Published on August 18, 2013, in Mid-day.
These thoughts rambled through my mind as the same voice sold me noodles, cement, tourism and charity. These thoughts rambled through my mind as I saw aging superstars cling on to their taut skins and lost youth.
In prakriti (nature), everything matters. Every living creature is unique. This uniqueness is celebrated. There is a place for everything and everything has a place. Depending on an animal’s physical characteristic, hierarchies come into being: food chains of predators and prey, and pecking orders with alpha dominating and omegas submitting. The strong matters as it will survive; the weak matters because it enables others to survive.
That being so, no animal is nature’s favourite. No one is given special treatment. If the predator runs fast it catches the prey; if the prey runs fast it survives to live another day. The day the alpha becomes weak, the beta challenges and overthrows him. Nature’s hierarchies are not permanent. There is a constant flux where nothing is ever guaranteed.
The human eye qualifies the dominant alpha as privileged. It is a cultural qualification, not a natural one. The human gaze sees nature as unfair as it favors the strong over the weak. Culture seeks to create a fairer world where the weak are favoured too. But sanskriti (cultural/social reality) cannot control brahmanda (individual imagined reality).
Every individual is a Brahma who wants to feel special. Even if he does not wish to dominate anyone else, he wishes to be recognized for his difference. He may be qualitatively different from another or simply quantitatively; the difference may be objectively measurable or existing only in his imagination. But these differences matter.
That is why in Hinduism there are many deities: each with different characteristics. One is constantly told that all gods are the same, that they are different manifestations of the same truth, yet each deity has very specific offerings: a particular kind of leaf and a specific kind of food: Shiva is offered bilva leaves, raw milk and uncooked food, while Krishna is offered tulsi leaves, butter and food prepared with jaggery and ghee. It is not efficient but it is very effective as the deity’s uniqueness is acknowledged.
That no deity can exist without an ecosystem of consorts, children, servants, assistants, friends, plants, animals and minerals is a reminder that nothing exists in isolation. We are part of a web, and depending on the context, one deity becomes more important than the other, more significant that others, but only until the context lasts. Eventually all gods have to go away, thrown into the water at the end of the puja, a ritual known as visarjan, until they are needed once again.
While the idea of being acknowledged for who we are appeals to us, the idea of being valued only as long as a context lasts disturbs us. We Brahmas want to feel more significant than others, at all times, forever. That is why we establish society and culture. That is why we do business, or refuse to retire finding fabulous rational reasons to defend our decisions, or work hard at films that ensure we are superstar number 1, who can still, despite geriatric progression, rake in much more than 100 crores over one weekend.