I think it was 2009. I had been hearing about this thing called Facebook for a while. I remembered my long forgotten old Orkut account (tell the kids what Orkut used to be). I was not sure if I was interested in the “craze” of joining Facebook. But I joined anyway. Unlike Orkut, Facebook was sleek and cool and had a wonderful feel. Before long I was neck deep in arguments over politics, advocating ferociously for my Hindu right wing positions.
And then suddenly, an old friend I knew in the days of high school messages me. What’s going on? He wants to know.
His curiosity and/or surprise makes sense. Because he remembers me distinctly and ferociously advocating for Communism from the days of high school. His message also carries an undertone of a “threat” of exposing me for the “fraud” I was.
What!!!! Chaiwallah was a Commie? All those blog posts you know me from where I am bashing Commies like they are the scum of the earth … and to think that I used to be one myself!
I was in Std XI when I read “Selected works of Marx and Engels.” The book used to be in my school bag all the time.
Well, what can I say? Except that people change…
I guess I was always hardwired for politics, even at an age you probably would consider ridiculously young. I remember this heady feeling of joy when the Babri Masjid came down. This was probably at an age when I should have been more interested in toy trains. I remember being thrilled when Vajpayee became PM for the first time; I still remember Pramod Mahajan’s speech about “He is the only member of his party and he is in the government.” I remember celebrating when the United Front Govt fell … I remember the shock when I came back from school to hear that Vajpayee’s govt had lost by one vote!
So what’s going on? Here are the stages.
A Communist and a BJP supporter
As ridiculous as it sounds, I think I was a supporter of both BJP and CPIM growing up. It seems absurd now, but please bear in mind that I was really really young at the time and barely understood what was happening. It was only at the beginning of college that I realized that you have to pick one 🙂
Some of this must also be blamed on the fact that economic philosophies in India do not differ as much between right and left wing. India is basically heavily left of center, whether you ask the BJP, the Congress or the CPI(M). So, if I had to look back I would diagnose myself at the time as Hindu right (socially) and Communist (economically) back then.
By the time I was in college, I had definitively decided to be on the Hindu right. And I really got into it. I filled my college hostel room with a huge assortment of idols and framed photos of devis and devatas. I was one of the handful of students who would light incense in front of them twice a day.
As a matter of course, I “rebelled” against my highly non-vegetarian Bengali family. No chicken or fish for me! Not even eggs! They thought I was crazy. But I was convinced. The only way to be is a pure vegetarian Hindu who lights incense twice a day.
In time, my political debates in college against left leaning students became quite a spectacle. In particular, I had one favorite adversary who was a Communist sympathizer. Our arguments in college would last late into the night, sometimes for days as each of us ferociously argued in favor of our positions.
On the back of my hostel room door, I had written in chalk. NEVER FORGET GODHRA. I remembered the 59 victims of the fire every day of my life.
This phase lasted a little over 6 years I would say. Well into graduate school.
Beef eating atheist
This part may shock you (the most). By this time I was in the US. Again, following my natural hardwiring towards politics, I had to indulge my need to find out about American politics … and more importantly, pick a side. After a year of watching Fox News and MSNBC (mostly Fox News … mostly Hannity and Colmes and Bill O’Reilly) I was ready to choose the Republicans. I had always had a liking for President Bush anyway.
There was only one problem. Many elements in the Republican Party rejected evolution. This drove me nuts. In the early days of youtube, debates on this topic were a major thing. Suddenly, I found myself listening to Richard Dawkins, to Christopher Hitchens and the like for hours.
I was ready to rebel again. This time to reject all religious traditions and become an atheist. I still remember how hard it was for me to try beef for the first time. I forced myself to go through with it anyway.
Free minds and Free markets
As you might have realized, until that point I had never given much thought to an economic worldview. I didn’t understand very much about economics anyway. Coming from a typical Indian middle class background, the socialism of Nehru was in my blood; I believed in economic reforms of 1991 and privatization, but only just.
This was about to undergo a sea change. In the US, the economic discourse was actually polarized between real right and real left. Remember that this was also the time when the Great Recession hit, forcing everyone to think deeply about economics. Also Obama was elected and as with any opposition party, the Republicans went back to their roots in economic philosophy.
