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!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

140. Significant

After returning from any office travel, one of the important tasks is to clean the papers. Some of the papers need to be thrown away and some need to be preserved for future use. After a week- long travel, today evening I was engaged in this routine task and I came across an envelope. This envelope had remained unopened for a considerable period. This particular envelope was given to me by an Institute, a very prestigious Institute in the country.

This renowned Institute had invited me as a guest speaker. I was very busy that week – had returned from North East and had plans to travel  the next two weeks -  first to Uttarakhand and then to Andhra Pradesh. So, I needed some time for myself, for documentation, for preparation. When my reporting officer called me to ask whether I could go to deliver this lecture, I was for a moment going to say NO. However, I have been always lucky enough to have reporting officers, who never order me. They generally ask me politely whether it is possible for me to take on additional workload and I almost every time end up in taking that. One of my friends says that, “This is the management skill. They know that if they force you, you will rebel, but if given choice, you will take on additional responsibilities.” I am not sure whether my friend is right, but yes, I like to be treated with dignity. And I reciprocate such gift in my own way.

So, I prepared on Sunday, traveled on Monday evening, did the job on Tuesday and returned same evening. It was a mixed experience. The place was a beauty, to be near Himalaya is a luxury and I fully enjoyed that. This was an opportunity to learn about the Institute and I was overwhelmed by the aura of the place. The speech was received well by some and had good interaction with the audience. Overall, it was work –cum- break and I loved that.

This particular envelope was given to me along with memento at the end of my speech. In the rush of other activities I had not opened it.

I open it, read it and it irks me. The letter says:

Logo of the Institute                                          Address of the Institute

Dear Ms. ……….

It was indeed a great pleasure having you with us at the ……………… to deliver a talk to the Officer Trainees of the ……………………

Your talk was extremely well received and the trainees appreciated the issues and points highlighted by you during the session. On behalf of the …………….. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for having taken time off from your busy schedule to visit ……………….

I hope you enjoyed visiting the ……………. I wish that your association with the …………….continues in the future as well.



If my guess is right, you are wondering why I am irritated with such a nice letter.

Let me share some more facts with you.
  1. 1.    I never met the person who signed the letter, we talked on the phone and that was all.
    2.  The person never attended my speech, so there was no point in she giving the feedback that the trainees appreciated the issues etc.
    3.   The letter was handed over to me immediately after my speech. That means the content of the letter was written even before I had delivered the speech.
    4.   This means that this is a standard letter – irrespective of the quality of my content and delivery. Even if it was worst speech of my life, the Institute blindly certifies me!
    5.    Why does the institute think (howsoever renowned it might be) that I need a certificate by someone who never listened to me?  
I can’t help thinking:

Why are we so formal? Why are we so dishonest? Why are we so artificial?

Why are we so dispassionate about the work we do? Without participating in it, how can we act as if we have participated?  

Why do we appreciate others without meaning it? Why do we need appreciation by others? Do people remain associated because there is some paper which expresses the wish to remain associated?

Why do people sign the paper for the activity in which they did not participate? Why can’t they just delegate it? I do not mind such a letter from one of the persons who attended my speech – though probably it still might be dishonest and formal!

Why are we more for records than feelings? What if the Institute never gave me this letter – would it change my experience? Would it lessen my joy of being there?

I know it is just a formality. It is a routine for them and I also should treat it as one of the insignificant matters of life and ignore it.

My problem is: there are too many insignificant things in life, and if I keep on ignoring everything, one day I might find that my whole life was insignificant.

If I am involved in any act, for me at least is should be fully significant – no matter what others think about it. Life is all about bringing in significance to whatever we do, or better leave it. Life is actually an art of making insignificant more significant.  

Life becomes significant only by involving oneself in this never ending process.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

139. Divided: Still Growing Strong

The Nation is divided once again.
However, there is nothing to be worried about it.
We always have been a Nation with multiple views and cross-cutting perspectives. When was it last that we were united?

