Sunday, October 6, 2013

Bachelor life at 29

‘Your son has Rahu in 8th house. His marriage will happen only in the second half of 2013. Even if you plan something before that, it will get scrapped’
‘Dude you better get married soon’
‘All girls whose alliance came for you are getting married to someone else. If there is any girl whose marriage is not happening, we should make you meet her so that she will get married to someone else’
‘There is a girl in my office but she is of different caste. Otherwise I would have asked for you’
You are 6 feet tall, IIM graduate, photographer…Dude, girls must be crazy about you’
‘I am XYZ’s brother in law. You came to meet her but didn’t contact after that. Can I know why you are not interested?’
‘What do you expect, Aiswarya Rai to come for you?’
‘Didn’t you know that I am only 5 feet tall before you came to see me?’
‘Dude, leave all your anti-religious rhetoric and go to XYZ temple. Lot of people got married after offering prayers there’
‘We are interested in the alliance, but your son will have to come and settle down at our place’
‘First do a reality check on how you yourselves look, before you expect pretty girls to fall for you!’
‘If you go for marriage outside your religion and caste, your children will regret’
‘Mr. Xs son, Ys son,  all married the girls of their parents choice, what do you think is special about you?’
‘I am inviting you, along with your camera for my wedding. Please take nice shots’
‘She has Mars in the 7th house, if your son marries her it is harmful to you’
‘I will pray for you to get a nice bride’
‘It is immaterial whether you believe in religion/caste or not. The girls family will believe and they wouldn’t like you.’
‘What is happening with your girl search? Got any bakra?’
‘There is no perfect girl for anyone… you have to adjust to make marriage work’
‘If you wait anymore you might not even get married’
‘Even we  can search for a bride for you..what are your ‘demands’?’
‘When you hit 30, your attractiveness in the marriage market halves. No girl would want to marry someone who is 30’
‘Do you have a permanent job? All IT companies are firing people!’
‘Don’t mind me asking, what exactly is the reason you are not getting married?’
‘If you met 5 girls and didn’t like anyone, your expectation must be too high!’
‘Why didn’t you come for my wedding? How could you miss the most important day in my life!’
‘Your son has only post graduate diploma in management? We are looking for MBA graduates’
‘What exactly are you looking for in a girl?’



Saturday, January 19, 2013

Living Life the Religious Way

Please click on the image below to Zoom it.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Measuring my life’s success

Was thinking - I am in my deathbed, and looking back at my life’s journey. Will I be able to have a peaceful death, contended by what I have done in my life?

Will I be happy and satisfied if I do well in my career, become rich, give good education for my children and secure their life? (which in the current circumstances looks achievable!) Wouldn’t I feel guilty that I didn’t make use of the opportunities and brand name I had for the betterment of the world around me? Isn’t it totally selfish on my part to enjoy the comforts and not indulge in any selfless act which could help iron out the inconsistencies in the society?

I would be happy and contended at my death bed if in the world around me 

  • One does not see another different from oneself on the basis of religion/caste/looks  and people realize that all these distinctions have been nothing but a mockery
  • Every child has access to good nourishment and education
  • Children and encouraged to keep their mind open with wonder and awe than close it with mediocre answers and they grow with a free mind not curtailed by the stereotyped thought process which enslaves it for a lifetime.
  • Moral and civic sense is rooted in empathy and mutual respect and not in religious dogmas
  • People realize that every profession & every individual is necessary for our existence and we must support each other and hand hold the weaker section
  • Individual freedom assumes a supreme position as against societal norms
  • Court of justice gives verdict based on facts and rationale rather than religious sentiments or compromises 
  • An individual is respected not based on the money that he has but on what he contributed back to the society
I assume it is my responsibility to work towards this state and help people come out of the age old chains. I would consider my life a failure if I didn’t strive hard for the world to be such a place.

~ Blog post triggered by the Assam, Bombay, Bangalore incidents and discussions I had with a few friends.
~ Feeling really sad at the way people distinguish themselves from others based on make-believe boundaries.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Gods in flesh and blood

This article has been written as a submission for the course ‘Management of Self’ in IIMC and is based on the novel ‘Immortals of Meluha’ by Amish Tripathi . If you are looking for an unbiased review of the book, you are at the wrong place. This is more on how the book conforms to my personal convictions, than what the author might have meant!

I was introduced to the habit of reading, by my father. He had collected a lot of story books, classics as well as the epics even as I was a baby, so that I can start reading them as soon as I learn to. I had read Ramayana and Mahabharata at an early age itself, along with many other related Puranas. I was always amazed by the story of Mahabharata, with its profound and subtle meanings, perfect characters and variety of side stories and used to believe that it is the best literary work ever by man. I couldn’t help wondering how a single person like VedVyas could write such an article all by himself. I used to feel proud to have a heritage where such characters existed in flesh and blood.

As I grew up and having read many other books, I started doubting if the epics were just stories and not reality and were these really the work of single persons after all, or of a generation of authors. I wondered why such heroes and armors don’t exist anymore – the warriors who had divine talents, saints who could shuttle between earth and heaven, Gods showing up every now and then to bless the kings. I was slowly coming out of some contradiction that India faces – the lack of distinction that people have between History and Mythology.

