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Meditation enters Mumbai classrooms

Students across [Mumbai] city schools will soon start their day by closing their eyes for 15 minutes and breathing deeply to keep stressful thoughts at bay. In an attempt to relieve the ever-increasing stress of students as well as the school authorities, the state education department has introduced compulsory meditation in all government-aided schools.

The Maharashtra State Council of Research and Technology (MSCERT) has introduced meditation sessions in the morning, for school teachers, headmistress and students between classes V to X. MSCERT director Shridhar Salunke says the council has initiated the move to help students relieve stress, boost self-confidence, improve grades and even cut down on bad behaviour.

At least one teacher from every school will be trained for six days in Anapana [mindfulness of breathing] courses, as part of project ‘Mind in Training for Right Awareness’ (MITRA).This project has been formed to spread awareness about Anapana and Vipassana courses in the education sector in the state. Last year, the state government had come out with a government resolution asking its schools to conduct one-day Anapana courses for school children.

Stating that the project will be implemented across all schools, Salunkhe said, ‘’Once trained, the teachers will spread awareness about the programme in their respective schools. In the morning assembly, schools will hold meditation sessions for 10 to 15 minutes daily.’’ A government resolution (GR) has already been issued in this regard to all education offices.

[via DNA India]
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Meditation to help Indian students keep stress at bay

Dipti Sonawala: With a view to helping school students to de-stress themselves, the [Maharashtra] state education department has decided to introduce compulsory sessions of meditation in schools across the state.

According to officials, the new initiative — Mitra Upakram — will be implemented from the next academic year so that students are able to fight stress and stay mentally fit. The officials of state education department say this will help sensitise students and also help in improving their concentration.

Throwing light on the initiative, Dr Shridhar Salunkhe, director of secondary and higher secondary education, said, “It has been observed that the level of …

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Mumbai attacks survivors preach forgiveness

On the third anniversary of the start of the deadly attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai that left 165 people dead, the BBC’s Rajini Vaidyanathan reports on some of the survivors who are preaching forgiveness in a newly published book.

The Mumbai 25 – as they were known – were in Mumbai on 26 November 2008 as part of a meditation retreat.

Two members of the group were killed in the attacks, but the survivors hope that showing compassion will bring something good from a terrible tragedy.

It was a last-minute cancellation that led Linda Ragsdale to travel from the US to Mumbai in November 2008.

She …

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Mumbai civic administration BMC turns to meditation camp to de-stress fire officials

Sharvaripatwa: The sudden death of chief fire officer Uday Tatkare due to stress induced heart attack last month has served as a wake-up call for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. The civic administration is now planning to send its senior fire officials on a 10-day Vipassana meditation course.

“The issue of high tension and stress faced by fire officials came to light after Tatkare’s death. In a meeting which was held just days after his death, we decided to send all senior officials and firemen for a 10-day Vipassana course so that they can learn to deal with stress in their jobs,” said S S Shinde, Joint Commissioner (Disaster Management). “In the first phase, about 25 senior fire officials will go for the course, following which the entire staff will be sent in batches,” he said.

A senior official overlooking the process said, “We will send officials Read the rest of this article…

one by one for the course as we cannot afford to send all of them at the same time. Officials live with a lot of stress. Sometimes, we have to be on call round-the-clock and this takes a toll on our health.”

According to a fireman, “With fire incidents on the rise, the job pressure has increased tremendously. Fire-fighting has become more difficult due to increase in highrises.”

While the administration is hoping they can send all the officers for the course, it will be voluntary.

“Some officials were concerned about the long leave they will have to take for the meditation course but we assured them this will be covered under sick leave,” said Shinde.

Tatkare, 57, suffered died of a heart attack last month when he was going back home from the civic headquarters in his car.

This was the second incident in the department’s history. On October 20, 1999, Dr V V Rao, the then chief fire officer, had also suffered a cardiac arrest after attending a meeting at the civic headquarters and died on his way to hospital.

Another department which has resorted to meditation camps to de-stress is BMC’s octroi and property tax department.

Newly recruited octroi inspectors and other tax officials were made to undergo a meditation and physical fitness camp last year. More than 250 officials had participated in the camp.

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26/11: Survivors return with forgiveness in heart

The last time US-based spiritual guru Charles Cannon and his followers were in Mumbai for a meditation programme at the Trident, they were “rudely interrupted by violent fundamentalism”.

Two years later Cannon is back to the city he “loves and remembers” along with 12 of his disciples who lived to tell the terrible tale of 26/11.

The group, which has been advocating the “rehabilitation and education” of Mohammed Ajmal Kasab instead of the death penalty, will hold a commemorative event at the Trident on Friday. They will also be launching the Indian chapter of One Life Alliance, a non-profit organisation that “responds with compassion to acts of terror”.

