Have a Taste of Bhutan

I had a very remote idea of Bhutan before I explore the country. A land far away from modernity, not connected by modern means of communication, where people are not much exposed to modernity, but happy. (But this was around 10 years back and was my first lone voyage to a foreign land.Much has been changed today, the new king has ascented to the throne and democratic elections were introduced; and Bhutanese have more access to modernity.)( So the GNH (Gross Natinal Happiness) of which Bhutan is proud of, popped up in my mind always. 'Are you happy?' was the question I wanted to ask every Bhutanese I came across. Much of my prejudices are gone when I reached Thimpu, the capital. I could taste Bhutanese hospitality the very first day when my taxi driver took extra pain to find me a room (even without me asking for that). Thimpu is quite and lovely, people are friendly, curious and like to be photographed. I really fell in love with its unique architecture, besides there is no sky scrappers to intimidate you. It has got the feel and taste of a city, yet it is not in the rat race for modernity. Changes are evident with the introduction of TV and Internet in 1999. There are restrictions regarding certain channels and sites, still Bhutanese youth are quite trendy and up to date about fashion. They enjoy parties, dancing, liquors as any youngsters elsewhere in the world. India is very important for Bhutan due to economic and geographical reasons. As a country hardly industrialised, Bhutan has to depend heavily on Indian products and India give military protection also. Hindi films and serials are very popular there, I was even surprised when some little girls enquired me about Hindi film actors. It is a common sight in Bhutan where girls glued into TV to watch sas-bahu serials. Most of the Bhutanese understand Hindi (thanks to films and serials). And my home state Kerala is very popular among Bhutanese due to the huge presence of teachers from there. 'Keralites make good teachers than Bhutanese' some youth confirms. They are very proud about their country. Almost all the people answered in the affirmative to my question whether they are happy. Eventhough the country has voted for democracy, people aren't much bothered about that. But they love their king, probably no head of state earns that much love and respect in this world. 'In war like situations, our king lead the army in the front' a young forest officer says. The visionary king Jigme Wangchok's sincere efforts pay the dividents. Government tries the best to provide quality education to its people. It pays for higher studies in foreign countries to those students who are qualified. Beside, medical treatment is free to all in this country. 'We are lucky to be born here' says Karma Choeden, an young girl who works with an NGO. Young Bhutanese are not very keen to go abroad in search of greener pastures. Garab Dorji, an young IT officer with Thimpu corporation represents the spirit of educated young bhutan. 'I love to visit other countries, but not for work. I am happy here'. Bhutanese girls are so elegant in their traditional 'Kira'. Though this dress is compulsory in offices, they are free to wear the dress of their choice outside. As crime rate is much lower, girls are safe and free in this country (serious crimes hardly occur here). In thimpu, I have seen girls running restaurants, shops etc. Tsongs, where the main administrative activities are done, lend a special charm to this tiny Buddhist country. Religion is a major influence in all aspects of Bhutanese life. Eventhough they eat meat, animal slaughter is banned. Development without exploiting nature and culture is the mantra of Bhutan. So there are certain villages that is restricted for travellers (ofcourse in Bhutan you need special permission to go almost everywhere). With 80% land forested, ancient temples, traditional way of living, Bhutan is really a delight for the mind and the soul. I still fondly remember the smell of nature during my journey from Thimpu to Phunaka. Bhutan is a place where one love to get lost in nature's abundance. It is probably the last Shangri-la on earth as they say. But the influence of west can be seen in cities. Hip-hop, fashion- all they ready to receive from West. X rated films and drugs popp into the lives of younsters, despite ban. Some youth already feel the threat. 'Today's youngsters are not modernised, but westernised. So they are getting more arrogant', Dr. Choeden points out. I feel, it would be extremely hard for the authorities to hold the young in the fold of tradition and values. Yet we have a lot to learn from this country about how to be modern without forgetting who you are.

