In 1893, Swami Vivekananda travelled to Chicago to attend the Parliament of World Religions. There, amidst representatives of the various religions of the world, Vivekananda—who grew up in an affluent Bengali household in Calcutta, studied to be a lawyer, only to give it up to become a wandering monk—spoke of Universal Religion—’a religion which will have no place for persecution or intolerance in its polity, which will recognize the divinity in every man and woman, and whose whole scope, whose whole force, will be created in aiding humanity to realize its own true divine nature’. Although a devout Hindu, he had always been someone who felt a deep sense of belonging to the plural heritage of the Indian sub-continent. Through his learnings and travels he sought to galvanize society on the basis of love.
Comprising three insightful essays, Vivekananda and Our Times situates the Swami in today’s world. Rajni Bakshi’s endeavour—which began a century after the Chicago address, when the country was reeling from the shock of the Ramjanmabhoomi campaign and the consequent demolition of the Babri Masjid—attempts to seek a space for reflection and shows us, through Vivekananda’s ideologies, the need to reconcile with the ‘other’ in a ‘shared quest for freedom from fear’.