Monday, March 26, 2012

Oh My God !

Highlighted and translated by Global Voices - The world is talking, are you listening?

One of Mumbai's temples, from the early part of the 19th century, in fact , consecrated in 1801.  Constructed by a contractor called Mr Patil, and financed completely by a rich Agri lady called Deobai. Such was the munificence of mind then that , although she herself, was,  and remained childless, she built this temple, because she was convinced that many other women would be granted their wish by the  Lord resident inside.  

A November night in 1975. It was then, from the outside, a very ordinary , managlore-tile-roofed  single storey set-up, situated in the heart, of what was then , solid middle-class-Mumbai,  on the main western thoroughfare of Mumbai that went from south to north.   Traffic was then  a delight , and it was still possible to make impromptu decisions to stop the car, park the car without tow-truck-trauma, and go visit the place .

There was one entrance, unguarded, but with a gate of sorts. You could walk right into the sanctum sanctorum, pray, acquire prasad , and leave leisurely after enjoying the ambiance.  Newly weds came there to pray, sometimes straight from a wedding reception, when the bride travelled to her new home with her newly acquired family. Folks came there with their newborn kids, to lay them at the feet of the deity, and the Lord always showered his blessings. Then there were the regulars, who came daily, some who came and recited stuff to one side, and some, who came to redeem a promise made to the lord.    

Times have changed.  For that matter, everything has changed.

The place is now a multistoreyed place, with offices et al, and priests travel up  and down in elevators to perform their assigned worship duties vis-a-vis the public.
There is a dome above all the floors, gold coated, that glistens far and wide on a sunny day.   The old entrance is now an exit. And in an adjoining road, named after one of India's greatest economists,  is a huge line of shops selling all kinds of things like flowers, sweets, souvenirs,  pooja items, and  some spurious services.

When we visited on a Saturday noon, we had to park at least 5 blocks away, and then walk through a road with police roadblocks,beeping doorways, folks in uniform peering into an xray machine, as your purses and bags tumbled by them on a conveyor belt, like at airports.  There were also some folks frisking visitors with some kind of probe.

There must have been at least 1000 visitors ahead of us as we continue walk towards what we thought was the end of the line. All the while, there were touts outside  the shops, offering to  store and look after your footwear,  advising you on specials deals by them which would allow you to skip the huge line, and or jump it. "VIP Darshan" as they called it was repeatedly on offer.  Then one enterprising guy took a look at the silver wisps of hair   predominant on our crowns, and  told us there was a special Senior Citizen's gate through which we could get in. Even accompanied by a junior citizen daughter. (I later looked for such a gate , but could not find it.)   All this while, our queue kept snaking ahead in the shape of a U, before we entered into what was a barricaded area, where you went up and down through  a maze.  At one end , we saw a gate festooned with official signs that announced priority entry for folks buying a 50Rs ticket, as well as thrilling entry facilities for folks choosing to buy a gold, or silver pass, like a season ticket.

The queue soon snaked around close to the road entrance from which folks were emerging after being frisked. Some folks develop selective vision at such points. They could not see the queue, and pretended to seamlessly merge with the queue, at a point, where at least 500 people were still in line.  The selective vision meant their feet moved surreptitiously while they looked at the temple in a dedicated manner. Fortunately, and much to their chagrin, some folks took the trouble of pointing out to them the end of the queue, and they went off trying to suppress a huff. Inching ahead, and we were soon inside, with the sanctum in sight, brilliantly lit up, profused with puja flowers and worship items.

Mumbai roads habituate us to adjusting suddenly from 6 lanes to 2, and something similar happened when it was suddenly a single line to the Lord.  True to reputation, folks simply pushed and changed lanes. I wondered what the Lord must have felt, day after day, month after month, year after year, this surge of humanity flowing in front. Several temple volunteers and folks in uniform, pleading with folks to keep moving, hold their children together, and after a quick darshan , we were out.  Collected our prasad at the exit gate, amidst assorted pushy folks, and proceeded on the final trudge home.

This particular deity, is known to grant wishes.  Its devotees are many, from all the religions.There are many stories on how people walk barefoot all night from far off places  to visit this deity, and ask for favours and blessings. I've even heard of someone who walked backward from a far flung suburb of Mumbai. Many prominent folks from the film fraternity, do this walk, followed by their security guards  and assorted cars  driving there to take them back . And millions of ordinary folks crowd there to see them. You see countless young folks in line, with families , friends, and many who make it a regular thing  as soon as examination time approaches.

