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CUBA IS THE FUTURE FOR LATIN AMERICA AND PERHAPS THE WORLD On my way out of Cuba, from La Habana, on COPA airlines flight to Panama, I w...

mardi 27 septembre 2016


When he was 16, while hitchhiking in his native Chile, he was given a lift, Donde tu vas? Muchacho? said the portly man in the car with a deep voice. That belonged to none other than Pablo Neruda, who would later become the second Chilean to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Mr T who had left his native land soon after the overthrow of Salvador Allende in a putsch very similar to what is happening in Venezuela (Brazil, where the coup was not bloody), has made a life for himself in Miami. He became very animated when we talked about the history and psychology of being a Chilean. I told him that I am the best known Cuban in Easter Island or Rapa Nui, the distant polynesian outpost of Chile and he chuckled and remembered the time when he was in charge of constructing the Mataveri airport with US help. (NASA wanted a large enough place to land in case of trouble with space crafts). The young man spent a couple of hours talking to Pablo Neruda at his home in Isla Negra. Many years later Mr T had the opportunity to introduce Pablo Neruda, at that time a Communist Legislator to an audience in Santiago and they both laughed at the surprise of this reunion and their initial meeting.

He left me at Door 2 at MIA, very quickly I cleared the TSA check and arrived at the American Express Centurion Lounge near the D15 gate from where my flight to Boston was to depart.
Warmly greeted by Junior, the Food and Beverage manager, and Lily an attendant, a reccent arrival from Havana, I felt relaxed and the waiting for the flight then becomes a pleasure. Junior was born in Miami of Haitian parents and hospitality is in his blood. I am certain that he will go high up in this industry. He is truly a star.

I was sorry to miss James and Michele from Puerto Rico who are normally at the reception.
And yet another person at the lounge who genuinely exudes warmth is Paloma, at the bar, who is from Cali, Colombia. We had a nice chat about Colombia and its beauty and its illustrious son, Gabo a great friend of Cuba and also a Nobel Laureate in Literature. I was happy to tell her about Alvaro Mutis, my favourite prose writer from Colombia (exiled and died in Mexico).

In the course of just two hours, I had left the home of my sister, who is a British Jamaican and her husband who is an Arab Jamaican, taken to the airport by a Chilean and warmly greeted by a Haitian American (a glass of NZ Sauvignon Blanc appeared as he had remembered my taste), a recent arrival from Cuba (I walk by her house at the corner of La Rampa and Paseo often enough) as well as a pleasant bartender from Cali, Colombia.
(the snacks at lunch time on offer were the creation of Chef Michele Bernstein of Miami. As if in homage, she had created Arroz con Pollo with Couscous)
It is a great testament to the USA that it welcomes all peoples and in Miami, it is the Latinos and the Caribbeans that dominate the landscape.
I am happy to be here.
as they say: Bienvenidos a Miami y sus playas

mardi 16 août 2016


As he drove me towards Fort Cochin, after his busy day at work as a dentist, my friend assured me: you will enjoy meeting George.
As we entered his home, George apologized, “it is our family tradition to meet for prayers at 8 pm”.  Christians in this part of the world observe a shorter lent at this time of the year, in honour of Mary.
Our conversation immediately launched ourselves into the depths of the rich history of Fort Cochin. A history professor in the past, this polite and erudite displayed his knowledge with ease. There is something very Jewish about him, I said to myself.
He talked about Hannah, his great grandmother who had moved into this house in 1885. The house had been built by the Portuguese in 1660, just three years before they were ousted out of Fort Cochin by the Dutch. G is married to Maria, well known in the tourist circles of Fort Cochin for her delightful cookery classes.
He then began telling me of his Jewish connection. I have come to expect Jewish connections among the established Christian families but this jolly historian had all the facts at his fingertips.
His great grandmother Hannah was Jewish, she married his great grandfather who was Christian. They had two daughters, by our law considered Jewish. One of them kept her faith and the other who was his grandmother, followed the Christian faith married his grandfather and the Christian lineage continued of which he is the product. So he has an entire Jewish family on one side. In fact his father would be considered Jewish by our law and many Jewish communities would accept him as well, as Jewish. So my intuition about this intelligent historian was right!!
His Jewish side has/d some prominent members and some groundbreaking marriages. Ruth, his grandmother’s sister had married Abraham Barack Salem, a prominent member of the so called Malabari Jewish community, civil rights activist, and lawyer. Their son, who recently passed away was married to Rima and their two children, cousins to our Jolly Historian live in Toronto and Vancouver. If I remember correctly it was Balfour Salem, brother to Gumliel who was the first person to marry over the “colour” line to Simmy Koder?
So in the very short time, our conversation took us from the Portuguese occupation of Cochin to the eternal history, in this house built by the Portuguese, where three aficionados of Cochin history had gotten together for a chat: a philosopher dentist, a jolly historian and a visiting anthropologist from Cuba…such is the world we live in now…

