Do the Dew…

This morning I was on a morning walk at the Vanasthali Park, close to my home. I did my walk and as I settled to stretch myself before  leaving the park, I noticed drops of dew glistening at the tips of blades of grass against the morning sunshine. The small dew drops were illuminated like small Diwali lights and it was a captivating sight. I paused to watch it more attentively.

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All of us (those who like me were born in 20th century) have been hearing about the miracles of walking barefoot on grass soaked in morning dew. I have been told by my grand mom and all that it betters your eyesight and bestows the vigour and vitality. Though I am bespectacled already, I thought it could help me to keep my eyes healthier for a longer time perhaps. There was some hitch of course due to the clumsiness of taking off your shoes and socks and getting a wet foot and eventually sogged socks and also of hygiene, but eventually I did manage to overpower my reservations and went in for a dew-walk.

Believe me, the moment I kept my feet on the grass I felt as if I am walking in the clouds. The morning dew on the well kept grass had created such a surreal carpet to walk on that my feet would have felt like being caressed by Mother Nature. It was an unbelievably pleasurable experience. I closed my eyes for few moments and tried to feel the most gentle coldness of the dew. It was simply intoxicating and mind blowing experience. I was thinking that God has unrationed the most valuable things in life . Anybody and everybody can enjoy this priceless pleasures of life without any cut in supply. No competition with anybody or from anybody. What a pleasure…

I came back to my home and though of keying in this idea to just remind me and everybody that how easily you can enjoy the most valuable pleasures of life. I will request everybody, that don’t forget to do the dew tomorrow morning….It’s a bliss…don’t miss it…

The Midnight Lucknow Station

Main Entrance of Charbagh at Midnight

Main Entrance of Charbagh at Midnight

Waiting midnight at 3:00 am at Charbagh Railway station for my daughter coming back from her school trip to Jaipur and around, I was seeing a different sort of railway station altogether. It is not that I had not seen it for a long time or I had not been there at that unearthly time ever, but earlier I had not been at this odd time to receive somebody, and therefore had the time to see around. While usually you find a perennial stream of crowd jostling to rush in or rush out of this British period iconic station, at this wee hour of morning you would find more person sleeping at the platform than walking at it. The people who have to find a connecting train perhaps in the morning or who have nowhere to go right in the midnight and no connections to flaunt to get a cozy wait at AC or VIP lounges, have surrendered to the call of the sleep and were lying in all shapes and sizes. They have surrendered to the circumstances and have no compunction in prostrating themselves at the platform in whatever little spaces they could claim to and with whatever little they could their bed. Usually it is recycled poly sheets or any piece of cloth or any newspaper spread. It’s a surreal feeling of socialism at it’s best where the poorest and not so poorest were sleeping side by side, snore by snore. I used this forced opportunity to pause and look around, though I would not have minded to sleep beside them in that milling cloud. On my part sitting at one of the rare benches of the railway station to wait for her daughter who was coming back after a cherished trip, I was feeling like a responsible father. I smiled at the scene around me and just then the train carrying my daughter chugged in at the platform.

She was really happy to find me right in front of my bogey and as she alighted, hugged me. Both of us came out of sleeping labyrinthine negotiating like a skilled driver through the lanes of sleeping millions. We were happy to see that not many were disturbed in this whole process……

Charbagh Railway Station Platform 1

Charbagh Railway Station Platform 1

 

A No Means A No

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Except Pink, which I saw almost a month ago, I don’t recall seeing any movie in last few years which has resonated in my mind-space beyond few hours or may be a day or two at most. But Pink directed by Anirudh Roy Chowdhary is a different movie altogether and it’s courtroom drama is still fresh in my mind. But why is that so? Is it because of Big B’s baritone voice or is it because of contemporary issues of young women coming out of their hometowns and working in big cosmopolitan and merciless cities growing everyday ? For me, the arguments of contending lawyers Deepak Sehgal and Prashant Mehra played brilliantly by Amitabh Bachhan and Piyush Misra are still hitting the inside walls of my prefrontal cortex. The habits we have inculcated over years are stored there and one habits that is ingrained in the minds of all male Indians (even females, I would say), is that there are different rules of social behaviour for males and for females and therefore if any Minal Arora or Falak Ali or Andrea broke those norms expected to be adhered only by females, a lecherous Rajvir Singh or a Dumpy would find an able excuse to rob their dignity and respect. And Yes, it does not matter even if we were living in 21st century.

