Of religious converts
I do not believe that anyone has the right to dictate what religion a person should follow, writes Khushwant Singh.india Updated: Sep 23, 2006 10:52 IST
I am a rationalist, an agnostic, not an atheist. There is a world of difference between agnosticism and atheism. One confesses to doubt about the existence of God; the other rejects its existence. I do not believe that anyone has the right to dictate what religion a person should follow. That is why I believe that state governments which have passed laws forbidding conversions are in the wrong: it is not their business to interfere in such matters except when people are coerced to change from one religion to another. Such laws are obnoxious and should be abrogated by the central government or opposed by the Supreme Court.
Personally, I subscribe to Freud’s belief: “When a man is freed of religion, he has a better chance to live a normal and wholesome life.” I don’t miss having any religion, I lead a reasonably healthy life. I enjoy listening to religious music because they are parts of my emotional legacy. I am moved by seeing devotees visiting places of worship. But I don’t need to do so myself. I also know that most of the people who go to pray are hypocrites.
Having made my own position clear, I confess, I find people who willingly convert from one faith to another somewhat off-putting. I have known a few of them. A few convert for the sake of convenience; mostly those who wish to marry Muslims who are very particular that the party converting must recite the Kalima before the marriage ceremony. I regard this as a mockery of Islam. Roman Catholics do much the same: they extract the promise that the children of such unions must be brought up as Catholics.
There are others who go through nominal conversions to get the best of the two worlds, the Muslim and the non-Muslim. They are like politicians who switch from one party to another, which they think will get them brighter future. There is a handsome rascal who married a Muslim divorcee with pretensions of aristocracy. He had two first names, one Hindu in India and the other Muslim in Pakistan, Dubai and the Emirates. And two passports, one under a Hindu, the other under a Muslim name. That got him into trouble more than once. He was fired from jobs. Now he lives in religiously neutral Canada. The more celebrated is the case of the Malayali poet and novelist Kamla Das. She converted to Islam and took a Muslim name Sourayya and started wearing a burqa. Indian Muslims were overjoyed and flocked to her. However, when the Muslim she hoped to marry ditched her, she began to doubt her decision. In my eyes she became a lesser person. I prefer to laud the Bangladeshi novelist Taslima Nasreen who renounced Islam, has a fatwa pronounced against her and lives in exile in Kolkata. I do not regard her as much of a writer but admire her courage to speak her mind.
According to her, Kamla Das (Sourayya) has regrets for her decision to convert to Islam. If she decides to re-convert to Hinduism, I hope she does not make it another media event; otherwise it will make further conversions into a mockery of both religions. My disenchantment with religions is along the lines of Voltaire’s who held “Religion is the source of all imaginable faiths and disturbances; it is the parent of fanaticism and civil discord, and it is the enemy of mankind.” I regard religion as a paakhand (hypocrisy).
The lafda lingo Coinage of new words, their use and misuse, fascinate me. Mumbai seems to be more productive of new vocabulary than any other Indian city; understandably because it has the largest population of underworld criminals. It is ruled by slum-lords and ganglanders, who think nothing of killing for money. It is the world of Dawood Ibrahims, Chhota Rajans, Chhota Shakeels and dozens of their ilk.
Since the destruction of the Babri Masjid and the anti-Muslim violence let loose by Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, followed by bombings by Muslim criminals, they have been broadly divided into Hindu versus Muslim. But crossing over from one side to the other to save their own lives has blurred the line of communal divide. I read about them in Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found. He has devoted a couple of pages to the underworld vocabulary.
There is one word for work, sex and death: kaam. A girl is an item number chhabees (26), her lover is a chhora. A girl can also be paaya, pana or chaval: if she happens to be good looking, she becomes baasmati. Nalli jhatkana means orgasm; atkana for screwing. A gun which provides them livelihood is: Jamaan bartan, mithai, dhatu, chappal, sixer, chatni and even ghoda. A sub-machine gun can be gautar or jhaadu (for its sweeping action). A small pistol or revolver is endearingly known as amma, bullets as her bachhey. To kill is to ‘total him’, potle or parcel kar de, minus or kamti kar de. Mehta explains the origin of supari for contract killing from the tradition of giving paan and betel nut (supari) as a gesture to wish them success on a murderous mission.
Having sex is bajaana or thokna, girls and drugs are maal, charas is kala sona, the police is thula, a police van, a dhaba and so on.
There is one Mumbai slang which the painter Iloosh Ahluwalia introduced to my vocabulary without explaining its meaning: khaalee peelee bum maarte hai. I presume it refers to boasting or bragging but I am not sure, Perhaps she was line-lagaoing and it means nothing.
There was a general named Musharraf.
Who was selectively soft and tough:
Red carpet for Condoleezza;
Javed Akhtar? No Visa! Shouldn’t
we say enough is enough?
(Courtesy: Prabhat Vaidya, Mumbai)