Rising from the ashes

Synopsis : This is the story of a Cambodian woman who when very young had to go through the nightmare called the Khmer Rouge in her country .The story is told in her own words that I helped edit and publish.

Rising from the ashes

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Source : Google photo of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia

This is the story of Sivath who lives in Cambodia . I was the editor of her story.

Sivath’s story

The beginning

There is a verdant land where an ancient civilization was born that had no equal in its
time. It is a land of emerald green fields, pristine forests and a gentle people. It is a land of immense lakes and rivers where people live in peace if not prosperity .In its ancient name it was called Khmer empire that left its mark in the world history as an astounding example of what human ingenuity and endeavor could accomplish.

It was a Hindu empire that grew out of a place called Angkor thousands of years ago and created lofty temple and city complex with intricate system of lakes, canals to support a vibrant agriculture based economy that supported in turn a vast empire ruled by god kings.   It predates European history and had nothing comparable in the ancient world.

I come from such a land now called Cambodia. It is a shadow of its past glory but if you
come to my land, you will know what I mean .You will stand in awe in Angkor wat when you notice its scale, its grandeur and its monumental glory. You will wonder how was it possible for the ancients to create such a place that has survived to the present day.

Then you will notice on one side of the road leading to the monuments, a sad cluster of
people with missing limbs or other deformities playing music. A sign says they are victims of land mines and war atrocities and are trying to earn a living and keep their dignity. Some tourists give a few coins and others simply walk on by not willing to face the ugly facts that bedeviled this once peaceful land and still haunts its people.

I come from such a land and have a story to tell. My name is Sivath and I am a woman
who suffered un imaginable horrors that fell on my beautiful land as a scourge .I was only a young girl then.

A dark shadow descends

I do not know when the Khmer Rouge gained power around the capital Phnom Penh but I do know that on April 17, 1975 at around 9.30 in the morning they arrived in Phnom Penh with their guns and an agenda that no one knew anything about. We knew who they were because they wore black clothes and   wrapped a Khmer krama around their neck.

They exuded   an aura of fear surrounding them that we had never seen before. I
suppose you could say that they were like the SS in Nazi Germany except that they were in simple black clothes and rubber tire sandals. I will refer to them as KR from now on. We lived near the US embassy south of the city and at first did not know what the KR wanted but soon they came and took my father’s car by force and told us to leave the town within three days .

They said that the Americans were going to bomb the city . The same day on April 17,
1975 when they took my father’s car, they ordered us at gun point to leave so we took
whatever we could carry on two motorbikes and one bicycle and started towards an
unknown future trembling and with deep foreboding.

We had seventeen members in our family. My father was a colonel and two brothers were in the army but this fact was hidden from the KR because they would have shot them. So they   just took his car and left and we started a slow and fearful journey past the US embassy and to the south of the city.

All around us were throngs of people who had been ordered out by the KR but at that
time we did not know how many. Later we would learn that they emptied the whole city and forced a huge population to move. No one was spared, not even babies , sick or old people.

I was born in Kratie province in April 1957 so you can now guess how old I was . We had never faced such a dire situation in our whole life so we organized as best as we could to stay together and took shelter that night at a pagoda named Samround.

My father said that the KR were communists and a bad lot so we must tear up our IDs
and other documents . He also cautioned us not talk too much. We felt that as long as we stayed together, we would be safer and the elders would know what to do.

Since we left in a hurry, we could take with us some rice ,few cans of fish , box of
medicines and some clothes only but my father had hidden a lot of money as well. This
would turn out to be useless as there were no opportunity to spend them . So we
decided to go south to the Samroung Pagoda where my knew the monk .We could not go my father’s home in Battambang because it was too far and dangerous. We also did not want the people there to know about our situation so we moved on hoping to find the monk but the monk was nowhere to be found. The KR had taken him away.

We heard that before KR took power, there was fierce fighting between them and general Lon Nol in 1970 but I was too young to know all the gory details. Days later we reached another pagoda along the Basak river because we were by now desperate for a shelter of any kind . You can now picture the throngs of people in the same situation. But we stayed there only one night and the very next day the KR told us to move to Kos Thom province across the river.

The strategy

At that time the KR divided the people into two groups called new people meaning the city people and the old people meaning the peasants. The peasants were told that the city people were lazy and uppity so they had to be taught a lesson in the dignity of labor. The task was left then to the old people who felt no affinity for them. They could treat the new people with scorn and abuse.

Whenever the KR wanted to take something, they said Ang ka Ang Ka but we never
dared to ask what it meant. We were thus told to stay in a farmer’s house where he allowed some of us to stay the night at the cowshed in a very filthy condition . The rest were put up somewhere without a wall. As we had brought only one sac of rice, we tried to exchange our clothes for potato or corn to cook with rice but the farmer warned us not to anger the KR. When we ran out of rice , we were given one can of rice per person and a few days later 3 cans of rice for five people by the KR. By now everybody was on a list of the KR.

The interrogation :

The KR now started the process of determining who was who and said to us that we
must not lie to them and tell them who my father was and what he did . If he was in the army then he would be sent back to serve in some capacity. If he was a teacher then he would be placed somewhere to teach but we could see in their cruel eyes that they were hiding their true intentions so we kept quiet as my father had told us to. But we were in shock when my father capitulated quickly under interrogation and told them that he was a colonel in the army and his two sons were soldiers. We felt very sorry for him.

They kept a stony face that revealed nothing and said that he must await their decision. In the mean time if the KR needed to educate him then he must get ready to go to indoctrination camps. They were setting up vast camps to re educate people to the KR ways of thinking but we were now truly afraid.

After they left, my father admitted that he had made a mistake by telling them who he
was and had perhaps put our lives in danger as well. He said that the communists were very bad people but we must somehow survive.

As the days passed, he was given the job of tending the cows and we were told to report to work with various work gangs that the KR had now set up. So my mother, my sistersand brothers were all separated and told to join different groups. Only my youngest brother was ordered to work with my father in herding and tending animals.

The villagers by now knew who my father was but did not treat him badly at first.
However, this would change over time. The village chief was keeping a very close watch on all of us. The KR told us to go to work early every day and return back to the village for  dinner at night.They checked everyday who went to work and who didn’t .

One day they saw that my father did not go to work and stayed instead with my ailing
grandmother.   This did not go well with them and he was asked roughly why he did not go to work that day. They did not like his answer that he was very tired and needed to look after the grandmother as well . This would later have dire consequences for my
father. As our small supply of rice dwindled to nothing, we had to beg the KR to give us
something to eat but this was just the beginning of a prolonged nightmare.

As I had mentioned earlier, the KR had divided the people into new and old people. They called the new people meaning the city people Pracheachon Thmey   and the old people Pracheachon Cah. Now the old people looked down on us bordering on hate and said that we were soft and not hard working like them. This hatred was encouraged by the KR who wanted to start a class war.

My father said again and again   that the KR plans to kill him in the re education camp and it was only a matter of time so imagine our horror when one day several cadres came to pick him up . He trembled and his eyes were red . All he could mumble with downcast eyes was –  yes. The KR said that there was nothing to worry about and it was only going to be for a short time but deep in our heart we did not believe them. We could not sleep whole night thinking about our father and what would happen to him and comforted each other while suppressing   sobs.

The next morning my mother told us that our father had left her a small note that said
something like this:“ Children- when I am away , please please struggle hard for your life, do not quarrel with each other and always listen to your mother. Take care of her and the younger ones. I may never return from this ordeal.
Bye”. We all felt very sad but had to wake up early every morning to go   where the KR
wanted us to work that day and returned exhausted to share our meager dinner
together.

Imagine our pleasant surprise when father returned after three days of camp somewhere and said that it was not as bad as he thought and he met many of his friends there. We began to have some hope. After my father came back to live with us, he started to work at the farm again with my youngest brother and sister and looked after the cows . He thought a lot, could not sleep well and sometimes put his hand on his forehead, looked at the can of rice that we kept for the family. He believed that one day   he would be back to work at his office in Phnom Penh then get his income to support his children again.

Few months later the Ang Ka’s cadre came to tell him that it was time again to go to the camp for political re education.   We did not at this time feel any alarm and thought that perhaps they would allow us to go back to Phnom Penh again to live a normal life.

We waited silently for any news about our father ,woke up early everyday to pack our
lunch and go to the farm to work. We were lucky to get some meat or vegetables once in a while thanks to the village chief who passed on the tidbits on the sly. But often there was not enough rice for all of us so we added corn or potato to the rice when we could get them. It was a miserable life.

We lived in a village called Kos Tung in the Kos Thom district of Kandal province. The KR made us build levees in the rice fields during the summer season but there was no end to the forced labor. We still hoped to see our father again and live with him in Phnom Penh but now we were not sure. Because the KR deceived people into believing that they could go back to their homes or towns if they so wished. This made my older sister and brother who were married to add their names to the list of those who wanted to go leaving the rest of us with our mother. My grand mother and uncle thus stayed.

Hunger and malnutrition :

After my older sister and brother left us, my mum decided to add our names to the list  to move from Kos Tung village to see our father in Phnom Penh. We still believed to meet him soon. We went by boat across the Basac river again and stayed 4 or 5 days at a pagoda the name of which escapes me.   It was not only my family that wanted to move, but a lot of people too. All waited for four or five days until we got called to move by a big truck.

I do not remember when we were ordered to go but it was the day after our name was
put on the list. The trucks transported hundreds of people tightly packed so there was no room to sit. We could see a few KR men and women in black outfit and scarves along the road, some standing quietly while others cutting trees passing by the Pocheng Tong airport . Phnom Penh university and then onto Oudong in   Kampong Snang and eventually arrived in Pursat province in the evening .

We were surprised and very disappointed that we were not allowed to return to Phnom Penh by the KR and knew then that they were very cruel . We were now afraid of them and decided not to tell them anything about us or our family not knowing what they would do to us.

We worked hard and lived very poorly in Kos Thom province but then our family decided to go to Battambang by train to seek a better life. We went past two provinces of Kampong Snag and Pursat   and were dropped off at a village between Battambang and Siem Reap that we walked to .Our mother kept on saying that we must not tell the KR anything about us except that we are the children of a vendor. At first they let us return to the village   but a month later they started separating the singles from the widows and widowers.

My grand mother, mother, two elder sisters and brother, three younger brothers, two
younger sisters and me were now the remaining members of our group. As our difficulties mounted day by day, we exchanged our clothes for rice with the old people called Prachea Chun Cas. Now we got very little rice from the KR so we lived on rice water mixed with potato leaves and such.

