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One amongst the many services available to the citizens of India is the vast postal network it boasts of. However, due to legacy issues and a missing proactive technology-oriented drive, it is yet to reach its full potential.

Here is a thought-provoking post on the subject.

Millennial Matriarchs

When is it that you last saw letters slipped under your door by the postman? For that matter, can you recall where your nearest postbox is?

The Indian postal system has a hoary history. The official website of India Post informs us that: ‘For more than 150 years, the Department of Posts (DoP)has been the backbone of the country’s communication and has played a crucial role in the country’s social economic development. It touches the lives of Indian citizens in many ways: delivering mails, accepting deposits under Small Savings Schemes, providing life insurance cover under Postal Life Insurance (PLI) and Rural Postal Life Insurance (RPLI) and providing retail services like bill collection, sale of forms, etc. The DoP also acts as an agent for Government of India in discharging other services for citizens such as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) wage disbursement and old age pension payments…

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ashokbhatia

Those who happen to know me personally are often deceived by my polite manners. They often wonder as to why I never opted for a diplomatic career.

Allow me to set the record straight. P G Wodehouse played some role in indicating that my Guardian Angels had planned my life much unlike that of Eustace Mulliner, who was a part of the British Embassy in Switzerland.

Jeeves’ psychology-of-an-individual factor has also led me to believe that the diplomatic corps on this planet are better off without me.

My limited intuitive faculties also tell me that life as a career diplomat could not be as glamorous and hunky dory as it might appear to be from the outside of an embassy building.

The Eustace Mulliner saga

Wodehouse fans might recall that the splendid idea of Eustace Mulliner joining the British Embassy in Switzerland was dangled before him by his godfather, Lord…

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ashokbhatia

Music has great power. It touches the innermost recesses of our being. It invigorates. When we attend a concert and soak in music which is uplifting and rich, there are moments when we can hardly bear the sheer bliss. Mellifluous notes surround us. We float in an ocean of musical waves, enjoying its depth and grandeur. We just wish for the time to stop its relentless onward march. We wish to forever live in that frozen moment of inward happiness. We crave to be left alone in space and time.

We live in exciting times. We have geniuses who enthrall us with music of diverse genres. Scintillating dance performances, mesmerizing concerts and rapturous vocals keep us spellbound. Right from the snow-clad Swiss Alps to the lush green plains of India, one is fortunate to have heard and seen maestros who have perfected the art of touching our souls and made…

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ashokbhatia

While dishing out the unique fare that P G Wodehouse specialized in, never would he have imagined the kind of spell it would cast upon the unsuspecting youth in a country like India which remained a colony of the British Empire for quite some time. The kind of whodunits which he unleashed on the gullible youth occasionally launched an array of goofy schemes and practical jokes. And if the setting for rolling out such schemes happened to be an educational institution, one can merely bemoan the fate of its Reverend Aubrey Upjohns and other illustrious lion-tamers who had no other option but to be at the receiving end.

Imagine an educational institution which is teeming with a bevy of intellectually inclined youth. It is not difficult to surmise just how busy the institute’s Wodehouse Society office bearers would be, whipping up one goofy scheme or the other at regular intervals.

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Summary

These days, as a pandemic stalks us, people are hooked to movies of all kinds, even while supposedly working from home. The cumulative effect of using high-definition gadgets, lockdown ennui, death tolls and binge-watching movies is that of a higher level of stress. The lack of freedom to venture out on long drives further compounds the problem. 

To avoid landing up in a loony bin, we could cut off our daily diet of depressing news. We could ensure interacting only with those who radiate positive vibes. We could also think of consciously changing our movie-watching palette so as to start appreciating flicks which have a deeper layer in their themes.

In this series, we consider some movies through the spiritual lens of 12 personality traits mentioned by The Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram at Pondicherry in India.

Introduction

When the upright good guy defeats the morally deficient bad guy, we cheer. Think of the James Bond franchise, courtesy Hollywood.

When a movie ends on a positive note, we applaud. Imagine any movie from Bollywood where the hero and the heroine finally walk into the sunset on a sandy beach, with a romantic song playing in the background. The unstated assumption is that the couple lived happily ever after.

When the outcome is negative but the movie is well crafted, we may sulk but still carry a favourable impression of it. Go back to either Titanic or Mughal-e-Azam. Both were tragedies but mounted lavishly, with excellence in almost all the departments of film making.

But once in a while comes along a movie which touches us somewhere deep inside. The script may carry a key message. Or, it may showcase certain values which we cherish ourselves, thereby creating a deep resonance within. We experience love. We feel hopeful and uplifted in a somewhat deeper manner. The soul gets awakened.

