Sunday, July 27, 2008

I am Indian, first

“I am a Muslim. I am an Indian, and I don’t see any difference in the two” – Omar Abdulla, on 22 July, 2008 in the Parliament.

How very true and so well spoken. India has always been a country of many religions. In fact, that is our strength. We may all belong to different religions and follow different paths, or even be atheists, India has the space to house all. We cannot at all say that just because we are called, Hindustan, this is a country for the Hindus. Certainly not! There is in fact, no true Hindu. We are all a mix of many religions. Hinduism has taught us to be receptive to all, because it does not bar any. This is mainly because, Hinduism, per say, is not a religion, it is a way of life. And in that it has been more receptive to all religions.

It is a known fact that in the last so many years, India has never attacked any country, it has only fought to defend its own territory whenever attacked, or helps out a meeker and powerless nation around her. Like Bangladesh, when it was attacked brutally by its own Big Brother, Pakistan, because it fought for its own independence. But, even that, only on the behest of the warring nation. The reason for this lie in non-violence. We would defend ourselves when attacked, but never attack ourselves.

We, as Indians would never ever attack our own brothers and sisters within our country, because they are from a different faith, or religion. Yet, it has happened in the past and continues to do so. These are politically motivated attacks. We as Indians, have no issues around whom we live with, where and who is our neighbour. We as Indians, resist and abhor, statements made by Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, of Hindutva, “ in this land Hindus have been owners, Parsis and Jews the guests and Muslims and Christians the decoits”. It is a disgraceful statement that could have come from only a genetically challenged and culturally dysfunctional person. In fact, at the grassroots level, people of this country can easily say with pride that we are Indians, who have a little of every religion in us, imbibed through the years of coexistence. For really there is no, true Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Parsi, Jain, Sikhs or any other person belonging to any religion here in India, who can say for sure that he is not all of these and more….

That more, is being Indian. Hence, Omar Abdulla’s statement, is the true spirit of India, no doubt.

Speaking of democracy, at the time of Indian independence, noted historian, Ramchandra Guha, in the booklet published by Outlook Publications, Will India Become A Superpower? states, “Back in 1948, doubts were also being cast about the Indian experiment with nationhood. Never before had a new nation not based its unity on a single language, religion, or a common enemy (or, preferably, all of the above). However, all Indians did not have to speak Hindi or be Hindus. ……As an inclusive, plural and non-adversarial model of nationalism, the idea of India had no precedent or imitator. It set itself apart from European nationalism, which was based on a common language and, often, a shared faith and common enemy as well. Thus, the citizens of England were united in the fact that all spoke English and they were mostly Protestant and that many of them disliked France and the French”. – pg 10 -11 Further he goes on to say, “meanwhile through its collective coexistence of different faiths, languages, cultures and cuisines, India is better model for world governance than more homogeneous countries such as China, Japan or the United States. Once, the heterogeneity of India was seen as its great flaw, now, it may justly be celebrated as its greatest strength”.

This is the true fact of being India. Those in minority in India may jump up to remind us that the atrocities done towards their community or the lack of vote bank, proves otherwise. But the fact is that all Indians, irrespective of caste and community, stand up together against the atrocities delivered. We see it as atrocities done with political ill motivation and we do not support such actions.

The recent talk of land being passed on to the Amarnath Yatra Trust is only one such. Why should land belonging to Jammu & Kashmir be given off to Hindu Trusts. This land belongs to them and for thousands of years Kashmiris have been hosts to the yatris and devoted their time and service towards them. And they will continue to do this, even if the service is delivered by humans born as Muslims. What has faith got to do with, practice and support given to fellow worshipers of a different religion? In the Gujarat riots or for that matter, the Bombay riots, hundreds of thousands of Hindus and Muslims opened their doors and their lives for their neighbours, friends and even strangers, and hid them from the ugly face of genocide carried out by bigoted and evil politicians in the garb of Hindus. At a basic level, as humans and as Indians, we are one, we are bhai-bhai.

Hence, the enlightened statement made by Omar Abdulla, on the floor of the Parliament, must go down in history, as one of the most powerful statement ever made on this soil, and in the seat of the highest respect we pay to be Indians. This statement truely mirrors the real face of the Indian heart.

It is no less a statement, that brought tears and joy in the eyes of millions, when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehnu made his historic speech on the night of 14 – 15th August, 1947.

"Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity."

