Saturday, October 20, 2012

Monday Musings 157- The Sen in the Singh

Monday Musings 157- The Sen in the Singh

Linguistically i was born a punjabi speaking, officially belonging to the faith of Sikhism, but through strange vagaries of migration of my forefathers, I grew up in rural Jharkhand, almost in the forgotten backland of tribal Chotanagpur. Growing up with close friends who were either Tribals or Biharis, i was to become a cultural khichdi at worst or a salad bowl at best.  Incidentally there was a significant Bengali diaspora, what they refer to as probashi Bengali, that was working in the nearby cement plant, and as they say, three Bengali is a durga pooja pandal. This is my attempt to relive pujo, drawing from the memories of my early childhood and seen through the eyes of a probashi sardar, if at all such a nomenclature exists.

Sikh religious festivals are at best one day long, and all the festivals would mean only one thing - go to the gurudwara, pray, eat langar and it was over, before it began. I would never understand, seeing my Bengali friends preparing for the pujo, how can a festival last for close to a month. I would go nuts in my child mind, how in gods name can one start talking, planning, organizing, fretting for one full month for something that was a religious festival. All my Bengali class fellows would start getting animated on the new clothes they would ask for, gifts they would haggle for, and things they would generally do weeks before the October razzmatazz.  I also never understood what is the correlation of extensive shopping with a festival. I felt cheated or lied to by my own parents as they would not consider even the prospect of buying a pin during any of 'our' festivals. How i wished those days that i was a Sen and not a Singh!!

The other memory that i have is of the dhaki, the drummers and the dance in the pandal. If my own bhangra is energising,  then the dance with the rhythmical dhaki, rising to a crescendo with the camphor smoke bellowing out of the lamp in the dancers hand is nothing short of being mystical. One could just let his soul into that performance and forget that it was just a dance. As a child if i saw joy in the bhangra dances of my own ilk, there was something else on the face of those dancers which i could not describe then but which i know now - it was trance - something that links the devotee to the Godess, a communion similar to the Turkish dervishes' revolving dance form.
For almost a week and particularly the last four days, from sashti till the tenth day of dasmi, the sleepy hamlet would come alive - for the devout, it was a worship, for us it was a freedom. As a child i knew i would have fun, will be allowed to go out at odd hours, the return-to-home- time limits would be made flexible, pocket money would be increased - and as long as that happened, who cared whose festival it was - for all i cared with the extra money in my pocket, it was mine. Pujo also meant that we would get a few extra hours away from the protective/restrictive, gaze of parents and because it was a rare occasion when we would see the other gender beyond the bland school dress, I also remember, many a silent romances blossoming or getting nipped in the bud. Finally the visarjan or the immersion procession would mean hours of mindless dancing and returning late, legs tired and mind joyous. Who cared, whether i was a Sen or a Singh!! 

I discovered a life long love with cultural peculiarities perhaps during those day, which was to only heighten with age. A vivid memory is the sight of gorgeous Bengali women, with white sarees and bright red borders, worn so differently and elegantly, playfully applying sindoor to all others - the festival merging with festivities, the personal merging with social, the 'I' merging with  'we'. The sight would stay on for years. 
I developed a life long affair with Bengali cuisine right then and declared that the misthi doi,  a unique sweet yoghurt, should be declared a drug for its addictive qualities.

I took my daughter yesterday to the pujo celebrations hoping that she would discover that how grateful i am to life, which has allowed a Sen lurking beneath the Singh.!!

Happy Pujo



Sunday, October 14, 2012

156 Monday Musings: God for the Young

156 Monday Musings: God for the Young

Some conversations can lead to blogs, this is one of those.

As a parent myself and as an observer of parenting, i have witnessed many ways in which hobbies and habits are attempted to be inculcated in the young ones by excited and overzealous parents. There are two extremes in parenting - the "the child will figure things out- and i should keep away" types and at the other end is the "i need to know everything-i will control everything" (i think the term in vogue is helicopter parenting). Most fall in between. The object of intervention could be anything - dance, poetry, dramatics, painting, sports so on and so forth.

The two areas that i do not see much focus during parenting is 'managing money' and 'developing a religious/spiritual consciousness' - its the later that will be my focus today.

Religion and its true pursuit, spirituality, which come along with their myriad definitions, connotations and worldviews is not on the menu of 'things to do' for the child development, either because this subject is too overwhelming to an average adult, or he/she does not find it important enough. The belief probably is that this is an adult subject and the child will find his bearing on the religion he follows or the God he believes in on his own as he grows up.

If we believe history, then religion makes adults do strange things - from wars to persecution, from intolerance to bigotry, many wrongs have been committed in the name of some religion or some God. But does religion do any good to a child or an adolescent or better still, can it do any good to a growing up child?

