Home is where the heart lies


I’m told the cold winds are visiting us from the East. Un-invited, of course. Who asked them to arrive at the fag end of winter? This guest has overstayed its welcome and frankly, I think to myself, should leave.

I’m relieved to find myself, at the end of a short walk in the acid cold in the foyer of the VUmc. Prof. Hari Sharma meets me there and leads me to the staff canteen where I get treated to a tray full of steaming, hot food. For himself, he has his boterhammetjes brought from home in Rotterdam.

The canteen is very full and above the murmur of voices and the clinking sounds, listening to him, I’m transported, the coldest March ever recorded blending to a greyish, white curtain outside. It’s another time, and Hari (as referred by his colleagues and students) is going to school in India.

It was also, of course another place. He experiences that time and time again when he goes back now, not only on personal visits but also with delegations from academia in the Netherlands. India is changing at a pace no one can quite understand. Many renowned institutions are experiencing a great churning. It’s through his professional network that he is able to keep the focus on excellence and excellence alone. He is tireless in his efforts to get Dutch and Indian medical institutions to mutually collaborate in the areas of Biomedical Sciences  and clinical practice. As a founder president, Hari tells me that in order to disseminate knowledge and academic excellence in translational research, Indian Academy of Biomedical Sciences (IABS) was formed with keen interest and efforts of several scientists from India and abroad. Though, he gets no remuneration, his reward is successful cooperation.

How does that translate on the ground? One of the ways it does is that more and more multidisciplinary Dutch students are going to India to gain experience and for their internships. They have more time and direct contact with patients and super speciality doctors there than they generally have here. Similarly a number of Indian students come to Holland as university exchange or for short-term courses. Erasmus MC, and three Indian Institutions are successfully collaborating on research projects with substantial funding from mutual governments. With regard to academic ties, more than a dozen bilateral MOUs are active with a vibrant, mutual exchange of students, staff and higher officials.Hari2

The essence of successful research lies, says Hari, in the sharing of knowledge between different disciplines. The scientist and the medical practitioner are not rivals, but students and teachers of each other. It is the going back and forth between them that makes breakthroughs in innovation and development. This is his message to colleagues and collaborators in India.

A long way from home, Hari’s focus is on the heart and lungs. That’s where his research is most recognized, and his award winning papers are centred.

An effusive voice reaches us and we turn. It is an ex student of Hari . She has been searching for him recently, dropping by at the lab. He asks politely about her plans, her studies, her family and she answers and shows him a picture of her baby boy.

The warmth that teacher and student generate grows within me and even the bitter Eastern visitor may stay, if it insists, because anyway it can’t get me now.


For Jelle



Jelle, you went to Benares, Hardwar and Rishikesh and there you met and talked to people. Gurus, old men who were there to die there and be immersed in the Ganga; you met holy men who are scientists and scientists who are holy men; young and old people, disciples, folks on the street and a fortune teller who could read  your aura and assure you that everything will be fine. Someone on the street told you ‘Hinduism is a way of life ‘. You had a central question and that had to do with this thing called karma. You asked different people and you got different answers.


Like most of us who go to such spiritually loaded places, I guess you did some self-reflection. Or that is what it sounds like because you say to the viewers of the series From Bihar to Bangalore, over the image of the flowing river, “I have always been jealous of the carefree attitude of Indians. Maybe we in the west swim against the tide too much. We think we have it all in our hands. Everything can be constructed, like the weather forecast on the ‘buienrader’. But the idea that fate has mapped out the path for you is also dangerous. If you think you don’t have free will, then nothing is going to change. That’s maybe why there’s still a caste system and the position of women is so destitute’.

Jelle’s your take is what I call or-or

Or one goes the karma route and lives one’s life with destiny deciding for us all anyway. Or one takes the free will route and says, I decide.


A few weeks after I had seen your episode, I received this invitation, via email from a friend who is a yoga teacher in Amsterdam.

‘Swami Santatmananda is visiting Amsterdam from India for seminar talks at the VU on Vedanta. He has kindly agreed to drop by tonight at the yoga class at 20.00 for questions and answers relating to yoga, Vedanta and meditation.

A spontaneious and unique opportunity to meet and talk with this inspiring teacher from the Swami Dayananda Ashram in Rishikesh’.

I sat through the talk and when it was over, I asked the Swami a question. I said in the West, we believe in free will and in India we believe in karma. How do you see this? He smiled slightly and said, ‘the free will of now is the destiny of the next life, that’s all’. His smile broadened.

Jelle, the Swami’s take is what I call and-and.

And there is free will and it is destiny in time.

In my inter-cultural trainings, I use this idea of ‘and and’ with different examples. What many of us here in the Netherlands see as mutually exclusive, or – or , many of us in India see as non contradictory ones perfectly capable of presenting themselves as and – and.

Jelle, just thought I’d let you know.





Earlier that evening, I was sitting outdoors (at last!) looking at the sky. It’s one of those skies, I thought to myself. Where the poetry is communicated through jets that create white streaks across the clear blue expanse, with just a few, little clouds gazing softly on.

Reminds me of a story my father’s friend, Sunny uncle once told us about his daughter. She was seven and sitting on the back seat of the car he was driving. The sun was setting on the horizon of a smog-filled Hyderabad city. His daughter exclaimed, ‘how beautiful the sunset is!’ Sunny uncle looked out of the window, grunted and said, ‘that’s because of the pollution’. She sighed and said, ‘how beautiful the pollution is’! Sunny uncle grunted once more and dropped the subject.

How beautiful the pollution is, I think on this evening staring at the jet- streaked dazzling blue sky with all the promise of crossing boundaries.

