Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Trip Home.

Why the Hiatus?

The avid reader of this blog would have observed an uncharacteristic hiatus in recent times - and would probably have guessed that the reason for the same was the matrimony that the author was undergoing. And (s)he would not entirely be in error. The author, to use a Wodehouseism (that's a neologism) has become rather superfatted and lazy after getting married. All the author does is sleep and eat and surf and sleep, while the little woman does all the dirty work.

The Trip.

A mention must be made of the recent trip to India. The trip to India was a pleasant affair - the ubiquitous rudeness notwithstanding. There were absolutely no surprises in the trip- save, perhaps the Mumbai Airport. I expected a mess, frankly, when I landed in Mumbai. But the airport was probably cleaner and more impressive than all the other airports (besides DFW) I had been in ... Frankfurt and Bahrain. And the immigration and customs were a cinch. I did not have to stand in those fabled kilometer-long lines awaiting my turn.

The Traffic

The traffic was terrible (on expected lines). To say that I was scared when I saw Indian roads for the first time after coming back would be an understatement. I was petrified. I had no clue how people could survive with such traffic. A five hour drive to Surat on the day I landed was affected. Though most of the road was wonderful (the golden quadrilateral) the stints on the two-laned portions really scared me. My heart was racing faster as the driver overtook slower vehicles. (Mum and Dad didn't even flinch when this happened, to top it all).

Here's how an over-take is performed in India. Let's say you have to overtake a truck (henceforth referred to as the victim) on a two lane road in India. Let's say there's a car coming in the opposite direction. You first speed up, such that your speed is at least double the speed of the victim. Then you perfrom a cursory check to see whether a vehicle is coming the other direction in the right lane. If a vehicle is indeed approaching - then the overtake is not abandoned. In such a case the accelerator is depressed all the more and a headlight is flashed. Flashing this headlight momentarily (this is still mid-day, mind you) lulls the you into a sense of security. It is almost as if all responsibility is passed on to the driver of the approaching vehicle. The overtake is completed. The approaching vehicle might be forced into the shoulder - that's just routine. These delicate maneuvers are performed at speeds approaching 100kmph on those roads. Needless to say, safety is an eternal issue. Indian roads are among the most dangerous on the planet.

Surat turned out to be a singularly interesting town. Absolutely no garbage on the streets - spic and span - without any city buses - with newborns (virtually) driving two-wheelers - and absolutely no place to go to.

Congestion is normal on Indian roads. Surat is congested. Mumbai is congested. But Hyderabad is something else. It is saturated with a prosperous middle class. Though clean, it is static. Honestly, there are times when you feel it is a miracle that things actually move. Let me talk about one specific road. The Hubsiguda main road. And let me tell you how we cross Indian roads.

Just walk across. Don't care what is coming. Vehicles are usually so static that stopping is not a big deal for them. Just act as if you are blind-folded and cross. Unless some Salman Khan is driving along on his BMW, you are as safe as you can possibly be.

The monsoons came (albeit a little late) to India. Rain wreaked havoc over Mumbai (on expected lines) - and even over Hyderabad and Surat. Since the internet is more or less saturated with stories about the rain - let's let that go, shall we?

The Wedding

I would like to firstly talk about the status of atheists in India. There is no respect for atheists in India at all. When you say you're an atheist, people just assume you're a Hindu of sorts. I managed to bear this soft bigotry( yeah right, bigotry!) with a smile of my face - primarily because I am not a Dawkinsian crackpot.

The wedding, firstly, was as traditional an affair as a wedding can be - with the exception of a gazillion camera men fighting with each other giving both the bride and the groom an Angelina Jolie complex. I kid you not. If you were at the wedding, you would also get the feeling that most of India's 1.1 billion turned up as cameramen (armed with Nikon D-somethings).

The food, it must be metioned, was incredible - and even as the groom, I managed to get a fair fill (sneaking to the catering room every now and then). I have a gut feeling that it was frowned upon by a few powers that thought that they were - not that I cared a hoot.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the wedding ceremony was the number of reunions it facilitated. I met cousins, aunts, uncles and grandmothers after a cruel hiatus of two years. I met friends after an equally long hiatus. It was incredible in that I met almost everyone that mattered in my life at one point - and in that lay a regret - viz. there was just not enough time to do justice to everyone who turned up. Lots of people I did want to spend time with - but I just could not make it.

Lots and lots of relatives were met - regardless of whether they were known or unknown. I would like to add that I am almost positive that there were some impostors and some gatecrashers in the mix. But one never knows, does one? Lots of gifts were handed over. Usually idols of Ganesha - a hindu God destroyed and then re-created by Lord Shiva (the destroyer). The fact that Ganesha is a fan of the edible and is characterized by rotundity could be an ominous sign of the role that obesity might play in one's life - but, if that were true, then almost all Hindus would be fat.

Moral of the Story

One of the most important players in the wedding was rice. Rice coated with turmeric was thrown at the us by one and all. The rice crashed into the our heads like a Japanese Kamikaze airplane. It was all out war. And let's not forget the long rituals. The whole wedding was a blind ritualistic orgy. But within these rituals I could see genuine devotion among the people - and often genuine happiness. A certain joy that only religion can bring to the believer. A placebo that does more good than bad.

If there is one thing this whole experience in India taught me, it is the following:

Religion and rituals make people happy.
Being happy is the point of life.
Trying to spread atheism (like Dawkins and others do) is incredibly stupid, ignorant, arrogant and counter-productive.

I am an atheist who likes to see others happy. I don't care about the logical consistency of what others believe in. As long as they're happy. For happiness, often, is much more than a warm gun. It seems to be approximated quite well by devotion.

1 comment:

Radha said...

Nice blog...and yeah, I agree with your views on happiness - and what people choose to believe, in order to be happy.