Wednesday, December 31, 2014

From ‘The Reluctant Tuscan. How I discovered my inner Italian’ by Phil Doran

…..Nancy….an interior designer ….. When she sees a house she wants to redo, she gets a look on her face like a fifteen-year-old boy on a topless beach…. she never met a room she didn’t think she could improve.

Our plane landed and taxied to a stop. We then had the pleasure of sitting on the hot tarmac for 45 minutes while the Alitalia ground crew figured out how to open our door.

Buon giorno, signora, Piacere,’ I said, using up ten per cent of my Italian vocabulary

…..a small two-storey affair that had fallen into such disrepair……. I studied the thick accretion of inky residue and pondered the dramas that had played out inside these four walls.
The births, the deaths, the quarrels, the passions. And that was just the goats.

Dino broke down and wept, sobbing through his nose with big theatrical gasps like a clown in a Verdi opera. I was constantly unnerved by the penchant Italian men have for spontaneously bursting into tears.

‘…I still cant figure out why every store and office in this country closes up for a four-hour lunch break in the middle of the afternoon. ………..Why two Italians’ll block traffic by sitting in their cars in the middle of the road having a conversation. Why their houses have three different-sized electrical sockets and yet whenever I go to plug something in it, it doesn’t it in any of them. Why every restaurant but McDonald’s cant be open for dinner before eight o’clock at night. Why its impossible to make an appointment with anybody, and when you finally get one, they’re always late. And finally, how come when you question an Italian about any of these things they look at you like you’re crazy?’

He welcomed us in and as he helped Nancy off with her coat, he asked her about her fungus. I thought this was a rather intimate line of questioning but I soon realized that he was referring to a disease that was attacking our olive trees up at the piccolo rustico.

…why the citizens of these two cities [Florence and Ravenna] despise each other, you have to go back to AD 1309, when Italy’s most renowned poet, Dante Alighieri, was exiled from Florence for political reasons. For years, he wandered Tuscany, venting his fury by writing the Inferno and peopling hell with all the Florentines who had done him wrong. He finally wound up in Ravenna, where he died and was buried. Centuries later, the Florentines realized their mistake and demanded the return of their favourite son’s remains. The Ravennese refused, and to this day there is bad blood.
I have a lot of problems with Italy. Its chaotic, confusing, and oftentimes incomprehensible. But I must confess that I find unabashed delight living in a society where people still get furioso over the bones of a poet who’s been dead for seven hundred years.

Unlike the French, who tend to sink into reverential silence when the food arrives, the act of eating merely increases the Italians need for volume and drama.

Italy leads the world in young men with funny beards.

‘How can he get away with this?’ I demanded.
Rudolfo shrugged. ‘We’re Italian. We live with a million laws and no rules.’

…..thats how things get done around here. They’ll do anything for the mamma.

…it would certainly be good to get back to Los Angeles, where everybody speaks the same language. Korean.

As soon as I stepped off the plane and into a terminal full of my countrymen, I began to notice seismic differences. Americans looked heavier, more serious, more racially mixed, and not nearly as happy as a random crowd of Italians.

… I just plunged on. ‘Prendere mangiamo ….uh, uh, suoi polli
She flashed me a look of horrified indignation, quickly huddled her brood together, and ushered them away with such alacrity, I knew I had said something wrong…. I… discovered  that instead of asking if she were taking her chickens out to eat, I had asked if I could eat her chickens.
And we wonder why nations have such a hard time hammering out peace treaties.

During the course of rebuilding our house, we got calls from our ingegnere, the geometra, the carpenter, and so on asking us to come to their office or workshop. Invariably, we’d discover that whatever they wanted to discuss could have been dealt with over the phone. But that’s not the Italian way. They need to see your face, look in your eyes and use their vast array of hand gestures. So dependent are they on hand gestures that an Italian with a missing finger is thought to have a speech impediment.

The bronze plaque that displayed the name of our bank also announced that this particular institution had been founded twenty years before Columbus sailed for the New World, and every time I walked in, I felt like there were still customers from the fifteenth century waiting for a teller. The bank had computers, but they seemed to be mostly used for sending e-mails and playing video games…..
….Italian lines, by the way are not straight, but round. They tend to coalesce into a loose mob, where everyone seems to be able to follow the threads of many simultaneous conversations at once while never losing track of who goes next.
The wait was endless, but Italians can endure anything as long as they can talk. And their preferred way is everybody at the same time and at a volume we usually reserve for telling somebody the building’s on fire. It got so deafening in there that the tellers had trouble understanding their clients.

