A Sufi Court

Today, Fali Nariman wrote an article in Indian Express commenting upon a judgement by a bench of Karnataka High Court. He specially showers praise on its courage for taking on the executive in order to ensure the basic rights of people. And in the end he says –

“I salute the judges of the Karnataka High Court for their humanitarian approach. Like Abou Ben Adhem (in the poem by James Hunt) “May their tribe increase!””

I looked up for the poem. Here it goes –

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
“What writest thou?”—The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”
“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still; and said, “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”

The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.

It is a typical and popular Romantic era poem. It talks about an event in the life of the Sufi saint Ibrahim bin Adham (anglicized to Abou Ben Adhem). Ben Adhem encounters an angel, who is writing a record of those who love God. Learning his name isn’t on this list, Ben Adhem instructs the angel to mark him down as one who loves his “fellow men.” The next night, the angel returns with a second list: those who are blessed by God. Ben Adhem’s name is at the top this time, suggesting that God favors those who love their fellow human beings—indeed, that love for other people is the best way to express love for God.

दिल मिले या न मिले…

PM IK Gujral used to say about India-Pakistan – दिल मिले या न मिले हाथ मिलाते रहिये. I don’t know how far it can take us. But the sher is a good one, taken from the following nazm written by Nida Fazli. He passed away last year.

बात कम कीजिए, ज़हानत को छुपाते रहिये
अजनबी शहर है यह, दोस्त बनाते रहिये

दुश्मनी लाख सही, ख़त्म न कीजिए रिश्ता
दिल मिले या न मिले हाथ मिलाते रहिये

ये तो चेहरे का फ़क़त अक्स है तस्वीर नहीं
इस पे कुछ रंग अभी और चढाते रहिये

गम है आवारा अकेले मैं भटक जाता है
जिस जगह रहिये वहां मिलते मिलाते रहिये

जाने कब चाँद बिखर जाए घने जंगल मैं
अपने घर के दर-ओ-दीवार सजाते रहिये

— निदा फ़ाज़ली —

In the town of Dalai Lama – 3

Dharmshala is a bigger town than Macleodganj-Forsythganj. One thing that strikes you immediately about Dharmshala is the total absence of political hoardings in every square. Pune is utterly infamous for its flex culture pouring out it’s ugliness in the name of pomp and exhibiting insecurity of some people. Vanity of vanities, as the Bible says. It was therefore very pleasant to see cityscape clear of political hoardings.

We didn’t have much time there but one thing no one wanted to miss was the majestic Dharmshala cricket stadium. It overlooks the snow-clad Dhauladhar summits in the background. Really majestic yet sublime. I am not a cricket fan but those of you who are should come here once. 

Because the Shimla side of Himachal is more known, the number of outsiders on the Kangra side is relatively less but yet sizeable. It’s all poised to change now. The present CM of Himachal has been holding winter sessions of the state assembly in Dharmshala for last many years and he recently announced it to be the second capital of the state. It’s supposed to be the master-stroke in the upcoming assembly elections there. 

On the journey, we also got an opportunity to meet the manager of Palampur tea processing cooperative. He was a very well informed and also enthusiastic enough to talk to us. Kangra valley tea is somewhat different from the Darjeeling and Assam tea. The kind is different and so is the processing. The cooperative was loss making a few years ago and the government had to take over. Today the losses are minimised and it is working fine. There are some private factories around but overall area under tea cultivation is not large here, people prefer other traditional crops like rice over tea. The harvest season here is shorter compared to the eastern Himalayas, and thus smaller is the processing season. And the usual paradox of India – that labour is difficult to find in the country of 1.3 billion population – was true here too. Plucking season demand of labour is huge. I have never understood this paradox well. The whole tea processing that we witnessed is a simple drying and segregating process – but the weathering stage which is crucial in the whole scheme of things is the most energy and time consuming. Most of the final product is green tea and black tea, not the CTC type which Indians largely consume, and thus its largely exported. But not directly. They auction it at Kolkata Tea Board first. 

There is a place nearby in adjoining Mandi district for commercial paragliding. It’s a good place if you are interested in some adventure. Although largely safe and simple, it does take some gumption to jump in the valley.

