Saturday, February 25, 2006

How de Bono's Six Thinking Hats technique helps in my work...

One of my favourites among the magazines I write for is BenefIT (www.benefitmag.com). It's a magazine that talks about Information Technology for businesses worth Rs. 2 to 200 crores, generically referred to as Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

Writing for BenefIT has been and is a constant learning experience for me. After looking at technology from a purely factual and scientific angle right through many years of education and a few years of work, this was my first experience looking at technologies from the eyes of a target audience, seeing them from "behind the eyeballs" of the SMEs, as they say!

When we evaluate IT from an entrepreneur's angle, many questions arise: is it necessary for the enterprise, is it affordable, maybe not today but will the technology revolutionize the future - if so, what does the enterprise have to do today to have an early adopter advantage, how can existing technologies be leveraged for greater advantage, are there times when older technologies are more practical than newer ones, and so on - questions which may not arise when you talk to a scientist about his latest research.

In other terms, it requires placing IT in its real place - not as a standalone wonder, but as an enabler that has to gel with the business.

In order to analyse technologies from such multifarious angles, I started using Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats. Very popular in the business world, I find it adapts beautifully to the profession of writing too.

The technique involves wearing 6 hats (imaginary, ofcourse ;-)) in succession - each hat requires you to think in a different way, thereby enabling you to take a complete view of any situation/ subject. Here are the 6 hats, and how they help me while writing for BenefIT.

White Hat

White is a neutral colour. When you wear the white hat, you take an objective stance and focus on facts and figures alone. This is the data collection/ research task.

Red Hat

Red suggests emotions, anger, passion. While wearing this hat you are allowed to give vent to your opinions/ feelings. It helps me express my view or intuition about a technology. This is where I also talk to experts and find out what they think.

Even if I am not confident enough to say, "I think this software is just a lot of jazz; it's not going to help your enterprise in any way," this exercise atleast helps me to identify grey areas, which need to be researched further. More than anything else, it either convinces me about the technology or makes me chuck the article.

Black Hat

Black is ominous. It requires you to take a pessimistic view and analyse the downside. It identifies weaknesses. IMHO, this is very important while writing for a SME audience, because a lot of technologies may not really help them - 2 to 200 crores is a large gap. A technology which applies to a 200 crore company may not fit a 2 crore one. So, when we take up a technology for analysis, we should also present downsides like high cost so that companies can decide whether or not to make the investment.

Yellow Hat

Sunny and positive, the yellow hat requires you to focus on the plus points. Only when I am convinced about the benefits of a technology can I express it well enough for the users to perceive. Obviously this hat is very important when I write for BenefIT, because the magazine aims to encourage the adoption of IT.

Green Hat

Signifies abundance and creativity. Think up new ideas. Look beyond the present, at the greener pastures. In addition to how the technology can help today, this hat helps me present how it will help in the future.

Blue Hat

Blue is a cool colour. It signifies the sky. Symbolically, the blue hat takes a overall view. It summarizes the findings of all the other hats. At last when I wear the blue hat, I should be able to formulate the article outline based on what I came up with while wearing the other hats.

Here are some of my articles, which were published in BenefIT...

Shop and Sell, With Just a Click – January 2006 <http://www.benefitmag.com/admin/issuepdf/RFIDinemarketplace.pdf>

RFID - Revolutionising the Office - December 2005 <http://www.benefitmag.com/admin/issuepdf/RFID%20office%20Automation.pdf>

Birth of an IT Savvy Manufacturer - November 2005 <http://www.benefitmag.com/admin/issuepdf/IT%20savvy.pdf>

RFID - Automating the Automotive Industry - October 2005 <http://www.benefitmag.com/admin/issuepdf/RFIDauto.pdf>

Inspiring Indeed!

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”
-Margaret Atwood

Many of the success stories in the environment field have revolved around individual initiatives, time and again reinforcing that it is possible to tackle the most difficult problems if the people who are affected, and those who are concerned, decide to do what can be done. Here are some inspiring examples...

In Calcutta, a group of people, who used to meet at a local teashop decided to clean and restore an urban water body that was once their favourite hangout. In time, they not only breathed life into the water body but also changed it into a haven for young and old alike to spend the evenings in nature’s company. Again, it is the cooperation of the locals with the government-appointed body that helped revive Chilika, an endangered wetland, and a Ramsar site along the east coast of India.