I remember something which influenced me in my school days - “Dwaparam”- a Malayalam book, presenting the story of Krishna and Radha, but without the air of divinity or exaggeration. The book was presented from the angle of Radha, who sacrificed her love for the sake of humanity, but still got pushed to a back stage in other scriptures by the aura of the legend, Krishna. In the book, Krishna is portrayed as a village boy who came up in life through hard work and determination and became the savior of his tribe, by killing the evil king Kamsa. It didn’t have even a tinge of super human acts or divine interventions. The book gave a strong alternate perspective to me. I started to see the characters as human beings who might or might not have existed, but have been exaggerated over time.

During my college days, I got caught up with the Hindutva wave, due to the influence of a few friends. I used to believe that Hinduism is the best religion in the world, seeing Christianity as evangelistic and Islam as extremist. It was more of a result of constant interaction with those friends which kept my bias rather than an informed choice. As I researched more on the historic facts, I realized that Hinduism had its own share of vices – Caste System, Untouchability, Sati, Sambhandham practice in Kerala, Child marriage etc. I was realizing that the religion that I considered to be the symbol of ‘Universal Acceptance’ and ‘Tolerance’ wasn’t really so at any point of time, but it was rather an image given to it by scholars like Swami Vivekananda who revived Hinduism and made it presentable to the world.

Coming to the book “Immortals of Meluha”, I find a lot of ideas being presented, which aligns with my above said convictions. I feel Amish Tripathi has been able to present his strong views in a subtle manner throughout this book, careful not to offend anyone and not to raise any conflict, but still driving his view effectively.

He begins the book by saying that he is bowing to ‘Lord’ Siva, even as the book is about Siva being seen as a human with less or no divinity. The story proceeds as we see Siva, the leader of the Guna tribe in Tibet, coming to the land called Meluha ruled by the Suryavamsi kings (which according to the author covers the modern day Pakistan and North-West India). He is considered as the savior by the people of Meluha, according to an old legend. There he meets his love Sati. The story proceeds as we see Shiva pursuing his love and his supposed mission. The reader is a given a vivid picture of the emotional journey that Shiva undergoes. The story ends abruptly, to be continued over the two sequels.

The book, according to me has a storyline which is extremely gripping, presented with lot of twists and turns, the second half being a real suspense thriller. I must admit that it has a lot of situations which are anachronic- like the sophisticated infrastructure of Meluhans or the Somras which prevents death, as well as a number of flawed logics- like the Maika system where the parents give all children to the school who are later allotted randomly after education. Keeping apart these minor deficiencies, I really enjoyed reading the book and hope that the sequels are as thrilling and interesting as this is.

I would like to analyze the story on a few dimensions which I feel as important.

1.       Confusion between Mythology and History

As I already said, this is one aspect which characterizes India according to me. This is a country which was predominantly Buddhist for over 1000 years, but that history being conveniently excluded from the mainline scriptures, to present the view of India as a Hindu one. This has been catalyzed by a series of stories which binds together the faith across cultures and which partly relate to certain historic events.

Hinduism has taken lot of stories from across the country and combined it as one big logical story. This becomes evident as we dive a bit deeper. . I had written a blog earlier on the alternate perspective of Ayyappa as Buddha. Maveli, a legendary king in the folk stories of Kerala, seems to have been later identified with the king Bali, whom Vamana, the 5th Avatar of Vishnu supposedly sent to the Hell. Murugan, a Dravidian God who has been worshipped for a long time has been later identified with Karthikeyan, Parvathy’s second son. It becomes more evident as we notice that Karthikeyan is not worshipped as a God anywhere in North India. Most of the places where the stories supposed to have taken place do exist even today, with remnants of temples and forts constructed some time in recorded history - thus Dwaraka, Lanka, Rameshwaram, Hastinapur etc becomes part of mythology as well as history.

I completely appreciate the effort towards blending mythology to form a coherent story, which matches with geography as well as a few historic facts, but the problem with this is that it confuses people. They are left to believe that the ‘Gods’ once walked in flesh and blood at these places. It is then that they feel like pulling down a Mosque at a place where they believe a mythological figure was actually born, or people get offended when a Muslim artist draws naked pictures of another mythological figure.

‘Immortals of Meluha’ tries to see the legendary character Shiva as a mortal who becomes a leader. The protagonist is more of a charismatic leader who has normal human emotions with no divinity attached to him. Amish explains how he is being worshipped by the followers against his wish. This gives the reader a taste of how normal mortals get deified over time, appended by exaggerated stories.

On a lighter note, I feel that this book would have become a major controversy, had it been written by a Non-Hindu author!

2.      Ideal state as against Free state

Meluha is initially presented as an ideal land with high scientific advancements – pipes, drainage systems, people living in quarters etc. Everything in Meluha is guided by rules created by visionary kings. Shiva is amazed by how efficiently the system works. Everyone knows their duty and sticks to it strictly, which makes Meluha, the land of abundance and perfection. But this is achieved at the cost of freedom and dignity of a section of the population. Swadweep, the land of Chandravamsis is described as an imperfect system with a larger population, haphazard organization of the city, damaged roads and slums. But it is also the place of “Passion, Beauty and Freedom”, where houses were different from each other, according to individuals taste and beauty existing side by side with ugliness.

There is one instance which beautifully narrates this. Shiva sees a beggar at the Ram temple in Swadweep sitting with some unclean food. Shiva wondered how the empire can let people be in a wretched state like that, something which will not happen in Meluha. It was then that the beggar offered him the little food that he had. Shiva was amazed and he politely declined. The beggar says “This food is good, otherwise I wouldn’t have offered this to you”, his eyes reflecting the hurt he felt. Realizing that he has insulted the old man’s pride, Shiva sits with him and has the food, when the old man beams generously. Shiva was touched by this incident when a person whom he felt as wretched and on the verge of starvation, offered the little food that he had. He realizes what Chandravamsis gave their people and what Suryavamsis do not, -Freedom, Freedom for even the wretched to have dignity!

This I believe is a representation of the pre-colonial and post colonial India. India accounted for 32.9% of Worlds GDP in 1st century AD, 28.9% in 1000AD and 24.4% of Worlds GDP in 1700. The system of division worked perfectly to take the country to economic growth, but it was at the cost of a vast majority being denied of dignity and respect! 

3.      Caste System – A Social malevolence

Amish draws an excellent picture of how the caste system came into place and how it got deformed over time. The intention behind it was to have an ideal society, where every person performs his duty and the society as a whole benefits, the inheritance of caste being to follow a process of competitive selection. Even as it was designed with an ideal society in mind, I feel that the pioneers should have foreseen a future when parental selfishness would make the elite castes to shun the ‘acquiring caste by karma’ concept and create an easy route for their offspring.

Caste system, according to me, is the largest crime that Hinduism has committed to mankind. Caste plays with the sub conscious mind of people, injecting a superiority or inferiority complex in the mind of children right from their birth, which gets reinforced over time by the societal interactions. It is equally appalling and amazing to note that something as nonexistent and intangible as caste could propagate over several centuries and get accepted equally by the benefactors as well as the oppressed. As I said earlier, the country progressed economically those days, but at the cost of a section of the society confined to the abhorred jobs, not given a chance to study or excel. They never even realized that they were being treated unfairly – because they were made to believe that they were born of the feet of Lord Brahma and has to follow their ‘birth-karma’ religiously to wash away the sins of ‘previous lives’!

The evil is far from being over in the age of artificial intelligence. Still discrimination exists including heinous practices like Untouchability, along with it taking a new manifestation of Caste politics. I was really disheartened to know that Indian Government lobbied strongly against the move by United Nations to classify Caste System as a Human Right violation. It is sad to notice that the Government of a secular and democratic country bends its back to accommodate the biases of communal elements.

4.      Imperfect characters

Another peculiar aspect I notice in the novel is that the characters are imperfect. Shiva is shown as a normal human being with his own limitations. He lives with the guilt of leaving a girl who pleaded for help in his childhood. He smokes marijuana, desperately tries to impress his love, naively believes the Suryavamsis and later repents it as he realizes his mistake. He is anything but divine, apart from the fact that he is considered divine by his followers. Sati lives accepting her inferior status in the society despite her talent, though craving for respect and recognition.

I think this is a change in attitude that the human kind as such needs to have – to accept leaders as human beings who are imperfect in their own ways, but charismatic and able to lead them. But we need them to be completely perfect. We take offense when someone raises the question as to whether Gandhiji had shared a bed with his grandniece, something which he himself had publicly admitted, or if someone from West says that Nehru had a relationship with Edwina Mountbatten. We find it hard to accept the fact that a leader can have a weaker side, especially when he is a God-like figure. It is for the same reason that Church warned the followers not to read Da Vinci code, as they fear that having human emotions might make Christ a mortal before the followers.

I see people who are either hard core fans of Gandhiji, blatantly denying any such weak emotions that he had or completely opposing his methods, calling him a pervert and accusing him of pampering Muslims. Hardly anyone is willing to accept the fact that he was normal imperfect human being who did the humongous job of uniting the nation and challenging the largest empire with his non violent methods.

To conclude, “Immortals of Meluha” was a book which stirred up strong emotions in me, as I felt it aligned with my personal convictions over multiple dimensions. As I said at the onset, I am not really sure if the author actually holds the same view, but I think it is the character of a good book, that it invites multiple interpretations from the readers.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Demise of Raahukaalam

Before starting, let me give a warning -This article contains objectionable content. Girls, read it at your own discretion; Guys, go ahead – you won’t regret spending 5 minutes of your life reading this ;)

Vivek was in a dilemma. It is almost 7:25 and he has to leave home within the next 5 minutes for his University exams and he hasn’t answered nature’s call yet! Unusual sleep timings always altered his bowel movements. Today, even after two attempts, he was unable to get a satisfactory result.

But as he was dressed up and about to leave at 7:25 he suddenly felt the nature’s call. He had 2 choices before him, either to start now and ignore the call or undress, unload the burden and start from home during Rahukaalam, and face the worst!

Rahukaalam is a certain period of time every day that is considered inauspicious for any important task, according to Indian astrology. Raahu is the northern most point of the intersection of the ecliptic with the orbit of moon, and was considered as one of the nine planets, by early Indian astronomers. Rahukaalam is the time period during which Raahu is supposed to have the power to swallow Sun, and is hence inauspicious!

