Saturday, November 20, 2010

After the massacre, death of a hamlet-First Maoist carnage site in Bihar is a near-empty shell

My dear readers,

I find it hard to write exclusively for this blog because I am very busy covering the Bihar elections. I am reproducing here the story on a 'dying village' which The Telegraph carried in its edition on November 19.

NALIN VERMA





Mustard and paddy crops have come up on the mounds where once houses stood.

Picture by Ashok Sinha


Baghaura-Dalelchak, Nov. 18: The tinderbox village that saw the first spark lit in a genocidal war 23 years ago was starving this afternoon for want of a matchbox to light the ovens.

All two of the ovens, that is.

For, two families are all that is left in Baghaura-Dalelchak, scene of the first massacre in Bihar’s long feud between the Maoists and the Ranvir Sena, a private army of landlords, that raged for over a decade and cost hundreds of lives.

That bloodbath of May 29, 1987, when the Maoist Communist Centre slaughtered 54 Rajputs here — and the fiery reprisal by the upper castes the next morning — turned this hamlet into a ghost village. Baghaura-Dalelchak had been emptied out long before “ethnic cleansing” became an international dirty word during the Bosnia war.

Save for the 30 people — 15 adults and 15 children — who now live in the village, 160km from Patna.

One of them, Sheela Devi, 34, was desperately hoping this afternoon that her husband would remember to buy a matchbox at Madanpur, the town 7km away where he works as a labourer, before he left for home in the evening.

Else, there would be no dinner, and no lunch tomorrow, for them or their four young children. Even her neighbour Kulwatiya Devi, 60, had run out of matches and was waiting for her two sons to return from Madanpur with a matchbox.

With just two families, this village in southern Aurangabad district has no shops to buy matches or anything else from. “We have to walk 5km to Purnadih village to buy a matchbox, and 7km to Madanpur to buy kerosene,” Sheela said.

Till May 1987, Baghaura-Dalelchak was home to over 200 people: Rajputs, Yadavs, Kumhars (potters), Pasis (toddy tappers) and Ravidases (cobblers). The day the Maoists shot and hacked to death almost all the Rajputs present — from an 80-year-old woman to an 18-month-old baby — all the others fled their homes.

The next morning, the village did not lack for matchsticks or kerosene. The angry relatives and friends of the slain came invading, kerosene containers in hand, and burnt all the non-Rajput homes.

That kicked off the chain of carnage and counter-carnage that ravaged Bihar’s Gaya-Aurangabad-Jehanabad region for over a decade, the rebels targeting the upper castes and the landlords the lower castes. The war claimed 368 lives in the ’90s, including the infamous Laxmanpur-Bathe massacre of 58 Dalits in 1997.

Now the bloodshed has ebbed.

The Maoist Communist Centre is gone six years ---- it has merged with the People’s War Group to form the CPI (Maoist). But those who fled Baghaura-Dalelchak never returned, and only the few who had nowhere to go have stayed on.

Since dropping off the headlines, the village lay forgotten through the rule of Satyendra Narayan Sinha, Jagannath Mishra, Lalu Prasad-Rabri Devi and Nitish Kumar. It now lies ignored amid the elections. No party or candidate has turned up even two days before the constituency, Rafiganj, votes on November 20.

“Why would politicians visit a village of only 15 voters?” said one of the eight women residents.

“How can they come, our village has no roads,” Sheela said.

Once you have left Madanpur and reached the end of the mud track, on which you can drive only in the dry season anyway, Baghaura-Dalelchak is a half-kilometre trek through a pagdandi ---- an uneven footpath overgrown with thorny shrubs.

The village has no electricity, no school and no hospital at a time development is the buzzword under Nitish Kumar’s rule.

Sheela, who is from the toddy tapper caste, was married to Joginder Choudhary 14 years ago. “When I learnt I was going to have to live in Baghaura-Dalelchak, a shudder ran through me because of what I had heard about the village,” she said.

