Saturday, April 25, 2015

Great Empires of India

It is often said that the British united India and shaped it into a country. But when we look at many of the great empires of India across history, we realize that India had been in integrated form for a long duration of time. Of course there have been smaller kingdoms and many kings controlling smaller states but it was just a matter of time before those were integrated into the form of a great empire; which often consisted of regions like Afghanistan too!

Maurya Empire

Look at the below map. This was the size of Maurya Empire around 250 years Before Christ! 

The Capital of Maurya Empire was Pataliputra i.e. modern Patna in Bihar. The Maurya Empire was one of the largest empires of the world in its time.

Gupta Empire

Below is the map of Gupta Empire (गुप्त साम्राज्य); the period during which is called Golden Age in Indian History. It existed from 320 to 550 AD. 

The Capital of Gupta Empire was Pataliputra i.e. modern Patna in Bihar. Samudragupta is called "Napoleon of India" for his great conquests. He conquered what is now Kashmir and Afghanistan. He was a devout Hindu and worshiped Lord Vishnu. 

Btw, the Gupt Kings were not Kshatriyas by birth but were Vaishya/Bania - the same Gupta Surname which many of our friends have.

Maratha Empire

Below is the map of the Great Maratha Empire, around 1758; in orange shade. It ruled over most of Indian subcontinent in 18th and early 19th century before the British East India Company took over. 

Marathas even defeated Tipu Sultan of Mysore. Peshwa Madhavrao-I defeated Hyder Ali, Tipu Sultan's father, twice in 1764 and 1767. In 1767 Peshwa Madhavrao defeated both Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan and entered Srirangapatna, the capital of Mysore. Hyder Ali accepted the authority of Madhavrao who gave him the title of Nawab of Mysore. Tipu Sultan used to pay Rupees 1.2 million every year to Marathas who in return recognized the rule of Tipu in Mysore region. 

After Marathas defeated Nizam of Hyderabad, the Nizam stopped being a force in North Indian politics and got confined to Hyderabad. Even Mughals used to pay tax to Marathas. 

Marathas controlled present day Pakistan, Bangladesh as well as bordering Nepal and Afghanistan.


These were some of the great empires of India. In terms of their sheer size, these have been mammoth, often one of the biggest at their time in this world. And then there have been so many other great kingdoms, which even though smaller in size, are still remembered and venerated for many good reasons. 

India has been a land of great people and great kings. A lot of people remember India only because of the spiritual light it provided to the world; and the religious tolerance Hindus practiced which was worth emulating all across the warring world. But even in terms of military might, India has not been without excellence. After all, it was India from which even the 'great' Alexander returned disappointed and empty handed! 

- Rahul

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Beautiful Orchha (Madhya Pradesh)

You must have seen this ad of 'Slice' (Pepsico's mango 'drink'; contains only 13% mango pulp) on TV; and did you notice some beautiful temples and buildings in the background? 

Wondered where these buildings are located at? This is at Orchha in Madhya Pradesh. The buildings in the above picture are beautiful Chhatris on the bank of Betwa River:

Orchha has a very old Chaturbhuj Temple where main deity is Lord Vishnu. Chaturbhuj Temple (Orchha) was constructed by the Bundela Rajputs of the Kingdom of Orchha. Its construction was started by Madhukar Shah Ju Dev (1554 to 1592) and completed by his son, Vir Singh Deo in the early 17th century: 

There is also a wonderful Lakshmi Temple at Orchha: 

Palace or Raj Mahal of Orchha itself is a huge attraction:

In below picture, Palace is seen along with Chaturbhuj Temple:

Orchha also has Ram Raja Temple. This is said to be the only temple where Lord Ram is worshiped as a King and that too in a palace. A Guard of Honour and Armed salutation is provided to Lord Ram every day. King Madhukar Shah Ju Dev brought the idol from Ayodhya.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Dahi Wale Kaka

Today I learnt two sentences in Marathi from our neighborhood kid.

A hawker selling curd visits our locality every morning (yes, we are still blessed with such old world charms) attracting his customers by shouting “Dahiiii…”. As he came visiting today, the kid went to his balcony (which is below one of our window’s) and called out, “दही वाले काका - थांबामम्मी आली!”. Now imagine if the kid had said the same thing in English. He would say, “Wait Curd Uncle (i.e. Uncle with curd), mom is coming!” Will it carry even an iota of the little kid’s cuteness and beauty?

Btw, we have seen this kid from his younger days – when he was so small that his grandma used to fill water in a wide-mouth bucket and keep him inside it to play and take bath! Before that, grandma would do massage (tel-malish) to him and he was too little even to speak. He is learning words and sentences, and sometimes he entertains his occasionally snooping neighbors like us without knowing.

Very soon, this little Govinda will be big enough to take a break with curd during “Dahi handi” festivals…

- Rahul

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

God’s Own Children

I was traveling in a public bus when something out of ordinary happened. It is not usual that the public bus’ drivers stop at undesignated places (sometimes they don’t even stop at marked bus ‘stops’). When the bus halted, I saw a kid getting in from the wrong door (which is meant to get down). The bus driver kept shouting until two more kids got into the bus and were all asked to get seated (so that they don’t fall down); and then only the bus started. When I could see the three kids’ faces, I could not stop observing a little more than expected.

