Memories

Ramachandran had changed quite a lot – for better or worse, nobody knew- after his daughter Priya’s death.

Priya was all of 20 years, and a famous Carnatic singer, who basked in the glory that the Southern Musical Society showered on her. Her voice held millions of Carnatic fans together. There was even a time when the media started comparing her to that of the great MS Subbulakshmi. And Priya was delighted with it too, as MS was her idol.

Ramachandran, who considered Priya to be the little diamond of his eyes, was an avid music fan himself. His wife had died 10 years ao, leaving him alone with his little daughter.

When Priya first expressed an interest in singing, Ramachandran had hesitated. But later on, he realized this was not how he wanted to bring up his child. So, he let her follow her dreams. And follow she did, and became the voice loved by millions.

Priya’s favourite bhajan was “Vaishnava Jan to“. She made it a point to sing it at every function where her presence glorified the stage. And her version of the song was considered no less than the one sung by MS herself.

One cold December evening, Priya had just finished singing in a concert that was one among the hundreds held as part of the Music Festival – the crown of Chennai’s musical tradition. She had as always finished her performance with a heart-touching rendering of Vaishnava Jan to, to a tremendous applause. The crowd had phsically left the hall, though their minds were in all probability humming happily as Priya’s voice just refused to fade away. Once the hall was empty, Priya called her driver’s cell phone. But he did not seem to reply. She was very tired, and could not stay back much longer.

Priya’s manager Rangaram came running to her and said “Anything wrong, Madam?”

“I can’t reach Raju. Where is he? I am getting late.”

“Shall I drive you home in my car Madam?”

“No… Maybe I should go by myself. I’ve got a spare set of keys.”

“That is ok Madam. We will take your car. I will drive. It’s not good for you to drive at this time. It’s raining too.”

“Oh ok…”

Priya packed her things and walked up to her car. She waited for her manager to come, who was strangely taking a long time to arrive. After a good 10 minutes, he came. Priya wanted to ask what the problem was, but decided against it. Ranga seated himself in the driver’s seat, hoping that Priya did not find out that he was drunk. He started the vehicle and drove ahead as carefully as he could. But fate had other plans.

The next morning, the nation was horrified to learn that Priya was no more. The voice that held many hearts under a spell, was now no more, thanks to her careless manager and an equally drunk truck driver.

But nothing upset the relatives and friends like the way Ramachandran was behaving, from the day his daughter passed away. He was listening to music in his walkman and smiling to himself when there was much tears being shed all around him. Nobody noticed it much in their grief earlier. But after her last rites were done, everybody finally woke up to what was going on.

Everybody knew how precious Priya used to be to Ramachandran. But his actions now made them flare up in anger. There was much talk behind his back.

“Why is that old man like this? He has no affection for his daughter.”

“I think it was all a drama. If he loved her why should he be so indifferent?”

“When she became famous, he must have wanted to show the world how much affection he had, so that he could be popular too.”

Whether Ramachandran was aware what was being told about him behind his back – nobody knew. But he might have sensed it well, for the people who talked about him held back no emotions when approaching him like a kind of traitor. But, even if he did, he did not seem to care. Music was always playing into his ears, and he seemed quite happy to hear it. He had been listening to music earlier too, but not with so much devotion.

It was hardly a month after Priya’s death, and slowly the people around Ramachandran started noticing that his health was detoriating. The people who were angry at him now felt a little sorry for him. Even now, he did not let go of his walkman. The anger now turned to a kind of awe. What kind of man was he who listens to music now even when he seems to be dying?

As days passed, Ramachandran’s condition became worse. Treatment was arranged for him and the best doctors in the city were called in. But they could do little to save him.

One day, as his breath was evidently slowing down, they realized he was dying. His friend tried to pull out the earphones of the walkman he loved so dearly, so that he could talk to him. But to everybody’s shock, he stopped his friend from pulling it out even at his last moment.

