Resha Desai, A couple of year ago, I was looking at a famous picture from an issue of the National Geographic magazine: Jane Goodall bending towards a chimpanzee, whose fingers lightly touched the few strands of hair that fell across her eyes. The picture was magical – highlighted by the natural sun rays in the background and the expression in Goodall’s eyes. That was when a phrase hit my head – ‘You never know when you’re making a moment.’ Someone famous has said this – can’t seem to remember who.
Since then – at poignant moments more often than not – this phrase comes to mind. Recently, I was onboard a Bangalore-Mumbai flight. Gazing at the fast-receding sun and pools of clouds, images of the past few days circled before me. And then I remembered my favourite adage: ‘You never know when you’re making a moment.’ The last few days were certainly moments I will long remember.
It began on February 8. Little girls in white dresses and wings came on the stage at the Vishalakshi Mantap hall and welcomed everyone to the 3rd International Women’s Conference, hosted by the Art of Living. There I was sitting in the heart of their International Campus, contemplating on the ‘light of leadership’ inherent in a woman. Engaging as I found the theme of the conference, to me it was obvious: Isn’t a woman a leader anyways? Doesn’t she weave the fabric of society into a richer tapestry? I got my answer through the mélange of scenes that came before me over the next two days.
Where have you seen a 7-year-old girl garlanding a woman in her fifties? This unique manner of greeting the dignitaries brought a smile to all the 750 delegates present in the hall. There were so many such elements that seemed to be echoing the same message of celebration, appreciation and honour.
The conference was so timely when the threats of terrorism and economic recession loom like the sword of Damocles over the world. A wide range of subjects were discussed – a woman’s role in conflict resolution, portrayal of women in the media, providing solutions of the economic crisis…and of course, the delicate balancing act of a woman - how does she play so many roles? What struck me was that I could not find a single instance of a defeatist attitude, not a tone of negativity – which is so common when people come together for a single cause. All the speakers and delegates that had come in from the 68 countries seemed to approach the topics from a sense of achievement and with an aim to find what more could be done.
Was it the meditation between the sessions, the Art of Living course that was being held for the delegates before the conference sessions or the gentle guidance of the chairperson, Bhanu Narasimhan? In her inaugural speech, Bhanu set the tone for the conference when she said: “In these coming days, we will be discussing issues in this time of crisis in a loving atmosphere. Violence cannot be tackled with another act of violence. In these next few days, we can dwell deep within us.”
Despite the active participation of women from such diverse backgrounds and countries, and discussions that ranged from quiet reflection to an animated exchange of strong opinions, there was an underlying calm that would return at the culmination.
The dialogues and interaction were peppered with lively performances by noted danseuse Hema Malini who showcased a portrayal of Radha-Krishna. A new expression of Bharatnatyam took form when the classical dance style was adapted to jazz and Oriental music by Shobana Chandrakumar and her troupe. Sufi singer Zila Khan, magician, dancer Yoko Mama and Rashmi Gopi Hegde added different elements with their rendition of different art forms.
The colour and beauty of the performances complemented the steely facets of a woman’s character which comes up when facing challenging situations. I was intrigued by the slew of inspiring women. Dr Dafna Paz, a woman that works to bring peace to Israelis and Palestinians in the conflict-ridden region or Mia Tafara, a positive person, who has committed herself to caring for underprivileged children, suffering from the disease, in Harare; Nathalie and Gabriele who guided hundreds of people re-build their lives after Hurricane Katrina or Mawahib, who works in Iraq, setting up rehabilitation and women empowerment cells. Their stories of triumph and determination still ring in my ears. The Vishalakshi Awards, instituted in the memory of the mother of His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, honoured many more women whose lives have transformed the lives of so many others.
Perhaps the most poignant moment of the conference was when the parents of martyr Sandeep Unnikrisnan were honoured. Sandeep Unnikrisnan laid down his life to save thousands at the recent terrorist attack at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai. As his father spoke, the women rose to honour Unnikrisnan’s memory and spontaneously pledged to work towards eliminating global terrorism.
Other issues like domestic violence, child labor and female foeticide were also deliberated upon. It was well summed up at the Valedictory session: “Each one of us knows what to do. We have to now make it happen. We have to now move on from 'I can' to 'I will', resolve to wipe away terrorism and spread the message of peace," said Mrs. Kavita Khanna, legal and financial advisor.
Interestingly, the conference proceeds are dedicated to the education of the girl child. A round of applause resounded when a young girl studying medicine was introduced on stage alongwith her father. She will be one of the beneficiaries, whose entire medical education will be sponsored.
At the Valedictory session, women from the different countries were invited to come on stage and light a lamp. In India, this practice is done for an auspicious beginning. The light of the lamp epitomized a new beginning and a new pledge for all the women present. Another unique moment to be added to the album of memories….
As I walked to the amphitheatre outside the Mantap on the last day of the conference, I visited an exhibition on women from different civilizations across the world. Women who have inspired and made changes in their communities. As I looked at the pictures across the colorful boards and began reflecting on the last three days, I realized that every change begins with a simple determination to look beyond one’s needs. That shift in perspective is empowering enough for one to be an agent of change – you don’t need someone to show you the way and tell you how.
Later, as I spoke to different delegates (some with the help of translators), it was apparent that the past three days had made an impact on all present. It had crystallized into a specially-crafted moment for all: from the womb of a spiritual environment, was born quiet strength and happiness which, I think, would grow and translate into a strong force of positive change.