I had the good fortune of visiting the Brahmistan of India a few weeks ago. It is located at the geographical center of the country of India, a two hour drive from the city of Jabalpur. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s movement owns a large tract of land, where a beautiful and blissful residential and Transcendental Meditation facility has been established. A large number of Vedic Pandits meditate together at this location to spread peace around India, and indeed the world. The Pandits also do Vedic chanting here. In particular, everyday they do a Rudra Abhishekam, homage to Lord Shiva every day. The chanting in this particular location is special, with 1331 (being 11 x 11 x 11) highly trained Maharishi Vedic pandits chanting together. Thus it is called Ati Rudra Abhishekam, (Ati means Extremely Large). It was Maharishi’s dream project, and it got fulfilled a few years after he passed on.
My daughter and I went to the Brahmistan knowing that Ati Rudra Abhishekam is a highly transformative event. Just listening to and witnessing this live chanting can have a powerful and liberating effect on oneself. We were taken to the huge meditation hall and we were seated comfortably on sofas. All the pandits, young and old, sat on the floor, while a few pandits sat on stage doing the actions of bathing the shivlingas with milk.(see picture)
The chanting began with an hour-long obligatory oblations to many gods as well as donors. Then began the real Rudra Abhishekam chanting by the almost 1500 pandits present in the room. It was a very deeply resonant experience for me. In just a couple of minutes, my head grew heavy and woozy-doozy, and my eyes naturally closed. I was neither awake nor sleepy, and began to have amazing perceptual experiences. I ‘saw’ a giant crane, like the ones used in constructing tall buildings, pick me up by my head from the well of a tall building, and place me on the side of the building. I felt liberated from the confines of my physical body. This is the state or the feeling of ‘moksha’.
I had never had such a vision before. Such visions are rare but powerful indicators of a quantum leap into higher wisdom, say my learned friends with whom I have shared this experience. Where do we go from here though? How do we use our liberation and higher states of consciousness for the maximum good? Do we evaporate into air like camphor, and spread like a fragrance that is always there everywhere? Do we become like a sun and emit powerful light in all directions at all times?
This leads into my Billion Buddha Project … to ensure that at least a billion people wake up to their true divine infinite powerful creative nature and live a naturally and effortlessly happy life. Enlightening others to this reality is the theme of the rest of my life.
Maharishi University of Management held its fourth annual international deep green symposium in Fairfield Iowa on June 26-27, 2015. There were 16 invited speakers, including two from Harvard University, one from India, and many from MUM and around the country to present their research and perspectives on sustainability. The speakers presented their research from philosophical, organizational to technical perspectives in a short 20 minutes. Some of the messages and lessons from the conference were as below.
Leopold’s “land ethic” says that “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Dr. Scott Herriott analyzed the validity of this statement from three philosophical perspectives: Utilitarianism (Bentham, Mill), De-ontology (Kant), and virtue ethics (Aristotle), and found that none of them did full justice to the land ethic. He concluded that the most effective way to cultivate the virtues responsible for environmental sustainability is to develop the consciousness of the individual, and help everyone do spontaneous right action in accordance with natural law. Sustainability refers to a very old and simple concept …do unto future generations as you would have them do unto you! Ms. Vicki Alexander Herriott spoke about ‘Consciousness-based sustainability’, defined as our ability to act in a way that meets the needs of the present without diminishing opportunities for the future. It is based on our level of consciousness, our awareness and experience of the interconnectedness of all things.
Nowhere is the sense of memory about the past and their connection to Natural Law deeper than in East Africa. Mr. Jim Schaefer reported on Sustainable Consciousness based projects in Africa, with the purpose to enliven he memory of Natural Law, to enhance connectivity to Natural Law, and to awaken from within the African people the full potential of all Africans to create a sustainable future for themselves.
Resilience is a quality akin to adaptability, which is critical for ecosystems to robustly thrive amidst environmental turbulence. Dr. David Goodman spoke about developing resiliency through conservation. He reminded us to Leave No Trace while traveling through the wilderness areas in order to protect these special places for future generations.
