Small is Big

Sounds catchy. Doesn’t it?

And considering how many authors used it as book titles or motivational quotes, the picture gets clearer. It is a killer headline.

With everyone busy being simple and minimalist, it’s getting more difficult by the day for irregulars like me to be original in headlines.

That said, the excerpt has nothing to do with management rather on skill-building but about faith and religion. Red flag matter, I know. Just by the sheer presence of the word “religion” your age-old hardened glass ceiling of rejection is already up. But rest assured, I am not here to introduce a new faith or spiritual guidance of any sort.

With four major religions tracing their roots back to India, it’s no surprise I was to rethink my faith in some way or the other. Luckily my beliefs haven’t taken a dent of any sort nor have I found enlightenment of any form in a new paathshala. But what I have picked up on is an irony that prevails in all major religions of the world, the lack of collectivism in its truest sense.

Yes, we burn effigies of Israeli flags and world leaders every time there is a crisis in the Middle-East or start rioting over foul play in the Babri Masjid land allocation but the reality of not standing up for the poor neighbor next door remains intact. In fact such is the passion for faith that we start acting like rear-view mirrors (in our cars) without reading the fine print on it “objects may appear larger than it (actually) is”. And this obsession for looking out as opposed to looking around, makes us uniquely universal.

In my latest weekend-trip to Himachal (Dharamshala to be precise), I had to drive through Haryana, Punjab and then into Himachal. Without a lesson in geography one can safely assume, the two religions that are based around the states are Sikhism and Buddhism. Today I would focus more on the smaller of the two, as pundits say small happens to be big at the end.

Two of the new-age belief systems I have experienced coming to Delhi are both offshoots of other major religions. Sikhism from Hinduism and  Bahaism from Islam. Both being introduced as monotheistic religions in the last five hundred years, their growth has been quite closely followed by their bigger siblings. Subjected to hatred and social stigma throughout the formative years, these two have sustained the test of time and achieved a cult stature among others.

While Sikhs are perceived to be humble, respectful yet courageous and hardworking; Baha’is have established themselves as the religion-friendly faith (i.e. one that appreciates anything and everything without ever intruding). Sikhism is practised by a large portion of the population of Punjab and their presence is well documented across the western world. Their turban and (occasionally) dagger are perhaps two of the most distinct religious symbols in the world. Sikhs not only make up 5% of all ranks in the Indian Army but also 10% of its officers, while only forming 2% of the Indian population, which makes them over 10 times more likely to be a soldier and officer in the Indian Army than the average Indian. The Sikh Regiment is one of the highest decorated regiments in the Indian Army. The Sikh Empire also happens to be one of the few empires that brought down the mighty Mughals in the battlefield.

Baha’is on the other hand are worshipers of beauty. Consider this, the most visited tourist attraction in India is the magnificent Taj Mahal, the second being Lotus Temple (the holy place of worship of the Baha’is). The Baha’i temples around the world are some of the most exquisite architectural wonders of the modern world. To top it all, some of the most admired writers, architects, musicians and actors have been Baha’is.

One of the other offshoot religions of Islam that promotes art and architecture are the Ismailis or more commonly referred to as Aga Khanis. With their tie-ups and donations to causes around the world, Ismailism has also established itself as an infamous hero in the fight for acceptance as Islam.

The interesting observation about all these micro religions lies in their success stories over time. Banned, banished and burned by the majorities for centuries, these religions have succeeded in areas where all major ones have failed to put up a good show, establish equality across the social structure. While many may argue about the number of followers or families that adopted these belief systems, the amazing success they have achieved in ensuring equality of wealth across their followers in nothing short of a miracle.

To its believers, all religions are about ideologies that encourage peace and humanity in pursuit of making the world a better place, but strangely its only the new-age faiths that have actually (somewhat) succeeded in getting there. And not only that, look at how good they are at building an image for themselves. While a Sikh with a turban is accepted to be humane and staunch believer, a Muslim in a beard is nothing but a terrorist. The smaller religious groups have successfully carved out an image for themselves as the more tolerant and accepted kind in a world where everyone believes “might is right”.

I have never been a student of anthropology, if anything I managed a “C” in my sociology course in college. But that one would hardly (if ever) come across a Sikh who begs in the streets or a Baha’i who converted to another faith portrays the success of instilling the practices every religion subscribes to. In a country where caste is king and honor killing is prime time news, the respect and admiration for the niche is truly awe-inspiring.

As we (friends from work and I) drove down Punjab (also the most affluent state in India) and heard stories of the Sikh, I could only take a deep breath and think, small is after all big!!!

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One thought on “Small is Big


    “I have traveled across the length and breadth of India (Subcontinent) an I HAVE NOT SEEN ONE PERSON WHO IS A BEGGAR, WHO IS A THIEF, SUCH WEALTH I HAVE SEEN IN THIS COUNTRY, SUCH HIGH MORAL VALUES, PEOPLE OF SUCH CALIBER, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very BACKBONE of this nation, WHICH IS HER SPIRITUAL AND CULTURAL HERITAGE, and therefore, I propose that we REPLACE HER OLD AND ANCIENT EDUCATION SYSTEM, HER CULTURE, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, THEY WILL LOSE THEIR SELF-ESTEEM, THEIR NATIVE CULTURE AND THEY WILL BECOME WHAT WE WANT THEM, A TRULY DOMINATED NATION.”


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