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Why I’m proud to be a Hindu

August 8, 2010 1 comment

Someday (way in the future) I wanted to write this post. The thoughts were clear in the head but there were several more interesting posts queued ahead in my WordPress Drafts folder. During my last business trip, I finally started reading Shashi Tharoor’s India – From Midnight to the Millennium and Beyond. When I read Chapter 3 (specifically pages 56-57), I realized that Tharoor has articulated the gist of my thoughts on the subject. While the nuanced version of this blog post can wait, here’s the relevant extract from Tharoor’s book:

I am a believer, despite a brief period of schoolboy atheism (of the kind that comes with the discovery of rationality and goes with an acknowledgement of its limitations — and with the realization that the world offers too many wondrous mysteries for which science has no answers). And I’m happy to describe myself as a believing Hindu, not just because it is the faith into which I was born, but for a string of other reasons, though faith requires no reason. One is cultural: as a Hindu I belong to a faith that expresses the ancient genius of my own people. Another is, for lack of a better word, its intellectual “fit”: I’m more comfortable with the belief structures of Hinduism than I would be with those of the other faiths of which I know. As a Hindu, I claim adherence to a religion without an established church or priestly papacy, a religion whose rituals and customs I am free to reject, a religion that does not oblige me to demonstrate my faith in any visible sign, by subsuming my identity in any collectivity, not even by a specific day or time or frequency of worship. As a Hindu, I subscribe to a creed that is free of the restrictive dogmas of holy writ, that refuses to be shackled to the limitations of a single holy book.

Above all, as a Hindu I belong to the only major religion in the world that does not claim to be the only true religion. I find it immensely congenial to be able to face my fellow human beings of other faiths without being burdened by the conviction that I am embarked upon a “true path” that they have missed. This dogma lies at the core of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism — “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father [God], but by me” (John 14:6), says the Bible; “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his Prophet,” declares the Koran — denying unbelievers all possibility of redemption, let alone of salvation or paradise. Hinduism, however, asserts that all ways of belief are equally valid, and Hindus readily venerate the saints, and the sacred objects, of other faiths.

He then goes on to lament the emergence of religious chauvinism and fundamentalism in twentieth-century India but that’s a whole different story. As I re-read the excerpt, I observed that while Tharoor lists Judaism in the three major religions that espouse the “only true path”, he doesn’t include the relevant quote. I’m hoping that one of my Jewish friends on Facebook will chance upon this post and set the record straight.

I am Bihar (an ode)

May 1, 2010 Leave a comment

Back in Nov 2009, we had a big reunion of St. Xaviers Bokaro alumni and their families. If you haven’t bumped into anyone from Bokaro (formally known as “Bokaro Steel City”) yet, you need to know that the mere mention of Bokaro is enough to send them into raptures and wax eloquent about this utopian steel township in a part of Bihar that’s now Jharkhand. For all the Bokaro alumni, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and I daresay the non-Bokaro spouses had a decent time too. A few mini-reunions later, I heard about Bihar Foundation from one of my classmate’s husband. Ajit Chouhan’s blog post Bihar Foundation – Connecting Biharis Worldwide does a good job outlining the foundation’s charter and ambitions.

For a variety of reasons, Bihar doesn’t rank high on India’s list of states (on many indicators – be it socio-economic, literacy, or governance). When I found this ode (authored by Mayank Krishna), it felt like a gust of fresh air. I present to you – I am Bihar (a proud and optimistic ode on Bihar)!

(Reproduced with permission from the author Mayank Krishna)

I AM BIHAR

I am the history of India,
I gave the world its first Republic,
I nourished Buddha to enlightenment,
I gave world its best ancient university,
My son Chanakya was the father of Economics,
Mahavir came out of my womb to found Jainism,
My son Valmiki wrote Ramayan, the greatest Epic
Rishi Shushrut, the father of surgery, lived on my soil
My son Vatsayana wrote Kamasutra, the treatise of love ,
My son Ashoka – The Great was the greatest ruler of India ,
I gave birth to Aryabhatt, the great ancient mathematician ,
I gave Ashoka Chakra that adorns India’s national flag ,
My son Dinkar is the national poet of India ,
I gave the world its first Yoga University ,
I gave India its first president ,
I am the land of festivals ,
I am brotherhood ,
I am humility ,
I am the past ,
I am the future ,
I am opportunity ,
I am revolution ,
I am culture ,
I am heritage ,
I am intellect ,
I am farmer ,
I am power ,
I am literature ,
I am poetry ,
I am love ,
I am heart ,
I am soul ,
I am yoga ,
I am global ,
I am inspiration ,
I am freedom ,
I am force ,
I am destiny ,
I am Bihar ,
…Come with your dream
I will make it a reality

Changing Mobility of Four Generations of Kurugantis

April 3, 2010 2 comments

If you haven’t inferred from my surname already, my lineage is from the state of Andhra Pradesh. My great grandfather was a Sanskrit scholar and taught Sanskrit in Visakhapatnam (aka “Vizag”). He lived in Vizag his entire life. Mobility score: [1 state, 1 city].

