Author Archives: vicharak1

Every Dark Cloud Has a Silver Lining

June 4, 2020


Now that we have stayed within the four walls of the house for more than good two months (except for a few forays for quick grocery pickups), it is time to take stock of how I have passed these two months +. I know that my story would probably be the same as many people and it may not necessarily be colorful, but I feel like jotting down thoughts on a piece of paper and share with my near and dear ones.

One thing good that has happened due to Coronavirus and lockdown, is the proliferation of Zoom and Skype video calls, meetings, and webinars. So much so, that now, one has to decide which one to attend and which ones to skip when there are competing and tempting invitations. Like everyone else, in the past, we have had so many family gatherings, sleepovers. etc., where we five brothers and spouses, sister and brother in law, grown-up nephews and nieces, their children, etc. had gala time. Now, we are all separated and locked-down in different locations. We are in Florida, two brothers and two nephews are in NJ; two brothers, a niece and my 96-year-old matushree are in CT and sister and brother in law (both from USA), and their daughter are in Bharat. The other day, we had a family Zoom session and it was interesting because for the first time one person was speaking while others were listening attentively. There was no crosstalk, and everyone spoke with a purpose. So, while we missed physical touching and hugging and horseplay with young children, we loved the output of the video call. Of course, we had to celebrate the first birthday of my niece’s son also by Zoom. Only a few months back we were all planning excitedly for a great get together for the birthday!

Over the last few weeks, I have attended a seminar by a physiotherapist (Namrata Dixit) form Bhakti Shakha of HSS (Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh) in NJ, weekly online Shakha from Edison, NJ, and a weekly temple storytelling class by the same Bhakti Shakha where not so famous temples are highlighted. It is a good education. I also took part in an Antakshari of VHPA (Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America) camp volunteers, a full-day meeting of the Executive Board of VHPA, six weekly OM chanting sessions by VHPA for the well-being of the universe. Then there is a biweekly Satsang of VHPA’s governing council members. I have been involved with COVID-19 relief work through Global Indians for Bharat Vikas (GIBV) of which I am a founding member; GIBV also arranged a webinar of Sri Uday Mahurkar, a senior editor of India Today on the subject of Future of India and its Progress.

I have attended a weekly dance class choreographed for a Hindi film song for raising funds for the frontline healthcare workers, police and firemen, etc., in NJ. My friends know that I am terrible with physical coordination. I guess my left brain has been so busy whole my life that like a neglected sibling, my left brain never got a chance to develop to its full potential! So, for me doing a dance and that too on a modern-day film song is akin to Rahul Gandhi trying to recite a Vedic hymn! While practicing, I was reminded of lines from a beautiful dance by yesteryear actress and a great classical dancer Vyjayanthimala in the film Leader (with Dilip Kumar.) One was, बंधे पग में शर्म के धागे, दइया रए दइया लाज मोहे लागे (Friend, I feel shy and my feet are bound as if by modesty) and other was, पग ठेहरे तो मन मोरा भागे (if my feet stop then my mind is running/rushing.)  My situation was a bit different. It was पग ठेहरे तो हाथ मोरे भागे (if my feet are stopped, my hands are running!)   All the same I stuck through all eight classes just because it was for a good cause and it was fun. At least, it has given me a new appreciation of how difficult it is to choreograph a seemingly easy looking three-minute dance. This Seva is performed by a young college going girl from our Bhakti Shakha, Jaanhavi Ganesh.

 I attended Celebration of Life, Mrutyu Mangal, a Shraddhanjali to COVID-19 victims on tristate area organized by the Gujarati Samaj of New York. The three-hour event drew about 400 online participants and Dr. Narendra Bhalodkar of New York, drew upon our scriptures, incidences from Mahabharat, Bhajans, Abhang, etc. and weaved a beautiful tapestry of the journey from life to death. I also found time to listen to a four-hour long Gujarati poetry event that brought together poets, young and old, known and unknown on one platform to regal the audience. Good part was that they did not have to travel anywhere. Some were in California, one In Boston, many others in New Jersey and New York.

