July 04, 2010

Where there's smoke

77 year-old lady I know, lives by herself in a fourth-floor flat. She has been unwell for a couple of days with an upset stomach and fever. This morning, she wakes to find smoke billowing through her flat. Coughing and panicked, she searches the flat to see what could be burning. Nothing. So what could be the cause?

A mother from the flat immediately above rings her bell and asks, "Is something burning in your flat? Because there's smoke coming into our flat on the fifth floor."

They look out of one of the windows and it seems the smoke is coming from the flat immediately below. People on the street below are stopping and pointing at the smoke.

The fourth-floor lady walks down and rings the bell. Young woman of the house opens the door and is barely visible, because the whole flat is hazy with smoke. "What's happening," asks the lady from the fourth floor, "what's causing the smoke? Is something burning?"

Comes the answer: "Puja".

In the third-floor flat, they are performing a puja, complete with a seriously smoky fire. A fire.

"The smoke is coming through my flat upstairs," says the fourth-floor lady, "and it's causing me a lot of trouble, especially because I'm ill."

"Just close your windows," says the young woman.

"But you can't disturb your neighbours like this," says the fourth-floor lady.

"What to do," says the woman, "we are performing a puja." That's explanation enough, it seems.

In the meantime, someone in the building opposite has noticed the smoke and has called the fire brigade. The fire truck arrives, the men investigate. They do nothing. Apart, that is, from stopping to berate the person who called.

"It's just a puja!" they say. "You should have checked first, before calling us!"

Yes, today I've learned that when a citizen sees smoke billowing from what looks like a fire, s/he must check that it is not a puja before calling the fire brigade.

And listening to this account, I have this thought: what good is it propitiating gods via a puja, when you're unthinking about the distress you cause your neighbours? Which god would be pleased with that?

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh Dilip,

This is going to bring out the trolls in force.

- Puppy Manohar

A_N_Nanda said...

And what about the bell that tolls and mike that blares....?

A story interestingly told, my dear.

Thanks

Nanda
http://ramblingnanda.blogspot.com

B said...

If the devotees are so self-centered, their gods should then be supremely self-centered. All the god cares about is his/her gf Pooja, damn those neighbors and the fire department.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Awaiting the comments on the Hindu-hating Christian D'Souza. What, not even one yet?

And I agree with B: the entire premise of religion (and I mean all major religions, except Buddhism) is that God cares about nothing except flattery and obedience to some arbitrary set of strictures. If leading a good life and having consideration for your neighbours counted for anything, there wouldn't be a need for God or prayer. Praise God and all else is forgiven.

Anonymous said...

What else can one expect from dcubed but to scorn everything Hindu. As Nikhil said in one earlier comment, for Dilip, Hindu equals bad, and everything else equals good. Have we seen even one column from him about Muslims doing obnoxious things in flats?? Point proved.

Dilip D'Souza said...

RS: you apparently got your wish within, what's it, half an hour. Could be a Limca world record, for all I know.

And may I agree too, all religions I've run into of seem to induce in their followers the idea that being a good citizen/neighbour is trivial claptrap; what's important is flattering god. (You'll excuse me if I avoid the capital G).

In my "Roadrunner", I have an account of a depressing encounter with a priest in South Dakota that went along more or less these lines: doing good is irrelevant, he said, the real point is believing. Period.

As I said, depressing. As much so as with the lady yesterday.

Smug Cat said...

I don't understand this post from a common sense perspective.

It is immaterial whether the residents were doing puja or ritual execution. The point is, whether it's a common enough occurrence and does the society implicitly sanction this occurrence however stupid it may be.

That being the case, writing a post about it's ethical, behavioral and moral culpability on the Internet is essentially preaching to the choir. No one who reads this post will disagree with your position. Merely with what you then decided to do about it. Wonder what the Home Owners Association is doing, how they are constituted etc. And the fire brigade in such a poor country cannot be anything but miffed -- in fact I am happy they even cared enough to get miffed.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Smug Cat:

whether it's a common enough occurrence.

To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time.

writing a post about it's ethical, behavioral and moral culpability on the Internet is essentially preaching to the choir. No one who reads this post will disagree with your position.

For one thing, there's already at least one person who disagrees who has seen fit to leave a comment. For another, the family members doing the puja and the firemen all appeared to disagree with my position, and I presume that at least some among those can and might read this post.

The 77 year-old lady plans to bring this up at the next AGM of the building.

I'm not sure how you conclude that the fire brigade had no choice but to be miffed.

Smug Cat said...