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Kia quotes the Mahatma: be the change you want to see

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Meena Menon, The Hindu: Thirteen-year-old Naomi Scherr was to write an essay on her trip, an educational experience to India. She was seeking admission to a girls’ boarding school and this essay would have been part of her application. But Naomi and her father Alan, who lived near the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, United States, were killed in the 26/11 terror attack on the Trident Hotel here.

Alan Scherr, a former art professor, had come to Mumbai in June 2008 to scout a retreat for members of Synchronicity Foundation, a spiritual organisation. The group rate offered at Trident had worked out best, and so they were at the hotel at the time of the attack. Alan’s wife, Kia Scherr, 54, in an interview to The Hindu, points out: “A month after my husband was here in June, David Headley too was in Mumbai, scouting locations — such extremes in polarities.”

Counter to terrorism

For Kia, the loss of her daughter and husband is irreplaceable but two years on, she has gone ahead to become co-founder of the One Life Alliance, which will train youth to appreciate the sacredness of life and act as a counter to terrorism. She has been in Mumbai since September and will be here till January next to foster her organisation.

A mission of love

Unlike Synchronicity Foundation, which focuses on meditation, the One Life Alliance is the response of love to an act of terror. “I am not here to teach meditation,” says Kia. The mission of her group is to inspire, encourage and honour the oneness and sacredness of life. After the tragedy, she got thousands of responses from all over the world.

“This shows that as a human race we are connected and we value life. Life itself is sacred. These are the times which require us to be on the move and we are committed to honouring the sacredness of life in ourselves and in each other. Our success as human beings is measured by how we interact with each other,” she explains.

Spirit of Gandhi

“Be the experience you want to see. It’s time to bring back Mahatma Gandhi’s saying — be the change you want to see.” She recalls that as a 15 year-old in her social studies class she was asked to choose a topic and a map to go along with it.

“I was attracted to Gandhi then and I chose him as a topic, drew a map of India and tracked his journey.” The spirit of Gandhi is guiding us now, she says with a smile.

The One Life Alliance is developing sacredness of life education and training programmes.

“How do we honour each other, listen and communicate with each other? Conflicts will have to be resolved in a peaceful manner. We also want to bring together people from conflicting countries apart from creating an online global community.” She met U.S. President Barack Obama at the Taj Mahal hotel during his Mumbai visit.

A waiting grandson

Rahi Gaikwad reports:

Little Harsh was only four when his grandfather Assistant Sub-Inspector Tukaram Ombale was shot dead as he tried to overpower Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab during the 26/11 attack. Two years later, Harsh, now six, still believes his beloved grandfather, to whom he was deeply attached, will return any day.

“Whenever we speak of the incident, or when mother gets very emotional, Harsh says, ‘baba [grandpa] is there; he will come.’ He thinks he is going to come from somewhere. That father has gone out and it’s taking long. He expects him,” Ombale’s daughter Vaishali Ombale told The Hindu.

Ombale has four daughters — Pavitra, Vandana, Vaishali and Bharati. Harsh is Pavitra’s son. “He comes over from my sister’s place quite often as only his presence brings the house alive,” said Vaishali. Ombale would shower gifts on his doting grandson and listen to his prattle on the phone. Since 26/11, that call has stopped, but Harsh still imagines he is answering his call. “He would pick up the receiver and speak into it as if he is having a conversation with father,” Vaishali said.

As time has passed, there are some indications that perhaps Harsh accepts that his grandfather is not coming back. “For Diwali, father would buy him clothes and crackers. We do all that for Harsh, but this Diwali he refused. He said, since baba is not there, let’s not do anything.”

Time has not lifted the pall on the household. Vaishali said she was doing her training through correspondence as she must look after the house. Her mother, who was so shaken after the loss, “is doing better,” she said.

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Mumbai: Terror, horror, forgiveness

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Natasha Korecki, Chicago Sun-Times: In June 2008, Alan Scherr traveled from the United States to Mumbai in search of a place where his meditation group could hold its fall spiritual retreat.

One month later, David Headley, of the North Side, also traveled to Mumbai — but he was in search of the best place to kill as many people as possible.

Both men picked the Oberoi Hotel.

“They couldn’t have been there for more different reasons,” Alan Scherr’s wife, Kia, says now.

It was in the pristine, five-star setting of the Oberoi where Alan Scherr and his 13-year-old daughter, Naomi, were eating dinner the night of Nov. 26, 2008, when terrorists stormed in and began rapidly shooting anyone in their sights.

The father and daughter were slain in a massacre that rained down on Mumbai in a series of coordinated attacks that eventually killed some 170 people, injured hundreds more and branded that date — 11/26 — as infamous in the city as Sept. 11, 2001, is the U.S.

