Sunday, March 26, 2017

From ‘Swami Muktananda Paramahansa in Australia. With preface and talks by Baba Ram Dass’ Edited by Peter Hunt

….one of the first thought not exclusive signs of an awakened Kundalini are automatic bodily movements called kriyas (purificatory processes). A person may be sitting in a meditative posture when he finds his body bending forward so that his head touches the floor (yogamudra). This does not happen at his own volition, but automatically, like a nervous twitch. Its purpose is to remove a spinal fault. Defects vary from individual to individual, but whatever they be, Shakti removes only what is necessary, and that is why different people experience different kriyas.
-         -  Peter Hunt

The essence of all scriptures, the essence of the teachings of all saints, is that God dwells within you in His fullest grandeur and fullest splendor. Try to find him there!
-          - Sw.Muktananda

If you simply practice asanas or pranayamas do not think yourself a master Hatha yogi. The sign of mastery of Hatha Yoga is the awakening of your Kundalini. If it has not even stirred, your yogic practices have no meaning. Ordinary asanas and pranayamas are child’s play and are not meant for serious yogis. He alone is a yogi whose inner power has been released and has stabilized in the sahasrar and who is established in a state of unchanging inner peace.
-         - Sw.Muktananda

If you cannot foresee the exact moment of your death you are not practicing yoga, you are only practicing circus acrobatics. A yogi is quite accustomed to withdrawing his spirit from his body every day, so for him death holds no fear because it is just like sleep. The only difference between sleep and death is that after death we do not wake up in the same body.
-          - Sw.Muktananda

Because your attention is not towards Him it appears difficult to experience the Divine Being, but through practice you can find Him easily. You have only to descend into the depths of your own being. One simple way of doing this is to close your eyes and follow, with your mind, the downward movement of prana (breath). Once your mind reaches the centre of true bliss and happiness it stays there. In that state of supreme peace it gets beyond the reach of pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow.
-         - Sw.Muktananda

Friday, March 3, 2017

From ‘A White Trail. A Journey into the heart of Pakistan's religious minorities’ by Haroon Khalid

Pakistani historiography discards Hindu and Sikh narratives from its discourse and where ever they are mentioned, they are always mentioned negatively.

The Muslim population of the country at the moment is about 97%. Out of the 3% non-Muslims, a large chunk belongs to the Ahmadiyya community; former Muslims, but now declared non-Muslims according to the Constitution of the country. Of the remaining percentage, the majority are Hindus living in the ‘faraway’ ‘peripheral’ regions of Southern Punjab, inner Sindh and Baluchistan. In 1947, when the country was created, the population of the non-Muslims was about 30% (without including the Ahmadiyya community), a majority of whom have migrated or converted to Islam……….

Holi at Multan
……Hiranyakashipu, the tyrant who is believed to have ruled the city of Multan thousands of years ago….Prahlad Bhagat ……His devotees built a temple in the memory of Prahlad at the spot where he supposedly killed his father – on a mound outside the city, which later became a popular spiritual site with mystics and saints. The temple stands even today………abandoned since partition ………the area came to be considered holy, as a result of which Muslim mystics were also attracted……..Bahauddin Zakariya (1170-1267) whose shrine came to be situated next to the temple. The tide of fortune has now turned and the temple which was once the fount of spirituality ……now lies in obscurity under the shadow of this massive shrine, which has become the symbol of the Muslim city of Multan……..there was a time when Hindu temples and Muslim shrines could share a wall and devotees visited both of them, an act almost unimaginable in a post-partition Pakistan.

Banned all over the country, alcohol can be legally purchased by nono-Muslims if they have a permit card, provided to them by the government for the purchase and consumption of alcohol. However, despite this categorization and limits on its sale, alcohol is readily available throughout the country and sold to people without permits. But permits do provide a benefit to the non-Muslims as alcohol is sold at a lower price on this license. Using this economic advantage, somn non-Muslim boys and men purchase alcohol in bulk and sell it to their Muslim clients at exorbitant prices………Despite being readily available, drinking remains a guilty pleasure in Muslim Pakistan.

The majority of the Hindu community of the city is uneducated and unaware of its political rights, given the demonization of the community in the Pakistani society – through education, media, cinema, etc. – most of them are too traumatized by the struggle of their daily existence to take up the cause of an abandoned temple.

………religious distinctions between Hindus and Christians have become blurred in urban Punjab…

Navratri at Bahawalnagar
Akaliyan Mohalla literally means ‘Community of the Minorities’……Compared to Central Punjab, Southern Punjab has been historically tolerant towards other non-Muslim faiths, which is why a significant Hindu population continues to live here…..violence here during the partition never scaled the heights it did in the other regions….A distinguishing feature of the houses here is the use of colourful paints, instead of the conventional white, grey, and the like ……Muslim houses all over the country tend to be more somberly painted.

……….annual pilgrimage to Hinglaj, where a Hindu temple honours an incarnation of Durga. Hinglaj is in Baluchistan, about two hundred and fifty kilometres from the coastal city of Karachi. Thousands of Hindu pilgrims go there every year in October, making it one of the largest Hindu festivals in the country.

The tradition of idol-making in Punjab died a natural death during the massacres of the partition.

Das has been wearing the bangle for a year. He also hasn’t worn shoes in the meantime. Shiia Muslims in Pakistan also indulge in similar offerings to God, promising not to wear shoes or taking up bangles for a particular gift. Despite separate categorization of religious identities as distinct and often conflicting with each other, there are several religious rationale and practices such as this that transcends those boundaries.

Hindu festivals are not officially recognized in Pakistan, so Hindus working at offices have to ask for special holidays

The Peepal tree remains sacred in all the religious traditions of South Asia.

Frequently worn earlier, the sari, sometime after the years of Islamization, became associated with Hindu women and no longer appreciated in a Muslim country.

He would then tie the thread around the wrist of the devotee, still reciting something. The thread is supposed to protect a devotee from all harm. This is also tied to devotees visiting Muslim Sufi shrines, a tradition which clearly overlaps between Hindu and Muslim pilgrims.

A lot of Hindus in Punjab do this, passing off as Muslims or Christians by taking up non-Hindu names. This is a survival technique in a hostile environment.

Shivratri at Killa Katas
Al-Beruni compiled his observations in a book called Al-Hind, which is considered to be one of the best anthropological works of all times. It is the first study which introduced the Indian people and their religion to the Western world. In his book, he claims that the Hindus are believers of one God, like the Muslims, and are ‘Ahl-e-Kitab’ or the ‘Followers of the Book,’ a term used in the Muslim holy book, the Quran, to refer to the Christians and the Jews. By referring to the Hindus as the followers of the book, Al-Beruni raises their status in the eyes of the Muslim readers and urges them not to view them as ‘lowly pagans’……also permits the Muslims to have food with the Hindus and intermarry. However, in contemporary Pakistan, where nationalism is premised upon hatred for Hindus, such a claim would not only be shunned but taken offence to.
This complex-with a natural pond, fossils dating back to millions of years, ancient caves, an unexcavated Buddhist stupa, Hindu temples said to be thousands of years old, and a university which attracted scholars from other parts of the world-is known as Katas Raj or Killa Katas….of immense historical significance….In his pursuit of spiritual enlightenment, …Guru Nanak ….also came here

Contrary to the stereotype of being a religiously oppressive area, since partition, the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) has been home to a large proportion of religious minorities who have lived there rather peacefully. These are primarily Hindus…. Hindu festivals are celebrated with much pomp in these areas……. The primary reason for that is that unlike Punjab the riots were less intense due to the influence of the Indian National Congress there. A lot of Hindus and Sikhs continued living in their ancestral lands even after the creation of Pakistan.

