Nurturing Young Minds

Nurturing Young Minds

Friday, December 24, 2010

Hindu Religion,Spirituality and Service to Humanity

By PK Siddharth
(Text of the speech  delivered on the occasion of World Confluence of Humanity, Power and Spirituality, 2nd -5th Jan, 2010 at Kolkata, India)

There was a man who invented the dynamite. He then became a dealer in explosives and earned a great fortune as a merchant of explosives. He became extremely rich through this trade. His explosives were very effective, and they did what they were expected to do in a large number of countries, abetting bloody battles and wars. The man was very proud of his achievements as an inventor and as a merchant. He thought that his life was very good and successful till one day he asked one of his friends a question: “Tell me how would I be remembered by the posterity?’

“As a merchant of death”, replied his friend.

The man fell from heaven.

In a moment his interpretation of life, universe and self changed. He encountered the moment of truth.

He decided to pool together all his money, and put it in a trust so that the income from its interest would be sufficient to give awards every year to such people as would make a contribution to the preservation and promotion of peace in the world.

Today the award instituted by him inspires thousands of people all over the world to work for peace, and for achievements in sciences, literature and philosophy that would take the humanity farther in its quest for excellence. His name is so honourable today that people feel proud to be associated with his name.

His name was Alfred Nobel, and it is he who instituted the Nobel Prize. Today, most inventors, scientists, economists, writers and social workers find it a matter of pride to be called a Nobel laureate, just because Alfred Nobel dedicated all his wealth to the service of humanity.

Service to humanity is a value that is viewed with approval by nearly every enlightened person, whether he is a theist or an atheist, a believer or a non-believer.

The reasons for turning to service of humanity are different for different people.

Mother Teresa took up service to humanity because she believed in God and thought her service to the poor would endear her to God. There are a vast number of people who render service to humanity in various ways for religious fulfillment and spiritual growth. But today, in the age of reason, there are now a growing number of people all over the world, who do not render human service to please God or to secure for themselves a place in the heaven after death. They do it just because it appeals to their reason that they should plough back into the society what they received from it.  Bill Gates has committed a huge chunk of his personal wealth to the service of humanity. Bill and his wife Melinda keep traveling across continents to find how they and their wealth could be of any service to the suffering humanity anywhere in the world. It does not appear that they have been doing his for – or primarily for - religious reasons. It is perhaps because they like the happiness and profound satisfaction earned through philanthropy.

Therefore, service to humanity is as dear to an enlightened atheist or an agnostic, who does not believe in God, heaven or hell, as it may be to a believer, who either wants to simply win the grace of God, or wishes  to secure for himself an assured place in the heaven. In this article, however, it would be my endeavor to throw some light on the relationship between religion, spirituality and service to humanity, especially as it figures in Hinduism.

There is a clear and strong stream in Hinduism that believes in sanyas as one of the valid and effective ways of attaining God. A sanyasi is one who takes to spiritual practices like Jap, dhyan or meditation and other spiritual kriyas or actions in isolation from ordinary worldly activities. A sanyasi renounces the world and performs only nitya and naimittik karmas or actions like daily ablutions and a selected set of actions that are strictly necessary for spiritual attainment. He shuns all kamya karmas or actions rooted in the worldly domain. Effectively, he is believed to have got a license to do nothing other than his necessary personal cleaning, and mediation, chanting etc., including what we ordinarily think of as human service. He is believed to be able to scale spiritual heights without having to render any service to humanity or the world. It is this notion that Lord Krishna in the BhagawdGita sets out to blast.

Such sanyasi, or renouncer, can be a gyan yogi or a bhakti yogi. ‘Yog’, called ‘yoga’ in English, literally means ‘joining’, ‘adding’ or ‘bonding’ (together). The opposite of ‘yoga’ is ‘viyoga’ or separation. In Hindu philosophy ‘yoga’ signifies a way of life that joins or binds a spiritual aspirant and God together. In other words, ‘yoga’ means a path that leads to attainment of God or Godhood. A person practicing such a way of life is called a ‘yogi’.

The Hindu philosophy recognizes several paths or ‘yogas’ that can lead to attainment of God or Godhood. The three main and well known paths, among so many, are gyan yoga, bhakti yoga and karm yoga. Gyan yoga focuses on contemplation or meditation of God, and is knowledge-oriented, where knowledge does mean worldly knowledge, but knowledge of God and related matters. Bhakti yoga focuses on devotion to God, and is essentially feelings or emotions-oriented, drawing basically on emotions of love and reverence towards God. Karma yoga focuses on actions that pertain to the worldly domain. Though these actions are performed in the worldly domain, which a sanyasi or renouncer would ordinarily shun, the actions are without personal attachment and are dedicated to God. The karma yogis seek to attain God through such detached and dedicated actions.  

It is important to note that not only gyan margis or knowledge-yogis can be sanyasis or renouncers of the world. Even staunch bhakti margis can be sanyasis. The famous bhaktas like Tulasidas, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Sri Ramkrishna Paramhans, Bhaktivedant Swami Prabhupad were all bhakts or bhakti-yogis, and they were all renouncers of the world. They spent all their time chanting the name of God, and reading, writing, thinking and talking about God and His deeds, with little interest in actions pertaining to the worldly domain.

The popular understanding in Hinduism is that the gyan-margis and the sanyasi bhaktas are under no obligation to perform any kamya Karma or worldly actions, which apparently include, among others, service of other humans. This was the point in issue between Swami Vivekananda and the other disciples of Ramkrishna, when Swami Vivekananda set out to set up Ramkrishna Mission for service to humanity in ways other than mere preaching and blessing. Vivekananda’s gurubhayis or co-disciples of Ramkrishna were of the opinion that as sanyasi bhaktas their prime duty was to chant the names of the Mother Goddess with full devotion and to keep remembering her all the time without being interrupted by ‘worldly’ thoughts and actions. It took Swami Viviekanand quite a bit of effort to convince his peers that service to humanity was as much a part of their spiritual quest as bhajan-kirtan and other puja chores.