The Himalayan hills abound with such success stories. For the people of the mountains the environment is not an issue, it is a matter of survival. Every aspect of their life, from the necessities to the luxuries, from occupation to relaxation, is tightly bound to nature, to such an extent that if they do not look after their immediate environment, they will perish. There have been uprisings against mining, there has been a ‘Beej Bachao’ or save the seeds campaign and many others, but my favourite example remains the Chipko Movement.

The original ‘Chipko movement’ was started around 260 years back in the early part of the 18th century in Rajasthan by the Bishnoi community. A large group of people from 84 villages led by a lady called Amrita Devi laid down their lives in an effort to protect the trees from being felled on the orders of the Maharaja of Jodhpur. After this incident, the Maharaja gave a strong royal decree preventing the cutting of trees in all Bishnoi villages.

The movement was revived in the 20th Century by the women of Gopeshwar, a village in the mountains of the Himalayas, under the leadership of Chandi Prasad Bhatt to prevent indiscriminate felling of trees for commercial purposes. Bhatt proclaimed, “Our aim is not to destroy the trees but to preserve them. When the men go to cut them, why don’t we cling to the trees, and dare them to let their axes fall on our backs?” (Chipko means “hug,” or “cling to.”) As he described it, he locked his hands together in a posture of embrace. People were struck by the novelty of the idea and amazed by its efficiency. The movement was a very practical one. It was not totally against the felling of trees, because they recognized the need of the people living in the plains for mountain products. The movement only urged the judicious use of trees, to cater to the need and not the greed of people.

The triumph of the movement led women from other villages to adopt the same tactics. The movement gained momentum and spread to many parts of the country under the leadership of other stalwarts like Sunderlal Bahugana. It forced the Indian Government to reconsider its environmental policies and to make favourable changes.

Let's take the cue from these examples and realize that every individual contribution matters... after all, isn't it little drops of water that make the mighty ocean?

Simple ways in which we can help save our only home...

“Nobody made a greater mistake then he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”

-Edmund Burke

True as it is that a dyed-in-the-wool nature lover can move mountains, your role in protecting this planet need not necessarily be complex. If you are a busy person, even the simple things you do, expending least effort, are heroic because you are doing them for a cause and with the belief that you are not a mere statistic. Human psychology is to tend towards inaction even if we faintly perceive that a situation is uncontrollable or if we consider our contribution as insignificant. So, in the case of protection and conservation, the primary task is to realize that every contribution matters. Then, by imbibing some simple activities and philosophies in our lifestyle, we can avert the impending disaster.

Recycle waste products. Never let the emission test for your car get overdue. Don’t leave a tap running when not in use. Remember to put the lights off when you leave the room. Write on both sides of the paper; less paper production means fewer trees are cut. Use recyclable plastic. Try to restrict waste to only two categories – recyclable and biodegradable. Avoid the third and fatal category – non-recyclable and non-biodegradable. Pool your car. Plant a tree on every birthday and anniversary. Adopt roadside trees and water them regularly. Protest when you see somebody acting against environmental interests. Refuse to buy goods made from animal products; if you don’t buy, they won’t poach. Check to see that products you buy are not tested on animals. Harvest rainwater.

Let's join hands to make a difference.

Ancient wisdom, resurrected.

If the planet dries up, how can living beings survive? Not unnaturally the issue of water conservation has been given much thought since many millenia ago.

Rainwater harvesting is an ancient wisdom dating back to as early as 3000 BC. Advanced rainwater harvesting systems have been mentioned in the Vedas and the Puranas of Ancient India, and in Buddhist and Jain scriptures. Kautilya’s Arthasastra, written around 300 BC, is a politico-administrative treatise that has been compared to Machiavelli’s The Prince. This has beautifully outlined the value of water and how the prosperity of the kingdom, its crops, people and animals is closely related to water, along with details of water-management techniques.

Rainwater harvesting is essentially a community/people-based activity. There is not much any Government can do without the backing of the masses. The essence of rainwater harvesting is collecting and storing it as it falls. It involves little expense and at the basic level, only involves directing rainwater to wells and tanks, with easy filtering mechanisms, and making strategic holes in the ground to recharge the ground water. In Chennai, where I live, we cannot pay our taxes if we have not harvested rainwater in our home.

