Saturday, 21 January 2017

Epilogue

I hope you have enjoyed reading this series of posts (starting at [1]) as much as I enjoyed writing them. I have also consolidated them into a single "Mini Blog Novel". Please do share it if you like it. That will help me get across my effort at writing to more readers who may enjoy it.

Here's sharing some thoughts as I put the pen down on this story:

Whether it is the blues, or rock n' roll, or jazz, or folk music, or the opera, or ghazals, or light Indian music, many songs are about love based on sexuality. I suppose that is only natural since sexual attraction and the manner in which the masculine and feminine aspects are drawn towards and complement each other is perhaps one of the stronger pulls many experience in their lives. Yet there is something that worries and troubles me and I would like to talk about it a bit as I bring this series of posts to a close.

It seems that some people are entering relationships at early ages nowadays. By early I mean in schools and the beginning years of college life. I do not wish to lay a morality based sermon on anyone but rather simply appeal to the common sense that I believe is innate in everyone.

There is something called "adulthood" that we all recognize and are aware of. There is a certain psycho-physio-logical development that needs to happen in our minds and bodies before we can call ourselves adults. Reaching this stage is essential if one is to appreciate the intimacy between lovers in its true sense. And this development takes its time. It cannot be hurried. If one enters a sexual relationship before this development has consolidated in their being, one risks either being overwhelmed by it or trivializing it to an extent that it may become difficult to appreciate and have a fulfilling relationship later in life. Worse, one can get emotionally and psychologically disturbed and this can take a long time to heal later. Sex and intimacy are not just plain physical acts and neither do relationships have to be just about responding to the highs and lows of emotions. Viewed in the right spirit, these lead to a communion between two human beings that can be very beautiful and deep. But one has to arrive at a certain stage of life within for this to happen first.

Your school and college years are for you to grow as individuals and consolidate yourselves. Use these years to understand yourselves, gain a mastery over your minds and emotions and consolidate your personalities. If this doesn't happen, if you are not consolidated within as a mature individual, where is the question of you actually relating with another individual in a meaningful manner?

[As someone I have deeply respected over the years said once: In a relationship one expects that half and half will make one but it seems like today half and half makes one fourth! I would take that one step further. I think often half and half simply cancel out and arrive at a zero.

Isn't this what we are seeing around us? I think one significant reason for this is that people have not paid attention to and spent their younger years in growing in wisdom and maturity themselves.]

Alongside, discover your callings and nurture them. Resolve to aspire for excellence in whatever subjects or pursuits you feel passionate about. It may be science or mathematics, or history, or art, or music, or sports, or law, or medicine, or philosophy, or yoga, or meditation and spirituality, or whichever other positive pursuit you find your calling in. Focus your energies and attention in whichever direction you wish to grow in and develop the momentum that will propel you towards trying to attain a mastery of it in your lives. Your school and college days are precious from this viewpoint. This time and the levels of energy you carry with you now will never come back. Use these years very very sensibly.

And when you are consolidated, when you are clear about and focused on your goals, when you are grown up, wise and mature, and feel that having a companion would make your life and the journey through it more beautiful, by all means go for it! If you and your partner enter a relationship or marriage with a developed wisdom and maturity, chances are that you will have a fulfilling relationship. May it be so for you, may you be happy and may you sing many a song for each other.

But then sometimes things don't work out the way we want them to despite all our best intentions and efforts. This is where my emphasis on being clear about your individual focus and a commitment to aspiring for excellence in subjects or pursuits of your choice comes into play. If you develop this clarity when you are young, you will be able to handle the downs of life that much better. So if things are not working out for you and your partner or spouse despite your best efforts, well, sometimes one has to let go and accept that sadness also comes around once in a while in life. Let go when you know you've given it your best and its time to let go, sing yourself a few blues songs, and then move on...

I wish you the very best in all aspects of your life! Do not stop short of complete enlightenment! As one of my favorite personalities, Swami Vivekananda, once said:

Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached.

18


The evening program at the main stage started with a performance by Carey Bell who specialized in playing the Blues Harmonica. Here, give him a listen :) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzIixtNFQT8. Carey Bell performed for over an hour mesmerizing us with song after song. I had no idea that a simple harmonica could be made to sound that good and one could do so much with it. It was just amazing to sit there and listen to him and the band backing him (which of course was awesome too!). He got quite an ovation when he completed his set, and yes, we had him back for an encore before we allowed him to take his bow.

Carey Bell was followed by two more greats, Texas Johnny Brown (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6MxGH7H5mM) and Olu Dara (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1N9hhVzuQg) before Ruth Brown took stage.

Ruth Brown, sometimes known as the Queen of R&B, was AWESOME that night. You want to see some A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E? Here, have a listen, that's the Queen singing with the King himself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfuQ4ZF0nF4. Here's one of her performances with Bonnie Raithttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fADIumYD4Tw. And here she is again with Bonnie Rait and James Brown: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3ly3tgsxFI.

Ms. Brown (gotta stay respectful to the Queen!) belted out number after number that night in that big booming soulful voice of hers. I had never heard the blues being sung that way and was completely blown away. And it wasn't just me. She had the whole audience under her spell for the entire hour and a half or so that she sang. We must have brought her back on stage two or three times for encores before we finally allowed her to end her performance and left our seats.

