Book Review: Why I am a Hindu

There were many reasons I pounced on this book when I saw it in the bookshop. I enjoy Shashi Tharoor’s language skills, because they really are effulgent. The second reason is that I had already picked up Era of Darkness, and although hadn’t got far, was rather enjoying it. And the third reason is that a bunch of boys off Tinder have likened me to the guy. I thought it was mildly funny, and in some sort of solidarity with the dude, I got his book.

Author: Shashi Tharoor

Premise: As far as I can tell, this book is meant to reclaim liberal Hinduism from the clutches of the Hindutva brigade. And the path the author has taken to do so is by loudly proclaiming how 1) he is a Hindu; 2) why he is a Hindu; 3) what parts of Hinduism he feels are relevant; and 4) how this is heavily divergent of the Hindutva brigade.

Tharoor is not an expert on the religion; nor does he claim to be. He is writing this oeuvre from the standpoint of an ordinary practitioner of the religion, even though his standing as a public personage makes him rather less ordinary overall.

Writing: The language and sentences are smoooooooooooth. The vocabulary is top notch, and fulfils all expectations of Tharoor’s ability. It reads very much in his voice, so there is no doubt that the man himself has penned this book. You can almost hear his unique cadences in the prose. Interesting experience for me, because it is one of the few times I’ve read an author who I have heard speak. [Stephen Fry is another example.]

Pace: Absolutely excruciatingly slow. I could barely read 4 pages at a time, before falling fast asleep. There is much pontification in the book, and I will sum up my disjointed thoughts in the following section.

Conclusion: At first, I was thrilled to read the first parts of this book. It felt like my thoughts and feelings were admirably and articulately described. However, as I progressed further, I am less than enamoured because there is nothing new for an ordinary Hindu with a reasonable amount of exposure to the religion.

The second thing that struck me was the nearly consistent referrals to his other works. It felt rather self-aggrandising. Perhaps I am reading too much into it, because I feel that there must be a better way to convey his messages.

Furthermore, as the book progresses, it becomes a series of quotations from other people’s work, slightly padded out with his observations. I perhaps expected too much when I anticipated some analysis that was new and thought-provoking. Here, I read his thoughts, which are then buffered by expressed thoughts of other thinkers. The converse is also true: to give credence to the divisive thinking process of the Hindutva brigade, he quotes from their works liberally too. It is all very confusing to ricochet from one consciousness to the next with such rapidity. Perhaps this was a major contributing factor the extreme boredom I felt while reading the book.

Finally, this was my biggest takeaway, although it forms a tiny part of the narrative. Tharoor should really not talk about caste. He sounds elitist, even though I can understand exactly where he is coming from. For any upper caste person to speak about the trials of casteism is a tricky situation. And even his smooth eloquence cannot overcome this hurdle. Read this rebuttal to an earlier article he wrote about caste.

Rating: ✩✩

[PS: This last bit about caste gave me a lot of food of thought, which I might turn into a post some other time. All these years, I assumed that I was raised to be casteless because of upper caste privilege. Turns out, my mother is from a famously egalitarian movement (Lingayat) and my father didn’t know his caste at all.]

Save

Advertisements

Poor Joke Central

I’ve undoubtedly been in a funk for a few days, and there have been several contributing factors to that funk. However, the very act of smiling sometimes helps to lift the mood in unexpected ways.

I messaged a few friends to chat, hoping to distract myself from the thoughts rattling around in my mind. I counted on their self-absorbedness to occupy my mind space, and thus flush out my own thoughts. Of all of them, the pal is the one who came through in spades. Because the silly ass keeps cracking the worst jokes imaginable.

[Note: Fort and Khar are areas in Mumbai. I had gone to the Bombay High Court in Fort for some legal work. Of course this explanation was also joke fodder.]

Can’t lie; they made me chuckle a lot.

