Thursday, June 09, 2011

Encounter with a German with Indian hangover at Oslo

It was one of those weekday evenings, which is like many others that you live throughout your working life. It is marred by suits, crisp shirts, polished shoes and a packed calendar at the start of the day that make you nervous in the morning and tired and stress free by night. It was a Wednesday evening and about three weeks before my last day in Norway. I was transitioning my role, responsibilities and customer relationships to my successor. We had returned after having a meeting followed by dinner with customer at a place which was about two hours away from Oslo by Train. It would have been around 10 pm when we had alighted out of the NSB train at National Theatret railway station at Oslo.

Just before the train came to a halt, i saw an old lady who would probably be in her late 50's. She was lean, relaxed and looked a weary traveler with a check in baggage that had weathered many a countries and a small trolly cabin baggage. The lady had gathered all her luggage around her and patiently waiting for the train to halt and doors to open so that she could alight. Very rarely does the gentleman in me wake up. Since i was not carrying any bag this time, i voluntarily offered to lift her heavy cabin baggage and place it on the train platform. Having done that, my colleague / successor immediately mirrored me and took her cabin baggage. Once we were at the platform and all the passengers started rushing towards the exits of the station, she paused and asked us "Are you from India". We answered in unison "Yes". She smiled and said she had lived many years there. This lady did not look Indian or Asian in any aspect. Over talks we realized she was originally from Germany but had travelled enough over the years. Her command over English also underlined the fact. Over conversations, we decided to walk down the long lonely platform of the station and took the escalators to travel up by two floors to reach the entrance of the railway station. The lady was thanking us for helping her and on the way and was interested to know about our backgrounds. So as two suit laden gentleman walked across the station with a lady and her bags in tow. we looked like her personally armed bodyguards out of a Hollywood movie!

The lady was a part of a cult in India called "Ananda Marga". It is one of those many organizations which preach ancient scriptures, Yoga and some teachings of the universe and life from Hindu religion. She had spent an impressive number of years (maybe greater than 10) in India and across the globe. Several other volunteers and peers like her travelled across the world to organize relief in places of floods, famine, earthquake or other natural / man made disasters. She also had a Hindu name christened to her by her Guru, prefixed by the word "Didi" which fondly means "sister" in Hindi. For sake of protecting her identity, i wish to not name her, but her pronunciations of her name and other Sanskrit / Hindi words were second to none.

As the conversation became more interesting, we decided to walk her a bit more further than we had initially intended to. We decided to slide her 40 kg luggage for over 20 minutes to the pier at Aker Brygge, where all the ferry's hop on and hop off passengers. Over the walk, i exchanged notes on Yoga, the book "Autobiography of a Yogi" and about "Paramguru Mahavatar Babaji". I was sharing also my own experiences of meditation when i was onto it years back. Her reflections and intelligent discussions on the subject with rich insights on Indian history and Yogic art were phenomenal. She mentioned that she was now coming to Norway for a short assignment and was pleased to find shelter in a small island off Oslo. Typically, people like her from the Ananda Marga (the meaning of which is "Path to Happiness" in English) live off such help from kind hearted people. They typically have their institutions in rural areas or off farms, so that they can cultivate their own food and consume it. They believe in being self sufficient internally than having to buy things from the market.

Since it was just two - three weeks since another Indian religious guru Sri Sathya Sai Baba had met his end, i asked her if she knew about him. Sri Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi had a huge following from India and all over the world. Its difficult for anyone to not know him. During his last rites, all the major cults had been to see him one last time. I remembered seeing the controversial peer Swami Nithyananda attending Sri Sathya Sai Baba's last rites in a newspaper clipping on the internet. We spoke about the reputational risks in philosophies like these as a lot of Genuine Baba's turn out to be scamsters and don't have a clean image. She was honest enough to admit that her cult also had experienced some allegations years back, but still those who believed continued with it. The conviction with which she spoke also highlighted the mind share that these guru's are able to have on their disciples over a period of time. Some of these Guru's would be actually the best "Salesmen" ever known. Selling something for money (short term) is one thing and selling something for nothing and yet gain their patronage for life (long term) is all together a different ball game.

We finally saw her off at the ship terminal till she boarded the ferry and waved her hand at us and thanked us profusely. We waved back at her, smiled and wished her all the best. I was smitten by this unique experience of meeting a European with more of Indian culture and knowledge of Sanskrit, yoga than an Indian in Europe was some experience.

The moonlight shone over the horizon. The ripples over the calm sea were colored with moonlight in patches as if by design than by accident. Staring blankly on the ships and private boats parked around the banks of the sea, my mind was wondering - Why did we meet Didi? What is it that the supreme forces of nature wanted me to experience out of this meeting? Is there more to life than just the capitalist undying quench to travel, earn, slog your assess off and yet be disappointed with what you have and strive for more? Is it important for us to appreciate and ingrain the deep reserves of mythology, scriptures, yoga that the rich culture of India brings along? Has the West now let go off plundering material wealth off India and looked forward to soak itself in our cultural richness to find their lost path? While they were finding their lost path's, are we Indians loosing our sense of direction by looking westwards for everything?

I keep thinking..and so will you!

No comments: