Friday, 26 December 2014

Current Events 5: Hope in the Times of Violence

She, whose name nobody knew, belonged to a small tribal community from the north-eastern part of the country. She had lost her entire family to the gunshots fired by the terrorists a few days ago, and was now made to live with a big group of strangers in a small tent in a make-shift refugee camp on the outskirts of a nearby town.

On some nights, when the heartrending cries of pain, fear and shock coming from some of the tents tore apart the eerie silence, one woman, looking somewhere far ahead and nowhere in particular, unable to shed a single tear or utter a single cry of pain, wandered outside her tent, aimlessly. 

Her breasts were swollen with the Nature's nectar, but the cruel hands that fired the AK-47 had taken away her day-old-newborn son who had yet to taste his mother's milk.  

Maybe her wandering tonight will take her to that tent in the other corner of the compound where the week-old-newborn girl, whose name nobody knows, living with a big group of strangers, is crying for her mother's milk.      

Dedicated to the victims of the recent terrorist attacks in Assam in which about 80 people including women and children were killed and thousands have been displaced from their homes.

Linking with Five Sentence Fiction: Word prompt: Glimmer

To read previous post in the Current Events series, click here.
To read all the posts in the Current Events series, click here.

Image: Google

Friday, 19 December 2014

The Questions of Why and When

A New Post in the Series - Satyam Shivam Sundaram
A series featuring inspiring words from various sources, words that speak of timeless truths, words that remind me of the deeper and hidden truth behind surface events and phenomena, words that shine light when all seems dark, words that are just what I need 
for this moment and for all times to come.

Shanti (Peace) by S. H. Raza

Where is this world going? What is happening to the world? What kind of human beings can do such a horrendous thing? Is the humanity dead? Is civilization dead? Questions like these and many more have been floating around in many people’s minds, hearts as well as their social media accounts for the last few days.

Why are we not asking the question – Why? Why is the world the way it is now? Why is it all happening? Why is the humanity dead? Why, why, why? 

Perhaps because a part of us knows that we don’t want to hear the answers for they may be too uncomfortable for our preferred sensibilities and ideologies. Perhaps because a part of us knows that we will not be able to face the answers for they may totally destroy our cherished illusions about human nature and the world reality. 

Perhaps because a part of us knows that we don’t have the right to ask the ‘world’ outside this ‘why’ question without first asking it of ourselves. 

Or perhaps because we don't even know that underneath the ‘why’ question lurks the most uncomfortable ‘what’ question – what if this is all there is to the Existence? Or perhaps we do know this, albeit vaguely, and that’s why we don’t ask – why? Or perhaps because we feel that this question of meaning of the Existence is too ‘out there’ meant for philosophers and abstract intellectuals, not for our sensitive little hearts and politically correct mind-sets.

But the children in Peshawar, Pakistan in 2014, the children in Kaluchak, India in 2002, the children in Beslan, Russia in 2004, the children in Chencholai, Sri Lanka in 2006, the children in Oslo, Norway in 2011, the children in Qabak, Iraq in 2013, and many more children in many other parts of the world whose lives, laughter and innocence were brutally silenced and snatched away in the most barbaric way compel us, no, demand from us that we ask the hard question – why? 

The children who became silent victims of ruthless violence, perpetrated by any nation, any group, any theology, any ideology – the bombings in Middle East, the communal riots in India, the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan, the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits, the genocide unleashed on Yazidis, and many more including the war on terror — force us to face the most uncomfortable truths about human nature, and ask the question – why? 

Why has the world become so barbaric? Why is the world becoming more inhumane with every passing decade? Why have we failed to do anything about it?

When will we ask the question – why? Of ourselves, of the world?

When will we get rid of our illusions? 

