Sunday, December 30, 2007

THIS ABOVE ALL - by Khushwant Singh

Idol speculation
PREETAM Giani is an iconoclast (an idol-breaker) in more senses than one. He was born of Pakistani Muslim parents, given a Muslim name and brought up as one. He changed it to a recognisable Hindu-Sikh name Preetam Giani. While a student of English literature in Cambridge University, he openly proclaimed himself to be a gay and continues to champion the cause of homosexuals. He has been in trouble with the police. Looked upon by the orthodox as a renegade, he also declares he is an idolater: he worships Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. However, Lakshmi has not been very kind to him as he is always hard up for money.
Preetam lives in Abbotabad (Pakistan) and often writes to me. Some years ago, he came to Delhi with his Pakistani friend. I took an afternoon off to drive them round the city. He was not interested in seeing monuments but agreed to visit Ghalib’s grave in Nizamuddin. While his friend recited the fateha beside the tomb of the poet, he stood at a distance taking photographs. He showed no desire to go into the dargah to pay homage to Amir Khusrau or Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Instead, he went next door to the Ghalib Institute and handed over a set of his translations of Ghalib’s Diwan.
In his last letter to me, Preetam wrote: “Anyone who has ever kissed the photo of a loved one should be able to understand the reason for idolatory.” That I think is going too far. Most of us have photographs of people we love or admire on our walls or in silver frames on our tables but we do not worship them.
However, one has to concede that the dividing line between respect, admiration and worship is often blurred. However much some religions decry worship of idols, it manifests itself in different forms in all of them. Jainism and Buddhism question the existence of God and decry worship of idols as symbolic representations of the Divine. Nevertheless idols of Mahavira and other Tirthankars and those of Gautama Buddha are the central pieces of all Jain and Buddhist temples. Hinduism, which often maintains God is nirankar (without form), in practice makes no apology for representing the formless God in human or symbolic forms. The only Hindu temples without idols that I came across were in Bali. Reformist sects like the Brahmo and the Arya Samaj which tried to discard idol worship failed in their quests.
Sikhs, who also profess to be against idol worship, treat the Granth Sahib much the same way as Hindus treat their idols. The Granth Sahib is “woken up” in the morning (prakash) and put to sleep (santokhna) at night. It is draped in rich embroidered silks and taken out in processions. In homes of the rich, a room is set apart for the holy book (Baba ji da kamra), and fans or ACs are kept going round the clock in the summer months.
Christians deny they are idol worshippers. However, the reverence they show towards the statues of Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary are no different from reverence shown by idol worshippers to their deities carved in stone or wood.
Muslims claim with pride that they abominate idol worship and regard idol-breakers as their heroes. It is true that they do not allow pictures or idols of the Prophet to be made but Shias in Iran have pictures of Hazrat Ali Hasan and Hussain in the streets and on walls in their homes. More Muslims visit dargahs, where their holy men are buried, to ask for favours than they go to mosques to offer namaaz. Instead of worshipping idols, they worship graves of their peers, rightly described as kabar-prasti.
Idol worship is inherent in human nature.

Saturday, December 20, 2003
The art of doing nothingKhushwant Singh
I spent my childhood and youth shirking work by bunking school and college lectures. But for the fear of parents and teachers, I had no problems spending my days playing and loafing about. That attitude to life continued into the years in office. I found an excuse to absent myself, roamed the streets gazing into shop-windows, see the raunaq of bazaars, people going from nowhere to nowhere. I looked forward to week-ends and holidays. If the office closed down in honour of the demise of some national leader or departmental head, I celebrated it as a bonus by taking my family to the pictures or a picnic. My role model was a loafer.
Things began to change when I became my own employer and had to live on what I earned by my own efforts. I proved to be a hard task-master. Painful though the transition was, I learnt to rise before dawn, slog all day into the late hours and cut down on my social activities. Slogging became my second nature. I lost the ability to relax, to sit still and stare at nothing without a care in the world. I can't make up my mind whether it is better to be a loafer or a workaholic. Since I am determined not to drive myself hard anymore, I am trying out different techniques to teach myself to do nothing.
I sit in my garden basking in the winter sun. I keep my habit of picking up a book or a magazine under check. I succumb to crossword puzzles because they keep my mind from going to sleep. I watch my cats (they've multiplied to six). They spend their day doing nothing besides playing with each other and dozing off. I envy their carefree existence. They can do so because they live on my bounty. Envying cats does not solve my problems. I have eliminated some causes of my restlessness and come to the conclusion that both the impulse to restless activity and the desire to do nothing ultimately depend on one's mind. How can one train the mind?
Very reluctantly I turned to meditation. I did my best to keep the outside world from intruding into my solitude. I read the morning papers and watched TV to keep abreast of world events. Then put the world out of my mind. I tried some preliminary exercises like shutting my eyes and focusing my mind on inhaling and exhaling my breath. I found it very soothing. For a few fleeting seconds, I could also still my mind and prevent it from jumping like a monkey from one branch to another. It didn't last too long. The mind is simian: it is its nature to jump about. It continues to do so when I am asleep. I cannot control my dreams because I cannot control my mind except for a few fleeting moments.
In any event what does stilling my mind produce? Some maintain it produces peace of mind — which in its turn produces nothing besides peace of mind. I am in a conundrum: should I persist in trying to meditate? Or should I give it up as an exercise in futility? I wish some reader knowledgeable about the subject would advise me.
The potent Gayatri Mantra
by Khushwant Singh
I HAVE succeeded in memorising the lines (like to show-off the little knowledge Ihave) but I have failed to comprehend their meaning nor understood why Hindus regard it as the mantra of all mantras. To me it appears to be no more than a hymn in praise of the sun. Allama Iqbal in his poem Aaftab also regarded it as a litany of solar worship. I have two other versions in translation. The first is by Professor V.N. Datta. The second by Nafay Kumail Radaulvi. Before their versions I reproduce the original:
Aum Bhur Bhuvah Svah, Tat Savitur VarenyamBhargo Devasya Dhimahi Dhiyo Yo Nah Prachodayat
Professor Datta translates the lines as follows:
"O Lord, who pervades the earth,
The intermediate world and the world of life,
We mediate on the supreme light
Of the illumining Sun-god,
That he may impel our mind."
Rudaulvi, who is himself a poet of some calibre, translated the same lines in more poetic words:
Oh Lord, the soul of this beautiful world and the founder of day and night
You are the creator of the universe and the provider for all
The Moon the Sun are there due to you and help creation
The life and death is subject to your existence
You are the Noor that is everywhere
The heart beats and all breathe with your permission
Please have mercy in the name of that noor
The knowledge and Aql gets the right intellectual orientation
Can some reader tell me why this mantra is looked upon as the most potent?