Till then…. (reflections on India my country) Part 1

Part 1: Introduction(when it began…)

Yes at the stroke of midnight back in 15th august, 1947 as the world slept there was a nation which awoke and decided to take its firsts steps to fulfilling its tryst with its destiny. A nation was born. On the heart of a land that was as ancient as the human civilization. A society that was as diverse as the human civilization. Tagore spoke of unity in diversity. I learnt those words when I was in school. I started realising this when I was much older. My realization still continues. So does my wonder at the land of India.

India. Bharatvarsh of the Vedic and medieval ages. After the great Mahabharata ruler, Bharata. Hindustan to the conquerors of the late middle ages. Conquerors from the land of sand and date palms. Conquerors from the land of the fearless Mongols. Conquerors who followed the religion of Islam. Hindusthan for this was the land of Hindus. The only land where the people followed the religion of Hinduism. And finally India. The name given to it by its Anglo-Christian conquerors. The anglicised version of Hind.

When the country was born the baby decided to take the name of India. Not Hindustan but India. India the name given to it by its conquerors against whom we fought for two hundred years. For by the midnight of august 15th India was no longer Hindustan- the land of the Hindus. It was the land of the Hindus, the land of the Sikhs, the land of the Muslims, the land of the Christians, the land of the Jains, the land of the Jews- no matter how few. The idea behind the name India stemmed from the idea which our great founders had of the country. Yes great founders. Often criticized by a lot including me, these were men who were great in their own rights. People like me who were born in the independent India often overlook the price of the freedom like our fathers before us. That’s why we are quick to pass our judgments against these great yet flawed men who stitched together a nation out of states which are as diverse and varied as the entire globe. No European or for that matter any other national will ever realise the concept of a nation where the idea of god, food, language, clothes, songs, culture … everything changes every two hundred kilometres. The idea of the country lay somewhere in the description of the land given by Gurudev. The land where human race will achieve unity in diversity. The race which in the coming years will show the world the concept of living in harmony. The concept of coexistence. That’s why the name India was chosen. India of all. Not Pakistan the land of the pure Muslims. Bangladesh the land of the Bangla speakers. But India. The land where all were welcome. A staggering 65 years on we are a staggering nation covering more than a sixth of the world population.

It would have been simpler and more convenient for us to name this country Hindustan. The Hindus of the world deserved a home. The Muslims of the world had Pakistan and many other countries. The whole of the west was there for the Christians. But like the Jews of the world the Hindus needed a land they could call home. So we could have built out a Hindustan like the Jews built out Israel. Had we followed that path we would have been better than them as we definitely had more resources and not that bad in terms of our abilities. Today when we look at our societies some times that thought does cross some of our minds.

And yet that is exactly the point where we make our mistake. This is the land of the Hindus. This is the true land of believers of the philosophy of Hinduism. Because Hinduism- belying the cliché- is not a religion. It is a whole school of religious and spiritual ideas. The most central to the idea however is the centre of the idea of India. The idea of inclusion. Hinduism is at once a thought process of advaita or one god philosophy and at the same time that of a thousand gods. It is also the abode of the belief in non-existence of god which was propagated by karaka and also included in the philosophy. It is a religion which talks about the main gods of creation, maintenance and destruction. It also talks about the concept of goddess. It talks about the concept of the woman as the holders of Shakti or uurja- energy, power of the universe. It talks about the high and lofty god figures and also talks about the concept of Shiva-Parvati in every element- a strong parallel to the atomic theory of the constitution of the universe. The central idea and reason behind the confusion and misuse of the tenets of the religion is the fact about its multiplicity. The philosophy of Hinduism has been as varied and as diverse as the universe. And somewhere I believe that to comprehend something as vast and varied as the universe the theory could not be a simple one.

