Sunday, February 04, 2018

Bharatiya Chitta Manas and Kala at 25

Feb19th 2018 will mark the 96th birth anniversary of late Gandhian Historian Sri. Dharampal. This year also marks the 25th year since the publication of one of his most important works, the Bharatiya  Chitta Manas and Kala

In several ways, Dharampal in this particular work talks about the need to create an Indian View of the World. He also severely criticizes the western and modern ways of the Indian State, Scholars and Education in very strong terms in this article that was originally published in Hindi and subsequently translated and published by the Centre for Policy Studies in English in 1993.

"the attempt at imitation the world and following every passing fad can hardly lead us anywhere. we shall have no option in the world till we evolve a conceptual framework of our own", says Sri. Dharampal in this major work.

We take the time of 25 years later to look at some of the most significant questions that Dharampalji poses in this text once again starting from the 5th of February 2018. We will pose every day one of the several challenges that he poses in this work.  The idea behind this effort is for us to reflect whether we have moved any further on these questions 25 years hence. Such an reflection perhaps is a most desirable response and homage one can pay to Dharampalji.  

Increasingly, the thoughts and views of Sri. Dharampal seems to be becoming more and more relevant as does the thoughts and of views of his idol, Gandhi. This is particularly so for those involved in Indian political and social action. 

I invite those who are concerned with the Indian society and those who are even mildly interested in the social challenges to do follow and participate in this joint homage to Dharampalji.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Dharma of the Expert!

The advent and domination of modern technology today extends from our daily domestic use all the way to national defense and international communications.

However, whenever there are questions being posed by the modern technology such as the Nuclear Power Plant in Koodankulam or the introduction of Genetically Modified Crops, we find that even the best among us don’t have a framework or approach that is clear and easy to understand. Question such as “what is the limit to the usage of modern technology?”, “how do we measure its benefits as against its harms?” and more importantly, “when to reject modern technology?” are not always eliciting a clear response from intellectuals, leaders and even scientists and technocrats. We find that they are unable balance their professional interest against the common interest for humanity.

If there was a question as to ‘whether the healthy and peaceful life of our people is important or having a advanced technology based Nuclear power plant is important?’, most of us will find it easy to choose the former. Similarly, if the question was ‘do we need a technology such as Genetically Modified crops which cannot guarantee its long term health or environmental impact for short term gains?”, we would obviously choose to reject the technology.

Such simple posing of questions on issues of public welfare seems to elude the ‘experts’ whom the government often listens to in taking important technology issue based decision. “Public Ignorance”, “Un-Scientific Approach”, “Fear Mindset”, “Unnecessary Fear”, etc., are the kind of terms often adopted by those who are aware of the technology, the ‘experts’ to refer to people like us who are unaware of these technologies. Then do we submit the genuine concerns of the 99% of people like us to the ‘expert’ knowledge of the 1% of them? Majority of our people often are happy to adopt such a venture, ‘after all they are so well educated’, ‘they should know better’, ‘isin’t it scientifically valid?’ and several other questions are often posed within our societies and communities to accept the verdict of the 1% or even less of ‘expert’ knowledge against our own common sense.

How do we as a society decide on issues that may have long term disastrous impact? What is our responsibility towards the future generations? Should we be even concerned about the future welfare or are we to be limited in our concern with current challenges? Can we limit our responsibility to our own personal life, aggrandizement of wealth, asset creation and eventual demise as someone who couldn’t think beyond their immediate personal life? Is that all? – these could be some of the thoughts in the minds of those who are seeking and thinking beyond their own personal lives and care for society.

Some of us may be inclined to look at the past, to see how our ancestors made decisions on common welfare of humanity beyond their times. To analyze and understand the different approach they adopted towards such human conflicts, after all we are not the first ones to face such a situation.

In our culture, every vocation has been guided by the ‘dharma’ of that particular vocation in its social engagement. To feed everyone and ensure no one goes without food is the dharma of the farmer, to ensure no one falls sick in society is the dharma of the traditional doctor, to elevate human mind through aesthetics is the dharma of the artist, to not merely produce clothing, but in the process also determine some social customs was the dharma of the weaver, to create wealth for the entire community was the dharma of the trader, to sustain the beauty of the language was the dharma of the poet, to maintain peace, order and sense of security was the dharma of the king and to maintain an higher aspiration and bearing in society was the dharma of the religious leaders. Thus practitioner of every vocation had a dharma or a social contract that guided their engagement with the larger society.  It is an amazing society that could draw a code of conduct and behavior to so many vocations and sustain the society for a long period of time.

