Archive for May, 2010

Scriptures state that the only knowledge worth knowing is the nature of the Self because it is by this knowledge that one can attain salvation — reaching that state from where there is no further return to this world of joy and sorrow. This knowledge confers the state of enlightenment.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna refers to the unenlightened person as one who is yet to transcended the effects of the sense of I and Mine, said Sri N. Veezhinathan in a lecture. A majority of individuals belong to this category and go through the cycle of birth to fulfil the effects of their individual Karma. They fail to perceive the difference between the Self (Atma) and the non-Self (Anatma). In contrast to these people, an enlightened person has perfected the yoga of union with God, that is, he is always steeped in thoughts of God and no worldly pulls attract him. Such a person beholds Him fully in all things and is thus not tainted by any trace of ego sense.

To attain this state of enlightenment, one has to seek refuge in the Supreme Brahman by means of the Higher Knowledge. This knowledge makes us behold the Supreme Brahman who is the Primordial Being and who is the cause of this entire universe with its process of birth, growth, decay and death. The Lord cannot be seen or seized, has no root or attributes, no eyes or ears, no hands or feet; and He is eternal and omnipresent. His effulgent abode is beyond the world of light or illumination caused by the sun, moon, fire or lightning. In fact it is by His power that these are able to illuminate the universe. To Him belongs all the glory in the world.

The Jivatma comprises the gross and the subtle — the body and the Self. At every birth, the Self, carrying along with it the senses and the mind from the previous birth, attains a new body until it reaches the state of enlightenment. Only the realised Self is eligible to reach this abode of the Supreme Brahman.

The Lord explains at length the need to understand the fundamental dichotomy between the body and the soul. Steady determination and striving to distinguish the ephemeral from the eternal are needed on the part of the seeker.

The passage of years

Pranay Gupte

I was not quite 19 when I left shores of my native India for the promise of America, an only child of accomplished parents whose ambitions for their son did not necessarily embrace the possibility of his going away from home forever.

But that’s what happened. It wasn’t as though I never returned to India — but those were occasional visits, mainly on journalistic assignments. I was, however, never to make Mumbai my home again. Never again would I live in my parents’ apartment overlooking the Arabian Sea, never again would I wander aimlessly through the clangorous byways of the city where I was born not long after the British Raj ended. Whenever I visited, there would be a purpose – a story to be pursued, a book to be researched, perhaps an important birthday of a close friend, and, saddest of all, the deaths of my father and mother in the same year, a quarter of a century ago.

The choice to move my home was, of course, entirely mine: I completed college in the United States, I began a career as a reporter and then a foreign correspondent at the New York Times, I became a columnist for Newsweek International, I wrote profiles and investigative stories for Forbes, I produced documentaries for public television, and I published a newspaper on environmental and sustainability issues for more than a decade.

That choice was driven by an ambition to succeed, no doubt a characteristic that I’d absorbed watching my mother develop into an acclaimed academician and a widely published author in Marathi – one of India’s major languages – and my father apply his legal training in the field of banking. There’s a major square in Mumbai named in honour of my mother, and whenever I’m in my native city I make it a point to walk past the plaque in silent admiration of the sheer courage that it took Charusheela Gupte to lift herself out of poverty into the limelight of a public career.

I realize in those moments, and also at other times, that while I am her son, that while I am also the progeny of my father, Balkrishna Gupte, that’s where the linkage stops. They had far fewer privileges than I did while growing up, they had far fewer opportunities to traverse the world, and while their own lives exemplified the enduring values of tolerance and understanding, they never quite got the chance to study intensively how those values played out in societies such as the United Arab Emirates — where I currently live — which exquisitely embroider diversity into their national fabric.

So it would be fair to say that I’ve been far more fortunate than my parents. But it would also be fair to ask, has my life been as fulfilling as theirs? To what extent has my work in journalism and public diplomacy been a catalyst for change in the societies where I’ve lived and worked? Has my life made a difference to those around me?

There are surely those who’d contend that my presence in their lives was less than salutary. My painful divorce would be testimony to that argument. The estrangement between my son — an only child — and myself would also suggest that my parental behaviour might not have been a role model. Along these many years since I first left the shores of Mumbai, so many friendships were lost — lost not necessarily on account of disputes but because of disregard. I rarely apportion blame to others, but I readily accept responsibility for my actions.

I reflect on these matters now because I’m about to attend a very big reunion of my college class in America. I haven’t kept up with very many of my classmates — my loss entirely, to be sure — but I have, from time to time, marvelled at the temporal triumphs of some of them. I also confess to dismay over not having sustained the narrative of our collective youth.

