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The grit behind non-violence

'The Eternities: Vedanta Treatise' is the most lucid and easily comprehensible exposé of the foundations of Hindu faith I had ever read, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: May 12, 2007 03:34 IST

Nandu Somani, a friend of my years in Bombay, sent me a few books on different aspects of Hinduism by A Parathasarthy based in Mumbai. I was reluctant to read them as I am generally reluctant to read books on religion. However, out of curiosity, I picked The Eternities: Vedanta Treatise and was unable to put it down till I came to almost the middle of the book. It is the most lucid and easily comprehensible exposé of the foundations of Hindu faith I had ever read. But in the middle I got stuck on two items in his learned exposition: Genesis and justification of the caste system and his views on ahimsa (non-violence). What he has written about them is unacceptable to me.

So I am only partly through with the book, which deals with them, and mean to read it till the end. I take the liberty of pointing out where I think he has gone wrong. His explanation of the caste system is stereotyped, that it was based on merit — Brahmins for learning and scholarship, kshatriyas for valour and martial skills, vaishyas for expertise on trading and finance, shudras for hard work like tilling the soil. He totally ignores the fifth class who are beneath the four and commonly described outcastes, Dalits or Bahujans.

The Gita justifies caste divisions and warns people against dire consequences of mingling them. The caste system is basically ethnic and not merit based. Most of our religious reformers paid lip service to a casteless society but conformed to its norms. It is an evil institution and must be purged from our social system. Gandhiji was the first to do something practical to eradicate it but was only partially successful. I wish Parathasarthy has used strong language and denounced it as sinful.

About ahimsa, he writes: “The concept of kindness has been gravely misconstrued in India. They blunder in following the spiritual doctrine of ahimsa — non-injury. And refuse to inflict any form of injury. They are more concerned about the act of kindness rather than the thought of kindness… The Hindus followed the doctrine of ahimsa blindly. They have abstained from injuring anybody irrespective of the consequences accruing them from. Even if it led to their destruction later. This fanatic approach to life has rendered the Hindu race passive and vulnerable to weakness that turned out to be a diabolic weapon in the hands of the oppressors and invaders. It was made use of to destroy the Indian tradition, culture and religion.”

Parthasarathy is weak on history. As a matter of fact our ancestors did resist invaders by the use of arms. They were not defeated by ahimsa but greater military prowess of the invaders. Gandhiji who looked upon the Gita as his Bible declared ahimsa to be parmo dharma, the primary faith. It was not based on weakness or cowardice; it was based on courage, the like of which the world had not faced. Where soldiers and policemen armed with modern weapons failed; he, the naked faqeer succeeded. When murderers roamed the streets thirsting for human blood, he alone stirred their conscience and forced them to lay down their weapons. How can Parthasarathy or anyone else question the greatness of ahimsa as the supreme courage?

Sabavala

Jehangir Sabavala is 10 years younger than me; he looks 30 years younger. He has many other things to his credit which I do not have. He is tall; I am short. He is slender; I am paunchy; he is handsome with Romonesque features; I am an ugly old Sardar with scraggy beard. He is a gifted artist, now among the cream of Indian artists, whose paintings sell for millions and are resold for double their prices.

I tried to be an artist, but realised within three months that I did not have it in me to be a good one. So I did the next best thing. I sit in judgement on artists and write about their works — often with little understanding about their craft.

I have never understood why some paintings fetch crores at auctions while others, which I think are more beautiful, go for a few thousands. Sabavala further elaborated: “Art collectors are investors; they buy paintings only to resell them at double the price. They are better investments than land, house, gold or silver. In the end the artist who creates them gets a small fraction of what they actually sell for.” It is still a mystery where such masterpieces find space on whose walls for their final resting place. The common man may not be able to discern whether the painting has been hung upside down or otherwise. The art world has become a huge racket.

The dialogue took place during one of my evening mehfils. Sabavala knew I was too old to visit his exhibition at the National Galley of Modern Art, so he gifted me Ranjit Hoskote’s second book: The Crucible of Painting: The Art of Jehangir Sabavala. After he left, I spent some time going over the book; it is profusely illustrated with photographs of his rich and illustrious ancestors, the stately mansions they lived in, his beautiful wife Shirin, their travels abroad , above all, selections of his paintings. His earlier work is in bright, vivid colours, the latter in subdued, sophisticated shades. His nudes, particularly in pencil, are drawn in bold lines and as sensuous as any I have seen. I read in the papers that his exhibition in Delhi went down very well. Nothing was said about their valuation. Jehangir Sabavala has also never been short of cash.

World Cup

Two people to blame our World Cup failure:

1. Indira Gandhi (For creating Bangladesh).

2.Hanuman (For not destroying Lanka completely).

(Contributed by Vipin Bucksey, New Delhi)