India First

The unique thing about living in India is that one learns to live under a plethora of diversities and yet, love it. Nowhere does one get the real taste of this unique feature than in Armed Forces.

Yes, I have been fortunate enough to be a part of an Armed Forces fraternity; Indian Air Force to be precise, for two decades. Close interaction with people from different parts of India is a daily affair as part of your work.  Moreover, your frequent transfers throughout the length and breath of India gives you an in depth experience of the locality, that a casual  visitor to that place may not get.

Hard work and celebration is a part and parcel of military life. In addition to official celebrations, we used to have a lot of informal celebrations organised by the members of different religious and cultural communities. Without any inhibitions every one participated in those informal celebrations. I have lost count of how many times I have been part of X’mas and Id celebrations. We respected each other’s religions and cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Yet, neither did we lose the pride in our own unique culture or religion, nor did it make us a chauvinist or a fanatic.

In a formal way or in an informal way, there was  was zero discrimination based on caste or religion or ethnicity. It was secularism at its zenith. Whenever we met with someone, we just felt we are meeting with a fellow Indian. No judgement, prima facie or otherwise,  was formed about an Individual because he belonged to a different religion, caste, ethnic group, or spoke a different mother tongue.

Of course, by and large, people in India live peacefully in spite of having so many  groups with conflicting ideologies.  At the same time, it cannot be ignored that vested interests incite fanatic and chauvinistic feelings in the common man who falls prey to such mass manipulation tactics. Quite often the leader who incites chauvinistic feelings based on native language or ‘the perceived legitimate rights of the son of the soil’ may have his own children studying in posh schools where learning of the local language and love for one’s native customs and culture are considered stuff for lesser mortals.

Yet the common man forgets this and is ready to take the gauntlet against those imaginary enemies who are out to pollute his culture. He himself maybe as much ignorant about his own culture as someone who stays in his state temporarily. His own children may be reluctant to talk in local language. He himself is not the least bit interested to learn anything about another culture. But, he expects that (and considers it an insult if they don’t) people who come to his state, whether voluntarily or as mandated by their job,  must speak the local language, know every thing pertaining to the state and adapt themselves to the local customs.

A person who falls prey to such manipulative forces loses his perspective in distinguishing love for his own religion from fanaticism and love for his own ethnicity or language from chauvinism .

After leaving the Defense Services, due to professional requirements, I stayed in a city that prides itself of being a cosmopolitan city. I took an apartment. It was good to see that the apartment complex had residents from different states of India. There were a number of serving as well as retired Defense personnel and some hailed from my home state Odisha. It was also good to see that the residents celebrated many occasions like the New Year, Ganesh Puja, Diwali, Holi etc. together.

Another unique feature of India is its large number of religious and ethnic festivals spread throughout the year. A particular day or occasion may have many regional and local versions.

Fourteenth of April- the solar new year, is celebrated in different parts of India in different manners. It is known as Mahabishuba Sankranti and it goes by different names in different states. Like, somewhere it is Vishu, somewhere it is Poila Boishakha and so on. In my home state Odisha itself it has a number of local versions of celebration. In many parts of Odisha it is celebrated as Pana Sankranti because a special type of Pana (non-alcoholic sweet drink) is prepared on this occasion.

So, a few of us got together and decided to celebrate the Sankranti. We also decided that we would prepare and sponsor the special sweet drink so that people from other states get to have a taste of the same. We were enthusiastic about the celebrations. Many volunteers came forward offering help in organizing the events. I was asked to put out a message in our whatsapp group informing about the celebrations and inviting all to come and participate. I am reproducing my message word for word (sans place references):

"Hearty Greetings to all on the occasions of Mahabishuba Sankranti / Pana Sankranti /Odiya New Year / Ambedkar Jayanti/ Good Friday /Vishu / Baishakhi / Bihu / Lord Hanuman ji's Birthday (& any other festival if it is left out)

At (apartment name) let us celebrate this occasion with songs and drinks. 😀

On this grand occasion, all are invited to an evening of devotional songs and music. Place: .......... . Time: 6:30 pm .