Spiti-The lost Valley

br/> Spiti is a lost< valley sandwitched between perennial snow capped mountains. Cold, remote and dry - it looks like another country inside India. The sight of huge mountains that appears as if to kiss the blue sky is so spectacular. The valley is not much exposed to tourism though blessed with unique features. Reaching there is a real adventure. The muddy, zigzag road from Manali to Kaza (head quarters of Spiti) can be scary at times. It was dry and sunny in june when we set out for Kaza. Everybody at the Himachal Pradesh state bus we were traveling seemed so tired when it stopped for lunch at Rohtang pass. There was only one little dhaba on that deserted way. The simple food consists of rice, dal and a vegetable appeared so delicious. The red soil of Kaza reminds me of the Mars surface's pictures. Kazans are friendly and greet you with a warm hello ("jooley"). Their world is so small and simple and without much ambitions. I could read a kind of tranquility and innocence on the face of every Spitian I came across. I wanted to take into my arms the muddy faced children who looked at us in awe and curiosity. Their culture and food habits are similar to that of Tibetan. Spiti is a 100% buddhist valley where people hold Dalai Lama in high regard. One of the ancient Buddhist temple - Tabo monastery, build in 996 of our era, is situated here. Due to the extreme weather and location, life is hard for Spitians. They are literally away from much of the modern amenities. There is neather means for higher education nor opportunity for job. Only few can afford to send their children for higher studies. Bollywud and cricket connect India well. Here also I have seen people thronging before TV to watch hindi films and Cricket. Before leaving, me and my friend Mat were invited to the house of a local Spitian whom I befriended in the bus. The house is made in a traditional style with mud and straw. As everybody knows hindi I could communicate with them well. They didn't have any idea of Switzerland where my friend Mat belongs to. For them he is just an 'angrezi' (English man, but tried to include him also in conversation). Everybody in the house sat on the floor mat to chat with us. They were so eager to speak of their place and culture. We have been served tea and different snacks. While leaving, our host told me that their house will be open to us anytime we go there. With all their limitations, Spitians are rich at heart, I thought.

Covid Diary

"Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and it's beauty.” ― Albert Einstein When the whole human race is fighting with a deadly virus, the US President blocked medical kits to Cuba and refuses to lift economic sanctions on Iran, which is fighting a lone battle amidst this pandemic ! I am not surprised but disappointed. Back in India the insensitive regime arrests and slap terrorism act on innocent people who have the potential to expose the govt, hiding behind the iron curtain of lock down. This actions are pointers to the insensitive world and the human race in general. Will the pandemic and the helplessness of mankind before a microscopic virus enlighten humans against their ego and greed? Universe is billions of years old and an average age of a human being is maximum 100; humans are just another species on a planet in one Zodiac among millions of other Zodiacs in this universe. So what is the role of human beings on this planet earth? Is our life relevant here? What is our contribution to the planet that accommodates us? Nations compete in investing in weapons and waging war, thus much of our resources and time have been invested on destruction not in nurturing or creating. The whole human race can be destroyed with a button by our advanced technology, yet we have not yet invented medicine for a microscopic virus. That is an indicator of our priority in a world where nations thrive on enemities and war. Why do we need weapons and bombs when a great majority on this planet struggle to survive, when millions are dying of poverty?World leaders have vested interests in advancing the greed of weapon lobby but the people in general must rise against this weaponisation of whole world. Greed of human race is the mother of all wars and sufferings. Our corporates in connivance with greedy politicians have exploit nature and driven out the indigenous people and other species whose very survival depend on the forest. As Gandhiji said we have enough to satiate our need but not our greed. Today major portion of our resources are with one percent of the total population and such level of inequality and greed would bring more disaster to the planet and its inhabitants. Human race, like all other species exist at the mercy of nature, yet we with our evolved intellect do believe that we are the owners of planet earth and are endowed with the right to eliminate and exploit other species and nature. We do try to control the nature and even the space by creating a world exclusively for ourselves where every other species are forced to exist at our mercy. Our very existence is actually a threat to the nature.Universe will survive without us but we cannot, it is our responsibility to protect the nature that nurture us. Unlike human beings, all other species live in harmony with nature. They do not fight or dominate each other, they do not kill unless they are hungry. They do not have class,race and religious divisions like human race. Covid 19 is not a new virus but has been invaded to a new abode from animals that happened to be human species. The destruction of forests and the eco system forced animals to venture into human habitation that might have caused the infection. This may not be the end, there might be other virus or disaster waiting to happen but nature may go on. We are not inevitable to planet earth as we are the biggest threat to her; the universe will exist without our presence. Covid 19 is not an issue of a nation but whole human race must awaken from the slumber to save the planet from destruction and disaster . Are we ready to learn lessons yet ? Will human race learn from mistakes ?Will we be more empathetic to each other ,towards our surrounding and other species?


