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Flashbacks of Sargodha school …

 

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
Flashbacks from Sargodha

It was a summer afternoon of 1959 and the sky was clear blue when I first landed on the soil of Sargodha. My father dropped both of us, me & sikandar, my other twin, in front of `Attacker House’. I remember we wore maroon corduroy shorts. Our parents bought everything in two. He was thin. I was fat. And once Mr. Catchpole remarked, in his inimitable humour, that an average of we both would be a normal person.

 

It was a new strange world and we did not speak the local language – English. The first impression of the school was of its grandeur and an aura of authority. The place was so quiet that one could listen to the silence and everything was as neat as a hospital. That eerie silence was only occasionally broken by the constant `Hook Hook’ of the nearby flour machine. The hedges were trimmed, the lawns were mowed and there was not a soul in sight. The trees looked very tall, the roads looked very straight, the playing fields seemed to endlessly stretch and the buildings looked imposing. We were now in the safe custody of Mr. Fasihuddin, our House Master of `Attacker’.

 

And so from an easy irregular home life, it was a transformation to a tightly controlled life style. Suddenly, one had to cope up with all kinds of time tables, schedules, dress codes and behaviour patterns. A few new activities, such as the morning PT, evening games, Prep and marching down for all meals, had entered our daily lives. There were also some ego-lifting compensations such as the issue of new uniforms and a college blazers with a badge. Our PT master, Sergeant Hussain, was talkative and with a good collection of dirty jokes. Some of his jokes, like the one `with legs on the shoulders’, we understood twenty years later. Gymnastics was the baby of Sabre’s Sher Mohd and his crowning moment was the dive through the firing ring on the Founders’ Day. On the Founders’ Day, Mehboob Alam of the Tempest was the last to march past in front of dais and as he did his `Eyes Right’, one could notice his lips moving counting five.

 

The House was a home, so to speak, and a place to wind down. Our local mafia bosses were the Prefects and the Head boys. They got additional perks such as an exemption from marching or, once a while, skipping the tie. As for us, we were controlled like the lab mice by the shrill sounds of the house bell. The bell got us out of bed. The bell put us back into the bed. The bell ended the commotion in the dormitories when it rang for Preps. And during Preps, opening the book was mandatory; and some cheated the system by stashing a comic inside the book.

The House Mutka (pitcher) went with the seasons – hot water in summers and cold water in winters. That wiped out all our false pretences, got us down to earth and smoothened out our rough edges, if we had any. With the result that now I can eat a cold chappati or a frozen porridge without any hesitation. In fact, I have developed a taste for these and get amused when I observe others going into tantrums over such petty issues. My cook likes me for it and my wife is happy about it.

 

Back to the theme of water temperature – the water taps also maintained a consistent temperature – too hot in summers and too cold in winters. So in the winters, it was a full-fledged project to get a shower by cutting through the logistical maze of the house heating apparatus and your turn for the bucket. That also reminds me the Master Jee, our hair stylist on the cycle with a tool box at the back. He ran his operation on an assembly line concept. The victim took position on the chair, scissors moved, some hair cut, others hair pulled out and it was all over before you knew.

 

The House had its cozy corner too – the Ante room. I wonder why it was called Ante room. It was a quite a friendly room. The needle shivered over the records with Saigal coming out of `His Masters Voice’ bhoompu. Those old songs are still called old songs. Maybe they now fall in the class of very old songs. Radio Ceylon was the epitome of our entertainment with its Binaca Geet Mala and the Farmaishi Program. Mohd Rafi was on the tops and so was Lata. I wonder where Radio Ceylon has vanished now or perhaps we have not listened to the radio since a half century. In those days, there were no distractions like the TV or the computer. Music, games and story books were all that we had until Tahseen introduced the first tape recorder to us. It was the latest break through in technology.

 

It was also not a fashion then to install exhaust fans in the toilets and so the toilets smelled just like the toilets. And our entire domestic chores revolved between one cupboard near the bed to another cupboard near the community showers. The WCs were of `Indian Style’ (not Pakistani style!). It was the elasticity of youth that got us in that acrobatic position. Now, most of us humpty-dumpty, would tumble off doing this most innocent ritual of the day. Humpty-dumpty also reminds me of Mr. Magoo, another cartoon character of those days.

 

The days were long and hard. And bed was a welcome escape from the harsh realities. But the those layers of blankets were heavy and tightly snuggled below the mattress. We had to almost penetrate ourselves into the bed like shoving a ball pen in a smaller cover. And by the time our feet reached the other end, the morning bell rang ruthlessly pulling us out of bed. It was always a race to catch up on sleep. The tough part was yet to follow – the Morning PT in winters. Cold pierced through the bones as we ran and jumped while half a sleep.

 

The hot-cold theme persists. Hot breakfast in summers and cold breakfast in winters. No. 1 and the waiters wielded a great authority. They gave you the egg of their choice. I cried on my first breakfast and thought of home when a half-fried egg was plonked in front of me and I was helpless. I am an established omelets man. Now after 40 years, much worldly wise, I think I could have easily resolved this life-death issue with a little persuasion by the `green Quid-e-Azam’. Not all was bad. There were goodies too like the pulao and kabaab manu on a Saturday night and the halwa-puri on Sunday mornings. Then our metabolic rates were high, we churned and burnt food at phenomenal rates and there always remained a lingering sensation of hunger. We absolutely had no idea of what salt, sugar or oils do to the body. For us, all meats, sweets and oils were good. And all Palaks, Kudoos and Phindis were bad.

 

The royal aspects of this prisoner’s life were that we never had to polish shoes, press our clothes or make the bed. I picked up these habits for life.

 

The school was a truly classless society with an equal opportunity for all. We never ever thought on lines of race, religion, region, belief, background, ethnicity.

 

I think the best part was the studies. Mr. Catchpole’s class got us going with the commas and full-stops and a familiarity with Ali Baba and Esop. He took English Language period of the whole school in Room No. 10 and checked our work books to the last detail. Try getting an extra comma from us now! Much had to also do with the user-friendly and practical approach of the Senior Cambridge. Doing the first year with the Pakistani syllabus was a rude shock. Everything kept passing over the head. There was no logic or link with the real life. Luckily, Air Force came and pulled me out of this tight spot. The midnight shrieks of the F-104 and the thundering `pitch out’ of the F-86 formation were good motivations. Add to that the descending of the `old boys’ cadets from Academy during the Founders’ Day in their glittering uniforms and their `officer style’. But now, after many decades and with gray hair, I think I would have liked and enjoyed the creative learning experience of a good university. But the parents in those days were always in a hurry and they had only heard of – Doctor, Engineer and military professions.

 

The excitement of flying was a passing romance and at the end what you got in terms of knowledge were the memories of a few manuals and a few check lists. But the school had done the damage. It put us into a reading and a learning mode for all times regardless of the environment. I remembers Mr. Hussain’s 20 guess questions. His guess was rarely out because he had made the paper himself. Mr. Hafeez’s physics, especially the sound calculations, were simply too delicate for me to grasp. But I got a good handle on Mr. Jabbar’s chemistry formulas though his salt analysis required too much imagination. Mr. Catchpole exuded an aura of his own which moved along the route that he moved setting everything in order as he moved. Despite his naughty smile and a sense of humour, he ran a tight ship. His message was simple but very effective – `Do anything but do not get caught’.

