30 April 2009

The Hindutva Debate (contd)

In this month's poll, 9 readers/visitors have selected the option "I am first an Indian, then a Hindu".

Here is a question for these 9 people: What is there in you that is "Indian", but not Hindu?

You can comment on this post, or you can send your answer to me by e-mail.

Btw, nobody responded the last time I called for a debate on Hindutva.

28 April 2009

Dr Raj Kumar and Kannada Culture

Sugata Srinivasaraju of Outlook magazine wrote an excellent profile of Dr Raj Kumar in 2004, calling him a "gentle hero of Kannada culture". Some quotes:

He had acted in 205 Kannada films, one-fourth of all the films ever made until then in that language. Rajkumar has effectively defined Kannada identity.

For the growing number of middle-class Kannada speakers in particular, the actor's simple lifestyle, humility, the liberal humanism in his films, abstention from alcohol and tobacco and a genuine desire to avoid the limelight struck a particularly resonant chord.

A local culture is (now) groping for identity with competition from foreign shores. This may be an outcome of globalisation and commercialisation of culture.

Certainly there continue to be Kannada icons. But these are from sport – like cricketers Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble – and business, like Infosys's N R Narayana Murthy. And their appeal is pan-Indian, even global. There is nothing obviously or uniquely Kannada about them that would make them specifically local heroes.

A process of 'loss' began when various groups like Dalits, farmers, and backward classes began aggressively asserting their identities. The idea of a single hero unifying an entire culture began to wane. This may also be the reason that Karnataka has no tall political leader after Devaraj Urs.

The baton has simply not been passed on, not just with Rajkumar, but in the context of the Kannada language itself. The stagnating readership of Kannada newspapers and sales of Kannada books are strong indicators of this change that has come about.

The revolution in information technology over the past decade has also distracted the Kannada middle class, which formed much of Rajkumar's support base. This middle class amnesia appears to have taken a toll on all that is local.

Rajkumar is the last in a line of icons that once defined Kannada pride at its most visionary and liberal. These included literary giants like D R Bendre, Masti Venkatesh Iyengar, Shivaram Karanth, A N Krishna Shastri and K V Puttappa, and the visionary engineer Sir M Vishweshvarayya.

26 April 2009

Money, Elections and Politics in India

Albert Einstein discovered the mass-energy equivalence in physics, given by the equation E=MC2.

We the people of India have discovered the election-money equivalence in politics, given by the equation E=CM2.
E = Elections
C = Caste
M = Money
Check out these horror stories:

Tamil Nadu:
On an average, ruling party candidates spend Rs 25-30 crore. Other candidates, a minimum of Rs 10 crore. The budget for urban constituencies is higher, with major candidates spending an average of Rs 50 crore. And if the candidate is an ex-minister, a high-profile candidate or the relative of a veteran political leader, then there is no limit.

In the recent Thirumangalam assembly by-election in Tamil Nadu the DMK is said to have spent around Rs 80 crore. So when the stakes are high, purses are wide open.

Andhra Pradesh:
"I am a Congress legislator from coastal Andhra Pradesh, having won for the first time in 2004. My constituency has around 1.5 lakh voters. My task began with identifying a local pointsman, a party sympathiser, in every village. He costs Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000. In turn, he picks two youths for each booth, which on average has 1,000 voters. They have to be paid Rs 10,000 each."

Karnataka:
"Reaching 14 lakh voters spread in 1,600 booths in 240 gram panchayats of eight Assembly segments in the LS constituency located in central Karnataka region was not an easy job. I spent Rs 17 crore last time."

21 April 2009

A Brief History of Hindutva - 3

A Brief History of Hindutva

The trigger came in the form of a temple, in one of the holiest cities of the land. The temple had been destroyed almost 500 years ago to make way for a mosque. Now the people of the country wanted their temple back. The temple was important in itself, yes. But it was even more important as a symbol. A symbol of our great religion, civilisation and history. A symbol of the thousand years of barbarism inflicted upon us. A symbol of the need to end the nonsense called secularism and once again stand up as who we are.

