A few years ago, a conversation with the wrong person, about learning music, included the following exchange –

You’re learning the violin? Dude, why don’t you learn the guitar, it’s so cool and easy. It has a ‘youthful touch’ to it,” the guy ignorantly suggested while making a jeering mockery of the Indian solfège.

Do you even know how many strings a guitar has?” I asked him, conspicuously annoyed.

The conversation ended with no resolution of the question of the ‘youthful touch’ he so animatedly advertised. ‘Youthful touch’? What the hell did he even mean by that? I wonder, to this day! Back then, taking pictures with a guitar, holding it in ridiculous positions to look ‘cool’, was a fad. Also, it turned out, he didn’t know squat about music. If he really were learning the guitar and understood the nuances of learning the instrument, he wouldn’t have quacked the way he did. Anyway, shocked as I was, I began to wonder – Why is it so hard for people to understand that learning any musical instrument is an unforgiving challenge if you do not have the aptitude for music and the right attitude towards learning? Why do they think that one instrument is easier to learn than the other just because they think it has a more ‘modern design’?

Guitar & Violin

Guitar & Violin – Kins in Beauty

To those who think the guitar is more modern than the violin, hence scores higher on the ‘cool’ factor, I have news for them – The modern classical guitar also has a long history of more than a thousand years and what’s more, its earliest relatives travelled to Europe from Central Asia, Persia and India (Yes, you read that right!). The Sitar, which developed independently in India during the Mughal period, is also a distant cousin of the Guitar. Ever noticed the remarkable similarities in the names and the structure of a modern guitar and the Sitar? Saying all this, the point I intend to drive at is, no instrument is ‘cooler’ or ‘better’ than the other. Every instrument poses very different challenges to its players, who sculpt their styles to overcome them, thus establishing their own musical idioms. That’s what makes a great musician. I implore everyone not to reduce this delightful art form into a battle of the ‘cool’ and the ‘uncool’!

I have a bone to pick with those who claim that one style of music is ‘greater’ or ‘more beautiful’ than the other. There is a reason why scholars and artists call music a ‘universal language’, as clichéd as it might sound. Every human, every single one of us, responds to music in one form or the other. The extremely precise mathematical patterns and the harmonic symmetry in music make us that much more receptive to it. We are all naturally predisposed, thanks to evolution, to respond to beauty and symmetry in every form – visual, acoustic or even abstract. The physical and biological parameters under which humans perceive beauty and symmetry are the same for every individual. Everyone will undeniably perceive a tonic and a dominant fifth played together or in quick succession to be beautiful or at least in harmony, if not anything else. The tonic is what we Indians call ‘Sa’ (short for ‘Shadjamam’ or ‘Kharaj’) and the dominant fifth, ‘Pa’ (short for ‘Panchamam’ or ‘Pancham’). This ubiquity of harmony and symmetry in music has everything to do with biology and Nature’s mathematics and nothing whatsoever to do with social or cultural attributes. The only role of culture is to mold these sounds into a collage that exudes the uniqueness of the society in which they blossom. So, one style of music patronized by royalty in one part of the world, isn’t any better or worse than another style that developed thousands of miles away, in the remote sun scorched wastelands of a desert!

Sheet Music in Mozart's Handwriting

Sheet Music in Mozart’s Handwriting

There exist diversified opinions about the role of religion in the patronage and promotion of music throughout history. While it cannot be denied that religious institutions and ideologues have been some of the biggest patrons of music in the past, it would be wrong and squarely insulting to the composers to say that if it weren’t for religion there wouldn’t be any music at all. Indeed, composers of yore drew inspiration from religious ideas and concepts, but surely it was their skill and genius that produced the masterpieces. Mozart started playing the keyboard at the age of four and began composing by five and at nine, wrote his first symphony. Thyagaraja started composing at thirteen. At such an age, the spur of creativity certainly cannot be ascribed to religious inspiration. It would be an affront to human creativity and ingenuity to suggest that if it weren’t for religion there wouldn’t be patrons of art or inspiration for art.

Nature has always served as an alternative muse for artists and musicians. In fact, it gave them a wider canvas on which to create their masterpieces. Societies and their quirks can evoke music and art. Also, for a long time, particularly in dark-age Europe, secular art and music were widely discouraged, lest one should fall out of favor of the Holy Mother Church! Notwithstanding, folk traditions evolved across all cultures without large scale religious interference. They were largely non-religious in nature and retained the pristine rustic charm of the culture in which they flourished and therefore, struck a chord with the common man. This was in tandem with the structurally and pedagogically rigid, heavily patronized and monopolized systems we call Classical music. People often seem to forget that music has had very mundane, non-divine and secular beginnings.

Tanpura

Tanpura – The Drone of Bliss

Nature is an enormous musical library. In the animal kingdom, a staggering variety of sounds serve various purposes. Birds like larks, some birds of paradise, great tits* (Sleazy, I know. But that’s what they’re called. Now grow up!) sing in long intricate syllables to mark their territories and attract mates. Among mammals, the humpback whale and some other species of whales sing long elaborate song-like patterns to woo potential mates – the longer and more innovative their songs, the better their chances of landing a life-long mate. Other mammals like dolphins, bats and elephants produce an entire spectrum of sounds to communicate and navigate. Some higher order mammals, esp. primates like Siamang gibbons and chimpanzees, live in small family groups and draw their borders by calling out to neighbors and other groups in semi-rhythmic patterns.

