Mumbai – running towards the explosion!

No religion which is narrow and which cannot satisfy the test of reason, will survive the coming reconstruction of society in which the values will have changed and character, not possession of wealth, title or birth will be the test of merit. – Mahatma Gadhi

In my youth religion shone brightly with non-violence. The religion of Jesus preached by my father – Jesus, who told Peter to put down his sword, who turned the other cheek, who reminded us of the commandment: “thou shalt not kill.” And the religion of Martin Luther King who lead a non-violent revolution that has born fruit this year in the rise of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States. And the broad, encompassing faith of Mahatma Gandhi who lead all of India non-violently out of the bondage of colonialism. That was beautiful, that was different, that was then – not now.

Now the religion that walks the streets – makes the news – is the religion of hate and violence. It is not the faith of my father. Christianity in the US now spawns the ugliest of politicians and preachers, trading on fear and tribalism; generating fear’s child, hatred, and fear’s grandchild, violence. I find myself cursing Christians more often these days than blessing them, for the most noisy of them, like Bush and Palin and a slew of wealthy, tv-star preachers, feed on the anti-life forces while drawing the protective cloak of Christianity about them. And in the old worlds – the places where it all started – the most visible Jews, Muslims, and Hindus are now on the side of violence, rallying the old against the new in the name of false gods – not that the Christian god, nor Muslim god, nor Jewish god, nor Hindu gods are false – but the new face of religion hides behind these gods, denying them while claiming allegiance.

I knew that was what was at work when I first heard of the Mumbai bombings. It is confirmed today, in a wonderful piece done by an Indian/American journalism professor and writer, Suketu Mehta, in the New York Times. He has both explanations and solutions. He is the face of tomorrow turned towards yesterday in disgust and outrage.

In the Bombay I grew up in, your religion was a personal eccentricity, like a hairstyle. In my school, you were denominated by which cricketer or Bollywood star you worshiped, not which prophet. In today’s Mumbai, things have changed. Hindu and Muslim demagogues want the mobs to come out again in the streets, and slaughter one another in the name of God. They want India and Pakistan to go to war. They want Indian Muslims to be expelled. They want India to get out of Kashmir. They want mosques torn down. They want temples bombed.

He goes on to describe a Mumbai built on “transaction” – on money and glitter and fame and dreams – what many would call fantasies – more false gods.

Just as cinema is a mass dream of the audience, Mumbai is a mass dream of the peoples of South Asia. Bollywood movies are the most popular form of entertainment across the subcontinent. Through them, every Pakistani and Bangladeshi is familiar with the wedding-cake architecture of the Taj and the arc of the Gateway of India, symbols of the city that gives the industry its name. It is no wonder that one of the first things the Taliban did upon entering Kabul was to shut down the Bollywood video rental stores.

Oh I understand the frustration of the faithful with the shallowness of Bollywood – and Hollywood. Religion could have an answer to that – an answer that would be heard. We heard that answer half a century ago in India and the US. But now the answer is much different, much uglier. As I pondered this an image popped into my head of Snoopy doing his happy dance.


Only these Snoopy’s weren’t dancing in the joyful gleam of a child’s eyes – they were dancing like so many tin ducks in a carnival shooting gallery and the shooters were the religious fanatics in jeans and t-shirts who climbed out of the boats and methodically – with malice and forethought – slaughtered the dancers in Mumbai.

Yes, Snoopy can be simplistic and shallow, as can the fantasies of modern society – sophisticated, shallow, money-grubbing – obsessed with appearance, with sex, with fame, and with money. Snoopy, too, can turn ugly. But in the end, he is mostly harmless silliness. And in the best of times he is LIFE in huge letters, flashing across the screen in unbridled exuberance and lifting us all up. Life is a dance – a constantly moving, shifting, changing pattern – and as such a joy. Unless you fear change. Then you want to freeze it. And in the name of the Lord of the Dance, you invoke death. And that’s what these religious fanatics – these people who view themselves holier than the rest of us, who want to impose their values on us, and feel threatened by joy – these sad, sick, hateful, and violent people.

In such a world I choose life – even shallow, vain, grasping, and greedy life – over the mindless, souless automatons who would cut it down.

I like Suketu Mehta’s answer to all this. He concludes:

But the best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever. Dream of making a good home for all Mumbaikars, not just the denizens of $500-a-night hotel rooms. Dream not just of Bollywood stars like Aishwarya Rai or Shah Rukh Khan, but of clean running water, humane mass transit, better toilets, a responsive government. Make a killing not in God’s name but in the stock market, and then turn up the forbidden music and dance; work hard and party harder.

If the rest of the world wants to help, it should run toward the explosion. It should fly to Mumbai, and spend money. Where else are you going to be safe? New York? London? Madrid?

So I’m booking flights to Mumbai. I’m going to go get a beer at the Leopold, stroll over to the Taj for samosas at the Sea Lounge, and watch a Bollywood movie at the Metro. Stimulus doesn’t have to be just economic.

Yes – have the courage to run towards the explosion, the courage to live!