To my mother who taught me that life is beautiful
PRELUDE“I remember what a friend of mine once asked me in all earnest: ‘Every day we read inthe newspaper or hear about the “War on Terror(ism)”. Who are these terrorists?Wherein their origin(s)? This question really shocked me! I was myself in search of anappropriate answer! They are our own people, whom we sometimes create throughpolitical and economic isolation, or they could be fanatics, sometimes sponsored byhostile nations, trying to disrupt normal life through terrorism. In the Ramayana, thebattle is between the divine hero Rama and the demon king Ravana. It is a long-drawnbattle that finally Rama wins. In the Mahabharata, the battle at Kurukshetra is a battlebetween good and evil, and Dharma wins. The battles are many but finally peacetriumphs.In our times too we see good battling evil- for instance, the Second World War. It seemsto me both good and evil will survive side by side. The Almighty does help both tovaried degrees! How to minimize the evil through our spiritual growth is a question thathas persisted throughout human history…I can recall the ‘Battle of Kalinga’ which claimed the lives of at least 300,000 people withan equal number being wounded. Victory had been obtained at heavy cost…AndEmperor Asoka looked down at the horror he had created, a horror of bloodshed andmore gore…At that moment that was to go down in the annals of history, AhimsaDharma was born…The remorseful King embraced God’s command to propagate lovefor human beings through this doctrine!Asoka said, ‘Friends, there is one thing I have realized, there is no victory in causingsuffering. Triumph is a peaceful kingdom…’The Great Albert Einstein once famously remarked, ‘You know, in the West we havebuilt a large, beautiful ship. It has all the comforts in it, but one thing is missing: it has nocompass and does not know where to go. Men like Tagore and Gandhi and theirspiritual forebears found the compass. Why can this compass not be put in the humanship so that both can realize their purpose?’Sage Ashtavakra had once propounded that the business of life ought to be peace andprosperity, and not exploitation and conflict…Just like Nature! Nature gives without reservation, like the mango tree- people throwstones at it, break off its branches, but it still offers its shade to the weary traveler, andits fruits to the hungry!Then wherein we…?The history of the world shows the forces of good struggling hard to make life better formankind while we human beings show a terrible capacity for destruction…Thus wehave Gandhi on the one hand, striving relentlessly towards Non-Violence, while on theother hand, millions die in the Second World War and Pearl Harbor and the atomicbombing of entire cities. Several thousands perish in Bosnia-Herzegovina…a war ragesin the Gaza Strip between Israel & Palestine…And on 11 September 2001, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New YorkCity fall and innocent lives are lost…In India, in the Bhopal gas tragedy, 30,000 peopledie as the result of the carelessness of a multinational company, and Chernobyl and thedaily Violence in the Kashmir Valley…Where are we going? Are we doomed to destroy ourselves?
No, we have to find an everlasting solution…In the modern era, there are few such examples, of those who embody the qualities thatcome from realizing the nature of the mind… ‘Atmabodha’…We are too muchpreoccupied with ostentatious displays of wealth and personal freedom!Actually, how humane or civilized or compassionate or tolerant are we? There is still along way to go…Abundance and spirituality are not mutually exclusive nor is it wrong to desire materialthings…Nature too adopts full measures; you would observe that if you looked aroundyou! Inside a garden, there is a profusion of flowers. Even better still, if you looked up,you would see the vast Universe stretching into infinitude, unbelievable really!All that we see in the world is an embodiment of energy, as Sri Aurobindo says.Therefore it becomes wise to appreciate that spirit and matter are both part ofexistence, are in harmony with each other, after all, it is the realization that it is wrong tofeel that it is shameful or non-spiritual to desire material things that matters…”‘How do you love when you don’t love?’
The White Man Shall Battle People in Other Lands…The greatest period of danger is in September 2001.“I can foresee a war coming, there will be innocent loss of lives and in the end we willachieve nothing. The war will emanate from the Western nations and will be the end-result of man’s greed and miscalculation.”“Why don’t I feel like an American?” I was all alone in my room.“Like David, like Michael, and Virginia, even Astad and Chang, like my friends, the waythey feel…too, and Amy.” Amy was someone he truly respected.“Mama, Mom, how’s Amy, I mean?” His father abruptly left the room.“Is something the matter, I mean wrong?” I asked mother.“Well, my child, your father has advised me not to tell you.”“Not to tell me WHATTT?”“These are troubled times, my son; your friend Astad was arrested and forcibly detainedalong with several others in a police raid on seven counts of conspiracy. Letsss…goback to the US, son, I mean you should come back home with us. You’ve been unwell.”“Amy, I want to know about Amy. I’m sorry about Astad, but Amy is my best friend.”I was getting a bit worried.“Son, Amy had come to India to study and research rural development, during the sametime that you arrived in India. During fieldwork on one of her tours, she had enquiredabout the peasant uprising from her supervisor, who happened to be a leadingSociologist. ‘It’s not an interesting subject,’ she was told. Amy had clearly been puzzledby her superior’s answer. ‘No, not at all, you Americans are very inquisitive. And yes,young lady, I…advise you to stay away from all this. You don’t want to enquire aboutthat. It’s not a point with any research potential. Maybe we should continue with ruraldevelopment, because that’s what you came here for in the first place.”Reshma Mirchandani handed over a few torn leaflets to her son.From what he could see, Aman was flabbergasted.It read “injustice perpetrated on American scholar”.The Indian Mirror. (The date was not clearly visible).“A young American scholar visiting India to study rural development was found brutallymurdered…”
He did not want to read any further.(He remembered her kind words: “Healing is possible as in survivors of violence inareas of conflict. Change towards justice can occur. Values of the heart are as centralas those of the mind…”)Aman suddenly felt low. After crying like no man of his age would ever cry, he beggedhis mother for a Prozac.
CHAPTER 1 THE BEGINNINGS OF LIFE…From the moment the sperm makes contact with the ovum, under normal conditions,all subsequent development to birth of a living newborn is a fait accompli…Followingthat initial contact of sperm and egg there is no subsequent moment or stage which isheld in arbitration by the mother, or the embryo or fetus. Nor does the male make asecond contribution to the birth process. Humans develop in a continuum in which everystage overlaps and each one blends one into the other. Indeed, all of life is containedwithin a time continuum. Thus, the beginning of a new life is exacted by the beginning offertilization, the reproductive event which is the essence of life… (These are the beginnings of life) Monday afternoon, 1 March 12:32 P.M.Reshma Mirchandani was expecting. The baby was fine…Both mother and baby weredoing well. Then, what was bothering her?Outside the cabin window (of the elite Seinfeld Center for Reproductive Medicine in LosAngeles), Reshma could see a group of white cops beating up a black motorist anddetaining several others for reasons that were beyond her comprehension and indeedaudibility, she was in an airtight cabin. The blinds were not drawn so anyone could seeright through.“And what might you worry about?” Lucy, the cabin attendant for the night asked her.“O, they are only some black fellas’ detained on ten counts of felony and aggravatedassault.”Lucy was clearly racist.This was America. “I have a dream,” Reshma remembered Martin Luther King Jr’sfamous words. This was also Abe Lincoln’s America. And Kennedy’s America.Actually, there were two Americas, she thought. Not North and South America, orCentral America. But one ‘exotic Venice-of America’ (and the private lives and privatewealth of ‘The Big Apple’ and ‘The Big Orange’) and one of black neighborhoods, innercities indeed “Ghettos”…
“Push, come on push a little bit more,” the baby was coming out. “I can’t,” and as shecaught a glimpse of hubby Himesh behind the glass separating the labor room from theoutside world, “I hate you,” she said.But Reshma actually didn’t hate the experience.On the other hand, she was enjoying it. She had felt extremely sexually stimulated asprior to being taken to the labor room; she and hubby Himesh had locked themselves ina passionate kiss.Reshma’s first experience of birth was of hearing her mother tell her how she was born.Her mother’s story was one of pain; humiliation and a final need for surgery. ThenReshma and hubby Himesh decided to see a number of television programs about birth.This was in the years 1980-81. Reshma had found these images of birth exciting andmoving, but it was the emergence of the baby, which touched her. So she hadabsolutely no preconception of labor as a sexual act when she was to become amother.It was an entirely typical hospital birth of the time-disinhibited by Pethidine, Reshma layin the lithotomy position, pubis completely shaved, being enthusiastically exhorted topush with every contraction. In between contractions, she begged for her legs to betaken down from the stirrups (they were not, it was unthinkable). As the baby camecloser to delivery her cries became more intense, and, after the birth, changed withdramatic speed to gasping, relieved acceptance as she repeated, ‘Oh Baby, Oh mybaby’. The rhythm of her response to the contractions and the sudden release andchange seemed orgasmic to the would-be mother. Hubby Himesh meanwhile waitedanxiously outside the labor room. Inside the labor room, Reshma was able toexperience tremendous sexual arousal, a feeling reiterated by Ina May Gaskin whofamously encouraged women and their partners to ‘smooch’ to augment labor, advicefurther reiterated by Caroline Flint. And Reshma and hubby Himesh had smoochedwhen she was being taken to the labor room. Late in second stage, Reshma wasbegging the student midwife to ‘please hurry up’.“Come on, take deep breaths, just once more, the baby is almost out,” and as the babyemerged, her gasps seemingly more pronounced changed to “O baby, my baby!”It was a boy!In a faraway land called India, in a remote Himalayan hamlet called Pahargaon, aninnocent man called Bhumi Gaddi had suffered a violent death by stoning at the handsof a reckless mob. The reason was he had refused to subject his child bride tointercourse on the first night out of sheer compassion.Soothsayers had earlier predicted that Bhumi Gaddi would be reborn across the seas ina fantasy land called America and come back to Pahargaon one day as an alien. BhumiGaddi was cremated, but although his body died, his soul was to live for ever. Like
wearing new clothes, the soul would transmigrate to spiritually implant itself in the wombof another virgin which in this case would beReshma Mirchandani.“Son, I carried you to term through difficult circumstances. Your birth is auspicious notonly for two proud parents but for everyone. May the Good Lord always protect you andtake care of you. It is a beautiful gift of God; this ability to conceive and give birth, ittakes generations of “Karma” for both parents of a child.”That night, Bhumi Gaddi appeared in Reshma’s dreams. Reshma was never to mentionthe matter to anyone, but in her heart of hearts…she knew thatHer son was born to be a Messiah…
CHAPTER 2 THE CITY OF ANGELS: WHAT’S IN A NAME?“Curfew lifted from the city of Los Angeles,” ran the headlines. The Los Angeles Post,The Los Angeles Mirror, The Sun…it was all over. Evidently, there had been a lot ofrioting following the detention, and an enraged mob had lynched three white policemenand injured several others during the period Reshma was admitted and hubby Himeshhad decided to conceal the matter from her.What intrigued the proud parents was the fact that the curfew had been lifted the daytheir son was born! This was a stark fact and something they were proud of that too.“Jai, we’ll call him Jai,” said his grandmother. “No, we’ll call him Sanjay,” “San-jay,” saidhis aging aunt. “Rimesh, son of Himesh,” his father added.“Aman,” Reshma quietly emerged from the room. “Aman,” for peace…” “My son wasborn on the day curfew was lifted.” Reshma was beaming.So, at the insistence of the mother, the newborn was named Aman…Aman Mirchandani grew up to be a fine boy. Born to NRI steel magnate HimeshMirchandani and Reshma Mirchandani, Aman was sent to “Daffodils”, an up marketMontessori when he was a little child. Very different from the average child, his teachersoften predicted he would grow up into something different. He was caring, empatheticand compassionate quite unlike most other children from similar family backgroundsand never ceased from walking the extra mile. After all, he had Reshma in his blood.It was never difficult teaching him though. He was never a problematic child. He waskeenly observant and believed in speaking his mind out.At the age of 19, Aman Mirchandani was sent to Stanford University to study Law, andhis chosen specialization was Human Rights Law. For the first time, the young mindwas exposed to the vast array of rights, civil and political and economic, social andcultural. The scholar chose to write his dissertation on the meaning and concept ofjustice. The boy had a curious mind which often wondered why there was no peace inthis world, why did so many people go hungry, was food the major cause of socialferment, and whether guaranteeing the rights of the child would mean everlastingpeace?The young mind decided that the best way to find answers to the questions thatintrigued him was to travel. He had the funds and he had his mother’s blessings.Besides, there was no other way.
