A note to secularism

Thinking of peace, respect for all faiths, and a coming together of the human race in the times of corona pandemic
A note to secularism

What if Covid-19 or plain coronavirus hit me in myloneliness in my otherwise spacious living premises? Was it pandemic or anepidemic? I had started listening to thoughtful doctors on the TV panels andyet unable was I to make up my mind. Should I seal myself up in my bedroom withthe TV set or the music blaring away senselessly? My agony acquired a higherpitch when the US seemed to have gotten angry for no reason, India had not beenprompt enough in responding to a suggestion that New Delhi supply sufficientlylarge quantities of the prescription drug hydroxychloroquine to the US tobolster its war on the pandemic which has already taken a heavy toll onAmerican lives. By the time Mr. Modi's government had convinced Washington ofNew Delhi's honorable intensions on the question of the supply of the drughydroxychloroquine all hell had broken loose with India's own preoccupationwith basic shortages of equipment to fight its war against the pandemic. Bythen the realization had also dawned that hydroxychloroquine was only ananti-malaria drug and manufactured in India by just one pharmaceutical company,the giant Cipla Pharma. Now, can one believe that Cipla, which is one ofIndia's biggest pharmaceuticals is owned by a Muslim. It was in fact set up byDr. Hamid in the last century and is now controlled by the junior Dr. Hamid.The senior Hamid was a pucca Sahib with a Swiss wife and a great vision to backup his plans with. The senior Hamid had also dabbled in politics in themid-1930s and had crossed swords with Mr. Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. HamidSr. briefly and Hamid Jr. for years now, have seen another Muslim entrepreneurAzim Premji build up the rising Wipro enterprise to become India's secondrichest man and the country's biggest ever philanthropist. In fact, Premji'salthough second nationally in terms of wealth to the moneybags, Ambani Sr.ranks amongst the biggest philanthropists in the world, in the same league asBill Gates. At the last count, Azim Premji was donating INR 54,200 crores ofthe personal wealth to charities annually. So that takes care ofhydroxychloroquine, the absence of which had caused Trump much annoyance whencompliance with the request for adequate supplies had gone unheeded.

Unrelated to this is my personal encounter with Dr. Hamid(Sr.) nearly three decades ago. Both of us were guests at a wedding in Gwalior,that of a then up and coming journalist Irfan Khan later a PR whiz kid withHindustan Lever. It so happens that my Urdu Pronunciation (largely Kashmiriintonation) had "caught his ear". So, when it came to reciting the 'Sehra' –the bride's father, who was a judge of the Madhya Pradesh High Court whereasIrfan's father has been the Nawab of Rampur's physician – Dr. Hamid pointed tome with the dare "50 rupees for you if you read the Sehra." To his surprise Isaw "Of course, Doctor". So, I launched myself, with the nice old men offeringa hundred if I repeated it in my sing song tones.

Forget the sehra episode. Here far more seriously is thesurprise a friend from Tamil Nadu sprang on me less than a week ago. It was arecording of a speech delivered near my place by Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman,a judge of the Supreme Court since 2014. It was a wake-up call in more sensethan one. The Judge's was a remarkable piece of work delivered with theconsummate skill of a scholar and a wordsmith to boot. His was no politicalspeech yet it had all the ingredients that make for a scholarly discourse. Thiswas no ordinary retelling of history although history really was the tool whichhe molded with the deftness of an artist to make out a strong case for thesecular past of India. He took into his ample embrace India's dates with AsokaThe Great, the arrival thereabouts in India of Jews and Christians and littlelater, of Muslims. The lost tribe of Jews which cut across the width of India,from Kashmir to the North East, where we had a small Jewish population untilrecently. He drew a picture post card of sorts to pinpoint the arrival of theFirst Christians, the building up of a synagogue, a church and a mosque, inthat order as the three great religions made their way into the country withinthe space of a few centuries. He spoke of Buddhist edicts carved out in stupasby Asoka the great – the pillars and giant stones which bore these out. Herelated all this to the tablet installed by Cyrus the great in his realm, aprecursor in fact of the Bill of Human Rights, a replica of which adorn the UNGeneral Assembly premises in New York. The Judge spoke eloquently of Akbar'sera as he proceeded to build his secular creed of Deen-e-Elahi. He had someinteresting tid-bits of historical relevance and loudly wondered if it wasnecessary to lose sight of all this. All this was our inheritance from ourgolden Ashokan and Akbar eras. Buddha even sacrificed war as a means ofbuilding an enterprise, making faith instead a vehicle of peace respect for allfaiths, a coming together of the human race.

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