Thursday, May 18, 2006

Eloquent Silence

I was surprised to read that the Indian government has allowed the release of Da Vinci Code movie even as protestors staged hunger strikes. In India, it has not taken more than that to get a ban on controversial literature and art. I recall the bans on Rushdie's Satanic Verses and Taslima Nasreen's Lajja coming through a lot more expeditiously than that. Clearly the right to get something banned is not as equal opportunity as it ought to be. There is much to be said for being perpetually belligerent and being ready to carry out terrorist strikes at the drop of a hat - the powers that be can't seem to be galvanized into action any other way.

A colorful poster announcing a presentation "The Truth About the Da Vinci Code" on the grounds of the church across the street caught my eye this morning. It made me wonder why a religious establishment was dignifying claims made in a work of fiction by discussing it. Would it's distance from and denial of the premise of Dan Brown's story be better served by not speaking about it ? A far superior response came from the
NYT reviewer of the Da Vinci Code movie who concluded his case by saying :

"So I certainly can't support any calls for boycotting or protesting this busy, trivial, inoffensive film. Which is not to say I'm recommending you go see it."

As a Hindu I know we lampoon and parody our myths and religious epics relentlessly. Starting from middle school students in small Indian towns to the Standford Indian Association anyone can stage a skit parodying the Ramayan and be none the worse for it. Such transgressions are viewed as clever and entertaining. As a culture and a religion, Hindus have the ability to laugh at themselves. We are taught not to accept anything without question, not believe anything without good reason. To a Hindu, no holy cow is too sacred to be ripped apart and analyzed.

While our religious leaders ( I refer to spiritual rather than institutional leadership in which is thankfully scant anyways) encourage questioning and an intellectually rigorous debate on Hinduism, they ignore us completely when we seek to denigrate ignorantly. In doing so, they succeed in rising above our attempts at profanity and disrespect. Their imperious silence conveys the strength and enduring power of a religion that remains unfazed in the face of contradiction and ridicule. The histrionics of political rabble rousers, the self-styled upholders and defenders of Hindutva can't hold a candle to such eloquent silence.

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