Man’s illusions are of all sorts and kinds, some of them petty though not unimportant,—for nothing in the world is unimportant,—others vast and grandiose. The greatest of them all are those which cluster round the hope of a perfected society, a perfected race, a terrestrial millennium. Each new idea religious or social which takes possession of the epoch and seizes on large masses of men, is in turn to be the instrument of these high realisations; each in turn betrays the hope which gave it its force to conquer. And the reason is plain enough to whosoever chooses to see; it is that no change of ideas or of the intellectual outlook upon life, no belief in God or Avatar or prophet, no victorious science or liberating philosophy, no social scheme or system, no sort of machinery internal or external can really bring about the great desire implanted in the race, true though that desire is in itself and the index of the goal to which we are being led. Because man is himself not a machine nor a device, but a being and a most complex one at that, therefore he cannot be saved by machinery; only by an entire change which shall affect all the members of his being can he be liberated from his discords and imperfections. 
One of the illusions incidental to this great hope is the expectation of the passing of war.
So long as war does not become psychologically impossible, it will remain or, if banished for a while, return. War itself, it is hoped, will end war; the expense, the horror, the butchery, the disturbance of tranquil life, the whole confused sanguinary madness of the thing has reached or will reach such colossal proportions that the human race will fling the monstrosity behind it in weariness and disgust. But weariness and disgust, horror and pity, even the opening of the eyes to reason by the practical fact of the waste of human life and energy and the harm and extravagance are not permanent factors; they last only while the lesson is fresh. Afterwards, there is forgetfulness; human nature recuperates itself and recovers the instincts that were temporarily dominated. A long peace, even a certain organisation of peace may conceivably result, but so long as the heart of man remains what it is, the peace will come to an end, the organisation will break down under the stress of human passions. War is no longer, perhaps, a biological necessity, but it is still a psychological necessity; what is within us, must manifest itself outside.  
… Only when man has developed not merely a fellow-feeling with all men, but a dominant sense of unity and commonalty, only when he is aware of them not merely as brothers,—that is a fragile bond,—but as parts of himself, only when he has learned to live not in his separate personal and communal ego-sense, but in a larger universal consciousness can the phenomenon of war, with whatever weapons, pass out of his life without the possibility of return. Meanwhile that he should struggle even by illusions towards that end, is an excellent sign; for it shows that the truth behind the illusion is pressing towards the hour when it may become manifest as reality.

~ Sri Aurobindo, War and Self-Determination

To see previous post in the series Satyam Shivam Sundaram, click here.
To see all posts in the series, click here.

Linking this with ABCWednesday, W: W is for Why, When

Monday, 15 December 2014

Current Events 4: Letter of Concern

This was first published in

To whom it should be of concern: 

Yes, that’s you; and you on the other side of the aisle. All of you. This should be of concern to all of you. 

You thought my job was done after voting. Wrong. I am not sitting quiet while you do things you have always been doing. Which is basically “doing nothing” and “not letting others do anything” either. 

Enough of this. 

Aren’t you tired of squabbling over non-issues? Why can’t you be constructive? Why blow up things that would naturally subside because of their larger utter redundancy? 

Why persist with your grandstanding on “votebank” issues? You don’t care about them. You shout that “democracy is under threat” and “secularism is dead” because shouting is all you are capable of. 

Don’t you realize the more you shout slogans, the more it gets reported by the media? Why give them fodder? You know they have to fill their pages and screens with such stuff, truthful or otherwise. A celebrity wearing a low-cut gown on TV is as newsworthy as your slogan “sanskriti bachao”. 

Yes, I am talking to you too. Stop pretending you alone are concerned about protecting and preserving culture. You don’t help speaking of things you don’t understand. You hurt voters who trusted you to change things. Don’t insult their intelligence. Do not provoke controversies on issues needing thoughtful handling. Do not make casual and insensitive remarks because you have power and the command of the microphone. Both are given to you by people like me for a limited period with the hope you will usefully employ them. Do right by us. 

To read rest of the letter, click here.

"We should be absolutely unsparing in our attack on whatever obstructs the growth of the nation, and never be afraid to call a spade a spade. Excessive good nature, chakshu lajja [the desire to be always pleasant and polite], will never do in serious politics."
(Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram)

To read more posts related to Current Events, click here, here and here.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Voice of the God...प्रभु अपने मुख से गायी...

Hanuman is the Colour, by Ashwin Mamidi

भक्ति में लीन एक भक्त को अपने प्रभु, अपने इष्ट देव की आराधना करते हुए तो शायद सभी ने सुना और देखा होगा। पर यह तो केवल संत तुलसीदास का असीम प्रभु-प्रेम है जिसके वरदान में उन्होंने अपने भगवान श्री राम को अपने परम प्रिय भक्त की आराधना करते हुए देखा और सुना।   

जब प्रभु राम अपने छोटे भाई भरत को बताते हैं कि वो अपने भक्त हनुमान से कभी उऋण नहीं हो सकते तो शायद ही कोई प्रेम भरा ह्रदय हो जो अछूता रह सके। जब पंडित जसराज अपनी भाव-पूर्ण आवाज़ में संत तुलसीदास के इस भजन को गाते हैं तो शायद ही कोई नेत्र हों जो प्रेम से भीग जाएँ। 

ऐसी आराधना प्रभु की अपने एक भक्त के लिए, ऐसा प्रेम ईश्वर का अपने एक प्रेमी के लिए, इसकी कल्पना केवल एक ही सभ्यता में की जा सकती है जो उस भूमि से उपजी हो जहाँ देवता भी जन्म लेने के लिए तपस्या करते हैं। 


Everyone has seen and heard of the devotees and the faithful praising and glorifying the Lord.

But only a bhakta-poet like Sant Tulsidas can ‘see’ and sing of his Lord Rama praising his lover-bhakta, his supreme devotee.

When Sri Rama tells his younger brother Bharata that he can never ever repay his debt to Hanuman, which heart can stay untouched? When Pandit Jasraj outpours his love and devotion for the Lord through his rendition of this most beautiful Tulsi bhajan, which eyes can stay dry?

Such intense love of the Lord for his devotee, such glorification of the devotee by the Divine, this is only conceivable in this civilization, this land where the gods also long to be born.

"Others boast of their love for God. My boast is that I did not love God; it was He who loved me and sought me out and forced me to belong to Him." (Sri Aurobindo)


To see another post on this blog in the glory of Lord Hanuman, click here.

To see previous post in the series - "All Music is Only the Sound of His Laughter", click here.
To see other posts in the series, click here.

Linking this with ABC Wednesday, V: V is for Voice

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Untitled Meanderings

A few weeks ago, a friend and I had a brief exchange of thoughts on Facebook about Raja Ravi Varma's style of painting. I had said to him that I don't really care much for that kind of artistic work, and an interesting discussion ensued about Indian art, the inner and outer dimension of art, personal aesthetic preferences and a few other things about culture and human motives in life.

That exchange sort of inspired this post. I was hoping to go deeper into some of the points my friend and I had briefly touched upon. But as I started writing, the post took on a life of its own and it has now become something totally different.

That's okay, I go with the flow.


Antaryatra (Inner Journey): Painting by Bindu Popli

Like I said in an earlier post, I am not an artist. Unless one considers writing that I do on this blog as some sort of "artsy" work. I highly doubt that. But I deeply admire and respect the artistic process that artists, sculptors, poets, creative photographers, writers experience - from that first inspiration to the final work of art they consider as done.

At the same time, like everyone else I know, I have my personal preference and taste in art or what I consider artistic. I am not fond of what may be called as realistic art or art that captures reality as is. For me, that piece of art doesn't say much if the only thing it says is an imitation, no matter how good and perfect, of what is found in nature or life. A perfectly done portrait of a person or an inanimate object is not really my preference in art. Where is the mystery, my mind and heart ask. Where is the hidden, my mind and heart search.