Thus unlike other religions in the world Hinduism does not have those set of rules or the set of faqs or dos-don’ts. The beauty and the problem with the concept lie in its diversity. Much like the fact that the beauty and complexity of the country also lies in its diversity. That’s why so many other religions were born in this land and got accepted by the people. But if you look closer all these religions have strong resonance with elements of Hinduism. People accepted them as they simplified the tasks of the man on how to lead his life. When other religion from other lands came in they were also embraced and accepted. Over time many other reasons like oppression, forced conversions, casteism became reasons for conversions. But the core reason for them to last in the country was the basic acceptance they had from the people of the land. Else with the passing of the rulers the religions would also have got wiped clean. Within Hinduism there have been multiple prophets and great saints who have time and again explained and re-exerted the values of the religion and simplified it for the commoner. But the most fascinating thing has been that in spite of all this the concept of Hinduism has survived for thousands of years. Embraced other philosophies and religions and have learnt how to coexist.

This is the apt home for Hinduism. This is the land of the right amount of diversity and conflicting philosophies for a philosophy like Hinduism to survive and flourish. So unlike the Jew, the Buddhist, the Muslim- India is the land of Hinduism in its diversity and multiplicity. Thus India. The land of all and many. Among them the Hindus. That was the idea of our forefathers who built this land and made the disjointed group of kingdoms- of the pre-colonial era- into a country called India.

Some sixty five years back this India started on its way towards building the microcosm of the universe. With dreams and ambitions of the world and the millions who lived in it. As Rushdie says- it was burdened with the weight of expectations right from the start. There were expectations of a better life and livelihood, of power and glory, of development and science but most importantly the expectations of being a nation. Yes, being a nation. Being a nation is not easy. Even for more homogeneous and less complicated societies. As for India it was anyways the most complex and diverse society to start with. So being a nation and surviving as one was one of the biggest challenges and expectations that had been set for ourselves.

It is important to understand the concept called nation. To understand where we have reached in our path towards our destiny. Nation- a word derived from the Latin natio- meaning to be born…to come into existence. However over the centuries the significance of the term nation has changed a lot.

Definition of nation (source- Oxford Dictionary)


A large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory.

Difficult proposition isn’t it? Common descent? Not really. Common history? Perhaps. Culture? Language? Ha! So as I said becoming a nation is not as easy as it may seem. The biggest challenge in the path of the nation is also its biggest asset- its diversity.

After our founding fathers had passed the guards it was up to our next generation to ensure that the walk towards our destiny. The difficult and arduous walk towards our destiny of becoming a true nation. A journey so difficult required leadership which was strong and brave enough for the job. However beyond that the leadership needed to be selfless. As very shrewdly our father of the nation had said- the world has enough for everyone’s need but not everyone’s greed. This statement was most significant for the strong shoulders where the responsibility of the nation lay. And perhaps that is the point where the cracks started.

However before going digging into the history it needs to be understood what exactly these challenges are in our path towards our destiny…..

My journeys…my explanations and submissions

Journey is more important than the destination.

 There are so many people who have been telling this for centuries. This is perhaps one of the biggest clichés we have grown up to. The only statutory warning in all this is the fact that most clichés are essentially truths. I started my journey close to four decades back. The first decade would have gone in understanding what the hell I am doing in this planet. The next two and a more have gone on to rephrasing and polishing this question. But I am moving. Though immobile on the sofa typing. I am moving in different ways. Circular paths of earth around sun and itself aside, the break-neck speed of the life as it keeps unfolding aside. I keep moving. I keep moving in my journeys. Not now but usually.

 I went off to the hills some fifteen years back. My present company at that point had told me to go to tea gardens and find out how much coconut oil can be sold to the shanties surrounding the gardens. With acute acrophobia and little experience of travelling alone I had embarked on my journey to the forests and the hills of north Bengal. Fifteen years down the line I do not clearly recollect the highlights of the two month sojourn in the hills. I do however remember the journeys. The night travel from Malbazaar to Siliguri in the mini-truck filled with hair oil cartons when I encountered the herd of elephants in the Mahananda sanctuary. The journey back from Darjeeling (a trip undertaken spontaneously without planning or clothes for a wet hill station) with the valley around unfolding in its raw beauty with every turn the jeep took. The jeep with the broken axle, the passengers with silent prayers for survival and fear of untimely death, me with strange comfort with all that and a confidence of reaching the destination and a completely blocked off pair of ears. The hills with stoic obliviousness to all these emotions observing the damaged jeep meandering down the hairpins and the gradients.

