Thursday, November 16, 2017

My Way or the Highway- Part I

My Way or the Highway!


The Bhagwat Gita begins with calling Kurukshetra (the battlefield) as “Dharmakshetra”. So what is “dharma”? Shri Krishna goes on to describe Dharma to Arjun as “righteous duty”. As a Kshatriya it was Arjun’s duty to remain in the battlefield and fight the enemy. Krishna even says that at this hour how has this illusion (of running away from the battlefield) struck you?
The purpose of setting out what Dharma is or rather ought to be is to comment upon the extremely distorted & politically convenient connotation the word has achieved. With the evolution of time, various sects evolved world over. To call such sects as “religion” is an anomaly in itself!
The present situation or atmosphere of disallowing dissent of any sort is a dangerous development which our country has witnessed over the past 5-6 years, with ease of access to mobile phones, social media and the internet in general. Every scientific invention has two sides to it. While the internet is something which has completely revolutionised information & technology globally, it now appears to be a double edged sword which has the potential to cause damages at various levels.
Ours has been a civilization which has historically allowed dissent. I am reminded of a crippled Ashtavakra who could just walk in to King Janaka’s court and challenge his most celebrated scholar on shastras, Bandi. Ashtavakra was laughed at because of his physical condition but once he defeated Bandi in a debate, King Janaka bowed down to him and requested Ashtavakra to teach him the mysteries of life. Or take the example of Karna who openly challenged Dronacharya’s best pupil Arjun in an open arena. Despite killing Ravana’s son Akshay Kumar, it was felt that Hanuman should not be killed because he is a messenger of his master! It has been a civilisation which has accepted contrary views rather than discarding them. Our civilization has been inclusionary and not exclusionary.
I very much second Justice Markendeya Katju when he says that ours is a “Sanskrit-urdu” culture. I personally have had the privilege of growing in a household where on one hand Valmiki’s Ramayan was perhaps the most revered books, where Lord Ram was revered as an epitome of principles and considered a perfect example of an ideal son while on the other Mirza Ghalib’s Bazicha-E-Atfaal hai duniya mere aage was also whole heartedly accepted. While the humour of P.G Wodehouse was adored, the depth of Sahir Ludhianvi was also talked about. It was (and is) a household where Kafka, Harishankar Parsai and Saadat Hasan Manto were talked about with equal vigour. My father had this amazing capability of enjoying (or rather accepting) two completely different ideas with the same zeal or neutrality. If this is termed as being “liberal”, I have no qualms in being called one.
Recently, noted author & novelist (!?) Chetan Bhagat wrote an open letter wherein he alleged that liberals are those who belong to a privileged class of society, go to luxurious & expensive schools, have ‘hot dogs’ in lunch and dinner and so on. That I don’t read Chetan Bhagat and consider him to be someone worth reading is my opinion, however, his understanding of being “liberal” is completely flawed. We as a country are (or rather were) essentially liberal and it has got nothing to do with the school we went to or the food we ate.
On the other hand we do have a so-called “urban elite” class which talks about political theories and concepts, purport to be the ideologue of the masses. However, till now the so-called urban elite were not ready to let the masses speak their mind. Why? Because, the urban elite had the language!
The venom that is being spewed on the social media today is a juxtaposition of a flawed understanding of being liberal and also the regression that the not-so-liberal-and-elite have faced. Now they have a medium, a platform and there is no one to control their voice (in fact it is being encouraged). Therefore, the result is abuse to one and all including women and increased use of words such as presstitutes, libtards, commies. It is also a reflection of their mind set. It appears that battle-lines have been drawn and whosoever has a contrary political opinion or raises a voice is suddenly on the other side of the wall. There is just black and white and no grey. “Constructive criticism” is a concept long forgotten.
We belong to a civilisation, where a cow had the potential to turn an angry, greedy and egotist king into a supreme spiritual master. It is believed that while still a King, Vishwamitra was amazed at the powers of the cow Kamdhenu, using which Sage Vashishta fed Vishwamitra and his army. Vashista battled with Vishwamitra to get the holy cow, but was defeated because of sheer spiritual veneration of Vashishta. Vishwamitra vowed to acquire spiritual powers which would make him great. Eventually, Vishwamitra became a “Brahmarshi”. Today, self-proclaimed cow protection groups are lynching and killing people in the name of cow! I support vegetarianism and do not fancy the idea of killing and eating animals. But that certainly does not give me a license to lynch and kill people. The ideal way to put forth this view is to increase awareness and tell people about the probable ill-effects of eating animals.
