Shri Narendra Modiji,
I have just returned to Mumbai from your constituency, after a pious and emotional visit to the holy city of Varanasi, one of the oldest living cities in the world.
After I saw the inauguration of the grand new corridor of the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir, by your karkamal, or auspicious hands, my desire to visit the city became more acute. During the Holi weekend, the stars aligned to permit a long due trip to Kashi.
I was born in another holy river city – Nashik, on the banks of the Godavari. It was the hometown of my devout maternal grandparents. My paternal grandparents were pious Hindus too. They did Bhagwat Saptahs, Bhagwat Gita parayans and chanted the Ramraksha.
They were also ardent Warkaris, steeped in the spiritualism and culture of the Warkari Sampradaya. Well into their 80s, they regularly went for the annual Wari, or pilgrimage, from Alandi to Pandharpur in Maharashtra. They would spend three months after the Wari in Pandharpur.
My grandfather used to grow a beard just like yours, maybe longer. Passers-by would fall at his feet. During the rest of the year, my grandfather would deliver kirtans at the Gorakshan (cow shelter) Mandir near our house in Nagpur.
My parents, too, were pious, and after my father’s accident that left him bedridden for almost two years and led to him losing his job – when I was in Class 12 – they became even more so. At home, we regularly did the evening aarti every day.
I have seen my parents struggle to make ends meet and give us – three siblings – a decent education. I became a doctor and then a paediatric surgeon from the prestigious KEM Hospital in Mumbai and served for 17 years in major public sector hospitals in the city.
My upbringing had ingrained in me a Hindu ethos and sensibility. I recited Sanskrit shlokas and most aartis and knew all the festivals and rituals.
My grandfather taught me Sanskrit, which I chose as my third language in school. I acted in Sanskrit plays. Our drama group toured Vidarbha. I vividly remember playing the role of Kalidas in the play Shakuntalam.
During the unending and rather arduous 12-year-long medical education in Mumbai, I grew distanced from daily aartis. My busy doctor’s life, with 12-hour shifts, did not allow me to engage often in rituals. Yet, the sensibilities and value systems instilled in me by my religious upbringing remained intact.
In day-to-day life, this translated into thinking of all mankind as one, respecting elders, conscientious care of my patients, respecting women, the discomfort about talking about money leave alone flaunting it, an innate respect for sages, and of those who sacrificed or donated their material wealth.
My grandparents and parents are no more. My recent visit to Varanasi, witnessing the Ganga aarti, the tour of the ghats and surrounding lanes, and going to a few mathas resurfaced many emotions and the values instilled in me by my family.
These feelings of devotion, happiness and nostalgia were at their peak as I entered the new Kashi Vishwanath temple. I made a mental note of my admiration to you for the makeover and for the effort that such a task must have entailed.
But I received a rude jolt as I saw that amidst all the grandeur that came with rebuilding the Kashi Vishwanath mandir, the small Gyanvapi mosque had been barricaded and left in a state of disrepair. This seemed out of sync with my emotional state – and the values that had been instilled in me.
As a good Hindu and a good human being, I felt outraged. Despair and sadness took over. As we speak of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family) and Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas (development for everyone), here was a glaring example of just the opposite.
I felt truly unhappy that this should happen now, in this day and age. That too in a city like Kashi, which has been the abode of all, irrespective of their faith and social position, who came here to seek god, to find meaning and to attain moksha.
Kashi has been a melting pot of faiths, cultures, traditions, and rituals. It is here that the Buddha lived. It is here that sadhus, sants, Bhakti and Sufi saints lived. It is here that poet-saints such as Kabir and his mentor Ramanand were united. Even today, many Hindus and Muslims living in Kashi and around the vicinity of the Kashi Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque are eager and happy for both communities to co-exist.
As prime minister of all Indians and as a Hindu, I am sure you too must have felt angst on seeing how the Gyanvapi mosque has been allowed to remain so glaringly neglected amidst the grand renovation of the Kashi Vishwanath temple. I am sure it must have stirred in you the same emotions that afflicted me as a person with the same values.
My dear Narendrabhai, true moksha for Kashi and for you and me and for the country – a true freedom from this unholy cycle of death and destruction of each other, of temples and mosques – can only be realised if the Gyanvapi mosque is also beautified. All worshippers, irrespective of their faith, should be allowed access to both the new Kashi Vishwanath temple and a spruced up Gyanvapi mosque.
Here is an opportunity to rise from being a mere prime minister to becoming a true sadhu. Just imagine if this sadhu takes this message to the world.
Dr Santosh Karmarkar is a consultant paediatric surgeon in Mumbai.