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William Faulkner is reported to have said that “The past is never dead, it’s not even past.”

Partition, or rather the tearing apart of India into three parts circa 1947, has always been a theme of enduring interest. To those who lived to tell the diabolical tales of their survival, it brings back a flood of memories, awash with deep-seated regrets and a sense of deep loss of one’s original home and hearth. Hence the title Hiraeth, meaning a longing based on a feeling of helplessness of not being able to revisit a place.

To their succeeding generations, it is a valuable record of the trauma of the planet’s biggest mass migration on record. It also captures the endurance and resilience of the human spirit, of an innate will to live and prosper, and of keeping the descendants isolated from the traumatic pain and suffering of their preceding generations.

Just like the graphic works of Saadat Hasan Manto, Khuswant Singh and many others, Hiraeth captures the agony, the suspicion, the cruelty and the madness that pervaded the air in those turbulent times. A commendable endeavour, indeed.  

The stories, based on the experiences of the author’s grandparents and other seniors in her family circles, capture not only the courage and sacrifice but also the generosity of the human spirit. These are written with a piercing beauty, alive with moral passion and sorrowful insight.

However, a word of caution may be in order. Picking up and going through the book needs nerves of chilled steel. It took me close to three years to build up the courage to get a copy. I could then devour the stories only one at a time. Each one of them, so very poignantly written, made me either sob uncontrollably or cry. Identifying with the main characters was apparently my undoing. Suffering the pain and deprivation they underwent.

Somewhere, a father was killing his own daughter so as to protect the family honour. Elsewhere, a recently widowed lady was able to release her inner grief only when she came across the turban cloth of her late husband.

Some offered solace as well. A just-orphaned kid getting breast-fed and adopted by a lady who has undergone the trauma of giving birth to a stillborn child of her own, their different religions notwithstanding.

The last story touches upon the ripple effect of a parent’s decision on the next generation. It goes on to demonstrate that partition, though the term in itself is a highly sanitized version of what really transpired then, is not so much an event in the past, but one that continues to influence the descendants of those who survived it. Those displaced and uprooted have stood up, shaken off the dust of negativity from their feet, taken control of things and ensured that the coming generations did well in their life and career. But the scars remain.  

Thanks to the efforts put in by the publishers, the book is well presented. Urdu titles of stories have been beautifully calligraphed, adding a unique charm to the text. The use of common terms to address parents, grandparents and other relatives in Hindi/Punjabi language bring the stories closer home. The cover itself says a lot, though, at first glance, one does not appreciate it.

At the end of it all, the book does lead one to feel more anger and even more anguish. Is there a way to avoid such tragedies in future? Can our leaders not be more prescient and take better control of things? As human beings, we pride ourselves on our technological achievements. But do we care to dismantle the invisible walls that exist between us? Could we widen our consciousness in such a way as to avoid conflicts and wars? Could we not instead channelize our collective energies towards addressing environmental challenges that we, as a race, face?

One may well ask if there is any point in remembering yet again what one cannot forget in a lifetime. Perhaps, a closure lies in moving towards mutual acceptance of culpability, a joint mourning for the lives we took, the attendant horrors we inflicted upon each other and then go in for mutual forgiveness. However, it is easier said than done. Wounds of the flesh heal; not so with the mental scars. Thus, the cycle of violence continues unabated. It suits our politicians to keep stoking these dormant embers.  Often, we end up being mere puppets in their hands.

In fact, this is the larger purpose the book serves. It reminds us of our past follies. It makes us sit up yet again and start wondering as to how to take better care of ourselves and our brethren. It prompts us to build bridges wherever needed and break down the walls of our biases and prejudices. It shows us the futility of treating those different from us as ‘others.’ It exhorts us to use our individual intellect to judge if what we are doing is right, not to be led astray by jingoism, chest thumping and wars.

I am reminded of a song which Talat Mehmood had rendered in his velvet-like soothing voice long time back:

Hein sabse madhur woh geet jinhen hum dard ke swar mein gaate hain…

Roughly translated, this says that the songs which are the sweetest are the ones which are set to the melody of sorrow!

It is in this spirit that this book deserves to be picked up, devoured and brooded upon. 

About the Author:

Dr. Shivani Salil, MD, calls herself a voracious reader, in love with words – both written and spoken. She used to work at KEM Hospital, Mumbai, until some time back when a geographical move pushed her into a sabbatical. She currently resides in Hong Kong with her husband and daughter.

