Lord Shiva’s New Avatar: A Pumpkin!

Pumpkins

Just this morning, I opened a news site and this is what I found.

A pumpkin wholesaler in Bokaro found an unusually large pumpkin in his stock, one unlike any he had ever seen before. What conclusion did he draw (as if there was a need for a conclusion)? Large pumpkin, oval shape.. what else is oval shaped? Shivalinga. That belongs to? Lord Shiva. Hence, the pumpkin is an avatar of Lord Shiva. See? It’s that simple. That is how you go from not knowing to knowing certainly. (Sherlock Holmes would be proud of that science of deduction).

Well, the man worshiped the pumpkin and offered it sweets, which I am positive the pumpkin refused to eat.

The news of the divine pumpkin spread like wildfire and people are flocking to the town to get a glimpse of it. Someone offered to buy the pumpkin for Rupees 5001, but the man refused to sell. After consulting with a priest, it has been decided that the pumpkin will be worshiped for a few days after which it will be cut open and distributed to devotees as prasad.

There is nothing new and noteworthy in this piece of news. It happens everyday in places where education and enlightenment has failed to reach. But what I really do want to point out in this blog is that never on such occasions has a priest or a religious group ever come forward to say that not everything that one suspects to be divine may be so. They always agree with each other! Whatever bullshit one may think up, the clergies will never ever deny it.

Why would a god come down as a pumpkin? Is it because he wants to mess with people’s minds? Or will people believe just about anything under the sun if anyone relates it to religion? Why no skepticism at all?

Is belief a blanket phenomenon that makes you believe “everything” unquestioningly? I mean, tomorrow if I start jumping up and down saying another Lord XYZ came in my dream and told me he is coming as a Pizza the next day, will the same people believe me and start ripping pizza joints all over the country?

I really would like to see at least one priest come out and say the pumpkin is not Lord Shiva because there is no reason why the god must come down as a pumpkin. A giant fruit is just that – a giant fruit.

Come on guys, have I overreacted? Don’t people take their beliefs so seriously as to make them look stupid? Isn’t unquestioning belief a double edged sword that undermines that which it claims to uphold?

Imagine, a dogmatic physicist claiming that since such a giant fruit has never been seen before, it must have come through a wormhole from another parallel universe?

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The Hurt-Feelings Group

censor

In my previous blog, Books can be Dangerous, I tried to ridicule a certain kind of people who hate books and are scared of reading them and even intimidate others who read them or talk about them. The reason they give? “Our feelings are hurt. Sob! Sob!”

It turns out, I spoke too soon. And too little.

The fact is, it is not just about books – though books are the easiest targets – it is as much about any other medium of information such as Television, Cinema, Newspapers, Magazines, and other Social Media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. And if you thought you’ve seen everything, you would be surprised to know that even the toy maker LEGO has been accused of racism. (Read this wonderful blog for more or this news link). And why? Because LEGO made a model of the domed palace for a star-wars character called “Jabba the Hutt” and this infuriated a Turkish community in Austria who complained that it was intentionally made to look like a Turkish mosque. And what was the resemblance? The mosque has a dome, Jabba’s palace has a dome, the mosque has 4 towers around it, Jabba’s palace also has a tower. Hence, the resemblance. Conclusion? Racism. See this:

Jabba

Even though some of these disturbances might be dismissed as politically motivated or uninformed and uneducated reactions of “some” people, it is important to analyze these situations with utmost diligence because what look like isolated incidents might turn out to be indications of long term problems.

What gets attacked? Anything.

Protests against Rushdie and his "The Satanic Verses"

Protests against Rushdie and his “The Satanic Verses”

Books they have never read and will never read and which were, in some cases, published decades back but went unnoticed by “them” because of the same reason: they have never read and won’t ever read (and can’t, maybe?). Prime examples of mindless attacks are a) 1980s: Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses, b) 2012: Some authors reading from this book, c) 2013: Organizers of previous year’s event even though there isn’t even any talk of the book this year at all. What does the State say? Nothing.

vishwaroopamCinema: Films that have not been released yet are the easiest targets. The most recent example is the Kamal Hassan starrer, multilingual thriller called “Vishwaroopam”. I am not certain what caused this movie to be opposed so vehemently that its release in a few cities in India has been deferred by 15 days. This is going to be a disaster for the project and a complete insult to the hard work of a man who has been a jewel in the crown of Indian Cinema for decades. Instead of saluting Mr. Hassan for his contribution to Indian cinema, some people have chosen to destroy his movie. And, I think the reason given for their opposition to the movie is that the terrorists in the movie are shown to be of a certain religion. And you thought such a detail would be trivial, huh? What does the State say? “Ban the damned movie.”

