By Satish Chandra, US
One thing that continues to amaze me about the US even after 35 years is the kinds of conventions, conferences and meetings that are held here. Every profession has a national organisation. Professionals include plumbers to house builders, and to heart surgeons. Then there are hobbyists and their organisations. If one is interested in any esoteric hobby, say, of making of paper planes, then there is an organisation to support it. Americans enthusiastically join and attend organisational meetings. The main purpose is to share what you know, and find out the latest from others. It is an antithesis of Hindu system of guru-shishya (teacher-disciple) tradition of acquiring knowledge.
Once, during a joint annual meeting of mathematical societies, I noticed a person collecting information about the titles of Ph.D. dissertations in mathematics, their award years, universities and supervisors. I filled out a form and while handing it over asked, “What is the use of doing it?” Promptly he responded, “Simply because no one has ever done it!” This attitude of being the first to do any thing and doing some thing for the joy of it makes a dynamic society that has always been reinventing itself.
Those of us who came to the US during the 1960’s, immersed themselves in predefined careers, have missed this aspect of American life. However, with second and third generation of Indians now firmly established, Indian communities have started holding their own meetings and conferences. At the successful conclusion of a conference on Indus-Saraswati Civilisation and Ancient India in 1996, the World Association of Vedic Studies (WAVES) was formed. It was resolved to meet biennially. I just attended the fifth conference from July 9 to 11 in Washington DC area. Its theme was ‘India’s Intellectual Traditions in Contemporary Global Context’.
It was an enriching experience to see the types of exhibitors of books, literature and small interest groups promoting their wares. In addition, lectures and panel discussions on yoga, Ayurveda, nature cure and terrorism were well attended. Of course, there were a few talks on highly philosophical topics including the Gita and the Ramayana. Participants came from Nepal and Bali besides a few from Europe, India and Canada. It was a quintessential meeting of minds, families and youth.
Indians often miss the social milieu of India, in particular gossiping at street corners or in tea stalls, or chatting with neighbours. The US lifestyle, especially in metropolitan cities, has no place for such things. However, attending such conferences can provide a nostalgic relief. Indians are a bit reluctant to spend money on a conference registration and lodging. It takes a while to understand that a well-organised function takes a few dedicated persons and lot of money. Nothing comes free. Participating in at least two meetings a year keeps me energised. Try this social and intellectual mantra of life.