As a child, she harboured two dreams: one, to become a doctor and the other, to pursue literature so that she could become a writer. Having lived and loved her first dream, this book is a step forward towards the second.

Get to know more about her on her website http://www.shivaniwrites.in and her Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/shivaniwrites18.

Availability of the Book:

In India: https://www.amazon.in/Hiraeth-Partition-Stories-from-1947/dp/8194132622

In US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07WRLTGLC

In UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07WRLTGLC

In Canada: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B07WRLTGLC

In Australia: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B07WRLTGLC

In Germany:
https://www.amazon.de/Hiraeth-Partition-stories-1947-English-ebook/dp/B07WRLTGLC

The book is available on Kindle as well and is free on Kindle unlimited.

(The book has been published by Room9 Publications (www.artoonsinn.com).

Goodreads:

Hiraeth: Partition stories from 1947 by Shivani Salil

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Other Book Reviews on this Blogsite:

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FictionPur

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Ranveer Singhania, the tall debonair steel-grey eyed heir to Delhi-based Singhania Empire, had thought that her cheerful vibrant personality, her uninhibited laughter and easy going nature would balance out his serious and colorless life. That she would be the best life partner for him. He had felt it in his heart that making this chirpy and full of life girl his wife will be the best decision of his life. She had caught his attention from the day she had stepped into his life like an innocent cute deer, prancing through life without any worries. She was the only one who made him smile with her non-stop chattering, and make him laugh at her antics. Her huge doe shaped eyes were filled with warmth. And her beautiful smile could warm up any one’s heart. She was one of a kind and she was the one for him. Or so he thought.

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Along Came Love

Recently, I came across this wonderful site which has many delectable stories to narrate. Permit me to share this one with all of you.

FictionPur

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She was just an average young girl. Like 20 million others in India. Born in a loving middle class family, with normal pretty looks, average intelligence, a genuine heart and big dreams. Lofty aspirations fueled by movies and novels. Specially that of her future husband or boyfriend. All she wanted was a tall, dark, brooding, rich yet loving, possessive guy for herself. Nothing that can be termed as asking for much, if you ask her. But blame it on her deeply ingrained middle class values or lack of opportunities, the boyfriend phase never came in her life. She directly graduated to the matrimonial phase. And true to their word and ambitions, her parents swiftly found her a ‘suitable and nice boy’ as soon as she was of age.

And he was something she never thought she would ever end up with. Too sweet. Too understanding. Too accommodating…

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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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I wanted to send some sort of holiday greeting to you, my friends, but it is so difficult in today’s world to know exactly what to say without offending someone. So I met with my lawyers yesterday, and on their advice I wish to say the following to you my dear friends.

“Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced with the most enjoyable traditions of religious persuasion or secular practices of your choice with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.

“I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2022, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make our country great (not to imply that India is necessarily greater than any other country) and without regard to the race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishes.

“By accepting this greeting from me, the Wisher, you, the Wishee, are accepting these terms:
– This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal.
– It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting.
– It implies no promise by the Wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the Wisher.
– This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the Wisher.”

Disclaimers:

  1. No trees were harmed in the sending of this message.
  2. However, a significant number of electrons were slightly inconvenienced. The Wisher hereby offers an unconditional apology to them.
  3. The Wisher hereby asserts that he does not represent the commercial interests of either any of the IT service providers or social media platforms who have enabled the transmission of this message to the Wishee.
  4. The Wisher hereby confesses that this message is shamelessly picked up by him from the FB page of Mr. Rahul Nandkeolyar. For any legal clarifications, the Wishee is hereby advised to contact him directly.
  5. Image courtesy Pinterest.

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A Potato Protests

ashokbhatia

I am a very humble potato. I write this to protest the treatment meted out to me by the homo-sapiens. Despite making sacrifices and doing good for humanity in general, I get derided for no valid reason. Mine is a kind and obliging soul, but I am not treated well by human beings.

Derogatory references are made to me while referring to lazy bums watching TV endlessly as being “couch potatoes”. I am not capable of commenting upon the value of what is shown on TVs these days (only humans can suffer the content, though, for some strange reason, they refer to it as entertainment). But I would like to point out that referring to an avid watcher of TV as someone being a potato of any kind is an outright insult to my species.