A word about Italian chequebooks and that word is drab. Unlike America, where you can order your cheques in lots of twenty thousand and get them printed with everything from Sunset Over the Mojave to a field of Happy Faces, Italian cheques come in only one colour: a faded, plain institutional brown….In a country recognized for style and design, the very birthpace of the Ranaissance, this is an appalling lack of sprezzatura, or what the Italians themselves call ‘the art of living’.

A common feature of every government office in Italy is a constantly ringing phone that nobody ever bothers to answer.

I have no trouble lying to the Italians, because they’re a highly imaginative people who have an ethereal relationship with the truth. They are a nation of natural-born storytellers who love to wrap you up in their yarns. Interestingly, they tend to label such a narrative as una storia, which implies that what they are telling you can be true, made up or a combination of the two. Often these anecdotes are long and quite intricate, carefully crafted to elicit your sympathies, or, failing that, exhaust tyou so you’ll go away.

Italians drive with a ferocity usually connected to a blood sport – horns blasting, brakes screeching, gears grinding – and that’s just getting out of the driveway….

Things happen in Italy that happen no where else on earth. A magical friendliness is spread all over the place like pixie dust. Sure, the salesman in America who greets you when you walk into Circuit City is as affable as a sheepdog, but isn’t that well-practised camaraderie all part of their corporate policy? In Italy, especially in the small family-run shops, the don’t just go for friendly, they actually seek to engage you as a person.
And this can take so many forms, like the local shoemaker who examines your heels and tells you that you don’t need new ones yet. Just walk around on your old ones for quaranta giorni (forty days), and then come back. Or your favourite fruttivendolo who stops you from selecting the shiny red applies and steers you to the ugly brown pugs that wind up tasting more delicious than any apple you’ve ever eaten. When you tell him you want four, he puts five in your bag because four is an unlucky number in Italy, while thirteen is not.

There never was any discernible pattern to the work. Some days nobody showed up. Then suddenly the whole crew would be there with more heavy equipment than Hitler had when he invaded Poland.

…..I realized that I was becoming so Italian, I looked to celebrate at the slightest provocation

….I never cease to marvel at how Italian men will ogle a woman with a blatancy that would get you hauled into court on sexual harassment charges in America.

If I live here forever I’ll never get used to how Italians will come over to your house at any time of the day or night. In L.A. the last person to drop in on anybody unannounced was the Hillside Strangler….One of the more enduring axioms in literature is the idea that life in an American suburb is sterile and emotionally desolate.

For a country that seems to be organized along chaotic lines by a people with a deep-seated sense of anarchy in their souls, Italians dance in a highly structured way.

….in this heavily agricultural area, where the locals are fond of saying that if a man has a woman he’s happy for a day, if he has a cow he’s happy for a week, but if he has a garden he’s happy for a lifetime.

….Fabiola was canonized at a time when it was a lot harder for a woman, alluding to the existence of a glass ceiling even in the saint business.

Being the sons of Italian families, it never occurred to Rudolfo or Stefano to prepare their own meals, wash out a dish, or even pick up the clothes they seemed to drop wherever they were standing.

The two Italian words most firmly embedded in the English language are graffiti and paparazzi. Interestingly, both involve a public display. This tells us much about their national psyche, for the average Italian is motivated by two powerful forces: fare una bella figura (looking good to his friends and neighbours) and non fare una brutta figura (not looking bad to his friends and neighbours)

I think no country on earth benefits from the sunshine more than Italy. When its overcast and dreary, the grey seems to accentuate how everything is slightly threadbare and the villages have an almost shabby, Eastern European feel. But when the sun shines, the ordinary becomes remarkable and the remarkable becomes transcendent.

Italians like to come early and stay late, so a social gathering tends to become a marathonlike test of a hosts endurance.

The party lasted all evening and well into the night. Our neighbours could scarcely complain about the noise, since they were the ones making it. Italians may never sweep all the gold medals at the Olympics or establish a permanent colony on the moon, but when it comes to having a good time, no people on earth can touch them.

It would be difficult to imagine a land where one could eat so well from just the bounty of the nearby forests, fields and sea.

