Sathya Sai Baba’s Life Changing Teaching

Sathya Sai Baba’s Life Changing Teaching

Sai Baba used to come to Whitefield for two and a half months every summer. He stayed at his ashram in Kadgudi just three kilometers from our house. Every morning and evening he gave darshan. Thousands of people came from the city and nearby villages and towns. The hall used to be so full that a large number had to be seated outside on the street level.

Although I felt his presence in my heart I did not physically go to the ashram with any regularity. I knew that roads choked with traffic without me and thought why add to the city’s troubles. However, I always took our out-of-town guests to the ashram for Swami’s darshan.

We sat inside the hall only a few times in the beginning. After that, even if we arrived early, we preferred to sit outside. From outside and a lower level, we got a better darshan and heard the message more clearly.

Swamy has a special method of communicating with his devotees. He looks toward us with a faint smile. His overwhelming compassion reflects in the smile. Every darshan, without fail, he makes a special gesture. His right hand rises with the palm pointing to the sky. His head moves slightly upward emphasizing the beyond that his hand points to. Palm of his left hand also turns upward without the arm rising. It is a beautiful and very expressive gesture, for it speaks to me loud and clear.

I hear him saying, “Do not look at this body of mine. It is the same as yours. There is nothing special here. Look up toward the source of all wisdom, the supreme wisdom that surrounds us. For that is where I too focus my quest. Go always to the source in whatever you seek. Do not take shelter of your guide or guru. Learn all you need to from the guru, but then turn your gaze to the beyond. The source of wisdom is the same for all of us, guru and disciple.”

This message of swami enchants me. I bow and thank him for this guidance.

December 15, 2007

Fasting for Toning and Healing the Body

Fasting for Toning and Healing the Body

[Dear Ramu bhai: Thanks for your letter. You say you are thinking of doing a 3day fast at Navadarshanam or Valley. Here are some of my suggestions.]

It is a good idea, so you should do a 3-day fast as soon as you can spare the time. Most people are scared at the thought of 3 days without food. But there is nothing to it. You can do it. You will have to rest in bed; of course you can get up and walk within the house occasionally. But you should not do any strenuous work. Do not read, especially the newspaper! You should not eat anything solid and drink only plain water. If you are comfortable with the idea, do not bathe. Take a sponge bath if you must.

If you are sure that you are going to do nothing at all and rest, your body will adapt. But because this will be your first fast, your body may not believe you. But keep lying in bed, you will begin to feel groggy and go intermittently to sleep. Second day is usually the hardest. You may get a fever, a headache, negative thoughts and the temptation to break the ‘silly’ fast and start eating. The third day will be okay; your hunger will weaken, your mood will turn positive and, you will look forward to the wonderful taste of the food you will get to eat.

I normally break my fast with a piece of steamed or boiled ‘turai’ i.e. ridge gourd. But you can take any other creeper vegetable you like. Avoid potatoes, carrots, and peppers. A tomato steamed together with a vegetable is okay. Do not sprinkle any salt or pepper. Even without them the food will taste like nectar. Sometimes I pick a vegetable that I normally do not care for and discover its true taste. In this manner I have changed my impression of many foods and made them my favorites.

If you feel like it, you may drink coconut water after eating the vegetable. But remember that you should not eat too much; a small ‘turai’ and water of one coconut is enough. You should still be hungry after breaking your fast. You may take a short walk in or outside the house. You will get good sleep the following night.

Next day have a light breakfast mostly of fruit and vegetables. You may eat a chapatti or a toast it you like, but avoid eating too much cereal. Lunch can be normal but on the lighter side and supper as usual.

After the fast you will feel slightly weak for a day or two but that is because you expect it. In fact your body is as strong as it was before the fast. After some practice you will feel quite normal the very first day after the long fast.

It is best to modify your food habits after the fast. Eat more fruits and vegetables and cut down on grains. Start trying to give up meat and eggs. We can talk about more things to do for good health later. Best of luck to you.

November 24, 2007

Strongest Hemp (Bhang) I Ever Drank

Strongest Hemp (Bhang) I Ever Drank

In the summer of 1974, when we lived in Delhi, we went to visit Sudesh’s family in Amritsar. One day her aunt (father’s sister) invited us to lunch at her home. They lived in the old city where lanes were narrow and the lifestyle pleasantly laidback. The meal was going to be rather elaborate and in the old style. It would be cooked slowly with the participation of the guests and eaten slowly without looking into the clock. Then there would be a short siesta. In the early afternoon we were to have snacks and a drink, i.e. some sort of homemade sherbet, buttermilk, or almonds milk shake. We were to return home by the evening. Sudesh’s two brothers, a sister-in-law and a cousin also came along. Some of us went about mid-morning; others came a bit later.

Bhushan, one of the sons of Sudesh’a aunt was attached to a group of sadhus (recluses) and influenced by them to acquire unusual habits and tastes, one of them being eating or drinking bhang. It is a variety of intoxicating hemps that grows wild on the banks of canals all over Punjab and is available free of cost to everyone who might care to want it. I too had occasions to eat bhang in the company of college friends. None of my friends were connoisseurs, so they did not know how to pick potent leaves. I remember getting a mild knock that lasted for half an hour or less.

A ‘brilliant’ thought occurred to my elder brother-in-law Satpal. He said to his cousin Bhushan, “Brother, why don’t we do something special in honor of Partapji’s visit. Let us prepare a rich, tasty and powerful drink of bhang for him.” Bhushan was delighted for such a thing was easy for him to arrange. He went off and returned with the bhang, almonds, poppy seeds, and other ingredients. His plan was to serve the special drink with the afternoon snack.

All of us participated in preparing the meal. Each one picked a task he or she liked. All of us sat on the floor; some inside the kitchen and some in the adjoining room. We worked, visited and chatted. Some told very good jokes. The meal was ready by noontime. People washed up and assembled for lunch. We all sat in a circle on the floor with the main food pots in the middle. It was one of the tastiest meals I had eaten anywhere in the world.

After eating lunch we talked and laughed for a while and then had a short siesta. By about 3:00 Bhushan finished making the drink with special bhang he had brought from his experienced sadhu friends. Everyone reassembled for the snacks and the special drink. I was a little apprehensive for I knew that on rare occasions bhang could be a potent inebriant. So I asked Bhushan how strong he thought his drink would be. He said not to worry; even if it were extra strong, one glass full would be equal to a 750ml bottle of beer. I knew I could drink a couple of liters of beer and hold it with dignity

Bhang was served starting with me. I liked the rich drink and slowly finished my glass. When the others had also finished drinking, Bhushan carried the jug around for second helpings. Some refused to take more but some took half or a quarter glass. I hesitated, but Bhushan persuaded me to take half a glass saying that it would not make much difference. I obliged him.

After about a half hour of chatting we get up to leave. People were talking cheerfully as they descended a narrow staircase. I quietly leaned against the thin concrete railing. Suddenly, I felt the railing quiver. The thought of earthquake flashed through my mind, but then I remembered the bhang. I instantly knew that I had drunk potent stuff.

“Let us hurry if I am going to drive,” I announced. We all hurried and got into the car. Driving about three quarters of the way I had no problem. But then the wheels began to ‘wobble’. Luckily there was not much traffic and I knew the way like the palms of my hands. I slowed down and by mustering all my grit and strength made it to the house and into the garage. I heaved a long sigh, went inside and fell on the bed like a sack of sand. My senses were gone. The only sensation I could feel was that my mouth was dry and I needed a drink of water, but I could neither talk nor gesture. Sudesh’s cousin Rani came to watch over me and from the expression on my face understood my need and brought some lemon drink. Drinking it helped, but I had already entered the state of hallucination. First I began to see brilliant colors all around me that gave me a thrill I had never before experienced. I felt like a very joyous corpse. Next I began to feel as if I was levitating. Up and up I was going, but luckily without any fear. I even began to get brilliant clear thoughts that unfortunately did not stay with me long.

I did have a bit of consciousness deep inside my mind. For instance I could hear that the whole family was terribly excited. One of their major worries was Satpal and his younger brother Mahesh both of who had gone on to the road on their scooters after drinking bhang. I heard Sudesh telling her father to put both of them to bed if they come to him. Luckily they came home safely. From all I could hear I got the sense that most of the family was drunk but none as much as I.

Next thing I remember is that I was lying down on bed, it was about 10:00pm, all eyes were on me and they were filled with worry. I sensed that our neighborhood doctor came to examine me. He sat down on my bed, felt my pulse, checked my temperature and asked me how I felt. I had slightly recovered by then and was able to talk. I said. “Doctor, it is wonderful. I am fine. I feel great.” He asked me to tell in more detail how I felt and I told him I was seeing brilliant colors and levitating. I also told him not to worry for I was not sick. He enjoyed my account of my condition and laughed. After about half an hour he told my worried father-in-law that there was nothing wrong with me. He said that I would be okay by next morning. No medicine was prescribed and I was left in peace.

Next morning I was conscious enough to hear and see but was still in the grip of a strong stupor. By late afternoon, i.e. about 24 hours after taking that wonderful drink, I was fully normal. I never again took bhang but neither did I ever regret that wondrous experience.

November 17, 2007

Kindness of a Snake Mother

Kindness of a Snake Mother

{Many times on reading Indian stories I have felt that animal are portrayed with a strong negative bias. A thought came to my mind to rewrite some of them with a positive slant. The following story is so favorable to snakes that it required little change from my side.}

Long ago there lived a wealthy merchant in a town in Gujarat. He had seven sons and daughters-in-law. The youngest daughter-in-law, Uma, was an orphan. She did not know of any relatives either. In that culture at that time this was the greatest disability that a young married woman could have. She was treated badly by everyone especially by her mother-in-law Kokilaben. Everyone called ‘one who has no relatives,’ and often taunted her mercilessly. Her only friend and supporter was her loving husband. A few months after marriage she became pregnant and began to have craving for special food.

One day the shradha festival came when souls of ancestors are fed. The family cooked milk pudding (khir). Uma loved it and in her condition craved to have it. But she was not given any and was told to scrape the vessel when everyone else had eaten. She obediently scraped the pot and tied the crumbs in a piece of cloth and went to the well to take a bath first. When she returned to put on her clothes her bundle of crumbs was empty. She sat down feeling very sad and said, “Well, my pudding is gone. But perhaps it was eaten by someone who needed it more than I. I should be thankful, for sharing food is a pious act.”

