A religion for an agnostic

We ordinary mortals are scarred of death and don’t want to die even if we are reduced to a vegetable and can’t do anything good in life. The reason is easy to seek: The scare of the unknown and our belief in life hereafter and the consequences of the sins we have committed during our sojourn on this planet.

But for those like Khushwant Singh, India’s most controversial journalist, if not the most popular, the picture is the opposite. His latest book, The Freethinker’s Prayer Book, bares the old man and it gives an unrestrained commentary on life and its follow-up beyond this planet. Khushwant portrays his own rebellious nature and tries to convince the reader why it is always better to live a life of rationality and morality instead of a religious life of rituals and orthodoxy.

People in their wintry days have to face a myriad of scary problems, mental as well as physical. As Khushwant says, “Old age is not pleasant, it buggers up your life. I am not yet senile, but my memory, of which I was very proud, is failing.”

He, in his own inimitable way, recounts his helplessness that age, 97, has rendered him. Though not exactly bed-ridden, Khushwant has to seek help for many a thing in daily life which were once his great chores of pleasure.

In a recent Malice column, the grand old man of Indian journalism expressed his desire to bid adieu to life as he had nothing more work left to be done. An agnostic all through his life even though he was born into an orthodox Sikh family in which religion and rituals were the paramount features of daily life, Khushwant never compromised with his convictions and principles of life.

For him, God is at best a concept. Even if He exists, as Khushwant says, He has failed to give us a peaceful and loving world. What kind of God is that?

The point he makes is that the best thing to do is to have one’s own “personal religion”, an agnostic’s life codes based on the best of principles and values that can make life worth living for.

And, that is what Khushwant gives us in the book: prayers, advice, songs, verses and words of inspiration that could make life cheerful and its journey one of great purpose.

I have fond memories of Khushwant. It was he, as the editor of the Hindustan Times, who recruited me as a sub-editor decades ago. His Malice column was the first column that I had read; and his famous book on Partition, Train to Pakistan, was the first book that I have read in my life. In a way, it was Khushwant who was instrumental in sprouting the seed of a journalist in me.

With regards and my prayers for his good health and sanity as long as he lives.

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