Dhyanavanam – A unique experience

January 1, 2017

An entirely new experience was in store for us last week. We had gone for a training workshop, organised by Dr.Raja and Kalpana, the couple who work in Gandhigram University, and have become close family friends over the last few years. This time, the training was held outside the University campus, at Dhyana Vanam, an ashram nearby.

Dhyana Vanam is run by Father Korko Moses – a saffron-clad Jesuit Priest. He manages the ashram, spread over 6.5 acres, mostly alone and with the occasional help of priests who come for training. It has been 5 years since the area has received decent rains; the adjoining dam is dry; yet, there is a bit of greenery left. The mercy of the small showers that morning had added a glow to the green.

Father Korko lives a simple, monastic life. His bedroom offered a sight that I’ve never come across. In the room, built as a pyramidal structure, there was a cot, over 4 feet tall, and a thin mattress over it; there was a makeshift bathroom at one corner. There was nothing else in that room.

“For the first time, I am seeing a room with no material objects,” I commented.
“A few of my possessions are in the office,” he clarified.

The program started after four girls lighted a lamp, and Mahirl Malar sang a song from Thirumurai.

In the large hall, where the program was held, there were pictures of Dalai Lama, Vivekananda, Francis of Assisi, Rumi, Mahavira and other spiritual leaders. He shared with the children, an outline about each of them. There was a picture of Jesus, seated in Padmasana. He said he sees Jesus as a Siddha saint.

Father Korko considers Swami Sadhananda Giri to be his Guru, and has spent many years in Bengal, learning Yoga from him. This Catholic priest has also assumed another name – Swami Saranananda. He has written a book, Yesu Nama Japam in Bengali, and has translated it into English and Tamil.

There is a separate hall for meditation, set amidst serene surroundings. The wall facing the door, has in its middle, a picture which brings together symbols of 12 different religions. On top of it is, inscribed in bold fonts, the Tamil phrase from Thirmoolar, “There is but one religion, and one god.” In the middle of the picture, the figure of a meditating saint is seen.

Founders of all religions attained an enlightened state after deep meditation, says Father Korko.

In front of the picture, Gita, Bible and Koran, are placed open. On the book shelf in the room, several copies of these scriptures were present.

On the first day evening, the 30 children, aged between 10 and 15, quietly sat through a 1-hour session of bhakti songs, the multi-religious song of Vinoba Bhave, meditation, reading of a passage from Bible (related to the couplets from Thirukkural that we saw that day). Father Korko briefed the children about the 12 religions represented in the central picture. He told stories of Buddha.

The meditation ended with an ‘arati’ for the central picture.

We assembled again, at 6am the next morning. After a few physical exercises, we had another round of meditation and singing for an hour. This time, instead of Bible, Father Korko chose a few passages from Gita, and asked me to read aloud. Dr.Raja sang the song of peace, ‘Shanti nilva vendum.’

Later, when I cited Dharmananda Kosambi, who in his well researched and reverent work on Buddha, disputes some of the popular tales as improbable, Father Korko agreed, “Yes, they are myths. Myths are built around all prophets within a few years. These myths are useful to explain their philosophies.”

In between our training sessions, he taught the children Korean dance. They were thrilled.

When Nedya took a session on birds, the children could easily appreciate the connection between people and nature.

The task of taking classes based on Thirukkural was now simplified. In a way, it seemed redundant. When children could see righteousness and love personified by a simple man, right in front of them, what is there to express through words.

The children were split into small groups and sent into the village, to visit at least 5 houses, converse and mingle with the villagers. At some houses, dogs barked at them; at a couple of houses, people did the barking; but largely, people were friendly, invited them inside and offered them something to eat. Though the drought has robbed them of all revenues and jobs, there is moisture left in their hearts.

There is nobody willing or trained, yet, to take over the Dhyana Vanam from Father Korko, and, though he is not someone to be too fussed about future, his longing for a potential successor can be sensed. He feels that this place will be more ideal for seekers than devotees. Though there is no organisational resistance to his work, there doesn’t seem to be any great support either. He travels abroad every year to conduct meditation sessions, and also conducts retreats at the ashram. He raises sufficient funds for running the ashram through these activities. He also holds alcohol de-addiction camps.

