Of Two ‘Swastika’

For centuries, cultures across the world have used the Swastika as a sacred icon. Literally, the word Swastika is formed of two Sanskrit words ‘सु’ (meaning ‘well’ or ‘good’) and ‘अस्ति’ (meaning ‘to be’). Most Indian scriptures depict it as a symbol of well-being. For a religious-minded in India, it symbolises two Gods. One is the Goddess of wealth and prosperity––Maa Laxmi. And the other is the God of all wisdom––Lord Ganesha. Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and a large number of Eurasians regard and revere the symbol––auspicious ceremonies commence with the worship of the symbol.

For some, Swastika comprises four elements––earth, air, water and fire. It adorns the walls of places of worship. People treat it as a symbol of positive energy and good luck. From divinity and spirituality to auspiciousness and good fortune and from religiousness to mysticism, Swastika evokes many feelings (to say nothing of Hitler’s Swastika which sets afire an entirely different emotion).

A Swastika can be drawn in two ways. One: with the outer elements drawn in a clockwise direction. And two: with them being drawn in the counter clockwise direction. Drawn any which way, a Swastika is a lot more than the simple geometric figure it appears to be. Visit the famous Chintaman Ganesh Temple in Ujjain to feel the power and the magic of the two Swastika.

Chintaman Ganesh Temple, Ujjain

The Chintaman Ganesh Temple is located on the outskirts of the holy city of Ujjain known for its glorious past. King Vikramaditya ruled here and Kalidasa wrote the epic Shakuntalam and Meghdutam in the serene atmosphere on the bank of the Shipra River.

According to the scriptures, Lord Rama stopped here for a while during his fourteen years in exile. Finding things amiss, he established the temple to get the blessings of Lord Ganesha. Laxman, on his part shot an arrow into the ground to create a well to provide water for a thirsty Sita to drink. The well called Laxman Baori is located next to the temple.

Laxman Baori

And now about the magic of the two Swastika

People from far and wide visit the temple with the hope of getting their wishes fulfilled. The faithful believe that if one draws a Swastika (anticlockwise) and makes a wish after praying to Lord Ganesha in the temple, the wish comes true. And then––when the wish is fulfilled––one is expected to re-visit the temple and draw another Swastika (clockwise, this time on). Looking at the hundreds of Swastika drawn on the temple’s walls––both anticlockwise and clockwise––one can gauge the popularity of the Temple.

Swastika and the Sacred Thread

Lately, people have started complementing the Swastika with a sacred thread for the same effect. One ties a thread while making a wish and removes it (or any other thread) when the wish is fulfilled. Thousands of sacred threads tell a tale of belief.

Wishes, unfulfilled and the fulfilled

Some of those whose wishes are fulfilled have a curious way of conveying their gratitude to the God. They weigh themselves in clothes, blankets, sweets or milk or food grain and donate the same to the poor. The poor and the transgender thrive on the generosity and the largesse of the blessed ones. At all times, the temple is thronged by two categories of people––those with wishes to be fulfilled and those, whose wishes have been fulfilled. The first category includes the newly married couples.

Gratitude by weight
To be happily married forever

The next time when there’s an exam to be cracked; a heart to be won; a family feud to be resolved; a lottery to be won; or, peace to be restored in a tumultuous life––think of the two Swastika and the Chintaman Ganesha Temple of Ujjain (sixty kilometres from Indore Airport in Madhya Pradesh).

That, of course, after you’ve done your bit.

Wishes! Wishes! Wishes!

Aftermath of Lanka Blasts: Of Open Stable Doors and Bolting Steeds

Forty-nine people were confirmed dead and many others injured, in the shootings in two mosques in Christchurch (New Zealand) on March 15, 2019. The shootings were a wake-up call, nay a jolt for people all over the world. In a post titled, “Christchurch Carnage: A Wake-up Call for United Front Against Terrorism” I had talked about the killings and had concluded thus:

“To conclude, what happened in New Zealand will have obvious implications for New Zealand and Australia; the rest of the world will also not remain unaffected. There are two clear options for the world at large: one, to brace for impact without really knowing where and when would the next attack take place. Or two, unite against the perpetrators and wipe out the source. Today is the day, now is the time to get into a huddle, before the Masood Azhars, the Hafiz Saeeds, the Zawahiris, the Baghdadis and the Bin Ladens unleash retaliatory strikes.”

As if that conclusion was lost in thin air.

Less than a month later on April 21, 2019 (Easter Sunday) in Sri Lanka, more than 250 people were killed and hundreds were injured in eight blasts that rocked the island nation. Churches and hotels crowded by Easter revellers were the targets of the suicide bombers. Deaths (read “killings”) continue as the search operations go on. 

Although it was not déjà vu or a case of “I-told-you-so,” many people were not so surprised by what happened in Sri Lanka. Imminence of retaliation to the Christchurch killings was a forgone conclusion. A bit surprising was the location of the strike. That the terrorists did not strike in New Zealand or Australia but chose Sri Lanka, might suggest that this wasn’t a case of retaliation. But that matters little, because those involved in terror attacks (Christchurch or Sri Lanka or elsewhere in the world) perhaps believe in numbers––“Numbers killed on one side offset the numbers killed on the other side.”

The numbers do not offset; they add (Image: Reuters)

That is far from the truth. The fact is: numbers add up. Another counter that picks up speed after every attack is the one that counts the number of neutral people jumping off the fence to join a side in the war against the other. They are the ones who can be easily poisoned and indoctrinated; and among them are the potential suicide bombers. Their number keeps swelling after each gory incident.   

