Friday, August 29, 2008

Faith and Religion - An Article By Murad A Baig

I came across the below article and thought it largely summarized my viewpoints towards religion. I may not agree with the way he words certain statements or even his viewpoints (in some cases). But I do think that people of his ilk (and indeed mine) should be heard more (and more). I think this is the direction humanity is broadly headed-towards. I do emphatically think that the author in this article points towards some universal truths that could form a common overlapping ground between conflicting thought-processes and ideologies.

Hence I reproduce the article below in toto.

Faith and Religion
By Murad A Baig August 28, 2008

Though I have a Muslim name I am a non practicing Indian Muslim who does not believe in any organised religion. I may have missed something by not having been brought up in a religious home but this also enables me to objectively observe all religions without any religious predispositions. I have a MA in history so I have been able to study history and religion with the proper disciplines of scholarship and in my line of work I have been to almost every district of India and know its people.

I love the core ideas of all religions but I hate the way the thoughts of the founders have been universally twisted by the Mullahs, Pandits, Padres, Rabbis and other professional priests who claim to be the `sole selling agents’ of their brands of GOD. I do not therefore respect most religious priests but I do endorse many good priests and many religious traditions that encourage human understanding and brotherhood.

I believe that all the founders of all religions were simple human beings who loved all humanity. I therefore hate the mythification of all the prophets, apostles, saints, sages, etc., that the priests raised to a sacred status to enhance their own power by frequently distorting the words of the founders in their sacred scriptures written by them many years, or even centuries, after the deaths of the founders to serve their usually material ambitions. I am also very suspicious of most of the `gurus’ and `babas’ because many, despite their huge followings, are often surprisingly narrow minded in their views and ignorant about history and culture.

I also find no sanctity in the huge baggage of customs that all religions so venerate. Christmas and Easter were Roman Pagan customs that the Catholic priests made a part of Christian faith several centuries after the death of Jesus. Eid and Ramzan were old Arab customs many centuries before The Prophet. Diwali, Holi, Naoroz, Passover, etc., were honest celebrations of spring, autumn or seasonal harvests and the religious fairy tales associated with them were charming additions of later times. But the vibrant charm of such festivals was so seductively enjoyable that the priests quickly used them to attract followers. The celebrations of the birthdays or martyrdom days of prophets or sages are similarly the work of the priests and many customs were introduced long after their deaths.

Religious customs like fasts and pilgrimages may sometimes be good for the physical and mental health of worshippers but in practice many have become a celebratory farce that can be a huge nuisance to other people. Having trekked to Amarnath, Hemkund and Badrinath I know that many people enjoy such beautiful places and the break from dull routine with travel that pilgrimages offer. There may also be merit in feeding the poor but none for the rich offerings made to deities or the priests at all places of worship. Their superstitious belief in wish fulfillment only fattens the priests. I believe that the myth about the power of curses is just as stupid as the myth about the power of miracles that can be delivered by fervent prayers.

I have been to almost all the main temples, mosques and churches in India and greatly admire their art and architecture but do not find anything sacred about them as the priests try to make us to believe. Magnificent art and architecture generated huge awe and admiration of religious themes so all religions were great patrons of many things of great beauty. But I do not believe that they were `houses of god' but places where priests could get rich from the offerings of gullible devotees. Genghis Khan was right when he said at Bukhara… God is too great to be confined to any house.

I also find no innate sanctity in any of the material things that the priests of all religions promote. What is spiritual about not eating pork, beef, shellfish, or not drinking or smoking, etc? These were practical hygienic advice relevant especially in times before refrigeration, rapid transport and sanitation. What is spiritual about Ayodhya, Ramasethu, Mecca, Jerusalem or any of the places of religious myth? The founders of no religion demanded any temples, churches, mosques or places of worship. Even for The Prophet, Mecca was the focal centre but followers could pray wherever they wanted.

Why should a cross, crescent, idol, talisman or other image be sacred? Those who believe that these have the power to miraculously protect the wearer are not religious but simply superstitious. Wearing medallions with the image of the prophet on their chests did not protect Turkish Janissaries from the arrows or bullets of their enemies any more than the crosses or other talismans protected the soldiers of many other religions.

