26 January 2018

Chota Shakespeare

I have always wanted to give an award receiving speech. It's a different matter that I will probably never receive an award. But as the widely popular TV series F.R.I.E.N.D.S. has proved, some of us practice giving these speeches. You've been forewarned. This post is going to be a speech. There's no award. But there's an achievement. This blog has turned 10!

My worst best friend Ahana remarked that the only constant in my life has been my writing. Seeing this blog clock 10 long years, I can't agree more. Over the last decade, I have worked multiple jobs, received multiple degrees, found and lost multiple friendships and relations, travelled to various countries and what not. Yet, this blog and my writing have stayed on. The blog was there when I was giving my board exams, my CAT exam, my LLB entrance and my Bar exam. It was there when I was working on Excel Sheets everyday. It is there when I am working on Word Documents and PDFs everyday.

Perhaps, what is most magical is that I never planned for this to happen. When I started writing in school, I didn't have the slightest whiff that ten years down the line I would still be writing. In fact, I am sure I started writing for some ulterior and materialistic motive of having something interesting on my college application. At that time, it was not about the love of writing or writing for the sake of writing.

I don't remember when that changed.  The blog captured glimpses of my life. It became a time machine. The blog saw my transition from being a theist to an atheist to a theist again. It saw several posts with "I don't know" written in the end. Sermons about the sense of life. In this regard, perhaps, one of the most written subject was that of Death. I suppose any encounter with Death just unsettles you and pushes you into the valley of introspection.

The blog also taught me a fair bit of web designing. When I was in school and college, there was a lot more time at hand and a lot more zeal to experiment with blog themes. I learnt how to add pages, make widgets, conceptualise websites et al. The blog changed from 'Carving a Niche' to 'In Shakespeare's Jeans' to 'Shakespeare's Jeans' to 'Thesaurus' to 'Tales of a Part Time Indian' to [drum roll'Chota Shakespeare'. Later in the life, these web designing skills allowed me to design simple websites for others. Never for money though. My skills weren't that good.

Indeed, this blog is the drawing board of my creative side. It witnessed my creative outbursts - the most of significant of which was Appu's Question. Inspired by Aaron Koblin, I set out to make a visual representation of people's thoughts. I can't imagine redoing that now. And that's one of the most amazing things about that time - I wasn't afraid of trying new things. I was looking at new things, trying new things. I was madly searching for inspiration.

The blog also saw my immersion into politics, especially elections. I started a different blog and wrote on patriotism, civics, faith conversion, cleanliness et al. Government expenditure on advertising was an issue that possessed me and a couple of posts were spent complaining about the criminal waste of public money. Eventually, I gave up - on that particular issue and on politics generally.

Deep down, I am an idealist. I believe that a perfect world can exist. However, the world around us is far from perfect. This blog became my space to vent. I couldn't fathom the reason for the infinite stupidity of humans, myself included (I still can't). But I have come to realise that a reason is not going to help me. The world is not ideal and that is something I need to accept. There is only one thing I can change -  myself.

Often, it is said that writers only write about their life and experiences. Their work is nothing but a reflection of their life and/or life as they view it. I agree. My blog saw my romances, my friendships, my ups, my downs, my hopes and dreams, my reflections and what not.

On pensive and boring days, I go back and read some of my old posts. Without fail, each time, I think to myself - "Rohan, what is this nonsense you've written?" Some of the posts are so bad, that I have even contemplated removing them forever. They are so bad that I can't even read them again. I am glad that a friend of mine counselled me against it. The blog represents an evolution of me. Each post is like a checkpoint. The individual posts might be terrible (even for my eyes), but over a long enough timeline, it represents the phases of my life. This might sound self-obsessed. Nevertheless, it is tad bit beautiful.

I am not a literary expert. But I do think that my writing has improved because of the blog. The blog allowed me to write annoying rhyming poetry. It allowed me to write really bad attempts at magical realism. It allowed me to write in the vernacular. It allowed me to express, without judgement or fear. It satiated a different part of my brain and personality. Readers may dislike or hate me. But the blog never disliked or hated me. The blog never edited or censured me. In that sense, the blog was the perfect companion and publisher. Perhaps, for this reason, if I do ever write a book, I would probably have to self-publish it (also because no one would want to publish such nonsense). Thank you Blogger, thank you Google!

Though at this point, I must say a few words about the "drafts" in my blogger account that never saw the light of day. I apologise for their fate. These posts represent strands of my mind that for one reason or another did not develop into the fabric of a post. In some, I lost interest. In others, I lacked the effort to pen down my thoughts. Yet, in others, I just wasn't sure. The weird little being that's inside each one of us was just not convinced.

