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!