December 14, 2014

The Loss of our Gods

One of the biggest assets of Hinduism I have always felt is its decentralization of religious practices. And therefore I have always believed more than a religion, it is a way of life. We have more Gods than we can count and remember and while many believe that Hinduism is essentially a throbbing, living example of polytheism, I always believe it also has the traits of Monotheism and Pantheism. Which is why when someone from Europe wonders how I plan to celebrate Diwali, I itch to answer, “Just like the French wine connoisseurs celebrate Oktoberfest.”

Our different Gods help us to reach the One as we deem fit. And then we find our own unique ways to reach The One. But as I travel around the country, I see a strange phenomenon. Slowly the complex fabric of our culture is giving way to the worship of what I call the Mega Gods – The avatars of Shiva and Vishnu. Even the Incarnations of the Mother Goddess are losing out to the male deities of Monotheist nature. The local gods are slowly being forgotten. In Luka and the Fire of Life, Rushdie speaks of the Forgotten Gods from ancient religions who no one remembers anymore. Slowly the Gods in our ancient forests and lakes and mountains are facing the same fate. Time it seems is able to consume even divinity. Whether it is good or bad only time can tell. I just wish there was someone working on the forgotten Gods of India.

While the Gods leave, one by one, like the vanishing languages of the world, the ‘Godmen’ fill up their places. Feeding on our insecurities, they now control a vast swathe of our country and slowly blind faith and rituals replace the logical mind that once told us that paths to The One can be many and yet they reach the same destination.

Sometimes you need the light of Knowledge to show you the way. For darkness is powerful and all encompassing but always loses in the end.


December 08, 2014

The Tough Task

SNDU (if you have forgotten by now, it’s the company I work for – Sabun, Nakhun and Datun Unlimited) sometime back started asking me to go and recruit from campuses. Amongst all the tasks that increase my heart’s palpitation, this probably is the toughest. It’s even more stressful than the times when you have to disagree with your boss on the costumes of your model in the ads that you make or when data fails to answer a question and you have to swallow hard and take a stance. Now close to 8 years later you have enough confidence to take that stance, but nothing prepares you to face a Placement Committee Member (Placeu as we called them) and tell her how many candidates have you decided to make an offer to.

Now these Placeus come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them make puppy faces, some of them play the martyr, some are plain obnoxious (to both the candidate and the company) but generally they have a tough job trying to place a batch that believes that getting a job offer at the highest pay scale is their birthright.

Anyway, the placeus are always handled well by the world famous (really, true story!) HR team of SNDU. So that takes care of the first problem. But then begins the most important task of selecting a candidate.

Multiple rounds continue, the day changes to night and we meet some of the brightest youngsters in India. Sometimes, they freeze up, sometimes they try to put on a show, sometimes they realize as soon as they walk in and this probably is not what they have wanted to do in their lives but for the most of them, it’s an opportunity they have been waiting for.

I was talking to my grandma the other day about how this stresses me out. Not because I cannot do it, but mainly because every time I say “No” my heart feels a pang of sorrow. And there is no way I can select someone who I do not think is right for the organization I love so much. She reminded me of a Tagore line, “When the judge feels the pain of the convicted, that’s the greatest justice that can be done.” The important feeling to have is empathy that ensures when someone walks out after meeting you, they feel nice about the process irrespective of its outcome.


But still, every time I walk into that room I am scared as if I am the one going in for mine.

December 01, 2014

The Loss of Reason

“Shantih! Shantih! Shantih!” the chants of the Brahmins on the banks of the Ganges reverberated around the woods. The sacred fire burnt in front of them, purifying their souls and their offerings to the Gods above.

Slowly they picked up their humble belongings and started walking back to their huts. The fire had shown them visions, ones they were too scared to even talk. In the raging fires, they were shown the world of Kali when the world would slowly move towards a realignment of time, the ultimate Yuganta.