What would be the dharma for the ‘experts’ of modern technology today? What are the guidelines by which they determine whether to recommend a nuclear power plant or a genetically modified crop?

“That which is felt as a being truth and for the befit of all by a mind that is uncluttered is called dharma” defines an old scripture. So, “can we see the truth of the claims behind the nuclear technology? Is it really the only solution that can provide the required electricity that is for the beneficial of humanity? Can the technology and its consequent electricity provide human beings true happiness and contentment?” these can be some of the questions on nuclear energy. Similarly, “is the pest management best solved through such an expensive technology? don’t we have cheaper and simpler ways of controlling the same pests? whom does the real benefits of the GM technology serve?” may be some of the question on the genetically modified crops.

When an expert says that the radioactivity is within the permissible limits from a nuclear power plant for human beings, the question arises as to what are the other radio waves that are impacting our lives in the daily basis, what if some of us are less healthy than others and fall ill even for lesser doses of the waves? Similarly, when experts state that the GM crops are ‘substantially equivalent’ to that of naturally grown crops and they are more or less similar, we see that the experts are resorting to a newer language to explain away the inadequacies of the technology which cannot state the truth in simple language because the truth maybe contrary to the sense of security they want to communicate.

We know from history that experts denied that smoking causes cancer for several decades before conceding that it does. What was public knowledge and concern took the experts several decades of studies to arrive at to state a simple truth. The Bhopal emission victims even today have not found justice, but, importantly, the experts who pronounced the factory safe have had it easy while the victims and their families have suffered beyond generation.

In an era where our lives are often dictated and dominated by so many products of technology that we use and we are driven by these expert opinions, it is important that the Dharma of the Expert is defined, articulated and practiced. One does not find any such practice among experts, there doesn’t seem to be a compelling reason for the ‘experts’ to adhere to any code or dharma today. Unfortunately, our society has elevated such ‘experts’ and ‘scientists / technocrats’ into a demi-god status. It indicates the status of the society today that it can elevate persons with low code of conduct or ethics to a high status in society.
Many of us pride our children being educated in higher levels of technical or scientific education without providing the required ethical code of conduct that could differentiate them from being a better practitioner of a vocation against a harmful practitioner of the vocation. We have to stop the culture that celebrates, “my son/daughter will be a good engineer or doctor” and starts to celebrate “my son / daughter will be good ethical practitioner of his / her vocation”, unless we do such celebration, we can at the best bemoan the lack of ethics and at worse become its victims in coming times.  It is time that we choose either being passive consumers of the ‘expert’ knowledge pervading our lives in a million ways each day or place an active demand of ethical behavior in the experts, we start to understand and demand the dharma of the expert.

this is a rapid translation of an earlier article I had written for a tamil magazine

Friday, October 21, 2011

Blessings during festivals as a responsibility of the Elder

"What do you do on Deepavali Day?", I had asked an Elder of the Chettinad region. At that time he had just relinquished his post as the Chair of their multi-million conglomerate. 

"My wife and I normally are up early in the morning, have our morning ritualistic oil bath, visit the temple of Kapaleeswar Temple (a Shaivite temple that their family had been the patrons of for several generations) in Mylapore. On our return we have some breakfast and from about 9 till 2 we receive younger guests who come to us for seeking blessings", he responded. "It is important for us to stay and be available for youngsters seeking blessings on that day", he added. 

While seeking blessings from Elders during times of festival is a fast disappearing tradition in India, several such Elders and a few communities seem to practice it as their solemn responsibility. 

I know of one senior theater artists (alas is no more) who kept a collection of five rupee coins with him always. He chanted a few lines of goodness blessings for each person who sought it and then gave them the five rupee coin as a token of his blessings. I know people who retain it as a talisman, since his demise it has gained in value, carries as it does the memory as well. Seetharam thatha, our own 97 year old well wisher, always has a few envelops of 'prasad' from some temples, these along with a small change is his blessing, thereby adding a divine edge to his blessings.