Ruth Brown was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993. Here's her acceptance speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7y75T7qC1FY.

The next day was no less entertaining. We saw a bit of Michael Roach and Jerry Ricks, listened to Kelly Joe Phelps on the slide guitar and enjoyed some more old school blues with Robert Jr. Lockwood before joining the audience at the main stage in the evening. Jim and Soo Jung joined us after a while. It was good to see them again and we were happy that we got a chance to wish them well and say goodbye before we headed back to West Lafayette the next morning. Together we saw the vocal-guitar duo of Nolan Struck & King EdwardToni Lynn Washington and Tyrone Davis.

By the time we reached Ptom and Sonali's house on Sunday night the five of us were "blues saturated" (in a very good sense!). We were in calm, good spirits and wound down as we sat around, sipped on hot lemon tea and chatted with each other. We didn't stay up too late as everyone needed to start fairly early the next day, particularly Prosh, Lan and myself as we had to drive back to West Lafayette, return the car at the rental agency and get to the university in good time.

The drive back was really nice. There was very little traffic since we started quite early and the early morning breeze felt nice and fresh. We rolled down the windows and put in a CD. I don't remember who we were listening to now but maybe it was B. B. King and Lucille singing The Thrill is Gone.

I reckon Lan must have noticed that my mind was still at the blues festival. True to form, he chirped a question at me with a grin and a glint in the eye: "Say Brij, Don't you have a meeting with your advisor in the afternoon?" The punk!


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17

[This post can be read independently. But if you are interested, the story starts here: http://a-weekend-in-chicago.blogspot.in/2017/01/1.html]

We found ourselves immersed in music and celebration from the moment we stepped into Millenium Park that Saturday afternoon.

Millenium Park is a fairly large and very well maintained recreational park. The organizers had set up four stages of which there were three relatively small ones that featured a variety of bands through the afternoon while the fourth larger stage was dedicated to feature performances in the evening. Ruth Brown was scheduled to perform a little after eight in the evening that day at the large stage and we were all eager to see and hear her perform. But there was a whole lot of music to be appreciated before that and the five of us were happy campers.

The different stages were set up sufficiently apart from each other to ensure that the sound emanating from any one did not interfere with the performances underway at the others. I suppose this also had to do with the directions in which the stages faced and the volume levels maintained at each stage. One could thus enjoy a performance at any one stage thoroughly for as long as one wished and walk over to another whenever one wanted to check another band out.

Homesick James (a slide guitar player; and yes, that must've been his nickname :)) and Henry Townsend (singer, guitarist and  pianist) came up on one of the stages about when we reached. Here are a couple of songs by them that you may enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kl7d2bJU5nwhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsBIivmINQI. We leaned back in our seats and enjoyed listening to these two gentlemen for a while. This was perhaps the realest (I know I'm just coining a word but its apt) blues I'd heard, and not on a CD or cassette tape, but live and straight from two old blues men.

Meanwhile, Deitra Farr was singing on another stage with Johnny Rawls accompanying her and we wanted to listen to them too. So after a while we got up quietly, gave Homesick James and Henry Townsend an imaginary tip of the hat, and made our way there.

Here you go, here's a Deitra Farr song for you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPPNsuCVT08.

She can sing, yes? And it would be something to see her live, yes? Live music rocks, yes? That's what I keep telling folks. We need to take the live music scene in our country to the next level.

Sure we can have live blues and rock n' roll. I would enjoy that and I reckon you would find me at many such performances. I reckon discovering good blues and rock n' roll bands in India would be a journey in itself. Here's a live performance by Soulmate from Shillong that you may enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjGVp3JgvAs. Then there is Shakti that has worked for years on fusing Jazz with Indian classical music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p71QK5TZDCc. Here's another composition by them featuring Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdkhdICB3kc.

But what I'm also keen on seeing is a greater thrust to live performances of music that are outright indigenous. Indian classical music of course comes to mind first when I say this and must receive our greatest attention but my focus is also on folk music (and dance). Here's an example of a folk song from Rajasthan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6igYlWqhm-U. Here's one with music and dance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PofLuZJxkVQ. Here's another song from Rajasthan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrgqkHUJtsg. Here's some Punjabi folk music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RT2mSmNjOZ0. And some dance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgAF3O6layA.

I'm giving examples of folk music and dance from the northern part of India because that is where I hail from and this is what I'm more familiar with. But I have no doubt that there is a very rich texture of folk music and dance to be found no matter where one goes in India. And what I'm talking about is bringing all this art forward through regular live performances across the country. Maybe some folk musicians and dancers have already adapted to the modern day performance paradigm. Maybe some will need a little assistance. And maybe for some we agree to meet half way. But in every city, town and village: let there be regular performances of Indian folk music and dance. It will not only help in bringing these artists up and these art forms thriving again but also give us opportunities to step out in the evenings, interact with other people in our communities and celebrate our lives.

That would be something, wouldn't it?

