Monday, March 23, 2015

An Avoidable Controversy - Musings of a Novice

Colour of Skin

Shard Yadav, a shrewd politician, recently created an avoidable controversy both in the parliament and outside, intentionally or otherwise, about the skin tone of ladies. Many of the lawmakers, particularly the women parliamentarians were up in arms against the alleged sexist remarks made by Shard Yadav. The TV channels, as usual, had a fest for a couple of days. I think it was an unnecessary controversy. Only in India, we attach undue importance to fair complexion as against brown and black. During my diplomatic service in African countries where generally people have black colour, I found that Indians would tend to, as it is natural, enjoy the company of black ladies but generally not marry them. Whereas fair coloured or white Europeans or Americans and others of both sexes do marry and live with blacks socially. It is a mindset which requires change. Black can not only be bountiful but beautiful also.

Here I have a small story to tell. It was long before in 1982. I was the Protocol Officer in the Ministry of External Affairs in New
With PM Indira Gandhi
Delhi. One of my responsibilities was to select and get approved the gifts to be given by our leadership to their foreign counterparts. PM Indira Gandhi was very particular and thoughtful in this regard. On such occasions, she herself approved gifts for the Head of States and Head of Governments and their spouses and other important dignitaries. We would arrange a sort of meena bazaar at her official residence for the purpose. Hussein Muhammad Ershad, after a military coup, became the President of Bangladesh some time in 1982. He, accompanied by his spouse, decided to come to Delhi on an unplanned and unscheduled visit. Obviously, PM Indira Gandhi, as customary, was to give them appropriate gifts. As the visit was sudden and unplanned, there was hardly any time to get the gifts approved from PM. Moreover, she was extremely busy and occupied as parliament was in session. Vice President M.H. Ansari was the then Chief of Protocol (COP). It was decided that President Ershad may be given a gift already approved by PM for another VVIP from an Islamic country. But what about the Begum (spouse) of President Ershad? Knowing the mind and interest of PM Indira Gandhi in such matters, nobody was willing to take any decision. But the matter was urgent. Given my earlier stint in the PMO in dealing with such matters, it fell on me, of course with full knowledge and guidance of COP, to sort out the matter. It was decided to propose to PM that a Banaras silk saree may be given to the first lady of Bangladesh. I spoke to PM’s personal staff at her residence and requested their help in the matter. The security considerations were not as stringent as now and I was a known and an old hand at the residence. They advised me to come with a few sarees. They informally agreed to inform the PM that I was there for the purpose when she would come for lunch. I spread a few sarees on the sofa in one of the rooms near the entrance and waited inside. But we were still keeping our fingers crossed. PM Indira Gandhi came for lunch. Her car stopped under the porch. While she was alighting from the car, one of her assistants informed her that I was waiting in the room for the purpose. She went inside and came back to the room, where I was waiting, with a towel in her hands cleaning her hands for lunch. One could imagine how busy she was. She had a quick look and said “Accha Hai, App Unhe Saree Dena Chahte Ho” (Good. You want to give her a saree) and enquired “Unka Rang Kaisa Hai.” (What was her complexion?). I may add that PM Indira Gandhi was such a great person that while dealing with and talking to juniors like me she was always courteous and generally spoke in Hindustani. I did not expect this question. In a quick and unpretentious response, I meekly uttered “Ji Mujhe Pata Nahin. Maine Unhe Dekha Nahin.”  On her own she said, “Bangladeshi Aam Tor Pe Saanvle Rang Ke Hote Hain.” and picked up a saree and added, “Yeh De Do.” She quickly retreated inside before I could say anything.  The job was done. Was PM Indira Gandhi colour conscious? No, not at all. She was simply human as, I think, Shard Yadav is.  I am reminded of a Punjabi song by a great poet but rustic and ordinary man Gurdass Ram Alam:

“Mahi Mera Kale Rang Da;
Behde Barda Ta Chand Chad Janda!