Progress towards sustainability at the community level depends upon successfully implementing local strategic plans. Dr. Ayako Huang demonstrated that the processes and challenges of the shared action-learning approach to sustainability projects proceeds through five sequential steps. Shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy requires changes on the individual and community levels. Ms. Anna Bruen explored why and how communities are shifting from fossil fuel consumption towards renewable energy adoption and the relationship between individual action and community transformation, using examples of what a couple of mid-western towns are doing to address their energy needs.
Greenhouse gases arise from two primary sources: direct emissions such as from agriculture and waste, and from burning of fossil fuels. There are increasing concentrations of GHGs in atmosphere, and increase in global average temperatures, which lead to various adverse impacts emerging over time. Dr. Robert Stowe of HarvardUniversity showed that there are two major mechanisms to contain and reduce carbon from the atmospheres: carbon cap and trading or a carbon tax. He reported on the discussions between US and China on the technical issues towards a global climate accord in Paris later this year. Managing the product life cycle more effectively can help re-consume all waste, and thus reduce the waste going into landfills. Using the examples of HPs recycling of printer cartridges and others, Dr. Dennis Heaton and his colleague showed that Life cycle thinking helps consider social and environmental impacts not only of one’s own business operations but also of upstream and downstream supply chain partners. As awareness of the whole value stream expands, opportunities for improvement can be seen.
The Urbanization project is likely to be completed in our children’s lifetimes. Dr. Anil Maheshwari showed how Data-smart Big cities will become digital governance platforms to responsively and interactively serve a superior experience to their residents. Using the multi-million records data set from the usage of bicycle rentals in the city of Chicago, he showed how collecting and analyzing big data from many sources can help uncover service usage patterns to design better experiences. In contrast, Drs. Lonnie Gamble and Travis Cox explored the limits of how much technology can accomplish, and asked directly for a Sustainability Revolution, where unity and diversity coexist in a symbiotic relationship. They challenge the blinding notion that technologies are neutral – that the only thing that matters about them is who has access to their controls, that they have no intrinsic qualities that inevitably produce certain ecological or political outcomes. They described deep sustainability as going beyond efficiency and substitution, in service to radical redesign based on a worldview that uses ecology as a metaphor rather than the machine, holism rather than reductionism, compliments science with many ways of knowing, and is grounded in an experiential and intellectual understanding of the unity that underlies the surface diversity of life.
Mr. Stuart Valentine showed how an awakening to the abundant flow of energy Is leading the transition to a renewable energy economy. He called for an enhanced corporate performance report card, that naturally takes us to a circular & more spiritual view of the economy. This requires a fresh financial toolbox informed by Nature’s principles to support a new circular economic investment framework. Echoing Gandhi’s message of there being enough for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed, Dr. Ram Ramanan showed why we should go beyond the triple bottom line (of profit, people and planet) and called for ethical decision-making as the way forward for creating wealth for all stake-holders and not only the shareholders. His ethical values checklist including transparency, reliability, citizenship, and responsiveness. Mr. Ved Nanda spoke about how international law can be a force for sustainability by creating moral pressure, as well as frameworks for guiding ethical decision-making.
Dr. Sunita Singh Sengupta of ISOL said that the ancient Indian value system provides a broader context of nature and human sustainability. The concept of Rin (or debts) shows that one should feel grateful for what one has received from one’s father, teacher, the gods, and also the motherland. Ecological insights from Vedas include associating deforestation with the destruction of the state, and reforestation with the rebuilding of the state. And that no creature is superior to another and all have a right to live happily in the ecosystem. And that care should be taken to channelize wealth for organic development of the society. Dr. Shanmugamurthy Lakshmanan of Harvard University showed how using ‘consciousness as the foundation’, science can become complete, by bridging the gap between ancient science and modern science. For example, the fundamentals of Ayurveda (ancient Vedic medical system) can be explained effectively using modern nanotechnology mechanisms from a subatomic, quantum-mechanical level.
