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!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

81. CAPITAL difference

The group, especially the children broke loose after listening to my sentence. Adult women were obviously caught in two minds, they did not want to insult their guest, but could not control their laughter. Children were not bothered about who they were facing, for them it was a moment for a hearty laugh and they were enjoying the moment fully.

I think I am either too out of the world (because I do not read daily newspapers and do not have TV at home) or I just love to get surprised. That is why everywhere I go, there are surprises for me. I was visiting Ranchi after three years and was surprised by many things. For example, the participation of 600 Akhadas in Raam Navamee festival with such a pomp and show was something I had never imagined about Ranchi. (The photo is taken two days after the festival, so no crowds in the photo!)

I was in a small hamlet named Bidpi Tolee, part of village Itki, just about 20 kilometers from Ranchi, the Capital of Jharkhand. Here I was, amongst women and children of Sarna tribe, who speak ‘Kurukh’ language. Later after internet search I realized that ‘Sarna’ is a religion practiced by Santhal tribes. (For further information visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tribes_of_Jharkhand).

Half an hour ago, prior to this meeting, I had learnt from Mantoran ( a local woman, who is working with us as Extension Worker, her life story is really inspiring) how to ask ‘what is your name?’ in Kurukh language. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurukh) I had just asked “ninghaya naame enther heke?” to a child and that brought so much laughter to the whole gathering. Obviously, I had asked it all wrong, once again!

I met about 20 women and few children. The children attended a local school, which was a school for ‘school dropouts’. Most of the adult women had very small land, and after paddy cultivation work as laborers. They earn only twenty rupees as farm wage and 80 rupees if they are on a construction work – a lot of construction work is going on around the area. Women showed me a place about 2 kilometers away where there was a forest ten years ago and now not a single tree! For a hamlet of 50 families there is only one handpump.

All the families are poor. They are not able to speak Hindi, but understand my questions very well. They have a hard time while explaining their daily diet to me. They insisted that I should stay with them for couple of days, then they would be able to demonstrate me what they eat. Women were very happy to interact with me. They told me, that it was for the first time they were interacting with some outsider. They interact with relatives coming from outside, but it was their first interaction with a non-Sarna person. They have formed couple of Self Help Groups and we discussed that. I gave them information about bank linkage and government schemes. But more than that I wish they could spend some time together and learn few new thoughts and ideas. They like this idea of learning together.

I request the women to sing. They start discussing amongst themselves. It seems that their ‘star’ singer is not there. They are taking time. The girls who are at the sideline of the conversation till then decide to become proactive. They want to sing and without waiting for anyone’s permission they start singing. They sing a song about ‘Chala’ God. Their voice is beautiful, it resonates. The song is something like this: I go to East and I go to West, but I do not find Chala. I go to North and I go to South but I do not find Chala. I eat and sleep but I do not find Chala. I sing and dance, but I do not find Chala. The people try to find God, but they never find it, we are born, enjoy, live and die without understanding God… what a nice song!

It is time to leave. The women want me to spend some more time with them. But there is another meeting at Chund, a place 25 kilometers away. I have to, knowing that I may never meet these women again. I know I have learnt a lot from them but have not given them anything in return. I just take their group photo so as to remind me that such people and such life exists around me.

I approach Ranchi in the evening thinking about those simple women and kids. We are separated not just by twenty kilometers. We are separated by history, tradition, religion, education, opportunity, freedom. The life is not only different apparently but inherently.

There is a CAPITAL difference between the lives of people like us and the tribal people. Who is responsible for this might be a difficult question to ask. However, it is certain that it is our responsibility to bridge the gap by making everyone part of the development process.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

80. Without Interpretation

Once while traveling in Satpuda region, I saw a man worshiping some stone God. It was just 7.00 in the morning. As I am interested in studying history and culture of various tribes, I thought of taking a photograph of that tribal man. My colleague had a new digital camera and he was enthusiastically ready to test his photography skills. He immediately went into a photographer mode. I asked him to wait for couple of minutes.

