Monday, December 31, 2012

Musings of a 'Scared' Indian

Okay, I have been itching to get back to my writing ways. The last few weeks have been consumed in certain other pleasures of mine which demanded my attention. However, I am not the one who shall write for the sake of it either. That is belittling my craft I believe. Anyways, as it turns out a lot has been happening over the last few months everywhere. Political changes, cricket ups and downs and the usual happenings in our country have been grabbing eyeballs. However, the one incident that has obviously caught everyone by fire is the brutal gang-rape of the Delhi girl who eventually died a couple of days back.

 Now, I am not going to add to the already inflated views of how bad our system is, how crude our politicians are and how these rapists should be publicly pulverized. All of the above mentioned points are true, we all know it. As for the rapists, I for one believe that death is too easy a punishment for them. If they were to be hanged tomorrow it wouldn’t mean anything. These are deranged maniacs who should live and suffer every second of their lives to realize the level of their act. I really don’t have an answer on how that would come about. But they should suffer; like the girl’s parents would for the rest of their lives. I repeat, death would be too easy; almost a relief. They have to suffer, every day. Or else, humanity would have failed.

What should we do then to change this on-going situation? One would have thought that after the way public anger has mounted on this issue, people would be a little subdued before they commit such heinous crimes. But no sir, cases are piling up - a 45 year old woman was gang-raped two days back in my city, a 17 year old girl committed suicide after being gang-raped a few days ago and then I heard the news of a 2-year old baby being tied up and raped! What has the world come to? What is happening to our country, our people? What is wrong with these minds? Have we lost every ounce of humanity from us?

Today, I am not an angry Indian, but a scared one, a thoughtful one. I have no interests in these candle-light vigils, slogan shouting and abusing the politicians. What would that serve? Think for a moment. This is not just a problem of law and order; this is also the problem of the mindset, the psyche. I believe for change to come in, it us who has to change first; me, you, everyone. That also includes women. And by that, I don’t for a second mean that they should change the way they dress or change the places they visit. That is absurd to think. But I ask for a change in the way many women in our society think. Isn't it a fact that right from our childhood days we were implied from our grannys and moms that the men of the house are superior to the women in the way they were treated in the family? I have a pretty massive joint family from my mother’s side. During our mealtimes in family gatherings, my granny would always say “Let the men eat first.” I would argue with her on numerous occasions, try and explain her, but would fail badly. I would have to hear the same old, “sanskar and sanskriti” dialogues. But it was amazing to note on how girls in the family would follow that train of thought without flinching once. Men in our household, even the teenage boys, would automatically believe that they ‘are’ superior. They have a ‘right’ to work; women on the other hand 'can't' of course. This I believe is the case in millions of other homes as well. Shouldn't this change? Isn't all this somehow connected to the horror going on  in our society today?

And then we also have our fair dose of ‘feminists’ today who are shouting from rooftops to ‘demand’ respect and equality for women and the likes. Admirable sentiments those but here again I have a problem. I ask all those women to be honest to themselves and ask yourself the question - Haven’t you ever taken advantage of your ‘feminism’? By getting things done for you? By making men dance to your tunes ? Or it might even be a very simple thing like getting a seat in the bus ‘because’ you are a woman. Never, ever? Really?  This is not meant to justify anything, but a train of thought which ultimately I believe adds to the larger picture. All I want to say is that if you want ‘equality’, then ‘believe’ yourselves to be equal first. You can’t have a convenient time for demanding equality. Don’t play the ‘we are women, we have to suffer’ game. Believe that you are good enough; fight if necessary.  Tough? Yes. Impossible? Ask yourself that.

You might think why am I  not saying anything against men?  They are after all the main culprits. But I do not have anything new to add there. Because this is not the question of men vs women or us and them.  This is an issue concerning every one of us. Thus I am not going to lecture any further on how ‘most men are chauvinists’ or dogs or whatever you might want to add to it. That is not going to help. I asked in my earlier lines for a change of mindset and that includes every one of us; men, women, everyone.  All these are of course sounding too filmy perhaps, but that is a start I believe. You will hear about the rest of the ‘solutions’ in the coming days in any case.

The Delhi incident has laid everything bare for us. The face of our society lies in front of us ripped to shreds. It shows us that fear is imminent  it is near you. You can be next. I live in fear of my dear ones. What are we going to tell our children? What are they going to tell theirs? Something has to give; everything it seems is coming to a tipping point. We want change, but I say change yourself first. Think over it. Think what qualities would you inculcate in your children. Think. The men who raped the girl were also the children of their mothers. Would their mothers have ever imagined their sons to be such inhumans? Can any parent ever think for a second that their child would grow up to be a rapist? Who is to blame then? Something here is surely going wrong and that has to change.

This incident, like every other would be forgotten soon enough. The only ones who would really remember it are the girl’s parents who are now scarred for life. They are the ones who would die a thousand deaths everyday. And for what?

Be the change people; before shouting slogans think how cleansed YOU are from inside. Be the change you want to see. Deep down inside most of us are hypocrites living in disguise.  Learn to be human first. It might start with changing a very simple thing; like spitting on the road and in the same breath asking the Govt. to step down. Start with changing yourself first.  Like Morgan Freeman says to Jim Carrey’s character in the Hollywood film ‘Bruce Almighty’- ‘You want to see a miracle son? Be the Miracle’.

We might not live to see a clean society; but our future generations might if we learn to be humans first (and not ‘proud’ Bengalis or ‘Punjabis’ or whatever). That girl might have breathed her last but can’t we believe that she gave a new breath for our society to live with?  Think over it and the girl might not have died in vain after all.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Rebel fights on- (Part 2)

(Second and final part of my interview with Canadian Esther Friede where she opens out a bit more and shares her personal side with us.)

Being an Indian Hindu, it felt rather strange to be taught verses from the Bhagavad Gita by a Westerner. It felt stranger, when I started realizing I am confiding in that person details of my life that I have hardly shared with anyone. Even more strangely, it started to feel good doing so and I would look forward to those conversations which would give me some strange kind of a solace. That is exactly how my relation with Esther Friede has blossomed over the past few months; from being a story’s subject to slowly evolving into a friend cum guide.