I believe that developing and helping the child build a relationship with God based on conversation and not reverence can do a world of good to her. Taking the child to community place of worship, making her a part of community rituals of all kind and talking through those rituals make her develop a sense of community, which in this case may be of a limited kind as it is based on only shared faith/religion, but will go a long way in teaching her the merits of community life, which will come in handy when she does find the wisdom to belong to some community based on her free choice. Too many adults live the lives of a loner, may be because no one taught them to belong. Belonging takes courage, conviction and practice. 

Experiencing places of worship and a conversation with a supreme power can be a good surrogate to teach the distinction of good and bad, right and wrong to an early mind, which at this stage is not ready to make that distinction based only on virtues like objectivity, rationality, ethics and principles. God or the idea of God becomes an anchor, to which the young rudderless mind can hold on to in times when she is unable to understand the vagaries and unpredictability of the world around her. This anchor and the relationship with God, however must be built and based on conversations and not purely on reverence, as it most often than not is the reality. God can be a friend for the young soul, to look for direction, for guidance and company to talk to, rather than a power that only punishes the offenders of the rules set by elders. 

This is not the end of it however. All this while we must also provide the child enough sense of inquiry, enough sense of curiosity and most importantly enough sense of independent thinking, so that as she grows up she can question everything that we would have taught her, even the notion of God - and should she then conclude that God did not exist, or He was not worth the fuss, or all this brohuha about the right and wrong is a cartload of crap, then by all means allow her to conclude so. 
An atheist based on inquiry and intellect is better than a believer without discovery. God can be a good rudder for the young. 


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Monday Musings 155: My experiments with the TV.

Monday Musings 155: My experiments with the TV.

Do not be led astray with the title, i have no intention to experiment with the various shades of truth that the other Gandhi ever did. One of the modern day truth is the TV and going by its ubiquitous presence and a vice like grip on the modern day life, i had always wondered, what would it be like to have no TV in life - and there in lies the tale!

I changed cities close to a month ago and i decided to take the leap of faith by ripping off the umbilical chord with which the TV is linked to our lives, called the set top box or the cable. So its been a month that the cacophonous presence of the idiot box does not hang in my humble abode. These days has been like the days in the rehabilitation center so to speak, cleansing the body and the soul of the last drop of an addiction, that begins with harmless experiment, but ends up asking for more and more. That is how the addiction to TV begins - watching a few programs here and there, aimless surfing of channels without a time limit, program hopping so that one knows broadly something about everything, but not everything about something, an echo of mediocrity symptomatic of our lives these days. 
I would love to do a psychological study of creating a typology of people basis the programs they watch and the way they watch them. In his mind the viewer is sophisticated and intellectual and believes he watches only Discovery, History and Bloomberg - in reality that is only a rare viewership if at all, and the bulk of viewing is purely psychedelic, voyeuristic, vicarious, dramatic and sensational, whether in the kind of news, serials, or the reality programs watched. The viewer could be any of the following.
The escapist - one who watches reality programs that he wont do or cant do, but always wanted to do. The cheap thrills, the artificial excitement, the fake suspense is his staple. 
The dramatist - one who believes that life is lived in a hyperbole, conversations must be peppered by punchlines and there are no families who go to work (because most of them are either having and affair, marrying, divorcing or remarrying, scheming or being schemed against)
The drifter - who watches the same thing many times over, or the same news in 5 different channels in a kind of stupor that only addiction can create
The lonely - one who does not care what is only the TV, as long as something is playing, preferably at loud volume, that fills the vacuum of inactivity or a meaningful pursuit or a worthwhile interest in his life
The armchair sportsman - one whose notion of a physical activity is changing channels on the remote, or going to the loo during breaks but will watch everything from the T-20 to the latest Kabaddi match and to add insult to injury will have an expert opinion on everything about the sport.

Coming back to a month without the TV around, the initial days you experience something amiss in life, a yawning gap that is inexplicable but thunderous. The silence in the home is deafening before it is irritating- the only noise is family talking to each other, something that you are not used to. There is genuine time available with everyone and in the first few days no one knows what to do with it. The child is discovering books, activity, park et al because she needs all the sources to kill time that has suddenly available. The spouses can easily find 15 minutes anytime to do the chit chat that is the hallmark of domestication, without having to wait the day to end, otherwise a post-dinner-TV chore, by which time in any case they were too tired for any  conversation. 
TV is an addiction because it consumes you without your participation - one can watch it for hours completely disengaged and it wont notice or take offence. But other pursuits like reading or jogging or gyming requires engagement, it asks for your involvement and efforts. In the absence of TV, precious bandwidth gets released from life that can be then be channelized. 

In the past i have asked so many about not having a TV at home and each time i was told that it would be hard on the child. I guess, its harder on the adult who never takes the plunge.

For those who still have a TV, enjoy watching.