The Indian Express: Luck, By Chance

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Luck, By Chance: In a country divided by our differences, we stand as one in our superstitions

Rife with superstition and irrationality, the echelons of our politics and bureaucracy make for an interesting case study.

Written by Arefa Tehsin | Updated: June 25, 2017 10:41 am

 Vasudev Devnani, Rajasthan High court Judge, India politicians and astrologers, Jawaharlal Nehru, India politicians and superstitions, Rajendra Prasad, politics and religion news, Nandan Nilekani, laLu Prasad Yadav, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, India news, National news, latest news, politicians and superstitions , In an age when morality is the excuse of brigands, we should have Rational Studies as a subject in schools to foster a spirit of inquiry. (Illustration: Subrata Dhar)

Just as the new year dawned, the Rajasthan Education Minister, Vasudev Devnani, emphasised the “scientific significance” of cows to us — the cow is the only animal that inhales and exhales oxygen. The comment resulted in a few sharp intakes of breaths (all oxygen, I hope!) and a few guffaws. But no shock. And recently, a Rajasthan High Court judge informed us sagely that a peacock is a lifelong brahmachari. Sex with the peahen? Tauba, tauba! What are tears for?

Rife with superstition and irrationality, the echelons of our politics and bureaucracy make for an interesting case study. Whose god is more powerful? Or, whose godman? The 2013 Karnataka elections witnessed a bizarre tamasha by the candidates while filing nominations — one wore six layers of clothes, one 20 rings, some matched their underwear with the colour of their birthstone and one was suggested to file the nomination stark naked!

From the PMs occupying and vacating 7 Race Course to filing nominations to swearing-ins, to ministers moving in their new offices, auspicious times are the norm and so are havans, yagnas and offerings to gods. According to newspaper reports, while Lalu Prasad Yadav filled his pond with mud during 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Aadhaar architect Nandan Nilekani’s camp was furious that they couldn’t file the nomination at the auspicious time of 12.26 pm given by the astrologers. It might do well to remember that the top-notch astrologers had predicted a coalition government for Indira Gandhi after the Emergency, but she won a majority. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the ex-President of Sri Lanka, called the elections two years in advance, following the advice of his favourite astrologer, and well, the rest is history. I don’t think he lost his faith in astrology along with his Presidency. Arre miyan, what are we if not considerate?

But why blame just the politicians and be outraged at their comments? In a country that is so divided, we stand as one in our superstitions. What’s more, we have been trained to “respect” the belief of others. We live in a democracy run by middlemen who come with their vermillion-smeared foreheads or multiple rings on their fat fingers. They smile at us with their paan-stained teeth and diddle us out of our wealth to give us what is rightfully ours. The crooks pay visits to temples and mazaars and make their offerings to help them continue with their disreputable businesses. Let me not say whom the gods prefer here. And so do we continue with our bribes to gods and godmen — to beget sons, to pass exams, to increase our bank balances, to raise the stock markets?

Whatever happened to hard work? To “karam kar, phal ki ichcha mat kar?” The University of Gujarat launched a course in astrology and vaastu last year. And why wouldn’t they, when it is such a thriving profession? Even our in-flight magazines have a few pages devoted to weekly horoscopes. My father, a naturalist, recalls one of his visits to the office of Jai Rajasthan, the only daily in Udaipur in the Seventies. A senior journalist passed him a paper and pen while he sipped his tea. “Uncle,” he said, “why don’t you write the horoscopes for the week for our readers while you wait? Don’t forget to put in a small road accident in one or the other rashi. That generally is spot on. If they have an accident, the prediction will be true. If they don’t, well, they would know it was the horoscope that warned them to be careful!”

We go to fortune-tellers and mystics to know our future or to the pandits to match horoscopes or open a shop or inaugurate a house at an auspicious time. What about all the divorces or dowry deaths and the businesses that flop despite kundali matching and mahurats? Do we turn on those priests then? As Walt Kelly’s popular character Pogo says, we have met the enemy, and he is us.

Much to the displeasure of the Pope, the French in 1905 banned wearing all symbols of religion by those in the government. India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had reportedly opposed President Rajendra Prasad inaugurating the Somnath Temple after its facelift. He understood that religion and politics made for a deadly cocktail; today, its hangover has left the whole country dazed and nauseated.

We need to teach scientific temper to children and encourage rational thinking in society. In an age when morality is the excuse of brigands, we should have Rational Studies as a subject in schools to foster a spirit of inquiry.

During a visit to China, my uncle-in-law, confused at a society that largely does not practise religion, asked his Chinese counterpart, “Tell me something, friend, when you’re facing a problem, whom do you pray to? What do you do?” It was the Chinese’s turn to look confused. He knitted his eyebrows and replied, “Why, my friend, we solve the problem.”

Arefa Tehsin is an author and environmentalist.

