the tao of governance

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“The best rulers are scarcely known by their subjects;
The next best are loved and praised;
The next are feared;
The next despised:
They have no faith in their people,
And their people become unfaithful to them.

When the best rulers achieve their purpose
Their subjects claim the achievement as their own.”

(Ancient Chines Philosopher Lao Tzu in Tao Te Ching)

A democratic country is administered by the elected representatives. There are periodic elections to find out whether the nation wants the same set of representatives or they want change.

After taking various decisions, the elected representatives don’t carry out the decisions themselves. There is the executive consisting of people who have a more enduring life cycle than the elected representatives so that the country doesn’t run into chaos even if there is political instability in the short run.

Checks and balances to the legislature and the executive are provided by the judiciary and the press. In a robust and developed democracy, the judiciary is autonomous and there is freedom of press. Freedom of expression for every citizen is a part of parcel of healthy democracy. But in the countries where corruption is rampant, attempts are made to curb  ‘free speech’ by carrot and stick policy.

Another signs of weak democracy is when the voters are not concerned with their own long term future. At election time they sell their vote eagerly for a few bucks or some cheap goodies that is not essential to their livelihood. It does not matter if the politicians later on deprive them of facilities like good roads or better educational or healthcare facilities. We sacrifice our long term goals for short term useless gains.

In a mature democracy all these elements of democracy – the legislature, the bureaucracy, the judiciary, and the press – function in a robust and autonomous manner so that ultimately it is the system that runs the country (based on a strong constitution) and not an individual as it used to happen during the times of kings.

The demerits of democracy is that development and decision making processes are sometimes slowed down. But at least it prevents the country from falling into the hands of a dictator. Time and again we have seen that:

Power tends to corrupt and

Absolute power corrupts

Absolutely.

The US prides itself as the champion of democracy. But it is not so. Because it is the world’s most powerful country,  it bullies others into accepting that it is the champion of human rights.

There is not a single day when the US president is not in the news around the world. In most of the countries politicians let their presence felt in a dominant way. Their photos greet us on every page of the newspaper and from every street corner. About their presence in the electronic media, the less said the better. The politician constructs a bus shed out of our money but puts his photo prominently on it.

Some of the small countries like Switzerland show the signs of the best developed countries in terms of public governance. Such countries are run so smoothly that you hardly know who is your mayor of the locality. These countries seem to be following the principles of Tao Te Ching quoted in the beginning.

Monica Lewinsky and the Trolls of our Times

A couple of days back a woman of acquaintance committed suicide. The usual story : alleged extra marital affairs, a society that loves to take figments of weird imagination as the gospel truth, rumour, lack of emotional support from near ones, stress, depression, and fear of facing alone an antagonistic world. Remember, there were male parties to the whole issue. But, it was the woman who faced the majority of the insults and finally paid with her life.

Coincidentally, perhaps at the time when the woman was preparing to hang herself, in the comfortable surroundings of my home I was watching a series of TED talks, one of them being a talk by Monica Lewinsky about the trials and tribulations she faced after the news of her inappropriate actions in the White House became public. Well, those who were of news digestible age by 1998 need no introduction to her.

 

She recounts that it was an internet site that first broke the news. The president of the United States of the America had been caught pants down with a young intern in the white house. Within no time news spread like wild fire all over the world. The internet was full of nasty comments about her. All sorts of editors from the main stream media to the yellow press wanted to outdo one another in dishing out juicy details. And shaming her.

Bill Clinton was effected too. Of course, he was not as devastated as the lady. Nor was he trolled and shamed both offline and online, as vigorously as Monica was done. He was let off after the public was fed up with inventing banters about him. Ultimately, the US public did not want him to lose his job. His wife stood by his side and after a decade, she  was vying for the top post of the world.

Meanwhile, Monica was having a hard time reconciling with the nasty world. She recalls that at some point she too thought of committing suicide. Her mother stood by her. Her mother was so cautious, she insisted that Monica should keep the door open while taking her shower.