I have very noble and humble origins. I have been serving mankind for around 10,000…

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ashokbhatia

Lifestyle diseases like diabetes and hypertension have a tendency to quietly enter the house of our physical bodies, much like unbidden and unwelcome guests. In most of the cases, repeated attempts to entice these to depart and scour around for some greener pastures are unsuccessful. After the first stage of shock and denial has passed, a state of active acceptance comes about. The basic principle of a peaceful coexistence eventually gets followed.

Diabetes is labelled as a silent killer. This unwelcome guest has a tendency to enfeeble almost all the organs of the body. Its special affection gets directed towards ones which are already in a state of disrepair. These could be our heart, eyes, kidneys, feet or any other organ or limb which catches its fancy. Nerve endings get compromised. Initially, some tingling sensations may be there, more bothersome at night. Over time, sensations may be lost completely, leading…

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Memoirs serve a useful purpose. These not only capture the life and times of a seasoned professional but also offer a deep insight into various facets of life. One gets to learn precious lessons in management of people, resources and institutions. One comes across precious nuggets of wisdom, based on the experiences of the author. These leave behind a legacy of sorts; more so, when written with a sense of humility and not in a self-congratulatory mode.

This book is one such offering. It is an interesting autobiographical account of a life well lived. It sketches out in detail the kind of hard work, persistence and emotional intelligence that a senior administrative professional needs to leverage so as to be able to ensure delivery of timely and effective services to the common man. It gives the reader an inside view of how the vast government machinery in such a diverse country as India functions, and author’s handling of the kind of challenges faced and successfully overcome. 

The narrative is intimate, introspective and invigorating. The author is frank about how an abiding commitment to his career affected his relationships with his family and how his wife dutifully moved in to support him through thick and thin. He mentions some moving encounters with death and disease. Often, he is open about the manner in which he realized in retrospect as to how a given situation could have been handled better. At many places, he does not shy away from revealing self-doubt and disappointment. The narrative is riveting and personal and motivates one to aspire for higher goals in all spheres of life.

The underlying message in this narrative is that of a relentless focus on one’s goals in life and the criticality of following high values and ethics, despite temptations and obstructions. The importance of not always being a yes-man and occasionally standing up to a higher power also gets highlighted. There are occasional dashes of subtle humour as well.

These memoirs are not a commentary on any of the policies of the government of the day. Those who are expecting to read an analysis of the history of the economic strides made by India from the 1960s till now are also likely to be disappointed. Nor do these provide any insights into the various ideologies present across the entire political spectrum. Littered with instructive quotes from scriptures, poets, philosophers and literary figures, these provide a ringside view of the life and times of an able administrator, whether on the personal or on the professional front.

During the past several decades, Indian youth have collectively lost interest in making a career in the central or provincial services. Career choices of youth have invariably favoured the private sector, that too in the realm of Information, Communication and Technology systems, besides engineering and medicine.

Hopefully, this book will not only inspire the youth of today to consider the option of entering public service more seriously but also motivate them to prepare well to gain an entry into this exalted profession. This way, if they succeed, they will eventually have the inner glow of satisfaction for contributing towards the transformation of this unique country of ours.

The present version of the book is available in the Hindi language. It had a global launch recently and is now available at https://www.amazon.in/dp/B091MRXM5R?ref=myi_title_dp.

(The author of this book, Mr. Ashok Bhatia, is a retired officer of the Indian Administrative Services. He had chosen the state of Gujarat to serve the nation. In his career spanning 49 years, he also held several important high ranking positions with the Government of India.

He lives with his wife in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India.)

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My audience may by now be losing its patience, thinking as to why I keep harping on the term ‘values’ so very often!

The Road to Happiness

Well, it would not need a Sherlock Holmes to figure out what is happening here. Besides being an occasional author, a speaker, a regular blogger and content creator on such topics as Management, P G Wodehouse, Bollywood and life in general, yours truly has undergone several juicy experiences in life – some sweet and some sour. Based on my 35 years+ experience in the corporate world, I have become aware and conscious of the need for high values and ethics in business. Some of you may recall my having worked across the two opposite ends of the Value Spectrum.

Add to this the enriching experience I have had while our planet has been busy spinning on its axis and completing 68 odd rounds around the sun since I have been around and the plot gets even thicker. Those of you who have had the misfortune of trudging through my articles and books would have already sensed an underlying current highlighting this very theme. In me, they would have discovered a fierce critic of any kind of compromises on this front.

