Archive | February, 2009

Life is Short Make Most Of It!

21 Feb

This is the text of the Commencement address by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, delivered on June 12, 2005.
I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.
The first story is about connecting the dots.
I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?
It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.
And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.
It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces,
about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.
Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
My second story is about love and loss.
I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parent’s garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.
I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.
I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.
During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT; another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.
I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.
My third story is about death.
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.
I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me
that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.
This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and Polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Goggle in paperback form, 35 years before Goggle came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.
Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin a new, I wish that for you.
Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
Thank you all very much.

RSS – A Danger To Hinduism

9 Feb

by Rajindar Sachar, Retired Chief Justice of the New Delhi High Court

To say the RSS is a danger to Hinduism may sound paradoxical, but I am not saying it in levity but in all seriousness.

All progressive sections of the Hindu community blame the RSS for being anti-minorities. But have they paused even for a while to visualise the danger to Hinduism itself from the RSS? It is the same streak of Talibanisation, especially of the Afghanistan type, which is bringing a bad name to the spirituality of both Hinduism and Islam.

I have been pushed to this conclusion by the statement of Mr. Hari Gautam, Chairman of the University Grants Commission, that the UGC has finally approved the proposal for introducing astrology as a course at under-graduate and post-graduate levels in universities from the coming academic session.

Justifying this step, the UGC Chairman said all people were interested in knowing what the future held for them so they wanted to produce certified professional qualifications to secure the confidence and faith of the people.

That the UGC Chairman has not got consent from the council is a cause for concern. I have serious doubts about the legality of such a decision, considering that the universities are all publicly funded and the mandate of Article 51A of the Constitution dealing with fundamental duties directs that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India “to develop the scientific temper, humanism and to preserve the rich heritage of our culture”.

I need not dwell on the unscientific nature of astrological predictions. I might share with Mr. Hari Gautam an immediate image which floated across my memory. It is about a movie “Admi“, produced by V. Shantaram in the late Thirties. It was the story of a son born in a poor Hindu family. His parents had his future predicted by a family astrologer. The prediction was that the son would grow up to be so powerful that at wave of his hands people at the highest level would stop and seek his permission to move on. The predictions naturally made the parents happy. Unfortunately the son, being a straight and honest person, could not join politics, but had to be content with becoming a police constable, and naturally all traffic movement of cars of even the richest awaited the movement of his arms to move. I suppose many would insist that the astrological prediction had come true – the hand indication did control the movement of the richest. If such is the interpretation, could anything be more silly?

I concede that most of us do at some time indulge in this game of astrology, either out of curiosity or at a time of tragedy or at a family function or even out of bravado. To study astrology as a sideline in a private capacity is a different matter. It is well-known that many men and women consult professional clairvoyants, astrologers and tarot-card readers. The Cheiros Book on Palmistry is a common reading amongst the youth as an excuse to hand holding.

As for knowing the future, the UGC Chairman need not worry because he may wish to go by the predictions of Nostradamus, the renowned French astrologer who says that a King of Terror or anti-Christ was to descend on Earth in July, 1999, and whom he identifies as not belonging to Christianity, Islam or Judaism and who will be as ruthless as Genghis Khan, Of course, commentators are divided on the identity of this `King of Terror’. That leaves the field open to be filled up by hordes of RSS men who have destroyed a house of God – the Babri Masjid. But then, unfortunately, even their victory can be of no consolation, because again according to one commentator our planet will be invaded by beings from outer space who will destroy much of humanity. The saviour, after some time, will be Russia and America who may after some time be also dwarfed by the size of China. India is not mentioned and that might have persuaded the UGC to embark on this venture so as to obtain astrological predictions favouring the dominance of RSS ideology.

But, then, all these events were to start happening from 1997- 98, but fortunately for mankind nothing of the sort has happened. Mr. Gautam need not, however, feel dejected, but rather realise the watery base of all these predictions, including that of Vedic astrology.

I am surprised that Mr. Gautam has not given any justification for his step by taking the stand that as astrologers will be able to predict the results of elections, the political party which is to form a government and who is to be the Prime Minister, we could do away with elections to legislatures and instead adopt a pattern of paternalist Guru Sabha, as the RSS has openly advocated before the Constitutional Commission.

We could then even ban political parties because as the results are pre-ordained as predicted by astrologers, why permit such a huge waste of public money. Better still, why have a Cabinet of Ministers – rather, a body of UGC-trained professional astrologers could take decisions on whether it is beneficial to join the W.T.O. or talk to Pakistan, etc. Really, the sublime is becoming ludicrous.

