CROSSROADS – III

 Shifting from the North to the East was actually a knee jerk reaction for Riddhima – a decision that she took in a jiffy and made sure that it materialized. After all that had happened, she just wanted to be as far away from Delhi as possible.

She had been in a live-in-relationship for close to three years much against the wishes and counsel of her parents. A carefree bird that she was, she found nothing wrong in sharing home space with a man whom she loved and who claimed to love her. Moreover, she never wanted her wings clipped by nagging in-laws and bugging children. So, marriage was a term she had struck off her dictionary since her college years.

When she joined TRANSCO – the MNC of her dreams, life took a rosy turn. Not only did the job make her economically independent, but also brought Suyash into her life. Suyash was her Team Leader in one of the projects that she had been assigned and had already had five years of experience in the company.

One thing led to the other and soon they could not wait to take coffee breaks to see each other. Within months, Riddhima was sure that she wanted to live her life with him. Nevertheless, she wanted a second opinion. And who else would give the go-ahead if not Avinash!

Animatedly, she picked up the phone and called up Avinash.

“Hey, Avi, can you spare a few minutes?”, said an excited Riddhima as soon as Avinash answered her call.

“At your command, Riddhi. Tell me what’s eating up your already half-existing brain”, he replied amidst splits of laughter.

“Listen, I think I have found him, Riddhima said emphasizing the last word.

“Who was lost and whom have you found, Riddhima?”, said Avinash continuing with his humour.

“Be serious a bit, will you? I know I am right. I just want to be sure”, Riddhima said thoughfully.

“If you go on beating around the bush this way, how do you expect me to know what it is that you are talking about? Shoot straight”, replied Avinash switching over to a more moderate tone.

And so Riddhima narrated the whole thing right from day one, adding a line of apology in the end for having kept the secret even though she exchanged messages or calls with Avinash every other day.

Avinash was silent for some time.

“Come on tell me, what you are thinking”, pleaded Riddhima in desperation.

“Well, first, you owe me a Café Mocha on my next trip to Delhi – your penalty for hiding such an important slice of your life from me this long. And then, as far as my opinion is concerned, I have always believed in your choices, though not on your life principles. As far as your Suyash is concerned, having heard what I have heard from you, you have my go ahead. I mean you have already made up your mind, and I haven’t met him. So, what more can I say other than agree with you? But, about the question as to whether you should move in with him, you know my answer. We have had enough of our marriage vs. live-in-relationship debates for years. Not any more at this juncture”, replied Avinash at one go.

“Hmm . . . diplomatic reply. But, you wait, I’ll show you how a live-in-relationship ensures more happiness than the bondage of marriage. Ah! Ok . . . you don’t believe it is a bondage . . .”, Riddhima said with a giggle.

“So, Riddhi, all the best and you have my back at all times – never forget it”, said Avinash.

“I know and that’s why I chose to call you first. I’ll introduce you to him next weekend over video call”, said Riddhima with excitement back in her voice again.

They hung up.

Avinash went back to his cubicle.

And, Riddhima started spinning fabrics of gold in imaginary looms.

Suyash and Riddhima moved in together to a well furnished plush 3 BHK flat overseeing an artificial pool and park.

But, things started changing quickly – much sooner than Riddhima could have ever imagined.

No, Suyash wasn’t abusive. He wasn’t the possessive type either.

It was just that he kept himself away from the house as much as he could. They worked together, and that meant they left for and from work together most of the times.

The free bird that Riddima was, she desired a personal space, but she also wanted the warmth of the man that she was living with.

That was not to be.

Riddhima found it strange.

She had a heart full of emotions, but no one to pour them on.

Did she make a mistake?

DO YOU HAVE FAITH?

I saw him kneeling in prayer after the service was over in church and people had started filtering out. He knelt with hands folded and head bowed down for quite some time before getting up and moving out. I was struck by the open devotion. Christians are not usually seen kneeling in prayer in formal church congregations. Kneeling in praise and prayer is mostly confined to private home spaces and informal worship congregations.

I saw him do so Sunday by Sunday. He was a familiar face from my Coaching class, but we hadn’t befriended each other. Weeks later when the ice broke and pleasantries were exchanged, I asked him about his faith journey. To my utter dismay, he said that he didn’t really believe in God!! In the months and years of our acquaintanceship that followed I was to learn that he acknowledges God for two reasons – one, because his mother insists that does so and two, he doesn’t want to invite the wrath of God and let something bad happen to him by skipping a Sunday church service. 