The event soared high with great motivation from hearing Mr. Gary Guller, the only person with one arm to have climbed Mt Everest. Any is possible, he said, if you believe in yourself and in your team. When challenges inevitably come, you just have to give yourself the permission to succeed. MUM’s President Dr. Bevan Morris, delivered the closing remarks with reading uplifting remarks from Maharishi’s book on ‘Heaven on Earth’. That is the end-goal of all sustainable development, he said. The plan is to establish a new way of life, to eliminate all the unhealthful aspects of the way our lives are lived, and introduce a life of bliss.
Video recordings of these excellent talks will be released in due course.
The celebration of the International Yoga Day is akin to being the Independence Day for the human spirit.
The word Yoga means ‘union’, with the transcendent infinite Spirit. A Yogi means one who has had direct perception of the transcendent. For example, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was one such person. The celebration of Yoga day empowers people in 193 countries to freely and legitimately practice transcendence, and achieve liberation and bliss. Yoga is more than just the physical postures, which are needed to get the physique flexible enough for the energy to flow freely in the body. If yoga were just physical steps, circus performers would be called yogi. Yoga is simple and yet profound. There are many resources for the practice of yoga. The united nations (Unesco) page on the International yoga day is idayofyoga.org
This day should also be called the International world health day. Yoga is preventive medicine. It helps avert danger before it come: ‘Heyam dukham anagatam’. In contract, the modern western medicine is a disease management system. Yoga is about wholeness, about union with the infinite powerful source, and thus about health at every level. The legitimacy of yoga begins to free up humanity and healthcare from the clutches of industrial medicine. In particular, yoga frees people from the clutches of pharmaceutical companies who fund medical research and control the corporate media. World Health Organization (WHO) is likely to declare Yoga as being good for health. That would also free up the practice of yoga from the tyranny of the clinical test system, which is loaded in favor of big corporations and lobbyists. It is absurd to do clinical trials for Yoga to prove general improvement health at all levels.
The International Yoga day is also the launch of an effective antidote to capitalism. There is no force bigger than yoga to take on the relentless march of unbridled capitalism, which is corrosive to the human spirit. When was the last time 193 countries voted unanimously to make such a powerful declaration as the International Yoga Day, and practice it in large numbers. Yoga gives people free and effective techniques to provide complete control over their own body and mind. Yoga liberates people from the dictates of the western capitalist medical system which forces us to spend an inordinate amount of time and money in pursuing the medical system.
It is also the Father’s Day today. Enjoy with your family and friends.
It is also the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. It is also a pleasant summer day. So enjoy some time outdoors with nature, and practice yoga!
Anything is Possible: Neuroplasticity provides proof
Our brain is a primary driver of our physiology and decision-making processes. Not many people recognize and realize how plastic and malleable our brain is. It also opens up new vitas for thinking big in all walks of life. Transcendental Meditation is a powerful way of using neuroplasticity towards a more purified nervous system and new waves of effortless accomplishments.
Not long ago the brain was said to be configured permanently. Habits were supposed to be set early in life and incredibly difficult to change. Attitudes to life were considered fixed. Education was supposed to be completed early in life, and then one used that to work all their life. However, all that is passé and incorrect.
Progressive waves of neurological research have shown that the brain is soft-wired and not hardwired. It is almost completely reconfigurable in a short period of time at any age. The cortical tissue (grey matter) is fungible. i.e. a loss of any sensory ability can free up the associated parts of the cortex to be deployed towards greater capabilities in other sensory or motor areas. E.g. Hellen Keller lost the sense of vision but gained a more acute sense of sound and touch; this was due to redeployment of the brain’s cortical mass from the sense of eyes to the other senses. Research shows that the brain changes at all points in time: 70% of neural synapses are rewired every day. The direction of the rewiring can be deliberately changed through focus and persistence towards alternative action patterns. The brain can be rewired quickly also through biofeedback systems. There are no limits to learning and accomplishment at any age.
