The Hindi-Speaking Aussie who loves India …

Charles ‘Biharilal’ Thomson, is an Australian who speaks fluent Hindi learnt on the streets, trains and buses of India’s hinterland.
Biharilal tells Rediff.com‘s Archana Masih how India has bewitched him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photograph: Kind courtesy Charles Thomson/Facebook

Biharilal Thomson is a white Australian who speaks Hindi better than many Indians.

The first time he saw a non-white person was as a 10 year old. His mother had invited an Indian yogi from Bihar into their home in Australia and asked her son to share his room with the sadhu for a few weeks.

“I had only seen white Australians till then, not even native Aboriginals — and here was an Indian in a langoti in my room!” he exclaims in good humour, sitting in a film producer’s home in suburban Mumbai, wearing a kurta-pajama and a yellow stole.

In the two hour conversation, he only speaks Hindi, a language he learnt in the streets, trains and buses of Bihar where he had arrived at age 13 in December 1974.

He loved his new home on the banks of the Ganga so much that he did not return to Australia for the next 11 years. Accounts of his experiences in India’s rural underbelly in the 1970s-1980s, include encounters with dacoits on horseback on at least two railway journeys.

“I saw real sadhus, I saw real dacoits — and I thought I had reached an amazing place,” says Biharilal with a grin. His life experiences, he says are so unbelievable that he sometimes thinks it is like a film.

It also reveals an India of another time — one that was simpler, wilder, unfamiliar and distant from what it is today.

“India was friendly with the Soviet Union, and I came across Indians who were desperate to emigrate to the USA, Canada or UK — not to the USSR.”

“The other thing that was common was cycles. Only the DM (district magistrate) and SP (superintendent of police) had cars — and in the trains people sometimes travelled with their own cooks!”

After going back to Australia in 1985, he returned to formally work in India in 2011.

India has seen a giant leap ahead since, and he has spent nearly 16 years here, but one question posed to him that hasn’t changed over the years is — “Why did you come to India?”

“This is what I am routinely asked, especially by the youth. They ask ‘Why have you come here when we want to settle abroad?’,” says Biharilal, who applied for Indian citizenship in 2014 and hopes to hold an Indian passport soon.

“The other thing I am amazed with is this craze for English. Even if I speak to those who know Hindi in Hindi, they reply in English!”

“Why?”

His fluency in Hindi has fetched him invites to Hindi events by the Indian high commission in Australia, to symposia at Savitribai Phule Pune university and Delhi’s Hansraj College. He has anchored a few film festivals and done some acting roles.

It has also brought him an FM radio show that he hopes to receive a confirmation for by April.

“In independent India it will be the first time that an angrez will do a radio show in Hindi,” he says enthusiastically.

Not wanting to be boxed into roles of the typical gora speaking tooti-phooti Hindi, he refers to the accomplished actor Tom Alter.

“He is an asli Hindustani, I’m nakli, but because earlier directors made him speak broken Hindi like an angrez, people thought he was English.”

“People didn’t know he was Indian, a Padma Shri, who spoke fluent Hindi and Urdu.”

Biharilal works at Josh Talks, a media company that invites guests to share inspirational stories. His focus is on all regional languages and tier-2 cities.

He has also done a few acting roles in Hindi and Marathi television serials, and recently appeared in an airline commercial for Scoot, a budget airline owned by Singapore Airlines.

There are quirky benefits to a white man speaking Hindi too — like the number of wedding invitations he receives. Many wedding organisers in the Delhi area send him invitations only to have a foreigner on display!

“I get so many invitations for chief guest. In the marriage season, I’ll be booked,” he laughs.

“People want a gora who speaks Hindi to show at their weddings.”

The move from Australia to India may have been a continental shift, but for Charles ‘Biharilal’ Thompson, it was like coming home.

It was a life introduced to him by his mother, a ballerina and an early convert to yoga, who came to learn at the Bihar School of Yoga in Munger in 1972.

“At that time only 1% of the world travelled by aeroplane,” says Biharilal, who is often recognised as ‘Biharilal Autowale Babu’ after a show on Zee TV where he covered the 2017 Delhi municipal election in a colourful autorickshaw.

