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By- Maria Wirth
It is again this beautiful time before Diwali. Five years ago, I got a glimpse into the simple and spiritual lives of villagers off the beaten track in the Himalayas.
"Would you like to come to some villages around Chamba?" a friend had asked. I happily said yes. He wanted to visit the kin of former domestic help of his family and bring them gifts before Diwali. After buying boxes of sweets and drawing money from an ATM, three of us set off from Mussoorie.
The air was crystal clear and the snow peaks shone in great splendour. How beautiful to be out in the open at the height of 2000 metres! What wonderful surroundings the villagers live in. Blue mountain ranges were rolling one after the other like waves of the ocean. Kids in school uniform walked on the road. Their school may be much simpler than those in cities, yet the location is enviable and the openness of space may be conducive for an open mind.
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Our first stop was in a tiny village near the old road to Tehri town, which has been submerged in the Ganges due to the Tehri Dam. It was a steep climb down the hill. An old woman was sitting in a courtyard sieving grain. She had few teeth left, yet her smile was warm and welcoming. It was a surprise visit, and immediately her neighbours gathered, too. "Kursi lao" I heard, and children brought chairs from a neighbouring house. The woman lives alone in an old house. Her husband, who had worked for my friend's family for decades, had passed away several years ago. Her only daughter is staying with her in-laws.
We had to stress really hard that our stomachs were very full and had no place even for a cup of tea. Yet water we took and she sent a girl to pluck some lime. My friend had to show her how to use the zip on the jacket he had brought for her and then the talk was mainly about people she knew from the olden times and about crops.
When we left, she said she would come to Mussoorie to see the father of my friend who was about her age. Will she still be able to climb up the hill? Probably she can do it. Village folk are hardier than city folk.
Next, we drove to a tiny village some 30 km away. It was 2 hours' drive in wonderful surroundings. The car climbed over a mountain range down into a valley and at the end very high up on a kaccha road, which was only as broad as our jeep. It was frightening. A mantra kept automatically and nonstop repeating itself in my mind.
We were expected, because Panditji, as his former cook was called, had a mobile. Two boys waited for us at the road head to guide us further up and a table with sweets and namkeen was already laid. His three daughters are married nearby and his eldest son is working in Hyderabad.
After leaving my friend's house some years ago, Panditji became a part-time pujari in a mandir further down the hill – for Rs 150 a month. Even five years ago, this was an incredibly meagre salary. Meanwhile, he stopped going there. The climb was too tough for him. He was offered a full-time job as a pujari for Rs. 1100. (No, I did not forget a zero, only Rs 1100 for a month). It would have required him to stay the whole day and sleep in the mandir, too. He declined the offer as he felt that he was too old to live alone. If something happened to him, nobody would know. His son is sending him money from Hyderabad.
His house had two rooms with a buffalo staying downstairs, and here too, neighbours gathered straight away when we arrived. The view from his narrow veranda was truly spectacular. It became dark and the hills lit up with lights sparkling everywhere, down in the valley and above in the sky.
Last we went to a house near Chamba on the new road to Uttarkashi to visit the widow of one more former help. My friend was all praise for this man who was with his family over 40 years ago in Kalkuta when my friend was still in school. Once, he went home to Chamba for a holiday. While there, he started working for daily wages on road construction. After a few days, a rock fell on him and he died on the spot.
His wife was young, his only son barely two years old and physically slightly handicapped. Now his wife was in her sixties and lived with her daughter in law and three grandsons in the village and her son worked in a restaurant in Ludhiana over 200 km away.
We reached the simple house made from mud and woodUnsplash - Parij Borgohain
When we reached the simple house made from mud and wood, she had just come back from Ludhiana after a check-up in a hospital. Her health is not good. She has water in her lungs. Yet her nature was very sweet and loving. It was a pleasure to be with her, her bahu and the grandchildren in the small room, which had a garlanded photo of her husband on the wall.
Their belongings were stashed away in trunks and boxes, quilts were neatly folded, and only school books were piled up on a trunk. Though she must have been tired from the long journey, apart from being ill, she enquired about everyone she knew from that time, while her grandsons were leaning on her. Her hard life has made her into a beautiful person.
I once again realized that it is neither status nor money that ultimately counts. Important is how one takes the experiences in one's life; whether one can accept them or not; whether one has trust and faith in life or not; whether one feels support from within or not and whether one can ultimately let go of one's life when the time comes.
While walking up to the road two young men passed us on the narrow track. "Hi!" one of them said in a tone that one hears occasionally in cities, yet it sounded odd in the village. "Where are you from?" he asked further. "Germany", I replied. "Oh, I worked for 3 years in a restaurant in Munich", he surprised me in the German language.
Driving back to Mussoorie several jackals got trapped in the light beam of our jeep. We stopped in the silent night and admired the vast expanse of flickering lights down in the valley which was Dehradun.
What a rich, inspiring day it was! I had been allowed a glimpse into different lives which are side by side on our beautiful earth. Each person is the centre of a unique, private world that depends heavily, if not fully, on the mind. The outer circumstances may be determined to a great extent. Yet the option to be at peace with one's life seems to be open to everyone.
