6th September. I have a French passport and an electronic visa. But at Chicago(s Ohare airport, one always experiences a twinge of apprehension as one goes through the relentless and cold immigration process. My brother, who is a too shot lawyer in Paris, was onece detained for 9 hours, for no other reason that his name was similar to another on a ‘black list’.
Ouf, I am through. I have been to Chicago before, and its one of the few American cities I like with Boston and Washinton (excluding New York, which is just a concrete jungle), but the World Hindu Conference 218 is not in downtown, but in one of the suburbs.
As one of the few western journalists to have ever defended Hindus, I know how difficult it is to get them together in one place. Credits then to the brain behind this meet, which already happened in delhi in 2014; swami Vygianand, a real looking sadhu in this hep hotel: there are hundreds of Hindus already swarming the lonny and they keep coming. By the time the conference starts there will be 3600 of them, coming from 35 countries in the world, a unique feat if there is one.
I am exhausted. By 8PM, I have my dinner alone in the hotel restaurant, skipping the veg Indian meal served to the delegates. God, how portions are huge n the States. My fish and chips would feed three in India. On to bed and immediate sleep, though I wake up at 1.30 with the Jet lag.
7th September. One thing about Hindus: they are noisy: as I go down for breakfast, the hall is jammed packed with them, one speaking more excitedly than the others. Celebrities are there: Rajiv Malhotra, Mohandas Pai, David Frawley, Konenraad Elst, but also an incredible diversity of pepole: sadhus in orange, Sikhs – yes though US and Canadian Sikhs seem to be drifting at moment from their Hindu brothers and sisters; a few black people, jains, Buddhists even…
The breakfast buffet is lined up in one of the corridors: idlis, dosas, puris… In true Hindu fashion, the entire corridor is soon lined up with paper napkins, spoons, moresels of food even. Eventually food stalls will have to be shifted outside.
At 9.30PM sharp the conference starts. A huge banner above the stage sets the tone: Sumantrite Suvikrante – Think Collectively, Achieve Valiantly. A little bt of disappointment there: we were expecting the Dalai lama, but he declined because of ill health. Sri Sri Ravi Shnakar excuse himself, as he has been hopping like mad between six continents and is busy trying to solve the Ayodhya tangle. But the biggest absentee is Mrs Tulisa Gabbart, an American Congresswoman representing Hawai, who embraced Hinduism as a teenager. As usual we see that the mainstream media, although its is aid that it is on the decline (more and more news are seen on Internet by the youth), still has a pervading influence. A few negative articles in Indian and US press, a few fringe groups in the US, protesting this conference promoting ‘Hindu right wing fanatisicm’, and this was enough for Mrs Gabbart to cancel her appearance. Pity, I was looking forward to meet her, as she is not only young and smart, but quite pretty!
The opening speech is thus given by Mohan Bhagwat. When I was a young journalist, I had heard all kind of horror stories about the RSS. In the early 90’s I sought an interview with thier then head, K.S. Sudrashan. I was suprpirsed to meet a mild mannered gentlean, who spoke very moderately and said things that I found making sense and fitting my experience of Hindus. In the coming years, I realized that the RSS; is mostly constituted of old fuddy-daddies and young sadhaks who think that sewa is their most important duty. Mohan Bhagwat, whom I met a few times is not different: a shrewd and intuitive mind, but nothing bloody and revolutionary there – and his speech was alo,g these lines. The more fiery one belonged to Bollywood actor Anupam Kher, Kashmiri Pandit who witnessed the exodus of his people thorhg terror from the Valley of Kashmir. He wa wildly cheered
My experience of these types of conferences is that there is a lot of gargling, patting each otjer on the back, but in the end nothing much remains except selfies. Oh, speaking of selfies, I don’t think I ever done so many in my life. I could not make a step without someone saying Francoisji, its an honor to meet you, can we have a selfie’. Of course I am honored to be known amongst Hindus for my work, but after 3 days and 500 selfies I had lost my enthusiasm. There was a cultural program in the evening by the renowned classical musician wife-husband duo of Kavita Krishnamurti and Dr. L. Subramaniam…
8th September. I have heard so much about Vivek Agnihotri, particularly his crusade against Bollywood and Urban Naxals, that I had to go and listen to him. I was not disappointed: famous filmmaker & Author of bestseller title #UrbanNaxals was invited by World Hindu Congress(WHC 2018) to participate in the conclave and address people on Hindu Civilization in Chicago.
