Sunday, December 24, 2006

It’s a li-li legend

Liang Tung Tsai, 45, was dying. The doctors had given him a mere two months to live. One of the highest ranking customs officials in China, his body lay ravaged by an excess of sex, drugs and alcohol. Liang was suffering from pneumonia, a severe case of gonorrhea and an infected liver. On 17 August 2002, TT Liang breathed his last, 57 years after the doctors had made their pronouncement, at the venerable age of 102. The architect of his recovery was a 3000 year old art called Tai Chi Chuan.

When Liang realised that his lifestyle was killing him and modern medicine could only do so much, he started practising the ancient Chinese art of Tai Chi that was renowned for its healing and restorative powers. In less than 3 years, Liang had recovered fully and devoted himself to the art that had saved his life. He went on to master and teach this life giving art. Master Liang remained a paragon of health, vitality and invincible martial skill even in his 80s and 90s.

Master TT Liang’s story is not exceptional. Neither the mid-life crisis that he faced, nor his astounding longevity and puissance. Professionals in every sphere today realise that the globalised globe is a minefield of opportunities and as long as they keep digging, they’re sure to strike gold even as they dig their own graves in the bargain. But life for us rat racers is often a replay of Tolstoy’s ‘How Much Land Does A Man Need?’ and since not every monk has a Ferrari to sell, nursing slipped discs and chronic ulcers while sustaining high growth careers and tumours has become an ever increasing phenomenon. We are the world, where 30 is the new 60. By the same token however, there are ancient, failsafe health and energy management systems that are practised even today, whose practitioners, almost without exception, live long, healthy and balanced lives. Tai Chi for instance, is an offshoot of the Taoist belief system that believes that life is energy and as long as energy flows unblocked, the body would remain healthy and strong.

“I can eat more than you, have more sex than you and I can fight better than you…” Show me a person who wouldn’t want to be able to say that at 80 to 25-30 year olds and I’ll show you a jack-fruit in a suit. Well, keyboard and client pushers of the world, rejoice, for there is such a man who was as good as his word (on most counts at least). Bruce Frantzis, in his surprisingly titled ‘The Big Book of Tai Chi’ talks about one of his teachers, Wang Shu Jin, who then in his 80s said these very words to a young Bruce, who attested the truth of most of what Master Wang claimed and chose not to question the rest. Master Wang claimed that the chi that bubbled in his body was a veritable fountain of youthful vitality.

Last but not the least of the Immortal Orientals is Master Li Ching Yuen. The Guinness Book says that Jeanne Calment, a French woman who died at age 122 in 1997 is the longest lived human yet, but the Chinese claim that Master Li Ching Yuen (born 1677, died 1933) at 256 years of age far outlived Madame Calment. Fit and strong all of his life, Master Li survived 14 wives and practised an art called the ‘eight Brocades’, a series of postures that set the stone for Tai Chi. Many gerontological experts question the authenticity of the records that vouch for master Li’s amazing longevity but even they would be hard pressed to deny the obvious benefits that accrue from the practice of Tai Chi. One of Master Li’s students, General Yang Shen lived to be 98 and would celebrate each of his birthdays with a marathon race up a mountain.

Some issues ago, I had spoken of the benefits of Yoga. Tai Chi shares most of those benefits with Yoga. While Yoga is perhaps slightly more potent because of the inversions and the strenuous nature of the practice, it is also a more intimidating and demanding practice which might be beyond the resolve of most new converts. Tai Chi, with its relatively gentler movements and accommodating life-style principles might just be the solution to sustaining a busy life-style that is currently a candle burning out at both ends. Once upon a time, Chinese emperors harnessed chi to keep their harems happy and their selves alive and today Tai Chi is a bona fide philosopher’s stone that promises to help those it touches live happily ever after... well almost.

The pretext and the text

Healing and martial arts are best learnt from a teacher, not only because they have a direct impact on health and quality of people’s lives but also because many techniques operate at a subtle level which a neophyte might not be able to fathom. Although, Tai Chi Chuan is a gentle art that even the old and infirm can start practising, most human beings have great creative ingenuity when it comes to causing accidental self-injury in even the most innocuous of circumstances.

Unfortunately, the Tai Chi that is being taught in India and most parts of the world is a diluted watered down version of the original martial art. Tai Chi has branched out into many different styles like Yang Family style, Wu Family style and the Chen Faily style but most teachers focus more on the superficial forms without learning or teaching the mechanics of developing subtle internal force called Jin.

But before one goes looking for a teacher, a theoretical understanding of the art would be invaluable. There is a lot of ‘noise’ that clouds the concept of Tai Chi and internal force which might confuse the initiate. However, there are some brilliant books on the subject which could be wonderful introductions to the art for beginners

Tai Chi Classics – This book is a combination of three ‘classics’ by three great masters, including Master Chang San-Feng, arguably the man who created Tai Chi.

Tai Chi for Health and Self Defense – Written by TT Liang, the one-time living embodiment of what miracles Tai Chi can work, this book would inspire readers and practitioners with the sheer intensity of the author’s experiences.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Big cat on a hot tin roof

The last of our tigers, says BBC Wildlife, might end up as trimming on a nouveau rich Tibetan’s choupa or as bottled tonic in a traditional Chinese medicine store. Doomsday prophecies about the tiger’s extinction have been doing the rounds ever since 1973, when Project Tiger was launched to try and save the Indian tiger population that had dropped from tens of thousands to less than 2,000 tigers. Today, numbers have fallen below 1,500 and even as you read these words, a tiger is being skinned by a poacher in at least one of India’s ‘sanctuaries’. Every few months, a poaching gets reported, disturbs the dust gathering on the Tiger Task Force’s files and before you know it, the dust would’ve settled and the wind would’ve died without a pug-mark to show for all the whistling and whirling. Last year in May, Sariska – the first sanctuary to be listed under Project Tiger – lost its last tiger. Dr. Manmohan Singh landed in Ranthambore to express solidarity and commitment for the cause of the tiger. Since his visit, another seven tigers have gone ‘missing’(an increasingly popular euphemism with forest officials) in Ranthambore.

But really, shouldn’t that be the least of India’s worries? With a government that is juggling votes between suicidal farmers on one hand and suicidal bombers on the other, does it really matter if the only big cats that remain in the country happen to be the ones that get chased by the neighbourhood dog every afternoon? Well Gandhi once said “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” but its impossible to build a case for an endangered ecology by invoking an extinct ideology. And so what if I were to remind a billion busy Indians that the tiger isn’t just a big striped cat that prowls in the dappled light of a jungle trail but a regal emblem of our natural heritage that is being pimped away by a lethargic and corrupt officialdom. If we let the last tiger die, with it too might perish all that we cherish in each other – courage, dignity, grace… and perhaps even that most definitive of human virtues – compassion.