Discovery of Nehru

Remembering Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru on his 129th birthday. I write this particularly as we live in the time of hate, and today he is the most ‘hated’ and discussed person in the Indian political arena. Vilification of Nehru with fake news and photoshoped images has become the favourite passtime of digital trolls and born haters. It could be jealousy or desperation that drive right wing politics to ignore or even erase him from the pages of history, but the more they ignore him, the more he will be loved and remembered, because the legacy of Nehru has been etched indelibly in the making of India. Gossiping about others private life is like a national sport to us and Nehru is perhaps the most misunderstood person and a convenient target of gossip-mongers. People never get tired of speaking about his philandering or his relation with Edwina Mountbatten as if Nehru is all about his relationships with women. A close relation between a woman and man may not be necessarily physical, it could be spiritual,emotional or intellectual, but when you are frustrated and carry sex 24×7 in your head, you cannot go beyond that. Platonic love doesn’t exist for you. However, an erudite, refined and charming Nehru might have attracted women, and as a widower Nehru was not committing any crime. And jealousy cannot be cured. Though I had a penchant for biographies of great personalities, as a stupid and rebellious teenager, I was never keen to read Nehru or even Gandhi, because Subhas Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh and Che were the flavours of the season plus those evergreen Latino authors. My discovery of Nehru has begun with ‘Glimpses of World History’ and couldn’t help but adore his sunny personality. His intellect, varied interests and vast knowledge on almost all subjects are really appealing but his aesthetic sense and sensitivity are more an endearing quality and definitely a rarity among states men. Nehru might have made mistakes and might have been humiliated by Machiavellian designs of China, and he paid for it with his life, he could never recover from that huge betrayal till his death in 1964. An idealistic Nehru’s thoughts and views on nations, people and issues were greatly influenced by Gandhiji who was his mentor and whom he considered as a father figure. Gandhiji was for disbanding the armed forces and the pacifist Mahatma’s influence could have left its mark in many of his political decisions. Haters can hate, but Nehru will remain as a shining star on the horizon of world leaders. No politician till date can match to the intellectual prowess and creative genius of Nehru. Gandhi who had been mentor of Nehru for more than thirty years had no doubt about Nehru being a true Jawahar (Jewel).


A Doctor with God's signature in his hands

"No legacy is so rich as honesty," Shakespeare. He is a loner in the crowd, a rare gem among doctors and altruistic in a money-minting medical profession.Calm,gentle and compassionate Dr.Nelson Kattikatt walks alone in the privileged world of medical field with the serenity and grace of a blessed healer.His compassionate care makes him stand out among the doctors when a majority among them are immune to the plight of patients. His calm and sagelike aura is quite tranquilising even to the violent mental patients at the Government mental hospital in Trivandrum where he is the Chief Psychiatrist. Today when society as a whole belive that success is about amassing wealth and sensual gratification, and care little about the humanity as a whole, with his ethical and socialy responsible practice, he tries to live up to the words of Gandhiji that “ The best way to find yourself is to lose yourselves in the service of others.” He lends compassionate ear to each patient at the hospital and helps those who cannot afford costly medicines. No wonder, his patients adore him and shower him with adjectives as ‘ doctor with the signature of God and doctor with a blessed hand.’ Despite his humble back ground, money hardly tempts this brutally honest doctor and he does choose the road less travelled when pharmaceutical companies bribe the doctors with costly gifts and free overseas travels and laboratories with commissions. He stays away from such temptations and suggests laboratories to give reduction to patients instead. He has been maintaining this principle since his medical college days and those values are always very dear to him. And he strongly believes that doctors have a duty towards society unlike many other professions. ‘Service to humanity is the primary duty of a doctor.’ He says. How can he be detached to money in a world of materialism?” As a deeply spiritual person, it is easier for me.” pat came the reply. When speaking about the adoration of his patients, he speaks with the same detachment, ‘Whatever I am today is due to the grace of God, I am just a tool." In many of my interactions with him, I never have seen him losing his cool even in extremely tough situations; the hard realities in life might have tamed him to be tolerant, he reasons.As the son of a small shop keeper and the shame and inferiority complexes that thrust upon him by a society that glorifies money and influence, had deeply haunted him throughout his childhood, yet fighting against all odds, he has emerged as the Chief Psychiatrist of Kerala by his strong will, which reminds me of the quote of prophetic writer Khahlil Gibran, “Out of suffering emerges the strongest soul.” Like many exceptional people Dr. Nelson seems to be a misfit among his colleagues, has been misunderstood often and struggle to cope up. But nothing detracts him from serving his patients. For him it is service beyond the call of duty. Dr. Nelson is a voracious reader too and used to write poems during his school/college days, won many accolades for elocution,poetry writing,essay writing etc . But his creative side is in hibernation after became busy with medical practice, which he feels to be dusted off. Unfortunately, as the saying goes that no prophet is revered in his homeland, noble souls like him are not recognized in their own land.


