When you lose a loved one… Celebrate their memory… Do not mourn incessantly. The loss is overwhelming at times and working through grief takes a while, so therefore it is important to focus on the process, the journey, rather than the destination. This is when we must cherish the memories of how they enhanced our lives, rather than falling into grief or depression. Cherish them joyfully – not rue their exit.

At such times, we are naturally vulnerable and our emotions at the lowest ebb. While we are experiencing pain naturally, instinctively and authentically…there are shadows lurking at every corner to pounce on you. They prey on your emotions and misuse your vulnerable side. These are our very own ‘pundits’ – the so-called ‘holy’ ones. My experience with them the past one week has left me with not an ounce of respect for them…and not an iota of trust. In fact, their ungodly behaviour is rather distasteful.

When you watch death rituals and ceremonies turning into a money-making business, you know that the very essence of your trust has been shaken. The whole process reeks of negativity and dealing with that adds a damper to the natural course of grieving. You feel sickened at the greed on display, the false holy aura being displayed by the religious men, the nonsensical statements being churned out and the garbled mumbo-jumbo being dispensed. The crocodile tears repel me. Naturally, the believers and the innocent are preyed upon. A practical person like me scoffs and just walks away. My sensibilities have been shaken.

When religious people cling to certain beliefs even when they contradict evidence because they are overly emotional and irrational…this is the moment when the pundit moves in and extracts as much as he can from the victim. We all have our beliefs and that is perfectly alright but when you have people who play with those beliefs that are entwined with emotional twists, then things are not kosher at all.

Our perceptions, emotions, and reactions to the world around us begin at birth, and shape our attitudes and interactions throughout our life. Through these beliefs, we learn who to trust, what to expect, and how to cope. Religious beliefs, experiences, and practices and the role they play in our lives are not simply defined. They exist from a complex interaction of culture, upbringing, and emotional experiences. And don’t forget science.

Then come the scamster pujaris in all their finery. Their modus operandi involves ‘suggesting’ unnecessary rituals, pushing you against a wall and forcing you to take part in various ceremonies, focussing on unwanted customs and holding you to ransom by charging horrendous amounts of money or so-called donations. Unless your grease their palms with pots of money, you will not be blessed or be forgiven. Really? I always thought it had to do with being a good person and treating people with respect and love and caring for your family.

How relevant is religion? It’s a question each new generation asks itself. As times change, new circumstances present new challenges and possibilities. And yet, through it all, this immemorial longing we call religion continues on.

My belief is that the value of religion speaks less through sermons and more through being a good human-being, noble deeds and countless other humanitarian work it nurtures. Simply put, religion today only fills the coffers of the pujaris. In many ways religion finds itself on the margins of society, where one’s beliefs and values may be expressed privately but are often dismissed publicly. Conflict arise when religious organizations and individuals clash in their ideologies.

Human beings are religious by nature. They seek a higher purpose outside themselves. Whether Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or other, religion offers a framework by which people find meaning, belonging and identity. And this feeling tends to flow into civic interactions. With its teeming plurality of choices and possibilities, our modern world presents unique challenges to religion. Endless philosophies, ideologies and truth claims clamour for attention, magnified by instantaneous media. Globalization pushes people and cultures together. Different religions and worldviews interact and collide. Personal preferences alone become a guide in dealing with moral dilemmas. In this flux individuals can feel isolated and become disconnected from their communities. This is a perfect scenario for the holy men to feed off from.

They can’t fathom that you can just be an Indian and not follow any particular religion. That it is not important to know your ‘gotra’ or caste or sect. That being a good human-being is far more important than all this… What should have been one of the most trivial things in the world, a part of life itself, has somehow, become a question for debate today. So in a way I think, it has not only lost its importance, but there is some kind of negativity which has been associated with the word ‘Religion’ due to a certain kind of behaviour being exhibited and the fact that religion is now a full-time occupation and a means of extracting money.

Every one follows a religion in the way best suited to him or her. However, the ethos seems to be missing from all the religious practices. Our unholy men are ensuring that we don’t celebrate our shared cultural bonds and appreciate the joys of human existence. For a nation with the depth of cultural diversity such as ours, this irreverence to the dead is a sad state of affairs. The commercialisation of rituals and rites has eroded the real significance.

Scattered in the wind… There is an echo… Life and death must both be celebrated! Keep that person alive in your memories…follow their dreams…take the legacy forward.