But what would a poor cow herd make of dignity and compassion when he has lost his cows to the tiger and his grazing grounds to the national park. Sitting by the roadside, selling what he can, he sees tourists by the Gypsy-full drive past his crumbling hut, the hungry cries of his children drowned by the busy chatter of weekend wildlifers. The fancy hotels get their ‘fat’ clients and the tourists get their stories and ‘shots’. Everyone is happy and the cowherd is forgotten. With nothing to gain and everything lost, when presented with the opportunity to make a year’s wages from a day’s ‘bloody’ work, not many in the cowherd’s shoes would let their traditional animistic beliefs stand in the way of a little profit. Thus a poacher is born who for less than a thousand rupees would kill a tiger by poisoning, shooting or electrocuting it. The same tiger, could be worth Rs 60 lakhs or more by the time it reaches the end of the distribution chain. Skins, bones and blood, all destined for one market – China, and while diplomacy, education and awareness programmes will do what it can, the faultline lies closer home. Unless local communities have a stake in the forests and their fauna and a share of the commercial proceeds through tourism, either through market mechanism or a co-operative system, the tiger and its neighbours would always be at loggerheads. But once involved as stakeholders, the forest communities would look upon the tiger as an ally who can transform their lives and that of their children and thus fight tooth and nail to defend it against poachers and habitat loss. And really, it doesn’t take much to ensure a tiger is worth more alive than dead, because the going rate for slaughtering a tiger is a mere $15. South Africa, with half of India’s ecological wealth, receives 10 times the number of tourists and earns almost twice as much through eco-tourism. All it’ll take is a little commitment from the powers that be to ensure a trickle down effect to the satisfaction of all parties concerned. There is hope yet for the tiger as long as we keep doing our bit, reminding the government of its responsibility toward both the tiger and the people it shares its domain with. May beyond lore and legend, echo the tiger’s roar/forever etched in heart and mind, and the forest floor...

Short takes on the big 3

India is bursting at the seams with its billion strong demographics. Forests become farmland and rivers get dammed – on the anvil of development, environment and ecology be damned. India’s threatened wildlife is not only a valuable natural resource but an invaluable heritage that needs to be protected for the world and its generations.

Tiger tiger... where? One glimpse of the royal beast is what they desire, when they trek in from the farthest corners of the globe. Its majestic bearings inspiring a swell in the soul unlike any other, this magnificent beast has been at the receiving end of a dastardly trade in its organs and parts. Thanks to conservationists and appeals by community leaders, the decimation might yet stop. India’s parks like Ranthambhore and Corbett could suffer a fate similar to Sariska’s if nothing is done, and fast. If the tiger goes so would our forests, its denizens and life too would follow.

A Tusker’s Travails: Both revered and reviled. Worshipped as an incarnation of Ganesha and slaughtered brutally for its tusks, the elephant in India has come into conflict with man as its traditional migratory routes have given way to farms and plantations. The so-called wildlife sanctuaries – Puranakote, and Kuldiha forests – of Orissa have witnessed the slaughter of nearly 10 elephants in recent months.

Horn Please: The horned snout of the largest of the Asian species of rhinos, the Great One Horned Rhinoceros, was cause for merciless mayhem in Kaziranga until a few years back. But with the courage and commitment of the rangers and co-operation from the proud locals – which ought to be a lesson to be taken home – the population of Rhinoceros unicornis is well on its trudge back.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Nuts about mutts

I’m sure she’ll forgive me for saying this, but my wife seems to have a bit in common with every Chinese leader since Mao (but you’re far prettier, dear). I’m not saying this simply because they’re all great dictators, with vision and charisma who have done a very good job of giving the world outside the general impression that their charges are happy with the general state of internal affairs, but also because they’re all very efficient at quelling in-house rebellions.

Emboldened by the Chinese dog owners protesting last week at Tiananmen Square against the ban on big dogs (taller than 14”), unregistered dogs and the one dog per family rule, I, an inveterate dog lover if ever there was any, couldn’t help but murmur a protest about the ‘no dog in the family’ rule at the family Tiananmen – the dining table. While the Chinese protesters turned out to be all heart, I ended up as chopped liver.

However, this being the Chinese Year of the Dog, I’m willing to push my luck a wee bit more and build a case for every closet dog-lover who would love to bring a Tommy, Jimmy or Moti home but is biding his time, his tail between his legs. And while we are at it, do forgive me dear reader if you feel like you are caught in the middle of some heavy-duty domestic crossfire, but how is a soul to preach and practice all that is good and great when he doesn’t even have the right to choose his best friend? (Just a handy phrase dear…)

Dog discovered man long before man discovered the wheel, and was the first to be domesticated by man (where else but in China) and while every other animal had to be trapped, or broken in, dog and man chose a mutual association where each recognised the advantages of associating with the other. But beyond that, there has been a mutual kinship between the two – a mystical synergy that the early man shared with the first wolf-dog that is evident even today.

It’s common knowledge that there isn’t a more reliable and committed security system in the world (against not just physical assault on person and property but also bombs, cancerous growths and seizures) than a well trained dog but what makes this relationship so special, so unique and so enriching is the effect that the loving presence of an unquestioning, unflinching four-legged friend can have on one’s psyche and one’s physiology. Every survey in the world, whether it is conducted by the US Department of Health, a German socio-economic study, or a UK-based research group, has come to the same conclusion – irrespective of age, ailment or habit, pet owners live longer healthier lives, recover faster from debilitating cardio-vascular ailments and diseases like Alzheimer’s and have far greater control over stress and blood pressure levels (keep reading honey, and if you still haven’t changed your mind, there’s more). These studies have also established across ethnic and economic groups, that children, who grow up with a dog in the family, have higher levels of self-esteem, are more confident and more compassionate as adults. And if you are wondering about rabies and worse, don’t because there are vaccines available for both your dog and you. In fact, non dog owners are more likely to get bitten than those familiar with canine behaviour.

The dog has walked for longer than any beast and further than many men in the march of civilisation and it is a pity that there are those amongst us, bereft of the joys of such unconditional love and companionship (come on dad, mom, honey, it’s just a column). Dog lovers of China (and here I refer to those who love them as pets and not on their plates) count me in as a comrade in your crusade for justice against the dogged determination of your leaders. As for me, honey, I realise that revolutions have never worked in India, so like Gandhi, I’ll go get a goat instead, and who knows that might get your goat too… and then we’ll all live happily ever after.

