Europe needs and deserves a firm leadership against terrorist attacks which try to disrupt peaceful co-existence of the 28 countries in the European Union (EU).
Like any other association of nations, the very purpose Europe came together is for trade, employment and joint defense (against U.S.S.R. in the Sixties and Seventies). Similarities in cultural backgrounds help in all such associations, though a common religion plays a much less role. Europe has always been willing to take in immigrants from non-European countries, though various countries in the EU have their own restrictions. Some of them are very liberal, some of them are quite restrictive. Germany is an example of a generous nation, well-to-do people, who have accepted immigrants as long as these folks can adapt to the local culture and learn to speak the German language. The history of Europe is laden with wars and refugees, and crimes against humanity, so it is not surprising that the Europeans are more open than others to war refugees.
However, we will soon find out if Europeans remain tolerant to the vagaries of the refugee influx, especially from Syria and certain other Middle Eastern countries. France is a case in point. Paris has been diligently attacked by terrorists who do not like the French way of living. While it is easy to cast aspersions on a particular religion for these incidents (including the one last week), the French people will do well to recall that their freedom did not come easily – they had to fight for it every inch of the way in the Second World War with the help of the Allied Forces. They had to fight against Nazi occupation – they were refugees in their own country. It is critical to take stern actions today to defend French freedom, no doubt about it. However, it is rather easy to swing to the far right and attack the whole philosophy of Europe and the EU. What positive stuff can come out of it? Why would France try to isolate itself from the rest of Europe?
Colonial powers such as France and the U.K. cannot escape their histoy. If there are millions of Muslims in France, that is the result of French invasion and occupation of North African countries several decades ago, may be a century ago. Clear-headed, rational thinking is called for when a government is dealing with all kinds of its citizens – they do not always come with the same colour, race, ethnicity or religion.
Nevertheless, Europe faces tough times ahead. Elections are a way for the far right to assert their extremist philosophies and gain governance after a long wait. That did not work in Austria and Denmark, and is unlikely to work in France. Germany, in my opinion, will remain centrist for quite some time, unless jobs disappear and crimes increase as a result of uncontrolled immigration.
The solution is to give law enforcement more powers as they are called to face and deal with militant elements of societies. Governments have to make it absolutely clear that cultures and philosophies would not be trampled upon in the name of giving big space to immigrants. Everyone has to live together peacefully, and the message has to go out loud and clear that if immigrants are not happy to adapt and accommodate, they should be free to return to where they came from. This message is critical and needs to be delivered by all types of political parties or governments. immigrants remain as guests of the welcoming host nations till they earn the right to become permanent residents or citizens and start a new way of life. Why should they want to replicate the lives that they lived in their respective repressive countries?
Europe remains a beacon of an elitist kind of democracy that other democratic nations can only aspire to become. It should not be split radically into segments which then cannot work together in the European Union. That would be disastrous for the future of this world.
23rd April 2017
Spiritual Gurus have long been a bane of many religions around the world.
Their (largely) negative impact has been felt severely in India for a very long time.
Some gurus have positive impact overall. One of them is Jaggi Vasudev, the other is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who runs the famous Art of Living (AOL) Foundation. There are thousands of others, but my simple view has always been that there is no need for an intermediary between God and I, or God and anyone else for that matter. Unfortunately, Hinduism, one of the most enduring religions of the world with over 800M followers, encourages the adoption of gurus to facilitate a communication with God. I do not agree with such a philosophy, though there are other major religions which follow similar philosophies, putting man over man. Humans look for a guide to help them navigate the world, and it is not at all a surprise that a Pope arises to guide Catholics, for example. The plethora of gurus in India does not follow any systematic approach, they crop up anywhere and everywhere where the gullible would fall at their feet and worship them. There are thousands of “magical” episodes when these human gurus have generated simply impossible manoeuvres which continue to fascinate their followers.