Her sister-in-law Renu Devi, 27, looked petrified at the sight of The Telegraph team and hurried into one of the three mud houses where the two families live. No amount of cajoling could persuade her to come out or speak.

“We fear the sight of outsiders. Nobody ever visits us,” explained Kulwatiya. Among the last visitors were the killers and the arsonists.

The Rajputs now live in Aurangabad town or elsewhere. The Yadavs and Kumhars have mostly settled in neighbouring Laltenganj village.

Not that Laltenganj or adjacent Jurahi are any better off except in the matter of population. The entire area is under the sway of the Maoists, who have ensured that the “liberated zone” stays devoid of proper roads, electricity, schools and hospitals or any other “symbols of the state”.

The rebels, who live in the nearby hills and forests, have blocked the water of the local Koel canal at the source, said Sitaram Ravidas (name changed) at Jurahi. “If the canal were functioning, officials would come to monitor it,” he said.

“After sunset the rebels, armed with rifles and wearing olive green uniforms, move about freely. They describe themselves as our protectors but we hardly have anything they can protect for us.”

When this correspondent reached Baghaura-Dalelchak, all the seven male residents were out on work at Madanpur or Aurangabad. The only man present was Kuleshwar Ravidas, 60, from Laltenganj who had come to inspect the mustard and paddy crops he has been growing on the abandoned farms as a bataidar (share-cropper).

By arrangement with some of the landowning families that have left the village, Kuleshwar grows crops on their land ---- or on the mounds that have grown over the rubble of their homes ---- and shares the produce with them. The families of Sheela and Kulwatiya (who is from the Ravidas caste) never had any land: the women now work on Kuleshwar’s fields.

At a short distance stands the crumbling brick house of Vinay Singh and Muneshwar Singh, like a tombstone. The well in the front yard is still intact but all the house’s 10 occupants were slaughtered that day in 1987. The rusted locks still hang from the doors and the compound is overrun with weeds and bushes.

A plaque on the door shows the names of the dead, with 80-year-old Sona Kunwar’s on top and one-and-a-half-month-old Chhotu’s at the bottom. You have to strain your eyes to read the names. After a few years, perhaps, even the dead and their memories will disappear from Baghaura-Dalelchak

Monday, September 27, 2010

For my Ankleshvar friends

NALIN VERMA


I am overwhelmed to find the people from Ankleshvar visiting my blog almost everyday. At the same time, I am unable to connect if my stories have any value to the readers of the Gujarat’s industrial city. I am, in fact, curious to learn about the individuals/ families in Ankleshvar stopping by my blog. While thanking my reader/ readers in Ankleshvar I will politely request them to tell me what is so special in my blog that draws them.

I candidly admit that I have never visited Ankleshvar for that matter even any part of Gujarat despite my wish to do so. Of course, I know that Gujarat is one of the richest of the Indian states which has produced the men like Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel who shaped our nation’s destiny. I have many friends in our pen-pushers’ profession from Gujarat. I am also aware that Ankleshwar is one of the Asia’s biggest of industrial cities with cosmopolitan population full with liberal values.

I originally belong to Bihar and am working at Patna as a journalist. Though located far away to each other, Gujarat and Bihar have close cultural and political links. Born in Gujarat, Mahatma Gandhi launched the civil disobedience movement against the British rule from Bihar. Many migrant workers from Bihar go to Gujarat for earning livelihood. All of us know that the raging spat between the Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi and his Bihar counterpart, Nitish Kumar offers lots to spice up our stories in the newspapers.

I earnestly request my friends/ readers from Ankleshvar to tell me about them. I will be happy to hear from you.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Story of two very dissimilar states

NALIN VERMA

The change is quick and abrupt. Mountains and ubiquitous valleys covered in lush green trees and cool breeze gives way to nearly denuded hills and scattered bushes as one crosses Koderma — the border town in Jharkhand — to enter Rajauli in Bihar. A few minutes more and one's suddenly surrounded by water and mud-filled paddy fields, cows and bullocks — you know you are in Bihar.

