A New Wave of Hope

Video

Arvind Kejriwal has come to symbolize rebellion against the VIP culture, corruption, and politics-as-usual.

I liked the plainspoken and straightforward tone of his speech in Delhi assembly. There is much to admire in what the AAP has done. Regardless of how long this government lasts, they have proven that it is feasible for the common man to fight and win elections in a democracy. We should celebrate that, and wish them our best!

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ਲੋਹੜੀ ਤੋਂ ਪਹਲੇ ਦੀ ਰਾਤ

ਮੈਂ ਸੋਚੇਯਾ ਭੁਲ ਗਈਆਂ ਨੇ
ਪਰ ਗੱਲ ਬਾਤ ਯਾਦ ਆਉਂਦੀ ਏ ।
ਅੱਜ ਲੋਹੜੀ ਤੋਂ ਪਹਲੇ ਦੀ
ਇੱਕ ਰਾਤ ਯਾਦ ਆਉੰਦੀ ਏ ।।

ਰਜਾਈਆ ਵਿਚ ਵੜ ਕੇ
ਪਤੰਗਾਂ ਬਾਰੇ ਸੋਚਣਾ ।
ਓਹ ਰੰਗ-ਬਿਰੰਗੇ ਖਯਾਲਆਂ ਦੀ
ਇੱਕ ਉੜਾਨ ਯਾਦ ਆਉੰਦੀ ਏ ।।

ਕਿਵੇਂ ਲੋਹੜੀ ਨੂ ਉਡੀਕਣਾ
ਡੋਰ ਦੇ ਪਿੰਨੇ ਨੂ ਸਮੇਟਣਾ ।
ਇੱਕ ਮੂੰਗਫਲੀ ਦੇ ਛਿੱਲਡ ਦੀ
ਮਿਹਕ ਯਾਦ ਆਉੰਦੀ  ਏ ।।

ਲਾਲ ਰਜਾਈ ਦੇ ਨਿੱਗ ਵਿਚ੍ਚ
ਨੀਂਦ ਨਾ ਆਉਣੀ …
ਇੱਕ ਤੜਕੇ-ਤੜਕੇ ਦਿਨ ਦੀ
ਮਿੱਠੀ ਧੁੰਦ ਯਾਦ ਆਉੰਦੀ ਏ ।।

ਮੈਂ ਸੋਚੇਯਾ ਭੁਲ ਗਈਆਂ ਨੇ
ਪਰ ਗੱਲ ਬਾਤ ਯਾਦ ਆਉਂਦੀ ਏ ।
ਅੱਜ ਲੋਹੜੀ ਤੋਂ ਪਹਲੇ ਦੀ
ਇੱਕ ਰਾਤ ਯਾਦ ਆਉੰਦੀ ਏ ।।

Remembering Sahir

main pal do pal ka shaayar hoon
pal do pal meri kahaani hai
pal do pal meri hasti hai
pal do pal meri jawaani hai

—————————–

I’m a poet only for a second or two;
My story will be over soon.
My existence is only for a moment or two;
My youth will be over soon.

— translation, modified, from here

Many of the Hindi songs whose lyrics have stayed with me over the years have been penned by Sahir Ludhianvi. Whether it is Kabhi Kabhi, Tabdeer se bigdi hui, Main Zindagi ka Saath, Sahir has explored the depths of love and infinities of life like no other lyricist. He can juxtapose the impeccable beauty of nature with the emotions of a waiting lover in an almost effortless way.

duur vaadi mein duudhiya baadal,
jhuk ke parbat ko pyaar karte hain
dil mein naakaam hasraten lekar,
ham tera intezaar karte hain

————–

in a distant valley, while a milky cloud
leans over to kiss the mountain,
with unfulfilled wishes in my heart,
I wait for you…

There is a certain pain, a very palpable one, in Sahir’s words. Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai…  He was not one to care much about the conventions of the world, or be drawn to its materials. Do you have any Sahir verses that are a favorite of yours?

At some point, would love to dive deeper in to his life and poems, and write more. For now, if you wish to spend 20 minutes for Sahir, highly recommend hearing his story from none other than Javed Akhtar:

Auto-vaale Uncle

I still remember going to school on an auto-rickshaw, the rickety vehicle also known as a three-wheeler. With seating meant for 3-5 people, it would actually be filled with 12-15 kids, all barely awake up at 6 am in the morning.

