He neither reads namaz five times a day nor offers prayers at any temple. But he can recite texts from the Holy Quran as well as the Bhagwad Gita with an equal command.
“I am neither a Muslim nor a Hindu, I’m just a human being,” says Sri M, a spiritual leader, philosopher and educationist who is on a padyatra, Walk of Hope, during which he will cover 7,500 kms and 11 Indian states in one-and-a-half year under the aegis of Manav Ekta Mission.
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Starting from Kanyakumari on January 12, Sri M, who says he is driven by the philosophy that no religion is bigger than humanity, he has already covered over 2,500 kms so far. Covering 25 kms daily, the core group of 70 core people reached Pune on July 1. The padyatris halted at various places like German Bakery, Sadhu Vaswani Chowk, Synagogue Church and Poona College, among others, and interacted with people.
“I aim to see a united and an inclusive India at the end of the walk,” says the 66-year-old.
Sri M, whose original name is Mumtaz Ali, was born in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, in an educated Muslim family. His father, a graduate of those days, was a PWD contractor. He does not remember his mother or sister wearing a burkha. Since a very young age, he was interested in thoughts and philosophy. “The deeper I went into it, I noticed that some people had narrow mindsets. This set me thinking,” he says.
He had heard from his neighbours that in the Himalayas, one may find yogis who are full of spiritual knowledge. At 19, he left for Himalayas. After wandering for days, he met Maheshwarnath Babaji, who became his guru and trained him in Vedas, Upanishads, meditation and kriya yoga. “After three-and-a-half years, he asked me to go home, get married and lead a normal life,” says Sri M, who later got married to a Brahmin girl from whom he has two children.
Stressing that he has neither converted his religion nor changed his name, Sri M says, “All my documents such as passport, bank accounts etc. carry my original name Mumtaz Ali. My guru had given me the name Madhukar Nath. Since both the names and even Manav (human) start with ‘M’ , I chose to be called M. Out of love and respect, some people call me Sri M. I am okay with just M also.”
So what it is about Hinduism that attracts Sri M, a Muslim by birth and a Hindu by thoughts? “I am interested in the deeper aspects, not the rituals. For instance, one doesn’t have to start reading Upanishad with a thought ‘I believe’. One says, ‘I enquire’. If you don’t find it, then discard it. I have found what I was looking for. Similarly, in Islam, it’s the Sufi teaching that appeals me, not the daily rituals. According to me, all human beings are forms of divinity. They are walking temples.”
Sri M is not the usual “spiritual leader” as perceived by most. Minus a long beard or a robe, he can be found in a normal kurta-pyjama or a t-shirt and track pants and even in jeans. “The little bit beard that you can see is because I have been travelling and haven’t got time to shave,” he says, adding that he carries two cellphones, spends time reading news on his i-pad and even indulges in singing old Hindi songs occasionally.
“I don’t like people gathering around me and put me on a pedestal. In fact, sometime back, I told one of my team members to remove the word ‘mahayogi’ from the WoH banner.”