Not that this was Swami Vivekananda’s own view on spirituality and religion. What he was saying was only a re-affirmation of what is strongly advocated in the main scriptures of Hinduism including the BhagwadGita and the Rmayana – the two principal sources of Hindu religion and spiritual practice. The BhagwadGita is the only religious scripture that deals in great detail with the issue and philosophy of how to attain God through action without renouncing the world.

The idea of Hindu sanyas is put in the right perspective by Sri Krishna, whose BhagwadGita is considered the most authentic commentary on Hinduism. In the Gita he talks about the Sankhya Yogi-Sanyasis hailing them as genuine spiritual aspirants. However, at the end, he clarifies that genuine Sankhya yogis are the ones that work for the welfare of all creatures, and not only the humans – ते प्राप्नुवन्ति मामेव सर्वभूत हिते रताः. those who work for the service of others reach me’. In other words, the path to God lies through service to humanity and the world. In the Ram Charit Manas Lord Ram says – परहित सरिस धर्म नहिं भाई, पर पीरा सम नहीं अधमाई – there is no holy duty or dharma like doing good to others, and nothing worse than doing ill to others’. It is not only thus spake Rama; it is also thus acted Rama. The entire life of Lord Rama is a long drawn act of philanthropy and service to people in spite of being a king.

The Hindu faith, at a certain stage of evolution, came to believe in the varna and ashram order. Not all varnas and all ashramas were needed to do everything, and there was a division of duties. Sanyasis, as explained earlier, were not expected to engage in day-to-day worldly affairs, and were expected to renounce the world. But Lord Krishna clarified in the Gita that none – no ashram or varna – was exempt from these three duties -   tapa (penance), yagna and daan (giving or charity), because these three are universal purifiers, and purify all their practitioners. Sri Krishna gives unusual – better than popular - meanings to tapa and daan, and leaves daan unexplained. How could a poor shudra give daan? How could a poor Brahmin give daan? How could the sanyasi give daan? The import is clear. Daan does not only mean giving of money. Those who do not have surplus money to give must give their time for human improvement, their knowledge or skills (vidya) for human service, treating service to humanity as service to God. Unlike in other faiths or semitik origin, in the Hindu faith and metaphysics, all is God, all humans are God (falsely believing themselves not be God under the spell of maya or delusion), and all creatures are God (वासुदेवः सर्वं इति सः महात्मा सुदुर्लभः – गीता). Therefore service to human beings and to other creatures is literally service to God in Hindusim. Swami Viviekanand was deeply aware of this fact, and therefore he roped in his sanyasi friends for service of humanity in more ways than preaching and blessing. Thus service to humanity and the world is inextricably built into Hinduism at the normative level. If it has failed to percolate to the grassroots from time to time, it is the failure of the religious and spiritual leadership of Hinduism, just as straying of a large number of Islamic groups into terrorism is a failure of Islamic religious leadership and not of Islam as such.

But all said and done, in practice philanthropy and ‘giving’ have so far remained largely an individual affair in Hinduism, and that too at a much less than satisfactory level. Few Hindus, even of the better-off middle class, set apart any money regularly for giving to the poor, and few among us set apart any fraction of our spare time for serving the needy – the aged and the old, the orphans, the poor, or for transmitting our knowledge to the underprivileged children.

The Hindus have also shown little penchant to serve the humanity in an effectively organized manner. Spiritual leaders like Swami Vivekananda were among the first to carry forward this spirit of service to the humanity through an organized mission. Since then many other missions have sprung up under the umbrella of Hinduism. But it is unfortunate that the instances of the Hindu rich coming forward to donate generously for philanthropic causes have not generally been remarkable, barring exceptions. That the Ram Krishna Mission is still not able to expand its chain of schools essentially meant for the underprivileged beyond half a dozen is a sad commentary on Hindu and Indian philanthropic attitude. The Aurobindo mission seems similarly constrained in the matter due to lack of resources.

A more unfortunate part is that the Hindu rich are more prone to making donations for construction of temples, which would serve the interests of gods and deities, than for construction of schools that would serve the interests of the ordinary humans.  Building of skill-development centers that would facilitate livelihood generation and poverty alleviation would attract even less donations from the rich in India. If Krishna was right in asserting that the path to God lay through service to humanity and the world (ते प्राप्नुवन्ति मामेव...), then contributing for setting up schools, hospitals and skill-development centers for livelihood generation for the poor would secure for the donors a better place in the heart of God than donating for creation of temples for gods and deities who are already well-fed and well-looked after. The message of Swami Vivekananda ‘first bread and then religion’ has found very few buyers among the Hindus. The first need of India of today is not religion but bread. The enlightened Swami, while pleading for regeneration of the Indian society and nation without destroying the religions of the masses of India, expressed his ideas on primacy of addressing the issues of hunger and poverty of India in no uncertain terms:

“Material civilization, nay, even luxury, is necessary to create work for the poor. Bread! Bread! I do not believe in a God who cannot give me bread here, giving me eternal bliss in heaven! Pooh! India is to be raised; the poor are to be fed…”

In fact the Hindu view of philanthropy and service to others goes beyond service to mankind. It extends to all creatures – ‘सर्व भूत हिते’. This difference in service ethics arises from certain distinctive ideas in the Hindu metaphysics. The major religions of semitik origin do not officially believe that animals have souls. They also do not believe that a human can ever be born as an animal or a tree. Hinduism on the other hand believes that all forms of life have souls, which can reincarnate themselves as humans, and humans can also take rebirth as animals or trees. Therefore there is a greater commonality between the human and other forms of life, and that service to other forms of life is also important like service to humans. In Hinduism, therefore, it is common to find votaries of go-sewa or service to the cows which were the most common of all animals working or living with the humans. Even harmful animals like snakes are given milk to drink, and a bird of bad omen like the owl is closely associated with the goddess of wealth Lakshmi as her vahan or vehicle, and worshipped.