What followed was a national movement of epic proportions – the greatest since the freedom struggle. The campaign for the temple created a new awakening. Indians started calling themselves by their true name: Hindus. No more apologising. No more feeling guilty or defensive for being the "majority community". We are Hindus. This is our country and our culture. And we will fight to take it back.

The movement created a tidal wave of nationalist fervour. The wave swept the nationalist political party, which had only 2 seats in a 545-strong Parliament, to power within just 15 years. The party may have lost later, and may be struggling today: with its own weaknesses and failings, and also with the division of Hindus by caste and language. But Hindu nationalism had taken a giant step, from which there was no going back.

A new threshold had been created, best illustrated by the temple/mosque question itself. The pulling down of the mosque was a violation of the rule of law, no doubt. But even the incident's most vehement critics were not proposing that the mosque be rebuilt. The debate had been taken to a new level.

A new spirit had dawned. Indians were now proud to be Hindus. An ancient truth was embraced: India is a Hindu nation, a Hindu rashtra. For a long time, this had been the chant of lonely voices in the wilderness. Now a sizeable section of the population accepted it. The people were finally beginning to call a spade a spade.

True, the journey has only just begun. There is still a long way to go. Hindutva is not yet the dominant ideology. But it is no longer a fringe ideology either. It is now one of the competing ideologies. Meanwhile the nationalist organisation continues its work – slowly, silently, but surely. It may take 10 years, 50 years or 100 years. But succeed we will. Victory shall be ours. Mother India shall once again sit on the throne she once adorned. Our Mother India – smiling, beautiful, radiant and glorious – giving light to the world and hope to mankind. It is only a matter of time.

(Concluded)

20 April 2009

A Brief History of Hindutva - 2

A Brief History of Hindutva

When Gandhi became the supreme leader of the freedom struggle, it should have meant the triumph of Hindu nationalism. For he was a deeply religious Hindu, proud of his country's ancient heritage. But it was not to be. For some reasons, Gandhi did not have the confidence to make Hindu-ness, or Hindutva, the basis of Indian nationalism. The ideological vacuum was filled by Nehru (Gandhi's closest follower and chosen heir) with his secularism and socialism. It was left to a doctor from Nagpur to found an organisation that would keep alive the flame of true Indian nationalism. Hindutva, which should have been the dominant, mainstream ideology was instead marginalised and banished to the fringes.

In 1947, after half a century of struggle, India became free. Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last! But the moment was bitter-sweet. Along with the joy came shock, horror and anguish. Mother India, our beautiful Mother India, was torn apart. Her right and left arms were chopped off from her body. Meanwhile the Congress became the dominant political party of independent India. It had disregarded the advice of its patron saint to disband itself. Enjoying a virtual hegemony, it imposed Nehru's secularism and socialism on the nation.

The nationalist organisation meanwhile soldiered on, now led by a zoologist-turned-sanyasi. In 1949, Nehru signed a pact with Pakistan agreeing to set up a "Minority Commission" and guaranteeing "minority rights" in the country. This shocking compromise with the nation's sovereignty, unity and integrity was the trigger for the birth of a nationalist political party, which had the blessings of the sanyasi.

For the next four decades the Congress ruled the country, implementing its "secularism", which in practice meant:
– Dividing the country into "majority" and "minority" communities, instead of uniting the country as one.
– Giving special rights to minorities, instead of giving equal rights to all citizens regardless of religion.
– Turning a blind eye to minority communalism, while branding any talk of majority welfare as "fascism".
– Creating and nurturing minority vote banks, while doing nothing to solve their genuine problems.
– Appeasing minority fundamentalists, and creating a separatist mindset in the minds of the minority.

During the freedom struggle and at the time of Independence, Indians had not embraced their identity as Hindus, preferring Nehru's secularism instead. Gradually they realised that something was seriously wrong with this "secularism", that this country was on the wrong track, and that they were being made fools of. As the cynicism and manipulations of the rulers continued unabated, the country started boiling beneath the surface. A correction became overdue. All that was needed was a trigger.

