Tag Archive | Christianity

The Gospel according to Jesus Christ- Jose Saramgo : 60/52

The greatest way The Greatest Story Ever Told could have been told

I warmed up to Jesus after Reza Aslan’s Zealot made him more real. Then The Testament of Mary happened and he became that attractive naxal-like rebel to me. And then, this Christmas day, I finally found a Jesus Christ that I can actually live with. The complete package.

Conceived on a surreal violet dawn, his birth is announced by a stranger who leaves behind a bowl of shining earth. This stranger will then drop into his life at unexpected places and give the reader goosebumps. I’m still not sure how to ‘accept’ Pastor, the tall dark mysterious stranger who left me with a chill down my spine at the very last line of the book. The baby isn’t born in the classic crib scene with farm animals and angels, he is born in a cave somewhere near Bethlehem, aided by a slavewoman. His father,Joseph, then goes on to cause the death of 25 innocent babies, something that will haunt him in his dreams till his death; his shocking, unexpected death that has never been actually explained anywhere in the Bible. And  the dream is bequeathed to his son, thirteen year old Jesus. And the real story then begins.

God is the villain here, the selfish one who wants to be god to the world at any cost, even specifically at the cost of killing the son he sent to this world through probably something like this. You stomach churns when, without batting an eyelid, ever so matter-of-fact, he lists the names of all the martyrs who will die for the sake of his religion. Almost five pages of martyrs, listed in alphabetical order, right from the disciples themselves to those who will later die gruesome deaths in the Spanish Inquisitions and after. Simon, whom you will call Peter, like you, he will be crucified, but upside down. Philip will be tied to a cross and stoned to death, Bartholomew will be skinned alive, Thomas will be speared to death…Adalbert of Prague put to death with a seven-pronged pikestaff, Adrian hammered to death over an anvil….Vincent of Saragossa tortured to death with millstone, grid and spikes... Had the book been written a few years later, maybe god could have included Graham Staines and his two children, burnt to death while sleeping in a jeep in that long  list of people who died purely for his selfish cause, the cause of making him god of the world.

Jesus is a real paavam, a pawn in god’s larger game. Someone whose only purpose in life was to die a gory death for reasons that are still unclear to me. He is so human in this book, makes him so flesh and blood ordinary, but extraordinary in that unexplainable way. He fights with his mother, leaves home. Comes back and leaves again, his ego hurt. He meets Mary Magdalene, the woman behind the man he goes on to become.They live as man and woman, nothing is glossed over here. Thankfully. Judas too, isn’t the traitor we all think he is. He just does what he has to do. And by doing that, he probably prevented a larger catastrophe. And Pastor, Oh, Pastor. No, as ‘broad minded’ as I am, I can’t get to accept him. But without him, there will be nothing. And like how our politicians need poverty and communal riots to keep themselves relevant, god needs Pastor to remain relevant himself. So Pastor isn’t going anywhere. But Pastor gave me that whole body shiver each time he appeared. *shudders*.

This is a gospel that needs to be included into the other Book. For the sake of sanity.

Afternote: Maybe the Gharwapsi guys can use this book as ammunition to reveal the sham it all really is. But then, with people like me ( the intelligent ones) , it may backfire. If a missionary had given me this story, I could have become a believer.

PS: I’ve actually finished one more book this year. Memories Of My Melancholy Whores. But nothing worth raving or outraging about. Not sure if I should leave this list as a round number at 60 or write one more post to make it an auspicious odd number at 61.

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Things Fall Apart- Chinua Achebe :51/52

No literary masterpiece, but a haunting tale. A tale of how things simply fall apart.

I don’t know why I had been putting off reading this book for so long. This was ‘prescribed’ when I finished the Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche series, it was recommended by so many people, but somehow I kept giving it a pass. Anyway better late than never. I finished it in one sitting. Simple narration, simple language, gripping plot. And to think that this was a book whose manuscript almost got lost. Thank god it didn’t. I guess there is an Agbala after all.

Men invade in the name of many things. Race supremacy, greed, power, boredom, religion, to-save-humankind-from-opression ( read: Oil) and finally, the worst of all: To Do Good. And worst of the worst? To Do Good in the name of religion.