Divinity in the Dock

Sometime in 2014, the troubles we were having with our landlords escalated a whole lot, and we were suddenly staring a case in the face. We went scrambling around looking for lawyers, trying Twitter, tapping into an almost defunct network in Mumbai, and many other less than stellar options. We did finally find someone, but he was worse than useless.

In all this turmoil, we as a family, and my mother in particular, retained a strong thread of faith in the divine. Many years ago, we had read a book about a swamiji in Karnataka who spoke to Devi Mookambika.

[Any scoffers and trolls and so on can just leave now, because I cannot muster up the energy to get into a discussion. Take what I have to say with a pinch of salt, or move on.]

Swamiji himself had passed on, but his son had taken over his mantle. He happened to be coming to Mumbai shortly, and we went to meet him.

Let me say this: Guruji, that’s Swamiji’s son, is a wonderful, kind, caring, gentle man. He takes the time to provide succour to many people, and several devotees had found answers and solutions to their problems with him.

We were, as a family, quite enamoured of him. He asked for nothing in return for his presence and caring; not money, not gifts, nothing material, not even time. He gave of himself with the expectation of nothing in return.

One fine day, my mother narrated an incident that she thought was miraculous to him. The lady at whose house he stays in, when in Mumbai, asked her to write it up and send it to her. They have compiled devotee experiences into books, and this was meant to go into the latest one.

Now my mother is verbose. So when she wrote the experience, she made it HUGE. Well over 6 pages, if I remember rightly. So she asked me to edit it. And I pared it down, fixed some punctuation and grammar errors, and we sent it off to them.

A week or so later, we get a call from them. Would we be able to come over for a chat? Yes! we said, of course! So we went.

Turns out, they were rather impressed with the episode, and were wondering whether we would consider looking over the other episodes too for consistency and so on. My mother promptly divulged that I had edited her episode, and lickety split, we were both on board.

Now, to be perfectly clear, we were deeply honoured and thrilled to be on board. There is a concept known as seva in Hinduism, which translates to ‘service’. It is generally intended to give off oneself in the service of someone else’s or a greater good.

We spent a year and change working on that book. My mother first rewrote many of the episodes, filling in what she felt were narrative lacunae. Later on, Guruji gave her phone numbers to call, and she interviewed devotees about their miraculous experiences, recorded them, and wrote them entirely.

I edited each episode after she was done. Thrice: Line edit, paragraph edit, and final edit. She reread them to ensure I hadn’t ‘taken all the emotion out of them’ because apparently my style was ‘too cut and dried’ for this type of project. Mea culpa; I cannot disagree.

Then Guruji wanted to hear each episode. Not read, mind you, HEAR. So she read out each one, at multiple reading sessions, going well into the night. He added missing bits of information, and the episode would be marked as “unedited” once again.

After all this was well underway, and the book was taking shape, I said that there needed to be a glossary for the non-English terms used in the book. Not everyone speaks the same Indian language, and thus cannot be expected to understand everything. I also put in an index, and my poetess aunt wrote couplets for each episode.

We handed over the final manuscript in early 2016, I think. After endless revisions, and sleepless nights, coupled with work obligations, tensions with the ex and my family, my father’s deteriorating health, and my mother’s increasing frailty, it had all become a monumental load. We were relieved to be done. Or at least I was.

Then dad passed away, and Guruji was unavailable to us. He sent us a message of condolence, and that was it. After all the love and energy we poured into this project, and the innumerable obstacles we had shouldered in its development, our family warranted a text message of condolence.

Ouch.

We never did try and reach out to them again, because the feeling of betrayal ran deep.

Anyway.

The book, as far as we knew, never saw the light of day. We didn’t expect anything, so occasionally when we remembered, we checked online for it. Then, a friend said that the book was finally published. This year. 2018. Two full years after we were done with it.

It was a jolt. Mum took it calmly, because in her mind, there was disassociation with the whole thing. I didn’t know how to react. I haven’t figured it out in the interim. I would say that my reaction has been somewhat detached overall.

