'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"Religion In Danger!"

1. Mid 1980s. There used to be a popular serial on the telly - 'Nukkad'. Set in a semi-slum in a city that looked like Bombay, it brought together a fairly interesting assortment of characters, types and events. One episode went somewhat like this:

Local elections. Sudhakar Kadam and Damodar Damle are the main contestants. Kadam is popular in the colony - he is a former slum-dweller who rose to a certain prominence by hard work. Here is an approximate sample from his election speech: "Friends, we need to work together and face our common problems, problems which threaten our very lives. And collective effort is a must to solve them. But beware of some politicians who try to divide you in the name of caste and religion. They rake up religious issues and keep you busy fighting each other so that *they* will never have to answer for your real problems. I would go to the extent of saying, practice of religion is secondary to working out our real existential problems. Indeed, Man and Human life ought to be our paramount concerns, Religious identity is secondary!"

Kadam's rival Damle whips up a strong campaign against this speech. "Kadam has insulted religion saying it is only a peripheral concern. He is attacking our culture which is rooted in deep spirituality and religion. We should come together to face this threat. Religion is in danger. Save it from the likes of Kadam!".

The slogan "Dharm khatre mein hai! Hamein use bachana hai!" ("Religion is under threat. We should rise to defend it!") rings loud above everything else. The fervor it generates sweeps the shrewd Damle to a landslide victory over the idealistic Kadam...

2. A generation later, in the southern state of Kerala, the Communist Government brought out a new set of textbooks. A particular lesson in 'Social studies' went thus:

The lesson is titled "Jeevan has no Religion"

A little boy is brought to school for admission by his parents. The headmaster (Q) has the following exchange with the couple (A). I write from memory:

Q: The boy's name?"
A: Jeevan

Q: Father's name?
A: Anwar

Q: Mother's name?
A: Laxmi

Q: The boy's religion?
A: Please leave the column blank.

Q: But how could one leave the religion blank?
A: Jeevan has no religion at present. As he grows up, he is free to choose the religion he finds suitable to him.

For the last few weeks, Kerala has been boiling over with the so-called 'textbook controversy'. And the 'Jeevan lesson' is at the very focus of this storm. The main allegations raised are "Irreligious commies are propagating atheism and an anti-religion outlook among young minds". And leaders of several religions have separately called on 'true believers' to resist such nefarious schemes and save 'our sacred traditions'...

Note 1: In the above Jeevan story, some folks have objected to 'Anwar' being the father and 'Laxmi' the mother - "Why can't a Krishnan be the father and a Fatima be the mother?" types. Indeed, similar objections (in the 'opposite direction'!) were raised over a decade ago about the movie 'Bombay' in which a certain 'Shekhar' marries a 'Shakila Bano'.

Note 2: While on the Kerala commies being allegedly out to propagate atheism, I need to mention an attempt to propagate a certain kind of *anatheism* which I encountered long ago at school (by anatheism I mean not just a simple belief in God but a strong negation/denunciation of atheism). It was at a Catholic Missionary school where non-Catholic students had to learn something called 'Moral Science' (the Catholics studied Bible proper and Church History in parallel). One particular Moral Science textbook began with a lengthy discussion on these lines:

"How intricate is your wrist watch, how beautiful, how efficient! Now if someone says one fine day, all its parts forged themselves and somehow randomly came together and started ticking away, you will call him mad. There has to be an agency, a creator. And you are far more complex, far more beautiful ... so, there ought to be a creator"

It then went on to list argument upon logical argument to prove that God exists. The lesson ended on this note: "Thus, we arrive at the conclusion that the Omnipotent God can, of his own Will, make anything emerge from nothingness, with a mere "Let there be...".

I later found out that this was a crisp intro to standard Catholic theology, given without *its* main creator's (St. Thomas Aquinas) name - after all it was meant for non-Catholic students (Here is a summary of what we learnt:

And interspersed between those arguments were some wistful comments like: "and still there are some elements who not only doubt but actively deny the existence of God. They are called atheists. What do you think of their mindset?"

And just as 'anatheism', there could well be an 'anagnosticism', although Wikipedia has no such entries. There is at least a character named 'Anagnosti' in 'Zorba the Greek'.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Enigmatic Statues

The 'Fleeing Soldier':
Frozen in perpetual run at a road junction in Pune Camp, this life-size soldier is in full military uniform with a massive-looking kit strapped onto his back and a rifle slung on his shoulder. His hands are free and he seems to be running fast (the pose is awkward though with his right hand and right foot leading). His face bears an odd expression that is neither heroic or furious - he appears to be glancing sideways with the slight hint of a smile. And but for this smirk, the straight interpretation would be that he is running away from battle. The pedestal of this statue is blank - no inscriptions.

The other day, I approached this statue with a camera when an auto fellow pulled up and said: "Don't take photos. You will get thrashed!"

The 'Pensive Laborer' ('Chintaavishtanaya Tozhilali' in Mallu):

Just across the Sangam bridge from Pune station is another mysterious presence. In the middle of a road junction in this rather slummy area, A male figure sits on a rock, a pickaxe or some other tool at his feet. He is dressed in a skimpy loincloth and is pondering something. Again, there are no inscriptions - there are marble plaques on the pedestal but they are blank.

This statue - and the surrounding slum settlement - does have a name - 'Kamgar Putla'- the 'worker statue'. While every other proletarian statue I have seen shows toiling and/or aggressive workers, this particular guy has (had to?) put his tools aside and looks glum as a fish.

As far as I could see, no online source has anything about the 'Kamgar'- the area being prone to floods is often mentioned though.

The 'Soprano':

On a recent visit to Maharaja's College, Cochin, Mom and I saw a strange statue in the middle of a garden in the campus. It shows a woman in an elaborate gown with mouth agape as if singing at full blast - a hand is raised in a gesture that suggests as much. The figure is badly eroded and both hands seem to lack fingers. Mom, who studied there around 1960, does not remember seeing it. A present day student told us the statue is now some sort of an emblem for the college and that "nobody knows who it represents". But the lines "Ah, my beauty past compare, these jewels bright I wear!" suggest themselves, emphatically!

An Odd Pair:

These two male figures flank the 'balikkalpura' (a sort of portico leading into the inner sanctuary) of the Tripunithura temple, Kerala. They are about 5 feet tall and made of black stone, rendered blacker by a regular rubbing with oil they have been receiving for generations. The figure to the left brandishes a big curved dagger with his right hand, in his left hand is a curiously tiny square shield. The one to the right holds a horn or a bugle in his left hand and his rather limp right hand just about holds a dagger. Curiously, nobody I spoke to - local elders included - have not much of an idea as to who they represent. No, they are NOT dwarapalas (a pair of proper dwarapalas stand behind them anyways). And I don't even know if these statues are particularly old - the temple was mostly rebuilt after a major fire around a hundred years back.