Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Heck, who are we really….

Everybody who is a nobody is tracing back his or her genealogy nowadays. It has thrown up many interesting facts, there is a large group of Europeans(and the English who are standing tethered at the periphery) related to Genghis Khan, and an American black civil leader is the great-great grand son of a famous separatist and a slave. It seems many a white “massa” had children with their black slaves…while screaming for separation between the colors. Dark dots on a pristine white bed sheet…

Stretch the idea of searching for our roots a little further – we are all the sons and daughters of that African mother and father, or go back a few millions of years– we are children of apes, measurably more decent than us. Or we could be the children of Adam and Eve, but that is immaterial.

There is one fact that we seem to forget, the search for genealogy is to prove “my blood is better than yours”. You see, racism is still alive and kicking. In India it gets more confused between the several bills that grant reservation in education and jobs to the apparently “lower castes”, while the actual poor untouchables in the villages never seems to be getting the benefits of it. The upper caste, on the other hand, can never quite leave their lineage behind, even when they convert to another religion. Ask an Indian Christian or Muslim in Kerala or Bengal his or her name, and if they are from the upper creeds, you’d know the sub caste that they belong to, to the last disgusting detail. The purity of the caste would even make any Nazi proud. You can almost see the Fuhrer nod in agreement and delight.

India is one of the most racist countries in the world and it is based on factors as marginalized as caste and creed. Your surname matters here, because you slotted immediately in your groove…people can narrow you down to your sub-sub-caste, once removed.

Women are in any case lesser in status here. In between the whitening cream, matrimonial columns that insist on “fair beauties” and the bevy of rather unrealistic European looking actresses, jostling for space with their dark colleagues, color brews a nasty concoction of inferiorities and dowry. Of course, many a woman rise above it all, and do darned well for themselves, on their own terms... And have a lot of fun in the bargain.

In the west, in spite of its apparent liberalism, the divisions, between the “natives” who feel disadvantaged, Asians and Muslims get deeper. This now goes beyond the surface of mere color; in fact it boils down to pure economics. England is poised to throw out the Indian doctors, even at the cost of ruining their own health care system. Of course the scars between “us and them” deepen further, if even the whiff of a bomb scare surfaces, so fragile is the system. And Germans keep chucking out the poor Turkish, whose country has now been reluctantly admitted into the European Union. Though they will ever be accepted in the cultural one. The French throw out the Algerians they once conquered, who riot when they can’t take it anymore. In America, the land of braves, the elegant native Indian has been ghettoized in a country that was once theirs. The African American fights it out in harder in poorer neighborhoods.

If you want to know more about racism feels, ask the poor small sized Indian boy, in a school in the western world, whacked on his head by the bigger compatriots and can do precious little about it. Or an untouchable in a village, who is raped and burnt because of her caste. Paradoxically also ask the young students who feels disadvantaged because of the caste reservation, and the affirmative action bill when suddenly many avenues of education or jobs seem closed. Some are enraged enough to set himself on fire before the Parliament building.

Or ask the man with a Muslim surname how it feels to be stopped in European and American airports and treated like a potential terrorist. This even if he is one of the most prestigious names in the country he comes from. Or the African American Executive, suspected for shop-lifting in a posh store, when all he wants to do is check out ties.

But then I guess racism and hate of the fellow human being, is what the social fabric is made of. Anyone who is not exactly like us….is surely against us….and that’s how the racism cookie crumbles. And it is not going to go away…rearing its ugly head every single day….

And no, Shilpa Shetty, the beautiful Indian film star, is not the symbol of Asian hope in the racist world…she had to make a buck, and she made it well. I actually sometimes wonder how she treats the maid who works for her.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Searching for the Word

All right, the front page of one of the premier dailies said that they have found the coffin of Jesus and James Cameron was looking mighty thrilled about it. Good for him… and so what?

I have never understood religion. Everyday in every way I keep hearing I have broken a million religious codes, and none the worse off than anyone else. So they have found Jesus body and are fully convinced that he was married to Mary Magdalene and perhaps they had a brood of children.

