Recently in October 2014, we were in Mumbai for five days, and the day, we went to attend the annual function of the “National Society for Clean Cities India”, will forever remain etched in our hearts and minds. NSCCI – an NGO a “Non–Government Organization”, was founded in 1972 by Begum Zehra Ali Yavar Jung, wife of the then Governor of Maharashtra, Nawab Ali Yavar Jung and encapsulated her love for children and a healthy and clean environment. Her daughter is Begum Bilkees Latif who is the wife of ex Air force Chief I.H. Latif, who was also a Governor of Maharashtra .
For the last many years, Begum Bilkees Latif has nurtured the NSCCI with her love, generosity and dedicated hard work and she is, one of those heroes, who will always be loved by the thousands and thousands of children whose life she has changed by doing so. She, who now is in her 80’s, and is one who has contributed so much toward India’s well–being, should know that India is mighty proud of her in every way, she is truly a go getter with positive energy and vision oozing out of her great personality. That drive has produced results that are extraordinary. I have never met her but met the students who were attending the annual function of the NSCCI––founded by her mother in 1972.
When Air force Chief I.H. Latif, her husband, was the Governor of Maharashtra, after retiring as the Chief of the Indian Air force, a young India Army Captain, my brother, was his ADC and his spouse Charu, my sister in law, was the young newlywed bride of my brother. She learned a thing of two from her contact with Begum Latif and Charu is very proud of her association with her.
Charu is very much involved with the NGO and is the most valuable volunteer there – brimming with positive energy and vision that Begum Latif would be proud of. Vijaya my spouse, and Charu are best friends, what do they say – BFF! So I was surprised when Vijaya told me that Charu has told Dr. (Mrs) Licy Barucha, the Executive Director of the NGO, about my love for India and a burning desire to teach the Children; and Dr. Barucha wants to invite the two of us to the annual function of the NGO – I, as the chief guest to address the group, and Vijaya, as one who will present various prizes that the children had won, during many activities performed during the three days of the camp. Of Course, we gladly accepted the loving invitation as an honor and responsibility – gladly and proudly!
In the following I am copying a part of the mission Statement of the NGO NSCCI –
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The handicapped, the underprivileged, the unreached and the marginalized children and women are the weakest links in our social fabric. We as a social and charitable organization strive to strengthen these weakest links through a variety of programs educational, recreational, nutritional, and health–related and skill and knowledge oriented. In all our programs ‘EXCELLENCE’ is the key.
We – Charu, Vijaya and I – showed up there on October 21 at 2 PM and were received by Dr. Barucha. It is amazing that in India there are so many exceptional women, that one feels securely assured about the great and bright future of India. Dr. Barucha is one of those ladies.
She, first of all, wanted me to talk to 30 plus teachers gathered in her office to greet us. It was a surprise for me and I spoke from my heart – I told them that a teacher, in my book, is what God would look like. The best teachers forever, again in my book, are Krishna who taught the lessons of life while revealing the Bhagvad Gita, Jesus was basically a teacher, so was Gautam Buddha. Guru Nanak was a teacher – worshiped all over as a Guru, so was Mahavir and Prophet Mohammed and so on. I said, “Teaching is not done for material gains but is done for Divine purposes”. I also told them that Jesus was crucified, Buddha was poisoned, Guru Nanak was stoned and so on. Humans have always been ungrateful towards teachers, always, till they, the humans, grow up. And in the end everyone always remembers a teacher who changed one’s life and forever.
I told my story how and why I am, whatever I am, because of my Sanskrit teacher – Pandit Gauri Shankar ji, like God himself, he got me out of the back benches of life – to the front row of joy and smiles. “Yes”, I said, “You are also going to make one of these young ones, poor in the material World – a prime minister or a president; like Modi ji or Obama ji – and make them the leader of all of us – yes, all of us. You, the teachers are the “god” that there is. You may not be in the mold of a Bill Gates or Ambani or Prince Charles or Tendulkar; but in my book, you are in the mold of Jesus or Krishna or Guru Nanak. I told them that Bhakt Kabir the best poet saint ever and forever, has explained simply and clearly in his couplet –
“Guru Govind Do oo Khade–Kake lagon Paye
Balihari Guru Aapne jin Govind Diyo Bataye”
“If I find my teacher and God himself; standing in front of me; who should I bow to first ?
Of course, to my teacher – who introduced me to God”
Such is your place in this World, I said, – you are the beloved teachers of the World – creators of a Modi or Gandhi or Mandela or Martin Luther King or Obama. There were a few wet eyes – because no one had previously told them that; and they had always heard of a Movie Star or a Tycoon or a Politician or a General praised as a hero or exceptional person. I tried to change all that by simply asking how many of you know the name of any such Business Man or King or Wrestlers or Sportsman during the period when Jesus was teaching. In the end people only remember the Teacher – like they do Guru Nanak or Buddha or Krishna or Prophet Mohammed. Or like I respectfully remember my Sanskrit teacher Pandit Gauri Shanker ji.
