An old RC ruminates on his ‘Pseudo-Secularist’ roots: Hartman de Souza

Guest post by HARTMAN DE SOUZA

The background and context to this not-so-enigmatic title is very simple. By today’s standards, I am old – I get a hefty discount travelling by train which I am still hooked on, and I am still counting the years and sniffing my coffee. The ‘RC’ is a lot simpler:

Travelling by train from Mumbai to Delhi many, many moons ago, a man in the compartment, in his thirties, got into conversation with me. After I had answered his opening bullet shot questions – You are from? You are doing what? Your father is doing what? – he told me I spoke English like a ‘foreigner’.

I was still fresh from Kenya those days, where I was born, so I got a lot of grief from having a different accent that no one could place.

This was of course much, much before you could study for an undergraduate degree in India (where you were born) and then, if you had the means and the SATs, go and study in the US for a few years. There, in the land of beef and honey, as we now note with pride, many Indians also discovered the ‘free market’ and their ‘authentic’ Hindu roots – then came back to spew communal venom with a makeshift American accent and the dollars to back it.

As if it was stamped on my bloody forehead, he then asked: “You are Christian?” He pronounced this as “Kir-tchin’.

I pretended I hadn’t heard. So he repeated the question. I nodded, hoping he would disappear and let me get on reading my book.  He did not. Instead had a broad grin on his face, like he knew in which bag he could drop me in.  “You are RC!” he said, almost triumphantly.

For a few seconds, he almost had me stumped. I raised my eyebrows.

Ro-maan Catholic,” he offered.

I shook my head and smiled back. “No,” I replied “Retired Catholic…”

He didn’t get the joke. Guys like that still can’t.

As matters turned out though, I got my first taste of how a loyal RSS acolyte goes about doing his thing.  I heard non-stop, as did my other non-Christian, non-Muslim and possibly even retired-from-religion companions in the compartment, about Hedgewar and Golwalkar and why the RSS was set up; the need for discipline; how Muslims had slaughtered thousands of Hindus during partition and were enemies of the state; the duty we all had to the Motherland; and the need for a caste system because it was divinely ordained.

In those days, the early 70s, as if my alienated black heart/brown skin soul cried for it, I was cutting my teeth on Camus’s Outsider which was on my lap even as he prattled. My companions and I were bombarded instead by the achievements of two men whom I was never to forget.

After that train ride, whenever I read the papers and commentaries, I kept my beady eye on those names that have, ironically, re-surfaced from the dead.

The first was Chandikadas Amritrao Deshmukh, more popularly known by the appellation ‘Nanaji’ that prefaced his surname.  It was Nanaji Deshmukh, as a firebrand activist writer of the right wing Hindutva elements, who kept the flame of right-wing hatred alive after the RSS was banned for its role in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.

Years later, much venerated and feted, he would be one of the people to bring into being the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the narrow-minded, bigoted nucleus that would eventually morph into the hard-headedness of the current dispensation.

The other man my travelling companion of those days admired and respected, was Balraj Madhok, who, like Nanaji Deshmukh (whom he later fell out with), was to be a prime mover behind the Bharatiya Jan Sangh coming into being. I knew about him already, because coincidentally, the Hindi lecturer in my college, a native of Benares, had also given me several pamphlets written by him in English.

Madhok was born in Kashmir, which continues to be an irritating pimple on the RSS’s sanctified face. As a young man, Madhok flirted with several left-wing groups but found what his heart sought in the hallowed portals of the RSS. He did everything expected of him – he spearheaded the cow-protection movement, advocated the “Indianization” of Muslims and basically promoted right-wing Hindutva thought every opportunity he got. It was he after all, who assisted Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, another venerated Hindutva ideologue and one also obsessed with Kashmir, to write the manifesto of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh party. Madhok was later to become its first national secretary.

It helps to recall that Balraj Madhok, in the 60s, was the first charismatic Hindutva orator who may well have given the present prime minister who runs only on the strength of his rhetoric, a run for his money. It was under Madhok’s tutelage that the party got 33 seats in the Lok Sabha, and actually cemented its place as a closed unit within a genuinely open society.

 In 1972, continuing to uphold the virtues of a militant religious conservatism, Madhok denounced the ‘secular’ shift of the Jan Sangh and was expelled from the party for indiscipline by none than other than L. K. Advani. When the BJP came into being it was none other than Balraj Madhok who flayed both A. B. Vajpayee and L. K. Advani for forgetting the authentic ideology of the Jan Sangh.

