TORONTO: Canada’s known Punjabi writer and University of British Columbia former teacher Sadhu Binning this week enriched Canada’s Punjabi literary scene by adding another book.
The 170-page book called Nastik Bani (which literally means an atheist’s diary) was released at the Recreation Centre, North Delta, in British Columbia this Sunday at a function organized by the Punjabi Artists’ Association of Richmond (PAAR) and Watan magazine.
“I have been an atheist since the age of 20 and this book is essentially a reflection of my worldview,’’ said Sadhu Binning, who retired from the Department of Asian Studies at the University of British in 2008, in an interview after the release of the book.
He said he never paid any attention to his atheist beliefs, but after his retirement he started seriously reflecting on his worldview and decided to explore atheism.
A spurt in literature on atheism during this period – the last four or five years – only reinforced his interest in this area, he said.
“We had these great writers and thinkers such as Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett expounding upon the non-existence of a creator during this period…it almost became a movement in the West. Maybe the trigger was George Bush’s `us-versus-them’ statement that made lots of people think seriously about religion. For me, everything I thought was reinforced by these books,’’ said Binning who came to Canada in 1967.
Then he had much to fall back upon in his native India where the history of the school of atheism goes back almost 2,500 years to the time of Carvaka.
“Buddhism and Jainism, which were born more than 2,000 years ago, also didn’t believe in a creator. In recent times, lots of famous Indians – from Periyar to Bhagat Singh – were atheist. So in one sense I was not following the western trend blindly to reinforce my worldview. Then, we had seen the start of a strong rationalist movement in Punjab just three decades ago. Finally, I know that lots of our people don’t believe in a creator, but they don’t say it openly. So I thought I must speak out, and this book is the result.’’
After 20-odd pages devoted to introduction, the book carries about 700 quotations – from Carvaka to the Buddha to Greek philosophers to Nehru to Bhagat Singh to Gadar heroes to Khushwant Singh to Taslima – with a little description for each.
“I have not copied from one source and I have been very eclectic in my selection. The youngest writer I have quoted is Hirsi Ali. And fittingly I have devoted the book to Bhagat Singh whose `Why I am an atheist’ influenced me a lot,’’ said Binning who has played a crucial role in the promotion of the Punjabi language in British Columbia which is home to the largest concentration of Punjabis in the western world.
Sadhu Binning said it took him three years to compete the book which has been brought out by Chetna Prakashan in Ludhiana.