Shri Valmiki’s Birthday at Lahore
…the bloody partition of Punjab, after which social prejudice and stigma attached with being a Hindu increased immensely. Government school text books are filled with references labelling the Hindus as mischievous and conniving and they are blamed for the bloodshed during the partition. Over the years, this state propaganda has resulted in the Hindu becoming a taboo in this Muslim puritanical society. In order to avoid the social prejudice associated with their religion, a lot of Hindus have now taken up Christian and Muslim names to avoid being noticed in society. A few have even converted to Christianity and Islam. However for all practical purposes, this marriage of convenience is more out of prudence than actual conviction.

Sita gave birth to the twin sons of Ram, Luv and Kush while she was here after she had been banished by Ram. Lahore and Kasur are said to be named after Luv and Kush. There is a temple near the Alamgiri gate of Lahore fort, called the temple of Luv. It is believed that the original temple was built by Luv himself, whereas the current structure goes back to the Mughal era.

Representation of minority groups in the media remains paternalistic; that of an outsider group that needs to be protected and represented in a way that they know best.

Shri Krishna Janmasthami at Lahore
According to the Islamic laws, a Muslim man is allowed to marry a Jew or a Christian as they are regarded as followers of the book. However in practice…..Christian girls are converted to Islam before a Muslim man can marry them. It is never the other way around. According to Al-Beruni’s definition, even Hindus are followers of the book, and therefore a Muslim man is allowed to marry a Hindu woman according to the religious laws. However in Pakistan, not many people endorse his point of view and marrying Hindus therefore remains un-Islamic.

Untouchable Hindus who converted in 1947 are referred to as Deendars or Musalis to distinguish them, and are still treated as untouchables by the high-caste Muslims of the area. Converts from the higher castes became Sheikhs. However, importantly, the caste titles remain, to distinguish those who have converted recently from those who were ‘original’ Muslims.

A Pilgrimage to Maryabad

……unlike the Hindus, the Christian community has a formidable presence in the Punjab. This means that the political parties and leaders also have to cater to their interests, unlike the Hindus, who are a smaller community…….and can therefore be ignored. The Christians are represented through powerful establishments like the Churches and …..schools, colleges, and hospitals which have been set up by Christian missionaries….Even though according to the census of 1998, the Hindu majority is the largest minority in the country, with Christians in the second place, most of the Hindus are scattered in Sindh, Baluchistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with only a few in Punjab. The Christians on the other hand have an overwhelming majority in the Punjab (among the minorities) and are visible in the social fabric….

Even though a lot of untouchable Hindus initially converted to avoid the stigma associated with their caste, it nonetheless continued to haunt them even after conversion. For the high caste Muslims, these low caste Christians remained un-touchables referred derogatorily to as chuhras……..Even in prominent cities like Lahore, several Muslims refuse to eat with Christians and consider utensils used by them as impure. Ironically, it was the Muslims who were treated as untouchables by high-caste Hindus in the old days. In upholding this concept of untouchability the Muslims of Pakistan are practicing an Islam tainted with the flavor of the worst of Hinduism.
So even though this attitude of impurity originally started with low-caste Hindu converts to Christianity, it soon started dominating the nature of interaction with all Christians, even those who belonged to the former higher-castes of Hinduism………..A lot of low end hotels and restaurants not only in rural areas but even in metropolitan cities…….have separate utensils for Christians. A common practice is for Christians to announce their “caste” before eating at a small restaurant so that the owner takes the necessary precautions, to avoid embarrassment later.

There was a time when famous singers like Madam Noor Jahan and Arif Lohar used to sing and record Christian gospels……The trend……is now on the ebb…… that the society has become so polarized….

Ranjit Singh’s death anniversary at Lahore
The Ahamdiyyas being allowed to live peacefully in India and persecuted in Pakistan is a strange irony of history toying ……..The Ahmadiyya community played a prominent role in the creation of Pakistan, a country where they thought they would be allowed to practice their religion freely.

From ‘There's more to Life than a House in Goa’ by Heta Pandit

What are my earliest memories as a child? I’d put ‘Moms are sweet and comforting’ and ‘Dads are scary’ on the top of the list. ….the other most important message was that we were different. ‘We are different. We are Parsis. We have a car. Our mother speaks English.’ ….You could only speak to Dad when you were spoken to and on Sundays. ….

When I was eleven, I woke up one morning with a huge blood stain in my underwear. I had no doubt hurt myself while playing at school. Mum would be annoyed….The bleeding would not stop. I plucked up courage and called my mother in the toilet to see. Much to my surprise she was not annoyed at all. She seemed thrilled. She gave me a tight hug and then ran out of the toilet. I sat there, bewildered and full of the trepidation. ….. ‘Heta has grown up now, dear,’ she whispered to Dad when he got home from his important work at the office that evening. He was holding me up high in his arms in an embrace when he heard her. He dropped me on the floor that very instant. I am no longer his little girl, I thought, something must have happened. He never touched me after that day and I stopped running to get him his slippers.

Most Parsis I know socialize only with their own kind, and I mean their own kind of Parsi……..a …..Parsi woman (in this case my mother) meeting, falling in love, and marrying a ‘non-Parsi’, my non-Parsi father….the children of this mixed heritage are stigmatized for no fault of their own and the mix in their genes frowned upon in suspicion …..So as a precaution, most Parsi parents will forbid their pure-blooded offspring from fraternizing with the parjaats, the ‘nons’ to minimize the chances of such dreaded events. I will not blame them really. The punishing outcome of being ostracized by the community is severe. …..our great-grandfather Pallonjee, having married his first cousin (a preference we were told ‘to keep the money in the family’). There should have been, therefore, lots of relatives. We, of course, did not see any of them.

Money was important to the Parsis.

We were never invited to weddings, navjotes, or any other family outings. Unknown to us, however, their children were growing up in England and other parts of India and harbored no such prejudice.

……The Indians in East Africa ….If there was one word that described how muhindi or Indian bosses treated black African workers, it was ‘cruelly’. Some banianis paid their black African workers in sacks of rice and salt or bolts of fabric. An African servant was expected to stand all day in the store, cook and clean for his employer, and sleep on the floor of the store doubling up as a security guard for the night. If he received one decent meal at the end of the day, he considered himself lucky. …..In the early 1970s, however, the African Tanzanians got a chance to see a different Indian. Educated Asian doctors, nurses, teachers, and computer programmers from India and Pakistan were working in Tanzanian hospitals, offices…. Then there were the Asian engineers who built the bridges, roads …..This was an Asian quite different from the sacks of salt and bolts of cloth Asian bania. This new Asian kept to himself after office hours and treated the African with respect due to a colleague at work. This Asian…was not rich. There was an element of surprise when this Asian opened his mouth to speak English at work and even more surprise when he actually put in an honest day’s work at the construction site.
The informal segregation in Tanzania was Africa’s best kept secret. Asian, European, and African lived in their own segregated ‘quarters’…….

