About two weeks ago, one of our guests made an experience which was not something I would wish on any other visitor of India. Unfortunately, it happens – even though I have to say not only in India but pretty much every other big and touristic town around the world: our friend was cheated by a taxi driver at the airport.
In fact, that is in general nothing new. There have been warnings of scams like that in travel guides for years. The books would tell every reader to take a pre-paid taxi at the airport where the rates are clearly stated and fixed and where you don’t hand the money to the driver but pay at the airport. In this way, you can be sure that the driver drops you where you wanted to go.
That was necessary because there were many cases of fraudulent taxi drivers who would take passengers, then drive them around in circles in Delhi and ask them for more money as it was ‘so far’.
Not too long ago, a visitor who had only come by for a meal told us how she was cheated: She had arrived in the middle of the night and provided an address for a hotel in Jaipur to a taxi driver outside the airport. The driver drove her through dark backstreets to a travel agent who explained that it was impossible for them to take her from the normal road! There allegedly were strikes and the road had been blocked – so she would have to pay the equivalent of 300 Euro to go there! That’s more than three times as much as it should cost, if not more! She got in anyway, as she had no idea that it was a fraud – but she already regretted having paid so much!
So either you have an idea of how much your trip should cost, you get a safe pre-paid taxi or you ask your hotel to pick you up! That’s what we offer as well: we will pick you up at the airport.
In our recent case however, the cheaters were quick. It was actually me waiting at the airport, as I had had business in Delhi and then went to pick up our next guest. Just that she didn’t come and two hours later, I drove home anyway. We reached at the Ashram at about the same time and we got to know the following: before our guest could find me, she was approached by a man who had maybe heard her asking others for our car to Vrindavan. He told her that ‘the Ashram’ car had broken down on the way and he had been sent instead to pick her up!
So this man drove her around Delhi for hours, then stopped at an ATM machine for her to get money out, as he insisted that she had to pay him, and only then drove her to Vrindavan, put her in a rickshaw there and then had her brought to our Ashram.
You can imagine how relieved our new friend was when she finally reached the Ashram. She had not thought of calling us to confirm the man’s story before she got into his car.
My reason for writing this blog post is not to make you afraid of coming to India. There are always good and bad people everywhere around the world. I want to make you aware however that these things can happen and to stay safe. Organize a pick-up or get a pre-paid taxi. Keep a phone number ready and don’t hesitate to ask others for a phone if you are in any doubt.
I wanted to tell you about a strange letter we recently received. The sender was which made Ramona look twice at the letter when Purnendu gave it to her: the financial department of Germany! The next thing she looked at was obviously to whom it was addressed: a woman we had never heard of!
Well, we did something which I am not very sure you are actually supposed to do but which I believe every person would instinctively do: we opened the letter. We found that it was a final reminder for the addressed lady to pay her tax, otherwise the money would be taken from her account! The date on the letter had already passed two weeks ago, showing that it had taken some time to reach here. Additionally, the address was only resembling ours, as though it had been written with hand and the person entering it into the computer could not properly read the letters.
It had arrived here though and we didn’t know what to do about it. The first thing we did was to check our database of visitors and recipients of our newsletter whether there was any woman with this name. Negative, not one.
Ramona finally called the number of the financial department given at the top of the letter and told them that they obviously had a wrong address. They thanked her and assured her that we wouldn't get any more letters.
For us, however, it was still quite surprising: who would give our address to the financial department in order to avoid having to pay? And who thinks that this will actually work?
Everybody could practically do that: cancel your residence and tell everyone including the financial department that you are emigrating to another country. You will not receive any more letters to your previous address and I guess you could go anywhere else and nobody would find you – would they?
Oh, no, actually thinking about it, I don't think it is that easy! There will always be a trace and the necessity to register yourself, to use your passport, real name or anything else! If you are not planning to start illegally faking documents and creating another identity altogether, I would suggest not going down that path!
