Archive for poverty

Great Gathering

Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2012 by javedbabar

Sami wondered what Guru Baba had meant by saying he was going to change “into somebody else.” He’d also said, “I have done so before.”

Maybe he’d changed his name when he became a holy man. It was common to break the bonds of your gross life when undertaking a more subtle one. Or was it his family name, in an attempt to elevate caste? Guru Baba had told Sami about his misguided youth, where despite coming from a wealthy family, he was always getting into trouble with the law. His family may have used their influence to wash his police records clean.

Guru Baba’s utterance had struck a chord with the public. Some people had come the night before and camped outside the Transparent Temple, and many more had come at dawn. There was a seated queue of four hundred people by 8 a.m., and doors wouldn’t open till twelve.

“Hello Sophie,” said Sami. “I didn’t know you were coming today. Why didn’t you tell me? I could have got you a pass.”

“Thanks, but I am happy waiting. It’s like a long meditation.”

He saw that Shama, Dimpy and Bobby were in the queue. Shama and Dimpy sat next to each other, chatting. Perhaps they had moved beyond their divorce. And Bobby was a strange fellow, otherworldly; well suited to the spiritual realm, and certainly not suited to this one.

Sophie asked, “How many people are you expecting today?”

“It’s always hard to say. My rule of thumb is ten times the number queuing at eight a.m., so maybe four thousand.”

“You can’t fit that many in the Temple, can you? It’s only got room for four hundred.”

“Up to six hundred,” said Sami. “We’ll keep the queue moving. We’ll ask people to perform their darshan, take refreshment, and leave. They are welcome to rejoin the queue if they want more time.”

Darshan was the act of seeing a holy person – in this case Guru Baba, rather than Siva or Krishna – and absorbing their power through your eyes. Participation in this sacred act brought good fortune, wellbeing and grace.

By midday the queue had grown to two thousand. People must have taken the day, or at least part of the day, off from work. He saw the Lucerne Valley Hotel’s part-android receptionist, TJ, the Seniors’ Centre manager, Mr Amin, veteran Dr Bungawalla, Bobby’s niece Naomi – had she skipped school? – and the founder of the Botanical Gardens, known only as The Gardener. They all waited patiently.

The first four hundred people were allowed in. While they waited for the ritual to commence, a large screen showed a film of Guru Baba’s life.

The small, black-bearded, saffron-robed sage, though retired, was still thought of as one of the world’s leading holy men. His origins had not been humble. He was the son of an Indian dynasty whose businesses made airplanes, cars, computers, smartphones, spirits and soft drinks, and lived in a one billion dollar home in Mumbai.

The young Guru Baba saw how obsessed his family had become with money; it affected their physical and mental health, relationships and manners. They had the burden of wealth. He left the family home and lived in the slums, yet found that the lot of poor people was no happier than that of rich people. Poor people had the reverse burden of poverty.

He realized that the essence of life was not what you had, but what you did; how you used your time on earth. He felt that gatherings of like-hearted people were energizing and humanizing. In this way, he had brought over thirty six million people together, which was good enough for a lifetime’s work.

He could leave now.

No Need to Worry

Posted in Global Travel, Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2012 by javedbabar

Adam had heard that professional jobs were available in Lucerne. Things were pretty slow in the city so it seemed like a good idea to try his luck elsewhere.

In days gone by he would have just taken off abroad. Living in developing countries was cheaper than staying in Arcadia. When he wasn’t working here, living in India or Ethiopia or Peru was a way to save money, provided he went for at least a month to amortize the airfare.

A month in the city was about three thousand bucks all in, a hundred a day. A month in Varanasi, Lalibela or Cuzco was two thousand, flights included, and the longer he stayed there, the better the notional day-rate – going from sixty dollars to half that. But now that he had a wife and three step-children, he had to handle the situation carefully.

He did some day trips initially. Lucerne was a pretty village with a white mountain standing guard above it, and surrounded by forests, rivers and lakes. It was filled with old families of farmers, loggers and hunters, but also a new crowd of artists, musicians and yoga teachers. He checked with Village Hall, and yes, they said, they needed professional people desperately. If he moved here, he could have his pick of jobs.

“When can I have an interview?” he asked the receptionist.

“This is it,” she said. “You’ve got the job, or more than one if you like.”

“More than one?”

“Yes, we have numerous positions available, and funds from the Authority gathering dust. We want to use them for the benefit of Lucerne’s citizens.” She explained the strange situation here. There was mass unemployment of unskilled people, but a shortage of skilled ones. They desperately needed his expertise.

Adam was assigned the job of CPM: Chief Project Manager, and asked to start as soon as possible. He was also given a house to live in with a nocturnal security guard.

“Is that necessary?” he asked. “It seems like a peaceful place.”

“Just in case,” said the receptionist. “You never know.”

