Sunday, August 31, 2008

The hollow man……..woman

Every beginning in school and college has always been accompanied by the mandatory introduction, “I am so and so, from so and so state, denomination and background.” The start of anything of essence is thus accompanied by the laying of an identity, which will be the sign board of our existence as long as we are in an institution or any other place of study or work.

Our journey mostly revolves around the shaping and reshaping, as well as safeguarding of this identity. Why does one need an identity? Is it for the purpose of convenience to differentiate people? , or is it our effort to be part of a community? India is for this purpose divided into North, South, East and West in a broader sense and then into other divisions as well.

As a theologian it has intrigued me no end to understand the need and essence of identity. What was the identity of Jesus? Did he have an identity or was he given an identity by the identity hungry humans?

When I started my theological pursuit way back in 1997, the main people I knew were the Keralites, the people who inhabit the state of Kerala in India. For me Kerala was a country, Kerala was the world, Kerala was the only thing that mattered. I just about happened to know other parts of India and also had my own perceptions about other Indians.

Therefore it was no surprise that my first day of theological studies started with a problem. There were too many foreigners in college. And they mainly were from China or Japan, or so did I think. Little did I realise that the people I saw and judged were my own people, my country men and women, my blood!

My perceptions started changing. I understood that India was not only the land of the Keralites, but it was the land of the Kannadigas (people of Karnataka), the Tamils (people of Tamil Nadu), the Telugus (people of Andhra Pradesh), the Bengalis (people of West Bengal), the Nagas (people of Nagaland), and the Mizos (people of Mizoram), to name a few. This was when I felt hollow inside. Hollow because I felt I wanted to lose my self bloating identity and be a part of all the identities that were part of the world I lived. And so comes a de-learning and a re-learning, a self emptying, the feeling of the man and the woman....the hollow man......woman.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

“Death, who are you???”

Death, you can never claim victory
For I was dead the day I was born
When I was claimed by one, and kept away from another
Sanity was forced through, with insanity

Death, you can never scare me
For I was scared and scarred by all the injustice and the hatred
Scared numb that I am scared no more
Fulfilling and conforming not, to what I was ‘meant’ for

Death, you cannot take me away
For I was never accepted here anyway
Isolated and ‘islanded’ was I in existence
Pushed into a corner of subsistence

Death, don’t ever smile at me
For I was always smiled and laughed at
Seen was I a burden, a blot in the land of eden
A blot which could with a smile, be conveniently done away

Death, don’t draw any conclusions
And never write me away
For however I sway, I will have my way
In my land, I will, in all happiness lay

(This poem is dedicated to the people of the earth, who are deprived of land, humanity and basic amenities, in the name of development for a 'few'. It salutes the spirit of the people who fight on for their rights, even in the midst of the violence and injustice leashed out against them.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Where are you going?

The ethereal feel of the evening didn’t last long. Who was I to escape the coconut-ty query, “Where are you going?” My spirit was shattered and my eyes strained to decide whether the question I heard was an oasis of opportunity or a mirage of hopelessness.

But why bring in the coconut into philosophical enquiry one may ask? Not if you were a Keralite, a Mallu, a Malayali. For the people of Kerala, one swears by the coconut. Never the less, it makes me uncomfortable because of its structure. Every bit of a coconut can be used to make something or the other; it’s husk, shell, the nut, everything. So a coconut-ty question is one which you can’t figure out, one which suggests the husk, the shell or the nut!

Anyone who has been to Kerala or to a place inhabited by Keralites would have experienced the moment when someone passes by and asks in one swift swish of the famed Mallu blade (tongue), “where are you going?” Alterations of this are “when did you come?” or “when are you leaving?”. Harmless queries one should say but like the coconut, it leads to countless questions in one’s mind.

Where am I going? It’s another matter that by the time we are ready with an answer, the person who asked is long gone. In several cultures these are the questions which are not meant to be answered. Those who try to answer them resemble those who will plunge into the depths of the ocean not wanting to come back to the surface because of the lack of an answer. So tell me……”Where are you going?”