He also covered the UP assembly election last year for WION, Zee’s English news channel.

“We used to fly to the Gold Coast to visit my grandparents every year. I made my father promise that he would send me to India instead, if I stood 1st or 2nd in school.”

He stood 2nd and travelled to Calcutta, he says, taking a train to Jamalpur and then a bus to Munger.

“I was shocked to see the poverty in Calcutta, but hearing ‘garam chai‘ by tea vendors in the train was like music,” he remembers.

Eight weeks later, his father returned to take him home.

“I told him I wanted to stay for one more year,” he says over a cup of tea.

“But I stayed for 11.”

blob:https://ishare.rediff.com/d8239350-f845-46f6-86e1-762bd67d53b5

He has now spent 16 years in India — first at the Bihar School of Yoga in Munger, then working in a financial tech start up Eko India, and currently in the entertainment industry.

At the famed yoga school in Munger, he says he learnt yoga and managed the library. He helped in the institute’s office work which would take him to Patna and Delhi.

It was on one these travels that he found himself in the middle of a dacoity.

He had bought a third class ticket and boarded a train from Jamalpur to Patna in Bihar. The TT saw his ticket and upgraded him to first class. Along the way, dacoits came riding alongside the train, detached the first class compartment and started looting passengers.

When they reached his coupe, he held out his hands, and said, “Ruko, ruko! (stop, stop!)”

The dacoits stopped.

“I was a young boy and did not know very good Hindi at that time, so I just managed to ask a dacoit if he had any videshifriend?”

The dacoit said ‘No’ and Biharilal told him that he would be his friend.

“He smiled and did not take anything from me.”

Caught in another dacoity on a railway platform — this time on a dark railway platform surrounded by crop fields — his saffron clothes came to his rescue.

“When they came to me, I just sprang up and started chanting Bum, Bum Bole-Bum, Bum Bole and they said, ‘Yeh toh Ganga jal wala aadmi hai‘ and let me go,” he chuckles.

India was very different then, he says. Yoga institutes were very austere and drew only the most committed.

He remembers the first function he organised which had a generator as backup for electricity failure. When the lights went off and the generator was switched on — the crowd left the sammelan and rushed to get a first glimpse of a generator at the back.

At fifty-seven, Biharilal has seen the arc of India’s history from Indira Gandhi’s Emergency to her assassination to the post liberalisation. He has travelled widely, even taken his mother to the Kumbh Mela.

In between, he returned to Australia and ran a Thai vegetarian restaurant but kept coming back to India.

“I started coming back in the late 80s, but visas were very difficult. Till the Modi Sarkar came, getting a visa to India was not easy. Sushma Swaraj is doing a good job,” he says.

In 2009, a startup started by Biharis, Eko India, offered him a job and he moved to India.

But it was a chance encounter with an Indian student at a Sydney swimming pool that opened the door to acting.

Shashank Ketkar, now a popular television actor, had got talking to him by the pool hearing his Hindi and came to eat at his Thai restaurant.

Few years later, Biharilal would visit him on the sets of his show whenever he was in Mumbai. His kurta-pajama style of dressing and fluency in Hindi caught the eyes of the director and led to small roles. He also got to play an angrez in a Marathi film Shashank Ketkar was acting in.

“I went to Kohlapur and shot a scene where I was seated on a horse in 40 degrees heat. I loved it. I thought I had become Shah Rukh Khan!”

He has also acted in a Hindi suspense thriller that will release this year.

Every day, he receives a large number of messages on Facebook and makes it a point to at least say ‘Ram, Ram’ or ‘Namaste’ to them.

“I feel the whole of Hindustan is made for me. Yeh kamal ka desh hai, yaha aapko sab kuch mil jayega (this is a great country, there is nothing you can’t find here),” he says, adjusting the famous Australian Akubra hat he is wearing and steps into the hot Mumbai sun.

