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Archive for January, 2022

My nerves are all of a twitter these days.

I learn from reliable sources that some time back, David Bennett, a resident of the USA, has had his ailing human heart replaced by a porcine one.

Of course, I wish David all the very best. May he remain in the pink of health for a long time to come and keep vanquishing any cardiac Goliath he comes across. May he even develop such traits as having an insatiable appetite and a penchant for rollicking in the mud. May he relish his moments as a Pig-hearted person of eminence and remain a metaphor for medical triumph amongst the Homo sapiens.

Some of you may know that the kidneys of my species have already been transplanted amongst humans, thereby enabling them to live a wee bit longer. Few others may recall that the first insulin used to treat a diabetic patient was derived from one amongst us. Assorted chemicals used in vaccines and medicines are formulated from different organs of ours. Speak of items ranging from gelatin and anti-coagulants to digestive supplements, and you will find us contributing to the general well being of all humans.

Those who do not mind their stomachs being treated as a graveyard of the animal kingdom would be aware that my species yields ham, bacon, spar ribs, loins, sides, shoulders, trotters and even heads. We add a unique allure to the pleasures of the table, something which can only be overcome by those who have nerves of chilled steel.  

But the latest development is worrisome. Given the innate greed of humans, the time is not far off when an entrepreneur in the mould of Ukridge would start pig farming in a big way, specializing in supplying genetically modified pigs which would be ready-to-use for the heart transplant industry.

I accept that our hearts are more readily acceptable by the human frame. Also, that we are easy to raise since we happen to be open to devouring all kinds of nourishment. Besides, we have a rather healthy litter size and lesser gestation periods. But the prospect of being reared in bulk in a genetically modified mode merely for our organs to be harvested so the human race may lead a happier life leaves me shaken from my snout to my tail.  

This is the nightmare which is making me lose my sleep these days. Soon, I intend to follow the fine example set by Mahatma Gandhi and start refusing my daily quota of 57,800 calories. This time, I am determined not to get swayed by a call of ‘pig-hoo-o-o-o-ey’ and give up my protest. Pepping me up without addressing my genuine concerns on the subject of xenotransplantism, the art and science of using animal organs for human purposes, will just not work.  

I do hope Lord Emsworth would rise to the occasion and order Rupert Baxter to start an intense campaign on social media against any such onslaught on me and my kind. The Shropshire Agricultural Show is just coming up and I am certain he would like me to win a prize without fail.  

If this does not happen, the development has to be faced by those of the porcine species with an upper stiff lip. I wonder why we can’t have wings.

(PS: Am sorry to note that David survived only two months after his surgery. RIP.)

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A dilemma faced by the Empress of Blandings

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ashokbhatia

An Anonymous Doctor

Yet another medical practitioner who wishes to remain anonymous specializes in the realm of diet and nutrition. Like all good doctors, he advises those who have been disappointed in love to eat frugally. Fail to do this, and the result is as inevitable as the climax of a Greek tragedy. No man, however gifted his gastric juices, can go on indefinitely brooding over a lost love and sailing into the starchy foods simultaneously. If so, indigestion grips him soon enough, making him consult a physician like the one alluded to here.

His solutions to cure a soul in torment may sound drastic, but are invariably effective. He is apt to put one on a diet comprising nothing else but the juice of an orange.

He may advise the patient thus: ‘Precisely. Take your orange. Divide it into two equal parts. Squeeze on a squeezer. Pour into a…

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ashokbhatia

The World Health Organisation, as the directing and coordinating authority on international health within the United Nations system, adheres to the UN values of integrity, professionalism and respect for diversity. It upholds such values as human rights, universality and equity established not only in WHO’s Constitution but also in its ethical standards.

In order to further strengthen the team of medical as well as paramedical professionals associated with us, we are hereby pleased to announce the immediate empanelment of the following experts drawn from Plumsville.

Sir Roderick Glossop

The high-priced loony doctor, with a bald head resembling the dome of St. Paul’s cathedral and two ferocious eyebrows which give his eyes a piercing look, has a pleasant baritone voice. He is expected to counsel all those who happen to be in quarantine to make creative use of their time while curbing their tendency to indulge in gambling, getting otherwise…

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Can an organization’s human resource policies be so designed as to facilitate a bottoms-up approach to leadership? In other words, can it encourage and enable people at the lower rung to automatically assume a leadership role without anyone else egging them on to give their best?

