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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Up close and personal-The Dalai Lama leaves a lasting impression at the Delhi Gymkhana Club, 23/3

Beautifully decorated - the Centenary Lawns, Delhi Gymkhana Club  

There is a very old saying, "All roads lead to Rome." On the 23rd of March that saying could very aptly be changed to" All roads lead to the Delhi Gymkhana Club as there was an unprecedented crowd to hear His Holiness the Dalai Lama address the members of the club.

Organised by the Knowledge Club of the DGC, this was a one of a  kind opportunity to hear the Dalai Lama and I really can't  recall seeing such a large and well attended function at the Delhi Gymkhana till date!The decor was fantastic and the buzz in the audience was palpable.While the event was scheduled for 2 pm, the crowd had started assembling from 1230 and by the time we managed to get in by 120 pm, the seats were almost all taken.

His  Holiness, the Dalai Lama  is the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people who frequently states that his life is guided by three major commitments- the promotion of basic human values or secular ethics in the interest of human happiness, the fostering of inter-religious harmony and the preservation of Tibet's Buddhist culture, a culture of peace and non-violence.

Despite the fact that it was a hot afternoon the Dalai Lama received an enthusiastic welcome at the Gymkhana Club where he spoke about the need to foster both warm-heartedness and intelligence. He told the audience-“All our knowledge came from India. One great Tibetan master in the early 15th century remarked that although Tibet is nominally bright with snow, until the light of knowledge came from India, Tibet had remained in the dark."

The Dalai Lama

“You Indians are our gurus and we are the disciples, but I think we have proved to be reliable disciples because we have well preserved the knowledge we gained from you.”

He spoke of the need to promote ethics in a secular way, clearly indicating that all human beings.are the same.If we are honest, truthful and transparent it will lead to trust and trust yields friendship. For social animals like us, friendship is very important. Taking a more ethical approach in this very life will bring self-confidence and inner peace.”

Animated and extremely interesting
The animated talk was followed by a Question answer session where the Dalai Lama talked about the  Buddha giving his followers the liberty to question his teachings and examine them with reason. He pointed out that the Buddha had given different explanations on different occasions according to the dispositions of those listening to him. With regard to emptiness of intrinsic existence, it doesn’t mean that things don’t exist at all. He cited an 11th century master who said, "The hand is empty, fire is empty and burning is empty, but if you put your hand in the fire there will be pain.”

When questioned about 'karma' the Dalai Lama said that the word 'karma' meant action. While some people blame what happens to them on ‘their karma’, they really don’t stop to ask who created this karma?Was it thenmselves? In response to doubts about the presence of ancient values in contemporary society, he was clear - there was a distinct need to make an effort to preserve positive traditional values in the community. 

Screens were set up all around and we could see and hear him up close
 To close the event, the Club managing committee thanked His Holiness for coming, praising him as a man of peace and a rare human being and the members who thronged the path to catch a closer glimpse of him as he left couldn't agree more!.

I looked back and saw this- loved it
My Take on the Dalai Lama-Highly articulate with a wealth of knowledge, witty, a firm believer in secularism, a great respect for all religions. 

As for that afternoon, in a word, unforgettable! 

NB- Ref- Dalai Lama Official website

Monday, March 23, 2015

St. Stephen's College leads the way in creating good citizens

My Alma Mater- St Stephen's College, Delhi

A silent revolution is taking place in Delhi. This revolution is being pioneered by my Alma mater, St. Stephen's College by way of the Citizenship and cultural enrichment course and from what I observed closely at the second lecture on family values, last Saturday, the 21st  of March,  this revolution will have far reaching and very positive consequences once the course is completed.

In a first of its kind initiative in India,
Network 18 and St. Stephen's College have joined hands to offer a course that promotes education for all. The citizenship and cultural enrichment course is aimed at harnessing the educational resources of the media fraternity. Under the course, St. Stephen's College will hold weekly classes conducted by its regular faculty and distinguished alumni including top serving and retired judges, bureaucrats and renowned academicians. The lecture content will be hosted across the digital and social media platforms of Network18 ( and St. Stephen's College (

Rev Valson Thampu talks on Family values 

After the second lecture, the focus on which was The Family,  Rev Valson Thampu,  Principal, St. Stephen's College, said, “We are not into learning, in the traditional sense of the term. We are into a process of intervention.  Rather than beat our breasts about how bad the society is or how scary tomorrow will be, we are trying to illumine the outline of a different and saner attitude to life. Society is the aggregation of individuals and families. If we can cultivate higher and nobler tastes at these levels –individual and family- society will improve. Not, otherwise. Law is necessary, but it is not the solution. Law-enforcing agencies can do little. But you and I can do much. You can be the agent of hope and regeneration. It is with that spirit that we are coming together week after week. We are not “doing a course”. We are equipping ourselves to be agents of hope and healing, to be embodiments of sanity and finer sensibility. “
Taking Questions after the talk

Springtime glory in college

All things bright and beautiful

 Tea and a chat with Rev Valson Thampu  

At home

After the talk, Rev Valson invited me for tea at his residence and I was happy to have the opportunity to have a ‘tete a tete’ with him. The walk to the Principal’s cottage was a sheer delight, the chapel looked even more beautiful than I remembered, Easter lilies were in full bloom with their inviting delightful fragrance  and the whole place had a very special feel. Not surprising, as I was going down this path after well over two decades. It was wonderful to meet Rev Valson’s family, in particular, a newly born grandson, who is clearly the focus of attention these days.  Sitting over a delicious ‘masala’ tea on that  beautiful spring evening,  I had an opportunity to understand how exactly how these silent revolutions are created and how the immediate, as well as potential spin offs from those revolutions, can go a very long way in creating a change with far reaching impact - something which every country needs if it has to make the best  use of its untapped resources.

At home with Rev Valson Thampu

To my question of how exactly this course on Good Citizenship was created, Dr. Rev Valson Thampu spoke straight from the heart.“Elitism breeds a psychology  of insecurity which inhibits innovation along with enforcing mindless conformity which I believe is the death of education. The very  purpose of education is to liberate the spirit of innovation.So I thought of  interrogating this  dogma of elitism and my conviction  in  2007 was that what we had cobbled together at St. Stephen's College over a period was social elitism.

Accordingly, my first challenge in 2007 was that I had to shift the foundation from social elitism to intellectual elitism and to  have a large component of innovation create ‘out of the box as well as lateral thinking.

I was convinced that this spirit cannot be nurtured in a homogenised element and that is what I had to break. The student community had become extremely homogenized - coming from the privileged  and economically powerful group only and that is what I broke.

You may be surprised to know that in St. Stephen's College today we have 25-30 children whose parents are daily wage earners with a monthly income of  less than Rs. 7, 000. Many of them are getting free education.  Additionally we have 20-25 blind students getting free education. This has created diversity and college is a far more vibrant place now with a culture of dynamism. People don’t know this as a whole world  of prejudice was created about the institution.

Elaborating, Rev Valson told me that "Institutions have a tendency to become ends in themselves.In fact, the more prestigious and popular an institution  is, the more we can see this. And sadly, at St. Stephen's, we are an institution that many love to hate. This hostility is further sustained by some who have their noses in the air- This is something that has left me deeply disturbed and I am bent on correcting this misguided notion."

"The founding fathers of the college had an entirely different vision and as far back as
1908, SK Rudra had the sheer audacity to say that “The real genius of India lies in the villages,” and that is what I firmly believe in myself. He was also a great believer commitment of excellence and spiritual values and I too am convinced about that.I have also been deeply influenced by the ideals of C F Andrews- and so started the CF Andrews awards- which of course landed me in hot water but that is a different story.(Laughs) Kudos and hats off of CF Andrews who was sent off to sent to S Africa during the troubled times there ,so there is a connection between what happens in S Africa and what happens in India simultaneously."

"An  educational institution without social responsibility  is a contradiction in terms and so I have coined the term, ISR-Institutional Social Responsibility in which the accent is on returning to society. I want to bring back that large vision that takes College way beyond merely education."

