A bouquet of flowers picked along the way ….

The rape of India December 29, 2012

Filed under: Ethics and Values,India,women — gurdas @ :

“In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men.

Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.”

Quotation: Captain G. M. Gilbert, the prison psychologist assigned to the defendants at the Nuremberg Trials


The victim of the brutal rape case in Delhi passed away. Like millions of my fellow countrymen I am seething with anger. I had little hope she will survive. My worry now is that nothing substantial will come out of this episode. Sure, the perpetrators of the crime will receive quick and severe punishment. The government will do that since it needs to escape the public anger. The decision to send the victim to Singapore was an outcome of careful thinking – a calculated move to avoid her death in a Delhi hospital. Or, any place in India. In the past 12 days many a careless politician has spoken their true self. The President’s son called the protestors dented and painted, while other leaders have asked for skirts to be banned in schools or girls to be married at a younger age to prevent assaults. I had to stop my wife calling them animals because I do not know of any animal that stoops so low. The ruling class in India is nothing but evil. They have no empathy for fellow humans. Another candle light vigil will bring nothing except smirks from the rulers. I may sound overly dystopian, but to me, India as it is today reflects Orwell’s Animal Farm.

I have little hope from the Indian on the street. Some are plain uncivilized, most think of issues and solutions in dangerously simple terms. Even the protests were not clean. Women were teased by the protestors. Many were simply furthering a political agenda. Which brings me back to the words of G.M.Gilbert. Other protestors are imbecile. They have suddenly woken up from their slumber and are enraged at this horrendous crime. “How could this happen in Delhi?” they ask. As if it is okay for this to happen in a far flung village.

And it does happen by the millions in India. Yes, I said millions. However, if you look at the reported statistics, India appears to be safer for women than USA. Or, for that matter safer than Germany and UK. This is a sign of an even deeper problem. Rape is the most under-reported crime given the taboo attached to it. It is comparatively less taboo to be a rape victim in USA and thus far greater percentage of cases get reported. Of the few that get reported, an abysmal number get convicted and even that can take years. Over the last four decades, reports of rape cases in India have increased from under 3,000 to over 20,000. The procedure of interrogation is undignified, with the victim often treated as a social outcast and subject to humiliation. Often, the victim faces character assassination and is made to appear promiscuous. As you move away from the urban centers, these numbers get worse. I do not have the references but it would not be too far from the truth to say that less than 5% of rape victims in India see justice. This is unforgivable. This is a sign of a corroded moral core. This is a sign of lack of empathy in people who wield power. This is a sign that we are not dealing with an incapable government machinery, but rather an evil one.

This particular rape may be singularly brutal in the physical sense, however it was no different in the moral sense from the hundreds of rapes that happen in India every day. Many are raped in plain sight of their family. Others are raped and paraded naked to teach them a lesson. Almost none of these are reported and far fewer catch the public’s attention. I cringe at the headlines that call for the latest victim as India’s daughter. If they really meant it such, in their hearts, they’d have awaken to the plight of the thousands of daughters who get raped every day.

Knee jerk reactions are the hallmark of both politicians and the public. Baying for the blood of the guilty in this one case will solve nothing. Saying that rapists will be castrated will do little. If only 5% get convicted, how does it matter what you do with them? Humans respond as they think. The political class has long believed and cultivated the practice of bribery. So deep is the internalization that they believe even the sorrow of death can be calmed with a bribe. Announcements of monetary relief for the Delhi rape case victim are coming in. I’d understand if the rulers gave some of their personal wealth. But they are only hurrying to give away public wealth. There is nothing wrong in monetary compensation, per se. But not all rape victims get this compensation. Heck, most don’t even get a decent hearing. The same politicians have their hands tainted with the blood of countless victims because they failed in their primary duty of enforcing law. What moral right do they have to distribute money now? And if they do, let the same compensation be given to each victim. But that will not happen because other victims do not bring political mileage.

What we are seeing is the hypocrisy of a nation – its rulers and its subjects – making a mockery of goodness. The question is: will this rape change the course of history as the rape of Lucretia?


The ransom Sikh’s pay August 13, 2012

Repeated below is an email I sent to my local Sikh community today. I’ve made a couple edits but nothing significant.