In a few seconds, his soul had gone out of his body. The family slowly started absorbing the grief of a second tragic death in the same year, and started wailing around Ramachandran’s body. One of his nephews, already in tears, slowly pulled out the earphones from Ramachandran’s ear and put them into his own to see what was it that his uncle had been listening to all these days.

Vaishnav jan to tene kahiye je…” Priya’s sweet voice drifted into his ears.

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Memories

Ramachandran had changed quite a lot – for better or worse, nobody knew- after his daughter Priya’s death.

Priya was all of 20 years, and a famous Carnatic singer, who basked in the glory that the Southern Musical Society showered on her. Her voice held millions of Carnatic fans together. There was even a time when the media started comparing her to that of the great MS Subbulakshmi. And Priya was delighted with it too, as MS was her idol.

Ramachandran, who considered Priya to be the little diamond of his eyes, was an avid music fan himself. His wife had died 10 years ao, leaving him alone with his little daughter.

When Priya first expressed an interest in singing, Ramachandran had hesitated. But later on, he realized this was not how he wanted to bring up his child. So, he let her follow her dreams. And follow she did, and became the voice loved by millions.

Priya’s favourite bhajan was “Vaishnava Jan to“. She made it a point to sing it at every function where her presence glorified the stage. And her version of the song was considered no less than the one sung by MS herself.

One cold December evening, Priya had just finished singing in a concert that was one among the hundreds held as part of the Music Festival – the crown of Chennai’s musical tradition. She had as always finished her performance with a heart-touching rendering of Vaishnava Jan to, to a tremendous applause. The crowd had phsically left the hall, though their minds were in all probability humming happily as Priya’s voice just refused to fade away. Once the hall was empty, Priya called her driver’s cell phone. But he did not seem to reply. She was very tired, and could not stay back much longer.

Priya’s manager Rangaram came running to her and said “Anything wrong, Madam?”

“I can’t reach Raju. Where is he? I am getting late.”

“Shall I drive you home in my car Madam?”

“No… Maybe I should go by myself. I’ve got a spare set of keys.”

“That is ok Madam. We will take your car. I will drive. It’s not good for you to drive at this time. It’s raining too.”

“Oh ok…”

Priya packed her things and walked up to her car. She waited for her manager to come, who was strangely taking a long time to arrive. After a good 10 minutes, he came. Priya wanted to ask what the problem was, but decided against it. Ranga seated himself in the driver’s seat, hoping that Priya did not find out that he was drunk. He started the vehicle and drove ahead as carefully as he could. But fate had other plans.

The next morning, the nation was horrified to learn that Priya was no more. The voice that held many hearts under a spell, was now no more, thanks to her careless manager and an equally drunk truck driver.

But nothing upset the relatives and friends like the way Ramachandran was behaving, from the day his daughter passed away. He was listening to music in his walkman and smiling to himself when there was much tears being shed all around him. Nobody noticed it much in their grief earlier. But after her last rites were done, everybody finally woke up to what was going on.

Everybody knew how precious Priya used to be to Ramachandran. But his actions now made them flare up in anger. There was much talk behind his back.

“Why is that old man like this? He has no affection for his daughter.”

“I think it was all a drama. If he loved her why should he be so indifferent?”

“When she became famous, he must have wanted to show the world how much affection he had, so that he could be popular too.”

Whether Ramachandran was aware what was being told about him behind his back – nobody knew. But he might have sensed it well, for the people who talked about him held back no emotions when approaching him like a kind of traitor. But, even if he did, he did not seem to care. Music was always playing into his ears, and he seemed quite happy to hear it. He had been listening to music earlier too, but not with so much devotion.

It was hardly a month after Priya’s death, and slowly the people around Ramachandran started noticing that his health was detoriating. The people who were angry at him now felt a little sorry for him. Even now, he did not let go of his walkman. The anger now turned to a kind of awe. What kind of man was he who listens to music now even when he seems to be dying?

As days passed, Ramachandran’s condition became worse. Treatment was arranged for him and the best doctors in the city were called in. But they could do little to save him.

