A holiday in solitude

This year again we are having a nine-day long Eid holiday in Iraq including the weekends. Last time we had such a long Eid holiday was in 2012. I went to India then. I am staying here this year. As it’s a long holiday, the compound is near empty. I am practically spending the time in solitude.

We all need periods of solitude, although temperamentally we probably differ in the amount of solitude we need. Some solitude is essential; It gives us time to explore and know ourselves. Solitude gives us a chance to regain perspective. It renews us for the challenges of life. It allows us to get (back) into the position of driving our own lives, rather than having them run by schedules and demands from without.

It’s the time of total unwinding. We need to maintain some semblance of balance and some sense that we are steering the ship of our life, otherwise we feel overloaded, overreact to minor annoyances and feel like we can never catch up. As far as I’m concerned, one of the best ways is by seeking, and enjoying, solitude. No routine or time schedule, no office work and I also don’t check my emails and there’s no urge to respond to emails & messages. It’s an opportunity to stop doing for others and to surprise and delight myself instead. I get up when I feel, I cook food as I like, I eat when I am hungry, I sleep when I feel so, I read books, I watch movies, I pray, I meditate and I talk to myself. It’s the time to let myself slow down.

As Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul, says, “We seem to have a complex about busyness in our culture. Most of us do have time in our days that we could devote to simple relaxation, but we convince ourselves that we don’t.” It seems there is always something that needs doing, always someone who needs our attention. “Unfortunately,” Moore says, “we don’t get a lot of support in this culture for doing nothing. If we aren’t accomplishing something, we feel that we’re wasting time.”

Many of us feel compelled to measure our success in terms of acquisition and accomplishment. Often when we find ourselves with an empty hour, we spend that time doing chores or attending to our relationships. We avoid ourselves because we’re afraid of what we might find: a forlorn, flawed someone who’s missing out on life’s party. But solitude and isolation do not go hand in hand. We can retreat from the world for a time without being renounced by it.

There is a world of difference between solitude and loneliness, though the two terms are often used interchangeably. Loneliness is marked by a sense of isolation. Solitude, on the other hand, is a state of being alone without being lonely and can lead to self-awareness. Solitude is something you choose. Loneliness is imposed on you by others. Solitude is a time that can be used for reflection, inner searching or growth or enjoyment of some kind. Deep reading requires solitude, so does experiencing the beauty of nature. Thinking and creativity usually do too. Solitude restores body and mind while loneliness depletes them.

“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is richness of self.” ― May Sarton

Germany humiliates Brazil

For Brazil, the World Cup is over. They were demolished, destroyed by Germans, just not defeated. They were ripped to shreds, picked up and dumped in the trash can right in front of everyone who loved them. Then, as a final measure, the can was set on fire.

Brazil’s footballing legacy is lost now. The legacy artfully crafted by a battery of legends year after year – Garrincha, Didi, Domingos Da Guia, Pele, Socrates, Zico, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka, et al. All were very stylish, and classy and a treat to watch. They were the masters of this game. In fact, they defined and represent the Brazilian football. Yes, I am a fan of Brazilian football.

Unfortunately, Brazil lost its Brazilian touch. Of the current team, perhaps only Neymar can lay claim to that legacy. Brazil was often seen going physical to get win in the tournament instead of depending on their mastery, trickery.

Last night, it was Germany who was perfecting the Brazilian football and scoring at their ease. They scored 5 goals before the game was 30 minutes old! This included 3 goals in just 3 minutes. Brazil had never let in so many goals in a World Cup game or so many in a half. The goals rained in so thick and fast that Brazil could never withstand the German onslaught. It’s a pity that absence of two players Silva and Neymar could make such huge difference to the nation, which had won the World Cup more than any other nation! It was the worst defeat for  Brazil and that too in front of home crowd. It equaled the margin of its previous worst ever defeat — a 6-0 loss to Uruguay way back in 1920. Brazilians not only lost the match on their home ground, they lost their identity too. This is utterly unbelievable!

The other highlights of the game were record breaking 16th World Cup goal by Klose (record was held by Ronaldo – 15 goals in 19 games) when he scored the 2nd German goal at 23rd minute of the game (16 goals in 23 games) and the 1st German goal, which was Muller’s 10th World Cup goal at 11th minute. He became the 13th player to score goals in double figure in World Cup matches and he was wearing his jersey no. 13! He also became the 3rd player (after Cubillas and Klose) in history to score 5-plus goals in two different World Cups.

My heartiest congratulations to Klose and Muller and the German team! I wish that the Germans win the 2014 World Cup.

There was another record created during the match. Twitter Data has released figures of the German blitzkrieg of the Brazilians on the pitch, which garnered 35.6 million tweets, with a new Tweets Per Minute (TPM) record also being set with Sami Khedira’s goal in the 29th minute triggering a landslide 580,166 TPM.

Words of Ratan Tata

Yesterday, I read these words of Ratan Tata, the world-famous Indian industrialist. I liked them so much that I am putting them on my blog. These are so nice and true.

“If you want to walk fast, walk alone. But if you want to walk far, walk together.”

