Thursday, 30 July 2015

Morality in Politics

A new post in the series Satyam Shivam Sundaram

The other day something led me to re-read some of the articles and commentaries Sri Aurobindo wrote during his 'active' political revolutionary days, when he was writing and editing the nationalist journal Bande Mataram during 1906-1908. 

For me it was a wonderful exercise to reflect upon the fact that some of the ideals, ideas and thoughts he was presenting more than a century ago are still highly relevant and perfectly applicable. Of course, the arguments and examples he was giving at that time were particular to the political and nationalist struggles of the time, India's freedom movement, to be more specific. 

But the fact that the fundamental principles and ideals he was speaking of remain perfectly applicable even today, despite the very different political context and circumstances, says something about the deeper truth value of these principles, and the timelessness of the Source from which such fundamental principles emerge. Even for the political arena.

I present just one example here. This is from his writing titled "The Morality of Boycott". I am sharing only a few excerpts here, with the hope that readers, particularly Indian readers, will be able to see how relevant these principles are in today's political context of the nation. 

A certain class of minds shrink from aggressiveness as if it were a sin. Their temperament forbids them to feel the delight of battle and they look on what they cannot understand as something monstrous and sinful. “Heal hate by love, drive out injustice by justice, slay sin by righteousness” is their cry. Love is a sacred name, but it is easier to speak of love than to love. The love which drives out hate, is a divine quality of which only one man in a thousand is capable. A saint full of love for all mankind possesses it, a philanthropist consumed with the desire to heal the miseries of the race possesses it, but the mass of mankind do not and cannot rise to that height. Politics is concerned with masses of mankind and not with individuals. To ask masses of mankind to act as saints, to rise to the height of divine love and practise it in relation to their adversaries or oppressors, is to ignore human nature. It is to set a premium on injustice and violence by paralysing the hand of the deliverer when raised to strike. The Gita is the best answer to those who shrink from battle as a sin and aggression as a lowering of morality.
Hinduism recognizes human nature...It sets one ideal for the saint, another for the man of action, a third for the trader, a fourth for the serf. To prescribe the same ideal for all is to bring about varnasankara, the confusion of duties, and destroy society and the race.
Politics is the field of the Kshatriya and the morality of the Kshatriya ought to govern our political actions. To impose on politics the Brahminical duty of saintly sufferance, is to preach varnasankara.
Justice and righteousness are the atmosphere of political morality, but the justice and righteousness of the fighter, not of the priest. Aggression is unjust only when unprovoked, violence unrighteous when used wantonly or for unrighteous ends. It is a barren philosophy which applies a mechanical rule to all actions, or takes a word and tries to fit all human life into it. The sword of the warrior is as necessary to the fulfilment of justice and righteousness as the holiness of the saint. Ramdas is not complete without Shivaji. To maintain justice and prevent the strong from despoiling and the weak from being oppressed is the function for which the Kshatriya was created. 

To read the previous post in the series, click here.
To read all posts in the series, click here.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Quote UnQuote 2: Sleep

“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?” 

Who doesn’t love sleep? All is well when one’s asleep. Wake up and you may discover there’s more to life than endless-entertainment-shopping-twitter-timepass-cappuccino-gourmet-brands-gossip-holidaying-more-more-more. Who wants any messy stuff beyond all this?

Waking up is serious work. All cherished notions of life, happiness, success, relationships, love, everything fall apart. Pain, disorientation, not-knowing and more, all are part of waking up. Everything has to be seen anew, experienced afresh. So everything can be put back, piece-by-piece, in a new light of an inner dawn.


This is the second of the three-day-quote-challenge posts in which I was tagged by Rachna. I have added an additional layer to the challenge by limiting my commentary on the selected quote to only 100 words. And you know how difficult that can be for someone like me, don't you?


Sunday, 19 July 2015

Quote UnQuote 1: Death

Rachna, the rachnakar (creator) of the popular blogs Rachnasays and Rachnacooks tagged me in the three-day quote challenge. I had been unsure how to do this because most of my posts already have some quote in them (often a long one, and sometimes a passage actually). To be honest, I would have probably skipped the challenge if it were not for the warm and affectionate Rachna!

Then I thought why not do something that I haven't done in a while. That is, be brief. And yet stay close to the spirit of this blog. So I am going to write only 100-word posts as part of this quote-a-day challenge. Now that will be a challenge for the brevity-challenged me, I think! Just to clarify, this preface and the quote itself will not be counted in the 100 words :)

So without much ado, here I go, with the first post today.


"This wallpaper is killing me. One of us has to go." 

These are reported as Oscar Wilde's last words on his deathbed.

Nobody else could have said this! Wilde knew the real effect of real beauty on mind, heart and soul. His thoughts, words, wit are proof enough. His fashion sense too for those interested in only outer beauty!

But there’s more to these words. They make you think about the last thing you’d like to see before closing your eyes. For ever. Or maybe every night till then. Or tonight.

What is it? An object? A face? A vision? Something indescribable, perhaps?

Why not visualize tonight? Conscious death takes preparation.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Flowers, Home, Saris and More

She definitely has a way with words.

