Today is Diwali or “Deepavali” as we call the most important Hindu festival in South India. It is a very key occasion when Hindus all over the world celebrate the victory of good over evil, and lights abolish darkness for ever. While it is a religious occasion, it is also a time to celebrate time with families and friends – a time for acquiring a “feel good” feeling which kind of emancipates us from the clutches of daily routine and frustrations, and brings a strong whiff of good will and smiles all around. Of course, we eat a lot, specifically sweets and savouries, which add to our waistlines and continue the long-standing Indian tradition of diabetic influence in our lives as we chugg along.
Not very different from Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or any of the other major religious festivals around the world.
We are fortunate that Singapore (and Malaysia) celebrates Diwali like a national festival, and has a public holiday today (like India), considering a significant population of Singapore are from Indian ethnicity. Other ethnic compatriots like the Chinese and Malays wish us “Happy Diwali” when they see us in public places like condominium lobbies, and that greeting enhances the bonding that we all have towards Singapore. The “Little India” area of Singapore has been lit with “Happy Deepavali” LED lights for nearly a month now.
For the first time ever in my career, I became an avowed Diwali enthusiast, and declined business meetings on the eve of Diwali and during the Diwali holiday (which is today). I realized that it is time that I respect my own private time during this auspicious occasion, and avoid taking calls in temples (of all places!). Calls came, of course, on Tuesday evenings, but I politely declined. The world needs to understand that Diwali is celebrated by almost a Billion Hindus, and the festival needs to be respected. Even the White House celebrated Diwali! President Trump read out a statement and then lit the lamp adorned by bright flowers, surrounded by key Indian officials.
I also declined calls during the day today (most of Asia works today), and did not look at my laptop all day. This was an unusual departure from my usual practice over the years, when I treated Diwali as any other working day (though it was always a public holiday in Singapore and India), and continued to transact business. Now, I am of the opinion that all religious festivals of national importance have to be given the requisite space and attention, whether one has any faith or otherwise. It is the sheer number of folks who follow the faith(s) and the festival(s). I also realized that the crucial message of the festival would not percolate down to our children, if I continue to be nonchalant about its importance and its place in our life.
As I sit down this evening with a glass of wine and contemplate the times when I was very young (less than 15 years old), I feel an overwhelming sense of self-pity and gloom that I have missed out a lot. May be it is true, but for me it is an emotional recall of my younger days in the city of Madurai in South India where I grew up. I am able to easily visualize the Deepavali noise and celebrations in front of my house in Palace Road and Mahal Vadambokki Street in the 1960s and 1970s. My eyes are wandering down Palace Road and making a turn towards my famous school – the St Marys’ High School of Madurai. I remember most of what was going on during some of those years, though not able to correlate the specific year with a specific event.
It is a far cry now where I am sitting in the Thomson locality of Singapore, but I believe my soul never left Madurai. Though I have not gone back to Madurai since the year 2000 (my India base is now Madras or Chennai), I still have those Deepavali and other connections to Madurai tugging me, asking me to visit the place. Some of my school mates are still living there, and I have been in constant touch with them through the magic of WhatsApp.
So, now I am thinking about Deepavali and its critical annual role in providing me with a sense of relief and liberating thoughts. I did not go to temple today as we as a family decided to stay away from the crowds. We went to the temple Monday evening, and I was so happy to make a quiet visit to the Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon area of Singapore with very little crowd at 6:30 PM. Apart from the temple visit, I also enjoyed the free “prasadam” or temple food paid for by a devotee, which in my opinion is a lucky occasion. If I am able to stand in the queue and receive the temple prasadam, I am fortunate as I then totally forget that my family was supposed to go elsewhere for dinner! The food was so delicious that we decided to eat the same and dropped the dinner plans. Such is the simple beauty of utter simplicity in thoughts and deeds. There were others who had driven their Mercedes and BMWs into the temple parking lot who were also queuing to receive the temple prasadam. We all do not need it, but we relish the important fact that the temple cooked the simple food, and we have to sit down on the temple floor to eat it on a piece of “butter” paper!