All three kids were poor (as their clothes and appearances told). The eldest of them was of about 5 or 6, and he sat down only when the two younger kids (perhaps all were siblings) had got seated. He carried a rugged bag (‘jhola’) in his hand and also a confidence which made him appear strong. Second eldest was a girl who was about the same age as of the boy. When she raised her head and I could see her eyes – I was startled. Her eyes made a kind of gaze which was of an adult’s and it spoke of struggles and pity – which I have seen in the eyes of very poor people… The youngest kid was a pampered little plaything; he kept laughing showing his three missing front teeth, feeling happy and content in the company of his elder siblings. In fact all three kids were laughing and seemed pretty happy. Why they should not be? Was I expecting them to be sad just because they were appearing poor (by general standard)?

The ‘conductor’ reached out to them and sat down himself on a nearby seat. When the kids saw him, the girl brought out a twisted ten rupee note in her fist (she held it tight) and offered him. The conductor received the currency in his hand, then said something while talking to the kids with a paternal empathy, and then returned the note to her. I felt hugely relieved. Then after talking to the kids who kept laughing and enjoying the ride, he got himself distracted in other things.

After a while the driver asked the kids where they would get down; but the kids did not answer. The conductor gave them some choices to choose from; the girl selected one of those as her destination and when the place came; the driver stopped the bus (at the undesignated stop again), made sure that the kids got down safely and then started further. I looked at the three kids going away from the bus. The two boys were jumping and looking ahead while the girl looked back at the bus and its driver. Perhaps she was trying to ‘remember’ the bus and its compassionate driver and conductor. But more than anything, her eyes told as if she was blessing the bus for the kindness which she won’t be encountering so often…

These were God’s own children I met today.

- Rahul 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Importance of Wearing Bindi

A 'bindi' or 'bindu' means drop or globule. In Indian/Hindu culture it is supposed to be a sacred symbol of the universe, depicted as a dot or the zero. Applied between the eyebrows, it is position of the sixth chakra, a place which is also the exit point of kundalini energy. Red bindu which women wear also symbolizes fire as per tantra. 

An author writes that while Muslim women in Pak/Bangladesh also wear bindi quite often it is comparatively rare in Indian Muslim women perhaps due to its religious significance. 

From health point of view, bindi is worn between the eyebrows where the pineal gland lies which is an important nerve center and applying sandalwood or ash keeps the nerves cool and conserves energy. But it helps in this aspect only if bindi is made of natural sources and not of plastic. 

The bindi also represents the third eye (of wisdom/enlightenment). The Nasadiya Sukta of the Rig Veda mentions the word vindu/bindu.

[Source: Books and online resources; Picture © Andre Susan]

Friday, April 10, 2015

How India Got Freedom at Midnight

All of us know that India got independence at midnight of 15 August 1947; but there are more interesting aspects to it.

The British Parliament had resolved to set India free on 15 August, which was the second anniversary of Japanese surrender leading to end of WW-II. But as per Indian astrologers, 15 August 1947 was an inauspicious (ashubh) day and a nation born on that day could face breaking-up and great hurdles. Astrologers said that 14th Aug'47 was auspicious but British were adamant about 15th Aug. (also because their authority had to be in Pakistan on 14th morning). So K.M. Panikkar, a historian and astrology expert finally came up with a solution - he suggested that the Constitution Assembly should meet and start the proceedings an hour before the midnight. Pt. Nehru's talk is mentioned as 14-15 August even in speech notes.

We know that as per Hindu Calendar, a date changes with sunrise and not at midnight and hence 00:00:00 of 15 August was actually 14 August by Hindu calendar! And it worked out well - a nation which Western experts claimed won't survive, continued to remain one and prospering...


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Colleagues Offering Paid Carpool Ride: It is Business!

Recently there was a discussion in office about the colleagues who offer paid carpool rides to and from office daily, to other colleagues. They pick up and drop colleagues who pay them anything from Rs 10 to 40 or 50 depending on distance. As per company policy, company does not allow commercial solicitations inside office and hence it becomes tricky affair since the car-owners post ads offering paid carpool rides in the company’s online message portal. The car owners definitely like to say that it is not a commercial activity and they are merely “sharing the fuel expense”. Is it really so simple? A lot of people don’t agree with it. At the same time many colleagues who take up this paid carpool ‘service’ complain that the car-owners are often rude towards them and never agree to slight requests for example of taking a slight different route.

I think the person charging money for a car ride essentially means he wants to “earn money”; something which car-owners don’t want to accept. Because from fuel expenses to insurance cost, total expense almost remains the same no matter if they pickup colleagues or not. Hence whatever they get out of colleagues’ pockets is their “income”. Fellow travelers don’t have a problem in paying; because in all alternative modes of transport they were to pay anyway. But it is the car-owners’ ‘inferiority complex’ at accepting the fact that they are taking ‘money’ which is revealed in lots of indirect manners and gestures. Sometimes it shows in the manner they try to “justify” why one doesn’t really take money while taking money; sometimes it shows in their rude manner and attitude towards fellow travelers, which in a way is exerting their right, in a way telling the other guy who is the boss who makes decisions here, and hence we have this scenario where fellow passengers sometimes feel that the car-owner is not civil enough.

