Few days back Govinda Prabhu returned from his two week trip, and he recalled with happiness, his interactions with Mr. Anand Neelkanthan, an infamous writer who has arguably brought disrepute to Hinduism. In his writings he has glorified the villains of the Vedic scriptures like Duryodhana, Karna,and Ravana. Many devotees strongly dislike him, and have used strong language to address him. Therefore it was a pleasant surprise for me to know that Govinda Prabhu had a nice, friendly exchange with him.
I probed to know what was so nice about their meeting. Maybe, I thought, Govinda Prabhu has compromised our Vaishnava stand and encouraged him. And if he did that, it would be a great shame and would only cause me sadness. But I was pleased to see him represent our traditions well and also smash Mr. Neelkanthan’s philosophy.
“I told him clearly that we love and respect him, but would disagree with his writings”, said Govinda Prabhu about his interactions with the author. “I also encouraged him to appreciate the Vaishnava viewpoint, and during the whole conversation, we were respectful and cordial with each other”. “But he is misrepresenting Hinduism, and openly blaspheming the scriptures”, I protested. “No, he is simply misdirected”, countered Govinda Prabhu, “and if we spend time with him, and separate his philosophy from him as a person, we’d connect to him better, and maybe in future, we can truly make him feel loved”
“But is it healthy that he writes and propagates untruth amongst the elite classes of people?” I continued my interrogation. “We need to win his trust”, said Govinda Prabhu, “he told me that he finds that the Vaishnavas are the most intolerant amongst Hindus, and he was happy to see that I patiently heard his philosophy which is way off the track” I then wondered aloud, “But won’t we get poisoned hearing criticism of Lord Rama and Krishna by such writings”. “Yes”, he confessed, “therefore we meet him, discuss and in a respectful manner, attempt to influence his consciousness. He needs to be educated. And do we have a choice? If we criticize him as a demon or an atheist, would that stop him from writing his stuff? Don’t you think its better we write and vigorously propagate our point of view and also try to build bridges with him? And this way we are spreading goodness and also stand a good chance of making friends with him”
“I also explained to him why devotees get angry when they hear blasphemy of their Lord”, clarified Govinda Prabhu. “It’s not that Vaishnavas are intolerant. It’s just that they love the Lord as a person and this affection is so deep and intense that they can’t take these criticisms. I gave the example of mother Sita who out of her concern for Lord Rama, even criticized Lakshmana of having evil intentions. This may appear unreasonable, but we need to remember this outburst was a result of her deep love and concern for the Lord. Also Lakshmana in his deep attachment to Rama, criticized Bharat of having sinister motives of trying to usurp the kingdom. Both Lakshmana and Sita were wrong in their judgements, yet they are glorious because not only their love is deeply spiritual, they also happily accepted their mistake, and stood corrected. Thus a Vaishnava may momentarily get emotional, but that is not to be perceived as malicious”
“And how did he respond to this explanation?” I asked curiously. “He was very positive after the meeting, and we became good friends” replied Govinda Prabhu.
I felt enlivened by this discussion and also realized there is more to being a faithful loyalist to God than mere gung-ho sloganeering and condemnation of the atheists as ‘demons’. I also learnt we need to be more open minded to see the genuine humanness of other people, even if they misrepresent our faith.
At the end of our discussion during which I heard about the nice qualities of Neelkanthan, I appreciated him as I realized he is a clean person, a teetotaller, gets up early in the morning and for three hours-from 4.00 am to 7.00 am- writes daily. This has inspired me also to write more regularly with discipline and perseverance. And write I surely will, but in vehement opposition to what Mr. Neelkanthan says!