Spiritual lessons
Arun Gaur

Reflections in a Sacred Pond
by Murad Ali Baig.
Tara Press, New Delhi.
Pages 217. Rs 295.

Reflections in a Sacred PondIt is a difficult (and thankless) mission that Murad Ali Baig has taken up in this book. Difficult not in the sense that it is anything like a remarkable research work, but in the sense that it surveys the Indian history and presents comments on well known sensitive issues in such a way as to easily invite adverse reactions from almost all the sections of society.

In the format of questions and answers, he goes through the Indian chronology right from the Paleolithic age to the present time. Baig is bent upon demolishing earnestly what he considers the misrepresented and lop-sided lessons of history. In his wide-sweeping range of vision, he does not let anything escape that troubles his sight. Freethinking, stimulated by liberal education, is his motto. While we might find the listed questions not a very novel assortment and that many of the facts cited can be easily gathered from various reference/text books used at different levels, what may impress us here is the author’s daring-some would say "reckless"—treatment of these facts dealing with anthropological, geographical, political, economic, mythological and metaphysical issues.

The author either simply affirms or he gives precise arguments in favour of his convictions, rejecting conventionally entertained opinions and accepting marginally held ideas. For him Ram did not live 9,000 years ago, Brahmanical resources of history were grossly insufficient and biased, the Vedas were originally written in the Kharoshthi script, the Rig Veda does not depict Indian topography, the fabled Adam’s apple was actually a mere sheaf of wheat, Jesus had a "dubious and not a miraculous birth", Genghis Khan brought about European renaissance, Mahmud Ghazni and Aurangzeb were not intolerant to the Hindus, Shankaracharya converted Buddhist Hinayana shrines of Badrinath and Kedarnath into Hindu temples, Asoka might have been part Greek, Guru Arjan Dev’s chief tormentor was not a Muslim but a Hindu, Granth Sahib is worshipped as if it were an idol, and Jihad has been misinterpreted in the modern times.

Quite conscious of the fact that he could be charged with uttering blasphemies, Baig prepares his defences carefully: "Although blasphemy, sacrilege, heresy and apostasy did no injury to man or to society they could undermine the sanctity of the carefully nurtured scriptures and so the power of their priests." And about the priests, he is quite bitter. In his opinion, the religion is created through well-defined steps. First, there are the founding sages who love all mankind. Then come the apostles—the marketing managers—who elaborate philosophy of the sages and provide an order along with costumes and symbols. Finally come the priests—the salesmen of their brands of gods—who use hatred as a uniting factor, contributing nothing but offering salvations from fears that they themselves create.

Though Baig’s righteous anger at the commercialisation and politicisation of simple faiths is commendable and understandable, many of the readers might not find such remarks about the seeking of blessings from Ganesh palatable:

"The practice is rather like paying spiritual protection money to the boss of a spiritual mafia to ensure that they do not interfere." Perhaps, he is too sarcastic. However, he has his philosophy of freethinking and liberal education seeking a cosmic spirit and he is aware that "all our hopes, fears, dreams, philosophies, arts, literature and historic achievements are nothing but transitory reflections in an endless sacred pond."