A friend in need – indeed!

Man’s best friend has been living up to his reputation from the very first days of the association. Some, like Balto, the Husky mix that led a sled dog team to deliver a diphtheria serum to Nome, a town battling an epidemic, through blinding blizzards during the Alaskan winter of 1925 and Hachiko, the Akita that waited for 10 years at Shibuya station for the return of his dead master, who had died after leaving him at the station have both been immortalised in sculptures that stand even today. There have been superdogs like Roy the Alsatian, who rescued a toddler from a 40 ft high ledge and Caesar, the war dog that had saved countless lives during combat.

Then in the early 1800s, Barry, a Saint Bernard from the Hospice du Grand in Switzerland is reputed to have saved more than 40 people trapped in their snowy graves during avalanches and storms and to this day, Barry stands proud, mounted in the Natural History Museum of Berne. And a legend as great as any canine in history is Endal - the ‘Dog of the Millennium’ – a Labrador Retriever owned by Allen Parton, a wheel-chair bound war veteran. Not only does Parton depend on Endal to fulfil even the most complex daily chores, like withdrawing money from an ATM but Endal has even transformed the hitherto gruff and bitter Parton into a more amiable and happier person. “I owe everything to Endal,” said Parton. “Endal brought us (his long suffering family) together again.” Love, devotion and trust, this bond between man and beast has all that is noble and worthy of admiration. May this friendship live long and forever.


Sunday, December 3, 2006

Done to death

22-year-old marine corporal Tim Jeffers would kick any rear end very hard that has a front end speaking in favour of assisted termination of life, or at the very least I’m pretty sure he would’ve liked to if he could have. Unfortunately he can’t because he lost both his legs, his right eye and suffered horrific head injuries that necessitated the removal of a portion of his skull after being blown up in Iraq by a roadside bomb this May.

When brought in, Jeffers’ doctors had very little hope and were prompted by the severity of his injuries to consider terminal action. Luckily, Jeffers survived the attack and the ‘well-meaning intentions’ of his doctors. In a recent National Geographic story, the soldier from Salinas, radiates with desire for rediscovering his ‘life’. “I am (still) the same person (inside)…” he says.

On the other side of the Atlantic, doctors are seeking the right to ‘kill’ premature (22 weeks or less) babies because the babies might develop severe future complications, find usually futile efforts to save them “invasive” and “stressful” and more pertinently, “disable” the family. Euthanasia, a form of social, staggered, at times voluntary, genocide, is always a step taken in a moment of weakness by the sufferer or the surrogates. Whether we admit it or we don’t, the honest truth is we choose euthanasia because we want to move on, because we are sick of being in a situation we can’t help, because the lie of being in control of our lives is laid bare every time we see a loved one in apparently unbearable pain and are forced to imagine and endure the same, interminably. We want death to come because not only does it liberate the patient but also those who can’t be patient any more. Everything seems to have a shelf life, even an emotion, and expire it must. Whether it is a dog, a son, a husband or a father, it is only a question of degree.

But life has rights, and hope. If the doctors at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology have their way then surely they would find it appropriate to clinically terminate children like the Thalidomide generation from the 60s when 10,000 American children were born with phocomelia as a result of their mothers having taken the drug while pregnant. Born with severe deformities like tiny flipper-like appendages instead of limbs, doctors with the license to kill would’ve surely recommended ‘destroying’ the entire generation, in search of a ‘dignified ideal’, and many parents, fearing a ‘disabled life’, would’ve reluctantly but surely acquiesced. These doctors should go and ask phocomelics like actor Mat Fraser, MBE artiste and photographer Alison Lapper or one of the finest opera singers of his generation, Thomas Quasthoff, if they would’ve preferred dignified termination as a foetus or infant or are they happy to have endured indignity as children and yet emerged as beacons of hope for mankind, disabled as it is.

For every unfortunate Terri Schiavo or Venkatesh, there are others who suffer in silence, awaiting death without hope or the hopeful beside them, and yet they endure, not only because miracles happen but simply because death isn’t a solution. We do not understand it and therefore cannot ethically offer or impose it as a solution. Euthanasia is not a release from pain as much as a release from hopelessness, both in the patient and in those around. But isn’t there always hope?

This debate really isn’t about the law but about ethics. Holland allows euthanasia and films like Million Dollar Baby, popular soaps and even national dailies are taking up cudgels for those who want the right to kill those who want to die. But euthanasia is not an answer but a question that tickles the very root of our being – our humanity. May you or I never have to face such tough questions in life, but if it is to be, I sincerely hope that one will find the strength to hold on to hope and humanity, whether it is for a father, a husband, a son or a dog. God bless!

Death-wish warriors

“The terminally ill are a class of persons who need protection from family, social, and economic pressures, and who are often particularly vulnerable to such pressures because of chronic pain, depression, and the effects of medication.”

Beyond the doom and gloom, here are a few reasons for hope, even for those who may feel that there can’t be any.

Alison Lapper: Born with the grossly-debilitating medical condition called phocomelia, Alsion Lapper survives with limbs barely longer than seal-flippers. Abandoned and institutionalised since 7 weeks of age, Lapper is one of the brightest members of the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (AMFPA), has given birth to a perfectly healthy baby boy and today, her sculpted figurine radiates inspiration from the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square.

Janice Elsner: Janice is a victim of muscular dystrophy too and is confined to her wheelchair, clinging on to the hope of seeing her teenaged daughter graduate. Almost 50, Janice wasn’t supposed go past 20, but there, she hangs on still...

There are countless others, aware of the creeping shadow of death and yet they smile and live, by choice. Some, like Jason Mitchener, a ventilator-dependent 36-year -old author and speaker, have become heroic talismans against the ‘for euthanasia campaigns’. Hopefully, these heroes will inspire those amongst us who can stand by them when they might need us most in their moments of weakness, instead of thrusting the burden of our suffering on their shoulders and condemning their claim to life.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sense and sensei!

One of the nicest people I know is a tiny little Bengali who makes a living from pushing people around. I’ve seen this mighty atom, a barely five feet tall featherweight, literally wipe the floor with huge occidental giants who can’t help but bow in respect and submission to this man who, having made his point, smiles as he offers his hand or a gentle pat to the still quavering object of his administrations.

Paritosh Kar is the highest ranked Aikidoka (practitioner of the gentle yet ‘persuasive’ martial art of Aikido ) in India with formidable prowess in the art, yet his dojo (studio), where he teaches a small but dedicated group of students, hardly has enough members to sustain the establishment. It’s a pity that this powerful yet beautiful art, a capital builder of courage, compassion and character isn’t as popular as it ought to be.