Traditional Pana (non-alcoholic sweet drink) will be distributed as prasadam 8 p.m on wards on behalf of Utkal Samaj. 

All are coordially invited to participate with family and friends.

I was enthusiastic that people would be happy to read my message. I also expected that some would appreciate my sense of humour. Of course there was enthusiastic reception from the residents.

But the message did not go down well with a particular gentleman who demanded to know why I had forgotten to mention the name of his state which too celebrated the new year on this day.

I had given my greeting message after some research on the net. I double checked and found that neither Google nor Wikipedia knew that this state as a whole celebrated any kind of new year on this day. Nor, was there any mention of any unique specific name by which this festival was known through out the state. Of course, in some parts of the state, especially in temples it was celebrated as a general religious festival befitting the occasion of Mahabishubha Sankranti. 

Secondly, supposing that there indeed was any kind of state specific festival associated with the date, the gentleman’s demand  was akin to the demand of a child who goes on asking every stranger it meets, “uncle,  why did not you wish me on my birthday?”.  It was a childish demand based on his own ignorance mixed with chauvinism .

Thirdly, to make my message all inclusive and implying that due to my ignorance I might have, inadvertently,  left out mentioning any peculiar name associated with the festival I had included the phrase “& any other festival if it is left out” in my greeting message.

Still then, to assuage his feeling of being slighted, to prevent the festive spirit from being spoiled and to avoid the issue being dragged further, I sent a message expressing my apology for my omission.

But, the gentleman was in no mood to reconcile. He continued with his rants,  “Even though, you people stay in this state for so many years you do not learn about this state, blah blah blah……. “

One of my well wishers asked the gentleman to stop reading negative connotation from the  message and appreciate the fact that someone is inviting every one to be part  of a celebration. Of course,  this only  enraged the gentleman more and he continued with his offensive messages.  So I sent a message again requesting every one not take anything seriously as my message was just an invitation for a celebration.

Thereafter, in spite of being prodded by my friends to give a fitting reply to his humiliating messages, I chose to remain silent and asked others just to ignore his rants.

My Defense upbringing had taught me to protect my fellow Indians even at the cost of my own life. At the same time, the Indian in me did not want to fight with a fellow Indian over a trivial issue even after being humiliated badly.

I hoped that our silence would ultimately make the gentleman silent, unless he was so ungracious as to find something wrong with our silence as well. But the gentleman was gracious enough to stop his rants finding no takers for his further provocations.

Lufthansa’s attempt to incorporate Indian culture, cuisine and hospitality into their airline’s services takes this ‘India First’ approach a step further. However, there is a catch.

So, watch the above video to know of their conspiracy theory. There are plenty of hints in the video. Then supplement it with detailed knowledge about their conspiracy to Indianise themselves at the following link:

#moreindianthanyouthink

Definitely #moreindianthanyouthink.

Uncle Moon’s Magazine

In response to Indispire Edition #163 of Indiblogger

indispire 163

Which is the first book I read all by myself?

Well, frankly speaking I do not remember. But, I can guess with a fair degree of accuracy about some of the books and magazines which were part of my reading in my early childhood.

The Magazine Chandamama being one of those. Strictly speaking, it may not fall under the category of books. But the magazine was so much part of my regular childhood reading, I would love to assign it the status of my first love with reading material outside the school curriculum.

The magazine was published in a number of Indian languages and English. I used to read the Oriya version which was titled ‘Janhamamu’.

Each issue contained a mixture of stand alone stories, serialized stories bases on mythology, classic literature, new stories, contests and knowledge tidbits suitable for schoolchildren. Every article had  accompanying colourful illustrations to create visual interest. The stories also had a moral or a practical lesson to teach.