In one of my college interviews, the interviewer asked me the difference between maintaining a diary and maintaining a blog. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I do remember saying that a blogger actively wants to be read. A blogger writes to share with the world. I have never had many followers. Most of the time, my readers were my closest friends. And at other times, complete strangers would comment, which felt like cloud nine. Fortunately, 'being read' was never an incentive for me to write. Obviously, it felt amazing when people read and commented and a bit gloomy when people did not. But I kept on writing shamelessly; never assessing why a particular post was liked and why a particular post was not. But of all my readers, one name does stand out. Thank you Vasudha. You've been a part of this journey since the early days and I am glad you stuck around.

I must add that I was never alone in this journey. Friends (Devna Soni, Ganesh Mehta, Ahana Datta among others) would continually join and leave the blogosphere. The presence of a comrade in the vastness of the world wide web gives you that extra bit of confidence that allows you to keep going. You're not alone buddy. I must thank them for their support and love.

Like all awards, I must thank my family. If it were not for them, I don't think I would have been here. I don't discuss my writing with them. I don't even know if they read my posts or not. But that's immaterial. They have given me immense love and it is because of their care and help that I am who  I am. Most importantly, I would like to thank Maa. I can't express in words the debt I owe to her. She's my everything.

Over the last 10 years, my writing has seen great and not-so great works. All the posts are (not) the same to me. So as a 10 year Anniversary Special, I have picked out some of my favourite posts:

समय का अभाव - http://rohan-chawla.blogspot.in/2017/04/blog-post.html
Untitled - http://rohan-chawla.blogspot.in/2008/08/untitled.html
Say what? - http://rohan-chawla.blogspot.in/2014/03/say-what.html
Information Value - http://rohan-chawla.blogspot.in/2012/12/information-value.html

Here's to another 10!

Thank you, dear reader. Thank you.

Chota Shakespeare / Thesaurus

30 December 2017

Cynic or Believer?

Recently, a dear friend of mine remarked that I was a cynic. I wasn't surprised - it wasn't the first time someone had called me a cynic. Yet, each time, it pushes me in to the throes of self-questioning. More specifically, it makes me wonder if I have the right outlook towards life and the world.

I wasn't always a cynic. In fact, even now, I don't think I am genuinely a cynic. I would probably describe myself as an idealist. Now, I don't want to confuse you with isms and so I will explain that a little more. For the longest time, I believed that the perfect world could be created/existed. That  more often than not, people are nice, follow the law and do the right thing. It is a matter of record that at some point in my life I even wanted to be Prime Minister. As cliched as it may sound, I wanted to be the change I wanted to see. One of my principal motivations for pursuing law was also this. I wanted to fight for people's rights. I wanted to make a difference. I really believed that the world could be made a better place and that I could do it. I wanted to live a life that mattered.

However, my idealism didn't come alone. It came with truckloads of expectations and immense disappointments. Each time I tried, I failed. The more I trusted others, the more I believed in the world, the more I involved myself with the world, the more I lost hope. To be fair, my cynicism is more a product of my unmet high expectations than any negativity in the world. I expected the best from everybody - that they would give their all. Perhaps, I still do. 

I am sure that my current state of mind is a product of several disappointments. While writing this post, I did list them out. However, it started to appear as a long rant and I had to let it go. Suffice to say, that there are several instances and on each of those occasions a warm and gooey part of me died.

However, writing this post made me realise that I was truly blessed. That resurrected some of the warmth and gooeyness. In specific, this year has been a roller coaster and I have come out fine. I finished by law degree. Finally, I travelled to Kedarnath and Badrinath. I bought a new phone. I composed tons of nonsense poetry. I met many wonderful people.  Danced like a crazy at many weddings. If I really try, I will see the immense love that fills my life. 

I am a theist. I am not going to go into details of my belief. At this juncture, it is enough to state that I would like to believe that the world is filled with pure consciousness. The essence of everything and everyone is that consciousness. There is nothing other than pure consciousness. If that be the case, how can I have a grudge with the world, which in essence is pure consciousness. Therefore, my cynicism is directly in conflict with my desired beliefs; and clearly the former has to go.

A New Year is about to start. New beginnings usually bring about some amount of hope and possibility of change. Here's to a less cynical and more grateful and contented new year.


