The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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From the bush to the book

My chronic lamenting that we Indians are singularly blind to the beauties of nature has evoked passionate response from Vishwa Mohan Tiwari, author of Joy of Birdwatching. He maintains that our ancestors were involved in flora and fauna. However, the evidence he cites in favour of “a long and strong tradition of bird-watching and love of birds” is not very convincing. He says the Rig Veda mentions 20 birds, the Yajur Veda 60. The epics have “keen observations on many birds”. Many birds were vehicles of the gods: garuda (Vishnu), swan (Brahma), parrot (Kamdev), peacock (Kartikeya), flamingo (Indra), shelduck (Varuna), owl (Lakshmi). Mughal rulers Babur, Humayun and Jahangir commissioned artists to paint birds. He puts the blame for the present indifference on the British imperialist designs to “colonize minds of this culturally rich subcontinent” and “attack the roots of Indian culture”. This is blatant chauvinism. Whatever else the British did in India, they made us conscious of our past and were the only ones to write on our ancient heritage. Not till Salim Ali’s path-breaking works on India’s bird-life had any Indian written on the subject. Tiwari’s British bashing has a false ring.

Having said that, let me admit that there is a lot to be gained from Tiwari’s book. He has made a heroic effort to give Indian names to different species of birds found in our country. Some names he suggests are tongue-twisters — but so are Latin names used all over the world. He makes a passionate appeal to preserve bird life. Quite rightly he observes that if we destroy insects which form the staple diet of most birds by reckless use of pesticide we will be signing our own death warrants.

There are still many gaps in our knowledge of birds. Why do some species migrate from one end of the earth to the other, and how do they fly thousands of miles without food or water' How do they find their way through clouds, storms and at night' Tiwari’s book deserves to be on the shelves of all bird-lovers.

A smile and sermon on her lips

People who watch the dozens of pravachans (religious sermons) now being beamed by our television channels must have noticed frequent appearances of a very handsome young lady wearing a saffron-coloured bandanna round her head. I was intrigued by her ever-smiling face and what she said. From her shudh Hindi I assumed she must be from some town or city of what is derisively described as the cow-belt of a India. I was not able to catch her name as it was flashed past on the screen. A month or two ago, when Seema Verma, whose husband is a chartered accountant with Tarun Tejpal’s Tehelka, brought me a lot of literature and recorded tapes of this saffron-clad lady, I discovered the true identity of Anand Murti Gurumaa.

For some obscure reason, Indians who take the spiritual path are reluctant to divulge their past before they don saffron robes. I wanted to know why this attractive young woman had refused to follow a conventional career of a job or marriage and taken a vow of celibacy: was she a child of an unhappy home' Had she flopped at her studies' Had she undergone a traumatic experience' Who influenced her to become a sadhvi' What kind of following does she have' I put all my questions to Seema Verma. I was pleasantly surprised that she came out with all the answers.

Anand Murti Gurumaa was born on April 8, 1966 in Amritsar. She is the second of four siblings, one son and three daughters, of an affluent family which migrated from Gujranwala, on Partition and set up a lucrative transport business. Her first name was Gurpreet Kaur Grover. She went to a convent and then to the Government College for Women from where she took a degree in arts. Right from the age of 15, she was more interested in religions than in secular subjects. She attended discourses given by different religious teachers till she met Sant Delawar Singh who gave her diksha and her new name, Anand Murti Gurumaa.

Gurumaa has her ashram in Sonepat (Haryana) but travels all over the country giving discourses to large audiences. Her following is estimated to be nearly a million, from all religions and races. Among the most ardent of her followers is Seema Verma, an artist. She has put together some of Gurumaa’s short verses in English in a booklet, 108 Rays of Light from Anand Murti Gurumaa. There are times when I feel that I have missed out on something precious being an agnostic.

Remembering a man of faith

Dr Amolak Ram Arora was a familiar figure in Kasauli and Chandigarh. After retiring from government service, he divided his time between the green city and the cantonment town: winter months in Chandigarh where his wife and daughter lived with Dr Chutani, head of the PGI, from April to November in rented premises in Kasauli. He opened clinics in both places and rendered free medical advice to all who came and visited them in their homes when called upon to do so. If anyone paid him, he spent the money buying medicines for the poor. The evenings he spent taking long walks round the hills or along Sukhna Lake in Chandigarh. This pattern continued till he was 90 and unsure of looking after himself in the hills. Both his wife and daughter were by then dead. Dr Chutani had died before them. Till a month before his accident he was driving his own car to do his shopping, calling on his patients and friends. One night he fell from his bed and fractured his leg. A week later he was gone. His death went totally unnoticed by the media. He had no relatives to pay for an insertion in any obituary column in any paper.

Amolak Arora’s death made me aware of how antiquated our notions of old age and usefulness are. The Bible says: “The days of lives are three score and ten, and if by reason of strength, they are three scores and twenty, yet their boast is only labour and sorrow, for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” It paints a gloomy picture of old age: “As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.”

Dr Arora’s life was a good example of how a person can live in good health provided he knows how to enjoy life and be of service to his fellow-beings. Arora lived simply and frugally on food he cooked himself. He enjoyed his evening drink and the company of young people: he was a bit of a flirt and fond of verbal banter with women of all ages and classes. Instead of wasting his time in prayer or visiting temples or gurdwaras, he went out of his way to help the sick and those in distress. There was a cheerful smile on his face. I am reminded of Allama Iqbal’s lines in Persian describing a man of faith: Nishaan-e-mard-e-Momin ba too goyam'/ Choon merg aayad, Tabassum bar lab-e-ast (You ask me about the sings of a man of faith'/ When death comes to him/ He has a smile on his lips.)

I used these lines when my father died at 90, holding a glass of Scotch in his hand, I used them again for Dr Amolak Arora who beat him by eight years.

It makes sense

Arriving at a remote railway station in Assam, a traveller asked how far it was to the village. “Four kilometres,” said the old ticket collector.

“Wouldn’t it have been better to build the station near the village'” asked the stranger.

“We thought about that”, replied the old man, “but we decided it was better to have it near the railway line.”

(Contributed by Reeten Ganguly, Silchar)

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