During many incidences of bomb blasts? Post- riots? Kosi floods? Nakshalite attacks? Tsunami? Earthquakes? Pokharan? During emergency? Post emergency? During freedom and partition in 1947? During 1942 “Chale Jao” movement? During 1905 when Bengal was partitioned?  In 1857?  During Shivaji’s time? During Rana Pratap’s time? Gautam Buddha? Shankaracharya? Shirkrishna? Ram? Upanishadic seers? Indus Valley Civilization? Arya rule? When?

Consider any kind of social reforms, educational reform, political reform or religious reform – the existing society always seems to have divided opinion. Look at any historical movement, and the Nation/the society is divided, never united 100 percent. Every time a person or a group of persons put forth some new idea, they were ignored, ridiculed, opposed and threatened – not necessarily in this order! The great souls, the leaders carry it on until their ideas; their thoughts are accepted by larger society. Some of them die alone and their ideas are accepted long after they pass away. So, no point in expecting that on an issue like corruption, there would be total agreement.

For the last few months, the topic of discussion is India Against Corruption (IAC) campaign. To be brief, the topic of discussion is ANNaa  Hajaare. Many of my friends from Maharashtra feel that since Delhi is the center of the movement (meaning ANNaa is fasting in Delhi), and I am presently in Delhi, I must be participating in that. On the other hand, those from Delhi who know me, think that as ANNaa Hajare is from Maharashtra, I must be attending all those events. (I don’t know whether they expect all from Haryana to participate because Mr. Arvind Kejariwal happens to be born and brought up in Haryana!) Out of 10 conversations these days, I find myself either listening or speaking about IAC campaign 13 times! I say 13 times, because we keep on repeating ourselves!

I am going to Raamaleelaa Maidaana– where team Anna is on indefinite fast demanding Jan Lokpal bill. The New Delhi Metro Station is throbbed with hundreds and thousands of people, all going to Raamaleelaa Maidaana. There are people and people everywhere.  Metro has deployed additional person power to manage the flow, and they are doing well. People are chanting slogans in Metro station – a rather unusual scenario. Actually the crowd leads me to the right exit gate in the station. After coming out of the station, the crowd leads me to Raamaleelaa Maidaana. People greet each other with ‘Vande Maataram” and ‘Inquilab Zindabad’.  All roads seem to be leading to Raamaleelaa Maidaana.

However, I am just coming from Connaught Place. The Rajeev Chauk Metro station has hundreds and thousand of people – coming in and going out. They are least bothered about corruption and IAC campaign. I walk through Connaught Place for half an hour. I see hundreds and thousands of youth and adults roaming around the shopping place. Their dilemmas are different – whether to go to McDonalds or Subways, whether to have cold coffee with ice-cream or milk shakes with ice cream; whether to purchase Sony laptop or Reebok shoes.  They all are Indians, but IAC is not on their agenda. I ask couple of them about the proposed IAC march from K block to Raamaleelaa Maidaana and they plead complete ignorance about it.

Towards Raamaleelaa Maidaana. On the roadside, there are Tri-colors for sale – in various shapes and sizes. There are wristbands, there are badges, there are small flags, there are big flags, there are pieces which one can put around neck, and there are hair bands. There are Gandhi Topees (it should be actually called Nehru topee) – “I am Anna” written on it. People purchase it. The children and the women are happy with this opportunity. Whether India is corruption free or not, they are earning some money for the time being. It is like any other religious festival or political rally for those who are selling. They sell what sells. They have only this option to earn two meals a day.

One has to stand in a queue to enter into the ground. In April at Jantar Mantar it was much easier; one could just go in and come out. But here, the police protection is geared up to next level. There is a baggage screening and personal security check. It is better to take care in advance than lament later. Security check has become part and parcel of our life – but it is for our safety, so everybody cooperates with police.

Some people do not have patience. They break the queue and move forward. Some of us remind them that this is too is a kind of corruption. They smile but nevertheless keep their newly gained position. Someone else says, “Ok, let them go first. Does not matter.” Well, will these kinds of supporters – some who bully around and others who meekly accept will be able to stand the ideology of IAC? I doubt. For that matter, what is the ideology of IAC beyond Jan Lokpal bill? I need to explore that.

