Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dr. Sam Kamaleson and the Friends Missionary Prayer Band

On Friday, I had the great honour and privilege of having lunch with Dr. Samuel Kamaleson. The story and legacy of this man of God is truly an inspiration. About 6 months ago, I spent a week in the Alipur Hospital covering the surgical work and spending some time with my good friend Dr. Raja Paulraj, a member of that rare breed - the mission hospital psychiatrist!! It was there that I was exposed first hand to the pioneering work of the Friends Missionary Prayer Band, the organisation begun by Dr. Sam and his associates. And then, in the EMFI conference, we heard the moving testimony of Drs. Isaac and Vijila who began the medical work with the Malto tribe in Jharkhand after FMPB had been working there for many years. As we heard the story of small beginnings, rapid growth and continuing difficulties (like no electricity, phone, internet and other things that we cannot even imagine going without!!), it was a great inspiration to feel the excitement and sense of fulfillment that is so evident in those who are following God. In fact, that was one of the best experiences of the conference - being with so many people who are vibrant, excited and fulfilled. So unlike a normal congregation of health care professionals with the huge baggage that we tend to carry.....

So, when I heard Dr. Sam and his wife, Adela, were having lunch with Babloo, my dear friend from Vellore (and the music director for our wedding!), I shamelessly invited myself!! And it was a moment to cherish. In spite of his busy schedule in Vellore, with 2 if not 3 public meetings every day, he was warm and unhurried as he recounted snippets of his life and ministry. How he came to a faith in Jesus Christ through the testimony of a Hindu collegemate. How he responded to God's call by singing on the streets of Madras and then preaching to those who gathered to enjoy his wonderful voice (which has still lost none of its richness or depth). How he and a group of friends who were volunteering for the Vacation Bible School movement heard the call to form a missional fellowship at an all-night prayer meeting. How they spent 10 years meeting together and praying before the first missionary of FMPB went out (he called those the years of preparation). How his ministry and Indian passport had led him to many communist countries and had even caused him to be detained for interrogation in Romania. And how through times of loss and confusion like at the death of his 8 year old grandson, he found strength and reassurance in God and His love.

With warmth and love he responded to our questions and gave us a glimpse of the fulfilment and joy that comes after a lifetime of service to God. There was still so much more to say and hear when he had to take leave. But spending the time with him reinforced in us the clear idea that God is no man's debtor. Serving Him will only bring blessing and peace, though the road may have a few ups and downs. Men and women who have given their lives in the service of the King are all around us. The stories of those who have gone before are there to remind us. That living our lives in pursuit of power, position and possessions (in the name of being comfortable and providing for our family!!) can never compare with giving them all up to follow the call of God. But in our culture of materialism and selfishness, these stories are pushed to the back of our mind and the people who live them out are considered stupid radicals. We think God is too small to take care of our needs and spend our lives trying to take care of them ourselves. But what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul......

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Linkorama 30/10/10

INDIA'S NOUVEAU RICH SEEK GOD: This article talks about the rising number of upper middle-class and rich Indians who are looking to religion to increase prosperity as well as bring peace. Isn't it amazing that we have the 'art of living' beautifully described in the Sermon on the Mount and yet run behind 'godmen' whose claims are often proved dubious in the long run.....(HT:IM)

THE APPLE STRATEGY: A good article on the Steve Jobs' strategy that made him cut the number of products the company offered from 350 to 10 in 1998 and focus the company on just a few high quality products, going against the accepted strategy of the time. The article ends, 'Do you have the guts to keep things simple? Steve Jobs does and it's been crucial to his success.'

