Read it one more time. The title. Secular. Liberal. Bengali. Hindu. Goddess. Durga. America.
Does it mean anything to you? I’m especially asking my American and non-Indian friends.
Well, for that matter, I’m also asking my Indian friends. Especially the Hindu fundamentalist type.
It’s not easy to answer. It’s actually complex. But let me make it simple for you.
Yes, there is such a thing called secular and liberal Hindu. I am one. And I know of quite a few more that would fit this phrase. In fact, I know of a few million people — living in India and outside of India — that would feel proud to be called as secular and liberal Hindu.
Now, who are they? Men with three legs and one tail? Women with five ears and six fingers?
No, none of that sort. We are just like anybody else. One, thinking, objective, calm, patient, informed head on our shoulders. We do not believe that religion stands in the way of secularism and liberalism. We do not believe in order to be lifelong followers of Hinduism, or any other religion, you have to be a fanatic or fundamentalist, going to the temple frequently, and offering prayers to God or money to the priest.
We are very happy and content to belong to our religion, without getting too emotional about it, and hating-undermining other ways of life. We feel completely at ease having dinner with a Muslim, Christian, Jewish or Buddhist friend. Better yet, we do not mind going to a three-day outing with a bunch of agnostic-atheist friends.
Yet, someone like me who grew up in this secular-liberal-Hindu-ecumenical-socialist way of life, or took major pains to become one through intellectual and emotional struggles, finds it quite disturbing that in a so-called liberal and secular and diverse country like the U.S., nobody knows about Hinduism, and outside of an elite or academic group of people, nobody ever heard about Diwali or Durga or Dusserah or Dol. In fact, in my twenty-five-plus years here in America, I have NEVER seen any news coverage on some of our fascinating religious and social celebrations.
In fact, if anything, I’ve only seen and heard belittling, ridiculing and often disparaging observations about Hinduism on mainstream media. And believe me, even a non-religious man like me gets mighty irked at those observations.
One reason behind it is that U.S. media, and Western establishments in general, have created this mass-manufactured idea that “their” religions and faiths and lifestyles are superior than “ours.” There is no debate, discussion or dialogue about the true diversity of faiths. Most ordinary Americans either do not know, or do not care to know about anything outside of their Eurocentric way of life. Most do not believe anything outside of Judeo-Christianity is civilization.
Most do not know or do not care to know about history of human civilization in the first place.
The other reason behind this ignorance is that elite, academic and affluent Hindus have done practically nothing to let mainstream America know about it. They have lived a happy and content, isolated, alienated life, happy and content with their professional and personal lives, high-paid GE, IBM or Monsanto jobs, high university degrees, palatial suburban residences complete with swimming pools and Mercedes and Lexus and BMW, lush-green backyards and Ivy-League-bound children. They have decided this would be the best-safest and least-disturbance-prone life away from India. And they have decided that getting into anything political or even remotely controversial would be in their way of making more affluence and wealthy.
Yet, these are the people who could have made a big difference in their own, elite world, had they made an effort to educate and inform the American society about their history and heritage and Hinduism.
I went back and read the last paragraph. And I realized that I almost sounded like India’s Hindu fundamentalist prime minister Narendra Modi and his gang of chest-thumping, ignorant, angry men.
Didn’t I say it would be complicated to explain? Now you know what I mean.
It’s not easy. On one hand, I do want to keep my sanity and objectivity by keeping my secularism and liberalism and Bengali progressiveness and total egalitarianism. And I got it from Hinduism, Buddhism and Vaishnavism and Brahmoism and yes, socialism too. At the same time, I do not believe talking about my birthright religion in a proud way makes me one of the Modi chest-thumpers. I do not carry hate. I do not believe in hate. I am not one of them.
I am a product of Sri Chaitanya’s school of inclusion and love. I am product of Rabindranath Tagore’s liberalism. I am a product of the Bengali Language Movement and socialist political struggles that shaped my consciousness.
At the same time, I am a product of Swami Vivekananda’s proud-to-be-called-Hindu school of thought, and it does not matter to me if I am rich or penniless. My Hinduism is my proud consciousness, just like my secular-liberal Bengali identity.
Of course, it is not easy to understand. But at least, I tried to explain it to you. As simply as I could.
Now only if the American establishment and media cared to know what I was talking about.
I have doubts they would.