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.

209 pages

This book that I am reading. A mass market paperback. It’s called “What is History?” by Edward Hallett Carr. I started reading it on 10th October, this year; am on page 112, now. That seems like an achievement to me. So, as is my nature, I posted this update on Goodreads, and it showed up on my Facebook feed. (Not magically; I’ve given Goodreads permission to publish on Facebook on my behalf.)

Of all the people who saw that post, it was picked up by my English teacher from school, and she commented, “Atul, keep up the speed.”

Disclaimer: She is my favourite teacher of all times and I am her favourite student of all times. (Irrespective of the thousands of kids she taught after I completed high school. A few of these thousand kids may have been good, but I am her favourite, I am sure. Let’s not dwell on the fact that I didn’t make it to Editor of the school magazine, in my last year. Those were purely technical issues.)

More than twenty-five years later, she keeps tabs on what read and write. On my previous post, she said, “Well tried.” That was a message, if I ever got one. That’s who and how she is; she always pushes you forward.

You are never as good (or bad) as what you just accomplished, you are as good as what you can achieve.

Perhaps, that was her mantra for all of us. Perhaps that’s why I am not as lost as I think I would have been, otherwise.

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Back to the book.

This book is about Historiography. Unlike most facile stuff that I once used to read, it’s not an easy read. Here’s a sample:

This is the real indictment of those who seek to erect a super-historical standard or criterion in the light of which judgement is passed on historical events or situations—whether that standard derives from some divine authority postulated by the theologians, or from a static Reason or Nature postulated by the philosophers of the Enlightenment. It is not that shortcomings occur in the application of the standard, or defects in the standard itself. It is that the attempt to erect such a standard is unhistorical and contradicts the very essence of history. [E. H. Carr, What is History?]

As is obvious, such a paragraph takes time (for me, at least). The idea in itself is quite simple and straightforward. The manner in which it is presented seeks that the reader be involved with heart, soul, and mind.

So, yes, I’ll complete this book. Soon enough, for it’s the kind that needs to be savoured.

And that’s the speed. Thank you Ma’am!

Writers & Carpenters

Writing is difficult. Writing well, is another matter altogether.

Carpentry is difficult too. Carpentering well, is another matter. Just like writing well.

Writers get distracted; just like carpenters. Writers and carpenters have their own means of getting distracted. Writers get distracted by style, grammar, method, medium, and such. Carpenters think of paint, cuts, design, trends, and such. (Needless to say, I am making things up for carpenters. I am not a carpenter. Though I would have liked to be one. Come to think of it, I am, perhaps, making things up for writers too!)

When distracted and diffused*, writers write nonsense or trite passages and carpenters make bad furniture or misaligned shelves. And this distraction is perhaps important. For writers and carpenters. It offers an opportunity to move away from the known, experiment, make mistakes, fail (often miserably), learn, and therefore, create something new.

6172: Buddha

After all the wandering through the land of distractions, however, the writer and the carpenter return. To the place where they started. Everything is the same, but nothing is. The intercourse of familiarity and strangeness is at once comforting and disquieting. This conflict is beauty’s birthplace.

The carpenter creates a writing desk for the expression through words, as the writer would, and the writer measures and assembles his words as the carpenter would. The open window is witness: to what the carpenter would like the writer to see and to how the writer sees what the carpenter intended.

It may not happen at first, but it is a stage for success.

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* Kathy’s Song, Paul Simon

A Broken Narrative

Few of my friends know of a certain profile picture I use on Facebook, which indicates that I am away. Every once in a while I test if I can be away from Facebook (and therefore Twitter and other such networks). October was my away month — by my standards. I used Facebook sparsely. I’ll be back on the 1st of November. The last three or four times I did this away exercise, it was more of a test of my addiction, so to speak. While October started with the same purpose; the revelations were interesting to say the least.

The narrative of everything has changed.

There isn’t — according to the way I see it — anything that we can say, that will not be crushed out or hammered in by some ism that someone else follows. Opinions do not have spaces anymore. Jokes have no space. Most people I see, are angry and belligerent. Mostly, deep down, they are defensive – but outwardly they are angry and belligerent. Those that aren’t angry are on a trip, some trip, which offers them a false sense of happiness.

When ideological camps never intersect, where is that common space for us to speak and hear? What is our meeting ground? Not to make a statement; just to speak, to listen to each other. In the race to be heard, no one is listening.

I am not lamenting social change. I have lived my adult life, with and without mobile phones, e.g., and I am aware of the boons and curses of how society responds to changes it did not expect. In these times of (mostly) nonsensical back-and-forth, I struggle to find a place of my own.

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Within that struggle, I have discovered a small place. It’s nice. Comfortable. Mine. It’s not mine, yet. But I’d like it to be mine. And it has the potential to be mine. In times of predictable spaces, determined by isms, I am fortunate to have found one that allows for isms, but is not dictated by an ism.

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I am participating in Movember, yet again, this year. (That’s the day I return to Facebook) It has been over half-a-decade of Movembering; I have yet to find an organisation that works for men’s health, in India. If you know of one – do let me know. Nevertheless, It seems, I will be a permanent Movember Member; inspired in no less measure thanks to The Bum.