It is well known that leadership is a function of at least two factors. The individual traits of an employee surely play a role. Another is the situation which could be such as to produce a leader. But for all the employees to spontaneously respond to a situation in an empathic manner in the face of an unforeseen crisis goes on to show that a share of the credit must also go to the design and implementation of conscious human resource policies.     

Consider the Mumbai Taj Hotel terror attack on the 26th of November, 2008. Not even a single Taj employee abandoned the hotel and ran away, but stayed right through the attack. They helped the guests escape. In the process, many employees died.

Eventually, this became an important psychology case study at Harvard. The result was a deep insight into the way in which the company’s recruitment policies had been designed. Three of the major factors which stood out have been as follows:

1) Taj did not recruit from big cities; instead, they recruited from smaller cities where traditional culture values still holds strong.

2) They did not recruit toppers; they spoke to school masters to find out who were most respectful of their parents, elders, teachers and others.

3) They taught their employees to be ambassadors of their guests to the organization, not ambassadors of the company to their guests.

For some details of what transpired during the terror attack and the Harvard study, please check out the following:

“The Ordinary Heroes of the Taj Hotel: Rohit Deshpande at TEDxNewEngland.”

The Tata group is well known for the values, integrity, transparency and fairness it practices while dealing with various stakeholders across all its business verticals. The response of its employees to the terror attack is merely one of the many manifestations of its enlightened human resource policies.  

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 A Tribute to Swami Vivekananda: Leader Extraordinary

“On the seventh of August 1941, in the city of Calcutta, a man died. His mortal remains perished but he left behind a legacy… that no fire can ever consume…”

That was the baritone, sonorous voice of Satyajit Ray in his documentary titled ‘Rabindranath’ created as a tribute to Rabindranath (a project mandated on Ray, the genius in film making, arts and literature, commissioned by Ministry of Culture, Government of India) on the occasion of the birth centenary of the another genius, Rabindranath Tagore the Nobel laureate poet, musician, novelist, dramatist, artist and philosopher. The first scene of the documentary depicted the last and final journey of Tagore to the burning ghat (crematorium).

Ray’s portrayal of Tagore began with the scene finale. But where do we start in our odyssey with the volcanic monk of India whose 150th birth anniversary we celebrated…

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What ho!

To the best of my knowledge and belief, P. G. Wodehouse never set foot on Indian soil. But he has often alluded to its exotic temples, its wildlife, its royalty, its fakirs and mystics with magical powers, and even its love lyrics. Many times he has vividly captured facets of my beautiful country, serving up a delectable curry spiced with uniquely Indian condiments.

In the essay under reference, the reader will find a random sample of references to India in Wodehouse’s novels and short stories. Such references are found across all his narratives, whether he is writing a Jeeves and Bertie story, a tale of Blandings, or a stand-alone novel. What I present here is merely a synopsis.

The Indian Curry: A Brief

  • In some of his novels, jewels associated with idols of gods in Indian temples get stolen, with overzealous priests chasing the villains.
  • Indian fauna such as spiders, scorpions, cobras, elephants, tigers, cheetahs and lions regale the reader across many of Plum’s narratives. Walking butlers like Beach get described as elephants sauntering through an Indian jungle. Princes and maharajas of yore also find a mention occasionally.
  • Plum suggests a link between the Indian Civil Disobedience movement and the dietary and fasting habits of Mahatma Gandhi. Bertie Wooster motivates Tuppy Glossop to forsake pleasures of the table by quoting Mahatma’s example. The Cawnpore (now Kanpur) Mutiny gets referred to in at least two places.
  • Military men who had served in India as part of their duties tell us interesting anecdotes about that distant land, including about their time in the North Western Frontier Province. Some of you may recall that the latter was a province of British India from 1901 to 1947, when it was ceded to Pakistan.
  • When Bobby Wickham takes umbrage, she ticks off Kipper like a typhoon on the Indian Ocean. Elsewhere, to impress a heart throb, the hero claims to have used a Boy Scout pocket knife to teach the sharks there a lesson or two.
  • Indian scriptures often use the Sanskrit term ‘siddhi’ to signify either a remarkable accomplishment or a singular proficiency attained by an aspirant. These could be material, paranormal, supernatural or magical in nature, attained by such practices as meditation, yoga and intense ‘tapas’ (austere practices).

