dear world…

Dear World,

This is not Trump’s failure. These things happen. Talks sometimes fail. And you have to walk away and look for a way to do it right, to ultimately get results that benefit all involved.

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Dear World, you keep advising India and Pakistan to talk. We have. Umpteen times, when we believed that talks could help.

We don’t want a war. From what I hear, citizens of Pakistan don’t either. But see, cross-border firing is a daily occurrence here. Soldiers and civilians die almost every day at the border. And this has been going on for decades. And now, this big suicide attack at Pulwama, followed by Balakot, then Abhinandan’s capture and return. So what will Sushma Swaraj and Shah Md Qureshi talk about, that hasn’t already been discussed to bits? There is a stalemate here.

Dear World, as you all have borders with other countries you can imagine what it must be like to have this happen to your country. A small country like Hungary has borders with seven countries; Zambia has seven or eight. The Filipinos have more than seven thousand islands to defend. Every country is vulnerable to attack by rogue elements, the way we are at the mercy of next-door neighbours on our street, and will suffer if they decide to keep throwing their garbage into our yard. Or their rowdy young kids play cricket in the yard with the batsman facing our windows. In Bangalore, where I live, I hear that every apartment block has one troublesome, dysfunctional resident who has been informally diagnosed Narcissistic Personality Disorder by the Residents’ Association!

Look how much heartburn the Mexicans are giving Trump by illegally crossing over into the US to work and live. Here we have people illegally crossing our border with an intention to cause havoc and death with  guns and grenades. So, please Dear World, don’t dismiss us like we are children fighting in a playground, don’t say “C’mon now, be good children, hug and make up. Talk . . . talk . . .” We have done everything by the book so far. If anything, we might have erred on the side of caution by not pushing back enough.

Why did the Trump-Kim talks fail? Because Kim demanded something that Trump couldn’t give him. Our talks with Pakistan failed because some of them want Kashmir, which belongs to us, and we will not hand it over. Perhaps this is an oversimplification; there’s more to this demand, a lot of history, and I understand that. But this route? How can this strategy even work? Imagine Kim is peeved with Trump and decides to keep up a low grade torment by lobbing grenades or what-have-you into towns and villages along the coast of Alaska, and he does this for the next fifty years, throwing in a few suicide attacks for good measure, killing thousands of American citizens. That wouldn’t be acceptable, right?

People in the political world might know exactly why the outfits that cause mayhem in Kashmir cannot be neutralised, as they call it on TV nowadays. All I know is that the terror-manufacture company has many shell companies; when one is banned by the UN, funds are transferred from it to one that isn’t banned, members are given aliases, and it’s business as usual.

Dear World, we know that France, Israel, the UK, Saudi Arabia, the US, Russia and others have stood by us this time, despite many of them having to simultaneously deal with internal problems back home. Our heartfelt thanks for that. For those who don’t want to help, please don’t bulldoze the simple dreams of ordinary Kashmiris to give shape to yours.

India has been struggling alone for decades. We rely totally on our Armed Forces. A doubt often pops into my mind – if the world couldn’t help Ukraine five years ago, how can we trust that it will help us? The only answer I can think of is that the stakes here are higher. As nobody wants a nuclear war, maybe the international community will work out something before things spin out of control and we are all sucked into a war that will wipe out all of us.

 

 

kashmir, 1988

In November 1988 I met a little Kashmiri boy of about eight in a local bus in Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir.

Unasked, he informed me in Hindi, “I’m Pakistani”.

I naïvely asked why he was visiting India.

He gave me an insolent look and said in a curious singsong voice in Hindi, “I will live in India, I will eat of India, but I will remain Pakistani!”

He surely didn’t come up with that himself. It even had a tune like a much-repeated jingle, the kind that you can’t help saying like it sounds on TV, like ‘washing powder Nirma, washing powder Nirma’.

And this was in 1988, two years before the Kashmiri Hindu genocide.

I think the whole system on which Jammu & Kashmir runs is rotten from top to bottom, from the top person in government to indoctrinated kids like this. You don’t expect a fine yield if a wheat crop is affected by blight when young shoots are emerging; the grains will be nubbins. And it looks like it’s been this way with such children in Kashmir since 1947.

