Book review by Debraj Mookerjee

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Title: The Hindu Way – An Introduction to Hinduism
Author: Shashi Tharoor
Publisher: Aleph; 2019

​At sixty-four (though he does not look his age), the last thing you wish to remind readers about Shashi Tharoor, diplomat, litterateur and now politician, is that he was once a prodigy. But indeed, he was. An outstanding achiever in college, he graduated with history in 1975 from St Stephen’s College, Delhi, where he was elected president of the student union, and also helped found the Quiz Club. By 1976, he had an MA in International Relations from The Fletcher School at Tufts University in the US. In 1977, he earned a master’s in law and Diplomacy, and in 1978, at age 22, he was awarded a Ph.D. at Tufts. After a three-decade old career with the United Nations, Tharoor decided it was time he tried his hand in politics. At the UN he has played referee; it was time to actually start playing the game by taking to the field. Sought by all political parties, he decided to join the Indian National Congress. He has since won two consecutive terms to the Indian Parliament from his parent state of Kerala.

The Hindu Way, his twenty-first publication, embodies a bit of everything that represents him. It reveals the extent of his scholarship and knowledge, especially on a subject that is difficult and complex and diverse (Hindu philosophy presents deep challenges even to lifelong scholars). It marks out the territory he wishes to reach by way of an international readership that might be interested in discovering the tenets of Hindu thought. And most significantly, it foregrounds Tharoor the politician. More on the third and final assertion later, for that is almost the real story within this story. And nothing​, ​ please​, ​ on the numerous controversies that have underlined his journey through public affairs; this is a book review, not a vanity piece.

Among his numerous nonfictional works, perhaps the most interesting and widely regarded ​is​ the 2016 book that emerged from the 5 million YouTube views his Oxford debate participation of 2015 earned, wherein he tore into the colonial exploitation of India with panache, marshalling facts and subtle arguments to disrobe all pretence that British rule in India might have donned.  An Era of Darkness (2016) published in the UK as Inglorious Empire (2017) solidified an opinion held by many – Tharoor’s years spent with the UN were not wasted; he brings great nuance and arguments into the public sphere with linguistic elegance that is matched by few. In 2018, he published Why I am a Hindu. The Wikipedia entry on the work is spot on, “Tharoor intended the book to be a repudiation of Hindu nationalism, and its rise in Indian society, which relied upon an interpretation of the religion which was markedly different from the one with which he had grown up, and was familiar with. In seeking to address this concern, he wanted to position the debate as one within the Hindu faith, and therefore wrote about his own personal identification with the religion.”

At a press conference last month, the Islamic Foundation of India announced their decision to build a mosque in Sahranpur  that would outdo all others in splendour. The foundation plans to collect Rs 100 crore from the 10 crore Muslims  who vote in India. This money will be used to build a bulletproof, earthquake proof mosque with engineers brought in from Belgium. The structure will be made of glass, wood, steel, silver and gold with 11000 laser lights adding to the glitter, they claim. In this essay, read what Sahitya Akademi Winner Ather Farooqui has to say.

 

Let me begin by bluntly saying that to criticize any issue, however fake or farcical it is, related to Islam is quite dangerous. Indian Muslims are quite averse to any introspection even regarding the worst social evils; unfortunately no Muslim organization that has an impact on Muslim minds tries to address this. The role of religious leadership in this regard has been along expected lines.

A significant chunk of literate Muslims, particularly the neo-educated, are no different from, rather worse than, the erstwhile elite which was pro-establishment. Of these educated Muslims, the alumni of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), who still take pride in calling themselves Old Boys, form a sizeable portion. Their association world over is officially called AMU Old Boys Association with few exceptions of AMU Alumni Associations.

Clearly, they don’t consider girls a part of society. Educational backwardness of the community is the subtext of every discussion on Muslims, without any effort to address it. For example, AMU alumni across the world relish a grand dinner on the birth anniversary of the founder Syed Ahmad Khan every year. If they remember their founder over a cup of tea and spend the same amount on education, they can build a university every ten years or establish at least three functional intermediate inter colleges in different parts of India.

Apart from marriage and other institutions, we see wastage of money by the impoverished community on the same pattern as the Hindu middle class. The ugliest among them is the tradition of animal sacrifice on Eid.

I am in no way criticizing the right of sacrifice on Eid-ul Azha, popularly known as Baqar-e Eid or Bakar-e Eid, where flaunting money on most expensive goats has now become fashion more than religious duty. This can be rationalised in two ways: sacrifice male goats that are reasonably priced, and, in case of families with many members who are obliged to make a sacrifice, replace the goats with a buffalo. The calculation is simple; one buffalo can be sacrificed for seven people. Not all seven need to be from the same family. So, any seven people can contribute. It was a trend some twenty years ago, but now it is a social stigma even for those who cannot afford mutton for guests in the normal course. Worst is the competition to sacrifice the most expensive goats.

I was not surprised when, about fifteen days ago, after the debate on the Supreme Court Ayodhya judgment had subsided, there was an announcement from the people of Saharanpur about building a grand glass mosque with a hundred crore budget. It was all over the media, but did not attract attention of the social media tribe that started the day abusing the RSS or making mockery of the Prime Minister and the BJP government.

All in all, Saeed Naqvi’s new book titled Being the Other: The Muslim in India is a great contribution to understanding the making of Modern India and how the political economy succeeded in creating a divide among Hindus and Muslims.

By Amir Ullah Khan

Being the OtherIt is such a coincidence that I got to read Saeed Naqvi’s new book titled Being the Other: The Muslim in India (Aleph, 2016) just as we were getting ready to submit our report to the Chief Minister of Telangana. I have been a member of a committee set up by the state government to look into socio-economic inequalities and deprivation among Muslims. The question that we were asked to address was whether reservations in educational institutions and government employment be extended to the Muslim community or not. The report is ready and am sure will be debated over the next few days.

Saeed Naqvi’s book too discusses the various factors our report looked into. It was fascinating to read his book with its amazing insight into what being Muslim in India means today. For someone who has watched the last 7 decades of independent India closely, and written prolifically on the same, Naqvi is a rare breed. This book, partly autobiographical, partly lyrical, journalistic and descriptive, is a vivid account of the journey of a community within a nation.

Amitav Ghosh
Amitav Ghosh

Padma Shri awardee author Amitav Ghosh said that he will not vote for Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Speaking to a new channel, the author said that for him Modi was someone culpable for the Gujarat riots of 2002.

The acclaimed author said that it was horrifying for him to see the way Hindu nationalism was being merged with politics.