Encounters of the Upanayana Kind-Part I

Firstly, this is not MY Upanayana that I am going to write about. The Upanayana  described here is that of my cousin, who has NOT written about it here (yet). My own Upanayana took place some 8 years ago and under totally different circumstances as you will eventually understand. Oh and for the uninitiated, UPANAYANA stands for the THREAD CEREMONY, a (sacred) ritual popular among the Brahmins. It is  a ceremony where the VATU (or the child) is supposedly initiated into the Brahmin tradition- so to speak. Of course, in recent times, all this boils down to is a set of fixed rituals that the Vatu-no-more (or now called Brahmachari or a celibate) performs twice a day- well at least is expected to perform- called Sandhyavandane. And so last week was the day that my cousin was inducted into the Brahmin community amidst quite some drama and action. Hereon in, my cousin will be referred to as VATU (child) during the incidents before his formal induction and BRAHMACHARI (celibate till marriage) after induction. But first, lets have some background about the VATU in question.

The Vatu is an atheist. The Vatu likes Metallica and has recently discovered the bliss surrounding Pink Floyd, Old Monk and the various combinations involving the two. The Vatu went to the same IIT-JEE coaching center and is now studying at the same Engineering college that I went to. The Vatu likes living in the hostel except for the part wherein he has to eat the mess food and use the same mess water and sink to brush his teeth.

So now let us flashback to about 3 months before the Upanayana.

Vatu is in the hostel playing FIFA’10. Vatu’s mobile phone rings. It is his mother. Vatu reluctantly answers the call.

Vatu: Hello?

Vatu’s mom: How are you?

Vatu: I am ok.

Vatu’s mom: Had your dinner?

Vatu: Yes.

Vatu’s mom: Ok. What did you have?

Vatu (getting impatient): Rice and Dal.

Vatu’s mom: Ok. We are having your thread ceremony on June 2.

Vatu (thinking): WTF??!!??

Vatu’s mom: Good night.

Back to 1 week before the ceremony:

Vatu (to his mom): I will be going to KQA Mahaquizzer on May 30. I will be occupied that day.

Vatu’s mom: No you are not. That day we have the Devara Samaradhane for your Upanayana (Loose translation: Pleasing of the Gods for your Thread Ceremony).

Vatu (thinking): WTF??!??

DEVARA SAMARADHANE:

The day of the Pleasing of the Gods was a Sunday and the complete First circle of Family randomly decided to show up for the occassion. (It should be noted that for ‘occasions’ like these, the FIRST circle somehow always gets redefined to include every Seena, Guru and Ramesha- the equivalent of Tom, Dick and Harry- in the family) And so I found myself dreading at the prospect of meeting all the vicariously existing Aunts and Uncles, not to mention random second cousins seeking career advice from Akshay Anna (Big Brother Akshay). And of course, for those of you who remember, I knew I would meet up with THESE dudes as well. But perhaps what I dreaded the most was the inevitable enquiries into my life over the past 10 months-thanks largely to me having gone to FOREN and all. So, in my case, FOREN referred to the USA and so I could totally see people thronging around me yelling “Akshay Anna has come  back from FOREN!” or “Akshay Anna how was FOREN?” I could also see me being introduced to random people as “This is Akshay. He has returned from FOREN.”

Eventually, I did show up at the Vatu’s house where I found the Vatu himself (clothed in dress code for the day- Panche/Shalya) with his parents, in front of what appeared to be a mess of flowers, Akshathe, coconuts, random blouse pieces, fruit, and one self righteous Shastrigalu (priest). The whole show was being directed (as is always the case in Hindu ceremonies) by this self righteous priest sporting a supercilious attitude and accompanied by his two mandatory sidekicks whose only aim in life is to emulate (quite literally) him both in the mantra-chanting aspect and the attitude sporting aspect.

So as I watched the actual Pleasing of the Gods, it took me exactly 2 mins and 3 seconds to get bored enough to actually strike a conversation with one of THE DUDES mentioned before. The other dude seemed to be completely at home and at peace donning the Adige Bhattru (cooks) uniform and helping out the Adige Bhattru in their adige (cooking) and eating arrangements. Soon I was inevitably drawn into the career advice doling role of Akshay Anna and I did my best to spread my belief that Engineering was evil and that aspiring to become a software engineer is not exactly an aspiration. You will end up like that anyway. However, there were no games of chess involved this time around, largely due to the failure on part of the kid to get the chess set to the ceremony.

Now every family has a family douchebag. My family douchebag happens to be a 45 odd year old man (who also incidentally looks like an actual douchebag), who does not spare any opportunity to convey the fact that his IQ is less than that of TIMMY. I am not exactly sure what this dude does for a living. But I have heard from various sources that he used to run a Detective Agency somewhere! No kidding. And it appeared that now he had shifted professions and was presently working as an arranged marriage broker! Imagine that! Your marriage being set up by a family douchebag! This guy happened to sit in the same room as I was during lunch time and I was subjected to some interesting one-sided conversations (in Kannada) of his over his cell phone. Excerpts:

“Sorry there was a mistake in the newspaper ad. We want brides not grooms.”