I also enjoyed a one-hour online musical program from Mumbai of my favorite singer Sangeeta Melekar. She is a versatile professional singer who is part of several public concerts arranged by Klub Nostalgia in Mumbai. I have known her for a few years and to Asha Ji and me, she is like a daughter. Many of my friends will recollect that she had come specially to USA to sing at Asha Ji’s 70th birthday celebration in 2018. There is one more program coming up with Sangeeta and Surojit Guha on June 13th celebrating the 100th birthday of Hemant Kumar and I hope to attend it.

I have not done any active gardening yet except planting one rose plant it has beautiful roses with fragrance; most roses here in USA do not have fragrance. I do water plants, banana and papaya trees regularly. I am sort of lazy when it comes to doing such tasks. That is why I have also not paid any attention to hanging up all the photos and artworks in the new home. You can ask me to sit in front of the computer and keep typing for three hours, no problem. Ask me to sit in a corner and read a book(s) for six hours at a stretch, no problem. But ask me to go out and weed the garden bed for 30 minutes, I will find creative ways to postpone it as long as possible.

I have called and received dozens of calls from friends and forgotten contacts inquiring about each other’s health. Our younger Bharatiya neighbors are very nice. They called to inquire if we wanted to have the grocery or anything else and when we did, they delivered it to us.

I have started reading (infrequently) Quran! I have a couple of copies for a long time and I always have wanted to read the Bible and Quran myself to understand them and juxtapose then with our scriptures. It will take a long time to finish it because the language (translation) is not lucid.

I am also attending a weekly two-hour online course on the History of Christianity and Critical Study of Bible run by the Mission Kali Gnan Yodha group. We have spent 16 hours over eight Fridays to complete the History of Christianity. The next eight weeks will be the Critical Study of the Bible. Sree Balaji from Seattle has been an excellent teacher.

Interestingly, I have joined daily yoga, Pranayam, and Meditation class out of Karnavati (Amdavad), Bharat! It so happens that when I am in Bharat and in Karnavati during my yearly three months or so time there, I go for a morning walk in a nearby garden called Manekbag or Sakun garden. I am in their WhatsApp group. One of the young ladies, Bijal Desai who is a B.K. Iyengar Yoga certified teacher and a dietician used to take free classes in the garden for interested morning walkers. Now she has started to offer the same classes via Zoom. She is a particularly good, knowledgeable teacher who strives for perfection in her students. I have joined her class for a little over a month and I have participated regularly and vigorously. Initially, it was pretty tough because I had fallen off the track for quite some time. I found out bones and muscles that I did not know existed! Now I am getting comfortable with it and look forward to it every morning. It has another advantage. I am a night owl and going to bed around 2 AM has been quite common for last so many years. Now that I have to wake up at least by 6:30 AM to attend the yoga class at 7:30 AM, I have forced myself to go to bed no later than 11:30 PM.

Now, When I come up to my office room upstairs at 6:30 AM, I see the first rays of sun rising from the window near the stairs. Without any effort automatically I start reciting Gayatri mantra. I enter the office room and look out the window before starting the Yoga session, and I observe a white crane moving on the opposite bank of the lake. I see two birds with large wings taking a stroll on the bank near my window. A lone red and blue robin always glides in at a specific time fluttering its small wings, sits on a bough of the pine tree in my backyard, and then flies away.

With all these, I do not find much time to read all the books that I have lined up to finish over the next six months. Hopefully, I will be able to go slow on online Zoom events, and another time-eater, social media, and return soon to my first passion, reading books.

While we were in New Jersey, my social calendar was always overloaded. There were so many events to attend to keep in touch with organizations and people that on average, two evenings a week were used up for such events. At times, TV ASIA auditorium felt like a second home to me since many programs took place there. Then there were endless meetings and conference calls. NJ and New York being the gateway to USA, there was a steady stream of visiting dignitaries and obligatory meetings with them. Add to that occasional demonstrations in New York, be it in front of the Pakistan Consulate, United Nations or CNN and my plate was overflowing at times.

As it is, Tampa being not a major center like NJ-NY, life was bound to be quieter. But Coronavirus had made it totally quiet. I have not been able to meet people and acquaint myself with those who are engaged in serving the community and Hindu Dharma.  But a big positive point is that

I have quality time with my ardhangini Asha Ji, who has accepted my continued absence for an awfully long time with an encouraging smile. I feel like I am rediscovering her qualities now!

