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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Chp 118. Delhi Ahoy!!!

Flashback: One week ago

"So when does this new course (in Delhi) start?"
"By the beginning of next month, dad."
"Hmmmm... and you really aren't satisfied with the quality of your coaching classes here?"
"Puleeeze... I mean he knows a lot, but he hardly comes to class, and most of the time spends his teaching hours dictating from DD Basu's "Introduction to the Constitution of India" with no real explanation as such..."

So there I was booking my flight ticket to Delhi for my UPSC coaching classes last week. It was a very sudden plan. I didn't even have the time to tell anybody about it. I chose a date that would be most suitable for my friends in Delhi to pick me up from the Airport. The date was 20th April.

20th April happened to be a Friday, a day when all my friends would be free from the shackles of their next-day-office bondage. 20th April also happened to be the eve of my Birthday *grin* .

With just 2-3 days available for preparation, everything was hush-hush-ed. I packed my stuff quietly and left sweet ol’ Mizoram without a trace. I didn’t even have the time to inform any of my friends about my decision. On the direct flight from Aizawl to Delhi, “father_sphinx” happened to be on the same flight! Hence with the two of us leaving Mizoram, not a single editor of the popular Mizo site misual.com is now currently residing in Mizoram. Ironic huh? .

Landed at Delhi an hour away from my sweet birth anniversary. Perfect! The journey then onwards was not so smooth. First bump on the road: There was not a single PCO booth (functioning properly) inside the arrival lounge! Hence I couldn’t contact Amol who was supposed to pick me up at the Airport. Took a gamble and wheeled my luggage outside the Airport in the hope that there might be a local-call Booth outside the Terminal. There were two. Hence came the second bump on the road (A pretty nasty bump if I may elaborate): I called up Amol who was already there at the Airport and told him of my whereabouts and made another short (less than 20secs) local call; I was charged 40 bucks by the phone booth operator! Even though I have reformed and no longer have any desire to lead the life I once led, due to force of (past) habit, I couldn’t help uttering “WTF” in my head.

This was a pure case of tube-light robbery! 40 bucks for two short local calls! At first I thought the dude was just trying to rip me off because of my facial feature. But as I stood there arguing with the owner I observed the other people (non-mongoloids, read : typical Indian facial feature) actually pay 10 bucks for a local call! Both the booth owners had only notes of 10 bucks in their hands. And then Amol appeared on the scene and when I told him about the royal swindle, he bargained with the owner (or should I say pleaded?) in hindi and finally I got to pay just 20 bucks. Still, 20 bucks for 2 short local calls?????

Then Amol told me that sometimes it’s best not to argue with such people because they could create a lot of “problems”, and with a medical bill that could rise to more than Rs.5000 and probably a court case and my birthday party in a few more minutes, it was definitely not worth getting beaten up by the local goons (who are obviously in cahoots with the cops) over a mere 20-40 bucks. I couldn’t believe it. Hardly 10 minutes in Delhi and my dignity already got raped!

And yes, the two phone booths ran by those two swindling rotten-faced scoundrels right outside the Airport terminal are both Airtel Phone Booths. Kudos, Mister Sunil Bharti Mittal.

All my life, I’ve been only in South India. I can truly call Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Coimbatore, Mumbai and Cochin as my secondary home. I love South India. Most of my closest friends right from Primary School to Master’s degree College had all been South Indians, although I did have a couple of dear North Indian friends here and there too. And although I don’t mean to stereotype, I have indeed heard a lot of “stories” about North India and North Indians, in particular Delhiites. This is ofcourse not in reference to all the good people of Delhi and addressed only to the anti-social few. Hence I was indeed prepared, both mentally and physically, to face any thefts/ dacoity/ racial abuses/ ethnic slurs. I guess I just wasn’t prepared to face a 40 bucks rip-off immediately the moment I landed.

