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Reality: Spiritual and Virtual...By Shashi Tharoor
Shashi Tharoor, Under Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, recently nominated for UN Secretary-General is the author.
ON a recent holiday in Bangalore, I made two trips out of the city that captured, within a span of 48 hours, a simple truth about the Indian reality.
Late one night I set out on a four-hour drive with my mother to Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh. We arrived after 2 a.m. in a remarkably well-lit and orderly town. Buildings gleamed white against the streetlights; the sidewalks, patrolled by volunteers even at that hour, seemed freshly scrubbed. Puttaparthi, once a humble Andhra village like so many others, had become a boomtown as the birthplace and headquarters of the spiritual leader Sathya Sai Baba.
My mother had been a devotee for 18 years, attending prayer meetings of Sai Baba followers around the world and singing devotional bhajans. I was a sceptic myself, but joined her amongst the early-morning gathering of thousands, all waiting patiently for a glimpse of the great man. Sai Baba emerged in his long ochre robe and made a stately progress through the throng. He paused here and there to accept a petition from a believer, or to materialise vibhuti (sacred ash) from his palm into the cupped hands of a worshipper. We were privileged to be invited through an ornate door into a small room for a private audience. There we were joined by two other groups that had been similarly favoured: an Indian family of three, and half-a-dozen Iranian pilgrims, wearing green scarves that proclaimed their Islamic faith. They looked up at him with folded hands, their adoration glistening in their eyes.
"Would you like something from me," Sai Baba asked me.
"Peace of mind for my mother," I replied.
"Yes, yes," he said somewhat impatiently, "but would you like a gift from me?"
"Whatever you give me is for my mother," I replied. He waved his hand in the air and opened his palm. In it nestled a gold ring with nine embedded stones, a navratan. He slipped it on my finger, remarking, "See how well it fits. Even a goldsmith would have needed to measure your finger." He shook some vibhuti into my mother's grateful hands before taking the Indian family into an inner chamber for what devotees called an "interview".
While they were gone, my mother expressed disappointment about the meagre quantity of the ash she had received. But soon it was our turn for a private interview, and no sooner were we alone with Baba than he materialised a little silver urn for her, overflowing with vibhuti. "It was as if he had heard what I wanted," my mother breathed.
I was not blinded by faith, but the encounter was indeed astonishing at several levels. In our private talk, Sai Baba uttered insights about my family and myself that he could not possibly have known. He has a habit, disconcerting at first, of turning his palm quizzically outward and staring off into the distance, as if silently interrogating an unseen, all-knowing source. Sometimes he scribbles in the air with a finger as if dashing off a note to a celestial messenger. And then he says things which are sometimes banal, sometimes profound, and sometimes both (if only because so much of what he says has become worn out by repetition and frequent quotation, including in signs on the streets outside). His manifesting gifts from thin air is startling; he "transformed" a metal ring worn by one of the Iranians to a gold one, then returned his original to him as well.
But a skilled magician can do that, and it would be wrong to see Sai Baba as a conjurer. He has channelled the hopes and energies of his followers into constructive directions, both spiritual and philanthropic.
Everything at his complex is staffed by volunteers who rotate through Puttaparthi at well-organised two-week intervals; while we were there, the volunteers were all from Madhya Pradesh, and it was to be Orissa's turn next. Many left distinguished positions behind to serve. ("I once asked a man washing a window where he was from," mused a visitor, "and he said he was the Chief Justice of Sikkim.") The free hospital in Puttaparthi, which I visited, is one of the best in India; many reputed doctors volunteer their services to him. Sai Baba has built schools and colleges, and is currently undertaking a project to bring irrigation to a number of parched southern districts.
The next day I drove from Bangalore in a different direction, to the campus of Infosys, India's leading computer technology firm. It, too, wore the clean and scrubbed look I had seen at Puttaparthi. But there were no temples here, no pavilions thronged with devotees. Instead, escorted by the company's affable CEO, Nandan Nilekani, I saw the world's leading software museum, a state-of-the-art teleconference centre, classrooms with sophisticated video equipment, and a work environment that could not be bettered in any developed country. Infosys is a world leader in information technology services, providing consulting, systems integration and applications development services to some of the biggest firms in the world. Infosys's 13,000 staff (known in the company's argot as "Infoscions"), work in over 30 offices around the world. In Bangalore they sit amidst lush landscaped greenery dotted with pools, recharge themselves at an ultramodern gym ("the best in Asia," Nandan said lightly), display their creativity at a company art gallery and enjoy a choice of nine food courts for their lunchtime snacks. I marvelled at the sophistication and affluence visible in every square inch of the campus. "We wanted to prove," Nandan explained, "that this could be done in India."
