Tuesday, November 02, 2010

A Poet - Therapist of Pains of Punjab

Here is my article on eminent Punjabi poet Surjit Patar, who was recently awarded the prestigious award of Saraswati Samman.

During the long spell of my 'lying abroad' - 1975-'80 and then 21 consecutive years from 1982-2003 - it was my soul mate pen-pal Prof Sat Parkash Garg (1937-'96) of Bathinda who kept me posted till his last about the affairs of the beloved Punjab, particularly the developments on the socio-cultural and literary scene. It was he who had quoted (as advice!) Surjit Patar to me in one of his letters, "enna sacch na bol, ke kalla reh javen / Chaar ku Bande Chhad lai, Modha den laee - Do not tell truth to an extent to be left alone / Do spare four people to be pall-bearers." With the spreading of Patar's reputation for 'looting' all the Kavi Sammelans - Poetical Festivals - with his mesmerizingly melodious voice, I imagined him to be an inheritor of the mantle of inimitable lyricist Shiv Kumar whom I had listened and studied since student days.

The two recent functions in Delhi – one in Sahitya Academy and another to Award him prestigious Saraswati Samman on 17th September - established my literary introduction with Patar as a poetic-prophetic voice of my generation, in my mother tongue. I could recently finish reading all his poetical works in quick succession: I felt that his poetry has some thing about it comparable to the notes of agony and ecstasy in Bismillah Khan's Shehnai!

As an extra inquisitive student of the recent history of Punjab - the proverbial 'Land of Five Rivers', not to speak of 'Sapat Sindhu' of folk antiquity - I have been tempted to ask, "When was it that this land mass indeed enjoyed a period of a single generation of relative peace and progress since the celebrated poetic name figured formally in the official records during the reign of Emperor Akbar?" The popular war poem - Jang Hind - Punjab - by Shah Mohammad leaves me with a disgusting feeling that the destiny of the children of the Lion of the Punjab and the Khalsa Fauj was indeed fully deserved. One is grudgingly forced to seek some answer, with a substantive data, in the eight decades between 1880-1940 of the British rule when Lahore indeed emerged as a vibrant capital of commerce & culture and the province developed dream canal colonies. The revolution of rail / road transport had quietly knit colonial India together, never mind the 666 plus native kingdoms also flying their own flags.

Then, in the wake of freedom for the nation of Ashok and Akbar, befell the worst calamity of the Partition of the Five Waters. The arbitrary lines, drawn in a tearing hurry on the palm of Punjab by the white Sahib Radcliff, would transform for ever the Destiny of Punjabis - the Sikh in particular. The rulers in their new 'avatar' of politicians, representing characters in Mahabharata to the warring children of maker of Taj Mahal had their own selfish scores to settle causing 'collateral' massacres, genocides, mass rapes... It was left to the genius of Sadat Hasan Manto to tell the bitterest truths of the tragedies of the most madly partitioning of the legendary land of Buddha, Farid, Nanak... - but who cares to remember a Manto!

The poets have been becoming martyrs in the service of history by challenging the tyrants. During modern age of the M.A.D. - Mutually Assured Destruction - with the stock piles of nuclear weapons more than sufficient for decimating the planet many time over and the recent decades of mindless global terrorism, many of the soldiers of pen have dared to be warriors of peace in providing the healing touch and moral spine for the innocent masses who are victims of the oppression by both the instruments of state and those resorting to arms against perceived wrongs by the state.

Surjit Patar (Born Jan.14, 1945) has been acknowledged as the lyrically captivating and profoundly authentic voice in Punjabi poetry of the besieged Punjabis. He has been penning the most polished poetry without 'shying away' from the 'explosive' issues raging during the troubled times of terrorism in Punjab. A bright student in a village school near Kapurthala, he had shown an early promise in poetry and music which found a fuller expression during his studies in college. After completion of Post Graduation in Punjabi from Patiala where he met many kindred literary souls and later earned a Doctorate, Patar (pen name denoting softer version of the name of his village), joined the Dept. of Journalism, Languages and Culture in the Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana in 1971.

The city of Sahir - Wizard (of words) - surely provided Patar a stimulating atmosphere to grow pretty wings of poesy while working under Mohan Singh, the veteran poet of, 'Saaven Pattar' (Published in 1936). This was the period when the Naxalite movement involving many literary activists had been brutally crushed by the state and the ideological space was being contested, among others, by the Sikh religious revivalists. Surjit Patar got formally launched in 1973 when the ten of his poems were published in an anthology titled, 'Collage'. The poems including, 'Pachhon te Purvaiyya' - Eastern and Western Breeze'; 'Gharar, Gharar - Incoherent Word'; 'Budhi Jadoogarni - The Old Witch' and, 'Chaunk Shahidan - The Square of Martyrs' attracted critical acclaim for Patar's effective and subtle mix of the declamatory and dramatic elements in expressing challenging themes:
Mere Punjab ne taan bahut chir hoeya, Khud Kashi Kar layee si…
Te meri maut da maatm karan da haqq hai kewal havavan nuun…

My beloved Punjab committed suicide long ago…
Only Breezes (East-West) are entitled to mourn for me…

The excesses under the rule of Emergency and its democratically dramatic overthrow by the people of India and the Great Shia Islamic Revolution in Iran could be considered for Punjab the two defining events of the seventies. Meanwhile in 1979, Patar brought out a comprehensive collection of 51 Ghazals - the celebrated Perso-Urdu poetic form comparable to Sonnet - with the title, 'Hava vich Likhe Harf' - Words Etched in Air. Patar proclaimed, "the Ghazals have kept me attuned with my deeper attachment with music … they are written in conjunction with the totality of my poetic creativity … they don't denote some sudden impulse or toeing the tradition" - the couplets below would indeed attest his assertion:
Asan tan du-bb ke khoon vich likhi eiy Ghazal
Oh hor hovange, likhde ne jihre behir andar

I composed Ghazal delving deep into my blood
Others may compose it sub-merged under rhyme

Kadi bandian de vaang saanoo milia vi kar
Aiven langh jaanai, paani hava di tarah

Meet some time, like a person of flesh and blood
Don't pass by, sometime like water, then like wind

In the eighties, Punjab had started slipping deeper into a complex tragic abyss with continuous killings of the innocent blamed on the Sikh militants. The Operation Blue Star, the assassination of PM Indira Gandhi and the triggering of mass killings of Sikhs all over India created the worst imaginable situation in Punjab. The real culprits of letting loose the engines of evil, as it happens in such colossal tragedies, will never be clearly identified - one may be tempted to pick up a piece of truth one likes. Surjit Patar dared to take on the monster of hatred and meaningless violence with his piercing poetic utterances. To the immense delight and satisfaction of Patar's discerning readership, the two anthologies of his poetry were published in 1992, titled respectively ,'Birkh Arz Kare - A Tree Implores' and, 'Hanere vich Sulghadi Varanmala - An Alphabet Simmering in the Dark.'. Patar shared with the readers:
Meri Kavita mere har mausam di vithia hai
Bahuta mera, thora thorha samian da itihaas vi hai

My poetry describes various seasons of my own tale
Mostly it is personal, here and there bits of history of my times

The poem 'Dhukhda Jangal - The Smoking Forest' is an extended metaphorical narrative of Patar's poetic perceptions of the crippling pains of the body and the soul of the present 'One-Fifth' of the original (British) Punjab - attributed by perspicacious Marxist critic Tejwant Singh Gill to political paranoia as well schizophrenia. The Varanmala has a number of poems which have indeed acquired the status of classic commentary on the crisis of Punjab.

Lafzan di Darghah
It is, however, my literary appreciation of the recently awarded, 'Lafzan di Darghah - The Ultimate Court (Kartar di Katcheri) of Words' published in 1999 - the Tercentenary year of founding of the Sikh faith - which I had set out to share with the readers in this column. Patar introduces the book saying, 'To mould my anguish into a song / is my way of salvation / if the other doors are shut / here is the door of a court of words.' He is at gentle satirical best in poems like, "My Poem - My mother could not make any sense of my poem, though it was written in my mother-tongue"; "Here Came Nand Kishore … How intimate is the relationship / between language and livelihood" and, "Meri Jaat - And stating my caste, I felt tongue tied."

Enjoy reading and reflecting over this anthology of 73 gems of vintage Patar - poetry.

Video of Surjit Patar with his collection Udas Dosto - Melancholic Friends

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Vintage Voice in Punjabi Poetry

The following article appeared in the online publication South Asia Post, Issue 121 Vol VI, October 15, 2010

THE kindergarten teachers know that poetry precedes in the mysteriously unique process of learning language by the tiny tots. The learned linguists attest that this beautiful phenomena is applicable to the over all evolution of languages of humanity too. To take liberty with William Blake's often quoted lines - "Breathes there a person with soul so dead: Who to himself a line of poetry never said"! The people have zealously kept alive the rhythmical words of poets, the mighty conquerors of human hearts: the great warriors and conquerors who built vast empires remain consigned to the dustbins of history! One should observe the grace and dignity with which people throng around the tiny – make shift - grave of Armenia-born Sufi martyr poet, Sarmad, in the middle of stairs of the massive Jama Masjid, facing the historic Red Fort.

The introduction to poetry, as if, dawned upon me - thanks to my doting and poetry loving two great grandfathers and the First World War soldier grand father - before I could make a sense of or speak a simple sentence! It was, however, in the last week of February 1952 when at the age of eight plus, I was witness to the crafting of a poem, in the early morning hours, titled Shubh Kaamna Suman Mala - A garland of Flowers of Good Wishes - by a Hindi/Sanskrit scholar friend of my father, to be read at the marriage of my paternal aunt - Bhua ji - on 2nd of March. I am glad to say that this composition, embroidered with classical imagery of celebration of spirit of Vasant - Spring - impresses me even today.