At a personal level, neuroplasticity demands of us big thinking, i.e. ambitious ideas. Everyone can dream of being an enlightened person, very soon. Everyone can dream of being perfectly positive, healthy, and prosperous. In my own life, it empowers me to make the right decisions for moving forward singlemindedly and without doubt to pursue big goals. In family relationships, I can aim to restructure all my relationships through unilateral change in attitude and behaviors, knowing that my family members’ brains are plastic and can adapt for the better. My work relationships can similarly improve through initiating the right kinds of projects, aligning my work with my interests, and molding my work interactions for the better. I can start new organizations with lofty missions, knowing full well that my brain has enough capability and adaptability to align itself for effortless accomplishment of those missions.
Neuroplasticity also encourages me to pursue my meditation practice with full vigor and determination to become an enlightened person, and to help everyone around me become enlightened. As my good friend Gary Guller, the only person with one arm to have climbed Mt. Everest, says, ‘Anything is Possible’. Now there is neuroplastic evidence to support that claim!
Dr. Eben Alexander is a Harvard-based neurosurgeon who went through a Near-Death Experience and wrote a very insightful book, called “Proof of Heaven”, about the experience. From a materialistic paradigm, his brain got infected with E.Coli bacteria. His brain’s cortical surface tissue was completely shut down as a result of the bacterial attack. He was brought back to normal brain functioning in a few days through antibiotics. During these few days of non-normal brain functioning, he saw things that could materialistically only be described as hallucination. Without new inputs coming into his brain, he was perhaps experiencing self-reflective memories from the still functioning middle part of the brain, the thalamus and the brainstem.
He describes himself at one point as just a point-like primordial awareness without access to language or emotion. Then he vividly saw creepy-crawly earthworm-like creatures and grotesque animal faces moving around him, kinda representative of hell. Then he saw ‘a beautiful, incredible, dream world’ … filed with angel-like golden-haired pretty women floating around him along with butterflies and beautiful sounds. He specifically remembers messages of feeling loved, safe, and free from mistakes. He then felt a sense of place, as a fetus in a protective womb of Om the primordial sound. He says he received so much knowledge, effortlessly and for good, which will take more than a lifetime to unpack. He concludes that ‘unconditional love is the greatest scientific truth’.
From a spiritual perspective, Eben was able to experience the mystical totality that each one of us is. He was reporting what might be called super-normal experience in spiritual parlance. With sensory inputs cut off just like in meditation, he was perhaps able to transcend to a higher state of consciousness, where he saw a complete oneness of the universe, which he felt was better than 1000 times the best scenario he could ever describe in English language. This resembles the infinite creative unmanifest potential value of transcendental consciousness. With the body not functioning, he could be realizing his atman (soul), the ‘dweller in his body’.
I feel that Eben is in a unique position to speak from both paradigms, materialistic as well as transcendental. His statement that ‘unconditional love is the greatest scientific truth’, resonates aligns with all spiritual traditions especially Vedic and Buddhism. However, from a physio-causal perspective, it is not clear how he can remember all these fantastical multi-dimensional experiences so vividly, so much after the actual accident happened. I would still not doubt the veracity of his self-reported experiences, as Vedic Science values on the subjective experiences of the observer, under proper circumstances.
Love is all that is. Love conquers all. Unconditional love conquers unconditionally. There is usually no unconditional love except from a mother. King Solomon’s story is an allegorical proof of this wisdom. Be like a nurturing mother to all around you. Like the Buddha, help everyone and refuse no one. Giving them love will bring you more love. We are all one. Recognize that, see all as part of us, and deal with all as kindly and lovingly as one can.
2014 was a transformational year for me. With my first book published (business intelligence and data mining), this new blog (anilmah.com), new travel (South Africa), a new talk (personal development through transcendence), and more, it was a productive year for me. The next year will surely bring its own joys!
Book: I wrote a well-received book on business intelligence and data mining. It was launched as an ebook on Amazon in May. It has consistently sold a couple of copies every day. At the end of the 2014, it was published by Business Expert Press (BEP), a NY-based publisher, in both print and e-book edition. (See the page on My Book).
Blog: This blog started in May of the year. There are quite a few posts on it. The topics range from travel to information technology to enlightenment to Vedas to good old Leadership, and more . My first post was a travelogue of my amazing trip to Kumbh Mela last year, and it was a big hit with the readers. My recent post on leadership lessons from organizing community events brought me more followers than all others previous posts combined. I continue to post from lived experiences.
