What is Ramadan?

What is Ramadan?

We are in the month of Ramadan Al Kareem. It comes with great goodness and blessings and the promise of Allahﷻ’s Forgiveness and Mercy.

Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri (RA) reported that Rasoolullah said, ‘Anyone who fasts for one day for Allah’s sake, Allah will keep his face away from the Hellfire for (a distance covered by a journey of) seventy years. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Uthman ibn Abi Al-Aas reported that Rasoolullah said, ‘Fasting serves as a shield from Hellfire.”’(An-Nasa’i and authenticated by Al-Albani)

Abdullah ibn Amr reported that Rasoolullahﷺ said, ‘Fasting and the Qur’an will intercede on behalf of Allah’s servant on the Day of Judgment: Fasting will say, “O my Rabb! I prevented him from food and desires during the day, so accept my intercession for him. And the Qur’an will say, ‘O my Rabb! I prevented him from sleeping by night, so accept my intercession for him.’ The intercession of both will thus be accepted. (Ahmad and authenticated by Al-Albani)

Contrary to ignorantly romantic notions, fasting in Ramadan is not prescribed to teach the wealthy what it means to be poor. Poverty is about insecurity, lack of choice, lack of dignity, compulsion, fear and despair. Poverty is about living on the edge without any safety net. It is not about present hardship but of looking ahead at a life of unending and ever-increasing deprivation. Anyone who thinks that he can know what poverty is by merely bringing breakfast forward and postponing lunch with a fridge full of goodies and special foods to break your fast with, is delusional. You will never know what it is to be poor until you are poor yourself.

Ramadan is about recognizing that you are not Calvin

Ramadan is a month which Allahﷻ sends as a boot camp to reset our lifestyles to a way that leads to success in this world and the next. This is the beauty of Islam. Islam doesn’t demand renunciation of this life in order to attain success in the Hereafter. Islam shows us a way of life that guarantees us popularity, influence, love, harmony, peace and prosperity in this life and Jannah (Heaven) in the Aakhira (Hereafter). The key to that is the concept of Taqwa.

Allahﷻ said about Ramadan:

Baqara 2:183. O you who believe! Observing As-Saum (the fasting) is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become Al-Muttaqun (people of Taqwa)

What is Taqwa? Taqwa is the over-riding concern, never to displease Allahﷻ, who we love the most, over and above anyone and anything else. The love of Allahﷻ is not like the love of anyone or anything else. It is a combination of Khashiyyat (Awe) and Shukr (Thankfulness). This leads to the Hubb (Love) of Allahﷻ, which, as I said, is unlike any other emotion that we are capable of feeling. How do we develop this love? We do it by focusing on the Glory and Majesty of Allahﷻ and on His blessings.

About His Glory and Majesty, Allahﷻ described it in a way that nobody can equal or better. He said about Himself and His Glory and Majesty:

Baqara 2: 255. Allah! La ilaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He), the Ever Living, the One Who sustains and protects all that exists. Neither dozing, nor sleep overtake Him. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on earth. Who is he that can intercede with Him except with His Permission? He knows what happens to them (His creatures) in this world, and what will happen to them in the Hereafter . And they will never compass anything of His Knowledge except that which He wills. His Kursi extends over the heavens and the earth, and He feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them. And He is the Most High, the Most Great.

Al Ikhlaas 112: 1. Say (O Muhammad ()): “He is Allah, (the) One. 2. “Allah-us-Samad (The Self-Sufficient Master, Whom all creatures need and He doesn’t need anything from his creatures). 3. “He begets not, nor was He begotten; 4. “And there is none co-equal or comparable unto Him.”

Hashr 59: 21.  Had We sent down this Qur’an on a mountain, you would surely have seen it humbling itself and rending asunder by the fear of Allah. Such are the parables which We put forward to mankind that they may reflect. 22. He is Allah, than Whom there is La ilaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He) the All-Knower of the unseen and the seen (open). He is the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. 23. He is Allah than Whom there is La ilaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He) the King, the Holy, the One Free from all defects, the Giver of security, the Watcher over His creatures, the All-Mighty, the Compeller, the Supreme. Glory be to Allah! (High is He) above all that they associate as partners with Him. 24. He is Allah, the Creator, the Inventor of all things, the Bestower of forms. To Him belong the Best Names . All that is in the heavens and the earth glorify Him. And He is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise.

Allah reminded us about His blessings and said:

Ar-Rahman 55: 1. The Most Beneficent (Allah)! 2. Has taught (you mankind) the Qur’an (by His Mercy). 3. He created man. 4. He taught him eloquent speech. 5. The sun and the moon run on their fixed courses (exactly) calculated with measured out stages for each (for reckoning, etc.). 6. And the herbs (or stars) and the trees both prostrate. 7. And the heaven He has raised high, and He has set up the Balance. 8. In order that you may not transgress (due) balance. 9. And observe the weight with equity and do not make the balance deficient. 10. And the earth He has put for the creatures.  11. Therein are fruits, date-palms producing sheathed fruit-stalks (enclosing dates). 12. And also corn, with (its) leaves and stalk for fodder, and sweet-scented plants. 13. Then which of the Blessings of your Rabb will you both (jinn and men) deny?14. He created man (Adam) from sounding clay like the clay of pottery.15. And the jinn did He create from a smokeless flame of fire. 16. Then which of the Blessings of your Rabb will you both (jinn and men) deny? 17. (He is) the Rabb of the two easts (places of sunrise during early summer and early winter) and the Rabb of the two wests (places of sunset during early summer and early winter). 18. Then which of the Blessings of your Rabb will you both (jinn and men) deny? 19. He has let loose the two seas (the salt water and the sweet) meeting together. 20. Between them is a barrier which neither of them can transgress. 21. Then which of the Blessings of your Rabb will you both (jinn and men) deny? 22. Out of them both come out pearl and coral. 23. Then which of the Blessings of your Rabb will you both (jinn and men) deny? 24. And His are the ships going and coming in the seas, like mountains. 25. Then which of the Blessings of your Rabb will you both (jinn and men) deny? 26. Whatsoever is on it (the earth) will perish. 27. And the Face of your Rabb full of Majesty and Honour will abide forever. 28. Then which of the Blessings of your Rabb will you both (jinn and men) deny?

Naba 78: 6. Have We not made the earth as a bed, 7. And the mountains as pegs? 8. And We have created you in pairs 9. And have made your sleep as a thing for rest. 10. And have made the night as a covering (through its darkness), 11. And have made the day for livelihood. 12. And We have built above you seven strong (heavens), 13. And have made (therein) a shining lamp (sun). 14. And have sent down from the rainy clouds abundant water. 15. That We may produce therewith corn and vegetation, 16. And gardens of thick growth. 17. Verily, the Day of Decision is a fixed time, 18. The Day when the Trumpet will be blown, and you shall come forth in crowds (groups); 19.And the heaven shall be opened, and it will become as gates, 20. And the mountains shall be moved away from their places and they will be as if they were a mirage.

When we reflect; that is the key – reflection; on the Glory and Majesty of Allahﷻ and all that He blessed us with, we begin to love Him. The more we reflect, the more we love Him. The more we love Him, the more concerned we become about never disobeying or displeasing Him. That is Taqwa and that is why Allahﷻ sent Ramadan.

But how is Ramadan a boot camp?

Obedience is about boundaries. It is about doing what we are told to do without question. Without question not because the obedience is blind but because we recognize and know the One who is ordering us. We obey because we know two things very clearly: 1. That Allahﷻ loves us, wants the best for us and knows what that is better than we do. 2. That what He ordered us to do is for our benefit, because nothing can benefit or harm him. This is basic logic. If Allahﷻ doesn’t know and if we know more than He does, then why are we worshiping Him? In Islam we have settled these basic questions and know that our Creator and Sustainer wants the best for us, knows what that is and has told us to do what is good for us and to refrain from what is bad for us and that to Him, is our return.

Ramadan comes to remind us about obedience by making what is normally permissible, prohibited during a specific time, from dawn to dusk. Why is something that is normally permissible, meaning that it is beneficial for us, prohibited during this time in Ramadan? To teach us a lesson that all permissibility and prohibition is for our benefit and is from Allahﷻ. Ramadan is not only about not eating or drinking. It is about abstaining from all negativity and negative behavior. It is about abstaining from backbiting, slander, lying, cheating, cursing and foul language, anger and arrogance. It is not only about not initiating but of not even responding in a negative way if someone abuses us. Rasoolullahﷺ told us to say, “I am fasting,” to someone who yells at us but not to respond in kind. Rasoolullahﷺ said, “If you can’t control your tongues and behavior, then Allahﷻ is not in need of your hunger and thirst.”

 Abu Hurairah (RA) reported that Rasoolullah said, ‘Fasting is a shield; so, when one of you is fasting, he should neither indulge in obscene language nor should he raise his voice in anger. If someone attacks him or insults him, let him say: “I am fasting!” (Muslim) 

Ramadan is about experimenting with total behavioral change. With making a new lifestyle choice. To choose to live a life of obedience and spread goodness around us. When we are ready to stop ourselves from doing what we normally do and enjoy, only because Allahﷻ ordered us to do so, then how much more important is it to stop ourselves from what Allahﷻ prohibited for us throughout our lives? This is the essence of Taqwa which Ramadan comes to teach us in a powerful experiential way.

That is why we need to ask if Ramadan entered us or if we entered Ramadan. If we entered Ramadan, we will exit it on the 30th of Ramadan. If Ramadan entered us, then it will remain in our hearts and lives, throughout the year. The spirit of obedience, which is Ramadan, is the key to success in this life and the next. That is what must enter our hearts. To obey joyfully and eagerly because we love Allahﷻ. That is Taqwa.

When the slave gets close to His Rabb, it is only natural that he asks about Him and wants to feel connected to Him. See the Mercy of Allahﷻ. He said, in the middle of the Ayaat related to fasting:

وَإِذَا سَأَلَكَ عِبَادِي عَنِّي فَإِنِّي قَرِيبٌ أُجِيبُ دَعْوَةَ الدَّاعِ إِذَا دَعَانِ فَلْيَسْتَجِيبُواْ لِي وَلْيُؤْمِنُواْ بِي لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْشُدُونَ

Baqara 2:186. And when My slaves ask you (O Muhammad) concerning Me, then (answer them), I am indeed near (to them by My Knowledge). I respond to the dua of the supplicant when he calls on Me. So, let them obey Me and believe in Me, so that they may be rightly guided.

Ramadan is a month of dua. Of asking Allahﷻ, of telling Him your story. He knows it but you still tell Him because that is the essence of Uboodiyat. Learn to make dua.

Create your own style of asking Allahﷻ. He didn’t put any conditions on making dua. We can ask Allahﷻ in any language, in any state, in any condition, anywhere and anyhow. It makes perfect sense not to have any conditions about making dua because the slave asks when he is in dire need. And so he/she must be free to ask in any way and from anywhere. So, ask Allahﷻ. Remember however that Allahﷻ said, “So, let him obey me and have faith in me.” Obedience starts with making a choice to change our ways. To repent our transgressions, knowing that Allahﷻ promised to forgive every transgression, every sin of anyone who comes to Him with sincere repentance. He said:

قُلْ يَا عِبَادِيَ الَّذِينَ أَسْرَفُوا عَلَى أَنفُسِهِمْ لَا تَقْنَطُوا مِن رَّحْمَةِ اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ جَمِيعًا إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ

Zumar 39:53.  Say: “O ‘Ibadi (My slaves) who have transgressed against themselves (by committing evil deeds and sins)! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah, verily Allah forgives all sins. Truly, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

Tell me, who but my Rabb, Allahﷻ has the Mercy to call those who have disobeyed and angered Him all their lives, “My slaves”? And then He says, “Despair not of the Mercy of Allahﷻ.” He promises to forgive them and says, “Verily Allahﷻ forgives all sins.” And then he reassures us and says, “Truly He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” At each stage of this Ayah, one could say that the meaning is complete. But then my Rabb in His Infinite Mercy goes beyond what we can imagine and forgives us.

Remember however, that forgiveness of Allahﷻ is dependent on forgiveness of those you wronged, when it comes to transgressions against people. If you wronged someone in any way, seek their forgiveness in this life and compensate them and don’t carry that sin with you when you meet Allahﷻ. Rasoolullahﷺ said, “Allahﷻ will not forgive the slave until the one he wronged has forgiven him.” Remember that Rasoolullahﷺ didn’t distinguish between the Muslim and non-Muslim when it comes to oppression of others. A Muslim is prohibited from oppression or wronging anyone. Muslim or non-Muslim, human or animal, animate or inanimate. Muslims are supposed to spread only goodness around themselves.