Enters Krishan Kumar - a poetically inclined, shy, smiling friend of my literary minded uncle - Chacha - who was more than eight years my senior. I vividly recall how Krishan had attempted the first draft of the Sehra - a traditional wedding poem from the groom's side - for the second marriage of my widower father, solemnized in a village near Rajpura on March 9, 1953. To my amazement, Krishan still remembers couplets from this Sehra! Krishan Kumar – I think that he had added Thakhallus - pen name - 'Ashant' - 'the Restless' - before he passed Matriculation in 1954 in the First Division, completing ninth & tenth classes in one year. He had side stepped sincere advice of his favourite teachers in M.G.M.N. High School, Ahmedgarh that he should not be in a hurry and that he should aspire to win a university scholarship. Krishan Ashant is understood to have convinced his teachers that saving of one year of life was more precious than the amount of scholarship! The philosophical and intellectual fascination with Time - the ever elusive, eternal and omnipresent, Kaal - in its myriad dimensions, had possessed our poet and futurologist much earlier in life!

It, therefore, came as no surprise when Krishan Ashant, as an under graduate student in Ranbir College, Sangrur, became a popular figure - with his fulsome poetic beard and a healthy frame of a college boxer - at Kavi Darbars / Mushai'ras that were regularly organized in the pulsating Punjab of fifties by Sahit Sabhas / Literary Circles fired with a genuine zeal for progressive ideology. Ashant's first anthology ,Taare te Kinke - The Stars and Specks of Dust - was quick to follow in December 1957, published by Lahore Book Shop, Ludhiana,; 1,100 copies; 128 pages; Price - Two Rupees! I think that several poems by this college-student-poet had fired the imagination of young readers and also attracted attention of encouraging senior writers. Master Ashni Kumar, one of Krishan's admirers among his school teachers, asked me - then in my eighth class- to write a letter of felicitations to the First Poet of our school, founded forty years ago. Ashant retains a distinctly sweet memory of that letter and flatters me for my neatly calligraphic handwriting in Gurmukhi! The following lines of the opening poem had become popular quotes for declamation contests in schools / colleges in Punjab, of the times when its boundaries embraced Delhi and Lahaul-Spiti:
Hasat rekhawan di chinta na karo/ Hatth sirjanhaar ne taqdeer de.
Ikk saya hai Khuda insaan da/ Rabb, banda rukkh ikk tasveer de.

Lament not over lines (in palm) of your Hand/ Hands shape your Destiny.
God is but a reflection of Man/ God and Man are cast in same Image

Ashant did MA in Philosophy from Mohindra College Patiala where he shared roof in 'Bhootwara' - Ghost House - a rented accommodation fondly nicknamed and remembered as the legendary abode of extraordinarily talented students of literature like Gurbhagat, Navtej (Bharati), Harinder (Mahboob), Lalli, Gubux (Soch), etc. It was lovingly 'supervised' by an inspiring team of teachers led by the stern scholar, Prof Pritam Singh. Ashant, unlike his many friends who chose to be academicians in Punjab, decided to plunge into the 'big-bad' world of Delhi. The anchor was provided by his love marriage to a class fellow who became a teacher in the capital and allowed him luxury of shuffling jobs involving travels to distant and charmingly different destinations. The fields of his work in fast developing discipline of mass media brought him in intimate interaction with people braving acute urban rigors of shelter-less / jobless existence; the deprivations of the Tribal people ; dreams dying young all around; insensitivity of society at large…

All this resulted in, Shilalekh - Inscription in Stone - dedicated to his beloved wife, Kamal - brought out in 1978 by Aarsi Publishers, with a cover design by Imroz and sketches by Nikhil Biswas/ Dev, Price: Rs 10. In the 'Last Word' of the book, Ashant has confessed that for almost two decades, he could not write anything worth while because of an 'inner turmoil' about bedeviling realities all around Interestingly - and paradoxically - he turned to poetry to seek solace, "like crying bitterly over the dead body of a loved one and sigh as deeply as one can!" There are many subtle, memorably satirical, poems in this anthology. Janardan - Common Man - a poem of more than 500 lines - stands apart and is indeed of epic proportions in capturing an entire gamut of endless challenges of modern life. Meanwhile, Ashant had increasingly turned towards serious studies of Astrology and soon adopted it as a full time profession. He authored in 1994 - in Punjabi /Hindi - 'A Tale of 3 Evil (astrological) Houses', a product of lengthy conversations with Amrita Pritam and followed it with highly exclaimed texts titled, Lagan Darshan and Laal Kitab Jyotish.

Beete Nuun Awaazaan,
by Krishan Ashant
Since my return to Delhi after spending 21 summers abroad, I had been pleading - and prodding - gently and respectfully - with Ashant Sahib to share with his large circle of admirers all those poems which might have been lying in custody. It is, therefore, certainly a cause for celebration for all serious readers of poetry in Punjabi that, Beete Nuun Awaazaan' - Summoning the Past' - 49 poems and 12 Ghazals (Sonnets) saw the light of the day in August - thanks to Shilalekh Publishers. Here, we meet a poet of a mature vintage and a rare detachment who is reflecting deeply over eternal issues of human existence. The imagery, similes and extended metaphors are so profoundly rich in questioning both the day to day and the ultimate dilemmas of humanity. Ashant, poet-philosopher-futurologist rolled into one, is capable of enlarging the range and horizon of Panjabi poetry in this period of globalization - one should listen to the voice of 'Buddha Jand':
Ikk bande da khudi nun chhadd ke / Khud hi Khuda hona;
Alaamat hai ishak di…Mai tan Buddha Jand Han rohi da:
Evein jee rihan/ Aas hai ke ikk din aashak koee
Meri thandi chhan vich baithega aake!

When one transcends one's ego/ one merges into Him,
And that is a sign surely of True love.
I'm but an old Jand tree in the wilderness
Alive in aimlessness
But hoping that some lover might pass by this way
And take rest under my shade!

Ashant is firmly rooted in major Indian languages, scriptural mythologies, and has a full command over prosody and classical poetic devices which are amply reflected even in his Ghazals:
Tun Khuda si,tainu sharminda vee je karde asin;
Ess laee har kahar nun -kehnde rahe teri mehr
Main te jad jeevan da saghar rirkia,vish hi mili
Jhooth lagda kanth vich rakhi-Shivan saari Zehar

God, how we could make you feel ashamed!
So, we termed your tyranny too, as your kindness
Whenever I churned sea of life, I tasted only poison,
Seems false, Shiva has stored all poison in his throat!

Beete nuun Aawaazaan provides us the privileged to listen to a vintage voice of an immensely accomplished poet who traverses vast realms of heritage of Punjab echoing profundities – of past, present and future - having universal appeal. Poets are known for playing games with their real or poetic names - Ashant had also once toyed with Seetal Saroj - The Cool Lotus - as nom de plume: I hope that in the 75th year of his life, Ashant has attained 'the inner quietude' in its fullest poetic connotation!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Reflections on ‘PEPSU’ versus Punjab

The following article appeared in the online publication South Asia Post, Issue 119 Vol V, September 15, 2010

Nawab of Malerkotla, Iftikhar Ali Khan
Nawab of Malerkotla, Iftikhar Ali Khan
THE title of this column might indeed bamboozle many readers except the senior citizens - more particularly, the pensioners of the government of Punjab. To decode the puzzle, PEPSU was the abbreviation of the newly carved out state - Patiala and the East Punjab States Union - in the wake of the independence of India. The ‘native’ - Princely - states which merged into the Pepsu included the four ruled by (Jatt) Sikh Rajas - Patiala, Nabha, Jind, Faridkot - while the rulers of Kapurthala were the descendants of the formidable warrior, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia (1718-1783). The Malerkotla Nawabs, Sherwani Afghans, traced their descent to Sheikh Sadruddin (1449-1508) who had received a gift of 68 villages to the south of the fast developing commercial and strategic city of Ludhiana, from Bahlol Lodhi, ruler of Delhi. Kapurthala State (with majority of population being Muslims) had two enclaves in Jalandhar district. The outlying districts of Narnaul, Dadri and Bawal lay in southern districts of East Punjab. There were islands of Patiala in the present Himachal Pradesh. The two non-salute States, Kalsia and Nalagarh, administratively affiliated with Patiala, were also incorporated into the new Union. The covenant of merger was signed on May 5, 1948 by rulers of all the eight states.

The PEPSU was formally inaugurated on July 15, 1948 by swearing in only the Rajparmukh, Maharaja Yadavendra Singh of Patiala, because the two newly emerged political groupings, Prajamandal turned Congress and the Akali Dal had failed to form a ministry. The confusion and disorder caused by terrible communal riots leading to departure / influx of Muslims/Hindus reigned supreme. The administrative culture of newly born state of Pepsu - with an area of 10,099 sq miles / 26,146 sq Km, population of 34,24,060 and annual revenue of 5 crores - was historically steeped in repressive feudal traditions. The people had been suffering from the ‘double slavery’, under idiosyncratic and pervert rulers who were themselves under the slavish subservience of the British. The caretaker government with Sardar Gyan Singh Rarewala, a high official of Patiala State and close relation of the Maharaja, as the Premier was installed under a stop-gap arrangement in August 1948. I have a vague but disturbing memory of bloody popular upsurge in Malerkotla against police repression in the wake of murder by angry mob on June 14, 1948 of Thanedar Kuldip Singh who had raped a girl when she was in his custody. This wave of lawlessness and dacoities led to the dismissal of Rarewala ministry and imposition of President’s rule.

