On India’s Republic Day, 2019

John Owens

On India’s Republic Day, 2019

Namaste. Distinguished guests, dear students, friends and relations, It is a pleasure and honor to address you again this year with a few remarks on this wonderful 70th Republic Day for our beloved India. I say our India, because though I was not born here, a part of my heart and soul live here. I consider United States as my fatherland. And India as my Motherland.

My personal story is not exactly typical. At the age of six, India called me to her, and at the age of 20, in 1972, I answered that call by buying a one-way ticket to Mumbai, and coming alone to Pune. I did not know anyone here, but ended up staying in India for an entire year through the great-heartedness, generosity and kindness of none other than our Dr. S. B. Mujumdar, who has truly been both elder brother and father to me for over 45 years. Through his, and my Indian family’s, help and blessings, I was married just a few steps from here 32 years ago in Symbiosis Hall to the love of my life, Sujata, in a Hindu ceremony.

Like India itself, Symbiosis has grown tremendously since I first arrived here in 1972. Back then, Symbiosis was a cultural organization devoted to helping foreign students, mostly from Afro-Asian and Middle Eastern countries, to adjust to this culture, find housing, medical care, and learn the English language. Now, as you know, Symbiosis is comprised of some 45 institutions, serving tens of thousands of students from all over India, as well as half the countries of the world. Symbiosis is a brand known and respected far and wide, and is an exemplar for what this great, country truly stands for: the values of diversity, inclusiveness, advancement by merit and fair play on a level field. Look around any of Symbiosis’ many campuses and you will see this summed up in two words, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, the World is one Family.

From my experiences here, and particularly with my Indian family, the Mujumdars, the perspective and value of one world as one family is a part of me. I have pledged Vasudhaiva kutumbakam as my life mission, and in my own way I have worked to help realize that wherever I happen to be, and whatever I happen to be engaged in. One important way I do this is through my work as a life and executive coach, that respectfully calls people forth to embody their God-given greatness, and make a difference in their own and others’ lives.

Something I have become acutely aware of over the last two years of my time in India is a shared sense of National Purpose. I think this may be true of many other countries as well, this sense of Shared Purpose is calling forth all citizens to contribute to the growth, prosperity, and greatness of this nation. This may be expressed individually in relentless pursuit of getting ahead and excelling, or as a devotion to public service, volunteerism, entrepreneurism, or in the expectations that you have for your government and leaders. I don’t see this sort of shared National Purpose in the United States, not since the Space Program of the 1960’s that succeeded in putting human beings on the surface of the moon, and taking the first ever photo of Earthrise over the horizon of the moon, the first visual proof that we truly are One Family living together on One World. Today, those great aspirations and the belief in the enormous possibility of what a prosperous nation is able to achieve are largely absent in American society as a whole. I think America has much to learn and to be inspired by countries like India that believe in something greater than themselves and find their fulfillment in material goods and personal pleasures. I think you could say that in some important ways, America has lost its way and lost its purpose. It is certainly not the United States’ destiny to impose its brand of democracy on places like Iraq or Afghanistan, nor to be a beacon to the world by having 1% of the population owning 85% of the nation’s wealth. It is time for the US to lead by collaboration and partnering with equals in the world, and respecting the aspirations of each and every nation.

I’d like to share with you a dream I had just two nights ago. We were all at a great stage at a Symbiosis function. A famous and highly admired person dropped tools and supplies all around the campus: hammers, wrenches, construction components, fasteners and such. All this was done without a word being spoken. It was obvious that we in the audience were being called upon to build something. There were no instructions. So what was it to be? And why? For what purpose? I recall the scene was all very confusing, but everyone got up, picked up tools and supplies and were trying to put it all together. The scene was pretty chaotic.

I wanted the leader to tell us what to do with all these parts and pieces. I felt frustrated, a bit angry. And then suddenly I realized that we had to each understand not only our personal purpose, but had to find what was in common among all our individual purposes to build what was needed. We needed to understand first that together we were working as one family, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, and that our prosperity, even our survival, could only be realized when we understood our interdependence that comes from aligning our individual goals and purposes as one world family. Then a magnificent structure was built, one that held us all in a beautiful and sacred space, safe and nurturing.

I believe that this is the challenge we face today: to share our aspirations and blend them into a whole purpose, greater than any one person or family or community, but one that includes us all, like that picture of Earthrise. Our home today is in peril: from human-created global warming, from wasted resources, from enormous disparity of wealth and social justice and from the sort of nationalism that erects walls across borders or ignores the needs of the downtrodden.

Each of us is given some tools and materials, just as I imagined in that dream. What will you do with them? Do you sit and wait to be told? Do you build a wall or dig a hole to hide in? Or do you join hands with your brothers and sisters and build a home to hold all of us safely as one people, one tribe, one family, in peace, prosperity and in brotherhood and sisterhood? The choice is yours.

Happy Republic Day 2019. Jai Hind!


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