When I am able to come down from my elitism to the simplest common denominator of a guy walking down Serangoon Road, then I have become a Socialist craving equality among the masses. In essence, that is who I am. While I am not saying no to the comfort of my savings, it gives me more pleasure when I am one among the people who are commoners doing things which 90% of the world’s population does on any specific day. No one else does anything for me at least. If I am able and willing to do things on my own, then I am a Social Animal and unlike what the Rich folks say, I am willing to work hard for myself and my family and earn my worth. The Rich Republicans (I am using the U.S. example here to ease the understanding of the readers) always point that the “Left: or the Socialists are weak and poor, and do not deserve subsidies or handouts, and do not work at all”. It kind of aggravates me – that is utter nonsense. Most people want to work and earn. Sorry, I am distracting you into a completely different topic, but the essence of what I am saying is that being an elite removes you from the sufferings of the masses.
So, that is the conclusion of my Diwali holiday today, and back to the office tomorrow. In the meanwhile, enjoy your respective fatty foods and sugars and drinks today. After all, we have driven out the evil darkness from our lives, and the life ahead is full of light.
18th October 2017
Spiritual Gurus have long been a bane of many religions around the world.
Their (largely) negative impact has been felt severely in India for a very long time.
Some gurus have positive impact overall. One of them is Jaggi Vasudev, the other is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who runs the famous Art of Living (AOL) Foundation. There are thousands of others, but my simple view has always been that there is no need for an intermediary between God and I, or God and anyone else for that matter. Unfortunately, Hinduism, one of the most enduring religions of the world with over 800M followers, encourages the adoption of gurus to facilitate a communication with God. I do not agree with such a philosophy, though there are other major religions which follow similar philosophies, putting man over man. Humans look for a guide to help them navigate the world, and it is not at all a surprise that a Pope arises to guide Catholics, for example. The plethora of gurus in India does not follow any systematic approach, they crop up anywhere and everywhere where the gullible would fall at their feet and worship them. There are thousands of “magical” episodes when these human gurus have generated simply impossible manoeuvres which continue to fascinate their followers.
However, none of these “humans” are above the law of the land.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, his Art of Living Foundation, and his spokesman accuse the government and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for giving permission to conduct the World Culture Festival in March 2016, which has completely destroyed the river bed of the Yamuna River which most Hindus consider as a holy river. Sri Sri is a charismatic guru, who is close to powerful politicians and the wealthy folks of India, and so it would be interesting if the expert committee’s findings would indeed find their way to justice in the current dispute between the government/NGT and Sri Sri/AOL. I don’t think it was appropriate for Sri Sri to accuse the NGT and the government for having granted permission to him for conducting the Festival.
Where is accountability and humility on the part of the famed Sri Sri?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and his AOL are not exempt from the law of the land, and have to abide by the rules and regulations. Being close to God does not exempt him from the rule of law. It would be interesting to see how his ardent followers react to the findings of the expert committee.
It is clear that spiritual gurus cannot run a government, a court or the environment. They should focus on God, not make Hinduism a circus philosophy. It is always good to hear some of the lectures of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, but the wisdom of his speeches does not make him God. He is after all, an ordinary man, like all of us. If he commits a mistake, he has to pay for it. There cannot be an excuse. If a fine is levied (as it has been), then his organization has to pay it. Damage done to the Yamuna riverbed will take 10 years to fix, as per the expert committee. Who caused the damage? Not the government, nor the NGT. They merely granted permission, may be misguided, may be under some sort of pressure. But Art of Living Foundation and Sri Sri are entirely responsible for what happened. Who can contest this assertion?
Again unfortunately, most of us are emotional, and wish to kick folks who do not conform to whatever is the general trend of belief or philosophy, in this case of Sri Sri. If there is a variation to that thinking, then the people who think differently would be termed as traitors to the cause. Nothing can be farther from the truth.
Time to think on environment, time to think about Yamuna River, which has recently been designated as a “legal person” by the courts of India.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar should apologize, desist from repeating such extravaganza, and indeed pay the INR 5 Crores fine. We should all respect the law.