He decided to travel to India… India had always intrigued him, he was strandedbetween two cultures and to him this was the best opportunity, after all, he was anIndian…born in America.Or, was he an American?“I am an American citizen. I was born in Los Angeles. It was important to my motherhowever that her son not forget his roots, meaning Indian culture though off course Ihad always been taught that there is only one culture and one language and onereligion: Humanity.”“I went to an up-market school where I studied French, German and English. I grew up,confused not knowing which or what to call my home. I wanted to travel to India. InAmerica, I felt like the hybrid genre. ‘Split Identity’ call it. I remember having read theaccounts of Western travelers, how ‘at home’ they felt in India, that it was their ‘spiritualhome’ but my own confusion often prevented me from understanding what they hadmeant.”“Spiritual home to me then implies a place where one journeys and feels roots that areimperceptible, indefinable. I do feel connected to the history, the people, the place. Ihave never been there. And though India is not my birthplace, something draws me toher.”“I AM AN AMERICAN BOY LIVING THE INDIAN DREAM.”Aman could recount his grandmother narrating to him:“If you were a scholar you could study exotic flora and fauna or equally exotic customs,dialects, peoples, and Gods.”“India for the past fifteen centuries has been subject to the kind of imagining I amdoing…playing the role in men’s imagination which exotic planets play now in present-day science fiction, far away, hardly attainable and replete with wonders. I too have myshare of imagining about India. My life seems to have been enormously affected by myconcept of India, and still is. Like a lover finally thrown back upon himself, I have to goout in order to know where to discover what I was seeking. And that, off course, wouldbe within myself.”“I am sure that in the process, I would find my answers.”His father was busy typing something on his laptop. While his mother cried. They hadcome to see him off at the airport.“My mother believes in giving away money to charitable causes. For mother, Indiawould be perfect for a humanitarian ‘Karma’. What amusing play of Karma caused herown son to adopt to travel to India of his own choosing?”These were his last thoughts before he boarded.
CHAPTER 3 (THEME PARKS & YANNI) ONE MAN’S DREAM Mid 2001Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, Kolkata. Aman Mirchandani arrivedby British Airways. It was well past midnight. He had no option but to stay on at theairport for the night.Aman was now looking at the airfield. There were airplanes of varying shapes andsizes. “Japan Airlines”, read the airplane closest to the terminal. “So this would probablybe going to Tokyo, or Hokkaido or even Hiroshima or Nagasaki. To the ‘Land of theRising Sun’. To the land that rose out of the ashes. To the United Nations University.”Aman wondered why there ever was a World War II. Or a Pearl Harbor. Why Hiroshima,why Nagasaki? Why so many innocent lives? And think of the ones that had survivedthe radiation.“Please show us your passport!” Aman was fast asleep. “Show us your passport,please!” they repeated. “Show us your Passport.” Aman took out his Passport. Theysaw he was American. And so did the sniffer dogs.This should not have happened. At an international airport. They immediatelyapologized to him. But Aman said nothing.Thereafter he took a cab to the hotel. There was a problem here. He did not speakBangla and they never got his American accent.“So this is the ‘Land of the Buddha’, Aman enquired at the hotel reception. “Saab, we donot know what Buddha you are talking about. We know about Buddhism and that’s it!”The young boy did not know whether to feel amused.The Consul General arrived at 10 a.m. sharp. Briefing started as scheduled. “Mr.Mirchandani, you have to be extra-careful in these troubled times. We will be movingyou from the hotel to a guesthouse where the Consul General’s Chef will cook for you.”“And yes, please don’t get yourself into trouble, Mr. Mirchandani.” The Consul General,who had first arrived with a word of caution left with a word of caution as well.Those eyes did not comprehend the enormity of the matter. Those eyes were innocent.Those eyes had seen a more enlightened and educated system. Those eyes had neverseen bloodshed. Those eyes had dreamt of peace…
CHAPTER 4 INDENTURED SERVANTS AND DISOBEDIENT MASTERS 11 June 2001“…Once upon a time there was a great chain of being. At the top was God, and at thebottom were all the inanimate objects. (Actually, hidden below the bottom – in a kind ofunderground lair – were the Devil and his minions). Humanity appeared at differentpoints in between: kings were below angels, vassals below lords, apprentices belowcraftsmen, and wives below husbands. And all this was divinely ordained…From out of this compost grew English common law. Over time hallowed principles werecodified into social rules, and extremely detailed treatises were produced setting outhow people on different levels must relate towards each other. This common lawcontrolled the parent-child relationship, the husband-wife relationship, the guardian-ward relationship, and the master-servant relationship...”(Excerpts from “Of Masters and Servants” by Peter Hall-Jones)Working as cooks and servants in private households is a common job for young tomiddle-aged men and women, women especially. They start in the morning andgenerally earn Rupees 2000 monthly (approx. $50.00; the Consul General’s Chef andher husband, a chauffeur earned much higher, for obvious reasons). Meals areincluded. The change of diet that these women have made them vulnerable to obesity,high sugar, high BP and so on. These are relatively new illnesses for thesecommunities, so there is a need for both preventive care as well as medicines.“My experience with cooks and chauffeurs back home in Los Angeles has been verydifferent from my experiences in Calcutta (Kolkata). In this short span of time ever sinceI arrived, I have seen children of low-income communities whose parents leave theirchildren to work in the city during the day, sometimes working in 3-4 homes for about 2hours in each home.”Aman made a few notes. He was trying to ‘discover his purpose in life’.“Saab, your tea is getting cold.” Aman looked around for the voice. There was innocenthumility in that voice. It seemed the “servant class” in India had been trained for suchhumility. There were limits that one couldn’t cross, you know. Most of these servantswere migrants from rural India. Poverty and lack of jobs often resulted in this massexodus. They migrated with their wives and children. While the men found some work,the women (and very often, children) worked as domestic help, cooking, cleaning, andwashing the dishes and so on and so forth.“This is our story, Saab.” Aman could see the crestfallen look on his chauffeur.There existed a vast urban-rural divide, and Aman actually thought about it. So, therewas a class divide, he thought. There was indeed humility in these voices. And therewere many.But there was no human dignity.
CHAPTER 5 9/11 (THE RETURN TO INNOCENCE)Reshma wondered if Aman was safe. She had heard of United Airlines. She had heardof the Pentagon. She knew that on that fateful day, two airplanes had crashed into theWorld Trade Center. She knew her Aman was an innocent child.“We lost Alicia and Chris in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Their bodies werefound in the debris. Many of my business associates were inside the Center. O God,when will the world stop warring?” Himesh Mirchandani burst into the room.Reshma wondered why Aman had not called up. She hoped her child was safe andsecure.The phone rang. Reshma picked up the phone. “I hope you are fine, Mama. I don’tunderstand why there is so much of violence in the world. Please take care.”Reshma knew Aman was still a child.