But yes, as I said in my last post as well, for this to happen in a sustainable manner, which in turn requires that it be economically feasible for the artists, we have to be willing to spend money to buy tickets for these performances. For most of us this requires only a small mindset shift. We simply have to be as willing to spend on the finer things in life as we perhaps are for spending on material goods: expensive hotel and restaurant food, designer clothes, cars and jewellery.

But coming back to the blues festival for now :)...Deitra Farr was singing with Johnny Rawls accompanying her. Here's some Johnny Rawls for you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9iKIZUkbTc.

There was another old school blues musician, David "Honeyboy" Edwards playing that afternoon. We decided to go listen to him for a while before heading to the large stage for that evening's feature performances. Here's one by him for you to enjoy till the next part of this series of posts comes up. He's the grandpa in the center and was 94 years old when this was recorded. That's some spirit eh?

Here goes...enjoy:



(to be continued... Link)

16

[This post can be read independently. But if you are interested, the story starts here: http://a-weekend-in-chicago.blogspot.in/2017/01/1.html]

It was about two in the afternoon when we stepped out to head to the festival. The sun was up and shining bright but Chicago being the windy city there was also a nice cool breeze coming in from Lake Michigan that adjoins it. All five of us were in good spirits and smiled, laughed and chit chatted about this, that and the other on the way.

We took the L (Chicago’s metro train service) to Washington (one of the stations served by the L in Chicago). Millenium Park, the venue for the annual blues festival, was only about a fifteen minute stroll from there.

If you’ve ever been to Chicago, you surely remember the street musicians. That’s quite something, isn’t it? From individual guitar players, saxophonists and singers to full groups with drums, bass, guitars and vocals belting out tunes right in the open and people actually stopping to either listen to them, or just for a moment to drop a dollar or two in their money collection boxes (which are sometimes just hats turned upside down!). Most of these musicians are actually pretty good and one often feels that for some a break to play in proper concerts and have a decent career in music is just around the corner.

I suppose one can view this street musician culture from two different viewpoints. One could feel that it’s a bit unfortunate that there aren’t enough venues for musicians to play in a more consolidated manner instead of making it happen at the street level. On the other hand I suppose its also true that there are perhaps always going to be more aspiring musicians and artists than venues for them to display their art and talent. From this viewpoint, I think its completely to the credit of the city administration, the musicians themselves, and most of all the people who take the time to appreciate and encourage the musicians, that this culture is being sustained. It creates an opportunity for musicians to sustain themselves as they work towards getting a better break, which in turn ensures that an active pursuit and appreciation of music itself continues to thrive.

Actually music (and art in general) are fairly strongly emphasized in the american culture. The story I’m telling right now revolves around one particular edition of the annual blues festival at Chicago. Chicago also holds an annual jazz festival every year. And these are not just features of Chicago. If you do a web search on blues and jazz festivals in america, you will find that many different cities have these. But once again, it must be emphasized that music doesn’t come alive there only in festivals. Pretty much every single city and town, no matter how small, has venues where musicians perform regularly and people collect to enjoy their performances. And not just blues, jazz or rock. Classical music is emphasized as well. There are venues where symphonies and orchestras play regularly. Even this is not the complete story. Most, if not all, universities (and they have a very large number of good universities - there must be at least a thousand good universities across that country) have a thriving school of music where students train to become professional musicians and composers in different styles and forms. Their pursuit of a career in music is not valued any less than careers in science, technology, medicine or law. That country and its people recognize the importance of art, the beauty and benediction it brings in society and life, and ensure that art thrives.

This must have been true at some point in time in our part of the world as well. Else what else explains the rich legacy of Hindustani classical and Carnatic music that has been bequeathed to us? The sheer variety of musical instruments that developed and evolved here: SitarSarodEsrajRudra VeenaTanpuraBansuriShehnaiSarangiSantoorTablaPakhavajVeenaGottuvadhyam and many more (https://www.swarganga.org/instrumentbase.php). It may be interesting to spend some time on a platform such as youtube when you get a moment and explore compositions and performances that have stemmed from our heritage.

Not just music: Art must have thrived here in various other forms as well. Dance comes to mind right after music: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_classical_dance. Then sculpture (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sculpture_in_South_Asia): The next time you go to one of the older temples that are still standing (and there are many of them, here are some: http://www.indiatimes.com/culture/travel/13-beautiful-ancient-temples-in-india-that-will-take-you-back-in-time-231535.html) take a moment to appreciate the intricacy of sculpture on display there. I think we had taken sculpture as an art form to magnificent heights. Painting and fine art too: our legacy on this front is perhaps most visible today on fabric.

I believe we need to recover this spirit of artistic expression. Yes there are classical music festivals that happen in India too (here are some: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Indian_classical_music_festivals). But I do not feel that this is nearly enough. An appreciation of the finer aspects of culture and life has to soak into our very personas and the fabric of our society. This will only happen if we engage with music and musicians, art and artists, regularly. And while listening to the radio or the gigabytes of mp3 / mp4 files that we have downloaded and stored on our computers or enjoying music on platforms such as youtube does serve to maintain some connect, I do not believe this can ever replace the experience of live music. That is something quite different and I believe central to keeping music as a human aspiration, expression and appreciation alive. So with theatre, so with poetry sessions, so with art galleries.

