Evening at Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 2015
and so does everything around... the situation, the people, the perspective, the needs.... and we too change.... the wise and courageous seek change.. because only change is constant!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

99. Hind Swarajya

I came across Hind Swarajya few years ago. It is a very small book, the Marathi version has just 79 pages. The booklet was written by Gandhiji long back in 1909, during his return journey from England to South Africa. The writing style is interesting as it is presented as a dialogue between a reader (who supports extremists view against British Raj) and the Editor. So, Gandhiji speaks about sustainable development even when the concept was yet to emerge and yet to take control of the development discourse.

Development is comparatively a recent theme of policy making and strategic planning. It is attracting a great deal of sociological inquiry covering not only its positive gains but also its distressing outcomes. Unlike Economists, sociologists are weary of worshiping GNP God. To them development is not mere economic growth, it is growth with social justice.

Development is a process of going to a ‘better’ world, the objective of development is well being of all. It can also be defined as: a process by which vulnerabilities are reduced. Sustainable development is a pattern of resource use that aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for future generations. The term was first used by the Brundtland Commission which coined what has become the most often-quoted definition of sustainable development.

Frankly speaking, it is difficult to agree with the ideas of Gandhiji at first instance. He presents altogether different paradigm of sustainable development. I appreciate his courage but almost everybody in rural areas talks about ‘roads, hospitals, schools, employment opportunities, health services’ as development. When one comes across communities who have to walk for at least 25 kilometers to access primary health, one cannot deny that road is necessity. With the whopping number of illiterates and school dropouts and the jobs getting linked with education, one cannot deny the necessity of schools.

The first reading of Hind Swarajya gave me a feeling that Gandhi was short sighted, he loved his own ideas, he was not progressive, and he was anti Western culture and so on. By the time I read Hind Swarajya again, I had grown up and had enough of ‘development’ experience to listen to Gandhiji openly. Though I still do not agree with each and every point in Hind Swarajya, I think it is time we should re-look at the development concept and its application for poverty alleviation and social welfare.

What are the major facets of Gandhiji’s ideology?

Gandhiji presents an alternate ideology which is based on Swarajya, Satyagraha and Swadeshi. He elaborates his ideas on what civilization he wants and appeals to readers to develop long term vision for the poorest of the poor in India by thinking with open eyes and open mind and acting accordingly.

Gandhji opposes the modern civilization which is based on consumerism. He says that the modern social systems like Parliament, Railway, Judiciary and Medicine are not for the benefit of the poor. None of these systems make us strong and unselfish; on the contrary they make us physically and mentally weak and competitive rather than cooperative. We have turned into slave since we forgot our ancient ways of life and started following western civilization. He reminds the reader that he does not want all of us to go back to ‘Dark Age’ but warns that if we continue to live modern civilization, it will take us to another type of Dark Age. Gandhiji wants us to see the beauty in voluntary simple living, material poverty and slowness of life.

For Gandhiji, technology like Railway and system like Judiciary are means to keep control, they are not to help the people of India. Gandhiji’s criticism on Railway seems far fetched, because we see railway as a tool to ‘connect India’. But he has a point. For example he says, due to railway facility people who produce wheat are selling to the distant places where they get better price and the local people have no wheat to consume. Thus with technology, people tend to become selfish, so we need to use technology with adequate thinking. He adds that even before railway was introduced Indians had a tradition of visiting pilgrimage centers in various parts of the country because the country was always ONE, it is not one due to railways. Similarly, judicial system instead of keeping peace motivates people to fight. If we can resolve our own conflicts, why would we need an external person or agency to solve it? The key is self reliance.

Before talking about rights, Gandhiji talks about duties of all citizens. He says Nation building is a long term processes and Swarajya should take into consideration the needs and rights of the poorest of the poor, especially farmers. He emphasizes that Swarajya does not only mean lack of English Government but lack of English way of governing.

Gandhiji says the opinions of the elite in the country are based on newspapers and hence are always changing. Elites have no connection with real India and hence their vision and ideas are not relevant to the country.

Gandhiji says the establishing big cities/towns is not beneficial because they become places where rich exploit poor more. He adds that violence is not sustainable in the long run and to practice non violence one needs to mentally very strong. He emphasizes importance of ‘means’ in achieving ‘end’ and warns that bad means would definitely bring bad end. He speaks about various context specific actions one needs to take and criticizes expectations of standardized responses and actions.