And if they don’t, they are answerable to the Highest Authority from whom nothing is hidden and whose justice nobody can escape. That is why Allahﷻ called the taking of a single life equal to the annihilation of all humanity and the saving of one life equal to the saving of all humanity. He said:

مِنْ أَجْلِ ذَلِكَ كَتَبْنَا عَلَى بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ أَنَّهُ مَن قَتَلَ نَفْسًا بِغَيْرِ نَفْسٍ أَوْ فَسَادٍ فِي الأَرْضِ فَكَأَنَّمَا قَتَلَ النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا وَمَنْ أَحْيَاهَا فَكَأَنَّمَا أَحْيَا النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا

Maida 5:32. Because of that We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder, or (and) to spread mischief in the land – it would be as if he killed all mankind, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind….

Finally, the crowning glory of Ramadan is Laylatul Qadr – the Night of Decree. The worship in which is better than continuous worship for one thousand months. Not equal to continuous worship for one thousand months, but better than that. How much better? In keeping with the Glory and Majesty of the One who said it is better. He said:

Al-Qadr 97:1. Verily! We have sent it (this Qur’an) down in the night of Al-Qadr (Decree) 2. And what will make you know what the night of Al-Qadr (Decree) is? 3. The night of Al-Qadr (Decree) is better than a thousand months (i.e. worshipping Allah in that night is better than worshipping Him a thousand months, i.e. 83 years and 4 months). 4. Therein descend the angels and the Ruh [Jibreel (Gabriel)] by Allah’s Permission with all Decrees, 5.Peace! (All that night, there is Peace and Goodness from Allah) until the appearance of dawn.

May Allahﷻ bless our mother, Ayesha Siddiqua (RA) who asked Rasoolullahﷺ what dua she should make if she were to find Laylatul Qadr.

‘Aishah (RA) reported: I asked: “Ya Rasoolullah! If I get Lailat-ul-Qadr (Night of Decree), what dua should I make in it?” He () replied, “You should make this dua: Allahumma innaka ‘afuwwun, tuhibbul-‘afwa, fa’fu ‘anni (O Allah, You are Most Forgiving, and You love forgiveness; so forgive me).” [At-Tirmidhi, Book of Virtues].

I remind myself and you that all goodness comes from making thoughtful choices. Ramadan comes to enable us to do that. To recognize the Glory and Magnificence of Allahﷻ, to seek comfort and courage in His Mercy and Forgiveness and to remember that one day we will meet Him and answer to Him. On that Day nothing will be with anyone and nothing can help anyone except their deeds. Ramadan comes to enable us to repent, rethink, reset and reboot our lives to make them obedient to Allahﷻ, which means to live according to the Sunnah (Way) of Rasoolullahﷺ. Study his life and live like he did and die as he did. That is what Ramadan comes for. Let us remember that and use Ramadan to start a new positive, powerful, meaningful and fulfilling phase of our lives. I ask Allahﷻ for His help and Mercy.

Rain forest days and nights

Rain forest days and nights

Peter and I would sometimes go fishing in the night. If you floated with the current down the river keeping to one of the banks and shone your torch into the water, you would attract fish to the light. Then it is a matter of spearing them. The spearing takes some skill because thanks to parallax error of refracting light in the water, the fish is actually not where you see it. But once you get the hang of correcting for it, it is a simple matter of spearing the fish and pulling it up flapping on the end of your spear. I have seen Amerindians even shoot fish with their arrows with great accuracy. They would have a light line tied to the arrow so that they could then haul it in.

On these excursions, if you shone your torch over the surface of the river, it would appear as if the water was sprinkled with diamonds. Shining stars, eyes of Caiman, young and old, out fishing, floating on the river with only their eyes and nostrils above the surface. Like alligators and crocodiles, the Caiman is a fish eater but not above taking the unwary to add variety to his diet. They also eat turtles and so their jaws are adapted to taking in broad prey and exerting tremendous biting pressure to crack their shells. You definitely wouldn’t want to go swimming with one especially as a big one can grow to 6 meters (20 feet) in length. Caiman are seen as a nuisance by riverside dwellers as they destroy fishing nets and sometimes attack cattle. I hate to think of little Amerindian children playing in the water all day jumping in and out of it – I expect when one did not show up at home at night is when you know that something had happened. But at night, the shining eyes used to be an amazing sight and I loved to shine our torch and look at it. During the day you would almost never see Caiman as they lie up in the mouths of creeks that flow into the Berbice in the thick shade of riverside trees, waiting for the night to descend. What we would see a lot of in daylight was Terrapins; little turtles taking the sun on any available rock, log, tree root or even floating debris. They would sit there with their necks stretched out and a quizzical expression on their faces. If you got too close, in a flash they would slide into the water, much faster on their feet than you would likely give them credit for.

It was a beautiful idyllic existence doing all that I loved to do and doing it all for free. I know that you could spend thousands of dollars to take a trip up one of the major rivers in the Amazonian system, camp on a sandbank by a fireside and spend the night in a hammock gazing at the stars over the river. And I did all of this and more at will, free of cost. I am indeed very fortunate and most grateful to Allah for it. Early in the morning, well before dawn Peter and I would wake and take our boat to check the nets which we would tie at the entrance of several creeks that flowed into the Berbice. Fish go up into the creeks to feed in the night and a net across their path is an easy way to ensure that you don’t come away empty handed. We would float on the current or paddle and pull in the nets and haul in our catch. Then as the sun rose we would return to our camp to cook our breakfast.

One day as usual we went inspecting our nets while it was still dark. We floated silently down river to the first creek where we had tied a net. Peter steered the boat and I sat at my station in the prow looking ahead. The night was very silent, waiting for dawn, when all hunters and prey are at rest. The Howler Monkeys are not awake yet, nor have the Macaw flights started. Everything is waiting for the sun. At that time almost nothing moves except hunters like us, checking on their traps, snares, and nets. We reached the creek mouth and Peter pulled up the net. The boat dipped with the weight of what he was pulling. “Man!! Looks like we got something big!!” he said. That river at that place was home to the largest fresh water fish called the Arapaima and so I was very excited. But what came up was something totally unexpected and unwelcome.

Looking at us intently was a flat triangular head with sharp bright eyes – a full grown Anaconda which had got himself entangled in the net. He went after a fish that was caught in the net and having swallowed it along with the part of the net that it was entangled in, he tried to get out and managed to get himself into such an unholy mess that he was completely entangled. He was definitely not amused at his plight and hissed at us to tell us what he thought of us. He was so big that pulling him into the boat to try to free him surely meant sinking the little boat. Leaving him as he was would condemn him to a slow and painful death as he was so entangled in the net that he could never free himself from the nylon mesh. So reluctantly we decided to shoot him. While Peter held the net out on an oar raising the part where the snake was entangled, I shot his head off with a 16-gauge shotgun that I always carried on these trips. The snake went into such a convulsion that had Peter not wisely dropped him back into the water he would have upset the boat and dumped us both into the Piranha infested waters of the Berbice in the darkness of pre-dawn. A decidedly unpleasant prospect.

From left: Me, Leon, Fridolin, Rudolf, Peter Ramsingh

Once the snake was dead, we tied the net to the side of the boat and rowed back to the camp. We pulled the boat up on the sand and cut the snake out of the net, completely ruining it in the process. I was definitely not amused as nets were valuable. Then we measured him. He was 22 feet long and both Peter and I together, could lift him only with great difficulty. I was very sorry to have killed such a fine animal but we had no alternative. We took off his skin and I had it with me until I met a young man called Fridolin Stary who came from East Germany to Guyana on holiday and liked it so much that I gave it to him. Fridolin told me how he helped his girlfriend to escape from East Germany. Today with the wall gone, I hope they are living happily somewhere. Sequel to this last sentence: Thanks to the power of the internet, I actually found Fridolin, who was a top manager of a chemical company in Germany until he retired in 2017. He remembered the time we spent together and we exchanged some mails and met in 2011 when Fridolin came to India. It was a lovely meeting, as if all those decades had not intervened at all. Fridolin came home and we had a typical Hyderabadi meal, which he seemed to love. We discovered that we share many core values, respect for the environment, love of the wild, importance of justice, and owning responsibility for our actions. Small world, made smaller and flatter by the internet.

The water of the river changed complexion throughout the day. Early in the morning it has, what looks like steam rising from it. So you would be floating through this cloud of vapor looking ethereal and ghostly. As the sun rose and it got hotter – we were sitting close to the equator, remember – the mist would disappear and you would see the colors of the trees reflecting in the river. If we were planning to stay another day we would spend a couple of hours walking in the forest, following some track or the other simply to enjoy the experience of being in the rain forest. We were not hunting seriously and only the unwary animal with suicidal tendencies achieved his objective at our hands. We were more interested in watching Humming Birds flit from flower to flower looking like moths more than like birds. They beat their wings so fast that you can’t see them and they are the only birds that can actually fly backwards. They fly up to a flower and hovering before it on buzzing wings, insert their specialized beaks deep into it for the nectar, then fly backwards to get out of that flower and go to another one.

Mornings would be announced by the booming call of the Howler Monkey answered by his cousins everywhere and so for a while there would be cacophony in the forest. Macaws taking off for their daily commute would also be talking to each other and you would hear their calls. Toucans would call to each other as they hunted for fruit in the tops of giant figs. You would hear the crash of branches as Sakiwinki (Spider Monkeys) took off on their highway a hundred feet in the air, throwing themselves from one forest giant to another with gay abandon. They would be followed by others, heavier than them and the branches would crash more loudly. Ah! The difficulty is in trying to describe what the eye sees, what the ears hear and what the heart feels in mere words on paper. It is the whole atmosphere of the forest when you become one with it, when time has no meaning and the daily grind and work pressure feel like a bad dream that you woke up from.

Some weekends Peter and I would drive into the Backdam (bush, veldt, outback – depending on the country they all mean the same thing – uncharted territory) and camp and hunt on land. That had its own interest and excitement. These lands were not truly uncharted because people, mostly Amerindian hunters and loggers, had long gone along the trails that we drove on. I have no idea who made these trails originally but they were ideal for the small yellow Land Rover that Peter drove. So we would load up the car, which had a cab and an open back, and off to the jungle. Peter had a great sense of direction, so we always got back safely two days later even though I had no clue where we were going. I would just concentrate on the driving or on watching out for game. Hunting in the rain forest is very tough because though it is teeming with wildlife, the forest is so thick that you can’t see more than a couple of feet on either side of the trail. So you had to concentrate on the trail, watch for tracks and when you did see something, be quick and accurate if you wanted to eat.

The canopy was so thick that more often than not we would be driving in semi-darkness. But that didn’t mean that it was cool. It was more like a sauna with very high humidity and almost no breeze. Sometime if you got lucky you came into a forest clearing when you would feel the breeze as the jungle was open enough to allow for airflow. That has to be one of the most pleasant experience of mankind – the feel of the cool breeze on hot sweaty skin. The thick cover resembling a green ocean as you fly over it in a small plane, is very deceptive in that the trees have very shallow roots. Most rainforest soil is very poor with all the nutrients largely remaining at surface level. Because of this rainforest trees have very shallow roots. Some very tall trees have developed ways of obtaining much needed additional support by forming buttressed roots, which grow out from the base of the trunk sometimes as high as 15 feet above the ground. These extended roots also increase the area over which nutrients can be absorbed from the soil. The forest floor is carpeted thickly with leaves on which grow mosses and lichens. Roots of trees take from this thick carpet and go very little into the earth. The soil beneath this thick cover of leaf mould is sandy and loose. As the trees grow they literally hold up one another with their intertwined branches and the many creepers and vines which climb up the trunk of one giant and across the canopy of another.

A clearing is created usually when one of these giant trees falls, either the result of logging or when with age and disease it succumbs to the wind. When that happens it usually takes down a few others with it and an opening is created in the thick canopy of the forest. The open soil gets quickly washed of its nutrients with the almost daily rainfall and is taken over by grasses and other secondary growth. A piece of rain forest is thereby lost forever. This is the problem with the slash and burn agriculture so common in these parts as well as with the indiscriminate logging that takes place everywhere. For every tree that is actually harvested, there is a huge swathe of forest that is laid bare, never to regenerate; gone forever. The rainforest is a very fragile and delicate ecosystem, easily destroyed and impossible to repair.

Forest clearings however, are good for hunters because herbivores come to eat the new grass and where trees have been burned, to eat the ash, and if you sit quietly just inside the forest bordering the clearing, you can usually get a clear shot. Clearings are also where you can get a breath of air as there is space for airflow and so if you are walking in the rainforest you welcome a clearing when you come to it.

