Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"Anjan Mein Niranjan"

Recently I was in Washington DC, supporting our teams responding to fires and storms in different parts of the country. When I am in DC, I usually walk or take metro to get to places and very rarely do I take the cabs. However, some times when it is a bit late at night or I am not sure of the way, I take a cab. The best part of taking cabs is the conversations with the cab drivers, they are usually immigrants from India, Pakistan, Ethiopia, or Eritrea, etc. They are very respectful and like to share their story of arriving to the US and their current lifestyle.

Talking with the cab drivers can be very informative. One gentleman told me about how he struggled to get to the US, chasing the 'American Dream'. It took him several years to reach the US, during his journey he walked for thousands of miles to cross his country's border, then took a plane to a country in South America and worked their until he got the opportunity to move to the United States. In this time, he lived with different types of people, adapted to different cultures and tried to speak different languages. He now is proud cab driver and makes intelligent conversations with interested passengers. What a determined and inspiring person!

So I have several stories of cab drivers like that but what recently happened passed all other conversations not only with cab drivers but with any stranger ever. As I entered the cab, I knew it was going to be an interesting ride. The cab driver was an elderly Sikh (Sikhs are the followers of Sikhism, an Indian religion) gentleman with a big white beard, he looked like a sage. His persona didn't fit the driver's sit at all but he was very comfortable there. My heart was so ready to receive his pearls of wisdom.

I started the conversation by telling him that my great grandfather was a Sikh too and he later converted to Christianity. He asked, Who was Christ? I replied, 'Sir, please you tell me because you certainly know more than me'. So he proceeded to tell me his version of God and how he thought God dealt with  this world over the generations. I am not sure if I agreed with everything but his version was beautiful and music to my ears. Before I knew the ride was about to finish, actually way I earlier than I would've liked.

Just before we arrived, we exchanged our names. His name was Mr. Gill and when he heard my name he asked me if I knew the meaning of my name. I told him 'Anjana' is derived from 'Anjan', which means kohl (eyeliner). He said you're right when 'Anjan' is taken in a very little quantity, it is called kohl but if it is spread around, it is nothing but dirt. I kind of felt bad… but he was just about to give me the gift he had for me...

He said, 'Anjana, Anjan mein Niranjan ho jaao! Meaning this world is full of Anjan or dirt but Niranjan is God or Godlike. While you live in the dirt of this world you must become Godlike. Stop eating meat or drinking alcohol and stop doing other bad things.' He wasn't simply talking to me, he was giving me instructions with some divine authority...

As the cab stopped, I bent to see the meter but he had already switched it off. I asked him how much I owed him but he said I couldn't pay him any money. He said donate some money in the church instead. Then he said, 'You may leave now'. But somehow I didn't have the  strength or the desire to leave but I forced myself to leave the cab. I was full of gratitude because of the pearls of wisdom that he blessed me with. I was also perplexed if this was real or I was living a mystical experience…! I am still perplexed but I am holding his teaching close to my heart.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Societal Failure

It is sickening to watch the face of the Colorado massacre suspect, his red hair and his expressions. What made a bright, handsome, young man coming from a normal family do such a horrific thing is beyond imagination. It must be so painful for the survivors and the families to watch this man on the TV.

It must be like needling a fresh wound to see this man. I pray, wish and hope that those who are directly affected by this massacre receive the strength and support to live  this heartbreaking time of their lives. Terror, deaths, injuries in a place where you go with your family to enjoy is so shocking and numbing.  Hope the survivors are surrounded with right resources and are soon involved in constructive activities that facilitate healing of their physical and psychological scars.

I wonder how his family members are dealing with the situation... they might be experiencing a mix of guilt, sadness and helplessness. Hopefully, concrete lessons learned can be derived from this situation so that never again parents have to deal with this type of guilt.

I also wonder what is going on in the suspect's mind. The expressions on the suspect's face are so diverse; he looks tired, shocked, disoriented, and indifferent. Are those real reactions or is he making them up? If he is in senses, what all is going on in his mind? I just can't get over his face... how a person without any apparent reason can kill and hurt so many innocent lives. Why could not we as a society prevent this massacre to happen? What a tragic failure!

Yes, probably this crazy man will get the due punishment but is punishment to the perpetrator ever enough to heal the wounds of those who survive the trauma? Yes, the court proceedings and final judgment in this case are vital but it requires long-term attention beyond the punishment of the culprit. This horrific event requires some serious scrutiny. All psychological and social factors must be thoroughly studied and the lessons learned must be shared with the parents, teachers, law enforcement officials, and all other stakeholders.