He wanted to learn the song on Shiva (Oli valar vilakke) that Mahirl had sung. He asked her to sing again, and recorded it, and noted down the lyrics. He opined that the raga of the song must be Ananda Bhairavi. We didn’t know for sure, who the author was (Thirumaaligaithevar). He took us to his library. The library had the entire collection of Thirumurai in over 20 volumes. He also had the complete collection of Max Muller’s works on Eastern sacred texts. Having left for Bengal at the age of 18, and having spent 38 years of his life there, he felt that he couldn’t gain sufficient exposure to Tamil works.

At the end of the two days, during the feedback session, one young girl mentioned, “I asked the Father if Hindus can read Bible. He said yes. I liked it very much.”

That openness and appreciation for other thoughts is one of the key insights the children would have gained in those two days.

The storm in the cup

March 29, 2011

The imposters can take a break. The real thing is unraveling. The elimination phase of World Cup is far ahead, in excitement value, of IPL, for all the hype that IPL generates. Maybe, it has got to do with the draw. India-Australia in the quarter-finals and India-Pakistan in the semi-finals. I am tempted to spout the battered cliché, it can’t get bigger than this. Not even a mouth-watering Brazil-Argentina semi-final or final in a soccer WC. Even, a small fish like me has been turned into a mini-celebrity for a minute, when a reporter called me up to ask if we are doing anything special at our company for the India-Pak match.

There are cynics, or pragmatists, depending upon how you look at them, amongst us, who believe, it is all panning out as per the script. Frankly, for the spectator, does it matter ? If the bookies have scripted this story, then they are excellent screenplay writers, only faltering at the very end by opting for a lengthy anti-climax. Do we not enjoy a movie or a book, knowing fully well, that it is fiction? Are we not enthralled by Rajnikanth running on the sides of a speeding train, without wondering about the graphic designers and the extras behind the scene. In the same way, if Kamran drops a catch, as he is wont to, do not wonder who else is behind the drop. Enjoy the moment. Attribute it to incompetence. Do not insult, or glorify, incompetence by casting aspersions on the motives.

I cringe, whenever, any India player says ‘I want to win this world cup for Sachin’. All they mean is ‘I want Sachin to win this world cup for us’. Sachin is in such prime form that, despite his past record of often taking the team to the brink and falling off, we continue to dream of Sachin taking us to the mount, like we have done for over 20 years now. For the cricket chroniclers, Sachin playing bloody-nosed against Waqar and Wasim was the moment that heralded him. However, for the then-teenage Indian fans, the boyish Sachin announced his arrival with those belligerent sixers of the deadly Abdul Qadir, even as the erstwhile maverick Kris Srikanth was playing a sedate innings; it didnt matter then that this was in an exhibition match. It was against Pakistan that he went through his most heart-wrenching test innings at Chennai. It was against Pakistan, in the 2003 world cup, that he played his most significant one-day innings which, though it didnt transpire to be a century, paled the earlier desert storms. And, Pakistan it is, which is now before him, as the ultimate penultimate-hurdle.

Ponting, the contemporary batsman sniffing closest to Sachin, and hailed as a devastating matchwinner has ended his world cup career as a tragic hero. Will Sachin, the eternal tragic hero in big tournaments, seize his chance to wear the mantle of Ponting? He has conquered time, his opponents, critics, and an ailing body, to position himself to do that. He is at his subtle best form. It is not too much to hope he will do it.

If the unbearable pressure and the long-time failings of the great man catch up with him and he cannot close it out, the man most likely to fill in the void is Yuvraj. Coming into the tournament, with more eyes on his paunch than his bat, he has turned around the ball and his batting form. He is one of the best finishers ever for India, taking India to pulsating victories in the past in critical matches. He is no more the Indian Jonty. He is no more the hare between the wickets, much to the ire of his partners and captain. He will be better off if the team treats him as an Indian Inzy or Arjuna…both of them have proved that world cups can be lifted by calculating and capable sloths.

