This is a continuation on my previous blog with the same title. The main purpose of this second blog is my urge to share with interested readers a few more anecdotes from my experience. I learned about two professors, one from India and one from the USA and one political leader who used religious fanaticism to grow.
‘Travel is lethal to indifference, bigotry and narrow mindedness’ said Mark Twain and I could not agree more. As I mentioned in my previous blog, joining American College, barely 1 km away from my home, taught me about people eating non-vegetarian everyday. Though, the college was just a km away, it had students from many parts of Tamil Nadu and from a diverse background. It also taught me about the eagerness shown by Christians to bring others into their fold. When I joined IIT Madras for MSc in 1982, I found out about Hindus who would not eat non-vegetarian only on Saturday. All my childhood, I was eating mutton only on Saturday.
I realized there is nothing sacrosanct about any of these practices. However, following some discipline in life is always good and if you are following something, do follow it. Don’t expect others to understand it or approve it. If any one claims, his/her way of life is the correct way, you can laugh and ignore. If it is forced, one must object. As nothing is sacrosanct, there is no need to be too hard on ourselves.
Around 1996, when I was in IIT Kanpur as a faculty, I found a seminar notice which aroused my curiosity. The speaker was a professor at IIT Delhi, and if my memory serves me right, in the Mechanical Engineering Department. The title went something to this effect ‘How to solve all the world’s problems’. As I have always been interested in solving all the world’s problems, I attended the talk. Within a few minutes, it was clear to me that the speaker’s suggestions would only create more problems. He simply said: ‘Anytime there is a conflict, follow what Bhagavatham says’.
I had not seen/read Bhagavatham and to the best of my knowledge this holy book is about Vishnu and Vaishnavaites are expected to follow this. I told the speaker: Your suggestion is good for creating and not solving problems. It is not just because I am from a Shaivaite family. I have read about serious conflicts and fights between these two groups in the history of India. This whole conflict is silly as many scholars have pointed out that Shiva and Vishnu are both, two forms of God.
A few years later, when I was in IISc, Bangalore, a very successful theoretical chemist from the USA visited IISc. He was among the topmost cited chemists. He gave three talks, one for the specialized audience in a Chemistry Department, one for all science audience at our faculty hall and one evening talk at a community hall. I happened to be his host from IISc during this visit and as a polite host, attended all the three talks. The third one was titled something to the effect ‘The resurrection of Christ is scientifically proven’. I was curious again but all he mentioned in the talk was that he believed it! You cannot argue with believers. As far as I could see, no ‘scientific proof’ was given.
He is certainly not the first scientist to have faith. Even then, I was amazed at his evangelical zeal to preach. I learned that he was a ‘born-again’ christian. He had a terrible loss in his life which pushed him towards faith and I can completely understand his choice. This brings me to the third person, a political leader from India who grew using religion. He had a temple in his house and pictures and statues of God all over the house. He installed many all over the city he was dominating. He also had a terrible loss in his life, and he became an atheist. He ordered removing all Gods from his house! As if God’s primary duty was to ensure that he does not loose anything.
Clearly, conversion not only happens between religions (between different faiths), it can also happen from no faith to faith, atheists to theists and reverse. Often these are based on personal experiences in life. I have never been religious and am convinced that all the books on Gods from all over the Universe were written by scholars at various point of time. In today’s world, I can only believe in a constitution written and approved in a democracy and not on any religious books.
2 thoughts on “On religion and conversion – 2”
Interesting. Thanks for sharing your experiences right from your background and college days – Shavite, Ameican College, IIT and then USA. Knowing you attended a Vaishnavite high school, I am curious about those days – when did you start thinking about religion and was there anything from your school that played a part in it?
Indeed Srini. It was the TVS High School which opened my eyes the first time. I have been observing things closely for so long and the travel has widened the horizons. However, religion for me came from my family. We breathed religion as a way of life and I used to be amused to find out people around me praying to the god for everything, striking a deal for a small cold to admission for MBBS. I have done ‘paal kudam’ when every one around me was hysterical and I was still watching. Will write more.