Tuesday, October 25, 2011

To Daughter From Father... With Love

Dear Daughter,

Before everything else, let me tell you something that I haven’t put into words since you crossed your fifth birthday- I love you.  I love you my little girl, perhaps more than anything else in this world.  It is just that I lost the art of conveying that to you. 

I know I am at fault, for not creating the right atmosphere for verbal communication between us.  Perhaps it was due to the fear that I might spoil you by pampering. Perhaps it partly had to do with my own arrogance that stemmed from the ‘nothing can go wrong with me’ outlook resulted by the stupendous success in my life and partly with the belief that one should not pamper own children.

However, this is not to debate on what is the right method for bringing up one’s children. So, let it pass, for now at least. 

Last week, I went to Church and confessed.  I confessed about everything that went wrong between us.  The priest remained silent, but I could hear the God whispering to me; “It is not here that you need to confess. Go and convey your feelings to your daughter...”  I wanted to do that immediately, but believe me; I couldn’t muster the courage for all these days. 

So, let me use this letter to convey my side of the story to you.  Sometimes, written communications do much better than verbal communications; more so when the listener is as biased as you are, right now.

You might think that your dad is heartless for saying NO to your wish to marry that boy.   I know given a chance, you would like to tell me that you are 25 already, it is your life and your risk, I have no right to manage your life etc.  I would also have said the same thing to my own dad in your situation.  But my dear girl, there is a difference in the way parents think.  Today, I have to think as a parent and not as a young one in blind love.

Let me ask you- how are you so sure that you have made the right choice this time?  You were 22 when you first fell in love.  You were so gung-ho about it.  One look into the eyes of that stupid boy was enough for me to know, he means only trouble to you.  But how could you have seen that, for you were blind with your first love.

Didn’t I resist even at that time? The same way I am doing now? You can find faults with my methods. But can you fault my judgement in that first case?  I did take away your internet connection and mobile phone and you felt bad about it.  But what happened later? You yourself had to give them up for such a long time!

This first love of yours soon turned hostile and showed his true colours when you gave up on him as you slowly realised how bad a selection you had made. How could anyone even think of loving such a violent and criminally oriented person?  He even drugged and tortured you to make you agree to marry him. Finally, when you managed to escape his clutches, you were almost a nervous wreck.  

I can’t think about that incident, even now, without shudders in my body. I am sure you don’t understand what I and your mom went through during that period.  Having a daughter with depression and suicidal tendencies at home is a nightmare for any parents. Each faint noise woke us up at any time of the night.

Now when we realise that within such a short period of less than three years you have made another choice, it disturbs.  We wished that you will complete your studies and settle down in life.  Instead you are now forcing us into making a decision on your partner; again your selection.  Haven’t you heard that old saying that a cat that had fallen in hot water will be worried to touch even cold water?  We are in such a position now.

We, as parents, prefer a daughter who is unhappy with us for some time that one who will remain unhappy forever due to wrong choice while selecting her partner. 

So, as a father, I am only asking you to give us and yourself more time.  Let us understand the intensity of your new love and also about your selected boy; how good a human being he is.  I know you hold him in high esteem, but we also know that love at your age is blind!

Being our only daughter, we have to see that you not only enter into an appropriate alliance but also become able to inherit and manage (with or without your husband’s help) all these properties that I and your mom had created through our hard work of all these years.

I understand we still have a huge generation gap between us.  It is not easy to expect you to appreciate all that I said above.  You will have your own perspective on all these. But as a possessive and protective father, I can’t wait for you to realise the finer points of life through your own experience. So bear with me dear daughter.

Anything and everything that I do may not be to your liking; but be assured that I have only your best interests in my mind when I arrive at those decisions.

Now that I have bared my heart before you, I feel much relieved.  No matter how bad you feel about me, I will continue to insist on what I feel right for you.  I know as an adult you are capable of walking out on me and doing what you consider right.  But that is a risk every parent with grown up children has to live with.

With the hope that there will still be a meeting of our minds,

With love,

Your Father

PS: This post is a result of my enquiry into the minds of those parents who say no to their children.  I am a firm believer that every human being takes rational decisions.  From the decision maker’s point of view, the reasons are good enough; and the hindsight often useless.  Therefore, it is necessary for all of us, whatever the relationship may be, to try and see the rational of the other person when our decisions end up in creating conflicts. Father and the daughter here are purely creations of imagination and mere tools to prove the aforesaid theory.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Let Him Who is Without Sin Cast the First Stone!