Yesterday, in India, my Sikh friend from 30 years (which is almost all my life) got married to his long time Hindu girl friend. Part of my family attended the wedding and so did common friends from college days. Today, I learn from them that my turbaned Sikh friend is now clean shaven; “perhaps as part of the deal he removed his turban and shaved his beard”. It first came as a shock and then a throbbing sadness, like that from a deep personal loss.

A friend who attended the wedding, found some resonance between the wedding yesterday and this story about Punjabi Americans from the early 1900s. And the words “perhaps as part of the deal he removed his turban and shaved his beard” are from the story.

So, now, I have no friend from the first 20 years of my life who wears a turban. There is a vacuum which cannot be filled. And the sadness of this loss pervades my heart. Yes, it is a personal loss. Yes, I am being selfish.

Countless Sikhs, specially in Punjab, have chosen to give away the beloved symbols of their faith. Some for prosperity, some to avoid looking different, some to avoid the daily duty to maintain long hair, and some for a wife. While we (the Sikh community) mourn the shootings in Wisconsin and work hard to educate the world about our turbans; while people from other faiths stand beside us and come to our “temple” to wear turbans; we, the Sikh community, have an internal threat that is even more urgent. And it is more urgent because of its hidden nature and its numbers. It is rare to see a non-Sikh become a Sikh for any reason other than having discovered a faith they fell in love with. And that should be the only reason for faith conversion. I am perfectly fine if a Sikh were to choose another faith of his own free will, under no greed or duress. But to negotiate, to pay one’s faith as a ransom to acquire another thing, is not okay. That is true for any person of any faith.

Where does the love for faith begin? Not a blind, mindless attachment. But, rather, a firm, righteous, yet kind love. It begins in the lap of your mother. In the stories and actions of your father. Sikh women, when they marry a non-Sikh rarely bring up Sikh kids. On the other hand, when non-Sikh women marry Sikh men, the story is no different. Again, the kids are often brought up as non-Sikhs.

A week ago, a white supremacist gunned down 6 Sikhs but could not make a dent to the Sikh faith. In fact, sensing danger, the community responded with more faith. Because we sensed danger and we sensed we were wronged. When Sikhs give up their faith everyday, we do not sense that same danger. It is a slow poison but one that claims thousands. One could argue it is a personal choice. But is it really a free choice? Would that Sikh give up the symbols of his faith had he got what he wanted (prosperity or spouse) without having to sacrifice his beliefs? Or was he given a either this or that choice? To me that is not a free choice. It is a ransom.


giving thanks November 25, 2010

Filed under: Ethics and Values,Inspiration,life,love,Me,philosophy — gurdas @ :

Thank You

To those who did not help, for introducing me to life
To those who helped, for upholding my belief in humanity

To those who were impatient, for helping me practice patience
To those who were patient, for giving me the space to be and become

To those who were weak, for the opportunity to be strong (for you)
To those who were strong, for inspiring me

To those who were dishonest, for the examples that it is just not worth it
To those who were honest, for telling me it is worth it

To those who were unkind, for testing my ideals (and hopefully I lived up to them)
To those who were kind, for encouraging me to be the same

To those who did not love, for the moments of soul searching
To those who were loving, for showing me the only way to live


William the 99999999th July 6, 2010

Filed under: Ethics and Values,Inspiration,life,love — gurdas @ :

I love being surprised and do not suffer my ignorance of high cuisine menus. So, I often tell the person taking my order what I feel like having, and not necessarily what is on the menu. And I let the person attending our table advise, often even pick for me. The advantages of this approach greatly outweigh disadvantages (which are almost non-existent). One, I get to relish all kinds of expressions – questioning, curious, thoughtful, surprised, caught off-foot to name a few. Being a turbaned Sikh, I have the advantage of appearing different. So, when I get into my ‘lets have some fun here’ ordering style, it is almost always something they did not see coming. I have never ever received a normal expression when I start ordering. And this gives me a high 🙂 Plus, I get some free character study to do. I see confident, knowledgeable attendants (because they shoulder the responsibility of understanding my taste needs and matching it best to a menu item) and I see confused, ignorant types. None of this is available to folks who display a mastery of the menu (sometimes faked) and reel off their orders. And the fun does not end there. Since I am basically eating their pick, they take special care in making it right, and always come back asking how good their pick is. I shower them with my smiles and praises. Great relationship (however brief) tactic.

