Friday, April 18, 2014

Pope Francis

Christians all over the world commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus today, Good Friday.  Jesus, in all probability, did not intend to found a new religion; he wished to reform his own religion, Judaism.  This is the opinion of many well known theologians like Hans Kung.  In his brief history, The Catholic Church [Phoenix Press, 2002], Kung says, “... he (Jesus) did not seek to found a separate community distinct from Israel with its own creed and cult, or to call to life an organization with its own constitution and offices, let alone a great religious edifice.  No, according to all the evidences, Jesus did not found a church in his lifetime.” (page 12)

In Dostoevsky’s novel The Karamazov Brothers, there is a Grand Inquisitor who asks Jesus who appeared in Russia teaching people freedom and love, “Why do you come to disturb us?” 

Will Jesus be a nuisance to the Church and its leaders if he comes again today?  Will the priests seek a way to eliminate him?  After all, wasn’t it the Jewish priests who really got rid of Jesus?

Perhaps, we should not be so cynical.  The latest issue of The Economist carries an article titled The Francis Effect.  The article argues that Pope Francis is doing his best to make the Catholic Church a meaningful religion.  “One of his first decisions,” says the article, “was to forsake the papal apartments in favour of a boarding house which he shares with 50 other priests and sundry visitors. He took the name of a saint who is famous for looking after the poor and animals. He washed and kissed the feet of 12 inmates of a juvenile-detention centre. He got rid of the fur-trimmed velvet capes that popes have worn since the Renaissance, swapped Benedict’s red shoes for plain black ones and ignored his fully loaded Mercedes in favour of a battered Ford.”

There has been some controversy too about the Pope being a socialist of some sorts.  The very mention of words like socialism and communism brings wrinkles on the foreheads of present day intellectuals.  Those ideologies may have become defunct.  But the world cannot go on for long as it is going today, flying on the wings of aggressively acquisitive capitalism.  Someone has to apply the brakes and say, “Slow down, there are more important things which we are missing while rushing thus.”

Can Pope Francis do that?  Isn’t he doing it already?

Maybe, Good Fridays and Easters will become really meaningful hereafter, thanks to the Pope. 

Cycle Arrested


My husband was arrested tonight.  What was his crime?  He used a bicycle to travel from home to his office and back. 

We live in Bhatti Mines, a wild side of Delhi where the jungle mingles with the spiritual.  Bhatti Mines is a reserved forest, strictly speaking.  But the forest has been encroached upon by people of all sorts.  They say that we are encroachers too though we lived here long before the land was declared reserved forest.  They tried to throw us out of here many, many years ago.  We refused to go.  So Sanjay Gandhi, Indira Gandhi’s infamous son, decided to leave this land to us.  Our ancestors called it Sanjay Colony in his honour.  Our ancestors were too illiterate to know what Sanjay Gandhi meant, let alone what his politics meant. 

Today, long after Sanjay Gandhi and his sterilisations are dead, when the land has been declared reserved forest, there are all kinds of religious people who call themselves swamis and babas and gurus that build fences round lands like beggars falling upon whatever they can catch and the government chooses to keep its eyes shut.  No, the government helps them to grab, as far as I know.

I’m an illiterate woman who knows only how to make earthen pots.  The clay in the land becomes the food for my family.  My husband goes cycling to work as a peon in some office beyond Fatehpur Beri, the last place I have ever seen in my whole blasted life.   People tell me that the world does not even begin at Fatehpur Beri.  That’s why I said we live at the end of the world. 

My husband was arrested.  Because he refused to carry his cycle on his shoulder for the sake of a Scorpio to pass by.  He told me that for the past one year the road between Fatehpur Beri and Dera Mode was on repair.  So the traffic remains one way and it crawls. 

One Safari-suit-wala who thinks himself a VIP slapped my husband and said, “Give way, you rascal.”  My husband didn’t understand what was happening.  He turned back to see a Scorpio trying to push its way through the blocked traffic.  Everybody in the Scorpio was wearing a Safari Suit in Delhi’s torrid heat.  Stupid people, said my husband.  They asked me to take my bicycle on my shoulder and stand out of the road so that they could drive another two feet ahead.  This is Delhi, said my husband.  Bastards, trying to get two feet of land from a cyclist. 

My husband refused to take his bicycle on his shoulder.  Does this road belong to you?  He asked the Scorpio-suit-wala.  The suit-wala slapped my husband. 

My husband felt insulted.  He thought that it must be a follower of one the gurus in the area who did this.  Who else would possess such hubris?  He cycled all the way to the particular guru who was holding his Satsang this evening.  There was no Scorpio there. 

But he was arrested.  Why should a cyclist come to a religious gathering?  He was asked.  He explained why he went there. 

Are you sure that the number is DL 3 CAS 4043? The security managing the parking lot of the guru asked him.  He said, “I’m only a semi-literate man.  I don’t have the literacy of the gurus and babas and other great people.  May be, it is not CAS, may be it is CSA.  But it is a Scorpio.”

My husband was fond of numbers.  He could have been an economist if babas and Scorpios had not thrown us out of the main road all the time.

How to get him out of the vicious cycle of the police, the baba and the Scorpio?  I will have to fall at the feet of the baba’s chela, I guess.

PSBased on a real incident. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Jungle Global School


The very sight of his school’s name board, Jungle Global School, filled Raju Skunk with horror.  The school was a place of nightmares for Raju.  “Stinky Skunk,” his companions called him.  They tormented him because of his smell.  Raju had no friends and no one played with him ever.  Even the manager, principal and various deans in the school discriminated against him although discrimination of any sort was against the Constitution of the Jungle Republic.

“Why do we stink like this?” Raju asked his mother.  “Can’t we get rid of this stupid stench and live with dignity?”

“We are skunks,” his mother explained.  “We smell like skunks and it is our birthright to smell so.  It is our duty to smell so.”

Right, yes, Raju could understand that.  He had seen animals fighting for all kinds of rights.  The tigers fought for the right to kill other animals when the Republic wanted to pass the Bill of Vegetarianism.  The foxes had fought for the right to declare sour all the grapes that were not within their reach.

Right, yes.  But duty?  Why should anyone consider it his or her duty to stink like the drains in the cities of human beings?

“It is our lineage, our ancestry, our culture…”  Mother used a lot of words which Raju couldn’t really grasp.

One day when Raju was sitting on a rock scratching it with a stone and looking dejected, the wise owl came and sat on a tree branch nearby. 

“Do you want to change your smell?” asked the owl.

Raju looked up surprised.  “How did you know my problem?” asked Raju.

“It’s not for nothing that we are considered wise creatures in western countries,” said the owl.  “There’s a Jungle Beauty Parlour at the end of that trail,” the owl pointed with her claw.  “You can get your smell changed there.  You have to pay, of course.”

Raju Skunk thanked the wise owl and went home to collect all the pocket money he had saved. 

In an hour’s time Raju Skunk was smelling like roses.  And then a lot of friends gathered round him at school.  His social network profiles were flooded with friend requests.  Matrimonial sites sent him emails asking him to register himself.

The manager and the principal of the school presented him on the stage as the ideal student.  The various deans showered much adulation of varying types on Raju Skunk.  The dean of academics gave him free formats on how to study each subject, how to read novels, how to read poetry, how to read even the Jungle News...

“What’s this stupid smell?” asked Mother Skunk as soon as Raju Skunk reached home. 

“It’s me, mom,” said Raju.  He explained how he got the new smell.

“What nonsense!”  Mommy Skunk fumed.  “How can you smell like a rose and be a skunk?  A rose is a rose and a skunk is a skunk...”

“Mom!,” said Raju Skunk, “gone are those days.  Culture, ancestry, lineage... these are words we can throw in whenever we want to bluff some creatures.  The world is moving towards one culture, a global culture.  Everyone will have the same kind of dress, the same smell, the same looks...  We will be given blueprints for thinking, for breathing, for eating...”

Mommy Skunk stared at her son.  There was a sense of déjà vu in that stare.  Her husband who had gone to collect a family Visa for emigrating to a better jungle in Africa had spoken in a similar vein.  Maybe, there’s much that I’m yet to understand, she sighed.  Then she embraced Raju though a frown spread on her face due to the filthy smell that her son had acquired.  “I’ll get used to this smell,” she sighed.

Acknowledgement: Inspired by John Updike’s story, Should the Wizard Hit Mommy?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Pearls and ... bullies


Mollusc (mollusk, in American English)
Little Johnny went as usual to his grandma when he was bored of everything else.  Grandma would tell him interesting stories.  Johnny was carrying his mother’s latest pearl necklace that came free with the saris she had ordered online. 