One misses the breeze, the forests and the enchanting hills housing elephants, deer, cats and other wild denizens lurking all along the 200 km Ranchi–Koderma stretch. The woods and rocks sharply pave way to flat paddy and hay fields and tubs on mounted platforms to feed cattle and cows, ox and buffalos before houses, from Nawada, to Nalanda to Bakhtiarpur.

It's not only the landscape that changes when one leaves Koderma to enter the dusty and sultry Nawada district in Bihar. One does feel the vast difference in the culture of the two states, too.

For instance, the women selling hadia in earthen pots, beneath trees and behind bushes, are unique sights from Ranchi to Hazaribagh to Jhumari Tilaiya. There are a few scattered patches for harvest between the hills. There one does find peasants ploughing the fields with their buffalos or preparing the field. But, farming activity is very rare from Ranchi to Koderma. Men and women carrying bundle of logs on their heads are the usual sights in the hills.

From Nawada onwards there is the presence of intensive farming activity on both sides of the highway. One finds only oxen ploughing the fields, while cows and buffalos graze all along. I could smell the smoke of cowdung-fire coming from almost every household as the sun went down warranting Bihar villagers to prepare dinner.

Cow dung is still the main source of fuel to keep the home-fire burning in the planes of Bihar unlike coal and wood in the Jharkhand villages. And, one doesn't find even a trace of hadia as one crosses Koderma to enter the Bihar.

It does not mean that Bihar does not have its share of drinkers. But hadia, which is part and parcel of tribal life is simply nowhere to be seen. The size and shape of the people and the cattle, too, appear to have changed as one enters Bihar from Jharkhand. Cows, buffalos, oxen and even men look relatively taller and robust in Nalanda and Bakhtiyapur unlike the dwarf cattle and relatively shorter humans in the tribal villages along Ranchi-Ramgarh-Hazaribagh Road.

The culture of town and citylife in the two states is also dissimilar. Bokaro, Hazaribagh, Ranchi and Dhanbad feel more cosmopolitan, in the sense, that these Jharkhand cities have people from Bengal, Bihar, Oriya and other parts of India. If you speak Bangla in Dhanbad, Jamshedpur and even in Ranchi, you will not be looked upon with surprise.

But in no way can you speak any language other than Hindi, Bhojpuri and Magahi in Nalanda, Bakhtiyarpur, Chapra, Siwan and even in Patna. Chapra, Siwan and Muzaffarur in north Bihar and Barh, Bakhtiyarpur and Nalanda in central Bihar are primarily inhabited by the Hindi-speaking locals. There is hardly any cultural mix.

Again, one hardly experiences any change when one enters Deoria district in Uttar Pradesh from Siwan and Gopalganj districts in Bihar. One comes across the same landscape, the same type of people and even the same language in the districts and villages on both the sides of the UP-Bihar border.

It's a "cow-belt" culture in the Hindi heartland that spreads all around. In fact, the difference in culture has also thrown different political set up in the two states.

Though it is a small 81-member House, the Jharkhand Assembly has the presence of representatives from Bengal, Bihar and even a Sikh in the form of Inder Singh Namdhari. But it is hard to find a single non-Bihar representative in the huge 243-member Bihar Assembly. You have to be a blue-blooded Bihar born, with a solid caste "background", if you ever wish to enter the House.

Some people debate the relevance of creation of Jharkhand even after 10 years of the state's bifurcation. But I personally feel that Jharkhand and Bihar, representing two distinct social and cultural life, should have been separated long ago

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Obit/ P K Krupakaran June 16, 1921 -- August 28, 2010

I am reproducing here the content on P K Krupakaran e-mailed to me by Hemendra Narayan. A former colleague of Krupakaran, Narayan recalls the moments he lived with the veteran journalist who belonged to Pondicherry but fell for the charm of Patna and made Bihar his home.

A perfect gentleman;taught reporting “on job”

The Bihar finances are in the red. Real post-office redRead the intro of the front-page anchor in the Indian Express which appeared with his by-line.


