It was rather late at night in the airport, around 11 PM and the flight from Houston, had still not landed on the DFW airport. The sky over Dallas was terribly overcast, and it was pouring down heavily. As I waited with my friend in the rather deserted terminal of the airport, I thought maybe this was the way Mother Nature intended to welcome our guest, Dr.Koenraad Elst.
Dr. Elst is perhaps the widest known western names in Indology circles who has a pro-Hindu stand. The towering stature of a man who calls himself a shishya of another giant Shri Sitaram Goel is not without reason. He is a prolific writer, reader, academic to list some of his talents among many other.
After receiving him at the airport terminal, one of us jokingly asked him, “What stresses you out?” to which the reply came in a flash, “not being at work”. At his age, which is pretty much close to retirement and with his health, that was a stark surprise to all of us, and maybe that is why all of us preferred to keep quiet after that answer. Maybe, he didn’t mean that he was stressed, but simply anxious, since the depth of his work, the breadth of his knowledge is impossible to achieve without passion. And work with passion never stresses anyone, it makes you anxious, maybe he was anxious.
The trademark thick glasses, the tangy sounding Belgian accent and the certain aura of being a scholar, Dr.Koenraad Elst was every bit of a stererotype historian we witness on TV, YouTube and the image readers form when they read his “hefty tomes” (his own description for his books) .
While waiting for his baggage to arrive at the wrong carousel, he gave us a summary of how the name of the French bread “Crossiant” came out to be. Turns out, Islamic conquest had some influence on it as well. By this time, initial excitement in me had settled down, I realized that I was indeed in the company of THE Dr.Koenraad Elst.
As we were walking to the parking lot, in between a conversation, out of curiosity I asked him a question about his book ‘The Saffron Swastika – Vol 1’ which is widely considered the best polemic against the leftist narrative prevalent in India. I asked him if he had he really read all the books, he had quoted and cited in The Saffron Swastika.
The response was one which emphasized as to why he alone could write a book of that sort. He replied, “The time when I was writing this book and a lot of time before as well, I had to spend entire days and months in the library reading all the relevant material which I needed for it.” There is apparently no reason to not believe him.
The days when The Saffron Swastika was published, most pro-Hindu writers took defensive line about being Hindu and its meaning in their literary work. The Sangh-Hindutva ideologues, never ventured beyond their coy line of writing, defending Hindu practices and Hindutva against imaginary, sometime outlandish accusations.
Dr. Elst left behind the hesitance and took the attack to the heart of the leftist bastions. Attacking every single line of their argument, at the same time holding his own and doing all this citing every single relevant detail with documentary citation.
Maybe that is what Tapasya means, toiling as if there is no tomorrow, to come up with a work of literature that shakes the prevalent status quo to its core. The devotion of this Belgian towards his work, even after spending decades in anonymity, can be explained only with ‘passion’.
The next day, Dr. Elst was supposed to be delivering two lectures in town. The attendance was not expected to be big, as it is for such events, but something was noticeably different this time. Most of the people who were in attendance brought a copy of one of his books with them to get it autographed from him. From young to old, from naturalized American citizens to American born people of Indian origin, Dr.Elst’s work was read by people of all ages and groups.
One of the lectures was about Constitution of India and its ramifications on Hindus, a topic on which Dr.Elst must have spoken more times than anyone. He has written even books about the topic, but still skipped lunch (which made it 3 meals in a row in 2 days) to prepare for the topic. One may or may not agree about his views on the Indian constitution, but his sincerity and work ethic were again supremely impressive.
A point he has made in his talks before and did not forget to make during this talk as well, was that India doesn’t have a constitution which can be called “secular”. Quoting examples from Indian society he asserted that, Indian constitution has its own ways of explaining secularism.
Secularism in the Indian constitution was not something agreed to by the constituent assembly when the constitution was adopted in 1950. The terms “secular and socialist” were inserted through back door means by Indira Gandhi during the emergency. For the socialist part, Dr.Elst suggested, people may be laughing at how well socialism has worked out for so many countries and latest example being Venezuela.
Everyone at the event was asking him all sorts of questions about politics and religion, I was more curious about how he sees himself after all these years. As he was putting his signature on the book that I had given him, I asked him my first question.
“How did being a close associate of Sitaram Goel feel?”
He didn’t look surprised at the question, but looked with an expression which might be closely described as fond remembrance. He replied “Great, great. He was a great man and it was a great opportunity to work with him (or under him)”. I don’t recall what he said exactly ‘with him or under him’, but his gratitude to his Guru was visible and as he himself would mention it in a lecture later in the evening.