Vivek was brought up in a religious family. His parents were really superstitious and gave real importance to beliefs such as Raahukaalam. They never went for a function nor decided on any important matters during those times. He too made it a practice to avoid Raahukaalam when he was to do anything important, especially exams.

He was doing his 1st year B Tech in Electronics Engineering at one of the prominent private colleges. He has his Basic Civil Engineering exam today at 9 and his van was due to come at 8. 
The whole dilemma existed because on Mondays, Raahukaalam is from 7:30 to 9 am, which means that he should start before 7:30 from home so as to avoid the evil charm of Raahu, even though his bus stop was just 5 minutes walk from home. 

He finally decided to leave and keep his corporeal pressures under control.  He had a smile on his face, as he was walking down the road “Now, nothing can go wrong. Exam should be easy for me”

He slowly walked to the temple. He made it a practice to go to the temple before every exam, after he failed in Chemistry once in 7th standard. The school authorities threatened that time, to send him off if he scores low again. Anyways it paid well; he never failed after that. In fact he used to top the class for many subjects and he was always confident about his ability to study. But, a year at Engineering College was tough for him; first of all he never wanted to be an Engineer, but had to choose it because he missed the entry to a medical college by a few hundred ranks. Kerala Government was planning to give approval for 5 new Medical colleges which gave him vain hope for a year, only to slacken in studies at his college. So at the end of first year, he was scoring really low on Internal marks, even below the class average and was really uncomfortable about it. He wanted to do well for the University exams, to cover up for his low Internals. This was the major reason why he didn’t want to take risk with Raahu on that day.

He prayed well and came out of the temple. Vivek was feeling slightly uneasy as the nature’s call was getting stronger. “Will I be able to hold on for another 3-4 hours, or should I go back home and clear myself off? But in that case, technically I would be leaving for exam during Raahukaalam and exam could be tough!”

He glanced at the road leading to home for a while, turned and walked towards the bus stop. “I don’t want to play with Raahu on this day”, he murmured.

He reached the bus stop at 7:45. It would still be 15 minutes before his van comes. Even as he waited, he began to get a pain down his belly and strong outward push down his rectum, at intervals. He was feeling really uneasy “I still have time; shall I take an auto rickshaw, go home, complete the procedure and come back?” Vivek wondered    

“No, leaving during Raahukaalam is the last thing I want before a tough exam as this. Also I am not so well prepared too. I definitely don’t want to take a risk”, Vivek has made up his mind for the last time, not to let worldly feelings hamper his faith.

Van came in about 20 minutes, each of those passing like hours. 

Once he was seated in the van, he felt better. He kept his back straight; if Newton’s third law is true, he must be safe in a seated posture, since for every outward force, the seat should exert an opposing force and hence he would be freed of any trouble. Vivek sat in the van taking deep breaths, promising himself to visit the lavatory once he reaches the college. 

But fate had its game to play. One tire of the stupid van got flat and the driver took half an hour to change it. All the while, Vivek was battling with Newton’s Third law. He wondered if it’s being called the Third law of “Motion” has anything to do with his present situation!

Finally he reached the college, 5 minutes before the scheduled start of the exam. Surprisingly, he wasn’t feeling any pressure now. He wandered around the corridor to see if the lavatory was free. But time played the spoil sport here. The Invigilator was calling everyone to enter the Exam Hall. Vivek paused for a moment to check if he was alright. He was feeling just normal, no pressures at least for the time being. 

He decided to take a chance and enter the Hall. “Shit, this time also I am the only boy in the entire examination Hall. This is the problem in having names starting with last alphabets”. With “V”, he was the last guy in his class and was grouped along with the girls. He wouldn’t have cared on any other day, but with a war raging in his belly, he was not at all comfortable of the idea of being in a class full of girls.
He settled down and collected the question paper. The chic from IT coming from his bus stop was in the same seat as his. She smiled at him. ‘God, it would be really embarrassing if something happens beyond my control’ he thought as he smiled back.

5 minutes onto the exam, trouble started again. This time it was much worse than earlier. He tried to keep his cool and focus on the question paper.

Vivek has learned in his 12th standard biology that there are two muscles which control exit of feces from body- the Internal Anal Sphincter and External Anal Sphincter; the former being involuntary and the latter being voluntary. It is the external sphincter that helps human beings to keep control of their bowel movement. His biology teacher in fact made a remark about crows not having control over its anal sphincter, because of which we at times get showered. 

For the first time in his life Vivek empathized with crows. He vouched never again to abuse a crow for shitting on him.

20 minutes into the exam he has not even started answering. He was glancing at the paper to comprehend the questions, but his mind was wandering elsewhere. He was analyzing the different possibilities of making an excuse and going to the lavatory. There was a younger professor and an older Lady, both of whom haven’t taught him yet. That was a bit consoling, as asking permission for this would have been really embarrassing to a familiar teacher. Also, asking the Professor would be a better option compared to asking the older lady. Now the problem was how to ask. Obviously he should take control of even the remote chances of the girl sitting next to him overhear it. Given the gossiping potential of girls, one girl knowing is as good as everyone knowing it!

Also he wasn’t sure how to phrase it “Sir, Can I please use the lavatory?” or “Sir, I think I have food poisoning, would you mind…”

Vivek suddenly felt the strong push down his rectum again. He remembered the Art of Living Teacher telling him how to focus on each body part and monitor its movement. Taking one deep breath, he tried to concentrate on his anal sphincter and tried to communicate with it “Dear sphincter muscle, please don’t let your master be dishonored in front of so many girls, Hold on…Fight for your master..Fight I say!!!”

A moment later, he felt a sticky wet feeling in his posterior “Ohh God, are you giving up on me?” Newton’s Laws also seem not to hold true anymore.

“Any moment it would start stinking and I will be a mere ass in front of all these girls!”

Vivek stood up and motioned the invigilator to come closer “Excuse me, Sir?” His hands were shivering. Invigilator looked up and stared with a puzzled look, without moving. 

“What the Hell! Can’t he come closer and ask? What is this moron paid examination duty fee for? Does he want me to say that I want to go to lavatory, in front of all these girls?”

Vivek moved out and walked up to the professor and leaning forward close enough, whispered “Sir, I want to go to the latrine, It is urgent”

Invigilator was taken aback by the quick movement. He stared back at Vivek, as if asking “Don’t you have one at your home, son?” 

A moment later he stood up and called to the elderly invigilator at the other end of the Hall, “Excuse me, Madam”

“God, what he is going to say?” Vivek felt a chill down his spine. The scene ran across his mind – the professor calling up to the Lady “Madam, this guy wants to go to latrine, Can we let him go ?” and all the 50+ girls bursting out laughing – “God, I would prefer the earth swallowing me this moment, as it did to Sitadevi, than face such a disgrace!”

“Sir, It’s urgent” Vivek’s voice was at his peak as he said it. But it worked. Whatever the actual intention of the professor was, he turned to Vivek as said “Yeah go ahead, and come back soon”

Vivek ran out of the hall to the toilet. He had the picture in his mind, of the two invigilators laughing at his plight. But this was the wrong time to think about what others think.

He reached the toilet in the blink of an eye. The sweeper aunty was near the toilet. He aired a weak smile at her and opened the door.

“Son, there is no water. Pipe is not working”, aunty said

‘Ohh God! why are you doing this to me? Wasn’t my situation bad enough?’ 

Vivek gave a pleading look at aunty not knowing what to do. Already his valve has given way and there is no question of holding on any longer. 

His expression must have been a strong request in itself, aunty suddenly said “its ok son, you carry on, I will fetch water from the well and keep it outside”

He heard half of it as he went inside; he was stripping as he heard the other half.

The damage was worse than what Vivek initially thought. Sphincter muscle seems to have been too generous that his underwear was sticking to his posterior. 

He pulled it off and sat on the closet seat……………….and………………….the flood gate was opened…………… Vivek experienced what the sages call as Nirvana, Liberation etc. That was a moment of joy when everything else seemed too trivial to him- his unfinished exam, soiled underwear, water-less closet ….everything…

“It must be the jack fruit that I ate after dinner”, Vivek thought while relaxing.

Aunty had brought water in a bucket and kept it outside. Vivek cleaned himself up and flushed the closet. 

Major problem lied ahead. Vivek wondered how to go back to exam hall now. The underwear can’t be worn without washing well. Wearing a wet underwear for the whole of exam is not a good idea; also, as it might stink. Also, there isn’t enough water remaining to wash it clean. If he leaves it in the toilet, aunty would definitely understand that it was him.

Vivek took the drastic decision. He took the underwear with 2 fingers, swayed it to roll into a bundle, taking care not to touch the sticky part and in a quick motion, he flipped open the ventilator and threw it out.

It would have fallen just outside the Principal’s office, if not on someone’s head. Vivek went out before anyone came running to find out who did this kind of an act. 

Aunty was there in the corridor, she was smiling. Vivek smiled back; He felt a motherly attachment towards her. For a moment Vivek wondered if he should hug her and cry “Thanks aunty, you are like God to me. Without you, I would have been in total mess”. 

‘No, I don’t have time. I have wasted almost half an hour of the exam’. Vivek voiced thanks to aunty and ran back to the class.

“What would the girls have thought as I was away? I don’t think they could have guessed that I had run to the latrine in the middle of the exam”, wondered Vivek as he was running “Or do they?”

Rather than letting them guess something Vivek decided to keep up the air that he has gone to puke.
‘Vomiting in the middle of exam is any day better than shitting, Besides the girls might actually think that I caught fever studying continuously for exam, leading to sympathies towards a studious guy, What say?’ His face brightened at this idea.

 Vivek mentally gave a pat on his back, found the nearest tap and washed his mouth and face, consciously allowing some water to fall on his shirt also. Then he entered the class with a battling-with-fever-to-write-exam look.

Partly to his dismay and majorly to his relief, all the girls were so engrossed in writing the exam, no one seemed to have cared that he was missing. 

The remaining hour and a half Vivek didn’t notice what was happening around him. He didn’t have the courage to make eye contact with any of the invigilators. He finished off the exam in time, skipping two essay questions though. But he was sure that he will pass and that was more than what he could expect on that day. He kept the answer paper at the table and went out of the hall without looking at the examiners.

Vivek realized that walking around without primary shield (or going Commando as per the vocabulary of Joey Tribbiani and Chandler Bing of FRIENDS) was not advisable for obvious reasons. In the remote chance of seeing something forbidden……………………Losing that control would be 100 times more disgraceful than people knowing that he lost control of alimentary canal in the exam hall.

Vivek ran to the van, found a secluded seat for himself and sat there. He kept his gaze fixed at the sky and with long deep breaths, recollected how Gautama Buddha renounced all worldly pleasures and lived an austere life. His friends couldn’t make out what happened to this otherwise cheerful guy. They assumed that it was the response to a tough exam. 

Finally after an hour and a half he was dropped at the bus stop. He got out and without turning back once, walked to his home, with short measured steps. He rushed opened his gate and pushed himself inside, putting an end to one of the most dreadful days of his life.

Never again did Vivek bother to check Rahukaalam, not even when he went for his IIM interviews! 

This story is aimed as a mockery of the undue importance that some people gave to superstitions (such as Raahukaalam, Evil eye, Horoscope etc), as against their own rationale. It is completely a work of fiction. Any resemblance to someone existing or dead is purely coincidental!


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Enlightenment to Individual, Opium to Masses

"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the masses."  - Karl Marx

As I write this, an entire country is anxiously waiting for the verdict on an act by a bunch of religious fanatics 18 years ago, and praying that history will not repeat. Religion, by its true nature, should not take a form where it harms people, but sadly it does. I am trying to evaluate what is the actual purpose of religion in the life of humankind, what it is in the contemporary world and suggesting a few changes  that I feel is inevitable for a harmonious future.

Dearest Reader, there is nothing new in this article; the views expressed here have been proclaimed time and again by many eminent people who were depressed by the animosity in the world over something non-existent. I am doing my small bit in spreading the message, by repeating their words.

What is the purpose of religion?

Even as man is intellectually superior to the other beings, he is not clear of many aspects about himself; or rather he has numerous doubts because of his superior intelligence. It deceives him, to understand the vastness of this universe, how complex life is and what the purpose of his existence is. The function that religion serves in a man’s life is to provide answers to these unending questions he has – regarding his place in the world, purpose of life, what after this..

And that search to oneself is completely individual - One came alone in this world, he is alone in his search of the meaning, and he leaves alone. He might or might not realize the ultimate truth, but definitely he is alone in his spiritual search. Religion thus helps the lonely man to search for answers, during his life. He does not have to search anywhere else for this. The answer is within himself, but obscured. He can find the answer by introspection. Religion provides a framework for it.

Swami Vivekananda says that various religions are like the different pathways that lead to the same mountain top; the paths vary in the looks and terrain. But all paths inevitably lead to the same mountain top. Individuals can take whichever path they are comfortable with. It is immaterial which path you take, as the destination is the same.

Now, what is collective religion?

It is pretty obscure what is aimed at by the concept of collective religion. Finding a good teacher who can guide one in the search is still understandable. When the search for ultimate truth is individual and requires lot of introspection, what is the purpose of aggregating people on the basis on religion?

Now don’t say that religion groups people so that they can collectively introspect! That is not logical, and even it was so, it not what religion does currently!

We are given a collective feeling right from childhood. We project statistics like India has 80% Hindus and 18% Muslims – based on what religion they were born at. Has anyone asked these 1.2 billion people whether they are actually influenced by the ideologies of the religion to which they are categorized into? I am sure that majority of people who proudly claim to be Hindus have no clue about what are the fundamentals of the religion. They just remain so and are chauvinistic about it because they were born to it and were trained to believe that way. No religion is an exception to this.

Christ, Krishna, Buddha, Vivekananda and Mohamed were all great leaders. They all proclaimed the same ultimate path – the realization of God within oneself!

None of them wanted a religion to take collective form or be organized and oppose the other religions. They offered frameworks and guidelines so that an individual can explore himself and realize his place in this world. But comprehending this ultimate truth is possible only for the educated and thoughtful ones. So they delivered it in simple forms like stories, which could be understood by the masses. Masses have to be initially convinced about a God, separate from themselves whom they would be looking up to, until they could be made ready to accept the ultimate aspect of searching the ultimate god within oneself. And these stories got misinterpreted or were interpreted literally by the thoughtless followers.

Christ never employed Church to be an intermediary between himself and the people. All religious institutions are self- appointed middle-men who claim to be closer to God than the common mass and through whom alone the common man can reach God.

It was the need of the religious institutions to deify these leaders, lest they do not have an existence. And it is exactly in the name of these misinterpreted verses and deified leaders that people kill each other now.

It is because these institutions existence are based on these hyped stories that the Church has to warn people about the devil which has made Dan Brown write Da Vinci code and hence shouldn’t be read by any believer. Vishwa Hindu Parishad feels agitated when an artist of a different religion paints Sita as naked or as having affair with Hanuman. They took it as a national issue and got the artist exiled. All these for mythological characters whose existence is as obscure to the fanatics as is to the artist!

