Tag Archives: family

The “religion” of humanity

Note: Fair warning that this post might offend some people. You may find yourself outraged, but please know, I am not attacking your belief system, simply stating my own. I would appreciate if you’d extend the same courtesy to me when commenting.

Watching Religulous last night just made me realize how we give a lot of significance to things we know nothing about.

India, one of the most secular countries in the nation, is routinely shaken by communal violence. Headlines that rip your heart: “Thirty-eight people burnt alive, 12 among them were children.”

“Property worth lakhs of rupees gutted down to ashes.”

“Shops looted and vehicles torched.”

Vikram Patel, Swastik Mehta, Joy Lobo, Heeralal Shah, Brian Phillips, Iqbal Mehmood, Aslam Khan – casualties of a war they didn’t start.

Their names bearing no significance – becoming only statistics splashed in newspapers people eat paapri-chaat on.

And it’s no different anywhere else in the world – hundreds of thousands dead in the name of religion. Politicians and religious leaders use rhetoric. They instigate mass hysteria. And caught between this war of words, the common man suffers.

I’ve always wondered how we end up determining our religion. Who tells us whether we are Hindus or Muslims? Christians or Jews? Scientologists or atheists? Is it the blood running through our veins? Is it a chemical reaction in our brains? Is it somehow something we just “know” when we enter this world?

No.

It’s people.

Starting with our parents. Reinforced by our social circle. Validated by our priests.

Let’s consider a hypothetical situation: if a child is born to a woman who practiced Islam and she dies in childbirth; no one knows how to ID her; a Christian couple adopt him, baptize him, take him to Church every Sunday; but he is raised by their devout Hindu maid who reads passages from the Gita to him all the time.

What is this child’s religion?

Is he Muslim by accident of birth? Is he Hindu because he bowed to all the gods and chanted the Gayatri mantra day in and day out? Is he Christian because that’s the religion his parents identify with?

Isn’t religion just an organized social club where membership is determined by birth? You meet people with the same “beliefs,” perform the same rituals, and bow to the same deity (or different “preferred” ones if you have an array of 300-million to choose from)?

People don’t understand most of the stuff they do in the name of religion but do it anyway because they “don’t want to make Him angry” or because “you just don’t question these things!”

I call this worshipping fear.

One would think that with all our technological advances and better understanding of the cosmos, we, as Earthlings, would acknowledge that religion was “invented” to build community, to give people something to affiliate themselves with. To try and explain the unexplainable.

In today’s world where we know how to reprogram skin cells into stem cells, when we’re inventing ways to turn water into fuel, when we’re  finding evidence of water and carbon dioxide on a planet outside our solar system, to still hang on to stories our ancestors made up to control societies …?

It just doesn’t feel right.

I vividly remember Bombay burning as an aftermath of the Babri Masjid debacle and witnessed gory scenes of communal unrest in Gujarat that followed a decade later. Countless children were orphaned, millions of national wealth destroyed, innumerable lives cut short unwontedly; and yet we fight over constructing a temple, a church, or a masjid.

Is the construction of any of these buildings worth a public massacre? Can these brick and mortar structures be rightfully called holy? Isn’t this just human slaughter in the face of religious superiority? And who is to say which section’s God is the all-powerful one?

The way I see it, no one wins.

Religion only makes us lose touch with humanity. With what really matters. The symbols, the edifices, the nomenclatures – they’re just things we, the people, created.

When a child wails, do you hear Ram, or Allah, or Jesus?

No. You just hear a human being crying for comfort.

All we need is compassion. Empathy for each other. Peace within ourselves.

And for that we need to look inward.

Think about it before passing judgment.


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To let: a healthy womb

Two recent cases on surrogate adoptions have had me thinking the last couple of days.

I’ve learned from the experiences of two very close friends that motherhood is almost like a rebirth for a woman.

It’s more than just a physical rollercoaster ride – it’s an emotional voyage that springs new life.

For the better part of a year, a woman nurtures a new being within her womb – thinking about, speaking to, and bonding with this unseen fusion of sperm and egg … her child. Her flesh and blood. Her own creation.

For nine months, she waits in anticipation for that one moment when she will be able to see her baby, feel the infant’s breath, touch those little fingers – make that connection come alive in a very real sense. That one precious moment that surpasses everything else she has experienced thus far.