Archana Masih / Rediff.com

Source…..www.rediff.com

Natarajan

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A Tribute to a Genius – Stephen Hawking…

Stephen Hawking, the world-renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist, has passed away at the age of 76, leaving a scientific legacy behind him that will undoubtedly be remembered for many centuries to come.

Stephen Hawking

Hawking was born on January 8th, 1942 in Oxford, the United Kingdom to two Oxford University graduates, Frank and Isobel. He had two younger sisters, Philippa and Mary, as well as an adopted brother named Edward.

The family moved to St. Alban’s, Hertfordshire, where they were considered to be both highly intelligent and somewhat eccentric by the locals. They lived frugally in a large, messy house and got around in a converted London taxi cab.

Following his primary and secondary school education, Hawking began his university education as an undergraduate at University College, Oxford in 1959. He was just 17 years old. Although the world only pictures him as a man confined to a wheelchair due to debilitating motor neuron disease that he was diagnosed with aged just 22, Hawking actually gained a reputation as being something of a daredevil during his university years.

He was the coxswain of a rowing crew at the University College Boat Club, and became notorious for steering his crew on risky courses, inevitably leading to a string of damaged rowing boats. He left University College with a Bachelor of Arts in natural science in 1962 prior to starting to work on his doctorate.

Stephen Hawking

His diagnosis with a rare form of motor neuron disease occurred at that time, and it led to him becoming deeply depressed. Nevertheless, he was encouraged to continue his studies by his supervisor, Dennis William Sciama, and was eventually able to demonstrate that Einstein’s general theory of relativity implies space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and end in black holes.

During his graduate years at Cambridge, Hawking fell in love with his first wife, Jane Wilde, with whom he had three children. The marriage would end some 30 years later after the marriage succumbed to the pressures of Hawking’s fame, ideological differences and the difficulties surrounding caring for him in light of his disability.

Despite beginning to use crutches in the early 1960s, he long fought off having to use a wheelchair, but when he finally couldn’t do so any longer, he gained notoriety for wild driving on the streets of Cambridge. He also used to run over students’ toes intentionally and would even spin himself on the dancefloor at college parties.

Together with Roger Penrose, Hawking had his first major breakthrough in 1970. They were able to use mathematics to show that a singularity, a region of infinite curvature in space-time, was the point from which the big bang emanated.

Stephen Hawking

After he realized that he was wrong in his argument about black holes being able to radiate, Hawking was in a Cambridge pub with his students when he suddenly turned up his voice synthesizer to full volume and bellowed that he was conceding defeat. Anyone who studied under his tuition or knew him personally knew him for his wicked sense of humor.

Hawking was elected to the Royal Society in 1974 aged just 32 after the series of radical discoveries he made during his early career, and would become the Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge. The latter is often thought as the UK’s most distinguished academic chair and was once held by Isaac Newton.

His 1988 book, A Brief History of Time, catapulted Hawking to international stardom. It sold over 10 million copies and was translated into no less than 40 different languages. It was around that time that his marriage would begin to break down, but he would go on to remarry in the mid-1990s.

During his lifetime, he won the Albert Einstein Award, the Wolf Prize, the Copley Medal and the Fundamental Physics Prize, however, the Nobel Prize for Physics eluded him. He also returned to the White House (he had also visited during the Clinton administration) to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama.

Stephen Hawking

His life has also been immortalized on screen, not least thanks to the multiple award-winning movie, the Theory of Everything. He also lent his voice and know-how to various documentaries over the years.

Perhaps it’s not surprising to know that Hawking was not a religious man, and dismissed the comforts of religious belief. With that being said, he had once told an interviewee that he wasn’t afraid of death, but he added that he wasn’t in any hurry to die due to how much work he had left to do. The great cosmologist is survived by his three children from his first marriage, together with his three grandchildren.

Watch Stephen Hawking being interviewed by Charlie Rose:

Source……..www.ba-ba mail.com

natarajan

After Coimbatore’s Water Table Collapsed, This Simple Initiative Revived It…Thanks to ” Siruthuli “

As cities across India are facing a severe shortage of water, Coimbatore has been trying to preserve and recharge its groundwater levels. At the forefront of this change is Siruthuli, an NGO that is dedicated to cleaning Coimbatore, and infusing green methods throughout the city!

