Monday, November 28, 2016

Partial Demonetisation and Behavioural Change by Anil Padmanabhan

It is three weeks since the Union government undertook the dramatic step to partially demonetise currency notes of the valuation of Rs500 and Rs1,000. In this period we have been witness to some of the most acerbic public debates—in social media, Parliament, drawing rooms and even public spaces. In the ensuing binary discourse, historians and commentators have pontificated as economists and some of the latter (like former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) have morphed into polemicists to make their arguments. In the process, a key collateral gain is being overlooked: behaviour change.
Imagine if you are told one day that your daily newspaper will no longer be delivered as a printed copy, but digitally. Your reading habits and morning rituals are bound to be disrupted; some of us may well stop reading newspapers altogether. A similar disruptive moment has been brought upon us by the decision of the government to withdraw the two denominations, which together account for nearly 90% of the value of the rupee in circulation.
Unlike the newspaper example though, this transition from cash to less cash (and eventually digital) is not optional. Which is what makes it tougher and also something many free-spirited citizens believe to be an imposition by the state. And given that it intersects technology, it is not an easy transition to effect (an understatement actually, given the overlay of digital divide and poverty in the country and, of course, the legacy of financial exclusion).
Anecdotally though one is hearing of people undertaking this transformation. Naresh Guliani, the kirana store owner in my neighbourhood is an example. Immediately after demonetisation he baulked at the idea of an e-wallet (understandable given that he relies on his two landlines to talk to his clients, preferring to keep his mobile phone switched off); three days ago (after he was duly educated on the virtues of going digital by his teenage daughter) he settled my pending dues through an e-wallet (confession: I too acquired one only after 8 November). Count every such instance and you have a steady accretion of the number of banked in the country. More importantly this is merging the informal economy into the formal economy. Yes, while it makes one accountable (some more than others) it also brings with it attendant benefits. For example, at present, nine out of ten of the 470 million workforce do not avail of social security and workplace benefits—enjoyed by their counterparts in the formal workforce.
Demonetisation and the resulting transition to a formal payments regime will only accelerate the trend—formalization of the informal economy—already in place following the adoption of disruptive technologies embedded in the share economy (like Ola, Uber or Airbnb). This can only abet growth.
In a recent column in India Today, Nandan Nilekani, the former boss of Infosys Ltd and probably more famously the man who gave us Aadhaar, said as much: “India’s economy is largely informal. But once a taxi driver becomes part of Ola, then in fact he (or she) becomes part of the formal economy. He is able to use data, get a loan, buy a car and start paying taxes. So the formalisation of a few hundred millions of Indians will spur growth.”
Sharing such benefits also has one important implicit gain: embracing of a rules-based regime. To avail of payments in a formal set-up you need a bank account/e-wallet and for that you need an identity (Aadhaar, for example). And of course, those in possession of black money cease to get the pass they have got for so long; the clear signal is follow the rules or face the consequences or at the least it raises the cost of generating black money.
For most of the last seven decades, India has pursued an exception-based regime, manifesting in crony capitalism, accumulation of black money and elite capture of every institution in the country. The only way to break this hegemony is to adopt a rules-based regime. And hopefully partial demonetisation is another step in that direction.
Anil Padmanabhan is executive editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics.
His Twitter handle is @capitalcalculus
Comments are welcome at anil.p@livemint.com

Thursday, November 17, 2016

An Article, "Modi's Inheritance


MODI’S INHERITANCE
by

PG Kamath

 
To be a Prime Minister of a country like India is indeed more demanding than any other position  in the world. POTUS, of course has humongous global challenges; to monitor and influence the US political presence, diplomatic dominance, economic inducements and exert military coercion? However, the machinery, he inherits, is so well oiled that it can take on extremes of personalities from Nixon to Regan, and soon the world will see how even Trump would take to the White House like the white pigeons, which nibble on its North and South lawns?
 
Yes! To change the basic direction of US policies, would indeed invite obstinacy from well entrenched bureaucracy, however there are provisions in US, where  they can appoint any suitable person in the country to key positions in the government and overcome the bureaucratic resistance.  Even the secretaries (ministers) are taken from general public not necessarily  politicians, however they have to undergo senate confirmation.  The selection of Reince Priebus as Chief of Staff and media mogul Stephen Bannon as Chief Strategist; both with no experience in the Federal Government indicates that Trump means business.  Their inexperience in the government should be an asset to Trump, as they would be able to follow different policies and procedures and would be able to think out of the box.  Hence, he has already taken steps to mould the government to give new direction to his policies.  

China and Russia without doubt are authoritarian in more than one aspect, hence their heads of state can steer the country in the direction they choose and it would be illogical to compare their problems if any, with the gargantuan problems faced by the Indian PM.  The Japanese, though were in the habit of changing their prime minister with every season, have settled down under the dynamic Prime Minister Abe. However their people, bureaucrats, politicians not only love their country but also have great respect for their institutions. A case in point; it was unthinkable that the only country in the world that had been devastated by nuclear bombs would ever sign the nuclear deal with India; never mind the mandatory approval of the Diet ?  Japan signing the deal is a testimony to their maturity and understanding to pursue their national interest, in view of the looming threat from China. Again, to compare Japan with our putrefied politico-bureaucratic system is a sheer wastage of time and questioning the intellect of the readers? To make it difficult for Shinzo Abe to get the deal ratified in the Diet, our defence minister expresses doubt on our commitment to ‘No First Use’.  What an inopportune time to make such a statement? Oh God! Please educate our ministers and their likes! 

