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Posts Tagged ‘Rabindranath Tagore’

(Continued)

India on the Travel Itinerary

  • In The Heart of a Goof, we come to know of Felicia Blakeney. Her brother, Crispin Blakeney, is an eminent young reviewer and essayist. He is said to have gone off to India to study its local conditions with a view to delivering a series of lectures.
  • Many of us would recall that in ‘Bertie Changes His Mind’, Carry On, Jeeves, Bertie Wooster tells Jeeves that he has a sister in India. She is likely to return from there with her three daughters. Since Bertie wants to break the monotony of his life, he plans to move to a large house and invite the gang to stay with him. He looks forward to have ‘the prattle of childish voices around him’. Jeeves uses his tact and resource to make Bertie change his mind.  
  • In ‘Best Seller’, Mulliner Nights, we discover what happens to a young lady whose heart throb has gone off to India. Miss Postlethwaite, the sensitive barmaid, imagines that the lady is ‘standing tightlipped and dry-eyed in the moonlight outside the old Manor. And her little dog has crawled up and licked her hand, as if he understood and sympathized.’
  • ‘Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest’, Carry On, Jeeves introduces us to Lady Malvern, a vicious specimen (to quote Bertie). She is said to have been in India for less than a month whereupon she has whipped up a book on social conditions in India, entitled ‘India and the Indians’.
  • ‘The Ordeal of Osbert Mulliner’, Mr. Mulliner Speaking narrates the story of Osbert Mulliner who intends to board the boat sailing for India. His idea is to ‘potter awhile about the world, taking in en route Japan, South Africa, Peru, Mexico, China, Venezuela, the Fiji Islands and other beauty-spots’. When Major-General Sir Masterman Petherick-Soames hears of this, he claims to have been out there for years. He offers to give him all sorts of useful hints. He also claims to know the old ‘Rajputana’ area (the present day state of Rajasthan in India) well.

Indian Handicrafts, Taj Mahal and Tagore

  • In Leave it to Psmith, we find that the noise which had unduly perturbed the Efficient Baxter had been caused by ‘the crashing downfall of a small table containing a vase, a jar of potpourri, an Indian sandalwood box of curious workmanship and a cabinet size photograph of the Earl of Emsworth’s eldest son, Lord Bosham.’
  • Taj Mahal, the ivory-white marble mausoleum located in the city of Agra, remains a key attraction for those who have India on their itinerary.  Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it does not get left out in Plum’s references to India. In ‘Bingo Bans the Bomb’, Plum Pie, when Bingo Little sees a ray of hope for getting a coveted raise in his emoluments from Mr. Henry Cuthbert Purkiss, the proprietor of Wee Tots, he is said to gaze at the latter with as much appreciation as he would at the Taj Mahal in moonlight.
  • Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, a Nobel laureate, finds a brief mention in ‘Rodney Has A Relapse’, Nothing Serious. Rodney is of the opinion that the family can survive on wholesome and inexpensive vegetables. He thinks this will help his poetry. ‘He says look at Rabindranath Tagore. Never wrapped himself around a T-bone steak in his life, and look where he fetched up. All done on rice, he said, with an occasional draft of cold water from the spring.’

(Continued)

Notes:

The inspiration for this essay comes from the scholarly work done by Ms. Masha Lebedeva, who had earlier whipped up a research paper entitled The Russian Salad by P. G. Wodehouse.

The author expresses his sincere gratitude to an eminent expert on Plummy matters for having spared the time to go through a part of this composition and provide insightful suggestions. Some fans of P. G. Wodehouse have also suggested improvements in its contents.

Thanks are also due to Mr. Suvarna Sanyal for dishing out the main illustration in Part 1; also, to Ms. Sneha Shoney, who has edited the text.

Those of you who wish to cruise through this essay in its entirety may kindly write to akb_usha@rediffmail.com for a PDF version of the complete document to be mailed to them.

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 A Tribute to Swami Vivekananda: Leader Extraordinary

 

“On the seventh of August 1941, in the city of Calcutta, a man died. His mortal remains perished but he left behind a legacy… that no fire can ever consume…”

That was the baritone, sonorous voice of Satyajit Ray in his documentary titled ‘Rabindranath’ created as a tribute to Rabindranath (a project mandated on Ray, the genius in film making, arts and literature, commissioned by Ministry of Culture, Government of India) on the occasion of the birth centenary of the another genius, Rabindranath Tagore the Nobel laureate poet, musician, novelist, dramatist, artist and philosopher. The first scene of the documentary depicted the last and final journey of Tagore to the burning ghat (crematorium).

