Friday, August 20, 2010


"Can we have a quick meeting this afternoon? There is something important to discuss." I was talking to two Group Leaders of NSS, IIT Kharagpur. It was lunch break time. One of them was available on google chat. The other got connected on his cell phone. After a few iterations we settled at a 5 p.m. meeting. The meeting was to discuss two points that might come up in a high level meeting we are expecting soon. It was found that the students needed some time to organize their thoughts. We decided that they would send 3-4 lines on each point by mail and I'd give my feedback then.

A meeting that was supposed to be short became a feast of philosophy and its practical aspect, the central theme being "Freedom". I assured Prof. SH, Program Officer, NSS that I'd upload NSS survey form in Intinno by 6 p.m. once this meeting was over, and that I could do that only at 8 p.m.! Though the student posing most of the questions were constantly asking me if I was getting late. When you discuss freedom you are in touch with eternity :-) The hunger in mind was not in conflict with hunger in stomach either. Mr. Abhay Ghosh, looking after Electronic Circuit Lab. in our Dept. was distributing snacks packets to celebrate the institute award he received on institute foundation day for his contribution to athletics in inter-IIT meet. I told him that we would share one packet but he was not satisfied without giving one to each of us in the room. Thank you, Abhayada for the treat. We wish that you scale newer heights and get more such recognitions and we have more opportunities to celebrate.

The discussion started on the traditional line - a fiery youth finding fault with Government, Administration for all the malaise. Why there is no road, electricity, irrigation, quality health service and education in all parts of the country? We tried to understand what is this Government or Administration. If one reads policy documents, looks at various welfare schemes, money allocated for underprivileged sector even in a constrained resource country like India - the amount is huge and the direction well defined i.e. upliftment of masses. Why then it is not visible? We are failing in implementation. Use of information technology, use of management skill can take us up to a particular level. But man as an actor at various conversion nodes or interfaces are key. Unless we have compassionate, hard working individuals working in cohesion, no amount of policy statements, welfare initiatives are going to help. A former prime minister of India was saddened to see that out of every one rupee spent on welfare schemes only 12 paise reach the beneficiary. Where does the rest 88 paise go? We blame the system. It is you and me who are at different positions of this system in different avataras, different form. It is my father or your father or my friend's father or uncle or relative of someone amongst us who are there or who will be there. And why we need to go up to that extent? If someone asks what is the output of an NSS unit that has 800 volunteers like IIT Kharagpur or if we are doing enough, we shall come up with long list of excuses, exactly the same way people at the other side of the table do. As has been said, "No Nation is great or good, because Parliament enacts this or that, but because its men are great and good...Suppose the government gives you all you need, where are the men who will be able to keep up the things demanded? So make men first....Men, men, these are wanted, everything else will be ready, but strong, vigorous, believing young men, sincere to the backbone, are wanted."

Therefore let us not indulge in blame game. Let us first try to fulfill my quota of service to the nation. Else, A blames B, B blames C, C blames D, ...., Y blames Z, Z blames A completing a full cycle. It might be a shocking surprise to A, a young student of IIT who was considering welfare of Z lying at the bottom of the pyramid, may be a small boy from a slum working in a tea shop or a fast food shop near IIT campus, to digest this. The boy Z does not know/understand B, C, D, ... Education service, Health service, Judiciary etc. What he everyday finds is that A is visiting the shop he serves in a jazzy cycle, costly sneaker, backpack, earphone feeding music from ipod and of course well-dressed and spending money almost at will (given the boy's standard of living). And the boy who works 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. earning Rs. 500 a month with a crippled mother and a little sister to feed might wonder if an IIT student could do more than blaming Govt., Admin. May be his sister was crying in hunger when he left home early morning for the shop. That it is not fiction or figment of imagination can be found from what an NSS volunteer reported sometime back (I discussed this in NSS orientation program).

"Today, I bought the study kit and presented it to the kid who works at a tea stall near .... He told me that he works from 7 in the morning till 11 at night and is paid a derisory salary of Rs 500 a month. He has a mother and a little sister to feed. His mother has a permanently crippled hand as a result of a fracture, and they could not provide her with good enough treatment. He has never been to school. He is 12. He has a lot of friends of his age who have indulged in activities like stealing, pick-pocketing, etc. And they jump over a wall to enter the campus for stealing....He was so ecstatic to see me. Since he has never been to a school before, he could count up to 30 and did not know the alphabet. I have kick-started the process by teaching him English alphabet. When I tried teaching him the Hindi alphabet, I came to know that I myself needed to revise that. Therefore, I believe I should better have study modules or some book to teach the Hindi alphabet. He seemed to be pretty much confused about addition; I began with simple additions involving things like a customer coming to his little tea stall and buying things. He quickly learnt that. He can't even read words in Hindi, leave aside English words. So, some very elementary things need to be taught to him, though its a different matter that the kind of life he lives teaches things the hard way."

