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,

*

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.

*

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.

Crucial Curation

Those who have followed this blog for a while, know of my love-hate relationship with social media. I have been on and off social networks — as if I was punishing the networks — when I got upset with the nature of conversation and interaction that people on the network were having.

The network is inert.

Lately, without wanting to do so, I have been away from the networks. [To be clear, I do not consider WordPress as one of them]. It’s almost impossible to be on a network without taking sides. And if you do not take a side, variants of history’s accusations are hurled at you from all sides. Taking sides is worse; the enslavement is unbearable.

While this phenomenon is obvious and in-your-face on digital social networks, it is not limited to them. Shoot first and ask questions later is becoming the norm. Everyone wants to be the quickest draw in the West. And the East. And the North and the South. Amit referred to it as a left-right mud-slinging contest in a recent Twitter thread. It’s not. It’s fact-slinging. Apparently different types of facts. Alternative facts. Your facts. My facts. True facts. Baseless facts. Useless facts. (Yes, I have read people use these pairs).

We are fast losing the ability to discern between opinions, suggestions, ideas, rhetoric, humour even. All these, and more are being abstracted as statements, open for the rest of us to vilify, mock, abuse, and in general – demean. We do not have the time to pause and refer to context. And even if we had the time, where is the context? In less than three minutes we send eight tweets on seven different themes. How does a reader get the context? When does the reader get context?

There is also the question of the platform. Take Twitter, because I have mentioned it a couple of times now. Most of us readily blame the platform for this phenomenon.

The platform is inert.

It has no means or the capacity or the intelligence to expose us any more than what we publish to the platform. The one thing that it has enabled — is give voice to everyone. In these times when voice is free, there’s a dash to be heard. Me, me, me! But no one listens, because everyone is busy talking. And one thing is clear: mostly, people are angry. And it seems like old anger, one which was voiceless so far. And it has become ugly and rotten.

Unlike the different types of facts, that we believe in, we don’t believe that there are multiple truths. We do not have the patience for any truth to reveal itself. Fleeting gratification appeals to our ever shortening attention spans.

*

Jama Masjid, Kalburgai (Gulbarga)

Jama Masjid, Kalburgai (Gulbarga)

All is not lost however, as apocalyptic this post may sound: as long as you curate.

There are many people who are spreading joy (not by mis-attributed feel-good hackneyed cheesy-quotes on mushy-stock-images) but, by just being themselves, sharing life experiences. These are statements in the true sense. They carry with them, no attributes of opinions, suggestions, and such. There is no compulsion to engage. In this case, the consumption is the engagement.

That’s where curation becomes crucial.

This is not to say that we become unaware as citizens and humans. What’s wrong must be righted.

In the real-world. Not on Twitter.

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.

Saving Christmas (And other Festivals)

Soon, most of you will be away, and I hope you will not be checking your emails or your tweets or facebook (Facebook is almost a non-noun now, so I choose not to capitalise it) status updates. It’s a good thing, if you will do that. And, if you do insist on staying online – I hope it is all about you telling me what a good time you are having. So,

Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year.

No, I did not say Happy Holidays. Like, for example, the BBC has been doing on its channel.

The world’s changing into too much of averageness, And I will have none of it. Every specific thing that I have known – every festival is being reduced to an abstraction of meaninglessness. Hate me for it, but I refuse to participate in this politically correct (PC) charade

When it is Diwali, I will wish you a very Happy Diwali and Prosperous New year. When it’s Christmas, I will do the same. And I will wish you a Happy Id, depending on when the moon chooses to show itself. Even if it for a moment in that day, I will remember Guru Nanak’s teaching. I will wish you a Happy New Year, when the Parsee, the Tamilian, the Maharashtrain and when the Punjabi celebrates it; when anyone celebrates a New Year (I may not know your new year, that’s another thing). What the hell, if you decide a that a day in the year is a start of the new year, I will wish you then. (Just let me know about it)

I do not do Happy Holidays. Period.

I do not know what they mean. It is almost like wishing you a fun vacation. Which I will do – if you are going on a vacation. But I refuse to do it during a holiday given for a festival. If you look deeper at any festival, it is essentially a time to be with family and friends. To make merry, to connect, to eat together; to enjoy together. And each festival has a ritual, a means — a method — to be with family and friends. Some festivals have protocols. Some fun; some weird. You may not subscribe to them in their entirety, but in your own modified way, you will follow them, let go of your ego and high-practical-scientifically-oriented-thinking for those few days and just be. For most of us, these days, festival holidays, especially if they come in contact with a weekend, are a way to retreat from the daily routine. The significance of the festival is lost to us. Some may think that. I don’t, yet. As joint-families give way to nuclear families, it is the way to go. We still end up doing what we were essentially supposed to do at festivals. We are with family and/or friends and we make merry.