Ray’s portrayal of Tagore began with the scene finale. But where do we start in our odyssey with the volcanic monk of India whose 150th birth anniversary we celebrated earlier in this decade?

“Let’s start from the very beginning/ a very good place to start…” (The Sound of Music)

Naren or rather Bile (Narendranath Datta) was storm or turbulence personified from childhood in the premises of the Datta household in North Calcutta. Never obedient to seniors, ever an enigma to peers (his local friends), he would relish his father’s hookas (smoking pipes) or throw away his mother’s clothes from the windows to the beggars on street even while he was locked up in a room for his erratic unmanageable behaviour.  But when the time of crisis came, his friends would run away at the sight of a snake. But he would remain seated, immersed in meditation while the snake rustled away leaving him in peace. Trained in the art of physical mastery, he would combat the white man for speaking ill of Indians. He showed the promise of a Life Exemplary and Leader Extraordinary!

“His pre-eminent characteristic was kingliness. Wherever he went he was the first.’ (Romain Rolland).

Narendranath was a born leader, never ‘made’ – only refined and directed by his great master Shri Ramakrishna.

A good leader accepts the situation at hand and tries to find a way out. But a great leader is ever in discomfort with the commonplace and the hackneyed reality. Naren began his quest for the beyond with burning questions on the existence of God and purpose of Life – only to be answered clear and direct by Sri Ramakrishna, who was to become his master though in appearance, upbringing and otherwise his direct antithesis. But this was not by any devout dedication but through a series of questioning he hurled upon his master. And then came the hour of consecration.

Ei jonmo ei shorir oi murkho bamun kine niyeche”. (This life, this body is consecrated to that old illiterate Brahmin!) – He wrote to a brother disciple later.

By the way, Narendranath was projected as the leader of tomorrow by his master – not by himself!

Naren shikshe debe” (Naren will teach the world) – was the prophecy of Shri Ramakrishna in the Master’s own writing.

A great leader emerges out of stormy crisis from various fronts – death of father, deprivation of mother from family property, futile search for a job. But he had the fortitude to stick to his master’s promise that he would never be plagued with basic sustenance. His primary preoccupation became an immersion into the self, deep in meditation. “Mon cholo nijo niketone…’ (O Mind! Return to thy own repose!). It was for his Master to turn him towards the world with the message of service, love, education to humanity. He was destined to be a leader –a banyan tree for one and many.

Storm as in crises for him was lifetime companion – severe hardship n Baranagar Math in North Calcutta after the death of his Master, hunger and uncertainty during his parivrajaka (the wandering monk) life in India, anxiety about funds for the America trip, spending sleepless and shivering night in Chicago railway station, lampooned and maligned by his opposition religious groups in the West and even from his close quarters back home.

But the fire in him was never to extinguish.

Vivekananda stood for the principles of acceptance and assimilation of diverse opinions, values and cultures. A true global leader in thoughts, words  and action, he became a fiery inspiration to men and women from the East and West from myriads of background – businessmen like Rockefeller and Jamshetji Tata, European women like Margaret Noble (Sister Nivedita) and Emma Calve, scientists like Acharya J C Bose and many more. His style of communication was different for each according to the nature and character of individuals. His was an enlightened universal mind a century ahead of his times. But never did he lose his anchor in India.

“India was his daydream. India was his nightmare.” (Sister Nivedita)

And his thundering voice rose: “He Bharat bhuliona…” (O India! Forget not…). He never disowned the past and ever cherished the golden heritage of India. But he was ever stretching out his hand and heart of welcome to the West as well, to a future that is different and diverse yet mutually and globally enriching for one and all.

Je somonnvoy kore sei lok” (The one who can synthesize is truly a human) said his Master. Swamiji lived this message throughout life – a grand synthesis of the best from all parts of the world that he had visited during his brief life span.

Srinvantu Vishwe Amritasya Putrah’ (Listen! O Children of Immortality, world over!). This was the invocation of the rishis of the Upanishads. The voice of Swamiji in Chicago Parliament of Religions resonated; “Sisters and brothers of America…” He was a modern incarnation of the ancient rishis (sages and seers) in the attire of a monk.

Back home he chose ‘atmanomoksharatham jagat hitaya cha’ as the motto of the Ramakrishna Mission – (For the liberation of the self and the welfare of the world)  on the foundation of the philosophy and principle of action ‘Siva jnana jivaseva’ (To serve man is to serve God n Man) as he learnt from his Master.