19 April 2009

A Brief History of Hindutva - 1

A Brief History of Hindutva

For almost the whole of the second millennium, India was invaded, conquered and ruled by people from other lands – the Turks, Mughals and British – who brought with them their violence and intolerance. During this period India, and her soul – Hinduism, was bruised, battered and broken. Indians were subjected to a thousand years of atrocities, massacres, persecution and oppression. The result was they forgot their true greatness, their true history and their true identity. In short, they forgot who they were. Indian society limped along, barely surviving and holding on to its traditions. Then, in the 19th century, when the night seemed to be at its darkest, an awakening began. Seers appeared, telling Indians who they really were and reminding them of their true genius. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Dayanand Saraswati were the pioneers. They were followed by Swami Vivekananda and Aurobindo Ghosh. They all said the same thing. Their message was very simple:

"We are Hindus. Ours is the oldest surviving civilisation on earth. Our way of life is 5000 years old. For almost 4000 years, Hindu civilisation was the greatest civilisation in the world – having attained the heights of both material prosperity and spiritual progress. But we didn't keep our wealth to ourselves; we shared it with the world. We gave the world our knowledge and culture. We gave the world our philosophy, science, mathematics, art and literature. We gave the world lofty thoughts and noble ideals. For centuries this sacred land, Mother India, was the light of the world. But now she is in chains. And you, her children, have forgotten your true nature. Arise, o lions! You are descendants of gods and goddesses, sages and saints, kings and warriors. Arise, free your Motherland! Rediscover your true spirit and lost genius. Take your Mother to the heights of glory she once commanded. And be the shining light to the world that you always were. This is your role, this is your duty, this is your destiny."

Indians woke up and heeded the call. But the awakening was partial. The people did start fighting for their country's freedom. But the other half of the message – the message of Hindu nationalism – was ignored by the leaders of the freedom struggle. They were city-bred lawyers, products of the British education system. They were Macaulay's children: "a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinion, in morals and intellect". They didn't want to have anything to do with the word "Hindu". Only one leader, Tilak, embraced Hindu nationalism.

14 April 2009

What Should I Do With My Life?

Excerpts from Po Bronson's book "What Should I Do With My Life?" (2003):

Asking The Question aspires to end the conflict between who you are and what you do. There is nothing more brave than filtering out the chatter that tells you to be someone you're not. There is nothing more genuine than breaking away from the chorus to learn the sound of your own voice. Asking The Question is nothing short of an act of courage: It requires a level of commitment and clarity that is almost foreign to our working lives.

The ruling assumption is that money is the shortest route to freedom. Absurdly, that strategy is cast as the "practical approach." But in truth, the opposite is true. The shortest route to the good life involves building the confidence that you can live happily within your means (whatever the means provided by the choices that are truly acceptable to you turn out to be).

Avoiding crap shouldn't be the objective in finding the right work. The right question is, How can I find something that moves my heart, so that the inevitable crap storm is bearable?

Every industry has a culture. And every culture is driven by a value system. One of the most common mistakes is not recognising how these value systems will shape you. People think that they can insulate themselves, that they're different. They're not. The relevant question in looking at a job is not What will I do? but Who will I become? What belief system will you adopt, and what will take on heightened importance in your life?

Not everything has to go right in order for it to work. His backup plans do not lead to different destinations, such as "If I don't get into business school, I'll be a schoolteacher." His backup plans lead to the same destination, and if he has to arrive late by a back road, that's fine.

12 April 2009

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Summary of Steve Jobs' commencement address at Stanford University (2005):

Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.

My third story is about death.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Stay hungry. Stay foolish. I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

11 April 2009

On Media, News and Journalism

In 1958 legendary radio and TV journalist Edward R Murrow gave a speech to the RTNDA* about the state of the American news media. Many of the things he said are relevant for the Indian media (print and electronic) today:

The elaborate structure of networks, advertising agencies and sponsors will not be shaken or altered.

That your voice is amplified to the degree where it reaches from one end of the country to the other does not confer upon you greater wisdom or understanding than you possessed when your voice reached only from one end of the bar to the other.