There was that journey from Birpara to Siliguri in the day of the bandh. The army jawans with whom I had a gala time chatting away. The bus stop where there were no buses thanks to the bandh. And the jumpy army truck which came out of nowhere to transport me to Siliguri. All it needed was a simple request… then there were those longings and the final excitement of hopping on to the bus in Kolkata’s shahid minar. The journey by night, through Bengal to Siliguri from Kolkata. Last window seat of the bus. No chance of any sleep in the night as the bus powered forward like a cricket ball released from the hands of a Brett lee or shoaib akhtar. Sleepless nights in the jumping buses with sarbhaja, the famous krishnanagar delicacy, for company. Bought at the first stop of the bus at krishnanangar.

What were those journeys for? What was the agenda to be accomplished in Siliguri or Moinaguri or Lataguri or Binnaguri? Guri-land I used to call the place. Gorkhaland posters were a few years away. Guriland was better…less violent. But anyways- what were those rhymes and reasons or so called destinations for those travels I do not remember. I was supposed to submit a report. A report of a study to be conducted during the visits with data collected etc. I never collected any data, never collected any report. I met many people, talked and made friends and then carried on. When I sat down in my institute computer room to type out the report, I finished in one sitting. All of 60 pages. The company was elated with the results. I do not even remember what they were. I remember the friends I made. The stockist at falakata whom I met the day the leopard was killed there. I remember having a simple lunch at his home and hearing of his ambitions and struggle. And his anguish at the death of the leopard. I remember the stockist at mathabhanga and his grievances against the company. Legitimate grievances which the company kept overlooking. I remember watching biwi no1 in the run down theatre in siliguri with a whole host of rickshaw pullers who were having their day off. I remember leaving an underwear every time I stayed in a hotel. And the fact that the siliguri hotel returned me 2 when I visited them for the last time. Cleaned and pressed. And the hotel barababu smiling and telling me “ebar ektu shamlao! Chakri korbe ki korey ebhabe?”(Try and be more careful. how will you continue professionally like this?) I have never been more careful. I have never been careful. Fifteen years somehow got managed. Carelessly.

I played the role of the responsible male and took the job. I kept working for 12 years. I married my love and we tried to build a home. It kept slipping away every time we thought that we had finally settled. Every time we thought now we can settle into a boring rhythm and continue till eternity. The homes broke like an earthen pot hit by a stone. Every time we thought we had arrived at our destination the stations disintegrated. But every time the waves swept away the castles we jumped on and started surfing. I guess we have liked our gypsy existence till now. She is a few thousand miles away checking if academics is her calling. I am here doing nothing much.

There is a certain charm in the thought of complete destruction of stability. Taking out all the ropes from the tent. I guess it was that charm which made me throw that stone in the earthen pot of my work life at a time my wife was finalising her plans to move abroad. I chucked my job. And decided to find out what’s more. When I suddenly decided to take this decision my entire social system- colleagues, friends and relatives, family (excluding wife and father) were shocked. Some thought I was quitting as I was not getting along with my new boss. With whom I was getting along famously. Some thought I had 2-3 job options which I was not disclosing. They never could believe that I was leaving my job simply because I wanted to experience other things in life. Soon extremely funny rumours about my reasons for quitting and the jobs which I had started coming to my ears. Some of my team members were also indulging in the ripe gossip… I sat back and enjoyed it all. Savoured it all. Some of the people whom I knew gave me the discourse of quitters vs. fighters. I listened to them. Initially I tried telling them that working for a living is more about earning money and less about fighting for any cause. Then I stopped. It was not fair to take away a person’s sense of bravado from what he does for most of his life. Most of my near ones were petrified of the uncertainty which ensued my decision.  I was confused as I could not understand the concept of certainty in life. The concept of “settling down”.

What is the destination in life? Job, family and multiple properties? The moneyed executive with a cushy job has arrived? Is that the thought? I know one of the most organised executives with all the money in the world and “job and life security” fall dead in a second from a clot in his brain which he would not even have come to realise at the time of his passing. Multiple properties in Europe and India, business etc. etc….all it took was a clot to move to his brain to do him in even as he was having his dinner after a dance party. So where is the security and certainty people talk about? Perhaps they know. I do not. Something I am missing. For me that executive, where he is the destination. That last airport from where the flight takes off and the trip to this world has ended. That’s the destination. For all of us. Death.