The communities of Bhaonta-Kolyala and Hamirpura, inhabitants of an utterly degraded region in the Alwar District of Rajasthan mobilized themselves to harvest water, resulting in rivers being resurrected and turning perennial. Check out China, Sri Lanka or Thailand and you will find people harvesting rainwater for sustenance. It is an ancient wisdom cutting across national boundaries… a simple but tested panacea for the future.

Let's move back in time, to the days of nature worship

Nature’s beauty is an art of God. Let’s feel the touch of God’s invisible hands in everything beautiful.”

-Rig Veda
In looking for solutions to current problems, the past should not be disregarded. Embedded in most ancient religions of the World are aspects of nature-worship. We need to retrieve those aspects of religious traditions that have positive ecological value and use them to reconstruct today's major living religious traditions so that they unambiguously teach respect for the whole community of life.
Religions like Christianity and Judaism condemn a destructive attitude towards nature. If we turn to Eastern religions, Buddhism emphasizes the interdependence of the individual and nature, teaching a reverence for all life and the practice of ahimsa or non-injury. Hinduism is a way of life that looks at God in all elements of nature and seeks to protect it.

Whatever people value as sacred commands deep respect and is likely to be cherished and protected. This was the belief that fired the anger of Chief Seattle when the American President wanted to buy their land. He radiated passion when he said, “We are part of the Earth.”

Kyosei, for a greener planet

Kyosei is a Japanese philosophy that means living and working together for the common good. The key to a green and happy future lies in kyosei between people and nature. We have no choice. There is just one Earth. We have to share it with the elements, the trees, plants, animals and other people – each needs the others to survive. It is time each of us realizes this interdependence, acknowledging our responsibility, minding our actions and doing our best to save the planet. The solution to a greener future lies not wholly in the work of the Government and Research Centres, but in individual awareness, effort and love for nature.

As Chief Seattle said, “The Earth does not belong to Man. Man belongs to the Earth… Man does not weave the web of life. He is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself.” - Words of truth that must resonate in our psyche, all life long. Then we can shoo away the prophecies of doom.

I first registered with Blogger to pay my tribute to Mrs. Chandran

Although I started blogging only today (yeah, so many posts in 1 day... guess it's beginner's excitement), I created this account with blogger more than 6 months back. Not for a happy cause though. My favourite teacher, Mrs. Rani Chandran, who taught me English in school, died in a road accident in USA and a blog was created for people to share their memories about her. That's when I created this blogger account... to pay my tribute to my Morrie (hope you've read Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie, else please do).

I also wrote an article about her, because her life was inspiring. A slightly abridged version of this article was published in Eve's Touch in September 2005.

To Mrs. Rani Chandran, With Love

When I heard of Mrs. Rani Chandran’s untimely demise on June 22nd, 2005, I was devastated. From the number of emails and tributes that flowed into mailboxes and online blogs, I came to know that several others felt that way. Why were we so upset by the death of a teacher who taught us so many years ago? There can be only one reason… because she was exemplary in her profession and in life.

The first thought that struck me once I overcame that grief was to write to a magazine about her. Why would others be interested in reading about my teacher? One, because she was an extraordinary person and I think these recollections can inspire many. Two, I want all the teachers who are reading this to know that their good work will be remembered by their students for many years. Not only teachers… whoever you are, in whatever profession, you will be remembered by people if you give your best today.

Mrs. Rani Chandran was an extraordinary teacher and taught in several schools in India and abroad. Starting 1991, she taught English for close to a decade at Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan Senior Secondary school, K. K. Nagar, Chennai, where she also served as Additional Vice-Principal. She’s remembered today not only by her acquaintances, students and fellow teachers, but even by a whole lot of people who met her only one or twice in their lives.

Her dynamic and energetic presence was awe-inspiring. When she taught English, her perfect diction and voice intonation would cause the characters and plots from Shakespeare’s plays and Robert Frost’s poems to come alive. Her language was so impeccable that every conversation with her was a lesson in the nuances of English.

A student once asked “Excuse me, Mrs. Chandran, can I come in?” Promptly she responded. “Yes child, you can but you may not!” For a few minutes, we were left wondering what she meant. Later, she patiently explained that one must use ‘may’ and not ‘can’ when addressing an elder.

