Debating India

Stop processions

Friday 20 January 2006, by SINGH*Khushwant

As usual, Sikhs of Delhi took out a procession on Guru Gobind Singh’s birthday. It was undoubtedly as great a spectacle as those in the years past: a mile-long file of men and women walking ten to twenty abreast. Punj Piyaras (the first five beloved converts to the Khalsa Panth) with kirpans drawn, brass bands, gatha groups, displaying their skills with lathis, swords and whirlers; the decorated palki carrying the Granth Sahib, followed by women singing hymns. Traffic came to a halt, shops en route pulled down their shutters. It took the procession several hours to cover the distance from one historic gurdwara to another. Life in the city came to standstill for over six hours.

Every such procession costs the community several lakhs of rupees which could have been better spent building more schools, hospitals etc. What takes place in Delhi takes place in all big cities where there is a sizeable population of Sikhs. It is repeated at least thrice every year (Guru Nanak’s birthday, Guru Tegh Bahadur’s martyrdom anniversary and Guru Gobind Singh’s birthday). These processions have nothing whatsoever to do with Sikhism; they are not even part of maryada - a religious tradition.

I had often toyed with the idea of writing against our national habit of taking out processions which deprive thousands of their daily earnings and no doubt make people miss their appointments, trains, flights and some, in immediate need of urgent medical relief, deprived of their lives. I did not do so earlier lest I be accused of being anti-religions and deserving of punishment by people who look upon themselves as guardians of the faith. They would ask for my head on a platter.

I brought up the subject very discretely when a few Sikhs happened to be in my home. They included Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, former cabinet minister and Akali member of Lok Sabha, Tarlochan Singh, chairman, Minorities Commission and MP Rajya Sabha, Nanak Kohli, NRI philanthropist and Tavleen Singh, journalist. Tarlochan Singh spoke out: “All the goodwill we Sikhs earn by sewa and the langar where we feed thousands free of charge everyday is destroyed by these processions. They should be banned.” All the others agreed.

It would be foolish for any government to try and ban religious processions. It has to be done by leaders of the community. In the case of Sikhs of SGPC, jathedars of the Akal Takht and governing bodies of different gurdwaras. I am sure Hindus and Muslims will be shamed into doing the same. Then the government can come down heavily on political processions as well.

Yogi and the commissar

It would not be fair on my part to take sides in the spat between Brinda Karat and Swami Ramdev. I am biased in favour of fair ladies and Brinda more than passes ?fair’ whereas Swamiji with his shiny black beard looks like what I could have been 60 years ago. Besides external appearances, weighing the scales in favour of the lady commissar, I, having been a lefty all my life, cannot be expected to be impartial. I am also allergic towards men who wear saffron as a colour to proclaim their religiosity. Having confessed my shortcomings to be an impartial arbiter, I’d like to take on Swamiji on two points, yoga and diet.

Yoga is not my idea of exercise. I concede it does a lot of good for one’s body; that is why millions of people round the globe have taken to it. It needs very little space: just as much as which you can stretch yourself. But my idea of exercise is based on exertion. It can be swimming, jogging, walking, cycling, tennis, badminton, soccer, hockey, wrestling - whatever. The sweat it produces, the better for the breath, the body and blood circulation. There is no basis to the claim that yoga is best. And to cover yoga with a cloak of religion is wholly unwarranted. No doubt it is of Hindu origin, but it is no part of Hindu religion. During my younger days when I could bend my knees, I tried a few yoga asanas. I found them very boring.

The more important issue is over ayurveda. Like unani, it is based on the assumption that what you eat affects your temperament. Both ayurveda and unani subscribe to tehseer (effect) of certain foods: eggs, meat, garlic have heating effects and heighten the desire for sex. There is no scientific basis to back this belief. So are kushtas (aphrodisiacs) prescribed by hakeems practising unani (Greek) system of medicine. Sexual urges are produced in the mind. If a man deludes himself that a dose of sex arousing medicine will do the trick, in some cases it will. It is the same with oils and embrocations made of lizard’s skins - zaalim saandhey ka teyl designed to stiffen the male member. Those who believe in its efficacy succeed, those who do not fail.

Evidently, Swami Ramdev’s concoctions, as alleged by the communist srimati, cashed in on this antiquated notion. Equating physical fitness with sexual potency is inane. Sexual performance is not the be-all and end-all of life. Try fantasising about it; it can be equally pleasurable pastime and without any hassles.

See online : The Hindustan Times

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