Jayendrina Singha Ray reviews Being Hindu: Old Faith, New World and You by Hindol Sengupta (Penguin Books, 2015)
Being Hindu is a book with an interesting cover, quite like the book itself. Blue in colour, the cover displays the picture of a performer dressed as the Hindu god Shiva; a preview to what the book holds for the reader. Which is what? Is it that of a person impersonating God — not treating God as “a distant, mythical entity” (165) but being God and yet ignorantly being Hindu?
Author of books like Recasting India (2014) and The Liberals (2012), Editor-at-Large at Fortune India, and the youngest and first Indian writer to be nominated for the Hayek Prize, Hindol Sengupta sets out to understand and negotiate in this work of non-fiction what it means to be a Hindu/what Hinduism is. Through a thorough research of the poly-faceted texts of Hinduism, simplified for the modern reader, Sengupta reiterates the essence in the book’s cover:
“Hinduism … begins with the idea of the perfection of man… the assumption that actually there is no difference between man and God…that every human has the potential to understand their own divinity and how it unites them with the universe, but usually one never discovers it. (58)”
Yet, as the book clarifies later, this potential divinity that a person shares with God is not “arrogance” but an act of realisation; and an acceptance of the fact that God is manifested in everything there is. Therefore, as the book explains, in Hinduism you worship everything from Nature to Human — as everything is considered a manifestation of the divine power. Hinduism accepts atheists, as to question is also considered a path to realising the divine. On this note, Sengupta reminisces about the Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda’s words that suggest that God can be found even in football, if the player immerses himself in it.