One wonders if it is turning out to be a case of jihad in Sri Lanka in reply to the crusade in New Zealand. While there are no straight answers to that question, more people all over the world are now bound to live in the shadow of fear. The many raids in Sri Lanka; banning of organisations and banning of burqua are some of the indicators of the paranoia that has set in. Similar actions with regards to ‘tightening of security’ have come into effect in other parts of the world.

Now about containing the menace: is it a case of the proverbial stable door being locked after the horse has bolted? Or, it is a case of the stable not having a door at all? Who’ll strike and what will be the next target: a mosque, a church, a synagogue, a temple or a crowded mall, a beach or a theatre/ movie hall? The question lingers menacingly as life tends to trudge back to some semblance of normalcy.     

Much has been said about the failure of the Sri Lankan authorities to act on the intelligence inputs provided by Indian agencies. Accusations are being hurled; the leadership, at different levels in Sri Lanka has acknowledged the lapse and some heads have rolled. But think of it, these were the same Indian agencies that could not see through the planning of the Pulwama Terror Strike. For that reason, the Sri Lankan security set up cannot be blamed entirely for the lapse. Intelligence reports need to be evaluated before concrete action can be taken. Many a warning in the past has turned out to be a hoax. During the Gerald Ford Presidency in the US, there was a suggestion to vacate an entire city due to the threat of detonation of a nuclear device, which turned out to be a hoax.

Dealing with intelligence reports is a rather difficult and complex issue.

In a few days the stats and the chronology of the Sri Lanka blasts will get added to the existing figures. To the rest of world they will start mattering less.

When 9/11 took place, and the whole world was sympathising with the grieving Americans, there, in some small quarters was an apparent brutal indifference manifested by lack of surprise––“What goes around comes around.” Sri Lankan blasts have proved the fallacy of that line of thought. A more appropriate way of understanding the present state of affairs would be to consider such attacks as some sort of a Butterfly Effect––An event (although not small and insignificant) in one part of the world (New Zealand) triggering repercussions in another (Sri Lanka). It matters little where an ocean gets muddied first; when the water gets contaminated the effect reaches far off shores. It is only a matter of time.

Therein lies the importance of the need of a united approach to dealing with the menace of terrorism. It is never too late to get going. The UNSC has included Masood Azhar in the list of global terrorists. One hopes that countries will continue to see eye to eye and take coordinated action to rid the world of terror groups and terrorists.

सलीम, जूता पालिश और देश-भक्ति

जून की निर्दयी गरमी थी। मैं टुंडला रेल्वे स्टेशन पर अपनी ट्रेन का बेसब्री से इंतज़ार कर रहा था। फ्रंटियर मेल दो घंटे देरी से चल रही थी; कोई नई बात नहीं थी। अपर क्लास वेटिंग रूम में कुर्सियों पर लोग बैठे थे; कोई स्थान रिक्त नहीं था। लम्बे सोफे पर एक श्रीमान अपना अधिपत्य जमाये हुए थे––बेसुध, और आसपास में होने वाली हरकतों से अनभिज्ञ, खर्राटे भर रहे थे। पहले मन में आया कि उन्हें उठाऊँ और नैतिकता और शिष्टाचार पर भाषण दूँ। परन्तु फिर तरस आया, सोचा, “नींद बड़ी चीज़ है। किसी के सपनों में विघ्न डालना ठीक नहीं।” मन मारकर प्लेटफार्म पर एकांत में एक खाली बेंच ढूंढकर मैंने डेरा डाला था।

बेचैन था, परंतु मेरी परेशानी का कारण ट्रेन का लेट होना नहीं था, अपितु मेरी एड़ी का दर्द था। एक हफ़्ते पहले तेज़ हवा में, आगरा में प्रशिक्षण स्काई-डाइविंग के दौरान टखने में मोच आई थी। दर्द असह्य तो नहीं था, परन्तु रह-रह कर चिड़चिड़ाहट हो रही थी। आयोडेक्स और क्रेप बैंडिज से कोई लाभ नहीं हो रहा था; दबने से  टीस हो उठती थी। और, उफ़ गर्मी, शरीर के हर रोम छिद्र से पसीना बह रहा था। दर्द और गर्मी से अपना ध्यान हटाने के लिए मैं डॉमिनीक लापीएर की बहुचर्चित पुस्तक, “सिटी ऑफ़ जॉय” में डूबने की कोशिश कर रहा था। एक मक्खी मुझ वायु-योद्धा के धैर्य को चुनौती दे रही थी; मेरी कोशिश को निरन्तर विफल कर रही थी। वॉकमैन पर मेरा पसंदीदा संगीत भी कानों के पर्दों पर हथौड़ों के प्रहार जैसा लग रहा था।

मेरा हाल बुरा था।

ऐसे में, वह कब हवा में तैरते पंख की तरह उतरा और मुझ से कुछ दूर आकर बैठ गया, पता ही नहीं चला। नज़र थोड़ी घूमी, तो मेरा ध्यान बग़ल में होती उसकी हलचल ने आकर्षित किया।

