Saturday, April 28, 2012
Glowing embers of Heehs imbroglio
Media intervention pertaining to the deportation order served upon Peter Heehs and its subsequent revocation during the first fortnight of this month caught the attention of the nation and, justifiably, shook the conscience of the civil society activists. Sri Aurobindo rarely makes it to the news headlines, but the visa controversy forced some journalists and public intellectuals to take a firm stand in favour of the book on him in order to defend free speech and denounce alleged religious fundamentalism. The complexities and the many-complexioned issues, however, were pushed under the carpet as a result of which the embers of the imbroglio continue to glow.
A couple of blogs dedicated to exposing errors in the biography amass fresh findings but no authorized refutations of the perceived discrepancies are available. Instead, a set of deceptive seeming responses are doing the rounds as aggregated below:
a) People lack proper reading skills.
b) If the book is bad, then don’t read it.
c) If you don’t like the book, then write another.
d) The book was written specifically with the Western academicians as target, and hence, probable intolerance due to cultural difference.
e) A revised Indian edition can be brought out keeping the sensibilities of the devotees in mind.
f) Sri Aurobindo Ashram neither prescribes nor proscribes any book.
g) The Ashram has also received many favourable reviews of the book.
h) Several eminent personalities have hailed the book in various publications.
i) The book has positive references running into scores of pages.
j) The book may be harsh in patches, but it never denigrates Sri Aurobindo.
k) The varied field of Integral Yoga can have room for such a book.
l) An aspirant can have his own distinct perception and may even profess denial.
m) Objective history - well-researched and richly-referenced - from the founder of the Ashram archives ("unlikely ever to be surpassed - with scrupulous sympathy combined with scrupulous honesty. No one knows more than Heehs").
n) Only a handful of people are against the book.
o) A coterie runs the campaign with the book as a pawn for capturing power in the Ashram.
p) Jealousy of Sraddhalu against the author is the reason for this antagonism.
q) Kripal’s endorsement on the back cover is fortuitous. No Freudian dimension.
r) Religious fundamentalists are behind this attack on freedom of expression.
s) We are not a religion, and so, any hurt sentiment is ultra vires.
t) De-contextualized extracts are responsible for wrong impression about the contents.
u) Those who have not read the book are misinformed and prejudiced.
v) Affirming that the book is bad without reading it is wrong.
All these arguments, though apparently logical, fall short of redressing the grave objections with regard to the book. The author’s intention and opinions, as articulated through the media recently, add to the woe. Be that as it may, there is no doubt that civil discourse is in the grip of hypocrisy and thus undergoing a severe crisis. [TNM55]