When I was in the science college, though I selected mathematics stream that would lead to the engineering studies, my heart was on biology stream and I wanted to be a doctor. That did not happen but thanks to corona virus I have donned the plastic gloves so many times that I do feel like a doctor!

In two and a half months, I have used up hand washing soap worth one year’s supply. My palms are now so clean and shining, that I have detected extra few lines in them! A palmist would have a field day with such clear lines- maybe he can find some interesting things in my future.

So, all these I call a blessing in disguise because I have done things, I would not have thought of doing before the pandemic forced us inside the house. I would not have found the joy of staying indoors. I would not have taken time to observe and appreciate the beauty of nature all around me. It has also given me a realization that, no matter, how much “progress’ we make as the mankind, we are nothing in front of the nature’s wrath.

Someday, we all will look back to this period of great uncertainty and anxiety and talk about how it helped us to change our outlook of life and how it helped us to find joy in small things. For the time being, Stay Inside, Stay Safe.

(My next blog will be on a book and film from the early 60’s On the Beach which is relevant to current environment of anxiety, fear and uncertainty.)

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On the Campaign Trail-14: May 8 Bhopal: Running into the Adversary

May 8, 2019:  Running into the Adversary – an Interesting Experience

Today, at some point our coordinator, Vikas Jain had to take an hour off to finish his business work so he left Balbirbhai and me at Hotel J.W. Marriott to wait.  While we were sitting in the lounge, the elevator doors opened and seven sophisticated ladies stepped out. One of them came close to us, noticed my Modi in America (from Sept. 2014) t-shirt and stopped in her tracks. She blurted out, “I was going to ask you to vote for Congress but you seem to be a Modi person.” I replied in affirmative and asked her why she was campaigning for Congress.   She gave some feeble reasons like how Modi was a dictator, how women were unsafe in her rule, how farmers were compelled to suicide, etc. and I was countering her; I reminded her about Indira Gandhi’s emergency rule, Gandhi family’s hold on the party, etc. she was uncomfortable so she said, ‘you have to talk to our Neta (pointing to an older lady), I am a small neta.” My reply was ‘in our group, we are all workers, no one is a Neta.’

The so called Neta was quite abrasive and rude. She didn’t want to engage in a discussion. I told her that we could be civil and discuss our opinions rationally and that we didn’t have to agree with each other. While the junior neta was willing to talk, the elder one stopped her, saying they had a meeting to attend (most likely true) and that it was a waste of time to talk with us. somehow, I sweet-talked them into having a group photo and we parted with, ‘may the best Man (woman) win.’ She agreed to meet at the same hotel on 23rd to have a party paid for by the losing team.  Only later on, I came to know that one of the ladies was Mrs. Digvijay Singh and one was his sister,


From left, Self, then the lady with the glasses was the senior Neta, next is Digvijay Singh’s sister, then Amrita Singh,(Mrs. Digvijay Sing,h), Balvir Taqndel, the junior neta. The person on the right is Vikas Jain,

If Kejriwal were to see this photo, he would surely say, “Arre Bhai, Sub mile huye hain jee!”

On the Campaign Trail-13: May 8 Bhopal: Meeting with Trade Associations

May 8, 2019: Meeting with Trade Associations

An independent group was engaged in making systematic calls to the opinion makers, leaders of several organizations in the Bhopal constituency. The callers were trained to note down in detail their conversation and points/issues raised by the person at the other end. Then one young woman would call the person next day addressing his concerns. This created an impression that “someone cared enough to look into our concerns and call back.”  Such leaders have a hold on several members of their organization/ association/group. This would hopefully translate into votes in favor of BJP candidate. The person who conceived the idea, put together a team and infrastructure, using his own funds without any show or pomp expects that his efforts would bring Sadhwiji 25,000 votes. His emissaries would visit these influential leaders for a one on one.