Regular readers of Dagny know what an inspiring and inspired writer she is. But there is also another side to the nature of her inspiration which I have recently experienced. Her words have the ability to quieten me down, making me ready to discover that deep and calm place within. A place from where emerge some ideas, thoughts, words and sentences carrying that 'feel' of calmness and quiet depth.

To what extent any composition expresses a sense of quietness, that is for the readers to decide. But as a writer I know how I feel when I am inspired to write something at the request of this dearest friend. Zen-like, I think one may call it. Naah! Serene and yet fully present and absorbed in the experience of writing. Serenely Rapt, may be?

Dagny inspires me not only with the stories she tells, but more so with the way she makes these stories seem like our stories, mine and hers, and of everyone else who reads them. The grounded and earthy wisdom that is gently enfolded in her words, the quietness with which that ray of light shines upon the reader's being -- that is an experience felt by all who have visited her space, Serenely Rapt

You must have heard that highly creative people are creative in ways more than one. This is true of my friend Dagny too. While the pages of Serenely Rapt showcase her beautiful stories, anecdotes, reflections and ponderings on various shades and hues of life, she dazzles with another side of her creative self via Rugs of Life. If you haven't yet seen this space of hers, you don't know what you are missing!

When she suggested that I write a guest-post for her blog, I was naturally overjoyed. And also a bit unsure whether any writing of mine would stand up to the standard that Serenely Rapt is famous for. That's when the warmth of her love and friendship, and her calm confidence in me, my thought process, words and way of expression came to my rescue. And a post with the title, Musings on Home, Flowers and More took shape.



I feel a sense of gratitude to those fourteen-plus years of my life when I was living between two cultural spaces. What we Indians call as non-resident-Indian (NRI) experience, gave me ample opportunities to reflect on the meaning of home, being at home and being in what many post-modernists call as a state of hybridity or in-between-ness.

I remember today an essay I wrote about thirteen years ago, in which I had pondered over the meaning of home. The essay, published on Sulekha, was based on an analysis of the voices of a few Indians living outside India with whom I had some interactions in an online discussion forum, combined with my own decade-long experience, at that time, of living, studying and working in the United States. In that piece I had come to a tentative conclusion that perhaps home means “a place where we can be really free, free at heart.”

End of this month will mark eight years of my return to India. No more of that NRI experience. However, at different points of time in these last eight years, this question of “what is home” has often surfaced in different ways – personally as well as socially. But it has also become obvious to me that the question has now taken on a more emotional and psychological shade than a mental or intellectual one, which was the case earlier. The experience of this question is also more inwardly grounded than something that is outward and identity-based. And this, I believe, is what makes me feel more ‘at home’ with the question itself. Let me explain.

About two years ago, I found myself going through an intense phase when this question – what is home – became a very real and living struggle for many months. In a way I was spending all those months ‘at home’ (my parental home, to be precise – the home where I grew up) but then it wasn’t really my home anymore. It didn’t feel like that.

The part that felt ‘like home’ was my parents. Especially, my very ill and fragile mother who was the reason why I was spending all those months there, away from my home and in my mother’s home. And yet the longing to go back to my home was very much there despite the mental awareness that I needed to be at my parents’ home. 




Like I said, Dagny has a way with words. But then, she also a way with saris. Or for that matter, any old fabric which transforms into something entirely new and completely beautiful when it comes into her hands.

A few months ago, she gave new lives to two of my old saris. The sheer beauty of her work made me speechless when I held in my hands the new-born pieces she sent me. What had been once two old saris were now in front of me in totally new forms, speaking quietly of the remarkable gift and talent of the artist. The experience wouldn't have been complete if I didn't write a little story of that creative rebirth I witnessed. And yes that writing too came about in a moment of quiet and joyful spontaneity.

If you haven't read that little story of two saris and their rebirth, how about clicking it HERE and making that correction now.

And while you are at Rugs of Life, do spend some time browsing through the great collection of rugs Dagny weaves with love and care. A few minutes of going through the different narratives that accompany each of her creations will be sufficient to appreciate the genuine reverence she has for the divinity that hides in matter. That, in essence, is the real source of the beauty that spills out from all that she weaves.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Current Events 11: A Note to the Perpetual Naysayers

A new post in the series - Current Events

It has sort of become a norm, almost fashionable, in some sections of Indian educated classes and our media to simply oppose something because it is proposed by the present government, or more specifically by our Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

PM says -- share a picture of #IncredibleIndia. These naysayers say – but will that solve the problem of rural poverty?

PM says -- share a #SelfiewithDaughter. These naysayers say – but will that solve the innumerable problem girls and women face in the country?

PM says -- clean up India. These naysayers say – but how will that solve the problem of corruption?

PM says – come, let's do yoga. These naysayers say – but why should I stretch and breathe?

PM says – give a gift of an affordable life insurance scheme to some needy woman, perhaps your domestic help, on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan. These naysayers say – well, isn't that really a proof he is a Hindutva-wadi?

