Secular debate: Why no ‘Saif’ passage?

Saif and Kareena, Taimur’s parents have been attacked virtually for naming their son after a king known to be a hater of “infidels” of Delhi
Saif and Kareena, Taimur’s parents have been attacked virtually for naming their son after a king known to be a hater of “infidels” of Delhi

This is the one subject on which I should never be writing. This is the one subject that should never be a subject anywhere, but more especially in a country like India which prides itself on the richness of its multi-splendored culture. In fact, I feel petty and embarrassed even bringing myself to announce the subject of this part of my column: controversy created over naming of Kareena and Saif Ali Khan’s son. This is not spectravision. This is spectrablindness.

But since the social media and a part of even the mainstream media has turned it into a major social and national event, and since even I found myself guilty initially of being sucked into this unhealthy debate, I guess it makes sense to use this event and even this controversy to transcend this event and this controversy. In the process, it provides also an opportunity to remind oneself of one’s cosmic ancestry.

Here is the ideal occasion to remind oneself and one’s compatriots of the wonderful reasons why it is a blessing morally and spiritually to be born an Indian — and an even greater blessing to know that one’s place of birth is a land which has been the theatre of life for the likes of Guru Nanak, Guru Tegh Bahadur — known as the protector of the honour of the nation (Hind di Chaadar) Guru Gobind Singh, the founder of the martial and chivalarous Khalsa, Bulle Shah, Sheikh Farid, Waris Shah — to name just a few. And for the same reason, it is an opportunity also to reflect on why we must not allow ourselves to be sucked into debates and disputes that dwarf us.

To anyone stricken with pathological inferiority complex over our country’s past, there is enough evidence of India’s intellectual supremacy and sovereignty in history

Now, a significantly large number of our countrymen are upset that two of our cinema icons have named their child after one of the most hated and horrific figures of history. Unfortunately, it is true of course that Taimurlane, also known as Taimur Lang, was a selfdeclared hater of “infidels”, and took pride in declaring that he had mercilessly beheaded hundreds of thousands of them, took their women, ravaged and looted their shrines and took immense pleasure in doing so, describing the heart-rending cries of children being slain as “mirth”. In his diaries, he makes fun of the “infidels” of Delhi who battled his armies, choosing to burn their own homes and their women rather than yielding them to the foreign invaders.

Against this background, some people in the country are understandably upset over the choice of such a self-declared butcher and rapist for naming the child of two of the country’s most popular and admired screen icons. And unlike Mohammad, Mehmood, Ahmad, Khan, etc., Taimur is not a fairly common name for Muslim children either. At least, there has been no one of any eminence in this country or even abroad who shares this name. Therefore, so goes the reasoning, Saif and Kareena have gone out of their way to pick this name to spite their fellow countrymen, and that the choice of Taimur as their child’s name is not such an innocent and spontaneous act, born purely of the couple’s love for the way this ‘poetic’ name sounds.

Our civilisation shone through the haze of ignorance and the resultant fanaticism and hegemony of communal identities in the past
Our civilisation shone through the haze of ignorance and the resultant fanaticism and hegemony of communal identities in the past

Even granting that Saif and Kareena could have shown greater sensitivity to the feelings of the majority of their countrymen still battling a painful legacy of that communal carnage, it is hard to agree with  hose who wish to turn this into a public issue, using this “provocative” name as an excuse to ignite the communal tinderbox. Ideally, it should be no one’s business except Saif and Kareena’s by what name they want to call their child.

I was woken up to the dangers inherent even in referring to the controversy in a lighter vein when I found my casual post on the subject on Facebook turning into combustive excuse for flare up. I felt obliged to withdraw my post when I found it “being derailed into a vulgar and unsavoury debate on he advisability of the nomenclature. That was neither the intent nor the content of my post. But as the debate developed a mind of its own and threatened to assume communal overtones, I was left with no option but to withdraw my post.’ And I had to post a public apology to everyone concerned and ‘sincerely regret any hurt caused to anyone by my post or by the debate that followed it.’ To clear my personal position on the issue, I said that I fully respect the right of any parents to name their child as they deem fit. It is entirely their business and their right and their choice, I said, adding that it was none of my business to comment on the advisability of any name being chosen. Therefore, I withdrew the post, admitting that it was a mistake to have allowed this indiscretion in the first place. I should have foreseen the direction this debate could take.

That divisiveness is an illusion slapped upon the basic truth of cosmic oneness as advocated by the ancient Indian scriptures such as the Vedas and by icons of modern ideas

I admire both Kareena and Saif as artists though I am not among their fans. And I believe they must be allowed free space when they deserve to relish this hour of divine happiness. I pray for health and happiness of parents and of the apple of their eye and join them in their happiness in this beautiful hour in their lives. I wish the new born baby a great future and pray that he may bring great glory to his parents and to humanity at large. Even this did not entirely end the debate and though at a reduced level of intensity, comments continued to pour in.

All this should teach us a two-fold lesson. One layer of the lesson is that we are citizens of a great country whose culture and heritage can be held up as a model to help and guide mankind desperately in need of icons and role models. We are heirs to one of the most ancient civilisations on earth where human mind FIRST recorded external artifacts of progress in ideas and material ideals. To anyone not stricken with pathological inferiority complex over the country’s past, there is enough evidence available of India having lived through its hour of intellectual supremacy and sovereignty in the past and what we are witnessing again is a resurgent India, waking up to its own genetic intellectual, moral and spiritual core.

