It was an evening in the year 1968. Nandini Satpathy, then a Minister at the Centre, had invited a few litterateurs to meet her father, Kalindi Charan Panigrahi, the illustrious Odia writer on whom the Sahitya Akademi had just bestowed its highest honour, the Fellowship. The dozen-strong assembly included the noted Urdu poet Sajjad Zaheer. With Partition he had migrated to Pakistan, founded the Communist Party of Pakistan along with Faiz Ahmed Faiz, was jailed and was then back in India.
We sat talking when someone asked Zaheer what he wrote lately. He brought out a scrap of paper. “Not very long. Should I read?” he asked. “Of course!” we exclaimed. I was ready for an avalanche of ‘Socialist Realism’. But Jaheer’s mellow voice sang the glory of Krishna, his flute eternal that transcends time and space and continues to vibrate in a million hearts.
For the poet in Zaheer the Krishna myth was not the monopoly of Hindus, but an inheritance of all the Indians. Passion for Krishna enlivens several evolved hearts though once in a while some of them
become known for wrong reasons, like the school girl from Meerut, Alia Khan. She charmed an audience by reciting the Gita at a UP Secondary Education Board function and the Ulemas of Deoband Darul Uloom lost no time in issuing a fatwa against her.
We wish the Ulemas to consider whether the girl’s action strengthened the goodwill between the two communities or not and be good enough to change their attitude. They must be knowing that the renowned poet Anwar Jalalpuri who died recently was fascinated by the Gita and translated it into Urdu. Those who heard Justice M M Ismail’s exposition of the Kamban Ramayana realised how such epic works were national heritage independent of any particular faith.
We cannot expect all to be as vast as Kazi Nazrul Islam, now the pride of Bangladesh, who sang of Mother Kali, for him the cosmic power, or some great Muslim musicians for that matter. That is their
personal mystic realisation. But to reject anything worshipped by the Hindus as untouchable by non-Hindus ought to be discouraged by progressive elements in all faiths. Just as a non-Hindu need not refuse to benefit by the Ganga or marvel at the Himalaya because the Hindus worship them, one should not, at the intellectual plane, avoid benefitting from certain spiritual innovations by the builders of Indian heritage simply because some Hindus practise them.
The taboo over Yoga had lately vanished – almost. But the taboo goes strong regarding another most powerful spiritual gift, the Mantra. Not all the abracadabra wearing that generic name, but some of
them, and the Mantric verses of the Gita and Upanishads are highly efficacious. A word is effective according to the consciousness behind its utterance. A word that causes anger could also arouse affection. What is wrong in accepting as hypothesis the theory that some words and sounds had been charged with a certain sublime power of consciousness by great mystics of an unknown past and that they produced a certain beneficent effect in those who uttered them? Let us consider the most recent
experience of the TV anchor Suhaib Ilyasi, a “devout Muslim” who, while in jail, kept reading and reciting the Gita and the Upanishads: “The teachings kept me strong, positive and motivated” and
“today I am free, not just in physical terms but also emotionally and spiritually.”
During the Swadeshi movement in the first decade of the twentieth century the greatest champion of the song “Vande Mataram” was a revered Muslim leader, Maulvi Liaquat Hossain. He inspired hundreds
of Hindu and Muslim youths to sing it while marching through the streets of Kolkata, day after day, till locked up by the British rulers. He believed that the song contained a Mantric power generating patriotic courage in the singer.
It is unfortunate that the Delhi Minorities Commission should take the North Delhi Municipal Corporation to task for advising the schools under it to teach the students the hymn Gayatri for reciting in their morning assembly. This Vedic hymn consisting of only twenty four letters articulates the basic human aspiration for enlightenment and for the potency inherent, awakens in one the urge and strength to rise above one’s petty self. Let us view the Vedas as Grace granted to humanity thousands of years before the race became classified as religious sects and we will be liberated from our prisons of bias.
Such prisoners are there among the Hindus in plenty. On the 22nd of October 1998 the then Education Minister of India convened a meeting of the State Education Ministers in Delhi. The moment the
invocatory hymn to Saraswati, the presiding spirit of learning, was sung, the learned Ministers belonging to the main opposition party created a ruckus, walked out and the programme ended, leaving the host undone. These standard-bearers of learning did not know that Saraswati preceded the institutionalised Hinduism; nor had they the culture to bear with a symbolic invocation. This
is symptomatic of the superficiality to which politicians as a class, even ministers for education, could lower themselves.
The latest instance of moral violence – or should we call it sectarian secularism? – comes from Srinagar. The State Education department had suggested the schools and colleges to buy for their libraries (not for teaching) Urdu and Kashmiri translations of the Gita and the Ramayana. But as some leaders protested
against patronising such “religious books”, the proposal stands withdrawn!
Let all of us benefit by the heritage left by the founding fathers of this civilisation; let us not let the Hindus alone claim it as theirs.