Our life deteriorated rapidly after we moved from the Kos Thom district
although we still had a glimmer of hope that our father was in Phnom Penh working and soon our situation would   improve . Due to lack of food and hard work, my older brother got sick and could not stand up anymore. He cried for food and became thinner day by day. We had no medicine to give him . My mother tried hard to look for food like meat in exchange for riceor sugar but she was unable so our brother died due to lack of food and medicine. My younger brothers were also very thin but they scavenged by the river side for fish or anything. The KR gave us some rice but it was never enough so our Ma fed us the ricegruel with occasional potato in it .

Then it was the turn of my younger brother who developed classic symptoms of malnutrition like big eyes, swollen knees and feet and weight loss . The KR gave us some herbal medicine but it did not help him because soon he too died.

The village in the Battambang province where we lived was called Anloong Vil .By this time we had   lost two members of our family ,one due to illness and the other one due to hunger. Now it was the turn of our grandmother who died painfully with swollen legs. Months later our younger brother was injured by a sharp bamboo while looking forfish in the river and died of infections. We had no medicine for him.

Death in the family :

Now we were left with my mother, my older sister Sithan, myself, my younger brother Santhy, my younger sister Sivann, my younger brother Sidoeun, my youngest sister Sivanna and my youngest brother Siphanno , eight in all . At this time my elder sister and I were sent to work with a group of women far from our family so that we could not get back to join them. We came to know of the cruelty of   the KR and the fact that they were very dangerous so we learned to keep our mouth shut , be patient and work hard.

We could plant potato in the Anloong Vil village and raise chickens but everything belonged to KR or Ang Ka as they liked to call themselves, not only the things we gathered in the village but things we had brought from Phnom Penh . All they needed was to say they wanted it. It was horrible.

The incident :

One day we saw a chicken near our cottage so I dared to kill it as we had not had any
meat for so long and lived only on boiled rice or rice water but I forgot to look around
.One little girl who was playing near our cottage saw me and ran to report to the village chief. We waited in apprehension to see what would happen next but cooked the chicken anyway .

The very next morning I was summoned to the house of the village chief . My family
members were stricken with dread and thought that surely I will be put to death for this offense. There the KR cadre bound my hands behind me and took me to a corn field . I then thought that this was the end and they would surely execute me. In the quiet corn field behind the village I was filled with dread not knowing what they would do next.

Here they started to beat me and asked why I dared to kill the chicken without their
permission. Didn’t I know that everything belonged to Ang Ka ?   As the beatings
continued ,I pretended to be faint and laid down on the grass without saying a word but I could hear everything they said. They kicked me and asked me to stand up but I bit my tongue hard and stayed still.

I could hear everything they said but I still pretended to faint. Perhaps half an hour later I could hear the voice of the Village chief who told them to stop beating me and let me go. I slowly opened my eyes and stood up although my whole body ached and went home. My   mother and other siblings felt happy to see me again and said that I had a long life. I thanked God for being alive after this ordeal.

The separation from the family :

A month later I was told to pack my things and get ready to move to a farm far away from my family. My elder sister was allowed to stay with her group closer to the cottage because she lied to KR that she was a widow. I walked for more than half a day to reach the place where I was to work as a slave. Thus I was separated from my family for the first time .The only way to survive was to please the KR.

I joined a group of single women to work in the fields starting very early in the morning until late in the evening so most of my day was spent working hard in the fields very far from the main road. I lost track of time and felt a longing to get back to my family. This was not allowed so I convinced myself that I was old enough to live alone.

We woke up very early every morning at around 4 and came back to the cottage at 8 or 9 pm exhausted after working in the fields the whole day. I did not know the names of places where I worked or where I lived. My companions were a Chinese girl and three Chamwomen who were Moslems. We grew very fond of each other and always slept together .

The KR forced us to do weeding in the rice fields, make ditches or dams, harvest or plantrice ,cutting thatch or collect plants to make fibers to make rope or sacks, catch fish ,make baskets and even plough the rice paddies . This was very hard labor. The leaders of the work gang were uneducated farmers who took orders from the KR and enforced them without thinking and without mercy. We had no way of knowing time and often slept at the place where we worked and woke up at 3 or 4 am to go to work again.We did not know one place from the other and never received any information about my family .

Hard labor took its toll :

We the women looked older than our age due to this harsh regime and poor food .I had
no period for three years and my body was filled with lice because I had no soap to clean myself. I was young and knew nothing about the situation around me except that I had to follow orders and work till I lay down exhausted.

The never ending work under sun or rain sapped our energy so we slept under the stars and looked at the moon longing for the return to normal life . Our clothes were dirty and our bodies and hair full of lice. The worst part was that we all smelled foul because we had no way to clean ourselves . We got soaked to the skin during the heavy downpour as we had no raincoat or shelter. We shivered and felt utterly miserable knowing that peace was not to come and make us free once again. This was the daily struggle to survive when I lived with a group if single women.

The KR lies :

The KR lied to us saying that we could get rest if our work was finished before time but in reality they forced us to move from place to place without any rest day or night. We often had to carry old and feeble men and women . Sometime we worked close to work gangs composed of men but we only looked at each other in despair and self pity. There was a time during the winter when after finishing work at 8 pm we were forced to cross a river on foot. I felt so utterly cold and pathetic.

I gradually lost track of time as I worked with the gang of women and constantly moved from place to place. The KR propaganda forced us to say that we loved the KR, they were our parents   and only they could do so much for the people .This was broadcast via the radio using the song of Kampuche Prochea Thimyey over and over again.

My diarrhea   at this time made my life hell as there was no hospital or medicines but
slowly I got better only to go back to the slave work. There were no schools, no hospital, no market or even rudimentary health clinic . The Cambodian money was useless and even gold was not worth much so often the KR took the gold from us to melt down and   make oil lamps with it.

During the rice planting season I worked pulling seedlings to be transplanted .Again the lie was that if we could finish the work early, we could rest so I worked fast and sneaked out to visit my mother and younger sisters whom I missed dearly. This was risky but my friends in the work gang covered for me when they could. This was
when I worked close to the village where they lived.

I also went to see them because sometimes I could get some food or old clothes   as my
clothes were thin and tattered and did not keep me warm during the winter .The constant hunger drove me to steal some rice grains from the plants in the paddies but this wasalso very risky. Suddenly a KR militia appeared with a long gun and stopped me stone cold and said that he wanted to check me. I was so afraid that I thought this was the end of me. Surely he was going to kill me if he found the rice grains in my pocket.

He searched my first shirt that was loose and found nothing and let me go .I was lucky again as he did not search my second shirt underneath where I had hidden the rice. I was relieved and thanked God for helping me the second time around and started walking toward the main road .

The fear:-

I could not stay on the road due to the fear that I may come across another militia again and I may not be so lucky the second time around so I looked for a short cut to reach thevillage. But this was also difficult and the darkness made it more difficult to find my way . It was winter and dark so I could not see well where I was going but dimly saw a long channel full of water that I had to cross .I could not swim so thought of rolling up my trousers and wading through it not knowing how   deep it was. Gingerly I stepped into it and luckily found the water to be only chest deep. Thus I was able to reach the main road and walk toward the village.

As I was very cold and could not reach the village, I decided to spend the night along theway somewhere. I found a boy burning hay to keep him warm in a cow shed so I slept with him huddling his warm body and woke up early next morning to find my way to the village.

Early next morning I woke up and rushed toward the village when I suddenly heard my brothers and sisters calling me that made me cry with joy. I missed them so much. They gave me some food like potato, red sugar and some rice but I told them that I had toreturn to work soon so my mother hurriedly packed some food for me that I shared with my friends little as it was.

We lived like this without a roof   where ever we could and could not escape .The shooting pain in my leg often crippled me and I pretended to go away to urinate but often the KR did not believe us and followed us to force us back to work. I had to remind myself again and again to be patient. I faced a thousand dangers during this time under the KR regime. Stealing a chicken to feed my family, stealing rice to stave off starving all was dangerous work because the militia always kept a close watch.

Starving and punishment :-

The empty stomach, painful legs and diarrhea to boot made my life so miserable, I wish I could die to end it. But I continued to live with a group of women and constantly moved from place to place. I remember once during the hot season KR forced people to make a dam where there was no water for drinking. If we needed water, we were allowed to look for it but only one person at a time. When we found water, it was foul and muddy. When KR brought water, it was only for drinking and not for washing. Anyone caught washing was punished by tying the hand to a tree and let the ants bite or tying the hands back under hot sun .Such harsh punishment without food or forcing to dig   a large pit   4 to 5 meters long was common.

At first the KR organized people to work in small or big groups but later changed their
mind when they saw that people could not work as much as KR wanted them to due to
their famished conditions. Now they started by forcing each person to work a required amount each day like digging a pit of 4 to 5 m long.

This was specially hard on weak and starving people .The lack of drinking   water was a crucial issue so they promised a new bucket to a group to fetch water . But something
held me back. The group that was promised new buckets was punished to dig pits and
they did not return that day. I felt so sorry looking at them the next day and thought I
was lucky that I did not ask for a new bucket and waited. We waited a long time for a simple bucket of water at the time of harvest but in vain. I forgot about the time .

Once KR sent our group to cut a kind of plant to make ropes in the deeper part of water
during the rainy season. I did not know how to swim and the place looked like sea. There were no villages nearby that made us afraid. We felt cold and shivered just looking at the expanse of water everywhere. We worked hard and ate our meager lunch standing in the water and somehow got back to our cottage late in the evening. Our legs felt very itchy and hurt but there was no medicine to be had so we had to stay in the cottage and subsist only on rice water. This was the punishment for not working so I found a few grains of rice in the field and chewed on it during the harvest time   to ward off the pangs of hunger. Nearly all my teeth were thus worn off chewing on uncooked rice grains.

A ray of hope:-

With my Chinese and Moslem friends we sometimes found a fish or two in the ditch or
some rice grains in the field but we were always afraid the KR will find out and punish us. If one of us got sick, we shared our food with her secretly. We lived like this for a very long time and lost hope that peace will come one day. But one day some people started talking and said that peace will come soon and our country will soon be free and we all will be able to go home and be with our family. Often we could hear the sounds of bombs but the KR kept us working and said that it was nothing.

We heard that the Vietnamese had come to liberate us but nothing changed for us and
we were herded everyday for forced labor by the KR . Some of them had radios but theydid not tell us what they heard so we could only guess what was happening.

One day however, we saw a big group of people leaving but did not know where they
went. This time the KR allowed us back to our cottage early and eat. We wondered why
but dared not ask. Among us we whispered that perhaps peace was coming and God will allow us to return home and end our misery.

As we laid down on the wooden floor, we heard the sound of bombs getting near by the minute and were very afraid so we huddled together not knowing what was happening. Suddenly near midnight we saw the Vietnamese soldiers pointing their flashlights on us.