Esther with the children of her Ashram 
There is something oddly reassuring about Esther’s personality. Even though I haven’t yet met her, I always feel comfortable with her positive outlook toward life, her kindness, her patience, her simplicity and genuineness , all of it combined makes her a wonderfully human person; unlike any I have met in my life. Her stubbornness to not give up, to keep fighting and her belief in God despite all odds really moved me and made me want to help her at all costs, as if I too was in this fight with her, as if I am helping a family member.

All this might make one feel that I am biased about my whole approach towards Esther’s story as a journalist. But it really is the other way round. It is rather the honesty in her tale that makes me want to keep fighting harder, that makes me believe that there is something worth fighting for. And if in the end I do mange to contribute even one percent in her victory, I would feel I have done something good and worthwhile in my life after all.

So taking over from my last post, I explore some different facets of Esther; her personal side. Giving the land-mafia issue a pause, I try and delve on her human elements. Here she opens up on her relationship with ‘God’, her fears, her ‘Indian-ness’ and gives a short message to the Indian society.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q.1. You latest blog post questions India’s civility and Haridwar’s holiness. What exactly brought those feelings on?

Ans: I just can`t believe what is happening to India – the reason I came to India was for spiritual reasons – and to see this kind of corruption, violence, lawlessness in a holy city, of all places, I am just astounded!  What I don`t understand is that I have tried to get help from people – who have turned their backs when they could really help us put a stop to it. The place is full of big ashrams supported by a lot of wealth and influence.  You would think others would stand by us and demand justice and not want to have a holy place tainted by these kinds of corrupt activities.  When I first came to India in the 60`s to study with my Guru, I remember he used to say that one day India would overcome its difficulties, and become an advanced nation – both spiritually and materially.  Well, some of it is coming true.  On the one hand, material wealth has increased – but so what?  The disparity in society is so much greater. In my view, real development is about becoming more civilized, taking care of people, caring for the less fortunate, uplifting the nation as a whole, having honest governance that makes it possible for people to contribute to the welfare of society. I believe that in the heart of most people there is a desire to do good and a country where there is honest governance, lawful process, is able to benefit from the talent, drive, ambition and hard work of its citizens. People in India that I met before used to be kind, gentle, hospitable.  I was never afraid to go anywhere by myself. I literally felt like I was walking on holy ground when I went to the Ganges – or was anywhere in its vicinity.  Our ashram was so peaceful.  I still have a hard time reconciling the India I loved with what is happening now.

Q.2. You had mentioned to me that you tied a Rakhi to a friend of yours recently. You also seem to be quite inspired by the sacred Hindu book the ‘Bhagavad Gita’ besides knowing and enjoying quite a bit of Indian festivals and rituals. So despite all the negativities you have faced here can I say that there still is some Indian residing in you somewhere?

Ans: That part of me will never go away.  My Bhagavad Gita is daily food.  Whatever I study, I always compare it to the Bhagavad Gita.  I have started a blog – just got started recently – on the Gita.  I think the Gita is a phenomenal work, far deeper than it appears on the surface and the older I get, the more meaning it has for me.  Yes, I tied a rakhi on a good friend of mine to protect him when that festival came around.  Navratri is one of my favourite festivals because of its worship of the Divine Feminine – which is very significant.  Of all the countries in the world, the honouring of the Divine Feminine has disappeared and can be found only in the history of its ancient cultures, in archeological remains.  India is one of the only ancient civilizations with a continuous living history of this tradition.

Esther(center) with some kids of her Ashram
I sometimes think I am more Indian than some Indians. So many things feel completely natural for me, even though I was born to European parents who knew nothing about India. It is my samskaras from past lives that bring this about and will no doubt continue. When I first set foot on Indian soil, I felt like I had come home.  I feel at home in a sari;  I eat Indian meals regularly with my hands, Indian-style – a snack for me might be simple chapatis with Indian mango pickle, onion and dahi.

After my first trip to India, I hand painted a murti of Gayatri Ma which I still revere. I worship and meditate in Indian ways. When I came to India when I was still young, I visited with Sri Ananda Moyi Ma several times and have a habit of visiting Indian saints –especially the women saints – so I got hugs from Amma many times, learned about Sahaj yoga from Sri Nirmala Devi, sat at the feet of Mother Meera.  I visited SatyaSai in Puttaparti, knelt at the tomb of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother in Pondicherry, paid my respects at the tomb of Gandhiji, paid homage at ShirdiSai’s tomb. Of course, ultimately, I am devoted to my own Guru, Swami Devananandaji, but deep within me is the habit of taking the dust from the feet of highly developed beings however they may be embodied or even if they have left the body.

I have been down the Ganges with my Guru from Rishikesh to Varanasi, through the south of India with a friend, into Punjab, Rajasthan, Bengal.  There is still so much to see – I don`t know whether I will get to see it all in this lifetime – but it is as if I have an Indian soul……It is strange – when I see an Indian person, inside I feel like I am meeting a ``landsman`` - that is a German word for someone from your own country.  Of course, they wouldn`t know it – because I don`t look Indian.  It is really an inner thing, which is hard to explain.

Q.3. Is there still anybody in India whom you trust with your heart? Anyone whom you have faith or belief in or whom you can call a friend?

Ans: I trust my Guru with my life.  He is one in a million – I think God threw away the mould after He created him.   So it is hard for anyone to live up to that standard in my books.  And I am not just being starry-eyed and naïve.  I am in my 60`s, have considerable life experience now and I can honestly reflect on my time with him and still feel the same way.  I became very wary lately of people in India, don’t know whom to trust and have difficulty now being open-hearted in India, which is my nature.  I can’t understand the apathy of the many of the people around us in India. Recently, though, a few people have come forward to help who are showing a genuineness, courage and faithfulness that has really moved me. If it weren`t for them, the ashram may already have fallen into the hands of the mafia.  These people are restoring my faith – that there are still some really good people in India.

Q.4. What’s the update on the personal front? What occupies your mind and time these days? How do you keep your mind away from all negative emotions that are natural to seep in?