(When my dark skinned beloved enters the compound of the house, it looks as if the moon has appeared)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

SPEED – Society for Poor’s Education and Economic Development

I wrote about the SPEED in my earlier blogs. It is gratifying to note
With Prof. Baldev Narang and Dr. Ram L. Jassi, IPS
that SPEED has become stronger and kicking over the years. It has opened yet another computer centre and career coaching centre, the fourth in a row, at the prestigious Ambedkar Bhawan at Nakodar Road Jalandhar. SPEED’s President Dr. Ram Lubhaya, IPS (Retired) and General Secretary Janak Chauhan deserve all appreciation and support in their unstinted endeavours to carry forward the agenda of socio-economic upliftment of the society at large and dalit community in particular. I wish them GOD SPEED and all success.
The 4th Computer/Career Coaching Centre was inaugurated on March 15, 2015 at a well organized function at Ambedkar Bhawan. I was also invited to participate and benefit. Thoughtfully, a seminar on the theme “Our Education System and Social Justice” was held which was very well attended by the intelligentsia from cross sections of the society. Chief Parliamentary Secretary and MLA Pawan Tinu was the chief guest at the function. He spoke with conviction and said that he would only be happy if could do something good in raising the educational facilities for the poor and needy and granted Rupees One Lakh from his discretionary fund for the newly opened Computer Centre by the SPEED in cooperation with Ambedkar Bhawan Trust. Representing the Ambedkar Bhawan Trust, Lahori Ram Balley said that it was satisfying to note that the educated lot of the community under the aegis of SPEED was rallying together for the betterment of the society as desired and wished by Babasaheb Ambedkar.  Prof. K.K. Ghai was the main speaker at the function. He said that he was proud to see that many of his students were present at the function and added that individual justice was the pre-requisite of social justice. He added that it was gratifying to note that his students excelled in life and did individual justice to themselves and were now contributing positively towards social justice. Trustees of Ambedkar Bhawan Trust, Dr. Ram Lal Jassi and Dr. G.C. Kaul also spoke and endorsed the efforts of SPEED. In my brief speech, I complemented the SPEED by introducing my small effort in starting Jalandhar School of Careers and Opportunities with a view to reach out to the needy students of the area by providing them affordable educational and counseling facilities. Patron of SPEED, Prof Baldev Narang in his valedictory address underlined the need for unity and fraternity to ward off the increasing artificial divisions even among the dalits. He enthralled the audience with his classical recital of a unity song –‘ Chajj Kar lai’ which was much appreciated.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Bits and Pieces – Musings of a Novice

March 16, 1970 - A Journey Starts 

South Block, New Delhi
The journey of my formative years began in March, 1970. While I was still a student of the final year for a university degree (B.A) at D.A.V. College, Jalandhar, I had passed and qualified the UPSC’s competitive examination for an LDC. I was happy on one hand and somewhat worried and concerned on the other. Our financial position was not sound at the time. I was finding it difficult to continue my studies. But I was keen to become a university graduate by completing the B.A degree. My father immediately wrote, after the UPSC results sometime in November, 1969, to Mama Shiv Ram, a cousin of my mother, who was an Under Secretary in one of the Ministries of Government of India.  He responded and dissuaded me and my father from coming to Delhi for a clerical post and advised to continue my studies and try for a better job subsequently. Sometime in January, 1970, I got an appointment letter from the Ministry of External Affairs for the job of an LDC that instructed me to join by March 16, 1970. I was happy as I learnt that it was the best position offered at that level of recruitment. My father again wrote, on my suggestion, to Mama Shiv Ram and informed him that I was allotted IFS (B) and was advised to join by March 16. Mamaji promptly responded and advised to accept the job offer and come to Delhi. I immediately drafted a small letter in my broken English and typed it myself at a typewriting school where I was learning typing and informed the Ministry of External Affairs that I would join by March 16, 1970. I did not know at that time that I could have got some more time on request to prepare for the joining. My worry at the time was the number of lectures mandatory to sit for the final year examinations for the B.A. degree. With this in mind and other considerations, I remained in the college up to March 14 which was a Saturday. 
The journey of my tryst with the Ministry of External Affairs and the IFS started on Sunday, March 15 by a morning train from Jalandhar to Delhi. I reached the residence of Mama Shiv Ramji, a flat at Nanakpura, New Delhi by evening. Mamaji was a great personality, a tall handsome man of caliber. The family received me with open arms. Both Mama Shiv Ram and Mami Bhaggo and their children, my cousins, were friendly and accommodative. They made me feel at home and comfortable. Mama Shiv Ram and Mamiji were very reverential to my father and mother. It made me all the more comfortable and at ease. They gave me an over-view of the life in Delhi and some tips to start my career.
The next day, March 16, was the day of reckoning for me. I was excited. Mamaji’s office, Ministry of Agriculture, was located at Krishi Bhawan. He took me on his scooter to the Ministry of External Affairs at South Block, guided, helped and made me join my job. I was deeply touched by the treatment meted out to me. I will forever remain indebted to Mama Shiv Ram and his family for the good done to me.

