Making Religion Fun

Having spent the day before Sankranti (pongal) cribbing about how festivals mean so much work and how they are designed especially to create marital discord I was pleasantly surprised to see this amazing religious event on Saturday evening.

I was at the inlaws’ place in Rajajinagar, having spent the day doing two pradakshinas of Bangalore, and visiting some twenty relatives and distributing sugar figures¬† and sesame. And I was taken to the nearby main road (Dr Rajkumar road) to watch the ISKCON chariot festival.

And what an awesome event that was. While the chariot was some distance away volunteers came around distributing prasada in leaf bowls (donnes). And then there were some ISKCON Akshaya Patra vans that came around doling out yummy juice to all passerby. And then there was a mountain of people. And there were thousands of people lining the roads on either side.

There was a generator van, followed by people who were dancing as they marched along. The atmosphere was electric (pardon the Ravi Shastri-ism) and it was impossible to be not taken by it. I wanted to go join the dancers but there was more work to be done that night (visiting another half a dozen houses distributing sugar figures and sesame) so I stood by.

Then the chariot arrived, being pulled by two long ropes with some fifty people each. It was gender-segregated and the rope towards my side was being pulled by women so I didn’t have the opportunity to touch it (apparently if you touch the rope you get some good karma as it’s as if you’ve pulled the chariot). And volunteers continued to dole out prasada (sweet pongal) and juice.

I must confess I didn’t see the idol. When the chariot neared me, my focus was on catching the sweet packets which a monk seated at the side of the chariot was throwing. I must admit I missed quite a few good chances and let packets of coconut mithai fall into the gutter behind me. But i did manage to catch one, my days patrolling short midwicket in inter-section matches having come to good use.

It was awesome. It was so awesome that even a normally-non-believing me was completely taken by the whole festival. All the gloom of the previous day and tiredness of having driven around the city vanished in that moment.

And it made me wonder why we don’t make our festivals more fun. About why we don’t make religion more fun for people to follow, and instead waste our time and energy in mindless rituals. Thankfully Pinky also shares my thoughts and we’ve decided to celebrate only the fun festivals – where we have fun doing the required work.

But seriously, it would help making our lot more religious if we could let go of some rituals and adopt more of the fun components of festivals. But then people think they get good karma by enduring pain and all that..

Srinath and Mithun

As soon as Abhimanyu Mithun took a hat-trick on his Ranji debut, comparisons started with that other Karnataka fast bowler who did the same – Javagal Srinath. However, given the way things are with his career now – dropped after a not-so-bad debut series in Sri Lanka, and following that up with an unspectacular Ranji season – it’s unlikely he will have the same kind of impact.

Ability apart (Mithun so far hasn’t shown signs of bowling anywhere as fast as Srinath did), what might make a major difference in their respective careers is in terms of handling by the selectors and the team management.

One has to really give it to Azhar, Abbas Ali Baig (then the team manager) and whoever was in the selection committee back then for the way they managed Srinath’s early career.

Just take a look at his profile on statsguru: he didn’t take a 4-for until his ninth Test match. In his preceding eight Test matches, he had a bowling average of 46 (and he was dropped once – because the pitch at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth was supposed to take spin).¬† And in the meantime, he had played a World Cup – having taken part in all matches that India played.

Of course he was dropped immediately after his 4-for to make way for a 3-man spin attack. But he was always kept in the squad, and Azhar made it clear to him that he would always play whenever India wanted to play 3 quick men (the first time ever that he was dropped for another fast bowler was perhaps in the finals of Singer Cup in Sri Lanka in 1994 when he made way for Venky Prasad).

Considering how much India chopped and changed with the support attack to Kapil and Prabhakar in the late 80’s it is indeed surprising the way they gave Srinath a long rope. And it paid off magnificently well, in the way he carried India’s bowling attack in the mid to late 90s.

Maybe it was because of his pace, and no one else was close to being as quick.

Compare that to the handling of Mithun. After playing a full series in Sri Lanka, on flat pitches and not bowling too badly, Mithun finds himself completely out of the picture. Not even the fifth best bowler, it seems. Given the way he has been handled, I won’t be surprised if he fades away.

Again, he is nowhere as quick as Srinath though he is reputed to have once been. My cousin Sandeep who knows the insides of Karnataka cricket tells me that Mithun had a back injury even before he made his first class debut, which perhaps explains the drop in place.

But it is perhaps the way he has been handled by the national selectors that would be responsible if his career were to fizzle (the same applies to other “bad drops”, also, though I must say that Murali Kartik has done quite well despite having been handled so shabbily).

PS: I expect a number of you to comment that he’s not that great a bowler. Simple reasons why I’ve used his case rather than anyone else is because he plays for the Ranji team I support, and he is fresh in my mind considering I’ve been watching him in the Ranji QF against MP today)