Thursday, May 27, 2010

Will India become a superpower?

I happened to watch this interesting talk a couple of weeks back, by Ramachandra Guha, given during his trip to Canada earlier this year. He discusses the ten hurdles on the path towards 'superpowerdom' and tell why he feels India will not and should not become a superpower. It gives quite an honest assessment of today's India.

I just found out that the text of the talk was published by the Outlook. Some of the comments (there are many!) are also worth reading.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


I have been attending an Introduction to Advaita (non-dual) Vedanta class every week since November last year. We were a group of five or six being taught by a Scottish lady, Ganga ji. She had spent the last nine years in India and was, for a major part of the last few years, in Swami Dayananda Saraswati’s (Adi Shankaracarya’s lineage) ashram in Coimbatore. The time she spent in the US as a student of religion proved to be her calling to spend her life learning and spreading this wisdom.

The 18 classes we attended were to make us aware of ‘another’ way to think and act. Many of the things she said made so much sense and were very simple to understand. We had been too muddled up in mundane activities and thoughts, which did not leave us with time to think differently. One thing she said struck me more than the others. It was about choices. She said that all of us are in the position of a child in a huge toy shop. Imagine the child is asked to choose one toy from the large selection given to him. Think of his plight. She says that we spend each moment of our life just like this child in the toy shop – trying to make choices. This consumes all of our time and resources. Finally, after the choice is made when the child returns home, he starts wishing that he had bought something else. The excitement of the new toy fades away quickly. The whole set of classes were based on such simple stories and analogies that pointed to the ‘truth’ from many different angles. Until about the 15th or 16th class, not once had she mentioned of ‘concepts’ like God or Soul or anything difficult to assimilate for neophytes.

Sometime in April she told us that she is going back to India to attend a three year course at Swami ji’s ashram. She said that she is extremely lucky to have Swami ji himself teach, which he had not been doing for some time now.

I was telling this whole story about Ganga ji and my Vedanta classes to one of my friends here. I told him that Ganga ji is leaving, and added that ‘all good times must come to an end’. He replied saying that ‘just like good times come to an end, so must bad times’. And it really struck me very deep. He wholly replaced the pessimism with which I was seeing the whole issue into pure optimism.

Before leaving for India, Ganga ji gave us recordings of her classes of the next text she would have taught us if she had continued in Edinburgh. I was listening to one of her recordings last morning. She was speaking of Karma Phala (fruits of our Karma). She said that just like how the Indian Railways transport fruits with a large ‘PERISHABLE’ sticker on the boxes, so must these ‘fruits’ of our Karma be perishable. She said that that is exactly the reason why Karma Phala is called so. The fruits of our Karma do not last forever.

This thought resonated very deeply with what my friend had said a few days earlier. We might be surprised by the little flashes of brilliance emanating from the ones around us. Many a time, if we ‘see’ them, they can be valuable teachers.

* Any mistake in the interpretations/ meanings given here is purely my lack of understanding or my lack of ability in putting it forward well enough and can not be attributed to the 'matter' or the teacher (Ganga ji).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Road to Sangam and a better world

Think you are in this situation. You are a part of a larger community and you have been entrusted a task, which only you can accomplish. It all sounds good so far. Imagine now that the task that you have been assigned is one that is unpopular within your community. And undertaking it might put you in the wrong book of all those who love you. What’s more? Your conscience says that you need to work on the job at hand. What would you do?

This is the same quandary Hashmathulla (Paresh Rawal), a Muslim mechanic in UP, is in, in the movie Road to Sangam. He is a well respected man, living in a predominantly Muslim locality in Allahabad. The story starts with the events that follow the uncovering of terror cells in UP. Many Muslim youngsters were taken captive by the police. The local leaders of Hashmathulla’s community call their people to protest against the injustice. Their leaders ask them to close all their businesses and bring the whole area to a standstill for a few days. Hashmathulla cannot do so. He has been given an old Ford engine to repair. The engine was from the lorry, which was used to carry Gandhi ji’s ash to the various rivers of the country, as per Gandhi ji’s wish. The last urn with the ash was to be dispersed in Orissa soon and there was no time to waste. The story revolves around how, through love, he brings back his people to support him in his cause.