From ‘Hero on a Honda. Reflections on India’ by Anthony Richard Farmer

Given the potential for violence; driver to driver, driver to pedestrian or driver to animal, I saw no offensive gestures, no calling into question race, religion, gender or parentage, no shirt pulling, head-butting or punch-ups. In India….
I haven’t encountered any impatience with feral animals either, no matter how offensive or inconvenient their actions. Indeed, the norm is to show kindness and compassion, at worst indifference, towards animals in the street. Unwanted food waste is deposited in specific places for animal consumption…. I watch water, seeds and fruit placed on walls and on rooftops for birds, rodents and primates to consume. Non-violence and compassion contribute to the easy going nature of India. Kindness, inclusion, patience and respect are the hallmarks of Indian society.

…..the lake-side residence where Rudyard Kipling lived and began to write The Jungle Book…..The house is whimsical, set at the end of a large lake, surrounded by hills, filled with water lilies and litter in equal measure. It’s a small palace, so picturesque ……..its very unlikely that any lake in the Western World would be so full of rubbish, here piled up at the downwind end. It’s a disgrace but this is India and comparison is odious.

The once glistening streams and rocky rapids now flow like black smelly treacle, clogged with litter. Wedged uncomfortably between hotels with names like The Hillock, The Hillstone ……tribal families eke out a living but they’re unable to wash in the streams and have less and less land on which to grow a few crops. Their goats eye the lush hotel gardens while sifting through the garbage on the street for food. No-one takes much notice of the state government notices declaring Mount Abu a ‘plastic-free zone’.

India welcomed me and I felt immediately at home, inspired by color, landscapes, buildings, customs and the industry and warmth of its people. The India I encountered was playful and innocent……
No matter where I went, who I met, I never felt unsafe. I experienced no unpleasantness, no discrimination, no harsh words, no resentment. Everywhere, I encountered open-hearted welcomes, sunny smiles, genuine curiosity, delightful humor, and unconditioned inclusiveness. Indian people, from all walks of life and in all circumstances were kind, joyful and generous; Indian people made such an impression on me. I tried my best to engage India at street level……..No lofty observations from exclusive hotels. Always I found generosity of spirit, sometimes it was quite overwhelming and most often from those who had the least to give. That I didn’t speak their language made little difference.

So much of India has entered my soul and will remain there forever.

From ‘Kevin and I in India’ by Frank Kusy

The journey was once again very bumpy and dangerous. The only light relief came from the bus’s ticket collector, with his periodic cries of “We stop now! five minutes for tea and urine!”

Andrew shook his close-cropped head in puzzlement when I asked him his future plans. “You know something?”, he remarked. “I’ve been right round the South-East Asia circuit now – I’ve been to Sri Lanka, to Thailand, to Burma and every other damn place – and I’ve found all these places pretty much alike, and very easy to get grips with. But India! I’ve been here over a month already, and I’m still no nearer to understanding it than when I first arrived! I expect I’ll have to hang around until I do understand it ….”

….Nepali women ….were nearly all beautiful, and nearly all pregnant. They appeared a good deal more open and friendly than the women of India, and the relationship between the two sexes here in Nepal seemed altogether more close and natural.

The more I saw of India, the more I liked it. Wandering through the streets and observing the many herds of sacred cows, for instance, I could now view them as amiable, benevolent spirits rather than unnecessary public nuisances. ……..Now I could see some of their value. Not only did their endless patience and calm stoicism contribute some sense of order and tranquility to busy Indian streets, but they also managed to keep the accumulation of waste and rubbish on the road down by eating a remarkable amount of it.

Off the plane back in Heathrow ………I returned straight home and ate a simple meal of rice and yoghourt – the nearest thing to an Indian ‘thali’ I could find.
Then I ran a bath, my first in four months, and discovered on the scales that I was two whole stones lighter than when I had left England. Finally, I climbed into bed, faintly aware of the deafening silence in the streets outside, and slept for a whole day.
I woke up feeling like I had been wrung through a mangle backwards. Then, as consciousness returned, I found myself thinking of my next journey. Where would I be going? Why, back to India of course.
Most people do.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thoughts … … …

The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity – William Butler Yeats

There is a significant saying that while sacred shrines and tirthas purify and sanctify all mankind, the sacred shrines and tirthas are themselves more sanctified and divinized by the Holy Men and Saints who grace them with their passing footprints or prolonged presence.
-          Sri Swami Tapovanam

