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!)