However, none of these “humans” are above the law of the land.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, his Art of Living Foundation, and his spokesman accuse the government and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for giving permission to conduct the World Culture Festival in March 2016, which has completely destroyed the river bed of the Yamuna River which most Hindus consider as a holy river. Sri Sri is a charismatic guru, who is close to powerful politicians and the wealthy folks of India, and so it would be interesting if the expert committee’s findings would indeed find their way to justice in the current dispute between the government/NGT and Sri Sri/AOL. I don’t think it was appropriate for Sri Sri to accuse the NGT and the government for having granted permission to him for conducting the Festival.
Where is accountability and humility on the part of the famed Sri Sri?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and his AOL are not exempt from the law of the land, and have to abide by the rules and regulations. Being close to God does not exempt him from the rule of law. It would be interesting to see how his ardent followers react to the findings of the expert committee.
It is clear that spiritual gurus cannot run a government, a court or the environment. They should focus on God, not make Hinduism a circus philosophy. It is always good to hear some of the lectures of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, but the wisdom of his speeches does not make him God. He is after all, an ordinary man, like all of us. If he commits a mistake, he has to pay for it. There cannot be an excuse. If a fine is levied (as it has been), then his organization has to pay it. Damage done to the Yamuna riverbed will take 10 years to fix, as per the expert committee. Who caused the damage? Not the government, nor the NGT. They merely granted permission, may be misguided, may be under some sort of pressure. But Art of Living Foundation and Sri Sri are entirely responsible for what happened. Who can contest this assertion?
Again unfortunately, most of us are emotional, and wish to kick folks who do not conform to whatever is the general trend of belief or philosophy, in this case of Sri Sri. If there is a variation to that thinking, then the people who think differently would be termed as traitors to the cause. Nothing can be farther from the truth.
Time to think on environment, time to think about Yamuna River, which has recently been designated as a “legal person” by the courts of India.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar should apologize, desist from repeating such extravaganza, and indeed pay the INR 5 Crores fine. We should all respect the law.
22nd April 2017
There has been some observations from concerned friends and blog-readers that my posts tend to be negative, atleast in a mild fashion, and often criticize whole countries or cultures, rather than suggesting ways to change oneself.
While I believe that as an author of my blog I am entitled to my views (unspoilt by any external or personal influences), and am really open for critical reviews by readers, I think it is also my responsibility to deliberately identify and point out positive things I see around me. I have done that before in my blog itself, but my attempts in the past may not have been that visible or impactful. In my opinion, authors tend to be analytical and shaped by their own experiences, or by things that they witness in their lives. Authors rarely get shaped by one-sided views of their friends or colleagues and instead tend to exercise academic neutrality on issues of critical importance, not getting easily swayed.
In this post, I thought I will write some positive things about India, my country of birth. I have plenty to gripe about India, and have expressed my opinion in multiple blog posts over the years. Unfortunately, I have not been in a position to change anything in India itself, which I regret. The only positive thing that I have done is to stay connected with an orphanage over the years.
One very positive thing about India that the whole world has noticed is the composition of its demographics. India has the world’s youngest population for a very large country of its size – over 35% of its population is under 35 years old, and over 50% of its population is under 25 years old. This is hugely significant – we are talking about over 400M people and 600M people respectively. India can indeed be the factory for the world. No wonder Lockheed Martin kind of companies wish to move their entire F-16 production line to India (just one example, there are other valid reasons for that proposed move). For the next 3 decades or so, India will become the mainstay supplier of young people to the rest of the world. This is a hugely positive thing for India and for the world.
The other great thing about India that I like very much is its resilience as a nation which is a primary result of its people diversity. India snaps back to normalcy after every calamity, or natural disaster, or terror strike, with determination to continue leading normal lives and bitterly swallowing the feelings about its fallen heroes. Such a strong determination makes India a place in which it has never been a problem to attract young men to the army or police. The resilience of its people makes India a great nation which will bare its teeth and fight any challenge with or without modern equipment. One has to just take stock of the series of natural calamities which have hit India time and again, and witness the army’s role in saving civilians, and peoples’ role in saving others irrespective of religion, caste or creed.