All bad art comes from returning to life and nature, and elevating them into ideals. Life and nature may sometimes be used as part of art's rough material, but before they are of any real service to art they must be translated into artistic conventions. The moment art surrenders its imaginative medium it surrenders everything. As a method realism is a complete failure, and the two things that every artist should avoid are modernity of form and modernity of subject-matter.

Over the last few years I have also come to a realisation that realism in writing also doesn't do much for me either. I am discovering that I don't care much for the kind of writing that is merely a documentation of what is observed or heard or experienced. I used to do such writing as part of my social science research training and professional work. Such writing serves an important purpose in advancing our collective understanding of outer human experience and I know from experience it isn't easy to do.

But that was then.

Now I am more inclined toward writing that doesn't merely reproduce the various 'facts' or 'realities' of life and nature as experienced by the subject(s) or character(s) in question. I am touched by the writing that makes room for the unseen, the invisible, the 'un-real' almost. No matter how enjoyable the turn of the phrase and how masterful the wordsmithing, a piece of writing that is only about 'what is' doesn't really move me. I am moved by the writing that seems to invite me to explore 'what isn't but could be', the writing that compels me to 'see' the invisible behind the appearance, to 'hear' the silence between the two audible words, to 'experience' the stillness behind all that is in motion.

That's the kind of writing I aspire to do someday.

No, not fantasy. Not science fiction. Neither fiction, nor non-fiction. Not abstract philosophy. No, no.
O Poet, O Artist, if thou but holdest up the mirror to Nature, thinkest thou Nature will rejoice in thy work? Rather she will turn away her face. For what dost thou hold up to her there? Herself? No, but a lifeless outline and reflection, a shadowy mimicry. It is the secret soul of Nature thou hast to seize, thou hast to hunt eternally after the truth in the external symbol, and that no mirror will hold for thee, nor for her whom thou seekest.
I hope to write of life and about life, but life that isn't only lived on the outer surface. I hope to write about nature, but nature that isn't only seen with the outer eyes. I wish to engage in an experience of writing that tries to seize something that is only vaguely expressing itself, or hiding itself, through the outer expression of words, sentences, paragraphs. The writing that engages with the invisible behind the visible, the eternal behind the temporal, the spirit behind the form.

If I had the Midas touch, that's the kind of writing I would like to do...

You may also like a few more posts on writing - On Writing in English,  Blank Pages No More, Light is All You Need, Why Should I Write

This post has been picked as a WOW post by BlogAdda. The topic this time is - "If I had the Midas touch...."

Monday, 1 December 2014

Is it True? Is it Untrue?

Top post on, the community of Indian Bloggers
A new post in the series - Satyam Shivam Sundaram
A series featuring inspiring words from various sources, words that speak of timeless truths, words that remind me of the deeper and hidden truth behind surface events and phenomena, words that shine light when all seems dark, words that are just what I need - 
for this moment and for all times to come.

There are some who say we don't have anything much to learn from our ancient literature, so why should they be a part of our curricula in schools and colleges? There are others who say that if there is anything at all of any value in those old books from thousands of years ago, don't we have Amar Chitra Katha and TV serials to spread that message, why bring them in our classrooms?

Tough issues. Maybe not so tough, if we can let go of our ideological blinders and start our inquiry with an open mind.

Some ask - what can be learned from the Mahabharata? Wrong question. The question to ask is - What can not be learned from the Mahabharata?

"Only those thoughts are true the opposite of which is also true in its own time and application; indisputable dogmas are the most dangerous kind of falsehoods."
"I know that the opposite of what I say is true, but for the present what I say is still truer."
 ~ Sri Aurobindo (Thoughts and Aphorisms)

In an earlier post I mentioned that I have been reading a fascinating book, "The Mahabharata: An Inquiry into the Human Condition" (by Chaturvedi Badrinath, 2008). The reading is going rather slow, in fact the whole of last two weeks I didn't even open the book once. (During that break however I did spend time with a few other lighter fictional works based on the Mahabharata). But I am ready to pick up Badrinath's volume again, along with a few other related works.

