Monday, September 29, 2008

Hic..hic..excusheeeee meeee!!!

I swirled from East to West, then stopped and thought
Only to swirl again from North to South.
I grinded my teeth and gripped the ground
Unsettling the sand with my unsteady feet.

Some watched in amazement, others laughed
As I thrust my tongue upward and blew out the stench.
My vision was multiple, my eye lids almost closed
But whatever it was, I refused to drop my clothes

They call me by many names in Kerala
Drunkard, alcoholic, anti-social element and the like.
But I am just an ordinary man, who is in pain
And doing his best to fill the government coffers plain

I work hard at day time, with the sun almost piercing my flesh
And then when it’s evening I go out for a swig.
My wife curses me, tells me I am of no use
My children crowd around my wasting body.

I want to change but just don’t know how
Many buy me a drink and then say they wished I changed.
I hope one day I’ll change, go home early and sup with my family
Till then the roads of Kerala will be my stage…………

(Kerala tops the per capita liquor consumption in India ( During the festival of Onam early this month, there was a record sale of alcohol in the state ( There are several concerns which arise out of this and I will be dealing with them in the next blog. Therefore I request the reader to restrain from making any conclusions (either way) at this point of time. The person referred to here is the one who is absolutely drunk and then literally staggers home).

Saturday, September 27, 2008

India in 1977…Amar, Akbar, Anthony…Hindu, Muslim, Christian.

Religion is under the scanner in India. The reason is that violence and terrorism are threatening the peaceful existence of people, and religion is being blamed as one of the main perpetrators of this. One or the other religion claims superiority and tensions arise. One wonders whether India on the run (Upward and downward depending on how one looks at it.) has become impatient and shuns harmonious living?

Indian cinema has been dominated by the North Indian lobby, which has adopted Mumbai (Bombay) as it’s home. In India thus, Hollywood becomes Bollywood and cinema is swamped by Hindi cinema while other languages make their mark in regional, national and international markets as well.

One of Hindi cinema’s most successful movie’s is ‘Amar, Akbar, Anthony’(10th on the list of top 100 all-time hits at the Indian box office.). It was a movie which had a simple theme (Simple in Indian terms.). Three brothers are separated during their childhood and they are brought up in different households, one as a Hindu, the other a Muslim and the third a Christian. Manmohan Desai, the director managed to weave together successfully a movie that on the one hand was absolutely unbelievable but on the other hand striked a chord somewhere in the mind of the Indian psyche.

Of course Desai managed a coup by having Amitabh Bachan, Vinod Khanna and Rishi Kapoor along with Neetu Singh, Parveen Babi and Shabana Azmi act in the movie. But the silent message was conspicuous. Three religions living side by side and eventually coming under one roof!

31 years later it would help to look back. Maybe it’s time to think of plots which bring people together and not the other way round. Watching old movies may not be something the present generation would want to do but maybe that is exactly what we should!!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lord in your mercy.....hear our prayers

To go to places people avoid
To understand the struggles faced
To mitigate the sufferings traced
To ensure justice with proper haste

We pray for those affected by violence in all it’s ugly forms. Let those who use religion and community to foster hatred and cement people on a set social position, be exposed and brought to justice. Let there be justice for all and not for a select few.

We pray for those families and individuals who have borne the brunt of communal violence, bomb attacks and mob fury in India. Let them experience a healing for their bodies and minds which have been mutilated by mad acts of insanity.

We pray for peace in times of turmoil and suspicion. Let there be communities of peace who work in the midst of violence. May we be able to think first and act later and not the other way round.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The violence of the lambs

I prayed for love and got hate instead
Looking at me and egging me on to retaliate

I wished for peace and got riots for it
With the smell of flesh and the uneasy calm

I craved for warmth and cold did I feel
Piercing my skin and heart alike

I begged for normalcy and branded was I a traitor
Abandoned in unknown territory

I looked for unity and in me was nurtured disarray
Confusing me into utter insanity

I searched for an answer and covered was I with questions
Leaving me clueless and confused

I prayed again for the violence to fall
The violence of the lambs which over came one and all

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Help, I'm old !!!

Kerala finds itself staring at more than 3 million people who are above the age of 60. Many have been thrown out (either physically or by being a nobody in their own house) of their homes and some live at the mercy of relatives or old age homes. Even that is a luxury and some end up on the streets with nothing.

But life wasn't always like this for them. There was a life of happiness and content. A life with a loving wife or husband and the fullfillment of bringing up one's children and caring for them. But what was the epicentre of their lives then shatters all expectations. Mother's and father's are taken care of and then conveniently disposed when the time comes. Some are put up in huge mansions constructed by the children who work in the middle east, the U.S. or Europe, and the parents also become a part of the furniture, to be showcased to the public. Without any community support the old are left to fend for themselves or live a life after surrendering every bit of their integrity.