Madhok is the oldest living proponent of the official Hindutva line, and he was to get his revenge in style in 2013, ignoring Vajpayee and hurling his earlier barbs back at Advani with even more vehemence. Simultaneously he bestowed his blessings on Narendra Modi the day after he took over the chairmanship of the BJP’s campaign committee.

The mantle had been well and truly passed; Nathuram Godse himself was resurrected from the dead by the Hindu Mahasabha and made to ascend into Hindutva heaven. While they bellowed that Mahatma Gandhi’s face should be removed from our currency, their more public-friendly face, the RSS, promptly co-opted him as a ‘great social reformer’ in their Hindutva pantheon.  Do not be surprised that Balraj Madhok too, will be rewarded with a Bharat Ratna when the astrological time has been deemed right by the current dispensation.

So better to say it now rather than later, that I am infuriated by the Hindutva fanatics now creeping out of the woodwork in Modified India, and couching the severity of what they intend, by trying hard to be both facile and vacuous.

They appear to be well-tutored by image consultants, who can successfully sell and ‘brand’ everything from coffee to condoms. When they come on TV they remind me of a mid-segment car with good torque, smoothly shifting gears and keeping the revs high, and just talking through and above whoever else happens to be speaking. That, unfortunately, everyone does on TV, even some of the anchors, it’s a national disease – unless you can be tough, like Nidhi Razdan, and tell them in varying levels of politeness that this was not the floor of the house and would they just please shut up and give the other guy a chance to speak.

Or you could get your laughs for the day, by shifting to the news channel that runs the daily clown show…

The real point I want to make is that I did not reach the status of a ‘senior citizen’ eligible for my railway discounts to hear these bigots, right across the Hindutva spectrum, spanning continents and accents and hefty bank accounts, coming on TV and dismissing Indians like my wife and I, and indeed our immediate families as being ‘PSEUDO-SECULARIST’!

We are a family that values laughter. We choose to laugh at the Hindutva right. We choose neither to retire ourselves to bitterness, nor embrace the ridiculously false hope that we can make a better India with more money for all of us by wearing saffron clothes.

On Christmas morning, my ‘Pseudo-Secularist’, Retired Hindu father-in-law called me up.

“Merry Christmas,” he said, then asked what he was getting for lunch when they visited later in the day. I told him his daughter was doing the Christmas lunch to prove that she was the better cook in the family. He was going to get a ‘fusion lunch’ (inspired no doubt by the good-looking guys who do the cook-shows that my wife watches) – pork sorpotel (which, for the record, is actually my recipe) and pao; then herbed rice smothered with a really tasty, tangy, lightly spiced sauce with crunchy vegetables and prawns left succulent and juicy, also taken from the bloody TV; and not one, but two really nice salads, again courtesy the guys she watches; and let it be also said a rich dessert that was actually a nice cake of hers that bombed, but which she magnificently recreated into a kind of trifle.

Satisfied with the menu, he said, “Oh, by the way, I am writing to all these Hindutva fellows to tell them not to admit you back.”

I was ready for him: “You can’t do that to me,” I replied, “I had made up my mind about my ‘homecoming’, I was going to change my name to Atmaram…”

When they came home, we shook hands, hugged, exchanged kisses, and wished each other ‘Good Governance Day’, even as we opened the various bottles of hooch, laughing uproariously and reclaiming our right to have our Christmas lunch as a measure of our love and loyalty to each other and country.

In our two families, we all know who the secular are, and who aren’t. It would be nice to say that the right wing Hindutva battalion are the REAL ‘Pseudo-Secularists’ for the spin they put on closing this country’s horizon, but the real truth is far uglier. They are just Fake Hindus…

I don’t know what happened to that guy on the train – even though I remembered his name for quite a few years and could put a fair-skinned face to it, with thin lips, a neatly trimmed military moustache, and gray, ash-coloured eyes that burnt. I could even picture him in RSS uniform holding a bamboo stick. For all you know he’s probably sitting in a big chair in the corporate headquarters in Nagpur…

Retired though I may have been from my religion, I am happy to say my own life progressively got better:

I fell in love with and married a woman who, as luck would have it, was a Retired Hindu.

The real truth of the matter I must admit shamelessly was that we only got married in an office after twelve years and when she was a few months pregnant. Living as I did in Goa then, matters were a little tough for me. My mother was worried what people would say about me ‘living in sin’ with a woman. In Goa, you must know, everyone worries about “what people will say” regardless of the topic being discussed. You always acquiesce to what people will say…

My late mother was a devout PC (Practicing Catholic) and a wily old fox to boot. She paid a retainer to her lawyer to take me out to lunch.