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The silence of my name.

I waited for God to call me, to yell out my name
For I thought that was my aim
I cried to God to call me, to shout out my name
Because I thought in it was no shame
I pleaded with God to call me, to sputter out my name
In it I saw my fame
I argued with God to call me, to bring out my name
Thinking that was the game
But maybe it’s not my aim, or fame, or game
And in it I find my answer, in the silence of my name

Shout the silence away!!!

Jerryyyyyyy…… My mother’s shrill cry cut through the layers of cement, and resonated onto my ears, like the loud sound of cymbals, shocking me out of my slumber. I woke up and tried my best to induce my shut eye lids to catch the morning light. Even as my senses slackened the trumpet sounded again and the theory that light travels faster than sound was challenged (at least in my case). The cause had its effect and I jumped up from my bed and exploded into action. It was Sunday and my mom had just given me the all important wake up call.

Jerryyyyyyy…… The Chemistry teacher was staring at me with eyes like a tiger on the prowl. Had I broken a test tube? , did I miss an equation? , was my tie out of place? , what was the question? A hundred thoughts came to my mind as to why the teacher was looking at me without an ounce of tenderness. I got a nudge from a friend and a calculated whisper, ‘Don’t sleep!!’

Jerryyyyyyy…… Will you go get the news paper? , said my wife in a soft and loving tone at first and upon my reluctance to shrug off my rest, the tone became a bit hoarse, getting me to recoil and jump like I had heard the sound of a gun.

Silence is godly, which is why one doesn’t get much of it. It is so difficult to have a few minutes of silence as it is always broken by something or the other, be it in our conscious state or sub conscious state. “A barking dog doesn’t bite”, so the saying goes. Wonder whether we are uncomfortable with silence because we are scared of it. It freaks us out, scares us out of our wits and our only defence is to shout!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Wait for me!!!

I saw her from a distance

She stood there waiting for me

In the busy and noisy labyrinth,

Without moving an inch

My legs worked a steady pace,

Slowing only to catch my breath

And then she started moving,

Hurtling me into disgust

In one last thrust of power,

I bolted for my goal…

And squeezed into the narrow door,

Of the ‘train’ I had to board

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Break it is...

After some hectic writing and sharing of thoughts it's time to go on a hiatus. Not that I wanted to, but I got an opportunity to do some non-stop reading. So, will be back blogging by Friday morning. Tata till then...

Friday, August 15, 2008

Independence day

In dependence was I born, in dependence will I die
When will I in independence breathe?
Celebrate I did then, celebrate I do now
When will I in independence breathe?
Violence and war led and leads supreme
When will I in independence breathe?
Vote did I and will again
When will I in independence breathe?
Think and write I did foray, like I do today
When will I in independence breathe?..........when will I in independence breathe?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

“Dubara mat poochna…don’t ask again…” (part 2)