Anyway, having learnt a good lesson, Amol took me to Jaypee Vasant Continental next to Priya Complex for my birthday (dinner) party. Met the others there… it sure felt good to see everybody again, especially her. After we sat inside “Eggspectation” the Resto-CafĂ©, the clock struck 12. Happy Birthday to me, yay.!

I did have a small glass of beer to celebrate the occasion, just so as not to make my friends feel uncomfortable. That small glass funnily made me feel a bit tipsy because I haven’t touched alcohol in more than 5 months now since my born-again experience, while I used to down a full bottle of old Monk Rum at one shot before! Now I no longer have the desire or urge to get drunk again even after that one glass of beer, Praise be the Lord.

I couldn’t help laughing at the way I am spending my birthday now and they way I used to spend them for the past 7-8 years. Those other times, my B’day parties always involved unlimited booze, inebriated caterwauling, mithun-ishtyle disco dancing, intoxicated arm wrestling, and ending the night (morning) with a deep passing out, welcoming the first day of my new year with a head throbbing hangover. Last week’s celebration was so so so so much cleaner and at the same time so much more fun. I’ve never laughed out that much taking each other’s trips in such a long long time.

The Present:

Nearly a week now in Delhi. It’s not as hot as people warned me about, although the actual heat wave is yet to come. The place where I’m staying for the time being until I find my own pad is very cool compared to many other houses I already visited. Although I haven’t actually gone out that much, I really am starting to like Delhi. Neighbors and shopkeepers nearby are a bunch of extremely nice people. My roomies here tell me that the actual racial abuses and other notorieties depend upon the location/locality, and residential areas such as this are usually a safe haven for “outsiders”.

Cool. So my blogging will continue on a part time basis when I take a small break now and then from my study grind, so please do continue visiting my blog. I took a new mobile connection yesterday, and yes, it was obviously not Airtel.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Chp 117. Impression of a Christian

Easter confessions.

Four years ago (2003), Easter fell on 20th April. I remembered that date very well because the next day was my birthday. A combine birthday party was thrown by me and “V” on the previous night (PSG Tech, Coimbatore, TN). From our college gang of friends, a majority of us were Christians; hence most of us treated that night as auspicious. But as the night got younger and wilder, we all eventually ended up drinking. Even the more devoted Christians among us like P and J who were on Lent and sipping on orange juices soon turned to beer (Our gang loved beer. It was always beer on such occasions). Sadly, in the midst of our drunken follies, we had completely forgotten the significance of such a sanctified weekend.

Funny thing was, the next day all of us turned up for Church! Most of us were still sipping on limewater to cure our hangovers, but we all felt this urge within us to go to Church. We never turned up to Church for an impression on what others would think about us: we went to this really secluded Catholic Church far away from College (which was a tamil service! and none of us understood tamil properly, me being a Mizo and the rest Mallus). Yet we all felt a strange calling from within to celebrate Easter and go to a Church, any Church… maybe it was guilt, or a mixture of guilt and jubilation, or maybe it was just pure exultation.

It would be easy for anybody who saw us the previous night in our drunken-est demeanor to call us all hypocrites for going to Church the next day. A big bunch of hypocrites. I wouldn’t blame them all for calling us that, because that is the kind of impression that most of us usually pass on to our non-Christian friends here in India, that Christians are a bunch of frauds who drink a lot and lead an Americanized life and then go to Church all holy on a Sunday. Although I admit we were foolish then and gravely sinned, I wouldn’t say we were being hypocritical because of the way we kept a low profile of our Church visit and also the fact that we would all rather sleep the whole day because of our hangover rather than put on some impression we didn’t give a hoot for then.

But like it or not, that is the kind of impression many people have about Christians here in India today, especially among the youth of today’s upper and middle class section of the society. Being quite liberal and a bit more moderate than most people of other faiths, college-going Christians of urban areas are usually expected to be “amazing guys to party with” or “somebody who’s really cool and happening” or “a guy with excellent taste in english music, absolutely rocking”. Word on the street is that being a Christian will earn you some extra brownie points when applying for a job as a DJ, VJ, RJ, MC, Hostess, Event Manager etc.