A different question is, was Mr. Hussain running short of characters which could be painted as naked or as having extra marital relations, for him to choose as sensitive a character as Sita ? Anyways VHP did a good job of marketing those pictures (with captions and explanations), which would otherwise have made no sense to the eyes of a common man ;)

Why shouldn’t religion be collectivized?

Two-thirds of the Jews in Europe (Six million innocent people) were systematically exterminated during the Holocaust.

British used the Hindu –Muslim divide as an easy tool. The cross border migration and the killings which ensued resulted in death tolls estimated to be between 5 lakh and 1 million. People found it better to leave their own land and migrate to a far off place and be with the ones of “their type” than being with their neighbors for a life time. Indian and Pakistan gifted each other with train loads of mutilated bodies of immigrants. The enmity is still far away from being solved.

India also witnessed a situation where a political party sponsored a massacre of innocent people belonging to one community for no fault of theirs. Fundamentalists felt like pulling down the temple of another religion (which should have been protected as a National monument) to build a temple for their own God! We also saw a Chief Minister giving silent approval for women and children of a different religion to be raped and butchered by fanatic mobs.

Thaslima Nasrin, in her brave work “Lajja”, gives a very vivid picture of the anti-Hindu sentiments in Bangladesh after the Babri Masjid demolition. Bangladeshi Muslims felt it necessary to take revenge on the Hindus in their country for what happened in Ayodhya – they felt more allegiance towards the unknown people in a different country whom they have never met and remorselessly took revenge on their own countrymen who stayed across the street.

All these are situations which led to deaths of thousands of innocent people, just because they had a religious identity!

What we need to notice here is that the madness of religion is not limited to a country - a religious riot in some part of the world will definitely have reverberations across the globe and has the potential to destroy a country or the whole humanity itself.

What was the rationale behind these acts – because they chose a different path towards knowing themselves than the perpetrators?

The problem lies in the act of Collectivizing religion!

People are kept in dark about the true purpose of religion. They are projected with a religious identity and asked to see others to be of a different type. Who is benefiting from this - the people? None of the religious institutions actually serve the purpose which it should actually do – help in people understand themselves. Instead they inject people with prejudices about themselves as well as others making them kill and harm others who apparently have done nothing to them.

Violence is always initiated by the fundamentalists and it is the common man who has to pay for it.

Collective religion is as harming as it is meaningless.

What change is required?

Something which caught my attention recently was an article in Hindu which quoted the words of the social activist Swami Agnivesh during World Religious Congress in Kochi. He said, “A child should have no religion upto the age of 18. Also, the government must ensure that there should not be any claims for religion or caste in school register or academic register".

I feel that this is a very important change that has to happen, that to as soon as possible. When religion is a path that one chooses to identify oneself or to realize god, how can parents or the society decide it? And what right does the school authorities or rather government has, to demand for the religion of a kid when a kid is joined to school.

Let the kid be joined to school without any religious identification. Let him be taught about the various religions and schools of thought across the world, including atheism and let him make an informed choice of the path that he wants to follow in his life. This would raise the brows of quite a number of parents who want their children to be brought up in a particular faith. Fine, Parents can bring up their kids in their own religion. But that doesn’t need it to be mentioned in official records, does it?

Such a change is highly imperative in the case of a secular country like India. Why should a secular country keep a record of the faiths of its citizens? Does it make any significance in ones career or life? If the answer is yes, it means we are not truly secular.

It is when religion is in numbers that some organizations feel like pumping funds to ‘Save’(euphemism for ‘Forced Conversion’) the hapless from underdeveloped nations to boost their numbers. It is then that some feel it is their purpose of life to indulge in holy war and cleanse the world off infidels.


I don’t intend in any means to say religious faith is wrong. The path provided by any religion is the best when people follow it individually. When it is organized and collective, it takes the nasty form. People should understand that each religion represents different paths to self realization (or God) and we should respect every religion. If this realization is obtained, it will make no sense to see another human being as different or fight and kill each other over mythological figures - and the world would be a better place to live in.

As I already said, there is nothing new that I had to say. If I could make you pause for a second and reconsider your convictions, my purpose is served. Thanks for going through my blog :)


Friday, September 10, 2010

Ayyappa is Buddha ?

