The Problem with ‘God’



‘God’ is a much used word yet hardly anyone pauses to find out what is meant by it. ‘Isn’t it clear?’ religious people may ask and answer:  God is the Highest, the Creator of the universe, the Almighty who knows whatever any human is dong or thinking and it is He who will give the punishment or reward in the afterlife.

This is a predominantly Western notion. Nobody will quarrel with the fact that this universe and we included have to come from somewhere and ‘God’ is given as the verbal answer. Yet somehow, ‘God’ has acquired strange attributes in the mind of westerners, never mind if they are believers or unbelievers. He is invariably male, has strong likes and dislikes and has supposedly communicated those likes and dislikes to some special people who informed humanity about it. Reading the Old Testament and the Koran reveals a God who is…

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What is Religion good for?

Maria Wirth has summed it up beautifully…to question is to find…if someone stops you from being inquisitive, then you must wake up to see the damages it can do to your spiritual growth…


In many parts of Europe, religion has become an important topic only in the last few decades. In the 1970s, religion or rather Christianity, which used to mean religion then, seemed obsolete. It was considered something for children and old people. Ever since Christians got the freedom to leave the Church not so long ago (in the 19th century in northern Germany), many did so. And after cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin came back from space and declared that he had not come across God, the Church lost out further.

Just an example: when I was a child in the 1950s, in our small town mass was held every day at 6.30 a.m., at 7 a.m. and 3 times a week at 8 a.m. Since long now, there is no daily mass. Only the three services at 8 a.m. have survived. When I was a child, three hours of fasting were…

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Flashback – Significance of Diwali…

Diwali is special in India.  Diwali is special for my family.  Diwali holds a great significance for me personally.

The days of my childhood, when we used only ‘diyas’ and wax candles for illuminating our houses, are filled with fond memories.  My father loved this festival and always mentioned it, beaming with excitement.

My paternal house had a courtyard in the centre on the ground floor. Our tenants occupied the ground floor.  From the first floor, where my family lived, we could look into the courtyard from the balustrade railing that lined the four corridors of the first floor.  The other side of the corridors was lined with rooms.

I, along with my father, brother, and uncles, would go around the house, lighting candles and ‘diyas’ on the railings of the terrace on the second floor, and the balustrade railing on the first floor.  We would also fill the balconies of the rooms, looking out on the street, with candles.  The stairs, the entrances to each room, and the elevated corner outside the kitchen, would all be filled with lighted candles.  I remember the strong breeze and a nip in the air on Diwali each year.  Filled with exuberance, I would run across the entire house, relighting the candles that would blow-off by the strong winds.

Then, there were some Diwalis at my maternal grandparents’ house, with my cousins, aunts, and maternal uncle.  The family occupied the ground floor of the house and their tenants occupied the first floor and the apartment on the terrace.  The entire neighbourhood would come out on the streets to burst crackers.  I particularly remember a couple of Diwalis there, just before we lost my maternal grandfather; the Diwali where we fired crackers till the wee hours, and fired rockets at the cars on the road. Then there was that one car which was having trouble with the accelerator.  A young man was driving it and trying to avoid the rockets.  The fun part was that he got it functioning and turned around to drive past our house, hooting with joy, racing and defeating our rockets.  We had the best laugh ever, having strangers enjoying with us.  Another Diwali, in the following years, was with my future husband, in the same house.  We were not sure if something was brewing in our hearts, something must have been because within a year we were married.

Some memorable Diwalis were with him, at various air force stations of our postings.  My zest had no bounds.  Posted away from Delhi, at places where Bengali sweets are not easily available, we would make our own sweets.  I loved making chocolate fudge at home.  However, the focus was on preparing some good savoury dishes for the visiting officers, families, etc of the unit and the station.  Invariably, the day would end with a round of the station, visiting every household, a gathering at the officers’ mess, a firework display, and some good food and wine.

After resettling in Delhi, my Diwalis did not lose their sheen.  I have stayed as excited over the last nineteen years, buying endless candles, putting up electric lights for over a week, buying Diwali gifts for family and friends, decking up on Diwali, and passing the bug of exhilaration on to my two children.  It is my favourite festival too.  Maybe, because it was my father’s favourite and is my tribute to him.  I hope that my children will remember my love for the festival, and wherever they are, they will celebrate it with as much fervour as a remembrance for me.

||Sarvam Sri Krishna Arpanamastu||

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Talk to students in memory of Swami Vivekananda

I have been following the posts by Maria Wirth, a Hindu of German ancestry. She has spent a lifetime learning scriptures and following Vedas. Her articles are illuminating…


(This one-hour speech happened to be a first for me, and I want to thank the students that they made it easy for me and looked interested throughout.)

