Monday, 20 February 2017

The Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta and Leadership - 1

This is a realisation that came to me hard when I was doing my habitual morning reading of The Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta; my thoughts on my learnings of two verses are tabulated below. 

BE PRACTICAL, MY FRIEND – DON’T CHANGE THE WORLD
Don’t try to change the world… Change Yourself…


The headline of this article says it all; this is the most common rejoinder people get when they try to set an example, with one single refrain – aap duniya nahi badal sakte; be practical, this is the way it is, and many other variations along this theme. Hidden in this lovely gem of a statement, this remarkably ignorant statement is a litany of problems, all of which hover around one single tragic theme in our society today. Some critics of this habit call it apathy, some selfishness, some a lack of confidence while some others blame it on the prevalent atmosphere. 


CHANGE AGENTS
There are two aspects or parameters to this, in my humble view; the first is ideological, and thoroughly idealistic in both its intent and its wording. Simply put – if everyone thinks along these lines, then, ladies and gentlemen, the simple reality is that nothing will ever change in any aspect of human endeavour, be it society or be it science. Change is a constant, and it is the change agents who bring about that change. By discouraging the change agents, you can only delay the change, with all its attendant effects good as well as bad– not cancel the change


In any field of human endeavour, it has been the change agents who have brought about defining change, despite the fact that they were all, without exception, ridiculed and even called fools, to put it bluntly.  There is no change agent I am aware of who did not have to struggle to get the change in place. Even top scientists & famous leaders had to struggle, read their biographies. The choice is between selfish faceless mediocrity, and selfless service! And it is also a fact that only a small number of people from these change agents actually succeed – but isn’t the norm in any field, where success percentage is actually always a small fraction?


But the fact is that, as any biography will readily confirm, the successful change agents build on a series of previous change efforts put in my innumerable nameless and faceless people. That is why it is absolutely essential to continue to swim against the tide in a defined moral and/or scientific direction – you may not succeed, but you and countless others might {will?) become the cause of someone who does manage to succeed. This is true for any field of activity – Science, Trade, Society – any human activity. It takes uncommon courage to go against the tide – and my advise to those who do so is that you are special, a person of raw courage and guts. Never ever give up!


LEADERS
The others aspect is the one of leadership. Now we define leaders as business leaders, political leaders  etc – I am not referring to these. I am referring to any leader, which  includes the above and many more – society leaders, opinion leaders, role-models, teachers, etc. Anyone who leads or influences even one person is a leader. It is a known philosophical as well as scientifically established reality that people try to follow and emulate those whom they see as leaders. I refer you to this verse from our Holy Book, The Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta, Chapter 3 Verses 20 & 21 :


कर्मणैव हि संसिद्धिमास्थिता जनकादय: |
लोकसंग्रहमेवापि सम्पश्यन्कर्तुमर्हसि || 20||
यद्यदाचरति श्रेष्ठस्तत्तदेवेतरो जन: |
यत्प्रमाणं कुरुते लोकस्तदनुवर्तते || 21||


By performing their prescribed duties, King Janak and others attained perfection. You should also perform your work to set an example for the good of the world. Whatever actions great persons perform, common people follow. Whatever standards they set, all the world pursues. Leaders of society thus have a moral responsibility to set lofty examples for inspiring the rest of the population by their words, deeds, and character. When noble leaders are in the forefront, the rest of society naturally gets uplifted in morality, selflessness, and spiritual strength.


I have given in the links below 4-6 commentaries; please go through them. They all talk of the same interpretation, and the role of leaders in forming societal values and norms. And this what the holiest of our Sanaatan Dharmi books tell us, written thousands of years ago. My personal definition of the word leader in the societal context is thought leaders, intellectuals, journalists, writers, filmmakers and actors, political leaders, social leaders etc.


Do we demand these qualities of our leaders – any leader? Do we judge them on such or similar parameters – or do we judge them by their status in terms of power, achievements and wealth? Arent we, as a society, placing a premium on the means of achievement attainment rather than the methods and values? What message are we sending society, what role models are creating? In the modern world, we set store by money earned, goods acquired, power attained – not on the values portrayed…


The least we can do is stop ridiculing the tough hard fighters who are trying to bring about change for the good; no one is asking or forcing you to emulate them. Change, true lasting change, cannot be enforced; it has to be embibed. It is a chain, wherein you add people one-by-one; it is inherently slow in the initial phases until it acquires critical mass.



Even our Scriptures, as also science, says the same; leaders have to show an uncommonly high standard of moral behaviour in any and all aspects. The least we can and should do is not discourage people who have the strength of character to be upright in these trying times. And the most we can do – choose leaders basis moral values, which,  as things stand today, is frankly a tough call…  


Agreed with the world - be practical, my friend. Dont change the world, but then, no one is trying to change the world. But you can and should set a moral behavioural example for the world. Now that is doable, isnt it? 