To understand a nation and its people we have to look at the various culture industries and its tributaries. This is because the culture industries reflect the length and breadth of the people. Marx had other notions, placing the culture industries in the same conduit of economic forces in society. My blog yesterday put advertisements into perspective, each into a separate category. Categorization is problematic but unavoidable as well.
Advertisements form a part (some say the part that powers the media) of the media, which in turn is a part of the culture industry of the nation. So, advertisements reflect how society is moving forward (or backwards as some would like to say). To the run up to the independence day we can extract some meaning from these ads, which lead us to what India has developed into and what still remains unchanged despite all other claims.
India has been an oral culture (things have changed over the years). We do not necessarily write down what we have on mind (there are exceptions now), but we like to share it never the less. This is done through poems, songs and stories. Priyadarshan, a Malayalam director cum producer who then ventured into Hindi cinema was asked whether India could get rid of its song sequences in movies. He replied in the negative saying that songs and their cinematisation are what makes Indian cinema Indian. The vicks ad leads in this direction. We like verbal repetitions and therefore a catchy one-liner for the ad.
India despite being a country of diversity has been able to come together at times of war, calamity and sports. This is due to the patriotism which still exists in the minds of the public and how it is twisted and used by the media. Amul, the taste of India gives us an identification that we might be North Indian, North East Indian or South Indian, but we are ‘Indians’. So patriotism may have its low ebbs, but it comes back into the picture when it matters.
Globalisation has made changes the world over and similarly in India. Its negative outcome has been to sow doubts in our minds about what is good and bad. Coca-cola could be one of the companies who use marketing as a way of re-inventing concepts in the minds of the people. Doubt causes a void and the company tries to fill this void. India in this sense goes through a questioning of concepts syndrome.
In the midst of change certain things remain unchanged. Two of these are patriarchy and caste and class discrimination. The ads of Bajaj Pulsar and the like are full of male idealisms of power, strength, class and uniqueness making out the male species as ‘the’ species in the world today. What we use reflects what we believe in. Caste and class discrimination follows the same route. We may have come a long way, but certain things remain rock solid and stubborn.
What we have seen above is an India which has evolved from an oral culture (not entirely), with its patriotic sense but changing concepts and ideals, and having managed to continue with the discriminations that continue to haunt the world today.
India is trying to build a new image for itself. More participation in the affairs of the country (as being asked by Rahul Gandhi and other young political leaders) is being mooted and encouraged, but we also face a very impatient population of more than half of India, the youth. The picture is murky for the time being and therefore we cannot make grandiose statements about India as we climb the podium for the all important independence day, not yet anyway.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

“Dubara mat poochna…don’t ask again…” (part 1)

Human beings of today resemble guided missiles, going to a programmed destination with self destruction on mind. Our thoughts are tutored and prepared through image and brand recognition brought about by colourful and creative advertisements using the audio visual medium. My thoughts go in the direction of advertisements which are a substantial part of the budget of any company, selling whatever product. It’s an expense spent without any hard feelings or second thoughts as the returns are usually positive and assured.
Without beating around the bush I would like to examine quite a few advertisements, old and new and bring out some points for discussion.
1. Ad jingles- cute one liner lyrics which are given a nice and catchy tune and which will be recalled easily. Take the case of the very old vicks tablet advertisement, “vicks ki goli lo, kich kich duur (door) karo” (have a vicks tab and distance the irritation we feel (in our throat)).
2. Patriotism- advertisements which attach us with our country and therefore build up a responsibility in us to buy it. An example is Amul, the taste of India.
3. Re-writing accepted concepts- we are pushed to question ourselves and then our doubt filled mind is replaced with a product. A clear example is “thanda matlab coca-cola” (cold means coca-cola), suggesting that everything else is not, and “boond boond mein vishwas” (trust in every drop), Kinley water, meaning that other water cannot be trusted.
4. Tickling the male testosterone- in a patriarchal society the manliness of man is brought out to maintain the concept of ‘men are strong’, ‘men are stylish but still men.’ The Bajaj Pulsar motor bike which is accompanied by the slogan ‘definitely male’ and the ‘Raymonds suiting: the complete man’ are instances of this. Men are thus bound to the product to prove their manliness.
5. Conforming to age old discriminations- India’s caste, sex and class discriminations to name a few and its India shining or India progressing symbolism don’t go together. But take a look around ourselves and we are proved wrong. The Happy Dent white chewing gum ad shows people who can be identified as servants or slaves in clan based, landlord India. The apparent servants then eat the chewing gum and smile to give light to the masters (sahibs) and mistresses (memsab or memsahib). The one word punch is ‘muskurale’, smile. So one would wonder what an advertisement like this is doing in the so called modern India. But old habits die hard and the same goes with our attitude. Don't complain about your situation, smile and bring light to the lives of others, preferably the rich.
6. A fast paced, different and smart India- Finally there are the advertisements like Surf: dhaag ache hai (stains are good), ‘what an idea sir ji’ (Idea mobile) and clorets mouth freshener: ‘dubara mat poochna’ (don’t ask again) which are an impression of smart but impatient India, the India which will go to any extent to get things done. The India which would like to get its hands dirty, do what the government is not doing and be so smart that it would be suicidal to ask again or clarify.