Like much else, this facet of India is also used by Plum to amuse, elevate and entertain his readers. Jeeves, for instance, gets repeatedly portrayed as someone who possesses the property of a gas floating from Spot A to Spot B without much ado. Some characters undergo an experience akin to that of curling up on spikes while others are found contemplating the infinite.

  • Wherever Plum is, love cannot be far behind. India has gifted the world with the Kama Sutra, but it is not surprising that Plum never alludes to this unique treatise, because he never used sex as a ploy to popularize his narratives. All of his male characters are steeped in chivalry, strictly bound by Victorian norms.

In his narratives, Wodehouse appears to have instead based his observations on The Garden of Kama, a collection of lyrical poetry of Indian origin published in 1901, which makes liberal use of imagery and symbols from the poets of the North-West Frontier of India and the Sufi poets of Persia (Iran). The poems, written by Laurence Hope, a pseudonym of Violet Nicholson, are typically about unrequited love and loss. One of her famous compositions, known as a ‘Kashmiri Song’, appears in at least two of Plum’s narratives. 

  • India rubber is one name for the natural rubber that comes from the sap of certain trees. Rubber trees that grow in South America and India produce the majority of India rubber. Plum uses its properties of agility, elasticity, flexibility and robustness to cover a wide range of physical endeavours of the characters in many of his narratives.
  • Some characters have a fetish for remaining as fit as a fiddle. One of the instruments which they happen to depend upon to do so is a pair of Indian clubs.
  • Some of his characters have either visited India or plan to do so. While Lady Malvern whips up a book relating to Indians, Crispin Blakeney goes off there to deliver a series of lectures. Some of us may recall that in ‘Bertie Changes His Mind’, Carry On, Jeeves, Bertie Wooster tells Jeeves that he has a sister in India.
  • Indian handicrafts come up for a mention. So does Taj Mahal. Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s dietary habits get commented upon. Some behavioural traits of Indians get covered. The age old sordid custom of ‘sati’ gets touched upon, as do the Indian Civil Services. Stilton Cheesewright has the unique distinction of having come under the spell of Buddhism briefly.
  • The Luck Stone, a concoction whipped up by Plum under the pseudonym Basil Windham, was serialized in a magazine known as ‘Chums: An Illustrated Paper for Boys’ during 1908-1909. It touches upon Indian Vedas, mythology and superstitions.

Some Missing Ingredients

Plum’s works surely throw up several references to India. But if he had wanted to, he could have used a number of other Indian resources to further enrich his narratives.

Alas, we do not find any mention of such literary figures as Kalidasa, besides Aryabhata or Ramanuja, the famous mathematicians. The Vedas do find a solitary mention but any other references to India’s soft power comprising such aspects as spirituality, its multi-layered scriptures and various dance forms are sadly missing.

Above all, the mind-numbing diversity of the spirit of India is missing. Its wide spectrum of ethnicities, languages, beliefs, practices and cuisines is nowhere to be found. These are facets of India which have missed out on his wit and wisdom. It is indeed a delectable irony of sorts that this write up is labelled as The Indian Curry Dished Out by P G Wodehouse, even though it has not thrown up even a single reference to any specifically Indian dish!

As to a liberal use of many other resources of an Indian origin, imagine a distraught Gussie Fink-Nottle pining for Madeline Bassett and sending messages to her through clouds passing overhead, a la ‘Meghadut’, the classic poem penned by Kalidasa. Poets like Ralston McTodd would have been found drawing some inspiration from the creative outpourings of Tagore. To improve Bertie’s intellect, all Florence Craye had to do was to insist that he peruse at least one of the chapters of the ‘Bhagavad Gita’. Laura Pyke could have drawn some inspiration from the science of ‘Ayurveda’, the healthy-lifestyle system that people in India have used for more than 5,000 years. Anatole could have been found whipping up ‘chhole-bhature’ or ‘dosa’s!

