Posts filed under ‘To reflect’

A distant dream

The distant moon is the epitome of serene resplendent beauty and the shimmering light of a fading star across the galaxy is more dazzling than a Kohinoor diamond. The haunting melody of a long forgotten past still lingers on while the valleys and hills of distant lands are always the enchanting backdrops of many a folk tale. The lands of opportunities and of good life are essentially across the seas and the rich bounties are only for the few willing to drip their sweat on alien soils! We are perpetually fascinated by the distant, the bygone and by the splendid imagery of an unheralded future that we fail to appreciate the joy of the immediate, the worthiness of the near or the beauty of the now.   

There is something about the distant that bestows it with an aura of mystique. Perhaps it is essentially the undefined nature of its elements that affords one the freedom to romanticise with it breaking free from the limiting and the restricting shackles of the known and the structured. A suggestion that it could be beyond the grasp makes it all the more attractive and that which is not readily attainable has a seductive captivation on all of us. And in this obsession for that elusive ethereal, we become inert to the joys of the present and the cosiness of the close and take flight away from the realms of the real. Thus the life style of an alien land is more adventurous, its taste, sight and smell more exotic and its permissive culture immensely liberating to the one swayed away by its influence.  A quixotic engagement with the far removed is only matched with the absolute contempt for all that is familiar, all that is life sustaining and all that could truly be claimed as one’s heritage. This negation and the dereliction are not limited merely to the social and cultural environments but extend to communities, peoples and neighbourhoods that are inextricably part of one’s upbringing, a contempt not confined to the familiar that is proverbial, but to ones’ own true identity.

This contempt of the closest is no more well pronounced than in our dealings with our neighbours.  It is easier to shed a tear for the suffering millions of the sub-Saharan desert than to sympathise with an ailing neighbour and provide her a little moral succour. We can, at the most, tolerate our neighbours but can never really care for them; for they are our pitted enemies that the destiny has forced us to live in close proximity. A neighbour is a moron, unaccommodating and an unavoidable nuisance while a morphing facebook contact is the one we are willing to vouch our lives on.  We could chat on for hours with our virtual pals but can’t stop to exchange pleasantries with the soul next door.  Disdain for the real leads to escapism from it with the virtual world providing the perfect cover.

But just as individuals are guilty of contempt for their next door kith and kin, nations are equally at fault in not being able to conduct their affairs honourably with their neighbouring ones. Countries wax eloquent on their quest for lasting peace and harmony among the comity of nations while they scheme the next assault on their immediate neighbours. Though they share a common history, mostly a common language and culture and are invariably from the common stock of human race, yet neighbouring nations are the fiercest when it comes running down each other. They form alliances and even military pacts with distant nations with the sole purpose to checkmate each other. In international real politic, you cannot be neighbours and yet remain friends!

Even religions which have identical lineage and are descendance of a common philosophical viewpoint are today at draggers drawn at one another. Christianity and Islam, though emanated from identical cultural milieus, having common geographical roots in the desert sands of West Asia and propagating similar egalitarian religious faiths are never as alienated from one another as they are now, threatening  global peace. The fight for supremacy between the Cross and the Crescent is a painful reminder of how similar doctrines could be divergently interpreted to cause fiction and animosity among its followers.

Only when we attempt to live in the present, see the goodness of the people we are surrounded with and strengthen the threads that inter-wove us as custodians of a common heritage, would we begin to lead a life of blessedness.

Yours

Narayanan

May 25, 2010 at 9:53 pm 7 comments

Pearls and the pebbles

It is too often that we tend to mistake the chaff for the grain and end up making false assumptions and wrong inferences. In our haste to make conclusions and pass judgements, we deny ourselves the precious insights that a more analytical and discerning observation would have afforded us with.  Opinions thus formed blur the vision and colour the thoughts as we become prisoners to our own prejudices and preconceptions.  Tainted arguments marshalled, facts twisted and plain truths ignored, all aimed only to support a predetermined idea that foreclose any new evidence that might suggest a conclusion that is in divergence to the one already formed.