If you are running a business by running a carpool; what is the shame in accepting the fact that you are earning money? The moment one is not ashamed of taking money; his/her ethics will follow; as one would accept the “rights” of the fellow travelers. If only we think that we are not really taking money; we would like to believe that the fellow traveler does not have any right to demand (e.g. change of route). So the bottom line is – car owners, don’t be ashamed of the fact that you are earning money; and behave accordingly.

As soon as someone mentions that car owns take money and hence should be a bit more polite; they become angry and refute strongly the fact that they are earning money and they try to taunt at the persons who question them by claiming that they want “free rides”. This annoyance at a mere mention of the monetary part is interesting. I don’t think anyone is asking for free rides. But the monetary part is mentioned to drive the idea that the occupant is not beyond his humor to ask for a bit of flexibility (e.g. by going via a different route) from the car-owner.

Coming back to the rude behavior of car owners; I think basic courtesy is much needed. Kindness is very much missing these days of inflated egos. People offer carpools to earn a few bucks – but when it comes to take a bit of trouble to help a fellow person – they act as if their royal ego is hurt if the person dared to make a request. It is easy to guess that they are driven by greed (money) and not by compassion or make-the-world-green kind of ideas which could do any greater good for the world.

Even if the occasional lift-givers who act out selflessly (without taking money) appear rude, if they would, it could be tolerated or ignored. But the professionals who I think are more likely to have learnt and perfected the tricks of the trade and having optimized their route, picking points and timing to start and drop they are less likely to be flexible when occasional customer makes a demand; also fearing that other participants may learn to ask and may start demanding stuff which would need frequent changes in plan. If it were a matter of one day or occasional days, they still may oblige but since this is their daily routine, they don’t feel encouraged to be flexible.

Someone asked what should be a fair price to ask so that the persons taking the carpool service find it not in excess. I think there are no calculators but one could use benchmarks to estimate. One figure is the public bus’ ticket rate; another shared-auto rate; so one could charge slightly higher than these two other options which occupants have.

Now I am going to make a few strong points:

1) Carpools are not eco-friendly. A lot of people can’t afford to come to office daily in their own cars; and they are coming only because they are “subsidized” by fellow occupants. If fellow colleagues stop taking their carpools, such guys will find it too costly to pay for fuel from their pocket alone, and hence will take up “buses”. So carpools are actually cannibalizing “bus” service and if we have to promote buses, we should discourage cars as well as carpools.

2) People who earn money from offering carpools are basically making “black money”; because otherwise they should be showing the income under “income from other sources” field while filing IT returns – and I guess none of them would be doing it…

3) It is still better to take Cab service than this paid-carpool from un-acknowledging colleagues, because – taxi services ultimately pay taxes to the govt and hence all their earnings help in our country’s economic growth. But our colleagues only earn black money and it does not help our nation. So I think it is better to take any Cab service than carpool.

Have you thought about this issue before? What is your opinion on this? Let me know what you think using the comment box. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Why to Get Employment: The Sense and Sensibility Way

For long I have fantasized to be rich enough and reckless enough so as not to be 'working for money'. These days I am reading 'Sense and Sensibility' by Jane Austen. It is tempting to know that in those days in England (also) there were men who inherited fortunes and their estates granted them 'freedom' to remain idle. :) And the language in which Jane Austen writes about it, makes it so glorious. 

Mrs. Dashwood wants to tell Edward, who loved one of her daughters, that it was better if he was employed (perhaps that would be more comforting to her as a could-be mother-in-law). So how does she tell it? She says, "You would be a happier man if you had any profession to engage your time and give an interest to your plans and actions. Some inconvenience to your friends, indeed, might result from it - you would not be able to give them so much of your time. But you would know where to go when you left them."

So interesting! To be employed, so that "you would know where to go when you left a place"! :)

Edward replies including, "I always preferred the church, as I still do. But that was not smart enough for my family." (no one wants to give her daughter to a man who is rich enough to need to go only to a church). "They recommended the army. That was a great deal too smart for me". (they are fine sending sons to army than seeing them at at home!?) "The law was allowed to be genteel enough; but I had no inclination for the law." (What is the use of arguing for others when one can't for oneself?) "I was therefore entered at Oxford and have been properly idle ever since." (as always true - confused people go to college and return more confused).

Now Mrs. Dashwood says, "The consequence of which, I suppose, will be, that your sons will be brought up to as many pursuits, employments, professions, and trades as Columella's".

Edward says in a serious accent, "They will be brought up to be as unlike myself as is possible."

Now this proposition - to work and get employment - so that our kids can also get into same vocation and hence we could make sure they don't trade unseen waters, is so boring and yet interesting. Thanks to Jane Austen's classy humour...

