A Matter of Faith

In almost every Indian temple, you aren’t allowed to take a photo of the main deity of the temple. Some temples allow it, but without a flash. If you have been to an Indian temple, you will have noticed that the space where the main deity resides, is dimly lit, usually by oil lamps. Taking a photograph of a the deity, in such light conditions, is usually difficult, without a flash. In my experience, this rule applies only to Indian temples. I have not sensed this, severely enforced in mosques or churches.

Why this is so, is not something I can explain. There are a couple of scientific theories about why the deities should not be photographed, but they are based on faith and belief, not hard science, as we know it. Three of my best friends are atheists. My best friend believes in Jesus, though she is not a Christian. Given my engagement with these four people, my personal (inherited; would be more proper) sense of faith is often questioned. I welcome the questions, even, if at times I have no answers. But the questions do not shake my faith. They make me seek a deeper understanding of my faith. And the faith, and its understanding, is personal.

In a recent visit to a temple I saw a couple of my friends, who were faithful take pictures of a the main deity in a temple. One of my atheist friend was accompanying us. I did not see him take photos of the main deity, but if he had, I would not be surprised. Needless to say, I offered my worship in the way I do, and moved on, to take photos of some of the wonderful sculpture that adorned that temple.

I was, I confess, slightly disturbed by the act of my believer friends taking photos of the deity. After a while we left the temple and made our way home.

Stones, layer,

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It was one of the most beautiful drives I have had in my life. We were circumferencing a large lake, in a valley surrounded by my favourite mountain range — the Sahyadri. Small village roads, meandering along the folds of one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, a mountain road, cut across the Deccan Traps. My three companions in the car, juggling the role of the DJ; good music played. We sang along, we laughed: at each other and with each other. I was a bit preoccupied; my passengers thought it was because I had a flight later that evening; and was looking to back as soon as possible.

I was thinking of the meaning of faith. I was thinking of how I was disturbed because someone else did not follow the general belief and custom. Somewhere, in that question, I was asking myself why I was disturbed. It was not a good feeling, and I wanted to understand why I felt that.

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All of this happened a week ago. And I cannot say that I now have a proper answer; the answer will evolve. I know this much, though: my faith, my sense of my faith is mine. It is personal. I need not seek justification for what I believe. I do not need others to practice what I believe. (For even if I could make them follow, it would be coerced; devoid of belonging) There is no science to it. In the same way that I seek answers, I have to understand that other people do too. They make their own meaning. And how we sense our answers varies from friend to friend. And it changes with time.

Faith matters. But there is no matter in faith.

The Book and I

The same wise man I referred to in my previous post is the reason I love reading. I have many books, and may I say — just like him. As I have said before, I haven’t read all the books I own. I’ve seen books go out of print, in my lifetime, so buying them while they are available makes good sense. It’s, what has been called an anti-library.

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As I have grown, I have toned down my belief in books that are life-changing. There was a time I believed that. Apart from God himself (or herself, as the case may be), I believed Richard Bach and Paul Simon to be Gods. Perhaps, I still do, but I don’t pay as much attention to them. Amit recently shared a trailer of a documentary on Richard Bach. I liked it, but I am not sure I want to see it. God may, indeed, be a human.

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Our Prime Minister, in a recent public address, exhorted us citizens to read biographies of great people. I took it up with some seriousness. And I am glad, I did. I am more than half-way reading a biography of a great person, and it is inspirational, to say the least. It is changing how I think. In a nice way.

113508: Kalilah-wa-Dimnah (Panchatantra in Arabic)

Kalilah-wa-Dimnah (Panchatantra in Arabic)

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I have recently developed a phobia of publicly claiming books that I am currently reading. I discovered, I end up not finishing that book. And this is backed up by personal empirical evidence. So, this particular book that I am reading, will show up after I have read it. I am more than half-way through it. A little over 600 pages.

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Superstitions, and all.

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Books aren’t life-changing by themselves. We are influenced by what we read, learn, and assimilate. There may be an impressively life-changing book and we may ignore all that it has to offer us. Or we may find meaning in the trashiest of all books. And while Amit (yup, same guy as above) said this in a different context, I think its pertinent to this post:

It’s a sorry state of affair, two misdirected iconoclasts going after each other when they have a lot of common foes to go against, and common ground to build on. Good literature is beyond language. So is shitty literature. And thank [G]od for that! We’re richer because of the vernaculars, and because of IWEs. [Indian Writing in English] Give me more, not less … [Emphasis, and [Edits], Mine]

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And while I have not been able to do justice being a member of a library, I am glad that they are doing a wonderful job of spreading the love of the written word. In an inimitable way.

