Nurturing Young Minds

Nurturing Young Minds

Saturday, July 24, 2010

8. The Barber Boy and a Billion Children: the Story of an Evolving Dream

(This is a real life story of the power and potential of penniless children, symbolic of over a billion underprivileged kids having no or nominal access to education in the underdeveloped and developing world, who could make all the difference to this planet given the opportunity and guidance)
Episode 8
The Sunday Musings

When I got up after an afternoon nap, I felt very fresh and relaxed. I find it very difficult to sleep in the day time and therefore an afternoon nap is a rarity for me. Today’s nap was perhaps the gift of the masseur.
        On this Sunday evening my children relaxed, and so did I. While generally Vinita allows me to work on Sundays, this Sunday I could sense that she was in a mood to spend some private time with me in the evening. Both of us, therefore, sat in the lawn near the white limestone Buddha amidst flowers and green plants, our bare soles enjoying the caresses of the velvet grass of the lawn, which was nurtured so carefully by Vinita and her gardener. Two eucalyptus trees stood tall in the lawn on two sides of an Asoka tree, and their leaves once in a while fell on and around us to remind us of their presence. Vinita had got made and installed a small wooden home on one of the corner trees in the lawn, which was occupied by a bird family. She would arrange for their food and water every day. Their and other birds’ twitter lent a musical touch to the evening that could beat the best of instrumentals and vocals. Nature is great, and being in the midst of Nature plain beatitude!          We enjoyed togetherness in a quiet and cool evening in complete silence, with a pleasant breeze caressing our bodies intermittently. As darkness fell, the electric light string made of tiny bulbs wound around the eucalyptus tree behind the Buddha lit up, emitting a gentle and soothing glow.
            The HEC area, where we lived, was away from the city, and had no din, bustle or congestion characteristic of a modern city life. It was full of trees planted by the Russians, and the houses were well spaced.
            Sitting in close proximity to the Buddha is a great feeling for me, which is why I got this three feet Buddha statue in a meditational posture sculpted by an artist, My fascination for the Buddha, who was originally Siddharth Gautama, is not rooted in logic. I disagree with some of his fundamental tenets, like ‘sabbam dukkham’, which means ‘all is misery’. In his times there was poverty everywhere, and prosperity a privilege enjoyed by very few. There were no medical facilities to fight disease and to prevent early death, and penicillin had not been discovered yet. Old age was usually a curse, which is not so today. Therefore, ‘sabbam dukkham’ did not appear to me to be a universal truth.  Today, ‘sabbam dukkham’ would find few takers in the economically developed countries. Nor do I endorse the practice of encouraging people to renounce the world, and producing ascetic monks on a mass scale, which is encouraged more by Buddhism than any other religion. Yet, I love and admire the Buddha, and I suspect I changed my surname from Sinha to Siddharth only due to my fatal attraction towards Siddharth Gautama, who later became the Buddha. He was a prince, who suffered little pain himself, but was so moved by the then all pervasive misery of others, that he renounced all his personal pleasures to find ways of liberating the vast majority of suffering people from the agonies of human existence. The Buddha was not only a philanthropist; he was a great leader of humanity who swam against the flow of his times, and made millions to do so in India and abroad. I sometimes guess it was his quality that lay at the root of my inexplicable attraction towards Siddharth Gautama, the Buddha. I have had similar attraction that defies logic towards another flesh-and-blood person, but I would not like to stray into that area at the moment.
            The learning camp that I was planning to organise was not the one where I would encounter any ‘prince’ or wealthy child. But, I thought, when I held in future any camp of wealthy children, or addressed youth with very wealthy parents, I would explain to them the significance of Prince Siddharth Gautama, because for half of the humans inhabiting Asia, Africa and Latin America ‘sabbam dukkham’ was still as true as it was in the times of the Buddha. History has been beckoning more Siddharth Gautamas to set their foot on these lands to help them liberate themselves from the agonies of human existence that still haunt them!
            Philanthropy is not a subject that is taught in schools or colleges. Not even informal discussions take place on this subject. The entire system of education is geared to essentially teaching children and youth how to improve the quality of their own existence. Philanthropy and many other subjects needed to be included in the curriculum, at both schools and colleges.  That would help students become more complete human beings, and would cater to their total and holistic development. I decided that philanthropy and leadership would be included in our camp curriculum apart from other topics that did not figure in the formal curriculum of the schools.
            This brought me back to the issue of putting in place the month-long learning camp’s curriculum, and designing the course material. As on date, whatever was there, existed mostly in my mind, and that was certainly not enough. Time was fleeting fast, and things had to done on a war footing. But if I tried to do anything of the kind this Sunday evening, there could be a war! My wife was a very good soul generally, but sometimes, especially on a Sunday evening, after I had ‘wasted’ two or three Sundays in a succession, she could be a great potential warrior! I am generally a pacifist, and try to avoid wars as far as possible, unless a war is thrust upon me! I especially avoid being at war with beautiful people! So I decided to take half-a-day off on the following day, and go to the Tagore Hill, where Robindronath Tagore, the Nobel Laureate Bengali poet, wrote many of his books, including parts of his Nobel Prize winning poetry collection Geetanjali.
            I mentioned to Vinita that I planned to go to the Tagore Hill the following day to plan the forthcoming children’s camp, and to think. I also informed her that Tagore wrote many of his poems at the Tagore hill, and therefore the hill must have had some mystical properties that inspired creativity and great ideas. I would, I let her know, be happy if she also came along and had picnic with me there.
            I knew if I mentioned about a picnic she would certainly agree to accompany me.             Her eyes lit up at the idea of a picnic, and she gave her consent without delay since I rarely made such offers. I took a sigh of relief, now that a good supply of eatables had been assured while I thought and planned at the Tagore Hill. Google has rightly included it among its four fundamental mantras that food should never be more than 50 feet from its creative and thinking employees.
            I had discussed a poem - the children’s anthem - with her only a short while ago, and now I had mentioned to her about Tagore, the poet.
So poetry was on her mind.
“Why do you only write devotional or inspirational songs? Why don’t you also attempt romantic poetry?” She enquired.