Travels: I also had two major international travels this year, to South Africa and to India. The main purpose of the South African trip in June was to teach a course as part of an Executive MBA program. However, it also included visits to Gandhian monuments in Johannesburg and Durban. It also included sightseeing including the gorgeous city of Cape Town. (see my blog post on SA visit). The main purpose of my trip to India In November-December was to deliver a talk on personal development through transcendence at a conference in IIT Roorkee. After that I went to Yog gram for a week-long naturopathic detoxing retreat, and to Rajasthan to see my extended family (See my posts on the visits to Yog Gram and Pushkar).
Talks: I have delivered a talk on ‘Personal Development through Transcendental Meditation’ four times during the year 2014, three times in the US and once in India. Each time the talk was very well received. I essentially talk about how Transcendence is an orthogonal dimension to Intellect. For intellectually smart people, transcendence can open up new infinite avenues for creativity and fulfillment. I also share about how transcending using TM and TM-Sidhis over the last 2 years helped release my inner stresses and set me up for writing creatively from the heart and getting a great reception.
In addition, I led our South Asia community at our university into celebrations for six major festivals. Three of the celebrations included large bonfires. (See my blog posts on bonfires, and on leadership lessons from holding these events).
It was fascinating to visit and earn about an ancient and famous place, the holy town of Pushkar, from the eyes of a family members who grew up there in a prominent social position. I had gone there a few times earlier too, but never quite had gotten a feel for the place.
Pushkar is often called ‘Tirath Raj’ or the king of pilgrimage sites. It is also one of the oldest living cities of India. (For more visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pushkar.) Pushkar has the unique distinction of having the only temple in the world dedicated to Lord Brahma, the creator of the world according to Vedas. I visited Pushkar in December for just a few hours with my wife Neerja and my mother-in-law. I knew that my mother-in-law was born and had grown up in Pushkar. I requested her to come along with me and show us the town as she lived it. Once we reached there, she became quite animated when showing us where when the important things and important activities were, during her childhood days. Very understated by temperament, she let slip that her extended family (the Maloo family) owned half of Pushkar! I knew about her coming from a rich family in Pushkar, but this seemed really big. As an instance she said that when her father and his brothers separated, each one got many mansions in inheritance. She also stated that they used to own bricks of gold. Those bricks were mortared into walls to keep them safe from robbers. No one trusted the banks, they all trusted gold.
We visited Pushkar Raj (pic on left), the holy lake in which everyone likes to take a holy dip. It has 52 ghats, or sides from which one can access the lake. We also the Brahmaji temple (pic on right). We visited the other famous temple in Pushkar, the Ranji temple, … the old Ranji template and the the new one. We then visited one of my mother-in-law’s family mansions, which is currently rented out. We bought loads of ‘Maal Puvey’, the rich creamy pancake-shaped dessert for which Pushkar is famous.
Fire is a primal element. ‘Agni’ (or fire) is the first word of Rik Veda; and contains the structure of the entire universe within it. Fire is also a dangerous element. It can burn and destroy. It can reduce beautiful and valuable things into ashes in no time. It can change direction easily with the blowing of the wind. Fire can leave scars that last a lifetime. However, it can also create impressions that last a lifetime.
Fires are used for religious and cultural purposes. Sanatan dharma believes in using sacred fire (as havan or homa) to purify the spirit. Fire is used as a witness to an oath. Fires are burned for cultural activities, e.g. Holika Dahan. On Dusshera (or Vijayadashmi Day), fire is used to burn the effigy of the bad guys. Fireworks are used as celebration, as for Independence Day celebrations on the Fourth of July.
In modern times, the fire element has been completely contained and tamed. Something catching fire is usually in a bad connotation, e.g. wild fires that burn whole swathes of dry forests. Only occasionally is ‘catching fire’ used to describe some runaway social success. Children rarely get to experience fire. Fire can be seen mostly as a small contained fire in the stove to provide heat for cooking purposes. The role of fire as a source of light has been completely emasculated and been taken over by electric light. Fire has many other roles too. (See http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campfire for a good exposition on what a campfire means). Fire even provides a psychological sense of security. Campfires create a strong sense of bonding.
