Monday, 27 April 2015

Current Events 9: Poverty is Not Romantic

A new post in the series - Current Events

A strange political drama is unfolding in India these days. Opposition to most of the proposals put forth by the current government is happening not because of any substantive merit but simply because the opposition's role is to oppose. Controversies are being created, simply to derail any effort to initiate and put together any developmental projects that may have some potential to alleviate mass poverty in rural areas.

Speeches after speeches, hyperbole after hyperbole, protest marches after protest marches....the so-called champions of the poor are busy ensuring that poor are always kept at the mercy of the governmental handouts, that they never get to really be part of the national growth story. Basically, the poor should remain poor in order to fulfill some parties' twisted political agenda.

A certain section of Indian intellectual class with its weird romantic notions of poverty provides the ideological support for these political games. They are quick to characterise every proposed development plan as anti-poor through their continued hold in the Indian mainstream media. The opposing noise is becoming louder and the truth is beginning to get buried in the shrill discourse.

After a decade-long lull in India's economic prospects a new hope is beginning to emerge with a strong central government which, unlike several previous governments, is not weighted down by the pressure of coalition-politics. There is a renewed sense of doing something substantive for the country's economic growth, a focused push for efficiency and effectiveness, a greater degree of accountability and responsibility.

No national economy, especially one like India's which is responsible for the material sustenance of 1.25 billion people can prosper or even survive in the long run without massive and well-planned industrialisation. All economic common sense tells us this. In the last six decades since India's independence good beginning has been made in the industrial sector, but a lot more, really a lot more needs to be done if India has to bring out its rural masses out of the vicious cycle of extreme poverty, indebtedness and financial misery.

The changed world economic scenario of the past several decades has made it even more critical that India's manufacturing and industrial sector is revived big time. Over-dependence on service sector and a miserably failing agricultural sector can't bear the burden of pushing economic growth in the times to come. Serious efforts must be made now.

Surely, no sane person expects any miracle overnight when it comes to a mammoth task like alleviating massive poverty in rural India. But effort has to be made, one small step at a time. Developmental projects have to be started, infrastructure has to built, irrigation projects have to be planned, investment has to be secured. Some plans will pan out, some may not, but some serious dent has to be made. This requires careful planning, detailed rethinking, strategic reforms, as well as committed and sustained action over time. A task of such proportions necessitates collaborative efforts by those interested in the national economic revival rather than selfish politicking and mindless propagandizing by those whose interest only rests in blocking and hindering.

It is naïve to go on romanticising poverty, it is downright insulting to the poor.

Back in 1926 in one of his evening talks with close disciples and sadhaks, Sri Aurobindo had expressed his views on a related matter. It might be relevant to revisit that extract in the light of the current events being played out in Indian polity.

Disciple: What are the possibilities of industrialism in India?

Sri Aurobindo: About that you can say as much as I. What do you mean by industrialism?

Disciple: I mean the system of large-scale production through big machines.

Sri Aurobindo: Big machines are bound to come. The poverty of the people can only be removed by large-scale production.
Disciple : The real question is : how to prevent life from being mechanised?

Sri Aurobindo: That is a different question. But big machinery does not necessarily imply all the evils of industrialism.
Disciple: Even in cottage-industries men are mechanized to a certain extent.

Disciple: Yes, but cottage-industries leave the social life intact.
Sri Aurobindo: Why should the present form of social life remain intact? New forms of social organisation will rise with the advent of large-scale production. It is the tendency of Indians towards poverty which is really responsible for their cry against machinery.
Disciple: The problem is: how to introduce big machinery and yet avoid all the evils arising out of it?

Sri Aurobindo: The evils are bound to disappear. The different ideas and schemes suggested in Europe* show that people are trying to correct the defects. Unless one enters into industrialism how can the evils be overcome?

Disciple: Will India have to pass through all the evils of industrialism?

Sri Aurobindo: But why should India wait till other countries solve the problem, so that it may imitate them afterwards?

Disciple: How will India avoid the evils?
Sri Aurobindo: Let her first acquire wealth. Without wealth they cannot expect to make any progress.

~ A. B. Purani (2007, 4th ed, revised). Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, pp. 298-299
* (Today we may substitute West for Europe).

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

Linking this with ABC Wednesday, P: P is for Poverty, Politics

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Engineer, Doctor, MBA, CA – Choose One; NOTA Not an Option

Sometime ago, fellow blogger and friend Shailaja, the Doting Mom and the Bite-sized story-weaver asked me if I would be willing to write a guest post for her super-famous blog on parenting. She suggested that I write something on Education. Of course, I said yes. How could I let go of an opportunity to write on a topic that is close to my heart? And also for a blog read mostly by parents, the perfect audience. 

