small observations

Shammi Paranjape

I sit and watch the unseasonal rain. Gazing is a productive activity. It nudges introspection. The doorbell rings. Why are doorbells so unsonorous? I hear the door open and then shut. Amazon, delivery. Between four family members, two visits a day are assured, most days. Nobody blinks an eye now, to the different sized packages arriving, from the tiniest to the most humongous ones. Shower curtains, kettles, tea mugs, yoga mats, accessories, even gift tags, arrive like this. I feel disturbed at my digital dependence and the shifting topography of day to day life.

Making payments, in seconds, on the phone, has simplified things tremendously. Buying anything and everything from the comfort of my own sofa at home, without the angst of traffic, with some clicks, is a breeze, but there are many downsides. A behemoth is shaping and overpowering us. Is there no way back, is the scary question. And the answer to that is even scarier.

Years back I had read a book by Alvin Toffler called ‘Future Shock’ and it outlined the psychological distress of individuals and entire societies as a result of technology and too much change happening, too fast. That future is here. It is just like the doomsday movies. Only now it’s not on a flat screen that we sit and watch with fascinated horror – we watch it live.

There are two kind of monsters these days. Those who believe and those who don’t believe. Both sides are at constant violent war with each other. The weapons are modern, and provided freely by social media. Twitter is the prime weapon. Missiles dipped in ego, hate and vitriol are let loose left right and center. (Pun intentional). Political affiliations make people lose their sanity and sink into pointless hate for “the other.” Result is rage, noise, contention, vanity, but minimal debate.

Thank you internet. Thank you social media. More than the psychologists, philosophers, or writers and artists you have shown up a mirror to the underbelly of human nature.

And as we are realizing, it’s not pretty.

God save us from ourselves.

God is not Going Anywhere Soon

Shammi Paranjape

Every street of India has a shrine. And nine out of ten modern day professionals genuflect and fold their palms into a devotional Namaskar while passing the spot. People from every class and strata of society acknowledge the presence of deity every day in their lives in some way. It could be a chant of the sacred Gayatri Mantra, or a clasping of palms in a ‘jai’ before a home shrine or in the street. In the face of all the technological progress, this is a power of another nature. It is the power of faith and spirit. Science and technology are great and reach the moon and evaluate barren rock but they don’t get to the heart of the matter. Importantly, they do not banish spirit.

India or Bharat has a timeless relationship with God. Down the ages seers, saints and holy souls have periodically taken birth in India, to illumine the path to Divinity. More so, in this sacred land Avatars have periodically incarnated as humans to uplift humanity, re-establish dharma, and guide seeking souls to salvation. This is the land where Hinduism has flourished for centuries and continues to do so.

Hinduism, the primary religion of India, has a rich and complex nature. It’s infinite, ever-creative and evolving spirit, affords multiple perspectives. The whole mystery of existence is endeavoured to be explained in the sacred texts and holy utterances of the sages and saints of this great religion. Also, though ancient, it holds out brilliantly as Sanatana Dharma – the eternal principle. Even in today’s post-modern era it prevails and informs it’s followers in marvellous ways. This is because, it is not circumscribed by narrow tenets, but is fluid and expansive.

Promoted by the belief that the whole world is one family – Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, Hinduism offers a universal code for living a harmonious life. Reverence for all sentient beings and the belief that the Divine pervades every atom of creation makes Hinduism the most inclusive of all religions. It covers the entire canvas of human experience; its free-flowing expansiveness cannot be contained in a few holy texts or to any one portion of life. It is about the total life experience – dharma, artha, kama and moksha. It is both, about living in the world and rising above it in transcendental awareness. Hinduism, if a religion, is not just about God, it is about everything – in fact it states that God is everything. Be it the stone or the tree or the heart of man (or ant), He pervades it all. Isn’t that wonderful?

Worship is a vivifying and central part of a Hindu’s life. The temples and shrines, are not lifeless structures of stone, but sacred spaces of heightened spiritual energy. The multitudinous gods and goddesses are, to the community of the devout, animate energies, who listen and respond to ardent prayers and supplications. Gods breathe in India. They listen. They give solace. They are in fact, the biggest devotional support system, for the poorer, non-elitist sections of society. The constant “Presence” of a watchful Deity, in some form or the other becomes a constant reminder of a Higher Reality and the need for cross-checking one’s actions on the touchstone of dharma or righteousness.

Apart from Hinduism, India enjoys the diversity of other faiths. Temple bells ring side by side to the muezzin’s call from the minarets, and our vibrant country witnesses varied religions, including Christianity and Zoroastrianism, being practised vigorously with the spiritual disciplines prescribed.

Ultimately, all religions of the world, are per se “good.” They provide a moral code of conduct to followers, and promote humanitarian virtues. (Another matter that the core principles are often overlooked and misguided elements make a mockery of religion). The need of the hour is, for the good in each religion to be highlighted and acknowledged, simply because, religion is not going anywhere soon!

The transcendence experienced in the uplands of the spirit is unquantifiable and blissful. Let each religion follow its own way, as long as it does not harm another. Sri Sathya Sai Baba says, “Let the different faiths exist, let them flourish, let the glory of God be sung in all the languages and in a variety of tunes. Respect the difference between faiths, but recognise that in essence, they are one and underlying it all, there is only one religion – the religion of love.”