Now, what does the Indian Prime Minister inherit?  A bureaucracy, which has been the biggest stumbling block in the progress of the country?  As per the 1951 census of India, the country had 322 districts, which have been reorganised into 640 districts as on today. Each of the districts have been under a District Collector and a number of districts comprising  a Division have been under a Divisional Commissioner.  Right from the time of independence, the administration and governance was provided to the people of our country by District and Divisional Commissioners. Health care, primary and secondary education,  food distribution, water supply, sanitation, social forestry,  scientific farming, irrigation, agriculture, forest and agro based industries, housing, and a host of other schemes that the government had introduced from time to time were not delivered, causing serious deficit in governance. As on today 205 districts; nearly one third of the country is affected by terrorism, insurgency and left wing extremism? If one tours this area the main cause for such fissiparous trend is ‘bad governance’? Why no one is held accountable for dragging our country to such depths? The politicians have no direct role in the grass root administration and they are accountable to the people once in five years; however the bureaucrats, who are directly responsible to give a clean administration are neither accountable to the people nor to their superiors.  Their esprit de corps has ensured that they protect their breed from the politicians and ensure the non-performers also survive and continue to harm the country till they retire and thereafter?  To ensure that every non-performer is rewarded,  they have introduced ‘non-performance up-gradation’ in the 6th Pay Commission.  This unique and obnoxious provision enables that all inefficient and non performing bureaucrats keep getting the higher band of pay irrespective of their promotion?  Hence, the system has ensured that not even a shred of incentive is left for a bureaucrat to work?  

The Hong Kong based   Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (Perc) has been carrying out  survey of Asia’s best and the worst bureaucracies.  The survey is being conducted since 1997 and we all should be proud that India has maintained her position as the Worst Bureaucracy in Asia since 1997.  It is indeed a laudable achievement considering that in Asia we have many Least Developed Countries, Developing Countries and Developed Countries.  To maintain the position unchallenged for nearly two decades is no mean a feat?  We have soundly beaten even countries like Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam to bag the coveted award.  
Our bureaucracy has not reacted to this report as they have nothing to defend and they know the organisation actually need not have to carry out the research:  No one needs to prove an axiom?   It is unbelievable but true that the website of the organisation (www.asiarisk.com) has been blanked from all servers in India?  If anyone can access it, please drop an email to me.

Sadly; most bureaucrats genuinely feel that they are the ones, who are progressing the country and harbour unfounded, undeserved and unjustified pride in themselves?  If indeed, the bureaucrats are the arbitrators of the nation, considering the elected representatives do not have time for governance, then the future of the country is in the hands of the Asia’s worst bureaucracy?  No doubt; we are unable to exploit our immense potential and get mired in quicksand of our own making?   Our Human Development Index, tolerance and inclusive index, social progress index, health and wellness index are abysmal.  Our infantile mortality, maternal mortality, open defecation, tragic state of our education, rampant social ills, exploitation of poor and the all pervasive corruption, makes us hang our head in shame? Has anyone questioned as to why we could not progress for seven decades as we could have? Have we ever held the bureaucracy responsible for the tragic state of the country?  The   sad state of the country is due to red tape, government controls, corruption, greed, avarice, lack of commitment, absence of patriotism, lack of concern for others and the ubiquitous incompetency and inefficiency.  It is also due to bad politicians and the worst bureaucrats and indifferent people with feudal mind set, who vote for their oppressors and tolerate the power brokers.  If not, how come a party led by fodder scam accused get maximum number of seats in Bihar assembly? How come an advocate spokesman of GOP, who misused his chamber as a brothel continue to be in Rajya Sabha? The same person in order to avoid income tax has seemingly bought 1250 laptops for 14 professionals he has employed in his office.  He has also bought solar panels for ₹25.16 Crores and the dealer has confessed in his statement to the IT Department that it was an inflated bill and he has returned ₹ 10 Crores as loan to his two sons.  He has further said in his defence that after a termite attack on his record – not surgical strikes; he has not been able to give supporting documents of his expenditure? If I have to talk of our political leaders then I would lose the focus of this article; hence I will stop.  

To take things forward; it is the first time, we are seeing some drastic steps being taken.  The demonetisation has really hit all the political parties and also their backers.  Lo and behold! Look at the virulence with which the opposition parties have attacked the government? They have suddenly taken the common man under their umbrage seemingly unable to see his plight? The truth is the unaccounted wealth of each of them individually and their parties have been hit by a tsunami? 

It was on 2 Mar 2016, Raga said in parliament “The Finance Minister announced a fair and lovely scheme, saying it was Modiji’s scheme, which would convert black money into white. In 2014, Modi had said “I will finish black money… I will jail anybody who has black money”. But under the fair and lovely scheme, nobody will go to jail, nobody will be arrested, nobody will be asked anything. Go to Arun Jaitleyji, pay tax and turn black money into white”.  Now, Raga; what problem do you have in demonetisation? What a down to earth leader you are; you stood in a queue for converting ₹ 4000/-?  You indeed ascribe very low intellect to our countrymen; don’t you?  I take it that with those 4000/- you went to Sarojani Market and bought some vegetables and had a delayed lunch at your house? I still do not want to take the credit out of your stunt as the people around you were provided with some form of amusement that added a little mirth in the boredom, while waiting in the queue.  In the same breath, the PM’s 96 year old mother also need not have gone to the bank to exchange her currency? Mr PM! Even your enemies do not doubt your nationalistic ardour and credentials? One of your personal secretary or your friends could have assisted her.  Raga has indeed lot to prove himself to the people of this country and you really don’t have to do it. I want to remind politicians of all hues, the games you play is being seen by the people and they are able to see thorough each one of you!  All of you are fooling yourself and people watch with amusement as they do it to the caged animals in the zoo! 