My three main points:

  1. To encourage the students to know and be proud of their heritage.
  2. To point out what is lacking in the west
  3. To give inputs on Jnana, Bhakti, Karma and Raja Yoga – the way of life which enables one to tap/ realise the Divinity within.

Here is my talk, most of it recreated from the points i had made:

Knowledge of India’s wisdom – and Swami Vivekananda was an excellent teacher of it – is very much needed as western education (and Indian education is also still western education) is highly lopsided.

Only yesterday I saw a news item: a 12th class student from Haridwar was fished out from the Ganga. He had posted on facebook “I…

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So You Think You Are The Saviour.

Another sad day. This time Paris under siege. Another atrocious action. We are wasting our lives on wars, whatever the kind. I believe, this is the definition of ‘Kalyug’. There is only one identity for all. We are souls in material body with the prime ‘karma’ or intent to realise Him, attain Him, and His Paramanand. Does it matter if the world is realising Him or not, whichever form you may think to be right? If you really want to be the saviour, then save people from poverty, wrongdoings, intolerance for everyone – similar or different, illiteracy, opportunism, lethargy, predation…otherwise, just stop this war. Your afterlife will not be pleasant with such deeds. The day we start saving our individual souls by doing the right thing – starting with ‘ahimsa’ in thought, words, and actions – the entire world will be saved. Stop being the world’s saviour. You are not. In doing so, you are being labelled ‘terrorists’. Our gurus have said that do not perform any such deeds that discredit the name of your ‘dharma’ and your ‘gotra’. So stop discrediting your kind, your religion. Some wars result only in annihilation, of one and all. Reiterating the same by reblogging my earlier post.

Sarika Nanda Cerebrates

How do I begin to express my grief at the News from around the world?  I am a person of faith and I would be miffed too if someone ridiculed my faith.  Will I go to extreme of picking up a weapon and killing?  Never.  My faith specifically warns against hurting others, leave alone murdering.  Even though, my Lord Krishna advised Arjun to wage a war for ‘dharma’ or ‘righteousness’.

So many wars have been waged to bring erring individuals on track.  Some were fought in the parts of the world where people were living without faith, without the love of God, without propriety.  However, these were battled under the able guidance of an Avatar or a Messenger of God.  During these times, a fear of God was also instilled in the people.  When only love of God is not enough to guide the flawed, fear of Him furthers the…

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Is Hindu Dharma good and Hindutva bad?

I wish the clarity to spread like I see in Maria…


 My article “When Germany is Christian, is India Hindu?” got amazingly good response with thousands of facebook likes. However, some readers felt I made a mistake by not distinguishing between good, tolerant Hinduism, which is a private belief, and bad, intolerant Hindutva, which stands for the ‘communal agenda of an extreme right Hindu party’ that wants to force uniform Hinduism on this vast country, an act which is completely un-Hindu and against the pluralism of India.

Is Hindutva really different from Hindu Dharma and dangerous? Or have those, which coined the term, an interest in making it look like that? No doubt, Hindutva has a bad name in the eyes of many, in spite of the ruling of the Supreme Court in 1995:

“Hindutva is indicative more of the way of life of the Indian people. …Considering Hindutva as hostile, inimical, or intolerant of other faiths, or as communal proceeds…

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So Vegetarians Are Hitlers? Really?!

“Animals are my friends…and I don’t eat my friends.”

― George Bernard Shaw

I am not sure where we are headed or how is polarisation being created in this country.  There are some incidents, which are due to personal animosity between people in a locality, and the entire population with a certain belief gets coloured by it.  Even the educated and responsible people in the media and social networks lose their fair judgement, start politicising, and begin the painting of characters of the entire community.  It has become a fashion in the country to show ‘secularism’ with not much ‘gyan’, to show ‘intellectualism’ with not enough research, and to show oneself as above the people of their own community to win personal medals in one’s mind. (“I’m different, you see.”  “I am an apologetic Hindu, you see.”  “Nah!  Don’t call me a Hindu, It is an abuse for me now.”   “I am more like you than like my own.  I am far superior.  Please accept me as from your culture.  Just don’t call me a Hindu.  I will even eat beef and any animal you want me to eat for this.”)

