Thursday, November 12, 2009

SECULARISM IS ABOUT FAITH AND RESPECT

I received the following article by email and thought that this is just the right kind of attitude that we need; a definition and understanding of secularism, which is way different from the West, that India with its many religions needs. I thought of sharing the original article, author unknown, to solicit your views and opinions. So, here is the original article.....

Any one more secular than the army

As a serving army officer, I never stop marvelling at the gullibility of our countrymen to be provoked with alacrity into virulence in the name of religion. I have never heard the word 'secular' during all my service -- and yet, the simple things that are done simply in the army make it appear like an island of sanity in a sea of hatred.

In the army, each officer identifies with the religion of his troops. In regiments where the soldiers are from more than one religion, the officers -- and indeed all jawans attend the weekly religious prayers of all the faiths. How many times have I trooped out of the battalion mandir and, having worn my shoes, entered the battalion church next door? A few years ago it all became simpler -- mandirs, masjids, gurudwars and churches began to share premises all over the army. It saved us the walk.

Perhaps it is so because the army genuinely believes in two central 'truths' -- oneness of god and victory in operations. Both are so sacred we cannot nitpick and question the basics.

In fact, sometimes the army mixes up the two! On a visit to the holy cave at Amarnath a few years ago I saw a plaque mounted on the side of the hill by a battalion that had once guarded the annual Yatra. It said, 'Best wishes from -....- battalion. Deployed for Operation Amarnath.

On another instance, I remember a commanding officer ordered the battalion maulaviji to conduct the proceedings of Janamashtmi prayers because the panditji had to proceed on leave on compassionate grounds. No eyebrows were raised. It was the most rousing and best-prepared sermon on Lord Krishna I have ever had the pleasure of listening to.

On the Line of Control, a company of Khemkhani Muslim soldiers replaced a Dogra battalion. Over the next few days, the post was shelled heavily by Pakistanis, and there were a few non-fatal casualties.

One day, the junior commissioned officer of the company, Subedar Sarwar Khan walked up to the company commander Major Sharma and said, "Sahib, ever since the Dogras left, the mandir has been shut. Why don't you open it once every evening and do aarti? Why are we displeasing the gods?"

Major Sharma shamefacedly confessed he did not know all the words of the aarti. Subedar Sarwar went away and that night, huddled over the radio set under a weak lantern light, painstakingly took down the words of the aarti from the post of another battalion!

How many of us know that along the entire border with Pakistan, our troops abstain from alcohol and non-vegetarian food on all Thursdays? The reason: It is called the Peer day -- essentially a day of religious significance for the Muslims.

In 1984, after Operation Bluestar there was anguish in the Sikh community over the desecration of the holiest of their shrines. Some of this anger and hurt was visible in the army too.

I remember the first Sikh festival days after the event -- the number of army personnel of every religious denomination that thronged the regimental gurudwara of the nearest Sikh battalion was the largest I had seen. I distinctly remember each officer and soldier who put his forehead to the ground to pay obeisance appeared to linger just a wee bit longer than usual. Was I imagining this? I do not think so. There was that empathy and caring implicit in the quality of the gesture that appeared to say, "You are hurt and we all understand."

We were deployed on the Line of Control those days. Soon after the news of disaffection among a small section of Sikh troops was broadcast on the BBC, Pakistani troops deployed opposite the Sikh battalion yelled across to express their 'solidarity' with the Sikhs.

The Sikh havildar shouted back that the Pakistanis had better not harbour any wrong notions. "If you dare move towards this post, we will mow you down."

Finally, a real -- and true -- gem....

Two boys of a Sikh regiment battalion were overheard discussing this a day before Christmas.

"Why are we having a holiday tomorrow?" asked Sepoy Singh.

"It is Christmas," replied the wiser Naik Singh.

"But what is Christmas?"

"Christmas," replied Naik Singh, with his eyes half shut in reverence and hands in a spontaneous prayer-clasp, "is the guruparb of the Christians."

Monday, November 9, 2009

LIFE - IS IT ALL ABOUT QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS!?

"Life is full circle", is what I have always heard from wiser people.

Having lived for over half a century, I was trying to analyse my own life ... and decide for myself on the wisdom of this saying. My thoughts took me back to my childhood - starting with the time when my mental faculties started registering the external world, and phenomenon.....I see my grand daughter doing the same these days - its a treat to watch her busy, doing nothing, throughout the day... she can make a play out of anything.... she can help me with any task... no task seems complicated to her... she can put her bare hands inside a warmed up oven to check whether the pizza is ready; or she can open the vacuum cleaner to set it right... popping all the screws in her tiny little mouth... every small missing object can be found there.... eventually.... the bigger ones can be seen close to her mouth, of course, being slobbered with her saliva. All of us go through this stage in our lives, I too have, I am told.

