Sunday, March 21, 2010

rm -rf *.Nanda

My thoughts on the scandal. Note: Post limited in scope to Hinduism and people who have some sort of religious belief.

People are Morons: I think 9 out of 10 people who criticize Nithyananda will anyday choose to follow Nithyananda types as opposed to a bonafide Sanyasi, who propagates religion in a very sincere and puristic fashion. People fundamentally have forgotten what religion looks, smells and feels like. Probably because they are so sold on a liberalized definition of religion to the point where - if religion was a cow, people would argue their asses off to claim that a cow need not moo, it need not have 4 legs, it need not give milk, it need not eat grass etc etc in order for it to be considered a cow. The liberals among the religious want the loosest definition of religion possible. A definition that is totally predicated on people not doing any work.

Consider this example which happens often in today's world. Some people approach a true Yathee, who puristically adheres to a samparadayam and practices his belief with near perfect sincerity and ask him for religious advise. This sanyasin will ask them to read a lot of books, do trikala sandhyavandanam, visit temples, learn slokas, practice aahara niyamanam, wear dresses appropriate for temple/visiting a religious person, and probably ask people to join classes that require time, effort and commitment. This is certainly very boring for people who want fast food. So they say "right..." and find someone who can redefine religion that fits their schedule (which is about 5 - 10 minutes devoted to religious activities per week). And one who allows them to visit an ashram in jeans and tees.

Enter *.Nanda.

And the 'many right ways' fallacy: While any religious text worth reading stresses that if a person does not do trikala sandhyavandanam then there no point in him trying to attain god, the *.nanda will calmly tell people that "there is no single way to approach god". This, in spite of having no logic, for some reason has extra-ordinary appeal to people. Maybe because it makes people think they can never be wrong. Sort of boosts their ego. Apparently "more than one solution" lands in people's mind as "anything you do is a solution". So people's new mantra suddenly is "many ways to approach god and everybody is right in whatever they do". This allows them to alter duration/date/time of religious functions, not visit temples (the "kadavul manasula irundha porum" clause ), change every rule that falls in the religious category by claiming "this is all superstition. Changing this is not wrong. There is no one right way to approach god". This is until they find out that *.nanda considers humping actresses as one such way to approach god. Now, it appears, there are a few wrong ways to approach god. Reminds me of case interview coaching in MBA days which has the same mantra of "there is no one right way to solve a case". The fools who took it literally and solved cases any which way realized that there were a billion wrong ways to solve cases and only a few miniscule proportion of right ways. And those few right ways had a huge common denominator.

Basic Knowledge: Most of these new hi-tech Saamiyars are not trained in religon. They do not know anything about it. Regardless of people's atheistic/theistic views, most would readily agree that in order for anyone to be a guide for people in field 'X' they need to actually know 'X'. In the past and with certain muths in the present, people who are appointed as religious heads of a religious institution are those who have undergone 18-20 years of education in the field of religion. They don't go to school and study 4th standard 12th standard etc. They actually go to an alternate school and get educated on the agamas, learn the 4 vedas, sastras. On top of it they learn aagara/aahara niyamanam, method of conducting rituals. Then they live another 20 years, either practicing their education or getting deep into philosophies on which their religion is based. They display their knowledge to the public with their commentaries on fairly nuanced stuff, they conduct upanyasams and generally establish a track record. Very similar to how any business professional would go about creating a track record in a company. They are then chosen to lead a religious institution.

*.nanda does not know anything about Sanaathana Dharma. In one particular lecture of his, my friend asked Nithyananda a basic question on Bhagavad Geetha and Nithyananda side-stepped the question and threw back some bull-crap in English. He has not had any sort of formal training in religion. I can superficially say that he is a 'dubagoor' by looking at his face. But a deeper look at his youtube videos bring you to same inevitable conclusion. To be sure that mine is not a caste argument and that I am not dissing the Sai Babas, the Maatas and *.nandas because they are non-brahmins : You don't need to a brahmin to be a head of a religious institution (as a lot of Azhwars and Saivite/Vaishnavaite Saints have shown). However, there is a specific set of criteria one has to meet, rituals one has to perform and standards one has to adhere to in order for him to be considered valid. It is like holding a doctor's license. The *.nanda seeks to side-step all this lack of training by connecting with 'youth' in English, using their charisma to earn respect, and saying a few obvious things about pressures faced by kid in "the IT world". This sleight of hand and a few superficial Bhagavad Geetha quotes ensures that his knowledge is never bought into the question.