 

He was an icon and came to the British India to teach Urdu to the British soldiers; and then stayed on till his last breadth. After being a Principal of Dera Doon and Hasan Abdaal, he took over Sargodha. His personal life simple had minimum details. He came to the morning PT on a motor cycle and smoked pipe. He rode on cycle to the education block. In the evenings, he smoked cigar. In winters, I always saw him in a gray trouser, a blue blazer, a light blue shirt and a dark blue tie with polka dots. In the summers, I can only visualize him in a gray-green trouser and cream-cloured bush-shirt.

 

I once had a close shave with him. We were discussing him in the education block veranda and I called him `Tadpole’. I did not know that he was crossing just behind me. Everyone froze but he smiled and went on. The other close shave at the school was of a more physical nature. The roof fan in carpentry class fell down and missed me by inches. Since then I am a fanphobic and can not sleep in peace directly under the fan.

 

Those were also the days when we grew by an inch a month and the body chemistry was changing rapidly. Our voices changed and hair began to grow at odd places. Unfamiliar powerful forces, of which we knew little about, were building up inside us much faster than our ability to handle them. The rapidly multiplying hormones showed up as pimples on the faces. We could not fathom them and only got confused. Then somebody spread the knowledge about the birds and the bees. That was literally a shocking discovery but seemed to exude some kind of pleasures to it. I remember some faded poor quality black-and-white pictures going around showing the human consummation of love. Those tiny pictures which could hardly be deciphered made us hit the roof with excitement Those pent up energies also came out in different behaviour patterns. The hormones worked out their effect in the form of strong friendships, intense infatuations, fixations and jealousies. Gradually, we grew out of that phase and got a greater hold of ourselves. Obviously, the times have now changed requiring much more convincing and persuasion.

 

The school was a total patriarchal society. And we had no idea how to handle the female species. Certainly, we were curious and interested but fumbled in confusion, hesitation and fear knowing little how to interact with them. They looked alien, different, unpredictable and perhaps even dangerous. We had yet not synthesized the various inputs we were getting on issues such as the gender, sex, morality, culture, society and religion. So it was rather late in the day that we learnt and experienced things that non-hostel boys go through in their normal growth cycle. Our wives were only too glad to get goofy, innocent, malleable and simpleton husbands like us.

 

Back to the hormones, the evening games provided the best outlet to those unchanneled furies. In the games, two teams were made – the `shirts’ and the `Skins’. The team that removed its shirt was called the `Skins’. I was fat and hated to be a `Skin’. My excess flesh shivered embarrassingly as I bounced on basketball court. Let me get this inner-phobia out of my system after forty years. After the games, our little pleasures included a cup of tea in the canteen. That was easily the worst tea in the world. But for the connoisseur of the tea, there was an outlet just outside the school gate near the place we hired cycles. They made a thick concoction milk, sugar and tea. And you could top that off by sampling a few home-made biscuits trapped in tall bottles. The stolen oranges from the nearby farm, much like the stolen kisses, provided the same chill and thrill. But the biggest offence, almost at the level of bank robbery, was the French Leave to the town to see a movie. That adventure was not for the faint-hearted like me. Only the reckless and brave took up that challenge. The secret route ran behind Mr. Messey’s home. Surely, we all remember Mr. Messey of the hospital, another big source of dirty jokes. He was short, stocky and very hairy; and a joke went around that he had to shave his entire face except the eyes.

 

As for the city, there was not much. The contrast was too stark. While the F-104s `pitched-out’ overhead, the city below still lived 100 years back. Since then, it has not changed either except that it is more dusty, more dirty and more congested. It is same cycles, tongas, bullock carts and the qulfi wallas. The Pehelwan’s descendents still sell `Dehi’ and `lussee’. The `Ketchery Bazaar’s’ root beer is still going strong. And the simple village folks still carry on doing their shopping of ropes, plough, seeds; and the steel trunks, jewelry and the Joras for `jahez’.

 

Back to the school. The hospital was an island of quiet and isolation. In fact, the entire area of Aero Modeling club, Gliding Club, Cricket No. 1 and hospital were the haunts of the philosophers, thinkers and romanticists. The closest I came to a felony was when on a dark night, I had the courage to take a late evening stroll to the hospital with a lighted cigarette hidden behind a towel. As we walked, Mr. Zafar Alam crossed us. And as he was crossing, my cigarette fell down giving out sparks as huge as the New Year’s eve. Obviously, I was totally shaken since my entire future was on line. Mr. Zafar Alam completely ignored it. Mr. Zafar Alam still looks exactly the same as he looked 100 years back.

 

My biggest faux paus in school was in one of the variety programs in Attacker House. It was a small skit and a satire on the Urdue films. I was the hero and Farooqi was the heroine. It was suppose to be a moonlit night and we were to exchange the standard romantic phrases of Urdu films. As the curtain went up, our dialogues began. Soon after, my robe fell down on the floor and I was there on the stage in a state that I was born. The whole audience roared with laughter and the curtain was quickly dropped down. Under-wear is another invention that had not been introduced to the mankind till then.

 

Our other little happiness’s were those lotteries for the CSD items where we thought that we had conned the best value for a minimum price for a tooth paste. And queuing up to get those 3 Rupees of `pocket money’ from the House Master on Saturday afternoons. Wearing the coverall for Gliding was another ego booster. And after we got the gliding wings, we began considering ourselves accomplished pilots. But nothing can match the joys of the lazy Saturday afternoon with games excused, marching excused, an exotic dinner of pulao & Kabaab; and all these luxuries followed by a movie; and, finally, the lights out excused. Some movies of those days still haunt me. Movies like the Tender in the Night, The Magnificent seven, Bridges on the River Kwai, Cat on a hot tin Roof, Roman Holiday, For whom the Bell tolls, Les Miserables etc. Our heroes were Gregory Peck, Rock Hudson, Robert Taylor, Burt Lancaster, Yul Bryner. Our sweat hearts were Gina Lolobridgida, Sophia Loren, Grace Kelly, Ava Gardener, Audie Hepburn. Our sweet hearts are now Aunties and fall into the category of getting the life-time achievement awards. The Urdue films were then as bad as they are now. We also had our fair share of Elvis fans fully equipped with guitars, style and clothing.

 

More than the movies, there were those happy occasions like the picnics at Kalar Kahar. The open truck which looked vary big in those days, Kalar Kahar rest house made during the British Raj, the adjoining lake and boating, the lush foliage through which ran the water channels and the dancing of the Peacocks. Some other collective occasions were the House going out for a Sunday matinee, the Founder’s Day hoopla, games Championships and their victory celebrations, eating of Paya’s at Mr. Naseer’s house under the garb of mathematics practice, the bon fires at the end of a term, the pillow fights and it goes on.