One of the haunting memories of Anna’s Fast unto Death at Ramlila Ground was the rhetorical performance of Ms Kiran Bedi against the Indian Parliament and its members.  She had no qualms in accusing all the parliamentarians in general and thereby insulting the very people who elected those representatives.  She did not find it illogical or objectionable to adopt the ‘Anna is India’ call (or to defend it subsequently) or in reducing the popular anger against corruption into a ‘We vs You’ battle.

She along with other prominent members of Team Anna had no problem in adopting the ‘My Way or Highway’ attitude in prevention of corruption. 

I have always maintained (in the light of my experiences in Government as well as private sector) that corruption is a deeply ingrained trait in us Indians.  We do not think twice before paying bribes to get even the smallest comforts like avoiding a traffic ticket or reservation in a railway journey of just one night. We do not find it illegal or unethical to overtake a queue by paying bribes, even if it is our own brothers and sisters that we are overtaking in the process.

What follows logically from the above premise is that in order to remove corruption from our society we need three pronged strategy:

  • Bring about a cultural change in our people by imbibing a sense of responsibility for corruption.  Make all of us realise that corruption is the collective result of our individual actions and not something limited to the political or administrative leadership alone.
  • Remove the opportunities for corruption by automating the processes and reducing discretionary powers of decision makers.  Income Tax filings and Registrar of Companies filings are two immediate examples that I am personally aware of, where automation resulted in reducing corruption.
  • Carry out overall judicial reforms to fast track criminal cases in general and corruption cases in particular.  

There are many sub-strategies that can be adopted under these three main strategies.  For example, an Ombudsman or Lokpal is only one of the sub-strategies of the main strategy of judicial reforms for speeding up trials.  For details, please click this link.

The biggest fault of Anna’s movement, in my opinion, was to reduce the whole fight against corruption into one single strategy, i.e., adoption of what they call Jan Lokpal, as if this Jan Lokpal is a panacea for all the illnesses of this nation. They also shifted the focus away from the bribe givers (and even majority of bribe takers) by reducing corruption itself as something practised by a certain group of people at the very top.   Increased policing by Lokpal will no doubt bring about a fear, of getting caught, in the minds of wrongdoers. But to expect a Lokpal to remove the corruption from its roots is living in fools’ paradise.

This obsession with Jan Lokpal resulted in Team Anna indirectly aiding, in the Hisar by-election, a person and party which is accused of serious corruption, solely on the ground that they have pledged their support to Jan lokpal.  In other words, it all reduced to ‘You support my Jan Lokpal, I will support you in elections, no matter how corrupt you are’.  

This obsession also resulted in questioning the very credentials of all those who found fault with their strategy and stamped them all as paid media or cheerleaders of ruling government. Even I had to face insults and Deshdrohi calls from their followers for daring to raise some questions and concerns on the methods and demands of Team Anna.

It is in this light that we have to look at the report by Indian Express about the fudging of travel Bills by Ms Kiran Bedi.  Ms Bedi who herself was a senior law enforcement officer must definitely have known that what she is accused of is a serious matter involving moral turpitude.

Ms Bedi admitted her misdemeanour, but instead of apologising to lakhs of Indians who trusted her, chose to defend her action with the fig leaf that she did so for the purpose of some noble cause.  If we accept that logic, what better noble cause than funding the elections and thereby advancing our democracy?  The poor politicos who spent their money in enabling us to exercise our democratic rights are no doubt, serving a noble cause.  In the process, even if they have to fudge some accounts like Ms Bedi or seek other not so noble sources of income, can we blame them?  If this logic is sought to be defended by saying that the amounts involved in both cases vary in size, I wouldn’t by that.  

Kiran Bedi’s supporters are now busy justifying her on the ground that the act involved in was rather too small to warrant any attention.  Well she is now caught in a small activity. But having established her willingness to indulge in illegal and unethical measures to make money, how can we be so sure that she herself has not used more serious measure to make money while in power and out of it?  Also, A Raja who manipulated some process to gain undue monetary advantage and Ms Bedi who fudged accounts for the same purpose are similarly guilty; morally if not legally.