My father's cousin and his wife live all by themselves in a flat in Chennai. He is in his mid-80s and his wife in late 70s. Both of them have several health problems and all their children and grand children live abroad. They moved about with crutches in the modest flat and ordered most of their needs over phone and are highly dependent on several functionaries being available (and phone lines working) for their daily needs even. While visiting them to invite them for a family function, I asked him about the trouble of living with no younger help. His response was insightful, "You see, when we grow old, our role is to be available to bless youngsters. To be available to our relatives and friends here and attend whatever functions we are invited for, to bless people wholeheartedly, that gives us satisfaction. We think this is very important, hence prefer to live here at least during the festive parts of the year"! When does this responsibility come into someone? and what gives people this responsibility? Another getting-to-be Elder remarked once, "at some point you start to accept people seeking blessings, it is a recognition that you are now an Elder, few accept it gracefully".

It is amazing that the Elders find so much purpose to be ambassadors of goodwill and thereby ensure that their contribution is maintained in strengthening  relations that build the social fabric. It is a rich society which can have a large number of Elders willing to spare time for the youngsters, to Bless, to share their goodwill, to pronounce good wishes beyond what is borrowed from digital sources and to spread warmth and love. 

I have seen the transition of this tradition of seeking blessings and getting together  giving way to exchanging sweets alone. People far off get an opportunity to merely send messages over email, text or be content with long distant calls. The generation today in their peak productive life are also the ones with the responsibility to transmit this custom from the previous to the next generation, needs to practice it to understand its meaning. To this generation, any festival, such as Deepavali, is another 'holiday' and all holidays are meant for oneself and not for others. While we are often busy planning holidays at home in front of idiot boxes and get away's to pursue packaged ideas of festival, taking that extra effort to seek blessings is a way to pass on a tradition that is valuable both personally and socially.  

Happy Deepavali.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

annam bahu kurvita tat vratam...

the following story I had written first appeared in the Positive News website and since then has appeared elsewhere. I wanted to post it here as I felt that what Venkatraman practices is so much in line with what majority of Indians believe and articulated beautifully in one of the scriptures as 'annam bahu kurvita tat vratam', meaning, 'creation and sharing of food in plenty is an austerity'. 

perhaps in times when there was plentiful food for all, it was practised differently, in difficult times the same is practised in a different manner, Ramalinga Adigalar, a sage who lived in central tamilnadu, has famously told his followers that the only service they can do is to feed the needy (his period coincides with the colonial infused hungry times), so, several of his followers till date continue to keep as their life motto - to feed people, willing, voluntarily, in plenty and as a responsibility to humanity! 

unfortunately, such acts are not considered when governments and others think of food security of the millions!


subsidizing quality food!

Venkatraman, Erode, Tamizhnadu - manages a small eatery close to a hospital in Erode town of Tamizhnadu. One day an attender to a patient walked in and asked foridlies for Rs.10/-, as he had no idlies, Venkatraman offered to give them dosa instead. The lady attender refused and left, saying that there were three of them attending to a patient and they may get more idlies to share than dosas between themselves as they could not afford more than Rs.10/- on their food. 

Struck by the poverty of those who attend to the patients in the hospital and utilizing his proximity to the Government Hospital, Venkatraman came up with an idea, he started to offer 30 tokens for the attendants to the poor patients every day in the hospital. These people are supplied a meal for Rs.1/- (a normal meal even in the smallest of restaurants will cost Rs.20/- and in Venkatraman's eatery costs Rs.30/-) and the quantity of the meal will be sufficient to feed at least two. This he does everyday, saying that it is within his capacity to feed those 30 people in a notional cost (normally about 300 people visit his eatery, so that adds to about 10% of his visitors, he is subsidizing). This he has been doing it for the last four years. He also offers 20% discount on food prices to any physically challenged and blind person who visits his eatery. 

How does he select his beneficiaries? 'We visit the wards, at times we know by the look of those who come to our place to buy food. We prefer to support the attendants of those families where the bread winner of the family is in hospital for a long duration and there is no active earning to support. Normally such poor families run out of their savings with the first week and run out of credit options, which is only the employer, within two weeks. If the bread winner has to take long to recover, then, they are most helpless even amongst the poor. The hospitals feed the patients, but, no one will feed the poor attender which will be the wife of the bread winner in most cases', he says. 'We also look for signs of wealth when we visit, if we notice lots of jewellery or mobile phones, we politely refuse and take back the token from them', he adds.

