Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A trip to Gujarat - and some thoughts

As a part of my India trip, I went to Gujarat, first to Bhavnagar and then to a place called Palitana which is one of the holiest spots for Jains. For non-Jains, a brief background . Palitana is considered to be a place where a large number of Tirthankers attained Moksh (or Nirvana). It's a hill with about 3800 steps, and it is considered to be a good deed to climb up and down ( by yourself or in a 'doli' lifted by 2-4 people) once. The tougher things to do are to do this 7 times in 2 days without food , and also to do this 99 times in your lifetime ( Called 99 jatra).There are about 863 temples in Palitana. Every time I go there, there are always plans to build some more, or to build some 'upashrays' for Jain monks and nuns.

As I started the journey this time, I had something in my mind. I have always seen small children ( mostly under the age of 14) working as small time labourers here. Typically, their job is to carry a bottle of water, or a carry bag for all these 3800 steps. All this is for an extremely paltry sum. I started off with some money in my pocket, and kept handing over 50 Rupee notes to any such child I found on the hill. When I gave it to a girl for the very first time, I saw a twinkle in her eyes. She was very surprised, even thought I would ask her to carry some luggage, but she then smiled and looked so happy. The first thing, that came to my mind, was the Master Card commercial. It might sound funny, but this is precisely what i thought

Trip to Palitana: xx Rs.
Cost of staying there: yy Rs
The price the girl gets for carrying that bottle up 3800 steps: zz Rs.

The look in her eyes when she actually felt someone was doing good for her: Priceless :):)

And that's when it struck me. There's probably more 'punya' in helping people in need than to build a temple in an area which already has so many temples that no one ever manages to visit each one of them. Even more so, I am sure that if there is God, He would be more happy to see the betterment of living beings, rather than a blind following of religion. I would personally prefer that the next time I give a donation it goes towards building a school instead of a temple. Education, awareness, health facilities , is the key to a better society and a better world for all.

I am not an atheist. I do believe in God, because I feel that is something that propels me to do good, whose fear stops me from doing bad, and something on which my hope rests in a time of crisis. But then, I do not believe in following things blindly. Thanks to some very noble and educated people at Jain Centers in the US, I have known things about religion in the correct way. And the belief, that it does not make sense if you know every verse of every sutra by heart, unless you know the underlying meaning, and you understand and accept it. Like, how many of us know, that Jainism believes that the earth is not spherical ( as scientifically proved) but more close to a flat earth .

There are various teachings of Lord Mahavir which are quite correct, like non-killing of animals, non-violence etc. But, some teachings might not have been correct. The problem though is, that as a part of his teachings, it was almost a sin to change even the pronunciation of any line of any sutra [ For Jains, this is one of the things for which you beg forgiveness in Pratikaman], and the teachings were carried over for generations ( about 500 years) before people got together and documented them correctly. And hence, no one has ever tried to change or challenge it. And that's where we are not going correct. Maybe I'll get my elders to think on this :)

[A small disclaimer:I personally believe that good/social work should not be publicized. The only reason why I wrote about that girl is because I think that this might inspire more people to do good. If you believe that that deed was good, do it yourself the next time on]

One more thing is, when you give money to a disabled person/child , don't give a rupee or 2. Give the person 10 rupees. Why, you'll ask? Don't you complain to your boss about inflation/rising prices/bad economy ? That's why.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Reflections of India

And again, it's been some days since I have been home, this time though in a more sombre mood than I expected.And yet again, there comes a time when I reflect my thoughts on what has changed. A view of a home from a son who's come here after a long hiatus.

The last week has been one of the most important weeks in the history of this city, second only to the 1992 riots ( this is about all the incidents I have seen in my lifetime). The mood has been one of anger, frustration, but most importantly, awareness.Hopefully, this awareness gives way to a more concerned Mumbaikar.

It was quite emotional a journey when I flew in to Bombay. I was going to leave Thursday morning, and it was Wednesday morning in the US when the whole series of events unfolded. As we passed through a day , which was difficult, news pouring in, images of VT station sending down chills, it was time to go home. Someone even asked me if I would want to go to Bombay in such a situation (Corporates sent out a travel warning to all their employees to avoid travel to India in these circumstances). To which the answer was, I am going home and that's it.

Finally, I reached Bombay, where I found that it was business as usual for most people. Except that there was a rush of public anger towards the politicians, and with media support, the politicians were brought down with a zeal that I have not seen in years.The only fear I have is that people should not forget these scars as soon as the next season if IPL begins.I strongly recommend people to read Greatbong's blog for quite a nice insight into the blasts, events surrounding it, and the way forward.

But again, coming into Bombay, things have changed so much ( as they always do, if you miss it for a year). The one change that is constant over the last few years, is the awareness and involvement of youth in activities conducive to the overall development of this city. Like the countless signs that have suddenly sprung up to keep the city clean. Or the movement to almost completely stop use of plastic bags. Somewhere, something is happening. Slow but steady progress. Go Mumbai!

Of course, some things are getting worse. The traffic situation is the perfect example. Fueled by an ever-growing richer class, and car prices dropping, coupled with the growing acceptance of people to Easy-Monthly-Installments and Credit-Card schemes only means more and more cars. And with space at a big premium, the traffic situation doesn't look to improve. Maybe you feel it more, if you come from the US, but again, a place where something needs to be done.