One day, as his breath was evidently slowing down, they realized he was dying. His friend tried to pull out the earphones of the walkman he loved so dearly, so that he could talk to him. But to everybody’s shock, he stopped his friend from pulling it out even at his last moment.

In a few seconds, his soul had gone out of his body. The family slowly started absorbing the grief of a second tragic death in the same year, and started wailing around Ramachandran’s body. One of his nephews, already in tears, slowly pulled out the earphones from Ramachandran’s ear and put them into his own to see what was it that his uncle had been listening to all these days.

Vaishnav jan to tene kahiye je…” Priya’s sweet voice drifted into his ears.

Dreams

A big dream came my way
When I was young and vulnerable
The dream fascinated me
Cherish it I did –
It was after all my future self

The big dream went away
When I could think for myself
A smaller dream came my way
Cherish it I did –
This seemed more practical

The smaller dream went away
When I was preparing for my future
Yet another dream came
Cherish it I tried –
This was the most feasible one for me

The dream did not go away
When I was old enough to achieve it
Much to my delight it almost came true
Cherish it I tried to –
For I was almost there

I was shattered when
I realized there was much more to the dream
Than the simple thing that I thought it was
There is much I have to do
But I was stopped in my tracks

Life did not let me go for it
There is so much I have to do
To make my dream come true
But there is so much more
To live for on this day

The dream fades away
Far beyond my reach
All I can do is let out a tear
It was after all a dream
Whereas this day is Reality

Dreams

A big dream came my way
When I was young and vulnerable
The dream fascinated me
Cherish it I did –
It was after all my future self

The big dream went away
When I could think for myself
A smaller dream came my way
Cherish it I did –
This seemed more practical

The smaller dream went away
When I was preparing for my future
Yet another dream came
Cherish it I tried –
This was the most feasible one for me

The dream did not go away
When I was old enough to achieve it
Much to my delight it almost came true
Cherish it I tried to –
For I was almost there

I was shattered when
I realized there was much more to the dream
Than the simple thing that I thought it was
There is much I have to do
But I was stopped in my tracks

Life did not let me go for it
There is so much I have to do
To make my dream come true
But there is so much more
To live for on this day

The dream fades away
Far beyond my reach
All I can do is let out a tear
It was after all a dream
Whereas this day is Reality

A Secular Rethink – Again!!! :)

Here you go… another year, another opportunity!!!

http://www.expressindia.com/cfp/

Mail to: citizensforpeace@gmail.com

This year’s topic –

A Secular Rethink “Not People Like Us” – A Citizen’s Dilemma

Presenting the Indian Express – Citizens for Peace 2nd Annual Essay Competition, 2006 which is a platform for people across the country to express their ideas, feelings and reflections in a spirit of dialogue and shared search for solutions.

The essay contest is dedicated to the broad theme of collectively thinking about how we can build a vibrant secular culture in India.

Last year’s topic was simply “A Secular Rethink”. This evoked a heartening response from over 600 contestants who sent entries from all corners of the country. Across the board the writers of the essays reaffirmed that the richness of multi-cultural society India is its great strength. Many of the entries also expressed pain and puzzlement about the social conflict and tensions which sometimes threaten to tear our society apart.

This year we are inviting citizens to reflect on the fact that differences of caste, class and religion are real and cannot be wished away, but must the differences be a problem? How can we evolve ways of living with differences in ways that also ensure social justice and harmony?

Above all, this essay contest is dedicated to the value of free exchange of ideas and aspirations in a spirit of dialogue. In recent times much of our public discourse has been vitiated by people talking AT each other, rather than listening to and talking WITH each other.

Our fond hope is that that this year’s contest will bring forth ideas on how our public discourse, and eventually our polity, can have more dialogue than discord.

This essay contest is thus an intrinsic part of the India Empowered process to which Indian Express has dedicated itself.