Vivek started so well by introducing himself that he is a filmmaker but he has resigned from the Bollywood and now he is a story teller; he keeps telling what he comes across; and this ability has derived from the roots he belongs. He very proudly said that he belongs to world’s longest, oldest, most liberal, most progressive, most logical, most scientific civilization called Indian civilization, more precisely Hindu civilization.
I quickly pass from one hall to the other to listen to another person I admire: Mohandas Pai, founder of Infosyys and one of the few top Indian rich businessman who is not scared to flaunt his Hindu identity. For once we hear a positive speech on India’s economic growth as MrPai emphasizes that during the four years of Narendra Modi’s Governent India has grown tremendously, having today the highest GNP and he proposes statistics to poe his poi,t. 481 million people are now connected to Internet, the Adhaar card is a huge success, you can now transfer money in less than a minute, new jobs have been created, startups mushroom every hour and India has the fastest growing mobile network. Idealism has too be accompanied by some passion and militancy. Mr Pai tells all the NRI’s present and they are the majority that. And I concur with him
There are many other sessions going on simulatenously: women, youth Media, Hindu identity. I am fortunate to be in the same session as Amish Tripathi. I have read and loved his trilogy on Shiva. For me it’s the first time that an Indian writer using the English language actually uses Hindu ethos and manages to be a bestseller (it happens of course in regional language. Amish is a young and pleasant man, not at all play in the stars and he speaks eloquently about his books to a packed audience. When my turn comes, I speak about my books on Hindus and Hindu History. I have just published in france a new History of Indian book. It got good reviews in France and is doing well. In fact, French researchers and Indologists are already using it, as Indian History till now rests on antiquated data such as the Aryan Invasion Theory from which even Romila Thapar has distanced herself. But in India, I have trouble finding a publisher. Nobody dares touch Indian History and its scared horses long discredited. Even Harper Collins, who pubished one of my earlier books, refused it, after having it submitted to one of their in house historian.
9th September. One would wish that ths conference would g on with action plans on how to unite and bring all Hindu groups together under one banner. In the US, for instance, there are 100’s of Hindu groups, tamil associations, maharasjtra mandals, dotors circles etc. But they are all hopelessly divided and nobody is fighting for a resurgent Hindu ethos. The Hindu political lobby in the US, could be as influential as the Jewish one as most Hindus are doing very well and are ven in key positions in Google for instance or as heads of multinationals, but they seem more interested in promoting a leftist agenda than promoting their own country that gave them often free education. Sad. So more speeched and by 1PM, all delegates and speakers start to leave and go back to their respective states and countries. By 10th night there are only a few of us lefty and Mohandas Pai, his bright children, Vivek Agnihotri, Sree Iyer of Pgurus and R. Jagannathan of Swaraya magaine head to Chinese restaurant and talks about ways to promote this winderful people, that still believe that God has taken since the beginning of earth many names and scriptures and that’s its impotrant to respect all these religions even if it’s a one way traffic
10th September O’hare airport. My return is via Toronto as it’s cheaper. I come to the airport well in time dreading all the security (in Frankfurt, I was selected for Special security and every piece of my luggage was searched one by one). I am flabbergasted to learn that I need a Canadian visa for a 1,5 hour transit, which United never told me about. Fortunately, a United employee is kind enough to put me in the direct flight to Frankfurt so I can catch my connection to Chennai. Goodbye America, I will come back, as you are the land of opportunity, where Hindus thrive and are happy, though I never feel good there, as I am in India. Next Wold Hindu Conference will be in Bangkok, an appropriate place, as Hindu culture and spirituality, contrary o Islam and Christianity, bever had r sue armies to conquer the heart and went peacefully eastwards to Laos, Cambodia and Thailand