May 092016
 

I am possibly the last generation that grew up with an oral tradition. Our grandmothers, and parents, would tell us stories from the puranas, the epics, and of sages and saints, to inculcate values. I am not quite sure that we, as children, saw them as value systems, they were just good stories. As we grew up, we imbibed those values, and those became the bedrock of our lives – the theist and the atheists in the family.

Among the stories we heard, were why we observe certain days as ‘auspicious’. And, since today is akshaya Tritiya , it seems apt that i put some of my more favourite stories’ down.

The Goddess of Grains and food, Annapurna, manifested herself on this day. As kids we were told, that if we waste food, Annapurna would be sad, and go to the banks of the river and cry. And when she cried, the waters from the rains would dry up, there would be drought. The thought of a goddess crying was so traumatic, that, i don’t think any of us (siblings or cousins) wasted food.

The other story, that has stuck in mind, was that of the Akshaya Patram. The Pandavas receive it as a gift, and it gave enough food for the six exiled members. And, given it’s nature, it would give food till the point that Draupadi, after feeding her husbands, ate. Once Durvasa (the sage with anger control issues) turns up with his followers at the Pandavas doorstep, after Draupadi has eaten, and demands to be fed. Durvasa was prodded by the Kauravas to make the visit. Food is over. And, there is no possibility of food for so many being made ready, in the time taken for the the rishis to perform their ablutions before the meal. Draupadi calls out to her friend Krishna (and I use the friend specifically, because that was the nature of their relationship). Krishna appears, and tells Draupadi he is hungry, and she should bring the Akshaya Patram. He finds a single morsel of grain stuck to the vessel. He eats that left over morsel with immense satisfaction. And, the hunger of the world is sated. Durvasa and his disciples go away, without returning to the Pandavas abode, because their hunger is sated. It was another set of lessons – the first was on the importance of a single morsel of food. The second, that for God, even a single morsel of leftover food, given by those who love him, was as important as all the feast and riches that you could offer.

The story of Sudama and his offering of poha, to Krishna, is another story we heard. We were told, God does not expect great offerings. The poorest person’s offerings, with all devotion and love, is as great (if not greater) than the greatest riches on earth. Even today, while we boil milk, or make food, or eat food – we utter  ‘brahmarpanam‘  (we offer to the universe, what we take from it). I still get goosebumps when i read the story of Sudama and Krishna, and the sheer simplicity of faith and love.

And, the final story is from the life of Adi Shankara (and we are followers of this tradition in Hinduism). The story goes that Adi Shankara is out begging for food (as mendicants did). Bhavati bhiksham dehi,  he would say before each house, and the lady of the house would give alms (food) that would sustain him for one more day. One day, he goes to the door of a really poor woman, who has nothing, except old nellika (amla). Cringing with embarrassment she offers that to him. He is so awed by her generosity, legend has it, that he composed the Kanakadhara stotram, right there. The roof opens up and showers riches in the form of golden nellis (amlas)  on the woman.

This is MS singing the Kanakadhara stotram

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i wonder what kind of stories we will tell to generations that come, about Akshaya Tritiya . Will we tell them about conservation, not wasting, sharing, and thanks giving, or will it become associated for ever with marketeers and sales.

In the Hindu tradition that i was brought up in, Akshaya Tritiya is about sharing, about giving, about thanking the universe for it’s bounty. Somewhere, that has gotten lost in the ‘buy gold’ and consume. I think, as a matter of principle (and just to be cussed), i will not buy anything today 🙂

btw, this post was brought about by this

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May 082016
 

The communication from banks, for just about generations, is save today ‘bete ki padai, beti ki shaadi’. I am not even getting into the implicit sexism of this, simply because stereotypes work in advertising, and this is how India (and much of the world) was structured. Girls got married. The bride’s side paid for the wedding, and the gifts. And, that was that. There is enough and more literature on the financial and peer pressure on the bride’s family to meet up with ‘standards of weddings’, and I am not even talking about dowry.

It impacts all socio-economic groups, and while the amount may vary, the financial load is there. And, this is not an Indian problem alone.  Across most of the world, the bride’s side has picked up the tab for weddings, though that is changing slowly. I know of enough and more instances, where families on both sides have split expenses.

But, saving for a wedding and borrowing for a wedding are two very different things. We have heard of people borrowing so that ‘ apni beti ki shaadi dhoom dhaam se karenge’ and most of those stories have come to a bitter end. Some of those farmers debts that we read about, are also for these kind of expenses (not just crop related) – as, i said earlier – the amounts may be relative, but it is a steep financial commitment.

Therefore when a leading bank puts out communication like this, it makes me see kind of red (to match their logo colours)

 

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In a country, where the pressure on the bride’s family to conform to ‘spending traditions’ is huge – this is a terribly irresponsible advertisement. Even, if there were no pressure, what is the bank suggesting – that the newly married couple start their life in debt for a single day event ?

