Ashok, the youngest of the quartet on this Friday consortium binge, for all his youth, chose a topic totally unexpected from him. I hope that this post comes up to his very high standards. The other two, apart from me, Grannymar and Conrad, are seasoned travelers on this route. Both on the Friday posts, and the subject matter. Hints of their capability have seeped through, in their blog posts and I hope that they too would find this post interesting. Grannymar hopefully will withdraw the punishment that she gave me last week for not coming up to her very rigid standards of propriety.

“The hardest lesson in life, is to know which bridges to cross, and which to burn.”

“Nothing can be taught to a man; but it is possible to help him find the answers within.”
-Galileo Galilei.

And that sums up my journey from religion to spirituality.

I understand Religion to mean the various actions one takes to establish contact with the Divine.

Like all Hindus, my exposure to religion started from my first being aware of being a person. The constant teaching to pray, attend poojas, invoke God before meals, before falling sleep, before writing anything, asking for blessings, things and so on and so forth. Rituals, rites, group affairs, prayer songs, functions, the upanayanam, an important land mark in a Hindu’s youth when he is given knowledge of Brahma and given a sacred thread to wear. Exposure to our Mythology, Traditions, Legends and lore too played a great role in shaping my religious being.

In India, everything is religious. Nothing is ignored. If one’s foot accidentally touches another, an immediate apology in the form of a Namaste is given, because the other is Divine. If a coin or a currency note falls down, it is picked up and an invocation is said apologizing Goddess Lakshmi for the insult. A sacred symbol is written on top of the page before anything is written. Before studying anything, the Goddess Saraswati is invoked to bless the endeavour.

A lifelong obsession with all these and festivals including marriage and funeral ceremonies being converted into religious occasions sums up a Hindu’s life. Everything that happens, good or bad is attributed to Divine intervention. All commitments are made with the proviso, “God willing!”

My life till my mid teens was no exception. I went through all these things. Belief and Faith was drummed into my head with precision and regularity.

This was in the midst of the Rationalist and Atheist movement gaining strength in the South of India where I was then located. If from one side religion was being drummed into my head, from another side, rationalism and atheism was. I succumbed to the latter due to “peer pressure”. By the time I was sixteen, I was an atheist and a hedonist. Life was good.

Many things happened subsequently in my life, but religion played no part in it except in one case, when a Roman Catholic girl that I was interested in, insisted that I convert to Roman Catholicism before even getting engaged. I attended catechism classes and took serious instructions from her Father Confessor. I could not be convinced, and that relationship broke up. So that attempt at organized religion also failed. Life was good. Life began to revolve around spirits – Rum, Gin, Beer, Whisky, and when not available, hooch.

Fast forward to my early thirties. Something kept nagging me to give religion a shot again. So, I went back to practicing some rituals and visiting temples of worship etc. Life was good. The spirits continued to flow.

Came mid thirties and I was on the fast track in my career burning the candle at both ends. Step in an atheist friend of mine, who incidentally continues to be one of my dear friends and an atheist, who introduced me to Transcendental Meditation, yes the very same that the Beatles took up to. He thought that I would handle my stress better with that technique. I did, and curiosity took me to studying the subject of meditation and I was hooked into spiritualism. That initiation and the subsequent practice as well as reading of various books on matters spiritual, comparative religion etc, put me on a different tack completely. Life got better. The spirits continued to flow, but now the most sophisticated variety, like Single Malts!

Came the early forties and my mentor and then immediate boss, with whom I had many occasions to exchange views on spiritual matters, challenged me to attend a Vipassana meditation camp. I accepted the challenge and that ten day camp, transformed me and the path that it led me to, is the one that I continue to be on today. The importance of spirits started to decline.

So, from the chaotic and totally unstructured Hinduism, I travelled the Atheist route back to Hinduism and then, dare I say, got promoted to spiritualism due to unquestionable serendipity. So, it all boils down to serendipity after all. Came my late fifties, and the spirits simply disappeared from my life. Hedonism too just fell off by itself.

I understand spiritualism to mean, the real-ization that I am a spiritual being having a human experience. This implies that every other person and being in creation too is the same. If that trend of thought is to be taken to its logical conclusion, every ‘thing’ is one. The path that I am on now, should hopefully take me to that real-ization.

I accept that Religion has its place in society, but it is not for me. I am on a different ‘high’. I also accept that Atheism too has its place in society. It is just not for me. While I can defend myself about this, I simply do not wish to.

Post Script: Grannymar, Ashok never did take up your suggestion for brevity. I am glad that he did not. I would not have been able to do justice to this subject, had he agreed.

Meena Venkat – A Young Lady Lioness.

I had my cousin Devi and her son Sundar spend part of their week end with us. I had not seen either of them in years and thanks to my father now living with us, Devi decided to come over and visit and we had a wonderful time catching up with so much that has happened in both our lives.

Sundar, her young son is an IT professional with a very highly thought of company in Mumbai and a delightful fellow to chat with. I was sad to see both of them drive away to beat the traffic earlier this afternoon.

This blog is however is about Devi’s younger child, her daughter, Meena Venkat who is a celebrity of sorts. Somebody whose exploits we had not known about.

Meena is doing her doctorate in wild life protection and as part of her project work, has been working among the Asiatic Lions of our Gir Forest.

BBC had produced a documentary called the Last Lions of Gir and Devi had brought a DVD for us to share her pride in her daughter’s achievements. Viewing the entire DVD was an astonishing experience for us. Meena has more or less been physically very close to many of the lions in the forest and the film clearly shows that. We simply could not get over this bravery. We are however told that she is quite nonchalant about it.

As my little contribution to the family’s pride in the young girl, I post this article here and request you to visit an excerpt from the BBC film here.

Precision in Relationships.

Have had an eventful week-end and beginning for the week. I had a friend of fifty years come over from the USA to stay with us for a few days. He is planning on returning to India to retire here and is on an exploratory visit. He left for Hyderabad earlier this afternoon.

Both of us were struggling salesmen when we met at an Irani tea shop in Hyderabad. This was a popular meeting place for many salesmen and other regulars. We became good friends and eventually became relatives as well. We married cousins and so became brothers in law.

That is what set me off writing this post. In English, it is simple. We are brothers in law. In the Indian system, it is more precise. In Tamil we are shattagars and in Hindustani, Sadubhais. The Indian, with his particular obsession about relationships, calls this relationship, ‘Co-brothers’, when he is speaking English.

I have always wondered why we Indians are so particular about our relationships. Why can’t we simply use a word like uncle, or aunt or nephew or niece? In India, we have Chacha, Kaka, Mama, Chachi, Kaki, Mami, Bhanja, Bhathija etc.

Just some random musings on our peculiarities. What do you think? Should we follow the English system and simplify?