A God of Their Own?

Why are they called praying mantises? They seem to be known for killing and eating their own kind. Shouldn’t they be called cannibal mantises instead?

So, what exactly are they praying for? I am guessing that the male one is praying and hoping that its partner won’t be too hungry after mating (which is when the cannibalism is supposed to start).  The female is thanking the lord for the meal it’s about to have.

This got me thinking about animals and their belief in a god. When an antelope is running away from a cheetah, is she praying to her almighty, to be saved (in a very physical sense, and not the Christian metaphorical way), and is the cheetah doing the same (praying for a sumptuous meal that is not too “gamey” 🙂 )? What are the odds that they are both praying to the same god – who could, technically, dodge both their prayers with a “free will” argument and go focus on something more important, like helping a specific horse win the Kentucky Derby! As you can see, I had assumed a dedicated god for the animals, thereby freeing up the god of humans to take care of our important issues… like war, famine, child abuse and ensuring an abundant supply of McRib and Popeyes chicken sandwich!

I am in no way unique in addressing this question about animals seeking help from deities. There are stories in ancient Hindu texts that cover this topic. There is one specific one where an elephant prays for (and gets) divine intervention when it is grabbed by a crocodile.

Coming back to praying mantises, here’s one that I captured with my iPhone, while it was in the midst of this sumptuous meal of dragonfly. I am sure the dragonfly would have appreciated it if its deity would have heard its prayers and gotten involved.

She definitely did not pray for a salad!

Don’t Watch This Bollywood Movie (“PK”) …

That’s right.. Don’t watch this movie..

-If you feel that religion and entertainment should not be mixed and that you do not want to get the religious (or anti-religious) message from liberal/secular actors who are out to shake your faith.

-If your view of religion (specifically Hinduism) is so skin-deep that it could be hurt by anyone asking innocent questions.

-if you think that your particular guru, swami, baba or spiritual leader can’t stand up to questioning.

-If your view of the message is always colored by who the messenger is. Would you have a different opinion if the movie was from Abhishek Bacchan or Hrithik Roshan or some other generic Hindu sounding actors (instead of Aamir Khan)?

-If you strongly believe that the movie was funded by some Muslim organization or country that is out to malign Hinduism.

-If you are afraid that by watching the movie, your deeply held beliefs could be altered. I personally am under no illusion that people’s minds will be changed by merely watching a movie (that too… on the topic of deep rooted faith)!

-If you feel that for all the time spent in the movie, on Hindu rituals and fake gurus, an equal amount of time should be spent on similar aspects of Christianity and Islam (money grubbing televangelists, molesting catholic priests, Taliban and Boko Haram should be given equal time?)

-If you are offended by male actors showing off their well-toned bodies (almost) in the buff. Remember, they never show Aamir Khan totally naked. There is always a branch or a Boom box that is strategically placed. So, maybe it’s the allusion to male nudity that is the problem for some folks. Meanwhile, there are several such portrayals of women which are usually met with whistles of approval.  There are routine and gratuitous displays of blood and gore and disemboweled bodies in movies as well as TV news, magazines and newspapers. This seems quite acceptable. No one is worried about the negative impact of these on impressionable young ones.

If you fall into any of the above categories, please DO NOT watch this movie! It will ruin your day for sure!!

 The movie is not attacking Hinduism. It is not even attacking all gurus, babas or spiritual teachers. It is highlighting some specific kind of babas and religious practices. Why not assume that your particular baba is the “good kind”? One who is merely preaching love for all, universal brotherhood, peace, tolerance  etc. Not that kind who is always trying to relieve you of your material burdens (e.g., cash or jewelry). In fact, I understand that some of the sayings and ideas used in the movie are from popular religious teachers.

This whole “alien from another star/planet” stopping by, is a very clever vehicle for the director/writer to ask some “innocent” questions about religion, faith etc., which, if asked in any other context would get you thrown out (maybe even get you beat up, just to underscore that we are “peaceful and non-violent” people). Religion generally requires that you suspend critical thinking and curiosity.  The PK character does exactly the opposite in the movie.

I thought that the overall treatment of the topic was fairly even handed by the writer and the director. They did not go off and question the existence of a creator. They just questioned some intermediaries (agents) between the creator and the created.

If the worst thing that can happen from watching this movie is that we start questioning instead of blindly following, not just in matters of faith, but in all aspects of our life, then we will be a much more enlightened and tolerant society.

Sure, that whole affair with Sarfaraz in the beginning and the melodrama at the end with the conference call with Pakistani consulate staff seemed too sappy and formulaic! But, hey.. this is still a Bollywood movie and you just have to take certain aspects of it on blind faith (in the director’s abilities to satisfy box-office appeal). Couple of the song and dance sequences looked good on the big screen but none of them so catchy that I would remember after a day.

All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable and funny movie. A perfect dessert after a sumptuous New Year’s lunch! Compared to Aamir’s earlier movies, I would rank this slightly below “Taare Zamin Par” and “3 Idiots.”

As we walked out, we heard the conversation of couple of older white ladies who were in the theater with us… “Wow! What a wonderful movie”, “What a great way to start the New Year!”, “I wonder why it only got 87% on the Rotten Tomatoes website?” One of them even asked me as we exited the theater, “How did you hear about this movie?”, before we could ask them that same question!!

If you have not seen the movie and if you are currently blasting the movie (and/or vandalizing movie theaters in India) for its negative portrayal of your particular religion (based on inciting views from others), then please DO NOT watch this movie, as it could sap the energy out of your righteous indignation!!