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Dear Diary and Other Miscellaneous Stuff

For a change I am writing this post as a ‘dear diary’ format; something with which many of us had got initiated into the blogging world. In fact one of the first blogs which I had come across on internet; I think that was around year 2004-05 and hosted on rediff, were in the same ‘diary’ format. In fact I remember the first such blogger on rediff which had appealed to me and opened a new world to me – she was a girl from Delhi and in her blog she wrote about her days and what she did – especially I loved about her descriptions where she told about how she tutored some kids who came to her house for tuition. She was a student but used to teach kids simultaneously – and this was highly inspiring for a lazy person like me :) Anyways, I should move on to what I have planned for here. I am not really going to describe what comes my mind, but I am going to retrieve and recycle some of the thoughts which have gone through my mind in the last few days.

It should aptly or tragically start with politics; depending on whether you like or dislike political news and analysis. The biggest news recently has been the manner in which Delhi’s CM Arvind Kejriwal has been exposed; with explosive revelations coming out in the open about his real intentions after last elections and the manner in which he was ready to sell his soul to the devil to somehow get back his chair. Also, the manner in which Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav were ousted from their party, for their sin to having their own individual opinions which did not match with Kejriwal’s, was depressing. People’s biggest fear – that this party and its self-proclaimed honest leader will also become power craving monster after tasting power; has come true. I guess people in Delhi must be feeling hurt and cheated – and they should. Still there is hope at the end of the tunnel. If public can maintain these events in its memory and does not get swayed by some other Kejriwal’s gimmicks before next state assembly elections, next elections although too far from now should be the best way to teach lessons to the sinners. In democracy there is never a final victory or defeat and one pays for one’s karma if people are vigilant.

Now I would like to touch upon a book I have finished reading. It is “For God’s Sake” by Ambi Parameswaran. This is a wonderful take on how religions are impacting people and media of our country. I recommend this book highly if you are interested in this subject. 

Btw, it is troubling the manner in which Pakistani actors and artists have infiltrated Indian entertainment industry in particular and so frequently appear in our movies, TV shows, music albums, Ads, event hosting, etc. We can certainly wonder how they treat us "in return". Ambi Parameswaran, ED and former CEO of DraftFCB Ulka is an industry veteran and here is what he says in his book "For God's Sake":

"Pakistani television would discourage ads being made in India also because they did not want their marketers to route their advertising production money to India and to Indian models. Television authorities in Pakistan insisted that none of the actors were of Indian origin. When Indian agencies made ads for their Pakistani partners, they had to ensure the actors had non-Indian passports, copies of which had to be sent to Pakistan for approval."

Indians think that if they support Pakistani actors, it is because of our "big heart". I think it is because we have "small thinking". If I watch a Pakistani actor's movie/show; s/he will get more roles in India and earn Indian money; one, there is opportunity lost for one Indian actor/artist who could have got that role; two, the Pakistani artist goes back to Pak and spends his income there; part of income goes to Paki govt as taxes; Paki govt uses some of its tax money to fund terror against India; and hence we can't truly claim to be not funding terror in India indirectly by supporting Pakistani showmen!

Recently there was a huge buzz around the news that Maharashtra government has banned beef in the state. Mostly people applauded the decisions except a few who protested. Trivia: Do you know that "till 1947" cow-killing was punishable by death in Jammu & Kashmir? 

All of us know that India got independence at midnight of 15 August 1947; but there are more interesting aspects to it.

The British Parliament had resolved to set India free on 15 August, which was the second anniversary of Japanese surrender leading to end of WW-II. But as per Indian astrologers, 15 August 1947 was an inauspicious (ashubh) day and a nation born on that day could face breaking-up and great hurdles. Astrologers said that 14th Aug'47 was auspicious but British were adamant about 15th Aug. (also because their authority had to be in Pakistan on 14th morning). So K.M. Pannikar, a historian and astrology expert finally came up with a solution - he suggested that the Constitution Assembly should meet and start the proceedings an hour before the midnight. Pt. Nehru's talk is mentioned as 14-15 August even in speech notes.

We know that as per Hindu Calendar, a date changes with sunrise and not at midnight and hence 00:00:00 of 15 August was actually 14 August by Hindu calendar! And it worked out well - a nation which Western experts claimed won't survive, continued to remain one and prospering...

Another thing which has caught my attention is the interesting manner in which word-meanings change and sometimes it is sad; for the changes appear to be trivializing grave or touching moments. These days a Punjabi word "Siapa" or "Syapa" is gaining popularity in Films and TV. The word is being used to indicate any "trouble" or "problem". May be movies picked this meaning up from recent popular culture.

But the actual meaning of the word "siapa" is "Beating of breasts as a sign of mourning." When someone died in that region, it was a custom to conduct a siapa (mourning) ceremony; where women used to gather and weep, crying in grief. That was called "siapa".

In a way it is sad that the word has been turned into something different and trivial. But the custom of original "siapa" (mourning) ceremonies may themselves be extinct now; or getting extinct; and hence popular culture and cinema picked it up. Still, the manner in which they speak "siapa" at the drop of a hat on TV; many times in comedy shows; as if it is a funny word; does not appear right to me. One of my friends informed that the word has been used in trivial and funny sense for a long-long time. But that is the phrase "syapa padna" which means "rona cheekhna machaana"; the instances I mentioned from TV are not "syapa padna" but merely "syapa". Perhaps I should not expect such purity and care from TV and media. 