Vande Mataram!

I am Muslim And I am An Indian
Jammu & Kashmir Unrest

Friday, July 25, 2008

About Communication

Recently I received a sharp hit on my knuckles, by the Only One, who is allowed by all means to strike me, whenever. He does it for my own good. This is the third time He is doing so in the last two years that I have started blogging.

The concept of blogging was unknown to me until, quite by chance I met someone at poetry reading and wanted to exchange my writing with her’s. I was given certain links to read her work – poetry and prose. Needless to say I loved what I had just received. A communication between us ensued and finally I opened account in the same blogsite and ever since life has never been the same. However, I was soon to receive a tight slap from the One Above, for getting close to a few commentators on my blog. Having learnt nothing from that I received what I generally like to call, the best way He can teach me a lesson – a bitter experience, after another long ensuing friendship, that started of with fellow-blogger. I thought I had learnt my lesson. But no! Yet again, I did make another mistake and of course I received another sharp hit on my knuckle.

The point I am trying to make here is, as humans, communication is in our genes. We will communicate in one way or the other. As an ex-advertising person, I know the value of communication. I also know, the different forms of communication, tools and methods we use to speak, verbally and quite often through body language. Sample a piece of my own writing to understand what I am talking about. It is from a story I have titled Voice, because, here the protagonist’s house help, anxious to communicate, begins to talk to a visitor in a language, the latter does not understand.

“We left on our errand. When I returned before dusk to the house, I found I was alone with Mami. The drawing room was a picture of old wooden furniture, not antique, just solid wood that is becoming hard to find in the cities today. The furniture was well maintained, getting their polish ones every two years and being dusted by Mami’s able hands every day. I sat on a chair and looked at the TV, which was turned off. I saw a few books at the bottom of the TV Stand. Mami came to the door that connected the drawing room to the adjoining dining room. She stood at the doorway, half her body hidden behind the doorway and the other half visible to me.

" Kaapi wenuma?" ( Do you want coffee?)

I shook my head " Wanda" I said in the little Tamil I knew.

She did not leave the doorway, but continued to remain there. And in the next half-hour, I heard her whole life story in Tamil. She just spoke. She knew no other language except Tamil. I knew only Bengali, English, Hindi and a bit of French. But Tamil? No! I did not speak it nor understand it. I sat half turned towards her and half my body still turned to the TV, occasionally looking at her just for a little while. But she spoke in a voice that was desperate to tell a story. I was an outsider and therefore a person who was not a part of the family. It was safe to talk to me. I was not going to be there all my life. From a few words like " hospital" etc. I could tell she was talking about her husband. Meena manni had told us that her husband had died in the hospital. Except for a useless son, she was alone in the world and she had been with this family for the last forty years. I knew therefore the content of her monologue without understanding the words.

I came from a background of communication. I understood and was ever sensitive to the need for human beings to communicate. I knew there were different types of communication and my professional training had taught me to use these modes and methods to communicate to a larger audience. It had also taught me to know when to speak and when to keep quiet. To be a fine listener and to be able to listen to the gaps between words. Above all, I heard and trusted body language. The body does not lie. That is why, I had maintained this side position when she was speaking. I did not want to confront her with the front view of my body and my direct glance. She also was half hidden behind the doorway, only half-visible to me. In that position, she communicated to me that she was only ready to tell me what she was comfortable to talk about. The other half of her body was an area she had forgotten or had hidden in the deep recesses of her mind. It might have been her childhood, her growing years. If I had changed my seat and gone and sat on a chair facing her completely, I am sure she would have stopped talking. She too did not want to see me at front view…this way I was hidden from her direct view."

What I have never been used to or trained in is the language of blogging for it seems that here the rules are different. In fact, the learning curve in my case has been constantly taking a dip, sadly.

Touch, voice, eye contact are only natural to most communications. Yet, in the blogging world there is a difference. Strangely, if you like someone’s writings or even their blog very much, you might want to get to know them personally. It is only natural, I think. And yet, there is a grave danger. More often than not, the attempt leads to communication breakdown.

My years of training as a communication professional, even my Masters in Business Management with specialization in Human Resources, has only proved one thing – no amount of learning can make me perfect and new grounds need me to learn continuously even though I know, I will never be perfect in it.

Thank God, my Teacher this time is not in the classroom. I won’t have exams, EXAMS, kind of thing.