We have another muffler clad Chief Minister, who started his stint by a respiratory problem and has ensured the 17 million people who voted him overwhelmingly, have also have a respiratory problem? When will you start administering your State rather than keep on wearing the national mantle and comparing yourself with the Prime Minister? It is so irritating to hear your cheeky spokesmen yelling like school boys scoring brownie points on the national television. The CM himself has called the PM a coward and psychopath.  He lauded him for surgical strikes at the same time asking for proof?  Obviously he wanted the Army to disclose the detailed plans so that such strikes can be neutralised by Pakistani forces, in case there is a requirement of another strike? Either he is completely naïve or  he is working at the behest of ISI?  The buffoons of the left parties and jokers of the GOP, were also braying for proof.  How happy were the Pakistanis? Indian opposition was doing their work admirably? 

In contrast to the US President elect, the Indian PM inherits a system that is rotting from the roots to the leaves. He has the  worst bureaucracy to run the country. He has a system that is corrupt to the core, where the lower officials take bribe in giving government deliverables to the poor and the higher offices are headlong immersed in scams.  If some of the higher bureaucracy is not corrupt, they have professional egos and manipulate the decisions of ministers by granting favours, camouflaging truth and have their way, which is not necessarily in the interest of the nation. Look at the way the Defence Minister approved a mischievous letter of equivalence between the Armed Forces Officers and the civilian cadre?  Look at the sad state of OROP? Just look at the 7th Pay Commission tearing into the pride of the Armed Forces. The Armed Forces are really not fighting for monetary emoluments they have put up with that for several pay commissions, where more than hundred anomalies have remained un-actioned.  The main issue is that it is hurting their pride and élan.  Please remember Prime Minister; a soldier without his pride is a weapon without its ammunition.

All the Prime Minister’ staff are almost entirely filled with serving or retired bureaucrats.  How can these tired old straight jacketed bureaucrats can fan new ideas? The NSA is a police officer, which was quite evident in PM’s Independent Day address to the nation from the ramparts of Red Fort, where he remembered the sacrifices of 33000 police personnel, who are defending the nation on land, sea and air.  You seem to have a new role in mind for the police and I am sure in times to come you would dismantle the armed forces and task the police under the NSA to defend the nation on land, sea and in air?  Since Independence; Mr Prime Minister, no armed forces personnel have ever died in the wars of 1947-48, 1962, 1965, 1971, Sri Lanka, Kargil, Op Parakram and innumerable Counter Terrorist and Counter Insurgency operations in the North East and Jammu and Kashmir? I have no doubts your NSA must have told you so? 

I still would like to appreciate the Prime Minister that in spite of inheriting the decrepit official machinery, how come he has been able to take ground breaking decisions? He has dissolved GOMs, Planning Commission, reduced foreign trip bonanzas to the bureaucrats and politicians, concentrated on infrastructures, science and technology such as research in cold fusion and gravitational wave, progressing electrification of the entire country, passing the real estate bill, jan dhan yojna, digital India, surgical strikes, swach Bharat, awas yojna, Atal pension yojana, make in India, sukannya samraddhi yojna, LPG subsidies pahal scheme, free gas connection to the poor under ujjwal yojna, new scheme for rehabilitation of bonded labour, digital locker,  smart city, suraksha bima yojana, gold monetisation scheme and the recent demonetisation scheme to name only a few! The  achievements have been done in Indian Government departments with the resources that we pejoratively call “Babus” – is nothing short of absolute miracle! says Desh Kapoor an acclaimed creative writer. Look at the resistance he had to face to move the rusted, dissonant, discordant, vintage and ill maintained official machinery? 

Mr Prime Minister! You still have to conduct a surgical strike on the Armed Forces. Neglecting the reorganisation of Defence Ministry would leave the country under a grave threat.  The Chief of Defence Forces should be made a reality and it is high time the Defence Minister and you, have an ‘one point military advice’. He should be a permanent member of Cabinet Committee on Security.  The reorganisation of the Ministry of Defence is long pending.  All you have to do is look at the GOM on National Security of 2001 headed by your mentor LK Advani and act.  Restoring the battered pride of the Armed forces is an onerous task, which you can only neglect at grave peril to the nation.

Please also ask your NSA, what advice he has to give you in solving the Jammu and Kashmir problem? How come he; an intelligence professional did not give you the advance of information of broth discontent brewing in the valley? How are you going to reign in the Hurriyat? I assure you, all these problems have answers and all you have to ask is to take real experts in to confidence and discuss with them.  Forget it in case you think the mandarins of Foreign Ministry and Home Ministry would give you solutions? Over a period, they have become one tracked and developed high levels of ego to ask advice from better informed experts. This problem also needs your immediate attention. 

Mr Prime Minister! Your inheritance from your parents is phenomenal.  You have a clear mind, innate sagacity and courage to walk the path alone, where others fear to tread.  Your opponents fear you, as  their daily is threatened? I still believe that you cannot be informed on all issues.  Your ministers range from mediocrity to intellectuals and let me assure you none of them are visionaries like you?  I also suggest you reorganise your PMO.  You need to take technocrats, economists, academicians, armed forces officers, strategists and philosophers. They should also act as your devil’s advocate.  Do not rely too much on bureaucrats; they are all set to play a ‘Sanjay Baru’ on you? If you do not believe me, just get hold of their personal diaries; their draft memoirs are in the making!


