Last Saturday, a few of us were conferred the Natchiketa prize of journalism by the PM, in the presence of Shri L.K. Advani. Because of time pressure, there was no space for individual speeches by the awardees. However, this is what I would have liked to say.
The story of Natchiketa is wonderful. Briefly it runs thus: Natchiketa sees his father, a Vedic Rishi, give ‘dhanas’ (offerings) to the Gods. “What about me father, asks Natchiketa”? “I will donate you to Yama (the God of Death)”, the father answers, more as a joke, so as to get rid of the son. But Natchiketa takes it seriously and goes to Yama, who unfortunately has gone out roaming. When Yama comes back after three days, he sees this youngster at his door and asks him what he wants. “I have been offered to you by my father”. “Impossible, answers Yama, your time has not come”. Then, to placate him, he offers one boon to him. This is what Natchiketa. asks Yama: “Some say that when one dies, one is – and others that one is not. What is the truth “? Yama, the mighty God of Death, answers: “ask me anything: riches, happiness, a hundred years, but not this question”. But Natchiketa refuses to relent. Yama’s answer, constitutes India’s eternal truth, that alone today she holds and which has been repeated in many of India’s sacred texts, including the Bhagavad-Gita: “ only the body dies O Natchiketa, the soul is immortal and is reborn life after life, till ones reaches perfection”.
Thus Natichekta stands for forthrightness, courage, and dedication to truth, which should be the hallmark of any journalist worth his salt. I would like to believe that my quest in India has been – even in a small degree – like Natchiketa’s: “what is the real India, behind the clichés? What does India stand for? What can I do to help this great country, which is India? I discovered India by living it from within. I was privileged to spend my first seven years here at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Pondichery, where I met many times the Mother and read Sri Aurobindo’s works. Sri Aurobindo, India’s great revolutionary, philosopher, poet and yogi, has been the visible and invisible guidance behind all my work. Today, I am also indebted to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living, because he embodies the ancient rishi’s dedication to his country: his work is not only spirituality, but also to bring God into all realms of life, including politics, because in ancient India the rishis were also advisers to the kings.
I nevertheless started my journalistic career with the usual clichés about India, which most of the foreign correspondents have: that only a ‘secular’ government like the Congress could govern such a diverse country as India; that India’s minorities were ‘persecuted’; that Hindus could ‘also’ be fundamentalists… But I was again lucky: I began doing photo features in the South. There I discovered that India’s genius strength and soul lies in rural India – and not in cities like Delhi, where the intelligentsia is often totally cut-off from its roots. The truth I encountered in my travels and interaction with Indians was totally opposite of what I thought: the Congress had divided India on caste and religion lines to survive in power; India’s minorities had taken advantage of a secular Government by getting more privileges than the majority community; Hindus are probably the most tolerant people in the world, not only accepting that God manifests Himself as Krishna, but also as Christ, Buddha, or even Mohamed; Hindus have ironically been the target of one of the most horrible genocides ever perpetrated upon mankind in the name of religion; I also saw that even today they are the prey of jihadis, witness the ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri pandits, far more horrible than the one of the Bosnians; or still the target of Christian missionaries; who use unethical economic means to convert the harijans and the untouchables; I saw too that Hindus have given shelter to all the persecuted minorities in the world: Syrian Christians, Armenians, Parsis, Jews, Tibetans today.
So at some point, I realized that a marvellous majority like the Hindus, which has such a long tradition of tolerance, gentleness, spirituality and hospitality, needed a government which reflected these qualities – and not the successive governments which have come in since the Independence, and have divided India on caste and religious lines, instituted corruption, statism and bureaucracy. And when Murli Manohar Joshi went to Srinagar on a 15th August to raise the Indian flag, I found this pretty courageous and I said it in my articles, although he was ridiculed by the entire Indian Press, particularly by Newstrack, the only news channel of those times. When Shri Advani started his Rath yatra, I thought also it was a good idea, because it would rally the Hindus who tend to be politically amorphous, and I said it. At that time nobody -including me – believed that the BJP would ever come to power.
They have now. Nevertheless, it’s lonely at the top. Of course nobody from the French embassy was present at the award ceremony. If Christopher Jaffrelot, the man who is most responsible for the bad image of India in France (he is THE world specialist on ‘Hindu fundamentalism’, something which does not even exist) and partly accountable too for he fact that France is only the 11th investor in India, after all the overtures that have been made towards France by the BJP govt in the last five years, the entire embassy would have been present. But I am considered as an outcast by the French embassy and my advice is never sought, even though I have lived 34 years here and I am probably the French journalist who knows India best. Forget about French Indologists, who are all pals of the JNU crowd and Romila Thapar: they hate my guts; many my fellow western correspondents think also that either I am a crackpot, or traitor to my culture !
And this raises an important question: why is it that amongst the 300 odd western correspondents sitting in Delhi, there is nobody (that I know) who comes to the same logical conclusion that Hinduism is what make this country great and that an Indian Christian or an Indian Muslim are different because of the softening influence of Hinduism? After all, many of those correspondents arrive here well-meaning, with an aspiration to understand this complex country which is India. Why is it that not only most of them go after five years, not knowing India better, but that very often they end-up hating it (Isn’t it Miss Chipeaux?) ? There is a Mark Tully, of course, who genuinely likes India, but even he, maybe because he is British and a BBC man, is very muted and discreet when it comes to defending India. The only answer I can find is that it is only when the Indian press will become a little less negative, a little more proud of its roots, that in turn the western correspondents will be positively influenced, because the first input they get when they open and Indian English paper or switch on a TV is negativity: everything is hopeless about this country, when India has actually done quite well since independence and is a much better bet for the western world than totalitarian China, or Islamic Pakistan.
Lastly, I would like to say that I have donated the Natchiketa prize money to FACT (Foundation Against Continuing Terrorism), which is organizing an exhibition on Hindu genocide throughout the ages, particularly the Kashmiri Pandit ethnic cleansing, with the backing of the All India Anti Terrorism Front of Mr Bitta, a very courageous man indeed, who in the true manner of Natchiketa, came back from the most horrifying terrorism attack upon himself, to combat vigorously this international scourge. Long Live Natchiketa