The magazine not only delivered the stories and messages of mythologies and classical literature in an interesting and suitable way to the children, but also kindled interest for further reading. One of the serialised popular features of the magazine was the stories of Vikram and Vetal. Subsequently,  when I came across the original book, I could not resist myself reading it. Of course the magazine authors took the liberty to create their own stories in line with the originals.

At present the magazine is not in circulation, either in print of e-format. However, it survived long enough so that I could buy the magazines for my own children. Only difference being while my children had many options with regard to children’s periodicals, I had very few. Of course many local children’s magazines were available. But, nothing to beat Chandamama.

Another regular feature of the magazine was the caption contest. There were two unrelated photos, and one had to find a suitable caption linking both the photos. I tried my luck on a number of issues, even though I could never make it to the winning stage.

It is sad to know that the magazine started by B Naggi Reddy (also a famous film producer)  and Chakrapani in 1947 is no more in publication. It reached its peak in the 1970s and the 1980s, being published in thirteen languages with a circulation of 2 lakhs.

The best thing about Chandamama was that most of the stories were desi,  unlike today’s periodicals for children. Of course some times it contained abridged and illustrated versions of many western classics. Maybe, that is how I got interested in English classic literature too.

For those who would like to relive the days of Chandmama or have a taste of the magazine, here is link for the archives:

https://archive.org/details/chandamama_magazine

 

Tabebuias -Living Life in its Totality

tabebuais1.jpg

Tabebuias – Flower full

Come February, and you will find these flowering plants called Tabebuias in the streets and parks  full bloomed in their yellow, pink or violet versions. This one too is in its full flowering glory.

I am awe stuck by these plants. Off season, you will not find even a single flower on them. But when they flower, they flower as if the whole being of the plant has flowered.

It reminds me of children. When they cry, they cry with their whole being; when they laugh, they laugh with their whole being. There is no halfheartedness. That is what you call living life in its totality.

As we grow up we become more and more divided. In order to achieve 101 things, we loose our propensity to live in the present moment undivided in our being. As the society becomes more progressive and more civilized, crocodile tears and plastic smile replace our heart full expressions.

The plant also reminds us of the principle of fullness and emptiness. It is the emptiness that gives birth to fullness. Sun Tzu has enunciated this in context of ‘Art of War’. In fact it is the basic principle of ‘Meditation’, and in general, this could be applied  in our attempt to master the ‘Art of Living’.

Ah the Tabebuias! How they remind us to live life in our totality. Either do something wholeheartedly or do not do it at all.

Indian Bloggers                                   tangy tuesday 21317

My Idea of an Evolved Human Being

An evolved human being has the innocence and intelligence of a child, yet is without the accompanying helplessness and childishness.

The evolved human being loves his neighbors, his culture & his nativity. However, he never confines himself to any boundary. He learns to see an individual as an individual and does not draw pre-matured conclusions based on the particular group the individual belongs to, by virtue of his birth. (more of this elaborated in I see you as you are)

He recognizes all the conditioning he is subjected to by the society and the vested interests and rises above them.  However, he does not forget his duties to the society and his fellow living beings.

He may or may not be a follower of rigid religious rituals, but he has a kind of religiosity or spirituality  that is not dependent upon any concept of God or Heaven or Hell.

Indian BloggersTo be an evolved human being is not only about valuing one’s own freedom, but also recognizing and respecting the freedom of others, at the same time realizing that we are all interdependent.

To be an evolved human being is about never going beyond a healthy point to persuade another to our own views and behave to our liking. It is never projecting our own dreams on others, however dependent they may be on us.

The evolved human being has his way, which he may follow very fervently. However, he recognizes and respects other paths.