A good friend of mine argued that we should not be worried about the impression we give to others and what matters the most should be “our inside”. No doubt, what is “within us”, our genuineness, our sincere faith, our honest attitude infront of God, our modesty etc are all important. But when we follow all that, we are also automatically giving out a good impression. Hence we cannot separate the two of them.

Years ago, I actually used to take my then girlfriend along with me to Church on a Sunday. She’s a Hindu. But she enjoyed going to Church with me, to listen to the teachings and sermons. I could tell that she was genuinely impressed with my religion. For the short time that we were together, I even became a better Christian. There was one incident I will never forget. One Sunday, she suddenly refused to step inside the Church with me. When I asked her why, after much hesitation, she whispered to me that she was having her periods and hence felt that she might “pollute” the holy sanctity of the Church... As she was extremely adamant about her decision inspite of my pleas and persuasions, I finally stepped inside the Church alone while she waited for me at the adjoining CCD.

Leaving old traditions and conceptions about menstruation aside, what really impressed me that day was the fact that she, a person of different faith, would show so much respect to our Church in a situation where she felt respect need to be shown. That was the impression she had about Christianity, and had we been together longer, maybe she would have converted to our faith… who knows.

Impression is more important than what most people think. We should all be aware of the fact that people of other faiths are always watching our every move, the way we dress up for Church, the way we lead our life outside the Church, how helpful are we in our society, our politeness, sincerity, honesty and dedication when it comes to work etc. When we give out a great impression, it sometimes makes other people want to follow our footsteps too especially when we practice what we preach. Gandhiji once said "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

One of our obligations as a Christian is to spread the Word of God. And spreading the Word of God need not be only through sermons, preachings and missionary works. When we lead a respectable decent public life deemed appropriate of a Christian among our non-Christian friends, we are all automatically spreading God’s immortal Words. In a country with less than 3% of the total population, we have a mammoth task of standing out from the rest.

The question is, my friend, will you join me in that marathon? Lead a good Christian life inside and outside the Church, and not just lead such a life only for mere impression alone? Are we ready to show the others what being a true Christian is all about? Will you help me if I stumble and fall on the way? And more important, will you let me help you if you stumble and fall? The race has started a long time ago, my friends, come, let’s join them!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Chp 116. Christianity & Culture: Wearing “puan”.

Is the practice of wearing “puan” to Church a compulsory cultural prerogative?

First of all, what is a “puan”? Puan (puan chei, puan dum etc) is a piece of full length traditional skirt worn by women to Church (and other important functions) in Mizoram.




Consolidating many of the email feedbacks I received regarding my previous post (also published at BMA Official website, youthim.com and zawlbuk.net) the question opinionated by the the majority would be “Why do women in Mizoram have to wear puan to Church? It’s not like a woman wearing jeans is less favored by God.”

As Ben and popsugar wanted a short post, my reply would be: “The women wear puan for cultural reasons. That is how every society is. Hope you enjoyed reading my article. Have a nice day. Take care.”

However, as one of my esteemed regular commenters Kima-the-other quoted in my previous post, “I think your length is fine because brevity, as attractive as it may be, often leads to over simplistic reductions”, we really need to understand the concept of culture and religion and their amalgamation first before attempting to scrutinize the legality of Church practices conforming to culture.

Unwritten rules and norms are perhaps the most controversial component of any Society. Most people want to live life as they want, not abiding by any such societal rules. They live by the doctrines of “Live and let live” and “It’s my Life”. Everybody, including me, would love to live in such a Utopian society! However, that is not how things are (sadly). Man, no matter where he lives, will have to abide by certain rules and regulations as long as there is a society around him. This has been proven throughout history.

In any situation where there is an assemblage of more than 1 person, unwritten rules and code of conducts are bound to be framed. Just yesterday, I was playing basketball at our newly constructed Chaltlang community basketball court (finally!). One only has to sit back and observe the environs to know what I’m talking about.

