The cloister in the heart

Reflections

The cloister in the heart

Swiss banks recently released the names of more than 2,600 holders of accounts that have lain dormant for at least 60 years, giving them or their heirs one last chance to claim their wealth before it reverts to the state.” - Deccan Herald, December 16, 2015.

Thank God or the Swiss for small mercies. They love releasing such teaser trailers now and then. Their main preoccupation has always been time, death and money. The world knows the Swiss by their watches. Hidden behind the cuckoo clock was the mind that devised weaponry. Shrouded well under the cloak of neutrality, the weapon industry served the needs of the good and bad alike.

The money business, however, is different. Switzerland can’t be beaten at hiding other people’s money. She has that spurious status of being ‘neutral’ and staying out of news. Where better than Switzerland for people around the world to stash their millions? The numbered accounts are thus big business.

The catch you see is in human nature. The ultimate secret that one won’t confide to one’s own will is the Swiss Bank account number and thus leave the world with the number safe in the dust, or in the ashes of their remains. Hence the ‘missing’ account holders make Switzerland richer!

Cloistered, the Swiss had once gingerly admitted a bare 1,000 Lankans and held them in suspended animation. They were not entitled to work, but were given a dole to live, for three years. As for the Syrians, gates are closed. When the few Lankans came in, I was aghast when a long-standing friend of mine, a professor whom I had taken for a liberal, said that the Swiss ‘identity’ could be lost. By these 1,000? They’ll have a lot of work to do to darken the skin of a whole nation.

Typically, the Swiss are ready for a nuclear holocaust. There is a law in the land that no dwelling home will be permitted unless it provides for a nuclear shelter of the prescribed dimensions! This, apart from ‘foreigners’, is the main concern of the country.

A picture of smugness. Post-graduate students of a modern institute in Zürich invited me to talk to them. Prior to it, I went around the institute, which had everything any student could desire in the way of studying and living. There were a row of glass houses that simulated air, sunshine, humidity and rain on programmed instructions from a bank of computers serving the needs of a laboratory for the students of botany.

The resident students (around a 100) had dormitory facilities that would more than match a five-star hotel in India. The canteen had the most hygienic food. The privileged 100 were my audience, not counting the teachers and some dignitaries of the village. It wasn’t easy to talk to a bunch like that, but manfully I tried. The wife of the director, a delightful woman, had egged me on. And talk I did, aided by slides that we had both selected on the preceding night.

The first slide was of a carved panel of a temple. It focused on a bullock cart. A record of an object that was perhaps 5,000 years old. The next slide was of contemporary India — a bullock cart full of people heading (presumably) for a fair. The next slide was of a girl smiling, maybe 13 or 32, with a head-load at a construction site. There was misery, yes; poverty, yes. But these are endured not as the West believes, thanks to the biased films they are constantly fed, but with a smile. Come any crisis or calamity, nothing can take away the human resilience in India.

Also, our doors are wide open. Sometimes we take in a 1,000 in a day, be it from Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. It seems, I concluded, that it’s easier to share poverty than richesse. That night at dinner, I learnt I had made enemies. The well-heeled, crusty and elderly Swiss. And some young friends from the institute. The wife of the director whispered in my ear, “Never mind the old fogies. But tell me, what is the difference between my life here and the life of my counterpart in Russia? I’m sure she has all that I have. The crunch is that she probably will not be allowed out of the country easily. Who is bothered? I haven’t been out, either.”

I left Switzerland with a feeling that despite losing some invitations, I had lost nothing. I may have gained something — insights into a highly-cloistered people.

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