The Gujaratis in Tanzania were an integral part of the Indian Diaspora in East Africa. Everyone you met invariably said, ‘We’re not planning to live here. We’ll just make a little bit and then leave for …’ the unsaid blank for you to fill in with the country of your choice. …..No Indian in Tanzania ever called the country home. Most held dual passports, most had one foot either in India or in the UK. Every Indian expected to be expelled at a moment’s notice and hence, figuratively speaking ran on gilded shoes. They lived in cramped three storied buildings, families bunching together and hanging on to one common refrain: why build better homes here? ‘Amarey kya ahin rehvanoo chey’, we’re not planning to live here forever. How could you think of yourself a stranger when you had spent over 150 years in a country?

The Tanzanian was a tough worker. Tough, that is, until he fainted at the sight of blood. …. ‘Do you know why I drink so much?’ asked a well-known Tanzanian surgeon once. ‘Because I cant stand the sight of blood.’ His Indian obstetrician counterpart once confessed that at the government hospital where he worked, there was no relief for the Indian doctors.

….Goa….It took me years to understand the nuances of the Brahmin, Chardos, and Shudra caste houses that made up the gamut of domestic architecture in Goa. It would take me a lifetime to understand what divided Catholic houses from Hindu homes. It has taken a lot of studying ‘the book of human nature’ in Goa to come to the easy and reckless conclusion that Goan society is perhaps the most caste-ridden, bigoted, caste-prejudiced, xenophobic, and complex society in the country. Lets just say that I have not watched any other community as closely as the Goan.
The first thing a Goan will ask you after he or she knows your name is ‘Where are you coming from?’ Now that is not an innocent question. It is loaded with several questions all rolled into one. Your Goan host is also asking you what village you come from, what vaddo in the village, who your grandparents were, who your parents, and so on, thereby determining to what caste and social strata you belong. In fact, many old timers will not even go further after they have fired the first question. Your answer to the first will give them all the other answers that will put you in that tight social niche from which there is no escape, either for you or for them.
If you’re a Hindu, they will be able to pin point your caste, sub-caste, gotra, clan, family, and so on with a little gossip and scandal thrown in for good measure. If you are a Catholic, then you can be sure they will know your family down to the smallest root, including what your caste and last name was before your ancestors converted to Christianity. Even if you are a Catholic, your root caste is important, and most Christians in Goa know if they were once Shudra, Chardo (Kshatriya) or Brahmin. Without a doubt, this determines whether you can be admitted into a Goan home by the front door or should be let in by the back gate. …….now we began to see why, when we went to someone’s house in the village, they would appear warm and forthcoming and yet never invite us in. The Goan balcao was a screening device. You trudged up the stairs of the grand mansion; you were invited to sit on the sopos, the benches in the balcao, while your hosts grilled you and ratified your ancestry. When you passed muster, you graduated to being invited inside the house, never kept hanging and waiting in the entrada, the entrance hall. Once you were accepted, you were in and that was it. It was much later that I learnt that Goans were adept at picking out all your ancestors and slotting your lineage within seconds of knowing your name.

…….one thing was certain: Goa and Goans loved a good fight.

What was also interesting to us was the standard question, ‘Do you salt your rice before it goes into the pot or after?’ That question always puzzled me until years later I was given the answer by a professor …..the wealthy in Goa (and therefore by virtue the upper classes) apparently used copper pots for cooking their rice. In order to avoid the salt from reacting with the copper, they would not add salt to the rice in the pot. The poor on the other hand, cooked in clay pots, and could add salt to the rice before it was cooked. The answer to the question then was simply a roundabout way for a new landlady to determine to which class we belonged.

Rukshana’s dad Feroze (incidentally a collector of the largest private collection of still and movie cameras in the world)…..

Living in Goa suited us perfectly. This was one place in India that did not frown on two women living together with no apparent family support or financial dependencies and doing exactly what they wanted to do in life. We would walk around or drive out in our little car at any time of the day or night and feel absolutely safe and unmindful of personal security.

The history of the tea gardens in Munnar is worthy of a book by itself. Mature deciduous forests were cleared to make way for coffee and cinchona at first and then for tea. The first tea garden bungalows were, in fact, small thatched dwellings, too basic to even be called log huts. The first tea planters were Scotsmen who had come out of their own country and pioneered planting in the hills. These hills, once considered forested and ‘of no use to man’, were once the domain of the tribal chieftain…….As the plantations grew, the pioneers needed more men to manage the estates. That is when trouble began. Rules and regulations had to be made to ensure discipline and obedience. ….The planting traditions set by the old Scots and the rules and regulations set to discipline young hot-blooded planters were in fact meticulously endorsed by their Indian counterparts. Planters were still addressed respectfully as dorai, white masters, and assistant managers were called chinna dorai, little white masters.
Although Munnar is located in Kerala, we had to learn to speak Tamil, as most of the labour came from the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. …..True to colonial traditions, field officers were almost always Tamil and assistant field officers Malayalis from Kerala. It was a very cunning device that had been built into the system by the early planters to control the plantations.
Most Scotsmen planters were Freemasons and belonged to the Church of South India. The Tamil-speaking field officers went to the Roman Catholic Church, and the Malayalam-speaking assistant field officers were either ‘Marthomites’….. or were upper-caste Hindus. The Tamil-speaking labour, all from around Tirunelvelli, were lower-caste Hindus who worshipped at the local Murugan (Kartikeya) temple. Every one of these ethnic groups came with their own built-in prejudices, and like colonialists all over the world, the ‘gentlemen planters’ had turned this to their advantage. Why did the Indian managers and assistant managers who followed the Scots perpetrate this colonial system of control? Why did they, for example, not change the address from dorai, white master ……….Hierachy, of course, was the backbone of the tea estates

Matters in the tea gardens were not always resolved so peaceably. The most dangerous reputation belonged to the dholes or wild dogs. They hunted in packs and were known, just like the Indian bison, to attack without provocation. Dholes, we were told, would slowly form an unseen circle around you, and then with one squeaky signal from their pack leader they would attack.

Tea, we realized, could grow to immense heights if left alone. It is only when it is cultivated as a cash crop that is kept stunted to ‘bush’ height and pruned by hand plucking or shearing.

Being a tea garden wife is not the easiest of jobs. First of all, you have to adhere to an undefined pecking order in tandem with your husband’s hierarchy status, and just like him, you too cannot cement any real friendships. Alienated from your husband’s tea garden life, you live the day separated from him for the most part, growing flowers in the bungalow garden and looking forward to the next annual flower show. You have to learn how to manage a home on a budget, entertain regularly and with precision while you nervously walk on social eggshells, raise the kids in an isolated, insular society, make your mark on Munnar’s High Range Club ……

Monday, February 27, 2017

From ‘Diplomatic Baggage. The Adventures of a Trailing spouse’ by Brigid Keenan

…….plant historian…..who had traced the origins of our ordinary English apple to Kazakhstan. He told me about the remnants of fruit forests in the Tien Shan mountains, and how the Silk Route should really be called the Apple Route and how the Mongol hordes carried dried apple, full of vitamins, in their pockets as they galloped down from Central Asia… apple cultivation slowly moved west, and that grafting was mentioned on clay tablets written in 2500 BC discovered in Syria and, later, illustrated on a Roman mosaic.

Its been a constant mystery to me, travelling the world, why barking dogs don’t seem to bother their owners as much as they do everyone else in the neighbourhood.

