Traveler

Take me to apple orchards,
For walks in lavender fields
Show me colors so idyllic
Make me forget darkness
On the road and in my destiny!
Adorn me with terracotta jewels
Trinkets of clay, as sublime, fragile
As my soul that will discard
All that seems so precious today!

Wadda Beparwah – The Great Uncaring One

A Brief Reprise of Khushwant Singh’s Neo-Religion

Khushwant Singh, the famous writer, was infamous in socio-religious circuits as a proclaimed agnostic. His intellectual mind continuously questioned the existence of God – the Creator, Preserver, Destroyer, and Supreme Judge – and of the proclaimed spiritual superiority of gurus and godmen. I have explored two of his writings on the subject – Agnostic Khushwant: There is No God and Gods and Godmen of India – and created a summary of his proposition of a new religion.

Born and brought up in a traditional Sikh family, Khushwant Singh was exposed to traditional nuances of religion and customs, since his birth. In college, Khushwant’s fertile mind “began to question the value of these rituals.” At the same time he read books of other religions and recognized common patterns and thoughts in major world religious philosophies. His thirsting heart absorbed the words and his inquisitive mind delved deeper into scriptures, but his soul remained uninspired by religion. “No religion evoked much enthusiasm in my mind. By the time India gained Independence on 15 August 1947, I had gained freedom from conformist religion and openly declared myself an agnostic.

Yet, religion dominated Khushwant Singh’s life as he sought to meet men of religion, proclaimed spiritual gurus, religious practitioners, writers and followers on the subject, both in India and overseas. He grew to uphold the thoughts and philosophies of a few, like the teachings of the Brahma Kumaris, some of the ideas of Osho Rajneesh and His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, and the social service ethics of Mother Theresa. None could answer his question on the existence of God. He sought a scientific answer and rejected the theory of Karmic debt and afterlife as non-scientific. He wrote, “Believers would have to fly across to God on the magic carpet of faith. We agnostics would like a solid, concrete bridge of reason to cross over from the known to the unknown.”

In his opinion, the world was seeking out a God that was best described as the “Wadda Beparwah” else how could one explain the injustice, crime, poverty, unhappiness, illness and lowly human conditions around the world. And when men’s prayers were unanswered by the Great Uncaring One, man resorted to rituals, practices, and communal prayer to stir the mercy of their Gods.

It is interesting to note that while Khushwant Singh denounced established religions and their concept of God, he was not against the concept of religion. He asserted that the current religions practiced around the world were obscure and failed to fulfill any purpose, other than achieving material gains. He was in favor of starting a cult, a neo-religion that was based on individual goodness, social welfare and a back to Nature theme.

Khushwant Singh observed, “Most men and women who deny God are to my knowledge more truthful, helpful, kinder and more considerate in their dealings with others that men of religion.” He was trying to probably say that lack of bigotry, fanaticism, and single-minded devotion to a God or a religion made people more open to accept the concepts of brotherhood and goodness of the human. His experiences showed that men of religion would commit sins – steal, lie, hurt others, even kill – in the name of religion and then go on a pilgrimage or ask forgiveness from their Almighty! It is the double-standards of men professing religiosity that never failed to amuse Khushwant Singh. The distortion of religious texts and of spiritual messages, to meet materialistic ends, remained his greatest grouch against men of religion and godmen.

His personal religious principles encompassed practical aspects like reducing the population and he endorsed harsh measures like sterilization after the birth of two children. He professed safeguarding nature, advocated planting trees and not felling trees to make houses and furniture. He spoke about abolishing the practice of cremation of the dead as it led to wastage of wood, and pollution of the holy rivers. He questioned observation of dietary rules, religious rituals and customs. He spoke openly against jagratas, satsangs, kirtans and chants over loudspeakers, religious processions, water immersion of idols, and religious individualism.

He wrote, “… major religious communities of India should strive so that various ethnic and other groups may live in peace and harmony.” He advocated cultivating true silence as a means of connecting with your inner thoughts. He wrote that the government should prohibit the building of any more places of worship, which often become the cause of idealistic and then violent conflict between religious communities. The doubting Sikh wondered how mortal gurus could be considered immortal by their followers, how people could believe in afterlife without scientific proof, how godmen rivalled each other and amassed wealth, often illegally, and how they professed detachment and renunciation but themselves wallowed in luxury and worldly affairs.

Khushwant Singh rejected communal prayer with the belief that prayer was a purely personal experience. “… prayer has power to infuse self-confidence but it can, and its often, known to achieve wrong ends…. Prayers are best said in solitude and should be addressed to oneself.” He says, “…stare into your own eyes and ask yourself, “Did I wrong anyone today?”” Prayer does not create miracles but the reassurance to face adversities. Prayer offered with a pure heart and without a desire to bargain can be effective. Laughter and joy can have the power of prayer and looked on the home as the only “legitimate place of worship.”