In India we have the idea that women are in the receiving end and the bearer of the bigger brunt only in orthodox countries like ours. We think women are better off in such matters in free, modern and progressive countries of the west.  But it seems whether it is in the west or in the east, society has been grossly unfair to the fairer sex.

Monica also recalls an incident of a girl committing suicide after someone filmed her intimate moments with  a boy friend and made it viral. These are some of the flip sides of the social media.

The talk also raises deeper issues of freedom and citizen responsibility. How can we demarcate a line when commercial interests (more visitors to the website/ more readers of the newspaper) override media ethics and an individual’s right to privacy?  Should freedom of expression push every humane consideration to the sideline?

Of course the main issue here is the way society treats women and men over similar mistakes. We know that in Ramayana, Sita did not go through the agniparikha (to pass through fire to prove her chastity) voluntarily. It was ordained by the keepers of morality. Same way, our historians who are now too obsessed with the Aryan Invasion theory, should do serious research to find out whether, during the Isalmic invasion and loot, women voluntarily went through the sati ritual or were coerced to do so.

part 3: The Japanese sense of Aesthetics

The concept of mono no aware that I discussed in part 2 finds expression in Japanese art and literature including in the works of the latest Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro. Even though the concept originated in the Heian Era (8th-12th century), it started gaining prominence in Japanese culture with the works of the 18th century scholar Motoori Norinaga.

The sweetest songs are those that tell us of our saddest thoughts (PB Shelly). But songs or no songs, the sadness about the passing of beautiful things and pleasant moments may have an underlying elusive shade of sweetness. Maybe, that is what mono no aware is all about.

The Heian Era also saw the origin of the three art forms of Japanese refinements: kado, kodo, and chado. Kado is the native name for the Japanese art of flower arrangement which is also known as ikebana. Kodo is appreciating the subtle variations of incense and chado is the famous Japanese tea ceremony. The origin and refinement of all the three forms bear the influence of Buddhism.

I am fascinated by the Japanese tea ceremony. It is said that a Buddhist monk discovered tea. While dhyan which traveled from India became a refined form of meditation and culture known as Zen after reaching Japan, the simple act of taking tea to remain alert and ward off cold developed into a kind of religion reaching its Zenith during the time of emperor Hideyoshi and tea master Sen No Rikyu.

Chado can be loosely translated as the way of the tea. Detailed attention is given to the choice of the utensils, the movements of the host and the guests. The decoration inside is austere following the principle of wabi-sabi. There are four basic elements of the ritual: harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility. Care is taken to see that the location of the tea house, its surroundings, its interior and the objects inside are all in harmony. One has to bow down or crawl to reach inside, kneel down and bow to the hanging scroll and sit down in tatami. It is like going inside a temple. A special connection between the host and the guest is made when they honour each other. Purity is obtained when the actions of the host seem spontaneous, not rehashed. The overall effect is meditative, tranquil bringing all participants to here and now.

Another concept of aesthetics associated with Japanese art, literature, and culture is yugen. The underlying principle is that certain deeper truths cannot be explicitly expressed and can only be alluded to or hinted at. Even those that can be explicitly expressed can achieve a sublime and mysterious status by being alluded to thus deepening their effect.

I started this series with a clarification about the poetry form haiku. Some readers have opined that we cannot be too strict about the form of poetry that has undergone change over the centuries. Agreed. However, it should not water down to a lamentation about the low office wage with no reference to nature or with nothing to juxtapose. To end this series, here a few of my favourite haikus:

Come come ! I call ...
but the fireflies 
flash way
into the darkness (Onitsura)

Watching the spring moon
rise
I no longer bother
about the mountains (Kyorai)
(hint: the spring moon is more transient than the mountain)

What does this mean?
Chrysanthemums
and jonquils
blooming together (shiki)

The leaves never know
which leaf
will be first to fall..
does the wind know? (Soseki)

