Posted in History, India, Mahatma Gandhi, Writers, Writing

Writers and nationalism

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There must be innumerable writers who are, in some sense nationalists, or who write about their own country.  The Russian writers such as Solzhenitsyn come to mind. However, nationalism which leads to hatred of the ‘other’ seems unacceptable in a writer. The best writing, one that is long lasting, can include details of a place or country, and yet have a universal theme. Writers are rooted in the land where they live, or where they were born, and that forms the theme or background of much writing. I too write on India, and from an Indian perspective, about its history, culture, religion and its natural beauty, its wonderful arts and crafts. At the same time, one can still appreciate other countries and their histories and traditions.

India remembers Mahatma Gandhi, but forgets his words. Gandhi, lived, worked, and died for India, but his views were never narrow or limited.

Here is a quote from him.
I would like to see India free and strong so that she may offer herself as a willing and pure sacrifice for the betterment of the world. The individual, being pure, sacrifices himself for the family, the latter for the village, the village for the district, the district for the province, the province for the nation, the nation for all. (YI, 17-9-1925, p. 321)

 

Posted in History, India, Religion

Looking at the history of religion

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Each religion has both positive and negative aspects, as they change over time and are added to and interpreted by innumerable people. Even those immersed in faith, belief and spirituality, may like to also trace the history of their own religion, to understand how it developed.

The sources for the study of the history of religion are immense. Apart from texts, sources  include artefacts and material remains discovered through archaeological explorations and excavations;   coins, seals and inscriptions; sculptures, images, and various extant structures.

There are several different approaches to the history of religion, including the sociological, Marxist, and psychoanalytical approaches, as well as the anthropological, historical and phenomenological approaches.

One can either ignore religion entirely, or maintain some beliefs and practices. For people who believe in or practice religion and move from outer beliefs to an inner spirituality, tolerance, understanding and knowledge, expand and grow.  From the sages of the Upanishads, to the Bhakti saints, the Sufi mystics, and the spiritual gurus of more recent times,  all religions emphasise  the Oneness of life and the sense of universal love that underlies every spiritual experience.

The quotes given below are a few examples of thousands of similar sayings:

‘God has no country, dress, form, limit or hue. God is omnipresent, his universal love is everywhere.’ (Guru Gobind Singh, Jap Sahib)

‘In every age and dispensation all Divine Ordinances are changed and transformed according to the requirements of time, except the law of love.’ (Bahaullah).

‘I have come to light the lamp of Love in your hearts, to see that it shines day by day with added lustre. I have not come on behalf of any religion.’ (Sathya Sai Baba, 4 July 1968).

However, there is no one religion that is the sole representative of Truth, or that has all the answers.

‘Truth cannot be shut up in a single book, Bible or Veda or Quran, or in a single religion. The Divine Being is eternal and universal and infinite’, says  Sri Aurobindo, and adds, ‘All religions have some truth in them, but none has the whole truth; all are created in time and finally decline and perish.’ (The Integral Yoga, Selected letters p.352). This can clearly be seen in India, where so many religious beliefs coalesce, and where religions change over time, and are re-created, emerging in different forms.

Long ago the emperor Ashoka [ruled 269-232 BCE] wrote in his Twelfth Major Rock Edict: ‘One should honour another man’s sect, for by doing so one increases the influence of one’s own sect and benefits that of the other…Concord is to be commended, so than men may hear one another’s principles and obey them’.

[This  is based on extracts from  my book,

Religions of India: A Concise Guide to Nine Major Faiths [Penguin India, 2006, 2010, 2014]].