People here are involved in constructing homes and hotels everywhere – in the plains and on the slopes, in the corners and on the road side, near the markets and far away. There is some amount of prosperity here largely owing to tourism industry as the local economic activity is mostly very basic. SBI ATMs can be sighted everywhere. Noticing it gives you some kind of patriotic feeling, like the one when we locate Indian Post Office in random border town. There is a narrow-gauge train too, coming from Pathankot. It’s not as famous as Kalka Shimla one but there is some scope to improve the connectivity. The roads however are superb. One must salute the state government for that. Shimla side people find Chandigarh nearer and go there for marketing or for other needs. For Kangra and Chamba it’s Pathankot, not Chandigarh. There is one Himalayan Bioresource Technology Institie of CSIR there. We didn’t get time to go there and see what they do. 

There are many small cantonments here, dotting the landscape. Many schools here are named after Vikram Batra (PVC) who belonged to this region. Kangra also has distinction of producing the first PVC of India – Captain Somnath Sharma. Like the neighboring Kumaun Himalayas, this region is also known for producing excellent jawans and many officers, known for their professionalism and valour.

That is all.. It was a short trip of two days. Final impression is that of the Himalayas. It’s lasting. It’s a beauty where serenity meets majesty and creates a magic. That magic keeps you calling back to Himalayas again. That magical feeling never goes away. That magic persists deep inside your heart. That magic of the Himalayas.

In the town of Dalai Lama – 2

Tibetans are somewhat interesting stock of people. They are stereotyped as peace-loving, spiritually oriented, meek and straightforward people. And yes, they are also supposed to invoke sympathy if not pity because they have lost their homeland.


They are trying to survive in an alien country, with their population fragmented across different provinces while in their own country they are being systematically reduced to minority by immigrant Han Chinese population. They have struggled hard to gather support and keep the movement alive for over two generations now. And they also face many problems. Finance is the least of it. 

They seem to have devised various ways of mobilising financial support. Many nations and many nationals seem to be providing the funds. Some unscrupulous elements from amongst the Tibetans also seem to have mastered the art of luring the impressionable people and monetising the gathered sympathy. Many have left India and settled in the developed world and send money from there or help their fellow brethren migrate there. Selling Tibetan art and culture is just another way. Finance is therefore not the major bottleneck it seems.

Major problems afflicting their movement are two – post Dalai Lama future and danger of keeping the Tibetan identity intact in the foreign land, esp when the population is fragmented. 

Post Dalai Lama future is the imminent issue. Dalai Lama has carried the mantle of Tibetan cause for over half a century very artfully and with dignity. That he has not reached anywhere by and large is a different issue. And what after him? Panchen Lama, the second most revered Lama of the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism, and the one who selects the boy reincarnating the Dalai Lama, has been abducted by the Chinese government during very young age. Suspicion is that he is kept in hiding somewhere and is being raised up as per the wishes of the Chinese state. When the time comes, he could very well select the future Dalai Lama from amongst the pro-Chinese Tibetan population from the region under tight grip of China. To obviate this possibility, the present Dalai Lama, the 14th one in the unbroken chain for over many centuries, has given indications that he might very well choose not to be reborn at all. There is another interesting possibility – of two Dalai Lamas, one pro China and other anti China. However, the government-in-exile already exists, pointing towards gradual separation of the political from the spiritual and thus some dilution in the authority of the office of Dalai Lama. No one can predict the future but everybody is seriously apprehensive. The day is not afar.

Tibetans are settled in various parts of India and there is also a huge expatriate community. It comes with a cost. They are finding it difficult to maintain their separate identity. Inter-racial marriages are not uncommon, their next generation is increasingly being raised up in non-Tibetan neighbourhoods. It’s a real struggle to maintain the cultural identity. 

They seem to have done commendable job at Macleodganj nonetheless. There is a traditional way of teaching the Tibetan philosophy, traditional art forms of metal work, wood work and thang-ka paintings, as showcased at Norbulingka. They get lavish support from abroad. They have not stopped using Tibetan language for both official as well as mundane purposes yet. Hindi is used but not with acceptance. Social distance is tried to be maintained from the Indians wherever possible but economic interactions can’t be avoided. Many monasteries are built at regular distance with community support which provide focus to community identity as well as some cohesiveness. There are many camps dotting the whole landscape of Kangra valley from Dharmshala to Palampur. Lamas are generated at regular rate from upasaka families, keeping the balanced population. 