I think the whole idea is not only ridiculous, but dangerous. In a country like India, where almost half the population is female, and 40 per cent of the rural population is illiterate and where all governments, including the present, have not honoured the direction given by the Supreme Court as far back as in 1993 holding that education is a fundamental right, we would be well- advised to divert funds to this need than to this doubtful venture by the UGC.

Hinduism is not a religion, but a way of life. According to Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the recognition of spirit in man is the essential feature of Hindu religion and in this respect all men are equal. But Hinduism has suffered over the centuries by illogical rituals, and worst of all by the disgrace of casteism. Reformers like Ram Mohan Roy and Dayanand (against idol worship) have worked towards restoring to the religion its pristine quality. Fundamentalist Hindus represented by bodies like the RSS, however, go on making attempts to put the clock back by burying it in ritualism. The attempt to introduce astrology in universities is the latest.

This is in line with the equally atrocious suggestions by the RSS Chief, Mr. K. Sudarshan, that Christians and Muslims prove their Indianness by refusing to respect the Vatican and Mecca, as these holy places are outside India.

A deliberately provocative statement, considering that the Vatican is the highest spiritual seat for millions of Christians. And Mecca is the holy place where Prophet Mohammad was born and considered sacred the way the RSS regards Ayodhya, because it is the birth place of Lord Rama. In fact, all these places are worthy of reverence by all communities.

But if being reverential to a holy place outside India is against Indianisation, will Mr. Sudarshan advise Hindus not to revere Kailash Mansarover (the abode of Lord Shiva) which is situated in Tibet, outside India. By the same logic, I take it that he would be advising Sikhs and Hindus not to go on a pilgrimage to Nankana Sahib (birth place of Guru Nanak Dev Sahib Ji) which is now in foreign territory – i.e. Pakistan.

I feel that this attempt by the UGC needs to be resisted at all costs if our education is to fulfill the modern need of development in the country. A throwback to centuries-old superstitions, which we still have unfortunately not been able to shake off, is a poor service that the UGC Chairman is doing to the young generation.

(The writer is a retired Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court).

With the Parivar unrepentant, will peace or the Orissa refugees ever return…

9 Feb
With the parivar unrepentant, will peace or the refugees ever return to Kandhamal?

by Smita Gupta, Outlook India

“Conversion is a complex and emotionally charged issue. Fundamentalists exploit it, liberals complicate it, many do not comprehend what the fuss is about, and others shy away from getting involved.”
—Jesuit sociologist Rudolf C. Heredia in Changing Gods: Rethinking Conversion in India

Sandipan Chatterjee
Persecuted Christians take refuge at the Raikia relief camp

Kandhamal, with its forested hills, sparkling rivulets and riot of wild flowers, is heart-achingly beautiful. The road that winds its way from Kalingaghat to the district headquarters at Phulbani must rate as one of the most scenic routes I have taken.

But who controls all this untamed beauty?

Not the state, certainly not Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s BJD-BJP government. “Like many other tribal areas in the country, it has been left largely unadministered, with even mainstream political parties conceding space to a set of non-political actors,” says a civil servant based in Bhubaneshwar.

In this largely tribal district, it is a volatile mix of Christian missionaries, Sangh parivar activists (who include not just VHP, Bajrang Dal and Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram members, but also the increasing number of petty traders and businessmen who have come from outside the district) and Maoists which is battling for the hearts and minds of the people.

The Christian missionaries arrived first, in the 1920s, providing the district with some of the facilities the state did not: health and education.

Then came the Sangh parivar, more than 30 years ago, to win back from the ‘clutches’ of Christianity all those on the margins of the great Hindu parivar. And last came the Maoists looking for recruits among the still largely deprived and neglected people of a  district, whose pristine beauty has not yet been marred by industry, no, not even by a railway line.

The State makes a token appearance in Kandhamal: for instance, policing this district of 7.4 lakh are 500 policemen stationed at 13-odd police stations. After the Maoists raided a police training school in neighbouring Nayagarh district in February this year, the guns were locked up in the armouries. Now policemen rely only on the baton. This, despite the gradual build-up of Sangh muscle power in the district, demonstrated in the violence during the Christmas week of December 2007.

