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A matter of faith

In the final analysis, everyone should make up his or her own religion and not unquestionably conform to the one he or she was born into, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Jul 04, 2008 22:09 IST

It depends on what you mean by religion. If it is prayers most of which you do not understand but recite by rote, going to places of worship to be in the company of like-minded people, undertaking pilgrimages to places you regard holy, fasting on certain days, abstinence from sex, and abstaining from consuming some kinds of food or drink, my answer would be an emphatic ‘no’ because these practices are of no consequence: conforming to them does not make you a better human being. On the contrary, they prevent you from thinking for yourself. Sigmund Freud, the famous psychologist, was right in holding, “When a man is freed of religion, he has a better chance to live a normal and wholesome life.” Galileo, the celebrated astronomer, said the same thing many centuries earlier. “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

Abraham Lincoln put it succinctly: “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.” How true! If you have to justify your words or actions, be sure your feeling good is flawed.

In the final analysis, everyone should make up his or her own religion and not unquestionably conform to the one he or she was born into. Since we do not know where we came from, belief in God as our Creator is optional. But there is no justification for calling Him just or merciful because there is little evidence of justice or mercy in our world. In earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, He takes lives of good and evil, believers and non-believers, old and young indiscriminately. All of which we describe as acts of God.

Why we are here is also an open question because we are not sure of the answer. All we can do is to teach ourselves how to live in peace with ourselves and get the best out of the faculties endowed to us without harming people among whom we live. This is not asking for too much and many people manage to live such lives.

What happens to us after we die should not be of much concern to us. There is no evidence whatsoever for believing in heaven, hell or re-incarnation. They are man-made fantasies to beguile ourselves.

Hocus pocus

Sunaulidhar is a small village on the road to Almora in the Kumaon Hills. By the bus stop it has a kirana shop-cum-post office and a chaiwala who serves steaming cups of sugared tea, biscuits and pakodas. Its main feature is a school, which started off as a primary, became secondary and finally a high school. Its main characters are teachers: the headmaster who likes to be called Principal, the English teacher, who likes to be called professor, a half-Chinese girl Kalawati Yen who looks after the nursery classes, a lady music teacher and the manager. In this sylvan setting in the hills covered with pines, oaks, and deodar trees, arrives young Manohar Shyam Joshi, fresh out of college and on the make as a Hindi novelist. He is a mischief-maker who probes into the sexual lives of his colleagues. His principal victim Khashtivallabh Pant, teacher of English, known as Professor T’Ta, who is the self-appointed guardian of 19-year-old Kalawati Yen, also the heart-throb of the author who undertakes to help her with maths and science subjects in order to get closer to her.

A running battle is waged between Professor T’Ta and the Principal. No-holds-barred words of contempt hurled at each other with reckless abandon ending with a polite maharaj or ji. Most of it is over the meaning of English words like hanky panky, hocus pocus and coitus interruptus. The sole arbiter in the bitter exchange that takes place is a pocket Oxford Dictionary which is forever in the pocket of the Professor of English. He also believes that in order to speak proper English, a person should be dressed like an English gentleman in black coat and striped trousers. Though he mispronounces English word for farewell, Ta Ta, he is a stickler for correct enunciation.

Manohar Shyam Joshi (1933-2006) was a prolific writer and producer of TV soaps. He had a wicked sense of humour, which you can see at its subtlest best in T’Ta Professor (Penguin-Viking). He was lucky in finding a translator in Ira Pande. Her profile of her novelist mother Shivani, Diddi: My Mother’s Voice, was acclaimed as a classic. She has done a creditable job with Joshi’s novella written in Kumaoni dialect. The reader will not suspect it is a translation. Strongly recommended as a sample of Indian humour at its best.

Loving amnesia

An elderly gent was invited to an old friend’s home for dinner. He was impressed by the way his friend preceded every request to his wife with endearing terms such as Honey, My love, Darling, Sweetheart, Pumpkin etc.

The couple had been married almost 70 years and clearly they were still very much in love. While the wife was in the kitchen, the man leaned over and said to his host, “I think it’s wonderful that, after all these years, you still call your wife those loving pet names.” The old man hung his head: “I have to tell you the truth,” he said. “Her name slipped my mind about 10 years ago and I'm scared to death to ask her what it is.”

(Contributed By Vipin Bucksey, New Delhi)