Ultimately…What Is It That Matters?

About a year and a half ago I was waiting at Barcelona airport, all agog for my first exposure to Spain. I was travelling to meet the bestie and this was to be the trip of a lifetime. It was all that and much more! But sitting in 2021 and seeing the things playing out around me, where I live and the world at large; these few snippets of memories came back to me.

I’d booked my airport pick-up from a vendor that works around the globe and to my surprise, the gentleman who was coming to pick me up was called Banarasi. I was naturally curious and a bit relieved to find an Indian in a place so far away from home and completely unfamiliar outside books and movies.

Turns out Mr.Banarasi was from Kashmir and had never been to Banaras. They had the last name Banarasi because the family originally hailed from there but had relocated to Kashmir and were Kashmiris for all practical purposes- angst and sadness included. That he was a Muslim, never came up in the conversation. It was evident from his first name. He was all praises for his new home, Barcelona, and spoke about the places I could visit and how the protests in Europe were saddening him because he felt they’d left that kind of a life behind when they left Indian shores. When he dropped me off at my hotel, he said Namaste and left-an Indian saying goodbye to an Indian. I don’t think he noticed I wasn’t of his religion or region.

These days when I see some who take up the cause of religion like it is a sacred duty and consider anyone who has a contrary opinion as being a blasphemer or just someone to crush underneath their religious vigor, it worries and upsets me. My father belongs to a family of people who were utterly and completely displaced by the Partition. Some key members from my mother’s family felt the backlash of the religious tensions of the Partition. During the 1984 Delhi Riots, my family gave shelter to a individual who used to ply his cabs in the city and my father and other men of our neighborhood took up a neighbourhood watch that lasted for a few days. Majority of the people in our neighborhood were from my hometown in the Eastern part of India and had settled down in New Delhi. None were from the faith of the people being attacked either.

In February 2002, my train passed by Godhra an hour before the Sabarmati Express was set on fire and my roommate and hostel mates were people from Godhra who had to bear the less than muted whispers about their community while walked the halls of our hostel. We were in lockdown even then with Section 144 imposed across the city and no end in sight of the violence that was spreading.

My interview for a job in a hospital in South Mumbai was deferred for a few hours since the doctor who was to interview me was held up, in rounds and the crazy Mumbai traffic. I was already on my way when I got the news and headed back home only to find out there was a blackout of the cellphones and the news of the bomb blast in the city. Panic and pandemonium prevailed. And still it didn’t occur to me to blame religion. Because it’s not religion’s fault how people choose to interpret it.

I like the vastness of the Hindu religion, the myths, allegories, temple architectures etc but I dislike having it thrust upon me as a way to prove “how much” of a Hindu I can be and I am. Red somehow, also comes from a family which respects each others’ faiths and doesn’t put on a show about their rites, rituals and beliefs. I said somehow because we are fairly different in how we approach our lives and definitely in our upbringing. We also belong to two completely different parts of the country and each one has enough of God-fearing people in the main and extended family.

We have also told TO not to dissect religion because it’s too vast, too old and intricate to be neatly pigeonholed. Before he was born Red and I decided on many things, pertaining to his upbringing and living in India, a child needs to have a stance on religion since the question gets posted to him/her before long. We told him could take take solace from the commonly-held belief of there being a Being who watches over us all. That is, if he so chooses to. If he chooses to be more scientific in his outlook and opts for things he can empirically understand; more power to him.

Why this sudden serious and long-ish post? Well…in this day in age, I think relying on a sense of community is what may get us through the vagaries of life and not just the ways prescribed by certain people who feel they are alone “in the know” of how members of a particular group ought to behave and what they ought to believe.

Might go a long way in easing the turbulence in our minds and in our society.

L’Chaim

Discovering Barcelona-II

Gaudi and Barcelona are synonymous and even without anyone going too deep into the psyche or temperament of the artist, you can’t help but concede, the man had style! A glimpse of his masterpiece Sagrada Familia…

Oh God! You Ape!

The Offspring (TO) had his second brush with the Big Questions- where did all life come from, does God exist et al? The first one was when Red’s grandma passed away.

Apparently the child who can believe in different categories of dragons, is having trouble believing that a “Supreme Being” created Man.

He got off the bus one day, engaged in a minor aggressive strap fight (hitting someone with the strap of the bookbag) with a classmate. The reason? The classmate sided with another child who said God made the Earth and people and is R-E-A-L. TO took exception to all of the above and then the problem began in earnest.