Thank you, Shailaja for the opportunity to write for your blog. 


A good mental education aims to help prepare the mind, the key instrument of learning. According to Sri Aurobindo, a true and living education is that in which the mind is consulted in its own growth. He reminds that each individual has a unique temperament and nature, and also a unique life-purpose, and that education must be able to tap into this uniqueness of each learner. He further explains:
“To force the nature to abandon its own dharma is to do it permanent harm, mutilate its growth and deface its perfection…The chief aim of education should be to help the growing soul to draw out that in itself which is best and make it perfect for a noble use.” 


It has been more than 30 years. 

But I can clearly recall the time when I passed out from my tenth grade, and the conversations I had with my parents, school principal, a few teachers and friends about what subjects I should study in grades 11th and 12th. I recall the similar conversations that took place two years later after I graduated from high school and was applying for colleges. I recall similar conversations when my sister was applying for colleges three years later. What pressure – overt and covert – most youngsters in situations similar to mine had to and still have to deal with! 

Our parents and well-wishers want the best for us, or so they think. They want us to pursue those areas of study that can help secure our economic and professional futures, which can help us get decent jobs and a ‘good’ standard of life. So back in my high school days I successfully argued with and convinced my parents and teachers that I didn’t want to study sciences and become a doctor or an engineer. I simply couldn’t be. 

To read rest of the post, visit Shailaja's blog here. 

(NOTA: None of the Above)

Linking this with ABC Wednesday, O: O is for Option.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Being Two, and in Other News

Baisakhi, April 14, 2013 was when it started.  On this day that marks the beginning of the New Year in the traditional Hindu Solar Calendar, celebrated under different names in different parts of India, this blog took its form with a simple beginning.

Two years, 240 posts later, I am still figuring out, sometimes struggling with, how to express the ideal which led me to start this blog. In this process I have realised that instead of figuring out what the blog really wants to be, if I can be more certain of what this blog does not want to be (as mentioned here, here, and here) I will be perhaps able to draw closer to the true form that this blog is meant to express. Of course this will happen slowly, over time.

But as I said in my first anniversary post on this blog, there is always more to come still....

Since the truer reality is always the inner one, I can say with certainty that the last two years of blogging have given me plenty of opportunities to work on my inner attitude. There have been many moments of recognition, acceptance, denial, frustration, letting go, surrender, struggle and many other things that help us see our shortcomings, inadequacies, imperfections, all of which help us grow in humility and encourage us to strive for further progress and greater perfection.

To reiterate, I am speaking not only of the outer work but more importantly of the inner work that we must do via the outer work. And in that sense the outer work on this blog has been extremely helpful in providing ample opportunities for the inner work.

The second anniversary of the blog also gives me an opportunity to once again express my sincere gratitude. To That which is the source of everything, the beginning, the middle and the end; the Source from where everything emerges and to whom everything eventually reaches; the Force which makes everything possible; the Infinite that is behind and beyond everything that manifests and expresses.

I am deeply thankful for all the support and encouragement I have found through my readers -- those who share their thoughts about my posts either in the form of comments or private messages, and also those who engage with the content in silence. Thank you!

Since we are two, this is also an opportunity to share two other items of news that are closely connected with this work of writing and blogging.

NEWS I: A new blog

Yes. You read it right. I have started a new blog. With my husband. Yes, you read that right too.

But it is not really a blog in the conventional sense of the blog. There you will not find too many 300- or 500-word posts. Matriwords is more of a place for us to compile and share some of our longer writings, essays, research commentaries that are inspired by the social-cultural-political thought of Sri Aurobindo.

In addition to our own writings, we'll also be featuring there writings by some of the other thinkers and scholars whose works have inspired us and who continue to guide us in our ongoing study of Sri Aurobindo.

Because of its more academic nature, the content on matriwords will be updated at a bit slower pace than is typical with most blogs. In addition to an introductory post, already there are three essays and papers shared there: one written by yours truly; other that I had co-authored with my husband, and yet another written by a well-known scholar and practitioner of Integral Yoga.

I hope some readers will be interested to explore some of the content on matriwords.

NEWS II: A new review

I am happy to share another wonderful review of my book, ABC's of Indian National Education. It is a very special review because it is written by someone who is not only a dedicated intellectual and spiritual aspirant in his own right, but is also completely in sync with the deeper purpose and intention which guided my book in the first place.