There was the Tea Party; the talk of “Don’t tread on me.” I heard for the first time about the idea of “Big Government” and the concept of “Taxation as theft.” I do not know if you have heard of Grover Norquist, but his idea of small government and free citizenry had tremendous influence on me. Basically, the recession had forced everyone to think about what brings prosperity.
Around this time, I also started watching shows by Penn and Teller … two hardcore CATO institute guys who advocated strongly for completely free markets. I was also regularly watching John Stossel on Fox, learning about how government ownership wastes money, how private enterprise does things better, reading about the American revolution and Jefferson’s emphasis on liberty. The natural next step was Milton Friedman. Nothing hit me so hard as his long documentary “Free to choose,” which explained in detail how Big government socialism keeps people in poverty, with examples from around the world.
The low point was when Milton Friedman goes to India around 1982 and shows our villagers running with sticks between trees to smoothen yarn. A process that a modern machine could do in seconds. What an embarrassment that this should be happening in India a decade after Americans walked on the moon.
Who was to blame for this? Nehru! It was his socialism … or should I say Communism … that had destroyed India for four decades. I had always fiercely hated the Congress … and it didn’t take much to instill in me a searing hatred for Nehru’s economic policies. Yes, if there is one man I blame for keeping India back from her economic future, it is Nehru. He poisoned the well so badly that even 70 years later, we are struggling to shake off the shackles. If India had embraced free markets in 1947 itself, our country would have looked like Japan or Israel today.
Leaving atheism … and a homecoming as a Hindu
The problems with my new found atheism were all too apparent. While I would never reject things like evolution or global warming, I still favored the Republicans and their strict stance against Islamism. Worse, “atheism” was beginning to change … and become a religion all on its own.
Those who may not have been part of certain geek subcultures between 2008-2011 may not have heard the term “Atheism Plus.” But that became a big issue in my life.
So, what’s “Atheism Plus”? As the name suggests, it was MORE than strict rationalism. You had to buy into a load of the “Plus” part. In order to become a “real atheist,” you had to support militant crazy feminism (which was often anti-science), you had to support Greenpeace and their terror tactics. And you had to do the one thing that has been non-negotiable for me my whole life … you had to bow down before violent Islamofascism and declare it to be “peaceful.”
In short, what began on the internet as a movement for pure rationalism had been hijacked by the radical left. Suddenly, to become an atheist, you were required to hate all non-Muslim countries, especially India, Israel and the USA.
This was a big problem for someone like me, who feels very strongly about our motherland, is a huge fan of Israel and generally supports the USA.
The axe of “atheism plus” struck one by one … kicking out many of the core intellectuals who had influenced my “conversion” to atheism. Richard Dawkins himself got “excommunicated” from atheism when he asked the “new atheists” to focus on rights of women in the Muslim world.
Liberal hypocrites wouldn’t do it. They were ready to hold Hamas and Hezbollah close to their chest, but suddenly Dawkins was an enemy.
In short, “atheism” had become everything it claimed to be against : a doctrinaire Abrahamic religion with its own way of imposing political views.
Worse, the “atheism plus” advocated for a very aggressive form of “atheism” where followers are supposed to spit in faces of religious people and put great emphasis on acts that deliberately hurt their sentiments.
In short, not that different from the mentality of raiders who plundered and destroyed Somnath Temple.
Atheism had not only become an Abrahamic religion, it had also become a copy of Islamism.
Remember what I had written on the back of my college hostel room door? NEVER FORGET GODHRA. Not a single day has passed in my life without remembering the plight of 59 Hindus in Godhra. There was no way I would accept Islamism.
It was time for a homecoming. It was time for me to be reborn as a Hindu. To return to my original tradition. The keyword was “sahaj” or that which comes naturally with every breath, as with loving my parents, my country, the town I grew up in and the like. A tradition that does not impose on anyone else.
That was my journey, friends. Going through phase after phase until I felt at peace with myself. I personally feel that I am better off for it. If you feel like it, let me know about your journey in the comments below.
PS: Remember the person I knew from high school who “threatened” to expose me as an old Commie back in 2009? He is a big time “bhakt” nowadays… LOL. And remember my friend from college who I used to fight with because he was a Communist? In time he became one of my closest friends and now he’s another big time “bhakt”. Life changes ….