That would be my central emphasis: we need to have venues in each and every city, town and village which feature regular music performances (light as well as classical, eastern as well as western), dance recitals (classical as well as popular, eastern as well as western), theatre shows, poetry sessions and fine art and sculpture exhibitions and we go to enjoy and appreciate these. This will (a) give an impetus to artists and their art and bring them a much needed economic sustenance and (b) create more avenues for us to step out, connect with the community around us and celebrate life.

Yes, for this to happen in a sustainable manner, which in turn requires that it be economically feasible for the artists, we have to be willing to spend money to buy tickets for these performances and exhibitions. For most of us this requires but a small mindset shift. It has been my observation that many of us are fairly comfortable shelling out cash for material goods: expensive hotel and restaurant food, designer clothes, cars and jewellery but are very very hesitant to spend money towards appreciating the finer things life has to offer. I may be wrong but I think this in turn starts reflecting in our personalities and the overall quality of life we live. A shallowness of thought, emotion and spirit creeps in and one lives a relatively coarse life instead of living with grace and sensitivity. It is my feeling that engaging regularly with art and finer aspects of life can start restoring us to a more balanced mindset and life. So in a sense the money we spend will not just ensure that artists and musicians are able to earn a livelihood while practising their art but will also feed back into increasing the quality of our lives and minds as well.

[I need to make a note here that I believe is fairly important: While I'm emphasizing that we need to take a cue from the americans and their appreciation of art and culture and take steps to rejuvenate the same in our country, I believe they have made one mistake (which we might have made too at some point in the past), which is this: a lot of musicians there get into drugs and alcohol and often destroy themselves. Many of their fans take themselves down the same road since their idols are doing it and end up wasting their potential. You will find a strong presence of alcohol in most venues that feature regular performances of blues / jazz / rock music. I think we can and should avoid this pitfall. We need to break this link. When we go to enjoy music, whether it be film and popular songs in different Indian languages or folk music or ghazals or Indian classical or blues or jazz or rock or western classical, let our appreciation be derived directly and fully from the music itself instead of necessitating the presence of alcohol or drugs alongside. I think that will lead to a far richer and deeper appreciation of music and our enjoyment of it will be cleaner and healthier. Music has the power to move us and bring us bliss by itself - anyone who has loved and appreciated music knows this.]

We came across some pretty good street musicians that afternoon as we made our way to Millenium Park. My personal favourite was a guitar player with a double neck guitar who was quietly finger tapping away Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” – his right hand tapping the chords and rhythms on one of the necks while his right hand tapped out the melody on the other – when we reached him. He had recorded cassettes with his guitar playing that he was selling for a nominal price. I bought one when we were ready to move on. What talent!

(to be continuedLink)

[Talking about the artistic aspect of our cultural heritage, I think we took culinary skills and food to the level of an art form as well, no less. The sheer variety of dishes in this country and the intricacy with which they are cooked is simply mind boggling. Plus it is my impression that many of the herbs and spices we use don’t just provide flavour and aroma – they are good for us as well. Perhaps they have medicinal value; maybe we’ll find more information regarding this in Ayurveda. This is not to say that we need to approach this topic and believe everything blindly. But why shouldn’t we look into things, on a case to case basis if necessary, and appreciate and persist with whatever good we may find? But the way we are going, how long do you think before we are overwhelmed on this front by burgers, pizzas, sandwiches and diet coke?]

15

[This post can be read independently. But if you are interested, the story starts here: http://a-weekend-in-chicago.blogspot.in/2017/01/1.html]

“Hiya Marty!”, Jim called out to Ptom as we stepped into his office. That’s what many of Ptom’s friends in Chicago called him: Marty, short for Amartya.

Ptom: Hey Jim, How’s it going?

Jim: Doing good Marty, doing good. Soo Jung mentioned you were here with your friends and would drop in once you were done shopping.

Ptom: Yeah, she’s being very kind and getting our stuff bagged and billed while we chat. Let me introduce you to my friends who are visiting for the weekend. This is Shriram, that there is Ilan and this is Brij. Guys, this is Jim.

Jim: Hi guys, nice to meet y’all. So you’re here for the fest, eh?

Prosh (smiling): Yeah, and nice to meet you as well.

We all chatted about this, that and the other for a bit. The atmosphere was relaxed and we all felt at ease as we settled into our chairs and sipped on our coffees that Jim poured out for us. I no longer remember much of what we talked about that day but this was a quality that I remember having sensed in Jim right from that first time I met him. One would feel at ease with him right away. There was an alertness about him but it didn’t seem to be accompanied by any intent to make an impression, to come across as this or that, airs of any sort or defensiveness about anything. He was just naturally himself. I always enjoy meeting such people and talking with them.

The other thing that caught my attention within the first few minutes of entering his office were the books. Wall fulls of books, if there is a phrase like that. There were books on Quantum Mechanics, Relativity, Thermodynamics, Calculus, Topology and Algebra. There were also books on different philosophical and mystical systems. There were books by Descarte, Aristotle, Plato and Hume. There were also books on different schools of Buddhism. There were Upanishads and translations of all the four Vedas along with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and texts on higher states of consciousness written by Yogis, meditators and mystics. There were commentaries on different texts by Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya and Madhvacharya. Then there were books on literature – fiction as well as non fiction, prose as well as poetry. And this was in the office of a grocery store! My mind was completely blown away!

