Evening at Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 2015
and so does everything around... the situation, the people, the perspective, the needs.... and we too change.... the wise and courageous seek change.. because only change is constant!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

61. What Matters Is…

One of my young friends wanted to celebrate. So, we went to a famous coffee shop.

He ordered me, “Read normally, and don’t practice your Urdu here.”
No, I cannot read Urdu. But the boy knows how we- GenO (meaning generation old) behave. When it comes to reading menu cards in hotels, I read like Urdu, from right to left. Looking at the price, I decide whether a particular food item is ‘worth’ ordering. So does his father and mother. The boy had watched three of us helplessly during his teens. Now he is earning loads of money. Many times when especially the young generation talks about their salary, I get confused. What I think as their annual salary is actually their monthly salary. And also their expenditure patterns and amounts are beyond my grasp.

“What would you have?” the boy asked.
“Isn’t it just a coffee shop?” I asked.
“Common aunty, there are many things which you can consume before, with and after coffee. Name it and you will have it. Please aunty, don’t bother about the costs, and don’t give me any lecture now. I want to spend money for you. Don’t spoil my moment”, he pleaded. Realizing his sentiments, I decided to enjoy the moment. But in such restaurants, I cannot understand the dish by just reading names. Cheese Sandwich was the only item I could understand, so I decided to take it. And I like cheese sandwich. The young man went and brought it for me. He was sorry that I chose such a simple dish.

We ate. We chatted. I am a good listener. Actually his parents are my friends, but he too is my friend. Because I write blog, I chat, I am on orkut and facebook; he feels that I am much better than his parents!! So, he shares many things with me. He trusts me.

Then it was time for coffee. It was a self service kind of coffee shop. I too went to the counter.
“Coffee”, I answered to the man (again a young man) on the counter.
“With sugar or without sugar?” was the next question. I wanted sugar.
“How much sugar?” the third question. I answered that too.
“You would like to have milk? “ I answered.
"Hot or cold, M'am?" the next one was ready.
“Would you like to have cream?”
I lost my patience. Little irritably and little humorously I said, “I just want a good cup of coffee. How many questions you are asking my dear young man!”

He must have been used to irritation of people of my age. But he was a witty boy. “If you want something of your choice in life, madam, you have to ask and answer many questions.” He answered coolly.

I was surprised. I smiled. “That is what a Philosophy professor was saying to his friend the other day.” He honestly explained. Then he smiled at me and turned to the next customer.

Yes, he was right. One has to go through unending questionnaire before finally getting what one wants. I appreciated the idea.

After few months, I went to Kanyakumari and Pondicherry. I like to travel alone. After reaching Kanyakumari, I went to the canteen. And I asked for a cup of coffee.

And I get a hot cup of coffee, with just the right taste and right aroma. I enjoy the cup of coffee not only one or two days but for about ten days. I don’t have to ask and answer questions. I do not have to split my head over issues like quantity and quality. Without any headache I get what I want. I am content with what I get. I am satisfied. I am fully convinced that whatever I am paying is fully justified because of the returns.

I was just comparing the two situations. The first was trying too much to get what you want and the second was getting your wishes fulfilled automatically. Ultimately what mattered in both the situation was ‘a good cup of coffee’.

Sometimes we are caught in the first situation and some other time we are lucky enough to be in the second situation. Life is combination of both. If one is lucky enough, one would get a congenial atmosphere. So, without trouble one would achieve. With hard luck, one will have to find way through the 'not so congenial' surroundings.

What ultimately matters is to achieve what we want to achieve.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

60. Relevance

Thursday is the ‘official’ power cut or load shedding day in my city. From 9.00 in the morning till 5.30 in the evening, there is no electricity. With not so efficient UPS backup at my workplace, I am left with some ‘free time’ on Thursdays. I have a normal human psychology, I mean when the PC is not working; I remember a hell lot of work which could be done only with computers. So, earlier I used to feel a bit irritated with power cuts, lack of backups etc. But once I realized that there was nothing I could do about it, I started looking for alternatives.

One task which always needs my ‘most urgent attention’ is the cleaning of papers lying on the table. (You may also like to read my earlier post ‘Clean Act’. Please, visit http://thistimethattime.blogspot.com/2008/11/clean-act.html ) I have as many as three trays on my table, and whatever I do there are always some papers in those trays. Add some 50+ files, full of papers and you will understand my plight.

I might have many faults, but I have my strengths too. Once I understand the problem, I try to solve it with full determination. So, I religiously take up ‘cleaning’ work, whenever I have such opportunities. And at least once in a month, my dustbin looks like this :)

The other day I was just wondering about my efficiency. Why I am throwing away so many papers? In the first place, it means I am gathering too many unnecessary and unwanted things. Does it mean that my decisions are not right? Does it mean that my preferences are not right? Does it mean that I invest my energy in wrong things? Does this indicate that I am spending much of my time in the things I do not like or I do not want to do? Does this apply to my whole life?