Society itself makes the aged feel unwanted. Everything happens so fast and changes faster that the mother's and father's can't even cross a road or shop in peace. The railway's and banks give special incentives to those above 60 but how will these people reach a railway station or a bank? How is it possible to do anything when one feels they could be mauled down any minute by the traffic.

This is not the case in every house hold. There are children who go the extra mile to take care of their parents, sometimes even overdoing it a touch. There are those who age gracefully and die gracefully. But they are the exceptions. What about those who are pushed into solitude? What about those who feel the carpet has been pulled from under them? When will we assure and give dignity to the aged? These then are the questions before us.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Aging into solitude

How much I wished to know what it is again
To breathe the fresh air and welcome the sun

How much I longed to see and talk to them
To call their names and hold them close

How much I prayed for a painless existence
To move as I wished and do what I want

How much I imagined I were dead and alive again
To see and talk to God and come back again

How much I wished that I could wish some more
To be happy and content and wish more and more...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The dichotomy of smell

The Orthodox Christian tradition believes in the use of the five senses for worship. Sight, smell, touch, hearing and tasting all come together to act on the aesthetic sensuality of the worshipper. Worship in that sense becomes a 'whole being' act of participation. Without being one with one's body one cannot participate (Specially abled people though are discriminated against as they may lose out in this sense and the church sadly does not take cognizance of this fact.).

India is the land of smell, albeit the smell of the opposites. On the one hand we can find the affluent in their homes filled with the fragrance of manufactured aroma therapy products and fresh and expensive flowers and on the other hand you can find people living in their huts with the fresh smell of cow dung (even though the affluent see this as disgusting, the truth is that cow dung has special qualities of being an insect repellent and a thermal insulator for walls) spread on their walls. The even more unfortunate are those who have to bear the smell of the combined by-product of a consumer society, i.e., it's waste (Large numbers of people live in places which are the dumping grounds for various municipalities and corporations. The waste interestingly is produced by the rich but dumped on the poor!.).

What for one is beauty is for another a dream. What for one is bad is for another a reality. Which smell should the church go after? The smell of the affluent few or the smell of the vast majority? The scented candles and fragrant incense or the fresh earth and the water puddles? What then is aesthetics and what is beauty? What is smell?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The smell of destiny???

They said I smelt
Of the unwashed clothes and the dirty soil
Of the unclean body and the feet oh shoddy

They said I smelt
Of my belligerent past and the time that passed
Of the history of my caste

They said I smelt
Of the unmet dreams and the wishes oh unreal
Of the times that I had lost

They said I smelt
Of the failures to avoid and the lives which were void
Of the successes that they had claimed

They said I smelt..........

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Laughter is the best medicine???

Stand up comedy in the West is quite popular and is also a platform for citizens to use humour as a way to publicize issues of public interest. Recently I watched a programme on Arab Americans who were trying their luck with stand up comedy. Their views came together on the issue stating that this was a way to awaken the senses of people to issues that affect them.

In Kerala the last fifteen years has seen the rise of ‘mimicry’ groups. They are groups of five or more people (again largely male) who perform on stage mimicking actors, politicians, and highlighting social issues which are of importance to everyone. It is satire, comedy and acting all rolled into one. So prompt and creative are they that weekly television programmes, which are now a rage, cover the latest topics in the state.

Laughter is good for health. Various studies have even suggested that it helps to reduce stress and lower our blood pressure. It elevates our mood, boosts our immune system, improves the functioning of the brain, protects the heart, brings about instant relaxation, connects us with others and makes us feel good. In India and around the world there are official and registered laughter clubs. A concept called laughter yoga is also popular.

My concerns on this vary. One, the church shies away from laughter, sometimes even treating it as inappropriate and lowly. To laugh with the congregation is seen as unprofessional. Two, why don’t we use comedy to bring out strong messages of concern to all? Three, how will we bring it to a level of judicious action after awakening. How is it possible that people act after they are introduced to reality and just don’t have a good laugh and forget about the siutation?

Making people laugh is an art. Making them laugh and understand a message is an even better art. Maybe as a start, we should begin to laugh at ourselves and use this potential ridden art for better sermons which are self reflective and not judgemental.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The god of hope vs the god of the market

Come Onam and it’s not only the colour and the celebration one notices but the over flowing of television sets and fridges and every appliance you can think of, onto the market place. Shops start stocking stuff outside the parameters of the shop because they don’t want to miss out on the big sale bonanza benefits!