Coimbatore, which was once a place of abundant rainfall, was shaken to reality following a drought in 2003.

As part of its initiative to recharge groundwater levels in the city, Siruthuli has implemented rainwater harvesting structures (RWH).                                               

“In 2003, Coimbatore received 65% less rainfall than in previous years. This made us release the need to save water, and harvest it when there was adequate rainfall,” says Shruthi Suresh, a representative of the organisation.

The organisation conducted a series of geo-hydrological studies in 2005, to better analyse how to approach the conservation of groundwater in the region. In association with the Corporation of Coimbatore, Siruthuli began conducting rainwater harvesting structures in various locations across the city.

However, one of the significant challenges of the construction was the fact that Coimbatore was primarily a hard rock structure, and thus percolation of water was difficult. The organisation persevered and came up with the idea of drilling bore wells for groundwater.

“We came up with this technique to recharge the groundwater. We recommended two types of structures using this technique. The first simply recharges the aquifers, while the other not only recharges but also pumps the harvested waters so that it can be used,” she explains.

According to Shruthi, the structures are installed in both open spaces, as well as on roadsides.

Today, thanks to the efforts of this organisation, Coimbatore has more than 600 rainwater harvesting structures in different locations across the city.

However, on average it has been observed that the open spaces have seen a much higher level of maintenance than the ones on the roadside ones. There have been instances where some of the roadside RWH structures have been shut down for new roads and construction.

However, the organisation is optimistic and has seen significant growth in groundwater tables, from the time the wells have been implemented. This can be seen in the table below:

The water that is harvested from the ground is what is used extensively for not only daily use but as drinking water. It, therefore, becomes imperative for the citizens of the city, to maintain and use the water judiciously.

Today, even with a shortage of water, Coimbatore maintains stable and sustainable groundwater tables.

This initiative goes along with one of the organisation’s chief objectives, titled, “Water Watch,” under which, they aim to not only recharge groundwater, but also rejuvenate water bodies, and restore the River Noyyal. The river, which once had 34 streams, is now reduced to just four.

In the future, Siruthuli plans to conduct a comprehensive study of the entire region. This will be done to better understand natural drains, vegetation, groundwater levels, land use, and livelihoods. The study will form the basis for developing watershed concepts, RWH structures, and more. These will be applied across Coimbatore, after a series of awareness campaigns.

Siruthuli has also been involved in spreading the message of going green and educating the next generation for the same.

You can read about their initiatives here!

Source…..Anakha Arikara  in http://www.the better india .com

Natarajan

 

வாரம் ஒரு கவிதை …” கொஞ்சி விளையாடும் கோபம் “

 

கொஞ்சி விளையாடும் கோபம்
—————————-
நேற்று இருந்தவர் இன்று இல்லை …இது
தெரிகிறது எனக்கு !…இன்று இருப்பவர்
எல்லாம் நாளை விடியல் பார்ப்பாரா இல்லையா ?
விடை இல்லையே என்னிடம் இந்த கேள்விக்கு !
நெருநெல் உளனொருவன் இன்றில்லை என்னும்
பெருமை படைத்து இவ்வுலகு …சொன்னான்
அன்றே வள்ளுவன் ! குறளை  பாடமாக படித்த
நேரம் புரியவில்லை அவன் சொல்வது என்ன என்று !
வாழ்க்கைப் பாடம் தினம் படித்து வள்ளுவன் சொன்னது
என்ன என்று புரியும் இந்த நேரம் கோபம் கொஞ்சமும்
வேண்டாம் எனக்கு என்று நினைக்கிறேன் நான் இன்று !
வேண்டாம் நீ என்று நான் சொன்னாலும் விட மாட்டேன் நான்
உன்னை என்று என்னுடன் கொஞ்சி விளையாட வரும்
கோபமே …கெஞ்சிக் கேட்கிறேன் உன்னை , விட்டு விடு
என்னை இன்று ஒருநாள் !
நாளை விடியலை நான் பார்த்தால் மீண்டும் கெஞ்சுவேன்
உன்னிடம்  கோபமே, “கொஞ்சி விளையாட வர வேண்டாம்
நீ என்னிடம்  இன்னும் ஒரு நாள் ” என்று !
K.Natarajan
in http://www.dinamani.com dated 4th March 2018