The point is, even if Jesus died in his sleep, at a ripe old age, what he had to say, and the way he lived his life was far more significant than poor old Dan Brown’s scribbles over two novels or Cameron’s sentimentalism in the Titanic. And in any case we resort to religion to console ourselves when we're down. And the constant reminder of the sufferings of the “son or reincarnation of god” is usually to writhe in guilt. In religion we actually lost out on the deeper words of what god really had to say. Paradoxically, the same can be said of a Marxist rally, where the true meaning of "the state shall wither away" are lost in the entire jargon.

In the sphere of religion or atheism and all that goes with these two extremes, one can only say, “In dogmatism no one can hear you scream." Because we are so deaf listening to the loud shouts of all. Veering between being an atheist to an agnostic, I must say I have found non-believers are as dogmatic as the rabidly religious ones. Put the Marxist next to the Papillary and each can say so stuck in their groove….and neither get ahead or find anymore meaning to life, state or poverty.

For me all religion is anti woman, and necessarily patriarchal. However I am also convinced that religion was itself a process of a revolution, and the revolutionaries at the center of it would cringe at the horror that has taken place in their name.

All religions are so unlike their thinkers, in fact no religion will be able to even justify their actions if it is put into the context of the word of God. The word was meant to set the soul free to introspect and do so much more, religion tied it up in chains.

Jesus would be horrified at the ornate ceremonies, crusades and the many convolutions that actually ended up keeping the faithful out of the fold. Krishna or Ram would definitely cringe at the sacrifices, sati, Babri Masjid episode, and the horrific murder of Graham Staines and his children. I don’t know much about Islam, but I’m sure the World Trade Center is not a part of the plan of God, nor are the million wars, or suicide bombings. And these are just some of the countless incidents to be deeply ashamed of, done in the name of religion and has absolutely nothing to to with word of God.

As for finding the coffin of Jesus, let us kneel and pray that James Cameron does not subject us to a three hour sugary, sentimental drama of the discovery…

(cut and paste this link for the Cameron story -,7340,L-3368731,00.html)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Faith on a hill

Pune is blessed with one of the most beautiful hills, these literally surround the city and are unfortunately eyed for their real estate value. For many of us the hills are a retreat, from the pollution and even the general white noise of life.

Sometimes early in the morning, or in the evening when there is a cricket match going on few are on the hill, you will spot hares, peacocks and if you are very lucky snakes. These sightings are so sudden, that you are left wondering if it was real.

These rare sights also makes me ask one more question, how much of control do I really have on life? I’d like to imagine that I planned my visit in a way that I’d see these creatures. But, I’d be fooling myself.

The thing is like many, I have been an atheist for a large part of my life, and perhaps it is the fragility of getting older, I wonder about divinity a lot more. Clearly ones private demons are around the constrictions and dogmas that religion places around you, the divinity has not been really considered much.

The absolute truth is that we are consistently giving up bits of our lives, to the government, authorities, our mates who would like to have more stake in our lives, children, parents, the moron on the road, the technician in the nuclear plant, friends, the thought police…the list is endless.

Imagine for a second if you surrendered to a power far more perfect, wise and even beautiful…what would happen then…
For a moment stop intensely planning, and believing you control life…I have a feeling in some strange ways it might make things a lot more clear…and much of the baggage may just be shed....
But it is I think one of the toughest roads to take...and eventually freeing, now you know that you really have no control and it does not matter if you do or don't.

Friday, February 23, 2007

For the space we occupy, such a mess

Thinking of a series of dreams
Where the time and the tempo fly
And there's no exit in any direction
'Cept the one that you can't see with your eyes
Wasn't making any great connection
Wasn't falling for any intricate scheme
Nothing that would pass inspection
Just thinking of a series of dreams

Bob Dylan

There is point in life that you pretty much become aware you but a momentary traveler on this earth. The only thing that you have contributed significantly to is global warming. Now this is not to trivialize ourselves or put anyone down…but think of it like this…when one dies…how long do memories last. One generation, and that too with some hazy difficulty. My own are not worth filling a 20 page note book. But the damage that my existence has done is immense.

Oh yes there is some charitable work, and a few good deeds, perhaps even work that might make a difference. It’s not altruistic, just a way to keep body and soul together and hope that life lets you be.