Anurag Banerjee has several degrees in Commerce and Business Administration and has taught at a few insitutions. But his real work revolves around researching, writing, archiving and publishing important works in the field of Sri Aurobindo Studies. As the founder-chairman of Overman Foundation, a non-profit organization which he started in 2010 and which runs India’s only online research centre focusing on the vision, mission, thought and works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Anurag has been working tirelessly to bring to the readers several hitherto unknown or lesser-known works comprising of intellectual, biographical, anecdotal nature as well as several interview-based and photographic works that shine new light on the life and work of the Masters.

Anurag is also a poet, translator, and a well-published author in Bengali and English. At the age of twenty, he penned a biography of Dilip Kumar Roy titled Achinpather Dibyapathik, and at the age of twenty-one he translated one hundred poems of Sri Aurobindo into Bengali titled Debotar Shrom. Both these books were published in 2008. His first book in English, Nirodbaran: The Surrealist’s Journey, was published in December 2006 when he was twenty-two years old.

So it was a matter of great honour and happiness for me when Anurag agreed to write a review for my book. In his review, he writes:
Though the author has referred to the works of Rabindranath Tagore, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Shashi Tharoor, Pavan K. Varma, Makarand Paranjpe and others, the inspiration behind ABC’s of Indian National Education is certainly the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. The author has delved into the ocean of their writings and presented before the reader a number of invaluable pearls of wisdom related to the theme of education.
The academic scenario of the country would have been quite different had Sri Aurobindo’s concept of education was put to practice. The path to progress has been showed by Sri Aurobindo and his spiritual collaborator, the Mother, but the author has shown—in ABC’s of Indian National Education—how to tread on it successfully. It would be an error to assume that this book is only for the members of the academic world. Nay, on the contrary, it is for the general reader as well. One cannot help but appreciate the author’s lucid style of writing and her thought-provoking insights and observations on how the academic model should be. She has hinted how we can have a modern outlook on education as well as a modern method of educating without ignoring the rich cultural heritage of the land. The author has also successfully explained how the system of education in India could be appropriately Indianized.
To read his full review, click here.

I am very grateful to Anurag for taking the time to review the book.

NEWS III:  More to come still....

While there is always more news to share, but I stop now for the time being.

And as I begin the third year of this blog, all I can say is that my sincere aspiration and hope is that my work on this blog becomes a means for truer inspiration and a deeper engagement with ideas and thoughts in the years to come.

Like with everything else in life, there may be some new changes on this blog too in the coming year. Stay tuned!

Thank you, everyone. Happy reading. Happy writing. Happy thinking.

Photo credit: Suhas Mehra

Linking this with ABC Wednesday, N: N is for News, New

Friday, 10 April 2015

Managing the Noises

A new post in the series - Reminders to self

Always good to start with examples.

1. A wanna-be-in-news-for-a-day politican makes a comment about the slavish mentality of a political party, by giving an example that in all honesty is not far from one of the many uncomfortable truths of our larger society. Now he is not one of the usual English-speaking types that the elite sections of our mass media and their followers seem to endorse, so he ends up blurting out his thing in a somewhat crude or crass manner. Resulting in offending the oh-so-delicate sensibilities of our social elite. How dare he? All hell breaks lose. Noisemakers get busy doing what they do best. For a day or maybe two. Till the next opportunity arrives, and arrive it will soon enough.

2. A reporter twists some words of a decorated army general, giving a totally different spin on the intent of the words. A full-blown war of words is on. Who cares about the important work that the general has been doing for the nation's citizens for the past several days, as long as the noisemakers are busy with their noises.

3. In between 1 and 2 there were many other opportunities well utilised for making more noises. The curious case of an MIA reluctant politican, the inscrutable case of the unraveling of a new political outfit, and a few more. Not to forget there were also some celebrity videos, some celebrity disclosures, some celebrity this or that, for a fair amount of other entertainment. 

The 21st century political democracy is full of such noises. And more. Led by the mass media and supported by an increasingly vocal 'educated' and 'wired' sections of the middle classes, this version of democratic discourse is loud, noisy and unrelenting.

The other day I found myself reflecting on this 'noisy' phenomenon of our times and the need for 'managing' the noise. Unless one is living in a cave somewhere, these noises do have an impact on us, in different ways, to different degrees. So managing them and navigating one's way through them becomes important. 

