Last night as I laid my head to the pillow, a red notification popped up on my phone. ‘Breaking News: Shootings and explosions in Paris’, it announced. The disaster had just happened, mere minutes earlier. There was very little information, just a handful of facts and speculations. I closed my eyes with a sigh and a prayer.
Earlier that evening at home we had sat around a live stream from Wembley Stadium of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dazzling welcome reception to the UK. There was a sparkling stream of dancers, a full symphonic orchestra, giant rangolis in national colours, and much general hoo-haa. Modi spoke from the podium on India’s bright future, painting a vision of a country energised by solar power and high speed trains.
Meanwhile in the press, hundreds, including a long list of British Asian intellectuals, called attention to the apparent breaches of human rights that have been carried out on Modi’s watch. One went so far as to say that India is now being ruled by a ‘Hindu Taliban’. Others accused Modi’s travels of being merely motivated by the potential of foreign investment, ‘rupee bonds’ and good publicity.
In the midst of these two isolated events – one a £2m spectacle of money and patriotic pride, the other a spectacle of violence and devastation, approximately 900m Hindus around the world have been celebrating the festival of Diwali. Popularly dubbed the ‘Festival of Lights’, it traditionally commemorates several sacred events, one of which is the triumphant return home of Lord Rama, having defeated the demonic King Ravana in battle. Therefore the popular statements get trotted out – ‘light in darkness; good over evil etc’
It’s a lovely sentiment, but sometimes feels no more than an excuse for fireworks, samosas and a good old party. As I got the news about Paris – just one of many atrocious things happening right now in the world – it felt more like darkness is only just beginning to show its’ full manifestation.
Now I have no great head for politics; nor a great depth of spiritual understanding, but it feels like there are an awful lot of question marks in the air. Why is terrorism becoming the fear of our modern times? How can the crimes against humanity that have embedded such hate in the hearts of many, be unwound, or forgiven? Is religion to blame for all of societies’ ills? Where did it all begin, and will there ever be a brighter future?
The situation of the world, the depth of misbehaviour and corruption is difficult to comprehend – almost like sitting right up close to a movie screen – trying to look at it all at once just makes your head hurt. For most of us it’s easier to pretend it’s not happening, until it touches our life in a personal way.
In these times it is difficult to say who is right. Like the children’s book – ‘Which came first, the chicken or the egg?’, pointing a finger at one event only forces you to acknowledge that it was a preceding one that caused it. If you have a clogged drain, disgusting as it may be, you need to go to the source of the problem and deal with it, other wise no amount of ‘Mr Muscle’ is going to stave off the rising water for very long.
So yes, we celebrate the Festival of Lights, but I can’t help but feel that the light needed in our times is not from a handful of hot sparklers, nor freshly installed solar powered lights. An inner light is required to illuminate each person’s vision; to enable us to view all with respect and humanity; to value the opportunity to love and serve rather than exploit.
Otherwise what hope is there for Modi’s vision of a ‘clean India’, or any other large scale solution? As long as the root cause is left unaddressed, the devastation will rage on.