Adam’s wife agreed that he should follow the work, and they moved immediately. On the first evening, they dined outdoors, and were so moved by beauty that they could hardly speak. Adam had seen such beauty before, in the Himalayas, Lasta Mountains, and the Andes, but always alone. He was now seeing it with his family, through the eyes of his beloved, and her children.

As the sun set, the security guard, David, suggested they go indoors.

“What’s the hurry?” said Adam. “Let’s enjoy the stars appearing and tonight’s full moon.” He knew it would be impossible to get the kids early to bed tonight. They may as well stay out.

“You don’t know this place well, do you. Have you stayed here overnight before? No? Okay, trust me. You’re better off indoors. That’s what I’m here for, to stay outdoors to ensure your safety. There’s no need to worry though. I am a professional too. I will keep you safe.”

“Safe from what?”

“You’ll see.”

“Do you have a gun?” Adam recoiled when he realized what he’d said. Had he brought his family to a place where you need a gun to survive?

“No, I won’t need a gun. Just go inside and take it easy. No need to worry.”

That night they heard glass smashing somewhere, screeching tires, and flashes like firecrackers, followed by a chorus of sirens – ambulances, fire trucks, and cops. They slept eventually but were disturbed from their slumber by smashing and shouting. Adam went to the window to see. There was David, covered in blood, either grimacing or grinning.

“What happened?” he called. “Are you okay?”

“I told you not to worry. I have taken care of it.” He wiped his machete, swigged some beer and sat down. He looked at the horrified children and said, “Nothing to see. Now go to bed.”

He wanted them to leave before there was another assault on the house. More of the poor would come.

People's Kitchen

Posted in Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , on June 14, 2012 by javedbabar

Sophie was unhappy working for HOT TV. She knew that it served a purpose, giving single mothers a way to earn a living in otherwise job-scarce Lucerne; but there had to be a better way to use her talents as a producer. There also had to be a better way to use The Place – the renovated car park at the centre of the village – than filling it with girls in hot pants and bra tops.

She’d developed a concept called TOT TV, where the girls focussed on activities to entertain their young children, but it hadn’t acquired traction. It seemed that the greater demand right now was not for colourful boards with snakes and ladders, but for neon skimpies with shakes and judders.

The Place had really been smartened up, with water features spouting and sparkling, and spiky plants with bright flowers, but that was only the smiling centre, where happy families came to chat, stroll and snack. During her daily filming, Sophie noticed a ragged edge to the village. People on the margins of this community were struggling. The HOT TV girls had found one way of coping, but others daily visited gas stations, hardware and grocery stores asking for non-existent jobs. There was poverty and hunger here, leading to desperation.

As Sophie shot vignettes about how much fun it was to live in Lucerne, continually shouting “Action!” and “Cut!” – she developed a feeling of unease. She saw affluent families, a mix of locals and visitors, enjoying The Place’s new retail and dining options. Yet on the edge of this showpiece “communal” space, just out of view, hungry eyes were peering. Families at leisure wasted food; as soon as they left, but before the cleaning crews, swift hands pulled it into the shadows.

Restaurants around the square also wasted food. To attract the widest range of customers they featured extensive menus, with local, national, international and seasonal dishes. This required vast ingredient stocks, not all of which were used. The Authority’s health and safety regulations forbade re-use of ingredients. They were thrown into large bins that were locked immediately, for retrieval only by trash crews.

Sophie asked one of the girls, Jeannie, “Is there something we can do about this? It’s ridiculous that there are people hungry every day, and food gets wasted before our eyes.”

“I was chatting with the other girls,” said Jeannie. “We were thinking of cooking for everyone.”

“What do you mean by everyone?” said Sophie. “You mean the general public?”

“Yes, we could approach the restaurants for spare ingredients…” Sophie tried to interrupt but Jeannie kept talking; it was this determination that kept her dancing like a monkey in front of rolling cameras to feed her child. “I’m sure they would find a way around the regulations. Say once a month, we could have a People’s Kitchen, where we cook up whatever we have, and people bring whatever they can, and we all eat together.”

“Like a huge potluck?” said Sophie.

“Yes, but it’s not a matter of luck. It’s a matter of intention.” Sophie was impressed by her thinking and agreed to help.

On the last day of the month, when restaurants rotated their ingredient stocks, the HOT TV girls wandered around collecting ingredients, and developed recipe plans based on their haul. The next evening at the centre of The Place, they set up the People’s Kitchen and cooked dinner for everyone. Their free ingredients, with added herbs and spices, made fabulous stews, stir-fries, curries and roasts, accompanied by some salads and sweets.

“I have an idea,” said Jeannie. “Let’s make a monthly show to highlight what we are doing here, called LOT TV.” Sophie nodded her head upward indicating the need for further explanation. Jeannie said, “We were chatting while we were cooking. We believe in the Laws of Karma and Attraction. The more everybody gives, the more we all have.”

I underestimated them, thought Sophie. These HOT TV girls are on fire.