There are very few university campuses that hold bonfires or campfires regularly. It is in this spirit that we created a new tradition of bonfires or campfires at MUM. Initially it started as a bonfire for Holi in March of this year. The response from the campus community was overwhelming. Almost 200 people came and stayed with the fire for hours. One could see the grimaces from snowy cold jacket-grabbing walk spontaneously melting into warm smiles of mysterious exhilaration as they walked from the parking lot towards the campsite and began to experience the warmth of the campfire. Even with snow flurries and an inch of snow accumulated, students wildly sang and danced in the light and warmth of fire for more than 2 hours, till past midnight. We provided some peanuts and sweets to eat. We also provided dry colors to play Holi with. It was a great success. Our head of security organized the fire for us, and he shared something very insightful. He said that we used to have these kinds of events earlier, and there was no student retention problem.
So we repeated the experience last August, partly to welcome a new batch of incoming students for the Fall semester. We held a bonfire after a beautiful dance-and-music celebration of Krishna Janamashtmi. The experience was similarly wildly exhilarating. It was not cold outside, and some people earlier wondered if campfire in the summer was a good idea. But the response from the students was overwhelming. They stayed on again till almost midnight.
We repeated the experience again this Diwali (celebrated just a few days ago). We had a nice colorful 90-minute song-and-dance celebration in our beautiful spacious auditorium. And then the bonfire was lit at 9:30 pm. Once again a couple of hundred people walked over to the fire. Many newcomers to the bonfire said they had planned to spend just about 5 minutes at the fire just to get a taste of it. But then they stayed on for a couple of hours. They stayed because others were staying on, and it was warm and cosy there to begin with. It was a dark nearly no-moon night but the sky was lit up for us with this fire.
As education and learning becomes increasingly online, universities will need to find something special to attract and retain the students. One can create strong bonds with the students in many ways. Holding regular large bonfires is one such way. I recommend it with all my heart!
Pure witnessing is a key ability on the path to enlightenment, i.e. one should be not attached to anything but a witness to everything and every experience. Then there is no craving or aversion, no judgment of good and bad. One can be free from the clutches of the egoistic mind and make it a tool for doing the Self’s bidding. That is what one does in meditation. Vipassana meditation helps quiet the activities of the ‘monkey mind’ till the real mind shines like a laser beam with the power of a million volts battery. That laser mind then helps to overcome the many past experiences and sensations that condition our day-to-day behavior. Transcendental meditation technique helps to effortlessly transcend the mentally constructed sets of entities and relationships and enter the absolute self-referral world of unmanifest pure consciousness, the source of all creative activity. In the highest states of consciousness, even the witnessing goes away as there is no witness and nothing to witness, and one can reach a state of pure Samadhi, or oneness with the Divine.
In practical terms, in day to day living, witnessing every event without attachment requires a shift in perception. We can aim to witness and enjoy every experience. Events can be painful or pleasurable, and a host of other emotions. The painful experiences could be perceived a way of release of long suppressed emotions and stresses. Pleasurable experiences could be perceived as a reward on a path to evolution towards greater happiness and joy. Even emotions of jealousy and envy and anger can be dispassionately observed and witnessed till they pass. Ultimately, one can learn to perceive everything in terms of one’s own Self. Enjoying the experience thus becomes enjoying the Self, which can lead to pure bliss consciousness, or Enllightenment.
I traveled to South Africa with my family (wife Neerja and daughter Nupur) for three weeks in June 2014. It was two parts work and one part vacation. The first two weeks we stayed in Johannesburg where I was mostly working, and the final week was spent sightseeing in two other cities, Durban and Cape Town. This was the first time we had traveled to the country of South Africa, to the continent of Africa, and to the Southern hemisphere. Feeling the winter in the month of June itself was a mind expanding experience for us. We rented a part of a house in an upscale neighborhood not too far from downtown Johannesburg.