Lest anyone should misunderstand my intention, the purpose of my writing this note is not to encourage any blind following or a servile, non-thinking, brainwashed attitude. That would be disastrous for the nation and for our civilizational renewal. Rational thinking is a must for any democracy to function and move ahead.

But my request to the naysayers is simply this – why not take at least a minute before opposing or criticizing an idea, and think carefully whether you are opposing just because it is suggested by someone you love to hate! And while you are in that thinking mode, think also as to why you love to hate him.

Dear Naysayers, while you are busy thinking about your reasons to oppose, may I make an informed guess. Perhaps you love to hate him because if you didn't do so, you wouldn't be able to think of yourself as progressive, secular, broad-minded. Because after all, in the circles that you would like to be a part of he is supposed to represent all that is opposite of these 'politically correct' qualities. So you must oppose him, and everything he proposes, naturally. Thou Shalt Oppose – that's the first 'commandment' in these politically correct circles, isn't it so?

To what extent you have indeed understood the real meaning of words such as ‘progressive’ and ‘secular’, and their suitability and relevance in the Indian context – that is for you to ponder at your leisure. (Fine, go ahead and give your servant a gift of life insurance on the occasion of Eid, if that makes you ‘secular.’ But do it!)

But here's a simple thing I would like you to reflect upon right away. Just opposing doesn't mean anything. You need to also have some original idea of your own if you want to change something. Let me give an example to explain further.

Mere saying that posting a #SelfiewithDaughter will not solve the many problems girls and women face in the country means nothing. First, it assumes (wrongly) that those who are sharing pictures with their daughters are not concerned about the issues of gender inequality or women safety or sex-selective abortion or several other challenges faced by girls and women. More importantly, it diminishes and even ridicules the efforts of all those countless individuals who in their own little circles of influence have made sincere efforts in making their families and communities a little more equitable, a little more humane.

Dear Naysayer, what makes you assume that those who have been responding so enthusiastically to this #SelfiewithDaughter campaign are doing it only as a meaningless gesture? And that they would be better off taking an 'action' rather than merely posting on social media a picture with their daughter? Do you know any of these people? Do you know any of their stories? NO. So, you better not assume anything, better not think of them as any 'lesser' beings than yourself.

Also give some thought to this -- there is a tendency of the mind that revels in this “either-or” type of dualistic thinking. Are you becoming a slave to that kind of mentality? Are you beginning to believe that one can either be a 'talker' or a 'doer'? To continue with our example, are you beginning to believe that if one posts a picture with one's daughter, one naturally doesn't 'do' enough for the daughter? And that one is only making a false show of things? Are you beginning to believe that only those who don't share their selfies with daughters are the real 'doers'?

Hidden behind millions of the #selfieswithdaughter there may be countless stories of courage and thoughtful decisions taken by one mindful parent here or one thinking daughter there. The stories, choices, thoughts and emotions hidden behind the faces in these pictures are theirs. Respect their stories, respect their choices, respect their courage, respect them. They are not asking you to share your picture. Why ridicule or belittle their choice?

Are you beginning to believe that if someone expresses a feeling of healthy pride in something – one’s daughter, one’s family, one’s city, country, culture, heritage, tradition – one is not really a thinking individual? Or that only cynicism makes one intelligent? Are you beginning to believe that one can either take pride in something or be able to have its critical understanding? Why this either-or? Why not "and"?

Remember, taking pride doesn’t exclude or disregard critical thinking. Taking pride doesn’t mean that we are not mindful of our sense of responsibility to make things better. For our children, for our daughters, for our families, communities and societies. Just because we post pictures of #IncredibleIndia doesn’t mean, by any logical analysis, that we aren’t aware of or aren’t doing our little bit to make India truly incredible.

A healthy sense of pride actually leads thinking individuals to become more thoughtful and mindful. If I am proud of my daughter, I would do everything possible to make her life beautiful, to help her fulfill her dreams and aspirations, to do all that is in my power to give her a safer world, a just and equitable society. If I take pride in my home, I would never want to keep it dirty. If I am proud of my rich cultural heritage I wouldn’t want to destroy it in the name of meaningless modernity. If I take pride in my cultural traditions, I would be even more concerned to develop a critical understanding of those so that I don’t become a blind follower.

A healthy pride in my culture will actually compel me to constructively work on adapting and creating new outer forms of the traditions suitable for present times, but without sacrificing the inner spirit or the essence of those cultural traditions. A healthy pride in my cultural and civilizational uniqueness will give me all the more reasons to make an active contribution to its renewal and renaissance.

Dear Naysayer, I am not saying that you too should take pride in this or that. Or that you should do this or that. All I am saying is that you think before you follow the ‘politically correct’ command – Thou Shalt Oppose. And do not think any less of those who don’t! For all you know, those who don’t oppose merely for the sake of opposing may be a lot more critically aware of all that is wrong with our society and nation. And perhaps they may even have more carefully thought out ideas to make things right, one little step at a time. So, as a fellow citizen may I request you to do your constructive bit for nation-building and for making a better society, instead of wasting your energy in simply opposing and criticizing.

To see previous Current Events post, click here.
To see all other Current Events posts, click here.