How strange it is:

We wish to wear high brands, but we feel comfortable in our pyjamas. We wish to sit in Taj or Marriott with elite people, but we enjoy roadside tea with friends and with people we love. We wish to own big cars and go on long drives, yet we talk our heart out while walking down a long road. We have 64GB iPods filled with songs but sometimes a song on the radio brings a smile that can’t be compared.

The perfect Yogi

When one’s mind is at peace and fully contented with the Gyan (Knowledge or wisdom) it has acquired, one whose mind is constantly stable, who has controlled his senses well and considers dirt, stone and gold as one, is said to have achieved unity with God. He is the perfect Yogi. ~ Shrimad Bhagvad Gita – Chapter 6 – Shloka 08

India-Iraq ties

“The Indian rupee was used as currency in Iraq from 1917 until Iraq’s formal independence from Britain in 1932, when it was replaced by the Iraqi dinar.

But our connections predate the British occupation, and there were very strong centuries-old religious and economic ties between our two nations. The gold that covers the domes and minarets of the shrines of the Imams in Iraq were donated by Indian Rajas. Our trading and merchant families sent their sons to settle in India, as well as many Indian families that came on pilgrimage chose to settle in Iraq. They brought with them Indian culture and cuisine.

In the Basra area in the south of Iraq, people still use many varieties of biryani and other spicy dishes, which other Iraqis find difficult to handle.”

IISS-Oberoi Lecture
Dr Hussain Ibrahim Saleh al-Shahristani
Deputy Prime Minister for Energy, Iraq
Rooftop, Trident Nariman Point, Mumbai
Wednesday 14 August 2013

Ranchi girls made India proud

Beating all odds, a bunch of 18 under-14 tribal girls from Ranchi district of Jharkhand went to Spain for two football tournaments – the Donosti Cup and the Gasteiz Cup. They haven’t ever heard of Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas or Fernando Torres but these girls with dreams in their eyes have made their country proud.

The man behind the team is Franz Gastler, an American who came to India more than five years ago, who is running an NGO, YUWA, in Jharkhand for the last four years. Team Yuwa, as the team was known, was the only representation from India in the Donosti Cup that was participated by 30 countries. The team was sponsored by Gamesa Wind Turbines Pvt. Ltd.

Rinki Kumari, 13, was the captain of the team. She started playing football when she was just eight, an age when most girls in the village would play hopscotch. The trip to the land of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid didn’t come easy for the girls. They had to dribble past taunts, criticism and even abuse.

Most of the girls are from very poor families and they don’t have televisions at home. So, the only time they have seen Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo in action is when “Sir” Gastler showed them match clippings.

As a billion plus India slept, a few days ago in this month, a handful of tribal girls proudly held aloft a football trophy they won in far-flung Spain. But no one cared in India.  Oindrilla Roy said that All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel was not aware of the girls’ superlative achievement, nor was the country’s new sports minister Jitendra Singh.

Yuwa Supergoats at the inauguration of Donosti Cup in San Sebastian, Spain

The Yuwa team was called the Supergoats by the organizers the moment they saw the girls playing barefoot in practice matches on arrival in Spain. Why? The girls had limited football gear and could not take the risk of tampering it before the tournament. They were overawed by international teams in the first tournament, the Donosti Cup in San Sebastian, which is Spain’s biggest football tournament with over 400 teams participating from across the globe. The girls could not cross the group phase.

But they came to their own in the second tournament at Gasteiz Cup, an International Youth Soccer tournament. The Yuwa girls were placed 3rd out of ten teams with two wins, two losses and a draw.

As soon as the announcement was made for the prize distribution ceremony, the girls rushed into their dressing room and returned, some barefoot, wearing red-bordered white saris, their traditional festive dress. Many had their plastic flowers in their hairs. And when they huddled together after the mandatory photo session, some wept inconsolably because they had almost given up their hopes to participate in this tournament.

Bronze girls at Gasteiz Cup

For the girls, it was indeed a giant leap into world soccer from their impoverished village in Ormanjhi block near the Ranchi city. Now, AIFF and SAI must see that they get proper training and encouragement to bring laurels for the country, in future. Yes indeed, they made us proud.

Car broke down on the road in a Baghdad summer afternoon

As per the Iraqi visa rules, we have to undergo a blood test for AIDS and report to Iqama office about our return to Iraq. When they issue the exit & re-entry visa, they take the Residency ID and return it back to us upon our reporting them with blood test certificate. This procedure is required in Iraq even though we have valid one-year Iqama (Residence Permit). Although it’s seemingly a redundant process but this gives us an opportunity to move around the city.

When I went to the Blood Testing Center at Al-Salhiya, I found many young Indian women sitting there. I talked to them. They all were from the south Indian state of Kerala. They are nurses and were working in various hospitals in India in Delhi, Mumbai etc. They have been recruited by Ministry of Health, Government of Iraq. They are 86 in number. They have arrived about a week ago. They are being placed in various government hospitals in and around Baghdad in batches consisting of 4/5 women. They were there for mandatory blood test.

I didn’t have to undergo blood test this time as I was tested within a period of three months. So, they issued a certificate for this. Then we went to Iqama office to get notify my arrival, deposit blood test certificate and take back the Residency ID.