The world they knew, where knowledge and light ruled, would lose its way. The pursuit of fame and glory would leave behind a thousand battered souls and slowly the world would become a darker place. People would forget why it’s important to be honest to oneself. Lies, deceit, half truths would masquerade as the truth and we would lose track of what to believe and what to reject.

In every step, humankind would slowly move towards their final test where the world would be cleansed and repopulated. That would once again turn the Wheel of Time. But what they had seen was a possibility that the seeds of destruction of the world would be sown without a hope for a rebirth. Unreasonable, argumentative, desperate for a lifestyle they cannot sustain, mankind was racing towards a point of no return.


For years they prayed, hoping to find a path for redemption for humanity. And yet answers failed them till one day the answer came, “The Loss of Reason will spell the end of all things we hold dear.”

November 30, 2014

Family

You never chose them and yet they are the only ones who will never leave your side. You get upset with them, bang the phone down, and yet on the next day you call up when frustration tends to grip at your very heart.

They come in all shapes and sizes; they come with unsolicited advice, they come asking questions you do not want to answer and yet you end up answering them. You add them up as you grow older and when some of them leave you behind, you realize how much you miss them.

Sometimes you believe that the friends you meet on the way can replace them and you take solace in witticisms which say you can choose your friends, not your relatives. And they truly are a great pillar of support as we had found out when we moved to Singapore. As we increasingly leave the cities of our birth, we let go of one of our biggest support systems – family. In the increasingly insular and selfish worlds of our cities, we never realize what we are missing. In a life spent travelling between cubes our horizons start to close in on us till all that is left is a phone in our hands and noises in the airwaves between us.

I guess there comes a time in one’s life when we miss our families the most. And growing up in a large joint family, my life in this metropolis feels surreal at time. Because, whatever be the situation, you just want to know that they stand behind you.


And when they do, you stand tall.

October 26, 2014

Hum Indiawale

My choice for movies swings more than the Swinging Sixties. And from being a snob to being someone who is indiscriminate in his choice of movies, I do it all. And as I grow older I realize, movies serve two major purposes for me. First, it’s art. It tugs at your heartstrings, makes you think, sometimes even forces you to come to terms with your own demons. But secondly, and definitely more importantly, it’s entertainment. It allows you to leave behind all your problems, your logic too and then forget all your worries for 3 hours (yes our movies are often 3 hours long) because in the end the hero always wins.
                  
There was a phase in my life when I looked down upon these movies, making comments about how this is not true cinema but as years have gone by; I have realized there’s a space and reason in this world for everything; even movies which will not survive in our memories beyond their opening weekend.

This year three movies were released who shared only one thing in common - the first letter of their name – H. The first was Highway. It was one of India’s most mature road movies and showcased the talent powerhouse that is Alia Bhat. You walked out of the movie, wowed by her performance, with a lump in your throat and then kept thinking about the breathtaking shots of the road that cross crossed across India. It left bare the hypocrisies of our society and left us stealing our glances from our own reflections in the mirror.

The second was Haider - Cinema at perhaps its best, but a Hamlet retelling at best an average attempt. A story retold in the midst of pain, suffering and agony. It reminded us why we missed Tabu so much. As an actress, she gave one of the most memorable performances of Indian cinema. But more importantly Haider taught us the importance of democracy and why we must always strive to fight for it. Whether you agree with the film or not, you have to feel proud that you are allowed to make movies which do not follow popular opinion. It dares to tell the other side of the story. And whether you accept its version of reality or not, you have to accept that you need to hear that story as well. But more importantly, Haider made a very important point by perhaps a quirk of fate. Released on 2nd of October, Haider was able to do what Hamlet could not. In perhaps the most telling scene of the movie, Haider remembers Gandhi’s greatest lesson to mankind – “An eye for an eye will make the world go blind”. For this one reason, Haider could have been made only in India.