Preach away cricket
it doesn't matter to me
I know 
it's autumn (Soseki)

There goes a beggar
naked
except for his robes
of heaven and earth (Kikaku)

Since I first became 
a hermit
The frogs have sung 
only of old age (Issa)

Day darken!
frogs say by day
at night they cry bring light
old grumblers (Buson)

How can a creature 
be so hated
as a winter fly
yet live so long (kikaku)

Among these lovely 
cherry blossoms
a woodpecker
hunts for a dead tree (Joso)

If my grumbling wife
were still alive
I just might enjoy
tonight's moon (Issa)

Over the ruins 
of a shrine
a chestnut tree
still lifts its candles (Basho)

An old silent pond
into the pond
a frog jumps
splash ! silence again (Basho)
(This seemingly simple haiku has hundreds of translations and interpretations. All I can say is while reading this haiku if you get a feeling of here and now, you need not bother the hundred intellectual interpretations of the poem)

 

By the way, I enjoyed these hilarious haikus written by Sri Uma Shankar Pandey on his blog.

My next book, an anthology of poems which will be released shortly, will include some micro poems. Let me assure you I will not claim those as haikus. 😀

 

 

 

 

cities inhabitable

air pollution

Hawa mein udta jae,
mora lal dupatta malmal ka
ooo…  ji… ooo ji

Hey girl. Don’t let your dupatta fly off your soft hands. Delhi is approaching. You will need it to cover your nose and mouth.

The air pollution in Delhi reaching alarming proportions is the top trending news these days. Of course for the weak lunged, most of the Indian cities are increasingly becoming inhabitable. After shifting to Bangalore when I went to a doctor friend for my persistent cough, the first advice he gave was to leave Bangalore.

In the WHO list of most polluted cities in terms of outdoor pollution, ten Indian cities have the honour of being included in the top twenty.  Delhi, which ranks fifth among Indian cities, gets highlighted the most because, the media men and VIPs stationed there think Delhi is the world.

Air pollution in cities has become a common phenomenon in hugely populated developed countries. Countries like India and China with their affluent population crowding the cities experience it the most. Recently there were newspaper reports that many city dwellers in China are forced to flee the cities.

In India, the major causes of pollution are industrial and vehicular emissions and inefficient cooking fuel. According to the WHO report the air quality in many of the thickly populated rural areas do not provide a back up for the city dweller.

Adulterated vehicle fuel and traffic congestion worsen the situation in cities. Following the example of China, the Delhi government implemented the odd even scheme to reduce number of vehicles on the road. But the impact of such schemes has not been on expected lines and these schemes are likely to end up as symbolic gestures in the long run as people find innovative ways to bypass the system. Maybe, the time has come for tougher measures like banning of all four-wheelers other than public transports and ambulances on fixed days.

Those who commute to office for less than  five kms can easily pedal to office. The healthier and more enthusiast ones will not mind the distance, provided there are dedicated cycle tracks. We need to create more awareness in this regard and the city planners must focus on decreasing traffic congestion and encouraging people to pedal around the city.

The sharp increase in use of personal vehicles can be attributed to increase in purchase power. But economic empowerment of people cannot be and should not be reversed. No doubt pollution is a byproduct of modernisation. However, scientific development in one field can be used to counter the ill effects of scientific development of another field. We can focus on developing technologies to have affordable cars like Nano or, improving the vehicles that run on no fuel. Further increase in standard of living makes people abandon basic bikes and cars in favour of luxury brands that consume more fuel. Problem is – it is the inessentials with money power who also influence legislative decisions. Thus, it becomes difficult to legislate and implement simple and practical solutions.

For a growing economy with a huge population the situation can only get worse as we go for more investment in manufacturing sector. Hope, side by side with the improvement of our ranking in ease of doing business,  we took tough steps to ease out our ranking from pollution index.

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This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.’