(The writer is veteran from Indian Army)

Lt Gen PG Kamath of the Madras Regiment is a graduate of the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington; and the National Defence College, New Delhi. He has served for over 21 years in operational areas, all over the Country, including Jammu & Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh. He commanded an Infantry Brigade in Punch (J&K) during Op Parakram; and commanded an Infantry Division in Kutch, Sir Creek area and Barmer. He has held prestigious Command and Staff appointments; and retired as Commandant Army War College, Mhow.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Ride for a Lifetime

‘Where are you?’ was the message that I sent out to my wife, on Whatsapp.

I had been waiting at the arrival gate in Bangkok, after the Jet Airways flight that she was travelling on had landed, and most passengers including the stragglers had come out. I had checked that her flight landed at 06:49 am. I had expected her to finish immigration and customs formalities in about an hours time and be out with her baggage by 07:45 am at the latest. I had thus strategically positioned myself at arrival gate B, by 07:30 am. I had seen the early birds with only the hand baggage come out first, followed by the ones with the heavily laden checked baggages.

I was now getting a little concerned as she was nowhere on the horizon. My wi-fi was not connecting and there was no way to contact her through the opaque glass screen separating me from the baggage claim conveyor belt area. 

I finally got connected to the wi-fi and sent her this 'where are you?' message.

‘I am on the third floor in front of S&P’ came the prompt response.

I had sent her detailed step by step instructions on how to navigate through the immigration queues on arrival, in Bangkok. Evidently she had followed them very efficiently and had thus reached the designated rendezvous spot before me, while I was trying to give her a surprise welcome at the arrival gate.

I was happy that she had been able to manage on her own, especially after her last message from Chandigarh that said, ‘U do know that ... I get blank, without you around’. The detailed instructions from me were in response to this rather under-confident message from her.

Going towards the elevator that would take me to the 3rd floor, my thoughts went to the time when we had decided to enter the roller coaster ride of marriage, during our journey of life. She was 18 and I was 25. She was very soft on the outside as I saw her, but very tough on the inside, as I got to discover during our journey together. I on the other hand had a very tough exterior, but a not so hard interior. 

The roller coaster ride that started on 22 Jun 78 is still continuing with each of us learning more about life and living, besides each other, with each passing day. Our journey together took us through many important bends in life, each one better than the previous one. At every new bend, the ride would pause for a moment and then continue gathering speed for the next adrenaline rush best exemplified by science in the medieval man’s ‘fight or flight’ syndrome.

We were each an individual in our own right and had little in common, except being human - the most wondrous creation of God. Our journey blessed us with two beautiful children who gave us great joy just by being a part of our journey. Like birds they have flown away to build their own nests in faraway lands. Physically we are now distant but they are very close in our thoughts. We were blessed with our first grandchild who helped us relive our childhood, and taught us many valuable lessons in life – curiosity, wonder, joy, happiness, spontaneity, all the good things of life that we had long given up in the process that we humans mistakenly call as, ‘growing up’.

A whatsapp message I had received said that a child when asked to name the seven wonders of the world, recounted our ability to see, to think, to hear, to smell, to touch, to feel, and to communicate as the greatest wonders of this world. Only a child could be so insightful; we adults are too knowledgeable for such mundane stuff.

I came out of the elevator on the 3rd floor and there she was with a beaming smile on her face clicking my picture with her cellphone. She promptly sent it on the family group with the caption, ‘And I welcomed my handsome'; I had planned it the other way around though. Happy to be together, we have both grown over the years – she has become tough on the outside too now, and I have become relatively soft on the outside.

Without our knowledge, we have rubbed off a lot on each other in the 38 years that we have been on this life's greatest adventure together. 


Sunday, September 4, 2016

'BARBER-IC' ACTS

2016, Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. I open my eyes and look in to the mirror. The barber had done exactly what I had not wanted done. Before sitting on the chair, I had explained to him with sign language that only the hair around the ears were to be trimmed, leaving the rest as is; he did not understand English, and I do not speak Thai. Fait accompli. I gave him a smile, paid him his dues, and walked out of the shop, not particularly happy. On the way to the hotel I rationalized that I had to look at my face only while combing my hair, whereas the others looked at it throughout the day. So, it was now their problem, and not mine or the barber’s. I generally have a haircut once in every 3 – 4 weeks; a habit from my Air Force days.

Most of my service life while serving across India, I had no problems, as every barber knew the standard haircut, as per regulations; the hair around the ears should not curl up around the peak cap, and the side lock not longer than 1/3rd from the top of the ear. It was only before, and after, my service career that I started to have an issue every time I moved to a new place, and until the barber got used to my style of haircut, which seemed outdated to most professionals of the ‘hair styling’ trade.

1969. I remember the day I landed up at the prestigious National Defence Academy (NDA). I remember paying off my cab, offloading my trunk, and thereafter being dispatched straight to the barber shop for a haircut. The barber knew exactly what had to be done; he did not ask me; there was no need to. As I got into senior terms the barber deferred a bit to my wishes but ensured that the haircut was within the regulations. In our final term most of us managed a decent but ‘acceptable regulation-wise’ haircut. This would not last.
Haircut NDA style.
Image: Courtesy: Google images

1972. The Chief Ground Instructor at Bidar greeted us on our first day with a barber in tow, and promptly cut us down to size by making sure that we forgot the ‘acceptable regulation-wise’ haircut in a hurry.

