RATNA RAO SHEKAR writes from Hyderabad: It was with some disbelief recently that I read a news item about how you could go online and offer prayers to a deity in a Vishakapatnam temple. A soon as you logged on, a bell would be rung in the sanctum, and an aarti performed in your name! A government that is going increasingly hi-tech told us smugly that this facility would in time be extended to other temples in Dwaraka and Benaras!
In our connected world we have made many things easier for ourselves—and SMS and email messages have indeed made communication more convenient. But to assume that we could buy God’s grace through a computer seems a little too ludicrous.
We imagine we are so busy (perhaps in talking to stock brokers and real estate agents to see how much more money we can make) that even grace should be available to us without much exertion. There was a time when people saved for a lifetime and walked for days together to reach Kashi.
That was effort, but that’s another story.
People tell me I am retrograde. But, to me, few sensory experiences can be better than the smell of camphor, the crescendo of chants, and the metallic tone of a temple bell in the sanctum.
Computers have made us global. We now have encyclopaedias opening before us at the click of a button. But with all the technology, we seem to know less and less about the immediate world around us.
For instance, you would think that at the click of a button people at the American embassy would know who Prakash Amte was, and not create a fuss when he applies for a visa to visit their country. But when he goes to their consulate in Bombay he is questioned about his income; and when he confesses he does not ‘work’ for money, they press on, insisting he must have some source of income.
I know Prakash Amte (having met him on different occasions over the last 20 years) and can imagine how he must have squirmed with embarrassment even to admit that he receives an honorarium of Rs 3,000 for his work! Needless to say, his application was rejected with the remark that rules prevented them from giving visas to those with low incomes and weak social status!
Dr Prakash Amte from a low social status?
As the son of Baba Amte, he has spent his life in remote villages in Maharashtra, bringing medicine to the poorest tribals. He, and his wife, Mandakini, have made the kind of sacrifices that would bring tears to anyone who knows them. Instead of setting up medical practice in a city like most others, they chose to work with tribals who would otherwise have died of ill-health because they do not have the money or the means to seek medical help.
The US embassy subsequently realized their folly (after surfing the Net, I am sure) and gave the couple the visa. It really makes no difference to Prakash if he does not go to a country whose embassy cannot understand what it is to work for nothing (In America, you have to first build a business empire like Bill Gates, before you get into charity work!) But certainly the world should know that there are people in India who work for nothing, neither money nor public acclaim.
And in our arrogance we imagine we are god’s superior creation and therefore need to save the tigers. But if we shed our false postures we’d realize we too are only a minuscule part of the world we are trying to save. By saving the tiger and everything else around us we would redeem ourselves finally!
Ratna Rao Shekar is editor of Housecalls, the journal for doctors published by Dr Reddy‘s Laboratories
Also read: Should we stop making donations to temples?