Diya jalao

To quote a cliché, why do I feel like a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there?

I expect the powers that be to rise to the occasion in a crisis. Am I too optimistic? When the world is suffering from a pandemic, it’s disastrous for the common man to continue normal life.

What does the common man face today? We have adapted social distancing. We have stopped working and haven’t stepped out the past few days.  We’ve been asked to forfeit rents, pay maids or other help even though we can’t use their services, and we have complied. For how long? 21 days or probably more, we are uncertain there too. Many businesses are facing losses, and some are on the verge of shutting shop altogether. But we can’t complain, this is for the greater good. And no one will dispute how necessary this step is.

We expect leaders to rise to the occasion. Especially in a democracy where we voted for those who promised to deliver. Lack of preparedness is something we can’t complain much about now.

I have had high expectations from this leadership and didn’t expect to be let down in a situation that demands a high level of positive action, participation and empathy.

And what is the solution from our favourite head of state?

Both the electronic and social media (no print for now) kept reminding us to listen to the PM’s video message at 9 AM. We waited with bated breath for our Rockstar PM to deliver the much-needed solution for tackling the crisis.

What was his message? Light diyas / candles / torches for nine minutes at 9 PM on 5th of April.

How is this going to tackle the novel corona virus? The virus will see the combined prayers of 1.4 billion and vanish. Reassuring the public is one thing but expecting symbolism to do the job you were appointed to do is simply ridiculous.

I get that a vast majority in the country are religiously inclined and quite a good many tend towards imbecility. But the PM has already won the masses over. And all he needs to do is say it, and the public would gladly obey, that is the respect and love he commands. He could have got away with just about anything with the kind of servile followers he has earned, but he had to resort to these tactics. And social media is all praise for this genius, and what a master stroke this is!

Or is he biding his time while trying to figure out what can possibly work in this situation? How else do you explain this as a solution to the pandemic?  

I am still hopeful for the establishment to deliver us out of this situation, even if the ride won’t be smooth.

Tribute to Dad

Words can’t describe the loss we feel now. Our beloved father left us forever on Oct 31 this year. Even though I knew it was looming, I didn’t know it would come so soon.

Death is a part of life. And once it strikes someone you so dearly love, your existence will never be the same. This is one of the most painful and heart-ripping times I’ve had to endure.  

Although he had been in and out of the hospital,  I was shocked about his end. I believed and hoped that he would recover and come back home all fit. Return from hospital he did, only to breathe his last.

He suffered from severe anaemia, and it had made him feeble. He was an active man who refused to be confined to bed.  I only console myself in the thought that had he continued to live, he might have suffered more and I surely didn’t want him to suffer.

I know that the pain of losing a parent will not end in a lifetime. I suppose it might ease with time as I process and get through it, but I don’t imagine I will get over it. I’ve barely begun to accept my Mom’s loss.  How can I? How can you get over a person who has been there since much before you were even aware of yourself? And now both the people who were responsible for our being are no more.

Dad’s life, his influence, his energy is inextricably linked to mine and I now take comfort in that. I take comfort in knowing that my Dad is no longer in pain. That suffering is no longer something he has to endure. My Dad will forever be in my heart until the day it stops beating.

And I am grateful that I stand here because of my Dad.

What is the measure of a man? Is it the amount of money he has? The possessions he owns and the power he holds? Is it the professional success he’s achieved over the years?

The true measure of a man is how many people he has touched or how many lives he has altered, how much love he gives; how he shares whatever he has to help others; how consistently he lifts up those around him with a kind word, a funny joke, a compliment, a humble ear or words of compassion. By this measure, my Dad was immeasurable.

I remain grateful and comforted knowing how much my beloved Dad positively affected the lives of others. And it’s incredible to see just how boundless his reach has been.

My Dad left an impact on every person he met, even strangers, who didn’t stay strangers very long because he was just so damn friendly and jovial. The love and energy my Dad spread on this Earth continues to grow and will live on, and that is the ultimate measure of any human being.

I have lost my Dad only in body, not in spirit. I love you, Dad. Now and for evermore. 

To do or not to do

I am not an atheist. And fortunately not Hamlet either.

