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.
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.
May many million Irrfans speak up – let there be a war on religion!
Religion was invented to serve as a good means to embrace spirituality. But, over time, the pundits, mullahs and other self-styled mandarins of religion, have made it a ritual-ridden mess.
Actor Irrfan Khan’s statements over the last 24 hours have been interpreted, analyzed and politicized way too vulgarly. His simple, yet sensible, perspective is lost amidst all the senseless din. Here’s what he says: 1. Ramadan is a time of self-introspection not mechanical fasting 2. ‘qurbani’ means sacrificing something dear to you – even a desire – and not mindlessly sacrificing animals ‘bought for a price from the market’. I believe the import of what Irrfan is saying is true not just of Islam but of all religions.
I have always found that what religious texts ask of us is to follow a path that leads us within; all of them advise that we go on journey of self-awareness and discovery. But what religious leaders do is to ritualize every action, induce fear in us and force us to follow ‘their’ way so that they can control us. And out of fear everyone toes the line, the leaders’ line, which is manipulated and presented as religious doctrine. I think if each of us sat down and introspected, we will all feel that being non-religious, non-ritualistic yet deeply spiritual is a more intelligent way to live – for it always leads us to inner peace and happiness.
Spirituality does not demand anything of you. You don’t need to fast. You don’t need to abstain. You don’t need to do this or do that. You don’t need to give up anything. You just need to be. Be aware. Be alive. And be in the moment.
I have nothing against Islam. It is a beautiful religion. Nor do I have anything against Hinduism. In fact, if you go back in history, Hindu is not even a religion it was a geography. The land to the east and south of the Indus river became ‘Industan’, then it became ‘Hindustan’ and all the people in this region became Hindus, just as they are called Indians now. I don’t know when exactly Hinduism as a religion came about but if want to still consider it as a religion, then I am of the opinion that it is a badly, irresponsibly, manipulated and championed religion. Not because of the philosophies that it leans on but because of the wily practitioners who claim to lead it today. I can go on and on about every religion this way. But that would mean giving undue importance to something that the world must get rid of.
So, I would say that we must welcome more saner voices like Irrfan’s. Let there be a mutiny of a different kind. Like what is being attempted against terrorism, the people of the world must unite and declare war on religion. Seriously. What we need now among us is global heartwarming. What we need now is good old bhai-chara, humaneness. Think about it: for each Selfie that we take, if we can invest the same amount of time in understanding our true Self, we can make both our inner and outer worlds, happier, peaceful and bountiful. That’s all it takes to be spiritual, that’s what it will take to get rid of religion!!!!
Make a personal effort today to make this world a better place to live in!
There is an urgent need for you – and me – to deliver compassion and spread harmony in the world.
The tragic bomb blasts in Brussels earlier this month shocked the whole world. I have been particularly numbed by the story of Raghavendran Ganeshan, a software engineer with Infosys, who was on the Brussels Metro when a suicide bomber blew himself – and the train – up. After over a week of harrowing anxiety – and hope – for the family, Raghavendran’s body finally arrived in Chennai a couple of days ago. The papers here reported his tragic story. I don’t know what to say or how to react. Who would have thought that a simple man, a young father, on his way to work to dutifully fulfil a client mandate in one of the most peaceful parts of the world, would meet such a horrific end?
Even so, I feel, the more distressed the world appears to be, the more hopeful we must all remain. As I await dawn on this promising Thursday, I remember an old Jewish story on when does dawn really happen? An old rabbi once asked his pupils how to tell when night ended and the morning began (which is the time for prayer). “Is it when you see an animal in the distance and know whether it’s a sheep or a dog,’’ asked one pupil. “No,” answered the rabbi. “Is it when you can look at a tree and tell whether it is a fig tree or a pear tree,” asked another. “No,” answered the rabbi. After a few more tries the pupils gave up. And they requested the rabbi to enlighten them. “It is dawn when you can look at the face of any man or woman and know that they are your sister or brother. Until then, it is still night,” explained the rabbi.
With so much strife in the world today, within families, communities, businesses, sporting teams, countries and even within ourselves, now is the time for each of us to make a personal effort to love creation and our fellow human beings. All Life is equal. Let’s each of us practice compassion and treat everyone we know, meet or pass by in Life with love, dignity and respect.