Get a copy of my book ‘Idle Hours- Humour|Memoir|Essays ‘to read more of my takes on  social, trivial and selfhelp issues. You may find some of them hilarious too.  

dhan ki jai: of justice and fair play

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If you are monied and influential enough you go scot-free in spite of committing the most heinous crime. In India, we have got used to these kind of incidents. What is worse is – if, you are poor you may get convicted for someone else’s crime.

You have to be a strong believer of karma and rebirth to feel OK with the social injustice meted out on a poor fellow by the combined forces of the state and the media after watching the movie Dhananjoy, which is based on the real life trial and conviction  of Dhananjay Chatterjee.

Dhananjay Chatterji was held guilty and and hanged for raping and murdering Hetal Parekh – a fourteeen year old school girl – on 05 Mar 1990 at  her flat in  the apartment complex where Dhananjay was a security guard.

The media went on a frenzy to brand Dhananjay a rapist and murderer even before the trial began. As Dhananjay’s family could not pay the fees, his lawyer lost all interest in the case. Based only on circumstantial evidences Dhananjay was held guilty by the trial court. The verdict was upheld by the High Court and the Supreme Court. The pressure of vote bank from the influential Gujrati Community was so much that the wife of the then West Bengal CM Budhadeba Bhattacharya held public rallies demanding death penalty for the accused. Public opinion to paint Dhananjoy a monster was kept up through out the trial and his consideration of mercy plea by the president of India till he was finally hanged to death on 14.08. 2004.

Later on many inconsistencies in the so called circumstantial evidences surfaced. Three professors of the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata did extensive research and published the details of the inconsistencies and a probable sequence of events based on their collection of evidences in a book. The movie- Dhananjoy- is based on this book.

If the inconsistencies mentioned in the book ( as I learn from the movie) are true, the probability of Dhananjay being innocent is very high.  Certain facts which were not taken into account while pronouncing the verdict are as follows:

  1. All the twenty one or so injury mark are only on the upper part of the body. If it was a rape some injury marks were expected in the lower parts as well.
  2. There was proof of sexual intercourse, but there was no conclusive proof of rape. Even the forensic report said so.
  3. When Hetal’s mother discovers her injured (already dead)  body, in stead of seeking medical help  as a first thought, the first thing she does is she shouts to know the whereabouts of Dhananjay.

There are so many inconsistencies in the statements of witnesses that even a layman (provided he is totally unbiased) would award Dhananajy at least a benefit of doubt. But, forget about a benefit of doubt, this poor security guard who could not afford a costly lawyer, was held guilty and hanged to death. (Contrast this with the recent case of a film director who hired a costly lawyer, Kapil Sibal in this case and got exonerated of rape charges from the High Court. This director is also well connected in the left liberal circle of Lyuten’s Delhi)

Even the communist government in power, that prides itself for standing for the poorest of the poor and social justice, sided with the moneyed Gujarti Community in this case and went overboard in demanding death penalty for the accused. Dhananjay’s karma was so poor that, the then president of India, who rejected his mercy petition,  himself hailed from a poor family.

Coincidentally, the previous day I had watched the  English movie – Jack Reacher. The base plot line of the movie thinly resembles Dhananjoy, except that in this Hollywood movie the innocent convict is saved by a powerful duo of an attorney and an ex-Army officer from Military Police. Another difference is that the movie Jack Reacher is not based on real life incidents.

Justice and fair play for the poor and the innocent happen after all. Of course, in the land of fiction.

jack reacher

 

 

 

it was a great show

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Six hours of circus-

As usual the politician inaugurated it

And slept throughout the show

To wake up in the last hour

To proclaim

In words impeccable  and rehashed

The situation is under control

The guilty will not go scot free

And the victims will be compensated

 

The trapeze men thought they were

Fighting  a just cause

Going up and down without a safety net

So thought the green and yellow foot soldiers

Going up and down and down

 

Three dozen died

A few heads rolled

(Do we know their names?)

Some cried and

Some cried foul.

