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..

My Friend Sancho – Review

I had mentioned in my previous blog post that I’ll not be attending the My Friend Sancho launch in Delhi because it was on a weekday. I had also mentioned that since I have a huge pile of unread books I wouldn’t buy this for a while at least. My boss happened to read that blog post and mentioned to me that he was planning to drive to mainland Delhi for the launch at the end of work on Wednesday evening. Not having to drive all the way there relieved me of the NED and I went. And given that I went, and that I was planning to buy it some time, I bought it at the venue and got it signed by the author.

I just finished my dinner. I know it’s a bit late, but I started reading the book at 8pm today. And got so engrossed that I didn’t get up to cook till it was around nine thirty, when I had finished about half the book. I got up and put the rice to cook and sat down with the book again. And didn’t get up until I was done (oh yes – I got up once in the middle to turn off the pressure cooker, and to take a leak). All two hundred and seventeen pages of it. Extremely easy read, and extremely engrossing. The drop in quality of Amit’s blogging during the time he wrote this book can be forgiven.

Overall it is a nice book. But I wonder how well it will be appreciated by someone who doesn’t know Amit at all. I know that a large proportion of people who will be buying his book are regular readers of India Uncut (which finds half a dozen plugs in the book), but thing is there is so much more you can get from the book if you know Amit. Now – given that I know Amit, and not just from his blog – I’m trying to imagine how much less a person who doesn’t know Amit at all will get out of this.

One of ther more delightful sub-plots in the book is the speech given by a policeman about “the beast called the Government” – while speaking in bullet points. It is a fantastic libertarian speech, and it is even more fantastic that it is delivered by the possibly corrupt inspector. Now – the problem is that a person who hasn’t read much of Amit’s writing – either on his blog or in his erstwhile Mint column will simply gloss over this monologue as some random meaningless gibberish.

There are a few other such pieces in the book – where a prior reading of Amit’s work will make you enjoy things a lot more. So my recommenedation to you is tha tif you wnat to read MFS, you should first go over to indiauncut.com and read a few dozen of Amit’s blog posts. And then begin reading the book and you should enjoy it.

Another reason why I was initially sceptical about the book was that I was told it features a talking lizard. I inherently don’t like stories that cannot be real. So if you put in talking animals, or creatures that don’t exist, I am usually put off and lose enthu to read the book. Amit, however, does a good job of limiting the number of lines given to the lizard – he does it in a way such that it appears as if the lizard represents the narrator’s conscience.

Overall it’s a really good book, and I recommend you read it. The story is simple and gripping, and the sub-plots are also really good. It won’t take too much of your time, or too much of your money (very reasonably priced at Rs. 195). ¬† Just make sure that you read some of Amit’s writing before you read the book.