 

But the most I miss now is the part of our Bengali friends. They were the biggest contributor to our social activities. They had a certain delicate and a sensitive touch to them that we lack. They spoke of Rabindarnath Tagore, of music, art and drama; and of places far away with names like Chittagong, Dacca and Khulna where it rained incessantly, the environment was lush, there were coconut trees and occasional tidal storms. Warsi’s unflappable 100-meters dash and Amir’s boxing. We lived in fear of him.

 

So what are the remains of the day. What I got from the school was not a degree of Senior Cambridge. Or my ability to play some hockey or Basket Ball. Or even my ability to understand and speak in English. I think what I got from the school were some intangible, immeasurable, unquantifiable and unidentifiable traits, habits and value systems. Some are good. Some are bad. As I said, I can eat cold food. If it comes, I can take a cold shower. But shower I must. I can co-exist with the rich and poor alike; and financial status is meaningless to me. Also the physical possessions do not get me crazy. The Model of the car, the size of house and so on. I have no gender issue and I am not a prisoner of any ideology. I also have no fear of the `Jhonses’ – what others will say. I can forgive my servants and let my wife boss over me. I am the same on the inside as on the outside. My boss gets the same of me as my subordinates. Persons, personalities, individuals fall below the principles, issues, ideas, systems and thoughts. Sargodha also gave me the strength and courage of tolerance. I can live in peace among all cultures, beliefs, races, ethnicities and ideologies and am certainly not holed up in some medieval cage. I like the variety and differences in people and yet have a pride in my South Asian identity. I can feel for a human being and suffer his suffering. Simplicity, fairness, justice, honesty and truth have a place in my scheme of things.

 

The bad habits that I picked up from School are that I still hate to polish my shoes, press my clothes and make up my bed.

 

I clearly remember the first day when I entered the School. I can not recollect the day I left the school. I do not think that I ever left the school …….

 

nazarhayatkhan@yahoo.com

 

 

 

 

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Across the Karakorams…

 (This is a 40 years old story …a journey to China in early 70s)
 Across the Karakorams

   
   
After the 65 War, free supply of military hardware from US to Pakistan stopped. China offered to provide the military hardware free or at almost no cost. It was decided to accept the offer and meet the deficiency with more update equipment from France. Early in the 70s, we went to China to ferry the Chinese Mig 19 or F-6 fighters. It was the China of history books with Chairman Mao’s cultural revolution in full swing. Every Chinese wore a gray Mao suit and carried Mao’s Red Book. Beyond the Karakoram Ranges, at less than two hours flight, there existed a completely different world, the ancient civilization that called itself of the Middle Kingdom or the centre of the world.
As our C-130 transport touched down at Hotan (called Hotian) airfield in Xinjiang province of Eastern China and aircraft doors opened, ice cold wind below in. There had been a recent snowfall and everything was covered with a sheet of snow. The temperature was many degrees below zero. Our Chinese hosts moved forward to receive us. It was amusing to see their cars engines were covered with quilts as a protection from cold. Mr. Nu (pronounced as Yu), our would be guide, moved forward, smiled and said, “Now the friends will sit in the cars and come to the guest house.” From now on, we were to be always addressed as ‘friends’. Friends will have dinner at 9 PM. Friends will do this and friends will do that. Dutifully, the friends sat in the cars.  
The caravan moved through the winding countryside road with little traffic. Mainly an agricultural area, the traffic was light and comprised carts pulled by donkeys or horses; and small three-wheeler tractors pulling trolleys, the cycles and old men carrying sacks on their backs. Everyone stopped to gaze at us in amazement. The children giggled in amusement as we drove by. China lived in a grand isolation. Little did we realize that this China would completely transform itself in the next 50 years – economically, socially and culturally.
This Eastern region of China was inhabited by the Turkic origin Muslims commonly known as Uighurs. Some of us, who had been to exchange posting to Turkey, could converse with them in Turkish. But Chinese preferred no direct contact between us and the locals. They kept us busy with their own schedules, dinners and stage dramas. The stage dramas mostly depicted the struggle of peasants against landlords. Workers with red flags moved back and forth in unison singing patriotic songs. There was a communist party representative in every Government department and commune. In the evenings, Chinese sat together and criticized their own mistakes of the day. The West (particularly the Americans) were called the Imperialists and the Russians were called the Revisionists because they had deviated from principles of Communism. The Party and the State provided them with all their needs. For now, they had to contend with just a rice bowl and soup. Later Deng Xiaoping was to come to introduce private ownership that was to catapult China into an unprecedented prosperity. Deng’s theory was that `it did matter whether it was a black or a white cat as long as it catches mice’.
Regardless of what China was about to go through, our hosts went out of their way to look after us. They put us up in the State `Guest House’ and we were served 12-course meals. Initial courses were of pure Chinese origin and and our favourites like the Tikkas & Kababs came at the end. A local drink,“Mot Aai’’, was so hard that it had to be kept in an earthenware because it reacted with normal glass. Chinese Tea was a perpetual companion on our side tables. The usual bottoms up “Cheers’’ was replaced with the Chinese “Kombay’’.  
The Mig 19 or F-6 (NATO code name Farmer) was an unusual aircraft when compared to its Western counterparts. It had big dials and switches. The speed was in kilometers and not in nautical miles that we were used to. Similarly, the altimeter was in meters instead of feet; and this disturbed our general mental perception of height. The brakes worked on pneumatics (air) pressure and not on the usual hydraulics and were applied through a hand handle. To indicate a specific Emergency with Radio failure, one could fire Flares of different colours from aircraft. Its guns fired big 30MM rounds. The aircraft had a throat mike instead of the usual mouth mike.
We were scheduled to fly an air test and then return. But bad weather held us up. We actually did not mind this spell of bad weather at all. Friends would go when the weather became all right, Mr. Nu told us. Mr. Nu was an experienced pilot but with typical Chinese humility, he always said, “I am here to learn from friends.” To change from the monotony of Chinese food daily with no rice for so many days, I volunteered to cook “Pulao’’ in the kitchen. The Chief cook assisted me in doing so. After it had been cooked, I asked him whether they had any such dish in China. “Yes’’, he replied and then added “It is called Pulao’’. So our very own Pulao came from this part of the world. Subsequently, Pulao became a regular feature in our menu.
As the bad weather spell lingered, our Chinese hosts became more open and relaxed. Now we could manage to peep into their inner thoughts when left alone with someone. Our interpreter spoke ‘Slees’ Urdu. When he spoke, it sounded as if he was reading a textbook. We found out that the ultimate dream of an average Chinese was to purchase a cycle, a transistor and a watch. To us, every Chinese looked the same. They told us that all Pakistanis also looked alike and they could not differentiate between us.
 Finally, the bad weather lifted or became good enough to go. We proceeded to the airfield. The weather was hazy and the sky was overcast with white clouds. The ground was covered with snow. Our formation’s call-sign was ‘Pakistan Charlies’ and our Formation comprised Dar, Shahid, Imtiaz and myself. We started up, taxied out and lined up on the runway. Like a new car, aircraft not only smelled new but also gave the feel of new with crisp controls. The engines accelerated smoothly with a clear sound. Everything worked according to the book.
 We took off one by one, joined up in battle formation and headed for Pakistan. Soon after take off, we entered clouds. Carrying out the ‘Snake Departure’, in which two aircraft, in close formation, are followed behind by the other two, doing the same moves like the wriggling of a snake. We finally broke through the clouds at 35,000 feet. As we came out of the clouds on top, there was a bright sunshine with blue sky. We were flying over an unending layer of white clouds with ground fully obscured. No ground features were visible for navigation nor were any ground navigational aids available in this area of no man’s land. There was jus a wilderness where three great hill ranges converged towards Karakoram; Hindu Kush and Pamirs from the West and Himalayas from the East. The only way to navigate was to maintain the correct heading; and correlate our ground position with known peaks that protruded out of clouds. Facilities like the GPS had not been invented then. And neither did Chinese Fighters have luxuries like Inertial Navigation Systems.
 Four of us were serenely gliding over the Karakorams and there was a deafening silence. As is customary with military aircraft, we were practicing radio silence. For a fighter aircraft to fly level for anything more than 5 minutes is unusual; and a flight like this could either be a luxury or absolute boredom, depending on one’s frame of mind. All four of us were flying quietly and perhaps deeply immersed in our thoughts. The world seemed far away and far below. I was leisurely maintaining my battle formation position, looking around and admiring nature. Everything seemed to fit just right in its place. There was a pin drop silence barring the constant drone of the engines and an eerie stillness in air. Being alone in aircraft, over this no-man’s land, only added to the loneliness.  
And then it happened. As I looked inside the cockpit, I got a rude shock. My fuel gauge was reading only 1800 liters. There had been a sudden fuel leak. China was left far behind and my destination in Pakistan was still far away. I was in the middle of nowhere hanging at 35000 feet, above clouds, over Karakorams with fuel draining out. If I was to eject from the aircraft, I was destined to spend the rest of my life over the Karakoram peaks, not a very cheerful prospect with only a jacket. What could be done. I checked inside; all my switches were normal. It was certainly an unusual occurrence. I could not go back; I had to press on forward. The fuel gauge was still continuing to drop. I worked out my future course of action. The best course was to maintain altitude, for as long as possible, because the jet engines consume less fuel at high altitudes. And then, if I managed to reach near an airfield, I would carry out a maximum rate descent with throttles idle. However, this could only be possible if the rate of fuel leak reduced; and I got some tail wind. There were some Ifs and Buts. 
 I looked at Dar’s aircraft. He was our formation leader; and seemed to be enjoying the ride. There was not much that he could do; or anyone else for that matter. With an almost sadistic pleasure, child in me naughtily suggested that why not spoil his day as well. I called out, “Charlie leader. Charlie four has only 1800 liters on the gauge. I have a fuel leak.” There was a long pause. Then Dar called out, “What did you say. 1800 liters.” I said, “Affirmative.” Again there was a long pause. Finally, Dar came up, sounding worried, and said, “Charlie Four. Keep the throttles steady. Keep monitoring fuel. You will land first and make a straight in approach.” I said, “Roger.”
 That was that. But I could sense that now the formation was fully awake; and an air of tension floated in the air. I kept monitoring the fuel gauge and, as the luck would have it, the rate of leak reduced. The radar soon picked us up and guided us towards the nearest airfield. The weather was fine and that meant that I could make a visual straight approach towards the airfield. As I spotted the airfield, my fuel gauge indicated only 600 liters and I was still 20 miles away. I had to land the first time. There was no margin for any error. We all went into ‘Train formation’; and the others positioned themselves behind me 1000 feet in line astern. I called ‘Finals’, lowered my wheels; and landed. I had only 200 liters of fuel on the gauge when the aircraft touched down. 
 I heaved a big sigh of relief; and then suddenly, all the confidence returned.
   I switched off and explained the problem to the ground engineers. When we headed back towards our homes, there was a brief discussion on subject and then all was forgotten. A close miss in a pilot’s life gets only that much of time …….. It was just another day.
( Mig-19 Fighters have now been retired from Air Force. Some were gifted to Bangladesh )
 

