Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Scenic and Serene Sweden

Scenic and Serene Sweden

During my last visit to Sweden in the summer of 2014, I hosted many posts on Sweden in the columns of my blog. Seeing the scenic and serene beauty of Sweden, I am enticed to sit and write yet again not as a travelogue but as titbits of day to day life. Ever since my arrival in Stockholm this time, I have posted entries on the traditional school graduation ceremony called Studenten and an historical church in Uppsala, Domkyrka.

In the week of Mid-Summer, the second most important and celebrated holiday and festivity after Christmas, yesterday, June 24, Anju and Naresh, my daughter-in-law and son took me and our visitors Bimla and Ram Saran, the parents of Anju, along with their family for a short cruise trip to a picturesque Finish island, Marieholm, a two hours leisure sail from Kapellskär in the north of the capital city of Stockholm on board the famous Viking Line’s small boat “Rosella” It was a heavenly drive from home to Kapellskär, an hour’s drive, in
On board 'Rosella'
the calm and cool morning with the vehicles talking with the air and the majestic woods of pine and flora on the Highway E-18. The scenic and serene beauty of Sweden with the lush-green and well nurtured forestry was impressive and comforting. Though my health was not too good owing to over-parting and change of weather yet it was a pleasure and gratifying to travel with our visitors, Ram Saran and family once again to Marieholm to add to our several earlier visits.

It was a fun filled and enjoyable day, though a bit tiring, wading through the beautiful countryside of Uppsala, for our early dinner engagement at Knivsta, a beautiful suburb of Uppsala,  on our way back from Marieholm. Our gracious hosts, Poonam and Inder - close family friends of Anju and Naresh, treated us to sumptuous feast of food and drinks along with other guests. Before I close, It will not be out of place to mention about a newly introduced Swedish drink, Mackmyra, said to be the the first and only single malt whisky of Sweden since 1999. Inder thoughtfully decided to share this with us as yet an another beautiful item of good living in Sweden. As a novice, I found it good with a noticeable difference from other whiskies that it may make you high little too soon with more than 46% volume as compared to about 40% in other whiskies. Sweden, and rightly so, boasts of Mackmyra as one of the finest single malt whiskies made from the crystal clear water, finest barley, matured and stored in the traditional Swedish oak. Skål - Cheers.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Uppsala Revisited - Domkyrkan

Uppsala Revisited - Domkyrkan

As I wrote in my earlier blogs, I came to Stockholm to be with my son Naresh for the Studenten (School Graduation) ceremony of my granddaughter Pallavi. The parents of my daughter-in-law Anju are also here for the same purpose.
With Jimmy (Vivek) at Donkyrkan
Yesterday, June 16, we went to Uppsala for twin purposes of sightseeing in the company of my Sambandhies Bimla and Ram Saran and the studenten reception of Aishwarya daughter of a close family friend, Jaya and Vijay Gupta. Though I had visited Uppsala many a times during the course of my diplomatic assignment with the Embassy of India in early 1990s and my subsequent visits to Sweden yet it was pleasure to visit Uppsala again with the family, a beautiful city famous for its university and research facilities for pharmacology and biotechnology. My grandchildren Pallavi and Arvind also have had their primary schooling in Uppsala and were fully nostalgic about that while helping us as our standby guides.

Our first stop in Uppsala was the famous cathedral, Domkyrkan located between the main building of Uppsala University and the Fyris river. It is a late 13th century majestic structure thoughtfully built in the heart of the town. Uppsala Kyrkan, 389 feet, is the tallest church of the Nordic region.
With Naresh at Domkyrkan
The historical site was the seat of coronation of Swedish monarchs in good old days and also hosted the tombs of many of them and their spouses. Given the importance and its historical background, Uppsala Kyrkan also hosts memorials of archbishops and contemporary personalities, cream of Swedish intelligentia, from scientific and social circles like Dag Hammarsjöld, former Secretary General of the UN. The visit revived my cherished memories of Sweden. The visit was not only relaxing but educative too.

Later in the evening, we attended the studenten reception of Aishwarya, that too hosted in a reception hall of a church located in the lush green vicinity in the outskirts of Uppsala, with an enjoyable company of old and new friends. As usual, the studenten event was full of fun and frolic and emotions with drinks and food in abundance. The green and clean countryside was impressive which was liked by our guests Ram Saran and family particularly Jimmy, a jovial but very responsible youngman.