In the ground I see three young girls and two young boys pulling big plastic bags from their purse. They start picking up the garbage. I ask them whether they are IAC volunteers. They are not official volunteers but they think that spreading garbage here is bad. So they try to keep the place clean in their own way – by their own will. I like the self motivation of these youngsters. 

I see another queue. What is it for? It seems that someone is distributing biscuit packs. People stand there; they want one more biscuit pack. Are these the same people who are supposed to be fighting corruption? Distribution of free water I can understand, but distribution of free biscuits? What for?

After few hours I am out of Raamaleelaa Maidaana. I go to a Food Plaza to have a cup of coffee. The café is crowded. I see two women sitting together and there are two empty chairs. I ask their permission and join them. I ask them, “Have you been to Raamaleelaa Maidaana too?” “Oh, No,” they laugh and say. The mother shrugs her shoulders and says, “Maybe one day I would go.” And she asks me, “Is it interesting?” What does she mean by interesting, I do not know. I smile. The young daughter says, “People with no other work to do have time to visit, I am busy.” Then realizing that I have been there, she keeps quiet.

To the woman on the café counter, I say, “So, how is it going?”  Certainly it was a vague question. She beamingly says, “This is good for our business.” I smile not knowing what to say on that honest remark.

So, there are people – with different perceptions and different priorities. There are people – with different opinions and different affiliations. There are people – with different expectations and different dreams. There are people – with different involvement and different level of responsiveness. There are people – with different understanding and different readiness to take responsibilities.

On one hand it seems that IAC campaign has not moved from where it was in April.  What IAC does also triggers different criticism. There is a discussion about sovereignty of parliament, democratic processes and role and identity of civil society.

Well, if you count support only by numbers:  that would be a mistake. Presently both IAC supporters and IAC critics are trying to quote different numbers. For example, IAC quotes number of missed calls and number of people who join the protests. But they forget that giving ‘missed call’ is as free as breathing air and people come to protest venue for limited time – like I was there only for few hours. That does not guarantee my commitment. IAC critiques say that this is only middle class movement and weaker sections are away from it. But they forget that change always triggers with the involvement of very few to begin with. If only one person is convinced, and s/he has no crowd to support does not necessarily mean that the person is wrong – maybe s/he is just ahead of time!

With all these, I see that the campaign is becoming strong. That the campaign has sustained to keep the issue in mainstream for six moths at a stretch is itself an achievement. That large number of youths and adults are taking time to participate (maybe just for few hours) is itself an achievement. That we take pride in carrying the tri-color is an achievement. That we see young generation taking charge to guide traffic and help others is a big change. In a mass gathering there are no vulgar dances is an achievement. Beyond 15th August and 26th January, people remember India is an achievement. People seriously discuss issues like sovereignty of parliament, role of parliament, role of civil society, self discipline is an achievement. Some people feel that they have a space to contribute is an achievement.

That some of the Indians are raising the voice against the method of IAC and others are accepting to listen to their views without labeling them as traitors is an achievement. It shows that we are ready to respect other perspective – even if we may not like it.

Well, I see that India is growing strong, even if we are divided.

You may also like to read http://thistimethattime.blogspot.com/2011/04/125-evenings-jantar-mantar.html, Wrong Choice

Monday, August 15, 2011

138. Free

This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 23; the twenty-third edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. The theme for this month is FREE.
‘Freedom is not Free, it demands high price; those who pay the price only are FREE’, KaNikaa is thinking to herself. She knows why she is thinking so.

KaNikaa finds the words written by Shankaraachaarya very precious and most wonderful; they always take her Beyond. Especially when the sun sets down, one more day is over -keeping the enigma of life unsolved, listening to NirvaaNaSHaTakam is an ultimate luxury.

KaNikaa feels at complete peace once again. Sitting in the lap of peeple tree, with the breeze playing around her and the sea waves dancing to the unknown tune, she is feeling ONE with the Universe.

Slowly the lights fade away, the darkness envelopes the surrounding. No words spoken; only silence everywhere – within and without. As if the world has died, as if the world is going to be created again….