The competition will commence in June 2006 with a call for entries from all over the country. These entries will be judged by a panel of respected personalities across industries. The winning entries will be honoured at an Award Ceremony on the 2nd of October, 2006 in Mumbai.

Topic for Citizens for Peace 2nd Annual Essay Competition

A Secular Rethink
“Not People Like Us”
A Citizen’s Dilemma

An invitation to reflect on the creative challenges of living with differences of religion, caste and class in India. What divides us? What unites us? What makes us citizens first?

Last date for submission of entries is 15th August, 2006

All the best!!!
And now I definitely have a good excuse for not updating my blog hehehe 😉

A little update (4 Aug 2006) – The essay is done! Yay! 🙂

A Secular Rethink – Again!!! :)

Here you go… another year, another opportunity!!!

http://www.expressindia.com/cfp/

Mail to: citizensforpeace@gmail.com

This year’s topic –

A Secular Rethink “Not People Like Us” – A Citizen’s Dilemma

 

Presenting the Indian Express – Citizens for Peace 2nd Annual Essay Competition, 2006 which is a platform for people across the country to express their ideas, feelings and reflections in a spirit of dialogue and shared search for solutions.The essay contest is dedicated to the broad theme of collectively thinking about how we can build a vibrant secular culture in India.

Last year’s topic was simply “A Secular Rethink”. This evoked a heartening response from over 600 contestants who sent entries from all corners of the country. Across the board the writers of the essays reaffirmed that the richness of multi-cultural society India is its great strength. Many of the entries also expressed pain and puzzlement about the social conflict and tensions which sometimes threaten to tear our society apart.

This year we are inviting citizens to reflect on the fact that differences of caste, class and religion are real and cannot be wished away, but must the differences be a problem? How can we evolve ways of living with differences in ways that also ensure social justice and harmony?

Above all, this essay contest is dedicated to the value of free exchange of ideas and aspirations in a spirit of dialogue. In recent times much of our public discourse has been vitiated by people talking AT each other, rather than listening to and talking WITH each other.

Our fond hope is that that this year’s contest will bring forth ideas on how our public discourse, and eventually our polity, can have more dialogue than discord.This essay contest is thus an intrinsic part of the India Empowered process to which Indian Express has dedicated itself.

The competition will commence in June 2006 with a call for entries from all over the country. These entries will be judged by a panel of respected personalities across industries. The winning entries will be honoured at an Award Ceremony on the 2nd of October, 2006 in Mumbai.

Topic for Citizens for Peace 2nd Annual Essay Competition

A Secular Rethink
“Not People Like Us”
A Citizen’s Dilemma

An invitation to reflect on the creative challenges of living with differences of religion, caste and class in India. What divides us? What unites us? What makes us citizens first?

Last date for submission of entries is 15th August, 2006

 

All the best!!!
And now I definitely have a good excuse for not updating my blog hehehe 😉

A little update (4 Aug 2006) – The essay is done! Yay! 🙂

A Secular Rethink

Pre-Blog Statement: I don’t believe this!!! It’s going to be almost 1 year since I wrote this essay for an Indian Express competition (announced here in August 2005)… and I am yet to update it here. Guess I totally forgot about this essay. Here it is – well that takes care of my update for the week 🙂

In nature there is fundamental unity running through all the
diversity we see about us. Religions are given to mankind so as to accelerate
the process of realization of fundamental unity –
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

In current society, there is perhaps no word that is as modified and confused as the term Secularism. Many claim to practice it, but few understand the true meaning behind the word. Simply put, Secularism today stops where Religion begins. In order to completely understand the significance of the statement, a commonly present line of thought that tends to separate the terms Secular and Religious, needs to be clarified.