Are you in financial trouble? Don't start cheating, it will just make everything worse. Admit it, find places where you can get help and try to work your way out of it in any way! I know people who have done it, who have come out of incredibly difficult situations – so why shouldn't you be able to do that, too?
My last two blog entries may have sounded like I don't like social media at all. Well, that's not quite true. It has brought a lot of positive change to the world and as a modern person I appreciate its benefits. There is however something that I notably prefer: real life.
I love technical progress. I have already early been fascinated with new gadgets – for example cameras. I was among the first in our town to have a digital camera, when we got a phone, a lot of neighbors came to us to receive or make phone calls, the first mobile I got was like a huge brick, because it was one of the first and that's how they were in that time! I believe that technical inventions can help us immensely. I have been using the internet a long time and of course also started with social media networks one day.
I have to say that it is today a way of communicating with people that is incomparable to any other previous method! A lot of people whom I know in real life have connected with me there and I can write to all of them at the same time. Simultaneously however, there are even more people – people whom I don't know at all and who have never met me – reading my words, maybe liking them and getting interest in knowing more.
I can connect with so many people at the same time and everyone can choose whether he would like to read more or not! They can make their settings in a way that they either see my words whenever I write them or not at all! I believe it is a wonderful possibility for people to choose what they want to do.
This far for getting in touch. After that, however, I believe there should be one step more. Bringing it to real life. If you have the feeling of being connected to someone online, it can be a very one-sided feeling! You read the words of the other one all the time. You see pictures and you may even ‘like’ them on Facebook. The other one however may not even notice that you are so close in this way. For that, you need to send a direct message, email, make a phone call or pay a visit.
And here we go: I have made a lot of friends online who have come to visit me here. Indians who like a different approach and way of thinking have come for a day visit or over the weekend. People from all over the world have joined us for Yoga and Ayurveda retreats from a few days to several weeks and even months.
This is when I know that social media is actually good for real life: when someone tells me that they read about me online, then went to read the blog and found help for his or her life. When someone found me online, then went to our charity pages and started sponsoring a child. When someone read my posts online and travelled across India to talk to me in person. When someone sees photos of our retreats and decides to join us here for a yoga holiday.
I believe in a real connection and social media is only a tool, an instrument to reach there. I believe in keeping it real – offline and online as well.
I yesterday wrote that you should not let social media become your second reality. Because it actually remains a fake world! Keep that in mind both while reading other people’s posts as well as when writing your own or sharing stories you read.
You need to remember that anybody can write anything on the internet. This doesn’t mean that everybody writes lies but it is easier for people to display anything in a brighter light online than it really is in reality! A nice day becomes the best day of the year just by words. A photo can make you longing for a loving partner who takes you in the arms, just like your friend has one – but you didn’t hear the fight that preceded this picture… There are so many examples!
It is not only about you getting a wrong message from pictures of friends! No, you actually have to understand that the virtual world is and remains that: virtual. Of course you can send greetings with your words and make someone feel better by showing your support with a ‘like’ on Facebook. You cannot, however, save the world by a click with your mouse!
Oh, I may have to differentiate now: there are of course campaigns that live from the support of their helpers in the form of clicks or views. There are big protests that happen only online and with the virtual presence of thousands of people. There is however also a lot of scam and that is what I am talking about.
You may see a horrible picture of a girl with a deformation by birth, asking you to like and share because any organization you have never heard of will donate five dollar for every like and ten Dollar for every share. I can say with 99% surety that this is not going to happen, it is not real. Even that girl’s picture may not be real or taken in a fully different context!
You won’t get the government of an African state to put more effort in searching a criminal and you won’t get Facebook to change its policy only by sharing a post asking them to.
Oh, yes, I nearly forgot: by sharing a picture of a Hindu god, you won’t get extra Karma points and god’s anger won’t hit you if you don’t forward that message to ten friends in the next five minutes!