I grew up in another town , where too, there are several extremely well known temples, as old as this temple, and even dedicated to the same deity, and unique  in the style and rarity of form of the deity.

As a child , I lived  on the road leading to one such temple, and was witness to several old devotees , who had their own methods of paying obeisance to the lord.  And old gentleman, would , without fail, go by at 5:30 am every single morning,  doing suryanamaskars  instead of walking all the way, reciting the concerned prayers. Regardless of season and weather.  And unaccompanied by caretakers. On reaching, he would sit inobtrusively, recoup his energy for a bit, recite his prayers, prostrate himself  before the deity (even from a distance) , collect the prasaad, and then leave,  like any other devotee, walking.

This deity also had its share of folks who got desperate as exams approached. Close to the date of the board exams, you could see young fellows doing 108 rounds around the inner sanctum, muttering their prayers earnestly.

Somewhere in the late 80's , my mother was amongst and  a member of the board trustees appointed by the government for temples such as this one and some others , like the Parvati Hill temple,  associated with this one. Then (and till to-date), the only woman amidst the board of trustees, she had been a daily visitor to these temples for several decades and was known to many.  A very god fearing, knowledgeable, fearless, and  terribly down-to-earth person, she once stopped one of these students  to ask about them spending hours doing these 108 rounds.  Turns out that they were totally depending on this deity to see them through an exam when they had not bothered to study for it.

For someone who thought studies and sports were to be pursued with equal dedication by students, and prayers and worship was part of a daily short routine
she thought, this business of throwing the onus of passing exams on the Lord was like cheating the lord.

She took them aside, and urged them to actually go back and concentrate on their studying.  Advised them that the Lord would help anyone who made an honest effort at the exams,after putting in preparatory efforts at the highest level, and that just doing 108 rounds of the inner sanctum without studying was not going to work. Of course, some listened, some did not. But she tried.  I like to think some lives changed in the way they thought about things.

I don't know if she would have succeeded today. Everyone wants quick answers and solutions.  Some folks also think that money can be earned by dubious means, and then you can redeem yourself by worshipping the lord with some huge gift  and a special family puja session with all the trimmings. Elections fought with unaccounted money power, and wins celebrated by documenting your very public gifts to some temple.   What those at the top do, the folks at subordinate levels, emulate.  Gold passes, silver passes, special entries to visit the lord, and shower him with gifts. I doubt if any crooks ever come there to apologize for their crooked sins.

Somewhere in all these folks, are the old faithful. Who have immense faith, but whose resources are not so full.  Those who worry about savings being depleted, and how they are going to manage someone's school fees. Visiting temples , for them, is like having food, a simple meal. A daily affair.

But it gets more and more difficult. Some feel I shouldn't even be complaining.

A news item in today's Times of india, refers to  the fact that the waiting time to see the idol at the famous Hill Temple at Tirupati, is 21 hours. With close to 65,000 pilgrims on weekdays, a view of the deity for  0.80 to 1.5 seconds amidst a lot of shoving and pushing by temple guards and Srivari volunteers is defined as adequate.
    A time-motion study found that 2,000-2,200 pilgrims are able to ‘finish’ the darshan of the Moola Virat (main deity) in one hour when they are pushed around. If temple volunteers exercise restraint, the numbers come down
to 1,400-1,600 and further down to 1,000-1,200 if they only say ‘move move’ inside the garbha griha.

With Arjitha sevas and other rituals taking up 8 hours and VIP pilgrims allowed darshan for 3-4 hours, common pilgrims are left with only 10-12 hours.
 In the Maha Laghu darshan (100 feet away from the Lord), the line moves at lightning pace as some 5,000-6,000 pilgrims are accommodated in 60 minutes. “Even a glimpse of the Lord is difficult as pilgrims are dragged away like players in a kabaddi match,” a temple insider said. .....

Just wondering. Why things have reached such a stage ?  Should money be the deciding factor in defining classes of worship ?  Is this like bringing in "reservations" ?

Are we as a people sinning more ?  Has it reached such proportions that a disgusted  God is feared  and placated  with limitless resources ?  Does anyone think an entity like a God  can be bought, like some folks in the corridors of power ?  

 What happened to thinking of God as a kind of benevolent monitor in our daily life, where we put in a lot of thought before responding  to some underhand, illegal or plain cheating stuff ?

Is God now an industry ?


Monday, March 12, 2012

Cerebrating Myself.....

(Winner of the "Celebrating Myself" competition, by Women's Web; 22-3-12)

There is all kinds of brain research happening  at cutting edge levels these days.

Folks do all kinds of experiments to figure out why we have left brains and right brains, and what each side is supposed to specialize in.  All these calculating, analytical scientists, immersed and shining, in a left brain neuronic ocean , glinting in the cerebral sun. And then there are the dreamers, the visionaries , artists and poets and ordinary intuitive folks,  who are convinced they are doing everything "right", and beaming about it.

I have a hypothesis  which is a function of time.

As a child,  in the 50's and early 60's, resplendent in the middle class, one lived by rules, in all aspects of life. Slogging ensured a degree of success. Things you celebrated about were universal. Success at school, sports, an honor in the society in which we lived. Standard festival celebrations.  And so I celebrated  along with the proud parents.  Birthdays were not "planned", but they happened, and were celebrated, without being unduly ecstatic about the fact that time never stopped, and you got a year older.  Terribly left brained, if you ask me.

College and University, was a time to celebrate a coming of age, a companionship with friends, occasional academic successes and the celebrations started to get a tinge of right brain madness.  Reverses and disagreements in life  were managed leaning on right brained folks,  while maintaining a left brained sense of "feet on the ground".  Celebrations were about uninhibited laughs, enjoying with friends,  whispers ,gossip,  treks and trips, while the left brain kept nudging about examinations, curfews, time and other then unpleasant concepts.

Like a car taking the on-ramp to the expressway, life accelerated, and stayed on course for many years, through work, marriage, children, extended family, and assorted events lighting up along the path.  My celebrations were all about  a child's birth,  the first words, the first step, the joy on the face of a grandparent of four score years, going for a walk with a 4 year old grandson,  fun events and  howlers at school  by the children.  Celebrations were the order of the day the princess arrived, born of the heart and not of the womb, and slowly proceeded to nullify the borders between the two organs, in a  flood of amazing life experiences.

Life has been a celebration of small steps by small folks, then big steps by small folks,  and occasionally , me hitting myself on the head in a right brained way, when I realized that successes to be celebrated in life were never all academic, but of myriads of types. Celebrating has been about facing difficulties in some one's education and overcoming them  day by day, it was about realizing that every human being has a different development plan, and the difference was to be celebrated.

Another  kind of celebration was about being there for so many when they looked for a shoulder and a mind  and a ear to lean on, in the evening of their life. A celebration of the honor, of being in the right place at the right time , for them as well as for yourself. Celebrations, slowly ceased to be about acquiring things,  like objects of leisure and the good life, and became more about giving  and participating  and not worrying about who thought or said what of you.

Slowly over the years, the "l" in my celebrations, has tended to become an "r" .  From "celebrating"  my life, it has slowly become a fun exercise in "cerebrating " it.  Thoughtfully, intuitively, and sometimes, even going against, what might have been considered, by someone, somewhere, the grain.

And so I "cerebrate" today,   giving my mind free reign,  enjoying forays into the world of words and art, unconcerned about accepted norms. Cerebrating has been all about joining in some one's fun on discovering an aptitude, possibly at an unexpected juncture; it has been a sense of peace and having tried, when doing something that went against a left brained norm;  and it has been a realization, that the more you give , the more you can both cerebrate and celebrate.

At the end of the day, its really about "l" and "r" ;  and how you move from one to the other , in time.

Clearly, as you might have noticed,  my path baking research on how a left brained  celebrating kid turns out into a right brained cerebrating geriatric soul, and can laugh about it....

Submitted for the "Celebrating Myself" contest at Women's Web.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Phillumwalli in Bloggywood

For someone who is not really a film buff, can emerge from a theatre, with feet nicely in touch with the terra firma, but feels a great sense of wonder about the different technologies that allow us to be creative today,  I should have anticipated this.

From writing prose and poetry as a child, playing the sitar,  fabric painting, paper towel flowers, decorating daughter's tees (when she was 11) with warli figures and nimbupani poetry, salvaging a long gone dining table plywood top by covering it with a fabric and doing a huge warli on it after hanging that up (the table got a new proper top), gifting folks with personalised warli art,   to blogging in prose and verse , and foisting comments in verse on unsuspecting individuals,  the ease with which new media is available to anyone today, has meant that one tries one's hand at so many more things.

Folks carry cameras today like we carried cloth bags in our childhood, to go to the corner market running errands for our parents. In fact today, people forget to carry bags , but never forget their phones and cameras.  Softwares have made it possible to sit in one place, with a nice cup of tea, and make films.

I tried my hand at one recently. And the subject  was my household help, "S" who I have blogged about frequently on this blog.  That one had a daughter, who fiddled with cameras helped.  "S" even wore headphones and recorded her story.