I see a post that compares the beef-eating Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. to vegetarian Hitler.  What kind propaganda is this?  The same people cry foul and raise voices against ill-treatment to dogs, but saving cows is religious ‘Hitleralism’.  What kind of dual standards are these people following?  Have they lost their integrity to the hate of one person, party, or people?

If I believe in treating all animals as sacred, and especially love Cows as ‘mata’ or ‘mother’ then I am Hindu radical.  If you treat your dog as your family then you are an animal-lover.  Paradoxical!

“You can judge a man’s true character by the way he treats his fellow animals.”

― Paul McCartney

“A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite….And to act so is immoral.”

― Leo Tolstoy

I have so many quotes from so many influential people.  Most of them are not Indians, and some are very important names in history and literature.  Now does that win me the argument against your image?  Just think about it.  Think before you pick-up cudgels against a thought.  Do not do it for the hate of a man or a group.  Do it because you have given enough thought to the belief, deliberated, and then reached a conclusion with a clear mind, and with the integrity of a sane, educated person with a conscience.

“People often say that humans have always eaten animals, as if this is a justification for continuing the practice.  According to this logic, we should not try to prevent people from murdering other people, since this has also been done since the earliest of times.”

― Isaac Bashevis Singer

“I can’t count the times that upon telling someone I am vegetarian, he or she responded by pointing out an inconsistency in my lifestyle or trying to find a flaw in an argument I never made.  (I have often felt that my vegetarianism matters more to such people than it does to me.)”

― Jonathan Safran FoerEating Animals

“Ethically they had arrived at the conclusion that man’s supremacy over lower animals meant not that the former should prey upon the latter, but that the higher should protect the lower, and that there should be mutual aid between the two as between man and man.  They had also brought out the truth that man eats not for enjoyment but to live.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

“Do you eat chicken because you are familiar with the scientific literature on them and have decided that their suffering doesn’t matter, or do you do it because it tastes good?”

― Jonathan Safran FoerEating Animals

“A human body in no way resembles those that were born for ravenousness; it hath no hawk’s bill, no sharp talon, no roughness of teeth, no such strength of stomach or heat of digestion, as can be sufficient to convert or alter such heavy and fleshy fare.  But if you will contend that you were born to an inclination to such food as you have now a mind to eat, do you then yourself kill what you would eat.  But do it yourself, without the help of a chopping-knife, mallet or axe, as wolves, bears, and lions do, who kill and eat at once.  Rend an ox with thy teeth, worry a hog with thy mouth, tear a lamb or a hare in pieces, and fall on and eat it alive as they do.  But if thou had rather stay until what thou eat is to become dead, and if thou art loath to force a soul out of its body, why then dost thou against nature eat an animate thing?  There is nobody that is willing to eat even a lifeless and a dead thing even as it is; so they boil it, and roast it, and alter it by fire and medicines, as it were, changing and quenching the slaughtered gore with thousands of sweet sauces, that the palate being thereby deceived may admit of such uncouth fare.”

― Plutarch

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Flashback – Of Neighbourhood Weddings and Affairs…

My parental home near Paharganj, New Delhi, was a middle class locality.  It was a progressive neighbourhood and people interacted freely and often.  Most families had lived in the same area for decades and knew each other through generations.  My father was in a government job and so were most men around there.  Their children mostly went to public schools or were convent-school educated.

Just like my grandparents, most house-owners had settled there from even before the partition.  The main street was lined with houses on both sides.  After every group of three houses on both sides of the street, a lane went inside on each side.  Four houses inside the lane, two on each side, formed those lanes.  There were 14 such lanes, seven on each side of the street.  One end of the main street opened onto the main road.  If you took a right from that end, it went straight down to New Delhi Railway station and Connaught Place.  If you took a left, it took you to Sadar bazaar.  The other end of the street had a house in the middle of the street, making it a dead-end.  A Kashmiri family owned the house.

Most house-owners stayed on the upper floors, renting the lower portions of the house.  My grandmother did the same, so we had the entire first floor and the terrace for our family and there were at least three tenants staying on the ground floor.

