Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Reformers: My tribute

In the area of reformers,I have been privileged to meet some, for instance Sandeep Pandey of Asha for Education Bina Lashkari of Doorstep school , Anouradha Bakshi of Project Why , Shanti Raghavan of Enable India , Varun Rangarajan of Dream India 2020 .

These are in no particular order of ranking of importance but the common thread is their heart felt commitment to India and humanity.

Isn't this what keeps the world going ?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Reformers, prophets or saints - does it matter what we call them ?

It is intriguing to see the people we consider religious leaders today were actually reformers in their time. Jesus, Mohammad, Zarathrushtra, Nanak, Basavaveshwara, Ramanujam, Buddha all spoke for the changes required in their society in their respective era and society.

Their achievements were stupendous, mainly because it started from a space of wanting to bring about a positive change, no matter who or what opposed them.

Surely then, being religious does mean being connected with the world and still remaining true to eternal spiritual principles. This may even be tested severely, but they are our role models precisely because they had the courage to persevere.

"Listen to your heart to see what is right", is something they all believed and lived by.

Surely, they would like us to do the same.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Focussing on the happiness of others

Sometimes, profound truths are exceedingly simple. Suma Varughese says in her book that the moment of her step towards a greater plane of existence happened when she decided to focus on the happiness of others and not herself.

If only all of us could do the same.

For instance, in the area of parenting, parents would be a true support and not people causing stress to their children. Children in turn would respond by realising their complete potential and not being robotic in their chase towards so called success.

The same analogy applies in governance, business and indeed all areas of life.

We may not have a role to play of these but certainly, we can begin with ourselves.

Friday, July 17, 2009

My first books

"Amma, no one ever reads letters to the editor! ", Siddart, my son exclaimed ! "If you really want to convey something, why don't you write a story?"

The post Godhra riots had left me shaken. I felt like an alien in my own land. People I thought I knew were coolly complacent with strange theories of 'cause and effect', 'such things happen' and so on. Beyond a point, verbal debates seemed quite pointless, as I realized people believed what they wanted to believe, picking out news articles and media reports that confirmed their own 'pet' theory, interpreting facts as per their preconceived notions and being cock sure of their respective ideology. Not just this, debates would often degenerate into arguments. Not content with keeping mum, I then began darting off letters to various publications, protesting against the gross misuse of religion.

My son, Siddart, who was then twelve, was a voracious reader. Harry Potter was his favorite and so was R K Narayan's "Swami and friends." When immersed in his book, he inhabited the different worlds they portrayed, be it Harry Potter's Hogwarts or Swami's Malgudi. I did often share with him my letters for I wanted him to understand his world and the different forces in it.

Now, clearly, he felt strongly that a story was the best medium of communication. Naturally, being a child, he considered nothing 'impossible'. My daughter, Samyukta, then six, too fully agreed that stories were the way to go.

This set me going. I had never written anything till then, neither did I have a background in journalism or literature. Still, I thought I would attempt writing fiction As my inspiration, sounding board and critic were my children, it had to be stories for children.

Would I be able to convey the essence of religion, a lofty subject, in the form of simple stories? I wondered. Still, with Siddart and Samyukta by my side, seeing what I was attempting, I had to persist. Slowly but surely, a collection of stories emerged, on the humanistic aspect of every religion practiced in India.

For a while, it was reading all about all the religions of the world, their source, history and practice today. It became more and more clear to me that great souls have come many times to the earth, brought cheer and hope for a while, but alas have been misquoted, misinterpreted and thus dishonoured as time elapsed.

Initially published in childrens' magazines like Twinkle, the entire collection were then published as a collection of stories, "One". The process also put me in touch with a whole lot of committed people working for peace and amity and I could see a glimmer of hope amid the sad reality of the day.

Thus began my foray into the uncharted territory of writing; something that shall remain truly special for me, as it was my children who led me there.

The second followed. "The Magic Liquid"

For this, the seed was sown by my daughter who felt I should write an adventure tale. Interspersing this with my experience at DoorStep, a mobile van for the education of children.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Neti, Neti says Gora in Rabindranath Tagore's book

Just re-read, Gora, a book which gives new insights every time one reads it. Sometimes one relates to it as a romantic novel, sometimes much more than that.

