Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Karamyogi A.P.J. Abdul Kalam – A Tribute

Bharat Ratna APJ Abdul Kalam (1931-2015) passed away yesterday, July 27, at Shillong. I write this to pay my humble tribute to one of the great sons of India. Keeping with his thinking on tireless work, he fell down while delivering a lecture at IIM Shillong and died of cardiac arrest later in a hospital.  He was a real Karamyogi. From a humble origin, he rose to be the President of India by his own right and was hailed as the ‘People’s President. He was an acclaimed scientist and occupied the coveted position of Scientific Adviser to the Defense Minister of India. He was rightly called the ‘Missile Man’ in recognition of his contribution to the space programme of India. APJ Abdul Kalam’s great contribution and masterly direction in the development of nuclear energy programme is well known. He was not only a Karamyogi but also a visionary nationalist, a worthy son India. President Kalam’s death has left a huge vacuum which would be difficult to fill.

Apart from my chance casual encounters with him in the late 1990s in the staircase or lift of the back gate of the South Block where our offices were located, I have had two occasions to meet President APJ Abdul Kalam. One was in person when he, as Scientific Adviser, came to meet a delegation of scientists from Kyrgyzstan sometime in 1999 at a hotel in old Delhi. I was the Director of Central Asia Division in the Ministry of External Affairs. I could see how simple he was and how much respect he commanded in his scientific fraternity. When I was the Ambassador of India to Belarus, I called on the Co-Chairman of the India-Belarus Joint Committee on Defense Cooperation. The Belarusian dignitary was a great friend of India and was a scientist by education and training. After the meeting, he invited me to his personal office chamber saying that he wanted to show me something special. With great visible pride on his face, he showed me his photograph with President Kalam kept on the side table of his office desk. He said that President APJ Abdul Kalam was one of his great friends which he valued the most. It was my second meeting with President Kalam though in absentia.

Later after my retirement, my daughter Vaishali gifted to me an autographed copy of ‘Wings of Fire – An Autobiography of APJ Abdul Kalam” which I read with interest and enjoyed. I was impressed by the life of President Kalam that later I purchased and read yet another autobiographical book of his ‘My Journey – Transforming Dreams into Actions’ which contained inspirational stories from the life of India’s most respected thinker and visionary. President Kalam loved and respected the youth of India and rightly dedicated his book My Journey “To the sixteen million youth who I have met and interacted with in the last two decades.”

As a mark of respect to Bharat Ratna APJ Abdul Kalam, Government of India has declared a seven day state mourning in terms of protocol on such occasions. But like a true Karamyogi President Kalam had desired that there should not be any public holiday on his death. I bow my head in reverence and a tribute to President APJ Abdul Kalam.

जिस धज से कोई मक़्तल में गया;
वह  शान सलामत रहती है,
यह जान तो आनी जानी है;
इश जान की कोई बात नहीं !

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Dharamshala – McLeodganj

Dharamshala is a picturesque hill station in Himachal Pradesh
With Naresh at McLoedganj
bordering Tibet. It is a tourist spot not only for the internal tourism but also for the foreign tourists because of two important considerations. One, it is a nature’s gift of breathtaking scenic beauty with cool temperatures in summer and snow bound hills in winter. Second, McLeodganj, an old military base of British times about 10 kms. from Dharamshala, is the seat of the ‘Government in Exile’ of the Dalai Lama of Tibet. The Dalai Lama lives in McLeodganj along with his Tibetan followers. That is why it is called “Little Lhasa”.  McLeodganj, therefore, is not only famous for its natural assets but also has become an important spiritual centre of Buddhism and Tibetan way of living.

During my diplomatic service, I travelled around quite a bit in foreign lands, not for sightseeing but mostly in the call of my duties. I have had no opportunity to travel around in India. I touched Mumbai, Calcutta, Chennai and Amritsar by air and that too in transit. I could see the Taj Mahal twice, in the course of my work, accompanying the Polish and Turkish VVIPs. Sometimes, I feel bad that, being a Punjabi from Jalandhar, I have not even seen the Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib) in Amritsar as yet. I thought of visiting some of the places in India like Amritsar, Dharamshala, Agra, Benaras/Kashi, Goa, in my retired life. But still, I feel ashamed while admitting that, I could not do so. The reasons are many but frivolous viz. health, wealth and will. Above all company, my wife Vidya is not a good support in these matters. May be we both are the same, longing for peace at home and to be contented.

