Words are not trifles. They bear ideas with meaning that help us understand our world, move forward and aspire. I want to pen a few words on my subjective view on what should be the fabric that provides a foundation for individual action and the interactions between people that form a modern society. Many have said similar things before and they inspire me now as I start this endeavour. This is not meant to be an attempt at creating something new, but an affirmation of what I believe is great and good based on my experience in life as I have lived it and my learning from different forms of thought from the recent and distant past.
The central idea is that all people, irrespective of gender, religion, circumstance, ethnicity, and disability are created equal.
They should have equal rights and recourse to justice in the eyes of the law and government.
They should also have equal opportunity in all spheres in life. In the absence of equal opportunity, which is a powerful, essential but often distant ideal, the aspiration to equal opportunity must be embedded in Government philosophy and in the people themselves. There must always be a concerted move towards this ideal.
When it comes to thought, culture, belief, orientation and faith, all people must be free as long as they are not harming or limiting this kind of expression in other people. The role of Government in this realm is to provide safe spaces publicly and privately for the expression of thought and belief for all and ensure that physical or psychological harm is not brought upon by one upon another by hurtful expression. All are entitled to the same freedom of expression in all spheres and must be able to exercise it without inhibition but must do so with care and concern to accommodate diversity and difference. The Government should be prepared for and anticipate criticism which can take the form of political and civic discourse essential to the advancement of a modern society.
The same holds true for action in economic spheres. People will generally seek a betterment of their material conditions and the facilitation of this must be ensured by the Government while keeping in mind the motion toward aspiration to equal opportunity for those who are disadvantaged, economically or socially.
Ensuring that economic advancement occurs for a society is foundational but not paramount. Growth must be sustainable. Sustainably, simple and practically, is the protection of the societal fabric and of the environment, not just for resources, but also as recognition of the fact that human endeavour is situated in nature and is nursed by it and that nature’s vibrant presence is an integral part of a society’s health and existence.
Sustainability ensures that we provide at least the same, if not a better world, for the next generation to live in. Often, political imperatives do not take into adequate account this long-term factor which in the short term can be a political liability, but they must, and people must also attempt to understand sustainability and and appreciate its importance in the preservation of their land and its societies for their children and future generations.
Economic advancement, the strength and improvement of a social fabric that is just along with sustainability and preservation of the environment are the three pillars on which our nation can build the foundation of a modern nation and civilisation in the 21st century.
Dream, and pursue that dream. It’s like setting sail on a ship you command towards a distant horizon.
On that first day, you’ll feel the wind in your hair and even the horizon will seem within reach.
In that moment when you set sail, you will be fearless.
It is a moment when you are trying to write your own destiny and are bound only by your aspirations for yourself.
Whether you fail or succeed, you would have felt something you will know forever you were born to feel. A feeling you will remember forever.
If only to feel that, I urge you – dream, and pursue that dream.
Why fight fire with fire?
It is not fire that extinguishes flame.
A little water suffices.
Why an icy stare in return for a cold glare?
The warmth in a smile can turn
A foe into a friend.
Our instincts are inadequate guides
On our personal journeys,
Inhibiting us even as they satisfy pride.
Thought and thoughtful action,
Deliberate and well-intentioned,
Can transform your worldly microcosm,
From a jungle where you watch your every step,
To a meadow where you can run freely,
Grateful for the sun, unafraid of inevitable storms.
A Shield of Starlight
Heaven above under the veil of night,
Has studded in its darkest cloak,
Shimmering crystals, jewel-like,
The beautiful light of a thousand stars.
One star among the multitude,
The North Star, I am named after,
And look to as my guardian,
I ask it to light my way forward now.
Many a sailor has thanked this star,
As he has charted a new course,
And when it showed the way home,
I ask the star, take me now to what I envision.
The stars I have loved for years now,
With a passionate fervour, from a time
When life was dark, they were beacons
Of hope, and companions on sleepless nights.
I ask a little more of them today.
Let starlight rain down and coalesce within me,
Give my heart and mind a shield,
With stellar gleam, the force to face down doubt,
A torch with which to fire creativity.