(Of course the India Post has changed its colour and at many places these days it is green.)

Somebody praised the story and its contents. “I have passed the age of praise and censure” was the cool reply.


During my formative years of journalism on the Fraser Road I learnt a lot from him. There were others who invariably got their copies ‘polished’ by him at the hub-the UNI office-and he would do it without any show of irritation.

Somebody from Delhi asked him to find someone to string for the Economic Times. Knowing that I was a ‘problem child’ of the Fraser Road he quietly told me that he was recommending my name. I demurred pointing that I may not be a fit candidate to work for a pure financial paper as the ET it was during those days.

PKP told me not to worry. In fact the break set a chain for me during the difficult freelancing days when one had cheques in pocket but no cash.

Later years, working with him as a colleague at the Express was always a pleasure. He was always ready to help and encourage.

Only last week I ran into his son Balchand in Delhi and inquired about him. And two days later I got his SMS!

Monday, August 30, 2010

A byword of integrity

A J Philip

Express News Service


My admiration for P K Krupakaran began when I started reading his reports in the Indian Express in the Seventies when the Jayaprakash Narayan-led movement against corruption was at its peak.

As a student of Bihar politics, I found his reports most illuminating. What particularly attracted me were his political despatches that revealed his analytical skill and deep knowledge of the state and its people.

Thus when I went to Patna to join The Searchlight as assistant editor in 1981, the only person I knew, though not in person, other than editor R K Mukker, was Krupakaran.

So eager was I to meet him that the first thing I did on checking into a hotel on Fraser Road was to call him. I was happy that his office-cum-residence was a stone’s throw from the hotel. I just had to cross the road and get into a small lane to reach him. He wore a lungi and was bare-chested when he welcomed me into his house. What I noticed first about him was the way he spoke English. His spoken English was not different from his written English. His sentences were short and crisp, though idiomatic.

Krupakaran was a Tamil from Pondicherry, who fell for the charms of Patna when he reached there in 1966. But he had not given up his fondness for the South Indian distilled coffee that he offered me in a steel tumbler.

During the one hour or so that I spent with him, he gave me a lowdown on what pulled down Bihar. “Once Bihar is freed of the bane of casteism and corruption, it will regain its past glory.”

It is quite natural for any person to develop vested interests if he is posted at a centre for as long as 40 years. But nobody could ever say that Krupakaran favoured any political party or leader. He had become a byword for integrity, a measure of which was his inability to build a house.

Though our meetings were infrequent, I would call him whenever I wanted background information on Bihar politics. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Bihar and Orissa, which too he covered from Patna, that I could always bank upon. He never spoke ill of others and encouraged his younger colleagues in the Patna bureau, first, Arun Sinha and, later, Hemendra Narayan.

As he told me once, his ambition was never to become an editor but a good reporter. And he had himself set such exacting standards of reporting that he always struggled to attain them. In the process, the readers of the Indian Express received news reports and analyses that were benchmarks in state reporting.

A quintessential reporter, he is survived by his wife, a son, who is with The Hindu, and three daughters, one whom is with The Times of India. A grateful Bihar will give him a state funeral on Monday. In Krupakaran’s death, journalism has lost one of its stellar practitioners.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Alas! I have only a ‘drop in the ocean’ to offer to Mangalore air disaster victims

The scene of Boeing crash at Patna on July17,2000- Pic by Deepak Kumar






NALIN VERMA

The crash of the Air India Boeing 737 at the Mangalore airport instantly revived my memory of India’s last major airline disaster in Patna on July 17, 2000. I was among the most of the Patna residents who had been trying to forget the tragedy for the best part of the decade.

But a phone call from my editor, R Rajagopal asking me to recollect the horrendous event and pen it down once again brought the scene of the thick layers of smoke covering the surroundings around the crashed Alliance Airlines Boeing-737, bodies charred beyond recognition and the wails of the grieving relatives alive in my mind.

