Tag Archive | religion explained

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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7 Secrets of the Goddess: Devdutt Pattanaik- 54/52

Godesses 101

I’ve never had the opportunity to sit at a grandmother’s feet and listen to stories; stories that I would have listened to in wide eyed wonder at the age of 5, stories that I would have listened to,rolling my eyes in unbelief, at the age of 10 and beyond. Devdutt Pattanaik takes the place of that grandmother in my life. I think he is the only person who can actually get me to sit through a whole book on gods and Gods, goddesses and Goddesses, without waking up that mocking non-believing cynic in me. His books always make me see things from the larger perspective. Nothing is thrust in your face and it is upto you to interpret things the way you want to. And while this book isn’t exactly a page turner, it is an extremely interesting read. I wish I had this book in an e format for easy reference because this is a book that I will revisit again and again , maybe to pick up a tidbit to win an argument or just to reread a story so that I can look at some tradition through less judgmental eyes.

The book starts off with Gaia, but that section somehow felt obligatory. It felt like it was just added to make this book more ‘inclusive’. But once we move on to ‘our’ goddesses, it is familiar territory again and the book picks up speed. Again, these are all familiar stories that we’ve heard over the years, but they are put into neat logical sections. The wild Kali vs the domesticated Gauri. The richposh Lakshmi vs the humble Saraswati. The pure women gods vs Vitthai. The book explores the playful side, the sensual side, the generous side, the benevolent side and the angry side of those women who were created by the gods,  those women who married the gods, those women who gave birth to the gods, those women who are the actual gods. The subtext of the whole book is that Goddesses rule. They are the mothers, the consorts, the sisters. They are the ones who keep the Man Gods under control, the Man Gods who come running to them for help in times of trouble.

I somehow didn’t like the huge font, it made the book seem childish. Also, the pictures on every single facing page seemed a bit distracting. I had to read the text first and then revisit the whole book to study the pictures. It wasn’t possible to do both without breaking the flow. Though every single one of those pictures had a whole story of their own to tell, I somehow couldn’t multitask. And since there was so much, so many names, stories and references, it did need a bit of concentration to keep up.

In a country where the Goddess has so many names, so many faces, so many temples, so many forms, this book should be made mandatory reading. And after this book, I have the urge to watch some of those numerous Amman movies that were a thing in Tamil cinema some years ago.

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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 Rise of the Sun Prince- Shubha Vilas :46/52

Another Ramayana.

I’ve never been much of a Ramayana fan. I’ve read several versions right from ACK to Devdutt Pattanaik’s Sita and The Book of Ram. Asura too, if it can be counted as a ‘version’ of the book. But somehow The Ramayana has never fascinated me as much as The Mahabarata. Maybe because it is too goody-goody for my liking.

This version is a seven part series (phew!) and this book is just part one. So the narration is detailed and unhurried. Unhurried, but fast paced because I finished the book in two longish sittings on the train while going on my holiday and getting back. It starts off right from the very beginning with how Valmiki got recruited into writing the Ramayana with the background story of his transition from Ratnakar to Valmiki.

This is the Balakanda section and the real hero here is Vishwamitra rather than Rama. But ofcourse, Rama overshadows everything and everyone as he is meant to. Tadakka is killed, Ahalya is ‘restored’, Subahu is burnt to ashes, Maricha is sent flying 800 miles away. Vishwamitra tells the boys stories about Ganga and other rivers and his and their ancestors. Mantras and weapons are shared, wisdom passed on. Moral science lessons are imparted. Rama, of course, is so good and obedient that it almost hurts. Gaah. If a god is born human he should exhibit some human characteristics. A couple of shades of grey won’t hurt, Rama. Lakshmana is just a faint shadow, he does nothing much in this book other than stop a baby Rama from crying.  Ravana and his family get their due mention. Still fresh in my memory as the ‘good’ people from Asura, they are once again painted with that black tar brush here. Dasaratha is the scaredy cat who keeps marrying women to avoid a Kshatriya hating rishi from destroying him. 353 wives and no sons. Serves him right for giving away his only daughter. (Again, Shanta is fresh in my memory after I watched Vaisali last week and read up more about her)

I’ve always been a sceptical semi believer and so I read this book as mythological fiction rather than as The Ramayana. And since I didn’t read it with any reverence, I found the capitalizing of letters when referring to Rama and Sita distracting. This book is pure prose, simple prose and so I felt that the gushy descriptions of  the beauty of Rama and Sita were bit funny and out of place. Moon, sun, lotus blossom beauty. All this works better in poetry or poetic prose. So were the exaggerations such as Ayodhya having twenty million palaces and a moat so large that clouds mistook it for the ocean.  And referring to Dasaratha’s council of ministers the Big-M was simply hilarious.