Jozi, as Johannesburg is popularly called, feels just like Delhi. From the smell at the airport, to the smell on the roads, and the traffic patterns on the road, to the structure of the houses, it feels just like Delhi. Just like in India, here they drive on the left side of the road. There are swanky new cars, and more than their fair share of the luxury cars of the Audi, Mercedes, and BMW brands. There are some places of squatters alternating with high-valued beautiful housing areas. Weather patterns are similar to Delhi, except that it is winter in June. The big difference is security: houses have tall walls with iron railings, topped by electric fences. Security is an important aspect. The city is generally considered not too secure. Every house and building has layers of security. People lock their doors scrupulously during the day. Entry of cars into the house is carefully managed so the car and house cannot be hijacked. Security is big business, $8B per year. It is also a good source of employment for the South African youth.
There is a ‘Little India’ in Johannesburg. Close to downtown is the market of Fordsburg, where one can buy everything Indian. From vegetarian restaurant and grocery shops to sugarcane juice to ayurvedic doctor to oriental market, there are many reminders of the Indian culture and life style. We visited Fordsburg often to enjoy vegetarian Indian lunch or grocery shopping or just to enjoy the sugarcane juice.
Also in downtown is Gandhi square at the intersection of Rissik Street and Anderson, at the location of the original offices of Mohandas Gandhi, the young barrister who later became Mahatma. There is a statue of Gandhi ji at the square. It was amazing to see this statue of the young Gandhi in full legal attire, which was unlike most Gandhi statues that showed the old Mahatma with round glasses.
My main purpose to come here was to teach for an Executive MBA program run by our university here for the second-biggest telecom operator in South Africa. I taught IT Project Management here three evenings a week, traveling to their head office in a fast-growing Joburg suburb called Midrand. I liked very much the middle-level managers who were students in my course. The office buildings were nice, and I showed up three evenings a week for classes beginning at 5 pm. This happened for the first two weeks of my trip. I also got an opportunity to meet with the CEO of the company, a go-getter person of Indian origin, who is driving the company to rapid growth through investing big in people and infrastructure.
The second part of my work during these two weeks was to work with Maharishi Invincibility Institute (MII), a sister organization of our university, to help improve business processes. MII works out of a big clean donated building in downtown Joburg. Here students take courses at the bachelor’s degree level from my university, in a distance education mode. These are mostly disadvantaged black students who are nonetheless ambitious and want to improve their life and career prospects by getting a valuable education with an American degree. They practice Transcendental Meditation (TM), have glowing faces, and are very well-behaved and responsible individuals. The staff is very committed to the cause of Transcendental Meditation, and of spreading peace and harmony in the world. I worked with the director of MII, along with the other administrators to help them design information systems to improve delivery of distance education, and management of academic records. I really enjoyed working with them, and was glad to be of help.
During the first full weekend in Joburg, we rented a nice Audi car and visited two safari and game parks. Pilanesburg is the 4th largest game reserve in SA, and is located about 2.5 hours away from Joburg. We spent a whole day, leaving house at 7 am and returning around 7 pm. We saw many kinds of animals. We saw two of the big five, the elephants and the rhinos. We could not see lions, leopards and buffaloes. We saw many zebras and giraffes at very close quarters, sometimes worried that they might attack us. But they were all quiet and calm and enjoyed their time in the sun, while we stopped the car and took pictures and videos.
The next day we traveled to and spent the night at Ezemvelo, a huge picturesque and unspoilt nature reserve owned by MII. With no noise whatsoever except the crackle of the wood burning in the fireplace, we slept peacefully as never before.
After the two weeks in Joburg, we rented another Audi car and drove to Durban. We drove down the 6 hour drive on the first day. As an indicator of things to come, we saw a predominantly Indian community at the midway point where we took a lunch break. The second day we went to an incredible Indian market called the Victoria Street market, in downtown Durban. Most of the shops and visitors there looked ethnic Indians. My family picked up all their souvenir jewellery items there. We could negotiate prices to our heart’s content.
In the evening, we went to the beautiful beach on the Indian Ocean. We also enjoyed visiting Ushaka village, a nice shopping area in downtown Durban by the ocean.