“I have 32 grooms and 4 brides.”

“All the brides have ran away somewhere!”

Presently, one of his brothers accused him of blatantly trying to get one of his friends/relative (the groom) married to a woman who reminds people of the “Gajalakshmi” from old Kannada movies. (Think Boiler dimensions!) The douchebag defended himself by saying that the said Gajalakshmi was very insistent that she be married to a man of good standing and that he himself was very keen to ‘offload’ her off his brokering lists.

Eventually, the ‘guests’ began to leave and I found myself just loitering around doing nothing in particular. The Vatu’s father spotted me doing nothing and suddenly beckoned me and introduced me to who I believe to be some lady related to him in some way. The dialogue that ensued was quite remarkable really:

Vatu’s dad: This is Akshay. Akshay this is my “insert n degrees of separation where n>3” relative.

Me: Hello aunty.

Vatu’s dad (in Kannada): Ivara yoorunu US nalli MS madtha iddhale. (Loosely translates to implying-“There is some person whom I do not know who is doing MS in US but is related in some way to this lady here!)

Me (thinking): OMG!!! What a coincidence???!! Somebody whom I have never heard of or met before in my life knows somebody else who happens to be one among the lakhs of people who are studying Masters in USA!! Un-fuckin-believable eh??!!?

Stranger Aunt: My friend’s sister’s daughter is also studying in US.

Me (thinking): Wait! Who? Does she even know you exist?

Stranger aunt: Where are you studying?

Me: Virginia Tech (hoping it would ring some bell. After all, she happened to ‘know’ someone who was doing their Masters in US.)

Stranger Aunt (betraying her ignorance): Ok ok. So you are doing Masters in Computer Science?

Me: No.

Stranger Aunt: Ok so you are doing MS in Electronics is it?

Me: No. I am doing my Masters in Civil Engineering.

Suddenly, Stranger Aunt began to change her expression to “looks-like-I-have-been-wasting-my-time-talking-to-this-guy” kind of a look. Eventually she realized that she had to say something positive and so :

Stranger Aunt: Oh Civil is it?? Ok. So is there scope for Civil Engineering there??

Me (thinking): OK I am done here.

And on that note (and without giving a response), I just walked out of the room. And in a short while, I found myself liberated from the clutches of meeting random people who seem to pass judgment at the slightest opportunity. And so just before I left, I met my cousin, the Vatu, and empathized with him for a short while for what he had to go through and for what was still to come. But what was to come on the actual day of the thread ceremony was something neither of us could have anticipated or be prepared for in anyway!

Thats up in Part 2 of the Upanayana series!

My Encounters with Astrology

First up, let me make my stand very clear here. As much as I want to believe that I have no faith in Astrology and that none of my decisions are influenced by it, I concede otherwise, but only to the extent of acknowledging the existence of the science. I wouldn’t particularly be making every decision of my life based on astrology. Now having said that, I am going to tell you about  a few recent instances wherein I have had a brush with astrology without ever actually intending to do so myself.

Recently, in the month of January, my parents had been to visit this astrologer near my home and were very impressed with his knowledge and analysis. He was apparently able to describe very accurately a lot of things of mine and my parents’ past, which particularly impressed my mom. Hence, she inevitably asked him about my future prospects, (onsidering the fact that during January, I was going through one of the worst phases of my life.), especially regards my education. To this, the astrologer assured my mom that I was going through a bad phase of my life and that I would face better times from the month of February. Sure enough, I quit my job in February due to poor health, which I was not complaining about as I was not particularly excited about the job, and in fact consider it as a good thing that happened to me. Then more importantly, I got an admit to do Masters in Imperial College London, one of the most prestigious universities in the world, about which I was extremely happy about. So yes, what the astrologer said did indeed come true. And looking at this, my mom strongly recommended the astrologer to her sister who has a son and a daughter appearing for their 12th and 10th board exams respectively. The astrologer again accurately described the characters of both the children and that again impressed my aunt too. And so there was this inevitable question asked to the astrologer by my aunt about the education of her two children and this is where I guess the situation hit the roof! To the specific question about how my cousin will fare in the highly competitive IIT-JEE exam, the astrologer, after some consultations with the horoscopes, confidently declared, “Your son has to work HARD to crack the IIT-JEE!!!!!!”