Another alumnus recalls what happened when she walked into Mrs. Chandran’s class one day saying, “Please can I have Mahima?” Spontaneously, Mrs. Chandran turned around and asked, with a twinkle in her eyes, “For lunch or for dinner?” After the laughter died down she taught the girl to ask “Please may I speak to Mahima for a moment?”

She was passionate about theatre and came up with mammoth productions for the school’s anniversary celebrations. She would carefully plan every detail of the play from script to props and train every student to perfection.

One of her old students recollects the hours spent dubbing dialogues in a recording theatre, “She wanted me to speak the lines for Lord Krishna in ‘Meera’. She made me repeat it like a 1000 times. ‘When righteousness declines, when wickedness is strong....I rise, thrusting the evil, succouring the good!’ I hated every moment of it then, I'd give anything to have those moments back now.”

She bubbled with enthusiasm and was one among us. Whether working on some project work or planning the next issue of the school magazine or helping us prepare for a competition or organizing an event, she was there with us, guiding and helping throughout.

The most remarkable thing about her was that she was more than a teacher. She mentored her students, conversing with them at a personal level and sharing their interests. She had a knack for identifying and fostering every student’s talent, however small. Marks did not matter to her; she was more concerned with preparing the youngsters for the larger examination called Life!

She was very close to every person she knew, moving with simplicity and complete frankness. You could be so sure she’d tell you exactly what she felt. But there was never a harsh word. Even when she wanted to correct a student, she would do it in a subtle and humorous way, which in itself instilled confidence making them do better.

Even after she left India five years ago, due to health conditions, to live in USA with her sons, she remained in touch with PSBB, offering whatever help and advice she could, despite being miles away.

We loved her. I think God loved her more. On the 22nd of June, 2005, Mrs Rani Chandran, her mother and younger son died in a fatal road accident in USA.

In a prayer meeting held in her memory, several members of staff and alumni recalled, tearfully, unforgettable memories of their dear Mrs. Rani. Uncountable tributes were posted on mailing lists and blogs by her former students. Listening from heaven, she must have celebrated a moment of triumph when one of her old students walked up to the mike and announced that she wanted to become a teacher like Mrs. Chandran, one day. That’s the mark of a great teacher… indelibly written in the students’ minds.

Quoting from another teacher’s homage to Mrs. Rani Chandran, “She’s in a better place now. But, what was the hurry?”

What news should make it to the cover page?

Do we want to wake up to news about violence, or inspiring reports about people who've made a difference? I'd prefer the latter. Looks like President Kalam prefers that too. In his words...

“I was in Tel Aviv once and I was reading the Israeli newspaper. It was the day after a lot of attacks and bombardments and deaths had taken place. The Hamas had struck. But the front page of the newspaper had the picture of a Jewish gentleman who in five years had transformed his desert land into an orchard and a granary. It was this inspiring picture that everyone woke up to. The gory details of killings, bombardments, deaths, were inside the newspaper, buried among other news.”

We need more people like him...

Here is a man who works with nature…
He is going to make a healthy planet a reality,
He is going to make the future a possibility;
We need to be like him,
And make a difference where we can,
For I'm sure none of us want to be mere statistics!

In the heart of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve in India, is situated the Mudumalai wildlife sanctuary. In a 30-acre private plot adjoining the reserved area lives a man in his petite cottage. He spends all his free time watching the wild animals visit his unfenced haven. He digs water sources and salt water pools for them. He plants trees for the beautiful birds to inhabit. He lays no traps around his house. He cuts no trees for firewood. He makes no cemented pathways in the grasslands. He shoots neither snake nor boar. His grandchildren roam the forestland with no fear of the animals, only justified caution, lest they intrude on nature’s privacy. He has realized the value of nature and passed on the knowledge to his progeny.

He is no mere statistic… his contribution matters.

Disclaimer: This person whom I've written about is real. I met him a few summers back in his 'unfenced haven' - an accomplished professional, who decided to give it all up for a life of oneness with nature. Hats off to him!

The Ganges' Power to Soothe

There really is something magical about the Ganges. It's been spoken and sung about for centuries, and I never could understand what was so special about it, till the first time I got to see the river cascading between the pebbly banks, flanked by the Himalayan ranges, in Rishikesh.

