Q&A With Irina



Q: Do you consider yourself Jewish or Hindu?


A: Culturally and emotionally, I am Jewish, but my religion is Hinduism. My upbringing was open and universal and I grew up taking the existence of God as a force for granted and taking a stringent code of ethics as a requirement.

I was exposed to Judaism, various Christian religions and to Buddhism. Like my father, I found much beauty in all the faiths that I learned about, but none answered my inner questions about spirituality and the meaning of life.

After I married Navin, I spent some years in India and began to read about Hinduism and to observe Hindus in action, so to speak. Hinduism offered me the most plausible answers to the questions I had about life’s meaning and purpose and about the role of the power I called God.

For many years, I acquiesced to the basic tenets of Hinduism with the idea that this makes sense to me so I will live as if I believe it is true.

Like my parents, I never had a great interest in rituals, but I participated in Hindu traditions which I felt were important to children. I recalled that as a child the absence of tradition left a gap in my life.

Later I began to practice meditation and I acquired a conviction that certain ideas and ideals were the Truth for me.



Q: How do you view your own work as a whole?


A: I think of my writing as an expression of the human condition. I love fiction because it is fun and  allows ideas to flow freely. My readers and I get to discover where the  notions I put in my characters’ heads take them.

I view science fiction as taking ideas to their outermost limits and I think science fiction is truly predictive fiction. Ideas about the universe have to come from some collective imagination and experience. This element sparks philosophical speculation as well as scientific study and experimentation.

At the same time, I have studied Hinduism and have written about Hinduism to expose and explain this oldest living major religion.

Finally, I love language and I love putting thoughts into words.

All these ideas merge in my writing and pull it together so to speak.


Q: How much of your fiction is about yourself?


A: Nothing and everything is about myself. My work is purely fictional and I have not experienced any of the events that I describe. None of the characters is representative of me or anyone in particular. Neither I nor anyone I can think of has ever faced the problems or experiences that molded  my characters. Yet the stories come from me and the people are composites of characters I know. Their souls are souls in which I believe.

When I write fiction, I spend months or years working out the major players and the plot of my story in my head. Once I start writing, the characters come to life and take off on their own. Occasionally they even change the destiny I planned for them.

At the same time, these fictional people are real children of my mind. Everything about them and their lives comes from my deepest self. Similarly, the situations in which my characters find themselves are situations that are familiar to my mind either from experience or from readings and discussions. The actions my fictional children take and the choices they make are actions and choices I take and make for them. However sometimes these decisions produce unintended consequences that surprise me.

The Pokhraj  reveals my fantasies, dreams, fears, joys and philosophical beliefs as well as experiences that have touched my life first or second hand.

When I invented the protagonist of The Pokhraj, I made up a date and time of birth. I sent this information to an astrologer, but received no response. After some time, I decided to proceed with the novel regardless of the missing horoscope. This was fiction after all. When I finally received the requested forecast, I was well into the story. Curiously, everything in the horoscope matched what I had already written and even what I had planned.

New New York is a sequel to The Pokhraj. But the sequel takes place three thousand years into the future and is categorized as science fiction and fantasy. As such it encompasses the  ideas about multiverses or a multidimensional universe that some day human beings will be able to experience and report on. Perhaps some already have but were not believed. How else can we fathom having the ideas we do?

Still, The Pokhraj and New New York are good old fashioned stories about love, families, conflicts and dangers as well as about spiritual and social issues.


Q: What do you consider your most important work?


A: I believe The Gita, A New Translation of  Hindu Sacred Scripture is a major contribution to world philosophy. My role in this book is that of translator. My goal was to present this book in English that is as simple and clear as the original Sanskrit.

Recently, I completed  On Hinduism which has given me an opportunity to share my knowledge and experience Hindu life and beliefs and to illustrate what the Gita means to Hindus, even to those who have only explored their holy text in part or through interpretations of others. On Hinduism coursed through my mind for many years because in The Gita I strictly limited myself to actual text and refrained from making any explanation or commentary.



Q: Much literary fiction contains philosophy. Why do you characterize The Pokhraj as philosophical fiction?


A: I think The Pokhraj’s plot line revolves around philosophical issues rather than just touching upon them. I use this term because I think that philosophical fiction should be promoted as a genre. General interest in philosophy seems to be waning in the information age, and I think it should be revived. People today are so engrossed in the exigencies of life that they do not pause to speculate.


Q: What philosophy does this book embrace and what message do you seek to convey to readers?


A: I would like to answer the second question about The Pokhraj’s message first. This book  does not attempt to convey any specific message. It does not preach or teach. It is  intended to create a story about a generally up beat, happy, functional and fortunate family which none the less copes with considerable tension.

In the course of the story, I put some of the values to which I adhere on the table for consideration.

As to what philosophy my book embraces, I would have to say that the characters who together are my spokespersons do not embrace any single philosophical tenet. Rather they consider many vital questions that touch humankind. These are universal questions about birth, life, death, God, faith, love and happiness. Admittedly, my personal philosophy and beliefs seep through via the issues I raise. I touch upon themes like reincarnation, near death experiences, Hindu and Jewish issues, astrology, time travel and the power of gemstones. The word “pokhraj” means yellow sapphire in Gujarati. I also consider more whimsical ideas, like the idea that the soul choose its parents at conception.


Q: One of the main characters in The Pokhraj is a gay gentleman. What is your position on gay and lesbian families?


