Ali's Corner

Dr. Ali Khwaja


The festival worth celebrating most, our country’s Independence Day, has just gone past.

Most of us were born after India gained independence, so we have not experienced what it is like to live under the control of a foreign power. When we go around a totally free, democratic, secular and unrestricted gigantic nation, we perhaps cannot visualize what it must have been to be asked to crawl on certain roads because the Britishers felt offended by the ‘natives’, or what it was to see signboards reading “Dogs and Indians now Allowed” in our own nation.

The one very important festival that binds us together whether we are Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, atheist or Banjara is our Independence Day. Let us not only celebrate this great day with all enthusiasm and from the heart, but let the spirit of Independence continue in our hearts many days after 15th August is over. Let us cherish and protect this freedom from restrictive practices, internal and external threats, and even from our own narrow-minded thoughts if they occur.

Happy Independence!

Who Are You?

As an ardent student of human behavior, I often like to know how much time people spend in trying to understand their own self. Many of us take deep interest in analyzing, understanding and commenting on others. Not only those who are involved with us, but even about political leaders, film stars, celebrities etc. Hours are spent in idle conversations and comments about people whose lives we cannot (and should not) change in any way. But we do not spend even a fraction of that time trying to analyze and understand about ourselves.

You will live with yourself 24/7 X 365 for all the years of your life. You need to know your upbringing, attitudes, values, likes and dislikes. You need to introspect on what have been your achievements and your frustrations. You should evaluate what you have gained and what you have missed out in life. You should also be aware of the changes within you, how your aspirations and priorities evolve, what makes you happy or unhappy. Only if you do this periodically will you be able to face any challenges squarely.

In my training programs I often ask a question unexpectedly, “Who are you?” and ask them to answer immediately. It is amazing how many people flounder – they write the roles they are playing, ‘what’ they are, but many cannot really answer ‘who’ they are. Are you able to answer to yourself,


Around me

I sit on the balcony and look out. Some fields below, cows grazing, and birds flitting about. A dog wags her tail when I call out to her, a cat ignores my greeting and walks away majestically. The gaze goes beyond, and the land rises up to lush green-covered hills. Not very tall, but majestic by themselves. Serenity all round, everything moves slow and is measured paces – even the sun casting longer and longer shadows on the hills.

Though green dominates, other colours merge smoothly, even the bright yellow of the sunlight as it turns golden and then a dull orange. A spattering of red, purple and blue complete the panorama.

Whether we humans go there or not, nature flows. The dog chases the cat, the bull eats up the grass, and wild animals eat their prey. The lush green landscape turns a barren brown – until the torrential monsoon rains bring back the green from nowhere.

The trees voluntarily shed their fruit, the crop is razed to the ground. The old tree faces the brunt of thunder and collapses. Yet the fact is that nothing changes – unless man goes on a merciless mission of wiping out the bounties of nature.

Future Citizens

The Future

We spend less than Rs. 80,000 crore annually on education in our country, which works out to about Rs. 640/- per Indian. On the other hand much bigger amounts are spent on other areas of development. For example we pour in Rs. 3,60,000 crore annually for defence alone. A recent announcement was made that we are going to spend Rs. 1,10,000 crore for the Japan-collaboration bullet train from Mumbai to Ahmedabad.

It is said that a nation or society that progresses most is the one that takes deepest interest in the welfare and development of the next generation. If we could ensure that we are putting in more effort towards the well-being and proper growth of our children, we can look forward to a peaceful and happy old age.

Mrs. Sunanda Ali, who heads the unique Peepal Grove School in rural Andhra Pradesh has well said: “Children do not need to be prepared for the future. They are the future.” What are we doing about it?

Think Through

Someone gave me an interesting food for thought. He said: “Creative ideas come in bed, bath and bus”, i.e. when you are about to sleep, when you are leisurely taking a bath, or when you are travelling. I do find it true to a great extent.

Give it a thought. On my part I ensure that I have a pen/paper or my electronic notepad handy when I am travelling or about to sleep. I don’t take them into the bath, but often I am desperate to come out and jot down the inspirational thought that occurs to be in the bathroom.

When the mind is free and is allowed to roam without restriction, that is when the best of thoughts and ideas come to us. Not if we are perpetually stuck to our mobile phones.