Being social primates, we humans began to live in larger groups for safety. There is a general consensus within the scientific community that territorial demarcations by the first humans were also made by singing in large groups – the larger the group, the greater the need for harmony. Therefore, we began to develop simple but perfect rhythm patterns to harmonize. These led to certain synchronized body movements, thus laying the foundations for dance. In a social context, singing in groups helped a great deal in forging strong social bonds and establishing group solidarity. It triggered the limbic system of the brain, thus enabling us to ‘experience’ rather than to just listen and respond. Many scientists also believe that we began to sing even before we began to speak. There were stalactites found in some caves, showing signs of erosion caused by drumming, suggesting usage as percussion instruments or as an early form of the xylophone. The earliest and simplest melodic instruments, apart from the human voice, may have been reed-pipes and bone flutes (c. 40,000 BCE). Songs and dance were – and still are – used for sexual selection as well. Every culture, without exception, has developed some form of music. In the words of David Attenborough, the legendary naturalist, “It’s as if we weren’t human without music”. Music served a very pragmatic purpose in the course of our evolution and eventually threw open the flood-gates to our creativity.

Humpback Whale - The Singer of the Seas

Humpback Whale – The Minstrel of the Sea

As human societies diversified, so did their music. Like earthly life-forms, music took its own course of evolution in each society, changing and adapting to novel social and geographic stimuli, developing into new styles, genres etc. Thanks to technology and an unprecedented exchange between cultures, the twentieth century saw the greatest revolution in the stylization of music. More genres and styles of music were born in the twentieth century alone than in all of recorded human history. The old began to embrace the new and coexist or change or blend with it. With new paradigm changes came new music that constantly redefined beauty. This revolution in music also revolutionized human expression to an extraordinary degree and will continue to do so. These changes in music are as natural and progressive as any other, such as in language, in other forms of art or in society itself, as a whole. Every style of music must either adapt to its environment or die out, as did many in the past. Unfortunately, there are no fossils in music. The unpreserved music of the ancients can only sound as good as the speculation surrounding it. Recreating it is a hard game of intelligent guessing. But music today, in sharp contrast, has any number of means of preservation. It can be heard and appreciated in its original form, a hundred or even a thousand years from now – a privilege granted by technology.

Changes in music are inevitable, whether we like it or not. Most of us have gladly taken them in our stride, but then there are those that refuse to accept changes and stubbornly argue against them. Their myopic views of a perfect musical style are predicated upon a warped sense of grandeur, that hides behind the veil of a delusional and divisive old school of thought. The frustration resulting from the sheer magnitude of logical fallacies in their arguments is beyond description. Compounding the problem is their steely resolve and stern refusal to acknowledge those fallacies. My appeal to them (prostrating) – if you cannot appreciate the spate of changes and the bursts of creativity in musical expression, then please step aside and allow those who do appreciate them to step ahead. You are entitled to your opinion and are welcome to grope around in the darkness of your ignorance, but you have no right to restrain others within your dungeon of intolerance. We must all realize that a note with a frequency of 261.626 Hz will sound the same, whether you call it ‘Sa’ or ‘Safed Ek’ or ‘Kattai One’ or ‘Middle C’ or just simply ‘C’! Convenience dictates nomenclature and there’s nothing more to it. Rephrasing the BardWhat’s in a name? That which we call a ‘C’, By any other name would sound as sweet. Please, do not ruin the sweetness by dipping it into your bitter and desperate need for identity.

I wish to conclude this post with a quote and, of course, a couple of songs from various genres –

Where words fail, music speaks. 

–  Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75 )

(“Mokshamu Kalada” – Saramathi Raga – Adi Talam – One of my favorite Thyagaraja krithis, in which the saint asks if a person, without the knowledge of music, is capable of attaining ‘Moksham’. Rendered by BOMBAY JAYASHREE)

(“Khabaram Raseeda” – A qalaam (poem) by the medieval Sufi mystic Amir Khusro Dehlawi (1253-1325 CE). It switches between Farsi (Persian) and Hindavi (an early recognizable form of Hindustani [Hindi/Urdu]). It is about a devoted lover laying herself at the mercy of her master (lover) and begging to be noticed. This qalaam was tuned and sung in Raga Bageshri (the same in both Carnatic and Hindustani). Rendered by FAREED AYAZ and ABU MOHAMMED)

(“Scarborough Fair” is a traditional ballad of Great Britain. The song relates the tale of a young man who instructs the listener to tell his former lover to perform for him a series of impossible tasks, such as making him a shirt without a seam and then washing it in a dry well, adding that if she completes these tasks he will take her back. Often the song is sung as a duet, with the woman then giving her lover a series of equally impossible tasks, promising to give him his seamless shirt once he has finished. Rendered here by SIMON AND GARFUNKEL)

(“Kashmir” – One of my all-time favorites and one of the first classic rock songs I ever heard. My brother takes the credit for introducing me to ‘English Music’ – as I fondly called all songs foreign – that opened my window to music from outside of India. In this song, I absolutely love the strings section, apart from the guitars. Needless to say, this song entirely and solely belongs to the legendary LED ZEPPELIN)

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PS: All religious fanatics and ultra-traditionalists who think that music and dance are a distraction caused by the Devil/Evil One/whosoever the hell it is, that leads humans away from the ‘True Path’ and by virtue of which, they think that they are empowered to suppress others’ creativity, can kindly take their religious DUNG and SHOVE IT! Religions and belief systems that seek, by dogma, to stifle human expression, creativity and intellect are not worthy of reverence or respect in any measure.