There is also nothing spiritual or sacred about the distinctive costumes, hats, veils, beards or other things that many priests demand. The skull cap was originally used by the Zoroastrian priests to prevent polluting human hair from falling into their sacred fire. This became a Jewish religious custom in the 6th century BC when Cyrus the Great ruled over west Asia and allowed the Jews to return from Babylon to Palestine. It later became a mark of Islamic piety. The Prophet never required a veil let alone a Burkha among his followers. The tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh only required the turban, beard and other `K’s’ for Sikh warriors but not for civilians. These and the other distinctive marks of religion are nothing but the distinctive brand identities that priests of most religions demand for managing their flocks as if they were cattle or sheep forgetting that what is sacred to one religion can be hateful to another.

The priests of all religions also try to dissuade their followers from enjoying music, art and frivolity (except at their places of worship and under their management although great music, art and literature were undoubtedly produced by them all). Even coffee houses were banned by Christian and Muslim priests in Jerusalem, Turkey and Europe at one time. Spare time was to only be spent in a church or mosque.

I enjoy the many charming myths found in the epics and traditions of all religions but do not consider them to be sacred. There are also many exaggerated myths about the enemies of all religions that have been used to inflame passions and led to rivers of religious bloodshed over the centuries. The accounts of the horrible atrocities attributed to Mahmud Ghazni or Aurangzeb came from no contemporary Jain, Buddhist or Hindu source but from the flowery pens of Persian flatterers to praise their piety and their alleged violent destruction of Hindu temples. Raking up the old ashes of past atrocities in the present time to harm rival religious practitioners, who were innocent of the sins of their ancestors, and to ferment sectarian strife is deplorable. Many practitioners of all religions did many violent and evil things using the holy name of religion to justify their actions.

Over the years religion was used a powerful political weapon to unite and motivate the soldiers of any army against their foes. Today it is similarly used for political agendas in Palestine, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, etc., who are all guilty of going great evil in the name of religion. But it is the rulers and their followers are to be condemned and not their religions.
I do not like to use of the words Christian, Muslim or Hindu for the works or actions of some of their practitioners. We can speak of Renaissance, Italian or Ethiopian art but these were not Christian art simply because of the religions of their creators. So I try to never also speak of Islamic architecture, art, scripts, culture or atrocities because these were not the creations of the religion but the good and bad activities of numerous different people like the Arabs, Persians, Mongols, Afghans Turks, etc., over the centuries.

The same applies to Hindu or Hinduism. The Hindu religious tradition had seven distinct gear changes over the past five thousand years. If the word Hindu was coined by the Persians in the 6th century BC to describe all the people of the river Sindhu (The Persians could not pronounce S so Sindhu became Hindu like Haoma for Soma) than all the people of Pakistan and India are Hindu. Till the British period the word Hindu had only meant `native' non Muslims like farmers, shopkeepers or clerks and it was only in 1826 that Ram Mohun Roy first used the word Hindu as a unifying label for all the native forms religion and a number of different streams of indigenous thought and custom. So strictly speaking there were no Hindus as the followers of Hinduism, as a religion, until this time. I want to know how and when `Hinduism' changed from a gentle inclusive faith open to new ideas to become an aggressive exclusive religion intolerant to other thought.

The priests of all religions, to promote superstitions, often posed as clairvoyants and astrologers. History is full of glaring examples of how disastrously astrology has failed many rulers, generals and others. Most astrology was originally based on Babylonian concepts that many people adopted before they added their own modifications. Ancient astronomers only knew 5 planets and not the 9 we know today. The 7 day week was also unknown to ancient Indian texts. It was a Jewish tradition that came to India with Christianity. Thus there can be no sacred sanctity to fasts on Tuesdays or Thursdays or for not buying iron items on Saturdays.

I know that I am much more than my mortal body. If almost every cell is renewed every thirty months my body is not the body it was three years ago. So I have to be something else. Like the Sufis I believe that we are all sparks of a greater divine flame and like to think that I am a small bundle of cosmic energy that, to use computer language, is programmed to direct the creation, destruction and replacement of every cell as well as to give me a unique intelligence and destiny.
I therefore worship a nameless, formless cosmic force that I believe is the source of all life but do not believe it is a wish fulfilling, prayer answering machine that pries into my personal life. Man is not a beggar who needs a God to grant him happiness. I pray to it wherever I am to thank it for giving me a full and rewarding life and to empower me to be an active and good person.
I believe there have to be bad times along with good times for which one should mainly blame oneself or one's own inability the influence those around us.

I basically believe in the four Buddhist virtues of:
1. Friendliness to all. To prejudge no one.
2. Joy. To try to seek and give as much joy as is possible.
3. Compassion. To try to conquer the anger and fear of others.
4. Equanimity. To remain calm at all times.