That service to humanity and karm-yoga is the highest of all paths and yogas was admitted by one of the greatest sanyasi kriya-yogis of modern times – Yoganandji in his book Autobiography of a Yogi, which is one of the most must-read books for all spiritualists and religious aspirants. In the book he has devoted a chapter to Gandhiji who he wanted to teach kriya-yoga. For this he went to the ashram of Gandhiji and stayed there for two days. The sanyasi-yogi has narrated his observations of Gandhiji who was an avowed karm-yogi, and who never lost an opportunity to state that every moment of his life was dedicated to Sri Krishna and Lord Ram through service to the people. For Gandhi, his participation in the political work and constructive program was a spiritual quest, but Swami Yoganand though Gandhi needed spiritual initiation. After staying with him at his ashram the kriya-yogi realized that the karm-yogi he had sought to teach kriya-yoga was at a higher plane that him. So at the time of departure, the sanyasi touched the feet of the person he had sought to make his disciple. After all a true spiritual person and yogi was expected to be truthful, and Yoganandji stood up to spirituality by confessing that Gandhi, a true servant of humanity, was superior to the kriya-yogi sanyasi Yogandand!

The real test of a religion is not found in what is written in its scriptures and books, but in what the majority of its adherents practice in real life. If this litmus test were to be applied to Hinduism of today, it would most likely fail the test as regards philanthropy in practice. The truth has to be accepted and faced boldly. At the same time truth has to be improved and altered through conscious and concerted action of all Hindus. Let us as Hindus commit today that we would spare part of whatever is there surplus with us – money, time, knowledge, skills – for the poor and the underprivileged, of whichever caste and creed, whichever race or religion. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010


After quitting my job in July, I kept wandering for some time for unavoidable reasons. I am now back in New Delhi, which is going to be my headquarters for some time.  During my travels I hardly had access to the Net. I also had no time to pen down my thoughts. Hence this big gap between August 7, when I posted my last article, and now, November 4, 2010.

I will keep posting my views and my reflections on my blog though I would shortly be creating a separate Hindi BLOG under the title SAMPOORN KRANTI, which means TOTAL REVOLUTION.  The contents of the Hindi blog may often be different from my English blog.

My new website (, which is under renovation, will contain my writings and reflections in a more organised fashion subject-wise.

I am sorry to discontinue on this blog  the story of The Barber Boy and a Billion Children since the work has acquired the shape of a novel - or a memoir in the form of a novel - a NOVELOIRE, which is proposed to be published in due course.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Politics, Intellection and Emotions