PPS: * Whoever thought of naming an entire family of birds after breasts, or was it the other way round? I Wonder!

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Images Courtesy:

The Violin and GuitarMozart’s Sheet MusicTanpura Humpback Whale 

Continued from Part I

“Uuh! Alright. I’ll be there. I was in the middle of an ‘über-romantic, hyper-sensual sleep engagement with my beautiful, stinking rich wife, while my pet thousand-hooded snake acted as our bed’. But, no matter! This is an emergency. She’ll understand. She’s used to me popping in and out of home at will anyway.”

The demon was behind Shiva like a starving cat chasing a mouse, in this case, ironically, it’s vice versa! Shiva ran and ran. He had gained quite a head-start when he noticed that, at a distance was a divinely beautiful woman, with a seductive wobble in her gait, daintily walking towards him. So enchanting was her beauty that, the epitome of asceticism that he is, even he couldn’t resist a flirtatious gesture.

“Greetings, O Lovely one! What did the four-headed Creator put in you to make you so fiiiiinnnneee!” he flirted.

“DUDE!!” she said in a man’s voice, ”It’s me!”

“V?” shocked. “Is this really you?”

“Yes. I’m here to distract and possibly trick that maniac into doing something stupid!”

“O Maaan! Had you not spoken in that voice, I don’t know how far I’d have gone!”

“With that cheesy pick-up line? I’d say, not even the next few steps. So, dream on, buddy! Anyway, get out of here before you blow my cover. I hear him closing in. See you on the other side.”

“Thanks a ton V! You truly are a savior! I owe you one. BIG TIME!! And maaan! Aren’t you a thing of beauty? And boy, are you going to be a joy forever!! Phew!”

“Dude!! Seriously, that is so below-the-belt! And NO! It ain’t happenin! Now, GO! And yes, you owe me one, BIG TIME!”

Shiva immediately took cover and started to peek from his hiding place. He wasn’t going to miss all the action.

Vishnu lecherously called out to the approaching demon. Horny as all demons are, Bhasmasura was no exception. So bewitched was he that he completely forgot who he was after and followed the enchantress like a love-struck puppy, drooling all over the place.

Bhasmasura succumbs to Mohini's charms

“Sooo, who are you chasing after, so tirelessly? Hmmm?” she asked in a seductive voice.

“You, of course! I was chasing you. Who else would I go after? Haaaaaaaa”, mesmerized.

“Me? Why? You don’t even know my name.”

“To marry you, of course, and when did demons start inquiring about names to get married? We like someone, we take ‘em! No questions asked!”

“Aaah! Marry me, you say? Playing around is fun, but marriage? I’m Mohini, the enchantress, and I don’t just give myself to any man…err…demon that comes by, you know. I want a man….damn!…demon who can dance like me, or better. Can you dance?”

“Well, I do jive and swing about from time to time, but one can hardly call that ‘dance’. Perhaps you can teach me. What say you, mio amore?”

“Oooh! A polyglot, I see! I like that in a man…..crap!…..demon. Now, let’s get you dancing, shall we?”

“I’m all yours, my love!”

She had the dumb demon completely under her spell. He mirrored every one of her moves, right from the basic mudras to non-dance activities like scratching, sneezing, swatting flies and the like. As the lessons progressed, her enchantment worked like an opiate. Finally, in one of her moves, she placed her palm on her head to stroke her hair. Bhasmasura, under the spell and in an absolute lapse of level-headed judgment, did the same. Even before he realized what he had done, he just went up in smoke, leaving a pile of ash right where he stood!

Mohini called out to Shiva in a man’s voice. ”There! All done! You can come out now. I’ve made you some fresh ash to adorn.”

“Thank you V! Thank you sooo much! I don’t know what I’d do without you. How will I ever repay you?” a grateful Shiva said as he knelt down to collect the ash.

“Well, for one, you could keep your word and come to my aid when I need it the most”, Vishnu said as he regained his real form.

“Of course, man! Anytime, anywhere, in any form. You need just utter my name!”

“How about – in the Treta Yuga, in Kishkindha, as Hanuman, the son of Anjana Devi and Vayu, as the leader of the army of apes?”

“Sure! No pr……wait a minute! Did you just say leader of an army of ‘Apes’?”

“Yeah? Is that a problem?”

“You want me to turn into a ‘monkey’?”

“Dude, I changed my sex, flirted and almost married a demon to save your skin. This is the least you can do! Come on, be a sport.”

“Fair enough!”

“Alright then! If our work here’s done, then it’s time we got back to our wives before they turn you into a pile of ash and me into a pile of ‘Thirumann‘!”

“Oh yes, of course! Let’s go! Brilliant dance moves, by the way. Some were exceptionally graceful. Never knew you could dance like that. Really, WOW!!”