A: Let me begin my answer by stating that  I view a family as a unit related by blood or commitment. This relationship requires a sense of permanence and responsibility. A family cares for its members, puts itself in harms way for them, renders assistance, love, comfort and solace in good times and in bad. Parents are responsible for children and if their children are raised correctly, they will in turn be responsible for their parents in old age. These values are passed from generation to generation. A family that embraces education, hard work and responsibility is self-sufficient and takes care of its own.

Given this definition, I can see no basis for treating  gay and lesbian families and differently from straight families.

At the same, I have doubts about government involvement in marriage and other human relationships. It is only up to the government to protect human rights and to prevent abuse in society, not to define and refine values.



Q: Do you believe that Hindus and other Asian-Americans have failed to melt into the so-called American melting pot?


A: I believe that all Americans are joined by what we consider American values such as  democracy, freedom, respect for one another and  opportunity. However I do not believe in the melting pot. When something is thrown into a melting pot, it loses its original form. Many earlier European immigrants sought to become Americanized in order to blend into the new world. As a result, they sacrificed their mother tongues and many of their customs. Today many descendants of these immigrants are trying to discover and revitalize their roots.

On the other hand, Asian and Hispanic immigrants have embraced American values ideals, ideas and customs without surrendering their culture. They added rather than subtracted.

Modern America is not the blob that comes out of a melting pot. Rather it is a salad bowl, filled with colorful ingredients from all over the world. Native Americans and Black Americans work hard to retrieve and revive old traditions to put in the salad bowl. Asian-Americans make valuable contributions as well.  Indeed the validation and resurrection of the roots and cultures of all Americans represent a departure from the notion of the melting pot and a march toward the salad bowl.


Q: It is correct to say that the religious beliefs of the Far East are an enigma to most Christians and Jews. Monotheism is the hallmark of the Judeo-Christian faith. How can Jews and Christians validate belief in multiple gods?


A: Hindus and Buddhists do not believe in multiple gods. These religions are fundamentally monotheistic. Hinduism views God as an indefinable power that is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient. Thus, each individual can see and worship God in any form that he wishes, in many forms or in no form at all. Lord Buddha taught that God was difficult to comprehend and that living according to four Noble Truths and the Eightfold path is the path to salvation.

My books, The Gita, a New Translation of Hindu Sacred Literature, and On Hinduism addresses these issues.


Q: Can you briefly summarize Hindu belief? In particular, is reincarnation a tenet of Hinduism?


A: Reincarnation is more of a starting point than a tenet in Hinduism. There is no paradigm for Hindu belief, but the concept for karma, which incorporates reincarnation, is a point of departure.

Although no two Hindus believe exactly the same thing, I see the primary goal of Hinduism as knowing the Truth with a capital T. The Truth is really God. Knowing Truth or God is an all-encompassing reality. It is everything: the essence of immortality and liberation. The Gita, which is a distillation of the Hindu scriptures, explains that there are three paths to reaching Truth: learning, worship and action. Since it is impossible to attain knowledge of Truth, regardless of the path one takes, in a single lifetime, it becomes necessary to accept reincarnation.

Reincarnation need not occur on the planet earth, nor does it have to occur in forms known to human beings, though it may.

My novels, The Pokraj and New New York, contain conversations that explore Hinduism as a religion and as a philosophy with the glorious freedom permitted by fiction. Many of the ideas put forth are my interpretations of statements in the Gita tinged by my personal belief. I feel certain that there are many worlds other than ours. I think it was Isaac Asimov who wrote that the absence of other worlds was a statistical impossibility. Although much of reality defies statistics (for example the birth of a particular human being or the design of an individual snowflake), I cannot imagine that humankind is the only intelligent life in the universe.



Q. Why did you choose to begin On Hinduism with an introduction written by an atheist?


A. On Hinduism reflects my knowledge of Hindu philosophy, beliefs and opinions. Since Hinduism, like all religions, is an opinion about the universe, God, mortality, life and humanity, On Hinduism is essentially an opinion about an opinion. Thus, I respect other opinions about universal matters.

One of  my purposes in writing this work was to explain the real meaning of Hindu beliefs and practices and to reduce  many misconceptions that seem to prevail about Hinduism. A second purpose was provoke thought and further study.  Particularly because belief in God is not mandated by Hinduism, although God is taken for granted by most Hindus, I welcomed the atheistic perspective as one worthy of consideration.


Q. What is your personal opinion of Atheism?


A. Atheism ranges from skepticism to denial of God and the spirit. To the extent that skeptics, particularly those with a scientific bent, opt to deny whatever they cannot prove and/or measure, this option is respectable. Why argue about that which cannot be known by their parameters?

Moreover, many skeptics are horrified by the behavior in which human beings engage in the name of religion or God. Such Atheists think a world that does not preach or demand adherence to any particular version of religion is a better world, a less violent world, a world open to scientific truth and freedom of belief. This is an important value.

On the other hand, I believe that Atheism leaves much that is not known about existence in the air. It is extremely limiting and no amount of studying and measuring will give the  answers that matter most to many.


Q. The author of the introduction to your book, Ravi Heugle, believes the human soul is superfluous to the understanding of human life. He says our ideas about the existence of the soul will become obsolete since the body works on its own. He analogizes the body to a clock explaining that once we understand the makings of a clock, nothing more remains to be understood. Does this make sense to you?


A. Not really. We may understand the workings of a timepiece, but no timepiece works without energy. The timepiece will stop without some energy supplied by light, winding, movement, a battery or whatever. As the timepiece stops when it’s energy runs out, so the body’s viability ends when it’s destiny is exhausted. Embodiment occurs when the soul inhabits the body when it’s energy comes to and, the body will stop working. The soul  is the spark without which the body cannot live.

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