Understanding Sanatana Dharma …. Hinduism

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The Beginnings

 

The Indus Valley Civilization, 3000 BC to 1800 BC, vanished mysteriously leaving behind ruins of well organized cities but no written Scripture. We will skip the debate whether it happened due to the Aryans from the North  or whether the Aryans ever existed at all.. Important aspect is that another Vedic civilization rose from those ruins that  spread across the river Indus (Sindhu); and  also across the seasonal river Ghaggar (Himachal Pradesh)  as it flowed through Punjab to Rajasthan entering Pakistan as Hakra river before dissipating into the Thar desert. These rivers are also known as Vadic Sarwati rivers.

 

The Vadic Civilization had  the world’s first recorded scripture called the Vedas. The Vedas came through Rishis (sages) who heard voices (Shruti – revelation) from universe  or  were  written through the cultural tradition (Smriti). Vedas explained a human being’s relation with nature and included knowledge of logic, astrology and astronomy.

 

The four Vedas (Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda) contained four sections each. Samhitas contained mantras and hymns. Brahanas contained the ritualistic teachings. Aranyakas contained meditation and the famous Upanishads contained the summeries of mystic and philosohical thought. The Vedas provided a  philosophical and a spiritual  way of life with a vast array of  beliefs, practices, customs and  rituals.

The Core Philosophy

The Vedas provided a philosophy called  Santana Dharma or just Dharma – the Eternal Way or Perennial Philosophy.  Dharma is  the process for aligning one’s  body, mind and soul with the nature in search of the Ultimate Truth or Reality to find salvation in life.

The  Santana Dharma also emphasized that  there were many ways of reaching the ultimate truth or the reality in these words of  Rig Veda:

 

Sanskrit: Ekam Sat Vipraaha Bahudaa Vadanti

English: “Truth is One, though the Sages know it as Many.”

The Rig Veda (Book I, Hymn CLXIV, Verse 46)

 

Sanatana Dharma, in due course, gave birth to three other Dharmic faiths namely Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism that were more definitive and with  more specificities.

Aum became the standard sign of Dharma and  swastika (the noble symbol) from the early Vedic culture. Swastika was used by the Nazis to potray  the white superior Aryan  race.

Unlike the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), which had a single founder and a single book with well defined code of  life, Sanatans Dhara  did not have these attrinutes.. Even the  followers of the Dharma  had no religious identity.  All people living across the Sindhu (Indus) river were called Hindus –  an ethnic/geographical identity. After four thousand years, the term  Hinduism was coined during the British Raj. The  term Hidutva is even less than 100 years old. To differentiate Dharma from other contemporary religions, I feel Brahmanism would have been a more accute description as we shall see in the next paragraph.

