Hindi is my Devaki, English is my Yashoda. Marwari is my grandma, Bengali, my maasi-maa (mother’s sister) — and Sanskrit is my great-grandma. Each of them, in their own way, have nurtured me. They all have a very significant place in my life.
All the languages of India, indeed all the languages of the world are my maasi-maa. There are many among them that I have never met, but I know that when we do meet, we shall become friends – because they are my maa-see, like my mother. If I offer their children – the speakers of that language – a smile, they shall offer one or two of their words in return. I have experienced this first-hand. When I was in USA, I experienced it with Spanish, in south-west India, in Udupi-Manipal, it was the same with Kannada. If I see the beauty of my maasee with fascination, if I hear her carefully, I shall recognize her – I will learn that language. This shall happen with any language that I care to see with love. I know. Every language of the world is my very own.
Why do we believe that we have only one mother – that we have only one mother tongue, one culture, only one religion? I have many mothers.
I feel a deep sense of gratitude towards these languages that have enriched my life — specially for Hindi, English, Sanskrit and Bengali.
Most of my school friends shy away from Hindi, and that is such a pity. They have convinced themselves that it is tough. So they deprive themselves of the beauty that is for their taking. It leaves me deprived of sharing half of myself with childhood friends.
At the same time, I find people referring to English with bitterness in the Hindi forums I frequent, in the articles I read in Hindi magazines. My heart protests immediately, but most times I remain silent. English is my mother tongue, and yes, whether anyone likes it or not, English is an Indian language.
When we feel a sense of pride for our culture, our heritage, that pride does not demand that we feel bitter towards another culture and heritage of this world. That other culture is also our wealth. All the beauty that emerges in this world, is all our wealth. Why do we keep ourselves limited? Our heritage is “vasudhaiv kutumbakam” – this world, this whole earth, is our family.
I am proud of my heritage. More than pride, my heritage gives me a sense of security. This heritage includes music, poetry, history, mythology, arts, eastern science – and they all give joy and a feeling of being with my self. Above all I feel proud of Vedanta. Whether my being will ever proclaim “I am That” or not, that Vedanta is there, that knowledge is there, means I am safe.
This hypothetical scenario arises in my mind at times – what if something drastic happens and all of the heritage of India fades away, its classical music, dance, poetry, Hindi, Sanskrit, all its stories and history… what if the message of Vedanta, termed as Vedanta is on the verge of being wiped out – and I am told that I can keep only one gem of my heritage, what would I choose to keep?
I shall choose two words: vasudhaiv kutumbakam. The world is my family. Even if those two words fade away on the path of time I ask that the thought, that truth, remain shining in me – that all humans, all beings on this earth, are my family.
I know that with this thought in my heart, wherever I may go, I will meet family. My needs shall be met, wherever I may go. All of the 13 years that I lived alone, away from my official family, this has been my experience – in each city, at every step. I did not just befriend people, they did not just help me at the time of trouble – from each interaction, with each person I felt – you are family. If that feeling did not arise at that time, it arose later when I was able to understand that interaction in greater depth.
I received education in an English medium school. Every day in the morning, at assembly, we used to sing one hymn. There was one singing class per week too. Our singing teacher taught us various fun songs like Audrey Hepburn’s All I Want Is A Room Somewhere, and she taught a few more hymns. At home dad read Bachchan’s Is Paar Us Paar, and Raskhan and Bihari’s Meree Bhav Baadhaa Haro in such a soulful manner in the evening, that it left an indelible impression on me. Mom taught Sanskrit to my brother and me. Sanskrit stotras and the creations of Tulsidas are a regular affair at home. The result is that now, even after all these years, all of a sudden words of hymns rise up in me as spontaneously as lines of some Sanskrit stotra or bhajan.
Jesus I give You, my heart and my soul
I know that without You, I’ll never be whole
Master You opened all the right doors
I thank You and praise You
From earth’s humble shores
Take me I’m Yours
These lines are as much my own, as these –
आत्मा त्वं, गिरिजा मतिः, सहचरा: प्राणाः, शरीरं गृहं …
यत्-यत् कर्म करोमि तत्-तत् अखिलम्, शंभो तवाराधनम्
करचरणकृतं वा, कायजं, कर्मजं वा
श्रवण नयनजं वा, मानसं वापराधम्
विहितमविहितं वा, सर्व मेतत् क्षमस्व
जय जय करुणाब्धे श्री महादेव शम्भो।
So I am a Hindu, and a Christian – and I am neither.
These days I am studying a book called “A Course In Miracles“. It was written in USA around 1970. Through this book I am learning how we can choose love instead of fear every moment, moment to moment. Whatever this book teaches is the same as what Vedanta teaches. This is a matter of satisfaction for me. Some terms in the book are of Christian, the voice of the book is such that it feels as if Jesus is speaking, but content is the same as Vedanta and yet the manner of saying what has been said is very different. I am able to receive the message of this book more easily than some Sanskrit scripture because its manner of explaining is more effective for me. That it is originally written in contemporary English is significant bonus.
So I am a Christian, and a Hindu – and I am neither.
An aged couple were my neighbors in Manipal. An elderly couple were my neighbors in Manipal. The lady had many vegetables growing in her garden. She came to my place one day to teach me to grow vegetables. There were many wild Tulsi (Basil) plants growing in the vegetable patch in the backyard. We were digging the soil and making it ready for planting vegetables. There wasn’t enough space due to the Tulsi shrubs. I suggested were uproot one or two of those Tulsi shrubs.
“Is that ok with you?” she asked.
“Yes. Why not? We need space to grow the vegetables, do we not? What will I do with so much Tulsi? The main Tulsi of the house is at front,” I said – and we started uprooting the Tulsi.
A little while later Auntyji, who is a Christian, said, “But you all consider this holy…”
“Yes, we do consider it holy – so that we may know that it is an extremely beneficial herb,” I replied.
“We lost all this several generations back,” she said in a disappointed voice.
It was sad to hear that. Though I did not say it, I felt like saying, “So what? You can still be devoted to your Jesus and adopt whatever you wish of Hinduism that you consider beneficial.”
Why do we believe that we can be followers of only one religion? If we adopt anything else why do we feel we are betraying our own religion? That sense of guilt, that doubt is so meaningless.
Why do we keep our identities so limited?
My identity comes from the womb of silence. She is my Durga Maa – the language of silence. She is my Radha too.
Image source: From the menu card of The Scoop, New Market, Kolkata