Emotion is a word found in the commonest of English dictionaries. Intellection, on the other hand, is a word that would seldom be found in dictionaries, except in the ones that are the most advanced. Coincidentally, emotion is found in most of our political leaders, but intellection, in few. Intellection is defined as “the act or process of using the intellect; thinking or reasoning.”
The reasons for this are as under.
The first reason is that there are no educational standards set by our law as the minimum eligibility criteria for entering politics, becoming an office bearer of a political party, and entering a legislative assembly or the parliament. There is also no formal educational degree of any sort required for becoming a Minister or even the Prime Minister. Therefore, most people who enter politics have all the emotions, negative as well as positive, which nature gifts freely to everybody on account of being a  human being. However, since they could not find opportunities for higher education, or could not study at the Jawahar Lal Nehru University,  they cannot be faulted for their limitations as regards intellection. The law did not prevent them from contesting elections, and from becoming a Minister. Since they could successfully climb unhindered to the highest ministerial posts in the government, and to very high positions in their political parties, just on the basis of  exhibiting, understanding and manipulating emotions (apart from using money, these days), they could never  appreciate the need for intellection in politics. Also, as legislators, they could not understand the need for a legislation that would prescribe different suitable educational standards for becoming a legislator, a parliamentarian, or a Minister. In fact, they must have though that  if any educational standards were prescribed, it might possibly jeopardize their own positions in politics.
This is the reason for politicians not being intellectuals.
But what is the reason for intellectuals not being being in politics; and, when in politics, not being successful in politics?
This is the question which I consider much more important today, the answer to which needs to be found and understood by those who are intellectuals. With the universities churning out ever larger numbers of post-graduates, scientists, engineers, doctors and MBAs, it is truly a pity that politics is not getting even a fraction of the due share of these highly educated intellectuals in the country, some of whom have returned after receiving education at some of the best educational institutions in the world, and are immensely capable.
There are many reasons why this has been happening, but I would not like to go into all those different reasons at the moment. I would like instead to focus in the current context on the reason that is the most important.
Though politics is about attaining and retaining power, the power is attained through the support of the people. These people are not one or two, like you have in the family. There are lacs of them in a constituency from where you would be elected as a member of a provincial legislative assembly, and a million or more, from where you may be elected to the national parliament. The number may easily be 30 millions or more if you aspire to form a government in a state of India, and more than a billion when you aim at forming a government at the national level, in New Delhi. Leaders, or people’s representatives in other democracies do not have to deal ordinarily with such mind-boggling numbers, yet the principle applies in essence to them too: they have to deal with large numbers of peoples who they would be representing.
Whatever your learning and capability, you have to find a place in their heart in a democracy. It is known that voters and votes are also ‘bought’ these days, yet you would find that, more often than not, those ‘buyers’ were preferred who, or whose parties, had secured a place in the voters’ heart for whatever reason. And when there is a surge of emotions in the people’s heart, no body can buy them and their votes, as we all saw in 1977 and on a number of other occasions.
A place in the people’s heart is not secured by argument or intellection. It is secured through actions and character that exhibit your emotions towards them: whether you love them, whether you understand their agoniesand ecstasies, and empathize with them, whether you hold out any hope for them. Love, agony, ecstasy, empathy, hope are all emotions. The people would not leave you ever if you also had a great policy or program of welfare for them. But that would be seen later. After all people talk a lot about policies and programs, but all policies are forgotten after the elections are over.
The matter can be understood this way too: there are two persons who want to woo and marry a lady; one a true intellectual, and another an ordinary mortal. The true intellectual, tells her a lot about what true love is , the quotes from various writers, and the different aspects of the sociology and psychology of love. He also tells her about his policies and programs that he has for her when they got married. Not to leave anything to God and destiny, he hands her over a CD containing a presentation on his post-marriage programs and policies, and also gifts her a hard copy of the presentation with bullet points.
The ordinary mortal does not know much about psychology and sociology, but he takes her hands in his, and kisses it gently. His eyes exude love, and his demeanor, admiration.
Ideally the girl should have obtained the full bio-data of the two aspirants, got them verified.  She ought to have looked at the various aspects of both individuals that would keep her both loved and comfortable after marriage. At least she should have  once seen the presentation CD, before taking a final decision.
In real life, unfortunately, such a scientific approach is not followed that an intellectual feels must be, or would be.
The girl somehow takes a decision to marry the ordinary mortal, who knew basic emotions and their expressions relevant to the girl, instead of the true intellectual who, in her  perception, was having a lot of intellectual stuff in his mind, most of which might have seemed ‘garbage’ to her due to her stupidity and ignorance. But the intellectual failed to secure a place in the girl’s heart because of surfeit of intellection and lack of rudimentary emotions. In any case, the girl had heard from her mother that all boys made great promises before marriage, and forgot all, once the marriage ceremony was over. Unfortunately, the girl did not know that this learned boy was not of that kind, and that he really had very good  post-marriage plans for her, which he truly intended to implement.
Surely, there are ordinary mortals who show fake emotions to the people and succeed in wooing them; but it would finally be known that they were faking emotions, and would therefore be finally abandoned.
It is a tragedy that owing to the faults in the system of education, those who become intellectuals, tend not only to lose emotions, but also their understanding of emotions.
I was one day narrating to a learned JNU-intellectual friend how Gandhiji started walking barefoot from village to village to stop the Noakhali Hindu-Muslim riots before Independence, and how his feet finally started bleeding, pricked by thorns and prickly pebbles. Not that he always walked barefoot, but on this occasion he chose to.
I still recall vividly the leftist  intellectual smiling with disdain, and asking:
“How could walking or bleeding feet stop the riots?”.
I had promptly changed the topic then, because I had some experience of the levels of emotional intelligence of the true intellectuals.  I could not tell him that the pricks of pebbles in their beloved leader’s feet pierced people’s hearts too, whether it was a Hindu heart or Muslim, and the blood from his frail feet made their hearts bleed as well. It made the people pause for a moment to put their hands on their own hearts in order to feel and remove the thorns that had pierced the Mahatma’s sole, and in that moment daggers had fallen from many hands.
Gandhi’s emotional intelligence was superb, even though he nowhere looks inferior to any other intellectual of his age in erudition, learning or knowledge. In fact he seems to surpass all of them. The collection of his writings runs into 99 volumes that have already been published. And these are a fraction of his writings. I disagree with many views of the Mahatma, which is natural in changed times and circumstances,  but I firmly believe that there is nobody who is in politics, or who wants to be in politics, who could not learn from the Mahatma one lesson: temper your intellection with right emotions and emotional intelligence,which can only develop when you live and identify with those that you wish to represent,  like water identifies with mud. And if the water and mud come together, it signifies that the time is approaching when the adept hands of a sculptor would fashion a Durga out of this mix that  would destroy the demons.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Word for Aspiring Political Reformers of India

What is the most effective tool for rapid socio-economic transformation of the country?
The answers are many, but the one on which most people tend to agree, ispolitics and governance.
For joining politics and government, unless one happens to be in Pakistan where one can first become a President and then get elected, one has to either himself contest an election, as an independent, or join an existing  political party, or set up a new political outfit.
By one person entering a legislative Assembly,  or the cabinet of ministers, no great change at the macro level can be expected. If he joins an existing political party, it has to be one of the main political parties, that has some proven strength, and some following among the people. All these major political parties have some established leaders, some party culture, and some ideology, partly stated and partly unstated. When an ‘outsider’ enters the party, he is least likely to be given a say, or a formal position, which would threaten the views or positions of the seniors and older veterans. If the new entrant is an extraordinary fellow, like Mohandas was when he entered the Congress party on return from South Africa, he would gradually make a place for himself in the party by cleaning toilets or other such exemplary work without seeking a formal position, which in any case the party will thrust upon him, when it is realized that the party would survive or advance only if this extraordinary fellow led the party. If the fellow is so strange that he wishes to remain away form formal positions of power in the party or government, in order to remain more faithful to God and His people, the party would be left curious, confused and helpless, and may decide to benefit from his presence and guidance, or even to be led informally by him.
It is much easier to join an existing political party and then transform the party, like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi did by totally changing its elitist culture, and turning it into a mass platform. Joining an existing party gives one some immediate logistical support, some ready workers and helpers, and, possibly, some financial support, unless the entrant is identified as one who is very rich and therefore would himself support the party financially.
Why don’t the aspiring political activist-reformers, now outside active politics, do what Mohandas did? Or why shouldn’t they do it? Why do they want to create a new political outfit?
For finding an answer to this question, we will have to know a few facts, and understand a few things.
When Mohandas joined the Indian National Congress party, Congress was in a formative and fluid state. Its ideas and ideology were  not firmly shaped. It was a motley group. It had no immediate need for comprehensive programs for governance, and its immediate objective was to win partial or full independence from the British Rule. It was relatively easier to mold the party, if a great visionary entered it backed by a  lifetime commitment and passion to turn the currents of history.
The situation is not the same with the BJP and the Congress of today. BJP cannot sever its umbilical cord with the RSS, and cannot survive without its support. The RSS  has a completely firmed up ideology of having a Hindu Rashtra, and it created a political outfit essentially to achieve the objective. It would be very naive to believe that at this stage of Indian civilization, any leader of either the BJP or the RSS truly believes that a Hindu Rashtra could be really established in India or Bharat. But if they drop this agenda, RSS would get extinct. All their committed workers and Pracharaks have worked all their life nurturing the dream of a Hindu Rashtra. They would all drop out. Clinging to this ideology, therefore, is a  survival need for the RSS.  The RSS, and therefore its political arm the BJP, are an  ideologically highly firmed up party, which it is very difficult, if not impossible, to mold into a new cast.
The Congress party, led essentially by people whose surname resembles that of Mohandas, is not perceived as having a die-hard ideology like the RSS and the communist parties. Accommodating diverse ideologies  and people – leftists and rightists – has been a great strength of Congress party in the past, and before Independence. But it is very rigid in another manner: the leader must be having a surname exactly resembling that of Mohandas. This makes it problematic for a new great visionary reformer leader to enter the Congress party, where, quirks of history permitting,  you can perhaps become the Prime Minister, but not the leader. The party finally remains a family concern. If the family disappears from the scene for some reason, the party would collapse soon because it has no person who could be accepted as the leader by other leaders.This is the firm official culture now of the Congress – united in paying obeisance to a Gandhi, though ‘Gandhi’ does not  signify here Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, or any of his descendants - genetic or ideological.
Thus, at the present juncture, if there is an aspiring political activist-cum-reformer who wants to join politics and government for rebuilding India, or rapidly transforming India, and not just for becoming an MLA  or MP, or a minister, he or she has to set up, or be a part of, a new political outfit.  However, setting up a new political party is very difficult, because politics is an extremely expensive activity today. In addition, there are other apparently unsurmountable problems. Therefore, this is no easy option.
In fact Mohandas, who later became Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, having changed history, could read the future trajectory of the Indian history. He could see where the Indian National Congress would finally end up, and he wanted it to be dismantled soon after Independence. Obviously, he felt the need for a new political outfit. Many political outfits came, but the one that should have come, did not. Let us go into the issue of whether such a political outfit will emerge in India now. The issue, along with many related political issues, which are entangled with each other like links in a chain, may be discussed in my future articles on the subject.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Shaping The Future: Nature of a Political Party and Political Activity...

