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Archive for June, 2011

If the streets of the most popular democracy – USA – are said to be paved with gold, the configuration of the most populated democracy of the world – India – offers a unique opportunity for a traveler to this part of the world to evolve into a truly spiritual soul. Any globe-trotter who is a keen learner can pick up valuable lessons in India – spiritual as well as managerial.

One thing that baffles the Western mind is the wide range of Hindu Gods that most Indians venerate. Going a little deeper, however, he realizes that there are Gods with specializations in resolving problems of a particular kind; that there is a near perfect division of work between the various Godheads. Eventually, the value of remaining focused and getting problems resolved through a higher level of intervention dawns upon the traveler.  This also gives him a precious clue as to how Indians cope up with the chaos all around them in almost all spheres of their lives.

Repeated visits to the local immigration department soon make him learn the value of patience, forbearance and equanimity – to not to get unduly perturbed over inordinate delays in getting things done. The long winding lines for any public facility offer an opportunity to learn the need to surrender to the Divine Will – things will happen only when they are destined to be!

The value of having unwavering faith is learnt by witnessing the absolute lack of either civic sense or discipline in public areas. Frequent power cuts soon motivate the weary traveler to remain in tune with Mother Nature, synchronizing his body clock with that of the solar system.

On days of local festivities, loudspeakers blaring during the dead of the night make the traveler learn the value of pro-active and aggressive communication, a talent without which any promotional campaign in the media would turn out to be a big flop.

The great Indian family system leads the visitor to understand and learn the true value of bonding. Those who are fond of wines and liquors soon realize the value of practicing zero tolerance to wastage, especially when they see their Indian hosts not resting till the last drop in a bottle has been used up.

All travelers are wonder struck when they see a puffed up chapatti. Also, they learn inventory management and multi-tasking by merely watching Indian housewives in action! There is seldom a stock out in the kitchens. With unconditional love and devotion to their husband and children, they offer the tourist an insight into practicing saintliness in their daily chores.

The Indian shopkeepers, the auto drivers and the traveling public are great educationists in their own right. The traveler is quickly made to learn some basic lessons in attentiveness and patience. If the traveler decides to instead go around the city on a self driven two-wheeler, he learns to manage uncertainty – by dodging the odd cyclist who crosses his path in a single-minded pursuit of attaining eternal bliss, by avoiding a polyethylene wrapper which comes out of the window of a car just upfront, or by giving way to a spittle from an uncaring passenger in the window seat of the bus ahead!

The Indian pedestrians who cross the road without looking at traffic heading their way demonstrate to the traveler their abiding faith in the Divine and the trust they repose in the vehicle driver’s skills. Not to be left behind, the Indian drivers keep overtaking vehicles from the wrong side, teaching the value of humility and empathy. Long distance bus and truck drivers  who nimbly maneuver their overloaded vehicles on our not so broad highways demonstrate the value of sincerity of purpose.

The Indian four-legged animals teach the wayfarer the value of forbearance and equal opportunity for all. Despite suffering ill-treatment daily in silence, they thrive on chewing whatever comes their way. These animals do not have any franchisee rights under our Constitution; nevertheless, they practice democracy, by demonstrating their equal rights on the Indian highways and roads.

A globe-trotter will surely not get a free lunch in India. However, he does get all this learning, absolutely free of charge!

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As I get up after a leisurely sleep, I smell the faint aroma of filter coffee wafting in from the kitchen. The birds are merrily chirping outside. Gentle sunrays are streaming in from the window. I look out of the window and find the flowers in full bloom. The sky is a pristine azure, with a couple of cirrus clouds lazing about. A flock of parrots is making its way towards the beach nearby. It appears that God is in heaven and all is well with the world.

Having spent thirty five years in the private sector, I had recently taken a voluntary retirement. I wondered if I had really lived life in those thirty five years. Sure enough, it was a useful phase. It brought in not only material gains but also immense learning at all stages. But when did our children grow up and fly out of the nest? Did I get to truly enjoy their company? Did I share their pangs of growth? I wondered if I really spent much quality time with my family!

As to the better half, we have been married for close to thirty three years now. When I look back at those years, I realize the invaluable bond that we have built up between ourselves. The unspoken word often conveys what we want to say to each other. A mere gesture is enough to communicate. Through the crests and the troughs of life, we have sailed together, facing many challenges and pursuing our goals in life. This is not to say that we have not had our share of differences and quarrels. Possibly, that is how life got spiced up at frequent intervals!