The shores of the ocean are littered only with pebbles while it’s mostly the messy weeds that float on its surface.  And, based on such a spurious observation, to declare that the vast ocean has only pebbles and weeds to offer would be a gross travesty of the truth. To find precious pearls one need to dive deep into the depths of the ocean and scan many a cave, cavern and coral for they are never found drifting  on the surface or tossed up by the waves. The prized possessions are always only for the diligent and for the one willing to go beyond the superfluous and who is receptive to new dimensions that open up on his life’s voyage.

The sweetest, the precious and the priceless are always encased inside a tough, hard and bitter exterior. While the cool and soft kernel of the coconut is hidden deep inside its rock-like fibre, it’s the bitter rind of the orange fruit that preserves the sweet juice within.  Diamonds are concealed in the rocky veins and the dark and bitter honeycombs are a glorious deception to the nectar that they hold. Just as it would be foolish to pass the uncut diamond as a piece of rock, as absurd as to ignore the honeycomb as a tasteless waste, it is equally insane to vilify thoughts and visionaries only because they do not subscribe to our preconceived notions or directly challenge our existing state of understanding.

While the truth could be very obvious to a few of those who have the needed insight, it would require calmer and deeper enquiry for many others to perceive the same. Though the sculptor already envisions the image of the figure that he is chiselling out of the hard rock, it becomes increasingly obvious to the onlookers only when rough edges give way to the smooth contours of a definite sculpture.  But at the end, everyone sees the same image in all its beauty, irrespective of how they looked at it before. So too the pristine truth stands majestic, unadulterated by the biases and prejudices of many of its critics, for it is its own authority and witness.

This has been the same fate even with the Avataric personalities down the ages. Many of his contemporaries mistake him as just another incidence of a human birth and run him down with calumny, falsehood and a concerted smear campaign. For, they are too timid to make a little effort to know the truth that would have opened up a new awakening and thus a more purposeful existence.  They could only be pitied and sympathised for they know not what they are indulging in. If only they let go their little egos and practice a little sadhana through the three-fold path of Service, Adoration and Illumination, the truth of SAI would become obvious.

 

Yours

Narayanan

April 17, 2010 at 3:14 pm 14 comments

Celebrating Failures

The pursuit of success has remained the single most obsession of the homo-sapiens and so complete and so over-powering has been his thirst to be successful that he could be most ruthless on this voyage. For he believes that success by itself is the only reward for all the efforts that he puts in, be it towards an idea, a process, a mission, a discovery or a philosophy.  Success, for him is not a possible outcome with all the uncertainties associated in its actualization, but an absolute necessity without which there isn’t any justification, either for his past pursuits or his future plans. Success has a multiplier effect on him; for he believes that it breeds more success and as such is most uncomfortable or even dreadful towards the very notion of the so- called failures. 

But history is replete with anecdotes of failures that have provided mankind with great knowledge, priceless insights and definite roadmaps for the future generations on the principles to be adhered and the pitfalls to be avoided. Without these failures the evolution of the human mind would have been stunted and the many scientific, technological, social and historical revolutions that form the core of our common heritage would not have been realised. And it would be only prudent to recall some of those failures without which our destiny would have been different.

The great Indian uprising of 1857 is a classic case of a seemingly failed attempt to over throw an oppressive regime and instil a nationalistic dispensation through the coming together of varied princely states under a central command. Though the movement was ruthlessly crushed, it sowed the seeds of the idea of a nation and a quest for freedom that found fulfilment ninety years later. It also exposed the many social and religious ills that plagued our society then and acted as a catalyst for many reform movements to take root and work towards their eradication. The cohesiveness of the later Indian social order that formed the bedrock for achieving national unity could largely be attributed to the yeomen work done by these reform movements of the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century. All these would not have been realised without that mutiny, a failed one, which triggered introspection and concerted action. The saga of failure in our independence struggle continued when Gandhiji called off the paralysing Non-Cooperation movement of 1921 at the hint of a slight deviation from the vowed path of non-violence. The freedom was within grasp but such a freedom was non-acceptable if it was to be gotten by means bereft of principles and the nation had to wait for another quarter century to realise its aspiration. And the raising of the INA by Shubash Bose, though failed miserably to defeat the British militarily, had and continue to have an electrifying effect on the youth of the nation to dare and to defy unbridled authority.      