Ans: I see life as a journey of continual learning, growth, development and service.  Each phase of life offers new lessons.  I am very active and engaged in life.  For 4 years I had been serving as the Spiritual and Religious Coordinator (a chaplain) in three long-term care facilities, looking after the spiritual needs of the elderly and dying as well as young disabled adults. I was probably one of the first with Hindu spiritual training that made it through the difficult process of qualification (that has for so long in Canada been predominantly Christian) to become a chaplain and pastoral counselor. I had to leave that role because it did not give me enough flexibility to come to India and stay long enough to deal with the mafia issue. 

Now, I have my own private psychotherapy practice, where I do counselling for couples, families and individuals, adolescents and children.  I get a chance in my private practice to serve people, help them find hope through difficult challenges and facilitate finding solutions to their personal problems.  Life is not easy for anybody.  Nowadays especially, there is so much stress and anxiety, even amongst children.  
Esther Friede
More recently, I have been studying cybercounselling which will enable me to offer my counseling services online to adults anywhere in the world.  I am very excited about that. That would give me the most flexibility – because I could be anywhere in the world too as long as I have a computer and an internet connection.  I would like to write, turn my attention to that more fully.

I am a visual artist and have done a lot of art work – drawing and painting, and some work with fibre.  I have some training in the style of Renaissance Masters, and I have had some lessons in Chinese brush work.  But my natural spontaneous work is modern, a lot is abstract in oils and acrylics.  I also used my creativity to explore the inner psychological and spiritual life and have notebooks filled with symbolic drawings of the Divine Feminine.  I haven`t had much time for my art work lately.  I used to have visions of spending my later years at the ashram in service, working with children, in spiritual reflection, meditation and being creative as a writer and artist. 

Needless to say, that vision has been rudely altered by these recent developments with the land mafia.  Now, all I can think of when I think about the ashram is what next steps to take to defeat the mafia…..when I go there – I am constantly seeing lawyers and going to court, writing letters to try to drum up support……I still live my spiritual life, meditation and worship. I am struggling to make this battle part of the path.  I think of Arjuna in the Gita. I sometimes talk to God ``Bhagwan, if this is what you want me to spend my energy on – OK….I don’t agree with You – but if that is your will. ``   That is how I deal with the negative emotions.  I may feel them, try to process them and then put them into context of what my spiritual life is all about – discover and live the spiritual meaning behind the challenges facing me.

Q.5. At present what do you care for the most? What scares you?

Ans: I would have to say that it is my spirituality that means the most to me – in a different way than before. While it has been the underlying theme of my life, as I age, of course, I have had to come to terms with my mortality in ways that I did not think of in my younger years and most recently, life also has brought me to spiritually companion those who are dying.  I think about the four ashramas as taught by the Hindus – the four stages of life – Brahmcharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa……so I consider myself to be in the Vanaprastha stage in life…going towards Sanyasa – though I have been a sanyasin for most of my life, I still have always been active in the world, studying, learning and serving.  In the west, the ideal form of aging is to keep busy as long as possible.  In the Hindu way of life, the ideal is to turn to God, to become reflective, contemplative. What scares me the most is the thought of near the end, losing sight of God, my soul, my purpose for which I came to this earth, of my consciousness being distracted from its main purpose. You can check out the blog I started at which is all about completing one’s life.  Of all the blogs I started, this one gets the most hits.

Q.6. Endless issues hog the media space in India every day, yet important and serious issues like yours hardly find any light. Do you feel left out? Do you feel that some mileage from the media would help your cause? Your views on the Indian media as a whole in present times.

Ans: I am a little baffled why I have not been able to attract the interest of the mainstream press.  I would have thought that if the media took up the story of attempted theft and corruption, that the exposure would discourage the criminals. I was hoping that media coverage would highlight our cause and reach people who are interested in overcoming corruption in India – that people would come to our defense, support us – and perhaps with greater numbers, this fight could be won sooner.  Maybe the secular world of media doesn’t care about ashrams and religious folks – and think this isn’t mainstream enough to sell papers……

My feelings about the media are not only about the Indian media- I feel the same about the media in the rest of the world.  I don`t like the sensationalism and preoccupation with bad news, trivial things, celebrities.  I would rather read blogs like Daily Good – which reports good news or specialized magazines or blogs of my choice that are focused on issues of interest and are well written. 

I see the value of media in a democracy as a way of making issues transparent and providing interesting, educational and insightful commentary on matters that concern society and of taking up good causes. It could play a more enriching role in the culture of any country if it was truly civic minded. But sensationalism and trivia sells – just like junk food – which may not be good for you. I am realistic enough to know that media needs to be commercially viable but sometimes I think it could raise its standards and still be commercially viable. The media has so much power over people’s minds that if it was used in the right way, it could play such a significant uplifting role in the whole culture.

Q.7. Do you wish to give any message to the people of India or to anyone else in particular?

Ans: Sounds a little grandiose to be giving a message to the Indian people – but now that you have asked, yes I do: Rise up! Become your best and highest self! The power in each person is greater than anyone can imagine for God lives in the heart of each living being! Live boldly, imaginatively, creatively, devotedly with an open heart!

Now that I have had a taste of the corruption in India in the worst way, I would also like to say that when corruption takes a hold in a country it is because people are complicit – perhaps not in an overt way – but through apathy, indifference and acceptance of it. I understand that life is tough and that everyone is trying to take care of themselves and their families but sometimes, we just have to take a stand for the betterment of all and say enough! 

Many Indians have given up on India and go abroad where they find a lot of opportunity for their talents, ambitions and aspirations for their families.  Indians are probably one of the largest diaspora communities in the world.  What I would say to them is  -  don’t forget your roots and share some of your success with the people of India itself.   Give back to your home country – not just in time and money – but in bringing some of the values you have found elsewhere that inspire and motivate people to create a flourishing society.  Put pressure on the country to wipe out corruption, to put in place honest governance, social reform.