Group of guys gathered at the court to play. Even though there are no rules imposed by the community leaders, the youth immediately started framing their own unwritten rules: You cannot play without sneakers. You cannot play with pants. You cannot smoke inside the court. Every game consist of a game of 7 points, where the winners stay and the losing team is replaced by the next team, all on a first come basis.

Rules need to be framed for the fluidity of the whole process so that everyone can collectively reap the maximum benefit. Playing without sneakers and shorts or taking an occassional puff during the game may not hamper the indivual’s talent, but it certainly bothers the others as a mark of disrespect to both the court and the players. Anybody not abiding by such unwritten rules is immediately treated as an outcast, and can even lead to unpleasant situations.

Another example: Drive around Aizawl in a car, and when you reach an intersection/crossroad where two roads converge into one, the cars from both roads usually move into the new road alternatively (you go – I go – you go – I go) on a turn by turn basis. This made things so much easier for everybody, unlike many other places in India especially the metros where driving etiquette is lost in oblivion and everybody fights to cut in at the least space available (Who dares win / Survival of the fittest). In Aizawl, the traffic police never made such a rule that cars must move alternatively at a junction, but people just comply with the unwritten rule. And anyone breaking such a rule is stared at by everyone, some even abusing that person.

Some people just assume that they can do whatever they want since it’s their life. Even in our Indian Legal system, there are the Do’s and Dont’s. If we can do whatever we want with our life, then why are we required by law to wear helmets when driving a two-wheeler, or to that fact, why do we have to compulsorily put on our seat-belts while driving a car? I mean, if we wish to die from an accident because we did not take the safety precautions, who is KPS Gill or Kiran Bedi to tell us how to safeguard our life, right? Wrong. That is not how things work. Like it or not, if you are a part of something, you have to abide by the laws imposed by that something. Period. Even if you sweat blood and toil to create a business empire dominating the World market, the Government will curb your progress and prevent you from reaping the fruits of your hard labour inorder to prevent monopoly.

And similarly we have our Fundamental Rights (right to freedom of speech, right to move freely throughout India, freedom of religion etc) but each of them comes with certain restrictions/limitations. Hence there is no such thing as an ABSOLUTE right in our Constitution. Even an “attempt to suicide” is a criminal offence in many countries! (For the smart-aleckies out there, “attempt to suicide” means the person failed in his mission to commit suicide and is still alive, hence no smart-ass comments like how can you imprison a man who is dead because suicide means blah blah blah).

Who framed our Indian Constitution? Learned people with vast knowledge on this subject. And who settles disputes regarding our Rights? A Supreme Court Judge well versed in the Legal system. Similarly, that is why I suggested our Church leaders should be more proactive regarding the dress code at Mizo Church services outside Mizoram, because they are the ones who know the teachings of the Bible well enough to guide us. As Billy Jason has commented in my previous post, it is indeed one of the important teachings of Christianity to dress up decently for Church services.

But the definition of “decent” differs from culture to culture. Hence society comes up with how one should dress up for Church. Quoting PC Sarkar from a book I’ve just read recently “Christianity in India” published by CSI, “Before the Christianization of India, there must be an Indianization of Christianity”. He said this during the onset of Christianity in India during the 1800’s to illustrate the importance of culture. In many Churches in India, the women wear “sari” because that is what they considered appropriate. Go to a South Indian Christian marriage and you will know what I’m talking about, where the tradition of tying the mangalsutra is in practice. Similarly in Mizoram, women are asked to wear “puan” because that is deemed “decent” according to our culture. All these are in practice, not to label women who don’t abide by such norms as blasphemous, but rather to showcase the importance of the influence of culture and attached values in Christianity. But in such cases where it is Society that imposes the rules, there will always be the conformists and the non-conformists.

Michael C. Howard in “Contemporary Cultural Anthropology” maintains that “Religion is not merely a matter of belief. It also involves institutionalized patterns of behavior – rituals, ceremonies and the like, which expresses and reinforce religious belief”. Another book I’ve just read (yes I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently *grin*) called “Culture and Religion” by Basil Pohlong, talks about the components of traits and drives of man originating from culture which gets embedded in religion. To quote the author, Pg102,

“I would like to point out here that religion cannot exist without culture. Removed from the cultural context, religion becomes merely blind faith in God and fanatic attachment with a set of rituals, beliefs, priest craft etc. Religion in this form has played havoc in the past. Once we separate religion from culture, it is bound to become the most dangerous phenomenon of humankind. A person of culture is characterized by extreme sensitivity. A sensitive person is not only conscious of his/her social and physical environment, but is quick in his/her reactions to whatever happens around him/her.”

And naturally, once culture comes into religion, conflict arises between those conforming to the rules and those who want to be “independent”. However history has proven that such liberties only lead to the further deterioration of the faith. In a way, culture safeguards the value of Christianity: It acts as a means of adhesion. And the more cohesive, smaller and closer-knitted the community is (like our Mizo society), the more rigorous the cultural norms are.

By all means, not wearing a “puan” to Church does not mean the person is any less devoted to God. However, when there are no such norms to be followed regarding the dress code, people would definitely start coming to Church dressed up in any way that they wished. “Puan” would become jeans, jeans would become mini-skirts, and mini-skirts would become thongs… because with the abolition of societal rules, there would no longer be a distinction between what is appropriate and what is not. Church services would merely become a pastime for erotic display of bare bodies, because the very word “decent” is nothing but a mere conception of the majority originating from culture.

God gave us the power to reason. We must utilize that gift positively, instead of just trying to question every existing dogma without taking into consideration other important factors first. There are things that people just don’t do in Churches, like farting or eating burgers / pizzas during the sermon.

It is possible for someone to chew on that large chunk of KFC Burger and listen to the sermon attentively at the same time, or it is possible for the person sitting next to you to hold his breath while the smell of your fart subsides. But these are things that people just don’t do; “Respect” is the key word here. And again culture plays an important role. Suppose a certain culture treats farting as the highest sign of showing respect, then things might be different. In some cultures, women wear headscarves to Church as a sign of submission to God. Women and men sit together during the Church service in some cultures while they don’t in other cultures. The Greeks spit on the bride during their Church weddings to bless her [saw it on “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”]. Japanese Christian women probably wear kimonos to Church, I don’t know. Cultural norms vary from place to place.

The bottom line is this: As a Christian it is our moral obligation to dress up decently for Church services, and culture does the job of explaining what that “decent” is. Hence to try and explain Christianity without bringing culture into it, is like trying to describe the colors to a blind man. Hence the reason why women in Mizoram wear “puan” to Church.

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Footnotes:

Similarly in that lines, wearing revealing clothes to a place of worship is NOT considered as a sign of respect in most (if not all) cultures. To display our bodies vulgarly is not only considered a disrespect to the Church but also a disrespect to our own body and to the other people around us.

[1 Timothy 2:9-10] "I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God."

Having undergone a short stint at a top B-School in India, in the true spirit of MBA culture, I have designed a simple 2x2 chart favored by all MBA students, on the kinds of clothes people wear to Church [The views expressed on the chart are entirely my own, and IIM-Bangalore will not be held responsible or liable to any charges ]


And in order to prevent any smart comments once again [something that my blogposts are not a stranger to], I urge my most respectable readers to be logical and assume what type of clothes would belong to which sex. For example, “Sari” which is under “formal” and “acceptable” is meant for a woman, and will not come under the above two categories if it’s a guy wearing it, hence questions like “What if it’s a guy wearing a sari” is totally unnecessary. The same goes for earrings etc. Your solemnity will be much appreciated. Thank you.

Ps. I think one of the biggest misconception about Christianity is that many people just assume it is a western religion (It never originated from the western World in the first place) and hence people intend to copy western cultures assuming that is how a Christian culture is supposed to be. One should keep in mind the high number of atheists, agnostics and unbelievers within the western civilizations before trying to simulate such cultures in the name of Christianity.

Have a nice day. God bless.