And then she has to give it away. To immediately render all that she’s experienced for three-quarters of a year, a memory. To give “her” child to someone else.

Of course, it’s an arrangement she entered knowing full well the implications of the transaction. But did she really know? For a first-time mom, could she have anticipated the emotions she would go through? Could she have guessed what it would really mean to separate herself from her newborn?

I have no maternal inclinations except for the general fact that I like kids — the kind who go back to their parents after two hours of play time. Despite that objective stance, I cannot entertain the thought of giving away “my” child to somebody else.

Difficult doesn’t even begin to describe the emotional toll something like this would take.

Yet some people would rather take this route than consider adoption. As much as it commodifies children.

Most people deep down would rather pass on their genes than adopt as they simply don’t know the background of children they adopt. Plus there are so many tests you have to go through, to prove you are a decent parent, it is enough to put anyone off adoption or fostering. Going for surrogacy suddenly appears appealing in comparison…..

Naomi Canton, Expat on the Edge

To me, it just seems a lot to ask for — just for the sake of passing down your genes. Or for the sake of “convenience.”

Whether she does it for money or as a gesture of love for a relative or friend, I don’t think any woman can be ever thanked adequately for first nurturing a life and then disowning it.

Thoughts?

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True love

Love to some is like a cloud

To some as strong as steel

For some a way of living

For some a way to feel

Some say love is holding on

And some say let it go

While some say love is everything

Some say they don’t know…

Love — the one emotion that all of us experience at some point in our lives. An emotion which defies definition. An overwhelming all-encompassing joy that comes saddled with its share of sadness.

I remember having countless crushes while in school. Our neighbour’s son, my best friend’s brother, a cousin’s friend, our judo teacher … I fancied them for the colour of their eyes, their swagger, or just the way they combed their hair. Harmless “puppy loves” as ephemeral as soap bubbles.

I’d always heard that you won’t even know what hit you when you find the love of your life — the one person you want to spend time with day after day after day. And it was true.

It came at a time when I was mature enough to take on the responsibilities of a relationship which demands a lot of give and not so much of take. Love was the edifice I built on the foundation of friendship. It took time to blossom. It took a lot of understanding, loads of communication, and plenty of patience to become what it is today. 

Most importantly, love to us meant a meeting of minds. Still does.

It was notches above infatuations and what my mom likes to call “the pleasures of the flesh.”

Our parents’ generation was fed lavishly with ideals. Theirs was an era of constraints, restraints, respect, admiration, and oodles of romance. An age where the distance between the sexes somehow managed to help preserve the sanctity of an amorous relationship.

Our generation, with its openness and fading lines of proximity, jumped on to the bandwagon of love with a little more haste and defiance of “traditions.”

The next generation, I fear, is going further downhill — not quite able to distinguish between physical attraction and mental compatibility. Love seems synonymous with both. Exclusively, even.

I am amazed when I hear stories of school kids bragging about the number of physical relationships they have had. I am horrified to learn that girls barely seventeen have already been in and out of five to six “hook ups.” What about the emotional baggage these kids will carry with them?

The mindset of our “always-plugged-in” generation is all too evident in their tweets and Facebook status updates — publicly handling their personal life.

I see more and more focus on physical beauty, less and less regard for intellect. Closeness gets more importance than intimacy. There is more of passion and less of emotion. More of frivolous comradeship, less of true companionship. There is more acquiring and less sharing.

More of me, less of us.

Maybe I’m old school, but to me it seems like the essence of relationships has been forgotten.

There’s much more to being someone’s beau than gifting them red roses and Hallmark cards. What about gifting our time, our company, our support, our friendship…? What about setting priorities where our loved one comes first?

What about giving ourselves, and the ones we love, time and space to build a strong foundation? What about working towards meaningful and lasting friendships?

What about honouring our commitments? What about channeling our energies and emotions towards building lifelong bonds rather than wasting them on seasonal relationships?

Love is so much more than a fleeting song and a glass of wine. It doesn’t always lie on satin sheets. It isn’t found in diamonds and perfumes and flowers.

It’s about respect, companionship, understanding, appreciation. It’s about being yourself and loving the other person for who they are. It’s about making it through thick and thin.

Relationships take work. Love makes it easy.

