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A call to Unchanging God

Asiya Andrabi and other narrow-minded sons and ‘daughters of the faith’ are skating on pretty thin ice denouncing Valentine’s Day as ‘foreign’. Renuka Narayanan elaborates.

india Updated: Feb 06, 2009 22:08 IST
Renuka Narayanan

Last week, when Beating Retreat was cancelled in official mourning for the late President of India, R. Venkataraman, I’m sure many of us thought of its moving finale, which is Bapu’s favourite English hymn, Abide With Me. It’s the same hymn that was played bravely on the deck of the drowning Titanic in 1912 and the hymn of choice at the wedding of King George VI of England and again, at the wedding of his daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth II to Prince Philip. It was notably aired at the funeral of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, in 1997.

We sang the first two verses of Abide with me every day at morning assembly at school in Pedder Road, Bombay. I understood why much later. The words were simple, strong and inspiring. They told you clearly that while the world changed, God did not :
Abide with me; fast falls the even tide,
The darkness deepens;
Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail
and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless,
O abide with me.
Swift to its close ebbs
out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim;
its glories pass away;
Change and decay in
all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

This Christian hymn was written by Henry Francis Lyte in 1847 three weeks before he died of tuberculosis. It truly seems one of those ‘corners of a foreign field that will be forever England’. Some things have such straightforward emotional beauty that they go straight to our heart. Should we stop playing this song because it was written by an Englishman and addressed to a foreign god and is therefore against Indian culture?

As for Asiya Andrabi and other narrow-minded sons and ‘daughters of the faith’ opposing something as pretty and innocent as Valentine’s Day, they’re skating on pretty thin ice when they denounce it as ‘foreign’. By that reckoning, Islam is foreign to South Asia.

We all understand why theSene-Sainiks are against Valentine’s. They have baited the trap for silly, unthinking types like Andrabi to get in and paint themselves into a corner. Then the Hindu loonies can try to say what they’re dying to, which is to Indian Muslims: “Don’t impose Arab culture on Hindu culture.” As for the hardliners among Indian Muslims, what’s left to say? The whole world says it.

The reality is that nobody is going anywhere, we’re all in this together and the only way is forward, not back. Nor can Islam in India go back to 7th century Arabia; 21st century India is not the place for such loser thoughts. And isn’t someone like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan a better role model than pillagers who pretended piety: Guzzly, Gory, that old gang?
The Sene-Sainiks sound as though they are the ones longing to be Salafi and exercise puritanical controls over society. How manly and cultured to hit girls in pubs or attack harmless Christian customs like Valentine’s when the real target of their hatred is Muslim men - whom the stern, unblinking gaze of our media and civil society now protects from open attack.

Those who feel insecure about modern ways might like to remember how Hinduism survives everything and everybody. This culture and faith are stronger than we give them credit for. The insecure in Islam could learn flexibility from Hinduism instead of being some mullah’s bakri. Everyone could live well. Abide with us, Unchanging God, while we sort ourselves out and find our better selves.