An Indian diplomat examines his deeply held spiritual beliefs.
Tharoor (Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, 2018, etc.), former Under-Secretary-General at the U.N., eloquently explains the religion that has offered him wisdom and spiritual consolation throughout his life. Clearly presenting Hinduism’s roots, central tenets, and major texts and thinkers, he portrays the religion as a polycentric faith, open to all seekers of spiritual enlightenment. He is dismayed, however, by what he sees as the corruption of Hinduism into “the intolerant and often violent forms of Hindutva,” a political movement that aims at “creating social and cultural distinctions for a political purpose.” Hindutva sees Hinduism “as a badge of identity, rather than as a set of values, principles and beliefs.” An insidious form of identity politics, according to Tharoor, Hindutva foments prejudice against India’s Muslims and Christians and insists on Hinduism “as a badge of allegiance rather than a way of relating to the cosmos.” For the author, it is precisely Hinduism’s capacious validation of other faiths and its rejection of one “single structure of theological authority or liturgical power” that makes the religion so attractive. Tharoor confronts directly the social and cultural practices that have been associated with Hinduism: the discriminatory caste system, which he admits is unfortunately widespread in India; superstitious beliefs in astrology, signs, and soothsayers; and the “God Market” that has drawn the gullible to “charlatans, poseurs and tricksters” who offer “simplistic ideas of spirituality and amass huge fortunes.” The author believes that although caste was entrenched by British colonial rule, even after India’s independence it has become an indisputable fact of life, practiced by more than a third of the population. While he was raised to be oblivious to caste, he recognizes that he has benefited socially, economically, and politically by having been born into an upper stratum. “Caste blindness,” he admits, “is itself an affectation available only to the privileged.”
A thoughtful celebration of Hinduism as a potentially unifying force.