His last life in Belur Math was like that of a child – playing with animals and enjoying the company of tribal people while giving lessons on Upanishads to brother monks. In fact his was a life of a child-like leader yearning for fresh air and new light and learning forever. He learnt from all possible sources including a low caste ‘bhangee’ (one from a low caste) with whom he had smoke and also a dancing girl who, in Rajasthan at the palace of Maharaja of Khetri, taught him the message of non-discrimination among humans.

Jabot bnachi tabot shikhi” (I learn as long as I live) – was the message of Shri Ramakrishna. Following this precious teaching from his Master Swamiji lived, loved, learnt and left a legacy that is lasting and growing even beyond a century! Ramakrishna Mission is sustaining and flourishing every day all over the world for the service of humanity at large – spiritual, social and educational.

His funeral pyre was lit on the bank of the Ganges on the fifth of July 1902. The body of the monk inferno Swami Vivekananda was stretched on pyre in his chosen place under the bilwabrikshwa (The Bengal Quince tree) in Belur Math. His mother Bhubaneshwari Devi was sitting and watching the rising flames from the body of his eldest son. A speck of his saffron robe flew in the wind to Sister Nivedita, the devout disciple of the monk. She collected and preserved that ‘memento’ for her inspiration to action in the days to come.

Thus was the mortal consummation of the Swami, the Prince among men –the volcanic monk who shook the world with the fiery message of the Upanishads under the spiritual umbrage of his ‘seraphic master’ Sri Ramakrishna and ignited the spirit of India towards freedom.

Netaji (Subhas Chandra Bose) accepted him as his fiery guru in mortal absentia. In the words of Sri Aurobindo, it was like “baptism with blood and fire”. Netaji described Swamiji as a leader extraordinary in the following words:

“Reckless in his sacrifice, unceasing in his activity, profound and versatile in his wisdom, boundless in his love, exuberant in his emotions, merciless in his attacks and yet as simple as a child, he was a rare personality in this world of ours.

If Swamiji had been alive today he would have been my guru.”

I have ransacked the history of leadership and management literature in my voyage through Human values and Indian Ethos in Management, Spirituality and Leadership for nearly three decades but never found such a detailed, succinct yet most powerful and accurate assessment in these seven leadership qualities of one genius of a world leader by another of no mean stature.

We began with a tribute to Tagore by Satyajit Ray. And here we find a tribute to Swami Vivekananda, the Great Master and Leader Extraordinary by none other than Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. They remain with us as fountainhead of boundless inspiration in a world ruled and dictated by leaders who at best belong to the class of mediocrity in academia and otherwise!

But the fire in the volcanic monk still remains alive and aflame in those who are willing and ready to be ignited.

Agne twam hridayam agachha’ – Oh Fire Eternal! Come and set our hearts ablaze!

Amar modhye je agun jwolchhe tomader modhye o sei agun jwole uthuk… Ei sodai Vivekanandar prarthana.”

(The fire that is burning within me may set all your hearts aflame! This will ever be the eternal prayer of Vivekannada.)

May we live up to his prayers!

It was high in the snowy Himalayas. Swamiji was on pilgrimage with a few chosen disciples. His intense meditation led him to a vision of the Mother Kali, the Black Goddess, the mighty Destroyer and Time Eternal, lurking behind the veil of life. During one evening in a state of high fever he wrote a famous poem that concludes thus:

“Who dare misery loves,

And hug the form of Death,

Dance in destruction’s dance,

To him the Mother comes.”

He said to her chosen disciple Nivedita (an Irish lady of noble origin): “Meditate on death. Only by the worship of The Terrible can The Terrible itself be overcome…There could be bliss in torture too…The Mother Herself is Brahman…The heart must be a cremation ground – pride, selfishness, desire, all burnt to ashes. Then and then alone, will the Mother come!”

Vivekananda exemplified an authentic synthesis of the East and the West, the past and the present, Science and Religion, contemplation and action, spiritual pursuit and service to humanity. He was the messenger of dynamism and hope to India and the world. Could it be that he was under a spell of so-called negative thinking when he wrote the above verse? Or did he want to convey a pertinent message in a different mood that might be useful for all in moments of turbulence and uncertainty?

Leaders of tomorrow in business or otherwise, when shall we learn from death and destruction of old orders that we need creative quantum breakthroughs in our leadership principles, roles and practices to shake the very foundation of our outdated models and worn out concepts, our tunnel vision and fossilized values, by keeping alive and aflame just one precious element within our hearts – the passion to transform and infuse new life in our organizations and the planet at large?

