Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Best of India 2010

The following slideshow comprises of shots from my travels around India during the summer of 2010. The architecture of the Arabo-Persian Mughal Empire, the intricate South Indian Dravidians, as well as more modern aspects of this quickly developing nation inspire this set of photographs.
Sites featured include Bangalore, Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Hyderabad, Kochin, and Chennai. 

My Atheism in a Snapshot

I sit at a plastic table draped with a clear, disposable table cloth wearing an intricate, traditional Indian kurta. Members of the local Indian community are assembled in a large one- story house; a Hindu house of worship, a temple, a mandir. The crux of the vibrant – and noisy – gathering is the inauguration of the temple. I chat with the other teenagers about the latest Bollywood films, and we listen to music on our iPods. As we debate over which song to listen to, an auntie calls on all the children to enter the temple and pray. The train of children leaves the table to pray. I do not. I do not believe in God.

Being a minority is difficult; being a minority within a minority is a struggle. I realize that this setback does not have an easy resolution, but it begs for gradual change – a change that I must effectuate. Society views atheists as subordinate, lifeless, vulgar, and lacking a sense of cultural roots. Atheists are typecast as the “druggie” on the street corner or the radical “commie” devoid of patriotism; I am neither. My ideal rests with the great figures of history, such as Jefferson and Nehru, both men of the highest caliber, yet non-theists. Yesterday, these men used their secular identities to unite vast populations under common values of integrity, liberty, justice, and democracy. They manifested the face of atheism that stands strong for conscience, for society, and for cooperation. Today, I challenge society's definition of the atheist; I dictate my own potential. I contribute to society a new perspective, complemented by modern progressivism and collaboration, ancient ethic and honor. I write my personal moral code – for myself, for today.

Some might consider my lack of faith, spirituality, and religion a quirk or even a vagary, but to me atheism is sensible and logical. The prevailing theory of fatalism which is present in all religions seems pointless and detracting from life. Through rejecting fatalism, I feel responsible for my own actions and am aware that any goals I set may be achieved through my own will and not that of any God's Providence. When I am successful, I commend only myself; when I fail, I censure only myself. I have always been a pragmatic person, challenging the various superstitions rooted in the Indian and Hindu cultures. I find reciting Sanskrit incantations for protection, consulting priests for a propitious wedding date, or adorning an amulet for good luck to be an unnecessary attempt to leave the real practicalities of the world behind. Rather than escape these practicalities, I prefer to work with them.

The surroundings are serene, and all I hear are the devotees chanting and bells ringing from the inner sanctum of the temple. I envision the women sari-clad, accompanied by their husbands and children, and the priests' voices crescendoing with the final, collective “Om.” As I wait for the worship to conclude, I reach for the latest edition of Newsweek. I find glaring at me in tight, black, bold font, the headline: “Out, Out Damned Atheists!”