A Punjabi family owned the corner house of a lane, left across from our lane.  They had two beautiful daughters.  The girls were at least six or seven years elder to me.  Being in an impressionable age, I would look up to them for the way they dressed and carried themselves.  The Kashmiri family had two handsome sons.  I am sure you know where the story is headed.  Well, the elder Punjabi girl married the elder Kashmiri boy in a huge wedding.  It seemed like a perfect love story, leaving me all starry-eyed.  A young girl at that age dreams of such fairy-tale romances, and seeing one live creates much hope and possibilities.  (I had my own fairy-tale that I have written much about in the other articles.)

A rich business family owned the other corner house of the same lane.  They were one of the few business families in the area.  They had a couple of daughters and a couple of sons.  My recollection is of the marriages of their two daughters.  The marriages were a huge affair.  Tents were set up on the entire main street.  We did not have marriage halls or farmhouses then, and there were very few hotel weddings.  The mentioned family would invite the entire neighbourhood to the weddings.  They would not miss inviting a single house on the entire street.  I remember attending these weddings with my father, brother, uncles, and others in the family.  Being an extrovert, I would make many friends and have a great time chatting, dancing, eating, and frolicking.

In another house on the main street, exactly opposite those pretty girls’, lived my uncle’s friends, on the ground and the first floors.  My brother’s close friend was their relative too.  The aunt of my brother’s friend, living in the USA, shifted back to India.  She started visiting her mother every summer along with her two sons. The elder son was my first real infatuation.  I graduated from screen idols to real people.  I must have been in fifth or sixth standard at the time.  There were those evening walks with my girlfriends for the glimpses, those glances, and giggles, and waits for holidays each year.  The story never went beyond and we never spoke.  After a couple of years, my brother and I shifted to another location in Delhi, and the infatuation died a natural death.  I remember watching the ‘Wonder Years‘ and remembering my childhood.  Being a total tomboy and very extrovert, I could talk to just about anyone, especially since few attracted me.  Yet, I never walked up to this boy and talked.  May be, I waited for him to do so.  I lose interest if things unnecessarily stretch a long time.  After moving away, I was occupied with much more interesting things like, my cousins, new friends, sports, painting etc.  I found my soul mate as I grew and finished my graduation.  The new location, where my maternal grandparents lived, had so much more to offer.  Stories from this neighbourhood are for another day.

It seems like it was another lifetime.  These form a few of my innumerable memories of happy times.

||Sarvam Sri Krishna Arpanamastu||

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Flashback – Of Friendships…

By the time we reached second year of college, twenty-five remained in our batch.  In third year, we were reduced to twenty-two.  There remained only eight boys, in a predominately girls’ batch.  Mine was a group of five girls, though we tried to keep all the other girls together.  We had many local college trips.  However, an entomology trip to Simla was the highlight.

I was a high-spirited, over-enthusiastic, very friendly person.  A walk from the college gate, at one end, to the science block, at the other end, would be interspersed with at least 1000 greetings, and then some more.

Of those eight boys, I would tease the two shy ones like a bully, making them blush.  I heard that one is in the USA.  The other is in the Indian Air Force, an officer and a gentleman.  We met in 2006, when I was a guest at his station.  However, my buddy was this thin boy, son of a scientist, a topper.  He sang like Hemant Kumar, and sang all my Dev Anand favourites.  We were like two naughty teenagers, always up to mischief.  Our labs were the time to sing songs while sketching the specimens or dissecting them.  He would sing, and I would add my off-key notes to that singing.  He was an artist; I remember forcing him into participating in an inter-college sketching competition that got him a third prize.

When asked to tease a tissue with needles for slide mount by our lecturer, we would be making hand antlers, tongues out, ‘teasing’ the tissue.  He ran for a marathon once, and had sore feet the next day.  So, I went around telling people that he has heavy feet.  Only, it was in Hindi – ‘paer bhaari ho gaya hei’ – which is a way of informing people of a woman’s pregnancy.  *Snigger*

Gender difference never figured between us.  We were just two pals, having fun.  My pseudo-protests at him giving a rose and attention to my girlfriend would result in him reciting poetry for me.  More than three decades later, we still cannot stop scoring on who has aged more.  We still laugh and giggle.  That’s what pals do.