Driving on the forest tracks also threw up a unique challenge, which when it happened for the first time, was very shocking. We came around a bend and without warning Peter stopped the Land Rover. Right ahead was a deep gully about 20 feet across at the bottom of which flowed a stream. Land Rovers, for all their excellent qualities, can’t jump or fly. So what do we do? Peter was having a laugh at my expense, I could see that. He got out and stretched and then said, “All right! We gaffa build a bridge.”

The bridge we built across Crocodile Creek

Build a bridge? This I had to see. Peter took out the chain saw and we went hunting for trees of the right thickness. We wanted something with a straight trunk and thick enough to have the strength not to snap with the weight of the vehicle. We needed eight logs; four for each wheel track. Once we had cut the eight trees, we trimmed the branches off with our machetes and cut the trunks to size ensuring that we had a good length on either side of the gully. Then we laid the first set of four logs across the stream, standing each one up and dropping it across and then fixed them together by hammering in thick wooden pegs on either side so that they wouldn’t slide apart when the Land Rover wheel ran on them. Then we went across the little bridge and pegged it on the other side in the same way. Once we had one track in place, we drove the Land Rover up to the track to get an idea of how far apart the other track needed to be and repeated our bridge building. Then I went across to direct Peter over the bridge and he drove across. Took us about an hour of sweaty work, but then we were off on our journey. This bridge building is a very important activity to be able to do and the main reason why anyone driving in the bush would always carry a chain saw or axe and machete. If you couldn’t build a bridge you would have to turn back because thanks to the thick forest on either side of the road, there was no way of going around the gully. Another important survival lesson I learnt is that whenever you come to a bridge, you always stop and carefully inspect it to ensure that it was strong enough. Green wood doesn’t last too long in the rainforest and a bridge built a few weeks earlier can be seriously damaged by insects such that if you drove across it without checking you’d most likely find yourself in the gully head first. So we always inspected each bridge and when necessary strengthened it by cutting new logs and replacing any doubtful ones.

One day Peter and I decided to drive to the Corentyne River on the Orealla Trail. Orealla is small Amerindian village on the Corentyne River, overlooking Suriname. It is a lively and friendly place and we intended to drive there, spend a night, look at Suriname across the river and return to Kwakwani. The trail itself, if you walked would take about three days but since we were driving, we didn’t expect to take more than the day. What we didn’t bargain for was the condition of the road. For one thing, we had to build bridges in two places and that took a couple of hours out of our schedule. Then we came to a place where the road was deeply dug up by timber trucks so that the two tracks were more than three feet deep and the center was high up. If we drove the Land Rover into those tracks, it would hit the oil sump and either smash it or jack up the car with the wheels spinning uselessly in the air. Peter came up with a solution. He put the Land Rover in 4×4 drive and rode one wheel on the center median, the whole vehicle tilted and tipped over to one side where the cab rested on the high side of earth bank that bordered the road. Two wheels on the opposite side were up in the air. And slowly the vehicle moved, with two wheels in the rut, two occasionally touching the median and the cabin sliding along the earthen bank. I can tell you that it didn’t do much good to the cabin but then that Land Rover was already so beaten up that it didn’t matter. At the end of this track I stood on the runner which was in the air to tilt the vehicle back onto all four wheels and off we went on the trail. As always, our rule of eating what we shot was maintained and I shot a couple of Curassows and at midday we decided to take a break and cook our lunch. I made the fire and prepared the camp while Peter cleaned the birds. As always, first the tea, then the rest. By the time the tea was ready, the birds were also ready for the pot and while we drank tea the birds cooked. Then we both had hot Curassow stew with potatoes and red pepper, with bread which we had brought. A good lunch, a bit of a stretch, and then off again to Orealla.

We reached Orealla late in the evening and found a place to stay. There was a guest house and we took a room. Then we went out to get something to eat and ate some very fine fresh Corentyne fish curry and bread. The water front was like all Guyanese water fronts, with very noisy bars which got noisier as the night progressed and people’s spiritual levels increased. Mercifully, there was no violence the night we were there but tempers tend to run short and it is a matter of an instant for a bottle to be smashed on the edge of a table and then used to carve up the opponent in the argument. Dominos, as always, seemed to be popular with the people – probably because of its amazing noise making potential – slamming the dominos on the table with great force accompanied by a huge shout. Peter and I walked to the bank of the river and watched the lights across in Suriname for a while. It would have been illegal for us to cross over as we didn’t have visas. In any case this place was famous for smuggling and so it was not safe to be caught on the river in a small boat at night by the Surinamese and Guyanese patrol boats which cruised the waters.

Lessons from the rain forest

Lessons from the rain forest

 Guyana was also a place of learning. I was alone. I had a lot of time. I loved reading. I was used to being alone and to reflecting and liked writing down my thoughts. All excellent ways to conceptualize life experience.

I love the bush and I loved hunting. So every alternate weekend Peter Ramsingh and I would go on a long drive into the bush to hunt what we could. Most of this was for the table because in the Kwakwani of those days, if you wanted variety on your table you had to find it yourself. And it was not in the Commissary that you would find it either. Mostly, we hunted the Canje Pheasant found all along the Berbice and its tributary, the Canje Creek. Another common game bird was the Powis (Curassow). It was as big as a turkey and good eating. We would also on occasion get an Agouti (Brazilian Agouti or Red, Orange or Golden Rumped Agouti) or two. And when we were very lucky, a small Savannah deer. Bush pig, the Collared Peccary (called Javelina) was also good game and though we both did not eat it, we had many friends who welcomed our hunts because we were the only people who would shoot a pig and then give it away.

Peter inherited my yellow Land Rover when the sawmill started and I got a small Toyota pickup. Peter and I would take turns driving the Land Rover over the bush trails. It contained in the back, everything that we needed for our camping and in case of an emergency. A chainsaw, thick rope, hammocks, spare petrol, an axe, a spade, the ever present cutlasses and various odds and ends. We would put in a cooler filled with drinks and some pre-cooked bananas or cassava and off we would go. What would have been ideal was a cell phone or radio but the first hadn’t been invented and the second we didn’t have. So we relied on ourselves. What we shot, we would cook in the bush and eat. What we saved, we would bring home. Sometimes in the bush we would come across a deep stream and would have to build a bridge to get across. Sometimes we would get stuck in the sandy soil and would have to tie the rope to a tree nearby and use the winch on the Land Rover to haul it out. In the evening we would find a camping place, tie the hammocks to ever present trees, all conveniently located so that we could tie our hammocks of course. Then we would light a fire and put on the tea pot. Once we had a nice cup of tea, we would put on the cooking pot. Peter, meanwhile, would have cleaned the game of the day. We would get water from the stream nearby, water that was coffee colored but perfectly clean and tasteless. The bush meat would go into the pot with salt and chillies, some onions, and as it cooked we would sit and talk about life.

The big topic of conversation at the time was the posturing of Venezuela, which bordered Guyana and had a border dispute. There was some chance that this would escalate to a military conflict. The Guyana Army was not in a position to face the much bigger and powerful Venezuelan army, but nobody would admit that. There was some discussion about whether Guyana would introduce conscription, so Peter was concerned if he would be called to join the Army. I was a foreigner and so was in no such ‘danger.’ To speak the truth though, I would have welcomed the adventure. However, as it turned out, South Americans are far wiser than their northern cousins and the matter was resolved peacefully.

Another topic was the government of President Burnham. This was a dangerous topic to talk about in a dictatorship where even your thoughts would be monitored if they could be, all in the name of freedom and democracy of course. But we were far away in the bush and Peter was in the company of a trusted friend. I was therefore the confidant of many ordinary people who wanted to vent their frustration with the way the country was being misgoverned. It was amazing to see how a country so rich in natural resources, so fertile, and with such wonderful people could be run into the ground so rapidly.

The bush in South America is different from its counterpart in India or Africa because of the absence of major predators. The only big ones are the Jaguar and the Anaconda, but neither will actually attack a person except in special circumstances. So it is possible to actually sleep very peacefully as long as you are not on the ground.

An hour or so later, once the food was ready, we would take the pot off the fire, pull out the bread that we had brought, and have our dinner. Then after some more discussion of world affairs, we would climb into our hammocks and drift off into peaceful sleep looking at the stars—possible only because we were at the river bank where the canopy did not obstruct the view. Those days seem like a dream today. Almost as if they never happened. And Guyana is so far away from where I am today that it seems as if I will never see my friends again. Be that as it may, the memories are alive in my heart and on these pages; they will live on in the minds of those who read this. We live in the memories that we give others. So it is important to be conscious of the memories we leave behind. This doesn’t mean that we live a life for others. But it does mean that we remember one cardinal fact, ‘Everything we choose to do or choose not to do, reflects brand value and character and is the stuff of memories.’

Remember when you read these pages that if I have written about a stream, it is there and the water is good to drink. These are stories of real life, real people, their hopes and loves and fears. And they will live on until they are remembered.

River Berbice, Guyana, 1980

Peter got another friend Leon Molenuex to build a flat bottomed boat for me. It was 18 feet in length with a flat bottom, low sides and a blunt prow. Its back was flat to fix an outboard motor. It had oar locks and two oars. And it had an ice box in the middle with bench seats, a plank each on either side of the ice box, forward and rear. Peter and I, and sometimes Leon would also come along, would load up the boat every Friday afternoon that we could get away and go up the Berbice River. What did we take with us? Hammocks, cutlasses, one single barreled 16 bore shotgun each. Rope, fishing line, hooks and a fishing net. Some rice, cassava, bananas and salt and pepper. And most importantly some chicken guts in a plastic bag. The last being what we called our ‘emergency ration’. Not that we ate them, but if we caught nothing then if you baited a hook with raw chicken guts and trawled them behind your boat you were sure to get some Piranha. Good eating.

It was a matter of honor for us that we would only eat what we could hunt or catch. Since neither Peter nor I ate pork, it took one of the most common items off our menu – Collared Peccary (Bush Pig) that we would be sure to see. But we never returned hungry. We would trawl as we moved along and usually caught some Lukanani (Peacock cichlid, Cichla ocellaris) or Grey Snapper (Acoupa weakfish, Cynoscion acoupa), two of the delicacies of the Amazonian River system and would roast them for dinner. If we were fortunate then either Peter or I would also be able to bag one of the several species of Curassows that lived in those forests. The most common were the Black Curassow (Crax alector) and the Crestless Curassow (Mitu tomentosum). Or even an Agouti (Cuniculus paca, Dasyprocta aguti) which is from the Paca family and a relative of the rabbit and Capybara but much smaller. Game was in such abundance that there was never a trip on which we had to go hungry but we would also bring back fish and game for Peter’s family and the families of other friends.

Almost every other Friday evening, we would start from Kwakwani going upriver, travelling until it got dark. Then we would find a sandy spot on the river bank and camp for the night. That sounds a bit chancy when you read it but we had our spots and knew them well so we just headed for the first one. A sandy bank was necessary because like all the rivers in this part of the world, the trees of the rain forest trailed their feet in the river all along its banks. That made landing very difficult and camping impossible. So you needed to look for a sandy bank. That happened at the bends in the river where the river deposited its sand and this collected over the years to make for some very attractive sandy crescents on which we camped.

Our routine was always the same. We would draw the boat up on the bank and I would collect wood for a fire. Peter and I would then sling up our hammocks from the trees that bordered the bank, first clearing the undergrowth around their trunks to ensure that we didn’t end up with unwanted sleeping partners. We would trawl as we travelled upriver and so we would have a couple of good size fish in our ice box. Once the fire was lit, Peter would put the kettle on and I would gut the fish and clean them. Then I would rub salt into the fish and prepare it for the bake. Taking two large yam leaves (or any other large leaf), I would wrap the fish securely in it and tie the whole bundle with a thread. Then I would dig in the river bank for clay and cover the fish warp with clay and make a ‘brick’ of clay – one for each fish. Once that was ready, I would remove the kettle from the fire, move the coals aside and dig in the sand and bury the clay bricks in the hot sand. I would then put the coals back on top and light the fire again. By the time our tea was ready so would the fish. We would then dig out the bricks and crack them open, remove the leaf covering and we had the most delicious baked fish you can imagine for dinner. There is nothing to beat fresh fish cooked with a little salt, in its own juices, with a bit of butter melted on top.

When dinner was done, we would climb into our hammocks and chat about whatever was at top of the mind until I would hear a snore in response to whatever I was saying. I would know then that Peter was off on his trip to dreamland. The rainforest is a safe place as long as you didn’t do anything stupid like sleeping on the riverbank. As long as you are off the ground nothing bothers you and I am living proof. There are many animals which are dangerous in these forests but none that will take a human being by choice. So as long as you stay out of their normal pathways you will be safe.