CHAPTER 6 THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS: THE RIGHT TO LIVE October 2001“If we are to reach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war againstwar, we shall have to begin with children. And if they will grow up in their naturalinnocence, we won’t have to struggle, we won’t have to pass fruitless, idle resolutions,but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of theworld are covered with that peace and love for which, consciously or unconsciously, thewhole world is hungering.” (Gandhi)Aman looked at Parvati’s daughter. She was seriously thin and emaciated for a girl ofher age, and wondered what the Government of India was doing to feed and protectIndia’s growing child population. India had acceded to the Convention on the Rights ofthe Child of the UN. Aman wondered why the Indian Government had failed to honor itsobligations even after it had ratified the Convention.After all, no state can achieve peace until it has realized the rights of its children.“Mama, I remember my university days. We were studying ‘Rights’. There were Civiland Political Rights and there were Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. There wasthe Convention on the Rights of the Child. Mama, God has created me for a purpose inlife, and I must fulfill that purpose. But I do not know where to begin. I’ve started off withIndia. Perhaps I’ll wind it all up with a degree in International Humanitarian Law from theUniversity of Groningen.” Aman beamed over the phone.(The IELTS goes online and the cash-rich, money-strapped get to go to the University ofGroningen. The rest get pushed into “Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiatives”)“Aman, my child, be careful and work to discover your purpose in life,” Reshma advised.“Mr. Mirchandani.” The US Consul General’s voice was grave and purposeful. “Haveyou read the teachings of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda? Not that I expect you to, butif you are in India… Well, you should read Tagore and Gandhi as well. As a matter offact, I will be making a short business trip to Vishva-Bharati University, Shantiniketan.Would you like to come with me?”Deep inside, I found myself saying “Yes”, and that was indeed my response to theConsul General.I packed my bags and prepared to leave (the very next day!) to Shantiniketan. Amanhad never heard of the place. He knew from his friends back home that India was theland of the Ganges, snakes and the Taj Mahal. To him it was almost unbelievable howlittle he or his friends knew about Tagore who he was told had won the Nobel Prize forLiterature…
“Would we be crossing Sonagachi?” I innocently enquired of Raja, the chauffeur.They were not yet ready to leave.The Consul General had been held up over “official matters” related to the attacks in theUS.“Saab, rich people don’t visit Sonagachi. And why would they? They visit the Taj(Bengal). What would they understand, the life and the pain of a commercial sex-worker?”Aman was clearly embarrassed. He dreamt however that one day, sex-workers wouldbe recognized in society and given their due as citizens, that the lives of their childrenwould dance to a different tune as during holy festivals… He dreamt of a day whenthere would be no trade in human beings on earth.“So, what is the root of the issue of commercial sexual exploitation?” Aman once againenquired of Raja.“We are poor. I have a job. But most poor people are ignorant of their rights andprivileges. The state does nothing to feed or protect us. Under the circumstances, mostof our innocent rural folk have no alternative but to sell their wives and daughters,mostly to pay off their debts. They talk of women’s rights in the cities but refuse to trulyunderstand the situations in the villages.” Raja clearly had an element of anger in hisvoice.I looked around. Clearly Calcutta (or Kolkata) was poor. Desperately poor. PerhapsCalcutta was by far the poorest city in the world. Aman could see entire families living(or existing), cooking, cleaning, washing and relieving on the sidewalks. He could seechildren begging on the streets. “Why blame the Government? Fie on my (elitist)education instead.”Aman left for Shantiniketan with a heavy heart. Something deep inside pricked his(noble) conscience. The Consul General spoke of the attacks on the World TradeCenter, he spoke of the Pentagon, and he spoke of the “War on Terror”… but Amanwas silent. The entire journey, he said not a word. He was rather uneasy, and keptglancing sideways… rather looking out of the window of the car.Those images shattered him…of thin, wasted and emaciated children standing andwaving by the roadside, little innocents tending cattle, little innocents traveling on footwith pots on their heads and little innocents serving tea at ‘Dhabas’… So, West Bengalwas after all a very impoverished state, should be very low on the Human DevelopmentIndex, he thought (but said nothing).
They reached Bolpur Station where Raja halted for refueling nearby. Aman could seethe beautiful hostel building that some social activists had constructed for the welfare oftribal girls and women as they set off on the final leg of their journey to Shantiniketan.He could now feel a sense of serenity within. Shantiniketan was truly serene and hadbegun to put his mind at ease once again.There were trees, there was the breeze and there was the university. There were younggirls in colorful ‘saris’ rehearsing for the Annual Convocation.Aman checked into his hotel room and partitioned the drapes. It was wonderful outside,and the grass outside his room was an exotic green.Meanwhile, the Consul General had given him some literature to read.-“I am trying hard to start a school in Santiniketan. I want it to be like the ancienthermitages we know about. There will be no luxuries, the rich and poor alike shall haveto live like ascetics. But I cannot find the right teachers. It is proving impossible tocombine today’s practices with yesterday’s ideals…”--“There are men who think that by the simplicity of living introduced in my school Ipreach the idealization of poverty which prevailed in the medieval age… should we notadmit that poverty is the school in which man had his first lessons and his best training?Even a millionaire’s son has to be born helplessly poor and to begin his lesson of lifefrom the beginning. He has to learn to walk like the poorest of children, though he hasthe means to afford to be without the appendages of legs. Poverty brings us intocomplete touch with life and the world, for living richly is living mostly by proxy, thusliving in a lesser world of reality...”--“The school was conceived as a state of creative unity where the student’s mindswould be free from blind superstition, where they would respect human beingsirrespective of caste and creed”--“There was a unity among us when the Indian mind was actively engaged in thinking.But now there is division. The large branches no longer find themselves connected tothe root. The separation of limbs is dangerous for the body. Likewise, the Indian mind isnow divided into the Hindu, Buddhist, Jaina, Sikh, Muslim and Christian branches. Theyare unable to receive anything from the composite whole or give back anything to thecomposite whole. Our ten fingers must necessarily be together to make an offering or toreceive an offering. Therefore Indian education must be a collective of the Vedic,Puranic, Buddhist, Jain and the Islamic minds to fill the Indian heart. We must find outhow the Indian mind has flown along these different streams from the past. That is theonly way India shall realize its unity within its diversity. We must understand ourselvesin this connected way…”--“… in every nation education is intimately associated with the life of the people. But forus modern education is relevant only in turning out clerk, lawyers, doctors, magistrates,munsiffs and policemen, the few favourite professions of the gentle folk. This educationhas not reached the farmer, the oil-grinder, the potter. No other educated society hasbeen struck by such disaster. The reason for this is that our universities have not been agrowth from the soil… When a truly Indian (or, for that matter, of any other nationality, Ishould add) is established it must from the very beginning implement its acquiredknowledge of economics, of agriculture, of health and all other everyday sciences in thesurrounding villages. Then alone can the school become the centre of the country’s way
of living. This school must practise agriculture, dairy-keeping and weaving on the mostmodern methods. And to obtain its own financial resources it must adopt cooperativemethods bringing together students, teachers, and the people living around…”--“I have proposed to call this ideal school Visva-Bharati…”-“So this is the incredible Shantiniketan of Tagore” (I was not familiar with the first name).And why has the kingdom of the Nobel Laureate (meaning West Bengal) been reducedto such…?” For the first time, Aman tried to find the answers in the serenity within.
CHAPTER 7 WE ALL NEED THE SUN…WE ALL NEED A MESSIAH 17 November, 2001“Al-Qaeda militants have hijacked four commercial airlines and crashed three of theminto the World Trade Center and the Pentagon killing nearly 3000 people. America hasdeclared a War on Terror.’’ As CNN reported, Aman’s mind traveled to Africa. There hewas in India, trying to find his answers by generalization initially after which he thoughthe would narrow down to the basics.Despite the fact that the countries of Africa had ratified the UN Convention on the Rightsof the Child and even implemented a regional treaty, the African Charter on the Rightsand Welfare of the Child, many child rights issues remained unresolved.Child soldiers, child refugees and displaced children, how would Africa cope? Amanwas crestfallen.Drought, famine and disease had decimated indeed millions. In addition, children facedthe threat of HIV-infection at birth. Child sexual abuse was rife.Aman switched on the television set. The report said that by 2010, two million childrenwould be orphaned by this pandemic in South Africa alone…So, there was still a mammoth task waiting before realizing the African dream…Aman switched off the television set. Politics did not interest him any more. And least ofall the Politics of War. He was only trying to find the answers to his questions on theworld’s primary problems. But the answers if at all were evading him.“Saab, if you don’t mind, can I tell you something?” I could sense a degree of reluctancein Raja’s voice.“Go on, I don’t mind.” Aman was surely different from the rest.“Saab, you have a…golden heart, Saab,” Raja fumbled.“Go on.”“Saab, I am trying to get my little girl into school. I want to send her to a good school,but I need help with the fees, then her uniforms and books. Saab…I promise to repay.”Aman was at first unable to come to terms with the helplessness of the man. He did notfeel the way most people felt, as if they were doing something out of the ordinary for thechildren of their servants and chauffeurs. He did not at all feel like a Messiah.(Although they need a Messiah, he thought)“Alright, how much do you need? Don’t worry, I’m with you. God is with you.”(I was unable to trace how and why I had used the word ‘God’)
CHAPTER 8 THE US of AThe 21st century began with the United States as the sole superpower in the absence ofthe Soviet Union, with China becoming a potential superpower. The debate over findinga solution to global warming, fossil fuel pollution and alternative energy raged in the newcentury after most of the 20th century was marked by industrial expansion.With the Cold War over and terrorism on the rise, the US and its allies turned theirattention to the Middle East. Almost 3000 people were killed in the attacks on the WorldTrade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and in ruralShanksville, Pennsylvania, after American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight175 crashed into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, American Airlines Flight 77crashed into the Pentagon and United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a grassland inPennsylvania. The US had subsequently declared a War on Terrorism.On October 7, 2001 the US and NATO had invaded Afghanistan and overthrown theTaliban government. Troops remained to install a democratic government, fight a slowlyescalating insurgency, and hunt for Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.“International Peace and Security cannot be achieved like this. Force is never theanswer to force. What way are we different, the so-called civilized nations of the world,no as a citizen of the United States” and then again, “my mother has always taught merespect for and belief in other peoples’ ideologies. I cannot be a mute spectator to suchgross violations of the principles of justice. God forgive them for they know not whatthey do.”As a strong ray of light penetrated his eyes, Aman suddenly felt weak in the knees…“We have to rush to India” Himesh Mirchandani cautioned, “Aman is admitted. And…”“And what?” Reshma was clearly nervous.The glass bowl crashed to the floor and into tiny pieces. “How are we to reach myAman? The security situation is so volatile, anything can happen any time.” She feltfaint.“I’m arranging for two emergency tickets to reach us to Indian shores as soon aspossible,” hubby Himesh had always felt invincible.“Ladies and Gentlemen, please fasten your seat belts, we’re about to take off.” TheMirchandanis were traveling to the country of their birth following a gap of 21 years. Thelast time the couple was in India was a year prior to Aman’s arrival in the world…