The dreaded KR flee:-

The KR had fled during the night   so at last we were free of the tyrants . However, one
group was forced by the KR to go with them westward. We woke up with joy the next
morning and rushed to get some food, any food we could find and quickly packed our
meager belongings because we all felt that finally this nightmare was over and we were going home. We saw many tanks along the road and hurried past them delirious with joy to get to the village to rejoin our families.

At this point I was so thin and weighed less than 30 or 40 kilos but I thought that
perhaps my family did not have enough to eat so I tried to get a bucket of rice for them
but this was hard for me to carry because I felt very weak and was easily tired so I had to stop many times   and get rest before I could reach the village. I prayed that God should give me strength to reach the village and I laughed out like a mad woman happy to be free once again. I saw people carrying things and hurrying to meet their loved ones and their faces showed joy and relief that peace had finally come to Cambodia.

Finally my sisters and brothers rushed out to meet me   .They hugged me and kissed me and we shed tears of joy at this reunion. They gave me rice ,meat and vegetables to eat but it gave me diarrhea .We found to our joy that we could go anywhere and find anything we wanted and did not need permission of the KR thugs anymore.

Our family stayed at the Angloog village for a while before we decided to go back to ourhome in Phnom Penh so we moved toward Siem Reap slowly . We met a lot of people on the road , all eager to return to their native places . We stayed nearly a month in SiemReap and made rice noodles in exchange for other food.

All the time the Vietnamese soldiers gave us ride in their truck and often dropped us in
some unknown places and said that we should hitch a ride whenever a truck passes by. Thus we stayed on the road and waited for the ride the next day to get to the Skun commune.We were eager to see our house in Phnom Penh that was near the US embassy but wecould not enter the city because it was under the Vietnamese control and all roads leading to it was shut .

We knew hundreds of people who were now lost in this dark period   but hoped that some of them will find us if we wrote our address on the walls of many places although the hope was very small.

Home again :-

We could not talk our way through the cordon because we did not speak the Vietnamese language so we waited until we found a kind person in authority who permitted us to stay at a place near Phnom Penh. Even when we   reached   Phnom Penh, we had no chance to look at our old house. Many people had died during these turbulent times and many houses in Phnom Penh were empty so it was not difficult to find a place to stay temporarily but we lastly found our house still in good shape. It was the happiest moment in my life.

We tried every day to find   a way to see it until one day the Vietnamese troops opened
up some roads and allowed us to pass . We were so happy when we finally reached   ours  but much to our dismay found the place in shambles and almost derelict. It was a great shock to us to see the house completely vandalized and the furniture dumped upside down here and there but we did see one plate so admired by our grandma among the mess. We sat there a long time looking at the ruin of what was once an elegant home but we dared not ask the Vietnamese to get our house back although they had liberated our country from the KR .We expected so little from them and were unsure how to go about getting our home back.

We missed our father terribly and saw the bamboo plant that he had planted in the
garden. We hoped that many relatives might have had a better luck and perhaps survived but we did not know where they were so we wrote our address on the wall of our house with the hope that perhaps they would thus find us someday.

One day my younger brother went by our old house and while sitting under a tree was
approached by my sister who was allowed to go and live with her husband by the KR and had survived . My sister had remembered the face and recognized him right away. She was in shock when she saw a young boy under a tree who looked very much like our younger brother. They hugged each other and cried hard when they recognized each other. He had grown up since we had seen him the last time. Happily we were reunited once again bringing tears to my mom’s eyes. Thus little by little some members of our family were found and reunited

Our second sister was a typist and had worked with an assurance company before the
nightmare of KR regime. Our first sister was a school teacher and we the rest were just
students.

One day a strange man approached my sister near the Russian market where she was
waiting for my mother and asked her if she wanted to work and what type of skill she
had. My sister said that she was a typist so the man gave her a job at the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs and found her a place to live nearby. We in the mean time found another place to live but still could not get back to our own home. However, my sister requested her boss to let me work with her which he granted so I too became a staff at the ministry.This permitted us to have free lodgings but being single, we were afraid to live just byourselves so we moved in with other MFA staff who   were living in the old parliament building close to the MFA.

My sister worked as a typist and I as a cleaner but without any salary. We were only
given 10 kg. of rice a month each and sometimes some meat, fish and vegetables. But mysister was a good typist so she later got a job at the Cambodian embassy in Russia .She told me before leaving Phnom Penh that   I too should learn to type so that I can get a job easily.

At that time the offices had no lock and key so it was easy for me to sneak in and practice typing .I learned how to type but it was boring. At that time the offices had no lock and key so it was easy for me to sneak in and practice typing .I learned how to type but it was boring. Now I had the idea of saving my rice and exchange it later for some clothes and a necklace. In the meantime I continued to learn to type after all the staff left. At first I had difficulty but soon I learned to type fast in French and English but typing in Khmer was difficult. I did not have a teacher so I typed with two fingers only .Sometime I wanted to quit but somehow I continued because it was a way out of my situation. I wanted a proper job so I had to have a proper skill. Later I found a proper job and little by precious little we started to rebuild our shattered lives, wiped out tears and stood up once again to face the future.

Epilogue :

Thus my sad story comes to an end . I was reunited with what was left of my family andwe got back our home or only the shell of it but it was a lot more than many of my
countrymen found and some never did. Millions lost their lives in the hands of the KR and millions more like me bear the scar of their brutal regime that have not yet healed.

It is hard to imagine such misfortune in a land that was so peaceful and blessed once and that gave rise to the greatest civilization in this part of the world . It is incomprehensible to anyone who visits our beautiful country now   how such monsters like KR ever came to rule this land with such brutality and left such a horrific legacy .

The Toul Sleng torture centre is now open to tourists who wander through its corridors
and rooms full of photos of victims and torture equipment , records and blood smearedwalls   and wonder what made man so cruel to a fellow being . The world history is full of such cruelty and persists even today.

So if you come to my country and see those people playing music near the road to past
glory , stop and listen to them and their story played through mournful music . They will tell you that although their bodies were beaten , their soul is untouched and their spirit to rebuild this ravaged land is unbroken.

Please visit the link to read her story.

Rising from the ashes

 

Note :  My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese  languages at the following links as well as my biography:

Mes blogs en français.

Mis blogs en espagnol

Blogs von Anil in Deutsch

Blogs in Japanese

My blogs at Wix site

tumblr posts    

Blogger.com

Medium.com

Anil’s biography in English.

Biographie d’Anil en français

La biografía de anil en español.

Anil’s Biografie auf Deutsch

Anil’s biography in Japanese

Биография Анила по-русски

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Religious intolerance

Synopsis : The religious intolerance has taken millions of lives and continues to do so even today because of the blind belief that their religion is the only true religion therefore the rest are not hence the conflict. This conflict cannot be resolved anytime soon unless people learn to be tolerant of others who are not like them and accept that people have a right to have their own religion and their own beliefs.

Religious intolerance

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Source : Google photo

The rise of religious intolerance worldwide is not a recent phenomenon. At some period or other in the history of mankind, most religions have shown intolerance to others who are not of their faith causing violence perpetrated in the name of faith. The Spaniards put to sword thousands of people in the new world when the natives would not accept the Christianity in Mexico, Peru or other countries. The invaders were always accompanied by the fanatic rabble priests of Spain who used the soldiers to intimidate or kill the locals in order to establish their brand of religion.

The Spanish inquisition was a classic example of religious intolerance when thousands of innocent people were tortured and burned at stake with the approval of Vatican in Europe and the new world. The healers, gypsies and many other simple people were put to death as heretics who had no one to defend them.

Again and again kings in Europe sent the crusading  army to free Jerusalem from the Moslems  and often slaughtered wholesale the Christians who were dressed like the natives there and mistaken for Moslems . The Knight Templars and other such groups formed to protect the Christians from others and fought tooth and nail to set up a Christian foothold in the Holy Land where Christ was born and was later occupied by the Moslems. Saladin and his army destroyed Jerusalem and killed its inhabitants to set up a mosque called Al Aqsa that still after centuries causes trouble  between the Arabs and the Israelis.

Some knights fled to Malta to set up Christianity there but were attacked by the Turkish nababs to bring Malta under their control. Many thousands of lives were lost in the process . So the history is full of atrocities perpetrated in the name of religion by one group or other and sadly it continues even today.

If you read the history of India, you will know that the Moslem invaders from Afghanistan brought with them the Islam that they forced upon a once Hindu or Buddhist population and shed blood of thousands of innocent people just because they were Hindus and would not accept any other faith. Their temples and monasteries were reduced to  rubble and wholesale massacre took place in Delhi, Nalanda and elsewhere where ancient libraries were put to torch and monks slain.

So religious intolerance is nothing new . It has just become more lethal with the rise of terror groups like ISIS, Al Shabab, Boko Haram, JI, Al Quaeda, Talibans etc. that uses indiscriminate violence to achieve their goal of spreading their brand of violent Islam the like of which has not been  seen since the middle ages. While the religious intolerance was then  a state sponsored activity , it has now been taken over by individual groups that raise funds through extortion, smuggling, sale of drugs made from opium in some countries and many such activities to  further their agenda. There are some states that also sponsor such activity and openly support terror groups for one reason or other.

The vacuum created by the war and demise of Kaddafi , Saddam Hussain and others in the region has been filled by such terror groups that are taking over a large part of the region where they can set up their so-called caliphate and practice their form of intolerant and harsh and violent Islam. Millions of people are now homeless and fleeing their homeland  where they were once prosperous while their homes are being turned into rubble. Europe now has a serious refugee problem that is causing them a lot of headache.

The tragedy is purely man-made and innocent people are suffering who do not support such violence and want to live in peace . I have worked in Moslem countries and in some countries like Algeria, I found them no different from the average person anywhere. Some even invited me to their homes during Id festival and others offered food, coffee and shelter from the rain when they saw that I was getting wet riding my bike.

However, the Islamic world is quite divided between the majority Sunnis and the minority Shias not to mention many others sects like the Sufis, Hazaras, Bahais etc. who tend to be moderate in their understanding of the basic tenets of Islam. It is the Sunni majority spearheaded by the Saudis who consider themselves the true believers of Mohammed and who guard two holy sites of Islam such as Mecca and Medina, spread their belief of hardline Islam throughout the world using their oil money and emissaries ,by funding thousands of Islamic schools in many countries where they preach hate and create future Talibans or ISIS or their ardent supporters.

Then there are countries like Pakistan where a strong military and weak elected government and their eternal enmity toward India makes them a hot bed of training ground for terrorists who then go and make mayhem in India or elsewhere with the help of money from the gulf and even the United States.
Remember how Musharraf lied to the US that he did not know where Bin Laden was and he needed more money to fight the Islamists so the US kept giving him billions in arms and other war materials but Bin laden was hiding in plain sight with the knowledge and support of the Pakistan Military and the intelligence .This is just to underscore the duplicity of that country.

