This is for you, Suren….

Suren Anna, your 7th “death” anniversary has just come and gone. Even if it is your 70th death anniversary, consolation cannot come for the simple reason that your killers are still at large. Your killers are still at large somewhere. On that fateful day in March 2006, when you were riding your tiny Bajaj Sunny Scooter, two racing rascals on two motorbikes whizzed past you on either side, without hitting you, but close enough for you to have a heart attack. Shopkeepers saw you struggling to maintain balance after the bikes whizzed past you, and helped you lie down on the road, where you instantly died. No blood. No wounds. But what a deep gash those two vagabonds, those two racing rascals inflicted on your heart that it never recovered? Because this is a common platform I am limiting the use of expletives, because those two racing rascals cannot be called otherwise. Without knowing who those racing rascals were, how could we even lodge a complaint? They had come so fast, none of the people around could even note their numbers, except for the fact that they came in two separate bikes – the witnesses to the event were unsure even of the make of the bikes since those racing rascals were so fast. No one knew who they were – those two racing rascals – but they are still at large somewhere. Those killers.

Those two racing rascals perhaps did not know that they would be snuffing out a life from a 56 year old man by their act of dare devilry. They perhaps will never know the pain that they caused to a family, to so many people, by their act of dare devilry. They might have impressed their girl friends or themselves or their friends, but they have left their bloodied hands on you – your death is a result of their dare devilry – nothing more, nothing less. Those two racing rascals would perhaps never know that you had gone for getting food and medicines for Ma, since Ma was not well that day. Those two racing rascals would probably be congratulating each other that they whizzed past a middle aged man on a slow scooter and outwitted him, little knowing that their act of dare devilry had caused a death. Those two racing rascals might never know how they have hurt and killed an innocent man like you.

When your younger brother who is a doctor, was at the casualty ward that day, and when they wheeled in your body and said, “road accident case” – little did he know that he would be looking at the face of his dead brother……

When the news of your death was reported by the local press, I hope to God that those racing rascals saw it and repented. Since no one knows who they were, we can only hope.

Suren, most of the bike manufacturers advertise speed as their bike’s USP. There are many movies promoting this fast speed bike USP for many years now – In the movies, no one really gets hurt – but in reality, hundreds, nay, thousands get hurt everyday on Indian roads. Statistics say that India witnessed one road accident every minute in 2011 which claimed one life every 3.7 minutes, one of the highest in the world.  Among the states, Maharashtra topped the list with the highest number of road accidents at 68,438 followed by Tamil Nadu with  65,873 accidents in 2011.

There are various kinds of bikes that showcase their speed and their agility on poor Indian roads. Most of these two wheeler riders who race in city roads to show off their skills not only get into trouble, but unnecessarily cause accidents such as yours.

Road rage has become a very common feature today on Indian roads. The slow riders/drivers are often shouted at, and teased. As if the speed matters. If one were to check these rash drivers, one would hardly find any justification in their speeding. Most of them would be going to do some mundane chore. Very rarely would you find a person rushing for a real emergency. It may be a movie, it may be to meet a friend, or worse still, it may be to buy some provisions. But the speed will be the same. These drivers and two wheeler riders who cause the deaths of others can never be at peace throughout their lives, knowing that they have killed someone. There are “weavers” today on city roads – they “weave” into the traffic in and out – Just a few days back I saw a motorcycle rider crushed under a lorry near our house in the evening around 7 p.m. It was really really sad to see the parents of the dead youth who were inconsolable. But how many parents indulge in their children’s two wheelers? In the city, in the town, and even in the villages, you can often see UNDER AGED children driving motor bikes – How can the limited police force control all this? But the parents, surely can – the parents, surely can curb these tendencies of their children. But unfortunately, it is parents who buy their children motor bikes most of the time, simply because the child wants the toy after seeing a movie or his/her friends.

Suren, most of the bikes that are there in today’s market have racing features. The bikes are sold for these features. The karma of the deaths of the people either on the bikes or caused by these bikes will surely be on the manufacturers of these kind of bikes. These bikes may be good for some foreign country or for some country roads, but for an Indian urban road, speed cannot be the only criteria….Safety is a much more important criteria.

The blood and karma of each of these deaths can only be on the manufacturers of such killer bikes. Why manufacture bikes that can go at 140 kmph? Is there any road on any city in India that can cater to such speed except at test tracks and racing tracks? These manufacturers can never understand the pain of losing a loved one in such accidents because they themselves would be going only in cars… These bike manufacturers can never be sympathetic to the thousands losing their lives because it is the USP of speed that sells their bikes….ably assisted by movie makers who market speed….

The dumb, “I want to catch up with the Jones next door” type of boys and girls queue up to buy the bikes that speeds and thrills, forgetting that if ever they lose control, they are going to pay heavily, with their own life, or with someone else’s…..It is a different thing that bikes are an essential part of city life today. We need transportation, and bikes are the best form of transportation – easy, fast and convenient. But how safe it is, is a different question altogether. The danger for bike riders come mostly from other bike riders…..