A fantastic thing about India is the respect people have for their parents and teachers. The Indian culture insists that we continue to do this throughout our lives. And, we do it all the time. Even if one gets angry with one’s parents, the interaction is going to be usually based on a respectful conversation; no sign of disrespect to one’s parents is displayed as parents and teachers (the good ones at least!) are almost treated as gods. Parents earn for their kids throughout their lives and devote all their efforts to the upbringing of their children, and the children know that as well. It is very rare even today that an adolescent child leaves home on his/her own looking for a separate house to settle down, unless there is a business imperative or unless there is a need to operate out of another town.
There are many positive things about India, and it is not feasible to list all of these things here in my simple blog post. Sometimes, I think that India’s positives might eventually overtake the negatives, but I do not wish to give the slack to India on the negatives which it has to seriously address before it can become a first-world nation. India cannot be beholden to all its not so positive legacies, and must instead focus on building a modern nation based on a gender-neutral, religion-neutral, caste-neutral, race-neutral, colour-neutral society. Government intervention is needed to correct the wrongs and make India a successful first-world country which stands proudly amongst the top 10 countries of the world. However, as it stands today, there are several positive stories that can be recounted about India, and it has been my view that such positive aspects have not been widely discussed or shared.
Wishing a Happy Diwali to all my readers, whether you are from India or not, and whether you are Indian or not!!!
30th October 2016
I have been thinking a lot about this topic for a while.
There has been lots of backlash in Western countries against certain ancient religions and cultures. There have been repeated incidents (too many to count), especially of late, in which some belief or faith has been insulted. One of the latest cases is when United Airlines (its alliance partner airline or subsidiary) refused to serve diet coke in a can to a person who wore her religion on her sleeve, so to say. That was absolutely unacceptable, and United Airlines apologized for its crew member’s behaviour, but I am not sure whether enough training is being done to educate service folks who are in the business of serving the public.
We do not see such behaviour in South East Asia, to be specific. There are virtually all cultures and religions present in this region, plus all the Western cultures. However, there is no insult to any specific culture or religion, or any outward display of a religious faith. People carry on with their work, and do not take time to talk about such folks or their faith or their customs or their cultures. May be they do so in private, which is fine. No insult is done, and in some countries it is not possible to cause insult, because the government concerned is very clear about acceptable behaviour – what is not acceptable will lead to punishment. And, that stuff is captured in a law of the parliament which is then applied to the population without any hesitation.
I am not sure why such happy behaviour cannot happen in places like the U.S. or European countries. Tolerance is the very basic fabric of human life, necessitated all the more because of our innate differences – we believe in different things, different faiths, different cultures/customs, we wear different kinds of clothes, and what not. Everything may be different between me and you, but we still have to respect each other, avoid any kind of insult to each other, live together, and be productive in our respective pursuits in life. Is that not very clear to all ? Why is it not clear to so many people in the advanced countries – this just baffles me.
Immigration is a part of life in every country, and people are going to move around the world. That would necessarily impose a burden on the natives of a particular place, state, or country. There is a necessity to understand and merge with others. There should be welcome to foreign folks who have chosen your place as their dream place to start a new life. Why insult them ? After all, they are going to contribute to the economy of your place or country.
It is very critical to spend sometime trying to understand ancient cultures, ways of doing things, and religious practices. I have personally invested time on these things, and it made me a better man. People do appreciate if you take interest in their areas of belief; you may not subscribe to their vision or belief, but you are making an attempt to understand. That, in itself, is a positive gesture to people around you. That does not give you license to say bad things about the people around you, however.
So folks, it is time to shed our preconceived notions about what we think are “bad” or “wrong” cultures. They are all the same at the end of the day. We need to learn, understand, appreciate and give a helping hand to people around us, irrespective of their culture, belief or religion.
14th June 2015
Chennai’s traffic is worsening.
Along with that, the culture of patience is also going down.
People are getting very annoyed on the situation in the roads, cluttered by the metro railway construction all over the city. In fact, I think Chennai must be witnessing the highest level of metro railway construction of all cities in India. The metro network seems to be criss-crossing the city, and one can see the construction activities in almost all parts of the main city.