So, as the courtroom drama unfolds, the learned advocate of lecherous males questions the right of working women wearing short clothes and drinking with men and still say no to resultant rape? How could they ? They should have better known that they were females and they would be leached upon if they did not wear sarees and did not get escorted by a male family member and then were doing the sin of drinking like men (which for males was a health hazard at best) or went for late night parties like men. The norms enunciated eloquently by Advocate Mehra made very clear and very shamelessly that these ‘types’ of girls invited rape and invitation could not have been avoided by the testosterone fired males. Could we be more crude ever? What a ‘shit’ this is ?

I credit the team of Pink for exposing naked, the mindset of Indian Males including me of course. Perhaps even inside me there were some germs of unequal social norms of behavior for men and women, but I had been literally purged of them by the end of the movie. Misguided by the trailers of the movie before the release, I had gone to watch the movie with my wife and did not carry my teenage son and daughter along with to avoid confronting the embarrassing issues which movie intended to raise. But as soon as I came back I asked both, my son and daughter to watch the movie, more so to my son so as he grows into an adult and healthy Indian male without proselytizing into a MCP. I think the movie nails the lies on the head. Alas, If the movie had been made few decades ago, Jessica Lal would have been still alive perhaps because then people would not have asked question that why the hell, close to midnight, Jessica Lal was serving Liquor at Tamarind Bar? She was a hard-working women like your daughter or mine and was working late to take care of her family and she had every right to do so. Only if those Sharmas and Manus had seen the movie and respected her choice to say no !

Yes, A No means a No.

When Gandhi Saved Me…….

mahatma-gandhiji-essay-english-essayIts 2nd October today and hardly anyone in India will miss the fact of today being the birth anniversary of the father of the nation, the man who extricated India from the clutches of Britishers. He was a great soul recognised both locally and globally and has the distinction of having statute of almost every capital of the world. He deserves a special place in my heart as he saved me too once. Yes, but for him I would have been in a different job and who knows, would have been a dissatisfied soul. Actually, he helped me more meaningfully than he helped Munna Bhai in the Bollywood movie Lage Rahe Munna Bhai ! The year he helped me was 1997, a good 49 years after his unfortunate death. Yes, it’s true.

By 1996, at the age of 25, I had cleared the IAS Allied Services of Union Public Services Commission and the Dy S P by U P State Public Services Commission before that. However, I was still aiming for the post of SDM, for which there were just 10 slots under unreserved category and I had to do extremely well. I had cleared the rather tough prelims that year and knew somehow that was going to be my last good chance to get to the still best services of the Provincial Civil Services of U P. It still is. My optional subjects were Political Science and History. I was very confident of Political Science but History was not my best one. I had done well in General Studies and other compulsory papers and was cruising smoothly till I faced my Waterloo moment in the 2nd paper of History. That paper was about the Modern Indian History and as I started reading the question paper, I realised that somehow out of 12 odd questions, I was not thoroughly prepared for even one. I had to attempt just 5 out of twelve questions including two compulsory ones, but I was not sure about which question to start with. I still don’t know why all the questions looked so tough to me that day. I got nervous and felt like that my chances of getting into SDM were all but gone, as with not even one question being properly answered, I could not hope to get the top of the table to secure one of the ten seats of the SDMs. I felt exasperated and started to curse myself. It looked like the end of the road for me.

I had to spend three hours still, so I started reading the question paper again. Suddenly, I looked at the 12th question of the paper and I noted that it was about the life and teachings of Gandhi Ji and its seminal role in the struggle for Independence. I paused at the question to reread it. I had been a good student of Political Science and one of the finest teacher of Political Science, Prof R K Misra had taught me well about him. In fact Prof Misra had explained the life and teachings of Gandhi Ji, so thoroughly to the entire class, that I knew almost everything about Gandhi Ji and his idea from the perspective of a student. I smiled at this little ray of hope and and thought of starting with answering Gandhi Ji and  then finish other four answers to the best of my capabilities and leave the rest to the wishes of the almighty. I was sure that if I started well and did build the flow of writing, I could give a good shot to my aim.

With a sense of new-found confidence, courtesy Gandhi Ji and Misra Sir, I started writing about Gandhi in right earnest. I wrote everything I knew about him in next 45 minutes, about his ideas about Non-violence, theory of trusteeship, his theories about hating the British ways and not the Britishers per se and his ideas of civil disobedience and it’s contribution to the freedom struggle and finally his ideas to keep all sections of Hindus and Muslims to keep together to save the fabric of India as a nation of all and not just for Hindus. I remember as I was writing about Gandhi ji, my pen was flowing like a sword as it about a person whom, I felt like knowing very closely. That was the power of the ideas of Gandhi on me.

After consuming more than slotted time for the question on Gandhi, I moved on to answer other four questions of the subject and with the newly gained confidence and with the flow developed finished off the rest of four questions in the nick of the time. At the end of the three hours, I was largely satisfied and relieved. Though it was not my best performance, it was not very bad either. I knew if I did well in other papers, I could make it. I thanked Gandhi profusely and Misra ji and came out of the exam hall.

The result was out in next few weeks and I was more than happy to see my roll number in the list of persons called for interview. I really smiled at that moment and once again, thanked Gandhi Ji. I knew, but for him, I could not have even attempted all five questions. The answer related to the question on him had certainly given me a good head start and made all the difference.

I appeared in the interview and since it was my 4th at the U P Public Service Commission and as I was slected already in two others, I did my confidence best. I was not sure when would the result be out, so slept well for next few days. Then one fine morning in those days of no mobile and no internet, got a telephone call from one of my class mate, Pratibha. She told me, “Jitendra, you have topped the exams!” What? I topped it? I could not believe that for next few minutes. I took many more minutes to sink in the feeling of being the topper of the exam in which but for Gandhi, I was doomed, literally. That’s the magic of the father of nation. I thanked him again. Today 19 years down the road, I am in job, because of him.

Gandhi Ji changed my life too!

What I was reading……….

My quest for life and knowledge continues and I continue to be surprised and humbled by the life and ideas of some outstanding individuals and scholars.

This week, I listened to the interviews of Samuel Huntington, the author of Clash of Civilizations. He says that the euphoria which had built after the end of Cold War and demolition of Berlin Wall was petering off now and the states were aligning inter-alia on cultural lines. He says instead of western model or North America led alliance dominating the world we are witnessing alignment of countries along cultural lines. He says we are witnessing the growth of North America-European alliance, Islamic Cultural alliance (though fragmented and fighting too), Indian cultural alliance, Chinese cultural alliance, Japanese alliance and Latin America and African alliance. He says that these alliances will consolidate further as they resolve their issues and progress or modernise without following the western model per se. He believes that many countries want to modernise but essentially not westernise. For example, Japan is a modern country but not western. Likewise India may modernise even more without following the western cultural ways. He says Westernism and Modernism are different. Though he also believes that western model of modernism which included, rule of law, separation of state and religion, respect for Individual rights and human rights has proved to be a good way of growth since 15th century and that this model in past has catapulted these nations on the path of progress ahead of its compatriots. He also highlights that if China continued to grow at the same pace for next one decade more it will posture herself as a hegemonic power in East Asia more often and that China believes that it has every right to do that as it was exactly that hegemonic for hundreds of years up  until middle of 19th century. The churning which the whole world is going through will test the hypothesis more in years to come. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

2. I am also reading Pandeymonium written by ad-man, Piyush Pandey. He has titled the book after the whatsap group of his family, a trend which I think every family is following. Piyush born and brought up in Rajasthan, had a family of 7 sisters and two brothers (Adman Prasoon Pandey being other brother)  and that includes her sister Ila Pandey known popularly as Ila Arun, the famous film and TV personality and folk singer. Piyush started as a serious cricketer and played for Ranji along with Arun Lal and Kapil Dev and admits in the book that after initial successes got carried away with the minor milestones of representing his state in Ranji, while players like Vengsarkar and  Kapil Dev did not rest and paused till they got national and international fame. A very valuable lesson of life indeed. He though used his love of cricket in designing some of the most popular ads of Cadburys chocolate in which a lady praying for a six from his love playing a shot in the middle of the stadium and then rushing merrily towards crease to congratulate the batsman. He has been associated with many more ad campaigns pertaining to cricket and also with campaigns for bidding for hosting the cricket  World Cup in Indian Sub Continent. He has been a permanent fixture in most of the campaigns of IPL teams too. He learned the hard lessons from not working hard enough for cricket but used the experience in his alternative career.

