Asumal Harpalani and Narendra Dabholkar may seem an odd couple, but they represent the reality of India today. In case you are wondering, Asumal Harpalani is commonly known as Asaram Bapu. Narendra Dabholkar was the founder of Maharashtra Andhshraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (Maharashtra Committee for Eradication of Blind Faith). Dr. Dabholkar was shot down on 20th August 2013 while he was on his morning walk in Pune. There were spontaneous protests from members of the civil society and the Maharashtra government acted with alacrity and cleared the Anti-Superstition and Black Magic ordinance that they had failed to discuss for the past three years. Of course its not as if ‘all is well that ends well’. The ordinance needs approval of Parliament, so there is still room for procrastination. But the fact that political parties in Maharashtra that paid mere lip-service earlier, were forced to act is a positive sign.
Asaram Bapu was arrested on 1st September 2013, for sexual assault on a 16 year-old girl, but not before dodging the police for weeks. Here again, hundreds came out in protest, not against what he was accused of, sadly, but against his arrest. Fortunately, no political party came out in his support, though leaders of almost all major national parties had sought his blessings at one time or another. Asaram Bapu is not the first to have used young women in his spiritual experiments, but the India of today is less forgiving of such abuses.
Like Socialism and Secularism, Scientific Temper was another ideal that the Nation had promised to give itself as it prepared for its tryst with destiny.
Between the contrasts represented by these two examples, is the case of Vikram Gandhi, alias, Kumaré. Vikram Gandhi played a fake guru, Kumaré, and filmed his journey of spreading his spiritual message in the West. Vikram Gandhi started with the purpose of exposing blind faith, but ended in greater doubt than he had bargained for. As a fake guru, he is certainly not unique, but he is a rare example of someone conducting a ‘sting operation’ to expose the prevalence of blind faith among Western followers of Indian spiritual gurus. However, there can be no doubt of the hold of blind faith among their followers in India, regardless of the faith these gurus and their followers profess.
The flamboyant promoter of one of our grounded airlines could not pay salaries to the staff for months but felt it necessary to offer three kilos of gold to his guardian deity.
Like Socialism and Secularism, Scientific Temper was another ideal that the Nation had promised to give itself as it prepared for its tryst with destiny. The first has been discredited and the second sounds phony today, but Scientific Temper (one of the fundamental duties of every citizen under Article 51A(h))is yet to find many adherents even in our scientific institutions. During early mornings at traffic signals in Mumbai, one sees ‘vegetable’ vendors who specialize in selling lemons and chillies ready to be suspended below the chassis of trucks, a kind of divine insurance for the day. Private cars rarely buy this device, because they already have a better and more lasting talisman keeping watch behind the windscreen. Depending on the particular faith of the owner of the vehicle, it could be a portly Ganesha or a Chunri or a Kalama or a Cross. The owner will try to buy the cheapest third party insurance, and that too only because it is mandated by law, but divine security cover is a must, even if the seatbelt is considered a nuisance. The flamboyant promoter of one of our grounded airlines could not pay salaries to the staff for months but felt it necessary to offer three kilos of gold to his guardian deity.
A recent post by one of our professors on a news item about the chief of the Indian Space Research Organization carrying a miniature model of one of their launch vehicles to be blessed at a prominent place of worship before the launch, invited an avalanche of responses. The reactions were quite revealing. While a few were indeed concerned that this promoted superstition, and was contrary to the scientific temper that ISRO was expected to display, many saw nothing amiss. One person was more concerned to find out whether the ISRO chief had violated any government rule by taking his security guards with him for this purpose. Obviously, our educational institutions are no exception, and would rather hedge their bets when dealing with divinity. The power of prayer, as another colleague pointed out, was to calm one’s own mind rather than try to influence God’s. This insight is not widely accepted, it seems, even in portals of reason.
.. there is a little bit of the sufi and the sant in each of us.
Regardless, the notes of the shehnai or nadaswaram from a temple or the azan from a mosque at dawn cannot fail to move the most ardent rationalist. Music and poetry move us in mysterious ways. The words of Khusro and Kabir affect us deeply, there is a little bit of the sufi and the sant in each of us. There is a yearning that is not easily explained. While we now understand fairly well where we came from (apes), we would like to know why we are here in the first place though we may have some apprehension about where we are going. As a race, we are searching for motives. Even Einstein chose to describe himself as an agnostic rather than atheist. As ordinary individuals our concerns may be more mundane such as the bottom line of the company balance sheet or a dear one’s medical report but if something or someone can help, we are prepared to pay the price. But sometimes the price is more than one has bargained for.
– Ali Baba