Earlier in the day in the morning, Anju, vivacious and caring hostess, drove me and her father Ram Saran Sahib to a beautiful and scenic waterfront at a  nearby Norrviken lake in Uppland Väsby, a calm and quiet suburb of Stockholm. Our
With Ram Saran and Arvind at Norviken
cosy abode is located here. The cool breeze in a sunny morning was enticing soothing. Ram Saran Sahib was happy and appreciative and commented that it was satisfying to see that their daughter was living in Swarag (Heaven). Anju nodded in agreement and said that in Swedish language Sweden is written as ‘Sverige’ which phonetically in Hindi and Punjabi sounded as Swarag.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Studenten - Festivities Continue

Studenten - Festivities Continue

My granddaughter Pallavi school graduated on June 12 and I wrote about the grand ceremony in this blog. The festivities continued. The proud parents of Pallavi, Anju and Naresh, hosted a Reception Dinner on June 14 at a dignified venue, Restaurang Foodie, at Kista in Stockholm, silicon valley of Sweden. It was a good fun and a befitting occasion to felicitate, congratulate and bless Pallavi in the gracious
company of friends and well-wishers. Like me, the grand- maternal-parents of Pallavi, Bimlaji and Ram Saran Sahib along with their family, specially came from India to join the family in these happy moments of life. It was all the more pleasure to meet my old friends in Stockholm whom Anju and Naresh invited thoughtfully and also their well cultivated and nurtured band of young friends. It is a matter of great satisfaction for a parent to see their children doing well and living with dignity and respect while earning their bread and butter. It was also a matter of gratification that Indian community was much better of and was contributing positively to the development and progress of their host country, beautiful Sweden, in the process of making their livelihood.

The evening was full with fun and joy. The young crowd, friends of Pallavi and my grandson Arvind, were in real jubilant mood in the spirit of traditional studenten song “Happy days of youthful abandon”. Variety of drinks flowed smoothly along with an assortment of snacks. The formal part of the function was nicely anchored by vivacious Alisha and overwhelmed Arvind and was kicked off by an outpouring of brotherly emotions for his sister Pallavi. Naresh and Anju welcomed the guests and blessed Pallavi with choked voice with emotion and rightly so. The young DJ, a school friend of Pallavi and appropriately named as “Laddu” played sweet and entertaining music. Baby Ashmit, a budding dancer, took the floor and won laurels from the audience.  Ram Saran Sahib accompanied by Anju, hidden talent of the family, contributed a great deal to add to emotional but joyous mood of the evening with songs - Oh Bhappe na sarma, koi japphi shappi pa and Mubarak ho sab ko sama yeh suhana. Pallavi stood with me to deliver vote of thanks which turned out to be ‘outpouring of emotions’ with
wet eyes in the company of our old friends circa early 1990s when I was posted the Embassy of India in course of my diplomatic career and friends and associates of Naresh and Anju, a youthful and sincere lot good people. Taking the opportunity to advice Pallavi and her young friends present in the party, I quoted a befitting homely, “There is no elevator to success, one has to take the stairs” and concluded with inspirational Urdu poetry:

मेरे अल्ला बुराई से बचाना मुझको,
नेक जो राह है उसपे चलाना मुझको!

अपना मुकदर आप बनाते हैं अहले दिल,
हम वह नहीं जीने ज़माना बना गया!

Friends of Pallavi, young and spirited teenage boys and girls, danced on a Hindi filmy song and invited the eagerly waiting gracious and gorgeous ladies along with their partners to join them and set the floor on fire with their dance, Bhangra and Gidda, on the toe taping music of DJ Laddu. The party headed towards conclusion with the serving of a well laid out dinner. Thanks Anju and Naresh for hosting a nice and enjoyable evening on the big day of Pallavi. God bless you. I will like to take the opportunity to thank our old friend Param who made all arrangements of hospitality at the party under the banner of his company - Asha Caterers and Event Managers, an outfit successfully operating not only in Sweden but also in other neighbouring countries of Scandinavia.

It is a studenten season in Sweden. Ever since I landed in Stockholm on June 6, apart from Pallavi’s studenten celebrations, I enjoyed the lovely studenten parties of close friends of Anju and Naresh - Sonali daughter of  Ajay Pal and Puneet son of Inderpal Singh, both successful businessmen in Sweden by the their own right. Tomorrow, June 16, we will join the studenten party of Aishwarya the daughter of yet another close friend of our family, Vijay Gupta, a highly placed professional in biotechnology living in a beautiful town Uppsala, some 60 kms. from Stockholm. It is a matter of satisfaction that the children of the Indian community were coming of age in good number as second generation and would positively add to the existing good profile of the community. The spectacle of Indian Tri-colour at the studenten celebrations in various schools was encouraging and gratifying.