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3. Piyush owes many of his most popular ideas to his middle class upbringing and family values. His work on Fevicol is inspired by the enthusiasm he had when their family got their first dining table after days of woodwork done by a carpenter and watched closely by him. He says that Fevicol is a very important ingredient of the furniture but he says that it is always invisible as it is concealed to the inside of the furniture. He calls his mother Bhagwati Pandey to be ‘Fevicol’ of the family till she was alive. His association with Pidilite group through the famous ads of a dhoti clad South Indian villager man applying fevi-quick on his local stick to catch fishes easily while a professional anglers with all mannerism waits furtively, is one of the most memorable of his ads. So are the ads of unbreakable eggs of hens eating poultry food out of a reusable Fevicol box. He is also credited with one of the most memorable ad on Indian Television, Mile Sur Mera Tumhara in 1990s. This ad had captured the imagination of the country in a huge way in those years and it touches the raw nerves of us all. Piyush is very proud of this ad and he did it with a very paltry budget.

There is so much to read…..

I read for my job; I read for my life…..

Last week I was trying to explain to my staff that whenever I was free, why did I keeping reading books back to back. Out of sudden I made an interesting statement. I said, “Deepak, earlier I used to read for my job, now I read for my life.” He did not say anything on this, but I looked back at those lines and found them to be good. The truth for me has been that while I was studying prior to getting a job, I was studying for my professional career, through which, I could earn enough to have a decent living.  I was thinking physically only. Coming from a middle class family, the primitive instinct was to survive and to survive well. There were no high moral grounds back then. I wanted to be successful so that I could afford to feed, cloth and shelter me and my family well and the path to that safety went through the good and strategic quality of reading competitive stuff. I earned my graduate and post graduate dovetailed to the knowledge and exigencies and intricacies of competitive exams which obviously was my ticket to financial independence and subsequent saturation of basic survival needs. My reading list therefore centered around, Political Science, History and General Studies. I had mugged up the capitals and currencies of all countries found on globe-big and small from Burundi to Burkina Faso and from Chili to Chad. I would have mugged up the length, breadth and width of all sport grounds and of all important boundaries. I had mugged up the distance between moon and earth and between earth and mars and many more. I had to excel and beat those who were competing with me memorizing the GDP and inflation rates and distances of stars of even Proxima Centauri!. I had to beat the heat. I did that and by the grace of God, clicked to get selected. I was very proud of the knowledge but was it all one needed to live? Is the distance between earth and moon so important for non-astronauts like me?  Does it really matter that I know the capitals of Latvia or Liechtenstein. I don’t think so, now. I had actually surrendered to the needs of the hour but all that I had amassed as knowledge was really very insipid.

So once I had settled in to job and got some sense of economic safety, I started looking around and tried to ascertain, what I knew about my life and people around me. I soon realised that I did not know much. While I knew about Akbar and Sikander or GDP or BPL, I did not know about how should I behave with my boss or with my ex-college friends or in job colleagues. I did not know about Psychology of a child or a father and this mattered. I did not know that Men were from Mars and women were from Venus. Even when I had become a proud father of two, I did not know how to be a parent to kids. I had learned from life but that was not enough. Suddenly I realised that I was the most ignorant and least educated person, I knew. Realising my limitations was first step.

This feeling of  ‘knowing nothing’ started to sink in me and I was really feeling disgusted if not depressed. This was really interesting that despite being the proud topper of the Provincial Civil Services, I was feeling like a dodo. I was not mentally prepared for this. I was feeling like a deer lost in the wilderness of Amazon jungles. I could have been mauled by anybody. What I had learned till now was inadequate. I therefore needed to go back to my basics once again.

I started to talk with close friends and family members but most of them despite being successful were not able to realise my predicament of having low knowledge quotient despite being a successful individual. I asked my parents and teachers. Hitherto, the key factor of me, getting success in this life had been that I was good in studies and could mug up a lot and even most tasteless knowledge of Africa or Europe. I decided to go back to books. The different books. The topics were different this time. The first noticeable book I laid my hands on and which changed a lot of my behavior, was Dale Carnegie’s ‘How To Win Friends and Influence People’. I bought this book waiting to catch a train at Aligarh Railways station from a wheeler book stand. I read the book and realised that it had a treasure trove of information regarding human relationships and friendship. I could also use the lessons of the book in conducting day-to-day affairs of my life, like in convincing the principal of Sophia School in Meerut in 2004, why my daughter should get admitted to that prestigious school mid session or why to listen first about people themselves than to speak, if you wanted the attention of busiest and most successful doctor of the city. It was a new tool in my hand and it worked. I smiled again.

