The story is about an incident and a person. The incident is the much talked about and controversial World Culture Festival of Art of Living, celebrating their 35 years of coming into being, in our national capital New Delhi and the person is none other than Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the man behind the movement.
I am not aware why the National Green Tribunal waited for a year to slap an injunction on Art of Living, a day before their mega event. I am not here to judge NGT or defend Art of Living. I am here to narrate a story…my story.
Art of Living had been gearing up for this mega event for a year. The foremost task for the teachers and volunteers of Delhi was to select an appropriate venue, which could accommodate millions. It had to be an open ground and it had to be safe. The dumping ground beside Yamuna was selected but a portion of it had a cauliflower garden. When Sri Sri was informed, leaving everything aside, he got concerned for the farmers who owned that garden. He was dead against inconveniencing anyone. Volunteers combed Delhi for a second option, searching high and low. None came out so the volunteers approached the farmers with the problem and requested them to loan their land for a few days. When they heard the purpose, they readily agreed, as those were not the season for cauliflower and if they got back the land clean, they could once again have a harvest in the next season. Still, Sri Sri insisted that they should be paid for loaning their land and he personally visited them to ask if the event would disturb them. They said that even a wedding took as many days and none feels disturbed when there is a celebration, and where we do have the question of disturbance. When Sri Sri was convinced that they had no issues, he gave a green signal and personally invited the farmers, to the event.
Next came a long list of permissions and a test of patience, getting them through. Mahesh Giri, BJP MP from Delhi was a big help, in going through this rigmarole.
The people were in a frenzy preparing for the event, managing the logistics for the numerous participants and guests and then out of the blue, the bomb was dropped by NGT, fanned by Medha Patkar. The green tribunal had issues regarding the environmental impact of the event and hence it had to be cancelled!!
When I heard the news, I was shocked! Many were gleefully glad. Why? Was it jealousy? I shall never know.
When NGT successfully created an immense ballyhoo and confusion and a shadow of doubt loomed large over the event, I was stunned and impressed with the reaction that came from the man at the helm. He handled the media and answered their queries with a ‘serene smile’.
I was smiling and answering all my relatives and friends feeling acutely uneasy and queasy all the while; so many people had been invited from so many countries and they had already started arriving in multitudes and that included Heads of states. If the program got cancelled it was a loss of face for both India and Art of Living. Then how could its founder stand there so peacefully as if nothing had happened? The only firm words from him were, “We shall contest this, go to jail, but not pay the fine.”
And the fine was a hefty 5 crore.
Now, there are two questions. Did Art of Living have that much money and if it was fair of NGT to demand such a ridiculous amount at the last moment? Answer to both the questions was a big ‘NO’. With the event starting in a few hours, there was hardly enough time to muse over fairness and it was equally impossible to get 5 crores. What will happen then?
Putting up a brave front and smiling with a sinking feeling inside was not easy! At least it was not easy for me. Then how did Guruji, as he is lovingly called, not get perturbed? Was he even human with normal human emotions?
The volunteers had toiled months and had taken immense pain to clean the dumping ground of Delhi; even Sri Sri joined them and gave them a hand. At his age and stature, it was a humbling example he set for the rest to emulate. Volunteers made natural enzymes to reduce the stench coming from the much-abused Yamuna. Instead of lauding their action, NGT and the media descended on Art of Living, full force, armed with their choicest criticism, ridiculing the herculean effort of these pour souls and writing it off in the meanest words possible.
Guruji gently smiled and said that the media have given the event more publicity in a day than Art of Living could have ever afforded. How could he see any good in this bleak situation? A few of his teachers and volunteers too, reflected his spirit…they created an immense wave of positivity. None blamed the media, or even mention that the event won’t be happening the next day. Everyone continued with his or her assigned task as if the whole mayhem never happened. It was such an amazing sight.
To add fuel to the fire…Heads of states of many countries started dropping out…and that included ours. It was a complete chaos, and it started raining cats and dogs. Guruji gave a big smile and said it was a blessing from Nature. She was showering her love on us. We speak of centeredness, of Sthitapragyas, I witnessed one that day and because he stood like a rock solid leader, his army of volunteers and teachers emulated him.
Fully drenched, Ravishankarji refused to change because his devotees were wet! Next the power failed, the torrential rain caused a short circuit and Delhi’s traffic came to standstill. Many dignitaries got caught up in the traffic and were unable to arrive. What was happening? I felt it was like the Yagnas of yore, when Asuras would do their best to foil them.
It was a Yagna and Tapas for and of so many people!
The event started in spite of the elements, media and NGT with a big bang and flare. Sri Sri stood and welcomed each and every guest with immense love. None of the spectators left …they were wet to their bones…but they sang, danced and laughed. Movie stars and villagers, Bulgarians and Chinese, they were all there. What made them stay back?
Bhanumati Narasimhan, Sri Sri’s sister chanted a beautiful Shloka genuflecting to that vast Infinite and the rain ceased in a most unusual way. The venue had dark clouds hovering above it and the wind chilled everyone to the bones but it was raining out side the periphery of the ground. It was a sight worth watching.
After that initial hiccup, the World Culture Festival became the first mega event where culture of so many countries got showcased and broadcasted worldwide, from India. For a country that was never considered fit to host an Olympic, it was truly a proud moment for every Indian, hosting the first ever Cultural Olympic.
What was more unique was the way it was accomplished. Managing the whole show with just a bunch of dedicated volunteers was unprecedented too. I guess it was love that made this unusual event possible. Immense love from the one at the top was reciprocated from those in rank.
The peacock feather formed on the sky, on the last day of the event was a feather in the cap and said it all!
If an event could stir then it was this one and if a person could inspire with his leadership, fortitude, patience and immense love, then perhaps there is only one name …and that is Sri Sri Ravishankarji.
To say that I am inspired would be saying less. There are simply no words to express my awe and wonder!