The footnotes on every page were extremely distracting  and so I stopped reading them after a point. Again, I am forced to draw comparisons to Devdutt Pattanaik’s style of afternotes in each chapter. I prefer trivia tidbits rather than blah in the footnotes. And moral lessons and rules to improve the quality of my life? I’ll give that a pass please.

But yes, I enjoyed the book a lot. Nothing new here, but it was a good read. I’m not eagerly looking forward to the next six parts, but when they’re out, I will most certainly read them. ( Also, there’s some rule and order in which The Ramayana should be read. And if you start one kanda you just have to finish the rest or you’ll get seven rebirths of bad luck something.  I hope Shubha Vilas isn’t bringing bad luck to us)

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Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You- Devdutt Pattanaik :44/52

Mind fu.. oh wait.

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This may be politically incorrect, multi-religiously blasphemous and all that jazz, but seriously what were our ancients smoking? It takes truly brilliant  minds to come up with such fascinatingly kinky, twisted stories, attribute it all to gods and goddesses and have centuries of humankind unquestioningly believe in them . To be safe, let me clarify that I say this in a positive sense.

‘Queer’ is a term I absolutely detest, because the very definition of the word defeats the purpose of creating an all inclusive, tolerant society. I don’t know if the purpose of this book was to say that ‘queerness’ has the blessings of the gods, be it Hindu, Roman, Greek, Assyrian or Egyptian. Or whether it is to convince the upholders of present day morality to look within before they judge. Or to say that it has existed over several millennia so let’s not be hypocrites about it. Or to  say it happens, deal with it. Or whether it is  just another book on Indian mythology for contemporary readers. But I’ve loved every one of Devdutt Pattanaik’s books and I did like this one too.

Most of these  stories aren’t new to me. I’ve known many of them since I was a child, thanks to Amar Chitra Katha. But reading them again through adult eyes and from the perspective of  ‘queerness’  is what makes this almost mindblowing. Take Karthikeya for instance. From ACK, all I remember was babies born through a spark from Shiva’s head, floating in a river and six beautiful celestial mothers adopting them. These babies then go on to become one baby and is the much loved, much revered god. A heartwarming, beautifully illustrated tale. But now, reading about it from this ‘queer’ angle, I’m sorry to say, I find his actual conception (if you can call it that) plain creepy. Shiva shoots his seed into the mouth of Agni, it is cooled by Vayu,  it goes on to impregnate all the male Devas, then finds its way into the wombs of six totally clueless women who are so angry that they discard the foetus in the river. The baby(ies) survives inspite of that, a custody battle follows and in the end we get the god we know and worship as Skanda-Karthikeya-Muruga . How crazy is that.

The last time I read about Aravan, after maybe an ACK comic, was in Devdutt Pattanaik’s Jaya. All I felt then was anger towards Arjuna for being so callous and unfeeling about his own son, one whom he didn’t even remember and was ready to sacrifice. I was irritated with the son of Uloopi and Arjuna for wanting to help the father who had no clue about who he was. And the unfairness of it all.  But I didn’t give much thought to the queer angle of this tale. And the lesser said about what I think of Krishna the better. I can’t  bring myself to justify anything which that god has ever done ever.

There are thirty such stories in this book, twisted stories, stories of gods and men being castrated for showing restraint, for not showing restraint; men turning into women, women turning into men; deer eating human seed and giving birth to humans with antlers; crossdressing gods, sons of gods and mere mortals; men taking the form of animals and sneaking into unwilling women’s beds; Bhagirath ,whose very name means what it means, born of two ladyparts; men giving birth to men, men giving birth to women, men giving birth to iron maces. There are also tales from Rome, Greece, Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and other ancient civilizations where Things happened.

Maybe these stories started off with the good intention of encouraging ancient societies to embrace all kinds of people. Or maybe these stories were all made up by cunning men  to justify their kinks. (I won’t say women, it was a male dominated society)  Or maybe these stories were just versions of pr0n or fantasy fiction back then.

But whatever it was meant to be, then and now, this book left me totally mindfucked. And looks like that was one bodypart that our gods or our ancestors didn’t actually do.