There have been many more books since then including the most religious of Gita Press Gorakhpur. I have gone through the Upanishads and Puranas to Kalyan to Ashtavakra Geeta to books on food to those on travel and leisure. I have read books on marriages, sex, friendship, psychology, snakes, photography,  and what not. My book shelf is getting richer and I am feeling more satisfied every day. Every penny spent on these books has been useful and caused serenity and peace inside me. I have found many answers and quest goes on. Now, though I have started forgetting the names of capitals and currencies, I feel I know few things about life. I need to know more…………

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Happiness is in moving from XXL To L

Ralph Lazar and Lisa Swerling in their book Happiness is in ……………write most simple but most striking ways of feeling happiness. They believe you don’t need a billion dollar to buy an Antila in Jhuggis infested Mumbai to feel happy. Nor everybody can afford to make Shahrukhs and Katrinas to dance at their daughter’s wedding like Miitals. Author duo highlight that there are simpler and zero expense ways of feeling happy. One can feel happy say by looking at his school days’ group photographs or by jumping into a pile of leaves or by blowing bubbles of soap water or when I publish a blog and get my first like. All these pleasures or happy moments of life are least expensive but most precious. They give you million dollar pleasures every day and if you start counting your gains, you will go to bed smiling more often not.

One of my most recent ways of feeling happiness is when I go for shopping now. Till last year I was close to a Quintal (Yes, I touched the magic figure). I had ignored my health quite badly despite many nudges and politically right warnings from friends and family, I did not mend my weighty ways. Though I did good work and was quite busy, physical fitness and health was not my priority. I was (still am) fond of eating and with many friends and college buddies posted together, we had a hell lot of time together, with whatever we could eat and whatever we could drink. Party today and party tomorrow was the motto. In those days, no party of us ended without fixing the next venue and menu. We were happy and so were our bursting from seams bellies.

This could not have continued for long. During to my visit to Valley of Flowers last August which involves a good trek of almost 5 Km, I realised what a poor sack of weight I was and after the Helicopter ride in which I was weighed in before boarding (the normal practice in hilly areas), I was badly exposed, more than the poor Sandip in Delhi. I was looked at almost disdainfully by the man who allowed me to board the chopper. I survived the valley track somehow, but came back with a resolve to change. With few other factors helping me, gradually I started to lose my flab slowly but steadily. In last one year, I have sweated more than perhaps a good over head water tank of a small colony, but it has paid off. The results are to be seen to be believed. I have lost almost 20 kg in this period.

Now when I go for shopping for cloths and the shop keeper looks at me and asks me to try a L or M size shirt, I feel like I have scaled Mount Everest or as If I have resolved the Kashmir problem for India ( much to the chagrin of separatists; sorry folks). The satisfaction I derive now, while trying for those M and L size shirts is a million dollar one for me. I bask in my new-found glory by trying as many shirts as I can. I am getting bolder now and egged on by my wife, I don’t mind disrobing mannequins (Dushashan is not my favourite character still) wearing my sizes, so as I can try them (I was told in a showroom that almost all mannequins do wear an M Size only!) This was unimaginable till last year as at that time every showroom I went to, used to raise their hands soon, as they did not have those many plus sizes clothes to try. Some of them were blunt enough to suggest me to get a good personal tailor to stitch and some of them suggested me specific brands for plus size people (read hopelessly fat) like me. While earlier my shopping used to be centered around XXL and sometimes XXXL, now there is no X factor in it, it is a simple L and M. This seems to be most mundane, but those who have not ever been XXXL sizes may perhaps not understand this. But believe me, I am zillion dollar happier now when I try M and L sizes. Life is really best in  L & M size!. Happiness is in losing Xs. I don’t think building another Antila could have given me those many smiles.

The Reality Bites

In 2009, I was posted as a Sub Divisional Magistrate at Aligarh. I was a happy less than 40 young man and enjoying my life. I was reading lots of book and with luck on my side, was reading and talking a lot about the power of positivity. I had just finished reading the Joseph Murphy’s best seller ‘The Power of Subconscious Mind”. This great book talks about the power of positive thinking through our sub conscious plane of mind which works in a transcendental way to make possible in physical world ,the changes you want to see in real world through your mental energy and thoughts. It is a good read and unless and you are the die hard friend of Einstein only, you will believe a good part of it if not all. This despite what you read and appreciate is not as per known parameters of real sciences. I was enamored by book and since I always believed and still do, there is a science beyond what we know today and that if we can’t demonstrate the metaphysics, it does not mean that its is not there and it is all unreliable occult only. I still believe that there is demonstrable physics and non-demonstrable metaphysics also.