I ran away from the materialism of the west to seek simplicity and spirituality in India and was welcomed with open arms then.  Something has gone seriously wrong in India in its headlong rush to catch up materially with the west and it is the west that now is hosting more and more spirituality. I can’t begin to tell you how many new temples, centres, mosques have been built not only by Indian people, but by people from all over the world who bring their spiritual heritage with them. Throughout the west, ashrams, meditation centres, communities are being established – the west is welcoming this. Even large hospital systems in my city are teaching meditation practices to people suffering from pain, anxiety and stress.


(To read the first part of my interview with Esther, click here.)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Rebel fights on- (Part 1)

(First part of my interview with Canadian Esther Friede where she opens out on the hassles she is currently facing in her long-drawn fight with the land-mafia over her Ashram in Haridwar.) 

Esther with a girl in her Ashram
I had been first introduced to Esther Friede more than a year back courtesy a journalist friend of mine. Back then I used to work for a media house which ‘proclaimed’ to be the Mother Teresa of today’s world and wanted to fight for all the good news the world had ever seen. Hence I would always be on the lookout for any kind of a positive or inspiring story. When I heard about Esther’s story from my friend – ‘Elderly Canadian woman, single-handedly fighting the land-mafia in Haridwar’- I was instantly intrigued and went on  to contact Esther immediately.  Back then I had no inkling that even more than a year after the story I wrote on her henceforth, I would be doing a follow-up story on my personal blog. The reasons for that are of course manifold.

Months after I had written the story on her many things changed in my life and quite significant out of those was my relation with Esther. She went on to be much more than a story’s subject for me and we gradually developed a good bond of friendship.(I shall dwell on this matter in a little more details in the second part of this story where we get to see a more personal side of Esther). However the story that I did eventually publish last year has a complicated tale too.

I had initially planned to visit Haridwar myself and meet Esther in person to conduct the interview. But as it turned out, my ‘Mother Teresa inspired’ bosses developed cold feet when they heard the land mafia was involved and moreover they never took any keen interest in the story itself. 'What’s so special about her anyways?’, 'How do you know if she is right?’ , ‘ The story doesn't seem inspiring enough’- these were some of the more general responses I got from them. The story remained stuck for more than two months, taking my frustration to its peak. They just didn't want to take any ‘risks’; this after claiming to show the world the plight of the needy people around us and all that crap. After several rounds of editing the story did eventually get published but not exactly in the way I wanted plus there were vibes I got that they had done me a huge favour by publishing such a 'controversial' story. There was also this small incident that happened a month after the story got published. Our reporters were supposed to present a few of our most inspiring stories for a public function. They chose three of my best, but that didn't have Esther's story in it. I argued vociferously for her story to be displayed at all costs as this was what 'helping the ones in need' is all about I said. They refused and chose to go ahead with some of my other 'better' works which had more 'renowned' people as the lead, helping them in grabbing eyeballs. I fumed within myself as I believed there couldn't be anything more inspiring than an elderly Westerner fighting a lone battle in our country for poor children. But many thought otherwise I guess. All of this left a bitter taste in my mouth and I decided to post the story here in my blog. That somehow changed things, and I got to share the unedited story with many people including Esther of course. As she still says, that story did help her get some attention and eventually helped her cause, albeit not majorly. The response on this story was pretty mild from others in my circle, but till date it remains one of the closest to my heart; something which I really believed in (and still do).

Over the months post the story I never failed to follow up on Esther to know what her status was. She did get some minor relief when they managed to get a ``stay`` through the SDM(Sub-Divisional Magistrate) which put on hold the fraudulent renewal of the registration of the society that the mafia received from the Registrar of Societies in May 2012. However, that was that and presently as she stays in Canada she and her Ashram members in Haridwar are being continually harassed by the land-mafia there. I tried to share her story with many journalists I know along with some NGO websites in the hope that maybe someone will see the honesty in her tale and try and help her out. But nothing has worked, none seem interested in this. I guess the story needs a little more ‘spice’ for our main-stream media to take it. After all when you have a Kareena Kapoor getting married who needs to hear about the plight of an elderly Canadian woman fighting for the cause of poor children in our country isn't it? I have thus decided to take this responsibility myself and let Esther have her say through this blog, and a bit more openly this time as the last time round I was burdened with restrictions. I know most of you wouldn't bother reading this story in the full and would just ‘like’ my link and give me a ‘good job’ comment. But I would still go ahead with this in the hope that something positive would come out of it in the end. I believe in Esther Friede and think that it’s shameful for us as Indians that we cannot look up to people like her and do anything for her cause. I will do my own bit in the way I know best, as much as I can. Taking cue from Esther’s own words she had once told me - “What is true and good must be fought for and we need to uphold the Light for all of society by doing what we are called to do in our own life.” – Amen to that.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q. 1. Update us on your current situation. How much have you and your Ashram progressed in the fight against the land mafia? Has there been any silver lining in all this?

Ans. - We made some progress – at least with the administration when I managed to get a ``stay`` through the SDM which put on hold the fraudulent renewal of the registration of the society that the mafia received from the Registrar of Societies. That was good news.  That was in May 2012.

But, when the mafia saw that the tactics of using the legal and administrative systems to steal our land did not work, they started to resort to physical intimidation.  On September 5ththis year, about 20 men entered the grounds illegally and occupied the ashram property, scaring the residents.  Miraculously, our friends and supporters were able to mobilize the police – they showed them a copy of the legal stay.  The police drove them out of the ashram. 

When all this started, I thought perhaps there might be a silver lining to this difficulty.  But at this point, I still have not seen it.  Instead of doing service, our energies, and funding have to be focused on defending ourselves. So whom does this serve? Money goes into the pockets of lawyers instead of towards doing something worthwhile for the children, for people, for humanity. 

Still, I have to put this into the context of spiritual life, faith and trust in God.  Perhaps in some roundabout way, God has a greater plan yet when She sees that we have the perseverance and courage to face whatever difficulties come our way.  Perhaps this is some kind of a test.

Q.2.You say that the land mafia has harassed you even at your homeland in Canada. Elaborate.