Headley, whose birth name was Daood Gilani, has admitted that he traveled to Mumbai on multiple scouting missions and relayed information to a Pakistani terror group about the Oberoi, the Taj Mahal hotel and other prospective sites as targets. He has pleaded guilty in a deal that allows him to avoid the death penalty. Now in prison, he is expected to be a critical witness in a federal trial in Chicago early next year in which another Chicago man, Tahawwur Rana, is charged in an alleged conspiracy to aid Headley’s efforts in planning the attacks. Rana denies involvement.

Alan and Naomi Scherr were among the six Americans killed in the attacks and are named as victims in Headley’s plea agreement.

Kia Scherr, of Virginia, was in the U.S. when her daughter and husband lost their lives.

Now, for the first time, she’s traveled to the very place they were killed. She plans to be at the Oberoi for the two-year anniversary of the killings, which is Friday.

But she brings with her a message that continues to stun people:

She’s forgiven the terrorists.

“My life ended in that moment. Life as I knew it ended,” says Scherr. “Everything ended. It’s like dying while I’m still alive.”

Scherr, who earlier this month met President Obama in Mumbai, helped form the not-for-profit group One Life Alliance, which advocates peace and forgiveness. On Friday, about 1,000 people will meet at the hotel to memorialize those who lost their lives in the massacre.

Scherr condemns the attackers but said harboring hatred toward them would not allow her to heal.

“Forgiveness has nothing to do with terrorists. It has to do with me,” says Scherr. “If I hold on to anger, revenge, hatred — I’m basically choosing their experience. That’s like taking poison and hoping your enemy dies.”

But Scherr as well as survivors of the attacks say they don’t want people to forget the absolute horror of the attacks.

• •

It was after 9 p.m. on Nov. 26 when the doorbell rang at a hotel room at another five-star hotel, the Taj Mahal. Inside, retired Cook County Judge Benjamin Mackoff and his wife, Carol, were trying not to make a sound.

Mackoff, a prosecutor for seven years, was in his room packing to go home the next day, Thanksgiving, when he heard the rapid gunfire.

He knew what was happening.

The couple, who had already blockaded the door and muffled the room phone with pillows, sat motionless until the door buzzing ceased.

In other parts of the hotel, terrorists pried open guestroom doors and threw in grenades.

At one point, Mackoff peered through the peephole. He caught a glimpse of one of the terrorists pacing outside, talking to his handler on his cell phone — a conversation caught by Indian intelligence.

In all, Mackoff and his wife were holed up in their room for 42 hours, all the while they listened to gunfire and even screams.

Earlier that night, the Mackoffs dined with friends from Australia whom they had traveled with through India for three weeks. The couples left the open lobby at the hotel for their rooms about 9 p.m.

Minutes later, armed men stormed in and shot up the lobby.

The Australian couple was inside their hotel room where smoke from a fire that was set above their floor began to pour in.

They stepped into the hallway for air — and were shot.

The husband fell first; his wife’s body then dropped on top of his, Mackoff said. But she was able to get up and make it to a stairway and eventually to safety. Her husband, whom Mackoff described as a “dear friend,” perished.

Mackoff has a different take than Scherr on the tragedy and the 10 terrorists involved (nine of whom were killed by authorities during the attack). The only one who was captured alive was prosecuted in India and sentenced to death.

“I don’t forgive the terrorists. But I don’t hold them solely responsible. I think they were used,” Mackoff said. “But they had to know they were killing people.”

Like Scherr, he’ll probably return one day to Mumbai, he says. Not to hold a memorial, but to continue pursuing his love of traveling and photographing the world.

“We’re not going to let those bastards . . . ” Mackoff says, his face becoming flush as he pauses to collect himself, ” . . . tell us where we can go.”

• •

Back at the Oberoi, smoke filled hotel rooms so that those inside could barely see.

Charles Cannon, who headed the spiritual group the Scherrs were traveling with, was holed up in his hotel room as instructed, listening to terrorists battle police.

“We could hear these explosions; volleys of gunfire that just rippled through the whole place,” Cannon said. “When we came out of that hotel [room], it was unrecognizable.

“It was a bombed-out war zone.”

Cannon was asked to identify Alan and Naomi Scherr, a task Cannon described as one of the toughest of his life.

“I had to go into that restaurant, stepping over all these bodies and pools of blood and debris,” Cannon said. “And there were the [Scherrs’] bodies. There they were.”

• •

Headley is accused of funneling intelligence to Lashkar e Taiba, a Pakistani-based terror group that wanted to make a worldwide splash with the siege.

The Chicago case, and Headley’s cooperation, has gained worldwide attention. In recent weeks, controversy has surfaced in India after U.S. authorities admitted they had some intelligence on Headley prior to the attacks.

“I would think he is more culpable than the 10 [terrorists] that landed,” Mackoff says of Headley, who will evade the death penalty in exchange for his cooperation. “But I understand there is need for evidence and he may be the only one who has it.”

Not surprisingly, the event “is something I think that has shaped our lives,” Mackoff said. But, he declares, “It has made us stronger.”

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