 

 

Posted in Books, Hermann Hesse, Magic Mountain, The Glass Bead Game, Thomas Mann

Favourite books–a random list

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Over the years I have made different lists of favourite books, though the first two would be in every list. Re-posting a list from 2015

1.The Glass Bead Game by HermannHesse.
2. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann.
3. Most other books by Hesse and Mann [but not Siddhartha].
4. The Morning and the Evening by Joan Williams.
5. A Multitude of Sins by J A Cuddon.
6. Dibs—in Search of Self by Virginia Axline.
7. Place Mill by Barbara Softly [a children’s book]
8. The Synthesis of Yoga by Sri Aurobindo.
9. Walden by Henry David Thoreau.
10. Europe: A History, by Norman Davies.
11. Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn; also The First Circle, and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by the same author.
12. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M Pirsig.
13. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.
14. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.
15. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.
16. All the plays of Henrik Ibsen.
17. The Mahabharata.
18. The Ramayana of Tulasidasa.
19. Manimekhalai
2o. The Golden Treasury [F.T. Palgrave]

Posted in dog, Zoroastrianism

The dog in Zoroastrianism

A recent post on Facebook depicts a graphic in which a dog allows its owner/carer into heaven. And this actually is a tradition in Zoroastrianism, where we find both cows and dogs given a lot of importance. In fact one could say the dog is really the most important animal as indicated by several passages in Zoroastrian texts. For instance,  the Vendidad states, that the dog is one of the creatures of the good spirit (Spenta Mainyu), which always serves man and should be cared for. Another passage points out its usefulness. ‘The dog, O Spitama Zarathushtra! I, Ahura Mazda have made self-clothed and self-shod, watchful, wakeful and sharp-toothed, born to take his food from man and watch over man’s goods.. Whosoever shall wake at his voice, neither shall the thief nor the wolf steal anything from his house..’ (xiii.106-7). Much of the Vendidad also lists punishments for ill-treating a dog, or not feeding it properly.

The dog  is also associated with the other world. In the Arda Viraf Namah, Zerioug Goash is a dog that guards the Chinvat Bridge. Devils quake at his bark, and any soul who on earth has hurt, ill-used or destroyed any of these animals, is prevented from going further.

For those unfamiliar with the religion, Zarathushtra is the prophet who founded the religion, Ahura Mazda is God, and the Chinvat Bridge is the bridge that has to be crossed after death.

Posted in Books, History, Writing

My first published book

I had written this post below four years ago, and thought of re-posting it, as this morning I remembered an incident related to the book. I had read a book called Small Miracles, and this was something that could be categorised as one. Of course, a critique of the book said they were just coincidences, so this is a coincidence I still remember. It was probably 1996, mid summer in Delhi, temperatures around 44 centigrade. There were no mobile phones in those days. Finally, I had been allotted an editor for the book, and as she had a small baby she was working from home. I had her address and set out to visit her in Chittaranjan Park. But once there I could not locate the house. I walked in circles, asked everyone, received directions, but still could not find it. The heat was unbearable. I stopped to breathe, and thought I had better go home. At that moment a sannyasi in orange robes passed me. I hardly noticed him, but suddenly I felt a gust of cold air. In that blazing dry heat, it was cool and moist. Refreshed, I walked on a few steps, and there I was at the gate of the house I had been searching for . A very small incident–only if one had actually experienced the heat and exhaustion, and then that cold air, could one know why I still recollect it.


The earlier post

The Puffin History of India
The Puffin History of India

Perhaps because my mother was a writer, and because the house was always full of books, and I spent most of my time reading, I always believed I was a writer. Somehow, though, I became one only late in life, and almost by chance. After a stint in academics, a PhD, spending years doing research in a musty library, I moved on to become an editor. Then an interest in the philosophy of J Krishnamurti took me to teach in a school in south India run on his philosophy. After a few years there, teaching history and geography to youngsters, I realised there were no books in history that they wanted to read on their own. Teaching there I had begun to understand the kind of books young people required. I approached Penguin India with an idea for several small books on different dynasties, but instead they suggested a single book on Indian history. After sending them a synopsis and sample chapters, I had a contract. I wrote the book in longhand, got it typed, revised it, and got it retyped–I think it was probably the only book for which I kept to the deadline! Meanwhile, Puffin, the children’s division of Penguin, had its own problems, and closed down for some time. Submitted in 1993, the book was finally published in 1997! I had almost given up on it by then, had left the school, and was back to editing. This book, now called The Puffin History of India vol 1, is in its 3rd edition, and continues to have steady sales. A few years later I was pushed by my editor to write its sequel, on India after independence, which is now The Puffin History of India vol 2. After that I went on to write more books.