Gandhiji’s remarks on ‘Education’ are indeed thought provoking. He says that unless one has life skills, just knowing letters won’t help. He laments that we are giving unnecessary importance to ‘literacy’ and burdening rural people with our whims. For Satyagraha courage and determination is needed. For Satyagraha weapon is not needed but one needs to use him/herself as weapon for the cause. He adds that non-cooperation is very powerful tool.

It is a ‘must read’ book for all who want to think and who care for the strengthening process of equity and justice. Hind Swarajya gives us opportunity to reflect, to re-think, to re-formulate ideas and to return to basics if required.

Friday, August 20, 2010

98. On Duty

The other day I was traveling. The train was to start from Mumbai Central and I had reached before time. Actually I always reach before time for this particular train, because the Pune – Mumbai train takes me there with a margin of at least three hours. I generally spend these three hours by eating something, reading books or newspaper and of course watching co-travelers without intimidating them.

This particular train is a Return Train. I mean it starts early morning from Ahmedabad, reaches Mumbai Central in the afternoon; again starts from Mumbai Central and reaches Ahmedabad late in the night. For me, it is convenient train, though I have to spend a day in transit. I travel by bus, only when I am traveling short distance or if there is no other alternative.

Even after the train arrives, one has to wait for half an hour as the coaches are cleaned by railway labor. It is disgusting to see the amount of garbage people throw in the coach during travel. But that is an issue for another post.

After I climb in the AC Chair car, I know what to expect in the next ten minutes. A beautiful dog with whitish almond color smooth skin enters the coach. He is apparently controlled by a police man. But I always feel that the dog and the police man have a tacit understanding about not troubling each other. Their relationship seems to be smooth and without passion.

Now this is bit funny. With all due respect to railway police, I find checking of coaches by bomb squad dog a little funny. I mean, this is a daily train. And if everyday you are checking the coaches at the same time, which foolish terrorist will get in the train with a bomb in his or her baggage? They can get in at Borivali, or Vapi or Valsad or Vadodara. Even they can get in at Mumbai Central after the dog has inspected the coach. There are still ten minutes for the train to depart.

But routines are routines and orders are to be followed mechanically.

I have been part of this scene so many times, that I have developed affection for this dog. Why dogs should die while discovering a bomb planted by human beings, is a question I am not able to answer so far. This dog is so silent, so clean, so beautiful that every time he passes by me, I want to touch him, I want to pat him, I want to say ‘Thank you’ to him. Of course, I have never done this. I do not want to invite attention of policeman and I am not sure that the dog would return my gesture with politeness.

Generally until the dog is in the coach, everybody is silent, everybody watches the dog move. And once it is out of sight, everyone is relaxed and turns to whatever she/he was doing when the dog arrived.

On that particular day, something strange happened. A man in full white started addressing the dog. He had come to see off someone and was engrossed in talk. When the dog approached him he suddenly started talking to the dog in a very friendly manner. What was surprising was that the police man stopped by that passenger; as if allowing him to play with the dog. The dog stopped too, but did not respond. He did not wave his tail. When the man in the white, tried to pat the dog, the dog just looked at him. His response must have been very cold as the man backtracked.

“Oh! It seems that Tiger has not recognized me”, the man in the white complained to the policeman.

“Sorry sir, he does not recognize anyone when on duty,” the policeman replied politely but with an immense pride.

The dog walked away with the policeman in a normal way.
The man in the white laughed awkwardly. He must have been intimidated by my questioning eyes.
“Madam, dogs are smart these days. I am one of his trainers. And this Tiger does not recognize me when on duty!! What kind of life we human beings have. Even dogs on duty are unapproachable” He sighed. Then he smiled – partly to me, partly to himself

Whether he was happy or sad about the dutiful dog, I cannot say.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

97. Wisdom

Now –a - days we all are surrounded by sick people.
Move to any group, and there will be a talk about Blood Pressure, Sugar, Back pain etc.
Even younger generation talks about weakness, fatigue, insomnia, hair loss and stress.

So, when I asked 66 year old Basavannappa (it is funny that he is both Anna and Appa) about his health (just as courtesy), I was surprised by his answer. He suffers from nothing, absolutely nothing. No physical health issues, no mental stress and no social traumas.

Basavannappa is a farmer. He studied only up to fourth standard. He has five daughters, and a son, all happily married now. He owns a small piece of land. No, Basavannappa does not live in isolation. He is not a millionaire; he actually lived Below Poverty Line for most of his life. He is a simple village man but like all simple people he has a philosophy of his own. Importantly he lives according to his philosophy.

