More on religion

According to the Hindu calendar today is three years since my mother passed away. If I were religious, or if I were to bow to pressures from religious relatives, I would have performed a “shraadhha/tithi” today. Instead, I’m home, leading a rather normal life. In spite of it being a Sunday today, I’m actually working (I coordinate schedules with my wife, and for some reason she chose to take off this Friday and go to work on Sunday, so I followed). I’ve eaten breakfast and a very normal lunch.

Every year, twice a year (it’s remarkable that my parents’ death anniversaries have a phase difference of about six months), I begin to get requests from relatives – mostly uncles and aunts but also from the wife – that I need to “do my religious duties” and perform the shraadhhas. The last few occasions, I complied. However, as I’ve explained in this post, I’ve gotten disgusted with the general quality of priests around and decided that it’s not worth my while to enrich that community just because someone tells me it might help my parents attain salvation in their afterlives.

Since I flatly refused to do the shraadhha this time, the last few weeks have had more than their fair share of religious discussions compared to earlier. I’ve been asked how I know that priests mis-pronounce. When I say that my limited knowledge of Sanskrit is enough to identify the mispronunciations, they suggest that I try different priests. I then talk about the number of different priests I’ve encountered over various Shraadhhas over the last few years, and about how not one has really said the mantras well (except for the family priest who conducts weddings, etc. but shraadhhas are too small-time for him).

Then comes the clinching argument from my relatives – that even otherwise irreligious people like my father did their ancestors’ shraaddhas without fail. And it is at that time that I start questioning the whole purpose of the Shraadhha and trying to ascribe a believable reason for it. I argue that if the intention is to remember the deceased, I don’t need one day a year to do that since my parents come in my dreams practically every other day. The intention might have been to get all the descendants of the deceased together, but then I’m the only descendant of my parents and I’m “together with myself” all the time.

Then they try and convince me to perform what I can classify as “lesser evils” – such as giving raw rice and vegetables to a priest. I’ve done that once before and considered it to be such an unpleasant experience that I don’t want to do it again. And then I question how it will help. And the argument goes on.

So for today, finally I submitted that I’ll put food out for the crows before I eat, since in the Sanatana Dharma crows are supposed to represent your ancestors. After much haggling, this seemed like an acceptable compromise.

Later in the evening yesterday, my wife and I had a long conversation about what it is to be a Brahmin and why Brahmins are traditionally vegetarian.

Sometimes, when I don’t think enough I think it is ok to admit to the whims and fancies of other people just so that I don’t piss them off. But then when I do think about it, I find it ridiculous that saying a certain set of songs with certain pronunciation and intonation will have some bearing on my life. I find it incredible that feeding some random so-called Brahmins will help provide peace to my deceased parents.

Growing up with an ultra-religious mother and an atheist father, I never really “got” religion, I must say. In fact, the first time when I thought about religion was when I read about parts of America not believing in evolution (this was some 4 years back) – it was incredible that some people were so deluded that they didn’t accept something so fundamental. It was around the same time that I read The God Delusion (not a great book I must say – could’ve been written in < 20 pages), and the beliefs of the devout, as it described, shocked me.

It was around this time that I realized that some (nay, most) people actually take it seriously that if you pray for something it increases your chances of getting it. It shocked me to believe that some people believe that chanting a certain set of songs (mantras are just that, in Vedic language) will improve your life without any other effort on your part. It shocked me that people actually believe in afterlife and rebirth. By this time, my father had passed away, and this wasn’t a topic about which I could have a rational discussion with my mother, so I let it be.

Some temples (of various religions) make me feel calm and peaceful, and I love visiting them. There are temples which look so good I think they need to be preserved, and I make reasonably generous offerings there. There are festivals that I consider fun, and I celebrate them enthusiastically. We had a fairly large doll display at home this Navaratri. We burst fireworks and ate lots of sweets this Diwali. Last year we hosted a Christmas party. With some friends, I raided the kebap stalls in Fraser Town during Ramzan. We set up a little mandap at home for Ganesh Chaturthi, and displayed my collection of Ganesh idols.

But the concept of before-lives and after-lives and rebirth? That of prayers sans effort making a difference? That you need to feed some so-called Brahmins who can’t recite mantras for nuts just so that your parents attain peace in the afterlife? I find it all absolutely ridiculous.

I didn’t put food out for crows – I find no reason to believe that my mother has transformed into one of them, and that that particular crow will come looking for food today. I haven’t worn back my sacred thread as promised yesterday. I think my cook had put onion and garlic in my lunch today. And life goes on..

