Friday, June 24, 2016

Life is Actually Simple!

In January 2000, I decided to do a 5 month long e-business course in Delhi. I reached the course venue on the commencement date, and met with my fellow students. They were all in their 20s. The lone foreigner doing the course was Vince, an American. Vince generally kept aloof, and I too never asked him anything personal, as I had learnt that it is taboo to ask an American about his personal life, unless of course he knows you well enough and is willing to share stuff with you.

However, over a period of time he developed a rapport with me and started sharing his ideas, thoughts and views with me. One day, Vince confided to me about his dream of starting a software company with an aim of earning money. He further said that he wanted to earn a million dollars so that he could buy a cottage on the beach in Virginia, his home town. Dreamily he continued that the cottage would have a private beach in which he would sit in his easy chair and relax, doing nothing. Over a period of time, he was willing to share more with me, without my asking.

I noticed that Vince would vanish on Friday evening's and would appear back in class on Monday. This happened on almost every weekend. After about three months into the course, we were friendly enough for me to invite Vince to my place for a meal over the weekend. He declined the invitation saying that all his weekends were booked in Rishikesh. He had rented a room at Rs 300 per day for all his remaining weekends in India. The room was located on the banks of the Ganges, as it emerged from the hills. He told me that the view was very beautiful, and that he really enjoyed the serenity and peace during his stay at Rishikesh.

On return after one weekend, he was all excited and showed me some photographs of himself along with a sadhu who had long matted hair and was wearing only a loin cloth, and ash. This sadhu had built a small hut for himself on the banks of river, and was living in that. Vince told me that the sadhu could speak fluent English and had been a professor in a college who had retired to Rishikesh to go through his 'vanprasth' (going to the jungle) ashram. He had renounced everything worldly, and had finally settled for good on the banks of the sacred river. Vince confided that he had had many conversations with this sadhu, and also with many others like him, during his numerous visits to Rishikesh during the four months that we were together until then. Of course like a true American, he had taken a number of photographs of monkeys, elephants, snakes and the likes, all in close human contact. He also had some photographs with a python around his own neck.  He even had one with the python wrapped all around him.
A Representative image of a Sadhu: Courtesy Google Images.

His weekend visits continued, and he had many things to share. After one such weekend visit, he told me that his Indian sojourn had given rise to a dilemma in his mind. He went on to mention his ‘dream’ once again. With a dreamy look thereafter, he philosophically observed that, I want to earn one million dollars so as to relax on the beach, doing nothing, and here is this sadhu who has nothing except a loin cloth and a few other belongings doing exactly what I want to do after all this struggle. He ran out of words thereafter, and I too was totally dumb struck. We both looked at each other in silence. We were too busy trying to comprehend the enormity of this realisation. I still wonder at times about this incident. Is life actually that simple? I know it is, but my senses force me to think otherwise.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Cultural Orphans: Indians ashamed of their own heritage

I received this as a forward and felt that it is material that is worth sharing. 

The following piece has been written by Maj Gen Mrinal Suman

For an Indian, a visit to Indonesia can be an eye-opener. It is fervently proud of its heritage. Although it is the largest Muslim country in the world, it has inscribed the picture of Lord Ganesh on its 20,000 rupiah currency notes. Even the most prestigiousinstitute of technology has Lord Ganesh in its logo. Indonesia’s official airline is called Garuda (Lord Vishnu’s mount) and the official bank is named after Kubera (the Hindu god of wealth).

Indonesian government patronises and supports dance dramas and puppet shows that depict stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata. It has also issued many stamps on the two epics. Jakarta has a huge sculpture of Lord Krishna revealing Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna. In Bali, statues of Hindu deities adorn most public places. Several cross-roads have massive sculptures portraying scenes from Hindu scriptures, like the sun-god riding his chariot, yoked byseven horses.

For an Indian, it is a puzzling experience: a Muslim country honouring Hindu gods. Unable to control his curiosity, a tourist quizzed our guide Mustafa. After looking at the perplexed faces of the group, Mustafa responded, “Earlier all of us were Hindus and worshipped these gods. Whatever be the reasons, we converted to Islam. I do not pray to these gods but respect them because I know that my parents, grand-parents and ancestors worshipped them? They are a part of my heritage and ancestry. Should change of faith make me disown my heritage? That would amount to my disowning my own lineage and ancestors.” The silence was deafening.

In a few sentences, Mustafa had taught us what we Indians have not learnt for centuries. No educated Indian ever boasts of India’s rich heritage. Our education system has ingrained in us an acute sense of inferiority. We eulogise everything that is Western and run down our own glorious past. Everything concerning ancient India’s intellectual prowess, cultural richness, multiple philosophies and liberal thoughts is painted as narrow-mindedness.

