Nov 02

Sense, Sensitivity & Spirituality

I took a long coveted break about 2 months ago – 10th August to 20th August. 😉 A luxury that it may have seemed at the outset (what with 10 days – 240 gleaming hours at my disposal), seldom do vacations really turn to be ‘personal’ time off for me.  More often than not, it just ends up being hours spent for something/someone else. This time around too the case may not have been any different but for the fact that of these 10 days I had the luxury of having a few days/hours for myself exclusively.  I however did not spend it in seclusion but learnt and experienced things that shall certainly remain in my memory for a long, long time to come.  I want to tell you some of these experiences.

Rural empowerment in India is a topic that is present in every political agenda, but seldom implemented effectively.   Dependency is a parasitic attitude that our political administration nourishes in practise and abhors in plans.  But in the current global situation, wherein NGOs and Corporate social involvement has started taking the lime light in many main stream projects, the turn in the tide seems to be manifesting.  Two of the best examples for such initiatives in India is the RUDSETI project and Canara Bank Self Employment Training Institute.  I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Canara Bank training institutes in Jogara doddi and Vaajarahalli (two villages on Mysore Road just off of Kengeri) and was stunned with the services they were providing in order to improve the lives of several families in the surrounding rural villages.  The institutes basically provide training in various vocational skills such as mobile repair, tailoring, sculpting, pottery, sericulture, etc.  These trainings are customized based on the region in which the institute is located and thus the courses offered may vary.  The important feature of these training centers is that they offer free boarding, lodging and food facilities for the trainees for the entire duration of the course!  The trainees are not expected to pay anything but lend their services to the institute in maintaining the premises clean and ensure that they utilize the skills they’ve learnt.  The most heartening aspect of this visit was ofcourse interacting with the trainees, whose demography ranged from women in their 60s to boys in their 18s.  They came from various socio-economic backgrounds but were unified in their determination to achieve a proficiency that will enable them to obtain the financial freedom they’ve dreamt of.  One woman learnt dairy farming, obtained a loan from the bank and started her own cattle breeding and has not only cleared the loan amount but also planning to expand her services.  Another lady had opened her own tailoring center and has employed 25 ladies!! A guy who was a software engineer underwent the mobile repair training and opened his own mobile repair shop and has now been earning well over 35k every month!  The beauty of this scheme is that none of these people had to abandon their villages, lands or families and migrate to the city!  Not only have they empowered themselves and their fellow citizens, they’ve also started to actively involve themselves in various rural schemes to ensure that their village benefits from the essential government schemes.  This initiative of Canara Bank has won National recognition with the Government of India directing every bank to set up such institutes on the model of Canara Bank.

At one end of the spectrum, we see a generation of disillusioned citizens who either abandon their country for greener grounds, or become caustic about their country and complain about everything – this ofcourse fueled by the inept and worthless leadership we are seeing at not only local or state administrative levels but even at National levels.  But there are institutes and individuals working silently and pro-actively in the background trying to create a change that others are only talking about.  In the words of Swami Vivekananda, it is these handful of people who are sustaining the socio-economic stability of the entire nation.  Kudos to these hands!

After the Independence day, my parents, relatives and I left on a pilgrimage tour to Shirdi and Nasik via Pune. The itinerary was to land in Pune and drive from there to Shirdi.  There was a comfortable Traveller booked and we started on our journey to Shirdi.  It was my first visit to the state of Maharashtra and Pune made me feel comfortable and at home!  There was something very endearing about this city and as we started getting to the suburbs, I had almost started to wish that I would get an opportunity for an extended stay there.  We stopped over for lunch on the way and surprisingly I had a tough time convincing the driver to dine with us.  Brushing aside my insistence, he moved to a different place altogether and had his lunch.  While I waited on my parents and relatives to finish their food, I got into conversation with him, and came to know the reason for his behavior.  Apparently, he had been chided few times by his customers for eating with them at their table!  Particularly shocking was this one instance, where he had apparently been asked to get up and move to a different table! When I come to think of it, this is a country were untouchability and other social evils still persist in some sections of the society (irrespective of whether they are urbanized, educated or uneducated).  But inspite of these so called development and progress that we boast about on one hand, why is it that we are so insensitive to someone who in our perception is not well to do?  I would wonder how that customer would’ve felt if someone higher up to him were to ask him to move away and sit at some other table!  Being a citizen of India, the driver had just as much right as other citizen!  On our way back from Shirdi, we again stopped by at a wonderful restaurant to have an ‘authentic’ Maharashtrian thali food.  We were seated on the floor with a nice wooden pod on which a huge plate was placed and delicious food was being served.  There was another group sitting in an adjacent row.  One of the ladies in the group seemed to be following some ritualistic practise and hence was particular about what food was being served.  So far so good. But what really got on my nerves was the pushy manner in which she was bullying the young servers.  She went so far as to abuse them for serving her a dish that had a tinge of onion (which she didn’t even taste but smelt).  The others from the same group rather than get her to leave were also bullying the servers.  Why is it that inspite of all the so called religious values and morals that we gloat about, we still do not show a semblance of respect and kindness towards others?  I would wonder how she or others from her group would’ve behaved had they been in say Sheraton or Leela palace!  All in all, IMHO they were more uncivilized and lowly than the people they perceived to be so.

Shirdi held a lot of mystery for me.  For one, it was a place I had longed to visit for many years now, and this was my first visit to the abode of the holy man Sai baba of Shirdi. Needless to say, given its fame, pilgrims from all over India had thronged in large numbers.  The authorities had a tough time controlling the crowd and what was apalling was the mismanagement of even people who had reserved the slots for the Aarti darshan.  The aesthetic aura and the spiritual benevolence of the place gets cluttered and disturbed mainly due to such unsavory behaviors by both the devotees and the management.  After the Aarti, the security had a harrowing time getting the people to leave as each one was taking ample time to submit their list of memorandum of wishes to Sai Baba. As I had the luxury of having stood in the end of the queue, I had to bide my time to go out of the hall, and in the meanwhile, I observed an old lady helped by a young man, slowly make her way to the altar.  All the way as she walked, she kept smiling and gesturing to the idol of Sai Baba, and lovingly gestured from her hands as if she was warding off the evil sights (something that my mom used to do when we were kids and would return from a festive fair or a trip outside). As she cried at the joy of seeing her beloved Godly form, she kept murmuring in Hindi “How beautiful you are my Sai.. how magnificent you look! How kind is the gaze from your eyes..how beautiful my Sai is..” As she hobbled and held to the altar, a security person came forward and offered to take the flowers from her hand.  The priest took the flowers and placed them near the feet of the Lord and her face lit up with a huge smile.  She turned to the young man holding her and said “My flowers touched his feet… look how beautiful my Sai is.” I felt ashamed at myself for concentrating so much on the behavior of others in this place, while the epicenter of my attention must’ve been the devotion and the pleasure of being in Sai’s abode.  I found more spirituality in the old lady, who oblivious to herself had taught me a very important lesson.  The next morning I again visited the temple shrine before leaving, however this time, I knew where my focus should be.

Below is a set of pics that I clicked on the visit to the Canara Bank rural employment training center in Jogaradoddi.  Apologies for the poor quality. I always ignore carrying a camera with me, and end up clicking clumsily on my phone! Sigh!

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