Sensei Kar, or his potential students might not have access to nearly a century deep treasure trove of inspirational lives and events from the brightest and darkest corners of the world but the editors at TIME surely do. And more is the pity when a media beacon such as the TIME above fails to find a place for a life as heroic and a story as stirring as that of Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969), the founder of Aikido, and acknowledged by many as the greatest martial artist of all time, in its list of Asian heroes from the last 60 years (13 Nov issue).

Morihei Ueshiba, or O Sensei – great teacher, as he came to be known was born into a Samurai family and began life as a sickly, premature child. Encouraged by legacy and relatives to take up the martial arts, his meetings with two conflicting yet equally charismatic teachers, Sokaku Takeda, who initiated him into the fierce martial system of Daito-ryu Aikijutsu and Deguchi Onisaburo, the mesmeric leader of the Omotokyo Sect, a religious group dedicated to world peace and disarmament, shaped his unique philosophy. A soldier himself, Morihei was devastated by the ravages of WWII. By then in his 60s, Ueshiba’s martial techniques had evolved from the merely physical to an invincible spiritual force, guided by visions and divine communions.

At this stage, realisation dawned on Morihei, whose name incidentally means abundant peace, that the purpose of Budo – the martial path of courage and enlightenment – was not to defeat or destroy the enemy but to seek universal harmony, even in the face of aggression by blending with and then guiding and controlling any destructive force, whether it surges from within or attacks from without. Thus was born Ai-ki-do (Ai – harmony, Ki – universal, do – path or way), the path of harmonising with the universal energy. Almost Gandhian, but instead of the apparent passivity of turning the other cheek, an Aikidoka is more likely to turn his opponent inside out, albeit without damaging his body and hopefully having transformed his soul. It is not for Morihei Ueshiba’s legendary, superhuman feats nor for his unconquerable martial spirit and skill or the sheer artistic brilliance of his art with brush, sword and soul but for his legacy of Aikido, techniques that not only develop the body but a philosophy that one can practice and reinforce everyday in the dojo and in life, thus building both fortitude and forbearance, crucial for surviving a world that still hasn’t figured out how not to burn the candle at both ends, that I feel that he is as much of a hero as Seiji Ozawa, Bruce Lee and Thich Nhat Hanh.

Michael Gelb, author of How to think like Leonardo da Vinci, ranks Ueshiba amongst some of the greatest creative geniuses of all time, alongside names like William Shakespeare and the great Leonardo. On his deathbed, Ueshiba had said “Aikido is for the entire world”, and at a time when that world is celebrating proof of an elephant’s self awareness, there isn’t a better mirror for mankind than the practice of Aikido, or a more opportune time to hold it up .

Warriors in harmony

Two of the greatest classics to have emerged from the orient are Sun Tzu’s Art of War and Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings. Well, times are as violent as ever and the war zones have spread from battle grounds to boardrooms and bedrooms. These books are as popular as ever but the deceitful, confrontational ruthlessness recommended in most of the pages might be good enough to win a battle but never a war. We are more equal than we have ever been, both as nations and as individuals and both survival and success can’t help but be a function of winning friends, not wars.

Aikido is a unique martial art that, even at its reactive best, refuses to regress into a fight and holds tremendous appeal for those who believe in looking at every situation with a win-win perspective for all concerned. Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, had different students who were associated with him at different stages of his development, each playing a role in the rise of a unique school of the art. Beyond the martial arena, each school has virtues that find application in life, love and litigation. Go ahead, try ‘em on for size!

Shin shin toitsu Aikido: Harnesses physical, spiritual and intellectual energy. Popular with stress ravaged corporate groups.

Hombudojo: A traditional cultural experience, a creative legacy of the master

Tomiki: Encourages competition, sport and the spirit that fuels both.

Yoshinkan: Physically, the most challenging of Aikido forms, it embodies the warrior’s philosophy and perspective.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Muscle-bound levitations

Columnists, I’ve realised, have a lot in common with insects. One of my favourites, Bill Bryson, has the perspective of a common housefly. He takes a disgustingly close look from the oddest of angles but with his self-deprecating world view, he gives you an unforgettable buzz. Fareed Zakaria, on the other hand, would inject you with potent thoughts that could develop feverish intensity, much like the friendly neighbourhood anopheles. Then there are others who might remind you of the Tsetse fly.

Speaking of insects, my friends call me the locust and it has nothing to do agricultural or intellectual depravation and everything to do with a stunt I pull on a yoga mat that never fails to draw gasps of awe from an adoring group of fellow yogis (sigh!). Apologies for blowing my own trumpet, dear reader, but hey, what are columns for. To be honest, I’m quite a slob on the mat, but an inveterate urban yogi nevertheless, and by some quirk of fate and genes, manage to do justice to a rather advanced version of an asana that looks spectacular when done right – the salabhasana or locust. All this preening has got be followed by some preaching, so here I am, taking a stand for the headstand.

Recently, I overheard a debate between colleagues over a magazine story. It was a story about the relative benefits of yoga versus the gym. As magazine stories go, this was as non-committal as ever – lot of facts and very little opinion. The women, many of whom could wear their knees around their necks for a lark, debated that yoga was a wonderful workout for body and soul while the gym was only good for muscle-bound monsters who’ll only have luck wooing a she-gorilla. The men, with bulging egos, bellies and the odd biceps, countered that yoga was for sissies and those on the wrong side of 50 or a shrink. Now, I really enjoy my ‘mat-time, and I assure you I’m no sissy ( I’m contract bound against countering the rest). And that is not because I also go to the gym, lift hundreds of Kgs (admittedly, only about as often as Mahmoud Ahmedinejad might cry over Anne Frank’s diary) or because I enjoy being thrown around by benign grandmoms in during Aikido practice.

I would recommend yoga to all who’d care to listen because yoga, as Diamond Dallas Page, three-time world champion wrestler and avid yogi, and a very big man, who you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley says, is “the best damn workout on the planet!” The world might agree that yoga is great for health, spiritual and otherwise, but few believe that yoga is also perhaps a sculptor of shape and symmetry. And why would you believe me when iron temple gods like ‘The Governator’ and John Cena display dimensions previously found in comic books while yoga ideals like B.K.S. Iyengar and Aadil Palkhivala, no matter how fit or supple, haven’t really exhibited action figure physiques. The truth, however, going by the lean athletic and long-lived examples of Sri T. Krishnamacharya and Swami Ramamohan Brahmachari, is that when done at the right intensity, yoga promises the strength of an elephant and the grace of a peacock as the Patanjali sutras would testify. Working from the inside out, organs and glands benefit as much as muscle and bone, thus building an everlasting foundation for health and beauty (for what is beauty but radiant physical, intellectual and spiritual health). Just take a look at Rodney Yee and Baron Baptiste and you’ll know. More importantly, yoga promises mankind a blue print that will help him influence if not control his destiny.

