Before anything, read the critique of the book by Kancha Illiah in the Caravan. Essentially, an evaluation of flaws in Tharoor’s conception of Hinduism- of which I am neither an authority nor an observer.
|Why are you a Hindu?|
Now to the book. Why I am a Hindu– Shashi Tharoor, – a compendium of the the author’s personal views on his individualistic reading of the religion, its origins, teachings and application of the tenets of Hindusim in the 21stcentury- its interpretation and more importantly, a recalling of the misinterpretation of its precepts is what makes for the book published by Aleph Book Publishing.
The overarching statement, of course, being what is the author’s Hindusim- that essentially boils down to (in the author’s lexicon) what a liberal, universal and tolerant religion would preach. Much like the title, the author begins with a disclaimer. He charts his early reminiscences of unconscious moulding of a Hindu leaning- by way of silent observing of the prayers that his parents offered, the non-believing rebel phase (merely touches upon it- evidently insignificant) and his knowledge of caste bestowed on him by a particularly privileged classmate of his belonging to a prominemt Bollywood family.
True to the spirit of the book, Tharoor spans aspects of Hindusim, hitherto not unknown but gilded in a succinct, readable ease- right from great souls and seers of Hinduisms, its agglomerative interpretation in the onslaught by other religions, the multiplicity of practices in the Hindu religion that make it difficult to pin down one holistic philosophy and practice. He quotes Radhakrishnan on how Hindusim cannot be reduced to one or two holy books- The Bhagvad Gita. He calls it a polycentric faith, since ‘there is no single structure of theological authority or liturgical power’. He dwells on the facets of Hinduism such as the caste system and the rituals and the multiciplity of gods and the takes the bull by its horns when he talks of Hindutva. He traces it right from its orgins to its hijacking of the principles for political gains by some parties and how we can reclaim the faith in its truest sense in the 21stcentury. The distinction between his political reading of the religion as against a personal one- remain a grey area in the book. His reference to the Upanishads take us back to the humanistic Hindusim that was conceived as one and rightly quoted, ‘Hindu religious practice is essentially contemplative, as the seeker turns his gaze inwards in quest of real awareness.’
He doesn’t shy away from tackling rampant malpractices such as the caste system in the Hindu religion but considers it a practice not inherent to the religion’s core philosophy- he sees it as a societal manifestation and proliferation. ‘Hindu society may have maintained a distasteful practice, but no one can credibly argue that its intrinsic to the religion.’ He deleves into Hinduism’s most important schools of thought such as Advaita Vedanta- concepts of Hindu philosophy like the Purushstras and Bhakti, masterfully summarisez the lessons of Gita and Vivekanadnda’s ecumenism and also talks of the everyday Hindusim as practised by everyday goings on. He dwells on the philosophy of Deen Dayal Upadhayaya, Hindutva’s most important ideologues and sees the militant Hindusim as an aberration , a digression from the essence of the religion. Of ‘How Hindutva went against the tenets of the most eclectic, inclusive and expansive religions of the world’. It is not hard to see that this romantic, at times, a rose tinted version of the theology and liberal leaning come across as an offshoot of the former diplomat’s westernised education and an upbringing that insulated him from the baser realisation of religion in the real world. At times, he is blamed for oscillating between Nehruvian secularism and Brahminism to suit his purpose.
An attentive reading and allusion in the book to the religious texts and scriptures, vedas puranas, upanishads lends authenticity to his voice- be it a political one or not- remains to be seen.
Why I am a Hindu