I was fortunate to be on this team for a day of campaigning. We met with the leaders and some merchants of four trade associations. These were Retail Merchants Association in Market 10, Sanitary and Tiles Merchants Association, Plywood Industry Association and  Iron Merchants Association.  Shri Vikas Jain, a successful builder and BJP’s local coordinator led our team. Another member was Shri Balvir Tandel, a BJP worker from Navsari, Gujarat. Almost all of the people we met over a four  hour period were positive for BJP though they had some concerns about BJP’s performance at the local level.


With the leaders of the Plywood Industry Association. There were 20+ merchants from this trade at the meeting.


With the president of Iron Merchants Association, giving their staff booklet on BJP’ government’s initiatives.

This campaign was totally different than the one yesterday. Here we were meeting with people who were well to do and well informed. They were also upset with the Hindu Terror tag. They all promised that besides talking with their members, they would encourage all neighbors to vote and vote early.


with the leaders of Sanitaryware and Tiles Merchants Association. On Extreme left is Vikas Jain and second from right is Balvir Tandel.


With the leaders of Market 10 Retail Merchants Association

All in all, this was a productive day.

On the Campaign Trail-11: May 7 Bhopal: Door to Door Campaign in Jhopadpatti

May 7, 2019 in Bhopal: Door to door campaign in Jhopadpatti (Basti, Slum)

I had to make several calls to find out where I should report and what I should be doing. I walked down to Sadhwiji’s election office (in the same complex) and met the contact I was given, He bounced me off to someone else. There was real chaos and it seemed that they were overwhelmed by the influx of the volunteers and were not well prepared. There were volunteers from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Karnataka, etc. One estimate was that there were 200 volunteers from out of state.


Shri Komal Bisht, a volunteer. he had traveled all the way from Uttarakhand. He is doing remarkable work for the farmers of Uttrakhand and is involved in organic farming. We built a good rapport. he had offered me to take campaigning in BHEL area (where he was staying). I agreed initially but later opted out because I don’t feel too safe on a two-wheeler (in that traffic) and I avoid riding if I do not have the helmet.

This was unusual but also natural because Bhopal had assumed national importance due to BJP fielding Sadhwiji strategically against a villain, Digvijay Singh who had a big role in giving currency to the phrase Hindu Terror.

As Amit Shah said, this is BJP’s Satyagraha against the manufactured Hindu terror. We felt that it was important to win this seat, notwithstanding lack of political acumen of Sadhwiji because a victory here would put to rest Hindu Terror narrative for good. On the contrary, a loss would cement the Hindu Terror allegation. This is what we hammered wherever we went.

A nearby bungalow was used as a dormitory for the volunteers. One day, there were more volunteers than could be accommodated so they put ou coats under a canopy in the open ground.  The dormitory had a kitchen where the cooking was going on, on and on.  Sitting on the ground with folded legs and eating simple food with fingers (no luxury of spoons) itself was an experience and told me how far we have moved away from the common man.


Front of Sadhwiji’s election office


The scene in the front of Sadhwi Pragya Ji’s residence and election office. There was a constant flow of vehicles, media, and the volunteers

After an interminable wait from 10 am to 3:30 pm, during which I had a chance to meet Upama, sister of Sadhwiji who was coordinating on several fronts, I found a group that was about to leave for campaigning in a slum area. They had one seat available in the vehicle so I jumped in. Between two vehicles, we were 15-15 people. There were three ladies among us, two of which were “sadhwis”. There was also a guruji who had come from Maharashtra/Haryana.

We reached the chosen area shortly. I have forgotten the name of the Jhopadpati/jhuggi/slum but it was close to Chunar Bhatti area. The whole basti is on a hillock and going up and down was difficult; with debris around and water flowing down very narrow streets, there was always the danger of slipping. There were many bylanes and turns so it was easy to lose sight of your group if you fell behind as I often did as I stopped to talk with people and also take pictures.


Since the basti is built on a hillock, it was a tough going


Squalid residences, overflowing dirty water in the streets, etc. area norm in these slums


This is where people live


It is hard to imagine that this a “normal” scene in a basti

While the houses (mostly one-room tenements) were in good shape, there was hardly any breathing space. lanes were so narrow that you had to walk single file at times. Though this kind of living conditions and much worse exist all over Bharat and I was not new to it, I kept wondering, when would the real Vikas reach to these people? We, as the campaigners talk about all the nice schemes, Balakot, and defense of the nation, etc., but could these mass of humanity eeking out a living on subhuman conditions, care about those things? Could they be bothered by whether it is NDA or UPA government ruling?


