How to talk to God


I am reading Mindfulness by Joseph Goldstein. The book’s source is the Buddha’s discourse on “the four ways of establishing mindfulness.” While trying to stress the importance of bare attention, Joseph gave the following anecdote.

An interviewer once asked Mother Teresa what she says to God when she prays. “I don’t say anything,” she replied. “I just listen.” Then the interviewer asked her what God says to her. “He doesn’t say anything,” said Mother Teresa. “He just listens.”

Excerpt from the book

She has put it so beautifully – prayer is ‘Silence,’ nothing more, and nothing less.


The Best Man/Woman to be India’s next PM

As India goes to the polls to elect the next Prime Minister, I was trying to figure out the best man (or woman). I had a tough time reaching an answer, but then, this quote in my daily newspaper (The Tribune) nailed it.

We always want the best man to win an election. Unfortunately, he never runs.

— Will Rogers

Color me Red

Holi (the festival of colors), celebrated feverishly across India, inspired me to try my hand at poetry.

Red flower

Color me Red

Color me red, the color of fire
so that I may burn my sloth away.
Color me green, the color of trees
so that I have fresh eyes for each new day.
Color me blue, the color of rivers,
so that even with fires raging in my heart
I keep my cool.

On second thought,
Color me whatever-purple you want.
Eyes shut, when I peep within
I see no color.
No Sir, none at all.


Let it Snow!

Almost two hundred kilometers from my home, in the Himalayan mountains, it snowed last night. Then, chilling winds lopped off some snow and scattered it right across the skies of my town.

Cloudy sky
Today evening at home

This scene reminded me of the song “Let It Snow,” written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne.

First few lines of the song:
Oh, the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
Since we’ve no place to go
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

[for the full song, click below]

I like the song but, this moment, don’t share the sentiment. Chilly winters have overstayed – I hope warm days arrive soon.


The American

Postcard sent by Bawa N Bishen in 1918
Bawa N. Bishen, Los Angeles (1918)

More than a century ago, a young boy’s life was snuffed out by snakebite when he was watering his fields, near Nankana Sahib (now in Pakistan). His friend, who was engaged in the same daily routine, took the incident to heart. Fearing that he might meet the same fate, one early morning he left his home without informing anyone. His journey first brought him to Bombay, and then Burma, Hongkong, China; eventually, after two or three years he landed at New York harbor.

This young boy was my grandfather, Bawa N Bishen. For the next fifty years or so he made America his home, first working as a farm hand, then as an entrepreneur (he picked fresh vegetables and fruits from farms in his truck, and sold them door-to-door in the city). Later, he took cotton plantation on a lease. One thing that he despised, in the beginning, was communicating in sign language, for which he joined English language night classes. After learning English, he developed a habit of maintaining a daily log. Sample his diaries (which have been well preserved by my mother) – “14 hours for Roy”, “15 hours for Angelo, walnuts”, “Rain. No work”, “42 trees in 13 hrs for Roy”, “Party with Basheer Nath. Enjoyed”. Some entries made me recoil, others brought a smile.

Indians Crossing Gila River (1920)
Indians Crossing Gila River, Arizona, USA (1920)

Almost ten years had passed when he set foot in his village again. He must have been quite a sight – six-foot tall figure donning American hat and suit, standing in the village square, absorbing the changes in all these years. He nearly caused a commotion – “Hey! Gora sahib has got hold of Fakeera, and is tossing him around like a bunch of carrots.” Grandfather was just giving a “Punjabi hug” to his childhood pal.

Finally, when his family obligations forced him to return for good, he settled in Mandi Gobindgarh, a small town of Punjab, India. The house that he built here has concrete lettering, two stories high, on its facade reading “Bishen Bhawan of USA.” I was born and raised in this house and was quite young when he died. We take our lives for granted, but going through his pictures and diaries made me realize how much we contribute to each other’s lives.

Jawand Singh with Mr. Bishen's Goat
Jawand Singh with Mr. Bishen’s Goat, California (1923)

The picture above made me laugh. Observe what grandfather noted at the back of the photo – “Mr. Bishen’s goat.” This goat must have been dear to grandfather – a testament to Punjabis’ love of dairy products.

My father has tons of anecdotes about “The American,” and he never tires telling (or retelling) them. Dadaji, you are still remembered fondly.


A New Beginning

ਸੁੰਦਰ ਮੁੰਦਰੀਏ ਹੋ !
ਤੇਰਾ ਕੋਣ ਵਿਚਾਰਾ ਹੋ !
ਦੁਲਾ ਭੱਟੀ ਵਾਲਾ ਹੋ !
ਦੂਲ੍ਹੇ ਦੀ ਧੀ ਵਿਆਹੀ ਹੋ !
ਸੇਰ ਸ਼ਕਰ ਪਾਈ ਹੋ !
ਕੁੜੀ ਦਾ ਲਾਲ ਪਟਾਕਾ ਹੋ !
ਕੁੜੀ ਦਾ ਸਾਲੂ ਪਾਟਾ ਹੋ !
ਸਾਲੂ ਕੋਣ ਸਮੇਟੇ !
ਚਾਚੇ ਚੂਰੀ ਕੁਟੀ !
ਜਮੀਦਾਰਾਂ ਲੁਟੀ !
ਜ਼ਮੀਦਾਰ ਛੁਡਾਏ !
ਬੜੇ ਭੋਲੇ ਆਏ !
ਇਕ ਭੋਲਾ ਰਹੇ ਗਿਆ !
ਸਿਪਾਹੀ ਫੜ ਕੇ ਲੈ ਗਿਆ !
ਸਿਪਾਹੀ ਨੇ ਮਾਰੀ ਇਟ !
ਸਾਨੂੰ ਦੇ ਦੇ ਲੋਹੜੀ ਤੇਰੀ ਜੀਵੇ ਜੋੜੀ !
ਭਾਵੇਂ ਰੋ ਤੇ ਭਾਵੇਂ ਪਿਟ !

The above folk song is in the Punjabi language, sung on Lohri festival in Northern India (Makar Sankranti in Southern India). Lohri marks the end of chilling winters.

To sing this folk song, kids form groups (each of about five) and go from door to door. The first vocalist belts out one line at a time and then pauses for the remaining boys to hammer the last word “Ho” in a chorus. The performance stirs up a commotion, but then some enterprising kids bring along a drummer too, which creates jolly good merrymaking. The song praises the folk hero Dulla Bhatti. The last line of the song requests for Lohri snacks, which usually consist of sesame and jaggery confectionery along with roasted peanuts.
The performance could be likened to Halloween’s “trick or treat,” only that Lohri groups don’t entertain tricks.

In the evening, families get together around an open-air fire, offering sesame seeds to the bonfire and to their belly fire. It’s an excellent way to get the winter cold out of your bones and face your daily routines with new vigor.

YouTube link: Sunder Mundriye Ho