Today though, we saw the book in a store. Most of the extra work we put in: the glossary, index, the couplets have been stripped off. The text of the book appears to be ad verbatim as per our manuscript, except for a few stories tacked on the end.

Finally, mom’s episode, the same one that catapulted us into the situation in the first place, has been removed.

None of these things bother me, for some crazy reason. I was never happy with my work, because I thought it wasn’t crisp enough and didn’t reflect my editing style adequately. But mom. She was a little crushed. The effort she lavished on the book is put aside; she is sad because my work was so summarily incised. We agreed that our names should not be published, so there was some consolation in that they didn’t appear.

Right now, I feel tiredness and faint bewilderment. One day I will figure out what exactly I feel about it. Today is not that day.

[PS: I am not making any of this up.]

Crow Crap

Yesterday, I was all tied up in knots thanks to the kitten fiasco of the morning. This morning, therefore, I was relieved to see the kittens unharmed and gambolling about the yard. Nothing untoward had befallen them. Phew.

But. There was a crow, who was looking rather worse for wear. Sigh.

Some time last month, I saw two gargantuan black crows, bigger than the normal ones, fighting each other in the yard. They were at it hammer and tongs, and flew up between bouts. I thought nothing of it, since well, that’s nature after all.

Then last week, I saw one of the crows walking around in the yard. He [assumption] had settled in a pile of leaves, under a tree and was clearly hiding. There was nothing visibly wrong with the guy, but I reckon he couldn’t fly long distances. The other crow came to pick a fight a couple of times, but the grounded crow held his ground. Again, did not interfere. I later saw him walking alongside the trees and the wall, and later he flew up to perch on the wall. So he could fly, but not too much.

Today though. Different story.

I was taking a breather from my walk, and I saw a bedraggled big black crow come around the corner of the building on foot. He waddled towards me, so I made a short noise to alert him of my living, breathing presence. He stopped to look at me, and took a few steps closer, before trundling off to the wall.

I am guessing this is the same slightly wounded crow from before, and I was sorry to see his awful state. He huddled behind a tree, trying to look as small as possible I guess.

Soon though, I saw another big black crow standing in front of him. The wounded crow wasn’t the new crow’s immediate priority, as a human [me] was walking back and forth, and presented a potential threat. The new crow cocked his head and me, and observed my perambulations for a solid 2 minutes before deciding I was not about to pounce on him.

And then he turned on the wounded crow. Pecked at him, while raucously crying out. The other crow tried to defend himself, but was rather piteously objecting. I wasn’t far off, so I ran towards this scene of violence, and clapped hard to chase away the attacker. He flew up into the boughs of a nearby tree, and glared at me. The wounded crow huddled into a smaller pile than before and looked at me in fear.

I sighed, because what can I possibly do? I have no place to succour a wounded wild bird, nor do I have a vet on call. I don’t have any experience with treating birds either. The crow is clearly on his way out of this mortal coil, and I can only hope that his exit is as painless as possible.

That’s the second time I have had to intervene in animal matters in two days. I am sensing a pattern. I am not thrilled, because it leaves me feeling very dispirited and helpless.

Sigh. Sigh. Sigh.

Shrunken Head

I usually reserve my rants about my clients to an audience of one: my mother. But this particular client deserves a post all her own. THAT’S how clueless she is.

I signed on to handle the website development for her fledgling company, where I do content, project management, and client liaison, and I have 2 developers and 1 designer doing their shtick. UX also falls into my bucket, even though I am a total noob at it. Thankfully, a static information site requires very little in terms of UX.

All of this is fine, except I’ve landed a client who needs a shrink more than a website developer. She hasn’t the tiniest concept of agile project development, no matter which single-syllable words I use to explain it, and cannot comprehend why she has to make decisions for work to move forward. One day, last year, I get an irate conference call from her an her hapless husband about how things are just not moving forward. This is after sending her multiple reminders to check content and wireframes.