“Thank you! I appreciate it. Especially, coming from the Lord of all dances! I was thinking I’d call it ‘Mohiniyattam’. What do you think?”

’Mohiniyattam’ ? Hmmm….Sounds trendy and at the same time, exudes ethnic beauty and charm, in keeping with the geography of the region we’re in. I like it.”

“Good! It’s settled, then. ‘Mohiniyattam’ it is. You know, these were the same moves with which I distracted these demons after the churning of the ocean of milk. As always, they couldn’t have been more boneheaded.”

“Aaah! Clever! I did issue a caveat to this guy before I gave him the boon, but I’d say he had it coming. ”

“In your haste, you seem to have forgotten your bull. You need a ride back home? My eagle can take two.”

“Sure, thanks!”

The two mounted the mighty eagle, Garuda and off they flew. A conversation ensued as they took off.

“Hey, out of curiosity. What’s with all the ‘monkey’ business?” Shiva asked, as the eagle took off.

“Well, you know, a boon-infested demon terrorizing the world, a savior crown prince and his faithful clique to the rescue. To add spice, the prince’s newly wed wife gets napped by the demon. This is the story I have in mind. What do you think?”

“Interesting, but where do I come in?”

“You’re one of the faithful clique. As a matter of fact, the most powerful and the most dedicated one and….ahem…ahem…celibate.”

“A faithful clique of monkeys is weird enough, and I’m to be the most powerful and dedicated but ‘celibate’ monkey? Really? Man!! I just hope it’s all worth it. Only Brahman knows what you’re up to.”

“No, he doesn’t. Hehehehe!” he chuckled, flaunting a naughty grin.

Thus were sown, the seeds for the events in one of the greatest stories the world has ever heard or read, making for one of the greatest works of literature the world has ever known – The Ramayana. Of course, this is also the legend behind the birth of one of the most graceful, exquisite and visually appealing classical dance forms – Mohiniyattam. These myths, tales and legends have been told and retold millions of times over thousands of years in a million different versions, all taken with a pinch of salt. This is my version with a sprinkle of imagination, and a dash of fun!

Image courtesy: Bhasmasur-Mohini

He was about to wrap himself around his wife in a carnal embrace after an aeon-long dance of love, when he felt a tingling, a silent whisper in his ear, like someone’s calling out to him. The next thing his wife knew, he had vanished into thin air!

“ALRIGHT NOW! What the hell was so important that you had to pull me out of an über-romantic, hyper-sensual dance engagement with my lovely wife, which I had planned for over a thousand years! This had better be worth it, or else!” an annoyed Shiva, the Supreme Destroyer of the worlds asked a penance-beaten demon, Bhasmasura.

“err…err….well….O Lord! I….I…”

The Ash Demon

Bhasmasura

“Well? I did not come all the way from Kailasa to listen to a dimwit demon stutter. I have better and more pleasurable things to do. Now, out with it! What is it that you want?”

“Well, my Lord! I was wondering…..err….if….I could be granted that boon….of…….err….”

“Don’t you dare! DON’T YOU DARE SAY ‘IMMORTALITY’! Are you really trying to get me to open my third eye? Huh? You really want me to? I will if you push me.” visibly miffed beyond a mortal’s comprehension.

“Alright, I’m sorry. Is a demon not entitled to a wishlist?”

“Don’t you know that immortality isn’t mine to give or yours to take? It’s something your brothers from the other mother won in a fair gamble! You and your brothers, on the other hand, flaming imbeciles that you are, just didn’t see it coming.” he sneered.

“Fine! Enough with the insults already! GOD!!”

“YOU call me out here, in the middle of nowhere, and for goodness knows what, and then you go on and take my name in vain? Are you really trying to piss me off? Do you want me to stab you with my omnipotent trident, with a celestial omniglot damarukam tied to it? Now, stop yawping about what I said and just tell me what you want.”

“Alright, alright! If immortality is out of the window, then grant me this wish…”

“What?”

“That any person on whose head I place my palm, must instantly combust to a pile of ash!”

“What?! You know what, I’m not even going to ask why. You bonehead demons beg for the weirdest of boons and then die in the weirdest of ways on account of them. Don’t you people ever learn? Anyway, let’s just get it over with!” saying this, he swirled his right hand in the air to reveal a blob of bright light which flew across and blended itself into the demon. He then cursed under his breath, “I can’t believe I left Kailasa at the most crucial moment of passion for a load of this nonsense! I wish I could curse him instead……” He suddenly noticed the demon come at him with his hand raised in a Nazi salute.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!!! Wadda hell are you doing?”

“Well, as a ‘boon’stumer, I’m entitled to test the quality of my boon, aren’t I?”

“On the bestower? Are you out of your bloody mind? How dare you threaten to test it on ME? I am one of the Trinity! All the fourteen worlds would annihilate themselves for one of our boons. The three of us bestow the best boons in the business!”

But Bhasmasura wasn’t one to be convinced by a mere advertisement of the mouth. He insisted on testing it despite a quality assurance certificate from the Boon Regulatory Authority of the Confederated Brahmaandas, which all boons from the Trinity carry in order to avoid litigations and other legal entanglements later, from the chaste and devout wives of the demons, however ironic as it may sound. Bhasmasura relentlessly charged towards Shiva in an attempt to put to test, his newly attained power. In a supremely ironic twist of fate, the Supreme Destroyer of the worlds was forced to run for his own life. And thus began the chase.