வாரம் ஒரு கவிதை… ” எங்கும் எதிலும் “

எங்கும் எதிலும்
————–

photo-1485546246426-74dc88dec4d9

எங்கள் வங்கியில் எங்கும் எந்த ஊரிலும்
எந்த கிளையிலும் நீங்க உங்க பணம்
பெறலாம் ..பணம் கட்டலாம் என்று
சொன்னது என் வங்கி …மகிழ்ந்தேன் நான் !
வங்கிக்கு செல்லும் வீண் சங்கடம் எதுக்கு
உனக்கு…. உன் வங்கி கணக்கு விவரம்
இப்போ உன் மடிக் கணினியிலும் கைபேசியிலும்
சொன்னது மீண்டும் என் வங்கி !
வங்கியே என் கையில் இப்போது ..எங்கும் எப்போதும் !
பணம் எடுக்க ATM …எங்கும் எதிலும் எப்போதும் !
விண்ணில் பறந்தேன் நான் …மண்ணில் இல்லை
என் கால் !
எங்கும் எதிலும் எப்போதும் பண பரிமாற்றம் !
உங்க வங்கிக்கு நீங்க வரவே தேவை இல்லை
உங்க வங்கி கணக்கு இப்போ உங்க கையில்
என்றும் சொன்ன என் வங்கி இருக்குதா
அதே இடத்தில் என் பணத்துடன் ?
இன்று சென்று பார்க்க வேண்டும் நான் !
எங்கும் எதிலும் நானாவது கவனமாக
இருக்க வேண்டாமா ? என் வங்கியில்
இருப்பது என் பணம் அய்யா !
Natarajan
in http://www.dinamani.com dated 25th Feb 2018

Unlike the Super-Rich defauters ,this Ex-PM”s familyHonoured their loan liability ….

These are not good times for the Punjab National Bank, which is embroiled in an 11,400 crore-scam allegedly perpetrated by diamond mogul Nirav Modi and his maternal uncle, Mehul Choksi.

For the average citizen, this is yet another instance of a wealthy man swindling public money through dubious loans issued by these banks, and leaving the country without paying back his dues.

Unlike Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya, the PNB, which is India’s second largest public-sector bank, also had famous personalities and their families as customers who have honoured their loans.

Former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri had taken a car loan of Rs 5,000 from PNB. After his sudden demise on January 11, 1966, the former prime minister’s widow Lalitha paid back the loan from the pension she received, reported Times of India.

“We went to St Columba’s School on a tonga. Once in a while, we used the office car, but my father did not allow us to use it regularly for any kind of private work. There was a demand at home that we should buy a car,” said Anil Shastri, his son and senior Congress politician, to the publication.

In response to his family’s demands, Shastri approached a senior official from the PMO and discovered that a new Fiat would cost Rs 12,000. Since the family had only Rs 7,000 in the bank, the prime minister decided to apply for a Rs 5,000 loan which the bank sanctioned that very day.

When the prime minister passed away in Tashkent, where he had gone to sign the declaration of peace between India and Pakistan after the 1965 war, the loan remained unpaid. “It was repaid by my mother from the pension she received after my father’s death,” said Anil Shastri.                                                                                                                         

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This 1964-model Fiat with the plate number DLE 6 is today exhibited at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Memorial in the national capital.

Source….www.thebetterindia.com

Natarajan

 

At 103, This Karnataka Man is one of the oldest Drivers on the Country”s streets Today …

Willy’s, Morris Minor, Fiat, Austin, Ferguson, Mercedes Benz, Chevrolet, Volkswagen – these are just among the few brands 103-year-old CSR Michael D’Souza has driven.

A veteran of World War II, Michael has been driving for the last 85 years.

