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April - May 2007
The 37th World Vegetarian Conference - Goa, India
by Nitin Mehta
There is a legend that Lord Parsuram, one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu, was asked what is the most beautiful place on Earth - he took his bow and arrow and said that wherever the arrow would land will be the greatest place on Earth. The arrow landed in what is now Goa! It was no wonder then that the Vegetarian Society of India (Reverence for Life) chose Goa to host the 37th World Vegetarian Congress there from 10 to 16th September 2006. Jashubhai Shah, a well known lawyer in Mumbai, and his dedicated team of workers under the guidance of Guruji Chitrabhanu worked tirelessly for over a year to make the event a great success. I arrived in Mumbai on the 8th of September and stayed with our family friends.
Mumbai was the same as ever - busy, loud and unrelenting! Mumbai can be very daunting if you do not have friends, however if you know people it can be great fun. I soon made my way towards the street food stalls—Bhel Puri, Sev Puri etc! I left Mumbai on the night of the 9th. by train for Goa. The train station gives one an idea of the sheer scale of humanity in India as well as the railway system which serves this vast land. Railways remain the favourite form of transport for Indians and they easily spend days and nights before arriving to their destinations.
The hawkers pile their trade –moving up and down carriages –anything from tomato soup to Samosas! There is no way you can get to your cabin without the help of a‘coolie’. They push everyone out of the way and get you to your cabin - and amazingly you find your name on printed paper outside your cabin. This is the computerised system working at its best! We settled down on our cabin beds and very soon two elderly Gujarati couple moved into the cabins across from me. Late through the night I listened into their conversations and almost got to know all their family history! I had been wearing a blue blazer and apparently that is the dress code of railway officials,that explained the many people who came to ask me about their journeys! The train arrived almost 15 hours later - an experience I wanted to have but would not repeat especially when it takes one and a half hours by plane from Mumbai to Goa! As we disembarked shakily from the train the organisers of the conference were there to receive us and it is then that I realised that so many people on the train were also going for the conference including the two Gujarati couples! The conference was at the Radissons Hotel which is owned by Sikh brothers from Kenya and it is styled exactly on the beach resorts of Mombasa.
Sadhu Vasvani and Guruji Chitrabhanu were amongst the speakers at the inauguration ceremony. This being the Vegetarian Congress the food was a gastronomic delight and in between the lectures we enjoyed the lunches and dinners. For breakfast there was anything from dhosas, made as you wait, to hot puris. An Indian delegate gave us ‘Amla’ cleansing juice every morning!
For lunch we were spoilt with many varieties of dishes and the Jains had their own menu! As expected there were many Jains but I was pleasantly surprised to see many Parsees too. All the food was Vegan and some of the sweets were simply delicious. During lunch and dinner delegates from various countries could be seen huddled together in animated conversation sharing their experiences and exchanging ideas as to how best promote vegetarianism. In the evenings we were treated to folk dances from Gujarat and Rajasthan as well as Goa. The Brazilian delegation seemed to be mesmerised by the dances and a couple of their ladies wore Saris—looking very beautiful! There was a big delegation from China and Indonesia- Indonesia has over 30 active vegetarian groups and boasts a membership of 60,000! This would make the Indonesian Vegetarian Society by far the biggest in the world!
The leader of the Chinese delegation spoke fluent Hindi. The Vegetarian Society of Iran was also represented thus proving that Vegetarianism cuts across all religious and racial barriers. I was especially pleased to know that there is a Vegetarian Society of Goa run by Govan Christians. We also did a day tour of Goa and saw how the Portuguese colonial masters lived; we also saw some famous temples and the Church of St. Francis. All the tour guides were young Govan girls and this pattern is repeated everywhere in India—young men and women work in important positions from airports to hotels and there are women pilots on the many plane services that cover the cities of India. India is giving its young citizens every opportunity to flourish irrespective of caste,confidence young people in India seem to have in their country and their zeal to strive for excellence.
This augurs well for the future of the country. It is so nice to see that Hindus and Christians are living in great harmony in Goa. Alternative medicine and Yoga is very popular in India and many eminent speakers spoke of the benefits of these disciplines. One of the irritants at the conference was the constant going off of mobile phones or cell phones as they call them here! This was despite the fact that repeated requests were made to switch them off!
The overall message from the congress was that to save this planet, to live healthily and to be compassionate towards animals that are at our mercy we have to give up meat eating. The next Vegetarian Congress will be held in 2008 in Dresden Germany. The first congress was held there a hundred years ago and it will be wonderful to be in the city where it all started and it is hoped that all the delegates will be dressed in the same way as they did a hundred
years ago for one evening. That means I will have to dress as Gandhiji and wear a Dhoti!
Nitin Mehta MBE