The notion of nationalism, it appears is under a siege. A straight jacketed formula is given and anything and everything outside that formula is considered “anti-national”. So if I say that it’s absurd to compare a soldier with someone standing in a line to withdraw money from the ATM, I automatically fall into the “anti-national” bracket. If I question one step of the ruling disposition, the ones’ supporting that point of view will quickly quip “what about the last government”? Whataboutism is another thing which has grown manifolds and it is abundantly visible and available on the internet.
Online abuse is something which will only grow in magnitude but what worries me is the standardization of the entire concept of liberty. National anthem, soldiers, Pakistan and now arts & cinema are few things which are become linear topics and concepts. There cannot exist, a view contrary to what is being dispensed by the ruling disposition and the so-called right wing. Take for instance, the case of the national anthem. Every since my childhood till date, whenever it is being played, I automatically stand up and also request those around me to stand. But suddenly, I am being told that I have to stand up, even if it is a 9-12 show of a movie. If someone tries to find logic in it, you are termed as “anti-national”.

We will try and delve deeper into the complexity of the so-called outrage that has captivated the country and the likely consequences which one can expect in the times to come. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Who am I?- Part I

This question lies at the core of spirituality. The entire fulcrum of human existence revolves around this question. Some people decide to tread upon this quest. For some this question is completely irrelevant. And for some, answer to this question is essentially vis-à-vis materialistic goals. For instance, if you ask somebody who is not initiated, they will say that I am a Manager at XYZ Company. Likewise, if we ask what the purpose of life is, the usual answer is again in materialistic terms. One could say that the purpose of my life is to build a house! If we delve deeper and try to know our real self, there definitely is a bigger and more pertinent question that awaits us. The purpose of life cannot be to build a house, to buy a car or to earn X amount of money. Yes, these things do come along till the time we play our roles in this physical self. The argument could be stretched to say that the purpose of life is happiness. But then, how lasting is the happiness which we constantly try to find in people, situations & things? Isn’t it temporary? How do we get permanent happiness? The Bhagwad Gita has a very important role to play here. For that matter, all religions talk about the same thing in their own different way. The ultimate truth remains the same and can be felt only by self-realisation. Gita defines sthitpragya (or equipoise) as one who remains the same in every situation. Happiness, sorrow, anger, fear or any such feeling has no effect on him. How do you achieve such state? There are multiple levels of stresses, tensions, problems which we have in our lives today. So should we abandon everything and go to some cave? Certainly not. The first step to even attempt to remain in such a state is to know yourself. The real self is Soul. That which is neither born, nor can die. If we give ourselves a constant affirmation that we are souls and not merely this body, we can view things in a very broad perspective.

So if we are souls and not merely the body, then why should we bother about anything at all? Here comes Karma Yog. A Yogi is one who always engages in action being fully aware that the result of an action is not in his hand. Such action is nishkam karm. To put it simply, it is one’s duty to engage in action. A warrior’s duty is to fight. That is his Dharma. Whether the battle will be won or lost is something which is not in his control. But he cannot put down his weapons (like Arjun did in the Mahabharat) and say that I will not fight. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Monk who inspired millions!

Like many others, this monk from Gourmohan Mukherjee Street in North Calcutta caught my imagination as a teenager.  I read about him & his guru but his teachings on Vedanta were heavy-duty stuff for me back then. Thus, as life slipped into the routine stuff of earning, eating, sleeping, reproducing, Swami Vivekananda was forgotten.
About two and a half years ago, I was introduced to my Guru, Pandit Shriram Sharma Acharya and from thereon, I decided to tread on the difficult path of spiritual awakening hitherto unknown to me. Although Gurudev shed his physical self in 1990, his writings, in excess of 3000 books, still illuminate and enlighten millions. He used to say “I am not a person but a thought”. It looks like an invisible force is guiding me to lead life in a particular way and make it worth wile. A pre-requisite of spiritual awakening is a disciplined life and continuously attempting to lead it with austerity.
