Fifty thousand shades of religion

“What’s you name”, asks a fifty-sixty-something aunty living in my building to my kid as we get into the elevator. Never known to talk to strangers, he lets us do the talking.

“Rehaan”, says my wife.

Fifty-sixty-something aunty has an animated expression on her face — wonder concealing  surprise, and the effort needed for that is not concealed — probably because no effort is made to conceal the effort.

“Isn’t that a muslim name?”, she asks, quite sure that we don’t look muslim.

“Yes. He’s Rehaan Phansalkar”, my wife adds.

I look away, trying to keep disgust about the line of inquiry off my face.

“It’s a persian name”, quips my wife.

Fifty-sixty-something aunty manufactures a smile at that escape route, as we get out at our floor.

The next day, she is back at it, “Rehaan Khan”, she chides him/me/both. Or perhaps no one really, Just jesting. Showcasing her sense-of-humor. However sick. And I keep looking away to hide the disgust.

But then I start thinking. Why am I offended? When we picked up that name, we knew someone like that was going to say/do something like that. It’s the most benign form of bigotry even. And being offended about such a line of inquiry is actually giving it a validity it does not deserve. So next time I see her, I manufacture a smile.


Same place, different time, different individual. Actually, we don’t really call the watchmen and the other helpers in the society — like that person who picks up the trash in the morning — individuals. They’re just people. They’re just the jobs, even. Watchman. Cleaner. Maid. Driver.

But anyways, this elderly guy who collects trash in the morning, and dumps it into the compost pits, and collects the compost at times, is an individual. I’ve seen him trying to clear up a road space for vehicles in Ganpati celebrations time, near where he lives — a basti through which a road that I have to take to visit my parent passes — trying to control rowdy/boisterous members from his basti, already high, I believe, on spirits other than the religious passions sparked by Ganapati visarjan occasion. When the road is partially cleared up, I pass him, thanking him silently for helping out, and saving probably half an hour of noisy celebration and traffic jam on a narrow road. I applaud him later in person, the day after for helping out so many people. Probably because of that interaction, for me, he is an individual. Not just a job.

But again, I digress. I asked him about the compost that’s generated from the pits and whether I can get some, and he brings me a polythene bag filled with compost a couple of days later.

“Just don’t use it in the Tulsi pot”, he requests.

“Why, does it harm the Tulsi plant in some way”, I ask instinctively, as that’s the only thing that I can think of.

“No. This compost is made from all sort of unclean things, no. Meat pieces and what not”, he says.

I smile. Not a condescending, I know better than that smile, but rather a “I know what you mean” smile. And I know, even the radical atheist (to borrow a category created by the great late Douglas Adams) like me, will think for a second, before adding that compost to a Tulsi pot — even if it’s only to remember the innocent faith that made the elderly individual to tell me, an almost total stranger, something like that.


Same place, or thereabout, different people.

We’re walking around the complex, taking my kid to the Ganapati temple in the complex, when another couple turns up with a boy, almost same age as my kid. We smile at them. The boy, in just the half minute or so he had to notice, notices that my kid was wearing a dark pink T-shirt.

“He’s wearing pink”, he says animatedly to his parents.

Me and my wife laugh.

His mother scolds him, “They heard you”, as they drive away on their scooter.

Yes. The only thing (probably) that they found objectionable in the sentiment (what else do you call it? reflex?) was that it was uttered loud enough for us to hear.

Pink is for girls.



And then, different place — or same actually, depending on how broadly you define ‘place’.

I switch on the TV and I find the great Farhan Akhtar sporing a thick mustache, later also adorned by the lovely (well, I’m not just cynical, you know) Preity Zinta. The MARD pledge. Is the irony of girls sporting a mustache, as a symbol for real maleness, the one that’s supposed to save girls from being molested/raped/groped, is it intentional? Wouldn’t it be better for men to sport bangles, say, claiming solidarity with the victims of a typical male thing. Wouldn’t it be better to challenge the whole stereotypes of bangles as sign of weakness, mustaches a sign of strength (mooch katwana and all that melodrama), or machismo (whatever the f it is). To reinforce, even if unintentionally, a much problematic stereotype, could very well be counterproductive. But then are celebrity social drives ever really supposed to be productive? Beyond counting eyeballs, that is.


Bangles are for sissies.

Mustaches are for the real men.

Men don’t cry.