Secularism is defined as “skeptical of religious truth or opposed to religious education” (as in the Oxford dictionary) and also as “Rational and free thinking”. The first phrase indicates that, Secularism itself seems to be a concept against Religion. The second phrase, additionally, leads to the conclusion that people who are rational or ‘free-thinkers’ are definitely not religious in nature. It rather points out to a more scientific and practical mindset in a society. But not all the time can we say that Secularism is something that operates against the concept of religion. In present day India, where we see everyone from rocket scientists to politicians seeking divine interventions for their new ventures, it is safe to say that there is a certain blend between Rationalism and Devotion. They are not against each other. They are more like a mutual combination.

The sacred text of Hindus, The Bhagavad-Gita, that outlines the transcripts between Lord Krishna and Arjuna in the course of one of the greatest epics of our land, The Mahabharatha, has the Lord saying that ‘It was important to do his duty, only then he would be close to Him’. This is also referred to as Karma Yoga. So, according to the Gita, doing what one has to do is one of the basic requirements to leading a satisfied and spiritual life. In other words, being rational and practical, and applying one’s knowledge fairly in all situations, will take one closer to God. This is the point where secularism and religion mix. The true devotee believes in He who is within himself, while applying free thought to every challenge that comes his way.

At this point, it is also necessary to give the term Religion a more practical outlook as well. Only when devotion goes beyond the screen of deities and customs, can devotees feel the presence of the Almighty behind it. This is necessary to truly appreciate the application of rationalism within the boundaries of religion.

Now that the nature in which devotion and rationalism are interlaced has been cleared, it is only appropriate to conclude that Secularism is more than just Anti-Religion. It is more like a science that encourages freethinking and devotion to flourish together, for the benefit of ourselves and those around us.

No greater example of this has been represented than the greatest soul to walk on our soil, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Father of our Nation. Nobody will doubt his standing as a great thinker, whose teachings are relevant even to this day. At the same time, his belief in the fundamentals of Hinduism was so strong that he saw in it a base for all religions, and showed the world that the concepts of Unity and Non-Violence was the common thread that ran through all religions, something that needs to be widely realized in today’s world. Customs and rituals are only secondary to the realization of these basic concepts when reaching out to the Almighty, be it Ram, Allah or Jesus Christ. If Gandhiji had failed to apply innovation to his understanding of his religion, the world will have lost a nugget of wisdom.

In the India that we know today, with a booming economy, aided by her bright sons and daughters who are proving themselves to the world, there are communal tensions all around. Not all of them may be of the magnitude of the Gujarat riots four years ago, but no sane Indian can deny their existence. The world views us not only as a nation with great knowledge, but also as a place where many cultures, communities, and sub-communities, live together. But within ourselves, we find a lot of infighting, not only among religions, but also among various sections of society.

There is a sense of ego in a few hearts that make them ‘identify’ themselves as the part of a community or religion. The ‘We/Us’ sense of thinking leads one to think in the lines of ‘Either Us or Them’. In other words, people tend to create boundaries around themselves and whoever is not in it, is usually in the ‘other side’ and must be ‘watched out for’. This kind of a mentality, most of the time, spells doom for any community that wants to live in harmony.

There are only two explanations that can be given to the manner in which religious intolerance in our country has risen in recent years. One reason is simple enough – people are just going farther away from each other and from reality, in the modern world. Another possible reason is that communal tension was there all the time, but not openly expressed by the people as it is done now. Whatever may be the reason, the fundamental fact remains that people today have lost a fraction of the power of reasonable thinking, perhaps due to the pressure and the necessity to survive being greater today.

Even some, who claim to have a fair outlook and believe in equality, let communal feelings rise inside them in extreme situations. An appropriate example would be thus – You are a Hindu. You see a burkha-clad woman stepping into a temple.

What would you feel? You might feel anger inside you, or if you are a bit more sane, perhaps a sense of wonder. Why do you feel this way? Simply put, you think people of one religion should not stride into another religion’s boundaries. This little feeling, when magnified, can lead to great hatred for people from other communities.

