Tuesday, April 12, 2011

1983 Vs 2011 Cricket World Cup for India

The one major difference between the 1983 Cricket World Cup and the 2011 one is that India was not favourites in 1983. No one expected India to win then. This time there were expectations.

The whole country including the northeast and Sikkim was stuck to the TV and radio sets, ready with crackers and sound boxes to celebrate India’s expected victory in the World Cup. But what stories do stats tell about India’s performance in the two Cricket World Cups?

Out of the eight matches India played in the 1983 World Cup India won six and lost two. In 2011 World Cup, India faced nine rivals, won seven, lost one and tied one. See table:

In 1983, India won due to its bowling, though we were not known to be the best bowling side then. Our captain Kapil Dev was also more a bowler than a batsman. In the 2011 World Cup batting remained our strength. India has earned the reputation of having the most formidable batting line up over last couple of years. The highest score from Indian side in the 1983 final against West Indies was 38 by Kris Srikkanth. In 2011 final both Gambhir and Dhoni came close to scoring century. The total score in 1983 final was 183. No one would have expected India to win after being bowled out on 183 in 54.4 overs. But thanks to some spirited bowling by Amarnath, Kapil Dev and Madan Lal, India bowled out the West Indies at 140 in 52 overs. It was more of a spirited performance in 1983 when some had to rise to the occasion. In 2011 we played from strength. In the final against Sri Lanka, we dominated from the beginning except probably in the last five overs during bowling and first five overs during batting.

The one respect in which the 1983 World Cup was more difficult was that India had to face the then formidable two time world champions West Indies thrice; twice in the group matches and once in the final. Of the two group matches against West Indies, India won first and lost the other. India also had to face another powerful team, the 1975 finalists Australia twice. Against Australia, India lost first and won the other match.

The 1983 World Cup victory also saw some phenomenal individual performance. The memorable 175 run inning of Kapil Dev against Zimbabwe in the group match remains one of the best innings ever played in the history of cricket. The 2011 cup was more of a team performance.

On the captaincy front Mahendra Singh Dhoni, as a keeper batsman captain peaked at the right moment in the final. Kapil Dev led from front in almost every match, either by bowling or by batting. But then Dhoni had to manage the burden of expectations which not there in 1983.

1983 is an old good tale and 2011 World Cup is home now. Three days from now another IPL series is going to start. Dhoni will be there as well. A loss in one or the other match, and all the praise Dhoni has got in the last three days will be set aside. Dhoni, alas, doesn’t have the luck to live amid the glory of victory for years on unlike Kapil Dev.

The story has been published on iSikkim.com

India Vs Sri Lanka: Clash of the Colossus

Newspaper reports suggest that Pakistanis have decided to support Sri Lankans in the Saturday Cricket World Cup Final after being bruised by India in the semi-finals in Mohali. Sri Lankans and Indians will naturally support their respective teams. The rest of the world including cricket experts, gamblers and even astrologers are high on India. But the jury remains out on which team has an edge.

Will India be able pull another spectacular victory? Will Sachin Tendulkar get his 100th century? Will the Lords of India, Wankhede Stadium be the witness of India winning Cricket World Cup for the second time? Will it happen?

The one thing we can do now is to pray for India and draw the stats. First part is for you. For the second, here are some interesting observations with respect to World Cup clashes between the two:

The Bad Stats:

• India and Sri Lanka have faced each other 7 times in a Cricket World Cup so far. India has won 2 times and Sri Lanka 4 times. One match was washed away by rain.

• The last World Cup face off between the two teams happened in a group match in the last World Cup in 2007. India lost by 69 runs. Captain Rahul Dravid top scored 60 chasing Sri Lanka’s 254. Tendulkar and Dhoni were out for duck.

• Sri Lanka thrashed India at Eden Gardens in Kolkata in 1996 World Cup semi-finals on March 13, 1996 in front of 110, 000 strong home crowds with 131 runs. Actually the match couldn’t be completed since the crowd went mad when 8th wicket of the Indian innings fell at 120 on the first ball of the 35th over.

• Just 10 days ago on March 2, 1996 Sri Lanka had handed India 6 wicket defeat again in front of the home crowd in Feroz Shah Kotla. India had scored a respectable 271 but Sri Lanka started its innings with 42 runs off their first 3 overs. Sri Lanka won the match with 8 balls remaining.
The Good Stats:
• India defeated Sri Lanka in two consecutive World Cups in 1999 and 2003 after the humiliating semi-final defeat in 1996 World Cup at the Eden Gardens.