Can we not provide this little ecstasy to the underprivileged in our neighbourhood and prepare ourselves for owning up greater responsibilities in future? I later sent them a few quotes of Holy Mather Sarada which can be found here

We discussed what is leading by examples. Can any evil thought come to my mind if Buddha or Christ or a Vivekananda stand before us? Their whole personality elevates the spirit of all around them. The nobleness in their character induces good thoughts and good deeds amongst many even now, and they have left their mortal frames hundreds of years ago. If we read their biography what a revolution they brought in their era and shows how much impact an individual can have on the society. Why then cannot we try to become an individual like this? Why don't we think that if a person is erring, me too is responsible in some way as I don't have enough strength of character or personality development to make him think otherwise. The role of education was discussed which is distancing itself from moral values. Can we say "We want that education by which character is formed, strength of mind is increased, the intellect is expanded, and by which one can stand on one’s own feet."

Then the question of priority came. And we entered into territory of freedom and was again surprised to see we are anything but playing into hands of others not being aware of that. Be it peer pressure or societal pressure or fear, I am not what I want to be, rather I am something which maintains some sort of equilibrium with people around me. We are not free even being the most gifted with the best of the intellect, security, connection ....why? Are we scared to be different? Will it raise a roar of laughter if I am off-beat? The society has an internal dynamics to maintain its state, its beats, a self-feeding loop, that asserts and reasserts itself saying "Ell is well" (not in Three Idiots sense though). This tries to justify one's deeds and securitize one's own and near & dear one's future. It happens in many a case imperceptibly, call it selfish gene or call it defence mechanism or Darwinism. Are we then slaves where the genetic code dictates me from within and the societal, peer pressure dictate me from outside? Are we happy with that? Can a slave ever be happy? Then do we actually pretend to be happy or think I must be happy now since I have this, this and these things according to societal norms? We must analyze this. We must give time to ourselves. We must be more than particles in Brownian motion, always bombarded with others' thoughts and processes and forced to act on that and have no time to sit quietly and meditate and understand the life's intricacies. A few weeks back I was attending a high level conference on Homeland Security where security experts from many countries came. In the plenary talk a renowned expert talked about significance of 'low faith signals' that remain hidden, buried under high intensity dominant signals. Whether you call it nature or God, whether it is our national security, caste tension, regional conflicts or our own physical health - there are advance warning but most often in the form of these 'low faith signals' and we fail to take note on this because we are swayed by high intensity other signals. The same is true for our life. We fail to recognize subtleties of life and get swayed by high intensity peer pressure.

If we meditate on ourselves, we might find correlation with what scripture says, "Bhuma iba sukham, Na alpe sukham asti." - Happiness lies in becoming big and not being small. And we have this innate urge to be happy that tells us to grow and grow and become bigger and bigger. What is the limit? When we become so big that we own the whole world, universe. In that situation, I am one with the world, everyone is mine, I embrace everyone. What is happening on the ground is that there is this desire to become Bhuma (big) which should be like that only. We must grow big, we must excel in academics, research, we must become CEOs, we must reach the highest. Well, everybody aspires that, then where is the difference? The difference is in enlarging our compartment as well as keeping the doors open. Whenever we close the doors we don't allow others in it and there is contraction and we become small mentally and we cannot be happy but only pretend to be happy. Let us understand that we need to grow big, raise our capacity so that we can serve more and more people. The more we do that the more is our happiness. There is no greater happiness than in giving.

One has to give time to oneself first to break one's own inertia. I must be in a position to set my own priorities. Else how am I free? It needs striving. As has been said, "Greatness lies not in where we stand but the direction we are moving." Can I set my own direction? As I said in a reply to my previous post, IITians are known for their problem solving skills. Can we get a bigger problem than addressing development parameters that are not inclusive and sustainable? Can there be a better solution than one which wipes tears and brings back smiles on millions of distressed countrymen? Can we set this as priority? Am I free to do that? If not, shall we begin another striving, another struggle for freedom?

I would like to end with an excerpt from Vivekananda's letter. Vivekananda is our National youth icon, his birthday is observed as National Youth Day. Let' s see how prepared we are to grow beyond our self-imposed limitations and open/free ourselves up to ideas like these. Vivekananda writes,

One idea that I see clear as daylight is that misery is caused by ignorance and nothing else. Who will give the world light? Sacrifice in the past has been the Law, it will be, alas, for ages to come. The earth's bravest and best will have to sacrifice themselves for the good of many, for the welfare of all. Buddhas by the hundred are necessary with eternal love and pity.

Religions of the world have become lifeless mockeries. What the world wants is character. The world is in need of those whose life is one burning love, selfless. That love will make every word tell like thunderbolt.

It is no superstition with you, I am sure, you have the making in you of a world-mover, and others will also come. Bold words and bolder deeds are what we want. Awake, awake, great ones! The world is burning with misery. Can you sleep? Let us call and call till the sleeping gods awake, till the god within answers to the call. What more is in life? What greater work?

(Completed. Correction if any awaited. Watch for the next post for a follow up!)

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