We have a judicial system to deal with corruption.  The present system has proved effective enough when there is a will to deal with corruption issues. The very fact that some of the top leaders including cabinet ministers and Chief Ministers are in jail for corruption is indicative of this fact.   The new system being proposed is radical in nature and goes against the very basic constitutional scheme.  Therefore, it is only natural for informed people to be careful in accepting those proposals that can have far reaching impact on our political system. 

When individuals or groups set out as crusaders in their fight against corruption, they are on the one hand accusing the system with inability or unwillingness to deal with corruption and on the other hand proclaiming to the world that they are different from the other people accused of indulging in or supporting corruption.

Therefore, people expect a higher standard from the crusaders.  More so, in the case of people like Ms Bedi, who goes around and passes judgement on others, even if no court ever held them guilty.  Therefore, Ms Bedi and her followers have to come with better explanations or at least an apology to the nation, for her mistakes. 

Finally, it is naive to expect the establishment and/or government not to point out the misdemeanours of those who accuse them of corruption.  It is also naive to expect the independent voices to keep quite when persons from either side of the fight are caught with their pants down; merely on the excuse that such questioning will probably help the other side. (After all, didn’t Team Anna tell us that their anti-Congress call is not in support of their opponents?).

We need a movement against corruption. Let us all get together, irrespective of what we did in the past, and jointly fight the menace of corruption.  If that is not acceptable, let those who are without sin throw the first stones.  Let not petty thieves lead the movements against other thieves, merely on the qualification that their thefts are only petty in nature.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Saga of Driftwood

“Dear man, don’t hesitate... just hold on to me and save your life!

I understand that you did not want your life to be saved in the first place... and that you wanted to end it all, when you plunged into these waters.  But then our lives are not always about what we plan, but what we end up doing.  No amount of planning can change the effect of an action that we finally take.  This cool deep water made all your plans go waste and now you are struggling to save the same life that you wanted to end, merely some seconds back.

Don’t bother about what your plans were... consider what you now think is right. I can see that you want to continue the journey of life and not end it here and now.  After all, who knows better than me; who has come this far and am still struggling to continue with the journey.

Stop struggling now. Your struggle will only pull us both down and delay our journey... Just relax and hold on to me. Let the current carry us gently.  Remember, you chose to give up what you had. So, why struggle to return there, at the very first adverse effect?  Instead, enjoy the drift and make the most of new destination.

Yes, now that is much better.  See, as soon as you stopped the struggle it became easier for you, me and the water. Look around; how calm the water has turned and how slowly and steadily we are progressing! I promise to keep you afloat till you reach safety; only if you don’t stop my own journey by pulling me down.

Remember a journey is all about the very process of moving towards the destination, and not about the destination itself or its purpose.   Sometimes, we all forget this and confuse ourselves.  We mix the purpose or destination of the journey with the journey itself, and forget to enjoy the journey.   Thus we neither enjoy/complete the journey nor reach the destination, and as a consequence even fail in our ultimate purpose!

I won’t ask you what made you to take that ultimate step; of giving up the very journey of your own life.  We all have our reasons.  Only thing that we are not sure is whether those reasons would be good enough to justify the action or inaction in the future.  I see that your reasons didn’t stand the test of time, even for 5 minutes, so that you wanted to abandon your chosen path and chart a new course.

Only to keep you off your awful memories and to keep your spirits up, while we are at this journey together, let me tell you my story... the story of my journey.   I am sure you must have heard that old saying, “Wise learn by the mistake of others and normal learn from their own; but fools never learn”. You look at least a normal one to me.  Who knows, when I share my story you might even pick one or two lessons up from it and that could help you in continuing your own journey!

So, here I am today... on my way to the distant ocean.  I have dreamt all my life to be there, in the ocean; and to end my existence by merging into that vastness.  As you might already know even I was not born in these waters. The earliest time I can remember, I was a small sapling with full of green leaves, on the bank of this very river, but much farther upstream.  The goats that came to river to drink water used to come and eat up my tender leaves that it was a miracle for me to have survived.   Then I grew and those same goats now found shade, under my rich foliage, to relax in the afternoon sun.  

Time flew and I started flowering and growing sweet little fruits.   That was the time when birds and squirrels discovered me.  Thereafter, till the very end, I was more of a colony than a mere tree for them; as they came, nested and feasted on me.  With all the chaos and noises of vibrant life, I couldn’t have asked for more!

