Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Memoirs of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam

June 2000

I was in the 7th grade and we had two months summer break. Our English teacher Ms.Mary Kutty had given us an assignment. We had to read two books and write a review on both of them and turn in the assignment. I wasn't an avid reader and from what I remember now I had read The Secret Seven, a few books on Hardy Boys, The adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn apart from some of the other books prescribed in our syllabus. That was the when I had a chance to read "Wings of Fire" by APJ Abdul Kalam and I got associated with him. This was his autobiography and it narrated his journey from humble beginnings in Rameshwaram to becoming the missile-man of India. Reading the book was motivating and inspiring. It taught me to dream and to dare. I also loved the early description of his town and how life would be in the India of 40's and 50's.

This was also the same time some of my classmates and me were participating in a challenge - NASA's Red Rover Goes to Mars. Ms. Shivani Parikh, our Science teacher had brought this to our knowledge and we had to solve  specific questions around the spacecraft to Mars. The selected participants would get a chance to visit the NASA Facility in Maryland. ( The same facility in which Dr.Kalam went as an aspiring scientist and he recollects that in the Wings of Fire book). We had to send in our answers to the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad.  This was the pre-google, internet era. It was the era of books publishing scientific experiments, installing CD's such as Encarta and Britannica.Reading Wings of Fire and learning about satellites and space helped me connect my ideas.

Thus my fascination with Dr.APJ Abdul Kalam began.

December 2000

I was a quizzer in school. I would participate in every GK Quiz.
Our school was participating in the Jayaben Thakkar Inter School Quiz Competition in Vadodara.
Two of us from 7th grade would get selected in the quiz. The quiz was on famous Indian personalities. In the pre qualifier round in school I vividly remember of the 10 questions asked One question was  "Who  acted as the scientific advisor to the Government of India and is the missile man of India". No prizes for guessing I did get that answer right. Eventually, I went on to represent my school at Tejas Vidyalaya along with Sahil Chabbda. Ms.Ekbote, our Social Science teacher inspired us to prepare well and eventually we went on to win that quiz. ( Surprisingly we were last till the 3rd round and put on the gas in the rapid fire round to come out as winners).

February 2001

Dr. Kalam visited Kutcch to see the relief efforts that were being carried out.
He visited the BAPS relief site and was impressed how BAPS Charities had taken care of the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the affected. I read this news and saw the pictures when they were published in the "Swaminarayan Prakash" , in the following month's edition and loved the fact that my hero - Dr.Kalam got associated with my favorite charity organization.

September 2002

I was participating in the Hindi Nibandh Lekhan Pratyogita. It went in this way: All the participants would gather in the AV room beside the Computer Lab. We would be given topics on the spot and 2 hours to finish the Essay. One of the topics was 'Dr.APJ Abdul Kalam'. He had recently been entrusted as the 'President of India'. I do recollect on seeing the topic I had absolutely no doubt on what was I going to write. My pen started flowing and I wrote everything that I remembered. From his humble beginnings to the story on satellites on bullock carts and cycles.Such was his inspiration that I had memorised his date of birth and his full name( APJ). To how Dr.Vikram Sarabhai and Dr.Satish Dhawan inspired him.  Leading the missile development programme that has gited us the Prithvi, Trishul, Akash, Nag, and Agniand established India's self-reliance in defense. To Operation Smiling Buddha( 1998 nuclear tests). To him becoming the President. A little unkown work of Dr.Kalam is light-weight calipers that help those affected by Polio. One of the lines I wrote in the essay " If kids remember 14th November as Children's Day because of the birthday of Chacha Nehru, Dr.Kalam will be fondly recalled as the best president India ever had".  I guess, the love I had for him did translate well into words and made me win the 1st prize in the competition( Never ever had I won a prize in an Essay writing competition be it English or Hindi).

February 2004

His Excellency Dr.APJ Abdul Kalam was the chief guest at the 50th anniversary of BAPS Bal Mandal which was celebrated at Swaminarayan Akshardham, Gandhinagar. It is here that he inspired 20,000 kids to dream, work and live for the country. He shared his vision for India in 2020 and the areas one has to focus on in order to achieve it. This was highly motivating because it was coming from Dr.Kalam and not any other political leader.

November 2005

His Excellency Dr.APJ Abdul Kalam, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Leader of Opposition LK Advani were the chief guests for the opening ceremony of Swaminarayan Akshardham in New Delhi. In his speech Dr.Kalam said(video in the link) " How can you mix spirituality and social service ? How can you separate the two ? Those who wish to sincerely serve the society must be spiritually pure and only those who are spiritually pure can serve the society and serve the nation".

These words had a great impact on me. They made me realize that one must think about Nation First. About Society and be spiritually pure. Because charity begins at home !

