This book is a light primer by an Indian politician covering the basic tenets and sacred texts of Hinduism. I’ve read Shashi Tharoor’s earlier works, some of which I can vouch to be pretty good, but this book has been such a disappointment. Actually it could have been such a topical book as there is a real demand for an easy to understand manual on Hinduism especially in the west. I’ve been asked so many times by my international friends both in west and east for a good reference book on Hinduism and there are some but none which really stands out. It’s a bigger disappointment as I feel that Shashi Tharoor is almost perfect to write that kind of book with his command over English language and his deep knowledge of Indian culture and religion.
So what went wrong with this book?
Well I believe, that it’s a cardinal sin by an author to write any book to settle a personal score or further any personal agenda. A book is a form of expression to be used only to add profoundly to existential human experience. But in this case Shashi Tharoor seems to have committed that folly and written this book primarily to further his party’s political agenda to propagate a new brand of soft Hindutva to counter the ascendancy of Hindu nationalists. It would have helped if author would have kept this discourse confined to his own personal discovery of faith, that would have enlightened the readers on what Hinduism has to offer to a modern world citizen. But instead the author seems more interested in outlining the failings of his political opponents who follow their own brand of Hindutva. Though the author repeatedly says in the book that Hinduism provides flexibility of interpretation and allows everybody to follow what they perceive as right but then he contradicts himself by critisizing a major section of Hindu society who have embraced their own brand of Hinduism intermingled with a tinge of nationalism.
The author is widely believed to be part of pseudo secular brigade in India, so called because they would go to any lengths to appease minorities to gain political victory. In that, they harm the national interests and have kept Indians embroiled in divisive politics which has sapped the energy of Indian society. Now this group has embarked on a new project to regain mainstream acceptance and have started playing a soft Hindutva card of their own. And this book should be seen as another attempt in that direction.
There are numerous examples in the book where author indulges in this trickery to justify his own version of pseudo secularism. One of the example is where the author finds it despicable that the late Indian painter M. F. Hussain had to go into self exile because of legal cases filed by enraged Hindus whose sentiments were hurt by him painting Hindu goddess in nude. Nudity is celebrated in Hindu culture but attaching that to Gods and Goddesses revered by Hindu society is just taking it too far, but alas author still finds those paintings justifiable.
The author picks up on any small incident affecting minorities be it cow vigilantes or Taj Mahal but conveniently forgets to mention the travesty of justice when a revered Hindu seer Shankaracharya of Kanchi Peeth was arrested on false charges on orders of the leader of his own political party. This is the kind of minority appeasement and total lack of sensitivity towards Hindu majority that has allowed the revival of majority Hindu nationalist parties.
The author at one place mentions that India is the only country in the world where Jews have lived since centuries without any fear of anti semitism, but again forgets to mention the infamous 26/11 Mumbai attacks in which Jewish Chabad House was attacked and its Jewish residents horrendously killed by Islamic terrorists. This was the first time in Indian history that Jews were killed in India for just being Jews and that too by terrorists who follow an ideology alien to Indian ethos. Those Islamic terrorists were helped by some converted Muslims and that is the danger that needs to be highlighted not the ascendancy of Hindu nationalists.
This is what is wrong with this book, the author provides only the narrative that suits his own political agenda rather than the stark truth. Hindu society has been under attack and now that it is asserting itself and won’t take any more insults then it pains the likes of the author who have till now thrived on minority appeasement. At another place he gives a long winding discourse of how it is ok for Hindus to get converted to Christianity or Islam as anyway Hindu religion accepts that all paths lead to one God. I’ve never heard a more ludicrous statement, try teaching that to a Christian or a Muslim and I can only imagine the consequences.
A writer should be bold enough to write fearlessly on the known facts and not let sentiments and fear drive his writing. It is a known fact that both Islam and Christianity did more harm than good to India and Hinduism. Instead of harping on syncretism which in essence only means repeated insults to majority Hindu community, we should be presenting the facts in naked truth. There is absolutely no need to put a wrap around the atrocities and shortcomings of these alien religions which invaded India. We should be celebrating the tenacity of Hinduism to survive and even prosper under duress and now that it is resurgent, it bodes well for the world. I’m sure Hinduism can help reform other religions by its universal message and bring peace upon the world.
The early chapters of this book provides a good introduction on Hinduism for the uninitiated but once the author starts furthering his own political agenda in later chapters, he misses the point and ends up making an otherwise promising book into another pseudo secularist attempt to regain the lost ground.
Shashi Tharoor could have done a lot better here!