Tailpiece: Incidentally, today, June 15,  we have entered 50th year of our married life - sweet and sour. Still we have miles to go. Greetings from Sweden.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Studenten - School Graduation Ceremony in Sweden

Studenten - School Graduation Ceremony in Sweden

I am in Stockholm for the Secondary School Graduation Ceremony, called “Studenten” in Swedish terminology, of my granddaughter Pallavi. The ceremony took place in her school “Rudbeck Gymnasium” today, June 12, 2018 with
great fun and frolic and also solemnity. The day is one of the greatest days in the life of a student in Sweden since long. The student pass out his or her basic education to enter life as an adult at 18 with a ‘roller coaster of emotions’. Parents get happy to complete their responsibility by making their child a worthy member of the society. The state gets satisfaction in getting a productive citizen. These notions and expectations are real in the further development and progress of the society at large. We, in the developing countries like India, are yet to learn and transform our educational system to conform to these lofty goals to match our developed counterparts like Sweden.
Pallavi’s day started with a ‘Champagne Breakfast’ hosted by her alma mater. The formal ceremony of award of school graduation was held at the school in all solemnity with white caps on the heads of new graduates, an insignia of secondary school graduation. We waited outside of the school, alongwith friends of Pallavi and friends and also well-wishers of the proud parents of Pallavi, Naresh and Anju and her loving brother Arvind to receive the young and vivacious new graduate Pallavi with placards of her childhood photos, as per the studenten tradition. The entire vicinity of the school was filled with people like us with loud music, champagne and other drinks, trucks, trailers and other fancy means of transportation ducked and decorated with colourful balloons and flags. Our friends also came fully prepared for the day with traditional Punjabi Dhol and moving Hindi and Punjabi songs to receive and felicitate Pallavi. After the school ceremony, the new graduates boarded the open trucks and trailers for the roadshow in the area. It was a spectacle of seer fun and joy with champagne wash. We
came back home with a few friends for an informal champagne luncheon in the decked compound with the sun playing hide and seek. The school organised a formal dinner to bid-farewell to the new graduates on contributory basis in which the friends of young graduates could join. The day was totally packed with these activities. I was reminded of the Studenten Ceremony of my daughter Vaishali in 1993 from a prestigious school Kungsholmens Gymnasium in downtown Stockholm. The only difference I noticed was that the traditional ceremony had became more ostentatious and noisy. The young graduates and their friends were more open and free to drink and act as they wished. It was reflective of the changing social and civic norms for the good or bad, it was difficult to say, notwithstanding the spirit of freedom and confidence. I have a clear understanding an impression that the Studenten ceremony has a lot of meaning for the younger lot, the future leaders of the country, and also for the society. But the solemnity of the occasion has to be maintained. The young graduates by their own right have a sense of elation but it should equally match with a sense of responsibility when they have reached the doorsteps of adulthood to enter the knitty gritty of life. They should remain with an open mind as some wise man has said, “Life is like a parachute, it only functions when open”.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Bits and Pieces – As I Please – 15

Bits and Pieces – As I Please – 15

Khuralgarh Sahib – Guru Ravidass Memorials- With a lapse of more than three years, I visited Khuralgarh Sahib–Guru Ravidass Memorial of Charan Cho-Ganga at Garhshankar in Hoshiarpur district of Punjab on May 26 for a meeting of Schedule Caste Entrepreneurs Empowerment Forum (SCEEF) of which I happen to be a “Margdarshak” which was hosted by Sant Satwinder Hira at the holy site of Guru Ravidass. I regret to say that I could not see much change in the not so happy situation as far as the progress and development of the memorial is concerned except a newly done approach road to the site.
The things were as disorganized as it were. The important spots like the holy tree, charan- cho-ganga among others are still in tenements and dilapidated. The path ways are not in place. There was no vehicular control. All kinds of big and small vehicles were entering the main compound and parked as one liked. People were squatting all over even in the sanctum sanctorum (main hall) of the memorial. There were no arrangements for the removal of shoes. New construction was also taking place in a hap-hazard way. There was no proper arrangement for the recital of Gurbani and Kirtan. The tenement shops in the compound were yet another nuisance to add to the list of some of the shortcomings at this important memorial. I venture to write this not to criticize but to alert and make aware the management of the site and the followers of the great Guru with a view to have introspection and move for the better. 