Incidentally today, March 16 is a Monday again. It was so 45 years ago. I feel gratified that I was not unoccupied or unemployed even for a day and landed right from D.A.V College Jalandar to the coveted Ministry of External Affairs at South Block, New Delhi. It was a long but satisfying journey till my retirement from the coveted IFS in December, 2010.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Dalit Society - Cultural Transformation and Guru Ravidassji

Centre of Indian Languages of Jawaharlal Nehru University organized and hosted a two day Interdisciplinary International Seminar on Guru Ravidassji at JNU On February 23-24, 20015.
Though I am not an authority on the subject yet the organizers, particularly the Convener of the Conference Dr. Rajesh Paswan, was kind enough to invite me as an observer. As such, I attended the opening plenary session and also participated in the first technical session of the Seminar on February 23. Both the functions were very well organized and attended. I take this opportunity to thank and congratulate Dr. Rajesh Paswan and his colleagues at the Centre of Indian Languages particularly Dr. Ram Chander for the excellent arrangements and hospitality.

With Bindeshwar Pathak of Sulabh International
The opening plenary was inaugurated by Shri Bindeshwar Pathak of Sulabh International who was one of the co-sponsors of the Seminar. The theme of his speech was the Motivational Message of Guru Ravidass and the Sulabh Movement.  He said that to fight the problem of caste system and establishment of healthy and harmonious social order, there was no better remedy than the path shown by the great visionary Guru Ravidass. The session was chaired by Dr. Vaishna Narang, Dean of Languages, Literature and Cultural Studies Centre of the JNU. Some of the renowned intellectuals and academics namely Prof T.V. Kattimani, Vice Chancellor of Indira Gandhi National Tribal University, Dr. Chander Bhan Prasad, Prof. Vivek Kumar, Prof. Chauthiram Yadav, Shri Sunil Sardar spoke with convincing and impressive voices and underlined the importance and relevance of Guru Ravidassji’s message and philosophy to meet the challenges of the 21st century.  I was very much impressed by the scholarly presentations of Prof Vivek Kumar of JNU and Prof. Chauthiram Yadav of BHU.

With Rajesh Bagha, Chairman Punjab SC Commission
 The first technical session of the Seminar on the afternoon of February 23 was chaired by Shri Rajesh Bagha, Chairman of Punjab SC Commission and conducted by a young intellectual Dr. Manoj Kumar. The theme of the session was Guru Ravidass: Diverse Dimensions. It was a very well attended session by the cross sections of students and teaching community. The speakers namely Shri Sriram Arsh, Prof K.P. Singh of USA, Dr. Sneh Thakur of Canada, Dr. Rahul Dipankar of USA, Prof. Chandra Sadayat, Shri F.C. Mall spoke on different facets of Guru Ravidass and his philosophy from academic and intellectual perspectives. I spoke as a layman and a humble follower of the great Guru on the theme:  The Concept of Begumpura with particular reference to the lofty idea of an ideal state or welfare state in the contemporary times. Prof. Chandra Sadayat of NCERT said that it was gratifying that, of late, the compositions of Guru Ravidass were included in the school syllabus. Shri Sriram Arsh in his scholarly speech said that Guru Ravidass was not only a pioneer of the Bhakti Movement but also a great revolutionary to transform the society.  Dr. Ram Chander of JNU gave the Vote of Thanks and summed up the proceedings of the session with utmost competence and flare.

The Seminar was a befitting tribute to Guru Ravidassji in the month of his Prakash Utsav on February 3, 2015.