Let the North Star give me, its mortal namesake,
Some of the quality,
That has made its heavenly vigil,
Invaluable to humanity over the years.
I am a layman in this matter. But a thoughtful one.
Now I know that undermining one’s own authority is not the best way to begin an argument. I have to, because my experiential knowledge and my reading, is sorely limited in this case. I speak based on what I have learned and, in truth, believe over the course of my life whose length is just about ‘middling’ in length as I approach thirty.
An authority on matters theological, I am not. I am acquainted with aspects of the belief system of my religion, Hinduism and a few others like Islam, Christianity and Sikhism through my friends, life experience, religious poetry from different traditions, and what else I have read.
Philosophy, the way I apply it to my life, is not an all-encompassing, rigorous and rational way of approaching things that tames the mystical bringing it within the realm of reason. That definition may be closer to how it is defined by those who make a study of the discipline in the modern day.
I define philosophy here simply as thinking without rigidity, approaching viewpoints and belief systems with fluidity, and being open to possibilities in thought and feeling that could contradict a personal entrenched knowledge and belief system.
You can see, I open the door to faith with my personal definition of ‘philosophy’. I believe in the importance of faith. I have seen the way it is a pillar, or even a foundation for people, helping tide over bad times and find meaning in their lives. Faith is easily vilified in the modern day, and it is true that there are a more than a few bad apples that leave a bad taste in the mouth. But on the whole, I would argue that faith is largely a force of good. A source of strength and inspiration and a guiding light in a world where struggling to find meaning may be the harshest curse of all after the need to fend for daily bread.
It is possible now to see people make a trade-off between faith and modernity. It is possible to see people make a compromise between the two as well. It is a time of transition and what the end result of the process is will be interesting to see.
The title of this piece is ‘On Reconciling Faith with Philosophy’ and I will try now and make an argument to that effect.
Faith has an element of irrationality built into it. Where believing in God requires a believer to take a plunge beyond the realms of logic. Now, it is no new tale that are many paths to God, with different belief systems guiding their believers. A Sufi would conceive of God very differently compared to a Catholic and a Hindu who would differ from each other.
What is common to all these faiths is the act of believing itself. It is the confidence in their answer to a vacuum in the human spirit. Though I have no scientific evidence for this, I believe there is a vacuum in every human being which yearns to have meaning in life. That meaning must be constructed and requires beliefs of some sort to take root for a person to feel whole. Once their is a system of meaning, it can provide the light and sustenance a person’s spirit need on their journey through life.
The different faiths provide this system of meaning in a structured pre-prepared form. Atheism, in my experience, provides this meaning after skepticism and interrogation but results in an equally dogmatic belief system in a person who professes Atheism over time. In short, the logic of atheists gives way to an entrenched belief system much like the one exhibited by those of people of faith.
The reason for this is a person’s yearning to have core beliefs, a way of grounding the personality, with which to live their life. We are built in a way that we need beliefs to get through everyday life – the nature of those beliefs from person to person may be radically different.
My Way Forward
My personal faith is not complex. It can not be labelled easily into the conventional categories, but that does not make it complex.
I am Hindu, by birth. I identify as Hindu as well. My upbringing, and beliefs in some of the rituals is firm and my belief in Dharma and Karma stem from a simplistic understanding from its philosophy. I do not subscribe to the full range of rituals that would make me ‘religious’ in habit. I do not pray regularly, I forget the days when I’m not supposed to eat meat, and making pilgrimages is something I have not done for a time. But yes, some of my core beliefs, are very Hindu.
I have also delved into Sufi poetry and found it gave me strength and answers in a dark time. I have embraced this different way of thinking of God and made it a part of me as much as the beliefs I have grown up. I have given up some of the old, taken in something new, and also, am open to changes in my thought and feeling about faith as I grow forward. This is my faith, I assert, and not an ‘experiment’ with spirituality.
