DAY 68 – Diwali

November 7th, 2013 § 0 comments

Ages ago I made one of those stupid promises to honour religious festivals as they came along, in an ecumenical spirit. This has been pretty uneven; I think that while recognizing Nawruz and Easter early on, I missed Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Aid al-Adha in the last few weeks alone; and now Halloween, All Saints’ Day and the Day of the Dead seem to have passed by (don’t they all crowd in around now?). So it gives me special pleasure to note that I haven’t completely missed Diwali, which started yesterday. diwaliWho could be against the triumph of light over darkness, or of good over evil, or the killing of the demon Narakasura by Krishna? Or, for that matter, eating sweets? I had no idea, till I read the various sources, how many things there were to celebrate in how many ways.

Meditating, during some riveting reflections on gender and spirituality, on the Biblical warrant for Christian – or indeed Judaic or Islamic – homophobia, there doesn’t seem to be that much beyond a couple of chapters in Leviticus. (‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.’) But Leviticus, which demands death for adultery and won’t allow you to eat prawns, is nobody’s favourite book.

Much more interesting, as Proust realized, is the question of what was going on in Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot was visited by two angels, and, if you believe the story, the men of Sodom asked Lot to bring the angels out so that they could have sex.

Lot riposted that this would be an abuse of the laws of hospitality – he didn’t say anything about the question of same-sex relations. Unlike many commentators, he probably recognized that angels don’t have gender as such, even if having sex with an angel breaks some other rule. (But it might be fun?) Instead, he proposed that the men of Sodom should have their own way with his daughters, who were virgins. At this point, as so often in the Bible, one begins to wonder about ethics and what Lot’s virgin daughters thought about his proposal. (Assuming there were more than two Sodomites, it rather looks as if Lot was proposing not s much marriage as gang rape. And people still call it the Good Book.)

As Christopher Marlowe pointed out – at least according to the spy Richard Baines – Jesus had different tendencies: ‘That St John the Evangelist was bedfellow to Christ and leaned alwaies in his bosome, that he vsed him as the sinners of Sodoma.’ So it’s unclear why born-again Christians should be homophobic at all.

Leaving this subject to the specialists (I refer you to the Queer Theology  website), I’ve been asked to explain about the time by one or two friends. Not as in the question ‘Have you got the time, mate?’, nor as in the works of Kant, Bergson and Heidegger; but rather in the mundane sense – which only occurred to me when I was about thirty – of why sunrise and sunset (as posted in the newspapers) aren’t an equal distance from 12 o’clock. For example, today in Budapest (random example), sunrise is at 6.35 a.m., sunset is at 4.19 p.m. Halfway between the two is a time called ‘solar noon’, which is apparently – work it out – 11.27 a.m.

Many years after I’d first been puzzled by this fact, I tracked down an encyclopedia of astronomy which gave the beginnings of an explanation. It’s called the ‘equation of time’, and if the word equation gives you stress, I’m sorry. The point is, that the sun doesn’t move at an even speed. (Okay, the sun doesn’t move at all, but you see what I mean.) So the interval between high noon and the next high noon is sometimes more than 24 hours and sometimes less; coincidentally, around now is about a maximum for the clock and the sundial to disagree. If you can find a sundial to tell you anything in this weather.

What do you mean ’24 hours?’ How are you measuring time, if not by the sun?’

I’m glad you asked that. I suppose you might be referring to a clock (pendulum? quartz?). They all have their defects. And once you get into the theory of general relativity, you’ll find that you can’t be sure about your measurement of time at all. Still, I leave you to work it out – isn’t physics wonderful? – that we agree on what it would be for the length of a day to be constant, and that it isn’t. Why should it be? The earth, as it moves round the sun (that’s what we say these days), is on a slanting axis; it wobbles; the sun isn’t at the centre. To suppose that all this would result in days which all have the same length would be too much. So the astronomers fix one ‘noon’ in the year, call it 1200 hours, and average out so that we end up with 365 days of the same length.

Except for the slowing down of the Earth, and so on. Oh Christ. How did I get into this? And ‘leap seconds’, which are decreed from time to time retrospectively when it’s found that we’ve lost some time somewhere. Heidegger had no idea. Go to Wikipedia, entry ‘Zulu time’ (I kid you not).







Greenwich                                                                                         Woolwich

Has it ever occurred to you that Greenwich, where the time is, or used to be, determined, is a stone’s throw away from Woolwich, the traditional British home of WMD? Love has pitched his mansion in the place of excrement.

Today’s poem is by Vicky Holder; a search of the internet shows no other poems by her, but this one is very popular if you want to recite something at a memorial ceremony for your pet gerbil (this happened the other day, and Maya found the poem), or rabbit or snake or scorpion. It will reduce the most stony hearted pet-owner, or pet-owner’s grandfather, to tears. Keep writing, Vicky! Get back to the iPad – you’ve obviously hit a vein.

I Only Wanted You

They say memories are golden
well maybe that is true.
I never wanted memories,
I only wanted you.

A million times I needed you,
a million times I cried.
If love alone could have saved you
you never would have died.

In life I loved you dearly,
In death I love you still.
In my heart you hold a place
no one could ever fill.

If tears could build a stairway
and heartache make a lane,
I’d walk the path to heaven
and bring you back again.

Our family chain is broken,
and nothing seems the same.
But as God calls us one by one,
the chain will link again.

Back to Diwali for our music slot – a seasonal number by Lata Mangeshkar ji which the Youtube uploader describes as a ‘beautiful devotional song about Sita requesting Ram to accompany him during exile’. Fireworks away!

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