 What seemed to be great failures at the individual level have also turned out to be grand successes in opening up new vistas of opportunities and heralding new frontiers of knowledge.  When Christopher Columbus set out to discover a sea route to India sailing westward, little did he realise that he will fail in his stated objective but succeed in discovering a new world, The Americas, that was to become the new continent for the Europeans to colonise.  And the discovery of Penicillin was the result of many failures, mistakes and accidental coincidences as was also the discovery of X-ray.  “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” commented Thomas Edison on his vast array of experimental failures to develop a storage battery.

While failures of movements and individuals are innumerable, there are also been gigantic failures of great political ideas. The communist philosophy of establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat, though at one point of time had more than half the globe under its influence, ultimately failed to address individual aspirations and got almost wiped out from the earth. But it compelled nations and governments to incorporate the concept of a welfare state on socialist principles and adopt policies to guarantee minimum standards of living to all citizens. This has been the singular contribution of the great idea that Karl Marx propounded as nations struggle to find ways for a more equitable society.

In the business world, the one Indian experiment that held great promise was that of the Deccan Airlines. The no-frills flying concept of Gopinath, offering air tickets at as low a price as Rs. 500, contributed immensely in the democratising of the Indian skies and in de-glamorising air travel. Though the airlines got sold and tickets are now available at much higher price, it irrevocably brought in a whole new class of air travellers and contributed in the expansion of our aviation industry.

Failures are not just limited to humans but even gods at times seemingly fail in their tasks only to achieve greater success in their ultimate missions. When Krishna as a messenger and negotiator of the Pandavas failed to convince their cousins to part even a handful of soil, he was only preparing for the final assault and annihilation of unrighteousness. And he lovingly reminds us not to harp for the results but to singularly focus on the task at hand.

 So the next time you have the urge to do new things, try out new ways of making a living or implement new ideas, just go all out and get immersed in it.  If you succeed , be happy and if you fail, be happier!

Yours

Narayanan

March 31, 2010 at 2:12 am 6 comments

Don’t ask me, I am a Specialist

The pursuit of knowledge in any discipline, in the ancient traditions, had a holistic approach to it, with its various branches inextricably inter-woven that presented the subject of study as a complete whole. And a keen practitioner of knowledge such acquired always exhibited an intuitive awareness of the larger ramifications of the problem presented before him and could, therefore, come up with solutions that are precise, non-obstructive and most appropriate. In his analysis, diagnosis and in the final treatment, the fullness of his wisdom found ample expression.

But in an age where knowledge is compartmentalized into chunks of unrelated information, where years of study does not necessarily guarantee a firm understanding of the basics, the application of such truncated knowledge has only resulted in ad-hocism, quick fixes and partial remedies that are most often the causes for a more virulent manifestation of the problem, later on.  While half-physicians are positively dangerous and detrimental to the health of the patients, with a very narrow band of knowledge base, specialists could also contribute to the compounding of their woes.

Specialization might have had  its origin in the need to develop a knowledge corpus that are detailed and mapped to a specific sub-branch, but it is the mindless dependence on specialists for even the most common and mundane occurrences that baffles many. Specialization has come to mean a very high level of competency in an increasingly shrinking field of study to the total ignorance of all other allied branches and more so, even of the basic fundamentals on which the specialization “super-structure” rests. A specialist in hydro-electric turbines cannot fix a home motor pump, an M.Tech in Electronics and Digital Communication cannot identify a faulty IC in his blacked out TV and a Neuro-surgeon cannot possibly offer a treatment for congested nasal.  Either you could have a broad and firm grasp of your subject or else you could be a specialist. You cannot be both!