Interestingly, in a research methods course I am currently teaching, a few days ago our discussion steered to the idea of truth, how do we know what is true and what should researchers do with the different truths they may encounter in their inquiry process. With the Mahabharata heavy on my mind, I recalled some passages I had read in Badrinath's book, which I thought speak so well to some of the deeper issues about how to work around multiple and shifting truths. More thought-provoking discussion ensued after I shared that passage, and we found ourselves going from the Mahabharata to Sri Aurobindo and finally to wind it all down with a few lines from T S Eliot and Rilke via some more specific discussions on how to work with and around our subjective truths as we proceed with our research projects.

The passages from Badrinath's book that I share below, in my view, aren't only for academics. These thoughts have relevance for all of us, all those interested in a seeking for the truth, the truth of the experience, in the experience. That's perhaps an important part of being human. Maybe that's why Badrinath speaks of Mahabhrata as an inquiry into the human condition.


Excerpts from the chapter titled “The Question of Truth”:

In answer to a question put to Yudhisththira, ‘What is the most astonishing thing in the world?’, he had said: ‘Seeing that everyday people are dying, that those who remain still think that death would not come to them. What can be more astonishing than this?’ There is. Even a more astonishing thing about us human beings is that we all are together and alike when we lie; the moment we begin talking about truth, we fly at each other’s throat. What can be more astonishing than this? There has hardly been anything in human history that has produced greater violence and killing than the conflicting perceptions of what truth is. Even before the question ‘What is truth?’ could be formulated, there is already present the question ‘Whose truth?’ There has been in human relationships no other question at once more intimate and more agonising than this, in one form or another. Not only between one person and another, but also between one religion and another even more.
All schools of Indian philosophy, excepting the Materialists taken as a general group, were united in regarding truth as a great deal more than correspondence with facts. That did not imply disregard to correspondence with facts as an essential aspect of truth. But to say that it is truth that sustains and enhances human worth is not to say that correspondence with facts is all that there is to truth. Jainism and Buddhism, like Yoga and the other philosophical schools, subjected ‘correspondence with facts’ to a much deeper view of truth, satya.
Motives and feelings that lead to acts pertain to ‘truth’ as much as the acts themselves do. To conceal them, or to withhold them, will be untruth. Acts are manifest and verifiable, although there is serious uncertainty even about that. Motives and feelings in being inner states of the mind, are not visible, nor verifiable, in the ordinary meanings of these words. They can only be inferred; and about the inferences drawn as to the motives, there can be legitimate differences of opinion. It is perfectly conceivable that I ‘truthfully’ state external facts which, on verification, will be found to be true; and yet, in concealing the inner states of my mind inseparably connected with my external acts, I turn them into a lie. What is factually true, if separated from the motives that led to it, may yet be a lie. Anything knowingly stated incompletely will be untruth.
Correspondence with facts that are external cannot be by itself a sufficient criterion of truth. For that reason, the Mahabharata is far more concerned with the states of the mind of feelings than with acts.
On the question of truth the Mahabharata engages us simultaneously at three different levels. They are, however, interrelated in a deep coherence suggested by life itself and are not artificial products of some theory of truth. One, it shows the manifest relativity of truth. Two, it shows that the undoubtedly disturbing implications of truth being relative are resolved in perceiving truth to be at the same time relational as well. That is to say, the attributes of truth are to be seen in the quality of one’s relationship with one’s self and with the other. And, three, it shows that truth is not knowing alone, but living quite as much. There have been in the history of philosophy, and of modern science too, quarrels about the ways of knowing, and even about what knowing is. And there have been even greater quarrels about ways of living, which in their substance have been quarrels about the sources of sanction for them. Above all, knowing and living came to be looked upon as two entirely separate domains, epistemology separated from ethics, cognition from character. In the Mahabharata, these three perspectives are brought into a unity.
I have read and re-read these passages several times since I first read them a few weeks ago, and I still find them extremely thought-provoking. They open up so many questions to ponder upon. They give hints at possible answers to some of the deepest questions we come across in our individual and collective lives.

