Tuesday 11th

Mother of all struggles to get out of bed - worthy of an Indian epic.  There is a couple of singing practices to attend and laundry to do in between. All the while I'm bearing in mind that I have to be in Manhattan by 11.30 if I want to participate in the first stage of the World Harmony Run opening ceremony that takes place today. As part of the ceremony, a group of 40 or so runners will run escorted by police through Manhattan bearing the torch. I have a habit (good or bad) squeezing too many things to do into too little time, in one way it's good because I'm never hanging around doing nothing, but in another way it doesn't help when you have to be somewhere by 11.30.

I give myself an hour to get to Manhattan by subway; leaving myself to the winds of chance, in other words.  And the wind ain't blowing today. I change subways and the other one doesnt come for ages, and then decides to stop for a while once it does. I arrive at the meeting point 15 minutes late; I was already resigned to the fact they'd be gone, but I want to run in anyway. I make my way up the walkway on the East Side of Manhattan, taking in the sight of the Statue of Liberty on the way. It's quite hot and I have to improvise some headgear to stop me getting burnt. I'm looking out for the sight of the UN building on 42nd street, that's my signal to turn away from the sea and run the short distance to the opening ceremony.

World Harmony Runners

The ceremony itself is a real spectacle, with runners from more than eighty countries all over the world entering the square in a wave of colour and enthusiasm. There are dignitaries from all over the world; what they see compels them to speak from their hearts, rather than from prepared formula. One speaks of how, in his native South Africa, the entire nation was taught a lesson in harmony by the incomparable President Mandela: In 1995, the Rugby World Cup took place at a time when there was still latent hostility between black and white in the wake of the end of apartheid. Rugby was seen to be a white man's sport and no self-respecting black South African (including the speaker) would be caught dead with a Springbok jersey. In fact, all the blacks hoped New Zealand would win the final. However, President Mandela, who had suffered so much in the apartheid era, turned up to the final - wearing a Springbok jersey. This gesture paved the way for the entire nation, black and white, to share in South Africa's eventual triumph; the speaker concluded by saying that now he has a Springbok jersey.

Another speaker invokes the spirit of Martin Luther King, saying he has another dream of all nations and peoples running together in harmony. Then Sri Chinmoy has a soulful minute's meditation with the torch, sending the runners on their way.

With the lofty ideals espoused in the podium still drifting through my head, I decide to pay a pilgrimage to the United Nations building a short distance away. I use the word pilgrimage with great deliberacy; the United Nations, however imperfect, for me connotes a higher ideal, the hint that people and nations might one day put aside their own self-interest and strive towards the goals common to us all. I enquire about a guided tour; the next available place is on one in two hours time, and I'll have to be back by then. Oh well.

World Harmony Runners

I arrive back in time for a very nice event - Sri Chinmoy is always trying to inspire the elderly through his own example, by showing that "age is in the heart and not in the mind". Today he is with a group of people born in the same year he was - 1931. Some of them are parents and grandparents of students of Sri Chinmoy, others are well-wishers from the local community. Many have their own inspiring tales to tell - still fit and active at the age of 1931. Sri Chinmoy first invokes a soulful atmosphere by playing his favourite instrument, the esraj.

A huge choir of Sri Chinmoy's students sing an arrangement of a song by Sri Chinmoy, directed by Prachar from Australia. Prachar has done many impressive arrangements, but in my short time visiting Sri Chinmoy I'd say that this is the best of them I've heard; six or seven melodies wafting in and out of each other at any given time, and all performed with the utmost tightness.  The oneness within each of the different melody groups is very evident here; each melody has to be sung as one voice to avoid getting distracted by all the other melodies.

After that there's more singing practice for the Irish performance - the three instrumental parts get a chance to perform together without singing and listen to each other; the result is a significant improvement, although we're by no means there yet. We've missed a good deal of what's been going on by the time we get back; each of the different melody groups that were in the big arrangement of the 1931 song, in addition are doing their own arrangement of the song. I arrive halfway through the penultimate performance. The last performance is led by Devashishu and Sahadeva from England, who can always be relied upon to inject a dose of humour: their offering begins with a BBC World Service bulletin (nasally voiced by Devashishu) summarizing the events of 1931. Their singing may not have been as good as the rest, but humour goes a long way. Afterwards, Sri Chinmoy asks us to vote for our favourite; I only saw the last one fully, but I reckon it's probably better than the others so I go down and vote for it anyway. Fortunately, many others are in agreement; Devashishu and Sahadeva's group get more votes than the rest combined. Then there's prasad before this weary body tramps home and gets some rest.


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