The life went on... but my eyes were set on this journey.... I wondered day and night about the currents that were rushing downstream, in their quest for the ocean, making all those happy noises all the time.  I wondered how nice it would be to surrender myself in those currents and be a part of the great journey until I reach the ocean.

As I grew old, I didn’t feel bad about it.  I knew aging is taking me closer to my dream journey.  One day, I will, like all the other trees, get uprooted and fall.  I could already see the new saplings that were coming up around me, getting impatient to reach out for the sun.  On my part, I did my best to shift my weight and my branches towards the river so that those saplings got some sunshine and also that when the ultimate fall came I would end up in the river. 

At the end, I indeed did fall into the river. It was a night with heavy rains lashing down on all of us.  The currents got happier and noisier and started dancing wildly, though not stopping for even a second.  Those very same roots that held me firmly to the earth for all those decades suddenly gave up and I fell into the water with a thunderous sound... It was a dream come true to me; the only regret being the two squirrels and some eggs, of those little birds, that fell into the river.

I was now, after all these decades, moving with the very currents that I always envied, to the very same ocean that I always dreamt.

But alas, as you might already know, life or journey is not complete without hindrances. I had my fair share too.  The very next day, as the sun came up in the morning, I heard shouts from the river bank.  I saw the excited human beings gesticulating at me and soon some of them jumped into the water and swam towards me.  They managed to stop me from going further and then slowly pulled me to the shore.  They started cutting me into small pieces and carrying them away....

I was completely devastated.  Yesterday, I was proudly standing up with my branches lording over the forest and the river; then I was happy that I fell into the river and started my journey.  Now, all my pride and happiness were gone.   To see myself being turned into those lifeless little pieces was too bad that I even forgot about the journey.

But such is the fate that, when I, the latest piece to be carried away to the shore, fell from the shoulders of those humans, into the water, and a strong current pulled me away, they did not pursue pulling me back. Perhaps they were happy with the catch early in the morning, so that no more efforts were considered necessary for such a small piece of wood like me. Well, look at the irony- that same ‘such a small piece’ is large enough to save your life today, my friend.  And believe me; I have no hard feelings towards you even though you too are a human being.  I have been too long in this water, in my onward journey to ocean, to have any such ill feelings left in me.

Even after that narrow escape my journey was not free from hindrances, my friend.  I think it is the law of nature to place obstacles at each stage of a journey to test the tenacity of the traveller.  I faced multitude of dangers all along the way - sometimes I thought I will sink when I got caught in the whirlpools; some other times, I got lodged against the river bank or got moored on a sandbar.  Each time, I somehow happened to escape and continued with my journey. 

But then I realised; the danger was not merely from outside forces. While I continued my journey in the water, for weeks and months, I began to rot from inside. It took all the resolve to reach my destination, to fortify myself from the rot that has set inside me.

While I was experiencing all these so called setbacks, my friend, never once I considered giving up my journey.   I knew by the time I reach the ocean, my destination; I will be at the very fag end of my existence and will soon be consumed by whatever forces. I never considered what purpose my journey would serve ultimately. For me, as I already said, the journey was about destination and not about purpose.

Now you know at least some of our experiences match, if not in form at least in substance, don’t you?  

I am sure; you too must have got lodged against the banks of your own feelings, attachments and relationships? Did you surrender yourself to those attachments?

Did you get moored on the sandbars of your own ego and prestige, not allowing you to make the movement forward?   Did your own self doubts and fear of failure hold you back from pursuing your goal?

Or did you get caught in the whirlpools of never ending greed and desire? Where you entangled in money, fame, sex, love or any other uncontrolled sensual desires?

Did you ever get lifted out of the water, by your association with people of poor character or organisations of retrograde ideologies?   Giving up your own journey and being controlled by those external evil forces?

Or was it that you were rotting like me inside, from your own self deception?  Where you not being true to yourself and your journey, that you had to try abruptly ending the very journey?

Well I don’t want you to answer, my friend.  I only want you to know that you are not alone; we all go through such obstacles trying to stop us in our tracks.  I only want you to keep believing in yourself and keep the focus on your journey.   

Water is shallow here, my friend.  It is time for you to leave me alone in my journey.  Go back and continue yours...   I am sure; we will all reach our destinations.”