I am seized with an abiding fear regarding what these two instruments (radio and television) are doing to our society, our culture and our heritage.

If there are any historians about fifty or a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black and white, or colour, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live.

One of the basic troubles with radio and television news is that both instruments have grown up as an incompatible combination of show business, advertising and news. Each of the three is a rather bizarre and demanding profession. And when you get all three under one roof, the dust never settles.

Or do we believe that the preservation of the Republic is a seven-day-a-week job, demanding more awareness, better skills and more perseverance than we have yet contemplated?

I am frightened by the imbalance, the constant striving to reach the largest possible audience for everything; by the absence of a sustained study of the state of the nation.

If the sponsor always, invariably, reaches for the largest possible audience, then this process of insulation, of escape from reality, will continue to be massively financed, and its apologist will continue to make winsome speeches about giving the public what it wants, or "letting the public decide".

*Radio-Television News Directors Association

10 April 2009

Rajiv Gandhi's "Power Brokers" Speech

At the centenary session of the Congress in 1985, Rajiv Gandhi delivered the inaugural speech in which he lashed out against his own party, calling it a party of power brokers. An excerpt:

But they (party workers) are handicapped, for on their backs ride the brokers of power and influence, who dispense patronage to convert a mass movement into a feudal oligarchy. They are self-perpetuating cliques who thrive by invoking the slogans of caste and religion and by enmeshing the living body of the Congress in their net of avarice.

For such persons the masses do not count. Their lifestyle, their thinking - or the lack of it, their self-aggrandisement, their corrupt ways, their linkages with the vested interests in society, and their sanctimonious posturing are wholly incompatible with work among the people. They are reducing the Congress organisation to a shell from which the spirit of service and sacrifice has been emptied.

We talk of the high principles and lofty ideals needed to build a strong and prosperous India. But we obey no discipline, no rule; follow no principle of public weal. Corruption is not only tolerated but even regarded as the hallmark of leadership. Flagrant contradiction between what we say and what we do has become our way of life.

09 April 2009

Shibumi

From Shibumi (1979) by Trevanian. A conversation between General Kishikawa and Nicholai Hel:

"He is a man who has all my respect. He possesses a quality of... how to express it?... of shibumi."

"Shibumi, sir?" Nicholai knew the word, but only as it applied to gardens or architecture, where it connoted an understated beauty. "How are you using the term, sir?"

"Oh, vaguely. And incorrectly, I suspect. A blundering attempt to describe an ineffable quality. As you know, shibumi has to do with great refinement underlying commonplace appearances. It is a statement so correct that it does not have to be bold, so poignant it does not have to be pretty, so true it does not have to be real. Shibumi is understanding, rather than knowledge. Eloquent silence. In demeanour, it is modesty without pudency. In art, where the spirit of shibumi takes the form of sabi, it is elegant simplicity, articulate brevity. In philosophy, where shibumi emerges as wabi, it is spiritual tranquility that is not passive; it is being without the angst of becoming. And in the personality of a man, it is... how does one say it? Authority without domination? Something like that."

Nicholai's imagination was galvanised by the concept of shibumi. No other ideal had ever touched him so. "How does one achieve this shibumi, sir?"

"One does not achieve it, one... discovers it. And only a few men of infinite refinement ever do that. Men like my friend Otake-san."

"Meaning that one must learn a great deal to arrive at shibumi?"

"Meaning, rather, that one must pass through knowledge and arrive at simplicity."

From that moment, Nicholai's primary goal in life was to become a man of shibumi; a personality of overwhelming calm.

Although they spoke late into their last night together about what shibumi meant and might mean, in the deepest essential they did not understand one another. To the General, shibumi was a kind of submission; to Nicholai, it was a kind of power.

Both were captives of their generations.

