There aren’t many places on earth where one can meet Columbia’s youngest Member of Parliament, a former president of Nigeria and a former prime minister of France, hobnobbing not about politics but happiness.
They and three million others from 155 countries, although mainly India, danced and sang, while discussing the role of global leadership in taming the temperature of human discord.
All this at the mammoth “Art of Living” World Festival of Culture in New Delhi last month.
It was hosted by the leader and spiritual head of the group, Ravi Shankar, commonly known as Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
Gurudev and other leaders of such groups have never been my cup of tea.
Spirituality is a luxury I have seldom sought as an escape or relief from the travails of my battle with Islamists and jihadis.
So when I received an invitation from the Art of Living festival to attend I went soaked in skepticism, but with an open mind.
I couldn’t figure out how an Indian, also known to his adherents as Gurudev, could have millions of followers in China, Russia, Argentina and even Islamic countries such as Pakistan and Jordan.
Suffering taunts from my hardened secular comrades, who urged me not to go lest I return “detoxified”, or as one Sikh friend put it, “neutered”, I hesitated.
Worse, my wife said, “don’t come back if they stuff out your flame and turn you into some incense and sage burning peacenik.”
But as I researched Gurudev, to my astonishment I discovered that he helped to end the decades-old war between and the Colombian government and FARC, (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) a guerrilla movement involved in the Colombian armed conflict since 1964.
Meeting world leaders was not my expectation at a culture festival, but on the first day of the event, I found myself sitting next to an Arab gentleman who was also surprised to find a fellow Muslim at a primarily Hindu-flavoured fiesta.
An hour into discussing which was worse -- the Saudi occupation of Hejaz (Mecca and Medina) in 1924 or the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967, I found out he was a former prime minister of an Arab country that has fought wars with Israel and borders on Saudi Arabia. So much for spirituality and inner calm.
Elsewhere, I had a long chat with former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who provided insight into the Nigerian jihadi group Boko Haram and his disheartening assessment that the kidnapped girls of Chibok had all been lost to the dark side.
After three days of an incredible cultural feast involving tens of thousands of dancers and drummers performing under pouring thundershowers, and a rainbow that appeared straight out of a Rubens painting, we flew to the grand “Ashram” built painstakingly over decades by Gurudev and his volunteers on barren land outside India’s IT capital, Bengaluru or Bangalore.
There I was put through another three days of grinding exercises in deep breathing to -- in the words of Gurudev-- calm me down a bit.
Only time will tell if it works.
Could yoga be the solution to the turmoil on earth? Why not? We’ve tried war; let's give yoga a chance.
I can’t imagine Khalifa Al-Baghdadi in a Lotus position or Ayman Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri doing a handstand, but who knows?
Gurudev could just be the person to pull it off.
Written by Tarek Fatah.
Courtesy: Toronto Sun