So, the other day my friend, Mina, and I went to a Starbucks for chit chat over coffee. Taking our order was a smiling African American gentleman named William. My order was this “I am in the mood for something cold, very little ice, and a strong taste of coffee.” William jumped to the challenge of meeting my desire. He asked me a couple of questions and placed the order. I had no clue what he was going to serve me. I did not ask. Surprises are best when savoured at the right moment. It was Mina’s turn. On our last visit, she had a strawberry drink. The other options were mango-orange and chocolate. William completely ruled out mango-orange saying it had no taste. I fell in love with the guy right then. For anyone to confidently say something on their menu is not worth it, needs to be acknowledged. Mina did not want chocolate and she already had strawberry. Hmmm…this was looking like a jam. But William bested himself. He offered to make a mix of strawberry and mango. He had not tried it before, but was confident it will be different. Mina felt secure in his confidence and she agreed to be game.

We took our table and shortly after that my order was announced. My drink looked inviting, very dressy with a dark bottom layer, a light brown middle layer, and cream top layer. My expectations doubled. I took a sip and smiled. William had nailed it. Just what I wanted! And this was not on the menu. I praised his selection and thanked him. He made double sure I liked it. I told him I loved it. A minute later, Mina’s order was ready and while not as dressy as mine, it still displayed an interesting mix of colours. She took a sip and then another. And she smiled. Check-mate! What happened after this moment is why I am writing this post.

William walked over to our table and asked Mina how her drink was. She said she liked it. Her praise was gentle and maybe William thought she was just being polite. So, he said this “If the drink is not what you feel like having I can make you another.” I was sold. His smiling face and humility coloured that room. Mina took the cue and this time her praise was equal to how much she liked the drink (she loved it).

I pondered on this and both Mina and I talked about it. What William did was exceptional. It might seem otherwise, but I thought his gesture was grand. It is not about the cost of the drink, but the attitude.

My next visit to Starbucks is not going to be for the good coffee they brew. But to be able to say hello to William.

ps: The name William, to me, has a kingly tone to it. And so the title of this post.


A true soldier’s prayer June 28, 2010

Filed under: Ethics and Values,Inspiration,Me,philosophy,Religion — gurdas @ :

If I were given the choice to meet any one person in history, my pick would be Guru Gobind Singh. A figure unlike any other,  a soul most extraordinary. The 10th guru of the Sikh faith, fought battles against tremendous odds, lost all four sons in the struggle for the right to practice a religion of one’s choice, was a stellar poet in Persian, and instilled in the Sikhs a light that shines bright to this day. All of that in the brief 43 years he lived.

Guru Gobind Singh

Guru Gobind Singh

देह शिव वर मोहे इही
शुभ कर्मन ते कभू न तारों|
न दरों अरिसों जब जाए लरों
निष्चे कर अपनी जीत करों|
आर सिखाहों अपने ही मन को
एह लालाचाहों गुण तेओ उचरों|
जब आव की औध निदान बने
अति ही रण में तब जूझ मरों|


Deh Shiva var mohe ihai
Shubha karman te kabhu na taron
Na daron arison jab jae laron
Nishche kar apni jeet karon
Ar sikhahon apni hi man ko
Eh lalachahon gun teo uchron
Jab aav ki audh nidaan bane
Ati hi ran main tab jujh maron


O Lord give me this blessing
That I may never be deterred from good deeds
That I may have no fear while fighting against the enemy
And that I may triumph certainly
May I educate my conscience
To crave singing your praises
And when the last moment comes
I may fall fighting in the battlefield

Guru Gobind Singh (गुरु गोबिंद सिंह), 10th Sikh Guru, 1666-1708

Note: The image is from here. My home for the first 18 years of my life had this exact framed painting and I would like to pay my regards to the painter, Sobha Singh, whose works of Sikh gurus are without parallel.