Only struck on my knuckles!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Devil May Care

In the early eighties, my cousin sister, a highly religious person was given a letter to join a certain spiritual institution, she had been pursuing for a long time to join. Two days before the appointed day, she received a letter from an employer asking her to join their services. She was in a fix but only momentarily. She chose to take the job and not join the Institution. She chose a materialistic life as against the spiritual one, even though all the time she apparently wanted the latter.

Let’s face it. This is not a case in isolation. This is the fact about all of us. We prefer materialism more than we want any other life. And by itself, it is okay. What pains is the fact that we hide behind an armour of spiritualism or anything else, when deep down we care for money more than anything else.

The shameless display of vote rigging that happened at the Parliament yesterday , 22 July, 2008, is a proof of what Indians care about. So far, we had heard of state and general elections being rigged, but the display of money to the tune of Rs. 1 crore as bribe with promise for 8 more after the trust vote, has brought to reality the face of Indian politics at its worst. Despite the derogatory allegations made against the Prime Minister by Lal Krishna Advani that he was “hen-pecked” by Sonia Gandhi and that he could not make a single statement without her permission, despite, the open secret that Amar Singh, the ex-Chief Minister of Utter Pradesh had gone to the US and collected Rs 5,000 crores from the US government, in order to help the Indian Government to bribe the ministers for their vote, despite the fact, that many of those who voted were criminals serving sentences in the jail, the UPA has won the Vote of Trust and will carry on, just because, money spoke louder than anything else.

In every sphere the story is the same. Mountains of trees are cut down in the Himalayas to fill up with concrete jungles of so-called Ashrams. It does not hurt their feelings to cut trees although they say they are religious minded and non-violent. The cash registers jingle at religious institutions in India, especially because they do not declare their earnings or are Trusts, which is an excuse to evade taxes, on the one hand and give tax benefits to donors on the other. In the name of service to mankind, huge amounts of cash often go to the individual pockets of the authorities who own the ashrams or are used to feed, clothe and house an ever increasing number of runaways from Bihar and other parts of the country. Hence, in the name of religion, they keep extending their ashrams to house more and more of these escapists. In this country, not even Christian charity is honoured. In my hometown, Shillong, in Northeast India, a bazaar called National Market, sells foreign goods at exceptionally low prices. Where have all these goods come from? They are goods that have been donated by well-meaning individuals in the name of charity from nations abroad. These goods, albeit second-hand goods, are sold in the market! Outside, mosques and temples in India, huge number of beggars sit, asking for arms. Our generosity may make us drop a coin or two, but suddenly, we find that the beggars are all working in a syndicate and there is a king-pin who actually receives the money collected because, he houses the beggars and feeds them.

And by any chance did you think that NGOs were any better? Sorry, the heads of NGOs are business people who know how to mobilize huge amounts of dollars/pound/Euros to feed their cash boxes. Of the 100% foreign funding, 10% may go towards the real work, 30% on administrative work and the rest goes towards the making of huge bungalows, holiday homes and such other, of the heads of such NGOs.

It’s all over the place. Everywhere! It’s a market place. So what are we pretending about? Let’s stop being hypocrites. Behind, India being called a country with a strong spiritual base and a country with culture there hides the ugly face of greed and politics without principles, religion with a double face, at once saying that the meaning of life is not vain materialism, and in the same breath, showing that that is all that matters. So what does it really matter if a murderer or a thief, a rapist or a shameless, uneducated elected-by-the-people in his constituency, bootlegger or a goonda politician, who won his votes by giving bags full of rice and bottles of cheap liquor, rub shoulders with highly educated Prime Minister of the country, Dr Manmohan Singh? It’s all the same. Everything can be bought. As a nation, we are class less and should be caste to the swine.

We do not even have a free press because even journalism is without principles. Today, the News channels will scream out the greatness of Dr Manmohan Singh, just before Mrs Sonia Gandhi, in wild imitation of her late mother-in-law, begins to take the salutes and garland, and tomorrow, the same journalists will spit on both their faces.

A nation lead by humans without character and principles makes for a nation without integrity.

Devil may care!

