|Image from DCBooks|
Title: Why I am a Hindu
Author: Shashi Tharoor
Publisher: Aleph, 2018
“The harm religion does when it is passionately self-righteous – wars, crusades, communal violence, jihad – is arguably greater than the benefits religion produces when it does well (teaching morality, answering prayers, providing balm to troubled souls).” That is one of the concluding remarks in Shashi Tharoor’s latest book, Why I am a Hindu. The book takes a very intellectual and simultaneously pragmatic view of the author’s religion.
The book is divided into three sections: My Hinduism, Political Hinduism, and Taking Back Hinduism. The first section tells us what Hinduism means to the author. It is both a personal interpretation of Hinduism and an objective presentation of what that religion really is (as distinguished from the distorted versions we get these days). The author’s admiration for his religion stems from his realisation that it is “the only major religion in the world that does not claim to be the only true religion.” Hinduism is not merely a religion of tolerance but one of acceptance. “Tolerance … implies that you have the truth, but will generously indulge another who does not… Acceptance, on the other hand, implies that you have a truth but the other person may also have a truth… (A)cceptance of difference – the idea that other ways of being and believing are equally valid – is central to Hinduism…” The first section draws heavily on the ancient scriptures and other texts to show why Hinduism deserves deeper attention than what it is getting today. It does not hesitate to question certain serious drawbacks of the religion too like the caste system and the god market spawned by fake gurus before presenting some “great souls” like Adi Shankara, Ramanuja, Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi.
Section Two is a trenchant critique of the version of Hinduism called Hindutva that is currently gaining ascendancy in the country. The very titles of the two chapters in this section will give a clear indication of what they are about: ‘Hinduism and the Politics of Hindutva’ and ‘Beyond Holy Cows: The Uses and Abuses of Hindu Culture and History’. Savarkar, Golwalkar and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya are surgically dissected by Tharoor before he takes up the “Travesty of Hinduism” peddled by the Sangh Parivar today. The most sublime ideals of Advaita vision have been trampled upon in order to impose an “Islamicized Hinduism” on the nation. This new Hinduism (Hindutva) “rests on the atavistic belief that India has been the land of the Hindus since ancient times, and that their identity and its identity are intertwined.” The books reveals the hollowness of this identity politics.
The last section is brief comprising of just one chapter of about 30 pages which bring the various themes already discussed into a neat conclusion. The quote with which this review begins is taken from that section. The last subheading in the book is: ‘A Religion for the 21st Century.’ Philosophically Hinduism, with its openness to new truths and acceptance of other truths, would be the ideal religion for the 21st century. Unfortunately, however, the present custodians of that religion are taking it backward to the darkness of the medieval period. “Lead me from darkness to light” is the last but one line of Tharoor’s book, a line from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.
“I am a Hindu who is proud to offer such a religion to the world,” says Tharoor in the last page. The book vindicates the claim. It shows why religion will be hollow and even dangerous unless it is internalised by the believers. Without internalisation, religion will merely be a tool for political or personal aggrandisement. Properly internalised, religion unfolds the infinite mysteries of the divine.
I would recommend this book to every Indian, Hindu or non-Hindu (as the nation stands divided today). The Hindus can understand their own religion better and the non-Hindus can examine their self-righteous claims against the broad vision of Hinduism.
I am a non-believer though I participate in certain religious rituals as part of my job or out of loyalty to the tribe. My disbelief has come from my personal studies, reflections and experiences as well as my genetic make-up. But I don’t impose my disbelief on anyone. Neither do I appreciate anyone trying to foist his/her beliefs on me. I am totally with Tharoor when he advocates “acceptance” of other people’s beliefs as long as they are genuine quests. It is the genuineness of Tharoor’s views and beliefs that makes his book a great work.