Thankfully, failure can be a firm foundation for many successes. Let us come together and vow that we will do everything in our control to teach our children peaceful ways of dealing with life. Secondly, we must give appropriate attention to our family members, neighbors, colleagues and if we see anything questionable, we must take the appropriate action. Come, let us please vow for peace!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Colorado Killings: A late reaction

The recent massacre  in Aurora, Colorado was a horrible event. My heart is troubled and aching. As I see the news in CNN, lot of questions come to mind. What led this young man  to commit such an  awful act? How come no one saw something 'not right' about this person? And if they did, what type of thoughts or lack thereof  prevented them to report it? What kinds of things that families, neighbors, regular and/or online businesses should be looking for to prevent people taking such actions?

What is the definition of personal space in western societies where nobody in the family knows what a person is up to for months? Looking at similar events, one thing is pretty clear,  that a combination of psychological, social factors and life experiences lead to such dreadful and irrational behaviors. Are there any early indicators of psychological factors that can be detected by families or school community? If there are no early indicators, are there other indicators that manifest at a later stage and can they be disseminated in the public in a simple manner?

Being a firm believer of human resiliency, I know that the survivors will eventually move on with some support. However, every human has their own unique coping mechanism and therefore requires certain types, levels and durations of support. I hope nobody is pushed to move on and they have enough time to grieve and those who want to celebrate their new life can do so without any judgment or criticism. I pray that the survivors of this tragic event and the affected families receive appropriate support to recover from this unthinkable episode of their lives.

One question bothers me often... is the value of life different in different parts of the world? The real picture says yes and the logic says no… In some cases, I get to see photos and names of the people that died in a violent attack, sometimes I even see their names engraved on the monuments built in their memory and on the other hand millions of victims are no more than just numbers! Yes, it is true that there is a discrepancy in how people live but there is also a discrepancy in how you are remembered after you die regardless of what you did throughout your life… I am grateful for those whose legacy is honored and I am eager to see that the remaining 'numbers' are transformed to names and faces that duly receive pertinent remembrance.

In the end, I want to acknowledge that we are all affected by tragedies, such as the shooting in Aurora. I would like to encourage all of us to get involved in activities that can prevent such hateful events and please be supportive of those who are grieving tragedies like this wherever you may be. Let us all march towards a world free of fear and full of freedom!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Religion: Conflict and Harmony

Those who use religious rhetoric to ignite, maintain or exploit differences amongst different groups manage to influence many of us from time to time. Off course, our own biases and worldviews may provide a ground to flourish those ideas as well. Using religious teachings and principles to facilitate conflicts is one the biggest tragedies of the human history.

Most of us know that no holy scriptures of any religion encourage human slaughter, no not even Islam, as many people in the West believe. In fact, Islam, the religion that Prophet Mohammad brought about is primarily about peace and service to the almighty. Islam comes from Arabic words ‘Salm’, which means peace, and from 'Silm', which means submitting your will to Allah – the Almighty God. Chapter 5 and verse 32 of Holy Qur’an clearly says that killing an innocent is a sin. Similarly, foundations of other major religions around the world are based on truth, peace, love and forgiveness themes.

We need to focus on the founders of our religions, their life styles and the holy scriptures that came out as a result. It is the rhetoric, doctrines, popular assumptions are what leading general public and therefore it is easy to base a conflict on religious grounds. If people were well aware of what their holy book and the holy book of the ‘other’ says, conflicts based on religions would never succeed.

Recently, I explored peaceful themes in the holy scriptures of Islam, Hinduism and Christianity and I found out that all these religions talk about one God. Hinduism has about 330 million deities but they are the extension of ONE ultimate reality (Chandogya Upanishad 6 : 2 : 1; Rigveda 1 : 164 : 46). I strongly believe that all major religions come from the same source. It is like one father with many children.

It is normal and perfectly ok for the children to find their own ways and have conflicts. However, if we use violent ways to resolve those conflicts or humiliate each other, it DOES hurt our Father. A loving father is happy when he sees all his children prospering and getting along well. God wanted us to be different and that is why He has given us the right to choose our religion, our life style and our preferences.

There are innate differences like race and then there are differences because of the choices we make and God wants it like that. If not, he would have just created bunch of robots! He wanted the human race to have diversity like the colors of a rainbow, the different musical notes, and variety of different flavors and fragrances.

When we are upset because of the differences, take a moment to appreciate those differences. Our differences are valid and were made for a perfect harmony. Learn to enjoy them rather than judging them or getting mad at them. Let us come together to be a rainbow full of hope, a calming symphony and a beautiful bouquet for our creator!

Peace Seeks Justice

Yes, the country seeks peace. But the angry protestors seek justice, The grieving mothers seek justice, The oppressed generations ...