जैसा कि मुझे बाद में पता चला, उसकी उम्र मात्र सोलह वर्ष थी। परन्तु चेहरा देख कर वह छब्बीस वर्ष का लग रहा था। ऐसा लग रहा था जैसे कि असली उम्र और प्रतीत होने वाली उम्र के अंतर को उस ने कुछ ही महीनों में जी लिया था। उसका मांस-रहित शरीर एक कंकाल प्राय था। कमर में सुतली से बंधी, धूल में सनी उसकी ढीली-ढाली पतलून, और दो टूटे हुए बटन वाली कमीज पर लगे पैबंद उसकी आर्थिक स्थिति और निराश्रयता का ऐलान कर रहे थे। मेरी उड़ती दृष्टि उस पर रुकने की बिलकुल भी इच्छुक नहीं थी परन्तु उसकी धँसी हुई आँखों में एक चमक देख कर कुछ ठिठकी। एक तरफ उसकी स्पष्ट दुर्दशा और दूसरी ओर उसकी आँखों में छुपी ख़ुशी में एक अनोखा विरोधाभास था। आदतानुसार मैं व्यर्थ के असमंजस में पड़ गया था।

सलीम की संपत्ति

थोड़ी देर में उसने अपना लकड़ी का संदूक खोलकर एक छोटी सी जूता पालिश की दूकान सजा दी। फिर इशारे से मेरे जूते पालिश करने की अनुमति माँगने लगा। उसकी दुर्दशा पर तरस खाकर मैंने हाँमी भर दी, यद्यपि मेरे जूते साफ़ थे। मैं मन ही मन तय कर चुका था कि ‘उस गरीब’ को उसकी अपेक्षा से कुछ अधिक पैसे दूँगा।

सलीम नाम था उसका।

धीरे-धीरे और सफाई से उसने अपने सामने पालिश की डिबिया, रंगों की बोतलें, जूते की क्रीम, गंदे कपड़े और ब्रश आदि सजा दिए। फिर वह अपने काम में तल्लीन हो गया। एक मंजे हुए कलाकार की तरह, वह रुक रुक कर, मेरे जूतों के केनवास पर अपने ब्रश के असर को निहार रहा था।

मैंने अपनी किताब अलग रख दी क्योंकि अब मुझे सलीम के चेहरे पर छपी दुनिया की श्रेष्ठ किताबों की एक लाइब्रेरी जो मिल गयी थी। मेरी दिलचस्पी को देख कर वह चहचहाया, “सर, मुझे यकीन है कि आप एक फौजी हैं।” और फिर, मेरे उत्तर की प्रतीक्षा किये बिना उसने बोलना जारी रखा, “केवल फौजियों के कपड़े और उनके जूते इतने साफ़ होते हैं।” मैंने अनुमान लगाया कि वह मुझ से एक अच्छी टिप पाने के लिए भूमिका बना रहा था। मुझे उस गरीब का व्यवहार पूरी तरह अपेक्षित लगा।

“सलीम, तुम्हारी सेहत को क्या हुआ? तुम इतने कमजोर लग रहे हो।” मैंने विषय बदलने का प्रयास किया।

“सर, हाल ही में लंबी बीमारी से उठा हूँ; तपेदिक से ग्रस्त था। पिछले कुछ दिनों में मैं नरक से गुजरा हूँ। लेकिन, भगवान की कृपा है, बीमारी के दौरान, मैंने केवल मांसपेशियों को खोया है, हड्डियां अभी भी सलामत हैं। कुछ ही दिनों में मांस आ जायेगा और मैं फिर से पूरी तरह से ठीक हो जाऊँगा।”

अनजाने में, उस लड़के ने एक वायु-योद्धा की पीड़ा सहने की क्षमता को चुनौती दे डाली थी। अचानक ही मेरे टखने का दर्द गायब हो गया।

“बहुत गरमी है।” मैंने पुनः विषय बदलने की कोशिश की।

“लेकिन सर, हम गरीब, बिना छत के रहने वालों के लिए यह गर्मी बारिश या सर्दी से बेहतर है …” उसके तर्क में दम था। अब मैं प्रचण्ड गर्मी सहन कर पा रहा था। इसके पश्चात वह बोलता चला गया और मैं मंत्रमुग्ध होकर सुनता रहा।

मैंने ही उसे उकसाया था।

बातों-बातों में कब आधा घंटा बीत गया, पता नहीं चला। सलीम ने पालिश कर के जूतों को मेरे समक्ष निरिक्षण के लिए रख दिया और मेरे मुँह की ओर देखने लगा। मैंने मुस्कुराते हुए चमकते हुए जूतों के जोड़े को स्वीकार किया। मेरा मन अब भी अपनी ही बनाई हुई पगडण्डी पर धीरे-धीरे घिसट रहा था, “गरीब, बेचारा, टिप… “

मैंने अपने बटुए में से एक 50 रुपये का नोट निकाला और सलीम की गंदी, पालिश से भरी हथेली पर रखते हुए कहा, बाकी पैसे रख लो।” मैंने सोचा कि मैंने सलीम पर बड़ा एहसान कर दिया था, वह बच्चा अधिक पैसे पाकर खुश हो रहा होगा।

मुझे तनिक एहसास नहीं था कि मेरी सोच कितनी गलत थी…

शायद भरी दोपहर में, खुले नीले आसमान में बिजली का चमकना मुझे उतना आश्चर्यचकित नहीं कर पाता जितना कि उसके जवाब ने किया, “सर,” उसने कहा, “कृपया मुझे पैसे न दें। अगर मैं फौजियों से एक पैसा भी स्वीकार करूँगा, तो मैं नरक में जाऊंगा। जो कारगिल और सियाचिन में हमारे लिए अपने जीवन का बलिदान देते हैं उनसे मैं पैसे कैसे ले सकता हूँ? मुझे नरक में नहीं जाना है।” उसने हाथ जोड़ लिए। मैं पानी-पानी हो चुका था।