Another thought etched in the human subconscious, as mentioned earlier, is the feeling that people who do not conform to our way of life are ‘different’. This holds not only for religion, but also language, nationality, disability, etc. The basic tendency to somehow ‘segment’ ourselves in some way, from the people we see, is because we want to tell ourselves ‘we are not like them’, and hence unique. Conversely, when we see people much like what we are, or want to be, we see ourselves in them. Hence we show more affection to such people than we do to others.

Both the tendencies listed above are simply because we see differences between others and us. Such prioritization can only be controlled by reminding ourselves of the basic law of human equality.

The very inconsistency that is visible in the example below underlines the absurdity of religious intolerance – Osama Bin Laden is a Muslim. He’s a terrorist too. When people of other faiths show their anger at him, they talk about how all Muslims are terrorists and the religion itself promotes the practice. Our Honorable President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam is also a Muslim. He is one of the best and most popular Presidents our nation has had. When discussing him, why don’t we say that all Muslims are scientists and achievers?

Now that the basic reasons leading to religious intolerance have been pointed out, the next step is to see how we can apply the principle of rationalism to control such feelings, and proceed from thereon to realize the true meaning of Secularism.

The first action to be taken in order to shed priorities is to start by considering everybody as an equal. This is something that has to be etched in one’s mind from childhood. That is easier said than done in today’s society, where segmentation begins right from early childhood. It’s quite common to see parents who feel hesitant about letting their children mix freely with those from other communities, and teachers dividing ‘good and bad’ students. After growing up in such an atmosphere, the children, as adults, tend to retain the same mindset. Children with more freedom of choice will grow up to respect and appreciate the world around them, with its various diversities. So responsible parents and other elders caring for the children must avoid examples of prioritization from registering themselves on impressionable young minds.

In today’s fast-moving world, India is no exception. Being a developing country only makes things worse. We are so busy with our work that we hardly have enough time to notice the little things in our life, ignoring which, leads to much problems and tension. Learning to appreciate seemingly insignificant events will do no harm; it will only broaden our perspective and enrich our outlook of the world around us, and hence encourage open-mindedness. The round-the-clock media, can take some real efforts in this direction, and try to spread multi-cultural awareness among the viewing public.

It is not that Indian society today has lost the ability to be broad-minded. In the wake of the tsunami last year, people were helping each other to come out of distress. Religion would have been the last thing on anybody’s mind. All that was important was that they helped the affected people. This mindset, coming up at times of great tragedy, must be consciously brought into the mind in everyday life.

Once we begin seeing the common thread of humanity running through all people, it really does not matter who prays which God, or – if we include atheists – if they pray at all. A man who lends out a helping hand to the member of another religion is more secular, and definitely more religious, than those who do not.

Those who want to be secular need not forget their religion. They need to use the best of their abilities to be true to their own religion, while freely allowing those from other communities to live their own way. It is well known that one’s knowledge can be broadened only by listening to more opinions. The same applies to religions as well. The more we learn about the customs and lifestyle of others, the more we can appreciate the good points in their way of life.

India, as a nation, has already stood up with her head high in the world stage. Cultural tolerance will increase our chances of growth and lead to the realization of Vision 2020, which is our president’s, and nation’s, dream of making India a developed nation by the year 2020. But for that to happen, we, as a people, must be ready to shed inhibitions about other religions and communities. Only by doing so, we can work together and evolve into a more productive nation. Believing in our faith, with a dose of practical approach, will greatly help us in this direction. Religion is, after all, a way to safeguard our faith. There is more to shaping an individual than just his religion. The understanding of this simple fact will make us a truly secular nation.

A Secular Rethink

Pre-Blog Statement: I don’t believe this!!! It’s going to be almost 1 year since I wrote this essay for an Indian Express competition (announced here in August 2005)… and I am yet to update it here. Guess I totally forgot about this essay. Here it is – well that takes care of my update for the week 🙂

In nature there is fundamental unity running through all the
diversity we see about us. Religions are given to mankind so as to accelerate
the process of realization of fundamental unity –
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

In current society, there is perhaps no word that is as modified and confused as the term Secularism. Many claim to practice it, but few understand the true meaning behind the word. Simply put, Secularism today stops where Religion begins. In order to completely understand the significance of the statement, a commonly present line of thought that tends to separate the terms Secular and Religious, needs to be clarified.