As a believer in people’s privacy and their right to share information, I thought it was necessary to take permission of that man before taking photograph. My colleague laughed at it. He said, “Why would the man object to being photographed?” But I insisted. So, my colleague asked the man whether he would mind being photographed. Generally when asked this question, villagers do not object. But this man said, “No, please, do not take my photograph”.

I felt little triumphant that I was sensitive to the rights of tribal people. It was a pleasant surprise to meet a poor tribal man, courageous enough to say emphatic ‘no’ to urban people. Rural-urban, educated-uneducated etcetera still define power positions in rural India.

I was curious about his answer. The man was neither too young nor too old. He was alone. For few minutes we silently watched his worship. He continued his worship without paying much attention to us. I took opportunity of this silence and I asked him various questions - about what God it was, why it was being worshiped, why was he alone, where was his home etc. The man seemed eager to talk to us. He explained to me that in the memory of the dead, each family erects stone images at the outskirt of the village. Once in a year, in a particular period the family worships those ancestors.

The worship ritual seemed to be simple and a sort of routine matter for the man. He had some flowers, few herbs, a chicken (of course dead), and some liquid in a pot and few lines to utter. Within few minutes, the worship was over. The man inquired about us – who we were, from where we came, why and so on. We answered all those questions.

I was trying to analyze the response of this man and wanted to understand his perceptions and reasons for not allowing us to take his photograph. I was expecting some deeper religious concepts, some type of taboo, some ban on giving information to outsiders, and some sort of belief about protecting the tradition. Finally I asked him “Why you did not want us to take your photograph while worshiping? Was there any specific reason?”

Now it was the turn of that tribal man to be puzzled. He looked at me, smiled and just said, “Oh! Sister, I have nothing against you and there is no special reason. My clothes are not good enough for a photograph, they are dirty and torn, and that is why I did not want you to take my photograph.”

Looking at my reaction he spontaneously consoled me, “Next time if you inform me in advance, I will wear best of my clothes, I will even bring whole of my family here and then you can take any number of my photographs during the worship.”

I was completely taken aback!

Everything in life is not so complicated and not so deeply rooted as it appears to be. Life is simple, natural, innocent, and instinctive. Then why invite misery by interpreting it? Our interpretations brings in our choices, our biases, our miseries and out perspective into it.

To see things (persons, events, happening,) as they happen is an art. It might be good, bad or ugly, but why take its burden on ourselves? To ‘take life as it is’ is difficult but not impossible.

That morning, the man taught me the need to learn the art of living without interpretation! Art of taking life as it comes to you….

Saturday, March 13, 2010

79. Simply Great

It was a routine travel for me. I was traveling from Pune to Nasik for office work. I was not much enthusiastic about going to Nasik, so I had not booked ticket in advance. From Shivaji Nagar, a suburban State Transport bus stand, a bus leaves for Nasik after every 30 minutes. I was traveling during an ‘off season’, so was not much worried about crowds and waiting time at the bus stand.

I reached the bus stand and was happy to see that there was no queue at the booking window. Within a second, I understood the reason. The only bus available at that hour was Shivaneree – an air-conditioned Volvo bus, named after a place where the famous King Shivaajee was born. I like the name of the bus very much – that is bit sentimental I know. This bus ticket is costly; nearly double the regular luxury bus (named as Asiad – the 1982 Asiad local transport bus model is widely used by Maharashtra State Transport Board - Mahaamandala). It is much costlier than the regular bus service – commonly known as ‘lal dabba’ – the red and yellow color bus. Naturally, many potential travelers preferred to wait for half an hour more and travel cheaply.

I took the ticket, the booking clerk handed over a newspaper and 100 ml water bottle to me. These two things are supposed to be complimentary! I always find such offers funny. If I am spending three hundred rupees for the ticket, can’t I spend three rupees for newspaper and ten rupees for water bottle? But our society suffers from a disease called ‘free gifts’. During my earlier booking I had politely refused to accept these two free gifts. On that occasion I had to discuss the issue with at least five officials and so I had given up. They had a point. If some free gift is not distributed properly, it accounts to corruption was one of the arguments. Though I was not fully convinced, I was tired of discussing non issue.