Navigating narrow lanes of the basti near Chunabhatti

Our group was enthusiastic and we were distributing pamphlets to every door; some of us talked briefly with the residents but a majority were just interested in giving out the literature and moving on. There were periodic shouts of Jay Shree Ram. There were some residents, who were already active with BJP. Some were nonchalant and some were critical of the local government.


Walking single file

We finished the round of the basti in about half an hour. Then we came down to the main road and started giving out the pamphlets to the shop owners and the passersby. There was a tea stall cum house where a few ladies and men were sitting and our “Sadhwi” lady, who held some important post in Durgavahini in Delhi started talking about BJP (by this time, the rest of the group had moved on)and a couple of women pointed out BJP’s deficiencies. The sadhwi lost her cool and argued vehemently without any success. Finally, she scoffed at them, called them “Congressis” and said I know you guys would vote for Rahul. Then she left in a huff.  I was witness to this most childish behavior. Such campaigners do more harm than good. I stayed back, talked with the group and apologized for the lady’s behavior. I made a point that we could differ but we could have civilized discourse. Those ladies said that they were visiting from another part of the state and had already voted and voted for BJP. Overenthusiastic campaigners are more dangerous than underperforming ones!

We ended the campaign by visiting the other side of the basti which was separated by a wall and was probably built later on. While people were praising their Congress municipal counselor Pravin Saxena in the first basti, here they were unhappy with him.  An aged lady complained to us that she was a widow but didn’t get the pension.  Upon further inquiry, I found that she had lost the death certificate of her husband and couldn’t apply for pension benefits. I explained to her about how an affidavit (“Dakhaka” in local parlance) can be made but she was resigned to the fate as she hailed from a bordering village from Maharashtra and didn’t have a support system. I also came to know that if one is over 60 years of age, one can’t register for the employment scheme.


The local worker from this slum accompanying us told us that this garbage has piled up since the government changed in M.P. I doubt it because the garbage disposal is not a state subject, it is a municipal responsibility.

When we were talking, there was a young Muslim woman selling bangles to the ladies there. As I was encouraging the ladies to vote for BJP, putting aside their local grievances, that Muslim lady said, Modi hi Aayega.

As I was about to leave, I saw one of my colleagues trying to convince a young man to vote for BJP. The guy was opposed to BJP, more likely a die-hard Congress supporter. It was interesting to note how negative campaigning takes place. When I asked him why he would vote for a non-BJP person he said,” my relative in such and such place told me that in his village BJP took out Rs.350 from the bank account of anyone who voted against BJP.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the sheer ignorance of the gentleman.


We had a long track back to the karyalaya.The group enjoying tea at a roadside stall

This was the end of the day’s campaign. We tracked back two miles to the office, stopping in between to encourage street side vendors and hawkers to vote for BJP. Most of them had made up their mind to vote for BJP.

On the Campaign Trail-15: May 9 Bhopal: Meeting the Nishad community

May 9, 2019, The last day in Bhopal: Meeting with Nishad community

Early this morning, my host Ajay Ji took me to his farmhouse situated about 20 KM outside of Bhopal. Farmhouses are not a big deal but the reason I wanted to go there was to see firsthand work done by Ajay Ji for the upliftment of the village. Three years back he had made a presentation at a GIBV seminar about his efforts to empower the villagers.



The grounds of this government schools are developed wit planted trees and a playground by Ajay Mehta with his own funds.


At the farm of Dr. Ajay Shankar Mehta. He has transformed the village with his own efforts and funds.

Ajay Ji has built three lakes to store rainwater, built a road, encouraged children to go to school and runs children’s camps. The success rate is quite high. Determination of one man can do wonders.

upon our return from the farmhouse, we went to the Hanuman temple in the development where I was staying. There I had a chance meeting with Sadhwi Pragya Ji who had come to offer an Aarati.


Sadhwiji performing Aarati



Myself and Dr. Ajay Shankar Mehta (my host) with Sadhwiji

I also had the pleasure to meet with the young leaders one more time.