Ans. - On the same day that the mafia invaded the ashram, their lawyers in Delhi mailed a harassing letter to me here in Canada.  They said their client – a Swami Kumar Shankar wanted to know where Swami Devanandaji (our Guru) was – whether he was alive or dead.  He accused me of using his name fraudulently for our ashram and threatened to launch a case of fraud against me for doing so.  I of course replied that this was a nuisance letter – most ashrams are named after their founders – for example, the well-known Ramakrishna Mission.  Most Christian and Hindu ashrams are named after a saint – it is common practice.  I wrote to the lawyers to spend their time doing legal work for people who really need legal help, not fraudulent swamis like their client. 

Q.3. Over the last 10 months or so since our last interview how much do you think the situation has changed? Are you still as determined as you were then in fighting the land mafia seeing all the hassles you are having to deal with?

Ans. - As I said in the first question above, we made some progress but that just caused the mafia to get bolder.  They were probably so confident they would succeed in their misuse of the system. But when that failed, they became barbaric, becoming physically menacing. Of course, I am even more indignant!  I have a hard time believing this drama – like some really reeeeaaaallllllyyybaaaaaad Bollywood movie – but it is happening in real life!  But yes, I am just as determined.

Q.4. How much of this fight are you still willing to wage on? You are in your 60`s now and you have to look after your life all alone. Surely all these will take their toll on you. Given that the situation doesn’t improve any further what would you do?

Ans. - I have had to surrender this to God right from the beginning. If I followed a course of just looking after myself, I don’t think I would even have stepped up to this problem at this stage in life.  I don’t need to, if I just want to follow a path of self-preservation.  I have all the potential for living a safe and relatively comfortable life in the west, doing work that is of service to others, and in the process, providing for my needs. I get a small government pension, good medical care which in Canada is government subsidized so I can rely on being physically well cared for, material conveniences are at my fingertips. I can drive anywhere safely and live quite independently for as long as my body and mind are stable.  I can follow my interests as I choose. I live in one of the most culturally diverse, clean and beautiful cities of the world.

Coming to India in the first place in the very beginning, was a risk as far as my personal welfare was concerned. I came across land – during the India Pakistan war of 1965.  Spiritual calling brings me here, despite the fact that it disrupts worldly life.  This means walking in faith – and that changes how one looks at things completely.  Living life by the Spirit, means giving up one’s own preconceived ideas of what to do and how life should be.  It also means being autonomous from within, instead of being externally defined, following the calling of one’s soul. This desecration of my Guru’s ashram, is enough reason to set aside personal concerns.  I can’t say how this will affect me, how much stamina I have to carry on.  Central to the Gita is the concept of leaving all the results of one’s actions in the Lord’s hands.  One acts, knowing full well that “I” am not the doer. The point of all action becomes spiritual realization.  The care of one’s body and life are in the hands of the Almighty.  

Q.5. If you had a chance to speak to the land mafia directly what would you say to them? Do you think any truce can be brought about between the two parties? Or is the animosity too strong for anything like that?

Ans. - The word ``mafia`` is some generic collective term for a group of people.  So I would ask each person in that mob, to face his Maker – to ask himself what his actions are leading him to and the consequences of such actions.  I would ask each one of them to examine his conscience, if any of them are still able to get in touch with it (maybe they don’t know what it is any more). I don`t know who these people are – and the ones in front are only the little people – who have probably been offered  a small piece of the financial gains pie– behind them are people of influence: developers, business people, politicians– and maybe even some religious folks, manipulating these people.  I would ask them all to give up their greed.  After all, they can`t take their material wealth with them when they die – but they will certainly take with them the karmas, the samskaras(deep impressions in their consciousness of their thoughts and deeds) which they created by their lies, deceits and harm to others.  These will surely follow them into the hereafter and life after life.

I would ask them to join with me to fund a charitable enterprise on the land they are trying to grab.  I don`t have animosity.  I feel sorry for them and the terrible karmas they are creating for themselves – what goes around comes around. I also think this is such a waste of human energy! I am doing what I am doing, standing up to them, not with animosity but because it is the right thing to do.  But human energy could be put to good productive use for the common good.  Why waste life doing evil, harassing people and storing up bad karma?  Why waste time, energy and resources paying lawyers to steal other people’s property just to make money– when the time energy and money could be funding something that would make life better for so many others and continue to uplift society for generations to come? Why not leave a worthwhile legacy for the world?

Q.6. Looking back, do you think you could have changed anything in this whole situation? Do you regret anything that you have done in this whole episode? If you were given one chance to go back and rectify anything from your past in this what would that be?

Ans. - At the moment, it is hard to see the forest for the trees, to use a cliché.  But looking back before the actual troubles erupted, I think the biggest mistake the trustees of the ashram made was hire, and then eventually fire the administrator, who initiated this problem.  I was against hiring him in the first place.  I was especially suspicious of how he helped the trustees oust the incumbent administrator and then put himself in the employ of the ashram.  I was not there at the time at the ashram so could not have input to the process.  Not only was I not there in India when all this took place, but the trustees did not even inform me of their intentions and subsequently of their actions – until it was all a done deal. I am beginning to think that perhaps he was planning something like this all along, by becoming a trusted person in the employ of the ashram.  He saw an opportunity for the future and jumped on it. In 2006 when I came to the ashram, I was told that someone had tried to go to the petwari and tehsildar to claim rights to the property but were refused.  I am quite sure it was him and his family. He probably thought he could take over the place initially by himself by claiming squatter’s rights because he was working the fields to grow crops.  Of course he was supposed to be growing crops in order to bring in income for the ashram. Now I think he was hoping that his activities would entitle him to make claims of ownership. When he didn’t succeed on his own, he went to the mafia. I think I made a mistake at that time by not confronting him.  I thought that by behaving decently with him and his family that he would reciprocate by behaving decently for the ashram.