Kazakhstan is a huge country – two-thirds the size of India (but with only 14 million people)

The Tajiks are much friendlier than the Kazakhs who don’t smile much at all – one of the thinnest books in the world could be Kazakh Charm – though Kazakh Road Sense would run it pretty close …….there is a whole section in the market where, to my amazement, they sell ready-prepared Korean food. This is because Koreans were one of the ethnic groups living in the Soviet Union that Stalin banished to the empty lands of Central Asia – along with the whole Russian-German community, the Chechens (every single Chechen was expelled from Chechnya), Kurds, Greeks and Armenians, and many others. Apparently more than a hundred different minorities are living here, and their presence is witness to the fact that fifty years ago the name Kazakhstan stood not for oil and gas as it does today, but for gulags, exile and suffering. (Dostoyevsky, Trotsky and Solzhenitsyn were each sent here at one time or another.) All these displaced minorities , together with Uighurs (from Xinjiang, Western China), Mongolians, Uzbeks, Tajiks and Kyrgyz who have migrated here from bordering countries, added to the native Kazakhs and the millions of Russians who stayed on after Kazakhstan became independent…….almost everyone here has at least one gold or silver tooth; some have a whole mouthful like Jaws in James Bond.

….I set off with Yuri…..He insists that I sit in the back of the Land Rover and though it seems daft, I don’t resist because I remember the driver in India begging me not to sit beside him, explaining that this colleagues had teased him, saying that he couldn’t be working for anyone important because the Memsahib didn’t sit in the back of the car.

…..I had a good look at Almaty. It has some really pretty architecture: there are hundreds of charming wooden cottages and shutters all painted in different colours – these, I am told, were built by the Russian pioneers who, in the last century, came east to this empty land in search of a new life.

It used to be said that ex-pats talked about their servants the whole time – I can see why this might be true because most of the time their lives are much more exciting than ours…. Our first butler in Syria, a really gentle man who was captain of the Sri Lankan cricket team in Damascus, came with glowing references about his honesty, trustworthiness etc.etc. but we discovered after he left that he’d been in prison in Syria (GBH), Italy (drug dealing) and Turkey (illegal immigrant). Even his departure was odd; he told us he had to take emergency leave and fly back to Sri Lanka as his father was ill, but the gardener, who saw him off, said he took a bus to Moscow. We never saw him again.

The women here are extremely pretty and all of them have amazing figures with legs six feet long ……Every man I’ve ever heard of who has been posted to any part of what used to be the Soviet Union has found a new wife there.

When the Russians introduced collective farming at the end of the 1920s and early ‘30s it was an utter disaster for Kazakhstan- the nomads slaughtered their herds rather than accept this new and totally alien way of life, and then came a famine in which about two million people – half the population – died. Others were executed for not obeying orders, and many fled to Mongolia (where thousands of Kazakhs still live in yurts). In Kazakhstan the remaining people were gathered in kolkhoz, or collectives, and their ancient nomadic way of life with its customs and traditions was extinguished. All Kazakhs, though, are still very much aware of which tribe and which Horde – the Great, Middle or Lesser Horde – each family belongs to……..Since the country became independent in 1992, the kolkhoz have become more like ordinary villages, and in some, people have revived the habit of taking their herds up to the high pastures to graze in summer……….it is clear that the relationship between the Kazakhs and the Russians still living here is strained. The newly oil-rich Kazakhs are top dogs now, whizzing round town in expensive cards……..and the Russians, who once ruled the place, have to find what jobs they can……The Russians believe they developed this country and that without them it would be nothing, and they tend to look down on the Kazakhs…..

Ethiopia was one of the first countries in the world to become Christian

The shopkeepers were so unhelpful and rude after London. In fact, they were positively obstructive – before you’d even asked a question, they’d be getting their lips pursed ready to form the word ‘Non’. ……Dog mess was the other thing that drove us mad in Brussels. It was everywhere……..All this said, going back to Brussels two decades later I found the shopkeepers had had a blanket personality change: they were all charming, even helpful – in fact they made London shops seem boorish – and I went round in a state of pleasant shock. But the dog poo problem was as bad as it had ever been, maybe worse…

……Trinidadians being the most hospitable, upbeat, party people on earth…..Trinidad was an extraordinary place where every creed and race did seem to have an equal place, and whats more, they had come together to form one distinct national identity. A Trinidadian could be any colour or mix of colours, but he/she shared a common humour and language. That was impressive. But it was also an anarchic place – there was a feeling it oculd all fall apart in undisciplined chaos when the potholes in the roads became too big to drive over; when the servies stopped altogether, when the violence got out of control.

When Trinidadians had called Barbados ‘Little England’ they did not mean it as a compliment – to them, it was shorthand for boring and dull. It was true that the island lacked the fizz and sparkle and fun of Trinidad. The food was pretty English too……….and completely lacking the tasty input of the big Indian and Chinese communities that lived in Trinidad….

Nothing in India ever quite worked out how it was intended……….This, the human error factor, was what drove you bananas in Delhi, but it was also precisely the most endearing thing about the place, because it meant that you never knew what was going to happen next. In India, truth was always stranger than fiction…..I always felt slightly guilty reading the Indian newspapers at breakfast – the stories were better than any book. MAN BITES SNAKE TO DEATH; STRAY DOG STEALS NEW BORN BABY FROM HOSPITAL; YOUNG GIRL KIDNAPPED FROM HER HOME TWELVE YEARS BEFORE TURNS UP ON DOORSTEP AS A BLIND BEGGAR AND IS RECOGNIZED BY AN OLD SERVANT AND SAVED.

With its huge population, events in India were always over the top – we once read a newspaper stody about a car accident, which read ‘…..of the 33 people travelling in the jeep, 16 died immediately’, etc.etc. …….When you saw the word ‘mishap’ in an Indian newspaper, you had to brace yourself for something terrible. A mishap in Britain might mean knocking over a cup of tea at the vicar’s party, but in India it meant disaster, as in FERRY MISHAP KILLS 250. There was also the tendency to describe organizations as ‘bodies’, which lead to some gruesome headlines: NEW HEAD FOR BODY, FARMERS TO OPEN BODY……

There were so many things to cry about in India – the desperate poverty, the deliberately mutilated child beggars, the perishing cold in winter for those living on the streets …….But there were many things to smile about too……..

The Indian stare is a truly amazing thing – an unabashed, open-mouthed, un-blinking gawp, done as close to the victim as the starer can get.

My sister Moira used to say that in her memory our childhood in India was in Technicolour and that when we came back to England it all became black and white.
When next day I went to the local supermarket to stock up on food, I suffered severe reverse culture shock. It was so extraordinary to be buying meat and chicken without a hanky over my nose and feeling sick. No one was throttling squawking chickens or spitting; there was no blood on the floor, no buckets of yellow claws, and no legless beggar dragging around in the dirt. But nor were there any traders flicking flies off their stalls with balloons on sticks like mad morris dancers. There were no mounds of spices, no tender young vegetables picked that morning, no bargaining, no laughter. And was it right, I kept wondering, for people to be so shielded from real life – should we be allowed to forget that a family pack of eight skinless, boneless, chicken breasts once belonged to four hens?

…….in the Gambia, successful men there often had several wives. If you were particularly fond of one wife and wanted her to come with him to your dinner, you had to find out which nights she spent with her husband, and then make sure your dinner invitation was for one of those – otherwise, we learned from experience, a wife you’d never clapped eyes on before would turn up on his arm.