Everything, anyway, one day returns to the source. The evolved human being, while realising the impermanence of everything, does not neglect to live with passion and commitment. (More of this at One life is not enough yet this moment is enough unto itself)

The evolved human being is truly an individual, yet he is the ultimate universal man. For him all the world is one family – ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam’.

evolved man.jpg

 

Here and Now

Age bhi janena tu.. pichhe bhi janena tu.. jo bhi hai bas yehi ek pal hai. ( You do not know what lies ahead.. nor what happened earlier.. whatever there is, there is only this moment)

I am reminded of this song from the Hindi movie Waqt now that the topic of present moment has come up. Of course we understated that we do not know what will happen in future. But the song says  you do not know the past. In a way, even though we know some events of the past, we do not know how to put it in right perspective. If you tell your story to five people, each may interpret it differently. Some one will say that whatever happened,  happened for good. Someone may say how miserable it was. In a larger context, we are not sure how much myth and propaganda material go into the making of what we officially read as history.

In fact, the concept of present moment is not new. Our ancients were not only familiar with this concept,  but also devised many methods to bring the mind to here and now.

Hindu rituals of worship begin with the customary sankalpa. It starts with something like this: In sweta varah kalpa …. in Jambudwipa (Indian sub-continent) … in the country of Bharatabarsha …. in so and so state, in so and so place, on so and so day, at so and so time ……. It starts with the higher  denomination of place and slowly brings our awareness to the present place. Same way it starts with a bigger expansion of time and brings our awareness to the present. The time and place are put in proper context. If one follows this sankalpa, our awareness is brought from the vastness of time and space to here and now at the end.

sankalpa_mantra

If you have attended any evening arati at any of the temples, especially the Ganga Arati at Varanasi or Haridwar,  you must have experienced that the overall ambiance crated by sights, smells  and sounds act  as a kind of shock therapy to hammer out your wandering mind out of its dwellings in past or future.

You may also read: One life is not enough, yet for now this moment is enough unto itself

It is said that the symbol of Jesus on the Cross indicates the importance of present over past and future. The horizontal line of the cross representing past and future is much shorter than the vertical one representing the present. The Buddhist practice of mindfulness aims at bringing the awareness to here and now. So are many of the meditation techniques and yogic practices.

Since ancient times,  volumes have been written and spoken revolving around the importance of living in the present moment. In spite of all these talks and practices, scientifically speaking, the elusive present moment is just a concept,  like the geometric concept of line or point that have no real existence.  Time is a continuum. The moment I say moment, the moment is already gone.

However, it is a useful concept to rid the mind of the unpleasant feelings that comes from dwelling too much in past or future. To a certain extent, it is good to take the mind to past and learn the lessons it taught. It is equally good to have fixed goals and have a vision and know where one is going. It is only when the mind is too much anxious about the future or obsessed with the regrets of the past that one does a lot of harm to one self.

Here again I am reminded of another old Bollywood hit and let me conclude this post humming it:

Ae bhai ! jara dekh ke chalo.. age hi nahin pichhe bhi.. daen hi nahin baen bhi ….upar hi nahin  niche bhi

Ae bhai! jara dekh ke chalo


Indian Bloggers

Couplets of Kabir- My top ten favourites

 

It is not for nothing that Kabir’s sayings are known as ulat vani. Whatever he says it seems contrary to our common knowledge or perception. This was not only true for his spiritual sayings, but also for his couplets giving worldly wisdom. Take this first stanza of my compilation. Our usual tendency is to  keep close to someone who praises us and avoid someone who blames and criticizes us. But Kabir says that  the person who criticizes  you is your dearest friend and you should make a house for him in your inner courtyard. He wrote thousands of such couplets during his life time. Here are ten of my most favorite couplets:

I

A true friend

Nindak niyare rakhiye aangan kuti chhawaye;
Bin sabun pani bina nirmal karat subhaye.

Kabir says that one should keep one’s critics close, even making a place for them in our courtyard. Without water or soap they clean up one’s  blemishes.

 The passionate critic is like bitter medicine. Of course sometimes people may blame us due to their own bias or lack of understanding. In such cases at least they make us aware of our actions and people’s reactions. The bonus advantage of keeping company of such a person is that they stop us from being egoistic, arrogant or developing a casual attitude.