Contrast to the specialization is the interdisciplinary approach which seeks to apply ideas, theories and postulates of one branch of study to a totally unrelated field and come up with solutions that are novel, unique and truly out-of-the- box. At the heart of such a methodology is the belief that knowledge, in its purest form, is un-differentiated and as such have applications in realms that are previously not cognised. The understanding of the life-cycle of a living species is applied in the field of market research to predict the growth-stagnation-decay of a product, the biological characteristics of an organism is transplanted in the study of library sciences and the statistical theory of probability is applied in medicine to mark the progression of a genetic disorder. These are but a few random glimpses of how beneficial such an approach could be in the building of our knowledge pool.

Our ancients have always lavishly dipped their hands across disciplines to augment their understanding of their chosen subject. The knowledge of the constellations that found application in temple architecture is a case in point while analogies were drawn from diverse fields to drive home profound philosophical ideas.

 The future holds great promise for the inter-disciplinary(ist) and not for the specialist.

Yours

Narayanan

February 14, 2010 at 1:55 pm 2 comments

Pasta for breakfast, Chowmein for lunch

Globalization has presented India with myriad opportunities, the most tangible among them being the mushrooming  BPO services that provide employment to our millions. With the advantage of cost, geographical position and a vast English speaking population, it has been a virtual flight of jobs, from Boston to Bangalore and from Glasgow to Gurgaon.

But Globalization, by its very nature and implication, cannot remain a one way flow of advantages. As you mow down jobs abroad, you are also battered in a variety of other ways in your home turf. The flooding of the Chinese goods, from  mobile phones to auto accessories, from staple pins to pen drives, have been so complete and devastating that it has already lead to the sickening of many of the home grown industries. The sweet chirping calling bells in most Indian homes have a Chinese origin, the locks that secure them come from China and the glittering, multi-hued lights that decorate these homes during Deepawali have an invariable Chinese stamp to it. Even the little crystal “Ganesha” idol before whom we bow every morning has a  “Made in China” tag under his belly. The Dragon has entered our living rooms, the bed rooms, the bath rooms and even our pooja rooms! 

But it has been its entry into our kitchen that has been the most profound and yet most silent, a bloodless coup, with the Chinese having the company of the Italians in this invasion. Indian palates are now treated to a host of Chinese and Italian cuisines on a daily basis that are rolled out straight from their kitchens. The two-minute noodles, the pastas, the macaronis, the pizzas and the chowmeins have all become part of our gastronomical regimen that they have effectively replaced many of our traditional delicacies.

The ease and the convenience in the preparation of these menus have largely influenced our preferences and the neat “ready-to-cook” packs have only helped in their popularity. Aided by tantalizing commercials and star endorsements, these foods have influenced our children the most. The contents of the school tiffin boxes are a telling story of this tectonic shift in our eating choices and the alien foods that our children are now relishing. When did we last pack “Pulliodarai” with “Vettal” for lunch to our little ones?

While these foods just tickle our taste buds, Indian spreads have a wholesome nutritional value about them that factors in the demands of the climate and the genetic orientations of the population. The increasing numbers of obesity, malnutrition, sluggishness  and other attendant health issues that plague our kids can directly be attributed to the abandoning of our time-tested eating habits and instead lapping up a food culture that is most damaging.

I could easily spot a dozen places where I could have  Szechuan Noodles or  cheese Pizzas with Veggie toppings in my own colony. But where could I find a plateful of mouth-watering “Puttu” with ” Kaddala”? 

Perhaps in Shanghai or maybe in Milan….

Yours

Narayanan

PS: For tips on Indian recipes, visit www.recipesindian.com

February 9, 2010 at 5:42 pm 6 comments

‘3 Idiots’ and the three Ds

It has it all-great script, amazing casts, good cinematography, comic & highly hilarious scenes, et al. Helped with a controversy over the credits for the original storyline, ‘3 idiots’ is a huge hit at the box office as well, racking in almost Rs.200 crores in the first ten days of its release. And the cash box is still tingling.

The success of ‘ 3 idiots’ could also be attributed to the growing trivialization of higher education in the country where ranks, grades and percentiles are the only yardsticks of academic achievements, and its worth measured by the lucrative jobs you land up in. No method is mean as long as this “high purpose” of education to make a stylish living  is served well. Where education is a commodity, true learning is its first casualty.  The film contributes to this process of commodification of education quite ably.