Whoa!! That was quite a revelation for me. A 27-28 year old young man with patterns of behaviour that he does not believe in! This was years before. He is still the same, rather more diffident!

While parents can and need to instill faith values in children, rote faith does more harm than good. When God is known for who He is, faith exudes automatically. Religion can be passed on down the generations, but faith cannot be. Faith is personal.

The world today stands greatly divided on the basis of religion. In my opinion, it is meant to be so. Different principles of different religions hold good for different people for different reasons and cannot be expected to be uncompromisingly unifying. Religion is a unifying force within ingroups. But when we think of two or more religions, one is the outgroup to the other. And so, divisions emerge.

One corrective thought that the world at large refuses to see is the difference between religion and culture and the difference between religion and faith. This is what I would be focussing on within the limited cope of this article..

Having been a student of World and Indian Sociology for more than a decade, the stark difference between religion and culture is all the more obvious to me. There is no doubt an overlapping line between the two, but both are NOT the same. Culture is largely determined by the geography, apart from many other distinct features (which I will refrain from listing for the sake of brevity). And so we see people in different parts of the global hemisphere eat, dress, believe and behave in different ways. 

From times in the far past, humans have been in awe of some supreme power ruling over their lives for which culturally appropriate and functionally reasonable entities were ascribed power. That is how each civilization and culture has contributed its share of gods, goddesses, demi-gods and deities to the world. To give just one example, we have Tefnut known as the Egyptian god of rain, Zeus known as the Greek god of rain, Indra known as the Indian god of rain and so on across various cultures – all revered as rain-causing deities (by those who believe) with deeply embedded cultural connotations and culturally appropriate ways of appeasements. Similarly, there are many more divine entities which are ascribed the functionalities of love, wealth, wisdom, famines, plagues, destruction, prosperity, fertility, etc. across almost all cultures, with very few exceptions. And so, we have this unavoidable amalgamation of religion and culture.

However, the two different constructs that they are, religion and culture though form a symbiosis of sorts cannot essentially be conglomerated into a synthesis.

This is because religion is supposed to find its basis in divinity. Whereas, culture is a combination of geography, language, norms, values, folklores and mores, art, architecture, music, dance, family, society, customs and religions (here goes the list of the distinct components of culture). So you see, religion/s is a subset of the larger set called culture. Equating religion and culture leads to constricting the wider domain of culture, while expanding the narrower turf of religion. Confusing identities and nasty conflicts eventually threaten to rule the roost. 

I’ll pause on religion and culture here and switch over to the other distinction – religion and faith.

Religion, being a socio-cultural construct does its part in generating belief in and worship of the supernatural. Scanning through world history and geography would provide us deeper insights into how various religions were born. Just as we have the known planets and the unknown ones in the vast universe, we also have many known religions and many more unknown religions (not to mention the numerous sects, cults and denominations) spread across the length and breadth of the world with multifarious religious practices and rituals. To give an example, Hindu married women in India keep a day-long fast for the longevity of their husbands. This is called Karwa Chauth in Northern and Western India. The fast ends only after the moon is spotted in the evening sky and is seen by the fasting ladies followed by certain rituals. A very similar fast is kept by Hindu married ladies in Odisha at a different time of the year, and this is called Savitri amavasya. This fast by contrast, is observed on a moonless day and comes to an end in the evening in a similar way.

The same religion, same objective, same country but different ways of observations and different sets of rituals according to the geographical divide of the land. Each set of rituals and practices has its own mythology behind it and is held precious by those who adhere to it.

So is it with all religions. Touring across the world (virtually for now 🙂 )would make these understandings even more obvious.

So then, are religion and faith one and the same?

The answer is NO.

One can practise or follow a religion meticulously without having faith in God (as in the case of my friend mentioned in the beginning of the article). Another can have faith in God without subscribing to a religion as such. The former is easier than the latter considering that religion is an identity-essential in society, with few having the option to refrain from such identities.

