By PRANAB GHOSH
What is the relevance of religious text in modern times? What if one is not devout enough to embrace it with unquestioning submission? To a modern man undergoing the day-to-day grind to survive, religion could be an escape from the stress and strain. S/he may find solace in a place of worship where mantras are chanted. He may look up to God as his path to salvation. But what is salvation? Is it an escape from the worldly cycle of birth and death? And if it is so how does s/he achieve it? Would it be through the process of renunciation?
Kiriti Sengupta through his eighteen short poetic prose pieces in Reflections on Salvation, a “collection of anecdotal wisdom that serves to both illuminate and discuss the paradox of faith,” as pointed out by Dustin Pickering, the founder of Transcendent Zero Press, [Houston, Texas] in his publisher’s note, attempts to answer these questions from a point of view that is neither religious nor scholastic. Sengupta makes it clear in the introductory chapter of the book: “But then, mine is not a scholastic work by any means. I have no intention to start an exclusive lineage of devotees, come on!” Reflections on Salvation must be read as “a work of literature, which hopefully stir the age-old notion about sacrifice, renunciation and salvation,” as the author himself aptly writes in the same chapter. While the devout or the so-called protectors of the Hindu religion may call the work “misrepresentation of scripture” where the author has failed to grasp the real meaning of moksha or salvation, the point that one should note is that the author has been upright enough to go beyond what could be called blind faith and has tried to address the apparent contradictions that religious text presents to modern man. Sengupta in the 14th chapter, “Detachment,” questions the relevance of the saying of The Geeta: “Karmany-evadhikars te ma phaleshu kadachana / ma karma-phala-hetur bhur ma te sango stvakarmani (You have a right to perform your duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction) for a childless couple plagued by infertility. A devout may thrash the author and accuse him of being frivolous, but can one deny the author his right to put an age-old wisdom in its perspective and question its application in modern times? “Situation changes, but scriptures remain the same. Mundane,” laments Sengupta in the concluding lines of the chapter.
The author in this book has dealt with the questions that an inquiring, illumined mind may face as he is forced to follow the rituals as have been practiced in the name of religion down the ages. “Why do we commission a priest to worship the household gods? I wonder if we are not capable enough to perform the action on our own,” Sengupta questions. He has the answer to it as well. “We are perhaps glued to the sacred thread, the holy shaligram, and we nurture the very thought of listening to the loud chants of the religious verses.” Is he denouncing religion or religious practices? Not in the least. What he is drawing our attention to is the fact that we can get rid of accepted practices and yet worship God. We can achieve salvation without the mediation of the saffron-clad sadhu. “Divinity might be found in conduct, but not in the codes. Understanding the objective of life, or the purpose of your worldly existence is your first step to reach the gods,” Sengupta says in the concluding lines of chapter 4, “Conduct.”
As for the saffron-clad sadhu the author probes beyond the commonly accepted norm and questions the concept of renunciation as is traditionally understood. “I’m telling you, with saffron comes sannyas or renunciation, and with renunciation arrives attachment. Attachment with the world, attachment with domesticity, or may be the gods.” (Chapter 1, “Saffron”) The observation is apt. Why should one differentiate oneself by the attire he wears to drive home the fact that he is more pious than others and closer to the gods? If someone has completed the process of absolute detachment from the society and all worldly ties, why should s/he fall back on society for survival? “A renunciate abandons the family — the root and the society, but comes back to them to secure living. Is the monk honest enough to be named a sadhu?” Sengupta questions in the closing lines of Chapter 12, “Return.” The devout may become angry at such ‘ungodly’ conclusion of the author, but given the history of god-men that we have had in our country, can we deny the probing mind its rightful claim to question the accepted norm? After all, every saint is not a Swami Vivekananda.
Sengupta in Reflections on Salvation, while questioning the set principles of faith and its application, has displayed a sense of humor that brings to the fore the irony of devotion. “I’m aware of a few families who give funds to the monks and carefully preserve the receipts of their donation. Donors are proud owners of such receipts as those are useful to claim income-tax-exemption. A formally printed donation receipt in India is but a memoir of section 80G!” (Chapter 12, “Return”) Author’s probing humor gets displayed once more in Chapter 17, “Instinct,” where he playfully finds a scriptural excuse that might get Salman Khan, tried for killing a blackbuck, absolved of all charges. “Killers deserve leniency — I wonder if the court is against the Lord.” He is more critical, as his humor unmasks the ‘relevance’ of age-old religious texts in today’s world, “The Vedas did not count on malnutrition; they did not even consider environment, let alone poverty.” (Chapter 9, “Fire”)
As for salvation, Sengupta has a logical approach that might help both the believer and the non-believer. He favors action over inaction. Work for him is, as Swami Vivekananda had pointed out, “worship.” “Salvation is but enlightenment, achievable only by actions, and through your sensory gateways.” (Chapter 5, “Stagecraft”) That it is the man who stands tall in the final count becomes clear when he says, “We live as long as we breathe; and it is but the breathing which occurs on its own will. No gods, but the breath that builds a home for our life and death.” (Chapter 18, “Salvation”)
The author, in the final count, in spite of the fact that he may incur the wrath of a fanatic Hindu, has done a service to common intelligent readers, who are plagued by the push and pull of faith and struggle inwardly before they could come in terms with the concepts of salvation and renunciation and how these could be related to their daily presence. Reflections on Salvation is a necessary read for a questioning mind, who finds it difficult to accept faith as it appears in front of him/her packaged in rituals that are hard to accept.
Title: Reflections on Salvation
Author: Kiriti Sengupta
Page: 48 [Paperback] First ed. July, 2016
Published by: Transcendent Zero Press (Houston, Texas)
Price: 8.00 US Dollars
(Pranab Ghosh is a journalist, blogger and poet. His poems have been published in Tuck Magazine, Dissident Voice, Literature Studio Review and Scarlet Leaf Review, among others. He has co-authored a book of poems, Air & Age. He has also translated a book of Bengali short stories into English, under the title Bougainvillea and Other Stories by Bitan Chakraborty. He, at present, works in Hyderabad, India.)