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Remarks by Ambassador Sibi George at the Remembering Mahatma Gandhi event in Berne with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Founder of Art of Living Foundation, June 6, 2019

Posted on: June 06, 2019 | Back | Print

Remarks by Ambassador Sibi George at the Remembering Mahatma Gandhi event in Berne with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Founder of Art of Living Foundation, June 6, 2019

His Holiness Guruji Sri Sri Ravishankar, Mayor of Berne, Ambassadors, Members of Swiss Parliament, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good Afternoon.

Let me begin by welcoming you all to this afternoon, a rare occasion when we listen to one of the great souls of India, who plays a major role in transforming human lives.

I stand here representing one of the oldest, largest and perhaps among the very few continuous major civilizations in the world. I bring to you greetings from 1.3 billion people of India, which is almost 1/6th of the total population of the world.

I have been in this beautiful country for eighteen months now, as Ambassador to Switzerland, Lichtenstein and the Holy See, which I believe is a great honour. My Ambassador friends here would agree that, for a diplomat, it is no small achievement to get up every day morning thinking about an Honourable President, His Serene Highness Prince and HH Holy Father Pope, and working towards promoting relations with three important countries.

I am not disclosing any State secret when I say that population in India dwindles in the months of April to June each year. Why?  Because during these months many of my countrymen travel to Switzerland as tourists. They can be found in large number in Bernese Oberland trying to climb mountains and run around in the valleys. It may not be too much of an exaggeration to say that there may be more Indian tourists in Berne today than the Bernese themselves. They come in such large numbers here every year this season as if there are no mountains, no snow and no Bollywood in India. From the land of Himalayas, which means the abode of snow, they travel all the way to Alps to see snow. Some even travel to places like St. Mortiz and Montreaux as if there are not wedding locations in India, of course contributing to Swiss economy.

My role today is to welcome His Holiness Sri Sri Ravishankar to this function and also to welcome each one of you to this gathering. Let me pay tributes to Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation of India. I am happy to see the Mayor of Berne and also my diplomatic colleagues here and also our Swiss and Indian friends. I welcome each one of you to this function. 

Let me share with you a story that I heard and said many times. The story of Alexander the Macedonian, also called Alexander the Great. After having crossed Persia, he came to India, met a sage on the banks of the river Indus, who he referred to as a ‘wise man’. This sage sat on a rock and spent all day and night staring at the sky. Alexander asked him what he was doing. The sage replied, "Experiencing nothingness.” The sage asked Alexander what he was doing. Alexander replied, "I am conquering the world.” Both laughed. For Alexander, the sage was wasting his one and only life experiencing nothingness! For the sage, Alexander was wasting his time trying to conquer a world that has no limits, with a sense of urgency that made no sense when one lives infinite lives. It was a moment in ancient history when West and East met. The fact is that, the empire that Alexander built collapsed within a few years of his death. But Indian spirituality continues to attract the world towards her. India and its spirituality continue to be a meeting point of the East and the West.

India is a civilisation which gave rise to ancient religions such as Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism and also Sikhism. In fact, India is home to other many religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. In fact, Christianity reached India and flourished there since 52 CE, in the first century immediately after the crucifixion of Christ, much before it reached most parts of Europe. Over past millennia, many a conqueror coveted the riches of India but none could conquer Indian culture, traditions or philosophy. Even those that came with a sword were soon assimilated into India’s composite and inclusive culture. History is also replete with examples of India giving refuge to those fleeing persecution in their own lands. The Jewish population came to India in large numbers from Israel in the year 70 CE, after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The Jewish community found home in India for nearly two thousand years till the creation of modern Israel. Today, Parsees, who came from Iran, are one of the most vibrant communities in India while some of the oldest Jewish synagogues are still active in India. 

In India, we speak several hundred languages, we worship different Gods, we eat different foods, we wear different clothes, but there is a feeling of oneness and common consciousness, a civilizational bond, that keeps us together, make us proud as India. Every diverse culture in India flourishes, every region in India flourishes. We have a constitution which guarantees liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; equality of status and of opportunity. I am happy to welcome Guruji, who is an embodiment all that India represents, its tradition, its spirituality, its mantra of Vasudev Kudumbakam.

Switzerland has always been a meeting point for East and West. In 1896, a great son of India Swami Vivekananda travelled all over the world including this land of Alps with a message: “COMBINE THE BEST OF EAST WITH THAT OF THE WEST”. During his visit to Switzerland in 1896 he wrote from Saas Fee, I quote, “I am in Switzerland. It is a miniature Himalayas…. I am intensely enjoying it. I feel so, so uplifted.” Unquote. Yesterday we were at Saas Fee to pay homage to Swami Vivekananda and also launched the International Day of Yoga celebrations there. 

Switzerland also hosted another great sage of India, Maharshi Mahesh Yogi, who is the founder of Transcendental Meditation. He had his Headquarters in Seelisberg for over thirty years. This land also welcomed Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore and in 1931, Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation of India travelled to the banks of Lake Geneva to meet Nobel Laurate Romaine Rolland. In fact, we are celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi all across Switzerland. Today’s event is also a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi. 

The connection between Himalayas and Alps are stronger and deeper than we think. It is not limited to Bollywood and Mountains and Snow. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I see an India connect in every corner of Switzerland. It is much deeper than lakes and much higher than mountains. It is one involving universities, business establishments, laboratories, factories, technology cooperation, research, music and dance, you name it. If nothing else, there is the connection of Yoga and Ayurveda. I am happy to invite you all to join us in the month long International Day of Yoga celebrations that we plan in Switzerland this year. We are meeting in this very hall on June 21. I invite you all to this event.

I am delighted and happy that one of the great sons of India is with us today. I have grown up hearing stories of, how Guruji opened the hearts of millions around the world for India and its spirituality. I was witness to how Guruji taught the world on how love can bring us together, regardless of race, religion or nationality. As a diplomat of India, for the last twenty five years, I have seen how Guruji connected the East and the West through his message of love and peace. Guruji welcome to Switzerland.

Thank you very much.