He postulated a work-ethic based religion, where there was no place for holy men, sadhus, yogis and anyone who lived off the earnings of others, unless physically disabled to make an earning. Community worship should be replaced with one-hour of daily, mandatory, community service and ecological work. He rejected vanprastha and sanyas, for a healthy man must be compelled to work until his mind and body are able to do so. Yoga, according to him, helped to reduce stress and restore mental balance.

Khushwant’s journey in seeking God and a true Godman is actually the quest of each intelligent human being who follows the path of righteousness, goodwill, harmony, and seeks peace and quietude. His new religion is the religion of very genuine social activist, every animal lover, and each individual who finds solace in the solitude and the beauty of nature. The agnostic Khushwant Singh was in essence a pronounced conservationist and avid nature lover with a deep faith in the goodness of human beings, who he believed were misled by the selfish proclivities of religious bigots. His own life was an example in fulfillment of the belief – “… the best way to spend your life on earth is to create something worthwhile which may live after you; nothing of lasting worth can be created except by ceaseless striving triggered off by an ever-active talatum mind.” (Talatum is Urdu for continuously crashing waves).

It would be interesting to ask him if he believed that each man had the potential to a God, to be a Messiah, a Savior and a Prophet, to be the Great Charioteer and to be the Ideal Follower of Rules. He would probably swirl the question on his tongue with a sip of Scotch and ask, … “why not be honest and admit ‘I do not know’?

Trolled

Let me now observe
Ongoings of our world
Has it gone insane
Or sloshed with disdain?
How has it replaced
All the love with hate!
When friends are foes
For opinions they spoke
Do we bury the voices
Or risk being trolled?
When men are up in arms
Do we cower or take a chance,
To make amends, to call out
The lies and cover ups
The slyness and mess ups!

Tempest of Hate

Frenetic winds of chaos
Blowing in our face
An ever-growing frenzy
Throwing us in a daze
Stunned, a few wonder
At this tempest of hate;
Where did we learn to
Speak in tongues false
Write in crooked ways
When did we go silent
And chose to turn away?
Is there hope still
For truth and trust,
To recover our lexicon,
Or all is lost in this storm?

Book Review: Yuganta, The End of an Epoch

Yuganta

I was drawn to this book primarily because of its name – Yuganta. The word carries a musical, soulful mystery – it is romantic, it speaks of history in gigantic (end of an epoch) terms, it promises insight into one of the greatest epics of Indian literature and religion – the Mahabharata.

Iravati Karve’s book is a storehouse of scientific and historical enquiry, of years of study and research, and deep-felt insight into the characters and the times of the Mahabharata. I confess to have found more than I had hoped for in this paperback. The Mahabharata was essentially a treatise of the life and times of certain people. It was a story told by ‘sutas’ or court bards, and further embellished by latter Brahmans and sutas, to make it an ever-growing epic.

Continue reading “Book Review: Yuganta, The End of an Epoch”

Nurturing a Young Blogger and Reader

My son and I have much in common – from our introvert temperament to love for reading and writing. Last summer during a long Covid19 lockdown in India, which was labelled by some media houses as one of the toughest, my son asked me about blogging. I explained it was an online journal, diary, or a place to share thoughts and stories and engage with like-minded followers.

I told him I used to blog and can set up a blog for him. That is how I restarted blogging in an all-new blog space, which is this, and he got a brand new blog – www.blackpenstrokes.wordpress.com. What I find endearing is that he still writes his “private journal” by hand. Though, I know it’s more to do with his love for stationery; again something he has acquired from me!

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Addiction

My mind melts, like ice on sherbet
Under a pink moon
In a summer glaze
A resolve that breaks
A resilience that fails
Poison on the rocks
Trickling into nooks
Golden liquid, crimson tears
Soothing with shallow intoxication
Pain of the mind, not of the soul!

Book Review: The Great Indian Novel

An Exercise in Self-Indulgence or a Supremely Intellectual Modern Satire

While going through a spate of reading mythological literature and fiction, I came across Amazon’s recommendation to read Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel. Curiosity made me purchase the novel and few pages into the book I was recommending it to all readers with similar book interests. The intricacies of word play and the liberal usage of intelligent pun made this a humorous and enthralling read. It stands high on the pedestal of a modern satire and is impressive.

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Balancing Act

I am wandering, wondering
How to balance life
To surrender or strive
To capture the moment
Or let the memories fly by!
In the space between thoughts
Where I often feel lost
I am seeking answers
To saunter, gallop, or stop?

Daily Grind

Sublime requests
Of my creative mind
Overturned by demands
Of a cerebral strife.
Shackled to cubicles,
Paints and brushes
Paper and ink
Yarn and hooks
Painfully exchanged
For butter and bread.
Amusing musings
Garrulous silence
Thoughts playing
Hide and seek in
My restive mind
Wanting to break free
Of the daily grind.
Unfinished pages now
Brittle and yellow
Mocking blank canvas
Waiting for a splatter
Of pictures and words.
My mind is where
I left the crochet hook
An unfinished work
I can’t wait to unravel
Start the lace afresh
As new patterns emerge.

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