Certainly not. Because most of the things I am throwing away today, were very important at a point of time. What I am keeping today as ‘important’ will have to go to dust bin one day. These papers stay with me until they are important, but their importance is not lifelong. Their power lies in their utility. The moment they cease to be useful, they are out, they are to be thrown away. The secret of their existence is their relevance. The moment they cease to be relevant, they become garbage.

What is true about papers, applies too well to human life. Our importance too is temporary. Whatever power position we might have, it is only temporary. People would value us only until we are ‘useful’ and ‘relevant’. No matter what qualities you have, if you are not relevant, you will be treated as dust.

To be ‘relevant’ is the most important challenge one faces in life.

But we need to ask ourselves: what I am doing today as a compulsion of life, is it relevant to the purpose of my life? After all people’s perceptions regarding relevance keep on changing, but the 'consistency in lifelong relevance' is something which we should strive for – whether we are treated like a king/queen or like a beggar! None of the ‘great’ personalities were treated as ‘relevant’ by their contemporaries.

So, a time comes in our life when ‘relevance’ becomes the most ‘irrelevant’ value!!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

59. Building Bridges

I am in the midst of Oriya speaking women and children. They do not speak Hindi and I do not speak Oriya. But we interact. I do not have a translator. There are a couple of Oriya speaking men with me, but they have to cater the needs of three non-Oriya men. I know that if I depend on translators, I will not get anything. So, I move alone.

Women gather around me. I ask them about their homes. I indicate that I want to see their homes. They take me inside. After the visit to first two villages I have picked up few Oriya phrases. Somehow I manage to understand how many children they have, whether they go to school, whether the water source is nearby or not, whether the women are in SHG, how many cows they have, what do they eat everyday, where is the forest from which they bring fuel wood … and so on. Sometimes there is confusion. For example, I ask: how many children are there in Anganwadi. The woman keeps on saying ‘Gutte’ meaning ‘one’. I keep on asking the same question. Another woman runs away and fetches a child –a three year old boy. Then she indicates that this is the only son of the woman I am talking to. So, I am not getting the answers to my questions. But it is alright. We all smile.

For the women and kids, it is time to laugh. For the first time, they are meeting someone who is not able to speak their language. They encourage me when I speak up one or two Oriya words. They are very supportive.

We visit eight different villages and each village has something to offer me. I see tribal fathers taking care of their kids.

I meet a woman who is speech-impaired. She pulls me in her house to show me preparation of chutney. I meet three women, who are ready to take me up into the Niyamgiri hills to the temple of Dharani Mata. The only condition is I have to wear a saree. Dharani Mata does not allow women wearing salwar-kameez. I meet two women who want to show me that they can write their names, and they confidently write their names in my notebook.

One woman wants me to write my name on her palm, I write it in English, one kid reads it loudly and they all laugh merrily.

I meet an old woman, who is running a grocery shop. When I take her photograph, she demands a copy of this photograph for displaying it in her shop. She speaks in Oriya, but I can make it. In one village, girls fetch me to a spot, where women take bath, wash utensils and clothes. It is a 50 feet climb-down, and they want me to go there. Two women hold my hands so that I do not fall down. They are laughing when they see me climbing down with so much of caution.

Outside village temple, there is a small stone. I sit there for a minute and a tribal man rushes to me. He explains that the stone is a goddess, I apologize and he accepts the apology without hesitation. He informs me about the temple in details, indicating that he is not really angry with me for my misconduct- because he knows I had no bad intentions.

I am in the vicinity of Niyamgiri hills. This is my first visit to this area and it is ‘love at first sight’ with Niyamgiri. It is beautiful. There is something very serene about the hill. I am fully aware of the unrest in the hills; so I had a dilemma about this visit. But I choose to come here, and I am happy that I came here.

Just three days in the midst of those communities and so much of enrichment. It is kind of magic for me. How many times I have experienced this? I mean mingling with the crowds, even when we do not understand each others' language? But let me tell you, it is fun. Even without language you can build bridges. May be because you can’t advice them or you can’t make long speeches, you build better bridges.

I return to Pune and observe the festive environment. Everybody is naturally in a celebration mood. I still remember those children and those women. I remember the poverty. I remember their unventilated houses. I remember only dal-chawal in their plates. I remember women climbing down 50 feet to take a bath. My heart is full of such memories.

I need to build bridges between the luxuries I have and the lack of basic amenities people in the remote parts of the country have.