Self-redemption must come ultimately from ourselves. The external props such as temples, idols, and gurus are all encouragements and aids. They must be intelligently used to help build up inner perfection.
-          Swami Chinmayananda

Gandhiji used to say, ‘True democracy is not run by twenty people sitting in Delhi ….I would like to distribute these power centres in seven lakh villages of India.’
-          From ‘Swaraj’ by Arvind Kejriwal

Shaq pe hai yakeen to, yakeen par hai shaq mujhe …kiska jhooth jhooth hai, kiska sach sach nahin … Jaan loon ki jaan doon, main rahoon ki main nahin
-          From the film ‘Haider’

He who would go to sea for pleasure, would go to hell for a pastime
-          Old French Proverb

….the two stages of sea sickness described by a wise man: “The first stage is when you think you are going to die. The next stage is when you wish you were dead.”

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp.
Or what’s a heaven for?
-          - Robert Browning

From ‘An Indian Summer. A Personal Experience of India’ by James Cameron

Why do I come, I wonder; why am I here? For twenty-five years I have been asking, at this first fatigued moment in the steaming heat of the Indian dawn, this first encounter with the opaque evasive velvet official eyes – why must I return to this tormented, confused, corrupt, futile and exasperating place as though I loved it, as though I needed it, as though I had to be forever reminded of its hopelessness and the splendor of its sorrow?
Yet if I ask this question, why then, when I am not there, do I miss it so? Each time I arrive my heart so quickly sinks, yet each time I leave India I know there I something of me I have left behind …… There is no sense to it…..

I was briefly seized by the sudden unreasonable happiness that comes to me with the steamy touch of India in the early hours.

I loitered fretfully at the counter, waiting as one always does for the inspirational phrase that will convey despair without passion; they looked back at us with patient, courteous indifference, hoping we would go away. They had all the time in the world and we had not; they could afford to wait.
In this situation India will always win. There is no purpose in being right if one is powerless. To give way to anger is to surrender…..

Hindu custom requires an obligatory daily bath, and I have never been anywhere in India where it is not manifestly obeyed; in the most wretched and abominable quarters of the city dawn finds the hungry derelicts and street-sleepers lining up at the stand-pipe for the meticulous body-wash ritual. An Indian man or woman has to be lowly indeed not to wear fresh laundered cotton on the body; however exiguous and worn the dhoti or sari may be, it is rarely soiled. Yet Indians of all varieties ……..will promenade through streets of almost indescribable filth and neglect, littered with refuse and debris, gutters adrift with ordure. Picking their way through the muck with a skillfully intuitive indifference, since they do not see it.

The Hillcrest Hotel was, as the airport man had foretold, clearly was not the Taj. Hotels that accept one without reservations at six in the morning rarely are.

If Hindus invented caste, the English invented the Club…… the Raj paid its respects to the most insulting custom of the society it affected to despise, and created Anglo-Saxon Brahminism……

These non-Indians – perhaps because they were non-Indian – the English adopted as their favourite sons, and greatly did the Parsi community prosper thereby…

…..really good South Indian coffee is incomparably the best, just as the bogus coffee to be found in Delhi and the north is unchallengeably the worst.

South Indian domestic servants are grand masters at the art of fiddling about, which is to say of achieving the absolute minimum of accomplishment through the expenditure of the most conspicuous activity. I have seen a bearer swab a table all the way round a single pencil left lying there. This is clearly more difficult and time-consuming than lifting up the pencil, but it also implies greater assiduity and consideration: If the master wants the pencil exactly there, so be it, the few square inches of dust it conceals will be his responsibility, not mine.

…..the wavering khaki figure of the room-sweeper, craving the privilege of entering to flap his cloth with a dedicated lack of purpose around the floor, his attitude simultaneously absent yet anxious, his role to achieve invisibility as befitted his station in lie and yet to demonstrate enough small fuss to justify his job: a delicate duality…He was a sweeper, and his function therefore to be a sweeper, not necessarily effectively to sweep. He fulfilled the role society required of him merely by associating himself as nearly as he could with the dirt in which he dealt; his efficiency was of minor importance.

…I could never walk like an Indian. No European could imitate the extraordinary flexibility and maneuverability of the Indian hands. Indians talk with their hands as they dance with their hands. There is none of the Latin shoulder-shrugging, eyebrow-raising, broad-swinging gestures, but a continual rippling of the palms and the fingers, with each nuance moulded out of the air, as though sculpturing syntax out of space.