What do you do when the outside noises become too loud? Especially when you also find that many of these noises are simply too silly, too frivolous, with no real substance, with no serious thought. Of course, the easiest thing is to ignore all those noises which you consider frivolous, devoid of any substance or just plain silly. But we know that such terms like silly, frivolous, substantive, serious are subjective. What seems mundane or frivolous to some could be quite important or interesting for others.

Subjective are and must also be the ways to deal with these noises -- mundane or significant. Different people do different things.

Some just shut out the outer world and its noises and go back into their little safe worlds of domestic joys and concerns, of their personal achievements and struggles, personal cocoons where they can better control and check the noises entering their environments.

Some try to engage with some of the noises they consider significant, but do so on their terms, selectively, thoughtfully, being mindful of how much to engage and when to withdraw.

Some withdraw into their inner worlds where they are able to neutralize any impact of the outer noises and arrive at a quieter place with the help of silent contemplation.

And some others do a combination of two or all of these things -- a bit of mindful engagement with some of the noises (even if the engagement is sometimes limited to an inner mental churning for personal understanding which doesn't express itself outwardly), a bit of physical withdrawal, a bit of emotional-mental withdrawal, and whatever else that helps them overcome, dull, reduce, transcend the noises.

When reflecting upon my pattern of responses, I found myself doing any one or more of these things, depending on my mood at the time.

But it is important to go beyond this idea of merely 'managing the noise' and ask some critical questions -- what is/are the reason(s) for all the noise out there? Is it something that has always existed and for some reason I was just not aware of it? Or has this noise become more shrill, more annoying, more loud in the recent times? What could possibly be the reason(s) for this? Is it that I have become more sensitive to the noise?

It is even more important to ask: Are we allowing the loud noises to sway us in one direction or another? Are we slowly losing our independent ability to weigh the arguments, assess the reasonings and come to our own understanding?

I am not sure I have all the answers yet, but I am pretty convinced of the need to ask these questions.

Because unless we ask these questions, we may simply be drowning in the sea of noises out there. We may simply be allowing others to tell us what should be our 'right' reaction to a particular noise, a particular happening, a particular situation.

But that's not all.

It is perhaps even more important to remember a much deeper truth. A truth beyond all the noise.

The truth that the noises are not only out there, the more damaging ones are the noises inside us. How do we deal with the noise that is in here, in our minds? Where does this noise come from? How can I move beyond this noise to a better place of quietude?

Sometimes the answer surprises us. Because the answer isn't separate from the question, it is rather hidden in the question itself. We don't 'deal with' or 'manage' the noise in here. We simply recognise it, identify it, and through that process itself the noise begins to lose its 'hold' upon us. We can slowly begin to walk away from the possible impact of the mental noise and inch toward a truer voice that had been hiding under all the noise.

If only you become conscious of your physical mind in itself... Some people have called it a public square, because everything comes there, goes across, passes, comes back.... All ideas go there, they enter at one place, leave by another, some are here, some there, and it is a public square, not very well organised, for usually ideas meet and knock into one another, there are accidents of all kinds. But then one becomes aware: “What can I call my mind?” or “What is my mind?” One needs years of very attentive, very careful, very reasonable, very coherent work, organisation, selection, construction, in order to succeed simply in forming, oh, simply this little thing, one’s own way of thinking
One believes one has one’s own way of thinking. Not at all. It depends totally upon the people one speaks with or the books one has read or on the mood one is in. It depends also on whether you have a good or bad digestion, it depends on whether you are shut up in a room without proper ventilation or whether you are in the open air; it depends on whether you have a beautiful landscape before you; it depends on whether there is sunshine or rain! You are not aware of it, but you think all kinds of things, completely different according to a heap of things which have nothing to do with you! 
And for this to become a coordinated, coherent, logical thought, a long thorough work is necessary.  
~ The Mother, CWM, Vol. 6, pp. 258-259 

Image source

To see previous post in the series, Reminders to self, click here.
To seel all posts in the series, click here.

Linking with ABC Wednesday, M, M is for Managing

Friday, 3 April 2015

Storytime 2: Choose Wisely

There is a lot of talk these days about Choice. My Choice. Your Choice. Everyone's Choice. The assumption is that having absolute freedom to make one's choices is all one needs to be an individual, to be oneself, to feel empowered. And that any attempt to curb any such Freedom to Choose is regressive, narrow-minded and therefore a complete no-no.

Not surprisingly, in today's age driven mainly by an economic view of life and excessive-consumerism such campaigns on Choices and Empowerment are often led by business corporations which have deep financial interest in having customers exercise the 'right' kind of choices.