That youth was tested and tried in the cauldron of major social and political upheavals in the United States: my college years coincided with those of the waning years of the war in Vietnam and Cambodia. The bodies of young Americans sent to a senseless conflict were being brought back in coffins; I covered that conflict not in the jungles of Southeast Asia but from Boston Commons, where students staged massive protest rallies. The anthem of our college years was “Fire and Rain,” that haunting composition by James Taylor that has been the soundtrack of my life in the years since.

Where did those years ago? I know where I’ve been, but did I sufficiently recognise the places that I visited, particularly those lodged within myself? Did I ask the right questions, especially of myself? What explained my judgment calls, notably those that proved unwise. Did I love enough? Did I care enough? Did I give enough of myself to those who extended themselves for me? Was I kind enough? Was I considerate enough? Did I show up on those occasions when my presence would have provided solace for those in distress?

So many questions swell within me as my class reunion approaches. But my former classmates aren’t going to be able to address them; they, too, would have their own inner demons and danseuses that inevitably gather force with the years.

I realize that when I see the men and women I went to college with all those decades ago, even more questions will arise about the life I —and they — have led. I realise, too, that no one but myself will be able to offer the answers, at least about myself. There may well be time to put off those answers until another big reunion comes our way. But, at my age, I also realise that I’m really not so sure about that either.

‘When I am old and when I need some help, there is none in sight’


Despite flaws, the joint family system was a clear winner vis-à-vis old age

I am now 75. My health is normal, except for age-related issues like slow pace in walking, difficulty in climbing the staircase, and so on. However, since by nature and temperament I am a positive person, I do not allow such difficulties to trespass into my overall sense of well-being.

Nevertheless, when I reflect upon my earlier days, and compare it with my present status, the irony of old age looms large. Perhaps, the paradox even provokes a sad and sarcastic smile on my face.

Maybe, this needs a little explanation. I was a professional manager in industry for more than 40 years. My career was quite successful. When I retired, I was at the apex level as the director of a group of companies.

When I was 45, my strength and stamina were such that physically and metaphysically I was capable of doing my personal work as well as my professional work — all by myself. But on account of the official perquisites available as appendage to the positions that I occupied, I did not have to do any such work.

The chauffeur drove my car, the doorman opened the door, and the secretary took care of all the non-executive chores — both personal and professional. In other words, when I could have done everything by myself, I did not; or rather the perquisites and privileges of the professional environment forbade me from indulging in them.

Now, when I am old and decrepit, when I need some help even to get up from the chair, there is none in sight. Living in a metropolis like Chennai, I have to perform quite a bit of physical work day in and day out — bank work and payment of electricity bill/telephone bill/property tax/water tax, etc. Purchase of grocery items, vegetables, fruits, etc., is another source of burden.

On top of all these, household appliances sometimes go wrong; electrical and plumbing gadgets fail. The law of life is that if things can go wrong, then they will go wrong. When such things happen, the task of locating a competent trouble shooter and getting the job done within a reasonable time and budget is nothing short of a nightmare.

Another problem is procuring a loyal and long-standing domestic help. Two decades ago, families could employ a servant maid, or a man Friday, without any hassle, and such helpers usually stayed on for years.

The story is quite different today. Good helpers are hard to come by; and when it does happen, they stay, at the most, for one or two years. Servants switch jobs so often and with every move they get better terms — particularly with the young employers, who are themselves working as well-paid executives, and whose dependence on the domestic help is deep and desperate.

The advent of the nuclear family has an echo in this scenario. In the joint family system, there was a harmonious division of labour, and a silent apportionment of responsibilities among the members of the family, based on the age and ability of the people to perform.

The principle of reciprocity was very much in evidence. Parents looked after their children, when the latter needed such protection. Children looked after their parents, when they needed such protection. Care and concern were a mutual responsibility of any two successive generations.

Not that the joint family system did not have any flaws or shortcomings. But in respect of the old age, it was a clear winner. In the present circumstances, it is futile and foolhardy to expect a rollback to the joint family system.

What can perhaps happen, nay must happen, is the realisation by the younger generation of the irony of the old age; and, to the extent possible, depending upon individual circumstances, there must be a better manifestation of care and concern for the old.

Indian frames of mind



The sensual experience of learning Hindi and the transforming glimpses of ‘elsewhere’ that it afforded was what attracted her to learn the language and write about it, says American author Katherine Russell Rich. Excerpts from an interview…

Living a dream…Katherine Russell Rich.