Lying in the hammock waiting for sleep to come, I would listen to the sounds of the forest and try to identify each one. The Amazonian rainforest is a rather silent place in the night, unlike Indian forests. The animals are less vocal and the forest itself muffles sound thanks to its density – you don’t hear much except insects. If you are near the river there are not many mosquitos but you do get vampire bats and so you need to cover up unless you wish to be bitten by one of them. That doesn’t turn you into a vampire or anything so romantic, but the wound can bleed for a long time as there is heparin in the bat’s saliva which prevents blood from clotting. In addition, I am sure vampire bites are not exactly what any doctor would order so it is better to stay off their menu.

Early next morning, we would start out at first light, or sometimes even a bit earlier, going over what looks like boiling hot water because of the ‘steam’ rising from it. That ‘steam’ is the mist that gets created when the warm water vapor laden air meets the cold river surface and gives the whole atmosphere an ethereal quality. Engine buzzing with Peter at the rudder, we would travel in companionable silence, eyes ever watchful for floating logs. These were the only real danger because if you hit one full tilt, it would take the bottom out of the boat. A fate not to be contemplated as the Berbice has Piranha, Cayman, and other interesting forms of life.

The Berbice is a wonderful river that changes its nature all along its course. Downriver from Kwakwani it is deep enough for large vessels to negotiate it. Bauxite ore from Kwakwani would be transported on barges pushed by a tug boat all the way to New Amsterdam on the coast to the smelter. These tugs would normally have a tow of four barges; each sixty feet in length which when fully loaded would sink to their gunnels with the weight. The tug boat captain’s job was a very complex one, negotiating bends in the river a hundred and fifty feet ahead through frequent blindingly heavy rain showers and through the night. Since tug boats and barges are about the clumsiest of watercraft and with the kind of weight the barges carried, this was no mean task. It was a tribute to the training and skills of tug boat captains that there had never been any instance of the barges heading out of the river, cross country across the rain forest.

Going upriver, however, the nature of the Berbice changes. It is no longer the deep river but spreads wide and shallow with frequent sandbars; so shallow in places that one could easily wade across. So much so that on occasion we would have to pull in the outboard motor and drag the boat over the sandbank. In this also there was a twist. In this river sand, there were two kinds of dangers. One that it could be quick sand with so much water under it that if you stepped into it, you could easily sink in over your head and die a horrible death. To guard against that we would get out of the boat only one at a time and hang onto the side of the boat until we were completely sure of our footing. Only then would be let go of the boat and then the other person would also get off and we would drag the boat over into water deep enough to float it.

The second danger was that of Stingrays. These are fresh water rays with a poisonous sting in the tail. Their favorite pastime is to lie buried and invisible in the sand of sandbars, just under the surface and wait for something to come within range and then they would sting by shooting a poisonous spike into it and then wait until it dies to eat it. Their normal prey is small fish but if you were to step on or close to one of them, then they would sting you out of fright. I am sure there are more painful things in life than a stingray sting—I just I don’t know what they are. And if you happen to be allergic to the poison then 50 kilometers up the Berbice River in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest is not where you want to discover this.

Even if you are not allergic, the sting means several days of fever, swollen lymph nodes, swollen foot and almost incapacitating pain. So what we would do is to put on our boots before we stepped into the water. Alternatively, you could use a stick and hold it ahead of you and push it in the sand ahead of you as you walk to ensure that you disturb the Stingray and drive it away before you get too close to it.

As we went upriver, we would sometimes pass single houses on stilts on the bank of the river with a little patch of garden at the back growing cassava, banana, and a couple of jackfruit trees. The house was one large room built on a high platform with a leaf or grass thatch. The walls were of woven mat with holes for windows. There would be a couple of dugout canoes tied to one of the poles with a rickety step going up to the platform. Children playing on the step or in the canoes would yell and scream at us with great excitement and delight. If we had time we would stop by and pass out some sweets or bananas that we would carry for such occasions. Otherwise we would wave to them and they would continue to wave and yell until we rounded the next bend of the river out of sight. I always wondered what would make a person go and live so far up the river in the middle of nowhere, alone without access to electricity, medical aid, and schooling for his children, and without any amenities. These Amerindians would hunt, gather honey and balata (wild rubber latex) and farm a little and would occasionally come to Kwakwani to buy a few things and sell their balata and honey and some wild meat. But they would not work at a regular job for love or money nor would they live closer to town. They preferred to live miles upriver and paddle their canoes several hours to get to Kwakwani and longer to return, paddling against the current on their way up.

It was a wonderful experience, buzzing along up the river hour after hour, listening to the sounds of the forest. Macaw pairs flying high over the canopy, talking to each other. Macaws believe that conversation makes for happy marriages and it seems to work for them as they pair for life and talk all the time. Toucans screaming whatever they scream about. The booming call of the Howler Monkey sentinel, answered by his counterpart in another part of the forest. The sudden crash in the undergrowth as you come around a bend and scare away something that was drinking at the edge of the bank. From the sound of the crashing you can guess whether it was a Collared Peccary or a Tapir. Deer and Agouti move very quietly and you wouldn’t even know that they had been there.

One weekend we decided to go as far as we could and eventually we must have gone more than a hundred kilometers when we came to place where the river widened into a huge pool. We entered the pool from the side that the river flowed out of. On the opposite side where the river flowed into was a series of rapids and short waterfalls. The sides of the pool were sandy and made excellent camping ground. We were delighted with the whole prospect. It was a very beautiful place indeed. Peter and I decided to camp for the night and pulled onto the sand and dragged the boat far up onto the sand. No telling if the river would rise in the night and float the boat away. That is not a prospect to be contemplated, being a hundred kilometers or more in the middle of nowhere without a boat. Trekking through rain forest is not an occupation to be thought of easily.

I got the fire going while Peter hung up our hammocks. Suddenly, I noticed on the far end of the pool near the rapids, a permanent structure on a concrete platform, a room roofed with corrugated iron sheets. It looked like a government structure and I wondered what it could be. Once we’d had our dinner and before it got dark we decided to go across and take a look at what it was. When we tied up to the little jetty there, an Indian Guyanese man came down to the water and greeted us. With him was an American who looked like some kind of technician by the way he was dressed, in overalls. We made our mutual introductions and it turned out that the structure was a weather monitoring station with some equipment from Motorola, which needed repair. The American engineer was from Motorola and had come to repair the equipment onsite. In the course of conversation, he asked me where I was from. I told him that I was from India.

He asked me, ‘Where from in India?’

I replied, ‘Hyderabad.’

He got very excited and told me, ‘I have been to Hyderabad. I have a friend there. His name is J. J. Singh and he works at the Administrative Staff College. Do you know him?’

I rolled my eyes and said, ‘Do I know him? Of course, I know him! But look at this, what is the probability that I would be in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest, hundred kilometers up the Berbice River, where I would meet an American who I had no idea would be there and we would have a mutual friend? If there was someone betting on this we would both be millionaires, man!!’ And we both had a great laugh. Whenever someone tells me, ‘It’s a small world’, I tell them, ‘Yes, but much smaller than you think.’ And I tell them this story. To date, nobody has told me a story more unlikely than this.

Committing matrimony

Committing matrimony

Hmm! Now that is a thought!!!
  1. What are the characteristics of a happy marriage?

Truth, Caring, Mutual respect are what I call my three Cardinal Principles of happy marriages. Please notice that I am not using the word ‘love’. Love comes out of these three things. What is called love is usually physical desire. The shape or size of someone’s body is not the inspiration for love; it can be the inspiration for infatuation and lust but not love. For love to happen, the lasting kind that is, the kind that grows with age and the longer you spend time together, you need truthfulness, caring and concern for one another – putting the needs of the other before your own; and mutual respect. Without respect there can’t be any love. One needs to respect one’s spouse, appreciate their strengths, make them your role model, icon and be proud of them and proud that they are your spouse. That kindles love in the heart which grows with time because the reasons for respect also grow with time. Physical attraction reduces with age. It is programmed to do so. Nobody grows more beautiful with age. You mature with age, grow wiser, more mellow, more patient and forbearing and more worthy of respect. The love that comes out of that also grows with age.

Truth is to express feelings as they are and not to have any pretensions. Caring is to treat the other with concern because you know that with you s/he has no barriers or safety nets. Respect is to acknowledge the value of the trust that is placed in you in allowing you into that inner most of places in the heart in which nobody else has been allowed before. To treat that privilege with the respect it deserves and never to abuse it for any reason.

  • Is there a formula to be happy in a marriage?

Marry someone you believe is worthy of emulation; someone you can look up to and learn to forgive them. The formula of an unhappy marriage is to marry someone who you believe you can change. That is a sure recipe for disaster. When you marry someone who you think needs to be changed you are accepting that they are not good enough as it is. Also, in most cases you would not have asked them if they want to change and that too to your preferred model. And then you will lo and behold that they have other ideas about changing and your marriage will be the casualty.

The second part of the formula is to be forgiving. We need to forgive one another. What tends to happen in many marriages is that we expect the other person to forgive us, but we hold them to standards that we are ourselves unable to live up to and become curiously blind to this unreasonable stance. That doesn’t work. Good to remember the saying, ‘Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.’

One thing that people should consider while choosing one’s partner is compatibility of core values. Core values means both are pulling in the same direction even with their different personalities, styles of working and interests. Minimizes contradictions in bringing up children in the domain of values.

Share in each other’s lives. Take interest in what the other does. Don’t be nosey but learn and add value. Conversation is both the key to a happy marriage and a metre to judge its health. Marriages that are getting sick start to lose conversation. When there is nothing left to talk about after 10 minutes and when your idea of spending time with your spouse is to sit in front of the TV or stare at your phone in the same room, then you can safely say that your marriage is falling sick. In happy marriages there is a desire for the company of the other. Not for the company of others. You hurry home because your spouse is there. You don’t hit home and bounce off to the club to sit with your cronies or to some other place to be with other friends. You want to spend time with your spouse not because otherwise s/he will complain but because you genuinely want to do it. Because your spouse is your best friend.

  • How do you make a marriage work?

By working at it. We use this term, ‘Make a marriage work’, but we forget that a lot of it is actually ‘work’. It takes effort, time and energy, is measurable and produces results. Making breakfast for your wife is work. Offering to do her errands is work. Taking the trouble to look nice when your husband comes home instead of like animated laundry is work. Going to the airport to meet his flight is work. You get the drift? Doing what does not come naturally or doing something that is important for the other even if you don’t like doing it, is work. And all of it produces results in terms of appreciation and love.

If you find that you can’t love your spouse any more, be honest and speak to them about it. See what can be changed and what must be accepted. But don’t go seeking solace elsewhere. That is dishonest, dishonorable, despicable and cowardly. If things are at a stage where it is impossible to live together, part company with grace. Not cheat behind their backs, pretending that everything is fine. Those who collude with other’s spouses and carry on relationships with married men and women are slimy invertebrates which must crawl back under the flat rock they came out from under and not despoil human society with their presence. I never cease to marvel at people who allow another marriage to be destroyed by their cheating, but who would be up in arms if their wife or husband did the same. “Just because you have a good excuse does not make a wrong thing right.”

As I say, ‘If I wanted to marry a nag, I would have married a horse. At least it would have carried me from place to place.’ Nag is a gender-neutral term. There are male and female nags, and both are equally painful. Finally, companionable silence is also an indicator of a good marriage. You don’t have to be talking all the time. It is the quality of the companionship, the quality of the silence. You will know it without anyone having to explain, let me assure you. But pay attention to it if there is tension or boredom in it.

  • How can you try and make an unhappy marriage a happy one?

This is a tough one because there is a pre-clause to it. Once you satisfy that pre-clause then it is very easy. The pre-clause is, ‘DO YOU REALLY WANT IT TO HAPPEN?’ Now that may sound like a strange thing to ask but I have seen in many years of counseling that all the failures that I saw were because the partners did not really want to make it work. They were not sincere and were merely going through the moves with the idea of satisfying themselves or others that ‘they made the effort’. Now that is a lie because they never made an effort. They acted a drama with a precluded ending.

Once you are sincere about turning things around then you need to sit down and write down all that you like about your spouse. After all there were things about them that you liked enough to marry them. What were they? Then when you have that list, you write down the problem areas. Look in the mirror for one of the major ones. Usually that works like magic. Marriages go bad most often because we don’t appreciate the good enough and are not thankful for what they have. I often ask couples, ‘How many times a day do you thank your wife/husband? How many times a day do you hug or kiss them? How many times a day do you tell them that you love them?’ No, that is not a Western idea nor is it from Bollywood. Humans are not mind readers and even those that are, need to be told if you love them. After all, most spouses don’t hesitate to inform them about the opposite. So, why not this?