06 April 2009

Maharashtra Yatra - 2

8th January (contd)

Ellora is about 35 km from Aurangabad. It's about 500 years later than Ajanta. It has Buddhist, Hindu and Jain caves spread over some 2 km. We were shown only the four most important ones: caves 10, 12, 16 and 32. Cave 10 was a Chaitya, cave 12 a Vihara, cave 16 the great Kailasa temple and cave 32 a Jain cave. The guide's explanations help you appreciate what you are seeing. Kailasa temple is truly a marvel of India, second perhaps only to the Taj. You can't believe it's carved out of a single rock. After Ellora, we visited the nearby Grihneshwara, the 12th Jyotirlinga temple. The Linga is ancient, but the outer temple was built by Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore in the 18th century. Males who enter the sanctum sanctorum have to go in topless. We finished the tour with a visit to Bibi-ka-Muqbara, tomb of Aurangzeb's wife in Aurangabad. It's modelled on the Taj Mahal. It was evening when we got back. I checked my mail, had dinner, checked out of the hotel and boarded my bus to Bombay.

9th January

I got off at Dadar, took a train to Andheri and reached Kaddi's house by 7:30 am. The poor fellow had been woken up an hour earlier by a phone call from my dad. I had my bath, packed up and left for Dadar to deposit my luggage in a locker/cloakroom while I saw more of Bombay till 3:15 pm, when my train would leave for Nagpur. At Dadar, the TT told me that cloakroom was available only in VT, now CST. In Bombay, everything has been renamed as either VJ (Veermata Jeejabai) or CS (Chhatrapati Shivaji). I sighed and boarded a train to VT, where I did find a cloakroom. But it accepted only locked luggage. So I left my suitcase (which had a lock) and took my kit (which didn't have a lock) with me. I came outside and admired the station. Right across is the Corporation HQ, another beautiful building from the British era. Took a cab to Prince of Wales Museum of Western India, now the CS Vastu Sangrahalay.

I had 90 minutes to see the museum, 30 minutes for each floor. Check out the beautiful section on Indian miniature art. From the museum it was a 30-minute walk back to VT. Along the way, I saw the Rajabai Tower (tallest tower in the city), Stock Exchange and GPO. At VT, boarded a train to Dadar. I arrived 30 minute before the Sewagram Express to Nagpur was to depart. Amitesh and Nattu were waiting for me outside our coach. We spent the journey catching up with what each of us had been upto in the last 1.5-2 years. I wasn't too sad to leave Bombay. At first sight it's quite depressing: slums, poverty, filth. Especially for someone from Bangalore. But the people are nice and helpful. Not like Delhi.

10th January

The train reached 5 minutes early, at 7:15 am. There was supposed to be a guy from the hotel to pick us up. We called up Suchit, found out where the hotel was, and took an auto. At the hotel, we bathed and left as early as we could – the wedding was at 10 am. On the way we had to get the gift packed, which took quite a long time. The baraat arrived at the hall shortly after we reached there. The wedding was over quite quickly. We had lunch there and left for the railway station, where Amitesh had to book a ticket for Ahmedabad. Then we went to our hotel. Amitesh left at 6:30 pm, Nattu left an hour later. I was left alone.

11th January

There's nothing of note to see in Nagpur. There is one fort, but it's open to the public only on January 26 and August 15. So I left for Ramtek, 50 km away. There's a Rama-Lakshmana temple there, to commmemorate their stay in that place. The temple is on top of a hill; the climb reminded me of the View-Point at Ajanta. There's also a Kalidasa Smaraka nearby, still under construction. Apparently, Kalidasa lived here for some time and wrote some of his works. It was afternoon by the time I returned to Nagpur. I boarded a bus to Wardha, 80 km away. Gandhiji's ashram (Bapukuti) at Sewagram is a short distance from Wardha. Near the ashram is a Gandhi exhibition. I then returned to Nagpur.

12th January

Woke up at 4 am, packed up, checked out and reached the railway station at 5 am to board the Gorakhpur-Bangalore Express at 5:25 am. I needn't have bothered; the train was 2 hours late. I bought a magazine to kill the time. Finally the train arrived. It was the only boring part of my journney. Maybe I was fed up – it was my third train journey in 8 days. Thankfully it reached Bangalore in time the next day, at 10:30 am. Then back to Tumkur for a long sleep!

