How I witnessed a miracle

The general secretary of the Hindu council kicks of his series of blogs by explaining just what he l

The thing I love about Hinduism is that it gives me complete freedom to make my own decisions on how to practice my religion, it gives me the flexibility I need and indeed it gives me a great amount of choice. I have always felt from a very young age that there is a higher power beyond this universe, this nature, our world.

Many a time I have seen the results of prayer in my own life and some of those little miracles may well be ascribed to coincidences but when you actually weigh all the arguments in your own mind its difficult not to accept the power of prayer or an intervention by another force. Besides that I did have a very personal experience at the age of 19 which left no doubt in my mind of the existence of a higher power or reality.

One of the very public experiences I had was at the week of the milk miracle of 1995, when Lord Ganesh and generally Lord Shiva’s family was drinking milk. I got a phone call from my mother in law to go to the temple and try and offer milk to Ganesh ji, she insisted that I must go immediately whereas I could hardly believe that a stone idol could consume a liquid. I couldn’t help laughing in my mind though realising that my mother in law would not have phoned me in office hours – I run an accountancy practice - unless it was serious.

So I went to the Vishwa Hindu temple at Lady Margaret Road in Southall and at about 1pm there was a queue of 4 or 5 people in front of me. They were all offering milk in a spoon to the Deity Nandi – a marble idol of the bull that is supposed to be Lord Shiva’s vehicle and his foremost devotee and is worshipped as a family member of Lord Shiva. Incidentally Lord Ganesh is the first son of God which Goddess Parvati, the wife of Lord Shiva, created and infused life into. I was not thinking of Lord Shiva or Ganesh or Parvati at the time but just offered a spoon full of milk to Nandi as directed by the priest.

As I raised the spoon to Nandi’s mouth and the milk touched the idol, very slightly, the level of milk in the spoon started to go down as if someone was actually drinking it, quite evenly.

I was shaking with awe.

This experience made me realise how stupid I had been to be influenced by the negative propaganda against idols by some ideologies of other religions. I did always believe in the almighty and prayed to, say Lord Krishna, or Lord Shiva etc. and of course in my youth did not question much but as I grew up I was influenced by the negative propaganda against idolatry targeted mainly at Hindus and in spite of the Hindu belief that once an idol is consecrated in the temple through Vedic Mantras then spirituality is infused in the idol and for all intents and purposes it becomes God, alive in spirit, I could not bring myself to agree with this belief, which seemed to me just a theory.

Nonetheless I understood that my thoughts had to be directed towards an indescribable reality God through some form of medium and so I prayed to Lord Shiva or Krishna or Goddess Durga whenever I went to the temple, quite sincerely. It was not really important to believe that the idols were alive, what mattered to me were my thoughts and devotion. However after the milk miracle everything changed in that respect. And that to happen through the idol of Nandi, a Bull, associated with Lord Shiva i.e., not even Shiva himself or Ganesh or Parvati.

Though of course as Hindus believe that animals, plants, and all life have a soul, rather the Atma, I have never had any problem in accepting the divinity of all life in any case and whatever other religions propaganda may have been on that point but that afternoon I began to understand that true spirituality, the science of metaphysics, has been with us from the ancient of times. That afternoon was the most wonderful time of that year as it crystallised my faith through experience.

I rang my wife who is a scientist with a PhD and actually works in medicinal research. She too laughed in disbelief. Then I asked her to ring her mother also and in any case, on her way home from work, she stopped at Ram Mandir in King street, Southall. Being a scientist she offered the milk to the “bronze” serpent around Shiva’s neck and the milk went into thin air. Since then her Hindu beliefs consolidated and she now observes various practices much more devoutly than me.

I rang some of my local clients, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians to tell them what had happened. They all went there and had the same experience.

Hinduism is vast and complex and in the next 3 blogs I will attempt to give you a flavour of my religion in three small parts.

Anil Bhanot read Actuarial Science at university but then qualified as a chartered accountant. He was one of the founding members of Hindu Council UK in 1994 and was first elected as general secretary in 2003.
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The struggles of Huma Abedin

On the behind-the-scenes story of Hillary Clinton’s closest aide.