Shaping The Future: Nature of a Political Party and Political Activity...: "Political parties, in a democracy, aim at capturing power and then retaining power, ideally for the good of the people. In actual practice i..."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Nature of a Political Party and Political Activity

Political parties, in a democracy, aim at capturing power and then retaining power, ideally for the good of the people. In actual practice in India and many other countries, however, a political party aims at capturing and retaining power by any means, not essentially for the good of the people, but for the benefit of the party itself, and, in worse (read most) cases, for some of the individuals that control and lead the political party. The object of a political party in reality is, therefore, not primarily public welfare, but enjoyment of power, and amassing of wealth through power, and enjoying all other benefits that might accrue on account of being in the seat of power, or being close to it.
This is happening irrespective of the fact whether the people, or the leaders, in the political parties are highly educated , semi-educated or unlettered. The things in this regard are not radically different, be it India, Pakistan or Bangladesh.
Think. People, who are not very enlightened (being enlightened is different from being educated), are driven essentially by their emotions, and their intelligence is used primarily to fulfill their desires, which are also essentially in the nature of emotions. At the level of fundamental desires, in these countries, whatever be the causes, there is no great difference between and educated and an unlettered person. They all want power primarily for enjoying power, wealth and social status. Earlier, the emotions of humans used to be structured and moderated by some of our holy books, and there was some fear of God, sin and punishment. In the age of reason, these books, whatever their value, have been exiled from our lives, and the system of education has no element built into it to make us understand our emotions, and to provide guidance on how to direct and control them. The families of nearly all of us are propelled by the same emotions, and they propel us towards the goals that match with those blind, crude emotions.  The net result is that we talk great things when we are intelligent and well read, and then, when we are in power, start doing what the uneducated did: enjoying power, enjoying wealth and status.
We talk of team and ideology, but when we find that we are not going to get a share in the pie of power, we find reasons to become rebels, and to form our own parties, and do whatever else is possible.
If we form a political party, and give a call for people who would offer themselves to become MPs and MLAs, and if people have some reason to believe that we may one day, in not so distant a future,  become powerful, they wold quickly offer themselves for the party. When they do not get a party ticket for an MLA or an MP, they would defect in no time to some other party.
If we give a call, on the other hand, to people to join a political party without any claim to a party ticket, a different kind of people, much fewer in number initially, would join the  party. Without men and women who are not driven by greed for power and party posts or tickets, no political party can achieve much in terms of public welfare. They would again, like all other politicians, start enjoying power, wealth and status, for which they actually joined politics. And they wold start fighting with each other for party posts and posts in the government, throwing to winds all their former wisdom and erudition.
What is the solution?
The solution lies in changing the nature of politics and political activity, and therefore of the political party.
A political party has to start engaging in constructive activities, rather than politicking all the time. If the workers are given a constructive program which the top leaders themselves engage in most (and do not only talk about), a new political ethos formation will start. When service will begin in right earnest, the emotion culturing will also start, gradually turning politics into service. Today most parties and most men in active politics are visible to the people only when elections are around. This is just because politics has been accepted essentially as an instrument to acquire and retain power. Since all political parties are the same in this regard, what option the people have in not choosing any one of them? If politics were an instrument equally of service, politicians and political parties would be visible to people not through the TV shows but in their close vicinity.
And when this culture would be embedded in politics, leaders will not land from the skies suddenly. They would grow usually from the grass roots. Even highly educated people trained in MIT and Harvard would start working for the people, right in their midst, without elections being around.
But this change in the political ethos can only be brought about by great leaders who have all the wisdom and erudition to understand international affairs, and yet who have the humility to live and work with the masses, understand their aspirations and problems, and then lead them to economic and social salvation.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Freedom and Leadership