  • Is the idea of a soul mate just a myth – or is it simple communication between people?

Soul mates are made, not born. And they are made over time. Sometimes a fairly long time. Then you see them sitting together and smiling at things that only they understand. Or looks that have meaning only for each other. Or speaking in a language that only the other understands. Phrases that they use only for each other and which may even be gibberish to others, but which touch their hearts. This is the stage when every time you look at her you fall in love all over again, 30 years into your marriage. And laughing. Laughing is important. Laughing together at the same things. Showing each other things so as to add to the joy by sharing.

  • What kind of initiatives and actions dictate a happy marriage?

Back to the basics: Truth, caring, mutual respect. Every action or initiative must pass this test. Are you being truthful? Is her need coming before your own? And are you showing the respect you feel? I remember that my grandmother used to serve my grandfather his meals. Every meal. She would put food on his plate, refill it, offer him the choicest pieces of meat, watch to see what he needed and give it to him before he asked for it. She would eat every meal with him, without exception in a house that was a mansion with several servants. But no servant was ever allowed to give my grandfather anything directly. They brought the tray to my grandmother and she served him. All this she did with such a look of love and devotion on her face that I can see clearly in my mind even today 50 years later and more than 30 years since both of them died. Why did she do this? Just because she liked to do it. It really is that simple.

He fully reciprocated this. He never did anything without asking for her advice. He never went anywhere without her. He wore what she gave him. She had complete control of his money. He never touched it. He never asked her for any account with a level of trust seldom seen today, even though it was his money, so to speak. He never raised his voice to her for anything. He never even looked at her except with love. He never made fun of her and she never made fun of him. Both laughed together. He was passionate about chess and played chess every evening with his brother and cousin who all lived together in the same house which my great grandfather built. She never played chess in her life. Different interests but the real interest was in each other. She was his whole life in every sense of the word. In Tamil there is a word for wife – Samsaram. It is the same word for the world. That is how it was for my grandparents. They were each other’s world. Complete in themselves, content with each other, reflected in every moment of their lives.

He loved her and she loved him, and it showed. She died first. He died three months later of a broken heart. But they left memories for their children and grandchildren about how to be married and how to treat your spouse.

  • How much involvement should parents and in laws have in a marriage?

None whatsoever. This is the single most potent recipe for disaster. Parents should be involved in their own marriages. Once your children are married, they are not children any more. Leave them alone and let them work out their problems. They are adults and that is why they got married. The problem with many parents (mostly mothers) especially in our society (Indian) is that they are most anxious about getting their children married and then they start feeling insignificant and so become competitors with their own daughters in law. Remember that if you become your daughter in law’s competitor, you lose if you lose and you lose if you win. Both ways you lose. So, get out of the way. Leave them alone. Visit them for 2 days, not more, every six months – every year is even better. Don’t talk for more than 5 minutes on the phone. Don’t chat on Skype or Yahoo or WhatsApp or anything else. Don’t ask personal questions. And above all, don’t ask, ‘Are you happy?’ I have yet to see a marriage survive the attention of parents and parents in law.

At the same time, I would advise young couples also to take steps to kindly discourage this involvement if you see it happening. If you are old enough to get married, you are old enough to solve your own problems. If you are running to your parents with your problems, then put on your diapers. You are not ready for marriage. If your Mom calls and asks you, ‘So what did he say when you told him such and such?’ Tell your Mom, ‘Mom, sorry I won’t tell you what he told me.’ Smile and say it but say it clearly. Spend time with your spouse, not with your mother. I am not asking you to neglect your mother or father but remember that your spouse has first call on your time, once you get married.

  • How does one make compromises?

They are not called ‘compromises’. They are called ‘adjustments’. It is not the semantics of it but the attitudes that language indicates and dictates. We make compromises when forced to do so. We make adjustments to things so that we can enjoy them more. One of the things that most young couples don’t bargain for is the aspects of sharing ownership, time and privacy that marriage brings with it. Nobody told them about it, and they didn’t think about it when they had stars in their eyes. Honeymoons are in hotels and sharing a hotel room is different from sharing your own bedroom and your own cupboard. Changing from ‘I’ to ‘We’ is often a difficult process.

Having said that, decide on what is important to you. Don’t make compromises on issues of principle. Explain to your spouse why you won’t compromise, and wise partners will respect that. But issues which are important to the other and which you can live with changing, change. Remember the point about concern for the other? It is good to remember that everything is not a test of your masculinity or femininity. By ‘giving in’ to something you don’t lose face; you win hearts. Do it unless it is something that goes against your fundamental values.

It is a very good idea to have some frank sharing of thoughts on what is important to you, before getting married. If you didn’t do it then, do it now. It will be more difficult but then that is what you chose. When your spouse is talking, simply listen. Don’t justify, agree, disagree or argue. Just listen respectfully and then decide what you love, what you can live with, what you can change in yourself and what you need to talk to the other person about. Most couples, in the courtship stage are too busy on appearing their best and get into a pretense mode that has no relation to what they are really like. Acting can’t be sustained and the mask comes off sooner than later with predictable results. Speak to each other frankly and then decide if you want to get married. During this conversation speak clearly and tell them what the non-negotiables for you are. Don’t try to be politically correct or polite or whatever and hide or play down things that you really feel strongly about. Maybe it is something to do with practicing your religious beliefs, or about family values or that your Mom will live with you or that the cat shares your bed or whatever. No matter what it is, if it is important, then say it. That is far more positive and far less painful than having your spouse discover it later. Some things may seem ‘silly’ to you but if they are important enough for the other person then they will cause you serious trouble if you don’t respect them.

  • When does one know that a marriage is not working? And when should people do something about it?

A marriage is ultimately an agreement between two people to live together for mutual benefit. When you find that there is no mutual benefit and that the living together is causing more grief than joy then you know that it is not working. Then you must ask yourself the questions:

  • Am I willing to make it work?
  • What will it take to make it work?
  • Am I willing to do what it takes?

If the answer to all of them is in the affirmative, then get on with it and work. If not, then it is time to call it a day. The important thing to do even if you decide to divorce is to remember the first three rules: Truthfulness, concern for the other and mutual respect. Ensure that you don’t do anything that is not scrupulously honest and completely above board. Show concern and ensure that the other person does not leave with any bad feeling. The divorce is bad enough. Don’t add negative baggage to it. Show respect for each other. You deserve it and your marriage deserves it. Part company if you must but do it in a way that is respectful and honorable.

  1. How to make efforts to making a marriage work – for the man and woman?

It is essential to differentiate between Core Responsibilities and other things. In my view it is the Core Responsibility of the man to work and earn a living and take care of the financial responsibilities of the family.  It is Core Responsibility of the woman to make the home a place of beauty, grace and harmony and to focus on the upbringing of the children. I know this may sound old fashioned to some but just take a look at what the result of the Yuppy and Puppy culture is, and you will come back to the basics soon enough. Having taken care of the Core Responsibility, naturally the man must help around the home, take care of children, water the garden, wash the car, mow the lawn, take out the garbage and not sit in front of the TV with his feet propped up and a bowl of popcorn at his elbow – or whatever passes as its equivalent in your culture.

Similarly once the Mom has taken care of her Core Responsibility then it is good if she waters the garden, washes the car, mows the lawn, takes out the garbage and does not sit in front of the TV with her feet propped up and a bowl of popcorn at her elbow – or whatever passes as its equivalent in your culture. I am sure you understand what I mean. Dividing responsibilities is a very good idea. Do it whichever way you like but do it. Role clarity is essential in a happy marriage and role conflict causes the maximum stress on it. It is essential for one of the spouses to be dedicated to the upbringing of children; teaching them life skills, manners, tools of thinking, decision making and teaching them core values of life. Today in the Yuppy and Puppy cultures the idea of bringing up children is to feed them, ensure that they are washed and dried and entertained. That is what you do with the dog. Not with your child. Children need a jolly sight more than food, clothing and shelter if you want to develop a human being who will be your legacy to the world. I believe you need to dedicate yourself to that because it is important.

If you don’t agree, use condoms. That is far better than producing children who are a nuisance at best and a painful reality in the lives of others, as long as they live.

  1. Whose responsibility is it to make a marriage happy?

Naturally it is the responsibility of both people like in any agreement. It is important to recognize and accept this responsibility so that you will then do what it takes to fulfill it. As I mentioned above, I advocate sitting down and having a dialogue before you get married about what each one is supposed to do. Say it to each other and agree on it. Don’t leave it to guesswork and discovery. That leads to misunderstanding and disappointment. A good marriage is a dream. To make it come true you must wake up and work. If you expect your wife to cook for your friends who you will bring home from time to time, say it. And say what time to time means. If you expect your husband to pick up the food on the way home with his friends from the restaurant, say so. If you expect your wife to make breakfast for you and sit with you watching you get outside the eggs and toast, say so. If you expect your husband to bring the eggs and toast to you in bed (never really liked the idea of eating without first brushing your teeth), say so. What I mean is that in marriages, it is often the so-called ‘silly things’ that lead to trouble. So silly or not, say it if it is important to you.

My second Cardinal Principle – Concern, is what is most important to remember. If you apply the Golden Rule – Do unto them as you would have them do unto you – you can’t go wrong. The virus that kills marriage is a two-letter word – ME. To get you must first give. What you have in your hand is your harvest. What you sow is your seed. To get a harvest you must first sow the seed. Remember that the harvest is always more than the seed. So, give and give with grace, with love, with joy. And you will get much more than you bargained for. Show consideration for your spouse. Do things without being asked. Be aware of what they like the most and do it. Try to please them. Don’t play power games. The marriage is not a contest to get the better of the other. You are not in a race or in a WWF wrestling match or in a competition to see who is more powerful. Remember that every time you ‘win’ the other person loses. And losing is something that nobody enjoys. So, at some point they will get tired of losing and you will have no marriage. And that is the biggest loss that you brought on to yourself. A marriage is a relay race – long term, passing the baton to the other at each stage and the team – in this case the two of you – wins.

  1. In today’s times of pre-nups, fast track divorces and even websites as matchmakers, what kind of mindset should people have when getting into a marriage?

Today we live in a world where selfishness is not a sin anymore. However, changing your mind about an evil does not make it good. You will get sick even if you fall in love with the virus. People wanting to get married must learn to think about the other and to consciously give him or her precedence and preference. If you can’t do this, your marriage will break down sooner or later. Our lifestyles, the internet, social networking and talking to people across the world from other cultures, the TV with its unreal, fantasy world of soap operas, are all designed to destroy marriages. They promote ideas that are either directly destructive or lead to the killing fields of marriages. Today in the world of social media, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and God-alone-knows-what, there is so much pressure on making public what must be private that no marriage can survive it. People live in a fantasy world of pictures which show the best, project an unreal lifestyle and raise expectations that are impossible to meet. You are not in competition with the Kardashians or anyone else, so get real. A good marriage is about living in the real world, not in a world that is neither bold nor beautiful.

  1. Is the 7-year itch based on statistics or research? In your mind, does it exist?

I don’t think there is any such thing. Looking outside your marriage for companionship which can then lead to a breakup, is a sign of intrinsic unhappiness. If you feel it, the thing to do is to deal with it. Not look outside. The problem with 7-year itches is that every 7 years you are older and less desirable. Then where will you go?

  1. How important are children to have a happy marriage? Some couples cannot have children, others choose not to.

I don’t think children either make a marriage happy or unhappy. It is more their upbringing that makes the home happy or not. Children give the parents a common interest but for a marriage if the only thing in common is the children then something is wrong. On the converse side children take a lot of time and attention and energy and this can be difficult to handle for many people. But if the spouses share in the work of bringing up children and take the trouble to bring them up well, with good manners, values and attitudes, then they can be a huge asset for the marriage.

  1. What can couples do to keep the bespoke “spark” in the marriage?

Appreciate each other and express this appreciation daily. Catch each other doing right. Do things for one another only to see the smile on the face. Invent your own language which only the two of you understand. My wife and I used to keep a book on a table in the house in which we would write things we liked about each other or something nice we wanted to say to one another. We did say it as well but sometimes writing is easier. Give flowers and chocolates. Men also like flowers, remember. Second most important rule: Don’t react to everything that the other says. Take ten deep breaths. Then forget it. Reactions produce reactions and, in the end, it is taken out of your hands.