So with these strong beliefs, I once met my senior colleague (whom I would not name for privacy purposes) whose wife was ill for some reason. When I came to know that she was ill, I quoted few examples from Murphy’s book to tell him that apart from the medicines he and his wife should read that book themselves and see the miracles. He was not sure but being one of the most outstanding gentleman I know in entire cadre, he gave proper  hearing and respect to my opinion and said that he would read the book. I was dead sure that book would hit the bull’s eye and all diseases could be helped if not cured by the power of positive thinking. Sometimes, if you are feeling good yourself, you become too positive and that’s not bad but still the world is too huge and complex fall into patterns of sureties. The Gurus flaunting their knowledge are not in short supply in India, they have never been actually. I was of the same state of mind and was not ready to see any alternative aspects of life and without being sensitive to him, prescribed solutions as the most authoritative doctor of meta-physics (this disease is still not exorcised out of me).

I met him again after few days and repeated my unsolicited gyan. He listened to me again patiently and said that he concurred with me but since his wife had been diagnosed of cancer and it was quite late, he was skeptical about the magic of sub conscious mind. But loaded with my recently gained knowledge, I continued to extol the virtue of a positive mind and suggested him to accept what I was saying. After listening to my harangues for some time, he invited me to visit his home and meet his wife personally and then advise him. I was eager to spread my gyan to his house too and the ailing lady.

After a day or two I reached his house and sat in the drawing-room. He invited me to his bed room where his wife was lying on the bed and was recuperating. I was fully ready to prescribe my metaphysical gyan/medicines and was rehearing my lines. But the moment I faced her actually, I was shocked. I was unprepared for what I saw. In front of me was a woman of 40 years but her weight was not more than 40 kg. A side of her face was swollen due to cancerous growth and as she tried to straighten up her body to give her attention to me, she had to struggle. I was petrified. I had not seen a cancer patient in this shape ever in my life. She was not a normal patient in any form, my mind could imagine. She was badly sick. To add to my agony, on one side wall I could see a portrait of a beautiful married lady, which I was told was her’s. She was really beautiful some time ago. I was dumbstruck and could not say a word for few seconds. My throat parched at the sight of a serious cancer patient. My colleague, seeing my state of affairs broke the silence and introduced me to his wife and said to her that I was a good officer and wanted to say something about positive thinking. I was still frozen and was feeling short of words and oxygen. I could hardly say anything except my rudderless greetings. Seeing my discomfort my colleague said few things about my approach and education, but I was speechless. I could not utter a word. Only thing I could say after much effort, was that I hoped everything would be fine. I knew I was lying and felt like a liar in uttering those words. Now I knew nothing about positivity. I felt I had never read anything about that. I soon came out of the room as I could not bear the deafening silence.

Once out, I took a deep breath of fresh air. I had no words to say. My colleague offered me some tea which I had, but I was badly shaken from inside. I was feeling very hollow. I had been prescribing nonsensical positive thinking without fully knowing the back ground and the disease. I was extolling virtues of positive mind as a machine without understanding the real situation. I tried to look back at the events of last few days. I could not guess that my senior colleague would be in so much pain and still doing his official duties that diligently. He was patient enough to listen to my talks and never yelled at me to stop my rubbish. He should have been going through a lot of emotional churn while listening to my dogged defence of power of sub conscious mind. The power of positive thinking is right, but I had to be sensitive about the scenario in which I was to utter and prescribe those tawdry formulas. I was feeling like an idiot at my nearsightedness. I was actually not able to see eye to eye to my colleague.I came back humbled and belittled.

The lady died next year. My colleague did not remarry and is a proud father of a boy and girl and doing his best to ameliorate his pain by taking care of his children. I have not been able to forget that incidence and many times still, her collapsing body reminds me of this ephemeral world and our short sightedness in living in this delusional world. That reality bites me still.

How Little I know…….

