Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Hyderabad, India, September 2009

A snapshot of Hyderabad, India, September 2009:

A woman walks across the road in Hyderabad.

A young man selling vegetables.

The pavement is so busy, it is actually easier to walk on the road!

Shoppers in Hyderabad.

Taking it easy!

Shop window.
Roof top view of the city.
An English Methodist Church in Hyderabad.
Manequins in a shop window modelling long kurtas.

A very blurry picture of women celebrating the festival of Durga, the Hindu Goddess of power. You can't really see in this picture, but they were letting floating candles drift out on to the lake.


Outside the Vivekananda Institute of Human Excellence. I can tell you what I was briefly told about Swami Vivekananda. Swami Vivekananda was a liberal Hindu who revived Hinduism at the end of the 19th century in a way that appealed to the secular mind and to Hindus who felt oppressed by the caste system. He was also a strong advocate of interfaith relations, believing that one faith alone could not lead to the truth. However, his spirtual philosophy was intellectual and so it did not catch on in the mainstream. I bought a couple of his quote books for a few rupees at a store outside the Institute.

Religious leaders from different faiths talk about overcoming violence and making peace in the world at the Vivekananda Institute in Hyderabad.

The guy in the orange is Swami Srikanthananda. He expressed some wonderful ideas: "Religion is realisation, it is experience, it is not only theory." He also repeated a Vivekananda quote: "Religion is the manifestation of the Divinity already in man." And some other powerful stuff: "When we try to limit God, we become enemies."

Another one of Swami Srikanthananda's beliefs which resonated with me was this: "It is a sin to say we are all sinners. We are all divine souls." It made me think about Christianity, which has strong ideas about sin. I think one of the helpful things about Christians recognising "sin" (or "wrong doing", as I prefer to say) is that it allows injustice to be recognsied and acted upon. I believe passionately that social justice falls within the ambit of religion and many denominations of Christianity advocate this too (Methodism, for example). Something that can happen within Christianity is the glorification of suffering. I, along with others, had to bite my tongue as I listened to a sermon by a preacher doing just that to Christian Pano Dalits and Kandho tribals in Kandhamal, all of whom had lost their homes and many of whom had lost loved-ones following persecution by Hindu fundamentalists in August last year. Hearing that St Paul became a Saint after his head was chopped off just made me feel exasperated. However, many Christians will tell you that Christianity is not about the glorification of suffering.

I also listened to a stirring speech on peace by a Brahma Kumaris follower called Sister Kanti. She said: " All that I create carries some energy, so if I create a peaceful thought, then I create peaceful energy." The idea is that peace starts with a peaceful thought. So simple and so true. She recommended meditating on peace for 15 minutes every morning. The meditation would go like this: "I am a peaceful soul, happiness is within me, I do not search for anything outside myself."

Sister Kanti also said that long, long ago, there was a world that was 100 per cent peaceful and that we have "come down" from this time and now hope to return there. If this is "devolution", then I am prepared to consider it...

...I asked Swami Srikanthanandra when he believed the time would come to go back to this world of 100 per cent peace. He said that that place was within me, as it was within everyone.

Agra, India, September 2009.

A snapshot of Agra, India, September 2009:

A man with a monkey on a lead on the road to Agra from Delhi. Women preparing and selling vegetables in Agra.

Taj Mahal, Agra. I was surprised that most of the visitors were actually large groups of Indian boys armed with cameras who never tired of asking for a photograph... and another one... and just one more....... The fountains of the Taj Mahal.

We had to walk barefoot around the Taj. High on the heat from the sun and the burning from the marble underfoot, I saw the incarnation of love above the tomb... I traced my hand along the white marble wall and not a trace of dust came off on my palm.

Agra town shop.
Street sellers on the road leading up to the Taj Mahal. If you want to experience the hard sell, this is the place to go!

Delhi, India, September 2009

A snapshot of Delhi, September 2009:

Children play on the street in Delhi.A colourful street store.Street market, Delhi.

Every van was colourful.A cobra with a snake charmer.

A typical auto rickshaw.

Delhi is hosting the Common Wealth Games next year.

A dusty highway in Delhi.

Islamic Centre in Delhi.

"The Price of Freedom is Responsibility" - Discuss!

Social activists from high-profile NGOs in Delhi talk about the situation for women in India.

India - Orissa One Year On

I have just come back from India where I have been reporting on the continuing existence of the caste system (which is legally abolished but still practised) and the situation for people in Orissa whose lives were turned upside down when fundamentalists went on a murderous rampage in August last year. I will post a link to the reports once they are published. For now, here are a few of my photos from Orissa.
The woman wearing glasses and a creamy coloured kurta is Rama Hansraj, a relief worker working with Dalits (the Untouchable, discriminated outcast in India) and Adivasis (tribal people considered even lower on the pecking order than Dalits, according to the caste system). She is standing with displaced villagers from the Kando tribe and Pano Dalits in Kandhamal, Orissa. In the background are the first signs of the infrastructure for a new village, which has recently been legally demarcated. Rama (a Dalit herself) is working for a Catholic relief fund - not because she is a Catholic, but because this is the best way she can help her people. She is truely amazing.

