I grew up loving to sing Ram bhajans. In my school, Shreyas, we used to have a daily prayer called Ek Hai, We Are One. Some days there used to be songs to Christ, some days to Zarathustra or Buddha, others to Mahavir or Allah.
The songs were melodious and beautiful and brought to all of us a great sense of well-being and calm. Even though as children we did not understand the power of music to heal, we certainly loved the effect it had on us.
As a young Bharatanatyam dancer, one of my favourite padams was Sri Ramachandra Kripalu Bhajamana Haran Bhava Bhaya Darunam. There were two versions, one in rang Desh and one in Brindavani Sarang and I loved both.
And then Ram changed. From the gentle and compassionate person he was in the bhajans, he became the name behind mayhem and violence, destruction and pillage. Was this my Ram? Was my Ram interested in burning buses and cracking open the heads of innocents? Or raping of women to enhance his glory and name? Or in destruction of works and words of art? No, no, this was not the Ram of millions of us Hindus but of some twisted minds, frenzied with hatred and lust, bent on destruction and warped violence. Were we to remain silent while these people hijacked our Ram?
Well they have struck again and will continue striking because we have allowed them to. The reasons are always trivial and opportunistic. This time it was the Indo-Pak standoff but the destruction was wrought by hooligans on to a culture trying to create peace and dialogue. And such is the fear of truth among us that neither the organizer of the exhibition vandalized nor the police themselves are taking action.
This has become a repeated and frequent story of intimidation and silencing of pluralistic thought in our society. Whether it was hooliganism in our best university a few years ago, or the threat to the School of Architecture or the earlier assault at the same Gufa, each time that we remain silent, and the police and judiciary remain benumbed and under pressure, we allow the hooligans to take our Ram and defame him.
I count myself a proud Hindu and Indian. With this territory comes my right to question and to offer alternative views that may not please everyone. But that is part of the pluralism of the philosophy of Hinduism and of Indian-ness. Our greatest books are based on debate. Our great philosophers took contrary views and started different schools of thought.
They argued and debated their points of view; but did they ever kill in the name of the gods? The violent Christian crusades and the Muslim conquests in the name of spreading the name of their god are history. But when, till recent times, have we Hindus become blood thirsty in killing others and vandalizing things in the name of OUR god?
I also count myself as a creative artist. I will create what I want. And I will write about it. If we are a civilized society let there be debate and arguments against my work, or that of any artist, and then we can agree to agree or disagree. But you cannot stop our work.
Are we so egotistic as to think that we can defend god or that gods need us puny individuals to defend their name? For true Hindus the gods are their family and friends, to cajole and scold, argue with and abuse. But our gods are ours, individualistically ours to deal and behave with as we choose.
Individually and personally. In fact we have a tradition of praising our deities through criticizing them in songs called Ninda Stutis. So will these new guardians of Ram kill all those who lovingly scold him through these stutis?
Break down their homes? In these dark times I can only pray to Ram to come and explain compassion to these people killing in his name and killing the idea of him in the process. Ram, we need your kripa to bring sense into these people lost on their paths of hatred and destruction. Why are you silent?