Good girls don’t wear skimpy clothes and its corollary.

Men love sports and cars.


New religions are formed each day.

Sometimes they’re imported from more prosperous lands — like the great USA in the boys Vs. pink case — and hence come pre-approved. They get to bypass the usual slow organic decay that is necessary for other ones, produced locally, need to take root (which incidentally has just one o more than rot).

But organic, or GM, or hybrid, or whatever, they all seem to thrive in this land called India which is a fertile land for bigotry. Mohammedans are this, parsis are that, south-indians are what not, xyz is abc. Pink is sissy. Make him wear bangles. Blacken his face to shame him.

In all these fifty thousand shades of bigotry and stereotypes, there are a few innocent ones, like in the case of the elderly individual. But when one looks at the spectrum, how does one feel hope that the picture will be painted in better shades anytime soon?

For the picture looks pretty grim with all the shades of religions — godly or not, major or minor, deep or trivial.



10 thoughts on “Fifty thousand shades of religion

  1. Mahendra Palsule says:

    Nice read. I have resigned in futility to the fact that not only is the picture grim, it is getting worse by the day, and will only get much worse. Sometimes, total acceptance is the only solution to dealing with this reality.
    At other times, one creates an island, away from this fertile land, similar to the algae island in the Life of Pi. We let the bigotry thrive on our island during daytime, in our usual social interactions like the ones you described. Then at night, when everyone is asleep, we devour the bigotry, let rationality become carnivorous in its quest for meaning, and restore ourselves to sanity. Even this post is such an island, is it not?

  2. Atul Sabnis says:

    This is Set Theory for the world we live in. Not the traditional one, as we know it, but a new theory where intersections are formed in 3D space and a unit occurs in more than one intersection. I think 3D Set Theory exists, if NUMB3RS is to be believed. Lovely post.

  3. Ayra says:

    Have caught up with a couple of your posts again after a gap. Your dry reasoning of the ways of the world never disappoints. Here’s to many more posts!
    Just one slight concern related to this one. Do you think if enough Indians use the word “anyways” it will find its way into the Oxford Dictionary? I have a mortal fear of this happening.
    I am however very proud that ‘prepone’ is now in. A truly useful word.

    Yours In-balance

    • asuph says:

      Thanks Ayra. Glad you enjoyed it. Not sure I know your blog or even recall seeing your comments on my blogs before. So welcome, although you already seem to know this blog well. I hope I continue not disappointing :).

      Anyways (did anyone think I could resist that?), I’m not a language fanatic. That said, I do get the concerns some people have about disfigurement of language. Still, as you point out, it’s been a mixed bag. We like some mutations, hate some, learn to live with all over time — at least the ones that survive. And anyways seems set to survive, given how much Indians seem to love using it. I didn’t even know I had used it. I don’t believe it was needed there (or anywhere, for that matter).

      BTW, M/W online seems to have already added it as ‘dialect’ (

      • Ayra says:

        Oh no- it’s in a dictionary already and has existed since the 13th century. My apologies.
        Despite this it still doesn’t sound right to my ears (perhaps in the same way that some people irrationally hate the sound of scraping shoes on a floor). However ‘Anyhow’ and ‘Anywise’ both sound okay.

        I’m trying to remember when I formed this opinion. Perhaps it happened when I heard too many Bollywood celebrities using it in some less-than-fascinating TV shows. A bit like when they say ‘you all’ when clearly there is just one person in front of them. Made me wonder for a long time what they were taking before the shows that made them see multiples…

  4. Mayuresh Phadke says:

    Beautiful piece Especially liked

    “In all these fifty thousand shades of bigotry and stereotypes, there are a few innocent ones, like in the case of the elderly individual. But when one looks at the spectrum, how does one feel hope that the picture will be painted in better shades anytime soon?”

    I don’t share the grimness though. Let them paint with whatever shades they want, and I will continue to use my own shades.

    • asuph says:

      Unfortunately, the canvas is being drawn collectively. And kids are going to pick up some of those shades subconsciously (like the kid who was alarmed at ‘pink’). Of course we will keep on using our shades and even advertising them (like this piece, in a way, but then I’m the last person fit for advertising), but grimness comes from assessment of where we are headed.

      Then again, this piece is somewhat over-shaded. At least in my immediate circles, including the online friends, there are happier shades. But then that’s people I’ve chosen to have in my life, not people that are in my life by accident.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s