Sunday, August 7, 2016

On How I Got Old And Got Religion

On How I Got Old And Got Religion



On my good days i am an agnostic and on my bad days i am an atheist.  Which simply means that most days i am too busy to think much about god and his various malfeasances on my life. Its on those rare days when i have absolutely nothing to do- like days when i am on Sunday duty (on 24 hours duty from Sunday morning to Monday morning) or on jail duty (when i sit inside the prison hospital all day/all alone, waiting to treat the occasional prisoner with a real illness) that i get to think about my lot in life and the role belief in divinity plays in it. Such deep and uninterrupted thinking mostly makes me uncomfortable- as a man of science the more i think about it logically, the more the inherent pattern of the universe reveals itself as orderly evolution and not dependant on the whims and fancies of any single divine entity. Ok, to stop beating around the bush- science and all my scientific temper tell me a creator is not needed as the universe can exist by itself famously and we need look for no further mysterious entities to explain the order and beauty all around us. But and this is a slowly evolving but, except in those rare periods when i allow my brain to over-rule my gut, mostly my gut makes me automatically genuflect to every little roadside deity that i pass by on my commute as in a “What if? Anyway, its not gonna hurt is it? Showing a little respect on the off-chance that god really exists?” 

And i find i am doing it more and more nowadays, worshipping god- whom i don't believe in half the time, reading and researching books about hinduism – the religion i was born in and publicly defending hinduism against various assaults by other unbelievers and intensely religious people of other religions. Which last point is the crux of this post {there, there, i finally got around to it after beating so long around the bush}. Anyway our religion is mostly what we are born with- at least in India. If you are born a hindu , 99% of the time you die a hindu. Its the very rare person who converts into a different religion and not because of any lack of effort from the votaries of other religions.  Its because hinduism is the easiest of religions to follow- it has no single god you need to worship, it has no fixed set of timings or days you need to worship- you can pray as little or as much as you want. You can go for years together without thinking about god and suddenly get religious and start worshipping every calendar or wall poster with a goddess picture on it. There are no strict rules or rituals to follow (if you disregard the brahmin priests who keep trying to thrust their version of an aryanised/sanskritized form of hinduism on others) and you can worship whichever way you want and whichever deity you want. Freedom to worship or freedom not to worship- both are the essence of hinduism. That kind of incredible choice you don't get in other religions.

Most hindus i know are atheists except on feast days when they adopt religiosity mainly for the sweets served as part of the celebrations. I was like that too- until i recently became fed up of all the proselytizing going on around me trying to convert me. I belong to the hindu religion so i have every right to question the questionable practices of hinduism- like the barbaric practice of sacrificing animals to gods, or the pseudo-sanctity of the priestly class who insist that they alone are eligible to approach the sanctum sanctorum inside temples or otherwise the deity will get polluted and things like those. I can and will raise my voice loudly against such insane acts and self serving beliefs in the name of rote rituals which merely serve to alienate the majority of hindus away from hinduism. But that doesn't mean i will convert away from hinduism into christianity. No sir, no way. There is no chance of it- when it comes to being stubborn and digging my legs in immovably- a donkey can pick up pointers from me.

Just because i criticize hinduism doesn't mean i am ripe to be converted into a christian. And i observe that every single time i criticise hinduism or raise my voice against whatever is wrong in hinduism immediately i am flooded with dozens of messages from well meaning christian friends wanting me to understand the superiority of christianity and trying to save me from my sin of being born a hindu. I got nothing against jesus christ, but when a man is questioning the very basis of religion does it make sense to try and preach to him the superiority of our own religion in contrast to his inferior one? Why the average christian is so desperate to convert others is something i fail to understand. Does the conversion of one poor soul- me- an out and out sinner going to make any difference to the kingdom of christ? Does jesus wants me so bad? If so wouldn't he appear to me directly like he did to saul? To try and save me from any further sins? Or better yet, why didn't he make me be born directly into a christian family so i could have been a christian from birth? Instead of taking this roundabout way to salvage my soul by converting me in this ripe old age when i already have one foot in the grave.

Whenever i publicly and loudly criticise those charlatans who are giving hinduism a bad name- people like jaggi and sri sri my christian friends immediately join in the chorus to talk about these false priests as the very idiom of the devil but when i also raise the names of dinakaran or sadhu solomon or mohan lazarus they clam up and go defensive. Why? For a fraud is a fraud in all religions. And those who use the name of god to make a fast buck must be called out regardless of whatever religion they profess. Why this double standard is what i fail to get.

