Towards liberalism

I was raised in a fairly conservative family; my father’s atheism not preventing him from being socially conservative. Until I went to college, I never blew candles for my birthday, for they were deemed to be “against Indian culture” at home. I went to RSS Shakhas, my seniors at RSS stuck BJP posters on my door, and except for the 1989 Assembly elections when BJP didn’t put up a candidate in Kanakapura, my parents always voted for that party.

My wife comes from a different kind of family. They are religious but can be described as being more “secular” (her name (Priyanka) might suggest to you their political leanings). So she grew up doing poojas and keeping vratas on all sorts of random Hindu festivals, but also blowing candles on her birthday and calling up “Santa” and getting Christmas presents also. Yeah, you look for compatibility on several axes when you’re searching for a long-term gene-propagating partner, but political leanings are usually low down on that compatibility list.

Last year, I totally and completely failed to appreciate her celebration of Christmas, instead treating it as yet another random holiday, before and after which nobody did anything at work. I failed to give her any gifts, or organize any “christmas events” for her. Yeah, the in-laws came over, we had set up this little crib based on dolls we’d purchased in Sri Lanka on our honeymoon and all that (unfortunately we misplaced that set, else we’d’ve displayed it as part of Dasara too, this year), but I must admit I’d failed to “celebrate” the festival. And in my defence, it was never a festival that I had celebrated, so “forgot” was actually a valid excuse.

So this year we decided to have a Christmas party at home. Basically called a few friends over, most of whom responded with astonishment (thanks to my RSS legacy), but were kind enough to land up. And once again we searched hard and found that “crib set” and set it up. And started playing Christmas carols, until I got bored and switched the music to Black Sabbath, which nobody really minded. Much alcohol was consumed (especially wine, given the Christmas spirit), plum cake was had and Chinese food ordered in.

In the intervening years I’ve found myself becoming more and more socially liberal. It probably started when I moved to IIMB; I think that was the time I stopped being judgmental of people based on their backgrounds, and stuff. That was the time when I started respecting individual rights, and those leanings got stronger as I slowly opened up, joined a libertarian-leaning mailing list, and realized that this was actually what I (as a person, irrespective of my background) was about.

On a foreign vacation earlier this year, thanks in part both to the lack of interesting vegetarian options and the availability of fairly succulent-looking meat, I stopped being vegetarian. A few months after that I participated in a “Ramzan meat walk” (though I didn’t consume much meat during the walk, since a lot of it was ‘hardcore’). I find it silly now that I’d actually joined a group of hostel-mates that campaigned for a “vegetarian table” at the hostel mess because the non-veg food “looked too gross”. But when someone starts singing “Silent Night”, I only remember that variation that a chaddi dost and I had come up which changes the song’s lyrics in a way that it ends with “and two souls become three”.

Given a chance, if I were to register as a voter and there were elections tomorrow, I might still vote for the BJP, following family tradition, but that would be more in line with economic thought and lack of options rather than my conservative background. I oppose the forced 11pm shutdown of Bangalore pubs, but don’t care about it enough to join protests on that front. If the government subsidizes Haj and Kailas Mansarovar Yatras, I demand that I get funding to attend the Pastafarian conference in Texas. And I still intend to open my autobiography (whenever I write it) with the lines “As Babri Masjid came crashing down, I celebrated. It was my tenth birthday and we had a party at home … “.

Frequency of Temples

Earlier today, I realized that each temple has its own “frequency”. Frequency of doing the pooja and giving the mangalaarathi and tirtha and collecting offerings from the visitors. If I can generalize, I can say that the more popular temples featuring “standardized deities” are more likely to have better turnaround time in conducting poojas and archanas.

So I have based this study on two data points. On one hand, there is the Ganesha temple in Jayanagar 4th block (intersection of 30th cross and the diagonal road and 7th main; opposite Maiya’s). This is an extremely popular temple and draws thousands of visitors every day. And you must note that Ganesha is a “standardized deity” – ┬áhe is perhaps the most common deity across Hindu temples (if you count each avatara of Vishnu as distinct).

And this temple is quick. Despite getting hundreds of visitors every hour, the priests there work hard to serve everyone in quick time. The Mangalaarathi is held at a frequency greater than once every five minutes. Thus, you can just walk in, watch one round of mangalaarathi-and-bells, take the mangalaarathi, put in your offferings, drink the tirtha, go round and round, sit down for a minute and get on with your business, all within ten minutes. Maybe this efficiency (apart from the awesome location) is what gets this temple so many visitors.

Towards the other end of the spectrum is the Subramanyeshwara Temple in VV Puram that I visited it this morning. I had to get some pooja done there in order to kick off my wedding preparations (Subramanyeshwara is our “family deity”; one of the several reasons as to why I’m named my name) and went in at around 10 am. There was already a decent crowd there and I duly purchased my archane slip (oh how much I loved getting archane done when I was a kid – if not for anything else but to get the sugarcandy prasada) and tried getting the attention of one of the priests (there are several there) only to find that they wouldn’t accept the chit for another hour or so (the idol was being bathed at that time, and being scrubbed using one of those brushes used to clean brass instruments).

Considering it’s not too far from home, I duly disappeared and appeared an hour later, and by now the crowd was larger. I had to get my large frame between a considerable mass of people in order to reach a priest and hand in my archane slips (one for the self and one for the fiancee; I had purchased both during the first visit to the temple earlier today). And some further minutes later, there was a grand round of pooje after which they brought the mangalaarathi plate. A cycle time of a full two hours!

I don’t know how popular this temple is (I’m told it’s pretty popular), but I suppose one reason it doesn’t attract as many visitors as it might is because of the time commitment it demands. Due to the large pooja cycle time, only the most committed and devoted visitors visit the place. Maybe the temple loses out on contributions because of this, but maybe gains in terms of having only the more devoted devotees, which gives it an increased “average puNya per devotee”. And it is a choice that the temple and its priests have made, and I’m sure they have good reasons for the same.

Oh, and keep in mind that Subramanya is an uncommon deity when it comes to temples (definitely not when it comes to naming one’s kids).

PS: The tirtha they gave at the temple today was milk-based, which I think is quite messy since temples don’t really have places to wash one’s hands. Water-based tirthas are more appropriate since they can just be wiped on to one’s head after drinking.

PS2: I like it when the archane is done in front of me, when the purohit asks me for the details (name, gotra, nakshatra) rather than like today when it was all written on the chit and they performed the pooja inside. I like the personalized service of the former case.

PS3: To bring up a now-taboo topic, have I mentioned that Ganesha is a stud and Subramanya is a fighter? Just sayin’