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Yearning to Get Back

January 24, 2010

A few years ago, I was going to a Hindu temple (I am not overtly religious but do go to a temple sometimes) when I saw two Muslim boys walking along. One of them seemed reluctant, the other’s curiosity was greater and he was insistent that they must go inside. I did not take heed to them till I entered the sanctum sanctorum and was in queue for the darshan. Those two boys were in front of me and were moving forward and soon they were in front of the priest who gives the charnamrit (holy water). The one who was more curious stepped forward and with folded hands bent to receive the blessings in form of charnamrit, and then the priest saw his skull cap and the Muslim attire.  He brushed them aside. Something snapped inside me. I had tears flowing down and I could not and perhaps did not want to go through the usual routine. I broke out of the queue and went back home. What kind of God was this that discriminated between human beings? This is not the Hinduism I know. I saw the look of hurt, rejection and a sense of loss in the faces of those two Muslim boys and the one who was reluctant was telling the other – ‘I told you so’! I was dejected, forlorn and there was a sense of guilt within me. A part of me died that day. The Hindu in me was ashamed. I still am.

What those two boys experienced, millions of non-Hindu Indians feel every day. That sense of being left out, being rejected and not being ‘themselves’. The Muslims and the Christians of this land are very much Hindu at heart. Hindus at one time called the ‘others’ ‘Malachich’ (the dirty ones), especially the British rulers. That was the kind of contempt they had for those who were not of their faith. That has subsided. There is more openness in the Hindu society. The other scourge is that of casteism, but that is another issue for another time, though not totally divorced from what I am saying right now.

The soul of India is Hindu. Every Indian is a Hindu by heart, whether he is a part of the fold or not. Most non-Hindu Indians have been converted either by force or by deceit and chicanery. There are very few who went out of the fold of their own volition.  Those who did, found that the monotheist religions were not quite as homogenous as they thought and that they carried the scourge of their caste with them to the new faith. And that the essence of the new faith was un-Indian – foreign. Caste is another factor. The good news is that Hindus are overcoming this barrier with every passing day. With better education and with better standards of living, caste is becoming a non-issue. There are inter-caste marriages galore, especially in the cities and it is impolite to ask ones caste these days.

Be as it may, there is a yearning among those who left the Hindu fold to come back to the religion of their forefathers. In effect they want to be at one with themselves. They want to be at peace with themselves and reassert their identity. Yesudas, the famous Malayali singer who happens to be a Christian, celebrates his birthday always at one of the famous Hindu temples of Kerela. He sings to Lord Krishna and is a bhakta (disciple) of the Dark one – Kanha. He requested the Sabrimala temple to allow him to sing to the Lord there, but his requests went unheeded. Once he went to one of the famous Kerela temple and after his visit the temple was ‘cleansed’ with Ganga Jal! What is this but parochialism? How does one define this but stupidity? Yesudas is perhaps a better Hindu than most of us. One of my childhood friends, who happened to be a Christian, remarked that he went to Hanuman temple one Tuesdays (as per the tradition). I am not sure whether he actually did, but what he was saying in effect was that he is a Hindu, deep down. What does one do but cry for these tormented souls?

There is more than that that we can do. We must open the gates to all and sundry to the faith. No one must be barred. The ISKON bhaktas understood Hindus better than most of us. They saw that this was a stupid bunch of people who took non-proselytism to an extreme. Even those who were forced to convert or those who were deceived into conversion were not allowed back – what chance had they being born into a western Christian nation of becoming Hindus? They knew they had to enter the order anyway. They started following the Hindu dress code and tonsured their heads with a shock at the back that is the Hindu way. They wore rudraksha and became Hindus anyway, following the Vedic way of life religiously. Were they barred? No. They were accepted and are welcome in all temples across the length and breadth of the country. They have now built temples across the country and here in Bangalore the biggest temple is the ISKON temple and is a landmark of the city. People of all hues go there and it is well managed, spick and span and very well organized. The ISKON management is largely made up of people from the west and the famous Christian/western propensity for order is the hall mark of these temples with clean lavatories and planned parking spaces. They are also doing yeoman service in feeding the poor with their Akshaya Patra scheme. I commend their planning and openness. And by the way, all are welcome to these temples. The moral of the ISKON story is – gatecrash because this is one party you can never get an invitation to. And the good news is that once you are in, all is well.

One of the foremost sons of India and a writer of eminence, Rahi Masoom Raza wrote the script of television serial Mahabharata that was aired and to which people remained glued to when it was first telecast in the early nineties. It was largely in chaste Hindi with a sprinkling of Sanskrit and steeped in the Vedic tradition. There are examples galore of people who were non-Hindus who have written and sung bhajans that have become a part of Indian popular music. Were they any less of Hindus than any of us? The young man who played Arjun in the serial Mahabharata was so consumed by the character that he forsook his Muslim name and named himself Arjun. Then there was one Muslim Maulvi who learnt Sanskrit and taught his pupils Sanskrit too. They were so good that they knew the shlokas better than their Hindu counterparts. Were they accepted into the fold? No, they were callously set aside. There are examples galore of men and women of this subcontinent who though not born into Hindu families found that their emancipation lay in the faith of the land. Must they not be allowed to come back to the fold? If they are not, we will be much the poorer. It is silly not to allow people who yearn to get back into the fold, not being welcome. This is criminal and an insult to one of the most humane religions of the world. Parochialism must give way to realism. I am sure that were they to come back to the fold, their respect for the faith that they have left behind will not diminish, but they will be at peace with themselves. Because that is what they are and that is what comes naturally to them. When they look inside themselves, they see their Indian self – their Hindu self and what they find on the outer shell is just not in consonance with their natural being. This dualism, this artificiality eats them away. They then begin to hate Hindus, for not allowing them to be what they want to be. These artificial walls need to be brought down. Let people be their natural self. It is true that we Hindis will never indulge in aggressive proselytism, but it would be myopic not to allow those who went away to come back. Were they allowed to come back there will be peace and tranquility in this beautiful country – Deva Loka (land of Gods), as Margaret Alva called this land the other day!!!

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