Twenty Four: The Secular Life

Introduction

Since the end of the Cold War, we are still struggling to come to terms with new and rapidly changing realities. The story I have to tell is a bit like the works of two of Holland’s greatest artists. Like Rembrandt’s, it is a story of light and darkness, of mystery and the hidden hand of Destiny. Like Van Gogh’s, it is alsoa story of inner struggle and torment, a story of how the experience of loss can impart a deeper meaning to life. I was born in Europe,but was soon claimed by another world more diverse and more ancient. Mine was a middle-class family from a provincial townin the north of Italy. It was a close-knit family typical of its time, conservative and in essence not very different from a traditional Indian family: strong in adherence to values such as loyalty and obedience, to modesty and truthfulness, to generosity and respectfor elders. Yet my father, for all his forbidding ways, was progressive enough to encourage me to learn languages and travel abroad. At school, I learnt of the Risorgimento, of Mazzini and Garibaldiand the unification of Italy. But of India, its great history and its emergence as a modern nation-state, I was taught nothing. My discovery of India happened differently, through an encounter witha remarkable human being. This discovery would take up the restof my life! That is, in fact, my theme today. I can speak only of myexperience, of what I have seen, felt and thought. And if at times, I express myself too much in the first person singular, I hope you will forgive me.

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