Gora is set in disruptive times when the Bengali society of Kolkata was starkly divided into the traditional orthodox Hindus and the modernized, liberal thinking Brahmos instructed by the Brahmo Samaj. The Hindus followed their practices and ceremonials while the Brahmos were in constant clashes with orthodoxy and vehemently opposed all idol-worships, caste system and so on. The author shows how both the communities were not devoid of their own hypocrisies and contradictions. This story contains a number of characters each of which is unique and strongly individualistic. Through these various characters and their stories, Tagore has raised almost every single concern of the society at that time.

Binoy, Gora`s friend in the story and Paresh babu a mature and high thinking gentleman are important characters and so are Sucharita and Lolita, the young ladies who are educated and articulate with their own point of view in life. The anchor in Gora's life and his friend is Gora's mother, Anandamoyi, a strong, principled and loving person.

Gora, the protagonist is a strong advocate of Hinduism and practices his religion strictly. Due to his attitude, he seems an arrogant, self-asserting, aggressive and violent person who thrusts his opinions unto others. However, Gora at heart is an eternal optimist dreaming about his ideal Bharatvarsha, a prosperous and happy India.

At the end, Neti, Neti, the spiritual law comes to the fore here when Gora seeks to discard notions one after another to finally recognize the truth in his heart.

In sum, this tale is eternal in relevance and appeal to people of all ages. I hope more people read it and perhaps a film too is made with the tale as the script. I, for one, look forward to this.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Travelling light - Walking the path

As I held the long awaited book of my friend and editor, Suma Varughese, the feeling of oneness was amazing. This book, released on popular demand, is a compilation of her columns in Life Positive, and is divided into self, reflections and society.

True to the author's belief, the self has the maximum articles as it is her firm conviction that only by transcending our own shortcomings can we reach anywhere significant.

The multitude of seekers who are able to relate to it at their own levels is the unique characteristic of her much loved columns and the book too. All truths are eternal and time tested - so there is no unique formula, just a sharing of a sincere quest. As we all have had similar thoughts and doubts, the columns seem to be a sharing of our own travails. The solution offered is not a magic formula, just a complete acceptance through which the answer flows seamlessly.

One of the posts says her goal is to reach the point where the creator compliments us on a 'well lived' life. The book tells us the process through which she has almost reached this lofty goal. By reading it, we too feel we could perhaps reach there with her.

Bhagiratha Prayatna - Raising the consciousness of India

All great tales have a message for all time.

One such tale is that of King Bhagiratha.

The sons of King Sagara had been burnt into ashes by Sage Kapila for their arrogance who pronounced that the only way the souls of the dead princes could rise to heaven would be through the waters of the sacred Ganga river, which was then flowing in the heavens. Bringing Ganga back to Earth required tremendous dedication and many years of tapasya. Many Kosala kings of successive generations tried, but failed. As a result, the sins of the princes multiplied in their destructive energy, and began resulting in natural disasters. The kingdom began to lose its peace and prosperity.

It was then that Bhagiratha ascended the throne. Realising that single minded pursuit of the goal of bringing down Ganga was essential, Bhagiratha turned over the kingdom to trusted ministers and set off to the Himalayas, embarking on an arduous tapasya. At the end of one thousand years, Brahma came to him and Bhagiratha asked for the boon of bringing down the river Ganga to earth so that he could set the souls of his ancestors free. Brahma cautioned Bhagiratha that Ganga’s fall would be colossal and it would be impossible to contain the destructive impact of this event unless Lord Shiva stepped in.

Bhagiratha then began to propitiate Lord Shiva, living only on air. The compassionate Shiva appeared relatively soon, after only a year's penance, and assured Bhagiratha that he would take care that Ganga's fall does not become destructive.

As the mighty Ganga flowed down, Lord Shiva captured her Ganga in his matted hair or jata, and let her flow from there at a gentler pace. Different streams of Ganga flowed through to release all the princes and at long last, the souls of Bhagiratha’s ancestors were freed and peace returned to the land.
Due to this, Ganga is also known as Bhagirathi (daughter of Bhagiratha) and Bhagiratha's herculean effort, Bhagiratha Prayatna, is a term that symbolises a dedicated effort to do something noble despite facing overwhelming odds.
Another message that the tale brings out is the responsibility we have to correct the wrongs of the past.