A Comparative Study of Marwari and Kannadiga Brahmin Weddings

On Saturday I was at a Marwari wedding. Actually it was a Marwari Hindu marrying a Gujarati Jain (it was arranged scissors, if you’re curious about that), but the ceremony took place according to Hindu rites. As Gandhi and Khushboo were getting married, I was reminded of my own wedding a little over a year back, and I started mentally comparing the two ceremonies. Here I attempt to put those mental notes “on paper”.

I must mention upfront that I have only one data point (this particular wedding) for Marwari weddings. Also, while the wedding ceremony was still on, I was invited for lunch (in a curious twist, bride’s relatives and friends ate out of a buffet while the groom’s relatives and friends were served a multi-course meal on a silver platter. The food for both was the same, though). So I do not have the complete picture, though the lunch was in the same hall so I managed to observe some stuff as I ate. Also, since the groom in this case was Jain, there is a possibility of some Jain rituals having crept in to the ceremony, so my one data point may not actually be representative. For the Kannadiga Brahmin wedding, I use my own wedding as a data point (again not necessarily accurate, since the wife is technically Gult).

The general impression about North Indian weddings is that they are “action packed”, and a lot of fun. There is known to be much singing and dancing, while South Indian Brahmin weddings are generally solemn religious affairs. There was a fair share of fun at the Gandhi-Khushboo wedding. The previous evening there was a Sangeet where relatives of the bride and groom put up dance performances, which was followed by a general free-for-all dance party, and even a Garba session (and also a Marwari Karaoke session). The cars that were transporting us to the wedding stopped 100m away from the venue, where the groom ascended a mare and there was a brass band and we all danced around to the actual venue. I didn’t attend the reception but I’m sure that had its fun components, too.

However, I noticed that when it came to the ceremony itself, my wedding was much more action-packed and “fun” than this wedding. Yes, at my wedding, the rituals took much longer (started at 11am and ended at 5pm, while here it lasted two hours), but at no point of time was either me or the wife just sitting there doing nothing, which was the case for large sections of this wedding. Most of the time when I looked at the stage, the bride and groom were solemnly sitting in their seats (they had a low bench to sit on, unlike us who sat cross-legged on a low wooden board) doing nothing, as the priests chanted mantras into the microphone. On the other hand, we were constantly doing something. There were “fun” elements like throwing rice on each other’s heads, bargaining for an elephant, getting surrounded by a rope that was spun around by relatives around us, tying the thaaLi, the “Challenge Gopalakrishna moment”, etc.

This is a recent inclusion in both ceremonies, I think, but both weddings involved a phase where the bride and groom are lifted by their respective relatives and friends as they try to get the upper hand (literally) in the muhurtham. In my wedding, the muhurtham involved throwing cumin seeds and jaggery on each other’s heads. Legend is that whoever throws first has the upper hand in the marriage. Here, it was the bride trying to garland the groom and he trying to escape it. At my wedding, the large crowd meant that at that critical moment I was unable to locate my big friends, and had to get lifted by two or three relatives. I resorted to jumping to gain the upper hand (Priyanka had a bunch of big cousins ready to hoist her). It was the opposite story at Gandhi’s wedding. The groom’s party was small, and his brother had told us to be ready to lift him, so we used our “matki phod” skills to good effect to hoist him high.

In both ceremonies, it was the bride’s maternal uncle who performed the “kanyaadaanam” (literally “donation of the virgin”) and brought the bride for the muhurtham. Tradition has it that the uncle should carry the niece, and Khushboo arrived that way. Priyanka’s maternal uncle has a bad back so he simply escorted her to the stage. Then, in both ceremonies, there is the “installation” of bride and groom as Lakshmi and Narayana, and their supposedly divine status for the duration of the wedding. The groom’s shalya (upper cloth) is knotted with the bride’s sari, though since Gandhi was wearing a sherwani, he wore a sash over it for this purpose. Our installation as Lakshmi and Narayana had a fun element as the priest described us as (for example) “Venkataramana Shastri’s great-grandson, Suryanarayana Rao’s grandson, Shashidhar’s son Karthik” which was similar to the refrain in Challenge Gopalakrishna where Gopalakrishna’s father addresses him as “Justice Gopalakrishna’s greatgandson … ” (watch from 7:55 in this video).

The other major point of difference I noticed was in the revolution around the fire after throwing puffed rice in it (it’s a common ceremony in both). At my wedding, I led the way around the fire, but here it was the bride who led the way. I wonder what accounts for this difference, or if it is a minor thing that was missed by the priests.

Overall, I had a fantastic two days in Indore, getting pampered and having sweets thrust into my mouth, catching up with old friends and overall having loads of fun. And not to mention, getting fodder for this double-length blog post.