And quietly, and uncharacteristically, lurking behind the limelight is Sehwag. If Sachin is the visionary, Sehwag is the master of small dreams, who lives out every child cricketer’s dreams. Like hitting a six to get to a century. Like hitting another to get to the double (despite failing once before). And, like hitting one more to get to the triple. Even in a tournament, where he dozed off after the first day onslaught, he has realized his small dreams. Like hitting a first-ball boundary. Five matches in a row. Despite his relatively modest record in ODIs, if there is one player in any team that every opposition truly fears, it is Sehwag. The big bonus is that India doesnt crumble if Sehwag gets out, in stark contrast to the panic that Sachin’s dismissal triggers. There are capable accumulators in Gambhir, Kohli and Dhoni, and a potential game-breaker in Raina/Pathan, behind him.

Most analysts rate India’s batting lineup to be far superior to Pakistan. Going by the record book, that is a no-brainer. Where most of them falter is in rating the current Pakistan bowling attack to be superior to India. The late entry of ‘can-handle-pressure-better’ Ashwin and the form of Zaheer, puts this attack on par with Pakistan. If Akhtar plays, then, like Aussies found out with Tait,  it is advantage India. It will be unlikely, though, that Dhoni will be able to match the pyro-techniques with gloves and fun-value that Kamran brings to the field.

An India-Pakistan match brings back a multitude of memorable moments. The last-ball six by Miandad. The last-over six by the now-forgotten-Chauhan and the last-ball four by another-forgotten-man-Kanitkar that erased the decade-long scar of that six. Jadeja showing the world how to smack Waqar yorkers. Prasad closing the door on a hot chase. Prasad doing it again 3 years later. Tendulkar’s six over point. Sehwag following up with a copycat shot.

Tomorrow, there will be 22 players on the field driven by passion, retribution, thirst, history, politics, economics and above all fear. And, there are a few more memories waiting to be etched collectively in our minds.

And, of course, there is a final 2 days later.

Is a rose a rose till it is called a rose?

January 7, 2011

A loose ball, the first of a spell,

if bowled by a Steyn,

is termed a teaser.

The same ball, by a lesser mortal,

if despatched over the ropes,

is called a loosener.

The prank of our naughty daughter,

when in a good mood,

earns her a hug and a kiss.

The same prank, on another day,

when in a great hurry,

I told her not to fuss.

She wonders.

Sehwag – Stuff dreams are made of

March 28, 2008

It would be the dream of every boy who has played cricket with a tennis ball, to reach a century with a six or at least a four. Ask Sachin Tendulkar’s son.

Sehwag almost did that thrice in a day. Boundaries and sixers flowed from his bat in his 90s, 190s and 290s. He has got out in Australia trying to hit a six in his 190s. But nothing deters him. This guy knows how to dream and moreover is capable of living out his dreams.

The only paradox about Sehwag is that he is a test specialist who has a 20-20 strike rate but cannot perform in the shorter version. Probably because, you need time to dream and plan.

Do Whites hate money when its colour is brown?

March 4, 2008

First came the Indian software and BPO industry. People in the west started getting worried about the work and money that was flowing into India. But more than these industries, the Whites are getting nervous about a challenge from an unexpected quarter – Cricket. Browsing through many articles by English and Australian writers, it is obvious that they are worried that the colour of money is turning brown.  A cursory glance will throw out headings like ‘Silly Money’, ‘I dont need IPL money’, which miserably fail to mask the contempt for the money earned by Indian cricketers.

There was a time when Indian cricketers yearned for county contracts. Now the English board and the Australian board are struggling to keep their players from moving to Indian shores due to the lure of money.