60 YEARS OF PEANUTS: I recently found out that this October 2nd marked the 60th anniversary of the first Peanuts comic strip. It continued uninterrupted till Feruary 13th 2000, the day after it's writer and illustrator Charles M. Schultz died. The story of the ultimate 'loser', it has been an encouragement to many. This is the first strip ever.

picture of original Peanuts comic strip

THE FUTURE ZUBIN MEHTA DOING THE MAD CONDUCTOR ROUTINE: This young guy has some serious talent!! Wish he had brought along his handkerchief!! If you don't have 4 and a half minutes to have a good laugh, start from 1:50. I was waiting to see the finale and his bow, but the flying stick and the fall were much better!!(HT: Bib Christ)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Getting and giving

Here in Vellore, we are in the middle of the Teaching Mission week. And by the grace of God, I am here and get to listen to Dr. Sam Kamalesan expound the Word with anointing - what a blessing. The theme for the teaching mission is Godliness with Contentment and yesterday, one of the things which struck me was a story he told about Kiran Bedi, our first woman IPS officer. When she was passed over for promotion, a reporter asked her if she was upset. She said she believed in transformational leadership rather than transactional leadership and hence was not too concerned. In contrast to a leadership style epitomised by the 'I scratch your back, you scratch mine' mentality, she believed in one where you give, and give, and give and keep on giving. And then after a pause she said, "Like a missionary...."

And as Dr Sam told us medical professionals in the audience to give our skills away, I was struck by the fact that it is so very difficult. Rather like the camel going through the eye of the needle. Our human tendency and practice is to get rather than give. And not just take what is our right, but grab everything that is in our reach and fight bitterly with our neighbour, who, of course, is trying to do the very same thing. And as I thought about this, I remembered one of my experiences on the train ride from Ranchi for the EMFI conference.

The rail gaadi that transported me to and from my old haunts in Jharkhand is probably the slowest 'express' train in India. The Alleppey-Bokaro express, that has now been extended to Dhanbad stops literally every 15-20 minutes especially in some parts of Andhra and Orissa. Of course, there is great improvement in 7 years since I last took the trip. The train was only 2 hours late (in comparison to days..!!) and we had electricity and water the whole way!! But one thing hasn't changed much. The second-class compartment used to transform into an unreserved compartment the moment we reached North Orissa and Bihar. This time, as the conference was in the Dassehra holidays, there were a huge number of people returning home from their work in Kerala (where it is generally considered below a Malayali's dignity to do manual work and hence there is a large migrant worker population - of course, in the Gulf, a Malayali will do anything, but that's another story!!). So when I boarded the train in Vellore, the compartment was already full. And there was no question of anyone moving. We all enjoyed the archetypal Indian custom - Adjusting!! At one point there were 10 extra people in our coupe (in addition to the 8 who had reserved tickets). Believe you me, I counted!! Surprisingly, once we realised there was no alternative (one of the add-ons told us that the Ticket Collector had already been paid off!!), we adjusted quite well and slept 2-3 per berth. Interesting experience...

But the story I am referring to took place on the return journey (the previous paragraph was just to fill up space!!). This time, it was quite comfortable as there were very few extra people walking around. Now in my coupe was a family with a small boy for whom a ticket had to be bought, but who preferred to sleep with the mother. That meant one berth was vacant. The first night, some lucky soul saw the berth empty and slept on it. On the other side of the coupe was a gentleman whose pastime appeared to be aggressive bargaining with every trader who passed by. I remember one old lady selling peanuts or in Railway brogue, 'timepass'. She was offering a good amount for Rs.5, but even here our friend could not help but say "4 Rupees"!! The lady left in a huff!! Towards evening on the second day, this gentleman had a long, hushed conversation with the father of the small boy. And sometime later I heard him tell a passerby that he could have a berth for Rs.100. And there it was - the typical human tendency taken to the extreme. This gentleman had his eyes open at all times seeking an opportunity to grab something for himself. Even if it meant selling something that was not his and for which he had paid nothing.

As I listened to Dr. Sam begging us health professionals in one of the biggest hospitals in the country to give our skills away, I understood exactly what he was talking about. And I had the sinking feeling that it would be very difficult for us..... Because of our innate human tendency to get rather than give.... Because, like the rich young ruler in the Bible, we health workers have great wealth, great learning and great pride..... How hard for the rich man to enter the Kingdom.....