22nd April 2017
Today is 31st December 2016 – the last day of 2016, the last weekend of the last month of 2016 – and the New Year’s Eve is not far off as I type this blog post. It is 12:20 PM in Singapore, lunch time now. I am nursing a chardonnay (sorry folks!) as I know I cannot drink this evening. Why is that, you may ask. Because I am going to drive to a party some 20 KMs away which is indeed a long distance in Singapore ! And, the police are very vigilant about drunk drivers – the punishment is jail, my friends. I am not going to touch any drink along with my dinner this evening. Just enjoy the evening get-together, and get back home safely.
However, I can write about wines, right?
This post is about a fabulous South African wine – Nederburg Pinotage 2014 (Winemasters Reserve). Reasonably priced, this is a great wine for connoisseurs of pinot noir, that ever so precariously balanced wine, which is unique in almost every aspect.
I loved this wine – it is a medium-bodied red, with excellent fruit flavours and a great after-taste. It is dark ruby red in colour, it is silky and crisp – a great addition to any cellar. I like this wine very much, and was tempted to go in for a second bottle, and had to restrain myself.
Well, wines are always good, and carefully chosen reds are especially very good. I would categorize this wine as very good. Try it and you won’t be disappointed.
Well, now we come to the end of 2016 year. It has been an eventful year, with several surprising things happening around the world. It was not a “bad” year, as some people tend to characterize it. I think it was a decent year, given the changes happening around the world. These changes are to be expected.
In any case, drink your wines (or, spirits) responsibly, and do not (for heavens’ sake) drink and drive this evening or even tomorrow or at any time. You do not wish to go to jail, or be the cause of horrible accidents. Plan the evening, and you can always find time to enjoy yourself with your family and friends. May be try taking a taxi, for a change. It is always safer. Better safe than be sorry, folks.
Cheers, and Wish you all a Great and Prosperous New Year in 2017 !
31st December 2016
I am not that consumer-centric ! Ha Ha Ha !!
But I thought, sometimes it is crucial to recognize the few readers that I have who keep coming back for more. It is also that time of the year when we recharge our batteries, get together with our families and network with our friends as we herald into yet another exciting year.
I have always felt that this is the ideal time of the year for committing to do something new. Something more impactful in life. Something that will help one to recognize his or her importance and contribution to the lives of others. Something which creates new excitement. Something to look forward to.
It is a very important time for connecting with family and friend. I am planning to do exactly that. As I engage more in social and family conversations, I hope to get away from computers. Let me try !
I will be back to writing my blog from 2nd January 2016, which is the first Saturday of the New year. See you then. In the meanwhile, here’s Wishing You All a Merry Christmas and a Fantastic New Year ahead in 2016 !
19th December 2015
Yesterday it was the Diwali (also called “Deepavali”), the main festival for the Hindus.
I have written in the past about the significance of Diwali – in fact there are several posts over the years (just search for “Diwali” using the search button on my blog’s home page).
While it remains the key festival day for Hindus, the most crucial thing that happens is how Hindus connect to their culture via food, specifically the folks who live overseas (not in India).
The day of course, starts with prayers, temple visit, exchanging messages and phone calls to close relatives, et al. However, the most important thing is actually getting together with a group of friends for networking, chit-chatting and then try out the best food that comes along.
Obviously, during such occasions there is no “foreign” food – all food is truly Indian, made either at home or ordered from a local Indian restaurant. Any selection of such food is done with lot of care and attention to detail, keeping in mind the folks who would eventually consume the same. So, the quality and variety are assured, with taste topmost in the mind of the selector(s).
Where does the culture angle comes in ?
For most youngsters, food signifies their relationship to the culture they came from. Religious rituals are another factor, but slowly losing their importance in the lives of young folks who do not seem to relate to the same. They follow the rituals sometimes as they have to satisfy their parents or grand parents, but apart from that I would wonder how things would be like in a couple of decades in the impact of religion on peoples’ lives – I mean here the Hindus.
However, I would seriously doubt that food would lose its importance – the Indian food is timeless and has a strong connection in terms of its relationship to the culture and traditions. While Indian fusion food is gaining recognition in places like Mumbai, the traditional food still dominates all over the world when it comes to Indian fare.
