Long Queues, Devotion and Ganpati

He is the God of knowledge; he loves food, enjoys music and has a mouse as his ride. Now that’s a total dude God right? Mumbai’s favourite Ganpati temple is undeniably ‘Siddhivinayak’ at Prabhadevi. The temple sees A list celebrities, top brass politicos and a lot more. Every Tuesday, thousands of people line up to say hello (read ‘matha tekne’) to the deity they hope will take away all the worries from their lives. 

Today is Angariki Sankashta Chaturthi which is a mega event for all Ganpati devotees. And it isn’t very surprising that devotees lined up from early Monday morning to make sure that they got to see the Lord on the auspicious day. What’s surprising is the amount of people standing in that queue despite the scorching heat. There are senior citizens for whom it’s an extreme health risk, there areyoung professionals who probably have taken a day off work and there are children who are subjected to this torture in the name of God.

Now don’t get me for an atheist. I believe in God, I respect God and I appreciate God. Sankashta Chaturthi fasts are the only ones I religious maintain. I recite SankatNashana Stotra and all that, but I do not remember the last time I went to Siddhivinayak. 

Jayantrao Salgaokar, who happens to be my grandfather, is a Ganpatya (follower of Ganpati). He has done extensive research and study on the subject. “Ganpati never expects his devotees to give up their duty to come and see him. As long as you pray to him with a pure intention, it is immaterial whether you visit his temple or do it at your work desk.’ He tells me. ‘Of course, you need to have discipline in your ‘bhakti’ but taking 3 days off to just queue up at his mandir is not the ideal way!’

He admits that walking to the temple or queuing up long hours is a matter of faith, but when faith crosses the fine line and starts being insanity, we need to worry.

Today as I drove past Prabhadevi, I felt like it was completely insane. What’s even more insane is the fact that there are donor passes that give you faster Darshan. Are you telling me that if you’re rich enough to spare a couple of hundred/thousand rupees, God prefers to see you and if you don’t believe in paying, you don’t get so many ‘Aashirvaads’? I refuse…hmmpf

 

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Mother?! India?!

I am a woman, I am Brahmin,I am Maharashtrian, I am Hindu, I am Indian, I am human. It doesn’t matter who I am or who you are. All that matters is if you are a human being sensitive to the world, to the good or bad, to the right or wrong. If your blood doesn’t boil when you see injustice, if your heart doesn’t cry when you see suffering around you or if your soul doesn’t itch to do something about the things falling apart, don’t read this post…
The Orissa government has finally asked the state crime branch to investigate the rape of a nun- Hindustan Times, Mumbai, 4th October 2008.
On August 25, a 29 year old Catholic nun was allegedly raped by a fanatic Hindu mob and paraded through the streets shouting Bharat mata Ki Jai- TOI, Mumbai, 4th October 2008

I am shamed, disgusted and appalled. You consider you country your mother and you think you have honored her by raping and humiliating a woman? Disgusting. What disgusts me more as a woman citizen of this country is that the police refused to help the victim and delayed investigation. It took 38 days of violence, protests and lot more for the State to decide that there was a disgusting crime committed and that the police officials who failed to protect or bring justice to the victim needed punishment.
Why did it take them so many days? Because there has to be a detailed report, a lot of letters that shuttle around and a lot of press before action can be taken. I am not convinced by Mr. Naveen Patnaiks’s assurance that the culprits will be duly punished, for obvious reasons. If he keeps his word, great but I still think it would make very little difference to this situation in the long run.

By all means punish the culprit, that is the Judiciary’s job. But who’s doing what about preventing such horrific incidents in the future? While the judicial process ensures justice to the victim, there are a couple of things that need attention. First up, these people need education to gain a certain level of maturity and understanding. They need to stop blaming the missionaries for conversion of poor Hindus. Look, your system and your relgion failed to give them their basic rights of food shelter and clothing. If they seek that and more through another religion, it’s their call. We are a secular nation and we are free to follow the religion we want. It is not our place to decide which religion is better nor is it our place to decide whether he missionaries are forcibly converting the poor against their will. If they are being forcefully converted, there needs to be positive action. Torchig missionaries and raping nuns is not the answer.
By the way, no evidence of forced conversions was found in Karnataka. NDTV is flashing that as I write this.

