That empty feeling

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Arun Shourie’s book tries to locate the value of suffering in theology and life. Will his most personal book reverberate in our politics, asks Tridip Suhrud

Abiding love: Arun Shourie with Aditya
Abiding love: Arun Shourie with Aditya

IT IS not often that one feels inadequate while responding to a book, especially one by Arun Shourie. The inadequacy is not biographical, it does not stem from a different life experience. It is not philosophical, as the world of ideas invites one to engage with them. It is because this work — part autobiographical, part-philosophical – invites one to enter the world of biography and philosophy from the realm of love. Shourie quotes Mother Teresa: “Love — till it hurts.” And then he adds, “For by then, we would have reached a point past being hurt.”

This is a book about deep, abiding love — love that hurts, love that allows one to live. It is a book about Aditya, his and Anita’s son. Aditya, now 35 years old, is a spastic. For over two decades, Anita has had Parkinson’s disease. Arun Shourie brings into the public domain a life of caring, loving, suffering. It is a book about love that begins and ends with suffering. Suffering which is distinct from pain. Pain which is bodily, pain which is localised, has a cause and a possible cure. But suffering? Suffering is not an affliction, suffering is not bodily — suffering is spiritual. It endures even after the body has perished.

Shourie’s quest is to understand the location of suffering within the world’s religious and spiritual traditions. He provides a large and accessible survey of scriptural traditions: The Bible; the Holy Quran; Gandhi’s desire to submit to God’s will and its implication on human action; the mode in which two of the most revered saints of modern India — Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Sri Ramana Maharshi — explain their own bodies being corroded by cancer; and Buddhism approached through the teachings of the Dalai Lama.

Does he know a mother’s heart: How suffering refutes religions Arun Shourie HarperCollins 432 pp; Rs 599
Does he know a mother’s heart: How suffering refutes religions Arun Shourie HarperCollins 432 pp; Rs 599

Shourie realises that to be all inclusive, theology has to provide an answer, however inadequate, to the question of suffering. The answers that it provides have little place for human agency, or as he puts it, for a “mother’s heart”. It attributes suffering to divine will, retributive or exemplary, or to a notion of fate (prarabdha), neither of which allow for that individuated suffering. It has no answer to a question that Alok Sikka, a spastic child, asked Baba Amte and through him to Gandhi: “But if your God wanted to make my parents kind, why did He do this to me?” This quest leads Shourie to Buddha, not only because of his karuna, his compassion and empathy, but also because of Buddhism’s doctrinaire openness, for its emphasis on the ethical life, a life of devotion and service that isn’t dependent on the ultimate reference and reliance on the idea of God. God seeks submission and surrender of human will and autonomy, while ethics are a human artifact.

But this book is not only an inquiry into scriptures. It is also an exposition on learning. What does suffering teach one? Can the excruciating agony, searing pain and void teach one to live life? Shourie’s question is not about coping — because he understands, unlike many of us, that coping involves self-pity, anger, hurt — but about living. And his answer is: love and service. Love that makes suffering secondary, service which allows one to go beyond one’s own suffering and engage with the world, belong to and create a community, not of co-sufferers but of those who serve, who live life as a sacrifice.

This work of Arun Shourie is the least political of all his works. And yet, he is aware that his open-ended reading of scriptures and his advocacy of ethics at the centre of religious life have implications for our politics.

Suhrud is a political scientist and cultural historian.


Time for a second republic?

Kingshuk Nag may be an outsider but he’s got the goods on the entire Telangana crisis, says Venkat Rao

An incisive take: Kingshuk Nag
An incisive take: Kingshuk Nag

THE TELANGANA region is on an explosive edge today. Resentment has simmered for nearly 60 years here; no lid can contain the cauldron’s fumes any more. This month witnessed a radical turn of events: unprecedentedly, almost all elected representatives of all political parties submitted their resignations. The shenanigans of the “high command” have been exposed. What pushed these 45 million people of the region onto this edge? In this perspicuous chronicle, Kinġshuk Nag cogently recounts the factors for this. He narrates with great economy and pertinent detail the calculated betrayal the region suffered from the moment of the merger of Andhra and Hyderabad states in 1956. Every agreement, measure and committee evolved to safeguard the disadvantaged region, he shows, was either nipped in the bud or ignored with impunity.

Nag succinctly tells of the phased orchestration of politico-economic deprivation and cultural denigration of Telangana. Chandrababu Naidu singled out Hyderabad as a global showcase, but brand Hyderabad conceals many aggravations — asymmetric economic development, radically divided living and the agony of unmediated lives. The brand’s dazzle is mesmerising, and the outsider and the upwardly mobile get seduced by this politically programmed glitz.

Telangana: Chronicle of an Agitation Kinġshuk Nag HarperCollins 248 pp; Rs 299
Telangana: Chronicle of an Agitation Kinġshuk Nag HarperCollins 248 pp; Rs 299

Nag is an outsider to Telangana. Yet what he observed in his extensive interaction with elite and subaltern constituencies neither makes him align himself with the agitating crowds nor spurn them. He learns about the history of the discontent, probes into the causes, notices the apathy, connivance, and deliberated strategies that try to suppress the movement. He has no truck with the Telangana political party (TRS), whose rise, humiliation, near-death and rebirth he chronicles dispassionately. Nor does he mouth brand Hyderabad or coastal corporate blues. He sees the protracted movement for a separate state as based on realistic grounds. Can language be the sole determinant of culture? Can any language be homogeneous? Don’t centuries of linguistic and cultural differences matter? What’s wrong if India has many more small states? Why raise the bogey of national security or Maoist terror or saffron demons suddenly? Isn’t it time to contemplate a second republic and give rest to the first one as a senior citizen?

Nag’s probing reflections put to shame the “findings” and “solutions” of the Srikrishna Committee Report. Acutely aware of the last 18 months, Nag is very critical of the “high command’s” apathy, posturing and dithering. He makes the writing on the wall bold. He suggests possible solutions too. From his citycentric option of treating Hyderabad as a special administrative area (the Hong Kong model) or the time-bound experiment with divided administration and states (the Meghalaya model), the activists welcome the debate around his sane suggestions. But are the Delhi bosses in a mood to listen?

AS I conclude this piece, all the political parties have decided to intensify the struggle. The state employees’ unions have announced an indefinite strike. Students are already out on the roads. Activists have chalked out a programme of bandhs, rasta-rokos and cooking on the roads. The cooking of discontent and defiance may go on indefinitely. Time will cook everyone, says an ancient Indian adage. But what’s cooking in Delhi? Doesn’t Delhi increasingly resemble Nero’s Rome?

Rao teaches at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad.

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