Why not be decent. That’s always a good start: Shebaba by Renuka Narayanan

Hindustan Times | By
Sep 10, 2017 01:52 PM IST

We need to relearn how to accommodate our differences, how to meet in good fellowship and share differing opinions with civility.

Killing journalists is the mark of a savagely intolerant mind, whether the victims are cartoonists, rationalists, fact-finders or editors. Those who openly gloat about such cowardly, lawless murders bring shame to their country and disgrace to its core values.

Gauri Lankesh, RIP: Decent people do not gloat when a journalist is gunned down for doing her job.(Burhaan Kinu / HT Photo)
Gauri Lankesh, RIP: Decent people do not gloat when a journalist is gunned down for doing her job.(Burhaan Kinu / HT Photo)

As a Hindu in an India that I increasingly don’t recognise as the land I was raised to love, I would like to remember how I was brought up, as were many others across Indian communities.

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My elders, born in the late 1920s, disdained and discarded caste distinctions and many old taboos, especially about food, because the conditions that led to those distinctions no longer applied as we branched off into non-traditional professions.

I was brought up first by my mother and then by my paternal aunt, both independent working women. My mother, a treasured child raised by progressive parents, was quietly subversive though she gracefully observed the Savitri Vrat and the Varalakshmi Puja.

My father’s sister was a rebel, outside the pale of organised religion from an early age, having seen the cruelty of orthodoxy at close quarters. She eventually left the Communist Party of India too, in protest, after the Soviet Union invaded Hungary, though she abided by the better principles of the Left movement to her dying day.

Besides holding responsible jobs, both women were curiously alike in key ways. I was taught the habit of prayer by my mother and did not hide it when I began to write on religion and culture, which inevitably led to scorn and suspicion from some quarters. But both my mother and my aunt viewed religion as a private matter. They made it clear that there was an inner world and an outer world, the latter mediated by strict codes of citizenly behaviour.

It was considered vulgar to speak loudly and it was forbidden to speak impatiently to servants, subordinates, strangers and elders. My grandparents were like that, too, scornful of caste and superstition while respecting the right to belief across communities as long as it did not insult or oppress others in the name of ‘God’.

I think I was fortunate to be raised first by a liberal, reformist Hindu and then by a liberal ‘Lefty’, both truly liberal in terms of civilly accepting the right to differ. The key word in both cases was ‘civilly’.

Just so, I find that I now have friends who are deeply Hindu, nominally Hindu, of another persuasion, agnostic, atheist; Indian, from the Indic bandwidth or unfamiliar with matters Indian. But we meet in good fellowship and share opinions, books and films.

The vegetarians remain vegetarian, the ‘egg-only’ eat their omelettes, the meat-eaters set out kebabs and biryani, the teetotallers stick to rasam or nimbu pani, the gin-drinkers argue amicably about artisanal brews.

They happen to be from wildly different backgrounds. Some say ‘Jai Bhim’, some say they’re keeping roza, some say, like right now, that Pitrupaksh is underway and they’re on holdback.

None of them would gloat heartlessly on Twitter if someone with differing views was shot dead. Their beliefs and lifestyles may be worlds apart but what unites them is a common decency. We need more, much more, of that.

The views expressed are personal

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