July 2011. 

This was the instant when I had the opportunity to observe Dr.Kalam from close quarters. He was visiting Swaminarayan Akshardham for the opening of  the book "Hinduism: An Introduction". One of the tasks involved removing his shoes and putting them in a bag. There was a volunteer who would take care of that. But Kalam, insisted that he himself put his shoes inside the bag. If there is one thing that reflected his humility than it was this task. If you are the ex-president and a man of this stature you would have servants and people who do things for you.But even in this small task his respect for others was visible.  It is here he said " Where there is righteousness in the heart there is beauty in character. Where there is beauty in character there is harmony in the home. Where there is harmony in the home there is order in the nation. Where there is order in the nation there is peace in the world"

June 2015 - Transcendence 

Most recently he has collected his experiences in a book "Transcendence: My Spiritual Experiences with Pramukh Swamiji" which I had the fortune of reading last week. It brilliantly portrays his thoughts and personal experiences on the fusion of spirituality and science, on how can we be spiritual in everyday life and how compassion and cooperation are so crucial.
During the dedication ceremony Dr. Kalam presented an autographed copy to Pramukh Swami Maharaj and said, “You are a great teacher. From you I’ve learnt to eradicate I-ness and My-ness in life.” Dr. Kalam then read some passages from his book before Swamishri and asked him to bless all those who have helped him in making the book possible.

And today we are certainly heartbroken that Dr.Kalam isn't amongst us. But we should keep him alive in ourselves by achieving what he dreamt for.  Let us pledge to make India:2020 a Reality.
Let us make our country "Kalam's India" , the country he envisioned.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Discovering Spirituality while Rafting

I recently went on a trip to Colorado. The first day began at 8am with a rafting trip in the Arkansas river. The river was flowing at 2500 cusecs, a speed which was at 85 percentile of the top speed ever achieved by the river. The instructor informed us " The river hasn't been so swift in the past 15 years. Be Ready for some adventure"

Total disclosure: This was going to be my 3rd rafting attempt. I had previously rafted in the Ganga at Rishikesh in Dec 2010 and April 2012. The Dec 2010 experience had me falling of the boat into the "Golf Course rapid" for close to 10-15 minutes and being drifted 2 km ahead of the boat. The freezing December water and no sun on didn't make the fall easier. Left to the mercy of the gushing river waters and being shaken up and down in the rapids with absolutely no control was a near death experience. At this very moment, in my head I recalled images of the "Nilkanth Yatra" in which 11 year old Nilkanth plunges into the Saryu river in peak flood. Here is the exact scene. Looks like he came to my rescue and next I recall is I am floating in the massive Ganga trying to swim to the shore but the weight of the life jacket and the freezing water is making it a task. "Har Har Gange" and I decide let me just go with the flow. A little ahead I see a rock, and when I am near it I try to grab it. Algae had covered it completely. And I slip to fall back in the river, my life jacket still intact. Meanwhile, the words of our guide come to my head " Average depth of the river in this stretch is 40 feet". I also now see my raft. Parked at one of the edge of the river a man climbs the side and is trying to spot me. The Ganga is still carrying me in its lap( In my head " Hopefully I get to a shore or a rock before the next rapid ").
Finally I see another rock in the middle of the river, grab it and sit on it. My legs are bleeding and some parts of my body have turned purple due to the cold water. Anyways, I realize I have lost my track pants and specs and now that I am out of the water I am shivering !!! The raft comes in about 5 minutes. I have absolutely no energy so the instructor lifts me in the raft.

April 2012 - No accident. Sailed through the golf course.

With this background, I wanted to ensure I don't fall into the Arkansas river. At first sight I was fairly overconfident - I have rafted in the mighty Ganga , yeh Arkansas kis cheez ka naam hai. Also the breadth of the river was may be 1/10th that of Ganga. Hence, the shore of the river is much closer. Little did I know the breadth didn't matter. Because here we were going to encounter Level 4 and Level 5 rapids. Yes we took the difficult "Numbers" stretch. Habituated researcher I had already learnt about the incidents in the past month on the Arkansas river and how rafts had overturned and how many people died and how the river was flowing at its peak. With this I already had a lot of anxiety built up when we began to raft. The GoPro pictures can validate this claim.

Anyway, we did complete the 5 hour rafting including a 40 minute break which helped restore our depleting glucose levels. Mind you when you are on a raft and the instructor tells you " You can have a quick break" --- IT IS A QUICK Break. Count 10 and the instructor has already said "Forward 2".

The feeling of triumph was certainly in the air as we had our raft on the verge of tumbling twice, but it didn't. A single person falling in the river is much better than the raft tumbling over and the instructor having no clue of who is where.

