Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Kaleidoscope

A conversation between two women. An unlikely conversation.
Two strangers, if people who have something intimate to share can be called strangers. So what if they've never met before.
Inspired in part by a painting by Kasturee Kailash and in part by my slightly morbid, over active imagination.


I am profoundly jealous of you.


And you, you have my disbelief... no not disbelief, incredulity might be a better word.


Why are you incredulous? We are not the same after all.


Maybe even incredulity isn't the right word to convey what I think about you.


You do know that I think you are a fool to have let go of what I desperately crave. I am also thankful that you did. But still...


That is why I am... curious, yes that's more appropriate, curious. Curious to know why you crave it so much.


And I, I have a morbid curiousity to know why you let go of it.


Maybe, maybe we see the same thing but want different things.


Or maybe we want the same thing and see different things... like two people standing on either side of a wall with different wallpapers on both sides.


I wonder which one is real then.


Both. None. I'd probably plump for none. 


We won't ever know which one it was will we?


If there is such a thing as heaven or utopia and all of us reach it, we might.


Till then?


Till then you and I will sit like this. Staring at our portions of the sea, each seeing a different view.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Is religion really a matter of private practice?

Okay today's my day for writing on religion. And I really didn't want to include this in the previous post. So here we go.

There's an age old argument with respect to religious practices and the public space. It's an argument that's constantly brought up by those who do not condone or appreciate public displays of religion (i.e., processions, public pujas, dancing on the roads, so on and so forth). I have to be honest here and count myself amongst those who have regularly used the argument in criticizing the nuisance that a public display of religion causes (PDR let's call it). It goes thus: Religion is a personal thing. Why, oh why can't people practice it within the confines of their homes? Why do they have to bring into the public domain like this, disrupting our lives and causing a nuisance?


I was thinking about this while I was writing the previous post and I realized, there is NOTHING private or personal about religion. There never was. Since the beginning of human civilization, religion has always been social, practiced by groups and used as a tool for exercising power and ordering the group/society.

Most ancient religions (and the ancient roots of modern ones) started as an attempt to come to terms with forces of nature that, at the time, were beyond rational comprehension. As science, evolved to explain those, religion took on the role of higher and higher levels of abstraction, representing causality that we were at a loss of words to explain. From forces of nature to creation, religion has tried to explain all that the science of the day does not have an answer for. It is not coincidence that the first scientists were men and women of religion (across societies).

As religion became more abstract and more and more a matter of belief as opposed to the quest for knowledge, it evolved yet another purpose alongside - that of a tool to create social order and discipline. And so emerged rituals.

Religions, from the time that each of them acquired a critical mass of followers, have always been a tool for co-opting dissent, a way to give legitimacy to power, rule and inequality; a pressure valve to ensure that an essentially unequal society does not collapse into anarchy due to discontent. After all, God's will is a more palatable explanation that survival of the fittest.
So no, religion cannot be practiced in privacy (Spirituality yes. Religion no.)

Whenever I think about religion, I always run around wondering why they engender so much conflict? Especially if one takes a sanctimonious view of religion, the conflict seems to be contradictory and paradoxical to the basic premise of there being a higher good. But see religion, as a tool of power and there are two answers to that question of conflict that I can see (there are probably many more than two).

First, religions have become like higher level individuals, fighting for space and other resources with no meta-religion to order them.

Second, religion is a convenient way of not taking political responsibility for developmental and economic inequality. The rise of Hindutva is a good example. Blame the unemployment of Hindu youth on reservations given to minority communities (never mind the statistical fact that in a country composed of 84% Hindus, the majority of unemployed are likely to be Hindus as well) as opposed to having an informed conversation on the faulty model of economic development that led to burgeoning public sector debt and the absence of a robust, profit oriented private sector to create wealth. (Personal disclaimer: I am not a supporter of the reservation policy of the Indian Government. But the argument against reservations is a different one and I don't want to confuse issues here. For the purpose of how religion is used to abdicate political and democratic responsibility, this example is an eminently suitable one.)


The highly political nature of religion is something, we in our daily lives, never come to realise. We confuse, all to easily, our personal value systems with a society's religious beliefs. The fact that we consider religion to be personal is what endows it with the immense political power that it exercises in the world today. So maybe one answer is to see religion like any other political ideology?

Interactive Voice Response

My friend and I were talking on friday when we came up with this utterly ridiculous line of conversation:

He: Imagine if we could actually call God!
I: We'd get an IVR system
He: Ha! And what would that sound like?
I: For Muslim, press 1
   For Christian, press 2
   For Jew, press 3
   For Buddhist, press 4
   For Hindu, press 5 for further options
   For Confuscian, press 6
   For atheist, press 7
   For I'm feeling lucky, press 0 and talk to the available God.
He: What are the further options under Hindu?
I: For Ram, press 1
   For Krishna, press 2
   For Ganesha, press 3
   If you are a premium subscriber, press 4 to speak directly to Vishnu and press 5 to speak directly to Shiva
   If you have subscribed to our Female goddess service, press 6
   For I'm feeling lucky, press 0 and talk to one of 3 million Gods.
He: hehe
I: Ya, ridiculous isn't it?! How do we come up with these!

Organised religions are a bit like an IVR. We are all clamoring to talk to different operators in the same call center. Much like customer care, the answers are also the same. Why then do we fight?
 

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