It was against this backdrop that Sangh fury erupted in all its virulence following the murder of Laxmanananda Saraswati, the controversial swami whom the VHP regarded as one of its marg darshaks, on August 23. VHP and Bajrang Dal activists spurred on the tribals (among whom the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram has been working) to cut a bloody swathe across the district. As the swami’s funeral procession, led by VHP leader Praveen Togadia, covered the 150 km between Jalaspeta, where he died, and Chakapada, where he was interred, homes of Christians were torched and churches vandalised. Over 22,000 of the 1.17 lakh Christians in the district fled to relief camps. “Had we tried to stop it, it would’ve been even more violent,” says a district official when asked why the procession was permitted. “There would have been more deaths.”

The unabated violence that continued for close to 50 days has not only cemented the faultlines between Kandhamal’s two major communities—the Kandhas and the Panos—but also turned the spotlight on the deeply contested question of conversions and reconversions. The largely Hindu Kandhas are tribals, accounting for 52 per cent of the population, while the largely Christian Panos are scheduled castes, making up 17 per cent.

Sangh spokesmen have accused the church of sponsoring the swami’s killing. Christian missionaries, they say, saw his aggressive campaign to reconvert Christians and ban cow slaughter (both Kandhas and Panos were traditional beef-eaters) as an obstacle. Emboldened by the BJP’s presence in the state government, the saffron brotherhood has gone on the offensive in response.

The impact of this is visible even at the government-sponsored relief camps, never mind the almost abandoned villages. In the Raikia camp—certainly the worst-run of the camps I visited—agitated inmates allege that the block development officer is an RSS man. “The pastors aren’t allowed into the camps,” says Sajib Naik, an inmate, “but on the pretext of setting up a peace committee, the BDO allowed RSS, Bajrang Dal and Vanika Sangha (an RSS-sponsored businessmen’s association) members to come into the camp.

We surrounded them as these are the people who burnt our homes. The CRPF eventually had to throw them out.”

Of course, it suits the Sangh—with the government’s backing—to suggest that the current rift between the two communities has nothing to do with its activities. Instead, it demonises all Panos as forcible occupiers of tribal land and users of false caste certificates for jobs (SCs who convert to Christianity are not entitled to reservation unlike their ST counterparts). While there is certainly some merit in these accusations, the fact is that instead of working to heal the rupture, the Sangh has actively worked to widen the rift.

Fear keeps people at camps awake at night

At the relief camp in G. Udaygiri, Runima Digal clutches the folds of her purple nylon sari convulsively. On August 25, two days after the swami’s murder, she, her husband Ishwar Digal and four children had fled from their village Gutingiamallipora. They came to the camp carrying nothing except the clothes on their backs.

Less than a month later, on September 20, Ishwar received a message from his village that his father was seriously ill. Anxious, he rushed home, accompanied by his wife and one child. There, Runima recalls, four local RSS activists told him that if he had plans to return to the village permanently, he had better “reconvert” to Hinduism or face death. Scared to spend the night in the village, the Digals decided it would be safer to return to the camp under cover of darkness. As they took a shortcut through the jungle, some men emerged from the shadows—one of whom Runima recognised—and hacked her husband to death before her eyes. Grabbing her child, she ran to get help, but by the time she returned with the CRPF, it was too late. There were only bloodstains to mark the spot where her husband had been killed. His body had been removed.

Runima’s story, with some variations, is repeated at all the relief camps I visit—in Tikabali, G. Udaygiri and Raikia. The Christian refugees—a majority of whom are Panos while a few are Kandhas—are all scared to return to their villages. (Even the sarpanch of the Kurtamagada gram panchayat in Tumribandha, Shrish Malik, could not escape the wrath of the saffron hordes even though he is a Kandha and is in the BJD. His sin? He’s a Christian.) They have all been told they can return “in peace”—but only if they return to the Hindu fold. If God couldn’t save someone named Ishwar, what can others hope for? Especially as the parivar can’t understand what the fuss is about. “There are 8.5 lakh Christians in Orissa: only 20,000-odd are in camps,” says Dr Lakshmidhar Das of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram. “Why are we being given a bad name for such a small number?”

Most have already lost everything, their homes—at least 4,455 homes have been razed to the ground—reduced to charred shells, their churches ransacked, their hard-earned worldly goods looted or destroyed, their grains burnt and their goats scattered.

The manner in which the houses have been targeted show prior knowledge: as in Gujarat, only the homes of the minorities have been torched.

