Monday, April 6, 2020

Travel tales: Copenhagen- of mermaid, Chinese and cannabis

I stood in the center of a somewhat spooky place I had randomly walked into while walking around the city and started taking photos of everything around me. It was spooky, like a ghost town shown in a B grade horror movie. It was called Christiania as I had seen from the arched gate when I entered the premises. At the time I had not known the background of the location. There were shops selling beads, trinkets, jewelry, scarves and such stuff. There were also small pubs and places where you could eat. Otherwise, the premises were full of dirty, unkept, derelict buildings with their walls decorated with quirky graphitti. There was just rubbish in piles here and there.

Some people standing in groups started to make some noise. I thought they were talking about me and sounding angry, but I was not sure. So, I continued taking photos and enjoying the spookiness.

A thin unkempt dodgy looking man wearing a hoodie accosted me. “Can I have your phone please?” He asked politely with authority. I was frightened and handed it without question.

“It is against the law to take photos of people and this place without permission. There is a sign,” he said looking at the photos on my mobile. He showed me the sign which I had conveniently but genuinely missed.

“I’m sorry”, I said. I was embarrassed.

“It is okay. You did not know”. He deleted all photos where there was a person from his group, handed my phone back and walked back to his group. He did not delete all pictures of the place though. I was glad about that. I could check up later what exactly was the deal with that weird looking locality.

Later I learnt that the place called “Christiania” was Copenhagen’s hippie neighborhood. It was established in 1971 and has its own mission statement, defining the lofty objectives of the place about creating a self-governing society responsible for well-being of the entire community.

Today it is Europe’s oldest still existing squatters’ community; a free town where cannabis trade takes place openly, which is elsewhere illegal. That explains the no photo diktat. It is also called the Green Light District because you get the “green” stuff there. Formerly a military base with a 19-acre expanse, the place has its share of shady stories. Gang wars, cannabis trade wars, shootings, grenade attack have happened there.

I did not know about this place before. Otherwise, I would never have walked into the premises alone.

What I did know about Copenhagen and did plan to see was predictably, the famous little mermaid. The iconic bronze statue has come to symbolize the city.

I started navigating on foot towards the statue. Meandering along on the way, I saw the royal palace, Danish Parliament, some castles, some churches, some interesting sculptures. Not having the time to explore much; I saved the castles and buildings and other attractions for another time. That day, the mermaid was calling me.

Along the way, I also heard an American teenager explaining her fascination with the statue.
“When I was little, we had a class project on Denmark and all I wrote about was The Little Mermaid. I was just so fascinated with her.” She sounded excited about finally seeing it for real. I started feeling a little juvenile myself for being excited about the mermaid.

I found my way around the city to the mermaid. She was little. Set on a rock by the waterside at a promenade in Copenhagen, she looked dreamy. The bronze statue depicted a mermaid becoming human. She has been through much since she was installed in the year 1913. There have been numerous attempts at defacement and vandalism, and she was restored each time.

That day she was surrounded by Chinese, who would not leave the mermaid alone for a split second. When one Chinese finished taking photos in all the twenty-one poses, another one jumped besides the mermaid. It was annoying to all who just wanted a picture for memory without anyone else but the mermaid and maybe oneself in the frame. After a few unsuccessful attempts to capture the mermaid alone, one woman standing beside me was reasonably annoyed.

‘Ah. The Chinese!!’ She said displaying a zillion times milder version of the emotion the world shares today. Those were good days when the world was still in love with China. I even bought a souvenir, a little mermaid kitchen magnet, that was “Made in China”. It is still stuck on my refrigerator, not sanitized.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Main Mother Teresa banna chahti hoon

“I am an Atheist. I don’t believe in God”.
“I believe something is there, but don’t know what it is, but it is definitely not as we see in Church. “
"I am agnostic."
“I respect all religions, but I don’t believe in God myself.”
“I believe all religions are good. I am a humanitarian.”

Such above are the views on God and religion of circa 35% of German population, circa 25% of French Population and circa 20% of EU population.

Religion is a soft taboo in discussions in Germany. Most often it comes out in conversations when we discuss Tax rules. When people declare themselves to be non-Christians, they do not pay Church Tax which is a sizeable component of their income.

When they do not pay Church Tax, they are not entitled to avail the services of the Church, like baptism, wedding ceremonies and such. Funny, isn’t it? I have personally got numerous invitations to attend Easter meeting and Christmas Mass from the Church workers; them having complete cognizance of the fact that I am not a Christian.