I believe that true love happens once in a lifetime.

Don’t let frivolous flings tire you out so much that when true love comes your way you aren’t able to receive it with open arms.

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Not wired 24/7

What is the first thing you do when you wake up? Stretch a little, drink a glass of water? Rub your eyes and will your body into leaving the warmth of the bed?

That used to be me, a couple of years ago. I’d lie curled under my Jaipuri quilt, gazing out the window — sunlight streaming through the oak leaves, the sound of finches going about their daily business.

And then something changed.

My head propped against two pillows, still not quite awake, I would reach for my laptop, slowly open my eyes and stare at thousands of updates from bloggers, friends, and journalists around the world.

While I waded through the tweets, plurks, tumblelogs, Flickrs, Jaiku activity streams, Facebook and Plaxo Pulse updates, I was also e-mailing colleagues and speeding through RSS feeds in my customized Google Reader. I would spend the first 20 minutes every morning scrambling through the noise of Web 2.0.

Thanks to my iPhone, I could also carry the “noise” with me. As I scanned through another 1,ooo+ unread news items, I munched on my mix of pumpkin seeds and flax granola mixed with rolled oats and Cheerios.

My Bluetooth device in place, I would step out to catch the shuttle that would ferry me over to the light rail station a mile away. During the 40-minute commute, I would access my social networking updates through FriendFeed, continue scanning news items and sharing the ones I liked with friends,  tweet about the crowd in the train, and review work e-mails.

I had become a cyborg.

Even though at heart, I’m more of a floppy-disk than a thumb-drive person, I had been swallowed by the “need” to keep up with the millennials. Just so, I could feel relevant.

I didn’t have a cell phone until my first job in India at age 23 and we got around just fine by using pay phones, writing letters (yes, that’s right – handwritten letters on paper that we mailed), and meeting people face-to-face.

I distinctly remember when we sat around as a family to watch the one public television channel that was broadcast from 5 to 10 p.m. on our black and white TV.

That was it.

There was no pay-per-view, or 300 channels to choose from and we couldn’t “log on” to watch YouTube videos.

We read books for entertainment, we had real-time conversations at the dinner table instead of texting our friends while chomping down a meal, we went out and played softball, cricket and badminton (not as a structured activity, but for fun!) and we waited while the phone rang and rang and rang until it got disconnected.

And then we called again.

But things have changed – and drastically so. For today’s kids, being wireless is the norm, texting is the new e-mail, and voice messages have always existed. Even the two-year-olds throw a “regular” phone away in favor of swiping their index finger rapidly on an iPhone screen!

Now we have this ever-pressing need to be “connected” — not just online — but actually actively socializing on Facebook, LinkedIn, Orkut, Buzz, Habbo, hi5, Foursquare, Xanga or a plethora of other services.

I have 378 friends on Facebook and 162 people in my Orkut network — 99.9 percent of them are people I have met and known at some point in my life.

I love the fact that I can look at their profile updates, go through their public photos and scroll through their Walls or Scrapbooks to see what’s going on in their lives. But not everyone has this policy of “friending” — most social network users open up their network to strangers — that’s the whole point, they say, of networking!

And don’t even get me started on Chatroulette — the latest fad that pairs random strangers for Webcam-based conversations. Eek!

For me, the internet has made it a lot easier to keep in touch with family and friends. But when it starts becoming more real than the reality of your life, it’s time to take a timeout.

And that’s what I have done.

I log on to Facebook thrice a day: once every morning to check on friends’ updates and ask my question of the day, then sometime in the afternoon to post an update of this blog, and then for half an hour at night to beat my opponents at Bejeweled Blitz.

I’ve stopped following Twitter as rampantly and phased out all the other services that hogged my time and attention, leaving me no time to think. Just consume. Reams and reams of unstoppable information.

I’ve whittled down my Google Reader subscriptions to the ones I will actually read, not keep saving to pore over “some day.”

Now, I take a minute, sometimes two, to appreciate being alive to see another morning before “plugging in.”

I watch the weather and traffic reports while eating breakfast and listen to the radio during my commute.

Sometimes I take a break from the distant chatter in the background and just hum.