05 April 2009

Maharashtra Yatra - 1

In 2003 I had gone on a trip across Maharashtra. Here is the mail I had written describing the journey:

Yesterday morning I returned from a 5000+ km tour of Bombay, Ajanta, Ellora and Nagpur. The excuse was a friend's wedding in Nagpur (on 10th January). He was my classmate at IIT Delhi.

I left on 4th night by the Udyan Express, which takes 24 hours to reach Bombay. I enjoyed my first train journey since I came home in November 2001. The best part is after Khandala and Lonavala. The ghats are beautiful, and there are several tunnels as well. I got off at Dadar. Kaddi arrived there to pick me up. We went by train to his company flat in Andheri, which he shares with a colleague. We spent the night chatting. It was 2:30 am when we slept. He made a few calls to his friends to get the information I needed to see Bombay and go to Aurangabad.

6th January

I woke up as early as I could and left for the Gateway of India, from where I could get a boat to take me to Elephanta Island. I took a local train to Churchgate, the last stop on the Western Line. From there a cab to the Gateway. A slight delay there: the cops held me up to let Vajpayee and Anerood Jugnauth pass through first. I got off and learned to my great disappointment that Elephanta was closed on Mondays. So I took a Bombay tour instead. It was 11 am by the time bus left. The 140 km tour covered some 7-8 places. Most of them were useless, like World Trade Centre, Nehru Science Centre, Hanging Gardens and Kamala Gardens. But Aarey film city, Mahalakshmi temple, Juhu beach and ISKCON temple were better. Taraporewala Aquarium and Prince of Wales Museum are also closed on Mondays. Moral of the story: don't visit Bombay on a Monday. The bus dropped me at Dadar at 8 pm. I had dinner and boarded a bus to Aurangabad, to see Ajanta and Ellora.

7th January

Reached Aurangabad at 7 am. Very few autos were available – there was an auto strike going on. Took one to a hotel. Learnt that there had been some violence the previous day: auto drivers had pelted buses with stones. So all tours had been cancelled for that day :-( I had just 2 days to see Ajanta-Ellora. And Ellora was closed on Tuesdays (Ajanta is closed on Mondays). So I paid through my nose for a cab to take me to Ajanta, 105 km away. I left at 9 am and reached there about 2 hours later. Vehicles are not allowed near the caves. You have to park about 4 km away and board a CNG bus from there. This is to protect the cave paintings from pollution.

There are about 30 caves, all of them Buddhist, carved over a period of some 500 years, starting from the 2nd century BC. They line the outer bend of a U-shaped gorge, carved out of the rock by a river. The caves consist of both Chaityas (shrines) and Viharas (monasteries). Some of the caves have paintings, which are the main attraction of Ajanta. Most of the pictures have been ravaged over the centuries by heat, cold, dust, etc. Some have been ruined our own hands: one cave's paintings have been replaced by Hindi and Marathi grafitti. Restoration work is going on to save the few that remain. Well, it's never too late... It takes 2-3 hours to see the place. Take a flashlight with you if you are going: it'll help you see the details of the paintings in the dim caves. I then climbed to the 'View-Point', the spot from where the caves were discovered by 2 Englishmen in the 19th century. It's worth the climb!

Back to Aurangabad in the evening. I was relieved to find out that tours were on the next day. I booked a tour to Ellora and also my ticket back to Bombay.

8th January

The Ellora tour started at 9:30 am. The ITDC bus was only half-full. 50% were foreign tourists. Our first stop was Daulatabad (Devagiri) Fort. It turned out to be more interesting than I expected. It has quite a history, being associated with the Yadavas, Mohammad bin Tughlaq and Allaudin Khalji. It's an impregnable fort, with hajaar booby traps and mazes. Then we left for Ellora.