There are three or four prominent figures from the spiritual realm, which Gurudev has repeatedly referred to in his writings viz. Mahrishi Raman, Arvind, Mahatma Gandhi & Vivekananda. On account of spiritual endeavours, my previous fascination for Swami Vivekananda re-surfaced and I began to draw parallels between a “modern” day average individual and the teachings of Swami Vivekananda. Let us try and glance at the life he led and the way he showed to humanity for thousands of years to come
Early Life
Born in a relatively privileged & well-to-do family from North Calcutta, Naren (as Swami Vivekananda was called before becoming a monk & formally accepting Sanyas) had quite a comfortable childhood. He was blessed with a photographic memory and was a restless child. As he grew up, he used to discuss Western Philosophy & other literary stuff with his father, Attorney Bishwanath Dutta, who was a well-read man. His mother, Bhuvneshwari Devi, had a deep influence on him and recited to him, inspirational stories from ancient religious texts. He got introduced to Thakur Ramkrishna Parmahans at a common acquaintance’s house. Thakur immediately took a liking for the boy and invited him to Dakshineshwar Temple, where he served as a priest. Perhaps he had already foreseen Naren’s future and had planned things for him. Naren was sceptical of this man and thought he was mad, claiming to go in bhaav Samadhi (trance). He was restless to meet a person who could claim to have seen God or direct him to God! Thakur claimed he had and would help Naren see God as well. Naren did not believe in these assertions easily. He was a classic example of an educated, city bred boy who would not take things on their face value. He believed in testing everything on the thresh-hold of “proof” and not beliefs. Thakur was patient with him and layer by layer cleared all the doubts in his mind regarding existence and the purpose of life.
Tragedy intervened and Bishwanath Dutta passed away, leaving Naren as the sole earning member of the family. There were times when he used to be completely hungry. This period was of uncertainties, dejection & acute poverty. But then, such has been the story of all great men.
From Narendra Nath Dutta to Swami Vivekananda
Naren requested Thakur to pray to Goddess Kali to take care of his problems & provide respite to him and his family. Thakur suggested Naren to go before the deity himself and ask for it. He went thrice and could only ask for knowledge (gyaan), devotion (bhakti) and renunciation (vairagya). He understood that the purpose of his life lay elsewhere and not in worldly affairs. He formally entered Sanyas along with other disciples of Ramkrishna. He pledged to spread the teachings of his Guru for upliftment of humanity. Ramkrishna was diagnosed with throat cancer which proved to be fatal. Entrusting Naren with the responsibility of taking care of other Guru Bhais and of spreading his teachings, Ramkrishna gave up his physical self. Naren organised his guru bhais into a monk-order which was the nucleus of the present day Ramkrishna Mission. These young men, barely in their late 20s, discussed a wide range of subjects, with spirituality being at the core. They used to beg food like true Sanyasis. Naren assumed the name of Swami Vivekananda.
Swamiji decided to tour the entire country alone, which apart from being under a foreign rule, was also chained by superstitions, casteism, point-less regressive rituals and practices. He travelled the length & breadth of the country and was appalled at the poverty, ignorance & pitiable state of his fellow countrymen.  At times, tears would trickle down on his face uncontrollably.  He decided to devote his life to serve his countrymen and therefore, his first & the most valuable teaching was-serve the poor countrymen and it is equal to serving god. It is the greatest religion to serve humanity and no religion can be greater than that.
At Kanyakumari, he sat on a rock few kilometres away from the sea shore, and meditated for three days. He had swam the entire distance to be on the said rock! From thereon, he conceptualised the idea of crossing the sea and going to the West and spreading the message of Hindu Religion & Indian culture. It looked like an indication & instruction from his Guru.