Does he get any outside support? 'Not much, but, sometimes, people give me Rs.100/- or 50/-, some people can't afford to support a full meal in orphanages or old age homes on their birthdays or some other such important days, for such people, it is easier to give whatever they can afford to us. We write their name in a board in our eatery to ensure that their donation is acknowledged', he says. He is not from any wealthy family, has wife and two daughters to support. He says he started this impulsively as consulting others would have lead to only confusing advise,  'I didn't start this with any support in mind, nor have registered any NGO for this. It is our duty to support the needy. My wife is fine with this and I believe in God and know that doing good to others can never lead us to any harm', he says. 

His motto - 'if everyone in their area of work can help just a few under privileged in their own way, there will be no one begging in the streets, it is in our hands and independent of what vocation we are in'. 

You can meet Venkatraman at - AMV Homely Mess, 78/100, Powerhouse Road, (near Nallasami Hospital), Erode - 1. 
Source/Contact: J. Prabhakar, Coordinator, NDSO - Ennangalin Sangamam, a network of volunteers in Tamizhnadu

Posted in:
Param, is a pre-fix in Tamizh language that denotes anything superior, elevating. 
Param / Positive News is printed about 90% in Tamizh and 10% English currently out of Chennai in Tamilnadu.
It is free, write to us for your copy. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Celebrating guruhood

Republished from

Celebrating guruhood

This Vijayadasami post is to celebrate the tradition of "guruhood", and all the gurus I have had and those I continue to have, and acquire.

Gurus are people who actually seek you out. And then proceed to take over your life in ways as never before and never after. They give you all of themselves, their time, heart, thought, opportunities, challenges, provocations, work, more work, laughter, tears, food... they might even grow and cook it for you. They might throw in free massages as well. And of course, knowledge. Mind you, you didnt ask for all of this, no sir! You will resist in overt and covert ways, you only wanted to learn sanskrit, or music, or maths and in fact not even now, sometime in the near future... So sometimes you will hem and haw, other times you will fight and struggle upfront, or even try and use strategic ways to only just take what you want and quit the place. But you underestimate your opponent. In true martial artist alias guru style, they will ignore you, swat away your tantrums like pesky mosquitoes and with great love give you what you need. Or what you think they think you need! I havent figured that one out yet.

The thing is these people are life teachers. They show you how they take on life, how to live. But the best part is, they don't look at it this way. When they see you, they dont see you the way you perceive yourself, they are equipped with long sight as far as you are concerned. They see you as your potential actualised, and are constantly pushing you towards that vision. The details of that vision might change, but that doesnt matter. Their work is to push, provoke, challenge, raise, support and season you. Sometimes they will drag you kicking and screaming too. No newfangled notions of individuality and choice here, my child!

I have heard it being said that for true learning to happen, both the seed (teaching / ideas) and soil (student/ taught) should be okay. (As an aside, it is interesting that the teacher as an entity is not mentioned) And so, if the student is the soil, I have come to believe that the fertility of the soil is FAITH. And this faith lends reverence to the process of learning, and facilitating learning. It is my experience that my gurus never really taught me, they have always been facilitating my learning and this is my greatest blessing till date. If faith is at the heart of this process, then the gurus become wish fulfilling trees. Their energy and engagement with you is at the level of a spontaneous perception and insight, a no-mind plane where they facilitate not just your learning, but your well-being and happiness in life. Then you will find them giving you all sorts of stuff that you need, right at the time that you need them, without ever really talking of any of it. There is a communication that happens without the minds participating at all. This can happen at various levels of intensity and understanding, and gurus can be for a season or a lifetime. But come to you they surely do, and if you are armed with faith and you hand over that weapon as well to them, they will make something out of you, or help you make something of yourself. Go figure that one.

One last thought: even if the faith is there, the fight is there too. The seasoning and the molding happens in and through this process of resistance and struggle. And my gurus might call it my arrogance, when I say that the fight seasons them too. They are learning in the process too, and a true guru is more aware of it than the student. So, fight with faith!