Saturday, January 05, 2008

Visa Master

I had not heard of the Visa God of Hyderabad, before I saw this link to an article in WSJ. An extract:.

...., technical colleges sprouted up in the city's outskirts near Mr. Gopala Krishna's temple. Students started trickling by on their way home from school; many complained about their failed attempts to secure U.S. visas. That gave the priest an idea to sell the students on the deity by giving him a new persona, "Visa God." Mr. Gopala Krishna counseled the students in English, then told them to walk around the temple 11 times to get their wish. "I used to say, 'Go, this time you'll get it,'" he recalls.

Soon, Mr. Gopala Krishna started seeing dozens -- then hundreds -- of new visitors a day. In 2005, some local newspapers wrote about the Visa God, just as new U.S. visa restrictions were taking a toll. Mr. Gopala Krishna and his relatives also launched a Web site and a newsletter called Voice of Temples, with features like a primer of sample prayers for help in visa interviews.

Of course, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to us. Nothing ever happens in India without a religious ritual preceding and/or succeeding it. I am sure even the scientists at SHAR Space Centre consult astrologers before fixing the time of any launch. No design of any manufacturing facility or power plant in India is finalized without being cleared by experts on Vaastu Sastra. Religion, ritual, superstition, science and life are all rolled into a seamless, homogenous blurred reality..

In fact, we have been in this religious trance for several centuries, as Naipaul points out in his book, “ Area of darkness” that he wrote after visiting India for the first time in 1964. He says that it is just as well that Indians did not know or care too much about their history as they would not be able to bear to hear the terrible truth.

There was a glorious past all right, but that was over by the 10th century. Later, when the conquerors arrived from the west, we chose to go into our religious trance (which was the cause and which was the effect can be debated) and, except for sporadic and token protests, remained unconcerned about who the ruler was. Though their intentions were not altruistic, it required the British to partially wake us from the stupor. As some commentators point out, the importance of the year 1857 did not stem out of the Mutiny alone; it was also the year when the three Universities of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta were formed. Enrolment of Indians and the consequent awareness it created led to the first pan-Indian calls for Swaraj.

Among the first generation of Indians to be educated, many could not come to terms with the dichotomy created by scientific facts on the one hand and religious beliefs on the other. The story of Ramunajam, the mathematician, is an illustration. Though the exposure to and the passion for the subject pulled him to England, he credited his acumen to the goddess Namagiri and continued to believe that he was merely an instrument to demonstrate her powers. In his biography of Ramanujam titled, “The man who knew infinity”, Robert Kanigel narrates several instances where Ramanujam was ‘haunted’ by what he thought were the visions of the goddess, that often disrupted the flow of his work.

Nothing has changed today, but we are more comfortable in confronting the dichotomy. It doesn’t strike us as funny that we should start a Research Institute that would seek out facts based on scientific rigour and methods, yet will carefully avoid the Rahukala while inaugurating the facility. Sophisticated fire alarms are installed in modern buildings, but are de-activated on Friday afternoons, when the weekly puja takes place.

So, if a student of engineering and an IT professional see nothing irrational in invoking the blessings of the Visa God, before going to the US consulate, should we be surprised?.


Anonymous said...

Hi Raj
A blog right in my alley - an India Centric blog, not too intellectual, and a discussion about the rational and irrational. Humourous. You need not title it 'boring'.

Revathi said...

Before I comment further, I am going to read that biography.

Raj said...

sankar, I get it. The formula is- India, no-intellectual-pretensions.... thanks

revathi : If you are talking about "The Man who knew infinity", it is an extremely well-researched and interesting book. Do read it.

dipali said...

What a way to go, via Visa God!
Brilliant, aren't we?

Anonymous said...

yeh the formula that seems to tickle those grey cells in my .... I will leave it for you to decide what to call that thing in my head. However, I am sure that you will and should dish out the brainy stuff to ensure that you not only keep your brains ticking, but also create the halo, by being an intellectually superior being. You know the stuff in Tamizh about "Man Half Dress Half". I had a teacher who used to say 'God makes Man Tailor makes a Gentleman'

Anonymous said...

Nice post. I have blogged about the visa God too..

Revathi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Raj said...

dipali, yes, For Visa there is a God. For everything else, there is Mastercard.

lekhni : Thanks, read your post too.

Revathi said...

@ ur leisure:

Raj said...

revathi, I read your post. Tried to leave a comment, but was getting error messages.

I read the book many years back and enjoyed it. Gives a rare insight into Ramnujam's personality

Revathi said...

Your comment got saved and was in moderation queue. Thanks a lot. I have blogrolled your nice blog.