It was at another instance much later when I knew Jim well enough that I asked him the following question:

Say Jim, you have books that belong to completely different schools of thought. And you clearly have been reading them carefully. You yourself are pursuing a Physics degree and have a passion for the subject. But at the same time you seem to also hold an interest in the Upanishads, Vedas and Yoga philosophy and practice. Aren’t these conflicting ways of describing and understanding nature?

Jim (laughing): It doesn’t work like that Brij, at least not for me. Don’t you know that Schrodinger himself drew inspiration from the Upanishads during his work in the area of quantum mechanics? It’s all knowledge Brij. My way is this: I am curious about nature, about the universe I live in, about myself, my mind and my relation with my surroundings. And I keep myself open to pursuits of knowledge from different points of view. I read, I understand, I think, I practice Yoga and meditation. If there are connections between different schools of thoughts and viewpoints, I will see them for myself. If there aren’t and I need to choose one over the other at some stage then I will make that choice. No problem. But as of now I am a seeker. I am seeking truth. Why should I look through only some windows and not through others? In any case my ideal and goal is to be able to hold all of it together in my mind consciously and with awareness. Yes I am pursuing a degree in Physics right now, and I am enjoying the subject thoroughly. After that I might choose to get an advanced degree in Physics itself. Or I might move into mathematics and try and get a clearer grasp of the math that underlies a whole lot of theoretical physics. Or I might decide to move into Philosophy. You do know that science itself used to be called natural philosophy once, right? Or maybe I'll take up applied science and engineering. Applying knowledge to the benefit of humanity and the environment is something I deeply respect. So I’ll make the choice of what I want to study deeper when the time comes and based on my understanding and awareness then.

Just imagine having that conversation with someone who on the surface of it was simply someone who farmed and ran a grocery store. I was so inspired! I still carry that inspiration with me and try and follow Jim’s example as far as I can. Knowledge happens to be my fundamental pursuit too and Jim cleared up something basic for me that day. There really is no conflict as long as I stay alert and aware in my pursuit, keep myself sharp and questioning and keep moving forward with a quiet self confidence. I once heard in a talk that the word Guru is made of two parts: Gu (darkness) and Ru (the remover of). Jim certainly dispelled some darkness in that conversation and has been one of my Gurus in that sense.

I have observed recently that I don't tire of telling students in my classes to get excited about pursuing knowledge. I would give this advice to anyone without any hesitation: If you can, ignite the fire of knowledge within you. Ask deeper questions: Who are you? There is all this intelligence in you that you are able to use to understand things, navigate through life, overcome difficulties, make decisions. How does this intelligence function? So many thoughts and emotions arise in you. Where do they come from? Are you in charge of your life or are these tossing you around like a boat on a rough sea? What is the nature of your mind? You experience the world around you through your senses. What is the nature of this world, this universe? Become a seeker of truth. That will consolidate you and give you direction like nothing else.

You choose your principal path as per your interests: it could be science, it could be philosophy (science itself is a branch of philosophy called natural philosophy), it could be understanding the scriptures and contemplating over them, it could be Yoga and meditation, it could be music or dance (I don't know enough about music and dance forms from across the world to comment but I've been told that Indian classical music as well as dance can be, if interpreted and practiced correctly, paths towards self knowledge and not limited to forms of entertainment). Its your choice.

But at the same time respect other paths and stay open to learning from them. To not do so is shallow.

And remember that you can seek knowledge and truth regardless of the profession you practice to earn your livelihood. You might be a lawyer, a bureaucrat, a politician, a doctor, a nurse, a farmer, a businessman or businesswoman, a mechanic, a plumber, a carpenter, a tailor, a cobbler, an archeologist, a historian, a security guard, an auto or taxi driver: it doesn't matter. If Jim can seek knowledge and truth being a farmer and grocery shop owner, so can you and I. And once you are far enough in your journey (no stopping till you reach the goal!) and are able and inclined towards transmitting knowledge to others, by all means become a teacher or a professor.

As Swami Vivekananda once said: "Pleasure is not the goal of man, but knowledge". Its another matter that Knowledge perhaps bestows a magnitude of pleasure that perhaps nothing else can.

Finally, do I feel any conflict between the pure and applied aspects of knowledge? No I don't :). I'm comfortable with and interested in both. I'm digging deep and going after complete enlightenment but at the same time I also like to apply whatever I know to improve the human condition and make this planet a more beautiful, bountiful and purer place to live [which is different from working with a "profit at any cost" mentality - that's a level I have never stooped to and am committed to keep it that way].


Soo Jung walked in after a while and joined us.

Soo Jung: All your stuff bagged and stuffed in your backpacks guys. Here’s the bill Ptom. I’ve put the amount on your tab. You can go ahead and pay the total amount at the end of the month as usual.

Ptom: Thanks so much Soo Jung. This was really kind of you.

Soo Jung: Not a problem Ptom. You are very welcome. (Looking at us all) That’s quite a variety you guys have picked up today. So many different fruits and vegetables. You guys planning a feast?