Most of us imagine that deep down we all know what is it that we need to do in any situation. At least, we think we do. I do whatever I do only if I believe in it 100%. Conviction (one of the great values handed down to me by my parents) matters to me more than pleasing others. If I follow the former, the latter automatically happens eventually, which is why I don’t worry about the “pleasing the world” bit.

I lost my dad, P S Vaikuntam last week. Of course we all have our own ways of grieving, and I can’t imagine any ways of customizing grief. My siblings and I share a lot, we agree on most subjects. One of those matters happens to be religious rituals and customs. I hail from the Tam-Brahm community that goes through a grind of a 13 day ritual of obsequies. I have been through these for the many deaths in both my maternal and matrimonial homes and found these rather painful, and far from consoling. I went through the motions like a zombie when I lost my in-laws one after the other. I’ve questioned the customs but the answer I’ve got so far is: these rituals help the dead pass seamlessly to the next world. And it doesn’t end here. You need to appease the spirits (of the dead) two days a month for a year, with a four day ceremony at the end of the year, and an annual one after this. These are not to be questioned, and followed implicitly. And these rituals aren’t exactly free. They cost the moon. They have package deals too. A few lakh rupees. Wonder how the poor bid goodbyes to their loved ones. And for those who can’t stop work or have less time, you may skip some of those days in between. Once the cremation formalities are done, you have to immerse the ashes in the Ganga; if you are not fortunate enough to live near the holy river, you are permitted to go with a lesser river for the immersion. Then you may skip the rituals of some of the days upto the 8th, but have to perform the rites from the 9th to 13th day. So there is compromise of sorts permitted here, provided you load the priests with a hefty sum.

And what happens if you don’t observe these rites? You’d imagine something on the lines of – the dead will be stuck in this world or come to haunt you? You couldn’t be more wrong.

Wait for it.

Your children will suffer if you fail to observe these rites. You will have (physically or mentally) disabled children or if you already have healthy children, they will be doomed. You obviously don’t want to send your children to a life of damnation. Yes, you got it right. This is the fear that makes Tam-Brahms perform these rites. I know people who didn’t care if their parents existed when they were alive, but religiously performed all the rites the priest told them to do. Fear makes them do whatever they are expected to do. Knowing how everyone is devoted to their children, the high priests conveniently manipulated the gullible people into doing whatever they wanted them to do. I can’t for the life of me propitiate a God who’d punish my kids if I failed him (or her). I don’t trust such a God. The God I know is made of love and compassion. I refuse to cower to a punishing God.

A relative asked me: Why do you follow traffic rules or pay taxes? Similarly, you need to follow rules of you religion. But if I break traffic rules, it may not only be chaotic, but I could also end up dead or worse, kill someone else. That’s why we follow traffic rules. We pay taxes because the government needs funds to run the country. But who laid down laws for the dead? My religion is a way of life. My belief in God is personal, not religious. There is no evidence that Hindus have to follow these rites set by a few men. Or else, how do we explain how each of the several sects and sub sects of Hindus follow different practices.

His holiness Adi Shankra’s views on this: These rites give children the satisfaction of doing something for their parents. The after death rituals are a way of assuaging the children’s guilt.

But we Vaikuntam siblings aren’t trapped in a plane of guilt. We loved our parents, and made sure we made them feel loved and respected when they were alive. We are of the view that we have to love, respect and support our parents as long as they live.

How do we know the dead receive anything at all? Is there an afterlife? I also hear counter arguments – how do we know there isn’t? We don’t know one way or another. But I’d rather not go through a torture I’m not even convinced will help my parents, even if they are where the high priests believe they are.

When we lost our mother three years ago, we siblings decided to donate in a senior home where the residents don’t have children or were abandoned by their kids. We felt gratified in this. Simply because we can improve, even slightly, the life of someone who is alive. It wasn’t a onetime ritual either. On her death anniversary every year, the elders are served a feast courtesy the donors.

All this is really noble and all, our relatives say. But what about the 13 day rituals? We have been ridiculed for neglecting our duty towards our (dead) mother, and similar derision comes our way this time towards Dad. But his children do not believe in these rites, so our dad is doomed to suffer –or worse, do our kids face hell? Who knows?