बड़े आग्रह के बावजूद सलीम ने पारिश्रमिक स्वीकार नहीं किया। उऋण होने के अंतिम प्रयास के तहत मैंने अपना एक अतिप्रिय बिल्ला (बैज)––जो मुझे एक सफल सैन्य अभियान के बाद एक मित्र सेना के अधिकारी ने एक स्मारिका के रूप में दिया था––उसकी कमीज की जेब पर लगा दिया। उस नन्हे देश भक्त ने मुस्कुराते हुए अटेंशन में खड़े होकर, एक फौजी सलूट कर के, मेरे उस आभार को स्वीकार कर के मुझे अनुग्रहित किया।

जाने से पहले सलीम एक प्रश्न छोड़ गया था जिसका जवाब खोजते-खोजते मेरा जीवन गुजर गया है: “फ़ौज के प्रति उसकी अपेक्षाओं पर मैं कैसे खरा उतर सकूँगा?”

(नोट: तथ्यों पर आधारित यह कहानी मेरी अंग्रेजी में प्रकाशित कहानी “The Shoeshine Boy” का हिंदी रूपांतर है।  हिंदी में अनुवाद के लिए मैं अपनी प्यारी बहन, प्रोफेसर रीता जैन का आभारी हूँ। )

Little Kanti’s Lemon Enterprise

His grandpa called him Kanti (so will I)––Kanti, meaning ‘glow’ in Hindi. And true to his name, he had a perpetual glow in his eyes, a glow borne of his love for knowledge. That was just one of his traits. Measuring barely three feet above the ground, he was a bundle of energy raring to be unleashed. But what is of even greater consequence than all this, is the fact that the last few months of his less than four years of existence on mother earth had been really tumultuous, and that is the subject matter of this post. And it is as true as true can be, for I have known Kanti well enough to pen this story.

First, the End of the Story

Kanti’s Lemon Enterprise

The sapling that Kanti had nurtured with so much care was now a full-grown lemon tree. It bore fruit in abundance exactly as per Kanti’s expectations. But there were many attendant problems. Balancing it on his head, as he walked around, was becoming rather difficult. Yes, you got it right! The tree was growing on his head. Entering and leaving the house with the tree on his head was a pain; he had to duck low to prevent the branches getting stuck in the doors. For some time now, Kanti had wanted his father to get the doors enlarged to enable his easy passage into and out of the house. He wanted even the window of his bedroom to be removed and the gaping hole in its place to be enlarged so that he could lie easily in the bed with the trunk of the tree jutting out of the house. Very soon the lemon tree on Kanti’s head became a source of untold agony for him. He regretted people throwing stones at him to get the fruit. It became especially unbearable when even his best friends started indulging in the obnoxious act. Kanti’s dream of generating revenue and becoming an entrepreneur by selling lemons was cracking (or had it already shattered?). The lemon tree had become a perpetual source of grief for him and his family. To, or not to, get it sawed off was the big question troubling Kanti­­. The dilemma was damning.

Now, all that was Kanti’s i-m-a-g-i-n-a-t-i-o-n. 

The Beginning of the Story and the Reality

One of the primary sources of all the world’s knowledge for Kanti was Veena, his cousin, a few months older than him. Because of the emphasis with which she always spoke, she wielded authority and her word was taken as gospel by all the children in the locality. 

One day she came out with a nugget of profound knowledge and a corollary to it. Her coterie of little friends was oblivious of both. She shared the wisdom: “When tiny seeds of plants are sown in the soil, and watered regularly, they grow into big trees.” The corollary was her derivation unbeknown even to the stream of science people call, “Biology.” It ran thus: “A plant would grow on one’s head if one swallowed a seed and drank a lot of water.” That marked the beginning of Kanti’s travails.

Armed with that knowledge, Kanti popped a lemon seed in his mouth and dabbled with the idea of growing a lemon tree on his head. He had barely considered all the consequences of implementing the plan when he accidentally swallowed the little thing. Kanti’s life changed with the crossing of the Rubicon.

Kanti drank excess water and even thought of consuming a pesticide for the health of the would-be lemon tree. That he didn’t consume any was the consequence of him not finding one. He devoted long hours i-m-a-g-i-n-i-n-g what life would be with a lemon tree growing on his head. A time came when all his thoughts and most of his actions through the day were devoted to his beloved project. The Lemon Tree Enterprise became a mania with Kanti.

Then, one day at the dinner table…

Kanti bowled over his father, Anil with a question. “Dad, does one really have to study so hard to do well as one grows up. Isn’t it fine if one starts a business early in life?”

“What do you mean? What business are you talking of?” The concerned father almost choked with the half-chewed morsel landing in his throat.

“It is like this, Dad. I want to get into the business of growing lemons and making large profits by selling them.”

Half amused, half amazed, the parents, Anil and Maya looked quizzically at Kanti who continued nonchalantly, “I have eaten a lemon seed and I am drinking sufficient water. Soon a tree will grow on my head. I expect to reap several good harvests every year which we can sell to make a lot of money.” The parents were spellbound as the little one continued, “Dad, you’ll have to get the doors and the walls modified for me to enter the house with the tree on my head. Also, you’ll have to employ a guard to prevent people throwing stones at me and taking away the lemons. If we manage it well, we’ll be rich.” With great enthusiasm Kanti talked about how he had stumbled on the great idea.