This was not all. On a sightseeing trip around town our bus once got stoned by a bunch of people. Another time, when the tour operator had stopped by a shop that sold silk sarees and scarves, we saw our bus suddenly lurch out of its parking spot with some of our group trying to scramble up its steps. We were still inside the shop. Local men were chasing the bus and pelting stones as the driver increased speed. The shop-owners hustled us to the back of the shop and hastily downed shutters. Then they called for a cab (or maybe somebody’s car), peeped out furtively and sort of smuggled us out into the car. We were too dazed to even ask what happened. These people were probably average Kashmiris who were not anti-India and were protecting us – Indians from other states ­– the way the rest of India is now trying to protect Kashmiri students from angry, unhappy citizens baying for Kashmiri blood.

So you see, stone-pelting in Srinagar is nothing new. I saw it with my own eyes in 1988. Thirty years ago.

One evening there was an explosion in Lal Chowk in the city centre. Luckily, we were staying in the cantonment area in an Army guesthouse a few kilometres from downtown. We weren’t affected except for having to make a number of phone calls to our anxious parents and others who knew we were in Srinagar. I can only imagine how much anxiety families of army and CRPF men posted at Jammu & Kashmir live through.

Like most Indians I am deeply saddened by the killing of more than forty jawans by an Indian hireling of a bunch of subversive elements. Their modus operandi is simple: a psychopathic coward programs a less intelligent being to kill. Adil Ahmad Dar is described as a shy, introverted high school dropout with average intelligence. A perfect candidate for a fall guy.

Like an agent convincing a flop actor that he has hundreds of fans, his handler wooed him with dreams of success and fame, and a place in a mythical heaven. So he agreed to ram a car loaded with explosives into a convoy of his own country’s soldiers. Before doing this he recorded a little speech and put it on the internet. His fifteen minutes of fame. Poor little minion, a weak Indian kid whose diffident soul fell prey to a depraved person’s machinations.

Tourism is all that Kashmiris have. They don’t produce anything that we can’t easily get from elsewhere. For example, we get apples from Himachal Pradesh and we import California walnuts from the US. And the wool for Pashmina shawls sold in souvenir shops in Srinagar comes from Ladakh, not Kashmir. But Kashmiris get most of their daily needs from the rest of India.

A genuinely important cash crop they grow is saffron. Indian saffron is considered the best, supposedly better than Iranian and Spanish saffron. Apparently saffron crops are currently suffering because of corm rot and a lack of water. A little R&D might help the saffron farmers of Kashmir, but who will set up a lab in a place like that?

When I visited Kashmir in 1988 I was advised to avoid buying saffron because what they were selling as saffron was actually a box of hair-thin strands of cardboard dyed red! What a perfect metaphor for Adil Ahmad Dar and his ilk.

a smorgasbord, not a set menu

Part of the lore passed down orally in my family was that Jesus lived in India for many years. That he was an avatar of God, like Rama, Krishna, Buddha and others before him. That he lived in the Himalayas in his youth and learnt about samadhi from Indian rishis. That he was therefore able to survive after he was lifted down from the cross and placed in a tomb. That he returned to India and lived to a ripe old age in the Himalayas. And that his tomb is in Kashmir.

It sounded too far-fetched to me. Surely a young boy wouldn’t leave his home and family in the middle-east to come and learn about spiritual practices here, so far away, through high mountain passes and biting cold? And if he came here as a youth how did he die here at eighty? When did he preach in his own country then? I simply pushed the story to the back of my mind with the rest of Indian folklore.

My actual introduction to Christianity was at the age of nine when I began attending a school run by Christians. A school day started with Chapel every morning, and I learnt a lot about the religion over the years.

Born Hindu, I never had to commit myself to any one image of god because we had a pantheon in our pooja ghar, or altar. And when we went to other parts of India we worshipped at temples of gods who weren’t even on our altar, because all gods of all religions are representations of the only god there is. My parents said that a holy place was a holy place regardless of religion, because people bring only pure, clean thoughts and prayers to their holy shrines, and all places of worship are therefore imbued with holiness.