Suren, some day, I hope you meet your killers in the next world. And when that happens, I hope you are able to ask them why they did what they did, speed racing, and ask them whether it was worth it. No matter what anyone does is not going to bring you back from the dead. But if I too am around in the other world by then, Suren, those two racing rascals would surely be going around with broken jaws, for I know you are a forgiving man……

Towards understanding Hindu Culture, Rituals and Traditions Part Twelve : KARMA (Understanding Suicides)

Foreword: People committing suicides have increased in the recent past – especially young people  – over love or exam failures. This post is only to enlighten about the bad karma associated with suicide….(i.e., What kind of Karma does a person committing suicide carry?)

(Let us have a look at one of the world’s earliest DOCUMENTED suicides : “Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed –  So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor. –  When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders.  “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” –  So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. –  The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” – So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. –  That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day” – THE BIBLE – according to Mathew)  

Young people, including students committing suicide over love and exam failures have alarmingly risen in South India, recently. It is because of the mistaken notion that with death, all responsibility ceases. On the contrary, with death, the responsibility increases. It is by karmic decree that a person leaves this earth at a certain time, at a certain place. We, as human beings, do not have the luxury of leaving the earth as and when we wish, except for very advanced souls who know the time of their death in advance.

Thirumoolar in the Tamil classic Thirumanthiram says that when the union between a man and a woman takes place, the age of the child is determined by various factors, including breath of the man immediately after the union. Thirumoolar further explains that a person is born endowed with a pre-determined number of breaths, and that person lives on this earth only for that many breaths. If a person, on an average, breathes 24 times a minute, which translates to 1440 times an hour, which comes to 34,560 a day, and in an average life span of 60 years, a person would breathe atleast  75,68,64,000 – imagine a machine pumping 75 crore times without fail! And imagine this figure being predetermined at the time of birth for each and every person?  Which is why they say, that Brahma writes on the forehead, the amount of life or the number of years a person will live when he/she is born, at the time of his/her birth itself…..

The question is, are we entitled or empowered to break this predetermined lifespan by committing suicide? The simple answer is, NO.

Almost all religions dwell on the aspect of the AFTER LIFE. We, as human beings, are so engrossed in living the present life that we often ignore or don’t come to know about the Afterlife until it is time for us to go. In the case of suicide, it is a deliberate attempt to cut off the karmic debt by forcibly cutting off life. It is like a debtor trying to end his/her debt by running off – in which case the debt only becomes bigger – with added interest. Suicide increases the karmic debt of the person committing suicide, and also affects the karma of his/her close relatives or others affecting his/her life.

There is also the case for euthanasia or mercy killing of persons who are suffering very badly due to illness. In the case of euthanasia, the person who is put to death, normally does not take the decision of dying – it is often taken by his/her relatives or loved ones who take on the karma of taking the life. These are all very sensitive issues that can only be seen through case by case study as generalizations will not be possible in such grey areas.

Farm suicides in India are a shame for the nation, for the causes are mostly man made – Debt ridden people with no way out, and adaptation to changing environmental factors being two major areas to look into.

There was this case recently of a man who committed suicide when his wife and child died in an accident – True, that he also died when they died, but he would not be able to go to the same sphere as that of his loved ones. The very purpose for which he committed suicide, that is, to be with his loved ones, is lost since he will be on a lower plane because he committed suicide, and his loved ones would be on a different plane. The separation may continue, or it could be worse than when he was on earth, alone.

There are various books in various religions/philosophy that give a detailed account of how exactly life is, in the afterworld. And each one will give a different perspective depending on his/her faith and his/her beliefs and his/her experiences which will become the points of reference.

According to Hindu belief, a person committing suicide cannot go to the Astral world, where all humans go after death. The person committing suicide, has to remain on earth till the time of his/her normal death, in which case, he/she roams around the places where they lived, as ghosts. These unfortunate souls suffer because they can neither go to the astral world and join their dead relatives nor can they connect with the living relatives on earth because they are not in physical form. Among the Vedas, Yajurveda deals more with this aspect…..

According to Hindu mythology, there are 14 worlds, of which seven are higher worlds and seven are lower (paatal) worlds. Planet Earth is the lowest of the seven higher worlds. The evolution of the souls depends on his/her good/bad karma, and accordingly, he/she gets the world of his/her status. Thus status of the karma defines the status of the world we go to. And if a person commits suicide, he/she has to start from the lowest world, after his/her time on earth.

Which is why, if a person commits suicide, he/she would have to carry a huge burden of unwanted karma which could enmesh the soul for a very long time in this or a lower world.

Suicide. This is such a huge, huge, topic that needs more attention in today’s media.