But giving up his car keys is simply not an option for him. “I enjoy driving and never got tired of it. I will continue to drive till the lord sends me his vehicle,” he smiles.

A native of Ooty, Michael was born to Charlson and Mary D’Souza on October 16th, 1914. Michael’s first tryst with a vehicle was at the age of 18, when he and his 13 siblings drove around Ooty in his father’s truck.

“The licence issued then was a page-long and it was applicable for all vehicles. Unlike today, there was no such thing as a licence based on vehicle category,” he says.

In 1932, he was enlisted in the British Army for 10 years and during his service he travelled to different parts of the country.

“However, due to the loss of my original military documents during transit in Visakhapatnam, my post-service benefits were denied to me. Though I appealed to my superiors for several years, I gave up realising it was a lost cause,” he says.

Meanwhile, Michael married Eliza, and the couple moved to the erstwhile Madras Presidency. Though they had no children, it was a happy marriage, he says, and they regarded the children of his elder brother as their own.

A few years later, Michael joined the Public Works Department (PWD) in Mysore and later he was transferred to Mangalore. At PWD, Michael had the chance to drive the general purpose vehicle, affectionately called ‘Jeep’ (GP). He also was given the opportunity to drive a truck, tractors and even road rollers.

“It was quite an experience, since the department barely had qualified man-power to operate such heavy-duty machines. I was asked to drive everything and I took the opportunity to make the most of it,” he laughs.

In fact, several roads in Mysore, Udupi and Mangalore were first asphalted and sealed when he drove the road roller over them.

In 1982, he retired from service, but the couple stayed on in Mangalore.

Michael got his first license in 1959, and he has renewed it constantly since then.

“On my last visit, the RTO inspector said in jest that should I make it for my next renewal in 2019, then he will award me the permit driving for a lifetime,” Michael smiles.

Considering he has driven so many vehicles, which one does he prefer?

“The GP,” he says, without missing a beat. “It does not skid and in unstable territory you can also shift to a lower gear and drive.”

He has only driven a two-wheeler once. “I got so dizzy, I stopped immediately. I am only cut out to driver vehicles with four wheels or more,” he says.

Except for a brief period in 1993 when he had a cataract surgery, Michael has never stopped driving. At the ripe age of 103, his medical records show that he is incredibly fit for his age and shows no signs of age-related ailments.

His secret, he says, is his diet, which comprises rice, curd, chapathi and bread. Although, up until a couple of years ago, he used to consume meat frequently, lately he has reduced his intake of non-vegetarian food.

“As our age progresses, I believe we should not strain our stomachs. Therefore, nowadays I eat meat only rarely,” he says.

He is also incredibly active – no matter the number of floors, he always takes the stairs.

After Eliza passed away in 2013 – at the age of 83 – Michael’s routine changed. He now wakes up at 4 am every morning to tend to his garden and feed his cat, dog and birds. “Earlier, I used to even have a goat, a chicken and a duck. My wife was very irritated with the tortoise I had, so I had to give him up,” he says.

Always dressed in a formal shirt, pants and a golfer’s hat, Michael still works – he now drives for a local banker and his family. The one concession he does make for his age is that he now avoids going on long drives and driving late in the night.

What does Michael think of drivers today? “Terrible!” he shakes his head. “People just don’t follow lane discipline any more. It’s horrible the way autorickshaws and two-wheelers switch lanes these days. One of the main reasons I don’t drive in the evening is how people thoughtlessly switch on their high beams even on well-lit roads. It can easily lead to an untoward incident.”

In his 85 years behind the wheel, Michael says he has been fined only once for not wearing a seatbelt. “Three months ago, when I was fined, I went to the station to pay the fine. The inspector took the receipt, laughed when he saw my age and the fact I was being fined for the first time, and said he will pay the fine on my behalf and let me go,” smiles Michael.

Ironically, Michael does not own a car, although the centenarian does not regret it. “As long as I am allowed to drive a car, I don’t have any qualms about it,” he says.

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Source….Harsha Raj Gatty in https://www.thenewsminute.com/

Natarajan