Otherwise, I will walk miles but I will not reach anywhere. Then the bridges would be useless.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

58. Missed Heartbeats

While listening to that statement I missed few heartbeats. How many? One, two, three... I cannot say.

As I am a ‘Monitoring and Evaluation’ practitioner, I have a habit of looking for quantity in processes and qualitative processes hidden behind numbers. But at that moment, I was too shocked to be my usual self.

The taxi driver said to me, “But he has done a good job. Nothing wrong, he has done his duty.”

Ok. Let me begin from the beginning.

Last Thursday, I hired a taxi from Mumbai Central station to Dadar. On the way the taxi driver started talking to me, about rain, about elections etc.

We crossed through Arthur Road Jail, where half of the road was closed. There were many police vehicles parked, (kids were playing around those.) This was instrumental in traffic congestion and the driver cursed. Not having traveled through the road for many years, I just remarked, “Is some sort of VIP coming in or leaving jail today?”

“No, aunty. It is for a single person. For many months it is like this. You remember what happened in Mumbai in November? Ajamal Kasab is in this jail.” The driver informed.

I sighed. Yes, I very much remember those sad days. “Hmm. Now the facts are known, they should really punish him at the earliest. Why it is taking so much of time, I do not understand.” I was thinking aloud.

And then the taxi driver made the statement which shocked me to the core.

I was stunned. Was I facing a terrorist? I was not sure.

Was he trying to provoke me? Was he sarcastic? Was he honestly sharing his ideas with me because my outward appearance does not give any indication about my religious identity? I was not sure.

I kept my calm. I looked at the driver. I tried to understand his response. I had two options. One was to discuss with the unknown driver. Other was to keep quiet. I decided to talk.

“What good is in killing innocent people?” I asked in a natural peaceful tone.

Until then the taxi driver was talking to me coolly. But now he fired up. ‘Why none of you asked this question when thousands were killed during partition? Why none of you ask this question when riots happen and we are targeted? Why people like you keep quiet when we are forced to run away – leaving everything behind? Why?”

Even if this taxi driver was not some sort of a terrorist, he was sure to kill me in a road accident :), because he was looking behind and talking to me all the time.

I listened to him. Then I said, “In the past some people have made mistakes, but repeating it knowingly is not going to solve the problem.” I appealed to his conscience by saying, “Think about those who lost their dear and near ones. Think about those families who still miss them. Try to understand their suffering and pain. What was the fault of those who were killed so brutally? What wrong they had done? Are not there alternate ways to solve problems? If we cannot produce life, why take it?’

I kept on talking. For me the mission of that moment was to bring this man out of illusion of Kasab’s actions, Kasab’s ideology, if he has any. My whole energy was used for thinking about how to appeal his heart, how to make him see things differently, how to change his view about what happened in Mumbai on 26th November.

Initially he argued but then he listened. He opened. His face smoothened. His frown disappeared. He actually smiled. He agreed. He said, “Yes, there is a point in what you say. Kasab should not have killed those who were at CST station. They were innocent people like you and me”.

Then he asked me, “Sister, are you Hindu?”

I did not answer his question. I did not ask his religion. I asked from which state he has come to Mumbai. Fortunately recently I had visited that state, and the very district which he came from. When I spoke about the area and mentioned names of couple of villages, he completely mellowed down. He talked about suffering of people in his area and how things could change. He felt the connection. He kept on talking about his village, about his childhood days.

Within half an hour, the taxi reached Dadar.
“How much to pay?” I asked.
“Nothing”, the driver replied.
I was confused. I repeated the question.
“Sister, this ride is a gift from me. You treated me with respect; you talked to me very kindly and politely. You know my state; you work for my people; so I trust you. I think things will change for better for all of us.” He was honestly speaking to me.

I gave him a hundred rupee note and rushed to the bus stand. I purchased ticket and took my seat. I was completely drained by this conversation. I still miss a heartbeat when I remember that half an hour.

India may or may not have enemies outside, but they are definitely inside. We are in constant danger. We can be finished any time, not by outsiders but by insiders. Even on that fateful day Kasab and his men could act out their ideas, because some of us (Indians) helped them, either knowingly or unknowingly. Without our support, nobody can destroy us.

The flame is burning. That can take any form.
If we are awake, we will use the flame for good.

But if we ignore it, we surely would miss many more heartbeats, many more times.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

57. The Indian Dream

Oh! You are speaking to me. Sorry. You know, you were saying ‘Uncle’, so I thought you were calling someone else. You see, I am old enough to be your great great grandfather.

Do I have time to talk to you? There is ample time. Sometimes I observe silence, but today I choose to talk. Someone has approached me after a long time. Why don’t you sit down?

