Monday, October 17, 2005

A visit to the barber

From Out of butter and water: the Hindu creation by Sudhanva Deshpande

To the extent that India is still a predominantly agricultural society, these festivals, and the various rituals that go with them, are an organic part of people’s lives, and not just corporate inducements to an urban elite to consume more and more in the globalized marketplace. Yet, since these festivals and rituals have actually evolved over a very long period of time, they are now most often taken for granted; like the self-existent creator, they just exist, with neither beginning nor end. For most practitioners of these rituals, much of the original meaning is either unimportant, or simply lost under centuries of cultural sedimentation.

Yet ideas persist over centuries and pop up at you when you least expect them. Last week, I needed a haircut, and so I went to the barber who has performed this service since I was about ten. It is a veritable ritual, evolved over two decades or so. It begins with his magnanimously offering me tea, and ends with his never returning change. In between, he asks about my family, I about his; he checks if I am still off smoking, I if he is off drink. Through all this, of course, we discuss politics, sports, and anything else of topical interest. This time, I asked him how he was told the universe came into being. He laughed, snipped off a tuft of hair on my forehead, and said: “Who knows how all this was created? Who was around to see? Even the gods were born after something existed, so who can tell what happened when nothing existed?”

My barber has not read the Rig Veda. But if he were to, some day, he will be struck by the following hymn:
Then even nothingness was not, nor existence.
There was no air then, nor the heavens beyond it.
Who covered it? Where was it? In whose keeping?
Was there then cosmic water, in depths unfathomed?
But, after all, who knows, and who can say,
Whence it all came, and how creation happened?
The gods themselves are later than creation,
So who knows truly whence it has arisen?
(Rig Veda, X, 129)


Sketchy Self said...

to quote aakarsh, "goose-bumps!" :D

Someone there said...

just wanna say hi! :)

Aakarsh said...

ok..finally an update! maan. the rigveda sloka is amzing..