She was terribly frightened when a big snake appeared from nowhere and said, “Young lady my name is Nagrani. I ate your pudding. Had you cursed me I would have bitten and killed you. But because you blessed me I will do everything I can to help you. Tell me why you look so sad?” Uma told the snake about her having no relatives and her miseries as a consequence. Nagrani said she would be her mother in future and take care of all her needs.

On returning home Uma told her mother-in-law that she had found an old relative. Few days before the celebration of her pregnancy she asked Kokilaben to give her an invitation letter for her newly found relative and duly delivered it to Nagrani. Nobody believed that Uma’s relatives would actually come but to their amazement a whole contingent of well dressed men and women (snakes appearing in human bodies) arrived carrying expensive gifts for every member of the family. Everyone was pleased. The guests were received with due respect and offered a sumptuous feast for lunch. Uma was sent with her relatives for the delivery.

One day, while Uma was living in the den of her snake relatives, her foster mother Nagrani said to her, “Daughter, as you know, I too am pregnant. My time to hatch my eggs has come. I warn you, you may find it hard to watch what you see. But that is the way of our species.” Then she began to break little eggs and eat the babies as they came. Only two or three escaped and slithered away. “We snakes are prolific. If we let all our babies live, this earth will be covered with us,” she said.

Few months later Uma returned with her baby son. Several of her new relatives accompanied her to her husband’s home and delivered fabulous gifts for every member of Kokilaben’s family. After that Uma was treated with respect and kindness for the rest of her life. Naturally, she was ever thankful to her snake mother Nagrani and family.

October 13, 2007

Brief and Plain Speech

Brief and Plain Speech

Wise men and women of all cultures spoke the truth in few plain words.

Muhammad talked of loving all humans and animals. Also of being just to all. One must pay the laborer before the sweat is dry on his back, he said. Be humble. Pray five times every day. Give alms to the poor. Care for the old, needy, especially women and children.

Jesus advised that we love all as our Father loves us. When put on the cross he said: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Love thy neighbor as thyself, he said. Turn the other cheek. Do not judge others. Ask only for your daily bread.

Gandhi worked for Sarvodaya (uplift of all). He advised Satyagraha (insistence on truth and justice). He said all religions have the same core message. Be humble and nonviolent.

Krishna forbade sending milk and butter for sale in the city for the village children have the first claim on it. If you must worship a mountain, choose your own Govardhan for you see that it provides feed for your animals, fruits for you and much else. Himalaya is higher, but who has even seen it?

Kabir said reading books will not make you learned; learning to LOVE will. Worship of stone idols is waste of time if you cannot love fellow humans and see God in the weakest of us all.

But we proud, erudite men and women ignore their simple words and try to read books written on them by their scholarly followers. Books are difficult to understand for they speak with many tongues. We lose pure, hard grain and gather bundles of chaff. We then quarrel over whose bundle is bigger.

Listen to this word of our unschooled saint Bulleh Shah: wisdom is neither with the learned nor in the books, only Allah is its source.

September 29, 2007

My Health Care Teachers

My Health Care Teachers

My parents, of course, were my first health care teachers. I started learning to do yogic asanas from my father when I was about six years old. A couple of years later he encouraged me to go to an akhara (a gym for wrestling and other exercises) that I visited regularly for about 8 years. He taught me the benefits of walking and use of body in doing little daily chores, such as washing, cutting vegetables, cleaning; also cycling and swimming.

My mother taught me to prefer whole foods and always to avoid refined ones. She encouraged me to eat fresh fruits and raw vegetables. I have always remembered her insistence on eating freshly ground whole-wheat flour. In Karachi, where we lived, it was not possible for her to have a small hand operated mill to grind every morning. But she never got more than 5 days’ supply of flour ground from the mill in our lane. At that time we children laughed at her for being old fashioned. But the truth she told was reconfirmed over and over. Some years ago my mother’s advice was reconfirmed to me for the hundredth time in a famous book named Laurel’s Kitchen. The authors quote research studied that clearly indicate that delicate nutrients contained in the germ of the seed are mostly lost in flour more than ten days old.

I had many more teachers, but because there is not enough space to talk about all of them I will briefly describe some useful teachings from just three of them; Gurdayal Mallik, Vinoba Bhave and Swami Sahajananda.

Gurdayal Mallik. He was a short old man with a radiant shining happy smiling face. His flowing white hair and a full beard made apparent the joy of life that filled his every pore. He believed in the enormous healing power of our natural immune systems, and therefore rejected antibiotics. He was so strict that several times he had to cancel his foreign trips because he refused to take the required (in those days) inoculations. Finally, the Quaker body American Friends Service Committee had to arrange a special dispensation from the President to allow his visit to the USA without a ‘health certificate’. He spent a healthy and very happy life, but died of a painful throat cancer. When the excruciating pains came, he suffered them hiding alone in a corner. When the pain was gone he rushed to play with the children of the neighborhood. He never asked why he was given pain but asked for more if that would hasten his step to a union with his Beloved God. He died happily as he had lived his life.

Vinoba Bhave. Vinoba never took any medicines. He cured himself by fasting, resting, controlling diet, chewing herbs, meditation and chanting mantras. Body’s immune system was his trusted physician. During the Bhoodan (land-gift movement) days when he was walking 50 miles a week he would sometimes fall sick in the evening. But invariably he would be up 4:00am and be ready to resume his yatra (march) the usual hour.

Vinoba had hernia. He tied his waist with a piece of khadi cloth to keep the intestines in their place. He walked 25 to 30 thousand miles in this fashion. A friend who walked with Vinoba for 2 years reported that when properly tied down, hernia did not bother him much.

Swami Sahajananda. He taught me fasting as a method of healing the body. My first fast under his supervision had to be stretched from 3 to 8 days. It was to heal some persistent stomach ailment. Even though the stomach was set right in 3 days Swamiji urged me to continue. About the 5th day of the fast my body began to cleanse my intestines and continued to emit hard, gummy old stuff for a whole month. I could clearly feel the working of the ‘brush’ beginning from my stomach and going all the way to the anus. As a result I felt lighter and transformed; this happy effect is with me to this day 17 years later. Nothing else, less dramatic, could have convinced me of the power of fasting.

Since then I have read several books on fasting and to my surprise found that it is known and practiced all over the world, even in the industrialized countries. Fasting for healing is practiced among the forest dwellers everywhere. I have also learned that cows, dogs, cats and all other animals fast to cure their illnesses. As people who keep farm animals or pets know, it works and they get well

I am fortunate to have been given this knowledge and feel glad to share it.

September 22, 2007

Power of Mind

Power of Mind
About two thousand years ago there lived a Raja named Balwant Singh in North India roughly where Punjab is today. He loved to keep animals. There were many beautiful horses in his vast stables. Some were known for speed and others as unmatched war- horses. But the animal that the Raja really prized was one of his super jumbo elephants. His name was Bhim. No elephant in the whole region came even close to Bhim in size and strength.

In those days owning elephants carried prestige value like owning Mercedes or Rolls Royce cars today. The Raja was very fond and proud of Bhim and left no stone unturned to keep him healthy and happy.

When first captured Bhim hated living in captivity. He tried and succeeded many times in breaking his ties and running away to his beloved jungle. But the Raja kept sending his best catchers to bring him back. Slowly, like the humans, Bhim degenerated to living the urban life of affluent slavery and his memory of the joys of free life in the beautiful jungle faded. He began instead to enjoy the pampering he received from the Raja’s men.

On ceremonial occasions he was decorated with ornaments specially fashioned for him. The Raja and the Prime Minister sat on Bhim’s back and led the procession in style through the city’s main street. A huge band walked in front and played martial and other tunes. This Bhim grew to especially like. In fact it had a sort of magical effect on him.

In the end Bhim turned old and week and began a life of boring retirement. But he got resigned to it like all humans and animals do.

One day as he was taken for a swim to the big pond outside the city, he got mired in a big lump of sticky mud. He tried to get out of it, but more he tried the deeper he got into the mud. Word reached the Raja. He ordered all possible help to extricate Bhim. Nothing worked.

Then the Prime Minister’s son thought of a brilliant idea. The king’s band was called and told to play Bhim’s favorite tunes. This did something amazing to the powerful being. He mustered his strength in a way he had never done before, and slowly, gaining foot in the mud he began to inch toward the shore. Everyone watched with abated breath and produced sounds of encouragement.

Unbelievably, Bhim walked out of the pond with the last ounce of strength in his body. Everyone cheered. They had all learned something new; that, the mind has hidden power of its own that can be summoned to enable the body to do what it cannot possibly do alone. Bhim demonstrated this truth for all of us.

So, whatever we wish, we probably can do even at the tail end of our lives.

September 15, 2007

Cain and Abel

Cain and Abel

In the Bible there is a story of two brothers Cain and Abel.

Cain wants to till the soil and guard his field as his personal property. On this land he wants to grow his food by his own labor. He no longer wants to live on the produce of the forest.

Abel wants to continue living in the lap of nature like his ancestors. He likes to roam and gather wild fruit, edible leafs, tubers and vegetables.

Cain tries to persuade Abel to adopt his way of living. One day he takes his brother to his cultivated field and gloats over his dream of plenty and of power over the life of plants and animals. He thinks living in the hands of nature like lowly animals is shameful. Man's destiny is to rule all creation.

Abel disagrees. He says it is better to live on the bounty of Mother Nature for she is powerful, wise and beautiful.

Cain is so angry he kills his brother. On returning home when the elders ask where Abel was, he gives an evasive reply by saying 'am I my brother's keeper?'

This story made no sense to the Christians.

The reason is it was written from the point of view of hunter-gatherers. Cain stands for the cultivators. He had turned into a bigot who tirelessly chased the gatherers, forced them to become cultivators and killed them if they refused. He then confiscated their land. This is what he is doing to this day.

Cain believed that there was only one right way, i.e. his. Therefore he could not say, well, I will cultivate the soil and let the others do what they wish. From his point of view other ways were evil.

The gatherers put a mark on Cain as a dangerous man and warned their children to beware and not to mess with him.

This story made perfect sense to the forest-dwellers.