When I say common enough, I mean the generic occurrence seen through the eyes of the average citizen who is possibly less affluent and consequently more religious and less individualistic and way more tolerant of annoyances that weird people cause than you and people who read this blog. Hence the phrase preaching to the choir. And I doubt if that comment you cite was even serious -- even if it were, I don't think it deserves any response in a reasonable world.

And the fire brigade is drawn from such a population, is ill-equipped and under staffed. Unless the building had a large enough fire to cause the death of more than 10 people, the fire brigade will simply not act. That holds true for almost all public services. It's systemic and blaming one instance is being unfair to those involved in that instance.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Smug Cat -- I am pretty sure that the residents of an apartment complex in Mumbai whom Dilip refers to are quite affluent. I am also sure that if their flat had been infested with smoke emanating from a puja performed in a nearby servant's quarter, they would have complained, very loudly. It is not being "tolerant of annoyances", but a sense of entitlement among the well-off in this country that they have the right to annoy others.

The poor are indeed tolerant of annoyances, from the rich and from one another -- they have no choice.

Jai_C said...

Nothing on the main post, but Rahul, how do you conclude that the rich feel "entitled" to annoy their (equally affluent) neighbours while the poor put up with annoyance from their equally poor fraternity because they have no "choice".

One thing possibly is disposable time, the poor simply cant afford to spend time scrapping over less-important stuff. And yet I've seen enough drunken brawls and huge roadside spats that dispel any idyllic notion of harmony or even adjustment.

thanks,
Jai

Nikhil said...

And I agree with B: the entire premise of religion (and I mean all major religions, except Buddhism) is that God cares about nothing except flattery and obedience to some arbitrary set of strictures. If leading a good life and having consideration for your neighbours counted for anything, there wouldn't be a need for God or prayer. Praise God and all else is forgiven.

Rahul - Please do not display your ignorance with such posts. Do not put posts on topics that you are not qualified to speak on.

Yes- the people performing the puja were being inconsiderate to their neighbours.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Jai - yes, the poor fight too: I didn't mean to say they didn't. But I suspect the fights are provoked by more significant things than what we call "annoyances".

Nikhil -- ah, I see that stung. But it's true. Even Buddhism is an exception only in theory, not always in practice (there is no God, but you can substitute their other rules and what I said applies).

Rahul Siddharthan said...

ps - upon consideration, I think "inconsiderate" does not cover this. Planning a smoky puja without thinking of elderly, invalid neighbours is inconsiderate. When those neighbours alert this young woman to their discomfort, and she says "what to do" and "close your window", that is not being inconsiderate. A "sense of entitlement" doesn't describe it either. It is a big "fuck you" to the rest of the world. She will do what her perception of her religion requires; the rest of us don't matter.

Suresh said...

Reminds me of this:

In one campus, some people started a vishaal bhagwati jaagran. Not only that, apparently believing that the bhagwati was hard of hearing, they decided to do this with microphones. This went on not only through the day but also at night. When one professor objected, they said that it was their "freedom to religion."

The professor said nothing. But a few days later, he proceeded to blast his extensive collection of reggae music at night. When the bhagwati bhakts landed up at his doorstep, he told them that he was a Rastafarian and that he was exercising his right to religion.

From what I understand, there were no more jaagrans so long as he was on campus.

Jai_C said...

Rahul's original comment and my response to it are gone, leaving his reply Jul06, 9.28 hanging there.
------------------------
My memory of his original comment was that it spoke about "a sense of entitlement" driving upper-class boorish behavior and the poor getting along okay because they have "no choice". (my words, cant remember his exact comm).

I pointed out the neighbours were equally affluent or equally disadvantaged in either case and that I have seen several brawls and fights among the poor.
--------------------------

I pretty much agree with Rahul's response except to note that there is a numbers game:

Significant numbers of people occasionally congregate in my neighborhood for festivals that are extremely noisy, sometimes smoky and almost always conducted in space they do not own- roads and such. The spillover noise/ smoke is into our houses.

Almost all of them qualify as poor and many do come from slummy areas. No consent of non-participants has ever been sought or given.

The main difference I see here is that the wealthier offenders like in the OP try to say GFY by themselves while the poor* do it in greater number.

regards,
Jai
* I dont know if the label "poor" is to be removed while affixing "loud uncaring devotee" due to space constraints :-)

Dilip D'Souza said...

Rahul's original comment and my response to it are gone.

Indeed, and so are some others. I have no idea what's going on. They are all in my mail, and they were here for a while, now they're gone. On the other hand, some that had disappeared yesterday mysteriously reappeared this morning. Maybe it's some peculiar blogger error that is being rectified. Let's see.

Anonymous said...

Second-hand puja can be good, but in this case more like second-hand smoke.