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“Life has been a startling & humbling journey”

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Interview with IRS officer Deepankar Aron

By ARUN PRATAP SINGH

DEHRADUN: Deepankar Aron, a senior Indian Revenue Service (IRS) Officer who is currently posted in Uttarakhand as Commissioner, Central Goods & Services Tax (CGST), is a very distinguished civil servant. As Commissioner, CGST, he has led many investigations that have unearthed large amounts of tax evasion in the state since he has been posted here. He has an old connection with Uttarakhand.

Besides being a very distinguished civil servant who has been honoured with a Presidential Award for meritorious service, Aron is a multi-talented person, an intrepid traveller, a very keen lensman and an established writer, whose latest book, ‘On The Trail of Buddha: A Journey to the East’ is a travelogue that explores the spiritual, cultural and philosophical linkages that bind India and East Asia. An IITian (Electrical Engineering from IIT Delhi, followed by Masters in Energy Studies from the same institution), he has an emotional attachment with Uttarakhand. He wrote his first book on the heritage sites of Uttarakhand, titled ‘World Heritage Sites of Uttarakhand’, published in 2010. It was a pictorial account of these sites. Since then, he has written 9 books. He is also a regular contributor as a columnist for various magazines and newspapers, including Garhwal Post. He is also a research scholar in Buddhist studies and has keen interest in philosophy and spirituality.

Garhwal Post spoke to him about his interests in Buddhism, the philosophy and some other related issues. Some excerpts:

As a distinguished civil servant, who has interests ranging from writing, travelling, photography to scholarly research, what got you interested in writing the book – “On the trail of Buddha: A Journey to the East”?

This book is more of a travelogue interspersed with photographs of close to 100 destinations scattered over China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Mongolia and Hong Kong, where I was based as a diplomat. It was startling to discover the enormous Indian heritage in East Asia, so vividly preserved over the last 2000 years! The enormous cultural, spiritual and artarchitectural linkages that bind East Asia to India were so humungous and so little known even to ‘educated’ Indians (including me) that, towards the end of my travels, it dawned on me that this needs attention and exploration.

Recently you represented Uttarakhand at the Buddhist Summit organised by the Union Culture Ministry. What was your experience there?

This first of its kind event, inaugurated by the Prime Minister of India, saw brainstorming by more than 500 delegates – monks as well as scholars from more than 30 countries. The theme focused on how to implement the Buddhist philosophy for resolving conflicts, restoring peace, fighting climate change and conserving environment, apart from restoring the traditions of Nalanda and preserving the enormous Global Buddhist Heritage. It was startling to discover that apart from wellknown Buddhist Countries of East, South-East and South Asia, the Buddhist Dharma is being widely practiced as far as America, Brazil, Israel, Russia, and even in the European nations. The eventual objective was how all the countries can join hands to achieve happiness and shared prosperity through the realisation of ‘Oneness’ by practicing the Buddhist techniques of Meditation and Mindfulness and developing compassion.

It took you 11 years to write this book. Padma Bhushan awardee Lokesh Chandra, in the foreword to this book, comments in the following words, ‘A book wrapped in the gold of centuries from a thousand flowers of the mind. It is a journey of culture on a bullet train’. Please share some interesting stories of how you embarked on this journey.

The concept of Gandhiji’s three monkeys – ‘See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil’ emanates from Buddhism– as I found their images engraved on a wall of a 17th century temple in Nikko, Japan, called Toshogu. In Shaolin, I found Chinese people touching the feet of the Boddhidharma statue, the monk from Kanchipuram who introduced Zen Buddhism (525 AD) to China (called Chan in China – derived from Dhyan in India), as also Kalari-payatu – the martial arts of Kerala which blossomed as the world-famous Kung-fu! The temple of the White Horse was the first official Buddhist temple set up in AD 67 in Luoyang, the ancient capital of China by two Indian monks, Dharmaratnas and Kasyapamatanga. In a temple called Haeinsa (WHS) in Korea, the world’s oldest book printed on wood – Prajnaparamita sutra is beautifully preserved. As in India, in China too, there are ‘Char Dhams’ – Buddhist, of course! The world’s highest rock cut Buddha statue called Dafo (after destruction of Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan in 2001), is standing tall at 230 feet, at Leshan in China.

There is another very interesting book authored by you which should particularly interest the people of Uttarakhand, ‘World Heritage Sites of Uttarakhand’, where your photography skills also come to the fore regarding the Nanda Devi Valley and the Valley of Flowers. How did this work come about?

Close to 100 species of wild flowers are covered in this book. Each year, once the snows melt, by magic, the wild flowers grow on their own, as if God is the gardener. This book, yet again, 10 years in the making, was preceded by close to 100 travelogues, mostly on destinations in Uttarakhand, published in different magazines such as Swagat, Discover India, India Today Plus, Srishti, India Perspectives, Jet Wings, etc. In 2004, while inaugurating my photo-exhibition on ‘Uttaranchal – A treasure to explore’, the then Governor of Uttarakhand, the late Sudarshan Agarwal, first suggested this.

You have already written several books! How do you find time being a busy civil servant to pursue your diverse interests such as writing, photography, travelling and spirituality?

All the four things you have mentioned are a manifestation of the same curiosity to see the diversity of other cultures only to realise the oneness of it all. Travelling, observing and recording the imprints, either through pen or through camera, are basically a part of the same discovery of that ‘outside’ and, therefore, that ‘within’ and hence of their interconnectedness.

You are a distinguished civil servant. You have also been awarded the Presidential Award for Distinguished Service. You have been a sort of financial detective or investigator! How interesting is that role for you?

In many ways, the mandate of combating cross border crime, be it smuggling of gold or drugs, antiques or articles like wildlife, counterfeit goods, fake currencies, import – export frauds, or tradebased money laundering is also like a journey in search of truth to safeguard the economic, social and environmental interests of not just our country, but many a time, of the entire world, “to make it a better place”!

What lies ahead?

The journey continues and, like before, should continue to startle and humble!