I like being able to think critically, stretch my mental muscles, and analyze, not just observe, what is. I like being able to share something meaningful. And as much as I want to be in step with the times, I’m not going be so obsessed with documenting irrelevant updates that I lose touch with reality.

I don’t want to be one of those people for whom events become real only when they tweet about them.

Maybe I’m just getting “old.”

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You are not your job

I watched The Fight Club again after several years and it was interesting that different aspects of the movie resonated with me this time than when I had first seen it. Probably because of where I am in my life right now vis-a-vis a decade ago.

There are a lot of gems in this well-scripted movie, but what stayed with me most was this piece of monologue from Brad Pitt:

You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your f*&%ing khakis.

Aren’t these, though, the things we identify our “selves” with the most? The brands, the paycheck, the number of rooms in a house, the front lawn, the backyard, the mortgage, the rent … but if these things don’t really matter then what does?

We judge people immediately by their titanium watches, their diamond earrings, their leather jackets. We nod our heads as they describe their professions. We “relate” with them when they talk about taxes, phone bills, and the rising cost of every consumable commodity. But do we ever look through to see the person they are?

Do we even look inward that way?

We let material things define us. Armani, Bebe, Gucci, Mercedes.

We let our jobs take over our lives.

We have no time for R&R and introspection because we’re so caught up in the “bling” of life.

We don’t look past the outer shell. We don’t seek answers. We don’t ask questions. We don’t think.

All we do is react.

We’ve let ourselves be shaped by things that don’t matter in the bigger scheme of life.  Some people find their “calling” but a majority don’t even know the answer to “Who are you?” anymore. Not for anyone else, but for oneself.

And perhaps, most of us are ok with that. Perhaps, that’s how society can function “normally.” When folks don’t go out on a limb seeking answers. When people operate like machinery. Like puppets saying the same things in different languages. Pining for the same material comforts. Fighting for the same limited resources. Lusting. Hoarding.

Dying with just the clothes on their backs.

I’ve realized in the last two years that what makes me happiest are the simplest things in life. Things money can’t buy. Things corruption and greed can’t touch. Things like the twinkle in a person’s eyes. A baby’s toothless smile. The smell of the earth when it rains. A croaking frog. A blooming bud. The silence of the hills. The calmness of a lake. A sunset. Writing.

Satisfaction, I have found, comes from within. Peace follows closely behind.

It’s true that I am able to roam the world and enjoy its people and its beauty only because of the paycheck that comes with a 9-5 job. That monthly deposit to my bank account allows me to do the things I really love. But should I let it define who I am and what my life should be? Shouldn’t I let what I love define what I do?

There are things we want, and then there are things we need. Sometimes we confuse between the two.

It’s tough to let go of the lifestyle one has become used to, but it isn’t hard to review and let go of things that truly don’t matter.

This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time.

You can choose to continue living it the only way you think you know how. Or you can ask the hard questions of your self and discover a way you never knew. In the process you might just find out who you really are.

Also posted on Writers Rising.

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The festival of colors

It’s been more years than I can remember since I played Holi — the festival of colors — celebrated all over India regardless of caste, creed, religion, social status. The festival has strong religious undertones but that doesn’t seem to dissuade Christians and Muslims from celebrating the onset of spring with literally colorful exchanges.

Or throwing each other in tanks full of colored water.

I always enjoyed playing with the water colors more than the dry ones — you could squirt them on unsuspecting folks with a pichkaari (water gun) and mix colors to create your own trademark shade.

I didn’t have any siblings, so I used to gang up with the kids in my building … a group of 10 of us itching to engage in colorful combat. That was one day I would wake up before the alarm went off. Take care of my morning routine without any nudging. Demand breakfast before mom even had a chance to make the first cup of tea. And wear the whitest white clothing I could pull out of the closet.

I imagine every kid in our building could tell the same story.

We couldn’t wait to get outside and douse each other in color amidst a lot of shrieking and laughing. Running up and down the stairs, with no regard to the walls, doors, or vehicles. Everything, and everyone, was a shade of green, orange, pink, and red.

The picture on the right was taken when the boys in the building (there were seven of those little monsters) had broken my pichkaari. I wanted to pull their hair, rip their clothes off, slap them left and right, but all I could do was stare. I knew I was no match for them. I also knew that no matter what I did I wouldn’t get my pichkaari back — the one I had spent hours shopping for and even more hours cleaning and adoring. Thanks, dad, for capturing that moment of silent rage for posterity.