This is a story I read long back in some magazine. Whether it is just folklore or whether it is history, I do not know. But after seeing the Ganges at twilight I am tempted to believe that this may have been a true incident!

It is said that on a full moon night, with a clear sky, and the Ganges flowing down with all her grace and glory, a king and his subjects were seated on the river bank, listening to the court musicians perform, deeply immersed in the beauty of nature. The whole scene resonated peace.

At that time, a messenger announcing the arrival of an enemy king to take over the kingdom, interrupted the king. The king promptly replied that such mundane things could be settled in the morning. He even extended an invitation to the invading king to join them, provided he does so silently without disturbing the beauty and silence of the night.

The enemy king, who was all prepared for war was overcome by surprise on being informed of the king’s reply, and accepted the invitation. On quietly joining the concert, he was so moved by the sight of the king and his subjects meditating to the heavenly music, and humbled by the beauty of nature he apologised and withdrew with his troops.

You must experience the charm of the Ganges meandering through the Himalayas, to believe this.

Lose the lust for gold...

Here's something which no magazine will publish lest they lose all the advertisements from jewellery houses ;-)

Lust for the yellow metal has made men do great things: to earn, to steal, and to kill. Maybe you would lose your stomach for gold if you knew the disastrous effect it has on the environment and on the health of the miners. It may come as a surprise to many that a metal, which in India has always been considered auspicious and associated with prosperity, comes with such terrifying side effects.

Artisan mining is an important economic sector in many developing countries. For lack of adequate resources and training, these artisan miners adopt cheap but hazardous methods of mining and processing of gold, which prove to be disastrous to the local environment and to their own health. These miners do not conform to mining laws and regulations and escape tight government control. African gold mines such as those in the Migori gold belt are typical examples.

Mining involves open-cut and underground operations, then crushing and panning. Waste rock is dumped in heaps, leaving the mining area with contaminated streams, disturbed vegetation, open trenches and pits filled with water which are a haven for mosquitoes, making the area gullible to all kinds of diseases and infections.

Air pollution within mine workings is common. Carbon monoxide emissions from water pumps often claim many lives. Also, when around 30-50 people work underground at the same time, there isn’t enough air to breathe. The mines also become a breeding ground for infectious diseases such as tuberculosis. The silica dust, which is generated during the process, causes diseases like silicosis, affecting even young children who are engaged in ore crushing and panning. Miners often suffer from fatal respiratory diseases.

Minerals consisting of metals like lead, which are found in gold-sulphide deposits, are usually stable under natural conditions, but on mining they are broken down due to exposure to oxygen and water, causing much harm. Mercury, which is used to amalgamate gold, causes heavy metal poisoning. Such poisoning often goes undiagnosed because its symptoms are masked by microbial infections, malnutrition, poor living conditions and health care.

Evidences of water pollution are inevitably found near most mines. The water in the streams becomes highly acidic because of acid drainage. Water is also contaminated because of dumping of alkaline batteries, which are used underground in torches, causing the water to become highly alkaline. With the advent of cyanide mining, mines are increasingly dribbling cyanide and mercury into rivers all over the world. People use the water for domestic purposes. It also indirectly affects because people consume fish bred in these waters. The effect can reach beyond the local community as fish, which is bred in many East African Rivers, contaminated with toxic elements from mining, is exported to many countries. Far reaching impact indeed!

Many miners also suffer because of improper work conditions, lack of proper facilities such as drinking water and latrines. Weak mine areas may also cave in, causing loss of lives.

The effect on the environment is quite serious. Plant growth in the area is inhibited because of acid drainage and the release of toxic compounds during mining and processing. During gold rushes, the miners tax the energy resources in the environment, cutting down scores of trees for firewood and as lumber to hold up weak mine areas. This leads to deforestation and soil erosion.

The natural habitat is destroyed leaving many birds and animals homeless, making a significant contribution to imbalance in nature, leading to extinction of many species et al. Tons of topsoil are being churned up and whole mountains are being blown up. With cyanide heap mining, mining is done with output as little as 1 part to 3,000,000. Cyanide leach mining (such as that used in Timbarra Mines in Australia) makes it economical to blow up a whole mountain and lace it with cyanide in order to extract 1 ounce of gold from every 75 tons of ore!