II

Shun ego and speak

Aisi vani boliye, man ka aapa khoye

Auran ko sheetal kare, aaphu sheetal hoye

Shunning your ego, speak in such a manner that you remain un-agitated at the same time others are pleased.

 This second one may seem to contradict the first. It may mean- while you welcome other’s  criticism, do not do this favor to others. Others might not have heard of the first stanza of Kabir. There are different kinds of people and everybody may not take your frank opinion kindly. So talk sweet and soothing. Remember the sanskrti saying – ko satru priyavadinah.  A person who says what is agreeable cannot make enemies.

What Kabir says here  is that when you talk to someone out of your ego, it agitates you and others. So speak thus so that it does not cause mental disturbance neither in others  nor in you. For that, one has to be egoless and innocent. Sometimes a child may say things that are not agreeable. Yet, it does not cause disturbance in us because the child is so egoless.

III

Do not throw pearls before a swine

Hira wahan na kholiye jahan kujdon ki  hat

Bandho chup ki potri, laagahu apni bat

This couplet reminds me of the saying in the Bible – Do not throw pearls before the swine. One must speak according to the knowledge level and taste of the audience. Or else it is a waste of time and effort and in some cases may lead to being humiliated and frustration coming from selling mirrors to the blind.

IV

The saint is beyond caste and creed

Jat na puchho sadh ki puchh lijiyo gyan

Mol karo talwar ka, pade rehen do myan

In the times of Kabir, the caste system was at its height of ugliness. Kabir was born to a caste of weavers. Another remarkable thing about the century when Kabir was born, was that many of the saints and proponents of Bhakti  were from the lower castes. They were widely accepted. At the same time the higher caste people must have tried to revive the stigma attached to the people of lower castes who became spiritually advanced. Hence, Kabir here urges people to venerate a saint not by his caste but by his knowledge. He compares knowledge to the  sword and caste to the scabbard.  Even in modern times all over the world, many forms of discriminations are prevalent based on race, religion, region etc. In a wider context, a person should not be subject to bias based on his caste, creed, race, nationality etc.

V

Take the plunge and be saved

Jin khoja tin paiya, gahare pani paith

Mein Bapura budan Raha, RAha Kinare Baith

It is a beautiful example of Kabir’s specialty in ulatvani. He says – the person who went deep into the water in search,  got it and was saved, But I, who sat on the shores,  got drowned. Kabir urges us to sun our fears and laziness for the spiritual adventure. The person who is complacent and cares too much for security, in fact, finds that he/she has drowned in the worldly miseries and got deprived of the ultimate gem of spiritual experience. The spiritual journey needs some sort of risk and sacrifice. Those who take the risk get it, like the diver who dives deep and comes back with something.

VI

They do not understand, so they fight

Hindu kahe mohi Ram Piyara, Turk kahe Rehmana

Aapas mein dou ladi ladi mue, maram kou na jaana

This couplet is as appropriate today as it has been since ages. For the Hindu, Ram is the ultimate and for the Muslim, Rehmana is the one and so on. Even though all religions at some level teach the oneness of humanity and the Godhead, the followers become fanatic over their form of worship. Some take to sword and some to evangelism, forcing and urging people to accept that theirs is the only way. But none of these fanatics know the truth in essence. So they fight onto death.

VII

Good times, bad times

Sukh mein sumiran sab kare, dukh mein kare na koy

Jo sukh mein sumiran kare, dukh kahe ko hoy

It is exam time. Time for the ill prepared to go to temple, remember Jesus or Allah. Or, somebody is seriously ill. Even the doctor says (in line with our popular Bollywood dialogue) – Inhe abhi dawa nahin,  dua ki jarurat hai. People usually remember God or come to spiritual practices only when in distress. But, Kabir says, if you regularly remember God or do your spiritual practices, there will be no occasion for sorrow to befall on you.  Even if it comes, your wisdom will make light of it so that you do not feel distressed.

