Hallelujah, or Not

The day I asked doctors to stop my father’s treatment, to let him go after a year of suffering, to just make sure he wasn’t in any more pain, a relative of mine said I was godless. I was violating the rules of humanity by not stretching out a dying man’s agony. It didn’t matter that no amount of medicines could ever bring him back.

Two days later, the clock stopped ticking. He had found peace. Presumably, on his onward journey, he would also find God.

But that relative of mine was right. I was godless. I felt it, as clearly as a cold draught of fear flowing through my insides. There was nothing there: no tears, no regrets, no prayer, no faith. There was emptiness, because I had lost a part of my being without finding a replacement.

I went on living, I couldn’t give up. My mother could. Less than two years later, without a fuss, she simply closed her eyes and didn’t open them again. She had become my baby: helpless, dependent, unable to recognise anyone but me, unable to eat unless I fed her. And now she was gone. And my being had taken another blow.

I stared at an abyss, and it stared back at me. I realised that for the past 15 years of my life, I had been inching closer to its edge. Now was a great time to step over it, surely. How could anyone blame me now for not being strong, after 15 years of hell?

What held me back was a blood tie, a baby who needed me more than I needed to run away. And so, without hope, without a clue, without light, from day to day, I pushed ahead, still faithless, still godless. What I lacked in courage, I made up for with routine, with dead habit. I didn’t have peace, but I had numbness, and frozen detachment.

It’s been almost five years since then. Surprise, surprise, it’s also been five years since I wrote anything for this forsaken blog.

Nothing dramatic has happened now to make me write this dreary account, except that a few days ago, I listened, really listened, to the lyrics of Hallelujah, to the soul-clenching, terrible, beautiful, disintegrating poetry of Leonard Cohen. And his bizarre, guttural singing to go with it.

Or perhaps it’s my numbness that is disintegrating. For it no longer matters that I can’t keep the faith every day of my life. It will come when it does, and it will often be cold and broken. It may also be holy, and still be broken. Faith is the crutch I used and discarded. Now, when I no longer need a crutch, it has come back as a companion who walks alongside.

I don’t take this to mean I’m no longer godless. My faith is still, at best, a nebulous realisation that I can allow some warmth back into a frozen ice pond. I argue violently with it often, but I acknowledge its existence. I feel it, as clearly as a cold draught of fear flowing through my insides. But I also, sometimes, feel it as clearly as the salty taste of tears on my lips. I have dared to cry again.

And I have concluded that God is an emotion. As love is an emotion. Or music is an emotion. I just need to reconnect to long suppressed emotions. Note how easily the mention of that mammoth task rolls off my tongue.

Visceral is not a word I’d use loosely, would you? No. Well, I’d use it for what you read below. I’m grateful to Leonard Cohen, for showing me again what true redemption looks like.

“Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the lord
But you don’t really care for music, do ya?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the hallelujah

You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to ya?
There’s a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool ya
And even though
It all went wrong
I’ll stand before the lord of song
With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah”

~ Music & Lyrics by Leonard Cohen, 1984


Mother Superior?

Mirror image

There’s a cacophony outside Nirmal Hriday, Mother Teresa’s ‘home for the destitute and dying’ in Kolkata’s Kalighat area, right next to its famed Kali temple. A ragtag bunch of children are clamouring for what they call chhoto coupon (small coupons). These prized scraps of paper make them eligible for an ‘outing’ the next day.

It is the morning of Mother Teresa’s 100th birth anniversary, and apart from the much-discussed outing, the children are also being treated to cakes and juice, consumed at lightning speed. In case we have missed the point, one of the kids gravely points to the photograph of the ‘saint of the gutters’ at the building’s entrance and says, ‘Boro ma’r janmadin’ (roughly, ‘it’s the senior mother’s birthday’).

As a beleaguered Missionaries of Charity (MC) nun tries to keep them under control and smile enquiringly at us at the same time, a shriek suddenly goes up: “Laash aschhe (corpse coming)!” In a trice, the doorway is forsaken, the children dispersing in all directions as one of the home’s inmates emerges from it for the last time, on a stretcher, mercifully shrouded, but still forcing us to shrink against the wall of the narrow passage.

As soon as the body disappears inside a van, though, the children are back. Business as usual. Inside, it’s business as usual, too, though there has been some effort to brighten the gloomy interiors with blue and white balloons, and the destitute and dying are dressed in colourful new clothes. Two nuns and a volunteer are in charge, and permission to speak to them or to the inmates is politely but firmly refused.