To be continued……….

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Where is your car madam???

The day had come to an end and we were still smarting over the thrill of the first individual Olympic gold for India. Filled with the spirit of athleticism and the rumblings of our stomachs, my wife and I started our spirited walk to the super market. It was something we religiously and happily followed, to buy things for the household and which better place than a super market, considering the length and breadth of commodities available.
‘Walking together or alone is good’, say the doctors and counsellors in one breath, good for the body and for relationships. Therefore we tried our best to suck in the remnants of the fresh air, although there were regular interruptions from a zig zagging motor bike rider and a perilously close, horn honking car driver.
Our walk ended in front of the Spencer’s super market, and we entered with the excitement and anticipation of a child, about to unwrap a chocolate. We grabbed what we wanted and negotiated ourselves to the counter, to make our payment. Here we waited not just for the pleasant and smiling counter person to bill what we bought but also for someone to ask, “Do you need a box madam?’ When this was negated, the more important question would follow, “Where is your car madam?”
Now to put this into perspective I have to throw some light on my wife. She is a German, white skinned and therefore always attended to in super markets.
The way we behave with people is based on the perceptions that we build up. This is a cultural learning and we all have our own assumptions based on this. The media as part of the culture industry play their own part in throwing up various assumptions. This being the case, we have ready made ways of behaving, once we come across a person, who for us is a group of codes.
I don’t consider my self very suave or stylish. But coming to think of it, neither does my wife. But a combination of the fact that she goes to shop at Spencer’s, the commodities she buys, her white skin and her mannerisms all together, or one by one alone, act towards creating a world, of which she is then made a part of.
Don’t we all in some way or the other behave like this? We are mesmerised by outward appearances and looks, and in the process conveniently forget the inner beauty of a human being. May be we should think before we ask next time…..Where is your car madam???

Monday, August 11, 2008

Hum honge kamiyab......and the Olympic gold!!!

Hum honge kamiyab, hum honge kamiyab, hum honge kamiyab ek din.....................The song which has echoed in the corridors of schools, colleges and sports hostel. "We shall be successful, one day." Many a time, even as a child, one felt that the song made one's hair rise and fill in a sense of patriotism, which brought everyone together.
But how long can we keep singing? The English equivalent is "We shall overcome one day." The memory of the masses is short term and so is the temper. The young have been growing impatient as to when the day would eventually come, when we would matter on the world stage. This new generation which is representing India in all activities of life has brought in new meaning to the song. And so today is a historical day for India.
Abhinav Bindra has won India's first ever individual gold in the 10 metres air rifle event. First and foremost, we congratulate you Abhinav, for you have represented all of us, our aspirations and our dreams. Today, it's not just that you have won gold, but you have given us the courage to dream again.
We need songs and sermons of hope. That is what keeps a community going. But when our life becomes a repetition of this, we then settle down into our comfortable positions, singing our hearts out, that we will be successful and we shall day.
The olympic gold for people in India should mean that 'one day or some day' is 'today.' India is a country of opportunities, but it also the country of the poor, the marginalised, the discriminated. Should we keep singing the song of hope to the people who cant even eat twice a day or should we do a Abhinav Bindra?
Congratulations again to you Abhinav. Your determination and hard work will 'hopefully' warm our hearts and make us act.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Without 'you' there is no 'me'...

