Thursday, July 26, 2012

A religious spectator

Years ago, an American student had asked me what my religion was. I had said, "I'm Hindu, but I don't believe in God." "How's that even possible?" She shook her head in disbelief. I only smiled. I couldn't tell her that the whole concept of being Hindu was foreign. How else do you expect people to worship over 33 million deities and still be following the same religion? Even the word was coined in Arabia. Since the Arabs couldn't get far beyond the River Sindhu (aka the Indus) on land, because of the mosquitoes, disease and dense forests that covered much of India many hundreds of years ago, they decided that every resident of such a land should be called Hindu and their place of residence, al-Hind (or Hindustan in Persian). So theoretically, not all Hindus need to believe in God. 

I like everything religious except the concept of God. It is so varied that I have not been able to find one to deify. Maybe, I am a little less human than other people, in this regard. What fascinates me is the devotion people have towards God, their belief that He/She will intervene to make all the wrongs in their lives, right. Also, the way God can bind and divide people at the same time, is truly amazing. I watch the parades of traditons, people, music and festivals. I partake the joys of giving and receiving. I like visiting religious places, going through the motions of tradition, meeting religious people, even trying to understand where their devotion comes from, reading religious scriptures and stories and even having conversations with spiritual leaders and godmen. I watch, listen and learn. What I cannot do is believe. Maybe because at some level my belief in science is more than my belief in a super-being. Or probably because I am too thick-brained to understand the very complex idea of God. Or maybe I need a certain kind of faith in my devotion to something supernatural. I just don't know. And till I find that faith, that devotion and that God, I'll just be a humble religious spectator. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Yeh Shaam Mastani

One of my all-time favourite movies is Kati Patang. Got a good dose of its songs last week on every TV channel. I've never met Rajesh Khanna, seen him only twice from a distance and I've never really followed his life graph. And so I'll always remember him as I saw him in Kati Patang, Anand, Bawarchi and Aradhana. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Ekdum Jhakkas!

I remember the first time I travelled by a BEST bus in Mumbai on my own. Since I was new to the city, I wasn't sure whether the bus would stop at Opera House. I asked the conductor, "Opera House jati hai?" He said, "Fir?" Now, for someone who had spent her growing years in Delhi and Pune, "Fir?" was not exactly an answer. I thought he hadn't heard me. I asked him again. He said "Fir" again. Luckily, a co-commuter came to my rescue and answered, "Yes!" I hopped on to the bus.

That's the first time I realised how different the language of Mumbai is from the rest of the country. Sure, they understand Hindi but they speak it the way it's not spoken anywhere else. If there's one thing that makes you a true Mumbaikar, it's your efficacy in spouting Mumbaiyya. With a colourful mix of Hindi, Marathi, English and a dash of Arabic (yes!), Mumbaiyya is "more than a language; it's a culture of its own," you read on the back cover of Cutting Chai and Maska Pao. "It holds the keys to Mumbai, its lanes and bylanes, its dabbawalas and the Page 3 brigade, its Chor Bazaar and its BEST buses." 

What started off as a college project of putting together a 'cultural lexicon of Mumbai' for 22-year-olds Mithila Mehta, Priya Sheth and Digantika Mitra has turned into delightful 103 pages dedicated to the city we all love. With little text (thankfully!) and more pictures by Mitra and illustrations by Mehta, the book is light, funny and extremely commuter-friendly. Bole toh, ekdum jhakkas!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Book review: Little Setu and the Forbidden Forest of Ula

Author: Jui Andhare 
Illustrator: Rishi Bharadwaj
Publisher: Happy Squirrel (Leadstart Publishing)
Pages: 50
Price: Rs 95

In her first children's book, Jui Andhare transports you to a world of talking eagles, little boys, fierce tribals and delicate elves. Six-year-old Setu and his friend Anila make a trip from their village in the lush meadows around Sundernagari in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to the forbidden forest of Ula to help save a pixie's life. During the course of their perilous journey they meet the wild inhabitants of the forest and find their own inner strength. 

Interspersed with fine black-and-white illustrations by Rishi Bharadwaj, Little Setu and the Forbidden Forest of Ula makes for a compact and easy read for children and adults alike. It makes you jog down that memory lane to the time when, as a child, you had taken the forbidden path only to discover what lay further  down the road wasn't all that bad or ugly.

But there's more to the book than the fairy tale-like story. It talks of conservation of forests and marginalisation of tribals in society. Children may actually start discussing these subjects after reading the book. And the most important lesson they will learn from the book is "you can be the change you want." So if you're looking to gift something to your younger siblings/nephews/nieces or grandchildren, Little Setu and the Forbidden Forest of Ula is a good pick.