Quite often journalism embalmed in a book turns out to be eminently readable. Radha Burnier, the dedicated worker of the theosophical movement and the President of the Theosophical Society, has been a tireless journalist. Her estimable facility with English, backed by Sanskrit scholarship, gives her writings a rare voice of command. Selected from The Theosophist, the essays in this book bring god’s variety. The aims and achievements of the Society form the primary theme. Its two principal aims are “to establish a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity without any distinctions whatsoever and to encourage the search for truth, as indicated in the motto of the Society: ‘There is no Religion higher than Truth.’”
Unrealistic? Utopian? Radha Burnier assures the reader that others, even before the founding of the Society in 1875, predicted that India would become its headquarters. She speaks of Ramalinga Vallalar as a “herald of the TS” and says, “It is on record that he prophecied the arrival in India of two foreigners who would promote Universal Brotherhood through a Society standing for the unity of all humankind. He himself had been advocating the Universal Brotherhood of all living beings, not only humans, throughout his lifetime.” The two foreigners were Madame Helena Blavatsky and Col. H.S. Olcott who bought land near the Adyar river and established the headquarters of the Society.
The brief history of the Society — its holistic work in religion, spirituality and conservation of nature and the creative turn given by Rukmini Devi which made it a citadel of classical arts — makes absorbing reading. She does sound slightly upset that the contributions of the Society to the Buddhist revival and Harijan uplift have gone unacknowledged.
However, what draws the reader to the book is the spectrum of wider interests and global issues that come as encapsulated assessment. ‘Energy Now, Disaster Tomorrow’ is a sharp rebuke to countries that are building atomic reactors.
“There are no containers so far produced for burying the waste to guarantee that radioactivity will not find its way into aquifers. They are all subject to corrosion, and the technical problems of containing the radioactivity are said to be so great that scientists do not expect a solution to be found for at least two decades to come, if at all. Though nobody has found a way out, yet there is a clamour to set up new nuclear facilities.”
Those who have been watching the political one-upmanship in India to get more of these deadly cauldrons in individual areas cannot but sigh in despair that right now “we may be doing irremediable harm to ourselves and this planet.” The humanist will also agree with Radha Burnier that, in the name of scientific advancement (genetic research is one of them), man is disturbing Nature’s balance forgetting his responsibility towards the future citizens of the world. There are then other afflictions that plague humanity like the treatment of women, poverty, and violence. The World Around Us is truly a global volume and seeks to posit remedies as well.
The essays on great personalities like Blavatsky, Besant, and Sri Ram are written with an enviable sense of proportion. Nowhere is there a mis-step (Radha is also a fine bharatanatyam artist!), not even when dealing with the controversies regarding the Society. And the tribute to J. Krishnamurti has a poetic glow: “He was like a flower which sheds its fragrance around, not concerned with who is passing by or what the passers-by think of it.” Finally, the anxiety for not only man but all living beings makes the volume distinctive. Put the book in the hands of the teenager and make him read the essay on the white rhinoceros Brutalis and brutal man. It will definitely be a better world tomorrow.
THE WORLD AROUND US: Radha Burnier; Pub. by the Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, Chennai-600020. Rs. 300.