Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I’m lovin’ it!!!

Mcdonalds has already managed to swamp India with the I’m lovin’ it slogan. Good one to place the emphasis on what they claim to be finger licking, smacking good treats of fast food. Depending on which side of the fence one is, one will end up (loving) liking it or not loving (not liking) it. But our positive perceptions about ourselves obviously only offer the option to like and not dislike. Life on the fast lane is indeed finger fast, be it licking one’s finger or banging the laptop with one’s fingers. We seem to have the time only for finger specific decisions.

India is always in the limelight of controversy. The scope and characters are decided by the mainline media and we follow it with baited breath, only to forget it when the media drops the story for lack of interest and TRP (Television rating point). Protest and comments have to fulfil the time deadlines as otherwise they lack the punch they have to deliver.

On the other hand civil society in the form of non-governmental organizations and special interests groups fighting injustice and mismanagement encourage us to raise our voices against the wrong that we see and experience. But in a society which is being converted into a finger society (be it forefinger or middle finger), do we actually have the space to bring out our true views and feelings?

Take the case of a social networking site like facebook. For every note that someone posts we are given the option to comment or ‘like.’ The finger somehow goes for the like option than for the comment option. There could be aspects of the note that we differ on or would like to provide additional information, but we rather choose to do the easy thing. The mcdonalds I’m lovin’ it gets converted into the I’m likin’ it.

The bone of contention would be that we have time for two options only. To love and not love, to like and not like. Anything in between, anything which could mean a bit more time and effort is put on hold and left there. This is the noose of democracy which hangs menacingly over us. We feel we have the freedom to do everything, but do we really? We think it is ‘time’ that makes us finger specific individuals, but is it? We imagine that we can turn around anything and make it conducive to our needs, but can we?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Being complete for Christmas???

Kripayal jaatha- guhayilamarnone
Pazhthuniyal-le potheyapettone deva… daya cheythedeeneme

(Verses from the sung liturgy for Christmas in the Syrian Orthodox church; A lose translation would be ‘the one born in the cave, the one wrapped in bands of cloth/ in tatters/ waste cloth, have mercy on us.’)

The pressure to do well, especially in the midst of a recession hit economy is supposed to bring out the best in every individual. So much that we are asked to become close to perfect and in essence complete women and men. The work more, earn more and spend more connection works perfectly in an economy which seeks to drive growth.

The Raymond suiting advertisement picks the concept of completeness and uses it to its advantage with the slogan “Raymond, the complete man.” Men are of course shown what will make the difference for them. A fabric which can turn around things for the better. The complete fabric, with the smooth touch, leading our fingers over it and making us feel something special.

The concept of completeness is also present in various religions and Christianity as well. So much that festival after festival is one which brings out this concept of richness, completeness, fullness and happiness. Christmas being an important date in the calendar of Christians is also on the top of celebrations by the Christian community around the world. In Kerala we compete with each other to decorate our houses and churches, burn fire crackers worth a lot of money and even contribute to the government exchequer by saying cheers.

Obviously one cannot prevent people from expressing their joy at the commemoration of the birth of their saviour. But our saviour Jesus Christ does not fit the description of our celebration. The child was wrapped in waste cloth and born homeless. And yet in this incompleteness is born a saviour unto his people. Who then are we celebrating? Ourselves?, our money and fame?, our happiness caused by the bitterness experienced by the unseen and unheard? The dichotomy is placed between the suit and the waste cloth, the palace and the cave (manger), the rulers and the shepherds. Oh one wrapped in waste cloth, have mercy on us!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

D for idiocracy

A bill to make voting compulsory? Modi has outdone himself in the quest of bringing draconian laws onto an unsuspecting and susceptible public. Along with the countless oppositions, there are also voices of support, a prominent one being Lalu Prasad Yadav, who introduced the 'efficient' cattle class concept in the Indian Railways with an additional side berth which he said would bring in additional revenue, even if the people could barely fit in to the berth! But can anything be compulsory in a democracy? Yes, safeguarding of the public, based on existing laws and the good will of the people can be termed as something which is compulsory in a democracy. But in a state like Gujarat ruled by an autocrat like its chief minister Narendra Modi, who literally got away with the murder of hundreds of people in his state, the wind is blowing in the wrong direction again.

So, what could be the reason behind such a law, if it were to be passed and accepted across the board? The reason given is that this could lead to the restoring of a dead electoral system in which voting has come down drastically over the last many years. Urban areas have out done rural areas in showing disinterest and lack of motivation to get out of their houses and cast their votes. There have been discussions earlier on what could be done to reverse the trend and how to make the voter come to the polling booth and cast her/his vote. But should this be the way of getting the voter interested in politics or should we explore other ways?

Being a priest I can’t help but thinking of how religions and churches especially take and use the reality of democracy in their own settings. Dictats are given out to church members that they will be punished if they err from the official line and that they have to follow the rules laid down by the various churches down to the last letter (It is another matter whether anyone actually follows anything when it comes to rules in the church??!!). This in churches which are supposed to be public platforms where people can come to and express their hurt and dissent!

Dissent and protest in society is not a sign that things are going to come to an end and therefore the leadership has to crack the whip to prevent things from going out of hand. Dissent and protest rather are the legitimate rights of people who are otherwise not given a chance to express themselves. Jesus by being born in a manger and not a palace becomes part of this dissent and protest and this act is supported by the shepherds and the wise men. By making church attendance compulsory we take away the legitimate right of people to say they disagree. By making voting compulsory we again take away the legitimate right of people to protest against the system of politics and against the candidates who set themselves up. Just as raising ones voice is protest, staying quiet and not doing something is also protest.

Modi is working against this right of the people. He is stifling protest and taking away what little remains for the religious minorities in Gujarat. If he or any other politician is interested in increasing public participation during elections, then there are other ways to do it, starting from conscientization of people to the freedom of people to enter and be part of the electoral process. A leader is one who has to read the sentiments of her/his people, not someone who imposes sentiments onto them. This bill, if ever to be taken seriously has to be discussed, debated and left to the people of this country to decide on. Modi represents only one such group of people and not the people of Gujarat and the people of India!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Goan mismatch

The recent speech in the Rajya Sabha by a Congress party member of parliament from Goa, Shantaram Naik, on the rape and murder of a British teenager and the more recent rape of a Russian woman has indeed thrown up a few questions on the intention of the Congress government when it comes to the rights of women. The promise of the president of India on the commitment of the UPA government to bring in reservation for women in parliament within 100 days of the government is lying undisturbed in some remote cupboard in some god forsaken place. But the great explanation by the Congress MP from Goa on the nuances of rape has rubbed salt on the wounds which have been unattended to all this while.

What the honourable member has conveniently forgotten is the many hidden manifestations of rape which never come to light. In his ignorance he has sought to lead this country and its people through the path of retarded growth. All he could bring up in the valuable time allotted in parliament was what could be classified as rape and what could be classified as bringing upon rape due to the behaviour of a woman.

What then would be the undressing of a woman by a man in his mind and having thoughts of committing an act of violence against her? The bible says that if one does this, one has already committed what can be termed a sin. Yet the minister brings the flimsiest of arguments to suggest that women should be careful and not do things that will make men rape them! It is confusing that such leaders choose to disappear when acts of rape and violence are committed by men against women during riots, communal violence and war. In what way did the women lead the men into raping them at these times?

It is time for the Congress to get its act together. This incident has shown that nothing much changes even if a country has a woman president, a woman speaker in parliament and a woman party leader. A member of the same party chooses none less than the parliament to voice views which betray his own take on the subject. The pain is not because of what he said but because the Congress party refuses to take responsibility or action against the concerned person.

The Congress MP has given an image of how women are seen in India.
1. They are commodities owned by men. 2. They do not have a say in their own affairs. 3. Women can be classified as Goddesses on the one hand and sluts on the other. Sluts deserve the treatment they receive from the men of this country. 4. Women from other countries are treated even worse. They are seen as free minds who want to have sex with any man they see on the road. If they protest, they are labeled as drug addicts, loose characters, and maniacs. 5. Women are sluts and men who have a go at any woman are machos and what they do is essentially good. 6. Women have to safeguard the name of the family while men can go out and have a good time.

The troubles and challenges we face are not in Pakistan or China or in Europe. The challenges lie right here, in our minds!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Swapping the immediate for the mediated

It is not unnatural these days to do online counselling and priests need to be prepared to sometimes even go the extra mile as that would provide extreme relief to someone and also be a learning process for the priest himself. But is it really possible to talk to someone who is at a distance and make sense of what they are telling you? Can this be termed counselling in the strict sense of the word? How do I know who I am talking (chatting) with? What if someone is fooling me or checking me out?

Every technology will bring along with it sceptics who will question the need and efficiency of anything new and whether it is indeed needed. Can this really replace the good old face to face talk and camaraderie?

