Where are we heading?

(This was my article in Deshdoot Times, dated 30-08-2015.)

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Newspapers are all talking about the government announcing construction of a new adventure park, to boost the tourism of the town. The radio is blaring of the sprawling new apartment schemes, with all the facilities one can fancy under the moon. The construction of a huge mall and multiplex on my way to office is the zillionth reminder of “development” in my town, even before I begin my day at work.

But is it really development?

If we still relate to that poem about open farms and chirping birds, if our children look at the stars in the sky and wonder if we are in a planetarium, if we share pictures and videos about the “simple” life before technology over WhatsApp, email or any platform, if all the running our kids do is while playing temple run, then we are certainly doing something wrong. Really wrong.

While forming various communities…

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Karmic Cleansing Retreat

So, Nashik is all geared up for probably its biggest event – the one where you would wash off all your sins in the most unhygienic way possible! So much for cleansing your mind, only for being able to do exactly what you have been doing all your life, with revived gusto and a clean slate!

Nashik has gotten its 12-yearly makeover done, which probably – according to me – is the only good thing of this fanfare. With roads widened, temporary structures in place, portable loos adorning the city, river cleaned (erm?), ghat extended, we are all-set for this mega event – by booking ourselves on vacation and vacating the town for people with purpose. Just the kind of thing to do on an extended weekend, right?

Now that the dates are so close, people have started pouring in in the city – by which I mean all the photographers are already here to get a “feel” of the place. They are just trying to capture one image, without a person with DSLR in it. This Kumbh Mela will be witness to the first time ever air traffic issues during the “snan” – with all drones bumping into each other. It’s going to be a new learning experience for the officials, and next time they will have a special team and an ATC set-up right next to the ghat. After all, documentation of people taking selfies as a proof of their purity cannot be missed, you know!

Besides, this time it is going to mark a great example of technology-meets-devotion. Around 700 CCTV cameras will keep vigil to ensure better security. LED screen have been installed to keep giving live updates to people. Community radios have been set up in buses to disseminate information to pilgrims and travelers. Of course, not mentioning the coming of age Sadhus, who have renounced even their clothes, but an iPhone! iPhone 6 to be precise.

One of the exciting things in the last few weeks was to visit Sadhugram and see the structures come up. One drive through these temporary colonies is enough to know the stature of these godmen – from corrugated sheets to air-conditioned tensile structures, everything speaks of their respective grandeur. They have now started to be occupied with various people coming in from all over the country. Numerous events and sabhas have been organized, where people lose themselves in this high intoxicating energy. It is of course devotion at work. We all know that.

Another interesting thing will be to see a lot of tourists – oops, “travelers” – coming to Nashik, and combining their holy dip with a trip to the vineyards! And why not? What is important is to attain Nirvana, one way or the other!

Amidst all the religious pomp, people like me are content having a shower of Godavari in our humble abode. At least our body is washed, if not our sins. Perks of staying in Nashik, I say!

PS – Have fun in Goa, by the way!

(This is my column in Deshdoot Times, Nashik – 22 Aug, 2015)

What Freedom Means To Me

I spent a whole hour yesterday trying to “google” the words freedom and independence. And lo! There is a long list of various meanings and connotations that these words have. Of course, the meaning and implication of these words is very subjective, and depends largely on the context it is used in, but personally have we ever tried to define it for ourselves? We read about freedom, dream about freedom, rejoice and celebrate it, even advocate it, but do we really know what freedom is?

What does freedom look like? Is it the voter’s ballot, or permission for a late-night party? Is it to be free from any debt or a person walking out of prison? We must know what freedom means to us, if we are seeking it every single moment!

We often confuse the word freedom with independence. Independence, in no way, means freedom. And freedom is not dependent on independence. Since the time we have come on this planet, we are all inter-dependent on each other for our well-being. It is practically impossible to do everything ourselves, at work or at home.

The first time I thought I was “free” was back in Junior college- a decade ago! I had my vehicle, could meet my friends whenever I wanted, and could sometimes bunk classes as well! This started to look so immature when I shifted to Mumbai for my undergrad. That is when I thought I was really, in true sense, free! No permissions, no deadlines, and my own ATM card! Also, the pride of living “independently” was unparalleled. The feeling when I earned my first ever salary was supremely incomparable. When I look back now, I wonder whom was I kidding?

I have realized that the trick is find freedom in our thoughts, while ‘life’ is happening around us. Right this moment.

We often feel trapped – sometimes by destiny or circumstances, other times by some external force or our own mistakes. In most situations, we react in an auto-pilot mode. We are not even aware that we are letting our mind make a choice at that instant, besides ultimately blaming others or situations for our misery!

Freedom, for me, is being able to choose my thoughts and actions as a response to any situation thrown at me, without getting influenced by external negativity or my internal conflict! Freedom is a state of mind. We ourselves are responsible for our freedom. No body forces us to think in one way or the other; nobody can get into our mind except ourselves.

Freedom begins with us. Our actions. Our decisions. Our choice.

On this Independence Day, let us free ourselves of our past actions, bad memories, fears, conflicts, old patterns of thinking and behaving, and let go of everything that is trapped within us or has trapped us. Why should we stay in prison when the door is wide open?

Freedom is just a thought away. Let us create the thought today!

(This is my column in Deshdoot Times, Nashik – 15 Aug, 2015)