‘Common Law’ marriages had not yet been recognized, so over a couple of very cold beers which we used to wash down some succulent, lightly spiced prawns speared with small sticks, then fish curry and rice, followed by caramel custard at the Mandovi Hotel – very good in those days and way cheaper – he took great pains to tell me what misery could be heaped on my unmarried female partner in the event that I would, for instance, drop dead – and what, my mother – if she turned out to be a nasty old bitch, that is, which she didn’t  – could do, with the sanction of the law, to take custody of the child we had.

We got married.

My wife’s side of the family is from another planet. They live and practice openness; their windows are never closed. And their ancestry is impeccable when it comes to decrying the strictures to democracy that the Hindutva junkies, by their very nature, bring into play. Among my wife’s uncles and aunts are BT Ranadive and Ahilya Rangnekar;  and MB Samarth, who left a successful practice as a barrister in Mumbai to join hands with Dr. BR Ambedkar – all persons one could say who were prominent and well known Retired Hindus.

My own family alas, is more or less formed along straight but not narrow lines; but starting with my father, my mother and both sets of my grandparents, home to some notable black sheep spread across the world.

So I am pretty sure that if you had a giant group portrait of the two families, mixed up like they do with photographs of football teams before the match, you’d end up with something like a street in Cuba: On the right side of the road, a black man and a white woman, walking with their six children; and on the left side of the road, a white man and a black woman, with six of their children.

While my late mother – may blessings be on her soul – may have been consigned to the fact that her only son would not marry in the faith he was baptised into, nor, for that matter, even be able to convert his Retired Hindu wife to a different religion that he had, technically speaking, retired from, she was to have her conscience tweaked yet again when our daughter was born.

“We have to think about her baptism,” she said, as primly as she could.

“I am not baptising her”.


“Because when she turns eighteen, she may decide she wants to be a Muslim…or Buddhist…or whatever…maybe she won’t want a religion…she can decide when she’s eighteen…”

This the two of us had already agreed upon, that we would bring up the kids to let them go at eighteen, the age they needed to decide things for themselves. We kept one guiding principle beginning parenthood – namely, that we would not tell our kids that they can’t do something, and when asked why, reply with “because I said so”.

My mother may have snorted fire on my thick hide but didn’t get her lawyer into the act this time, she got her parish priest. He wants to meet you, she said to me. So I went.

Meeting her parish priest in his church was like a sign from God because he turned out to be someone I knew when I was in my late twenties and when he himself, had just come back to Goa after serving the missions in Guinea Bissau.

Just for the record, in Guinea Bissau, Goan priests like him were on the side of the freedom fighters waging war against an impoverished Portuguese army bankrolled by the US and Apartheid South Africa, and often even staffed with their mercenaries. They did this in both Angola and Mozambique too, and as we shall see with the US and the corporations it supported, in Latin America too.

My mother’s parish priest laughed when he saw me. “Your mother has given me some money to take you out for lunch,” he said.

“Wonderful,” I replied, “I know just the place”. In fact it was just opposite his church, a small bar and restaurant, quintessentially Goan, where the husband served you the drinks and his wife did the cooking. Both of them knew us separately, so that made the drinking and eating even more memorable.

We sipped lots of cold beer, washing down pieces of pork sautéed in onions and sliced green chilly then flavoured with salt and pepper and about 10 or more pieces of dried, deep, dark maroon kokum to give it a bite. Then the real meal; fish curry and rice, and fried prawns for the priest; beef xacuti with pao and a tangy salad for me.

In effect, my mother paid for an excellent meal where her parish priest and I fruitfully revisited various aspects of ‘Liberation Theology’, that understanding of his religion that saw Christ primarily as a “God of the Oppressed”.

When we first met in the mid 70s, we had both already read and admired Dom Helder Camara, the archbishop of Recife, in Brazil, champion of the city’s poor and the unions, who drove himself around in a black VW ‘beetle, whom the right-wing military junta tried to assassinate at least twice. We had both read the address of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, first president of Tanzania, to the Mary Knoll nuns in New York. A devout Catholic, and a committed Socialist, Nyerere was to tell the nuns that he refused to believe in a God who was poor and undernourished which was the state of three quarters of the world’s people who lived in the ‘Third World’ as it was better known in those days . We had both read the work of Paulo Friere who later worked with the then left wing World Council of Churches, and even used it in our respective jobs. The parish priest and I would both have known why they assassinated Cardinal Romero at the altar in his cathedral in El Salvador.