My other mistake was right at the beginning when he was hired, I took a back seat in the running of the ashram because of my disagreement with the other trustees over their decision to oust the previous administrator and put this person in place. I didn’t act on the intuition I had inside about the direction they were taking the ashram. Again, my desire to avoid conflict, trying to keep the peace amongst us, tripped me up. I focused more on my own studies, education, talents and work instead of fighting hard for a vision of the ashram that I wanted to see take place.  If I could go back into the past, I would have tried harder to assert my views and object to the decisions of the other trustees and taken more leadership towards what I felt was the direction the ashram should take.   Sometimes fighting is necessary, as I am now finding out. I am pretty introverted and do not assert myself. I like to keep a low profile unless I am thrust into the limelight by circumstances. My name Esther means Star and my last name is the German word for Peace – so my name means Star of Peace, which does pretty accurately reflect my personality. By nature, I am always trying to look after the well-being of others and mediate peace, trying to avoid conflict, looking for peaceful constructive resolutions. I also think very highly of others and I always think people will see things the way I do and back me up. Maybe I have something to learn from all of this about defending justice - that it is a never-ending battle to maintain dharma.  Maybe this is supposed to wake me up to see that there is corruption and evil in the world and no one is immune from its effects and one has to learn to deal with it, stand up to it.

Q.7. This fight between you and the land mafia has been going on for quite some time. Do you seriously believe that any practical solution can be made given the inherent complications in the case? Also, you alone can’t continue this fight forever. Do you think any other person or people will continue fighting your cause if this case drags on. Do you have any concrete back-up plan for the future of the ashram, the children?

Ans. - This officially started in 2009 which is three years, although I discovered when looking through the paperwork of the case, that the mafia was preparing their fraudulent documents long before that. Since this development took us by surprise, it is not something for which we have plans.  I am seriously thinking about the best way forward for the future and when I have that figured out – you can do a follow up again.
Esther(center) leading meditation with the school children.
I have been developing plans for the use of the land for charitable purposes – I have been working on vision papers for the last few months since I came back from India.  Perhaps you would like to see my vision papers.  I started to write them as a way of combating the negativity of the current situation with the land mafia.  I thought to myself, I will just keep filling my own mind with visions of what should be done at the ashram and write them down.  If and when I get an opportunity, I could start to pitch the vision. If I can find people to buy into the vision who are bold enough, good will prevail.  I think that would be the best defense, to just boldly go ahead with a grand plan of major proportions for something amazing and show the world that crime does not pay and that truth, charitableness, good will win. What concerns me is that with India being so corrupt, are there any visionaries out there that will not fall prey to corruption, who would devote themselves to carry out these visions?  Even if I did not live to see the fruition, I would feel that justice prevailed if people would come forward to create something truly worthwhile that would bless humanity.

(To read the second part of the story click here.)

(To read the initial story that I had written on Esther click here.)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

That ‘Puja’ feeling..!!

Its 6.45 am and I wake up with a feeling of warm sunlight on my face and a slight chill around the air. It’s still early morning but I have no intentions of going back to bed. I get up and soak in each and every bit of the refreshing surroundings around me. I breathe in the fresh air and let the ‘magic’ seep in to every cell of my body. Feels like heaven! I smile to myself and say, “Its here...!”

From the last few weeks, every day I would wake up with a gloomy and depressing feeling. Dark, cloudy skies looming large; the atmosphere dull and lazy or worse, rain lashing the streets like mad. You feel like lying in bed for the rest of the day. But the last two days have been different. Why, you ask? You see there is ‘that’ particular magic in the air; the one that comes right before the Durga Pujas.

It’s that time of the year again folks. Oh yes, ‘that’ time. The light bulbs have been rolled out to decorate the streets, the hoardings are covering the footpaths, the megaphones are blaring out the famous Bengali tunes and the people everywhere have smiles around their faces. Smiles that clearly sparkle with anticipation of what is to come. The Durga Puja is around the corner and the city on expected lines is getting all decked up and going delirious in its wait.

I had written a post on the Pujas two years back on this blog. Describing my emotions and feelings related to this festival. Now what extra do I have to add? Nothing much to be honest. But the feeling that I experience on the arrival of the festival is so overwhelming that I simply couldn't resist writing some more on it. I will keep this as short as possible. Promise.

Now the thing that surprises me is that even today I look forward to the Pujas with almost as much anticipation as any Bengali would. Years have gone by, so much has changed around my life but that particular feeling of excitement remains. I still anxiously count the days in my calendar to shahsti. And I feel as depressed as anyone else when the Pujas get over. Though am not much of a pandal hopper, but I just revel in the overall environment, the experience of mingling in the crowd sometimes and taking in the glowing happiness everywhere. I still like standing in my balcony late at night, staring at the lights decorating the buildings and losing myself in their glitter. That, is something which I guess will never change.

However, other than enjoying the grandeur around the Pujas the other thing which I also look forward to is the short yet relaxing break that it provides.  Admit it, no matter who we are we all have some issues or the other that is bothering us, be it personal or professional, and these four days present that wonderful opportunity where you relax, spend time with friends and family, forget everything and just go with the flow. The end result of course is of that you come out recharged and refreshed.

This is not to say that the Pujas don’t come without its negativity, which somehow gets unnoticed in the overawing milieu. Common folks like me have to suffer a lot in these days. The first one of course being the horrifying traffic snarls that we have to contend with, not to mention the atrocious food we get during those four days or the loud, blaring, endless music and announcements played out by some particular padar log that sores my eardrums. But these are just some minor glitches in the vast canvas of this supreme beauty.

So to my friends from the city, like I stated in the first lines, 'that' Puja feeling is in the air again and it is time to just soak it in and lose yourselves in it. Go ahead folks and create some more special memories in the coming four days which will add to the vast montage of your whole ‘puja collection’. I will go and add mine. Because you see, it’s that time of the year again..!! 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

And the Magic shall never Die

Last month I was at the hospital for a visit to my doctor for a check-up. I was tensed. I was nervous. To make matters worse I came to know I would have to wait for three hours before I could meet the doctor. I groaned in dismay and contemplated on how I would kill time in the waiting lounge surrounded by sick patients. As I sat there I suddenly remembered I had brought along my Harry Potter book in by backpack. I heaved a sigh of relief. Just then I received a text from a friend of mine enquiring about me. I told her about my condition and the fact that I would have to wait a further three hours here. She sympathized with me. I texted her back, "Don’t worry...I have Harry Potter!”

It was afternoon now. I was going back home in a bus. The wind slapped my face as I looked outside the window at the overcast skies. My phone beeped. It was a text from the same friend. “Hey, how are you? You are okay na? Hope it went well with the doc!” I smiled and texted her back, “I am fine...Everything’s fine. Harry Potter saved the day...Again...!”