At that moment, I was forced into a corner, and I got verbal confirmation from her that I would make all the calls, but she wouldn’t be able to change much thereafter. Because once pages are designed, it is difficult to move elements around. Once they are developed though? The engineers will draw and quarter me. So that’s how in a few weeks’ time, we had a functioning website up and running.

Of course, since then I have become Heroine & Saviour. So now I get calls about stuff where she wants my opinion on stuff that has the most fleeting connection to the website. I sit through the calls patiently enough, because I don’t actually have to say anything. She needs a listener, and yours truly has drawn that particular straw.

But last month really took the cake.

I asked her to consult a lawyer for the legal notices necessary to include on the website: terms of use, privacy policy, and so on. Not being an advocate myself, I cannot possibly write up those documents. It would be unethical and irresponsible, and goes totally against my grain. Anyway, she called a family friend, and he promised to get back to her.

I was pleasantly surprised when he did, fairly promptly I might add, but both the feelings of pleasantness and surprise faded considerably, when I saw that he had sent her documents for a completely different business. Because, of course.

I sent them right back to her, and told her to do better. I cannot possibly hire a lawyer on her behalf, and I suspect she was half hoping I would. Trying to explain how that would be completely impossible was also beyond my scope. Of sanity.

Finally, she got hold of someone who does this work, and organised a meeting with him. I was also asked to attend, even though, again, it is well out of the scope of my work. I attended the meeting yesterday, and was supremely relieved to meet someone who was clearly a professional and more importantly, SANE.

Still, nursed a headache all evening as a result. I will need therapy after I am done with this lady, if she ever lets me bow out of her project.

Whew.

Project: Shirt Resuscitation Part 3

Ah, the huge peony. Lost? Read part 1 and 2 first.

I was dreading the huge peony, because it truly is gargantuan. Plus, I had cut the pattern into its component bits, so realigning was in my future. Lack of confidence overall, played a huge part in this.

About 10 days ago, I pulled it out, determined to conquer the peony bogey. I aligned it, and started basting. I got a good 30% through the thing, before I realised that I was stitching on top of the sweet pea flowers. I harrumphed a little, but decided to plow on nonetheless, figuring I could make it foreground-background.

Then, I realised the pattern overlapped the sleeve’s seam. Hm. No way I could fix that. Out came the hoop, and the paper. And I proceeded to unpick the 30% of peony I had painstakingly basted. Tears may have been shed. The project went back into the bag, some unpicking still remaining.

Day before yesterday, I pulled it back out, deciding to at least finish the unpicking. I located a seam ripper I had bought, and promptly forgotten, and attacked the peony with vengeance. Finally, broken pieces of thread lay in a bowl, and my shirt was back to the just the sweet peas.

With some trepidation, I lined up the peony again, and basted some tentative, preliminary stitches. It took me two days, but I finished the sucker. Yesterday, I pulled out the last bit of paper.

You can see where one of the lines of Frankenstein-like darning intersects with the design. Those lines are the whole point of this project.

And here it is with the sweet peas. There wasn’t originally meant to be so much space between them, but I figured I would fill it up with leaves and a lattice to bring the whole design together.

[I do not anticipate finishing this thing in my lifetime.]

Now I have the other side to do. It has a lily, a bunch of tulips, and a scabiosa. The peony and the lily are about the same size, but the scabiosa sketch is terrifyingly detailed.

Help.

 

Cat-astrophic

Ok boys and girls, another rant coming up. Expect emotional outbursts and incoherence, all rolled up into one nice little post. Maybe not so little. We’ll see.

This morning, I went for my morning walk. After days of suffering from rahter painful indigestion, I was feeling quite a bit better. So with a big dose of cheeriness, I trotted off downstairs.