The call of the editor, bound by his duty to reflect the trauma and bliss of the people in a dispassionate fashion, awakened me to my responsibility as a journalist to keep the accounts of whatever I have seen and covered- bad or good. After all, I had covered the July 2000 air tragedy and the editor rightly asked me recall the event.

Many people had left Patna’s Gardanibagh for fear of ghosts after the Boeing 737 crashed into the locality 10 years ago, killing 60 people including all five occupants of a bungalow on which it had perished.

The Saturday’s Mangalore disaster seemed to bring those ghosts back from the past. A four-storey girls’ school has replaced the government bungalow on which the Alliance Air flight from Calcutta had dropped on July 17, 2000.

It was hard to forget the scene for years. Amarendra Mishra who survived for he was not at home but had lost all his family members in the house on which the plane had dropped has shifted to another neighbourhood. Many others followed him, fearing “dead men’s ghosts loitering amid the debris”. Some performed yajnas and havans for weeks and months at the site to drive the “evil spirits” away.

The residents still recall that the fear of ghosts haunted them for more than two years. They did not go to the spot. The 10-katha plot stayed abandoned for years. The site was fenced off with barbed wire and stayed in that condition till six months ago. Now the state government has built the Kamala Nehru Girls’ School, which will soon be inaugurated.

Ironically, it was an another incident of trauma that gave way to the idea of building the girls’ school at the air disaster site to obliterate the memory of the one of the worst ever air disasters in India, prior to Saturday. The Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar lost his wife, Maju Devi, a teacher by profession in 2007. Mr Kumar has got built the Kamala Nehru Girls’ school in his wife’s memory at the site which stayed as the abode of ‘ghosts’ for the most part of the decade after the mishap.

The four story school at the site which got ready only four months ago is likely to get functional soon. The residents now hope that life will return to what was the ghosts’ abode when the giggling girls and teachers throng at the school and the bell rings.

An ordinary mortal my heart goes out to the people who lost their near and dear ones in the disaster at Mangalore. I pray for the peace of the departed souls and strength to the relatives to bear with the loss. I wish I had the power and charisma to infuse life among those who left us pre-maturely.

I also know that mine is a wishful thinking, bordering more on emotion than the reality. But at the same time I offer with whatever limited resources I have to alleviate the sufferings of my fellow human beings who underwent the loss on Saturday at Mangalore.

I am ready to offer a part of my salary to the student who lost his father supporting his study. I am ready to love and care the ones who lost their caring parents. I also offer myself to help and share the grief of the parents who lost their sons and daughters in the disaster.

I am far away from Mangalore. But feel free to contact me. I am ready to offer whatever I have despite I know that my contribution is like a drop in the ocean.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Gates pops caste question; Billionaire do-gooder stuns Bihar officials

Pics: Deepak Kumar

NALIN VERMA





Gularia (Bihar), May 12: If some are still wondering why the census cannot blank out caste, their answer came bobbing in a country boat today.

Bill Gates, who usually crosses continents on his $45-million private jet, took the boat that shuddered in the swift waters of the Kosi to reach a remote Bihar village that had hardly ever seen a district official.

One of his first questions was if caste divisions in the country’s backward hinterland were coming in the way of healthcare.

“What about caste? Is it not possible that people from influential castes might be confining (polio) immunisation and vaccines among children and mothers of their own caste groups?” the Microsoft founder asked the officials accompanying him to Gularia, where the rat-eating Musahars were waiting for the master of the “mouse”.

As the stunned officials racked their brains for an answer, principal secretary, health, C.K. Mishra saved the situation. “It is not a factor,” the IAS officer said. “The immunisation and vaccination drives are carried out for all.”

While the query came at a time the Centre is thinking of including caste in the census for the first time in 80 years, the prompt reply may have masked a grimmer picture — if not because of caste then because of the Kosi river.

Officials had failed to carry out immunisation in villages that had been flooded by the Kosi in 2008-09, and health agencies had detected as many as 38 cases of P-1 bacteria — the deadliest among polio bacteria.