TaktSang Monastery, Paro, Bhutan
 This article is not intended to question the faith or harm the sentiments of any devotee nor is it to disprove a popular view. It contains a bunch of arguments which appeared logical to me, majorly collected from internet and partly based on my observation, which gives an alternate perspective on the Dravidian God ‘Ayyappa’.
I recently went on a 4 day trip to Bhutan. I had heard in advance from a senior as well from the Tourist Guide that a trip to Bhutan is incomplete without a visit to the Taktsang monastery in the outskirts of Paro city.
So on one Friday early morning, we set out for our trek to Taktsang. It took us about 6 hours to complete the entire trek. It is a really tiring journey uphill, with slippery and steep portions, but the experience that we get at the top is worth the entire trouble. A view of the beautiful waterfall which sprinkles icy water as we cross a wooden bridge over the stream and the beautiful Taktsang Monastery - an awe inspiring structure, built on a vertical cliff, appearing to defy gravity is a once-in-lifetime experience.
I was amazed at the similarities between the monastery I saw and Sabarimala temple in Kerala that I have been to, many times.
The journey to the monastery involves a 3 hour trek from the road through the forest, similar to the trek to Sabarimala temple. Buddhist monasteries are generally located deep inside the forest, on mountain tops etc where they can lead an austere life peacefully and far from civilization, unlike Hindu temples which are mostly located in populated areas. Sabarimala is also located far inside the forest, in the middle of 18 hills in Western Ghats, the area coming under the Periyar Tiger Reserve. Just before the monastery, there are a series of steep steps, which reminded me of the “Pathinettam padi” or “18 steps” which takes us to the Sabarimala shrine. The legend related to Taktsang says that Guru Padmasambhava, who propagated Buddhism in Bhutan came to this place riding on a Tigress. Taktsang literally means “Tigers Nest”. Ayyappa’s legend also has a mention of him riding back home, on a tigress.
Even before going to Taktsang, I had read about the less popular view on Sabarimala and Ayyappa. There are quite a number of scholars who have given evidences to the fact that Sabarimala was actually a Buddhist shrine and Ayyappa was actually Buddha, rechristened during the revival of Hinduism and the subsequent exile of Buddhism.
 “Dharma Sastha”, the alternate name by which Ayyappa is known, suggests in similar lines. “Dharma” is a word which is of utmost importance to Buddhists. The 'Saranathrayam' of Buddhist disciples “Budham Saranam Gachami; Dharmam Saranam Gachami; Sangham Saranam Gachami” meaning “To the Buddha I go for refuge; To the Dharma (Teachings) I go for refuge; To the Sangha (Monks) I go for refuge” portrays Buddha and Dharma as destinations for ones refuge. Also “Sastha” is a widely used synonym for Buddha.
The chanting of Ayyappa devotees wherein they repeat the word Saranam is also interesting. There is no other Hindu God who is associated with the chanting of Saranam whereas it is an integral part of the Buddhist chants.
Ayyappa devotees making a pilgrimage are expected to lead an austere life for 41 days - follow celibacy and refrain from tobacco and alcohol and all carnal pleasures as well - unlikely of other Hindu pilgrimages. This is very much similar to the Buddhist principles which advocate renunciation and mental discipline.
Another interesting aspect to notice is the egalitarian nature of the Sabarimala temple. Devotees here are never differentiated on the basis of religion, caste or color. Everyone wears the same dress and addresses each other as “Ayyappa” or in other words each devotee considers each other as the God himself. This again isn’t in line with the Hindu system of differentiating people, but more similar towards the Buddhist principle of equality.
Ayyappa does not show his presence in any of the mainline Hindu scriptures, which are of Aryan origin. This is obvious as Ayyappa was a Dravidian God, who was absorbed into the Hindu mythology. Later Hindu works added him as Hariharaputra (Son of Vishnu and Shiva) who was born out of the love between Mohini(Vishnu) and Shiva.
The folk story of Ayyappa portrays him as the prince of Pandalam dynasty, the Pandalam King having adopted him on finding him as a baby in the shores of river Pampa. It is probable that the folk story was absorbed into the later Hindu scriptures, adding the missing link of the birth (story of Mohini and Shiva).
Ayyappa’s  legends speaks about him having a Muslim friend called Vavar who has helped Ayyappa. This also underlines the above fact, as Islam religion originated in mid AD 600s whereas most of the Hindu scriptures were composed in the BC era. The legend of Ayyappa must have originated at a time of religious harmony between Muslims and Hindus. The era of Pandalam Dynasty (1200-1500AD) of which Ayyappa’s legend is based on, also suggests the same.
It is interesting to note that Ayyappa is just one among the several Dravidian Gods including Tirupati Balaji, who convincingly seem to be rechristened forms of Buddha.
There is also convincing evidence that Buddhism had strong following in Kerala during early days. Lot of idols have been discovered across Kerala; the black granite statue of Buddha discovered in Alapuzha(Karumadikkuttan) being the most prominent. A 4 foot statue of Buddha has been discovered in Neyyattinkara as well. Karunagappally, Idappalli, Mavelikkara etc. have been pointed out as chief centers of Buddhism in early days.
Whatever be the truth behind it, with the limited knowledge that we have (and as history and mythology are never written by God himself), it is impossible to conclude on any of the presented views. It is actually immaterial to the millions of devotees of Ayyappa, to whom the egalitarian nature, the unique experience of controlling ones senses for an extended period, the toughness of the journey, the ambience and the energy felt among the devotees in the entire trip contributes to the ultimate satisfaction of the unique pilgrimage to Sabarimala.
Ayyappa and Sabarimala draw millions of devotees from across South India every year, making it the second largest annual religious gathering in the world after the Hajj.

On a lighter note, I feel this is an ideal topic for Dan Brown. He can start in his typical style – a Melshanti (priest) in Sabarimala getting killed on mysterious grounds, forcing the Travancore Devaswam board to bring Robert Langdon. He would then uncover lots of clues hidden across Kerala, Tirupati and some parts of North India, take some cues from Tibet and Bhutan and finally conclude that Ayyappa is actually Buddha. He can probably fall in love with the Meshanti’s beautiful daughter also, if he has enough time ;)