Now for the past few weeks, there have been kittens in the yard. Adorable pair, one white and one black and white. Skittish of humans, of course, so I haven’t tried to pet them. I figure their life on the outside is going to be hard enough, without being desensitised to horrible humans. So I mainly left them alone.

Just look at how cute they are! OMG.

Over the past few weeks, as they’ve been getting older, the residents of my building [a sanatorium] have been feeding them. Or at least I think so. In any case, they have the run of the place. And honestly, at least to my knowledge, they’ve done nothing wrong.

A week or so ago, I saw a little boy kicking at them, and pushing them with a stick. I asked him to stop, and tried to make friends with the kittens. But obviously they were more comfortable with the stick-wielding child they knew, rather than this gargantuan stranger they didn’t. Fair enough. I resolved to leave them be, because I certainly couldn’t look after them.

Cut to this morning. Remember the cheery steps with which I ran downstairs? Ha.

It was a little earlier than my usual time, so there were several more residents out and about, since the caretaker *rolls eyes* comes in around that time. [Why I despise this piece of human garbage would take a long post to explain.]

Again, the residents mostly stay away from me, as I am a permanent tenant. And I look very different from them. They are mostly from villages and have a sick child in tow, and thus are dealing with a whole host of problems that are way beyond my pay grade. Today was no different; it was I who accosted them.

I don’t know why Indians have issues with stray animals. Leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone. Learn to judge animal behaviour, so you can tell the difference between threatening lunges and friendly overtures. I just do not see the need to kick them. I DO NOT. It makes me see red, and I am more than often afraid of saying anything, because in my experience the animal pays later for that human’s humiliation.

But this is my building too. My turf too. I was having none of it. If only my Hindi hadn’t failed.

I saw a couple of men put the kittens into a gunny sack. At first, I couldn’t see what they were doing, but I did see one carry a kitten out of the compound. I smelt a rat. Went up to them, and asked them what they were doing. Was horrified to see one holding a sack aloft, and a small kitten head poking out the side.

They didn’t understand me, because in my state of stress, I forgot Hindi altogether, and was speaking in English.

So I tried again, this time in the most NRI, broken, miserable Hindi you can imagine: What are you doing?

They replied that they were taking them away. Where, I asked. Far away, so they don’t come back. Holding on tightly to my temper, because I was already incoherent with stress, why I asked. Because they are making a mess of the yard.

I tried to explain that cats in the area help with the rat problem. I tried to tell them that they were far too little to be taken away from their mother, and they would die. Just leave them alone I said. And they did. I guess it wasn’t worth getting into a discussion with me about it. The kittens were left to their own devices, terrified and shivering under a car, but mercifully out of the gunny sack. I went back to my walk.

Then the caretaker then showed up. He was talking about the cats, and I saw the conclave. So I marched up to him, still shaking I might add. What are you doing to the cats? Again, Hindi failed me, and the man doesn’t speak a lick of English.

What I finally gleaned from this whole miserable experience was that the old lady in the back of the building, also a permanent tenant, had objected to their presence. She complained that they were making the place dirty, with bits of food and detritus from garbage.

Don’t feed them then, I said. But leave them alone. They will eventually grow up and leave. He misunderstood me to say that I wanted him to kill them, which of course I didn’t. Thank you broken brain under stress. Finally, I made him understand that he needed to LEAVE THEM ALONE. Stray cats are more than capable of looking after themselves, what with the ample supply of pigeons, crows, sparrows, rats, squirrels, and so on that live in the area.

I have no idea if what I did was right. I am perfectly certain it fell far short of adequate and well-handled. All I know is that an old miserable hag of a human wanted two helpless little kittens to be taken away from their mother just because she objected to random detritus in the yard, which may or may not be because of the crows and the actual humans in the area.

I was so upset, angry, and mostly feeling like a complete failure that, for the first time in my life, I actually cursed someone to suffer as they would have caused suffering to innocent beings.

Sigh.