Okonkwo is a farmer. A simple farmer leading a simple life in a simple village. Inspite of a wasterel father, he beat the odds, worked hard and is who he is today : A respectable man in his village living happily with his three wives and six children. He is a legendary wrestler, a feareless warrior who drinks palm wine from human skulls. He spends his days planting yams,  beating his wives, celebrating at weddings, sharing manly stories with his sons and complaining about the quality of snuff. He is even one of the egwugwus, the ‘masked ancestors’ who deliver judgements to the village people. The rules in his village are clear and simple: Kill a man’s wife, replace her with another woman. A week before planting, observe Peace Week  so that the gods aren’t angered. Break those rules, pay for it with poultry. Sick from an un-understandable disease, be abandoned in the Evil Forest to die. Twins that cannot be explained, again, Evil Forest. Commit an inadvertant crime, a crime that is categorised ‘female’ (as opposed to a deliberate ‘male’ crime’), be exiled for seven years. Simple.

And it is one of those ‘female’ crimes that sends Okonkwo into exile. And brings him back after seven years to his village that has now been taken over by Christian missionaries, white men. White men who first take away his son, white men who rescue abandoned twins from the Evil Forest, white men who slowly embrace the village outcasts into their fold, white men who bribe villagers with education, white men who create a court and form a government. White men who then supress rebellion. White men who tear things apart. All in the name of their loving god, their only god. All in the name of bringing civilization to ‘savage tribes’.

And it makes me wonder why. Why make Things Fall Apart when you can just Let It Be.

PS: I read some stupid reviews outraging about the misogyny and stuff in the book. Give it a break, yo. That was tribal Africa. Deal with it. 

Afternote:

When I went to Zambia, I went expecting a land of ‘savages and witch doctors’ and starving children. Seriously. As ashamed as I am of stereotyping, I was so disappointed when all I got was five star accommodation and a client who had two Mercedes cars, American university degrees and a membership at the golf club. For sightseeing I was asked to visit the malls and safari parks that charged in USD, flea markets that sold Zimbabwean dollars ( I bought a 100 billion dollar note) and touristy tribal artefacts. The village I visited had old women with cellphones. Of course, it was 2012 and there were no ‘savages and witch doctors’. I rode around the city with the CEO of the company, a devout Christian who only played Christian devotional music or sermons in his car. But he also looked at me and said that he’d take me as his second wife if I had been Zambian. No, he wasn’t hitting on me. He said it like it was a thing. Just like that.

And I saw this idol in a Christian church. I couldn’t figure out who this was. ( There was a ‘normal’ Jesus on the cross too, so was this something carried forward from the ‘heathen’ faith?)

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If it is, I wonder what the White Man has to say about it.

 

 

 

Amen: The autobiography of a nun- Sister Jesme : 48/52

Turning water into whine

Blame me for expecting something explosive. This was nothing more than the long rant of a disgruntled employee. The fact that she was a nun is just an added bonus. As a saying goes, if there’s a devil residing in the roof of every normal household, there’s a devil residing in each rafter in a convent. A house full of women where everyone is everyone’s mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, the stuff Ekta Kapoor’s dreams are made of.  And the poor husband, Jesus Christ, looks at the drama from above helplessly, and shakes his head in despair. And no, divorcing him isn’t as easy as divorcing a human husband. A Convent, Hotel California. Same thing.

Sr. Jesme is a PhD in English, but this book reads like a ten year old’s What I Did During My Summer Vacation essay.It is written in present tense, a flashback while she’s on the train as a fugitive ,on the way to hand over her resignation. It just rambles on and on with one phase of her life flowing into the other without a pause.  There are too many references to Provincials and Generalities and church specific bureaucracy  without saying which one was which or whether they were the same person throughout the book. Almost ten words on every page were within quotes, like why should ‘ plus two’ be within quotes when referring to plus two students.