A few years ago when I had wished many of my customers in the US, a Merry Christmas, my colleague, who was based on the US for a while, had chided me for sending these messages. He identified a few of my customers, who were Jews and other non-Christians, and told me that it would be inappropriate to wish them a Merry Christmas. I thought about and acceded to his request and maintained the “Happy Holidays” protocol in the next few years. In my mind, however, I never ever completely agreed with him. He of course, never took the pain to remind me of Jewish festivals when I could wish them, specifically. I later asked him, why none of my customers ever wished anybody in my team a Happy Diwali? My team took the pain to explain that we would not be working for a Thursday and Friday and sent them Wikipedia links about Diwali. Apart from a few generous souls, no one ever wished my team a Happy Diwali. He obviously had no convincing answer. Most of the folks from the US, wished us a Merry Chirstmas, incidentally, in December as they proceeded to their “Happy Holidays”.

Isn’t it blasphemous to wish a Hindu or a Muslim a Merry Christmas? Or, for that matter, wish a Happy Diwali to a Christian? I do not know.

This post may be seen as the cultural incongruence we face, when working with different regions and religions. It possibly is; even, But, we need to make that slight extra effort; we need to understand that abstracting every festival to meaningless averages is not going to help us understand each other better. What will help us, is participating in each others’ festivals. I have been blessed that I was invited to a family Thanksgiving dinner, in the US, where the family kindly cooked chicken for me because they were not sure if I’d eat turkey (I did). I have been blessed that my friend from the UK has visited Lalbaug cha Raja, and participated in the Ganapati Aarti, with me at my home. I have been blessed that my friends, when they have stayed overnight at my place, have offered their morning Namaz at my home.

Most important of all, I have been blessed to have been taught to know and respect cultures around the world and that I can keep this respect alive without succumbing to political correctness. So, whether you are Christian or not, here’s wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year.

What other people believe and do, does not determine who you are. What you believe and what you do, determines who you are.

The Birth of the Reader

[…] the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author.

There was a recent tag on Facebook (whatever happened to those wonderful tags on blogs?) about authors who have influenced you. Multiple people tagged me, and I’d like to say that I was forced to do the tag – reluctantly. I have done a few tags on my blog, and I must say – I have enjoyed most of them. I can’t say the same for this one.

IMG_2022.jpg

Having said that, I am not cursing whoever started the tag. It was done in the spirit of social Facebooking. We all love being a part of a social movement, while being stationary at our desks. There is some futile fun in that, I confess.

The problem with ill-defined tags is that they coerce you into finishing them.

I have been influenced by everything that I have read – and given the times that we live in – influenced by everything that is published – beyond words – audio, video and imagery. I have been influenced with a significant body of work; I doubt, however, if I have been influenced by an author. The one work that has influenced this thinking had this to say:

The explanation of a work is always sought in the man or woman who produced it, as if it were always in the end, through the more or less transparent allegory of the fiction, the voice of a single person, the author “confiding” in us.

I have worked with a group of people who may never be able to articulate this philosophy, but adhere to it as if their life depends on it. No one adds the signature.

I have been further been blessed that I live with my artist friend, who helps me cement this thinking with her ever-growing work – always challenging me to seek an artist in a work. The signature of an artist, I have called it once. Society almost demands the definition of an artwork that is defined by the artist’s profile. My primary personal influences, for example have been the Panchtantra and Hitopadesh. Let’s violate the primary premise of this post, and quote Roland Barthesfor the third time:

Thus is revealed the total existence of writing: a text is made of multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual relations of dialogue, parody, contestation, but there is one place where this multiplicity is focused and that place is the reader, not, as was hitherto said, the author.

For a person who reads many books used to read many books and is potentially dyslexic, It has been a difficult journey for me to remember authors. Where some body of work has left a lasting remark, I have usually remembered the body of work, rather than the author. I will never be able to quote it verbatim, but I will never forget the message. It is usually the same with music. I remember songs – I can never identify the composer, sometimes not even the singer. This means that I have survived numerous guilt-trips of you-love-this-song-but-you-don’t-know-the-singer-or-the-music-director? kind of accusations. I have persevered many such exclamations, often with difficulty. It took me some time to realise that I am not a Fact-roid. It has taken me a bit longer to come to terms with that. I haven’t crossed page 16 of any book by Umberto Eco. Gabriel Garcia Marquez has been endured with no avail. I have finished four Dan Brown books in less than four days (There was a discount offer from Tesco, so I bought all four). Applied Discrete Structures For Computer Science, believe it or not, is my favourite book.

Two, otherwise innocent, comments on the Facebook tag triggered this post. My list appealed to a few and a few others had questions about a few authors that did not make the list.

Scroll back to the top. and then come back here.

Are we who we are because what we read or because of who we read?

Remains of the Day: 003

The idea was to crunch every month in a claustrophobic post. Last time I did it, it was in May. And I have done only one before the one in May this year.