Secularism is defined as “skeptical of religious truth or opposed to religious education” (as in the Oxford dictionary) and also as “Rational and free thinking”. The first phrase indicates that, Secularism itself seems to be a concept against Religion. The second phrase, additionally, leads to the conclusion that people who are rational or ‘free-thinkers’ are definitely not religious in nature. It rather points out to a more scientific and practical mindset in a society. But not all the time can we say that Secularism is something that operates against the concept of religion. In present day India, where we see everyone from rocket scientists to politicians seeking divine interventions for their new ventures, it is safe to say that there is a certain blend between Rationalism and Devotion. They are not against each other. They are more like a mutual combination.

The sacred text of Hindus, The Bhagavad-Gita, that outlines the transcripts between Lord Krishna and Arjuna in the course of one of the greatest epics of our land, The Mahabharatha, has the Lord saying that ‘It was important to do his duty, only then he would be close to Him’. This is also referred to as Karma Yoga. So, according to the Gita, doing what one has to do is one of the basic requirements to leading a satisfied and spiritual life. In other words, being rational and practical, and applying one’s knowledge fairly in all situations, will take one closer to God. This is the point where secularism and religion mix. The true devotee believes in He who is within himself, while applying free thought to every challenge that comes his way.

At this point, it is also necessary to give the term Religion a more practical outlook as well. Only when devotion goes beyond the screen of deities and customs, can devotees feel the presence of the Almighty behind it. This is necessary to truly appreciate the application of rationalism within the boundaries of religion.

Now that the nature in which devotion and rationalism are interlaced has been cleared, it is only appropriate to conclude that Secularism is more than just Anti-Religion. It is more like a science that encourages freethinking and devotion to flourish together, for the benefit of ourselves and those around us.

No greater example of this has been represented than the greatest soul to walk on our soil, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Father of our Nation. Nobody will doubt his standing as a great thinker, whose teachings are relevant even to this day. At the same time, his belief in the fundamentals of Hinduism was so strong that he saw in it a base for all religions, and showed the world that the concepts of Unity and Non-Violence was the common thread that ran through all religions, something that needs to be widely realized in today’s world. Customs and rituals are only secondary to the realization of these basic concepts when reaching out to the Almighty, be it Ram, Allah or Jesus Christ. If Gandhiji had failed to apply innovation to his understanding of his religion, the world will have lost a nugget of wisdom.

In the India that we know today, with a booming economy, aided by her bright sons and daughters who are proving themselves to the world, there are communal tensions all around. Not all of them may be of the magnitude of the Gujarat riots four years ago, but no sane Indian can deny their existence. The world views us not only as a nation with great knowledge, but also as a place where many cultures, communities, and sub-communities, live together. But within ourselves, we find a lot of infighting, not only among religions, but also among various sections of society.

There is a sense of ego in a few hearts that make them ‘identify’ themselves as the part of a community or religion. The ‘We/Us’ sense of thinking leads one to think in the lines of ‘Either Us or Them’. In other words, people tend to create boundaries around themselves and whoever is not in it, is usually in the ‘other side’ and must be ‘watched out for’. This kind of a mentality, most of the time, spells doom for any community that wants to live in harmony.

There are only two explanations that can be given to the manner in which religious intolerance in our country has risen in recent years. One reason is simple enough – people are just going farther away from each other and from reality, in the modern world. Another possible reason is that communal tension was there all the time, but not openly expressed by the people as it is done now. Whatever may be the reason, the fundamental fact remains that people today have lost a fraction of the power of reasonable thinking, perhaps due to the pressure and the necessity to survive being greater today.

Even some, who claim to have a fair outlook and believe in equality, let communal feelings rise inside them in extreme situations. An appropriate example would be thus – You are a Hindu. You see a burkha-clad woman stepping into a temple.

