There is something beautifully nuanced about Hinduism’s belief in the Afterlife- in the certainty that a soul cannot be destroyed for it wasn’t exactly created. Therein lies the mystery of this religion, in the idea that we will remain a part of the universe simply because it exists within us. The Afterlife also introduces the crucial cycle of Karma, of receiving exactly how we’ve given. But this is a distraction from another truly important trait of this belief, the reincarnation of souls. The inevitability of coming back, even if it is in a different form or shape. Vishnu himself, returns in ten different forms, only to save the world, hold the weight of mountains and ensure the triumph of good over evil. Were we to strangely put our faith in this natural logic of things, why haven’t our national heroes returned to save our country from this pitiful state of existent affairs? Why has Gandhi not returned to ensure there aren’t divisive politics that provoke a religion to hate another? Why hasn’t Kabir come back to preach against the materialism and the luxuries that are driving us farther and farther away from our social and moral responsibilities? Where is the reincarnated Kautilya, who would school these new age political leaders to use progressive political tactics instead of vote banks and hate speech? Why hasn’t Ambedkar been reborn to draft a new amendment that would fix the way we treat socially backward classes and ensure their empowerment? Perhaps Ambedkar did come back and fought as hard as he could, until this terribly corrupt and dangerous system crushed him and then said Rohith Vemula wasn’t a Dalit.
Nehru famously called India a palimpsest- referring to something that will continue to hold visible traces of early activity despite being altered or reused, much like a coastal shore that brings in with each new tide another layer of sand and silt right over the previous ones. It is an exquisite turn of the tongue to describe my motherland – for we have seen the Vedic Age and made room for foreign invaders, accepted the culture of the colonial west so that now we speak their language as well as them and always, always allowed the evolution of new ideas, from Buddhism to Jainism. India has constantly evolved because we self-defined ourselves, as a land where men and women of great thought were born, regardless of how terribly they disagreed on the same idea. India was never a singularity, never the majority it is propagated to be by the current regime because we borne Ashoke, a Hindu King that gave up war and bloodshed when he lay down his weapons at Kalinga and began preaching Ahimsa and Akbar who as an Islamic Emperor had all traditional oppressive practices against the Hindus eradicated, a move that would induce a fatwa in this day and age.
India given all its tensions is a miracle that holds together. It is the birth land of the greatest numerical invention and the home of the ancient language that allows parallel cultures to exist, so I will put forth a provocative argument and go about fighting for its soul: Our national heroes will not return through destiny unless we reinvent their original forms. Despite our uncatalogued heaps of history, we have a rich, complex and inspiring non fictional past to arouse example from, so much that fictionalized heroes would undoubtedly time and again fall short. The act of attacking the freedom of artists who attempt to speak of past figures differently, by trying to make certain that our heroes remain saints and must be considered as frozen subjects that can’t be interpreted in contrast with original wisdom is to not only to deny them of their real natures but also a refusal to celebrate their genuine achievements.
The Indian epics were recreated for the modern age with translations’ of the original scriptures by artists who reinvented it in words, sounds and sights repeatedly, hence preserving history, unlike witless punks and hapless bullies that turn up at constructed sets of such shows and destroy property and assault artists in the name of tradition. What is worse is that political leaders never come out in opposition of these aggressive groups, which only incentivizes such thought.
The truth is our heroes weren’t saintly or perfect but only human who were trying to find themselves within the spiritual, ideological and moral conflicts of their times. To cast them as these all knowing wise figures is to believe that men can reach a state of all encompassing wisdom which as history bears evidence, the greatest of humankind have attempted to attain till their very last breath and failed. It often becomes hard to remember what this nation stands for, with such diversity and the constant need to carve a single Indian identity, so here is a single word that defines India, this beautiful chaos of a nation. Plurality. The acceptance to acknowledge the existence of more than one idea or belief or thought or way of life. I know for a fact that Sardar Patel would approve.
So as we walk into the throes of another national crisis, may we remember that news events involving a body count are tragedies first and prime time debates later. May we remember that India asks of you to have a conversation with a real stranger to convince them of your politics before you type out a one hundred and forty character tweet with contempt and all caps.
Tagore gave away his knighthood after the Jallianwala Bagh Tragedy and Arundhati Roy refuses to rest her pen against the injustice in Kashmir. Amrita Sher Gil painted portraits of women in the 20th century to break the glass ceiling for artistic Indian women as MF Hussain was driven out of his country when his art strayed too far from religious confines.
(Inspired by : Sunil Khilnani’s Reincarnations: The History of India in 50 Lives)