Sr. Jesme , or maybe she’s back to Memy now, paints herself as the goodiest of goody two shoes that ever walked the earth. Barring a single faltering when she’s alone in the room with a priest, she is goodness personified. She is a socialist who mingles with the lower strata of kitchen nuns freely, she is a liberal who watches movies and makes movies, she is so honest that she is the only one who stands up against capitation fee, she is the saviour of poor students, she’s so Jesuslike that she always shows the other cheek. She’s so everything that she actually deserves a YoSrJesmeSo set of jokes.

Agreed. The rot inside the church runs deep. You have corruption, sexual liaisons, petty jealousies, politics that will put our parliamentarians to shame, mind games , rampant sexism, racism and good old simple hate. She herself seems to have been victim to a ‘special love’ with another nun and almost succumbed to the advances of a priest. But I somehow am not able to bring myself to blindly believe her version of all the events in this book. Why would she be forced to take psychiatric treatment if there wasn’t something that made the rest of the congregation believe she needed help? There must be something more to that part of the story, especially that incident which was the breaking point which made her leave the congregation. But hey, who am I to judge. If she’s happy now, free from the shackles of the Convent, good for her. I must Google for some follow ups about her life.

Afternote: My sixth standard teacher had joined a convent and left, but before she became a full fledged nun. I wonder what regrets or relief runs through her mind till this day. Two of my classmates have become nuns. One I met after a few years and she was cheerful and happy. It was awkward, the confusion whether I should call her by name or call her Sister. The other one joined the more difficult Pentecostal nunnery, haven’t heard anything from her since the day she told me she’s becoming a nun. I hope she’s happy.

While a Sister Act-like Mary Clarence will be super cool, the  Catholic church should loosen up a bit and let nuns be human. They allow their priests to be anyway. Nuns like this one, may her tribe increase.

The Handmaid’s Tale- Margaret Atwood :43/52

Crazy.

This book was on a list of books so depressing that people abandoned it halfway. Being a sucker for dark, deep and depressing, I immediately picked it up. It wasn’t so gripping or unputdownable, so I was comfortable reading just a few chapters every day an wasn’t in a hurry to finish it. But somehow, the book didn’t hit me at all. Or so I thought. Because much to my surprise, almost every night during the ten days it took me to finish the book I had disturbing dreams: dreams of being trapped in abandoned buildings or of being suffocated or trying to cross over barbed wire fences. Books don’t usually do that to me. They affect my thoughts when I’m awake, not in my dreams. I’m awake right now, and this book is not doing anything to me.

Yes, there is a society, not too far away, where women are all dressed in blue and wear something more stifling than white wings on their faces. There is a society, currently emerging at alarming speed, where women are allegedly being turned into beings of mere procreation without pleasure. But by no stretch of imagination can I picture such a society ever being possible in the US. Not now, not in the past, not in the next million years. I couldn’t relate, couldn’t relate to the horror that this was supposed to be. Most of it seemed more amusing or satirical rather than horrifying. And the futuristic set up, as imagined 30 years ago,that has technology prefixed with the word Compu is just plain hilarious.

Gilead is a Christian theocracy. What denomination, it doesn’t say. Baptists are supposed to be enemies, Catholic priests are hanged at the Wall and people quote rules from the Bible. The Old Testament does have a lot of convenient rules. So this society too has rules, actually laws, which allot babymaking women to husbands of infertile wives  because pollution, immorality and birth control have rendered most of the women sterile. And when the husband himself is the problem, the task is quietly reoutsourced. (Very Pandu-like. Or actually more like this ). Women are colour coded and slotted into roles. The Handmaids wear red and their only job is to make babies. The older women take on the role of Aunts or Marthas, chaperons or servants; they wear grey and green. The Wives wear blue and their role in society is pretty much to do nothing but wait for a Handmaid to give them a baby. And there are Econowives who are everything, multcoloured. Unwomen who fall under ‘none of the above’ are sent to the Colonies where they clean up toxic waste and waste away.  The fertile Handmaids are given three chances to fill the barren houses they occupy with babies; healthy babies, babies that are conceived in Ceremonies and born in Ceremonies. Babies, not Unbabies. Unbabies  go to the Shredder (The only thing in this book that continues to disturb me when I’m awake). Handmaids take on the names of the men they are passed on to: Offred, Ofwarren, Ofglen. Of <man’s name>. (How different is this from suffixing the man’s name to hers? Anyway) And the men of course, are just Men. The Commanders. Men who lust after Jezebels who wear salvaged lingerie from the past or just sad little men who just want to have have normal lives and play Scrabble. The sole purpose of human existence is to repopulate the country and impose Biblical rule, complete with loopholes that allow Jezebels. And life goes on. Goes on until.

