A couple of years back I wrote on inter-faith parenting, and the kind of religious beliefs we want to pass on to our child. It seems to me that since then, contempt, hateful trolling and intolerance have just been on the rise. Or is it that we now have easy platforms to spew and vent on and the best fix for our already intolerably dull day is to quickly and thoughtlessly type a few words without thinking of consequences and the actual meaning of the words we write?
I usually err on the cautious side. No matter what I write, I try my best to make sure that it is not hurtful or judgemental or controversial. This is true, especially in matters of religion where all it takes is a tiny misstep for things to implode. My family has experienced religious strife first-hand (maybe I will be courageous enough to write about it someday) and my parent’s advice has always been, keep your voice low, you do not need to air religious or political sentiments in public. And I have grown up internalizing it so much that I keep my opinions on such topics extremely private, even among my closest ones.
However, I also endeavor to keep my blog posts as honest and true a reflection of myself as is possible and this morning I found that it was important for me to say a few things on a topic that really gave me a sleepless night.
A children’s book called The Art of Tying a Pug has been banned. I read heart-warming reviews of the book and intended to get it for Rumi as the next present. From what I gathered, it gave an insight into the art of tying the Pagdi and also touched upon the 5 K’s of Sikhism. I thought it sounded like a lovely way for R to learn about a different religion. Living where we live, she knows most Hindu festivals and Eid and Christmas but hardly anything about Buddhism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism and so on.
When I read articles calling for the ban of the book, they explained that the wordplay on Pug (the dog) and Pag (what the Pagdi or Turban is often referred to) as had hurt people’s sentiments. Even the fact that the Pagdi is colloquially called Pag was new to me; just goes to show how little we actually know about different ways of living and speaking.
And I remembered seeing a cute pug illustration on the cover. I understood that it may have been an affront for some people to have an important part of their faith reduced to a flippant wordplay. But the reaction that followed has shocked me. There are screenshots of people calling the author a whore, a prostitute, talk of her meeting the same fate as Indira Gandhi, and of setting the publishing house and all the animals in it on fire!
How angry do you have to be to think of killing, of murder, of whoring, of burning something to ashes? How much of that anger and hate has been incited by the book? And how much of it is residual, has been forming and burning inside, till you find that one excuse to just pour it all out?
I try to not give too much attention to things that bother me, with the thought that giving something horrible all my attention is like providing more fuel for that bothersome thing to grow. In this case, people who had never heard about the book are also frantic about getting their hands on it to see what the fuss is about!
And what are we actually achieving by banning children’s literature and by silencing authors and stifling their voice? Threats and harassment should be unacceptable in a democracy, where everybody should ideally have a voice for rational and engaging discussion.
And ultimately, doesn’t the intention have any role to play? The author is a Sikh herself, she even sent videos of her father tying the Pagdi so that the illustrator could get it right. Why would she have a malicious intent towards the faith she herself practises?
We are really living in a time where everything is objectionable. And while every single opinion will find supporters and naysayers, the ability to express without hate and violence is something that needs to be learnt and taught if the world is to be a peaceful place for the kids we are raising.
I don’t know what the solution to this is. As I type, I am even afraid of sharing this on my social media. Is there really no way for us to look beyond our religious conditioning and move towards empathy and acceptance? Ultimately, I don’t want Rumi to simply tolerate other religions. Tolerance connotes patient enduring, something to be done at doctors’ clinics when your blood is being drawn. I want her to embrace how we as a race have come up with so many beautiful ways to understand the Divine Mystery. We may read the Quran or the Gita, we may offer Namaaz or grow our hair out but all of the great religious leaders ultimately taught peace and love for all. We may not be able to love everyone around us but is it truly so hard to accept and even enjoy how different someone may be? Or simply continue to make choices big and small that completely resonate with us while allowing everybody to choose in the same manner?
As someone who did not get an opportunity to read the book and not being a Sikh myself, I do not want to comment on why or how something could have been hurtful, because religious sentiments do not always need or have logic or rational reasoning on their side. But what has followed has really made me very sad about where things seem to be headed, not to mention scared of teaching my daughter to spark and fan her curiosity – afraid of the outcome the works we produce may bring to us and those we love.