As for the debate, it ended in a wager. I’ve accepted a challenge from my key board-crushing, dumbbell-toting colleagues that after three months of ‘real’ yoga, yours truly will emerge stronger and fitter than anything their gym busting could’ve managed. Will keep you posted and once that happens you too could exchange your gym membership for a yoga course.

Proof of the pudding...

Yoga means union, and subject to your school of thought, the union could be between a range of partners – mind and body, soul and the divine or lover and the beloved. The basic objective of the practice is to establish a bridge between the cosmic energy that shapes the universe and the energy that courses through our bodies.

Yoga, therefore is a path that allows the human form access to these vast, inexhaustible reserves of universal energy and channelise it through the human body and perform deeds that’ve hitherto only been described as superhuman. There have been demonstrations by yogis who’ve performed seemingly impossible feats like stopping their heart, an involuntary muscle, from beating and others who’ve spent days inside airtight sealed containers and emerged unharmed from the ordeal.

Yogi Bhim, a yogi based in New Zealand, has performed some astonishing feats of strength like tearing steel trays into pieces and bursting hot water bottles by blowing into them – a feat matched only by champion strongmen like Bill Pearl. The Guinness Book of World Records is replete with names of innumerable yogis and their near impossible feats.

Yoga, however, has far more to offer than just an assortment of the above but these events do offer a glimpse of our own super human potential. Science will do what it can but the real key to unlocking human potential lies in the energy sciences like yoga, qigong, tai chi chuan, aikido, reiki and pranic healing.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Dead sure?

Do I really have to die? It seems an impossible, almost insignificant thought, sitting as I do now, ruminating over the impossible challenge of surviving the invincible axis of an empty sheet allied with an empty head, surrounded by a busy crew forging the future with passion and words, a mildly suicidal ex. Editor shedding threats, tears, hair and more and the prospect of going back to a family I love – seems like a life balanced between two worlds I love. Seems like a life that would go on forever.

Truth is, it wouldn’t and no matter how hard one tries to drown that nagging thought in more important things like the war in Iraq, the movie at the theatre or the neighbour next door, it keeps bobbing up like a Portuguese man-of-war that no one wants to touch, but is there, always in the corner of your eye-line nevertheless. And sometimes it drifts close – too close, too often. Of course, the sheer inevitability and the sense of impending doom that accompanies the word – ‘deadlines’ as it is bandied around by those executioners in business suits called editorial coordinators and the shared etymology does not help either.

Be that as it may, and call it an escapist’s fantasy if you will, but I’ve really begun to believe that there’s more to life than just death and I’ve sincerely begun to question the supposed inevitability of the phenomenon. In other, more pompous words, I really am not dead sure about death any more. Which is not to say that I don’t fear it. I fear bodily harm as much as most, I guess, as I do death, both my own and perhaps more so that, of those I’ve grown to love. The point I’m trying to make, dear fellow explorers into the beyond, is that I truly believe that the resilience and imagination of the human soul is tempered and strengthened with each challenge it undertakes and surmounts and death too is one such challenge, perhaps a final frontier of a kind that we’ll one day understand and perhaps even transcend.

Would we discover the fountain of youth and the elixir of life that will make us all immortal or at least empower us with the wherewithal to accept death only when we deign so and exert control over our own destiny? I don’t know but I would not consider it as much of an impossibility as perhaps generations of medieval folk considered the idea of the earth being round, having an axis, rotating and revolving at an incomprehensible speed and having a moon all its own, that would one day be stepped on by human feet.

Almost as comforting and far more tangible is the possibility of understanding what happens as we and after we die. For centuries, there have been peripheral concepts suggesting the possibility of communion with divine entities and reincarnation. Today, these fringe philosophers have assumed the shape of celebrated spiritual and psychic healers, and authors who’ve shared their experiences with millions of readers. Their books make compelling reading and the cases, if true, offer compelling evidence that death is not ‘the end’ of life but a mere phase the timing apparently of which is of our own choosing. Even more heartening is the thought offered that we choose those we share our lives with and stay connected with them across and beyond the planes of life, in every life. Life apparently is like a school room for the soul and we choose the circumstances and challenges that we would be up against, much before we decide to ‘take’ birth as we do those who we would transact with in life, much like a student choosing a course, university and faculty, with death being no more than graduation day, before it is time for the next lesson in life.

I do not know if it is all true but I’ve got to find out before I give up on the idea. I’ll share this journey with you in these pages and who knows, maybe we chose to share this journey together, long before either of us was born.

Morpheus & Orpheus

Relax, take a deep breath and think about yesterday. With each breath, relax your mind and sink gently into the past. If you keep this up long enough, there would come a point where your mind would transcend the barrier of conscious memory and drift into a world apparently unfamiliar, and yet entirely your own – the world from a life lived long ago, by you.

Past life regression (PLR) has become a very real, tangible experience that has stepped out of books by parapsychologists and spiritual healers like Dr. Brian Weiss and become accessible to people all over the world as both the concept and its practitioners have grown exponentially. While reincarnation as a concept has been popular in certain religions, other faiths have rejected the idea. It might be interesting to note however that the more a religion has been institutionalised, the more it has rejected the possibility of life existing beyond its realm and control.

There have been legends aplenty in every geographical corner of individuals recollecting past life events and found varying degrees of acceptance but today, with PLR workshops available round the corner, both sceptics and the faithful can test their beliefs on any given weekend. PLR sessions seem to convert even their staunchest critics and I can’t wait to try one as soon as possible. It promises to be a thought provoking session at the very least, if not a death defying one.


Monday, November 6, 2006

Bloody motifs

Idiots, knaves and bloody lucky thieves! There are appellations aplenty that the fawning masses dedicate to their beloved leaders who are either corrupt gluttons or muddled morons, and often both. And not only do they display prodigious levels of daftness but have the audacity to assume that their constituents wouldn’t know any better, attempting to manipulate social consciousness with nothing but shallow and empty rhetoric.
Mehbooba Mufti, my friends in Kashmir tell me, is quite a committed politician – apparently an all out welfare worker. But her recent call to lift the ban on Shahtoosh makes one question her powers of comprehension and discernment if not her intelligence and integrity. Maybe the problem lies with the fact that our politicians have only learnt how to win elections, not how to govern a country.