Note: This story is inspired by teachings of Buddha... who continues to fascinate me by the pearls of wisdom that he left for us, centuries ago.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Time to Support Congress in Hisar

In the usual course of events, I would have shown least interest in the by-election for Hisar Loksabha constituency, in Haryana, scheduled to be held on October 13th.  But, as the President of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) says, "The by-election on Hisar seat is no ordinary one. It is historic for the politics of this country".

I agree with Mr Gadkari. This election has been made historic by events that would of course be seen by me and Gadkari in different lights.  He sees an opportunity to defeat Congress, riding on the support of Anna Hazare and his Team, India Against Corruption (IAC).  I see a threat to the Indian democracy from the call of IAC to boycott Indian national Congress (I) candidate and to vote any other candidate in the election.

The danger that I see arises from the following factors:

IAC has positioned itself as an apolitical movement of Indians; using the national flag of India throughout their programmes.

Having mobilised Indians on an apolitical platform (allowing that the RSS claim of propping it up is false), now Anna and his Team are surreptitiously delivering the same to the benefit of certain political parties and against certain parties.

I would have still held a view that the above actions are legitimate political activity by a group of citizens.  However, there are certain issues underneath these seemingly innocuous activities of IAC. Let me explain:

IAC has made it the sole condition that a Party give written commitment to support the Jan Lokpal Bill in the Parliament.  Their support will not take into consideration even the track record of the candidate.  Even if the candidate in someone who is deep in the corruption they will not oppose him.  In other words, even Koda, Raja and Kalmadi can get their support by pledging their commitment to the IAC Bill.

IAC has managed to obtain commitment letters from certain parties, notably BJP, wherein they have committed to voting in favour of JanLokpal Bill prepared by IAC.  In the words of Mr Gadkari, BJP is “fully committed to the Jan Lokpal bill prepared by Anna Hazare and his team". 

We have on record, from senior leaders of BJP that they have reservations on certain issues, including the inclusion of MPs’ behaviour inside Parliament and Higher judiciary under purview of the Lokpal, in the Jan Lokpal Bill of IAC. However, here is the President of the Party giving it in writing to fully support the same Bill.

Either, BJP does not have any intention to honour their written commitment or their stated views on the Bill itself are merely to misguide the public. 

That apart, is it politically, legally and ethically correct for a Party to give and a Group like IAC to demand such written commitments from the political parties, on matters of legislative Bills pending before Parliament?  What is the sanctity of parliamentary procedures and its deliberations, including in the Standing Committee concerned?

For the purpose of getting some votes, if a political party is willing to commit its position in Parliament on any specific issue or Bill, even before that issue or Bills has crystalised, how is it different from the actions of some MPs where they accepted monetary consideration (bribes) for asking questions in Parliament?  Does this not amount to bartering the Parliamentary supremacy for getting votes?

I know some of my readers will raise counter questions like, MPs / Parties already do such things etc.  But remember, even if they do, it is never in this organised manner and never on such moral high ground. 

With this kind of black mail tactics, IAC is opening a Pandora’s Box for future elections.  What if another group with similar ability to mobilise people start making demands related to less pious causes?  Can we then differentiate merely based on our relative perceptions? 

Well we cannot stop groups like IAC from making such demands. It is within their democratic rights.  But we must be aware of the political parties that are willing to give blank cheques and willing to surrender their legislative responsibilities for votes. 

Congress could also have given such a written commitment to IAC and saved this boycott call.  After all, they could not have been held to that commitment since the voting in Parliament cannot be subjected to any restrictions. However, I am very happy that Congress as a national Party withstood the temptation and decided to face the electoral consequences than surrendering the supremacy of Parliament or their own responsibilities towards nation.

Now look at Hisar. This seat was held by the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC), a regional party promoted by the former Chief Minister, Mr Bhajan Lal.   It is not a sitting seat of Congress.  In fact Congress was in third position in the last election in Hisar.  This by-election, necessitated by the demise of Mr Bhajan Lal, is being contested in alliance by HJC and BJP.   That means, there is already a very bright chance that the BJP sponsored candidate will win the Hisar elections.  If that is to happen, who will take the credit- Anna and IAC of course?

Such a win would then be ‘marketed’ as the defeat of Congress and a vote for a draconian legislation like Jan Lokpal Bill.  Pressure will be mounted on the Parties including Congress to succumb to the black mail of IAC and give in with their demands, before the coming Uttar Pradesh elections. We, as a nation might end up with a half cooked law that can have serious impact on the whole country and its institutions.