Shiva, without losing a moment, telepathically screamed out for help to the Preserver of the worlds and his closest friend, the dark hued Vishnu.

“DUUDDEE! HELP!! Paahimaam, Paahimaam!!” Shiva screamed.

“Hello! Who is this? I can’t hear you and your voice is breaking up. Could you please speak up a bit louder?”

“Hello? It is I, Shiva, The Destroyer. Can you hear me?” Panting.

“Oh! Heeeyy!! Many Namaskarams! Long time no see! How be the three-eyed god and his emerald hued wife?”

“The wife is just fine. I, on the other hand, am being chased by my death!”

“What? Where? Why? By whom?”

Shiva told him the whole story and then –

“Dude! You have to come and get me or this maniac is sure to turn me into a pile of stuff that I wear on my body, only this time there isn’t going to be a body and the ‘stuff’ is going to be ME! So, please, hurry up!”

 

To be continued…

Image Courtesy: milkmiracle.net

एकं सद्विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति |(Ekam sadvipraa bahudhaa vadanti)” – Rg Veda, Mandala 1, Sukta 164, Rk 46

The Existent is One, but the sages express it variously”

Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” – The Holy Bible, Book of Deuteronomy 5:6

Lâ Ilâha Illallâh, Muḥammadur Rasûlullâh” – ‘The Shahada’ – Muslim Declaration of Belief

There is no god but God (Allah) and Mohammed is His Messenger”

These are the interpretations of the world’s three largest schools of thought, of the existence of the ‘One‘, whom each of them calls by a different name(s). Through canons of doctrines called ‘scriptures’, they talk of His omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience and tirelessly sing praises in His glory. Nine in ten people around the world happen to believe in Him and adhere to one of hundreds of precepts like the ones above. They all think of Him as the ultimate and the only truth and call Him GOD. These schools of thought are what the world calls Religions. And these Religions, apart from describing and vaguely defining an abstract idea of a supreme power/being that is beyond the comprehension of the extremely limited human faculties of perception, also speak volumes, quite literally, on norms and rules of human conduct. These norms and rules, they claim, discipline human life and give purpose and meaning to it. Thus, Religions have transformed from being schools of thought into systems of belief, each claiming to be brightening the right path to the ultimate truth.

OM

After writing that heady, philosophical kickoff, a question lingered at the back of my mind – Do we really need to instill a fear of some supremely incomprehensible super-human power/being in order to establish discipline and make our lives more meaningful? Far from finding an answer, I stumbled upon a slew of more unanswerable questions. In medieval Europe, so much as a thought leading to such questions would have committed me to the stake and placed me on Hell’s menu as an exotic ‘Heretic’ or an ‘Apostate’ or an ‘Infidel’ from the East! But, thankfully, in a more tolerant world of today, I’d only be judged as an ‘Atheist’ or a ‘Non-believer’ or perhaps an ‘Agnostic’ for being confused. But, I hate being typecast and thrown into such categories which by themselves have sectarian undertones. Let me assure you that I am none of the above, nor am I a blind believer leaving no scope for an argumentative, skeptical view-point. Expressing skepticism and argumentativeness over established religious dogmas has claimed the lives of many a great thinker in the past. Even today, although such extreme punitive measures are rare or non-existent, such thoughts and acts are still not encouraged. But at least, we are at liberty to explore these aspects of questioning and learning and thus nurturing that fundamental human urge to know. I think inquiry and skepticism are the two keys to all knowledge.

Since the dawn of civilization, Religion, despite all the rationales behind its establishment, has divided the human society and stratified it more than unite. Ironically, it served as the reason for humans losing touch with humanity and humaneness. The thought of one’s beliefs being superior to another’s has spawned conflicts and history bears witness to their terrible outcomes. Kingdoms, empires and nations have risen and fallen to the whims of faith and altered the course of human history several times. Religion has wrought havoc on earth by breeding radical, intolerant, fundamentalist ideologies. People have slaughtered one another in the name of the one supreme being who, ironically, dictates that killing another human being is tantamount to sacrilege and is punishable with eternal damnation in the fires of Hell or being born as a parasite in the next life or some other penalty, as the ‘faith’ may be! Do we have to brainwash a person with these ‘consequences’ in order to enlighten him to the fact that killing is wrong and unnatural? Do we really need that fear of the divine to scare us from wrongdoing? Don’t we, as humans, possess that faculty to judge right from wrong without the intervention of divinity? Can we not be humane without factoring in something or someone from outside the known universe into the equation of human existence? Have we not evolved or learnt enough to understand that an omnipotent, supernatural being is a superfluous concept in the context of a modern human life?