If we were to muse upon the theme much afterwards, we could say that such movies had been conceptualized with a dash of spirituality. These are movies which inspire us to live through and face difficult situations in our lives. We could think of classifying these in the genre of what we could refer to as Conscious (or Soulful) Entertainment.

Of a Spiritual Streak

Think of such movies as Shawshank Redemption, Avatar, Contact, Gladiator, Schindler’s List, The Sound of Music, Lagaan, Jagte Raho, Swades, Guide, Abhimaan, Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, Veer Zara and many others of a similar ilk. What do all these have in common? Yes, most of these are big hits. Yes, they have A category stars. Yes, all are well made. But these are not their most important features.

When we go back to the first time we watched one of these, most of us would recall having felt uplifted and hopeful. We would have felt compassion and love for the entire humanity. Our hearts would have felt much enlarged. Much like the short sequence from Mera Naam Joker where the hero’s heart goes on expanding and no one has a clue as to how to solve the problem!

We would have felt like living much longer, drinking deep from the rivulets of unalloyed joy that life offers. These films are but a few in the genre of ‘Conscious’ or ‘Soulful’ films which have the potential to change lives, inspire choices, and elevate human consciousness.

One of the spiritual lenses available to us to view such movies has been offered to us by The Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram at Pondicherry in India. She has mentioned the following twelve traits which are essential for the spiritual progress of an aspirant:

Sincerity, Humility, Gratitude, Perseverance, Aspiration, Receptivity, Progress, Courage, Goodness, Generosity, Equality and Peace.

Some movies which touch upon Mother’s 12 traits

 

Sincerity

The sincerity with which an individual takes up a challenging task and executes it well, even while risking his or her own welfare,  generates a swell of positive emotions within the viewer and sets an example of achieving perfection in the discharge of one’s professional duties.

 

Do Aankhen Baarah Haath (1957) which captured the valiant efforts of a jail warden Adinath (V Shantaram) to rehabilitate six dangerous prisoners released on parole to persons of virtue in an open jail experiment. Besides demonstrating how concentration, perseverance and hard work can make one realize one’s goals in life, the movie also drives home the point that if people focus their energy on a worthy cause in a sincere manner, success is easy to come by.

 

 

Maria (Julie Andrews) who is a free-spirited person lacking in self-discipline and self-confidence assumes the role of a governess for the seven children of Captain Georg von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) and ends up winning the hearts of the entire family in The Sound of Music (1965).

 

In Khamoshi (1970), we meet nurse Radha (Waheeda Rehman) who loses her own mental balance by being so sincere in discharging her duties as a professional as to neglect her own emotions of love towards two of her successive patients, Dev Kumar (Dharmendra) and Arun Choudury (Rajesh Khanna). A key lesson underlying the storyline is that of cultivating a sense of detachment in one’s profession, as highlighted in the Bhagavad Gita as well.

 

Think of Debaraj Sahai (Amitabh Bachchan) mentoring Michelle (Rani Mukherji) in Black (2005). The movie was inspired by The Miracle Worker (1962).

 

Humility

Here is a quality which covers such personality traits as purity, charity and obedience.

 

Gladiator (2000) captures the saga of General Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russel Crowe) who is devoted to Emperor Marcus Aurelius and works throughout his life to keep the Roman Empire safe. When offered the throne, he declines the offer, preferring instead to return to his village. Before he dies, he asks for political reforms, for his gladiator allies to be freed, and for Senator Gracchus to be reinstated. Maximus’s friends and allies honor him as “a soldier of Rome”. His character represents not only the purity of his intentions and loyalty to the empire, but also humility.

 

When denizens of planet Earth soar into space, they have this humbling experience of realizing how infinitesimal Homo sapiens happen to be in the overall scheme of a vast universe. We may be rooted in our prejudices and may be overly busy, what with our ego-skirmishes with others over petty matters and a relentless chase of the materialistic goals in our lives; yet, we are merely a fraction of a speck in the divine arrangement.

Watching movies like Apollo 13 (1995), Gravity (2013), and many others leaves us humbled in more ways than one.  

(This series of posts is dedicated to Ms Usha Bhatia, my late wife. Inputs from Mr Sanjay Mohan and Ms Gargi Banerjee are gratefully acknowledged)

 

(Related Post:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/08/16/some-movies-with-a-dash-of-spirituality-part-2-of-4

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/08/20/some-movies-with-a-dash-of-spirituality-part-3-of-4

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/08/24/some-movies-with-a-dash-of-spirituality-part-4-of-4)

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Here is how the sight of a wren, the smallest of birds in creation, fighting to protect her little nest from an intruding hawk taught me the difference between patriotism and nationalism.