03 April 2009

Yegdagella Aite: Mukundoor Swamiji

Noted Kannada writer Belagere Krishna Shastri (uncle of Ravi Belagere, the editor of "Hai Bangalore") worked as a school teacher for many years in several towns and villages across Karnataka. In 1950, while working in a village in Chikmagalur district, he heard about a wandering ascetic who could perform miracles and was 140 years old. People called him Mukundoor Swamiji. Krishna Shastri soon met the Swamiji, and became his close friend and admirer. He spent a lot of time with the Swamiji, travelling with him across Hassan, Chikmagalur and Chitradurga districts. The friendship came to an end in 1968, when the Swamiji passed away.

In 1995 Krishna Shastri wrote down his memories of Mukundoor Swamiji in a book called "yEgdAgellA aite" ("yogAdalli ellA ide" or "There is everything in Yoga"). It is a remarkable book about a remarkable man. Mukundoor Swamiji comes across as a Yogi, whose child-like simplicity and jovial nature masked his philosophical and spiritual depth. He used to travel from village to village and town to town, teaching people how to live and imparting to them the timeless wisdom of our civilisation. He had a unique gift of explaining abstract philosophical concepts to the simple village folk in their own language, using examples from their everyday life. The analogies and metaphors that he used to reveal the meaning of the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavad Gita and Vedanta are simply wonderful. Swamiji used to speak in a rough rustic Kannada that is rendered verbatim (with no attempt at "correction"), enhancing the charm of the book. Krishna Shastri also describes the beauty of the Malnad region eloquently. The Swamiji's love of nature is evident in every page.

Another thing that stays with the reader is the charm, beauty, simplicity and innocence of rural and small-town Karnataka of half a century ago. Today Karnataka boasts of being home to India's IT capital. But one can't help feeling that something precious has been lost in the pursuit of this progress.

This book reminded me of two books I have heard of, but not read: Paramahamsa Yogananda's "Autobiography of a Yogi" and Swami Rama's "Living with the Himalayan Masters".

02 April 2009

Karmanyevadhikaraste

karmanyEvAdhikAraste mA phalEShu kadAchana
mA karmaphala heturbhooh mA te sangostvakarmaNi

Your right is only to work, and never to its fruits.
Don't be motivated by the fruits of work. Nor should you be attached to inaction.

This is perhaps the most famous verse (2.47) of the Bhagavad Gita. Many people have not read the Gita, but they are familiar with this shloka.

The shloka (and the philosophy of Karma Yoga) tells us to renounce the fruits, or results, of our actions. Exactly what are these "fruits"? In a narrow sense they could be tangible gains – like a salary hike or a promotion. In a broader sense they could be the achievement of one's life's ambitions – like wealth, fame or power. These are the things people usually mean when they talk about "fruits" or "results".

There is another, more fundamental, "fruit" of action that is seldom talked about in this context: the happiness, the satisfaction and the peace of mind that one gets from work. Does "fruits of action" include these as well? Is Krishna telling us that we should renounce these also?

Imagine doing a work and saying no even to the joy that we get from it. It is one thing to do good work letting go of money, power and fame. It is another thing to do it letting go of even the happiness that it gives us. Doesn't this sound heartless? Yes, it does. Some would argue that the satisfaction and peace of mind we get from good work are an intrinsic part of that work, and should not be seen as "fruits" of work. But if we really think about it, we realise that these are also "fruits" of work, and hence should be renounced.

Which brings us to perhaps the most fundamental, the most primordial, "fruit" of work – the sense of meaning and purpose that one derives from it. Are we to renounce this as well? Yes, that is what the Bhagavad Gita is telling us. This is Karma Yoga at its most severe level: working purely for the sake of work, and not for any other reason. The work itself is its own justification, and nothing else.

This looks more like a philosophy of meaninglessness and nihilism than like a philosophy of Truth and salvation. But that is how the Path is.
kshurasya dhArA nishitA duratyayA
durgam pathah tat kavayah vadanti

The razor's edge is difficult to walk on
Likewise the wise say the Path is hard.

(Katha Upanishad, 1.3.14)

To become a Yogi one has to look the cold truth in the face. As Dag Hammarskjold said: "Never let success hide its emptiness from you, achievement its nothingness, toil its desolation. Your duty, your reward, your destiny are here and now."