Monday, October 27, 2008

Nagma's Interview

Continuing on the coversion topic is this intersting interview with the hindi film-actress, Nagma.

Click here to read it.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I, The Convert

My earlier post touched upon the sensitive topic of Conversion.

You would have noticed that it was a digression from my normal writings. I needed to speak out because of the high voltage scenes in a certain district of Orissa state against the Christians - with some Hindus arguing that force and inducements were being used to convert people.

But I was very surprised to see this article 'I, The Convert' by the Editor of Outlook Business. It makes very good reading for analytical thinking. So don't miss reading it by clicking here . (I also copied it and pasted it down below, as you may need to register on the outlook website)

And on the opposite side, over the last few years, I have read and I have seen many intellectuals from India being moved and motivated by the strong writings of Francois Gautier. He is a French journalist who has amazingly acculturated himself to becoming an Indian - much much more an Indian than we indians ourselves. Here is his piece on Hindu Anger, though not directly connected to Orissa.
I, The Convert
My conversion was not a change of religion; it was a change of heart
by Anand Mahadevan

I was born a Brahmin and am the grandson of a priest whom I dearly loved. I am educated and my current professional standing indicates that I am reasonably intelligent. I am also affluent and my income would put me distinctly in the upper middle class bracket. I guess that would make me high-caste, rich and smart. In other words, I am not a tribal, or poor or dim-witted. And yet, I chose to become a follower of Jesus Christ.

The world would call me a convert to Christianity. I have no problems with that, though I see my faith more as a relationship with God through Jesus Christ than as a religion. And for the record, I can truthfully claim that no one financially induced or threatened or deceived me into converting to Christianity.

I am fiercely proud of my national identity as an Indian and I am completely at peace with my cultural identity as a Hindu. I retain the name my parents gave me. My wife, who also shares my faith, continues to go by her Hindu name. We have two children and we have given both distinctly Hindu names. In fact, many of my colleagues and acquaintances who may happen to read this column are likely to be surprised. They have no inkling about my faith, for I generally don't go about announcing it. But if someone does ask me the reason behind the joy and hope that is everpresent in my life, I am always delighted to share it with them.

I write this piece to make one point—that my conversion was not a change of religion but a change of heart. To explain this, I need to go back to my childhood in Chennai, similar to that of so many other Tamil Brahmin boys like me. My grandfather, every bit the virtuous priest, had enormous influence over me. I absolutely adored him and as a toddler, always clung to him. He too loved me to a fault. There was no wish of mine that he would not rush to fulfil. But even in my early, formative years I was unable to relate to the religion he fervently practiced. Later, in my school days, I once spent my summer holidays with him in Trichy. Memories of dawn walks with him, for the ritualistic dip in the Cauvery river, cow in tow, are still fresh in my memory. I learnt many shlokas, some of which I still remember. But I never understood any of it and none of it helped me connect with God.

When I was 19, a Christian friend with whom I used to play cricket invited me to his house for prayer. If he had invited me to a pub, or party, I would have gone too. At his home, he and his sister prayed for me. It was a simple yet delightful conversation with God that lasted all of five minutes. I don't remember it verbatim, but they articulated a prayer of blessing on my life, future, career and family. It was a simple affair—no miracles, no angels visiting. All they did was utter a deep human cry out to the creator God and His only son Jesus Christ. When they said Amen, I felt in my heart a desire to follow Jesus.

It was a faith encounter with God that I shall not even attempt to understand, rationalise or explain. I simply accept it. It is my faith. It is what I choose to believe. That evening I did not change my religion, for in reality I had none. Hinduism was my identity, not my religion. It still is.

The Christianity I acquired that evening is not a religion. On the contrary, it is an intensely intimate relationship with Jesus. Over the past fifteen years, I have come to know this Jesus even closer. I know Him as the pure and sinless Son of a Holy God. And I know Him as a dear friend to whom I pray and talk to every day—about my career, my dreams, successes, failures, finances and even my sexuality.

If I read a good book, watch a good movie (Rock On is terrific, mate), or eat a good meal at a new restaurant, I would naturally tell my friends about it.In Jesus, I have discovered a truly amazing friend, guide, leader, saviour and God. How can I not tell all my friends about Him? And if anyone does listen and he too comes to believe in Jesus, I am delighted. The world would call it a conversion; I call it a change of heart, like mine.

But I would never force anyone to listen to me, leave alone financially induce, coerce or con him into believing. That to me is pointless and against the very grain of my faith. But I do have a constitutional right to practice my faith and to preach it without deception, force or bribery. It pains to see such basic rights of mankind being cruelly violated every day in this great Hindu nation.

God bless India.

(Anand Mahadevan is the editor of Outlook Business.)