I find the four Buddhist vices equally relevant:
1. Non injury to life and to not hurt others even with hurtful words.
2. No false speech. Not even half truths and white lies.
3. To take what is not given. More than theft even forcibly taking what are ones `legal' or `social' right can cause injury.
4. Physical or mental torture.

Like all religions Buddhism also got corrupted over time but I believe in the basic Buddhist idea of Karma where we all unconsciously know when we have done good and bad deeds and it is the joy or guilt generated by such actions that affect our souls in its passage through life and through the life beyond.

In short I believe in the core faith and philosophies of all the founders of all religions who all lived in poverty and loved all humanity but I do not approve of `religion’ as is usually practiced where motivated priests have made them into major sources of superstition, strife, prejudice and violence.

In every land and in every period evil actions have never been done with such pride and such joy as when they were done in the name of religion.

Mantras or chants are common to most religions and are usually in archaic languages like Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Prakrit or Arabic that usually no longer have any meanings but they are soothing repetitive harmonic sounds that many people believe have magical powers to cure all their ills or calm tormented souls.

My personal mantra is a short one with just nine words:
`Hang loose. Let go. Let the cosmic energy flow’.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

From eat pray love (One Woman’s Search for Everything) by Elizabeth Gilbert

…………let me first explain why I use the word God, when I could just as easily use the words Jehovah, Allah, Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu or Zeus. Alternatively I could call God “That,” which is how the ancient Sanskrit scriptures say it, and which I think comes close to the all-inclusive and unspeakable entity I have sometimes experienced. But that “That” feels impersonal to me - a thing, not a being – and I myself cannot pray to a That. I need a proper name, in order to fully sense a personal attendance. For this same reason, when I pray, I do not address my prayers to The Universe, The Great Void, The Force, The Supreme Self, The Whole, The Creator, The Light, The Higher Power, or even the most poetic manifestation of God’s name, taken, I believe, from the Gnostic gospels: “The Shadow of the Turning”

I have nothing against any of these terms. I feel they are all equal because they are all equally adequate and inadequate descriptions of the indescribable. But we each do need a functional name for this indescribability, and “God” is the name that feels the most warm to me, so that’s what I use.

Traditionally, I have responded to the transcendent mystics of all religions. I have always responded with breathless excitement to anyone who has ever said that God does not live in a dogmatic scripture or in a distant throne in the sky, but instead abides very close to us indeed – much closer than we can imagine, breathing right through our own hearts. I respond with gratitude to anyone who has ever voyaged to the center of that heart, and who has then returned to the world with a report for the rest of us that God is an experience of supreme love. In every religious tradition on earth, there have always been mystical saints and transcendents who report exactly this experience. Unfortunately, many of them have ended up arrested and killed. Still, I think very highly of them.

Depression and Loneliness track me down after about ten days in Italy. I am walking through the Villa Borghese one evening after a happy day spent in school, and the sun is setting gold over St Peter’s Basilica. I am feeling contented in this romantic scene, even if I am all by myself, while everyone else in the park is either fondling a lover or playing with a laughing child. But I stop to lean against a balustrade and watch the sunset and I get to thinking a little too much, and then my thinking turns to brooding, and that’s when they catch up with me.

They come upon me all silent and menacing like Pinkerton Detectives, and they flank me – Depression on my left, Loneliness on my right. They don’t need to show me their badges. I know these guys very well. We’ve been playing a cat-and-mouse game for years now. Though I admit that I am surprised to meet them in this elegant Italian garden at dusk. This is no place they belong.

I say to them, “How did you find me here? Who told you that I had come to Rome?”

Depression, always the wise guy, says, “What – you’re not happy to see us?”

“Go away,” I tell him.

Loneliness, the more sensitive cop, says, “I’m sorry, ma’am. But I might have to tail you the whole time you’re travelling. It’s my assignment.”

“I’d really rather you didn’t,” I tell him, and he shrugs almost apologetically, but only move closer.

Then they frisk me. They empty my pockets of any joy I had been carrying there. Depression even confiscates my identity: but he always does that. Then Loneliness starts interrogating me, which I dread because it always goes on for hours. He’s polite but relentless, and he always trips me up eventually. He asks if I have any rason to be happy that I know of. He asks why I am all by myself tonight, yet again. He asks (though we’ve already been through this line of questioning hundreds of times already) why I can't keep a relationship going, why I ruined my marriage, why I messed things up with David, why I messed things up with every man I’ve ever been with. He asks me where I was the night I turned thirty, and why things have gone so sour since then. He asks me why I can't get my act together, and why I’m not at home living in a nice house and raising nice children like any respectable woman my age should be. He asks why, exactly, I think I deserve a vacation in Rome when I’ve made such a rubble of my life. He asks me why I think that running away to Italy like a college kid will make me happy. He asks me where I think I’ll end up in my old age, if I keep living this way.