Anyhow all this preaching to the wrong choir has at least got me thinking about religion and god and hinduism. I am reading more books on hinduism and trying to learn more stuff to understand why it is the way it is. My understanding of hinduism and religion in general is expanding the more people try aggressively to convert me.  I am trying to read up on all the different streams of hindu thought –advaita/dvaita and all those hard to understand stuff i used to skip during my younger days. I am trying to understand the paths of saints who suddenly discovered god and turned religious. In the recent few months i have turned more religious than i ever was in my younger days- thus perfectly embodying the old adage “you get religion as you grow older”. 


And i think i will stay an hindu for the rest of my life- not the rabid hindu fundamentalist type of hindu- but a more gentler philosophical type of hindu- someone who gets that religion is just a different pathway to morality. Something i wish that all my proselytizing friends who wish to convert me will also understand and which will make them better persons in their own religions. Jai Hind.

Friday, July 29, 2016

It Runs In The Family

It Runs In The Family



Padmanabhan, better known as Enfield Padmanabhan for he had once owned an enfield bike servicing station was one of the premier automotive parts dealers in the city. But that was in the beginning of his career n the auto parts industry when he landed in Chennai from Kumbakonam with wife and baby daughter in tow. Nowadays, regardless of the manufacturer or company, Indian or foreign, four wheeler or two wheeler, Mr. Padmanabhan invariably had a dealership for that particular vehicle. After twenty years of doing business he was now the retail king of the automobile industry- all brands under the same roof. Sometimes his peers in the automotive industry whispered between themselves that no one had a better grasp on the overall view of how the industry was faring than Padmanabhan. And not only locally, for every month or so Padmanabhan would fly off abroad visiting automotive fairs worldwide to try and grasp the arising and future trends in the transportation field to get in on the ground floor of any new innovation. For all that Padmanabhan didn't have a large family -just the wife and daughter he came to Chennai with all those years ago, to set up an independent business.

If you thought that only Mr. Enfield Padmanabhan was the go-getter of their family you are far off the mark, for his wife Sudha was as equally ambitious as her husband but her chosen sphere of expressing her talent was  on their daughter Tara.  Ever since Tara was born Sudha had completely devoted all her energies to making Tara as accomplished a person as can ever be. She lived, breathed and dreamt all the time about how her daughter could be molded into being the person that Sudha had always wanted to be. From the time she woke up in the morning till the time she went to bed, every segment of Tara's life was strictly regulated- French class, tennis class, college, music class, dance class everything had its proper time and place in her daily life. She had no free hour left to divert her mind into useless thoughts which might lead her astray from her mothers ambitious plan for her future.

She was dropped at college in the mornings and picked up at college at the stroke of the bell by Munusamy their most trusted family driver from the same village as Padmanabhan. She never went anywhere, including her friends houses, without Sudha or Munusamy accompanying her. Her friends were all vetted by Sudha who often weeded out the undesirables and independent thinkers among them. In short Tara led a robotic life under constant supervision being told what to do and how to do it, all the time. The only time she had rebelled, or leastwise had tried to rebel was when she qualified for a merit seat in a government medical college but her mother Sudha had put her foot down and refused to allow her to join medicine. Sudha had been most insistent that her daughter not join any professional course but only some women's only arts college for a bachelor of arts degree in some social sciences subject. While Tara screamed, cried and went on a hunger strike for almost ten days to be allowed to join medicine. In the end she gave into her mother's unreasonable demands and joined an arts college for a bachelor of arts degree in geography. No one ever asked Tara and she never offered any explanation for why geography.

Padmanabhan was relieved that the rebellion was finally at an end. He had left the whole management of the household to this wife and he was loath to interfere and supersede her authority in the vain fear that it would mean more involvement at home with lesser time devoted to expanding his business. Husband and wife were very happy when their daughter finally fell in-line and listened to them as she had done all her life. The only thing which puzzled Padmanabhan about the whole affair was why his wife was dead-set against medicine and refused to allow her daughter to step inside a medical college. Poor man he did not know that back in those days, before they were both married his wife Sudha had been a medical college student studying in a co-educational institution in the big city far away from their native place.
There, she had fallen in love with a bus conductor named Altaf who had looked like a younger version of the then reigning filmy heartthrob, Superstar Rajesh Khanna and who worked as the conductor of the city bus which she took regularly to and fro from college to her hostel. Convinced that Sama Sastrigal her strict and orthodox father would not agree to the inter religious marriage, she had eloped with Altaf to Bombay as he had told her he had rich relatives there who had promised to get him a Gulf job. They were married at a roadside temple as soon as they had landed in Bombay and then they spent their honeymoon in a seedy lodge in Matunga.