The cost of a gram of gold does not end with the 500 and odd rupees, which you shell out to display the glitter. The social/ environmental costs are much higher. A gram of gold comes at the cost of tons of soil, and the lives of many miners, trees, plants and animals. Remember this the next time you invest in gold!

The solution is inside each individual

I have often wondered if the major ailments of the World can be solved easily if we look at them from a micro level rather than from a macro level, because most of these problems are behaviour-oriented and ultimately the cause of such problems condenses to the individual.

In most cases, it is individual thoughts, perceptions, actions and interactions that get blown up to macro scales. Think on these lines… if a Hindu and a Muslim neighbour are fighting over who is to mend the common fence between their homes, they will ultimately resolve it. They will either decide to get a third-party to fix it and share the costs or to spend the Sunday afternoon fixing it or might even decide to demolish the existing fence and learn to live without it. But, what happens today is that the Hindu and the Muslim are not alone; the whole of their communities join them in the fight and a simple neighbourly squabble magnifies into a religious riot.

Great philosophers have said that if we stop harping on the problem and start looking at the solution, life will be much simpler and more peaceful. When we see that big problems are actually born out of simple individual actions, then logically the solution should also lie in individual action. This is the truth that our lives must resonate with.

It is time we stopped looking at religious dissensions as a topic for lunchroom discussion. It is time to stop waiting for somebody else, usually the Government, to come and solve our problems. It is time to start recognizing our role in the problem and in the solution. It is time to start making small changes in our lives that will go a long way in making peaceful coexistence a reality.

There are some simple attitudes and policies such as absorbing the real essence of your religion, acceptance of other religions and the ability to openly show this acceptance, the determination to correct your own compatriots if you think they are indulging in anti-social behaviour, teaching the concept of peace to your children, and so on, which when imbibed in our daily life can help avert religious conflicts.

Deep within, every religion teaches only peace. Therefore, the first step in our solution is a proper understanding of the true essence of your religion rather than acceptance of half-baked theories regarding the same.

Similarly, the next step is an attempt to understand the true essence of other major religions in our country as well, because then the realisation will dawn that the core principles of most religions are the same; they finally reduce to the concept of peace. Sit with your friends on a Saturday afternoon and exchange notes on your religious texts, wish them on their festivals and find out their significance, send them sweets on your festival days… many simple ways to show that you accept the good aspects of their religion.

The third step and probably the one that needs the greatest courage is to be able to tell your own friend that (s)he is wrong if (s)he is unnecessarily showing hostility towards somebody or if you think (s)he is fuelling the embryo of communal dissension through his/her actions.

Finally teach your children all these. Inculcate peace and tolerance in their thoughts right from the childhood years when they are most receptive, because what you teach your children today is the key to a peaceful tomorrow.

The above are not difficult things; they are not macro level revolutions that need campaigning. They are simple philosophies and activities that when adopted in your individual lives will make way for a better tomorrow.

(Published in Bhavan's Journal, October 2003)

My Charter of Duties

“All the World is a stage,” said Shakespeare and all men and women, merely players. A man in his life plays many parts. How true. For as I mulled over the idea of what my duties were, I asked myself, “Duties as what?” - As a student, as a member of my family, an Indian, as a citizen of this world, or as a custodian of the civilization to be passed on?

As I wrestled with the subject, I asked myself again, finally, who or what am I? The snappy answer that came back was 'A Human Being'. And then the jigsaw pieces fell into place. I realized that if I could outline the duties of a human being, the list would automatically be compatible with all the roles we play as quick- change artists in the drama of life. So, how does one pinpoint these duties? I drew for myself, then, what I now call 'Janani's Charter of Duties'.

The foremost principle in my charter is what Albert Schweitzer, the noble prize laureate proclaimed, "Have reverence for life". The heroes and heroines of the World, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, St. Francis of Assisi, the Sufi saints, all understood this need to show concern and value for Human life. When we uphold this principle, we will inevitably see child labour, women abuse and female infanticide as crimes. This should be our touchstone for action.

Second on my charter is that old fashioned, homespun adage "Work tirelessly". The constitution also exhorts us "to strive for excellence in all spheres". Extraordinary people are just ordinary people with extraordinary perseverance. Witness the phoenix like rise of Japan after World War 2 and you will know what I mean. A better home, a better nation, a better quality of life, nothing comes without hard work. As the Americans are fond of saying, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Success must be paid with the currency of toil and sweat.

