Saturday, May 30, 2009

Spellbound: How It All Started

April 2002.
It was almost the last week of our vacation in Dubai. We were staying at my aunt's place and on the particular weekday afternoon that this story begins, my uncle was at work, the older of my two cousins was at school, my parents were off browsing kitchen appliances or something, and since at 18, I didn't give a damn about cooking, I was stuck at home with my sister and the younger cousin running amok, and my aunt who was escaping for her siesta.

I had already emailed & chatted with my friends back in Bombay, the younger kids were getting on my nerves, there was nothing good on TV and what I was desperately craving was a good book. Reading has always been my favourite pastime and though there was a library just up the road, it would open only in the evening, meaning that I was facing a long afternoon of utter and complete boredom.

On arrival itself, I had checked out my cousin's book collection, but the reading choices of a 7-year old are obviously limited. I definitely didn't want to read Panchatantra or Aesop's Fables, and of Enid Blyton's many books, I've always preferred the school and mystery series over the magic tales on my brother's bookshelf.

But there was something else on that shelf, something that I'd already sneered at and then dismissed without another thought. On that afternoon though, Bored Beyond Belief, I reconsidered. An old friend's passionate pleas echoed in my head: You have to read it, you just HAVE TO.....its awesome!!! I had just as passionately argued back: its hocus-pocus for kids!!!! To which my friend emphatically declared that there was NOTHING kiddish about it!!!

Thinking some book was better than no book, I resignedly curled up on the sofa with Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets, and with a highly skeptical look on my face, I read ........ and read, and read, and read ........ till the next thing I knew, it was evening and my blissful solitude was shattered by everybody else returning home and making plans for dinner out.

How can I go out, I thought wildly. How would I find out who the heir of Slytherin was?? What if it were Harry himself??? What was this monster in the Chamber???? What if it killed off one of the characters, characters who, in just a few brief hours, I already thought of as friends.

And then an even worse thought struck me: what of the story after this book???? The fourth book in the series - Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire - had been released some months earlier and with it, Pottermania had hit India big time. I had scoffed at the fools who'd queued outside bookshops hoping against hope they'd be lucky to get a copy ...... but now I totally empathised!!!

My mother has always been against buying fiction, and she has a point: with us being members of two libraries, we usually got to read the latest books for a negligible monthly fee, and, most importantly for my mom, we didn't fill up precious storage space with books that we'd likely never re-read. So I knew there was no convincing her to let me buy the book. And the chances of getting a copy from the libraries back home any time soon were very, very slim, what with so many Potter fans around.

The only hope seemed to be the library up the road. I insisted on going there that very evening, though I still hadn't finished the second book. I practically ran there, hoping, yet not daring to hope too much in case it was all in vain. But, Hallelujah!!!! There they were, all four books in the series sitting pretty on a shelf!!!!

However, now I was in a dilemma: which to take??? The situation demanded some quick thinking and advance planning (Ma, you'd have been proud!!!) I knew for sure that the first book had been lying around in one library back home and since I'd already begun from the second book, I figured the first could wait some more. But I was still only halfway through the second ...... would I be able to finish the third and the fourth, which is a really chunky volume, especially since I had just a week, and that too with many outings planned???

I had to try, didn't I? :D

And with a single-minded determination that would've produced wonders had I applied it to academics, I gave my goal my all. Not stopping to savour the thrilling end of the second book, I dived straight into the third. But the leap to the fourth was not as direct; I had to go back and re-read the third book's climax, because it is just ....... beyond thrilling!!! My vocabulary can't do justice to just how shockingly brilliant it is, so lets leave it at that.

However, that little deviation cost me precious time: with everything else that was going on, we now had just two days left in Dubai, and the mighty Goblet of Fire loomed large before me. I was facing my single greatest reading challenge in the midst of more going out and the added burden of packing ........ and I can both proudly and humbly say, that I did it!!!! I finished reading Goblet of Fire in two days!!!

Back in Bombay, I caught the first Potter movie on TV before I could read the book (and someday perhaps I'll do a post on exactly why I loathe all the Potter films so much!), and eventually re-read the others too. My mother not believing in instant gratification, we had to wait a while for the fifth book; it arrived a few months after the release as a wonderful surprise gift from the parents :). Same with the sixth book. I was working when the last one released, so that was my treat to my sister & me.

April - May 2009.
By mutual agreement, my sister had kept the Harry Potter series. So naturally, on this visit home, reading the whole saga from start to finish was high on my list of things to do. I have lost count of how many times I've read them all in these past seven years; but on each occassion, the magic of J.K. Rowling's writing is still powerful enough to make me forget all other hobbies & interests. No other books have captured my imagination as completely as this lot, and I think that will be the subject of a future post - why I love this series so much. In the meanwhile, in the current reading session, I am off to embark on the final part of Harry's tale, as spellbound as I was the first time.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Not Just an Economic Crisis

And so again after a visit to Renu's blog, I'm compelled to convert a comment into a post, because one thought led to another which led to a third ..... so on and so forth, till its just too long in the comment form.

Straight off, let me say that I struggled mightily with economics and finance in my formal education and still do not fully understand the intricacies of both. But what I do understand very clearly is this: you violate His laws, you will pay a price someday. As you sow, so shall you reap, or to borrow my sister's favourite acronym, JKVB - Jaisi Karni Vaise Bharni (and now look at the amazing coincidence that as I was going through some of my regular blogs, I came across Goofy Mumma's latest!)

