Thursday, October 23, 2014


How much good cheer can you fake in festival season?

God forgive me, but festivals bring out the devil in me. Has been so since adolescence. 

Time was, I could pretend to be a little human about it. 

But with age, as shards of politeness become increasingly thin, it has become more and more difficult. 

Friends (those still left...) know I'm an atheist. With time and with running history becoming what it is at home and elsewhere, I've become bit of a militant atheist. 

Point my nose toward a GoD and I always have a cutting and (in my mind) appropriate response at hand. 

Which (also in my mind), is great.

But what does one do when good cheer and bonhomie are overflowing during festival season?

People hugging and wishing and cheering and me with my cutting responses just oozing at my lips, waiting to get out. 

Ram or Ravan?

About a month ago, a friend of mine, a Bohra Muslim actually, called to wish me Happy Dussera. 

Now, Dussera I have a particular problem with. From the time my son was in Kindergarten and the teachers made an effigy of Ravana and they taught him to throw stones at this effigy -- I've been fuming. 

How and why does one celebrate the flailing of an extremely erudite but fallen king? What kind of people are we to do that, I ranted to this friend? 

He came back with an Oops! Sorry to have triggered the Volcano and quickly retreated to his hidey hole. 

But good friend that he is, he returned today with a "Here's Wishing you a Wonderful, Bright and Delightful Diwali." With lots of crackers and Smileys and funny, pretty WhatsApp doodles. 

Boor that I am -- I promptly snapped back -- "Celebrating the Return of Ram Rajya? In this day and age that's celebrating the return of the BJP. Do you really want to congratulate me on that?

And then I paused. 

I wrote back, "Let's celebrate Christmas instead. Or New Year's."

And then I decided to write. 

Is Diwali Political? Really?

There was more than my atheism at play here. 

I have major problems with Christianity. Obviously. 

Who in his right mind would hate Satan for luring Eve to the fruit of knowledge? 

Where would we be if he hadn't? Huh? 

I mean, seriously? 

So I asked myself why had I said Christmas, which was as religious/mythological a festival as Diwali or Eid?

The answer is of course simple. While in my ideological context, Christmas is still a stupid festival; in my socio-political context -- it is not as politically charged a festival as the others. 

I could afford to be moderate and intellectually distant about Christmas because it does not directly affect me. 

That's the premise on which everyone functions. The middle class, the majority Hindu, the minority peddler, the male chauvinist, the feminist, the intellectual.  

We are all, in our own way tolerant of the non . We are able to see  issues unrelated to us as outsiders, ponder over them as intellectuals and be sane and logical and kind about them. 

To put it bluntly. We can be distant and glib about things that we don't give a damn about. Not in any meaningful way. 

But here comes the rub that made me write:

How much toll would toleration take if toleration could talk tall

The question I asked myself was : Wasn't this how people greeted each other before the troubles? Before religion became political?

Here was a Bohra Muslim calling (who he might have thought was) a Hindu, with a simple Happy Diwali greeting. 

For decades before the BJP this was exactly what made us a comfortable multi-cultural, multi-religious country. But I had stomped all over his good wishes.  

I was being boorish about it exactly the way Narendra Modi had been when he refused to accept the Islamic topi. In my pursuit of intellectual purity, I had acted like the very person I hated most.

How had this come to be? 

Much like the Dark Knight and the Joker, how had I become Narendra Modi's alter ego --- only standing on the other side of the mirror? Should the comparison even flatter me? Scare me? Appal me? 

I'm not sure yet. 

At a very basic level I am an atheist. Equally disdainful of all religions. 

I am also though, a political creature...we all are, whether we acknowledge it or not. 

In (continuing) to give religion such a prime place on my mental horizon, am I peddling to the current vicious political discourse? In fighting it on it's own terms was I contributing to it? 

Does the Gandhian view of Here No Evil, See No Evil...... make Evil go away? 

Or like Thoroeu, Is there a thousand hacking of the branches of evil, to one who is striking at the root? 

I don't have any easy answers.

Have F...

One can't but look at the increasing superstition, bigotry and sheer non-sense like love jihad out there and not respond. 

One can't look at the spread of the Sangh and all it entails... and keep quite. 

There is an irreducible logic to what all of this means. One can't ignore that either. 

The only question then remains -- the appropriate medium of discourse. And, if such a thing exists, the appropriate level of engagement. Where things are non enough for an unbiased assessment, but not so non that we find it easy to disengage. 

So......this festival season, if you're having fun at Eid or Diwali or Dussera I'd say........

Well, my finger trembles and my mouse dithers like a drunk at saying Happy E or Happy D or Happy C......

But.... Have fun. Remember the old times when religion was private and festival was for friends. 

Meanwhile, here's a picture my Bohra friend shared in response to my boorishness. Have fun, he said. With that picture? You bet I will. 

Have fun you guys too. And er... stay safe. Your light bulbs may explode.