 The last and perhaps the most representative of our cinema was Happy New Year. A musical blockbuster, it had exactly the same kind of drama that we want in our movies. A SRK potboiler, it perhaps made no sense, had little logic and yet it kept us laughing, singing and cheering till the end. Because while seeing the movie, we all knew our hero could not fail. The world would stand up to acknowledge him and he would go back home with the girl, with the diamonds and with our hearts. And we did not mind that he kept repeating his own dialogues.


We Indians, how much ever we want to love our Ritwik Ghatak, we end up falling in love with Uttam Kumar.

October 14, 2014

Roots

I often feel part of a large banyan tree spreading its branches out. I am one of those branches that have spread out too far and late into the nights the roots sing to me. It tells me to read more of Tagore, listen to the music that’s making waves in my homeland. It tells me literature is best enjoyed in the language you grew up with; music is best enjoyed when you don’t have to struggle to understand what’s being said.

As I look around me, I realize the banyan trees are falling all around us. Growing up in a cosmopolitan environment, we grow up today in a strange patchwork of cultures where probably our mother tongue, leave alone Sanskrit is not even uttered once during the year. The language we all speak in is English as it becomes the language of business and we want our children to know it and converse in it, even if it means they no longer know the rhymes that we grew up with as kids, no longer do they fly kites without a rhyme or reason.

A new form of linguistic imperialism seems to take over the world and it strikes hard at the roots. Maybe the future branches will remember where they came from but they may no longer be connected to their roots. The question is not one of jingoistic nationalism but rather a question of loss. Learning a new language is no longer a passion, like most things around us, it’s just good business sense.

As it happens, somewhere deep down we feel determined to not let our roots wither. Our accents remind us where we come from. We realize that our idiosyncrasies were made up by our upbringing and somehow there’s a promise that we will never let them go away; for better or for worse.


And that’s the last rebellion before winter comes and the roots wither.

October 10, 2014

The Danger of ‘Group Think’

All throughout evolution, different species have decided how their societies would be formed. Sometimes like the Tigers, they have decided to go alone, like lions in smaller groups or like wolves in packs.

The human species however carry the traits of almost all species. We have had individual thinkers – visionaries who changed the world with the light of their knowledge. We have had the world’s first democratic councils in Athens and in India where the Lichhavi council stood up to invasions and we have had clans travelling on their horsebacks plundering without a second thought – The tigers, the lions and the wolves.

Anthropologic studies have shown (For those interested in further studies, do look up Dunbar’s Number) that any human being can possibly maintain between 100 to 200 social relationships and that is the reason we lose touch with great friends from yesteryears.

But over the last few months, I have also been realizing how thought processes evolve. More and more due to structured thinking so ingrained into our education and corporate system, we are seeing a situation where otherwise intelligent individuals tend to follow ‘group think’. It’s evident in various ways that it manifests itself; we crave for leaders who show ‘direction’, leaders desire those that follow without question and a huge rung of the in-betweens try to figure out which way the wind blows. They are the ones who struggle to find, adopt and worship ‘best practice’

The biggest danger of ‘group think’ happens in a mob. Rational individuals, who can make socially acceptable decisions on their own, often change their behaviour completely in a crowd. That’s why you have bystanders who become a mob that tears down shutters, looting and plundering.

Cowardice also spreads due to this behaviour. Imagine a crowd facing one individual who for the right reason or wrong, makes the first attack. Suddenly the entire crowd forgets they have the power of numbers and slink back. While all of you would have laughed at Bollywood heroes for taking on a gang single handed, it has its basis in how humans behave.

The ubiquitous middle class of every society is the one that faces this conundrum. Years of conditioning have taught them to live in their cocoons, living in an imagined world of security. That’s why whenever there is a problem, we tend to turn our backs or try to go in as a group, but never alone. This is also the reason why most revolutions in the world are brought in by students who have not yet succumbed to the pressure of ‘group think’.


The world requires thinkers who have not been conditioned by ‘group think’ and that seems to be a challenge.