Being with young keeps you young! I am flanked by MoMo (Modi Once More) group’s leaders Rekha Sharma and Sumit Tripathi

From electioneering point of view, my last day in Bhopal was mostly wasted. The day before, we had decided to meet at 2 PM, to go around to meet more business leaders.  Since I was going to be home till then, the host insisted that I take lunch at their home before leaving. however, as I was about to sit down for lunch, I got a call that we had to leave right away (11:15 AM) and I should rush. So I skipped lunch and went over to the office. We piled in the car and were driven to where all government offices and secretariat are. At short notice, it was decided to canvass the government employees during their lunch hour and also have accompanying rickshaw with a P.A. system. There was already some confusion because Digvijay Singh was also supposed to be there for a rally, We waited for a long time while our leader tried to get the vehicle with the P.A. system to come where we were; it never happened. We wasted 90 minutes and in the meantime, Digvijay Singh’s caravan came in, so we decided to postpone the idea to next day. It was a super hot day, so a glass of cold sugarcane juice did wonders.  Our leader contacted several businesses for setting up meetings but was not successful. So he left us at BJP election headquarters (different than Sadhwiji’s election office) to relax. The place had big air coolers but it was pretty much deserted. A couple of guys were taking a nap on sofas. maybe, rest were in the field.


Outside of the BJP election office


BJP Election Headquarters, Bhopal


Various banners of Sadhwi Pragya Ji



Advertisement on a bus stand

finally, at 6:30 PM we were asked to go to a Muslim dominated area where a Hindu Nishad community (fishermen) lived. There are only a handful of families that live near the Muslim majority area but they were determined and strong. A group of lady volunteers that we had accompanied took the local ladies to go for door to door campaign in that difficult terrain.


Nishad community members receiving us


Outside volunteers (like us) listening to the host families




I am appraising them about efforts made by NRIs


NaMo is now really a brand! This is a store at Bhopal airport

I took an early morning flight back to Varanasi, this time, via Hyderabad!

On the Campaign Trail-12: May 7 Bhopal: An Eye-Opening Experience

May 7, 2019: An eye-opening experience

in the previous blog, I wrote about my campaign experience in a slum area. I met a lady who was quite vocal. I asked her permission to record her and she readily agreed. Here you can listen to her praising the Congress municipal counselor for getting them water connection and electricity.

What remained unrecorded was, in the ned, she said she will vote for Modi. Since she was all praise for the Congress, I asked her, why? her answer was, ‘because Modi works for the people.’

May 7 Evening, on the way home from campaigning- Lighter Moment

I saw this billboard. I never realized that making Ravan, Kumbhkarna, etc. could be a big business. Somehow, looking at the billboard, I thought about Digvijay Singh, the evil promoter of Hindu Terror bogey. But then, isn’t Congress and the secular gang in the business of creating Ravanas of all kinds since before the independence?

Zoom to read the billboard

May 7 night: An Exhilarating Experience, listening to Dr.Vinay Sahasrabuddhe

I was very fortunate to have an opportunity to attend a talk by Dr. Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, the BJP Vice President in charge of Madhya Pradesh. The meet was organized by the Medical Association of Bhopal for the doctors and the Medical students. Since my hosts, Ajay Shankar and Savitabahen both are doctors, I went along as their guest. I estimated the standing room only audience at about 500. संवाद देश के नाम (Samvaad, Desh Ke Naam). In a 45 minute talk, he carefully, lucidly and seamlessly laid out the case for Modi government’s achievements on various fronts. One thing that caught my attention was when he said that the BJP had made promises on 545 points/plans. They studied the promises at the end of four and a half years and 460 of the promises were met. he gave examples of how archaic rules were changed, how doing business with the government was made easier, how the decisions were taken efficiently and in a timely manner, etc. his Hindi was pure and almost poetic. I am happy to note that BJP has many stalwarts who are able to paint the canvass of the success of the Modi government on all fronts. Besides Dr. Sahasrabuddhe, I have listened to Nitin Gadkari, Smriti Irani, Peeyush Goyal, and Nirmala Sitharaman and each one is in a class of his/her own.

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