India is perhaps the only country in the world that is ashamed of its heritage. Yes, the word ashamed is an apt description. Expressions like Vedas, Hindus, Hindutva, Saffron and Bharat Mata have come to convey a sense of inadequacy. The whole world applauds India for its Vedic knowledge, philosophical expositions, ayurveda, yoga and a host of other gifts to humanity. However, our Westernised stooges carry on deriding our heritage. Using Mustafa’s taxonomy, they take pride in masquerading as ‘cultural orphans’. Let me cite two events of the recent past to prove my assertion.

The World Yoga Day

On 27 September 2014, Prime Minister Modi exhorted the UN General Assembly, “Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being.” He suggested that 21 June be adopted as the World Yoga Day. In less than 90 days, the UN General Assembly passed the resolution unanimously, accepting the fact that yoga originated in India around 5,000 years ago and is an immensely beneficial mental, physical and spiritual practice.

It was recognition of India’s heritage and a matter of great pride for India. While the intelligentsia ignored the feat, no channel ran prime-time programme to highlight the achievement. For them, anything belonging to ancient India cannot be acclaim-worthy.

At the first official observation of the World Yoga Day on 21 June 2015, a total of 35,985 participants from 84 nationalities performed asanas. Modi’s words, on the said occasion, were truly sagacious, “India’s priceless legacy is today world’s legacy.” 

As is the wont of our India-deprecating critics, no one had a good word to say about the event. They faulted Modi for not doing asanas in the proper manner. Some even doubted his claims of doing yoga regularly. A significant segment appeared to be more obsessed with the spreading of yoga mats rather than the import of the occasion. Deviously, a campaign was started that the soldiers were demeaned as they were forced to lay mats whereas the fact is that the mats were laid by civilian workers and the army had provided a few Havildars to oversee layout and alignment.

An occasion of national pride was deliberately portrayed as a fundamentalist and anti-secular agenda of the ruling party. Baba Ramdev’s laudable offer of training yoga teachers for the army has also been termed as a step towards communalisation of the army. One wonders as to how Indians can revel in degrading India.

The Art of Living’s World Cultural Festival

Last month, nearly four lakh people from 155 countries attended anniversary celebrations of The Art of Living (AoL) at Delhi. It was described as ‘an impeccable choreography of spiritual exuberance’. Over 37,000 artists from around the world performed. The programme was beamed live to millions across the globe. The whole world admired it but not the self-proclaimed conscience-keepers of India.

They faulted the function for likely adverse ecological effect on the flood plains of River Yamuna. It was a laughable objection. Even a casual visitor can notice the appalling state of the flood plains due to rampant encroachments, regular dumping of garbage/debris and total neglect by the authorities. No environmentalist or social activist ever raised hue and cry to force the government to act.

On learning of AoL function, they suddenly rediscovered their long-forgotten concern for the flood plains and launched a sadistic campaign against the organisers. As was to be expected, media found a convenient issue to embarrass the government and dent India’s image. It was unfortunate that our President was advised to skip the function.

Despite repeated assurances and guarantees by the organisers that they would neither do any digging nor use any concrete, every effort was made to scuttle the initiative. As was to be expected, no channel has reported the fact that AoL has left the flood plains in much better condition than they were earlier.

The second objection was regarding the alleged use of military bridging equipment for a private function. It was conveniently forgotten that law and order and traffic management always remain a state responsibility, more so as a large number of foreign dignitaries were attending the programme. Aid to the civil authority in preventing likely stampede cannot be faulted. Every Kumbh Mela sees such bridges.

As regards the bridging equipment; launching and de-launching of equipment bridges is regularly practised by the Engineers. Hence, the opportunity was used to train as well. Interestingly, the army had built a similar pontoon bridge at Agra for a musical concert by Yani in 2006. No questions were raised then. Apparently, army bridges are fine for foreign performers but not for displaying Indian heritage. 

Of Cultural Icons
While one may not agree with all the statements made by Baba Ramdev, it cannot be denied that he and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar have done India proud by showcasing richness of India’s ancient civilization on the world stage. They are India’s cultural ambassadors and national icons, far greater than many Bharat Ratnas of dubious distinction.

Baba Ramdev has taken yoga to the masses and made the world aware of its mental, physical and intellectual benefits for overall well-being. It is practised by the people of more than 170 countries now. Even the UN has been forced to accept that the benefits of yoga are ‘amazing’ and ‘holistic’. It is a monumental achievement.