Finally, never go to bed, mad at each other. Always make up before you go to bed. Cuddle up together and sleep. Never quarrel in the bedroom. Never in bed. Make this a rule. If you have a problem, deal with it in the morning. Usually by the morning it would have solved itself.

  1. Is fighting healthy?

Well, depends on what is meant by ‘fighting’. If it means trying to get the better of each other in an argument and using all kinds of means to do so then it is definitely not healthy. If it means arguing as in a friendly fencing match between equal intellects that leads to good feeling, then it is good. Avoid power games like the plague. Many marriages turn into daily competitions between the spouses to see who can control the other. This takes many apparently benign and legitimate forms. But they are all illegitimate, subversive and destructive to the marriage.

Some people use religion as a means of control and invoke religious rulings and promise the other brimstone and hellfire for disobeying some whim or fancy of theirs. In many cases it is people (mostly men in this case) who have not done anything significant in life and are suffering from an inferiority complex and can sense that they really don’t command any respect on their own, who use religion and religious rulings to enforce their will on the woman. Women use religion to compensate for their own feelings of inadequacy where they feel that they are not loved or desired as much as they would like to be. ‘Should’ is the most useless word in the language. If people did what they should then the world would have been a different place. Both need to look at the real drivers behind their apparent religious orientation because it has nothing to do with the Almighty. Power games come in many packages. Spouses use children as pawns in their games at getting the better of each other. Others use health concerns, eat more, eat less, joint family rules, cultural taboos and many other things. All are power games, and all are destructive.

  1. How important is money to keep a marriage happy?

Not important at all. Both financial hardship and plenty can be a source of bonding or a source of drifting apart. It is mutual respect and concern for one another that counts. And that is a result of character, piety, learning, nobility of conduct and deportment, confidence, trustworthiness, dignity and grace, genuine desire to please one another and to place the need of the other before and above one’s own. None of these are things that money can buy or that we need money for. Marriages are happy or break up for reasons other than money. Money problems are not money problems even when there are money problems; if you see what I mean.

  1. What are the worst things couples can do to a marriage?

Lie, betray trust, cheat, play power games. Also making fun of one another as in mocking. Showing disrespect in the name of humor. Humor is to laugh with someone, not to laugh at them. Lastly but by no means the least, by being overly self-focused and showing disregard and no concern for the other. Honesty is still the best policy in 2019 and will still be the best policy in 3019 if the world lasts that long.

  1. Should people resort to white lies or tiny lies to keep the peace?

There’s a difference between telling lies and not divulging all the details. Not divulging all the details, for example about your friendships before marriage, is not wrong and is a very wise thing to do. The spouse has no need to know and it is something that does no good to the marriage no matter how ‘broadminded’ the spouse may be. But to tell a lie is wrong and goes against the grain of all that I have said above. Incidentally ‘white lies’ is a racially color biased term, like ‘black sheep’, ‘nightmare’, ‘black heart’ and so on; the legacy of English which is originally the white man’s language. Knight in shining armor can be all black too – black shines even more than white if you notice.

Having said that, telling ‘the truth’ inappropriately or in a harsh manner does no good either. Being silent is an option that is worth exploring. For example, if the toast is burnt or the food has no salt or something is not to your liking there are many ways of saying it. But you also have the option of remaining silent in honor of all the times that it was delicious. If the husband comes home cranky it is irritating but you have the option to remind yourself that a nice cup of tea and talking about something else is probably more productive than saying, ‘Don’t bring your office home.’ You would be justified in saying so, but sometimes it is better to be kind than to be justified. Diplomacy and wisdom are great virtues and most useful in a marriage. Not rubbing their nose in it is wise. Turn away gracefully. Don’t watch their discomfiture. Spouses realize that they are wrong but may not necessarily grovel at your feet and beg forgiveness. It is wise to leave them alone and not demand groveling. People’s dignity is important to maintain. Be it a management – union negotiation or a domestic disagreement, it is important to allow the one who is wrong to ‘save face’. To insist on humiliating them is to burn bridges to future relationship. Remember that you are also human and will surely be wrong one day. Don’t create a situation where the other is waiting for that day to return your favor.

  • Does it help couples when they talk about their problems? To whom, a stranger or someone they know?

It is helpful for couples to talk about their problems to someone they respect and whose advice they are willing to listen to. Usually it is better to talk to strangers as they are perceived to be fairer and more objective, as they don’t know either party but really it doesn’t matter as long as it is someone you respect and who you have decided to listen to, meaning, to obey his or her advice. As I have said earlier, before you go to talk to anyone, decide if you are going to listen to what they say even if they don’t agree with you. If you are going to someone with the expectation that they must agree with you and support your stance no matter what it is, then don’t waste your and their time. No self-respecting, honest arbitrator with any dignity will agree to be biased in favor of one party or the other. If they do, then they are not fit for the position.

In conclusion I would like to say that a marriage can be as good or as bad as you would like to make it. It is literally in your own hands.

Guyana, cross cultural boot camp

Guyana, cross cultural boot camp

Guyana Chronicle interview, 1980

“So, Comrade Baig, you have been living here for two years. What are your impressions about our country?” The interviewer was from Guyana Chronicle, the main English newspaper. I was being interviewed because I was there. Comrade was a gender-neutral term used to address anyone because Guyana was a socialist (communist) country ruled by an iron-man with an iron fist, not always in a velvet glove. My interviewer had come in preparation for a great event, the visit of the President, Hon. Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham who was the leader of Guyana from 1964 until his death, as the first Prime Minister from 1964 to 1980 and as second President from 1980 to 1985. I lived in Guyana from 1979-83 and so in the middle of the reign of the President Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham. We called him Comrade Burnham; meaning we referred to him as that. When he visited Kwakwani, he arrived by helicopter, which was a grand spectacle in itself and for many Kwakwani people, including myself, it was the first time any of us had seen a helicopter. The helipad on Staff Hill was surrounded by people all waving PNC flags and screaming their welcome above the roar of the rotors. As the helicopter landed, the dust thrown up effectively shut everyone’s mouths. Since he was the guest of our company, Guymine, Berbice Operations and I was the Assistant Administrative Manager, it meant that I got to stand to one side with the senior managers including the CEO who welcomed Cdr. Burnham. There was Haslyn Parris, the CEO of Guyana Mining Enterprise (Guymine), Stephen Ng Qui Sang, the Berbice Operations Coordinator, Walter Melville, Personnel Coordinator, James Nicholas Adams, Berbice Operations Administrative Manager and my boss and George Schultz, Berbice Operations Mines Manager. All of them were in the front-line welcoming the President.

Among the things that were peculiar to the reign of Forbes Burnham, (I use the term because to all intents and purposes he was a ‘Ruler’ more than a leader. Some called him ‘Dictator’) was his no-nonsense style, which translated into no-opposition to his policies. Guyana of those days had a pall of fear over it and if you knew what was good for you, you didn’t talk politics. I knew what was good for me. Burnham was dealing with the aftermath of freedom and he and his party chose the socialist way. Guyana was called the Co-Operative Republic of Guyana and was closely aligned with Cuba and Soviet Russia, though it was officially part of the NAM (non-Aligned Movement). This was not to the liking of either the Americans or the British, Guyana’s erstwhile colonizers but that was reality. Guyana paid a high price in facing political blockages resulting in shortages at home. However, in today’s terms, things were easy. Unlike today, Guyana had not discovered that it had oil and so nobody was particularly interested in what Guyana did or didn’t do. There was bauxite and sugar. There was some gold, but it was not really extracted in any big way. There were and are major rivers but no hydro power. There was no organized or large-scale agriculture or ranching though there was land enough and more for both. Guyana was poor. What was also happening was the reality about payback time after any revolution leading to freedom. People who struggled for the freedom remember the promises made during the struggle and are looking to live happily ever after, forgetting that that is only a last line in fairy tales. To develop we need education and very hard work.

Burnham’s policies drove Guyanese out of Guyana and many migrated to the United States, Canada and the UK. As it used to be said at one time, ‘There are more Guyanese in Brooklyn than there are in Guyana.’ True or false, there were too few in Guyana and those that remained were people who really couldn’t leave or were in government jobs where political affiliation counted for more than any competence. The results on the economy and society were hardly surprising or beneficial. On that day Comrade Burnham ascended the podium that had been constructed and spoke, short and clear. I still remember this line in his speech. He said, “A-we Gainese wan far go-va-men to give us everytin while we sit upon we sit-upons and wait. Lemme tell ayo dat if ayo wan devlopmen, ayo gon hav to wok fo it. But we like to sit upon our sit-upons and talk about what the Go-va-men mos do an vat Mistah Bonham mos do but nevah about wa I mos do. That won’t work. Unless we decide to get up and help ourselves, nothing will change.” To me, that made perfect sense. And if someone didn’t like the man because he spoke plainly, well, that is their choice. Burnham was also known for and liked or hated for some of his policies, among which was the banning of wheat flour and the promotion of rice flour. Guyana grows rice while wheat was imported. Naturally this went against the established food habits of people and they didn’t like it. Burnham did it to reduce the import bill, but economic policy succeeds or fails more for subjective emotional reasons than objective logical ones.

Burnham decreed a policy of self-reliance and many imports including food staples were banned. Among the things that were banned apart from wheat flour were also Irish Potatoes, which was rather ironic seeing that potatoes are actually South American and were imported into Ireland. The result was that one night someone came to my house and rang the bell and looking over his shoulder, presented me with ‘forbidden fruit’, three Irish potatoes, smuggled in from Suriname, no less. For an Indian, getting three potatoes as a gift was strange to say the least, but since I lived in Guyana and was totally acculturated, I knew what a great honor and sign of friendship that gesture represented. Forbes Burnham was feared and respected, loved and hated. All hallmarks of strong leaders.

Kwakwani Park Labor Club was an institution. This was a place which had a large hall which doubled as a cinema with a stage at one end. It had a long veranda along one end on which were placed tables at short intervals where people played dominoes with great passion and noise. Inside was the bar, the place for many a meeting, fight and romance. The level of noise in it can only be experienced, not described. The Club could be heard before it was seen. And its smell was never to be forgotten. Playing dominoes in the Kwakwani Club seemed to consist of smashing the domino on the table with all your might and shouting at the top of your voice. I can vouch for the fact that going by this criterion the people who played dominoes in Kwakwani Club must have been world champions. If the game is more than this, then I must beg forgiveness for my ignorance. The Club was also remarkable for its smell. Imagine a combination of stale sweat, beer, and rum floating on heavy humid air in an invisible cloud that came at you as soon as you were within reach. Then it clung to you and entered every exposed pore and remained with you and your clothes through several baths and washes. But this did not seem to bother anyone to the best of my knowledge.

The people of Kwakwani were mostly of African descent. This, however, is a generalization because in Guyana the racial mixture is so rich that most people seem to be a combination of many different races – Amerindian, Chinese, Indian, African, and European. Demographically, Guyana had at that time about sixty percent people of Indian descent who mostly lived on the coast. They used to work on the sugar plantations, having been brought in by the British as indentured labor from India. Another main occupation of theirs was small time trade. Twenty percent of African descent who were the descendants of African slaves and also worked on the sugar plantations. When the emancipation of slaves happened, they walked off the plantations and settled in the hinterland, engaged in timber extraction and whatever else they could do. The timber and mining industries are dominated by them, as are also the Army and the Police. The last twenty percent consists of the indigenous Amerindian tribes, originally hunter, gatherers who have been exploited mercilessly by everyone else. They still live in the forests, though many now live and work on the fringes of whichever town or village that happens to be nearby. They have the least paying jobs and live mostly by selling wild meat, fish, honey, balata (wild rubber), and sometimes by working as guides for others.

In this final section of the population are also the descendants of the Chinese laborers who were brought by the British to work on the railway, most of which has fallen into disuse and is rotting away. There was and continues to be a free mixing of the races though the Indians seem to keep to themselves and away especially from people of African origin. Indians everywhere seem to be oriented towards fair-skinned people and practice their own brand of ‘apartheid’, wherever they live in appreciable numbers, including in India. The best example of this can be seen if you read the matrimonial advertisement page in the Sunday papers in India. Almost every single ad will ask for a bride who above all else is ‘Fair,’ which has nothing to do with her love for justice, believe me. A very sad practice that harms Indians more than anyone else, but they have yet to learn this lesson.

Guyana had become independent less than 10 years before I got there. So, ideology, in this case communist, was still very strong. As I mentioned earlier, people called each other ‘Comrade,’ which depending on the tone of voice could be given any kind of connotation from the most warmly cordial to the positively hostile. As in many such cases, not everyone was a ‘believer,’ but to appear to believe was required. Since ideological alignment was more important than everything else, efficiency suffered and people who claimed to be loyalists of the ruling party, the PNC, had personal power far in excess of their official position.

