Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A small nudge will do....

Back from Chennai after a gruelling two day visit, attending the thread ceremony of my nephew. My brother-in-law is a Tamil Brahmin and hence the thread ceremony is an integral part of a young boy's life. As important(?) as marriage is. They say it's an initiation into the spiritual life wherein the initiate begins the pursuit of truth, in addition to his normal day to day matters. Then why is it not done for the daughter? And why not for people from other communities? And why does it stop with the recital of a few mantras and some rituals and doesn't go beyond into areas of meditation and silence?

Nonetheless, it was a good drama--all the rituals being played out meticulously, keeping the young boy seated on a platform for nearly 4 hours, making him recite mantras amidst spiraling smoke from the firepot, perform activities the significance of which none bothered to ask and the priests didn't bother to explain(if they new it) and ending it all in a grand meal, good social gathering and terrible exhaustion for the hosts. The aging grandpa looked happy, having witnessed his grandson's thread ceremony. His next goal is to stay alive to witness his granddaughter's wedding, once she reaches marriageable age.

It's a night ride back to Bangalore. Our seats get confirmed at the last moment and we get only upper berths. I approach a young girl and request her for an exchange. She obliges without hesitating. We put our son to sleep in the lower berth, wrap him up with the available blankets and sit huddled.

The cold wind seeping through the window slits keeps me awake throughout the night. Tejas turns and wakes up a couple of times. The girl whom we exchanged our berths with has friends at the other end of the compartment. She vanishes and returns after two hours, and heads towards the washroom. Soon a young man follows her. They emerge after an hour.

Having witnessed strict orthodoxy just a few hours ago, this strikes me as terribly funny. The priests and elders who officiated in the days ceremony would've brought the heavens down if they'd witnessed this but for the new generation, getting intimate before marriage would be a matter of personal choice and nothing to worry about. 'Do we need society's sanction to enjoy our own pleasures?' they'd say, with enough justification.

And it's interesting to note how different and divided we all are, in our attitudes towards sex and morality. This might be a normal event in a western society whereas a sure path to getting stoned to death in the Middle east. Somewhat ambivalent and confused here in our country. Maybe natural and a part of a healthy life in a tribal society.

I wonder at the predicament of that couple, wrestling inside the narrow and dirty toilet of Indian railways, fearing if some granny wakes up at night and knocks on the door.

Markets crash everywhere. Anil Ambani has supposedly incurred losses to the tune of 47000 crores(how many zeroes in there), so has every other hotshot. Other minnows closer home have big holes in their pockets. My colleague Pavan, who's a vociferous advocate of stocks, shares and investments is totally subdued today. 'Nearly a lakh gone,' he says. My sister sits at home, opens the internet and manages her shares online and earns a pot every month. All talk between she and her friends is about sensex, bear, bull, stock prices.....'Why don't you invest in shares?' and I reply, 'I don't understand the darned thing; but I will invest when I know what it is.' It's a gamble--put your money in banks or safe deposits and you get peanuts as interest. Invest in mutual funds and the share market--you swim in cash. Except that you never know when it hits you, when the flow drags you into the shithole.

What'll happen if tomorrow the banks crash? All of my earnings and savings are in safe deposits and fixed deposits. If there's a catastrope, war or collapse, then everything goes off in a whisker. The hold money has on our lives is enormous and just beyond our imagination. We never give it a second thought and just carry on with our lives as if the current utopia will continue and never degenerate. Money matters. Sometimes it defines your relationships. Crude as it may seem, many relationships are intimate because the glue is money. Remove it, Nothing remains. I know people who lost respect and value amongst their loved ones when their earning power diminished, when poverty struck.

A few days ago, I went to work with just a few rupees in my wallet, thinking that I'll withdraw money from the bank. None of the ATMs of my bank had any cash that day. The cheque book was at home and I was on the road, without a penny, wondering what to do for lunch, what to do if the tyre flattens, what to do if the traffic cop stops me and levies a fine for not carrying a particular document...You need the damned paper piece in your pocket and it makes you feel secure, feel relaxed. Remove it and you're out in the cold.

The fragility is really scary. Life in the modern world seems to revolve around flimsy concepts. An ever-widening web stretches around you, where everything is intimately connected with everything else and those things that matter most for you are beyond your control. The American economy goes into recession and life goes haywire here. The dollor rate drops and your company asks you to work on Saturdays too. A fuel price hike and auto rickshaw drivers go on strike demanding higher fares. Prices of all commodities rise sharply with the fuel price and your budget goes for a toss. You come back to counting what you've saved and what you can afford now. You build your dreams and plan your future based on these concepts. As long as you chug along, you are nothing but a cog in the wheel.

Time for a major rethink.

It's easy to anger you.


Just a couple of questions and you're edgy


Like--when will you do your son's thread ceremony?

It doesn't anger me. I don't like to follow anything blindly.

You think these rituals are useless? That those who follow these are fools?

I don't know about the fool part. Everone has the right to stupidity. I'm only concerned with what to refuse and what to allow so that the people I care about, who still believe in these things don't get offended. Kinda striking a balance between my liberty and their belief. Not slapping anyone. And not getting slapped. Balancing.

And I thought you were a rebel.

Rebel in the making. Trying to make sense of things. Throwing out some rubbish, slowly.

You're a show off.

Yes I am. Better than being an idiot.

What did you say? Come again...


  1. I’ve learned from reading the works of Joseph Campbell that rituals of passage transform through generations, even if the same liturgy is followed. Often “tradition” is followed even though no one remembers its original purpose. Congratulations and blessings to your nephew.

    The story of your return trip fascinates me. I wish I could experience the same. I have never been in the sleeping car of a train.

    Shush, Vishwa. “Crash” is a word not spoken I capitalistic societies. Of course, that is exactly what may happen and. If it does, the capitalistic world can look to the adventurism of the U.S.’s Bush administration for the origin.

    Blessings to you and yours, my friend.

  2. The security a piece of paper can give us, is so huge. Hence the difficulty to become independent of it.

    We are a cog in the wheel and probably our generation will be like this. We cannot escape the system.

    People now retiring in their 40's, has begun a new trend where they try to put their focus into various other hobbies and interests that they did not have time to spend on.

    This outlook will slowly spread to the next generation and it is then that money and all the falsity it carries with it slowly vanishes.

    The title for this post fits very aptly with the contents.

    I also liked the way in which you brought out the cultural differences that exists in the world and the contrast between liberty and belief.

    Keep the good work up.

    Liked your family photo too!!

  3. Nick...Thanks for your kind words. And what you say is true--'never speak of the crash.'

    When the markets went down and people lost lakhs and millions, many of my friends were suggesting that this was the best time to buy stocks, that what went down will soon come up and bring more profits. Maybe blind optimism! But it appeared more like never ending greed/selfishness and a polyanna attitude. Maybe we all are guilty of these, in degrees.

    Anonymous....True, our generation may end up being a cog in the wheel. But it's heartening to see quite a few breaking free and pursuing their passions. They inspire the rest of us to do the same and transmit this awareness to the next generation.