As I said, Crazy.

Afternote: There seem to be extreme reactions to this book. People are comparing the Hobby Lobby ruling with this and seeing it as a sign of things to come. I can only say LOL.

 

The Testament of Mary- Colm Tóibín :14/52

A book by Mary the mother, not Mother Mary.

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First, this book made me realise how much I miss the feel of a real book. The soft, powdery- velvetty-silken feel of the cover was enough to make me put aside my current ebook and start reading this. The denim blue was a refreshing change from the usual sky blue you normally associate Mary with.

Sometimes in soft whispers, sometimes agitated , sometimes in painfully controlled agony. This book spoke in several voices.  When reading Zealot, I somehow thought of Jesus as a Naxalite ( In a positive way, of course) Here again, that’s how I found him. Zealous, revolutionary and so blinded by The Cause that he pushed ahead fearlessly, unaware of his mother’s concern for him. And  the fierce way in which his followers were determined to carry on his legacy, come what may, made him seem even more so. And Mary is just a mother. A mother worried about her son’s companions and his transformation when in their company. Scared when she finds out that he is being watched by the authorities. Protective when she sees the crowds he draws. Confused when she hears about the miracles he performs. And afraid for his life.

The name is never uttered in the book. But of course, you know. She finds it difficult to come to terms with what he has become, with what people see in him. She wishes for a miracle that lets her go back in time and redeem her son, get back those moments with her helpless little baby and naughty little boy. She describes a quiet Sabbath day with her family when he was a child, and you ache for her.  She speaks of her husband, and how she misses him. A person who has never played an active role  in the other book. She worries for Lazarus, the one we only know as raised from the dead.She worries about his health, his mental state and his newly acquired show object status. The relationship between her and Mary, Lazarus’ sister makes you wonder about something that seems obvious, but remains unsaid. There’s the heavy ache of sadness that runs throughout the book.

And somehow, after she takes you through those last moments, her torment and her account of the events that followed, the cynic in me actually began to believe.

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth – Reza Aslan : 6/52

I saw just a passing mention about this book while scrolling through the Jaipur Literary Festival tweets and I got it. I’m glad I did.

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I like this Jesus. The Angry Young Man. Almost like a Naxalite ( gasp!) The supporter of the poorest of poor, the voice against the rich priests. The one who performs miraculous cures for free and puts the big religious miracle workers out of business. The one who contradicts himself, preaching peace at one point and asking his disciples to sell their cloaks to buy a sword at another. I like this Jesus more than the one we’ve read about in the Gospels all these days. The Zealot Jesus was so much better than the scrubbed clean of his fiery zeal and embellished with the god aura version of him.

Reza Aslan does not deny anything from the Bible, nor does he tell you anything new. I was surprised that there was not much dedicated to Jesus’ marital status, the hot topic that was done to death during the Da Vinci Code drama. It just gets a mention,nothing more.  There’s a lot of history. The Jewish Revolt, their society and customs those days, their relationship with the Romans, the brewing unrest and the Zealot Party formed the solid foundation for the book. He has also gently poins out to several inaccuracies in the Gospels, starting right from Jesus’ actual place of birth to why it turned out to be a Pontius Pilate apologist at one point.  The way the Gospels conveniently mapped Jesus’ life with what was prophesied in the earlier books and all that was safely glossed over and scrubbed out if the Bible has been explained.

John the Baptist (kind of Karnalike, deserved more credit) and Jesus’ brother James should have really got their rightful due. The way they’ve been written out of the Bible is unacceptable. The What Ifs. And Paul, I Googled him and saw some being called names in some forums.

I guess God will give me brownie points, I have read more of the Bible for reference in the past six days than I have ever read all my life.

Made me more cynical, but this book is a Must Read