This has caused serious inconvenience to the ordinary people of the city. I guess that the first metro trains will probably start running towards end of 2013, and then a series of milestones will follow over the next couple of years. So, the action on the roads will be relentless, and disturbing to most folks.
But that is the cost of development coming so late in the genesis of a large metro city, so much later than Calcutta which had its metro network done in 1983, almost 30 years back.
But when it is done, the metro network of Chennai will be the pride of Chennai, that’s for sure, like it is for the Delhi folks.
However, as of now, the current traffic situation in Chennai is alarming. It takes a long time to cross any major traffic signal junction and it appeared to me that people on the roads are losing their patience. May not be the case all the time, but evidence is certainly pointing in that direction.
When drivers lose patience, they tend to be aggressive and make mistakes. So, one has to be careful while driving in Chennai these days. I do not know how the situation will evolve over the next one year, but I have seen the situation every 3 months or so, and could feel the distinct deterioration. For people who experience it every day, it may not matter as much.
The other important topic I wanted to address in this post is that Chennai folks do not appear to respect the queueing theory much, as I have repeatedly seen in the airport. There is a sense of entitlement in the minds of the privileged folks of Chennai when they expect favourable treatment from places wherein they have to follow certain rules.
I was witness and a party to such an episode which happened in Chennai Airport yesterday, when some “heavy-looking” people tried to get ahead of me in the check-in counter, just ignoring my presence ahead of them in the queue. I bluntly repudiated their advances and put them in their place, which they detested. I had to state very clearly that I had to first complete my transaction, as I was the first in the check-in queue counter. This does not happen in Mumbai as I had observed queue behaviour many times over the years.
Well, that is the situation in Chennai. Otherwise, I think it is a nice place with bad weather. It was drizzling over the past couple of days and not that hot.
1st September 2012
Courtesy: My school classmate, Ashraf
We all love Sardar jokes. But do you know that Sikhs are one of the hardest working, prosperous and diversified communities in the world! My friend told me about the following incident which I wish to share with you. It has had a deep impact on my thinking.
During the last vacation, a few friends came to Delhi . They rented a taxi for local sight-seeing. The driver was an old Sardar and boys being boys, these pals began cracking Sardarji jokes, just to tease the old man. But to their surprise, the fellow remained unperturbed..
At the end of the sight-seeing, they paid the cab hire charges. The Sardar returned the change, but he gave each one of them one rupee extra and said,”Sons, since morning you have been telling Sardarji jokes. I listened to them all and let me tell you, some of them were in bad taste. Still, I don’t mind coz I know that you are young blood and are yet to see the world. But I have one request. I am giving you one rupee each. Give it to the first Sardar beggar that you come across in this or any other city !!!”
My friend continued, “That one rupee coin is still with me. I couldn’t find a single Sardar begging anywhere.”
The secret behind their universal success is their willingness to do any job with utmost dedication and pride. A Sardar will drive a truck or set up a roadside garage or a dhaba, run a fruit juice stall, take up small time carpentry, … but he will never beg on the streets
Because Sikhs contribute:
* 33% of total income tax
* 67% of total charities
* 45% of Indian Army
* 59,000++ Gurudwaras serve LANGAR to 5,900,000+ people everyday!
& All this when THEY make only 1.4% of the total INDIAN POPULATION.
Courtesy: My school classmate, Ashraf
12th August 2012
Courtesy: My school classmate, Ashraf
No Indian community internalized the civilizing mission of the British as did the Parsis. Only 50,000 remain in Bombay today, mainly in South Bombay, the most disciplined and cultured part of India .
In South Bombay, the cutting of lanes by drivers is punished, jumping a red light is impossible, parking is possible only in allotted areas,roads are clean, service is efficient, the restaurants are unmatched – civilization seems within reach. South Bombay has some of the finest buildings in India, many of them built by Parsis.
The Parsis came to Bombay after Surat’s port silted over in the 17th century. Gerald Aungier settled Bombay and gave Parsis land for their Tower of Silence on Malabar Hill in 1672. The Parsis made millions through the early and mid-1800s and they spent much of it on public good.
