Friday, December 31, 2004

More sufi rock ?

I was surfing channels a few minutes ago, and i caught a video on Indian MTV with the fairly startling image of a turbaned sikh male singer, dressed all in white, acoustic guitar in hand, in the midst of the crowds on indian streets. Turns out he is Rabbi Shergill and the song is "Bulla Ke Jana Main Kaun"["Bulla I don't know who i am"?.. my punjabi is a little rusty ;)]. And the song is the usual warm, fuzzy sufi stuff about humanity and God (which always works on me). If this chat site is correct, the words are by Pir Bulleh Shah (familiar to me from 'Bulleya' on Junoon's Parvaaz). I found an interesting article in Tehelka (of all places!) in which Minty Tejpal (brother of, more famous, Tarun) talks of how Rabbi had trouble getting a record deal and the Tehelka folks were among his first supporters. I'm looking forward to adding his CD to my collection of sufi rock/pop (currently 3 Junoon CDs strong).

Speaking of Junoon, Salman Ahmad in a Fresh Air interview from many years ago said an interesting thing about fusing 'western' and 'eastern' music. He said that the difference between Junoon beats and regular rock beats is that their beats were 'side-to-side', while regular rock beats were 'up-and-down'. In most rock concerts you'll find people moving their heads up and down, but the syncopation(?) in 'eastern' beats makes listeners move their heads from side to side. I thought that was an interesting way to put it.

UPDATE : Link to Phat-Phish Records and their page on Rabbi.


Tuesday, December 28, 2004


The reported Tsunami death toll is rising by 1000s every hour --- they say it might hit 50,000 (if it hasn't already). The tamilnadu coast (the closest point of which is less than 150km from where i sit right now) has been badly hit. There was a pretty dramatic 'before' and 'after' picture shot by a vacationer Naresh Lalvani in 'The Hindu' today. My family has spent many previous winter vacations in a mamallapuram beach resort much like this one.

The easiest thing to do at a time like this is to give money. And money will probably go a considerable way to provide relief. But with the scores of 'relief funds' available, it's not easy to know which one to give to. Knowing how the government works here, I suspect that giving to govt. funds such as the Prime Minister's Relief Fund is probably not the best option. Then there are funds run by media outlets. I've already heard from my two biggest sources of news at the moment --- NDTV (which is doing a pretty decent job of upto the minute reporting) and the Hindu. But since i don't know of their track record in relief work i'm not sure i should donate to them. Finally there are the traditional NGOs - the Red Cross, Oxfam, World Vision and (a smaller one that i just heard of via email) AID India. A cursory examination of these options suggests to me that World Vision might be a good option because of their many decades of experience in relief, their large size (and, presumably, resources), their location close to the worst-hit areas (Kodambakkam, Chennai) and their financial accountability. Maybe their media presence is no reflection of their competence and they're just good at PR, but they managed to make their way into an NDTV news story on the relief operation in Machilipatnam, put out an ad in today's paper, and be interviewed by Renee Montagne on NPR. One objection i have with them is that while their website says that they are 'Christian relief and development organization serving the poor from all castes and religions in India for over 40 years' their ad in today's paper (which is sure to be seen by a lot more ppl) makes no mention of the Christian bit. Maybe they think a little falseness in advertising (or perhaps 'partial-truthfulness') will help them raise more funds.

UPDATE : A blog devoted to Tsunami Relief ---


Saturday, December 25, 2004

What I didn't learn in Sunday School

I've been catching up on some reading this winter break. The first book down is Bart Ehrman's "Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew". I first heard about it some months ago when Ehrman, a theologian at UNC, was interviewed on Fresh Air.

I read the book on the 20hr-odd journey from ORD to MAA (but skipped some chapters to get to the good parts... so excuse me if i've got some of his ideas wrong). He says that the beliefs that we know as core christian ones (the stuff that's in the nicene creed for eg. --- the trinity, the divinity of christ, belief in the resurrection, etc.) are the results of theological battles that were won and lost not necessarily purely on the strength of the ideas. (We're talking about the first couple of centuries here... way before the nestorian controversy etc.) Early christians came up with widely-varying explanations to try and explain/reconcile the various sayings of Jesus, the facts of his death, his position within the jewish tradition etc. And in order to perpetuate their ideas they resorted to some heavy-handed, less-than-noble methods including slandering the opposition and forging documents (including, possibly, some that made it into the New Testament!). And though the eventual winners of the debates (the "proto-orthodox") that wrote the official history (through church historians like Eusebius) made it seem like their ideas were always predominant, in reality ideas that we know today as heresies had a much larger following than previously thought.

Though i found the book very informative, theological-historical research involves more guess-work and conjecture than i would like. There seems a little too much resolution by democracy ("most experts agree"), rather than strong evidence, leaving too much room for ideologically-driven conclusions. Maybe all historical research is like that... I'm probably wishing for too much.

One of the early controversies was about how exactly old jewish practices fit into the new religion: did men still need to circumcised ? Paul was a vocal opponent of the practice. Ehrman writes

His letter to the Galations seethes with white-hot anger. His opponents are false teachers who stand under God's curse. They have "bewitched" their hearers. Those who follow their instructions will lose their salvation. Paul hopes that when they themselves are circumcised the knife slips and they castrate themselves (Gal 1:6-9; 3:1-5; 5:2-4,12)
I don't remember hearing that in sunday school... should've paid more attention.