 

The Brahman (not Brahmin)

 

The Brahman (or Ishvara), the ultimate truth or reality, is One that the human beings seek for salvation. The Brahman is indescribable in any metaphysical terms. And it may appear in the shape of  three main deities such as the Brahma (the creative spirit) or as Vishnu (which  keeps order in the universe) or as Shiva (which causes the destruction of one cycle of universe leaving it to be re-created again)

Therefore, Sanatana Dharma can neither be classified as  polytheistic or  monotheistic. The different gods and avatars that are worshipped by followers of the Dharma are taken as different forms of  the same One Truth, the Brahman.

There are a number of Deities, avatars and mother goddesses. The Vedic Dieties include Indra, Surya, Agni, Vayu, Varuna, Yama, Kubera, Soma, Mitra, Kama, Gayatri, Aditi, Ushas and SarasvatiAvatars of Vishnu include Matsya (the Fish), Kurma (the Tortoise), Varaha (the Boar), Narasimha (Half Lion, Half Man), Vamana (The Brahmin Dwarf), Parashurama (The Warrior), Rama (The King and Pinnacle of Dharma),  Krishna (Purnavatar or the Full, Plenary, Ultimate Avatar), Buddha (The Enlightened One) more commonly known by Hindus as Buddhadev (Lord/God Buddha), Kalki (The Final Avatar as Man on White Horse). Relatives are Ganesha, Parvati, Karttikeya, Sita and Hanuman. Mother goddesses are Shakti, Devi, Kali, Durga, Lakshmi and Amman

 

The followers of the Dharma are free to choose their own Deity for worship or not chose any Deity or not worship at all.

 

The Scriptures

 

Vedas are considered the primary holy scriptures by the followers of DharmaSmitri text which has an author includes the Puranas which deal with the lives of the gods and celestial beings. Other important historical text like Rāmāyana evolved  between 300 bc and ad 200 and Mahābhārata evolved  between 400 bc to about ad 400.

 

The Rāmāyana describes the life of Prince Rāma, an incarnation of Vishnu.  The Mahābhārata, an epic story of 100,000 verses, is attributed to a sage named Vyāsa and considered to be the longest poem in the world. It traces the descendants of two sets of cousins, the Kauravas and the Pāndavas, whose disputes eventually lead to the Mahābhārata war.  One part of the Mahābhārata, the Bhagavad-Gītā, describes the techniques and paths by which an individual can attain realization of the Ultimate Reality with Krishna as the guide.

 
Different Schools of Vedic Thought

There are different schools of Vedic thought like Nyaya, Vaishesika, Samkya, Mimamsa, Yoga, Vedanta, Bhakti and Tantric. Space does not permit discussion of all. Nyaya  school of thought believes that knowledge is required to get a release from suffering and there are four sources of knowledge such as perception, inference, comparison and testimony. Samkya school regards the universe as consisting of two eternal realities: purusha (soul) and prakrti (matter or nature)  and process of  equilibrium between the two. Mimamsa believes that vedic revelation must be proved by reasoning and not accepted blindly as dogma. Yoga deals with meditation. Vedanta (meaning end of the Vedas)  provides interpretation of Vedas. Bhakti (Devotional)  movement rejuvenated the Dharma through expression of faith through puja using the aid of a murti (statue) in conjunction with the singing or chanting of meditational prayer in the form of mantras. Or devotional songs called bhajans , kirtan (praise) and arti (fire ritual). Bhakti resulted in creation of  a mass devotional material in the form of literature, music and art. The Tantric school rejected the caste system.

The four goals of life

The four goals of life (purushartha) are  kama, artha, dharma and moksha. The human beings seeks kama (pleasure, physical or emotional) and artha (power, fame and wealth), but soon, with maturity, they control their desires in the  pragmatic framework of dharma or  harmony in all. The final eternal goal of happiness is achieved through liberation  (moksha) of soul  from this earthly cycle of life and death.(samsara-reincarnation).

The four stages of life

The four stages of life begin with first quarter of life  called  brahmacharya  (literally “grazing in Brahma”)  spent in celibate, sober and pure contemplation of life’s secrets. Next stage Grihastya is the married  stage that satisfies kama and artha within a married life and professional career. The third stage Vanaprastha is a gradual detachment from the material world by getting involved in contemplation of the truth and making holy pilgrimages. Finally, in Sanyasa, there is a disillusionment with material life, worldly thoughts and desires; and person spends the rest of his life in spiritual contemplation.

 

The Rituals & Culture

 

The Hindu  rituals are yajña, (a sacrificial fire); pūjā (devotional offerings, usually flowers); and dhyāna (meditation). Yajñas are performed on major occasions such as marriages. Pūjā may be performed publicly or privately. Public pūjā, is usually performed in a temple with a statue of a deity and offering flowers, incense and  food. Chanting and devotional singing follow with waving of a small, camphor-burning lamp that illuminates the image of the deity (arati). And the offering of food is shared by the worshipers. Darshan is going and meeting a holy person and Satsang is learning from his/her company. 

 

There is a ritual of shaving the head of a newly born.  A wedding has many ceremonies including the joining of the bride and groom with a knot after which they walk around a sacred fire seven times. There is a  cremation (burning of the dead body) of the dead and ashes are collected and deposited usually by the side of or in a river. Some  rituals are performed to obtain a specific reward according to instructions in the Vedas. Such rewards include securing a suitable life partner, conceiving a child  or attaining wealth as well as warding off  bad spirits.

 

The Earth is considered as sacred and there are pilgrimages to Badrinath to the north, Puri to the east, Rameshvaram to the south and Dwarka to the west.  Certain parts of India are held in special veneration like  the holy: Ayodhyā (the birthplace of Rāma); Mathurā (where Krishna grew up); Haridwār (where the Ganges River widens onto a plain); Kāsī (sacred to Shiva); Kāñcī; Avanti or Ujjain (site of the temple of Mahākāla); and Puri (associated with the later life of Krishna). A number of festivals take place like the one to  commemorate the great Sanskrit epic Ramayana (Way of Rama). The timing of these festivals is related to the movements of the Sun and the Moon.

 

Dassera marks the victory of Prince Rāma and the festival of Holi celebrates the arrival of spring in February or March. The people spray each other with colored powders and colored water. A family festival, Raksābandhana, occurs in July or August and renews the bonds of affection between brothers and sisters. Sisters tie lucky threads around the wrists of brothers and are rewarded with gifts. On religious occasions, the chanting the om  is considered  holy.

 

Ahimsa or non-violence is another concept that came from Upanishads. Though vegetarianism is not a dogma, it is recommended as a sattwic (purifying) lifestyle. Those who do eat meat predominantly abstain from beef some even going so far as to avoid leather products. The Vedic people relied so heavily on the cow for dairy products, tilling of fields and fuel for fertiliser that its status as a  ‘caretaker’ of humanity grew to an almost maternal figure and an honored place in Hindu society.

 

The Political Hinduism

Political Hinduism is a phenomenon only a few decades old in a history of  4000 years and is confined to only India. This could be termed as yet another fall out of the two-nation theory.

