Thursday, October 23, 2014

Why do intellectuals hate "Hindu"

Hate may be a very strong word.  But we see, historians, social scientists, learned journalists and analysts getting uncomfortable with the term "Hindu".  Here is a pseudo scientific, pseudo spiritual explanation for it.

Before we proceed with the intellectuals, we need to understand a few fundamentals.

1.  Mind:  What I mean by mind is that the little program that keeps running in our heads from a very young age.  This mind continuously learns, by organizing every piece of information it gets.  When any piece of information is encountered, the mind tries to match it with what is already there.  If the new piece matches an existing information or extends it without a conflict, the mind accepts it and add it to the existing information.   Let's say a child is used to seeing cats and if he happens to see a tiger, his mind extends the cat to include the information about the tiger.  If the new item is conflicting with existing information, it may add it to an exception bucket.  When more similar exceptions are collected, they are moved to the main storage.  A child which is used to seeing terrestrial animals may find the first bird it sees as an exception.  Exposure to more birds will make the information about birds as normal as terrestrial animals.  If the exceptional information is not reinforced with more such exceptions, the exception loses its importance and isn't considered for subsequent processing.

Over a period, the mind gains its strength with more learning and second hand information, a side effect of which is creation of opinions.  A cow as it gives milk, is good.  A cat that steals milk is bad.  These opinions give rise to ideologies - including religions.  

The mind works around any information that doesn't fit in the mind's way of working.  Zen Buddhists contemplate on paradoxical questions to silence the mind.  If the mind can't find answers by the way it learns, accepts and rejects information, it goes silent. 

2.  Hindu:  The term is fairly new - just a few hundred years old.  The term was originally used by those from the west to refer to the people of this region.  If religion is defined as a collection of diktats, issued by a prophet, Hinduism isn't a religion.  The people, who are referred as "Hindus", had diktats, that were very local and had no prophet as an authorized signatory.  So, Hinduism is not a religion.  Is it a culture or a set of values?  Does anyone have a well defined answer?  I don't.  Every custom, every definition of God and even the absence of God, every mode of worship, every mode of relating to a God is so flexible.   In effect, it is not an ideology that can be understood, but is a magnificent organism that continuously evolves itself. Any attempt to define it would be just as accurate a blind man describing an elephant.  

An expert on various ideologies can compare two ideologies, can judge impartially with one as good and the other as bad, as long as the ideologies are well defined.  Semitic religions fit in these category of ideologies.  Hinduism doesn't fit in such definition.

For an intellectual, even if he manages to identify a part of this magnificent organism, he knows his knowledge is only partial.  He knows that there exists a lot more aspects of this organism, that it would be impossible for him to understand it in his lifetime. It is impossible to classify it as good or bad, for every good that he can see, there would be something bad about it and vice versa.

For an intellectual, his mind is his strength.  He identifies himself with his mastery of information.  The term "Hindu", challenges the mind and knows that the mind can't comprehend Hindu completely.  This organism by its very existence undermines the intellectual's strength and identity.  No wonder the intellectual would be uncomfortable with such a monster.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Whose Blood?

Translation of writer Jeyamohan's speech in Bloomington Tamil Sangam on 22-Aug-2009

Dear friends,

There was this inspiring novel Barabbas by Pär Lagerkvist.  Many renowned writers worldwide were inspired by this novel.  The story goes like this.

"Jesus is brought to Mount Golgotha to crucify.  The crowd teases and throws stones at Jesus.  Pilate is responsible for carrying out the punishment to Jesus. 

But Pilate knows that Jesus is righteous. He asks the crowd on why should a righteous man be killed.  He requests the crowd to let go of Jesus.  The crowd insists on killing Jesus.
There were already three criminals waiting to be crucified.  Barabbas is one of them.  Pilate claims that he has the right to release one of the four.  He offers to free Jesus if the crowd agrees.  The crowd demands that Barabbas be freed instead of Jesus and Jesus be killed.  Barabbas gets released and surrenders Jesus to their will saying "I am innocent of this man's blood".

Freed Barabbas looks at the frail man responsible for his freedom and his sorrowful eyes.  He realizes that Jesus is sorry for the crowd.  He watches the Romans crucifying Jesus.

Later Barabbas returns to his ways of robbery and killing.  He feels guilty of the life got in return for the life of a righteous man.  He wanders, has a change of heart and becomes a Christian. He gets crucified for being a Christian.  Barabbas dies having paid the debt of his life."

