Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Getting Our House In Order

"Enough is Enough!." This slogan sums up the emotion in India after 26/11. The citizens of India have had enough. Or so it seems. The Mumbai terror attacks last month pushed an already edgy population over the brink. People were out on the streets demanding all kinds of things ranging from war to new politicians to army rule... it was perhaps the biggest such demonstration conducted in free India, in which people from every community, every walk of life, came out on the street in protest.

The politicians became the favored scapegoat - the masses called for their heads.

Each one of us Indians is quick to pass the buck. It's become sort of a habit - there's always someone or something else to blame - the system, the politicians, the corruption, the pollution, and when all else fails, there's always that final death blow to any constructive argument in favor of individual change - over-population!

I don't deny that mass displays of unity in the form of processions are necessary to convey strong messages of solidarity. However, I don't think that it's wise to let out all our steam in processions and think we've done our bit by going out there and lighting candles. My point is that processions should not be the end, but the beginning of a process of serious inidvidual change!

We blame politicians for "repeating the same lines" each time a terrorist attack happens, yet we are guilty of the same crime. We display our usual cynicism with the system in fits and starts and then go back to living our own lives just the way we used to.

We like to think that the onus of maintaining a mature, responsible state lies with the politicians. How convenient for us. I say that we're all responsible for the chaos, anarchy, and inefficiency that have become a part of 'the system' in India. And I'm not going to harp on that cliched message of 'Vote for the right people' to change the system. That's a whole debate in itself about who is right and who is not. And voting happens once in five years. I refuse to accept that my responsibilty as a citizen begins and ends once every five years. But there are many other ways in which each of us impacts the system. Each of us has a theatre of impact - we're constantly interacting with the system: on the roads, at toll plazas, at shops (where we consider an evasion of VAT as a personal victory). No one can claim isolation from the system.

It's ironical. This whole situation. We eloquently bemoan the corruption that has 'eaten into the political system.' Yet, when a policeman pulls us over for violating a traffic law, we're quick to pull out a hundred rupee note and bribe the officer. (It's a question of saving that extra hundred rupees, you know. Why spend more when I can get away with less?)

We bash the system for not having adequate laws to punish terrorists. Yet, we cannot spend those extra two minutes waiting for the traffic light to turn from red to green. It is below our dignity, of course, to obey the existing laws. (Laws are for terrorists and criminals, not for us.)

We call our politicians uncivilized, yet we don't have the decency to stop at a pedestrian crossing to let a mother and her little child cross the road.

When a VIP convoy disrupts traffic, we blurt out the choiciest of abuses. In one instant, all our other worries are forgotten and the suffering mass of humanity languishing in that traffic jam now has one common enemy - the VIP. The political activist in us takes instant birth - it wouldn't take much for us to begin a protest march right there, maybe pelt some stones, wave some flags, and generally create a whole lot of commotion. (It's a democracy, you know. Why should we tolerate the injustice meted out to us by these VIPS?)

We abuse VIPs when they disrupt traffic, yet, when the traffic on one side of the road is blocked up, we don't even blink an eyelid before zooming our cars into the lane meant for oncoming traffic. (If I can just get two cars ahead, you know, at least I would be..well...two cars ahead!)

I must say, we put chamaleons to shame.

We lament that India is so dirty. We write off this country as unhygeinic and revel in the cleanliness of foreign countries the moment we step out of an airport in a foreign land. (Oh India...there's so much dirt everywhere. Don't even talk about India. It's the politicians, you know. They just don't care. The whole system is messed up.)

Even war torn Sri Lanka struck me as squeaky clean when compared with India! So did Vietnam. In Delhi, I have seen plastic bags hurled out of the fanciest of cars. Uh...did i hear someone say that the dirt in India is because of illiteracy? The other day, a marketing group from Cadburys was offering free chocolates in our company cafeteria, as a part of their promotional campaign. Needless to say, within minutes, the floor of the cafeteria was littered with chocolate wrappers. A big dustbin stood in the corner - neglected.

I say to each fellow Indian: in order to protest against the system, we need to have earned a right to protest. When we blatantly flout the system and use it to our advantage, I say we have lost the moral right to criticize it. Before we go hurling abuses at politicians and Pakistan, let's show some decency and civility to each other on the streets of our own cities.

After Diwali night, the streets of our cities look like we've just about survived an overnight bombing raid. The place is littered with remnants of crackers. And then we say that Goddess Lakshmi visited our homes last night. I personally think she ran a million miles away from our homes. It's most likely she was nowhere close to India that night.

It doesn't take government resources for us to exercise self control and not throw that paper out the window onto the street. It doesn't take government resources for us to be patient and wait at the traffic light until our turn comes. It doesn't take government resources for us to desist from blaring our car horns at the drop of a hat. It doesn't take government resources for us to learn to wait in line, even if it means spending the extra few minutes. It doesn't take government resources for us to decide that we're going to stop taking the easy way out all the time.

It's this 'shortcut' culture at the micro level that is reflected in the 'shortcut' culture at the macro level. The collective consciousness of this country is but a manifestation of inidvidual consciousness multiplied by one billion. The country as a whole gives out a vibe of 'chalta hai.' No amount of bombing a neighbouring country is going to help us until we bomb our minds and evict the 'chalta hai' terrorist from within us!

I join the chorus to say 'Enough is Enough!' But I say that we've had enough of ourselves. It's time for us to change. Let's truly "be the change that we want to see." But first, we have to want that change.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Keeping the Faith

I have always believed that people are innately good. There’s a “nice” person in everyone. When I mention this to people, I often get a strange look that almost seems to say “yeah right!”

I’m not surprised at this reaction. In a day and age when bad news makes great headlines and good news isn’t so interesting anymore, it is easy for even the greatest optimist to turn cynical.

I am reminded of an incident that took place nearly four years ago when I was attending a week-long residential training session at a company farmhouse in New Delhi. After a hectic day of workshop sessions, I played a game of volleyball in the lawn along with my colleagues. It was an invigorating game. As I was walking back to my room, I noticed that my ring was missing. It was a gold ring with a beautiful red ruby stone, a gift from my grandmother before she passed away some years ago.

Without a second thought, I ran back to the lawn and began frantically searching in the grass. It was like searching for a needle in a haystack. And to make matters worse, the sun was setting; it would be pitch dark very soon. My colleagues joined the search too but it was in vain. Before I went to bed that night, I knew I had lost a precious heirloom that grandma had entrusted me with.

The next morning, I was up early and searched the grounds once more. Not a trace of the ring. Having given up all hope, I casually mentioned to the maintenance staff about the ring and to let me know if it turned up. My colleagues laughed at me, chiding my naiveté. Saurabh confidently proclaimed, “If they find it, they’ll keep it for themselves. What makes you think they’ll return a piece of gold with a real ruby?”

I didn’t respond. I thought to myself, “Miracles do happen.” My mind drifted back to the day that grandma had given me the ring, a sparkle in her eye as she passed on a ring that was once worn by my grandfather.

“Sir! Sir! Is this yours?” I was shaken out of my reverie by an eager voice. I saw Ravi bhai, the gardener, running towards me, his hand outstretched. In his palm, sparkling brighter than ever, was my ring. Ravi bhai looked happier than me. “I was trimming the bush when I found it, Sir!”

I knew, right then, that I would never give up on the power of goodness. I thanked Ravi bhai profusely and put in a good word for him with the staff management.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

O Mother!

Why is there so much hatred against you,
When you are the symbol of love?

Why is there bloodshed on your sacred land,
When your land has always nourished
the soul of the world?

You have brave sons and daughters,
Who died that night so I could sleep in peace...
I salute them today, O Mother...
I salute them...a thousand times!

My tears that fall incessantly,
Are for your plight, as I watch those who have betrayed you.
O Mother, today, the custodians of your well being,
The rulers who rule in your name,
Have forsaken their pledge
To serve you and only you.

Today I watch the saffron, white, and green
The blue wheel of time,
as it flutters above the carnage
Crying for help...

Waiting for your sons and daughters
To fight for truth and goodness...in your name!

Maa Tujhe Salaam...Vande Mataram...!

 © Sai Ganesh Nagpal

Saturday, November 22, 2008

In Gratitude

23rd November, 2008: A heartfelt prayer on the birthday of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba...

"Make me a channel of your peace,
Where there is hatred let me show your love,
Where there is injury your pardon Lord,
And where there's doubt, true faith in you...
True faith in You..."



Thank you for being my guiding light. For your shower of blessings, for your promise of eternal happiness, here and now. Dear Sathya Sai, a heart full of gratitude for you...today, and always.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Soulmate

Where do I search for you?
Beloved of my heart...
When I feel not your presence by my side?

Should I sit by the oceans
and listen to the waves
that remind me of the music
in your voice?

Or should I roam the forests
where leaves fall from the branches
...like the hair that falls across your face?