Linkorama 28/10/10

SIXTH SENSE TECHNOLOGY: While checking out the TED phenomenon, I came across this amazing new technology. Imagine going to work in a crowded bus or metro and opening up your computer screen on the back of the person in front of you... or on the wall... or on the ground. And the amazing 29 year old who has invented it is planning to release it under Open Source!! Even if you are completely tech unsavvy, you have got to watch this video!!

PRAYING HANDS: This famous drawing by Albrecht Durer has a moving story of brotherly love and sacrifice behind it. Read it here. (HT: Ninans)

LATEST STANDINGS ON THE CORRUPTION FRONT: Here is the 2010 Transparency International Corruption ratings. India surprisingly is at 87. Better than I imagined considering there were 178 countries listed!! Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore top the list and Somalia is at the bottom.(HT: TC)

THE WORLD'S MOST DANGEROUS AIRPORTS: Here is a list of the world's 7 most dangerousairports (and Mangalore does not figure among them). And this is a video of the St. Martin airport in the Carribean. It appears like you could jump up and touch the plane!! Scary!!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

An eventful 20 days

When I put up my last post, I would never have imagined the next one would be coming 20 days later!! But that's what travelling and new experiences do to me - especially if a lot of the travel is in the second-class compartments of our beloved but unnerving railway system!! And also I realise that the frantic(!!) posting of the last 2 months was basically the outcome of the strict regimen that I had set myself in Shillong (lasting late into the night!!), which crumbled the moment I set my feet in home territory of Vellore!! I had thought that I would be putting up 3-4 posts a day(!!), but had not factored in my innate tendency to put my legs up, the moment they come in contact with the soil of Vellore!! So after completing a lot of the backed up reading of the last few months, I take my first steps back onto this blog - and they are difficult ones!! The first thing was to decide how to begin!! How to explain this long absence?! And apologise to the (very!!) few who have kept checking to see if there was something new!! Hope I have managed that satisfactorily!! So now comes the question - where do I begin to tell the story of the last 20 days. The exciting train journey, the inspiring EMFI conference, the moving alumni get-together in Satbarwa (my old hospital in Jharkhand) and the settling down to a new routine in Vellore. Fitting all this into a single post will be impossible. So I guess I'll keep returning to these over the next few days and fit in all I can remember. Right now, I gotta go to bed, as I have grandiose plans of an early morning start tomorrow!! I miss Shillong already - I don't know how I will be able to leave when the time comes. And I think a lot of my dear friend and colleague Dr. Lurstep Wanshnong, who is managing the surgical department single-handedly. And we do 15-20 major operations a week... He tells me that since I have left, he starts work at 6 AM and finishes at 11 PM..... On the good days.... Say a prayer for him if you remember.....

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The victorious Shillong Chamber Choir returns

The Shillong Chamber Choir has hogged the news here in Meghalaya over the last few weeks as they progressed through the rounds of India's Got Talent. It was amazing to see the huge rallying of public enthusiasm for the choir (which I am sure the TV channel airing the show would have loved!!) that reached a crescendo over the last week as the final round aired. As expected, there were posters everywhere drumming up support for the choir and ad hoc phone booths all over the town where people could vote. Unlike the previous time this happened, when Amit Paul only managed second place in Indian Idol, this time the frenzied voting was successful and the Shillong Chamber Choir was victorious. And, truth be told, they seemed to get better with every performance and their final medley, which even got one of the judges to give them a standing ovation, was a virtual tour de force. A truly moving performance that well deserved all the adulation they received from back home. I did not watch the other performers myself, but certainly their performance was befitting the internationally acclaimed choir. The news is that they plan to start a music school in Meghalaya with the `50 lakh prize money. Their choice of songs for the finale was also interesting and they ended their medley of praise songs with the climax of 'My Tribute' by Andrae Crouch. Just beautiful!

