Archive for September, 2011

Standing by the side of my car, I was feeling quite frustrated. Here I was, rushing to a music concert in Chennai, with family in tow. We had started from Pondicherry well within time. The plan was to cruise through Chennai’s traffic infested roads before the evening rush hour kicked in, have a snack or two at our favorite joint and then troop in to the hall and settle down to an evening of soulful ghazals, to be rendered by an artiste of national repute. But our car was not possibly enthused by the idea. It had revolted in the middle of the highway, with no help in sight. For close to half an hour, we kept signaling to the vehicles whizzing past us to render some help, but to no avail.
Eventually, a skinny guy on a mud splattered moped stopped and asked us what the trouble was. He gave my son a lift to a workshop about three kilometers away. He then came back, with a mechanic in tow, on his shining bike, complete with a tool box and accessories. Within an hour, after a defective part had been replaced, we were off to our rendezvous with fine arts, our hearts full of gratitude to the Good Samaritan. We missed the snacks but arrived in time for the performance.
In today’s internet savvy world, life has become fast paced. There is a virtual disconnect between the real world and the virtual world. Fortunately, Bharat still lives on! Its age old values of athithi devo bhava still persist!!
I fondly recollect the earlier days, when a Bajaj Priya scooter was always there to serve the family’s needs. We were then located at Chandigarh. Often, wife and I would undertake a short trip to some nearby place, like Pinjore, Nahan, Kasauli, Shimla, Ludhinana, Jalandhar and Amritsar etc. It was a pleasure to feel the wind in our faces. The lush green farms rushing past the road were always in a welcoming mode. During winters, farms growing mustard turned a bright yellow and the rhythmic sound of a tube-well operating in the fields got mingled with that of the birds happily chirping along.
If we had to stay somewhere for the night, there was no issue at all. All we had to do was to enter a village at dusk time. We would invariably be welcomed with open arms into homes of perfect strangers. The hosts would not only feed us well but also insist upon our staying the night. We could only leave the next morning, and that too only after a hearty breakfast of yummy paronthas and a big glass of lassi to boot. We always carried back heart -warming tales of hospitality.
On one such trip to Nahan, our scooter had a puncture in the middle of nowhere. We realized that even the stepney did not have enough air, and we were truly grounded in our isolated glory. We locked the scooter, left it on the road side, and walked up to the nearest village, a small sleepy hamlet of about 20 odd families. We were directed to the house of the Sarpanch, the village headman, who alone had a scooter in that area. It turned out that he also owned a Bajaj Priya scooter! After offering us a warm glass of fresh cow’s milk, the Sarpanch insisted that we take his stepney and continue our journey. He advised us to give our stepney for repair to the sole mechanic in the area in a small town about 20 kms down the road, in the direction which we were taking. On our way back from Nahan, we could pick up our repaired stepney, and return the borrowed one to the Sarpanch on our way back to Chandigarh!
We were astounded to see the faith and trust the Sarpanch reposed in us. On his insistence, we took his advice and proceeded to Nahan. We had a nice quiet time there, soaking in the pristine beauty of nature sitting by the side of the lake in the centre of the town. In the evening, when we came back to return the borrowed stepney, we were treated with another glass of milk before being allowed to leave. The Sarpanch himself was not at home at the time, so we conveyed our profuse thanks to the family, and left with deep emotions tugging at our heart strings.
Similarly, in villages of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, we have had very pleasant experiences. Whatever food the family was having, we were invariably offered a share of it. Despite a language barrier, communication was never a problem. We were offered all assistance to happily continue our journey through the countryside.
We from the city believe ourselves to be cultured and educated. But the learning we have had from those living in our villages has taught us many values in life. On the physical plane of our existence, those living in villages are our food providers. On the psychological plane, their ability to welcome and trust perfect strangers to their homes and hearth, their eagerness to help strangers in distress and the sheer warmth of their hospitality is noteworthy and something to emulate.
Life is relatively simpler in the villages, and one lives in the lap of nature. May be, that is how they cultivate better values to live life by. But it would not be wrong to say that our age old traditional values are still being preserved in our villages. These are what “India” can re-learn from “Bharat”!