Crucifix

Another aspect where religion amazes me to no end, is in its claims on creation and sustenance and their absolute disconnect from reality. Religion fails to provide any amount of credible evidence to substantiate its claims and any attempt to question this failure is regarded as arrogance and in many cases, a sin punishable by death. We are expected to believe everything without dispute or reason. Therefore, Religion meets its nemesis in Science, which is skeptical of anything that cannot be proved by logical reasoning and rigorous empirical processes. Science today, is taking quantum leaps into the future, what with the radical change in the way people think and perceive. This is the age of reason. In this age, should we still believe that the Universe was made in six days by a long bearded man seated on a colossal throne surrounded by extremely good-looking men and women with wings, and that they all rested on the seventh day OR that a four-headed, four-armed man born on a flower sprouting from the navel of another four-armed, dark-skinned man reclining on an enormous thousand-hooded snake, created the Universe? My answer would be an emphatic and resounding NO! These are wonderfully imaginative narratives, rife with people, magic, strange beings and creatures, but not textbooks on Astronomy! They are a testament to the prowess of human imagination, but not evidence of reality. These tales certainly cannot replace ‘The Big Bang Theory’ or ‘Theory of Evolution’ in schools. Sure, the belligerent might bawl saying ‘O they’re just theories and nothing more!’ Well, yes they’re theories, and as required of a theory, they’ve been tested and re-tested over and over again and have been proved, time and again, to be most accurate and progressively reinforced. I think we must begin to refrain from according religion the excessive deference and adoration it is so used to receiving. History has paid enough tributes to religion. Finally, I think it’s high time some faith-based groups stopped propagating that humans and dinosaurs had a live-in relationship just 6000 years ago! For the last time, ‘Flintstones’ is not a documentary and ‘Jurassic Park’ never happened! The earth is more than four billion years old, is almost spherical, spins on its own axis and revolves around the Sun and finally, all life forms ‘EVOLVED‘ from unicellular aquatic organisms which appeared more than three billion years ago, now get over it! And NO, THERE IS NO INTELLIGENT DESIGNER, who sat down to painstakingly ‘design’ all life forms as they appear today!

as-Shahada

As a child, I grew up amidst orthodoxy and a staunch belief in the supremacy of gods and rituals. A consequence of this is the ritually invested three-pronged white thread, the yagnyopavitam, that hangs from my left shoulder and runs across my chest to come a full circle. For long, I blindly believed in everything I was taught and accepted it without question. Mind you, I was always ‘taught’, never ‘brainwashed’. My family gave me the liberty to frame my own opinion and accept belief the way I saw fit. But it took me an awfully long time to become aware of the latitude I had. So, religion, ritual and God played a very important role and had a very special place in my life. They governed the way I thought, the way I perceived the world around me. I measured everything in life with a theological yardstick. I led a life of absolute subservience to the ‘divine’ power. Today, for reasons unknown, I think I am undergoing a phase of transformation by questioning the very fundamentals of faith and the rigidity of enforcement of its doctrines. I don’t know if this means that I’m rejecting them altogether, but I’m certainly exploring a new perspective on faith. I once ‘believed’, and now, I want to know what exactly it is that I believed in and whether it was worth believing. Words like renunciation or apostasy may be too harsh to describe the state of my belief right now. Whether or not I will ever be able to get to the bottom of this quest and face the ‘truth’, is something I really don’t know. As a matter of fact, I don’t want to know if I’ll ever get to the bottom of it. I’m content with the way I think and investigate into the truth, or the lack of it. As I think and ponder, the off-white three-pronged thread serves one of its many noble purposes – as a great back-scratching tool! While I think….and think….and think!

Images Courtesy: Om, Crucifix, Shahada

We men grow up to be ‘men’ from being ‘boys’ first. And as boys, we sometimes do things that are considered unacceptable and, in some cases, blasphemous under typical societal norms. And this rule holds good across cultures with no known exceptions. In some cultures such behavior is considered a one way street to capital punishment or worse, having your you-know-what nipped! Now, I’m sure most of you would’ve guessed what I’ve tacitly been referring to. For the rest, I’m talking of the ‘curiosity to explore and enlighten oneself of the nuances and intricacies of the anatomy and physiology of the opposite/same sex (subject to individual preference), which in effect, results in referring to the widely available material in the mainstream media, particularly the internet, that serve as visual aids on the visible effects of manual stimulation of the reproductive organs and the subsequent act of copulation’. In crude terms – ‘watching porn’! Yes. Pornography is one area that all boys would, at some point, want to and have explored. But being discreet about it is also part of the process of exploration. Now, why all this nonsense, you ask? I’ll tell you why.

Boys will be boys!

Everyone would, no doubt, agree that being caught watching porn is bad. But one can easily get away with it with minimal tact. But being caught with visibly objectionable material stashed up among your books at home is probably the worst, like being caught with one’s hand in the…..err….chakkli-dabba? What excuse can one possibly give?

One night when my parents were out, my brother was busy cleaning his cupboard.  After a while, I noticed he was fixedly reading something. My brother wasn’t the bookish kind to be found reading so attentively (only recently he said he’d discovered the joy of reading, but I digress). I’d never seen him pay so much attention to a book. All I did was ask him what he was reading, hardly expecting to scare the living daylights out of him! He reacted as if I was coming at him with a boulder to smash his face! He looked up with a start, screaming ‘FFUUCCKK’ like a really bad actor from a B-grade horror film. His face flushed like a ripe tomato! Amidst the ruckus, a bunch of pages poured out of his lap. As they settled on the floor, several women in the raw, posing in innumerable lewd positions, lecherously called out of the pages. As I struggled to evoke a coherent response, my brother hastily attended to the screaming pictures as he cursed me for startling him so. I admit, my brother and I aren’t the most saintly of creatures, but I, for one, had never contemplated on bringing such controversial material home. Not because I was concerned about desecrating our blessed home that was synonymous with sanctity, but purely out of fear of being caught, given my mother’s occasional urges to purge our house of the filth it gathers. Therefore, I warned my brother about it and asked him to be wary and all was forgotten for a while.