But some strains are visible to a keen onlooker. I met some youth interested in finding out Katappa ne bahubali ko kyo maaraa and hotly discussing it, some girls listening to A R Rahman and even one random Lama cozying up with a runaway Tibetan girl in a secluded place in the valley. It’s difficult to remain in a land as interesting as India and not get affected by it. Many Tibetans regularly flock to Delhi, we were told, in the hope of getting a visa to the US. Not sure what’s the truth in it but wheels of modernisation and of human emotions are as ruthless as the relentlessly spinning wheel of dhamma.

In the town of Dalai Lama – 1

I recently visited Macleodganj, the seat of the Tibetal government-in-exile, and the place where people generally go for smoking joint. It’s a calm place, a small sleepy town in the laps of Dhauladhar range of the mighty Himalayas, hustling with tourists. 

Every visitor has a different purpose in mind – some want to see the famous monastery and listen to Dalai Lama, some are interested in adventure sports while others are there to enjoy Pahadi beauty. The market is full of Tibetans selling good fortune Buddhas, Thang-kas and Free Tibet flags, Biharis selling shirts and coffee, Kashmiris selling mufflers and overcoats. Hotels are full of authentic Tibetan food, continental items, and Punjabi dishes. Like Kasauli, the veritable Jewish town in the Himachal, Macleodganj is also famous for ease with which people can obtain some drugs. There are many Cafés here and there serving muffins and cafe latte. Tibetan owned hotels, along with serving thukpa and lamb momos, always exhibit a huge wallpaper size photo of Lhasa – a constant reminder to everyone of their homeland. Lamas in red robes rush up and down the streets. The firang visitors are interested in spiritual awakening or political understanding and are generally visibly involved in some kind of interaction with the Tibetans. Indian tourists of family type are more interested in visiting ‘spots’ and eating ice cream. And yes, taking selfies. Air is salubrious, sky is clear and weather is pleasant. It was a short trip for a couple of days.

There is one temple there – called Bhagsu Nag temple. And there is an old Church there – called St. John in the Wilderness. One is a typical of Shaiva temples all across the world – that are located in difficult terrains at some corner of the mother earth. The other is also a typical of neo-gothic architecture – impressive simplicity and profound sense of calmness amidst the Deodar forest. And yes, the Belgian tinted glass gifted by Lady Elgin. The one is a kul-devta of the Gorkha Rifles. All their regiments perform annual pooja there. The St John in the Wilderness is the Church of their former gora officers, as the numerous plaques and memorial stones indicate. Had Lord Elgin had his way, Macleodganj could have been India’s summer capital instead of Shimla.


In the western Himachal Pradesh, there is a Kangra valley and then the Chamba valley. Macleodganj falls near Kangra. Like all other Indian places, it has its own layered history. Its own original history is of of Gaddi tribe involved in transhumance, the vertical economy. They take their sheeps up and down the Himalayas seasonally and harness the costly and cozy wool. The landscape is full of lush green pastures in the valleys. Gaddi numbers are dwindling though as the next generation is not willing to get into the hard life of a migrant herder. Then the region also has the history of the numerous hill rajas, who gave patronage to the Pahadi paintings of rutu-mala and raag-malas, and the rajas who fought with each other and with the Mughals and also with the sikh gurus. Then it’s the same region that formed the inner line of defence of India during the British times. British Indian foreign policy that was obsessed with the Russian bear’s imminent aggression for over a century considered the inner line of Himalayas important for the defence of India. It was a favourite retreat of Lord Elgin, the famous liberal Whig viceroy in the 1860s, who is also buried here. When the Holy Dalai Lama, the spiritual-cum-political leader of the Tibetans, had to flee Tibet in late 1950s, he chose this place for his permanent residence and thus ensued a huge immigration of Tibetan population that changed the demography of the region. At that time it was called PEPSU and was a part of the larger Punjab. It was carved out separately by Indira Gandhi in the next decade. Today it’s a complete khichadi, like any other part of India. Common in uniqueness.