It is easier said than done. I was informed that the new management under Sant Satwinder Singh Hira was fully seized of the matter and were gearing themselves to set the development of the site in motion. I personally witnessed that Sant Hira was fully engaged in meeting people, particularly the younger lot, with a view to see that the memorial of Guru Ravidass was developed as it should be. It was gratifying to note that an unending stream of faithfuls of all age groups from parts of Punjab and even from outside were barging in to pay their obeisance to the revered Guru. The spirit and sense of identity was clearly visible on the faces of these spontaneous visitors. 

The area and the identified sites to be developed as memorials has a considerable potential to become a tourist trail with – the Charan-Cho-Ganga, Minar-e- Begumpura, Sute where Guru Ravidass was kept in Jail, Tourism Guest House and other related facilities. I would like to take this opportunity to urge the concerned Deras/Managements and both the Governments of Punjab and the Centre to pay added attention to give impetus to the development of the memorials of Guru  Ravidass, an apostle of harmony and fraternity as a befitting tribute to the great Guru.

Wooing of Dalits by the Privileged Hindus – The socio-political paradigm of the country is changing fast and rightly so. The things have come full circle, it seems. The forces of democracy unleashed by icons like Guru Ravidass, Jyotiba Phule, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Mahatma Gandhi, Babu Kanshi Ram, inter alia, contributed to the process as ‘Game Changers’. The principle of ‘one vote; one value’ has resulted in ‘Vote Banks’ which the political parties dare not ignore. Keeping these ground realities in mind, RSS,
BJP and even the left parties like CPI, CPM and even SP and regional parties, who hitherto kept considered distance from Babasaheb Ambedkar and his mission, are falling on each other to claim the legacy of Dr. Ambedkar on one hand and the Congress Party, who enjoyed the backing of dalits for long   since independence with Babu Jagjivan Ram, D. Sanjivia and their associates as its allies, is trying to woo the dalits to have their continued support. The recent dalit assertion for social change and the fast changing political alignments based on caste considerations have compelled all social and political forces in the country to woo dalits at least in their apparent and openly professed love for dalits. My own small but firsthand experience in the small towns in the doaba region of Punjab clearly gave me a sense of the agenda being carried forwarded by the right wing Hindu outfits under the overall control and direction by the RSS. Of late, some Sants of established spiritual Deras of Punjab, Sant Satwinder Hira of All India Ad-dharam Mandal and Baba Nirmal Singh Jaure of Jalandhar, were invited to Nagpur for respective functions to bring them into the fold of their spiritual, cultural and political scheme of things. The Peeli Kothi, RSS office in Jalandhar celebrated the birth anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar on April 14. They invited me as the Chief Guest at the function. Again on May 27, Vidya Bharti at Jalandhar, an educational institution of the RSS, hosted a Talk on “Babasaheb Ambedkar Ke Sapnon Ka Bharat” at which Head of an RSS Think Tank, J. Nandkumar delivered a key note address. I also spoke as a Guest of Honour at the Talk besides an RSS Pracharak Vijay Singh Nadda. On May 26, newly appointed head of the Vishav Hindu Parishad, Alok Kumar and a senior RSS functionary Banveer Singh visited Charan-Cho-Ganga, a Guru Ravidass Memorial, at Khuralgarh in Hoshiarpur and paid obeisance at the holy place. PM Narendra Modi and CM Aditayanath Yogi went to Seergoverdhanpur, birthplace of Guru Ravidass, in Varanasi (Kashi) on the invitation of Sant Niranan Dass of Dera Sachkhand Balan, the custodians of the Guru Ravidass Memorial at the site.These are some of the recent activities of the right wing Hindus to placate dalits of Punjab. It seems that they are more than eager to make inroads into dalit vote banks in the run up to the 2019 elections. They very well know that the RSS agenda was still an anathema to most of the dalits but still they would not leave it at that to change the dalit perception of the RSS. I advised them, in my humble capacity, whenever they involved me in these activities, that much needed to be done by lifting themselves from mere lip service and media hype and prayers in the closed door meetings. The untouchability and caste based discrimination need to be taken up head on by the RSS and other Hindu outfits. The Manuvadi mindset needs to be changed with sincerity. Sooner the better.