I tried putting it all together, and a film happened (if you can call it one).

I am in awe of the fact that we live at a time when someone like me,  can one fine day, sit down and make something like this.

I know it needs a lot more polish and slickness. But like the repairs of the Mumbai roads, it will happen in due time.

(Ye gads. I just realized, that like the Mumbai roads, folks can now point to potholes in the film . ....:-(....)

 Never mind.

The trouble is, "S" speaks in Marathi in the film.  Hopefully some folks will understand .   I haven't figured out how to do subtitles. Maybe you can't do that here. Who knows.

But have a look. At my new blog . "Phillumwalli".   

Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Suitable Observers....

Sometimes you simply and inexplicably remember stuff from  from your student days 43 years ago.

One such, was  Schroedingers' Cat.  Erwin Schroedinger  won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933, for his formulation of Wave Equation in quantum mechanics. Unlike classical mechanics which swears by Newton's equations, and comes up with specific definitive answers about position and speed/velocity, in wave mechanics you deal in probabilities of an event, and the possibilities of varying perceptions of the event , depending on the observer of the event.

In 1935, Schroedinger explained this by a "virtual" Cat experiment. 

A living cat is placed into a steel chamber, near a device containing a vial of hydrocyanic acid. Also, in the chamber, is a very small amount of hydrocyanic acid, a radioactive substance. If even a single atom of the substance decays during the test period, a relay mechanism will trip a hammer, which will, in turn, break the vial and kill the cat. The observer outside, cannot know whether or not an atom of the substance has decayed, and consequently, cannot know whether the vial has been broken, the hydrocyanic acid released, and the cat killed. Since we cannot know, according to quantum law, the cat is both dead and alive, in what is called a superposition of states. Only when we break open the box and learn the condition of the cat we realize that the superposition is lost, and the cat becomes one or the other (dead or alive). This situation is sometimes called quantum indeterminacy or the observer's paradox: the observation or measurement itself affects an outcome, so that the outcome as such does not exist unless the measurement is made. (That is, there is no single outcome unless it is observed.)

Sometimes I think this is the age of quantum-mechanization of our country.  There were, earlier,  classical  constitutional rules and interpretations by which things happened. Then we got on to the wave aspect of things  and things became fuzzy.

So many suspect cats sitting in so many suspect chambers. So many courts waiting to hit  the hammer, once the  law-active particle is released. The cat here is never annihilated , but sits in splendorous anticipation in jails or house-arrests etc. 

But, at the end of the day, it simply depends on the perception of the "observer"  and defining this observer is what we are so excellent at. We also set up vague committees of observers who are supposed to investigate things.   These "observers" are multi talented and innovative and they can do several things like :

  •   Co-opt a stronger "powerfully connected" observer
  •   Recommend changing the hammer after suspecting it.
  •   Appoint a committee to study the cat.
  •   Have  the government labs check out the chemical in the vial, and find out if the vial was tampered with.  
  •   Organize study tours (with MP's likely to oppose you in Parliament) to  other western countries to see how other cultures analyse cats hit by hammers in important  areas.
  •   Find out why the CCTV in the chamber was not working although it was installed 4 years ago.
  •   Have someone produce tapes of someone else telling someone else to mess with the hammer attachment.
  •   Appoint another subcommittee to ascertain if there were other hidden cats also inside. 
  •   Declare the the report will go to a standing committee, composed of fellows standing outside the chambers set up by you. 
  •   Appoint a sub-committee to find out if the vials, if faulty, were manufactured in a facility owned by a relative of the cat, unless of course, it was owned by the cat himself in benami manner.
  •   Subsequent to getting an anonymous letter suggesting that the  cat must have weakened the chamber wall, by vigorously scratching it with its claws, the committee  can suggest that stuff happening inside was  known to some specific observers  standing outside with ears to the wall. .

The whole fuzzy  action plan is designed  to ensure, that the chamber, the court-hammer, the law-active  substance  stands discredited.

Actually, according to Schroedinger, the superposition of states (the ability of the cat to be in any of the two states, and the effects of the interference of the observer),  put a big question mark on what we are calling reality . Sometimes of cats, and in quantum mechanics , of electrons. 

Rumor has it, that with the variety of solutions and arguments that came up after he suggested this so called thought experiment, Schroedinger actually mentioned that he wished he had never met the cat.

What he forgot was what we already know.

Our cats have 9 lives. 

In the steel chambers or out of it.  Grinning, Cheshire style .

And observers be damned.