Saturday, August 24, 2002
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Neither blind nor deaf to the beauties of nature
Khushwant Singh

Anand Murti GurumaMY chronic lamenting that we Indians are singularly blind to the beauties of nature has evoked passionate response from Vishwa Mohan Tiwari, author of Joy of Birdwatching (NBT).

He maintains that our ancestors were involved in flora and fauna. However, the evidence he cites in favour of "a long and strong tradition of birdwatching and love of birds" is not very convincing. He says the Rig Veda mentions 20 birds, the Yajur Veda 60. The epics have "keen observations on many birds." Many birds were vehicles of the gods: Garuda (Vishnu), swan (Brahma), parrot (Kamdev), peacock (Kartikya), flamingo (Indra), shelduck (Varuna), owl (Lakshmi). Mughal rulers Babar, Humayun and Jehangir commissioned artists to paint birds. He puts the blame for the present indifference on the British imperialist designs to "colonise minds of this culturally rich subcontinent" and "attack the roots of Indian culture". This is blatant chauvinism, for the British made us conscious of our past and were the only ones who wrote about our ancient heritage. Not till Salim Ali’s path-breaking works on India’s bird-life had any Indian written on the subject. Tiwari’s British-bashing has a false ring.

More about life after death
August 17, 2002
Importance of being important
August 10, 2002
Land-grabbing in the name of God
August 3, 2002
On being alone but not lonely
July 27, 2002
When rituals defy reason
July 20, 2002
Why bother to work hard
July 13, 2002
What do different religions say about drinking
July 6, 2002
You don’t always reap as you sow
June 29, 2002
Daughters of the earth get a raw deal
June 22, 2002
How to handle compulsive talkers
June 8, 2002
The Bible as literature
June 1, 2002
Marriage on the rocks
May 25, 2002
Have you ever thought of death?
May 18, 2002
Experiencing the writer’s itch
April 27, 2002

Having said that let me admit that there is a lot to be gained from Tiwari’s Joy of Birdwatching. He has made a heroic effort to give Indian names to different species of birds found in our country. Quite rightly, he believes that the base of these new words should be Sanskrit with an admixture of Hindi and regional languages. Some names he suggests are tongue-twisters, but so are the Latin names used all over the world. He makes a passionate appeal to preserve bird life: "If no birds are left on this planet, earth, there would be no man either. In fact I would go a step ahead and say that if in another hundred years or so birds become extinct, the man would have started his miserable march towards doomsday." Rightly, he observes that if we destroy insects— which form the staple diet of most birds — by the reckless use of pesticides, we will be signing our death warrants.

There are still many gaps in our knowledge of birds e.g. why do some species migrate from one end of the earth to the other? How do they find their way through clouds, storms and at night? How do some manage to fly thousands of miles without food or water? Tiwari’s book deserves to be on the shelves of all bird-lovers.

Spiritual path

People who watch the dozens of pravachans (religious sermons) now being beamed by our TV channels must have noticed frequent appearances of a very handsome young lady wearing a saffron-coloured bandanna round her head. I was intrigued by her ever-smiling face and what she said. From her shudh Hindi, I assumed she must be from some town or city of what is derisively described as the cow-belt of India. I was not able to catch her name flashed on the screen. A month or two ago when Seema Verma, whose husband is Tehelka’s chartered accountant, brought me a lot of literature and recorded tapes of this saffron-clad woman, I discovered the true identity of Anand Murti Guruma.

For some obscure reason, Indians who take the spiritual path are reluctant to divulge their past, before they donned the saffron robes. I wanted to know why this attractive young woman had refused to follow a conventional career or marriage and had taken a vow of celibacy: was she a child of an unhappy home? Had she not done well in her studies? Had she undergone a traumatic experience? Who influenced her to become a sadhvi? What kind of following does she have? And that sort of thing. I put all my questions to Seema Verma. I was pleasantly surprised that she came out with all the answers.

Anand Murti Guruma was born on April 8, 1966, in Amritsar. She is the second of four siblings — one son and three daughters — of an affluent family which migrated from Gujranwala on Partition and set up a lucrative transport business. Her original name was Gurpreet Kaur Grover. She went to a convent and then to Government College for Women, from where she took a degree in arts. Right from the age of 15, she was more interested in religion than in other subjects. She attended discourses given by different religious teachers till she met Sant Delawar Singh, who gave her diksha and her new name, Anand Murti Guruma.

Guruma has her ashram in Sonepat (Haryana) but travels all over the country, giving discourses to large audiences. Her following is estimated to number nearly a million, comprising people of all religions and races. Amongst the most ardent of her followers is Seema Verma, an artist. She has put together some of Guruma’s short verses in English in a booklet form, 108 Rays of Light from Anand Murti Guruma. Being an agnostic, there are times, I feel I have missed out on something precious.

Span of life

Dr Amolak Ram Arora was a familiar figure in Kasauli and Chandigarh. After retiring from government service, he divided his time between the green city and the cantonment town: winter months in Chandigarh where his wife and daughter lived with Dr P. N. Chhuttani, former head of the PGI, and from April to November in rented premises in Kasauli. He opened clinics in both places and rendered free medical advice to all who came and visited him. If anyone paid him, he spent the money buying medicines for the poor. He spent the evenings taking long walks round the hills or along Sukhna Lake in Chandigarh. This pattern continued till he was 90 and unsure of looking after himself in the hills. Both his wife and daughter were by then dead. Dr Chhuttani had died before them. Dr Arora made his peace with Chandigarh and lived out his days there. Till a month before his accident, he was driving his own car to do his shopping, calling on his patients and friends. One night he fell from his bed and fractured his leg. A week later, he was gone. He was more than 97 years old. His death went totally unnoticed by the media. He had no relatives to pay for an insertion in any obituary column in any paper.

Amolak Arora’s death made me aware of how antiquated our notions are about old age and usefulness. The Bible says: "The days of lives are three score and ten (70), and if by reason of strength they are three scores and twenty (80), yet their boast is only labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away." It paints a gloomy picture of old age: "As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more."

Dr Arora’s life was a good example of how a person can live in good health provided he knows how to enjoy life and be of service to his fellow-beings. Arora lived simply and frugally on food he cooked himself. He enjoyed his evening drink and the company of young people: he was a bit of a flirt and fond of verbal banter with women of all ages and classes. Instead of wasting his time in prayer or visiting temples or gurdwaras, he went out of his way to help the sick and those in distress. There was a cheerful smile on his face when he died. I am reminded of Allama Iqbal’s lines in Persian, describing a man of faith:

Nishaan-e-mard-e-Momin ba too goyam?

Choon merg aayad,

Tabassum bar lab-e-ast

(You ask me about the signs of a man of faith? When death comes to him, he has a smile on his lips.)

I used these lines when my father died at 90, holding a glass of Scotch in his hand. I used them again for Dr Amolak Arora who beat him by eight years.

Common sense

Arriving at a remote railway station in Assam, a traveller asked how far it was to the village. "Four kilometres," said the old ticket collector.

"Wouldn’t it have been better to build the station near the village?" asked the stranger.

"We thought about that", replied the old man, "but we decided it was better to have it near the railway line."

(Contributed by Reeten Ganguly, Silchar)