 

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The Indian Express: Love Will Keep Us Alive

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Love Will Keep Us Alive

Written by Arefa Tehsin | New Delhi |
Now, more than ever, we need love jihad. For, isn’t that how societies and the world change, one heart at a time?

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Where even inter-caste marriage becomes an issue, how open are we about inter-religious marriages? (Source: Thinkstock images)

 

Disclaimer: This is a true story of love jihad, based on real characters in real circumstances. The names of the characters haven’t been changed (it’s a different thing that I haven’t named any of them).

Oh yeah, it is a filmi romance — a girl from the sleepy, lake town of Udaipur; a boy, two years her senior in college, from badass Bombay (uh-huh, Mum…baai). A college picnic in the remote, forested tribal lands of Jadhol. A few students from the picnic group go on a trek. The girl and the boy get lost in the jungle. Alone. Period. Need we say any more?

The girl is from a Bohra joint family, which has a history of love marriages from the early 1960s. Hindu-Muslim, Shia-Sunni, you name it. The reason: the grandparents — the matriarch and patriarch of the family — were both much ahead of their times. But the girl’s mother is a conservative Bohra, wanting to marry her daughter into a pious, godfearing family. What? A son-in-law without a beard? The clean-shaven, agnostic husband has been more than enough on her nerves all these years, thank you very much.

The boy, a rebel from a joint business family, an Agarwal — pure descendants of Agrasena himself, that too. Love marriage? Love happens after marriage, anyway. Inter-caste marriage? Unheard of. Inter-religious marriage? Heart-stopping. “Chhoro naak katavega!”

The boy and girl break the news to respective next of kin, or rather the news breaks itself. Ishq aur khansi chhupaane se nahi chhipti (love and cough can’t be kept secret), the girl’s mom’s prophetic words come true.

Both the sides are appalled, but they still have faith in providence. Surely, this is jawaani ka josh, which will soon die down. When it doesn’t, hell starts to break loose. A small word of caution travels from the boy’s family to the girl’s, through a common acquaintance. The boy hears about it and travels from Mumbai to Udaipur to apologise and have a word with the girl’s dad, a well-known and mild-mannered naturalist. They meet on the banks of the famous Fatehsagar Lake; both the wanting-to-be groom and the not-wanting-to-be father-in-law arriving on their scooters.

Boy: I really love your daughter.
Father: Boy, what’s the sense of it all? Your family is opposed to it, my wife is opposed to it. How will you make it work?
Boy: We will. You see…
Father: Hang on a second! Do you see that turtle there? Do you know about the hardness of its shell? (Father goes on to explain the scientific reason). But, my boy, what will happen when you have children? When they go to your place, they’ll teach them namaste, when they come to our place, we’ll teach them salaam.
Boy: Oh, it’ll all work out since we love each other.
Father: Wait a minute! Do you see that bird on the tree trunk? Do you know why it makes its nest there at that particular angle? (Another explanation follows). You know what, why don’t you both just run away and get married? I can’t convince her mother. You have my blessings.

The father is not spared the trouble as the couple doesn’t elope. However, the girl and boy realise that trying to wait for the families to agree one fine day is like waiting for a flight on a bus stand. The girl, with the secret help of her hassled father, calls her mama from Mumbai to convince his fiery sister. The boy, pursuing his MBA, conveys to his father that it’s either this marriage or lifelong celibacy. The father grudgingly agrees. And so does the girl’s mommy after a night-long convincing about fate and faith by her elder brother.

The boy, with the girl’s father, approaches the district court in Udaipur to file for their court marriage. The lawyer looks at them as if they have let loose venomous snakes on him. “Boss, why do you want to incite communal riots in our peaceful city?” It takes him a day to locate and pull out the dusty form for an inter-religious court marriage.

The boy, seeing the supreme reluctance of the lawyer, approaches the Mumbai courts. Without even looking up, the babu at the registrar, says, “Which date do you want? The 14th of February is completely booked.”

The small-town girl and the guy from the metro get married in the Mumbai court, and squeeze their way out after signing the paper, as the registrar calls, “Next!” When they emerge from the crowded court, they see the two Mummyjis hugging each other and crying, and not out of joy.

People forget that there is always a reception before the “happily ever after.” In the evening, with just the two families and a handful of friends, the wedding reception is held at a resort. While the couple flashes 200 watt smiles, the rest look like fused bulbs.

Yes, it has been a filmi journey for us, minus the slow motion shots and background music. After more than a decade of being married, the families have accepted us wholeheartedly, opening their hearts and their minds. They have changed for us, and that speaks volumes. But isn’t that how societies and the world change, one heart at a time? And what our society needs more than ever today is love jihad. Let’s tickle the tender sentiments of the anti-Romeo (and anti-Juliet?) brigade and mix it all together so that they are completely confused about who to place before the firing squad. For, I believe, we do not have to save love. Love will save us.

Arefa Tehsin is an author and environmentalist.