Monday, September 13, 2010

Ramzan and Eid Ul Fitr, Repentance and a New Beginning

All religious festivals carry great wisdom and learning for all of us, regardless of our religion or lack of religion. Precisely because we, as a race and not as religions, are looking at a future overrun by our excesses of greed and ignorance is it essential that we resolve to leave intolerance and anger aside and imbibe the wisdom that life offers to us. All the strife that we have been witness to in the name of religions and gods and righteousness should only make our determination to build a peaceful future stronger.

The Quran says, "O, ye who believe, strengthen yourselves with resolution and prayer, for Allah is with those who persevere in adversity." Mankind today is dealing with adversity most specifically from religious and spiritual intolerance. Frequently, this intolerance builds up to the point of hatred and desire for vengeance. It is easy to understand this on a personal level when we look at personal friendships and enmities, and then the global perspective becomes clearer as we try and multiply our hatred and love several billion times over.

Ramzan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar commemorating the revelation of the first verses of the Quran to the Prophet. On the Gregorian calendar, this kind of slides backwards a little every year; the last couple of years, Ramzan has been the August-September month.

Like all religious festivals, there are various interpretations of the meaning of the name Ramzan, various spellings, and various ways of celebrating it.  Some say that the name Ramzan is derived from the Arabic root word 'ramida' or 'arramad' that means intense heat and dryness. Ramzan is so called to indicate the heating sensation in the stomach as a result of thirst. Others said it is so called because Ramzan or Ramadan scorches out the sins as it burns the ground. Some said it is so called because the hearts and souls are more readily receptive to the admonition and remembrance of Allah during Ramzan, as the sand and stones are receptive to the sun's heat.

During Ramzan, practicing muslims fast from dawn (sehri) to dusk (iftar), and attempt to keep their thoughts focused on the teachings in their scriptures, and refrain from harboring negative thoughts, and as the wikipedia says, ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds.

In Hyderabad, as in many parts of India, Ramzan is a major festive month, ending in Eid Ul Fitr.   This Eid is not the Eid which is Bakr Eid, which you can read about here.  The night bazar for festive shoppers in the old city is a major attraction as it sets out after the break of fast, and builds up not only through the night as sehri preparations beckon, but also as the month progresses towards Eid. Some of the finest glassware, attars, imitation jewelry, and clothes are up for sale and real cool bargains are the highlights for the diligent shopper. It is very crowded and you should take great care not to get separated from your companions. As you move from Madina Bazaar to Machli Kaman on Pathergatti Road, you will find shops set up on carts, spilling out of the sidewalks into the street, consuming two thirds of the road, the remaining one third is for pedestrians and vehicles to find harmony in. On the last couple of days before Eid, vehicles are not allowed, since the crowds grow too large.

Ramzan is also the time when haleem is prepared and sold at numerous outlets across the city as a sustaining food for the fasting. However, for the religionless foodie in me, it is a major attraction that makes Ramzan all the more sacred. You will want to find out more about haleem, the variations of it (vegetable, chicken, mutton, beef) and harees, and how tasty it is!! While Pista House has acquired a lot of fame, I like the ones at Shadaab, Sarvi, Garden, and Bawarchi too. The chicken harees stall at the mosque opposite Bajaj Electronics at Punjagutta is one of my favorites over years, as is the Kalyani Haleem set up just outside the mosque in the lane beside Y2K restaurant at the Punjagutta junction.

All religions are ways of disciplining ourselves to find that which we were created for, to be able to live and express ourselves to our fullest potential. As we have evolved, we have learned to question, and religions are also an attempt to provide us with workable and satisfactory answers. However, with this attempt to provide answers came the temptation of control and power, and that is how Men of God or Godmen came into being. In simple terms, these are priests, pujaris, padres, maulvis, acharyas and all other such people who claim to be intermediaries or representatives of the divine. The divine, whether you call him God, Thakur, Allah, Buddha, nothingness, whatever, has neither appointed these commission agents nor has the need to. It is merely our ignorance and our fear that give these men power to claim to be intermediaries.  To know more about how similar we are even in our festivities, read this post by Sridhar Patel.

