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  COUNSELING
 
Back to infancy -- they n
 
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  ARTICLE  
     
  25, yet no Christian  
  The Week's list of "valuable Indians"  
   
  THE WEEK, one of India's leading current-affairs magazines, has a cover story on 25 most valuable Indians. This Independence Day Special issue aims at celebrating, in the words of Shobhaa De, who wrote the opening note on values, "people who have impacted one billion lives directly or indirectly during the past one year". Whether they did have an impact on the entire one billion and also if these are truly the most eligible 25 valuables are questions that I wish to put on hold for a while.

Though the publication of this list wasn't supposed to be an Independence-Day event we have in schools, where all major religions are needed to be adequately represented in a show of 'unity in diversity', the ideal behind our national ethos, what I found intriguing is the absence of a Christian from the list. And one shouldn't be too hasty in pointing out the inclusion of Ashis Nandy. To be fair to the publishers, they seem to have conjured a 'facts-based' list, where the religious backgrounds hardly mattered. But on the eve of the sixty-second anniversary of Independence, this might give something to Christian communities of India to think about.

Christianity claims to have been around in India for over two millennia, but it seems it took a break for entire last year; perhaps it was too nervous about Madam Sonia Gandhi's Catholic connection resurfacing in the election year, or perhaps too shocked since killings in Kandhamal last August.

Had Mother Teresa been alive, she probably would have made it to the list, if nothing else then perhaps just for the sense of balance, religious as well as that of gender. There are three women as compared to 22 men in that list. And though T.N. Seshan believes Mata Amritanandmayi is a great soul too, he chose to pen the paean for Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, whose educational work in rural areas he highly appreciates and whose Sudarshan Kriya keeps the 76-year-old former Chief Election Commissioner 'energetic'.

For far too long, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, had been a sole representative of the Christians, for the Roman Catholics as well as non-Catholics, and definitely within the media. I remember, once a friend wanted to work on a documentary about the nurses in India, and he asked a reputed Indian journalist, a liberal Muslim, for some clips he had, which my friend thought he could use. Apparently the journalist replied that if it were something involving Mother Teresa, he would have given it but not now!

One of our most celebrated artists, M.F. Husain, paid glittering tributes to the diminutive frail nun from Albania by painting her as Mother Mary nursing the bruised body of the crucified Christ, a symbol of the sick and the poor dying uncared for on the streets of India. On the flip side that also means legitimising only one aspect of Christian faith.

Christianity in India cannot merely remain a religion of uncommitted piety, uncommitted to social, political and economic changes, that is. The poor and the suffering of the country need impartially dispensed compassion, but they also need ethically inspired intellect dedicated to press for structural changes at all levels of our shared life. The hand of compassion must be joined with the hand of critical engagement in a gesture of service to the nation. The task of moral and spiritual regeneration of the country that was visualised by every concerned Indian in that watershed year of 1947 could not be wished away by Indian Christians.

And today when we celebrate the anniversary of our Independence, the burden of the promise of new India must weigh heavy on the Christian chest.

In the year 1971, when the nation was still in its 20s, Nayantara Sahgal published her, if I remember correct, sixth novel, 'The Day in Shadow'. The novel was inspired by real events in the author's life and like her other novels, this one too is imbued with her concern for emergence of a more humane India, which is fast sinking into a stupor generated by corruption in high places, petty politics and cruelty in human relationships. The reason I am reminded of this novel is because it is one of those rare ones where you find a 'Christian' character unbound by stereotypes. Raj Edwin Garg, who though doesn't share his father's religious convictions, brings Christian values, and occasionally Christian 'language', into public discourse. He is a 'brilliant, rising Member of Parliament', an independent, who seeks to find ways to propel the country out of the impasse between the 'Reds' and the 'reactionaries.'

He often enters into a good-humoured banter with his mentor, and father's friend, Rama Krishna, who in the last pages of this open-ended novel seems to have come terribly close to resolving the conflict between Hinduism and Christianity and finding a way to harness the energies of these two mighty streams of spiritual energy for the regeneration of the nation. Even though a work of fiction, this novel testifies to a time and occasion, or at least a possibility, when Christian thought was neither considered alien, nor marginalised, nor a minority view in relation to the so-called mainstream. Most importantly, it wasn't a dialogue between a Western Christian and an Indian Hindu. Here you have Indians on both sides examining the problems from two different angles and towards the end more sympathetic to the other view.

After all, the object of their concern was the same. Just as a note for those who think that the depiction of Christians in novels is not really a matter of particular concern and this novel by Sahgal is not a special achievement, one only needs to look at some of the recent novels, for instance, Tarun Tejpal's 'The Alchemy of Desire', where the only achievement of one Christian character is the number of bottles of whisky he has piled up in his backyard, or one can look at M.G. Vassanji's 'The Assassin's Song', in which the blind drunk presbyter of the Shimla church, tumbles into the protagonist's room, and has to be escorted home by his son. That is indeed the image of a Christian in many a mind, a jolly good fellow fully committed to having a good time till the Second Coming, untroubled and unmindful of any such list.

As for Ashis Nandy, the only hardcore academician in that list, he will agree that my observation, which set me off, is not that flimsy. Ashis Nandy comes from an elite Bengali Christian family; he really makes it look that he has come out of it.
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The writer works as an editor with a publishing company. He lives in Chandigarh.
 
  By  Ashish Alexander  
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