Being Hindu by Hindol Sengupta – Book Review
Being Hindu by Hindol Sengupta raises a lot of questions about Indian society that is as per data dominated by Hindus but we always hear about issues faced by every other community but Hindus. I picked up this book Being Hindu based on author’s interviews in a couple of places about this book. It appeared that he raising some very legitimate questions through this book. And I had to read this book. After reading this book, I am tempted to write a similar book, but adding the perspective of ‘Being a Hindu in 21st CE India’. It is a voice that has never caught mainstream attention, at least not in my lifetime.
Hindol Sengupta raised some important questions through his personal journey as someone born into a Hindu family. And someone who is a practicing Hindu. Like many middle-class children, he went to a Christian school that gave him a message that his religion is not good and he is a sinner. He grew up questioning his own religion vs the religion taught at school. Like most of us, he grew up ignorant of his own faith besides what he saw being followed at home. Thankfully, he grew up to ask some questions.
Some of the important questions he asks are:
Why are we Hindus so ignorant of our own past, our heritage and our culture? Why has no one taught us about our Vedic and Puranic culture? And not even given us an introduction to them. Our sense of history kind of begins with the Mughal period. And that is like discounting a huge glorious past.
Why are our temples – the places where we go to seek inner peace so filthy and dirty? And why are the priests still so authoritative?
Where he gets lost is in the popular ‘WhatsApp message’, forwarded mail syndrome that in bits and pieces tells you about the glorious past of India and not necessarily Hindu religion. He quotes many authors that tell you that he has done some reading on this matter. But either for the lack of availability or lack of research, his sources of information still remain very western and those from the best selling popular category.
Those of you follow me on Twitter and my travel blog would know that I am also in search of my ancient Indian roots; especially how we lost all those highly developed art forms. So, this topic is very close to my heart. I have read most of the books and other material that the author has referred in this book. I would have wanted Hindol Sengupta to ask more questions. And also see how this new wave of Hinduism is impacting or going to impact the journey of Sanatan Dharma as a religion. Some of the topics that could have been addressed are:
How are the new age Gurus and their ecosystems impacting the Hindu of today?
Do Hindu’s feel ignored and lost when it comes to their religion? What do Hindu’s feel when they are denied many benefits that the minorities get?
In the digital chapter, that he merely wrote in passing it seems, I would have wanted a detailed analysis of what does the staunch Internet Hindu want? Has the social media finally given Hindu’s the tool they needed to connect with each other as, in the absence of a congregational practice, they hardly get to connect with each other as members of the same religion? How is the dissent of Internet Hindu changing dynamics if only online at the moment?
Some solutions on how to keep the essence of Hinduism alive and not make it a book-oriented religion where we keep going back to what is written in the Vedas like book-based religions. The whole literature has to keep evolving. And it has not really evolved in last few hundred years. Is it time to start looking at that?
This is definitely a book written in a hurry. There are oodles of editing mistakes – spellings, grammar, and half-written sentences. Language though is simple, with a lot of references from other works juxtaposed with author’s own experience. Hindol is very fluid when he talks from his first-hand experience. But is quite scattered when he is talking about what he has gathered merely from reading.
This book Being Hindu is a great beginning in the rational evaluation of what being a Hindu means in the 21st century. I hope the author continues his search and comes back with a well-researched next book.