Then there was this senior in college, who joined the army.  I started forecasting to my husband that he will eventually get into the flying wing of the Army and will have to come to us at the Air Force school for training.  We were posted to the helicopter training school, my husband being the flying instructor.  Sure enough, there he was, one of the army trainees.  He searched and found me, though we had not stayed in touch.  That was in 1993.  Then he tracked me down again in 1997, after my personal tragedy, and a decade later, he searched for me again for the third time on social media.  Boy, am I glad for his diligence in staying connected.  These days, he is running and cycling more than flying.

My two girl friends, my BFFs, one a neighbour and a senior, another a school friend, have been with me through thick and thin.  When we say best friends forever, we are not sure of its actual import, until such time we are lucky to have unbroken friendships through decades.  My bond with these two is record of more than three decades of unbroken contact.

Social media, in the last few years, has connected me to some of my close friends from school and college.  It was such a pleasure to find them again.

People, who know friendships, understand the importance.  My husband did.  He knew the value enough to take me to Press Enclave, to meet my senior school class teacher and invite her to our wedding.  He understood and bonded with my college buddies.  He ensured that we visit my army friend and his wife, when in Hyderabad.  He put me on a train to attend my school BF’s wedding.  He took my other BF around Hyderabad, sightseeing Salarjung Museum, and Birla Mandir.  He knew the significance of friendships to be there by my side, befriending my friends.  He could do all that, because that is what best friends do.

I raise a toast to all my friends for enriching my life.  Blessings and embraces to all the friends who are forever.  It is said that having one true friend is good luck.  What would one say to luck multiplied many times over?  Touchwood, and amen!

Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.
When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the “nay” in your own mind, nor do you withhold the “ay.”
And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;
For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.
When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.
And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

Khalil Gibran – The Prophet

||Sarvam Sri Krishna Arpanamastu||

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Flashback – Games We Play…

My house help and cook have started coming at the same time.  While working, they humour me and start listening to my stories.  Yesterday, I was talking about my tomboy days, when most of the evenings, as a young girl, were spent playing on the locality streets.  We would meet around 5 in the evening, and most summer plays would go on till 8, when the sun would finally set.

Skipping rope, pittu or pitthoo, gallery, hopscotch, hide and seek, gully cricket, marbles, kho kho, to name a few, were our regular games.  Ours was the longest gali or alley.  At times, more than 25 children from the neighbourhood, age group ranging from a 10 year old to 20 year old, would gather to play tag.  Our variation of tag was played with a tennis ball, where the den had to hit their victims, preferably below knee, with the tennis ball, to tag.  Each tagged person would be added to the coterie of den and help tag others by passing around the tennis ball to get maximum hits.

Two months of summer holidays used to be a long time, and each year would bring in a range of ideas to add thrill to our young lives.  Television was limited to evenings, with one state run channel.  Radio was the constant companion.  Many an afternoons were spent playing all forms of rummy, snakes and ladders, carom, Chinese checkers, or chess.

I learned chess from my father and brother.  Being the baby of the family, they would indulge me initially.  However, I picked up the game quickly and it became fun being defeated constantly and occasionally, defeating either of them.  Those victories were fewer and far between.  They were very sweet.  Looking back, I am not sure if they were earned, or handed.  🙂

There was an area at the end of our street that was identified for playing badminton.  Some initiated boys and girls, decided to draw the court, get the net, buy the equipment, draw an electricity wire from the pole, and behold!  We had a well-lit functioning court with serious game happening in the evenings.

I started playing table tennis with my maternal cousins.  In middle and senior school, I played zonal badminton and TT for my school.  A couple of years ago, in one of my former jobs, I played women singles to win a runners-up trophy.  And, I had not played in decades.  🙂

I taught my husband a card game, sweep.  Big mistake!  I never won a single game thereafter.  Our favourite was scrabble.  On good, slow evenings, with no temporary duties, no morning flying, no mess parties etc., we would sit and play.  Strange for a young couple, but those evenings formed a part of reminiscences of those cherished times spent together.  I still have that twenty five year old scrabble board with all the coins intact, and we still sit down, my daughter, son, and me, and play sometimes.

My son loves to play a game of bluff with cards.  In addition, we enjoy playing Uno, Jenga, tumbling monkeys, and cluedo.  We have fooled many unsuspecting guests and cousins into playing the game of cluedo on their visits.

My next instalment of flashback will bring some more from my memoir.

||Sarvam Sri Krishna Arpanamastu||

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