The same goes with all festivities. Festivals and celebrations are constructed anew by greeting card companies who will create a craving which then will have to be satiated by the people (us) when they buy the products of the concerned company. This leads us to the question, what are festivals like Onam supposed to be? Is it a time of hope or a time of celebrating our wealth (which in many cases is only perceived wealth because we buy using loans!)?

Therefore Onam which is supposed to be a time of rekindling the hope that society has in equality, justice and peace, is over shadowed by advertisement gimmicks and sops meant to take our minds away from the God of hope and make us allign with the god of the market. So stories of hope have not disappeared. It’s just that they are now given good competition by the stories of celebration and festivities.

I searched for a story for my children
Not archies, or cartoons nor pogo
I strained to tell them about Onam
And Mahabali and Keralam
Little did I know what I was up against
And open mouthed was I when they said
‘Isn’t that the guy who stands outside the shops
Begging us to shop till we drop?’

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Onam, it’s Onam…

Onam, it’s Onam in the land of Mahabali
The land brought forth they say, by the axe of Parasuram
Onam, it’s Onam in the land of Mahabali
Known for the generous rule of the Asura (demon) king Mahabali

Onam, it’s Onam in the land of Mahabali
The result of Vamana tricking Mahabali
Onam, it’s Onam in the land of Mahabali
Because the humble king granted three steps of land in a jiffy

Onam, it’s Onam in the land of Mahabali
The Gods connived to preserve their supremacy
Onam, it’s Onam in the land of Mahabali
Bow down did the great king in all humility

Onam, it’s Onam in the land of Mahabali
Ask of Vishnu did the king in sobriety
Onam, it’s Onam in the land of Mahabali
To visit his people yearly

Onam, it’s Onam in the land of Mahabali
With great expectation thus comes Mahabali
Onam, it’s Onam in the land of Mahabali
To meet his people one and many

Onam, it’s Onam in the land of Mahabali
What then do you and I have to offer the ‘great bali?’
Onam, it’s Onam in the land of Mahabali
Apart from our common excesses, injustices and our fake supremacy?

(Onam celebrates the visit of one of Kerala’s most just and generous king’s, Mahabali. Jealous of his popularity, the Gods entrust Vishnu, the preserver to put an end to this. He presents himself to Mahabali as a poor Brahmin (Vamana), begging for three steps of land. Once Mahabali agrees, Vishnu is restored to his original size and the final step ends up on Mahabali’s head. Before this, Mahabali seeks permission to visit Kerala once a year and Onam is the time of the visit. People of all religions get together to celebrate this time of celebration, colour and festivities. The question that remains is whether Kerala now has anything to show in terms of justice, equality and peace to it’s most famous and loved king, whose governance was known for all of these?)

Friday, September 5, 2008

In touch we trust!!!

One of the eye catching pictures of Jesus that adorns many buildings and homes, is surprisingly not the one on the cross. It is one in which Jesus is holding out his hand. What used to be a cute picture in my childhood, is now a thrilling canvas of colour, pregnant with meaning, both silent and loud. What does it mean to be touched by someone and is it important at all?

While we are usually obsessed with the miracles of Jesus we forget a simple act which is always a part of the script. His touch would have meant much more than the miracle per se. Wouldn’t we feel happy if we were kept away from the main stream of life, and one day someone would come to touch us and bring us back where we belong.

Humans like to be touched when it matters. In joy and in bereavement we would appreciate a warm act of a loving touch. But somehow our attitude towards touch in society is skewed. If a man touches a woman or vice versa, whatever the situation, we like to judge it from our delicate glass house existence. Therefore, situations of happiness and sadness are left alone to find their way, isolated and deeply numb.

The church now faces the question, “to touch or not to touch?” The previous day’s poem suggests a scenario where constant isolation of people who are in need of God’s touch, will lead to them withdrawing into their own shell, leaving the church as a picture on the wall, a picture of a man with out stretched hands.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Touch me not

All my life I wished to be touched
Every time I saw someone I thought of their touch
Time and time again every movement and moment became a disappoinment

What was wrong with me?
Was it my looks, my colour, my clothes or lack of them?
Was I not capable of attracting anyone to me?

Hope turned into despair
Hard feelings turned to excruciating pain
Life turned into death

So desperate was I for touch
That I would go into the fields and run my fingers
Over the grains and flowers, spread them on the soil and dip them in the streams

And then someone came
But so distanced was I from anyone’s touch
That I ended up muttering ‘I don’t want your touch’, ‘I don’t want your touch’

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

For Mary’s sake!!!

I was seventeen years old and the rebellious nature of teenage spilling over to the youth was evident in me. Church became a place where young boys and girls like me trickled into to “look at one another.” Not that we would say anything or give our parents sleepless nights by holding each other’s hands. No, no…we would just look at each other. And if we were lucky, someone would smile at someone. (I am aware that this has undergone a sea change over the years.:))

And therefore it was no surprise that everyone would look forward to the festivals in church as that would again be a time to congregate. I remember my sweet mother, who would stand in church with a candle and pray for a long time. Mostly it was in front of the picture of St. Mary, and she would be joined by other women in church as well.