….in Syria….It was obvious (to me anyway) that the Arabs and the Irish share so many characteristics: bad ones like being hot-tempered, vengeful and jealous, and good ones like charm, emotion, warmth, a liking for good company, and a love of words – a famous poet died while we were in Damascus and AW and I were astonished at the numbers of ordinary people who turned out for the funeral…….. I’ve never been anywhere where the people were so anxious to make you welcome or where the food was so delicious. In Syria, the longer the hostess spends preparing a meal – chopping, stuffing, shaping, mincing, grinding, rolling (Syrian food is very labour-intensive) – the more she shows love and honour to the guests ………There is an Arab saying, ‘If you love me, eat’,…………

Syria is so teeming with ancient remains that treasure-hunting is quite a profitable hobby…….Once AW, walking in the desert, kicked up a stone – except it wasn’t a stone, it was part of a child’s toy chariot, we were told by the museum, dating back three thousand years. …….in Syria…..there are so many different versions of Christianity: Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Anglican, Syriac, Nestorian, Armenian, Armenian Catholic and so on…..

……..cupid’s bow mouth (a charming feature of Kazakh faces)

The other day Lucy and her friends took us to eat at the place that must be the best value in Almaty – the Govinda restaurant run by the Hari Krishnas (who seem to have a big following here). For 450 tenge (under £2) you get a tray of various delicious vegetarian curries with puris (Indian fried bread) and wonderfully creamy rice pudding.

Kyrgyz people seem to be much softer and pleasanter than Kazakhs.

Most of the traders had come from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, both famous for their embroideries and textiles…..

Tajikistan felt much more like ‘home’ than Kazakhstan. The people are of Iranian descent: good-looking and charming…….

Travellers are fond of saying that Samarkand is a disappointment because it is over-restored, and that you can see the difference between the magical luminous blue of the old tiles and the dull new ones used in the restoration.

……the extraordinary carpets made by the Uighurs……

I suddenly had the idea that, when the time comes, instead of going into an old folks’ home in England (where, I’ve just read in the Guardian Weekly, 80 per cent of inmates are dosed with tranquilizers no matter what illness they have) it might be better to join the Hari Krishnas. They are kind to old people, the food is delicious, the houses warm as toast, the music is nice and it would be easier to dress with arthritic hands, since there are no zips or buttons on the robes to cope with…

From ‘Being the Other. The Muslim in India’ by Saeed Naqvi

Hai dua yeh ki mukhalif jo hain dharey mil jaeen
Aaj phir Kausar O Ganga ke kinarey mil jaeen

(It is my prayer that the streams of Hindi and Urdu must join, like the Sangam;
Kausar, the river of paradise, must mingle with the holy Ganga.)

Jumman is a common name for a low-caste Julaha or weaver. It is also shorthand for the largest number of converts at the hands of proselytizing groups……Ashraf or genteel, the well-bred elite. Below the Ashraf were ‘Ajlaf’ or the Julahas (weavers) and ‘Arzal’, the menial class……… Sayyids prided themselves on being direct descendants of the family of the Prophet. In the list of the Muslim elite, which consisted of landowners and other upper-caste Muslims like Shaikhs and Pathans, Sayyids were the most influential. Their status in the Muslim society was similar to that of Brahmins among Hindus.

A basic rule of thumb was: culture came from Persia, Islamism from Arabia. The Persian stream had tributaries of Sanskrit, Awadhi, Brajbhasha flowing into it, enriching it to a point that it became something organically new. It came to be known as Urdu culture, totally independent of religion. Arabic remained the language of the Quran, and, therefore, the language of prayer and of religious reform.

Shias are in agreement with the followers of the family of the Prophet on the issue of succession after the Prophet’s death in 632 CE. By their reckoning, Ali should have succeeded him as the first caliph. He was the first convert to Islam, an outstanding soldier who led most of the Prophet’s campaigns. He was, at the same time, an exceptional administrator and scholar.
Did the Prophet nominate him as his successor? Shias cite the incident at Ghadir Khumm as clinching proof…. three months before his death…..the Prophet halted at a place called Ghadir. He lifted Ali’s hand and proclaimed Munkunt O Maula, Haza Ali Maula (They who consider me their Maula or leader appointed by God, must also consider Ali their Maula). This line has become an essential declaration of faith at the start of every Qawwali session ……… Qawwal’s go into ecstasy singing the ‘Qaul’ or declaration of Ali’s prophethood. No Samma (qawwali sessions in Sufi shrines) can be held without the Qaul. Interestingly, a large percentage of the audience at a Samaa is usually Sunni. This is ample evidence of Sufi influence on Sunni Islam in India. ……I have shown elsewhere ……..there is a blurring of the boundaries between Shia and Sunni in the cultural sphere
The ‘Qaul’ or the proclamation of Ali as the Prophet’s successor constitutes the basic fault line dividing Shias and Sunnis. …….Sunnis believe the Prophet’s real successors were the ‘Sahaba’ or his companions ……….This decision was endorsed by the elders at a meeting place called Saqeefa. Basically, Shia-Sunni differences have their origins in tribal divisions within the overarching clan, the Quresh.

In India, more particularly in Awadh, Shia-Sunni were social categories. ……the Sunnis form the majority, while the elite Shias form nearly 20 per cent of the Muslim population in India. The proportions in Pakistan are similar.
All Muslim rulers in the medieval period, from the Delhi Sultans right up to the Mughals, were Sunnis. But there was a large sprinkling of Shias in their courts, and they had a prominent role to play in the fields of education and administration. This elevated status accorded to Shias by the emperors and kings of large kingdoms explains the presence of Shia satraps and regional rulers in such diverse places as Awadh, Deccan and Bengal.
The first Islamic probe into India was Muhammad bin Qasim’s arrival in Sindh in the same year as the Muslim arrival in Spain – 711 CE. But it can be argued that Islam’s contact with India predates Muslim invasions. We know this because of clues like the Cheraman Juma Mosque in Kerala, built by Malik bin Dinar – a disciple of the Prophet, and named after Cheraman Perumal, a nobleman – at a time when the Prophet was still alive…….. Only a stretch of water separates the Arabian Peninsula from the coast of Kerala. Trade links across the oceans predated Islam by thousands of years.

Bad publicity given to the ‘Mussalman in India’ by Mahmud [of Ghazni] was made worse by Muhammad Ghori (1175), Timur (1398) and, about five hundred years later, by Nadir Shah (1739) and Ahmad Shah Abdali (1748). That the victims of the raids by these conquerors were mostly Muslims has been lost in the popular narrative. After Abdali’s raid, for example, Meer Taqi Meer, the great poet, became homeless.

…… of the most important centres of Shiaism in the subcontinent was the Awadh region …….

Wajid Ali Shah (1822-1887), the last ruler of Awadh, was indisputably one of the country’s most spectacular rulers. Besides being a popular ruler, his contribution to music, Kathak, poetry and theatre was enormous....

……body blow Muslims had taken in under a hundred years – first, there was the annexation of Awadh, then the brutal suppression by the British of the 1857 Uprising, followed by the Partition of India in 1947 without any reference to the people directly affected by it, and finally the abolition of zamindari …..Nehru assured Muslim rajas and taluqdars that zamindari abolition would not follow so soon after the trauma of Partition…….The Muslim League did not touch the issue of land reforms. How could it, when its support base was the landed gentry, exactly the class which dominates the Pakistan National Assembly to this day?