The girl sitting next to me did not give any response to my smile. When the co-traveler does not want to talk, what else you can do? Just watch things around and relax. The bus was moving with adequate speed, no disturbance of movie or songs. Some people were loudly talking into their mobile phones, some were sleeping, and those traveling in groups were laughing and chatting. Everything was just normal.

The bus stopped at the food mall. I went to the book stall and purchased two books and ice-cream. By the time the bus renewed its journey, I was engrossed in the book.

Suddenly the driver stopped the bus at the roadside. He opened the bus door and shouted “Come quick, run”. Now this was supposed to be a nonstop bus (except for the tea break) and whom was the driver inviting? Everybody stopped whatever s/he was doing and looked at the driver – some with question mark, some with irritation, some with pure eagerness. I too stopped reading and was wondering what exactly the driver is doing? The air was full with anticipation.

And there came 7-8 girls, all very young, may be in the age group of 8 to 10. They were laughing excitedly. The girls suddenly brought a joyful energy into the bus. Couple of us, who were sitting in the front row, had opportunity to smile and talk to the young girls. They all stayed in the small village by the roadside and everyday walked two kilometers (one way) to the school. Today, they had some kind of examination (unit test I believe) and they were happy that the examination went well. They were walking back to their village and suddenly the driver had kindly given them lift. Just in the next five minutes, their village came and they alighted down, thanking the ‘driver uncle’ and asking him ‘when is your duty next on the route’! The departure of the girls created a vacuum for a moment.

The girls had as if electrified the bus, recharged us, everybody was fully awake and surprisingly everyone was smiling. The innocence of those girls brought a new life. Even the young girl sitting next to me smiled and said to me, “good to see village girls going to school.” People stopped talking into their cell phones and started interacting with co-passengers. The old man in the front seat, added some kind of remark and everybody was talking about those young girls with love and joy.

I was really interested in the action of the driver. “Is it your native village?” I asked the driver, and he had a story to share.

With all smiles the driver told, “About a month ago, my bus had some problem. I was not able to drive it further. I just waited on the highway for mechanic to arrive. But somehow it was raining heavily; the mechanic at the next bus depot was on leave. So, the officials had to arrange for a mechanic from a bus depot at 100 kilometer distance. You know, how our offices work. It took two days for the mechanic to arrive. There was no hotel nearby. The villagers brought food and tea for me during those two days. Some of the young boys accompanied me during the night – you know, I couldn’t leave the bus. All the boys and girls in the village came and talked to me, they played games with me, and they sang songs to entertain me. You see, it was not at all their duty to help me. I was unknown to them; I don’t belong to this area. But they helped as if I was one of them. Their action touched me. If they had not supplied me food, I had no option but to stay without food and water. If they had not given company, I had no option but to stay alone under the sky. I am one of them now. Whenever I drive on this route, I give them lift. I know it is against the rules, but they are good people and they are poor. Would you allow those young kids to walk in the hot afternoon when you are traveling in an AC bus?”

“No, you did the right thing,” was everyone’s spontaneous response.

It is amazing that there are still people around who offer unasked help without expecting any returns. And it is more amazing that there are still people around who understand such help and reciprocate the favor in good spirit. The world continues to progress because there are such simple people, who may never make headlines, never get the name, fame and wealth to which the world salutes. However, they are the real movers and motivators. They are simple and great people! Simply Great!!

I value innocence especially because I live in ‘use and throw’ kind of culture, everyday I face shrewd mob and purposeless action is rarity here. There are times when I need to feel confident that there is nothing wrong in being innocent and helpful.

I look forward traveling to Nasik. I hope I will meet that driver again, meet those girls again and share their smile, their joy, their peace, their togetherness, and their selflessness.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

78. Time Travel

  • Prologue:Time Travel seems to be a modern concept, a fantasy according to some. Creative minds have been imaginative enough to evade logic and create a new logic. But what if I say that thousands of years ago, a young guy, an Indian, actually did Time Travel? Sounds impossible? Well, the effects of his Time Travel are well documented, the full story is revealed here, for the first time of course!
Nachiketas was a highly intelligent and bright for his young and tender age. He was mature, silent, humble and disciplined. What others did not know about Nachiketas was his inquisitive nature. He had lot of questions. As he grew, he realized that there was wisdom in not asking those questions aloud. But nevertheless, he kept on asking those to himself.