In an age and time where effortless success is glorified, the rigours of serious academic pursuits are given a short shrift and instead a strategy evolved to acquire the degrees and the masters. An inquisitive mind, a sharpened intellect, an orientation for deep enquiry and thorough analysis -the hallmarks of a learned individual are so sadly lacking in men walking out of our educational portals.

Discipline, dedication and devotion need to be the essential characteristics of anyone in the pursuit of higher education. These three together provide the fertile ground for true learning to happen. Discipline would entail a rigourous adherence to a healthy routine of study and leisure, day in and day out. This conditions the mind to remain focused throughout and with ease. Dedication highlights the goal and purpose for which the knowledge is sought to be achieved and it should be for nobler ones. The acquired learning should be seen as an offering for the common good of the many and not as a tool for self-aggrandisement. And devotion reflects an approach filled with  humility to the subject of study and to the instructor. It instils in the student, a sense of reverence to both the teacher and to that what is taught and thus establishes a binding with the subject. Devotion ensures a life-long quest for knowledge without any anticipation.

Pursuing of higher education without these three Ds- Discipline, Dedication and Devotion- would only produce idiots. Not just three in number, but many times over!

Yours

Narayanan

www.yahoo.com http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3_Idiots

January 5, 2010 at 7:26 pm 5 comments

Copenhagen-An apology for leadership

Termed alarmingly as humanity’s last chance to save planet earth, The Climate Conference turned out to be an opera of the ridiculous or more still, the circus of the invertebrates. What was cobbled up at the end of the fortnight long “Debates, discussions and deliberations” is an “accord” that reads more like a New Year eve wish list than a definitive document detailing concrete plan for action on the ground. The conference, mandated to find ways of slowing down global warming , spewed a few hundred tonnes of carbon gas on to the atmosphere to bring in the delegates, the heads of states and their retinue. The world would have been a little less warmer without this conference.

The failure at Copenhagen is a classic case study on the essentials of leadership and on the lack of it. The first and foremost attribute of leadership is the synchronisation of the thought, the word and the deed.  Transformational leaders the world over and across time spans have demonstrated this unique quality which essentially is the function of their inner core formed on the bedrock of sterling character and selflessness. They expressed what they honestly believed in and went on to achieve them with courage, will power and initiative. This “to be ” in what one believes in forms the essential foundation on which other leadership qualities are built.

Once the goal is set, they deploy various techniques to achieve them and this could vary from one leader to another depending of such factors as time, resources & other challenges. The methods “to do” are much an extension of  the style and function of the leadership and context in which it evolves. The Mahatma embarked on a salt satyagraha to break the British hegemony,  Lincoln embraced a civil war to abolish slavery and Adi Sankara set up monasteries  for the spiritual integration of the country. No two of them were alike but their actions gave expressions to their core beliefs and herein lay the common denominator. 

The third critical attribute of the leader is the vision to envisage the future and the foresight to anticipate pitfalls & an action plan to circumvent them. This capacity “to see” the immediate and the distant and the preparedness to face them marks apart the true leader from the rest in the crowd. In the business world, a Bill Gates could foresee the coming of the IT revolution and a Jack Welsh, the advant of globalization and both profited immensely through their preparedness.

And the forth one is the capacity to effectively communicate the goal, the mission, the methods and the processes so that all the stakeholders are on the same page. This function “to tell” assumes various forms, the most crucial being the leader’s actions themselves. The spinning of the Charkha  was an effective communication tool that Gandhiji so effectively deployed to tell the people to support the Swadeshi and become self-sufficient.

These four cornerstones of true leadership – To be, To do, To see and To tell should be itched in the DNA of any aspiring leader, be it in politics, business, religion or any other human enterprise and without these qualities, the so-called leadership is bound to fail.

Benchmark the leaders who assembled in Copenhegen on these parameters and now you know why it failed.

Yours

Narayanan

December 20, 2009 at 1:47 pm 2 comments

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