As she unleashed the fury of her miniscule wings and beak, I heard the wren say the following to the overbearing hawk who had obvious contempt for the little bird seeking to defend so negligible a homestead:

“Dear predator, here is what you need to understand: the same god who made you a hawk made me a wren, gave me a tree into which I could build my nest.My nest is not the greatest of homes, but the only home I know and love, like every other wren in every other part of the earth. Like all other wrens everywhere, I love my nest, just as every hawk on every mountain peak everywhere feels proud of the peak upon which it keeps its offspring safe, regardless of which nation the mountain belongs to.

I make no claim that my nest is the greatest of all nests, or has any magical properties. I defend it because I am used to it and is the only nest I have. I labour in sunshine and sleet to keep it safe, just like wrens in other places value their little nests and defend the same with vigour. And god gives me the strength to fight for its preservation, as wrens in other countries fight for theirs.”

In not claiming that her little nest was anything but a little nest, but one dear to her and her fledglings, the wren was simply proclaiming herself a patriot. And in admitting that her nest was not the greatest abode in the wide world, the wren was disclaiming to be a nationalist.

Many years later, when I was in the United States of America, the memory of the wren became my political inspiration.

Persuaded to stay back and accept a tenure-track teaching job at a reputed university, I declined the kind offer.

Pressed to explain why I was foregoing so exclusive an opportunity, I found myself saying that I would miss home.

On being asked what it is I meant by the term “home,” I found myself pleading that home was something entirely different from a fine house equipped with all the comforts that material advancement makes available. Home evoked the memory of sights, sounds, smells, cadences of social interaction, attitudes to time, space, money, the deep oneness with the languages we wa are born into and in which our imaginations embellish our realities. I remember referring to the charms of the wayside oven (tandoor), now fast vanishing, alas, under press of sophisticated urbanization, where I often stop while traveling to savour a hot-baked bread—a pretty proletarian fetish, but one that filled some deep longing in me. I pleaded that this was a feeling akin to an ordinary American lapping up a bowl of clam showder or beans along an ordinary street; and that just as an ordinary American working man or woman made no claims for American “exceptionalism” on the strength of her quotidian repast, I loved my roadside baked bread without extending that sentiment to claiming that India was the greatest of nations.

Home was simply a cadence of un-self-conscious living that informs everything from our palate to the structure of our interactions with our weltanschuuang. Something that enables us to understand similar feelings in other peoples who live outside the territories that define our geographical nations.

Indeed, the current spectacle of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers trudging to their villages away from the metropolises teaches us that home may not always correspond even to the designated countries of which we are citizens, but recede into hinterland spaces. A migrant worker from Uttar Pradesh or Bihar may feel as alienated in Mumbai or Bengaluru as a rangy Texan in New York, unimpressed in either case by the superior claims to glitter of the megapolises they leave. In such episodes not only is nationalism a distant thought, but even our patriotism may shrink to pieces of land that speak to our souls.

Thus, were I to echo the sentiment “India first” I would not mean by that India above all, but to express the sentiment of the least inhabitant of my country who might wish her little hutment to be clean and attractive because, simply, it was a space closest to her existence.

I came to realize that such attachment to the concrete conditions of our grooming and lived being constitutes patriotism, whereas projecting that concrete into an unfelt abstraction that has never any basis in fact or reality comprises nationalism. My confluence with my given space and order of living did not, I made clear, in the least cloud my objective recognition that other peoples in other countries have notched up achievements that transcend what India may have to her credit. And, like the wren, I do not covet the mightier claims of the hawk, but simply seek to defend the nest I love.

Patriotism, or our love of our given clime, leaves us free to value a like sentiment among peoples in other climes and countries, and free to find fault with what we may be lacking without letting bravado or false claim distort those realities.

Nationalism, like religious faith, permits no such room. It asks of us that we propagate that we outshine all other peoples, cultures, climes, countries in every sphere of life because of some divine origin or exclusive right to perfection.

Where patriotism denotes love of our country and clime, nationalism denotes a politics of dominace, built on myths and legends that have no discernible or objective reference to who we are and how we subsist in our daily lives.

In that context, I recall a most instructive vignette to which I just happened to be witness.

A political pracharak (propagandist) working with people in a slum area was encouraging little slum children to say “Bharat Mata ki Jai” (Obeisance to Mother India). At which a little girl with disheveled and matted hair asked “where is she? Where can we meet her”? The pracharak, rather askance, said “She is everywhere.” The little rag picker then wondered why she never comes to meet them, and why, if she is such a caring mother, are they always hungry and destitute.