I walk back home, hoping to shake them, but they keep following me, these two goons.

Depression has a firm hand on my shoulder and Loneliness harangues me with his interrogation. I don’t even bother eating dinner; I don’t want them watching me. I don’t want to let them up the stairs to my apartment, either, but I know Depression, and he’s got a billy club, so there’s no stopping him from coming in if he decides that he wants to.

“It’s not fair for you to come here,” I tell Depression, “I paid you off already. I served my time back in New York.”

But he just gives me that dark smile, settles into my favorite chair, puts his feet on my table and lights a cigar, filling the place with his awful smoke. Loneliness watches and sighs, then climbs into my bed and pulls the covers over himself, fully dressed, shoes and all. He’s going to make me sleep with him again tonight, I just know it.

I stopped eating meat (for a short time, anyway) after someone told me that I was “eating the fear of the animal at the moment of its death.”

Luca has traveled a fair amount, though he claims he could never live anywhere but in Rome, near his mother, since he is an Italian man, after all – what can he say? But its not just his mamma who keeps him around. He’s in his early thirties, and has had the same girlfriend since he was a teenager (the lovely Giuliana, whom Luca describes fondly and aptly as acqua e sapone – “soap and water” in her sweet innocence). All his friends are the same friends he’s had since childhood, and all from the same neighbourhood. They watch the soccer matches together every Sunday – either at the stadium or in a bar (if the Roman teams are playing away) – and then they all return separately to the homes where they grew up, in order to eat the big Sunday afternoon meals cooked by their respective mothers and grandmothers.

I wouldn’t move from Rome, either, if I were Luca Spaghetti.

There was an old man sitting behind me, stringing together such a gorgeous flower-chain of curses as he screamed down at the players on the field (playing soccer)………

………..Then shut my eyes and listen to some more of the old man’s rant, which went something like:

Dai, dai, dai, Albertini, dai…va bene, va bene, ragazzo mio, perfetto, bravo, bravo…Dai! Dai! Via! Via! Nella porta! Eccola, eccola, eccola, mio bravo ragazzo, caro mio, eccola, eccola, ecco-AAAHHHHHHHHH!!! VAFFANCULO!!! FIGLIO DI MIGNOTTA!! STRONZO! CAFONE! TRADITORE! Madonna...Ah, Dio mio, perche, perche, perche, questo e stupido, e una vergogna, la vergogna.

...Che casino, che bordello....NON HAI UN CUORE, ALBERTINI! FAI FINTA ! Guarda, non e successo niente…Dai, dai, ah…Molto migliore, Albertini, molto migliore, si si si, eccola, bello, bravo, anima mia, ah, ottimo, eccola adesso….nella porta, nella porta, nell-VAFFANCULO !!!!!!!

Which i attempt to translate as:

Come on, come on, come on, Albertini, come on…OK, OK, my boy, perfect, brilliant, brilliant…Come on! Come on! Go! Go! In the goal! There it is, there it is, there it is, my brilliant boy, my dear, there it is, there it is, there – AHHHH! GO FUCK YOURSELF! YOU SON OF A BITCH! SHITHEAD! ASSHOLE! TRAITOR!...Mother of God…Oh my God, why, why, why, this is stupid, this is shameful, the shame of it…What a mess…[Author’s note: Unfortunately there’s no good way to translate into English the fabulous Italian expressions che casino and che bordello, which literally mean “what a casino” and “what a whorehouse,” but essentially mean “what a friggin’ mess.”]…YOU DON’T HAVE A HEART, ALBERTINI!!!! YOU’R A FAKER! Look, nothing happened…Come on, come on, hey, yes…Much better, Albertini, much better, yes yes yes, there it is, beautiful, brilliant, oh, excellent, there it is now…in the goal, in the goal, in the-FUUUUUCK YOUUUUUUU!!!

Oh, it was such an exquisite and lucky moment in my life to be sitting right in front of this man. I loved every word our of his mouth. I wanted to lean my head back into his old lap and let him pour his eloquent curses into my ears forever. And it wasn’t just him! The entire stadium would rise to its feet, every man waving his arms in outrage and cursing, as if all 20,000 of them had just been in a traffic altercation.

