One of the assistants at the Foreign Student Office at Visva-Bharati was helping me fill out some paperwork and while asking for my religion, decided to interject, “I hope you’re Hindu.” “Uh, yeah I am,” I laughed uneasily while I exchanged looks with my friends who had accompanied me to the office. Considering that Visva-Bharati has a fair amount of foreign students and a sizable contingent from Bangladesh, I’m surprised that such a comment was deemed PC at the office. When complaining to my mom about it, she asked me, “Did you say yes that you’re a proud Hindu and that you’re a Ramakrishna devotee? Bring up Ramakrishna to help connect with Bengalis!” I think she might have missed my point but the tensions between Muslims and Hindus in India are definitely something that I’ve picked up on, even in my first couple weeks here.
Last week, Rachna and I were at the Oxford Bookstore on Park Street and happened to stumble into a lecture by Saeed Naqvi, a well-known journalist. He was there promoting his new book, Being The Other: The Muslim in India, which explains the roots of religious communalism and strained relationships between Muslim and Hindu communities—according to Naqvi, these divisions were first exploited by the British and then by subsequent political leaders and parties.
He quotes a line from a poem: The clouds are moving ecstatically from Kashi to Mathura and the sky will remain covered with dense clouds as long as there is Krishna in Braj. These words were penned not by a Krishna bhakta but by an Urdu poet named Mohsin Kakorvi, who wrote these lines for the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad. Unfortunately, in the current divisive religious climate in India, such syncretism is hard to even imagine.
I would love to read the entire book if possible—I have an interest in Hindu-Muslim relations and have actually written a few essays on topics such as the Ayodhya mosque and the larger Hindutva movement. I even wrote my Economics capstone on the beef ban, something I see mostly as a religious issue.
I do have to mention that I was disappointed when trying to talk to Naqvi however! Rachna and I went up and introduced ourselves and hoped to ask him a question or two—and he openly disregarded us! Everyone else in the audience was at least 40 years older than us so I assumed that Naqvi would be glad to see some young blood in the room—apparently not. It was especially shocking since I’m used to speaking with American scholars who are enthusiastic to speak with students. I hope it was simply him and not a larger Indian phenomenon.