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Afternoons with an Author: Dr Karan Singh

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By Dr Sanjeev Chopra

Dehradun: Under the Valley of Words, 2021 banner, the September edition of ‘Afternoons with an Author’ on YouTube will feature celebrated author Dr Karan Singh talking about his book ‘Reflections,’ with India’s foremost public intellectual Dr Makarand Paranjape.

‘Reflections’ is a collection of some of the best essays, public lectures and frank interviews of the Yuvraj, the heir apparent to the throne of Jammu and Kashmir, the Regent and the first Sadr-e- Riyasat who had to enter public office at the age of eighteen when his father, Maharaja Hari Singh, was advised to abdicate in favour of his son, Karan Singh. However, Dr Karan Singh went on to be known as a scholar administrator, minister, a parliamentarian, diplomat, Vedantist and as one who carried forward the life-message of one of India’s foremost Rishis, Sri Aurobindo.

The author’s essays are divided into four categories: Politics/ History, Religion /Philosophy, Culture/ General and Education: thereby making it easy for the reader to handpick and focus on whatever he/she chooses. Each of the forty essays can be read individually – or together with a similar focus.

In the first section i.e. Politics and History there are personal tributes to Nehru, Patel and Malviya, as well as their contribution to the transformation of India from a nation under the British to a proud and self-confident nation. However, in ‘A Judgement for India’, the author celebrates the decriminalisation of consensual sex among adults and acknowledges the rights of the LGBTQ. He says, ‘Nature is much more varied and inclusive than many realize, and alternate sexuality has been found in almost all cultures- ancient and modern around the world.’ In fact, in this essay he also gives credit to Dr Ambedkar and Nehru for pushing the Hindu Code Bill which brought in the element of gender equity and equality. Here the author hints but does not specifically say that this was the time when the entire country could have been brought under a Common Civil Code.

In the section on Religion and Philosophy, Dr Singh expounds the lofty ideals of Vedanta, the essence of the Bhagwad Geeta and the need for honest inter-faith dialogue. He explains the six cardinal principles of Vedanta – unity of all existence – Isa vasyam idam sarvam, yatkinca jagatyamjagat; that the Supreme Power resides in all beings –Ishwar sarva bhutanam hrudyeshe tishthi, that the essence of Yoga is the joining of the individual atman with the cosmic Brahman. The fourth: Vasudev Kutambakam: the world is one family. The next aphorism is Ekam Sat Viprah Bahuda Vadanti, which means that the wise men (and women) seek and speak the Truth in their own ways. The sixth is Bahujan Sukhay, Bahujan Hitaya: the welfare of all Beings. In fact, one’s own individual salvation is not an end. Swami Vivekananda said Atma Moksha Jagat Moksha – work also for the liberation of the world.

The third section on Culture has a chapter ‘Cultural Roots: India and South East Asia’ in which he talks about the tradition of age old cultural ties with India, which continue till today. The interaction started in the third century BCE – in the times of Ashoka, when he sent two Buddhist monks to Suvarnabhumi – the Land of Gold. Nalanda attracted students from the entire South East Asia, including the Malay Archipelago, and beyond. Although India spread her cultural and spiritual roots in the entire region, they did not fit into the stereotype of an occupying force. Throughout Indonesia, the symbols of the Mahabharata are visible, and the epics are performed by all – irrespective of religion.

The last section has two seminal columns: on liberating Sanskrit from sectarian prejudice, and the Message of Sri Aurobindo. He is appalled at the opposition to the appointment of Feroze Khan to the Sanskrit department because of his denomination He says ‘the fact that Muslims are studying should in fact be a matter of pride and satisfaction… let us celebrate our diversity, rather than denigrate it’.

The last essay in Reflections is perhaps the best offering, or a personal favourite. Here he talks of the life of Sri Aurobindo – his Janmbhoomi at Kolkata, his Shikshabhoomi– England, his Karmbhomi– Kolkata and Baroda, and finally his Yogbhoomi in Pondicherry. He hopes the India will contribute towards not just the development of SAARC but also to a virtuous global order. He does mention here that he wishes that J&K could become a source of concord, rather than discord between Indian Pakistan and China.

Nowhere in the essays do we find a trace of regret, or a lament about the treatment meted out to his father and his family. On the contrary, Dr Karan Singh’s lectures are about hope; they are about integrating the spiritual and temporal worlds. They ask probing questions: the world is getting integrated – but is this the integration of markets, or integration as a family? Is knowledge liberating, or is it plainly instrumental?

For an answer to these and many other questions that you may have, please tune into Valley of Words YouTube Channel on the 12th of September, Sunday from 3:00-4:00 p.m. ‘Afternoon with An Author,” and put your questions across to Dr Karan Singh.