In that interaction, I saw a telling debate between the abstract and the concrete, and an innocent but searing refusal of reality to be fibbed off by a great nationalist idea. Clearly, the abstract idea of a supervening mother did not square with the little girl’s experience of motherhood as she experienced it.

It struck me that the same sentiment afflicts downtrodden peoples in all parts of the world, and nationalist slogans about their particular countries being “first” do not help alleviate the miseries of the marginalized.

The episode of the little slum girl brought to mind another. In my undergraduate class, there used to be an African-American student named Rufus. Over the semester, I found that he was not coming to class. One day along the university street I saw him, discovering to my astonishment that he had acquired a fair-skinned face, rather like the legendary Michael Jackson. When I expressed my astonishment, he simply said: “this country is great only for the whites, and I mean to be great.” Rufus had clearly decided to go over to a prevailing, even if covert, definition of nationalism. Even as his patriotism remained strong enough to disallow him from abandoning the country he was born and grown up in.

It should be obvious that our love of our countries bears no relation to the abstract constructions of their alleged greatness, but only to the concrete fact that we are born there, speak our own dialects, and commiserate with one another in specific forms of cadence. And, the fact that other climes and countries may have lesser or greater claims to national stature makes little difference to our love of our little nests.

Natonalism enjoins upon us to believe that our air is the most salubrious, our water magical, our sunsets and sunrises unique ly blessed, our accumulated histories and legends superior to those of all others, our culture the only worthwhile culture, our religious faiths nearest to god, and our stores of knowledge beyond compare.

Patriotism acknowledges that where I live is my beloved space, warts and all. It makes no claims to exceptionalisms that are thought to be god’s unique gift to us. It recognises that our streets are shabby, our lanes full of clutter, our habits shoddy, our resistance to rationality often grossly debilitating, our defiance of law a routine habit of mind, our male chauvinism shameful and violent, our casteism or racism or communalism deleterious to the most desirable ideals of human rights and human oneness. Patriotism recognizes that things may be better in other countries and, less so in yet others, and patriots seek to better such conditions and realities without covering them up in sham slogans born of abstraction that have no real existence, or impelled by a gnawing sense of inferiority.

Patriots understand and honour patriots in other nations. Nationalism constructs them as potential enemies.

Patriotism accepts the great reality of diversity; nationalism seeks to obliterate diversity and aims to create the world in its own abstract theology of supremacy.

 

(The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012. Thereafter he wrote two more books, Idea of India Hard to Beat: Republic Resilient and Kashmir: A Noble Tryst in Tatters.

Permission to publish this article is gratefully acknowledged.)

 

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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 earlier in this decade?

“Let’s start from the very beginning/ a very good place to start…” (The Sound of Music)

Naren or rather Bile (Narendranath Datta) was storm or turbulence personified from childhood in the premises of the Datta household in North Calcutta. Never obedient to seniors, ever an enigma to peers (his local friends), he would relish his father’s hookas (smoking pipes) or throw away his mother’s clothes from the windows to the beggars on street even while he was locked up in a room for his erratic unmanageable behaviour.  But when the time of crisis came, his friends would run away at the sight of a snake. But he would remain seated, immersed in meditation while the snake rustled away leaving him in peace. Trained in the art of physical mastery, he would combat the white man for speaking ill of Indians. He showed the promise of a Life Exemplary and Leader Extraordinary!

“His pre-eminent characteristic was kingliness. Wherever he went he was the first.’ (Romain Rolland).

Narendranath was a born leader, never ‘made’ – only refined and directed by his great master Shri Ramakrishna.

A good leader accepts the situation at hand and tries to find a way out. But a great leader is ever in discomfort with the commonplace and the hackneyed reality. Naren began his quest for the beyond with burning questions on the existence of God and purpose of Life – only to be answered clear and direct by Sri Ramakrishna, who was to become his master though in appearance, upbringing and otherwise his direct antithesis. But this was not by any devout dedication but through a series of questioning he hurled upon his master. And then came the hour of consecration.

Ei jonmo ei shorir oi murkho bamun kine niyeche”. (This life, this body is consecrated to that old illiterate Brahmin!) – He wrote to a brother disciple later.

By the way, Narendranath was projected as the leader of tomorrow by his master – not by himself!

Naren shikshe debe” (Naren will teach the world) – was the prophecy of Shri Ramakrishna in the Master’s own writing.

A great leader emerges out of stormy crisis from various fronts – death of father, deprivation of mother from family property, futile search for a job. But he had the fortitude to stick to his master’s promise that he would never be plagued with basic sustenance. His primary preoccupation became an immersion into the self, deep in meditation. “Mon cholo nijo niketone…’ (O Mind! Return to thy own repose!). It was for his Master to turn him towards the world with the message of service, love, education to humanity. He was destined to be a leader –a banyan tree for one and many.