With enormous difficulty, Anil and Maya postponed their laughter to a later time when Kanti would be away at school next morning. The conscientious parents did not want to shatter their little one’s dream. It was indeed a delicate situation.

A Postscript of Sorts

It would have been unfair on the part of the parents to destroy the persona of their child’s icon––Veena. Anil found a simpler way out of the situation. After a few days of encouragement to Kanti’s Lemon Enterprise, he convinced the little entrepreneur that his body had perhaps rejected the lemon seed. “Human body does reject things it doesn’t like,” he said. “It might have been flushed down the lavatory long ago.”

Then he educated him on the necessity of soil and other environmental factors for plants to grow.

More importantly, the young parents made a deliberate effort to occasionally elicit the knowledge their little one amassed from his peers, and tweaked it when they felt the necessity.

There are the Kantis; and there are the Veenas and there is the parental art of dealing with the two.

पढ़ाई का दबाव और एक पिता-पुत्र की समझ

वर्ष और दिनांक तो याद नहीं, लेकिन हाँ, वह अप्रैल की तपती दुपहरी थी। मैंने तीन व्यक्तियों को उस भीषण गर्मी में सुब्रतो पार्क में चलते देखा, तो कार में बिठा लिया। थोड़े संकोच के साथ उन्होंने लिफ़्ट को स्वीकारा था। कार में बैठते ही उन में से एक ने कहा, “धन्यवाद भाई साहब, मैं रवीन्द्र शर्मा हूँ, यह मेरा भाई, नवीन है; और यह मेरा बेटा अजय है (नाम परिवर्तित है)।”

“ मैं ग्रुप कैप्टन अशोक चोर्डिया हूँ…।” अपना परिचय देने के साथ ही मैंने उनसे उनके गन्तव्य की जानकारी माँगी।

“आप हमें किसी ऐसे बस स्टॉप पर उतार दें, जहॉं से हमें निज़ामुद्दीन स्टेशन की बस मिल सके; ट्रेन पकड़नी है।” वह बोला।

“स्टेशन मेरे रास्ते में ही है। मैं आप लोगों को वहीं छोड़ दूँगा।”

“ आपकी बड़ी कृपा होगी भाई साहब।”

एक लंबी चुप्पी…

वे तीनों यों गुमसुम थे मानो असमंजस में हों कि क्या बात करें? मेरा अनुभव है कि सीधे-सादे लोग अजनबियों के सामने, और विशेषकर वर्दीधारियों के सामने, मितभाषी और अंतर्मुखी हो जाया करते हैं। मुझे इनर रिंग रोड पर लंबी दूरी तय करनी थी, और इसमें आधे घंटे से अधिक समय लगना था। गाड़ी में चार लोगों का इतनी देर चुपचाप बैठे रहना सचमुच कष्टप्रद हो जाता, अतः मैंने ही पहल की–“आप लोग दिल्ली के रहने वाले तो नहीं लगते हैं?”

“जी हम लोग कोटा से आए हैं; अजय की काउंसलिंग के लिए…”

“अच्छा!? तो कैसी रही काउंसलिंग? अजय क्या करना चाहता है?”

“काउंसलिंग तो ठीक-ठाक रही… परन्तु, मैं इसके बोर्ड की परीक्षा के नतीजों से दुखी हूँ।” पिता ने संजीदगी से उद्गार व्यक्त किया।

“क्यों? क्या हुआ?”

“इसको 94% अंक मिले हैं। पढ़ने तो यह बैठता ही नहीं है। यदि यह लगकर पढ़ाई करता तो कहीं ज़्यादा अंक ला पाता। इंजीनियरिंग करना चाहता है। आप ही इसे समझाइए।”

पढाई! पढाई! पढाई!

मैं हैरान था। इतने अंक पाकर तो कोई भी लोगों की ईर्ष्या का पात्र बन सकता है, और एकपिता श्री हैं जो गमगीन हैं। और चाहते हैं कि एक अजनबी उनका मार्गदर्शन करे। मुझे वह लड़का अत्यंत ही मेधावी प्रतीत हुआ; भला मैं उसको क्या सलाह देता लेकिन मैं उसके पिता को भी निराश नहीं करना चाहता था। मैंने वार्तालाप जारी रखा। जल्दी ही मैं समझ गया कि लड़का अत्यंत प्रखर था और तथ्यों को तुरंत समझ लेता था। इसलिए उसका पढ़ाई-लिखाई संबंधी कार्य अन्य छात्रों की तुलना में जल्दी समाप्त हो जाता था। एक ही बात को दोहराने में वह बोर हो जाता था और इसी वजह से पिताजी की आलोचना क्या केंद्र बन गया था। गहराई से विचार करने के बाद उसे देने लायक एक सलाह मेरे मस्तिष्क में कौंधीं। मैंने उससे कहा कि यदि वह अलग-अलग पुस्तकों से पढ़ेगा तो, तथ्यों को गहराई से समझ सकेगा। अलग-अलग पुस्तकों के प्रश्न, तथा गणितीय सवाल हल करने में आनन्द आएगा व नींव भी मज़बूत होगी। इसके उपरांत बचे समय का उपयोग अभिव्यक्ति की क्षमता बढ़ाने के लिए किया जा सकता है। अभिव्यक्ति की सामर्थ्य व्यक्ति को बहुत ऊँचाई तक ले जा सकती है, भले ही वह किसी भी क्षेत्र से संबंधित हो। तीनों व्यक्ति मंत्रमुग्ध हो कर सुन रहे थे।

“अंकल मैं ऐसा ही करूँगा।”