Chatting with people long distance is a challenge as it involves different time zones and understanding a language which may differ in the way it is expressed. Even a harmless smiley at the wrong moment could send the wrong signal. But this does not mean that counselling this way is impossible. Just the fact that two people are not doing face to face communication actually works in the opposite of what we think always. We cannot pause a direct talk but we can pause, think and answer during a chat online. Some people feel shy or scared to talk face to face while they open up more knowing they have the cushion of being at a distance.

Chatting with someone definitely qualifies as a counselling session which can be shallow or deep, depending on how much is shared. Usually we take up counselling sessions with people we know but there could be one off sessions with people we may not completely know but who nevertheless talk to us about something that is bothering them. It is not necessary to know who we are talking to as long as we know whether they are male or female and they are sharing the truth. We could be mislead and sometimes even fooled but anonymity in the church is something we should offer to members, especially women until they trust us enough to say what they want and share who they are .

The sceptics are a bit scared of losing ground here. Will the church building be replaced by an online, invisible church? What will happen to the present power arrangement? The biblical prophecy that mountains will become valleys and valleys will turn into mountains should ring clear in our minds. Change is inevitable. But one can only say how it takes place after it actually does so. So far people still cherish the pleasure of meeting each other in person and online activity helps or hastens this. But to ensure this immediacy, the help of computer technology is used and therefore we can call it a mediated technology, whereby we are in interaction with each other with the help of technology and this then leads us to commune in a common place later on. Truly very religious as well…what you see is not truth in entirety, what you don’t see is where truth lies in waiting…swapping the immediate for the mediated.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jesus s(h)aves!!!

Advertisements have become such an integral part of our lives. It is another thing whether we like it or not! Many will feel the bite while watching a movie and getting interrupted by hundreds of advertisements asking, luring and begging us to buy a particular product. It is another matter all together that we end up paying for the exuberant bills associated with award winning adverts. Like it or hate it, it is here to stay. A testimony to that is the advertisement industry which is worth billions of dollars world wide and crores of rupees in India.

The good side of an advert is that it is the product of hard hours of burning the midnight oil and waiting for that one creative burst of energy which will bring forth something so unique and eye catching that it will lead us straight to the product. Many such products then lead to a replacement of identities and truth itself. We replace in our minds natural products from nature with products that are manufactured by companies in real time and in our minds as well.

The other side of an advert is that it is made so that it helps a product sell! Nothing else matters pretty much. It is true that there is an overall view that adverts should try to tell the truth but much overlapping blurs what truth is. So we advertise everything. We advertise our child’s baptism, our wedding, our success (our enemies advertise our failure :)), and eventually even our death is advertised.

The new Gillette ad doing the rounds now has women in India vouching for how smooth the skin of their boyfriend/husband is after such a smooth shave and how they prefer this over against a beard or stubble. The ad blitz even came out with Women Against Lazy Stubbles (W.A.L.S.). So much that even a bearded priest like me, strokes my chin to see what it would feel like after gliding a Mach 3 blade through the unruly beard. I wonder what kind of pressure boys/men feel to get that perfect smooth skin? After all they have to be presentable and acceptable to their girls/women. The video showing the depressed man with a stubble changing into a confident person after the shave does get one thinking. Should I or shouldn’t I?

I guess religion is also going through the same phase of high income adverts. Jesus saves is a very old slogan which has been in use in India. So much like the Mach 3 comfort one will feel. Posters and banners hanging from trees and posts, bible verses on walls, preaching on TV, we are all into the s(h)aving business. So much that Jesus is portrayed like a young, shaven, confident man, asking us to jump into the bandwagon. But what about the bearded Jesus we are all so used to? Maybe not so confident and seemingly much ordinary than the macho, all knowing young man. Also every bit vulnerable and a bit more attached to ground reality rather than being a high flying, super man capable of doing anything and everything at the flick of a switch. Hmm…following Gillette…should we then run high flying adverts saying, Jesus, the best a man can get or just leave Jesus as Jesus, with stubble, beard, et al.?

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Pain of a Tragedy

How does it feel when life becomes death?
When the very air we cherish turns into a noose around our neck?
Who will know that what they see are the scars of a battle unexpected?
And the hurt will never heal but only be forgotten by years of neglect?

How could this come on us with no warning sign?
Despite our collective thoughts of good to all?
Who will take responsibility for the thousands buried together?
While the ones above are still reminded by every breath?

How many generations will suffer for an irresponsible act?
Will ill-distributed compensation cover up the fact?
Who will bring the guilty to justice?
Even as we grimace in the pain of unfulfilled promises?

How trivial have we become in your pursuit of glory?
Gassed were we, our entire city became a gas chamber in a hurry?
Who will hear us amidst the deafening shout for a new India?
When all we remind you of is an old and forgotten tragedy?

(The Bhopal gas tragedy took place 25 years ago. The victims still await justice while the guilty remain scot-free. Almost 25,000 people lost their lives due to the irresponsible act of the Union Carbide company. Successive governments have not ensured that the deserving got the help they needed. We have conveniently forgotten this ever happened!)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Disappearing to appear

Numerous stares, sympathetic faces and uncomfortable postures go along with the disabled person wherever they go. Especially in countries like India, we have a highly judgemental attitude rather than understanding what disabled people feel like. The term which should be used to refer to this is also confusing. Should it be people with disability or disabled people? I feel that the term disability means that ‘we’ have the ability. In contrast, when we use the term disabled, it suggests that the ‘disabled’ have been made that way by us, the ‘abled’. This sounds more correct and defines the truth of how the disabled people are basically in the condition they are because of the so called abled.

Are we all perfect or do we seek to be perfect? Do we need to be perfect? Is perfection a necessary condition that human kind should go through? Obviously for me, being a priest brings me closer to the problem of the disabled people. Why are they like this? Does God allow disability or are the people disabled by the abled? Is it punishment from the higher echelons of justice? But what have these people done? Even my referring to the disabled people in the way I do, suggests a difference between us and them!

What am I going to do? Am I going to tell my congregation that people with disabilities are serving God’s purpose? Or am I going to tell my congregation that part of the problem is us, those who are holding onto this built up conception of perfection and for whom there should be people whom we perceive as imperfect, to maintain our perception of perfect. Thus the existence of the perfect depends on the existence of the imperfect.

Our relationship with God is a funny one. We let God appear when we want to and then allow (force) God to disappear when the use of God has passed. This suggests an appearance and disappearance. This is so taken for granted that it has completely slipped our mind, so much that we may even deny it. But this is one reality that we should bring back into our consciousness. God appears and disappears. God disappears so that we may appear. But we take our appearance for granted and forget that this is what we are encouraged to do as well. We too have to disappear, so that others may appear! We too have to be disabled so that others may be abled!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The journey

There was a deep sense of distractedness in my mind. Each breath of mine was pushed away by the rumblings of a mini quake, the epicentre of which was right next to me, in the train berth occupied by an old man. The train within the train took me by surprise. The spate of train related accidents came to my mind flashing through with the help of a view finder. But never would there have been an accident within, because of a train within a train!

The drive to the station was like a joy ride on a giant wheel in a fair. Everything seemed exactly the same, unless one chose to look with intend. Then faces became clear and with it lives and stories were revealed in a matter of seconds. It was the usual grind: paying the auto driver, walking to the station, passing through the detector, spotting the train platform on the screen, buying water and something to munch and then walking to the train, checking my name on the chart stuck to the train bogey and then placing myself on the booked seat. It was one chain puzzle, neatly put together and played to perfection.

Bodies lay strewn all around. People were shouting, ‘get down, down.’ Just as you thought it was all over, came one more shot and then a volley of shots. How does it feel to lie on your tummy and wonder, ‘what the f*** is going on here?’ and ‘will I get out of here alive?’ How does it feel to be derailed even before one boards the train? So many prayers went up that day to a variety of Gods, all asking for divine intervention and a fortunate ending. Was this the end of the world? The faces of my loved ones came to my mind in a flash, so fast and furious that I felt like a turtle in an F1 racing car.

I got up with a jolt. Where was I? In the train, sleeping safe and sound in my berth, listening to the divine snore next to me. How I wonder, a few moments ago the snore sounded like a quake and now after what seemed a salad of a dream, the snore became a sweet sense of awakening. An awakening of being alive and okay. The sense that everything was back to normalcy.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Love Jihad: A need for acceptance and rehabilitation and not war mongering

Where war persists, love is not far behind or maybe it is the other way round!. A lot of us may have heard of jihad as a waging of war. But there is also an interpretation that it is practising religion in the midst of oppression and persecution. For those of us who are moulded by the utterances of the main line media, jihad is a negative connotation. It is an attack on freedom and the public space of people. I wonder whether this is the original intention of the word jihad. But this post is not about that. Rather it is about how we use love as a toned down means of aggression to bring people to our side.