Millennia ago, Socrates exhorted us to think and look within ourselves: “An unexamined life is not worth living.”   Closer in time, the voice of Nietzsche sounded even more daring and adventurous: “If one is to live, one is to live dangerously.”

 

{Tribute to Swami Vivekananda, the Great Master and leader extraordinary on The Foundation Day (May 1st, 1897) of The Ramakrishna Mission, the first Indian international organization with headquarters in India (Belur Math, Howrah – Kolkata on the bank of the Ganges) but outreach all over the world with more than 200 centres and still thriving in glory for almost more than a century and a quarter dedicated to the service of suffering humanity. An entrepreneurial venture of timeless significance even in times of crisis as in the present, this institution remains and grows as the ever expanding  global vision of this great master as an inexhaustible source of energy and inspiration, firmly rooted in Indian culture, ethos and heritage but with appeal reaching all over the world. At a level of Philosophy in Practice (Practical Vedanta, a term coined by himself that he spread like wild fire in the West even within the short span of his life of less than forty years) he gave a new turn to the ideal of monkhood with simultaneous emphasis on pursuit of salvation of the self through evolution of Consciousness and welfare of humanity at large.The Ramakrishna Mission that embodies the ideals of globalization and sustainability propounded by its founder a century before the pioneers of management in the West could even conceive of these ideas and principles. Even at a functional level the structure of the main temple of Shri Ramakrishna in Belur Math represents a grand synthesis of the East and the West – of Christian, Islamic and ancient Indian architecture.]

(Sanjoy Mukherjee (58) is Faculty of the Sustainability, CSR and Ethics academic group at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Shillong. He is the Chairperson of the Institute’s Annual International Sustainability Conference (SUSCON) and also the Chairperson of Student Affairs, Placement and Public Relations.

His detailed profile can be accessed at https://www.linkedin.com/in/sanjoy-mukherjee-72b18823

Permission to publish this tribute here is gratefully acknowledged.)

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ashokbhatia

Here is a country where the mind is without fear

And the head is held high

Where knowledge to children and youth is virtually free

And those distressed by the world are welcomed with open arms;

Where the definition of nationalism implies inclusivity

Fine arts of all countries and cultures are welcome

If narrow domestic walls exist, these are only to protect national interests

Where respect for the law of the land reigns supreme;

Where gender equity and diversity is not a mere slogan

The care offered to the elderly is exemplary

Some wish the taxes to be lower but realize the money is well spent

In many ways does it serve and comfort the citizens; 

Where human endeavour aims to attain perfection

Words come out from an inner conviction

Gentle, helpful, physically active and resilient

Following a work culture which deserves to be aped;

Where one can encounter the true…

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Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free; 

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments;

By narrow domestic walls;

Where words come out from the depth of truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit; 

Where the mind is led forward by thee 

Into ever-widening thought and action 

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

 

(1913, Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel Laureate)

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Here is a country where the mind is without fear

And the head is held high

Where knowledge to children and youth is virtually free

And those distressed by the world are welcomed with open arms;

 

Where the definition of nationalism implies inclusivity

Fine arts of all countries and cultures are welcome

If narrow domestic walls exist, these are only to protect national interests

Where respect for the law of the land reigns supreme;

 

Where gender equity and diversity is not a mere slogan

The care offered to the elderly is exemplary

Some wish the taxes to be lower but realize the money is well spent

In many ways does it serve and comfort the citizens; 

 

Where human endeavour aims to attain perfection

Words come out from an inner conviction

Gentle, helpful, physically active and resilient

Following a work culture which deserves to be aped;

 

Where one can encounter the true gifts of nature

Clean air, pristine water, lakes and streams

One amongst which is the clear stream of reason 

Leading to ever-widening thought and action;

 

Into this heaven of freedom, I wish this country to remain.

 

(Inspired by the famous poem ‘Where the mind is without fear…’ by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore)

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Abstract
All of us strive for perfection. Achieving and maintaining a state of perfect health is a primary concern for many amongst us. There are various kinds of ‘pathies’ which are on offer to help us to do this. But the real help could also be sourced from within us. The faith we have. The willpower we exercise. The actions we take to help our bodies heal themselves. We could strive to be our own doctors.

On one of our luckier days when we happen to be in front of the idiot box, or when the latest internet-savvy gizmo is Health Monarch femalenestling in our palms, we are apt to run into a beautiful documentary which captures the birth of a Monarch butterfly. The radical transformation – from an egg to a caterpillar, then into a chrysalis, and finally into the Monarch butterfly – leaves us somewhat awe-struck and mesmerised. The universe appears to have programmed all living beings to strive to attain a state of perfection, balance and harmony.