“बहुत ख़ूब! बेटा, आप में और बहुत कुछ कर सकने की सामर्थ्य है। आपको इसका उपयोग अपने ज्ञान के आधार को मज़बूत बनाने में, और अभिव्यक्ति की क्षमता को बेहतर बनाने में करना चाहिए।”

उस वार्तालाप से पिताश्री गदगद थे। निज़ामुद्दीन स्टेशन पर उतरने के बाद उनको (पिताजी को) अलग ले जाकर मैंने सलाह दी कि बच्चे को पढ़ाई के मामले में स्वतन्त्र छोड़ दें। ऐसा करने से नतीजे कई गुना बेहतर होगें। मैंने उस प्रकरण को वहीं समाप्त समझ लिया था।

लेकिन नहीं…

एक माह बाद रवीन्द्र का फ़ोन आया। “भाई साहब आपने तो बच्चे पर जादू ही कर दिया। वह बिलकुल बदल गया है। इस परिवर्तन के लिए मैं आपका आभारी हूँ।”

“ये तो बड़ी अच्छी बात है। उम्मीद करता हूँ कि वह इसी तरह प्रगति करता रहेगा। उसे मेरा शुभाशीष कहिएगा।” उस दिन कुछ इसी तरह की बातें हुईं।

मेरी सोच के विपरीत यहाँ भी मामले की इतिश्री नहीं हुई।

कुछ महीनों बाद फिर से रवींद्र का फ़ोन आया। “भाई साहब, मुझे आपकी सलाह की अत्यंत आवश्यकता है। अजय एक साल ड्राप लेकर आई आई टी (IIT) की तैयारी करना चाहता है। यदि वह सफल न हुआ तो व्यर्थ ही साल बर्बाद हो जाएगा। हम क्या करें? रवींद्र की इस माँग से मैं उलझन में पड़ गया। उसके स्वर की बैचेनी बता रही थी कि वह बहुत चिंतित था। मैं कुछ पल सोचता रहा। वे पल युगों की तरह थे। मैं शिद्दत से महसूस कर रहा था कि, उसको मेरी सलाह पर बड़ा भरोसा था और इसी आशा से वह मुझ से सलाह माँग रहा था। उसकी माँग को ठुकराना मेरे वश में नहीं था। लेकिन मैं उसे क्या सलाह दे सकता था? कुछ पल हम लोग इधर उधर की बातें करते रहे। इस बीच मैंने अपने विचार संगठित किए। फिर मैं बोला, “रवींद्र यदि हम नियम से रहते हैं तो 75-80 वर्ष जी सकते हैं। एक वर्ष तो इस जीवन का छोटा सा अंश है। यह महत्त्वहीन है। यदि ड्रॉप लेने की अनुमति अजय को मिल जाएगी तो वह सफल होने के लिए एड़ी-चोटी का ज़ोर लगा देगा। और पूरी संभावना है कि वह सफल होगा। फिर हमें कितनी ख़ुशी होगी। और मान लो वह नहीं कर पाया तो उसे स्वयंकी क्षमता का अनुमान हो जाएगा। और एक साल में वह जो मेहनत करेगा, वह व्यर्थ नहीं जाएगी। वह उसकी कॉलेज की पढ़ाई में सहायक होगी ही। अंत में मैं तो यही कहूंगा कि उसे ब्रेक ले लेने दो, और परिणाम की चिंता किए बिना उसके साथ पूर्ण सहयोग करो। इससे वह पढ़ाई तो अच्छी करेगा ही–आपके और नज़दीक आ जाएगा; आपको और ज़्यादा प्यार करेगा और आपका अधिक आदर भी करेगा। मैं महसूस करता हूँ कि वह आपके हार्दिक सहयोग का अधिकारी है।”

रवीन्द्र ने मुझे हृदय से धन्यवाद दिया। अगले कुछ माह तक मैं उत्सुकता से रवींद्र के फ़ोन की प्रतीक्षा करता रहा, लेकिन व्यर्थ। समय बीतते मैं उन बातों को भूलने सा लगा था। तभी फिर एक दिन रवींद्र का फ़ोन आया। ”आप कैसे हैं? यहाँ पर सब कुशल-मंगल है। अजय अच्छा चल रहा है। जल्दी ही वह इंजीनियर बन जाएगा। मेरे साथ वह भी आपकी अमूल्य सलाह के लिए धन्यवाद देर हा है; प्रणाम कर रहा है।”

“बड़ा शुभ समाचार है। ब्रेक लिया था क्या? क्या उसे आई आई टी (IIT) में प्रवेश मिला?” मेरी उत्सुकता अदम्य थी।

“भाई साहब मैंने उसे स्वतंत्र छोड़ दिया था। उस से कहा कि ब्रेक लेकर मनोयोग से आई आई टी (IIT) प्रवेश परीक्षा की तैयारी करे। लेकिन उसने ऐसा नहीं किया। उसे अपनी पसंद का कॉलेज मिल गया और ब्रांच भी। मैं आपको उसकी प्रगति से अवगत कराता रहूगॉं।”

रवीन्द्र समय समय पर अपनी छोटी मोटी खुशियाँ मेरे साथ साझा करता रहता है।

(यह पोस्ट मेरे अंग्रेजी पोस्ट “Question of a Sabbatical” का हिंदी रूपान्तर है, जिसके लिए मैं अपनी प्रिय बहन प्रोफेसर रीता जैन का आभारी हूँ।)

Rendezvous with a Tiger at Jim Corbett

Utterly tired and exhausted when we reached The Golden Tusk, the one and only thing on our minds was to CRASH OUT.