For instance, in Beheragam, eight or nine km from the Chakapada Ashram where the swami was interred, the home of Padmacharan Digal, a retired JCO, along with 40-odd others, were singled out on September 24. “Nearly 1,500 people came, shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Jai Bajrang’,” recalls Padmacharan. “Our neighbours pointed out our homes. With my army savings and pension, I had bought a fridge and TV. It’s all gone now.” An acrid smell greets us as we visit the charred remains of what was the ex-JCO’s home. Only a heap of half-eaten corn cobs strewn across the floor have survived. Padmacharan and his family now all live in the Tikabali camp. Every morning he and others make the pilgrimage back to the village, walking past a ransacked church, a large broken red cross placed artistically on the rubble, looking for some signs of hope.

Branded! Some put ‘Oms’ outside houses

At the Chakapada Ashram, Saroj Kumar Das, who performed the last rites for the swami, and doubles as a Sanskrit teacher at the BD High School, looks like an unlikely spewer of venom. Dressed neatly in trousers and shirt, he sits cross-legged in the ashram’s pillared prayer hall dominated by a portrait of the swami. “Only Hindus love Bharat mata; Christians and Muslims together create riots,” he tells me matter-of-factly. “They are traitors. They killed Swamiji, not the Maoists—that’s just a cover by the government. Do you know in Daringbadi (a block in the district), they raise the Italian flag on Independence Day? If any Hindu says anything to them, they tell them we will tell Madam (Sonia Gandhi).” What about the rape of the nun? “Can a nun be raped?” he asks, his tone now aggressive. “She is supposed to have said that she was raped in front of 10 policemen. That’s not part of Hindu sanskriti. It can only happen in ekant here, not like in the West.”

As this man of god expands on this theme, one wonders how CM Patnaik hopes to return the district to peace. This is no longer just a law-and-order problem. Perhaps it’s time to pay attention to voices such as that of Jesuit sociologist Rudolf Heredia, who calls for “religious disarmament” and suggests that it is time to acknowledge that while religious commitment is essentially a matter of personal conscience and choice, it also impacts other levels of individual and social life.

I, The Convert

9 Feb
by Anand Mahadevan (Business Editor, Outlook India)

My conversion was not a change of religion; it was a change of heart

I was born a Brahmin and am the grandson of a priest whom I dearly loved. I am educated and my current professional standing indicates that I am reasonably intelligent. I am also affluent and my income would put me distinctly in the upper middle class bracket. I guess that would make me high-caste, rich and smart. In other words, I am not a tribal, or poor or dim-witted. And yet, I chose to become a follower of Jesus Christ.

The world would call me a convert to Christianity. I have no problems with that, though I see my faith more as a relationship with God through Jesus Christ than as a religion. And for the record, I can truthfully claim that no one financially induced or threatened or deceived me into converting to Christianity.

I am fiercely proud of my national identity as an Indian and I am completely at peace with my cultural identity as a Hindu. I retain the name my parents gave me. My wife, who also shares my faith, continues to go by her Hindu name. We have two children and we have given both distinctly Hindu names. In fact, many of my colleagues and acquaintances who may happen to read this column are likely to be surprised. They have no inkling about my faith, for I generally don’t go about announcing it. But if someone does ask me the reason behind the joy and hope that is everpresent in my life, I am always delighted to share it with them.

I write this piece to make one point—that my conversion was not a change of religion but a change of heart. To explain this, I need to go back to my childhood in Chennai, similar to that of so many other Tamil Brahmin boys like me. My grandfather, every bit the virtuous priest, had enormous influence over me. I absolutely adored him and as a toddler, always clung to him. He too loved me to a fault. There was no wish of mine that he would not rush to fulfil. But even in my early, formative years I was unable to relate to the religion he fervently practiced. Later, in my school days, I once spent my summer holidays with him in Trichy. Memories of dawn walks with him, for the ritualistic dip in the Cauvery river, cow in tow, are still fresh in my memory. I learnt many shlokas, some of which I still remember. But I never understood any of it and none of it helped me connect with God.

When I was 19, a Christian friend with whom I used to play cricket invited me to his house for prayer. If he had invited me to a pub, or party, I would have gone too. At his home, he and his sister prayed for me. It was a simple yet delightful conversation with God that lasted all of five minutes. I don’t remember it verbatim, but they articulated a prayer of blessing on my life, future, career and family. It was a simple affair—no miracles, no angels visiting. All they did was utter a deep human cry out to the creator God and His only son Jesus Christ. When they said Amen, I felt in my heart a desire to follow Jesus.