The funniest thing is that none of us know where and how it will come. Just that it will. Anytime. Some of us plan thinking it is going to come at a certain age and time. They take refuge in statistics not understanding that all statistics are approximations with huge deviations. Some plan as if it is coming immediately. And they can fight it. Take all the pills and precautions. Lead a “safe” life in a “safe” place. I am not sure where I fit in. I cannot say that I do not think of death. I think of it all the time. Just cannot accept the fact that I have to go on living planning for it. Not preparing myself but planning. Planning to leave behind wealth, planning to die in a costly hospital…and all the while postponing what is flowing by today, this moment. Life. The journey.

For now I am trying to rebuild my feel for the road and the journey. Trying to get back the old habits of walking out of the house with a bag and some money and no destination in plan. What lies in the future? The next bend of the road? I am not sure. I cannot be. As they say- I want to cross the bridges when I come to them.

In the last few months I have seen and experienced things which I cherish more than all my achievements in the past 12 years of service. I have marvelled at the ruins of the Angkor in Siem Reap. I have chatted with a little girl in Cambodia on her life. It started on an evening when she was angry with me as she thought I assumed she did not know English. I have been led by a little boy and his friends into the forests of Siem Reap into ruins which the tourists do not go to see. I have cried like a baby in the killing fields of Phnom Penh at the loss which one country went through at the hands of a son of their soil. While the world watched with disinterest. I have discussed passionately with a taxi driver on the guitaring style of Mark Knofler and how rock music has to power to change the world. That was Paro, Bhutan. And then there was the other taxi driver with whom I kept snapping the beautiful landscape on the way to Thimpu from Phuentshilling. Both armed with our cameras and the passion to capture the beauty of the mountains. I enjoyed the halfway expedition up to the Taksheng monastery all alone. While coming down for the fear of ice ahead I was happy. Happy that I made it halfway up a climb. I never imagined I would go trekking when I was lying in bed with a broken spine a year back. I spent 2 hours in night in absolute isolation in an airport in paro with not even a fly in site in that huge place. In 4 degree below zero. I managed to be the topic of laughter for bunch of Tibetan girls who were for some reason very amused that a tall strange Indian fellow has walked into their momo joint and is actually eating their staple food with their staple superhot pepper.

People and experiences fill up the journey. Every person adds a bit to our lives. Like that fellow trekker in phalut who told us that beautiful story. He narrated an incident where he and a few of his friends had gone to a village in deep mountains in uttarakhand. With no plan and no bookings and more importantly no place to stay in sight they were in a soup. They went to a local store which was one of the last shops open. When they asked the owner for some hotel around he smiled and replied in the negative. Then the owner took them to his own house. He and his wife cooked for them, left their bedroom for them. Next day when the boys were duly shocked by this unexpected warmth the shopkeeper said- “son look at these hills. When you are coming into the hills with every turn you will see two hills separating out to give you the view of what lies ahead. They are like the curtains which are pulled to show you the view of life. We who live besides the hills live with all our curtains opened up. When you would be returning look back. You will see the hills closing the curtains. You have come to the mountains. Use this opportunity to open your hearts and minds. That’s why the saints and seekers come here to pray…” that was a shopkeeper in a village speaking. Strangely we were narrating the boy a very similar experience we had in Hille a mountain forest village where we had gone without any plan and any preparation. Where a local villager took us in cooked for us and left his only bedroom for us and slept in the kitchen with his wife. Ten years on this memory stays on. A Sikkimese couple who does not understand a word of Hindi or Bengali playing host to a bunch of Bengali guys (who don’t understand a word of Sikkimese) though they have never met ever in life and perhaps will never met after that night.