Social Media: Like a facebook comment or cartoon and the Police might show up and arrest you, even slapping you with the charge of sedition against the state, like what keeps happening now.

mfhussainArt: Take, for example, what happened in India a few years ago when legendary painter MF Hussain, another jewel in India’s crown, was driven out of his own country and into exile by fundamentalist organizations who threatened to kill him for creating a painting which depicted a Goddess naked (at least that is how I percieved the issue). Even the state did not make any attempt protect the legend. And why? Because the hurt-feelings-card was played.

Let’s accept it, art is not for everyone. A piece of art by a popular artist can be worth millions to those who understand it, while to the layman who is uninterested, unappreciative and uneducated (in arts) like most of us (yes, me included sometimes), it might not hold much value. Despite that, I understand that proclamation of the “hidden” meaning of a piece art should be left to those who appreciate and understand it and so, if you ask me, I would completely refrain from passing a judgement on a painting or sculpture. Simply because I don’t understand it, my opinion would be of no relevance whatsoever to the world and therefore the meaning of any such piece of art should not be my business to interpret and attack.

But that is exactly what some people forget. They go around their tiny little world putting their sensitive and underdeveloped intellects in the path of others, ready to flare up and burn the world at the tiniest of provocation (or no provocation).

Today, they are attacking things in public domain, tomorrow they will intrude into our homes and even tell us what we can and cannot do as individuals.

The only solution is for States to crush such misadventures of opposition to anything, even if the issues raised seem isolated. Otherwise, tomorrow, these will become precedents for bigger and bigger problems.

Books can be Dangerous!

books2If you are a backward thinking, feudal, fanatic, unenlightened, unscientific, uneducated, dimwitted, numbskull, blockheaded, ignoramus, fundamentalist, oppressive, tyrant, or a bully, then you should indeed be afraid of books.

Because, books can provoke, enlighten, educate, emancipate, illuminate, inspire, break barriers, and liberate minds from the clutches of traditions and beliefs and challenge conventionally accepted ideas and morals and replace them with skepticism, criticism and an awakening of souls.

One book can ignite a fire in the minds of millions that can change the world. Gandhi, Churchil, Washington, Bhagat Singh, Thomas Paine, Jefferson, etc., were all inspired by books. Even the most hated political figure of all times, Adolf Hitler, writes in his book, Mein Kanpf, that he used to skip dinner so he could buy a book to read.

Books are Man’s greatest achievement ever. Bigger than airplanes, computers, steam engines, nuclear energy, mobile phones, rockets and construction.

Over centuries, oppressive, tyrannical societies have tried endlessly to ban and burn books, authors and readers. Because they understood the immense power of ideas that such tiny leaves with dots of inks held. And yet, books have been every society’s biggest treasure.

And so, even today, literature festivals, something that millions should cherish and be proud of, are being threatened. And why? The reasons haven’t changed. Some people think some books can threaten their strongly held beliefs. They are scared of what a book might contain.

Of course, most of those who are opposing the lit fest have themselves never read the book being targeted (it being quite another matter that the book really has nothing to do with the fest). In fact, I will go a step further and say that it is quite probable that those who are causing an uproar, have never read ANY books at all. And if that much does not satisfy you, let me even say that they CANNOT read any books at all.

And yet, a handful of such uneducated dimwits and numbskulls want to decide which books the rest of the nation should read or rather, should not read. In this digital age where there is no way left to ban ideas, all I can say to them is, “Well, Thanks for playing!”

Books, not which afford us a cowering enjoyment, but in which each thought is of unusual daring; such as an idle man cannot read, and a timid one would not be entertained by, which even make us dangerous to existing institution – such call I good books.  ~Henry David Thoreau

Blinded by Astrology?

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell.