I am not an expert in the technicalities of film making and cannot comment on such aspects. But I must say that I was shown an India which I had not seen till now. I was left wondering at how polarised the clusters of communities in some parts of India are. There are areas with Muslims in majority and the people of the other communities fear to go to this area. It works the other way too. The movie also portrays how certain events can be used by community leaders to emotionally charge people and bring them to a stage where they feel they have been victimised and that they need to take matters to their own hands. We have read and heard about the position Muslim moulanas have amongst Muslims. I was quite amazed at how the people were ready to accept anything he said. Those who think rationally are a minority when the atmosphere is so emotionally charged. This is a sad fact. And this movie shows just how one such person tries to bring about a change his peoples’ outlook. The message of the movie is something we all need to be reminded of especially in today’s times when so much is being done and said because of religion. One particular dialogue in the movie touched me more than the others. Hashmathulla says to his old time rival (Om Puri) about how much would have been saved had India not been partitioned. Just taking in to account how much the two countries have spent on defence (against the other) would prove this point. All this money could have been put to a much better use if we weren’t two separate nations today.

The cast, lead by Paresh Rawal, Om Puri and Pawan Malhotra, had drawn me to watch the movie in the first place. And they made sure that the time I spent watching it was completely worthwhile. It is only then I did a quick search for reviews of the film on the internet. Except for a review in the Hindustan Times (and a few blogs), I did not find any mention of the movie by the major media houses. This made me think about the media frenzy involved with another recent ‘big-budget’ movie, again with a Muslim protagonist - My Name is Khan. I had loved the message of that movie too – There are two kinds of people in the world. One of them was good. And the other bad. Good people do good things and bad people bad. This is the way a mother explains her religion to an autistic child. On the whole both the movies have a message that we need to carry, though they have done it differently. But I must say that Road to Sangam, largely ignored by the media, scores much above the commercial ‘entertainer’ My Name is Khan. It is a story of simple people and the simplicity of the movie carries it even further ahead.

I would like to sign off this post by this link to a beautifully sung song, with a wonderful message and with words that would make us take some time off and think.

Do we blame religion for all the trouble we attribute to it or do we blame ourselves?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Charity, in a different light

Something Swami Vivekananda wrote about charity in his book Karma Yoga. Will definitely inspire.

Now you see what Karma-Yoga means; even at the point of death to help any one, without asking questions. Be cheated millions of times and never ask a question, and never think of what you are doing. Never vaunt of your gifts to the poor or expect their gratitude, but ratherbe grateful to them for giving you the occasion of practising charity to them.

Our duty to others means helping others; doing good to the world. Why should we do good to the world? Apparently to help the world, but really to help ourselves. We should always try to help the world, that should be the highest motive in us; but if we consider well, we find that the world does not require our help at all. This world was not made that you or I should come and help it. I once read a sermon in which it was said, "All this beautiful world is very good, because it gives us time and opportunity to help others." Apparently, this is a very beautiful sentiment, but is it not a blasphemy to say that the world needs our help? We cannot deny that there is much misery in it; to go out and help others is, therefore, the best thing we can do, although in the long run, we shall find that helping others is only helping ourselves.

Yet we must do good; the desire to do good is the highest motive power we have, if we know all the time that it is a privilege to help others. Do not stand on a high pedestal and take five cents in your hand and say, "Here, my poor man," but be grateful that the poor man is there, so that by making a gift to him you are able to help yourself. It is not the receiver that is blessed, but it is the giver. Be thankful that you are allowed to exercise your power of benevolence and mercy in the world, and thus become pure and perfect. All good acts tend to make us pure and perfect.

No beggar whom we have helped has ever owed a single cent to us; we owe everything to him, because he has allowed us to exercise our charity on him. It is entirely wrong to think that we have done, or can do, good to the world, or to think that we have helped such and such people. It is a foolish thought, and all foolish thoughts bring misery. We think that we have helped some man and expect him to thank us, and because he does not, unhappiness comes to us. Why should we expect anything in return for what we do? Be grateful to the man you help, think of him as God.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

A masterpiece

This beautiful photo forces me to write something that I had been wanting to for a long time. The National Geographic website offers the 'National Geographic Photo of the Day', which can be downloaded as wallpapers. Ever since I found out about the site, I have been religiously changing my wallpaper every day. Each day, these photographs, bring something new and beautiful to my life.

Now about today's photo of the day. I am left to wonder. The so called Creator has created something so divine and beautiful. I simply can not fathom the depths of His beauty.