The unbearable beauty of the Shahtoosh shawl is woven with a fabric of unbearable pain. ‘Down’ hair plucked from the bloodied body of a chiru, a rare antelope found above the snow-line, along the Tibetan plateau was, until deemed illegal, the ‘golden fleece’ of fashion street, worth more than its weight in gold. Each shawl draped across an elegant shoulder was a testament to the grisly residue of at least three chiru carcasses strewn across the frozen plains, making the harsh, bleak landscape bleaker still. Now, since just a handful of them remain, both the Chinese and the Indian governments banned the hunting and trade in Shahtoosh. With the ban, most Kashmiri weavers, exquisite craftsmen all, now practised their craft on the equally exquisite Pashmina wool, sheared off or shed by a species of Himalayan goat. Even with protection, poaching for the illegal Shahtoosh trade is rampant and numbers on the Indian side stand at a dismal hundred odd antelopes.

Admittedly, a few of the Shahtoosh weavers are still looking for options, but Mehbooba Mufti’s half baked rhetoric would take the weavers no further than disaster. Mehbooba’s call for lifting the ban comes in light of the fact that there aren’t enough chiru left to weave even a hundred shawls. There’ve been other voices in support of Ms. Mufti’s, voices whose combined IQ scores, based on whatever they tried to pass of as logic, would definitely be less than the number of chiru left in India. If the chiru becomes extinct, not only would the state and its people lose a part of their heritage and future tourism opportunities but also the possibility of weaving Shahtoosh from shed down hair as used to be the custom in the early days, once the population has stabilised.

Every politician who tries to win popular support and votes through quick fix rhetoric or policy, by painting hapless environmental lobbies as the villains who’ve locked away a region’s resources in the name of conservation (thus keeping its people, the rightful beneficiaries of the said resources from prosperity) needs to be pulled up by the ear and given a basic lesson in comparative economics.

If availability and exploitation of natural resources was to be the all important one way cheque to the health, wealth and prosperity bank, then pray why aren’t Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo many times richer than Singapore, Formosa and Japan, and how could Punjab or Haryana enjoy such prosperity while Orissa and Jharkhand languish far behind. Collective prosperity has very little to do with available natural resources and a whole lot more to do with collective innovation and industry, and most states unfortunately falter at the very first hurdle – that of developing a collective consciousness. So, would any of the beautiful people from the beautiful valley please tap Ms. Mufti (who, I maintain, has been a conscientious leader thus far) on the shoulder and urge her to get on with real developmental issues instead of pottering around with idea of lopping off the few remaining loping ‘lopes.

The devil wears fur

At least De Vil in 101 Dalmatians preferred to wear only that. She’d look at a litter of adorable Dalmatian pups and exclaim, ““Such perfectly beautiful coats!” There must have hardly been a heart that didn’t warm as the little bundles of joy walked free from the clutches of the cruel couturier to be restored to the dappled doggies, Pongo and Perdita.

Amazingly, and ironically, many a high-society fashionista comes across as a less-animated Cruella De Vil with a lot-less feverish fetish, but far from disgusting anyone, it hardly ever warrants anything more than curious second glance.

For one’s skin to become another’s second skin, the practice of the use of fur and scents derived from animals to accessorise the ensemble of, particularly, the female finery has been one of inane insensitivity. After all, for the mink and chiru to be bestowed with the coat of soft hair must imply that nature must have considered them more needful of the same, than us! Imagine hunting down the numbered musk deer for the kind of ‘sensual gratification’ as ephemeral as smell?! There are enough alternatives available; besides it’s dirty to denude the other to clothe oneself...


Monday, October 30, 2006

Am i an islamophobe?

Some of my favourite people in the world are Muslim. In my early teens, as an aspiring cricketer, my greatest source of inspiration was the fiery power of Imran Khan. In those days, I did not begrudge Pakistan its victories over India, as long as my hero had done well. There were times I wished I were Muslim, in the hope that a shared faith might result in shared ability. Since then, I’ve sought and found both warmth and love amongst Muslims, some of whom I count amongst my dearest friends. And yet...

It was a rare day this ‘autumn in New York’. Bright sunshine and Bach accompanied me to Journal Square where I boarded a train for what is still called ‘The World Trade Center’. I was distressed. The Jolie-Pitts were shooting for ‘A Mighty Heart’ in Pune, and I was too far away to honour whatever press invitations might’ve come my way (and you better believe there were some). After all, what is a Features Editor worth if he can’t feature ‘The Features’. More disturbingly, I had stayed up all of previous night watching a documentary about the abduction and murder of Daniel Pearl, and some of the footage was so distressing that I couldn’t sleep. I’ve always taken pride in being a liberal pacifist, and yet the collage of bearded faces creased with hate, the rising crescendo of “Allahu Akbar,” praise of the Lord demonised into a war chant, churned deep dark thoughts. In that bigoted moment, it was so easy to believe that every Muslim was a fire-breathing kafir slayer and so difficult to imagine any of them as loving fathers, doting husbands, dutiful sons or remotely human beings. I tossed and turned in my sleep struggling with the images and my convictions to the contrary.

The train started moving, and away from the darkness, in the buzz and bustle of the world’s busiest city, the thoughts seemed to fade away. But soon there was to be a test – a test I was to fail. At the next station, a young Arab entered the car. He had a heavy satchel across his shoulder and a book with Arabic inscriptions in his hand. Pairs of hitherto drowsy eyes watched, some with curiosity, others with disdain, even loathing, and I with interest that changed imperceptibly into apprehension, fear and worse. Thoughts of the previous night came screaming back. Memories of 9/11, 7/7 and the the man’s religious fervour, all seemed to suggest to my fevered brain that the man might’ve anointed us all for mass martyrdom. I got up, admonishing little voices in my head that tried to remind me that I was committing the very sins I’d condemned, and got off the train at the very next stop. “Better be guilty and safe than sorry and dead,” I told the voices but they grew louder still, driving me to shame and admiration. Shame, because I could not bear the thought of having betrayed my own beliefs and in many ways, the faith of my friends. And admiration for the millions of peaceful Muslims in the world, who repeatedly forgive the rest of the world for chaining them to the crimes of a deviant few, without compromising on their values as Muslims, and more significantly, as human beings. I owe that unknown Arab, and every such Muslim an apology, as I do to Pakistani New Yorkers like Tariq, who’ve welcomed me into their hearts, blind to the momentary prejudice that had wrought havoc with my beliefs. Students and friends, apologies, for having forsaken, albeit for a moment, all that I’d preached. Steadfast faith in the divine essence of every faith can truly make angels, if not gods, of human beings, for it cultivates forgiveness. Like in the grieving Amish, who forgave the very man who killed their daughters, by including the killer and his family in their prayers. To hate is not human, but to forgive surely divine; and may whatever powers that be give us the courage to forgive and douse the fire of hate in an ocean of unconditional forgiveness. Christ said it, Gandhi repeated it; and for the sake of ourselves, let’s live it.

