Stray reminiscences of India:
Buddhism in New Delhi a pathetic peep
My friend Kamalika Peiris' recent article in the Daily News on
'Buddhism in India' prompted me to pen this. May be it is my dwindling
egoism that makes me feel inadequate to attempt such broad sweeps of
content. But my irresistible attraction to this great lady, Mother
India, induces me to touch her massive bulk here and there with my tiny
pen. Like the proverbial cat looking at the moon.
Can one write on India under Stray Reminiscences? Perhaps, some
aspects could be so handled, even Buddhism in contemporary India, of
which I had a pathetic peep. I am in a quandary as to where to begin
even this. Perhaps in the Central Bus Stand of Delhi.
The great lady sports many ironies that have got accumulated over
centuries that include the period of British rule. Though much maligned
today by Asians frenzied with nationalism it must be acknowledged that a
good many modes that made life easier in the Orient were doled out by
them. For example the buses that first made their debut along London's
Busy street in Chawri Bazaar (Old Delhi)
Like the trains the buses began to teem on this sub-continent. And
then out-cropped the bus-stands, most of them in Delhi called Central
Bus Stands. Irony here is that these Central Bus Stands are all sited on
the periphery of the mighty city.
Almost obsessed by memories of Buddhism in its heyday, now that I was
in the land of its birth for the fourth time in a mood more religious
inclined, I yearned to have a peep into it at present times in its very
capital and told so to my host, Sitesh Bhatia, address, University
quarters, Vaishali. She indicated to me the route to what she knew as
the Buddhist world, ND. The Central Bus Stand was the focal point on the
route. Past an intricately labyrinthine mesh of old and new buildings
from Vaishali in Pitampur I drove by bus which itself provided a novel
experience. The vehicle was curiously painted with figurines of what
looked like extra terrestrial beings that included erotic females with
bouncing breasts that raised no eyes in this land that produced the Kama
Drove on and on through incredible masses of humans, of which a
pocket was getting into the bus every now and then. No affectations, no
pretences. Dressed in very casual. No seats? Just not bothered. Flop on
the floor and smirk at those seated.
My first destination was the Central Bus Stand, ND-NW, which was
actually sited on the Eastern border of the city just by the flowing
Yamuna. Was asked to get down here and take a taxi or walk along a
certain road to reach The Tibetan Enclave where Buddhism reigned in as
in by-gone days.
My heart beat fast as I drove closer and closer. So I was going to
have a peep into a long eclipsed period, a great period that had got
eclipsed in the 7th and 8th Centuries. I was just excited. Expected
great Stupas to loom ahead but so far none appeared.
Irony of ironies! English, we deride as the language of the Pariahs
or the outsider but how handy it is when it comes to foreign travel. So
I spoke to the rickshaw wallah in this derided medium and asked where
the Buddhist temples are. He looked at me dazed and said in broken
English that there were none. But I sensed that I was definitely in the
vicinity that Sitesh had indicated. Soon as though to fill the emptiness
a group of boys who looked Tibetan gathered round the rickshaw and began
demanding dollars. What dollars, I asked, I have only Indian money.
But you not Indian?
No. Sri Lankan pilgrim.
Pilgrim, they sneered mischievously preening about in denims and red
and blue T' shirts. Where to pilgrim here, they laughed as I had a first
hand view not of Buddhism but of the amazing globalization process.
On their T' shirts were emblazoned in English, phrases as Long Live
the Yankees, I love U, Sweetheart.
Even Mr. McDonald was grinning from one T' shirt. It made me feel
homely anyway for in Rajagiriya along Kotte Road I pass the man almost
everyday gloating over a piece of fried chicken in his hand with not a
thought on calories.
Getting rid of the impudent boys who had no respect to pilgrims or
elders but were only looking for dollars I soon spotted the peepal (bo)
tree spreading on a raised mount and there behind it was actually a
pristine white Stupa of little proportion.
So I had come to Buddhism in New Delhi after all. Paying the man I
walked up the little hill but I must thank my stars for not being pushed
From an Ashram nearby were rushing out a row of Tibetan monks.
Symphony expected of such a revered row, sad to say, was totally
Instead adjusting their robes in indecent decorum they were all
enroute to some function or meeting. I managed to stop one of them
looking less tense than the rest and ask where the Buddhist section of
New Delhi is. Is it here? I want to know about Buddhism in India as at
"Go up there to the Garden of the tallest Peepal tree," he said in
what is famously known today as Broken English and added a quaint bit of
"There sits an old monk there. He knows a lot and further, he has the
time to talk to you for he cannot walk about."
How scarce Time has become even in Tibetan enclave. No one has time
to talk to another leave alone sit and stare nor walk in placid gait.
But I manage to delay the young monk.
"Will he tell me something about Buddhism in India as at present?"
"Buddhism in India? Read it from books, will you"
"No. I want to hear it from someone here. Someone actually living
"You are strange. Actually to tell you the truth there is no Buddhism
in New Delhi."
"Then what are you doing here? Saadhu?"
"This is just a hostel. We have come over here from Tibet mostly to
study English. Today a famous American or Englishman is delivering a
talk on how to improve our English. Now you come from somewhere and
getting very curious have prevented me getting a seat in the Great
What Great Hall, Saadhu, I asked naively. Impatiently he pushed a
handbill into my palm and vanished adjusting his robes in a mighty
hurry. I felt sorry for him. Not only for making him a standing audience
in the Great Hall but for his missing his own chosen path to the
Ultimate Bliss. All he was keen seems to be was improvement in English,
the gateway to the wide world.
The handbill pushed into my hands indicated the details of the
lecture about to be delivered and the final outcome of promising a place
in an American University that had toppled Nirvana far below the
destination of the robed ones who are supposed to have forsaken all
worldly pleasures. Well, learning English is certainly not a worldly
pleasure unless you take literally injunctions that exhibit themselves
at highway junctions as "Learn English with a smile", "Learn English
with a laugh", "Eat, drink and sleep in English!"
Despite my initial frustrating experience I did meet the old sage who
sat under the peepal tree. He did tell me a lot and on the total exit of
Buddhism in India he had this to say with typical die - hard optimism.
"No. Buddhism here will not be extinguished by the Bhakti cults. It
will come back full circle and stay on just like the never - ending
rustle of the peepal leaves and the sheen of white sands before our
Well. Mystic prophesies and actual flow of history are not bed -
fellows. Sometimes they run contrary courses.