Friends, when I was in school I had a teacher by name Thangiaya Nadar.  He once said, 'My father knew ways to elongate and shrink time and narrated his childhood.  His father was a farmer.  Everyday he used to go to the fields with his father and younger brother.  They would take turns to work on the field.  The father would speed up the time, by going first.  He would do all he can before sending the kids for their turns.

But when he eats, he would slow down time.  He would be eating so slow that even the younger boy would have finished with his food.  The younger boy would have had four refills of gruel before the father finishes one.  "He made us who we are now.  He worked for thirty hours a day.  Our growth was built on his sweat and blood.  We are indebted to our father for all that we have got", said Thangaiya Nadar with tears in his eyes.

Friends, have you ever wondered whose blood and sweat brought us here?  Have we thought on who gave their lives for us to live here?

For most of us, the first educated person in the family must have been our fathers.  Our grandfathers would have toiled in fields and starved.  We are here because of them.

During my childhood, I have seen scarcity for food.  After the planting of the crops in June and July, people used to roam around to dig out tubers.  Rice, even gruel was a rarity those days.    That was our nation - a nation that was swindled by foreigners and ravaged by great famines.  A nation no one wanted to invest in.

Our forefathers worked hard, saved every penny for the next generation.  They carried their next generations on their shoulders.

After coming here, I heard a few comments about the family system of our people.  They said that the family binds and constrains people and members of the family poke their noses in others' matters.  They compare the family structure of our country with the one here.  They said, people are happy here without the burden of a family.  May be so.  This is the life that people here have created.  But the lives that we had created had helped us raise up after great falls.  It had saved us from multiple failures.

Our families have made us who we are. Often we see cases of entire families starving for one member's education.  The system believed in one-for-all and all-for-one.  And it is a time tested system, tested over thousands of years.  If you are thinking of an alternate system, I request you to look at our history.

I request you to see our values, see them in the historic perspective.  See how these values have contributed in our history.  Think on how these values turn a starving nation to be an economic powerhouse in just 50 years.

These are the values that we must pass on to our children. If we don't, the losses are great.    They are there for us to see.  About three hundred years ago, our people - Tamils, Indians emigrated to other countries as refugees or slaves.  How are they?  They have lost their heritage and values.  In effect, they are scattered all over the world with no identity and are incapable of any achievement in any field.  They are the biggest warnings for us.

I see a number of our people, who are first generation American Tamils, trying to bring up their children as Americans.  I saw a lot of Indian teens.  Their parents have managed to create an inferior picture of India to them.  Everyday conversations center around degrading India and Indians.  Isn't it true that  children may look down upon their own parents as they do with India?

The child thinks himself as an American.  Does the nature change by just association?  Will he be an American? Blacks who are here for three hundred years are still Africans.  Jews living in the US for over hundred years are Jews.  Indians will always be Indians.  These children will learn it one day.

When they learn it, what happens to them without an identity?  How will they conquer their sense of inferiority?  What will they achieve if they spend every living moment to establish their non-Indianness?

Every society needs confidence on its structure, its values.  It may even brag about its greatness.  But rejecting itself would be suicidal.  Why is it so?

Do we give the best of Indianness to our children?  What opinion will the young mind create if we share the cheap cinema, TV programs and comedy show that we enjoy?  If we are ignorant of the greatness of Indian cultures and their success,  how can we give it to the next generation?

How can you create anything but a sense of inferiority with our poor taste of entertainment?  There are world class writers and researchers in every language in India.  Most of you don't even know their names.  All that we know are cheap entertainers, speakers who lie and politicians.  What impression can we create with such a lot?

Let's first learn to be proud of ourselves.  Let us learn our heritage and its achievements.  Let us learn to preserve the best of our cultures.  Let us leave the best to our children.  Let us make them proud of themselves.  

I would like to end with an event in the life of the Tamil writer Rangarajan (Sujatha).  He narrates how his father was responsible for his life.  The father was in death bed.  The frail old man was confidence personified when he was young.  The writer wonders if it was the man who tested his confidence by walking on the wall of Mettur dam.  The father never accepted anything from his son.  When the father realizes it, he asks his son to get him a shirt.

Ranga sat beside his father, held his hand and asked.  "What can I do to repay everything that you did for me?"  The father replied - "Do that to your son.  That would do.".