For a moment KaNikaa thinks she is completely free.
“Deedee, KaNikaa Deedee, Vishwambhara bhayaa wants to speak to you,” someone is calling KaNikaa. She comes back to her senses. Call from Vishwambhara could mean only one thing, another warning. This could probably be the last one. KaNikaa gets up with heavy heart, all the peace and the happiness draining away from her.

“KaNikaa Deedee, you have missed the prayer again. Not because you were working, but because you were just lazing around. This would not do. You are setting a wrong example to young disciples.” Vishwambhara speaks calmly.  

“Come on Vishwambhara; can this discussion not happen some other time? Is this discussion at all necessary? KaNikaa came here long before you all came, Swaameejee himself brought her here. Swaameejee never asked KaNikaa any questions, neither he demanded her to follow rules" ANNaajee is  trying to help KaNikaa, but he actually is making  things worse for her.

“ANNaajee, how many times I have to tell you ALL that I have nothing against KaNikaa Deedee!, In fact I respect her, I have learnt a lot from her. Swaameejee was a very kind person. I am neither so kind, nor that much powerful. To manage this Aashrama in the best possible way is my primary responsibility.”  Vishwambhara’s voice is restrained, but KaNikaa understands the threat very clearly.

“No problem, Vishwambhara, I understand your plight, I will do whatever is required in the best interest of Aashrama”, KaNikaa says calmly. That alarms Vishwambhara as well as ANNaajee. But today, Vishwambhara is determined. KaNikaa is free, but he is not. He has enough of KaNikaa’s freedom.

Vishwambhara adds, “Deedee, kindly look at the things from my perspective and I am sure you will appreciate what I am saying. You have a choice either to stay or not to stay here. I would want you to stay with us. However let me make it clear one last time, if you stay here, you have to follow the rules…nobody is exception here...” and he walks away painfully, clearly demonstrating the burden he carries on his young shoulders.

“After all I am not free as I assume, miles to go before I achieve that” KaNikaa tells herself.

The pendulum of ‘being Free’ and ‘not being Free’ oscillates continuously.

When had the story of these two shores begun? From when did the uncertainty changed into certainty to bring in uncertainty again?

KaNikaa was too young – maybe 9 or 10. She was sitting in a temple, which God it was she did not know. The evening Aaratee was over and the crowd had disappeared one by one. She had nowhere to go and did not know what to do.

Her mother had died four years ago. Grandma was staying with them but she too passed away six months ago. Recently her father was behaving very strangely and she was scared of him. He had always loved her; no doubt about it. However, lately the way he fondled her was making her very repulsive towards him. She was frightened to death. But whom would she tell? What to tell? To complain about father who was so kind and loving would be a crime. Was it her father’s fault? Or was she imagining things about him? Was she guilty?

Until day before, everything was still ok, under control. But the way her father looked at her on that fateful morning made her shiver to the bones. She knew something was totally wrong – either with her or with her father. She did not want to go back to her home where she would be alone with her father whole night. So, when father left for office, KaNikaa left for school, but never went to school. Instead, she caught a bus and reached the District town. Near the bus stand, there was this temple and she was sitting there aimlessly.

“My child, don’t you want to go home? It is already late”, a strange old man was talking to KaNikaa. She was initially alarmed but was calmed down by his peaceful and smiling face. “I am nobody’s child; I am free to do whatever I want; and who are you?” KaNikaa asked so many questions. The strange old man smiled again. He asked, “Sorry, how should I address you?” And KaNikaa rudely said, “My name is KaNikaa. No more questions.”

The man sat silently with her. Couple of devotees came late to the temple and bowed to that man with respect. One came to call him for food – he asked KaNikaa to join. KaNikaa was too hungry to resist that offer. That strange man offered his hand to KaNikaa, and she with blind trust went with him. She never had to regret that decision. They went on moving from place to place and finally reached his Aashrama in the southern corner of the country.

Initially KaNikaa was worried that her father would find her out and she would have to go back. But she went on traveling to strange places, stayed in strange environment, always protected by Swaameejee. Days passed, months passed and KaNikaa became sure that her father had lost her forever. 

KaNikaa had felt that she was free at last; from her father; from her past; from her fear; from the insecurity; from potential ugliness; from her deadly life.