The print and online media this month did a story on what they termed the ‘love jihad’ in Kerala and Karnataka. The story outlined how Muslim men trapped women from other religions, and married them as part of a larger design to add to the Muslim population in India. The case came to light when a couple of women filed a case in the courts of Kerala and there was a unusually high rate of registration of marriages. So much that the court has asked the government to do a preliminary enquiry. It has even led to a silent understanding between the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and some Christian groups, to pass on information on such conversion attempts and prevent it. The problem should be grave as otherwise the VHP and Christian groups will never be found on the same side of the coin! The response from Muslim youth groups is that there is nothing unnatural about this as every religion has conversion. But is it acceptable to give money to men and tell them specifically to go behind women for a period of two weeks and get them to convert by luring them in the name of love?

The media and Hindu and Christian groups have so far been crying foul about this. But what no one brings to light is the plight of women! Be it war or love, women are seen as an object to be conquered. So from one religion to the other, they are conquered and subjected. Why is it that the woman has to always convert to the religion or denomination of the man and not vice versa? It then should be debated as to whether the problem is conversion or the freedom of women!

The other point to be debated is whether this goes on in other religions as well? The truth is that it does in small quantities. Whoever sees survival beyond truth, follows the teaching of using war or love to multiply the number of followers. Everything this way is fair in war and love! I have come across a similar phenomenon in certain new Christian denominations aka sects. In an effort to have a foothold in society, girls are lured into the sect and then told that their partner is a man, who of course belongs to the same sect! This the leader of the sect/denomination says is what God wants! The girl is thus torn away from her own cultural roots and beliefs.

The final point to be debated is why do girls fall into traps in the first place? Is it a lack of independence, feeling cared for, not being given respect? Obviously for the girls to be lured, a good enough trap should be in place. This could be anything. A bit of love and concern and maybe a bit of everything, put together with a flashy lifestyle. This is what lacks in many of our houses. Our women are not given the respect that is their due and right. In the vacuum, someone else provides this. Furthering this, have we thought about how it will be when these girls/women come back? What will be their status? A girl who has brought dishonour upon the family? A girl who went astray and has come back and therefore has to be looked after because there is no other alternative? Which girl would then come back?

I have come across a similar instance in my home church. A young girl similarly left her house. She is in touch with her father but won’t talk to her mother, because they are not on good terms. As far as I understood, she doesn’t mind coming back. But the church members have already started talking about her and how she has brought a bad name to the family and church. I couldn’t help but wonder how this girl could come back to a land of stigma, exclusion and judgement! Would girls like her be given legal advice and lawyers to argue their case? Which is why we should look at this phenomenon of the love jihad, which truly is not anything new but the same old story of women being treated as objects. This then is a time for acceptance and rehabilitation and not war mongering.

(Many thanks to Cissy George, my school mate, who provided the initial push and material on the 'Love Jihad' which was helpful and responsible for the writing of this post)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Language at it’s Kerala best!!!

In the previous post I did try to bring out the differences that one can face in a single language. Which is why people may not understand each other despite knowing the same language. These differences are cultural and group specific.

Kerala is a state in India which uses Malayalam as it’s official language. Obviously the use of a single language should not bring about much confusion. But the way Malayalam is spoken in different parts of Kerala is indeed confusing with people finding it difficult to understand each other.

Mimicry has been a cultural activity which is now a part of a genre which is entertaining and thought provoking. For entertainment purposes certain things are bloated out of proportion but never the less the point is driven home. One similar performance outlines the Thrissur (a town in Kerala) slang. (

The setting is a court room with the advocate examining a witness in a stab case. The witness gives his version of what happened… “Eecha kadayude kadai keri eecha navadi- therikkan nokunna machu ennu paranjapam chullanu kalichille- ee gadi oru boost ittu koduthille- appo matte gaddi oru bush ittu- oru jathi show ishta- gum ennu nenchil kittiyappol chullan madhillil veenu wall post aayille- ee chekkan chavarinaduthu paranjatha ee spot sheriyalla, skoot aakan nokan- avide, chullan skoot aayilla- ee gediye chindha padundo therichonnu, ellenkil medeyiyonnu- last-il pettiyinnu chuvannavanu pathiye vannu ara pacha thangiyappol chappada round vendannu kenji paranju eshta- oru kizhi kittiyappol avande arayil dushma veeshi andam kundam nokathe kuppiyeduthu pallayil otta keerangu keeri- panchayat pipe pottiyapole alle chora cheetiyathu.”

A bold but not accurate translation of this would be “one guy tried to act smart with another fellow and they traded words (beautifully put by using the words boost and bush)- it was a show off- the guy got it on his chest and flew to the wall (became a wall post on the wall)- we told the guy that this place is not good and so beat it (words used are spot sheriyalla and skoot) but he did not go- we told him not to fight a losing battle- but he took a bottle and stabbed the guy without a care- blood sprayed out as if from a panchayat (village) water pipe.”

For many in Kerala this won’t be a language that they will understand and yet it is Malayalam! And it is a way of speaking Malayalam with a special energy and bringing life to the language itself. This then is the concept of how a language is accepted by a people and eventually made their own. Indeed, language at it’s Kerala best!

Monday, October 5, 2009

The language of the dogs

Language is a way of expressing oneself using words and even actions. It is a cultural learning that we are put through, and eventually we will add on to our traditional learning with our own unique experiences. We have the official language that is thrust upon people and the un-official language which is a public outcry and protest. In India too we have Hindi, struggling to assert itself as the national language, English as the most used language across different states largely by default and maybe as a colonial hangover which has turned into an advantage for Indians, and many other languages hustling for space in the Indian sphere with slight similarities and differences at the same time.

There are unique and almost extinct languages which are spoken by small communities and which express meaning to specific groups while being completely strange to others. But what happens when we have classifications within a language which make it confusing to one and clear to the other? The English language despite being a colonial infusion into India, has been absorbed into the Indian fabric which has even made English dictionaries sit up and take notice and add new Indian English words to the latest versions of their dictionaries.

This difference and new way of talking the same language is not just a matter of accent and words used but the way some words are used and perceived. ‘Heh dude’ and ‘heh dog’ in the U.S. for instance would not strike a chord for a majority of Indians. This could have been one of the reasons why the Oscar winning “Slum Dog Millionaire” was seen derogatory by some in India for the use of the word dog, even though it was not meant to be derogatory.

Similarly, there will be sections of the population in India who would not battle an eyelid before saying, ‘what the f##k’, while others would find it inappropriate and in bad taste. We see here a total shift of language according to the perceived culture of a group of people. So even though we speak the same language we don’t understand one another!

This confusion in language can also be separated into a rich, fortunate group’s indulgence or the spontaneous expression of ordinary people who have made the language their own. Which is why I suspect that many heated discussions are due to small confusions. And when it is done in a small space with minimum words like on twitter, the confusion is bound to increase. Which is why it is not enough to learn a language but to learn a culture. Journalists cannot swoop down on single words but need to understand the culture setting in which it is made, thus expressing a new meaning. The language of the dogs then expresses a whole new meaning, a different culture, a whole new world, waiting to be explored.

Friday, October 2, 2009

From Gandhi-giri to Goonda-giri

India is a place of the opposites embracing each other. The richest and the poorest have their own take of the much hyped government budgets, single God’s and multiple God’s are worshipped, parched lands are replaced by water soaked soil in a matter of a few kilometres and loud noise is challenged with a louder silence. Gandhi Jayanthi this year is placed in this context of opposites.

Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation did inspire a whole nation into freedom with a lesser known tool of ahimsa (non-violence). Today as we celebrate his birth we are caught up still between the confusion of violence and non-violence. Raj Thackery in his latest piece of news making has asked the producers of the Hindi movie “Wake up Sid” to apologise for the usage Bombay instead of Mumbai. Obviously the producers were quick to do the same in fear of the film release being stalled by a bunch of goons. It is amusing that no one asks for an apology from politicians for denying basic rights to the poor and powerless of this country!!!

Mayawati is also not doing the dalit cause any favour by spending public money to install thousands of statues all across Uttar Pradesh. There is a strong argument that these statues are a reminder of the resistance that the poor are putting up against the upper castes. But wouldn’t it be better to bring a better understanding of resistance by assisting people to have food on their plates and change their destiny?

Gandhiji dreamt of a single, united India. Many have pointed out that this was a hollow dream as this single united India would also mean keeping people at the same level they were. The scope for being what one wanted to be was perhaps eluding the ordinary people of this country. But one cannot forget the power of non-cooperation and non-violence. The freedom one gets by not doing and being silent.

But for some reason India today is a reflection of violence rather than non-violence, goonda-giri rather than Gandhi-giri. A rule of violence over and above peace. Pakistan is a constant irritation and Indians mistrust their neighbour and don’t see the country on equal terms. The hurry to inflate the India bubble, which is honestly outrageous, brings us into direct confrontation with China and we are deeply enraged with the so called incursions that China is undertaking in the North east part of India. Kashmir is a continuing cause of concern and violence is unleashed every now and then. A new threat in the form of naxals suggests that there is a growing un ease with the way India is conducting itself. Violence is being met by violence with heavy consequences.

