This isn’t a book review, not in the actual sense. Simply because this is not one of the books you can pass judgment on. 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 genius that he actually was. The day the author passed away, a close friend whom I address as S here (an admirer of the late author), drowning in grief, didn’t know what to do with his life but speak to me on the subject. I was moved by his love for the author which I soon realized was instilled in 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.

I 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 realize 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 a 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 to it than what met my eye.

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.

I have 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 this 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 home 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

Kabir
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 a god or a religion. Read this for the sheer pleasure of reading and to acquaint yourself with the works of some really brilliant minds.

If you happen to read ‘The Freethinker’s Prayer Book’ or have already read it, do share your thoughts below.

Asha Seth