The sharply communal overtones became pronounced rather early in the politics of Pepsu with the Akali Dal encouraged to entertain the notion that the Pepsu was the promised niche in India with the Sikh majority which must reflect their aspirations. The Congress, comprising of old Prajamandalites, did not have Sikh leaders of stature in its ranks. The Congress won 26 seats in the Assembly of 60 in the General Elections in January 1952 and Rarewala maneuvered to be CM again in April with the support of independents. The Rarewala Ministry was dismissed in March 1953 invoking for the first time provision of the failure of the Constitutional Machinery. The mid-term poll returned Congress with Majority with Col. Raghbir Singh forming ministry in March 1954. He died in Jan,’55 and was succeeded by Brish Bhan who remained in office till the reorganization of states when Pepsu was consigned to history with its merger into the new Punjab created on November 1,1956.

Having spent my early life, first in a small village at 6km from Malerkotla and then the family shifting to nearby town of Ahmedgarh, I have the most vivid memories of the regime of Pepsu - the five letters, as if, got engraved into my consciousness long before I learnt the English alphabet! The family records now confirm that my father, then 27, a scholar of classical Vedantic studies and rigorously trained to be an Ayurved practitioner - Vaidya - had embraced the order of Khalsa on July 26, 1947 with the Amritpaan ceremony costing Rs 7 and four annas.

His words, quoting Maharaja Patiala’s speech in Hindustani during public meeting in Ahmedgarh soon after, still ring in my ears - translated loosely in English, Maharaja had said, "Now India and Pakistan have become two different and independent countries … those Muslims who would opt to live in India would be provided full security of life and property … Nawab Sahib and his forefathers have enjoyed fraternal relations with us … due arrangements will be made for those who want to migrate to Pakistan … ". The Maharaja, however, warned that the Muslims staying back in India must be completely loyal to India without any secret love for Pakistan. He also criticized the Sikh leaders who raised the alarm of, ’Panth in danger’ saying, ’danger could only be to their pockets – to make fast bucks’ adding that Guru’s Panth would always march forward.

The question of my elementary school came up in 1949. I was going to be the first ever child to be sent for formal schooling in the long line of family of traditional scholars who were all taught at home. The District Board (soon to be called Goverment) Primary School in village Sohian, at a distance of about four km, but falling in the Angrezi Ilaqa was preferred over the lower middle school, Bhogiwal, about three kilometres away, located closer to Malerkotla. The widely prevailing impression was that the teaching was more systematic and effective in the schools of British territory in comparison to the Riyasati - princely state - schools. The school had two Kutcha rooms with a mud boundary wall but the classes were mostly held under the near by trees.

Pandit Lachhman Dass of nearby village Ram Pur, the senior of the two teachers, had been posted there for more than 17 years and was well known in the neighboring villages. The name of other teacher was Partap Singh, a Sikh with white beard, who also belonged to close by village, Rorian (near Malaud) - how did we children come to know that he was of Naee-barber- caste? The caste enumerators in 2011 can draw some conclusions for our Mahan Bharat! A palatial white building with tall trees around was visible from the school. We came to know that it belonged the Sardar –feudal landlord-of Sohian, called Kaka Ji who had been inducted as DSP in the Punjab Police; knew years later that his full name was Narinder Singh Phulka. On way to school amidst the fields, I remember how flocks of colorful deer and beautiful cows, called ‘Ram Gaooan’ used to roam about freely-those were the days!

It was 7th of May 1951. Leaving village in the morning, my grandfather and I waited for hours at Kup Bus stand to catch a bus for Ahmedgarh; a few buses that passed by did not stop, being too full. So we decided to walk under the hot sun to the Kup railway station at a distance of 3km.It was my first railway journey that I remember. Within a week, I joined the MGMN High School in the third class and Pepsu, Punjab, Bharat; Sansar started getting unfolded before me in my studies. My first visit to Malerkotla was as late as in Feb 1957 when I had to appear in a special middle school scholarship examination. After the last paper, I stayed back to listen to Congress President UN Dhebar. Giyani Zail Singh, dressed in black Sherwani, introduced in his eloquently impressive Punjabi the frail looking Gandhian leader, Uchhang Rao Navalshanka Dhebhar!

Ahmedgarh, though comparatively closer to Ludhiana and linked more to it for trade and other activities, has remained tied to the district of Sangrur and inter alia with the old Pepsu, I have strongly mixed emotions of love and hate with my Pepsu identity. The two years of studies, during ’59-61, in Government College, Malerkotla and the two years as a college lecturer in Bathinda in ’67-69 provided me with a wealth of contrasting experiences with my studies in DAV College, Jalandhar for graduation and Post Graduation in Government College, Ludhiana. To me, Pepsu seemed personification of feudal depravities and, rampant corruption, in its myriad hues. The peon of the Principal and the clerks in Malerkotla college; the clerical staff and even lecturers and Principals in Bathinda, I am very sorry to say, remind me of the most viciously corrupt and intriguing persons in contrast to many inspiring and most helpful functionaries I came across as student/lecturer in Jalandhar and Ludhiana.

When the Pepsu was merged into the Punjab, many like me, had hoped and prayed that values and work culture of Punjab will have a salutary influence on the Riyasati - Pepsu people. But, alas! the wheel seems to have turned the other way round: The ‘Pepsu–ization’ of Punjab seems to be full and complete; the theory of economics, ’bad money drives out good money’ rings loudly true in my beloved present Punjab. The ‘cash and carry job Super Bazaar’ going by in the name of Public Service Commission, Patiala run by some Super Sidhu should make an easy entry into the Guinness Book!

For many years, I had a mysteriously eerie feeling of journeying into ‘darkness’ when travelling towards Malerkotla and going towards ‘light’ when heading towards Ludhiana! It is now more a disturbingly depressing sense in undertaking journey in both directions - signs of slipping towards senility, sagacity or mere nostalgic non-sense … other should know better!!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Mirthful Monk - Philosopher of Modern Epoch

The following article appeared in the online publication South Asia Post, Issue 115 Vol V, July 15, 2010

THE last week of May 2002: It had been less than a week since I presented my credentials as High Commissioner of India to New Zealand to Governor General Dame Silvia Cartwright. I was still getting accustomed to feasting my eyes on the breathtakingly beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean from my office, located on the tenth floor of the 14 storey building, 182 Molesworth Street, Wellington. At that moment on that particular day, I was, perhaps, a bit lost in thinking that I should send a message of felicitations to Sir Edmund Hillary on the 49th anniversary of the First Ascent of Everest, falling the next day, 29th of May.

I was suddenly informed by my Private Secretary, Gopal Wadhwa, that His Holiness Dalai Lama's Secretary had just telephoned from James Cook Hotel to inform that His Holiness had arrived in Wellington from Sydney and that he would be pleased to receive me. I felt as if a dream had become a reality from nowhere. A career diplomat, I had experienced the privileged duty of meeting many a high dignitaries of the home and foreign governments. Dalai Lama, the quintessential spiritualist yet steeped in all the high 'treason' of politics since the age of two when he was identified as the reincarnation of the Thirteenth Dalai, belonged to a category of his own. My own childhood images Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama in the news papers were the two of them looking dressed up in a sort of child entertainers, flashed before my eyes. I wondered that the Destiny had taken me also along an unimagined path since birth in an obscure village!

I, accompanied by my wife, was extra punctual in reaching the hotel to have 'Darshan'-holy sight- of the Spiritualist who, unlike many other spiritual personalities, has been known to be at ease in receiving female visitors and devotees. After an initial exchange of greetings and courtesies, Dalai Lama, in his famously familiar informality, surprised by us saying that he had been experiencing some pain in the stomach caused by, perhaps, an apple eaten during the flight from Sydney to Wellington. He asked us about our previous postings, saying that he liked our names - Anand and Aradhana, and even asked the names of our children. He observed that we had been posted to interesting countries adding that among those countries, he had been only to Spain (our other postings being to Iran, Maldives, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Panama ,Armenia). He wished us well during our stay in New Zealand,' a beautiful country with wonderful people.'

He presented both of us with traditional Tibetan scarf-Katag, putting them around our necks said laughingly that we could feel welcome into Buddhism, the faith given by India to the world! While we were taking leave of him, His Holiness again mentioned about the troubling pain in his stomach, blaming it on the apple which looked so beautiful. I was simply overwhelmed by 'abundant humanness' and 'simplicity of soul' of this 'spiritual giant' of our epoch. I was left wondering and reflecting all over again about the deeper symbolism of 'Physical Pain' and 'Beautiful Appearance' in the wider world around us!

The Dalai Lama the 14th in the line of the succession of incarnations of the Chenrezig or Bodhisattva of compassion of Tibet , has loomed large on the spiritual - and political - horizons of the world since his dramatic escape from the 'roof of the world' in March 17-31 ,1959 in the wake of the rebellion against Communist Chinese forces. During more than five decades of his life as a 'refugee extraordinaire', he has been assiduously leading pacifist resistance of his people against 'usurping Chinese Communist Imperialists' With the protocol privileges and courtesies extended by the government of India to him as 'Head of the Government–in-Exile' of Tibet', with its Headquarter in Dharamshala-literally the abode of religion- Dalai Lama has blossomed into an indefatigable scholar and rationalist interpretor of Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism. He is a tireless traveler as a spokesman for the 'genuine autonomy of Tibetan people in their home land.' He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1989. The honorary doctorates and other distinctions have been conferred on him in dozens by the prestigious institutions of the West /USA. The government of China has been working overtime, in scuttling his activities by brandishing trade and economic muscle at his host countries.

