An Unspeakable Tragedy & a Lesson for You

Like a never ending cycle, the natural disasters continue to strike again and again with a sickening regularity. I had blogged about Tsunami, the Kosi floods, floods in Northern Karnataka, Kedarnath tragedy amongst a few on this blog and had shut myself off from several others.

I now vacillate between “let me contribute something” to “I just don’t care” to natural and man made disasters.

The Nepal Earthquake that occurred yesterday was too close to ignore. But unlike past disasters, the Govt of India, seems to have got it right with respect to the response both in terms of time and communication. Some of the central ministers were online posting updates on twitter and this was a huge departure from previous times when the Govt was slow to move and would do too little, too late.

About two weeks back, Prof Srikumar Rao‘ marketing mail had a great message on Service and while he wrote it in the context of the war in Yemen – where incidentally the Govt of India was very prompt in evacuating Indians and foreign nationals with alacrity – the message is a larger one, applicable to all of us, anytime we see natural or man made disasters occurring. The title of this post is also courtesy Prof Rao.

I read this in the New York Times last week and my throat tightened.

India Tries Evacuating Citizens in Yemen

There are several thousand Indians in Yemen. Quite a few are women – mainly nurses working in hospitals and clinics.

An Indian Navy destroyer was sent to evacuate them. Since the port of Aden is subject to heavy shelling, the destroyer anchored outside while small boats ferried them aboard in groups of thirty or so. Many have not been able to make it out and are stranded.

Quite a few want to remain there despite the danger because of the heavy investment made by their families to get them there in the first place.

They are not dummies. They are bright and fully aware of the dangers. But their economic circumstances back home are so dire that remaining in an environment where they could be shot or blown up is not unthinkable.

Pause for a moment and think about this.

How far is this from YOUR circumstances? Can you even begin to imagine being in such a situation?

What is the lesson here for you?

One, for sure, is to feel immense gratitude for your good fortune.

But if you stopped there, it would be almost pornographic. Like rich tourists looking curiously at animals in a zoo.

These are human beings living in the same world as you and I. They are suffering. At least a part of this suffering is due to policies of countries that we belong to and call home. Possibly, even likely, the intent was honorable but the results were terrible.

So we are all complicit to some extent and we cannot turn away and pretend it does not exist.

So what else can YOU do?

Recognize that it is part of your role in life to alleviate suffering to the extent you can. You cannot do it all and you cannot spend all your time on it.

But that doesn’t mean you throw your hands up and walk away.

Pick someone in need, someone who is suffering and do something to alleviate that to the extent you can.

See a homeless person? Buy him a sandwich and a drink.

Go to a geriatric center and read to a resident.

Do you have a hobby or something that you enjoy and are really good at? Offer to train and share your interest with veterans or disadvantaged kids.

Look for some area where you can make a positive contribution to someone in need.

You cannot throw money at it. It is not about writing a check and feeling good.

It is about you, doing something concrete and personal.

You wash the dishes at a spiritual retreat – you don’t ‘get it done’.

Because, you see, you are not doing this ‘for’ someone.

You are doing this for yourself. You are acknowledging that, underneath the trappings of the role you play, you are just another ordinary human being stumbling your way through the predicament we call life.

So every time suffering somewhere in the world troubles you, do something to alleviate suffering near at hand in whatever area that you can. If you can afford it, by all means write a check to a worthwhile organization.

But that does not absolve you of doing something personally. When you, personally, wipe the drool from the lips of an incapacitated elder, and you do this with love and care, that is when you realize what a blessing you have received.


Prof. Rao

So let’s go ahead and serve.

PS: Have taken permission from Prof Rao to reproduce his mail here.


The FDI in Retail dilema – Walmart, Small Business and Consumers

There is so much talk about FDI in retail and the upcoming possibility of Walmart’s entry in this space and the impact it will have on small retailers and farmers. Despite the plethora of pro’s and con’s and the huge amount of debate in the media. A simple event set me thinking. We wanted to buy a couple of large grain storage bins. As kids we had been accustomed to seeing parents storing food grains in traditional tin bins, however, we have been searching for slightly larger plastic air tight containers.

Surprisingly, we didn’t go to the local market in Shivajinagar or Chikpet (in Bangalore) but started our search with the Bharati-Walmart’ Easy Day. Not finding what we were looking for, someone suggested us to check out another large retailer Metro. We usually buy stuff such as fruits and vegetables from push cart vendors and groceries from small businesses nearby, that still doesn’t deter us from foraying to large retailers such as FoodWorld, EasyDay etc from time to time. What astonished me, in this case, was the fact that our first point of stop wasn’t the local shops, but the largest retail store in the neighborhood. Says so much about the convenience and consequently our changed buying habits. When I started asking around, the local businesses and markets did not even figure in the answers I got.