Most parents tell their kids that God exists and He should be deferred to because he made the whole universe etc etc. For Hindus, we have a whole smorgasbord of Gods to choose from and we even mix it up depending on the days of the week or festivals or situation that’s on our radar. Might sound flaky but it isn’t. Just years and years of indoctrination in following and believing in a way of living that works for most of us.

Red and I discussed raising TO to either believe or not believe and decided that we wouldn’t stop him from getting exposed to religious practices that are a part of our traditions and surroundings but neither would we fill his head with stuff about Heaven and Hell.

However, we have not got around to taking him to temples or any places of worship either; proactively. If it’s happened, it’s been purely incidental. And in the process we have a child who has questions about a LOT of things but who essentially perceives the world mostly in black and white.

His thinking hasn’t allowed much of gray to seep into his cognitive palette (ooh that’s a nice example of a neologism) and he tends to be rather absolute as for the most part.

When I was listening to him talk about the “incident”, I asked him how he knew there was no God or that He/She hadn’t created the World and he said that he’d learnt in science that homo sapiens came from apes. And that all life started from small “things” in water and then they started to grow and change and we got reptiles, birds and dinosaurs. The conversation unfortunately lasted too long while being expounded on dinosaurs but that’s par for course. *rolls eyes*

Then came humans who were weird looking (am paraphrasing here) and who crawled and then they learnt to stand up and walk straight. Then we got apes and “normal” human beings.

I kept trying to ask him in as many lay terms as possible about the point of origin of creation etc and finally simplified it to stating that reptiles, birds, mammals are all different from each other so how did all these different forms get created. For example, where did the monkeys come from? And pat came the reply- from monkey parents. Can’t top that can you?

So cheers to you Darwin and whoever and whatever created the world. We’re sticking to our monkey parents, thank you very much!

P.S: Maybe when he’s 30 I can tell him my theory about the galactic amoeba who may be responsible for the whole kit and kaboodle!

Movie Review: Kedarnath

This post isn’t advocating that you go and see the movie if you’d much rather not. However, it does stress on the aspect of enjoyment you’d get and the surprise you may feel if you did.

Set in the backdrop of the catastrophic floods that ravaged parts of Uttarakhand back in 2013, this movie has people, communal tensions and the fury of nature playing critical roles without anyone giving an inch to the other. If you have star crossed lovers on one side, you have bigotry on the other and everything getting submerged (excuse the pun) under the torrential flows of water.

Sara Ali Khan- is a surprise. Mainly because so many other young debutantes, barring Alia Bhatt and Anushka Sharma, have failed at being convincing or even realistic. She doesn’t sound like an NRI who just got off the plane and neither does she seem uncomfortable in her own skin. Her body language is spot on when playing a devil may care young girl who flouts societal norms and her ‘in your face’ attitude seems to flow naturally.

She could have gone with more modest attire when playing a girl who’s father is a staunch Hindu priest and one who lives in a town built around religion and myths. But if you have Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla dressing you up for the movies, then the look of a small town girl is probably hard to pull off. She could take a leaf out of Anushka’s book ala Sui Dhaga.

Sushant Singh Rajput as Mansoor is believable as a (pitthoo) guide who lugs the pilgrims up and down the mountains. A lot of Bollywood actors get so used to the urbane, yuppie roles they play that even when they have to go deglam, they can’t get into the skin of the character. Mansoor doesn’t appeal unworldly, far from it, but he does appear to be straight talking and knows who he is. SSR could have avoided the SRK-like posturing towards the fag end of the movie but the scene called for drama and SRK does drama; cliched as it were.

Pooja Gor, Nitish Bharadwaj, Nishant Dahiya, Alka Amin and others round up the cast and bring to life the stronghold that religion has not only on the lives of the people in Kedarnath, but their actions, their thought processes and ultimately what they deem is right or wrong. All these actors with their strong backgrounds in television bring in a whiff of freshness amongst the acting talent that’s been around in Bollywood for a while.

Amit Trivedi’s score for the movie isn’t fantastic but the song Namo Namo certainly is. The visuals are quite breathtaking and made me want to visit the place. Any movie that evokes that kind of a feeling in a viewer must be doing something right.

The images of the lake overflowing, the cloudburst don’t look realistic at all. Even back in the day movies like The Day After Tomorrow was able to make tsunamis and rampant destruction look believable.

But special effects only add to the mix in a movie like this. At the end of the day you still feel bad when the boy and girl fall prey to nature, stigma and society. What remains is a good time that was had, hummable music and lovely visuals!

Rating: 2.5/5