Why I can never be a great lone wolf quizzer

I admit that of late one of the unifying themes of this blog has been “correlation”. So what does that have to do with quizzing? Thing is that while I absolutely enjoy qualitative logical reasoning (which is why I still quiz actively), there is very little in common in terms of areas of interest between me and a lot of other quizzers. Specifically, unlike most other good quizzers, I have absolutely no patience for reading fiction (or “literature”), watching movies or indulging in generic American “pop culture”.

Now, it is known that a quizmaster tends to be biased in favour of the topics that he himself is good at. For example, I’ve personally found that the questions I set have more than a “fair share” of questions with a background in Economics or European Football, and nothing related to fiction, or movies. So, given that most good quizzers are good at the topics I mentioned earlier (literature, movies, pop culture), it’s likely that most quizzes will have a healthy dose of these topics. And since I know little about them, and don’t have the required levels of interest to know more about them, it’s unlikely I’ll do well in an individual quiz. Essentially, I’m at so much of a disadvantage in these heavily represented topics that it’s very tough to make up the deficit in the remainder of the quiz.

On a related note, I wonder if fashionable-ness of topics is static or dymanic. I wonder, if twenty years down the line, we’ll still find quizzes being as heavily dominated by the subjects that are in fashion today, or if there will be a new set of subjects that will be in fashion. It’s hard to say because there is positive reinforcement that is at play here. If, for example, a certain set of subjects constitutes a large portions of questions today, today’s “good quizzers” will necessarily be those that are good at these subjects. And given that the pool of quizmasters is usually drawn out of the pool of “good quizzers”, you will have more quizzes that have a large proportion of these fashionable topics. And so forth.

Again, I’m assuming here that a lot of people (unlike certain Chennai quizzers) don’t prepare for quizzes, and that they don’t try to develop interest in certain topics for the sole purpose of being good at quizzes.

A View From the Other Side

For the first time ever, a few days bck, I was involved in looking at resumes for campus recruitment, and helping people in coming up with a shortlist. These were resumes from IIMB and we were looking to recruit for the summer internship. Feeling slightly jobless, I ended up taking more than my fair share of CVs to evaluate. Some pertinent observations

  • There was simply way too much information on peoples’ CVs. I found it stressful trying to hunt down pieces of information that would be relevant for the job that I was recruiting for. IIMB restricts CVs to one page, but even that, I felt, was too much. Considering I was doing some 30 CVs at a page a minute, I suppose you know how tough things can be!
  • The CVs were too boring. The standard format certainly didn’t help. And the same order that people followed -undergrad scores followed by workex followed by “positions of responsibility” etc. Gave me a headache!
  • People simply didn’t put in enough effort to make things stand out. IIMB people overdo the bolding thing (I’m also guilty of that), thus devaluing it. And these guys used no other methods to make things stand out. Even if they’d done something outstanding in their lives, one had to dig through the CV to find it..
  • There was way too much irrelevant info. In their effort to fill a page and fill some standard columns, people ended up writing really lame stuff. Like how they had led their wing football team in the intra-hostel tournament. Immense wtfness. Most times this ended up devaluing the CV
  • Most CVs were “standard”. It was clear that people didn’t make an effort to apply to us! Most people had sent us their “finance CV” but would you send the same CV for an accounting job as you will for a quant job? Ok yeah I understand this is summers, but if I see a CV with priorities elsewhere, I won’t shortlist them!
  • By putting in several rounds of resume checking and resume workshops, IIMB is doing a major disservice to recruiters. What we see are some average potential corporate whores, not the idiosyncracies of the candidates. Recruiting was so much more fun when I’d gone to IITM three years back. Such free-spirited CVs and all that! This one is too sanitised for comfort. Give me any day
  • People should realize that campus recruitment is different from applying laterally. In the latter, yours is one of the few CVs that the recruiter is looking at and can hence devote much more time going through the details. Unfortunately this luxury is not there when one has to shortlist 20 out of 180 or so, so you need to tailor your CVs better. You need to be more crisp and to the point, and really highlight your best stuff. And if possible, to try and break out of standard formatI admit my CV doesn’t look drastically different from the time it did when I was in campus (apart from half a page of workex that got added), but I think even there I would make sure I put a couple of strongly differentiating points right on top, and hopefully save the recruiter the trouble of going through the whole thing.
  • I think I’m repeating myself on this but people need to realize that recruiters don’t care at all about your extra-currics unless you’ve done something absolutely spectacular, or if there is some really strong thread runningĀ  through that section. So you don’t need to write about all the certificates that you have in your file

The bottom line is that recruitment is a hard job, especially when you have to bring down a list of 200 to 20 in very quick time. So do what you can to make the recruiter’s job easy. Else he’ll just end up putting NED and pack you.