and your friends will change too. If their attitude to Life – which is, their value systems, social outlook, personal integrity – is not in sync with yours anymore, you need to learn to quietly move on.
So, in such contexts, where – and why – does religion come in? Just because one Muslim friend, or a few, have a non-secular outlook, it doesn’t mean all Muslims are that way. Or for that matter how can we ever say that all Hindus are secular either? I believe any argument that bases itself on religion must be expunged. We already have geographies and nationalities dividing us. We also have racism to deal with. So, why do we need religion in the way now?
Let’s not color our personal relationship choices basis divisive factors and forces. Friendship is where there is dignity and space provided to each other. Friendship is when you can speak your mind and not be judged. It is when you can agree to disagree. Friendship is when empathy thrives. And true friendship does not get colored by race, economic background or religious affiliations. If these do get in the way, evaluate the so-called friendship. Review if the person you are connected with is truly a friend. Please don’t blame any religion or community for the way your one ‘friend’ is behaving. That’s one fresh, divisive issue our world can do without!