The Courts should normally avoid the temptation of defining faiths leaving it to the believer and the Divine. In 1966, Supreme Court of India defined Hindu faith as follows:

(a)    Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence as the highest authority in religious and philosophic matters and acceptance with reverence of Vedas by Hindu thinkers and philosophers as the sole foundation of Hindu philosophy.

(b)    Spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand and appreciate the opponent’s point of view based on the realization that truth is many-sided.

(c)    Acceptance of great world rhythm — vast periods of creation, maintenance and dissolution follow each other in endless succession — by all six systems of Hindu philosophy.

(d)    Acceptance by all systems of Hindu philosophy of the belief in rebirth and pre-existence.

(e)    Recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are many.

(f)     Realization of the truth that numbers of Gods to be worshiped may be large, yet there are Hindus who do not believe in the worshiping of idols.

(g)    Unlike other religions, or religious creeds, Hindu religion’s not being tied down to any definite set of philosophic concepts, as such.

The Court seemed to have over-defined the Dharma making it exclusionary in some respects. It may have been sufficient to simply state the core philosophy of Sanatana Dharma. Making accepance of the Vedic Scripture as a pre-condition, it transformed the universality of Dharma into a religious ideology contrary to the very spirit of Dharma itself. Consequently, the term  `Hindutva’ (meaning `Hinduness’), coined less than 100 years ago, gets a faith-based connotation.  So while one may agree with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) demand for a Uniform Civil Code in India, Hindutva as a political philosophy by  RSS or Bhartitya Janata Party (BJP) may be a disruptive philosophy  just as any other faith-based political ideology. 

Hinduism is the third largest religion with approximately 1.05 billion followers worldwide. Significant Hindu minorities exist in Bangladesh (11 million), Myanmar (7.1 million), Sri Lanka (2.5 million), the United States (1.7 million) Pakistan (1.3 million), South Africa (1.2 million), the United Kingdom (1.2 million), Malaysia (1.1 million) and Canada (0.7 million)

Evolution of Islam in  South Asia

 Islam evolved in South Asia rooted well in its local history and culture just as different versions of Islam evolved in Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Egypt and different Arab countries. The Sufi school of thought, which had a  similar  philosophy as the Santana Dharma, was widely popular. South Asian Islam also evolved a culture of paying homage to the saints, going to their Darbars and seeking the fulfillment of their wishes much like the Dharmic Dieties. This included the customs of laying flowers, burning candles and incense, chanting religious Qawalis and  dancing in a trance. And reading of holy scripture on food and then distributing it. Other forms of religio-cultural creations were the naats,  mercia, classical music and  classical dancing. Then there are other customs like reciting holy verses in the ear of a newly born and shaving his head, chanting of drood on holy occasions, tying the imam zamin on wrist and so on ………,   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The World of the Wise Lord ….

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While browsing through the ancient Persian history, I was struck and fascinated by another subject – Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism has not only made a major contribution to  the ancient philosophical thought but has also had a deep imprint on the Persian history and culture. Since ages, man has been striving to search for the meaning and purpose of life. Two ancient philosophies threw up answers to this eternal quest.

 

One came out of the Vedic thought of  re-incarnation (samsara) which believed in  perpetual cycles of life, death and re-birth. It believed that soul (atma) finally got liberated (moksha) based on man’s good deeds (Karma). Originally from Santana Dharma, the philosophy was followed by Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism with some internal differences.

 

The other ancient philosophy emanated from Zoroastrianism which explained  that a man’s life is a struggle between the good and the evil. Its monotheistic concept included  a satan, a messiah, death, resurrection, day of judgment, heaven and hell. Originally from Zoroastrianism, this philosophy was  followed by Judaism, Christianity and Islam with their own other internal differences.

 

Zoroastrianism was the first revealed monotheistic faith founded by the Prophet Spenta Zarathustra. Exact period of birth of Zarathustra is not determined but the conservative Zoroastrians believe it to be around 4000 BC, or even earlier.  Zoroastrianism took roots in Southern Persia at a place known as Fars which the Greeks  pronounced as Pars. The Pars gave the further derivatives like Persia, Persians and the Parsees. Persia was renamed Iran as late as 1935 by Emperor Raza Shah Pehelvi.

 

It was Cyrus the great who united Persia in 559 BC and Zoroastrianism was established as a state religion. When Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 BC, the Jews were freed  from slavery. The Jews regarded him as their messiah and this led to a 500 years of peaceful co-existence between the Persians and the Jews. Zoroastrianism greatly influenced Judaism; and consequently, Christianity and Islam. The words `Satan’, `Paradise’ and `Amen’ originated from Aveshtha,  the Zoroastrian language.

 

The Zoroastrians belief is of one Supreme Entity, the Wise Lord, Ahura Mazd, who is invisible and formless, is a source of goodness, energy and light. While Ahura Mazda is the source of wisdom and goodness, Angra Mainyu is Satan, a source of evil and darkness.  A man has the freedom to choose between the virtue and the vice. There is a concept of the body and  soul. After death, the soul crosses a bridge (Chinvato Paretu), where the good deeds are weighed against the bad deeds. Either the person  falls into a hell or crosses the bridge to reach the heaven. The savior or sayoshant plays its part on the day of judgment. Eventually, everyone is expected to be purified and the occupants of  the hell will also be released.

 

 

 Contrary to the general perception, the Zoroastrians do not worship Fire. Fire is used in the temple as a point of focus like the Cross or Kaaba. The Fire, which is radiant, pure and life sustaining, symbolizes the Wise Lord,  Ahura mazda.

 

Another custom of leaving the dead body to be cleaned by the birds is also misunderstood. This is more of a social custom rather than a religious ritual. Zoroastrianism considers that once the soul (urvan) leaves the body, the body is no more than a useless waste. Instead of leaving it to decompose and cause disease, it felt it preferable to let it be cleaned away by the birds in an organized manner in the `Towers of Silence’ (Dokhma). The bones are subsequently bleached to let them crumble down to dust. The departed soul is left behind to remain in the hearts and minds of people rather than in the shape of  body remains.

 

Zoroastrianism is a simple compact faith with the right mix of spirituality, ethics and environment, a subject in which it was far ahead of its times. Its religious scripture, Avesta, has five parts – Yasna (religious ceremonies), Videvdad (laws), Yashts (worship), Khordeh Aveshta (prayers). The holy book includes the original five Gathas containing 17 hymns revealed to Spenta  Zarathustra. There are five prayers in a day preceded by ablutions. A sacred cord called Kushti, made of wool, is tied around the waist to practice any teaching of Zarathustra. A Topee is also worn like most other faiths. All religious rituals are performed before a sacred fire, the living flame being the symbol of the faith. A constant sacred fire is kept lit in the temples in a silver urn fuelled by frankincense.

 

The scripture, in the form of sacred poetry, speaks about the worship of God, understanding of the right path, the promotion of social justice, the individual choice between the good and evil and a universal vision of harmony. Zoroastrianism believes in gender equality, cleanliness, hard work and charity. Cruelty to the animals is not liked and all elements of nature like fire, sun, air, earth and water are to be respected.

