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 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).

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

Jan 182015
 

My blog on Charlie Hebdo shootings, in DNA on 8th January 2015

Is the price of offending nutcases, death? How far do you hold your silence? Who all are you supposed to be scared of? Can you really blaspheme against a religion you don’t follow?  If you don’t believe in God, or you don’t believe in the story of the origin of the universe in terms of religious reference points, if you don’t believe in a ‘One God’ theory and are joyfully polytheistic, if you like beef, if you laugh at idols, if you question the Virgin Birth, if you don’t believe that Prophet Mohammed is the last prophet— are you committing blasphemy or going against religious beliefs?  What if they are not your religious beliefs? Are you supposed to follow the religious dogma of religions you don’t follow? And why?

There is this extreme religious fundamentalist arrogance that looks at the world and expects it to be reordered as per the dictates of someone’s interpretation of a ‘holy book’. And the reason the term holy book is in quotes is that there is no one holy book for all the people, and there never will. Every time, we give in to any section of population whose sentiments are ‘hurt’ by some depiction or the other, we are not just giving up on the essence of religion, but the essence of a Secular Democratic Republic. The job of the State is not to assuage offended egos, and self appointed guardians of morality, religion and God, but to protect the rights of the individual whose right to express and expression is threatened.

 

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Some of the illustrations in Charlie Hebdo

The ruling against the representation of the Prophet was to prevent idolatry (which is considered to be taboo in Islam).  However, when people, who are neither followers ofIslam nor of any religion, are killed by terrorists for physically depicting the Prophet, this is the most primitive form of idolatry behaviour possible. A human sacrifice to an angry God.  No God, no religion asked for this. Self appointed guardians of religion, who are possibly borderline psychopaths, are setting the agenda and expect the rest of the universe to follow out of fear.

Expecting people who do not follow a faith to follow the taboos of a faith is not just nonsensical, it also interferes with other people’s freedom to religion of their choice. I have been hearing voices on social media, op-ed pieces in respected newspapers on how restraint is needed in expression. This piece from the Financial Times especially hit hard–

Financial Times later changed this to a version that did not include the word stupid. Actually, Charlie Hebdo is not being stupid. They are exercising their freedoms.

There was an inexplicable quote by a woman I really admired as a school girl, Kiran Bedi –

Why provoke is a good question but maybe a better question is why do some people get provoked while most of the world doesn’t. And, why are we supposed to give up our freedoms for these whiny, attention grabbing types? And how long do we live in fear, and for what all?

We live in a world where anything can cause offense. The fact that you eat meat can cause offense to a vegetarian; the fact that you as a woman demand control on your body may cause offense to an orthodox religious type; the fact that you interpret the scriptures can cause offense to those who believe in a comic book version of the religion. There is no end to those who get offended and throw a hissy fit that says ‘pay attention to me and my views, I am important’.

Every time we give in to buy peace, we forget one thing – peace cannot be purchased. And peace purchased to assuage the anger of a psychopath carrying a gun, is temporary fragile peace. You will do something else tomorrow to offend him and cause him to raise the gun again. This is not about religion. This is about domination of all spaces in society and making them comply with a twisted vision of reality.

It needs to stop now. Peshawar and Paris are the clarion calls to stop appeasing bigots of all shades.  And, finally I will end with a quote attributed to Charab – the cartoonist who was murdered yesterday by terrorists-

“I am not afraid of retaliation. I have no kids, no wife, no car, no credit. It perhaps sounds a bit pompous, but I prefer to die standing than living on my knees.”

Jan 182015
 

My column in the DNA on the 29th of December,

It is that time of the year when publicity hungry groups go chasing movies they want to ban. Two years ago, it was those who wanted Vishwaroopam to be bannedbecause it affected their sensibility and hurt their sentiments, now it is another set of groups who want PK to be banned because it hurts their sensibility and sentiments. At a very fundamental level, the two sets of groups, despite their affiliations, are similar. What do they want – they want the world to be re-imagined in their own narrow, humourless, intolerant, uniform, black and white view of what is acceptable and what is not. Furthermore, there is this deep rooted arrogance that they are God’s spokespeople and God, for some unknown reason, requires their intervention. If anyone even remotely believes that this is linked to faith or devotion, they would be mistaken. This is linked to piggy backing on a more famous brand name (God, Religion, Stardom) for interested parties to make a name for themselves and establish themselves as a source of unelected power and influence.

Do people have the right to protest – indeed they do. Can people protest about a film that they dislike? Of course. But do people or groups have the right to prevent others from watching a film – a very emphatic no.  A film bothers you – don’t watch it. A book bothers you, don’t read it. A piece of music offends you, don’t hear it. There is nothing and no one forcing someone to consume any artistic product. On the other hand, the groups that protest, try and force the State to ban a film; or prevent an author from a public gathering; or prevent the performance of a play; or ask for a book ban; thereby depriving others of consumption, by threat of creating a law and order situation – do try and force the rest of the world to accede to their wishes. This is intrinsically undemocratic and also goes against a civilizational ethos of not just pluralism, but also dissent. People have the right to express their creativity and their point of view, without threat from outraged hordes.


Protest against PK in Jammu. PTI

Last year, while writing about the outrage over multiple things (including Vishwaroopam), I had written this:

Goethe, the German author, poet and dramatist, observed that the “There is nothing more frightening than active ignorance.” It is a quote that comes to mind every time there are protests about books, authors, paintings, films, music – in short ideas and concepts. Most who protest have neither read, nor seen, nor experienced the object of their outrage. They believe that the idea has profaned what they hold in great esteem. And, they think, therefore, that they have the right to silence this ‘offending’ view so that no one gets to experience it. John Stuart Mill, in his seminal work “On Liberty” (1859), termed this behaviour of wanting to silence a particular view, as evil. He said “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error”.

The government must send out a stern message to all those who are protesting against the film (or any other work of expression). You have the right to protest and the government will defend it. But break the law, and you will go to jail. Vandalism, threats, and trying to shout down the rest of the population will not be tolerated. The message needs to go out loud and clear, for the more these groups are emboldened by inaction, the more they will thrive.