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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XVIII No. 25, april 16-30, 2009
Short 'N' Snappy

Loudly calling the Lord

The Man from Madras Musings is as religious as they come and when young was taught that religion was a matter of personal faith and choice. And, therefore, if you felt like praying, it was best done within yourself. But these are changing times and MMM realises that in today’s environment just about ­everyone, irrespective of religion, caste, creed or sex (and we are truly secular here), wants to be as loud as possible when it comes to calling out to the Lord (or Lady, for who knows?). And what better way to do this than by using modern technology?

Take the cell-phone for instance. The other day, MMM called someone and he almost rang off, for on connecting the first thing he heard was an automated voice in the most affected Tamil telling him that if he liked the song that he was about to hear, it was his for the payment of a small fee, or words to that effect. Curiosity made MMM hold on and what should come on but a Sanskrit hymn! By which time the person whom MMM had called answered the phone and that was that. On asking about his choice of ring tone (for that, MMM understands, is the correct term), MMM’s interlocutor said that he wanted to spread the good message around and so he had selected it. Did the package include the most affected voice (rather ironically in advertising parlance this is called the Voice of God), a kind of voice which you would associate with film song programmes on television where viewers call in for their favourite numbers? About that MMM’s friend had no clue. But then who said that the path to God (dess) was easy? If you want the hymn, you also get the affected announcer. MMM ­believes that the correct term is “free add-on package”.

Leave aside the cell-phone. What about the buildings associated with religion? MMM (for here again we are secular) includes all types of religious buildings of every religion, sect, subsect and sub-subsect in this. All of them sport public address systems which blare prayers, songs and speeches at all times. And the smaller the structure, the larger its public address system. Those who live around these shrines have no choice but to begin, live through and end their day to music, such as it is. But then, have you reflected? High decibels mean high blood pressure and, therefore, are you not already on your way to God(dess)? One way or another?

And sometimes (or very often), the songs being played on the PA system are not necessarily religious. Having run out of its stock of devotional numbers, a shrine close to MMM’s residence simply connected to an FM station and the divinity inside the shrine was entertained to songs of a wide variety – love, lust, joy, sorrow, death and one even on the virtues of drinking (as extolled by a lovelorn hero – Health Ministry to please note), etc. And so the neighbourhood was thus entertained.

MMM wonders if a model code of conduct could be brought into effect like the Election Code which regulates the use of such public address systems by religious institutions. And unlike the election code, the one for religion ought to be in place at all times, not once in five years. But given our country where laws abound but implementation is virtually nonexistent, MMM is not very sanguine about such rules being followed.

The insides of the shrines are not free from noisy excrescences either. You have recorded hymns, chants and repeats of certain syllables ad nauseam. Whenever MMM goes to pray at such shrines, he gets a kind of nervous twitch every time the syllable is uttered, for he gets all keyed up waiting for the repeat of the same thing. He can focus on nothing else.

And lastly you have the horror of horrors. This is an automatic bell-chiming, drum beating arrangement which is tucked away in some recess in the shrine and becomes operative on the pressing of switch. On doing so it goes thud thud clang-thud thud clang-thud thud clang continuously. MMM had bitten his tongue violently on one occasion and suffered palpitations. The first time MMM heard it, he made a brave search for the contraption and found it in a loft in the shrine and below it, inscribed in large letters, was the name of the donor. MMM was surprised that such a man was allowed to remain at large and what’s more would want to take credit for perpetrating such horrific punishment on mankind. In our city, it would appear that those who wish to worship in peace and quiet are a minority (again this term does not mean any individual community, but only denotes a small group of people who are not, er, in a majority).

Homes for the Lord

The Man from Madras Musings is aware that wayside shrines (once again of all religions) are an accepted part of life in this, our city. And the tendency to build a particular type of shrine at the intersection of three roads has been a part of our psyche for long. Such shrines are meant to ward off evil and MMM is prepared to live with that. What really gets MMM’s goat (and here again, MMM would like to point out that he is a vegetarian) is that these shrines sooner or later acquire what may loosely be termed a parish of sorts (once again, let MMM point out here that we are secular and the term is only being used as describing a congregation of the faithful) and the members of the parish (see clarification above on what this term means) become ambitious. They feel that their God(dess)/deity/totem or whatever should not be located beneath a mere tree, open to the elements. So what they do is to build a shrine. To begin with, the shrine is small and occupies a part of the pavement. Then, rather like the camel and the Arab, the shrine slowly expands. It acquires a granite platform, a spire/dome/tower and soon the space for pedestrians has vanished, crushed under the ambitious feet of the faithful. Soon it is time for the tree to call it quits, for who can tolerate bird droppings on the holiest of the holies? And so the tree is removed and the spire/dome/tower grows taller. Shortly after this it becomes regular practice to block the street for festivals connected with the deity/holy personage worshipped there. From here to a public address system that calls (or drives away) the faithful is but the next step. And before you know it, the area is cordoned off for VIPs to visit the place. All this goes on until, many years later, the Corporation wakes up suddenly and realises that the shrine is on poromboke land. There are calls for demolition, counter calls for maintaining status quo and, in short, a good time is had by all. And then, and if and only if, as MMM heard a tutor say during the only computer training class he attended, there is a political will, the shrine vanishes, deeply mourned by the parish (congregation of the faithful).


The Government is very seriously taking its job of fixing signboards and providing information on how to access various localities. But is it correct to have a sign painted in a subway on Mount Road that shows Parry’s Corner to the left and (hold your breath) Tiruchchirappalli on its right?



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