 

After Cyrus, Zoroastrianism continued to flourish for the next  1500 years (600 BC-1000 AD) right through the Achaemenian, Parthian and Sassani Empires. The only interruption  came in the form of  Alexander the great who conquered Persia in 330 BC and the Greeks ruled  Persia for about 200 years and introduced the Persian culture to the West. Both the Greeks and the Romans respected the Persian culture.

 

But the real upheaval came when the Arabs (Umayyads) conquered Persia in 7 AD and a new religion and culture was imposed. The Zoroastrians were driven to remote areas like Yazd and Kerman where they barely managed to preserve their religion and culture. After Umayyads, Abbasids, Seljuk Turks (1037 AD) and the Mongols (1219-1500 AD)  followed in the shape of Genghis Khan, Halague and Timur who also did not give any  breathing space to Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism lay waste and the Persians opted for their own version of Islam, the Shia sect.

 

 

In a relative sense, it appears that the Arabs (Umayyads and Abbasids) treated the  Zoroastrians comparatively better than the later Central Asian conquerors.  Caliph Omar recognized the Zoroastrians as the `people of book’. The Zoroastrians had begun migrating since 8 AD  but the major migration took place around 10 AD from Khorasan to the West coast of India. A Hindu Raja, Jaday Rama of Gujrat gave them the refuge. Subsequently, the East India Company invited them to Bombay as ship builders, cotton kings, international traders and brokers. Due to their integrity, loyalty and charity, the Indian Zoroastrians, commonly known as Parsees, have left a deep imprint on India far greater then their numbers.

Dababhai Naoroji served as president of Indian National Congress in 1886, 1893 and 1906. Some other well known Parsees include Naoroji Furdonji, Homi Bhaba, Zubin Mehta, Rahumtan Mistry, Tatas, Wadias and Godrej. Some well known Pakistani Parsees are Behram Avery, Bapsi Sidhwa, M P Bhandara, Jamshed Marker and Cowasjee. They established   charitable hospitals, schools, colleges and orphanages. They also did well as lawyers, solicitors, doctors and administrators. The Parsees adopted the Indian dress with their own modifications. Women wore long sleeved blouses and sarees with reverse pallu. Men wore trousers (not dhoti) with long coats and tall cornered black caps. They have fair complexion and sharp features. The Parsee cuisine has a liberal use of eggs. Their vegetable, meat, pulse and rice potpourri (dhanshakh) and fish stuffed with spice rolled in banana leaves (patrani machchi) is a delicacy.

The Parsees carry out a Sadreh-pushi  or an initiation ceremony (Navjat) for both young boys and girls to admit them to the faith. Sadreh is an undershirt of pure white muslin with a small pocket in front to fill it with good deeds every day. One has to be born inside the faith and there is no preaching to convert others. There is a Yalda festival where families sit together in long winter nights and eat  melon which is thought to protect against illness. New Year is celebrated by the No Ruz festival. To the consternation of the Iranian Government, and even the Arabs, the No Ruz festival is widely followed by the Iranians.

 

According to one estimate, there are only around 200,000 followers of Zoroastrianism in the world. Their number has drastically dwindled because like Judaism, they do not marry outside the faith and do not carry out conversions. The largest number, around 70,000, lives in India, about 60,000 in Iran and rest are spread all over the world. UNESCO declared 2003 as the Year of 3000 Anniversary of the Zoroastrian culture. Zoroastrians  need to begin marrying outside the faith so that this great heritage of mankind is not reduced only to the pages of history.

 

And whether one is a believer of re-incarnation (Samsara) or the day of Judgment (Qiamat), no one can have an objection to the central theme of Zoroastrianism – Humata, Hukhta, Hvarshta.

 

Which means “Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds’’.   

 

 

 

 

 

That Evening in Paris ….

 

 

We were flying over Switzerland, over the Joru Mountains in the European Alps, when the radar controller asked us to turn right towards Germany. Due to heavy air traffic, we were being made to enter France via Germany.  The Alps, below us, had a strange dark scary shade softened somewhat with their white snow  caps.  `Guntaag’ the German controller greeted us reminding us of the solid sounds of our Pushto.  Our flight over Rhine land was short.  Flying over the Black Forest, we briefly flew over the scenic river Rhine before entering the shallow Alsace hill ranges of France. 

cafe (1)eiffelnazarfountaincockpipattisri`Bon jour, Pakistan 803’,  the French lady controller greeted us. After the German `Guntaag’, she sounded so very delicate that one almost wanted to get into conversation with her.  Such is the art, culture and the softness of the French with their flag having the bright happy colors of white, blue and red.  And the words of the French language simply fading away towards the end. We were soon flying over the countryside with its lush green landscape, neatly manicured fields and small scattered villages through which the roads wriggled like a serpents.  Nature has been very bounteous with Europe in terms of climate, topography, soil and location.  We had only one evening in Paris. Our Boeing  ‘Transponder’ was giving us some problems.  Transponder is the equipment which automatically relays the aircraft speed and height to the radar on ground.  Our problematic Transponder forced her to take us out of the normal traffic flow; and I had to continuously announce the height and speed changes – a God given opportunity for that longer conversation.  I should have wished for something else.  She brought us via Troy to the ‘Orally airport’.  Eiffel tower, the Paris landmark, was visible from miles.  The European airfields are vast with multiple runways and innumerable taxiways.  It started to drizzle and became windy. 

 

We drove to Concorde Lafayette hotel, the tall tube-like structure near Champs Elysee, where we were staying.  The crew is normally given top floors where it is quiet. The view of city from top was breathtaking. It was 12 noon; and the light remains in Paris till 11 PM. We had 18 hours of day light to us.  I had planned to begin my evening after a three-hour nap in the afternoon.

 

The list of my minor sins includes long walks in the city that I am visiting, interrupted with coffee breaks at the roadside taverns, inns or cafes; and getting into gossip with the locals. My experience is that the best people to gossip are the old ladies or the young men. Old ladies are less apprehensive of the intentions of a stranger; and when initiated, they really open up with stories of their families.  Young men are confident, very curious and helpful.

 

I walked along the Champs Elysees to the Place De La Concorde which has statues with water fountains sprouting through them.  A beautifully sculptured statue is a joy to look.  Add to it, the rhythm of flowing water and the effect is spellbinding. The old buildings are very well preserved and even the lamp posts are pretty.  The wide side walks, made of delicate brickwork, with flower beds, foliage and the spotlessly clean environment are a far cry form my usual walk areas in Karachi.  Even a posh locality like Clifton has filth heaps, chocked water courses,  wall chalkings extolling the miracle aphrodisiacs from the Sinyasee Babas or the calls for Jihad to liberate Palestine.