What was our destination that time? There was none. It was a round trek around the Darjeeling district over the hills. Perhaps that made the journey even more magical. There was the glorious Kanchenjunga sunrise. The view of Everest. All that was great. There was Arjun Singh the guide with killer stench in his feet, who was there for another group, who all but left them and shifted with us. There was the magical Srikhola river. There was the chicken cooked unknowingly with bhut jalokia which almost killed us… As the years have passed the destination of that journey receded to the back ground and these experiences and their memories took over. It was always that way. The tourist points in Montreal were great. Niagara was amazing. But the one close to my heart was the long chat which I had with a dear colleague and senior in Dubai airport. And how there while discussing our favourite cities I discovered that he had managed to fall in love with Kolkata. When he had come in and when I saw him last he simply hated her guts.

They say the rolling stone gathers no moss. In a way that’s good. Moss is slippery. It slips away. The feel of the different soils and the landscape which the rolling stone manages to gather in its being can never be realised by that stagnant rock.

I do not travel because of some romanticised vision of travel. There are times travelling is an agony. There are times I long for the warmth and comfort of home. like this last time I was in two minds whether to move on, on my unplanned journey to Bhutan or just go back home. But more often than not with a lot of reluctance the drug of travel takes over. Yes drug. It is like some drug which makes me move in that direction without me being able to do anything about it. Most of the times I do it reluctantly.  Like that time in Battambang when I was secretly cursing my friend for bringing me to the hill which I had to climb. Though he had offered to ditch the idea. I kept climbing with all the pain and kept cursing him. But I guess that is the case with most people. People of much bigger achievements and abilities. . I am talking explorers, mountaineers, voyagers….all of them. They always have this dual fight which is going on inside. The fight between the rolling stone and the rock. The only difference between them and the worldly wise is that for the latter there is no fight. The decision is taken. The window closed. There is that temptation of opening that window at times. But more often than not they consider it a sin to do the same.

Perhaps they are right. Perhaps we are sent out to this world to do those things which we are supposed to do. Duties which we are supposed to perform. Perhaps one day I will realise that. Perhaps one day I will find my calling. Perhaps one day I will write another blog where I will talk about finding the destination being the most important objective in life. Perhaps I will tell that death is not really the destination. There are things other than that we need to do which are important. Multiple apartments that we need to buy, investments we need to make to secure our future. Or like some of the others- how we need to reach out and work for humanity and dedicate our lives on that. Yes. There are many reasons for leading a settled life.

But I am yet to find my calling. For me I am a creature of lower spiritual knowledge. Unlike others who know their destiny I am not sure about it. I am still searching. in Cambodia, in Bhutan, in Italy, in Phalut, in a village in Taaki, in the Santhal Parganas, in Gujarat, in Kashmir, in the floating markets of Bangkok, in the coffee shop by the river in battambang, in front of the light house in gopalpur, in the wild forests of mutati, chapramari, corbett, serenghetti. The entire globe is waiting for my search. The bus is waiting to drive off. The window seat is waiting to show me the myriad worlds, the small people in the small hotels are waiting to spring their surprises. The thousands of years of humanity is waiting to unravel itself I front of me. The millions of years of the planet is waiting g to show me its hidden marvels. the wildebeests of Africa beckon, the lamas in ladhak are getting impatient, the schoolboy in Kerala is getting late in his boat to give me a lift, the wine in Bordeaux will get spoilt waiting for me to go crush the grapes…it’s almost every moment in a dream the world around keeps screaming out to me to come and join in. Mr Stevenson smiles and recites

Ever again in a wink of an eye

Painted stations whistle by.

Life is whistling by. I keep looking out of the window for those painted stations. And everything else I can lay my eyes upon.

Yes for me journey is not important. It is the only way of living. While I am not travelling I am resting and preparing for the nest one. Because as I said- I am yet to find my calling, my destination. And I pray that I can be in my journey gear till the end.

Random and Biased observations in a cafe in Darjeeling (13/01/13)…from diary

Spending time doing nothing inside a cafe after ages. Refreshing. A typical corpo-yuppy family walks in. Nothing wrong in that obviously. Just that a visibly bore, self-absorbed husband and an all too keen wife and loud kids… a bit too painfully familiar site. A bit unwelcome for me here in the mountains. Suddenly all the chairs in the cafe pulled out- the other new visitors have no place to sit. Again- nothing wrong with that. Just reminds of the over-crowded food courts in the endless and thankless malls. Nothing wrong in the whole attitude of the kids- who start demanding and communicating their choice of the food for the whole cafe to hear. In response the men in the group show their “men-ness” by ordering around the staff in a self-help restaurant. I am counting the seconds before they start off on the lack of work culture in the hills…..YES! One guy mentions! My sense of refreshment is all but gone.