The poor in this country are helpless and there is a passion to seek justice. Certain religious leaders disillusion them into believing that death and violence will bring their religion/country to glory. Wrong. These guys need to be sensitised to understand that their actions cause harm and only harm. They need to understand that there is no glory brough forth by hurting or insulting any human being, religion no bar! If they dig deep into the religion, with the aid of education and ratinale, they can see for themselves that these acts are not endorsed by their ‘supreme’ religion. If there is one thing that these extremists need, its education. They need awareness and they need a lesson in human values. Can we as a country try and do that?
Look at the names that strived hard to make our nation. There are Muslim, Parsi, Hindu, Sikh names. They didn’t see themselves as the representatives of their religion. They fought with a spirit of being Indian and the strived for a united country. They hoped for an independent India, with a better tomorrow for one and all. And they believed it could be achieved. They believed in the spirit of Indianness above everything. Where is that spirit? Why can’t we forget our classifications and move forth?

Why am I writing in this tone, you might ask.I am pained by what’s happening around and even more pained by how indifferent our urban society is to the issues that hamper our growth and development… Move beyond the rise and fall of stock markets, stop obsessing over Obama and McCain and take a hard look at your country. This is YOUR country.

A friend’s update on twitter reminded me of a valuable quote from Mahatma Gandhi: You must be the change you wish to see in the world.

I am an Indian, nothing else matters…

Eccentric Saturday!

After a hard week, one always enjoys hanging out with the family. I do immensely because I rarely get to see them. So, yeah W, RK and family are in town, and as usual RK was super excited about going film shoot observing at Film City. His enthusiasm is awesome, actually the whole family’s enthusiasm is like awesome! So three Mumbaikars, two Punekars and a whole bunch of Londonkars packed themselves in two cars on a bright Saturday morning and headed straight to film city. It was hot, humid and all sad shootings were happening. But that did not deter RK who hung around a few sets and spoke to a few people.

I was standing in the shadows wondering why do we have such a low quality tv industry! The actors look anything but good, they can’t act and the stories are the same, nonsense. There’s no variety.

And to top it all, there is no infrastructure as such within film city. WK couldn’t help but compare it to the awesomeness of Universal Studios. That’s exactly when I thought, hey, there was this talk about making film city a Bollywood tourist destination. Whatever happened? Just another government plan that must have fizzled out!

Of course after a lavish seafood dinner at Gazalee, I wanted to curl up in my bed and nap before I headed for my dance class and that’s when Sneha’s SMS shook me up. Yet another blast! I mean what is going on with our country. I can’t help but think, what is the terrorists’ goal in blowing places up and killing innocent people?

Some say they want to make their presence felt and want the government to take notice especially while making some policy decisions. But what does it achieve? Yes people are terrified, the government starts to act responsible (literally acts) and a few arrests and encounters happen.

All a Hindu hears is that a Muslim was behind the bomb blasts. All a Muslim hears is that he is being racially profiled and the government is after their race. It creates a wider rift between the two communities that are trying hard to overcome riots, fallen Masjid and Mandirs yet to be erected. The political parties, meanwhile, use the terrorist attacks to condemn each other or to further their chances of getting votes in.

The government remains unfazed and we, the citizens, get shaken. In our country, which is home, we cannot leave home and be sure we will come home safe. We cannot help but be petrified about what’s to come next.

I hate watching the news and seeing a blast or an act of violence in the name of religion. And what I hate even more is the fact that these incidents are becoming a regular feature in news. I dread switching on the news these days, because it tells me that our society, the Indian society, is crumbling.

PS: after I sorted these thoughts out, I went out with family, and then went drinking with Omu and Nanu. It was after a long long time that we got to hang out. The chaar chand on our get together was the sighting of an UFO! I’m not kidding, we saw random lights flashing in the clouds late in the night…

Idol Worship

Getting to work on a Tuesday is a nightmare. Not because the Monday morning blues hit me a day late, but because it’s the day to pray to Lord Ganesha. I have to usually pass through an area that is home to one of the most revered (also read: glamorous) Ganesha Temple in Mumbai- Siddhivinayak Temple.

The queue to catch a glimpse of Ganesha spills out on the road, causing a terrible traffic jam. Add to that the flower-sellers, policemen, hawkers. But on a day when the superstar family- The Big B (Amitabh Bachchan), Small B (ABhishek) and Bahurani (Aishwarya Rai), decide to drop in on foot- the chaos goes to a super higher level. I do wonder, how many of them come to see Ganesha and how many to see the Bachchans?

Faith drives people to do crazy things. They give up an entire day to wait for hours for darshan, which literally means- a glimpse!