As I read more and more in my spare time at Saifai, I am realising that I know so little about this world and outstanding human beings inhabiting it, who are enlightening us everyday through their work and knowledge. Socrates was not only humble but bang right when he confessed that he knew nothing except his own ignorance. I am no Socrates of course, but am gradually realising that I know almost nothing. Exposed of my limitations, I got to learn about following pearls of wisdom this week;

1. About the idea of “Imagined Communities” given by Benedict Anderson through a book published with the same title in 1983 and revised in 2006. He says that nation states are basically imagined communities with real political boundaries but with intangible entity like air or weather. While you can’t see air or weather they are there. Likewise nation states have been created by grouping a people-community within a specific boundary and by selling the idea to people that they have common language or culture or cuisine or religion. People start identifying with nation after they are consistently bombarded with the symbols of nations in form of a common flag, common cuisines, common language, common anthropology etc. These symbols try to gloss over subtle differences in practices of culture from one area or region to another. He says advent of press and media have particularly strengthened the idea of nation-state as they have effective medium (the representative images) to posit before a common clientage as the ubiquitous and pervasive symbols. These symbols in turn handicap their vision of alternative ideas and visions of uncommon things and diversity which otherwise is the hallmark of the human diaspora. He introduces the idea of ‘Print Capitalism’- a marriage of capitalism and mass printing technology and says that the growth of vernacular languages like English and Dutch vis-a-vis classical languages like Latin and French led to gradual depletion of class boundaries and enriched the concept of common identities which in turn help build the idea of nation states.

2. Read an article ‘Pakistan without Tears’ published in ‘Independence Day’ issue of magazine ‘Open’ written by historian Ram Chandra Guha. Enriched by his own 3 personal visits to Pakistan, he eloquently dissects the idea of Pakistan and compares it with the idea of India. About Lahore he writes, “Lahore is the Salonica of the East, a multicultural city in living memory that is now dominated by people of single faith.” Lampooning the lopsided history writing of Pakistan which crudely disassociate itself from the non-islamic past of the country, expresses his doubts whether India would also repeat the mistake if the respect for diversity of opinions and multi-ethnicity continued to decline due to political compulsions. He says unlike India, Pakistan was created as a homeland for Muslims and thus the  faith of the majority had, in lesser or greater degree, to be reflected in the policies and practices of the state.

3. I read about First  Anglo Afghan War (1839-42), one of the worst defeat of England (East India Company) exemplified by gruesome killing of ex  British origin Indian Civil Servant, William Hay Mcnaughten and his troops while fleeing Afghanistan. Author William Dalrymple says that Afghanistan has always been surrounded by big powers like Russia, China and India and has been a hostile, inhospitable and  least productive territory inhabited by one of the most fiercely independent minded Pashtuns which remains relevant even in 21st century. He says that unlike in Iraq, in Afghanistan you would not find oil to finance your conquests and costs of holding territory in such a scenario. He says whoever tried to occupy and rule Afghanistan has bled away to defeats and death as exemplified by failed Anglo attacks in 19th century and aimless attempt of USA in 21st century during 2001 to 2014. He says, eventually Osama Bin Laden was captured in Pakistan and not Afghanistan and America suffered a huge economic cost and loss of face (not for the first time; remember Vietnam?). It has also led to destruction of any semblance of law and order in the Afghanistan leading to more chaos and export of terrorism in all shapes and sizes. Very interestingly, USA is negotiating with same Taliban in 2016, destruction of which was the raison detre of pounding with bombs every inch of Afghanistan in the name of finishing Taliban in 2001 (post 9/11)! The world would have been a better place, only if America had read about Anglo-Afghan War!!

4. I read about Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and Space X, the only private person except USA, Russia and China with capacities to launch satellites into space and then retrieve them too. He has vision of affordable space mission and though has suffered some failures including destruction of Falcon 9 this week, is planning a mission to Mars. Elon was born in South African, had schooling there before migrating to USA through a stint at Canada. He has a single big campus where he designs and constructs and then assembles all parts into a space rocket. NASA has multiple units to design different parts and later assembles them at Cape Canaveral. Musk has employed ex NASA pilots and recruited other team members to realize his goal of non governmental entrepreneurial mission to Mars and beyond. Musk is also producing most efficient electric cars for daily use and is using his experiences of space technology of building lightest but stable vehicles to run on the road. This man not only dreams well but has the guts to realise them too.

5. I am reading about India’s best known sociologist, Andre Beteille’s ideas on Indian society and liberal democracy and various contradictions plaguing it. Ram Chandra Guha writing about Andre opines, “Beteille has written insightful about all the major questions of the days: India’s encounters with the West, the contest between religion and secularism, relationship between caste and class, the links between poverty and inequality, the nurturing of public institutions, the role and responsibilities of the intellectual.”

