Type F for Faith

During Thanksgiving, the glaring headline of papers worldwide was of yet another fate-fueled attack on the general populi, killing more than three hundred people in the process. Two sides of faith, with two different outcomes in mind; one celebrates homecoming; the other: ruin.

There was a story that I grew up reading. A Hindu scholar, having read in the ancient texts that God is both with a form and without, decided to test the theory by himself. Upon visiting the famous Jagannath Temple in Puri, he asked this question to the grand priest – who answered in the same way as the texts prescribed. Annoyed, the academic took a stick and decided to walk by the idol – declaring that if the stick touches the wooden idol it would prove that the omnipresent has a form; if not, then the opposite will be proven.

To his surprise, the stick touched the idol in one of his two passes; while he was coming back, the stick remained as is. Baffled, he stood there, until the grand priest, who was watching it all from a distance, decided to come in. He smiled, and said that the one you and I – all of us seek, is formative and formless. Was he talking about God? I think now that he was talking about faith as well. For us, faith can be a book, or a man’s quotes, even a worn-out dozen shoeboxes where we preserve our memories. Or it can be promises of freedom, of the grandiose life in heaven.

Or at times, it can simply manifest itself to be something simple. Like a shoulder to cry upon, a body to blame, an abyss for all of our tears to go. For centuries, widows have been shunned in the Hindu culture and banished to the corners, be it in one’s house or in ravenous sanctuaries like Kashi, Vrindavan and the ilks. There were rules made, terrible and inhuman rules, to break their minds and their bodies. It is not one of the greatest mysteries of the world why a chauvinistic society took whatever means necessary to drown the women in misery – both married and unmarried, and post-married in particular. To these widowed souls, the only way to live the rest of their lives was to cling to the only thing they had left, willingly or unwillingly : faith. Thus generations after generations, we saw grandmothers who spent their time in the deity-room, being particularly excessive when it came to spirituality. It was often not their choice, but they accepted it and made it their own. Faith works in mysterious ways.

Yesterday, my wife and I were to attend a market that happened to be inside a Cathedral, and we ended up reaching the place two hours late; the empty parking lot should’ve been the spoiler alert, but we carried on, only to be informed by the last car that was loading up that it was over. Bummed out, we decided to go inside anyway, just to see the main hall and offer our prayers, only to offer them standing on the other side of a closed door (The cathedral was closed). While we were on our way out, my wife suggested to go inside the bookstore, and we went in.

The Christmas decorations were in full swing, spearheaded by three women, all past their prime, one a little older than the other two, but the most energetic and talkative. She took a particular liking to my wife, telling her stories about her visits to Jerusalem, driving in the highways around Atlanta, and about her husband who had passed away. I was following them, listening to her cheerful banter, and picking up and looking at trinkets, photo frames, music CDs  – as the wintry afternoon was slowly coming down with a chill, painting the sky a melange of orange, ochre yellow and crimson, tugging at the handful of leaves that remained, brightly colored – before they fell too, making me wonder at the simplicity of it all. There was something remarkably simple in this design, yet so marvelously complex. To a naked eye, it was overwhelming. But you needed to sit down and let your mind do the math; then it wasn’t as boggling at all.

“Isn’t this the cutest thing?” The old lady asked, pulling out a wooden replica of a mouse, complete with beady eyes and all, a Christmas decor obviously. My wife nodded, and expressed her chirpy mirth, to which the lady continued while putting it back on the Christmas Tree that it came from, “I don’t have trees in my house anymore. Not after he’s gone. But I keep these things with me. Like the mouse, I’ve hung it in my kitchen cupboard. Every time I see it, I laugh.”

There was something on both me and my wife’s faces at that moment, a similarity in emotion that pulsated in both our hearts. Faith, in its simplest manifestation, was a powerful tool. Even thousands of miles apart, I saw a woman who was like my grandmother, displaying the same emotions, resting her head on the same shoulders of faith. “It’s a way of touching God with your own hands, when your hands are empty,” she said while showing my wife the intricate rosaries, “people buy these things as jewelry these days. But these are not just things to wear. These are tools of faith. These are what keeps faith to yourself, personal.” This wasn’t simply a perceived way to offer prayers to a being of higher conscience, but it was a mean to cling on to something that offered a sentience of a greater acceptance, something that our society had so miserably failed to provide.

While we were on our way out, she asked us to come back again, like any loving grandmother would do (though she thought we were Spanish, judging by our dialogues in Bengali), and we came back with smiles on our faces.

My faith has its days. At times it is strong; and at times my existential crisis makes it harder to cling on to any hope, any faith at all. There are gaps, and the woes of the world and the surrounding make it that much worse to rest my thoughts on any shoulders, let alone be it on faith. I grew up amidst spirituality and faith, but my conscience had pulled me away at times from it. I discern faith for what it is; an instrument of creation and destruction; of putting one’s life through it in expectation of something grandiose and then something simple; more often than not, faith is the belief that there is something inside us that may someday take the shape of something good. Be it a windfall or a phone call from a grandson that lives seven oceans away (A common proverb : seven oceans and thirteen rivers, quoted to denote great lengths), or a yearly Thanksgiving, playing the strings of the heart, cherishing the living, remembering the dead and the gone.