My grandfather was schooled in Machilipatnam (a port town which dates back to at least 3rd century BC) and attended college in Calcutta. Attending an out-of-state college was a big deal in the early 1900’s. If you consider the fact that he was being raised by his mother (a widow at that time), a progressive and remarkable lady, it’s even more impressive. My grandfather completed his B.Comm degree and joined Andhra Bank and worked there until retirement. He proved his mettle as a branch manager and, as a consequence, was frequently transferred to new towns to open and stabilize branches. Partial list of towns he lived/worked in include Vijayawada, Guntur, and Kakinada. Mobility score: [2 states, 5 towns].

My father attended school in Vijayawada and engineering college in Kakinada. He worked for two Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) – SAIL (Steel Authority of India Limited) and RIN (Rashtriya Ispat Nigam). He started his career in Bhilai (Madhya Pradesh->Chhattisgarh), then moved to Rourkela (Orissa), a long stint at Bokaro Steel City (then in Bihar, now in Jharkhand) and finally retired in Vizag (Andhra Pradesh). Mobility score: [4 states, 7 towns].

I grew up in Bokaro Steel City, completed my high school from Vizag, attended college at Ranchi (Bihar->Jharkhand), worked for a few years in Jamshedpur (Bihar ->Jharkhand), 16 years in America (Houston->Chicago->San Francisco Bay Area), and presently in Bangalore (Karnataka). Mobility score: [2 countries, 3 states, 5 Indian towns, 3 American cities].

The fourth generation (our 2 boys) haven’t quite hit their 7th birthdays yet but their mobility score already reads: [2 countries, 2 cities]. I wonder what their score will be by the time they hit their 40’s. Me wonders if new mobility dimensions like planets and space stations need to be added by then…

Kuruganti Roots in Vijayawada

January 1, 2009 Leave a comment

We are in Vijayawada (Andhra Pradesh) at my parents’ house for the holidays. This is my fifth trip since my parents moved here in 1994 and is easily the most enjoyable trip to date. My grandfather’s (dad’s dad) banking career was spent at Andhra Bank and Central Bank. He was getting transferred to new towns every few years so my dad’s family moved a lot. Turns out a significant chunk of time was spent in Vijayawada. I pestered my dad to take me around town and show me important landmarks like the houses they lived in and the schools they went to. He obliged and we had a fun 2 hours zig-zagging through some old neighbourhoods of Vijayawada. Here is a pictorial view of the Kuruganti roots in Vijayawada:

Ram Mohan Reading Library Entrance:
Ram Mohan Library Entrance - Vijayawada

Ram Mohan Reading Library (my dad my dad was practically a fixture here from 1951 to 1953):
Ram Mohan Library Vijayawada - my dad's favorite corner

Ram Mohan Reading Library Missing Staircase (in Feb 1952, my dad met his spiritual guru on the top floor after a lecture):
Ram Mohan Library Vijayawada (there used to be staircase leading to the top floor)

Bala Krishna Bhavan in One Town Vijayawada (dad’s family rented a few rooms on the top floor right ~ early 1950’s):
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SKPVV Hindu High School Vijayawada – my dad studied Grade 5 at this school.
SKPVV Hindu High School Vijayawada

My dad in front of his old classroom location. The school had a rather ‘interesting’ tradition where the academic topper got to slap the rest of his classmates. My dad was on the right end of those slaps 🙂
SKPVV Hindu High School Vijayawada (My dad in front of his old classroom)

This used to be a single-storey rental building where my dad’s family lived for a year:
Commercial block in One Town Vijayawada (formerly a rental property where my dad's family lived in 1950's)

Renowned Ayurvedic practitioner Nori Rama Sastry’s Office was right next to the previous rental building. On an impulse, we went inside the office and met the Ayurvedic great’s grandson and his great-grandson who were very hospitable.
Renowned Ayurvedic practioner Nori Rama Sastry's Office in One Town Vijayawada

SRR & CRV Government Degree College (my dad did his Intermediate/+2 here):
SRR & CVR College Vijayawada Main Entrance

Anjaney Temple next to SRR College (this is where my dad & his friends would diligently come to before all their exams to seek divine intervention):
Anjaney Temple next to SRR College Vijayawada