Storm as in crises for him was lifetime companion – severe hardship n Baranagar Math in North Calcutta after the death of his Master, hunger and uncertainty during his parivrajaka (the wandering monk) life in India, anxiety about funds for the America trip, spending sleepless and shivering night in Chicago railway station, lampooned and maligned by his opposition religious groups in the West and even from his close quarters back home.

But the fire in him was never to extinguish.

Vivekananda stood for the principles of acceptance and assimilation of diverse opinions, values and cultures. A true global leader in thoughts, words  and action, he became a fiery inspiration to men and women from the East and West from myriads of background – businessmen like Rockefeller and Jamshetji Tata, European women like Margaret Noble (Sister Nivedita) and Emma Calve, scientists like Acharya J C Bose and many more. His style of communication was different for each according to the nature and character of individuals. His was an enlightened universal mind a century ahead of his times. But never did he lose his anchor in India.

“India was his daydream. India was his nightmare.” (Sister Nivedita)

And his thundering voice rose: “He Bharat bhuliona…” (O India! Forget not…). He never disowned the past and ever cherished the golden heritage of India. But he was ever stretching out his hand and heart of welcome to the West as well, to a future that is different and diverse yet mutually and globally enriching for one and all.

Je somonnvoy kore sei lok” (The one who can synthesize is truly a human) said his Master. Swamiji lived this message throughout life – a grand synthesis of the best from all parts of the world that he had visited during his brief life span.

Srinvantu Vishwe Amritasya Putrah’ (Listen! O Children of Immortality, world over!). This was the invocation of the rishis of the Upanishads. The voice of Swamiji in Chicago Parliament of Religions resonated; “Sisters and brothers of America…” He was a modern incarnation of the ancient rishis (sages and seers) in the attire of a monk.

Back home he chose ‘atmanomoksharatham jagat hitaya cha’ as the motto of the Ramakrishna Mission – (For the liberation of the self and the welfare of the world)  on the foundation of the philosophy and principle of action ‘Siva jnana jivaseva’ (To serve man is to serve God n Man) as he learnt from his Master.

His last life in Belur Math was like that of a child – playing with animals and enjoying the company of tribal people while giving lessons on Upanishads to brother monks. In fact his was a life of a child-like leader yearning for fresh air and new light and learning forever. He learnt from all possible sources including a low caste ‘bhangee’ (one from a low caste) with whom he had smoke and also a dancing girl who, in Rajasthan at the palace of Maharaja of Khetri, taught him the message of non-discrimination among humans.

Jabot bnachi tabot shikhi” (I learn as long as I live) – was the message of Shri Ramakrishna. Following this precious teaching from his Master Swamiji lived, loved, learnt and left a legacy that is lasting and growing even beyond a century! Ramakrishna Mission is sustaining and flourishing every day all over the world for the service of humanity at large – spiritual, social and educational.

His funeral pyre was lit on the bank of the Ganges on the fifth of July 1902. The body of the monk inferno Swami Vivekananda was stretched on pyre in his chosen place under the bilwabrikshwa (The Bengal Quince tree) in Belur Math. His mother Bhubaneshwari Devi was sitting and watching the rising flames from the body of his eldest son. A speck of his saffron robe flew in the wind to Sister Nivedita, the devout disciple of the monk. She collected and preserved that ‘memento’ for her inspiration to action in the days to come.

Thus was the mortal consummation of the Swami, the Prince among men –the volcanic monk who shook the world with the fiery message of the Upanishads under the spiritual umbrage of his ‘seraphic master’ Sri Ramakrishna and ignited the spirit of India towards freedom.

Netaji (Subhas Chandra Bose) accepted him as his fiery guru in mortal absentia. In the words of Sri Aurobindo, it was like “baptism with blood and fire”. Netaji described Swamiji as a leader extraordinary in the following words:

“Reckless in his sacrifice, unceasing in his activity, profound and versatile in his wisdom, boundless in his love, exuberant in his emotions, merciless in his attacks and yet as simple as a child, he was a rare personality in this world of ours.

If Swamiji had been alive today he would have been my guru.”

I have ransacked the history of leadership and management literature in my voyage through Human values and Indian Ethos in Management, Spirituality and Leadership for nearly three decades but never found such a detailed, succinct yet most powerful and accurate assessment in these seven leadership qualities of one genius of a world leader by another of no mean stature.

We began with a tribute to Tagore by Satyajit Ray. And here we find a tribute to Swami Vivekananda, the Great Master and Leader Extraordinary by none other than Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. They remain with us as fountainhead of boundless inspiration in a world ruled and dictated by leaders who at best belong to the class of mediocrity in academia and otherwise!