My son Naresh and daughter-in-law Anju along with our two grand children in their teens, Pallavi, a vivacious but simple young lady  and Arvind, an upcoming young lad with healthy and child like simplicity,  are with us in Jalandhar on a family visit from Sweden. It is their first visit to India in the hot and humid summer months. Naresh made a family programme to visit Dharamshala for solace and change. I was not against the idea as I longed to visit Dharamshala and Mcleodganj because of the Dalai Lama connection but my wife Vidya was still reluctant. Naresh persuaded her to join the trip along with my second son Rupesh, our daughter in law Sulekha and two small angels Suhani and Rupal. Naresh invited my daughter Vaishali and her family to join the trip from Faridabad, to make it a complete family union, but due to the busy schedule of my son-in-law JP, they could not make it.

We started from Jalandhar in a hired taxi on the morning of July 3
Rupesh & Sulekha at Coral River  Resort
via Pathankot. Naresh and Anju had a long standing invitation from the parents of one of their family friends in Stockholm, Samy Sood and Vasudha to visit their resort at the picturesque Ravi River near Madhopur barrage. It was an enjoyable journey particularly for the children. We reached Coral River Resort, a breathtaking and hospitable place around lunch time. Our hosts Dinesh Mahajan Sahib and his gracious wife received us with open arms. The rooms were pre-arranged for a short break and rest. We fully availed of the time by walking around and taking photos. The Mahajans are gracious and hospitable people. They treated us on a sumptuous lunch at the appointed and well run restaurant at the Resort. It was marvelous. They even offered us to stay over-night
Pallavi at McLoedganj
with them at the Resort and proceed to Dharamshala next morning. But we had to decline the offer politely as our programme at Dharamshala was already confirmed. After lunch, we started for Dharamshala bye-passing the military area and litchi gardens of Pathankot and reached our destination and place of stay at Kunga Guest House in down-town Mcleodganj late in the evening. It was my first experience to stay in a guest house. The rooms were good and spacious but the approach from the main road was rather cumbersome and not so good. The redeeming feature was that Kunga Guest House has its own restaurant, Nick’s Kitchen, which is famous for its Tibetan and Italian food. It is run by the son of a retired security officer of the Dalai Lama. The next day we walked down to the famous temple of the Dalai Lama, Tsuglag Khang
Pallavi, Naresh, Anju & Arvind at Tsuglah Khang
situated near the Mortimer House, the official residence of the Dalai Lama. It was an educative experience for the family.  We intended to meet the Dalai Lama as also desired by Naresh and Anju but could not do so as he was out of the country in connection with his birthday celebrations. I have had the opportunity to meet and lunch with the Dalai Lama twice during the course of my diplomatic duties. Naresh and Anju were interested in Tibetan art and culture for their business interests and roamed around in the second half of the day. Fully tired, before our dinner at the Nick’s Kitchen, which was totally vegetarian, we opened a bottle of local Himachali fruit wine to unwind ourselves. The wine was not bad at a price of around Rs.300/ per bottle. The next day, we walked up the famous Shiva Temple-Bhagsunag and Bhagsu waterfalls. The waterfall is a scenic marvel. I did not join the family for the waterfalls and waited at a
At the base of Bhagsu waterfalls
café at the base with my not unfamiliar companion, M.V. Kamath’s “Close Encounter” and enjoyed reading. On our way back, Naresh purchased some Tibetan original paintings for their work purposes and a woolen Himachali cap for me.

We fully enjoyed our stay at Mcleodganj, more than 6800 feet above the sea level, situated at the Dhauladhar Range of mountains, in spite of minor irritations of cleanliness and civic amenities and also traffic chaos. My children from Sweden were not very comfortable with some small insects in their rooms at the Guest House but the management was co-operative in spraying the rooms. It is a matter of pity and concern that in spite of the fact that McLeodganj is a recognized tourist and pilgrimage destination, the authorities have not done much to develop and maintain the basic facilities for the tourists as it should be.

On July 5, after breakfast, we came down to Dharamshala and had
At Norbulingka Institute
a quick touristic drive on the way to our destination – Norbulingka Institute – The Heart of Tibetan Culture. It has a beautifully developed and maintained garden in the heart of Dharamshala. As described in their brochure “Norbulingka Institute is built in traditional Tibetan architectural style and follows a ground plan based on the proportions of the deity of compassion and patron Bodhisattva of Tibet, thousand armed Avalokiteshvara.” Though it was raining off and on yet we enjoyed the visit. We drove down to Jalandhar via Hosiharpur. It was a difficult journey as the road
Anju & Naresh at Norbulingka Institute
conditions were not as good as they should be, particularly, as I could see, places of spiritual importance like Chamunda Devi Temple fall on the route and the authorities shall pay attention to these requirements. I thank Naresh and Anju for motivating us, me and Vidya, for our first outing in India as tourists.