…..”Desire is the design flaw”. The Yogis, however, say that human discontentment is a simple case of mistaken identity. We’re miserable because we thinkn that we are mere individuals, alone with our fears and flaws and resentments and mortality. We wrongly believe that our limited little egos constitute our whole entire nature. We have failed to recognize our deeper divine character. We don’t realize that, somewhere within us all, there does exist a supreme Self who is eternally at peace. That supreme Self is our true identity, universal and divine. Before you realize this truth, say the Yogis, you will always be in despair, a notion nicely expressed in this exasperated line from the Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus: “You bear God within you, poor wretch, and know it not.”

Yoga is the effort to experience one’s divinity personally and then hold on to that experience forever. Yoga is about self-mastery and the dedicated effort to haul your attention away from your endless brooding over the past and your nonstop worrying about the future so that you may seek, instead, a place of eternal presence from which you may regard yourself and your surroundings with poise. Only from that point of even-mindedness will the true nature of the world (and yourself) be revealed to u. True Yogis, from their seat of equipoise, see all this world as an equal manifestation of God’s creative energy – men, women, children, turnips, bedbugs, coral: it’s all God in disguise. But the Yogis believe a human life is a very special opportunity, because only in a human form and only with a human mind can God-realization ever occur…….

“Our whole business therefore in this life,” wrote Saint Augustine, rather Yogically, ”is to restore to health the eyes of the heart whereby God may be seen.”

Look for God, suggests my Guru. Look for God like a man with his head on fire looks for water.

………Hafiz, who said that he and God had become like two fat men living in a small boat – “we keep bumping into each other and laughing”………

……As one line from the Upanishads suggests: “People follow different paths, straight or crooked, according to their temperament, depending on which they consider best, or most appropriate – and all reach You, just as rivers enter the ocean.”

To feel physically comfortable with someone else’s body is not a decision you can make……………My friend Annie says it all comes down to one simple question: “Do you want your belly pressed against this person’s belly forever – or not?”

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Say it With Numbers: #8-2008

o When the 20th century began scarcely 14% of all humans lived in the city. By the time it ended, the figure was roughly 50%. And the 21st century will have perhaps 33 megacities rising up by the year 2015

o The CIA has more employees worldwide than the UN

o Hong Kong
§ Almost everyone who lives here – 6 million of its 6.2 million people – is 100% Chinese
§ 2/3rds of the land is parkland

o As recently as 1971, 97% of all Canadians had been of the traditional kind, of European descent with the rest mostly ‘aboriginals’, as the Canadians call them

o Because asthma-medication stimulants are allowed in the Olympics, 60% of the US team in 1994 claimed to be suffering from asthma

o Officially, intercaste and interreligious marriages have been legal in India since 1872, almost a 100 years before interracial marriages were legalized in all 50 American states

o India
§ The share of agriculture in GDP has shrunk from 61% in 1951 to 19% now
§ 8.9% of Indian workforce is directly or indirectly employed by the tourism sector
§ Partition: In barely 3 months, approximately 1.25 million, constituting more than 90% of the total Sindhi Hindu population, left their beloved native land
§ The Punjab secession movement: Between 1981 and 2001, a total of 21,608 people, including 11,776 civilians and 1,748 security personnel were killed in the fight against militancy

o The human male releases about 66 million sperm during each ... encounter. It takes only one sperm to make a baby, there are 59,999,999 extras along for the ride.

o There are 500 billion planets out there, and there are 100 billion other galaxies.

o Qatar, the oil-rich Gulf country with a population of around 6 lakhs, nearly 1/3rd of which is accounted for by the ethnic Indian community…no other country in the world has such a high percentage of Indians.

Thoughts ... ... ...

o Gange Cha Yamune Chaiva Godavari Saraswati
Narmade Sindhu Kaveri Jalesmin Sannidhim Kuru
Pushkaraadyaanii tiirthaani Gangaadhyaah saritas tathaa
Aagacchantu pavitraani Snaanakaale sadaa mama

(Bless with thy presence, O holy rivers Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari,
Saraswati, Narmada, Sindhu, Kaveri. May Pushkara, and all the
other holy waters and rivers always come at the time of my bath)

- A morning prayer that invokes the idea of India’s national integration

o The English were the aggressors in India, and although our sovereign (Queen Victoria) can do no wrong, her ministers can; and no one can lay a heavier charge upon Napoleon, then rests upon the English ministers who conquered India and Australia, and who protected those who committed atrocities…..Our object in conquering India, the object of all our cruelties was money….a thousand million sterling are said to have been squeezed out of India in the last ninety years. Every shilling of this has been picked out of blood, wiped and put in the murderers pockets; but wipe and wipe the money as you will, the ‘damned spot’ will not come ‘out’.