As a child, I had many questions about everything and looked for answers from anyone...parents initially, then grand parents, relatives, teachers and so on, as I advanced in life. The answers provided were stored for future use. I went to school and learned a number of subjects - from languages to history, geography, civics, social studies, physics, chemistry, biology, maths and so on... I never got to use most of these subjects that I had learnt in school.

Reached National Defence Academy and learnt many more subjects like military history, wood work, casting moulds, working on a lathe, photography besides other things like physical exercises, cross country, riding, drill etc. Once again never got to use most of the skills and subjects learned.

However, while going through each of these classes in school and NDA, I and others like me, had a large number of questions to which we were required to provide answers when it was time for the exams, so as to pass the exam, and move on. Our questions were endless and someone who had the answers, like our teachers and instructors, would help us with the answers. Finding answers on our own, by reading, and inquiring from others around was also resorted to. As we kept growing we were required to find answers on our own by comprehending what was taught, and by doing independent research. The brain and the mind slowly started expanding. I had questions AND had also acquired the skill of finding the answers on my own. I got into flying thereafter....

I was back to square one... again too many questions and very few answers. Flyiing in those days looked like it was designed for the birds and bees only....considering how effortlessly they performed this very difficult task - my perspective at that time. Only way out... take the instructors word as Gospel. This helped. Slowly flying became something that was manageable... a time came when I started to enjoy flying... and then.... soon thereafter, came a time when I started experimenting with things for which no one had provided me with answers. I felt like an ace and the air seemed to be my playground. I could take off and land on the runway (a basic requirement for manned flight, but considered more than enough by me), and make the aircraft perform manoeuvres that I wanted it to, whether in proximity to another aircraft, or singly. During this phase I took part in many simulated war like exercises and eventually the 26th January flypast. Felt that I had mastered the art of flying....... The IAF also acknowledged my performance and I was detailed to undergo the flying instructor's course.

After five months of this course, I realised to my horror how little I knew about flying... I shared two of the three trophies at the end of this course... and should have been visibly proud. Instead at the farewell dinner I was standing with my instructor, with tears in my eyes, and asking him, "how can I teach flying, when this course has taught me one thing, and that is... how little I know about it myself. How can I teach someone when I myself donot have all the answers". My instructor was a seasoned instructor. He told me, "don't worry, the pupil would know nothing about flying and you would do well" and to reassure me said that, "all of us have been through this - we made it - you too would and remember - you are not the first one with such questions". Well, this advice proved very sound - I made it as an instructor for the first six months and until my second course, when I had a BORN FLIER as my pupil.....

I could not demonstrate any manoeuvre to him, as well as he could perform it on his own... I would feel inadequate as an instructor but the only thing that I could tell him was... you are going to be an asset to the IAF one day, if you can live through the first 500 hours of flying. Being better than your instructor can give one a huge dose of overconfidence... and over confidence without experience, in flying, is a killer. I am happy to say that this pupil went through some trying experiences in the Academy, due to his overconfidence. I am also very happy that he managed to live beyond 500 hours of flying, and has lived up to my forecast of being an asset for the IAF. This pupil kept me busy trying to find answers to questions that he would not ask, but to which he needed to have the answers.

Life beyond this stage was on the upswing... I had answers to nearly every question that came my way in my profession....

Professional life was at an upswing, and was reaching a stage where I had no further questions. Thereafter, I donot know when my professional and non-professional lives merged and I started to get the feeling that I had answers to every question or situation in life. I did not have any questions anymore.... I never did realise that this was not a healthy, or normal state, for a mortal like me. I knew everything about everything, or so I felt. I could contribute my four anna bit into any conversation, on any subject. I never realised it until one day.....

I was going for a walk with my younger brother (a graduate of Electronics Engineering from BHU-IT; MBA in marketing from IIM Ahmedabad and Ph. D in Finance from Pittsburgh, USA). We were talking about Finance and got onto discussing the stock market. I started advising him on what stocks to buy, and why. He kept listening to me with a smile on his face (until after this, I had never noticed these things; I had advised him on so many matters, on which he was the expert). Being of Indian descent, he would keep quiet in deference to his elder brother, but this once I had probably gone too far. He smiled and spoke only one line, after listening to my persistent advice on stocks and said, "Bhape (Elder Brother), I have a Ph.D in Finance". I shut my mouth thereafter, and realised my great folly. Instead of having questions to ask of this expert, I was providing him with answers on his area of expertise. It set me thinking..... many years of thought, and practice, have made me realise.....

....that at no stage can I have all the answers. I can have some answers pertaining to my chosen profession; some pertaining to my life, based on my experiences - but all these cannot be universal - they need to be adapted to changing situations, as change is the only constant in life. As I grow older, the number of questions to which I have no answers keeps growing - my answers seem inadequate at times, and I feel that I am becoming a seeker once again.

From 'questions only', after birth, to 'only answers' at the top of the circle, I have come to 'more questions than answers' once again...... is it possible that I would die like I was born - 'only questions, no answers'...

I actually do believe so, the way things are going. Life will go full circle???

What is your experience? What do you feel??