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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I have seen God's glory

God in His infinite wisdom fulfils Himself in many ways. Everything, therefore, even illness and pain, is just and good and necessary in the total scheme of things. I have walked alone since I was 17, and it has been a rough ride, but most exhilarating too. My only grouch – one which grew deeper with the passage of years – was that nobody seemed to really care much for me as a human being, beyond the work that I did (and that, too, attracted a disproportionate amount of opprobrium along with the admittedly lavish accolades). My great good fortune was that I never fell ill (nothing beyond what, in my book, can only be called minor irritants) over a span of nearly a quarter century: I just soldiered on, like a mindless bulldozer; ‘nothing’s ever going to happen to me, I can’t afford anything to happen, there’s nobody to look after me’. After a sickly childhood, I had nearly forgotten what going to the hospital was like, except for the sake of others. And although I kept telling myself and everybody around me how deeply grateful I was, how being fit all the time is one of the greatest of treasures, maybe He who knows me far better than I ever could saw that something was lacking, something missing in me, some lesson that I needed to learn yet… and so, very shortly after I wrote my last blogpost, lamenting on the eve of our 60th Independence Day that I can see so few good men, let alone great ones, around me that I could be really proud of India and dream of a great future for her, I went down with acute appendicitis, and was whisked off to hospital and operated upon at very short notice … to make the long story short, here I am, back again, recovering happily, enjoying my first proper ‘medical leave’ from work in 20 years, and despite the niggling pain and discomfort and downtime, my heart is filled with a very warm glow of gratitude, contentment and wonder. How I needed to be ill!

Of course I was looked after by superbly skilled men. But skill is not the highest thing I respect – I have a few skills myself, and I have known some skilled scoundrels too. What I found was what I respect most, yearn most to see around me, try hardest to give to all I deal with, and lament most the lack of in so many of my countrymen: sincerity of purpose, devotion to duty, and above everything else, caring for one who is helpless, suffering, and in need, caring to the extent of going out of one’s way, beyond the call of duty, to lend a kindly helping hand just in time. And I cannot put in words the degree of amazed gladness that I felt to see just how many people did exactly that, how eagerly, instantly, and unstintingly. To name everyone who dropped in with a kind and encouraging word and an offer of help would fill pages, so I can only tell you all a very big ‘Thank You!’ from the bottom of my heart, hoping that each one of you will understand I am saying this personally. But a few especially – a few doctors and their wives and sons – have put me eternally in their debt, and the most heartfelt of thank you-s would be too poor a recompense for them. Name them I would, if I didn’t know it will only embarrass them: true gentlemen dislike open and fulsome praise. I don’t know what little service I might have done them once upon a time, but nothing of that sort could have ‘earned’ what they did for me: nothing but the greatness of their own souls can explain the gift of love I have received. If God reveals Himself mostly through one’s fellow-men, I have seen Him in the last few days. I have learnt, firstly (alas for all my countrymen who will never know) that neither money nor power can buy the human touch; secondly, that India is home (as she has always been) to both the worst and the best sort of men (may the latter tribe increase, may our mothers inspire their children with the right examples!); thirdly that even my foulest detractors serve a purpose in God’s divine plan, for how could I know how good some men can be except by comparing them with the worst – those who abuse me through insane, impotent envy and rage because someday, somewhere, I did some good to them? How can you praise the light unless you have seen the darkness? And above all else, I know that as long as some men and women (and old boys) like the ones I am inwardly praising even as I write are alive and active, committed to their work and resolved to fight on regardless of having to work most of the time for wretched ingrates, trying to make things a wee bit better just by being the best they can, this country cannot go to the dogs yet! For the sake of this joyous realization, I shall gladly go through a trauma like last week’s ten times over again.

As for my wife - I know she'll hate to see me going public with this, so I'll limit myself to one line - that she is indeed my better half, I now have no doubts at all. Nor, indeed, that my daughter is very quickly growing up to become the mother I never had.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

My mother is sixty!

Free India is going to be sixty tomorrow!
Here are a few ruminations for the occasion to share with all my fellow Indians:

I am one of those folks who have been simultaneously cynical and deeply, incurably sentimental on the ‘unfashionable’ question of patriotism lifelong. Why can’t I find many people who are like that – what is so bad or stupid about it?

I cannot grow viciously excited when India is about to beat Pakistan in a cricket match and at the same time slaver and fawn over anyone who has got a green card to settle in the USA.

I cannot wax eloquent over how ‘rich and glorious’ my culture is while millions of little girls are sold and raped routinely in my country and few ‘educated’ Indians can speak or write either English or their native tongues correctly. Nor can I gush over what tremendous ‘progress’ India has been making economically while 300 million plus still wallow in the most abject poverty, and the whole middle class worships anybody who has a lot of money, no matter how dirty that money might be.

I criticize my countrymen all the time not because I hate and despise them, but because I want that they all take an oath to think a little less about petty and narrow interests (me and my family and our shopping) and bother more about larger ones (the per capita income, the prevalence of superstition and corruption, the general backwardness of our technology, the exploding population) – so that some day, through the combined, sincere, skilful and unidirectional efforts of a billion plus Indians, India can again become truly one of the leaders of the world, in terms of material prosperity, in terms of cleanliness and greenery all around, in terms of the safety and dignity enjoyed by the old, the very young, the handicapped, the ill and women, in terms of Nobel Prizes, Oscars and Olympic golds, in terms of shared pride in all that is good and great about ‘our’ culture, and in terms of the number of Indians alive whom the whole world acknowledges as great – such as when both Gandhi and Tagore were alive and active, or such as when the best students from all over the world came to Nalanda University in search of wisdom, or when the whole wide world, from Rome to the far east, had fallen under the spell of everything Indian.

I am a dreamer. ‘So am I!’, a hundred million other Indians will clamour at once. But are you, really, I ask them. And do you dream big (can you think, for instance, that there is greatness beyond becoming the BPO capital of the world, or being the largest churner out of B and C-grade movies)? If you do, think about the pledge of allegiance that every American child is taught to repeat every day in school: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Then ponder, also, over what has come to be known as the American’s creed: "I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes. I, therefore, believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies."

If a few fellow Indians share my love and respect and dreams for India in exactly that spirit, I call upon them all to vow with me along the following lines: “I love my country and want that she become great again. To that end, I swear that, however humble my capacity, I shall not harm her but try to do what little good I can – by never taking a shortcut in life, never giving or taking a bribe, never shirking responsibility, never preferring ease and convenience over duty, never believing that somehow getting and keeping a job is the highest goal to which every other ideal and principle must be unthinkingly sacrificed, never allowing cheating, cruelty and injustice to flourish unopposed before my eyes if I can help it, and always doing the work that brings my daily bread with as much love and respect and sincerity as I can, no matter what anybody has to say about it. I shall never again say that patriotism is for others to practise. – And I shall dream big for my country, whether or not my dreams come true in my lifetime. Jai Hind!”