Friday, April 28, 2017

Holy crap!

Growing up in India, I have met and interacted with many 'holy' people, since my mom, out of fear and desperation, sought out those who promised that their influence with the Gods would make desirable things happen. I still remember 'Sami ma'. Mom would travel great distances to go meet her. I went once. She was this middle aged lady with visible health problems- overweight, arthritic ... she'd sit down and start rubbing the floor with one hand, murmuring some chant. In the end, she'd open her hand and reveal a palmful of holy ash.
Many questions ran through my mind when I saw this-
Isn't that a fairly simple magic trick?
How can a holy person have health problems? What influence, exactly, do you have with the divine, if you cannot even help yourself, for something as material as the flesh?
Why do you need money from other people if you have truly renounced desire?
If you are God's child, and so is everyone else, why do you allow people to bow to you? Or else, why don't you bow to them too? And fall at their feet like they do?

This last bit is what especially enrages me when I see it on TV. It's not a matter of pride- I understand that falling at a person's feet is a matter of interpretation. Even at its spiritual best; as a gesture of acknowledgment of the divine, why is it one sided? Why do these so called holy people set themselves apart? To sit on a higher dais or chair, to allow themselves to be anointed with perfumed concoctions, flowers, prayers...

Here is an excerpt from an article written by journalist Manu Joseph-
"There is a spiritual movement among the urban affluent to understand life through a guru who is differently dressed but is not expected to do magic. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has filled this slot through entrepreneurial brilliance.
A few years ago I interviewed him at a Malabar Hill house (of course). On the floor were seated Vinod Khanna, Nagma and others like them. On a throne was Sri Sri. I was supposed to interview him in front of his devotees, some of the most influential people of Bombay. As I sat in a chair facing Sri Sri, there were gasps. I was expected to sit on the floor (a journalist before me indeed had sat that way). But then I am such a boor."

I'm not going to go into the debate of why an all powerful entity requires a flesh born mouthpiece. Let's let that one slide. Say you are a channel, a divine messenger- won't that make you even more aware of His design, His creation of all things equal, ahem, including you? 

And the people! The people! What do you really believe, if you can fall at the feet of a fellow man and believe he will make things happen for you? What kind of God do you hold in your heart, if He favors a few above others and lets them perform the miracles that he denies to you? Why is your faith so shallow and unthinking? 

If I saw an enlightened person, I'd be inspired by them. To better myself, to do more to uplift my wisdom and awareness. I cannot imagine anything more pathetic than to grab at their feet and pray fervently that some of their energy will rub off on me simply by physical contact and desperate prayer. Where is the personal responsibility in that? The basic lesson - to face one's good fortunes and bad with the knowledge of one's own will power and force of thought? 

My mom never asked Sami ma the most important questions- What is happiness? What is my purpose? How can I attain peace? Like most followers, she just wanted to know when she'd get her desires fulfilled. Don't give me knowledge, just the outcomes. It took years of being duped for her to finally realize the truth. I watched with horror when a Saibaba picture made its way into the puja room, to be adorned with flowers and lamps. "Who are you praying to, ma? What is he?" I wanted to scream. It's gone now. I'm glad. 

What a beautiful thing faith is, when you think about it. It's like trust. Like handing your child over to your best friend and saying, 'Take care of her for a day.' It's a kind of peace. And like most things, it can be bastardized. A man or woman can rise up, tweak their appearance, say wise words and just like that, can command the faith of thousands. 

If you want to find a truly holy person, here's how you can recognize one. He'll say just two words- 'question everything'.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A wonderful trip to see a truly handsome 'adiyogi', very artistically rendered, then I come back home to Salem and down the road is this goddess put up for a local festival, designed by some man with... repressed tendencies. Both made me smile :)


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Mulch! (Updated)

Even though the sweltering heat is trying its best to incinerate all life, the plants are hanging on and so are we humans. I've stopped planting seeds, but I stumbled upon the technique of sheet mulching this month which got me excited.

"Sheet mulching is a layered mulch system that nurtures the soil and replaces existing lawns or other vegetation, eliminating the need to remove unwanted plant material. The first layer is a biodegradable weed barrier—usually cardboard or multiple layers of newspaper—placed directly on the ground.