Display Of Money In Parliament Is Shameful

Manmohan Takes On L K Advani's Speech
Amar Singh Involved In Bribing BJP MPs

Why CNN-IBN did not telecast trust vote sting

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Last Tea

The early morning dew had not evaporated yet. The sun was shining brightly in the cloudless blue sky. We had merely finished our morning tea with Marie biscuits and were already getting on with the meal, in fact, the tea that could easily be called a meal. The time: 6am, Sunday morning. Place Shillong. Year 1973

The special guest at our home is Swami Premarupananda of the Ramakrishna Mission in Shillong. This is the first time a Sadhu is coming home to have “tea” with us. He is expected to arrive at 4pm.

One by one, we have all had to bathe and wear clean clothes. The kitchen has been washed clean, the gas stoves scrubbed. All the pots and pans which will be used for the preparation, have been doubly washed. My mother has a responsibility – she is going to cut the veggies into precisely same size pieces and she is going to make what she is best at – pithe, the Bengali version of homemade sweetmeat and the payesh.

I am a little girl, visiting home from boarding school. I am overwhelmed with the goings-on but excited too. Perhaps more because of the luchis (puris made from maida), the bringal fry, the payesh, my mother will make. I can’t wait. But I have loads of work too allotted to me as well. And until everything is ready and put away in the specially cleaned mid-safe in the pooja room, we will not be having our lunch, which is being cooked by the women in the house, in between the other chores they have on hand.
On the gas a large black iron kadai is looking rather white, simmering from the bottom with the milk boiling over and over, coming up like a pregnant woman with a bursting belly and then belching forth with the aroma of thickening milk. My mother stirs it now and then and goes back to continue with the other preparations. Until it is half thick and little thin when the rice is let into the milk to cook, just a wee bit, along with bay leaves. Then she stirs till the milk thickens. She takes it off the fire and adds the patali gur. The thickened milk blushes, as it turns brownish, as if it has suddenly developed a pale hue of coffee. The aroma spreads inside the head, hauntingly sweet.

It’s done! And the kadai with the payesh is now poured out into a bowl.

The cooking can now begin. Sweet chhana daal with bits of coconut, rounded brinjals cut to size and left to marinate in turmeric and salt, cauliflower and potato dry masala fry….the air is thick with the smell of a Bengali cuisine… On the far end, you can see the spread of coconut sondesh and the home-made sweetmeat, made of paneer, khoya and maida….dozens of them, brown, white and succulent. But, we must all wait…for the hour of the Goddess and then the Maharaj to first savor this delight….

Normally, he is not allowed to visit homes of devotees. He has pledged sannyas. But, Premarupananda, loves good food and my family will feel blessed that he had come to grace our home. That has been the devotion with which all the women in the house have been engaged since morning to usher in the Swami….

Yellow ocher is the colour of renunciation. When it starts to come down a flight of stairs to reach your home, it is a sight most beautiful, even a glimpse can make your heart overflow with what is best termed as shraddha. The flowing yellow ocher, slowly descending and passing by the magnolia plant and the beds of flowers which lay smiling in the afternoon sun, to reach the open doors with lace curtains of a drawing room. Swami Premarupananda sits on the cane furniture, a man of much serene joy.

A plateful of luchis, white and fluffy nudge shoulders with golden brown brinjal fry and a bowlful of chhana daal. The cauliflower potato fry sit themselves on the table, not far from the payesh and sweetmeat my mother has made for the Sadhu.

A little bit of everything he tastes and blesses! A delicious meal, he says. We wait until he finishes and then, when we are ready to have our share, we find we are not hungry any more.

It was the first lesson learnt about the last “tea” with Swami Premarupananda.

When you apply yourself to the service of a Loved One, the service itself fills your hunger.

Likewise, with God.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Rock Garden - Chandigarh

The emerald green of Punjab covers your eyesight, much, much before you have arrived at the state. And you feel peaceful...that is exactly how I felt this weekend.....peace. My first visit to Chandigarh, a welcome change from Delhi - planned city, good roads, lots of green and foilage around. But what took my breath away was the famous Rock Garden created by Nek Chand. It is during the urbanization of Punjab that Nek Chand collected the old artifacts and daily use items in households, which were becoming redundant, in the face of new products. It is with these items collected over time that he, devoting a few hours daily over many years created a treasure we can all learn from. (see

A symbol developed by Nek Chand... Open to Give, Open to Receive

The lake At Chandigarh

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Making The Difference

Simply regal. That is the first thought that comes to mind, when you see her. And why not?

The once Ambassador’s wife to many countries, Dr Veena Sharma, combines grace, hospitality, intellect and a powerful personality, which is in fact, splendid to meet. But I am not about to say more on that aspect, for my mission here is to introduce you to a work, which she is doing, making a difference where it matters.