Yoga could have helped someone like Ashe Marson to treat his clients suffering from acute dyspepsia to heal faster and better. Sir Roderick Glossop could have gone about advising his loonier patients to make meditation an essential part of their mundane lives. Vicars could have lived a happier Thos-infested life while brooding on spiritual tenets dished out by Indian scriptures, thereby becoming hotter at their jobs. George Bevan, while working on one of his next musical comedies, could have been drawing inspiration from the ‘Natya Shastra’ of Bharata Muni. Gentlemen aspiring for India rubber legs could have been practising such dance forms as ‘Kathak’ or ‘Bharatnatyam.’

The possibilities are endless. The mind boggles. But one would do well not to be concerned with what might have been. Instead, the focus needs to be on the rich legacy Plum has left behind for us to rejoice in.

In fact, it is befitting that quite a few of his works have been translated into some other languages – like Bengali, Kannada, Telugu and Sanskrit – forming a pale parabola of subtle humour across India.

Consistent Depiction, Despite 1947

The India that Plum would refer to belongs to an era which is long since bygone. India gained independence in 1947, but his works published during the period from 1947 (Joy in the Morning) till 1974 (Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen) do not reveal much change in his imagination. Astral bodies, scorpions and cobras continue to rule the roost.

From a global perspective, the devastation caused by the Second World War (1939–45) was then the main area of concern, rather than the fact of India gaining independence on 15 August 1947. Plum had personally suffered in his life owing to political developments then and had relocated from Europe to USA during April 1947, never to visit Europe again. Owing to his preoccupation with other matters then, perhaps the last thing on his mind would have been the British (or American) reaction to the events unfolding in India. Hence his storylines and characters never touched upon the emergence of an independent India.

Love sans Borders

The love for Plum’s oeuvre in the Indian subcontinent transcends any political considerations. Moreover, Plum sets a gold standard of pristine humour not only in English but also in many other languages into which his works have been translated, including in many regional ones in India.

Plum dished out his narratives in a pre-Internet era, when access to information was severely restricted. It is amazing that based mostly on secondary data, so to say, he could leave behind for us a spicy Indian curry, making India shine through in so many ways through a vast array of his novels and stories.

Pip pip!

Notes:

  1. The full text of this essay can be accessed at https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2021/08/31/the-indian-curry-dished-out-by-p-g-wodehouse.
  2. A version of this synopsis appears in the December 2021 issue of Jeeves, the annual journal of The Wodehouse Society in Sweden (WSS).
  3. A version of this synopsis also appears in the March 2022 issue of The Wooster Sauce, the Quarterly Journal of The P. G. Wodehouse Society (UK).
  4. Illustration courtesy Suvarna Sanyal.

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As a neighbour, an impartial observer and a well-wisher of Auroville for close to twenty five years, let me share a few impressions I have of this ‘City of Dawn.’

In 1997, I had just joined a company in Pondicherry and the need arose of a couple of computers. Orders were duly placed. A friend of the owner of the business, based in Auroville and a technocrat by profession, not only organized the hardware and the software but also brought in intranet, helping us to exchange notes via emails sent and received over our monitors. At the time, the term ‘internet’ was not known to me!

That was my first realization that Auroville was indeed a Centre of Excellence in various fields – IT, solar power, wind power etc.

Visitors to Auroville, especially those who live in matchbox kind of flats in our urban concrete jungles, get bowled over by its greenery and its open spaces.

Background

The visionary concept of Auroville is that of a universal township“where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities.”

“Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville, one must be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.” 

“Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, a youth that never ages.” (Auroville Charter, 1968)

The Birth of Auroville

The township is a tangible manifestation of the spiritual collaboration between the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. After he passed away in 1950, it was the Mother who took on the task of bringing his idea of a “universal town” to fruition. Her guiding principles were Sri Aurobindo’s ideal of human unity, his emphasis on cultural collaboration and his vision of India as a spiritual leader of the world.

It is supposed to be a place which is like a crucible in a laboratory from where Homo sapiens of a higher consciousness would eventually emerge.

Born in 1878, Mother was over 90 when, on February 28, 1968, Auroville was inaugurated. She worked with architect Roger Anger to chalk out a blueprint for a city of 50,000 people. On the day of the inauguration, over 5,000 people from 124 countries, including India, had gathered.

To signify that the township belonged to none in particular but to humanity as a whole, these delegates also deposited a handful of their native soil into a marble-clad urn at the amphitheatre.

Government of India Steps In

The baby was born. But its growing challenges had just begun.