I hate the BCCI for its complete incompetence in managing the sport in the country. But they must be appreciated for unlocking the financial value of the game in India and storming the White bastion like nobody else before. They can even be forgiven for acting no different from Whites, when it comes to misuing the power bestowed upon them by money. Let India make the most of it, as long as it lasts and make it last as long as it can. White capitalists can continue to whine like Indian socialists on why so few are earning so much.

IPL is not the end. And this phenomenon is not going to be restricted to cricket. The colour of money is changing.

The race row – both sides of the coin stink

February 6, 2008

The Harbhajan-Symonds race row has turned out to be more than just about cricket. It has thrown open a huge Pandora’s box and can now be regarded as an excellent case study on a plethora of issues – culture, diplomacy, management, racism, power and capitalism.

First, let me wash off the Indian linen, so that my arguments, at no point, are not construed as biased. The entire string of the actual incidents can only be viewed through a stream of probabilities due to the lack of legally acceptable evidence.

Did Harbhajan call Symonds, a monkey? Probably yes. I think he must have; I dont think Aussies will stoop so low to frame a false case (outside the cricket field).

Do Indians use the word monkey as a racist term? No. Except for a few educated Indians, well versed with Western culture, monkey is not known to be a derogatory term in the western racist sense. Anybody, who ‘looks’ or behaves like a monkey is called a monkey. Sometimes, children and husbands are affectionately or irritantly called as monkeys. Indians will object to someone being called, say, a Pariah (remember the plight of Subramanium Swamy)  but not to monkey. Some sections of people, though not all, will take strong offense to someone being called a bastard or even a fucker (this is the first time ever I am using these words publicly in speech or writing). During school days, a gang of about 20 students, marched to the house of a friend who called another friend a bastard in Tamil (not many of us even knew the full meaning of the Tamil word then). We were all intent on complaining to his mother, who happenned to be a teacher in our primary school long back and finally gave up as the guy broke into tears and appologised profusely. The whole incident took on an ultra-sentimental angle, as the victim of the word, had lost his father at an early age.

There was another incident during college, when I was subjected to the first rites of ragging, a guy repeatedly called me fucker in Tamil (again, I was not too sure what the Tamil word meant at that time, but I knew it was something ‘vulgar’) and I was almost moved to tears. I never spoke to that guy again. Later on, after getting polished through the grind of B-school, I have grown totally immune to any kind of profanity as long as it is not directed at me.

But, again, not all Indians take offense to the same set of words. There are huge cultural discrepancies and North-South divide even within India. Hindi boasts of a wholesome vocabulary of vulgar words than a South Indian language like Tamil. Mother and sister commonly feature in profanities in North, while they are largely non-existent in South. 

So, it all boils down to saying that words do not have same connotations in all cultures, even within a country. Therefore, when Symonds was called a monkey for the first time in India, I dont believe that there were racist intentions. It was more of a harmless jabber.  But, when Symonds was called a monkey the second time in Mumbai, I think the crowd knew of the racist undertone. Symmonds made a mountain of the monkey the first time and the monkey stuck onto his back afterwards.

By denying the racist undertone in the Mumbai incident, we were setting the stage for the repeat of the incident. Which is what has happenned in Sydney, thanks to Harbhajan and not without help from Symonds himself. Having muttered the word under provocation and aware of the consequences, Harbhajan had to go into a denial mode. As long as he, himself, was denying it, the Indian team had to back him up.

Aussies could have resolved it diplomatically by bringing it up with Kumble behind closed doors and then Harbhajan may have even admitted and apologised. The Aussies chose to complain publicly. Not a crime, they definitely had the right to do it, but not a smart move either. It has set in motion a very complex game.

I am afraid that Indian crowds will latch on to this and keep doing the monkey chants everytime Symonds is in action. Such is the nature of crowd mentality. It is very unlikely that monkey will immediately become  a racist term and be used against all black players. It would just become a special word reserved for Symmonds. Over a period of time, it might evolve to be racially used against a broader set of people.

Are Indians racist? Not in a Western sense, but in many other ways, yes. We are a deeply casteist society. Caste, I believe, is a localised surrogate for race. There are deep biases ingrained in the Indian society on basis of caste. We have not got enough opportunities to become a ‘racist’ society but when we do get the opportunity we might become one because of the inherent Indian bias and reverence for fair skin.