Story of Krishna

      I met Krishna, a Nepali Chef during a Sunday service at a picturesque village in  Manali last year. It was a Nepali Christian gathering in a home amidst a lovely garden in the background of snow capped mountain, having rose ,apple , pears and cherry; the scent of beautiful rose flowers filtering through the window added a rare divinity to the interior of the home. I never had come across such devoute Christian gathering in my life, there was an intense spiritual pulling in the room, the young girls and boys in the choir were literally in tears out of pure bliss, Krishna seemed to have lost in divine love.
While walking back home through the narrow path lined with giant Himalayan Cedar trees(Devdaru) on either side, I asked Krishna as to what attracted him to Christ. ‘ Love’, he said without batting an eyelid. While trying to figure out his answer, he added, “ Madam, you will never understand the pain of a human being who doesn’t have anybody in this world.” He narrated about his cursed life in Nepal as an orphan, as a poor homeless child who was treated like an insect, his addiction to alcohol, drugs and many vices, his pain,hopelessness,anger and poverty. He said it was a foreign missionary who helped him come out of his wretched life through the love of Jesus Christ. Later he gave up all his addictions and found a job as a Chef in a star hotel in Manali.
 It was drizzling, and those light drops of rain helped me hide the tears streaming down on my cheek. The Nepalese gathered in that little home might have similar stories of pain and poverty, of desires, dreams and fears. But do we care to listen to the innate feelings of our fellow human beings in this toxic religious hate- mongering era? Aren’t our inner longing for love, our dreams feelings and fears the same? What difference it would make if Krishna finds Love in Christ or vice versa? Isn’t love the great healer? In our silent meditative walk, many such thoughts crossed my mind. I didn’t even realise it when we  almost reached at Krishna’s hotel. Krishna went in to work  with an invitation for dinner at his hotel. And the unpredictable mountain weather have it, Sun popped up from nowhere.


Ode to Love

Love is a perennial theme for literature, films.music and other art forms  around the world.The Malayalam film, ‘Enu Ninte Moideen’(Yours forever Moideen)which I watched recently, is a real tribute to love. This real life story of two young hearts belong to different community, in the 50s of Kerala is exceptional in many respects, especially due to the unparallel sacrifice in the love-history of the world. Based on the life story  of Kanchanamala and Moideen, a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy who had fell in love against the wishes of their family, the film celebrates love with  its beauty and tears. I couldn’t help but think of prophetic author Kahlil Gibran’s words while watching the film as those words appears to have written for them.

But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully’

   Love was their oxygen and the beauty of their  Platonic love is both enlightening and inspiring. They breathed love and spoke the language of love which others couldn’t realize.Perhaps the spiritual depth of their love had enabled them to endure the ordeal that they had to face for that.The ultimate sacrifice of Kanchana  and of Moideen for their love in the  Kerala of 50s’ might be beyond the comprehension of today’s smart phone generation.They had to face death threat,extreme physical and mental torture as they belong to different religions. But their love had triumphed as love is the ultimate truth, though Moideen was snatched away from Kanchana in the guise of death. But even death had failed to separate  Moideen from Kanchana’s heart. She still  lives as the unwed widow of Moideen by looking after the social services he had begun for destitute women.They proved with their life that Love is a precious gift that elevates the spirit, in an otherwise immortal existence.

  Love can transcend the limitations of body and its desires, Kanchana and Moideen  seemed in love through ages and life after life. Their story pained me though I was so delighted to see  two pure souls  in love. I felt a deep admiration for them  while  struggling to stomach the death of Moideen .
 I left the theater with a heavy heart, as if clouds of pain burdened my soul, yet I could see  butterflies of love fluttering over me.


Nature,the beloved

‘Men may come and go, but I go on forever’, British poet Mathew Arnold had written  to celebrate the  immortality of Nature, the eternal nurturer of all beings.Nature is beyond any definition, she amuses , enlightens , excites and give  immense joy to mankind and all the beings. She expresses through her abundant wealth of greenery, scent of smiling flowers, unlimited freedom of rivers and through  ever receiving oceans.Nature is a perfect feast to the eye and soul.