VIII

Search within

Kasturi kundal base, mrig dhundhat ban mahi

Jyo ghat ghat ram hai, duniya dekhe nahi

A deer has the fragrance in itself and runs throughout the forest for finding it. Similarly God is everywhere but we miss it and run round and round like the deer. Quite often we miss what is so obvious, what is so omnipresent and what is so close.

IX

When the ocean drops into a drop

Boond samani hai samundar mein, janat hai sab koi

Samundar samana boond mein, bujhe birla koi

This is another beautiful example of ulatvani. When a drop merges into the ocean, everyone understands it, but it is the rare one who understands the essence of the ocean merging into the drop.

Even in spiritual context, it is said that the ultimate aim for the individual consciousness is to merge with the universal consciousness. Even it can be seen this way – the ultimate aim of the devotee is to merge in God. But Kabir says that the phenomenon is just the opposite. When the devotee reaches its zenith, God comes to meet and merge in him. The devotee becomes the universe, the individual conscious becomes the universal consciousness.

X

The consciousness beyond all dualities

Had mein chale so maanava, behad chale so saadh

Had behad dono taje, taako bata agaadh

A normal human being is confined in limitations. The Sadhu transcends human limitations. But still there is a higher state, that goes beyond limit and limitlessness. The depth and understanding of such a being is unfathomable.

Kabir urges the spiritual aspirant to go beyond all dualities, including the dualities of limit and limitlessness.

One life is not enough, yet for now, this moment is full in itself.

spicysaturday

Life in its myriads of colours, shades, flavours and tastes

There are six basic tastes, according to Ayurveda. Depending upon the person, some tastes are pleasant some are unpleasant and some may be outright atrocious. However, to have a balanced diet and thus a balanced body and mind, one should include a bit of all the tastes.

Same way the artistic expressions involve nava rasas- some positive some negative. Any piece of great art or composition includes all the nine rasas.

So also in life. There are positive as well as negative feelings / emotions / flavours.

If one has experienced only the height of joy and not the depths of depression and sorrow, if one’s journey of life has been a smooth road without any ups and downs, any twists and turns, one has missed to live life in its totality.

Life is such an enigma

This is my translation of a favourite Hindi poem, which has been included in a popular movie.

 

Life is such an enigma

Sometimes it makes you laugh

sometimes it makes you cry.

The mind never wakes up.

It continues chasing after dreams

Sometimes it so happens

The traveler on the path of the dream

leaves behind the dreams

and goes away somewhere

never to be found again.

Those who came together

to set up the ‘mela’ of life

together struggle and are

partners in happiness and sorrow.

Suddenly one of them chooses silence,

and goes away somewhere

never to be found again.

One life is not enough, yet for now, this moment is full in itself.

Time is fleeting. It is a continuum. The moment one tries to catch hold of it, it is already gone. So where is this moment and how to catch hold of it?

Living in present moment is like flowing with time, like a stray leaf blown by the wind, without any resistance. One can experience the relative dimensions of time depending upon one’s state of mind. In deep meditation one can experience time stop for one self. In doing 100%, one is not bothered by past or future.

Baffled by the myriads of the creation I have often made the petition to the maker of this creation that one is not enough to experience His limitless creations. At the same time to experience the depth of His creation one has to live in the present moment fully. One who is bothered by past or anxious about the future most of the time, looses the opportunity to utilize the fare that the creation serves one now. For such a person, even this life is more than enough. Same way, being grateful gives out a message to the universe that you deserve to be an active part of His creation for ages to come.

The secret of living is to live as if YOU do not live. When the realization dawns that one is pure witness and everything is a happening, then where is the regret for past, or worry for the future?

The concept of living in present moment is beyond intellectual dissection. However, one can experience it. So, come let us meditate.

(This post was one of the Spicy Saturday Picks – August 20, 2016 at BlogAdda )