The Parsis understood that philanthropy – love of mankind – recognizes that we cannot progress alone. That there is such a thing as the common good. They spent as no Indian community had ever before, on building institutions, making them stand out in a culture whose talent lies in renaming things other people built.
The Parsis built libraries all over India , they built the National Gallery of Art. The Indian Institute of Science was built in 1911 by Jamshedji Nusserwanji Tata, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research was built by Dr Homi Bhabha, the Tata Institute of Social Science was built in 1936 by the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust. Wadias built hospitals, women’s colleges and the five great low-income Parsi colonies of Bombay. JJ Hospital and Grant Medical College were founded by Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy.
By 1924, two out of five Indians – whether Hindu, Muslim or Parsi – joining the Indian Civil Services were on TATA scholarships.
They gave Bombay the Jehangir Art Gallery, Sir JJ School of Art , the Taraporevala Aquarium. The National Center for Performing Arts, the only place in India where world-class classical concerts are held is a gift of the Tatas. There are 161 Friends of the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI) – 92 of them are Parsis. For an annual fee of Rs 10,000, Friends of the SOI get two tickets to any one recital in the season, they get to shake hands with artistes after the concert and they get to attend music appreciation talks through the year.
The Parsi dominates high culture in Bombay. This means that a concert experience in the city is unlike that in any other part of India. Classical concerts seat as many as two thousand. Zubin Mehta, the most famous Parsi in the world, is Director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra since 1969. He conducts the tenor Placido Domingo, the pianist Daniel Barenboim and the soprano Barbara Frittoli. Four concerts are held at the Jamshed Bhabha Opera House and then one at Brabourne Stadium with a capacity of 25,000.
No other city in India has this appetite for classical music and in Bombay this comes from the Parsis. Despite their tiny population, the Parsi presence in a concert hall is above 50 per cent. And they all come. Gorgeous Parsi girls in formal clothes – saris, gowns – children, men and the old. Many have to be helped to their seats. Most of them know the music.
The people who clap between movements, thinking that the ‘song’ is over, are non-Parsis. Symphony Orchestra of India concerts begin at 7 pm. Once the musicians start, latecomers must wait outside till the movement ends. The end of each movement also signals a fusillade of coughs and groans, held back by doddering Parsis too polite to make a sound while Mendelssohn is being played. No mobile phone ever goes off as is common in cinema halls: his neighbors are aware of the Parsi’s insistence of form and his temper. The Parsis were also pioneers of Bombay’s Gujarati theatre, which remains the most popular form of live entertainment in Bombay. Any week of the year will see at least a half dozen bedroom comedies, murder mysteries, love stories and plays on assorted themes on stage.
The Parsis were the pioneers of this, writing and acting in the first plays of Bombay. They also built the institutions that supported this. Bombay’s first theatre was opened by Parsis in 1846, the Grant Road Theatre, donations from Jamshetjee Jejeebhoy and Framjee Cowasjee making it possible.
Want to add about the generosity of Ratan Tata who did so much for the staff of Taj Hotel during the 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai. Not only that but he also set up camps for all the other victims and their families who suffered during the attack at Bori Bunder.
The Parsi in Bollywood caricature is a comic figure, but always honest, and innocent as Indians believe Parsis generally to be, rightly or wrongly. In the days before modern cars came to India the words ‘Parsi-owned’ were guaranteed to ensure that a second-hand car listed for sale would get picked up ahead of any others. This is because people are aware of how carefully the Parsi keeps his things. His understanding and enthusiasm of the mechanical separates him from the rest. Most of the automobile magazines in India are owned and edited by Parsis.
The Parsis are a dying community and this means that more Parsis die each year than are born (Symphony concert-goers can also discern the disappearing Parsi from the rising numbers of those who clap between movements).
As the Parsis leave, South Bombay will become like the rest of Bombay – brutish, undisciplined and filthy.
Preserve this race…You are privileged if you have a Parsi Bawa as your friend…He/She is indeed a “Heritage” to be treasured forever.
Courtesy: My school classmate, Ashraf
12th August 2012