The third duty is "Grow as an Individual". We must respond to our higher urges, enhance ourselves and grow as people so that civilisation benefits. I must make sure that even if I am just a speck in the human population, I do not remain a mere statistic. I must count for something. I must absorb the joys and the sorrows of this topsy-turvy many splendoured thing we call life. If men and women had not responded to this call of the heart, or the muse of science and art, the World would have been denied its Michelangelo, its Beethoven, its Einstein and its Ramanujam.

Next, "Be a citizen of the Earth". We are part of a large and often enigmatic divine plan. I am no philosopher to explain why the creator has brought us here. But I do know that I am here in this world, in trust. I am a custodian of this civilisation, this glorious planet, with its land, it's flora and it's fauna. We are quick to slap behind bars, a person who has stolen jewellery. But it is a worse crime to rob the future generations of their inheritance, this glorious planet. We must not be passive spectators to this destruction, but must bring to a halt, the rape of this planet. This reminds me of our constitutional duty, "To protect and improve the natural environment."

The final duty on my charter is "Have a dream". We must all have a dream, an idea or an ideal that never leaves our mind, a cause or a purpose that absorbs us, a magnificent obsession, because, then the task of attainment itself, will become a joy.

You may ask me... Fine, I can be a signatory to this charter. I can promise patriotism and commitment. But who is the watchdog? Where is the court that enforces me to do these 5 duties of a human being?

You are the prosecutor, the defence attorney, the judge and the jury. Go ahead and do your duty for you are accountable to yourself and yourself alone. As Polonius says in Hamlet, "To thine own self be true, and it shall follow as the night, the day. Thou canst not then be false to any man".

(Published in Bhavan's Journal in May 2004)

When will realization dawn?

The fish in the water is silent, the animal on the earth is noisy, the bird in the air is singing. But man has in him, the silence of the sea, the noise of the earth and the music of the air.”
-Tagore
And above all these, man has the reputed sixth sense, the ability to sense the presence of God in him. But why is it that today, man fails to use all these magnificent treasures entrusted to him. He is misusing silence when he has to speak the truth and blaring noise to silence the righteous. Music doesn’t like such company. It begins to wither and fade. And the sixth sense bends and folds in shame and sorrow, unable to see its companions stray away.

We are seeing living proof of this day after day. First WTC, then Godhra, then the Swaminarayan temple. Why are men doing this? Why do they want an eye for an eye? Are all men like this? How can all men be like this when we see Hindu and Muslim children being the best of friends, Hindu and Muslim families being the best of neighbours, Hindu and Muslim students exchanging notes on the Gita and the Quran during Value Education classes, and Hindu and Muslim labourers working hand in hand to build a house.

It is evident that those who are really religious indulge in no feuds. Because, they know that deep within, the soul is bound by no religion. All religious texts teach the same basic values. None of them advocate violence. The uneducated man cares for no conflicts. A word of love and a hearty meal at the end of the day is all he works for. It is the self-proclaimed religious men, who follow the text instead of the essence of scriptures, who cause all the havoc.

How long can such meaningless communalism go on? Not for too long. According to Gandhiji, if every man went an eye for an eye, there would be no men left in the World. If we do not want it to come to such a sorry end, it is time to take charge of our faculties and begin to manage silence to conquer unrest, jubilant noise to silence the prophets of doom, and music to soothe the ailing hearts. Then the sixth sense will take over and steer us along the path of joy.
(This article of mine was published in Bhavan's Journal in December 2002)

At last, I've started blogging!

Hi all,

I'm here at last. For quite some time now, an uncle of mine has been enthusing me to start blogging. It would sound lofty if I said I never found the time! No, it's just that I never got down to doing it, for some reason or the other.

Last week there was a pretty interesting debate on my writing group's mailing list, on the merits and demerits of blogging, and here I was with nothing to say. Gosh, I almost felt ashamed to think I'd never even tried. Life is too short to leave anything untried, so here I am. And I have this intuition that I'm going to enjoy my stay in bloggers' world. Keep checking out this space for (hopefully interesting) writings and links.

Beware though; most of the posts on this blog may be my own writing, as I am a writer ;-)

Cheers,
Janani