• India defeated the Lankans in 1999 group match by 157 runs at the County Ground, Taunton in England. Saurabh Ganguly hit a whirlwind 183 off 158 balls which included 7 sixes. Even Rahul Dravid hit 129 ball 145. India put a total of 374 in 50 overs. Lankans were all out at 216 in 42.3 overs.

• The 1999 Sri Lankan team had the same 8 players who played in 1996 semi-final clash led by the same captain Arjuna Ranatunga. All the stars of 1996 Sri Lankan team namely Jayasuria, Murlidharan, Arvinda de Silva and Chaminda Vaas were there.

• India again defeated the Sri Lankans in 2003, this time by a bigger margin of 183 runs in the Super Six match played at New Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg, South Africa. India put a total of 292 with Tendulkar scoring 97 and Sehwag 66. The Lankans were all out at a measly 109 in 23 overs. Ashish Nehra and Jawagal Srinath took 4 wickets each.

Despite the above stats, the fingers will remain crossed. Lankans are not underdogs; Indians are not dominating cricket like Australia and West Indies did once. As Harsha Bhogle wrote on his blog, “The two best teams in the tournament, and by no coincidence led by the two finest captains, will contest the final. Nothing can be better for what has been an outstanding event…. Now it has a dream final.”

Over to you. Cheer for India tomorrow!!!

The story had been published on iSikkim.com

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

India against corruption and YOU

Anna Hazare is sitting on fast from April 5, 2011 to force the government pass a real Lokpal Bill. Is India finally ready to take on corruption?

India Against Corruption (IAC), a movement of concerned citizens of India, promises a new beginning in an otherwise hopeless struggle against systemic corruption in India. Thanks to the tireless striving of some fearless activists, the nationwide movement by IAC and several other organizations over past couple of months has finally gained momentum.

Never before in the recent history of India, there has been a rally of more than 50,000 people for an apolitical, non-religious purpose. That happened on February 27, 2011 when Baba Ramdev addressed a historic rally at the Ramlila Maidan in Delhi.

Again, it has rarely happened in the history of the world when a million plus signature campaign has been successfully carried out. In the memorandum submitted to President Pratibha Singh Patil on February 27 itself, 3 million (30 lakh) people voiced their support. Recently, only in 2008 during Beijing Olympics, one million plus signature campaign was achieved against the Chinese occupation of Tibet.

How serious corruption is?

In the Corruption Perception Index released by the Transparency International (TI) in 2010, India ranks 87th with a score of 3.3 among 178 countries included in the survey. India’s score in the first TI survey that took place in 1995 was 2.78. The score suggests that we are not very corrupt though far away from being a clean country. Sad that it is, experience suggests that corruption has become more pervasive than ever before.

Many people see corruption as a purely economic problem, which it is not at all. Corruption has serious damaging effects even if it doesn’t involve money. As TI defines, corruption is anything that involves abuse of entrusted power for private gain.

In many parts of the world corruption and bribery are contributing to the rapid depletion of natural resources. According to TI, in Philippines due to very low logging concession fee and taxes during the past twenty years, a few families have amassed US$ 42 billion in profits. On the other hand the livelihood of millions of others has been adversely affected by the loss of forest cover not to mention the public revenue foregone. The impact on the environment has been equally disastrous. Almost 90% of the Philippines’ primary forest has been lost leading to heavy ecological imbalances such as erosion and changes in local climate.

In our own country, the huge decline in forest resources and rare endangered animal and plant species has been due to poaching in connivance with forest officials which is after all a form of corruption.

The failure of law and order, rise of Naxal movement in almost a third of India, and most of the insurgency movements owe their origin to the failure of state mechanism to deliver on its promise of a welfare state. The delivery failure again is largely due to corruption. Even small and peaceful states like Sikkim do not function the way they should.

What next?

Records are being created in terms of numbers of people actively participating against the evil of corruption (rightly so also because we have the second largest population). But history yet remains to be created.

With April 5 close by, it won’t be surprising if world’s largest democracy’s tryst with corruption and lack of transparency at the highest level faces a serious encounter with the civil society.

