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Posted at: May 31, 2018, 12:49 AM; last updated: May 31, 2018, 12:50 AM (IST)

‘Hinduism is not ritualism’

Politician-author Pavan K Varma, whose latest book Adi Shankarcharya talks of the grand edifice of thought that propels Hinduism, feels you have to immerse yourself deeper into your religion to emerge more secular
‘Hinduism is not ritualism’

Nonika Singh

On the surface, he seems like an unlikely proponent of Hinduism. But then, the incredibly eloquent and erudite author of some brilliant books, like The Great Indian Middle Class and Being Indian; Inside The Real India, politician-author Pavan K Varma doesn’t see atheism as a prerequisite for being secular. Or rootless cosmopolitanism as an answer to the growing intolerance.  Besides, once he begins talking, punctuating his conversations with shlokas, which he clearly remembers by heart, you can only nod; who else but he can defend Hinduism in the face of Hindutava forces hell-bent to shake its very foundation. 

In Chandigarh, at the invitation of Chandigarh Literary Society, for the release of his latest book on the seer Adi Shankarcharya, titled so, rather simply with an equally succinct tagline — Hinduism’s Greatest Thinker, Varma underlines the deep philosophical underpinnings of the religion. When the former diplomat and today’s full-time politician reiterates, “Hinduism is a way of life,” it’s not just another catch-phrase to capture vote-banks. He decodes, “the grand edifice of Indian thought” and spells out many keywords like anant, anaadi and atal.  

Words of wisdom

“Nothing in Hinduism,” he asserts is “random, provided you don’t reduce it to a ritual.” In short, to its lowest common denominator, an assertion he uses often enough to drive home his point. To the ultra-right who take pride in their ancient wisdom and “whose zeal is in direct correspondence with their ignorance”…he advises, if not admonishes, “Understand your religion before you go out to spread its glory, none of which lies in divisiveness.” Of course, the book is as much aimed at the misinformed as the youth whose feedback has gladdened his heart. And if you are wondering about the timing of the book, well, it has nothing to do with reaping political dividends. But, yes, the need for it, he believes, could not have been more topical or relevant. 

As the book traces the timeline of the seer and unveils many known as well as unknown facets about the thinker; personally he stands wonderstruck — by the life of the great who created India’s civilisational map with the establishment of four maths.  How in a short span of 32 years, the saint born in Kerala possessed such “cerebral compression of energy and vigour of thought”. And the real revelation for Varma was, “The link between his philosophy and the latest discoveries of quantum physics, cosmology and neurology.” And this, he reminds you emphatically, “is not Dinanath Batra school of Hinduism, which trivialises and devalues the actual profundity of ancient thought.”

Big debate

Debate he insists was/is intrinsic to Hinduism when in the “forest academies” the philosophers professed - truth is one but called by many names, good thoughts come from different directions and impressed upon the spirit of enquiry. Indeed, misinterpretation is the bane of other religions too, but when it happens to a religion rooted in freedom of thought, he deems, “the travesty is much greater”. 

Varma can go on and on to put up a spirited defence of Hinduism’s metaphysical foundation, as also the great need to learn from the past without chauvinism and xenophobia. But then, he, we all know, is a man of many shades and seasons. So he regales us as much with anecdotes related to the former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and how he came to translate his poems, as well as how he refused point blank to translate the patriotic ones. 

Next muse

If you think a seminal book like Adi Shankaracharya has sapped his energy, the man, who believes, “if you love something you will find time for it”, has already moved on. Tulsidas’ Ramayana, which he upholds for sheer linguistic dexterity, is his next muse. 

While his only fictional book, When Loss is Gain, is ready to be adapted as a movie, his pen, sorry computer keys, will once again move to translate selected poems of Kaifi Azmi and Jan Nisar Akhtar sieved by Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi.  And in case, if you have any questions about how this official spokesperson of JDU reconciles the mind of an intellectual with the murky world of politics, he answers simply, “I always have the choice and the freedom to move out. But I feel politics is the biggest platform to stand up for what you believe in.”

Does that also answer how he takes on feisty motor-mouth anchors in incessant debates that he is a regular part of?  Well, if you still have doubts, let you be reminded that he was one hell of an orator back in his St. Stephen’s College days. Armed with his latest well-researched volume, you bet his adversaries will find it difficult to beat him at their game. They may have started it, but he intends to have the last word; on Hinduism or any other subject, right now its advantage Varma. Listen to him, or better still, read him.  



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