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Attacks on Churches in Orrisa

I am a Christian. Or that's what I call myself. But I have a number of Hindu friends. And I also have number of muslim friends (In fact, I live and work in an Islamic country with muslims all around). Even Sikhs, Parsis, Jains and Buddhists are my friends. I like them and I respect their beliefs.

Now, despite my long resistance to speak out on this sensitive topic, I decided it's time my friends heard my feelings. The continuing attacks and attrocities against churches in the Indian state of Orissa are extremely disturbing. The burning of churches and killing of christians - saying that christians are being 'converted' either by inducements or by force is slowly and steadily getting me all worked up. Especially, when I hear that... BJP is even asking for a new legislation, an Anti conversion Law!

I am upset, firstly, because some misguided fanatics - who are calling themselves Hindus - who with the seemingly visible backing of VHP(Vishwa Hindu Parishad) or Bajrang Dal, are spreading violence against christians. And, secondly, because some sensible friends who call themselves Hindus, who move around in the so-called higher echelons on power - are being shockingly silent to this growing hate-phenomenon.

Silence, in a way, is an acquiescence of what is happening. And I think sensible Hindus should see reason and speak out against these atrocities instead of being mute witnesses.

I am sure - all will agree - that it is not doing any good neither to India nor to Hinduism. And I don't think Hinduism is an insecure faith that needs these violent defenders.

The question of faith and belief is largely individual, and I do not think anyone can be 'converted' by coercion or by inducements. If anyone did convert that way, it is no conversion! It is only a display of ignorance or greed. But if it is a conversion to earn the so-called 'respectability', then it must be addressed in an entirely different manner - by finding out how and why they were disrespected in the firstplace.

One must also understand that those of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are infact losing government-given opportunities (of university and job reservations), by becoming christians. So, how can anyone easily assume that becoming a chistian is financially beneficial?

As far as I know, churches and christian schools (which are being blamed) in India have always promoted education and knowledge so that people can become more enlightened in their choices.

Though born in a Christian family, I have (as a child) argued and debated with my parents and church leaders on why I should believe in Christianity. I read books for and against christianity. Even the controversial work 'Why I am not a Christian' by the great Philosopher, Bertrand Russel. And I read books of and on other religions too, apart from the Bible. And I've listened to and participated in many inter-faith dialogues and can, perhaps, with reasonable clarity explain the diferrence between Vedic Hinduism based on Advaita from that of the general Hinduism that people know of.

As for me, I can say with confidence that I am a Christian by choice. Not by birth. And certainly not because some great-grandfather had converted to Christianity. While I do not know the actual reasons for his conversion, I do know that it is not for 'inducements' or 'financial traps' or any such mythical monies. Because I do not recall any way in which the church has given anything to us 'financially' , but I do know that we ourselves have contributed to the churches in whatever way we can. Just like how many other christians do. Infact, some do this very very sacrificially.

Anyway, before I close, I suggest that my Hindu friends read a write-up by a Hindu TV journalist whom I admire a lot - Karan Thapar - by clicking here. It can broaden our thought processes.

Or another link where you can read another view (You must go down a bit on that webpage) by Dipankar Gupta by clicking here.

When someone is really on the quest of 'Truth', I am sure he or she will always find it.

Who is Karan Thapar?

Karan Thapar born in November 1955 in Srinagar is perhaps India 's best known television commentator and interviewer. Thapar is noted for his aggressive interviews with leading politicians and celebrities - his interviews with cricketer Kapil Dev where he broke down into tears, Manmohan Singh, General Pervez Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto , US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and His Holiness The Dalai Lama are particularly well remembered by Indians. An alumnus of The Doon School and Stowe School , he graduated with a degree in the Economics and Political Philosophy from Pembroke College , Cambridge in 1977. In the same year, he was President of the Cambridge Union. He subsequently attained a doctorate in International Relations from St Anthony's College, Oxford . He began his career in journalism with The Times in Lagos , Nigeria .


Monday, October 06, 2008

A Thousand Splendid Suns

I know I am reading it a bit late, compared to many others, but reading A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hossein, is really an experience worth sharing.

I am more than half-way through it, and there have already been quite a few places, where I had to just pause and take a deep breath.

I feel its an exceptionally well-crafted work of art. The lucidity of the description of rural Afghanistan will appeal to you just as much as the grim portrayal of emotional upheavals that the characters face. The loves and hates, the joys and struggles, the sacrifices and betrayals of ordinary people among the changing political scenes of the Afghanistan, are amazingly informative and thought-provokingly entertaining.

I still wonder how he was able to write like women. Right from within their souls.

If I was moved by his earlier book, The Kiterunner, I am now deeply touched by this one. And I strongly recommend it to all who enjoy a good reading.

Watch this space. There could be more coming up as I finish the book.


You can find the NYT's Herald Tribune review of the book here ...