Small Wisdom

The fact that nothing is easy is what adds value to life. In sports we keep setting more and more difficult targets for ourselves. Why? These targets are voluntarily set by us and not under any compulsion. We do it because extending our limits and reaching beyond ourselves is the way to growth. By the same analogy, extending our limits as human beings, we can touch and reach the divine. That is the ultimate goal of every human soul.

Mankind is placed between animal and divine. The choices we make decide to which side we veer. Being just human is a good enough start. Practising basic humanity is the first step to the goal. Human values like compassion and tolerance and respect for all beings is the foundation of being human. The more we practise humanity the closer we get to the divine element.

Every obstacle, every difficulty we face is a training in our mental gyms to extend our capacities that much further – toward new growth. Every challenge stretches us a bit more toward a target higher than the previous one.

Why is it so difficult to be good? The foundation of basic goodness is selflessness. Goodness places the other before you. This is not very easy to do when you perceive the other as ‘other.’ However, Indian wisdom declares there is no other, and that the world is one big family. If this attitude is cultivated goodness becomes more spontaneous. Expanding our hearts to encompass ‘all’ is very rewarding. This ‘expansion love’ generates a sense of inner warmth, satisfaction and well-being which is matchless.

Life is a magnificent arena affording great choices. To squander the chances come our way, is folly. We must reflect on the best way to use our lives and work our way up to the expression of our highest selves.

We labour night and day for paltry evanescent gains. A little effort for ‘something higher’ that is not affected by the vagaries of the stock exchange, nor the ups and downs of your relationships, is worth striving for. Go for it. It is the real gold.

Kabir Singh..Should the actor have refused to play this role?

A movie recently released in India has raised a storm. The movie, Kabir Singh, portrays a dysfunctional character’s obsessive love for a girl and the mayhem that unspools when she gets married to another man.

The hero, is reprehensible in every way, and wreaks havoc with his macho, misogynist behavior. Love story or Horror story? That is the moot point. Critics have panned the movie on the ground that it endorses misogyny and skewed cavemen notions of masculinity. Yet the movie is doing great business. What does this say?

I have not seen the movie and have no desire to. Yet on the basis of the trailers and reviews, have understood that it is a very out-of-the- box offering for the audience and that the performance by the lead actor, Shahid Kapoor is compelling. The radical shift from traditional fare may have resonated.

The hero’s maniacal obsession with the girl and the losing of her, dissembles him completely. His self-destructive tendencies are unleashed in macabre dark splendor, and he feels no obligation to remorse or guilt of any kind.

Not pretty at all. What is most objectionable is the shameless glorifying of the hero’s persona and the meek pliant simpering acceptance of the heroine to this toxic behavior. If the heroine had matching fire and a stronger personality with some aberrant streaks of her own, it would be more acceptable. It would be more dismissable as – “Each to his own – they deserve each other!” But, the tame passive character of the heroine sends a dastardly message to rogue men out there, of which there are a-plenty.

However, the point is, can you censure an actor for accepting an assignment like this? His job is to be true to his craft of acting. Where does an actor’s moral responsibility begin and end? Is not a monstrous, obnoxious man who fashions hell out of passion and ‘love,’ a slice of life – albeit a slice of toxic life, which is quite the norm today? There are millions of TV shows and movies doing the rounds in which all kinds of muck is flying around, presenting the worst in human behavior. Dystopian is the new normal in films and literature. If the moral question of toxicity of content holds, then 90 percent of the stuff being doled out today, doesn’t pass muster. So, why single out this one movie?

I shudder to think that guys like Kabir may exist. See him on screen if you must, but, if you come within sniffing distance of one such in real life – be advised to run a mile in the opposite direction. Dear women – it’s not romantic to be loved like this – it’s psychotic and scary! Take to your heels and recommend the guy to a therapist. Save him and yourself!

Opulence – a weight on the soul

People long to be wealthy. Yet I have a strange reservation about material wealth. It makes me uncomfortable. I tend to sympathize with people who live in houses like museums, who have more stuff and land and properties than can ever be used or needed, and who evaluate everything on a calculator – even relationships.

Why is money such a coveted goal? It is good to have a decent amount, yes, but why the obsession for more? It is  baffling why something that ruins peace of mind and messes up the best relationships of life is so coveted. 

I feel a funny sense of suffocation when I enter a house that is heavily opulent. Each artefact, chandelier, ornate piece of furniture, is like a weight upon the air. There is a sense of there being no place for air to freely move.

Also, why is it that very wealthy people love to project to the world that they are wealthy? It’s apparent to all yet most of them cannot resist dropping numerical figures into their talk. Money becomes the measure for everything.

And the most peculiar part of this money saga is how the wealthiest people are oftentimes startlingly stingy too! 

Money is like a shoe. If it fits, great. But either too little or too much is going to be uncomfortable, like a shoe that is either tight or too large. So, all you middle-classers out there like me, celebrate the fact that we have so much and no more, and that at the end of the day, we are the ones in the best place, to be really content and happy.