But the fire in the volcanic monk still remains alive and aflame in those who are willing and ready to be ignited.

Agne twam hridayam agachha’ – Oh Fire Eternal! Come and set our hearts ablaze!

Amar modhye je agun jwolchhe tomader modhye o sei agun jwole uthuk… Ei sodai Vivekanandar prarthana.”

(The fire that is burning within me may set all your hearts aflame! This will ever be the eternal prayer of Vivekannada.)

May we live up to his prayers!

It was high in the snowy Himalayas. Swamiji was on pilgrimage with a few chosen disciples. His intense meditation led him to a vision of the Mother Kali, the Black Goddess, the mighty Destroyer and Time Eternal, lurking behind the veil of life. During one evening in a state of high fever he wrote a famous poem that concludes thus:

“Who dare misery loves,

And hug the form of Death,

Dance in destruction’s dance,

To him the Mother comes.”

He said to her chosen disciple Nivedita (an Irish lady of noble origin): “Meditate on death. Only by the worship of The Terrible can The Terrible itself be overcome…There could be bliss in torture too…The Mother Herself is Brahman…The heart must be a cremation ground – pride, selfishness, desire, all burnt to ashes. Then and then alone, will the Mother come!”

Vivekananda exemplified an authentic synthesis of the East and the West, the past and the present, Science and Religion, contemplation and action, spiritual pursuit and service to humanity. He was the messenger of dynamism and hope to India and the world. Could it be that he was under a spell of so-called negative thinking when he wrote the above verse? Or did he want to convey a pertinent message in a different mood that might be useful for all in moments of turbulence and uncertainty?

Leaders of tomorrow in business or otherwise, when shall we learn from death and destruction of old orders that we need creative quantum breakthroughs in our leadership principles, roles and practices to shake the very foundation of our outdated models and worn out concepts, our tunnel vision and fossilized values, by keeping alive and aflame just one precious element within our hearts – the passion to transform and infuse new life in our organizations and the planet at large?

Millennia ago, Socrates exhorted us to think and look within ourselves: “An unexamined life is not worth living.”   Closer in time, the voice of Nietzsche sounded even more daring and adventurous: “If one is to live, one is to live dangerously.”

 

{Tribute to Swami Vivekananda, the Great Master and leader extraordinary on The Foundation Day (May 1st, 1897) of The Ramakrishna Mission, the first Indian international organization with headquarters in India (Belur Math, Howrah – Kolkata on the bank of the Ganges) but outreach all over the world with more than 200 centres and still thriving in glory for almost more than a century and a quarter dedicated to the service of suffering humanity. An entrepreneurial venture of timeless significance even in times of crisis as in the present, this institution remains and grows as the ever expanding  global vision of this great master as an inexhaustible source of energy and inspiration, firmly rooted in Indian culture, ethos and heritage but with appeal reaching all over the world. At a level of Philosophy in Practice (Practical Vedanta, a term coined by himself that he spread like wild fire in the West even within the short span of his life of less than forty years) he gave a new turn to the ideal of monkhood with simultaneous emphasis on pursuit of salvation of the self through evolution of Consciousness and welfare of humanity at large.The Ramakrishna Mission that embodies the ideals of globalization and sustainability propounded by its founder a century before the pioneers of management in the West could even conceive of these ideas and principles. Even at a functional level the structure of the main temple of Shri Ramakrishna in Belur Math represents a grand synthesis of the East and the West – of Christian, Islamic and ancient Indian architecture.]

(Sanjoy Mukherjee (58) is Faculty of the Sustainability, CSR and Ethics academic group at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Shillong. He is the Chairperson of the Institute’s Annual International Sustainability Conference (SUSCON) and also the Chairperson of Student Affairs, Placement and Public Relations.

His detailed profile can be accessed at https://www.linkedin.com/in/sanjoy-mukherjee-72b18823

Permission to publish this tribute here is gratefully acknowledged.)

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You would not find the Bhagavad Gita in the self help section of a library or a book store. It is good that it is so. A book of the stature of Bhagavad Gita should not be reduced to the level of popular, (maybe even best seller) self help books which give a feel good message when you read and are shallow and misleading when you probe deeper. But if you ever get to understand the core message of Bhagavad Gita, you will find that this is the self help book you have been looking for all your life.

There are reasons why I say so. Self help books focus on one thing – how to get what you want. Self help authors and motivational gurus suggest various seemingly easy and short cut methods to achieve what you want. But they don’t tell you what you should want. Bhagavad Gita does so. It tells you what should be the highest goal of a human being.