Nature provides us life without any expectations, The flowers hardly aware of their beauty or the fragrance they spread around them, the river never think that she quenches the thirst of all living beings, and trees never get proud for supporting every living things. The Sun hardly prides about being the light of the world and the Moon doesn’t think it being the king of night.But we humans think highly of  ourselves, while in reality we do not give anything in return to nature or other beings except pollution, deforestation and disaster.We  are the only being that exploit  and use everything around us, we are the only beings that hardly respects Nature and other life forms on earth.  Is  intelligence makes us blindly selfish and arrogant?

 Will Nature ever forgive us for the great harm that we cause to her? Will she take revenge on us rapists and exploiters of her precious being? I do not know. But I wish if human beings were more grateful, more compassionate to know the essence of Nature and  her selfless love.


Minority Report

  ‘India is trying to be a super power with all this poor people, it is not possible’ said  my Swiss  friend while having lunch at Delhi’s Imperial Hotel.  'Tourists hardly prefer to come in this dirty country that is even costlier than Thailand, and Thailad is very clean’,she further added. Then she kept on explaining how she get sick whenever she comes to India due to pollution, dust etc including her bad,funny  sometimes strange experiences in India as a woman.Yes we are very tolerant people, I thought. And we Indians live in a cocoon thinking that our country is perfect and most tolerant in the world.

  We do not think it an issue when we see filth around us, when we see children begging around us, of course we get to know about murder,rape and other such evils on a daily basis. But we are used to such things and life goes on. Perhaps we are more interested in silly things. These days we are caught up with another issue to fight over-Nationalists Vs Anti-Nationalists, though we never dare to call our corrupt politicians anti-nationals!According to the  'guidelines' of Hindutva brigade, anyone belongs to minority community or one who criticizes PM Modi is anti-national. I had a taste of their venomous attacks in online forums , my crime is that I belong to a minority community.

   I grew up in an India where I was least bothered about my religion, it never occurred to me that I am a Christian. But  these days whenever I try to write my opinion in online forum, I get trolled targeting my religion.One person even called me ‘Britisher’, ‘destroyer of civilizations’ ‘rice bag converts’ (I am sorry, they do not even know the history of Christianity in Kerala)and someone who ‘worship Goddess Sonia’.((Frankly I do not have any idea where Sonia Gandhi stands in my life and  what she has to do with my views.)Anti-national,professional  hater of Hinduism etc are common abuses and some I cannot even write here. I am sure those online trolls do not have any idea about the culture or history of India but somewhere I feel let down by my compatriots, one part of me gets angry and other part of me gets hurt.Who has the right to question my 'Indianess?', Who are they to question my patriotism?
  When actors like Sharukh Khan and Aamir khan have voiced their concerns over growing intolerance in India, they too are trolled by the online Hindutva brigade.
Even people go out to burn Aamir’s effigy(I just wonder where do we get all those youth to destructive work? Do they participate with equal enthusiasm to some constructive work to build a better India?)

    They say that they are hurt by Aamir’s words.Why they do not get hut or betrayed seeing a little girl begging on street? Why they do not feel ashamed seeing  filth aroud them? Why they do not get hurt when daughters of India are raped and abused?Why do they not ashamed seeing the cancerous corruption in the society?Why do they not react with such passion and aggression against all this social evils?
Did they ever reach out and ask a person belongs to minority religion, how does he/she feel? I do remember the panic and insecurity feeling of my Muslim friend in Delhi during Dadri incident, and many Muslims share that insecurity feeling. Only a person belonging to minority community can feel that and it is  really insensitive to brand those who speak out their fears as anti-national, it doesn’t make us human beings. Besides people jump to compare India with certain autocratic Middle Eastern countries and Pakistan, but those countries are not model states and our democracy is modeled on western system.  

    The issue is that we mix religion with politics and this trend is getting dangerous with the ascent of BJP to power. A deliberate attempt to polarize majority Hindu vote is going on in India and it would only pull India backwards.Europe has learned her lesson from the mistake of mixing religion and politics,ofcourse with a heavy price. I do not know when we are going to learn that.Again Pakistan is a perfect example of a failed nation for the fault of mixing religion and politics. Thanks to our founding fathers especially Gandhiji,Nehru and Ambedkar to whom we are indebted to the secular aspect of the constitution.I wish our youth to wake up and work for a better India rather than wasting their time and energy on divisive and viscious agenda.