I knew there was much planning as to their reception back here in Shillong, but (as usual!!) I forgot the date. So today, just as I reached home after a long and tiring day at work, I was confused to hear loud sounds of cheering and the bursting of crackers. The last time this happened was during the soccer World Cup, when there was a huge screen put up in the nearby stadium and huge numbers used to watch the matches there. I called a friend to find out the cause of the commotion and learnt that the choir was just returning and a huge crowd was bringing them into Shillong from the Guwahati main road. My journalistic instincts overrode my tiredness and I quickly threw on my work clothes again, grabbed my camera and raced off in my trusty Alto to catch them. Alas, I was a little too late and though I drove halfway across Shillong in search of the celebrations, I had to finally give up the chase and return home empty handed!! The government of Meghalaya has planned a huge reception for them tomorrow and has even declared a half-holiday to allow everyone to attend!! I hope I can make it for that. So there will be no pictures of the victorious choir surrounded by the adoring masses today. Just the video of their impelling final performance at India's Got Talent for those of you who missed it. Viva la SCC! Viva la Shillong!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Shillong Bonsai Society Exhibition, Part 2

More pictures from the Bonsai exhibition. The earlier ones are here. And the story of my experiments with Bonsai is here.

Note the difference between my pic (above) and Amy's (below) of the same tree. I totally missed the two little men with the flower petals as caps!!

If there had been no Gandhi

October the second, 1869. A red-letter day in the annals of our great country. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born to Karamchand Gandhi, the diwan (Prime Minister) of the princely state of Porbandar and Putlibai, his fourth wife (the previous three having died in childbirth). Over the course of the next 78 years, this man changed the course of history, not just of our country, but many others in the world. His mark on history is so indelible, that even today, more than 60 years after his death, his strong influence on the hearts and minds of men remains. The 'leader of the free world', Barack Obama hung his picture in his Senate office, before he became President. Nations as diverse as South Africa and the Phillipines owe their freedom from apartheid and dictatorship to the principles he espoused. Movers of men's hearts as different as Dr. Martin Luther King and John Lennon have acknowledged his influence in their lives. Even a Bollywood blockbuster sang a paean to him, making Gandhigiri the rallying cry for a new generation of protesters.

And yet, though we celebrate his birthday as one of the 3 National Holidays of India (the other 2 being Independence Day and Republic Day), his legacy among intellectuals in our country is still being debated. I will never forget the first time I realised that for some, Gandhi is not a hero. It was during a college debate where I quoted Gandhi and called him an example for us to follow. During the time for questions, I was bombarded with a series of criticisms about my choice of an example, with insinuations regarding his policies, teachings and personal life. And since then, through many other instances and conversations, I have come to understand the variety of perceptions of Gandhi and his life. Some people (I would hope, the majority) regard him as Bapu and Mahatma, the Father of the Nation. But for some, he was misguided, others call him dogmatic, and still other consider him a fraud. So on the anniversary of his birth, rather than add to the volumes of writing on his life and achievements, I thought I would consider what may have been the situation had he never been born. Would this land and the earth have been a different place and would that place have been better or worse than the one we live in. So, had he never lived, here are three questions for all the Gandhi-baiters and haters to chew on. There are more, but they will have to wait for another post as I will already be overshooting the strict length guidelines for blogs!! And being more aware of reality than when I was in college, I know there will be differences of opinion and I look forward to hearing some of them...

WOULD THERE BE A DEMOCRATIC, UNITED INDIA: For me, the years of British reign in India are too far gone to be realistically related to. My only first-hand accounts of them were from my maternal grandmother, who was one of the masses on the streets during the Quit India movement, when she was doing her medical studies in Delhi. But even for her, it was over all too quickly and hence, like most of my generation, the years of struggle can only be imagined from history books and biographies. And while there were many valuable inputs that the British made to our country, I do not agree with the growing number of people who seem to think it was the best thing that happened in our history!! But what I do know is that had it not been for the British, who united our whole country under one flag, there would probably still be a huge number of princely states occupying our country's land mass (by my count from the limited resources available, around 194!!), each vying with the other for territory and importance.