What would you feel? You might feel anger inside you, or if you are a bit more sane, perhaps a sense of wonder. Why do you feel this way? Simply put, you think people of one religion should not stride into another religion’s boundaries. This little feeling, when magnified, can lead to great hatred for people from other communities.

Another thought etched in the human subconscious, as mentioned earlier, is the feeling that people who do not conform to our way of life are ‘different’. This holds not only for religion, but also language, nationality, disability, etc. The basic tendency to somehow ‘segment’ ourselves in some way, from the people we see, is because we want to tell ourselves ‘we are not like them’, and hence unique. Conversely, when we see people much like what we are, or want to be, we see ourselves in them. Hence we show more affection to such people than we do to others.

Both the tendencies listed above are simply because we see differences between others and us. Such prioritization can only be controlled by reminding ourselves of the basic law of human equality.

The very inconsistency that is visible in the example below underlines the absurdity of religious intolerance – Osama Bin Laden is a Muslim. He’s a terrorist too. When people of other faiths show their anger at him, they talk about how all Muslims are terrorists and the religion itself promotes the practice. Our Honorable President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam is also a Muslim. He is one of the best and most popular Presidents our nation has had. When discussing him, why don’t we say that all Muslims are scientists and achievers?

Now that the basic reasons leading to religious intolerance have been pointed out, the next step is to see how we can apply the principle of rationalism to control such feelings, and proceed from thereon to realize the true meaning of Secularism.

The first action to be taken in order to shed priorities is to start by considering everybody as an equal. This is something that has to be etched in one’s mind from childhood. That is easier said than done in today’s society, where segmentation begins right from early childhood. It’s quite common to see parents who feel hesitant about letting their children mix freely with those from other communities, and teachers dividing ‘good and bad’ students. After growing up in such an atmosphere, the children, as adults, tend to retain the same mindset. Children with more freedom of choice will grow up to respect and appreciate the world around them, with its various diversities. So responsible parents and other elders caring for the children must avoid examples of prioritization from registering themselves on impressionable young minds.

In today’s fast-moving world, India is no exception. Being a developing country only makes things worse. We are so busy with our work that we hardly have enough time to notice the little things in our life, ignoring which, leads to much problems and tension. Learning to appreciate seemingly insignificant events will do no harm; it will only broaden our perspective and enrich our outlook of the world around us, and hence encourage open-mindedness. The round-the-clock media, can take some real efforts in this direction, and try to spread multi-cultural awareness among the viewing public.

It is not that Indian society today has lost the ability to be broad-minded. In the wake of the tsunami last year, people were helping each other to come out of distress. Religion would have been the last thing on anybody’s mind. All that was important was that they helped the affected people. This mindset, coming up at times of great tragedy, must be consciously brought into the mind in everyday life.

Once we begin seeing the common thread of humanity running through all people, it really does not matter who prays which God, or – if we include atheists – if they pray at all. A man who lends out a helping hand to the member of another religion is more secular, and definitely more religious, than those who do not.

Those who want to be secular need not forget their religion. They need to use the best of their abilities to be true to their own religion, while freely allowing those from other communities to live their own way. It is well known that one’s knowledge can be broadened only by listening to more opinions. The same applies to religions as well. The more we learn about the customs and lifestyle of others, the more we can appreciate the good points in their way of life.

India, as a nation, has already stood up with her head high in the world stage. Cultural tolerance will increase our chances of growth and lead to the realization of Vision 2020, which is our president’s, and nation’s, dream of making India a developed nation by the year 2020. But for that to happen, we, as a people, must be ready to shed inhibitions about other religions and communities. Only by doing so, we can work together and evolve into a more productive nation. Believing in our faith, with a dose of practical approach, will greatly help us in this direction. Religion is, after all, a way to safeguard our faith. There is more to shaping an individual than just his religion. The understanding of this simple fact will make us a truly secular nation.