At the end of ten days of a blissful life, Sudha had woke up one morning to find herself  surrounded by a group of rough looking men who bundled her off in a tempo van after paying Altaf quite a large sum for those days. The next few days were still a hazy memory for Sudha as the last thing she remembered was Altaf standing there and waving goodbye to her as the van carried her away to Bombay's premier red-light district. Her next few months were spent on her back with legs raised in the air, earning for her keep by servicing up-to twenty men a night and more. Until a kind customer from their native place Kumbakonam who had visited the brothel out of loneliness and was delighted to find a  young tamil speaking girl to service him, had listened to Sudha's pleadings and agreed to inform Sama Sastry of his missing daughter's plight which he promptly did by sending a postcard to Sastry with a few brief details.

Sastrigal took the next train from Kumbakonam to Bombay and spending all his provident fund bought back his daughter from the brothel owner and took her straight back home discontinuing her medical studies abruptly. Within the next few months he had identified a relative boy from a near but poor family, called Spare Parts Padmanabhan who went around in a fish cart buying broken down scrap from garbage dealers to sell to local mechanics. Padmanabhan despite his ambitions was a failure at business and had loans all around the city with his lenders threatening to break his limbs one by one if he didn't start repaying soon. In that kind of critical financial circumstance Sastri's offer of settling all his debts if he married his daughter came like a godsend to padmanabhan. Although he had heard a few stories, common rumours around kumbakonam about Sastris daughter who had done something bad in the big city the offer of having all his lenders paid off and the chance for a fresh start in life prompted padmanabhan to close his ears to everything and marry sudha.

With the money that Sudha’s father gave him as dowry Padmanabhan paid off all his debts and wound up his failed business honourably without declaring bankruptcy and finally decided to leave behind kumbakonam to move to chennai to make a fresh start in life and business. And that's how Spare parts Padma turned into the honourable Mr.Enfield Padmanabhan the owner of a string of automobile workshops all over the country.  Despite achieving success beyond even his wildest imagination in business, when it came to the home front the fact that his wife was not only better educated than him, but was the source of all his early seed money for the business was the reason that he left all the decisions of the household in her capable hands and never interfered in anything, including the welfare of his daughter. That and the fact that he couldn't in good conscience accept even in his innermost guilty thoughts that his daughter, a healthy full sized infant, was born just six months into their marriage.

To get back to our story it was the day of Tara’s convocation ceremony when she would receive her graduate degree in the university senate hall from the state governor in his role as the vice chancellor of the university. The household was all up and in earnest from the morning. For although forced to study something she did not like, tara had nevertheless passed out with distinction and had achieved a university first and hence later this evening she would be getting her merit certificate and gold medal from the hands of the vice chancellor himself. By early afternoon sudha was all dressed up and ready, in her excitement she kept running up to daughter Tara’s room with multiple reminders of how she should dress, how she should walk , how she should greet the vice chancellor and turn to look at the audience as she received her certificate and gold medal, to better enable the professional photographer and videographer Sudha had hired to memorialize the proud moment. She also kept calling Padmanabhan throughout the day, often talking to his secretary to make sure that the great man was reminded to leave office early enough to reach the convocation hall in time to watch their only daughter receive her degree certificate, in fact the only one in their family to ever graduate with a degree. Padmanabhan promised to be there in time, even if he had to leave the entire office in lurch.

By seven PM tara was sitting there in the front row of the auditorium along with the best outgoing students of her batch who were supposed to be called early to the stage before the mass of the graduating students got their regular degree certificates. She had been primped, primed and dressed to kill by her mother and as she sat there she slowly used her hanky to wipe away all the extra makeup her mother had painted on her face. She knew that her mother and father sitting at the back of the hall in the seating reserved for parents and relatives would not notice anythings amiss. As soon as there was a hububb in the hall and the audience got to its feet as the chief guest entered, Tara slowly slipped out of her seat and moved into the side aisle. She whispered to her college mate sitting in the last row, “i really, really have to go pee, give me a missed call when the speech gets over” and she used the side door of the hall to leave towards the toilets.

