Author and Professor of Political Science, University of Hyderabad Jyotirmaya Sharma joined IBNLive readers for an interaction on his book 'Cosmic Love and Human Apathy'.
Q. How much of Vivekananda's legacy is a result of how what is attributed to him has been strung together by those that came after him? Asked by: Anon
A. Almost entirely. I think his writings, speeches and letters are complex, contradictory and sometimes unclear and need interpretation.
Q. Dear Professor, How do you or the book deconstruct the popular image of Vivekananda that is built mostly around his quotes that were heard or printed on posters than on a comprehensive reading of what he said and wrote? Are you assuming the role of an investigator or explorer in bringing out what is important and was not read in him in constructing of his identity as a secular revivalist? Asked by: Sujith K G
A. My interest is in the nineteenth century reinterpretations of Hinduism and not in Swami Vivekananda. In this instance, his happens to be the most systematic and influential reinterpretation. The Hindu self-images that have come about as a consequence of his restatement of Hinduism have social and political implications. As someone interested in intellectual history, my aim is to bring this complexity to light.
Q. Hello Sir, I read your book with great interest and I loved it. I want to be a writer too. Can you give some tips? Asked by: Honey
A. Thank you. I think every writer needs to have a genuine and intense engagement with a topic or an issue and then work very hard to discover his or her own voice and style. There is no universal rule for being a writer other than passion and hard work.
Q. Swami Vivekananda actually preached a very modern religion often breaking with the traditions of the past. His version of Hinduism was completely different from that of the Hindutva brigade. Isn't it sad that Narendra Modi has co-opted his name to spread his version of cultural nationalism? Asked by: Abir Mazumdar
A. I think that the so-called modern religion that Swami Vivekananda preached was not really that modern. Substantial portions of his work are very conservative and are a call to a dead, fossilised tradition. He has been appropriated not just by the Hindutva votaries, but also by the Left, the nationalists and the Indian middle classes.
Q. What kind of books you like to read? Asked by: Monty
A. Books that teach me something, but also books that bring a smile to my face.
Q. I really loved 'Cosmic Love and Human Apathy'. You are a great writer sir. Can you share some writing tricks? Asked by: Gunjan
A. Thank you! Passion for ideas and hard work are the only writing tips I can give.
Q. What is your writing schedule like and do you write everyday? Asked by: Anu
A. I write every single day, though the schedule varies depending on teaching responsibilities and other work.
Q. "In Vivekananda, political Hinduism attained its most reasonable, instrumental, and sovereign onto-theologian" - from The Hindu - on your book. Wouldn't you agree that 'political Hinduism' is a little misplaced given the personal/ intellectual context in which Vivekananda formulated his ideas and also the general historical/ colonial context? Asked by: Anon
A. Political Hinduism is that reasonable and instrumental face of Hinduism. In my view, political Hinduism is the dominant face of Hinduism today and Swami Vivekananda was the father and preceptor of this version of Hinduism. Regarding his context, ideas do transcend context. In other words, context is not a prison. A person's context can tell us to an extent why that individual did or say something, but a thinker usually tries to transcend his context and that is why we read and continue to engage with thinkers.
Q. Are there any other books in the pipeline? Asked by: Priya
A. Yes, there is a book on Gandhi that I am working on, looking especially on the questions of violence and non-violence.
Q. What inspired you to write this book? Asked by: Madhu
A. It was part of a project that started with my book Hindutva: Exploring the Idea of Hindu Nationalism. It is an attempt to understand the genealogy of Hindu identities.
Q. Why did you choose to name the book 'Cosmic Love and Human Apathy'? Asked by: Himanshu
A. Swami Vivekananda speaks of universal love and oneness but in his writings and speeches, there is very little that translates into real and practical transformation of society in any way. This is, of course, different from the popular image of him as a man of action.
Q. The book, like your earlier writing, presents/ contributes to a genealogy of political Hinduism (Hindutva?). However, in this book, you have touched upon what is called the "spirit", and there seems (to me) to some sort of indictment of the modern state and things that lead to its formation. I would be curious to know your ideas/ views on states/ statism/ nationhood. Asked by: Anon
A. This is a complex question and beyond the scope of this chat. But I will attempt a short answer. The secularist enterprise has been to debunk Hindu nationalism. In this indictment hides a tacit endorsement of the official nationalism of the Indian state. My point is that the official nationalism and Hindu nationalism share many common assumptions that need to be questioned and challenged. Especially so because they have serious implications for Dalits, women and Adivasis.
Q. Who should read this book? Asked by: Sonia
A. Every Indian who is confident enough and self-assured enough to ask questions, sometimes uncomfortable questions, should enjoy reading this book.
Q. What is going through your mind when you writing a book? Asked by: Monty
A. The need to present my argument as clearly as possible.
Q. What are you reading now? Asked by: yamini
A. Huge amounts of stuff on representation of violence.
Q. What writers, books, or ideas have most influenced you? Asked by: Heena
A. This is a very difficult question to answer, perhaps, the most difficult anyone has asked. It is a long list and one owes debts to so many great writers.
Q. Briefly describe a typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits? Asked by: Jyoti
A. If I get 4-5 hours of writing or even staring at a blank page every day, that makes me very happy. In this day of keyboards and screens, I still do the first draft with a fountain pen.
Q. What was so peculiar about the subcontinent that it spawned such intellectuals (across the religious spectrum?)? Was what hapened a result of a particular history/ chain of events? Are there parallels from around the world - from secular nations? Asked by: Anon
A. I think we find such parallels everywhere in the world, especially after the rise of modern science and the ideology of nationalism. We will also need to define what constitutes 'religious' here because the term itself changes and evolves historically.
Q. Why has there been so little discussion of your book in the public realm so far? Asked by: Anjana Sharma
A. That is difficult to say. I think books have a life of their own and I am sure that a discussion will take place in the right quarters at the right time. Till now, whatever discussion has taken place has been sober and reasonable and I am delighted by that.
Q. I have read your book Jyotirmaya garu. You have a sneaking admiration for Ramakrishna Paramhans. Had he lived longer, do you think the course of Hinduism in India would have been very different? Asked by: Ralhan
A. The 'what if' questions are the most difficult to answer. Whatever we have of Ramakrishna Paramahansa is, however, sufficient to return to a more plural, inclusive and humane idea of Hinduism than we have today.
Q. What would you say is the single most shocking revelation you have made about Vivekananda? Asked by: Vikram
A. I don't think the purpose was to shock. I believe in reasoned argument.
Q. Your book reveals Vivekananda to be very different from the man we have known. What has been the general response to your revelations? Volatile or accommodating? Asked by: Adarsh Anand
A. I have got my share of abuses but there are a lot of reasonable people who have read the book carefully and have liked the argument.
Q. Your point on the mutability of concepts like religion is very valid. Do you think your point can then be extended to include the "cult of Science" as some would put it? Should be wary of anyone who creates 'myths' so to speak? Asked by: Anon
A. Myths will always be created. But we ought to have the confidence, the courage and the poise to read and interpret myths creatively.