When we speak of perfection, most of us refer to our external appearances, actions or conditions. Better inter-personal relations. Better status in society. Better harmony with our environment. Better compliance with laws, rules and regulations. Basically, we envisage a better, wealthier, happier and more humane kind of living.

The harsh slings and arrows of life make us aware of something we invariably take for granted – our physical selves. Those amongst us who have faced a medical crisis of some kind would often be found seeking perfection of the physical being through all the means available.

A rainbow of choices

We would be found tapping into the resources of the allopathic stream which offers diagnostic tools of high standards.Doctors Day We would be spell-bound at the capacity of this stream of medicine to look at the universe within us in a highly mechanical manner. We would be amazed at the extent of division of various organs which function within its complex confines. A cardiologist would declare that our heart continues to beat in a rhythmic manner befitting a piece of classical music. A neurologist would put us under a scanner and tell us that our brain is firing on all its twelve cylinders. A gastroenterologist would put our digestive system under the microscope and assure us that it is discharging its assigned functions in a prompt and regular manner.

Nevertheless, we would still be feeling tired and exhausted and, well, not up to the mark when it comes to physical fitness. As patients, we would then be told of the virtue of psycho-somatic diseases, with broad hints that we could be suffering from some such unidentifiable ailment. Oh, the feeling of smug satisfaction we derive when being told that we appear to suffer from some mysterious disease which the scientists of today are yet to properly catalogue and name, let alone devise a treatment protocol for!

To some of us, the relatively older system of homoeopathy may sound better. We would find that it is more intuitiveHealth Hahnemann in nature. The medications are milder, with lesser side-effects. These might temporarily increase the severity of our symptoms, thereby indicating that a real cure is on its way. After a detailed one-to-one with the physician, we would be back to our ‘popping-the-pill’ routine.

Same goes for the Ayurvedic or Unani streams of healing. The physician would check our pulse and arrive at the disharmony in our bodies. Dietary restrictions would need to be followed.

Our pursuit of perfection does not end here. A brief stint at a health centre run on the principles of yoga, meditation and naturopathy might revitalise our physical and mental systems and show us the way to get out of our ‘pop-the-pill’ syndrome. The focus of this approach is on detoxifying the body and also training us to give up the luxury of indulging our taste-buds. Overall, it brings us closer to Mother Nature, a factor which is sorely missed by those of us who live in highly congested urban settings.

Sure enough, we enjoy the more holistic way of treatment offered under the alternate streams of medicine. TheseHealth Dhanvantari treat us as a composite whole of the body-mind-vital and not merely as an assembly of several parts which continue to function in their individual isolated glory.

We try our hands at flower therapy, colour therapy, magneto-therapy, acupuncture, acupressure, and several others. When it comes to healing, we have a wide range of choices of systems to choose from. Many of us try to take an integral approach, using the best treatments from diverse streams of medicine. We do it based on the faith we have in the physician as well as in the medicine. This plays a crucial role in the healing process.

Building up our inner resilience

When we push ourselves to do something we essentially like doing, we do not get tired. The body and the mind do not revolt. Instead, they bask in the inner glow of satisfaction and happiness. Scientists would call it ‘eustress.’

However, most of the times, we experience distress. We face situations in life which do not allow us to exercise an option of either ‘fight’ or ‘flight.’ Stress built up over a long time tends to be disastrous. The good news is that if stress is directly proportional to external factors, it is also inversely proportional to our internal resilience. Some people tend to take an event very lightly. For others, the same event could be highly demoralising. It depends on how strong we are from within.

How do we build up inner resilience? How do we achieve a better level of harmony between our inner and outer selves and between our heads and our hearts?

The Divine within us can guide us in this respect. If we were to live in harmony with nature, it would help. If we could Technology MEDITATION-ENTREPRENEUR-SUCCEEDchange our dietary habits, we could enjoy better well-being. If we were to control our negative emotions and live only in pure and positive ones, our cells would get healthier. If we smile, it would take away a lot of stress from our poisoned systems. If we feel a deep sense of gratitude within us – say, for simply being alive – positive vibes would generate the soft glow of self-fulfilment inside us, helping us to recover earlier. We would radiate happiness all around us.

The mind exercises a great deal of control over our body. It is surely within our powers to train it to give a positive message to the diseased cells within us. This, compounded with faith in the remedy, could work miracles.