The philanthropist, whose Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has adopted impoverished Gularia in Khagaria district, got off a helicopter in a maize field and boarded the boat, accompanied by the district magistrate, Unicef and WHO officials, and volunteers.

Gates landed near the river before taking the boat to the village, which is virtually cut off from the rest of the world and has no proper drinking water facilities, electricity, roads and schools.

More than 80 per cent of the people here are illiterate, though the village has a temple to Saraswati. The goddess of learning is Gularia’s most prominent deity.

The temple, however, escaped Gates’s attention.

The foundation, which focuses on health and learning, had chosen the village based on feedback from the organisation’s India CEO Ashok Alexander, principal health secretary Mishra and Unicef.

Officials said the Foundation would study “on-the-spot observations of Bill Gates” and engage more NGOs to speed up healthcare for mothers and children in the village before taking up other backward villages across the country.

So what brought Gates here in this 43-degree heat?

“The beauty of the land and the serenity of the rivers,” he told The Telegraph. “It is a wonderful feeling. I feel very good. You can notice it.”

Gates reached the village around 9.30 in the morning and stayed over three hours. He had sand on his shirt and trousers but he visited nearly every one of the 200 huts in the village of 700, most of them Musahars.

“Gates sahib ne hamare gaon ko god liya hai, iska matlab hai ki is gaon ke garib ab amir ho jaingein or yahan road, pool aur school banjayega (Gates has adopted our village. It means the poor villagers will become rich and the village will have a road, bridge and a school,” said Ghurni Devi, 45, a mother of five, as her husband Shibu Sada stood beside her.

Gates mingled with the villagers and talked to them as the officials and the volunteers accompanying him briefed the 54-year-old philanthropist how they had been carrying out the immunisation drive, travelling on bikes.

It prompted the caste query (Courtesy The Telegraph)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dalai Lama speaks out on China rule; Tibet’s worst days under military yoke



NALIN VERMA


The Dalai Lama today asked people across the world to visit his country under the “military occupation” of China to see for themselves the “sufferings” of Tibetans, as his five-day peace lectures ended with an “emphatic political” appeal.

“I request all of you to make a visit to Tibet to have your assessment of the situation. Particularly after 2008, the situation has turned worse in Tibet and your Tibetan fellow human beings are undergoing the worst-ever suffering under Chinese military rule,” the Buddhist monk told a gathering that included hundreds of westerners.

The condemnation of Beijing’s “dictatorship” has come despite a condition Delhi had set the Tibetan leader: that he wouldn’t make any political statement against China.

However, once in a while, the Dalai Lama has been making statements bordering on the political to address concerns of his people, and Delhi is unlikely to make it an issue, especially against the backdrop of friction between India and China over visas for Kashmiris and Arunachal Pradesh.

Observers described the Dalai Lama’s statement as an “emphatic” comment that may have been prompted by the presence of so many people from non-Asian and non-Buddhist countries.

The five-day lectures at Bodh Gaya, the place of the Buddha’s enlightenment 2,500 years ago, drew some 4,000 visitors from Australia, Africa and Europe apart from the nearly 30,000 domestic audience.

The Dalai Lama’s impassioned plea came within a year of his appeal last March to the UN and other international agencies to “inspect the violation of human rights” in Tibet. The agencies, however, did not respond to the spiritual leader’s appeal from Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile, apparently because of China’s clout.

Today, in the presence of visitors from nearly 50 countries, the 74-year-old monk asked the non-Buddhist world to verify if what “China has been propagating” was true.

“The Chinese government’s propaganda agencies tell that 50 to 60 per cent people in Tibet are happy for they have no objection to living under Chinese rule. If after visiting China you find truth with what China has been propagating, I will have no objection. But visit the place under the military dictatorship of the worst order to make an assessment of the truth on your own,” he said.

“If you do not have money, please borrow it,” he added in a lighter vein, to applause from the crowd. “Or buy Tibetan antiques to do business and earn money to see the sufferings of your fellow human beings in Tibet.”

He thanked the people from the West for turning up for the lectures in such large numbers.