Sheet mulch has important advantages relative to conventional methods:

Improvement of desirable plants' health and productivity.
Retention of water and nutrients and stabilization of biochemical cycles.
Improvement of soil structure, soil life, and prevention of soil erosion.
Avoidance of potentially dangerous pesticides, especially herbicides.
Reduction of overall maintenance labor and costs."

Sounds great! So, I decided upon a patch of land in the garden below. Digging and emptying a 1 feet pit took three days. With hot water baths, I managed to avoid both calluses and back aches. After that came the best part- layering the pit.

In order,
neem cake, castor cake (Kottamuthu punnakku, veppam punnakku)
cow dung
more cake
hay, dried leaves
earthworm compost
coconut husk
banana tree leaves and stem
coconut husk
Plant the seedlings.

Now it's resting. In a month's time, as the mercury lowers, and the soil is well on its way to enrichment, I'll add the last layer- another layer of coconut husk on top and plant seedlings of vegetable plants. I can hardly wait to see how it goes! :)


Digging the pit

Powdered cakes added

Cardboard, topped with dried cow dung

Paper, then more cake

Earthworm compost

A layer of soil

Coconut husk

Banana leaves

Banana stem

About a month after the process above, my mother planted Avarakkai (Flat Beans). Initially, they grew slowly. But once they hit the soil and manure layers, there was rapid growth. The same seeds planted in pots on the terrace garden eventually succumbed to disease. These plants however, grew strong, flowered well and our first harvest today was substantial. All in all, a resounding success!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Tropical Beat

In my opinion, the term 'tropical belt' is a double entendre*. Apart from the area around the equator, it's a perfect term for that region on your body just above the hips. They have a lot in common. Both have a tendency to bulge, and in summer, you wish they didn't exist. If you're not a nudist, you know what I mean. You sit down, get up and there's this horizontal stripe of sweat running around the front of your shirt or top. See? Tropical. Belt.

In India, we like to say we have no seasons. We can handle it. We don't need snow. We're tough. We chew iron and stare down lions. We walk through fire. In reality though, we're little bitchy kids. We know we have seasons. Mild summer, Hot summer and Sterilizing summer. We walk around in December (mild summer) with a smile but by mid March (hot summer), we start crying. Year after year, we talk about how much hotter it is and we look at each other in despair as we moan, "Oh my God, what's it going to be like in May (sterilizing summer)?!"

Somehow, we survive. The men start walking around the house topless, and the women stare at the men with hatred. Everybody sweats. Almost everybody, actually. But I'm not going to talk about the minority here- they don't deserve it.

Some of us are blessed with scalp sweat. This is when needlessly overactive sweat glands on the scalp produce so many liters per minute that, like Moses parting the sea, the sweat literally parts one hair in a few dozen places and rivulets stream down a person's face. What activates these glands? A hard hour of toil in the field? A hike up a steep hill? No. Turning my head 45 degrees to the right is enough. Instantly, my hair is plastered to my head, my face acquires a ghastly, ghostly complexion, my clothes crumple themselves and my posture is roughly concave, with my shoulders looking at my feet. I'm picturing this refreshing scene as I write it, and it strikes me that this should have been in my 'Why I'm unmarried' write-up. It explains a lot.

These days, I exit the shower like I'm a low-life trying to convince a cop that I'm not dangerous. No sudden movements. Walk slowly, hands spread out. Look straight ahead. Preserve a neutral expression. Even a twitch of the mouth might set things off. Just be cool. Don't be a hero.

When I see these people who look cucumber fresh after a day out, I don't feel bad. Really. I'm perfectly fine with the fact that the life is unfair. But it's hard not to take it personally. That's why I try to avoid standing next to them or talking to them. When your fingers are constantly working on your face like windshield wipers, it's annoying to have to talk to someone who sits there calmly with one bead of sweat daintily glistening on their cheek. That drop is a mockery to your very existence.

This is also why I love animals. Look at dogs. No sweating, just panting. Look at pigs. No sweating, just wallowing in mud. Or elephants. Just a bit of ear flapping. Now that's smart evolution. I could do all that, you know, instead of sweating. Pant, wallow in mud and flap my ears. Really increase my market value. Now you know why I call this summer 'sterilizing'.

*double entrende: a word/phrase with two or more meanings