Secret Millionaire

Posted in: Uncategorized by bill-o on June 12, 2010

Recently deceased 98-year old Verna Oller of Long Beach, Washington, USA, had quietly amassed a fortune of (U.S.) $4.5 million that almost no one knew about. Ms. Oller’s lifestyle betrayed nothing about her wealth. As the ABC News video shows (please see the link below), Ms. Oller was so frugal that she once cut out the zipper lining from an old jacket and used it as replacement shoe laces. Ms. Oller also had no college education nor formal training in business nor finance.

As stated in her will, Ms. Oller decided to bequeath all of her fortune to her home town.

Monks Making A Living

Posted in: history,Spirituality by bill-o on May 29, 2010

CNN had a very good article recently about monks: “Monks making money: A business beyond prayer”. The article covers the history of Western monasticism and how monks today in the United States earn money to support themselves and their monasteries.

As the article points out, monks have some of the same concerns that we all do, including a slumping economy and rising health care costs. The monks also face a need to be entrepreneurial with their side businesses and yet also maintain a solitary of life of prayer.

The Wandering Kings of Slumdog Millionaire

Posted in: Popular Culture,Spirituality by bill-o on February 14, 2009

The movie “Slumdog Millionaire” is a 2008 film that tells the story of three children from the slums of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India. Slumdog Millionaire follows the lives of two brothers and their friend from their childhood in Mumbai to the lead character’s winning of the Millionaire television show in India as a young man. The film is a wonderful story in its own right, but there also a few “symbols and shadows” in the story line that you might not be aware of.

Consider the names of the children. The last name of the two brothers is Malik, which means king. The protagonist’s name is Jamal, which means handsome. The older brother’s name is Salim, which means peaceful, and Latika means creeper or vine (or elegant). Salim spends his short life searching for peace but really never finds it. Jamal’s name points to his being looked upon favorably by the viewers in India upon his winning the grand prize. After the brother’s are displaced from their family after anti-muslim riot and then are forced to flee a bad orphanage, they, in effect, become “wandering kings”. Jamal’s quest from then on is to return to Latika (the vine).

The concentration of the game show on the number 100 is also significant: There was one question about the one-dollar U.S. bill and one about centuries in cricket. The number 10 often symbolizes the end of one order and the beginning of another (thus we have ten fingers and use a base-10 number system, where to get from 9 to 10 we must add a digit). The number 100, 10 times 10, symbolizes a major change in the order of things.

Jamal’s life-story takes an important turn when he meets a blind girl who is begging on the streets. Being a blind, begging girl is perhaps as low of a social status as one can have in India. Yet it is this girl who points the way back to Latika, Jamal’s long-lost friend. The girl also knows that Benjamin Franklin is the face on the $100 bill, something that she really has no need of knowing. The girl points out that Benjamin Franklin’s portrait has unusual characteristics: he has long hair like a girl. This scene is in contrast to another part of the movie where the police officer jokes with Jamal that everyone in India knows whose picture is on the Rupee note: Gandhi. That’s common knowledge.

Money can serve as a symbolic representation for a way of doing things (a “currency”). In this movie, Indian money represents the typical or common order of things. The $100 U.S. bill, on the other hand, represents what is not common. It is a larger currency note than most poor Indians would ever see, and it is foreign. However, it is the unofficial currency of the world at large. It represents the atypical order of things that lies beyond the present, everyday reality of the characters in the film. When Jamal and Salim start (without sanction) working as tour guides for Western tourists at the Taj Mahal, the movie subtly, and almost unconsciously, shows their change from dealing with Indian money to dealing with American money. Jamal, as a tour guide, acts as a bridge between these two worlds. Notice in one scene how Jamal takes two Americans to see “the real India” (when their rented car is, shall we say, involuntarily relieved of much of its contents). (This particular scene is also a subtle nod to the Western audiences of this movie, most of whom are not familiar with the poverty and injustices that are sometimes are a part of life for the poorest of the poor in India.)

The film’s turning point comes when Jamal must prove his identity. At the end of the first day of the television show, the police assume that he is a fraud, arrest him, and subject him to harsh interrogation. Through various flashbacks in the movie and rough questioning by the officers, the crux of the matter for the police comes down to this question: Is Jamal Malik a fraud or does he really know the answers to the show’s questions? Through telling the story of his life to the police officers (in other words, by being completely transparent with them), Jamal demonstrates that the truth is inside of him. And by doing so, he gains the victory and is able to return to the game show to answer its final question.

In the film, Salim symbolizes law (religion without love), and Jamal represents love. The respective heart-attitudes of the two brothers is demonstrated to us when Salim sells, without permission, Jamal’s autograph of the famous Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan. To Jamal, this autograph was priceless, but to Salim it was just a piece of paper to be bartered for something else. Later, Jamal did not even care if he would win or lose the game show prize; he only wanted to be reunited with Latika. In the middle of the film, Salim imprisons Latika and treats her only as a commodity, whereas Jamal is genuinely interested in her welfare without any conditions placed upon their relationship. At the end of the movie, Salim finally releases Latika and entrusts her to the care of Jamal (he gives her his mobile phone, knowing that Jamal will be calling it later). This is a picture of the law finally dying and giving way to love. Salim dying a bathtub full of money is perhaps a more obvious symbol of the ultimate emptiness of riches.

Even though Jamal was a humble servant (serving tea as a chai-wallah at a call center), in the end his true identity as a handsome king (in this case, king of the game show Millionaire) is shown for everyone to see.