What happens if we fail in our attempts, one might well ask. Not to despair. One, no effort goes waste. Perhaps, we shall not suffer as much as we might have done had we continued in our state of blissful ignorance. Two, the purpose of our birth might just be to reduce human suffering. We might end up bringing succour to others who suffer from a similar ailment. Three, by offering ourselves as a guinea pig and a living human laboratory, we might make a modest contribution towards advancing the knowledge about a particular disease afflicting mankind.

Of Nature, nurture and niftiness

As patients, we aim to gain two kinds of freedoms – freedom from the ailment and freedom from the remedy. How doFeatured Image -- 1211 we become and remain independent of all kinds of doctors and healing systems? Can we become our own doctors?

What we are and what we shall become is only controlled by our actions. The science of epigenetics shows that genes are not only inherited and transferred to our progeny; these also get altered by our actions and the environment. It is not only about what Nature has provided us with. It is also about how we have been nurtured and how clever we are in the actions that we take.

We can will ourselves to heal faster. We can open up ourselves and tap into the infinite energy swirling about in the universe. We could draw a lot of inspiration this way. Our intuitive faculties also come into play and help us in gaining freedom from ailments as also from medications. The potential of our bodies and minds can be tapped better.

The change has to come from within us – from the core of our psychic being. The aspiration has to be genuine. It hasHealth Monarch_Male to permeate all our thought processes and even our actions. A constant remembrance of the divine power within us can be the panacea for all our ailments – a key to achieving perfect health.

In ‘Gitanjali’, Rabindranath Tagore proposes: “Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection (1)”. Even though ‘perfection’ may not be attainable in reality, what matters is the ‘tireless striving’, which could well prove to be a reward in itself. ‘Perfection’, like happiness, need not be a station one arrives at, but a mode of travel, making the journey interesting and worthwhile.

Reference

1. Tagore Rabindranath. Tagore for You. 3rd ed. Kolkata: Deep Prakashan; 2011, p. 45.

(Published in NAMAH, the Journal of Integral Health, Vol 22, Issue 4, dated the 15th of January, 2015)

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Languages are an important means of communication. The better you are at communication, the higher are your chances of Languages Winnipeg_Forks_-_Plains_Cree_Inscriptionsuccess in life. Success need not always be on the materialistic plane. It could even be just a sense of inner contentment you experience when you are able to connect with people of a different region or country. The sheer joy of being able to express yourselves clearly, as also that of being understood by the party of the other part, makes you feel at home in the most alien surroundings.

My father, who was born and brought up in British India, knew three languages – Hindi, English and Urdu. Whenever I came across a word of chaste Urdu in a poem or a song, he would explain it with much relish. On quiet evenings, he would pull out his worn out diary and read Urdu couplets to us. I always found Urdu very fascinating and lyrical, though I could never get to learn it. The ghazals, the nazams and the shaayari this language has spawned just leaves me mesmerized.

Life has been kinder to both my children who have ended up learning not only English and Hindi but also Sanskrit, Tamil, German and Norwegian. Not to be left behind, the newly arrived toddlers in the family are already honing their communication skills in diverse languages. The ease with which they switch between various languages and use different words from different languages in the same sentence leaves the entire family exasperated at times. You could very well call this Esperanto!

What about yours faithfully, you may well ask. People who are familiar with my subdued levels of IQ are of the opinion that I shall never get nominated for a Nobel Prize in any field of human study, especially so in the realm of linguistics. I am pretty dumb when it comes to learning languages. Other than Hindi and English, I have merrily tossed away opportunities to learn many other languages.

In childhood, I ended up learning Telugu which I found to be quite similar to Sanskrit. However, having never had to use it Languages Ancient_Tamil_Scriptagain, my knowledge of Telugu as of today is close to nil. Sanskrit was a part of the curriculum at school and what a treat it was to learn this mother of several other languages. The present knowledge of course happens to be rusty. It is a pity because knowledge of Sanskrit opens up newer vistas of wisdom enshrined in the Indian scriptures.

I spent quite a few years in Chandigarh. Somehow, the rustic nature of the Punjabi language never agreed with my innate soft nature. For close to eighteen years now, I have been living in the southern part of India. However, the only phrase I have learnt to speak so far is ‘Tamil teriyaadi’; in other words, a declaration that I do not know Tamil. I use it regularly, much to the amusement of the street vendors who are decent enough to give me an indulgent smile with a shrug.

Yes, I have a ready excuse for having practiced this policy of linguistic isolation. In senior management circles that I move in, my interactions are limited to those who speak English. However, I do realize that this laziness of mine in learning the local language is entirely my own loss. Admittedly, Tamil is a very rich language. May be some day I shall pick up the courage to fulfill my pious intentions of learning it!