The IAC’s immediate demand and the reason why noted social activist Anna Hazare will be sitting on fast from April 5, 2011 at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi is a strong Lokpal (ombudsman) Bill. The government has refused to include the views of civil society on the legislation.
Government might finally budge on Lokpal Bill but will India become corruption free with a Lokpal Bill? Again not at all.

But, more than this bill, the real hope is the fact that for the first time in the history of independent India the nation is uniting on an issue which has nothing to do with politics or religion, caste or region. When India starts thinking beyond these limiting factors, clarity and transparency can be the only way in which India functions.

Thankfully, the likes of Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal, Baba Ramdev, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Anna Hazare, Swami Agnivesh, Arch Bishop Vincent M Concessao, Devendra Sharma, Maulana Mufti Shamoom Kashmi, Maulana Kalve Rizhvi and Subhash Chandra Aggarwal are not about this Bill alone. Each of these individuals have fought for public accountability for years and together they have the credibility to say that they represent India.

So, what are you waiting for? It’s your turn to take on corruption.

The article has been published on iSikkim.com

Slum immersion transformed me: Nibedita Paranjuli

How does a gardening loving, fashionable, University of Delhi educated young Nepali girl from a zamindar family in Assam willingly lands up in the slums and villages of Ahmedabad in Gujarat?

Meet 25 year old Nibedita Parajuli who opted out of a corporate career to work as a Gandhi Fellow of Kaivalya Foundation. In conversation with Tilak Jha, Nibedita talks about her journey and how one month of ‘slum immersion’ changed her life.

How did Nibedita Parajuli got into social service?

My father, Kamal Parajuli, is a professor and we have kind of zamindar family. But he was associated with a lot of developmental things. When I was a child, he started an NGO ‘Grameen’ like the Grameen Bank of Md. Yunus. At that time, no one including my mother believed that saving Rs. 10 a month can change the life of a village woman. I used to accompany him on his village trips as a kid. That was when this whole development bug entered my mind.

Later in the course of studies, things got lost. As a child I was a dumb in studies but when I reached Std. VIII, I realised that I should study. In Class X, I became the district topper. I went to Cotton College, Guwahati and then I came to Delhi to Miranda House. It was again all about studies. But it was there in the unconscious.

Then, I started pursuing Masters in Sociology from Delhi School of Economics. The course had no field work. Everyone talked about development but no one was really bothered about it. I hated it. My first year marks were equally horrible. Second year was different only in terms that we started ‘talking’ about the issues in debates, in canteen. We talked about sustainable development, child labour and similar issues. But I knew that it was all in the air. It was just talk.

During one such talk on child labour, once came a child and offered me tea. I felt pity. That raised a storm inside me. I began to question myself if I was going to remain one who keeps talking about it all from their own comfort zone.

Gandhi Fellowship by Kevalya Foundation came after some time. I felt that this is for me. They sent me to Ahmedabad and now it’s about to be almost two years.

How difficult were your initial months as a Gandhi Fellow coming out of the life of Delhi?

When I went for it, I thought that since I feel for it, I can do it. But I realised that feeling for something is one thing but doing actually is different.

After the induction, in the first month, I was sent to a municipal school to teach kids and then to a slum in Ahmedabad for a month without any money or security, not even a mobile. This was the thing that transformed me internally.

As an outsider we always comment about slums as places where there is crime and violence and where people are uncivilized. But when I lived in there for one full month, I found everyone wanting their kids to get educated. All my preconceived notions and biases Bout slums were completely shattered. They were all trying hard for funding their kids’ education, working from morning till late in the night.

The slum immersion gave me a lot of confidence and faith in them and myself.

How was your experience teaching kids?

There were thirty kids and I had one partner named Tanaaz. The first day we went the kids were so loving, telling us ‘Didi’. I and Tanaaz felt happy that we got a bunch of happy, cute kids who love us. After two days we realised that they are not listening to us. They kept saying ‘Didi’, jumping over our head, pulling our hair, liking our earrings.

Teaching kids would be easy, I thought. But making a kid understand that one is one is not a joke. They remembered counting till 40 but if you asked them what would come after 4, they won’t know it.

The fact was they were all suppressed, beaten, demoralised and not allowed to speak.

All of these are legally banned.

Yes. If they don’t beat they use sophisticated ways like keep saying them, that they don’t know anything”. They would make a kid stand in front of the whole class and say about their clothes, family and parents.