Both in theory and practice, Liberation Theology had its roots in Latin America, and its proponents would have little difference with aligning themselves with, shall we say, Che, but more than wary of the machinations of the CIA, American multinationals and their many allies who just happened to be dictators and despots.  It is interesting that while Liberation Theology consumed both Catholic and Protestant priest and theologian alike in Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia with significant Christian communities, it also crossed hemisphere to influence theology in the US and its significance to the Black civil rights movement.

Liberation Theology was by no means absent in India, and had its strongest period in the early 70s, with the impetus given by some brilliant but left of centre theologians at the De Nobili College, Pune, the seminary of the Jesuit priests, with one of its foremost proponents, Father Sebastian Kappen  whose classes mixing Christ and Marx ran to packed houses. It was not just the Catholic Church that felt the storm of mixing Christ’s and Marx’s teachings, and the Syrian Christian church here, thanks to Bishop Paulose Mar Paulose  was to have its own take on faith in the living world.

In India, this is an ongoing thread the Practising Christians in this country may want to take up again with renewed fervour – if only to save large Adivasi populations in Central India from losing their lands to greedy industrialists while the present dispensation, ironically, sees about their farcical ‘homecoming’…

There are small pockets within the fold in India – especially those younger Adivasi and Dalit priests and nuns themselves working with Adivasi and Dalit communities – who know that the teaching and practice of Christ the way they understand it, is indelibly linked to the imperatives of human rights and social justice.

The Catholic Church in India alas – is, ironically, not that dissimilar from the Hindutva junkies. In fact they sit on the same table with the Hindutva right and the Islamic equivalents to decry the fundamental rights of gay, lesbian and transgender Indians – and chooses, just like them, to send in as their spokespersons on TV those men of the cloth more familiar with text and better able to resort to casuistry. The Catholic Church in India, one sometimes thinks, seems more than willing to relegate the pressing issues of those Catholic populations oppressed to the backburner while they trumpet, at the behest of those richest in their flock, the virtues of a consumer driven economy.

My mother’s parish priest and I discussed everything under the sun during lunch expect whether our daughter had to be baptised or not.

In retrospect though, the Catholic Church needs more people like my mother’s parish priest. He may well have predated Pope Francis I when he told my mother: “It doesn’t matter whether we take this little girl into our fold or not, so long as she lives a good life”…

My mother’s parish priest passed on before my mother and I drove her to his funeral, and later remembered him when sat down to a drink. He entered illness and dotage at the same time that the power and greed of Goa’s mining mafia was at its height, beginning its loot in 2006 and taking as much as they could with impunity and official sanction from the very top, till 2012.

In The Philippines, in many parts of Latin America, the bishops and priests stood by the side of their flock to oppose mining and the exploitation of the environment at the cost of those who willingly made their lives there.

In Goa, the Catholic Church just looked the other way, sullying or calming the waters by advocating ‘responsible or legal mining’ through the Council for Social justice and Peace, its Corporate Social Responsibility avatar. It limited its own feeble protest to the archbishop throwing his annual Christmas party and telling the mining mafia within the ruling government that they must strive to be good human beings in this season of peace and goodwill.

The Catholic Church in Goa surfaced when the Supreme Court, at the behest of the Shah Commission, banned mining in Goa and it was then safe for them to surface with the appropriate press statement.

When Pope Francis, this very Christmas, promises to pen his first encyclical on the vexed issue of climate change and all this implies, one sincerely hopes that the Church in Goa, will strike its breast with the requisite amount of ‘mea culpas’…

My mother, blessings be rained on her wise head, sulked because her grand-daughter was not being baptised. Someone close in the family actually asked me whether I knew that I was raising my new born daughter to be a ‘heathen’. Apart from coming across this word in various historical and literary texts, no one had actually used this term to someone I held precious. I was so shocked, I was speechless…

It was my Retired Hindu wife who provided a solution to the philosophical and other problems that crept in.

“Your mother needs a ritual,” she said, “We all need a meaningful ritual to make life more meaningful”.

So we had a Naming Ceremony for our new-born daughter, inviting a few friends, and meeting on the steep cliff overlooking the sea outside the grounds of the Governor’s Palace in Panjim. We read out a small joint statement, giving her a Kiswahili name that means ‘Goodness’, and declaring for one and all that we had brought her into the world to let her go, that we were dedicating her to life. Friends read out various messages of goodwill, cutting across all the religions of friends gathered there, while we passed around a large chunk of coarse unleavened bread smeared with sea salt, breaking it and eating in veneration.  When the remains of the bread reached my mother, she was to throw it as high as she could from the ramparts where we stood.