Therefore, with all its negative points, I would prefer to support Congress in Hisar and see that it wins.  That will put a stop to the undemocratic pressure tactics of Groups that are often funded by foreign governments and agencies and are trying to dictate policy decisions on the elected governments of the country.

This is time for all of us concerned citizens to think above the narrow party lines to ensure that our legislative processes are not held to ransom.  In that sense I agree with Mr Gadkari when he says that this election is “historic for the politics of this country”.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Do We Need a Religion?

Among all the divisive forces such as class, race, country, sex, colour etc on earth, religion has enjoyed a prime space throughout history. 

Barring few exceptions, religion is found among all the societies, in all parts of the world, in some form or other.  Though, on the one hand it is a matter of faith and therefore internal to a person, on the other hand it has often been developed as distinct classification for the followers, by adopting various means for visible manifestation of one’s religion in public.  Dress code, headgear and various other symbols have been used to demonstrate the religious identity of the person; sometimes voluntarily and other times compulsorily. Often they go beyond mere symbols and control their followers’ lives and culture through strict prescriptions and set standards.

When we talk to proponents of each religion, we get to hear the positives of their religion’s teachings.  When we talk to the opponents of the same religion, what we get is only the negatives of that religion.  Is either of them true? I do not think so.  Like human beings, their ideologies and religions are also a mixed bag.  No perfect good or bad choice there.

Often we are coerced to follow a religion that is bestowed upon us by our birth.  In other words, we merely inherit the religion that is followed by our parents.  Even if we find teachings of another religion attractive, we are discouraged by the family and society from changing our religion.  Conversions (voluntary or induced) are often seen as an affront to the convert’s original religion and met with violent reactions. 

Let us keep the relative merits of ideologies aside.  What matters to unaligned people is the practise of the ideology.  Each of the major religions can be blamed for perpetuating injustice and/or violence in some form or other, at different points in time.  I am not going into details of these aspects here.

Now look at the question- Do we need a religion?  The answers differ from person to person.  Some would say following a religion is necessary to communicate with God; others like Immanuel Kant would say religion “is the recognition of all our duties as divine commands”.  In other words, religion may serve the purpose of spirituality (in a sense bonding with God) and/or the purpose of morality.

But how do we make sure we get what is promised to us, while following a religion?  Let us apply the Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware) principle to our religions as well.   If we consider the opinions of religious teachers about all other religions, any religion is good for nothing silly talks, if not pure evil.  If we take that logic further, we can even say all religions fall under the same category; more so when we consider their bad effects, including violence and exploitation.  So much hate is spread among the human kind in the name of religions!

If one believes in God do we need a mediator or a method to reach him? I can’t see how to agree with such logic.  Confining that reach to a specific mediator or method goes against the very concept of God. Therefore, I cannot agree with the spiritual utility of religions.

Now comes, morality.  Do you again need a religion to tell what is right or what is wrong?  Do we adhere to something merely because it is believed to be a divine command, and not because we consider it as the right thing to do?  Are we saying an effective moral education is adequate replacement for organised religions? 

And then the question of which is the right religion to follow.  As they say wrongs can be many but right can’t be different.  Even if there are different rights, at least the first right thing to do is to admit the rightness of other rights? Can a right be right while saying all other rights are wrongs? These questions are not new to our times. In fact, Sri Buddha is believed to have been confronted with the same question by many villagers. They asked him about the various religious sects in vogue at the time and sought his advice as to how one should decide which is the right sect to follow.  

Buddha replied their question with a counter question, “Tell me, what would be the result if a person is ruled by anger, ignorance and greed? Would that bring happiness to him and others around him?”

Villagers replied, “No Teacher, they can only bring sufferings”

Buddha continued, “What if he is ruled by love, compassion, humility, equanimity? What if he helps others in their suffering, rejoices in their happiness and treats everyone with compassion and no discrimination?”

“Teacher, such a person can only bring happiness to himself and all around him” villagers replied.

Buddha said, “Now you know what brings happiness all around.  You don’t need any religion to tell you what is right. You merely have to follow what you know is right”.

He continued further, “Do not blindly follow the teachings of anyone, howsoever successful those teachers might have been.  Consider and only accept those teachings that are in agreement with what you consider as right.  Do not adopt anything that you think will bring unhappiness to either you or for others”.