But this post is about enjoying festivals, so take out your shiny new clothes, put on your dancing shoes, and let the music play!! And as for Pastor Jones' and his Quran burning, that was all a huge misunderstanding, it appears, he only meant to burn the Quran on to DVD so that it could be made available to people easily!!
Other traditions make music too.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Let us sing together, nicely, now!

You will have learned about 9/11 and how it changed our world. Different people see things differently and respond differently to them. That in itself does not make one response right and another wrong. Human beings largely have a very accurate sense of wrong and right, and it is only when they lose their connection with their spirit that they allow themselves to be influenced by others who may be driven by desires other than what is life enhancing an life sustaining.

Many people who were deeply pained by 9/11 used it as a springboard for their own human revolution. Yet others chose to use it as a tool to arouse further hatred and divisive thinking among peoples. This year a group of people chose to burn the Quran to protest what happened and what is happening. Here is something I wrote elsewhere about this.

Two important things, one, books are living things, they do not die, not even if you burn them, and two, people are life - to judge them or condemn them is easy, to accept and understand and love them is difficult. Do not choose a path just because it is the easier one.

(title unknown): "Fahrenheit 451

I am as apolitical and a-religious as one can be living in society, which is as good as saying nothing, since policy governs each and every breath we take, whether we acknowledge it or not. Religion, patriotism, passion, beliefs are nothing but expressions of our own politics, and as we interface with the rest of existence, these give birth to a complex new animal. Even close relationships are ultimately governed by politics, perhaps very personal ones, but politics all the same.

What happened with WTC on 9/11 is deplorable and is universally condemned by all sane people. The why's and the wherefore's can be debated endlessly and are best left to those who have nothing better to do. What we can do is to determine that we learn from what happened and never let it repeat. We don't have the luxury of adding to our woes as a civilization facing the threats posed by an environment we ourselves have ravaged to the point of being dealt merciless retribution.

Men of God have repeatedly proven themselves to be more desirous of being Gods of Men rather than seeking the divine will (or whatever it is called in your neck of the woods), that of harmonious and creative coexistence. Most Men of God who have not done so have also repeatedly refused to identify themselves as Men of God, choosing instead to do what they perceived to be their task in an intelligent design.

The movement to burn the Quran violates everything that 9/11 violated. It is a classic instance of being compelled to repeat history if we do not learn from it. May the God of these people show them that all of us need to heal and not hurt any one any more. It is sad that an entire community has to carry the shame brought upon it by a few misguided members, just as the perpetrators of 9/11 did for their community.

Let us join our voices to let sanity prevail. You can sign an online petition by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Your Jethu, Bicchu!

My closest friend as I was growing up into my teens was Bicchu.  We made detergent and radio receivers, ring modulators and hexadecimal poetry.  We made a lot of music together, he on his mandolin and keyboards, me on my guitar.  We also used cups, saucers, buckets, steel dinner plates, pretty much anything we could use to make “noise” with.  Mom's knitting needles would be our drumsticks, and we would hide when we realized we had dented all the utensils in the kitchen with our banging.  We would experiment with everything, from substances that made you feel and perceive differently to how classic love songs sounded when speeded up to three times their pace.

Bicchu is my Jethu’s elder son, and that makes him, I guess, your Jethu.  I have never solved the riddle of bengali names for relatives.  For me all elder males who were not brothers or cousins were Kaku, and all elder females were Mashi.  So I had these several married couples who were Kakus and Mashi’s, much to the disapproval of everyone, since Kaku’s wife is Kakima, and Mashi’s husband is Mesho.  Life is terribly complicated.

Anyway, here are some pictures of the sun and sunspots that Bicchu took ten years back.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Mia's birthday song for you

Mia has turned 3, and is an endless ball, not an inch of squareness at any time.  Tipu (Kaku!!) and Chandreyee (Kakima!!) dont have to worry about staying fit.  Here is Mia singing you Happy Birthday Hardyk Dada.

And here is a more recent picture of she and me being ourselves!!


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