Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mumbai’s Psyche - Excerpt from Never Mind Yaar

Today, we know there is nothing unusual about living with diverse cultures. It is a world wide phenomenon. But there is this other dimension to Mumbai, which makes it so unique. Except for scholars of religions, no other people in so many numbers seem to know so much about the philosophies of different religions. 

The knowledge almost seems to be acquired by symbiosis. If analysed, it may, no doubt, be very superficial and even inaccurate. But borne out of this has been a slight blending of faiths. Thus, it isn't unusual to see, a Parsi lady paying her respects to Sai Baba - offering Indian sweets and praying fervently for all things most human beings pray for (health of a loved one, success in an exam) - without losing her devotion for and prayers to Zoroaster; a non-Buddhist declaring a fast on Thursday out of respect for Lord Buddha; Many Mumbaikars, irrespective of the religion they were born in, believe in putting garlands of Marigold at the entrance to their homes for good luck during Dusshera - the day Ram returned to his kingdom, victorious, after defeating the evil rakshas or demon, Ravan, who had captured his wife Sita; And many believe in the Hindu Goddess of Wealth - Laxmi, (the word is now synonymous with wealth in many an Indian vocabulary) who, it is said, only enters brightly lit places during Diwali.

Rachana - Mrs. D’Costa’s maid - being a very devout Buddhist, celebrated Lord Buddha and prayed to him through the year. But she also went on foot for seven continuous Wednesdays, to attend the ‘Novenas’ at the Church of Mahim, about 5 km from her home.  Over there she prayed to the Virgin Mary to turn her alcoholic, wife-beating husband into a new leaf, which was asking for nothing short of a miracle.

Perhaps it is sights like these - the willingness to gain succour and strength from saints of other religions without feeling one is letting down one's own - that has made Mumbai so unique in the eyes of her residents. And perhaps, that is why, so many of them seem to have this implicit belief in the truly secular nature of their city.

For reviews and more about the book go here  
Excerpt 1

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

India or US?

So many Indians living abroad feel like he did. My fear is this – what if I feel the same? I definitely don’t want to.

An Indian who was living in the States decided he wanted to go back to India and settle there. The family packed up and flew home with hope and excitement in their hearts. Within a year of reaching India, although he had all the trappings of a good life, he went back to the States. It wasn’t the life style that let him down. It was, he felt, the person India forced him to turn into. He was unable to deal with other, less fortunate human beings incessantly tapping him for loans; he was unable to tell whether they were lying or telling the truth with their tales of woe; it was the insensitivity of Indians laughing at the expense of people from other Indian communities; it was having to deal with unadulterated nosiness – for example, people wanting to know his sub caste so that they could fit him into a mould rather than see him as a unique person. He couldn’t handle it and went back to the States, defeated by it all. The article is worth visiting as are the thought provoking comments after. Here's the link -
So many Indians living abroad feel like he did. My fear is this – what if I feel the same? I definitely don’t want to.

Perhaps it doesn’t have to be like that. He dealt with work colleagues, his family, his daughter’s school principal, teachers and the home help and driver. They served a purpose – they were all there, in some form or the other, for him. And he for them.

What if he would’ve sought someone outside of his own or their needs? Would that have made a difference? More to the point, do I think that might make a difference to me? Spending time not only with people I need and who need me but with others who devote their energies to something outside of themselves? With someone who wants to make a difference, who fights to ensure every kid gets a basic education, a meal a day if they attend school, who tries to inform and educate the public on the environment so that the air we breathe, the water and soil we depend on are clean and don’t poison us?

There are many and varied NGOs and charities in India trying to make a difference. People who care. My search for “NGOs in India” resulted in quite a few links – here’s one:  Ask them and they’ll tell you – once we are working for a cause we passionately espouse and meet others who feel as strongly about it, we tend to forget which community or sub caste individual members belong to. Our appreciation is for that individual’s dedication, wisdom, compassion and intelligence. In turn there is something in us that he or she appreciates.

Perhaps if more of us joined NGOs and charitable organisations the way we've joined "India Against Corruption", a movement to fight corrupt politicians who steal from the Indian treasury and get away with it, the more we give our time – as much as we decide we can spare for a cause that benefits others, the more we rise above ourselves, the happier we'll be within ourselves irrespective of where we are. Of late there's been talk of some NGOs using their organisations to convert black money to white. The solution is simple - Don't donate money till you are sure they are above board. Simply donate your TIME.

As Sumedh, the guy who started this introspection  rightly put it, it isn't India. It is us.