LITERARY CORNER: WHY I AM A HINDU by Shashi Tharoor

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–Read India Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.

WHY I AM A HINDU’

by Shashi Tharoor

Publisher Aleph

Year of publication: 2018

    The price of the book is Rs 699. It’s a 300 page book loaded with some palpable stuff—quite typical of Shashi Tharoor. The book has three main chapters divided into seven sub chapters.

    It starts off quite well with the author glossing over reasons as to why he decided to write this book. Where, he takes you through the essence of Hinduism, but not so much through the rituals but essentially through the religious-socio-cultural plank. He gets into meticulous detailing such as how a Sanskrit word ‘Jagannath’ came to be known as ‘Juggernaut.’ He takes you through the Bhakti movement. He talks about the Advaita Vedanta, the vedic learnings with lots of anecdotes—interesting ones. He describes in great detail the wisdom of Swami Vivekananda and Adi Shankracharya. Talks about his own childhood entangled in Hinduism. The ‘sanskars’ that he got from his parents. While Shashi loves Hinduism he admonishes Hindutva in his hot narration.

    The author, initially appears, quite as a baby faced admirer and a harmless volunteer of Hinduism till around page hundred and forty. But thereafter he changes gear and moves into the domain of political Hinduism.

    Where, he goes unsparingly after Savarkar, Golwalkar and Deen Dayal Upadhyay all stalwarts of the Sangh Parivar. And, as expected of Shashi Tharoor, he does make, a piercing commotion about the atrocities committed by the British Raj on Hinduism, but remains somewhat vague about the atrocities of the Muslim invaders, perhaps, offering them benefit of doubt. He feigns or genuinely believes Hindus are large hearted or even dodos, and will never react to the persecution that they were subjected to at the hands of the British Raj and the devious invaders, even in a millennium which is not quite clear. While he allows Deen Dayal Upadhyay to pass off as a more tolerable face of the Sangh Parivar. For Savarkar and Golwalkar, he projects unalloyed despise rising up to hate, but doesn’t really touch Hedgewar the founding Sangh Chalak even with a bargepole.  Shashi cannot imagine leave alone believing that RSS may have been an initial emotional reaction to the atrocities of the British Raj and the Islamization during Jinnah before and even after the partition. Just as Islamization could have been a reaction to American atrocities on the Muslims as believed by many and not some. And why forget the fascism of Europe that arose primarily because of Communism.

    Beyond page 140 the author shows his real face and that is his attack on Hindutva. The point that he makes is about the ancient Indian culture of hospitality where India has always been a great host to all communities. The population of India is 80% Hindus but they have always looked after the minority communities in terms of Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and others. When you cruise through the book further what becomes more apparent is that Hindutva is the brain child of RSS. And till the time Congress was well in control of India the Indian society was an Utopia and now it has become a dystopia. The book is excellent in terms of narration and flow. And is action packed with all the appreciated fantasies of the Congress regime. Yet, I was left with the following gaps for which I did not find answers or were the answers held back. I really don’t know?

   The book has a good spread of Hinduism’s history but lacks in precipitating/ Hindu emotions because of obvious reasons. It churns out great details about Hinduism yet it does make you feel a depreciated Hindu. The author talks about large scale conversion of Hindus, at the hands of Muslims and even Christians but at the same time is short of saying that both Muslims and Christians are fanatics in that manner.

    Although, he goes after Hindutva with a gun yet he doesn’t give any plausible explanation as to why Hindutva flourished in the last 25-30 years. Was it a pent up emotional need of the Hindus or the failure of Congress party that ruled for so many years. All he does is to blame the Sangh and the BJP. The author having criticised the BJP and the Sangh so vehemently, should have suggested a socio-religious-cultural alternative to BJP which he hasn’t. Muslims have their mosque and Christians their Church but where do Hindus go barring their defining book Gita. And is BJP a reaction to 70 years of Congress rule is the question the author needs to answer to complete the book? BJP has come up through a democratic process. It started with just two seats in the parliament and now occupies almost a full house. If all was going so well for the Hindus in India why did Hindutva gain so much ground. For which there is no elaborate answer from the author barring the cliché of the divisive policy of the RSS and BJP.

    Book is a little too much to digest in one go for an average reader. It’s outright verbose—Shashi Tharoor style. And yes read it with a pinch of salt. The book leans towards Congress. In which he has mixed society, religion and politics. It has excellent flow and detailing. Author admits his erudite team has also helped him in this narration. A large part of the book is all about RSS and BJP bashing. Though India is projected well in the eyes of the world, which, Shashi always does. The first half and even all along, the book is all about the uniqueness of Hindu religion. It covers the Sikh riots in just about half a paragraph just because Congress was to blame for it. Whereas, he criticizes forcefully the doctrine of Hindutva. And mildly conveys about the invaders who came and plundered India from time to time. He sings the same old tune of secularism. He compares India with Pakistan. In Pakistan all non-Muslims have it written on their passports as non-Muslims, signifying they are second rate citizens.

    The book doesn’t reveal the dynamics of an evolving society. One will agree, Hindutva was not in the agenda of things when India got independence. But obviously, there have been factors that propagated the concept of Hindutva later on. Intermittently Shashi criticizes the caste system propagated by the Britishers and subsequently upheld by the Congress party.

    Author doesn’t accept Hindutva as a reaction to Muslim radicalisation. And even fails to say that if Muslim radicalisation continues there is a likelihood of Christian radicalisation too, maybe not in India but in various Christian majority states of the world.

    The book is excellent in terms of detailing and of course the content, language and the flow.

    But surprisingly, it nowhere deciphers between the temperaments of Hindus settled in south and the ones in the north who mostly took the wrath of these Muslim invaders.

    Towards the final chapters the author takes you through some iconic inventions in the realm of Hinduism and Science, especially the inventions of numerals in terms of Shunya or zero. At one point he also tries to justify the invaders and that includes the Mughals starting from Babar. He compares them with the Britishers only to say that Britishers took the loot to their own country whereas, the Muslim invaders spent it here in India. Then he goes on to talk about holy cows, changing the name of Aurangzeb road and even the independence movement.

    Overall it’s an excellent read if you don’t mind the politics that the book generates. I would give the book eight out of ten for the content, detailing, information, language flow and of course Shashi’s guts in being one-sided and the frankness.

By Kamlesh Tripathi

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https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

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