I was happy to notice yesterday the vigour with which all folks, but especially the younger ones, connected with the Indian food that was being served at a get-together. The food was good but not outstanding, however the chance to get around and sample various types of Indian food was too tempting to give a pass on the basis of dietary restrictions or calorie intake. Better worry about it tomorrow !
Enjoy your food and connect with your culture, even though it happens once in a while.
3rd November 2013
I am in Mumbai now, in the middle of the Navratri celebrations, one of the many festivals which crowd out the Indian Calendar right through the year.
There are so many festivals in India going on that one cannot be blamed for losing track. Foreigners usually feign ignorance, and if Indians themselves have trouble keeping track, we cannot blame foreigners to have appreciation of so many festivals.
This post is not about the festivals or about foreigners in India.
It is simply that I get annoyed with the sound disturbances which emanate from all corners of the city, irrespective of the time of the day. Sometimes the loud sound and music go on well past midnight, though the Supreme Court of India has prohibited playing loud sounds after 10 PM and before 6 AM.
Nevertheless, patrons of festivals in road corners blare out loud music and plays on a continuous basis right through the day when they are indeed allowed to do so – there seems to be no decibel limit imposed on them by the government or the courts of law.
And, I found one thing – most educated, upper middle class Indians are highly tolerant towards such disturbances. Their finer world view does not seem to encompass festivals at all. Anything to do with a religious festival gets the highest level of acceptance and tolerance from even the most educated Indians – even from those who have returned to India after living abroad for a long time, or even from those who are visiting India on a holiday. They all seem to be enjoying the sound and music that they had missed while living abroad.
Living overseas does provide a freedom from disturbances such as these loud music and road performances. There is none whatsoever, except during carnivals which do not happen in the residential areas anyway. In cities like Singapore, there is virtually no noise of any sort for 95% of the year.
I think it is important not to disturb folks of differing religious beliefs, and further it is most important that disturbance of any kind is avoided irrespective of whether it is religion-denominated or not. What is wrong with celebrating in a quiet manner ? It is not necessary that everyone around you should know that you are celebrating, and doing that with fanfare and a lot of noise.
This is of course, my own opinion. I am sure there are folks who will always disagree, and there would be many who would say that celebration without sound and light is no celebration at all. But all should agree that noise during more than 50% of the year should be unacceptable, and that noise which is incessant right through the day is not something one has to live with.
6th October 2013
Today is Diwali Festival in India – the “festival of lights”, when “good wins over evil”. It is the main festival when almost the entire country is bedecked with lights and one can hear the sound of fire crackers right through the day (thankfully not late in the night as crackers have been banned after 10 PM). People go to temples for worship and eat sweets and savouries.
I am writing this post because this is the first Diwali when the family decided against the use of crackers and I thought it was hugely important, especially in a conservative setting. We have not been big fans of the noise, fire and pollution caused by crackers, but we have always chosen to join other families in the common ground area to burst at least some crackers and light up flower pots, et al.
But not any more. The reason for this decision landed on us from none other than our son who is 12 years old. He said that he wanted a green planet and hated pollution – no surprise given that Mumbai is one of the most polluted cities in India even otherwise (without the additional benefit of crackers !). I thought it was rather unique he should say such things, may be thanks to his school teaching him about the impact of pollution on our planet.
So, we actually decided not to purchase any crackers and not even to burst any even if our neighbours called us to join.
It is probably going to be fun watching others bursting fire crackers from a distance, and it is going to be a first for all of us in the family !
Of course, this ban did not extend to the purchase of some sweets to celebrate Diwali – we bought quite a bit yesterday for distribution to our car driver, maids, security guards at our place, etc.,
The key point that we noted today is that the sound of crackers has been on a muted note around the place where we live, indicating that people are realizing the impact of pollution and are also affected seriously by inflation. Economic indicators in India do not look good despite all attempts by the government to revive the economy. Retail inflation in October hit 9.75% firmly revealing that interest rates won’t come down anytime soon. Whatever additional money people make this year is going to be eaten away by inflation.
Well, a lesson to seniors – avoid crackers and help reduce pollution. I dare not even walk on the road for the next day or so till the fumes and air clear up.
Wish you all A Happy Diwali and Festive Season !
13th November 2012