Prajna Foundation For Cultural Interaction and Studies is an NGO which was started by Dr Veena Sharma in 1995. The objective of the Foundation is, as the name suggests, to involve sections of society, namely the haves and have-nots, which are otherwise, divorced from each other on a day-to-day basis, to get sensitized to each other by using cultural and educational tools and method to bridge this glaring gap. What it means in real terms, is to open up the children of the economically challenged communities to a much wider world than the one they are used to. At the same time to initiate a channel of ongoing communication between them and the wealthy in our society via a medium of communication and exchange through many cultural and educational activities. Thus, the children in slum areas of Delhi have been exposed to and have interacted with the more affluent, economically advantaged sections of people living in this city. And vice versa.

During its nascent stage, the Foundation began doing workshops at Delhi’s elitist colleges/Universities like JNU, IITs and Lady Sriram’s. These workshops were conducted in a manner that the students could open up their minds and resources and get to know and understand the lives and times of a section of people, many of them were not sensitive to, namely the less privileged sections of society. Resource persons invited were such as could be looked upon as role models – as they were still serving and yet had made a difference! The workshops also extended to various pockets of Delhi where the economically challenged in society lived and the methods used to sensitize them were quite different. They were, initially, exposed to yoga and yogic games, creative and fun games of different kinds through which they could come together on a level playing field with other persons from different sections of society.

What happened in these workshops was interesting as it is through drama, plays and education capsules, specially designed by the participants that the two sections got to interact with each other, in the bastis where they lived. Thus, both sections got to see each other in a different light, which otherwise, especially in a city like Delhi with the rich and poor divide being enormous, one never could have accessed either section in such an intimate way. This brought the children of the bastis to view the elite in a different way and lose the fear of interacting with them and reversely, the elite got sensitized to the under privileged. The ‘elite’ youth were often surprised how much they learned from them in terms of sharing and just being joyous! This opened the channel of communication for both sections.

As the work grew the need to have a central place became important. Basti Vikas Kendra’sare run by JJ & Slums Department of MCD, Delhi. As a matter of fact, these spaces are built in the midst of Juggis, jhopadis, slums where a cluster of the underprivileged live. In one such, in the midst of the environment just mentioned and right across the Deshbandhu College in Kalkaji, Prajna Foundation moved in the year 2001. And ever since, the area has not seen anything like this happen in the past. And the Foundation has never looked back either.

Nestled in a small building, in the midst of this group of humans, mostly, of Tamil origin, whose professions range from cars washers, to house help, to cleaners, sweepers at MCD, are their children, who have found another world, they never knew existed before. Aged between 8 to 18 years, the children are active participants of an array of activities that take place at the Centre starting 2 pm to 8 pm, 7 days a week. The Centre opens around 11 in the morning. On Sundays activities start at about 9.30 am. The students receive extra-classes in the studies they have done in class. Some of the teachers who help them are those who are inspired by the Foundation’s work and come from outside to do the job, on a voluntary basis they are few and far between. What is important is that the older children from the Basti itself are encouraged to teach the younger ones. This way, they get to participate in and become catalysts in the improvement of their own community. No wonder, Veena ji, as she is most lovingly called, has seen many a child grow up and open up to new possibilities, which were not open to them earlier, like working on computers or becoming a teacher.

“It’s not easy”’ she says ruefully, “at exactly the time the children are to come to the Centre to study, the mothers would send them to fetch water or do some other household chore. They do not understand the need for a little discipline or value of education.”

Thankfully things are changing, as more and more of the children are acknowledging that the Foundation is making a difference to their lives. Parents too are beginning to realize that, no matter what their lot is, their children’s need not be so. They may continue to live in the same place, but they feel a part of society at large, they feel responsible for their own lives and the surroundings, and they feel they belong to the wider social system in which they live. Therefore, the surroundings in which they live are a little cleaner and the children can raise their heads and speak up confidently to other people around them and those they see outside their environment.

It is said that one of the biggest contribution in life is to take the fear off from the minds of children so that they can be brave citizens of a country, subservient to none. When the same becomes a reality for the under privileged, the results are very encouraging. They can strive to live as citizens, equal to all, for their birth in certain sections of society, is no fault of theirs.