WTF???I mean WTF???OF COURSE he has to work hard to crack the IIT-JEE!! As soon as I heard this, I was rolling on the floor laughing away big time! And when I told this to my cousin, even he couldn’t control himself. And to learn that our mothers paid a whopping 3000 bucks to hear the astrologer tell them exactly what they already knew was nowhere near sensible. I never forgave my mom for that and dont miss a single opportunity to mock her about the issue. But that aside, I did some deep ruminations myself about this whole thing and with my cousin. I was trying to explain to him that astrology is still true as it is able to describe very clearly the things of the past and to some extent the future as well. I told him about my own case and about a few others as well. What he replied to that made a lot of sense. He said,”Astrology may indeed be true and may actually be able to exactly describe the events of the past or tell us when the times are going to improve or deteriorate for anyone. But then, whats the point? Astrology doesn’t need to tell us about our own pasts and irrespective of whether an astrologer says so, good times or bad times are going to happen anyway. So whats exactly the point of astrology?” I strongly believe what he said made a lot of sense. But perhaps one line of argument in favor of astrology would be that if one accepts that there is truth to it, then one can possibly take the help of astrology in making some key decisions in life- which of course is not mandatory. But again, I also strongly believe that it is upto the discretion of each and every person whether they choose to follow an astrologer’s advice or go by their own instincts.

Now that was one part of the story. Here is the other part which got me more directly involved. One of my very close friends since a long time is going through a very bad patch of her life. Same old story: she likes a guy since 5 years and he likes her as well, they have been into a serious relationship and plan to get married. But he is from a different caste so her parents are strenuously opposed to this marriage. And so in order to prove their compatibility, my friend went to an astrologer (a different one) to determine whether their horoscopes matched properly. That astrologer assured her in strong and confident ways that though it was not a perfect match, there never is one and that their horoscopes were as close to perfect as usually seen. Buoyed by this information, my friend decided to confront her dad (who incidentally gives a lot of weight to horoscope compatibility) and told him that if she was able to establish the compatibility of the horoscopes, would he then reconsider his stand on the marriage. He replied in the positive and due to which, she confidently took him and her mom to the same astrologer she had met before. Now here is the twist. When she asked the same astrologer about the compatibility in front of her parents, this astrologer dude did a complete U-Turn! He began to describe the compatibility of the two horoscopes as next to disastrous to all involved and that especially the guy’s horoscope is so defective that nothing can be made to set it right! Needless to say, my friend was speechless, and with good reason. She could not really get herself to even ask him why he was saying just the oppositte. Hell, all she could ask was even if she didn’t marry that guy, would he still be under threat and to which the astrologer, again confidently replied in the affirmative!! And here is the best part: That astrologer himself declared that he is not lying and that if he is lying 3 generations of his family are going to be cursed. The irony is that this astrologer dude isn’t married in the first place!!!

And so that evening I met her and she cried in helplessness while I was running out of options to make her see that its not the end of the world. As much as I couldn’t see why this astrologer dude had to do such a thing, I really didn’t consider that what he said was final and binding. So I suggested that I would take their horoscopes to my astrologer (the one I mentioned previously) and get his opinion as it would be a neutral one. And so when I went to see this astrologer, (I was personally meeting him for the first time) I found him to be a genuinely knowledgeable man who had a very long history of astrology in his family. And so he clearly explained to me what needs to be checked and what it should read in order for proper compatibility. He found that the horoscopes were compatible in all the basic parameters and that even though the guy’s horoscope was inherently defective, he said it could be rectified with certain rituals. He asked to see them both the next day and so they went there by themselves to consult him. That evening, I found my friend to be very excited and genuinely happy and smiling all the time because the astrologer had assured them that in spite of all the opposition in the family, things would eventually get settled and that their horoscopes were compatible enough to lead a happy marriage- as long as the guy did a certain ritual to correct some defects. I found that reasonable and was happy for my friend that her relationship was back on track. Now again, here is another twist. The guy is not exactly a believer in astrology and didn’t make the effort to get in touch with the astrologer about the pooja he had to do in spite of the fact that the astrologer had given him 2 specific dates. Both dates passed and my friend began to feel very bad. So much so, she began to have second thoughts on her relationship with the guy. Her line of thinking was that if he does not show his committment in something as important as this, how will he be after marriage? She even went to the extent of telling me it was all over between them and that she was ok about it. As much as I knew that was only a temporary phase and not the end of it all, I was also concerned about when the guy would eventually start the pooja. Last I heard, he was still yet to finalize the dates.

Now here is my problem. If for whatever reason, the relationship breaks- be it for genuine or not so genuine reasons-I dont think I can sleep peacefully. The knowledge that I was directly involved at the beginning of it all is not exactly a comforting one. I really don’t see myself rationalizing my way out of this if something were to go wrong. And it would feel like hell if it actually did. So I am praying that this get settled soon and in the positive way. But again, fundamentally speaking, I come back to what I said earlier. It is not about whether astrology is really indeed true or not. It is about whether you believe in it or not. Thats it.

I just hope I get to sleep peacefully.