But instead of entering the ladies toilet she kept walking straight on to the end of the corridor where there was a side entrance which looked unused. She let herself outside the hall paused to look back once at the hall where her parents sat inside all oblivious and then with a bit of a spring in her steps she walked straight to the carpark where her driver munusamy was lounging in the  front seat of the car. She got in beside him boldly, which was a first for her as they had always been careful not to let sudha suspect anything. She laid her head with a sigh on Munusamy’s shoulder as he started the car and drove off in the direction of the railway station.

Tara gave a little laugh as she said “i thought that evening would never come, the way the day dragged so slowly. Have you got the tickets for the journey ?” Munusamy patted his pocket as he said “Two tickets on the mumbai express in different names. Tomorrow we would be near mumbai by this time and day after tomorrow we would be married there and start our family.” Tara replied without looking at him “Don't worry, money should not be a problem, i wore all my jewels to the function like you said. My mom was very happy to see me wear them all”. Munusamy looked down at the head resting on his shoulder and thought with a glint in his eye “so this is the golden goose, you can pluck it till it gives and then sell it to make a tidy profit, lucky me”.  And the car went steadily on in the night bearing daughter to the same fate as mother.


P.S. If you are puzzled by the title and ask me what runs in the family? The answer would be “Stupidity”

Monday, July 18, 2016

One, For Team Humanity

One, For Team Humanity

(Credit: Written for a Blog prompt- WHAT DIVINITY MEANS TO YOU- given by my blogger friend Mahesh Lakshman.)



The man who had committed suicide so recently, had left his clothes in a neat bundle by the riverside. I stood there looking down at those neatly folded clothes and couldn't help admiring how much effort he had gone to get the creases in those clothes right, when he knew, most probably, that he never was going to wear them again, ever.  He had taken his time to strip down to his bare essentials before wading down into the river, a fast flowing mountain stream, with loads of happy shrieking tourists just minutes away from the spot, bathing in the waterfalls which gave them the same pleasure with its speed and flow that had dragged this man away to his death. Joy and death near to each other, you just cant beat that combination any given day.

The clothes looked too neat to be disturbed which made me hesitate to bend down and search for the suicide note in their midst, but i soon realised that it was useless to do so. A man this neat, would probably have left his suicide note in plain view to avoid anyone disturbing his clothes after his death. I looked around and there was no note. In fact though there were riverine pebbles lying all around, there was no large stone nearby capable of holding down a suicide paper from the stiff breeze and other stray wanderers, which i realised was what he would have done if i had read him right in death.

And till now there seemed no obvious reason why the man had done what he had done. I squatted on my haunches to have a deep think about it. Why? Why? Why?  Could it be the Brexit? I mean, no one had seriously expected the Brits of all people to have the gumption to leave the loony tunes club of united europe ruled by that megalomaniac merkel of germany. But the brits had dared to do that and the rest of the pusillanimous financial world had punished them for their rare courage by taking out their anger on the pound. Had this man messed up all his money on foreign exchange trades hoping to make a quick buck betting against the euro?

Or was it the fact that hillary clinton had won the democratic nomination which had driven him to this desperate step? The fact that the american economy drives the world and this time the americans had a real chance to vote for an outsider like ole’ bernie sanders to clean up the stinking augean stables but the same old vested interests had thrown their money bags behind reckless hillary to buy her the chance to do more of the same they had been doing all these years? Could that kind of sheer futility at real change have driven him to this?

Or maybe it was something closer home? What if he had been an older man? An old helpless pensioner who had worked in the government field for 30 plus years? Slaved in some low-level desk job and retired with a small pension only to be told that the modi government was now privatizing pension and throwing the peoples pension fund into the indian stock market, yes that same bottomless pit which has swallowed up all of the public money thrown into it all these years, just to please the party’s financial bankers, those crony capitalists, who had financed the modi government's electoral victory?

The fact that his meagre pension, the only incentive of a government servant for the low pay and long hours had just been thrown into the stock market might have rushed off this man to suicide earlier than the other crores of pensioners who are waiting for the bland official announcement someday which  will say that the sensex had tanked and the saving of all those old people( invested in the stock market by the government) had disappeared overnight (into the pockets of those ambanis and adanis) and they would have to beg in the streets on the morrow.  That must be the reason why this man had died. 

No, on further reflection, it couldn't be, for this man had a bright green cardigan folded neatly. I couldn't imagine any old retiree wearing this kind of snazzy wear to his death. For the man must have known this morning, somehow i was dead sure of this, that he was dressing to die today. He wouldn't have chosen this bright garment if he had been an old depressed man. On the other hand which man would dress so brightly for his death? Why had he died? What made him do it? Just walk into the river so calmly knowing he would die?