To read this account in more detail and in better words turn to Daniel Quinn's "Ishmael."

September 8, 2007

Mother’s Advice to a Monk

Mother’s Advice to a Monk

A young Zen monk was also a Sanskrit scholar. He soon fell into a routine of lecturing to his brother monks on old Pali and Sanskrit texts. When his mother heard of this she wrote him a letter to the following effect.
'Son, I do not think you became a devotee of the Buddha because you desired to turn into a walking dictionary for others. There is no end to information, discussion, glory and honor. I wish you would stop this lecture business. Shut yourself up in a little temple in a remote part of the mountain. Devote your time to meditation and in this way attain true realization.'
He did. And in time he became an enlightened Zen Master of great fame.

A very dear friend sent me the above story. I felt she spoke as my mother and thanked her.

She protested that it was not aimed at me. I am sure she didn’t.

But the message got etched on my heart. Am I going to live it or waste it?

August 25, 2007

Myth of Adam and Eve

Myth of Adam and Eve

Christian Church and most Christians read the story of Adam and Eve in the Bible as a true account of man’s origin. They have done this for nearly 2000 years. When Darwin suggested that man has evolved from other animals the church called him a liar. Some orthodox Christian folks still refuse to deviate from the old interpretation of the Adam and Eve story. People of other religions have often felt amused by the crudity of this tale. One Japanese Buddhist scholar on reading the Bible said, “Man against God, God against man and animal, man and God against nature. Funny religion.”

The fact is that the story of Adam and Eve is a myth of another culture that was sneaked into the Bible by its compilers. Like all myths it is a metaphor and its meaning is not in the words but behind them. Read in its proper cultural context it makes perfect sense.

When agriculture began ten thousand years ago on the banks of river Tigris, most people of the hunting and gathering tradition refused to have anything to do with it. They believed that man belonged in the God’s forest together with the other animals. All of them had the right to the fruits and other food they could gather and flesh of animals they managed to hunt. Humans were one species among thousands and had the same right as all the rest. No species, including the humans, had the right to deny food and other bounties of nature to any other. When some people cut the forest, ploughed the land, planted their favorite wheat and barley, and began to defend it by setting up a fence around it, the wise men of the old tradition were horrified. They knew that all beings created by The Great Spirit had an important role in the proper functioning of the web of life. Only the Great Animator had enough wisdom to decide who lives and who dies. By starting agriculture man in effect was saying that he was going to conquer nature by controlling his food supply, and eventually all food and then rule the creation.

Read from this perspective the creation myth of Adam and Eve makes sense. They were forbidden the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Life and Death, for it was inappropriate for any animal species and belonged in the realm of the Animator, or God. If humans ate that fruit and foolishly attempted to kill other species by denying them food, the delicate balance of nature would be disturbed. Human species would have more food for some time and increase in number, but then it too, would die in a hot desert.

The agriculturists were bloated with pride in their new discovery. They believed that humans were superior to all other animals and so clever that they could rule the earth better than Mother Nature. They must therefore ensure their own food supply at all costs. Food needs of other animals were secondary and their survival unimportant. It was man’s destiny to rule the earth and decide the fate of ‘lower’ animals.

The forest dwellers distanced themselves from the agriculturists. The myth of Adam and Eve was created to warn the forest destroyers of the consequences of their action. But they heard it as a nice story and failed to grasp its message. Eight millennia later one of the compilers of the Bible apparently liked the story enough to make room for it in the great book. Obviously they had no idea of its real meaning.

August 19, 2007
Tiger Who Thought he was a Sheep

Once there was a tiger that thought he was a sheep. He cowered, he hid, he bleated, and he ate grass. When the shepherd hit him with his stick he fell in line like the other sheep. Of course he looked different, but he had no way of finding that out. The sheep did not see the difference because he behaved just like them. How did this happen?

Let us call this baby tiger Buddhu. A few days after he was born his mother saw a very handsome tiger and fell in love. She began to neglect Buddhu as she eloped with this friend of hers. In a few days the sojourning tiger went back to his native area a few kilometers away, and the tigress followed him. Buddhu was alone in a forest full of dangers. Poor baby was hardly able to walk but he was quite smart. On feeling pangs of hunger he began groping for his mother but she was nowhere to be found. Unmindful of dangers Buddhu walked right out of the den. Luckily, not far from the den he found a sheep suckling her lamb. To his eyes a mother was feeding a baby and her other teat was available. Smart cub, he walked up, pushed the lamb a bit to make room and went to work. The sheep did not mind, for she had enough for two.

Buddhu fell asleep after a full meal. On waking up he found himself alone, but on rubbing his eyes and focusing better he say a herd of sheep grazing some distance away. He toddled as fast as his feet could carry him and soon found his surrogate mother and brother. The sheep was still affectionate and the spare teat dangled invitingly. Buddhu went for it and from then on became part of the herd. He played with the lambs, ate tender grass and leaves, learned to bleat and follow other sheep without a thought. In time, not only the sheep but also the shepherd began to see Buddhu as a lamb.

One day a tiger, Sher Khan, came to hunt. He looked, spotted a suitable prey and began readying himself to pounce. His eye strayed to Buddhu and he thought, ‘who is that and what is he doing among the sheep.’ On seeing Sher Khan and hearing his roar the little cub cowered and hid among the sheep, but in one long leap Sher Khan was upon him saying, “Hey, you are not a sheep. You are a tiger like me. Lift your head up and come with me.”

Buddhu trembled like a leaf and begged Sher Khan to let him be; “Please let me go, I am not a tiger. I am only a sheep. Why would your paws hurt me if I were not a sheep? You are mistaken.” Sher Khan lifted Buddhu up by the nape of his neck and brought him to the riverbank. There they were both reflected in the water. Sher Khan said, “Look you fool! Don’t you look just like me? You are a tiger. Wake up and be free of this herd of sheep. Come with me.”

Buddhu’s eyes saw clearly, but his mind was reluctant to accept the truth. It said, “Safety is in remaining a sheep. Who knows what dangers and hardships wait in life as a tiger. This must be a dream.”

Sher Khan said, “Try roaring like me. You will then believe me.” Buddhu bleated. Sher Khan roared louder. Buddhu bleated louder after him. The third try and a faint roar broke through his throat. He was thrilled. Like mad he began to roar louder and louder. He was so loud that he made all the sheep of the herd tremble.

Buddhu woke up to his real self and knew he was a tiger and not a sheep. Fear vanished. Need to conform to the crowd lost its press. He was no longer worried about what others would say. He began living like a tiger, fearless and himself.

August 11, 2007

Brush with Death

Brush with Death

In late 60’s I was gripped by enthusiasm for study of the Green Revolution. Therefore in early 70’s, soon after joining the Sri Ram Center in Delhi, I fashioned a research project to look into the phenomenon. Ludhiana district of Punjab was its acknowledged epicenter so I decided to make the Agricultural University my base and chose two villages some distance away for actual field work.

One of them named Ayali was situated less than 10 kilometers from the University. I knew a professor Sidhu whose in-laws belonged and actually lived in Ayali. Prof Sidhu introduced me to them and to another person named Raj Singh who worked as an administrative officer in the University. He belonged to Ayali and commuted daily to work on his motorbike. I visited Raj Singh’s family and was introduced to the Mahant of the Gurudwara and a couple of other villagers. Raj Singh kindly invited me to stay at his house, but I chose to locate myself in the Gurudwara.

My first day went off well. Many villagers came to the Gurudwara and willingly answered questions about the village and what was happening in the area since the Green Revolution began. On the second day too, I sat in the main hall of the temple and talked with the visitors. I joined in the evening path (recitation of the sacred book Granth Sahib), and noticed that there were more people than on the previous day. ‘It might be due to some festival,’ I thought. But as the hour wore on I heard a low murmuring sound outside the Gurudwara that kept becoming louder. A crowd was gathering very rapidly. I sensed high excitement growing higher.

Some sense inside me raised an alarm. I quickly went over the assembly to locate a known face. Luckily I saw Raj Singh’s 10-year-old son. I quietly went to the boy and asked if there was a backdoor to the Gurudwara. He said yes. I asked him to lead me to his house through it. He agreed and speeded me through the door and to his house in seconds. Raj Singh’s wife heaved a sigh of relief and offered me some hospitality. She had heard that a rumor had spread in the village that a Pakistani spy was in the Gurudwara. Fearing violence she had phoned her husband.

I learned that the crowd in and outside the temple was indeed the most dangerous mob ready for violence. Mobs are known to do their worst before finding out the truth, and Punjabi mobs are worse than others. I could have been badly roughed up, injured, or even killed.

In about half an hour Raj Singh came running to his house. Seeing me he calmed down a bit and said, “Thank God you are safe. I heard what had happened and feared the worst. You are indeed lucky to be alive.”

I had dinner with the family. Raj Singh asked me what I wanted to do next and I said to go back to the Gurudwara and continue the work. He walked me to the Gurudwara. On the way many people were sitting outside their houses. Everyone asked Raj Singh about the spy. He told them that there was no spy. The ‘stranger’ is my friend and he is walking with me right now.

I stayed in the temple for several days and finished my work. The Mahant was very kind. He provided for all my needs. The food I got was what villagers brought to the temple and it was always excellent. He specifically told me not to bother to come to the kirtan that he began at 4:00 am.

August 4, 2007

Tomorrow is a Mystery

Tomorrow is a Mystery

At one time when the 5 Pandava brothers were living incognito in a small town, someone knocked at their door. Yudhishtar, the eldest, opened it to a beggar seeking alms. He felt annoyed, for it was very early in the morning and he had just woken up. He told the beggar to come ‘tomorrow.’

‘Ha ha ha’ came a sound from inside the house. It was his younger brother Bhim laughing as if he had heard the best joke of his life. Yudhishtar shouted, “Stop Bhim, have you gone mad? What are you laughing about? It is too early in the morning for your silly pranks.”

Yudhishtar was son of Dharmaraj and thought he knew all about dharma, but as he tried to practice it his scholarship often blurred his vision. Confusing words rose as screen in front of his nose. This morning was one of those times. He was irritated at his crude brother and repeated, “Bhim, why do you laugh?”