Here I have to meet two Self Help Groups (SHGs). When the first group arrives, with welcome and a song the meeting starts. I generally try to understand the context of people’s life. So, I ask various questions pertaining to the village. That generally works as an ice breaker. From easy questions, we will move to more difficult questions – why, how, what results etc.

Surshettikoppa is a village of about 600 families near Hubali in Karnataka. There are different stories about why the village is named Surshettikoppa. According to Basavannappa, earlier (long back in the history) there was a family of Suran Gauda, and then the Shettis came to the village. Both the family grew and lived together in a group (koppa) – hence the village is named as Surshettikoppa.

Somashekhar, a graduate from the village readily disagrees with Basavannappa. However all this disagreement is happening in a very friendly atmosphere. Somashekhar explains that Sur means God and Shetty means firm – the village is a place where Gods have stayed firmly for ages.

There is another story. Some pilgrimagers were going to Valvai to meet the Saint Channa Basaweshwar. They were carrying their luggage on bullock backs. The luggage hanged on both sides of the bullock back. To maintain balance, they had put some stones (this seems to be absurd). When they camped here, they put the stones on the ground. Next morning, when devotees tried to pull the stones back, they could not remove the stones. The stones were firmly rooted in the ground. As a proof of the story, people showed me temple of Brahmalinga, which of course is renovated and is bit modern.

Before the meeting started, Basavannappa anxiously asked, “When will I get time to talk to Madam? I want to give her full information about the work of Federation.” I smiled. I said, “Once this meeting is over, when women go home, I will spend some time with you. Is that alright for you?” He too smiled and accepted.

By the time (after about two hours) the first meeting was over, women from second SHG gathered. Looking at the crowd and their eager faces, Basavannappa asked me, “Madam when are you leaving?”
“Tomorrow evening. Tomorrow morning I am going to Haveri district.” I informed him.
“Alright, I will come today evening at 7.00. Please keep one hour free for me,” he requested and went off.

Evening 7.00 and Basavannapaa is present in the campus. He tries to speak in Hindi initially but turns to Kannada when he has to express his deeper ideas. I have translators with me and anyway, when one speaks from heart, other hardly finds it difficult to understand.

I ask many questions about his Federation – the process, the activities, the challenges, the vision, people’s participation, financial position, the strategies, organizational management and all the usual stuff – usual for me! May be those questions were unusual for Basavannappa. He paused, thought, smiled, frowned, talked, and listened. Both of us clearly enjoyed the discussion.

At the end of the conversation I asked him how his health was. As expressed earlier, he is a healthy man – physically, mentally and socially.

“What is the secret?” I asked seriously.
“The secret Madam is I do everything not from the heart but from a palm-ful* distance,” Basavannappa answered spontaneously.
I was confused.
“Can you explain it? I am unable to understand what you said,” I requested him.
“See Madam, one has to do many things in everyday life. Each one of us has to keep contact with many people. We as human beings have limitations – we like certain things and we don’t like certain things. We are tempted, we get angry, we feel jealous sometimes, and we feel insulted. We have to face situations which we are not ready for. Is it right? Do you agree with me?” he asks.
“Yes, certainly” I fully agree.
“So, I do not do any of these things from the root of my heart. I keep all the things at palm-ful distance – both the joy and the sorrow. It does affect me but very superficially and temporarily. It never affects me to the core. That is why I am a happy person.” Basavannappa was telling the simplest of the truths.

I saluted Basavannappa – not from palm-ful distance, I could not follow his teachings immediately.

Those were the wisest words I have heard so far.

Wisdom can approach you from any corner, only question is whether we are ready for it?
* palm-ful may not be the right English word. If you have anything to suggest, kindly write to me.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

96. Goodbye

This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 13; the thirteenth edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton.

“So, what is the plan?” Mukul asked.
We all were in the meeting room, waiting for the Boss to appear.
I wonder why all the bosses have this habit of appearing late for the meeting. They are never in time and expect subordinates to be before time.

Mehak giggled. So did Monalisa. Mak contributed by his manly laugh.

These women!! They have spoiled the professional atmosphere. We are not supposed to be homely in the office, it is a professional world. But last few years our company policy changed. After some kind of workshop with an organization called ‘Gender at Workplace’ or something like that, our company started recruiting more women and everything changed.