The bullet and the cheek

Myriad are the manifestations of faith. While it makes for some stentorian expression in cruel bombings amidst innocent civilians in some cases, it barely stymies a lump in the throat with its generous tolerance of the most devilish delinquency. When Charles Carl Roberts storms into a one-room schoolhouse in the Amish neighbourhood of Lancaster County to pump bullets into little girls barely out of 10 years of their lives, one would imagine no ‘faith’ to come to the sympathy of the desperado, not even on his death. But the ‘backlash’ from this minority sect of Christianity – the Amish – has been one that restores humanity the quintessential virtue known to every faith on the planet: Forgiveness.

Be it reports of one of the schoolgirls ‘offering’ herself before others for the murderous mission or the local Reverend’s statement that they “will do anything that (we) can to make her life better” on behalf of the community sharing the grief of Roberts’ widow, the bewildering gestures are just a way of life of the Amish. With the Anabaptists (as the Amish are called), turning the other cheek is not an inspiration from some latest movie, but another way of reminding and reinforcing their distinction from the ‘other’ world. What remains to be seen is which part reaches out for the other, first…


Monday, October 23, 2006

Setting sail...

...for the Cape of Good Hope

Maybe Africa just isn’t ‘hot’. Who cares if Somalia is disintegrating by the day? Who cares that it is difficult to walk through parts of Darfur, Sudan, without stepping on dismembered limbs, split skulls and bits & pieces of the dead or the dying, and who cares if the beautiful green forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo are splattered everyday with the blood of more than a thousand people in a conflict that has claimed 4 million lives in less than a decade? Then again, who really cares if the World Health Organisation bleats plaintively that AIDS could wipe off almost a quarter of Africa’s beleaguered population?

Bet you didn’t see any of that getting past news about a war-mongering president, a paedophiliac Congressman and India’s brush with Hollywood in therapy either in print or on TV the past week. And why would you? Perhaps there just isn’t enough there to ‘oil’ the humanitarian machinery. Funny, how weapons of mass destruction demand more attention than just mere mass destruction.

It would not do for the world to forget about Africa as it gathers bone dust. From Sudan to Zimbabwe and Ethiopia to Liberia, it is the same story of mindless tribal violence, corrupt, despotic leadership, starvation and disease and general international apathy. It is a sad travesty of fate that the cradle of human evolution seems to have got little rewards for its labours. Africa seems both blessed and cursed with nature’s bounties. From ebola and elephants to fruits and famines, Africa had it all, and in plenty. Enslavement, civil war, genocides and horrific epidemics, the continent has endured all with the resilience of the very rocks that herald its presence. And yet, the ordeal persists.

Imperialism, freedom, democracy and dictatorship have all failed in most of Africa. It is almost as if the Continent has lost faith; faith in its ability to cope with challenges, faith in the ability of Africans to find solutions and faith in faith itself. Even in Kenya and some other relatively stable states, democracy and civil rights have been as ethereal as the morning mist in the Sahara. Christians and Muslims, Negroids and Arabs, tribes and clans, brutal rebels and ruthless governments, all routinely indulge in the orgies of mutual massacre.

Yet, it is faith and spirituality that could ultimately rescue Africa from the precipice of destruction, towards which the continent seems to be hurtling at breakneck speed. Not just individual or local faith in tradition (like Voodoo and other animistic beliefs) or other great religions, but a faith born out of spiritual awakening is rooted in the spirit of Africa. Whether the religion is adopted or indigenous isn’t as important as the fact that it has to connect with the African thought and then provide spiritual inspiration and direction, thus resulting in a concerted social and therefore political movement that will help Africa mature through democracy, economic growth and African brotherhood. Africa has bled enough. This suffering must end. The UN will do what it can, but it’s time you and I, dear reader got together to do our bit. Contribute funds, volunteer services to heroic organisations like Doctors Without Borders, and if there are other wounds that seek your healing touch, go ahead, tend to them first. But remember that our ivory towers will crumble, sooner than later, if the gale force of human suffering continues to beat against our door and the magnitude of Africa’s suffering is greatest of all. Africa needs a miracle and it is up to us to work it out.

A matter of choice

Triumph of good over evil is a thought visited very few times a year; during festivals, in between binge and bluster, when suddenly we can’t seem to recollect the reason to the fanciful fervour. That’s a statement we’re heard repeating to ourselves – and others – loud and clear. It doesn’t seem to matter at other times when we blithely turn a blind eye to the pursuit of evil or deferentially remain indifferent to its equivalent in the civilised world war.

It’s somewhat disappointing to note how, despite a-book-a-faith preaching about love and tolerance, greater curiosity lies with the 6th century treatise on warfare, penned by Sun Tzu. Chapters uniquely dedicated to the art of trouncing the enemy, The Art of War – having found followers in myriad fields – claims to not even mandate physical combat necessary in the craft. What match in comparison is The Art of Loving by Eric Fromm? Sublime thoughts on the human heart and its default settings of love and compassion, it is still looking to be picked by those other than the romantics. In Jimi Hendrix’s words, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”…


Monday, October 16, 2006

My pound of flesh...

Deconstructing the meatrix...

Flight CO083. Destination: New York. Time: Somewhere between 1 am New York time and 11 am New Delhi time, a couple of hundred vertigo-inducing miles over Greenland, a uniformed matron in a Mohawk (apparently they call ‘em hostesses up here), who looked like she just got fired from her job as a warden for delinquent kids, asks me if I’d like a vegetarian snack or eggs instead. Strengthened by a surprisingly strong gust of early morning integrity, the struggling vegetarian in me settled for the former. But lo and behold, lurking in the corner, behind a row of beans lay the evil temptress, a mouth-wateringly sweet-smelling sausage. A casanova in the nunnery would not have known greater temptations of the flesh than the seductions of that beenie baby... Whether Americans consider anything with vegetables, ‘vegetarian’, or did that drill sergeant in a skirt think I was too ‘brown’ to care, I’d never know , but to cut a long story short, my vow survives, for now.