For thats the irony of life isnt it? We never know when we are born and when we die- two events absolutely beyond our control. But this man was one the few, the very few, brave men, who not only knew when he was going to die but also choose the how. Not all of us are that lucky to choose the day and time to die. Most of use just die on the streets of our cities as we  do our daily commute to work thinking all the time about meeting targets and satisfying our superiors enough to stay employed for another month with absolutely no clue that we need not worry about the long term if you happen to live in india for the odds are you wont live long enough to see the long term.  
Caught up in the hassles of everyday survival , when survival every day itself is a hassle, we don't take the time to think about our deaths far less plan for it- the odd life insurance policy doesn't count here. But this man done that – he had chosen to die, he had beaten fate to the punch. Or had he? Was it his destiny? To die here? To die now? All alone in this river? Had god got his revenge afterall? A pointless death to follow a meaningless life?

Just to make random people  read about your death in the mornings newspaper and use it to make a point to others of their acquaintances “see that's life, you never how know god will end it, so always stay good so you can meet him with a clean conscience?”. So excuse me, this man died to make this point? That god is omnipotent? That god can snuff your life in a minute? Just to make sure that others toe his line about being goody-two shoes all the time? What kind of god uses punishment of one as a lesson to others? To make sure that everyone else falls in line?

Oh wait, you are going to say that god did not take this mans life but he did it himself? Ok lets follow this analogy a bit further and agree that this man made his own choice in death. But lets start at the beginning did this man have a choice in when he was born, where he was and especially to who he was born? As human beings we always always praise our parents for giving us love and affection and for being the best parents ever? But are we really lucky in who our parents were? What if our life could have have been infinitely easier if we had a different set of circumstances in our births?
Being born in a different country say being born an american citizen would have been so much easier for those who so crave the f-1 visas that they would rather marry for a visa than for love? Say being born rich, filthy rich, like sid mallya for instance, would have made a difference to someone who pulls fully loaded hand carts for a living instead of screwing young girls for fun while dad swindles entire nations to afford that lifestyle? Or being born to rich parents, parents rich enough to save you from the police when your car runs over someone by bribing everyone in sight instead of being arrested by the police and locked away for six years without a trial just because you were flying a kite in the street and a police constable did not like your face?

And you still think that god played fair in your birth? What if this man had none of these advantages of birth? What if he had been born an orphan brought up without education had no steady work all his life and never went to sleep a single day with a full belly. And will you still blame him if he choose to die? And will you still say your god is fair? And its all fate? Dont talk to me of a benevolent god- for all i know, god created man on one his hangover days just to have some fun watching the poor creatures flop around trying to get by in life.  Most human lives are filled with misery from birth to death and its a wonder that more such miserable creatures do not break and take their own lives.

Oh, so you are going to say that misfortune builds character? Oh really, You want to go there? What was character ever done to make the life of a man, any man easier? If you take a look around its the amoral men who are all ruling us from top to bottom. They have their way with everything because they are gods favored lot, his lucky offspring.  And the most immoral of creatures, the very definition of absolute evil are the ones who parade around boldly as religious gurus and priests- those who interpret gods dictates to everyone else- to the foolish masses looking for some meaning in their meaningless daily lives. If that isn't a joke god plays on us, i don't know what else is.

So lets get back to this man, this anonymous braveheart who chose to end it all his own way instead of keeping on struggling through a meaningless life just because someone, some law full of crap, prohibits the taking of life. If a person has no right to take his own life- the only one thing he is born with and absolutely owns and if even that right is taken away by the law and the state and god then what is left as the lot of humanity? Is man born to live and die a slave? To live life to the dictates of everyone else except self? Can man never exceed his existence and aspire for something more? The right to his own life?

The more i thought about it the more i felt that this man had done nothing wrong, in fact he had merely exercised his own privilege to end his misery. However he had died, it would be no use to bring the knowledge of his death to the authorities, now that he was gone. So i turned and left the riverbank , but not before taking those folded clothes, bundling them and hurling them far down the river, to make sure that no one ever found out that the man had died or how. That was the least i could do in that mans fight against an uncaring god –one man against divinity. Chalk score one to humanity and score zero to god.

P.S. if this post makes even one of you to question your beliefs in a benign divinity i feel that my job as a writer is done. Lets leave alone all invisible entities both good and bad and stick to just humanity.


Disclaimer : Written for a Blog prompt- what divinity means to you- given by my blogger friend mahesh lakshman.