Growing up, I did wonder about the multiplicity of gods in Hinduism, unlike in other religions. Hinduism is monotheistic, but people worship god in hundreds of different forms. They invoke god in the form that traditionally represents what they need fixed: like goddess Lakshmi for money worries, analogous to the Christian patron saint, St. Nicholas; or Saraswathi, the goddess of music and art, who is similar to St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music; or any of the gods – like Ganesha, Hanuman, Krishna, or Durga-mata in desperate situations, like St. Jude, or Jesus himself. Prayer is just a matter of reaching out to god in his most relatable form in the circumstances, either directly or through an intercessor.

The name by which I address god doesn’t matter, nor does it matter if I don’t engage with him at all. I can be an atheist, which will make me a nastik Hindu, or an out and out materialist, which will make me a charvaka Hindu, none of which are bad or wrong; they are just where I happen to be on my karmic path. I can even worship Jesus as my ishtha-devatha (god of choice) and follow the path of bhakti yoga (path of love) and still be Hindu. Looking back, this is what I probably did for a couple of years in my teens when I read the Bible, went to church and subscribed to an American Christian youth magazine called Young Ambassador. All this fits in with the claim that Hinduism is not a religion, just a way of life, which can leave a child quite confused.

As a young adult, the Hindu way of thinking gave me freedom to not commit myself irrevocably to a fixed set of beliefs. I was wary of being expected to handcuff myself mentally to things I had stopped believing in, something that happens when you permanently accept any dogma. Religious syncretism allowed me to change or modify my beliefs when I understood something better while dipping into the teachings of different religions and philosophies, and I made up my mind that this was how fluid it was always going to be.

Being a medical student, one side of me said it was just neurones and synapses that process information continuously and throw up new patterns of thought, perception and emotion, and nothing was real, especially not god and religion. Another side of me said it was more than that, beyond science. There was room for that internal debate too because Hinduism doesn’t expect me to accept anything on faith.

What was my takeaway from learning the teachings of Jesus as a child? By clearly distinguishing between good and bad, they simplified the world for me at an age when I wasn’t yet able to grasp the complexities and nuances of Hinduism that I now appreciate. Having been introduced to two religions simultaneously I saw the world of abstract ideas about life and god as more of a smorgasbord than a set menu. Theism, as I still see it, is only useful if it enables us to live in harmony on earth, and not quibble over the name of the Maker or form armies to kill each other in his name.

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In 2002 I came across Jesus the man, a book by Australian historian and theologian, Barbara Thiering. One bit I remember from this book is that Jesus and the two men who were hanged along with him ­­– Simon Magus and Judas Iscariot ­– were brought down from the crosses on Pilate’s orders. They were then imprisoned in a burial cave where Simon, who belonged to a community of healers called the Therapeutae, revived Jesus. He survived and was taken to safety, a few days after which he left the country.

Around the same time I read Jesus lived in India by Holger Kersten. This book is about Jesus’ coming to India after the crucifixion. Apparently he lived to be eighty and was buried in Rozabal in Srinagar, Kashmir, when his life ended. The ancient inscription on his tomb says Hazrat Issa Sahib meaning Tomb of Lord Jesus. And it still exists!

I didn’t think of any of this for a long, long time as I was busy with profession, children and home.

Then, a few days ago, I read The Lost Years of Jesus by Elizabeth Prophet. This concerns the time Jesus left Jerusalem with a caravan of merchants at the age of thirteen and lived in India till the age of twenty nine: the lost years that are not accounted for in the Bible.

To quickly summarise, Jesus apparently spent six years in Eastern India in Hindu centres of learning like Puri, Rajagriha and Kashi. He later moved to Hemis, a Buddhist monastery in Leh, Kashmir, where he lived till the age of twenty nine. The Buddhist lamas refer to him as a Buddha (= the enlightened one), the Buddha Issa.

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I visited this Buddhist monastery at Hemis in 2007 on a family vacation to Leh in Kashmir. This is where Jesus is said to have spent the lost years that are not accounted for in the Bible.

Records of his teachings, as well as his biography, were maintained in the Hemis monastery in Leh in Kashmir. A Russian journalist, Nicolas Notovitch, heard about them by chance. He went in search of them in 1887and had them translated from Pali into Russian. His book, The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, was first published in 1894.

The existence of these documents was subsequently verified by reliable people, viz. Swamy Abhedananda (1922), Prof. Nicholas Roerich (1925) and Madame Caspari (1939), the details of which are in Elizabeth Prophet’s book.