Sri Sri has made AoL a household initiative in most countries of the world. More than 370 million people swear by it and practice regularly. One cannot think of another Indian who has spread the message of ancient India’s vedic knowledge as worldwide. Even the UN and the World Health Organisation have recognised that AoL enriches life and promotes wellness through spiritual growth and self-development. 
However, as is the wont of many opponents of India’s ancient heritage, they abhor anyone taking pride in it. To deride own culture has been the hallmark of India’s intelligentsia. Modi was right in questioning the opponents, “If we keep criticising ourselves, why would the world look at us?”

And, the parting shot
Reverting to Mustafa, while taking leave of us at the end of the visit, his parting shot was, “India has such a rich heritage. Which country can boast of ancient civilization, and 10,000 years of recorded history? Which country can claim to be the birth place of so many major religions and philosophies?”
“Your heritage consists of Vedic scriptures, Jainism’s Namokar Mantra, Lord Buddha’s teachings and Guru Nanak’s divinity. It is common to all Indians. No one can claim exclusive right over it and no one can disown it either. Can ancestry be disputed or renounced? The people who disown their heritage become culturally bankrupt,” he added.

We were dumbstruck. Mustafa had shamed us with his simple reasoning. By the time we regained our composure, he had boarded a bus to head for his next engagement, perhaps to enlighten another set of ignorant Indian tourists!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Reliving One's Childhood, Once again

I woke up when the wheels of our B767 touched the ground. Excitement was building up as the aircraft taxied in to the gate. Every one stood up once the seat belt signs were switched off, and started opening the overhead bins to remove their hand baggage. I too joined them. Normally I continue to sit until the early birds are out of the way, but today was a special day, and a special meeting awaited us. I had been dreaming of this meeting on this flight from Zurich to Toronto, but there were other more urgent things to be done now.

The aerobridge was connected and the line had started moving. Both of us, my wife and I, joined the slow crawl of passengers towards the exit door, carrying our hand baggage and our belongings with us. Out of the aircraft; a long trudge from the gate to the immigration counter. We were both excited, but were too busy to show it. Passports and filled immigration forms in hand, we both breezed through immigration and walked in to the baggage section. I pull out 2 two dollar coins that were kept in safe custody from last year’s trip, drop them in the slot and pull out two baggage trolleys. We move to the conveyor belt, and see our luggage coming around. Luggage picked up; placed on trolleys, and ready to go. With ‘nothing to declare’ custom slips we walk through the green channel and the last of the official checks at Toronto airport. A turn to the left and the door leading up to the arrival lounge is now visible. My heart starts to beat faster in anticipation of the meeting; all those thoughts of the flight come flooding back in the few seconds that it took us to traverse the long corridor to the exit door from the Customs area.

We had booked our flight and had forwarded our itinerary to our daughter and bachelor son in Toronto. Our daughter called up and mentioned that she would come to pick us up. She also told us that our grand daughter would be at school and would not be able to make it to the airport. Our Canadian born grand daughter was now 5 years old and had mentioned that ‘she was now a grown up girl’. How we grandparents secretly wish that our grand kids never grow up. Growing up means that their time is at a premium, and we lose our chance to be children once again, with them. In my case, I had really enjoyed my granddaughter’s growing up, much more than I had my own kids, primarily due to career demands when our kids were growing up.

During our visit the previous year we had taken her on a bird trail and had enjoyed watching her feeding the birds and squirrels from her tiny hands. She was my little acrobat who would enjoy being thrown up in the air, while being twisted and turned around in the air. She never tired of it, and would plead, ‘Nana, once more, pleeaase, please, pliz’ whenever I stopped doing it. We would endlessly look for lady bugs on the shrubs in the backyard; she would take them in her tiny palms and exult to see them fly away. I once got her a soap bubble kit from the dollar store. She would make me blow the bubbles so that she could jump around and catch them in the air.

One day when I was tending to the back lawn, she came and sat down with me, and asked me if there were any earth worms in the soil. On hearing an affirmative answer, she asked me to give one in her palm. I looked at her and asked, ‘do you like earthworms’. No, she says. Then why are you asking for one, I asked while putting an earthworm on her palm. She gently patted the worm, and told me to put it back in the soil, while telling me that her teacher had asked her to catch an earthworm, be gentle with it, see it, love it, but return it to the same place afterwards. She stumped me with her next sentence when she confessed that she did not like earthworms but she had a job to do, and she must do it, whether she liked it or not. All these thoughts were crowding my mind and I was wondering if this trip would be as exciting as the last few had been.

We had just swung the exit door open with our carts, and were looking for our daughter in the visitors lounge. Suddenly there was a loud call of 'Naanaa' and we saw our little granddaughter charging towards us at full gallop. I just had enough time to stop my cart, run forward and lift her up in my arms. 

All my misgivings about her having ‘grown up’ vanished and I knew that we were going to have fun, as children, once again.