A week later, upon returning home, I noticed that my mom wasn’t quite acting herself. My usually gentle and welcoming mother seemed to be on the brink of exploding like an overloaded power transformer. I could practically see her fume like one. This was absolutely unlike her. My father screamed from the bedroom inquiring, in objectionable language, if it was me or my brother. I hesitantly answered. He ordered me to call my brother on his cell-phone and ask him to come home immediately. My brother apparently had not answered his phone when called twice earlier. I sensed something had gone awfully wrong and that it involved my brother, but wasn’t quite sure what it was that had set our house ablaze. I picked up the phone and dialed my brother’s number. Two rings later –
“Hello?”, my unsuspecting brother answered.
“Hello, abey!! It’s me, K. Where are you? Mom and dad are about to explode. They want you home right away.”
“Why? What the fuck happened? What’d I do now?”
“You’re asking me? Dude! I have no clue. I just got home 10 min ago and they’ve been acting weird ever since. Things don’t look…..”
I was rudely interrupted by my dad, screaming from the bedroom again, “Ask that *a shower of bram-Telugu expletives* to get home right away!”
“You heard him? Now, you get your ass home right now or I’m not sure if we’re going to survive this night. Dude, please, wherever you are, just make your way home. Ok?”
“Ok! Ok! Fine. I’ll be there in 30 min. Chalo bye!”
“Bye”

I hung up and waited impatiently for someone to speak up. My dad had locked the bedroom and I could hear him in the shower. I tried asking my mom, but she wouldn’t say a thing. All she’d mumble was “Let him come!”, the menacing tone in her answer was just too obvious to ignore. “This is it!” I thought, “The end of my brother’s days!” But I was still unmindful of the gravity of the sin he had committed to merit such potentially lethal threats, nor could I even hazard a guess. As always, I was scheming to shield him from my dad’s wrath, lest things should get violent.

30 min later, my dad inquired in another brief fit of foul bram-Telugu. I placed another call to my brother’s cell and he answered saying he was in the building and that he’d be home in a minute.

A couple of minutes later the door-bell rang. My brother walked into the seething oven, that was our home, turned to me and whispered ‘Dude, seriously. WTF happened? Did someone die?’ As badly as I wanted to say ‘Yes. You!’ I was too concerned for him to quip like that. So I refrained and gestured an ‘I don’t know. Just go to dad’s room’ instead. I saw him walk into the lion’s den.

Silence!

A moment later, my dad screamed out again and asked me to come in too.

*Gulp* Now, WTF did I do? And what the hell is happening around here? What’s with all the lethal suspense?

My dad’s room – I took a deep breath and went in. Next thing I knew, my head was spinning like a top and I almost fainted. On the bed, was an aesthetically starved collage on display. The shock, I tell you! The offensively honest pictures were all generously spread out like we were going to be asked to pick one each so our parents could go ahead and match horoscopes! My father was facing the wall with one palm pressed against it. The situation reminded me of a K-serial-home-emergency, where four generations gather to discuss why the badi bahu cooked bhindi in spite of being asked to cook gobi, and chide her for her insolence. Only difference here was, two generations gathered and no cooking was involved. My father turned to my brother and not-so-innocently asked in whose company he had learned to do all this. My brother thought it best to prolong his bout of silence, than answer a question like that. Meanwhile, my mother, in a momentary lapse of her legendary self-control, grabbed my brother’s hair and slapped him twice. I had to gather myself from the shock to stop her. She turned away and flopped onto the bed and slapped her forehead in utter disappointment.

In the background, my father continued his opera of curses and expletives that ranged from addressing our ancestors, accusing my brother of drug abuse, of visiting a brothel, of resorting to wanton practices and cursing him of contracting various unspeakable diseases!

Where is the beeper when you need one, goddamn it!!

Anyway, my brother’s deathly silence had annoyed my dad, to the point that he grabbed a belt to whip him blue. I had to intervene. My father cursed as he withdrew. My mother in all her innocence, even in a fit of anger, posed some fundamental questions – ‘Why did you get these pictures? What do you do with them?’ Lost for words, I could only manage ‘Amma! Calm down! Calm down!’ while I wanted to say ‘Oh Dear God! You don’t wanna know!’

An hour of my dad’s unimaginable linguistic decadence and my mother’s inquisitive innocence resulting from my brother’s indiscretion in not ensuring the safety of his stash culminated in its summary destruction by subjecting it to flames. This, apart from facing utterly embarrassing questions and a certain degree of violence.

All my brother had to do, to avoid the domestic war scene, was exercise a little more caution. Just a tad bit more! This could have saved everyone the trouble and him, the embarrassment. He could have hidden the ‘seducational’ material in more parentally-inaccessible places such as with a trustworthy older sibling like yours truly. What are older siblings for after all? Amidst such resentment for pornography who else would younger siblings turn to for acceptance? My brother never brought home anything even remotely associated with pornography after that night. Well, if he has, then kudos to him for his vigilance! Should I say, ‘Once bitten, twice shy’ or ‘Better safe than sorry’?