— W. H. Auden

Of late, I have been having conversations with people and who are ardent proponents of Astrology, as well as with my own inner self that just doesn’t agree with this, and it is with a heavy heart that I conclude that humanity will always be split between believers and non-believers. Though it may seem plainly unreasonable to non-believers like me why there are people who live their lives aligned to their horoscopes and star charts, it is still a sad reality that there isn’t much we can do about it. Except that we can take to fighting this social evil in a case to case basis and only when we are ourselves affected by it.

But even then, you sit with someone who seriously follows astrology and you will realize how difficult it is to talk to them. The first point they make is, “I know it works because I have seen it work. And ever since XYZ happened, I am a hundred percent sure that it works and I will never dare to ignore astrological predictions anymore.”

Try and counter this with a rational argument citing examples of how terribly wrong these predictions can be at most times, and you are cut-off in between by something like, “I understand you may not want to believe it but I can tell you that it really does work. Now, of course I cannot explain how it works, but you must take my word for it, as also consider the testimonials of countless others whose lives have been positively affected by recognizing this science. It is an ancient “vidya” (Hindi for body of knowledge) and there are only a few real masters of this vidya while all others are lesser practitioners and that is why you find some predictions that may turn out to be incorrect.”

Now, this is obscene. Can you imagine a science teacher teaching like this in a science classroom:

“Now, when I say that the sum of all interior angles of a triangle equals 180 degrees, you must trust me on this and take my word for it. I have studied mathematics in college and am far more educated than you are so you must trust me. I agree that your other maths teacher gave you proof yesterday that sum of all angles is 160 degrees, but very few people have more knowledge on this subject and so you must trust me.”

What if, at the end of each year at college, instead of having exams to test students’ knowledge, we could simply read their horoscopes to know how much they would score in each subject and then grade them accordingly? Wouldn’t it save a lot of time, effort and money on part of both the teachers and the students?

What if schools decide that instead of asking students what streams (like engineering, law, medical science, business, etc.) they wanted to specialize in, they simply read the horoscopes of each one and allot subjects accordingly? “Greg’s horoscope says doctor, Henry’s says Lawer, Patrick’s says he’s gonna have a short life so let’s just expel him.” Wouldn’t that be brilliant?

Why do we vote for governments every few years when we could easily just publish the horoscopes of every man in the country and then pick the best of those for the top job? Why don’t we let horoscopes decide which players are going to excel today and pick only them in the team?

Why hire judges and lawyers in courtrooms when the outcome can even be decided by the local astrologer by reading the horoscopes of the  aggrieved parties?

Let me tell you the answer to all these WHYs and the answer is that we don’t know anything for sure. We don’t know what is going to happen and that is the way the world is. It is depressing that we do not have satisfying answers to all our problems, we want to define why somethings happen while others don’t so that we can bring some sort of order to our lives.

We have no command over our futures and nobody knows anything for sure but being human means dreaming, aspiring, working hard, fighting the odds and if we take these elements out of our lives, then being human means nothing different from being just another animal.

In my conversations with believers, my point is never to convince them this astrology business is a fraud and hopeless. I know people, including me, have fear of the unknown and who am I to deny someone their right to feel better even if it means a little bit of superstition? And I also know that rational arguments will rarely convert a staunch believer. But what I always do say is that “You can never know for sure” and so when it comes to decisions of life and death, of someone’s happiness, dreams, aspirations of people that we care about, let us not be so cruel as to flaunt our arrogance of “knowing for sure” and forcing them to confirm to what a piece of paper with some boxes and numbers drawn on it says about them.

Let us be superstitious, but let us also draw a line between what is harmless superstition and what is harmful with life-altering and devastating consequences.

Because, if it is indeed true that everything that happens and is going to happen in this world is already written in some star charts, then doesn’t it make life, effort, love, hate, ambition, success, dreams and all human experiences pointless? Isn’t it demeaning to be told that all your dreams and efforts mean nothing just because your horoscope said something will not happen? And if the horoscope does fail, you dismiss the failure as a lack in completeness of knowledge of such a complex “science”?

Doesn’t it diminish the essence of being human whereas?

What do you think?

“There are two ways to view the stars: as they really are; and as we might wish them to be.” – Carl Sagan

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