During the rainy season, we would cheer as the auto-rickshaw made its way through deep trenches of water on the road, splashing muddy water on to one of us. Mondays were especially hard during the monsoons, since we wore the white ‘PT’ dress. Rain splashes were no badge of honour in the school assembly.

I have so many memories associated with my auto-rickshaw. The many dawns I’ve seen while sitting on the ‘side’. The smell of flowers early in the morning. The cool breeze as we approached the outskirts of the city. The friends, the fights, the innocence…

Yet, this blog post is not about these memories. It is about our auto-vaale-uncle ji (driver of the auto-rickshaw). I was about to go off to sleep today, when a thought about him passed through the memory lanes. The fat, friendly gentleman who would ring our bell at 6 am in the morning without fail. Who would pick up our bags, help us settle in to the rickshaw, resolve our fights, ensure that we sat safely. He was not very educated, but he helped educate tens of kids. At a salary of about 2 thousand rupees per month (~40 dollars), 10-15 years ago.

I have never thought of this man all these years, and yet this sudden memory fills me with emotions. Feelings of gratitude towards a man whose name I do not remember, but without whom I would have not made it safely to school, or resolved the countless fights with other kids, or enjoyed the morning breeze. Somewhere deep inside my heart, is a feeling of guilt. I am guilty of having lost contact with him through all these years, resigning these memories to the unimportant/trivial in life…

Here’s hoping that I get to meet him the next time I visit Amritsar.

Here’s hoping that we can all pause to remember the individuals in our lives who have helped shape who we are, and who must not be forgotten as we sail through the seas of life.

Lincoln Inspirations, and Current Politics

Any man can say things that are true of Abraham Lincoln, but no man can say anything that is new of Abraham Lincoln

Frederick Douglass

I’ve been recently listening to the Team of Rivals, and interviews of Doris Kearns Goodwin about Lincoln (besides snooping around on Biography.com for more about the man). Like millions of others, I find myself mesmerized by the almost-mythical stature Lincoln commands in history.

There is a lot that can be said about him, but a quality that intrigued me most, perhaps because of its absence in the political scene of today, is Lincoln’s uncanny knack to be able to oppose his political foes with respect, without questioning their intent. Even as he opposed slavery, Lincoln could empathize with folks on the other side. Instead of demonizing them, he said:

They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist amongst them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist amongst us, we should not instantly give it up.

By doing so, Lincoln is able to oppose the issue and let others ‘come to him’, instead of adding to flames of bitterness. It is not only a sign of good character, but also a smart political strategy.

I wonder how such attitude would transform the political debate today, especially in India. I wonder if Manish Tiwari could speak a sentence without demonizing everyone else on the other side of the table. It is not just about being polite, rather more importantly, it is about being smart and strategic.

In the midst of these thoughts, I am reminded of Gandhi, who called Jinnah his brother. I am reminded of Barack Obama, who called McCain a patriot and hero, while opposing him in an election. These qualities are not wholly absent, but rare, perhaps for a reason…

On the landscapes of history, only a thin horizon separates the skies of statesmanship from the seas of politics. Perhaps it is this essence of Lincoln and Gandhi, a sense of balance that calls you to rise to the highest levels of emotional strength while keeping your feet grounded in reality.

A Few Good Men (at the Wharton India Economic Forum)

I have often wondered what success is. Like many others, I have also thought about what matters most in life. This event brought the opportunity to interact with some very interesting and inspirational people.

We were at the desk for AID – Association for India’s Development. Speaking on one of the panels was Ravi Kuchimanchi, the founder of AID. For those who do not know, the tale of the film `Swadesh` is inspired by the story of Ravi Kuchimanchi and Aravinda Pillalamarri, the NRI couple. They returned to India and developed the pedal power generator to light remote, off-the-grid village schools. Ravi graduated from UMD with a PhD in Physics, produced significant research publications, and is now working at the grassroots with India’s poor in the villages. After speaking on the panel, he stood with us on the table, chatted about the daily struggles of rural India. How almost every woman spends hours collecting wood and straw, inhaling the smoke from burning it… all to cook a pot of rice! One of the things Ravi was excited about was a “haybox” they had made, which made it possible for food to be kept warm for 8 hours, without having to burn any wood or straw to produce heat. The ‘fireless cooking‘ saves time and energy for so many women, for whom hot-boxes were a luxury they couldn’t afford. Ravi also showed us a video of the reaction of women when they first saw the ‘haybox’ work. ‘Thrilled’ would be an understatement of that sentiment. I must mention that what struck me was that their daily struggles are efforts to obtain hundreds of those things which we take for granted, as our ‘basic rights’. One man has to walk miles to sell a few vegetables so he can buy some kerosene for his family, while another clicks a key on the computer to pay an electricity bill. The inequalities in the world couldn’t be clearer for observation…

I also enjoyed listening to Vikram Akula, Shanta Devarajan, and Vinod Dham.