Fast forward………Fifteen years later, I was leading the intercessory prayers and songs to St. Mary in church. I was not a teenager anymore but a full blown priest leading his congregation into a prayerful mood of contemplation. Everything had changed. The church was renovated, the paint was not a white wash where you could scrape the surface away, but liquid emulsion paint. The traditional mundu (dhoti) was replaced by pants and fancy shirts, the white chatta and mundu worn by women was replaced by cotton, synthetic and silk saris (a popular garment worn by women, measuring six to nine meters in length) with full neck, low neck as well as sleeveless blouses and the new addition churidar (a two piece garment including a pant and a top) came in all fashions and sizes.

But one thing didn’t change. The women were still holding candles and interceding to St. Mary. They were crying and talking to Mary. It looked like they were in their own world with Mary. This has been one thing that has not changed in the Jacobite and Orthodox churches. Come September, and the women folk of Kerala will flock to their churches to intercede to their favourite woman saint, St. Mary, the mother of Jesus, the mother of God. (The interpretation varies between the clergy, laity and the faithful, who may even belong to other religions) September 1-8, the eight day lent (ettu nombu in Malayalam), commemorating the birthday of St. Mary thus remains a non-erasable part of a woman’s calendar.

A woman knows another woman’s pains and sorrows. A woman can listen to another woman when she pours her heart out. A man cannot take the place of a woman!!! This rather than being a clear direction for the church instead becomes the complexity of the church. The eight day lent of St. Mary is a lent which has much more meaning to women than men. And yet, women do not play any role in the festival. They help in preparing the sweet dish (nercha) on the final day (even that is sometimes denied to them), but what is their active role in church? Maybe it’s time to ponder over this now. If not for the sake of the leadership which consists of men like me…… least for Mary’s sake!!!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

My (our) Mother's face

Mother, it was your sacrifice that brought me here
And yet through the stepping stones of my life
I forgot this momentous truth of 'here' for 'there'.

Filled was I with greed for my own survival
Lived did I in a manner of denial
That seldom did I notice how life was snuffed out of you.

When will your hard work be noticed?
When will the world give you your place?
When will your children accept your kind face?

This indeed is the problem we face
Our memory of our mother is but laced
With lies and fiction in their place

Try shouldn’t we to displace, the path of disgrace?
And bring back our mother to grace
To the land and thoughts which will give her back her face?!!!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Beware of dogs!!!

One of the greatest days of a seminary student’s life is when he (unfortunately not ‘she’ yet, in a majority of Kerala and India) gets to wear the white robe of power. The white cassock which will open doors, attract people, and be a new life in itself for the person concerned.

The new pastor/priest who gets to wear the inferred cloth of greatness, many a time gets carried away with the concept. It is used to grab power, impose rules on a hapless people and erects a human being over and above everything (the concerned bishop would of course disagree:)).

My gaze turns towards one such pastor/priest. “His wait was over. What he had prayed for, and worked for was finally his. He felt a great transformation. In his white-y white cassock (maybe bluish white, because of the special cloth whitener used for washing it) he could feel the world was now revolving around him.”

As is customary, the mighty pastor/priest took his rounds to meet his subjects. He sometimes went un-announced, sometimes called to say “I am coming”, and sometimes went as an after thought, when the sexton (church assistant/helper) told him, “That is also one of our houses.” He thus “came, saw and conquered.”

What according to the pastor/priest was a very successful campaign so far then took him to a huge house with a huger gate. On it was a board, “Beware of dogs.” The sexton was sceptical but the pastor/priest would have nothing of it. “I have conquered the seven seas, all the people have bowed before my power, what is a dog going to do?!!”

Saying this he marched into the compound. There was silence and then………Aiyo..aiyo..aiyo (a Malayalam usage suggesting “Oh my”, or an alarm call). The pastor/priest, followed by the sexton, were running back towards the gate, the pastor/priest holding up his cassock and the sexton with his ‘mundu’ (dhoti)folded up. Following them with loud barks was a full grown Doberman, with its teeth exposed in full ferocity.

In one act of aggression, albeit not planned, the pastor/priest was brought back to earth from his heavenly existence. In one moment he understood that a cassock does not give one indemnity from all things in the world. An animal thus taught the pastor/priest what no human ever imagined to do……………………………………………… (Background score………. “Who let the dog/s out….woof… woof.. woof..woof.”)

(This is neither purely fiction nor purely reality. The young pastor/priest could be "me"......or "you.")