 

At the Jardin Des Tuilleries, I turned right and got on the  bank of the river Seine.  I crossed the bridge and headed towards the Esplande des Invalides. It was summer and the flowers were in full bloom in the big lawns of this Gothic style building.  With scattered clouds and a cool breeze blowing, there was an indescribable magic about the place. No wonder they say that Paris is for lovers. I got on to Rue Saint Dominique towards Champs De Mars. The romance of Paris is not complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower.  It is awesome structure from close.  The place was teeming with the tourists. From the Eiffel tower, I headed back to the Champs Elysees via Avenue Kleber.  The street began to get crowded.  Sitting at a roadside cafe, sipping coffee and enjoying a conversation with Mr. Jacquis, an elderly Frenchman, in my sketchy French, I overheard an American mother telling his son, `Johny, your class fellows will be jealous that you are in Paris.’ The basic human thought process is the same everywhere. As I sat there watching people go about their business, I realized the reality of the cultural gap. Thought I consider myself a liberal person, even I felt a little nauseated the way some young couples were French kissing in public. Some ethical limits, ingrained in us by our oriental upbringing, are indelible.

 

It was around 8 pm when I headed back. By now, I was tired but relaxed. I saw an old scruffy Frenchman (my revised guess is that he was an Italian) coming from the opposite direction. His hand hit my hand. As I Looked back at him, the gentleman came back and started to furiously apologize. He embraced and hugged me; and asked me to forgive him. I gently pushed him away telling him that it was OK. Later, I found that he had made away with some Traveler Cheques from my pocket. I could not believe it. The man was a master in his job with really slippery hands. I had forgotten the basic rule of being a tourist – never let any one touch you.

 

It was time to take up on the offer of Marianne, my permanent guide in Paris, to visit an Art exhibition at the Pompidou centre, where she is the Liberian. An English speaking French is a rare commodity in Paris. The artists had expressed themselves by gluing together, on the board, different diverse objects like leaves, pieces of news paper, bottle cork,  nut and so on. Being a skeptic, I asked Marianne what was so artistic about it. She gave me a look which clearly seemed to say `what a paindoo like you is doing at a place this’. We rounded off the evening  with lamb and red Bordeaux (Cabernet). Who drinks water where wine is cheaper than water. I headed back to my hotel.

 

The highlight of the evening was yet to come. I took the lift for the 18th floor. The lift stopped at the eight floors. A sparkling young lady peeped in and greeted me with a `Bon Jour’.  I thought she wanted some information. Her next sentence cleared the confusion. `Want some company?’ she asked. It had already been a long evening. `No Ma’ am. Thank you. I am tired and going to my room’, was my half-sleepy reply not realizing that she knew that I was heading to my room.

 

As I opened my door, a stray thought came to my mind – was that a correct decision?  And with that, the evening in Paris ended leaving me sufficiently fatigued to fall into a deep slumber for the next many hours.  Tomorrow, we would be flying off to Dubai, the heart of the Middle East, a different world and the other extreme of the pendulum.  But that is another story……

 

The Art of Business Lunching !

Source: The Art of Business Lunching !

The Art of Business Lunching !

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Which wine will go well with a limited expense account?

Which wine will go well with a limited expense account?

Liquidity Lunch

Liquidity Lunch

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The best part of giving a ‘business lunch’ is that you get your prospective client out of his office, where he sits imperiously behind a huge desk, looking you through the top of his half-eye.. You move him into a neutral territory of a restaurant, where you are in command and where are no incoming calls, no files and no people pouring in and distracting all the time. Getting the appointment is also easier, because he has to have his lunch and when you invite him, it is difficult for him to refuse. In the bargain, you can get invariably more than one hour with him instead of the customary 15 to 20 minutes at the office.

Although you would want to invite your counterpart in that organisation, you should not exclude his boss, who has the final ‘OK’ and his immediate subordinate, who could very well fill in his slot in the future. But the invitation should be routed through your counterpart, lest he takes an offence to your crossing over his shoulder. Unless, off course, he says that you can directly invite the others. To find out the lunching preferences of the guests, it is best to talk directly to the secretary. Tell her that you are taking her boss out for lunch and would like to know his likes and dislikes. Chances are that she will be so flattered that you will gather more information than what you were looking for. As for the numbers, your group should not exceed the number of the guests lest it gives an impression of ‘ganging up’.

The restaurant that we are looking for is not a glitzy joint with plastic furniture and paper napkins, frequented by families or teenagers. Neither should it be French-style romantic cafe, with dim red lights, ideal for young couples. It a will-lit, sophisticated restaurant with good food and an impeccable service. A quiet place that is near your client’s office with neutral shade curtains, wooden furniture, leather upholstery chairs and a good reputations. You have cultivated this restaurant for all your ‘business work’; and its staff understands your every nod and signal. Because you have been consistently tipping them well, they look forward to giving you their best service.

Place the reservations with the person who actually runs the show – not the owner, not the receptionist. Along with the menu, he needs to know additional information such as the time of your arrival, the number of people and how long you would stay. Since you are familiar with the restaurant, ask the waiter for a specific table by number. The table should be close to a window with a pleasant view and ample light; it should be away from the kitchen, bathroom doors and service islands.

In addition, ask the waiter not to place your group near families with children. As for drinks, squashes are the best. No fancy colorful drinks in long unstable glasses. Coca-Cola type drinks are to be consumed from a glass and not from bottles or cans (without the help of straw). As for the food, it should sound powerful, look good and be easy to eat. Burgers sound too informal and one has to almost yawn to eat them. Noodles and macaroni keep slipping. Chicken requires intricate surgery. Chips and ice cream have a childish connotation. Biryanis, spicy curries and chapatis are filling but too absorbing and dampen your spirits into a lazy lethargy. So what we are left with are steaks, broiled vegetables, kebabs and fish. Power lunching requires a powerful menu. Nothing should be eaten with hands regardless of cultural inheritances. The bread is to be broken with hands and buttered on the plate and not in the air. Do not smoke when the food is on table. For all of the above guidelines, the guest exercises ‘veto power’.

Business lunch is not the place to exhort others on a calorie-count or your diet plans. Neither is it an occasion for feasting and going wild on an eating binge. Similarly, you do not discuss politics, sex, religion or your personal life. Talk about ordinary everyday mundane affairs. Weather and sports are two safe subjects. The primary aim is to get to know each other and to loosen up a bit before the actual serious business talks begin. After everyone has wined and dined and gotten to know each other, the table is cleared (on your signal). Coffee is brought in as you gently bring up the main topic of discussion. The waiter now knows that you wish to be left alone for the next 20 minutes.

At this stage, there is no need to put up a magic show by bringing out clipboards, thick charts, calculators and hefty manuals. At a lunch, it is sufficient to reach a broad agreement, leaving the detailed work for the office. Just a pencil and a small paper should suffice. And when your business discussion is over, you nod and the waiter comes to tell you that you have a phone call. You move to the desk and pay the bill discreetly. Do not forget to tip before you leave. A usual tip is 10 to 15 per cent of the bill; however, the barman gets around 20 per cent. For the coatman, the doorman and the car valet, an equivalent of a dollar should do. The tip is to be paid in notes and not in coins. And, finally, like any other venture in life, keep the golden rule of “flexibility and improvisation” as you go along.