Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Hey, I like my last name!"

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I know I mentioned this in my earlier post, but I didn't get to talk about what I really wanted to talk about there. As usual, I went off on a tangent - the whole theology thing was supposed to be covered in two lines - and I was forced to break this out into a new post for the sake of readability.

What I'd wanted to talk about was the whole issue of a woman being forced to change her last name after marriage. 'Forced' may not be the right word to use because I'm not sure if this system is backed by law. Nevertheless, it is overwhelmingly prevalent everywhere in the world, and saying there's no choice at all is a fair approximation.

In a world where the curse of patriarchy is slowly being weeded out, I'm hopeful this practice will soon take its rightful place in the rubbish heap, because it's plain silly. Just take a step back and review it for a second. Forget ritual, forget tradition, forget the comfort of doing something everyone else is doing. I think you'll see it for what it is. Inanity wrapped in prejudice wrapped in tradition.

Simply doing away with the system is unhelpful, because the concept of a family name itself is quite sound. I think it makes perfect sense to have a unique name to identify all members of a family. If the father's name won't do, how do you get yourself one? I see Occam smiling, because the answer borders on the obvious. Make a new one. Since we all love ritual, we can have a naming ceremony, similar to the one that happens when a baby's born, to choose a family name some time after marriage.

Philip K. Dick

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Following a link from Sharkey’s blog roll, I came across this blog post. I think it’s impossible to be an author and not have some traces of your philosophy seeping into your characters. Once you accept this premise, you start seeing the author in everything the characters say. And if what the characters are saying is something you strongly disagree with, no matter how good the story or the presentation may be, you can’t go through with reading the book. This seems like a major hurdle to picking up areading habit, but for one thing: there are few things I reject off-hand, very few things that I feel don’t deserve even the slightest amount of ponder-time.

Theology is one such thing. By a nitpicker’s lexicon, theology is just the study of theistic thought. But like all definitions that try to accommodate every one of those darned hair-splitters, it’s almost never used in that sense. The theology I’m talking about assumes Scripture to be literally true, and then weaves a rich science around that assumption. Don’t think I’m being prejudiced by picking a bone exclusively with Christian theology: every religion’s theology is equally meaningless in my eyes - rendered inconsequential by its necessary narrow-mindedness.  Perhaps a good analogy would be a hypothetical manual on surviving UFO abductions – such a text does not dispute the veracity of an abduction claim, it takes it as axiom; and then goes on to compile a very scientific literature on ways to extricate yourself from one. Funny, you’d say, but harmless, right? Humourlessness, driven by an unshakeable conviction among its students that what they’re doing is changing the world, plagues theology, and that’s where the analogy breaks down.

What does theology have to do with novels? Philip K. Dick. A man who gathered little or no recognition in his lifetime is today considered one of the greats of SF. As an SF connoisseur myself, I felt it would be a shame if I didn’t pick up at least one of his books. And so I did, and I was repulsed. Dick’s stories are set in worlds where Christian theology is not just another theology – it’s the only one, and more irritatingly, a strong conviction is foisted on you, and I can’t help but trace it to the author, that it’s right. I guess I deserve a mild amount of credit, because despite the theological literalism that dripped from every page, I not only finished that novel, but having talked myself into giving Dick another chance, I picked up another one. I’m labouring through ‘The Divine Invasion’ right now. It has a stunning premise, and Dick is one hell of a story teller, but it’ll take more than that to overcome that chitinous layer of parochialism I can’t seem to scratch away.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fight Noise With Heavy Metal

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You might not know this but I'm afraid of balloons. Deadly scared. The fear that any given balloon will burst at any given time is so overwhelming that I'm paralyzed into a cycle of recursive fretting -  sweating cold and chewing off my fingernails. It's probably an extension of the same hypersensitivity, but I simply cannot stand the sound of pressure cookers hissing either. As soon as the tell tale whine of an impending whistle hits my ears, I bolt to the furthest floor I can go, as fast I can.

Now with that introduction, and a little extrapolation, you can maybe imagine how much I've grown to dread Deepavali. Hold! Your task is not yet done. Take that visualization, multiply the agony thousandfold, and that's how poor old dogs feel during our favourite noise festival. My pet dog Betty is racked by a never-ending paroxysm of shivers throughout the two or three nights of celebration. There's a wild look in her eye and she barely recognizes us anymore. She tries to hide under sofas and beds, inside the refrigerator and inside my wardrobe but there's no escaping the torture. It's scary. I dispensed with the noisy firecrackers a long time ago ( I didn't need any persuading!) but there's only so much I can ask my neighbours to do. (You! Cut down on the bombs. Please.)

That's when I discovered something. Betty is completely at ease in my room even during the worst of the explosions. The reason? Heavy metal therapy. People who know of my balloon-phobia have often asked me how in the world I can be a fan of heavy metal. I think it has something to do with a low tolerance for sharp, concussive sounds versus a higher tolerance for loud, but uniform sounds. She's doesn't bat an eyelid, sleeping peacefully, in the middle of very loud grindcore blasting from the speakers a few feet away. Of course, the heavy metal cleanly masks the sounds of all the firecrackers going off in the background. Peace.