Ptom: Yeah, I think we’re gonna lay out a big table today, what with so many chefs in the house. Come to think of it why don’t you two also join us? It’ll be fun.

Jim (smiling): Would’ve loved to Ptom, would’ve loved to. But will take a rain check on this one. It’s been a while since I took my missus out for a date. We’ve been so busy at the store and I’ve also been caught up with my studies a lot recently. So today I’m taking her out to the fest and then for dinner.

Married for years and raising three children, yet he could make Soo Jung go pink in her cheeks! She was smiling.

Ptom: Sure thing. You both have a wonderful evening. We’ll do something together another time. Say guys, should we head home? Sonali will be back soon and I guess we better throw together a light lunch by then. We can head to the fest earlier that way.

Ilan: Yeah, sounds good. (Turning to Jim and Soo Jung) It was really nice to meet you both. Hope we meet again some time. And thanks again Soo Jung.

Soo Jung: Don’t mention it. You guys have a great day. I’m sure we’ll meet again.

With that we said our goodbyes, picked up our backpacks on the way out and started our stroll towards home.


(to be continued… Link)

14

[This post can be read independently. But if you are interested, the story starts here: http://a-weekend-in-chicago.blogspot.in/2017/01/1.html]

In case you haven’t read parts [12and [13] of this series of posts I request you to please do so before reading the present post. It will provide the context for whatever I’m about to discuss and propose here. In part 12, just search for the phrase "Humanity Challenge" and read from there. That will suffice for the present purpose.

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If you remember, I had put forward the idea of community run foster homes in the second half of part 12 wherein clusters of housing societies and neighbourhoods would collectively set up and manage foster homes that provide good living conditions, nutritious food, quality healthcare and education till a stage when the child becomes a responsible intelligent adult with a sound sense of self-worth and self-esteem and can integrate with the society at large and make it through life on his or her own. And during an individual’s years at such a foster home the members of the community managing it would befriend them, spend time with them, connect with them as human beings, counsel them in a manner that brings stability and clarity to their minds and hearts and inculcates a sense of confidence and self-respect in them.

Let me first clarify what I have in mind when I use the phrase “clusters of housing societies and neighbourhoods”. How large a set of people am I thinking of as belonging to a typical cluster?

I presently live in the Chittaranjan Park area of New Delhi which is also simply known as C. R. Park. I would peg the total population of C. R. Park at about 40000 residents. Structurally, it is organized in terms of about 19 blocks and pockets.

I would consider the entire C. R. Park area to be one such cluster.

An average contribution of only Rs. 100/- per month from each household (about 10000 of them if we assume about four people per household) would result in a net contribution of Rs. 1,20,00,000/- per year.

How many children and youth do we anticipate will stay in a foster home run by just the C. R. Park area? My guess would be no more than a hundred. With Rupees One Crore and Twenty Lakh available per year through a contribution of only Rs. 100/- per month from every household, can we not take care of these children really well?

Are you beginning to see what collective effort can achieve? Each finger may not be able to push aside poverty, helplessness and destitution from our society - but if the fingers curl together into a fist then I reckon we can pack quite a punch.

What about organizational and administrative aspects?

I think we can draw upon our knowledge of administrative structures in different organizations and bodies that we may already be familiar with and use what we think would work best. There may be different opinions on this and different clusters might use different organizational and administrative structures. I suggest one possibility that occurs to me keeping the block-pocket distribution of C. R. Park in mind:

Each block or pocket can nominate/elect an individual to be on the governing council of the foster home. This governing council can have a term of say three years and its members can elect a convener from amongst themselves to oversee the coordination and management details. The convenership can be on a yearly rotation so that the possibility of one person getting excessively fatigued with such a responsibility can be minimized. The governing council can also nominate individuals to oversee specific responsibilities such as accounts management, ensuring a sustained supply of utilities such as electricity, water and cooking fuel, running the kitchen, clothes provision, healthcare provision, education of children and youth staying at the foster home, etc. If the governing council so wishes, it can hire a small caretaking team that can stay at the home full time and interact with the governing council regularly.

This is one possible organizational structure that comes to my mind in the context of how one particular cluster that I am familiar with is organized. Needless to say, different clusters may implement different structures that work best for them. The main thing is to ensure that the goal of "providing good living conditions, nutritious food, quality healthcare and education till a stage when the child becomes a responsible intelligent adult with a sound sense of self-worth and self-esteem and can integrate with the society at large and make it through life on his or her own" is met. That's what's important at the end of the day no matter how we go about ensuring it happens.

Now for something that didn’t click in my mind till recently:

I believe it’s standard to think of foster homes and old age homes as separate entities that are designed to serve separate sets of people with their specific needs in mind. But think about this: Isn’t it a critical requirement in foster homes that there be grown up people who care for the children and youth staying there and guide them as they grow up? At the same time, wouldn’t it be nice if children and young people were present in old age homes to bring a sense of family to the senior citizens staying there?

Why not merge these two concepts into one? Change the title “community foster home” to “community home”. The community home would now house children and youth without parents as well as senior citizens with each set of people intermingling with the other and a spirit of caring for each other in place. Given their life circumstance, I would guess this spirit will come fairly easily. We can also explicitly discuss this aspect with the residents of the community home and make them understand the value of such a culture being in place.