I am fully aware of the fact that there are people online who cannot make the difference. One of our employees for example asked Ramona whether he had really won 3 million rupees from Coca Cola, as an spammy message in his inbox suggested!
It is not nice that such messages even get to these people but that is part of the game in the World Wide Web! The only thing you can do is to stay aware and alert, keeping an eye open on your social media sites and don’t believe everything you read!
I know I usually tell people to get a bit more trust. To not meet other people with a negative attitude from the beginning. There are however situations in which you should definitely not trust without checking whether the other one is not a fraud. Mostly in such situations, it is about money. If you find yourself in doubt whether the person in front of you is sincere or a fraud, you may want to read today’s blog entry.
First of all, be careful not to get too impressed by the getup of anybody sitting in front of you. The person can drive a big car, be dressed in the best designer clothes and carry the latest iPhone in his hand – but that doesn’t make him honest! The bigger the fraud, the bigger his setup of clothing and accessories. Big liars and cheaters will have all the items that make an impression on you and seem to prove that they are completely sincere.
Another point is: liars and cheaters nearly always talk way too much. And that is where you can often find out that they are everything but honest! Simply listen to what this person says: if he is a liar, he won’t even remember what he said two minutes ago. He will just keep on talking and tell you lies, contradicting himself. Habitual liars don’t have any idea of what they said because they tell so many lies that they cannot remember each of them. So if you just stay quiet, you will find usually find out whether he – or she for that matter – is lying.
Finally, this all would not necessarily mean that the person was a cheater in the matter which you wanted to talk with him about. We come to the point however when it comes to money: never trust a person when he says ‘You can trust me, just give me the money’. If you then clearly say that you don’t know the person and have a difficulty to trust him, he or she may answer ‘If you don’t trust me, we cannot work together!’ This is the point when the fraud may very well just run away.
The lesson is: sometimes, doubts are just right where they are. If you have doubts in trusting someone, never feel shy to express these doubts! If the person is in any way serious or genuine, he or she will do every effort to clear them and earn your trust. Only fraud persons will run away!
While I wrote about a very serious political issue here in India yesterday, today’s issue might make you laugh. Or shudder and cringe. Or both. It is something which is now promoted even by government agencies and of course Hindu fundamentalists even though there is no scientific proof for any benefits: the consumption of cow urine and cow dung!
Oh yes, there are a lot of people here in India that believe that consuming the excreta of cows could be beneficial to them. They actually think it could heal hundreds of different diseases. Apart from that it is, of course, holy. Holy because it comes from the holy cow, whom religious Hindus even call the ‘mother of humans’.
This is not actually something new. In fact, quite ancient scriptures mention that a mixture of five cow products – milk, yoghurt, ghee, urine and dung – can be ingested in a ritual which will purify the body. Here in Vrindavan, Krishna’s town, the home of the ‘divine cowherd’, products made of cow pee and poo have been popular for years already. Now, with a party in power that promotes Hindu religion, tradition and values, all those products have suddenly boomed!
Obviously there is a lot of nonsense in the advertisements: not only do they claim that the excrements of cows have healing effects, up to healing cancer – the most popular claim for miracle cures. No, they even have the nerve to lie, saying the NASA had accepted the benefits of taking into your body what came out of the rear end of a cow! I would really like to know what would prompt the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the US to examine cow pee!
On a more serious note, I believe it is a way to keep people’s minds focused on cow excreta and thus avert their attention from real problems in this country. With the whole idea of the cow being holy however I cannot help but notice once more how hypocritical these believers are! They call cows their mother, worship them on special occasions and drink and eat everything that comes out of them with the feeling of holiness – but they don’t care what happens with cows once they don’t give milk anymore, they don’t care that they roam around the streets eating plastic and garbage and they use leather products like leather shoes and belts without a second thought! Where is your divine cow mother now?