The Foundation’s work has thus opened up and sensitized people to those humans who we encounter on a daily basis. They work in our homes or wash our cars, clean our houses as domestic help, scrub and wash our utensils and clothing. And so far, we had turned a blind eye to their plight.

But how does one really bridge the gap in real terms? Ask Dr Veena Sharma.

Theatre workshops and performances are held on a continuous basis, every week in the Centre trained by none other than well-known Director, Ashish Ghosh with practical inputs from his assistant Animesh Guha. You might like to visit one of these very heart warming performances by the children at the India Habitat Centre, the next time you are in Delhi. And you certainly would not believe your eyes when you see these children perform to a whole audience of very elite spectators, plays such as Akbar Birbal, Tota Maina, Sab Thiik Hai.

In the past couple of years these children have been a part of workshops held in Rishikesh in Conjunction with another such organisaiton where they were invited to perform and also help teach other children and help of their own theatre instructors to do so. The exercise was a great success for both sides. The travel to a famous and ancient centre of pilgrimage and culture was also an eye opener for the children who had remained cloistered only in their own Basti.

As a result of their exposure they were able to participate in a theatre workshop concluded recently and run by the well-known Director Arvind Gaur. A very dedicated and committed theatre person Arvind Gaur has similar ideas about the upliftment of the economically non-privileged. He gave a special concession to Prajna children. Very soon he put them on stage together with other middle class children. The experience for these children was transforming.Similarly, Sh. Swami Vimalananda ji, General Secretary to the Divine Life Society, Rishikesh, very graciously welcomed ten children with five teachers/coaches to stay at the ashram for a week and be a part of an ongoing workshop conducted by the Khushi Project in Rishikesh. The children performed at the Samadhi shrine in the Ashram. They returned home, having received the blessings of all Swami jis and souvenirs and gifts they would treasure for life. A small seed sown at the right time will flower and bear fruit in the years to come, surely.Some children have been trained in basic computer applications. A couple of them have found decent jobs based on that training. Three girls have now been selected and are being sent to an accounting institute near the Basti to learn Tally. They are expected to get decent jobs after they finish the course.

A few other youth are being identified for support in other courses. They will be helped to go through the necessary training so as to enable them to qualify for higher institutions of learning – institutions like the IIT (if they are lucky) or Engineering and nursing colleges.

It does not stop at that. Regular drawing classes, candle making classes and other craft classes happen at the Centre. And ever so often, the kids go on picnics etc. to different places around Delhi so as to open up to the beauty and history of the city. Many recognize the Foundation’s work and there is no dearth of well-meaning individuals and Societies/Clubs who come forward to participate and carry the work forward. Like the Rotary Club of Delhi, South-Suburban, who plan to take the children on a day trip to Akshardham, in east Delhi region. Earlier, they have also provided coolers and fans at the Centre. Other philanthropists support bright youth towards their professional aspirations in life.

A young volunteer, Shalini Nair has begun to give of her time at the Basti. Not to forget, the young heartthrob of the youngsters at the Centre, Mahesh, who has been there from its inception, managing its day to day affairs, because he feels so strongly with those he cares and teaches, admonishing like a Head Master at the same time, empathetic to their needs.

Their work has found recognition in international circles too. German Development Cooperation from Germany, took active interest in encouragement through workshops conducted by the Foundation on creative and fun games for personal development and education. Later they also contributed by giving the Centre some sophisticated sports equipment, which is regularly used forconducting Festivals.The children at the Centre are spoken to on a continuous basis to help them identify their areas of interest and excellence and make career choices, which their parents never dreamt of. Like this, there are many others who sponsor the education of a few children as well. There is a constant ongoing effort to ensure that the dropout rate is arrested. Yet, sadly, even the best student among these will easily take up a job that pays Rs 500 or so per month dropping out of school, because the need for contributing to family finances, always outweigh the desire to study, among the economicallychallenged in society. While the parents of these children are aware that a change is taking place in their children through this exposure, their personal moral support to their children, remains yet a long way to go. But Veena ji remains unfettered. She is following her, what we may call a her true Calling. What brought Dr Veena Sharma to do work of this nature, I asked her?

“It’s always been with me ever since I was a child, since I can remember”.

Even as the Ambassador’s wife, she was busy organizing the women of Indian origin in Mauritius and Tanzania. They formed groups where each one’s skill was highlighted and certain activities were carried out by these women to uplift the down trodden even in these countries. Later, she found that when she visited these countries, years afterwards, the local women had carried the cause forward on their own initiative and made it an Organization in fact, adding their own indigenous flavour to it.