Sai Baba and Infosys are both faces of 21st Century India. One produces rings out of the ether and urges people to be better human beings; the other deals in a different form of virtual reality, and helps human beings to better themselves. One runs free hospitals and schools; the other seeks to bring the benefits of technology to a country still mired in millennial poverty. In the 1950s, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru declared dams and factories to be "the new temples of modern India." What he failed to recognise was that the old temples continued to maintain their hold on the Indian imagination. The software programmes of the new information technology companies dotting Bangalore's "Silicon Plateau" may be the new mantras of India, but they supplement, rather than supplant, the old mantras. Programming and prayers are both part of the contemporary Indian reality.
Sai Baba and Infosys are, in fact, emblematic of an India that somehow manages to live in several centuries at once. On our way out of Puttaparthi, my mother and I had a brief word with a devotee who was lining up to buy a packet of vibhuti to take home with him. "What do you do," I asked.
"I am," he replied proudly, a cellphone glinting in his shirt pocket, "a project manager at Infosys."
This article is from 'Reality: Spiritual and Virtual' By Shashi Tharoor Published in "The Hindu", Online edition at 'The Shashi Tharoor Column' of November 10, 2002. More articles of the author is available on web @ http://www.shashitharoor.com/articlesby.html
Where Is The Political Will?...By K.P.S. Gill
You cannot prevail over terrorism by merely using strong language in Parliament or in the media. It is perhaps difficult to find even one politician in the country who holds the national interest above the interest of his or her party.
I believe that the same terrorist organisation, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), is behind the serial blasts in Srinagar and Mumbai. Of course, it is part of Pakistan's well-thought out strategy, but the lack of political will to fight terror in the present government is also responsible for giving a fillip to terrorism.
Just a few days back, came the news that Al Qaeda had handed over full responsibility of rapidly spreading terror in India to Lashkar. The government should have realised that in addition to Jammu and Kashmir, cities such as Mumbai and Delhi, and other sensitive places, would be the targets of terror. The security agencies should have been directed that they were free to take the strictest and firmest possible measures. But, alas, this was not done.
These serial blasts have to be seen in the background of the failures suffered by our missile and satellite launch programmes recently, and are basically a result of a conspiracy by Pakistan. Pakistan is trying to demonstrate how badly it can hurt us by causing losses to us.
The first requirement to fight terror is to ensure that there is no political interference and the security agencies are free to take decisions based on their objective evaluations and assessments... In the war against terror, you not only have to rely on the information provided by intelligence agencies, but also be ready to take firm and forceful measures when necessary.
I am not ready to give a certificate to any political party that it has the firm conviction and political will to fight terror. Yes, a few political figures do have this conviction, but unfortunately they do not have any power. You cannot prevail over terrorism by merely using strong language in Parliament or in the media. For that you need the political will to take hard decisions for firm action at a large scale.
I have till today not been able to understand why all political 'leaders' think it is ordained in their religion to reach the terror-spot soon after the incident. I am sorry to say, the local administration and the common people's sufferings are not alleviated but are exacerbated because of such visits. Also, when the security forces and army fighting terror are blamed even for small and petty lapses, it demoralises them, as has happened recently in Kashmir.
There is a general perception that I had been given full freedom to eliminate terrorism from Punjab. I ask: who had given me the freedom? Nobody had. I had simply taken the position that if I was prevented by politicians from doing my duty, I would up and leave everything.
What's been happening so far is that every three months or so, the central government holds a meeting with the state governments and reaches a consensus that all's well in the country. The trouble is that no one is interested in, or wants to know, the reality. It is perhaps difficult to find even one politician in the country who holds the national interest above the interest of his or her party.
What happened soon after the elimination of terrorism in Punjab? Thousands of policemen were placed in the dock under false charges, and the result of that was demoralisation across the security agencies. What we are facing today is a direct result of that.
KPS Gill is in Raipur as the security advisor to Chattisgarh government. This comment is based on his telephone conversation with Narendra Bhalla of Outlook Saptahik, and also appears in the magazine's issue currently on stands. This article was originally published in www.outlookindia.com on Thursday, 13th July 2006.
Indifference - thy name is the Spirit of Mumbai...By Ashoke Pandit
I was in Cooper Hospital helping the victims of Terrible Tuesday. The smell of burnt flesh, the sight of the blood-strewn corridor, wailing women and fathers fainting marked the night of 7/11.