A lot has also been happening on international front. After Iraq, what has happened in Yemen is heartbreaking. ISIS is a great challenge to the civilized world and I think our world including its leader USA and President Obama are not doing enough. Also the manner in which Islamic terrorists attacked a university and killed more than a hundred students, shakes one’s faith in humanity. 

In this light, the below picture may not break the internet but it can break your heart:

Let us hope some sense returns to this world soon. I wish USA does more than it has done in some recent years to control such events. 

- Rahul

Saturday, April 4, 2015

How Many Children Hindus Should Have?

Every now and then media catches some Hindu leader suggesting Hindus to have more kids so as not to get outnumbered by other religions and then hell breaks loose. (E.g. News1; News2) Getting carried away by the mainstream media (mainly TV news), people like us also criticize such persons on social media expressing disgust and the underlying basic principle is - "it is our personal choice to have as many kids as we want and any other person or organization does not have any right to suggest me or persuade me about it". Isn't it so?

First, if you follow news, such suggestions are made by leaders from all religions. A few days after last time media had made Sakshi Maharaj famous, Pope himself had made a very similar statement. But media does not criticize other religions for the same charge because Indian media's main audience are Hindus and Hindus would naturally find criticism of their own religion more "appealing" than of others - which helps channels's TRP. If I write a facebook post criticizing Hindus, I will get 30 'likes' but if I write one criticizing other religions, I would perhaps get only 3 - because my friends are majorly Hindus. Secondly, data tells that Muslims population is indeed growing faster than Hindus' and hence if some Hindu leaders are educated enough to make sense out of the data and the trend analysis, we should not get angry with them for it.

Lastly, do we really get so upset with anyone suggesting us about how many kids to have? Are not our Govts doing the same for decades - by asking us to breed only "2"? Slogans like "Ham do hamare do" were thrust into our ears for years; and our own (tax-payers') money was spent to teach us the benefits of "small family" - If your father has 100 acres of land and you are 2 kids, you get 50 acres each; but if you are 10 kids, you get only 10 acres each - hence by appealing to our "greed", Govt was able to convince Hindus and other liberal religions to have small families. On the other hand, govt is officially busy increasing the population of minority religions like Parsis by officially using tax payers' money; and inflating the budget of so called "Minority Affair Ministries" while there have been no "Majority Affairs Ministry".

When govt said, "have 2 kids or less", we found it "fine"; but when a Hindu leader says, "have more than 2 kids", why do we find it revolting while logically both are suggesting us to have a "right number of kids" according to their own "perspectives"? If you think rationally and logically, both statements - "have 2 kids or less" and "have 4 kids" are of same "kind" and "characteristic"! But thanks to the media which cares only about TRP and has thrown its brain down the drain; our "perception" is molded so that we find Govt's slogan fine while religious leaders' statement as bad.

- Rahul

Sunday, March 29, 2015

#AAP-Ki-Crisis: Management and Leadership Disasters in Expulsion of Yadav, Bhushan, Kumar & Jha

May I assume that you have read or heard news about or viewed live coverage of the ongoing crisis in Aap (Aam Aadmi Party; a newly launched political party in India which grabbed power in the state of Delhi recently.)? If you have not, here are some refreshing links: OneIndia; Rediff; MControl.

Let us analyze this event purely from management and leadership perspectives:

(1) First thing which struck me was that the meeting was happening at a private 'Resort' where entry was restricted to a few while 'aam aadmi' did not know what was happening inside. Bhushan's demand to video-tape the proceedings was met with great scorn and heart-burns. Then some of Yadav's supporters were denied entry. When Kejriwal had said that he would take oath as Delhi CM in a stadium, it meant something. A stadium symbolized "openness" and "equality" while a "closed door resort" symbolized "non-transparency" and "inequality".

(2) A leader is built by taking leadership during crisis. This is why Rahul Gandhi never got respect as he went absconding during every crisis. Kejriwal was the same leader who used to challenge his opponents into "open debate" in front of live cameras. He was always ready to clarify his positions. Portions of Kejriwal's speech or conversations which we have listened to recently sound like a fuming Sonia Gandhi. Kejriwal's group have hardly displayed any inspiring leadership during this crisis.

(3) A good leader has to remain 'accessible'. This is why managers who advertise "open door policy" appear so happy about it. During yesterday's meeting, we never saw Kejriwal or his select group outside the venue interacting with the party's "volunteers". We never saw Kejriwal even talking to the media, clearing his position on the scandals or about yesterday's ruckus. When leaders are inaccessible, they run the risk of adversaries taking their pole positions. We saw this happening yesterday when anti-Kejriwal Yogendra Yadav sat on Dharna in front of the "volunteers" - dharna being the most branded IP of Kejriwal. Party members may fall in love with other leaders for doing what they were earlier used to seeing Kejriwal doing.