When it comes to others, I have been blessed to have had a life where I have met people of different faiths with varying degrees of belief and different modes of practicing and experiencing it. I do not feel that any other person’s faith can hinder my own experience of religion and spirituality. If my private belief system is threatened by another’s, then their is a chink in my armour – a fault in my beliefs that needs analysis and revision.
It is important to me that my faith is broad enough to be inclusive, not just tolerant, of the differences I see and have seen in my friends and acquaintances over time. As cliched as it may sound, my experience is that a Hindu, Muslim, a Christian or even an Atheist have the same need for friendship, belonging, love and purpose independent of the faith that they practice. How decisions are made, and lives are lead, may vary depending on the faith or in the case of Atheism, the personalised belief system constructed, but the governing impulses for us all are the same.
We are humans first.
Currently, my one dogmatic belief that I am conscious I hold, is that people must be tolerant of other ways of thinking and understanding life and God than their own. For me it is a sin unforgivable if I see a person from a particular religion, or an Atheist, who excludes and marginalises a voice from another tradition, which if tolerant of their own, deserves to not just be heard, but understood and respected.
Faith of all kinds are a way of experiencing the world stemming from a need to create meaning deep within us. Acknowledging that shared need is a path to creating common ground by which we can erase the insensible discord that is endemic to our demographically complex societies of today.
Maybe we can then live in greater harmony as societies while also giving individuals and communities the freedom to prosper emotionally and spiritually.
Recently I made the decision to take time off from work to write a book. It was a big decision for me, but one that I feel in hindsight I would have made, if not now, then in the near future anyway. The impulse to write is ingrained within me, and the prospect of writing full time and for a living impossible to ignore.
That whole process was energising and exciting. Speaking to people, running ideas by mentors, mobilising my support system of friends and family and finally, of course, speaking to my superiors at work. I would like to express gratitude to all the people who have encouraged, advised and cautioned me thereby showing their love for me. This fanciful pursuit of a dream would not have been possible without your support.
I took a month off after I left work to travel, and now stand a mere few hours away from the beginning of the time that I had allotted for the ‘book’.
Over the last week, I have felt some nerves, in waves, along with some moments of confidence. I have sought to reinforce my belief in my ability and I have sought approval in indirect ways from people close to me. The size of the task before me is immense, and really, I have almost no experience with this kind of writing. I have written poetry for a few months, but that was a fun endeavour. An exercise in self-indulgence. Now, I want to see if I can write a book. A whole different ball game.
I have belief in my ability, that is not in question. But I am still to write my first book and in that way I am inexperienced and so oscillate between the aforementioned tingling of energy and the butterflies of anxiety. I have a plan now for how to structure my time through the days, and ensure that I get the right amount of exercise to stay in good health.
What I will learn from this experience is twofold I anticipate. The first is how to write in a disciplined manner. For a set time and within a routine. My writing in the past has come straight from the heart. Moments of inspiration translating to blitzes of poetry and prose. The results I have loved sometimes, but they were sprints, often in the last waking minutes before sleep, while a book is a marathon.
The second I feel follows from the first. Where earlier I have only written when inspired, now I must learn to search within myself to call upon some form of fire to fuel my endeavours as I embark on a routine and structured form of creation. My writing is better when I feel impassioned, but that passion can no longer be just a whim that strikes me at midnight once a week. Inspiration must answer when I ask it to, at least to a degree.
Of course, the book is the end-goal prima facie. I would like to publish something soon and begin embarking on that chapter. But I do feel, the greatest take-away from this experience will be the experience itself. Being a writer for me, first and foremost, is something very fundamental to my nature and how I see myself. Writing will be a life-long journey. On that journey, I am taking the next, natural step. I will grow, undoubtedly, in ways that I do not realise now. I will struggle too in ways I can not foresee.
Once more, I validate myself, and say, I have made the right decision. Or, better yet, decided to act on a choice my heart made for me a long time ago.
I have chosen to examine and illuminate that which is the stuff of the everyday, so as to make that everyday more meaningful for anyone seeking such meaning.
That is my mission as a writer, and today I answer that call in a more profound way than I ever have before.
