One of my favourite BBC Radio Four shows is Desert Island Discs. The conversational format of digging into such interesting people's lives accompanied by the soundtrack is such a delight to hear. That Bill Gates listed in his top tracks 'Are You Experienced' by Jimi Hendrix and that Nile Rodgers would retire to the island with the one selected song 'This is the End' by The Doors, are just a couple of the amazing revelations churned out by this show weekly.
At the end of every show the guest is figuratively sent to the island with a copy of the Bible and the entire works of Shakespeare. They can also have a book of their own choice and some important item. Hearing this biblical end to the show again and again I feel it so inappropriate for our times. Why does the Bible take pride of place as the compulsory gift to the stranded and vulnerable islander, to which every other text, even sacred, must come second? And so at the end of every show I am left with ambivalence. First the show affirms life for me but then represents an unconscious religious conquest, in this case, Christian.
As a young lad in Scotland back in the early 80s I took interest in the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most important holy books of India. Life's choices were quite impoverished then, it was kind of Celtic, Rangers or this exotic text from the East with some incredible images of celestial beings, so it wasn't to be football for me. Out of concern my mother took me to the local GP who prescribed that I might read the Bible instead! That was back then of course and there is no way any NHS practitioner could ever do such a thing today. So why BBC Radio Four?
In a recent episode the Nobel prize-winning biologist, Venki RamaKrishnan of Indian origin featured. His music was a wonderful potpourri of cultural, classical and contemporary music (including no less than Johnny Cash!) Then came the Bible moment and I clenched the steering wheel of my car in anticipation. As Venki was told that a Bible would be on the Island for him, he surprisingly replied 'I would prefer the Maha Bharata which is the huge epic of which one chapter alone is the Bhagavad Gita, one of Hinduism's more important works. It shows humans with all of their foibles and complexity and nothing is black and white'.
As Venki's music choice was a potpourri of styles, Hindus have a wonderful openness to wisdom or divinity as it appears in many sources. 'You can take gold even from a dirty place' are the words of Chanakya Pandit often cited by Hindus when it comes to the importance of a nonsectarian acceptance of value. Freedom and personal choice are all important, taking the question of that away on a publicly funded radio show with the gift of one religion's holy book apriori, as if that is normal, is highly insensitive and no longer appropriate. Venki exerted not only his individual book choice but stated it in preference to the Bible. That dialectic should never have to arise, we should not have to live our lives in preference or in response to the one supreme religion's holy book.
Radio Four it is high time to change the routine and simply ask the guest on your show what they might want without the conditional gift.[ bhagavad-gita ] [ bible ] [ radio ] [ uk ]