There was a kid named Anil. He used to sit alone at the back seat. The teacher always used to call him ‘Nabra baalak’ which means one who can’t understand, in Gujarati. The whole class used to call him ‘kaalu’. But when we started to get to him, we found that he was a very normal kid.

Those kids would have been there with the same set of teachers for years before you went there and they would be there for years after that. How does a one month intervention change things?

I believe that it is they who changed my lives more than I did theirs. But for me, it was the smiles that came on their face in that one month are important.

Then you were sent to a slum.

Yeah, we were not told in the beginning that the fellowship would involve going to a slum. So, I was really scared when the director told us.

We were three fellows and a room was arranged for us. But that’s it. We were not provided money and not allowed to use mobile either. The first day I went, an acquaintance got food for us. The second morning it was Ganpati festival. People were dancing when we went there. We had no clue how to break ice or talk to someone. Then a girl smiled at me and I jumped in the dance. The inhibition was gone. Then people started asking where we were from, what we were doing. Some of them asked for tea, others for food. Once we started teaching the kids without money they started us inviting for food.

There were lots of things I learnt there. We also had to sleep at times without food and that made us realise the importance of food. Throughout our life we kept nagging to our moms that we don’t want to eat this and that.

I also went to sell chaniya choli (ghaghra choli) with ‘Lalita didi’ for three days. Once two rich women came to buy a choli. They were talking in English about what to buy. I told them in English that this looks better on you. And they kept looking at me.

For the first time I was on the other side. I felt ashamed the way we bargain with poor rickshaw pullers and shopkeepers for Rs. 5 or Rs. 10. We don’t do so when we go to Pantaloon or supermarket.

The slum experience completely transformed me. The experience also helped me a lot in negotiating with the headmasters who used to say that their parents don’t want to teach them, that they are backward and all.

Interestingly, I didn’t fell ill and didn’t come across any case of violence over one month of my stay either. Though there were other Gandhi Fellows who had bad experience. I feel that there are good and bad people everywhere.

Gandhi Fellowship is a two year long commitment.

And then came the PLDP (Principal Leadership Development Programme) under which I was assigned 11 schools. The first year passed with them. The idea of PLDP was that if the principal of a school changes, the school changes. So, we focused on bringing up principals as leaders.

In the beginning, they all joined us easily thinking we are one another NGO which will bring something for the schools. But when they realized that we were bringing no material benefits, they began excuses saying there was so much of paperwork and they don’t have time.

Did the principals change at the end of the year?

Overall it was both good and bad experience. I was not able to bring as much tangible change as I would have liked but I did get things moving.

What did your parents tell about it all?

My parents don’t know much about it. I never told them. They just know that I am working with some NGO. They wanted me to prepare for civil services and they were really sad about my idea of joining Gandhi Fellowship.

Was there any point when you felt like giving up?

Yes there was. In the first month itself, I got my train tickets and package ready to leave. Our coordinator came and told me, ‘Nibedita, leave if you want to but don’t regret it ever’.
I felt like this was something I really wanted to do and fought with my parents to come here. I was sure I was going to regret it for the rest of my life.

What did you do in the second year of fellowship?

After PLDP they asked us to chart our future career and I chose the marketing of the Gandhi Fellowship programme. I went to Assam and am looking forward to get at least half a dozen fellows from my home state.

You were used to the life of University of Delhi for so long. What are the things that you stayed with and what things changed?

When I was here in Delhi, I always used to be well dressed in branded kurta and there was a feeling that if you are not wearing good clothes, you are not smart. Once I decided to be a Gandhi Fellow and especially after the slum immersion, it was all gone.

One word that you used in the beginning for a child was pity. Do you feel pity for the fashionable colleagues of yours now?

I do. They are really in a fancy bubble. And they can’t even escape out of it. I also feel bad about the children in private schools since they are also deprived of their childhood. I have a cousin in class IV and he always talks like a matured person.

In June, this fellowship is going to come to an end. What are your future plans?

I want to work in social sector in the northeast for some time, gain some experience and start something of my own later on; may be in the education sector or something for tea estate workers.

Nibedita, we wish you all the best in your social endeavours.

Thank You.