The 75th birth day of Dalai Lama on 6th of July occasioned many high profile events including live media interviews with frank and uncomfortable Q's and his equally honest and forth right A's. The harshest reality would seem to pertain to his own life-he is not getting any younger and the Chinese are reputed to be the most patient in playing the game of Time! Many perspicacious Sinologists have drawn vivid scenarios of Chinese game plans when the 14th Dalai Lama would cease to be. Dalai Lama, however, assured his viewers on the NDTV interview on his birth day that reliable 'Tibetan Futurologist' have predicted a longer life for him-113 years to be precise! He observed that since the 'Tianamen Square', there has been a growing understanding and support among the Chinese people for the unique nature of Tibetan culture'. He is optimistic that,'perhaps a new generation of leaders will give the Tibetans the autonomy they want'. He steadfastly refused to play any blame game when asked about President Obama's initial refusal to receive him. He admitted that some sections of Tibetans are getting impatient and angry. To many a hard Q's, his impulsive laughter, as if, being half the answer!

I feel convinced that Dalai Lama has assured himself a place in the history of humanity. He has been never tired of being at pains to explain that, 'he, after all, is an ordinary, simple, just like all of us – a human being.' It is amazing that even his sworn political adversaries have not attributed any worldly scandal to him. He has been daringly candid to proclaim, "My views on morality differ from Buddhist religious practice ... morality and ethics must be secular and universal ... Buddhism is against homosexuality but I am not ... if there is love, compassion and consent, then it is alright ... He (Osama Bin Laden) is opposed to Saudi Royal family which is backed by the US. So his anti-Americanism is not based on religion but on political considerations..."

The observers of India-Sino-Tibetan relations had their antennas up last week when Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao flew to Dharamshala on 10th July for, "closed door talks for 90 minutes with the Dalai Lama, in which high ranking official's government-in-exile including Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche participated." They speculated on the timing of the meeting – within days of National Security Advisor SS Menon's visiting China. Is this a part of some diplomatic shadow boxing ... way of some signaling to Beijing? China has indeed arrived, inspiring awe with biggest economic boom; the world also seems to await China's arrival in the range of freedom and democracy for her people - and the resultant moderation and responsibility in the conduct her international relations.

Addressing various forums in India, Dalai Lama has been fond of describing Indo-Tibetan spiritual relations with metaphor of Guru-Chela i.e. the Master and the Disciple. Replying to my question, during a recent lecture function at the Viveka Nand Centre for Strategic Studies, on the curse of caste system continuing to blight the destiny of India, he said that so many Shankracharyas and Gurus must come forward earnestly against the deep rooted evil.

Happy Birth Day to You, the 14th Reincarnated One! The world is keenly watching your Global Journey - with the hope that you will have the last laugh!!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ocean of caste consciousness

The following article appeared in the online publication South Asia Post, Issue 114 Vol IV, June 30, 2010

Demographic map of India - 2006
India - Demographic Map
THE titanic decennial task of compiling the national census of India, the 15th since the first in 1872 and the 7th since Independence, has been billed as the largest ever such endeavour in human history. The exercise this time indeed involves much more than head-counting of her 1.2 billion people spread over six hundred thousand villages, 7,742 towns and cities of the 640 districts. Over 2 million of the census staff, while documenting persons in the families in terms of gender, age, education/employment will also enumerate the availability of toilet facilities, drinking water, electricity, the cooking medium, type of housing, etc, under some 36 plus 14 more headings in the census sheet. The millions of homeless sleeping under bridges, railway platforms, footpaths and other public places are also to be covered.

The census enumerators have been further mandated for the first time to record biometric data in terms of taking finger prints of each person above the age of 15 and also collect information on the usage of Internet, phones, bank account, etc. The data on finger prints, photographs - even of iris - will be linked with the project of National Population Register (NPR) assigning unique identity number to every Indian a card with 16 digits. The census operations will take 11 months, consume 11.63 million tons of paper and cost $1.9 billion. The USA is also conducting this year her 23rd census since 1791 and the exercise, apart from affecting the seats of each state in the House of Representatives and votes in the Electoral College, will also record the same sex marriages. The cost of the census would be US $11 billion.

While the Government of India (GOI) had grandly got all set to conduct the 15th national census, the argumentative Indian political players toying with 'the largest democracy of the world' suddenly got themselves entanged in a uniquely Indian epic combat of wits. To put the epic issue at stake in Hamlet's celebrated lines: "to count or not to count the 'Other Backward Classes', is a question; whether 'tis nobler not to ask the caste/or to put on paper an ancient painful truth ..." The splendidly intricate structure of walls within walls of the once upon a time scripturally structured mighty pyramid of castes of people of Bharat would indeed seem to require a contingent led by Lord Ganesha, the legendary scribe of Mahabharata. Lord Ganesha might further require a team of select staff on deputation from the office of Chitragupta, the Accountant-General of Hindu-Heaven to unfold and enumerate the details of the societal structural engineering attributed to Manavdharmasastra or Manusmriti and 'the 'second portion of Purusha-sakta hymn of Rig Veda', according to,bureaucrat-turned Acharya, Jagmohan Ji!

As for the identifiable protagonists for the 'caste counts', in the forefront are the Yadava-Trio supposedly speaking for the lower-middle-rung of the Hindu caste hierarchy. They insist that that the information so collated would be vitally valuable in framing more realistic policies for amelioration of condition of such segments of society as have been long pushed to the margins of the socio-economic development. Those who vehemently oppose the inclusion of 'Other Backward Castes' in the census 2011 sternly warn that the exercise is fraught with serious repercussions for 'the cherished ideal of nation building' and that the web of caste ratings is too messy to be logically separated and enumerated across the length and breadth of India. They point out that the inexperienced lower grade government officials-mainly school teachers-entrusted this task are the least competent to accomplish such a delicate task and that, in the given surcharged atmosphere, there is every possibility among many Indians to join 'a race to run backward!'

There is no need to labour hard to conclude that the most dehumanising institution of caste system of Hinduism - linking a person's worth to his birth - invented by ancient social-spiritual law givers has determined the tragic and turbulent course of history of India over the millenia. The Buddhism, Bhakt / Sufi movements, the new external and native faiths, modern reformers including Swami Dayanand and Mahatama Gandhi strongly challenged the system according to the circumstances of their time. The abiding bitter truth, however, remains writ large on the face and in the mind of India, "Jaati hai, ke jaati hi nahi-Caste has stubbornly refused, to be cast aside!" The founding fathers of the noble Constitution of India-including its chief-architect, Dr. BR Ambedkar - had a firm faith that the forces of democracy and freedom would soon bury the ancient caste divides replacing them with healthy politico-economic groupings. The nation would seem to have got reconciled in good faith to the various measure of affirmative action for those sections of society categorised as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes who had been systematically subjected for centuries to the oppression of untouchabilty and total exclusion in education and worth while economic activities. As for the other categories of Socially and Economically Backward Classes, the state governments were considered to be in better position to take all necessary remedial actions.

The decline of Indian National Congress as a mainstream nation wide political party since 1967 general elections released the regional and caste dominant outfits. The process culminated under Janta Party in the Second Backward Classes Commission headed by Bihar Politician BP Mandal Government headed by PM MR Desai. The Report was implemented by PM VP Singh during the turbulent politically-divisive phase in 1990 and thus started India's new tryst with 'Caste-crazy' polity, which has found a resounding political echo for the counting of 'Other', what was earlier called, 'Socially and Economically Backward Classes' in the national census to be completed by middle of next year. It is indeed baffling to observe that so strong is the spell of, 'Caste Mantra' that almost no political party has escaped being 'caste-rated'. The Cabinet of Manmohan Singh displayed a 'split wide-open' and the embarrassment required a gag order. The discipline-conscious Sangh Parivar had to adopt a subtle 'scriptural' double speak but it was clear that the RSS considered caste count a conspiracy against Hinduism but Gopinth Munde openly supported the move. The issue seemed to pose a challenging the dilemma for the Dalit spokespersons - alas, they have no national leaders - while Boota Singh has supported the Caste counting. The Dalit ideologues, however, do privately point out that the resurgence of OBC's had a negative fall out for the untouchable castes in as much as several OBC castes are their oppressors in the rural India. The Left who now seem to ideologically occupying 'ground zero' were left to drift along the forces of caste count.

The large tribe of socio-political activists, arm-chair analysts, moribund politicians - particularly in the country's capital - have found a 'great cause' to espouse or oppose in the caste count. The Hindi journalist-activist Dr Ved Pratap Vedic has launched a forum, 'Meri Jaati Hindustani' and has succeeded in invoving several eminent personalities of the past in joining the campaign. The Manmohan Mantra of G.O.P, i.e. Group of Ministers, would prefer sitting over the issue as long as possible and then might plead lack of logistics for the cast count along with national census - may promise the count by other agencies till the political sea storm blows over. The shaming and dishonoring of India on the altar of caste, however, relentlessly goes on in the heart of Hindustan with brothers killing sisters and parents killing daughters for their fault of falling in love with someone whose caste ranking did not match with hers - forget what caste was the matriarch Satyavati and how her ascetic son Ved Vyas had to be summoned to carry forward the genealogical line of the heroes and villains of epic Mahabhrata! The Indians who seek to purge the Indian Social Ocean of the most devastating poison of caste should look within the ocean of their mind to rediscover the unfathomable beauty of uniqueness and sameness of humanity at large on our little planet of earth! By the way, the census report of 1931 had estimated the number of 'depressed classes' at 50,192,000 in the whole of (undivided) India; in the United Province ,they constituted 23 percent of the total population.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The sound, fury and music of new age journalism

The following article appeared in the online publication South Asia Post,
Issue 112 Vol IV, May 31, 2010

EVER since the 19 month long dark epoch of Emergency in June 1975 - January 1977 - infamous for the curbs on freedom of press - the media in India has been in a heady spin evolving itself in embracing new challenges in the professional and technological domains of globalization. The last two decades of India's tryst with liberalisation and economic reforms have witnessed the fastest growth of institutions of mass communications and journalism. A large corps of well groomed and 'brave hearted' journalists have been scripting their own concerns and core issues perceived to be affecting the lives of a billion plus people of India, a vast majority in their own age group. It is precisely with these thoughts that I chose to write about Annie Zaidi's maiden book, titled in the youth lingo, 'Known Turf'.