When she did, out of nowhere swooped a large gull, taking it and flying out to sea to run away from the other gulls that circled around us. Wife, mother, friends, parish priest, all had tears of joy in their eyes – it was that kind of a ritual. Then we all went and had a party, with much food and drink at a quintessential Goan bar and restaurant where the husband plied us with good spirit, his wife cooked the food, the parish priest raised the first toast, and my mother, God bless her soul, footed the bill.

I was well and truly sold on ritual.

When our son was born, we delayed his Naming Ceremony until we reached the day when the Hindutva SS Troopers pulled down the Babri Masjid, then held his ceremony on a misty, drizzly evening under a large tree close to the Vice-Chancellor’s Office at the University of Poona that my wife remembered with fondness. We gave him another Kiswahili name meaning ‘Light’, and dedicated him to fighting communalism of all kinds. His Retired Hindu grandparents, and an uncle and aunt, sang a song in Marathi and recited a few prayers; and my cousin, a Practicing Catholic nun, read some Haiku written by a Jesuit priest.

Now on the day the right wing celebrates the shameless pulling down of the mosque, we celebrate by cooking mutton biryani and remembering we brought up a child to detest communalism…

Food is a very big thing in our Retired Catholic and Retired Hindu family. It is an integral part of our Secular traditions, grandparents on both sides fuelled by the adventurism of the 50s that spanned two continents, and the exhortation that if something was in the air and not a plane; in the sea and not a boat or submarine; and on land and not a human being; and if five other people are sitting at a table and eating it; then open your bloody mouth and eat it.

It is as a result of this attitude that we celebrate all religious days with the appropriate food, and enjoy it to the hilt. Let the Hindutva guys take the colours out of the spectrum, we will know these in the way we celebrate with food on our table that all our  house guests can partake of…

Far though we may be from religion, God has been kind to us. We don’t have a BMW, we don’t live in a penthouse; we still struggle to make ends meet. More than ever before, our families, jointly, still detest the Hindutva brigade, because now they have added the mantra of ‘economic growth’ in their saffron folds in order to tantalize a young population into narrowing their world.

When the kids turned eighteen, I played proper father. “You don’t have a religion”, I told them, “so now if you want, you can choose what religion you want to be.”

One replied with “Are you okay?” The other, with “Have you gone crazy?”

Things get better for my ‘Pseudo-Secularist’ family. The daughter we brought into this world to fly away has returned in a new form. She is to be married this month to a young Swiss artist whom she lived and worked with in the US, Europe, Israel and Occupied Palestine. His parents, both artists, were Practising Atheists, so he’s an oddball to begin with even though as an artist, he is fascinated with the techniques of Buddhist meditation.

They will go to a court then come back for a meal with us. We’re still undivided about the meal, because my daughter’s husband to be is a pure vegetarian, and she only eats fish. But we’ll manage, and we’ll change, because that’s what we do in our family. We have the courage to change and be more. Next Christmas, the two will join the family lunch, and I’ll be inventive with my culinary skills and cook Roast Tofu-rkey…to add to whatever meat is on the table.

Diversity, multiculturalism, hybridity – call it what you will – is far more complex than just words bandied about. In our family we figured out that to truly understand the meaning of being secular– the prerequisite to understanding the importance of a larger horizon for this country – we would transform our selves such that we embraced many identities.

Younger readers my daughter’s age would do well to flip their karts and find a slim but brilliantly argued book by Amartya Sen titled very simply, Identity and Violence – The Illusion of Destiny.

He says it much more eloquently than I could:

…History and background are not the only way of seeing ourselves and the groups to which we belong. There are a great variety of categories to which we simultaneously belong. I can be, at the same time, an Asian, an Indian citizen, a Bengali with Bangladeshi ancestry, an American or British resident, an economist, a dabbler in philosophy; an author; a Sankritist; a strong believer in secularism and democracy; a man; a feminist; a heterosexual; a defender fo gay and lesbian rights, with a non-religious lifestyle, from a Hindu background, a non-Brahmin, and a nonbeliever in an afterlife (and also, in case the question is asked, a nonbeliever in ‘before life’ as well). This is just a small sample of diverse categories to each of which I may simultaneously belong – there are of course a great many other membership categories too, which, depending on circumstances, can move and engage me…

Can those Fake Hindus even begin to understand this?

Hartman de Souza’s book Eat Dust – Mining and Greed in Goa, is scheduled for release by Harper Collins India later this year. 