The fundamental thing that the civilized world fails to understand about Islam and its practitioners is that Islam recognizes no national or political border that were mostly the creations of colonial period in the middle east and elsewhere and are forcefully maintained even today because it served the interests of the colonials powers then and do so now today. This artificial division of a region by the British and other powers by drawing a line on a map and call it Saudi Arabia, Iraq or Syria has not divided the Sunnis among themselves or the Shias , rather it underscores the basic tenet of Islam that says all Muslims no matter where they live , live by the rules of Islam and not by the rules imposed on them by the governments where they live.

By this argument, it is clear to see the futility of dividing India and Pakistan into two entities because the Muslims living in these countries have more in common with each other than Hindus, Sikhs or Jains and others and will always support each other when push comes to shove as it does in Kashmir. But the British divided India after the war to serve their own interests which was to create problems on both side of India forever so that it ( India) will have to spend immense resources to keep the enemies at bay thereby slowing down the economic and military growth. This also holds true of Pakistan and hurts Pakistan more as it is poorer and has less natural resources than India .

Now let us consider the spread of Islamists in the middle East and elsewhere and see what is happening and most of all why. I agree with the writer that the West has a fundamental misunderstanding of what and whys of the Islamist movement and seems eager to punish them by bombing and giving arms to some groups to fight them in a proxy war. But the bombing has made these people more determined to carry on and it has very limited impact on their governance and mobility. It is true that most Moslems do not support ISIS and only a very small number of terrorists join them but enough in numbers to make ISIS a deadly force to reckon with by any means.

But ISIS is only a manifestation of deeper and fundamental grievance of the Muslim world against the rest who see them as “infidels” who do not believe in the teachings of Mohamed and therefore fair game as per Koran. This feeling of us vs them is more prevalent among the Moslem than what we are told by the media to believe.

Moslems feel alienated from every society they live in because of their beliefs and their readiness to fight for those beliefs in any way they can. Even the so-called moderate Moslems will agree that their beliefs in Koran and its teachings are more important to them than participating in the development of democracy, human rights and gender equality to give just a few examples because all these ideas are contrary to their beliefs and therefore have no meaning for them. They are told by the mollahs in every mosque that all Moslems are their brothers no matter where they live and they have a right to practice their faith as written in Koran or as interpreted by the mollahs where the population is mostly illiterate.

This is one basic reason why Moslems fail to integrate with others no matter where they live resulting in more animosity, ghetto living as in Europe or lack of opportunities to earn a decent living due to lack of education, social skills or training that could otherwise earn them gainful employment and make their poor lives more tenable and even more agreeable. But integration has failed in Europe and it fails in America. By contrast Hindus, Sikhs and others have greater chance of integration in foreign countries because they come equipped with education and skills and less religious baggage than the Moslem and in general have a higher standard of living .They even intermarry and the next generation of such immigrants then grow up more American, British or European than their parents .

The Moslems all over the world see the Western ideas, values or behavior as exemplified by Madonna or Rihanna or others as fundamentally against what the Koran teaches and agree that Koran spells out in clear language how a woman should dress or behave for example no matter that it was written 1400 years ago when circumstances were radically different from what they are today. It is really no different that the fundamentalist Christians who still insists that all they need to learn is in the Bible so ignore
the climate change, existence of other intelligent beings in the universe etc. just because it was not mentioned in the Bible.

It is for example forbidden to earn interest in a Moslem Bank account for a Moslem .It is haram or forbidden but it does not stop the Islamic banks to lend the free money they keep to lend it to non-Moslems at high interest rate. By and large all banks do it . They give you pittance for your money you keep with them and deduct hefty income tax on what they give and then loan it to borrowers at 15 to 18 % interest . Moslems do not accept usury and here Jesus agrees with them. There is a 12-year-old Canadian girl who is on U tube ( you must watch her) telling how banks in Canada and US rob common people to get super rich and how wall street does it with the full approval of the US government.

Now let us consider what is the future never mind what Nostradamus wrote centuries ago .I will get to that in a minute. The crisis created by a handful of people who call themselves ISIS, Talibans or Al Nusra , Moros or JI (Indonesia) have one thing in common ( Boko Haram, Al Shabab etc. are others). They share a belief that Islam is under threat and it is their duty to protect it from the rest of the world and keep it pure and following only the dictates of Koran. They are willing to use any means including mass killings to achieve their goal of one day making the whole world bow to their demands.

But the rest of the world including many Islamic countries that have made progress in agriculture,infrastructure development, education, human rights, gender equality and universal health coverage and where all people can see and feel the progress their form of democratic government is making (in spite of corruption and low moral as well as ethical values) are not sold on this ISIS inspired Jihad. In fact they are just like any other people who want to live in peace and send their children to good schools where they can learn the essentials to cope with the modern world. They are Moslems and pray five time every day but they also see values in democracy where everyone no matter how poor has a voice and can bring about changes to make their lives better. This does not happen under Koranic dictatorship so they are well aware and do not support mindless killing in the name of religion.

So now we come to the part of Nostradamus. He has predicted that a rogue nation will rise in the Middle east that will represent the third anti Christ and will acquire weapons of mass destruction to further their ideology namely nuclear weapons and attack Europe and America . This prediction is not as far-fetched as it seems. Pakistan has nuclear weapons and threatens India everyday with it but it is quite conceivable that these weapons may fall into the hands of Jihadists who are in the Pakistan army or other outfits and pass them on to this rogue nation that will them use them to advance their agenda.

Remember that Pakistan nuclear scientist Khan admitted that he sold the technology to Iran and tried to sell it to Libya and North Korea in return for huge amount of money so that he could get rich beyond belief but also due to his belief that he was helping the fundamentalists to fight against western corruption of their faith.

If such a future scenario is predicted then the result will also be predictable. The free world will not allow this rogue nation to threaten the whole world and change the world order as it stands now. People will have too much to lose and will protect what they have at any cost so they will unite against this rogue nation and destroy it or make it incapable of further mischief. In this effort India will join hands with US and Europe and other countries will fall behind this joint effort to root out the evil empire that ISIS plans to make. This will lead to the Third World War and it will last scores of years at a tremendous loss of lives on all sides but the joint will of the free world will prevail against evil as it usually does but at a tremendous costs.

I think the good always wins against evil in the long run but this war will devastate certain parts of the world and will bring death and untold misery and grief just like the last war and people everywhere will have to pay a very heavy price to defeat the purveyors of evil in the name of religion.

I hope I am not alive when that happens but I worry about the next generation because they will bear the brunt of it one way or the other.

 

Note :  My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese  languages at the following links as well as my biography:

Mes blogs en français.

Mis blogs en espagnol

Blogs von Anil in Deutsch

Blogs in Japanese

My blogs at Wix site

tumblr posts    

Blogger.com

Medium.com

Anil’s biography in English.

Biographie d’Anil en français

La biografía de anil en español.

Anil’s Biografie auf Deutsch

Anil’s biography in Japanese

Биография Анила по-русски

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Consequences of culture clash

Synopsis : When people have a feeling that they belong to a superior culture ,they tend to clash with others who come from other cultures and have their own superior feelings about it. The result is a clash that can be avoided if only people accept that no one culture is better than any other and each culture has something unique that needs to be appreciated.  The culture shock some people suffer is silly and very outdated.

Consequences of culture clash

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Source : Google photo of culture clash

Consequences of culture clash.

People always value their own culture as superior to others. It makes them feel good  to  be dismissive about other people who are not like them and not worth any consideration.  You hear jokes about people which is a manifestation of disapproval  because you do not joke about someone for whom you have high regards. In India Sikh are butt of jokes everywhere although most Sikhs take it not seriously and smile but it comes from the belief that some how Sikhs are not to be regarded as intelligent and worth respect. This is blatant prejudice.

They also make fun of south Indians who are considered uncouth in their manners and vulgar in their behavior because they use the whole palm for eating and talk only in their language even if others present do not understand them.

Some Asians do the same and turn their backs to you if you are not one of them and will ignore you because they are very uncomfortable in English. I have found this sort of behavior in many countries even when you speak their language well.

The clash of culture of which the language is a part comes when a person feels superior and condescending to others. People will laugh at your clothes, manners, body language, accent, your grooming like keeping beard, mustache,long hair ,wear turban or other such outer accoutrement. They will laugh at your choice of food, your eating manners, your drinking manners , your posture and in short anything that they don’t  approve because they think they are superior in every aspect. This is where culture clash occurs sometimes with tragic consequences.

I come from a traditional Hindu culture where we are taught that our culture is very old and venerable therefore must be superior to others. The caste discrimination is a part of the Hindu culture where people of a certain caste are looked down upon as sub humans and are still treated as such.

A brahmin girl from north India went to bathe in a river in South India but was not allowed to do so by the fanatic Brahmins there who did not believe that she was a brahmin  which is the uppermost caste in the social class in India because she did not wear silk and did not have a diamond nose pin which is the sign of a brahmin there. The river ghats were reserved exclusively for the brahmins there.

A tragic part of this culture is the system of dowry still practiced all over India when a girl gets married. Perhaps it started as a guarantee of financial  well-being for the girl in case she became a widow and had no other means to support her but it degenerated into what dowry is today and is simply a  price the parents of the bride pay to the groom . When the marriage ends up on the rocks, the bride often reminds the husband that he was bought  and has no self-respect.

The dowry deaths are not uncommon. The in-laws torment the girl because she did not bring enough dowry so they want more. Often the greed of the groom is manifested even before the marriage and he or his parents start demanding more money and gifts in order for the marriage to take place. This happens in front of the all the guests . Brave is the girl who walks away before they tie the knot because  of this brazen behavior of the groom or his parents but how many girls are so brave?

But Indians are not ashamed of the dowry system and say that it is an ancient tradition and an integral part of their old and venerable culture so it must be good. Rare is a young man  who dares to challenge his parents on it even if he is well disposed to marry a poor girl.

Young widows  were drugged with opium and burned alive on the funeral pyre of their husbands  in the name of an ancient tradition called suttee until the British banned the practice thus saving many young women’s lives . In Rajasthan young and old women preferred to jump into the fire than to surrender to the enemy when  their men lost the battle  and left their hand prints on stone walls before the self-immolation. Some of the prints found show the hand of a child.

There was a time when people could not afford to travel abroad or even within their own country so did not know much about how other people lived but in the modern age , many people travel to seek jobs abroad or simply  visit other countries . Thus they come across cultures different from their own and often come into conflict. The increase in tourism also brings foreigners to their country who bring with them their culture that may be different.

A peace corps woman  was pinched on her buttocks by Indian men who did not approve  of her very short tight shorts and took such liberty  although the woman was in shock  because she thought nothing of showing off her massive thighs.

This is purely cultural. What passes for normal in one country does not pass at all in other. When people visiting other countries  are insensitive  to local culture, such incidents happen. One Indian girl wearing very tight shorts was sent home by university students who did not approve of her.