(To be continued….)

Vanishing Vendors…..

Way back in the 70s, when I was a very small boy, Vellore Fort Maidan (Vellore town is some 120 kms from Chennai in Tamil Nadu) used to have some very unusual vendors :- One selling Root slice of a very special root ( they used to call it BHUMI CHAKRA KIZHANGU ) – the 2 or 3 feet high root column will be placed in a wet sack, and the vendor used to thinly slice the root and give it for 25 paise. The root was supposed to have medicinal qualities which can not only heal stomach disorders, but also give other benefits such as improving immunity against diseases, etc. Another occasional vendor was the one selling a milk sweet made from the first milk given out by the cow after the calf is born – this milk, called SEEMA PAL, is supposed to be very nutritious. There was also the fried bees for the Non veg eaters – the fort maidan had an unusual ground bee population – just before it rained, a large number of ground bees (called YEESAL in Tamil) used to come out of the ground at dusk (these bee stings don’t hurt at all – in fact, many will vouchsafe that they don’t sting!) in thousands searching for light – the bee vendor will simply attract them using a gas lamp and catch them in the net, fry and sell them – I have personally never eaten them, but this was supposed to be a delicacy in those days.

Then there was the Kolamav (white powder used for rangoli) seller, the occasional Date seller who will give dates in exchange for iron waste that we dispose. Then there was this Bhoom Bhoom Mattu Kaaran, called Gudu Guduppaandi, who will come with his bull, bedecked with all kinds of finery, and try to predict the future and earn some money. There were other regulars : the raw ground nut seller, the fruit and vegetable vendor, the regular greens lady, etc. In Madurai, one could find idli vendors even in past midnight, vending idlis and dosas and omelettes along with hot, spicy chutney. Like this, in every city, village, and town, vendors who once were doing brisk businesses, have vanished….

The very fact that you could sell something odd like the root slice I was talking about, or like just small items that one would normally not expect in a shopping mall, speaks of the business prospects of any place – be it a dish to be eaten, or an ornamental piece to be kept on the table.

But today the scene is different, with many of the street vendors avoiding to come to residential areas. The greens vendors have considerably reduced, because they discovered that more and more people are buying the same greens to the shopping malls. The same greens that the greens lady would give for 3 rupees, and for which we will haggle baggle for 50 paise less, we will very dignifiedly give Rs.10 in a shopping mall – the only add on will be a plastic cover, to increase pollution.

Handicrafts, which comprised a huge portion of the Indian economy in 1947, have somehow been pushed to the background. Nobody wants handmade items anymore. All the children want are foreign toys – Who wants the mud doll, or who wants the wooden doll? So, these dolls have become very costly, because of so many factors, including limited supply. The makers of these toys are always scared that it won’t sell. Which is why if you want handicrafts, you have to go to a showroom. Sad to see the average Indian Middle class family not wanting mud toys anymore than they would like to see the back of wooden toys – It is gadgets, gadgets, gadgets all the way. Perhaps this is what is called Science dominating Art….

Whatever happened to the fairs that were so common sometime back? We used to have evening bazaars where one could get everything, from a pin to a pistol – Most of these small vendors used to trick or cheat also – but somehow, it always added colour to life, when one sees these vendors.

But over the last few years of this decade, these kinds of vendors have simply vanished, especially in cities. Instead, huge shopping malls have cropped up everywhere. All over India, commercial and residential complexes are coming up at lands which once produced crops. There is a huge shift in the spending pattern of the Great Indian Middle class families. No longer are they content with indigenously produced goods. Right from Cornflakes to Colourful shirts, they are looking for foreign brands. Streets that never had cars are now fully lined up with cars on either side. Many families have two cars. India, all of sudden, has become a paradise for foreign companies that wants to sell its products and services. In short, India, has suddenly become a seller’s dream.

If one were to ask, where have all the vendors gone? The answers can be found in a series of answers. Nobody trusts a street vendor anymore, especially in cities where terrorist threat perceptions are more. Street Vendors have themselves diversified into other businesses or taken up jobs. Families of such vendors do not want to continue the traditional business. Instead, many branch out into other jobs. The vendors themselves are seeking other vocational avenues. And suddenly, the ordinary street vendor has become extinct in many cities and places. Some have been bitten by the development bug (Which is good if that has happened) so that their families are now trained in computers or IT field or some other field other than his/her art of vending – that is also nice. Otherwise, if he/she has pushed their families out of this business because they themselves could not survive, then it is bad…..

I had to take it upon myself to write about these vanishing vendors because sometime back, I spoke to a journalist friend from a reputed financial paper and asked her to write about these vanishing vendors. She told me that her editors would never approve of it if she did ever write in about vendors. Vendors? She echoed. Her voice still echoes inside my head. In my opinion, Ordinary vendors only make up a bright and vibrant economy – be it beedis or bindis that they sell.