It is the disturbed view of religion making one animal’s excrements holy! There has been a certain popularity to people drinking their own urine for treatment as well. Now you are drinking cow urine – you could drink donkey or monkey urine as well! Any good enzyme in cow urine could be in there, too!
Seriously, though, I would not recommend that! Dung and urine are products that the body has expelled because they are not needed, they are waste! After having been through several organs, these products could not be used anymore! So why would you drink or eat that? I have even heard of a certain danger of infection due to bacteria of the intestines which is found in cow dung!
This is the real power of religion! It can make you drink an animal’s urine and eat an animal’s dung. It is the same religion that keeps you from accepting a glass of water from the hand of a human being who is considered ‘untouchable’!
Don’t you think something is wrong there?
A while ago, Ramona read a statement on her Facebook newsfeed which suddenly made her say ‘esoteric nonsense’ out loud, contempt in her voice. Surprised by her reaction, I asked her what she had read – and agreed on her statement. One of her contacts had posted a statement, asking women to give birth naturally instead of deciding to get a C-section and discouraged them from taking an epidural against the pain. The reason he mentioned: according to him, women bond closely with their babies through the pain of birth, which is why an epidural or a C-section prevents proper bonding of mother and baby.
Oh well, my wife is not very much into public discussions on social networks and she did not answer there but we talked about all the things that made this post so wrong.
Obviously, we know where the thought comes from: there is a trend to choose the exact date and time of birth of a child by simply performing a C-section after the unborn child has reached a certain weight and it is safe to take it out by surgery. There are women who don’t even want to try a natural birth, be it out of fear of the pain or of cosmetic reasons.
This is probably the issue which this man actually wanted to address. In the world of esoteric superlatives and spiritual connections to each and everything, he could not however just say it as it is: birth is something natural, please accept the changes it brings to your body as natural. No, he had to bring motherly love and bonding into it in order to make it more important, more spiritual.
There were people commenting on it that they doubted his theory and asked for proof but he replied that he didn’t need proof. People loved all those things more that they had gained through pain.
Oh no! I can hear every mother cursing out loud whose child had to be taken out by surgery due to medical complications! Without any labour pain, without any chance of experiencing this pain that allegedly brings more love and bonding!
It may sound wonderful if you talk about this great love a mother feels after a painful birth, when she just forgets the ordeal and bonds in spite of and even due to all this pain. It is however complete nonsense because it would in the same way mean that mothers who got their children through C-section or could not take the pain and had an epidural do not love their children as much. Do not bond with their babies as much.
We had a C-section with Apra. In spite of the doctor’s efforts to induce labour pain, Ramona did not even feel uncomfortable at any point while waiting for our baby. When finally the doctor told us that it would be risky to wait longer for a natural birth, we were ready for our daughter to come to this earth by operation. Should we have risked brain damage or heart failure just to experience this pain and bonding? Does it make our birth experience any less valuable?
Oh no, it doesn’t. And I consciously say ‘our birth experience’ because I was involved from the start to the end. I was holding Ramona’s hand while the doctor opened her belly, I was watching how the miracle unfolded and my daughter saw the light of this earth for the first time.
No, you cannot tell me that Ramona bonded less with Apra because she didn’t have at least seven hours of labour pain – because they are as close as I have seen every other mother with her newborn! No, you cannot tell me our birthing time was any less special – because we deeply love our time at the hospital from the beginning to the end, even still today!
This holds true for each and every other woman on this earth as well. Your bonding with your child depends on your love and not on a certain time of suffering!
Finally, the biggest argument of all I see here: I bond with my little girl very much. I did not have pains and she was not even in my belly but she is a part of me, no matter how she came to this world. Fathers bond as well!
So please keep esoteric nonsense out of matters where it is completely unnecessary – you will avoid insulting others!
When I reached Australia in the beginning of 2007, I obviously had already a few places to go to where I knew people who wanted to organize my program again. Of course there were also a few new organizers whom I met for the first time but also many people whom I met again after a year’s break. One of these friends was a man who had even come to meet us in India in between. And I couldn’t believe what he told me when we had the time for a lengthy talk!