2016-01-01 17.04.50: Orchha

It’s the festival of lights, here, in India. In my head, there is a philosophical connotation to the festival. To tell you the truth, it is a festival of light and sound. Traditionally, philosophically, and spiritually. Not anymore. Either by armchair activism or sheer usurpation. Those that purportedly attack and those that apparently protect — both have it wrong. Festivals are resilient enough that they can survive attacks. Festivals are strong enough that they do not need protection. I wish I do not live long enough to have to wish “Happy Holidays” for a festival that you celebrate, even if I do not celebrate it. When a festivity is reduced to a holiday – that is when we have lost everything. We should be worried about sameness, assuming we will live long enough to sense it.

My apologies for this line of thinking on such a wonderful festive day. I leave you not with thoughts to discover the light within but just be good. In your own way. Do something nice. I will.

Happy Diwali!

No Bucket; No List

It’s a good thing I believe in rebirth.

Partly, because I have been brought up believing in these tenets. More-so, because I find there’s value in it. We spent all of yesterday visiting historical places; we, is a couple of friends and I. The original idea was to visit one fort, slightly binge on the wonderful seafood available at this town that hosts the coastal fort. We ended up visiting three forts in the vicinity.

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I saw The Bucket List, a while ago. Given the actors, I loved the movie. I could not relate to the movie, much. I didn’t quite get the bucket list. I know what it means, I didn’t get the why.

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Very few of us have the privilege of doing what we want, when we want to. Most of us have to work for a living (which is a conspiracy theory, in itself), and we are offered slices of time to do what we want to do (as against what we need to do). That slice occupies most of our attention. What we would otherwise take five week-days to do, we cram in a weekend. It’s like a game of tag. Or GTD. Needless to say, the weekend list is longer than the other five days. And we play a game of touch and go. It becomes a challenge of checkboxes that we can strike-out.

Smart people (and I am getting there) become curators. There’s an acknowledgement about how much can be achieved, given the constraints. It seems, the trick is not to speed up, but to slow down. Resignation is not necessarily a negative word. It is positive in your own personal sense of acceptance. The remainders, I leave for my next life. There are experiences that fill our hearts so much, that we would explode. But if we never gave them time to fill our hearts, we’d never know.

View of Revdanda Fort from Korlai Fort

View of Revdanda Fort from Korlai Fort

Lists also tend to deny us experiences that we would otherwise have. For we focus on the list and our blinders take us where the list takes us. We tend to see nothing else, when we focus on the list. Climbing up to a fort, climbing down a fort, we ignore our heart beat; we focus on completion; we never sense the lives that made that fort; which is why we climbed, in the first place. We are losing much as we strike off an item in a check-list; we are losing even when we seek an experience.

Some of us may have specific ambitions. For the rest of us, there are no rules.

We have to be just out there and allow life to do what it does best. Allow a life.

The Challenge

I don’t remember the last time a book challenged me.

Reading non-fiction, for a long time has, perhaps slowed me down. In a way, non-fiction is the book of answers, fiction is the book of questions.

This one book has me in a frenzy. For many reasons. One, it was written in a language that’s not native to me. It’s not alien though. Both my parents learnt this language, and were good at it. Two, it is written by a person who is known as the father of the revival of this language; I know little about his work, but I am learning. And I am fascinated. Three, it is historical. That should explain a lot, of my interest in the book. Yes, it’s fiction. Four, it was written about 125 years ago, and it is timeless, for it holds within it answers that society is asking today. If we can see it through our own eyes and not through a lense that belongs to another. Five, finally, the questions that this book asks of me, that are appearing in my notebook, are those that I do not recognise. I am excited of what answers will come.

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The Questions I Was Asked

But they’ll have to wait, those answers, I need to read two more translations before I know. And I think my life will thank me for it.

Moblogged. E&OE

Here’s Looking At Us

Of all the abstract things, time is the most intriguing of all. One might argue that given the measurability and calculability, time is the most discrete of all. But its nature and its character is the most abstract.

I had once said — I don’t remember when or where — that, what’s time, if not the measure of events and incidents? Or, maybe someone else had said, and I just repeated it. Time passes, I forget.

Couple of days ago, a friend said that you give a man (he of course meant, ‘a person’ – he is old school) enough time alone and man will discover himself. I agreed, it made perfect sense, given the context of our conversation. Later, I wondered, if we discover our selves by ourselves or through others. Others can, however, only tell us how they see us; but it becomes a mirror for seeing ourselves, later. So we can discount what others think of us (which we should do more often), but we should not ignore that mirror. In the least, we should see together.

22FEB

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The long drives
The conversations
The silences
The intimacy
The distances
The friendship

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Lifestyle is on sale.

There are too many telling us what a worthwhile life is. But for that, we will have to become the truth that they experienced. I am glad, I never did. Ever. My timeline is not glamorous enough to be published, but it’s mine. And I care not for the future markers and their description.

But I’ve lived, a good time, and in good times. With you. Notwithstanding some of the markers in black, that stand out to give the harmony a unique signature. It’s not perfect, but then we never sought perfect, did we?

It seems that perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove. ~ Antoine de Saint Exupéry

I know what was, I know what is. I know not, what will be. So, I celebrate only what I know. On the 19th, I will say it again. As well, on the 20th, and the 21st. For I will know more of the is and was than the will be.

Here’s looking at you. And here’s looking at me.

Through the lens of time.