The story was published on iSikkim.com

Assam elections neither free nor fair for women

Earlier, I wrote about women, SC and ST candidates in the ‘free and fair’ Assam assembly election. Today’s column would analyse some more aspects about women in Assam assembly election 2011.

In the first phase of Assam assembly election 62 seats of south, central and eastern Assam will vote on April 4. There are 30 assembly seats out of these 62 which will have the option of choosing a female candidate. The rest of the 32 i.e. more than half of the 62 seats where voting will take place on April 4, 2011 won’t have a single female candidate to choose from.
Out of the 30 seats that have a female candidate in phase I, 19 seats have just 1 female candidate, 10 seats have 2 female candidates each and one seat has 3 female candidates. That amount to a total of 42 female candidates.

The total number of candidates in the 30 seats which have one or more female candidates is 253. It implies that the 42 women will be fighting 211 men for 30 seats. There is no intention to put women against men but it is clear that the voters will have almost 5 men candidates to choose from against every one female candidate.

Analysis suggests that the divide remains deeper than what numerical stats suggest.

Which party is fairer?

The parties which won major chunk of seats in the 2006 Assam assembly elections in the constituencies going to poll on April 4, 2011 are Congress (36), AGP (Asom Gana Parishad) (7), BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) (9) and AUDF (Assam United Democratic Front) (3). Five seats were won by independents and 1 each by CPI (M) and ASDC (Autonomous State Demand Committee).
Congress gave 14 tickets to female candidates in 2006 Assam assembly election of which 7 won and 6 became runner up. Of the 62 assembly seats going to vote on April 4, 2011 Congress had given 7 tickets to female candidates (4 won) in 2006 Assam assembly elections. From the same 62 seats, in 2011 assembly elections, Congress gave tickets to 10 female candidates. With 64 assembly constituencies left to go, Congress can well increase its 2006 tally of 14.

The BJP gave 15 tickets to female candidates in 2006 Assam assembly elections of which only 1 candidate won while 2 were runner up in 2 constituencies. Of the 62 assembly seats going to vote on April 4, 2011 BJP had given 9 tickets to female candidates (1 won) in 2006 Assam assembly elections. From the same 62 seats, in 2011 assembly elections, BJP this time gave tickets to 10 female candidates. If BJP would take a cue from Congress, it might rather do well than its tally of 15 in 2006.

The Asom Gana Parishad was a divide lot in 2006 Assam assembly election. AGP put up a total of 6 female candidates in 2006 of which 2 won. The other faction of AGP (P) led by Prafulla Kumar Mohanta put female candidates in 5 seats (none won). If we add together the tally of both the factions of AGP, it amounts to just 11. Both the parties had their female candidates in different seats. Also, the AGP contested 100 seats while the AGP (P) fought over 90 seats only. The BJP and the Congress contested 125 and 120 seats respectively.

Unfortunately, in the united AGP women seems to have lost their charm. Of the 62 seats that will be contested on April 4, 2011, this time the AGP has provided tickets to just 3 female candidates. In 2006 there were 5 female candidates (2 from AGP and 3 from AGP (P)).

But the tag of “I don’t care for women” should actually go to Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AUDF). The party gave just 2 of the 66 tickets it distributed, to female candidates in 2006 Assam assembly elections. Both the candidates lost their security. None of the 62 seats going to poll on April 4 had any female candidate from AUDF in the last election. None of them are women this time either.

Last but not the least is the independents. A total of 16 female independents (2 won) were in the fray in 2006 Assam assembly elections. Of the 62 going to poll on April 4, 2011 there were 7 independents in 2006 (none won). The tally of 7 has increased to 9 in 2011
Overall, of the 62 seats going to poll, there were 31 female candidates in 2006 assembly elections compared to 42 this time. The number has increase but so has the population. The slow pace of female participation hardly leaves any doubt that the political space is not going to be easily fair to women.

The story was published on iSikkim.com

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Women, SC & ST in Phase-I of Assam Elections

How ‘free and fair’ are we when it comes to bringing forward those who have been left behind in the electoral process? Here is an analysis of the Assam assembly electoral politics with regards to three important section of Assamese population i.e. the women, the SCs and the STs.

A total of 529 candidates are in the electoral fray in the first phase of Assam assembly elections 2011. This includes 42 female and 487 male candidates. While 42 might not sound very insignificant number, it is insignificant when seen as a percentage of total candidates fighting election. Women are almost half of the population of Assam and the 42 candidates out of 529 who are fighting the election in the first phase is a miniscule 7.6 percent of those contesting elections. The reality of the break up of 42 is even more difficult to accept.