I wonder then whether Gandhi Jayanthi is just another day, a holiday, a time to remember the Mahatma, who is maybe much talked about outside India rather than inside, with the U.S. president mentioning that he would have liked to dine with the Mahatma if given a chance. Is there a chance for peace in India? Are we boiling with a violence inside which makes us fight one another and those outside? Surely Gandhi is not going to answer that. We should!!!

Who is my friend?

Friends are a realistic constant that not only come next to family but in today’s world have replaced family, in some cases, as the number one shoulder one would select to cry on. The transformation has been swift and ruthless and we are reminded of the importance by the soap opera “Friends” telecasted and re-telecasted for years now in India. It is noteworthy to mention how friends become family and stand up for one another which is somewhat new in the Indian context.

But are we ready for this friend concept that is invading our lives and do we need to be more specific when we use the word friend? Our real lives have more or less been replaced by our surreal lives which are not projected to an audience but have taken over the life we are used to. Now even though many would question who or what is real, the fact remains that we have been shifted to a virtual world. This world is very much like the world we live in save for a few problems of identity and privacy.

So the friends culture which is burning it’s sole with protracted re-runs can make a virtual entry and skate board into the visions of online netizens. But what is it that we come across today? Orkut and facebook along with other social networking sites are facilitating the sending of hundreds of thousands of friend’s requests to each other. I get a minimum of three almost everyday. People I don’t know, people I can’t even see a picture of, people who don’t write a message as to who they are (suggesting I might know them), but still asking me to accept them as their friend. What do I do? Do I go on an accepting spree?, do I say no?, do I make sure I know the person?

In my case I am almost forced into accepting requests because of the nature of the job I am into. But I can’t help but think of others who have to accept requests and then realise that it could be their teacher, or parent, or a stalker wishing to intrude into their lives. It’s good to make friends and have a lot of friends as long as one knows who the friend is!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Get on with it you tokens of austerity

What has come of this land? We were promised the women’s reservation bill, weeding out of corruption and all round development. And all of a sudden we are faced with the austerity drive. I even had to check it up to make sure that I had the meaning correct. The Cambridge online dictionary puts it such, “the condition or policy of living without things that are not necessary and without comfort, with limited money or goods, or a practice, habit or experience that is typical of this.” It is another thing that I am convinced that what is being practiced now by some ministers in the UPA government in India are far from austerity. But even if we were to say that it is, one would have to examine the need for such austerity in India.

What then is the background of this austerity drive? The recession of course! Companies are falling, shares lie flat (although the trend has been reversed to an extent and India has not collapsed like other countries), jobs are being lost and real estate is not seeing a bubble burst but a bubble being sucked in to it’s place.

But why austerity in India? Tokenism would be a nice way to put it. We put offerings to show our love and respect to God, a whole nation screams in excitement when Sachin bends his knees after a boundary, a whole bus load of people go to see off someone at the railway station or airport. So many, that the majority of people are not travelers but revelers. Oh yes the excitement and the passion is definitely there but so is the tokenism. We all want to show something to someone.

I wonder whether the present austerity drive is a part of this show. A token which will not make much of a difference to the lives of millions of people in this country! Rahul Gandhi may be doing it in all honesty (who knows!) but the security risk he thus poses to himself and to others in the process is another matter all together. How is this going to be sustained in a country like India where ordinary passengers do not themselves travel safely?

To say that the recession woke us up to austerity is a spat on the face to the Indians we don’t get to see on television screens and in heated debates. In a country like India which ranks 88th among 159 countries in the corruption index, what is austerity going to do? In a place where dalits are still beaten up and denied their rights does it matter who travels by what? In a culture where women are looked down upon and kept away who cares which one is more austere than the other? So pull up your socks mates and save the tokenism, if that’s what you are up to. If not, keep it going as though it’s a way of life and get creative. There’s a lot to do for the people of this country!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Reading the swine flu the Shakespeare-ian way

Deaths in India usually go unreported unless they are high profile or large in number. In a country of huge numeric proportions one cannot keep up with the loss of life. Which may also be why politicians and religious leaders often say, “Only five or ten died.” Unless the loss is closer to home and of a relative or friend, most of the time the Indian public also follows similar patterns. The swine flu or the H1 N1 virus has got media coverage not because of the numbers but because of the panic it has created in the minds of the people. The panic felt within the media has then been transported on to the audience as well. It is but natural that these instances bring us closer to the life we live and the fragility it reflects.

The Christian churches in Kerala and India have for several centuries advocated having a clean soul and a clean heart. The indoctrination makes us pray for a clean soul and we even go to the extent of asking God to wipe our heart clean. In all this cleaning up we forget the lessons of personal cleanliness that we learnt in school, and the importance of washing our hands.

The swine flu precautions that one gets to read on the internet and in other forums are very clear in what they say, “Wash your hands with soap and water.” And yet we are washing our souls and forgetting the basics! Shakespeare can’t to any stretch of imagination be a favourite of the church. Especially with the gory details of treachery and death that some of his plays bring out! And yet his Macbeth brings an aspect of truth that we cannot deny. Lady Macbeth tries to wash off the blood on her hands which at times in hallucinated engagements is a feeling of guilt of the murders she has initiated. A biblical instance of this is when Pontius Pilate washes his hands off the guilt of handing Jesus over to the mob, who asked for his life.

I remember a student I had who would keep washing his hands very regularly. So much that it ticked off his fellow students and even teachers. This led to the teachers calling for a meeting to discuss his behaviour. At the end of the meeting we decided that we should not read too much into this and let the matter rest. But he has definitely risen from the ashes. Post swine flu he is the only sensible guy around. Atleast he minimizes his risk of contracting or spreading the flu! These are also times when religions have to introspect to understand the importance of our actions. The need of the hour is to be clean, inside and outside.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sacrificing one’s independence

As Kerala has surely shifted from a period of joint families (kootu kudumbam) to compact families, people are shifting more to an all for one concept. The one for all and all for one thought has undergone a real age change not only in the backwater rich state but also in the country as well. Even the car companies have understood the shift pretty much and it is reflected in the new hatch back models that have entered the market with their fuel efficient engines. The drive in the front seat is futuristic but the back is cramped into an almost “if you must, get in and don’t complain” design. It is like saying “If you want something you better be prepared to sacrifice.”

The law maker politicians have also found it difficult to understand what sacrifice is all about. The Congress in their whites and the Communists in their reds are finding the very word uncomfortable. Isn’t life supposed to be about making deals (money) and enjoying everything? What about the people? The people? “Oh, they will help us to fulfill our ideals”, say the politicos. So the people will sacrifice for the law makers. More electricity cuts, water shortage, accidents, hooligans, murderers! The people have to sacrifice and make do with these sufferings!!

So as an after thought to the independence day, one sees confusion as to what sacrifice really is. Churches talk about sacrifice every Sunday with priests going on and on about the virtues of sacrifice. Something they, like the politicians never practice. In this scenario the word sacrifice undergoes a transformation into what others have to do for the sake of our good. A far cry from what it is supposed to be “what we can do for the betterment of others.”

As an individual then the thought of independence and whose independence comes back strongly. Even though we have the independence to vote we don’t have the same independence to question what is done for five years in our state and country. Why? Because we are supposed to sacrifice! Poor Gandhiji’s picture will be thrust upon us with the much heard dialogue, “The India that Mahatma dreamt of. Let us work towards it.” And how? By sacrificing! If you ask me I feel pretty close to the wives who have jumped into their husband’s funeral pyre because they had to sacrifice. It is the most noble thing to do! Humbug. In the name of sacrifice the common person in this country is made to go through the most un-imaginable things and put through humiliation and hardship. Maybe it’s time for an equal responsibility pact in India. We do 50% of the sacrificing and the leadership has to do the other 50%. Like we listen to our leaders on independence day, let them listen to what we have to say too. Happy sacrificing.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The flu and the online congregation

The concept of God and a higher power becomes more apparent in one’s helplessness and hopelessness. One of the reasons of human beings undertaking their quest for God is when we feel we are not in control anymore and therefore have to make a petition for help to one who is more powerful than us. In India this is not so difficult to understand. Even though money in India can get us many things including getting away from murder in certain instances, we are exposed to dangerous situations which could lead to cutting short our existence on earth. Getting mowed down by a car, being swept away in a flood, sucked into a debt trap, being rained out or rained in and succumbing to the flu. This leads to a leap in faith as this is all we have got in this insecure life that we have to live. This leap in faith is reflected in the church, temple, mosque, gurudwara and other places of worship, where crowds flock together to express their faith in God.

