Mr. Chetan Bhagat,
Subject: With reference to Times of India article dated 01 November, 2013 titled ‘Being Hindu Indian or Muslim Indian’
Dear Mr. Bhagat,
Hope this letter finds you in the pink of your health. I was taught that this was a good way to start any letter written to anybody. I would also like to commend you on your success which has both mystified and inspired an entire generation of noughties babies. I thoroughly enjoyed reading ‘Five point someone’. The following titles didn’t really appeal to me, but that is just me as a reader. I would like to bring it to your attention that this correspondence is not meant to be one of the many mails you receive criticizing your work. Being a published author, I can only venture to imagine the hardships you underwent before reaching the coveted position you now enjoy in media and social consciousness.
I would also like to clarify that I am not writing this letter in response to one of your tweets, which again does a rather remarkable job of polarizing the people who follow them. Unfortunately, I am neither engaged in those debates nor do I encourage them. I find it to be in bad form to comment on a colleague with somebody outside the organization. I explain all this to you so that you do not rubbish the contents of this letter as another one of those disparaging mails. I am writing to you, because I got the impression that you wished to engage in a debate on the subject of religion in India. So, here is my rebuttal to your argument.
“One is always apprehensive about writing a column on religion. Most Indians don't discuss it in public, fearing misinterpretation. The only people who talk about religion are passionate extremists. Consequently, in our society extremists control our religion and politics panders to this.”
Yes, you are correct in your assessment that ‘apprehension’ is one of the key emotions one experiences when discussing things which stokes strong emotions. For Indians, it is not just limited to religion. I suspect that this sensitivity can be extended to their mothers, fathers, sexuality and integrity. But, I am presuming that when you say ‘talk’, you mean engage in a dialogue. Because, and this comes from personal experience, Indians love to enquire about religion, language, caste, creed, income, family history and other topics which constitute majority of data passing through the grapevine. Though, my biggest reservation is when you wrote “in our society extremists control our religion and politics panders to this”. This discomfort comes from not being aware of what you define as being “our” society and who you define as being an “extremist”. Our society at best behaves and resembles a complex virulent computer network. Where each node in the web, operating within its own boundaries of what is acceptable and unacceptable, occasionally interacting with other nodes to get the job done.
Yes, I agree that, important issues get sidelined, religious or otherwise because, the way we have evolved as a nation, as a congregation of multiple micro-ecosystems and not as a unified macro-ecosystem. I suppose, this is also one of the many reasons why scientists have found the human brain to be such a delightful mystery, mostly because there is no unifying theory of everything to define it or understand it.
Given the socio-economic flux, we as a nation have experienced since 1991-92, I don’t really think the youth quite grapple with confusion ‘about interpreting their own religion and its place in modern society’, more than their elder counterparts. I think the youth more than any other demographic is completely at ease with the chaotic uncertainty of today and tomorrow.
You pose the question “What is a Hindu supposed to be?” and you admit that there doesn’t exist any clear answer. But, you do venture to list out few “modern Indian Hindu values”. And I am quoting you here, “The modern Hindu prays to Hindu gods, celebrates a few Hindu festivals. He follows at least a few of the Hindu practices, which vary from person to person. He does not impose his beliefs, rituals and faith on anyone else and is tolerant of others' beliefs. He ignores regressive tenets in our holy texts suggestive of gender inequality, caste discrimination or violence.”
My problem with this list is not with the content itself, but your presumption that this list applies only to Hindus. If you replace “Hindus” with “Muslims” or “Christians” or just about any other religion, I suspect it will apply just as well. Then, why does your question seem to indicate that an Indian’s aspirations, who is a Muslim or any other religion other than Hinduism, be any different from that of an Indian who is a Hindu. And it is here, that I believe that you have failed yourself and the bastion of your readers, ardent or otherwise. When one refers to humanity, does the definition change by region, language or religion? Why then is the need for us to question Indians who are Muslims by quoting examples of Turkey, Saudi or any other place? That is just bad form.
You ask of us, “Where do we want Indian society to go? Do we want to progress and create a nation where our youth can meet their aspirations? Are we fine with regressive and violent interpretations of our religious texts? Or is it OK if we selectively choose what works best for our society?”
I think you are asking the wrong questions. We as a nation, we have always known what we want. We want a better education system. We want the freedom to pursue our dreams without the debilitating red tape of slow motioned bureaucracy. We want to lead a peaceful harmonious coexistence both within and with our neighbors.
What we have always struggled with, and continue to do so, is not what we want, but how do we get what we want?
The questions we need a debate on are “How do we progress and create a nation where our youth can meet their aspirations? How do we discourage regressive and violent interpretations of our religious texts? How do we ensure that there is enough information available to everybody who can vote for him/her/others to make the best informed judgment?”
Yes, all this has been discouraged by our divisive politics practiced by our elected personnel. Yes, India's influencers, intelligentsia and those who care for society irrespective of religion, caste, creed, economic status, and gender need to talk and find solutions.
I would strongly urge you to refrain from indulging yourself and your readers from your ill-structured arguments and manipulative text. Since by your admission you are one of India’s influencers and secretly aspire to be considered as intelligentsia. You might want to reconsider the tone and the content of most of your columns. For I fear that you are falling into the abysmal trap of divisive politics.
When brain drain happened in the late 90s, a number of our prized educated and skilled work force moved to the US of A. I suspect it wasn’t just because the facilities we provided them were not up to the mark, or they were not being recognized for their smartness. But, I think it was because America had a dream which both Americans and non-Americans could aspire for. I ask you, Mr. Bhagat, what is India’s dream? What is that one thing, the world wishes to be part of? What is that one thing which a man, a woman, a child can find only here in India and nowhere else in the world.
Till we find an answer to that question, I suspect we will be a breeding ground to divisive forces. Till we, find an answer as to what is that one single unifying dream, all of your questions, Mr. Bhagat, have no place to be asked.
Not everything needs to be ground down to mush for it to be spoon fed. Sometimes the bitter medicine is the only thing which keeps the ailing man alive. And Mr. Bhagat, you do have a tendency to both sweeten things and mush them to a fine ground paste till all the nutrition has been lost. And all we are left with is baby food. Give yourself and the rest of the nation some credit. That is all we seek.
Thanks and Regards,
Somebody who demands credit for not being a daft prick who doesn’t question things.