I feel a heaviness in my heart, I leave this place soon,
A place that has charged my soul, and inspired.
All that I have felt, all that I have fallen in love with,
It weighs on my spirit as the sun sets on this journey,
Discovering where east meets west, where Europe meets Asia,
A moment in time’s wheel, that time is at an end.
I am in Turkey, in the land of the great Ottomans,
Of the Byzantines before them, and the Romans,
And Greeks yet earlier. The land is a confluence,
Of culture, of language, of architecture and food.
It is where visible history marries nature,
And somehow finds a harmony in the modern.
Monuments from across aeons, whispering to the heavens,
A thousand years, but recent, another thousand,
The beginning of the past, the modern has a flavour
Entirely of its own, but the new is still steeped in tradition,
A vibrant recipe for pride, where a man or woman,
Need not look far, the signs of a glorious past are everywhere.
The people, they are bold, the men passionate, eloquent,
With varying kinds of charm, but the charm is a constant.
And the women, ah, they are a joy, I have fallen in love here,
Not once, but a thousand times, my heart breaks to know
That in but a day’s time, I bid them all farewell,
I shall walk the streets one last day, with my heart veiled.
I have seen fruit trees on the streets of Izmir laden, but untouched,
So bountiful is the produce here, I have seen the wonder of Ephesus,
Where Alexander the Great once rode, and Cleopatra arrived by sea,
But it all pales in comparison to Istanbul, that great city,
Vibrant, impatient, tough as any of its ilk, but far, far, more beautiful,
A tribute to the world’s past, glorious in its knowing melancholy.
Life are but moments to us people, measured in beauty and depth,
For the world, ages and epochs are instants in eternity,
My journey here I will never forget, a grand period for me,
But, this land of Turkey is a fixture in time, the Earth dances on,
Here, civilisation thrives, evolves and is remembered,
By a mosaic of markers and a magnificence ever present today,
Firing into the future, a society that is ahead of its time,
But burdened, just enough, with the best of the past.
So we’re in Turkey. Iv been wanting to come here for ages, and finally it happened. Despite the excitement, the feeling I’m having in my first few days in Istanbul is, that I’m discovering I had dreams I had never acknowledged. The realisation came when I lived an experience and felt the magnitude of emotion after it. The kind that comes with the realisation of a dream. It’s happened a bunch of times and we’re only a few days in. Of course I had dreams walking in, and realising those dreams is every bit as exciting. For example, crossing a bridge and wondering if it’s Asia or Europe in front or behind us cause we lost track. For thousands of years people have made the crossing back and forth, and I am sure many have made the same mistake of forgetting just where they are. Especially travellers.
But there’s something novel about discovery. Discovering a dream after fulfilling it, is something astounding.
I saw the Hagia Sophia, that greatest of cathedrals and mosques from Christendom and in the Islamic world. But that is something I knew that would shake me. Then I saw it at night, and that I knew in the moment was a dream I didn’t know I had. It felt different, like the weight of time was upon the place and the spirits were awake. A full 1500 years of worship by emperors, sultans and regular folk like us, bringing their hopes and aspirations and wishes into its hallowed halls hoping to get an audience with God.
Then there is the movement of history that coats the place. I don’t know how to describe it. This place has seen moments, but it can not count moments, for then it would begin to contemplate infinity. Maybe it does, but I think it counts ages. If the walls could talk, how would they talk about Mehmed, the conqueror, who walked into the Church ushering in the age of the Ottomans proclaiming ‘I wish to worship in this Cathedral but it must be a mosque by friday’. It was Tuesday then.
Today, there is a 9th century fresco of Mother Mary and Jesus flanked by glorious inscriptions saying Allah and Muhammad on either side. Those inscriptions are also over 500 years old. And as a museum, the symbolism is so important to our world which sees itself increasingly fractured around religious lines.
And that is the Hagia Sophia. Just that. By fortune, and planning by my parents about where to stay, it’s 200 metres away.
With that I conclude a brief discussion about two dreams, one fulfilled after a lifetime, and one discovered to be in my possession once it was fulfilled.