Shared passions

It is said that couples who share a number of passions are closer. The corollary is that one way of getting closer as a couple is to develop shared passions. However, things aren’t so easy.

Sometimes it can so happen that one partner is a “leader” when it comes to the hobby while the other is a “follower”, and that can ruin some dynamics. Let me explain. Among other things, I’m passionate about spaghetti westerns and Liverpool FC. Pinky is passionate about chick flicks, theatre,  “Full House” and “How I met your mother”. We’ve both independently tried getting the other interested in our respective passions. I’ve watched a number of chick flicks, liked a few of them, but not so much to develop a passion for the genre. Pinky has watched some Liverpool games, but her fundamental dislike for sport-watching makes it hard for her to develop it as a passion.

We’ve tried hard, both to convince the spouse to take up our respective passions, and to get ourselves to get interested in the spouse’s passion. Sadly, things haven’t worked out as well as we’d thought. It’s been hard on both of us. Like today I fidgeted through an hour of a 90s Kannada comedy before declaring (rather rudely) that I was getting bored. Watching me fidget, I’m sure, would have made Pinky uncomfortable, and feel a sense of responsibility.

Such asymmetric passions can cause grief for both the “leader” and the “follower”. The follower tries hard to “fit in”, while the leader tries hard to make sure the follower is fitting in. The dynamics thus created can ruin whatever positive energy a shared passion can create.

All is not lost, though. I only talked about asymmetric passions here. The key is in finding activities which both parties are independently passionate about. My all-time favourite movie is this Kannada movie called Ganeshana Maduve, which I’ve watched at least 20 times. At least 15 of these were before 2009, when I first met Pinky. By then, she too had watched the movie at least 15 times. Both of us are independently passionate about it and we never seem to tire of it. We use dialogues from the movie in everyday conversation, and watch it every time it comes on TV (the other day, it was playing on ETV Kannada early in the morning. As soon as my mother-in-law saw that it was playing she rang me up. I DVRd it, so now we can watch it every day if we want).

Pinky and I are both passionate about Ganeshana Madhuve. We are passionate about long intellectual conversations (which is what made us talk as much as it did back when we were just “blog friends”). We love experimenting with food, both in terms of cooking and eating. Unfortunately the list isn’t as long as we might have liked it, so sometimes we need to invent shared passions. So far we’ve tried imposing our respective individual passions on one another, and that hasn’t worked out too well. Is there a way out?

I can think of one way out. Jointly trying to develop interests in activities neither of us knows much of currently. The odds there are lower that we will both end up liking it, but then again, we are both at the same level. There is no leader and follower, and the disruptive dynamics that ruin passions we try to foist upon one another could be avoided. What do you think we should do?

Separation of Church and Estate

I’m talking about Sathya Sai Baba here (incidentally, in Kannada his name translates to “did you die? Die! Come, come!”), who recently “attained his own lotus feet”, to paraphrase what someone said on Twitter. Even Sachin Tendulkar’s prayers for his health didn’t help him, it seems.

So there are two sides to saibaba, and going forward it is important that the two be kept disjoint. On the one hand is the “NGO work” that his organization has undertaken – the super-specialty hospitals in Puttaparthi and Bangalore, the drinking water project they’ve implemented in Rayalseema, and the like. On the other is the spiritual side, where you have thousands of “devotees” (I once called my aunt “Sai baba’s follower” and she got offended saying “I’m a devotee, not a follower”) singing bhajan and going delirious when Sai Baba produced Caramilk toffees out of thin air and threw them into the crowd (a long time ago, I was one of them, jumping up and down to catch these toffees).

I guess efforts are on to find his “spiritual successor” (and I hope China doesn’t step in to prevent his reincarnation), and there is already reportedly a huge fight among his “close devotees” regarding control of his estate. The estate is huge, and is supposed to get lots of donations, a large part of which at least (it appears) has been deployed in developmental projects. It is important that these developmental projects continue, and to ensure that they’re not hijacked by “devotees” who want to pursue a different agenda, it’s important to spin off this side of the organization into a registered NGO – recognized and regulated by the government, providing tax exemption to donations, publishing accounts regularly, and the like. You know how common it is that “spiritual NGOs” are hijacked for purposes of money laundering.

I don’t care what happens to the rest of the organization – with the delirious “devotees” who sing bhajans and give “global” speeches” and start TV and radio stations. Perhaps it is important for it to also continue – for its presence will mean people continue to be attached to the baba, which could help in fundraising efforts for the NGO. I’m sure they’re going to find a spiritual successor, but it needs to be seen how many of the baba’s “devotees” remain devoted to this successor.