This perfect marriage between people who say "I want religion in 30 days" and Swamijis who offer "If you want to give peanuts then my monkey can hump you" gives rise to the *.nanda phenomena.

The anti-Hindu Media: Firstly media outlets, especially in Tamil Nadu, are surgically precise in pointing out scandals in hinduism. Their concept of liberalism is filtered and laser sharp machine that deals only in negatives about hinduism. So something like this will never get the kind of TV attention that a *.nanda scandal gets. Infact media outlets are afraid to carry news of a certain kind.

Secondly, the hidden agenda becomes obvious once such scandals break loose. Its a clear missionary advt to people by Sun TV that says "Dear people - all saints in hinduism are like this. Go convert to other religions". Essentially a quack like *.nanda (who claims to be an incarnation of God) is merged and spoken in same terms as a head of a 1000 year old Muth (whose job description reads - coach/guide). And it is very easy for people to fall for it. Cross-belts who you think will know better (in reality they don't but that is differet story) - for the sake of peer pressure or for sake of saying something - contribute to the merge by saying "all are like this wonly". Sometimes, I have these visions of becoming the monarch of thamizh Nadu or a a Dravida Kazhagam activist and dream of yanking out the cross-belts out of the idiots who go and worship Saibaba, nithyananda, Kalki, maataji (amma), amritananda mayee, arabindo mother, and other such nonsense. Not that I'd spare the non-cross-belts. They'd just get a different treatment. Naming their kids MairapudingiNanda, Sayee Kumar, Payee Kumar, in order to show their bhakthi. And acting all enraged when they find out about sex scandals. What else were they expecting from people who claim to be god themselves?

The law: Running a fake university is illegal, operating w/o a doctor's license is illegal but being a fake sanyasi is apparently not a legal subject. And so *.nanda can walk free. Separation of church and state, especially when Narakasuran is ruling TN may be a good idea for the protection of hinduism. But the reason hinduism will speed towards death is neither Narakarsuran nor the italian-pumped-in-money to Nagercoil churches and missionaries. It is the lack of quality enforcement with the religion and the ability of any idiot to all himself a God man. At least write an exam on the 4 vedas for god's sake.

Disclaimer: While I consider him to be a victim of money/property polictics, I may not consider Jayendra Saraswathi to be a valid Saint either.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ghost Writer

Roman Polanski's latest is a superbly paced thriller that keeps you on your toes till the end. Call it coincidence both Shutter Island and this movie is about events happening in an island off Massachusetts. While Shutter Island is creepy and plays not-so-subtle mind-games with you, this movie is more nuanced, has a relaxed pace that makes you feel like you are reading a novel and is probably more intelligent than the former. While it tells a story involving a professional writer who ghost writes autobiographies of famous people, the movie straddles the line of political thriller Vs 'who dun it' murder mystery.

The movie's class lies in the way it introduces the various characters and goes about telling their story. Ewan McGregor plays the lead character, who remains nameless throughout the movie, without the namelessness being conspicuous. When he introduces himself as 'I am the ghost' we see his self-deprecating humor and not Polanski's sleight of hand at work. He has a dry sarcasm and a sharp sense of humor and is our eyes into that world. We meet and know about each character through Ewan McGregor's eyes. The movie does the likeable thing of making everybody look suspicious and at the same time make him (and us) eliminate everybody as a suspect. An interesting aspect about this is that an important character dies in the opening frame of the movie but he manages to tell his story and influence the life of others one way or the other. I especially loved the way the movie hinted at the multiple layers of ghost writers (both literal and metaphorical) present in the Prime Minister's life.

This movie has its share of flaws too. The ending and I mean the last frame that you see in this movie is as open ended as it is shocking. The payload is just not there as you wonder 'but why.. how...i don't understand'. There are several threads that are tied in a way or revealed to us in a way that makes sense at that moment (or seems important at that moment) but later does not impress us much. The movie certainly falls short in answering our 'so what?' questions. That aside the journey to the end was fascinating. Ewan McGregor is a gifted actor. Polanski shows once again that he is an extremely skilled movie maker.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Death

The nurse declared that she was dead. But her son wouldn't burn her body until the doctor confirmed that she was dead. They were talking about her body. Apparently it had died and needed to be burnt. She lay there wondering 'when did she die'? Did she die when she was widowed at 19? Or did she die when, for the first time, she was asked to not attend an auspicious function? A man sat their chanting for her life after death. That gave her hope. She had met death before life and looked forward to life after death. But when did she die? She certainly died when she saw others with a family, or money, or happiness. But then she never knew she was called unhappy, jealous, angry, and bitter. So she may have died when she did not know that she was normal.

Everyone said she'd fall down and die if she climbed the Ugra Sthambam. She climbed it when she was 68 and didn't die. But losing sanity felt like death. Losing the part of her mind that usually made her wear a dress before going out of the house felt like being burnt. When did she die and why should a doctor permit them to burn her now but none consulted when she was burnt before? She was jealous of that body which lay there in the living room pretending to be dead. It seemed to have more life now than she ever had.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Shutter Island: Good but Predictable

In the space of Noir movies, this movie is like a wannabe. Like a shy new entrant trying to be more Noir than what is necessary. This is certainly a tense, taught thriller from Scorsese and I was glad I saw this movie. But there were several scenes that needlessly hinted as to what the ending might be. Story tellers, who try to blind-side the audience at the end, try to drive the audience in one particular (wrong) direction and at the same time leave certain dialogs and scenes subject to multiple interpretations at the end of the movie. The key is to neither overdo the decoy part nor make obvious the scenes that have multiple-interpretations aspects to it. Sixth Sense succeeded in hiding the scenes that could be interpreted either way more vigilantly than it hid the ending. This movie misses exactly that aspect.

In fact, there was a scene here that reminded me of another good movie - Mullholland Drive - that bared and flaunted a specific multiple-interpretation scene to needlessly and abruptly drop a hint rather in the middle of the movie. When you use a scene as a hint dropper and not a narrative driver, you give away the ending. (This is the scene where this aspiring actress meets a cowboy in a boxing ring). The movie was significantly less interesting after that point. That scene was disconnected, random and unreal. The entire movie was like that. But that scene was a little bit more of all that than it needed to be.

In Shutter Island, Scorsese starts by working with a consistent and needless penchant to show too many images flashing through DiCaprio's mind. On top of it he experiments with nested dream sequences that probably work better as a decoy in a novel than in a movie. He might as well put a caption saying "I am going to seed something now". And then finally in a scene where DiCaprio is found alone talking to a severely injured and disfigured mental patient, Scorsese gives away the ending. This movie simply fails to supress too many scenes/events/dialogs and is unable to push it to the background. They just float and strut about winking at the audience.

Therein lies the key to good Noir. Directors who make great movies in this genre resist the urge to use overly clever dialogs during moments that has to both be consistent with the illusion being created but at the same time play the role of a ticking bomb that will explode with multiple interpretations later on. Scorsese has been unable to resist the urge and makes the scene needlessly out of synch with the flow of the movie. After this give-away scene, the movie becomes a little bit of a disappointing journey towards the obvious. The pay load in the end is not a satisfying single moment that reveals everything and connects all the loose ends in a single stroke. The payload comes in several installments, which go about painfully describing 'how it happened' in slow detail. Once again, this movie is for a big part a gripping tale. Definitely recommend a watch. But more was expected from Scorsese (or whoever was responsible for the adapted screenplay).

Sunday, March 07, 2010

On Late Realizations

Finally glad that this movie got its due recognition. In the one week that it ran hardly anybody ever saw it. It was only after the nominations were announced that people started scrambling for DVDs of The Hurt Locker to put some review of the movie out there in the press. So it was ridiculous that Hollywood promoted it so poorly at the time of release. Hopefully the Oscar thing would make more people appreciate a truly wonderful movie.