However, evasion of Church Tax is not the motivation behind people declaring themselves as non-Christians. Disillusioned with Church, its teachings and its controversies, rational thinking individuals declare themselves to be non-Christians. They take comfort in subscription to degrees of atheism, agnosticism and other popular philosophies denoting disenchantment and fallout with Church.

“You are following Sanatan Dharma. You just do not know it”, sometimes I tell them.
Sometimes they display more interest, prodding me to further elaborate,” The word Sanatan loosely translated means eternal. It is the natural way to be.”

Finally, I clarify that in popular language they are Hindus.

I am not authorized to convert anyone to Hinduism. However, don’t we believe that if the other person subscribes to your ideas and arguments, they are converted? One needs to win over a rational mind. I explain to them some prescribed ways to be one with God – Bhakti, Karma, Sewa and Dhyana; a rather simplified explanation. A concept that does find a lot of resonance with a good number of people is that of being a Karmayogi and serving through Karma. Are they not already converted?

Only an esteemed and learned Guru could coach, clear confusion and convert such people.
However, on a personal level I know that my relationship with God has seen myriad phases of delusion, detachment, devotion and diligence. I have been an atheist during some phases of my early life, but never had the urge to call myself an atheist; never needed to denounce my faith. It was merely a variation of my relationship with the ultimate truth; a relationship which was relevant and comforting at that phase of my life. The vastness and all-encompassing trait of Sanatan Dharma created space for me; or so I believed; and so, I tell them.

Not being deeply intellectual and thoroughly versed in scriptures sometimes helps, as the resistance of people to your ideas is low. It is easier to prod people into exploring Hinduism while discussing personal, relatable life experiences. Prod I do; and prodded they are.

I read the book by Aroop Chatterjee - "Mother Teresa:The Untold Story".
I come across a rather inspiring passage in the book.
<em>“In the homes for the dying, Mother taught the sisters how to secretly baptize those who were dying. Sisters were to ask each person in danger of death if he wanted a ticket to heaven. An affirmative reply was to mean consent to baptism. The sister was then to pretend that she was just cooling the person’s forehead with a wet cloth, while she was in fact baptizing him, saying quietly the necessary words. Secrecy was important so that it would not come to be known that Mother Teresa’s order was secretly baptizing Hindus and Muslims.”</em>

I have a lot of admiration for Mother Teresa. She lowered the already low barrier to entry into the Christian fold. What could be simpler than having your forehead wiped with cool water and someone chanting some verses, more so when you are on your death bed and unmindful of what is going on?

I attempt to remove that barrier completely for a large number of people claiming to be atheists, agnostics or simply not believing in the dogmas of Abrahamic faiths. These alert, rational individuals are not aware that they might have subscribed to the teachings and philosophies of Hinduism. I might have initiated them without them being cognizant of it. Just like what Mother Teresa did; created Christians, who did not even know they were Christians as they lay dying.

She is a saintly role model. I try to do my bit.

It was important for the Mother to convert even by stealth, dying people into her fold. It is important for me that people know, understand and adopt Hinduism as the natural, neutral, eternal and organic way to be.

Once I hired a taxi driven by a driver from Albania. On knowing that I came from India, he said, "Ah. You must know Mother Teresa. She won the Nobel Prize for Peace. We are very proud of her".

I could win the Nobel Prize. I learnt from Aroop Chatterjee‘s book that none from Kolkata proposed Mother Teresa’s name for the Nobel Prize. That could happen to me. No one from Kolkata would propose my name and I might win.

Maybe the Albanians would be proud of me too, if the Indians not so much.

Priyanka Chopra Vs Mehwish Hayat et al.

Someone tweeted on twitter - ‘Thanks to Priyanka Chopra. Mehwish Hayat made it to CNN.’
Truer words were never spoken. Piggybanking on Priyanka Chopra’s popularity and stature, Mehwish Hayat made into the same frame as her; till the news died down.

I heard the name for the first time in connection with her opinion piece on Priyanka Chopra - 'The Problem with Priyanka Chopra', in CNN. I browsed through it.

It could as well have been titled ‘The Problem with India’ and the author could have been anyone from Pakistan. However, as I learnt Mehwish is a famous actress and activist from Pakistan. She indulged in disapproving Priyanka’s support for Indian army in her opinion piece.