On the previous evening, at Mother House on AJC Bose Road, the mood is quiet, too. There’s almost nothing to indicate the significance of the day after. Near Mother Teresa’s deserted, unpretentious, nearly unadorned tomb, two Spanish volunteers shred marigolds and collect the petals in a carton, for “tomorrow’s decoration”. Lawyers from Madrid, the two women are also volunteers at an MC centre there.

Every day, between 1 pm and 3 pm, all MC centres take a break. At Mother House, nuns take it in turns to police the otherwise wide-open gate during this period, sifting through the constant stream of visitors — camera-wielding Japanese tourists, a chattering group of Anglo-Indians, bemused Americans, an argumentative journalist from Delhi — to decide whom to let in. The routine never varies, and the rigid sense of discipline and abhorrence for pomp is uniformly striking.

Emmanuel Biswas, a Bengali man in his mid-50s, limps in, takes off his shoes, heads for the tomb and prays audibly, almost weeping.

He’s a Protestant, he tells us later, but has been praying at the Catholic nun’s tomb ever since a debilitating stroke robbed him of normal movement. “What can I say about her? My sins are great, but she will forgive me,” he says.

On the official Missionaries of Charity website — operated by the California-based Mother Teresa of Calcutta Centre — there are 195 entries in a section that invites users to “report any favours or miracles received through the intercession of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta”.

Of course, 13 years after her death, Mother Teresa is an overwhelming presence at the institutions she founded. Both Mother House and Nirmal Hriday are overflowing with reminders of the woman who evoked love and distaste in almost equal measure during her lifetime.

Critics, led by Christopher Hitchens, accused her of accepting money for her mission from gunrunners, smugglers, fraudsters, and mass murderers. They demanded explanations about what she did with that money, ridiculed the Vatican’s rush to canonise her (a process that remains unfinished, hence ‘Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’ instead of ‘St Teresa’), accused her of abetting poverty rather than alleviating it, and were scathing about her decision to be treated at a California hospital rather than one of her own “primitive” medical facilities, where the caregivers supposedly depended on love and faith rather than medical training.

Today, in private conversation, former associates confirm what many suspect: despite her critics, Mother Teresa’s personal charisma went a long way in drawing attention to her order. That is not to say that the MC has stopped its work, or that there are any visible signs of decline (MC accounts have never been audited anyway), but, as one former donor says, “They won’t admit it, but there has been a 200 per cent drop in public interest in the MC.”

In similar vein is a comment by a young woman whose livelihood indirectly comes from Mother House —she ‘guides’ all the ‘lost’ foreigners who come in to the house as volunteers, and finds accommodation for them nearby, for a fee. Did she ever see Mother Teresa? No, her husband did. “Mother used to look after him and his brothers when they were children. She used to give them baths, meals…the sisters now are nothing like her,” she says.

Really? “Look at that pagla (lunatic),” she says dramatically, pointing to a homeless man lying on the pavement. “He’s been asking for some clothes for months now, and they won’t give him any. You think Mother would have tolerated it?”

Unfair, probably, given the rate at which the MC’s workload has gone up over the years.

And there’s nothing to show that the order minds the diminishing attention levels. A nun, who declines to give her name, says they love nothing better than to be left in peace. “We are only letting people in because of Mother’s centenary. All this attention is very distracting,” she says.

Nonetheless, attention from all corners of the world made the MC what it is. Today, its founder’s iconic status hasn’t eroded, but in death as in life, she seems to be surpassing the order that she founded, and the cult of the Blessed Teresa is alive and well. Is her life’s work as secure?

This article was first published in Hindustan Times on August 29, 2010

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Five Things To Know Before Dating A Journalist

I’m slightly ashamed to say that the following post is not my own. But, as a professional journalist, I loved it so much that I stole it for myself, with all credit to Rockmycar.net

Ok, here we go:

Five things you should know before dating a journalist
By Tom Chambers

So, you’ve been eyeing that smart, attractive journalist you’re lucky enough to know personally. You’re intrigued. Your journalist is smart, funny, confident. Visions of Clark Kent taking off the glasses and ripping off his clothes to reveal a perfectly toned body in blue spandex coming to save you run through your head.

Who can blame you? Journalism is a sexy occupation.

