Meaning of religion

I suggest that on religious festivals after performing expected rituals like going to temples, mosques, churches or gurdwaras, people should spend a little time — no more than half-an-hour —  alone in silence and ask themselves: “What does my religion really mean to me?” Hindus could do this on Ram Naumi or Diwali, Muslims on Eid-ul Fitr, Christians on Christmas, Sikhs on the birth anniversaries of the founder of Sikhism — Guru Nanak.

I was born and brought up as a Sikh. I learnt my daily prayers and could recite them by heart. I went to gurdwaras to pray and joined religious processions. I followed this routine for many days in school and college. It was in the seven years in Lahore and my close association with Manzur Qadir that I began to question many of the assumptions made by all religions. He was a Muslim but did not offer namaz either at home or in a mosque even on Eid. Neither did his uncle Saleem who was India’s tennis champion for many years and preferred living like an European aristocrat, rather than a Muslim nawab. Being Muslim meant little to them besides an accident of birth. Neither of them bothered to make religion an issue. I did. By the time India gained independence, I gained freedom from conformist religion and openly declared myself an agnostic.

Oddly enough, for reasons I cannot fathom, my interest in religions increased. I studied scriptures of all religions, translated a lot of my own and taught comparative religions in American universities. My interest in the subject continues. On Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary (Nov 21), I tried to answer the question — How much of a Sikh am I? And drew up a list of answers. Although I do not practice rituals, I have a sense of belonging to the Sikh community. Whatever happens to it is of concern to me and I speak up or write about it.

I think that speculating about where we come from and where we go after we die is a waste of time. No one has the foggiest idea. What we should be concerned about is what we do in our lives on earth. An Urdu couplet sums it up neatly:

Hikayat-e-hastee sunee
To darmi yaan say sunee;
Na ibtida kee khabr hai
Na intiha maaloom
What I have heard of life
Is only the Middle
I know not its beginning
I know not its end.

I have imbibed what I think are the basics of Sikhism as I see it now. I regard truth to be the essence of religion and must for life. As Guru Nanak said:

Suchhon Orey sab ko
Ooper Suchh Aachaar

Truth above all, above truth, truthful conduct. I do my best not to lie. It is easier than telling lies because lieing requires cunning to cover up lies you have told before. Truth does not require brains.

Earn your own living and share some of it with others, said Guru Nanak: Khat ghaal kichh hathhon dey, Nanak raah pachchaney sey: “He who earns with his own hands and with his own hands gives some of it away” says Nanak, “has found the true way.”

I try not to hurt others feelings. If I have done, so, I try to cleanse my conscience by tendering an apology before the year is out.

I have also imbibed the motto: “Chardi Kala: Ever remain in buoyant spirits, never say die.”

Ponder over it. Try it out.

Noise-happy nation

There are times when I think that my growing deafness may be a blessing in disguise. One is a week before, the other a week after Diwali. The week before people try out the ammunition they have bought; on Diwali night they fire off most of it in the war against evil. The week following they expend what remains unused.

Like dogs, cats and pigeons which live around my flat, I am allergic to loud noises. I have one advantage over my animals and bird companions: I use hearing aids. Whenever I feel I can’t take the high decibles of noise, I take out my hearing aids and a blissful silence surrounds me. Dogs whine and whimper, cats cringe in corners, pigeons fly about in panic in the pitch dark not knowing where to rest for the night.

The other time hearing aids come handy is when some chatterboxes descend on me. I have to be more deft with my hand movements to take out my hearing plugs and more deceptive in my looks: I have to pretend I am engrossed in the chatterers’ monologue.

When he or she suddenly stops talking, I conclude he or she has asked me some question. I quickly slip in my hearing aids and hear him or her repeat: “Did you hear what I said?” It is then that I have to confess: “No, I didn’t hear a word. I am deaf and did not have my hearing aids in my ears. Please repeat what you said.” And they repeat it all again because chatterboxes love to talk about themselves and are crashing bores.

Mind your language

Lok Sabha Speaker: No un-parliamentary language in the House please.

MP: Strange sir! my wife often shouts saying “no parliamentary language in the house”.

(Contributed by G S Rathore, Khanna, Ludhiana)

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