In Fareed Zakaria’s  Why they hate us  segment in the CNN he digs deeper into the reasons behind this culture clash and give the epic example of how an Egyptian man went to a dance hall in the US  and was scandalized to see women kissing and hugging men in public and rubbing their bodies against men while dancing in close proximity . To him it was so against all that he was ever taught by his religion  that he thought such culture was pure evil that must be opposed and must not be allowed to taint the Moslems anywhere.

He wrote 14 books that were wildly popular in the middle east and gave rise to the Moslem brotherhood that vowed to fight the import of such evil influences  through media, movies and other means that were corrupting the Moslems everywhere specially the women . He was executed in Egypt for encouraging the assassination of Nasser but people called him a hero and a martyr. Later they killed Sadat and came to power in Egypt only to be toppled by the army recently.

Thus encouraged the Moslems brotherhood took over the Mecca Kaba with heavy arms and threatened to kill hostages until sharia laws were enacted everywhere.

To placate them, the Saudi government allowed them to dictate the religious teachings in the kingdom and paid for madrassas all over the world to teach fundamentalism to children who then grew up to join Al Qaeda and Talibans and now  the self-proclaimed “pure Moslems” of the caliphate  of ISIS.

So one can easily see the tragic consequences of the clash of cultures . In  most countries, people are now used to seeing hordes of camera toting tourists of all nationalities  whom they ignore or exploit. I have seen female Australian and American tourists stripping naked in plain view of locals and swim in the rivers in Thailand where the bashful locals just avert their eyes  in shock. This sort of callous disregard for the local culture often leads to misunderstanding  or even arrests by the police . Some outraged citizens may take matters into their own hands  like in Delhi where some Africans were beaten up for playing loud foreign music or for their drunken behaviors   that offended many .

When a female Indian pop artist  staged a concert in the style of Rihanna wearing skimpy clothes, there was a popular  uprising and protest from the traditionalists who saw it as the import of evil western influence to corrupt their children and threw stones and eggs to disrupt the show. There are fanatic Hindu fundamentalists who oppose such culture and routinely  protest sometime violently to disrupt the show be it a concert or a beauty pageant in India.

Western pop artists  have been banned from many countries due to the pressure from the traditionalists who see them as purveyors of western values that clash with their culture although they are popular with the young people who tend to be less concerned about traditions.

But the clash of culture is a lot more than protesting the import of western culture and values . The equality of gender , the freedom of expression, the fair treatment of LGBTQ people,  no job discrimination  based on ethnicity,skin color or the sex of a person, freedom of press to criticize wrong doings of elected officials or ills of the society , religious freedom and tolerance towards others are all parts of the western culture that in some countries are seen as a threat to their own culture and values so they resist.

It is not just about food or dress or manners but a lot more. Indian parents for example are dismayed  when their children  talk back to them or to their teachers and  show disrespect which they see in Hollywood movies frequently. Caning of students to keep them in their places in high schools was a practice not long ago  and is still done in some parts to teach pupils good manners.

But western visitors are shocked to see an Indian man chewing pan and talking to people at the same time, spitting the red juice anywhere and the Indians are shocked to see a man putting up his feet on the desk while receiving someone in his office in America.

On the other hand the American children are always taught by their parents or elders to say thank you when they receive a gift  or say may I or please when they ask for something. Indian parents rarely teach their children such manners so no one says thank you or please. We gave a fellow some gasoline for his scooter in India and were very surprised when he just started the scooter and drove off without even saying thanks. He was a total stranger whom we helped.

When Indians receive a gift, they will not open it in front of you to see what you gave and will try to determine how much it costs later. If it is too costly, they will secretly return it to your bag. If it is what they can afford then they will buy something of equal value to give to you . They do this because they do not like to feel being under your obligation . An American woman whom we invited to our home left some money secretly on the sofa for the same reason. These are all cultural matters that one has to deal with everywhere.

Now a days everybody has a cell phone and they talk loudly in public  while waiting for the airline counter or in a crowded bus or train disturbing everybody.One black woman talked incessantly and loudly on a train in the US for so long that people called the police to take her away screaming insults at all but now you can see this sort of behavior all the time. They annoy you in the movie house  with their cell phones and children behave badly screaming and kicking your chair while you want to enjoy a quiet meal at a restaurant. Their parents do not scold the kids and often can’t control them.

In Africa we saw that any old man could box the ears of any kid thus misbehaving so the kids were afraid and their parents totally approved such spanking by the elders of the village  but try to scold  someone’s kid in America who is not behaving well and the parents will immediately come to his defense.

Often hand gestures mean different things in different countries. You are not supposed to use your left hand in India for anything so you will find very few people who are left-handed because they are discouraged to use the left hand from the childhood. The left hand is considered unclean because people use it to wipe their butt after toilet. This is also true in most of Africa but I was very amused to see Richard Quest of CNN giving the cocoa farmers in the Ivory Coast chocolate with his left hand not realizing that he should have used his right hand.

Another example of cultural gaff I saw in a TV ad was when a young man drinking a glass of whiskey  put his arm around the shoulder of an old man who was also drinking. This was America where old people are not shown the respect they are given in other countries and are called by their first names. Even children call their parents by their first names but in Asia such behavior is not tolerated.

The Confucius teachings tell us that we must show respect to all our elders ,relative or not and calling them by their first name or putting your arms on their shoulder is certainly not part of showing respect. You must not talk in the class room unless the teacher allows you to and must not contradict him or her.

You must show respect to your ancestors by keeping their photos on the family altar like in Vietnam and light some joss sticks everyday. You should call old people  with affectionate names like  papa, mama, uncle or grandpa even if they are not your relatives but the Americans will laugh at this.

I know that I escaped harm by calling the Haitian woman   ma Cherie who then calmed down the mob that had surrounded our car during the violent revolution in Haiti. But calling people affectionately makes them happy so it can not be bad.

But treating women badly if they are seen with a boy friend  in public, forced marriage of children or killing  women who refuse marriage proposals or who do not submit to their cruel husband’s demands who beat them and treat them worse than animal is often excused as part of a tribal culture in some parts of the world and even police does not interfere.

Let us face it. People do a lot of bad and inhuman things like this in the name of culture and tradition .When will it end? Maybe  when someday all boys and girls will have education and grow up like Malala defending their rights with the help of the government , NGOs or educated parents who have suffered in their culture and want to reform it.

Teaching children hate in Saudi sponsored madrassas  or discrimination practiced by Hindus towards the dalits  is not the way forward for the humanity but education and a change of heart to accept what is just, fair and humane  is.

 

Note :  My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese  languages at the following links as well as my biography:

Mes blogs en français.

Mis blogs en espagnol

Blogs von Anil in Deutsch

Blogs in Japanese

My blogs at Wix site

tumblr posts    

Blogger.com

Medium.com

Anil’s biography in English.

Biographie d’Anil en français

La biografía de anil en español.

Anil’s Biografie auf Deutsch

Anil’s biography in Japanese

Биография Анила по-русски

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Cultural barriers

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Source : Google photo of cultural barriers

Synopsis : People who do not travel or do so very infrequently  always want to live in their own comfort zone that is hard to find elsewhere. Such people have a difficult time to overcome the cultural barrier but it need not be so. One can learn a great deal from others and practice the good values and manners thus learned.

One often comes across this topic that is almost universal in nature and exists everywhere yet seldom discussed  to find ways to overcome. Most people do not realize that this barrier exists and can be fun to overcome and is true even for those who travel to various countries and shy away from local culture,food or fashion.

I have often wondered why and after some reflection come to the conclusion that most people are afraid to try something new in another culture or even new to them in their own country. The automatic defense mechanism kicks in when they come across something they are not used to seeing or doing in their own comfort zones and look down on anything strange.

I can understand when it comes to food, most people will not eat what they are not used to eating everyday so brave is the person who tries something new . An American woman asked why Indians do not eat beef which is so delicious  . I answered that  food is what people eat. If something is not considered food , they will not eat it even if it is considered delicious by others. The Cambodians chew fried spiders and say it is wonderful but others may  not agree. Tibetans consider very old eggs buried in snow a delicacy but others will not touch it.

So food is a sensitive subject on which everyone has their own opinion and no two will agree on what is food and what is delicious and what is not.

An American who never had a crab in his life was given one to eat so he chewed on it shell and all and tried to swallow it wondering why people eat it. So it helps to learn from others how to eat a certain food and enjoy it too. The simple solution is to ask or imitate others.It is foolish to look for pork in moslem countries or beef in a Hindu country because these foods are taboo there.

In Africa If you go to remote rural villages, you will notice that they eat only what they grow and will not eat something new.

I brought some potatoes to such a village in Mali where they do not grow potatoes so no one would eat it. Once I fried some shrimp chips in California that a Vietnamese friend had given me and eagerly I offered to my housemates who were all Americans. No one touched it because they had never eaten shrimp chips and were suspicious.

Once in Vietnam I was offered some fried rat meat by the farmers in the delta who were surprised that I could not eat it when to them it was so delicious. So the definition of delicious varies from country to country and even within a country that is as large as India.

But the cultural barrier is not just about food. It is a mindset that finds it hard to accept anything new to them . One girl in India laughed at the rectangular Japanese footwear because she was not used to it therefore it was not right and laughable.

Similarly some Asians will whistle and make cat calls if they see a person wearing a sari or kurta pyjama walking down the street but a woman wearing very tight shorts cut to the crotch will not get a second look. Such a woman will get cat calls or worse in India where women must not show their legs. In Mali a woman may be bare breasted but the legs must be covered.

I have met a lot of people from different countries who are so ill at ease  to overcome the cultural barrier and will not even try. A friend of mine visiting us in the Philippines asked if I knew any Indian here and was very surprised that I did not know anyone.To him it was natural to seek out other Indians from his region in other countries so that he could speak his language . So some people no matter how much they travel abroad , can not overcome the barrier that separates them from the locals. Again it is the mindset more than anything else.

People from the developed world are always told that under developed countries are not clean, not hygienic and the water must not be trusted .While this is true in some countries, it is not universally true. I have seen people urinating in metro stations in New York or sleeping on card boards there while the metro  stations in Mexico city is sparkling clean and the cars are new and shiny yet Americans are told that Mexico is an under developed country and  Tijuana dogs have more fleas than thieves in Los Angeles .

This comes from prejudice that almost everybody has. It is fashionable to think that they are the best so look down on others as a consequence. But the prejudice comes from ignorance  and it is a learned experience. Parents, neighbors, school mates, classmates, teachers, media , they all participate in perpetuating prejudices that children learn at an early age and in turn they teach it to the next generation.

The prejudice against other people, other races of different skin color , who eat different food, speak different languages, wear different clothes and have different body languages all are subject to prejudice that often leads to tragic consequences.