33 thoughts on “An old RC ruminates on his ‘Pseudo-Secularist’ roots: Hartman de Souza”

  1. Hmm..a bit blasé about the downside of faith and the current pope’s history. Nevertheless a nice article.
    Another topic I wish you had explored was the effect the NRIs have on the hindutva movement. Unlike our desi maniacs these people are young, dress trendily and have posh accents. My peers- I’m 21-are more likely to listen to these people and even accept their arguments than than a bellicose old conservative in a khaki skirt. These are the people I’m afraid of the most.
    I suppose spreading ancient myths via modern scientific technology is a paradox of our modernity.


    1. I would also like to say that these are the people active on the social networks and the arriviste classes. They will pay through their noses to attend live cricket matches,throw lavish parties,dress trendily, watch stupid sappy movies and then go home and spread fascist bile on the Internet. They puzzle me.


  2. “My mother’s parish priest and I discussed everything under the sun during lunch expect whether our daughter had to be baptised or not.” Read as “except”.


    1. Thank you kindly! Old age, bad eyesight, computer screen…read it again myself, there’s lots of other blips…


    1. what about PMs (Practicing Muslims like me). I am a fan of Hartman’s writings. Always a joy to read and accurate portrayal of our times.


  3. Well written – I am born a Hindu and have loved every bit of its mythology while growing up, while at the same time feeling that inexplicable excitement at Christmas, something I got from my mother who is…a protestant! My Bengali cousins would dress up and make time for the special midnight mass at St. Pauls cathedral because of the beauty and gravitas of it. Today I stand infuriated at the politics of the Hindutva movement, something that’s taken away the very special and nuanced details of Hinduism. They have removed all the facets, made 3D into 1D, like those handbooks for dummies… like aliens who threaten to change my country in something I don’t recognize!


  4. Bwana Hartman,

    Hadithi yako ni mzuri sana. Nimependa mwandiko yako.

    Asante sana na Mungu akubariki na akupe maisha mema.

    Des Fortes (Kabongo wa Kongo)


    1. Bwana Des Fortes AKA Kabongo wa Kongo, shukrani zangu kwa maneno yako lovely. Wao kufanya moyo wangu African mwanga na furaha. Labda tunahitaji watu zaidi kutoka Afrika katika dunia hii …


  5. A question for Hartma : how could you expect any other reply about baptism from your children if they did not receive any religious teaching?


    1. There is no indication that any other answer was expected. Seems to me that the children answered as they did because they were used to a life without religion and did not feel the need for religion.


      1. Only education gives the possibility of a choice. Hartman mother provided him the education to be able to decide to be a RC. His uneducated children have no choice.


          1. Since I was talking about religion, it seemed obvious to me that education in this context meant religious education. But I accept that it was a bit elliptic, accept my apologies.


            1. Marc, your apologies graciously accepted.

              By the way both our children did have a kind of ‘religious education’…

              They both also went to a crazy school that very systematically introduced its students to every single major religion practiced in our cities, by having persons first introduce the religion and then visiting the shrines and meeting the priests and talking to them in a question and answer session…


              1. Learning about several different religions is radically different from the meaning here of “religious education”, which clearly is total immersion in the mumbo jumbo of a single religion.


  6. Hartman: very happy to read this. Happy too for young Zuri. Happier still to know of your book (but don’t depend on the imbeciles in marketing). Peace and fortitude, old friend.


  7. Hartman: Great to rediscover you ! Being an RJ (retired journalist) and an ROM (reclusive old man) at that, I feel too tired to surf web sites. It was a lovely surprise therefore, when our old friend Juliet Reynolds brought to my notice your wonderful article. Fantastic !


  8. Nice one Hartman, like the Retired Catholic joke,pity he couldn’t catch on. Also went through some of your other blogs while I was at it. Miss you very much…..


  9. For Aditya G who commented on January 5, 2015:

    I think your short but I think, cogent comments ought not to be buried just yet. They have a specific reference to the role that certain kind of NRIs in the US – and elsewhere in the affluent Western world I may add – played (and continue to play) ( in consolidating a right-wing Hindu fundamentalism overseas.

    You turned the focus, quite perceptively, to their progeny, those older than you, in their roaring 40s perhaps who may have been ‘Born in the USA’ – but without the requisite passion ( that the song entailed.

    From the 70s onwards, Hindutva ideologues have been planning and fine-tuning matters with the implicit knowledge that their narrow world-view could be turned into a commodity. They would re-export this back to India – as they are doing now – when, as if by divine destiny, the ‘freeing’ of the markets for the home-grown business lobby coincide and align themselves with the right astrological time.