For the record, I’m not really a vegetarian, nor have I ever been one. Not too long ago, I used to be a connoisseur of flesh… all kinds of flesh. From snails to whales, raw or rare, I was your man without a bone to spare. Consuming meat for strength and health, I would extol the virtues of meat eating to vegetarians, reminding them that we humans owed a great deal of our intellectual and physiological growth to the extra proteins of a meat-enriched diet, which perhaps was an evolutionary choice that wasn’t available to our fellow primates. Some of them would perhaps remember how I’d maintain that although I loved animals – and not just on a plate – I “owed it to my genes” to live off meat.

And yet, it’s been years that I’ve given up meat, though I still yearn for it on occasions. My ‘epiphany moment’ has nothing to do with the innumerable acts of cruelty perpetrated on our behalf by the meat industry on a variety of livestock from poultry to retired race horses and milk dry cows, or with the terrible toxins pumped into such livestock, which find their way into our blood streams and erupt as cancers. No, dear reader, the reason I urge you to consider vegetarianism has nothing to do with these ethical or medical issues, but with our fundamental desire for growth, development and freedom.

There isn’t a soul in this world who can truly claim to ‘live’ without being loved and the secret of being loved is to be able to give without need, to be able to serve without want, to be self sustained and therefore truly free. By this, I do not mean to ask you to sacrifice your desires for the sake of others, but to simply remind you of the axiom that service for returns begets profit, while service without, love. But true service can only begin when we are ready to give away and not just share resources. From Christ to Krishna, Gandhi to Mother Teresa and from Che Guevara to Jane Goodall, they are all loved by those who loved them because they gave off themselves, free from the shackles of needing anything at all, but simply spiritual expression in return. There are many other hallmark examples of individuals who have exhibited such remarkable freedom in their lives, and whose tales I’ll pleasurably share with you in issues to come, but for now, at least, it is fair enough to know even this that the path to freedom and love surely cannot go through an abattoir, where others die to keep me alive.

Weaned on the green

The dilemma that self-proclaimed vegetarians often find themselves in, is described best in the hilarious scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. John Corbett, at his in-laws, declares he’s a vegetarian, to which one of the many Greek aunts spontaneously offers, “That’s OK. I’ll make lamb!” The vegetarian platter and its crunchy greens may not exactly match up to the succulent snacks made out of knifing life, but nutritionally, there’s enough and more.

Tofu: Commonly called bean curd, Tofu is to soy milk what paneer is to cow milk. If proteins are your excuse to dig into non-veg, Tofu is sufficiently stuffed with those, minus the curse of cholesterol. For appetiser, main course, or accompaniments…

Fruits and Nuts: Fresh or dried, fruits are nature’s sweetmeats that are deliciously filling, any time of the day. Avocados to pistachios, bananas to raisins… healthy options that would bear ‘fruit’ for a long and healthy life to come.

Milk: More than half the numbers of sinewed stars internationally have been caught soaking up on steroids, but the traditional strong men of India – the pehelwans – will tell you that a diet rich in milk is all it takes! And tell the lobbies to go after the colas…


Monday, October 9, 2006


A toad’s ode for a god called religion...

It’s a strange dance in the ball of civilisations. Muslim and Christian theocrats and worse, each claiming representation for their respective faiths and its followers, locked in an awkward waltz, each stepping on the other’s toes, out of spite, or perhaps inspite of their best intentions. From paper lampoonery to papal flippancy, the west has been guilty of, amongst other things, being insensitive to the plight of its own constituents more vulnerably placed than they. Now that ideologues have been reduced to demagogues and the dance has regressed into an old fashioned scrap for souls, the spate of conversions amongst white and mixed race Christians on both sides of the Atlantic has set alarm bells ringing. And in the wake of Don Stewart-Whyte’s pursuit of an overly simplistic solution to the world’s woes and his own complexes, it seems understandable.

Islam’s allure stems from its unique ability to liberate through dogma. By offering a detailed socio-moral blueprint for spiritual attainment, it seemingly answers all questions asked by its ‘believers’ thus becoming a spiritual spectre that provides both strength and sanctuary. But it is a ‘total solution’ which demands ‘total surrender’, consequently lending itself to abuse.

While recent ‘Allah or the sword’ type conversions in Iraq have done little to assuage western apprehensions over what many perceive to be Islam’s medieval sensibilities, worlds on either side of a mosque wall have been served well by those that were not born into the religion but embraced it later. Muhammad Assad, the Jewish born raconteur, introduced the West to the honest beauty of Islam through his spiritually evocative treatise – The Road to Mecca. In the 1950s black supremacist Malcolm X, converted to Islam and railed and rallied against the ‘White devil’ and his white god. But a trip to Mecca had a profound effect on the firebrand leader and a much softened Malcolm declared to all who’d listen “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I am a human being first and foremost, and… I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.”

Religion perhaps wasn’t meant to be something one is born into. Maybe, it is best if each soul chooses its own spiritual path like one does a vocation, depending on the individual’s spiritual needs, and the stage of life, for not every Muslim is a Muslim in equal measure, and the same is true for a Christian, a Hindu or any other believer. In fact, almost every great religious leader practiced a faith he wasn’t born into and perhaps mankind would’ve been better served if we’d followed their example more than just (what we’re told are) their words. Like Idris Shah, the great Sufi poet once said “The way of the Sufi is not to get bogged down in believing that one religion or philosophy is the truth, but to develop an openness that frees us to be able to reconcile opposing ideas.” The world, until it learns to love without the shadow of hate, will keep clinging to its need for hate, whether it is Imperialism, or its enemies, Nazism, or its enemies, Communism, or its enemies, or a religion, or its enemies. It will keep looking for a reason to hate a distant foe so that it can love an immediate neighbour. Until mankind learns to love without cause or hate, it will find its reasons for war, either in holy books or in unholy intentions

The Sufi spin!

Mystique of the whirling dervishes ...unravelled

In certain parts of the world at least, if you don’t like going round and round in circles, you won’t get very far. Maoulana Jalaluddin Rumi was not a subcontinental bureaucrat but a great 13th century Persian Sufi mystic, remembered for the profound beauty of his poetry and music, who founded the order of the Mevelevi, the whirling dervishes who dance in circles to reach out to the divine. Popularly known as sema, the dervish dance has become an icon of psycho-spiritual mysticism and is especially popular along the Mediterranean coast from Turkey to Tunisia.

The dervishes dance themselves into a into blur till they collapse and then their mind enters a deep meditative state, where they seem to be in communion with divinity. The frenzied whirling of the dervishes apparently unleashes the energy trapped in the body’s energy centres and bestows great virility and vigour. Similar practices also find mention in ancient Tibetan health manuals which, claim the lamas, can reverse the ageing process. Try the Sema, and for all you know, your meditation in motion might just uncork the fountain of youth.