In a dreary campaign, it was a moment that shone: Hillary Clinton, on the road to the caucus in Iowa, stopping at a Mexican fast-food restaurant to eat and somehow passing unrecognised. Americans of all political persuasions gleefully speculated over what her order – a chicken burrito bowl with guacamole – revealed about her frame of mind, while supporters gloated that the grainy security-camera footage seemed to show Clinton with her wallet out, paying for her own lunch. Here was not the former first lady, senator and secretary of state, known to people all over the world. This was someone’s unassuming grandmother, getting some food with her colleagues.

It might be unheard of for Clinton to go unrecognised but, for the woman next to her at the till, blending into the background is part of the job. Huma Abedin, often referred to as Clinton’s “shadow” by the US media, is now the vice-chair of her presidential campaign. She was Clinton’s deputy chief of staff at the state department and has been a personal aide since the late 1990s.

Abedin first met Clinton in 1996 when she was 19 and an intern at the White House, assigned to the first lady’s office. She was born in Michigan in 1976 to an Indian father and a Pakistani mother. When Abedin was two, they moved from the US to Saudi Arabia. She returned when she was 18 to study at George Washington University in Washington, DC. Her father was an Islamic scholar who specialised in interfaith reconciliation – he died when she was 17 – and her mother is a professor of sociology.

While the role of “political body woman” may once have been a kind of modern maid, there to provide a close physical presence and to juggle the luggage and logistics, this is no longer the case. During almost 20 years at Clinton’s side, Abedin has advised her boss on everything from how to set up a fax machine – “Just pick up the phone and hang it up. And leave it hung up” – to policy on the Middle East. When thousands of Clinton’s emails were made public (because she had used a private, rather than a government, server for official communication), we glimpsed just how close they are. In an email from 2009, Clinton tells her aide: “Just knock on the door to the bedroom if it’s closed.”

Abedin shares something else with Clinton, outside of their professional ties. They are both political wives who have weathered their husbands’ scandals. In what felt like a Lewinsky affair for the digital age, in 2011, Abedin’s congressman husband, Anthony Weiner, resigned from office after it emerged that he had shared pictures of his genitals with strangers on social media. A second similar scandal then destroyed his attempt to be elected mayor of New York in 2013. In an ironic twist, it was Bill Clinton who officiated at Abedin’s and Weiner’s wedding in 2010. At the time, Hillary is reported to have said: “I have one daughter. But if I had a second daughter, it would [be] Huma.” Like her boss, Abedin stood by her husband and now Weiner is a house husband, caring for their four-year-old son, Jordan, while his wife is on the road.

Ellie Foreman-Peck

A documentary filmed during Weiner’s abortive mayoral campaign has just been released in the US. Weiner shows Abedin at her husband’s side, curtailing his more chaotic tendencies, always flawless with her red lipstick in place. Speaking to the New York Observer in 2007, three years before their marriage, Weiner said of his future wife: “This notion that Senator Clinton is a cool customer – I mean, I don’t dispute it, but the coolest customer in that whole operation is Huma . . . In fact, I think there’s some dispute as to whether Huma’s actually human.” In the film, watching her preternatural calm under extraordinary pressure, you can see what he means.

In recent months, Abedin’s role has changed. She is still to be found at Clinton’s side – as the burrito photo showed – but she is gradually taking a more visible role in the organisation overall, as they pivot away from the primaries to focus on the national race. She meets with potential donors and endorsers on Clinton’s behalf and sets strategy. When a running mate is chosen, you can be sure that Abedin will have had her say on who it is. There’s a grim symmetry to the way politics looks in the US now: on one side, the Republican candidate Donald Trump is calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country; on the other, the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton relies ever more on her long-time Muslim-American staffer.

Years before Trump, notable Republicans were trying to make unpleasant capital out of Abedin’s background. In 2012, Tea Party supporters alleged that she was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and its attempt to gain access “to top Obama officials”. In her rare interviews, Abedin has spoken of how hurtful these baseless statements were to her family – her mother still lives in Saudi Arabia. Later, the senator and former Republican presidential candidate John McCain spoke up for her, saying that Abedin represented “what is best about America”.

Whether senior figures in his party would do the same now remains to be seen.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad