Sunday, October 31, 2010

Spirituality in Surat

We Parsis often underestimate the efforts that our dastursjis (priests) take in their day to day work, offering prayers. Many of us believe that reciting prayers on a day to day basis- repeatedly almost the same prayers for years and years- becomes a very easy feat over a period of time and therefore no effort is required. All I would say to them is to please attend the Nirangdin ceremony. I had the privilege to attend a Nirangdin ceremony at the Surat Shenshai Atash-Behram last week. I am not an expert at this, so I won't go into details of what this ceremony is all about, but I can offer a simple explanation.

In Zoroastrianism, a bull's urine plays a very crucial role in important events such as weddings and navjotes (thread ceremony to induct young Zoroastrians into the effect; much like a Hindu's thread ceremony). But this is no ordinary bull; this is supposed to be a bull that does not have a single black hair on it. It's sacred and presently there are few such bulls in Indian, mainly in Mumbai and Gujarat. These bulls' urine has been tested in scientific laboratories to verify their bacteria-free status. We are supposed to consume small portion of this urine at key milestone events such as our navjotes and weddings. But not just any batch is meant for consumption; only the batch that is sanctified through the Nirangdin ceremony is worthy of being consumed. Hence, the Nirangdin ceremony is very important; it takes the Zoroastrian faith forward. The ceremony lasts for about 15 to 20 days, I am not quite sure, but the one that I attended, did start almost as many days before and culminated on the morning of 28 October in Surat.

The grand finale is an all-night affair. We were made to report to the at the Atash Behram at 15 minutes past midnight. Fire temples look serene and so peaceful after sunset. It's pitch dark inside with only the Holy Fire burning bright. It's pin drop silence; you can only hear the crackles of the fire burning. The Dusturji recites his prayers and fills the prayer hall with positive vibrations, while he goes about doing his routine. Electric lights are not allowed inside the sanctum as they say electricity interferes with the vibrations, though many Agiaries do allow electricity since most of them consist of only one hall and they are small, so no electricity at all would mean complete darkness. But since Atash-Behrams are large, there are areas, such as the holy sanctums, that do not allow electricity at all; separate areas do have electricity to help people pray and also fans to beat the heat. So after sunset, typically, it's impossible to refer to prayer books inside the holy sanctums of Atash Behrams. My favorite place to be after sunset is the Udvada Atash Behram where- to the best of my knowledge- absolutely no electricity is allowed, not even in the outside halls. However, dozens of diyas are lit and put inside hollow chandeliers, hoisted from the high ceilings, many feet above the ground. It's divine to be there after sunset, amidst all these diyas; to just sit there and focus on the Holy Fire is an experience that every Parsi on this earth should experience atleast once in his / her life. It doesn't matter if you do not know any prayers by heart; just sit in a corner and close your eyes, focus and keep praying whatever you know or just be silent and at peace.

But coming back to why I feel Dasturjis should be more appreciated, you must attend a Nirangdin ceremony atleast once. It's a humongous effort. Our two Dasturjis (one seemed senior and the other junior) started their marathon prayers at about 2 am on the night of 27-28 October. It was non-stop, till the prayers ended at about 8 am in the morning. They recited at a stretch, without taking a single break. Except for a minimal area, they did not move out. Every muscle in their body was put through the severest of test, not to forget their vocal chords if you're reciting something or anything at about six to seven hours at a stretch. Despite offering a noble service, many dasturs, especially those outside the ranks of head priests, live a very simple life and cannot afford many comforts. I know of a few dasturs at the temple I visit who are old and still wait at the bus stop to catch a bus home at about 11 am at that age, after waking up as early as 4 in the morning and reporting to the Agiary for early morning prayers.We were about 10 from our family and many of us dozed off in the waiting hall post 4 am- we just couldn't sustain ourselves- but those two Dasturjis- went about their business in as much professional sense as it could get. At 8 am, it was over and about five to seven bottles of bull's urine were sanctified through this ceremony, to take our religion forward, to bind two loving souls in matrimony and much happiness beyond and to also welcome a young Parsi / Irani kid into our lovely Zoroastrian faith.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Happy Birthday my blog. It turns THREE today. Exactly three years back, on 24 October 2007, I started my blog. This particular week of October is associated to me at some level with new beginnings. Blogging has been a phenomenal experience for expressing my own views. I started this blog because I love writing. Also, because I felt there is so much that needed to be said, to be expressed and shared. Ofcourse, not everyone likes to hear what I have to say and I have experienced this the hard way. But feedback is crucial and I have got plenty of those from a small motley loyal readers that I have, so am always grateful to them. Keep the feedback coming, guys!

In the past three years, I have seen blogging flourish in my country, India. Credible blogs can be found across areas and there are those who are really committed in updating the blog. I wish I could say the same for me, but ever since I switched jobs- ironically in this week of October a year back- it's been a bit tough to be regular at blogging. It's impossible to find time on weekdays, so I try to catch up on my blogging on weekends. The idea is to keep writing.

So here's a toast to my blog and looking forward to more blogging, some trashing, but definitely more sharing. :)

Monitoring a gentleman's sport

You may root for the players when you watch them duel on a tennis court, but there's a whole army of people working behind the curtains to ensure maximum pleasure for the fans as well ensuring the greater good of the game. Chair umpires and line umpires are only two groups of this vast army. Mint gets a lowdown on them, their life and times of the court and how to become one, if you're interested. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

MTNL Triband is very bad

Beware of MTNL Triband if you're scouting for a broadband internet connection in Mumbai. I have had their connection for the past about three years. My experience with MTNL is that as long as their connection works, it's amongst the best. It's fast. But if the connection goes bad or if your connection develops some problem, which is quite possible, then God save you.

The product-  MTNL Triband- is good, but their after-sales service is pathetic. MTNL Triband's broadband call centre (1504) is the single worst call centre I have come across. 90% of the time, it's busy (aap kataar mein hain). So many times I have called up this number and when someone picks up at their end, the line goes dead, as in complete silence and no reply from the other end. It takes hours and hours to finally get through. By that time, more often than not, we give up and move on. The image of a 24-hour call centre is a big mirage at MTNL. It's a shame that a government organisation should work so callously; an organisation where customers are treated shabbily. Pity!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Endhiran Mubarak

Aamir Khan has admirers. Salman Khan has fans. Amitabh Bacchan has followers. But RAJNI has devotees. This is what I saw, experienced and felt after watching South superstar Rajnikant's latest blockbuster release, Endhiran (tamil version) at probably the last remaining bastion of Southern cimena, Arora Talkies at Matunga, central Mumbai. Part of my office Mallu / Tamil group of about 10 people, I was amongst the three who did not know Tamil. But was that important? Is that a hindrance? Naaah!!! A resounding NO. As it turned out, it was the the most thrilling movie watching experience of my lifetime. It dwarfed what I felt when I first saw Jurassic Park at Sterling or Inception or even Twister (I wasn't much impressed by Independence Day; was amongst the minority who liked Twister more than Independence Day)  

Arora Talkies wore a festive look. There were posters and banners put up by various Rajni fan clubs. An almost 40-feet tall gigantic effigy of his character from the movie (Rajni shades and shiny suit) stood tall and mighty at the entrance. Paper garlands with his mugshots were hung all over the cinema's compound as if somebody's wedding is going on. People were taking pictures themselves, their friends, group pictures, in front of Rajni effigy. When a TV crew arrived and started anticipating people's anticipation, the crowd went ballistic; the excitement was palpable. 

The movie started at about 6.30 and as soon as the credits rolled, people were screaming everywhere inside the theatre. Ravi- my very own master translator who is fluent in Malayalee and Tamil- was helping me understand key dialogues. But his otherwise haughty laughter and voice that can cut through a St Gobain glass was muzzled by shrill, screams and yelling going around all over us. Our aviation reporter P.R.S. was literally on a high; a witty line from Rajni was enough to make him dance in the aisles. Even a seatbelt wouldn't have controlled him. It was as if Air Deccan bought over Cathay Pacific.  When the words 'Superstar Rajni' came on screen, people went crazy. It was mesmerizing. 

That the movie was in Tamil did not matter. It's not really that hard to understand a Rajni blockbuster. Language is hardly a barrier to enjoy a good, unadulterated fun that can liven up the atmosphere. It was electrifying. Every time Rajni came on screen and turned around facing us in a style, people got up, clapped and cheered their hero. Every time he walked in a song in his trademark style, the audience cheered. The climax saw some of the most imaginative visual effects that can even match the best of Hollywood. More than the visual effects, it was the movie making team's imagination that did the trick. 

It was the best movie experience of my life. I will take some days to recover.... 

Meher Mahino, Ava Mahino and Adar Mahino: The holy trinity of Zoroastrian calender

Zoroastrians- or better knows as Parsis and Iranis of India- have a separate calendar. We look at the English calendar of course, but we al...