What Makes Us Unique?
Recently I received a book written by Shree Sandipan Deb entitled, The IITians, the story of a remarkable Indian institution and how its alumni are reshaping the world. My husband was among the third batch from IIT Kharagpur to graduate in civil engineering. Reading the book he seems to have done most of the typical things that IITians have done—coming for a Masters and PhD here to the USA, going back and working in Bhaarat for three years and then returning to find more satisfying work conditions and eventually success. In his case the subject of his PhD, environmental engineering, itself contributed to his return to the USA, as in India of the 1960s though badly needed, we did not have the luxury to think about the environment. Bhaaratvarsha had been left in shambles by the colonizing era preceded by the Islamic and Portuguese crusades; our immediate need was food, shelter and to secure our borders. Imagine the Indo-Gangiatic plains not being able to provide food for a mere 350 million under the able governance of the Europeans, which under the mismanagement of the Hindus has been able to feed over a billion and even export food grains!
This story repeats itself in many fields; the IIT story is certainly one such important story. What is pertinent here is that these IITs were set up in the days of a terribly traumatized country—post partitioned India; not the best time to envision anything great, let alone such amazing educational institutions that one day would be instrumental in letting much pride return to us.
What Makes Us Unique?
The Spiritual Context of Human Rights
This time I want to share a very unique experience that I had recently, which relates to the issue of human rights to a certain extent. All over the USA, institutes for healing racism have sprung up in the past few years. The one in our town of Grand Rapids, Michigan, invited me to attend two full days of a workshop on the subject. Generally schools, corporations and other organizations pay to send their employees so they are better equipped to handle the increasing diversity in the population of the USA. Arguably, India may be the only country more diverse than this nation on planet Earth as of now!
Identities in a Multicultural World
In a world where ever larger populations are on the move from country to country identity becomes a very complex issue. Just fifty years ago it would have been unthinkable for people to be born in a small village in Europe and live in a large and fast changing metropolis like Bangalore, Bhaarat or the vice versa. In the present era this is commonplace, facilitated by easier and faster means of communication, travel, as well as global job opportunities. So the issue of identity is a crisis for all that live away from countries of origin; it seems in a different way the off springs of the uprooted (many willingly) have identity issues too, which varies by ethnic groups.
It is well known that when moving, we take not only a few bags of things with us but also many habits, in fact this is how humans cross-fertilize cultures. Identities are tied to these habits that seem to form rather early in our lives and become ingrained; in one form or another these stay with us - all through the complicated journey of our existence on Earth. That must be the reason why Mom’s food is the best tasting! Another significant add- on to this learning in early years is our religious ideas and concepts of Bhagavaan (God). These then become our core values forming our identities; when threatened cause great disturbances to both the individual and to the world at large. In fact, two most sustaining habits from our beginnings seem to be food and God!
Frontier Arjunas of Northeast India
I am just back from the Maatri Bhoomi and this time from an exceptional trip, the experience of which I want to share with you. I had the privilege of being invited by two prestigious organizations of Bhaarat, the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla (happens to be my Janma Sthaana—confirming Karmic connections!) and Vivekananda Kendra (VK), a monumental organization in itself. On my own I included Kashmir in my travels.
I am told some call VK workers, Frontier Arjunas—and very appropriately so! It is often said that India is Eternal but very few think why it is so? Its eternity is owed to the Vision of the Rishikaa/Rishi culture of this amazing land, which continuously produces people who are a tribute to these ancestors in every sense. In the three weeks that I spent with the Vice President of Vivekananda Kendra, Su Shree Nivedita Bhide and her team of Jeevanvrati Kaaryakartas (Life long workers) numbering only—one hundred and seventy four—but equal in determination to a thousand, I was reassured of the continuity of our land and its culture. The unique thing about the dedication of these people is their understanding of the present needs of the country, their devotion to her and the determined way they work. In a world where money seems to override all morality, all ethics, these volunteers have given their lives to make things better for the present and future citizens of their country—majority of whom seem unaware of the danger that Bhaarat Bhoomi faces on so many fronts. Also most remain oblivious to the sacrifice and the hard work these volunteers do every single day to secure the land for posterity—children of the uncaring and unconcerned. How unfathomable is our Human existence!
We must stand up against the Adharma of Conversions
Conversions are a hot subject everywhere now. September 11, 2001 is going to remain in the psyche of all Americans, especially the white - European American, for a very long time. I make this reference to the European Americans in particular as they have been shaken up more by the incidents of recent terrorist acts on the soil of this country. Americans of other origins and hues have faced so much unjust behaviour from dominant groups that their reaction is more of sadness and less of panic.
For the fundamentalists within the Christian faith, this is an opportunity to further enflame the fear of the fearful! Apart from being able to shred all other traditions to pieces, they can convince their flock that it is all because of the infidels, pagans, heathens and all who do not accept their religious beliefs. Hindus are the worst -- but others are included. Muslims are at least people of THE BOOK so a bit more tolerable than, Hindu Jain, Boudha, Sikh and a host of other traditions, which deserve no respect. In fact the fundamentalists would like to see all of us blended into a creamed soup of one religion or simply eradicated. We are called Devil worshippers, Godless and people of darkness often on Evangelizing Television channels in this secular and powerful country. Did you know that? Of course, with the presence of not one, but two true religions, (neither recognizes the legitimacy of the other) there is a bit of a problem as you can tell!! They will not, cannot agree either in the name of God or in the name of Allah. Freedom in Religion? They do not believe in that at all!
"Shubham Karoti Kalyaanam, Aarogyam Dhan Sampadah
Shatru Bhudhi Vinaashaaya Deepa Jyotir Namostute"
I begin this very first column for the new, Hindu Renaissance quarterly in the tradition of our Samskriti (culture). All beginnings must be auspicious, so Shubham is just the word I needed. A prayer done for eons by Hindus as they light a lamp in their home or Mandir altars each morning. To me this is one of the wisest prayers -- as it asks for all that Humans usually hold important like, wealth and health, but it goes on to include the one thing which is the base of all our emotions and desires including the feeling of happiness – The Mind. This we are made to understand is the Aadhaar (foundation) of all feeling! So very beautifully, this Praarthanaa asks for a mind that can be a friend and not an enemy! A mind that turns into an enemy creates a world vision that is disruptive to our own Peace and often destructive to everything around us.
It is true that without a proper frame of mind nothing can be enjoyed. Even when everything seems to be in order we are left with a feeling of agitation. Then there are those moments when all seems to be well in spite of something obviously amiss. When we start to consciously, be aware of such moments we find the dawning of wisdom.