My belief is that business ships (and lives too) which are built on a keel of sound values end up not only having a better brand equity but also yield better returns. When we are broad minded and give back to the society at large, we serve a higher purpose in life. Purpose brings inner happiness. Happiness is what we all seek.

Where Do Our Values Come From?

All this may have left my audience wondering as to from where our value systems come from. This would surely need the keen eye of Sherlock Holmes to explore.

Our Genes

After years of research on bonobos – intelligent apes closely related to us, homo-sapiens – Frans de Waal argues that human morality is not imposed from above but comes from within us. In his path-breaking book entitled The Bonobo and the Atheist, he proposes that moral behavior does not begin and end with religion. It appears that our values and ethics are instead a product of evolution and cultural response. All of us strive to be good within ourselves, in our own eyes. This explains our trait of innate goodness.

A cat or a dog may not think through the process so thoroughly, but bonobos surely appear to be aware of the nuances of social norms. They have a developed sense of reciprocity and fairness. They are even known to intervene in a fight between two tribe members so as to maintain peace and harmony!

Ancient apes, whales and dolphins deserve our gratitude for several qualities that we possess – our sensitivity to others, our concern for fairness, love of harmony and other just forms of societal behavior. If religion or spirituality attracts us, it is because that is how Mother Nature has made us. These present to us a template of good conduct; these touch a chord somewhere deep within us.

We, a Cocktail of ‘Gunas’

However, there is no guarantee that all of us follow the template of good conduct alone. As per Bhagavad Gita, each one of us has a unique mix of the three kinds of traits (gunas): Sattwic, Rajasic and Tamasic.

Spiritual texts tell us that both the good as well as the evil are manifestations of the Divine. When Lord Krishna manifests his all-pervasive and all-inclusive Vishwarupa form in the midst of his sermon to Arjuna, he reveals the negative side of the Divine as well.

Conception, Upbringing and Our Role Models

The thoughts of our parents when we were conceived, the manner in which we are brought up and the role models we have in our lives are perhaps some of the other factors which shape our inner value systems.

In childhood, when I picked up some money lying on the road outside my home, with gleeful thoughts of treating myself and my friends to an ice cream or two later, I had no other option but to be guided by the moral compass of my parents. I was made to donate the money to a beggar outside a temple we visited in the evening that day. In many other instances, a straight and narrow path of righteousness was laid out.

It was a common practice for my paternal grandmother to read a few pages of Ramcharitmanas almost every evening. Likewise, my maternal grandmother was a follower of the principles of Mahatma Gandhi, Vinoba Bhave and Swami Vivekananda. Stories from Panchatantra et al defined the nature of books and comics available to us in our childhood.

The rich legacy left behind by my parents and other family seniors comprises the kind of values they cherished. Never to brag about one’s accomplishments. To listen to all, but to do only what one’s inner voice holds to be right. Be truthful and honest, but not to hurt anyone in the process. Do not easily promise anything; once promised, just do it. Treat others in the way you yourself wish to be treated. Be punctual; you have no right to waste another’s time. Eat healthy. Exercise regularly. Be good to others, but protect yourself first. Be always courteous to members of the tribe of the delicately nurtured. Judge people only by their inner qualities; not by their external appearance. As to your future plans, share these only on a need to know basis.

In addition to the immediate family members, there were a bevy of uncles, aunts and cousins passing by the household, some benign and a few others not so. Their feedback and their comments also shaped up our thoughts.

Those were simpler days when the radio was the only means of entertainment. The power supply would often play hide and seek. At bed time, while watching the twinkling stars high above, one could learn much from the stories of various achievements of our ancestors narrated by someone senior.

Lord Rama and Lord Krishna 

Mahabharata was yet another epic which influenced me. Arising out of an age-old belief that a copy kept in the house could lead to conflicts between siblings, I could read it only when I was in college. Some traits of Lord Krishna – a friendly disposition, fleet-footedness, detachment, helping those who are on the path of righteousness, strategic thinking, treating ends more important than the means, etc – are endearing and relevant to this day.

