There are some people against whom you build up malice without knowing them. Guru Golwalkar had long been at the top of my hate list because I could not forget the RSS’s role in communal riots, the assassination of the Mahatma, the talk of changing India from a secular to a Hindu state! However, as a journalist, I could not resist the chance of meeting him.
I expected to run into a cordon of uniformed swayamsevaks. There are none, not even plainclothes CID to take down the number of my car. It is a middle-class apartment with an appearance of puja going on inside – rows of sandals outside, fragrance of agarbatti, bustle of women behind the scenes, the tinkle of utensils and crockery. In a small room sit a dozen men in spotless white kurtas and dhotis – all looking newly washed as only Maharashtrian Brahmins manage to do.
And Guru Golwalkar – a frail man in his mid-sixties, black hair curling to his shoulders, a moustache covering his mouth, a wispy grey beard dangling down his chin. An unerasable smile and dark eyes twinkling through his bifocals. He looks like an Indian Ho Chi Minh. For a man who had only recently undergone surgery for breast cancer he looks remarkably fit and cheerful.
Being a guru, I feel he may expect a chela-like obeisance.
He does not give me a chance. As I bend to touch his feet he grasps my hand in his bony fingers and pulls me down on the seat beside him. “I am very glad to meet you,” he says. “I have been wanting to do so for some time.” His Hindi is very shuddh.
“Me too,” I reply clumsily. “Ever since I read your Bunch of Letters.”
“Bunch of Thoughts,” he corrects me. He does not want to know my views on it. He takes one of my hands in his and pats it. “So?” he looks enquiringly at me.
“I don’t know where to begin. I am told you shun publicity and your organisation is secret.”
“It is true we do not seek publicity but there is nothing secret about us. Ask me anything you want to.”
“I read about your movement in Jack Curran’s The RSS and Hindu Militarism. He says…”
“It is a biased account,” interrupts Guruji. “Unfair, inaccurate – he misquoted me and many others. There is no militarism in our movement. We value discipline – which is a different matter.” I tell him that I had read an article describing Curran as the head of CIA operations in Europe and Africa. “I would never have suspected it,” I say very naively, “I have known him for twenty years.”
Guruji beams a smile at me. “This doesn’t surprise me at all,” he says. I do not know whether the remark is a comment on Curran being CIA or my naiveté.
“There is one thing which bothers me about the RSS. If you permit me, I will put it as bluntly as I can.”
“It is your attitude towards the minorities, particularly the Christians and the Muslims.”
“We have nothing against the Christians except their methods of gaining converts. When they give medicines to the sick or bread to the hungry, they should not exploit the situation by propagating their religion to those people. I am glad there is a move to make the Indian churches autonomous and independent of Rome.”
“What about the Muslims?”
“What about them?”
I have no doubt in my mind that the dual loyalties that many Muslims have towards both India and Pakistan is due to historical factors for which Hindus are as much to blame as they. It also stems from a feeling of insecurity that they have been made to suffer since Partition. In any case, one cannot hold the entire community responsible for the wrongs of a few.
“Guruji, there are six crore Indian Muslims here with us.” I get eloquent. “We cannot eliminate them, we cannot drive them out, we cannot convert them. This is their home. We must reassure them – make them feel wanted. Let us win them over with love. This should be an article of – “
“I would reverse the order,” he interrupts. “As a matter of fact I would say the only right policy towards Muslims is to win their loyalty by love.”
I am startled. Is he playing with words? Or does he really mean what he says? He qualifies his statement: “A delegation of the Jamaat-i-Islami came to see me. I told them that Muslims must forget that they ruled India. They should not look upon foreign Muslim countries as their homeland. They must join the mainstream of Indianism.”
“We should explain things to them. Sometimes one feels angry with Muslims for what they do, but then Hindu blood never harbours ill will for very long. Time is a great healer. I am an optimist and feel that Hinduism and Islam will learn to live with each other.”
Tea is served. Guruji’s glass mug provides a diversion. I ask him why he doesn’t drink the beverage out of porcelain like the rest of us. He smiles. “I have always taken it in this mug, I take it with me wherever I go.” His closest companion, Dr Thatte, who has dedicated his life to the RSS, explains: “Porcelain wears off and exposes the clay beneath. Clay can harbour germs.”
I return to my theme.
“Why do you pin your faith on religion when most of the world is turning irreligious and agnostic?”
‘Hinduism is on firm ground because it has no dogma. It has had agnostics before, it will survive the wave of irreligiousness better than any other religious system.”
“How can you say that? The evidence is the other way. The only religions which are standing firm and even increasing their hold on the people are based on dogma – Catholicism, and more than Catholicism, Islam.”
“It is a passing phase. Agnosticism will overtake them, it will not overtake Hinduism. Ours is not a religion in the dictionary sense of the word; it is dharma, a way of life. Hinduism will take agnosticism in its stride.”
I have taken more than half an hour of Guruji’s time. He shows no sign of impatience. When I ask for leave, he again grasps my hands to prevent me from touching his feet.
Was I impressed? I admit I was. He did not try to persuade me to his point of view. He made me feel that he was open to persuasion. I accepted his invitation to visit him in Nagpur and see things for myself. Maybe I can bring him around to making Hindu-Muslim unity the main aim of his RSS. Or am I being a simple-minded Sardarji?
Excerpted with permission from Me, The Jokerman: Enthusiasms, Rants & Obsessions, Khushwant Singh, edited by Mala Dayal, Aleph Book Company.