The big news in India of course is the Anantha Padmanabha (Lord Vishnu) temple and it's stellar rise to the top of the richest temples in the world chart, in a matter of week to 10 days.
While walking in the park this morning, I did a fantasy interview with a self-styled 'secular' (watch the quotes).Have fun..
Me: Good morning.. Nice weather? Huh..
Self Styled 'Secular' (SSS): Brilliant weather. I love these cloudy mornings in Bengaluru.
Me: Heard about that Kerala temple's secret chambers and immense wealth being counted right now?
SSS: Who doesn't? An incredible treasure find. Its already 1 lakh crore rupees and growing. I am excited about the prospects of helping so many poor people of the country. What an incredible waste it was lying in dark below the earth!
Me: Ho. ho... slow down buddy. Let me ask you if you have ever been to Thiruvananthapuram.
Me: OK.. I take that you have interest in Padmanabhaswamy's worship at least.. I mean Lord Vishnu, pilgrimages, sending or dropping in person the donations..
SSS: Naa.. I don't have any such delusions. After all God is a manmade figment of imagination. I am a proud atheist.
Me: Alright.. Everyone has their choice. Is it just you, or anyone in your family who still visits temples, donates money to the Lord or services?
SSS: My wife and her mother used to.. but after all the US trips, we have kind of decided to be modern. You know, away from all such medieval superstitions.
Me: Well... I respect your beliefs or the lack of it. But let's not get to who's superior and who's superstitious kind. So shall I take it that no one in your family ever donated anything to Anantha Padmanabhasway's temple?
SSS: You are damn right man.. Thank goodness! Their money always went to better social causes rather than those stupid hundi donations which someone will misuse anyway.
Me: So why this sudden interest in temple's wealth then?
SSS: Why? C'mon dude.. there's stinking amount of money which can be used for so many projects. Like building hospitals, national highways, sponsoring government projects etc. It would be silly to leave it lying there in the basement.
Me: But...isn't there a government to take care of such projects? Isn't that collecting income, excise, wealth and other taxes from people? Aren't there NGOs, for-profit businesses?
SSS: Yeah.. but we are poor country, so it doesn't hurt to have another 1 lakh crore to help with government projects.
Me: Sir.. Do you even understand that there is a Travancore Royal family, which has preserved this secret wealth for 222 years? There is also a temple trust that is quite honest, which is very much capable of doing what they want with this money? After all it is Lord Vishnu's money.
SSS: C'mon... Cut that BS of Lord's money. It was people's wealth that got into temple. The kings collected taxes, exploited Dalits and minorities and hoarded their wealth in the temple. You know how it works..
Me: But Mr.. Before India became a republic, most wealth was in the hands of Hindu, Sikh & Muslim royal families or the Christian British. Don't you think, we need to look under present laws which gives 100% ownership of that wealth to the Padmanabhaswamy's temple?
SSS: *grudgingly*.. whatever.. But it's criminal to let it stay there.
Me: So what you want to do? Just burn the entire wealth in our generation itself?
SSS: Why not? If you don't mind me saying it.. we can even bail out the birth place of the Western civilization, Greece with over $22 billion wealth out there.. Ha ha... Just joking OK?
Me: But my question is.. why only Travancore temple's money?
SSS: Because that amount is huge.
Me: I can show you huge amounts in many other places too, which are not currently being used for your government hospital, national highway and other government projects, serving all citizen of the area.
SSS: Like what?
Me: Take for example Wakf properties of Muslims. Every major state/city has huge tracks of land passed on from medieval period. Why can't some of they be sold for building national highways?
SSS: Rubbish.. We are a secular country dude.
Me: OK.. how about Christian missionary money? Did you know that 10 out of the top 20 foreign money recipients in India are Christian organizations? That too after the government has data of only half or so or foreign remittances to religious organizations? My rough calculation shows that during each 8 to 10 year period, missionaries get the same money as the entire wealth of Lord Vishnu found in Kerala, accumulated over centuries. I haven't even accounted the 'black' portion or domestic collection.