(You might need to click on the image to see the whole image)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

One morning in school

One morning, two of my friends, Vivek and Sridhar, and I were walking to our computer lab at school. We were in the 11th standard then and coincidentally all the three of us had been in that school only for a few months. On the way, one student in the 12th whom Vivek had known earlier from his old school passed by us. Vivek smiled and said a ‘hi’. The senior did not respond and walked past us as if nothing had happened. Both Sridhar and I got into a fit of laughter. We were trying to pull Vivek’s legs by making fun of the incident that just happened. Vivek told something that moment, which has remained very close to me ever since. He said, ‘Naan chirichathu, athu ente mariyaada, aa aal chirikaathuthu aa aalude mariyaada’ (I smiled. That is how I show my moral uprightness. The other boy did not. That is how he shows his).

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Essentials of Hinduism

I had been interested in the teachings of Hinduism for some time but only had a scant knowledge about the religion. I was on the look out for a basic book on Hinduism, something not written to cater to the Western crowd, which I assumed would be over simplified. And also something not riddled with a lot of Sanskrit texts and their translations, which might put off a new student of Hinduism. I wanted a book written by some guru who was in one of the acknowledged schools of Vedic philosophy. After having read Swami Bhaskarananda’s Essentials of Hinduism, I believe I have found a book which touches upon almost all the major aspects of the Hindu culture. Though he is a disciple in the Ramakrishna order (believing in non-duality) he also writes in detail about the dual nature of reality.

One of the reasons I was not really interested in Hinduism was because, very unlike Christianity or Islam, we had so many scriptures and ancient texts. I did not know where to get started. I had listened to a few talks on the Bhagavat Gita and read a few chapters earlier, but I was not able to fit them into the bigger picture. I always wondered why our sages made understanding religion so difficult. Little did I know about the organisation of Vedic literature and the fact that there was something in it for every kind of person – those well versed in Sanskrit, those with little or no knowledge of the Vedas, and even to those who were uneducated (the Truths were conveyed to them through the stories of the Tantras and the two epics of Mahabharatam and Ramayanam).

In the book, Swami Bhaskarananda speaks at length about life and the Hindu society in general. Though he has quoted from ancient scriptures, most of what he has written about the stages of life, women, children, marriages, death, food and the Hindu ethics remain true even in our world today. In very simple language, he explains the various ways one can see God – right from the Nirguna Brahman (the Supreme Being without form, quality and attributes), to the more commonly revered Ishvars/ deities in Hinduism. Again we find two levels of worship which is prescribed in our scriptures. Those who can understand and relate to the ‘formless’ God can choose so, others who need some physical association with him, can choose fromm the thousands of deities we have, each of whom have qualities all of us need to emulate. The Advaita philosophy, where you see yourself as a part of the Reality itself, has a more atheist/ humanist view. In essence, there is something in Hinduism for atheists, agnostics, spiritual-ists and ritual-ists.

There are chapters in the book, explaining the Hindu thoughts on death, karma, reincarnations and predestination. These were concepts that always baffled me. I used to ask myself why we Hindus were so obsessed about death. I believe now that we have every reason to ponder about death, the common friend each one of us has, right from the time we are born. The Buddhists put it simply as ‘All beings tremble before danger; all fear death’. If there is some system that uproots this fear, why not learn about it? The explanations of these concepts, given by Swami ji in this book, can very easily be comprehended by even a novice to the field. I remember during one of the first Vedic Society meetings I attended here at Edinburgh I had asked why we study religion and put an effort to understand the scriptures and so on. I had been, like many of us, conditioned to think that we ought to get something out of what we do. Through Swami ji’s take on Realization and Moksha, I really feel that maybe there is something above all this that we see today. This will remain not-understood until we make an attempt to learn and accept.

This is what I have learnt from my very short experience in Hinduism that I have. If ever some Hindu talks about how not-so-good or complex the religion is - it is purely out of ignorance. Because he has not tried to understand it. I know this because I was one among them until a few months back. This book is a nice starting point for all of us to get a taste of what Hinduism has to offer. I was quite surprised at reading about what world thinkers had to say about Hinduism and the Indian culture, which is included in the book. For the people who still have doubts regarding Hinduism, I would suggest that you start with this section in the appendix. When such world renowned figures speak so much about Hinduism, shouldn't there be something in it that we have missed?