Do you all remember the Bajaj motor bike ad? It was meant to reinstate the fact that Bajaj was a true Indian product. It had a young man on a motor bike, cruising effortlessly through elaborate powder rangoli designs on residential roads, reaching out to his forehead and heart, while bowing his head in homage as he crossed a temple and many such truly Indian gestures, which are a strange mix of religion and tradition that we have grown up with.
Yet, I was at a loss of words when my 13 year old daughter asked me my opinion on abortions and in the same breath said-"Most of my class are atheists." I started to explain why it was important to have faith. She said in a dismissive tone (implying- I dont need a lecture)-"Dont worry, I believe in God."
But I realize that it is scientific, forward thinking and "in" not to believe in God. After all, teenagers like my daughter will ask- Have you seen him or her? About 10 years ago, an Indian Christian friend doing theology in England had told us that only 8% people in England would call themselves Christian. In Eastern cultures, though, there would be an underlying fear psychosis preventing people from questioning the existence of the creator. In the chaos, which is India- with bad roads, worse traffic, corrupt public services, extreme weather, divisive politicians and teeming population- One has to have faith, to survive.
This discussion about atheism, in class was no doubt, brought on by Pope's controversial state visit to Britain. So controversial that government spokespersons had to clarify on BBC, that the Pope is actually a Head of state (the Vatican City) and that this is a reciprocal visit in the diplomatic protocol, as the Pope has in the past, received many Prime ministers of Britain and members of the Royal family. They also clarified that only state functions had been paid for by the taxpayer and all religious functions were sponsored by the Catholic Church.
Amongst all the discussion about abortions, contraception, homosexuality etc. his visit taught me new phrases- "aggressive secularism", "atheist extremism." The Pope appealed to multicultural Britain to respect traditional values and cultural expressions, which "aggresive secularism" is trying to eradicate. A similar term was used by panelists on NDTV discussing the Ayodhya judgement- "secular fundamentalism"
The India I have grown up in is actually secular, not atheist. Most Indians believe in God and live peacefully with believers of a different God, even if it is by finding ways not to step on each others toes. Most Hindu shrines including Kailashnath have Muslims as caretakers and the Pujari in Ayodhya has been feeling sorry for the shrine which has been exposed to wind and rain since the Masjid fell down.
I always remember calling out for relatives of a Muslim woman outside the Labour ward of Safdarjung Hospital. A lady with her hair parting full of sindoor, (the red powder symbolizing marriage for Hindu women) came up to me and said she was the Muslim woman's sister in law. I looked at her suspiciously and pointed to the fact that she seemed to be a Hindu considering the kilo of sindoor in her parting and this woman was a Muslim. She then clarified that actually they were neighbours but their husbands were like brothers and they were family in that respect. I barely had time to argue with that and so was content in getting her signature to say that she had been explained her "sister in law's" medical condition and its risks.
Listening to all the voices yesterday about the Ayodhya verdict made me think. The bl....politicians, who are to blame for the fanning of communal sentiments, have been thanking the Indian public for the calm they have maintained.
The truth is that, 20 years on, from the days of the heady rath-yatras and Imam's fatwas, parties have lost elections and India has had to hang its head in shame over some of the worst riots. Leaders who speak the language of roads, electricity and water, governance and development have been able to keep their mandates, while others have lost them. The Sensex watching, mall and multiplex going new India has realized it is important to be educated and be educated in English to get the life you want...nobody really cares for non issues like places of worship, anymore.
This also reminds me of my college days when students were burning themselves in protest over reservation for backward castes in Government jobs, as recommended by the Mandal Commission. We, medical college students were up in arms as well, yet a few years on, it became a non issue. Liberalization exploded the multinational job market, government hospitals saw brain drain into Corporate hospitals and nobody cared for the few government jobs in question.
India has been a darling of the international media for some time now, since the opening up of the markets. Manmohan Singh, who doesnt enjoy such popularity at home, has been hailed as the man who brought about prosperity for many in India and has received the World statesman award.
Economist has consistently featured articles about India, one of its earlier covers being-the tiger in a cage- signifying the entrepreneurship and demographic dividend of India being bogged down by corruption, lack of infrastructure, health and education....but the Economist's recent cover (after reporting on all the fiascos during the run up to the Games) is a tiger on the run- with the caption-"why India will outpace China".
Well I hope all forecasts are true....even though there are so many buts....Kashmir, Maoists, corruption, lack of infrastructure...
But one must have faith- Faith in the almighty, faith in destiny, and above all
Faith in the Indian people- who rejected coercive Family planning measures to give us this demographic dividend, rejected the call for Hindi as a national language with the result that we continued to need English and our newfound economy is based on our knowledge of English, have successively rejected Governments which failed to deliver and have put people like Shiela Dixit in power again.
We will need to have faith, and therefore will continue to have faith!