Like most of our holidays, this was a miserly planned one with regards to time. We had, but two days in our hands to be there and back. The one thing that reined our thoughts and discussions as Chhaya and I drove the 275 odd kilometres from NOIDA to Jim Corbett National Park, was the strong urge to spot a tiger on the Jungle Safari the next morning. I must have driven like a man possessed, a driver driving at Grand Prix for despite some traffic snarls, we made it in five hours flat. We were at The Golden Tusk at 11 am.

WeTwo at Corbett

When we arrived at the gates we did not want food; there was no desire to go sight seeing; and no wish even to meet our coordinator and know about the itinerary––those things were pretty low on our list of priorities. All that we wanted was to CRASH OUT. Was it a blunder to have set aside just two days for an excursion in Jim Corbett? May be. May not be. Read on.

Mr Sandeep Agrawal who had helped us undertake the trip at a very short notice also guided us to The Golden Tusk. Meeting the gentleman personally was a great pleasure. Moments spent at his residence on the return leg, felt like being with an extended family.

Mr Prakash welcomed us at the resort with a disarming smile that took away a part of the travel fatigue. An exceptionally cordial concierge, he made every possible effort to make our short stay memorable. Since the trip was planned in a hurry, all we were interested in was a decent place to stay for the night. We had not cared to know much about the resort. Over a refreshing welcome drink Prakash told us briefly about the available amenities and meal timings. Let alone two, we had not imagined a single swimming pool in that resort. Not to talk of a spa in the middle of nowhere. Although we were not prepared for a swim and did not avail the spa facility, even the deliberatel slow walk past them to our room was refreshing. Then there were a whole lot of contraptions and apparatuses for the children and the adventure seekers. Everything around seemed to be conspiring against the idea of a siesta––a thing that was, until then, uppermost on our minds.

The room, overlooking the swimming pool on one side and a vast green patch ending into the distant hills, had everything one would dream of (and more) after a long and tiring drive. Besides being neat and tidy, and well furnished, the accommodation was spacious with abundant natural light. There were balconies to savour the exotic surroundings.

Luxury par excellence

A warm water bath was so refreshing that we consigned the idea of a nap to a later part of the day and chose to go around the resort before lunch. The buffet was lavish––a variety of Indian, Western and Chinese cuisine and, of course, a good spread of desserts, my weakness. It was a tad confusing. What and whatnot to eat? So we went on a binge.

More out of kopophobia rather than actual fatigue, we forced on ourselves a half-hour siesta. All through those thirty long minutes we were like fidgety children waiting to get over with a forced rest period. By 3 pm we were out again taking a stroll through the local village. We experienced life––pure as pure can be. Two hours were gone in a jiffy. It was teatime.

The cacophony

Tea and really high eats! I love good food. Had a field day. Sitting by a dry riverbed on the lawns of the resort, we shared a cup of tea with Mr Sumit Lakhotia, the Director of The Golden Tusk. He floored us with his genuine concern for the comfort of the guests and his plans for expansion and improving the facilities. His regard for the environment was admirable too; he was working towards a near zero waste facility. I was specially drawn to something that he had in mind to keep the golfers entertained in the future. Wow! That would perhaps be another of the many reasons I would want to be back at The Golden Tusk at a later date. After tea, with a lot of enthusiasm Sumit showed us around the resort. On display were some rare plant species that he had procured from different parts of the world. Then he took us to a grove where, at dusk, all the birds in the area had gathered. We got an opportunity to feel a cacophony we had never experienced before. A parliament debate on the Lok Sabha television was the only similar thing we could recall.

Fine hospitality

At dinner, the smiling staff (and the chefs) displayed an overwhelming sense of hospitality. They were like hosts entertaining personal guests at home––going out of their ways to ensure that the guests tasted almost everything that was on offer and returned satiated. Extra care had been taken to ensure that even the toddlers were absolutely at home.

Toddlers at Home

After dinner, we spent some time by the poolside. The shimmering water in the subdued light, and the countless stars in the clear sky––don’t remember when we had seen such a clear sky last––was a treat not only to the eyes, but to the mind and the soul as well. Sleep had receded far behind in our scheme of things. We would have spent the entire night stargazing in the armchairs by the poolside. But the lure of a Jungle Safari––our raison d’être at Jim Corbett––coerced us to return to the cosy comfort of our room.

By the Poolside on a star-lit night

We were out at dawn, waiting eagerly to hop on to a vehicle and enjoy the Jungle Safari. Surprisingly, a feeling of melancholy pervaded the morning air. For many awaiting the vehicles, it wasn’t the first trip to Corbett Park. They had never seen a tiger in their earlier trips and were not sure whether they would ever spot one.

Talking of ‘HOPE’. I belong to that category of people who carry an umbrella when they go to a temple to pray for rains. I was looking forward to a rendezvous with a tiger. We joined two young keen bird-watchers and a guide with a driver on the Safari. It is no wonder that in the prevailing atmosphere of hopelessness (with regards to seeing a tiger) everyone burst out laughing when I asked the guide what were we expected to do if a tiger were to attack our vehicle. People were mighty amused with my hopefulness. We enjoyed the pleasant chill as we drove into the forest.