Her naivete is heart-breaking as she attempts to give credibility to her opinions, to readers of the world, by stating whatever the Office of Prime Minister of Pakistan and Pakistan's Human Rights minister believe and communicate. She whines- ‘India has revoked Jammu and Kashmir states’ autonomy.’ She talks of impoverished Kashmir.

‘Mehwish. None of your or your country’s business.’
Everyone in the world has responded washing their hands off this matter citing it as a bilateral issue. And, as a part of the bilateral dialogue between two nations, it has been time and again declared by India that Kashmir is an integral part of India.

She takes bullshitting to the next level as she goes on to talk about the regime which in indulging in activities against the principles of UN which incidentally her nation respects so much. She mentions ‘Speaking as an artist in Pakistan is not easy’. Wonder why? Why does someone with so much influence as her has to be so careful in Pakistani regime?

She accuses Priyanka of lending her name to racism and the Indian regime of being unfair to minorities. In contrast, Mehwish’s intention is to unite people. She has the utmost concern about the minorities in India. If she has contributed to the cause of Hindus, Ahmedis, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists and other minorities of Pakistan in anyway, she needs to update and publish her resume for the perusal of her fans and some readers. A single message about the abduction and conversion of girls from minority religions to Islam in Pakistan, which is a regular occurrence, would be welcome. There is just silence. However, she is very vocal about the well being of the hockey team of Sindh.

Mehwish believes that there are negative stereotypes for Pakistan in Bollywood and even Hollywood. Priyanka, who played to a script which depicted Hindus as terrorists in her show Quantico would be bewildered. ‘What did I do wrong? That should have won every Pakistani, every Islamist heart’, Priyanka should studiously contemplate and possibly restrategize.

CNN seems to be too invested in criticism of Priyanka Chopra for her support to Indian army and by extension her support to India. Another Pakistani writer ‘Rafia Zakaria’ has already bashed Priyanka Chopra for the same reason. This esteemed citizen of Islamic state of Pakistan was very concerned about India becoming a Hindu state. Is there a need to explicitly state the irony here?

There is another petty theory. Pakistan is trying to induct their ladies into some of these aesthetically appealing UN roles for visibility and perceived leverage on the world stage. What better than a harmless pretty face attempting to pull a Princess Diana to further Pakistan’s agenda? The lady otherwise hardly known outside the Pakistani community used the opportunity, of Priyanka’s perceived slip, to give herself some traction which might get her Priyanka’s job of UN Goodwill ambassador, or something similar.

It might not work. Malala Yousafzai has already outlived her usefulness in that regard. There are no new messages  and no diverse optics to bring to the table which have not already been milked to the hilt by Malala. Besides, one needs to be a Priyanka Chopra or an Arundhati Roy or an Amartya Sen to articulate a credible criticism on India about its multi-fold issues. Pakistan discrediting India and Indians would always be a wee bit too predictable for the international community. As a country, it is most unqualified to address universal human issues. In that light, her attempts seem totally injudicious and a tad desperate.

However, stranger things have happened. Malala has visited Japan to lecture a japanese audience on women empowerment. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a member of United Nations Human Right Council. It might happen that Mehwish Hayat is declared the sole authority on India and Kashmir; and be appointed as a UN goodwill ambassador for whatever excuse UN could cook up.

Note to Priyanka: Na ghar ki na ghaat ki. Is ambition bigger than your country and your people who have loved and supported you through everything? What makes you take them for granted? The Islamists hate your success; and your guts, when you show pride in your country and culture.

Subsequently, Pakistan Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari took to writing a letter to UN to have Priyanka Chopra immediately denotified from her role as a UN goodwill ambassador for Peace. The request was rejected, and Pakistan was denied even this miniscule gratification.

This letter, however, written by Pakistan Human Rights Minister to get an actress fired from the role of UN Goodwill Ambassador for Peace should be framed and displayed prominently in the Hall of Fame for International Embarrassment.

Afternote: Mehwish Hayat recently accused Bollywood of plagiarism in wake of Alia Bhatt’s recent music video with Punjabi song Prada. It bears resemblance to the Pakistani song ‘Gore Rang ka Zamana’. Since I was a little girl, many many many years ago, I have listened to this song and multiple versions of it. Is plagiarism even relevant now? Maybe for Mehwish, Alia Bhatt and the prospect of piggybanking makes it relevant. Maybe Pakistan’s ministry of Arts and Culture would write a letter to UNESCO.

Travel tales: Copenhagen- of mermaid, Chinese and cannabis I stood in the center of a somewhat spo...