- Sir Charles James Napier (1782-1853), the British Commander-in-Chief in India in 1843……who led the conquest of Sindh

o In spite of the character of a Crusade which Saint Ramdas’s blessings gave to Shivaji’s long struggle against the Moghul rule, it is remarkable how little remarkable animosity or intolerance Shivaji displayed. His kindness to Catholic priests is an agreeable contrast to the proscriptions of the Hindu priesthood in the (largely Marathi-speaking) Indian territories of the Portugese. Even his enemies remarked on his extreme respect for Mussulman priests, for mosques and for the Koran. Whenever a Koran came into his possession, he treated it with the same respect as if it had been one of the sacred works of his own faith. Whenever his men captured Mussulman ladies, they were brought to Shivaji, who looked after them as they were his wards till he could return them to their relations.

- Dennis Kincaid in The Grand Rebel on the great Indian warrior Shivaji (1630-1680)

o A man convinced against his will
is of the same opinion still

- Anonymous

o India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe’s languages: she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all

- Will Durant, American historian and author of The Story of Philosophy

o Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it

- Henry David Thoreau

o I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such caliber, that I do not think that we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her cultural and spiritual heritage, and, therefore I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their won, they will lose their self esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them – a truly dominated nation

- Lord Macauley in his address to the British Parliament on 2 February 1835

o God defend me from my friends; from my enemies I can defend myself

- Anonymous

o The spiritual genius of our race has always recognized the fundamental Unity that underlies all forms and classes of diversities and differences

- Bipin Chandra Pal

o Shiv chuy thali thali rozan; Mo zan Hindu La Musalman
Truk ay chuk pan panun parzanav; Soy chay Sahibas sati zaniy zan.

(Shiva lives everywhere; do not divide Hindu from Muslim. Use your sense to recognize yourself; that is the true way to find God)

- Lal Ded or Lalleshwari (1320-92). Kashmir’s greatest poet.

o Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it

- George Santayana, an American philosopher

o Greek culture is no more; so has been the fate of
the Egyptian and the Roman
However India has survived the stresses and strains of time.
There is something in her which defies extinction.
Despite the fact that for centuries, the world has been conspiring
against her

- Allama Iqbal (who later became Pakistan’s national poet)

o To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest critics; to appreciate beauty; to give of one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – that is to have succeeded

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

'Children' by Khalil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you,
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
But seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
As living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
And he bends you with His might
That His arrows may go swift and far.
Let our bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
So He loves also the bow that is stable

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Ik Onkar Sat Naam

From Rang De Basanti……… a very moving experience for me everytime I hear it.

Ik Oankar (God is only One)

Sat Naam (His name is True)

Kartaa Purakh (He is the Creator)

Nirbhao (He is without fear)

Nirvair (He is inimical to none)

Akaal Moorat (He never dies)

Ajoonee (He is beyond births and deaths)

Saibhang (He is self illuminated)

Gur prasaad (He is realized by the kindness of the True Guru)

Jap (Repeat His Name)

Aad sachch jugaad sachch (He was True in the beginning. He was True when the ages commenced and has ever been True)

Hai bhee sachch naanak hosee bhi sachch (He is also True now. Nanak says that he will certainly be True in the future)

Sochai soch na hovae-ee sochee lakkh var (Mortals cannot comprehend God by pondering over Him for thousands of times)

Chuppai chupp na hovae-ee, jae laa-e rahaa liv taar (Mortals may remain silent and absorbed in the meditation of God and His love, yet peace of mind will not be achieved)

Bhukkhe-aa bhukkh na utree, jay bannhaa puree-aa bhaar (Yearning of hungry mortals will never end by keeping fasts, or by collecting loads of worldly riches)

Saihas si-aanpaa lakkh hohe ta ik na chalai naal (Mortal may possess thousands of clever thoughts or the biggest wisdom, yet not even one wise thought will accompany him to the next world)

Kiv sache-aaraa ho-ee-ai, kiv koorai tutte paal (How can the mortal become True? How can the barrier of falsehood be smashed?)