Right from childhood Nachiketas was fascinated by the movement around. Some things like the trees, the hills, the farm, the houses, the sky did not at all move. Animals, birds, human beings seemed to have controlled movement, they moved according to their desire and necessity. But few other things like the wind, the Sun, the Moon, the river, the stars seemed to be moving regularly. Where were they going? From where did they re-appear again?

Nachiketas was surprised by the movement of life. Babies were born, grew and old people died. Where did the babies come from? And where did the old people go? Like the Sun and the Moon, does everything reappear? When? How? What is the secret?

Nachiketas was thinking of Time and Space constantly for the last twelve years. He had worked on some mechanism to reach the depth of the Truth. He was not old fashioned in the sense he did not believe that everything could be achieved through Mind Power. If few things could be reached through Matter, Nachiketas had no objection. He was in the process of pilot testing that mechanism which could reveal the Truth to him. He felt he was nearing a breakthrough. He imagined how the elders would react to his breakthrough. In the era of Mind Power, using Material Power was going to shake people. He smiled in anticipation. Nachiketas then felt irritated. Was it necessary for him to waste time in this function?
Nachiketas was disturbed by the noise around. His father had told him something about this a few months ago. Though Nachiketas was an obedient son, he did not pay much attention to his father then. Nachiketas was engrossed in his own thought and anyway his father, being Head of the State was always organizing such functions. But when it actually started happening, it disturbed Nachiketas.

Vajasravasa, the King and father of Nachiketas too was disturbed. The boy seemed to have lost interest in Princely duties. The father could clearly see that the boy was present just physically but his mind was wandering somewhere else. This was an important time for Vajasravasa. He only knew the burden a King had to carry. Apparently, the rule passed from Father to Son, but practically it was not so easy. The Prince had to pass many informal and formal tests, especially had to satisfy the Court (consisting of too many wise people a young man can face), then only the lineage continued. The Sacrifice was just an outward ritual; his son passing the test was what was important to him.

Vajasravasa expected Nachiketas to be at his best. As it is, Nachiketas had no faults. He was intelligent, had acquired all the skills, was well trained in Vedic tradition, and was well behaved. People not only liked Nachiketas but loved him. The boy had shown glimpses of his spiritual powers, was an added advantage. That would keep the Brahmins away for few years, thought Vajasravasa. But something was missing. The boy was not enjoying the attention. He seemed irritated, frustrated. Vajasravasa feared that some kind of disaster was waiting to happen. Unfortunately he could not confide his fears to anyone else. He decided to keep a close watch on Nachiketas.
Giving away wealth was part of the Sacrifice. The poor, the knowledgeable came in hundreds, nay thousands. Vajasravasa never liked this idea of throwing well earned wealth to those lazy idiots. But he could not say so. He had to carry on the societal and regal norms.

Vajasravasa saw his wealth disappearing. The land, the gold, the ornaments, the cows, the horses, the elephants….. Everything was fast disappearing. Still a large crowd was there in the Sacrifice Pendal. The servants brought another cowherd. These cows were weak, old, almost on the deathbed. The cows had drunk their last water, eaten their last grass, yielded their last milk and worn out their organs. Vajasravasa knew these cows were not worth presenting, but he had no alternative. He had already spent more than he could afford. But in the process of securing future of Nachiketas, this expenditure was essential. Once Nachiketas was enthroned as the next king, the wealth would find its way back; Vajasravasa knew.

At this moment Nachiketas woke up from his trance. He thought his father won’t earn any merit by giving such cows in a sacrifice. He was worried for his father. He did not want to be party to hypocrisy. Sudden realization dawned upon him that he too would have to carry such useless rituals in future. He shuddered at the thought. He wanted to run away, he wanted to rebel.