LINKS:
The Eternal Duties of a Human Beings - Geeta 3/21
Geeta as it is 3-21  
Holy Bhagvad Geeta 3-20/21 

Monday, 13 February 2017

Its Valentines Day Again!

The Big Day is here again, at least if we are to believe some segments of our population. This day is one shining example of Marketing & of Western Culture and its pull in our society. There are some who may hold that this Big Day is only a marketing tool; then there are those who may hold that this is the perfect example of the pull of the West… maybe, just maybe, both sides are right! What is this Big Day I am talking, or rather, to read the minds of those who avidly follow it – as they will say to this post of mine, jabbering about?  Well, it so happens that I am Jabbering On About VALENTINE’S DAY


THE HISTORY
Just what is this day? What does it signify? And on earth do I have to set aside this day as an expression of love? What makes it so special? Let us look at it, and try and understand. As per website History.com, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day in the 5th Century!  To quote infoplease website, The holiday's roots are in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, a fertility celebration commemorated annually on February 15. Pope Gelasius I recast this pagan festival as a Christian feast day circa 496, declaring February 14 to be St. Valentine's Day. And wiki states : It originated as a Western Christian liturgical feast day honoring one or more early saints named Valentinus. In fact, the entire wiki article is a series of events associated with Christianity


When did this become as big as it has in India? I certainly don’t remember it being as big an affair in my school days in the 80s! Wiki helps here : Following the economic liberalisation in the early 1990s, a new middle class emerged who could afford access to foreign TV channels and card shops. Valentine's Day became popular among this middle class, but not much in the lower economics classes. So, I did a little bit more searching in my hunt for an answer, and found these two rather hard-hitting articles


Lately all of us must have come across those pop-up windows on our screens with roses and hearts drawn all over and a message informing about various ways - deals, to be precise— to express your love on Valentine's Day. Was the scenario same 10 years back? No it wasn't. At that time, only teenagers would secretly greet their beloved with a rose, probably stolen from the neighbours' garden. – . Advertising Age, Feb 12th, 2016. This article details a lot more, but that is not our current concern; either is the size of the market, which, by an article I spotted on retail.franchiseindia.com, is around 22,000 Cr by some estimates – Article dated Feb 12th 2015.


CULTURE
A couple of questions here : Why are we celebrating this at all? I am fine  with setting days for events – if a day can help and be an aid to expressing love, I certainly don’t see it as an issue. But where is the relevance to Indian Culture here? This is far too clearly a purely imported concept, even without the religious background stated above. And if we do want to have a marketing gimmick-based celebration of love, where is the need to go for imported examples? Cant we find real Indian examples of love from our ancient past, and from any number of religions based here?


Why this surprising chase of a western concept with zero relevance to our culture? This has zero basis in fact, or seasons, or our culture, or even our modern history {let alone pre-modern or medieval or ancient history, I am talking of just 15-20 years here!}; this has zero connect with anything, except The West, and Marketing – pure and simple. I stated above I am not against marketing; but why do we Indians need to chase alien culture, when our own culture is full of days and dates that can be excellent substitutes for a celebration of love? Why are we chasing a chimera?


I see everyone and his uncle celebrating an essentially alien festival, alien to our culture at least; wishing etc – now why on earth do you need a day that commemorates something with zero Indian relevance is beyond me! What is sadder still is the fact that some people would not recognize our festivals if they jumped up in front of them, yet go ape over this Valentine’s day! You want to show your love on a day that has no religious connect? Then be informed that Valentine’s day is a Christian Festival. You want to show your love on a day, and you require a day for that – may I suggest your anniversary? Your love’s Birthday? Or any number of other occasions? Why go ape over this non-event?


MARKETING
To marketers, my hearty congratulations on building a completely useless day into something substantial in India; this should be a real live case study in all Management Schools in India. Well done, well done indeed! Now my question to you, all of you : explain to me, a corporate guy like you, why this same cant have been done as successfully for an Indian themed day? We have innumerable days for your choice, religious as well as otherwise! And yet, you forget all of that and chase after a Western day? Is that the best you can do? I have seen your quality in this case study, as well as other awesome case studies that are models of marketing; you have the skills; how about using those skills to good effect and create hype around an Indian Day?


You create a {shudder!} 22,000 Crore market around a totally alien concept; I am pretty sure you can do the same for others as well. Other examples abound : Friendship Day, remember? Unlike other critics, I don’t blame marketers – you cannot create a need, a want; you can only identify and tap into latent demand. If marketers could create demand, well, I need not say anymore than that! Life would be different to all of us.