Both the godheads present a slightly different template of good conduct. Both exhort us lesser mortals to follow the path of righteousness, or dharma. But their methods vary. If Lord Rama is an epitome of virtue and is to be kept on a high pedestal and revered, Lord Krishna is less bound by notions of morality. He is a true friend, philosopher and guide. If a villain in our story is troubling us too much, one could frankly confide in Krishna and request him to ensure that the fellow be somehow banished from Earth and packed off to Mars on a one-way ticket. This is the kind of liberty we just cannot take with Rama who would surely take a jaundiced view of a request of this kind!

Much later in life, in the corporate world, I learnt the practice of ethical values at two of the companies I worked with. Tax planning and tax avoidance was fine, tax evasion was not. Creative interpretation of laws was fine; laxity in following the norms of governance was not. Payment of bribes was ruled out.

In one instance, while in the employment of one of these companies, I was invited by a management institute to be a part of their curriculum finalization team. A token remuneration was offered by the institute and accepted by me. As per company policy, the amount was gifted to a charity rather than used by me personally.

Learning from the Younger Ones

Bring in a leader of high values in an organization and see for yourself the manner in which ethical practices percolate down to all the levels. Given support from the very top, businesses then get run by striking a judicial balance between the commercial interests and the society’s welfare. A culture of encouraging Conscience Keepers and discouraging neither dissent nor whistle-blowing permeates such organizations.

In a way, we can learn much from our younger generation which does not feel shy in calling on its employers to either shape up or ship out. Uber experienced this recently, when it came to dealing with reports of harassment by its drivers of some of its female passengers. Likewise, producers of the 2020 movie, The Social Dilemma, deserve a hearty round of applause for giving us a peek into the way we get manipulated by the social media giants.

Values: Teaching and Learning      

I have no academic credentials to say this, but I believe that values can not only be learnt but can also be taught. Learning comes from within whereas teaching is an external stimulus. One moves as if on a spiral, imbibing things within while also absorbing inputs from outside.

If our inner consciousness is awakened, so to say, we may be more open to learning good values. But if we have somehow evolved into dense, obstinate and shameless beings, believing ourselves to be the epitome of perfection, life’s harsher slings and arrows alone may be able to teach us quite a few things. All of us are like sponges which readily absorb the kind of cultural liquid which surrounds us. That is how, keeping the right ‘company’ is so very crucial in our lives!

In-house orientation programs, backed by relevant case studies and real-time experiences shared from across different verticals of the organization can help. The credibility of the resource person often plays a crucial role.

Grooming Spiritually Inclined Leaders

Businesses (and many of our governments too!) need to consciously groom leaders who rate high not only on their Intelligence and Emotional Quotients, but also on their Moral or Spiritual Quotient, bringing in to the work place a set of healthy values and ethical practices.

This, I believe, is the basic need of our times.

 

(SQ Illustration courtesy Sanket; other images courtesy www) 

 

(Related Posts: 

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2021/02/21/a-few-things-which-make-me-angry-these-days

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2018/11/27/values-the-real-soul-of-organizations-2

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/04/28/ethics-and-values

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/towards-sq

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/the-beauty-inside-bonobos-and-management)

 

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(Non-statutory warning: Reading the article below could be injurious to readers’ mental health and leave them a wee bit depressed. Caution is advised.

The author is reasonably certain that this article is not an outcome of the kind of wholesome pessimism which is believed to envelope one in advancing age.)

There is a mood of despondency which descends upon my frail grey cells once in a while. Dark clouds which have gathered upon me are accompanied by sinister rumblings. Lightning streaks of a menacing kind keep lighting up the sky, duly followed by thunderous howls which pierce my ears. One peers into the future and one shudders to think of the kind of world one would leave behind for our progeny to live in. Tectonic plates of our society appear to be shifting, causing major upheavals.

No, one does not allude to the pandemic stalking us these days. Nor does one refer to such universal problems like global warming, economic disparities, widespread poverty and illiteracy etc. Instead, one refers here to tectonic plates of a different kind – the ones which impact our value systems, human values, social harmony, honesty, fairness and justice, norms of democracy, absence of truthful and factual information, materialistic progress, and the like.

Consider what is happening around us these days.

Some Ground Realities

The Lack of a Conscious Approach to Business Goals

Businesses continue to be driven by greed and avarice alone. Hapless CEOs have no other option but to keep delivering results from one quarter to the next.

There are no guarantees that Volkswagen will not soon come up with yet another technical trick to befool the regulators and its customers. Boeing may yet again secure approvals for launching a model which might put air passengers’ lives at risk. Financial scams will keep tumbling out of corporate closets at a standard frequency which might put an atomic clock to shame.