(4) When AAP had established an 'internal Lokpal', it had sent a strong message to all. That the party was ready to walk the talk; the party stood for all the values it wanted other parties and govts to possess. But when Kejiwal's team asked their internal Lokpal Admiral Ramdas not to come to the meeting, it was as if they wanted "righteousness" and "truth" to turn a "blind eye". This decision made Kejiwal and his party appear like "hypocrites".

(5) People expect "continuity" as much from a leader as they expect "vision". This crisis and the manner in which it was handled gave a clear message how much the party had changed after gaining absolute power in a state (of Delhi). That was people's worst fear - that this party and its leaders were appearing honest until they were out of power and would also change after gaining power. The party has been successful in letting its members' worst fears come true. It has been a PR disaster. It has been a crisis mismanaged. It has been an anti-climax.

- Rahul

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Book: Missionaries in India : Continuities, Changes, Dilemmas By Arun Shourie

Finished reading my third Arun Shourie book - "Missionaries in India". It was published first in year 1996 and I read its fourth reprint in year 2010 by Rupa & Co. (ISBN: 81-291-0573-X). In this book the author shares extensive research and review of the work done by Christian missionaries in India from the British days onward; with resource as Gandhiji's writing, Vivekananda's speeches and official literature from Church and missionaries speeches. The book serves as a reappraisal and critique of the role of Christian Missionaries and their religious “conversion” techniques and methods in India.

Arun Shourie said about his book: "To celebrate the 50th anniversary of its establishment the C.B.C.I. convened a meeting in January 1994 to review the work of the Church in India. For some reason the organizers were so kind to ask me to give the Hindu perception of the work of Christian missionaries in India. That lecture and the discussion which followed form the scaffolding of this book.”

Since the missionaries found hard to "convert" caste-Hindus, they started "converting" the Tribal, Dalits, Harijans etc in large numbers, and Gandhiji was fuming at this design. Gandhiji said, "When a Christian preacher goes and says to a Harijan that Jesus was the only begotten Son of God, he will give him a blank stare. Then he holds out all kinds of inducements which debase Christianity". Gandhiji challenged missionaries to convert him, rather than convert uneducated poor people by promising them money and support, and in fact they tried to convert him too! Of course they failed.

The book contains Gandhiji's conversations and arguments with missionaries, taken from his Collected Works, and it is fascinating to read. Also, it contains letters and speeches from British high-rank officials, which tell how they thought that converting Indians into Christianity would ensure long life and success for the British Raj, since converted person changes his "loyalty"; also that they tried to use "English education" as a means for the same purpose.

I would like to reproduce two excerpts from the book with titles of my own. These will give you an idea about the rich content in this book.

Education System in India Prior to the British Rule

British Parliamentarian Keir Hardie wrote in his book 'India' that Bengal before British occupation had 80000 native schools, which meant 1 school for every 400 of the population! Ludlow, in his 'History of British India' wrote that "in every Hindu village which has retained its old form children are able to read, write and cipher, but where we (the British) have swept away the village system in Bengal, there the village school has also disappeared."

Report of A.D. Campbell, Collector of Bellary (Karnataka), dated 17 August, 1823 mentions: "Of nearly a million of souls in this district, not 7000 are now at school... In many villages where formerly there were large schools, there are now none, and in many others where there were large schools, now only a few children of the most opulent are taught, others being unable from poverty to attend..."

What is revealed is that before British occupation, Hindu kings and rulers used to grant huge "funds" to the schools, which taught in native languages and Sanskrit, and hence people were in general well educated. But the British stopped funding any of the native language schools and hence education system was gradually destroyed... Later on the British brought out Macaulay policy; setup English schools and missionary schools - with aims to mold young people's minds in favor of the British so that people, having been educated through this system would never wish to let the British go away from India!

Gandhiji in conversion with a Christian missionary

Gandhiji was angry at the missionaries for converting the tribal and harijans and the missionary begins by asking why he should not convert:

A Christian missionary: “Why may I not share with others my experience of Jesus Christ which has given me such ineffable peace?” (in a way asking why he should no convert others).

Gandhiji: “Because you cannot probably say that what is best for you is best for all… And again, is it not super-arrogance to assume that you alone possess the key to spiritual joy and peace, and that an adherent of a different faith cannot get the same in equal measure from a study of his scriptures? I enjoy a peace and equanimity of spirit which has excited the envy of many Christian friends. I have got it principally through the Gita.”

Missionary: “But what is your attitude to Jesus?”

Gandhiji: He was a great world-teacher among others. His sacrifice is an example to all. But that he was the greatest, I cannot accept. He had not for instance the compassion of the Buddha.

Missionary: “But what about his being God-incarnate, the Son of God?”

Gandhiji: I do not take the words literally. Jesus was the son of God only in the sense that we are all children of God. God has endowed us all with the capacity to attain the heights Jesus did, if only we put in the effort. The word ‘son’ can only be used in a figurative sense. If a man is spiritually miles ahead of us we may say that he is in a special sense the son of God, though we are all children of God.

Missionary: “What about the miracles?”