Curbing my temptation to go into a deeper sociological and socio-psychological analysis of this phenomenon, today I am choosing to tell a story. Actually I am merely sharing the story here, as told by a master storyteller of our times, Manoj Das. The story is an old one, perhaps nobody knows who told it first. But such stories have that timeless quality that make them relevant anytime, anywhere.

An internationally known bilingual creative writer (Oriya and English), Manoj Das is the recipient of India’s highest literary recognition, the Sahitya Akademi Award and several other prestigious honours. The version of the story I share here is from his book titled "Tales Told by the Mystics."

Without further ado, here is the story:


    A merchant was leading his caravan through a forest. They stopped near a brook at noon. While his workers were busy cooking the lunch for the party, the merchant leisurely strolled ahead and sat down under a tree.    
    A gang of woodcutters, in search of useful timber, saw the tree and decided to cut it down.
    "Will you please move away?" the gang-leader asked the merchant.
    "Who are you to order me about? Do you know who you are talking to?" the merchant rebuffed them.
    The woodcutters did not know who he was. But they feared that they had offended a very important man. "Pardon us for disturbing you, Sir. We will look for some other tree," their leader said.
    The happy merchant dozed off. He heard a very sweet voice, coming from the bushy top of the tree, telling him, "It was so conscientious of you to scare those fellows away. I have lived in this tree for a hundred years. I will leave it tonight, at an auspicious hour. I don't mind if they cut it down tomorrow-which, of course they would do once having selected it. But had they hacked it now, I would have felt harassed."
    "Who are you, please?" the merchant, still in a state of mind sleep, asked the speaker.
    "I am a being, a spirit. That is all. But I have some power and I wish to reward you. Soon a small fruit of this tree shall fall on your head. The period of time between the sunset and midnight is auspicious. Hold the fruit in your palms, put your forehead on it and ask for the reward. You have two options. You may ask for Vidya that will make you wiser than you are. That is to say, you would develop greater faith in Providence, which, in turn, would give you peace. Alternatively, you can choose Avidya which will fulfil any three wishes for tangible gains."
    The voice stopped and the merchant woke up. Lo and behold, a tiny fruit fell on his head, quite softly, and leaped onto his lap. He picked it up and was thrilled at the prospect of receiving a reward.
    His manager came to inform him that the lunch was ready. He pocketed the fruit.
    After eating and resting for a while, they resumed their journey. The merchant reached home soon after the sunset.
    He let the first quarter of the night pass. When all the members of the family, after their dinner, retired for the night, he smiled mysteriously and showed the precious fruit to his wife and told her about the benefit it is likely to bring him.
    "What do you propose to choose?" asked the lady.
    "I will like to be wiser."
    "What nonsense do you speak!" said the lady. Are you not the most successful merchant in an area of one hundred villages? Could a fool have achieved such a position? You have enough wisdom with you. More of that stuff will be only a burden. Let's go for something tangible," advised the lady.
    "For instance?"
    "All these years I have regretted the awkward shape of my nose as well as that of yours. I have overheard people referring to us by the peculiarity of our noses. Since we can ask for three boons, let us have, to begin with, beautiful noses!" suggested the lady.
    The merchant held the fruit in his palms, brought his head down to touch it and muttered, "Let's have beautiful noses!"
    Alas, a hundred noses-all beautiful, sprouted all over their various limbs. Four noses each decorated their foreheads, two each on their cheeks, a dozen on their backs and so on and so forth.
    "What are we going to do with so many beautiful noses? No doubt we can inhale plenty of clean air depriving others of it around us, but we would become wonderful exhibits for the public and that would be far more awkward than our old awkward noses!" observed the merchant in disgust.
    "Why are you wasting time instead of praying for disappearance of these things?" said his impatient wife.
    "Let our noses disappear!" the merchant told the fruit. 
    And all their noses, including the original ones, were gone!
    "O our bad luck! Let's immediately have our old good noses back!" cried out the lady.
    The merchant conveyed his last prayer to the fruit accordingly. Of course, they had their old noses back with which they sighed-at once, sighs of relief as well as despair.
    Of the several versions of this story, this one is closest to the one narrated by Swami Vivekananda. The significance is deep: Freedom of choice sans wisdom is totally meaningless.

There seems to be nothing more left to say after this. Except maybe to repeat the last line of the story -- Freedom of choice sans wisdom is totally meaningless.


To read the previous Storytime post, click here.
You may also like this post about Stories (and don't miss the featured story by Tagore).