About democracy he says that India adopted Westminster model of democracy as it(India) had seen that in practice in colonial times. However our growth and perceptions about that are different from British model and he says that this is normal also. We are bound to follow our own growth model through our intricacies and experiences. He says in India, we have the qualitative arguments but we lack in the sound institutions of democracy and that will be helped by social movements and growth of other democratic institutions. He says social movement like ‘India Against Corruption’ proselytizing into the political party as AAP, is normal and welcome. He says there will be and should be more social movements for our growth. He also says that growth curve can not be a sign wave, it may be tumultuous too. We should not be over worried by the unexpected growth trajectories. A lot more has to happen before we mature as a democracy.

Though I know little, I will continue to strive to know more till I am here….

Systemic Feast of Vultures In India

feast

I was attracted by the title of the book. I read about it in a pre release article and after going through the  short interview of the author, opted for pre-release order of the book written by The Hindu correspondent Josy Joseph. It took me some time to start reading the book but when I started it, could not hold myself from reading back to back. By the time I finished it, I felt exhausted at the systemic failures and loot, married as per convenience.

Author while exposing the corruption galore  in India credits his various sources who are ordinary and also sometimes beneficiaries of the system but still had some nobleness in them. He writes about them, ” Everyone here lives with a little bit of guilt and a lot of contradictions. Most regret paying bribes, many are angry at themselves for accepting bribes, everyone is irritated with the way people use influence to scuttle the rightful claims of others and almost all of us find a way to influence someone to jump the queue.” The lines are poignant and apply to us all perhaps.

The author starts the book with a prologue on the  wrenching story of village development of Hridyachak in Bihar. It is scary start of the journey ahead for any sensitive human being and particularly who has seen it from close quarters like me. It may remind you of mountain-man Dasarath Manjhi. He then shifts to chapter wise narration, starting with the power of ubiquitous Middlemen in India and their movement in the corridors of powers. He writes a chapter on the most powerful typists of India exemplified through the lives of R K Dhawan and Vincent George. The latter was winner of the fastest typist in a contest in his native city in Kerala, ending as the personal staff of a P M and the subsequent powerful first family scions ruling the roost. R K Dhawan who started as an assistant to Smt Indira Gandhi in 1962 (She was chosen as the chairperson of ‘New York World Fair Committee’ in 1962) and later prospered into the most confidential and most powerful politicians for decades.  Had you ever seen a typist with this angle?

He then traverses the arena of arms market and the middlemen involved in it. They are scores of authentic examples. While most of us know about Bofors, there are many interesting but shocking stories about the rich and powerful and how have they operated in the cover of their official positions through their English speaking foreign educated corrupt sons and daughters.

His most detailed exposure is about the corporate battles that have been fought silently in the Indian aviation sector. By the end of the book, you may start hating the chief of so-called biggest airline and his humble ways. He finds him to be a silent killer indeed literally. Interestingly much of this is documented in the dossiers of our own intelligence agencies, but still nothing is happening against him and many more for the reasons known and unknown. The way every arm of government  and state has been used and misused to monopolise  the sector is mind-boggling. You will understand perhaps for the first time, what a white-collar criminal is. I don’t know if some good storyteller/director may think of shooting a movie on the subject soon! Although he may not be courageous and lucky enough to survive the ordeal.

He writes about the plunder and loot of natural resources taking place in mineral rich Central India, all in the name of development. Development for whom? The local inhabitants in these most mineral rich areas have got two things only. One, the jobs of security guards and other lowest paid sundry jobs to fight against their own and the second, unparalleled amount of environmental destruction leaving them covered in tattered clothes and black soot.

He mentions about Ambani’s Antilla and the abject poverty around and also reveals that there was  an orphanage earlier there. It’s hard to miss the realities and believe me, it will bite you.

Author’s words keep on hitting you as you traverse through the book and feel anguished and sometimes even depressed at the way the whole system has been taken for a ride explained through authentic real examples by the investigative journalism of the man credited inter-alia with exposing Navy War Room Conspiracy, CWG scam and many more. He opines that the dismantling of License-Permit Raj is only a misnomer  and unless something most extraordinary happens we may be doomed sooner than we think and we may have to be satisfied by just sending summons to the plunderers sitting pretty in London.

Disclaimer: Don’t read the book if you are too sensitive and you can not digest the hardcore realities of Indian Democracy.