Gandhiji: There is no miracle in the story of the multitudes fed on a handful of loaves. A magician can create that illusion. But woe worth the day on which a magician would be hailed as the Savior of humanity. As for Jesus raising the dead to life, well, I doubt if the men he raised were really dead… The laws of nature are changeless, unchangeable, and there are no miracles in the sense of infringement or interruption of Nature’s laws.

(Portions taken from ‘Collected Works’, volumes 60, 65, 71)

I got to know many new facts after reading this book. I can’t express the feeling of having been able to read it. I highly recommend this book to all.

- Rahul 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

‘The Black Swan’: By Nassim Nicholas Taleb

‘The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable’ is an astonishing book! It makes the readers question everything they have been taking for granted all along; and puts faith back in some of the things they had been ignoring out of no reason. I had heard about the book many times but got the chance to read it recently. (I found the book in the library; started reading it; found it brilliant; then bought it for my own home-library).

So what is a Black Swan? According to the author Taleb, a Black Swan has three attributes:

1. It is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility.
2. It carries an extreme impact.
3. In spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.

The book does a wonderful job to sensitize us on the subject. 

In the initial portions of the book there are more references to history; a subject I am infatuated with. To make it more interesting, the portions of history the author wants to recall had something to do with religions. And these portions have come out so well!

For example, in the initial pages, where author describes history of Lebanon, I could not avoid wondering a bit about our own country's history, complacency of our majority and where our anarchy and pseudo-secularism could lead to. Check it out:

Lebanon was incorporated after the fall of the Ottoman Empire (like India was after the British). It was a Christian majority nation with Muslims being next (like India being Hindu majority). Author writes, "In a classical case of static thinking, nobody took into account the differentials in birthrate between the communities and it was assumed that a slight Christian majority would remain permanent" (exactly like in India). Author continues, "So in addition to being called a "paradise", the place was also said to be a miraculous crossroads of what are superficially tagged "Eastern" and "Western" cultures." (exactly what we are proud of in India). Then he writes about the student protests that started happening where protesters wore 'different' clothes. In author's words, "It is one thing to be cosmetically defiant of authority by wearing unconventional clothes - what social scientists and economists call "cheap signalling"..." (the anna topi clad anarchists in India who dress to seek attention). Perhaps it was just the beginning. Next something really serious happened, in author's words, "The Lebanese "paradise" suddenly evaporated... after close to thirteen centuries of remarkable ethnic coexistence (in India we pretend as if only we had it)... a fierce civil war began between Christians and Moslems, including the Palestinian refugees who took the Moslem side." (any surprises?) "The conflict lasted more than a decade and a half". Then author tells that "exodus of Christians" accelerated; and in his words, "number of cultured people dropped below some critical level." Nassim says, "Suddenly the place became vacuum. Brain drain is hard to reverse, and some of the old refinement may be lost forever."

This is so much food for thought... If you know the history of India and the history of Jammu & Kashmir in particular, you would not remain without getting touched by the above.

In another portion, author is trying to drive in the idea that some events are so unpredictable and he gives examples of rise of some religions. It seems even the events that are happening today in front of our eyes, we don't know how serious or far-reaching those can become in future. In Taleb's words: 

"Who predicted the rise of Christianity as a dominant religion in the Mediterranean basin, and later in the Western world? The Roman chroniclers of that period did not even take note of the new religion - historians of Christianity are baffled by the absence of contemporary mentions. Apparently, few of the big guns took the ideas of a seemingly heretical Jew seriously enough to think that he would leave traces for posterity. We only have a single contemporary reference to Jesus of Nazareth—in The Jewish Wars of Josephus—which itself may have been added later by a devout copyist. How about the competing religion that emerged seven centuries later; who forecast that a collection of horsemen would spread their empire and Islamic law from the Indian subcontinent to Spain in just a few years? Even more than the rise of Christianity, it was the spread of Islam (the third edition, so to speak) that carried full unpredictability; many historians looking at the record have been taken aback by the swiftness of the change."

Reading these portions it is tempting to think that the book has more of such portions; that this book is more about history and society than about economics; but alas. The later portions are as dry as sand of the deserts and do not maintain the initial ‘tempo’ (on history).

Later parts of the book discuss world of economics, finance and politics, mostly brushed with author’s skepticism. I would say that the later parts are also brilliant but too over stretched, exaggerated and reflect author’s excessive infatuations with his own ideas which he drives and drills into readers’ minds just too much. It would rather be better if he just wrote his ideas than trying to drill those repeatedly as if he gets sadistic pleasures out of the experiences. I am particularly troubled by the disdain and insults he hurls at fellow authors, famous economists and scientists who are respected for their work. The author takes each of the selected scientists' and the economists' works in isolation, as if those were meant to be sufficient and exclusive; and misses the point that individually and separately even though their ideas and discoveries could be refuted; as a “collection” and in their own “positions” those were invaluable contributions towards historical evolution of science and scientific discoveries. For example, can we laugh at the person who invented the 'wheel' first because of the fact that the wheel in itself is rather useless; since no one can sit over it forget about travelling on it. Wheel’s purpose is served, as a means of transportation, only if it is fixed in a bicycle, motorbike or a car, all the three happened subsequently and consequently by building upon their past ideas and knowledge. But if the inventor of bicycle tried to avoid using a wheel just in order to be thoroughly novel, creative and ‘original’, would we get the bicycle at all? But the brilliant author Taleb, as if drunk in the fame he got and the potential fame he expected to get, ignores sensibilities and does not try to put things in right perspective in order to appreciate their values. And hence, he goes after one scientist to another; one economist to another; trying to shoot everyone down by finding faults or incompleteness in their ideas or contributions, and a reader like me feels exasperated and exhausted. Therefore, by the time I reached the “forth quadrant” of the book, I was a tired man.