“You may be different in colour and nationalities. But all human beings are the same for they share the same emotion, same intelligence and the same sensory organs. The mind cutting across human beings feels the sufferings and happiness in the same manner,” he said, striking an emotional chord with the gathering. (The story first appeared in The Telegraph on January 10, 2010)

Dalai magnet for global youths



Martin
Wislon






NALIN VERMA


Bernard Wilson (top) and Martin. Pictures by Deepak Kumar

Bodh Gaya, Jan. 5: At 74, he is an unlikely “destination” for youth. But ask  Bernard Wilson, and the 22-year-old will say he has come all the way from Melbourne just to see the Dalai Lama.

He isn’t the only one who has crossed oceans to hear the spiritual leader.

Among the 30,000 who have gathered in Bodh Gaya for the Tibetan monk’s annual World Peace Lecture that began today, at least 1,000 — most of them between 20 and 40 — are from non-Buddhist countries like Australia, Italy, the Czech Republic, Spain, England, Brazil and several African countries.

The number is over three times more than the 300 from western countries who had flocked to Sarnath last year for the lecture, says Jigme Tsering, a senior official in the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh.

Some 350 westerners had gathered for the discourse at Dharamsala three years ago.

“Look, His Holiness attracts the youth because he never asks them to change their mother religion,” says Tsering, explaining the presence of so many westerners at the five-day lecture. “Buddhism does not advocate conversion or baptism. He simply says Buddhism is more relevant in this age of distress.”

Martin, a mechanical engineer from the Czech Republic, agrees. “Though born a Christian, I am an atheist,” says the 31-year-old. “But I have adopted the Buddhist philosophy for it is simple and practical.”

How practical, the Dalai Lama explained today. “You do not have to depend on prayer to something eternal or non-visible to get rid of your sufferings…” he told the gathering. “Just meditate to free your mind from the illusion of impermanent attraction. Believe in yourselves… your own mind than in something supernatural which does not exist in the teaching of Gautam Buddha.”

Martin is among over 30 visitors from Czechoslovakia, where the Dalai Lama had delivered a lecture in November 2008, one of the many the spiritual leader has given across the globe.

So what is the secret of the 1935-born monk’s global appeal among the young.

Observers say it has been a “gradual process” that began in 1989 when the Dalai Lama received the Nobel Peace Prize. It was the year the Berlin Wall collapsed, in another blow to communism after Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms to “restructure” the Soviet economic and political system.

While the appeal of communism waned, Buddhism drew youths in a tension-fraught world in flux.

“It teaches you the way to live a life free from suffering, particularly in this age of stress and tension,” says Lucy, a librarian from Boston and a Buddhist for five years now who has come to Bodh Gaya, the place where the Buddha attained enlightenment 2,500 years ago.

“And the Dalai Lama is the best equipped to teach you how to,” says the 41-year-old.

Lucy says “stress at the workplace” aggravated her problems caused by Lyme disease, a common tick-borne infection that can affect the nervous system, joints, skin and heart. “Eventually, even doctors declared me sick beyond recovery,” she recalls.

Then she came into contact with a Buddhist monk. Did he cure her ailment?

“No,” says Lucy. “The monk cured more than my ailment. He cured my imperfect mind.”

Yuri Jesus, who lost his job last year in the wake of the downturn, and his girlfriend Delphing have come from Brazil. “Job is a temporary thing. If it has gone it will come again. I should be positive. This is what Buddhism has taught us,” he says.

Marisa Galasso, 40, from Italy, feels disease and stress are “temporary”.

Her compatriot, former footballer Roberto Baggio, is a Buddhist, too, though Raimondo Bultrini, an Italian expert on the religion, explains that the ex-World Cup star adheres to the Sogakki sect, which is a bit different from the Gelugpa school of though that the Dalai Lama preaches.

“But still, Buddhism is Buddhism, and it has attracted Baggio the way it has attracted other youth across the globe,” says the veteran journalist. (The story first appeared in The Telegraph on January 6, 2010)

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