Yesterday, there was another line around the curb. The queue poured onto a playground and was much longer than the usual one. The queue was made up of young boys mostly, dressed trendily as opposed to traditionally. This line looked pretty different. I assumed they were waiting for the superstar. But he had come and gone. A big billboard read- Indian Idol 4, the Mumbai auditions. The audition was happening in a thater complex right next to the temple. These people were waiting for their chance to be an Idol and not just a glimpse of an idol.

I thought faith makes us do crazy things, but fame beats faith hands down. People quit jobs, colleges and even get loans to just get that one chance to be famous… With fame come glitz, glamour and money. And those three have a fan-base that’s stronger than that of faith.

People have a lot of faith in fame. With that faith in fame, a Maria decides to cheat on her boyfriend to hopes to land a dream role. With that faith in fame, the media splashes her face across television. The same faith in fame drives thousands of people to frustration every day, sometimes pushing them to extremes. A producer kills an actor, a young boy robs a shop, girls agree to compromise on their morals and the list goes on.

Losing My Religion

When one looks at a film like Khuda Ke Liye, a story of religious fundamentalism and racial profiling in the western nations, one expects to see how the West drives young Muslims to commit acts of terror. Blame it on my lack of research but I was treating it like just another film that may glorify religion and terrorists, yet, I wanted to watch it.

 

I was curious to see a film that came from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, a country I have always been curious about. And surprise me it did.

 

Khuda Ke Liye, is a bold attempt to bring forth the hypocrisy under the name of religion. The film is about the people who interpret religion according to their own benefit, the film is about innocent youngsters who seek an answer to the dilemma of religion vs their heart and the film spells out how erratically societies across the globe deal with the monster called religion.

 

The story revolves around two brothers Mansoor (Shaan) and Sarmad (Fawad Khan), urban Pakistani youth from affluent families. The brothers work together on music, their passion, much to the dislike of their devout grandmother. Sarmad, the younger brother starts getting fascinated with a Maulavi who brainwashes him into quitting music because it is wrong in the eyes of Islam.

 

What follows is a dilemma in Sarmad’s mind in making a choice between his passion and his religion which is very intelligently demonstrated by an indirect debate between the Maulavi and Mansoor, Sarmad being the medium. Meanwhile, Sarmad’s uncle and his cousin come down from the UK. Mary dreams of marrying her white British boyfriend. Her father wants to save his future generations from being Kafir and plans to cheat her into marrying one of the cousins.

 

While Mansoor takes off for the US, Sarmad runs away to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to marry his cousin and save her from the horror of insulting the will of Allah.

Both the brothers travel to an alien environment, one into a western and the other into an anti-western world. While one tries to find his place in an international environment, the other brother struggles with his conscience over fulfilling his so-called religious duties. While one tries to convince a white American girl not to marry him, the other forces his own cousin into marriage and even rapes her. As one brother is tortured because of the religion he belongs to, the other is tortured by the men who interpret his religion. And as one brother loses his senses, the other regains them and comes back to music.

 

The film reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend of my Dad’s. He argued with me that there is nothing as cruel as religion in this world. He is of the opinion that religion does not give any reason for you to educate yourself and move ahead with times. Instead, it forces you to be lost in the past. Besides, the world over, the amount of crimes committed in the name of religion are alarming.

 

After seeing the film, I started seeing where this guy was coming from. Sarmad is forced to rape a woman, kill innocent humans in the name of Allah. Mansoor is arrested and tortured out of his senses because he’s Muslim. In our own country a missionary from Australia was burnt alive in a car by a Hindu fundamentalist. In Turkey, women are killed for the honour of the family while in Somalia, parents perform the cruel act of female castration on their own daughters to honour their religion. We Hindus force widowed women to lead a monotonous life, just because their husband is dead.

 

These are just the things off the top of my head. If I delve deep, it would be depressing to find just how many are killed and how many are left devastated in the name of religion, across the world.

 

I don’t identify with my religion. I have eaten beef and dare I say, I enjoyed it (beef is taboo in Hinduism). But I do visit temples when I can. I pray at Mt. Mary Church in Bandra and I have kept Rozas. I believe in picking bits and pieces from different religions that my heart agrees with, to satisfy the ‘religion’ drive within. I know many of my friends do. But our minds are restless, still looking for answers. The lack of conviction in our religion drives us to ask questions, questions that leave us depressed many a times.

 

Blind faith after all is immense peace of mind.