After that we had, the most delicious and locally famous sandwiches made at the facility, of course with tea and cookies. It was followed by a grand tour of the campus – one of the most beautiful campuses I have seen––modest but excellent and – pure and clean. In that campus they also teach gardening and environmental cleanliness and cooking and sewing and fine arts and music and computer programming and designing – and it all reflects in the beauty of the campus.
After that the children put up a grand show of music, dances, singing and speeches with love; and thus displayed their talent and training and the values they learned from their teachers. A “TABLA”, the drums of India, recital by a young boy, was just so wonderful and grand and enjoyable. Then I was introduced to the children as one – who loves his beautiful spouse and is mighty proud of her, and is a well–known Power plant Designer, Engineer, Operator, Consultant and Executive , a Patriot a Motivational Speaker and when they said also a “Teacher” – I just could not hold them back, the tears of joy. There were about 200 kids waiting in anticipation to hear me speak – four hundred eyes were connected to the two of mine – with such a force and bond, as only a teacher can recognize and feel. The following is what I said –
I told them I am their elder brother. And how is that possible – I asked? I said simple, we have the same Mother – Bharat Mata (Mother India) and they shouted Bharat Mata ki Jai, Bharat Mata ki Jai, Bharat Mata Ki jai – “Glory to our Mother India”. Every child, everywhere, is awesome in his honesty, understanding and truthfulness.
Then I said I want you to know – that you live in the state of “Bollywood” and I in the State of “Hollywood” – and there is no one more Handsome and more Beautiful in this World than you are – neither in Bollywood and nor in Hollywood. They just loved me, because I meant it – and as I had mentioned earlier – I was speaking from my heart – I could see Dr. Barucha and Charu nodding with me. It was perhaps the best moment of my speech – telling little kids from poor neighborhoods, they are more handsome than the stars in the posters that surround them. Just like no one told the teachers they are following the footsteps of Jesus and Krishna !
And I continued – saying, “To know you even better I want to ask you two questions, if the answer is yes – please raise your hands”.
1. “How many of you prayed this morning?” – almost all of the two hundred hands were raised. I thought these kids, 6 to 16 in age, are so very well groomed that it will be redundant in whatever I would tell them. So I asked the second question.
2. “How many of you touched the feet, a common practice in India for showing respect towards one’s elders, of your parents this morning and said ‘I love you Mom and Dad’”– only a few hands went up. Children are, all of them, honest to the Tee. And so I continued.
I asked them to repeat with me – “Teacher I love you”, “Teacher I respect you”, “Teacher I thank you” – the children said it en–mass and there was a roar of truthful jubilation in that room and the teachers loved it – no one had ever done that for them. And the children with their emotional outburst made it clear – why did no one asked them to say that for so long. I felt elated looking at the teachers and Dr. Barucha. That reward of love from little kids, was much better than a trillion Dollars amassed by one who is hated by all that work with him. Only a teacher can understand it – only a Jesus does.
I further said to them, “You are the future of India and just like you are, the future of India is bright. You will be successful in whatever you do and whatever you want to be – like a Modi ji or Ambani ji or Bill Gates ji or a Tendulkar ji – whatever. But, I want to ask you who is really a successful person?”
“Let me tell you”, I continued, “A successful person is “only one” who helps others – ‘period’, and not one who has unlimited wealth or victories or power or glamour – unless all those things are used solely to help others.” “Mother Teresa”, I said, “was a successful person – with no wealth, no armies and no political clout –she helped the poorest and the helpless.”
I continued saying, “And for being able to help others one must be – Non Violent”. “YES!” amazingly, all the kids resoundingly said – “YES”. “A violent person cannot help anyone”, I said and they all agreed. I said, “To be able to help others, one also has to be not greedy, and must be honest and truthful, one must not steal and one must work hard – and not pollute ones environment”. It was amazing all of the kids agreed with me and surrounded me as if wanting to embrace me – they just loved me and Vice Versa! After that Vijaya distributed prizes and what do you know – all the kids, as is typical in Indian tradition, one by one, touched our feet to let us know that they loved us and respected us.
Dr. Barucha then presented us with a memento – a beautiful painting – by a budding fine artist of the institution – in a beautiful frame. Both Vijaya and I were overwhelmed by everything – overwhelmed!
As I am writing this memoir I am thinking about you Begum Latif Sahiba and I salute you. I know as the brilliant spouse of a General and a Governor you have received, and gracefully so, may be billions of salutes in your glorious life. But, this one is a salute of love and thanks laced with the gratitude of thousands and thousands of children. SALUTE!
Thank you Dr. Barucha and of course, Charu – BFF !!