There’s a problem.

If you try hard, use a magnifying glass to see the divider between two months, you may not find any.

Light, my Love

And in any case, if that’s the idea, these posts should be called Remains of the Month. But, I have often being accused of being a rebel against structure. I have never known how to react to that accusation; for often I have been accused of being a slave to structure.

It amuses me to no end.

Proof of Life

Chanced upon a not-so-innocent-song about the rains. Needless to say – it brought very happy memories from the days when life was a possibility. Not as artificially predictable as we have made it to be through anxiousness and concerns of security.

When I was in college (1989-92, yeah, really long time go) there was this tea-stall at the Pune University Circle — run by this diminutive, yet regal, man who went by the name of Anna. He made good tea. Notice, the subtle emphasis on the word — good. Like the smell of your grandmother’s unique recipe and the mesmerising visions that your father could paint with words, flowing with ease; this is one such taste. It remains with you forever.

My analytical mind, unfortunately, takes over.

Since Anna’s chai, I have had tea at a gazillion tea-stalls, all over the MH state. I am sure I have had as good tea in at least one of these stalls. It makes you wonder, if it was really the way that the tea that was brewed that keeps the memory alive.

It wasn’t the brew.

It was the environment. There is a word, maahoul — which, I doubt has an equivalent English word. Chai at Anna’s was a concept that we were in love with. One Skid-prone-Kinetic, a Bajaj Scooter and a black Yamaha 100cc bike, if he chose to ever find time for us, from his why-does-he-have-such-an-ugly girlfriend. Conversations of today that were heavily punctuated with loud laughter (in the days when LOL or ROFL weren’t invented and you had to use facial muscles to “Laugh-out-Loud”). Building dreams of tomorrow with almost-Italian-style-waving-bare hands in the thin air of Pune’s December. The clinical dissection of emerging role-models by brash arrogance that was nurtured by fearless dreams.

There isn’t a University “Circle” anymore.

The circle has been sliced and bled dry by sharp and stoic grey plates of thick concrete fly-overs that help you get quicker to where you will not stay anyway. I often go to Pune, and every time I take the fly-over to head towards the Expressway, a late-eighties cell-and-tissue-combination in my heart dies a lonely death. Some psycho-somatic mechanism almost denies entry to those memories.

But, coming back to the point, I hate the rain.

I really do. And ironically, my self-proclained-and-personally-discovered roots are in Konkan, and I spent formative years in Goa. Imagine, I call Mumbai — Home. I think, since I started driving, rains in Mumbai have banged in the last nail in a rotting coffin. But, I try and remember, and, I have never liked rains. Not as a kid, because you couldn’t go out and play. Not as a commuter, because I start two-hours earlier for a thirteen-kilometre ride (and yet I am not sure). There is something about rains that seems so “arresting”.

Go out, get wet!

Right. Water in my mobile phone. Fading driving license; thrice wet since it was issued. Wet currency notes that need to come under an iron. Soggy cigarettes that are anyway useless, because the bloody match-box is a hopeless lump of phosphorous, devoid of a spark, even. They still haven’t invented practical wipers for the glasses on your nose. Can’t take photographs – ever heard of a working wet camera? There isn’t even anything really romantic about the rains, unless you are on film set and have a director who can manage your smallest action. In real life, the girlfriend is always on the 5:56pm Karjat-Slow that is late because of the rains. (And she couldn’t call you because she had water in her mobile phone. Imagine this scene as you wait and watch the shoe-shine boys at Ghatkopar station, for ninety minutes, creating a ruckus with their wooden implements. Continuously. Without a break!)

Rain and wash-outs, have an illegitimate relationship.

I have seen the freshness and the squeaky-clean sense that you get after a rain. Rains clean everything. They affect your thoughts, if you are in the rain. I have had, many opportunities to be in a dry place with large windows and a very comfortable chair. Those (very few) instances where I did not need to get somewhere in the same dry state as when I started, when it was pouring outside.

I love watching the rain. Within Wet Walls

When rain doesn’t touch me, it does not wash-out anything. It brings back a-small-smile-on-your-face memories. And that dry place that you are in, with a glass of chai that reminds you of Anna (and his well-oiled moustache) and reminds you of Abhijit who can never laugh with his eyes open. Or the glass of Old Monk and Thums-up stirred with your ring-finger, that reminds you of Mahesh’s theory of how love really happens. That place and time is my happiest place and time on the face of this warm and parched earth.

It is not nostalgia. Oh, hardly.

It is not raking in the past like cleaning up the dry leaves orphaned on the ground. It is not a time-traveler’s wish. It is not the pangs of wanting to get back to those times. Neither is it the craving for a carefree life. It definitely is not a judgement on living a life of responsibilities. It is an acknowledgement of how beautiful a life we have led. This life, not any other.

It is proof of life.