Thus a good connection was made. As my friend had assured me earlier, I enjoyed meeting George the jolly historian of Fort Cochin. More time together to come, I am sure, along with some nice Kerala Curry from Maria?

dimanche 14 août 2016


At the beginning of this visit, I had been thinking of Cuba and my new role as an Ambassador for the Health Care in Cuba especially at the National Institute of Endocrinology in Havana, Cuba. Kerala is one of the most welcoming places for Cuban ideas and philosophies and it is also has one of the more educated populations in India, akin to the highly literate people in Cuba.
The most unexpected introduction on this short visit to Cochin was to Mr. Ansif Ashraf. When my good friend, Dhanusree, called to ask me whether I could be in Ernakulum at 4 pm the day before my departure from Cochin, I accepted the invitation and arrived at the offices of Cochin Herald, without any preconceptions. American Indians have taught me that you must go to new meetings with clear minds and conscience and also with a genuine desire to learn and offer.
I spent the next two hours in the company of Ansif Ashraf, the current CEO of Cochin Herald and Ms. D. Cochin Herald on paper, so to speak, presents itself as a glossy Business Magazine but it differs from others published in India or Malaysia and elsewhere in that there is a hidden dynamism and a connection to an emerging world at a different level altogether. I had heard about Dr. Rashid Al Leem of Sharjah and his concept of Education and was happy to know that Dr. Al Leem was the leadership mentor of this young man. Dr. Al Leem is the Knowledge Ambassador for UAE and the United Nations Good Will Ambassador of UAE.
I am a Cultural Anthropologist who happens to be a Physician and also a traveler and thus my view of people and places are mired in various strata of culture and connections. During our conversation, we could bring up a subject, such as Cultural Identity, and connect it with the projects they were involved in. I listened intently to the various paths he has taken, learned about his illustrious father and his cultural lineage and marveled at his energy. He had just returned from Shenzen and from the various photographs in his magazine and the prospectus it is obvious that he is a regular at many venues. Travel broadens your mind, it is like reading of a tome of many pages, and at the same time, if you are building bridges, your dreams will obscure the peculiarities and provincialities of the thinking around you. It matters not his cultural origins and belongings, I could see him being successful in other highly competitive countries, where networking, connecting, looking and exploiting opportunities are an art form in the world of business. To think of him as a businessman would be applying a too limited a border to his expansive dreams. I agree, after a couple of hours talking to this energetic entrepreneur of ideas, with what Dr. Al Leem said about him: he is set to make a difference in the world.
My world revolves around Cuba where I am deeply involved in sociocultural matters and American Indians, to whom I am deeply indebted to their teachings and giving me the opportunity to help them. A long way from that well-appointed office in front of Centre Square Mall in Ernakulum in Kerala where the expectant monsoon was about to peak. As I was leaving, I remarked to my friend DS, he has high energy level. Because I am from a totally different background professionally, I couldn’t grasp many of his projects and I admitted to him, I am just a small fry from Cuba!
I realized that meeting Ansif Ashraf, my world suddenly expanded geographically. I can see him becoming active in two of my favourite countries in this region: Oman and Malaysia and I certainly would be open to visit Sharjah, when on a mission to Qatar.
For more information on Ansif Ashraf and Cochin Herald, please visit the following websites:

vendredi 12 août 2016


The sweet part of my short visit to Cochin in August 2016 was the reunion with DS, who is in charge of Corporate Relations at Cochin Herald. Cochin Herald was founded in 1992 by the late Dr. Sheikh Ahmed Asharaf whose son, Ansif is the dynamo behind this impressive network, a Muslim with Hyderabad lineage going back to the Middle East. The young CEO appeared to be of an intellectual bent, full of energy.
She wanted me to come and meet the CEO and the Manager, with a possibility of a future collaboration. How best to describe this sweet youth, I am sure she has inspired poets to the path of sonnets. Her presence alone exudes sweetness. She is intelligent, evident from conversations with her. Clever as well, since she was the one who designed my very popular visiting cards with Cochin motifs. She is full of energy, ready to embrace the challenges ahead of her that face this Tamil woman of Kerala of 21st century. She is well suited to her current position with a chance to internationalize her talent, to open it to a wider world.
From a selfish point of view, I enjoy her presence as I have in the past. I look forward to a dinner at Nawras or to a special Tamil meal prepared by her. If allowed, she would produce excellent journalistic pieces from Malaysia or Oman, for example, two countries whose hidden characteristics deserve to be better known to the general public. As the CEO said: she has journalism in her blood!

It was just delightful to see her after an absence of one year!
I wish her well

mardi 9 août 2016


THE PHILOSOPHER DENTIST OF FORT COCHIN or did you know that the familiar name VARGHESE in Christian Kerala is derived from the Portuguese VARGAS?
Over the years I had become accustomed to the excellent dental are of a certain Dr.Jagdeesh but my later travels were just to Fort Cochin. In Cochin, you would soon discover that there is an unspoken network, and once you enter it, you are able to obtain excellent services in each and any field of human enterprise. Over the course of years I have made excellent friends in Cochin, and Mr. M suggested that I see Dr. Varghese. A mild mannered man, he waited at his surgery for nearly 45 minutes after he had finished his daily work, as I was delayed getting to his place of work in Ernakulum. Welcoming words on the wall of the surgery included: We treat you as a human and not as a patient, which was later to be proved by his kind manners and explications of my dental health or shall I say ill health? He organized a full mouth x-ray which is like a cat scan of your teeth! Not only that when he learned that I would like to see an ophthalmologist on this very short visit to Fort Cochin, he arranged me to meet Dr. A of Lotus Eye Institute.
The next day we were both invited by our kind mutual friend Mr. M, after my ophthalmic appointment to a delicious lunch at Nawras Restaurant, which has some of the best Kerala food that I had tasted in Cochin.
During the next few hours of conversation, it was evident that he was cut of a different cloth and is much more interested in philosophy and history than materialism and that his years in the UK had prepared for his successful return to the land of his ancestors.
I am glad to have become a friend of Dr. Seby Varghese. Our conversation centered around the history of Fort Cochin (the only piece of this part of the world I know anything about, I came to Fort Cochin from London yesterday and leave for Kuala Lumpur tomorrow) and while we were talking about the Portuguese period, he told me something: that his name Varghese is a corruption of the Portuguese surname VARGAS, a name quite common in South America (I thought of Getulio Vargas, the President of Brasil for a long time in the nineteen thirties and if you write down the sound of Vargas in Portuguese, it would be VARGES..And over the course of time corrupted into the popular VARGHESE in the Kerala Christian Community). Verghese used as a first name, see the spelling, may have its origin in the name George?
Also he introduced me to Mr. G of Burger Street in Fort Cochin of whom I would write later

samedi 23 juillet 2016


I have been traveling continuously since 1993, when I left the flat in London on a journey to Malaysia, even though I had not lived anywhere permanently since 1986. What would be chaotic for many became normal for me. My travels in these twenty years have been mainly in Asia, Europe and the Americas, all involving long journeys. Countries visited often included: Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cochin in Kerala in Asia; Paris, London and Brussels in Europe; Miami in the USA, La Habana in Cuba, Buenos Aires in Argentina, Sao Paolo in Brasil, and an array of smaller cities such as Leticia in Colombia, Hanga Roa in Rapa Nui.