Roshan Paul

‘Aman’ is a word that does just that; only it’s completely free of pollution. Roshan Paul explains to his small, engaged, determined group of  ‘change-makers’ later that same evening. Across several boundaries, from Morocco to Indonesia ‘aman’ means more or less the same – a peace-filled, conflict free state of being. In Swahili, the word is ‘amani’. That is what he decided to call his Institute, based in Kenya – The Amani Institute. They’re going to be running a program, ‘Social Entrepreneurship and Peace building’ later this year, promising hands on practical experience with plenty of challenge and out of the box thinking to social problems and their solutions. Roshan Paul is originally from Bangalore, India but along with his Argentinian partner, chose Kenya as the destination for the Amani Institute because it’s a hub for innovation in the field of social entrepreneurship today.

Having left that sky behind I’m now with the group in Pakhuis de Zwijger, where almost everybody’s introductions point to people who have and are crossing boundaries, crossing disciplines, because that is what is needed, according to the Amani Institute to solve many of the pressing problems facing us in the world today. So the less we fit into boxes, the better. Several of the folks present are alumni or students of THINK- The Amsterdam School of Creative Leadership. Some of them are students of Knowmads – a school for the education of change-makers, also based in Amsterdam.

But, back to Sunny uncle and his daughter – would the sunset look as beautiful without the smog?

Is it the smog, the pollution that makes the change-makers I see on this evening glow more than ever?


More about the Amani Insititute 

More about Knowmads  

More about THINK -The Amsterdam School of Creative Leadership

From the Amani Institute website

India (is) Unlimited

The possibilities, the people (one in six in the world) the demographics – 65% under 25 years of age, the friendship of the people, the consumer market that will reach 13 trillion dollars by 2030, the unlimited Foreign Direct Investment that is needed to turn the physical and social infrastructure around…

This last is supported by an image of a train covered from roof to wheels (like flies on a sugar cube) with happy, waving, smiling human beings. Only, the train is moving (slowly I guess). The image is a part of the presentation by Itzik Amiel, partner at India Unlimited.

The only thing that could limit, is the lack of a network. Because India is about network, I hear.

India Unlimited promises to deliver on that front and more.

They, in cooperation with the World Trade Center, the Hague and the Nederlandse Centrum voor Handelbevordering are planning a trade mission for 20th April. The 44th World Trade Center Association gathering is going to be taking place in Mumbai on April 22cd.

‘Either you will fall in love with this country or you will get confused. In both situations, we are there to help you’. These are the words of Ram Lakhina, well known in Dutch-Indian business circles.

Amiel, supported by dazzling colours of ‘Incredible India’ in his presentation focuses on the how, why and what India Unlimited will deliver. They have the right networks and for fear of repeating myself, lack of a network is what could limit. He also tends to stress quite a lot on the ‘soft skills’ needed to make it work.

  • If you don’t like the culture, don’t do business there.
  • Don’t judge people in India by how they look, how they dress or speak. You will be surprised’.
  • You go far if you are sincere, committed and you care. Because the people of India are caring’.

Eric Niehe, former ambassador to India ends the evening with his slide of 4x Ps and one R

  • Patience
  • Perseverance
  • Politeness
  • Personal contacts

But nothing without the One and Only R

  • Respect (even, when there are times when you don’t feel it, he says. You must show Respect).

With all due respect Anita van Breeman, one of the participants, asks a question. She mentions that all the speakers of the evening are men. So is there room for women in business in India? All the men sitting on the panel say yes and are quick one after the other with concrete examples.

  • Indira Gandhi – lessons on how to rule with an iron hand given to Golda Meyer – Amiel
  • Chanda Kochar, woman managing director ICICI Bank – Ram Lakhina
  • Sonia Gandhi – the one and only power behind the scenes – Eric Niehe

At the borrel, as we downed the most sought after part of Indian culture, the food, I chatted with Anita van Breeman. She is behind the idea of ‘Happy Insect’ – or how to catch spiders and other insects carefully and set them free instead of slamming them dead on the ride on the road to the Unlimited.

I asked her if she knew where MK Gandhi got his inspiration for ahimsa (non violence) from. I promised to look into my network (remember – network?) for a Jain business family who could be the partner for her worthy, innovative enterprise in India.

India is Unlimited.


For more information on this trade mission, please click here




Have bicycle – will move

When I saw the couple transporting a sofa on a bicycle in my neighbourhood, I went back some years ago. I was new to the Netherlands. My boyfriend of then and I went for a walk in the moon light. Aan de Amsterdamse grachten. My eyes feasted on the lights on the archways of the bridges, on the shimmering water, on the boats. I looked into the open windows that I passed that showed immaculate living rooms. Spring was in the air. And no one could better have celebrated the coming of the season than a couple who cuddled together on the sofa that was positioned on a bridge.

I stopped in my tracks. Staring is normal practice in India. It’s a way of showing your curiosity, and not necessarily experienced by the receiver of the stare as an invasion of privacy. The couple held each other close, kissed and sipped on wine while they too feasted on the sights of the gracht before them. With the moon strategically hanging up in the sky, it looked pretty much like the stage was set for the next performer to walk in because, as one famous person said ‘the show must go on’.

But instead, my boyfriend yanked my hand, said ‘stop staring’, and we moved on. An hour later, when we came back to the same bridge, the couple had gone, leaving the empty bottle on the street. My boyfriend went to inspect the sofa. It was, according to him in perfect condition and we were going to take it home. How I said. Wait here, he replied.

A half hour later, I found myself in the same situation as the couple transporting the sofa in my neighbourhood. If only, I thought someone would take a picture of me at this moment so I could send it home to my folks in India. They thought they’d seen it all when it comes to bicycles as a means of transport.