This gloomy view of existence is really because I am working on a website talking about global warming. Lifestyle costs included, I realized that we are not really worth this earth we walk on. I mean, compare us to the dinosaur that walked longer on this good earth of ours. These toothy,apparently fierce creatures at least kept the ecology intact for mammals to prosper. We on the other hand, will leave very little behind. Never heard of Tyrannosaurus Rex creating pollutants, so as to radically deplete the ozone layer. Surely the murder and mayhem that we create is way more than these much maligned creatures ever did.

So we have a society, culture and writing and we have invented machines, many of them I use. But the point is, for the earth in the long term it means nothing. It goes on in its cycle, beaten into submission by us conceited apes. The thing is that we really don’t want to stop doing what we do, and leave our ravages behind. Perhaps we are quite ready to mutate shamelessly, to adapt to the changing circumstances and continue our humdrum existence.

Of course all this also mean nothing, if this was someone’s nasty dream, and he or she or it were to wake up and we disappear in a flash. Till we sort this out, let’s prepare for the doom….it’s at hand.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Thoughts as the rock falls

Just read the news, there is a possibility of an asteroid hitting us 2035 or so. It struck me, what then is the purpose of all that we do. As we rage through our lives, managing relationships, jobs, admonishing children, getting angry, angered, political, seductive or ready to seduce, we somehow forget that life in its essence was meant to be happy. Of course the quest for happiness has got so much stranger.

We all moan about the times that things were simpler, when coffee used to cost a pence and happiness meant riding around on your cycle. Yet, the strange part is at that point we were sure we could do so much better. The freedom of the riding on the bike meant zilch, when you could do so much more with your life….you could be on a faster motorbike or bigger car.

But, put this into context of the fact of an asteroid hurtling towards the earth, and sure as hell in real life there is no Bruce Willis to save you this time. In the cosmic event of things you do not matter, what you want does not matter, neither what you feel. Your kid’s marks do not matter, nor does scoring, nor does riding in a big car, nor does the charity you do....

Imagine this, for the asteroid you do not matter. Sometimes, I pretend to look at myself from the moon, and heck I am not even a dot on this landscape. Yet I quest on…for that elusive thing called happiness. Trying to find it in friends, children, conversation, internet, the last cigarette, rock concerts, hobbies, communities….

So occasionally there is a feeling that time is running out, because paradoxically one has discovered the sheer magnitude of life. One is also increasingly aware that the time is now, because the rock could fall, if something else does not strike before. Suddenly there is so much to do before the sins catch up and happiness takes a backseat. Perhaps we have not realized that life is as simple…as one can make it. And it takes a hard road to understand that…

Monday, February 19, 2007

Roger Waters…Taking us beyond the “Dark Side of the Moon”

“We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
What have we found? The same old fears.”

The legend rocked the MMRDA Grounds and how…I went there expecting an extravaganza, and drowned myself in the sounds.

Let me put it this way, he came, he performed, he conquered. Not too old to rock and roll…the joints lit up, the distinctive smell of grass filled the air…and we rocked, to sound that has reverberated for 20 eventful years.

The audience was this strange mix of teenyboppers, and 40 plus rockers. I have heard Pink Floyd ever since a child,the first album was “Dark side of moon”.

I had once done the “rebel without a cause” thing on the last day of school, after the tenth standard. Along with some other girls I stood up on the chair, to loudly sing….”We don’t need to education.” Too late to expel me.

Of course, music like this draws you in, and there was so much to listen. Their albums, “Wish you were here” and “Animals” eventually became my favorites.

But here he was…with everything that Roger Waters had to offer.

The show started a tad late, and there was no opening act, thank goodness. The music played earlier to the show had me a bit worried. For a while, there was Abba …was I in the wrong place…?

And then the giant screen behind moved…radio knobs, the cigarette ash …and it started straight off. Roger Waters did not waste time, he was already connected to the audience and you were just taken in… I must tell you, Harry Waters, the legends son, was a part of the group.