Bhim, still laughing, answered, “Brother, I laugh at you, who else? How do you know that there is going to be a tomorrow? Even if tomorrow comes, how can you tell whether you or that beggar will still be alive? Who knows where you or he will be? But you told the beggar to come tomorrow as if you were certain about it. I am going to announce all over town that my brother has become so wise that he can tell what is going to happen tomorrow. Ha, ha, ha.”

Yudhishtar ran out of the door, caught up with the beggar and brought him back. He gave him some food and money and sent him off. His ‘dull’ brother’s clear vision had removed the haze of book learning from his eyes. “You are right my brilliant brother Bhim. Thanks.” Said Yudhishtar.

Bhim asked him to sit down and hear a brilliant story. Once a very prominent minister fell out of the emperor’s favors. The ruler was so put out that he ordered that the minister be hanged to death the following day. At the minister’s house the women wailed, his wife loudest of all. Neighbors and relatives gathered to commiserate. No one doubted that the news of the minister’s death would come soon. For all of them thought that they knew what would happen ‘tomorrow.’ But instead of bad news the minister himself came riding on the king’s most prized horse beamed from one end of his mouth to the other.

Seeing this all men and women froze where they were. They did not know how to react. The man’s wife stopped wailing and asked her husband how he had escaped the gallows. The Minister explained:
As the hour of my death approached the emperor came to visit me. For that is the tradition. On seeing me cry he said he did not expect me to fear death so much. I told him it was not death but the loss of great art inside me that concerned me. I can train a horse to fly in the air and I know just the right animal for it in the royal stable. The emperor bit the bait and asked how long it would take. I said one year. He set me free saying; if the horse flies you will not only live but also win 1/4th of my kingdom. So I am here with the horse.

The Minister’s wife protested: you have no special skill of training horses, why did you lie? It is worse for me, for I will have to worry a whole year and at the end of it still become a widow. Everything happening all at once right now would have been better.

The Minister scolded her: foolish woman, who knows if the king will live for another year, or I for that matter. Besides, circumstances might change. I may win the king’s favor for something else and be forgiven. Don’t you see that future is unpredictable? Stop worrying, live in the present, and enjoy yourself.

July 28, 2007

Feast at Pataudi Palace

Feast at Pataudi Palace

After leaving Rasulia in 1956 I set up an auto spare part factory at Gurgaon near Delhi. This was in partnership with my sister’s husband. Ninety percent of the capital investment was his; I was the working partner. Soon after the business started I realized that I was in a wrong line of work. My fascination with machines was strong as always, but I had no stomach for lies spoken as business practice and account tampering without any qualms. The machinery my brother-in-law had bought was cheap and poor; parts produced with it gave me nightmares of their failure resulting in road accidents. I decided slowly to stop manufacturing parts and concentrate on repair of road and farm machinery. I had often assisted our Rolls Royce trained English mechanic at Rasulia and gained ample experience. Besides I had a natural fascination for machines. We could do fairly good basic work on trucks, farm machinery and even old steamrollers. Our reputation spread quickly. One of the customers we attracted was the Pataudi Farm situated in a village about 20 kilometers away. They had several tractors, a variety of implements and a couple of jeeps.

When Sudesh and I got married in September 1958 we used to spend Sundays exploring the area around Gurgaon. One Sunday we visited Pataudi. I already knew the farm manager Shahabuddin (not his real name) and some tractor drivers. They received us with love and sweet grace. We were taken around the area where the rulers had lived. It was essentially one huge palace surrounded by a fitting garden, now, of course, neglected. I asked Shahab why they had built such an enormous palace in a tiny village. He told me it was due to a dashing young cricketer Pataudi Nawab wanting to marry a Bhopal princess. Both had been studying in England when they fell in love. Bhopal Raja was not too happy. “Pataudi is just a village and the houses there are unfit for a princess,” he’d protested. But the young couple was totally devoted to each other. As a compromise a large palace was built even though it looked totally incongruous where it sits.

The doors of the musty palace were unlocked and we were shown every room of the dwelling fit for a princess. The living room was huge and the heavily padded sofas still looked attractive when Shahab the Farm manager removed the sheets covering them. Old style kerosene lamps were still there and working. The dining room was equally big and impressive. The teak table was big enough to seat thirty guests. The chairs were intricately hand carved. There was a kitchen, very functionally arranged and equipped with simple but best machines of those days. The bedrooms were fancy, but the study and library were the best. Their walls were lined with heavy wooden bookshelves. The large book selection reflected erudition and taste. The floors and part of the walls in the entire palace were marble.

In late afternoon when we got ready to leave, Shahab invited us for a feast. We accepted the invitation and agreed on a date a month later. When we arrived on the appointed day we were led straight to the fully open and aired palace. All covers had been removed and the house made livable. The furniture was inviting and looked like new. Every fixture had been properly dusted.

But the food offered to us was out of the world. Knowing that I was a meat eater and Sudesh vegetarian, the cooks had prepared enough variety for both. There was venison kababs, fish curries, and mutton; also a number of local vegetables cooked in ghee and delicate spices. The Nans were hot from the tandoor. The dessert was very tasty carrot halwa with almonds and pistachio. When I asked, Shahab told me that a couple of old cooks of Nawab’s time had returned to the village after stints in city hotels. They were delighted to flex their talents in the palace where they had learned cooking and served many superb feasts to royal guests.

We enjoyed the hospitality and the food, but the visit raised many questions in my mind about the rank artificiality of the ways of the old Rajas and Nawabs. The visit of course was the most memorable of our lives.

Partap, July 21, 2007

Why Do the Jews Study Law

Why Do the Jews Study Law

Once a Roman man came to Rabbi Ginzo and asked: “What is this study of law that you Jews engage in?”

Ginzo: Hard to explain, but I will try. Now listen carefully with full attention. Two men went up to the roof and came down the chimney. One’s face was sooty, the other’s not. Which one washed his face?
Roman: That’s easy, the clean one of course.
Ginzo: No, you are wrong. Why should the clean one wash? Both came out of the chimney sooty. One of them looked at his friend’s face saw that it was dirty, and assumed that his face must also be covered with soot. So he washed.

Roman: Ah ha. I now understand the study of law. You learn sound reasoning, don’t you?
Ginzo: No, you don’t understand, you foolish man. Let me explain again. Two men climb down the chimney. One’s face is sooty; the other’s is not. Who washed?
Roman: As you just explained, the man without the soot washed. He saw his friend’s dirty face, assumed his also to be dirty. So he washed. Makes perfect sense.
Ginzo: No, foolish one, not so. There was a mirror in the room. One who washed had looked in the mirror.

Roman: Aha! So that is the study of law. In other words you conform to the logical.
Ginzo: No, foolish man, you don’t have it yet. Two men went up to the roof and came down through the chimney. One’s face got sooty; the other’s remained clean. But that is impossible. How can that be? Go away, you are wasting my time with such a proposition.

Roman: So that is the law? Its Plain common sense. Look for the obvious.
Ginzo: No, foolish man, it was perfectly possible for one man to have soot on his face and the other not. You see, the one with the soot on his face came down the chimney first and scraped all the soot off. So the second man’s face remained clean.

Roman: That is brilliant. I have got it Rabbi Ginzo. Law is getting at the basic facts, isn’t it so?
Ginzo: No, foolish man, not so, for who can scrape all the soot off the chimney in one go. That is impossible.

Roman: What then is this law you study tirelessly year after year, Rabbi Ginzo? Please explain to me.
Ginzo: It is to know that no one can understand and grasp all the facts about the simplest things we see. Study of law is to know that we don’t and cannot know all. We can do our best to ascertain God’s intention, but it’s only He who can and does know everything. You see, there were indeed two men who went up to the roof and they did come down the chimney. The first one emerged completely clean. It was the second one whose face was covered with soot. Neither one washed because. You forgot to ask me if there was water in the basin. There was none.

This has a parallel in the Hindu tradition. Someone asked Krishna: please explain what is dharma. He answered, “I don’t know. Law cannot be defined, for every moment unfolds a new reality different from the last. Dharma is appropriate action at each moment.”
But, Lord, have you not come to save dharma? If even you cannot explain it how will we ever know. Krishna said: “Watch my actions. They seem inconsistent at times as I oppose war on some occasions but favor it on others; strong attachment one time desertion the next. You need to choose right action every time without selfish motive. In other words you do what is right at the moment.”

July 14, 2007

Talking Across Cultural Barriers

Talking Across Cultural Barriers

On December 21, 1620 an English ship named Mayflower docked at today’s tiny port of Plymouth in Massachusetts. Its 200 passengers landed. They were called Purists because they preached a very strict religion. Later, they were referred to as the pilgrims. They knew that a very hard winter was ahead of them, so they got to work and built mud-and-wattle dwellings. But these proved inadequate. Also they neither had enough food nor the skill to tap local resources. Some Indian people watched and tried to help but the Purists were untrusting and fired their muskets at them. Less them half of them survived the winter.

The Indians made friends with them: taught them how to build good log houses, plant corn, catch fish, and kill turkey. In the fall of the following year they had adequate shelter and enough food. Together with their Indian friends they celebrated Thanksgiving, which is a national festival of America to this day. Soon the newcomers started setting up a township and asked the Indians to ‘sell’ them some land. The Indians ‘sold’ them some land and even took some gifts in exchange.

But the Indians kept coming for fishing, hunting and gathering. The Purists objected and finally organized a court to clarify obvious misunderstandings on both sides. Below, I quote some of conversation that took place in the court.

The British: “Did we not buy this land for seven coats, eight hoes, nine hatches, ten yards of cloth, twenty knives, and four moose skins? Now it is ours. No one has the right to trespass upon our property.”

The Indians: “ What is this you call property? It cannot be the earth. For the land is our Mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish, and all men. Wood, the streams, and everything on it belongs to everyone and is for the use of all. How then can one man say it belongs to him only?”

“Why did you sell us this land then?”

“Because you are strangers far from your own earth, we sold you only the right to use the land together with all of us.”

It was no use arguing. The Indians could not understand the concepts of land titles and private property. Nor could the Europeans understand the Indian conception of general use of land. The barrier was never broken. However, living by their concept the English ended up owning all the land. They killed the Indians to end the conflict.

