Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Random Thoughts of Religion, Patriotism and Indian Music

I was thinking about my father all day today. We used to debate all the time about politics, religion and all of the topics that are too hot for casual conversation. He used to believe that religion and nationality divided people. He was against tribalism in any form. It was an opinion I accepted for years and later rejected emphatically. Despite my difference of opinion with him, he raised objections that were necessary for me to hear and to address.

To me, it seems that individual, family and nation are necessary dimensions of human experience. Just like you have protons, neutrons and electrons that make up atoms which make up molecules, so too is humanity organised. Whether this is wrong or right does not matter, it's just the way things are. It's what we make of it that makes the real difference in our lives.

I experienced this on a gut level when I started raising my own family and realised that it became a context in which I could empathise with others. Being patriotic as an American or a Canadian or Chinese can be chauvinistic, or it can be a thread of commonality that makes it possible to empathise with others.

Then there are matters of religious faith. I may believe in religious truths that are mutually exclusive of what others believe. How do I find a place for tolerance? If G-d can remain silent as His word and wishes are hotly debated, then surely we should be tolerant of those who read different truths into the Great Silence.

There is a debate in the orthodox Jewish world over whether women should use a kerchief or a wig to cover their hair. The two points of view overlap only in the belief that the hair of married women should be covered. I was given a very harshly worded leaflet from "the other side" that condemned wigs in the harshest terms. I use the leaflet as a book mark, to remind myself of how passionately people can disagree and how careful we must be to be respectful of those who choose different paths.

What troubles me far more than doctrinal and religious disputes are the daily cruelties of life both great and small that seem to go on uncorrected. I am far more troubled by Congolese war atrocities and abuses in American prisons, for instance than I am about thousands of different religious sects with mutually exclusive takes on reality.

It's an oddity of my life that the arguments I had with my loved ones live on after they are gone. And those disagreements are what I still appreciate most.

I was looking for a song from Raj Kapoor's "Shree 420 " film. As a person of mixed ancestry, it illustrates my view or the world.All I could find of the translated lyrics is as follows.

"Mera joota hai japani = My shoes are Japanese

Yeh pataloon inglistani = My pants are English

Sar pe lal top russi = The red hat on my head is Russian

Phir bhi dil hai Hindustani = Even then, my heart remains Indian."

I'm not Indian, but I feel about the same about my corner of the world. While I was looking for the subtitled Raj Kapoor video, I also discovered asinger named Himesh Reshammiya,who is one of the top popular singes in India. I also included a video of his music. Discovering his music proves that sometimes life is what happens when you were expecting something else.

There are days when lively debate with those long departed echoes on through time and when a voice of my Jewish awareness comes through an Indian film from back in 1955. Life sure is strange. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

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