It is important first of all to know what you want. Quite often people work hard for years for something, but after they get it they become more frustrated. They wish they should not have desired to achieve that.

Secondly, when you only prescribe ways for getting what you want, it can be utilised for good purpose as well as evil purpose. It can also be utilised for pure selfish purpose which would come at the general good of the society. In fact many self help books encourage you to be selfish and recommend unethical methods to achieve your goal.

These so called motivational authors call their books self help books. But tell me about any self help book where first of all some idea about ‘self’ is given. The fact is that they themselves may not be knowing what self is all about. Bhagavad Gita fulfills this shortcoming. It gives you some idea about your innermost core which is elusive to the conscious mind but can be experienced in deep meditation. Let me assure you, if you don’t have the proper perspective about the ‘self’, no amount of tips, tricks, and hacks will be of any long term use to you.

We are all interdependent, not only from human society point of view, but also from the point of view of our surroundings consisting of living and non-living elements. We cannot progress in isolation. Self help books rarely talk about your position in the cosmic order of things. These books never give you the big picture. Remember that if your actions are not aligned with the big picture of things, the selfish goals you achieve by using the unethical and near- unethical tips and tricks of self help books will frustrate you in the long run even after you get all your desires fulfilled.

In an earlier post also while explaining the fallacy of the self help books I had recommended Bhagavad Gita as one of the few books that I have come across to be of real help. But, to understand the core message of Bhagavad Gita there are practical difficulties. There are thousands of translated versions of Bhagavad Gita available in various languages. If you do not have expertise in Sanskrit, you will not know how wide off the mark many of such translations and their commentaries are. Even knowing Sanskrit is not enough. To understand Bhagavad Gita one should have basic knowledge of various systems of Indian philosophy known as Darshanas.

While going through various books on Bhagavad Gita in the three languages that I can read and write I found that many of the interpreters did not have any experience in yoga or meditation. Such people who set out to interpret Bhagavad Gita do great injustice to the book.

In spite of all the shortcomings it is worthwhile to try the Bhagavad Gita in whatever versions you may land your hands on. These days of course you have many online versions. It may be useful to compare two to three versions to enable you to at least get the core versions. By the way my own version is also underway. From time to time while going through various versions of the Bhagavad Gita I have made notes of insights gained. My advantage is that I can fairly understand Sanskrit even though I am no expert in it.

 

(The original post can be accessed at ‘Pebbles and Waves’ : durgadash.com. Permission to repost it here is gratefully acknowledged).

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/02/01/sacred-scriptures-of-india-and-the-bhagavad-gita

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2019/03/27/when-ceos-are-left-twiddling-their-thumbs-bhagavad-gita-could-help)

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The big and fat weddings which keep taking place all across the length and breadth of India are well known. These are occasions on which gullible parents, overjoyed by the prospect of finally getting rid of their respective wards, loosen their purse strings, showcasing their wealth, power and pelf.

Ostentatious decorations, lavish dinner spreads which could make Anatole raise his eyebrows a fraction of an inch, sumptuous upholstering of those in attendance and a chain of rituals which keep the hapless bride and the groom on their toes – all of these create an ambience which befits the social status of the well-heeled parents, making many others green with envy. It is another matter that such display of wealth often makes our tax sleuths sit up and take notice. The Bartholomews under their supervision promptly start sniffing around, their bare teeth on full display. Unless prompt steps are taken through proper channels, such visits get followed by a couple of tax notices. Tax consultants lose no time in demanding their own pound of flesh in the whole affair.

The Hapless Bride and the Groom

Clueless to-be-weds, having initially announced their matrimonial intentions, look helplessly around as the drama unfolds.  They may have had little say in the tough negotiations between their families as to the commercial terms and conditions of the proposed merger and amalgamation of two families.

Detailed arrangements to be made for their big day need the supreme intelligence of Reginald Jeeves. Around the big day, the poor youngsters go through a complicated litany of rituals, acting like dumb puppets under the command and control of senior relatives. When they make a grand entry, the grinning groom would normally be riding a well-decorated mare which is visibly shuddering due to the high pitch music being played by the band accompanying the procession. The dashing bride walks in, all decked up, a hand-held flowery canopy over her held by relatives and friends. The couple exchanges heavy garlands and soon starts experiencing cervical spondylitis.

High-end technology-backed priests chant unintelligible ‘mantras’ from Indian scriptures to the accompaniment of seven vows the couple takes while going around the sacred fire. The camera men call the shots as the wide-eyed couple refrain from openly complaining about tired facial muscles due to a need to keep smiling without a break, commercial or otherwise.