    They are pretty sure that in the corporate greed currently surrounding de-licensing – the old bullshit of ‘privatising the gains and socialising the losses’ given a more carnal feel – this country will gladly embrace the excesses of Hindutva bigotry. Like pulling down a mosque here and there, desecrating a church or two, engineering pogroms against Muslim and Christian alike. They would have these condoned, ignored, whitewashed – as indeed they appear to be doing – in the interests of ‘freeing’ the bloody markets and spin-doctoring the rest of the world.

    The facts are chosen selectively, and with almost brahminical guile the mythology is sought to be deified ( But this is still just bloodied vinegar in old bottles, and I hinted how sour this was in my fourth paragraph in my earlier essay – to which in fact, you commented. But you are so right, they deserve far more.

    As ironically as before – so that we never forget how to laugh at them – let me elaborate the context:

    In their world view, future historians of Hindutva – now, far younger than you, some not even born – will record an invasion of ‘Amreeka’ in the 70s (as America was known then) by some Indian business and professional classes of that time who yearned to ply their trade there. Those who now, dollars in pocket, trumpet their narrowed view of what being Hindu means.

    By that time Hindutva would-be conquerors hope, they will have a president in the US congress voted in on a BJP (USA) ticket. Like colonization in reverse…

    It’s much more complex though. Young Indians your age and slightly older who come from NRI stock, who have the authentic American accents down to the square kilometre, may not be the real threat.

    Some of them could very well be like you, their accents and designer clothes apart, who ask of life the tough questions. So ease up on that a bit, until you get to know them and if possible, open their eyes to the larger realities of this country…

    The real story is very different.

    Younger Indians in the 70s and 80s, who went to the US (and other affluent Western countries), were first and foremost the best and brightest of our professionals who did so to make a better life for themselves than they would get in India, or just to have their considerable talents recognized for what they were – considerable talents.

    There were also those, who if given half the chance, wanted to do business and just make money. Unlike in India where you were often shown the carrot and given the stick to eat instead, in ‘Amreeka’ in those days if you were educated, hard-working and conscientious (but not Black or Latino) the USA was a land of opportunity that would give you a chance.
    It also helps to remember that in those days you couldn’t make money in India.

    If in the early 70s, like me, the only job you could get with an undergraduate degree in philosophy was teaching English from 7pm to 10pm in a night school that catered to factory workers and drop-outs, you got a salary of 75 rupees a month.

    If you were inventive with this, you could support a friend too, surviving on banana hamburgers (banana stuffed in a pao), or visiting friends and relatives once a week and eating as if you were a bloody camel who knew what his diet would be for the next six days. You shared unfiltered Charminar cigarettes that came at the same price as a small packet of weed and if you taught English to the owner of the Irani place down the road too, you got an unlimited supply of chai…

    In India those days, my dear Aditya, everyone was screwed. The middle class, even though a middle class, were the most disgruntled – which is why these days they have gone overboard ‘buying’ as much as they can even if they don’t need it.

    Those days you had to have a ration card; you had to stand in a queue to get milk, rice, dal, kerosene, anything and everything even certificates for your relatives announcing your eventual death. If you believe some of the columnists pleading for further privatization of all our resources (even our people), India was like the Soviet Union – except that guys of their ilk could open their mouths without the fear of being sent to Siberia.

    You signed up for a gas cylinder when you were 21 and you got it when you had your first child; and the same with the telephone. The roads were bad, ‘Infrastructure’ as they will tell you today, sucked. India was a country ruled by babus, bureaucrats, union-unfriendly industrialists and anti-people politicians just as it is today, with the only difference being that they only looted half of what they could and gave the rest back to the exchequer.

    Everyone was uniformly and proportionately poor. As the marketing pundits on TV will tell you today, Indians had no ambition, no ‘aspirations’. But there were no farmer suicides, no GM crops, no industrialists flaunting their wealth like they were film stars; no Agribusiness and ‘Infrastructure’ industries waiting in the wings like vultures as they are today; while those with ‘aspirations’ lick their lips and buy up shares in realty, cement and whatever is the flavour of the day.

    Had it not been for the fact that we still had private industries salivating while they invested in lobbyists who would do the needful to de-structure our directive principles, we would have been a bit like Mao’s China. Except for the fact that they may have been able to feed their entire population and we could not.

    Malls were non-existent; the ‘Made in India’ label actually had great meaning. The penthouses were only in select parts of the city. You saw three or four cars of foreign origin that were made authentically Indian over a period of time, and three bikes, and two trucks, and gawked like an idiot when a Mercedes-Benz passed. America was not like that.
    And yet it must be also said again, and emphasised, that many Indians stayed back in the US, and in the UK and Canada, either professionally or in business, but integrated. That’s the key word here.