So where does Gandhi come in? The British were quite content (and successful) with their policy of divide and rule. And they were more than happy with the puppet rulers of the various princely states. These men, with some notable exceptions, were largely interested in furthering their own interests (and coffers), for the most part, at the expense of their subjects. The British dealt solely with the rulers and their (usually corrupt) ministers. Whenever there was a popular uprising, the ruler, with the help of British troops would quickly suppress it. In fact, during the First War of Indian Independence in 1857 (which I hope nobody still crudely calls the Sepoy Mutiny), many of these rulers helped the British to put down the uprising in their territories and betrayed other rulers who were leading the revolution, two of the main reasons for its failure. Now, it is possible that with modernisation and the changing public sentiment in Britain with regard to its foreign territories after World War II, the British would have decided to leave India on their own. But had it not been for the unifying voice of Gandhi, they would have surely left it in the hands of the (mostly) corrupt and inefficient princes, nawabs, nizams and rajas. And with it, would have died the dream of a united India. At the most, we would have been a commonwealth of independent nations, with little commonality except land borders.

The Indian ruler and leader has always tended to be corrupt and self-serving (for further clarification on this point, please contact one Mr. Suresh Kalmadi!!). It was Gandhi who brought all these conflicting forces together under one banner. And even he was unable to bring Mr. Mohammed Ali Jinnah into the fold, which was his biggest failure to his and our undying sorrow. When he removed himself from politics in the 1920s to concentrate on social justice and development (as well as spend time in jail!), the very party that was leading the cry for a united India splintered into two groups, one under Motilal Nehru and the other under Sardar Patel. It was also during this period that the Hindu-Muslim relationship worsened to the point of no return. Only when he reappeared on the political horizon did the two sides of the Congress party unite again, putting aside their differences. Of course, that did not happen with the Hindus and Muslims thanks to Jinnah and his vision of a separate state for Muslims. So my assumption is that without the stabilising and self-sacrificing influence of Gandhi, it is likely that our other political leaders, who were all of lesser stature and often carried vested interests, would have never managed to pull together for the common good. This would have played into the hands of the kings, who might even have asked the British to remain, ostensibly to prevent anarchy, but in reality, to protect their shaky positions. It was only the strong voice of Gandhi speaking with his hand on the pulse of the Indian people that gave us this great country as we enjoy it today.

WHAT WOULD BE OUR SOCIAL MILIEU: The greatness of Gandhi as a political leader, was that he was one of the few who understood that politics is actually about people and their needs and aspirations. He was ready to identify with the people he led to the utmost degree. His choice of lifestyle while extreme, made complete sense to the majority of Indians of the day, who actually lived like him. His readiness to identify with the Indian people, not just at a meeting or a rally, but in his everyday life gave him an authenticity akin to few other political leaders of that age or this one. And by this identification, he brought about a sea-change in the value system of an entire nation. Till he reached out to the untouchables and called them Harijans or children of God, the rest of society, while sometimes sympathising with their plight refused to acknowledge their existence as useful and important members of society. While leaders like B.R.Ambedkar attempted to bring the issues of dalits and untouchables to the forefront, there was always a bias as they were part of the community. It was the total identification of a caste Hindu like Gandhi with the Harijans that actually encouraged the other political leaders (who were mostly from the upper castes), to take the issue seriously. Thus today, while discrimination does exist in some places at a subliminal level, we have many legislations and reservations in place that have gone a long way towards integrating our society. Had it not been for Gandhi, this government sponsored policy of upliftment may have never become a reality and the militant section of the dalit community would have pursued an agenda that would have been, in the long run, detrimental to all.