July 9, 2007

Mangal Das the Miser

Mangal Das the Miser

Mangal Das was a cloth merchant in a small town named Banga in Punjab and was famous as a penny pincher. One day on returning home when he learned that his wife had thrown away the watermelon rind, he made her fish the pieces out of the drain. She had to wash the cook them.

He had to go to the city on some business and to save the bus fare he walked. To pay the lowest ferry fare he picked the cheapest one on the waterfront. On his return river crossing the decrepit boat developed a leak and quickly began to sink when it was right in the middle of the river. Mangal Das was terrified because he did not know how to swim. He began to mumble his best prayers and promised to feed 1000 Brahmins if the Lord Vishnu would spare his life.

The boat sank and Mangal Das was sinking in deep water. Noticing a log floating a couple of feet away he put his arm securely around it and began to float. But with the return of hope for his life the thought of feeding 1000 Brahmins began to vex him. He reasoned, ‘well, I was rash in making such a large commitment. Perhaps the gods will be just as pleased if I fed 500.’ After floating some distance he felt a large rock under his feet and stood up. The shore was now near and the danger much less. His mind shifted to the promise of feeding 500 men. ‘It cannot be necessary to feed 500. A hundred should be quite enough’ he thought.

After some rest he again rode the log and soon touched sand on the shore. After a big sigh of relief, to feel even better, he reduced the number of Brahmins to just one. He was still worried because he knew that most Brahmins were gluttons. Cleverly, he decided to invite Pandit Rikhi Ram known for his small appetite.

Mangal Das went to Rikhi Ram’s house to request him to do a thanks-giving puja at his house. To avoid giving in to the demands of the ‘greedy’ Brahmin, Mangal Das instructed his wife to feed Rikhi Ram and send him off with a small dakshina (Brahmin’s fee). He slipped away the previous evening on the pretext of some urgent work in another village.

Rikhi Ram too was alert and well informed by his spies. He quite correctly predicted Mangal miser’s mind. At the crack of dawn he knocked Mangal’s door. His wife Paro was surprised. To ease her mind Rikhi Ram said, “I know I am early, but I must tell you to cook for at least 10 Brahmins for the puja will otherwise be ineffective.”

Rikhi started the puja after putting all the food before the idol and asked Paro to put a hundred rupee note on top of the food as cash offering to the gods. Paro had not been briefed in detail and having had no previous experience of such things she complied. After the puja the pandit put the cash in his pocket, ate his fill, packed the remaining food to take home. He then asked Paro for his dakshina of Rupees 200 and said that without it the whole effort would be wasted. Paro did as she was told and pandit Rikhi Ram left feeling pleased with his take for the day.


Rikhi Ram knew that Mangal Das would be raving mad on hearing of his exploits. So he hatched a plot, briefed his wife, and went to sleep. On hearing how the pandit had swindled him Mangal Das came close to having a heart attack. He rushed to Rikhi’s house carrying a heavy bamboo stick. He heard Rikhi’s wife wailing, “Oh God, my husband is dying. He ate at Mangal Das’s house. The food must have been poisoned.”

The stick fell from Mangal Das’s hand. He was deathly worried, ‘if Rikhi dies I will be put in prison. Who knows I may even be hanged.” He tried to pacify Rikhi’s wife and went in to see the patient. Rikhi was lying in bed unconscious but he was alive. This gave Mangal some hope. He asked Rikhi’s wife to call a taxi and take her husband to the best hospital in town. He must hot die. She replied, “I too wanted to do what you say, but I will need at least a 1000 rupees. No hospital will admit such a serious patient without money.” Then she began to wail, “oh, I am ruined, I am going to be a widow at such an early age.”

Mangal Das was desperate. He could not think straight. Despite his niggardliness he said to the crying woman, “Look, this is not the time to haggle. Send your son with me and I will give him a thousand rupees. But you must act fast.”

Next morning the story spread all over town and soon to nearby villages. You would hear it even today if you went to Banga!

Most people had a hearty laugh at Mangal Das and said it was a good lesson for him. One wise man said, “You cannot cheat God for long, can you?”

March 31, 2007

My Friend Donald Groom

My Friend Donald Groom

I first met Donald in 1949 at Kodaikanal in South India. Both of us were participants in a Quaker seminar, he as a senior resource person and I a young college junior. There were several other distinguished men and women attending the seminar; poet Gurdayal Malik, American clergyman turned Gandhian Ralph Keithan, Dr. Ada Scudder, poet P. Lal, a Chinese professor of Education and several others.

Having never been in such a distinguished gathering I was awe struck, but Donald became my hero. He was short, blond, pensive, but genuinely humble. He certainly did not fit my image of an Englishman. Khadi (hand spun cotton yarn woven on a handloom) Kurta Pajama was his normal daily dress and he spun cotton yarn in spare time on his small book sized Charkha (spinning wheel). His Hindi was fluent and he had no difficulty squatting on the floor and eating with his fingers. His tone was mild, his words convincing, and demeanor very friendly. He treated everyone as equal including us youngsters. I had heard of Europeans who understood and admired Gandhi, but never did I imagine meeting his British follower of such total convincement. As I discovered many years later, Donald too was drawn by my uncouth simplicity and imagined someday of attracting me to work with him. On returning to Batala I began to read Gandhi’s writings and buy Khadi clothes. My college Principal Ranjit Chetsingh, who knew Donald Groom well, noticed the change and one day remarked, “So, I can see. Donald did manage to make you a Gandhian!”

In 1952 I met Donald at his home base, Friends Rural Center, Rasulia in M.P., where I had gone to a reunion of Quaker seminar alumni. I was then working on cattle improvement and optimal composting of organic waste at a Gandhian institution in Wardha. He showed a lot of interest in my work and invited me to continue the same at the Friends Rural Center. I felt flattered when he made it a standing offer.

About three months later, carrying on my back a cloth bag with clothes and all my other worldly possessions, I arrived at Rasulia to a very warm welcome by Donald. He immediately found me an independent hut furnished with simple necessities and arranged for my meals at the schoolboys’ hostel. A couple of months later he invited me to start eating at his house with his family. We never talked of remuneration, for he automatically put me on the same stipend as the American and British volunteers.

Organizing compost making for the small Rasulia dairy did not take very long. I then moved to Palanpur, a small village about 10 miles from Rasulia, where a new center was being built. Donald himself spent lot of time there and participated in meetings with the villagers. I noticed that his command of Hindi was as good as mine. Soon after, AFSC became actively involved at Rasulia and our money and volunteer power increased. In a very short time we added two more extension centers within a 10-mile radius. As workload increased Donald slowly made me his assistant and involved me in all new projects. His confidence and trust pushed me to the limits of my ability and strength.

One very significant development took place within me at this time. My antagonism for the British began quickly to become watered down. Having grown up in a family of ardent freedom fighters I learned to believe that all Englishmen were conceited, haughty, and rude especially with us Indians. Donald’s decent behavior shattered my prejudice. I learned the simple truth that not all Englishmen were alike.

Independence and After

When India attained Independence Donald was as happy as the Indians and felt a new burst of energy to work for Free India. He had been deeply involved in India’s struggle for independence. He went to the extent of arranging underground for Indian leaders. Freedom fighters had free access to the Friends Rural Center day or night. Many took night shelter at Rasulia. Dr. Rajendra Prasad, who later became India’s first President, once quietly spent a night on Donald’s veranda. Numerous freedom fighters at times received much needed financial assistance at Rasulia. Many of them later became ministers in the new government in the states or at the center. Donald thus had many friends at the highest level in Nagpur as well as New Delhi. I learned this first hand when in l954 Donald sent me to Delhi as his emissary.

He had heard that a mill to make high fiber currency-note paper was being planned by the Delhi government. A huge area of land was being acquired outside of Hoshangabad. There were rumors that FRC land was also on their map. Donald thought that it was time to seek intervention from the highest level. He sent me to Delhi and told me to meet and talk with Professor Mohammad Mujib. He was a prominent nationalist Muslim leader, a learned scholar, writer, and an educationist of considerable renown. On enquiring in Delhi I learned that he lived in East Delhi where he had founded a new university named Jamia Milia Islamia. He was a close associate of Education Minister Zakir Husain. Both Mujib and Zakir Husain had worked together on Gandhi’s Nai Talim, or basic education for all. They knew the Quakers and Donald and had close link with Prime Minister Nehru.

Professor Mujib was sitting in his simple office in a modest new building. He was a thin, small, fair, and very gentle man. On seeing me he smiled and said, “Welcome, so you have found me even in this wilderness. You had said you will come in the morning, but I knew you would not arrive before noon. Now tell me what brings you here.” I introduced myself, and said that Donald Groom had sent me to see if you can help prevent takeover of our very old Quaker institution. He answered, “I know about the Quakers and have heard of Rasulia’s bold cooperation during the pre Independence years. I will talk with Zakir Saheb and we will see what we can do. Tell Donald that in all probability your land will not be acquired. We will do the best we can.” I am not sure but I vaguely remember that he took me to his house and we had lunch together. I was much impressed with his sweetness and his gracious generosity. Wonder of all wonders, however, many years later my son married Prof. Mujib’s granddaughter. This lovely daughter-in-law of mine calls me ‘mian jaan’ for she wants to emulate the example of her own mother and the practice in her father’s family.

Gandhi lived simply like ordinary Indian villagers and spoke plain words but his true message was grasped by few even of his closest followers. It was clear to all that he wanted the British to quit India for moral reasons. Also everyone knows that Gandhi thought that India must revive the traditional Indian society of self-reliant village communities that was fast eroding under foreign rule. But what escaped the grasp of most people was his caution against the Industrial Culture per se. Gandhi’s reasoning was clear as full moon in cloudless sky. Even that far back it was clear to him that Industrial culture was destructive of the natural order and such a way of life cannot be viable. In his bold little book Hind Swaraj (1905), he pointed to the hidden evil side of Industrial society’s most cherished institution, parliamentary democracy. He also severely criticized the railways and mass production with machines. When he saw that India’s new government under Nehru was tilting toward industrialization, he very bluntly warned us ‘You will perish if you industrialize.’

Donald understood Gandhi’s view of industrial society very well. Therefore he had set up simple projects aimed clearly at revival of the old traditional villages. Some of them were: a boarding school to prepare boys
to reconstruct their own villages, industries such as a bullock driven oil press, spinning and weaving, organic farming, local health care practices, simple living, sharing, caring of animals and so forth. Most visitors privately scoffed at Donald’s projects. His overall support, however, was never in jeopardy because Quakers are known for patience with mavericks.