It was a timely phone call from Hyderabad that enabled me to attend the function of the release of the book on 23rd of April by Shri Mani Shankar Aiyar, the freshly nominated member of Rajya Sabha, with a well deserved reputation for his incisive and hit-it-hard views on issue of socio-economic development and secular polity. The venue, a classroom size conference hall in the Annexe of India International Centre, mostly frequented by the retired 'Big Babus', was, for a refreshing change, overflowing with young people attired in all their carefree variety. Sh. MS Aiyar, dressed in trade mark kurta-payjama, graciously apologised for being twenty minutes late, making a reference to the mention in the book (at Page 267) how the long waiting ladies had admonished him in political rally in Dehradun. He told the audience how he had to agree to meet the persistent author of the book on the suggestion of Mr. P Sainath, the well known columnist on the rural scene in India. He further said that his long conversation with the author about the brave new themes and then the reading of the book convinced him to release the book. He read a couple of passages and the engaged in conversation with the author to the immense delight of the audience. The deep sensitivity and sparkling sincerity of the author towards the people and their issues dealt in the book enlivened the evening filled more with literary than hard core journalistic air about it.

Coming to the book, subtitled 'Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales', published by Tranquebar Press, 280 page, paperback, is, according to the author, "a collection of essays, drawing upon research, travel and personal history." The book indeed opens with the 32 page chapter about author's trip to 'daaku land' -the Chambal Valey - when travelling by Shtabadi to Gwalior in Oct 2004 in the wake of massacre by the Gadariya gang, she discovers that Phoolan Devi - the legendary ex-bandit 'queen' turned member of Parliament was also travelling by the same train. There are sensitive portrayals of the people of the bad land, invoking parallels with the Bollywood films and references to historical records. To quote the author,
"Finally, I think in our national imagination, the life of Chambal daaku may be forfeit, but it is life that serves as a testament to the oppression people once suffered, before somebody stood up and said, enough!"

The net section with two chapters describes demanding dimensions of travelling and staying for a female reporter in the 'rural heart-land' of India,
"I had not eaten all day and dared not get down at the station to buy food ... it was the first time in my life that I could not sleep because of hunger."

The third section with seven chapters contains respectively the touching accounts of malnutrition among children in Madhya Pradesh,
"I usually do not touch babies...I should not have picked her up. It is hard to forget the sight of baby eyes that don't look into your own .. I should not have held her, for I remember now that she weighed less than my hand bag ... Quickly, I handed her over to her mother and fled. Fled, from the baby who weighed less than my handbag."

Then the author navigates the reader into issues of death due to starvation, displacement of people in the wake of big dams. The picture of dying weavers of silk saris in Benaras tells it all,
"The Benaras trip was a difficult one ... it was here that I discovered one of the most awful things about being a reporter: watching grown men and women break down."

The deeper motivation for my sharing this book for the readers of South Asia Post pertains to Sections IV and V - from pages 91 to 161, which touch upon fractured body and tortured soul of Punjab as viewed and examined by an open minded journalist who makes an enigmatic understatement,
"There is a bit of Punjab in my blood, although I don't speak the language ... dancing to a series of Bhangra and Gidda numbers in school ... from movies, from songs and legend...Sikhism...Excitable tempers. Money. Rivers of milk. Lassi...voice came out garbled and, until work forced me to, I hadn't felt any desire to try and decipher it."

Then follows the true tale of Bant Singh ,"who was in hospital (PGI, Chandigarh) minus three limbs because he wanted his daughter's rapists to go to jail." The author met him in the trauma ward of the PGI and noted,
"At the end of the day, having filed my story and putting my notes aside, I had written a diary entry ... 'How does one react...look at the bandages ... Or do you look away, into his eyes? ... talk of the incident in detail ... leave as soon as you have the information you need because ...because what can one say any way?... And what do you do when a man minus three limbs in a government hospital's trauma ward begins to sing?"

The author is told by Dr Promod Kumar, director of Institute of Development and Communication that, "Bant singh case was actually part of a longer, more subtle resurgence of Dalits.' The author quotes social scientists,
"Punjab had class and religious conflict.The next big thing was pipped to be caste conflict..the state has one of the highest proportions of Dalit population: about 28.3 per cent (but own less than 2.3 per cent of land) ... in 1991,the scheduled castes accounted for 52% of the state's poverty statstics, more than a decade later, this had gone up to 62 percent (page 99) ..."

The essay titled, 'I'm Getting Out' is an anecdotal account of the youth of Punjab for their 'foreign land' craze. They don't mind adopting any method in pursuit of their 'dream', never mind cheating by agents. The young women are not behind - they become victims, in words of author, of 'marriage method.' BS Ramuwalia is quoted, "It is big business...racket is worth at least Rs 10,000 crores." The chapter titled, 'Prone to Bonding' narrates tales of bonded labourers in the neighborhood of Ludhiana kept by the landlords for petty loans. According to Dr Manjit Singh, a Sociologist, 58% of Dalit households were caught in debt traps, 'families had worked without any wages for as long as twenty years.' In contrast is narrated the tale of blatant loot of Rs 286 crore (Page 115) by Panjab's 'political who is who' invoking waiver of loans of the Panjab State Industrial Development Corporation (PSIDC),
"Here were people who went about in fancy cars ... It wasn't that they could not repay their debts. They just wouldn't. Yet, their houses weren't locked up and they did not have to go looking for community land so they could relieve themseves."

The realm of faith and religion is analysed with a rare detachment and depth in the three chapters of the section V of the book. The author explains how,
"Sufism caught at my soul the way no mainstream religion ever had ... essence of Sufism was an open door policy and a witty, defiant attitude to people who try to gain monopolies on redemtion and divinity ... The first serenade was poetic. Kabir ... Mira Bai ... Bulle Shah ... Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's voice ... Rabbi's, 'Bulla ki jaana main kaun? - I do not know who I am ..."

The growing popularity of Sufi tradition, particularly among the Dalits has been substantiated with reference to the author's discussions with a variety of sources including veteran revolutionary Baba Bhagat Singh Bilga. The chapter 'The Influential Truth' provides an informative account of Dera Saha Sauda in Sirsa,
"Watching Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh in action on the day of the jaam-e-insaan ceremony, I had thought this was as close to conversion as one could get, if you didn't want to formally renounce the religion your parents were born into."

The author points out that,
"Personally, I think that people have the right change religion like they change houses..."

The author further observes, quoting Prof. Sewa Singh of Kapurthala,
"The (Sikh) clergy is not worried about small Sufi deras ... The real threat comes from these new deras headed by either Hindus or Sikhs. Their followers are often from oppressed castes and are mostly poor ... orthodox clergy is so worried about appropriation of the symbols of their own identity ... Sacha Sauda chief's name ... Baba Ashutosh's beard! .. Piara Singh Bhaniarawala's Bhavsagar Granth ..."
The two essays in VI section with headings 'What Do You Fear?' and 'Something that Passes for Honest' contain the author's soul searching reflections on the tradition of 'devotion and openness' in the family of her mother. She expresses her deeply touching perceptions of shrinking spaces of values of accommodation, compassion and decency in the paradox of 'divisions' and 'consumerism' driven emerging society of India, asking, "question of 'what' in religious or caste terms." She makes a poignant confession,
"A lot of it has to do with being a Muslim, of course. I doubt I'd have resented the question so much if I hadn't felt defensive, if it hadn't made apparent to me that being a Muslim was not such good thing..."

The author describes, in touching poetic details, how her maternal grandfather passed away on 6 December 2004, the day of "the demolition of the Babri Mosque," eighteen years ago. One of the last literary tasks Padam Shri Ali Jawad Zaidi was engaged in, in spite of having lost his eye sight in later years, was the painstaking editing of the various original editions of Ramayana in Urdu, by Muslim and Hindu writers! The picture of maternal grandmother, a pious Syed Muslim and professed vegetarian too, also comes vividly alive. In the wake of Gujarat riots, the author posed herself the heartbreaking question, 'whether I belonged here, in this country.' The answer was provided by her weather wisened woman friend who calmly pointed out that,
"perhaps I should think about where else I could belong ... I thought about it and came to the conclusion that there was nowhere else ... A motherland ... like your own mother ... cannot backtrack on the option of being your mother..."

The last section of the book takes the reader back to plight of Bant Singh and his raped daughter, Baljit Kaur and enlarges the issue as a nation wide curse where, "as a woman, it is easy to become a victim." The gruesome tales of female foeticide are even sought to be explained by a well-to-do gentleman from Haryana as, "People have a right to make a choice." The author digs deeper into the cultural notion that
"you must give up a daughter completely, retain no claim upon her, economically or emotionally ... the boy brings home the bread ... a bride who will provide other services ... The girl is a drain on resources ... And people in India will go on saying that investing in the girl is like watering the neighbour's garden"

The author further points out that,
"there is more behind foeticide than women not being around for their parents. And much of that is rooted in 'culture'...So,though parents resent having to bring up a child only to lose her, they are also anxious to let their girls go..."