At a time when the Guru-Shishya parampara of India seems to have wholly lost its existence, Dr.Elst not only still fondly remembered his guru, but would also love to talk about him. But neither the time, nor the place, nor the occasion were right for us to take such a conversation forward. So I immediately jumped to the next question that came to my mind.
“How does it feel being called the intellectual heir to Sitaram Goel, do you feel like it?” I asked.
He paused to think for a bit, and then answered “Yes, it does feel great being called that, you know, he was my guru and I think his work is great. But there are some who call me a Hindutva ideologue and a Muslim hating bigot and all that which is just non-sense.”
He spoke the second sentence of the answer after a brief pause and a bit of dismissal. He wasn’t taking very kindly to people who were out to impute any motive to him unless he himself owned it. His dismissal also sort of explained something, Dr.Elst believed in what he did, he believed that the Hindu people had been unfairly treated, but his sympathy didn’t make him blindly partial to Hindus. Perhaps his virtue which demands a high standard of perfection and rejects mediocrity made him comment as such. In short, he loves a Hindu, but perhaps doesn’t think about himself as one, as I was to see later.
The time to move on to the second lecture and its venue was getting close. Dr.Elst after taking a few pictures with other of his admirers, left off for the second venue.
The topic for the lecture at the second venue was an equally intriguing subject as the first. It was about Ayodhya and the history associated with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. Co-incidentally, the second lecture was held at a temple which is home to one of the most beautiful Kodanda Ram murthy of Prabhu Shri Ram.
The talk began with the usual introduction of Dr.Elst and how he has helped put forward the Hindu point of view on various issues. Dr.Elst was invited on stage after which he began to speak in a tone of familiar scholarship about Ayodhya.
If anyone has read his previous videos on Youtube or read any of his books about Ayodhya (there are about 3 or 4), one may be familiar with his theory about the Ram Janmabhoomi temple not being destroyed by Babur, but before Babur.
For the uninitiated, Dr.Elst’s theory goes like this, in the beginning there definitely must have been a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya at the Ram Janmasthan. The existence of a Hindu Mandir has been conclusively proven by the archeological excavations. The mandir was demolished and a mosque was built over it. But the demolition of the Mandir and the construction of the mosque were at different times.
According to him, by the 12th century when Islamic kingdoms had taken hold of most of North India, and iconoclasm was at its peak, it was not possible for such iconoclasts to leave the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi temple alone. So the Mandir must have been demolished sometime then, and later a small Mandir must have been built over it. Centuries later after Babar invaded India and hunkered down in India, he built a masjid over the demolished temple.
It is theories such as these which make Dr.Elst an intellectual favorite of all the traditional Hindu supporters. This theory, unfortunately, doesn’t find a lot of currency in Hindu circles. The mere fact that such a theory can be proposed which takes into account Islamic iconoclasm not just from Babur, but also makes provision to account for damage wreaked by all the iconoclastic Muslim rulers from centuries preceding Babur is a rational breath of fresh air.
The same goes with his “Out of India” theory which is set to be a direct repudiation of “Aryan Invasion Theory”. The Aryan Invasion Theory once the benchmark of all history taught to children in India, through research and archeological excavations consistently proven wrong might one day give way to what Dr.Elst suggests.
To a question on CM of UP, Yogi Adityanath building a huge statue of Shri Ram and a Ramayana themed museum. Dr. Elst was not very enthusiastic about the huge statue, but was excited about the museum. A dichotomy hard to understand. But while answering the question Dr.Elst took to complimenting the head of the temple where the talk was being held. He mentioned that the murthy of all the Gods and Goddesses in the temple were actually very beautiful and radiated divinity out of them. Whereas the other murthy’s around in America were not as blissful.
At this point I was reminded of Dr.Elst’s own writings. There is absolutely no doubt that Dr.Elst understands how murthy pooja works for Hindus. Not a single Hindu is concerned about the material of which the murthy is made up of. All that matters is how devoted the seeker is and how deeply sacred the bond between him and his creator is.
This can be made apparent from a few of Dr.Elst’s own essays. He has time and again established asymmetry between the horrific Islamic iconoclasm and Hindu temple burglary. While proving the asymmetry he mentions how Hindus have loved the idols, and when a Hindu king was a victor over another, all they have done is carried away the murthy or the presiding deity to another city, but not completely annihilated the places of worship.
A similar question was asked by somebody in the audience about the latest, leftist darling scholar Audrey Trushcke. The stardom she has gained in the past few years for work which is completely counter-intuitive to the normal flow of Indian history is a statement of how the academic left has worked in India since decades.