An enterprise like this one can almost only be built in difficult conditions. Without a maturity that arises from problems, on the level of those people who live the experience, it seems hard to conceive that the goal of Auroville and its message can be arrived at in a comprehensive manner…..What is important is not to build a city, it is to build a new humanity.

(Roger Anger, 1973)

In 1973, after the Mother’s death, a bitter conflict developed between the residents and the township’s ‘parent’ organisation, the Sri Aurobindo Society. The Society laid a claim to the land acquired by Auroville.

The matter went right up to the Supreme Court, which eventually decided in favour of Auroville.

Sensing a situation of continued tension between the sister organisations and to legally permit Auroville to own land, Government of India stepped in. In 1988, the Indian Parliament unanimously passed the Auroville Foundation Act to make the township a legal entity and safeguard its autonomy. Eventually, the Society transferred the land to Auroville.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of Mr. Kireet Joshi, a senior IAS officer, the township earned global recognition by UNESCO. In the Cold War era, it was considered a manifestation of India’s commitment to the cause of the Non Aligned Movement. Prominent persons like Mr. J R D Tata, Mr. Nani Palkhivala and HH the Dalai Lama have supported Auroville.

The Organisation

Auroville is managed by a three-tier structure.

  1. International Advisory Board
  2. Working Committee (comprising 9 members: 1 Secretary, 4 nominees of the Government of India, 4 nominees of Auroville)
  3. Resident Assembly (comprising all the residents of Auroville, the decisions of which need unanimous approval)

Interestingly, nothing in Auroville is owned by any person there. Every single asset in the township is owned by the Auroville Foundation, which, in turn, is under the Government of India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development.

Achievements

Today, Auroville is home to over 3,200 people — architects, writers, artists, doctors, engineers, chefs, teachers, farmers, students etc — from over 60 countries, not to mention all regions of India. Thanks to its multi-faceted talent pool, the township has been a trail blazer in sustainable practices, environment-friendly operations, futuristic technologies, water resource management, alternate farming, to name a few. From ecology to economy and from education to entertainment, it offers a fulfilling life to its residents. Its expertise in different domains is sought by governments and other bodies from time to time.

Over the years, a massive forestation drive by residents and villagers has ensured a lush green campus, buildings which draw their energy needs primarily from the sun and houses which are not connected to power grid of Tamil Nadu but are solely dependent on wind/solar power.

Take the case of Buddha Garden which is a farm that experiments with sensor-based precision irrigation system — the first crop cycle saw an almost 80% drop in water consumption!

The Universe and its Centre

The layout of the township resembles that of a galaxy, with the magnificent Matri Mandir at its centre, considered the “soul of Auroville”. Over time, separate zones have evolved: for residences, for industrial units, for cultural events and for visitors.   

Matri Mandir is an elaborate gold-plated sphere that took 37 years to see the light of day. The structure comprises 1,415 large gold discs and is suspended above 12 “petals” or themed mini concentration rooms, each of which is flanked by a themed garden. The main hall for concentration, known as the Inner Chamber, is a pristine white in colour, whereas each of the “petals” has a distinct colour to it.

The approach to the Inner Chamber has three levels through which one ascends, much like a spiritual aspirant would evolve through the three states of Aspiration, Rejection and Surrender, eventually reaching a state of realisation.

The global structure rests on four directional pillars: Mahakali (North), Maheshwari (South), Mahalakshmi (East) and Mahasaraswati (West).  

Woods are Lovely….

Auroville presents to us an exemplary blend of India’s age old spiritual tenets on the one hand and futuristic thought in terms of sustainability and technology on the other.

The journey of evolution is surely not an easy one. Coordinating between various opinions and views is a mighty task. Recently, in respect of the implementation of the Master Plan, some differences have arisen between two groups of residents. There is no doubt that with compassion and a spirit of give and take, the same will get resolved amicably and Auroville will emerge stronger.

It is hoped that future developments would retain the township’s Unique Selling Proposition – greenery, low rise structures and open spaces.  

Mother has never said this journey is going to be easy. She would typically discourage enthusiastic newcomers to join in. Her recommendation was that once we have made up our mind to join, we should go to the very end.  

The journey of Auroville reminds me of the famous poem by Robert Frost where he says:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.

(Inputs from Mr Sanjay Mohan are gratefully acknowledged)

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