Will the entry of Walmart impact small businesses? Undoubtedly.

Irrespective of the broader economic impact of presence of FDI in retail, the small businesses will suffer. In any case, the small businesses are already impacted without even the presence of giants such as Walmart and it may probably get worse when they open.

Maybe the only way out is for us to become more conscious consumers.

George Soros in conversation with Anurag Behar

Some of my tweets from the conversation between George Soros and Anurag Behar at the Azim Premji University open lecture at St. John’s auditorium today.

  • Attended a sobering conversation between #GeorgeSoros and Anurag Behar at Azim Premji University public lecture.
  • But first ‘am an unabashed fan of Anurag’ writing in @livemint ; so it was good to see him in person #georgesoros
  • Sometimes its more risky not to take a risk #georgesoros in his talk today.
  • #GeorgeSoros – influenced by Karl Popper – shaped his philosophy
  • #GeorgeSoros predicted the 2008 financial crisis. Explained the reasons w/o help of PPT or written notes. #brilliant
  • #GeorgeSoros the economic crisis now is even MORE SERIOUS than that of 2008.
  • #Georgesoros “the car is still skidding”
  • #GeorgeSoros – meltdown of global financial institutions happening is greater in my lifetime
  • #GeorgeSoros Germany dictating rules being followed by US treasury. Draconian austerity prgm – deflationary cycle will affect real economy
  • #Georgesoros The axioms on which economic theory is based bears little resemblance to the real world. We have to rebuild economics.
  • #Georgesoros developing world would be relatively less affected than developed countries.

WSJ has a report out here and NDTV has one here

India against Corruption

Aadesh Goyal writes on his blog about the rampant corruption and how we can help fight against it.

There have been innumerable cases of corruption – big and small. The Bofors Scam in the 1980s had brought down the then Government – the kickbacks were estimated to be Rs 41 crores. Things have become bigger – in the last 12 months alone, multiple scams (2G, Common Wealth, etc.) totaling more than Rs 1 lakh crore have been unearthed!

One thing is common – hardly anyone gets punished for being caught in a scam. At the most, there is some temporary setback like resigning from a post, raids, being questioned by investigating agencies, some time in judicial custody, etc. Have you wondered what happens to the money that was stolen? It remains stolen – there is no effort to bring it back.

Three things shape our behavior – Values help us to do the right thing, to be ethical. The law of the land defines the things that are illegal. When this does not work, the consequences give a clear message that unlawful behavior will not be tolerated. It creates a fear of punishment if caught doing something wrong.

Today, in India, there is no fear. Why? Because no one gets punished. In fact, the greed has been increasing day by day. People have become brazen, and the quantum and size of corruption related incidents is increasing exponentially.

At some point in our life, we have come face to face with corruption – and got frustrated and angry – and complained and cried – why does this happen! If you gave in, it would have made you guilty and full of anger. If you stood up, the things would have gotten tougher, and it may have required a lot of energy and patience before your job got done, if it did. But you would have felt good, but still wondered – why does one have to fight just to be right?

When talking about corruption, the common man is generally helpless. Our action is generally restricted to complaining in our drawing rooms and intense debates on the television and media. However, no positive change seems to be happening.

However, we do have an opportunity! The India Against Corruption is a Citizen’s Movement started by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Baba Ram Dev, Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi, Shanti Bhushan and many more. And they have come up with a specific plan – to help enact the right legislation and have drafted Anti Corruption Bill and the Lokayukta Bill. And there is a single goal at this time – to convert these into law.

See – there are crisp details including how the current drafts of these Bills are just a lip service, an eye-wash. There is analysis of what is lacking – the drafts are not proposing enough teeth. India Against Corruption has done research and taken inspiration from successful models, especially what transformed Hong Kong.

Go read the blog and if you are in Delhi, join the march on 30th Jan 2011.

Self Knowledge is the only way to wipe out hatred

Head over to NYT and read the riveting first person account of the NYT journalist David Rohde who was kidnapped by Taliban and spent 7 months in captivity in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This is exactly the reason why spiritual knowledge needs to go to every corner of this world.

Some extracts of what Sri Sri had to say about Terrorism

Narrow-mindedness or a limited perception is what creates terrorism. We have to broaden our vision. We have to take meditation and wisdom everywhere. Terrorism is in the mind. Through meditation, the mind can be transformed. Only meditation can bring this change.

At a conference in Sri Lanka recently, this is what he said:

As I was listening to our Honorable Minster of Health speak about mental well being, it came to my mind, you know the word for health in Sanskrit is SWASTHA that means one who is established in oneself, SWA means self STHA means one who is established in self, If you go to Bali island in Indonesia they greet you with OM SWASTHI RASTU – (may you have health), meaning well being, mental, physical, emotional, it includes everything, total well being.