CHAPTER 9 ‘IN’ ‘JUSTICE’“He doesnt know what justice is but he knows what justice is not.” (Plato) 3 January 2002“Doctor, what is wrong with me?” Aman innocently enquired.“Nothing much.” Dr. Samuel Trehan was more than adept at handling enquiries frompatients.“Doctor, I have to complete my dissertation.”“You most certainly will, but you cannot…”“I cannot what, Doctor?”“I’m afraid I cannot tell you this until your parents arrive,” Dr. Trehan’s voice was grim,as if there was a serious conflict ahead which he could foresee.(That perhaps Nostradamus couldn’t)“That reminds me, Doctor, I have just written something, would you like to see it?”“Sure, why not, I would love to.” In all the years of his life so far (he was 54) leave alonehis years in Medical school, Dr. Samuel Trehan was yet to read anything of the kind.It read ‘injustice’.“Of all calamities suffered by this Humanity in the modern times, war and conflict,poverty and destitution, epidemics and pandemics, ignorance and neglect, terrorismand militancy, deforestation and pollution and innumerable other perversities, injustice isthe most painful of all. This matter has many views, as we really do not know much andwe admit even less. What is justice? Where can you find it? Can judges be fair? Noquestion of this kind can get a satisfactory answer to the quest of justice suffered by thepoor and the destitute. Justice belongs to the Almighty and one can investigate onlydifferent forms of justice in human society and efforts made by institutions to improvethem.One must understand how the world works, what is the operation of the principle of pairof opposites, the basic laws of human evolution and the laws of Manu. One can studythe principles of justice in order to facilitate the peace process. Inequality is often seenas the source of injustices, we do not understand that we are different so that life mayprosper despite apparent injustice.Tremendous announcements of the modern era of the violent happenings: Bush’s‘Infinite war’, daily massacres between Palestinians and Israelis, police dragnets in theslums of Rio and Buenos Aires, guerrilla combats in Colombia, merciless plundering bythe IMF, destructive corruption in communication media…these are wrong. To illustrate,no law, only individual intervention can regulate unjust and dirty TV transmissions.In these times, Humanity is on the brink of a world catastrophe, and men run the risk ofexperiencing one of the biggest injustices of all times. We must remain just ourselves inthe face of injustice. Weapons of Mass Destruction, atomic, biologic and corrosive
bombs are distributed everywhere. One can start a war without knowing if one can finishthe same. It is true that injustices have been committed against innocents in New YorkCity, but let us learn to renounce revenge. People now anxiously wait for a change ininternational relations towards peace.Humanity can usher in a ‘New Human Revolution’. War and Peace can go up and downon the pans of movable scales. The destiny is in the hands of a powerful man, if andwhen he learns to renounce revenge.”“Saab has been admitted for quite some time now, I must go and see him”, said Raja.“Have you given a thought to the loss in terms of wages” Parvati cautioned. “We have toget our little girl into school, and besides…”“Do you forget what Saab told me, “Don’t worry, I’m with you. God is with you.”“So let God feed us, do you remember what happened in the village last year?”Raja looked at his wife. Parvati’s eyes were heavily moist.In January 2001, an entire village community was neglected and facing starvation in thevillage of Kurtuli. Many villagers were on the verge of death.(There was a ‘Hunger Alert’ from the Permanent People’s Tribunal on Human Rights,Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law in Asia. Many villagers were on the verge of death)The hunger situation was terrible and shocking. At least 754 landless laborers belongingto the Hira indigenous community in Kurtuli suffered from starvation and malnutrition.Many were driven by circumstances to eat poisonous plants and roots and leaves tosurvive. Villagers were also lacking several other basic facilities – water, education,primary health care facilities and electricity.While the government discussed the matter, the death toll rose to over 800 as villagerscontinued to suffer. Most of the dead were children, pregnant and lactating women andsenior citizens.“I wish I could tell Saab…about hunger and government inaction and neglect and castediscrimination and landlessness and debt and added to it sometimes the governmentthreats and intimidations…in our country, then Saab could write and publish a report onit in America. The American people are far more educated and enlightened, you know.”Raja tried to take those memories out of Parvati’s mind. They had a big laugh together.
CHAPTER 10 ONE WOMAN’S DREAM January 2002“Eggs for Everest: One Womans DreamEleanor Roosevelt once said: The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty oftheir dreams”.The boy’s health had weakened. His parents had arrived from America. But the doctorswere not saying anything about his condition.“Mama!” Aman had to be assisted to raise himself off the hospital bed. Hospitalattendants rushed to support the boy as he darted towards the mother.Aman collapsed on the floor.“What’s wrong with him, doctor?” Mrs. Mirchandani was extremely uneasy.“Well…” “I’ll tell you, Mrs. Mirchandani.” The orthopedic surgeon intervened. “Actually,although his heart and lungs and kidneys and liver are in shape, his legs haveweakened and are no longer able to support the body.” “I’m afraid…Aman may becomeconfined to a wheelchair for life although we are yet to be sure.”“We are investigating the cause of this condition. We have seen his blood pathologyreports. An X-ray will be done soon.”“Aman, my son, there are often trying times in life. Big or small, such trials only test yourfortitude and ability to hold on. Very often, such trials motivate you to perform and couldbe the beginning of a New Human Revolution in your life. In such crucial moments, onlyone’s firm determination to prevail can genuinely work wonders.”Reshma knew she had to keep her son alive. To her, little Aman was a prodigy whocould change the world.“There are struggles in which a solitary individual transforms the world. (Many of themwere confined to a wheelchair).When Rosa Parks refused to obey the bus driver’s order to give her seat to a whitepassenger, and said “No”, the bell of change tolled triumphantly for African-Americansin the United States. This now famous event took place on Dec 1, 1955, in Montgomery,Alabama, when Mrs. Parks was coming back home following a hard day’s work in thetailoring section of a department store.The bus driver shouted, ‘Aren’t you going to stand up?’ ‘No’, she replied. ‘Well, I’mgoing to have you arrested,’ the bus driver declared. ‘You may do that,’ was RosaParks’s calm response.
Do you know what happened next?” Aman Mirchandani had never before seen hismother like this.“This incident led to an explosion of anger among the Afro-American population inMontgomery. A bus service boycott was organized, led by the Civil Rights activist MartinLuther King Jr. 30,000 Afro-Americans who used to ride in the backs of these samebuses joined together in solidarity, walking and using shared cars instead.Mrs. Parks lost her job, and she was besieged with threatening phone calls. There werefalse rumors, and Dr. King’s home was bombed. But the nonviolent movement prickedthe conscience of America and the world. A year later the US Supreme Court declaredsegregated busing unconstitutional. From that moment, the Civil Rights Movementgained tremendous momentum ushering in a new era towards equal rights for allAmerican citizens.A single word and one woman’s dream had changed history. How do you…?”Aman was fast asleep. The day’s excitement had induced a state of tiredness in him.“Now the trumpet summons us again…” Reshma was sifting through some of herson’s writings that she had found in the cabin closet.“…a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out,rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation’s struggle against the common enemies ofman: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself. Can we forge against theseenemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that canassure a more fruitful life for all mankind?” -President J F Kennedy, USA, In an address to the nation“Our world’s future hangs precariously…Lopsided development and rampantConsumerism have widened the chasm between the world’s rich and the world’s poor…Numbers do not matter. We are too much preoccupied with them. The time has come inthe history of nations to liberate their peoples from centuries of illiteracy, ignorance,inequality, disease and war.For instance, a part of global spending on arms can be diverted to the social sector.Why at all spend so much? I understand there are countries that do not have a defensebudget. I for one do not understand much of fiscal policy or bulls and bears. What I dounderstand is the language of the poor and the marginalized, the language of the harshrealities of staying alive till the next moment, the next day, the language of survival.It is not just one planet; it is one home, one family. Is this utopia?Let us challenge our limits in our endeavor (however small it may be) to bring about ahappier world.Let us help shift development attention away from economic growth as the main indexof progress to look more closely to what is happening to the poor in terms of equitabledistribution of income...
I was only…. looking at the world through my eyes. Only when we work together handin hand can we create a better world to live in.And so they all say… If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain. If I can ease one life from aching, or Cool one pain, Or help one fainting robin into his nest again, I shall not live in vain. Emily Dickinson”There were scribbles here and there.Reshma was clearly astonished yet she loved what her eyes saw. She looked at herchild. Aman was fast asleep.“Saab”, Raja stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the Mirchandanis inside thecabin.“Who are they?” Reshma enquired.“O, this is Raja and that’s Parvati. He drives my car and she cooks for us.” There wasan innocence in his voice completely free of (class-based) discrimination. HimeshMirchandani was visibly upset. He left the cabin.“Namaste Madam.” “Namaste Bibiji.”“Namaste.”“So I understand that you have made friends in India who are helping you write yourdissertation,” Reshma lightly quipped.“Mama!”“Son, I carried you to term through difficult circumstances. Your birth is auspicious notonly for two proud parents but for everyone. May the Good Lord always protect you andtake care of you. It is a beautiful gift of God; this ability to conceive and give birth, ittakes generations of “Karma” for both parents of a child.”“What is ‘Karma?’’ Aman immediately jotted down the term.For her own part, Reshma noticed how much of a ‘scientific thinker’-open to every idea,her son was ‘blossoming’ into.
“We’ve got the X-ray report.” The orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Sunil Gupta darted into theroom. “But we’ve got to get an MRI done before we can comment.”“We have decided to shift Aman out of this hospital into a private nursing home in southCalcutta. This decision was taken jointly by Aman’s mother and me and here…” “A fewwell-wishers from America” Himesh Mirchandani added.“And this is Dr. Richard Weisz who has come with us.” Himesh Mirchandani had themagnetic charm of an NRI steel magnate settled in ‘elitist’ America. There were years ofmaturity, though struggle in his voice.