The guide’s knowledge of the flora and fauna was profound. He had been perambulating up and down that forest ever since he was a child. He knew literally all the birds and could tweet like them. He had an answer for every question. The most striking thing that endeared him to all of us was his unadulterated love for wildlife. We stopped occasionally at the behest of the two young men who would discuss the names and characteristics of the birds with the guide as they went along clicking pictures. The guide shared interesting nuggets of information as we went along. Looking at the elephant poop and the pugmarks he told us that an elephant had just crossed the road we were driving on.

A fowl in search of food

Apart from over a score of different types of birds including a colourful wild fowl, we were lucky to see a few deer and a mongoose. A tribe of monkeys with doting mothers and frolicking little ones made a beautiful sight. A winding road through the forest; scattered small bodies of water in an otherwise dry riverbed and myriad shades of green––it was a different world.

And then…

Tiger! Tiger!

Suddenly, the guide nudged the driver to pull up by the side of the road, and with a finger placed on his lips in the universal gesture urging observance of silence, in a hushed voice he told us to mind a sudden increase in the chatter of monkeys. They had all climbed a tall tree. Then the guide pointed at some deer running helter-skelter. “A tiger must be around,” he said. And, lo and behold, Chhaya spotted one in the distance, drinking water. Spellbound, we saw it walk away majestically after quenching its thirst. There was enough time to click some memorable pictures.

“Been there! Seen a tiger!” A prayer had been answered.

The tusker

As we moved along we saw another beautiful sight––a full-grown elephant sashaying along the road. Another dream had come true!

Soon we were running out of time––there is a provision for levying fine for overstay in the restricted area. Although we were now in a hurry, we did not miss a peacock dancing. The last memorable sight was of a large number of vultures perched high on top of the rocks. As per our guide, they were by far the happiest members of the Corbett society––there was always enough to scavenge from.

Back at The Golden Tusk, we tore ravenously at the breakfast laid for us; thanked everyone for making our stay so very special. Wheels had rolled by noon. On the way back, the traffic didn’t permit us to pick up speed. We reached NOIDA and drove into our parking lot by 10 pm. We did CRASH OUT this time.

The stay and the fine hospitality at The Golden Tusk, the Jungle Safari, rendezvous with the tiger and the drive to and fro––everything seems like a dream.       

Christchurch Carnage: A Wake-up Call for United Front Against Terrorism

March 15, 2019. Christchurch (New Zealand). Forty-nine people have been confirmed dead after shootings in two mosques. Among the many issues that have surfaced and the many that will keep arising, some deserve immediate attention.

Graphic courtesy The Economist

Terming it as “one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, said that the time had come to review the gun-laws. Now, as it always happens after such incidents, the clamour to implement stricter laws has once again reached a crescendo. Ironically, the last three times the issue came up (under similar circumstances, in New Zealand) it was shelved for a reason or the other. The opinion is divided because in the prevailing environment even the well-meaning people want to own personal weapons for their safety. It is a difficult issue to address because paranoid people with easy access to firearms are also potential threat to freedom and liberty of others. Besides, a small section of the society (some call it The Arms Lobby) has interest in promoting sales.

Yasmin Ali, one of the anguished citizens said, “We are such a suave community. We are so kind and loving… so I don’t understand why someone would hurt us like this and in such a way. Just like an animal. Why would you treat us like that for nothing?” She is so right––for no apparent fault of theirs, forty-nine people have lost their lives and many others are undergoing medical treatment. The incident has left people shocked, angry and indignant. The attack has drawn a wedge between “us, meaning the Muslims of New Zealand” and “you, meaning the rest of the New Zealanders.” The wounds will take an eternity to heal if, at all, they will; but the scars will remain forever.  

Graphic courtesy Independent

By itself the Christchurch attack would possibly have been written off as a dastardly act by some mad persons, but actions of one of the attackers have given a different hue to the incident. Brenton Tarrant, the 28-year-old Australian man, who claimed responsibility for the attack had posted his manifesto on the social media and had live-streamed the attack. He had let loose his ire against the immigrants. Thus in its goriness, the attack seems to vie with the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. His weapons too bore messages of hatred. As if that was not enough, the man, rather than being repentant, added insult to injury by allegedly making a white power gesture from the dock when produced in the court.

The well meaning New Zealand Prime Minister has expressed her concern thus: “…Many of those affected will be of our migrant communities. New Zealand is their home. They are us.” One only hopes that her words appeal to people more than Brenton Tarrant’s provocative actions and gestures.

On request from the New Zealand Police, different social media platforms have removed the graphic content from the Internet––a belated action. In any case, it couldn’t have been possible to prevent everything going viral. Needless to say, the videos of the carnage and the echoes of the gunshots have travelled far and wide and have spread different messages depending on who the recipients at the other end are.

To conclude, what happened in New Zealand will have obvious implications for New Zealand and Australia; the rest of the world will also not remain unaffected. There are two clear options for the world at large: one, to brace for impact without really knowing where and when would the next attack take place. Or two, unite against the perpetrators and wipe out the source. Today is the day, now is the time to get into a huddle, before the Masood Azhars, the Hafiz Saeeds, the Zawahiris, the Baghdadis and the Bin Ladens join hands to unleash retaliatory strikes.

Recently, China scuttled the effort of major world powers to declare Masood Azhar––a proven perpetrator of terror––as a world terrorist. It is time that China realises that the possibility (now) of the terror outfits in Pakistan luring the extremists from Xinjiang for a greater cause has become ever so strong. In the interest of world peace, and in its own interest, China needs change its stance.

Does this appear to be a motivated call by an Indian? Yes? No? May be?

So be it.

What is more important at this juncture is: Is China prepared to reap the harvest of its approach to global terrorism this far? Is Xi listening?