The Sikhs in the US are often mistaken for Moslems and beaten up just because they wear turban and look different but it all comes from prejudice that comes from ignorance. It is not hard to find any information about Sikhs or anyone in the internet  but often the prejudice is practiced by the uneducated grassroots people in most countries although not limited to the grass roots by any means.

I have often noticed a lack of curiosity or interest about other countries, their culture or people in the so called educated class. They were not interested in my slide show about other countries and often laughed at the bare breasted Malian women  derisively because to them the women must not be so.

They could not or would not see beyond the breasts what was beautiful about Malians or Haitians  and said that it did not matter to them because they could not relate to the subject as it was beyond their comprehension or outside their comfort zone. While it is surprising that people can be so ignorant in this day and age of internet, it is not surprising if you understand the mind set of people that develops over a life time and constantly fortified by others who have similar views.

The teacher of our son ridiculed him in the class when he said that  he lived in Haiti and the people are called Haitians. She said  it should be Ha tee an . This was pure ignorance and arrogance because she could not accept that she as a teacher did not know how to pronounce Haitian and could not believe that a five year old did.

I think all the human problems come from this lack of interest coupled with ignorance that is the root cause of prejudice. The racism   is rooted in it and continues unabated  in spite of people living in a connected world. By racism I do not only mean  racism as practiced by the whites but also as practiced by non whites towards others whom they consider inferior to them. Thus racism exists everywhere in one form or other.
There is a story about a Filipino woman who brought her African American  friend or boy friend to her village where they all were shocked  until a small boy fell into a well and the American without the slightest hesitation jumped into the well and saved the little boy from drowning. After that people formed a very different opinion of the visitor .

A teenage girl was raped and brutally beaten by a gang of people in a bus late at night in India .She later died of her injuries causing a national uproar but the question to ask was  why she was raped and beaten. Such acts of horrible crime is a manifestation of something else. It is a manifestation of a deep rooted belief that a young girl should not be out with her boy friend late at night therefore she must be bad, immoral and should be punished .

People always act according to their beliefs right or wrong. Women were hung from lamp posts in Iran just for wearing lipstick and high heels therefore must be immoral and thus punished. A young girl was beaten to death in Pakistan  per order of the village council because she helped her friend elope with her loved one.

Talibans routinely kill girls for going to school because they were taught by mollahs that girls should not be educated. It took a very brave girl like Malala to bring this sort of prejudice to the notice of the world almost at the cost of her own life. If parents teach their children such prejudices then who is to teach the parents and the mollahs?

Such people create their own barriers and justify  them by citing  obsolete  edicts and prehistoric laws that are still practiced by people who have not been able to adjust to the modern world. The consequences are tragic. Anyone who does not agree with them is killed.

In some parts of the world, people have come a long way since the days of lynching the black person just because he looked at a white person. President Obama is a good example of that change  but it does not mean the hate and racism is dead.

As long as people fail to overcome their own fears , hate and
prejudices will continue because they fail to understand that the
world can be better place when people overcome their own barriers
be they cultural, emotional, religious or any other self created wall.
A person who does not want to be taught can not be taught. You
can drag a mule to water but can not make him drink if he does  not want to. It is the same with people.

 

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The role of international crop research centers in development

Synopsis : The international crop research centers were established for the purpose of developing new high yielding varieties of various crops and the improved management practices so it had a tremendous impact worldwide in the food production. It continues to do so today and helps farmers harvest better yields while improving the quality but the research centers are costly to maintain and need to transfer the responsibility to the national entities because of donor fatigue.

The role of international crop research centers in development

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Source : Google photo

Now I  would like to write about the  international crop research centers and their role in the green revolution around the world. It all started with the establishment of the International Rice Research Institute or in short IRRI in the 60s  at Los Banos, Philippines because some donors at that time felt the need for such an institution to help solve the problem of low productivity of rice farms around the world. So the IRRI was set up and some scientists were hired to look into the possibility of the development of a new type of rice plant that would be short but erect  preventing lodging and would have a better architecture to absorb the sunlight . Thus the IR -8 was developed as the High Yielding Variety (HYV) that helped bring about the so-called green revolution in Asia and elsewhere.

The IR-8 was a breakthrough  but it was soon found that it was susceptible to rust, brown hoppers and a variety of other problems in spite of its high yielding potential. However, the breakthrough in the development of this type of plant was hailed as the solution to low yields and it’s cultivation spread to many countries in Asia including Vietnam where I was working at that time. But in 1968,

IRRI was still unsure of IR-8  because of its problems mentioned earlier and did not like to give me some seeds so I took some anyway on the sly and brought it to my farmers in Vietnam’.

We the agronomists do not have the time or luxury of waiting for the breeders to make up their mind about the variety they develop because we have to work with what we have got even if the variety is not perfect. Agronomists believe that improvements will come and better varieties will be released later on. This was true in the case of IRRI varieties and better varieties did come along later replacing the IR-8 and others.

Since then many such international crop research stations have been set up around the world that work in tandem with the local research institutions that are poorly funded by their governments but together they advance the agenda of promoting better crop varieties suited to local conditions.

There is no doubt that IRRI and other such research institutes played a very significant role in the spread of green revolution in the cultivation of rice, wheat, sorghum ,pearl millet , tuber crops and such around the world. The grain production increased significantly with new varieties, multiple cropping techniques,better pest management, water management and a variety of other techniques in weed management that we the agronomists then took to the farmers because we were the link between the research and extension.

The International Rice Agro Economic Network (IRAEN) was set up at IRRI in 1975 to determine the cause of the yield gap between the research station and the farmer’s field which I as a researcher at that time was involved in as a project leader in the Camarines Sur province in the Philippines. What I found by doing field experiments with farmers as my partner in Bicol region was that there indeed was a gap caused by many constraints at the farm level .I tried to quantify the impact of inputs that would explain the gap and wrote my dissertation on it.

But as I look back , I sort of miss those days and exciting research that I was doing.My farmers also shared that excitement and improved their crop yields significantly. Now the times have changed.

Many funding sources that made the research of IRAEN and others possible have dried up or have been reduced making new inroads difficult. The quality of research has diminished primarily due to retirement or transfer of pioneer staff and their visionary leadership. This is happening all over the world in all the stations.Some like  ICARDA in Aleppo , Syria have been shut down due to war but others face perennial funding problems due to donor fatigue.

The national research institutes in these countries do not have the resources to take over IRRI or ICRISAT because it costs a lot of money to run such institutes. But primarily it is the quality of staff and their research that was the mainstay of such international centers that attracted funding. Now I see massive physical development in terms of new buildings and labs at IRRI but they have cut back on training like the Rice Production and Training program and annual rice research conference when world scientists used to gather and exchange ideas. There are very few post doctoral fellows now . It is not the building or the labs that make the reputation of an institution but rather the scientists and the researchers under them.

I will not go into the wider issues of corruption that prevail in all such institutes that discourage donors  because these are endemic issues that have not found any solution and probably never will.

What I would like to see is more direct link between the scientists and the researchers as well as the visitors like the way it used to be before barriers came up and institutionalised . Now no one can visit IRRI or any scientist before the security checks, making appointments and a plethora of other formalities  so it discourages a simple farmer or even a visiting scientist to have a free discourse on the problems of rice cultivation. The guards even ask why a visitor is going to the book store for example.

The role of international research institutes like IRRI have been diminishing for years and eventually may cease to be relevant so what is the alternative? Can the national research institutes carry on this sort of work without donors and with very limited means? Can they step into the shoes of IRRI at some stage and develop the international linkages the way these international center do ?

Can they help agronomists like me working in poor countries like Haiti or Mali with seeds,blueprints of a new grain blower or thresher like only IRRI can? I doubt it very much because the national institutes are only national in their mandate that does not extend beyond its borders while the international centers can and do build international linkages through alumni and their counterparts.

 

Note :  My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese  languages at the following links as well as my biography:

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The dream of an agronomist

Synopsis :  As an agronomist I used to dream of great achievements in improving the lives of poor farmers in Africa and Asia . There have been some pioneers like Dr.Borlaug and Dr.De Datta but such people are very few and their contribution to the welfare of the farmers is very unique . But even a simple agronomist can be of help when he takes the new technology and new high yielding seeds to poor farmers in remote parts of the world acting as a bridge between the research center and the farmers.

The dream of an agronomist

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Source : Google photo

I often think of a great man called Dr.Norman Borlaug who for many years worked to develop  new wheat  varieties that produced great yields and were spread to many countries where the common farmer was the beneficiary. He personally visited many countries and brought the improved seeds that caused a green revolution just like the HYVs of rice that came out of IRRI in the 60s.

Such people are rare and by nature are self-effacing although the whole world recognised their contribution. Every agronomist dreams that he too can contribute in some way to improve the crop production in poor countries where the farmers are struggling daily with low fertility of soil, low yielding varieties,high infestation of insects pests, high cost of inputs and poor infrastructure that makes it difficult for him to bring his harvest to the market.

In every country I have worked in, I have noticed the same set of problems in varying degrees. The farmers are the backbone of any agricultural society and work very very hard to grow the food that the rest of the world consumes. We the consumers pay a high price for the food at the super market but how much of it goes back to the farmer? Does any one really know or care? Between the farmer and the super market comes a horde of middlemen who jack up the price to the final consumer and take enormous profit. In some countries they beat up the farmer if he dares to sell his produce directly to the consumer so the poor farmer has no choice but to sell to the middle man.

In the Philippines the rice farmers borrow money from the rice mill owners to pay for the fertilizer, seed or other inputs but at a great cost because the rice mill owner charges hefty interest on the money thus advanced and takes it out of the price he pays when he buys the rice from the farmer.Then he sells the milled rice at a good profit but the farmer who grew the rice does not benefit and remains poor in spite of his hard work. This is also true of vegetable farmer or the fisherman.

The producers of perishable food are more dependent on the middle man because they do not have the means to bring their produce quickly to the market. I know that the middlemen row out to the fishing boats and buy the fish from the fisherman at 1/10th the price you and I pay at the super market so you can only imagine the scale of exploitation.

Then there are cooperatives run by unscrupulous people who more often than not run away with the money so the farmer member gets a raw deal either way. In other countries large corporations that run agri business muscle out independent producers to reduce competition. They are often in cahoots with the government inspectors so there too the private farmer gets a raw deal. I remember a case in Oregon where a private dairy farmer sold pure milk but the big milk producing corporations came down hard on this poor man and caused him to sell all his cows to pay for the litigation. The government inspectors who were in cahoots with the big companies found many things wrong with the hygiene and sanitation and imposed heavy fines.