I want complete freedom, though I may not want absolute freedom: I do not want freedom from the dictates of my conscience; I do not want to exercise a freedom that tramples upon the freedom of the less privileged; I do not want freedoms that snatch the bread from the mouths of one billion humans.
When I lead, I want to be fettered by the aspirations of the millions that I lead, but not by their clamors for injustice towards those that are few, and therefore weak; when I follow, I do not want to be completely free from the dictates of my leader, because then that will take me and us no where – after all I chose my leader only when he gratified my conscience.
I want complete freedom, but this freedom I want in order to free millions of people from the bondage of hunger, disease and poverty.
I want to be free, not just for the sake of enjoying my freedom,  but for giving my own and others’ existence a sense and a meaning!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

8. The Barber Boy and a Billion Children: the Story of an Evolving Dream

(This is a real life story of the power and potential of penniless children, symbolic of over a billion underprivileged kids having no or nominal access to education in the underdeveloped and developing world, who could make all the difference to this planet given the opportunity and guidance)
Episode 8
The Sunday Musings

When I got up after an afternoon nap, I felt very fresh and relaxed. I find it very difficult to sleep in the day time and therefore an afternoon nap is a rarity for me. Today’s nap was perhaps the gift of the masseur.
        On this Sunday evening my children relaxed, and so did I. While generally Vinita allows me to work on Sundays, this Sunday I could sense that she was in a mood to spend some private time with me in the evening. Both of us, therefore, sat in the lawn near the white limestone Buddha amidst flowers and green plants, our bare soles enjoying the caresses of the velvet grass of the lawn, which was nurtured so carefully by Vinita and her gardener. Two eucalyptus trees stood tall in the lawn on two sides of an Asoka tree, and their leaves once in a while fell on and around us to remind us of their presence. Vinita had got made and installed a small wooden home on one of the corner trees in the lawn, which was occupied by a bird family. She would arrange for their food and water every day. Their and other birds’ twitter lent a musical touch to the evening that could beat the best of instrumentals and vocals. Nature is great, and being in the midst of Nature plain beatitude!          We enjoyed togetherness in a quiet and cool evening in complete silence, with a pleasant breeze caressing our bodies intermittently. As darkness fell, the electric light string made of tiny bulbs wound around the eucalyptus tree behind the Buddha lit up, emitting a gentle and soothing glow.
            The HEC area, where we lived, was away from the city, and had no din, bustle or congestion characteristic of a modern city life. It was full of trees planted by the Russians, and the houses were well spaced.
            Sitting in close proximity to the Buddha is a great feeling for me, which is why I got this three feet Buddha statue in a meditational posture sculpted by an artist, My fascination for the Buddha, who was originally Siddharth Gautama, is not rooted in logic. I disagree with some of his fundamental tenets, like ‘sabbam dukkham’, which means ‘all is misery’. In his times there was poverty everywhere, and prosperity a privilege enjoyed by very few. There were no medical facilities to fight disease and to prevent early death, and penicillin had not been discovered yet. Old age was usually a curse, which is not so today. Therefore, ‘sabbam dukkham’ did not appear to me to be a universal truth.  Today, ‘sabbam dukkham’ would find few takers in the economically developed countries. Nor do I endorse the practice of encouraging people to renounce the world, and producing ascetic monks on a mass scale, which is encouraged more by Buddhism than any other religion. Yet, I love and admire the Buddha, and I suspect I changed my surname from Sinha to Siddharth only due to my fatal attraction towards Siddharth Gautama, who later became the Buddha. He was a prince, who suffered little pain himself, but was so moved by the then all pervasive misery of others, that he renounced all his personal pleasures to find ways of liberating the vast majority of suffering people from the agonies of human existence. The Buddha was not only a philanthropist; he was a great leader of humanity who swam against the flow of his times, and made millions to do so in India and abroad. I sometimes guess it was his quality that lay at the root of my inexplicable attraction towards Siddharth Gautama, the Buddha. I have had similar attraction that defies logic towards another flesh-and-blood person, but I would not like to stray into that area at the moment.
            The learning camp that I was planning to organise was not the one where I would encounter any ‘prince’ or wealthy child. But, I thought, when I held in future any camp of wealthy children, or addressed youth with very wealthy parents, I would explain to them the significance of Prince Siddharth Gautama, because for half of the humans inhabiting Asia, Africa and Latin America ‘sabbam dukkham’ was still as true as it was in the times of the Buddha. History has been beckoning more Siddharth Gautamas to set their foot on these lands to help them liberate themselves from the agonies of human existence that still haunt them!
            Philanthropy is not a subject that is taught in schools or colleges. Not even informal discussions take place on this subject. The entire system of education is geared to essentially teaching children and youth how to improve the quality of their own existence. Philanthropy and many other subjects needed to be included in the curriculum, at both schools and colleges.  That would help students become more complete human beings, and would cater to their total and holistic development. I decided that philanthropy and leadership would be included in our camp curriculum apart from other topics that did not figure in the formal curriculum of the schools.
            This brought me back to the issue of putting in place the month-long learning camp’s curriculum, and designing the course material. As on date, whatever was there, existed mostly in my mind, and that was certainly not enough. Time was fleeting fast, and things had to done on a war footing. But if I tried to do anything of the kind this Sunday evening, there could be a war! My wife was a very good soul generally, but sometimes, especially on a Sunday evening, after I had ‘wasted’ two or three Sundays in a succession, she could be a great potential warrior! I am generally a pacifist, and try to avoid wars as far as possible, unless a war is thrust upon me! I especially avoid being at war with beautiful people! So I decided to take half-a-day off on the following day, and go to the Tagore Hill, where Robindronath Tagore, the Nobel Laureate Bengali poet, wrote many of his books, including parts of his Nobel Prize winning poetry collection Geetanjali.
            I mentioned to Vinita that I planned to go to the Tagore Hill the following day to plan the forthcoming children’s camp, and to think. I also informed her that Tagore wrote many of his poems at the Tagore hill, and therefore the hill must have had some mystical properties that inspired creativity and great ideas. I would, I let her know, be happy if she also came along and had picnic with me there.
            I knew if I mentioned about a picnic she would certainly agree to accompany me.             Her eyes lit up at the idea of a picnic, and she gave her consent without delay since I rarely made such offers. I took a sigh of relief, now that a good supply of eatables had been assured while I thought and planned at the Tagore Hill. Google has rightly included it among its four fundamental mantras that food should never be more than 50 feet from its creative and thinking employees.
            I had discussed a poem - the children’s anthem - with her only a short while ago, and now I had mentioned to her about Tagore, the poet.
So poetry was on her mind.
“Why do you only write devotional or inspirational songs? Why don’t you also attempt romantic poetry?” She enquired.