The Parliament of World’s Religions
With the help of Maharaja Ajeet Singhji of Khetri (Rajasthan), he reached America and despite a number of difficulties, he stood to address a wide range of audience hailing from different cultures, religions, countries & ethnicities on 11 September 1893 at the Parliament of World’s Religions, Art Institute of Chicago. He started his address by the now famous phrase “Sisters & brothers of America..”. Barely had he spoken and the audience burst into an applause, giving him a standing ovation. But Vivekananda had mustered a lot of courage to stand up and speak. In fact, he let other speakers speak and skipped his turn on multiple occasions. He was nervous and he was doubtful. So he invoked his Guru and sought confidence & courage. The plea was answered and when he rose to speak he was radiating with energy and confidence. He spoke of the most ancient orders of the monks in the world, of the mother of religions (Hindu Dharma). His message “We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true” gives the crux of entire Hindu Religion in one sentence. He asserted the principle enshrined in the Bhagwat Geeta that "Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me." He concluded by calling for universal harmony and co-existence of all religions and the principles of "Help and not fight," "Assimilation and not Destruction," "Harmony and Peace and not Dissension." This speech of his is relevant even after over a century later continues to inspire people across all horizons. An important and underlining teaching from this is unflinching faith in Guru. Swamiji had tremendous faith in his Guru. After his initial phase of doubts & questions, once he realised his relationship with his guru, he offered total surrender, irrespective of physical existence of his guru.
A lot of people ask these days “What is the need of a Guru?” Their perception is based on stories of those who claim themselves to be Gurus but turn out to be deceits. In today’s times, there are a lot of people, or thugs, who fool people on the name of religion. Therefore, it is natural to be sceptical of the guru-shishya concept. However, it must be kept in mind that guru-shishya tradition is an age old concept in Indian culture. A guru has been equated with the trinity of Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh. A guru has been placed above parents. A Sadguru can turn an ordinary man into a great human being. Samarth Ramdas-Shivaji, Chanakya-Chandragupta, Gokahle-Gandhi etc. are a few from the innumerable examples of guru-shishya. In the Bhagwat Geeta, Arjun argues and reasons with Krishna against killing of his own kith & kin, but after a point, he clearly says, I am your Shishya (disciple), show me the right way. It is often said that real geeta begins from this point, when Arjun offers surrender to his Guru as a Shishya. "Shishyaste ham shaadi maam tvaam prapannaa- I propose to be your disciple, please guide me” says Arjun. Thus, it is important to have a Guru and offer total surrender to him like these great men did.
Youth & Swami Vivekananda
Swamiji was passionate about moulding Youth. He almost gave a war cry to the Youth when he said “Arise, awake and stop not, till the goal is reached”. To him, it was inexplicable, that while his motherland & her thousands of destitute children suffer, how could one rest and think of material pleasures? Humans and animals have somethings in common. Eating, sleeping & reproduction. But man has been given the power of speech, of being rational, of communicating, of doing great things. By indulging in material pleasures why is man degrading himself when he has been bestowed with powers to do great things? Yogeshwar Krishna says in Geeta “Like a tortoise contracts all of its organs into its shell, a man should have the power to control his senses.”
Swamiji’s birthday 12 January is celebrated as “Yuva Diwas” or “Youth Day” in India. His life is an example for the youth of this country to follow. By 2020, a major chunk of the population will be between the age-group 18-35. This period is a period of transition and change and his following message to the Youth is something for all of us to imbibe and practice:-
I have faith in my country, and especially in the youth of my country. My hope is in you. With an immense amount of feeling and enthusiasm in the blood, will come heroes who will march from one corner of the earth to the other, preaching and teaching the eternal spiritual truths of our forefathers. And this is the great work before you. Each one of you has a glorious future if you dare believe me.
Rouse yourselves, therefore, for life is short. A far greater work is this sacrifice of yourselves for the benefit of your race, for the welfare of humanity. I will tell you in plain language that you work best when you work for others. The best work that you ever did for yourselves was when you worked for others. This life is short, vanities of the world are transient, but they alone live who live for others, the rest are more dead than alive. Be not afraid of anything. You will do marvelous work.

