“The secret to writing 26 books is to be unemployed from time to time,” quipped Arun Shourie, author, journalist, scholar and politician, releasing Does He Know a Mother’s Heart? - his 26th book.
“I am not a creative writer. I am lawyer, and all my books are arguments for the prosecution, whether it is on Ambedkar or on suffering.” That was a comment well in character with the man who is known for persuasive arguments while remaining as much self-effacing as an active public life allows.
Does He Know a Mother’s Heart? critically examines the explanations for human suffering in various religious scriptures, and in the teachings of prominent spiritual masters.
Shourie is no stranger to pain. His wife Anita suffers from Parkinson’s syndrome. And their son, “Aditya, our life, is 35 now. He cannot walk or stand. He can see only from the left side of his eyes. He cannot use his right arm or hand. He speaks syllable by syllable. Yet he laughs,” Shourie writes.
This book comes from what his wife and he learnt over 35 years. “All religions explain suffering. But they do not stand up to strict examinations. The theory of Karma always ends up blaming the victim,” he said.
His long quest for answers has taken him to the teachings of Buddha. “There is no use looking for explanations to suffering. Instead, attend to the problem at hand, to the cause, as if you are attending to a man whose hair is on fire, Buddha says,” Shourie said.
Despite the personal nature of this book, Shourie spoke with much humour, citing experiences and even cracking jokes—a few courtesy Anna Hazare. When asked how he managed his active public life with a stressful private life, he said: “The secret is to have a wife who will let you do other things while she takes care of the real issues.”
On a more serious note, he said, partially quoting Pandit Nehru: “We simply have to stand up to life. In the face of fate, we should be shameless and defiant—even fast unto death,” he said, to laughs from the audience. “There is a reservoir of strength in all of us and we should tap it.”
Citing an instance from Mahadev Desai’s diary, where in 1920s Mahatma Gandhi had spoken of feeling so discouraged with the freedom struggle that he wanted to retire, Shourie said: “Even the greats felt discouraged at some point, but persevered. Their words of discouragement should be words of encouragement for us. Buddha says, ‘Begin and persevere. As a silversmith removes impurities from silver, so the wise man from himself. One by one, little by little’.”