SSS: But sir.. you are again talking like a communal. Laws of secular India let them use that money for services that they want to provide to the society. You are educated.. you must know how incredible Christians are in building schools and hospitals.
Me: Yeah.. but there is rampant conversion too using that money, in the guise of services.
SSS: Let's stop deviating. OK? It's none of our business what they do with their donations.
Me: Hmnn... So Wakf properties can't be sold to build national highways. Missionary money, which is huge, can't be accounted for government projects. But you want to calculate how many KM or national highways or how many hospitals can be built using Kerala temple's money? How 'secular'!
SSS: You are not understanding... Are you by chance an RSS member?
Me: No.. but why?
SSS: You seem to have this crazy notion of dipping into minorities' wealth. I just got that idea. It's a dangerous thing that usually Hindu fascists like VHP and RSS preach.
Me: Hindu fascists? Hmn.... By any chance you know how many tribal schools, medical services and natural calamity reconstruction projects those 'fascists' take? That too without ever converting anyone to their religion like the missionaries?
SSS: I have a serious doubt that you are a closet RSS guy.. We have been walking for 30 minutes now, and you are coming again and again to a turn where there' absolutely no interest in productively using Kerala's new found treasure.
Me: *laughing*.. don't worry about me being any 'closet' guy. I don't have to. In any case, do you know that the princess of Travencore royal family has made it very clear that what's being counted now is not any treasure, but the property of the temple in secret cellars? There's a huge difference.
SSS: Whatever... All I care is that it should be put to good use.
Me: Me too.. But there are a few things. One its is an inter-generational wealth. Our generation does not hold any kind of monopoly over that. Temples usually had such large amounts of wealth for tougher times like natural calamity. I guess you would agree that Ghazni, Ghori, Nader Shah etc. didn't come to India for summer vacations :)
SSS: Haha.. Good one. But I don't get this inter-generational thing. It's out there. Let's use it.
Me: What I meant is that we should leave it fully to the decision of the trust headed by the royal family of Travancore. They have preserved it very well for 222 years. They could use a part of it for trust's educational, medical, food and other projects. But it's their wealth. From when did we become moralisers in this country to tell others on what they should do with their wealth?
SSS: But its not anyone's personal wealth.
Me: Doesn't matter. It's Lord Vishnu's donations from public and royals. That's all matters. Just like how we don't tell missionaries, Wakf boards or even rich people like Ambani, what to do with their money, we shouldn't bother in Kerala temple's case. Even a 'secular' CM like Chandy isn't poking his nose, which is a great thing. Isn't it?
SSS: Huhhh... I have a feeling that you guys want to waste this once-in-a-century opportunity to uplift the downtrodden. Dude.. it's a golden opportunity!
Me: But just like how you wouldn't like anyone telling you to give, not donate voluntarily, to pave national highways, you shouldn't force someone too.
SSS: But it's a temple...
Me: Haha.. Someone wrote online yesterday. Temples and Lords are communal... but their wealth is secular! Man.. I am laughing hard that you are driving exactly at that logic!
SSS: Whatever...*rolling his eyes*. I guess we have walked enough. They will lock the park at the end of morning hours. Let me take a leave. Again.. think once more. So much can be done using that wealth lying idle at the basement!
Me: No thanks..It's not my money, nor my family's. Neither it's public money that citizen of the country have collective ownership of. So, I wouldn't lose sleep on what Padmanabhaswamy temple's trust does. They could just bury it back for 222 more years! It's their wish..
SSS: You guys... *grumbling*
Me: What? *smiling*
SSS: Nothing..Gotta go..
Me: Have a great day.
SSS: Yeah.. you too..
There we parted ways..And within hours, I am hearing that the wealth value has shot up much more than the Rs.1 lakh crore. I hope my self styled 'secular' or SSS friend is getting a good sleep at least tonight, not bothering about what Travancore temple trust will do with that 'idle' wealth :)