Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

07 Jun 2001, 1:53 a.m.

Devotion Demotion

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2001 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Thoughts from the Puja (Brunching style):

  • For the first time in my life, I'm seriously questioning the existence of God.
  • Is incense smoke carcinogenic? How much? More or less than cigarette or beedi smoke? Was it always like that, or has globalization made them worse?
  • Incantations and Other Stories, by Anjana Appachana, was a much better book than her novel Listening Now.

(By the way, "puja" or "pooja" is a South Indian word for "Hindu religious ceremony.")

Regarding the first item: I deeply respect the minds of at least two atheists whom I know. And if they're right, then I've been wrong for many, many years. I used to think that it's simply a matter of faith, which I have and they don't, case closed. And now a shard of doubt has entered the picture. I can see that all the explanations and premises and beliefs seem ridiculous and irrational to a nonbeliever. Why do I believe? It can't be enough that "I need God in my life to help me and to explain and guide me through difficult situations." I can't have a solely convenient belief.

I guess I'm having a crisis of faith.

Manual labor today! I beat a bunch of sofa cushions, kneaded dough and made dough balls for puri, and squeegee'd the windshield and back window of my parents' car. On the first two: I have heard people say that kneading dough and beating cushions are great cathartic activities, for stress relief. "Get out all that anger and frustration!" I didn't really feel angry at anyone, though. I imagine the Tick would say, "Take that, Communism! And that, evildoer!" And Judge John J. Justice: "I'm beating the injustice out of these pillows!" But I just focused on getting a lot of dust out of the cushions. I tried singing to make the time go by faster. I wish I knew more slave spirituals and union-organizing songs. All I know is a verse of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and the refrain of "Whose Side Are You On?" And I sang "She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain When She Comes" and "This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land" -- the latter of which, I hear, used to be a leftist song, with verses about union-busting and the like, when Woody Guthrie first wrote it.

Anyway, I overdid it a little bit on the hitting of the cushions, and now I have sort of a proto-callus on one of my hands. Ow. We limp-wristed, lily-livered desk-job types sometimes need a reminder that we are all bodies. We're all, as I think Douglas Adams wrote, just ugly sacks of mostly water. If this callus didn't hurt so much, I'd treasure it even more.

A few weeks ago -- about a month -- I did a bunch of hot, sweaty, dirty manual labor for the first time in years. In the 80-90 degree F heat, I moved stuff, dug up dirty stuff from a garden, cleaned, moved more stuff, and didn't even want to wipe my face because my hands were so dirty. And then I got to shower for the first time in two or three days, and just sit on a couch and bask with the other person with whom I'd done all this. And it was so much joy.

My hands hurt and my brain reels.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at