What does it take to be truthful? What does it mean to live truthfully? What does a search for the truth look like? Where does this search for the truth - of knowing and of living - lead to? For the individual and for the collective?


So what can be learned from the Mahabharata? Wrong question, again. Ask the right one, and see where your true search may lead you.

To see the previous post in the series - Satyam Shivam Sundaram, click here.
To see all the posts in the series, click here.

Linking this with ABC Wednesday, U: U is for Untrue, Universal Truth.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

For My Mother, My First Teacher

She taught me to read and write. She taught me to love. She taught me to live. She taught me to be me.

My mother, who was a teacher to thousands of students, in her 35+years of teaching career, was my first teacher. She will always be my teacher and mentor, wherever she is.

I am not sure how good a student I have been, but I will continue to try. Because she also taught me to learn, and keep learning always. Learn from my mistakes and learn from others' mistakes too. Learn from my failures and learn from my accomplishments too.

It was in 1998 when I wrote my first "book", aka my doctoral dissertation. All 200+ pages of that book were dedicated to my parents.

Years passed and I wrote many things -- essays, book chapters for academic volumes, articles for academic and other journals, print and online magazines.

And then the time came to write another book. It gives me a very special joy when I open the first few pages of the advance copies of my newly released book, ABC's of Indian National Education and see this:

 To my Mother, my first teacher

Dear readers, I am happy to share that my book on Indian Education is now available for purchase at Amazon, where you can also read a brief overview of the book. And don't forget, you can always contact me, the author, for any thoughts you may have about the book.  

Regular readers of the blog may recall the A-Z series I did on Education in the month of April. This came together as a result of those blog posts, so my sincere thanks to all the readers of that series who encouraged me to think beyond the blog. 

I was fortunate enough to get some generous endorsements for the book from some esteemed teachers, colleagues and writers:
This book is a call for an educational approach that values the Spirit and builds upon India’s timeless wisdom of a life-affirming and living spirituality.  
Dr. Jane Brown
  Faculty Emerita, Antioch University Midwest, Yellow Springs, Ohio, USA 
An educational policy bereft of the grand civilizational values of India reduces citizens to humdrum workers aspiring to nothing more than material security. This book provides the grounding essential to make Indians not just masters of the knowledge of the external but keen pursuers of knowledge eternal and internal.  Literally covering the issue, from A to Z, Dr. Mehra lays the groundwork for rethinking and re-framing India’s educational policy.                    
Dr. Ramesh Rao
Professor, Columbus State University, Columbus, Georgia, USA 
This book speaks of infusing Indian education with the Indian spirit. While it is inescapable that children have to pick up future careers, the author is opposed to making education strictly careerist, where childhood is suppressed and learning becomes mechanistic, soulless and joyless.    
N. V. Subramanian
Editor,, Writer on politics and strategic affairs, Novelist, Delhi, India 

This book compels us to take a closer look at some of the fundamental issues regarding Indian education. Presenting the arguments with a modern approach, the book is deeply influenced by Sri Aurobindo's insights into the essential spirit of Indian culture and Education. All those interested in the future of Education in India and elsewhere will find it thought-provoking.
Kittu Reddy
Sri Aurobindo International Center of Education, Pondicherry

Click here to order

As I look at the book jacket and flip through the pages I see some errors, and after the first few minutes of self-criticism I remember what my mother always used to say -- 'now that you have finished your work, let it go, don't think too much about it, nobody can get it all right, learn from your mistakes and move on.' 

And so with this book done, I move on to other projects and other works, remembering her love and with full assurance that she is blessing me from wherever she is. My mother, my first teacher whose love for learning and teaching inspired me to do my best as a teacher, remains the reason for my passion for Education.

I wrote this book in gratitude and memory of all my teachers — past, present and future — who have shaped me into what I am today.

I offer this to That One Teacher who is Present in All.

Linking this with ABC Wednesday, T: T is for Teacher