The next day, all news channels were claiming that life in Mumbai was back on track within 14 hours of the blasts that killed more than 200 people and injured hundreds.
They went on and on about the spirit of Mumbai. I was amazed to see people carry on with their chores as if nothing had happened the previous night.
There was no doubt that a section of people were on the streets, helping the wounded get to the hospital and providing food and water to the stranded. The other section, typically drawing room activists with opinions on everything, watched TV through the evening, had dinner and went to bed.
They had to get up next morning to get to work, the same way they had on Tuesday. Their routine continued as if nothing had happened. Then we scream hoarse, 'We are a bunch of resilient people who got back to our normal life when our fellow Mumbaikars were blown off to death'.
Our resilience seems to be our insensitivity to pain. Would the 'resilient' be the same if he was the one who had to run around in hospitals to claim the charred body of his kin? Would he be able to march to work the next day with the same sprint in his gait?
But now he can, because he is not affected. We always think that such things happen to others and not to us. This pigeonhole mentality of ours is taking us to the drains.
In fact, we don't know the difference between resilience and indifference. If we were a bunch of resilient people, we would have fought back and not gone galloping to take the first train to work. Such was the indifference of our leaders that there was no need felt to declare a national mourning.
This might be the only country in the world where the stock market zooms up by 500 points following a series of blasts and the finance minister makes a statement that the terror attack will not affect our economy. What are we made of?
At times I think that our political establishment fans this whole 'spirit' thing, because it suits them. People on the other side of the border have realised that this spirit is leading this country to impotency. Why else would our PM repeat after every terror attack that we will not bend? To an outsider, we are a country of spineless people.
See how the US handled the situation post-9/11. Osama is in hiding and meekly sends out cassettes of threat in the name of terror. For last five years, there has not been a single terror attack in the US. In India however, there is a terror attack every day and all we do is praise our spirit. What is more terrifying is that this country seems to be getting immune to a culture of terrorism and we are feeling proud about it.
It's great to have a spirit of resilience; at least we fight back. But an entire country suffering from a spirit syndrome in the name of indifference and insensitivity is not worth it.
Mr. Ashoke Pandit is a filmmaker and a social activist. This article was originally published on Friday, July 14, 2006 at www.dnaindia.com.
Nightmare of Nehruism...By Sita Ram Goel
This story relates mainly to my encounter with Nehruism in its various expressions. Today, I view Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as a bloated Brown Sahib, and Nehruism as the combined embodiment of all the imperialist ideologies Islam, Christianity, White Man's Burden, and Communism that have flooded this country in the wake of foreign invasions. And I do not have the least doubt in my mind that if India is to live, Nehruism must die. Of course, it is already dying under the weight of its sins against the Indian people, their country, their society, their economy, their environment, and their culture. What I plead is that a conscious rejection of Nehruism in all its forms will hasten its demise, and save us from the mischief which it is bound to create further if it is allowed to linger.
I have reached this conclusion after a study of Pandit Nehru's writings, speechs and policies ever since he started looming large on the Indian political scene. But lest my judgment sounds arbitrary, I am making clear the premises from which I proceed. These premises themselves have been worked out by me through prolonged reflection on the society and culture to which I belong.
have already described how I returned to an abiding faith in Sanatana Dharma under the guidance of Ram Swarup. The next proposition which became increasingly clear to me in discussions with him, was that Hindu society which has been the vehicle of Sanatana Dharma is a great society and deserves all honour and devotion from its sons and daughters. Finally, Bharatavarsa became a holy land for me because it has been and remains the homeland of Hindu society.
There are Hindus who start the other way round, that is, with Bharatavarsa being a holy land (punyabhumi) simply because it happens to be their fatherland (pitribhumi) as well as the field of their activity (karmabhumi). They honour Hindu society because their forefathers belonged to it, and fought the foreign invaders as Hindus. Small wonder that their notion of nationalism is purely territorial, and their notion of Hindu society no more than tribal. For me, however, the starting point is Sanatana Dharma. Without Sanatana Dharma, Bharatavarsa for me is just another piece of land, and Hindu society just another assembly of human beings. So my commitment is to Sanatana Dharma, Hindu society, and Bharatavarsa in that order.