He had uttered these words over a century ago but the strong effect they have can be fathomed and applied in today’s context easily. India has great potential and if its youth can be channelized, it can offer solutions to all the global problems. The problems during Swamiji’s period ware akin to those what we face today, although their form and intensity may vary from those which existed back then. Terrorism, global warming, illiteracy, poverty are some of the broad problems which exist today. Other than these problems a wider range of other problems like depression of various kinds, jealousy, a mad-want for materialistic pleasures, of accumulating and amassing, degradation of values etc. persist. If one reads the works of Swami Vivekananda and his life carefully, one can find all the solutions to these problems. Swamiji used to say, what I’ve done is perhaps sufficient for the coming thousand years. It is about time that we, the young men and women of India, pay heed to Swamiji’s teachings and messages in order to build a strong family, society and nation.  Continuous efforts must be made to remove bad tendencies hiding in the subtle mind. It is absolutely necessary that whatever bad tendencies we find in our actions, thoughts and personality, we gather positive thoughts to counter these tendencies. Eradication of bad thoughts is only possible by current of good thoughts. Only when we are equipped with good thoughts and vision, we will be able to serve others and rise above selfishness.
Swamiji lived for little less than 40 years. He worked tirelessly, ignoring his health, in completing the task assigned to him by his guru. He had foreseen his end long back. To science, his end may seem as something which was brought about by the numerous diseases such as diabetes, asthma etc. he suffered from during his final years. If we try to understand it from a more subtle-spiritual angle, it can be said that his consciousness or chetana had become so huge, that his body was unable to contain it and he had to leave it.
Whatever the case may be, the fulcrum of his life was serving humanity and passing on teachings which will help men become better human beings. Till the very end, he suffered with the sufferings of his fellow beings. In conclusion, it can be said that for generations to come, he will inspire us to grow spiritually, devote ourselves to service of all those in need and eventually service of the nation.  

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Development vs. Disruptions: Who is the loser?

Causing disruptions in parliamentary proceedings is not something new. It’s a tried and tested method of creating hurdles for the incumbent government in the measures it want to adopt for economic growth. In fact, during UPA-II, we must’ve had a record number of disruptions for both the houses. The disruptions during the UPA-II reign were largely focused on scams relating to the 2G spectrum allocation, commonwealth games, and allocation of coal blocks. The BJP transformed parliamentary disruptions caused by it into unprecedented electoral success, by highlighting these three key issues. 
However, the events of the recent few weeks have given a new meaning alltogether to parliamentary disruptions.
The reasons for disruptions which are being caused in the current monsoon session of the parliament, pertain to theExternal Affairs Minister, Smt. Sushma Swaraj and the Goods & Services Tax Bill (a bill which was conceived by the UPA!). Without being politically correct, I would like to state that disruptions on both these counts are totally uncalled for. The opposition, led by the Congress, has been successful in rendering the monsoon session a complete waste. Some people are even congratulating the 44 MPs of the Congress in rising well above their weight and dictating terms to the government. So much so that, the government is planning for a special session of the parliament to see the bill through. A special session of the parliament again, I am afraid, may prove to be a waste, unless of-course the deadlock is broken. It alsomeans, additional expenses which are easily relatable to the taxpayers of this country. 
Let us talk then, of the two reasons of the so-called discontent amongst the opposition. The first one being the allegation of Smt. Sushma Swaraj helping the ex-chairman of the Indian Premiere League (IPL), Lalit Modi in obtaining travel sanction to Portugal upon her alleged “recommendation” to the British Government. Lalit Modi left India in 2010 and has been absconding ever since, following charges of money laundering and is presently facing a red corner notice. So why did Sushma Swaraj help this fugitive in obtaining visa for Portugal? Before that, it wouldn’t be out of place to mention that following uninterrupted disruptions, the Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan had to suspend (temporarily) 25 MPs of the Congress Party. This led to some ugly protests against the Speaker while the Congress President Smt. Sonia Gandhi even went to the extent of describing it as the “murder of democracy”. Coming back to Sushma Swaraj helping Modi, we must discuss Sushma Swaraj’s address dated 12.08.2012, in the Lok Sabha. She began her address by saying that “I do not want to take advantage of absence of 25 of my valuable colleagues, but I would like to make my stand clear on the allegations directed against me through media and otherwise..”. She went on to explain her stand on the entire issue while showcasing outstanding parliamentary skills and also answering each and every allegation levelled against her. Her clarification can be summed up as under:
1. She merely wrote to the British Home Ministry that “if” they permit Lalit Modi & his wife to travel to Portugal in accordance with the legal framework (to be with his ailing wife, who is suffering from Cancer for the past 17 years), it wouldn’t have any bearing on the relationship between India & Britain. This cannot be said to be a “recommendation” or a “suggestion” even, to permit Modi to travel to Portugal. 