Perhaps I can find you in a song
Its melody, gentle yet powerful
enough to pierce my soul

Or the promise of sweetness
in a drop of honey
Like the promise of return in your eyes

Wherever I look
I see you
And I wonder if you ever left

How can I look for light
When light is what I look by?

How can I live away from you
When you are what I live by.

 © Sai Ganesh Nagpal

Diwali...

Lighting that first diya on Diwali. There's something about it that warms the heart instantly. Something about that little flame that kindles hope. Hope ... in a time when it doesn't take much to despair. A cursory glance at the morning paper will do.

And hope is my theme for this Diwali. I want to hope. I want to believe that it is possible for happiness to be closer than I think; not an entire MBA degree away. Not a bigger car away.

Of late, I keep getting the feeling that the Universe is testing my willingness to hope. A series of events, carrots waved in the air, and then...nothing. Everything back to square 1. Well, maybe square 1.5, but nothing much more than that. And the more I get provoked, the more I feel I must continue to hope.

Like the flame in the diya. Even when a wind blows over it, it still wants to burn. It flickers, against all odds, sometimes reducing to a little spark that continues to burn a bright orange, long after the flame is gone. In the hope that it will regain its lost glory... and be a flame once again.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Thoughts...

Today is one of those rare days when I don't have a ton of things to do at work. I am 'relatively' free. This word 'relative.' I really think the 'relative' nature of our experiences is what drives our perception of these experiences. And perception in turn drives action. In other words, I am driven by the demands of an often overactive mind that is continuosly making new perceptions and updating (or refusing to update!) its old ones.

The human mind exists between two extremes. The difference between the two extremes is the point at which perception is formed. A judgement is passed. I categorize an experience or event as "good" or "bad," "exciting" or "boring."

These extremes are essential to the human experience, so I'm not saying they're all bad (oops, a judgement again!). After all, it is my experience of darkness that allows me to appreciate the light. And vice-versa. When I'm tired and ready to hit the sack at the end of a long day, I turn off the light, and that moment of darkness is so welcome! This is the same darkness that I would probably curse when I want a glass of water at 3 am and can't find the light switch.

I ask myself, has the darkness changed? No, it is my need that has changed. And therefore, my perception of the darkness has now taken a complete u-turn.

The moment I detach myself from my mind, which is usually self-obsessed and in cahoots with my ego, I open myself up to a more compassionate reality. One in which I am able to observe the vagaries of my perceptions and not allow myself to become their victim.

The 'relative' nature of it all really hit home as I was driving to work today. I always end up waiting at the Ber Sarai crossing each morning, in front of a tottering and half-broken traffic signal. I seriously think that signal is going to fall down one of these days.

Anyways, as i sat in the car, I watched a group of street children run around, some going up to cars ahead of mine, begging for money. For me, it's heartbreaking to watch these children sit around in rags, nearly get run over by cars, and beg for money that they will surrender to whoever 'owns' them when they go back 'home' at night. As I watch them each morning, my thoughts race to all the possible people responsibile for them being on the road: the government, the police, society, criminals...

One of the boys must be only 6 or 7 years old. And he's carrying a little baby in his scrawny arms. He runs around trying to get to as many cars as possible before the signal turns green. And when he runs, the baby is jerked around in his arms. I shudder to think what would happen if...

I choose not to think. I have to learn to shut these thoughts out, it's the only way to survive this traffic signal every morning. I must admit, though, I'm not very successful at shutting things out.

I continue to curse. "This bloody government... how can they allow this!! Bastards, sitting in their swanky houses, and turning a blind eye towards these poor children..."

The boy is now standing beside the car to the left of mine, hand stretched out. Begging. Almost mechanically.

Sensing that he's not going to get anything here and needs to move on to another car, the boy starts to walk away (more like gallop away) from the car. In that split second, the baby in his arms makes eye contact with the person in the car. The baby flashes a brilliant smile. There it was, an innocent, heartwarming, "I'm enjoying my day" kind of smile.

It shattered my perception of the conditions that I would ordinarily associate a smile with. The smile I just saw came with tattered clothes, skin caked with dust, sweltering heat, the absence of a mother's comforting hold, and life on the edge (literally!).

I bet not one of us in our airconditioned cars would be able to muster up a smile like that.

And I said to myself, in amazement, ... it's all relative!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Hindu "Identity Crisis"

Terror. Fundamentalism. Politics. These are big issues. Certainly not ones that should be brushed away under the carpet. After all, it's a matter of life and death. It's a question of existence versus obliteration.