But the swine flu has even broken down the crowd of faith. As people are advised to be careful, the obvious is also to keep away from large groups and crowds. Is it then safe to congregate when the times are bad? We are faced with a threat of dilution by a flu which refuses to die down. Who ever said that countries need weapons of mass destruction? The proximity of people in places of worship and the exposure of priests and worship leaders to a variety of people will also be under the scanner. The flu obviously does not discriminate between leader and follower. These kind of flu’s are going to add to the faith element of people but at the same time there will be doubts on whether they can go to a place of worship to dispel their fears.

But do we isolate ourselves from each other? Can we find other ways to be there for one another and reassure ourselves that we will fight this flu and overcome it, come what may. So if we can’t come together physically, we should look at ways of coming together in the virtual world. The confidence we gain from the virtual world will lead us to come back to the real world when we ready for it. ( These are times when it does not matter who we are and what we look like. It just matters that we continue our faith affirmations which lead our minds to come to terms with what is happening around us. Till then it’s

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Walk when you talk

What an idea sirji? Indeed, what an idea. Walk when you talk. The Idea mobile advertisement is probably getting the attention of a substantial part of television viewers in India because of its positioning with what is a reality in India. In a country which may have close to 57 million diabetics by 2025, walking is definitely one thing which could turn the tide.

Go to any doctor and whatever your ailment you can bet that the doctor will tell you to start walking for at least 20 minutes a day and then increase that to 40-45 minutes. “Start walking. It’s good for you”, is a familiar piece of advice that many can hear in both glossy, vitrified-tiled, air-conditioned hospitals and sweaty, fan aerated and cemented clinics.

So everyone is walking. Be it old men and women, with low priced canvas shoes and sports shoes worth thousands of rupees, and younger women and men competing in waving hands and marching ahead, early in the morning or in the evening, India is walking. Reebok, Adidas, Puma and Action are smiling.

As a priest, I can’t help thinking of whether my congregation members are walking and if they are, shouldn’t I too? Because it is one of the best times to talk to them. Talk one on one and also to a group. The only thing is that I can’t stop. Because I have to walk when I talk!

Idea mobile has hit the nail on it’s head. Just like they did with advertisements which suggested that they were the way to get India’s schools to the villages. Positioning ourselves near a reality, makes us a part of the reality. So far as we can even use the reality to our benefit. Just as we use the reality of God and concepts like poverty and education to our own benefit. ( Idea even has a site for us to enter the time we have spoken on the mobile and then that is converted to the calories we could have lost if we had walked while we talked. See )

It is thus a reality that Indians are walking and walking more than ever. Idea mobile has thus positioned itself next to this reality and in the process stands to gain out of this reality. Whether the two (a mobile and walking) have anything to do with each other is another matter. Whether the mobile service provider wants to engage the problems related with walking and education also stand unanswered. For the time being, many of us who watch television will be humming…walk n talk, walk n talk, walk n talk…walk when you talk…what an idea?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Communicating the Lord’s prayer

The traditional Lord’s prayer
Our father who art in heaven
Hallowed by thy name
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
On earth, as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory, for ever and ever.

A prayer inspired by the Lord’s prayer

Our communicator who is amongst us, peace be to your name.
May your words come true and your vision be fulfilled, in the real and virtual world.
Give us today the food we need,
And delete the viruses we produce as we delete the viruses produced by others.
Let us not devour tempting bytes and browse that is evil.
For yours are the mother board, password and subscribers for generations to come.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Communication Sunday: Coming to our senses

God has equipped us with five senses to navigate our way through the nitty-gritty’s of life. The senses of hearing, sight, touch, taste and smell play an equal part in making us what we are. The sudden absence of any one of these senses awaken us to the importance it had/has in our lives. But these senses are not just for a solitary, self existence but are rather radars for picking up cries for help from all around the world. We therefore have to come to terms with ourselves, our senses, to be of help to others.

Help us to listen O God
When weak voices squeak in final acts of desperation
Help us to see O God
When tired eyes look to us for final redemption
Help us to feel O God
When evil swoops down on good intention
Help us to taste O God
When power corrupts the natural concoction
Help us to smell O God
When dreams are burnt beyond recognition

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My father’s day

I still remember the day my mind slipped into a domino like collapse. It looked nice while it lasted but it was suspect to outside forces and could come down any moment. That moment happened to be that day. Everything was fine in the morning with the usual father-son chat and then the rush to college where my thoughts were set upon going back home again. I remember sitting in class and talking to a friend when an office staff approached me and asked me to go home as soon as possible. He didn’t say why. I just thought that my father needed me at the shop so he could go home and see mom.

These flashes still light up my slumber like lightning on a dark rainy night. The class room, my bus journey, the walk to the shop, the closed shop and the black flag in front of the shop. Maybe I was too young to realise or maybe I didn’t want to. A coolie in his red shirt came up to me, held my hand and said, “Father’s gone.” What is this guy saying? Where did my father go? Why is the shop closed? Scene after scene flashed in front of me, and I tried to see whether my father was in it. For some reason he wasn’t.

Many people said many things to me. I really couldn’t hear them. All I wanted to do was to see my father. Maybe he was sick. Or could he have gotten into some kind of trouble? I was walking. Half way I realised I was walking to the hospital. Some one caught hold of my hand and led me through a narrow path to a corner of the hospital. As I neared a big room I could hear women crying. I thought father would have come to see someone really sick in the hospital. I entered the room. The person suddenly squeezed my hand and held my shoulder.

Now I am old enough to realise what happened that day. I am sane enough to know what I lost and what I would have done with father today. But today can’t bring back yesterday and what is lost can’t be gained with years running past. Happy father’s day.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

My mama won the election!!!

As the Congress-DMK discussions for berths continue, the mandate is clear. The Congress led UPA has been voted back to power. The people of India have shown that they are eager for a stability and sensibility which they have got very less of in the past two decades. Lalu Prasad Yadav added an extra berth inside trains in India only to lose his own berth in the cabinet. (I wonder whether they will do away with this extra berth concept inside trains. Many have confessed that it is quite annoying). CNN-IBN and NDTV are telling us that they won the elections because they came close to predicting the results.

In all this fervor of hectic activity and claims I have to make a confession of my own. One, I did not write a blog on mother's day. (I could be excused because I did not get hold of a computer to type in a blog post and I was also internet-less for a week in between). Two, my mother, like many mothers in Kerala and I am sure all over India, predicted who would win this election.

Now I don’t know whether all the mothers in this land said the Congress would win because they were fed up with the other parties, or whether they had an inclination for the Congress right from the beginning or whether the likes of Rahul, Priyanka and Tharoor did the trick! (I did read an article which predicted a good chance for Shashi Tharoor because women in Kerala also vote for good looking men! :) I can’t vouch for that, but it’s what I read).

As I asked many families in Kerala who they voted for, the women (mostly mothers) would always show me the hand (not literally). “Congress ke hath garibo (mahilaom: women) ke sath.” Meaning that the Congress symbol of the hand would be with them and they would be with the hand. Hand in glove maybe! This gave me some pointers as to who would this election. But I still thought that this election would be a humdinger. I was proved wrong... by my mother. Happy belated mother's day.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Don’t count me out!!!

Come May 16, 2009 and we will know the outcome of one of the most exhaustive exercises in the world; the Indian elections. Television news channels in all languages are already in the heat of things, predicting which alliance will have the numbers and how the two top alliances are cozying up with smaller parties to make a claim to government formation. All the top leaders and the wannabee’s have already covered up their fifteen minutes of fame and are still going strong.

The electronic voting machines which were in use this time will speed up the results and in many places clear winners will be announced by noon or just afterwards. The big fight has thus led to the big count. Going through the remaining hours is painful for some and thrilling for others.

But what does this mean for the ordinary citizen? Are we going to get stability, good governance, development, pro-poor programs, and equality for the oppressed? Or are we going to be counted out of the equation? Political party’s who asked for our mandate with specific promises will be seen aligning with party’s who were their opponents before the elections. After dividing the people in the name of caste and religion, soon different alliances will shake hands and make up to give a so called stability to our country.

What then is stability and development and what is helping the ordinary citizen of India? Is it lying to us, mis-using and mis-guiding us, dividing us and then ruling over what remains of us? This election should not be about getting counted out of the equation, rather it should be about getting counted in. Our leaders have to know that the Indian public is not a grouping that can be twisted and turned to their fancy. In this way the fight (election) is not over for the people of India!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

My vote counts

My vote counts, when I swallow the lethargy and lift my finger
My vote counts, when I ignore the cutie and side with the smarty
My vote counts, when I push the button after selecting my icon
My vote counts, when the counting is over but the fight runs forever

I voted this time too. Guess it’s my third time atleast. I had to fight off a lot of questions before I pressed the button. What good is it going to do?, are the candidates qualified, do I know them?, etc, etc. But in the end I went, knowing that if I didn’t, I would blame myself for the state of this country for the rest of my life.