CHAPTER 11 WANTING RECOVERY- A VERY PATIENT PATIENT February 2002Aman Mirchandani was lucky.“In the poorest countries, as many as a fifth of children do not reach their fifth birthday.Diarrhea kills approximately 1 million children every year in India. You see, the poorcannot afford elitist private nursing homes, and primary health centers are virtually non-existent. Doctors prefer to steer clear of the rural areas. Coughs and colds killapproximately 600,000 children each year in India. Many millions of children have beenorphaned by AIDS. Leprosy is more common in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Orissaand West Bengal. And TB often kills.”“Please come to the point, Doctor!” Himesh Mirchandani had no time for such“Nonsensical stuff.” As he called it.“Oh, yes, Mr. Mirchandani, our team of doctors here suspects a case of traveler’smalaria. I’m afraid your son has been misdiagnosed.”“That, that…that’s not possible; a rich man’s son cannot have malaria.” HimeshMirchandani’s voice had sunk. “That’s a myth, there are certain misconceptions.” Dr.Ghandhy was extremely polite; there was profound humility in his voice.“Can Dr. Weisz investigate?”“I’m afraid he cannot. Our Indian doctors are better-equipped to handle tropicalmedicine. And besides, we have to start him on intravenous therapy immediately.”Dr. Ghandhy was right.Aman’s ordeal started four days afterwards. His fever was not subsiding. He had lost hisappetite. He had chills and a persistent headache. And there was diarrhea.Aman occasionally used insect repellants. But it seems he had been bitten by amosquito.He had most likely been bitten by one during his recent visit to Shantiniketan. Aman hadoften ventured out of his five-star hotel room and taken long walks outside despite beingcautioned by the hotel authorities.
Doctors had previously misdiagnosed him and said that he would remain confined to awheelchair for the rest of his life. Dr. Ghandhy, a Professor of Medicine, a specialist inTropical Medicine, had research interests in leprosy, travelers’ research done in India,Diarrhea, parasites and health. A Visiting Professor at John Hopkins Medical Center,Dr. Ghandhy carefully assessed Aman’s condition in the Emergency Room where theboy was confined to his bed.It was difficult ascertaining the cause. And the effect. Was it malaria? Besides, he hadbeen misdiagnosed. He had been put on an intravenous drip to relieve his dehydration.There was also fatigue like symptoms that doctors were unable to contend with. Thenwhy crippling him permanently for life?Why had doctors declared that his liver and kidneys were in shape? Why the MRI?During the next few days, Aman became weaker and weaker…At the nursing home, he weakened further. His fever was fluctuating; his BP wasalarmingly low, and both his pulse and his breathing rates were abnormally high. Thelaboratory tests suggested that his liver and kidneys were also not functioning well.Himesh Mirchandani had flown in a doctor from the U.S….who knew practically nothing.Because malaria was eliminated from the U.S. in the late 1940s, it was unthinkable forDr. Weisz that an American traveler could develop the disease.In the developing world, however, most travelers would see a physician, or stay in bedor be rendered incapacitated in their work, or hospitalized during or after the trip or inthe final instance, air-evacuated. One would die…Problems could include traveler’s diarrhea, malaria, respiratory tract infections, HepatitisA, animal bites risk for rabies, Hepatitis B, Typhoid and HIV mostly transmitted throughcasual sex...“They hurt” as the needle pricked his skin.“Mama, these repeated injections for blood tests hurt” Aman was almost on the verge oftears.“I understand. But learn to endure, my child. What is life without pain? Birth itself is sopainful. Besides, you are grown up… and you have to go a longgggg… way!” Themother tried to relieve the child’s suffering.Luckily for Aman, his parents had shifted him to a reputed private clinic in the city whose(Indian) doctors were to immediately put malaria high on their list of potential diagnosis.They were suspecting that sometime during his travel to the countryside, Aman mayhave been bitten by a mosquito carrying malaria parasite.The clinic pathologists promptly took blood samples and did a blood smear test. Anenlarged liver and spleen was apparent during the physical examination.
Once diagnosed with malaria, his case was treated as a medical emergency. They gavehim Quinine through a constant intravenous drip for rapid delivery, and antibiotics.Aman also received multiple transfusions of blood cells and platelets to correct thedamage done to his blood by the malaria parasites.For several days his body struggled against malaria. Aman used to wake up in themiddle of the night shivering and sweating profusely and complaining of nausea, muscleaches, fatigue and general malaise. His skin had turned frighteningly yellow and he wasclearly anemic. He would complain of severe cramps. They had given him a bed pan.Finally after ten days in the ICU, he started getting better, eventually regaining betterhealth.By now, he had recovered a little strength in his joints (following an initial wrongdiagnosis) and was put on a strict diet regimen and complete rest.He was discharged after a lengthy sojourn in the nursing home.Everything was now back to normal. Dr. Ghandhy assured the boy that there wasnothing to fear, but that he should rest, take an appropriate diet. As for the weakness inhis joints, Aman was advised complete rest to recover his full strength. He was told heneeded to gain back the weight he had lost while he was sick.
CHAPTER 12 THOUGHTS OF ORDINARY PEOPLEAs the car stopped at the traffic light, the kid knocked at the car windowpane.“Mama, what compels them to beg even in the extreme weather conditions?”“O, this is just another group of harassed victims.” Himesh Mirchandani was cold butthoughtful.“Or worse, the ugly face of civilization, of a bonded life.”“Civilization…ugh?”Aman could now recall his law school buddy Nathan’s words:“I think it’s a crying shame when a person can’t even walk down the street without beingaccosted by some urchin that feels compelled to beg you for your spare change. Everyone of them has the same story, about being disabled or whatever. But most of themare just lazy bums.Recently, I was in Toronto, Ontario, where this problem is worse than I’ve ever seen inany US city. You would find a beggar on literally every corner. Only the other night,while on my way back home, some homeless reprobate crept up on me and scared thehell outta’ me. I yelled at this miscreant about not scaring folks in the dark, begging andnot doing some constructive work.The next thing I knew I had some progressive Canadian standing next to me asking mewhy I was harassing the homeless kid! Seriously! Suddenly, there would be a flurry of‘Can-adians’ each firing a missile at me with ‘You arrogant Americans have so muchmoney; why not re-distribute wealth…’ all that blather.I asked the bum how much money he needed to keep warm, to which he said ‘Keepwarm, I just wanna go buy a pack of cigarettes!”“But we just turn our backs on them by saying what can we do? Child begging is thebane of modern India.” There was clearly an element of empathy in ReshmaMirchandani’s voice. She actually felt for India.“They often expect compassion in the midst of a tragic life, poverty and pain. This life isoften preferable to a life in a brothel or the drudgery of field work or work insidefactories. Helpless as they are, their lives are often more tragic than most of us of theelite could ever imagine…They have no choice. Irrespective of fever or any otherdisease, these innocent flowers often have no option but to dance to the tunes of theirruthless employers. Sometimes, in order to have charity, you have to have the peoplewho are to be benefited by charity. I see no organized system of charity.”Himesh Mirchandani looked at his wife. He knew he had never known her.
CHAPTER 13 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEYThe year 2001, with late 2001 being a difficult one for the Mirchandanis, the year of thesnake in the Chinese Zodiac, had been an eventful year.Noah, a gaur, was born, the first individual of an endangered species to be cloned. Anearthquake in El Salvador had killed at least 800 and left thousands homeless.Impeachment proceedings against Philippine President Joseph Estrada, accused ofcommitting plunder, had ended prematurely and triggered the second EDSA PeoplePower Revolution or People Power II.On January 20, George W. Bush had succeeded Bill Clinton as the President of theUnited States.UN war crimes prosecutor Del Ponte had demanded that Serbia hand over SlobodanMilosevic. The Tiananmen Square self-immolation incident had occurred.In February, Iraq faced a disarmament crisis as British and American forces carried outbombing raids, attempting to disable Iraq’s air defense network. On the same day, theUS and the UK had bombed a Baghdad suburb, killing three.Former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia President, Slobodan Milosevic had surrenderedto Police Special Forces, to be tried on charges of war crimes.On April 7, Timothy Thomas, a 19-year old Afro-American had been shot by a policeofficer in Cincinnati, sparking riots in downtown Cincinnati from April 10 to April 12.And in Terre Haute, Indiana, Timothy McVeigh had been executed for the OklahomaCity Bombings. An American missile had hit a soccer field in Northern Iraq (Tel AfrCounty) killing 23 and wounding 11.And on September 11, the world stared in terror as 3000 were decimated in an attackby militants on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in rural Shanksville,Pennsylvania respectively. America had subsequently declared a ‘War on Terror’.On September 18, the 2001 anthrax attacks commenced. Federal officials announcedthe first anthrax attack in the US in October. An Office of Homeland Security had beencreated in the United States. The US had invaded Afghanistan (with other nationsparticipating) in Operation Enduring Freedom.In December, the Parliament of India had been attacked killing 14. On the 22 nd HamidKarzai had been sworn in as the head of the interim government in Afghanistan.Kofi Annan and the United Nations were awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.Meanwhile, the Second Congo War continued into the early 21 st century. A 1999ceasefire quickly broke down and a UN peacekeeping mission, MONUC, failed tocontrol the fighting.
Aman sifted through the year’s reports on his laptop.“Al-Qaeda terrorists hijack four commercial airlines and crash three of them into theWorld Trade Center and the Pentagon in the United States killing nearly 3,000 people.The US has declared a War on Terror. ”(Dated September 11, 2001)Militants, terrorists, blah, blah, blah… Who were (or are) the actual terrorists?The US and NATO had “invaded” Afghanistan. Troops were remaining…“So the lives of Westerners are important. (And so they are). Are the lives of innocentAfrican and Asian citizens any less important? Innocent little children in the developingworld die daily of preventable causes. Then why this big uproar over September 11?”Aman was thinking deeply as he rested in his armchair. He made a few notes.