I love dusk in India more than anything else in the world. ….Half a mile away a herdsman was sitting on a hillside singing quietly to his cows – a long and seemingly formal song, inexpressibly soothing. I knew I should never belong to India, but at these times I came very near to it.

….Jaipur is a somewhat dull city by day, angularly laid out ….Its appearance is at first desolatingly ordinary; only when you realize that its remarkable modernity was laid out by Maharaja Jai Singh II in 1728, when London was sixty per cent a slum, does it being to seem admirable. By evening it became enchanting.

Just outside Jaipur lay Amber, the ancient capital, an exquisite place in a stifling gorge. It is possibly one of the half-dozen finest ruins in the world.

….the United States is one solid mass produced society to an extent India can never be; in India one is not driving through a country but a continent, the invisible frontiers here are truly ethnic dividing-lines – here the beards will be cut otherwise, the saris tied differently, the languages incomprehensible to each other three hundred miles apart.

….Gandhi …..had to be butchered to stop him becoming the conscience of India. He would indeed have been a terrible embarrassment today.

…General Dyer took ninety Gurkha and Baluchi mercenary soldiers to that densely crowded square and coldly fired 1605 rounds into their unarmed bodies, killing 379 and wounding more than a thousand. ……In Britain the sum of £26,000 was subscribed as a testimonial to General Dyer’s devoted gallantry …..I am eternally surprised that the Indians can ever forgive us. They do so of course because, unlike the Irish, they forget.

We had come to Madras, which we both love, although it is hard to say why….Madras has not the second-hand self-importance of new Delhi not the hysterical ugliness of Bombay, it is a million miles from the despairing horrors of Calcutta. It is an agreeable, rather boring place; it is the sort of place I would be if I were a town.

…how offensive to a cultivated Indian an object like the Taj Mahal….can be…. Indeed it has style. Nevertheless it is a monument erected by an occupation force, a foreign gesture in a foreign taste …..It is the arrogant expression of conquerors who believed (as did Sir Osbert Sitwell in the 1940s) that Hindu art and architecture was repulsive, greasy and vulgar, and who set about destroying every major Hindu temple they could get their hands on. They were vandals, albeit they built the Taj Mahal…..the expression of the Islamic ubermenschen. The beauty of the Taj Mahal makes some Indians want to be sick.

….when the British took over India….they learned about India from the Nawabs and the Nabobs. The language they learned was a variant of Persian, not Sanskrit, let alone Tamil or Telugu. It was one more aspect of a theory I have long developed: the peculiar affinity of the English ruling class with Islam. It expressed itself in generations of British favour to Muslims in India at the expense of Hindus; in the Middle East in tacit preference for Arabs against Jews, and for much the same reasons: Hindus, like Hebrews, tended to be clever and even literate, and certainly argumentative, while Muslims shared many of the deep-seated characteristics of the Anglo-Saxon elite – an intuitive resentment of culture, an amicable contempt for women, a proclivity for riding about on horses, a pleasure in discipline, a covert hemophilia…… One of the Indians’ problems in this regard is of course the fact that Islamic art, being aseptic and austere, is far more generally acceptable than classic Hindu art, which is voluptuous and sensual and at its best most explicitly sexual …..Representations of the Taj Mahal travel the world on picture-postcards; accurate photographs of the carvings of Khajuraho would be seized by the Customs.

The urban awfulness of Calcutta has become a cliché of such dimensions that one flinches from even trying to say more about it, with such lasting and eloquent disgust has every aspect of this appalling place been described since Kipling called it ‘the city of dreadful night.’

The inhuman cruelty of Calcutta defiles the normal language of odium…. Its paradoxes are a platitude….. In Calcutta most people are debris, and only too clearly know that they will never be anything else. ….India is a country of beggars; nowhere but in Calcutta is there beggary of such a ubiquitous, various, ever-present and inescapable kind.

From ‘First there is a mountain. A Yoga Romance’ by Elizabeth Kadetsky

India was also smelly. Pier Paolo Pasolini titled his India memoir The Scent of India, though a more accurate rendering of the Italian might have been the stench – “that odor which, little by little, becomes an almost living physical entity,” he wrote. A generation later, Gunter Grass was most impressed by the visceral quality of the filthiness. It seemed to assault his body “like flotsam, thrown in with everything and everybody, skin rubbing skin, sweat mixing with sweat.201D

Bombay smelled exactly as bad as its reputation. There were many things floating on the air currents, things I couldn’t recognize and things I could: roasting meat, soot, fire, shit.