Swaameejee never asked KaNikaa any question and she never bothered to explain. There was a tacit agreement between them. KaNikaa was amongst people but she was left alone whenever she desired so.

It was only once Swaameejee broke his silence on the topic. He addressed her as “my child” on which she just smiled. She was no more oversensitive about those words. He said, “KaNikaa, my child, I love you. But what worries me is that you carry the burden alone in your heart. By running away, you have not solved the problem, you have just postponed it. I would like you to be brave and face whatever scares you. The freedom you enjoy is artificial, you are not free! The impact still lingers on you – on your body, on your emotions, on your feelings, on your thought process. That is another kind of bondage; I wish you were free from that. However, you have never really tried.” And then he mischievously added, “to be free from others is comparatively easy, to be free from ourselves is the real challenge…”

KaNikaa very well understood what Swaameejee was talking about. She wondered why Swaameejee was suddenly worried about her. She decided to talk to him later; but it could never happen. Within a week after that particular conversation, Swaameejee passed away.

KaNikaa was not after all free to choose her moment.

KaNikaa knows, she does not belong to the Aashrama – its rituals are cowardice and stupidity according to her. Her binding with Swaameejee was the connecting thread so far. She has been always wondering why Swaameejee chose to be amongst such fearful, irrational people. Maybe, he was not free to choose his disciples. She has no other choice but to leave the Aashrama. It would be good for the Aashrama and also for her. . And when one wants to leave, one should not wait for the right moment; there is never a right moment – or leave immediately because every moment is right moment.

Indirectly KaNikaa is compelled to leave Aashrama. She realizes that she is not completely free to take decisions according to her choice.


“Madam, have sweets” her co-passenger is all smiles.
“Thanks, what are we celebrating?” she politely asks.
“You seem to have arrived from another planet,” someone teases her and everybody around laughs merrily.
“Today is our Independence Day Madam, how can you forget it….” Another one remarks with irritating look.

“What are you celebrating guys? Corruption? Scams? Inflation? Poverty? Discrimination? Exploitation? Crime? Riots? Recession? What?" another person explodes.

“But isn’t it good that we are free?” one more passenger joins the conversation.

“We are free from British Empire, but we are suffering from our own weaknesses. We are cowards, we are beggars, we choose the easy way out, we want success by shortcut, we are power hungry, we talk the language of soul but we are materialistic to the core….” Another person laments.

“We are free from outsiders, but we are bound by evils within, not free from its clutches…” another voice.
Everybody agrees.

KaNikaa remembers Swaameejee. His last remarks to her: “to be free from others is comparatively easy; to be free from ourselves is the real challenge…”

In a strange way KaNikaa understands that her destiny, her freedom is associated with destiny of others, freedom of others.  To be Free is not to be ‘away’ from something, but to be connected in a detached way. To fight social evils, to try to support poor and exploited, to lead from the front, are all aspects of this detached involvement.

‘Freedom is not Free, it demands high price; those who pay the price only are FREE’, KaNikaa thinks again and smiles with determination.

Yes, KaNikaa probably would be Free in this very life. 
The fellow Blog-a-Tonics who took part in this Blog-a-Ton and links to their respective posts can be checked here. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. Happy Independence Day!

Monday, August 1, 2011


I had some time off in that city; so went to see Shashank, an old colleague of mine.

Shashank works in Travel Section of an institute. It is a training institute. Simultaneously many workshops and training programs, meetings are held here. To pick up participants from bus stand, railway station and airport and to drop them at these places is his usual task. He manages a team of four to five assistants and the institute has as many as 14 cars and drivers to carry on regular services. In addition to this, they sometime hire vehicles.

It was one of his busy days as two workshops were concluding that day and two more were starting next day. After couple of frantic calls from reception area of the hostels (they have as many as four hostels!) Shashank asked me, “Would you mind ‘Walk a talk’?” He meant that instead of sitting in his cabin, we move around, take a review of what was happening, and talk meanwhile. I happily agreed. Then he suddenly became anxious, “You would get bored though easily”, he said.

That was a possibility. However I had nothing else to do. Also I had never seen the work of travel section in an institute/organization from ‘inside’ so wanted to grab the opportunity.