1989. After 3 weeks during my staff course in the US, I entered the barber shop for my haricut and found one vacant chair and a pretty female barber to attend to me. The chair was turned away from the mirror. While sitting down when I tried to move the chair to face the mirror my barber stopped me saying that it is she who needs to look out for my haircut, and not me. So, two firsts for me - haircut by a female barber, and that too while looking away from the mirror, signifying that she had full control. I now realized that once you sit on the barber’s chair, you lose control. I believe, barbers are ordained by God to cut any one’s ego down to size in a jiffy.


2012. Retirement, and I decide to now stop colouring my hair. When and how? Everyone in India had seen me with black hair and I did not suddenly want to shock them with a grey outcrop. Our extended vacation to Toronto seemed the ideal place for this mission. Mission was accomplished as planned, on reaching there. Three days later I decided to visit my brother in New York. The officer at the border looked at my passport, looked up at me and continued the to and fro between me and my photograph in the passport. He finally says, ‘you do not look like this’. I replied, I just shaved off my head three days ago. He still looked quizzical and in two minds about letting me go across the border. Finally he said, ‘it’s all black in the photograph, and you are all grey’. I smiled and countered that ‘I used to colour them earlier, and now these are naturally coloured at 60 years of age’. I was lucky that day; he let me through. Hair I realized happen to be a part of our identity, and ego. No wonder the greatest offering that one can make at Tirupati is the human hair, or the alter ego.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

CHANGE YOUR WORLD - RIGHT ATTITUDE TO LIFE

An inspirational quote from a book by Norman Vincent Peale.

"In Tokyo I once met an inspiring man, from Pennsylvania.

Crippled from some form of paralysis, he was on an around-the-world journey in a wheelchair, getting a huge kick out of all his experiences. I commented that nothing seemed to get him down.

His reply was classic: 'It's only my legs that are paralysed. The paralysis never got into my mind."

Think about it; it is so true!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Religion, Faith, Belief, and the Creator

The world is passing through a phase of moral turpitude where in violence and even killing is being justified in the name of religion, and this phase has accelerated in the last couple of years leading to nearly daily news reports of violence/ killings all across the globe. I have been trying to jostle with this issue for a long time, since I have always believed that the only purpose of religion is to uplift ordinary humans to extra-ordinary levels.My thoughts were suddenly channelised into four sentences while commenting on an interesting post on facebook. My comment is reproduced below.
  • Interesting post. My take: many paths, same destination; each chooses his own. Belief just happens to be the starting point, based on birth. Belief is strengthened through rituals and mythology, so that one can undertake the final journey alone by turning inwards, where the communication is between you and your Creator only, without need for any ritual, mythology, or external help.
I now wish to elaborate further on these comments so that I can share my views with other humans across the globe with an aim of finding an answer to the wanton violence killings. I need to start with defining terms as I go along. First religion.

  • Religion implies, "the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods".
Next belief.
  • Belief is "an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof".


Next faith.
  • Faith is a "strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof".
As I look back at my life I find that I was born in a Hindu household and thus was exposed to the Hindu beliefs and faith from birth. In case I had been born in a Muslim household, I would have been exposed to Islamic beliefs and faiths. I had no say in the matter of my birth, and thus of my belief and faith. It was, I believe, pre-ordained. By whom? By my Creator, who also happens to be the Creator of every one and every thing else on this, and other planets. How else could we all humans have been designed in the same mould with very minor variations, of course. The evolutionary process put us in the top of the heap, or so we think; we have a powerful brain, which unlike our physical characteristics can be quite different in two humans, and this is where faith and beliefs reside.

My parents and other relatives taught me some rituals and gave me a dose of mythology, which became my belief, as I trusted them; they cared for me and looked after my every need; there was no reason to distrust them or even distrust their beliefs; they always had my best interest in mind - they had proven that by ensuring my survival and growth against all odds. My parents also told me that there is only one God, and He is known by different names, based on the attributes. It is much like I am one, but am known differently by different people - a son, a brother, a husband, a friend, etc. I display different attributes in different relationships depending on who I am interacting with. 

My parents also told me that God was Omnipresent. When I was about 8 years old I asked my father if it was necessary to go to the temple, if God was omnipresent. My father had given me the confidence to question the beliefs that he had passed on to me. He said No, it is not necessary. Looking at the beauty of the world and the scientific principles that sustain it, I was convinced and had faith that God existed. Every belief though was open to question. Being born in a Brahmin family, I was expected to put on the holy thread around my neck. I was not convinced of this, and thus never adorned it, except during my wedding rituals to respect the belief of my parents. I never believed in untouchability, which my grand mother believed in and practiced.

I never ate non vegetarian food, as part of my belief system in childhood. When I grew up, I questioned my father about this. He gave me a logical explanation, which stated that "to survive we need to eat; eating the least evolved food does minimum damage to the Creation, and is thus desirable". Plants are the lowest form in the evolutionary chain. Every animal is higher up, with mammals being the highest in the evolutionary process. A ban on eating beef is probably part of this, as also that cow milk is closest to mother's milk, and has sustained human offsprings for generations now. This probably is the reason for cow to be considered sacred in Hinduism.