The second layer of that message is a reminder of a people having lost their moral and spiritual path and gone astray off the path of human glory, largely because India forgot its core strength: The ability to prove and establish the superiority of mind over matter. As long as our nation built shrines to mind, worshipped the supremacy and sovereignty of the world of ideas, our civilisation shone through the haze of ignorance and the resultant fanaticism and hegemony of communal identities. India’s is perhaps the only civilization to have experienced the planet as one country, advocated the subordination of the concept of nation-state (rashtravaad) to the idea of “one human nation” (vishawatma — “nau khand prithvi sacha dhhoa”: the nine continents of the globe upheld by a single idea of truth.) In a country where sarv-dharam sambhaav (respect for the world as symbiosis of religions) is a high-school ideal, the very idea of communal divisions based on communal pride is evidence of ignorance, lack of education and awareness. India is the world’s first real experiment of humanity as one nation — in fact, one family. (sansar parivar) In fact, the modern scientific concepts of the one and the same life-force pervading through all life forms is essentially an extension of the household Indian philosophy of kan kan main Bhagwan. Says Gurbani: Ghat Ghat main har jio basse, santan kahio pukaar: The primal force, God, breathes in each and every form that you see; this has been the cry of all saintly hearts)  No wonder, Jagdish Chander Bose was the first man to discover life in plants. Even before he discovered it, his mind and body believed in it, for that is the philosophy and belief which all of us in India are born and brought up on.

But the lesson is that forgetting this basic truth about ourselves is the starting point of our losing out to petty vision and fratricidal bloodshed. The debate on the nomenclature of Saif’s child can yet be the excuse for  us to revert to our core strength. That divisiveness is an illusion slapped upon the basic truth of cosmic oneness as advocated by the ancient Indian scriptures such as the Vedas and by icons of modern scientific ideas such as Heisenberg, Neil Bohr, Einstein, Carl Sagan and Stephan Hawkins.


I lived through nearly fifteen nerve wracking years of nauseating communalism in Punjab, years that had reduced the heart and soul of a chivalrous race of martial, large-hearted and instinctively secular people of Punjab o a petty, spiteful mess. Almost for the first and hopefully the last time in its proud history, Punjab lost its soul and lost the verve and vitality, the sang froid and the joi de vivre for which the state and its wonderful people have been rightly famous all over the world. It was as if the land that was the most powerful symbol of life and love on his planet had lost the will to live and been stricken with a dark, mysterious death wish.

Fortunately, Punjab is Punjab again — full of life, fun and frolic, overflowing with robust hope and indefatigable optimism despite the many problems it faces, despite also the many ugly slurs cast on its fair image by self-serving and cynical political reptiles who tried all they could to damn the wonderfully alive Punjabi youth as drug addicts and painting the stray incidents of farmers’ suicides as a phenomenon. Cut to the quick and determined as if to seek a revenge on its detractors, the youth of Punjab stormed the national and international stage to remind everyone of who they really are: hearty lovers and lovable champions. Just when the entire country was delivering lectures to them on the evils and dangers of drug abuse and reminding them how they have fallen into a self-erected hell, Punjab’s boys quietly stepped on the world stage and declared themselves champions in World Cup Hockey. Seven playing members of the team hail from Punjab. The state university boys have been winning the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Trophy for All India Inter University Overall Sports Championship for a   record 29 times. This year, both the winners and the runners up universities were from Punjab: Punjabi Univeristy, Patiala, and Guru Nanak Dev University Amritsar. This is resounding response of Punjab’s young boys and girls to those who wrote them off as drug addicts.

It’s the language of love, togetherness and one-ness which this country seems to forget every now and then. This temporary loss of memory is at the root of all communal bitterness

And this story is scripted on the harmonious landscape of Punjab where communalism is looked upon as a sign of moral and spiritual blindness. When you think Punjab, you obviously think Sri Harmandar Sahib, the Shrine of God with all four doors open to all four directions of the world. Said the Guru: Updesh chonh varna ko saanjha. (My message is for all four faiths.) There is no place here for petty debates over communal nomenclatures. Taimur or Tansen, what Punjab produces alongside fables of human daring and glory is a symphony of human love — open, cosmopolitan, cosmic. The five rivers that originally gave the state its name were more than streams of water. The vast, verdant landscape which spreads between these legendary rivers has been a cradle to an amazing confluence of contradictory cultures — from Sanskrit to Persian. The Vedas were written here. Guru Gobind Singh poured forth in Persian, Punjabi, Braj Bhaasha the spirit of God that sang in him. And as all these languages poured and churned together in one spiritual vessel, called the Punjabi language, the Gurus gave it the dignity of a script, now known as Gurmukhi. Gurmukhi is the song of the cosmic spirit of this universe, symbolising harmony.

It’s the language of love, togetherness and oneness which this country seems to forget every now and then. It is this temporary loss of memory which is at the root of all communal bitterness, such as the one we see in the unhealthy and unedifying debate over the name of Saif-Kareena’s off-spring. May the child outgrow the climate he is being thrust into. May he breathe four winds in and may he plant a kiss of laughter and love on each breathof breeze as it leaves his tender lips towards all four directions. May he be the conquerer of hearts. May his songs celebrate the cosmic winds of Punjab to which his ancestors originally belonged.