Caste wise there are 418 general, 35 SC and 76 ST candidates in the first phase of Assam assembly election. The ticket distribution in the first phase suggests that SC and ST candidates form respectively 6.6 and 14.36 percentage of the total number of candidates running for a seat. The percentage of SCs and STs in the population of Assam, according to Census 2001, was 6.9 and 12.4 percent respectively.

Due to reservation of seats in case of SCs and STs, they do get a fair representation in terms of those who will form the final house. Sadly, reservation is the only way we have chosen to bring SC/ST forward.

Of the 126 seats in Assam assembly, a total of 28 seats (9 for SC and 19 for ST) have been reserved for the SCs and STs. And out of the 62 Assembly Constituencies of eastern and southern Assam going to polls on April 4, 2011 in the first phase, 12 seats (3 for SC and 9 for ST) are reserved.

Reservation at least leaves the SC/ST represented by someone from among their own. But without reservation women remain an ignored lot. A deeper analysis reveals that the figure of 42 is far from fair.

BJP and the ruling Congress gave 10 tickets each to women candidates. It amounts to almost 15 percent of the 62 seats going under vote, far below the 33 percent reservation for women in central and state legislatures that both these parties support. BJP has given 3 of the 10 ticket to women SC/ST candidates. Congress has distributed 2 tickets to women SC/ST candidates.

But the disparity can be gauged from the fact that 30 out of 62 Assembly Constituencies do not have any women candidate in the fray. Among the rest, the largest segment of women candidates are of independents i.e. 9 of the 42.

The regional parties who raise the greatest hue and cry whenever women’s reservation bill is brought in the Parliament are worse in terms of being fair to women folk. Asom Gana Parishad gave just three tickets to women candidates this time in the phase 1 of 2011 election. All the three women candidates of AGP come from SC/ST background. But the real bottom has been hit by Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front which didn’t find one women candidate competent enough to be given a ticket.

Again while the Congress and the BJP have given tickets to 10 women candidates, Congress has given 6 of the 10 tickets from constituencies where it won last time. Congress won 36 out of the 62 assembly seats which will vote on April 4 in 2006 assembly elections.

The percentage of SC and ST candidates might be proportionate to their overall population of Assam but that doesn’t represent social equity. Most of the SC/ST candidates are from SC/ST seats. The number of SC/ST candidates fighting from a general seat doesn’t represent their coming forward or blurring of caste identities as far as elections are concerned. Out of the 50 general seats, (12 of the 62 seats going to poll in the 1st phase are reserved), only 19 seats have any SC/ST candidate trying their luck. 31 general seats have no SC/ST candidate, not even as an independent. In this particular regard, independent SC/ST candidate again lead the way by fighting from 8 general seats. BJP gave 5 tickets to SC/ST candidates to fight election from general seats, albeit BJP didn’t win any of the five seats in 2006 assembly election. Congress didn’t give any ticket to any SC/ST candidate to fight election from general seat.

May be, we as a nation, need much soul searching and actually start doing something to ensure that free and fair doesn’t remain a phrase quoted in books and speeches.

The article has been published on iSikkim.com

I am amazed by His Holiness: Rabjam, Private Sec. of Karmapa

In these columns, over last few weeks, we have come across voices of sympathy, of ignorance and criticism of the Lama tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. How does someone who chose to adopt Buddhism and is in touch of one of the most revered Lama sees it?

Tilak Jha caught up with Rabjam aka Rikki Catty-Hubler, the Austria born private Secretary of His Holiness the 17th Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorjee at the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute, New Delhi. In a freewheeling interaction, the 50 year old devotee and private secretary of one of the most revered Lama of Tibetan Buddhism talks about her life, Buddhism, how her personal and professional have come together and the mystery called India.

How did your association with His Holiness started?

When I was still living in Austria, in 1992, a friend invited me to join a lecture on Buddhism. She was already a Buddhist, something quite rare in Europe. I went there and it was something that convinced me immediately. I took refuge after that, which is the first step on the Buddhist path. I started practicing Buddhism.