Dream? I told you I am very old now. I haven’t slept well for last many years. No blood pressure. I am a naturopathy practitioner. And you know, fasting is the best solution for any health trouble. At times, the doctors had given up hope of my life, but I survived. I am a very stubborn old man. I am just under a little stress. Problems are there everywhere. And when you grow old, you cease to daydream. The realities of life are so harsh that one forgets to dream.

Aha! You are very determined. I like such people. Now I see that you are a mature adult, and you still talk about dreams enthusiastically. Good.

Yes, when I was young, and you see you can be young even at 70 or 80… what was I talking? Oh, yes I had many dreams. There might be some people who live with only one dream, but frankly speaking I had many dreams. I have written and talked a lot about those dreams, because I believe in sharing dreams, I believe in dreaming together. Did I write a book? Oh! Don’t bother about the past.

I had a dream that my brothers and sisters would stay peacefully together without fighting. But I was destined to see the separation. How painful were those days! I still feel that I had missed something vital that time. How could it happen in front of my eyes? And even today their children continue to fight. Reason? There is no reason at all. My family allowed the guest to interfere in our family matters, and that was the beginning of the problem. If I get the same life again, I will correct some of my mistakes. But alas, life never gives such opportunities.

I had a dream that my family – it is very big now – would be healthy and happy; each one of them will have enough to live a good life. But I see that some of them are still very poor – in ‘absolute poverty’ in your modern language. Some are wasting money in unnecessary consumerism and luxuries. The disparity is increasing. Yes, I use modern words. One has to change with the times to keep oneself relevant.

I was saying that most poor are still exploited. They are unhappy. How do I know? In my times I was known to understand people around very well. They said I could read the pulse of the people. Can’t I understand my own people? They speak different language nowadays, but in the heart they remain the same – for good and for bad both!

I had a dream that my children would learn good things in life, a kind of education which would make them better human beings, better instruments to serve the society. But they all followed English education, have become babus and are not bothered about their roots. Many of my ancestors and friends had taken trouble to bring the family out of ditch. But alas, all of them are forgotten now. Only on their birth and death anniversaries they get garlands! That is all.

By the way, how many machines do you have in your home? I am old, so do not understand these new machines. Good, I am happy that you use hand washed cotton clothes, and I believe you wash them yourself. You wash utensils yourself, you walk a lot. Good, I don’t mind talking to you.

I like people working more with hands than machines. No, No, I am not against technology. But at what cost your modern technology is used? I believe in appropriate technology. You know, production by masses is important and not mass production. Who has said it? You think that you have read it somewhere? How do I know? What if I say, I said it? Do not laugh. We Indians have this wrong habit of worshiping person and not paying attention to idea.

I can tell you a lot about my dreams. I have time, but you don’t seem to have. Sure, you can leave. It is alright.

Thanks. I do not want to be dropped anywhere, actually I have already been dropped. Yes, it is lonely here but I love this place. My family? They are busy in what you call a rat race. Who has the time to see that the old man is missing from home? Don’t worry. I am used to it. They will find me when they need me. No, I am not angry, I am just worried. No, I do want your jerkin. It is not made in India…I think so.

Name? What is there in name? Give me any name. My children call me “Bapu” – that means father. You can call me Bapu if you wish.

Ok, you insist. I like this spirit. I always insisted in my life, I never gave up easily. When you explore truth, you have to stand and fight, I know it. I can’t deny you the truth.

My name is Gandhi. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

My child! Don’t be so surprised and shocked. I did not tell my name earlier, because you did not ask.

Don’t think that I do not know I was assassinated sixty one years ago! I know I cannot have physical existence. I do not have.

Don’t bother about me. The idea matters, not the person. Don’t worship person, grasp the idea, live it fully, make the idea your life. Each generation has to dream anew, invest energy anew. The passion has to be regenerated to keep the movement on. Nothing but only guidance is given. You have to walk yourself in search of the truth, in search of the reality, in search of happiness, in search of equity, in search of peace.

All the time you are asking me about my dreams. But actually you are talking to me in your dream.

It is time to be awake. It is time to act.

Dream Well, my child. Dream Big. Dream for India. Dream for the Poor. Dream for the Neglected. Dream for the Exploited. Dream for the Humanity. Dream Collectively. Dream with all your Capacity. Dream with full consciousness. I pray God that all your dreams be fulfilled.

You have got it right: No more personal dreams. Only The Indian Dream.

Remembering Gandhiji on his birth anniversary entails following his ideas. The book ‘Hind Swarajya’, Gandhiji’s dream for India, was first published in 1909. To live some of his ideas would be one of the best ‘INDIAN DREAMS’.