American writer Katherine Russell Rich’s Dreaming in Hindi is an engaging, informative account of a year spent in Udaipur, learning Hindi from scratch. In this email interview, she discusses the process and what it did for her.

You mention in your book that you weren’t quite sure why you chose to learn Hindi in particular. But do you think your achievement, of re-imagining your world through a second language, would have been as personally rewarding if the language had been some other?


Yeah, I kind of stumbled into Hindi — I didn’t know precisely why. I wasn’t one of those Westerners who was after all-things-Indian to get jolts of spiritual enlightenment. I just liked the way the language felt in my mouth, I liked the glimpses it gave me of someplace so different from what I knew. It’s funny to say this about something as cerebral as learning a language, but I liked the sensual experience of Hindi.

I sometimes think when we allow ourselves to stumble into something, we leave ourselves open to larger forces guiding us in the right direction… Hindi and India were an absolutely essential part of the mix, it turned out. But no way would I have anywhere near the same rewarding experience had I gone, say, to Cuernavaca to learn Spanish. Hindi and daily Indian life are so infused with the wisdom of the Vedas, that wisdom seeps in whether you’re looking for it or not. And whether you intend for it to or not, it’s transforming. In casual conversation, for instance, somebody said to me, “Life is a rope snake,” and I haven’t felt fear with quite the same intensity since. And as a proper, distanced Anglo-American, I was at first horrified by, then totally melted by the boisterous closeness of an Indian family. I ended up loving that and yearning for more.

As someone who balks at the idea of learning another language in adulthood, I was very struck by your analysis of how traumatic a process this is, and how it requires unsettling your whole way of thinking. Do you think you could have done it if your own life had not been at a cross-roads at the time?


Being at a cross roads gave me the time to get away, but I’m not sure it’s what enabled me in the process. It might sound weird, but I think what came in most useful was the fact that I’ve had cancer for two thirds of my adult life. When you live with cancer, you have to figure out ways to live with constant uncertainty, and same thing goes for when you learn a language: Did that man just say what I thought he said? No way. Wait, wait: I think he did. In both instances, you either learn to be fluid or you go nuts. In my case, I’d already gotten a jump on learning to be fluid when I started learning Hindi.

It’s often said that we in India must all learn a common language if we’re going to get over our linguistic rivalries. But since this can be such a painful process, would you say a ‘live and let live’ philosophy is a better approach?


A live-and-let-live-philosophy is a better approach in theory, but I’m not sure it is in practice. For a country to truly function, doesn’t it need to have some kind of collective national voice? On the other hand, just as you can’t invent a symbol, you can’t thrust a language on people. A language is so much a part of the unconscious, it has to be gently incorporated or it’ll never seep into the deeper levels.

As India continues to change so rapidly, I have a feeling the situation with languages might too, maybe because there’ll be more incentive to have a common language. It won’t be a matter of ramming it down people’s throats. It’ll be a necessity for doing business.

Reading your book, it’s obvious you love English. In a paradoxical way, do you think that helped you with your Hindi — knowing that it would always be at arm’s length, so to speak?


I do love English but I think that’s largely because, like a lot of writers, I love language. And loving language, no question, helped me with Hindi. Unfortunately, I think that knowing English would always be my primary language slowed me down with Hindi. If you’re a Hindi-only speaker and go to America, you can’t cheat and fall back on Hindi when you get sick of fumbling through in another language. But if you’re American and go to India, you can always corral someone into speaking English with you, to the detriment of your Hindi.

Has your time in India learning Hindi changed your use of English?


In the beginning, that was happening all the time. You know how people in India often say “Hum” in a sentence where English speakers would say “I”? I was constantly doing the reverse — “We’ll be there at 7, then” — and people would say, puzzled, “We? Who else is coming?”

I was in such an Indian frame of mind, it took me about a year to know how to begin the book. One small example: I’d gotten used to the Indian sense of hierarchy and so I kept balking at writing about my teachers in any way that might sound disrespectful. This is the dead opposite approach you want to take with an American audience, who’ve been seeped in notions of “everyone’s equal” their whole lives.

I finally snapped out of it when one day, I was telling a writer friend a very rude but very funny story about one of the teachers and she said, “Of course you’re going to put that in the book?” Without thinking, I answered, “Oh no, that would be disrespectful,” and she cried, “What. Are. You. Talking. About?” After that, I was back in America.

// // // //

The Wind Among the Reeds

W.B. Yeats (1865–1939). The Wind Among the Reeds.  1899

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.