“Pearls,” said grandmother fondling the necklace.  “Shall I tell you the story of pearls today?

Johnny was excited.  Do pearls have a story too?

Yes, they do, said grandma.  A great story.  Do you want to hear it?

Of course, Johnny was all ears. 

Pearls are found inside the body of creatures living in the oceans, started grandma.   Shell fish.  Molluscs.  They are extremely tender creatures.  Like the soft boys and girls you may see at school.  Do you see such boys and girls?

Yes, there are some.  Johnny agreed. 

What happens to them?  Asked grandma.

Boys bully them.

Exactly, said grandma.  Bullying becomes an acute problem if you are very soft.  The molluscs are too soft for this world.  So the nature gave them a protection.  They have a very thick and hard cover outside their soft body.  If you see the molluscs with their hard shells you will think what horrible creatures they are.  But, in fact, they are the most delicate creatures in the ocean.  So delicate that they have to live inside their thick shells all their life. 
How boring!  Exclaimed Johnny. 

Yes, agreed grandma.  Very boring life.  Who likes to live jailed within thick walls?  Everybody loves freedom.  Everybody wants to venture out beyond one’s limits.  The molluscs too do the same.  The urge to open up their shells becomes very strong.  And they open up.  What happens then?

Some bully comes and bullies, said Johnny.

Exactly.  Grandmother fondled Johnny’s lovely cheeks.  Bullies abound in the world.  Even simple dust particles can be bullies for a mollusc.  Some such particle enters the shell of the mollusc when it is opened up.   You know, whenever you go out into the open spaces out there, this is a risk that you run.  Some filth may enter inside you.

Virus, said Johnny.  He had a computer class that day at school.

Yes, viruses are just waiting to enter inside you.  That’s how the world is.  And they enter the shell of the mollusc when the mollusc only wants to enjoy some freedom in the sea.  But any little speck that attaches itself to the delicate body of the mollusc is like a thorn that enters your body. 

Pearls - as imagined 
Ouch!  Johnny knew how painful it is to have a thorn in his flesh.  He had them piercing his body occasionally when he entered the rose garden.  He could imagine what it would be like to have one of those thorns sitting inside your body.  His imagination had not yet been ruined by his school which would eventually give him rules for everything including how to read a newspaper.  But Johnny was too young for reading newspapers.

Once the speck enters the shells close, grandma continued.  The shells are a defence mechanism, you know.  But the speck inside becomes a terrible pain.  What do you do when you have pain?

Apply the balm, said Johnny.  He had seen grandma applying the balm frequently in different parts of her body.

Exactly, said grandma hugging Johnny.  The shell fish applies a balm.  It secretes body fluids.  Your father once told me that the scientists call the body fluids by some names like aragonite and corichiolin.  But the names don’t matter.  They are the tear drops of the shell fish’s body.  The shell fish cries in pain.  And its body sheds tears.  The tears form an enveloping layer round the thorn in the flesh.  But one layer is never enough for the pain to subside.  So the shell fish, the mollusc, continues to shed tears.  More and more liquid layers are added.  These layers become solid as they are laid.  Many, many layers of such pain balm become ...

... the pearl, Johnny completed the story with brilliance in his eyes. 

Yes, said grandmother.  Pearls are formed... ok, you tell me, what did you learn from the story?

We have to cry a lot if pearls are to be gained, said Johnny.

Grandma smiled.  Tears were always a part of her stories.  And Johnny knew it in his own childish way.

Pearls cannot be created, said grandma paraphrasing Johnny, without a lot of pain. 

Acknowledgement: I’m indebted to Maggie (my wife) for this story.  Last Sunday (Palm Sunday, for Christians) she visited the local church after a long time.  Her job never gave her time to attend the church.  But she was excited that the system had changed and she could now attend the church every Sunday starting from the Palm Sunday .  She had invited me too.  But churches and temples don’t appeal to me except for their architecture.  Maggie came back from the church and told me the story of the shell fish.  The “Father” (priest) had narrated it in his sermon.  Probably, Maggie wanted to tell me that my present situation was good enough to produce some pearls J  The grandmother and Johnny are the only pearls I could add to Maggie’s (her priest’s) story. 

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