CHAPTER 14 AMY, MY BEST FRIEND March 2002“Why don’t I feel like an American?” I was all alone in my room.“Like David, like Michael, and Virginia, even Astad and Chang, like my friends, the waythey feel…too, and Amy.” Amy was someone he truly respected.“Mama, Mom, how’s Amy, I mean?” His father abruptly left the room.“Is something the matter, I mean wrong?” I asked mother.“Well, my child, your father has advised me not to tell you.”“Not to tell me WHATTT?”“These are troubled times, my son; your friend Astad was arrested and forcibly detainedalong with several others in a police raid on seven counts of conspiracy. Letsss…goback to the US, son, I mean you should come back home with us. You’ve been unwell.”“Amy, I want to know about Amy. I’m sorry about Astad, but Amy is my best friend.”I was getting a bit worried.“Son, Amy had come to India to study and research rural development, during the sametime that you arrived in India. During fieldwork on one of her tours, she had enquiredabout the peasant uprising from her supervisor, who happened to be a leadingSociologist. ‘It’s not an interesting subject,’ she was told. Amy had clearly been puzzledby her superior’s answer. ‘No, not at all, you Americans are very inquisitive. And yes,young lady, I…advise you to stay away from all this. You don’t want to enquire aboutthat. It’s not a point with any research potential. Maybe we should continue with ruraldevelopment, because that’s what you came here for in the first place.”Reshma Mirchandani handed over a few torn leaflets to her son.From what he could see, Aman was flabbergasted.It read “injustice perpetrated on American scholar”.The Indian Mirror. (The date was not clearly visible).“A young American scholar visiting India to study rural development was found brutallymurdered…”He did not want to read any further.(He remembered her kind words: “Healing is possible as in survivors of violence inareas of conflict. Change towards justice can occur. Values of the heart are as centralas those of the mind…”)
Aman suddenly felt low. After crying like no man of his age would ever cry, he beggedhis mother for a Prozac.“Mamaaaaaaa…it hurts.” Doctors (Psychiatrists) at the Pinewood Private Clinic inKolkata (West Bengal, India) had put him on electro-convulsive therapy. Reshma andHimesh Mirchandani watched helplessly as their precious child was brought out of theemergency room.“I hate it, all this traditional Western Medicine. They only address the symptoms withoutaddressing the root causes of the problem. Look… now they have prescribed sedativesfor him.” There was an element of anger in Reshma Mirchandani’s voice.“My child...” Aman looked partially sedated.“Mr. Mirchandani, your son is yet to recover from shock. I have prescribed some anti-depressants and a couple of sedatives. He should be…” Dr. Banerjee could notcomplete his sentence.“We think he’s disturbed psychologically.” The doctors were unanimous.“My son is definitely not insane, are you saying that? Look at his writings.”Reshma Mirchandani had to be helped out of the room. Her last words as she left theroom were, “O, my child, my child …”
CHAPTER 15 IF WISHES COULD COME TRUE“The world was not very different in those days…you know, my child.” It was one ofthose sessions between Aman Mirchandani and his mother.“Ahmad Shah Abdali never invaded Bihar… in fact he did not even invade Awadh, aricher province which sits between Delhi and Bihar. In 1757 he invaded Punjab andcaptured Delhi in January, defeated the Maratha general Antaji Mankeshwar inFebruary, defeated the Jats in Mathura in March ransacking that city, fought the NagaSanyyasis in Gokul, while his troops burnt, slaughtered, and raped all over that regionsouth of Delhi.But all this bloodletting created a cholera epidemic, my child… which began killinghundreds of his soldiers on a daily basis. So in April 1757 Abdali hastily withdrew fromIndia.”So, Slobodan Milosevic was NOT the only one, I thought…It had been carried down theages by people as ruthless as Klaus Barbie and Adolf Eichmann…and the KhmerRouge’s Cambodia…When the Khmer Rouge ruled the country in the 1970’s, more thana million people died of Starvation, Disease, Torture, and Execution…It has beenreported that Cambodians have still not recovered from the horrors of the slaughter thatwere perpetrated on them.But the story did not end with Cambodia…AMAN LOOKED AROUND FOR THE PILL…HE WISHED GOD WOULD DO A MIRACLE IN THE LIVES OF MEN.HE WISHED GOD WOULD DO A MIRACLE IN HIS OWN LIFE…
CHAPTER 16 (ELSA & AMAN) BORN FREE“We must go back home, son.” Himesh and Reshma Mirchandani were unanimous.“Go back home, so soon…but I am only at the beginning of my research.”“Your life is more important than your research. Besides, the medical reports confirmthat…” Dr. Richard Weisz was abruptly interrupted as Ann Hancock, the Consulate’sPress Secretary called up to say that the Consulate General had received anintimidation which said that all American citizens must leave the country within 72 hours.“Now we have absolutely NO choice but to pack our bags.”Aman was silent.“EVERY TIME I SAY ‘RIGHT’ (INSTEAD OF WRONG) TO A HUMAN BEING, ICONFER UPON HIM AN INALIENABLE RIGHT, ACTUALLY, ENABLE HIM ASSERTSOMETHING THAT ALREADY EXISTS FOR HIM! I ‘FREE’ HIM TO CHOOSE FORHIMSELF, HIS CHOICE.ENDORSEMENT OF THE OTHER PERSON’S “RIGHT TO MAKE HIS CHOICE” IS, IBELIEVE, THE BEST THING ONE COULD EVER DO FOR ONE’S FELLOW HUMANBEINGS…IT WOULD SAVE MANKIND ALL THAT TROUBLE. AND, I’M TAKING YOUR MINDS BACK (OR, RATHER FORWARD!) TO THE YEAR 1948.” Aman Mirchandani clearly resided in his subconscious. “BORN FREE, THAT’S WHAT THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS, 1948 IS ALL ABOUT…You know Mama; on December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nationsadopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights..."“Article 1. proclaimed” Aman continued“All human beings are born free (“THE SPIRIT OF FREEDOM”) and equal in dignity andrights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards oneanother in a spirit of brotherhood….Aman Mirchandani sometimes wished he could say more. He also wished he could stayback…risking his life in the process.
CHAPTER 17 THE MIRACLE: AMAN WANTED TO BREAK FREE 72 Hours in hand to leave the country 14 March 2002“Not all the underprivileged of this world, the deprived, the hungry, live in Third Worldcountries. A great many of them reside in American or European high-rise apartmentbuildings or suburban bungalows, bombarded by lethal doses of televisionprogramming, sensate advertising and a constant belief that sex and money insurehappiness. I call this intellectual junk food, something that could lead either to peoplebeing satiated or else undernourished and hungry…By coming to India, I have come to the right place.”Aman was at this time writing a diary as he stayed up throughout the night. He was notgetting sleep. And he was tired of those annoying sedatives.“A tired city dweller will imagine that a transition to the countryside will give him rest; offcourse it will not, it will only give him rural tiredness…and traveler’s Malaria.” Amancould now recall the intravenous drips, those blood tests, and the pain and the ordeal hehad gone through.“But don’t innocent country-dwellers turn to the city for the self-fulfillment which up tothat point of time has evaded them? Don’t they deserve their basic amenities, food,education, health, and water and sanitation for their children?”Aman could recall the faces of those hungry innocents in the countryside, Raja’shelplessness (for his daughter’s school fees), the love and respect Raja and Parvati hadgiven him when he was facing loneliness as he first arrived, and now Amy.Something deep inside told him, “Aman, you must not cry for you are now a man. Menof age don’t weep. I’ll…”I looked around for the voice. There was none. Only a gut feeling. (I could recall asimilar gut feeling as I had read about Amy)“Since coming to India, it has often surprised me how people behave as though theywould almost give their right arm to be able to live in the city. O, those worn out andgrumpy rides, those prolonged traffic jams coming back home…Thus people rush out from where they are; in the hope that out there or somewhereelse, they feel what they lack may be gratified.”AMAN REMEMBERED JOHN LENNON’S “IMAGINE”…“IMAGINE…ALL THE PEOPLE, LIVING LIFE IN PEACE…”
“A-m-a-n, A-m-a-n.” It was the same voice. There was a brilliant flash of light in theroom. His parents were sleeping in the other room.“It could be a dream.” Aman had read Freud’s “Interpretation of Dreams” and knewdreams could be significant in one’s life.“A-m-a-n.” This was strange. Sigmund Freud was powerful, but was there an ideologybeyond this? Some dream ideology?“Amy, is that you?” Perhaps the doctors at Pinewood had been right.“When in doubt, look if at all into your conscience.” The same voice. The same pitch.The same innocence.“Here, take this magic potion. It will protect you against all evil.”Aman had heard (from his mother) the words of Stephen Jay Gould, writing in The NewYork Times following 9/11: “Good and kind people outnumber all others by thousands toone. The tragedy of human history lies in the enormous potential for destruction in rareacts of evil, not in the high frequency of evil people. Complex systems can only be builtstep by step, whereas destruction requires but an instant. Thus, in what I like to call theGreat Asymmetry, every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts ofkindness, too often unnoted and invisible as the ‘ordinary’ efforts of a vast majority.”So Amy had given up her life for a cause. No matter how hard I tried, she would nevercome back. My friend would never come back.As Aman broke down, he could feel there was something wrong. Or perhapsmiraculously right.He had suddenly developed…