P S: I actually dedicate this post to my brother, whom I miss and love very much!! He and I share many such secrets! Here’s to you kaakaaaaa!!

Images courtesy: My brother’s naughtiness and my shock.

Yes people! It is I. No, no! Don’t be shocked.  This is my first step towards returning to blogging normalcy. Regular posting will resume. I regret not having written a word in months, but circumstances were such that the writing side of me was forced to go on a long, indefinite hike. Now, after scaling the highest mountain and swimming the deepest of seas, he’s on his way back! So, here’s a little something, a poetic endeavor (as I would like to call it), a herald to a blissful blogging era that shall begin very soon. This poetic fit is the aftermath of witnessing a snow storm that is currently raging across northeastern United States. Never thought winter would inspire me so! Here goes –

As yule draws nigh,

So do the times of joy,

As little poufs of white,

Embark on an earthly flight,

The earth wears a wintry pall,

Which bares nothing at all,

Winds wade through the snow,

Flakes waltzing as they blow,

Homes light a friendly fire,

To battle the cold so dire,

Children clad in wool and hide,

On the kerbs and streets they stride,

Along their path for miles,

Many a snowman bows and smiles,

And gleefully greets  you as you go,

Happy Holidays Ho Ho Ho!!

As many who live in the northern and mountainous regions of the world would disagree, for me this winter snow is beautiful beyond words and a white wonder that pours out of the sky every year!

Suggestive title eh? I know! But, if you’re expecting any amount of sensually gratifying content in the ramble ahead, then please be prepared to be brutally thwarted in hope! It contains inordinate amounts of rant and rave more than anything else. The title is just a bait! So, now that you’ve taken the bait, swallow it! Well, in this case ‘Read it’!

With that cautionary beginning, I shall get right down to the nitty-gritty of the two ‘R’s I’ve promised.

For a full week ending last Friday, our little god-forsaken town in the purportedly ‘perpetually bright and sunny’ State of Florida, was physically abused (yes, you read that right!) by the whimsical weather. I stand testimony to the fact that this region of the US is not unfamiliar with Nature’s concepts of ‘rain’ and ‘storm’. It all began Thursday, March 26th. It rained and rained into late Sunday night. Then on Monday morning, the sun showed his face fleetingly. Just as we prepared to do the Mayan sun-dance in his praise, he got mobbed by the dark menacing clouds again. The clouds opened up, and it rained. It rained on and off without a moment of sunshine until the evening of Thursday, April 2nd, when the gods seemed to have lost it completely! The weather went insane! The met. dept. issued warnings through emails and other media, of a tornado and a severe thunderstorm. On the pretext of bad weather, I skipped work and stayed home.

At around 5.30-6 pm, I was rambling away on the phone with my clique. The sky roared and growled warning us mortals of the acute indigestion the clouds were having and then before we knew it, they threw up! The winds lived up to their unpredictability – whirlwinds were everywhere! The usual havoc ensued; fallen trees and power lines, blocked roads, and worst of all – power cuts! I was updating my friends on the goings on when the entire neighborhood blacked out (My first brush with ‘power cuts’ in the US, a long one at that!)! The cops and other service personnel drove around warning us to stay inside, seek refuge in an elevated location.  Our apartment is located in a trough and is vulnerable to flooding. So, my roommates and I decided to head to campus. We made a couple of calls to friends to arrange for a ride. We noticed we weren’t the only ones who had the brightest of ideas! (:|) A few calls later we found ourselves riding to campus amidst howling winds and piercing rains. We went straight to our roomie’s lab which was on the second floor of the CS dept. building.

About an hour later, the showers eased off a bit. The downpour wasn’t as heavy as they had begun, but the winds still blew strong. We were both starving and had to feed ourselves to survive the night. “Subway Zindabad!!’ we decided and stepped out with the one umbrella we had with us. As we walked, the wind came at us with all its love and literally blew us away and ripped our umbrella apart. The only vestiges of the umbrella we held were the staff and the ribs. Great!! Soaking wet, we got to Subway and guess what! They were only accepting cash (Great call Murphy!!)! The dash to the nearest ATM wasn’t as helpful in keeping us any drier, if anything, it even soaked the cash we were carrying. We dumped the battered umbrella as we walked out with our dinner. We entered the lab like two soggy, dripping noodles. We logged on from the computers in the lab and updated all friends on the status quo, all of whom had a hearty laugh at the ironies that played out.

The rest of the night was spent in clinging wet clothes on the decadently comfortable study tables with our bags for pillows! Aaah the bliss of sleeping in wet clothes!

8 am. The sun was out shining ever so brightly. It didn’t even seem that a storm had passed the previous night. My roomie and I got up to head home and as we left the lab we saw something which hit us like a lightning bolt – AN UMBRELLA! A black one, against the wall, in a corner, begging to be used! It had been lying there all night, and we went out with that decrepit two-dollar umbrella which died a horrible death leaving us dripping wet! Talk about stormy ironies! Cussing ensued.

At least we were lucky enough to find our apartment and belongings intact after a night of living like refugees. We didn’t have power until late afternoon though. Aah well, at least a peaceful end to a tempestuous night!