On Sundays a film would be screened in the Club. Most of the spectators apparently believed that they could influence the outcome of whatever was happening on the screen if they shouted at the actors. So, they proceeded to do the same with great gusto. But strangely nothing seemed to change. The actors continued to do whatever they had intended to do in the first place. Much like government policy in our so-called democracies, which seems to be independent of the screaming and shouting of their poor enslaved populations who have not realized the fact that the script has been written by someone else and will not change with their screaming. Little did I realize while attempting to watch a film in Kwakwani, I would live to see a real-life version of this behavior, thirty years later.

About a kilometer away from Kwakwani Park, up a small hill was the Officers colony called Staff Hill. In typical British colonial style, the rulers were separated from the ruled. Even ten years after independence, Staff Hill was informally out of bounds for ordinary people. It was meant for Officers, in this case, all black West Indian or East Indian (people of Indian origin) and though we no longer had a fence and guards as used to be there in the past, nobody from Kwakwani Park actually came up the hill except to bring some visiting relative for a short drive to show them how the other half lived. White and black is not about color; it’s about social status and attitude.

In my hammock outside my house facing the orange orchard

Staff Hill had two kinds of houses. Bungalow type houses with 3 bedrooms and a veranda all around them for most of us. And big wooden houses on stilts with parking underneath them for the really big bosses. The houses were arranged around a quadrangle with an orange orchard all around them. There was a swimming pool to cool off. There were tennis courts, a Club House with a bar, guest rooms, dining room (excellent cooks to boot) with proper dinner service, uniformed waiters, table tennis table, and a library.

The rules of this Club were very different. The barman wore a uniform and gloves. You could not play dominos here. And you could not come to the Club in your shorts and nothing else. You could not shout at the top of your voice and you could not curse. And no matter that the British were long gone – as in the case of India, their ways had been adopted by their erstwhile slaves and upheld as a sign of their own ‘superiority’ over their own brethren. I am not saying that there is something intrinsically good about cursing and yelling and unwashed shirts. I am merely pointing at the reasons we do some things and how we use certain norms to demonstrate our own superiority over others.

In Kwakwani Park was the hospital where for a year my father was the resident doctor, Nurse Liverpool the Head Nurse, and MacFarlane the Compounder. All wonderful people who ran a very good hospital indeed. Kwakwani was a lovely small town where you knew everyone, and everyone knew you. There were no strangers in Kwakwani. Everyone knew what was happening in your life and had an interest in it. And you in theirs. People had the time to stop whatever they were doing to chat with you when you came past. Nobody passed anyone on the street without saying, “Aye! Aye! Maan!! Ow ya doo’in!!” Remember to end on a high note as you say that, to know how it sounded.

They may add, “Ow de Ol Maan?” (Could mean your father or your husband, depending on who you were). “Ow de Ol Lady?” (wife or mother). “Ow de Picknee?” (Believe it or not, that means children). And remember that had nothing to do with whether you were married or not, as I learned to my own embarrassment one day when I went to the Income Tax office to file my tax return. The lady at the counter offered to help me fill out the form, which I gladly agreed to have her do. She asked me at the appropriate column, “Married?” I said, “No.” She then asked, “Any children?” I said, “I already told you I am not married.” She looked up at me and said, “Wad de hell dat ga fa do wid anytin Maan!!” To end this line of discussion, I immediately accepted defeat and said, “No children.”

The language of the Guyanese is called Creolese. It is an English Patois and as distinct with its own flavor as French Patois is from French. Creolese has the taste of Cookup, the sound of the Steel Band. and the aroma of the rain forest. It is a language of the people and reflects their culture. I used to speak it so fluently that new locals I met wouldn’t believe that I was not a native.

They would ask me, ‘Weya fraam?’

‘I’m Indian.’

‘Me-no-da bai, A-mean weya from in Giyana?’

‘Me-na from Giyana, me from India.’

‘Ah! (That is said as an exclamation in a high rising tone) – Ya tak jus laka-we’

And that was a great compliment. It is really impossible to render Creolese into text because it is spoken with so much emotion and voice modulation that without those sounds, it’s not done justice. It is a language that comes straight from the heart. Creolese has many proverbs and funny stories with morals that are typical of the language and the people.

For example, there is a famous proverb: Han wash han mak han com clean (When two people help one another, they help themselves).

Another one: He taak caz he ga mouth (He talks nonsense).

As for stories, there are several. And in them, the people of color may appear lazy, but are smart and the White man is the butt of the joke. Here’s one:

One day a black man (Blak-maan) be ga-in about lookin for sometin ta eat when he com upon dis garden in de bush. Dey he saw dis great big bunch of ripe bananas. De man! He very appy! He put he arms around the bunch of bananas an sey, ‘De Lord is my shepherd and I shall not want.’ He hear a voice saying, ‘If you don tak ya hands off dem bananas, I gon lay ya down in green pastures.’

Dey bin the owner of the garden watchin over he garden when dis man go dey.

And knowing the Guyanese, once this happened, I am sure the owner would have given some bananas to the hungry man to eat. I don’t know of any Guyanese who would chase a hungry man away. Guyanese have big hearts.

Another one involves an Amerindian guide and his white employer. They are walking through the rain forest. The Vyte-maan (White man) sees that the Amerindian is walking barefoot, carrying his boots on a string over his shoulder. So he laughs at him and says, ‘You ignorant Amerindians are so stupid. Why are you carrying your boots?’

The Buck-maan (Amerindian), he na say nothn.

Then they come to a stream. The Vyte-maan tak off he shoe and the Bok-maan, he put on he shoe.

The Vyte-maan laugh at he again and seh, ‘This is really stupid. Now that we have to wade through the water you put on your shoes? The shoes will get spoilt.’

The Buck-man, he na say nothn.

As they wade through the stream the Vyte-maan get hit by a stingray. He scream in pain and fall down. The Buck-maan drag he out onto the other bank and seh, ‘Now who stupid? When me eye cyan see, me na need no shoe. But when me eye cyant see, is weh I need de shoe maan. So, who stupid, me ah you?’

Another brilliant one is about this Blak-maan who goes looking for work. In Guyana, the custom is that the employer feeds the worker. If the worker works for the full day then the employer gives him a lunch break and lunch. So, this Blak-maan comes to the mansion of a Vyte-maan. The Vyte-maan says to him, ‘I have a big tree in the back garden that fell last night. You must saw it. But you guys are lazy. You take too long to eat lunch. So, what I’m going to do is to give you food now. You eat first then you work through till the evening without a lunch break.’

The Blak-maan agrees. The Vyte-maan gives him banana and cassava and mutton and tea and the Black-maan, he eat like it is his last meal. When he done, the Vyte-maan tell he, ‘Come over to the back and I will show you the tree you have to saw.’ The Blak-maan goes around the house and there is this huge tree that has fallen. The Vyte-maan say to he, ‘Alright, you see that tree over there, you have to saw it.’

The Blak-maan he look carefully and seh, ‘Me na see no tree.’

The Vyte-maan can’t believe his ears. ‘What do you mean you can’t see the tree? It is that great big tree over there!’

The Blak-maan ben down and look heah and deh and seh again, ‘Me na see no tree.’

Now the Vyte-maan is really angry. So he shouts at him, ‘You stupid man, can’t you see that great big tree over there?’

The Blak-maan seh again, ‘Me na see no tree.’

The Vyte-maan is in a rage and yells, ‘What do you mean you can’t see the tree? I saw you see the tree.’

The Blak-maan seh, ‘You saw me see the tree? But you aint go see me saw it.’

I can still hear the voice of my dear friend and first boss, Nick Adams telling me this joke and both of us laughing our heads off. You have to listen to a Guyanese tell these stories with the sing-song tone of their voice and their actions illustrating what is supposed to be happening in the story. I can’t put that into this narrative here. But if we meet one day, remind me and I will tell you the stories in Creolese as they should be told.

Mail took an average of one month to get to Guyana from India. That it actually arrived is a marvel of the system which in today’s email world we seem to have forgotten. But it did come and in the 5 years that I spent in Guyana, I never had a letter that was lost. As postage depended on weight, I used to write on very thin, semi-transparent tracing paper with a very fine nibbed pen to try to get as much matter into it as possible. And since Mr. Gates had not yet created Windows and laptops were not for machines and notebooks had 100 pages of 15 lines each, you could not cut & paste or delete or drag & drop. So, you needed to write after due thought if you wanted to save yourself the trouble of writing what you wrote all over again. This is how I learnt to express myself in writing. 

Living in the Amazonian forest

Living in the Amazonian forest

The Berbice River was one boundary of Kwakwani to which it clung in fright from the forest which loomed behind it, threatening to engulf it in an unwary moment. The mines were the reason Kwakwani was created and the reason it existed. Kwakwani was owned by the mining company, Guyana Mining Enterprise, Kwakwani Operations. The Administrative Manager of Kwakwani Operations was the defacto ‘Mayor’ of Kwakwani. He was not only responsible for the company’s operations but also for the welfare of the people of the town. The hospital was owned by the company, which employed the doctor and staff. The company ran the only store, which was called the Commissary. This store stocked all basic essentials which, given the resource starved economy, did not amount to much. The store stocked Dishikis and shirts, cutlasses, axes, pickaxes, crowbars, hardware and plumbing items, food – mainly staples and some meats in the freezer section and of course, a very well stocked liquor store. Guyanese can drink. Man! Can they drink!! The most popular drink is rum; Demarara Rum, drunk neat or with Coke. A black drink that looks like lube oil. Guyanese eat large quantities of meat and drink large quantities of rum and they are among the most friendly and jolly people in the world.

The town was divided in two parts. Kwakwani Park, which had the workers quarters, some of which were barracks, some twin houses with two rooms each, and some individual homes in the Self-Help area. Most of the houses were built with wood, plenty and cheap in Guyana, on stilts with a short stairway of 6 or 7 stairs leading up to the front door. The stairway (called ‘Step’) was not only for going up to the house but more importantly for people to sit on and socialize. Once the work of the home was done, the women would come out onto their steps and carry on conversations with the neighbors sitting across the street on their step. In the evening once the men returned from work, they would carry their drink in their hand and sit on the step and talk about the day gone by. The Self-Help area was an area that the Government of Guyana and the company had promoted where people owned the houses they helped to build. That is why it was called Self-Help. This was a big departure from the usual norm in Kwakwani where all housing was company built and owned.

Almost all houses in Kwakwani Park had vegetable gardens; most of them right behind the house in the rain forest which was never far away. People employed the slash-and-burn type of agriculture, as mentioned earlier, a method that is widely practiced all over Guyana but is very destructive to the rain forest. But then again, what do you tell people who live on the margins and who have to do something or the other to make ends meet? These gardens provided food for the family as well as some small income for those who worked harder as they could sell the produce in the market. The gardens were also a source of protein because they attracted wild pig (Collared Peccary), deer, capybara, agouti, and curassow. The wily farmer, especially immediately after the burn when the ash was on the ground and a great attraction to the animals, would sit in hiding either on a platform on a nearby tree or on the ground and shoot whatever came. Hearing gunshots in the night was not uncommon and not anything to be worried about. Some Amerindian farmers would also set snares with spears and arrows or even sometimes with a stick of explosive (easily available from the mines) for pig. One, therefore, had to watch very closely and walk carefully when negotiating a farm in the forest to avoid becoming an unintended victim of the hunter.

People mostly grew bananas, cassava (tapioca), pineapple, and sweet potato. The typical Guyanese farmer in Kwakwani was a person of African extraction; a mine worker in the day who would drive a truck or some earth moving or mining equipment, or work in the machine shop and then in the evening he would put on his farming shirt – a much patched, seldom washed and therefore odoriferous garment smelling of honest sweat – and would go to work in his farm. He would carry a shotgun in one hand and a cutlass in the other. He would wear a floppy hat from under which he would look at you and smile; a smile that would light up his whole face. Then if you said anything that was even remotely funny, he would shake all over and laugh so heartily that his whole body would laugh with him; the world would become a better place for a little while. Laughter and rhythm are the two hallmarks of the African person. I always say that nobody can laugh or dance like an African. It is something that is visceral and intrinsic to being African. I have even prayed behind an African Imam in the US who would do a quiet little dance as he recited the Qur’an. Highly objectionable in law but then the question is, how come you were looking at the Imam instead of concentrating on your prayer, eh?