I had put my guess on the number of children and youth staying at a home belonging to one cluster at being on more than a hundred. How many old people do you think would need to be cared for by any one such cluster?

There would be some who might be well off financially but would prefer to stay at such a community home instead of living independently (which would be understandable since it can sometimes be difficult to take care of oneself in old age) or with their children because they find the atmosphere in their homes oppressive or abusive. Such people would make the required financial contribution to enable their own stay. Their only requirement would be some amount of nursing and tending that sometimes becomes necessary in old age. And this requirement can be met to a large extent by the other residents of the community home themselves.

Then there might be some old people who just have nowhere to go. I see such people on the roads often, begging for a few rupees so that they can just get by their days somehow. I would once again peg the number of such people who would need to be accommodated in a community home being run by one cluster as being no more than a hundred.

If the above quoted net contribution of about Rs. 1,20,00,000/- per year falls short of what is required to care for a total of about two hundred old people and children and youth without their own families, maybe we can think of an average contribution of Rs. 200/- per household per month. That's still very very nominal and would add up to Rs. 2,40,00,000/- per year. I believe that will be more than enough for our purpose.

I reckon we have a good situation emerging, a very good situation: If we are willing to organize ourselves in clusters like this and share the overall responsibility I think we can ensure that not one child or youth grows up uncared for and feeling like an orphan and not one old person need feel abandoned and go through hardships in their old age.

Are you with me :) ? If you're feeling that all this is too new and are having doubts about whether it can be pulled off, just go over this post once again and mull over what I'm saying. Maybe I've got some numbers off and the figures need to be revised at places but I'm pretty sure that I'm zoning in nicely on the fact that such an effort is well within our reach. I think the only real challenge is being able to overcome whatever resistance we may be feeling in our minds.

What was it that John Lennon said once? "It's easy if you try..."
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(to be continued... Link)

13

[This post can be read independently. But if you are interested, the story starts here: http://a-weekend-in-chicago.blogspot.in/2017/01/1.html]

If Jim is coming across as a chap with a heart of gold then trust me, Soo Jung was no less. Here’s a conversation that I recall:

Me: Say Soo Jung, Jim has the cause of kids growing up in foster homes close to his heart and wants to do as much as he can to improve their situation. Other than supporting him in this goal of his, do you have a cause that is close to your heart?

Soo Jung: First of all Brij, that’s not just his goal. It’s ours. We’ve had a deep sense of belongingness with each other from the time we became friends and then decided to be together. So we don’t think of any goal as being his or mine. We take them as our goals. But to answer your question, yes, I like to see elderly people happy. They have bequeathed this planet to us. They’ve gone through their challenges to make the world what it is today. There are parts of our world we may like and parts we may not. But I suppose that’s how it always is and I think we need to ensure that their old age is as comfortable and peaceful as possible. Although my parents stay with Jim and myself, and we prefer it that way, several elderly people stay in old age homes and I direct a lot of my efforts and resources towards ensuring that they have a good life. In this country it’s not money that is the primary challenge when it comes to old age homes but providing the elders staying there with good companionship. They like it when people visit them, spend some time with them and talk with them. I do that a fair bit. But things are better in your country, right? From what I’ve heard the need for old age homes is much lesser there as it’s inbuilt in family values that people take care of their parents when they are old.

Me: Yes, that’s true. It is a part and parcel of our value system. And I think it’s a great thing. Parents make tremendous sacrifices to bring us up and I don't think it’s even something to be said explicitly that we need to take care of them in their old age. It’s an implicit and obvious responsibility and is certainly not a burden. It’s just a manifestation of love for one’s parents as it was a manifestation of their love for us when we grew up and they had to put up with many an inconvenience to bring us up well. I’m so glad to hear that your parents stay with you and Jim. Feels nice to hear that.

But I must also admit that not everything is always hunky dory in Indian homes. Many a time people don’t treat their parents well at all. Instead of living in comfort and peace parents end up becoming servile to their children and their spouses. They are made to carry out menial household tasks and shoulder responsibilities that their children should be shouldering as adults. In such situations I wonder if it wouldn’t be better if these elderly people had the choice of saying enough is enough and moving themselves into an old age home. Many parents in India make the mistake of bequeathing their wealth to their children too soon. It’s an act of trust from their side but not everyone respects it. I firmly believe that while bringing up children well and ensuring a good education for them is every parent’s responsibility, they should retain control of their own wealth too so that they never find themselves dependent on their children to an extent that they have no option but to put up with second rate treatment in their old age. Push come to shove they should also be able to take a decision to live independently or in an old age home instead and there need to be good provisions for this. I don’t think there are enough such provisions in India today.

Then there is the reverse scenario too. While a lot is good in terms of family values in India, I think it is also a fact that many parents exert excessive control on their children, I am not denying that parents have a disciplining role to play with their children but sometimes control can be and is excessive. This can start right from childhood resulting in stunted growth of children, frustrated youth and can persist even after adulthood. Many times they exert unwarranted control on their children’s spouses which can result in a lot of unhappiness for everyone involved but particularly the spouse. In such situations I honestly think that sometimes it might be better for the children to live on their own and parents to stay independently as far as possible and then live in an old age home. Once again, I do not think there are enough provisions for this today.