So the agronomists like Dr.Norman are  among the very few people who really help the poor and the downtrodden farmers of this world with their admirable work.
I have worked with farmers all my professional life in many countries and have tried to do what I could to help them but I faced formidable challenges from the government offices . Like in Burundi and Mali the bureaucrats had no interest in bottom up development considering the farmer as a partner and had no concept of farming system or appropriate technology development at the grass-roots level . They laughed at my introduction of hand-operated grain thresher or blower and said that the development of agriculture can come only through importation of high cost machineries. We must not go backwards is what they said.

But such people are not farmers and have never worked with their hands. They have no empathy for a farmer who is poor and can only work with his primitive tools. The banks refuse to give him loans to buy machines or inputs because they are not sure how the farmer will be able to pay back the loan plus high interest.

When I was working with farmers in Vietnam, I smuggled some HYV rice seeds from IRRI by stuffing it in my socks because IRRI would not give me the seeds. With this small amount of seeds I was able to multiply it and give to many farmers. I could see the happiness in their faces when they had a good yield. I could see the same happiness in them in Haiti when they harvested bumper crops of  the new rice varieties that I had introduced in Les Cayes. I had received the seeds from IRRI this time because they knew me and encouraged me to test these new HYVs of rice in Haiti or elsewhere. I will write more about the International research centers  and their role in the development of improved crop varieties and their extension worldwide in my next blog.

 

Note :  My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese  languages at the following links as well as my biography:

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Empathy and apathy

Synopsis: Empathy is the opposite of apathy that helps people understand each other better. Without empathy, the apathy takes over and creates the barrier between the people that can make people antisocial, selfish and narcissistic . Empathy for others is a virtue while apathy is a weakness many people suffer from.

Empathy and apathy

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Source : Google photos of empathy and apathy

These two should not be confused. Apathy comes from indifference and  no empathy or loss of it comes from  a disassociated sense of feelings for others. This loss of empathy can be due to a cumulative negative experiences with the people in the country you live in. These bad experiences  can make a person lose his sympathy for an entire population while apathy comes from total indifference towards others which may or may not be due to bad experiences. Often the two are interlinked but not always.

If you go to Europe and  feel  very alienated ,it is not because people have no empathy for you but because  they are indifferent towards anyone who is not like them. They will avoid eye contact and move on because they think that you are a foreigner and do not speak their language so they will ignore you. This can change if you speak their language.Then you will notice a change in their attitude and behaviour. I have no problem in France because I speak French  but Germany or other countries may pose a problem  as they do not speak English or a very few do. Only sometimes people will overcome their frigid attitude and warm up to you if you let them .I was very well received in Sicily where I  accidentally wandered into an Italian camp where I played with children ,taught them a few games and their mothers or grand mothers smiled and fixed my shirt with missing buttons. Kids shed tears when it was my time to leave. But I admit ,such instances are rare so I suppose I was lucky.

The apathy and loss of empathy for people can be a barrier to better human relationship anywhere and leads to great misunderstanding between people. It throws up walls that are very hard to bring down and results in isolation. I have noticed that some Europeans and Americans living in very isolated locations in Sudan behaved in very unfriendly manner  as if they were not happy to see any one and preferred their isolation. Others  quickly turned their back on you once they knew that you were not  hiring them.Among the locals only the Syrians and the Egyptians were friendly. In France the waiters were often unfriendly even if you spoke good French because most of them were Spanish or Portuguese or from non French speaking countries who were culturally different from French but the French people are charming and can become lifelong friends once the language barrier is overcome.

This warmth in people is often a cultural phenomenon. In some countries people are naturally warm and welcoming even if you do not speak their language. I found the Japanese, Taiwanese and people from Hong Kong very nice and friendly. The Thais are also very nice but in your own country you will find very nasty and mean people who will take advantage of you ,cheat you, rob you and let you down big time. The people who tried to harm me were Indians and not foreigners.

Now I will return to the notion of apathy in people. I think apathy leads to ignorance because you can not learn anything about the other person if  you are indifferent to them. This is the root cause of ignorance which in turns leads to prejudices. People show their prejudices by making derogatory jokes about the Sikhs or the Pollacks. The prejudices separate people and it is very hard to overcome. If you only study the American history, you will learn how deep the prejudices were against the Hawaiians as practised by the missionaries or against the native Americans who were abused and ill treated by ignorant, illiterate immigrants who were out to grab their land by any means.

Even today prejudices are rampant against the African Americans,Mexicans and many other people because of ignorance about them, their culture and their history as people. It all comes from apathy and indifference.As I wrote earlier, the apathy is not limited to poor people who have to struggle daily for their existence but it is also found among the middle class who are educated and not exactly poor.

It is true that the internet has opened up the world  in a way that was not possible only a decade ago but it is limited to only those who are computer literate. In India, children are far more computer literate than adults because they have computers in high school now and every one has access to it. They learn how to type by trial and error and soon get proficient. This is not so with adults who are in their 50s or 60s  because most of them never learned how to type, drive a car or do many other things young people do naturally.

The computer penetration is very low in India among the middle class not because they can not afford it but because they do not know how to use them so  they feel no need for it. The entire world of knowledge is at your fingertips but you have to learn how to use your fingers. I tried opening up a Yahoo account for my brother so that we could e mail each other but he does not know how to type. He does not miss what he does not know and has no idea what he is missing but he is among the millions who are like him. The point is that apathy, indifference and lack of empathy for others are somehow inter related that creates vicious cycle that is very hard to break out of.

 

Note :  My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese  languages at the following links as well as my biography:

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Apathy

Synopsis : Apathy comes from the lack of interest in others due to social isolation and loneliness that go together. Often people find themselves apathetic because they cannot find someone like them so the mistrust of others who are different is the cause of apathy. It is curable if only people make an effort to get to know others who are not like them and find common grounds.

Apathy

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Source : Google photo

This is a topic that is universal in nature because it exists everywhere. I have seen it in educated people and in uneducated ones. While it is understandable in uneducated people who have other pressing problems to contend with, it is less so in educated people who you expect to be more aware of the issues facing the humanity be it food, shelter or discrimination based on skin color or ethnicity or religious biases.  There are many pressing issues that confront the humanity but apathy should be considered as an important one.

Now more than ever the world is connected in more ways than one so what happens in Africa, middle east or elsewhere has direct consequence in other parts of the world. Just the threat of closing the strait of Hormuz sends shivers around the world and the oil prices start rising that starts a chain reaction leading to higher food prices, higher transportation costs, higher cost of raw materials to build houses, roads, and hospitals, higher cost of everything that is tied to oil. This makes lives difficult for the ordinary man who sees his income decrease with the loss of the value of money and increase in inflation so to say that it does not matter what happens to the strait of Hormuz to me is as idiotic as it sounds.

But this apathy is widespread worldwide because people can not see beyond the well where they live just like the proverbial frog. I had earlier written about the old American woman who was more interested in the trending hair color than anything else but just ask any middle class Indian or Filipino what concerns him or her the most and you will get a reply like ” well  I missed the last episode of the soap opera or I have not eaten dry fish for a while.

But this apathy goes far beyond the food or hair color. A woman gets bullied in a bus or train while others just look the other way. A man lies in a pool of blood in an accident while some people try to steal his wallet and cell phone  and not at all interested in calling for help to save the poor fellow.This is apathy at its worst form when a fellow human being has absolutely no feelings for another being who is in dire need of help. Once we brought an American woman home to care for her after she was found in a dirty hospital in Haiti but the American missionaries asked us why we helped if we did not know her. This kind of apathy was more shocking than simply looking for a new hair color.

People forget that someday we may find ourselves in a similar situation and no one will come forward to help because they are apathetic and have no feelings, care or concern for another human being. The same people buy fur or ivory not caring how many majestic elephants are killed for it or buy clothes that are made using child slave labor. A small girl begs for food by the side of the road and people just pass by not caring if she is hungry, homeless or an orphan who needs love and compassion.

I have seen apathy in many forms worldwide and have always wondered what makes people so. The Canadian visitor in Mali carelessly asked the help of a gentleman for direction and kept him waiting not bothering to give him a ride back or an American who kept the driver of his car waiting the whole day and not asking if the poor fellow needed lunch or rest. May be this was outright racism in its naked form but it was hard for me to watch. I could not tolerate it and brought the poor driver to a good restaurant and paid for his meal.

So what makes people apathetic? Why people feel no empathy for their fellow human beings? What is it that makes people look the other way when they see someone in need of help? The padres say everyday that you are your brother’ s keeper but who listens? Filipinos  nod at each other carefully avoiding eye contact and say “piss be wit yu” at the end of the church service because it is a ritual and they do not mean what they say. Just like the Americans who say”how are you ” without meaning to know how are you .It is an automatic action just like the “piss be wit yu”.

 

Note :  My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese  languages at the following links as well as my biography:

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Blogs von Anil in Deutsch

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Some thoughts

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Source : Google photo of the thinking man by Rodin

It is nice to be able to write something about your experience in life and share it with the readers on the net because often it is easier to write and share with strangers your inner feelings than to open up to people you know. The unknown people read your blog and may or may not react to it the way the known people do so it is definitely easier to share with the readers your feelings knowing that you will never get to meet them and get to know them the way you know some people. Also their reactions will not make any difference in your life.

I often ask myself why is it so difficult to talk to people whom you know or think you do and why is it never an easy task ?  The answer may lay in the fact that we have past experiences that are perhaps not pleasant to remember that cloud our judgement and desire to open up. There are no such impediments in talking to strangers who do not know you and can only read what you write.
They are like innocent children whom you tell a story. They react well or not depending on whether they like your story. This is not so with the people you know. They are not innocent and never accept their faults so react negatively if you write about their weaknesses or the way they behaved long ago.

The human brain is an interesting organ . It has billions of memory storing neurons that keep the memory intact in great detail even after a very long time unlike a computer where a memory can be erased from the hard disk easily with a few keystrokes. It is true that in some cases the neurons lose their ability to keep the memory stored and can degenerate into a state that renders a brilliant mind into a less brilliant one that further deteriorates with age. But a healthy brain can keep those memories sharp even in advanced age. I know this because mom was very sharp at the age of 91.She forgot nothing and could recall instantly anything that happened long ago.

But too much memory can be a burden  unless you can unload it from time to time and share it with others so the internet blogs are useful in that sense. One has to remember that the blogs are not a place to write anything that come to mind because the readers are not interested in your mindless,aimless rants about your past bad experiences  and will tell you so in no uncertain terms.
They are more interested in you showing them in what way they can learn something new and inspiring so one should never bore others with their inane and simplistic day to day musings that leave no impression and tell nothing new.

Most people live an ordinary  life no matter where they live. The daily grind of living exacts a toll on anyone anywhere  but more so in poorer countries where the challenges are greater than in more developed world. I have seen this struggle in Africa and Asia where people struggle daily just to survive. They have ugly shanties they call home and live from day to day often going hungry at night
and worry about what to do the next day. I remember how a Kenyan asked for my left over food because he was so hungry or how women begged for money holding up their emaciated babies to make you feel pity for them in Bangladesh.