 

Far away

In another planet

Faces lit up

‘It was a great show’

They chuckled

And took a break.

(Disclaimer: The post is not related to the faux pass of the Haryana Government in the aftermath of the arrest of Baba Ram Rahim. Scores of people died accompanied by destruction of property as the government agencies were a mute witness to the bizarre reaction of the followers of the Spiritual Guru who epitomized love and peace)

 

hear the saga of the common man

Hear the saga of the common man- the aam admi.

He is the ultimate hero, the fictional centre of the universe.

Some claim that their hands are with him.

Some have made name, fame and fortune out of his name.

Every religion champions his cause.

Every atheist has vowed to be by his side come what may.

Each page of newspaper is dedicated to protect him from other looters.

Every body from the king to the millionaire is in competition to be his most humble servant, protector and savior.

The world exists to fulfill his wishes and everyone of some reckoning has been working for him, since time immemorial.

Now this is the miracle:

In spite of so many well-wishers, messiahs and mass leaders,

he continues to remain poor, exploited,  helpless, be-fooled, baffled

fighting and killing fellow common man for the just cause.

Every hand is out to rob him.

Every elephant is out to trample him

Every sickle is out to cut his throat

And every hammer is eager to crush his head.

Every lantern burns out of his blood.

He bears the brunt of every broom.

His desperation and despair provides manure for every lotus to bloom.

The list would go on.

But, the saga of common man will continue

to be the same story of struggle and betrayal day after day.

 

JNU – all that buzz non academic

jnuJawaharlal Nehru University – a premier educational institute of India, has been in regular news over the last couple of years.

Unfortunately, for reasons not academic.

Not because its students or professors achieved anything remarkable connected with higher studies, research or anything related to learning for that matter. But, because of the battle of supremacy of one idea over the other accompanied by violent protests and clashes bordering in anti national activities.

Jawaharlal Nehru, after whom the university is named, was a free thinker and welcomed criticism of his own ideas. While he advocated secularism, he has also written books about the lofty heritage of this country. By no means he would have been delighted by the attempt to propagate anti-national ideas on Indian soil.

Healthy debates and discussions and free expression of opinions are the bread and butter of a citadel of higher learning. Even though the university was dedicated to the memory of Jawaharlal Nehru, it was the leftist leader Prakash Karat who formulated the major policies related to the University. Moreover, the student politics of the campus has been mostly left dominated. Hence, it can only be expected that the university propagates and zealously guards a particular point of view.

An ideology is just a notion. As a prodigious student, in stead of probing the origin or relevance  age old ideologies, it is unfortunate that  a citadel of learning has been a stage to propagate particular ideologies.

A student should be a skeptic, questioning everything. The faculty should engage in producing and encouraging that spirit of inquiry and should not in any way bring their own ideologies  to influence their commitment for the intellectual growth of the students.

According to the Wikipedia page on JNU, while it is ranked third best university by India’s Ministry of HRD, it ranks 1177th in the world by an international study. Academically speaking, the university has still a long way to go in spite of attracting some of the best minds of India.

The events at JNU also raises serious questions as to whether student politics should be allowed across educational institutes in India. By the way, elections were banned in JNU from 2008 to 2011. At the age when students in India enter campus politics, are they mature enough not to be used as pawns? Moreover, by indulging in active politics, do not they lose precious student time  that they would have devoted to learning? After all ,educational institutes are not meant to give hands on training about the nitty- gritties of winning elections. During my college days I witnessed classes being postponed frequently due to student activism over trivial issues.

As the JNU events  show, students are used as pawns to push forth particular ideologies or carry on certain types of propaganda not at all related to the curriculum of study. The situation becomes dangerous when anti national propaganda are carried out in the name of free speech. Somewhere a line should be drawn between free speech that genuinely encourages spirit of inquiry and self reflection on one hand and  propaganda by vested interests that questions the very fabric of a nation that after all gave them an opportunity to study in that university with a generous subsidy out of her citizens’ earnings.

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