I have never had the chance to learn Bengali, but I really find it very soothing to the ears. One of the best gifts I ever received from a friend of mine is a set of audio CDs containing Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s songs in Rabindra Sangeet, sung by a proficient Bengali singer in Hindi. The experience of listening to it on a quiet evening is absolutely uplifting and invigorating!

For a family where the parents hail from different regions of India, it is natural to have a conversation at home either in the ‘mother tongue’ or in the ‘father tongue’! Enter a visitor who knows neither and the family effortlessly switches over to English. Family members also enjoy the freedom of exchanging socially unpalatable remarks about the visitor who has no clue as to what is up!

Our family languages help us to maintain strong filial bonds. These also help us to preserve and build upon our cultural IMGP8066roots. However, knowledge of other languages helps us in building bridges with people from other regions and countries. By learning and using a language, we also help to preserve and perpetuate it for posterity.

Mine is a wrong example to follow. Even at the risk of being labeled a hypocrite, allow me to say that if you ever get an opportunity in life to learn a different language, just grab it! You learn your mother tongue naturally. If your parents are from diverse cultures and regions, you naturally end up learning your ‘father’ tongue as well! If you are lucky to live in a country other than where you were born, you naturally get exposed to colleagues and friends and also pick up the native language.

So, if life throws another chance your way, just pick it up and learn a different language altogether. You would surely end up having more fun. You would also end up being better connected to another part of humanity. Yours would be a more contented soul!

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When one speaks of an Indian-Italian courtship these days, one’s imagination invariably veers around to the recent diplomatic row between the two countries on a matter involving the highest ‘court’ of India and the unfortunate death of two Indian fishermen at the hands of two marines of an Italian ‘ship’. But the ‘courtship’ between the two countries is much broader and deeper than this!

Italy and India are so similar, yet so different. One is a developed country; the other is striving to meet its Ajanta_Padmapanidevelopmental goals. One has a population of 62 million; the other is struggling to cope with its 1.2 billion! Italy is placed 10th in overall GDP terms globally, whereas India is placed at 3rd. In per capita terms though, Italy (USD 30,116) is 29th in the world, whereas India (USD 3,851) is placed 129th!

Yet, the two countries are very similar to each other! Both Italians and Indians tend to be warm-hearted, open and talkative. Both share a common disdain for their politicians and judiciary. Whether it is art and culture, variety of cuisine and language, history and geography, heritage and movies, both share several common characteristics. Both are famous for their movies, motor scooters, cars and gossip magazines.

The Italian Charms!

Indians have fallen for Italian charms since quite some time. During the 1970s, the preferred choice of a scooter in India was Vespa, an Italian brand. Espresso coffee soon followed and quickly became a household name. Pizza was the next to captivate the taste buds of Indians of all age groups. Gucci, Prada, Armani and Versace are already the favourite brands of the well-heeled. Several other major brands – like Alberta Ferreti, Fendi, Byblos and Scorpion Bay, to name only a few – have already firmed up plans to woo the Indian customer in the days to come.Colosseum_in_Rome,_Italy

Each state in India has its own delectable cuisine. Likewise, all the 20 regions of Italy boast of their own cuisines. If India has its paranthas, chhole-kulche and dosas, Italy has pizzas, risotto, lasagne and pasta. In each category, both offer a mind-boggling variety to choose from.

Mamma Mia!

Both countries place a high emphasis on family values, especially the affection their own brand of tiger moms bestow on their respective precious cubs! Culturally, within a family, the male adult comes first, is served first at the table and is fussed over better. It is never in doubt as to who wears the pants in the family. Females in both countries play an important role in the kitchen and like to focus on displaying their culinary skills better.

Both Italians and Indians tend to be passionate and express their feelings loud and clear when upset! In both countries, weddings are increasingly based on love, as opposed to being ‘arranged’ in the past.

A Soulful Connection

For Indians who have perfected the art of living with filth and squalor all around them, visiting Italy is like a sophisticated and upgraded home-coming of sorts. Despite being a European country, Italy has a unique Indian touch which captivates and enamours the Indian soul quite effectively.IMGP9042

Taking a leisurely stroll near the Rome Termini Train Station, one is gently reminded of similar surroundings of the railway stations in India. Running into few homeless vagabonds sleeping in a corner is quite likely. The stench of stale urine emanating from a boundary wall makes one feel quite at home. However, one still misses the graphic art masterpieces in various hues of maroon so lovingly created by our paan-chewing brethren on all kinds of walls back home.