Far more sensible would have been – we had a simple wedding, and icici helped us use the saved money (at a better rate) to buy a house. #justsaying

May 042016
 

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(image source : here)

Facebook tells me, it is Star Wars day.

This is how mythology begins. Wait a thousand years, and see it being transformed into a religion, replete with a ‘God’, good and evil, heroes and villains, and most importantly, an organised clergy that helps perpetuate it.

 

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And, it has already begun.

There is a Temple of the Jedi Order that is the main stay of the ‘religious’ movement. it defines itself as follows,

Jediism is a religion based on the observance of the Force, a ubiquitous and metaphysical power that a Jedi (a follower of Jediism) believes to be the underlying, fundamental nature of the universe. Jediism finds its roots in philosophies similar to those presented in an epic space opera called “Star Wars”. It is a religion in and of itself.

The Jedi religion is an inspiration and a way of life for many people throughout the world who take on the mantle of Jedi. Jedi apply the principles, ideals, philosophies and teachings of Jediism in a practical manner within their lives. Real Jedi do not worship George Lucas or Star Wars or anything of the sort. Jediism is not based in fiction, but we accept myth as a sometimes more practical mean of conveying philosophies applicable to real life.

There are, of course,  the 21 maxims of Jediism.

All in all, it has aims that are quite noble, and it doesn’t ask too much of its followers. Which possibly explains why people are choosing it in many countries. New Zealand, Great Britain, Australia, Canada to start with. In Turkey, students are demanding that the Jedi Temple be allowed on University Campus’, along with Mosques.

Any religion that has Han Solo as a defender, and possibly a future icon to whom believers offer prayers, cannot be too bad. I am not quite sure how future followers will deal with Jar Jar Binks, or with the Ewoks; but, i can see Chewie having a pride of place, as would R2D2 and 3PO.

In centuries to come the Great War between the Sith and the Jedi will go into mythology as a religious war.  The Battle for Endor will have ballads written for it, and Darth Vadar would possible be part of the holy pantheon (as opposed to the unholy one). There will be a cult of the Emperor, and other Sith Lords; and I can see  orders devoted to both, and religious wars will continue. It is human nature to fight. People will fight about this too. But, for now the religion remains mostly harmless, and kind of goofy.

My favorite story on this comes from Wikipedia,

In 2008, 23-year-old Daniel Jones founded the Church of Jediism with his brother Barney, believing that the 2001 UK census recognised Jediism as a religion, and that there were “more Jedi than Scientologists in Britain”.[10] In 2009, Jones was removed from a Tesco supermarket in Bangor, North Wales, for refusing to remove his hood on a religious basis. The owner justified Jones’s ejection by saying, “He hasn’t been banned. Jedis are very welcome to shop in our stores although we would ask them to remove their hoods.Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and Luke Skywalker all appeared hoodless without ever going over to the Dark Side and we are only aware of the Emperor as one who never removed his hood.

All in all, it sounds like good fun, and a joke gone wrong (or right, depending on your point of view).

Mar 162016
 

Good read in today’s NYT:

two stand out paragraphs, i felt myself nodding in agreement

the omnipresence of social media has created a new sort of shame culture. The world of Facebook, Instagram and the rest is a world of constant display and observation. The desire to be embraced and praised by the community is intense. People dread being exiled and condemned. Moral life is not built on the continuum of right and wrong; it’s built on the continuum of inclusion and exclusion.

And this.

If we’re going to avoid a constant state of anxiety, people’s identities have to be based on standards of justice and virtue that are deeper and more permanent than the shifting fancy of the crowd. In an era of omnipresent social media, it’s probably doubly important to discover and name your own personal True North, vision of an ultimate good, which is worth defending even at the cost of unpopularity and exclusion.

i am seeing the polarised commentary on my TL. and, more importantly than that, the huddling of the troops at either end. The middle ground, on anything, is rapidly vanishing. And, the ugly polar opposites is what is picked up and beamed into homes, by news television. I sometimes hear the discourse, and ask myself, who do they represent (apart from themselves) . How can anyone be so badly behaved, obnoxious, and aggressive … then answer is a brilliant line here …

In the new shame culture, the opposite of shame is celebrity — to be attention-grabbing and aggressively unique on some media platform.

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(image courtesy : here)

Nov 152015
 

After a long time, i wrote an opinion piece for the DNA. And, it essentially was on why India was not being ruled by the Hindu Taliban.

The Indian electorate makes informed and wise decisions – it may not be as literate or as sophisticated as its western counterpart; it may neither be as wealthy, nor as involved – but, the Indian voters have tended to surprise Indian politicians, political parties, and the world at large with their choices. We vote for a direction. We vote to teach rulers a lesson. We participate in the electoral process with joy and involvement. And, we vote because it is our right to do so. There are those who many not like the outcome, but that does not mean that the voters are wrong or have voted ‘fascists’ or ‘communists’ or whatever. Accepting the Indian voters’ choice is the first step of understanding and participating in Indian democracy. The political parties have to do so, in all humility. It is time supporters of those parties did so too.

Read the full piece here