Being an anthropologist, the world then becomes your field of observation, your ears become tuned to nuances, accents and cultural pretensions. What is honest and real becomes separated from falsehood, immodesty and shallowness. One of the earliest observation was that most of the interactions during the course of the day is less than five minutes long and one has to know the symbols of interest to the party concerned so that you can transact that symbol without insulting the person. Plus these interactions often involve a request for help or some form of civic assistance or in my case some form of assistance with travel: flights, hotels, upgrades, transfers. It is very important to keep in mind that in the few minutes you have in most of your interactions, not to insult the other person, a common practice to make the speaker feel good about themselves. It is better to know your own prejudices and practices before these interactions as the “bottom line” as the Americans say is to have a smooth flowing day with some pleasantness about it.

One country I have not mentioned about, without geographical borders, is what we refer to as “Indian Country”, the villages where American Indians live. I have been extremely fortunate to spend time with them, in fact it is that connection over a long period of time that brings me back over and over to them.
In my early days with them, I noticed how quickly they could correctly conclude about the characteristics of a person whom they don’t know at all. I clearly remember an elder Indian waiting to interview a young white lady who was seeking a job with the tribe: As he looked at her, he muttered, she will not be good for us. For many other reasons, she was not hired but I was impressed with this innate ability of the Indian to know what the person is thinking or is actually about. I had long conversations with many elder Indians and I wanted to learn it as it would be so useful to me, during my multiple interactions of the day during my travels.
I attached a name to it, even before I could explain it: Transaction of Symbols. I wanted to learn about it, for my own daily life to become smoother, and also to see how I could use it in healing of the Indians and others if the interactions involved Illness. (I am a consultant Physician to some tribes of Indians in USA)
At first I tried to explain using a metaphor of sending and receiving messages. The person and you are both able to receive and transmit message. When you look at that person or talking to the person, you are sending a message, encrypted symbolically of course, and your impression is formed by whether or not that person is able to receive your message and reply to it.

In my consultations with Indian patients, I began finding ways of inserting myself into their world, thus making a connection, which would later be used to transfer health related knowledge. When I meet an Indian for the first time, I do not enquire about them, but about their family. Let us say, a patient has a name Walker, then I would enquire, who was your grandparents, what were they called? Who are your relatives? Thus their world is open to me, before I particularize the enquiry into their medical query, for example, why their cholesterol is elevated?
I realize it is a metaphor and mechanical but I had been fortunate enough to have good teachers. My first teacher, who recently passed away to the other side, was “Dry” Brown, a Meskwakia elder. She washed away little by little all the false pretenses that had been heaped upon me during my Australian adolescence and the medical student days in London and Miami. When an Indian is sitting in front of you, she used to say, whether it is the leader of the Eagle Clan (and you may not know it) or a 13 year old boy, show them respect. Do you realize that boy has enough cultural knowledge to be awarded a Ph.D.?
So, I got rid of the false pride, I am the doctor attitude and learned humility when you know and are being told that a 13 year old would know much more than you would ever know.
Later on, she said in a hush tone into my ears: If you learn to love the Indian, your life will never be the same.