The question made me pause and think, as I groped for an answer that would on the one hand convince her, and on the other, conceal cleverly the fact that I was not essentially a very romantic person by nature. Which husband would admit that he was an unromantic fellow!

“Well, I think there is a reason. I wrote a couple of romantic poems before marriage, which one day you found out while emptying one of my old suitcases. And then, instead of appreciating the poetry, the first question that you asked was about the identity of the person who inspired my romantic poetry. No?”

“Yes, yes, I must know!”

“Are you aware that a poet can experience vicarious feelings? He can think and feel as if he is in a situation, which he is not really in, and can write a powerful poem or a story on it?”, I asked. She nodded uncertainly. I knew it would be difficult to convince her with such a literary and facile explanation!

“After seeing your approach, which seemed more investigative than appreciative, I thought it was best to avoid entering into a messy area! If I wrote a romantic poem, I suspect you might say, “O, what a beautiful poem! I am sure you have not written it on me! So, tell me, who is the one that has inspired this poetry?”

I have found that women are quite suspicious. Howsoever trustworthy the husband, they would never believe that his love is true, and his appreciation of their charm and beauty sincere.

“I do not know anything! You must write a poem on me!”, she insisted.“ I have heard”, she continued, “ that you wrote a poem instantly as a birthday gift, when you arrived at your friend’s home to discover that it was his sister’s birthday.”

“Yes, I did! The poem’s name was Gift from a brother to a sister. But that was when I was young and creative! After I entered the police, there was no time available to me for being creative. And if I had shown much creativity, I would have lost my job in the police! And then what would you eat?”

“I think it is time you penned a poem on me too!”, she said smilingly, and then  struck a  pose as if I were a painter ready with my easel, canvas and drawing  tools, to draw an instant portrait ! She had an extremely elegant personality, her elegance remaining untouched by age, and now in this better-than-Mona Lisa-pose, she looked even more ethereal!  I had no option but to dump all my intellectual stuff and gaze her eternally in the soft romantic light emitted by the light-string wound around the eucalyptus tree behind the Buddha. The Buddha, for the time being, had disappeared from my consciousness, and a poem had started brewing inside my heart.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

7. The Barber Boy and a Billion Children: the Story of an Evolving Dream

Episode 7

How Eiffel Towers and Taj Mahals are Made

On a Sunday, when no social gathering is scheduled, everybody is usually in a leisurely mood, and there is no hurry to be in time for anything.
             It was already 3 pm and the fire in everybody’s belly was raging, even as the poetry recital was on. So it was decided that we would now have lunch rather than poetry. Everybody, therefore, headed for the dining table, where the lunch was laid out.
            As we seated ourselves around the dining table, the expected tug of war started between Priyadarshi and Prerna as to who would be fed by the mom today. This acrimony had always seemed extremely disturbing to me at the dining table, as I like to focus fully on my food. I had never demanded such a thing of my mother though my siblings did. If infants are fed by the mother, it is understood. But in India even grown up children prefer remaining infants till their late twenties! And when a tug of war remains unresolved, it is Babboo who usually acts as the arbiter.
            This baby doll named Babboo, whose name would sound like a Baboon to a stranger who does not know him, is actually a plump plastic male baby doll measuring about 8 inches, ‘adopted’ by my wife as her third child, around 2001. In reality, my wife bought him from Prerna, who had purchased him from the Archie’s shop for a hundred rupee of her pocket-money. My wife instantly fell in love with this doll and its captivating, innocent smile. She gave Prerna a hundred rupees, and wanted the ownership of the doll transferred to her.  Prerna, who was then only around 12 years of age, was quite a mature person, and could sense the good business opportunity before her, finding her mother extremely eager to take possession of the doll. She demanded rupees 300, and finally the deal was clinched at rupees 200. Prerna had doubled her money in just two hours! What a promising business professional at 12!

            Whatever the history of the doll, whenever there is something that my wife finds inconvenient to say to somebody, especially me, Babboo  speaks out on her behalf, borrowing her voice, and he is capable of speaking out practically anything!. Since he is protected by informal child rights norms, nothing much can be done to him, whatever he says or does. The fellow has not grown a millimetre since he came to our house, but the glow of his skin and the killer smile on his face have remained intact.   
            Since it is very unusual for a grown up woman to keep a doll, initially it created quite a good deal of confusion in the family, as my wife was often found caressing and talking to this creature as if it was a living entity. But gradually people in the family came to accept the fact that my wife had some extra bit of affection for small children since her younger days, and because now that all children had grown up, this was the only little child to fill that emotional void. There is no streak of abnormality in my wife except this, so I had no problems with Babboo except that he always slept between the two of us, and because he is ultimately made of plastic, and not of flesh, his hardness at times hurt. But nobody is allowed to say that the fellow is made not of flesh but of plastic. Everybody who visits our home brings gifts for Babboo that he might like! The items vary from tiny footwear and toy mobile phones to trousers and tea-shirts. It is mandatory in my home to show affection to Babboo in order to remain in the good books of the lady. On this Sunday, Babboo was wearing the tea-shirt brought by his Bua (father’s sister) on which it was written:
Please do not disturb.
Already disturbed!