CHAPTER 18 THE INVISIBLE MAN (I’M A SCATMAN)“Saab, Parvati and I are so glad you have decided to stay back. Saab, Saab!” AmanMirchandani had suddenly disappeared into thin air.“Is Mr. Mirchandani around?” The Consul General walked into the room. “His parentswent back by the morning flight. Their son wassss…at the airport, he did see off hisanxious parents.”“The boy has put his own life at risk…I wish I could talk to him. Where is he?”“And this is Mr. Krishnan, Mr. Mirchandani’s potential research supervisor in India. Ann,would you please take care of the rest? Thanks indeed!”“Mr. Mirchandani…”Raja and Parvati looked at each other. Over the past few hours, strange things werehappening. They were however tight-lipped.“…FORGET IT, WHO CARES, THIS IS, AFTER ALL, ANOTHER ONE OF THOSESTORIES…UNHEARD…UNLISTENED…UNAPPRE -CIATED...MAYBE ITS ALL ABOUT A ‘MAVERICK’, A COMPLETE ‘NON-CONFORMIST’,UNFETTERED, UNLEASHED…SORRY! UNAPPRECIATED…”At the Medical Center, Dr. Wendell carefully sifted through Aman’s recent writings thathad come along with his Report.“Dr. Weisz, you have reported that Aman’s parents believe there is something amiss.According to the report, Aman was not showing signs of normal behavior when he cameto see off his parents at the airport.”It was a clear, slightly foggy day back home in Los Angeles.“I’m afraid we have to thoroughly investigate the matter. This is Detective Fox and I amSergeant John Mill and this is Ms Kelly Lowe and she is a Forensic expert from theFBI.”“I think the three of you need to travel to India to unravel this case.” It was Dr. Weisz.“I shall suggest to Mr. Mirchandani if he could speak to the appropriate authoritiesconcerned for your travel to India including taking the help of Indian authorities tounravel the mystery of this case.”Those present in the room were unanimous. There was plenty of sense in what Dr.Weisz had said.What Mr. Mirchandani had done, whom he had spoken to was not known to any one,until the three of them (Detective Fox, Sergeant John Mill and Ms Kelly Lowe) were toget information from their respective headquarters in the days to come to plan
CHAPTER 19 THE INVINCIBLE MAN (E.T. OR HUMAN?) Early AprilThere was a huge crowd outside the gates.“My son deserves justice. He has committed no offence.” Reshma Mirchandani wasspeaking to the press.“Justice can compel innocent parents to come to court, but can justice bridge the divideacross nations, peoples and cultures?”The court was adjourned for a day.“Photograph of a poor undernourished boy and a dog inhumanly cramped inside adustbin, each one trying to find food for itself gets the best photography award in aphotographic competition.” Read the caption in the early morning newspaper.Aman walked past the security cordon, unfettered, uncordoned…There was something else on his mind…At least 20,000 persons, mostly the old and children, were in urgent need of help inLalitpur block of Nargarh district, Orissa; even as the death toll had risen to 25 with twomore persons succumbing to mango kernel paste in Bhiku….Government had deniedstarvation deaths.“We have to fill our stomach with something or other to survive. Does the governmentgive us proper food? Does anybody think of feeding us? There is nobody for us.”The innocent villager’s poignant tale moved Aman to the extent that he felt likeintervening, but he had promised Amy…to remain…“From A Distance…God is watching us” He had grown up listening to this song. Itwas probably Bette Midler… From a distance, Aman Mirchandani is watching you…hefelt like openly broadcasting his message in the village, but…Meanwhile, police started to lathicharge villagers to control mob violence throngingGovernment godowns to collect rice & wheat, which was rotting for years without aproper distribution system and was in the process of being transported to a traderelsewhere.In the final instance, they opened fire on the mob. Despite the random and erratic firing,there was no bloodshed. Not a single life was lost in the indiscriminate firing on innocentvillagers.The Minister’s son who had come to watch the “proceedings” went back home feelinglike a loser.
“I can foresee a war coming, there will be innocent loss of lives and in the end we willachieve nothing. The war will emanate from the Western nations and will be the end-result of man’s greed and miscalculation. I must tell Raja.” I could sense that I haddeveloped the power to foresee and forecast the future.“Raja, Raja…” There was a soft whisper as Raja woke up hurriedly.“It’s me, Saab.”“Saab, Saab, where have you been, the police are on the lookout for you? Everyone,even the ones you loved, are out to get you. They have sounded a Red Alert. Andplaced a ransom on your head.” Raja was still loyal to his Master.“I do hear…but I have…done nothing wrong. I am only trying to protect innocentcivilians…You see…”I found myself narrating the truth to Raja. There was a strange bond between servantand master.“But Saab, this is impossible, how can a man become “Superman” overnight? I meanwe are no longer living in the era of …”Raja could not complete his sentence.“Mr. Mirchandani, you are surrounded. Do not try to escape.” It was the local police.There was a familiar voice, which Aman could place.He looked around for the magic potion. Alas, he had left it back in his room. And therewas no way out of the servant’s quarters.Aman Mirchandani surrendered with the words “I can foresee a war coming, there willbe innocent loss of lives and in the end we will achieve nothing. The war will emanatefrom the Western nations and will be the end-result of man’s greed and miscalculation.”This was a bit of an overdose for the local cops. They had often grown up in villageschools, and were not used to such high-infidelity vocabulary.“Is that something you say, Mr. Mirchandani?” Sergeant Mill had just arrived in an air-conditioned vehicle. Ms Lowe was with him.But the Indian police would not let them talk to the boy.“I said…” Aman was handcuffed and led away by the police.
CHAPTER 20 2004 (A TSUNAMI IN THE MINDS OF MEN)“Order, Order.”“Please go on, Mrs. Mirchandani,” Justice Armstrong asked the court to maintainsilence.Two years had passed since Aman Mirchandani was arrested. It was the year 2004.Aman Mirchandani was in a first-class (with all amenities and every comfort) prison inIndia and for the last two years both mother (back home in the state of California) andson (in India) were fighting a lone battle against the system.“Yes, the US of A, my Right-Honorable!A Nation, Pardon Me for Saying this,But with Policies & Designs onEvery Other Nation on Earth-All this, all another story-That I might wish to reserve for later-FORGET IT! I was not born on the 4th of JULY-So, America…is certainly NOT worth my Attention now…”Justice Armstrong slapped a case of “Contempt of Court” on Mrs. ReshmaMirchandani.Wife of Mr. Himesh Mirchandani, NRI steel magnate. Mother of Aman Mirchandani,Stanford Law School graduate and a victim of circumstances. “IT’S ALL ABOUT THE WAY EACH CIVILIZATION CHOOSES TO LIVE”Reshma could recount the circumstances of Aman’s birth…as she wrote her diary. Shehad been confined to a women’s cell for 24 hours. She was now awaiting a final verdict. “A WORTHLESS EXISTENCE Vs A SIMPLE EXISTENCE (IS LIFE MERE EXISTENCE?)”“My child was not born for the ordinary…I understand from the evidence surrounding hismysterious disappearances, that someone had given him a magic potion that made himtemporarily invincible until his arrest, but whatever he did was intended to protect theinnocent. He never wronged anyone. I have full faith in my son. He is innocent.”
“I have often wondered what living a “Worthless existence” means… What “Existence”at all means!Is life mere existence? Is worthiness an inherited trait, or is it acquired? What canmodern civilization with its complex systems of war-mongering, annihilator instincts (thecapacity to wipe out the human race) and obscene patterns of material consumption, sinand greed learn from the “powers of simple existence”?Ancient Indian Mythology tells us about our many virtuous sages and their wonderfulworld. These sages were like children. Almost everything fascinated them: the stars inthe night sky, the tall mountains, the rivers and oceans, the birds in the sky, tiny insects,even tigers!These pious men lived close to nature. They worshipped truth, non-violence, self-discipline and simplicity. Foremost among the wise old men of India was the great SagePatanjali.Patanjali, or more appropriately Rishi Patanjali was an extraordinary man, renowned forhis learning and wisdom, author of three brilliant works, one on Sanskrit grammar, thesecond on Indian medicine Ayurveda, and the third and the most important, the “YogaSutras of Patanjali”.In Book II (Means of Attainment or Sadhana) of “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” hewrote:“…Existence is that which is capable of acts fulfilling a purpose of the Self. Non-existence is worthlessness (tucchata) as regards the purpose of the Self. That is so-described [as having neither existence nor non-existence] which is beyond the range ofboth existence and non-existence… The state when sattva and rajas and tamas are inequipoise is never of use in fulfilling a purpose of the Self. And so it is not existent.Neither does it have a worthless kind of existence like the sky-lotus. Therefore it is alsonot non-existent… For there is no utter annihilation of the existent, or if utterlyannihilated it cannot be made to grow again. For because one cannot make the non-existent grow, the Great [Thinking-substance] and the other [entities] would really exist[in the unphenomenalized state] and therefore might function as acts fulfilling thepurpose of the Self [and so the unphenomenalized state might be said to exist]…”RESHMA MIRCHANDANI WAS CLEARLY VERY WELL READ.“Is Life mere existence? Or, more? Life is Worthless existence, is it? Then, what isWorth? And what is Worthlessness? What is Existence? And what is Non-existence?This brings us to the fundamental question – what is Life? And what is Non life? What is“Prana”? And what is “Aprana”? ‘Aprana’ is simply put, lifelessness.But why does one always have to live only a worthless existence? A brave new worldcalls for more than mere existence, it calls for existence “with a purpose”…the ability todream…for nations and peoples… and I often feel I have never dreamt ENOUGH…I have never really been happy…That’s the way I have chosen to live (perhaps!)”THIS WAS NOT JUST ONE WOMAN’S DREAM…RESHMA CONTINUED DREAMINGTHROUGH HER SON’S EYES THROUGH THE SUBCONSCIOUS, AS PRISONOFFICIALS BACK HOME IN INDIA (WHERE AMAN MIRCHANDANI WAS LODGED)CALLED FOR AN EMERGENCY BOARD MEETING.