They keynote speaker was former president Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. Hearing Kalam brought to life the words I had once read in his book ‘Wings of Fire’. Dr. Kalam has an almost child-like quality to him – the sometimes-embarrassing honesty, the ability to smile and and laugh upon himself. When the audience stood up and clapped to welcome him, he came to the stage and started clapping himself. He spoke about leadership, the importance of values, and making India a developed nation by 2020. After his speech, someone in the audience pointed out to Dr. Kalam “Your vision to try and make India a developed nation is laudable. But even if we had your optimistic version of 10% annual growth, one must be mindful of the 40% population that lives on less than a dollar-a-day. The average income might rise to 3 dollars, but even that…. ” Dr. Kalam smiled, and then paused to say “First of all, this dollar is very different in different places. What one dollar can buy here, is much less than what a dollar can buy in my country. And yes, it is always possible be skeptical and have doubts. But goals are not achieved that way. Goals are attained with strong efforts and faith.” The audience burst in to an applause.

Do I have an answer to my questions? Not yet. Do I have some lessons and insights? Yes.

A Special Story

Meerowal,
Zila Shekhpura,
Station: Mehta-Sujja,
Punjab, Pakistan.
22 August, 1947. 

It was amidst the scary sound of raindrops on the roof, that Dwarka heard the Sarpanch’s voice on the loudspeaker – “Safety has become an issue, and we have decided that all Hindus must leave this place by tomorrow. Their early departure will make this area more safe, and also ensure the safety of Hindu ladies and children”. As his beeji and papaji collected all jewelery, money and foodstuff at one place, the 13-year-old Dwarka packed his schoolbag with the hope that he would come back home and attend school whenever the situation improved.

That was never to happen. In the kafila that traveled from Meerowal to Ajnala, his mom and dad were hit by a barcha (a long wooden stick, with a pointed iron tip at the end) on their heads. Master Mangal Singh, the best teacher in school, was killed by a Muslim bandook. He had been Dwarka’s favorite teacher. Overcome with anger and frustration, Dwarka told his elder brother – who was 18 years old – that he could no longer keep walking.

As the kafila came to a halt near the Ravi river, Dwarka looked at the wild currents of water, occasionally hitting strong rocks and then dying out. His elder brother threw the gathri (the knot of cotton cloth which they had been carrying) in to the river. It had all the jewelery of their mother, and 10 rupees which their father had given them. “Better to throw it here than let it go in to the hands of Muslims.” Many other people threw their gathris, gold-coins, and sometimes, even food.

————————————————————

When he reached Amritsar, Dwarka barely had a pair of clothes left. Penniless and hungry, he found temporary respite at the langar in Khalsa College.

Life was to quickly take a new turn. He searched vacated Muslim homes for utencils and stole fruits from Skathri Bagh, which he would later sell in streets – an anna for each item. There were days when no one would buy, and those when he’d have to do mazdoori for 10 hours to earn two rupees. He pulled a rickshaw for Seth Bhagwan Dass, who would pay 8 rupees for a ride of 20 kms. He saved money to rent a rehdi, and eventually bought a fruit-shop of his own. He educated 6 children, all of whom are decently settled in life now. And today, at the age of 73, he goes daily to the local mandi to earn a living, simply because he loves doing it. He’s someone whom I greatly admire. He is a hero. He is my grandfather.

Meet Dwarka Nath Madaan, the most cheerful man I have ever known in my life. Even with just 10 rupees in his pocket, he is the kind of person who feels like the king of the world. His grandchildren call him paaji (Punjabi for ‘elder brother’), and he is younger at heart than most people you will ever meet.

His is the story of hundreds of thousands of people who had to leave their homes, and start all over again in a new place. And yet, I have never heard him complain about any misgivings that life may have dealt him with. In his evergreen smile and youthful energy, he reminds me of words from Rudyard Kipling’s If:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;

His is the story that shows how happiness can come shooting out even from black holes of despair. His is the story that is ordinary, like transparent air, and yet so extra-ordinarily powerful like a tornado. His is the story that I cannot capture in a 3-hour-long phone-call to India, nor in one blog post here …