2. She wrote so considering the fact that Modi’s wife was facing a life threatening re-emergence of cancer and therefore needed her husband to be by her side. Modi’s wife is neither a fugitive nor a criminal and does not have any proceedings pending against her anywhereSwaraj’s letter to the British Govt. was solely on a humanitarian ground. She even went on to pose a counter question to Sonia Gandhi that what would her stance be if she were to face such a situation of an ailing cancer patient required to be with her husband during the course of a life threatening surgery? Soniaji replied by saying that she indeed would’ve helped such a patient, albeit, within the four corners of law. 
In light of the above clarification by Sushmaji, ideally the proceedings of the parliament should have resumed for discussions on substantial issues. However, it all culminated into ugly personal attacks. Sushmaji advised Rahul Gandhi to go on a holiday and read his family history. She further went on to suggest him to ask his mother as to why his father, the late Prime Minsiter Shri Rajeev Gandhi, let people like Warren Anderson (Bhopal Gas Tragedy) & Quotrochi (Bofors Scam) escape? Rahul Gandhi responded by asking her the amount of money she and her family had got from Lalit Modi for helping him? While Sushmaji cwas lauded for tearing Rahul Gandhi apart, Rahul Gandhi was praised for not cowing down and giving a befitting reply. Rahul Gandhi dared the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to bring “Lalit Modi back”. Many people even talked of Rahul Gandhi “coming of age”. 
The result of the entire episode was a further deadlock, which led to cessation of the monsoon session without yielding any result. The much anticipated GST Bill, which was expected to be passed during the monsoon session, could just be introduced in the Rajya Sabha without any further deliberations on it. The GST Bill is the Second bone of contention for the Congress to have stalled proceedings in the parliament. Something which is its own brainchildThe Bill seeks to shift the restriction on States for taxing the sale or purchase of goods to the supply of goods or services. The Centre will levy an additional one per cent tax on the supply of goods in the course of inter-State trade, which will be retained by the States for two years or till when the GST Council decides.  This one per cent tax is what the Congress is averse to. While the Bill in its present form clearly reflects the incumbent government’s idea of federal independence & cooperation, the Congress is afraid that the States will loose on the revenues. A large fraction of experts contemplate that this move is going to strengthen the economy, while ensuring cohesive economics between the centre & the states. To cut a long story short, it is not an issue which cannot be deliberated upon. Moreover, the accommodative nature of the incumbent government is evident from the changes it made in the Land Acquisition Bill, considering the suggestions of the opposition, despite the electoral majority it enjoys. Therefore, it is clear that the Lalit Modi row was unnecessaryimpeding the passage of the GST Bill and stalling economic progress. 
As a value analysis and for putting forth neutral view, I wouldn’t be blowing things out of proportion, If I say that, the Congress which is facing a crisis for existence should look for more constructive and fruitful ways of a revival, rather than indulging into a practice which it itself abhorred while it was in powerI don’t think personally attacking ministers in a seemingly impertinent manner or raising unreasonable demands of their resignations can be termed as “coming of age”. Having said that, I would also like to add that what Sushmaji did by attacking Rahul Gandhi and racking up the bofors issue is a perfect example of the “they did it too” rhetoric. It wasn’t required by a leader of her stature, particularly in light of the resounding and formidable defence she gave to the allegations levelled against her. 
Causing disruptions in the parliament is indeed a facet of democracy, but only to protest against something which on the face of it is intended to derail the process of economic recovery or something which is not in the national interest. It cannot be used as a means of political revival via personal vendetta and in putting forth a regressive view towards economic growth, as has been attempted in the present scenario. I sincerely believe that it’s time for the Scindias and the Pilots of the Congress party to come forward and give a new face to the Congress. The party needs to act as a responsible opposition and revive itself by raising pertinent issues and even, by supporting the incumbent government in taking pro-India measures.