The chapter 'The Top One Per cent' analyses complex issues of the marital and family kind for the well educated, professional and independent minded women of the 21st century India. The essay 'Real Power' puts forward interesting explanations why women don't receive the just remunerations for their work and how the example of the ban in Maharashtra on dancing in bars, "did not recognise their right to use their bodies and their skills to their own advantage." The chapter 'Too Much Interest' strikes a few hopeful notes in women empowerment citing instances in Uttarakhand. The last essay 'And So It Goes On' conducts, as if an open heart surgery operation of the victims, with the author putting herself on the operation table for surgeon-readers. The most shameful affliction of Indian male, is euphemistically called 'eve teasing'. She makes a sad confession,
"over the years, I learnt that that harassment on the streets is inevitable ... Each time I left the house, an invisible snake of suspicion came winding down from shoulder to back and I stiffened with apprehension."

She concludes saying,
"Now, I find myself forced to acknowledge that it might remain a way of life; that I will never be able to relax in a bus or train or street or park ... I also saw what I had to do ... Keep confronting ... Don't let the fear take over."

I can say that going through Known Turf has been a very revealingly enlightening experience for me in terms of 'a dialogue of generations.' I was indeed so uniquely privileged to have discourses on the eternal and currently passing problems of humanity with the author's poet-prophet grandfather in Iran on the eve of Islamic Revolution. The author, with her maiden book and still shy look, has invited comparison among others with Arundhati Roy - I would like her to be linked to the lineage of Qurratulan Haidar also, the narrator of epic tales spanning civilizations, combining her professionalism of a 21st century journalist and a proud hertage of visionary poets from the sacred soil of her ancestors from Azamgarh and Allahabad. How strange that during her travels in Panjab, "Saadi Annie ...intelligent kurhi (Page87)" mostly interacted with the persons whom I had also 'discovered' around the same time after my return from duties across the globe for more than three decades!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In time of terrorism, Pakistan seeks peace in Sufism

The following article appeared in the online publication South Asia Post, Issue 108 Vol IV, March 31, 2010

AT the first sight, it indeed appeared a bit intriguing to me to receive an e-mail invitation on 6th February for, 'International Conference of Writers & Intellectuals on "Sufism and Peace" to be held in Islamabad from March 14-16, 2010. That it was being organised by Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL)/Government of Pakistan seemed OK but it was the name of Mr Fakhar Zaman, Chairman of PAL which was reassuring and made me inclined to think positively about my participation in it. Fakhar Zaman has been, like an inspired and dedicated Sufi, steadfastly pursuing the ideas of nourishing Indo-Pak forums for friendship and creative interaction.

The tougher question, of course, seemed to be the timing of the conference - the Sufi Discourse under the alarming shadow of terror looming large on all horizons in Pakistan!

While keeping fingers crossed till the last about availing this tempting opportunity of revisiting Islamabad after more than fifteen years, I soon started pondering over all the aspects of the topic of the Conference. I could recall how as a school child of seven, I was taken by my father to the dim lit Dharamshala for an evening of Sufi music by eminent Qawwals of Malerkotla who had come to perform during the Lohri festival (1952) in our village; all that I still remember is that they were singing one of the 'Qaafis' of Bulleh Shah with its refrain, 'Aap Yaar binan nee Rabb Rehnda...God cannot live without a devoted lover!' After a few years, I chanced to find a book at home, with its sides eaten by the white ants: it turned out to be, 'Rubbayiyat of Omar Khayyam' with a remarkable poetic translation in Panjabi with full rhyme by S. Gehal Singh, a Retired judge. I could soon learn several of them by heart - and can recite even today !

Later while doing my Intermediate in the Govt College Malerkotla during 1959-61, we had a textbook of Panjabi poetry titled, 'Purana Makhio', ie 'Old Honey'. Prof Iqbal Singh, a short and rotund Sardar migrant from District Jhang with his typically pronounced accent of Panjabi, particularly vowel 'o'-a tingling for us Malwais of South of Sutluj - taught us poetry of Baba Farid, Bulleh Shah, Shah Hussain, Sultan Bahu, Baba Vajid, etc, explaining at length the meanings and contexts. All that has endured with me and how ecstatic to listen that poetry sung by talented singers like Jagjit Singh (class fellow in 1961-63), Hans Raj Hans, Jasbir Jassi etc. While doing my MA in English in Goverment College Ludhiana, we knew from friends doing MA in Panjabi how Prof Gulwant Singh was an authority on Sufism and Prof Pritam Singh has done a scholarly research on Baba Farid. After joining Indian Foreign Service, my first posting was to Iran and a rare satisfaction for me was the opportunity on 22nd March, 1977 to have made pilgrimage to Omar Khayyam's mausoleum in Nishapore. I could visit monuments of Hafiz & Sheikh Saadi much later in 2000. In Spain, I could visit the monastery of Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582 AD), the Christian soul - sister of celebrated Sufi saint Rabiah of Basrah(717-801 AD)

The terrorist’s attacks in Lahore on 12th March and anxiety expressed by family and friends in this context notwithstanding, I was able to take them into confidence and boarded evening flight to Lahore on 13th March, overruling fears by my wife, reminding me of lines in Julius Caesar. I was immensely relieved to meet at Indira Gandhi International Airport other friends including author Pran Neville (famous Lahori); former VC Jamia Millia Shahid Mahdi;the veteran of AIR and eminent Urdu poet Zubair Rizvi; Satish Jacob of BBC fame who were also braving to travel to Islamabad. We were soon in legendary Lahore and were able to reach Islamabad before the change of date. The made to order beautiful capital of Pakistan is often described in words of poetic wit including its splendid isolation from the mainstream hustle bustle of life in Pakistan. The security 'Bandobast' was writ large all around - the 'masti and Josh-o- khrosh' was clearly missing, strikingly reminding me of period of long night of terror in our own Panjab. How long would the shelf life of terror be for our neighbour? I deeply felt like offering prayers to all the Sufi saints of the subcontinent for peace within and progress around for all the people of this ancient civilization!

Coming to the Conference, Mr Fakhar Zaman and his dedicated team of PAL colleagues presented a picture perfect in terms of courtesy, hospitality and facilities for delegates of more than thirty countries. The Pakistani writers and academicians were well represented. About 40 papers were presented on different dimensions of Sufism and Peace. Fakhar Zaman had himself set the parameters in his inaugural address dwelling on the role players by writers in the revolutionary progressive movements in the of world, including Pablo Neruda, Andre Malraux, Camus and Faiz in Pakistan. The strong delegation of Sweden led by eminent poet and peace activist, Peter Curman, mooted the idea of, 'Peace Cruise in the Indian Ocean' of writers and intellectuals on the similar cruises earlier in the Baltic, Black and Aegean. In a departure from scheduled programme and amid tight security, the delegates were hosted and addressed by President Asif Ali Zardari at the President's House. Sardar Asif Ali, the influential Minister of Education, also participated in this function.

Mr Zubair Rizvi of India who was not listed to present any paper but was specially asked to speak gave an eloquently detailed account of of the strong manifestations in India of the Sufi inspirations in various realms of arts like dance, theatre, painting, music, etc. and mesmerised the audience by concluding with his popular poem, 'Aman ka Geet' Mr Tulsi Diwasa Joshi of Nepal was also listened with deep interest for poetic presentation profused with his poetry in English. Mr Salman Taseer, Governor of Panjab made an impressive address, qouting Allama Iqbal and other Sufi saints in the morning of of 16th March. Mr Mahmud Erol Kilik, a prominent Turkish scholar on Tasawwuf, presented a competent paper highlighting contribution of Ibne Arabi as a Sufi philosopher. I was suddenly asked to be in the presidium in pre-lunch session. I shared my intellectual and personal encounters of the Sufi kind, particularly highlighting the unique contribution of Sufi saints in the the spiritual and literary heritage of Panjab and that Baba Farid's poetry has been given the singular honour of inclusion in the Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib. There were several lady scholars who read interesting papers referring to message of love of humanity by Sufis irrespective of all divides. The cultural show with by students of University of city Gujrat on 14th March was impressive with background Panjabi Sufi poetry and, most surprisingly, Amrita Pritam's celebrated poem on Partition, 'Ajj Aakhan Waris Sha nun...I appeal to Waris Shah.’

The media attention to the Conference on a daily basis, perhaps as some calculated measure, seemed moderate though several younger TV reporters were at the venue and recorded interviews, particularly with the Indian participants to be telecast later. The TV channels seemed quite flourishing in terms of live discussions on current national issues. Mr Fakhar Zaman, in a briefing on 18th February, had said that Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto Shaheed had desired in her address to the International Conference on 'Literature, Culture and Democracy', held in Nov 1995 that such a Conference should be held, 'to highlight Pakistan's soft image in the world'.

The observers have pointed out that the rising tide of extremism and terrorism in Pakistan since 2007 had led even the Musharraf regime to turn to Sufism to counter 'Talibanized Islam' particularly after army action on the Red Mosque in Islamabad in July 2007. The PPP led Govt since February 2008 has two prominent Feudal Pirs in PM Youssaf Reza Gilani and the Foreign Minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi. The PPP Govt has revived the National Sufi Council and has been seen inching closer to Barelvi movement and sectarian groups opposed to Deobandis and the Taliban. It is pointed out that the number of Pakistani madarasas had grown from 250 in in 1947 to around 10,000 in 2002 with over 1,50,000 students attending them; currently their number is 13,000 to 15,000 with highest growth in southern Panjab. The cumulative Saudi support to these madarassa has been estimated in the range of U$ 70 billion. It has been observed by the knowledgeable sources that while the Wahhabis make up only 2% of world's Muslims, they have been using their huge oil revenues to marginalise moderate and tolerant Sufi philosophy. It is also noted that while some 60% of Pakistanis are 'Barelvis' with moderate interpretation of Islam have only 13% of madrasas, 19% 'Deobandi-Salafi-JI' conrol over 70% of the madrasas in Pakistan. According to Y. Sikand, an eminent scholar of Islamic affairs, in some Sunni-Deobandi madrasas, Jihad (Holy War) against Shias is as much a religious duty as jihad against non-Muslims: any space for culture of dialogue simply does not exist.