Sufis of the Chishti School had so internalized the divine experience that namaz to them was sometimes a superfluous ritual. This had influenced Shia thinking too.
Josh Malihabadi wailed about this circumstance in Karachi:
Sab se zyada khauf hai is baat ka mujhey
Dum tor dein kaheen na meri waza darian
Aisa na ho ke aihle suboo se bigar kar
Aale wuzoo se gaanthna par jaaen yaariyan
(I dread the day my way of life is compromised
Will I have to break ranks with my friends in the tavern?
I shudder to think that I may have to line up with
supplicants in prayer)
Namaz was important but it was not the highest priority. The Shias of Awadh, distinct from Shias elsewhere, had learnt to live with this paradox.

My grandfather…..friend of ….the high priest of Dewa Sharif, the Sufi shrine outside Lucknow……asked him. ‘Why don’t you say your namaz regularly?’ Waris Shah’s response was succinct: ‘Where is the space for me to kneel and go down in prayer?’, in other words – ‘He is in me’, the very essence of Advaita monotheism.
Notionally, Mecca and Medina are equally holy to both Shias and Sunnis, but in practice, Shias have different priorities – Najaf, Karbala, and Damascus, where the shrine of Zainab (Imam Hussain’s sister) stands, are the most sacred pilgrimage centres

With the decay of the feudal hierarchy, the lower middle class, always more religious in every society, gained upward mobility. It is around this class that religious groups like the Jamaat-e-Islami formed clusters. These clusters were 100 per cent Sunni. No Shia was ever a member of Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind of Deoband, Tableeghi Jamaat, Ahle Hadith or what is known as the Bareli group. The various militant groups …. are Sunni without exception.

After the shock of 1857, the British strategy was obvious: devise ways to keep Hindus and Muslims in conflict. ….the British component in the armed forces in India …..numbers rose from 20,000 in 1857 to more than 60,000 in the next two decades, the provision of beef for British troops became a priority………The British establishment kept itself insulated from Hindu anger by allowing official underlings to point fingers at Muslim butchers who actually performed the physical act of slaughtering the cows. This led to numerous Hindu-Muslim riots. Exhaustive correspondence between British officials, quoted by senior Gandhian scholar Dharampal – who spent months in the India Office Library and the British Museum in London studying British records on the subject – shows the Raj deliberately provoked Hindus against Muslims, sowing the seeds of the divide and rule policy…..

Note Nehru’s tone in a letter he wrote to Jinnah on 6 April 1938, after refusing a coalition with the Muslim League:
…the Muslim League is an important communal organization and we [Congress] deal with it as such. But we have to deal with all organizations and individuals that come within our ken. We do not determine the measure of importance or distinction they possess.
Jinnah replied:
Your tone and language again display the same arrogance and militant spirit, as if the Congress is the sovereign power. I may add that, in my opinion, as I have publicly stated so often, that unless the Congress recognizes the Muslim League on a footing of complete equality and is prepared as such to negotiate for a Hindu-Muslim settlement ….a settlement would not be possible.
The Nehru-Jinnah personality clash was not a negligible factor when it came to events that led to Partition.

……..Vallabhbhai Patel ……..Lord Archibald Wavell made the following entry about him on 17 March 1947 in his book The Viceroy’s Journal: ‘He is entirely communal and has no sense of compromise or generosity towards Muslims, but he is more of a man than most of the Hindu politicians.’
Michael Brecher in his biography of Nehru is equally blunt: ‘Patel is a staunch Hindu by upbringing and conviction. He never really trusted the Muslims and supported the extremist Hindu Mahasabha view of the ‘natural right of the Hindus to rule India.’……’

Sunnis were the overwhelming majority among Indian Muslims. Shias – the intellectual and feudal aristocracy among Muslims – were totally indifferent to the call for Khilafat.

……….I cannot think of any place in the world which has accorded hospitality to more religions than Kerala. Christianity flourished here when our cousins in Europe were still rather behind by any measure………communism – was given entry into Kerala for the first time in the world through the ballot box, in 1957………Cheraman Perumal mosque in Cranganore (Kodungallur), Trissur district. This mosque was built when Prophet Muhammad was still alive. ……visit Calicut ….for a Muslim guru in the classical Brahminical mould, C.N. Ahmad Mouli. He will ….furnish proof that the columns in Kaaba (Mecca) are made of teak from Kerala; the Kaaba…….predates Islam by thousands of years…..On the way to Sabarimala you will be required to obtain vibhuti from the shrine of the Muslim saint, Vavar Swamy, before you have Ayyappa’s darshan. Incidentally, the best songs dedicated to Vavar Swamy have been sung by Yesudas – a Christian singer and an Ayyappa bhakt.

Hai Ram ke wajood pe Hindustan ko naaz;
Ehle nazar samajhte hain usko Imam-e-Hind.
(The very being of Ram, is the pride of Hindustan;
Men of vision respect him as the Imam of Hindustan.)
That was Iqbal on the son of King Dashrath

…..shrine of Shah Sharif outside Aurangabad. One of Shivaji’s ancestors was his devotee – in fact, he named his sons Shahji and Sharifji as an act of respect to the Haji Malang in Thana……..In Pirana, Gujarat, stands the shrine of Imam Shah Baba that was once looked after by the Hindu Patels…….Kutch……Garasia and the Fakirani Jats – Muslims with faith in the Hindu Mother Goddess. In Rajasthan….temple of Goga Merhi in Ganganagar, which has ‘Praise be to Allah’ inscribed in Arabic on its gate. For eleven generations the pujari of the temple has been a Muslim. In Jaisalmer, the Manganiars and the Langas, both Muslims, sing Meera Bai, Bulleh Shah and Shah Abdul Lateef with the same devotion as the Meos of Alwar and Bharatpur sing their version of the Mahabharata or ballads devoted to Hazrat Ali. Syncretism in all these places is being challenged because religious intolerance is increasing. ………Raskhan’s verses about the naughty boy from Gokul. The real name of this great Krishna bhakt was Sayyidd Ibrahim…..people in Orissa who to this day welcome Jagannath with songs written by Salbeg, a Muslim by birth……..the Sufi order of the Kashmir Valley called itself the Rishis. It was founded by Nuruddin Wali, popularly known as Nund Rishi. His songs dedicated to the great yogini Lalleshwari or Lal Ded are at the very heart of Kashmir’s composite culture. The Rishis were avowedly spiritual heirs of Hindu asceticism and Advaita Shaivism…..Adam Malik from Batkote village in Pahalgam who discovered the Amarnath shrine. To this day, one third of the proceeds from the shrine go to the descendants of Adam Malik.

After the demolition [of Babri Masjid] and subsequent riots, covert dislike of Muslims in this country has become a lot more open and frequent….

….interview ….with Bhaurao Deoras …….
Deoras: I think Advaniji….not a word in his lectures… anti-Muslim.
Naqvi: But look at the slogans going on in Aligarh, in Hyderabad. You are aware of the poison of Ms Uma Bharati’s tapes……Do the slogans contained in Ms Uma Bharati’s tapes offend you?
Deoras: I do not like it.
Naqvi: Therefore you should stand up and condemn the provocative slogans
Deoras: I do not like the meanings behind the slogans. At present, just as no Muslim will like to make a statement, I will also not like to do so.