As I was writing this, soundtracks from Miyazaki’s movies were playing. Piano for me is faith too, in its simplest form, yet again, since it evokes tendencies in me that I keep on reserve for special occasions. Anime and its wonderful music are part of a feel-good society, a utopia that we have forgotten, especially the great animes that graced the world during the 80’s and early 90’s. The piano playing classical tunes is bound to make a believer out of a skeptic.

What is faith but the simplest form of belief. At times, it takes the form of something monstrous if you let it grow uncontrolled. At times, it grows into a beautiful garden of memories.

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The Art of Caring, or the lack thereof

The definition of a New World notwithstanding, there’s a distinct lack of care in today’s planet blue is alarming. Back in the days, I fondly remember the caress of people living in our community, be it a pat in the back or a stern look if you were returning home late, something that is missing like a sore void; like the potholes in roads that get filled up by rainwater during monsoons and look like extensions of the road as the reflection of a gray-ash sky, the problem presents itself in camouflage. You never get it until you have experienced it, on one hot summer noon when you come back home and don’t find the old lady hanging out in the balcony by your place, asking you about your health, or what time it is, or just asking how you have been – you realize that it isn’t the city you hate. It’s the devolution that strikes you.

I whine a lot for a guy of my age. I complain about almost everything, because in these years I have grown cynical of our species. I see humans butcher other animals. Recently in Bihar, I saw trained hunters kill more than 300 Nilgais, the largest Asian antelopes, just because they had become a nuisance to the local farmers. Without going back to the root cause of why these animals were coming out from the jungle in the first place, the local government happily gave permission to these killers who made this occasion look like a festivity. A few weeks later, another post covered how in the name of a Pegan ritual, hundreds of lizards, snakes, squirrels and birds were captured, killed and cooked – all in the vicinity of a particularly busy railway station in Bengal. Nobody batted an eyelid. Every year, thousands of rare species of birds, animals, reptiles, fishes are being killed for apparently no reason at all. The peak of these stupid activities are in the form of ‘pleasure hunting’ – a passtime for millionaires and spoilt brats toting guns and shooting hapless animals who have been bred for this circus.

This lack of respect for others has manifested itself viciously in our ability to curb violence as well. It feels like nowhere is safe anymore – you point a place in the world map and it is seeping with blood. Innocent people are dying, and men and women and children are being pushed into an atmosphere of hatred where they are being told and taught that theirs is the only way. The lack of compassion is astounding, and yet nobody raises their voice.

I come from a very humble background. My family used to be a joined one – an amalgamation of happiness and sadness. Sure, there were big fights every once in a while, but I couldn’t see myself growing up to be like this had I not been part of a big family. My family extended beyond relations of blood – from the old man who used to call me Captain Green to the lady who used to take me to school for twelve years of my life, from the shopkeeper who used to tell me and my sister if our mother had arrived from office, to the uncle who used to sell electronic items to an inquisitive, eleven year old me – they all became my family without me knowing. And today, when I look back at all these memories, the immense pleasure I get from them can’t be described in mere words. I owe everybody my sincere gratitude, and even more than that I want to share similar passion in everybody that I meet.

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The culture of not-caring has been growing like a plague. That is mostly because people do not understand the difference between privacy, or space, and the blessing that is caring. Nuclear families; pigeon holed existences; communities without any sort of communication – these are the traits of modern society, eating it from inside like maggots. A Durga Pooja a year doesn’t make you know thy neighbor. Empty houses in Jodhpur park are flanked by swanky skyrisers in South City, where nobody knows each other. Like the anonymous public lives of the celebrities, the common man (and woman) has adorned the mask of nonchalance. This arrogance is a propaganda like no other : spreading into young minds as a penchant for coolness. Forty years down the line, the generation X/Y/Z will lament that their kids are too progressive, yet they are as blind as the government I spoke earlier of. Without going to the root cause, we will be bound to our everyday cotton candies – Facebook/Twitter/SnapChat/Instagram, or even Pokemon Go.

The art of caring is learned, not something that is inborn. It needs practice; it needs enthusiasm and helping hands. If we continue to disrespect each other, if we continue to disrespect every other being, there won’t be any next generation after a certain point of time. This blue planet will become another speck in the universe, another dead rock – another ball of dust and rubble.

There’s still time.

 

Awakenness

“Are you awake?”

The metallic sound floats through heavy air, crashing on the walls of the pod, and fades. Like a metronome, the recorder keeps on uttering the same sentence, again and again. Time is not a servant of any commands, however.

An infinity passes. The sound degenerates to a broken pulp, the receding whispers of technology, breaking ever so often.

In between, a new algorithm had changed it. Now it pleads, and if a conscious existence could piece the shattered noises together, it would sound like “Wake up.”

But I’m not conscious.

I don’t know what I am anymore. My eyes are fixated on the window. A blue planet is in front of me, blue and indigo-green with lacquers of white.

Eons of emptiness drown the distance between us in its cold void. The universe is between life and death, between eternal conscience and an eternity of nothingness.

Now it is but an abyss where comets are trying to be amphibians. But there’s no shore.

I keep on looking at the big glowing ball of rock, knowing not whether it is a curse to be sentient.

The voice returns, stuttering and crying.

Who is asking me to be awake?

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