While in modern epoch, the US/West has to share some historical blame for supporting autocrats/tyrants in the Islamic world as well for having 'mid-wifed' the one dimensional Islamic radical sect to spite the former adversary, the Soviet Union, time has indeed come calling the Islamic political & spiritual leadership around the world to rise to the occasion to face the new millennium with the pristine truth and a fresh outlook. Islam, as the largest Faith of Humanity with the most magnificent civilizational contribution in the history of mankind, has to play a vital role in furthering the cause of peace and prosperity for race of Adam inhabiting this planet. To quote one of the verses of Maulana Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207-1273 AD) in which God tells Moses:

Thou had been sent by God, O Moses Not to divide but to unite His creatures.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Lost and Found in World of Books

The 19th Biennial New Delhi World Book Fair (NDWBF), was held from 30 January to 7 February, 2010, in the sprawling Pragati Maidan. The National Book Trust Directory stated that the Fair, spread over 42,000 square metres, with over 2,400 stalls and stands by 1,200 participants including 35 foreign exhibitors from 15 countries, 'showcased the diversity of one of the largest book industry in the world.' It was highlighted that the 19th NDWBF, in view of the capital hosting the Commonwealth Games during the year, had a special Theme Pavilion of books on various aspects of Sports, 'Reading our Common Wealth.' The Pavilion hosted several sports legends including Milkha Singh. There were exclusive Youth and Children Pavilions as well as the 'Collective Exhibit on and by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.' As per practice, many eminent writers were felicitated at functions of book launches, discussions on publishing and related issues.

Since returning to Delhi in December 2003, after a stay in seven different capitals spanning a period of over 21 years, I have been again an avid visitor to the last three editions of the NDWBF in the company of Vijay Mangla, my durable librarian friend of more than four decades. This year, I first visited the fair on Wednesday, 3rd Feb for a very special reason: to pick up the copy of Baba Pramatama Nand authored book, 'Gajjan Bilaas.' Why was the Book so very significant for me? Well, the family elders had always told me that I was the veritable golden apple of his eyes Pramatama Nand Ji whose dearest great-grandson I was. And it was he who had given me my name, even before I was born! He was reputed to be the most eminent scholar and Ayurved-physician of the area. He was the most revered Guru-Pitamah of my father, Vaid Haridial Nand, himself a distinguished classical scholar and Ayurved practitioner!

As a child of four I had mounted on the strong and broader shoulders of my eldest maternal uncle, performed the duty of honour to the esteemed departed by waving the sacred 'Chaur' - the fly-whisk at his 'Bavaan' - funeral procession - on October 19, 1947. My real great-grandfather Baba Giata Nand Ji, elder brother of Pramatama Nand Ji, passed away on August 20, 1951 and I had performed the same duty again. The only sister of my five great grand fathers, Chetan Kaur by name, called Bhua Ji by the entire village, had been residing in the parental home since all the members of the family of his in-laws who were doing business in Calcutta had died during the epidemic of influenza in 1918. She had survived being on a visit to Panjab and lived long enough to expire in 1960. She had been telling me all the long tailed tales of 'jagg beetian and hadd beetian' - the stories of others in the world as well as those of personal and family experiences.

Coming back to the book, 'Gajjan Bilaas', literally penned in the early thirties of the 20th century. It refers to the chronicle of the first Patriarch of our family, Baba Gajjan Shah, also called Laal Singh / Mastaan Singh, a much admired and sought after saint of great spiritual attainments of his time. The book, quoting verifiable sources like the orders of rulers of states of Malerkotla, Patiala and Maharaja Ranjit Singh, determines that Baba Ji lived from 1734 to 1839 AD. The author has adopted the traditional, 'Janam Sakhi' style of narrating the main events - including miracles of spiritual powers - of the extraordinary life his great grandfather whose parents of nobility had been blessed by Guru Gobind Singh Ji. The language of the book, originally of large sized 470 pages, in Gurmukhi script, in impeccable hand of Pramatama Nand Ji, is exalted Hindi Sant-Bhasha with frequent resort to classical poetic forms of Doha (couplets), Chaupai, Kabitt etc. I had been hearing and 'overhearing' so much about this family chronicle from my father, grandfather and great grandaunt Chetan Kaur ji, particularly quoting poetic pieces. It may be mentioned that Baba Pramatama Nand Ji had died issue-less, and while all his properties and material belongings etc were claimed by a nephew, the various books, medicines, music instruments etc were claimed by my father (Born August 30 1920) who had been studying at the feet of his Guru-Pitamah since his early life.

It was in 1992, 14 years after passing away of my father, that I could persuade my family that a few photo copies from the original 'Gajjan Bilaas' be made. The first copy was placed at the Samadhi of Baba Ji (photo on title of book); one was given to Prof Pritam Singh Ji of Patiala who knew my father and one has been travelling with me across continents. It has been indeed a brave task on the part of Dr Gurprit Kaur, Assistant Professor of Panjabi in PU, Chandigarh, a daughter in-law of Baba Ji's village, to have undertaken the task of 'Translation and Edition' of this significant work in the evolution of prose of Panjabi. I do not want at all to belittle the tons of labour of love involved in imparting a contemporary readable form to this work compiled more than four generations earlier, but would have certainly wished a much more rigorously researched approach in placing the work in its more appropriate and broader context - historical, literary, poetic and above all spiritual. The book begins with an erroneous sentence and is replete with incorrect 'Pad-nikherh' separation of words written in old all-joined style. Some portions of the original text have been omitted without giving any explanation in the preface.

The Deras have been currently more in the news for dubious deeds and divisive issues, the life and work of a saint-scholar-physician like Baba Pramatama Nand Ji certainly tell us golden tales of institutions comparable to Academies of celebrated Greek philosophers. Long before the British schools for the common people, more so in native states like Malerkotla, appeared on the scene, the personalities of the calibre of Pramatma Nand Ji were using their own resources to impart a multi-purpose education including classical languages, medicine cum pharmacy, instrumental / vocal music, not to speak of Yoga, horse riding, chess and even cooking! I am proud of my father who could come upto to all expectations of his Guru-grandfather Pramatama Nand Ji. I always pray to be fractionally as well learned as they were-without recourse to English!

As for the Book Fair, I and Vijay Mangla again roamed about in far flung halls of book stalls like 'lost and found' children, on Saturday, 6th February. We were keen to attend a meeting of octagenarian Hindi author and acclaimed editor of prestigious 'Hans', Rajinder Yadav with the readers but instead ran into Prof Mahip Singh, Hamanshu Joshi and others. I could again meet the young man at the big book stall of Bible Society whose name, surprisingly, turned out to be BR Ambedkar - told him with blunt affection that he has a tough task to live upto the reputation of his name! We bought a copy of 'Heer Ranjha' by Kaife Azmi, i.e. the text of the script in poetry of the film - we had seen this film together when I visited Delhi for the first time in June 1969 - sweet memories should not be be allowed to lapse! I also purchased a set of books to learn Sanskrit along with a DVD brought out by Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, priced most modestly - Rs 220/- only; never too late to learn something new! I also bought two copies of Krishdvaipayan Vyas, a masterly book by Bengali scholar Narsinh Prasad Bhaduri. It elaborates the most fascinating multifaceted character of the creator of Mahabharata. The visit to the eight book stalls of Panjabi revealed almost a deserted look. When i asked one of the owners about the future of Panjabi, he was candidly frank - the large Panjabi community of the capital should be interested to know what he had said. Interestingly, the book Gyan Sarovar which I had mentioned in these columns as the book I had bought in December 1957 for the prize of two rupees given to me by teacher Ashni Kumar Ji in ninth class was available for Rs 125/-still worth the amount!

The RSS had put up an impressive stall showing video film of Guru Golwarkar's life while leftist publishers appeared invisible. The books of Jyotish and Vaastu Shastra were selling like, what I learnt at school, like hot cakes. The future - and even past - would seem to hang heavy over the present which surely carries both in its soft belly! The books seem to hold key to all the three dimensions of Kaal-Time - a cyclical concept in the heritage of India. Talking about books is a never ending topic-more of of it later.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The State of Ambedkar's Republic of India @ 60

The following article appeared in the online publication South Asia Post, Issue 104 Vol IV, January 31, 2010

IT happened a decade after Independence. I was a student of 7th grade in Mahatma Gandhi Memorial National School - the name had been changed to mark Independence, from much simpler, Public High School, by the Congress Party activists of the small market town of Ahmedgarh, 20 Km from Ludhiana. One pleasant February evening, I was both intrigued and delighted when my father introduced me to the the new decimal coins - Naye (i.e. new) Paise, in denominations of one, two, five, ten, twenty-five and fifty, which he had received with a small sum of Muaffi (i.e. revenue) reimbursement from the Government treasury of Tehsil town of Sunam. While the virtues of the concept of the decimal system took much more time to sink in, the brand new shining coins, with the Sarnath Lions as emblem, surely reinforced in my consciousness that the freedom of the country has been further consolidated. The republic of India had truly arrived! Bollywood songs proclaimed, as they do today, the march of the nation - Badla Zamana, Bhai, badla zamana; Chhe Naye Paison ka, purana ek Aanna! It was after more than seven years that coins with with image of the British monarch were officially withdrawn from circulation.