Hukum rajaa-ee chalnaa, naanak likheaa naal (Nanak replies that this can be achieved by obeying the pre-ordained Command and Will of God recorded for Man)


Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh

* "The Khalsa [pure one] belongs to Waheguru". "Victory belongs to Waheguru"

* ….has a two fold meaning. It denotes a special relationship between God and those who dedicate their lives to His love and service. Also it is the expression of a devotee’s faith in the ultimate triumph of Truth over Falsehood. This Sikh salutation means “Khalsa belongs to God and to God alone belongs the Victory”.


Saturday, August 9, 2008

Anoushka Shankar - Sitarist

Anoushka (Russian) means Grace, favour.

The talented and utterly charming Anoushka is filled with infectious energy. She’s the daughter of an illustrious father, Ravi Shankar. Here’s to hoping she grows from strength to strength.

Shivji Bihane Chale (Lord Shiva Gets Married)

I happened to chance upon this utterly charming song in my childhood, ‘Shivji Bihane Chale’ (Lord Shiva gets married). Everybody so seems to be enjoying themselves in this delightfully picturised song. But alas where do we have such songs in the Hindi movies of today.

Lord Shiva, the wild one with demons, ghosts and spirits for company in his high mountain lair in the Himalayas, the one with the cobra wrapped around his neck, the one with the wild rages, not averse to intoxicants and mild drugs and dancing the spirited tandav (the divine dance), signifying the destructive nature in the Hindu trinity (creator, preserver, destroyer: Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh (Shiva)). The one who in an inadvertent rage, cut of the head of his son, Ganesh.

Elsewhere god may have created man in his own image. But here we prefer to have man creating god in his own image. And that’s why maybe our gods have been so much an indivisible part of our lives. Gods who laugh and cry, dance and sing, have a drink or two (soma), stray occasionally. Utterly charming and lovable gods, not aloof from the business of existence. A bit of Bollywood, really.

Oh Yes, and we don’t mind making fun of our Gods, not even the wrathful ones. Its all part of the game.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Movie Review: Waqt (Time) (1975) (Hindi Movie)

Lala Kedarnath (Balraj Sahni) is a rags-to-riches story. Now one of the respected members of the town, he believes less in destiny and more in hard work. He is in the midst of celebrations at his place unaware of the disaster awaiting him and his family (wife + 3 sons (in the best Indian tradition)).

In a tragedy of comic proportions, an earthquake strikes and toy houses fall, plaster-of-paris dwellings crack-up. In the ensuing melee, for reasons unclear to this day, the family separates. The wife and infant go one way, the 2 young boys go 2 other separate ways and Lala is left wandering among ruins.

All the bumbling idiots meet in the end but not before you have a courtroom drama. Moral of the story being that Time (Destiny?) has the capability to overturn the most set of lives, nature has a way of humbling the most confident of individuals and so don’t take anything and anyone for granted.

I would not recommend Waqt to any Bollywood fan-wannabe. But I am sure the movie in its days must have been a stark and lavish departure from the usual Bollywood fare

For one, it has a virtual cornucopia of great actors or great stars (the 2 dont necessarily overlap). It was one of the early multi-starrers. Plus the fact that it aimed to portray the lives of the rich and famous, the ones with their own swimming pools, lakes, boathouses and the epitome of richness….a badminton court.

But watch is for some of its songs and for the acting style of some of Bollywoods’ greats….although we tend to use that word very liberally.

Watch it for Raaj Kumar: the one with little looks but lots of élan and panache. With distinctive dialogues that have become worn out with use over the years
* Yeh bachcho ke khelne ki cheez nahi, haath kat jaye to khoon nikal aata hai.

* Chinoy Seth, Jinke Apne ghar sheeshe ke ho who doosro par paththar nahi pheka karte

Watch it for Sadhana. Aah Sadhana! The one who popularized the Sadhana-cut (hairstyle) [for more on that read]. The one with the thick eyebrows (at least in the movie) and deep eyeliner. Charming lady. Its only her beauty that gives me courage to watch her sitting on a plush green velvety carpet. The aesthetic ideas those days sure seem queer. Oh yes and we get to see her in a bathing suit (one-piece, not two-piece) waddling along like Donald Duck, but charming nevertheless.