In the east, as it was being earlier mentioned that 2500 years ago we have had this education, common masses, I would take it even further back 5110 years it was in Bhagvat Gita concept of well being, social well being is mentioned and even earlier Maharishi Patanjali made this whole treatise on yoga and how you can be happy physically, mentally and socially. If someone is obsessed with hatred, anger and jealousy they are not considered to be socially well, of course it is an ancient concept to have this mind which is a container of all knowledge, which is a container of intelligence, emotion and life force as such cleansed to keep it healthy and to get rid of this jealousy, hatred etc.

…..even if one small pocket of the planet is left uneducated about mental well being you are not in a safe world. Terrorism is one such example of extreme mental sickness. So, in this august meeting, we will all have to sit and think of how we can reach sanity to every nook and corner of the planet. One idea is to bring the spiritual knowledge, ancient knowledge we have in this part of the world, bring a more secular, scientific attitude or temperament so that spirituality is accepted by all sections of society. It has to be free from dogmas. Scientific and secular spirituality is what we need, that would give to the world a mind which is healthy which can take any stress or pressure that the modern society is posing in front of us.

and then in a talk in Tokyo a few days back:

Terrorism rises when a person says that their way is the only way. My way is the only way to God. Isn’t that so?

and in a talk in Israel recently, he said:

No other country is affected by terrorism as much as these two countries are, especially India. Every month in the last year there has been a terror attack. This is due to fanaticism and fundamentalism, which I feel can be quelled through educating children in a multicultural and multi-religious manner. When a child grows up thinking, “Only I go to heaven. Everybody else is going to hell,” they create a hell for everybody else.

So we need to change the mindset among children to embrace everyone with love. This is the effort we have been making irrespective of their religious and cultural backgrounds so the mind can become calm.

The demise of Bangalore….

Nothing will wake us up. The DNA of “chalta hai” and “adjust madi” attitude that has been so ingrained in us, that we do not see what is happening all around us.  A thousand and eight hundred trees, some more than decade old are on the chopping block and not a murmur from the public! How can one even think of clearing the only available green space in the city to make way for Metro is beyond my imagination. Both Lalbagh and Cubbon park are on the chopping block! Not sure if even a PIL can stop this madness! The Hindu writes:

BANGALORE: Around 1,800 trees in Bangalore, most of them decades old, would be felled for the Bangalore Metro project. And the much hyped Namma Metro would gobble up parts of Lalbagh and Cubbon Park in the days to come.

While Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. (BMRCL), which is taking up the metro project, has already taken possession of a small piece of Lalbagh, it has applied to the High Court for permission to dig up the lawns in front of the court premises to build a road as the Ambedkar Veedhi between Gopala Gowda Circle and GPO Circle would be closed to facilitate construction of an underground station in front of Vidhana Soudha.

Even as BMRCL is awaiting a green signal from the High Court for digging up Cubbon Park, it has decided to go ahead with the project at Lalbagh despite stiff opposition from environmental groups and Bangaloreans opposed to felling of trees in the world famous botanical gardens.

Nowhere else in the civilized world, do authorities work against public welfare. The Govt. which is supposed to look after the welfare of people chooses projects that hamper the quality of life of its own people.  

The other day I was at the ITC Infotech campus doing an introductory session for the employees and had a few minutes to look at the campus. Apparently, ITC had done a carbon footprint of the campus and it came out to be carbon positive. Some of the huge trees in the campus were 95 years old and apparently, each such tree gives out cooling equivalent to 400 Air conditioners. Multiply this by 1800 trees and work out the negative impact on the city.

Bangalore today is no longer a green city, its green cover has rapidly diminished and we face even more deforestation with an unconcerned govt machinery and citizens that do not care for their own city and its environment.

For the last 6 years or so we have been doing our bit towards the environment, but when something like this happens I feel that we need to reach out, join hands, accelerate and deepen our efforts and do whatever little we can, that is in our control to save the environment.

The media which is supposed to be the fourth pillar of our democracy has neither inclination nor intention to cover topics that are important for the people, they are busy reporting only the antics and vituperative speeches of the politicians, thereby making it a vicious cycle. More coverage of antics –> more publicity and to get more publicity, they think of more vituperative speeches.

Vasanti writes in Mint:

The power of the news media to set the agenda and to focus attention on issues that matter to the common man, is well documented. Studies have also shown how people acquire factual information about issues from the news media as well as learn how much importance to attach to a topic on the basis of the emphasis placed on it.
For me, the disconnect between politicians and voters is similar to the disconnect between the news media and their users. The most relevant and important things seem to be those that matter least to our politicians and journalists.

The less said about the MSM (Main Stream Media) the better. Look at the reporting in the Mumbai Rape case. It shames us all!