The next day went to the Gandhi ashram, in the original Phoenix settlement. Gandhiji’s original structure had been rebuilt including his housing area and the printing press. The area around the settlement was still very poor with just squatters all around. We took pictures and videos, and also bought some momentos.
Later in the day, we visited the Umhlanga beach to the north of Durban, a very nice and clean beach close to our hotel. We played soccer on the beach with a couple of young black people, and it was a lot of fun.
Sightseeing- Cape Town
After three good days in Durban, we flew into Cape Town. This is a gorgeous city that opens up on two oceans, Atlantic and Indian. As soon as we landed at our hotel, we were met with our TM friends Elizabeth and her husband Barry. They took us to Camp’s Bay, and we dined at a very nice Indian restaurant called The Raj, which is frequented by Bollywood stars. The food was one of the best Indian vegetarian foods. The beach in front had white sand. We went on a gorgeous long drive along the coast line on the Atlantic Ocean side. We also visited the wineries and sat down for a cheese cake and rooibos tea.
The next day was sunny, and we decided to make the most of it. In the morning we went to Robben Island, the high security prison where Mandela was imprisoned for more than two decades. In the afternoon we visited Table Mountain, a picturesque high and flat mountain by the sea. We took the ferry to Robben Island from the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, which is a nicely done up shopping and entertainment area by the sea. It took almost an hour to be ferried the 11 k distance to the island by the old boat which used to ferry actual prisoners in the years gone by.
Robben Island was clean and nicely done up, evoking the experience of the prison, while not being to too dark and dingy. We were taken around the jail by a former prisoner in the jail. We got to visit the cell #7 in Wing B, the cell occupied by Nelson Mandela, often referred to by the former prisones as Father Mandela. One could see the Table Mountain from the island.
Upon returning to the mainland, we took a cab to quickly go to the Table Mountain cableway. We took the cableway to the top of the mountain. Initially we just sat towards the front and enjoyed lunch at the restaurant on the top of the mountain. However, when we went behind the restaurant, we discovered the huge expanse of the mountain. It was entirely walkable, just a tad more difficult than a garden walk. There were breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean on one side, and of the city of Cape Town and the Indian Ocean on the other side.
The next day we went to Cape Point, the southernmost tip of Africa. This is the point where the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans meet. The weather was not so good, and it rained off and on. However, our good friends Elizabeth and Barry took up the 65 km ride very nicely. We entered the Cape Point area, and then took a cableway to the top of a mountain. Then we climbed up some more stairs to see a lighthouse. This tall lighthouse stands elegantly as a beacon of hope to those perhaps stranded in ocean. We took pictures on both sides of Cape Point, of Indian and Atlantic Ocean sides. We ate some at the Two Oceans café up there.
The next day, we flew back to Johannesburg. We took the time to visit Soweto, the famous large black colony, like the Dharavi slum of Bombay. This is where Mandela had lived for many years. We visited Mandela house, which is now a museum, and took pictures.
We also visited the Apartheid museum in the southwest side of Joburg. This museum stands as a monument to the dark period of human history in South Africa. The museum shocks the visitor into the experience of apartheid by assigning you to one of two entrances … for whites only, and for the colored. The paths are nice and wide and lighted for one case, and steel-caged, dark and narrow for the other. The museum is nicely done through images and videos from the struggle. There was also a permanent exhibit on the life and work of Nelson Mandela.
We spent the weekend quietly organizing ourselves, and tying up some loose ends. Nupur and I watched a movie at the theater. ‘Miners Shot Down’ is a grim but gripping political documentary about the massacre of miners by the state police in August 2012, the worst massacre since the apartheid era. It spelled out the power of mining companies in South Africa, and how often the state and police apparatus work in collusion with the business interests. I followed it up with a nicer romantic movie, a Woody Allen movie called ‘Fading Gigolos’.
The next evening, we were dropped off at the Johannesburg airport by a friend from MII, and we left South Africa with very fond memories. I also thought that Cape Town might be a nice place to settle in, if the opportunity presented itself.