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Grudge not the unread book. Each one of them has something to say. It’s just foreplay for now. Those inanimate pages will express themselves, when the time is right.

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Meanwhile, embrace what you are reading. May there be a union of what you seek and what is on offer.

Peace and Intention: #Anthem 5

People who have followed this blog for a while…

Wait.

I’ve been saying this too often. So let me say a bit about that. I’ve recently got a couple of followers who take the trouble to read all my posts and like, or still better: comment on my posts. Some of my followers from yore, read my posts, smile and do whatever they have to do. They have known me for a while now. After a while, I guess transactions don’t mean much. #NotBeingSarcastic

When I mention any version of “People who have followed this blog for a while…” I am only offering context to those who have recently started following me. OK, context done.

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People who have followed this blog for a while, know my love for travel. While this started as a “travel” blog it has now become a “travel” blog. Not all journeys need roads, rails, or flight corridors. Yup, I am talking about all the flights of fancies that happen in our head. That’s travel too.

Of the ways I like to travel, I like driving the best. I have a car that am in love with and she loves me back, much. Whenever I take the car out for a long drive, I always start with a specific song. That, undoubtedly has to be an anthem, the way Paul proposed. There must be a million versions of this song, (I’ll explain the italics, momentarily) I am sure, and a few of them, may be more beautiful than the one I like, yet this is the one version that gets me started after the ignition. Some time ago, I talked about Driving Rituals, and it is a good thing that I did not mention one ritual. This song. Having not mentioned this ritual in that post allows me to publish this Anthem.

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The video below, has translation embedded in it. If, for any reason, it does not play in your region, please search for “Ik Omkar Rang de Basanti.” This is the translation, if you are unable to see the video.

I said song earlier. And that’s the most generic term I could have used. It’s a prayer. It’s an invocation. It’s a reminder. And it is much more. Why should this be the one song I play when I embark on a journey? I cannot tell you of a logical connection. I can tell you this, however:

It is ethereal for me. It is divine. It makes me feel peaceful. It injects happiness. It sets the agenda for my journey. It somehow, tells me how I should drive, what I should seek in and from my journey. It sets the intention for my journey. We learn many prayers as we navigate life. One prayer and invocation becomes ours, forever. This one is mine.

Be-ing: #Anthem 3

I am continuing with the Anthem meme that Paul started. This one’s a little different from the earlier two. In that it is a popular song, or at least I think it is. I generally do not like contemporary Bollywood music because it is all about discos, late nights, alcohol, sex, and such. Not that I am against any of those things. My problem is with the music: it is transient, it hardly penetrates my skin, forget the heart or the mind. Not all contemporary Bollywood music is like that however, if you listen through all the trash, you will find a few gems.

There’s music that appeals to many senses, some that appeals to some senses, and some, rare type of music, that appeals to a specific sense.

I call this: my energy song.

Unlike the previous two Anthems, I do not have a story about this song. This is a new song (from the movie Highway which released early this year, and which, I don’t recommend, BTW) so I haven’t found time enough to have a story for this song. Yet, it is on #3 of my “most played” songs in my music library. Perhaps, that explains (at least for me) that the kind of music we seek in life, is an indicator of what we seek in life.

The meaning of this song is multi-layered, so I will definitely not leave a translation here. But for my readers who do not know Hindi or Punjabi, here’s a link of the direct translation. If you can peel off the words and delve in, I will call you lucky (or smart; you can choose). At each play-count, a small opening allows me to get deeper into the song, but that’s just me (and I have the advantage of having studied in Hindi and having many Punjabi friends in my formative years).

This #3 Anthem of mine, is sung by the Nooran sisters. I was first introduced to them in their Coke Studio performance.

In Patakha Guddi (Female) — the title of this Anthem — the kind of energy that the sisters and A. R. Rahman have cooked in the cauldron is no less than the magic potion by Getafix. I hope you enjoy it as much as I continue to.

Mind the Gap

Some people should write more often. Definitely more than a post every two months, on an average. It means a lot to the readers. But, perhaps these folks should not write more often. Supply demand economics will come into play. I am not sarcastic by default, but I can be sarcastic when I feel the need. I am not being sarcastic at this time. The Ides of November called into question (and answer) much that this year has been about.

This year died a long time ago for me. I am just dancing on its corpse, awaiting January, so that I may alight. I would elaborate on this thought, but much has been said about the tone of recent posts (Go to Archives, and read all posts in 2014) on this blog.)

<start:pet peeve>

Each entry that you write is a post and this collection of posts makes your blog. That one entry that you make in your blog is not your blog. That’s a post or an article. That entire collection of your entries? That’s a blog. Each of those entries in your blog? That’s a post.

<end:pet peeve>

I like the “gap year” concept in the post (post; not blog) that I have linked to, above. It makes so much sense. What’s interesting is that it is never obvious and we end up writing about it in November – the fag end. If you have read my blog for a while, you will know of my love/hate relationships with dates, especially rounded numbers and milestone dates, as well as the conflict I face with social sharing. That notwithstanding, after I read Amit’s post, I’ve decided this has to be the gap year (for me) that he so wonderfully describes. I didn’t need the post to inform me about it; his post just confirmed it, in a way.

9240: Small Gaps

Which, in a funny way, means that I have less than two months of left, of the gap year.

There’s this notion of point of no return. It has always intrigued me. I always measure distance in terms of the time it takes you to go there “and” return here. So, in my head, the point of no return has to be more than half of getting there. It’s like middle-age. People say, Oh, I’ve hit middle age. I always wonder how people can say that. To be able to say, you are in the middle age, you have to know when you will die. Else you are just statisticalising (Yup, I made up that word)

The one risk I face, come, end of December, is that I do not learn from this gap-year. Irrespective; if I chose the learning or it was imposed on me. The next year will have to be different. Either we will board the train or we will exit the platform.

Else, we risk another gap year.

Faith’s Question

A post has brewed for more than a week now. When it took birth, the sense, it seemed, was of righteous anger. There was a festival in play which signifies happiness and joy, so I did not post. That sense of anger, over the seven days that I celebrated the festival quickly turned into disgust, then into orphaned sadness, and eventually got diluted over the days to placid resignation. The festival is still on; some celebrate it for ten days.

Somewhere between this journey of morphing feelings, I heard, in my head, the chorus of Paul Simon’s Proof looped in my head incessantly:

Faith
Faith is an island in the setting sun
But proof, yes
Proof is the bottom line for everyone. Proof

I was chanting the litany relevant to the occasion, yet this chorus enveloped my mind. Two voices were vying for attention at the same time. One that was coming out of my mouth wanting my mind and heart to feel it; and the other was playing in my head, hoping my mouth would recite it. Words are placeholders for meaning. When two very clear meanings fight, the mind-space becomes a mess.

Festivals are about being merry; I do not deny that. The lack of reverence that I was exposed to however,  caused that sequence of diluting of emotions within me. My faith and my beliefs are an inheritance and I am proud and grateful for that. Mostly, because they were never imposed on me, they were offered to me, for my consideration. I emphasise that phrase because I have borrowed it from a friend, Sagar Kolte, who has helped me understand what being grounded means; that italicised phrase is not mine; it’s his. But that is what I inherited: A context for consideration.

1010189: Ganapati Bappa Moraya!

My initial anger, which was dunked in a bucket to let go, came from the lack of reverence that I saw on the street on the eve of this festival. The Ganesh Chaturthi Festival has two contexts. One is personal; the original context of it — a practice to experience attachment, detachment, and selflessness. The other is social, which is rooted in the Indian Freedom Struggle. Both the contexts however have one thing in common: reverence. On the eve of the festival, I saw that there was utter ignorance of either of these contexts, coupled with utter lack of reverence.

I sheathed my anger at that instant and came home. I thought about Faith, that’s when the song by Paul looped infinitely in my head. At that instant, another song by him briefly asked a question of me:

There may come a time
When I will lose you
Lose you as I lose my sight
Days falling backward into velvet night
The open palm of desire
Wants everything

It wants everything. Further to Fly (Emphasis, mine)

There’s so much that churned in my head these seven days. As I rake in all that transpired in the week, I discover that there’s little that I collect; it escapes me like sand through fingers. Who am I to question how someone expresses their beliefs? Like me, others would have also considered what they believe, and act so.

What I originally meant to post has been immersed into oblivion. These are the vapours that remain of the original brewing. Perhaps indirectly, I have questioned the belief of others, which I intended to question directly. After the festival and the immersion, I have let go. I am blessed by what I have been allowed to consider.

I do know the meaning of what I do. I know the meaning, context, and the philosophy of every chant that I utter. And I have reason on my side even when I talk of something (irrational, though it may seem). Those reasons are mine, and mine only. It seems, I have made peace with them. It has taken me 42 years to know this: the nature of beliefs and my reasons of faith are non-negotiable and non-transactional. They are personal. Very personal.

So are yours.

Happy Ganesh Chaturthi

IMG 0266 He is back! With as much fanfare. This year with even more relevance for me. The lord of start-ups. Wishing you all his choicest blessings all year round.