The only thing that could lure us back in after four to five hours of nonstop color-loaded mischief were the savory gujiyas. All the moms had the kitchen to themselves and they would solicit the help of their respective maids to create this absolutely heavenly concoction of crispy and sweet deep fried pastries.

The picture on the left shows my obviously upset mom who was pulled out of her kitchen at the time of gujiya-making by insistent adult revelers. Not a pretty sight. Note also the sprayed wall in the background. That was all us — no adult help required. 😀

We’d sun ourselves dry relishing each bite of the flavorful delicacy … and listening to the one song Holi was not complete without: “Rang Barse!” [watch below]

And then it was time to clean up.

This was the last real Holi I played … took me two hours to get the color off and even though my skin was wrinkly after those many hours in the shower, there were still some shades of stubborn blue and green that refused to be wiped into oblivion. They would serve as my badge of honor the next day in school … 🙂

We’d compare notes, sneak in some remaining color, spoil our uniforms, get chided by teachers and parents, but it was all in fun.

I was in my teens now and most of my childhood playmates had left the apartment complex … Holi then became just an excuse for the neighborhood boys to come and grope members of the opposite sex. I was no longer allowed to go out.

Just a simple tikka ceremony where mom, dad, and I placed a red dot on each family member’s forehead and then I’d help mom in the kitchen, or watch TV, or read a book — the festival lost its charm as soon as grown-up inhibitions emerged.

I lamented for a couple of years, but then moved on. I had had my fill for almost a decade. It had been a good run.

Now Holi comes and goes without any special celebration. Just a couple of phone calls to relatives in India and friends in the States … exchanging e-cards and e-mails … wishing people through status updates. And maybe something special for dinner.

I miss the squeals of laughter, the  joyful spirit of free abandon, the camaraderie, the sense of community the festival built. What I really miss is being 10 again.

Even though Asha organizes a Holi celebration at Stanford University every year, I’ve never attended the event. Not for lack of company … it’s just that playing Holi as an adult doesn’t compare to enjoying it as a child. It doesn’t even come close. Now I am too conscious, too inhibited, too “aware” to engage in a festival that requires physical proximity with strangers … to actually enjoy it.

And I don’t want to create any new memories of Holi that will overshadow the ones I have. So, this is my homage to the festival I once enjoyed.

A time of unbridled happiness.

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A marriage of lies

I watched about 10 minutes of the Tiger Woods apology this morning. Seeing this iconic figure say to the world “I failed you,” was moving. He’s not the first man in time to have strayed from his values, his family, his wife. Many before him have faltered. Have cheated. Have lied.

Many continue to do so. And will.

There’s something about the sanctity of marriage that is so binding for these folks — men or women — who give in to temptation. Affairs offer an escape from the humdrum of the lifelong agreement they signed. Those who cheat want the best of both worlds. Some do it for companionship. Some to rescue their self-esteem. Most do it for sex. To relive the rush, the excitement, the spirit of adventure that has long died in their routine matrimonial lives.

Woods said he didn’t think that the normal rules of marriage applied to him. “I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy the temptations around me,” he explained. “I felt I was entitled.” And his money and fame made it even easier to slip.

The media crucified him — he was after all the guy who had changed the game of golf. From a pastime for rich, old men to an international sensation. His name had become synonymous with the greens. Everywhere. He was Tiger Woods. How could he let that get to his head?

Through his transgressions he showed them — us — that he was just a man. An ordinary human being with failings. Weak. Selfish. Irresponsible. Vain.

But sorry.

For now, at least.

It’s hard to believe that someone who’s repeatedly made the same mistake would mend his ways. As much as society and media pressure him into walking the line, it’s his character that will need to stand the test of time. His will. His mind. His heart. He will need to be true to himself. And to his partner.

At the end of the day, it’s not about the media, the society, the family, the sponsors, or the fans. It’s about two people who made a promise to each other.

Some people wrote him off when the news of his affairs first broke. But it seems he’s getting a second chance.

I hope he makes the best of it because he certainly won’t get a third.

Interesting tidbit: Only 35 percent of marriages in America survive an affair. See infidelity statistics on Truth About Deception and AdulteryTips.

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