While the couple sounds bright and beaming, one never knows what is ailing them within. Realization dawns that while they may derive momentary pleasure in the proceedings, they have unwittingly unleashed some sinister forces which have snatched the initiative from their hands. It would not be surprising to find that both are resolving never to go through all the rigmarole once again in this life of theirs.

A Carnival of Egos

However, people assembled rejoice, not losing time to start gorging on rich food being served. Their taste buds reign supreme. Laughter and merriment is spread all around. A carnival of egos gets rolling, with each of the attendees shamelessly trying to prove his or her superiority to those around. Supercilious gazes, duly laced with ill-concealed jealousy, abound. Spruced up by expert cosmetologists, most of them come in wearing their societal masks, offering either a limp handshake or, in these virus-threatened times, a simple ‘namaste’.

Hosts suffer from having to put on synthetic smiles and greeting all and sundry – the essential ones, the desirable ones and the not-so-desirable ones. Their real worries are multi-dimensional: whether all arrangements would play out well, whether the gang of guests who whole-heartedly support a healthy supply of tissue restoratives would be exercising abundant caution, and if either the bride or the groom would play a vanishing act on the big day.

Onerous Duties of Detectives

Like Maudie, several owners of detective agencies prowl around the grounds, keeping an eye over the proceedings. One of their mandates is to keep guests like absent-minded Lord Emsworth on a tight leash, lest they pocket a couple of scarabs, if any happen to be floating around. Nabbing the likes of Smooth Lizzie before they could lay their hands on anything precious adorning the guests’ pear-shaped physical frames is yet another goal of theirs. Gifts and envelopes containing cash bestowed on the couple need to be kept under strict surveillance, lest these get pinched. Gangs of perennially giggling sisters of the bride need to be kept under a closer watch, so as to render their plans of stealing the groom’s footwear null and void. Bride’s ex-suitors who plan to throw rotten eggs and tomatoes at the groom when he struts out of the wedding need to be kept at bay, so he does not suffer the fate of Teddy Week in one of the Ukridge stories.

In other words, the detectives endeavour to avoid any kind of disaster which could sully the reputation of the hosts and lower the dignity of the occasion. Obviously, they have no control over the basic disaster occurring in the lives of the couple who happen to be blissfully unaware of what is about to hit them, much like the cosh used to deadly effect by Jeeves occasionally – the marriage itself.

Of Smarter Marriages

As technology invades all aspects of our lives, the marriages in the near future may become qualitatively different. E-Invites are already the norm. Video invites could soon become the order of the day. Gifts for the couple could be received by courier. Bobby Wickham’s Royal Academy of Goofy Technologies has already come up with a range of gift packs to suit all kinds of attendees. Return gifts – like laser-guided needles meant for puncturing hot water bottles – could reach potential attendees by courier services, along with pre-paid food coupons.

Celebrations could be telecast live over smart phones, thereby reducing the carbon foot print of the marriage and protecting our denizens from the kind of exotic viruses which Nature keeps unleashing upon us at frequent intervals. It is a win-win situation for everyone, providing a bird’s eye view of the proceedings, avoiding security bottlenecks due to VVIP attendees, fat charges for hiring large venues, huge catering costs, cushioned seating and other incidental costs.

Yes, many of us would miss the back-slapping, bonhomie and networking which entails at a traditional wedding. Some may shudder at the prospect of losing out on those awkward elbow shakes and clumsy fist bumps. Parents who are scouting around for potential soul mates for their progeny would get dismayed. Relatives who despise each other would miss the sadistic pleasure of passing caustic comments within the earshot of the party of the other part. Service providers of all hues, sizes and shapes would be upset at the downturn in their billings. But one has to make tough choices at times.

The time of smaller, slimmer and smarter marriages is already upon us. Rupert Psmith and Eve Halliday would surely approve.

(Illustration courtesy the www)

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/12/23/a-goofy-career-opportunity-for-marketing-professionals

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/10/12/an-invitation-from-the-international-league-of-happiness

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/11/05/a-plummy-wish-for-a-bride-to-be)

 

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Dustedoff

I have been watching with increasing despair and sorrow these past few months as India has teetered on the brink of disharmony and violence, hoping against hope that it was just a passing phase. There were moments when I felt things were looking up, for instance, when people of other faiths—not just Muslims—came together at Shaheen Bagh and elsewhere to oppose CAA and NRC. There were times I told myself it was getting better, that India was essentially secular, and that divisive forces would eventually be defeated.

Then the Delhi carnage happened. Many were killed, even more injured. Property was destroyed, people were forced to flee their homes. Curfew was clamped. We mourned. Not just for the dead, but for the way the hydra-headed monster of hatred, bigotry and violence had again reared its head.

I have lived in Delhi for most of my life, and to see the city…

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