Did BCCI do the right thing in supporting Harbhajan? Yes, they were right in supporting him, in the lack of any serious evidence against him but they were horribly wrong in the way they supported him. They had no business in taking up an aggressive posture, which was almost tantamount to blackmailing, before the judgement was spelled out. This was a clear sign of a ‘new’ rich man throwing his weight around unduly. The entire thought process behind this act that money gives them power and this power could be exercised for any cause is disgusting.

Are Aussies (and many English) justified in cribbing about the power wielded by BCCI? No. It was not long back when English and Aussies were ruling the game, they still do in many ways than is obvious. Now they are not ready to let go of the position of power to a strong challenger.

Are Aussies or Whites, in general, upholders of the fight against racism? Oh, yes, as much as Bush is the messiah against terrorism. If we think, racism is exorcised by not calling a Black as a Negro or as a monkey, we can’t be farther away from the truth. If we call all American blacks as African-Americans should we not call all whites as European-Americans? How many white countries have had a black head of state? US is close but still not there and Obama is not fully black anyway.  Can the Aussies nominate Symmonds as their captain-in-waiting, instead of Clarke? Is throwing eggs at Murali, any less a crime than monkey-chants?

Only one thing is certain. It is time that we acknowledged that humans are deeply divided across various parameters and strong biases exist all across – religion, race, colour, caste, wealth, education, gender, language and many more. It is time that we make sincere efforts to bridge these divides rather than resorting to lip service.

It is an ultimate indictment of western and human hypocrisy that one can be punished for calling someone a monkey but not for abusing his mother. Did your mother congratulate you on saving the nation’s honour, Mr. Singh?

The push from the peak – Why drop Ganguly?

January 22, 2008

“Why should we select players who have got just one or two years left to play. We want to build a India cricket team for the future,”  says Vengasarkar.

I can’t help asking back, why drop a player when he still has one or two years left to play. Is one year so cheap a commodity that you can throw it to the dustbin? Future has to be built with the ruins of the past, not by ruining the past.

Ganguly is now at the peak of his powers, effort and determination. The descent from the peak has to be a slow and deliberate process or a calculated flight with a smooth landing; it cannot be so abrubt a fall. Here is a man who,through his majestic comeback, has given a new definition for determination and through this steely captaincy earlier, had shaped the character of this team. And our selectors treat him like an undeserving  beggar who has intruded onto the stage uninvited.

I am not even talking about Dravid yet. There is a gross misjudgement regarding Dravid. He plays slowly in a test because it is required to be done so. He has a different approach to the shorter version in the recent past, which the selectors and critics are overlooking. (To deviate a little, on the contrary, I think Sehwag is a pure test player, who, because of his dashing game, is expected to repeat his success in one-dayers, which he has repeatedly failed to do. He would be better off playing only test matches.). However, more than Dravid (or Laxman who was never in the picture anyway), Ganguly’s ommision is completely unwarranted, given his record and potential in one-dayers.

If age is the only criteria for selection, the selectors should rather be watching reality shows on TV than wasting time at international and first class matches (if at all they do) to assess the performance of players in challenging match conditions.

India in Cricket Catch-22

January 8, 2008

Sanjay Manjrekar, Bishen Bedi and many others were eloquently arguing the case for continuing the Aussie tour – the best way India can reply to Aussie taunts is by beating them. These proponents of dont-boycott line were supposedly taking a non-emotional view of the racial slur and umpiring blunders. However such an expectation is as unreasonable as the viewpoint of the proponents on the other side arguing for the team to come back. Expecting to beat Australia is fine, it is quite possible with a little more determination, as we have seen in Sydney. But Sydney was India’s best chance, which has already slipped by; beating Aussies at Perth is a bit far-fetched.