            When no amicable settlement could be reached between Priyadarshi and Prerna as to who the mom would feed with her hands today, Babboo finally rose and declared in a stern voice: “Today is Bhaiya’s turn since he lives in the hostel!” ‘Bhaiya’ means ‘elder brother’, and Priyadarshi was Babboo’s elder brother. When Babboo has to speak, he speaks in Vinita’s voice. That is the practice.
            Prerna had no option now, so she sat close to me and Priyadarshi close to Vinita, and we started sipping the soup. As our hunger started subsiding with some foodstuff making its way into the stomach, the children’s anthem started surfacing in our minds.

“Papa, why did you write that the Golden Temples are made from feelings and sacrifices? What sacrifices went into building the Golden Temple?”, asked Prerna.

“Actually, temples were built six times at the place where the Golden Temple stands today. Each time the Muslim invaders attacked and demolished the temples built by the Sikhs there. They also killed the Sikh priests  at those temples. But the Sikh community was a very sturdy, brave and martial community. They were not deterred, and were prepared for any sacrifices.  Each time their temple was destroyed, they built a new temple at the same place. Today’s Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, which is among the most beautiful temples in the world with its dome covered with gold, was their seventh attempt that succeeded. So it did not take only marble and gold to build this temple; a lot of feeling and sacrifice went into its making”, I replied.

All three of them (sorry, four of them, including Babboo!) were surprised to hear the story.

“And what about the Taj?”, asked Priyadarshi.

“If this seventh wonder of the world was made of marble, it would have been made in Rajasthan, near Makrana where the marble was available in plenty. There was no marble near Agra where the Taj was sought to be built. Marble was transported to Agra from faraway places with the help of thousands of labourers and elephants. Emperor Shahjahan was determined to create a monument in the memory of his beloved wife which, in beauty, would know no parallel in the past or future. It was the toil and commitment of the labourers and the power of imagination of Shahjahan that went into the making of the wondrous Taj, and not really marble!
            My wife was visibly moved at the exemplary love of Shahjahan towards his wife. I have found that this story moves nearly every wife to tears, and all of them want a Taj built for them after they leave for their heavenly abode! This may be a good idea, but if this were really to happen, the world economy would collapse, and only the construction industry would boom!
            Suspecting that the discourse might take a more serious turn, and my wife’s moist eyes could start releasing fully formed tears soon, I promptly retreated from the Agra highway, and set my foot on the road to Paris and its famous Eiffel Tower, after which the children’s anthem had been named.

“Eiffel was a great engineer who wanted to erect the tallest tower in the world at Paris that would give worldwide fame to his country, France. There was vehement opposition from various quarters. His envious fellow engineers said that no tower of iron and steel could be built which was a thousand feet tall, as it would collapse under its own weight. No tower of this height was ever built, and therefore could not be built. There were others who pointed out that it would be a great waste of money, to which Eiffel replied that tourists from the world over would visit Paris to see the tower, and the revenue thus generated would far exceed the expenditure incurred on erecting the tower. There was a fierce public debate on the issue, and some people also came out with sarcastic poems on the subject, and against Eiffel.”

I found that sipping of the soup had slowed down considerably, as people had become extremely curious about Eiffel and his tower, looking intently at me. I asked them to finish their soup before it completely lost its warmth, and paused for a few seconds. In fact, I was more interested in finishing my own soup which was turning cold.
When the soup finished, I began talking again, also at the same time starting the main course.

“Eiffel remained unfazed. He had studied the subject very deeply, and he was sure that what he had conceived, he could also implement. And finally he succeeded in erecting the over one thousand feet tall tower that could stand on its feet for over a hundred years.”
“When the dream is big, the knowledge, commitment and hard work needed to fulfil the dream are to be even bigger. And Eiffel had all of them.”

“Now”, I asked, “could anyone prove how Eiffel Tower was not made from iron and steel, but from the passion for dreaming big, and doing big?”

Priyadarshi and Prerna had so far been in a mood to ask questions, and not to answer. Therefore, they looked uncertain and curious, especially when the answer was self-evident. Perhaps my mind was engrossed in eating, so I had asked an uncertain and unwarranted question. While Priyadarshi and Prerna looked on, trying to figure out what to say, Babboo sprang (or was made to spring) to his feet, and said, “I can tell you.”
Everybody looked at him with amazement and amusement.

“If Eifel Tower was built from iron and steel, it would have been built first in the states of Jharkhand and Orissa in India where high quality iron ore has been always available in plenty, and where some of the largest steel plants of the world are located. But it was built in France, which is not known for iron and steel.”

I felt flabbergasted, because I had myself not thought in this manner! Surely the creature (or his mother, in whose voice he spoke) had struck upon this idea based on the analogy of the Taj Mahal, from my narration of how the Taj was built.

While I clapped, Prerna looked at Babboo as if she would bar-be-cue him given a chance, and Priyadarshi, a better manager of emotions, eyed him with admiration, as Babboo looked around victoriously.

“In essence,” I proceeded, “it must be understood clearly, that great achievements come not from external resources, but from inner strengths and passion: from will power, exercise of intelligence, power of imagination, hard work, and passion.”

“Not that the external resources are not important, but these inner powers can create or bring external resources.”

“This realisation becomes extremely important in view of the fact that nearly half of the world’s population is classed as moderately or extremely poor, without much external resources. If they and their children realised it, they would overcome poverty very soon.”

“What an idea!”, said Vinita, “Why don’t you incorporate some of these comments in the song as commentary when it is composed and sung?”

“If need is felt, I will do that in one of the versions of the song”, said I.

Our lunch was proceeding very slowly, we being busy dissecting the newly created children’s anthem on the dining table. So I asked everybody to hasten up, and go and relax.

“No. Papa, children do not need to relax! I, Bhaiya and Didi (elder sister, i.e. Prerna), would go and study now, quipped Babboo.”

This time even Priyadarshi did not look at him with admiration, as he was in a mood to rest after a full week of hectic activity at his college.