What did I make of the Frontier Gandhi from my stay with him …..he came across as a wise and measured leader. But at times I also assessed him as someone with human frailties and idiosyncrasies. Before he retired for the night he would count the shawls gifted to him to see if some had not been stolen by his personal staff….And when ordinary folk called on him in the night he would send them away with disdain. But he would be only too willing to meet VIPs and royalty…..He placed great premium on ‘achcha khandan’ or ‘good family’.

Godhra, 120 kilometres from Ahmedabad, population of two lakhs, approximately half of them Muslim – an invisible line divides the city into two communal zones. ….some members from the more prosperous side of the dividing line describe the others as ‘Pakistanis’…..On the morning of 27 February 2002, angry kar sevaks were returning from Ayodhya on the Ahmedabad-bound Sabarmati Express. The reason for their anger: the loss of the BJP-RSS combine in the UP elections that had taken place days earlier on 24 February……the returning kar sevaks had been misbehaving with passengers and hawkers, and teasing women in burqas. This behavior continued throughout the journey, at various stations including Dhanol, one stop before Godhra. On 27 February, as the train pulled out of Godhra, a Muslim hawker chased kar sevaks, who hadn’t paid him, into Coash S-6. The hawker’s daughter pleaded with the sevaks. She was dragged into the train. Her father’s beard was pulled. He was abused and asked to say ‘Jai Sri Ram’. As the train began to leave the station, it was pelted with stones by a mob that had gathered…….Remarkably the mob pelting stones at S-6 and S-5 consisted mainly of Muslim women……The majority of Muslims in Godhra are a group called ghachis – low in education, high on crime…..The women do not veil themselves and are in every sense as tough as the men……..A dozen years after the tragedy, and despite numerous committees and inquiries, there are several unanswered questions including a key one: who set fire to S-6?

During the riots, mobs destroyed the grave of Wali Gujarati, Urdu’s first great poet….He wrote: ‘Koocha e yaar, ain Kashi hai/Jogia dil wahan ka basi hai (My beloved’s neighbourhood is like the holy city of Kashi where the yogi of my heart has taken residence)’ In Vadodara, rioters tried to desecrate the grave of the greatest singer of the Agra gharana, Ustad Faiyyaz Khan. ‘Man Mohan Braj ke rasiya’…..Never was this passage sung better in Raag Paraj. Among more gruesome atrocities, it was also this heritage that was laid to waste in Gujarat during those deperate times.

Despite Vajpayee’s RSS lineage, he never came across to me in grim, communal light – in fact, I found him less divisive than Congress ministers like P.V. Narasimha Rao, for instance. I base this observation on years of reporting and interacting with a procession of Indian prime ministers. No one can lay blame at Vajpayee’s door for patently anti-Muslim policies…. Vajpayee belonged to a party which regarded Indian Muslims as the Other. But he recognized that if the country was to come together and move forward, the Muslims would have to be reassured and integrated into the idea of India and Bharat.

Nehru’s Hindu background did not stand in the way of non-aligned Muslim nations embracing him as their own. Raees Amrohvi, a Pakistani poet of Awadh origin, wrote…..
Jap raha hai aaj maala ek Hindu ki Arab.
Baraham-zaadey mein shaan-e-dilbari aisi to ho!
(The Arab world is chanting the name of a Hindu!
A Brahmin with such an incredible ability to win hearts
and minds!)
Hikmat-e-Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru ki qasam!
Mar mitey Islam jis pe, kaafiri aisi to ho!
(Look at the vision of Pandit Nehru!
A non-believer and yet the world of Islam lies at his
Nehru remained the undisputed leader of the Afro-Asian bloc until his death……..Special links with Muslim nations in this grouping was a matter of comfort to Indian Muslims……

………..scientist Saymond Aron judged Andre Malraux as ‘one third genius, one third false, one third incomprehensible’. …those proportions may quite accurately apply to Nehru.

My association with Vajpayee was spread over his two spells in government. He was external affairs minister in the post-Emergency Janata Dal. This is when he revealed his admiration for Nehru….on his first day in office….. ‘I remember with reverence that Pandit Nehru once sat on the chair I am about to occupy.’

When Vajpayee lost the 2004 election, his greatest regret was that he could not complete his agenda on Pakistan. His principal secretary, Brajesh Mishra, was heartbroken. He said: ‘We had very nearly placed our Pakistan policy on an irreversible track’

What has been a consistent feature of Moditva is the sectarian abuse of a section of his party.

What was the death toll in the killing fields of Jammu? There are no official figures, so one has to go by reports in the British press of that period. Horace Alexander’s article on 16 January 1948 in The Spectator is much quoted; he put the number killed at 200,000. To quote a 10 August 1948 report published in The Times, London: ‘2,37,000 Muslims were systematically exterminated ….by the forces of the Dogra State headed by the Maharaja in person and aided by Hindus and Sikhs. This happened in October 1947, five days before the Pathan invasion and nine days before the Maharaja’s accession to India.’ Reportedly, as a result of the massacre/migration, Muslims who were a majority (61 per cent) in the Jammu region became a minority….Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar wrote an article in the Times of India on 18 January 2015……. ‘Today, Jammu is a Hindu majority area. But in 1947 it had a Muslim majority. The communal riots of 1947 fell most heavily on Jammu’s Muslims; lakhs fled into what became Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. That turned Jammu’s Muslim majority into Hindu majority ….In sheer scale this far exceeded the ethnic cleansing of Pandits five decades later.’
Aiyar concludes: ‘The tragedies of J&K constitute a long, horrific tale of death and inhumanity. It has many villains and no heroes. Both sides have been guilty of ethnic cleansing.’

From ‘Beware Falling Coconuts. Perspectives of India by a BBC producer’ by Adam Clapham.

Life, I have learnt, is deemed much too short and too precious to waste time dwelling on its misfortunes. Despite all the burdens of everyday existence-perhaps because of them-Indians seem better able than their counterparts elsewhere to relish and celebrate the wonder that is the human spirit. That is the heady stimulant which has prompted my travels and the writing of this book.

Fort Cochin boasts one of the most spectacular harbours on the entire Indian coast…..

Spanning the river at Karwar, the railway traverses a spectacular pencil-thin white viaduct, almost skimming the surface of the water. In a country known for the ugliness of its ferro-concrete edifices-which rival only those of the old Soviet bloc in their awfulness-this is a design of extraordinary flair.

In Delhi I was approached by someone from the prime minister’s [Mrs. Gandhi] office who wanted to know why the BBC had stopped supplying the prime minister’s favorite programme to Doordarshan. The program was the award-winning political comedy Yes, Minister which poked fun at British government officials. It rang many bells in India and was hugely popular. I made some enquiries in London. The BBC had stopped sending the programmes because Doordarshan hadn’t paid the bill. I reported to the prime minister’s office and, in no time, Yes, Minister was back on air.

……Laura lives in one of the most beautiful spots in the world, a third floor apartment at the Royal Bombay Yacht Club, looking through the Gateway of India into Mumbai harbor….

“No problem,” they said-the Indian catch phrase that surely means some terrible complication is on the horizon.

There are few places that I have seen as beautiful as Kashmir. The Dal Lake really takes your breath away. Four kilometres long and just as wide, it glistens in the cool reflection of the Himalayas to the north and the Pir Panjal mountain range to the south.

In Pakistan, under Governor-General Mohammad Ali Jinnah, three of the four regional governors were British………. General Douglas Gracey did not step down as Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan army until 1951 and Vice Admiral Sir Stephen Carlill, the last British chief of India’s naval staff, stayed on until 1958, eleven years after independence.

The island of Mauritius is bang in the middle of nowhere, a thousand kilometres east of Madagascar and double that distance south of Cape Comorin. Half the population is Hindu, about a third Christian and the rest mostly Muslim. There’s African and European blood added to the mix…….Mauritius is rather like rural south India and therefore not a very urgent place.

Until uncommonly provoked, Indians treated the British with tolerance and affection. Amazingly, they still do.

From ‘Ticking along Free. Stories about Switzerland’

The Myth of the Lousy Swiss Lover by Sarah Paris
“Heaven is where the cooks are French, the policemen English, the mechanics German, the lovers Italian, and everything is organized by the Swiss. Hell is where the cooks are English, the policemen German, the mechanics French, everything is organized by the Italians, and the lovers are Swiss.”

My own personal experience confirms that the bad reputation of the Swiss as lovers is not based on their physical skills. Instead I believe it is a matter of linguistics. ………The Swiss, alas, are taught by example and early training that emotions are not to be expressed verbally…….. even if they manage to overcome their emotional hang-ups and genuinely want to express their feelings, they simply don’t have the vocabulary to express them! …… cant say ‘I Love You’ in Swiss German………..the words exist technically…..but no man or woman in their right mind would say “I lieb di” – it would just sound too corny for words. ……There is nothing more shallow and frivolous to a Swiss than the way in which Americans manage to end a routine phone conversation with a casual “love you, darling!” To the Swiss, this borders on heresy. Love is serious business. ….If talking about love is difficult, talking about lust is near impossible……Swiss-German is no better than German in matters of eroticism. Even compared to English (itself not the world’s greatest language for love), the Swiss-German language is not long on terms that might come in handy in the bedroom. For example, sex-expert Carol Queen’s “Exhibitionism for the Shy” lists 61 possible English terms for the female genitalia and 54 for the male parts. I don’t think many people could come up with more than six each in (Swiss-) German, half of which sound so clinical, they could only be used in the presence of a doctor, and the other half so vulgar, that few people are comfortable using them with their spouses.

Choices by Karen Laudenslager McDermott
At the local grocery where I have shopped for sixteen years, they still don’t know me. They never behave as though they’ve seen me before. ‘They’ being, almost without exception, the same employees.
In this beautiful country ringed with mountains, each home is bordered by a high hedge, each hemmed in like a separate valley. We cut our side, they cut theirs, with subtle timing, a kind of dance – who cuts first? How low?

There are Swiss who lament the insularity, the oft-declared lack of creativity endangered by such a structured society. “Too soft here; nothing happens,” they’ll tell you.

Making Friends by Roger Bonner
An incorrigible wit once said that it takes five years to make friends with the Swiss and a lifetime to get rid of them.
Nothing baffles a newcomer to Switzerland more than how to get to know these elusive people. You will wait in vain for the knock on the door from a neighbor ……….In Switzerland, you must go and introduce yourself.
If you do, most likely you will be met with a reserved “Gruezi” and, if you’re lucky, a quick introduction of “Ich bin Frau Meier”………And there the matter rests. The next time you meet her in the hallway or lift, she will give you a quick “Gueta Tag,” followed by a fleeting smile, eyes averted. This can go on for one year or forty, unless some unforeseen event breaks the ice, a flood in the cellar, say, or a nuclear war where you are forced to action, for the Swiss love nothing more than a common goal.
Once you have joined forces in a club or choir, you will find the Swiss very friendly indeed. It’s just that first step they are reluctant to take. And if you are a foreigner, there is the language barrier. Don’t expect a Swiss to warm up to you when you never bother to learn some Schwyzerdütsch. Memorizing a few phrases will melt their hearts, and you will be overwhelmed with compliments. ……..Having passed this first hurdle, you might even be lucky enough to get an invitation to a Swiss home – which can easily take up to five years. But afterwards you will have a faithful friend right up to the cemetery, that ultimate and most final of common goals.

Sounding Brass by Gay Scott O’Connor
…by becoming the world’s watchmakers par excellence, they’ve got both punctuality and profit down to the finest art on the planet. Every minute, every hour, every franc must be gainfully employed. Nothing is ever wasted in Switzerland.

…….that puzzling Helvetic preoccupation with BELLS. The Swiss, apart from an occasional outburst of Fasnacht, are a pretty reserved race and disturbing the neighbours ranks as sin even more shocking than squandering your savings or being late.
Don’t even consider such riotous excesses as lawn-mowing on a Sunday, or the people next door will promptly phone the police ……..Blocks of flats are low-key places where so much as raising your voice on the staircase is frowned on, and even infants are kept (God knows how), rigorously plugged up.
But although adults, kids, dogs, cats, gerbils, parakeets and all other forms of animate existence are forbidden to shout, shriek, stamp, whistle or in any way offend against the hallowed peace and quiet of the Swiss landscape, bells are not just permitted but downright encouraged to royally raise the roof. ……….the cows had bells. Big bells. Loud ones………. Small or young animals such as calves, sheep and goats wear tinkling little chimes…..what in heaven’s name are all these riotous bells actually for?.... The bells are a status symbol: they proclaim the farmers’ wealth………And……Cows, as I learned to my cost, apparently never sleep. Even at midnight, as every clanging chew of the cud triumphantly proclaims, these stalwart perambulating milk factories are doggedly on the job. The racket that robbed me of my slumbers was, for the farmer, a soothing lullaby; a reassurance that, down in every pendulous udder, the butterfat was mounting up, like interest in the bank. Time is money and mustn’t be wasted, even by bovines. Not in Switzerland.

Here or There, Us or Them by Verena Bakri
During my visits to Switzerland I notice a tremendous amount of wastage, be it with food, clothing, commodities, paper, anything. Children are given generously food, toys, clothing and when they are fed up with these things, they just throw them in the dustbin. I always feel a sense of injustice when seeing this………. I notice a great trend towards recycling and making better use out of everything in Switzerland. But I will never come to terms with the continuous waste of water. How many idle running faucets have I turned off on my visits!

Testing Times by Paul Bilton
One annoying feature of Swiss workers, regardless of their trade, is that they always declare a job to be completely impossible before they start and then go on to complete it without problem.

Women Only by Karin Kamp
Living in Switzerland has allowed me to become acquainted with the public swimming pool concept, which is non-existent in New Jersey, where I’m originally from. This summer, a Swiss friend asked if I wanted to go to the ‘women only’ pool in Basel. “That way we can take off our tops,” she said.
Oops. We just don’t do that in New Jersey……

The Art of Swiss German by Dianne Dicks
……how do you learn a language like Swiss German that’s only spoken and rarely written? …….But everybody pronounces it differently! Just as food, laws and education vary from canton to canton, so does the language………Find any two speakers……they will never in a lifetime ever agree on an official spelling or pronunciation. That, in an essence, is what Switzerland is about.
Before social mobility became a necessity here, every valley developed its own mini-dialect and sound patterns.

Tips for Doing Business by Enid Kopper
The Swiss are discrete about wealth. Do not wear ostentatious jewelry, fur coats, etc.

In Search of a Plot by Sue Stafford
Land for buildings is expensive, and Switzerland has one of the lowest rates of home ownership in Europe.