What is going to change? I really don’t know. What I know is that if anything has to change, it has to be me first. Until I keep paying bribes, until I disrespect public property, until I don’t show the heart and courage to disagree, nothing will change. At the end of the day I have come to realise that it is not just about our leaders, it is about us as well. What do I/we have as a plan for the next five years, because if we don’t have any, neither will our netas.

Kerala saw a frenzied political battle in the state, with even religious communities throwing their weight behind candidates and political parties. I never thought that adhering to a particular faith also meant pushed into the membership of a particular party. The equations are clear. ‘You help me and I will help you.’ Indeed a shame for both the church and the political establishment, both of whom have the mandate to serve people irrespective of their caste, class, colour and sex.

The biblical call is clear. Pray (help) for your enemies. What does it profit you to help your friends? !!!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Let the Tamils go!

Blood, gore and violence disturbing sense in this nonsense
I suspect whether human concern bounces off pride in armour
Thousands lie buried in silent tombs pierced by shrapnel
As the dead fall, the living flee wishing to continue life

Is Prabhakaran and the LTTE worth the lives of innocent women and children?
Will bombs lead disturbed minds into submission?
What is my religion when it kills others?
Where is my faith in the middle of blatant destruction?

Stop the elephant’s pursuit in the jungle
Too many fall unawares in the weight of the mammoth’s rumble
Don’t sow hatred in strict paddy patterns
Fleeing they are, don’t shoot them from behind

Life is still so feeble in the spic and span stable
Stop getting a kick from spilt blood among the weaklings
It’s time to stop, so let’s do just that
And retain whatever humanness remains intact

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter: ‘Jesus remixed’

Kerala is in the hold of a remix trend. Two movies, ‘Sagar Alias Jacky’ and ‘2 Harihar Nagar’, are sequels to the runaway successes, ‘Irupatham nootand’ (Twentieth Century) and ‘In Harihar Nagar’. The music has been remixed to seal the gap between the decade-separate generations and it is catching on in high spirits.

As the Christians in Kerala celebrated Easter (the resurrection of Jesus), this need to bridge the gulf between the decade-separate generations is being felt. On the one hand traditional churches offered a change in timings of the Easter service to accommodate the ones who found the early morning service a tad bit too difficult logistically speaking. On the other hand the people also are becoming more vocal about the need to make services more relevant for the times.

This is where the concept of ‘Jesus remixed’ comes in. As in any remixed version, there are the pros and cons of taking such a step. The traditionalists argue that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and any change is the distortion of truth. Those who think otherwise are of the opinion that truth itself is not a constant and changes with the times, and it does not mean that Jesus has changed in essence. The priests also point out that the original is the only version and anything else is an attempt at humiliating our forefathers and foremothers, the originators. Further they also argue that what has been handed down has been crafted very carefully and has immense meaning in it. They are opposed by those who say that what should be and should not be is for the people to decide and not by the so called purists.

Can we then say that what is mixed once cannot be mixed again so that the essence is maintained? Or can we say that every generation needs a new mix for a new fix? Or should we call it rediscovering oneself through a remix? As Mohanlal is rediscovering himself in an age well ahead of retirement, we should maybe wait and see as to what will last; the mix or the remix!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Maundy Thursday sea blues

As we sit down at the table of fellowship this Maundy Thursday (Pessaha vyazham) let us also remember that we gain our strength from this fellowship because Jesus chose to be a man who expressed his solidarity with the weak and the poor (both in heart and in life). His disciples included fisherfolk and it speaks volumes of what we should be if we ever fondle any hopes of becoming the disciples of Jesus. It is in this context that we should look out to the sea and the land around us, to the people who matter...God's real disciples who sing from their heart inviting true fellowship...

During hard times and good times
When the sun rises and sets in the distance
Only one thing keeps us going
(And) That’s the sight and smell of our mother the sea

In life and in death, this is what we believe and say

Our frustrations and our dreams
Start and end with our mother the sea
All senses of our humanity
Are captured in the essence of the salt n’ (the) sea

In life and in death, this is what we believe and say

What our mother gives, she takes
Still we honour and respect her in full scale
Knowing we benefit by the natural way
Where humans and nature work together in sway

In life and in death, this is what we believe and say

Don’t strip our mother of her rightful place
By encroachments and waste-fills all over her face
Stop trawling when nature passes through the cycle
And allow all creatures to atleast live in the temporal

In life and in death, this is what we believe and say

Let’s come together for once in good sense
To prevent the waters from swallowing our presence
Let’s respect the sea, it’s creatures and one another
Allowing each one the chance for survival

In life and in death, this is what we believe and say

And thus the story goes. True fellowship does not end in a day or in a particular space. True fellowship is this beautiful relationship; between humans, nature, the world and God. True fellowship is not breaking bread for those we know, but for those we have failed to even take note of.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Palm Sunday: The release into ecstasy

Christians around the world commemorate this day as Palm Sunday, in memory of the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Holding up palm leaves and throwing flowers in the air, there are many Christian traditions, who try to relive that moment of faith (history) when the people greeted Jesus on the donkey colt, by collectively shouting ‘Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ Truly a powerful moment. The son of a carpenter, a band of ruffians as followers, a donkey colt as the official carrier, and the crowd of people celebrating a big event. It would have been one of the most un-choreographed moments of a great event. And yet it was a notable and therefore a successful event.

But I wish to look at it from a totally new perspective. I want to travel hundreds of years to the present. To the churches that are spread all over India, and who have the tradition and practice of holding palm leaves and throwing flowers in the air as a reminiscence of the great entry.

I remember the Palm Sunday services in my church, which belongs to the Orthodox church tradition. Both as a deacon (priest assistant) and as a priest I noticed the interesting release of the flowers by the children assembled in church. There were these designated times when everyone was asked to throw the flowers (preferably upwards). From throwing flowers upwards, they started throwing against each other and then towards the priest. The battle cries and the missile like flowers would bring about a hostile environment in which the priest had to read the prayer.

But putting apart the small inconveniences, we have to look at the children who get into the act of the release of their frustrations in church. Even though there are supposed to be other avenues for this, that it does not work becomes clear. So, Palm Sunday helps the children to enter into passion week, putting out all frustrations and anger. Truly, a release into ecstasy, which is one of the aims of religion. So even though the church has a fixed route, the children select their own routes. The solemn service then also becomes fun and adrenalin releasing. Maybe when Jesus entered Jerusalem, this was what the people felt. A release from their usual afflictions and the rules and regulations of the authorities!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I fooled ya!!! April 1

The clear and comfortable morning sleep of two of my friends was interrupted by the same piece of news. A friend had had an accident and it was quite serious. But before they could even comprehend what this meant, the voice on the other side shouted, “April fool.” There was a feeling of being fooled, disgusted but finally with a sheepish smile they finally said, “you got me.”

So it’s April 1st and by now everyone has broken the news of how they fooled whom and what fun it was. Finally most people have taken it in their stride as they have been told clearly to “relax wo/man, it’s a joke.” The dust has settled and the lights will soon go off, the laughter dying off into some corner of the street. But the “I fooled ya” part of the narrative fails to die out.

Signs are a way of leading us somewhere. But we also give various meanings to the same signs. What if I told you that the “I fooled ya” part of our lives is not a one day competition that we attend but a 365 day competition that goes on and on. The elections are a part of everyone’s discussions and politicians are in the arc lights of fame for the moment. There are those who are excited to vote, those who are confused whom to vote for and those who don’t know whether they should vote at all. But after all the excitement and the hope, politicians from several political parties who then fail on their promises, will through various signs tell us “I fooled ya.” Some of us will get it and some won’t. But there will always be enough people who will be misled by these signs.

The April fool syndrome is not only a political reality. It is the same for everything that is connected to money. Therefore even religion follows the same path. After taking people on board and filling their coffers, they are left mid-sea with the same April fool slogan. This year, the month of April is important for Christians because the resurrection of Christ (Easter) will be celebrated. This is preceded by the remembering of the crucifixion of Christ and the pain and passion he went through. In a way it is the reverse of the “I fooled ya” philosophy. It was rather making a fool of oneself that Jesus Christ did. Even though he could turn around from the threat of death, he stood for what he believed in. This “making a fool of oneself” philosophy is inherent in all religions. But this is where we disappoint. We are busy making a fool of other people that we forget that it doesn’t contribute to our community and country in any way. So this time I am trying to struggle with the meaning of “I fooled ya” and “I fooled (made a fool of) myself”.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Emptiness, a deep sense of nothing
A feeling of what is ‘not’
That which stirs and moves
But lies hidden in layers of emotion

A stone on still water
Causing ripples in one direction
What starts ends sooner or later
Stillness and emptiness settles in once more

Emptiness reflects beingness
There’s nothing, which means something
The pain and uneasiness remain
In a place where we have never been

What if I die today?
Will my emptiness go away?
But where will I go today?
Behind my emptiness, with it or leaving it behind today?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

International women’s day. Women as the womb (bread) of life: From the floor to the table

March 8th is being celebrated as the International Women’s Day and women all over the world will get together to do things the way they want it done. To see and let see the way they perceive things. As it comes during the season of prayer and fasting as well, it warrants a Christian response to what this day should then be.

Traditionally women have always been seen as child bearers, as surrogate mothers who help to bring children into the world. Their place has been relegated to a spot which suggests inferiority in comparison with males. The church has never been able to break free of this culture of discrimination and in turn has maintained a male caucus in the form of a halo around the church and its institutions. The bubble (halo) can never be justified and yet it has never been broken because no one has tried to pierce the hollowness it contains.

As we experience (I won’t say celebrate as that would be derogatory to some women who are in constant suffering) the international women’s day it is imperative to suggest a lenten involvement towards the setting right of many wrong’s that have penetrated our society. Fasting and prayer are meant to set right what has gone wrong and therefore we should also set right what is inarguably wrong.

Mother Teresa and sister Alphonso recently have been pushed up to the pinnacle of sainthood and yet these women were never near the table of the Lord, the altar (the holy of holies for Christians). They stood down faithfully on the cold floor waiting for the bread of life to be brought to them. Yet today they have been brought up to glory by a body of men in vestments.

The concept of communion or fellowship among Christians is to come together and partake of the body of the Lord Jesus. It is symbolic and real at the same time. The bread of life is prepared through a process which starts in the field and ends up at the table. So life is inherent and implicit in it. But what about the womb of life present in each woman? The life which begins in communion and ends with the creation of life. Indeed the womb (bread) of life! And yet women are kept at a safe distance. Life is kept away from life!

So this women’s day my prayer is simple. Let us as men move away from the two life giving realities of this world; the bread of life and the womb of life. Let there be a connection and a unification of the floor and the table. Let life meet life.

(Logo from

Friday, March 6, 2009

Don’t just waste yourself. Rather, manage your waste!

As lent and fasting gather steam and surge ahead as part of the Christian calendar, some people already look tired and even sport beards as part of their piety. The thought during lent and fasting is also one of wasting ourselves, by not eating and sometimes following a strict diet. It also brings about a belief that by doing this we are purifying ourselves inside. Well and good I would say.

But in our quest to find new meaning in an old custom we should also look at different ways of seeing the same thing. In the series of thoughts that we have already been introduced to, we then have to understand one more thought. This is the thought that we have to manage our waste and purify the environment rather than only concentrating on wasting ourselves and thereby purifying ourselves.

The place I come from in Kerala is called Thiruvalla. It is a semi village, semi town which comes under the control of the municipality. In the past twenty years or so, with the changing scenario in the state, as in other parts of the country, and also due to liberalisation and globalisation, numerous changes have come about to the landscape. One of the greatest changes is the huge piles of waste that adorn different parts of the town. The stench coming from this along with the flies pose a health risk to the inhabitants of the town. Add to this the pollution of the water table and what we have is a time bomb right underneath the town. This could be due to several factors.

1. Less space for more people- Due to migration of people from villages and other places, people find themselves staring at a reality of less space in which they are cramped into a certain way of life.
2. A culture of spending- The easy instalments lure and the loans for A-Z have led to a culture of spending on things which are supposed to make our life easy. These are then thrown after use to make space for new models.
3. The proliferation of plastic- Plastic has done what we thought nuclear bombs would do. Silently though powerfully, it has invaded every inch of space and thereby led to adulteration of the soil.
4. Lack of public interest- The struggle to keep up the 9-5 job and the ‘I am not bothered igloo life’ has led to commerce taking over humankind. People don’t have the time or the energy to protest what is happening.
5. Corruption in public office- Maybe we expect too much from politicians and leaders. They are after all only humans like us. Corruption just gets bigger and uglier and money decides and not the people.

When this is what we are facing, our task has to be redefined and reconstituted. Instead of wasting ourselves we have to look at how we can manage the waste we are producing. Can we decrease this, can we say no to plastic, can we take care of most of the waste we produce? Today a few concerned citizens of the town, both men and women are getting together to protest the apathy of the municipality in the management of waste. It is a meaningful protest at a meaningful time. Truly, they are the ones who are making this lent meaningful and worthwhile. Hope the church can also finally free itself from self purification and help in the purification of all.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Slowing down during the great fast

Fasting and controlling one’s diet in all religious traditions is not only a way to appease the God’s and get our individual desires fulfilled but also to evaluate as to where we are going and what we are doing. In this sense we would have to look at our lives and the world we live in and analyse them individually and in tandem.

One of the things that would emerge from such an analysis is the fast way of life that has crept into our scheme of existence. It is not just about the fast bikes and cars, but the whole way of how we look at life itself. Every innovation and invention helps to make life faster and faster. Computer games take us into the level of a speedy, crazy and dangerous virtual reality and prepare us to convert this excitement into the real thing by then using it in our real life settings.

Everything that we have to live with is in this sense fast and furious. We don’t have time to meet each other in person and so we text people and call them on the phone. With the next generation 3G services being offered by phone companies we can even see each other through streamlined video. Everything is brought to the convenience of the screen. We watch beautiful places through the screen because we don’t have the time and patience to go there in person. Our screen then becomes another symbol of our super duper life where time and tide wait for no one.

As our lives are transformed, the products of entertainment follow suit and sometimes even set the trend. Such a product is the 20-20 cricket league which has been such a huge success in India and kicks off it’s second edition in a month’s time. The justification for such a format is that people don’t have time and therefore we should compress things and offer it in a capsule of entertainment with images that will make them glued to the presentation. The game should be so fast that it should be over before we realise it.

But how long can we keep up with the fast and furious talk? After the first 20-20 match of the Indian cricket team’s tour to New Zealand, Dhoni, the Indian captain, was seen telling his team mates that one should also show patience as even twenty overs is a long time. One can’t think that every ball can be hit out of the stadium. It was quite a bit of a revelation from the captain. Wonder if the poster boys of Indian cricket got the point! And even more, wonder whether those sucked in by the 20-20 hysteria got the essence of the 'slow' comment.

The words fasting and fast for me thus refer to something else. It sounds as if we are preparing to be faster and more aggressive in our lives when the essence of a preparation should be to rather slow down and examine our lives and enjoy what the world has to offer. In that sense I would like to say that I am slowing down and not fasting!

(Image from

Friday, February 27, 2009

Every move you make, every step you take… let your daughter free

Every move she made was under my surveillance
Every step she took was onto a choreographed foundation
Every person she met depended on my green signal

She was my child in every sense
Brought into the world with good intention
Bringing name and fame through careful creation

One day she would be married in full celebration
To a man who closed in on my expectations
Leading to everlasting joy and fulfilment

How many times have we heard something like this? Fathers being over protective of their daughters and yet using them for their own gains? Let’s be truthful about it. How many fathers have whole heartedly greeted the news of their wives giving birth to baby girls?

The disappointment would then be converted into over protection and safeguarding of property (as they are sometimes even denied the status of human beings). As soon as someone gives the idea that this ‘property’ can be invested for good income, they are then let loose into the flesh market, movies (where they end up being used as a commodity rather than being taken seriously for their acting talent) and any job where good returns can be expected.

The final major decision will be the one of who the daughter will marry. Even though things have changed drastically, fathers in India still like their daughters to get married to their choice of a groom who will continue the work started by the father.

There definitely needs to be a change in perception and the way women are treated right from their birth to the end of their lives. The season of fasting and prayer also has to bring forth the concept of equality of the sexes in all it’s fullness. The pre-defined concept that boys can take care of themselves and girls need protection and safeguarding has to be replaced by the concept that each individual has it in her/him to decide on what she/he wants to do. And if they need help they are capable of asking.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I know what you did last summer: Sowing guilt and reaping profits

What is the one thing that we find difficult to handle but which resurfaces time after time? The feeling of guilt which comes out when we read something, listen to a talk or watch a programme on T.V. But what happens when this horrible feeling is manufactured in an assembly line, marketed and advertised in the truest professional sense and sold to an unsuspecting public who then have to buy the product which will help them overcome guilt?

This is then the spiritual commodity of guilt which is sown into the minds of the believers and non-believers, leading to the reaping and filling of the coffers of religious institutions. Rather than dwelling on the liberating aspects of equality, love, peace and justice, religious leaders like to dwell on what has gone wrong in the lives of the ordinary person. Even prophetic voices have turned into ‘I know what you did last summer!!’, sending the believer crashing down into the lowest of low’s with drooping shoulders and negative thoughts.

But does it mean that we should not discuss our past and deal with what has happened in our lives? That would also be running away from what and who we are. The effort rather should be to come to terms with ourselves, not judging others, and knowing that we should do things out of genuine love and concern rather than out of guilt and fear. Religion even in this different era is reluctant to let go of the tried and tested model of playing with guilt.