Final preparations are in full swing at Six Senses Fort Barwara which will host the much talked about wedding of celebrity couple Vicky Kaushal and Katrina Kaif.
According to sources, the event company working for this wedding has procured crystal balls and chandeliers from abroad to give a royal look to the wedding. These will be installed in the hotel soon.
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Six Senses Hotel has also parked indicator vehicles on the road at frequent intervals for the guests to reach the hotel easily. A glass 'mandap' has been prepared and decorated in Rajwada style for the couple to take 'pheres' (rounds around the fire) as per Hindu rituals. Moreover, the glass carvings on the mandap is such that it creates an optical illusion.
This wedding ceremony will be held amidst tight security arrangements. Secret codes have been given to each of the guests, so that it is impossible to know which guest is staying in which room.
Mobile phones have been banned inside the venue. International photographers have been hired to shoot the entire wedding. The ceremonies will be held from December 7 to December 9, with bouncers and police personnel looking after the security arrangements. As many as 100 bouncers have arrived from Jaipur to look after security arrangements at the wedding.
Katrina and Vicky's wedding is to be solemnized on December 9.Unsplash
Vicky Kaushal and Katrina Kaif's outfits have been designed in Mumbai which they will wear during different wedding ceremonies.
As per information, Katrina Kaif and Vicky Kaushal are scheduled to reach Hotel Six Senses Fort Barwara located at Chauth Ka Barwara, by 9 p.m. on Monday, via car from Jaipur where both are expected to receive a grand welcome by the hotel management.
Along with Vicky and Katrina, their family members too will reach the hotel on Monday. However, some close family members and other guests will reach the venue separately. Katrina's sister Natasha and friends reached Jaipur airport on Monday afternoon from where they left for the wedding venue by car.
Katrina and Vicky's wedding is to be solemnized on December 9. (IANS/SP)
(Keywords : wedding, Bollywood, Vicky Kaushal, Katrina Kaif, Rajasthan, hotel, Fort Barwara, ceremony, photographer, bouncer, outfit)
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Meta-owned WhatsApp on Monday announced an incubator programme in India that will select 10 organisations and help them build digital solutions to tackle critical health issues.
Called the WhatsApp Incubator Programme (WIP), the initiative aims to facilitate positive and measurable health outcomes at scale by leveraging the WhatsApp Business Platform.
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"During the pandemic we have seen several innovative use cases of the WhatsApp Business Platform by government organisations, civic actors, city administrations and many more NGOs, both large and small, across sectors and locations," said Abhijit Bose, Head of WhatsApp India.
The selected organisations will also be provided with technical support in order to design, prototype and pilot their health use cases.Unsplash
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"We hope the WhatsApp Incubator Programme brings forth more such innovative and unique solutions that will help solve India's healthcare needs," he said in a statement.
The selected organizations will also be provided with technical support in order to design, prototype and pilot their health use cases.
The company said that participating organizations get the opportunity to be mentored by industry experts, access on-ground ecosystems, receive support with impact measurement guidance, and a chance to network with funders to scale their use cases.
The programme, for which applications are open till December 24, is being administered by Quicksand Design Studio, WhatsApp said. (IANS/SP)
(Keywords : Whatsapp, incubator, organizations, digital, health, business, pandemic, innovative, technical)
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By D.C. Pathak
Advent of Biden Presidency with its resonating calls of 'America is back', 'we will repair our alliances' and 'will engage with the world once again' on one hand and the rise of President Xi Jinping with a stronger hold on China after the Plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of CPC, on the other, have got strategic analysts to examine if a new Cold War was already on the horizon.
India has to define its stand and negotiate its international policy keeping in view the nation's best interests of the long run. Sino- Pak military alliance that chiefly worked against India, natural friendship between the two largest democracies of the world and the need for a rapid advancement of our Defence capabilities, are the major paradigms that should determine India's approach to both development and security.
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Xi Jinping is implementing a two- fold strategy of seeking the economic route to becoming the second superpower and pursuing 'Sinicisation of Marxism' to define the future of Communist China. In a huge give and take between the Godless dictatorship of China and the fundamentalist regime of Pakistan, the former has invested on CPEC located on the territory of PoK ceded by Pakistan to China in the face of the Indian protests and got an opening into the Muslim world where sympathy for Islamic radicals has been on the rise.
Pakistan is close to the pro- US group led by Saudi Arabia and yet has a good equation with Islamic radical organizations represented by Taliban. With one leg in the camp of 'revivalists' -- Pakistan -- it mediated between the US and the Taliban on Afghanistan -- would be in a position to assure the Chinese that the Cold War game of the West using Pak-Afghan region to 'radicalise' Muslims of Xinjiang and other parts of China, would not be allowed. The axis of the two principal adversaries of India has become very active after the Indian Parliament scrapped Article 370 of the Constitution in August 2019 and converted J&K and Ladakh into union territories. India had successfully evolved a strategy of dealing with both China and Pakistan together.
