Thursday, 20 August 2015

Kashmiri Marxists and Religion

Badri Raina is Kashmir’s contribution to Marxist discourse in India.
A vast majority of people are not capable of thinking – or don’t care to think – and don’t distinguish between opinion and truth. (If you doubt, visit facebook and see how illogical, uninformed, prejudiced comments don it). The question is why so many brilliant and gifted minds, especially in the modern world, have been alienated from religion and have, in order to maintain loyalty to critical reason, taken other refuges than what we would call the refuge of religion? Isn’t it strange that religions should be convicted in the court of reason when their ultimate principle (Logos/Truth/Good/Buddhi/ Aql) grounds reason and its deepest motivations that secular humanism has championed?
I don’t intend to attempt to clarify this issue but ask a somewhat related question – is it the religion of the masses or priests or saints and philosophers that fails the test of common sense and critical rationality – while reading one of Kashmir’s gifted souls and minds – Badri Raina. Raina is a literary critic whose contribution has been recognized  by many including some of the tallest figures in the relevant field, a poet who has some powerful poems to his credit including the two we study today, an influential or at least widely read columnist or commentator and a presence to contend with in Indian Marxist camp and beyond in the select academic and intellectual circles.
A brilliant orator and equally brilliant conversationalist, Badri Raina  is Kashmir’s contribution to Marxist discourse in India. With him, you can enjoy, as with very few in Kashmir,  a serious and rigorous academic and intellectual conversation on a host of issues including religion. Raina is a  man of many colours ad seasons – a remarkable human being in many respects and unfortunately we can deal here with only a very small but significant aspect of his poetry  leaving his provocative and insightful The Underside of Things and his Dickens and the Dialect of Growth – his magnum opus in literary criticism of Dickens – for some future moment.
Raina is himself a half convert to mystical or Sufi approach to religion which converges with the traditional philosophical approach – from Ibn Sina and Al-Farabi to Suharawardi and Mulla Sadra and philosophers associated with Ikhwanus  Saffa we find a view of transcendence that is neither irrational nor subrational but grounded in intellect.
He is deadly critical of politicized religion, of religion degenerated into ideology, of socially and politically insensitive or complacent  dabbling with transcendence. Casteism and what he calls Brahmanism (ironically, Brahmanism too, at least in theory, or ideally, called for absolute devotion to intellectual or contemplative mode of being or discoveries of theonomous reason) he dissects with sharp but sometimes ill fitting scalpel. Let us read how he brings his gift of sarcasm and irony to target “religious” view and leaves his adversary – Mulla, a priest and hereditary Brahman – speechless.   I often wonder how thin a line is between “No God Federation” ( with which Classical Marxism more appropriately and NeoMarxism  is less appropriately identified) and “Know God Federation” – to again borrow expressions from Prof. Sanaullah Parvaz who when, in his youth chased by local clergy for supposedly leading “No-God Federation” escaped by explaining that he means “Know God Federation” really which is the federation led by saints and urafa (knowers of God). Faiz – a NeoMarxist when asked about his religion by an official in jail  replied that his reigion is the religion of Rumi. Badri Raina seems to be toeing the same line. To let Raina the poet speak:

First we are born to man and wife,
Then they give us our names,
Those names then our prison make
Of inflexible religious frames.
But I that a ‘Hindu’ am
Might well have a ‘Muslim’ been,
Had the sperm and egg that wrought me
Come from an Aslam and Nasreen.

What sense that we should thus invest
Our lifelong loves and hates
To an instant we had no inkling of,
And consign to that our fates.

On Fascism, he writes:

I am not a fascist only when
I pull the trigger and kill;
I am a fascist when first I think
My work is God's own will.

I am not a fascist only when
I break the common law;
I am a fascist when first I think
I make the common law.

I am not a fascist only when
I decimate all other kind;
I am a fascist when first I think
It is purity I have in mind.

About the first quoted poem, I wish to note that while it is
Raina's one of the most powerful poems and succeeds in its aim of jolting the reader – even the secular reader who isn’t immune to another kind of brainwashing from the secular parents who might be subscribing to any pathological ideology including that peculiarly  modern but pervasive ideology of Fascism that the poet identifies in his next poem. It is to the Prophet of Islam (S.A.W) to whom is attributed a statement in the name of which the poet wants to speak against enslaving exclusivist theology. To quote the prophetic tradition: “All children are born in a state of fitrah and it is his parents that make him Jew or Christian or Polytheist.”(Equivalent expressions from other traditions like “my face before the birth” also come to mind.) While this tradition has been misappropriated by many Muslims in the service of exclusivist theology (forgetting that the term Islam reduced to a religion as against The Religion or universal existential attitude of submission to Truth or openness to experience or radical innocence itself emerged many decades after the Prophet passed away); it is the exclusivist framework itself that is clearly targeted by the tradition.
Man is a creature who seeks to transcend himself – his narrow circuit of personality – in love, in beauty and art and through thousand other forms and symbols. Dogmatic Marxism has denied man the instinct to talk with the stars or fly high into the empyreal realms that are really visions of a  transformed and illumined earth and not of an abstract beyond. (Buddha saw the earth blooming and smiling when he attained nirvana.) Religious fundamentalism has demanded worship of the form. Man is a creature who seeks the formless in every form he momentarily or permanently adores. Sufism requires transcendence of all beliefs and diving into the ocean of love unfettered. Raina’s critique applies to exoteric or zahiri religion that is traded in the marketplace. A Sufi is a bird and child of Lamakaan and his track is trackless, to paraphrase Rumi. He moves on a pathless path to take flight into the world that is neither here nor there but in another dimension that embraces but transcends this world of space and time, history and materiality.
All of us are somehow convinced regarding superiority of our convictions or what Marxist critique exposes as ideologies. Who doesn’t think he is not on the right path and would not seek some sort of conversion to his path? Doesn’t  this attitude extend to ideologues of secular ideologies like Fascism and Totalitarianism? Raina, a NeoMarxist who calls himself a Sufi Marxist (although there is an argument that there is a copyright on the term Sufi!) rejects all ideological deformations and I don’t think his version of Marxism would or should be read as an ideology that has its own exclusionary tactics, its own dismissive reading of ideological other it often identifies as religion including its spiritual mystical core.

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