My Macaw and my house on Staff Hill, Kwakwani – 1981

The company had kindly allotted me the house that my parents had lived in for the year that they were in Kwakwani, so I didn’t have to move from Staff Hill, which was the senior officer’s enclave. My father, who started work in Linden at the main Guymine hospital was transferred to Kwakwani as the head of the small hospital there at about the same time as I got my job. So for one year we lived together in Kwakwani. Then they left, returning home to India and I stayed on for three years thereafter. That is how I was in the house which the company allowed me to retain after my parents had left – another of Nick Adam’s favors. The house overlooked an orange orchard on the far side of which was the ever present jungle. Behind the house was a large open area cleared out of the jungle and then there was the jungle. The orange orchard used to be well maintained with its grass cut and the orange trees pruned and fertilized. The orange tree has a lovely shape and on a moonlit night to sit in my veranda simply looking out across at the orchard was something that I greatly enjoyed. This was one of the many joys of a TV-less existence. This orange orchard was also the first time I saw Leaf Cutter ants (Atta cephalotes) at work. I woke up one morning to find one tree almost completely defoliated. When I went to examine what had happened, I saw a long line of ants with pieces of leaves in their mandibles busily walking to their nest. This was a mound about 2 meters in height and double that in circumference at the edge of the forest boundary. I had read about these ants and how they use these leaves as a substrate to grow fungi to feed on, but this was the first time I was seeing them in action. I also knew the cure for them, which was to collect the refuse from the mound and place it around the base of the tree, which they then avoid. This, I found to be true. It is said that this remedy works for up to 30 days but in the case of Kwakwani where it rained almost every afternoon, it didn’t last that long. These ants have a very elaborate and complex society and I recommend you read about it.

The house itself was a low roofed bungalow with a veranda in the front and on one side. It had three small bedrooms with two bathrooms and a main hall which served both as a dining and living room. It was very sparsely furnished, so I made some furniture. I got the sawmill people to saw me a few Wamara planks—with their lovely double colored grain—and got a few fire bricks and lo and behold I had a complete shelf system in which I used to keep my books and other some local handicrafts. To one side was the kitchen with a big gas cooker. The gas cylinder was housed in a small enclosed shelf in the veranda behind the kitchen and the gas was piped to the stove. I would make my own breakfast and Naomi, my very large, very concerned, and very domineering cook from St. Lucia, would come in and make my lunch and dinner. For breakfast I would usually toast some crackers with cheese on them in the oven and make myself a cup of tea.

One day, with this intention, as usual, I prepared my tray of crackers with slices of cheese on them and opened the gas oven to light it. I smelt something funny, but didn’t give it much thought and struck a match. Instantly there was a huge explosion and I was thrown back against the wall. The glass of the oven shattered and my tray of crackers flew out of my hands. I had a burning sensation on my face but otherwise seemed to be alright. I ran to the bathroom mirror and discovered that I was minus eyebrows and eyelashes and my face was very red. The hair on my forearms was also singed off, but otherwise I seemed none the worse for the shock. What had happened was that there was a gas leak in the oven and the oven was full of gas. That was what I had smelt when I sat in front of the oven but hadn’t recognized the aroma. When I lit the match, it ignited the gas and it exploded. Mercifully, I had to open the glass oven door to light it and so the glass didn’t shatter in my face. Having a face full of toughened glass wouldn’t have been any fun. My beard saved the rest of my face and apart from feeling crinkly with the hairs being singed, the beard was also intact. It took me some minutes to get over the shock of having the oven explode in my face and to be thankful for having been saved. But after that it was off to work with an interesting story to tell my friends and have them say with great concern in their voice, ‘Man! Ayo lucky.’

All the truck drivers and bulldozer and earth moving equipment operators became my good friends and I learnt to drive their huge machines. To drive a Caterpillar D9 dozer and literally move a mountain gives you such a kick that I remember the feeling even now, more than thirty years later. Men can’t move mountains, but they have invented machines that can. Such are the marvels of technology. 

I have reason to remember the D9 and its power in a personal way as well. One day I was driving to Linden and decided to take a short cut through one of the Linden mines. As I was driving over the sand over-burden (this is what the soil that coves the ore is called) I suddenly started to sink in it. I put the Land Rover into 4 wheel drive and thought I’d get out fast enough. What happened, however, was that the vehicle simply dug itself into the sand right up to the axels and I was well and truly stuck.

As I stood there wondering how I would get out, I saw one of my friends in his D9, who having seen me, was driving towards me. When he came close he shouted over the noise of the engine, “Man! Baigie!! Get into your car and put it in neutral.” I yelled back at him in alarm, “Chinee!”

That was my friend Morris Mitchell’s nickname as thanks to large quantities of Amerindian and maybe even Chinese genes, he had the flattest face of anyone I have ever seen.

“What the hell do you think you are doing. You ain’t pushing my car with that dozer!! It will collapse.” “Man!! Ya do wa I tell Ya na Man!!” goes Chinee. So I got in and put the gear in neutral. Chinee dropped the blade of the dozer while he was a dozen yards away from the back of my car and built up a small hillock of sand between him and me. And this hillock of sand pushed the car out. The dozer did not touch it. Ingenuity of people who use these machines day in and day out. 

The path through the forest that I mentioned earlier was one of the most interesting nature walks that I’ve ever taken. I would walk silently and suddenly come upon various animals and birds doing their own thing. The hummingbird hovering on invisible wings gently probing the center of a flower for nectar. The wings beat at such a speed that like the blades of a fast turning fan, they become invisible. Now the path was gone, claimed by its owner, the jungle.

One day walking down this path, I saw a boa constrictor, a young one about eight feet long, slow and lethargic after his meal, lying across the path basking in a rare patch of sunlight that managed to sneak through the forest canopy. He made a halfhearted attempt at getting away and then a fairly serious attempt at attacking me as I lifted him up and took him home. I built a square cage of 1” thick planks nailed together with big nails. Inside the cage I put a log of wood, which he would use to drape himself over. He seemed to like the arrangement especially as it was partially in the sun under which he liked to soak in the mornings. Boas eat only live prey and so every few days I would put a small chicken into the cage. The snake would lie as if he were dead. Totally still, so that you could not even see him breathe. The chicken, initially ruffled about its treatment and protesting loudly would quieten down and start scratching in the dust in the cage. Eventually it would hop onto the log right next to the snake. Talk of bird brains especially of farm grown broiler chickens who have never seen a snake in their lives. Then, suddenly, viola!! Magic!! In a flash, no chicken and a large lump in the snake. 

I am very fond of animals and so I had quite a collection in Guyana. Apart from this snake I had a young Collared Peccary (a wild pig that lives in the Amazonian rain forests). This thing thought of me as its mother and followed me everywhere. I did not mind that but drew the line at him following me inside the house. So he would curl up with my boots which I left outside the door.

I had a young Tapir, which loved cassava (sweet potatoes) and I had a lot of trouble keeping him out of other people’s gardens, which would have been decidedly unhealthy for him and myself. But thankfully, Guyanese being as they are, though they loved tapir meat and hated anyone tampering with their vegetables, knowing that this thing belonged to me, they only yelled at it and sometimes at me. All this was done in a very friendly way. They would say, ‘Man!! Baigie, you should be with the girls. Instead, you walk around the forest by yourself and collect these animals. Okay, so eat the thing man!! Or call us and we gonna cook he for you. But na!! You gotta keep he as ya frien. You need a gyurlfrien man!! Not a tapir!!’

One day one of them asked me, “Man!! Yawar, ya raas aint got no guyrlfrien, you ain’t married, you don’ drink, tell me why you alive, haan??” Then he got philosophical and asked me, “A’yo Indians all like dis man?? Then tell me how come you so many?? How you mak alladem babies man??” Simple people with good hearts were my friends from Kwakwani.

 I recalled how we used to travel from Linden on the rickety Kwakwani bus with Joyleen Crawford as the conductor and George Sears the driver. I remember these two very well as they used to bring the mail from Linden for which I used to wait like a fish out of water….out of breath. Kwakwani people never understood why I, a bachelor and a very eligible one at that (young, nice looking, had money, a regular job, etc. etc…..) was never interested in the Kwakwani girls. Joyleen tells me today (she mailed me one day in 2010 having seen my address in some other mail and said, “Yawar is that you??”) that all the girls of Kwakwani used to bet with each other to see who would get me. None did, and I did get very lonely sometimes. Lonely and depressed, yearning for companionship that never came through. The night outside was dark, as I sat on the veranda gazing into the shadows of the orange orchard, listening to the sounds of the jungle around my home. The night inside me was darker still, strange forms and shadowy shapes in the murky depths. Menacing and frightening and I, without the cognitive tools to deal with that. It is when I reflect on those days that I realize how AllahY gave me the strength and support when there was nobody else. Today I realize that His plan for me was better than my plan for myself. I recognized my Rabb in the breaking of my dreams and learnt to trust Him and the inner voice in my heart more than the noise of my desires in my ears. 

In those years, I learnt the meaning of rejection, parting, and loss. I also learnt how to pick myself up from the depth of depression and rebuild my self-esteem, not on the shaky basis of other people’s opinions, but my own assessment and acceptance of myself. I learnt to like myself, to forgive myself, to hold myself accountable for what happened to me, and to stop blaming others. I learnt that it was I who was in control of my feelings. Other people could do whatever they wanted, but that it was I who had the authority to decide what I wanted to feel about what they did. I learnt the freedom of saying to myself when someone did something unpleasant, “I will not allow him or her to decide how I am going to behave or what I am going to feel.”

People may be abusive. We choose to feel hurt because we accept what they say about us. People may reject us or treat us as less than themselves. But it is we who decide to agree with them and feel bad. People may feel threatened when they encounter us in work situations because we challenge them when we demonstrate our own competence. We feel bad about their reaction, but fail to realize that to pretend to be incompetent to please someone else’s ego is not an option. I learnt that the key is to realize that it is we, not they, who define us.

Nobody can MAKE us feel anything. We feel whatever we choose to feel. People don’t like to accept this fact because with it comes the understanding that if I am feeling bad about something, then I am the one who is responsible for it. It is either a frightening or a freeing situation, depending on how we choose to look at it. It is frightening if we refuse to stop looking around trying to find someone to blame for what is happening to us. It is freeing if we choose to realize that if we are in control then we don’t need to feel bad if we don’t want to. Slavery is comforting and freedom is frightening to many people, so they go around feeling bad and blaming others for what happens to them, refusing to recognize their own role and responsibility in it. Not willing to face the fact that this attitude only makes matters worse, not better. Typical ‘victim’ mindset.

Another game we play with ourselves to justify inaction and copping out, is to express the problems we face in global terms. We talk about the problem as if it is a problem of the world. We say, “This is the problem with people today.” Whereas the reality is, “This is my problem today.” Let me illustrate. If I say to myself that the biggest problem for the Third World is poverty and a lack of education. Then you ask me, “So what can you do about it?” I feel justified in saying, “Well, I am one man. What can I do to solve the illiteracy problem of the Third World?” But instead of this, if I define this problem to say, “Can I educate one child other than my own?” Then the problem is solvable. If I do this and I spread the word to others and encourage them to pay for the education of one child, then eventually we will see the impact of this on the global screen.

We globalize issues because the solution also becomes global and then we feel justified in feeling helpless and in sitting idle and taking no action to solve the problem. But if we choose to redefine the problem in personal terms, we will find that there are solutions where we did not think they could exist. The issue of course is that it then becomes very uncomfortable for us to sit by and do nothing. We are forced to take action and in that is hope for the world.

I decided in those years that I would consciously choose the ‘Master’ mindset in every situation that life may put me in. I did not know these terms then. I invented them more than 20 years later. But they are grounded in the throes of personal growth and the pain of accepting my own personal power. Strange to see how accepting that you are powerful can be painful. But there it is!!

If we think about it, in every situation, no matter how many things are actually not in our control, there are always things that are in our control. At the very least, how we choose to feel about the situation is in our control. How we choose to behave in that situation is always in our control. To ask instead of telling, to offer instead of demanding, to contribute instead of consuming, to stand instead of running, to respond instead of reacting, are all in our control. What we choose to speak or do is in our control. To choose to do nothing is also a choice and that too is in our control. Take a simple matter like being stuck in a traffic jam. Most people start fuming, their blood pressure rises, they start getting restive, then irritated, and then furious because someone accidentally honked. Road rage statistics in the US show that the maximum number of cases of verbal and physical violence happen in traffic jams. And at the end, you are still stuck.

However, there are those who use the same situation and time to catch up on reading, some meditate, some pray, some actually start conversations, and make friends in traffic jams. All in the same situation as those who are ready to kill each other. Lesson? It is our choice whether we want to treat our situation as a problem and complain or as an opportunity that hardship provides and take advantage of it. Problems need solutions, not complaints.

For more please read my book, “It’s my Life”

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