School Books of Mathematics took their own sweeter time to introduce decimal measurements, replacing calculations using 1 Rupee = 16 Aannas and 1 Aana = 4 Paise = 12 Payees! The old 1 Rupee coin, with silver content, given to me by relations as 'shagun' on my birth 13 years ago; preserved in the family, I was then told, had come to fetch 14 new Rupees!

Time, conveniently or intuitively reckoned in decades; in personal lives or historic context, has indeed been witnessing a constant revaluation and devaluation of not only of all money, metals, materials but prominent people and other livings species too. It took more than four decades for the ruling elite in India to put Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar on a pedestal where he truly belongs, i.e. as the Architect-in-Chief of of the Constitution of the Republic of India and the foremost original thinker on the totality of the complex heritage and challenging future of India as a modern democratic state. He is now not only the 'reincarnation' of Lord Buddha for the mythologists of 'Dalitology'. The vote bank ideologues of all hues of India's political spectrum, from Saffronite Hinduttava, the Grand Old Party with the patent of Tricolor, various fringes of Red - all would seem to have discovered their comfort level in hailing the 'Untouchable' Doctor as a great modern day law giver ('Manu'); a visionary social reformer; a revolutionary thinker etc. Hounded during his life, denying him any political space, all parties would now seem to be competing to exploit the legacy of 'Bharat Ratna, 1991' in their own terms. The social and economic emancipation of his people, alas, still awaits! Betrayals, by manipulators from the ranks of even Dalits, continues.

As for the noble document of the Constitution of the Republic, the wise Doctor was at great pains to emphasise over and over again that ultimately even the best of system would depend on the quality, character and commitment of those entrusted to run the levers of power of governance. The Parts 3 and 4 pertaining to Fundamental Rights & Directive Principles have been characterised as the 'conscience' of the Constitution and it has been here that the leadership of the country has miserably failed to deliver. The high ideals of equality before law, freedom to profess any religion, access to education and social welfare, improving public health and raising level of nutrition and standard of living have been grossly neglected. India ranks lowly 134 in the Human Development Index of nations, with a staggering 46% of children in the under 5 age group malnourished! Meanwhile ,the number of MP's with declared assets in Crores has increased from 156 in 2004 to 315 in 2009; further, the number of MPs with criminal cases against them rose fom 128 to 150, and 73 (i.e. 15 %) with serious crimes, during the same period. The mystery of sacks full of currency notes emptied on the floor of the Parliament during the No-Confidence Debate on July 22nd, 2008, proven cases of MP's in scandals of 'Cash for Questions'; direct involvement in immigration rackets and crimes all kinds would make the Father of the Nation and the founding fathers turn in their graves! The Rajya Sabha, Upper House of Elders, has its own horror tales with 'cash & carry' ticket of membership to the rich, and resourceful looters. The live telecast of the sessions - when Parliament is allowed to function for brief intervals by the rowdies - present a pathetic spectacle! Most of members regularly play truant like spoiled school children and most significant bills are passed without a word of debate. What a privilege and soulful opportunity it was for me to gain entry into the sacred precincts of the Parliament House on 22 March, 1971 - and listen to Comrade AK Gopalan belabouring Finance Minister YB Chavan with the refrain in speech - 'treat thy self, Dr Chavan!'

The Indian Constitution, the lengthiest in the in the world, has been amended 94 times up-til now. To quote Ronojoy Sen, "India's astonishing religious and ethnic diversity, caste inequalities and widespread illiteracy and poverty demanded unique provisions...a remarkably forward looking document that enshrined individual liberty, equality of opportunity, social justice and secularism." The 86th amendment in 2002 making free and compulsory education for children from age six to 14 a fundamental right, followed by Right to Free and Compulsory Act 2009; Right to Information Act 2005; National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 have been cited as examples of peoples movements on constitutional rights. The renowned constitutional expert Fali S Nariman underlines, "... we cannot work any system unless we re-inject some degree of idealism and morality into politics." Azim Premji of Wipro says, "All the wealth we generate is meaningless unless we have corruption free good governance...Inclusive growth and social justice is outcome of good governance." The eminent author on the Indian constitution, Granville Austin, points out that successive governments, nationally and in states have fallen short of living up to the values of the Preamble, and the fundamental rights and Directive Principles. This has allowed lower castes to remain in poverty and under oppression by upper caste politicians. The crusader for rights of the marginalised people, Medha Patkar, says that, "state has progressively sabotaged the basic values of our constitution." The 11 member National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution with former Chief Justice MN Venkatachaliah appointed by the NDA Government in February 2000 submitted its report in March 2002, "taking care to steer clear of the controversial issues." The 249 recommendations of the commission failed to generate much debate and was confined to oblivion by the successor UPA Government.

The period of the last two decades of the liberalisation of the economy with impressive GDP growth has also witnessed the shrinking of the role of state in the crucial sectors of social development. The gross commercialisation, particularly of education and health, is indeed unwise and worrisome. The slogan of 'public -private partnership ' is viewed by many as, 'a partnership for private profit.' A sound and inexpensive system of education within the easy reach of the vast number of the deprived sections of society would be the key to the realisation of high aspirations of the nation, instead of cutting into more and more pieces of quotas and reservations. Ambedkar's people continue to face discrimination and oppression, taking new forms and atrocities against them, have seen a steep rise across the country. The birth centenary of Ambedkar in 1991 indeed inspired many to be determined to resist any manifestations of prejudice and discrimination against them by the upper caste in the rural interior. The triumph of Dalit leader Mayavati in the largest state of the country, inspite the negative media reports, has instilled new confidence and pride among Dalits in not taking things lying down. A radical and thoughtful agenda to transform their their social and economic conditions, however, still awaits.

So much is being said and written about the most pervasive emergence of 'Parivaarvaad' , 'Paisavaad' and 'Pehalvaanvaad' i.e. family and dynasty, money and muscle power in politics, sapping the vitaliy of democratic values. The extremist elements with domestic roots and the cross border terrorism pose serious and complex threats to the security of the nation - they have to be met resolutely. The centre-State relations would require to be managed in a more even handed manner, above the narrow party lines.

The 61st Anniversary of the Republic of India deserves to be re-dedicated to the serious revaluation of the works of Dr. BR Ambedkar, the most scholarly and most bruised titan of the freedom struggle of the country who always thought ahead of time. A firm believer in democracy as a real way of life and citizens rights, he could very well visualise all the evils the democratic practice in India could be heir to. He sounded stern warnings, "To have popular government run by a single party is to let the democracy become a mere form for despotism...Despotism does not cease to be despotism because it is elective. The real guarantee against despotism is to confront it with the possibilty of its dethronement." Let the many splendored life of Ambedkar inpire us all - the Indians for whose brighter future he gave his all.

It would be a sheer pity for India if a giant of the universal ideas of Ambedkar were dwarfed to belong only to his caste!

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Eighth Pravasi Divas

The following article appeared in the online publication South Asia Post, Issue 103 Vol IV, January 15, 2010

I don't want to sound overly judgemental in my perception or belittle the much labored event by a Ministry still struggling to come out of infancy and over dependence on the MEA but so ably led by indefatigable Keralite Vayalar Ravi. The perceived impression that exercise has been assuming the character more of a fashion show of 'Pardesi Models' some how refuses to disappear.

This time - the eighth edition of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas - the 'Desi Lords' led by the Chief guest Lord Khalid Hamid of Hampstead, Baron Prof. Bhiku Parikh, Lord Megh Nath Desai (of Sai Baba hair style) were conspicuously noted to be roaming about at different ramps doling out generously 'the wisdom rooted in the values of the lost Empire' to tackle the complex global issues of inter-faith accommodation; India's Place in world; Achieving 9% Growth in India etc.

The much touted 'Distinguished Global Indian Oration' delivered by the eminently acclaimed economist Prof. Jagdish Bhagwati was also found short on inspiration and innovation. While Baron Bhiku's presentation on India's foreign relations, 'supported' by irrepresible Shashi 'Twitter' Tharoor was at least able to incite a media controversy, other learned presentations were largely ignored by the omnipresent media.

The much mentioned announcement by Prime Minister about 'Right to Vote' for the NRI's during the next General Elections found few takers for different reasons. It was also pointed out that the major share of NRI's remittances (around US$22 billion) comes from the Gulf workers. While the Chinese Diaspora has been the leading investor in the development projects, the share of Indian Diaspora's share has been only 5% of the Foreign Direct Investment.

The states level sessions with the Chief Ministers of Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Deputy CM of Punjab making presentations were considered useful with Narender Modi speaking in chaste Hindi, and Omar Abdullah with his witty plain speaking being most impressive. Sukhbir Badal promised the NRI Commission in Punjab while earlier in the seminar a Punjab advocate Anil Malhotra had referred to mechanism of fast track courts for the NRI cases. The Punjabi NRI VIPs from Canada were more in the news for social events outside conference.

The news flashes from Australia about attacks on Indians cast a long shadow on the the proceedings of the conference with Vayalar Ravi making a strong statement that Government Australia must do more to protect the Indians. Three years back, the increasing number of Indian students in Australia had been hailed as a valuable positve factor in bilateral relations.

With Bharat Samman Awards given to many more of Mother India's children living abroad, the Mela cocluded with pious declarations to meet again after the Commonwealth Games with Delhi transformed into Global city!