In 1996, I went to France where I met a Tibetan Lama who had established monasteries and retreat centers in France. I felt very connected to this Lama. I moved to France. I spent quite some time in the retreat and then in the monastery.

Karmapa himself came to France in 2000. At that time I was in a closed meditation retreat of a group of women. Nobody is normally allowed in such a retreat but he came there and that was the first time I saw him for the first time. He gave an initiation. Later we had some questions and answers.

Since 2000, he has been going to Europe quite regularly, traveling for 2-4 months usually in the summers. I had an opportunity to meet him again and again on those visits.

How and when did you become the private secretary of His Holiness?

Two years ago, in 2009, his representative in Europe told me that it would be good if I could go to India to help in the office. I immediately agreed for it. At that time His Holiness was in Kalimpong so I went there.

Before 1992, you spent more than half of your life till now as a Christian. How do you see yourself before that and now?

Even though I was a Christian on paper in the sense that I was Baptised, went to church every Sunday as a teenager and received 22 instructions in my school days, I was not really a Christian after 17 or 18 years of age. I had lot of doubts about Christian faith though I still have a lot of respect for Jesus Christ. For example I still remember having learnt in school that if you are a sinner you go to hell. That didn’t make much sense since there is this idea of loving God. How can he condemn someone with hell?

Buddhism, to me, from the beginning answered all my questions. Most of the Lamas I met since 1992 embody everything they talk. In Christianity, I met many priests who didn’t personally convince me so much.

What do you think about Hinduism?

I don’t know really know much about Hinduism but when I went to Kathmandu, I found a great deal of tolerance about the different religions that have originated in India. They seem to coexist and there are many places of worship which are common pilgrimage for both people from different religions. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of contradiction and conflict. That is something that really impresses me.

How has been your journey with His Holiness?

From the very beginning I was very touched by him. He is a very authentic master and a great teacher and very pure in terms of being someone who is only interested in dharma. I slowly developed a relationship with him and after his representative in Europe asked me to come to India, I was very happy. I believe I have done my best to serve him.

How often do you get time to interact with him at a professional and personal level?

It depends. At times, it’s on a daily basis. At others, it’s once in a week. As far as personal is concerned, most of the times it’s hard to separate the two. For example if some French comes to interact with him, I am often the interpreter. The same happens during many question and answer sessions. What happens is that lots of my questions also get answered during such interactions.

If you had a son, he would have been the age of His Holiness.

That’s true (laughs). Actually my daughter’s son is almost the same age. But I won’t like to compare it. In the case of His Holiness, I am always amazed.

Tell me something about yourself, your childhood, your family.

My childhood didn’t indicate at any point of time that I am going to end up in India. My parents come from a very simple background but they did everything to give me and my sister a good education and I am very grateful to them.

When I was at the university in Austria, I studied English and French. For a while, I worked as a school teacher. I went back to university to study translation and interpretation with Russian as the second language. I also ran a translation office at the same time.

You have kids?

No, I don’t have any kid. I am married but we got divorced just before 1992. My husband is an English and we are still good friends. He is a translator and journalist and we started the translation office together.

At a time when we are witnessing conflicts world over including the recent incidents in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, do you see Buddhism as something people should think about?

I think if someone thinks about it sincerely, it can help in development of peace and harmony. Buddhism is about developing inner peace and harmony. Naturally this is something that radiates to people around you and gradually becomes broader.

Coming back to the role played by India, we find that it is the country where Buddhism was born and was almost wiped out. But again despite the fact that China, Japan and Taiwan have more Buddhists than India, it is India which became the home of the highest Lamas.

It’s having a comeback, a little bit. In Tibet, India is called a noble country because of the Buddhist roots. Of course India was very generous in taking all the Tibetan refugees when China attacked Tibet. India not only gave refuge, it also let them set up their monasteries and practice their life and culture. India has played incredible role in all of that.

This generosity of India is not visible when it comes to creating amenities and infrastructure when it comes to its own people.

I don’t know much about India. But you have a slogan called incredible India. That is so true but in so many incredible ways.

And bizarre ways…

Yes, in many ways. At the same time you have all these contradictions. I have met so many Indians who have very high level of education.

There is this Indian Institute of Foreign Trade nearby and I used to teach French to some students there for some time. The students work so hard. At times we used to have classes at half past ten in the night. All these contradictions remain a mystery to me.

The story was published on iSikkim.com

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