The Kandho and Pano people of Kandhamal, Orissa, perform a traditonal honary welcome with singing and dancing. A man welcomes us at one of the handful of remaining relief camps in Kandhamal, Orissa. All the government-run camps have closed (there were around 17 camps in Kandhamal this time last year). I heard horror stories about the squalor in the State-provided camps. Many people were forced to flee, not only their burning homes, but also the camps. This camp was aided by the Church. A woman at the same relief camp as above.

Kandho and Pano displaced villagers tell of what happened to them at the end of August last year. Many lost loved-ones and 5,000 homes across Orissa were burned. The violence was started after a hard-line, anti-Christian Hindu leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati , was murdered by Maoists, some of them Christian. Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati was the leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad party. Hindu fundamentalists reacted by persecuating Christians.

Children at the Happy Valley Children's Home in Kandhamal, Orissa. Happy Valley Children's Home helped with the relief effort in the area, providing food and clothes to refugees and finding them shelter. A Hindu girl - probably on her way to dance at a wedding - spotted on the road to Berhampur, Orissa. On the back of the auto rickshaw that the beautifully painted Hindu girl was travelling in, a boy clings on for a ride.Traffic on the road from Bhubaneswar to Berhampur, Orissa.

Crab and prawn fishing are an important export from Chilika Lake, the largest lake in Orissa.
The green and hilly landscape of Orissa, a north eastern state of India (there are 28 states in India).

Thursday, 17 September 2009

The Atheist's Guide to Christmas

My colleague, Anna Drew, received a gift copy of comedian and Guardian newspaper columnist Ariane Sherine’s book “The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas” today. This is because Anna and Ariane went for coffee months ago to chat about the Atheist Bus Campaign: (Scroll down to January 6, 2009, to listen to Anna and Ariane.)

(Ariane thanked Anna for being so lovely about the campaign in a message accompanying the book.) Judging from Ariane’s Twitter feed today, lots of others have received her book too (well, the book she has edited).

I have just read the “Welcome to this book” page which includes a classic joke about agnostics: “(In this book there are) an undecided number of jokes about agnostics (we wanted to write some, but we weren’t sure, and then we thought we might, but we weren’t certain.* For the purpose of this Christmas book, they should henceforth be known as ‘eggnostics’.)”

In The God Delusion, Professor Richard Dawkins actually reserves his greatest contempt for agnostics.

Nevermind the atheists - if there is any group that is not piping up and organising itself, it is the agnostics. Someone really should put the backbone back into agnosticism. I am just too busy at the moment.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

The September Issue

If Grace Coddington were the editor of American Vogue (as well as being its creative director) it would be a more interesting and beautiful magazine.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Tori Amos - Sinful Attraction Tour

I’m expecting nothing short of a religious experience at tonight’s Tori Amos gig at Hammersmith Apollo. No, really, I am just expecting something spiritual. Actually, what I am honestly expecting is a cross between enlightenment and a refreshed perspective on sexual politics. In fact, all I am really hoping for is a good time.


Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Elsa Schiaparelli

What a cruel picture of Elsa Schiaparelli wearing a lopsided witch’s hat above copy describing her feud with Coco Chanel in today’s Telegraph:

If they were kinder, they would have used this one:

Wonderful. Let’s have a white, silk turban revival.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Corporate Commitments to Carbon Cuts

Yesterday I was William Donaldson ( and I managed to get The Guardian to publish one of my Henry Root letters, which appears in the paper today :)

Seriously though, here is a letter in The Guardian today by Revd Dr Martyn Atkins: (It is the third letter you come across scrolling down the page.)

While I remember The Henry Root Letters, one of the features I recall about Diplo Magazine (which went bust because the bright young things never did anything about advertising) was its commitment to republishing them.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Damien Hirst and Cartrain

I have a piece of advice for the 17-year-old graffiti artist, Cartrain, who crossed boundaries to take on Damien Hirst.

(Here is the story in today's Independent:

In a game of David and Goliath, Goliath always wins.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Graffiti Art

Art critic Brian Sewell has made my blood boil, which he might think is a compliment, but it really isn’t meant to be.

Here he is in The Guardian today proclaiming his superiority over everyone else’s idiocy: “The two words ‘graffiti’ and ‘art’ should never be put together,” he scoffs. “The public doesn’t know good from bad. For this city (Bristol) to be guided by the opinion of people who don’t know anything about art is lunacy. It doesn’t matter if they (the public) like it. It will result in the proliferation of entirely random decoration, for want of a better word... Any fool who can put paint on sculpture or turn a cardboard box into a sculpture is lauded. Banksy should have been put down at birth. It’s no good as art, drawing or painting. His work has no virtue. It’s merely the sheer scale of his impudence that has given him so much publicity.”

First of all, not all modern art is lauded. Secondly, spray can art is entirely different to conceptual “art”. Real graffiti art, as opposed to gangs who go round plastering their tags all over estates, is highly skilled. It involves vision, perspective, proportion and a good hand. There is bad graffiti art and good graffiti art. Sewell doesn’t like it because of its cultural associations.

Banksy is good art that Sewell doesn’t like. End of story.