Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tales from India –Secularism, Dharma and Karma

Tales from India –Secularism, Dharma and Karma
Syed Ali Mujtaba

I have few anecdotes to tell as tales from India. First one is how the composite culture survives in certain layers of the Indian society. Recently my father’s sister passed away. She was 87 and ailing for some time at my native place in Bihar. Luckily I was there due to Christmas holidays. When I heard this news, I remembered Barak Obama’s line – “she has gone Home.” I attended the “Qull” ceremony that happens on the third day of the obituary. In this family’s well-wishers and neighbors gather read the holy Quran and pray for the departed soul.

There were about 30 to 40 people gathered for the occasion and each one took one chapter of the thirty chapters of the holy book and in two hrs, more than 15 times it was read. I was surprised to find many Hindu neighbors too had also come on this occasion. They sat on the chair outside the hall where the reading was going on and when it was time for general prayers, and every one raised their hands, these folks too did the same seeking forgiveness and blessings from their Lord. The realization dawned upon me that we all follow different routes to reach the final destination. It was a very thoughtful moment indeed.

The other thing that struck me was these guys knew how religiously polarized the contemporary social scene of India is, but yet they chose to gather on such occasion was some thing on a high moral ground in good neighborly traditions of India. This is to illustrate the point that the foundation of secularism is quite deeply entrenched in Indian society and no matter how much effort is made to tamper with it; many fail part with the umbilical cord. Well this India for you straight from the grassroots.

Another anecdote follows from the same place. It’s about my conversation with some religious people who had gathered there. I tried to explore with them the topic “are there any pious and truthful people left in India.” I was surprised to hear this story about six people who had gone to attend a religious function in a nearby town and were returning home by train. They realized the train was just on the platform and about to leave. They boarded the train without buying the tickets and reached their destination. No one checked their tickets and they came out of the station safe.

Their group leader after coming out the station calls one his mates and asks him to buy six tickets for the station from which they had traveled. The mate was puzzled as to why the tickets were required now but he carried on the orders and bought six tickets and gave it to the group leader. The group leader first checked the tickets, then “tore” it in front them and said; let’s now go home now! Here, the moral is there are still many truthful people that exist in India. For them “Karma and okssha” theory still holds good, no matter what religion they may follow.

The third anecdote about the rat eaters, whom I met in the paddy fields at my father’s farm. These folks still live on rat meat and engage in its hunting. I stopped by to observe their activities in some detail. These guys had found a rat hole in the paddy field and were preying on the rats holed in there. They had put fire in it and were fanning it up. They had dug up another hole, close by and I saw smoke coming out from that hole. Soon I saw suffocated rats coming out of that hole and one of the guys pounced over it, held it in hand to bang it on the ground hard enough to kill. One of them who held a stick in his hand tied tail of the rat to one end of the stick and kept the other side of it over his shoulder as items of display. I saw them catching five rats good enough for family meal. I connected them with the people who sit in McDonalds and eat burgers. Will those rat eaters can ever sit in McDonalds, and order Big Mc; when will India Shine for them?

It was about this point of time I heard the news on my transistor that I carried in the paddy fields that someone herald shoes on the US President George W Bush at a function in Iraq. Stream of thoughts jogged my memory lane then. I quickly connected these rat eaters with Mr Bush famous lines made shortly after 9/11 to “smoke out Osama Bin Laden from the face of earth.” What a pledge it turned out to be. The self acclaimed champion of ‘infinite justice,’ has snuffed out thousands of innocents’ lives from the face of the earth.

Contrary to the other outgoing US presidents who usually are given ceremonial send off, this President was shown the door by shoes thrown at him, what a befitting finale for someone who is the greatest spoiler of peace. Many peace loving people of the world in that impromptu act of shoe throwing found an expression of infinite justice. I am wondering what this most wanted criminal on earth would do, if a world crime tribunal sends him to the gallows.

Could this thick skin face the noose barefaced, with the Bible in hand and TV cameras capturing his expressions live bringing it to millions of homes. I am sure if that happens, some someone watching it, may definitely stand up to scream, what a beautiful sight it is!

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

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