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I was a little boy way back in time, living with my uncles at my native place in UP. On a frosty winter morning, I had come back home crying from an aborted bicycle learning mission. I had lost balance and hurt myself in the knee. With the biting cold, it was hurting even more. Even though my injuries were promptly attended to, I was dumbfounded to note that one of my uncles, rather than being sympathetic to my woes, was openly critical and cynical. I took it bad and sulked through the day. When he returned home in the evening, after work, I politely asked him why he was being so tough on me. He gave me the example of a rubber ball and explained that the harder one threw it to the ground, the higher it bounced back! Likewise, he explained, he was merely demanding more out of me! I gradually understood that he was being unreasonable with me only out of concern for my progress!
Divine has programmed us, the home sapiens, such that we enjoy a great deal of elasticity in our physical, mental and spiritual beings. Most of the times, we operate at a fraction of our own innate capacity. At the level of the physical body, important organs like brains and lungs are seldom used to the full. Our mental faculties are stupendous, but we chug along life with our mundane chores and concerns. As to our spiritual awareness, we realize that religion divides whereas spirituality unites humanity, but we continue to perform rituals and ceremonies which we do not always understand or identify with.
Our concern for conforming to standards set by others in our personal universe – parents, family members, friends, teachers, bosses, peers and subordinates – far outweighs a rational analysis of our own strengths and weaknesses. Thus, most of the times, we do not live up to our own innate potential. Unless we are challenged by an external stimulus, we make a virtue out of underperformance. In the process, we also cultivate another bad habit – that of blaming our external circumstances and others for our problems. To put it simply, we refuse to take responsibility for our own lives! We end up abdicating this very vital aspect of our life to those who comprise our personal universe. We do not synchronize our inner selves with our outer selves and create an inner disharmony. The result is that we become victims of psychosomatic illnesses. It is no surprise that this leads to untold misery and avoidable unhappiness. To take the argument a little further, most of us have no clue as to who we really are!
Our quest for our true identity begins the day we decide to take control of our own lives. When a superior rebukes us, or when we have a disagreement with our spouse, we feel miserable and end up blaming either the person or the circumstances. If the Divine is present within all of us, how can our mood get spoilt by an external occurrence? If we were already connected to our inner being and our intuitive faculties, may be the unpleasant encounter could have been avoided! We do not realize that we have the right to make a conscious choice of bringing about a change within, thereby bringing about a change in our outlook and our perception of external circumstances. Even if some harm is done, not all is lost. May be, we could approach the superior a little later and explain to him where we think we went wrong and what steps we propose to take to avoid a recurrence of the perceived default in future. Likewise, our spouse could also be approached a little later, with a loving and rational response.
By standing up to get counted and by refusing to bow down to popular pressure, we reveal the uniqueness and the core beliefs of our personality. In the process, we may appear to be socially suffering in the short run. However, in the long run, we earn the respect of those around us. We even end up getting a horde of followers!
What is it that holds us back from living life to our full potential? Most likely, it is our urge to be “reasonable” about things around us! We rationalize failures, whether ours or others. We readily accept and give excuses for a fouled up assignment. We have a ready list of reasons as to why we get late for an appointment. In other words, we do not strive for perfection. We do not demand it – neither from others nor from ourselves! When we see garbage strewn on the road, we blame the municipal guys and move on. When someone drives in the wrong lane, we curse him but allow him to pass by nevertheless. When a clerk in a government department keeps asking us to come back repeatedly, we devise a short cut by appeasing him somehow and getting our job done.
If we introspect further, we find that past conditioning is often the main culprit. Our own lack of self-worth or self-confidence also does us in. Our need to conform gets worse with a deepening sense of insecurity that we sometimes carry within ourselves. Our ego is another serious block to such internal progress. Our pride holds us back from acknowledging a mistake publically.
The challenge is to begin this journey of internal transformation. Depending on individual characteristics and sensibilities, regular meditation could surely help. A simple technique is that of reviewing the day’s incidents and our responses to them before going to bed. Eventually, we can hope to find an individual middle path, wherein we demand excellence from ourselves and also from those around us in an amicable and positive manner. The best contribution we can perhaps make to our team member’s internal progress is by facilitating and enabling them to achieve their goals.
Taj Mahal was not created by a mughal king who decided to be reasonable with the artisans. Great works of creativity, whether in the realm of science, fine arts or culture, did not get done by leaders in respective fields who decided to be mediocre in their approach. Nelson Mandela won over apartheid because he decided to be unreasonable and swam against the current. Of late, the Jasmine Revolution sweeping a part of our planet and the kind of social activism which we find blossoming within India, reflect social changes which could not have come about based on a doctrine of conformity and reasonableness. India can justifiably boast of business houses which have spurred the economy’s growth based on principles of fair practices in conducting their business and also a policy of pegging their business plans and targets much higher than what many would consider unreasonable in the present. The future is surely shaped by level-headed achievers who do not take “no” for an answer!

To quote George Bernard Shaw: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

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