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It needs to be recalled that China drew the best lessons from the demise of the USSR -- it could clearly see that the Soviet regime had become an oligarchy that ignored the internal economic decline because of which it was not able to sustain the war in Afghanistan. This led Deng Xiaoping to adopt the policy of opening the Chinese market to the world in a controlled fashion and thus initiate a process of faster economic growth on which China has not looked back. China has become the second biggest global economy by investing in markets abroad and accessing technological knowledge wherever it was available -- including the research work of the US universities where it established 'Chairs' to reach out to the same.
Xi Jinping combines the persona of Deng and Mao Zedong and while consolidating Chinese economy further, he has reverted to the concept of supremacy of the Communist Party of China as the symbol of Marxism. This has helped him, among other things, to keep his leadership going on the strength of ideology and project it as something that was free of any personal vested interest. The recent conference of the Central Committee of CPC credited Xi Jinping with achievement of the first Centennial goal of making China a 'moderately prosperous society' by 2021 -- the hundredth year of the party's existence and acknowledged his pledge to make China a 'great modern Socialist country' by 2049 -- the second centennial mission marking the completion of hundred years since Mao Zedong declared the establishment of the People's Republic of China. By highlighting the importance of 'ideology' and 'line', Xi Jinping has identified himself with the Party so completely that his leadership can not be easily challenged by any dissenters.
Under Xi Jinping, China is progressing economically and also politically extending its influence in the world taking care to buy time for its mission and somewhere following the doctrine of winning a war without a battle. It is joining multilateral platforms to create a non- combatant image, inducing economic dependence of other smaller nations on it through its Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) and forging bilateral alliances and pacts to further its geo- political advancement.
Pakistan is close to the pro- US group led by Saudi Arabia and yet has a good equation with Islamic radical organizations represented by Taliban.Unsplash
Sino- Pak strategic alliance -- an illustration of this multi-prong objective of China -- is a cause for great concern for India. China knows it can not change the Western systems and is not in a hurry to challenge the global economic order -- it is exploring alternate approaches of invading others economically and doing it successfully. As far as territorial expansion was concerned Xi's China adheres to its known 'two steps forward one step backward' strategy -- which is salami slicing of sorts -- that was in evidence on LAC as also in the Indo-Pacific. India has suitably responded to these moves on land as well as on sea by undertaking a matching military build up and actively joining in Quad, respectively.
Some analysts have perceptively noted that President Xi Jinping has embarked on a larger than life mission of surpassing Mao Zedong in building China as the dominant power of the world -- matching the place it once occupied in its civilizational history. His new strategy of bringing all 'under one heaven' compels a recall of the description the Chinese Emperor once enjoyed as the 'son of heaven'. It is remarkable that a Communist dictatorship carrying the stamp of Marxism today is deriving strength from the country's civilisational roots. This reflects the desire for world domination -- the Emperor of China expected 'tribute' from other countries as protection money.
Xi's China is also working on fail -- safe alliances -- using its economic hold as in the case of Pakistan. The defence expenditure of China has been on the rise -- in comparison to India it rose from a near parity in the Nineties to more than three times of India's defence budget, as at present. China's move forward is neither transactional nor transformational but a strategy of continuum -- steady in pace and direction --attempted on a good understanding of the global 'space' on land ,sea and air. Geo- politically China is now in the frame so far as the emerging scene of the world getting divided between two superpowers, was concerned.
The defence expenditure of China has been on the rise -- in comparison to India.Unsplash
India has set in motion a well- considered strategy of handling the economic and security challenges emanating from this situation. There was never any doubt that the US and India must together anchor the collective effort of the democratic world to counter the threat from the Communist dictatorships on one hand and that from Islamic extremists on the other.
The policy of the Modi government to have bilateral relations on the basis of mutuality of interests in the economic and security spheres has been very successful. India is enlarging the ambit of friendships with European democracies, Australia, Japan and Israel -- including association with Quad -- to promote collective security against these dangers. As a nation with a voice in the global matters pertaining to war and peace, India is working for self-reliance in the area of defence and building military strength to take on any aggressive move of the PLA on the LAC and punish Pakistan for any provocation from across the LOC.
India has maintained close friendship with Russia which has -- apart from defence deals with India -- been on the same page on the vital issues of Afghanistan and radicalization. It is the policy of mutuality of security interests in Afghanistan that has made India work in collaboration with Iran, notwithstanding the conflicts that this country had with the US and Israel. Indian diplomacy has worked hard to keep the Western powers convinced of the legitimacy of India's policy towards all these other countries.
Finally, there is an added challenge on the internal security front because of the intent of the China-Pak combine to instigate acts of terror, insurgency and sectarian discord in India in an attempt to destabilize this country. A new dimension of the domestic scene of India is the rise of civil society forums which in collusion with anti-India lobbies abroad and elements hostile to the Modi government at home, play politics by proxy on issues ranging from Kashmir to Northeast and from safety of Dalits and minorities to poverty alleviation. Fortunately, we are getting adequate Intelligence to draw a line between genuine protests and sponsored agitations.
(The writer is a former Director of Intelligence Bureau; the views expressed are personal)
(Keywords : president, prime minister, Biden, Xi Jinping, Narendra Modi, China, America, India, Pakistan, military, alliance, defence, challenge, concern, security, dominant, power, history. )
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