We went to the reception desk of the first hostel. A man was already shouting at someone. When we reached there he turned first to me and started shouting. ”Please Sir, she is another guest, in what way can I help you sir?” Shashank spoke politely.

“So, were you sleeping?” the man was not willing to tone down.
“What is the problem Sir?” Shashank asked again, again politely.
“My flight is at 12.00 and the vehicle is coming to pick up me at 12.00. How could you do this?” the man barked again.

Shashank asked the name of the person to one of his teammates. Then he patiently referred to a printed paper in his hand. He smiled. “Sir, here you have written 12.15 as your departure time.” 

The man was surprised for a moment. He did not believe that he could make such a silly mistake. He came near to Shashank, asked for the paper. From his expression I could see that Shashank was absolutely right. The man thought for a moment. Then with added vigor he said, “You asked for departure time and I gave it, it is not my mistake.”  Now it was time for Shashank to feel surprised and hurt.

Smita the training coordinator was nearby. She told the man, “Sir, when I circulated the paper, I clearly instructed that departure time means departure from training institute.”

“No, you never told that, you are lying,” the man accused her bluntly.

Shashank took charge of the situation. He calmly but firmly said, “Sir, if your flight is at 12.00 it is time for you to leave; otherwise you will miss the flight. Give me five minutes and I will arrange another vehicle for you.”

The man understood and nodded. Shashank made another call and on the fifth minute another vehicle was ready. The angry man departed without even saying ‘thanks’ to anyone of those.

Smita was furious. She said, “Shashank Sir, it was not my fault. The fellow gave wrong information and he was aggressive to hide his guilt. When it is not our fault, why do you accept it so politely? We need to teach a lesson to such participants.” Couple of her colleagues who must have taken the brunt of that man’s anger nodded sympathetically.

Shashank was in two minds. Then he said, “Smita Madam, people might accuse us wrongly, it is their perspective. By taking that accusation seriously, we harm ourselves more. And anyways, the person was our guest, I should not insult him. Never mind about that person, did I, for a single moment felt that you were wrong? Do not value the opinion of a stranger –whether right or wrong.”

Smita smiled. Everybody smiled. Shashank made few more inquiries. We moved on. Smita too joined us. We talked. We reached to a second hostel. Here too Shashank’s teammates were crowded around a man. The man was apparently smiling but the team was anxious.

“Hello Sir, Good morning. Good morning Madam”, the smiling man greeted us enthusiastically.

“Is there any trouble?” Shashank asked looking at the faces of his colleague.

“Sorry Sir. I have committed a silly mistake. Instead of writing 10.15 am as departure time, I have written 10.15 pm. I don’t know what I was thinking of when Smita madam was giving instructions. Now Sir, for obvious reasons I can’t wait for the vehicle for 12 more hours. I understand that you cannot help at the last moment. So, I was just requesting your team to hire a taxi for me, I will pay, don’t worry.” The man explained, with a guilty smile.

“So, what is the problem? Just call Meru” Shashank said.

“Shashank Sir, one vehicle is going to airport for pick up and we can accommodate this gentleman in that car. We are just trying to contact our driver. Instead of directly going to airport, the driver will come here and pick him up,” someone explained.

“But Sir, for my mistake, I don’t want to trouble you,” the man added.

“It is our pleasure to help you Sir,” Smita added firmly. And they all made that smiling man to travel in another car. The man shook hands with everybody, apologized a dozen times and thanked everybody. Everybody (even I) was smiling when he departed.

“Why did you decide to help him? It was anyway his mistake,” I casually remarked.

“Mistakes happen. We all are human beings. It does not mean that we should punish someone for a silly mistake.” Smita responded spontaneously and smiled. Shashank smiled mischievously. Others looked extremely happy.

I realized that the situation is not what matters, but it is our response to a situation that makes all the difference! We can respond either bitterly or with a smile. We can accuse others or we can accept the mistake and move on without guilt. We can create enemies or we can create friends. We can crate good memories or bad memories for others as well as for ourselves!

We have a choice in what way to respond. That choice will create a path for us. Always.