We all screamed, ….for this 63 year old man…who still defines youthful rebellion. He belted it out…from “Wish you were here”, to Shine on you crazy diamond, Animals, some of the best songs of Pink Floyd. “The Dark Side of the Moon” was yet to come. The Pyrotechnics were mesmerizing, while the giant screen had all the stuff happening. If you know something about the group, some of the images would be familiar “Shine on you crazy diamond” had the pictures of Sid Barret….

Among all the old songs, a new one called “Leaving Beirut” was rendered. Before the song, the legend talked about his visit to this war torn capital in 1961, a long-long time ago…
The lyrics questioned the entire US and British strategy in Middle East, these were shown in a comic format on the giant screen behind the audience sang on. I along with others, appropriately screamed when the anti Government slogans came on…come on we are standardized rebels are we not?

While this was on, a completely mixed up guy behind me shouted “David Gilmour rules…we want Comfortably Numb.” He is but young, so it’s all right…rock and roll legends do get a little confusing.

Then came the break and a bit of a retreat before the storm….and what a storm it was. The Dark Side of the Moon…unleashed. The group sang “Speak To Me”, “Breathe In The Air” , “Time”, “Money”, “Us And Them” and “Brain Damage”. Oooph…. By then I had inhaled enough of second hand grass and was quite high. The giant pig flew across, when pigs fly they make a statement. All the standard rebellious stuff written on it, stuff, included some specific to the Indian audience. It floated off off…into the night sky.

The Dark side of the moon part came to an end with lines taken from the album, “there is no dark side of the moon.”

The show was not over, the grand finale, the encore wrapped it up with“We don’t need to education” and “Comfortably Numb” with one of my favorite songs, “Vera”. Now the 40 plus danced made their spaces among the really young ‘uns, and grooved. One young fella whispered in my ears, “This place is full of aunties and uncles.” (In the darkness enveloped by the smoke I suppose I looked younger) I had to tell him, “When the granddaddy of rock is here, uncles and aunties have to jive”

During “We don’t need to education”, I sang loudly along with the rest of the audience, “Hey teacher, leave them kids alone.” Quite forgetting that I had got after my daughter about her math’s homework the evening before.
Comfortably numb as usual gets you there….so perfectly.

All good things come to an end, Roger Waters, he still rocks on, as remarkable as ever before.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Forties – as crazy as your teens

Today I read a strange news, an interesting 43-year-old NASA astronaut turned nuts over an extra marital affair. To me it seemed all a part of the craziness of being 40.

Right, so I have turned 40, like all of us eventually do and have. At one time when I was eighteen, it was better to be dead than the big 4 and 0. It’s a strange age ain’t it? Death looming somewhat abstractly ahead. But, that is not the worry, it suddenly hits you - there is limited time ahead for living your life on the edge.

Edge walking is something we kind of did somewhere between the misspent youth and the time we settled into our daily grind of earning a living and bringing up a family. Then before you knew it, well-cushioned middle age arrives. You were anyway brought screaming and kicking into your 30s, but there was hope that by the time 40 would arrive, most of all that had to be achieved would be. Of course, life is never like that, because what you want to achieve is so abstract in any case. You now know that time is suddenly too short. There are mountains to climb, adventures to finish, books to write, discoveries to be made, money to be made and things that have to be done, they are so defined in your head. And, it is so difficult to undefine yourself.

In all this, there is a teenage hunger for freedom. Only at 40 it is more focused, you know what you want your freedom from. This freedom is usually a break from the past, the straitjacketed lines that you’ve drawn around yourself. It is a freedom to do your own thing…be your own person. And this quest, sometimes leads you to very interesting and unsheltered territories. Now there is no one but your belief and faith that keeps you going. The lucky ones find their guide that gives them the courage to surge ahead. The not so lucky ones keep searching…

Looking around I saw this was the age of the riskiest changes. People leaving jobs, with little or no security to hold on to, relocating in bigger-badder cities, traversing dark tunnels fully aware that a sudden train could kill them instantly, riding motorbikes through highways in the middle of the night, walk the ledges of deep crevices - some have affairs doomed to die even before they are really born, others inject botox. Everyone has their own hunt for that edge.

The good thing is most of us are smart enough to deal with it. Those who are not, once again get into trouble, just like teenagers, and this time there is no one to say, “Hey they are just acting their age!” Because by now you just need to know better.