The world has seen many great people being born, and giving their own interpretation of this Creation. Each of those interpretations have been codified in to texts and has spawned a new religion. I believe, it is not the texts that are at fault, but, it is the interpretation of those texts that needs to evolve. Great and wise people never ordained violence or killing in the name of God. Gita is a sacred text for the Hindus, and is basically philosophy which is common to all mankind. Its origin can only be conjectured as it happened much before we came in to existence, in this birth. Only faith and reason can help one understand, and maybe interpret what is written in the text of the Gita. I have read many an interpretation by knowledgeable people. When I read it, my mind interprets it in its own way, based primarily on my experiences of life. An objective book like the Gita becomes subjective with each human, as each one of us evolves differently based on our unique circumstances and experiences. 'One size fits all' is not true for religion and beliefs. Rituals may be common, mythology may be shared between co-religionists, but the essence of religion and its texts cannot; the objective texts do become subjective based on who is trying to read and interpret them; the interpretation is space and time sensitive, as the mind cannot interpret any thing that it has not experienced. I cannot read any text written in Tamil or Sanskrit, as my mind has never been exposed to them. The meaning of every thing changes with interpretation/ translation by someone else. What is true of Hinduism is also true for other religions.

Like Hinduism, every religion has its own belief systems,. The rituals and mythology which are part of every religion are only to develop faith in the individual. There is however no proof provided. Every individual has been given a powerful brain to question what does not make sense, or goes against the basics of Creation. In case we are all the Creation of one God, then we should all be living in harmony. However, our brain loaded with divergent belief systems and faiths create a divide. This divide is strengthened by people who benefit from the profession of teaching/ imparting of different faiths - be it the Pandit, the Moulvi, the Priest, the Granthi, etc. They cannot trudge your path for you. They can only teach you the rituals and give you the mythology. Their interpretation of the written text maybe at total variance to what was intended, as their brains may not have evolved to the level that is required to interpret those texts.

Once an individual has developed faith that a God exists, then it an inward journey, as all questions and answers are within your own consciousness. No external help is possible, as no one can trudge the path for you. You have to develop your own link with your Creator, in whichever form that you wish to. There are no intermediaries is my firm belief. Once you develop faith, I do believe that you would then respect all of God's Creation, and would be very averse to violence/ killings, as no faith can profess destruction of the Creation of one God.



Life has taught me.........

It is quite a paradox but life has taught me that.....

Your biggest strength,
also happens to be your greatest weakness.

Do you agree. What are your views? Would be delighted to hear them.

NDA - A Memory

While cycling to Sudan block, my friend Amrit confided to me that he had not done his home work and thus would not like to study any new topic today. He said that he would do something to ensure that the teacher does not start any new chapter. I too secretly wished that he was successful, as it had been a tiring day thus far; double outdoor days were always tiring. We had just finished the physical training (PT) class, after a drill class, and were heading towards Sudan block of NDA for a Mathematics class. This was the third, and the last class, before the sumptuous breakfast that all of us cadets looked forward to, especially after the outdoor days.

Drill at the Drill Square
Image: Courtesy Google Images

Our day started with a fall-in (roster call) every morning at 5:45 am in the squadron, and the first class at 6 am, either an outdoor one, like PT, drill, or equitation, or an academic class in either the Science or Sudan block. The siren at Science block sounded on the hour, every hour, to indicate the commencement of every class. Double outdoors and maths was a bad combination, but we had learnt to just follow the schedule, physically at least. The classes itself were of 45 minutes duration with a 15 minutes break in between. In these 15 minutes one is expected to leave the present location; pick up the cycle; wait to form a squad of 4 to 6 cadets, in twos, and then cycle down in an orderly manner to the new location; park your cycles in the designated spot, and march up to your class room. 
Sudan Block at NDA
Image: Courtesy Google Images

Our maths teacher with the initials D.D. (affectionately called Daddy by the cadets) was a professional teacher: a teacher, who besides being good at his subject, also had two eyes in the back and could thus sense any untoward movement behind him, while still facing the blackboard. Those were the chalk and blackboard days. Daddy had this unique knack of being able to write with both hands. Also, he could break a piece of the chalk with one hand, and send it shooting like a missile towards any inattentive cadet. To his credit, he always hit the bulls eye.  

He would start writing with his right hand and had the ability to turn the upper part of his body while still continuing to write on the board. His upper body would be twisted away from the board through about 180 degrees, so as to enable him to face the left half of the class. Half way through the equation that he was writing, he could switch the chalk to his left hand, continue with writing on the board while facing the class once again, now covering the right half of the class. In this way he could cover the entire class with an overlap in the centre, where he would make the most troublesome students of the class sit. I believe many a cadet who had passed through his hands before us had helped him perfect this technique to ensure that he could do his job, despite the troublesome and unwilling students.

Each one of his classes started with the standard questions. Have you all done your home work? The answer was always a full throat-ed yes from all of us. This was followed up with, ‘does anyone have any doubts on the chapter covered in the last class? The answer invariably was a, 'no sir'. Like every other day, we went through the same ritual today also, except that after a loud yes to the first question, when the rest of us were singing ‘no sir’ to the second question, my friend had raised his right hand high up in the air. 

Daddy asked him about his doubt, and my friend said, ‘sir, I am not too sure how to do the 10th question, could you please show me how to do it’. Daddy was a seasoned teacher in NDA and had seen many students like Amrit. Daddy counter questioned him with, ‘have you done sum number 1?’ The answer was ‘No’. Have you done sum number 2? And so on it went until, number 9. It was now quite evident that Amrit had not even attempted to do the home work. Every 'no' was met with a missile thrown at my friend by Daddy. At the 9th no, even Daddy got very upset and now wanted to shake up my friend for firstly not doing the home work and secondly for disturbing the set routine of the class. He walked towards Amrit; Amrit got up from his desk and moved towards the rear of the class, with Daddy following him. Amrit got to the rear wall, climbed on top of the last row of chairs and crossed over to the other aisle in the class hoping that he would be safe now, but Daddy followed him around by climbing the chairs too, and with the chalk missiles being launched at regular intervals, until the chalk finished. The entire class was witness to the chase scene that had turned really hilarious. Every one was having a great time. It continued for some time and ended with an apology from Amrit. No fresh topic could be covered in that class; Amrit had achieved his aim. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Life is Actually Simple!