These women smile at everyone, share some fancy food items they have prepared at home and invite us with our family to their home – just for fun! And most dangerous is they like to be called by their first names and insist on calling others by first names!

I have always wondered why women have such funny ideas about everything!!

However I can not complain much as they are indeed excellent at their work. Moreover, they don’t expect monetary gains for everything they do; they seem to be content with the joy of work itself! As HR Manager, they are the last ones to bother me.

But again, this is bit weird, how can work be joy?


“All the E’s will stay and the M’s will go.” Mehak was saying to her group.

Within the office we have several groups. Mehak, Mukul, Mak, Monalisa, Monty and Makbul are very close. I always find it fishy that they all should have names starting with M. Some people think that the ‘M’ factor has brought them so close. One more aspect is that they all joined our company on the same day – 2nd May 2005. Rather a coincidence, I guess. But I was stunned when I found that they all were born on the same day in the month of May! Though they were born in different parts of the world, they had same kind of education, which is something I fail to understand.

And why they are talking about E and M in the month of August? Appraisal is over long back. The results were declared in May. It is again coincidence that all these six youngsters even though excellent; manage to get M – ‘Mediocre’ during appraisal process. I have been watching them for last 5 years, and every year they get M, never E –Excellent. It amazes me that they are not bothered about it and seem to enjoy their M. They seem to have some kind of affinity towards the syllable ‘M’. With so much of turnover around, this group has consistently stayed here for five years, which is why I am suspicious about them.

You know everywhere appraisal processes are subjective. Managers try to show how objective they are, but those who are in the midst of it know how things change at the last moment. Youngsters don’t understand but keeping the boss happy is an important aspect of the work life. But what these people are talking about? I need to know.

“What do you mean by E will stay and M will go? Who is going where?” I asked loudly.

My voice surprised them. They looked at each other. They were so engrossed in the conversation that they had not noticed my arrival. Mehaks’s face flushed. She was silent – that was a big surprise. These women like to keep on talking. They never get tired.

“Oh, Good Morning, Sir. Just a little joke you know. Mehak is telling us that the management has decided that only Excellent – E will stay and Mediocre – M will have to leave. You know sir, we all got M this year too.” Makbul added hurriedly. Others nodded.

I did not believe Makbul, but apparently there was noting to say against what he said. Management decisions are hardly known to me even when I am the HR Manager. What he said might be true. Why should management pay to mediocre employees? I would be happy to see all of them out. They are good, but I am never sure about them. I know them for last five years, but I feel that they are complete strangers. And they are too close to each other. You know managers never like it if their subordinates are too close, if they are indeed a good team. We managers thrive on ‘divide and rule’, so we keep our employees divided.


Boss appears. The ‘M’ group has given a new name to meetings in our office. They call it a ‘Monologue’ – again a word starting with M. However it is indeed an apt description of the meetings in our office. My boss talks about ‘participation’ etc, but keeps on talking. When he asks questions, new comers start answering it. But we old timers know what is in the coming. The boss asks questions, pauses for a breath and answers his question. It goes on and on. Once, Monalisa even mapped the conversation. Out of 120 minutes, the boss had spoken for almost 100 minutes in the meeting!

In between he receives calls on his mobile and we all treat it as a well deserved break. We talk to each other, not about what is being discussed but about other things. The ‘M’ group is again in a huddle. God knows, what they are discussing.

Today Boss is talking about Global Warming. That is his new love. Ours is an IT company. What has it to do with Global Warming? But Boss is Boss. We all listen to him like school children. Actually some of us have better knowledge about Global Warming. Young generation might have its faults, but they have better knowledge too, one has to appreciate. Mak is much more eligible to talk about Global Warming, but only if Boss will give him some space!

Boss has a new idea. He wants to establish ‘Ecological Task Force’ in the company. That is why the ‘M’ group has been invited; they all have Environmental Science background. I as an HR Manager will have to provide support through adequate systems backup etc. The administration officer is also there. Everything is settled. The M group is happy to have something challenging to do – they are very good at programming naturally. Somehow I am not comfortable that they all are thrown together. That means more huddling, more secret jokes, more conversations which others will not understand.

The M Group gets one week’s time to submit concrete plan with budget for approval. The ecological work has to start immediately.


I am worried at the moment. Within half an hour, Ecological Task Force meeting starts. Some senior managers of the company will be attending the meeting. But none of the M group is in the office.