But an ordinary routine life in the west is different from the ordinary lives elsewhere because people have a very different standard of living and worry about very different things. An American woman at the age of 70 was more interested in her new shade of hair color and wanted to know where she could get it done for less than 150 dollars while her counterpart in Africa thought only of her children and how to feed them on less than a dollar a day and how to protect them from mosquito bites causing malaria because she could not afford a mosquito net.

I have lived in many countries under challenging circumstances and have learned a great deal about how humans cope with their day to day difficulties in getting food, shelter and clothes. Pregnant women in rural Africa till the land to grow food while carrying a baby strapped to their back, walk for many kilometers to find water, fire wood and other necessities and work very very hard everyday to meet the demands of the day. They live in absolute poverty and have no chance to better their lives.Many die of childbirth because they live in isolated remote villages where medical facilities are not available while their counterparts in the west worry about whom to invite for their baby shower.

So there is a great divide and this gap is not about to close any time soon. This is where my experiences in those countries can come in handy in better understanding what the people have to put up with  in their daily routine lives. I often wonder if others who live comfortable lives ever get to understand how most of the world lives so uncomfortably and so miserably.

Then there are difficulties brought about by their illiteracy and lack of access to knowledge .Some religious fanatics take advantage of this situation and tell people that their only choice is in following what they are told to do. An educated person can make up his or her mind about just about anything but not so when people live in darkness of ignorance. But the ignorance is also a product of apathy and not necessarily due to lack of education as I have often seen in India or elsewhere.

I therefore have taken up the task of writing blogs that are informative and to some extent entertaining in which I share my experiences in various countries with a hope that someone somewhere will find it interesting and perhaps learn a thing or two. I had no idea at the beginning that so many people in more than 75 countries will read what I write and make wonderful comments and continue to do so.

What surprised me more was the fact that people in France, Russia and many non-English speaking countries read my blogs in English because perhaps the Google translation in French, Spanish and other languages are not up to the mark.

I was also surprised at the number of readers in Japan and elsewhere so I feel that my effort was quite worthwhile but the most interesting fact that emerged was that my e readers surpass them all in numbers. This printed version will not include my biography which also appears in my widbook.com as e book in English, Spanish, French and German.

We all shall perish someday so perhaps what we leave behind as words will survive and continue to inform and enlighten people long after I am gone. I have shared my experiences but have also brought to my readers the stories of other people who made an impact on other’s lives. By bringing their stories to you, I have made them immortal. My own contribution is insignificant compared to theirs because I feel that I am just a grain of sand in the beach or a drop in the ocean but the people I wrote about are great and worth reading about.

There is a wall in our college where it is written in big bold letters the following :  Education is to free the nature of man.

But I think I should add that education should free your mind from shackles to let it soar to incredible heights. I hope that my readers will become free of prejudice, ignorance, superstitions, blind beliefs and dogma. I hope that they will all come to realize that we are all brothers and sisters no matter where we live and have the common heritage of mankind that descended from Lucy in the Rift Valley millions of years ago.

This truth alone will make you free of hate and racism. Then I will feel that I have contributed something to make this world a better place in my own small capacity.

 

aumolc

May 2017

 

Note :  My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese  languages at the following links as well as my biography:

Mes blogs en français.

Mis blogs en espagnol

Blogs von Anil in Deutsch

Blogs in Japanese

My blogs at Wix site

tumblr posts    

Blogger.com

Medium.com

Anil’s biography in English.

Biographie d’Anil en français

La biografía de anil en español.

Anil’s Biografie auf Deutsch

Anil’s biography in Japanese

Биография Анила по-русски

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Epilogue

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Source : Google photo

I have often thought about whether or not my life has been worth it and meaningful but soon a question comes up.  Meaningful to whom?

To me or to others ? It is far easier to determine if it has been meaningful to me but then meaningful in what sense ? Does it mean that meaningfulness refers only to material  wealth or in addition something else? Have I been able to achieve great goals ?

Materially I was now comfortable. I provided for the education of the kids and a good new home . I paid for their education abroad and brought them to many countries where they lived or visited . I take care of Jasmine and provide her with the best medical care when she has a problem . I shall leave her with enough money to last her the rest of her life in case I die now so she will never be dependent on any one.

I have learned very early that there is no greater curse than poverty in anyone’s life.  It isolates a person more thoroughly than the most secure jail. Brothers and sisters and relatives avoid such a person. The parents feel let down if you don’t succeed in getting a good job and earn a decent living. Friends become unfriendly and everyone looks down on a failed person.

So having achieved freedom from pecuniary needs has certainly been a blessing for me. But is money everything in life ? I had learned although money does not equate happiness ,it comes pretty close to it . It allows you to be independent and do things that you want to do . It gives you the freedom to choose.

But having money never really meant a great deal to me. I gave it away when I had little like one time I gave away my entire savings in Algeria to Nirmal . In Vietnam I shared with others what little I had so having money now does not impress me a great deal. This had caused a lot of misunderstanding between me and my relatives who still think that it is not worth having money if you do not show it . You have to wear fancy clothes and your wife should be loaded with gold jewelry .

But Jasmine and I had chosen a simple lifestyle because we are simple people. We live within our means and do not take credit any where . We have taught our children to always save a part of what they earn and never take credit. We are happy being what we are and do not pretend to be someone we are not. We do not attach sentimental value to material things. Jasmine can easily give away her pearl necklace if she wants without thinking twice. I love her generous nature and pure heart. She is my blessing. So in that sense my life has been meaningful to me.

Spiritually I cannot say that I have been wiser or gained anything. After all these years I have not changed my views on religion that is supposed to lead a person to spirituality. Organized religion has not played any role in my life although I consider my self a Hindu in every sense of the word.

I have always felt that the religion should guide a person to improve himself and give him a sense of direction in life  but I never needed to be guided by any ideology  or religion  because I have a built in compass  in me that  has always guided me to take the right road .I have never needed to be persuaded to believe that some things are right and others are wrong.

It was wrong to cheat, to lie, to steal and to be dishonest and neglectful in duties. It was wrong to be irresponsible , to be insensitive to other’s feelings, to be  disrespectful of elders , or other’s culture or traditions.  No religion needed to tell me that because these are the basic tenets of the civilized world. You are told about some of these things as soon as you learn to walk and talk . These are the commandments that are common to all organized religions and even primitive societies.

I always knew what to do when the time came and did it without hesitation. I have been no saint and surely I have had my share of fibbing once in a while but white lies never hurt anyone’s feelings but rather protected it . It was far more humane to tell a person that I was busy and could not see him than to tell him that I disliked him and did not want to see him .

I tried not to be neglectful in my duties to others . But spiritually speaking ,I became more cynical than before and started developing a strong dislike for those who for whatever reasons always tended to expound their religious beliefs on others. I had earlier mentioned about the American missionaries who offended me the most but there are many such people everywhere . I had a right to believe or not to believe  in anything so it really was no one’s business.

Jasmine was brought up differently so her beliefs are strongly guided by the Catholic church but she is not a fanatic. She agrees that fanaticism is a disease and should always be treated as such.

She respects Hindus and has visited most of the holy shrines in India where she has offered money and prayers. The Swami of Adya Peeth in Kolkata was so impressed by her pure heart that he called her “mother”. I bring her to church every Sunday because it is my duty.

I have always believed that one can serve the humanity by deeds so it is far more religious to be  honest, diligent, respectful, conscientious, humble , truthful, forthright, industrious , prompt, compassionate, kind, gentle, knowledgeable, free from superstitions and blind beliefs . Such a person to me is far more religious than all the Bible thumping people who are mean.

Jasmine is such a person with the all the qualities I mentioned .She is a gold mine of such marvelous qualities that are so hard to find in one person.

Now to analyze whether others have been equally satisfied with my life, I have to first consider the Sri RamPur folks. It is fair to say that mom was disappointed that I had chosen to marry a foreigner and outside our faith but she more than anyone else had come to appreciate the sterling qualities  in Jasmine and she was generally speaking happy that I had succeeded in getting a good education and made a good living . She was the liberal in the family.

But to others I have been a source of embarrassment because they did not like me being a non conformist and a non traditionalist. They openly said that someone with my wealth was expected to show it and derided my faded blue denims . Their values collided with me in every turn which made them angry . They believed in show and not substance in a person but we believed otherwise.

To me the inner qualities of a person were far more important than external show . Our children were simply dressed but had admirable manners .They were also the most generous by nature ,a trait they shared with their mom. So my life has not been very meaningful to my brother and sisters and relatives although they all benefited from our generosity to them.

Now I have to consider if the people I tried to help in so many countries appreciated my efforts and whether my interventions had been meaningful to them. These are the farmers I had worked with . I can proudly say that they all told me at one time or other they benefited from my work with them.

New high yielding crop varieties , new ways to grow them and many such things had been taken up by the farmers. The seed multiplication project in Bruny in Haiti where I got them a brand new tractor, seeds and a warehouse to store the seeds were appreciated.

It is true that in some countries like Mali and Sudan I was not able to do as much as I wanted due to reasons beyond my control but my time there was not totally wasted. To set up a big project from the scratch and get it going is a challenge in any country but more so in such countries where people put their vested interests first and take advantage.

I do not regret going to those countries but only the missed opportunities there . A plant grows healthy and blooms one day given the proper environment to grow . Many people gave me that environment in which I grew and showed my potential. I am grateful to them for believing in me. Even the FAO people believed in me .

No one can claim to be self made . One needs the helping hands to grow. At first those are the hands of loving parents . Later they are the  helping hands of people who at every step stand by you and believe in you and in your potential . I was helped by so many people in my life that I can not express my gratitude to them sufficiently enough. Many are dead now but are lovingly remembered .

My only wish at this point is that our children practice some of the values and become useful in their lives. Perhaps when they read this memoir someday , it will help them in some way understand the human nature better and learn to cope with life better  when I am no longer around.

Life can be full of surprises . The charm is in not knowing what the future holds but be prepared for whatever comes . Always try to live a useful life, both to you and to others . My only advice to Ashis ,Jayanti and also to Jasmine is as follows :  Whatever you do in life, do it well and do it with love. Only then you will begin to enjoy living.  Cheers.

 

Note :  My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese  languages at the following links as well as my biography:

Mes blogs en français.

Mis blogs en espagnol

Blogs von Anil in Deutsch

Blogs in Japanese

My blogs at Wix site

tumblr posts    

Blogger.com

Medium.com

Anil’s biography in English.

Biographie d’Anil en français

La biografía de anil en español.

Anil’s Biografie auf Deutsch

Anil’s biography in Japanese

Биография Анила по-русски

Subscribe