It is needless to say, these words of Buddha make enormous practical sense (it is another matter that Buddha’s own teachings were subsequently reduced to yet another religion, by his followers).  But if we look at this advice more closely, we can make out that it does not meet the requirements of organised religions.  In almost all religions, there is no scope for picking and choosing.  One is expected to follow its creed unquestionably.

But the same advice tells us something more.  It tells us that we don’t need a religion at all.  What we need to know is that what is right?  If we know what is right, we merely have to follow that knowledge in our life and if everyone adheres to this simple practise, then this earth will be a much better place to live.   We may use all the religious teachings to understand what is right; but we need not follow any of them blindly, even when we know something said therein is not right.  We also need not restrict our search for the right, in the religion or religions alone.

As for bonding with God (I do not believe in the existence of God, but that is not the subject here), wouldn’t God himself take care of that, if we merely follow a righteous life?  If we don’t follow a righteous life, any amount of rituals or bribes wouldn’t make God to bond with us. God, as we perceive, cannot be a party to something that promotes hatred and suffering than love and compassion.

What we need is not a religion but the wisdom and virtue to lead a life that is full of love, compassion, humility and equanimity towards our fellow beings.

P.S: This is not against religions per se. This is  to say religion is not the only arbitrator of human relations and what matters more is human values than religious teachings.  

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Hypocrisy of a Petit Bourgeois

Petit Bourgeois (pronounced as Petty Boorzhwah)- this was the most hated term from my growing up years in the Communist ideology dominated Kerala.   Poor fellows neither belonged to the affluent bourgeoisie class or to the powerful proletariat class. They always had to live under guilt and also under pretensions, owing to their class status. 

However, petit bourgeois has suddenly gone out of fashion even in Kerala.  Materialism and capitalism making their deft moves in Indian society, with the active support from liberalisation and globalisation, clearly seem to have taken the wind out of this most common insult.  Or was it the slow but steady evolution of the quintessential communists with Beedi and black tea, into channel and hospital owning petit bourgeoisie themselves that blurred the distinction into oblivion?

Let us leave it to sociologists to break their head on what caused the extinction of this often laughable but always hated class, even though for most people, almost every other person whom he wanted to pull down (except of course himself and his political friends) in the society was eligible to be called by that name.

Let me now take you through the life of one such petit bourgeois, so that we can record the trait of hypocrisy attributed to this class of people.  While doing so, I will not take sides or be judgemental but merely record the events as they unfold.  For the sake of brevity, I will refer to him as PB (actually I find it tough to key in the confusing spelling each time and therefore this shortening; and it is in no way with any intention to cause blasphemy by equating Polit Bureau to Petit Bourgeoisie). 

Take 1: Early 1970s- PB as a student

PB is walking to his secondary school in the rural Kerala, which is 4 kilometres away from his home.  Like many of his friends he has not chosen to travel by bus for the simple reason that his pocket money won’t allow him to afford that luxury.  Now let us listen to this conversation:

PB: “Hello uncle”

Uncle: “Why young man? Why do you have to walk all the way? Why don’t you travel by bus and save some time and effort?”

PB: “Uncle, I don’t like the bus journey.  I love to walk with my friends who join me on the way.  It is so much fun to be chatting and walking together”

Uncle: “That is very nice”

Take2: Early 1980s- PB in his first job

Like most PBs in those pre-liberalisation years, our PB also managed to get into the job of a clerk, with the government, as soon as he finished his studies.  All his fellow clerks used to come to office by their own bicycles.  And believe me- how proud they were of their valued, exceptional and local body licensed possession!  PB did not have a bicycle, for it would still take some months for him to accumulate enough money from his paltry salary to be able to buy a bicycle.  Now this conversation:

Fellow Clerk: On seeing PB walking very fast to reach office in time, slowing down his bicycle, “Hi, why don’t you buy a bicycle, my friend? It will save you a lot of time”

PB: “I know.  But I like to walk.  It is a great exercise for people like us who sit for the whole day in office”

Fellow Clerk: “Good thinking, man. Keep it up”

Take 3: Late 1980s: The days of 100cc Bike revolution

PB has by now bought his own bicycle.  But then many of his more senior (and therefore more affluent) colleagues and those colleagues who had means of ‘other income’ have now changed to 100cc bikes, taking advantage of the easily available bank loans.  PB was not yet rich enough or corrupt to afford a bike or the monthly instalments of the bank loans and therefore continued to ride his bicycle to his office.  Listen to this conversation, during a lunch time:

Female colleague: “You should also get a bike now.  Bicycles have really gone out of fashion”

PB: “Oh no.  I don’t care about fashion.  But I do care about my health.  If I buy the bike my only exercise of riding the bicycle will go for a toss”

Female colleague: “Yeh, I think you are right.  All those bike men are beginning to get paunches”

Take 4: Mid 1990s: PB resigns his government job and joins the booming private sector

With liberalisation being initiated in 1991, the Indian private sector assumed a new respectability.   Private sector was opening up and it was not limited to the lifelong class enemies of PB- Tata and Birla, anymore.  Even in the marriage market (the ultimate scale of status in Indian society), the private sector employees started getting better value than the till then reigning government employees.   By mid 1990s, PB sensed the opportunity and jumped the ship to join private sector that was paying much higher compensation by now. 

On the joining day itself, at his new company in the Metro city, the two wheeler salesman caught him and explained about the new attractive scheme, of course, exclusively designed for the employees of PB’s company.  PB soon joined the two wheeler class. 

But the story did not end there.  The Indian car revolution soon followed.  As this defining decade came to an end, the growing affluence and the easy instalment schemes made it very attractive for the PBs to give up their Bajaj Scooters and 100cc bikes and embrace the small cars that began to rule the Indian roads.

History repeated itself with our PB.  More and more of his colleagues bought the Marutis and Santros and Matiz (now forgotten car that looked like a beetle).  Well, our PB continued to lag behind on his bike.  One morning, as he was stopped by the traffic police for not wearing his helmet, he reached his office late by an hour.  Having missed an important meeting PB was upset and his colleague in the next cubicle, chided him:

Colleague: “You are really a miser.  Why don’t you get a car? Why do you have to undergo this struggle every day?’

PB: “It is not that I don’t have, or don’t want to spend, the money.  I love riding my bike.  It keeps me macho and among the masses and rooted to earth.  Once I sit inside a closed car, I will lose the touch with public and the car will isolate me from them”

Colleague: Merely smiled- knowingly.

Take 5: Mid 2000s: PB gets his new car

Our PB got married in the beginning of the new century.  While he was taking his newly wedded wife to a movie on his 100cc bike, she complained to him about not having a car.  It did not take much time for the complaint to turn into full time pestering and soon PB gave in and bought his first Maruti 800.  He felt proud to own the new car, even though it really upset his budget, which was already under strain from the multitude of new expenses caused by his married status.

When he drove the car for the first time to office, same colleague taunted him:

Colleague: “Arrey Bhai, how come you have decided to give up your love for the masses?”

PB: “Oh man, times are changing...with so much of pollution and traffic, it is so difficult to ride the bike anymore.  Also, Indian masses are changing too. They are not pedestrian anymore!”

Colleague: Merely smiled- very knowingly.

Take 6: 2011: PB goes airborne

Life went on rather well for our PB.  Lifelong loyalty to the employer, the hallmark of Indian employees, has become a story of the past.  PB also mastered the trick of job hopping, the new art introduced by the new times to Indian employees.  The ever improving job market in India ensured that there was no dearth of opportunities.  He had acquired a new paunch, a new sedan, a new 3 BHK house and a membership in the Club of his new housing society. 

He decided to go for their annual family holiday.  Unlike his previous holidays where he used to travel by train, this time his wife and their only child insisted that they travel by flight.  When he informed his friend about their travel plans, his friend asked him:

Friend: “So, you are going by flight? How come? Didn’t you always say that you prefer to travel by train on your holidays, so that you can get to know new people and get to see new places? How come this flight journey, now?”

PB: “Oh man, who has the time? I just don’t have so much leave to spare.... When we travel by train so much time gets wasted.  Also, in flight, no one disturbs your privacy”


The saga of PB goes on- only that he is not known by the name PB anymore (Polit Bureau must be happy about that?).  PB has now got a new and more respectable name- MC, the Middle Class.

P.S:  I have limited the story to his travel modes alone here.  However, if you have enjoyed this even a bit, I recommend you to read this clumsy poem of mine – Saint I, to get an insight into more aspects of our PB http://confused-ambadi.blogspot.com/2011/06/saint-i-new-indian.html