It seems that yesterday they worked late at night, up to about 11.00. Security man Ram Lakhan tells me that when they left, they all seemed to be normal, happy. Mukul even gave a hundred rupee note to Ram Lakhan. The canteen boy Ishwar tells me that the M team ate sandwiches and consumed cups of coffee. No drinks of course! It is bit strange that Monalisa gave her mobile handset to Ishwar.

Since early morning, I am trying to call them, but each one’s mobile is out of service. Only the one given to Ishwar by Monalisa is working, but it is of no use to me – as she has erased the contact list. I sent them mails, but every mail has bounced back. What happened to this group? Did they meet some accident while going home? My Public Relations Officer checks with Police Station through his sources, and there is no news of any accident.

I try to locate their nearest contact persons, their In Case of Emergency numbers. To my horror, the data is completely missing. It is erased by someone – when and why I will have to find out.

Panic spreads. Every one of the 200 heads in the office is thinking about the M group. What happened? Where have they gone? Where did they disappear? Are they in crisis? Are they murdered? Kidnapped? From where can we get information about them? Everybody is trying to find out about them, but nobody has any clue. The amount of discussion is not adding anything to the information we have.

I do not have much time. With M group or without M group, the meeting has to take place. I will say something like ‘Swine flue’ epidemic and listen to seniors. When senior management is there, I don’t have to speak much, I just have to listen. That I will do anyway.

I ask couple of new environmental science graduates to be ready to join if called for the meeting. I ask Nandita, our Network Administrator, if she can trace out if the M group has prepared any presentation. Nandita is a smart kid. Within minutes, she has traced the presentation, checked the first slide, and copied it to the laptop in the meeting room. I will just have a minute to open it and most probably I will be able to present it. About Global Warming everybody knows, what is there to enlighten people about?


The meeting starts. I explain the absence of M group and as I expected nobody bothers about it. I open the presentation and realize that it has a voice over – a recorded message with the text.

Monty’s deep voice resonates through the room, “We are sorry that we are not present in the meeting. There was an urgent call and we had to leave without giving any prior intimation to you. We are thankful for the hospitality.” What is he talking about? Everybody is confused. The Boss looks at me, I avoid eye contact.

Monty speaks on, “Please, share this with the entire world. The Earth is in danger. The danger is caused not only by human beings but by some Cosmic Actions. These are beyond the control of human beings. Earth will face severe natural calamities. Torrential rains, Tsunamis, Earthquakes, Cyclones will have more intensity and they will come to you with more frequency. They will destroy human life and earthly life. All your measures to control Global Warming are as childish as was your earlier thought of controlling Nature. You have to flow with the tide…..you will have to leave Earth… ” What this hell the bloody Monty is talking about? And why is he preaching like a Messiah?

Monty continues, “So, we the M – the Marsers – the beings from Mars who inhabited your home for last few decades have decided to leave Earth. Your home is beautiful; no doubt about it, but it is going to be perished within next few decades. We leave the E – the Earthers – behind. Sorry, we do not have enough space here. Once we settle down, we will make a room for you. Those of who you want to come with us; we will come back and take them with us as our guests. We are really thankful to you for your hospitality.”

“GOODBYE” they say - all six of them together and the screen is blank.

I am stunned. Everybody is silent.

“What is this little dirty joke? Just fire them all. Get a new group to work as Ecological Task Force. They get only two days. You will be personally responsible for their work”, the Boss shouts and storms out of the meeting room.

I am perspiring. I know Monty is telling the truth. That explains all. The names starting with M, born in May, their affection to the words starting with M! Everything becomes clear to me.

I sigh.


I look out of the window. It is raining. The hillock is lush green. I can hear the call of a kingfisher and of an Oriental Magpie Robin. A blue butterfly is just outside the window. Life around is fully vibrant.

"Beings come and go, I Welcome them and they say Goodbye to me, but nothing perishes my child, don’t worry. If one world is destroyed, another is created.”
Somebody is saying this to me. Must be Mother Earth?
May be it is just a hallucination. Must be my subconscious.

I smile.
Yes I am an Earther, and I owe a lot to Mother Earth.
When the Mother Earth is getting destroyed, I will not leave Her. Even when I cannot save Her, I will not leave Her to perish alone.
I cannot live without Her. I cannot die without Her.
My body will perish here and will be mixed with the soil and water here. I will be there until she is there.
I am not going to say Goodbye to her.
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