Again, it is the societal construct that attempts to synthesize religion with faith, the end result of which proves to be a mess. A church-going person is considered to be godly. A fervent ritual-observer is labelled as pious. A performance of certain ceremonials is thought to provide self-satisfaction. Keeping certain fasts, eating or not eating certain foods on certain days are considered to be signs of piety. These are the parameters on the basis of which we (others) assess ourselves and others.

It can be argued that these religious acts are indeed observances of faith. But, the truth is that inherited religion and the accompanying rituals make God and faith esoteric obscurities.

So then, should religious teachings not be imparted? Should faith not be propagated?

Both have their places intact. The Bible says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” 

If we spare a thought to what matters before God – faith or religion, faith or rituals – we would undoubtedly have ‘faith’ as the answer. God is the echoing Truth of the universe and He treasures our faith in Him. Having God as the object of our faith would help wean away most of the undesirable rituals that have been getting passed on over the ages. He and only He matters.

In the inconclusive debates between theism versus deism or pantheism versus panentheism or  atheism versus agnosticism and many more such isms, the truth about God is seldom sought after by the intellectuals and learned philosophers who prefer rather to establish their theories.

No matter what worldview we hold or what teachings have been imparted to us, it is worthwhile to embark on the journey to know God and worship Him for who He really is, not for who we think He may be. Not hollow observance of rituals or cultural religiosity, but a mere simple child-like faith in Him is what He requires. 

 

 

 

 

Gratitude is an expression of the attitude of the heart.
Demanding gratitude thwarts it’s purpose apart.

 – Rajnandini

Who you seek counsel from, tremendously impacts the decisions that you take. Heed to wise counselors!

 – Rajnandini

The increasing tolerance towards sin, evil and injustice in the face of increasing intolerance towards harmless differences is a worrisome phenomenon that has gripped the world.

 – Rajnandini

THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK

October 2016 began just as many other Octobers of the previous years. Just before the month could end, however, Delhites were hit by what is now known as ‘The Great Delhi Smog of 2016’. It was quite a time! The smog hung on the city till around mid-November that year, reducing outdoor visibility considerably and causing an upsurge in respiratory ailments in the young and the elderly alike. For people who had no option, but to venture out, N95 masks were a must.

Like many others, I too purchased a few N95 masks and so felt no inhibition to move about and around for routine activities assured of inhaling in lesser toxins.

Come November 2017, and Delhi saw a repeat of the smog of 2016. The environmental crisis had already become a steaming political issue – the open-field agricultural stubble burning by neighbouring states adding onto the emissions from fire-cracker bursting during Diwali celebrations – being the chief factors for such a severe smog. As the Delhi govt. took measures to curb the smog and issued advisories for normal life to continue, air purifiers and N95 masks were seen rapidly getting sold out from the medical stores.

My stock of masks of the previous year came handy yet again!

The following year as I packed my luggage while bidding farewell to my few years of stay in the national capital, I caught hold of a packet of still new unused N95 masks. Confident that pollution would never reach Delhi levels in my home state, I thought it could be better used by someone staying in Delhi (little did I have the powers to forsee Covid-19 striking every corner of the world in 2020!)

2020 and its tryst with masks is a saga that will be told and retold for generations to come!

Masks are shields guarding the vital entry points in our body by allowing ‘no entry’ or ‘diminished entry’ to toxic pollutants or deadly viruses. Donning a mask is a life-saving precaution in Covid times. Even as these safety valves fulfil the purpose for which they are manufactured, they also end up hiding a part of the facial identity of people. And, so we have accounts of many amusing pranks played and of horrendous crimes committed by faces hidden behind masks even as the world continues to battle with a deadly pandemic. Not to leave out many a shy person who has dared to step outdoors (post-lockdown) only because s/he could cover up half the face without inviting amused stares! And yes, how could I forget the aesthetic role played by masks during carnivals in many places across the world! (Venice, known as the city of masks, houses some of the exotic mask stores of the world)

Providing safety from pollutants and pathogens that are invisible to the naked eye and concealing identity from people before whom one is undoubtedly visible – sure sums up the utility of a mask. While pollutants and pathogens lie in wait for that split-second of a moment when they can sneak into a host without a mask, coming to people – just a faint cue is enough for familiar others to identify the face behind the mask.