Winds of Change
By 1953 strong winds of change had begun to blow. Their impact, however, was felt very slowly at Rasulia. The central government initiated a nationwide program for rural development soon after independence. Its model was America’s extension service for farmers. It was called Community Development Program and Hoshangabad district was chosen in its very first phase. Unsuspecting of its implications Donald welcomed it and cooperated with the administrative machinery set up at the district level. Consequently, Friends Rural Center was recognized as a sister organization and was given a lot of freedom to function in its own Gandhian style.

Just about this time American Quaker body AFSC became Rasulia’s second supporter. British FSC continued its support as before but it paled in comparison. Motor vehicles came to facilitate our movement to various village centers. A tractor came to cultivate the land. Young American volunteers started coming on two-year stints. A British volunteer with work experience at Rolls Royce came to help maintain the machinery. All this worked like a shot of adrenaline and the pace of work increased. New staff was hired. I was one of them.

Meetings and workshops of various kinds began to be organized, a small weekly farm journal was started at Nitaya, bullock cart races were arranged, a supervised credit scheme was initiated, and seed banks were organized. Many other activities that are common these days were begun. In those days America shone and smelled like a rose. Having ‘liberated’ the world from Hitler and, with skills and money, it rose as the world leader to show the way to the future.

To the young, foolish and impressionable like me, America’s attraction was irresistible. Donald was older and mature and was less affected initially. But he was puzzled and felt very uneasy. Perhaps as a result he began slowly to withdraw from Rasulia and take active interest in imbibing wisdom of the ancient Hindu culture. He began visiting temples at the Narmada riverfront more than before. In one temple he became a committee member and helped as much as he could. His interest in the study of the Upanishads deepened. He studied Ishavasya-upanishad intensively and subsequently translated it into English. Few years later it was published commercially and sold widely. All this influenced Donald so deeply that he began to call himself a Hindu Quaker. He also bought a small house site across the road from the FRC and contemplated building a small house for his old age.

In early 1955 a providential disaster occurred at Rasulia with devastating effect on Donald. He took a bunch of kids for a bath in the Narmada River. A small boy of about 6 got drowned. His mother Madhuri, was a widow. She had come five years ago to live at Rasulia with her husband who was employed at Rasulia. After a couple of years he died of tuberculosis. They had two sons. Donald sent Madhuri to Kasturbagram for training in midwifery and employed her at Rasulia. Now her older son had died causing deep anguish.

Donald took the entire blame for the tragedy on himself and increased his agony. To comfort grieving Madhuri and to come to terms with his own emotional upheavals Donald camped in her house for

several days. This did not go well with his family, nor was it taken kindly by the rest of the community. But Donald was in agony till time did its work and he began to heal. I too was badly affected by this turmoil. Luckily there was an invitation from the AFSC for finding two suitable young Indians in a 6-week seminar and work camp program in Japan. Donald recommended my name, probably to get me out of the Rasulia muddle. My stay in Japan was extended to six months perhaps by Donald’s intervention.

On my return I found life in Rasulia outwardly tranquil. Donald received me back warmly. But he was far from healed. Finally, the decision was made to get Donald and his family out of Rasulia. The family returned to England, and Donald joined Vinoba’s bhoomidaan (land gift) movement. He walked with the saint for two years, got healed and finally reunited with his family. I visited the family in l960 in London on my way to join Cornell University in upstate New York.

The Groom family moved to Australia in the early sixties and Donald got involved in Quaker peace work. But his heart was in India and he kept returning to visit the village centers he had established. Every time he came he brought money to support the workers at these centers. On one of these stops while traveling from Bhopal to Delhi Donald died in a plane crash. His body was cremated on the bank of his beloved Narmada River and his ashes and few remaining bones scattered over sacred water. He couldn’t have asked for better after-death rites.

I count Donald among my closest friends to this day and feel thankful for his enlightening companionship.

June 30, 2007

Fascinating Little True Kerala Stories

Fascinating Little True Kerala Stories
A very dear friend of mine told me the following episodes of his own family members and himself. They are fascinating and true. Today I will briefly sketch just three.
1. There is a tradition in Kerala called Vidyarambham. It is a little ritual performed for every child symbolizing his or her initiation to literacy. He still remembers his own and seeing the same of many of other children including his own daughter. When he was about three Vidyarambham was arranged for him. One of the elderly village women who officiated over these rituals was called. Dressed in silk dhoti he was seated on a slightly raised sand seat in a pit used by children to play in. The priestess made a colored decorative design around the seat and chanted some mantras addressed to the divine builder Vishwakarma and the goddess of learning, Saraswati. She then put a little twig pen in his hand and helped him write a few letters of the alphabet. This marked the beginning of his formal education. He quite clearly remembers going to another teacher few years later to learn reading, writing and arithmetic. This had been the tradition passed down from generation to generation through the centuries.
2. In Kerala the carpenters, masons and architects were highly respected. Their art was revered as divine. Architects were well versed in Vastushastra, the art of orienting buildings in respect to the elements. They also gave attention to details of suitably placing kitchen, bedrooms and other functional sections of the house. For instance, a family dwelling was oriented in such a way that it would be comfortable in all seasons of the year without requiring fans and other additional aids. My friend’s brother is a nationally known architect. On visiting some famous old Kerala buildings he found them fascinating and worth studying closely. Part of his family is still in Kerala and his own ancestral house retains marks of the superb local skills. At the height of his career he decided actually to seek training from a traditional Acharya. A suitable teacher was not difficult to arrange but it was not easy to follow the disciple he prescribed; for instance, minimum of six months without break, wearing only traditional attire, following strict metal and spiritual discipline, rigorous work hours and attention to minute details. He used much of this in his professional work afterwards to his great joy.
3. The third story is the most fascinating of all. There are small groups of Afro-Asian aboriginal groups still living in remote areas on hilltops or deep valleys in the thick forests of Kerala. People avoid them from fear of their knowledge of black magic. My friend’s younger brother became fascinated with these people and wanted to actually learn black magic. He found out about a man who sounded just right for his purpose. So, one day he walked into the forest, found his house and knocked at his door. The man was surprised to see him and said, “Most people are afraid of coming here, have you no fear? What brings you to me?”
“I have come to be your disciple. Please teach me the art of magic,” said my friend’s brother.
“What you seek is most unusual, but to learn you must agree to do whatever I say without question.”
He then spat on the man’s hand and asked him to drink the spittle. This he could not do and was therefore rejected.
There is much more to share. Perhaps we will be able to do that later.
Partap AggarwalJune 23, 2007

Lina Krishnan to me
show details Jun 24 (17 hours ago)
Yes, we celebrate Vidyarambham each year on Dussehra day. The Daybefore (9th day of navaratri) is for Saraswati pujai, where books,pens, musical instruments, even needles & thread... are kept in puja &kids are not allowed to read that day (hardest day of my childhoodyears!). Next day, after Vidyarambham, the ban is off with a lot ofsinging.Apart from the 1st writing its also a day for initiation into music,and for paying respects to your guru if youre already learning.Thought these extra snippets would interest you.Love & Peace, Lina

One Who Scattered Wealth

One Who Scattered Wealth

My middle sister’s husband Meghraj had a sister named Pushpa. She lived in Amritsar with her husband and family. In 1964 she died in childbirth at age 37. This is her true story.

She was pregnant with her 5th child, some complications developed, they got worse, and the doctors in the biggest hospital in the City of Amritsar were unable to save neither her nor her baby. Many relatives came to her funeral. An unusually large number of neighbors had come, especially the poor of the area.

Eyes of most people were wet. One young man was crying bitterly as if his own mother had died. Meghraj ji was curious. He went to the young man and asked, “You seem to feel my sister’s death very deeply, why is that?”

“Brother, how can I possibly express my grief? Your sister was like my real mother. I am an ordinary vegetable seller in the Bambewala Khu area. I started my business at a very young age. We were very poor then. Somehow we scraped together a few rupees and I started selling veggies placed over a gunnysack spread on the ground by the roadside. Your sister used to come to buy veggies from me even though there were many better shops nearby.”

“One day your sister asked me why I had such a meager stock to sell. She was concerned that my income from the sale must also be small. She knew I had parents and siblings to provide for and on income from my tiny stock it must be hard. She asked me why I did not bring larger stock to sell. I told her I did not have the money to buy more. She did not say anything but I could see that she was planning something in her mind. Two days later when she came to buy veggies she gave me an envelope with 100 rupees in it. In those days, for a poor man like me, this was a huge sum.”

“I was dumb struck with this windfall of generosity. From that day I began to worship her as a goddess. With bigger capital I began to expand my business. This kind lady had fired my zeal up. Partly to please her I put all my energy into the business. Sometimes I restocked my shop 3 times in a day. Soon I had enough money to rent a shop and then even to buy that property. This pleased your sister very much. At the time of returning her money I wanted to pay interest. But she refused it. Due to the generosity of your sister I am a successful businessman today and have a happy family. My regret is that I could not do anything for her when she was ill. I told the doctor to take all my blood if that would save her life, but my blood was not of the right kind.”

Pushpa’s husband had a small income from minor work in the textile market. From the money she got for buying food for the family she put aside a few paise every day. It is this money that she gave to the vegetable man. She must have helped many others in a similar manner, for this was her nature. No one ever knew because she did not tell any one.

She never gathered much to keep for herself but she knew the importance of sharing with those who had less than her. She knew that it was nobler to scatter than to hoard.

June 16, 2007

Karnataka State Chief Minister

Karnataka State Chief Minister

For several weeks we have been hearing about Karnataka Chief Minister, H. D. Kumaraswamy’s visits and night halts in villages. Farmers in some villages were in great difficulty because of failure of sugar mills to buy sugarcane on time. Several were driven to commit suicide. There are of course a variety of problems villagers have in their lives and the government machinery is unable to deliver timely help due to inefficiency and corruption. Young Kumaraswamy was moved to go to the affected areas to find out what was going on and to learn what he could do to help.