During the second phase of the rafting ( after lunch) we had some moments where we could admire the beauty of the canyons we were crossing. It also allowed me to mull over some thoughts.
In my thoughts I was drawing a comparison between satsang and rafting. Let me list them by point:

  • Who is the doer (karta) ?
    • In a raft , you are using a lot of energy. You have this Oar in your hand using which you must push the water to steer the raft ahead and keep it balanced. After a point it gets tiring and at times you could be short of breath with the instructor shouting "Come on team !! Keep pushing ". You feel you are pushing the raft ahead. To an extent you are correct. But who is the single most important person on the raft ? Hands-down, It is the instructor. He is the one who navigates the raft in the right direction and gives you the command. It is good for you and your team if you follow him. And without the direction, you may push the oars through the water 1000 times but never be sure if you are heading in the right direction or the right waterway.
    • Similarly in satsang and mandir when we do seva we take pride and ego in our act. A lot of times we feel " I am the doer" "Without me what would happen". "Hoon karu" "Main karyu" "Mara lidhe thayu" . But in reality it is Swamibapa who is navigating us. Without that and without his guidance and his energy, we are just pushing the oars in the air. That may give us the feeling of doing, but actually not propel us ahead. 
  • Follow the instructor or the Guru
    • In a unknown territory it is wise to take advice. Be it a instructor in the river or GPS in a new location. We seek advice. And we follow. Blindly. No Logic. No Questions asked. Why do we do so ? Because we trust the instructor. We know that he has the best of intentions for us. We also know that he has gone this way a thousand times and he knows where exactly in the river will the current be strong, where exactly will there be a trap, where exactly there is a cave and when exactly is the next rapid coming. And where is the sinkhole where rookie rafters can fall. Hence, he warns us and guides us. Take a left. Keep pushing. Don't let go. Follow what I say and you won't fall. 
    • Similarly, in satsang and spiritual life it is sapient to seek advice from a spiritual master. He knows what all vices( kaam, krodh, lobh, maan, irshya etc) can do to us. He knows what might affect us in the future. Hence, he warns us to stay away to follow his command. Just like the ups and downs of the water in a river, our lives are never linear. there are peaks and there are valleys.How do you stay afloat in this ? By following the will of Guru. He knows the way, shows the way and also goes the way with us. If you follow his will you can avoid the obstacles that the jeeva faces in becoming brahmrup in this life. Or even after following his will you face an obstacle you won't give it up. Because you know the Guru is backing you up. 
  • Teamwork
    • It takes 5-6 rafters to propel the raft ahead just like it takes 4 tyres in a car. If one wheel isn't in sync with the others or has a loose screw, than disaster can occur. All the rafters must push as guided by the instructor and the force must be applied together in the same direction to go ahead. Navigating 10 miles in the fastest of waters, crossing the most difficult rapids can be achieved if the team has the same objective and there is no ill-feelings amongst the team members. The feeling is " Om, Sarve bhavantu sukhinaḥ Sarve santu nirāmayāḥ Sarve bhadrāṇi paśyantu Mā kashchit duḥkha bhāgbhavet Oṁ Shāntiḥ, Shāntiḥ, Shāntiḥ " basically meaning "May all be prosperous and happy May all be free from illness May all see what is spiritually uplifting May no one suffer Om peace, peace, peace". Hence when you face difficulties while rafting, you know you have to face those as a team. You know kicking or throwing someone out of the raft will not help as each member is crucial. 
    • Similarly in satsang and dailylife, every bhakt or team member is important. Everyone serves their own purpose and without them there would be something missing in the team. Hence, our duty is to treat each and every bhakt with utmost respect. With utmost seva-bhavna. With utmost care. At the same time, as stated in Vach Gad 3 - 12 : A magical technique -   Then, for the benefit of His devotees, Shriji Mahārāj said, "One who desires one's own liberation should not harbour any form of vanity - such as, 'I have been born in an upper-class family,' or 'I am wealthy,' or 'I am handsome,' or 'I am a scholar.' One should not keep any of these types of beliefs. In fact, even with a meek satsangi, one should behave as a servant of servants "

With these thoughts, I think rafting experience 3.0 was fantastic. Not only, did it give me a triumphant and exhilarating feeling but subtly it helped me connect with my spiritual side and understand some deeper aspects of the human life.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Be the Best of Whatever you are

If you can’t be a pine on the top of a hill

Be a scrub in the valley—but be

The best little scrub on the side of the hill,

Be a bush if you can’t be a tree.

If you can’t be a highway just be a trail

If you can’t be the sun be a star;

It isn’t by size that you win or fail—

Be the best of whatever you are.

And when you do this, when you do this, you’ve mastered the length of life.

- Luther King Jr

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