Footnote: A long- struggling Bollywood lyrics writer, Mr. Anjum Jaipuri, who subsequently become fairly successful, had told me long ago: “beta, geet (songs) air-conditioned rooms mein nahin likhe jaate hain, they are written on the back of bus tickets.”

The better bond

Someone nicely said that a child goes through three stages before he reaches adulthood: “Hold me tight, Put me down, Leave me alone.”

Babies want to be held, toddlers want to be put down and explore on their own, and teenagers just want to be left alone! I was thinking that often this happens in love relationships also – the honeymoon phase (hold me tight), then wanting some space and independence (Put me Down, or ‘Let me Do it My Way’), and unfortunately in many cases if the relationship has not been nurtured over time, it becomes ‘Leave me Alone’. At the intellectual level we know that this could happen both to children and to our partners – but do we work on it practically, try to bring about better bonding? If we can anticipate that this is a natural progression of a relationship, there is a lot we can do to improve on it, and keep the warmth and togetherness alive. Becoming aware of the individuality of the other person, ensuring that we do not develop emotional dependency, resisting the desire to control – are some of the lessons we need to learn.

Regardless of which stage you or your child is in, do work on it. We should aim for a situation where our loved ones always love to be held tight by us. It takes some hard work, sacrifice, compromise, but it works in the long run.

Don’t Gossip

Grandfather taught me that one should not be too curious or inquisitive about others and their personal lives.

He exhorted me to maintain a dignified distance, not indulge in gossip, and allow people the freedom if and when they wished to disclose something about themselves. That was ages ago. Today everyone wants and expects everyone to be curious. It started with the advent of social media, when everyone started announcing to the whole world what they ate that morning, who they met, and what clothes they are wearing; not to forget announcement of who they are in relationship with! They expect everyone to read and take interest in the most mundane of their daily routine, and they are thrilled with the number of ‘likes’ they get when they post something.

Then came selfies. An endless stream of photographs on WhatsApp, Snapchat and Instagram are loaded up for all and sundry to see. And they expect people to give their comments, so that they can comment on the comments. No one likes or wants privacy anymore.

Is it because, as I suspect, we are getting more isolated and lonely in the real world and hence we crave for attention and acknowledgement in the virtual world? Also, we seem to be getting apprehensive and reticent to face real comments and build personal relationships. We seem to be getting vicarious pleasure in sharing our most personal details to just about anyone who wishes to ‘click’ on our page. But I have stuck to my grandfather’s teaching – and I do not have any curiosity or any desire to go into anyone’s personal life. That makes my life less complicated and it gives me more time to reach out to those who are important to me.

The Numbers

I often wonder why numbers are so important to us:

businessmen want more customers, multinationals set higher and higher yearly targets, religious gurus want more and more followers, ordinary people want more friends on Facebook – in fact we patronize those who have large number of people accepting someone. I see people rushing to buy something just because there is a big crowd and the stocks may get over(!) Even with a religious Guru I have heard people say, “You should go to him, thousands come to listen to him.” As far as I am concerned, I feel that lesser the numbers, greater is the personal touch and better the interaction/ understanding. To get gyan I would love to listen to someone who has the time and patience to talk to me alone. I thoroughly enjoy listening to retro music sung by my friend Ganesh, who doesn’t mind singing even if there is a total audience of two.

I will be very happy if five people read this little write-up of mine, and I will be grateful if one genuine friend sends me a greeting.

In fact I feel the lesser the number of people greater is the personal touch, the individuality and the warmth. But perhaps I am a small minority who thinks that way (see, I’m going into numbers again!)

To be loved or to Love

I find most people prefer to be loved rather than to love.

Fine, that is their choice. I have seen over the years and decades that it is not easy to receive love from the right person at the right time and in the right form, but I also see some people quite determined to make all efforts to receive, cherish and treasure that love. Some others do not get what they want, and spend days and years craving for that elusive warmth of knowing that they are lovable.

Taking it one more step forward, I see people who are receiving warm, caring and genuine love from someone they love too. But among these are there some who are still not happy. They want EXCLUSIVE love. It is not sufficient that the person is showering affection in different ways and consistently. They start comparing whether the person is giving love to someone else too…. and if yes, they become unhappy. They lose the value of the love they are receiving, and make themselves miserable trying to ensure that they are the ONLY recipient of that person’s love. This happens in sibling rivalry, office colleagues, friends, relatives, and of course with romantic lovers.

I often wonder if that is a sign of deep inner insecurity and incompleteness in oneself.