A man in front of me seems far removed from all this. He is an artist and has converted an old notebook into a sketchbook. He is busy putting life in the lifeless paper by the interweaving tapestry of lines to come up with a visual representation of the beautiful view outside the windows. Old, yellow paper. Pages meant for ruthless black-white words getting decorated and coming back to life. Long after its death. Is everyone that lucky? I don’t know. In the meanwhile the artist continues his work. Oblivious of the world around. He is recording the scenery of the hills outside the windows in his sketch-notebook. I am not so lucky with my skill sets. I depend on the written words. I belong to the city. The cacophony of loud small talk and complaints draw me more than the silent beauty of the hills outside. He keeps sketching without bothering about the 5-6 kids and their parents who belong to India- ethnic India but choose to continue their cacophony in English. The noisy self-absorbed group keeps disturbing my thought chain and keeps telling me that in more ways than one I am yet to become lifeless.

English divided us in more ways than we could think of. Today the haloed members of the upper echelons of the society have to necessarily desert their mother-tongue and speak in English. To prove and announce to whoever is listening- that they belong to the upper echelons of the society. People who have proof in the Facebook of their globe-trotting escapades. Proof that they have arrived in those upper echelons. In fact today mother-tongue has become English as mothers and fathers wag their tongues only to the English language….

In another table three oriental ladies are drinking tea. One of them has a camera. She is clicking away. And all the while they are chatting away in their “mother tongue”, which by the way is not English, thankfully. They would be from a country which has not been colonized by any European nation. Their mothers still speak the language of the soil- the mother tongue. And the mothers of their kids will also do the same.

Behind me a couple is meditating in front of their laptops. Some deep research going on i guess. I sneaked away a few photos of the lady. I know it is not right. But i cannot help it. She has a beautiful face. Even more beautiful eye-brows.

the lady with beautiful eye-brows

the lady with beautiful eye-brows

Somewhat in response to the sudden jump in the noise levels in the cafe and the ensuing cacophony thanks to the group from the haloed upper-echelons the DJ fellow changed the song on the pipe-music system. Mohit chauhan is pleading:

Jo bhi mein kehna chahun

Barbaad karen alfaaz mere….

But are they listening? the alfaaz keeps shooting off the over-busy tongues and tearing down upon the rest of the patrons like a rain of poisonous arrows. How the coffee is not as good as in Costa…how Wengers makes better pastries…(Gimme a Break!!!)… how Langkawi actually is more beautiful…..

In the afternoon during my visit to the zoo i stopped beside the cage of the langurs. There was a family of langurs inside the papa, the mama and the kiddo. The papa and the mama langur holding the kiddo in tight embrace from both sides. I stopped stunned with the beauty of the site. The beauty of the love that emanated from the three langurs protecting each other in the biting cold with nothing other than themselves for help. And then one of the “upper-echelon” families charged in. “Oh baby! gimme a snap! Oh baby gimme a snap! sweet baby, come to mama!…..”Beta you should call like this…pyaar se ..”

the langur family

the langur family

What is there in this newly liberalised educated urban population who think they know everything that is to be known about everything and they have a birth-right to think of any place as their drawing-room I don’t know. The Facebook reeks of so much of this filth. The city watering holes no less. But i thought the hills in sub-zero temperatures will be spared. No such luck. Even at -4deg Tiger Hill at dawn there was that Ipad aunty who kept screaming and brandishing her ipad in front of my face to “take the picture”. The fact that I was actually running to the hills to breathe away from this crowd now looks like a sad irony. But thats it. No more complaining. Off I go from Glenarys, to return at a quieter time. The Mall and the bylanes of Darjeeling awaits me. Move over Jo BHi Mein… time to sing

Resham Phiriri Resham phiririii

Udera Jaun Ko Dandai Ma Bhanjyang Resham Phiririii !!!