Think of rising inequalities. Consider a report presented by Oxfam at the January 2021 World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda, titled ‘The Inequality Virus’. It says that the 1,000 richest people on the planet recouped their Covid-19 losses within just nine months of 2020, whereas the world’s poorest could take up to a decade to recover from the pandemic induced setback. I am certain that philanthropic initiatives of the richest have not suddenly seen a proportionately higher uptick.

So, every crisis that humanity faces turns out to be an opportunity for the well endowed to amass greater wealth. Is this the kind of Materialistic and Unconscious Business model that we wish to continue following? Our answer would of course depend based on whether we are from the ‘haves’ side or the ‘have-nots’ side of the society.

The Monkey Business Called Politics

Probity and decency in the public life of our leaders is long since buried. Gone are the days when vibrant democracies needed a strong opposition to thrive. These days, even the President of a country can himself turn against the hallowed portals of democracy and send rampaging mobs braying for the blood of those out to declare him defeated in an election. In other words, it is one of those promotional offers – you vote in a President and get another one for free!

The aforesaid top boss’ term has revealed enormous gaps between the ideals of American democracy and the reality. Even before he exhorted his followers to attack the Capitol and the legislative branch of government, he ignored watchdog rulings and constitutional safeguards, pressed to overturn the outcome of an election, and pardoned those who covered for him, all the while funneling taxpayer dollars to his family business.

In yet another country, the main adversary runs the risk of not only being poisoned but also getting imprisoned on some ground or the other, while those in power brutally suppress dissent marked by men’s underwear and gold-painted toilet cleaning brushes.

World over, there is no dearth of leaders who have dictatorial ambitions but mask these well with democratic credentials. Speak of transparent political funding and all one gets is the silence of a tomb.

In yet another country, lies, obfuscation of facts and clever data management seem to have become a norm. Photo-ops, positive optics and feel-good media feed by devout followers keep the entire nation in thrall. Attempts to stifle dissent and to paint anyone not toeing the rulers’ line as unpatriotic continue unchecked. Getting offended by comments made by those living thousands of miles away appears to have become a national pastime. When a stand-up comedian speaks up, our clairvoyant nature allows us to guess what offending remark he is yet to make. Prompt legal action gets taken, nipping the intended mischief in the bud.

Building physical infrastructure is simply great. So is the drive to embrace technology to make life of a common man simpler. But when this comes at the cost of demolishing social harmony and making a democratic country free of any kind of opposition worth its while, the long term price of a ‘progress’ of this kind is rather high. I am not an economist, but I wonder if an economy can grow while the society itself is getting fragmented.

World over, quite a few governments have even used the pandemic as a cover to suppress dissent and cut short processes to introduce laws of an unpopular kind. In the process, their soft power is bound to dive down.

The Rudderless Social (and Anti-Social) Media

During 2020, in India, when our northern neighbour had encroached upon our land, and when the media should have been doling out useful health tips for people to stay safe in the midst of a pandemic, the only ‘breaking news’ was the suspected suicide of a Bollywood actor and the activities of his girl friend.

Social media, duly backed by smart algorithms, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, keeps shaping our thought processes, our choices, our preferences, our perceptions and our beliefs. We are already living in a fish bowl where the law makers as well as the private players are hands in glove to sell detailed information about us to the highest bidder. Privacy concerns and personal liberties be damned. Pretty soon, it may happen that government support is available only to those who have a pro-government presence on various media platforms.

The whole idea is perhaps to help a lay person evolve into a dumb chum of the first order, unable to use his own judgement in matters of public importance; essentially, to numb the person’s grey cells. In other words, we all become zombies (or jack asses, if you prefer) of the first order.

Little do we realize that there are no free lunches in life. Any service available to us free of cost over the world-wide-web we have spun around ourselves only means that ‘We, the People’ are the product on sale!

If our social media czars do not come up with a realistic code of conduct for themselves soon enough, governments, to salvage their public image, may soon have to start dishing out harsher laws.

Perhaps, one of the czars will soon set up an academy to groom many of our whizz kids into becoming ethical hackers and algorithm developers.

Neglecting Half of the Homo Sapiens

If they stay at home, their contribution to society is never even acknowledged. Rather, it is taken for granted. If they venture out of their home and hearth, lustful gazes disrobe them mentally. If they get violated, they only have to take the rap. In war zones, they are the instruments used to inflict deep wounds on the psyche of the other.