The meaning of those prophetic words took some time to sink in, as my attitudes towards plants, animals and other human beings became influenced by the gentle nature of the American Indians. I was a keen student, I had now the tools of Anthropology at disposal and not just that of a Medical Doctor.
I came to the conclusion, emphasized by very many of my Indian teachers, it is your purity of mind that creates the world for you in which you would remain happy. It is not someone else that brings happiness to you but it is you that would bring happiness to others and in the process you would remain happy.
At around the same time, I had the chance to reject the middle class petite bourgeoisie attitudes of the people I was living with in Jamaica and USA, Australia and UK. I clearly remember a song by that prophet without a name, Bob Marley: when one door closes, another one opens.
Cuba was the new door. Emphasizing the need to be of help to others, not to judge people harshly or not at all. In both the situations, American Indians and Cuba, I was in the position to help, that desire to help and ability to help, satisfaction of helping pushed me into a period of life of bliss which continues to this day.
In 2008, an energetic Yoga teacher, Vandana Yadav, from Bombay came to KL at the invitation of my dearest friend Mun Ching Yong and that was my introduction to Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. While Vandana talked, later on Mun Ching also would also discuss, I noticed the similarity between the philosophy of American Indians and Patanjali. The more I delved into both, more similarity at the root of their thinking, after all both are more than 2000 years old and American Indians having been around longer and continuously in this land they call the Turtle Island.
In the book by Dr. Jayadeva Yogendra of the Yoga Institute, Santa Cruz, on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one comes across this.

What’s the principle involved in knowing the other person’s mind and to what extent?
In summary, of sutras III, 19, 20, he says, by concentrating on one’s own mental process then we can know the mind of the other person. We come to know our own thoughts so well, so well after performing a SAMYAMA on it, that we can find out very easily how another person is also thinking. (I recommend you reading this commentary by Dr Yogendra about knowing the content of other person’s thinking. P 357)
In both these ancient philosophies it is your mind that needs to be cleansed, do not look outside for happiness, no single person would bring it to you, and many would complement your happiness.
Indians over the course of the years have taught me how to keep your mind pure and clean in interactions. In this way, you can interact with people of all places, all ages and all educational levels. Most of the people who would help you in this life are not from your social class or educational level, so no need to have false pretenses about your class or education. Indians with whom I have an extraordinary good relationship, no single Indian has ever asked me where I went to medical school. It is not of concern to them, the fact that I respect them is what they look for.
A good friend of mine, the good family doc, Jim Kerr of South Dakota, gave me an epithet when visiting Miami: You are Homeless but you are Upper Class. The upper class life (not based on salaries or gifts or endowments) is only possible through the “kindness of strangers”!

As mentioned earlier, most of the interactions in life are short, and for a traveler it is varied. During the month of August I will be at airports in Miami, Paris, London, Muscat, Cochin, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Phoenix, Omaha, Orlando, Panama, Havana, Mexico City. Imagine the multiple number of interactions. Uber Drivers, Hotel receptionists, Executive Club attendants, Flight Attendants, Lounges, Restaurants.. Not to mention family and friends in London, Miami, Mexico, Havana, Cochin, KL. It is the collective contributions of each and every one of the people that contributes to this euphoria of living... Helped by the fact that Indians have taught me to transact symbols of everyday life and turn that into the contentment and pleasure of living, pouring this onto the interactions with friends and patients and other lovers who pass by.
American Indians, Yogic Philosophy of Patanjali and Cuba. These are what guardians of my life’s happiness are at the moment.

No comment on the Yogic philosophy would be complete without referring to Krishnamurti, the contemporary Indian philosopher
Living with yourself as you are:
In this solitude you will begin to understand the necessity of living with yourself as you are, not as you think you should be or as you have been. See if you can look at yourself without any tremor, any false modesty, any fear, any justification or condemnation -just live with what you actually are. - Krishnamurti, Freedom from the Known,69

 I was thinking of Vandana Yadav of Bombay, Mun Ching Yong of Kuala Lumpur and my teacher Patricia Brown of the Meskwakia when I was writing this. Thanks to hundreds of others in and out of Cuba who contribute to my daily contentment and bliss.