It is strange, bizarre rather when I sit and think of the impact that Harry Potter and its characters have made in my psyche in such a short span of time. For people who aren’t accustomed to the world of Harry Potter these statements might sound very childish and over the top, but for me the significance that the world of Harry Potter holds in my life is truly unique.

Now I am not writing this post to elaborate on J.K. Rowling’s marvelous story, its different characters and the magic behind them. No, I somehow just wished to briefly share this intricate yet beautiful relation I have with this fascinating series.  

My trysts with Harry Potter started way back when the first HP movie came out; the Philosopher’s stone. I was in Udaipur at that time and unfortunately had the bad experience of watching it in Hindi. I never understood the complex storyline and gave up on following it, believing it to be just another fad that the world was having. Over the years I kept following a couple of other movies as well but still never really got the hang of it. It was only in 2005 when the Order of the Phoenix – the book, had released that things changed. By a lucky chance I managed to borrow the book from a friend who had it and took it home without any expectations. I just wanted to see what the fuss was about in this after all.

My life was never the same after that day. Let’s just say I had no idea then that I had got one of the greatest friends of my life right there in my backpack that day.

Yes, sounds stupid but in actuality is very much the truth. I read the book in two days flat and was just completely blown away. It left me gasping for more. I immediately went and bought the other books in the series and just completely devoured them with feverish madness and hence commenced my captivating journey with the Harry Potter mania.

People who haven’t read the books would never understand the real magic behind them. For most, HP is a children’s fascination which has lots of nice special magic stuff. But people who have managed to look through these frivolities would know the real truth. For me reading the Harry Potter books remains one of the most deeply gratifying experiences ever. The reason that I connect to it so deeply is the fact that it is so real despite being set in a completely unreal world. The lead character is not a superhero with extraordinary powers but is as average a person as one can be. He flunks in exams, gets tongue-tied talking to girls and is very emotional about his close ones. However, more than this, what binds me so emotionally to the series are the small real lessons of life it keeps reminding us without trying to say it out aloud. Simple truths of life -that there is no greater gift in life than friendship, that you can never succeed if you don’t have true friends to support you, that if you are loyal to the ones who love you things will always be fine for you in the end and that true love is beyond anything and everything in this world.

I thus make no bones about the fact that I have learnt so much from the HP series. Many dialogues and many situations in the books have left me pondering on them very deeply and they have left me more insightful than I was before Harry Potter hit my life. There are so many small little gems to take in from it that if you genuinely try and understand it you can only be a better person.

However Harry Potter’s impact in my life goes beyond the realms of these niceties. It is as I mentioned before a true best friend of mine; always there for me. At times when I have felt terrible, when I have felt low or hopeless it has always been there. I realized this more in the last few months than ever before. Like the day at the hospital I mentioned at the beginning; it just stays there every time and anytime for me.

Why I chose to write this today? No real reason. That is what it is with Harry Potter, I can talk, write, shout and be crazy about it anytime I wish to. My fellow Potterheads would agree I believe.

For me Harry Potter (the books) is the best, the most satisfying, emotionally overwhelming and enchanting experience that one can ever have. There never was, never has been and never would be another series like Harry Potter. For those who haven’t read the books I have this to say, “Forgive them Lord, coz they don’t know what they have missed.”

know I will never get bored of the series no matter how many times I read it. I will always laugh and cry with it, no matter what situation of life I am in. That is how it always is. And that is how I wish for it to remain; until the very end.



22 May, 2065. He staggers along in the hallway of his house with the help of his walking stick; finally resting his aching eighty-year-old back on a comfortable armchair beside the window. The afternoon breeze soothes his wrinkled face. With trembling hands, he bends and picks up the book lying on the small table beside the chair. The book looks worn out and the pages bore a yellowish tint. He opens the first page with the same excitement and thrill he had once opened it with when he had first bought it decades back. The title- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone - looks a little faded in colour, but it still brings a smile on the old man's crinkled lips. Suddenly he hears the mad cacophony of voices as his two grandchildren come running into his room. They look at him and then at the book in his hands. Rolling his eyes, one of them says, “After all this time?”  He looks at them, and rests his head on the back of the chair; smiling to himself, he says, “Always..!” 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Indian Cricket: Yuvraj returns, T2O World Cup beckons etc. etc.

So the new season for Indian cricket has begun. And begun well one can say. With a comfortable one-day series victory against Sri Lanka on their own soil and a test series victory against the Kiwis at home our start to the new season has been good with quite a few plusses to think of. Bigger challenges lie ahead however and it remains to be seen how the young looking unit copes with better teams like England and Australia in the coming months without the stalwarts like Laxman and Dravid. I have a hunch that we will do well. If we do, without doubt the naysayers would start ranting about us being tigers at home which I believe is an outright stupid argument. I don’t see anyone raising their voices for Australia and South Africa’s domination at home, so what makes our dominance on our own soil so aggravating to people is beyond me. I shall explore this further in another post. 

Moving on...  As is the case with Indian cricket these days, a lot has already happened in these last few weeks. Let me just dwell on certain happenings in Indian cricket that I wish to discuss. 

Rise of the Colts

Before discussing anything else, I raise a toast to the Indian U-19 team for their fascinating World Cup triumph last month. To beat the Aussies in their own den, that too in the final of a world event, requires some outstanding skill and courage. Our colts surely had that and in winning the trophy they showed that all the doubts of Indian cricket‘s future can be put to rest. We have found in this side quite a few players who are a class part and would surely be rendering their services to the national team in the very near future. Anyone who would have seen captain Unmukt Chand’s scintillating century in the final would agree that he is made for bigger things. I am quite excited by this guy and hope to see him in our national side soon. He is quite in the mould of Virat Kohli and seems to have a mature head on his shoulders. Besides the batting star Unmukt we have a few others like off -spinner Harmeet Singh, all-rounder Baba Aaparajith , batsman Vijay Zol and a couple of others who look very promising. More than anything else this team shows that India’s bowling and batting cupboards isn't bare as many ‘experts’ have been screaming hoarse. I am certain that over a period of time, once these youngsters are well-groomed, our recent overseas disasters would be a thing of the past. Cheers to the future!