While returning from the Iqama office, our car suddenly started knocking and came to halt near Al-Zawra National Park. It slowly drudged towards the intersection. But just before that it stopped and refused to budge. There was a statue inside the park of a multi-handed man balancing a broken monolith column.

There was some problem in the fuel pump, may be due to impurities/dusts in the fuel. I was hoping that we may not have to push the car like that statue. In a baking hot summer afternoon in Baghdad when the Sun is spewing fire and the temperature is hovering around 47° Celsius, it’s definitely a no-no. After some prayers and efforts for around 20 minutes, the car obliged us by started moving. Thank God!

The monument of saving Iraqi heritage – A statue of a multi-handed man balancing a monolith column at Zawra National Park in Baghdad to restore to its original position. It was designed by the late sculptor and artist Mohammed Ghani Hikmat and built in 2012.

The driver slowly drove the car back to office. It’s good that we reached office before it was closed. Yes, we managed to reach 15 minutes before the end time.

Indian External Affairs Minister in Baghdad

India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid is now in Baghdad on a two-day visit. His visit is expected to mark revival of the close India-Iraq relationship, which was disrupted in 2003.

Iraq is trying to increase its oil production and seeking investments to repair its infrastructure and for its economic development while India is looking at increasing its import of Iraqi crude.

The US Energy Information Administration has estimated that India and the US were the topmost destinations for Iraq’s crude oil exports in 2012, with both importing 19% each of Iraq’s oil production. Iraq exported 13% of its crude to China last year.

Indian Embassy hosted a reception today in the evening to welcome the External Affairs Minister in Baghdad.

Salman Khurshid with the Indian community in Baghdad

The First Secretary/HOC DV Singh called me on 11th June to invite me for the reception. He also sent an official invitation via email.

A tiny part of Indian community in Baghdad

Mr Khurshid addressed the tiny Indian community in Baghdad.

The embassy also hosted a dinner, which was also attended by Sheikh Dr. Humam Hamoudi, Chairman of the Iraqi Foreign Relations Parliamentary Commission, Hoshiyar Zebari, Foreign Affairs Minister, Iraq, Dr. Al-Araji, Chairman, National Investment Commission.

Foreign Ministers of both the countries – Hoshiyar Zebari & Salman Khurshid

Let’s hope that Khurshid’s visit to Iraq revives and restores close India-Iraq ties, which would prove beneficial to both the nations both economically and strategically. I also heard the Indian Oil Minister Veerappan Moily is visiting Baghdad shortly. Suddenly, Iraq is back on India’s radar.

May the India – Iraq relationship always remain as sweet as the Baqlawa served in the dessert tonight.

Indian Telegram is becoming history now

On July 14, India will send its last telegram. From July 15, BSNL which operates the telegram services in India will discontinue the 163-year-old service. It was in 1850, when subcontinent’s first telegram was transmitted from Calcutta to Diamond Harbour, a distance of ~50 km. The world’s first ever telegram was sent by Samuel F.B. Morse in Washington DC in 1844. In India, telegraph services were introduced by William O’Shaughnessy, a British doctor and inventor who used a different code in 1850 to send a message.

It was the text-messaging service of its age, an invention as awe-inspiring in its time as electricity, flight and the moving image. For the 19th and 20th centuries, its short messages, worked into Morse code and out into language again, then delivered by postmen, connected human beings in faraway places. It was initially installed by the East India Company as a way of linking up the vast reaches of the subcontinent for its trade and administration. It was later on extensively used for India’s freedom movement, also.

More than the Internet and email, it is the mobile phone that has led to the demise of the original character-constrained mode of communication. Because of higher cost, people used to send urgent and serious messages in brief via telegram. The arrival of a telegram could make the heart skip a beat or the stomachs tighten.

At their peak in 1985, 60 million telegrams were being sent and received a year in India from 45,000 offices. Today, only 75 offices exist, though they are located in each of India’s 671 districts through franchises. And an industry that once employed 12,500 people, today has only 998 workers.

After joining Punjab National Bank as Management Trainee in 1985, we were sent to various parts of India for training. I remember we then used to communicate to our family often through telegrams. Telegrams were then the fastest mode of communications. I also liked the way the message was printed on a thin strip of paper that was then pasted on a larger sheet to be delivered to the addressee.

While working in bank, I have sent and received many urgent messages and encrypted telegrams for financial transactions. Even we used to wire our key figures to Regional Office after closing of each half-year. We used to have code books and formulas to manually generate the test key and then that was suffixed to the codified message for sending via telegram. On receiving the tested and encrypted telegrams, we used to decipher the codes, test keys and match with contents to apply the message. This is the reason that quick funds transfers are known as wire transfers or TT (Telegraphic Transfers).

I have not sent a telegram since a long time but the thought of the service, although past its shelf life, makes me nostalgic. Yes, I feel nostalgia for its passing, taking down with it an entire matrix of technology, language and feeling that kept a door open to many Indian pasts. It’s end of an era.

PS: With telegrams becoming history, how will we communicate during times of Alien attack!