We all don many different masks in our lives. The happy masks help hide inner pain and turmoil from people. The sad masks help generate sympathy from significant others. The angry masks help discipline our children. The seductive masks help lure desirable others. The masks of apathy help portray a lack of concern. The masks of romance help hide acts of adultery.The masks of altruism show our helping nature to people. Behind a robber’s mask may lie the heart of a needy father. A prostitute’s mask helps veil stories of betrayal and deceit.  

Why call these masks?

Because, behind such facades lies the true self – at times known to us and at times hidden from us.

A mother who is acting angry on a child who hasn’t completed the homework, knows that she isn’t truly angry. She is just pretending to be angry! Known self-pretence!

On the other hand, a seasoned criminal with a gory history, more often than not, does not know that he has a soft side to himself as well. Unknown self-deception!

Known self-pretence is easier to slip out from than unknown self-deception. You remove your mask and are out of known self-pretence. However in case of unknown self-deception, you need to be first made to realize that you are wearing a mask and then taught to remove it and drop it off.

The human heart is prone to play its tricks in various ways. It is a smooth pathway to deception. Whether known or unknown, our pretences lie unveiled before the omniscient God – who invades the heart to see deep within. Our different masks save us from ourselves and others, but fall ineffective before God who penetrates deep within the tiniest of all pores.

Even as we continue wearing protective masks against pollutants and pathogens, let us strive to identify and drop down the many masks of unknown self-pretences that we are habituated to wearing.

With God’s strength we surely can!

BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS

Ever imagined a world without conflict, division, war, hatred and strife – where peace, tranquility and harmony reign over every heart and soul? Utopian fantasy, some would say!

Rightly so, considering the quantum of chaos and discord all around – deep inside the mind, in the family, at the workplace, in social structures and in the world at large – peace seems to be as elusive as the silver lining beneath the dark cumulo-nimbus clouds that augurs hope but then slips into oblivion.

A world that was groaning and moaning in the aftermath of two World Wars has been spared of a third one till date, thanks to the astute role of  the United Nations which deserves a fair share of credit for achieving the purpose of its inception to a great extent. However, the world has not been completely rid of wars and conflicts. We still have heart wrenching graphic images and stories of strife-torn countries, broken families and lost lives.

What we need to understand is that as long as there are disparities and divisions, there will be conflict. And, such credentials will continue to be companions of the world as long as it exists.

Taking an example, close to home – think of sibling rivalry. Why does it happen? It happens when one child ‘perceives’ his/ her sibling/s as being loved or attended to more than self. In case such a perception is real, the rivalry stays on along the years and continues into adulthood and may be the cause of deep-rooted enmity between/ among siblings. If such a perception is faulty, then parental intervention helps dissipate the apprehension and restore peace.

This is true for every other spectrum and all relationships that we can think of.

Ronald Reagan said, “Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”

So then, if differences create strife and differences cannot be completely gotten rid of, can peace be ever attained?

Peace is an internal construct. It is not an external construct that needs to be attained by certain means. We cannot attain peace by doing or not doing certain things. It is purely a gift of the Spirit of God to man. But, our actions sure play important parts in helping to retain or renounce peace in our lives and in that of others.

The story is told of a man who was in the quest of peace. He quit his job and started on his hunt for peace. Each morning he left home and wandered far and near to catch hold of peace which he could then spread everywhere. But, each evening he returned home disillusioned and got into drunken brawls with his wife. The rapidly depleting resources soon brought them to a point of mounting debts and starvation until one day the young wife, moments before breathing her last sighed, “Ah! Peace at last!” But before she could explain what this peace was, to her husband, she drifted off into the other world, leaving him alone to continue his quest for peace.

And so go on the stories of many men who wander off to attain peace and in the process drift even farther from it, while all the time it is very much within them.

With conflict continuing to reign massively in the world, each one of us can be peacemakers in the roles that we play. But, so as to be peacemakers we must first have peace within us. Without our own internal peace, all our efforts in peace-making no matter how sincere they may seem, would end up being fruitless. Peace within, would create the desire to see peace restored everywhere.

Calming down heated arguments and signing peace pledges may give us the satisfaction of playing significant roles in restoring peace, but these are simple indications of the soul within that has been designed for retaining and yearning for peace.

More than being a virtuous act, it is indeed a blessing to be a peacemaker. The Bible says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”

Even as we strive to be peacemakers, let us first receive the gift of peace from God.