I wanted to pick up some of the portions where the author has become too caustic and un-enjoyable, but having gone through those once while reading the pages, I think it is not a good idea. But I think I should pick at least a few to elaborate my point:

Let us take the portion where the author says the following under the heading “Redundancy as Insurance”:

Look at the human body. We have two eyes, two lungs, two kidneys, even two brains (with the possible exception of corporate executives) – and each has more capacity than needed in ordinary circumstances. So redundancy equals insurance, and the apparent inefficiencies are associated with the costs of maintaining these spare parts and the energy needed to keep them around in spite of their idleness.

Using the above “observation from nature” as a “proof”, the author recommends “keeping some money under the carpet”, i.e. idle, which essentially means to recommend the “safety stock” mindset. So the author would like manufacturing companies to keep lots of inventories – because who knows what happens in future? Now use the same logic to the present date Crude Oil prices fluctuations – what would have happened if you had bought crude oil at the rate of 150 USD per barrel, when the prices crashed to 50 USD per barrel in no time? Won’t such a company go “bankrupt” too? But it seems the author is so infatuated with his ideas which he sees preventing potential bankruptcies that he does not consider the ‘180 degree problem’ (my term).

At another place, Taleb says that government should ban complex financial schemes because no one actually understands those. I think it is a very simplistic view. Even though it is true that most small investors don’t understand all the terms and conditions and don’t read scheme related documents; but the regulators normally do; or large institutional investors do; and if both of these don't then the 'competitors' definitely do; and if the schemes are too complex, people are worldly wise enough anyway not to fell prey to the sales pitch. But to devoid this world of creativity and new ideas; and force everyone to make a Hobson’s choice to choose investing between either a Fixed Deposit and Recurring Deposit, just because these two are “simple enough for all to understand” is a naive position.

Similarly, the author stretches the Fractal Geometry of Nature too much; in the below portion:

Consider that the great Galileo, otherwise a debunker of falsehoods, wrote the following:

The great book of Nature lies ever open before our eyes and the true philosophy is written in it. . . . But we cannot read it unless we have first learned the language and the characters in which it is written. . . . It is written in mathematical language and the characters are triangles, circles and other geometric figures.

Was Galileo legally blind? Even the great Galileo, with all his alleged independence of mind, was not capable of taking a clean look at Mother Nature. I am confident that he had windows in his house and that he ventured outside from time to time: he should have known that triangles are not easily found in nature. We are so easily brainwashed. We are either blind, or illiterate, or both. That nature's geometry is not Euclid's was so obvious, and nobody, almost nobody, saw it.

Then the author goes on to explain “Fractality” which means in author’s words, “The veins in leaves look like branches; branches look like trees; rocks look like small mountains. There is no qualitative change when an object changes size.

To doubt Galileo’s eye sight is easy but if we use some brain to evaluate the above 'Fractality' concept, what conclusion we come at? I think it is too simplistic to say that “leaves look like branches” and “rocks look like small mountains”.

There are plenty of plants and trees in which leaves don't look like branches at all. 

The author at one place while rejecting Gauss says, "You need one single observation to reject the Gaussian, but millions of observations will not fully confirm the validity of its application." Then why can't we apply the same principle to "reject" this 'Fractality concept' too? 

Similarly not all rocks look like mountains; only a few do?

I shall repeat author's argument: "You need one single observation to reject XYZ, but millions of observations will not fully confirm the validity of its application."

And what is wrong in calling the elevation of these mountains as being “triangular”; as Galileo would have?

What is wrong in calling the sun's 2-D shape “circular”; as Galileo would have?

Another portion where the author seems to be adamant at trying to prove apparently wrong things right is when he tries to justify or “scientify”  the Islamic tradition of “fasting and feasting” during some religious occasions. He justifies erratic over-eating and extreme fasting cycles and says it leads to low blood pressure and better health. Of course he says that the general notion that regular and moderate eating is good does not have empirical evidence. I don’t know why he says that because I have read so many research-based articles where experts advise not to do fasting followed by over-stuffing which has very logically severe repercussions on the health. Some fasting is good for health but not feasting just after fasting for long - as the author claims. As I said before, it seems the author gets too much self-infatuated and thinks that he could justify anything and everything as per his whims or wishes. 

The book has many portions which author has marked with warnings such as “this chapter is too technical, can be avoided by…” But having thirst for more, I went through all such chapters also; and later on I realized that I should have listened to the author. When it comes to economics and debunking common business wisdom, Taleb is brilliant.

Overall, this has been a fascinating read and I recommend this book to all.

© Rahul