Ferdinand De Saussure describes the phenomenon of binary opposites. For us to know what good is, there should be bad or evil. Or humans make sense of one thing, comparing it with another. This is the case with almost everything.
In the world today, we jump to conclusions with regard to religions, countries and people. They are always the evil 'other', whereas we are the good samaritans.
What we conveniently forget is that our existence itself is defined and due to those who we seek to demean. The story of the hero is spruced up by examples of courage in how the hero beats the villain. (It's again another sad thing that the heroine is not referred to!)
What comes out is the absence of a platform for dialogue and consensus. How can that happen when the picture of the hero itself will disappear once consensus is achieved? This way it is no wonder that we will keep constructing enemies in our fear for existence, as dressed up and constructed hero's.
This is one of the most unfortunate truths in the world today. Without 'you' there is no 'me'. It is supposed to be a romantic thought covered with love. But instead it is used as a dividing symbol covered with hatred.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The church as a public sphere

The word church has been troubling and testing my thinking faculties for quite some time now. Why? The reasons are two. One, how can the church be discriminatory against the poor, the one's without power (Money and political), women, youth, children and the differently abled? Two, did Jesus practise a discriminatory ministry in which he favoured a few and if he did, who did he favour? Can the church, the congregation of believers, be unified in this huge diversity of existence?
My thoughts go in the direction of Jurgen Habermas who wrote of the public sphere. The public sphere is a space of dialogue between the people in society. The dialogue takes place in coffee houses and pubs, basically places frequented by people. I am also reminded of my colleague Johnson Peter Kunnampally's Master of Theology thesis, "Tea shop communication", in which he describes how ordinary people in Kerala come together in tea shops to discuss the day's news over a small glass or two of tea. This has been almost been wiped out now of the Kerala scene save for a few villages.
The criticism of the public sphere has been that women and the lesser privileged were kept out of the dialogue process. I cant help but think of the church as a public sphere. A place where people get together to get into dialogue about God, the society and what can be done about the injustices that happen. The church unfortunately reflects a gross misunderstanding of the sphere of the church. Women are largely kept out of the decision making process and the young and differently abled are conveniently ignored. Thus the place which should be above all injustice and discrimination itself becomes a place holding both.
Jesus appeared to be in constant dialogue with those at the lower strata of society. Every landscape became a church, every problem became a discussion. Jesus then may have taken sides, but it was definitely for the down trodden, the women, children and the sick.
What could be an ideal church, however utopian it may sound? The priest/pastor should initiate the dialogue but should not prevent others from entering the dialogue. He/she should help the process of dialogue to thrive among different age groups but not based on different socio-economic levels. Discrimination based on sex, caste and class should be done away with and people should enjoy the process of free and uninhibited communication. The global way of life is doing away with a sense of community and dialogue. Lets hope that the church and other places of worship bring this back.

8 minutes 8 seconds on 8-8-08

Yesterday I had the unique experience of being part of the initiative in Chennai where power would be switched off in different parts of Chennai to raise awareness about global warming. The initiative followed Sydney and Mumbai, the cities which already did a similar thing. So at 8:00 P.M. the lights went off.

The college in which I am doing my research, the Gurukul Lutheran Theological College, also decided to take part in this unique initiative and through this declare solidarity with those engaged in creating an awareness on global warming. The greatest honour was to give a small talk on global warming to the student community.

The talk was meant to walk the community through certain familiar paths.
1. Create and maintain a green cover of trees both within and outside the city limits.
2. Educate children and adults alike about the need for being concerned about one's environment. Reward those who initiate programmes to save the environment.
3. Make friendship groups in living spaces and work places, whereby resources are shared. Car sharing and eating together can be tried out which will lead to saving fuel and money. This will be an initiative which helps in bringing about a community feeling once again instead of an individual consumerist culture.
4. Use our bodies as modes of transport. Walk and cycle more.
5. Be creative with the way we use our resources and make our purchases. Think before we buy. Calculate the energy consumption and note the alternatives.
6. Adopt trees and take care of them. If not, help people who are doing this.
7. Show solidarity with people who are fighting global warming.
8. Be a silent example ourselves.
9. Spare a minute for our children. Think of what we enjoyed and what our children will end up receiving.
10. A small step could go a long way to cool down the earth. "So switch off that light." Please!!!

The effort is to make all of us think as to what we are doing to Mother Earth. The need is to do away with destruction and encourage conservation.