Historians who have managed to negate the destruction of Islamic rulers, looters and conquest seekers and place them on par as a benevolent influence on India and more so as people who brought civilization to Hindus has been one of the most vicious form of historical negation. Audrey Trushcke has been the latest entrant into this field.
He quoted his own essay “Academic Bullies” where he has torn apart into Audrey Trushcke and her hypothesis. To quote from his same essay, he concludes “Much of what passes for scholarship these days is only ideology wrapped into jargon. Some sophomores take it seriously: having just gained entry into the academic world, they idealize it and are proud of their belonging to a higher world distinct from lay society. And most laymen believe it: over-awed by status, they assume that academic status presupposes both knowledge and objectivity, the basis of academic authority.”
In spite of the vicious propaganda that passed as history by “eminent historians”, Dr.Elst refuses to see any ulterior motives in their actions. For what comes out as an idealist position, he chooses to believe that every other historian/Indologist has been cut out of the same cloth as him, sincere to the core. He believes that the Indian “eminent historians” all work for their individual deep rooted convictions and not in the hopes of being in good books of western academics. All these are bogus theories as per Dr.Elst.
Such positions about the purity of intentions of the Indian Indologists and refusal to see red in motives of his Indian fellow professionals is a bit surprising. But given the man of tremendous intellectual awareness that Dr.Elst is, he may be very well aware of the deep rooted inferiority complex of almost all the Indian historians in the past. These eminences refuse to treat the work of any fellow countrymen with any respect, but are willing to believe any non-sense a white historian puts out. About European and American Indologists/historians who churn out rather unhinged books about Hindus, it can be only seen almost in the same context as explained by Edward Said in his magnum opus “Orientalism”.
All this while during the Q&A session, I wasn’t selected to ask him a question, which I desperately sought to ask. I’d have a chance to do that a short while later. After the Q&A session, when he was getting down the stage, I had a chance to ask him the question. I asked him, “Dr.Elst, what happens to Mathura and Kashi once a temple is built over in Ayodhya?”
He smiled a bit and answered, “I know, a new set of problems alright”.
His answer was indicative of how aware he was of the situation that Hindus are in. A democracy where the majority has been asked to let go off its past, to make peace with monuments built over its own places of worship, to assuage a violent minority. To maintain “law and order, and social harmony”, Hindus are told, that they will have to forget what has happened in the past. If pressed some more, Hindus are asked as if to place them in a guilty chamber if they are seeking vengeance for acts of the Islamic rulers of a bygone era from Muslims of present day. Not a single thought is spared to restore or dispose some sort of justice to the Hindus who have been clearly violated.
First by the Islamic invaders who destroyed their places of worship, forcefully converted them and captured them and sold them as slaves. Then by the British who took sadistic joy in looting whatever riches they could find in India. Finally by a secular state led by a person who thought that an assertive Hindu is to be suppressed at all costs since it may lead to majoritarianism, but all kinds of minorities should be protected at all and any costs which the majority should be ready to pay.
As the second lecture for the day wound up and I said farewell to Dr.Elst, I was pleasantly surprised when he asked if we could be having a meal together during the remainder of his stay. I smiled, I knew it was not going to work out, I knew his schedule was jam packed and there were so many people waiting to have a word with him.
As I was driving back in my car, I began thinking about what this visit of Dr.Elst meant for me and more specifically the Hindus who came to listen to him talk. My thoughts swerved back to the night at the airport when we received him. As we were waiting for his luggage to show up, we got into a conversation about the recent incident of Notre Dame catching fire in Paris.
I jokingly mentioned to him, how I thought that Charles Martel who is buried close by the Notre Dame must have felt unsafe in his grave. Hearing this he gave us a good lesson in history about Charles Martel and his familial position and his lineage. The most famous lines about Charles Martel were written by the English historian Edward Gibbons in his definitive work “The Decline and fall of the Roman Empire”, where he says ‘Without Charles Martel’s victory at the Battle of Tours against an invading Arab army, perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford”.
Without the likes of Shri Sitaram Goel or Dr. Koenraad Elst it is completely possible, that Hindus would’ve been taught that Ayodhya isn’t sacred to Hindus and most possibly just the imaginary birthplace of Prabhu Shri Ram or how the constitution of India is actually secular and doesn’t discriminate against Hindus and many other such things. With his indefatigable work and the sheer depth of it, and whether one can completely agrees or disagrees with it, Dr. Elst has provided yeoman service to the Hindu cause. Hindu activists from the present and the future generations will be forever grateful to the Belgian for taking up the intellectual cudgels on our behalf and holding the line.
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