Sachin oh Sachin


So Sachin Tendulkar performed below par in the recent Test series against New Zealand and was bowled through the gates thrice in as many innings. Soon enough there has been a rising cry in all of India screaming for Sachin to retire and these people have decided that his time is now up. It’s amusing to think that not too long ago he was being hailed as GOD after he had scored the first double century in ODIs. Now I will not write much on this, as experts have been analyzing every movement of Sachin’s with acute scrutiny in any case and moreover criticism of cricketers is like an everyday exercise for our citizenry. But I do have this to say- someone who has served the country for 23 long years and served it well apparently, believes that he has it in him to serve our cricket for some more time. We should be really lucky he thinks that way. He is the reason that many in our country (and in the team) started watching cricket. He will not take his place for granted ever. Even in his last innings he was stroking the ball beautifully before he unfortunately got bowled. Big deal! So what?  I am certain in my mind that Sachin is already working on the flaw that got him out and would rectify it. We need him now more than ever as our team is going through a transition phase with many young men taking new positions and they would require Sachin’s guidance and experience for as long as they can take it. We have England and Australia coming in next and then there is the tour to South Africa. We need Sachin in all these tournaments if we hope to do well; there are no two ways about it. Sachin is prone to criticism but to ask him to retire should not be our calling; that authority should lie with him and him alone. I think he has deserved that credit.

I know that day would soon come when we would never again see the name Sachin Tendulkar on the Indian team score card, whether in a few months or years, time will tell. But the one above sent Sachin to our land for a specific reason. I have a feeling that that he has his own script for the Little Master for the day he bids us adieu.

T20 World Cup – Will or Won’t?

Now comes the big one, the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka starting in about a week’s time. How will it unfold for team India? Will we go down poorly as we did in the last two editions of the event or would the men in blue make a billion hearts smile again? Remains to be seen

Five years precisely to this month we witnessed the rise of Mahendra Singh Dhoni as the daring and cool captain who led a young and talented Indian team to an unexpected World Cup T20 triumph in South Africa. Many things have changed since, but the captain’s hunger to succeed hasn’t. The T20 World Cup is about to commence once again and not many are giving our team much of a chance to lift the trophy. Our T20 performance hasn’t been great to speak of and thus not many are too hopeful on us bringing back the cup. As for me, I am my usual nervous self as the day inches closer. I am quietly confident of our team’s prospects. We have a good bunch of guys at hand. With the likes of Kohli (who by the way is in absolutely sparkling form), Raina, Yuvraj and Dhoni, the middle-order bears a settled look. If the openers fire and the bowlers somehow perform well we might go the distance. We should at least make the semis; from there it’s anybody’s game. Unlike 50 over cricket where I am more confident of our prospects, T20 is like a gamble. One bad over, one misfield or a bad delivery can change the game’s outcome. Hence a lot would depend on chance too. We have good talent at our disposal but the rest depends on a lot of factors. I can only hope that lady luck shines in our favour. Am I willing to take a bet on our chances? I don’t know really. MSD has his fair share of haters in our country and especially in Bengal for obvious selfish reasons, and many of them I know would be licking their lips for India to fail giving them  a chance to target their guns on him again. But knowing MSD he wouldn’t be perturbed by all this chatter; he is a fighter and a champion cricketer and would be focused on doing well. He has nothing to prove to anybody but himself. I also believe that life has its own way of setting things right. Who knows on the night of October 7th  in  Colombo it might very well be our captain cool holding the trophy he first held in 2007. A perfect gift to himself for completing five years as a captain isn’t it? I would surely be rooting for our captain and his team selflessly and would hope for the best no matter what. For now, let the magic begin…

Yuvi can, Yuvi has

Lastly some words on the enigmatic ‘punjab da puttar’ Yuvraj Singh and his much celebrated comeback. Yuvraj made an emotional and confident return to cricket in the last T20 match against NZ. It was sheer pleasure to see Yuvi stroke those sixers which made my heart jump with excitement. He fell short of what would have been an ideal fairytale comeback but was not to be as he got out in the last over of India’s chase, just when we didn’t require him to. Though we lost the match, we gained a lot from the confident way Yuvraj batted. He is without doubt a pivotal member of our team, and his performing well is imperative for our chances in the coming tournament. When in full flow he is one of the cleanest strikers of the cricket ball and is also a more than handy part-time bowler as was seen in the World Cup 2011. It would be interesting to see how he excels in the coming T20 World Cup. Perhaps it was good that he didn’t win the game for us in his comeback match. Perhaps it would have blown the lid of the media and the people who would have expected the world from him then. Now Yuvi can just take it easy and enjoy the game. And we can just hope that he does his best; which can be very good news for us.

However in all this there is also the story of how Yuvi fought back cancer and lived to tell the tale albeit in a heroic fashion. Although I agree that there has been a bit too much of his whole ‘come back’ thing but none can deny that it has been a truly remarkable achievement. I know very well what chemotherapy does to one’s body and thus too see Yuvi strutting around the crease was a pleasing sight. In all this hoopla also lies a lesson for each one of us if we are willing to take it. It is not just about fighting a disease; it’s just the will Yuvi showed. Teaching us that we can fight any situation if we truly have the passion and the belief that the thing is worth fighting for. It can be anything; be it fighting for one’s life, one’s career or one’s love. The standout word here is TRY. If Yuvraj had gone all grumpy and complained how unfair life has been on him he wouldn’t have been donning the Indian jersey today. He chose to fight. Therein lies the lesson. We might not always win, but we should at least give our honest attempt at trying to our fullest and leave the rest to destiny, which isn’t in our hands. But trying surely is. At least then we wouldn’t have regrets. Isn’t that what life is all about? Living in hope, seeing dreams and trying your hardest to fulfill them. It is a very simple theory that we fail to understand sometimes. If we can just comprehend the underlying message behind Yuvraj’s comeback, things would be lots easier for all of us. 

Like I always say to a very beautiful person in my life, “Try karne me kya jaata hai...!”