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Organizations killing natural trust

"She's good.", said my wife. The "She" was our domestic help. Having noticed that we are running out of stock of vegetables, she stocked it up without waiting for our order or confirmation.
As I was about leave for work, I saw the helper entering the house. "You had bought vegetables yesterday. How much did you pay?", I reached out to my wallet. "I'll get it later from Madam. You must be getting late." Without waiting for my acknowledgement, she got on to the work.
Happens to us all the time. The flower vendor usually delivers flowers for the advance we had paid. Someone remembers the account - either us or the vendor. Even if both forget, the transactions go on month on month.
I'm digressing. Yes, it was getting late for me. Got a meeting to discuss the compensatory time-off for engineers who come over the weekends for conducting interviews.
"There is a small issue here. The extra time they log is against interviews and the compensatory off we give may be used against the actual work time - affecting the engineering tasks that are assigned to them.", said the engineering team manager.
"So?" I asked.
"We can't give compensatory off for the time spent on interviews." said the manager.
"And so, we have no one to do the interviews", said the recruitment manager.
"Has anyone of your engineers used the compensatory off during critical project schedule?" I asked.
"Do you think any of your engineers would do so in future?"
"Then what is the problem. Why don't you trust your people and give them what they want?"
"Boss, you have a habit of simplifying every issue. It is not as simple as that..." started another executive.
I agree. I think it is very simple, People can simply trust each other. That's why life goes on. Small vendors could give credit without a security, People with less income could trust others irrespective of their income. When we think that we are part of an organization - an organization creates an "us-vs-them" attitude that simply discards this trust factor. Wouldn't it be great if organizations - big or small - government or otherwise trust individuals?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Jan Dhan Yojana

I come across people in different economic strata.  The ones that are relevant for this topic are the lower income group - consisting of street vendors, maid servants, gardeners, auto rickshaw drivers etc.  The ones I come across are fairly responsible, want to save some money, create assets as they age to support them in older age and so on.  Banks - that too nationalized ones do not figure in their idea of savings.  They park their money in gold, often buying at unreliable places, losing some money in the jewelry making charges and other expenses.  And they pledge it with pawn brokers losing either the jewel or money as interest.  To summarize, they haven't proven their savings potential to reasonable lenders like banks.

I think Jan Dhan Yojana is a good attempt for financial inclusiveness and expects some amount of fiscal responsibility.  I haven't seen a positive comment about it in popular media so far.  The Tamil magazine Kalki, in its editorial says it is the same as the Loan Melas of Indira Gandhi days and manages to quote an unknown Chief Minister from Bihar - of all the places.

Here is my understanding of the program (quoted from - even if it not the government authorized site, it appears to be correct).
  • Every person opening an account under this scheme will be getting a new zero balance account. This account is a special account and hence you would not be required to keep a minimum balance in your account.
  • The second benefit that one will be gaining is a life cover insurance which every account holder under this scheme is liable to it. Every account holder will get a life cover of worth Rs. 30,000.
  • Every account holder will be given a new RuPay debit card. This debit card comes along with a special accidental cover of 1 lakh rupees. Under this scheme by the PM of India there are two kinds of debit card that is named as the RuPay card and the RuPay kisaan card designed especially for the farmers.
  • After a period of 6 months the people opening an account under this scheme will be eligible for taking an overdraft of five thousand. Thus this will allow the common man of India to take a credit of five thousand rupees from the government of India. His can only be done if the account holder keeps the account active for a period of 6 months.
  • Later under this scheme some areas will also get a pension scheme for the elderlies.
  • Under this scheme the government of India is changing the face of India as many more ATMs are planned to be built as more number of debit card users are being made. It is a step of taking bank to every village.
  • The few changing steps include the evolution of mobile banking. Under this scheme the mobile banking will be available on Symbian phones as well. This facility was only available for smart phone users.
  • The credit amount of 5000 will be increased to 15,000 once the repayment of the loan is done on time. This will be a great help for the people of India to prosper as the money will be available for them
The liability of banks is very limited and it clearly encourages the low income group to save.  So far, our systems are built on distrust with enormous documentation, leading to workarounds and corruption.  Jan Dhan Yojana lets people cross the simple hurdle of opening the bank account.  After that, their action, that of saving money builds that trust - not a piece of paper.  Banks will have confidence with these account holders to offer them loans.

What can we - the middle class - do to contribute to this?

Start paying salaries to the maid servants, security guards, gardeners etc through their bank accounts.  Better still, pay about 10% of the salary through their bank accounts and rest as cash.  Pay it through online banking and send a message to their mobile (oh yes - they do have at least one) about the credit.  This will go a long way in helping them save and be part of the growth.