As India comes face to face yet again with the gory ideologies of fundamentalist groups, the debate is thrown open on TV shows; the newspapers are all about it. It's a free for all. From Arundhati Roy advocating secession of Kashmir from the Indian Union, to Singhvi (the Congress mouthpiece, literally!) almost "justifying" the occurrence of terror strikes today because "they happened when the BJP was in power too," everyone is throwing in their two cents worth.

As I try to make sense out of all the din, I desperately look for a voice in the political leadership of this country to echo the nationalist sentiments that are raging within me. All I hear is a string of emotionally bankrupt statements that refuse to call a spade a spade. With the exception, of course, of Narendra Modi. I admire the man for his ability and courage to speak strong, to speak clear. He comes across as a man of substance. Not like the Congress leadership that scurries to protect their minority votebank even before anyone has been accused of a crime! But wait - there never was any need to accuse, because the ones to be accused did that job for us - they accused themselves of the crime even before they committed it, and proudly strutted their accusations about while the country watched on helplessly.

But what to talk of the political leadership? Let's talk of our very own people. The SIMI ( a known Islamic fundamentalist organization with tentacles spread all over India) lashes out at the Hindus in its emails, calls us infidels, and openly taunts us before unleashing mindless terror on the streets of our cities. But what do so many of our educated middle class Hindus do? Start playing the self-righteous tune. "Why just the SIMI, even Hindu "fundamentalist" groups must be banned!" Like all of a sudden, the SIMI is such a dear precious friend of ours and we just cant see the poor thing being victimized. I even heard some Hindus go to the extent of suggesting that the bombs were planted by Hindu extremist groups. To them, I say: Gosh, people, get a life, before it's snatched away from you by these devious rascals who want to establish Islamic rule all over our country.

I am appalled at the logic which seems to go something like this for some of our philanthrophic Hindu brethren: the fact that most terrorists caught happen to be muslim is a problem. Never mind that the terrorists were motivated by an ideology that quotes the "misinterpreted" Islamic texts in and out.

It looks like our self-righteous Hindus would only be happy when for every muslim arrested, one Hindu is arrested too. Wow. Now that's taking the "Hindu Muslim Sikh Isai bhai bhai" thingy a little too far. I call it the "school assembly syndrome". Remember those school assembly songs, in which Hindu-Muslim-Sikh-Isai were conjoined together in the lyrics, almost deliberately? Well certainly to the point of making the whole unity thing so cliche.

But seriously, we Hindus have the unique quality of "catching our own tails" whenever the situation demands that we get our act together and face the enemy. I know a cute little pomeranian who does just that. Every time she's angry with someone, she won't bite the person she's angry with. Instead, she'll start going round and round in circles trying to catch her own tail, growling at it all the while, as if her tail is the reason for her current troubled state.

I say to her, leave the tail alone. It's the least of your problems. At least for now.

It doesnt surprise me anymore, the knowledge that throughout history, the Hindu civilization was manipulated, raped, and plundered so often. And almost so easily.

We turn against ourselves at the drop of a hat. And this is because we lack a common identity. We fail to see the common thread of "Aham Brahmasmi" and "Tat tvam Asi" that binds our beliefs from North to South, East to West. We peck at each other, like hens in a coup; fight over the petty details of who eats rice and who eats chappati, and who worhsips Vishnu and who worships Shiva. Countless times, I have heard North Indians snootily state that "we don't eat so much rice, like those South Indians." I mean, come on! When you cant get over these inane differences, how in God's name are you going to tackle the big issues? The ones that really matter?

Unfortunately, when under stress, we Hindus tend to distance ourselves from our Hindu identity. Just the opposite of what other communities generally do. In the process, we make ourselves extremely vulnerable to external forces, such as the SIMI.

And the sad truth is that we are prepared to watch our people be maimed on the streets but we cannot seem to muster up the guts or the will to embrace our inherent commonalities and come together under one Hindu identity.

A Moment...

A moment of tranquility. Standing on the soft sands of the shore, looking out to sea. The breeze dancing around me. The rhythmic roar of a wave, as it rushes toward me. The wave is as mighty as it is gentle. One moment it leaps into the air, falling over itself in it's eagerness to reach the shore; the next, it gently caresses my feet as if holding them in its tender embrace.

I am one with the Universe. In that fleeting moment, somewhere deep within, a memory stirs. As old as time itself, perhaps. It reminds me of me.

A moment of revelation. I am the soft sand. I am the dancing breeze. I am the roaring wave. I am the beauty of all three, and more. I am movement, I am touch, I am sound. I am thought. I am feeling. I am spirit. I am the confluence of the Universe's best. I am... life itself.

 © Sai Ganesh Nagpal