BUT, and this is a BIG but, if you can identify and tap latent demand for something so alien, so frivolous as this, I am pretty sure you can do the same for other events as well. It is just a question of finding the right trends, and building on them. How about doing something Indian for a change – like the excellent one around Akshay Tritiya? Unless you {we?} as a profession regard Valentine’s Day as Indian, which is frankly a ridiculous idea, given I have no recollection of celebrations on this scale in my childhood – despite this being a Christian Festival, and I being educated in a CONVENT! QED…



References : 

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Book Review - Ashok : The Lion of Maurya

ASHOK - THE LION OF MAURYA
by Ashok K Banker

Only a select few persona from history have as wide and as huge an impact on Modern India, and Indians in general, than Devanampiya Piyadassi, from the Maurya dynasty. This is one name that actually does reverberate across the length and breadth of the land; this name invites immediate recognition, and sense of pride, a sense of awe, and a sense of deep respect. He does this by the virtue of his deeds which encompass the achievements of a fearsome warrior king, a development focused good monarch, and a deeply spiritual peace-loving ruler of the land.


People may not know his by his full name, but will immediately recognize his better known name : Ashok! Not much is known about the real Ashok; that said, there are extensive surviving literary records, most of them in the manuscripts Ashokaavadaan, Mahaavamsa and Paalivamsa, which as per my readings {Given here - Book Review: Ashok The Great} , are the principal literary sources of his life. {There are others, like the Divyavadan for example} I make this point to underscore that there are massive gaps in the life of Ashok; there are many small contradictions, & a lack of continuity. And the creation a fiction book series based on the life of Devanampiya Piyadassi Ashok  is a laudable effort.


THE BOOK
Image result for ashok the lion of mauryaThe current book, the first in the series, is titled Ashok – The Lion of Maurya {For the life of me I cannot fathom why Indians insist on the trailing “A” when penning proper names in English! To be precise, the actual book is Ashoka – The Lion of Maurya; the trailing A is fine in Maurya due to the following vowel sound!}. Lets be crystal clear here : this is a work of fiction. It comes under historical fiction, and cannot be treated as anything else, as I point out in detail in the review section. This book is based on the early years of his life as a young prince, and traces the internal challenges he faced when young.


THE REVIEW
First, history. Now it is thought that Ashok, in some manuscripts from ancient India, was known as ChandAshok {cruel Ashok} in his early days, before rising to what he became eventually. This is however debated by some historians. Second, his Biological Mother Dharma {Shubhadraangi} has also been debated, though is generally accepted as his mother. Third, his accession to the throne is under discussion, as the accepted version of fratricide and killing may not be right. That discussion is beyond the scope of this review; please read the compilation in the link in the second para above.

Not much is known of his early phase. The sources are the Ashokaavadaan which is a 2nd Century text; the other two are Buddhist texts. There is a clear contradiction in many points – Kaling War, The Coronation etc where the numerous historical, literary and archeological records do not suffice. While his greatness is not in question – the contents of all the sources put together pretty much put that beyond reasonable doubt; the fact remains that there isn’t enough detail present to put together a life story. When reading this series, it is my opinion that readers should keep this uppermost in their minds. We are reading a fictional telling of the story of Ashok the Great.


Thus, I will make no attempt to compare history with this book; there is much we need to learn. The book itself – it is an excellent one, well written, with a very fast pace, action oriented. It tells the story of a prince, who loves his family, and is a devoted and loyal prince to the Emperor {this much seems true as per my readings}, as well as a brother with deep caring for his elder brother Sushim; which is borne out by the inscriptions on the edicts.


It is the story of royal intrigue, internal politics, murder and plotting; this part has been very skillfully put together in a flawless narrative that makes for absorbing reading. It tells the story of a family fighting internal squabbles, as well as external enemies; you get entrapped into the story, the pages pull you in as the plot twists and turns every few pages with a rapidity that is awesome. The story has been crafted really well, and the whole package works quite well. It gives the reader an enthralling fascinating read!


I have placed emphasis on the history and its  gaps  for a reason – we are talking of a legend, one of the finest Indians from Ancient India, a leader & a king whose symbols are the chosen symbols of the Modern Indian State. Given that background, it needs to be stated that the historical record has some gaps,  which the author himself underscores; as also the fact that this is historical fiction. The book is true to the major aspects of history; that is true. Especially, the bonding between the Sushim and Ashok as well as the pressures have been developed really well, which is appreciable.


The series should be interesting to see how this particular and vital relationship is developed, and which road the story now takes from hereon; I am waiting eagerly to see the author’s interpretation. But the start is very promising; Ashok comes across as the one I have read about – not the one in the legends; as does Sushim. You can already see snippets of the more famous Ashok begin to shine through. This  is an approach that is logical, consistent with one side of the argument as I have read it; my references are in the linked Book Review of the book Ashok The Great, which is a compilation of a couple of dozen books by historians on the famous King Ashok the Great. All in all, an excellent effort which has a very promising start to it. Worth a read, definitely so.