There are many parallels between the story of Bhagiratha and the situation we find ourselves in, while grappling with the creation of an inclusive society where the labels of caste based identity are not a deterrent to progress..

Indeed, we stand at the threshold of correcting wrongs committed and perpetuated, knowingly and unknowingly, in the past. Although the caste division has not been created by the present generation, we certainly have inherited the inequalities and negative ‘karma’ that the practice of this system has brought in.

The first step to a solution is accepting responsibility. By just blaming each other, we will again create a cycle of karma where the oppressor and victim could have different labels, but we will still be far away from an inclusive society.

Reservations and quotas were introduced in our constitution mainly to correct caste driven imbalance. However, these are only one part of the solution. Just focusing on quotas has only lead to vote bank politics that have resulted in further divisions of society. In this process, the core goal of the creation of a society that enables every child, irrespective of birth, to have equal access to education and career options, seems to have been forgotten.

Unfortunately, just like the kings of Kosala before Bhagiratha, we lack determination. Concern on the need for educational and employment opportunities is often raised, but soon forgotten, by the media and by the general public.

Further, just as the Ganga flowed in different streams all over India, the issue requires a multi pronged approach. While not rejecting affirmative action outright, we must examine where the lacunaes lie. Similarly, the provision of quality primary education to all is absolutely essential.

Social change is very challenging and therefore, not one Bhagiratha but a collective consciousness to undertake a “Bhagiratha prayatna” is essential.

We do know that none of these issues have easy solutions and the path would be long, but it must be undertaken with an unstinting focus on the key goals. There will be upheavals like those with Ganga’s mighty fall into the Earth. For this, we need a calm, non partisan voice of reason, playing the role of Shiva, who stemmed the forcefulnesss of the fall.

With all this, perhaps we will ultimately be able to bring in the ‘Ganga’ of oneness, solidarity and equality into our land.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Islam - the confusion

With Islam now at its crossroads, some questions have been plaguing my mind for a long time. After much thought, I felt I should confer with Prophet Mohammed directly. As I hoped, he was happy to talk to me.

I am so glad to meet you, Prophet. I would like to clarify certain aspects of Islam with you. Could I?

Of course. Please do.

Is music prohibited in Islam?
No, definitely not.
You just have to see closely at my messages. I have asked you clearly to respect all the prophets before me. That includes Prophet David, who sang and played music. How could music itself then be sinful and prohibited?

Why is this misconception there among people?

You must have heard of the saying “Don’t throw away the baby with the bathwater. This is exactly what is being done with this injunction.
What I had asked people to do was guard against music which uses foul language and steers people toward alcohol, lust and such sinful activity. I have never stipulated that there should be no music at all.

Do you personally like music?
Totally. God created music so that it could give us joy. Music relaxes the mind and helps the person to gain energy and refresh himself..

What is jihad?
Jihad is a struggle. In recent times, the satyagraha of Mahatma Gandhi is certainly a jihad as it required tremendous courage and perseverance.

Many terrorists call their activities a jihad.

That is absolutely incorrect. If they have any issues or grievances, they can peacefully bring it up in accordance with the law of the land and persevere in their strife. That is what I would call a Jihad.

CCan the shariat be changed?
See, Shariat is like a constitution which I made for the people of that time. Naturally, it relates to conditions of that period. There were tribes and people staying with girls without marriage. Yes, I did allow polygamy with full consent of both the groom and bride. Now, obviously times have changed and so should the shariat.

Who is a kafir and how do you recommend we should treat them?
A person who is a disbeliever, not just of God, but of human values, is called a kafir. Still, that is their choice and we should never forget they are human too.

Is attire, such as burqa for women stipulated in Islam?
There is no attire prescribed.
I do recommend modest dressing in women to preserve their dignity. That is not a rule, just a recommendation. Now, how that is achieved is based on the culture of a place at that time. For instance, if I was born in Iceland, I would have been dressed in fur. If I was born today, maybe I would have gone to the moon in a spacesuit.

Please try to see the core teachings and not the external layer of any teaching.

What is the core teaching of Islam? How do we apply them?


Treat everyone as a brother. Share, care and respect each other. Don’t pity, empathize. The other is your brother.
If this can be done without fail always, then you can create your own heaven on this earth.

Wow ! This is so clear and complete. Much of the confusion in my mind vanished.