But if you want to watch it for Shashi Kapoor and/or Sharmila Tagore, I wouldn’t….. Shashi as the pain-in-the-a.., martyr-in-waiting, apology of a biped in the movie; not to mention rather chubby round the waist. And as for Sharmila, we see her as a rather silly-looking fat-bottomed lass sporting a rather exaggerated bun of hair that seems to have been the style those days. Its difficult to think this is the same actress who played serious roles in the films of Satyajit Ray (a winner of the Lifetime Oscar Award)

Now for the Songs:

*** Ae Meri ZohraJabi Tujhe Maloom Nahi: the middle-aged Balraj Sahni in form wooing his wife. Albeit with jerky crane camera movements, inability of Balraj Sahni to dance-emote: leave of that aside,

And don’t forget to watch very closely the guy sitting to the immediate left of BS. His expressions are bound to make you crack-up and enliven your dull day

*** Din Hai Bahaar Ke: In which the Cultural Group from college prance an Elvis Presley buttermilk-swishing dance on a slew of rafts (funnily enough, attached to a yacht) that look as if they are about to capsize. Sharmila blushes her way through the song as if dreaming mildly pornographic thoughts while going heavy on a reluctant Shashi Kapoor.
The song is good though. And the lake and background remind me of Switzerland ……..sigh

*** Aage Bhi Jaane Na Tu: A delicious soporific slow moving number filmed in a lazily sensual style. Asha rules

o Sunil Dutt
o Sadhana
o Raaj Kumar
o Shashi Kapoor
o Sharmila Tagore
o Balraj Sahni – a visage that emanates goodness. One of the finest actors of his era and very very respected
o Rehman
o Motilal
o Shashikala

Story: F.A.Mirza
Dialogues: Akhtar Ul-Iman
Editor: Pran Mehra
Costumes Designed by Bhanu Athaiya
Playback: Asha, Mahinder Kapoor, Manna Dey and Rafi
Lyrics: Sahir
Music: Ravi
Producer: B.R.Chopra
Director: Yash Chopra

P.S. So you have Rehman, sitting on a beachchair next to his swimming pool. Why does he have two telephones by his side. Some questions are best left unanswered in Hindi cinema.

Govinda in 'Partner'

Hindi cinema would have been much impoverished without Govinda's brand of humour and his great sense of dance.

Here's to hoping for better days for him

Thoughts ... ... ... ...

• Just because you are in the drivers seat doesn’t mean you have to run people over

- from The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow

• Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity

- Seneca, Roman Philosopher

• I tried to imagine this scene: it is dawning and the father and small, sleepy Rabi [Rabindranath Tagore] stand facing the rising sun and singing the Upanishads.

The Upanishads are philosophical songs dating back 3000 years, but still vibrant, still present in India’s spiritual life. When I realized this, and thought about the small boy greeting the morning star with stanzas from the Upanishads, I doubted whether I could ever comprehend a country in which children start the day singing verses of philosophy

- Ryszard Kapuscinski in ‘Travels With Herodotus’

• Although the Hindi and the Chinese writing systems caused me equal difficulty, the behavior of people in the two countries could not have been more different. The Hindu is a relaxed being, while the Chinese is a tense and vigilant one. A crowd of Hindus is formless, fluid, slow; a crowd of Chinese is formed before you know it into disciplined marching lines. One senses that above a gathering of Chinese stands a commander, a higher authority, while above the multitude of Hindus hovers an Areopagus of innumerable and undemanding deities. If a throng of Hindus encounters something interesting, it stops, looks and begins discussing. In a similar situation, the Chinese will walk on, in close formation, obedient, their eyes fixed on a designated goal. The Hindus are significantly more ritualistic, mystical, religious. The realm of the spirit and its symbols is always close at hand in India, present, perceptible. Holy men wander along the roads; pilgrimages head for temples, the seats of the gods; masses gather at the feet of holy mountains, bathe in holy rivers, cremate the dead on holy pyres. The Chinese appear spiritually less ostentatious, significantly more discreet and closed. Instead of paying homage to gods, they concern themselves with observing proper etiquette; instead of holy men, works march along the roads.

Their faces too, I found are different. The face of a Hindu contains surprise; a red dot on the forehead, colorful patterns on cheeks, or a smile that reveals teeth stained dark brown. The face of a Chinese holds no such surprises. It is smooth and has unvarying features. It seems as if nothing could ruffle its surface. It is a face that communicates that it is hiding something about which we will know nothing and never will.

- Ryszard Kapuscinski in ‘Travels With Herodotus’

• After all, no one is stupid enough to prefer war to peace; in peace sons bury their fathers and in war fathers bury their sons

- Croesus to Cyrus