Reviewed: The Freethinker’s Prayer Book by Khushwant Singh

This isn’t a book review, in the actual sense. Simply because, this is not one of the books you can pass judgement on. I couldn’t review this book anymore than I could jog for 30 minutes at a stretch (I’m asthmatic). Yes, it’d feel suffocating. If anything, it is one of those books you read for just the pleasure of reading.

Now, there’s quite a tale following why in the first place I read this book. I wouldn’t deprive you of the pleasure. So here goes!

Well, let me be honest. I did not know who Khushwant Singh is or rather was, not until recent past, let alone the literary giant that he actually was. The day the author passed away, a close friend whom I address as ‘S‘ here (an admirer of the author), drowning in grief, didn’t know what to do with his life but speak to me on the subject. I was moved with his love for the author which I soon realised was instilled into him by his parents (who also happen to be Singh’s followers) right since childhood. Within few minutes, I knew every possible detail about the late author than I could have possibly expected to know had I met him in person.

IMG-20140607-WA0011I did not know a better way to make ‘S‘ feel less depressed but promise to read his favorite author’s book. And I do not regret one bit of my decision. However, very soon I was to realise I had made quite a promise, since all of the author’s books were sold out of the bookshop, every copy gone, following his demise. Just how popular you turn as soon as death knocks you out. Funny, isn’t it?

I had to wait good few weeks before I laid hands on ‘The Freethinker’s Prayer Book’. I knew I was to read it one sitting with just the starting few lines which I pen down here for you,

By the time this book is published, I will be ninety-seven. I am a very old man.

Something about this solemn line promised me there was more in it than what met my eye, like a secret whisper.

Singh strongly believed,

If God created the universe, who created God? If an all-powerful, all-seeing God does exist, why is there injustice and suffering in the world?
Some children are born with severe physical and mental disabilities; God-fearing parents who never harmed anyone in their lives are punished by the loss of their innocent children; the gentlest people suffer terribly while thieves and murderers prosper. I cannot accept a God who is selective in granting his grace.

Haven’t I been almost tirelessly arguing about this with my parents who are staunch believers of all the 33 crore odd Hindu deities in all shapes and forms? There was an instant connect, as you see.

Khushwant Singh was an agnostic and this is widely known, at least among his readers. He, however, believed in more rational facts such as humanity, compassion, non-violence, fraternity and this is the central point of his book The Freethinker’s Prayer Book’.

This book is an eclectic collection of quotes from major religious scriptures, saints, prophets, poets and philosophers, his favorite passages from the seminal texts of the world’s major faiths and songs of mystics and saints like Kabir, Rumi and Teresa of vila mix with the verse of poets like Ghalib, Tagore and Keats and also some of his own life codes and those of mavericks he most admired.

I feel obliged to share few quotes that have made a permanent abode in my mind and have left deep effects on my conscience.

The concluding lines of Nasadiya Sukta, the Creation Hymn, from the Rig Veda.

Who knows, then, where everything arose?
Who can say how creation happened?
The gods themselves came after Creation.
Then He, whether He created all that is or whether
He did not;
He, who looks upon everything from the highest heaven –
He alone knows. Or maybe He too does not.

The Bhagavad Gita
Religion is not his who too much fasts.

The Talmud
He that gives should never remember, he that receives should never forget.

The great Shaivite mystic of Kashmir, Lalla Arifa
Don’t torture this body with thirst and hunger,
Give it a hand when it stumble sand falls.
To hell with all your vows and prayers;
Just help others through life, there’s no truer worship.

St Francis of Assisi
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned

Once, i set out to find the crooked of heart and returned disappointed.
then I looked into my heart: I found the king of crooks hiding there.

Edmund Burke on Guilt
Guilt is never a rational thing; it distorts all the faculties of the human mind, it perverts them,
it leaves a man no longer in the free use of his reason,
it puts him into confusion.

Benjamin Franklin
Lighthouses are more helpful than churches

And from his very own life codes,

Religion has very little to do with goodness. Belief in a god does not make a person a better human being, nor does questioning his existence make him an evil one.

and lastly, it only feels fair to end what I have to say with this,

Life is not always fair. Sometimes the good suffer for their deeds and the wicked prosper. So there is no use telling anyone that there are rewards for the good in life.

For readers, read this book whether or not you believe in god or a religion. Read this for sheer pleasure of reading and acquainting yourself with the works of some really brilliant minds.

The Unread Book©


6 Comments Add yours

    1. Asha says:

      Thanks, Sophie. Its an honor.


  1. Ste J says:

    I did not know you were asthmatic, you learn something new every day! I don’t think this a book for me, I would prefer an essay about it rather than just quotes, although there are some interesting ones to be fair.


    1. Asha says:

      Yes, mildly asthamatic, J. But that sure has highs and lows on me. Yeah, this book is not for everybody. You may get easily disinterested because the consistently disconnected prose makes it difficult to get into the flow. I’m glad, however, you found few bits of it worth your attention.


  2. bert0001 says:

    Very interesting material … thx for blogging about it


    1. Asha says:

      Glad, Bert. Do read it sometime.


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