AND WHAT ABOUT AHIMSA: For me, this was Gandhiji's greatest gift to the world. Till he came, the idea of non-violent protest was alien to the understanding of politics and revolution. The greater military force or the better organised one was always the victor in any conflict. While the principles of non-violence were part of many major Indian and Western religions, Gandhiji was the first one to apply them on such a huge scale. The picture of ahimsa that he painted on the canvas of the Indian freedom struggle revolutionised the approach to political and social protest and left a far-reaching impression on many world leaders and their politics. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, 'Christ gave us the goals, Gandhi gave us the tactics.' The philosophies of leaders like Dr. King, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Benigno Aquino and many others were moulded by the influence of Gandhi. And with the popularity of the Bollywood blockbuster Lage Raho Munnabai, Gandhigiri (principles of Gandhi) is now a watchword for post-modern social protest and action. Had there been no Gandhi, there may still have been independence. But it would have come at the cost of many Indian martyrs like the beloved and heroic Bhagat Singh. And the proponents of equality, justice and freedom throughout the world would have had no example of non-violence to take courage from in the long hours of dark before the dawn.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was human. He may have had many faults, some of which are known to us. There may be many who question his ideologies and decisions. One of them even killed him. But had it not been for him, this country and the world may have been a very different place than the one we know. We would not have had his example of extreme simplicity, humility and high principles to admire and aspire to. There may have been no one whose life epitomised the values that our religions enshrine. And I may have been a citizen of the princely state of Cochin and Amy, of the state of Travancore! So on his birth anniversary, let us thank God that our country produced one of the world's greatest citizens whose gave his life for the freedom we enjoy. And hope that in some small way, we may be worthy of his heritage.

P.S. This post was supposed to go up on the 2nd, but internet problems caused a postponement. My apologies.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Linkorama 1/10/10

Amy says I post a sight too many linkoramas, but some things are just too good not to share!! Here are a few links from the week gone by

THE MAVERICK: An update on my favourite missionary story - the Waodani (Aucas) of Ecuador. Steve Saint, the son of the pilot Nate Saint (one of the 5 men killed on Palm Beach), who has been actively involved with his father's killers throughout his life has developed a car that can fly!! This amazing contraption has been built to allow missionaries access to areas and people groups who remain unreached. (HT: Pradeep)

THE GRAND DESIGN: A review of the book by Stephen Hawking which has hit the top of the bestseller lists and has generated much controversy (even on this small blog!!)

THE TRUTH ABOUT THE TITANIC: For all you conspiracy theorists out there, here's one that you will love to sink your teeth into. The daughter of a crew member spills the beans at last on what caused the unsinkable ship to, well, sink on it's maiden voyage!! (HT: TW)

THE NEED FOR ADOPTION: Did you know that there are 25 million orphans in India? We have the highest number of orphans followed by China(17M), Nigeria (9.7M), Ethiopia (5M) and Bangladesh (5M). Maybe this is an issue our church should be actively looking at - adoption as a regular practice for all of us who want to follow God and not just for a select few. After all, widows and orphans are high on the list of the people we have been called to care for.... (HT: Z)

DADDY'S RULES FOR DATING HIS DAUGHTER: This post on a dad's rules for boys interested in dating his daughter is hilarious!! I guess I won't spoil them by posting any here!! (Also because I couldn't chose which ones to put up, they are all great!!). And here is an application form to be filled by all boys desirous of dating the afore-said daughter. I kinda like this dad!! And have a funny feeling I'm gonna be like him when the time comes!!

WHEN SHOULD WE TELL OUR KIDS ABOUT SEX: According to this counsellor, in the sex-saturated world we live in, we need to talk early, talk freely and talk often. (HT: TC)

THE PRAYING DOG: We are both dog-lovers so that explains the number of dog videos on the blog!! Enjoy. (HT: JNNPR)