When I entered the hall where Shourie was speaking I found the audience fully enthralled in his speech. I could count dozens of heads being shaken vigorously in agreement, hands supporting awe-struck faces keenly leaning forward and one of our editorial team members Prasanna seated amidst two pretty ladies engrossed in serious conversation. Choosing to concentrate on Shourie instead I found myself quite familiar with the themes and thought processes that Shourie was painstakingly putting across to his audience. Having finished the book a day ago and finding myself in near complete agreement with the author I couldn’t think of anything clever to ask when it was announced that Shourie would take questions.
It being Madras (or Chennai) there had to a Dravidian cultural warrior to counter Shourie-sahab. When the discussion moved around the idea of Karma this particular gentleman stood up and said ‘this karma idea are all from manu-dharma, they are all nonsense, crap and shit’. I may not have reproduced the exact quote but I swear you only have to rearrange the words in the sentence to reach there.
While those familiar with the Dravidian political discourse were amazed by the level of intellectual complexity Dravidian thought had finally progressed to everybody else seemed to be slightly over-reacting. They immediately looked at those sitting to their right and began either a wail of lament or a curse of anger. The Tam-Bram aunties in their elegant Conjeevarums were particularly horrified and were seen putting their marudhani laced fingers to cover their mouths opened in sheer shock, disbelief and disappointment at the abuse of an elegant forum. Their husbands just looked down at the floor and shock their heads from left to right repeatedly.
There was another interesting questioner. This specimen I noticed was making copious notes. He also seemed to have brought along with him one or two of Shourie’s earlier books as well. He had clearly come prepared with his own agenda and was bent on making an intervention. I didn’t think much about him until he chose to contend with Shourie about the authors choice of Quranic verses and his interpretation. Reeling out verse after verse with the customary suffixes of ‘sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam‘ he contested Shourie on whether it was right to quote a single verse here and there. Urban, very articulate and suave this gentleman had clearly received the Zakir Naik treatment.
In responding to both Zakir Naik(let us call the above described gentleman that, I’m sure it would only make him happy) and the Dravidian warrior one could really tell the person of Arun Shourie was not making an effort to be most courteous. To the contrary it seemed to come almost naturally to him, it seemed to come to him from the depths of earnest contemplation this person must have embarked on to understand the questions his book had dealt with. Nobody saw him produce so much as a small frown, express the slightest disappointment or anger or even frustration at the sheer stupidity he had to contend with in the form of questions from the Dravidian cultural warrior or Zakir Naik.
I think about it – If Shourie so vehemently argues for the validity of Buddha’s noble truths of pain and suffering would he not have internalized the fundamental precepts of Buddha’s ethical framework as well: right understanding, right speech and right action. The trouble-makers of the evening would not have made trouble but for their beliefs, ideological indoctrination from childhood and the hundreds of events that would have shaped their lives. Causalities of time and chance – is that their fault? Was that what Shourie was thinking when he signed autographs for Zakir’s kids, shook hands with them in all earnestness, not hesitating to give his contact details so Zakir may still contest him in leisure?
By now it was my chance to grab his attention for an autograph.
‘Sir, would you please sign?’, I ask.
‘Sir, I’ve finished reading. Like the other friend who talked about Dawkins I too have read some of them. But one always felt an inadequacy in relating to their texts in the Indian context. This book fills up that inadequacy. Thank you for writing this’
Perhaps my expression of gratitude registered on him.
With a sudden burst of smile he quickly stands up, looks straight into my eyes, with his palms held together gesturing a namaskaram, says “Thank you very much”.
My day is made.