Realization dawns that I have so far not cared much for my life partner. Work was always top priority. One was predisposed to bring into the home a lot of emotional baggage – one’s attitude, work habits, frustrations on the job and personality clashes. There was a ready explanation for all the cancelled vacations. As a business executive, one was always used to being waited upon, rather than being kept waiting. It was a birth right to get annoyed at a minor delay in food being served, or in case of any minor aberration in the conduct of domestic affairs.

For a parent teacher meeting to be attended at children’s school, it was clear who would volunteer. Right from caring for aging parents and looking after the needs of all family members, my wife had handled it all. Parties thrown by my friends could never be passed up. However, as to her friends, there was neither any mention nor any trace in all these years. She always ensured that there was never a stock out of tea leaves in the kitchen. If there is ever a MBA course mooted with specialization in multi-tasking, she would surely merit a gold medal!

The initial years were spent in understanding each other. In middle age, family concerns took over. Children’s education, parent’s health, stints abroad to beef up financial resources, creation of a modest assert base and such mundane concerns took centre stage. Eventually, parents passed on to their heavenly abode. Children got married off. Annual visits by them and our grand children are times we both now look forward to.

Sure enough, the past cannot be undone. Perhaps there is an opportunity now to make some amends and to rediscover each other? The future can surely be used to re-bond and to revisit our likes and dislikes. By spending some quality time with each other, we can start realizing the contours of our spirits and our inner beings.

Breaking my reverie, a gentle call emanates from the kitchen. I realize that I am being summoned to pick up the tray containing two steaming cups of coffee and some cookies. The day’s newspapers are already waiting in the front porch. I resolve to give her a surprise the next morning and get up earlier to make the morning coffee. Her happiness would be much more than worth the effort. With this resolution, I troop into the kitchen to do my bidding.  

Our spiritual honeymoon has just begun!

 

Ashok Kumar Bhatia

(akb_usha@rediffmail.com)

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Gone are the days when India used to have illustrious intellectuals leading it from the front, shaping public opinion and carrying the masses with their line of thought. The stature of our leaders – whether spiritual or political – like Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel, had left a deep impression on the public psyche. But the effect seems to have got completely obliterated from our collective conscience and memory.

It was Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan who had once coined the phrase “Crisis of Character”. As a common citizen of India, I think this is what we are facing today. Probity in public life is at its ebb. There is a vacuum at the top. On issues of corruption, we are not being proactive. Instead, we appear to be reacting to self proclaimed public activists and godmen. The last example of high standards in public life was possibly witnessed by us in 2004, when the President of the largest political party in India declared her intention of not assuming executive power. Today, we are a mute witness to a hapless Government conceding the demands put across by a section of the society, thereby compromising the fundamental principles on which our Constitution is based.

The root cause of some activists trying to usurp executive powers is the widespread public disenchantment with the lowering standards in public life. What is necessary at this juncture is the statesmanship of our top political leaders, including those who do not occupy the treasury benches. The opposition parties need not gloat over the recent turn of events – they would do well to set their own house in order and provide constructive support to the Government to clean up the mess.

Some basic steps which the powers-that-are may consider taking may sound utopic but make eminent sense.

Major political parties can come together and voluntarily declare their sources of donations and their expenditure pattern from 2011-12 onwards. Admittedly, there would be red faces all over in the short run, but a basic cleansing of the system will begin in right earnest.

Political parties would also do well to treat themselves like publically listed companies, thereby bringing them at par with private businesses, declaring their financial and corporate affairs to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs year after year.

Top political and business class can declare the assets and bank accounts held by them abroad, thereby giving a clear signal that probity in public life is a desirable trait. Even if a few selected top honchos take this initiative, the message will percolate down to the rank and file and bring in better transparency in our affairs.

The offer of the Swiss government to share information on the tax deducted on interest earned on deposits held in their banks must be purposed vigorously, thereby leading to realistic estimates of the money stashed abroad. Strictures against trading with countries which act as tax havens should get expedited.

Electoral reforms, specifically linked to disqualifying political aspirants who have criminal cases pending against them, are the need of the hour. So are judicial reforms, on which we only hear some lip service once in a while, but no concrete action on the ground in terms of fast tracking the disposal of cases.

By sending out an unambiguous message to the Indian public as also the world at large, the leadership today can ensure that our developmental plans gain momentum, we rekindle the interest in India as a favorite investment destination and we move towards a growth which is more inclusive in nature.

Would the political class rise to the occasion and seize this historic opportunity? Does it have the will to bring in radical changes in the way run this country and our lives?

Let us clean up the mess our individual and collective greed has led us into. Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore had exhorted us to hold our heads held high and having a mind without fear. Let us practice it. Let us demonstrate to the world that ours is a unique democracy, based on a spiritual paradigm which is millennia old. Let us rediscover ourselves and restore our national pride.

 

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