The question made me pause and think, as I groped for an answer that would on the one hand convince her, and on the other, conceal cleverly the fact that I was not essentially a very romantic person by nature. Which husband would admit that he was an unromantic fellow!

“Well, I think there is a reason. I wrote a couple of romantic poems before marriage, which one day you found out while emptying one of my old suitcases. And then, instead of appreciating the poetry, the first question that you asked was about the identity of the person who inspired my romantic poetry. No?”

“Yes, yes, I must know!”

“Are you aware that a poet can experience vicarious feelings? He can think and feel as if he is in a situation, which he is not really in, and can write a powerful poem or a story on it?”, I asked. She nodded uncertainly. I knew it would be difficult to convince her with such a literary and facile explanation!

“After seeing your approach, which seemed more investigative than appreciative, I thought it was best to avoid entering into a messy area! If I wrote a romantic poem, I suspect you might say, “O, what a beautiful poem! I am sure you have not written it on me! So, tell me, who is the one that has inspired this poetry?”

I have found that women are quite suspicious. Howsoever trustworthy the husband, they would never believe that his love is true, and his appreciation of their charm and beauty sincere.

“I do not know anything! You must write a poem on me!”, she insisted.“ I have heard”, she continued, “ that you wrote a poem instantly as a birthday gift, when you arrived at your friend’s home to discover that it was his sister’s birthday.”

“Yes, I did! The poem’s name was Gift from a brother to a sister. But that was when I was young and creative! After I entered the police, there was no time available to me for being creative. And if I had shown much creativity, I would have lost my job in the police! And then what would you eat?”

“I think it is time you penned a poem on me too!”, she said smilingly, and then  struck a  pose as if I were a painter ready with my easel, canvas and drawing  tools, to draw an instant portrait ! She had an extremely elegant personality, her elegance remaining untouched by age, and now in this better-than-Mona Lisa-pose, she looked even more ethereal!  I had no option but to dump all my intellectual stuff and gaze her eternally in the soft romantic light emitted by the light-string wound around the eucalyptus tree behind the Buddha. The Buddha, for the time being, had disappeared from my consciousness, and a poem had started brewing inside my heart.


  1. Because of your descriptive writing, I have a lovely clear vision of your gardens. I am very interested in learning how you came to visit with His Holiness Dalai Lama and if your wife ever received her poem she so obviously deserves...and Robindranath Tagore is one of my personal favorites.

  2. My daughter was very keen on meting him. So we chose to go to Dharamsala on LTC. We could meet him there for about half an hour and could discuss a number of issues.
    As regards the poem, I would like people to remain curious so that they read the coming episodes.
    In fact, I am receiving mails from close friends to the effect that I should not publish my memoirs on a blog which very few people read.Instead, they tell me, I should publish in the form of a book. But I am not sure if people will be interested in reading a novel with such serious stuff as educational philosophy and practice of education at its core. I am in the process of deciding.