Yes, I refer to the tribe of the so-called delicately nurtured. They are the ones upon whom Mother Nature has conferred the unique capacity of keeping our civilization alive and ticking. They may be as tough as nails and proving themselves to be better than the so-called sterner sex in all fields of human endeavour. A fact which was reinforced yet again when a deadly pandemic arrived at our doorsteps. In public, they may get put on a pedestal and revered. But in private, they often get treated like a doormat, treated as mere objects, only to be used and abused.

Doting lover boys, upon metamorphosing into husbands, often shed their chivalrous masks and start behaving like dictators. If a family breaks up owing to mistreatment, ridicule, abuse and violence at the hands of their husbands, it is the lady of the house alone who gets the entire blame – for being obstinate and uncompromising. The general view is that she is a gold digger of sorts.

Such a patriarchal mindset is not an exclusive prerogative of the poor alone. Nor does it respect geographical boundaries. Education levels also do not make much of a difference. Take couples across different countries, economic status and education level and one is apt to find this to be a universal phenomenon. The Chivalry Quotient may vary across all these parameters, but a singular shortage of preux chevaliers is felt all over our planet. Religious beliefs and even some spiritual tenets reinforce such derogatory views.

In respect of the legal framework, our experience in India has been a mixed one. The females have learnt the art of terrorizing their husbands and their families by foisting cases of imagined harassment, with the sole aim of securing better settlements while seeking divorce. Surely, the training in chivalry truly begins at home – either in the kitchen or at the dining table. Laws can play only a limited role.

The tectonic shift taking place here is that of divorce rates going up and couples preferring to remain friends with perks. Upwardly mobile wives who can stand on their own feet detest drawing husbands who refuse to wear skirts and help out with domestic chores. Once the family structure crumbles, there is a higher probability of the value system of the next generation going for a toss.

The Silence of the Lambs

In many of the issues brought out above, are we ourselves not responsible for the mess that we are in? The silence of our intellectuals, the self-centredness and public apathy of the middle class which more or less upholds values in society and the mute surrender of the common man – are these not some of the factors which have enabled this situation to have come about?

Many years back, I vaguely recall having read a satirical story in Hindi, written by a well known humourist in the language, Hari Shankar Parsai. A herd of lambs is made to believe that few wily foxes alone can solve all their problems. Pretty soon, foxes get voted in. One fine day, a ruling comes that to save the ruling foxes, some sheep should voluntarily surrender to be sacrificed each day so the patriotic fervour is kept alive and the nation is run effectively!

I am not a political science buff. Thus, I am not qualified to say if democracy as a model of governance is failing us. But one of its enabling factors is the presence of conscious leaders who are not shameless and still have traces of humility, empathy, decency and a concern for genuine overall good.

With No Malice towards Anyone  

Educated youth who have no means of earning a living, will they not have a raw anger simmering within them? Will the poorer lot not take a jaundiced view of grand government schemes the benefits of which do not reach them?

Perhaps there is a feeling of helplessness within them. Perhaps they have dollops of patience.  May be they realize that they are too small to bring about any change and feel it is better to accept things as they are and continue wallowing in misery and self-pity, blaming God for all their troubles.

But is a meek acceptance of murkier developments in the world around us a better approach? Can we not dissipate the seething anger within by at least saying what we find to be reproachable? Can we not break our silence of the lambs and speak up?

With Whom Does the Buck Stop?!

Are we ourselves not a part of the problem? Why have we, reasonably educated and rather wise people, decided to outsource our thinking processes and have instead opted to become zombies?!

Do we not keep patronizing companies even we know they have been cheating in the past? Are we not the ones who get swayed by propaganda and cast a vote for a particular party or a particular leader? Do we ever boycott a media outlet which acts as a mouth piece of those in power?

If we are addicted to, say, WhatsApp or Facebook, can we really blame their inventors for the issues that we face? Don’t we find it convenient to remain in touch with our friends and family members through these platforms?

When we notice a female being harassed, are we not likely to look the other way? Is the onus of ‘adjusting’ not always put on the female? Can we take a pause before we make a victim the facilitator of a crime?

Overall, by remaining a mute spectator and witness to acts of corruption, misinformation, lies and half-truths, do we not become accomplices to such misdeeds?