Dr Sharma (67), was born in Shimla but lived a couple of her early years in Balloki, now in Pakistan with her parents, her father being in the Civil Service. She moved to India, at 6, post independence through a perilous journey from Balloki, then in undivided Punjab to Delhi, resettling back in Shimla. In her own words - “We drove on. Dusk faded into a dark night. Tall columns of fires were visible on all sides in the villages around, and shouts of "Bachao, bachao (save us)" could be heard in the air. My father veered off the road into a sort of a muddy bush, using the canal as his guide. He asked the two Sikhs whom he had agreed to give a ride, who could easily be identified by their turbans, and could not even attempt to pass of as Muslims, to lie down under the car. My parents sat outside while we children remained inside the car.” She is also a scholar in African studies, in which she has a Ph.D from JNU, Delhi, and a scholar too in Vedanta, in which she is self-taught. She is a linguist in that she learnt Swahili in Dar es Salaam and worked as Head of Swahili Service of All India Radio for twenty-two years. But Dr Veena Sharma is a very spiritually inclined person too.

“Surprisingly, I met my Guru, in Mauritius, on my husband’s first posting as Indian Ambassador to that country”. In time, she grew to become his disciple. After his Samadhi, Dr Sharma, did the first translation of the Yoga Vasishtha as brought out by her Guru. The two volume of work is being published by none other than Motilal Bannarasidas, who are world renowned publishers of books on Indology. Besides that, Veena ji is also the author of Kailash Mansarovar, a book published by Roli Books.

“Where did you get your interest in spiritual matters?” I ask again, amazed at the number of areas that make up her personality.

“I think my earliest influence was from my grandmother with whom I spent a lot of time in my childhood. I noticed a certain spiritual life she led, in the midst of her daily life. In the morning, she had her bath and did her readings from different Holy Scriptures for about an hour or so and then only she had the first cup of tea, or breakfast. I watched her perhaps subconsciously. If she had things to do before that prayer, she would do them, then have her bath and complete her prayers and then only…..” It taught her a certain discipline, something she follows like her first nature, even today. Rising early, Veena ji has her own moments with God, writes and then begins her day.

I too follow some of the same early morning schedules and yet, after returning from work, I find myself de-stressing by watching TV News channels blankly! So what does it take to be different?

An unrelenting spirit. A drive that moves a person from within and a conviction, even an unrest from within, that forces one to initiate change, in their own individual way. This really sums up the work being done by Dr Veena Sharma to bridge the gap between the haves and have-nots. The two despairingly divorced sections of society, which are so visible in Delhi. And in the process, the making responsible citizens of India of the otherwise downtrodden and shaded out section of our own society.

Dr Sharma speaks Swahili, the national language of Tanzania, apart from Hindi and English. Besides, running the Foundation as its Chairman, she also runs [on behalf of her son] a full time Office in Delhi’s Connaught Place, called, which is an Internet services provider. She has two sons, one living with his family in Australia and the other in Dubai. But, even when they are visiting, there is no let up on her day at work, both at CP or Kalkaji. She is a tireless worker, a great negotiator and a frequent traveler to many countries, carrying her work, be it of the spiritual nature or her Foundation to different parts of the world. No wonder too, one might see among the volunteers, people from different parts of the world who come to India as exchange students or even on a holiday, conducting workshops for the children at the Foundation. Another objective is thus being fulfilled, the need to become global citizens of the world, for our children at Prajna Foundation.

History has provided us with many examples in the past of how certain events in a person’s life happen which propels them to a life devoted to the greater good. Or one must be so dissatisfied with the system that one is forced to become the change they want. So too in Veena ji’s, many an event contributed to who and what she is at the moment.

“Life is a jigsaw puzzle”, she says philosophically. “In my life many of these events have been like pieces in the jigsaw puzzle, which seemed to be floating around. In time, all of them came and fitted themselves in the larger pattern, which only in retrospect, I am able to know. That explains why they were there in the first place….”

To reach Dr Veena Sharma contact:

Dr. Veena Sharma
Prajna Foundation For Cultural Interaction and Education
A-382, (IIF) Defence Colony
New Delhi 110 024
Tel: 91-011-23356878, 24337913Email:

(With Inputs From Dr Veena Sharma)