In January 2000, I decided to do a 5 month long e-business course in Delhi. I reached the course venue on the commencement date, and met with my fellow students. They were all in their 20s. The lone foreigner doing the course was Vince, an American. Vince generally kept aloof, and I too never asked him anything personal, as I had learnt that it is taboo to ask an American about his personal life, unless of course he knows you well enough and is willing to share stuff with you.

However, over a period of time he developed a rapport with me and started sharing his ideas, thoughts and views with me. One day, Vince confided to me about his dream of starting a software company with an aim of earning money. He further said that he wanted to earn a million dollars so that he could buy a cottage on the beach in Virginia, his home town. Dreamily he continued that the cottage would have a private beach in which he would sit in his easy chair and relax, doing nothing. Over a period of time, he was willing to share more with me, without my asking.

I noticed that Vince would vanish on Friday evening's and would appear back in class on Monday. This happened on almost every weekend. After about three months into the course, we were friendly enough for me to invite Vince to my place for a meal over the weekend. He declined the invitation saying that all his weekends were booked in Rishikesh. He had rented a room at Rs 300 per day for all his remaining weekends in India. The room was located on the banks of the Ganges, as it emerged from the hills. He told me that the view was very beautiful, and that he really enjoyed the serenity and peace during his stay at Rishikesh.

On return after one weekend, he was all excited and showed me some photographs of himself along with a sadhu who had long matted hair and was wearing only a loin cloth, and ash. This sadhu had built a small hut for himself on the banks of river, and was living in that. Vince told me that the sadhu could speak fluent English and had been a professor in a college who had retired to Rishikesh to go through his 'vanprasth' (going to the jungle) ashram. He had renounced everything worldly, and had finally settled for good on the banks of the sacred river. Vince confided that he had had many conversations with this sadhu, and also with many others like him, during his numerous visits to Rishikesh during the four months that we were together until then. Of course like a true American, he had taken a number of photographs of monkeys, elephants, snakes and the likes, all in close human contact. He also had some photographs with a python around his own neck.  He even had one with the python wrapped all around him.
A Representative image of a Sadhu: Courtesy Google Images.


His weekend visits continued, and he had many things to share. After one such weekend visit, he told me that his Indian sojourn had given rise to a dilemma in his mind. He went on to mention his ‘dream’ once again. With a dreamy look thereafter, he philosophically observed that, I want to earn one million dollars so as to relax on the beach, doing nothing, and here is this sadhu who has nothing except a loin cloth and a few other belongings doing exactly what I want to do after all this struggle. He ran out of words thereafter, and I too was totally dumb struck. We both looked at each other in silence. We were too busy trying to comprehend the enormity of this realisation. I still wonder at times about this incident. Is life actually that simple? I know it is, but my senses force me to think otherwise.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Cultural Orphans: Indians ashamed of their own heritage

I received this as a forward and felt that it is material that is worth sharing. 

The following piece has been written by Maj Gen Mrinal Suman

For an Indian, a visit to Indonesia can be an eye-opener. It is fervently proud of its heritage. Although it is the largest Muslim country in the world, it has inscribed the picture of Lord Ganesh on its 20,000 rupiah currency notes. Even the most prestigiousinstitute of technology has Lord Ganesh in its logo. Indonesia’s official airline is called Garuda (Lord Vishnu’s mount) and the official bank is named after Kubera (the Hindu god of wealth).

Indonesian government patronises and supports dance dramas and puppet shows that depict stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata. It has also issued many stamps on the two epics. Jakarta has a huge sculpture of Lord Krishna revealing Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna. In Bali, statues of Hindu deities adorn most public places. Several cross-roads have massive sculptures portraying scenes from Hindu scriptures, like the sun-god riding his chariot, yoked byseven horses.

For an Indian, it is a puzzling experience: a Muslim country honouring Hindu gods. Unable to control his curiosity, a tourist quizzed our guide Mustafa. After looking at the perplexed faces of the group, Mustafa responded, “Earlier all of us were Hindus and worshipped these gods. Whatever be the reasons, we converted to Islam. I do not pray to these gods but respect them because I know that my parents, grand-parents and ancestors worshipped them? They are a part of my heritage and ancestry. Should change of faith make me disown my heritage? That would amount to my disowning my own lineage and ancestors.” The silence was deafening.

In a few sentences, Mustafa had taught us what we Indians have not learnt for centuries. No educated Indian ever boasts of India’s rich heritage. Our education system has ingrained in us an acute sense of inferiority. We eulogise everything that is Western and run down our own glorious past. Everything concerning ancient India’s intellectual prowess, cultural richness, multiple philosophies and liberal thoughts is painted as narrow-mindedness.