One will find laundry drying and ladies squatting and chatting away merrily on roads and streets. Driving on roads is the same, that is, on the left side. Also, there is no difference in driving habits; in India as well as in Italy, the values of Freedom, Fraternity and Democracy are upheld with remarkable zeal on the roads, holding all rules in sheer contempt!

How We Hate Our Courts and Politicians

There is a shared contempt of courts. Emblem_of_Italy.svg was sentenced to a year in prison but does not appear to be going to jail anytime soon. The Indian legislative bodies can justifiably claim to have a liberal sprinkling of criminals. If Italy has a strong presence of the mafia, India has its own share of the underworld dons.

People in both countries are perhaps tired of the ruling dispensation as well as the opposition camps of all hues. Recent elections in Italy have thrown up a hung parliament. India has been experimenting with the coalition model of governance for more than two decades now and can offer rich expertise to Italy on managing Emblem_of_India.svg‘coalition compulsions’!

The Begging Bowl Syndrome

Italy and India share the same level of income disparities amongst their populace. If one were to go by the UN Gini index, Italy was assessed at 32 in 2006, whereas India was assessed at 33.4 in 2005. (Nil disparity would mean the Gini index would be ‘zero’; maximum disparity would mean the Gini index would be ‘100’). India has a middle class which keeps suffering in the space of public delivery of services in dignified silence.

It comes as no surprise that begging is an invariable part of life and is an art practised in both the countries. However, it is far more sophisticated in Italy. Boarding a train, one could find a pretty young lady claiming to be deserted by her boy-friend openly seeking money to raise her kids. On the streets of Florence, one could encounter statuesque artists dressed up in plaster-of-paris-like costumes, seeking alms.

History and GeographyVitruvianMan

Historically, India had been mostly ruled by the Mughals and the British. Italy had been under the influence of Austria, France and Germany. Both were cobbled together by several princely states, distinct kingdoms or regions coming together.

Geographically, both countries have similar profiles. Italy has the Alps on its Northern side, just like India has the Himalayas. Sea beaches are in abundance in both the countries. Italy shares its borders with France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. India does so with China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal. In fact, Andaman and Nicobar share a maritime boundary with Thailand and Indonesia.Luciano_Pavarotti

Fine Arts and Science

Both Italy and India have had truly illustrious people in the realm of fine arts, literature, sculpture and science. If Italy can boast of Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, Enrico Fermi and Dante, India can talk of Aryabhatt, C V Raman, J C Bose and Rabindranath Tagore. If Italy has Pavarotti, India has Pandit Jasraj and M S Subbalakshmi. If Italy stakes claim to as many as 47 UNESCO World Heritage sites, India does it for 29.

Language, Religion and Regional InitiativesPandit_Jasraj

Italian language has several dialects. Indians cope with as many as 26 scheduled languages, many of which have several dialects.

More than 91% of Italians are Christians. India has Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians and Jains as major groups of a diverse religious landscape.

Italy is a founding member of NATO and EU. India had espoused the cause of Panchsheel and is a founding member of BRICS. Italy is home to the Vatican. India is home to diverse ethnic groups and religions. Both are held to be important regional powers.

Architectural and Artistic Elegance

India boasts of the Taj Mahal which took 16 years to build. Italy boasts of St. Peter’s Basilica which took 120 years to get compTajleted. India has the Qutab Minar; Italy has the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The difference surely lies in the attention paid towards maintenance of museums, heritage buildings and the exquisite paintings and sculptures Italy possesses. Visiting ‘The Last Supper’ by Leonardo da Vinci in Milan, one would notice the exquisite care with which the humidity and temperature are controlled in the hall containing the famous fresco. The care with which Michelangelo’s original masterpiece of ‘David’ is maintained in a Florence museum is something to be learnt from.

In India, tourists keep defacing the Ajanta and Ellora murals as well as all historical monuments with utter disregard and impDavid_von_Michelangelounity, slowly destroying a very rich heritage that the country possesses.

Lessons in Governance

When it comes to governing the ungovernable, there is a lot that Italy can learn from India. The latter has unique expertise in managing a complex country which can justifiably boast of flourishing black markets, mobsters, super-slow courts, crooked politicians, warring business families, hosting mega religious gatherings like the Kumbh Mela, cities which think they are states, states which believe they are independent countries and regions which believe they are continents.

Coming back to the marines imbroglio, diplomacy has won the day. Both Italy and India have managed to avoid embarrassing each other in international forums.The_Last_Supper

One has no doubt that despite occasional friction which is the hallmark of a deeper engagement, the two countries will continue with their courtship for a long time to come!

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