Image Source - https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CYsyANSWMAAu7UW.jpg

10 September 2017

Pitru Paksha

Every year, during the dark fortnight of Bhadrapada month, Hindus venerate their ancestors by performing Shraaddha pooja. It is believed that an offering of pind (rice) and tarpan (water) is received and accepted by the ancestors. The rituals usually involve feeding Brahmins as also making an offering to animals such as crow, cow, dog etc.

However, it appears (though I have no empirical basis for this), that the performance of Shraaddha among educated Hindus is declining. My guess is that increasing atheism, disbelief in caste, disbelief in ritualism, intangibility of the receipt of offerings, lack of knowledge pertaining to Shraaddha etc. are the reasons for the decline. I am not going to venture into the legitimacy of these reasons.

My concern is the total and complete abandonment of the practice. To my understanding, every ritual/practice has two aspects - the physical and the mental. The physical aspect is the physical act of actually carrying out the practice/ritual. The mental aspect is the thought that one must have/cultivate when performing the physical act.

To give an example, lets take the offering of water to idols. The act of bringing the vessel, collecting the water, offering the water etc. are the physical aspects. The thought that I am offering water to god and s/he is accepting water, like a mother accepts anything from the toddler, is the governing mental thought during the performance of the physical aspect. Please note, that the mental thoughts may change with the change in the gunas of the individual; however, the physical aspect remains the same.

Now back to Shraaddha. My hunch is that the abandonment of Shraaddha is primarily driven by objections to its physical aspects i.e.: alleged waste of food, the inability of food reaching ancestors through the pooja/mouths of Brahmins etc. Rarely, have I come across an objection to the mental aspect i.e.: veneration of ancestors. In fact, the concept of veneration of ancestors is common among various cultures/faiths across the world and also across the length of human life. On first principles alone, I believe there is reason for veneration - i.e.: we owe a lot of our present lives to our ancestors, not just in terms of inheritance, but also in terms of the gift of life. I am not aware of any objection to having gratitude towards ancestors.

My fear is the non-fulfilment of the mental aspect of Shraaddha. We have objections to the physical aspect of Shraaddha. As a result, we abandon the practice of Shraaddha. Since there is no longer a physical act wherein the mental aspect can be incorporated, and owing to the rigours of modern life, I fear that the mental aspect of remembering our ancestors remains unfulfilled. The abandonment of the physical aspect, without anchoring onto something else, causes a loss of both - the mental and physical aspects.

My submission is that a physical anchor is necessary for the mental aspect to play. Without a physical anchor, the mental aspect will last only for a few seconds, if at all. At the end of the day, most of us operate at the gross level and hence the presence/absence of gross elements has an impact on the mental processes. Unfortunately, we need triggers to be grateful. It is nice and fluffy to argue that gratefulness is a state of mind. But it is incredibly hard to make the mind constantly grateful. If it were that easy, then we would not have been this selfish and goods hoarding race that we are now.

If a physical aspect is important for the mental aspect to play, there are only two ways to resolve our objections to the physical aspect - (i) understand the ritual of Shraaddha and its significance; or (ii) find an alternate physical aspect.

I am not competent to explain (i). For this, I would recommend reading Chapter IX of Vol. IV of History of Dharamsastras by PV Kane. The book is freely available online. The book extensively deals with all the texts pertaining to Shraaddha. The book is an authority on the subject of Dharamsastras. The author is Bharat Ratna awardee.

However, I can recommend on (ii). If you do not believe that ancestors are fulfilled by the performance of Shraaddha, then simply donate food to the hungry/poor. It may not still fulfil the ancestors, but at least by the act of donating, you would have remembered them and felt grateful for whatever they have done for you.

While (i) is purely religious, (ii) is completely secular. One can believe in (ii), even if one is an atheist. There can hardly be any objection to donating food to the hungry, in remembrance of one's ancestors. The only religious aspect in (ii) will be the timing of the donation i.e.: the period of Shraaddha. If, however, you are able to formulate a new time period/occasion for making the donation, then from a secular point of view, that is okay.

Therefore, in summary, my conclusions/unasked for advice is as follows:
If you believe in Hinduism, start with (i). If you are not satisfied with (i), definitely do (ii).
If you do not believe in Hinduism, or do not want to go through the enquiry of (i), definitely do (ii).

Don't abandon the veneration of ancestors. Your entire life is not just your own making.

Image - https://www.yesmywish.com/image/magictoolbox_cache/8c95d73fec130487c102a73bf1ab42ce/4/2/423/thumb500x500/742683735/Shraddh.jpg