Churches both in India and abroad work up the emotional quotient of people by showing pictures of poor children and their surroundings. People then pay money out of guilt rather than genuine concern. We also get a very skewed picture of spirituality that we can buy ourselves out of this feeling of guilt, by paying huge sums of money to the church. But guilt is not something which can be washed away with pieces of paper. Rather it has to be dealt with on a people to people level at first.

If we feel that we have wronged someone we have to try to talk to that someone and see whether there is an opening for rapprochement. Sometimes this might not be available easily and therefore it is a process of building bridges over a period of time. The record has to be set straight though. It is okay to feel guilty, we are all guilty of various things, guilt wont go away by paying money and we have to try and set things right with those whom we have wronged and thereby come to terms with our guilt.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What we can: The Lenten prerogative

Christians go through a journey of preparation and soberness lying in wait for the resurrection of Jesus, every year. The Lenten season or the fast has been initiated this year again and people all over the world have decided either to not eat till evening, not eat in the morning, not eat meat, or not eat meat, fish and any milk product. Depending on one’s tradition the lent attains a time of what we should ‘not’ do. The list thus spills over to what not to see, what not to speak, where not to go, whom not to meet and what not…

Coming to think of it, lent brings about a sense of what we should abstain from. But is this just a personal commitment and discipline which we undergo to make ourselves healthy (both spiritually and bodily) or is it truly a time when we think of others and help others? In this sense lent could be seen as a time not when we follow a set of rules but a time when we break them! Christianity like other religions has had it’s share of good times and has made an impact in several places, but has it made a change to the skewed understanding of society and has it fought against the manifold discriminations?

In this line of thinking, there are people who need our touch and acceptance. What will our abstinence do for them? How will our list of not to do things help them? Traditionally lent and fasting have also been associated with helping others. But in today’s scheme of things fasting and food control is being sold as a personal benefit to the individual and therefore what everyone should follow. This being the path that the church takes during lent, it is important that we debate the issue of lent and fasting. That is why we should maybe think of lent and fasting as a time of ‘what we can’ do rather than what we can’t.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Amen comrade!!!

Kerala is being blacked out sector by sector and town by town. Every day, whether the sun shines through the cloudy skies, whether tourists with their back packs touch down or not to Trivandrum or Kochi, whether dogs howl at night sensing supernatural engagement, whether liquor shops resemble crowded rock show’s or not, the lights will be culled and the candles will be lit.

Candles have a special place in churches. Apart from the number of candles to be lit and displayed, many church traditions agree that we should light candles as it signifies how we should burn out while we provide light to others. But lighting candles for day time services takes the glitter out of the lighted candles as we cannot concentrate on them.

Just as we thought that the significance and place of the candles would fade out, the communist led government in Kerala introduced the power saving power cuts, also called, load shedding and electricity cut. Families are now put in darkness for half an hour when they light candles and look at them as if they are a new addition. (The same goes with the beauty of watching stars in the sky in the absence of any other light).

Recently I realised that it is not just that the induced electricity cuts have brought back the candles into the limelight, but prayer has also become a part of Christian families. With the onslaught of television soap operas (serials) and reality shows, the folks at home started finding it more and more difficult to find time for prayer. One programme would follow the other and prayer would then go to the back burner.

All that has changed. Now many families time their prayer to the time of the electricity cuts. When the power fails, everyone flocks together like chicks and start praying. It is strange and funny at the same time. The ones who say they believe in the power of prayer, start praying when the T.V. goes dead and the ones who question the existence of God, provide the fillip or the stimulus for prayer. Lal salam…ahem…amen.

Monday, February 9, 2009

You have been sold!

The second auction of the Indian Premier League cricket league was held last week. With the second edition of the league coming close, this was a time for teams to snap up a few players who were not available for auction the first time round. A record amount was bid for two players from England, Kevin Peterson and Andrew Flintoff, with each going for 1.55 million dollars each. As in any auction, the ‘item’ for auction was ‘sold’ to the highest bidder. The rich and the powerful and company honcho’s sat at their respective tables, sipping their respective drinks and eyeing the wares on show.

I cant help drawing comparisons to the slave trade which refuses to go away from the collective psyche of the rich and powerful. The thought that one can buy anything one wants and use it for whatever one wants, re-surfaces in different forms, well disguised to hoodwink the otherwise reasonably alert public consciousness. Has cricket become a gladiator sport, whereby all that happens in the country is forgotten and heroes rise in shallow heights and take the spectators along with them? Has sport become an extension of the commercial plans of corporations and companies?

The commodification of the public space, whereby stadiums let people with longer and deeper pockets to go in and enjoy while the ordinary ones have to struggle to manage a ‘ticket’, as if it is the pass to heaven, is now replacing the concept of open public spaces and parks. So, everything is sold. The players are sold, the tickets are sold, the spectators are sold, we are sold...

Friday, February 6, 2009

Its my right

Many people in India know that we have certain rights because of the fact that we live in a democratic setup. Some of us have learnt this through books and some of us have heard it from others. Regardless of whether we have asked for these rights, we have knowledge of them. But as we grow with the republic that we stay in, our rights start growing with us and express themselves in new ways.

Such is the right to communicate. It is not explicitly mentioned in the constitution, but does find mention through other words. But just like the air we breathe and the water that we drink, it is a right that should belong to us naturally. No government or group should be able to prevent us from being natural, who we are, and thus expressing ourselves.

But look around and one will see that we are being caged and repressed beyond repair, that we are being brought to the point of extinction and death, because if we cannot communicate, cannot talk and cannot express, we cease to exist. Each one of us are thereby coming close to the experience of death and the only reason that we don’t completely breakdown is that we still have small openings through which we can express ourselves, albeit in a small fashion.

So, when we are faced with a situation where our own democratic system becomes an autocratic behemoth and limits expression in the name of security or when right wing groups take over the function of expressing for everyone (whether we like it or not), we have our backs to the wall and are silenced by it all. But we still have a choice. We can either continue our subdued existence with unheard whimpers of displeasure or can ask and demand for what basically belongs to everyone of us, all the people of India and the world. ‘Its my right.’

Thursday, February 5, 2009

From debating conflicts to actions of sense

Doing my theological studies in Bangalore in the United Theological College, has been one of the highlights in my academic life. It was not about discipline, punctuality or anything else that one may associate with studying in such an atmosphere. It was about being real, and learning from various experiences to be real. There were for those who chose to open their eyes, plenty of opportunities to take off the unreal mask that many of us are used to wearing. The problem with these masks is that we then become so comfortable with it, that we never take it off, even in the presence of friends and family.

For the purpose of the stimulation of the mind and to test and develop one’s oratorical skills, we had the option of attending either the hostel general body or the student’s general body. This was a place where we would discuss our problems, sometimes for hours unending, mount a verbal assault on each other and then finally shake hands in mutual admiration. You could call it the parliament of theologians. It was not that every solution was hammered out with ease and every problem would be looked into, but that there was a space for discussion.

Among the many matters that came up for heated discussion was the age old one on ‘water.’ The hostellers had an aqua guard for purifying water before consumption. Ten years ago, this was not the heavy duty one, or the one promising reverse osmosis and sweet tasting water, but one which did ordinary work, in ordinary time. For years, we had used water from it, shared water with one another with not a bother. But the complex question was finally raised. “How can we share this water with students from the family quarters when this is supposed to be only for the bachelor and spinster hostellers”? The question shook everyone out of their slumber and a vociferous debate followed. The pendulum swung from one side to the other. Allegations and counter allegations did the rounds with regional affiliations and sensitivity to the ‘other’ being used. There appeared no solution. Because of water, food became an issue as we had to stop the meeting to have dinner. But this was one issue that could not be done away with a closing argument. Even the two teachers could not do anything.

This day, we got our share of reality bites. We could gauge the different groups we were divided into and the reality that we were not willing to part with the water which we were sharing for such a long time.

Amid the growling stomachs and the ayes and the no’s, one hand was lifted. A very weak one I would say. But silence followed nevertheless, more because everyone would have been tired by then. The hand was followed by a question to the chairperson. The question itself ensured more silence. “Respected chairperson, how many litres does it take before we should change the filter of our aqua guard?” There were whispers in the background and a frenzied calculation followed. “3000 litres, replied the chairperson.” Then the weak hand continued, “That means at a minimum rate of 100 students we use 200 to 300 litres every day. And that means in ten days we would have crossed the 3000 litres limit.” More silence and then, “How long has it been since we changed the filter?” Atleast six months said the chairperson after checking with others. The voice concluded, “That means we are sitting here and fighting over water that isn’t purified anyway? So what is the point?” A few gasps here and there were followed by incessant laughter. The chairperson got up to conclude the heated debate and said, “Shall we pray?”

This was indeed a lesson I learnt and still keep close to my heart. We fight over things which are not there. Land which is not ours, water which comes and goes, religion which appears near yet is so distant. Maybe its time for a bit of sense!