He then went on to explain it in statistical terms. “Every institution is sleeping on a large amount of intellectual assets. These assets can be made available to society. eg. There are 36, 000 colleges in the country. If each of them was to  train 200 citizens, we  are looking at 7.2 million citizens being trained without spending any money! This is lifelong education, sustained education and St. Stephen's will show the way. All we have is a one  time registration fee of Rs 1,000 for tea, and at the end of the year, there will be a shared meal in the dining hall and a convocation where a  certificate will be presented to each of the participants. The only other expenditure incurred is an honorarium  of Rs 2000 each to people who will be teaching."

To my question of how Network 18 got involved, Rev. Valson told me that one of the alumni, Rohit Bansal who is on the board of Network 18, connected college to the editorial department and it all evolved seamlessly. Umesh Upadhyay, President News, at Network 18 was extremely passionate about the whole idea ( even though he is not from College)and what makes it even more meaningful is that this programme merits attention of approximately 5 million visitors on their sites. IBN Live is now the recording and Indian Express is the print partner. As he put it, "Take the right step with humility  and  faith and the right intentions and great results will be achieved."

Rev Valson is convinced that for its own good, St. Stephen's college really must grow out of itself- and that would really be institutional renewal. Excitement about this project has overflowed and it has already created an impact on people all around.For him too, at a personal level its an opportunity to share and exchange.

To conclude, I’m really glad I went to College that afternoon, as seeing is really believing! To that I must add, St. Stephen's College is now sending out a different  signal and Stephanians must feel proud of what college is doing. The simple fact is that we are not merely talking, we are demonstrating on the ground. Great things can actually be done without spending any money. At present, St Stephen's College is the only institution in the country doing such path breaking work and that is what the pioneering spirit of the college founders was really about! 

For more information, you can check out-

Saturday, March 14, 2015

On our New Beginnings and starting a New life in New Delhi

For those of you who have been following this blog, you would recall that in my last post almost three weeks ago, I had written about moving from Muscat to New Delhi after having lived in Oman for over 24 years. You might also recall that that I was emotional about the thought.

To re-visit exactly what happened, we left Muscat on the 1st of March on an Emirates flight via Dubai and after a three hour wait, boarded the next flight to New Delhi. Must confess that our hearts were heavy and we were all mentally and physically fatigued as we had had a really hectic and busy few weeks-both on the social as well as personal fronts. Saying goodbye to all our friends wasn't easy and leaving the place we we had called home in the Hatat Complex Muscat, was a deeply emotional experience.

Here are some glimpses and shades of our last morning in Muscat and the journey to New Delhi.
Last morning in Muscat-1/1/15

Goodbye Oman
As it happens,time is the best way of dealing with changes in life and exactly two weeks after we have moved to New Delhi, we are reasonably settled. 

Our parents are all happy and we are particularly glad about this as my father in law is not keeping well. In that sense, it is a great opportunity for all of us to try and spend as much time as possible together and in some measure, try and alleviate the pressure that my mother in law had been dealing with since he had a mild stroke on 31st December, (2014). Even my parents aren't exactly young anymore and have health related issues,but seeing the almost permanent smiles on their faces as they have absorbed the fact that we are not in Delhi on a mere holiday but are here to stay is well worth any parting pangs that we may have felt  as we left.  

On another note, since our move to New Delhi was a deliberate and planned decision taken over a period of time, we have had the opportunity of building a home in Gurgaon and are now in the midst of the very interesting but time consuming task of doing up the interiors. So to quote -There is absolutely no doubt in my mind about the fact that change signifies that we're moving forward, living better, and giving ourselves the chance to be the best we can possibly be."   

And here is a glimpse of our new home in Gurgaon, India which is really a 'work in progress' and the work entailed on its interiors will take us at least three months before we can actually move in on a permanent basis. But as we are all aware, 'Rome wasn't built in a day and we are well aware of the fact that there will be many challenges before we can finally settle in comfortably and say, "There is no place like home" but thats no real issue and without sounding cliched, I'd really like to say that slow and steady really does win the race'! 

All of us-At home 

So there it is-The story of how we have affected change in our  lives and started over, started anew. Only time will tell how events unfold and what happens from here, but I would like to close by saying that two weeks later, we are very glad that we did what we had always thought that we should. Its truly been a memorable journey and we will always consider Oman to be our second home Most importantly, we have come back full circle to our homeland and even more, to the city where we originally belong, Delhi.