In this perspective, my first premise is that Sanatana Dharma which is known as Hinduism at present, is not only a religion but also a whole civilization which has flourished in this country for ages untold, and which is struggling to come into its own again after a prolonged encounter with several sorts of predatory imperialism. On the other hand, I do not regard Islam and Christianity as religions at all. They are, for me, ideologies of imperialism like Nazism and Communism, legitimizing aggression by one set of people against another in the name of a god which gangsters masquerading as prophets have invented after their own image. I see no place for them in India, now that India has defeated and dispersed Islamic and Christian regimes. I do not concede to Islam and Christianity the right to maintain their missions in this country, or, for that matter, their seminaries which train missionaries for waging war on the Hindus. I have no use for a Secularism which treats Hinduism as just another religion, and puts it on par with Islam and Christianity. For me, this concept of Secularism is a gross perversion of the concept which arose in the modem West as a revolt against Christianity and which should mean, in the Indian context, a revolt against Islam as well. The other concept of Secularism, namely, sarvadharma-sama-bhava was formulated by Mahatma Gandhi in order to cure Islam and Christianity of their aggressive selfrighteousness, and stop them from effecting conversions from the Hindu fold. This second concept was abandoned when the Constitution of India conceded to Islam and Christianity the right to convert as a fundamental right. Those who invoke this concept in order to browbeat the Hindus are either ignorant of the Mahatma's intention, or are deliberately distorting his massage.
My second premise is that Hindus in their ancestral homeland are not a mere community. For me, the Hindus constitute the nation, and are the only people who are interested in the unity, integrity, peace and prosperity of this country. On the other hand, I do not regard the Muslims and the Christians as separate communities. For me, they are our own people who have been alienated by Islamic and Christian imperialism from their ancestral society and culture, and who are being used by imperialist forces abroad as their colonies for creating mischief and strife in the Hindu homeland. I, therefore, do not subscribe to the thesis that Indian nationalism is something apart from and above Hindu nationalism. For me, Hindu nationalism is the same as Indian nationalism. I have no use for the slogans of "composite culture", "composite nationalism" and "composite state". And I have not the slightest doubt in my mind that all those who mouth these slogans as well as the slogan of "Hindu communalism", are, wittingly or unwittingly, being traitors to the cause of Indian nationalism, no matter what ideological attires they put on and what positions they occupy in the present set up.
My third premise is that Bharatavarsa has been and remains the Hindu homeland par excellence. I repudiate the description of Bharatavarsa as the Indian or Indo Pak Subcontinent. I refuse to concede that Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh have ceased to be integral parts of the Hindu homeland simply because they have passed under the heel of Islamic imperialism. Hindus have never laid claim to any land outside the natural and well-defined borders of their ancient homeland, either by right of conquest or by invoking a promise made in some scripture. I, therefore, see no reason why Hindus should surrender their claim to what they have legitimately inherited from their forefathers but what has been taken away from them by means of armed force. Moreover, unless the Hindus liberate those parts of their homeland from the stranglehold of Islam, they will continue to face the threat of aggression against the part that remains in their possession at present. These so called Islamic countries have been used in the past, and are being used at present as launching pads for the conquest of India that has survived.
My fourth premise is that the history of Bharatavarsa is the history of Hindu society and culture. It is the history of how the Hindus created a civilization which remained the dominant civilization of the world for several millennia, how they became complacent due to excess of power and prosperity and neglected the defences of their homeland, how they threw back or absorbed in the vast complex of their society and culture a series of early invaders, and how they fought the onslaughts of Islamic, Christian, and British imperialism for several centuries and survived. I do not recognize the Muslim rule in medieval India as an indigenous dispensation. For me, it was as much of a foreign rule as the latterday British rule. The history of foreign invaders forms no part of the history of India, and remains a part of the history of those countries from which the invaders came, or of those cults to which they subscribed. And I do not accept the theory of an Aryan invasion of India in the second millennium BC. This theory was originally proposed by scholars as a tentative hypothesis for explaining the fact that the languages spoken by the Indians, the Iranians, and the Europeans belong to the same family. And a tentative hypothesis it has remained till today so far as the world of scholarship is concerned. It is only the anti national and separatist forces in India which are presenting this hypothesis as a proved fact in order to browbeat the Hindus, and fortify their divisive designs. I have studied the subject in some depth, and find that the linguistic fact can be explained far more satisfactorily if the direction of Aryan migration is reversed.
These are my principal premises for passing judgment on Pandit Nehru and Nehruism. Many minor premises can be deduced from them for a detailed evaluation of India's spiritual traditions, society, culture, history, and contemporary politics.
This article is an extract from 'How I became a Hindu' by Sita Ram Goel, Published by Voice of India, New Delhi, India. This book is available online along with many other interesting books. You may read the full article @ http://voiceofdharma.org/books/hibh/ch9.htm
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