The bouncy track of Perth is not the battlefield, where you can wage an emotional must-win war against the Aussies. India doesnt have the firepower to match the Aussie pace machine and more importantly, Indian batsmen do not have the skill sets to take on Aussies at Perth. To make matters worse, India in all likelihood, will go into this match grossly underprepared due to the uncertainty surronding the tour now.

Ironically, Indian team have put themselves in a situation where they cannot drop Harbhajan Singh after so much has transpired. To play 2 pace bowlers-2 spinners combination at Perth is asking for disaster. Will Kumble dare to place cricket logic ahead of emotional compulsions? I doubt it; the wounded warrior will not be rested. Whether Harbhajan plays or not, India hardly have even an outside chance of a win at Perth.

Indians must however, decide fast, whether the tour is on or not. No point in reaching an inevitable agreement when it is too late for any practice. In the final bargain, India will end up losing either ways. Aussies have already had their victory without giving India a chance for retribution, which cannot happen at Perth. Maybe Adelaide – if Indian team is not entirely demoralised after Perth.


Day 2, Perth : India holds the upperhand – to my sweet surprise. Kumble has indeed placed cricketing logic ahead of sentiment and not played Harbhajan. For once, I am happy to be proven wrong so far.

Addendum 2:

Day 4, Perth : India wins. I had to eat my words and never have words tasted sweeter. But India did two things they had to do right – they went to Canberra for the practice match early enough and they played Pathan ahead of Harbhajan.

Saint Ponting and Sinner Singh

January 6, 2008

History takes strange turns. After having a racist stranglehold over the brown, black and yellow worlds for centuries, the white man is turning around and blaming the brown man of racism.

Aussies, the masters of sledging, are not able to tolerate it when it comes from the opponents. How dare, they speak back, stand up and strike back, when all they are supposed to do is sulk and surrender. It is not acceptable. Therefore, my brown friends, I accuse you of racism.

Racism, after all, lies in words and not in deeds. If, the umpires repeatedly trust the white man’s word against the brown man, there can be no racial intentions there. We have seen enough deceitful appeals from Ponting and co today, which have been held by the esteemed umpires at Sydney.

But a provoked Harbhajan may have said monkey and he must be a racist. Rest assured, the Indian crowds, like small children aching to do the forbidden act, will catch on to monkey chants everytime Symonds steps on to an Indian ground. The entire country is going to be branded racist, no doubt.

Saint Sissy Ponting will meanwhile take advantage of all this racist slur to snatch one more victory.

God wags the tail

January 4, 2008

Sachin Tendulkar discovered and revealed another dimension of his game today. The ability to extract the last ounce of effort from the Indian tail. More than his personal achievements, this is impressive. Ishant Sharma has reportedly doubled his tally of runs in first class cricket in this innings.

Critics, as usual, claim that Sachin was selfish.  But they refuse to look at it from a different viewpoint.

Traditionally the specialist batsman is expected to farm the strike and leave minimum strike to the tailenders. In this approach, the specialist batsman has to forego many easy runs and can run only when it suits him. He has to take undue risk in tring to reach the boundary inspite of a defensive field setting. More often than not, the specialist batsman gets out even before the tailenders. Otherwise, the tailender,who even after spending a lot of time in the middle, still has not grown in confidence and will fall to one of the few balls he is invariably forced to face.

Contrast this with what Sachin did today. He simply discounted the fact that he was playing with tailenders with limited-to-zero batting ability and was playing the ball on merit as per the field setting. In the process, singles kept flowing and bad balls went screaming to the boundary. And more importantly, the supposedly incompetent tailenders grew in confidence and started playing beyond their imagined ability. This in hindsight, is a tremendous psychological ploy. A novice with the bat, feels pumped because the best batsman in the world is trusting his ability and he wants pay him back in earnest for his faith. The opposition is demoralised because Sachin is not playing cautiously or atrociously as they expected and the others are managing to outsmart them.

This is probably a lesson Sachin learnt from the Aussies, who rarely protect their tailenders, and has given it back to them in a much more potent manner.

This is another step in pursuit of perfection for Sachin.