It was a faith encounter with God that I shall not even attempt to understand, rationalise or explain. I simply accept it. It is my faith. It is what I choose to believe. That evening I did not change my religion, for in reality I had none. Hinduism was my identity, not my religion. It still is.

The Christianity I acquired that evening is not a religion. On the contrary, it is an intensely intimate relationship with Jesus. Over the past fifteen years, I have come to know this Jesus even closer. I know Him as the pure and sinless Son of a Holy God. And I know Him as a dear friend to whom I pray and talk to every day—about my career, my dreams, successes, failures, finances and even my sexuality.

If I read a good book, watch a good movie (Rock On is terrific, mate), or eat a good meal at a new restaurant, I would naturally tell my friends about it.In Jesus, I have discovered a truly amazing friend, guide, leader, saviour and God. How can I not tell all my friends about Him? And if anyone does listen and he too comes to believe in Jesus, I am delighted. The world would call it a conversion; I call it a change of heart, like mine.

But I would never force anyone to listen to me, leave alone financially induce, coerce or con him into believing. That to me is pointless and against the very grain of my faith. But I do have a constitutional right to practice my faith and to preach it without deception, force or bribery. It pains to see such basic rights of mankind being cruelly violated every day in this great Hindu nation.

God bless India.

Orissa: What’s the point of Commissions of Inquiries headed by pliant persons

9 Feb
by Archbishop Raphael Cheenath S.V.D.

Press Release from the Archbishop of Cuttack

1. With respect to the communal violence that began in Kandhamal district of the state of Orissa in December, 2007 the state government has appointed the Justice Basudev Panigrahi Commission of Inquiry. Similarly, with respect to the communal violence that flared up in August 2008 in different parts of Orissa, which continues unabated, the state government has appointed the Justice S.C. Mohapatra Commission of Inquiry.

2. I am profoundly distressed by the fact that the Chief Minister did not consult the victim community before deciding on the persons to head these Commissions. The very least that is expected from the state government is that it take the victim community into confidence so that the Commissions of Inquiries are headed by persons who are, in the perception of the victim community, both independent and strong willed enough to hold the officers of the state responsible. The present appointments have been made in haste disregarding the point of view of the victim communities.

3. Our experiences before the Justice Basudev Panigrahi Commission have been demoralizing to say the least. Advocates for the victim communities appeared before Justice Panigrahi and filed statements on behalf of approximately 275 victims and others. They began full-hearted participation in the inquiry despite their reservations as to the independence of the Commission. Their confidence was shaken when the second round of attacks began and they informed Justice Panigrahi that not only the Christian community but also some of the advocates representing the victims had come under the threat of assault and they therefore requested Justice Panigrahi to adjourn the hearing for two months. Justice Panigrahi refused. It became impossible for the victim community and their advocates to participate freely in the Commission. Victims were without food, houses were being burnt, people were being killed; all this was pointed out to Justice Panigrahi and a most reasonable request was made to keep the Commission in abeyance until matters settled down.

4. Not only was the request refused but the Commission is proceeding in undue haste. Some members of the victim community undoubtedly manage to attend but the leading team of lawyers and the main victims cannot attend. It is also very difficult to travel within Kandhamal to meet the victims and prepare them for the proceedings. They have been traumatized and are scared and need to be given confidence to speak out. This is especially so because the assailants are still roaming free in the villages and may, in all likelihood, attack the witnesses for deposing before the Commission. It was expected of the Commission that it would have some sensitivity in respect of witness protection to maintain the sanctity of the Commission proceedings; but this is not so. A formal order has been made but no protection on the ground is available.

5. This leads me to the conclusion that the Justice Panigrahi Commission is more interested in covering up the misdeeds of the state government and its police force whose actions have been truly shameful, rather than to identify the organisations and prominent individuals behind the fascistic attacks. The Commission wishes to produce its report in undue haste with a view to giving the Chief Minister and his officers a clean chit. In the circumstances I have no hesitation in stating that I have no faith whatsoever in the Justice Panigrahi Commission.