Disclaimer: 

Let me make some things absolutely clear about where I stand on the LGBT community. I fully support them, their rights and their lives. I believe that it is natural.  Natural because it is part of nature. You even see such orientation in the animal kingdom. But normal, I won’t say. It is not normal. Like say a birthmark is natural, but not normal. I also believe that this is not a disease and it is not something that can be or needs to be ‘cured’.  I am totally in favour of scrapping Sec 377. The government has no right in anyone’s bedrooms, they can’t dictate whom people should love or how. I try my best not to use the word gay as an insult (though I sometimes do). I’ve been brought up to call the saree wearing eunuch who used to deliver the newspaper as  ‘aval’ or ‘her’ and not ‘adhu’ or ‘it’. But I also believe that the LGBT community does not need our condescending and patronizing support, they need us to just let them be. So I won’t be seen sporting the rainbow colours on my Twitter or Facebook DP.

And then, on the other side, in Oct 2009, sometime around  when Sec 377 was decriminalized, I wrote a blogpost titled ‘377=666?’ and was all judgy about a picture of a famous fashion designer in an open liplock with his (then?) boyfriend. This was what I had written. And I hmmm to myself about it. And cringe.  But then, this was five years ago. And I was stupid. Kindof.

I pride myself in being extremely broad minded. I always support everything that society frowns upon.Sometimes because I really mean it, and sometimes just to go against the grain. But anyway, I always ask “Who made up the rules?” If something happens it was meant to be that way. So just let it be.

…..but ever since the great 377 floodgates opened up in the country, there has been a small chink in my armour and I have begun to rethink my “broadminded” stand

I slowly find my support wavering away from Celina Jaitely and moving reluctantly towards Baba Ramdev. I tried hard to sway towards Celina, but the wind kept whispering otherwise and kept pushing me away.

But yesterday two images from the Van Heusen Men’s Fashion Week sealed my resolve strongly and firmly, and now, I can declare with conviction that I wholeheartedly support Baba Ramdev and Co

But people change. Attitudes change. Opinions change. I changed. I grew up.

No god but God- Reza Aslan : 18/ 52

A beginner’s guide to a misunderstood religion.

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Zealot was easy since I had a background of Jesus’ life and I knew most of what the author was talking about. But my only relationship with Islam has been using the pages of the fat translated Quran at home to press flowers. So reading Reza Aslan’s No god but God was Islam 101 for me. And I read it with no prejudice, no preconcieved notions.

Though it is seemingly written from a neutral standpoint, it did seem like the author was offering excuses rather than explanations at times. Parts like the one about Muhammad placing his hand on the statue of Jesus that was inside the Kaaba and asking his followers not to destroy it made it obvious that he was writing for the Western Christians ( Much like how he wrote about how Jesus’ death was toned down to cater to Roman sensibilities in Zealot! ) Another thing that struck me in this book was that right from the beginning, the reader is made to feel sympathetic towards Ali and made to believe that he was given a raw deal. Maybe I’m assuming too much, but this was the Shia in Reza Aslan writing  (Edit: There is a stronger reaction. Haha)

But he has also played it safe, not offering any controversial explanations and instead just stating facts as they are. Like I would have loved to get a logical explanation about why it is mandatory to read the Quran in Arabic even if you don’t understand the language. It is a stupid rule. But it was  mentioned as just a thing and no logic was offered. Much has been written all over the place about women and the veil, so I guess that is why there wasn’t much explanation about it in the book. But going by the story of Muhamad losing his wife in the desert and suspecting her after she returns ( much like the other insecure man-god Rama), I draw my own conclusions.

The parts upto the death of Muhammad were easy to read and understand, but after that it got a little confusing. Many names didn’t stay in my head and I had to go back to check who was whom and who supported which faction. There were a lot of references and I kept losing track about which school of thought they came from. I’ve never considered Sufism a religion, I’ve thought of them more cultish, like the yoga guys or the Hare Krishna guys and the chapter on Sufism confirmed it. Somewhere in the middle, it became a mixture of history, politics and religion and it became too much to comprehend. I would have preferred to read about Shia beliefs and Khomeni separately rather than in the same chapter. Khomeni is history, Shiism is religion. Same thing with the Sepoy mutiny, colonialism and the rest of the final chapters.

I liked the book a lot,  it was very informative and enlightening.  And I must read it a second time to appreciate it better.

The Testament of Mary- Colm Tóibín :14/52

A book by Mary the mother, not Mother Mary.

colm-toibin-the-testament-of-mary

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.