India is a great country and we have a great tradition of sound human values being passed from generation to generation. But I think it’s also a fact that not everything is perfect. As I see it, there is a need for honest introspection in many a family and a restoring of balance between generations.

Soo Jung: Oh…a lot of this is news to me. Certainly there needs to be balance. I think every generation should treat the previous generation with the gratitude and respect that is due to them. At the same time, it is every generation’s responsibility to bring up the next generation with a state of mindfulness and love. What is the point in raising children if you will just leave them frustrated and hurt behind you when it is your turn to depart? I hope things improve soon Brij. Your country’s heritage is so rich and it has so much to offer to the whole world.

Me: Yes, that is certainly true. I am very proud of my roots myself. I hope things look up in the near future. I think some honest introspection and course correction from everyone is all that is required. But often that’s just what we don’t do. Instead we keep blaming everything and everyone around us instead of taking responsibility for our intentions and actions.

Say Soo Jung, a personal question: Are there things you and Jim disagree and quarrel about? Have you had conflicts in your relationship at any stage?

Soo Jung: I know why you ask this Brij. We too observe that it’s almost become a norm that people in relationships quarrel with each other a fair bit. Sometimes it seems to me that friction in relationships has become a norm to such an extent that people have started justifying it as being part and parcel of romance. But no Brij, to be honest Jim and me have not had any significant conflicts. It did take some time for us to understand each other initially when we got to know each other and a friendship developed. But soon enough each of us saw and appreciated that the other was essentially good. And once that appreciation is there, respect arises naturally. After that where is the scope of any serious conflict? If either of us had any serious reservations about the other or if there were to be a serious conflict in our core value systems, we probably wouldn't have moved beyond friendship. Being able to take conscious decisions with as clear a mind as possible is part and parcel of being an adult. Luckily we both had this maturity.

If by disagreement you mean differences in views on different matters then of course, we both use our intelligence and differ in opinions on so many things. But I don’t understand why that should lead to quarrels and conflicts. We just talk through things and try to see things from the other’s viewpoint too. We're very open and honest with each other and there is an implicit trust between us that each of us is sincere about trying to understand the other's viewpoint. If a common ground emerges, ok. If not, then ok too: once in a while a disagreement can just stay a disagreement. It is no big deal. We are not binary entities. It doesn’t have to be 1 or 0 every time. Jim and me love each other. It gives us great happiness to be with each other. Why should we bring any bitterness between us? We want to celebrate life. Life’s short you know. Why waste any of it creating unhappiness?

As for having emotional ups and downs individually, yeah of course we have them. Both of us live our lives intensely and there can be moments and days when one or the other of us is not in balance within. But so what? We give each other the time and space we require to sort out our thoughts and emotions and deal with them. I think we've also learnt how to handle our emotions better with the passage of time. That's as much a part of being educated as anything else in my book. Having goals that are larger than our individual lives and being committed to them goes a long way in keeping petty emotions away in my opinion in any case. Plus we both meditate. I'm convinced that helps in keeping our minds equanimous.

At the end of the day the whole point of being with someone is that you are happy with them. The whole basis of a relationship is respect, love and trust. If these are there where is the cause for quarreling? And if these are not there why be with someone in the first place? 

You know what Brij, I think a whole lot of conflicts simply arise from one thing: a desire to control and come across as being right all the time. It is so silly! I don’t understand why people burden themselves with this? As it is life offers so many challenges. What Jim and me bring to each other is the support and strength to deal with these. Why should he burden himself with trying to control me and me him? And as for the idea of always being right, I wish people would understand that sometimes different people can have different views and opinions based on their life experiences and their way of thinking. When in disagreement, people can just talk through things and try to see things from the other’s viewpoint too. As I said before, if a common ground emerges, ok. If not, then ok too: unless it's really a deep conflict of values or ehics, once in a while a disagreement can just stay a disagreement. It's no big deal. We are not binary entities. It doesn’t have to be 1 or 0 every time. Life’s short. Why waste any of it creating unhappiness? Be happy!

Me: What you are saying about control is so correct Soo Jung. I think Indian families have been excessively patriarchal for a long time. Women in my country have had to to bear a lot. It’s a funny thing you know…we have a beautiful word for wife in my Mother tongue: Ardhaangini. It literally means half your being. People have forgotten that. Things are changing now though and I hope the future is better. I must add though that sometimes one sees the other extreme also in play. I think sometimes women end up treating their partners in a very manipulative manner. That is no good either. I don’t think a loss of balance on one side is any better than the other. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that the whole point of being with someone is that you are happy with them. The whole basis of a relationship is respect, love and trust. If these are there where is the cause for quarreling? And if these are not there why be with someone in the first place? That’s very beautifully and simply put Soo Jung, very beautifully and simply put.

Soo Jung (smiling): Thanks Brij. And balance is your keyword, isn’t it? You use that word very often in so many different contexts.

Me (smiling back): Absolutely Soo Jung, absolutely. I think pretty much everything in life is about finding the balance and keeping it. That’s key.


(
to be continued… Link)