Daily Archives: April 24, 2011

Hanuman’s gift?

One day in the year 2008, during my first sojourn in Bombay, I was going through a particularly trying time.  During this period, I happened to be spending a Sunday afternoon with some new friends in Mumbai, unaware that my stress levels were evident to others, if they cared to look.  One of my friends, perceptive and with the pretext of showing me some new sides of Mumbai, suggested we go visit a temple he knew about.

Now, I am far from being a religious person.  That’s just not my thing.  At best, I am agnostic.  At worst, well, I am worse.  But, given my situation at the time and my general low frame of mind, I agreed.

When I think Hindu temple, and especially when my friend tells me about a “famous temple”, I imagine something quite elaborate and perhaps even a bit ostentatious.  I guess that comes from too much emphasis on Tirupati when growing up.    I was really in for a surprise, because the quaint and simple place that my friend took me to was nothing like I had imagined.

Later I was to discover that this temple is called Shree Ghanteshwar Hanuman Mandir.  It is located next to a small park in the wonderfully green and tree-rich suburb of Khar.

Legend goes that people seek the blessing of Lord Hanuman here.  When their wish is fulfilled, they return to the temple and offer Hanuman a bell (thus “Ghanteshwar” which literally means lord of bells).   Therefore, thousands of densely packed brass bells of various sizes hang above and around the temple, which in and of itself is a modest sized place, no more than a large verandah.  A few of the bells shine like they have been recently hung, while many more are crusted and darkened with time.

So, on that afternoon in the monsoon of 2008, I visited this temple for the very first time.  Somehow, perhaps given my low spirits at the time, I felt a sense of peace and calm, and yes, even strength come upon me around this place.  It was partly my imagination, and looking back, I am also certain that it was caused by wanting badly that something, anything, help to mitigate my current troubles.  Since I had made the effort and the trip to the temple, I took the trouble to also offer up a prayer and a wish.

Fast forward to late 2010.   Times have changed for me in a couple of short years.  It is time to visit the temple again.   Because it does not matter how much skepticism I may have for the rituals of religion.   When I made a wish, I also made a promise.   When the wish was fulfilled, it was time to fulfill a commitment.  Whether I believed or not.

I headed off to a market in Khar where I was amazed to find shops that actually stocked and sold the bells specifically for the disciples of Ghanteshwar.  They didn’t blink an eye when I asked for one.  I bought a “nice” sized brass bell – neither too big and obnoxious nor too small and trivial.  It was just the right size.   In my eyes.

Then, I set off for the temple once again, this time with a different friend (here’s the map btw, in case you are ever in the neighborhood).

We stand in the long line to get to the priest.  Behind us is an older gentleman.   He’s in a talkative mood.  Plus he has spied the bell in my hand, so he is curious.   He says, he’s not a religious person and he doesn’t really believe in all these rituals.  He adds that he never visits temples.   But, he says, this is the exception.   Don’t ask me why, he says, but every time I have asked for anything here, I have been granted the wish.   So, I can’t stop visiting.  He gestures curiously at the bell.  So, he asks, same for you, haan?    Trying not to be too emphatic about it, I do nod in a fashion.  Then we move forward towards the priest so that he can take the bell I have brought with me out of my hands.   With that, he will not only take the weight of the bell off my hands, but the weight of obligation off my mind.

Somehow, though, something tells me that this is not my last visit to see this Hanuman.  Next time, will my excuse be that I was just passing through and decided to stop?  Or that I simply love Khar?  Or…?   No doubt, I will find something creative to justify the trip.

Photos by: vishalphotography.com

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India: Overwhelmingly young.

When I think of youth, the words that pop in my mind are energy, vitality, potential and future.  In India, when I look around, I see a predominance of youth.  I see many more young people and children than I do the middle-aged or older folks.  I see them in the city and in normal day-to-day places that I visit. Whether it is the office, the supermarket, the mall, the cinema or yes, on the streets of Mumbai (or any other city in India).

It seems strange to describe one of the most ancient cultures in the world as young.   But, that’s just what India is today.  Most of the people of today’s India are young.  It’s a great competitive advantage for the country.  And it speaks volumes for the potential of the country and its future, as you can imagine.

Now for some dry stats.  According to the latest demographic profile of India, the median age is 26 years and over 29% of the country is below the age of 14 years.  Incredibly, 50% of the country is under the age of 25 and 65% under the age of 35 – this has to be the youngest country in the world!  In sheer numbers if not in percentages, it has to be.  By 2020, it is expected that the average age in India will be 29, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan.   Here’s more – the median age in the United States today is already 36.5.   For such a young country, it’s definitely an older nation!

Doing a quick calculation and using the rounded population of 1.2 billion, the number of people under 25 in India is approaching 600 million people. That’s not only a staggering number, it’s TWICE the population of the United States!

And so much has changed in the years that I have been away!  When I was growing up in India, I was definitely living in a different world.  The third world.  I knew it and I felt it, and so did everyone around me.  The grass not only looked greener on the other side, it was.

Random Street Scene - Do you see any older folks?

But the youth in India today appear to have a different perspective.  There is not this sense of being disadvantaged.   Instead, there appears to be a reflection of hope and progress and growth.  A feeling that whatever economic level they find themselves in, they believe that they can persevere, and that with hard work or with sheer smarts they can move to that next level and then the next after that.  In addition, they seem to feel that in order to do that, they don’t need to ship themselves out of the country to some foreign land of opportunity.   That’s because, their perspective is that the land of opportunity is right here.

I am generalizing a bit, but even so, that is the overall feeling that I get when I see and listen to these young people.  Many feel that this is the happening place, that this is the land of opportunity, and that they are young and hopeful enough to get a piece of it for themselves.

So, that’s the rosy side of the equation.  There is this tough veneer of progress and growth.

What I am unable to find or identify is the leadership that is ensuring that this critical and strategic advantage of India is being harnessed, positioned and developed like it should.  Whether in education or sports or arts or science or business, are all the young people being given that platform from which they can launch themselves to create a better tomorrow for themselves and the country?  Or are they simply, selectively offered opportunities based on the accident of their birth family and situation?

You may say, why, that’s what the government is doing.   But, you’ve got to do better than that to make me a believer!  Name an individual or two – who are excited and concerned, and are proactively working to have a 5, 10, 15 year plan that is focused on harnessing the power of youth.   A vision, a bit like the Green Revolution of old times, that resonates, and that citizens recognize and work towards…

Okay, I’ll stop now.  Today is the day to to simply reflect on and celebrate the preponderance of youth in India today, and what this could mean for the country.

Reflecting on what realistically could happen to them and their potential is a rant for another day.

Photo: vishalphotography.com

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