India is perhaps the only country in the world that is ashamed of its heritage. Yes, the word ashamed is an apt description. Expressions like Vedas, Hindus, Hindutva, Saffron and Bharat Mata have come to convey a sense of inadequacy. The whole world applauds India for its Vedic knowledge, philosophical expositions, ayurveda, yoga and a host of other gifts to humanity. However, our Westernised stooges carry on deriding our heritage. Using Mustafa’s taxonomy, they take pride in masquerading as ‘cultural orphans’. Let me cite two events of the recent past to prove my assertion.

The World Yoga Day

On 27 September 2014, Prime Minister Modi exhorted the UN General Assembly, “Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being.” He suggested that 21 June be adopted as the World Yoga Day. In less than 90 days, the UN General Assembly passed the resolution unanimously, accepting the fact that yoga originated in India around 5,000 years ago and is an immensely beneficial mental, physical and spiritual practice.

It was recognition of India’s heritage and a matter of great pride for India. While the intelligentsia ignored the feat, no channel ran prime-time programme to highlight the achievement. For them, anything belonging to ancient India cannot be acclaim-worthy.

At the first official observation of the World Yoga Day on 21 June 2015, a total of 35,985 participants from 84 nationalities performed asanas. Modi’s words, on the said occasion, were truly sagacious, “India’s priceless legacy is today world’s legacy.” 

As is the wont of our India-deprecating critics, no one had a good word to say about the event. They faulted Modi for not doing asanas in the proper manner. Some even doubted his claims of doing yoga regularly. A significant segment appeared to be more obsessed with the spreading of yoga mats rather than the import of the occasion. Deviously, a campaign was started that the soldiers were demeaned as they were forced to lay mats whereas the fact is that the mats were laid by civilian workers and the army had provided a few Havildars to oversee layout and alignment.

An occasion of national pride was deliberately portrayed as a fundamentalist and anti-secular agenda of the ruling party. Baba Ramdev’s laudable offer of training yoga teachers for the army has also been termed as a step towards communalisation of the army. One wonders as to how Indians can revel in degrading India.

The Art of Living’s World Cultural Festival

Last month, nearly four lakh people from 155 countries attended anniversary celebrations of The Art of Living (AoL) at Delhi. It was described as ‘an impeccable choreography of spiritual exuberance’. Over 37,000 artists from around the world performed. The programme was beamed live to millions across the globe. The whole world admired it but not the self-proclaimed conscience-keepers of India.

They faulted the function for likely adverse ecological effect on the flood plains of River Yamuna. It was a laughable objection. Even a casual visitor can notice the appalling state of the flood plains due to rampant encroachments, regular dumping of garbage/debris and total neglect by the authorities. No environmentalist or social activist ever raised hue and cry to force the government to act.

On learning of AoL function, they suddenly rediscovered their long-forgotten concern for the flood plains and launched a sadistic campaign against the organisers. As was to be expected, media found a convenient issue to embarrass the government and dent India’s image. It was unfortunate that our President was advised to skip the function.

Despite repeated assurances and guarantees by the organisers that they would neither do any digging nor use any concrete, every effort was made to scuttle the initiative. As was to be expected, no channel has reported the fact that AoL has left the flood plains in much better condition than they were earlier.

The second objection was regarding the alleged use of military bridging equipment for a private function. It was conveniently forgotten that law and order and traffic management always remain a state responsibility, more so as a large number of foreign dignitaries were attending the programme. Aid to the civil authority in preventing likely stampede cannot be faulted. Every Kumbh Mela sees such bridges.

As regards the bridging equipment; launching and de-launching of equipment bridges is regularly practised by the Engineers. Hence, the opportunity was used to train as well. Interestingly, the army had built a similar pontoon bridge at Agra for a musical concert by Yani in 2006. No questions were raised then. Apparently, army bridges are fine for foreign performers but not for displaying Indian heritage. 

Of Cultural Icons
While one may not agree with all the statements made by Baba Ramdev, it cannot be denied that he and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar have done India proud by showcasing richness of India’s ancient civilization on the world stage. They are India’s cultural ambassadors and national icons, far greater than many Bharat Ratnas of dubious distinction.

Baba Ramdev has taken yoga to the masses and made the world aware of its mental, physical and intellectual benefits for overall well-being. It is practised by the people of more than 170 countries now. Even the UN has been forced to accept that the benefits of yoga are ‘amazing’ and ‘holistic’. It is a monumental achievement.

Sri Sri has made AoL a household initiative in most countries of the world. More than 370 million people swear by it and practice regularly. One cannot think of another Indian who has spread the message of ancient India’s vedic knowledge as worldwide. Even the UN and the World Health Organisation have recognised that AoL enriches life and promotes wellness through spiritual growth and self-development. 
   
However, as is the wont of many opponents of India’s ancient heritage, they abhor anyone taking pride in it. To deride own culture has been the hallmark of India’s intelligentsia. Modi was right in questioning the opponents, “If we keep criticising ourselves, why would the world look at us?”

And, the parting shot
Reverting to Mustafa, while taking leave of us at the end of the visit, his parting shot was, “India has such a rich heritage. Which country can boast of ancient civilization, and 10,000 years of recorded history? Which country can claim to be the birth place of so many major religions and philosophies?”
“Your heritage consists of Vedic scriptures, Jainism’s Namokar Mantra, Lord Buddha’s teachings and Guru Nanak’s divinity. It is common to all Indians. No one can claim exclusive right over it and no one can disown it either. Can ancestry be disputed or renounced? The people who disown their heritage become culturally bankrupt,” he added.

We were dumbstruck. Mustafa had shamed us with his simple reasoning. By the time we regained our composure, he had boarded a bus to head for his next engagement, perhaps to enlighten another set of ignorant Indian tourists!