It is not wise to altogether point a finger at others only. A knife kind of a tool is given to us. Let us use it to prepare a juicy dish and not to hurt someone. The choice of usage is with us.

Our endeavour therefore should be to stand up, be courageous and outspoken. This alone can get us counted. Even if there is one sane voice amongst all the noise and din, it would resonate with other like-minded individuals out there.

Our salute needs to reach out not only to those who are already raising their voices but also to the decision makers who might eventually get around to listening to us.

Some Silver Linings

All this is not to say that there are no silver linings in the dark clouds hovering above us. As P G Wodehouse puts it, even when the air is pregnant with V or W-shaped depressions, there are always silver linings on the clouds. We shall do well never to repine, never to despair, but to work upon our own selves and on others in our sphere of influence. It is good to remember that, no matter how dark the skies may be, the sun is shining somewhere and will eventually come smiling through.

There are business houses which keep following good values and ethics in their day to day operations. There are leaders who respond well to challenges like social disharmony and stalking pandemics with a dash of human values. They treat dissent as a valuable input for their decision making processes. We also have very few social media and gig economy barons who are being forced by their own employees to either shape up or ship out.

Lawmakers and pressure groups in USA are already reported to be thinking of ways to bring in a wide-ranging overhaul of ethics, laws, the likes of which have not been seen since the post-Watergate era.

Perhaps, eminent legal eagles in India can also take a leaf out of the USA experience. As a country, we had experienced suppression of dissent even during the 1970s, when an emergency was declared. Can some more constitutional safeguards be brought in so that a popular mandate does not give the executive the right to ride rough shod over other arms of the government, thereby increasing the probability of the country being taken in a direction which is not the same as what our founding fathers had envisioned?

Above all, it is the man on the street, busy keeping his body and soul together, eking out a living for his family and even helping others in distress. When the scales from his eyes fall and he wakes up to a life threatening situation at hand, he reacts. The farmers in India are already showing their resolve following the strategy of peaceful protests and civic disobedience used by Mahatma Gandhi many decades ago.

Then we have lone wolf professional bodies. World Without Corruption in Belgium gives businesses a voice in fighting corrupt practices. The Conscious Enterprises Network in UK speaks of conscious leaders leading their enterprises in a holistic value-based manner in all spheres of human enterprise. The Center for Business Ethics & Compliance in Russia is focused on best practices in the realm of ethics and compliance.

Likewise, in India, Spandan Foundation is passionate about human values in organizations and even plans to set up a centre dedicated to the cause. Shakti Leadership highlights the importance of using feminine traits like empathy and compassion in decision making and assists individuals and organizations in their quest for conscious evolution. The Association for Democratic Reforms keeps relevant political issues alive and kicking in public eye.

I am sure there are many others scattered over other continents. Their attempt is to bring like-minded people together and keep the embers of a pious fire aglow, focused on values and ethics.

The Mighty Churning

The society is always in a flux. These days, it appears to be undergoing a mightier churning which reminds one of the episode of Samudra Manthan (The Churning of the Sea) in Indian scriptures. The churning throws up poison as well as the nectar which grants immortality. Those who believe in following the path of righteousness end up securing the latter.

It is easy to see that we have a leadership crisis on our hands. Since a situation also produces a leader, one hopes that more and more conscious leaders keep emerging, nudging us in the right direction.

Admittedly, the silver linings appear to be like a pale parabola of joy, to borrow an expression from P G Wodehouse. This will remain so till the time a bevy of conscious leaders – whether in business or in politics – do not appear on the scene and convert this into a shimmering parabola of bliss.

The solution is not to keep sweeping issues like hunger, poverty, economic non-inclusion and prejudicial animosity under the carpet. Nor is it to raise the existing walls, whether political, commercial, attitudinal or religious. It lies instead in a truly global view based on the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbukam: The World is One Family.

Being a born optimist who believes in having a chin-up attitude, I do hope that some of these tectonic shifts can at least get retarded, if not altogether reversed, in the years to come.

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/06/17/why-the-wren-is-a-patriot-and-not-a-nationalist-guest-post-by-prof-badri-raina

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/11/23/jeeves-and-the-social-media-challenge

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/09/23/bertie-jeeves-and-the-internet-of-things

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/bertie-social-media-and-blogging-blues

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2018/01/10/jeeves-seeks-a-placement)

 

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