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The questions I had asked as a child were answered. But more than that, thanks to trying to make sense of all that I heard in school and at home regarding god, I had concluded that swearing allegiance to any religion was not necessary. Cherry-picking from all of them was fine. But that’s exactly what Hinduism is: you are free to think, free to question, and free to choose what to believe, without an angry god to consign you to hell if you dare to process and question what is preached.

There’s this quote from ancient Indian literature called the Puranas: “Like a honey bee gathering trickles of honey from different flowers, the wise man accepts the essence of different scriptures and sees only the good in all the religions.”

Despite the differences in what religious fundamentalists – of all hues – say, at the deepest level we all feel the same thing in terms of what god, or the idea of god, is supposed to do in our lives: be there for us when we need him. Sometimes it’s easier to anthropomorphise god, and that’s fine too. The problem arises when a group of people act as though their virtual image of god is a photograph that god physically posed for, while others’ images are morphed ones of an imposter!

Hope

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‘In search of Home – the forgotten tragedy of Kashmiri Pandits’. This was the topic being debated on NDTV today on ‘We the People’ anchored by Barkha Dutt. There were seven or eight panelists whose opinions were so divided that there were temper losses and utter chaos among them.

But when it was the turn of the audience to ask questions or give opinions – wow! Every youngster spoke eloquently, rationally and passionately about moving forward in peace. They acknowledged that Kashmiri Pandits, among other groups, had been wronged. The eagerness young Muslims showed to have Kashmiri Pandits back in Kashmir was heartwarming. I don’t know how much of the government’s plan to facilitate their return to their home state can be implemented. As a young Delhi-based Kashmiri Pandit from the audience – he would have been a toddler when his parents left Kashmir – asked, “What will I do there?”

But, the point is, the youngsters don’t want strife. They have a smarter take on what is important, and it certainly isn’t Religion the way our politicians understand Religion. A Sikh Kashmiri friend had once told me that Kashmiriyat was more her religion than Sikhism in many ways. I got the sense that many Kashmiris present in that studio today would agree.

I switched to CNN right after ‘We the People’. There was an interview with a 19-year-old Israeli boy, Udi Segal, who was in jail for refusing to join the army. He says: “I cannot take part in an army that occupies another people and makes Israeli society more violent and apathetic to what is happening”.

IMG_1226When most of our generation depart this world the baton will hopefully pass on to better people like Udi Segal and the young people in the audience at the debate on Kashmiri Pandits. And not to the narrower-minded people who have been responsible for all the cruelty and destruction in recent times.

I took this picture last month at the World Trade Centre museum in New York.

“Never a thought of race, creed…” I wish…

Indian Huns

In Leh, Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir) I saw a man whose facial features looked different from those of the Kashmiri men I had seen in Srinagar. I asked our local guide about him and was told, “He’s a Hun. Huns don’t marry anyone else and nobody wants to marry them!”

Does that mean there’s a community of ‘pure’ Huns up there in the Himalayas? Huns with original Hun genes who are now Indians? I wonder if they have capsules of their history passed on from father to son over generations for the last 1,600 years.

The Huns came to India in the 4th century A.D. They were nomads from the Central Asian steppes, but even this isn’t certain. Their language was Turkic, similar to languages currently spoken by Turkic peoples across a vast area from Southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean to Siberia and Western China.

The Huns seem to have dispersed in every direction and caused mayhem all over Europe and Asia. Reading their history I find it hard to believe that one group of people could wreak so much havoc.

The word “Hun” comes from the word “kun” in Turkish. It means people, or nation.

The Bulgars are direct descendants of  Attila! The Magyars (Hungarians) are descended from Attila’s dynasty.

The name Hungary comes from On-Ogur, which is a Turkish tribe.

All this brings me to what has fascinated me about History in recent times:

(i) barriers between countries and races are artificial, though having boundaries is safer than living in fear that people like the Huns may descend on you any day.

(ii) that people with shared genetic material, for example people of Hun origin, are all over Asia, Europe and North America (which is populated by people who went there from Europe). Cousins, many times removed!

(iii) that no matter which country’s history you choose to read, you find stories of conquest and oppression, unimaginable violence, and attempts to force an alien way of life on the conquered people.