On an unrelated note, I see in the papers that the baba is going to be buried. I don’t know what the rules of the caste he was born into (Raju) is, but I suppose this is a tactic so that there is no mad fight for his ashes, the “holiest of the holy vibhutis”, in case he is cremated. Even then, I wouldn’t be surprised if his body gets exhumed by some overzealous “devotee” sooner or later. They need to dig deeper.

The Value of Fatwas

With random ulemas here, there, everywhere (and maybe nowhere) issuing fatwas left, right and centre, I wonder if the value of the fatwa hasn’t gone down.

The thing with religion is anyone who is mildly religious will try to follow as much of the traditions and customs are possible. However, if one puts way too many restrictions, there is the chance that the follower might “do a ramanamurthy” * and just snap and decide to not any of the customs. AS long as you keep things reasonable, though, there is a good chance that the follower will continue to follow.

Now that the context has been set, I reiterate my question as to whether there isn’t a law of diminishing returns for fatwas. Things I suppose were fine when the fatwa was a rare entity. For example, twenty years ago when someone issued a fatwa to kill Salman Rushdie, it was a rare event (the fatwa) and hence got taken seriously and Rushdie has to go into hiding.

But look at the kind of fatwas that are being issued nowadays and I would be really surprised if these are getting taken seroiusly. For example, read this article (HT: Nitin Pai). There is a fatwa against buying insurance. There is a fatwa against working in banks. There is a fatwa against families accepting income earned by female members. And so forth.

Don’t the ulema understand that there exists a law of diminishing returns, and so people are not likely to take fatwas seriously if too many of them are put in place? Ok I suppose they don’t teach economics in Madrassas. Or is it that Islamic society is still in the part of the curve where slope is significantly positive ? (imagine a curve with the total “degree of acceptance” on the y axis and “number of religious restrictions” on the X axis. You would expect that the curve initially rises and then flattens out, and if you stretch things too far maybe even bend downwards).

All religions and all sects of all religions have their share of loonies. People who come up with random fundaes and then claim it’s part of the teaching of that particular religion and everyone should follow it. But I suppose that most other religions are decentralized enough that loonies are treated as just that, and people go on leading their lives without taking cognizance of the loonies.

PS: Check out this hilarious essay from The Dawn about this bunch of guys who tried to take along a Maulvi to Afghanistan to fight Russians.

Cults and organized religion

On the way back from Mysore last week, my mom asked to go to an orphanage in Srirangapatnam which is run by one Mr Halagappa, a follower of the Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi (ok I must mention that followers of the Sai Baba get pissed off if you call them followers – they claim to be “devotees”. In other words, they consider the Baba to be God. I had a long argument with my aunt once about this). It’s a nice place, located on north bank of the south stream of the Cauvery river.

We were led to the prayer hall where a little girl from the orphanage gave us prasad – something that seemed like sweetened honey and vibhuti. The atmosphere in the hall reminded me of the meditation hall in my school (Sri Aurobindo Memorial, Bangalore). There was an “om” record playing perennially. At one end, there were several photos of the Baba. The interesting thing was that surrounding the “altar”, there were symbols of various religions – om, crescent and star, fire, the cross, the star of david, etc. Maybe it indicated that the Sai Baba was all those gods combined in one.

Now, the thing with people belonging to the Sai Baba cult believe that he is God. They believe that he is God and his previous incarnation was the Sai Baba of Shirdi. Interestingly, most of his followers are also deeply religious with respect to another organized religion. For example, my mother is an extremely devout Hindu – to the extent that she believes that miracles can be caused by doing certain rituals, etc. And she is also completely into the Sai Baba cult.

Then, no organized religion has room for godmen. They do have room for religious leaders – who are supposed to interpret the teachings of the religion and explain them to the mango person, but they certainly don’t approve of religious leaders who claim to be God themselves. In fact, when a religious/spiritual leader proclaims himself to be God, he is implicitly stating that he is alone the true God and all other religions need to be rejected. Yet, he seems to get zillions of followers who are more often than not major followers of some other organized religion. Isn’t there a contradiction?

Spiritual leaders come in two forms – godmen and gurus. The former make their followers believe that they are God. The latter don’t make any such claims – they just claim to be carrying the word of some god of one or more organized religions and passing them on to the mango person. I wonder what it is that makes deeply religous people (wrt organized religion) go after godmen and become “devotees”. Don’t they see it as being contradictory to their belief in their own organized religion? Again – some of them might just be accepting these godmen as gurus and not as godmen, and that makes some sense. But what about the rest?

I know I can confront my mother directly about this, but I also know that she won’t like the idea that I’m asking her uncomfortable questions and she’ll just end up getting angry with me.