This is what he learned from these visits:
“Even as Chief Minister I am helpless in solving some of the problems faced by the people.”
“I did not learn a thing from the third floor of Vidhan Sauda (state legislative assembly) nor from any senior officers in the Government. I learned a lot from the people of the villages I stayed in. I am happy that I am away from my office in Bangalore for the last 15 days. I could travel far and wide from Bidar to Chamrajanagar and understand the problems of the people.”

“I heard of youths falling into the traps laid by Naxalites because the Government had failed to provide them jobs. Even the funds sanctioned for pension of widows had been misappropriated.”

“Copra prices fell steeply. Farmers were in soup. I released money for direct purchase of Copra from farmers. But it was the traders who got the benefit.”

“Banks in the rural areas are unable to respond to the schemes of the Government. I issued a cheque for Rs. 50,000 to a woman for hospital expenses in January. She could not encash it till April, when I intervened. Banks turned her away as she could not provide proof of identity. She did not have even a ration card.”
(Quoted from a front-page report in daily newspaper The Hindu of June 4, 2007.)

Kumaraswamy spent more than 32 nights in villages and tribal settlements. Inspired by what he learned from these visits he also met and talked directly with groups of liberated Devadasis, auto drivers of Bangalore and other struggling communities of the poor. He feels that all his reading of books and reports of Government officials are shallow in comparison to knowledge he gained by direct contact with the people.

The Chief Minister was so moved that he has decided to quit his office much earlier than due. This kind of daring, honest admissions and change of heart are so rare among politicians. Kumaraswamy has set a very valuable and convincing precedent for other public functionaries. I write them as a Saturday story because think the events are worth sharing with you friends.

June 9, 2007

My American Guru

My American Guru
I talked of my primary school teacher May 5th. Another great teacher came into my life in Sept 1960. His name is Morris E. Opler. To this day I remember my first meeting with him in his office in Morrill Hall at Cornell University. He was sitting at his desk seriously writing. He looked up, greeted me with a smile and said, “How was the trip? I hear a hurricane greeted you to this country.” “No damage done, spice to the long dull Journey.” I answered. We had chatted for about a minute and a half when pointing to a pile at a corner of his desk he said, “Those things are for you, Satish will explain them.”

The interview was over and we filed out of the office. The pile contained copies of textbooks the publishers send for the professor and his assistant. The second strange item was a stack of about 200 (3x5) reference cards. They were incomplete and I was supposed to fill the gaps by checking in the library. I could see that my work had begun. In a short and mostly mute interview I had received a string of messages: you are here to work, be precise in word and deed, you need to earn your place in the world academic community.

The books were useful to read and keep for many years, but to deal with the cards was tough. Satish showed me around Cornell’s mammoth labyrinth library and introduced me to a reference librarian Mrs. Eckholm. I took her offer of help seriously and for about a month took it greedily. To this day I vividly remember that motherly lady’s generous help. She never told me to walk on my own two feet for she had other work to do. But by her patient help she made me fit to be a graduate student.

In my very 1st semester I took one of Opler’s courses for credit and wrote my first term paper. Two days later when I entered his office I sensed concern and anger on his face. He pushed my paper across the table and said, “You need to work hard to improve your writing skill. Go over my comments and come see me at 5:00pm.” The paper was more red than black and I wondered what I had gotten myself into by coming to Cornell. In the evening we went over the paper word by word and Opler explained my mistakes and showed me how to correct and avoid them. Both of us went to the cafeteria for supper together. He told me writing was difficult for everyone. Even a top stylist in the field, like himself, had to go over his work 4 to 5 times. His wife Louise edited all his writing. From that day I began to see Opler as my Guru. Years later Louise helped me edit my dissertation. We worked together for nearly a month.

Professor Opler was a demanding and very strict committee chairman. When he doubted a student’s ability to go all the way through, he advised them to get a master’s degree and leave. Grad students in the department were literally scared of him. Undergraduates did not like his seemingly rambling lectures with carefully chosen precise words ‘like in a book.’ But they knew his stature, hid their feelings, and carried on. Some of course appreciated his great strengths. Once I failed to administer an exam to a class of his. Loudly grumbling students assembled in front of his office. I came to the scene and apologized for my mistake. Prof. Opler promised reexamination in 3 days. Some complained they would have to prepare again for the same test. He told them they had learned nothing if they could not remember it even for 3 days and sent them home.

Page 2
Most students thought him old styled in his work. For he looked at cultures in their entirety and tried to identify “themes” around which thinking and working patterns formed. But in the 60’s the times were fast changing. He once told me that no one cheered after he delivered his well thought out lecture to a meeting of demographers.

But they gave a loud approval to a youngster who presented detailed figures of how
much it would cost India to bribe poor people for vasectomy or tubectomy. I perhaps was old fashioned for I deeply admired Opler’s wisdom and painstaking work with tedious ethnographic detail.

Towards the end of my third year I had several vexing questions that nobody seemed to want to talk about. Dr. Opler did not seem to be the right person to discuss them with, but one day when he appeared to be in the right mood I decided to try. I said I wanted to discuss a couple of basic Anthropological questions. 1. All civilizations have failed and ended in sand. Why do we still think it is the greatest thing that ever happened to man? And 2. Why do we fail to see the great wisdom in the way the American Indians lived? Their cultures survived for 30 to 50 thousand years and could have continued for very much longer. They were content and at peace with nature around them. On the other hand we praise the Industrial Civilization that seems to act like a bull in a china shop.

Opler answered, I think the Apache and other American Indians lived very sensibly and their cultures were perfectly viable. It is sad that we Europeans destroyed them and did not learn much from them. I have defended the Apache in many court battles as an expert witness. But the damage is done. On the question of Civilizations I think you have a valid point. But people of all civilizations have thought that they were special and would survive for a long time. The time of these questions has not yet come. My advice to you is to leave them alone, prepare for the field study, write the dissertation, get the degree and find a job. There will perhaps be opportunities to pursue these questions later.

In those days professors and graduate students had a closer relationship than they seem to have now. Most students were poor and the professors watched over them. In summer months Opler often offered me work in his home garden at good wages. In my last year we were four in the family and my research grant was meager. Towards the end of each month we were eating potatoes, beans and chapattis. Opler heard of this and called me to his office. He asked why I had not told him. I said we do not think much of these temporary hardships. He immediately picked up the phone, talked with someone in the university administrative office, and nearly doubled my monthly research grant. Professor Opler helped me to cross all normal grad school hurdles such as finding monies, equipment on loan, field-research grants, and finally even a job.

June 2, 2007

Dear Partap

I'm honored to feature in your Opler memorial! I wonder why Opler didn't arouse as dramatic an admiration in me. Partly I think it the year and a half I spent with the Freeds in the village near Delhi, so after that Opler simply fitted into a familiar image of the hard-driving academic. But also because I veered off to Africa, I was exposed perhaps to wider range of academics. But of course I learned much from him and received from him countless kindnesses.

Thank you for reminding me of the old man. I just did a google search for him. In case you didn't know, he died on May 13, 1996. May his soul rest in peace.

As ever


God’s Justice

God’s Justice

Janardan was a prankster from childhood but he was a good lad and took care not to hurt anyone by his actions. His peers liked his pranks, adults were not always amused, teachers were sometimes annoyed but knowing that he had a good heart did not punish him.

He grew up, finished college, got a job with a bank and married his wife Lakshmi. She was an excellent homemaker, but did not produce any children. They had a cat, owned the apartment in which they lived, but did not own much else of value.

Janardan suddenly fell ill and went on getting worse till his life was in danger. He prayed for help, “God, please spare my life. I will give everything I have for some good work if you heal me.” The prayer was heard and he began to feel better. Both husband and wife were happy.

Then the thought of his big pledge began to bother Janardan. He realized that he had made a mistake and would probably have to sell the house. This dilemma fully occupied him day and night. Then his prankster mind woke up and flashed a clever solution. He put up a sign announcing that his house was on sale.

On the appointed day and time many prospective buyers gathered outside his door. Janardan made a short speech: “Gentlemen and ladies, welcome. A house and a cat are being offered. The price of the house is One Rupee, and cat goes for Rupees 100,000. You have to buy both. Do not try to bargain or ask any questions. The offer is non-negotiable.”

People were puzzled. They could not think why the house was so cheap and the cat so expensive. After a few long moments of quiet a man spoke to declare that he would buy the house and the cat at the quoted price. Janardan agreed and the business was over. In a few days money was paid and the house occupied. The new owner had no use for the cat so he shewed her out.

Janardan went to the temple, bowed low before Lord Venkateshwa and put a single one-rupee coin in the puja tray. With folded hands he said, “Lord I promised the sale proceeds of he house. Here it is, sir.” The Lord appeared benevolently to smile; or that is what Janardan thought.

In a few days all was forgotten. Janaran bought a new house, Lakshmi set it up nicely and the couple began their new life in it. One day a strong earthquake toppled the house together with many others. Lakshmi was out of town but Janardan was buried in the rubble.

He was alive but badly injured and unable to move. For two days no one came to rescue him. He thought he would be forgotten and soon die. A few hours passed and he heard a meow and some fur rubbing against his arm. The old cat had found him. She eventually led the rescuers to Janardan and saved his life.

Janardan folded his hands to God and said, “Lord, your justice is infallible. I cheated you of the house and it has gone to you. Since I degraded it by putting low value on it, I cannot even complain. On the cat I put high value and by saving my life she has upped it far above what I got for her. Everything is back in place and thank you for your understanding and indulgence.”

May 12, 2007

My First School Teacher

My First School Teacher

Today I am going to talk about a remarkable primary school teacher. He taught me for 4 years in the 1930’s. Even after 65 years a few of my memories of him are sharp as if they were of yesterday. Many, however, have blurred. My contact with him began in 1936 when I entered the DAV primary school in Karachi at age 5 and ended four years later in 1940 when I moved to high school. His name was Hazarilal, same as my father’s. He too had come from Punjab 3 earlier. The school was new and classes small with 20 or less children in each.

He was a fair, tall and handsome man of about 25. With his thin metal rimmed glasses he looked to me like a revered scholar. All this and the lovely smile covering his face attracted me to him from the day I entered his class. I do not recall being afraid of school, but whatever little fear lurked in my little head vanished in a few days. In the subsequent 4 years I enjoyed school and surprised my parents by not wanting to miss it even for a day. Luckily for me this favorite teacher of mine remained my teacher for all four years as he kept moving up in order to leave the lower classes to new teachers.