In many places, I recall the current economic crisis being described as the failure of the capitalist philosophy. I disagree.

I see this crisis as the failure of regulatory authorities who should've ensured organizations didn't overstretch their limits. I see this crisis as a failure of organizations themselves in that they were over-ambitious. Most importantly, I see this economic crisis as an after-effect, the result of a much more deeper cause: a moral, ethical & spiritual failure.

Very simply, people got greedy.

Right from childhood, we're taught that greed is bad. In fact, Christianity considers it as one of seven deadly sins. Deadly sin. I find it really amazing that people get so immersed in their careers and money-making that they forget these basic truths along the way. Many will scoff at anything to do with religion & spirituality; they outright dismiss simple values as 'touchy-feely crap' and see them as having no connection to the "business world".

And yet, when this crisis first erupted, and companies - supposedly well-established industry giants - started collapsing one after the other, the first thing people ran towards was God. Churches, in New York City especially, reported record attendance as desperate souls from the corporate world turned to Him for some way out of the mess they'd gotten themselves into.

I repeat: you violate His laws, you will pay a price someday. You can't ..... restrict God to a slot in your life. You can't say, ok God, I'll come see you in so&so place of worship, I'll give some money to xyz charity and that's it, be happy with that, what I do in my job is my business, not Yours.

Many people (including some members of my own family), believe that their "security" and their "status" lies in the size of their bank balance. Everything else comes in second to the all-important goal of money. Instead of work being a part of life, it becomes their whole life, to the exclusion of God, their own health and personal relationships. So when you make that sort of uncontrolled greed your way of life ....... how do you expect to walk away unscathed? And for a crisis of this magnitude to have occurred, its not just a few people here and there who went astray, but entire generations, entire societies that are to blame.

Anything taken to an extreme is bad; so the fault does not lie in capitalism per se, but in the unchecked, unbridled capitalism and materialism. I still believe in the capitalist philosophy, so long as we operate within a moral and ethical framework at the individual and the larger organizational and societal levels.

The values of hard work, honesty, saving and spending within your means are extolled by most faiths, and they are meant to guide us in all aspects of life. They are NOT irrelevant or outdated in present times however "modern" we consider ourselves, and whatever our accomplishments, none of us is above them. Provided we adhere to these guidelines, we have every right to enjoy the fruits of our efforts.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

More Money, More Faith?

I got started on this post quite a few days ago when I read this terrific piece by Amrita, but with one thing and another, blogging took a backseat and I couldn't complete it with the same steam that I had begun. I also needed time to think, to do a little introspection and get my thoughts in order. I feel very passionately on these subjects and can be very vocal on them, so some distance was needed if I wanted to produce a coherent post. Hopefully, I've succeeded.

My first instinct right after reading Amrita's post was to rant about how people needlessly fritter small fortunes away on flowers, garlands, fireworks and other frivolities.

Does He really need them? In the grand scheme of things, what are a few flowers offered at any one place of worship when you compare it to the vast variety He Himself has created? And fireworks ..... the lakhs and lakhs spent on them! One explosion of sound, a few seconds worth of flash and glitter and poof! Its over. How does that match up to the unimaginable wonders that exist in His universe - the stars, the shooting stars, planets, comets, galaxies that have endured since beyond our comprehension?

But then a small voice in my head said: Don't I like attending mass in a clean church with fresh flowers and candles at the altar? Don't I appreciate the paintings, sculptures and other ornaments that adorn the interiors? Don't I get excited to see the extra lights and decorations at festivals? Don't I watch fireworks displays as enthralled as any child?

What about in my home itself? Don't I like to have a well-decorated altar? Don't I light candles and place flowers there? Don't I like to jazz up my home during festivals? Christ was born in a shabby little manger and there were definitely no sparkling lights, no shiny decorations around at that time ..... so why do I bother with them at Christmas?

Now let's move outside to the buildings themselves. Don't I pause to ooh and aah over a beautifully built church / temple / mosque or any other place of worship? The more exquisite the architecture and the embellishments, the more money involved in its construction. But as I gaze at them in awestruck wonder, do I care about how much it would have cost? Even if my thoughts turn to money, do I begrudge it, do I think it a waste? No ....... its for God, I'd say.

But can any human creation possibly compare to His creation???

So then why do we do it?

These things are a token of our faith, our humble efforts to honour God. I emphasize 'humble' because again, in comparison with His works, anything we do is just that - humble. And more importantly, these are mere tokens; they cannot be the sum & substance of our faith.

Many priests whose sermons I've had the privilege of hearing, constantly stressed the need to go beyond mere ritualism and tokenism and actually live our faith. This simply meant keeping the ideals of love, service and forgiveness paramount in all aspects of life, something I believe all the great religions of this world preach.

But sadly, many people seem to believe that the more money they spend on religious activities, the more God will be pleased with them. Its far, far easier to hand out some notes or write a cheque than it is to practice "love, service and forgiveness" in the daily grind of life. But ultimately, it isn't how much you have, but how you live your life that matters.

Its not that we shouldn't spend money at all on our religious functions; just as long as we remember that whatever we do, we do it to glorify Him, not to glorify ourselves. And as we spend, I think we should also remember that we are duty-bound to help those in need. There has to be a balance between celebrations, donations and trying to live our daily lives by His word for faith and worship to be truly meaningful.