But journalists aren’t like the bimbos you usually pick up at the bar. Nor are they the assholes you ladies continually fall for. No, journalists are different beings (which is why you’re attracted to them in the first place), and you should realize — before jumping in — that this isn’t going to be a run-of-the-mill, boring, lame relationship you’re used to.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. We can figure things out. Understand, we’re paid to dig deep, find the secrets and wade through bullshit. We can pick up on subtleties, so what you think you are hiding from us won’t be hidden for long. Sure, we’ll act surprised when you eventually tell us you starred in German porn as a freshman in college — but we already knew.

We don’t take shit from anyone, so don’t lie to us or give a load of bullshit. We spend all day separating fact from fiction, listening to PR cronies and dealing with slimy politicians. If you make us do the same with you, you’re just gonna piss us off. And don’t think we’ll be quiet about it. We’ll respond with the vengeance of an Op-Ed page railing against society’s injustices — and we’ll enjoy doing it.

Just tell us the truth. We can handle it.

2. At some point, you will be a topic. Either through a feature story or an opinion column, something you do or say will be a subject. Get over it. Consider it a compliment, even if we’re arguing against you in print.

Think about it: we live our lives writing about life. If you’re a part of our life, we’re going to write about you, your thoughts or a subject springing from one of the two.

Don’t be upset when an argument against your adoration of Hillary Clinton turns up on page A4. We’re not directing the writing at you, personally — your ignorance was just our inspiration (there, doesn’t that make you feel better?).

3. Yes, we think we’re smarter than you. In fact, we know it. Does that smack of ego? Absolutely — but that confidence is what makes your heart go pitter-patter.

We have a strong, working knowledge of how the world works. That makes us great in conversation. We can delve into the intricacies of zoning laws, local and national politics, where to find the good restaurants, what’s happening with pop culture, where the good bands are playing and more.

But there are pitfalls.

Guaranteed, when you say “towards,” we will automatically say “toward” — “towards” is not a word. We’re not trying to call you dumb (even though you don’t understand the English language), it’s habit. The same will happen when you say “anxious” when you mean “eager” and when you answer “good” when someone asks how you are doing.

We carry ourselves with a certain arrogant air. Embrace it (that’s what attracted you to us in the first place, after all). Don’t be surprised if we’re not impressed when you say, “I’m a writer, too.” No, you are not. The fact that you sit in a coffee shop wearing black while scribbling in your journal does not make you a writer. Nor does the fact that you “wrote some poems in high school” or that one day you want to pen “the great American novel.”

Look, we’re paid to write. Every day. What’s more, our writing matters. It changes opinions, affects decisions and connects people with the world around them.

We’re not spewing our angst or trying to fabricate an aura of creativity. We write about the real world — with real consequences.

Our words go through three or four cranky editors who make us rewrite before it’s printed a few hundred thousand times and distributed all over town. You don’t do that unless you’re confident, even egotistical.

You may have some great journal entries, poems and rudimentary short stories — good for you. Just don’t assume we’ll accept that as on par with what we do (unless you’re really hot, then hell, you’re a better writer than I).

4. You’re not less important than the job — the job is just more important than anything else. One doesn’t become a journalist to sit in an office from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday.

We do take our work home. If news is happening, we’ll drop whatever we’re doing — even if it’s with you — to cover it. We’re always looking for stories, so yes, we’ll stop on the street to write something down, interview a passer-by or gather information for a lead.

On that same note, don’t get upset if you call us on deadline suggesting some afternoon nookie and we say, “I’ve got to put the paper to bed first.” That could mean hours from now, but we’ll have plenty of time to put you in bed later.

5. You won’t be disappointed. Journalists are intense, driven, passionate folk. We carry those same attributes into our relationships, making it an extremely fun ride well worth the price of admission. Our lives are never boring and each day is different.

If the pitfalls are scaring you away, consider this:

The fact that we’re inquisitive means we’ll listen to you. Even if it does seem like an interview, we’re paying attention to what you have to say (see rule No. 1).

We’ll write about you or your thoughts because you’re an important part of our life and we care about you (see rule No. 2).

Our brains are a great resource. Ever go on a date with an attractive person and wind up wishing you hadn’t because everything they say is just, well, stupid? That’s not going to happen here (see rule No. 3).

Yes, it may seem that we put the job ahead of you, but we’re driven. You’re not with that loser whose life is going nowhere and who’s completely content being mediocre (see rule No. 4).

There you go, five things you should know before dating a journalist. Feel free to add to the list, point out where I’ve missed something or leave a comment.

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Thank You Dr Subramanian Swamy

Hello Antonia

Hello Antonia

You may remember Dr Subramanian Swamy of the Janata Party — perhaps the only reason why we have not forgotten Bofors and Quattrochi. Well, a friend sent me a link to the Janata Party website which contains a fascinating section called ‘Do You Know Your Sonia?’ written, of course, by Swamy. And since the Indian elections this year seem to be all about personalities rather than issues, here are extracts from the section that will show you how thoroughly Swamy has done his homework on the new Mrs Gandhi, and why she should be persona non grata in Indian politics:

“…we must however first understand who Sonia Gandhi really is and what kind of danger she, her family and her friends in Italy, hold for India’s national security. Very little is known about the Mainos’ murky past, and the little that we are told about Sonia are lies. In other words, Indians do not know who Sonia really is or what she represents [see Annexure-4].”

“Ms. Sonia Gandhi’s background as publicized by her and her Congress Party is based on three lies in order to hide the ugly reality of her life.

First, her real name is Antonia not Sonia. This was revealed by the Italian Ambassador in New Delhi in a letter dated April 27, 1983 [see Annexure-5] to the Union Home Ministry which letter has not been made public. Antonia is Sonia’s real name as stated in her birth certificate.

Sonia is the name given to her subsequently by her father, Stefano Maino [now deceased]. He had been a prisoner of war in Russia during World War II. Stefano had joined the Nazi army as a volunteer, as many Italian fascists had done. Sonia is a Russian not Italian name. While spending two years in a Russian jail, Sonia’s father had become quite pro-Soviet, especially after the liberating US army in Italy had confiscated all fascists’ properties including his.

Second, Sonia was not born in Orbassano as she claims in her bio data submitted to Parliament on becoming MP, but in Luciana as stated in her birth certificate. She perhaps would like to hide the place of her birth because of her father’s connection with the Nazis and Mussolini’s Fascists, and her family’s continuing connections with the Nazi-Fascists underground that is still surviving in Italy since the end of the War. Luciana is where Nazi-Fascist network is headquartered, and is on the Italian-Swiss border. There can be no other explanation for this otherwise meaningless lie.

Third, Sonia Gandhi has not studied beyond High School. But she has falsely claimed in her sworn affidavit [see Annexure-6] filed as a contesting candidate before the Rae Bareli Returning Officer in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, that she qualified and got a diploma in English from the prestigious University of Cambridge, UK.

Earlier, in 1999 in her biographical data given under her signature to the Lok Sabha Secretariat and which was published in Parliament’s Who’s Who, she had made the same false claim [see Annexure-7].

But later she wrote to the Lok Sabha Speaker, after I had pointed it out to him in a written complaint of a Breach of Ethics of the Lok Sabha, that it was a “typing mistake”. This qualifies her for inclusion thus in the the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest typing mistake in history.

The truth is that Ms. Gandhi has never studied in any college anywhere. She did go to a Catholic nun–run seminary school called Maria Ausiliatrice in Giaveno [15 kms from her adopted home town of Orbassano]. Poverty those days had forced young Italian girls to go to such missionaries and then in their teens go to UK to get jobs as cleaning maids, waitresses and au pair. The Mainos were poor those days. Sonia’s father was a mason and mother a share cropper [now the family is worth at least $ 2 billion: (see Annexure-10)].

Sonia thus went to the town of Cambridge UK and first learnt some English in a teaching shop called Lennox School [which has since 1990 been wound up]. That is her “education”— enough English language to get domestic help jobs.

But since in Indian society, education is socially highly valued, thus to fool the Indian public, Sonia Gandhi wilfully lied about her qualifications in Parliamentary records [which is a Breach of Ethics Rules] and in a sworn affidavit [which is criminal offence under IPC, severe enough to disqualify her from being MP]. This also violated the spirit of the Supreme Court judgment requiring candidates to reveal their educational qualification on an affidavit [see Annexure-8].

These three lies indicate that Ms. Sonia Gandhi has something to hide, or has a hidden agenda for India to brazenly fool Indians for some ulterior purpose. We therefore need to find out more about her.”

Ok, end of samples. Obviously, what I have copied and pasted here is just the tip of the iceberg. For the full story, you need to check out http://janataparty.org/soniaintro.html. And believe me when I say that I do not bat for the Janata Party or any other specific political party. But I do believe that certain issues should bother us. And I think a vote of thanks is in order to Dr Swamy for relentlessly pursuing a case against a family that has, without any merit whatsoever, become our lords and masters.

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