Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Great Indian Dichotomy

As my autorickshaw meanders through Pune's chaotic traffic, the disorder around me doesn't cease to amaze me. What is it with India and traffic? We create chaos where none needs to exist. It's like we were given two choices, order and disorder, and we deliberately and knowingly chose the latter. How else would you explain my wonder and amazement when I actually see a straight line of cars driving one behind the other? It's so rare and it lasts for about five seconds, before some smart alec breaks the line to butt in without so much as the blink of an indicator. Why is it so hard for us to drive in lanes, and wait for our turn? This is a question that has bothered me every day that I've driven on Indian roads since returning to India some years ago.

A typical traffic jam on the road to Infosys every morning goes something like this. There's technically only one lane on either side of the road, one for incoming and the other for outgoing traffic. However, every morning, one lane miraculously expands into three to accomodate buses, cars, autos, cycles, pedestrians, tempo trucks, actual trucks, and not to mention those ghastly monstrosities called "shared autos" that spew out freshly vaporised diesel as they chug along, noisy as hell. Every vehicle and/or being on that road is jostling for the right to move ahead of the other. Somehow, this crazy mass of steel, humans, dogs, and sometimes even cattle, moves forward in the general direction of the destination.

Then there's the "law of assured interjection." Just when the road seems like it's going to implode under all the traffic piled onto it, an ambitious vehicle (two, three, or four wheeler - it doesnt matter) will begin to cut through the traffic from the left shoulder all the way to the right, to attempt a u-turn! Of course, not a cycle will stop to let this intruder pass. So the intruder nudges forward inch by inch, literally, until it now blocks half the road. However, the traffic is unrelenting. People are furious that half their road has been usurped. So what do they do about it? Common sense would say - stop and let the intruder take the damned u-turn so we can all be rid of 'em once and for all. But no. We will continue to forge ahead. The only difference is that now, we'll squeeze through the little bit of space that the intruder has not yet occupied. But move ahead we will. After all, we are 'forward looking' people, no?

What intrigues me the most is that contrary to the anarchy that we unleash on our roads, when it comes to societal rules, we're sticklers for order and structure. Do your family proud by studying only science or commerce in grades 11 and 12, (arts and humanities are for dumbos), study something "technical" in college, do an MBA (until you do, you're only half human), get a job in an MNC, get a promotion or two, work "hard" (forget that you have a life outside work), get married (the "good news" that everyone's just waiting to hear), and then have kids (the only event that qualifies as "good news" after the wedding). Then, get the kids into a "good" school, make them study something technical, force them to do an MBA. The cycle goes on. But at least it's all structured and laid out, right? No questions need to be asked. The path must be followed. At all costs. Even it if means that an entire generation is deprived of thinking about what they really want out of their lives, or choosing a career that is meaningful to them as individuals and not as heirs to their families.

Ah, the signal has finally turned green! The mass of traffic has started to rumble and roar. Horns blare. Lanes dissolve. But come on now. Don't you know where we're all going? To an MNC, yaar. We're hard working, career minded, you know! We're "becoming something."

I'd say, yes. We're "becoming something." For starters, we're turning into asthma patients, inhaling all that diesel every morning.

But at least we work in an MNC, no?

Monday, November 23, 2009

To Sai... with love

I remember sitting on the sands of Prashanthi Nilayam, all of five years old, looking towards your mandir and seeing you emerge from the ornate door. Like one who is not of this world, you gently strode towards the crowd. Gliding across the sands, barely leaving footprints. As the orange speck in the distance came closer, my heart beat really fast, until you were standing in front of me, looking towards me, your eyes filled with the love of a thousand mothers. How can I forget that blaze of compassion, as you gazed into my soul and recognized me from many lifetimes ago?

How can I forget the tears of devotion that flowed as I looked at you, intoxicated with your aura, and recognized you as the One from the beginning of time? Not a word was spoken; but so much was said.

When I look back, I see that so much has changed, but you... have always been there. When I felt low and dejected, I closed my eyes and thought of you. You were there. When I was happy and elated, I looked at you, and you seemed just as happy, if not more. There were those who told me that life is serious and that loving God is not child's play. But your gurgling laughter and hilarious quips that day as we sat in your room, told me otherwise. You showed me that life is, after all, just a laugh. And the happier we are, the closer we are to God. How effortless it would all be, if only we'd let go.

When Mom passed away and it seemed like life was not worth living anymore, you reminded me that life is eternal, and the body only temporary. When I feared about the future, you showed me that where there is love, there is no place for fear.

The most precious gift that you have given me, dear Sai, is the gift of my inner voice. The gift of Sai within. When you told me that day that "you are also Sai, I am also Sai", I knew then that there was no difference. That happiness, love, compassion, fortitude... all of these are within me. Just as they are within you. Today, I don't have to see you in Prashanthi to feel close to you. Wherever there is love, there I see you. There I see the Universe. There I see God. You have taken me to greener pastures, yet I feel closer home. What a beautiful journey it has been, from Sai to Sai.

(Today is Sri Sathya Sai Baba's birthday)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


In those moments of silence
you seemed infinite.
Every moment
was like eternity
And there was love,
only love...

Your love.

I saw it in everything,
In everyone.
No one seemed apart from it
Some were just unaware of it.

Creation was bathed
in the sounds and sights
of your glory.

I opened my eyes and saw a sparrow
chirping at my window.

I felt your love for the sparrow,
As I did for the spider weaving its web
in a corner of the room.

I felt your love for the wind,
as it blew across the house.
For the sunlight
streaming through the windows.

Nothing and no one seemed
out of your love's reach.

I felt your love.

must I ever cross a river
Or fly over the ocean
to reach your doorstep?

When the footprints of your grace
are instead leading me
towards me.

© Sai Ganesh Nagpal