To Vajasravasa’s horror, Nachiketas stood and objected the gift of such old cows. Sarcastically the boy asked his father, “To whom, will you give me?” He asked once, Vajasravasa kept quiet. Nachiketas asked twice, “To whom will you give me?” the father kept his cool hoping that the Senior Priest would intervene and everything would be alright. But Vajasravasa could see the whole assembly stunned and shocked. People turned to Vajasravasa in utter disgust. When a Son like Nachiketas was accusing his Father, what more proof one needed to know that Vajasravas had committed some kind of unknown but hideous crime?

“To whom will you give me?” the boy asked third time and Vajasravasa lost his patience. It was his life, his kingdom, his name and fame at stake. Unfortunately, his own son had chosen to be his enemy. The boy’s habit of asking wrong questions at the wrong time had surfaced again. But when in battleground, whoever attacks you is your enemy. If he now allowed the assembly to be impressed by the stupidity of his boy, he will have to give up the kingdom forever. Vajasravasa overcame the panic. In calm but a firm voice, he said, “Oh Nachiketas, my son, to Death will I give you.”

A wave of shock passed through the assembly. Then someone applauded. What a great father Vajasravasa was! To sacrifice one’s own son was a heroic and spiritual act. The assembly hailed Vajasravasa and the assembly hailed Nachiketas. For all of them it was one of the greatest moments. They were observing creation of history.
For one moment, Nachiketas was clueless. He knew he could not die at his own will. Unless his father chose to kill him, he would not die. He knew for sure that father won’t kill him. Then how to obey father? Obey he must. Otherwise, he would be insulting his father in front of his subjects. What good son he would be then?

Accidentally Nachiketas touched a small stone in his golden ring. He smiled. His face illuminated. It was time to test his hypothesis. It was time to test his ideas regarding Power of Matter. In a splash he took a decision and he acted fast. In the presence of thousands of people, the knowledgeable priests and helpless Vajasravasa, Nachiketas disappeared. The crowds erupted – some with joy, some with fear, and some with horror. Some saw it as a proof of spiritual power of Vajasravasa. Some saw it as the merit of Nachiketas.
Nachiketas had loads of ideas about how the mechanism he had installed on his golden ring would work. But when he started using it, he was not sure. He realized that he had to use his mental power. The combination of mind and matter would work much more effectively than just allowing matter power to work. He was excited with the sudden transition. He had no time to worry about what must have been the effect on the assembly. There lay an infinite future in front of him and he wanted to explore it. He realized that combination of Mind and Matter is essential for life.
Rest, as they say, is a history . It is well documented (in Kathopanishad) that Nachiketas went and met the Lord of Death, Yama. It is known that Nachiketas waited for Yama at his house for three nights without food and therefore Yama offered Nachiketas three boons.

Let us not go into details of those three boons now. Those who are interested can read Kathopanishad to know more about it.

What is important to note is that Nachiketas was the first to travel in future and first to safely come back. He came back unscratched; his father could recongnize him and did welcome him. His contemporaries were not aware of the Time Travel mechanism used by Nachiketas, so they termed it as spiritual power, God’s grace, power of merit etc.

Why an intelligent and courageous person like Nachiketas never explained Time Travel is a mystery. May be we lost that ‘Time Travel Manual’ he wrote. Who knows?


Of course, there is a fresh and hot debate about who did Time Travel first.
Some recent research shows that it was a woman after all who first successfully completed ‘Time Travel’. The specialty of her travel was: she did help a man (naturally her husband, who else?) through this fantastic journey. The altruism adds flavor to the fun of Time Travel.

Your guess is right. Some researchers claim that it was not Nachiketas but Savitri who completed the first ‘Time Travel’ in the history of human beings. A multidisciplinary team is undertaking the research. Volunteers are encouraged. Supporting Grants and Donations are accepted here.

NOTE: I love Kathopanishad and it always inspires me. I do not intend to offend any ideology, history, religion, sentiments. I am just utilizing an artist’s freedom of interpretation. Sorry, if it hurts you.