6. This view also holds good for the Justice S.C. Mohapatra Commission. I have nothing against Justice Panigrahi or Justice Mohapatra personally. But I do protest the appointment being made unilaterally without consultation with the victim community. He to has issued notice to the victim community in the middle of all this violence to file affidavits by the 15th of November, 2008. Such a formal approach displays an insensitivity to the suffering of the victims. Victims who do not know where their next meal is coming from or those who are hiding in the forests are hardly likely to be able to identify an advocate and meet the prescribed deadline. What these Commissions need is a person of dynamism like Justice Krishna Iyer with a compassionate heart and a deep social understanding of the nature of communal riots. Perhaps the state government ought to have approached Mr. Justice B.N. Srikrishna who headed the Commission of Inquiry in respect of the Bombay massacres. Such judges would indeed have inspired confidence. Sadly this is not the case. I do not have confidence that the Justice Mohapatra Commission will indeed do justice to the victims in Orissa.

7. I am constrained to release this statement because there is, particularly of late, a distressing tendency to avoid naming and catching the culprits immediately and to waste time by appointing Commissions with pliant persons heading them in order to protract the conflict and to get political benefits by stigmatizing minority communities. This strategy will not work. The people of Orissa as indeed the people of the world know who the assailants are. This is no secret. What it needs is not an Inquiry for the truth is well known. It needs the political will to do what is right in accordance with the Constitution of India and the laws of this land.

8. In this, I do believe that I have the support of all religious communities in India. I do believe I have the support of those professing the Hindu religion in India as well. Hinduism is a religion of peace, nonviolence and tolerance. I am a profound admirer of the philosophical and religious tenets of Hinduism. I can therefore say with absolute certainty that those who attacked Christians in the name of religion are profoundly anti-hindu and also anti-national. They seek to divide and thus weaken our wonderful nation of kind hearted and generous people.

9. This is why I am so utterly distressed that our national leadership does not appear to be capable of acting bravely and decisively with compassion and clarity to challenge these fascist forces that have divided the nation and committed so many horrendous crimes again and again. What is at stake in the communal attacks in Orissa is not just the future of the Christian community and its security and safety, but the future of our democratic nation itself.

10. May God help us all.

Archbishop Raphael Cheenath S.V.D.
Archbishop of Cuttack – Bhubaneswar

Hindutva will never succed in INDIA

2 Feb

I want to express our strongest condemnation of the Hindutva attackers in Orissa & Karnataka and pledge our unconditional support to our Christian brethren that are being persecuted in India.

1947 was not the end of the freedom struggle in India, but the beginning of the end of dividing India on the basis of religion, caste, language, and creed.

As long as the spirit of Gandhi and Nehru live in the hearts of Indians, ALL INDIANS WILL REJECT HINDUTVA as a TALIBAN ideology filled with HATRED.

As Indians, we reject the VHP, RSS, Bajrang Dal, Ram Sena with the same vigor that we reject all terrorist organizations in this world.

India never was, never is and never will be a Hindu nation.

India is for ALL Indians, be they Hindu, Christian, Muslim, or Sikh

India’s strength is in its diversity and we will not allow the RSS to divide India once again on the basis of religion.

We say NO, To all who believe violence will triumph over peace.

We say NO, To all who want to rape our nuns and behead our priests.

We say NO, To all who want to impose Hindutva on us.

We say NO, To all who want to make India a Hindu nation.

We say NO, To all who want to create a fascist Aryan nation out of India.

We say NO, To all who want to Talibanize India.

We say NO, To all who call for Hindu Jihad.

We say NO, To all who want to oppress Indians based on Caste.

We say NO, To all who want to divide India as Hindu, Muslim, Christian.

NO, NO, NO, NO. We will NOT allow HINDUTVA to prevail in Free India. NEVER.

We will ALL stand up for freedom and liberty as all men are created equal.

We shall overcome Hindutva ideology the same way we shall overcome all forms of fascism

We shall overcome RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena, Ram Sena the same way we overcame the Nazi’s

We shall prosecute the Hindutva terrorists the same way we prosecute the Al Qaeda terrorists.

We shall overcome Evil with Good, just as Jesus prayed for his killers.

We shall overcome Radical Hindu Caste & Race Ideologies by embracing people of all races in a United & Diverse India.

We vehemently DISAGREE with Hindutva ideology and reject its imposition on us.

The LEADERS of Hindutva were all failures in India’s freedom struggle and will continue to be failures in Free India.

To the fascist Hindutva leaders, we say,

“You are as misguided as the fascist people that you lead.

Do you think that Indians are NOT smart enough to choose their own faith?

Do NOT insult Indians by saying that you will decide our faith for us.”

God Bless India.