I still remember that we started with a lesson in calligraphy. Our teacher was very good in it and wrote for us first four letters of the Devanagari script on the board. Then he came to each one of us and printed the letters on our clay washed wooden slates. I watched him very closely and imbibed the magic and skill of his thin, long fingers. In about a month he taught us the whole Devanagari alphabet and then started drilling us in the Arabic script in the same patient and meticulous manner.

He put arithmetic in the second place and taught it with great interest. He made us memorize multiplication tables from two to twenty. Very slowly he began teaching us simple calculations. To make it interesting he used seeds, rocks or marbles. I remember collecting smooth little rocks and bringing them to school. By the time of our moving to the high school we could work out prices, compound interest and many other computations used in daily life. I became so interested that all through high school math was my strongest subject.

Another thing our teacher taught with great Zest was geography. He used wall maps, photos, magazine pictures and much else to put life into the subject. I still remember that I bought a very expensive glossy atlas in Urdu. Names and facts I learned from this remarkable atlas have remained vivid in my head all these years and during my travel all over the world pictures enjoyed in childhood have flashed through my mind.

In addition to teaching the prescribed syllabus well, our teacher led and encouraged us into the world of the Vedas. We regularly participated in the weekly homa (Vedic fire ritual) and chanted shlokas that we had memorized. My repertoire of Vedic shlokas had grown so large that to impress relatives and strangers I sometimes, foolishly, recited them at wrong places and on inappropriate occasions. Nevertheless, this early grounding in the robust, scientific, far seeing insights of our ancestors (the Vedic seers) remain to this day my unshakable intellectual and spiritual foundation.

Many years later, in 1948-50, my younger sister and I lived in a small town named Batala near the Pakistan border. One day I was talking with our next-door neighbor, a young lady named Gargi Gaind. On hearing that I had lived in Karachi she perked and said: “my elder brother Hazarilal was in Karachi. He was tall, fair, intelligent and cheerful. After a tiff with someone in the family he ran away from home in 1933 or perhaps 1934. We heard that he was teaching in a DAV primary school in Karachi. He must have died during the turbulent years of 1947-48. Otherwise he would have returned home by now.”

It pleased Gargi to hear that I knew and revered him as my teacher and was most grateful for his gifts.

May 05, 2007

My First Train Journey Alone

My First Train Journey Alone

I think the year was 1942, I was only 12 and in the sixth grade in a high school in Karachi. After two year of repeated asking I had finally been allowed to travel alone to our joint family home in a town called Jaranwala in Punjab. The total distance from my Karachi to the destination was about 1400 kilometers. I was to change trains twice. The time of my dream had come; I was in the train alone, exited and happy as a lark.

I was in the 3rd class, the lowest of four in those days. The coach had two sections; each had four unpadded wooden benches fitted lengthwise. A luggage rack was provided above the benches. I was in the middle bench facing Southside windows. To my right sat a Sindhi young lady who, as I overheard her conversation with a fellow passenger, was a teacher in Karachi’s most prestigious English medium Grammar School. She was going to Hyderabad about 5 hours away.

Her name was Usha. She was friendly to me and two other children sitting nearby. It turned out that all three of us were from Hindi medium schools and had just begun to learn English as a foreign language. She made friends with us and asked if we would like to speak in English with her. We talked mainly in Hindi but used a few words of English we had learned. One of the boys bragged a bit too highly and Usha madam asked me, “Do you think he is telling the truth.” I understood, but could not think of correct English answer and said, “He speak wrong.” Usha corrected me, “You might say, he is lying; or more politely, he is exaggerating.” All of us liked Usha didi and we conversed a lot during our time together. We not only learned many new English words from her but also a strong interest in the language itself.

After changing trains twice I finally reached Jaranwala. My cousins had come to the station to receive me. We were happy to see each other. I was the happiest because they praised me for coming alone and made me feel like a hero. My younger cousin Raghunath (two years younger) showed his amazement at my feat all over his face. I became his idol and he trailed me wherever I went. He went with me even to the canal where he knew he was not permitted to go without adult supervision. My ability to swim raised my stature even higher in his eyes. He did not believe me when I told him I had learned to swim alone without permission of parents.

One morning I was taking a bath. A Nepali servant boy about my age was priming the hand pump. To attract my attention he joked and laughed as he pumped and often skipped pumping. I was not used to servants in the house and thought that servants were supposed implicitly to obey their masters. When he ignored my repeated calls, I got up and hit him. He began to howl which attracted my uncle to the scene. My uncle quietly settled the dispute and later gently reprimanded and told me that I should not have hit a servant who was just a child like me. I felt very embarrassed and the lesson got permanently engraved in my head.

I went on long hikes with my cousin Raghunath and engaged in many other contraband actions like stealing fruit from an orchard and sugar cane and carrots from the fields. We watched birds and climbed trees to peep over their nests. When I visited Raghunath a couple of years ago we remembered these and many other daring exploits of our boyhood days.

I immensely enjoyed the visit and for the rest of my life learned to like small town living. I also thank my father for letting me travel alone at such a young age.

April 28, 2007

My First Fasting Experience

My First Fasting Experience

Today I am going to share with you my first and most remarkable fasting experience. But first I must say a few words about your reactions to the story of last week.

Many friends liked the fasting article of last week. Some called the healing magical; others said it is a miracle. In my view it is neither. It is simply an illustration of the wisdom and healing power of the immune system installed by nature in our bodies. All our drugs try only to augment the real healer, body’s immune system. If body’s healing power breaks down, no medicine will work. Also, there is no need to learn much about fasting, one must try it out. It works automatically like digestion, elimination of waste products, perspiration, etc. If anything does go wrong body will tell by reaction of pain, nausea, other discomforts. If dogs and cattle can do it, we can too. Here is the story.

Together with my wife Sudesh, my sister, and some other close relatives I visited Badrinath in the Himalayas in the summer of 1991. We went in my jeep and I was the sole driver. Going was tough on mountain roads. We stopped to eat and sleep in different places along the way. At times beds were uncomfortable and food poor. I picked up some bug that upset my stomach. Ayurvedic medication I took did not help. This went on for nearly two weeks. After this journey I traveled 2500 kilometers by train to Tamilnadu.

I arrived at Atheetha Ashram with a bad stomach. The head of the Ashram, Swami Sahajananda, was an ardent believer in the superb healing power of the body and fasting as a method of evoking it. He suggested that I fast for 3 days and brushed aside my plea that I had never fasted for more than a day. I was given a light meal in the evening and told to start the fast the next day. No food was to be eaten, not even fruit or coconut water. I was to remain in bed and avoid doing any work, not even reading. Once or twice a day I was allowed a stroll around my small hut, but all other exercises were proscribed. I must fast for 3 days like this, he advised. While in bed I was to closely watch both the body and the mind.

I experienced change of moods, restlessness, headache, fever, and other minor discomforts, but I survived quite honorably in the opinion of my guide. I was ravenously hungry on the third day and was waiting to eat, but after checking me Swamiji suggested that I should continue the fast for another two days. According to him my headache and fever indicated that the body had begun the healing work in earnest but needed another 2 days of fasting. I mustered all my courage and agreed.

In the evening of the 5th day Swamiji recommended that I continue fasting for 3 more days. He hinted that I might be on the verge of a lifetime experience. I agreed. On the 8th day I broke the fast with two pieces of steamed ridge gourd. They tasted like nectar and to this day it is my favorite vegetable! My first long fast was finally over and it was a pleasant experience.

In two days of near normal eating my stomach began to function almost as usual, but I had a feeling that something strange was still going on in it. I needed to go to the toilet 2 to 3 times a day and was passing two distinctly different kinds of fecal matter. One was nearly normal but the other was gummy, shiny, red stuff that looked like flesh. I suspected it to be dysentery and thought I was emitting blood and bits of muck. Swamiji wanted to see it.

Anticipated this I had left my gift to the soil uncovered. Both of us closely examined the red stuff. I tried to spread it with a stick like the normal feces but it was old, gummy and sticky. It did not spread easily.

Swamiji knew what it was; muck that sticks to the inner wall of the intestines. He told me that intestines of almost all human being have this accumulation. In some cases there is as much as 2000 grams of it, and such individuals suffer chronic stomach ailments of many kinds. I probably did not have a huge accumulation but my body had decided to clean it out. Apparently, the stomach complaint I came to the ashram with was only a minor problem and was healed easily in the first 3 days. Also apparently there was no other serious ailment calling for urgent attention. I was still fasting and not using up most of body’s energy for digesting food. So, making best use of this rare opportunity my wise body focused on scrubbing the intestine to improve its efficiency.

Cleansing of intestines went on for one full month. Every day I was able to feel how far the work had reached. Started from the base of the stomach the scrubber worked all the way to the pocket above the anus.

When it was over, I felt as if my whole body had been transformed and made lighter. My stomach moved more smoothly than ever before, absorption of food increased, and I felt rejuvenated. Sixteen years later I still feel the effect of that amazing experience.

Is it a miracle? No, it is not. This is normal work that body would do if given the chance. One marvels, however, that such power and wisdom exists in the body.

This experience changed my understanding of both body and healing forever. Since then I have fasted many times for minor illnesses and recovered fully most of the time. Fasting did not work when I was suffering heavy colds and was traveling and living as guest in the houses of friends. Apparently, it works best in ones own home or under able supervision in a place where one is totally relaxed. Also, it is helpful if one has the time to stretch the fast if needed. For best results complete surrender of the body to the body is needed. Fasting is also a spiritual experience.

Partap. April 21, 2007

Responses from friends
Babak Kardan wrote:
When I was in Toronto I attended a seminar by a naturopath who had written a book about cleaning the intestines, and she actually showed us pictures of what you describe -- in fact she said even a surgeon's blade could not cut through this material, it could even contain material (such as undigested popcorn kernels) that were eaten years ago!

Suguna Krishnamurthy wrote:
Thanks for the mail Pratapji
I liked reading both the stories and could relate well as it was actually
happening to you.
UG used to say that the body is immortal and is in the now.... and its
intelligence is what cannot be touched by thought....
I am inspired to fast at least for a day ... sometime soon.