    In many instances they married outside their community and country and were wedded to secularism, the key to being authentically multicultural. Their children one suspects, would have been different, grappling today as I am sure you do, with the meaning of words like ‘ideology’ and ‘politics’ and ‘religion’ and ‘community’ in a world that is collectively pulling in as many different surfaces as this planet has.

    And doing this, mind you, in the hope of improving our collective future…

    Do not forget too, that there are more and more young Indians your age, in increasing number today, who can genuinely lay claim to more than one country or nationality or clan or community or whatever, and are able to do this naturally – without any grief or remorse or guilt.

    If the young in Berlin could pull down a wall that stood in the ‘developed’ world as a disgusting symbol of political intransigence on both sides of the political spectrum, are we to make of this Hindutva wall of sand anything more than what it actually is – the narrowing of our horizon?

    This year’s ‘Pravasi Bharatiya Divas’ coincided with the centenary of Mahatma Gandhi’s return to India for good after his stay in England and South Africa. The government’s advertising agency and related sycophants were quick to fit such a coincidence into their conical worldview.

    There was another far more compelling corollary (, and I will ask you to read it and smile for me too as you do, because this analysis speaks of those Indians who stayed behind in the US and other affluent Western countries, who integrated themselves and followed the constitutions of their adopted countries, and also opened our eyes to other more human possibilities.

    Of what, for instance, the term ‘Globalization’ could mean, if it was de-linked from its monstrous linkage to a solitary economic model. If it was made in fact, more in tune with expanding our horizons to understand what being multicultural means.

    In any case, your NRI peers tinged with Hindutva are not the real danger. The ones in their roaring 40s are the most frightening – because they are the articulate proponents of two ideologies both of which may have outlived the time of someone your age – capitalism in its current top-heavy form, and all fundamentalist thought, regardless of the colours of the flags being flown or the shrines prayed at.

    The real villains of my fourth paragraph above were those Indians, professionals or otherwise, who earned considerable money – working even harder than other Americans of that time – but who, because they were basically conservative in heart and at home, steadfastly refused to integrate themselves into a life capable of staring modernity in the face.

    They took the simpler route of clinging to age-old and often unquestioned rituals passed down by great-grandparents over several generations, tracing their roots back to Hinduism’s dark age of Manusmriti and becoming, in a manner of speaking, holier than the Pope!

    In their quest to be more American than the Americans in the way they did business, and because it served them well in order to remain insular, they went against the genuine openness that characterizes India’s very heart and like single-minded and ruthless medieval Catholic theologians and popes, they manufactured a ‘theology’.

    It was these same people – germane to your first comment – who were happy and content to keep what they had among themselves, ensure that the bloodlines and traditions were kept pure and intact, and who sent their children, your peers perhaps, to the best colleges in the US that money could buy.

    While some, like you perhaps, questioned what they had been told not to question and turned their faces the other way to seek a new world, too many perhaps took the line of least resistance they had been tutored into, and seamlessly, just fell into line.
    Many young people your age never stood a chance: for six lakh rupees a year, and sometimes much less – a chicken shit sum for many NRIs – they could send their kids to India to any of six ‘international schools’ in India where they would be protected from the wicked, wicked ways of the West – where after 6pm, the boys walking to the dining hall were not allowed to pass the girls’ hostel; where girls would first be ‘counselled’, and then suspended for just talking to the same boys too many times…

    Such students had the trimmings of the good life, the clothes, the credit cards, the whatever, but their reason for being – between unquestioned parental authority on one hand, and a fascist boarding school regime in India on the other – had been successfully neutered.

    Nothing has changed, they are incapable of being transformed – as today’s world seems to demand. If those of their equally traditionalist progeny whom you are unfortunate to know are back in India, thumping their chests and counting their credit cards, it is only because India is the new frontier to invade, the land of the emergent markets. For the rest of us, colonization in reverse gear…


  10. Instructive and entertaining. But so damn long, when halfway through, I scrolled down to see exactly how long it was then began reading it backwards from the last paragraph upwards to the middle where I left off. It was fascinating. I think I am going to do this in future. Begin reading from the last paragraph. You do have a religion you know, it’s a religion of family, friends and relationships. You do have ritual and worship. Your altar is any dining table and you worship with the sauteed onions, sausage, sorpotel and ruined cake morphed into highly satisfactory trifle. You also have the great good fortune of going into the sunset of Senior Citizen Card status after having successfully cracked the code of life, so few have cracked today. The code of “Enough”. If only the world followed that. Enough. Thank you for posting this to me.


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