My friend had known my sister, as he had been at our Ashram just before her accident. So obviously we spent a bit of time remembering her. Then however he told me that he was excited about a new chance in his life: he had heard of a new investment scheme that could give you many times the amount of your money in very short time! A person whom he knew had invested there and had told him that he would soon be rich because of his investment!
I don’t remember what it was exactly but I believe it was a kind of fund for gold digging in South Africa. Someone had told my friend that there were just investors needed and once the gold was found, everyone would get back a lot more than they had invested.
When listening to this I was stunned: we have a lot of this kind of scams going on in India. I had heard and read so often about it, I could easily see the pattern that all of these fraudulent ideas follow: get many people to give up their money by promises of quick wealth. What shocked me was not the scam in itself, but the fact that this also happened in Australia and obviously there were people who fell for it as well!
One of them was my friend. I asked him ‘You didn’t invest in that, did you?’ already fearing that he had done exactly that. And yes, he had. ‘You know I don’t have a lot of money but I invested my savings.’ He went on to tell me about the things he was going to do once he would be a millionaire and tried to convince me of joining this infallible scheme.
Obviously I was not interested at all in losing my money by handing it over to cheaters. I also told my doubts to my friend but of course he didn’t want to hear anything of it.
I had understood however that there are fraudulent people everywhere around the world and unfortunately also those who fall for them. The only way to avoid this is to realize that nobody just comes out of nowhere and sends you money like this. You need to work to earn your money!
I started telling you my thoughts about private schools in India these days and the elaborate admission process that they use. One aspect that I have only shortly mentioned but which is the biggest problem with the Indian school system is, as so often, the money. Education has become a big business. A big, corrupt business.
We see again and again how people from the west react surprised when they get to know about the cost of education here in India. When we tell that our school is for children who cannot go to schools where they have to pay money, they ask ‘What, you have to pay money to go to school?’
In many other western countries, education is free. You may have to buy your books and your stationary but there are no admission fees, no education or exam fees. In India, things are a bit different.
Yes, there are state schools and they are free as well – or at least supposed to be free. There are no school fees and the government makes big advertisement with the free lunch – but the sad truth is that there is mostly no value to the education they provide! Teachers often don’t come to school at all or just sit next to each other and chat, the classrooms are used for storage or even as stables. Many times, teacher even send a representative, a less educated, less qualified person whom they pay a part of their own, guaranteed salary which they get by the government. In the meantime, they are busy in their private business and thus earn money from two places. The education for children at the government school? Nobody cares.
It is so obvious that even the uneducated parents of very low financial means notice. They have never been to school but they see that their sons and daughters pass one class after the other but still cannot really write their names. Cannot read a short sentence, even in Hindi.
Some of these parents do know about the value of education and want their children to learn more than they themselves could ever learn – but they don’t have the money for sending them to a private school! A school where they would actually get taught! The uniforms and books are too expensive, the monthly fees are too high, about 30 to 50 US-Dollar per month. This is what the families of our school children sometimes earn in one month – how could they send their child to such a school?
Even higher is what is not written in the official pamphlet: the unofficial admission fee, a donation to the school, a bribe to ensure that your child clears the admission process and gets into the school. 700 to 850 US-Dollar is a normal amount to be asked for. And if you love your child and have the possibility, you probably decide to comply.
Without giving a significant ‘donation’ to the school, you stand no chance to get your child in any of the good schools. Every single person who wants to get a place has to give this donation – and the corrupt administration of the school will take good care that the donation reaches the right hands.
Books have to be bought only from the school – who make a little extra money with every book they sell. Cloth for their uniforms is only available at the school – more expensive than any other uniform you could easily buy in the market.
Corruption. Money. Business. That is what is happening with education in India.
Definitely not the way to go for a bright future of this country and the next generation!