enduring pain
Inspiring tale of a family that sticks together through thick and thin
Balwinder Kaur

Does He know a Motherís Heart?
How Suffering refutes Religions
By Arun Shourie
HarperCollins. Pages 435. Rs 599.

Does He know a Motherís Heart?PAIN is the universal equaliser. Who among us hasnít suffered pain and loss that has left us feeling helpless? Most look heavenward for help and hope in dire times. Scholar, author, ex-editor and minister Arun Shourie goes beyond the "Why me?" to "Why?" and looks for the explanation for human suffering in numerous religious texts and discourses of revered sages. In his book, he investigates how a kind, benevolent and all-knowing God can allow innocents to be in agony.

In this book, one of Indiaís most prominent public figures reveals the painful personal trials and tribulations faced by him and his family. The authorís 35-year-old son, Aditya, who has battled cerebral palsy all his life, and his wife, Anita, suffering from Parkinsonís disease, are the real hero and heroine of the book. Here Arun Shourie is not just a writer or a politician but a fatheró a father who has agonised over every decision, questioned every choice and lamented all that he could not control. This sets him on the age-old quest to make sense of existence, as we know it.

This book is based on theodicy, a theological and philosophical study that investigates Godís nature of omniscience (all-knowing), omnipotence (all-powerful) and omnibenevolence (all-loving) as enshrined in all Abrahamic religions,`A0namely Christianity, Judaism and Islam. In this vein, Arun Shourie also examines the tenets of Hinduism delving into the concepts of karma and reincarnation. He also quotes the views of revered sages like Sri Ramkrishna Paramhamsa and Sri Ramana Maharshi. Ultimately, he feels he can relate to Buddhist ideologies such as the development of mindfulness and the impermanence of things. Far from being a cold analysis of the facts, this is a heartfelt quest, for the author seeks not to undermine but to understand.

This is the memoir of a family that chooses to live life with love and courage. Most inspiring is the strength and spirit of Aditya who despite enduring pain and suffering remains loving, joyous and gentle. We even wonder if Arun Shourie would be the man he is today without his son. A beautiful sentiment echoed throughout the book is that it takes a village to raise a child. After reading this book, no matter what anyoneís opinion may be on religion, they canít help but feel that every child should receive the love and care that Aditya has.

The author dedicates his work to the mothers of special children, giving a voice to many such parents. It shines the spotlight on a much-neglected cause, that of children with special needs and their woeful lack of resources. Worthy of respect and admiration are all those who help in even the smallest way possible, contributing whatever skills or resources they can.

The book showcases the skill of a seasoned writer as we see Arun Shourie, a veteran of 26 books, in his element, talking about a subject very close to his heart. The book is an engaging blend of fact and anecdote, scholarly discourse juxtaposed with deeply personal family stories. It is less accusatory and more inquisitive. The author makes a compelling argument, substantiating his claims by quoting texts, citing examples and referencing all manners of religious authorities. It often feels as though the author is speaking to the readers themselves, talking to them, convincing them and confiding in them. However, in his effort to make a convincing argument, he goes into exhaustive detail and cites many sources which can make for a heavy reading.

The bookís conclusion offers many suggestions on dealing with the human condition. He quotes Viktor Frankl, a survivor of Nazi death camps, who believes that "the last of human freedoms" is the freedom "to choose oneís attitude in any given circumstances, to choose oneís own way. And there were always choices to make". Frankl observed: "Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become a plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity... ."