CHAPTER 21 THE GREAT ESCAPE Summer 2004“Mr. Aman Mirchandani, is it true that you often used your magic potion to becomeinvisible from the naked eye?” The Public Prosecutor was relentless in his pursuit toprove the boy guilty.“Is it also true that you were scheming and plotting with…let me see the name, yes,some Mr. Raja?”“Objection, Your Honor!” “None of these questions have any bearing on the case,”Arshad Patel, Aman’s Lawyer forcefully stated in defence of his client. “Besides, Rajawas his personal chauffeur. My client had respect for everyone.”“Some of us think Aman Mirchandani is disturbed psychologically. He probably needs tobe in a…”Before he could complete the sentence, Dr. Banerjee had Aman’s Counsel ArshadPatel shouting at him to keep silent.Outside the courtroom, there was an irate mob led by Raja, Parvati and every otherperson Aman had helped on a personal basis following his arrival in India. There werestudent groups, civil liberty groups, human rights groups and members of the PUFET,The “People’s Union for Free Expression of Thought” and the many others thatsupported Aman’s cause. The police started to lathicharge the demonstrators…Indeedover a hundred were seriously injured.In the light of the circumstances, the court was adjourned for a week.Raja and his friends Kaushal and Himmat had been arrested along with six others oncharges of sedition. Raja was further indicted on grounds of perjury.It was two in the morning. The cell guards were fast asleep. Raja, Kaushal and Himmatmanaged to escape. They were now looking around for their Saab.Aman Mirchandani had been lodged in a “special” cell meant for foreigners. He had allthe amenities from air-conditioning to channel music to hot water.So they were practicing “segregation” inside prisons as well, he thought.“Saab, Saab.” Aman could hear a familiar voice. “Saab, here hold on to this.”Raja, Kaushal, Himmat and Aman soon boarded one of the general bogies of the DoonExpress. They had their faces covered and were in disguise as well so that no onecould recognize them.
Aman Mirchandani was now the “reluctant Fugitive”.The rest is all history…
CHAPTER 22 CHEVROLET AND CELEBS – A WORLD APARTAman Mirchandani was born in Los Angeles, California. He was the son of HimeshMirchandani, NRI steel magnate who spent his own childhood in a village on theoutskirts of Kapurthala, Punjab, and had been Chairman and CEO of Mirchandani Steeland a close friend of Sir David Holmes, and on the list of California’s ‘Who’s Who’. TheMirchandanis’ personal wealth was to the tune of two billion dollars.The Mirchandani family initially lived in Punjab, in a house built by Aman’s grandfather.They were from humble roots, from which Himesh Mirchandani had a meteoric rise, firststarting a steel mill and eventually moving to Delhi, where after completion of his brotherSimesh’s Graduation in Business and Accounting, the two brothers decided to jointlytake the plunge.After buying a run-down plant in Malaysia, the family moved over to America whereHimesh Mirchandani married Reshma whose parents had also come down from India.Both families were unaware that Reshma and Himesh had already known each otherwhile they were both in India. The couple settled down in Los Angeles. SimeshMirchandani was unfortunately killed in a car accident.At this point of time, Himesh Mirchandani went to Mexico, and bought the country’ssecond largest steel producer, Sicartsa for $168 million. This was followed by moreacquisitions in Canada and the US.Many of his workers had not been paid for five months, and their suffering wassomething Reshma Mirchandani saw for the first time.There were a lot of workers’ abuses reported to her by the factory workers but Himeshdecided to keep her out of all this.One of these workers, an illegal immigrant from Kapurthala, Punjab, who incidentallyhad personal rivalries dating back to the early days of Himesh Mirchandani’s meteoricrise to wealth and power vowed to take revenge.He called himself Roshan Singh Deo.Later, two new companies, Mirchandani Associates and Mirchandani Shipping wereformed to provide technical and commercial services to the Group and to meet itsgrowing shipping needs. The group went on to make more acquisitions.Finally, Mirchandani Steel was formed through the merger of Mirchandani Associatesand Mirchandani & Sons Inc. with its headquarters in Los Angeles.Aman Mirchandani hadn’t arrived in the world then.
“What happened next, Mama?” Reshma could recount her son as a curious child asthey served her tea inside her cell.“O, we settled in America.”As a mother, Reshma often thought how Aman’s life had been enormously affected byhis concepts, and still was. She knew that in the process he would find his answers.“Hiouen-Tsang and those who preceded and followed him found a land of marvels.Many Chinese pilgrims went to India to search out traces of Lord Buddha, and this theydid, bringing back to China information on the Indian man-god who later became one ofthe deities of China.”India had always played in Aman’s imagination the kind of role planets play in present-day Science-fiction, distant, hardly attainable, and replete with wonders.“When you grow up, you will be a scholar and you would study exotic customs,languages, peoples, and countries and cultures, sometimes their lives, and liberty,equality, fraternity, freedom, justice, peace and security.” Reshma (as well as hisgrandmother) would often tell Aman.“India is steeped in ignorance, poverty and misery and backwardness. As the wife of abusinessman, all I can do is give to charitable causes. I can only play the humanitarianfigure.”Despite her overt respectability, Reshma Mirchandani was clearly an independentthinker on social issues.“But you…” Reshma had told Aman “will travel to India one day…to the ‘Land of YourDreams’…to make a difference.”Reshma could recount her family’s circumstances. From a non-descript village ofPunjab to their $123 million mansion in Los Angeles, hubby Himesh Mirchandani’sjourney had been one resembling the kind of stuff dreams are made of in Bollywoodwhose stars had danced in the family private functions to the tune of his money power.She could also recount that she herself had been born in a Punjab village where noelectricity reached till the 1970’s with her family moving to the metropolis in search ofgreener pastures.It was there that she had met hubby Himesh. They were both studying Commerce at theprestigious “Delhi School of Commerce”. Himesh would often skip classes to work in theevenings. After finishing his Bachelor of Commerce degree with first class, he joined aconsultancy in the early seventies, but soon realized that there were limitedopportunities for him in India and decided to move to Malaysia in 1976. With the familycapital, he founded a steel plant, and made the company a success. Therein began asaga of triumphs for the astute businessman.Reshma could recount that hubby Himesh Mirchandani’s success had been largelyacquired buying up loss-making state owned mills and quickly turning them around. Hehad one of his most notable successes in 1984, when he had turned around a loss-making state-founded steel firm in Trinidad & Tobago which was losing $2 million a day.She could also recount the horrific abuse and torture many of the workers had gonethrough. And she was glad her son was away from all this
“Filth” as she categorized it.Reshma was having reminiscences of the past. She put her past aside, “wiped off thosetears” and asked for the Lady Officer-on-duty.
CHAPTER 23 OLD MAN BY THE SEAT 2 June, 2004I could sense there was something amiss. In the opposite berth. I had just woken up.“Kamli”, a hoarse but cracked voice called out. It was a girl of twelve. She tried toprotest (silently), but who would hear her voice! This was his sixth Commandment; shehad silently and religiously followed his first five. She was just waiting for him to…“Come to me, Kamli,” “come and sit on my lap,” the same hoarse voice called out. “Youlook so beautiful, I feel like…” Period. I ran out of the compartment for a while.It was the same story when I came back. The same voice, the same tone, the samehoarseness. The same lack of feelings. It was only another girl married off to a mucholder man in a nation called…India.Then as he tried to force the girl, my blood began to boil. I couldn’t stop myself.I WAS NO LONGER THE USUAL AMAN. I WAS NOW A-MAN.“Rape”. “No!” “I wouldn’t be hanged for killing a marital-rapist.” “MURDER THE OLD MAN!”The girl was looking at me. Here was an educated man, (out of Stanford, she wouldn’tknow that) whose sense of justice was so strong that in order to bring justice, his senseof injustice had prevailed.I didn’t know what to do with her or with the bloodied knife. I threw away the knife (thathad been cleverly wrapped up in a newspaper during the murder) and washed myhands.The old man’s body was heavy. We looked around. The only other passenger in ourbogey was inside the washroom. Using the full force of our bodies, Raja, Kaushal,Himmat and I pushed the body out of the moving train. And then went back to our seats.Fortunately for us, the Doon Express came to a halt within an hour. The Board readDHANBAD.It was extremely hot outside. With Kamli with us, we boarded the first train to New Delhi.We had our faces covered (as it is, it was hot) and put on normal behavior.Raja, Kaushal, Himmat, Kamli and I were now the FIVE FUGITIVES…
CHAPTER 24 THE FUGITIVES Summer 2004“Nayee Dilli”. “Jahaan Log Apni Kismet Aazmane Aate Hain.” (New Delhi. Where peoplecome to experience their destinies) and so goes the popular saying.New Delhi. The Capital of independent India. Polished and sophisticated from theexterior. (Bland and shallow from the interior). From the thoroughfare of Sansad Marg tothe ‘gulis’ (by lanes) of Chandni Chowk. Delhi represents the ultimate dream of everyIndian. They come here for jobs (from non-profits to insurance to BPOs/KPOs), theycome here for fashion and entertainment, they come here for furthering their politicalobjectives, they come here for practically everything!In this quest for power, there remains behind one India, the ‘silent India’, groups orcommunities of people whose interests have been relegated to the by lanes by a largernational interest. Consider this: India has the largest number of children of school-goingage out of school. There are millions waiting to learn to read and write, to see the light intheir lives. There are villages without roads, without electricity. There are schools thathaven’t seen what a desktop looks like. These are our ‘Unwanted Indians’… Consider also the practice of selective sex abortion. The practice of aborting‘unwanted girls’ is widespread in India. Manual scavenging is common in India. As theNew India Rises, so do slums of laborers. Lack of dignity for manual labor and very lowpay has always been a truth in India. It is part of the caste system, part of our history.And there is widespread trafficking in women and children.“Kamli, let’s play Kith-kith, Kamli, Kamli.” The Prime Minister of India would not havereceived such attention. His motorcade would have come to a halt in the neighborhoodin which we had taken shelter.These were the blocks and pockets of Dilshad Garden.“Kamli, get up, lazy arse.” She slept like a hog. While Raja and I just about managed thehousehold.I could now see outside the window. Radha and her other friends were playing Kith-kith.But none of them were happy. I could see the pain in their eyes. They were all marriedto much older men, but that was not the only ordeal.Day after day, night after night each one of them (I could guess) went through anordeal…Their husbands were much older men, each with more than one wife. ForKamli’s friends, sex was a wifely duty. That they never enjoyed. It was harsh, feelingless and imposed.What did Sulochana Chachi tell all the girls in the neighborhood? (And Kamli wouldoften come back home and tell me)