Yoga gives you the strength to ace God when he appears, a yoga teacher once told me.

….one of Iyengar’s phrases: When you still the flickering eyes, you still the consciousness.

From ‘Health, Healing and beyond. Yoga and the living tradition of T Krishnamacharya’ by T K V Desikachar with R H Cravens

…..Francis Bacon ….. “the mind can be enlarged, according to its capacity, to the grandeur of the mysteries, and not the mysteries contracted to the narrowness of the mind”

….Yoga….a word from Sanskrit ….derives from the root yuj, which has two traditional, complementary meanings. The first is “to bring two things together, to meet, to unite.” The second meaning: “to converge the mind.”

….the essence of Yoga, was formulated by the great Indian sage, Patanjali, more than two thousand years ago in this succinct definition:
Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively
toward an object and sustain that direction
without any distractions

Each person will have a different starting point, but the fulfilling experience of the Yoga taught by Krishnamacharya will utilize five elements.
The first, and the usual beginning, involves asana, a Sanskrit term for the physical postures of Yoga. The second element is pranayama, consciously controlled breathing techniques. The third element is chanting, partly for its healing effect on mind and body, and partly because it brings us spiritually into contact with something ancient and sacred. Meditation is the fourth element, a means of opening our awareness both inward and outward beyond our usual mental limits. And the fifth element is ritual, so instinctive and universal a human act – and so widely misunderstood

Probably no aspect of Hindu culture has been described more often and more misleadingly than our so-called caste system….. The original division of these functions in society, by divine intention, was to be on the basis of abilities and temperament – not birth. It evolved into an extremely complex system of inherited castes, sub-castes and sub-subcastes handed down from generation to generation. To their credit, the Vedanta schools never had much use for castes…

My father once told me that his guru [at Manasarovar] knew about seven thousand asanas. Of these, my father mastered about three thousand. After more than thirty years of study with Krishnamacharya, I know approximately five hundred or so. My more serious students at the Mandiram will usually teach, perhaps, fifty or sixty postures to their more advanced students. And yet, with less than one percent, so to speak, of what the guru at Manasarovar knew, we witness thousands of individuals developing through Yoga ever greater health, mental clarity, and spiritual capacity.
Still, isn’t it haunting to think of the wisdom once possessed and taught in the Tibetan cave of Shiva’s sacred mountain?

…the path to perfect clarity and freedom… through the practice and mastery of the eight components of Yoga, which are:
1.      YAMA – our attitudes toward our environment;
2.      NIYAMA – our attitudes toward ourselves;
3.      ASANA – the practice of body exercises;
4.      PRANAYAMA – the practice of breathing exercises;
5.      PRATYAHARA – the restraint of our senses;
6.      DHARANA – the ability to direct our minds;
7.      DHYANA – the ability to develop interactions with what we seek to understand;
8.      SAMADHI – complete integration with the object to be understood

YAMA comprises:
·         Consideration toward all living things….simulate friendliness and reduce the anger, dread, and even violent feelings of those around us
·         Right communications ….with sensitivity, without telling lies, and with reflection…..
·         Non-covetousness……
·         Moderation in all our actions….
·         Nongreediness…

NIYAMA comprises:
·         Cleanliness of our bodies and our surroundings…….
·         Contentment, or the ability to be comfortable with what we have and what we do not have. The happiness that comes from acquiring possessions is invariably temporary….
·         Removal of impurities in our physical and mental systems through correct habits of sleep, exercise, nutrition, work and relaxation….

Asana must have the dual qualities of alertness and relaxation…..There must always be alertness without tension and relaxation without dullness or heaviness. These qualities are achieved by recognizing and observing the reactions of the body and breath to various postures….Through asana practices we can also understand how the breath behaves. Breathing patterns are very individual……..the knowledge of breath gained through asana practice is the foundation. Upon it, we begin pranayama, defined as:
….the conscious, deliberate regulation of the breath replacing unconscious patterns of breathing …it involves the regulation of the exhalation, the inhalation, and the suspension of breath. The regulation of these three processes is achieved by modulating their length, and maintaining this modulation for a period of time, as well as directing the mind into the process. These components of breathing must be long and subtle.

There are many combinations, many techniques of pranayama. These, too, must be competently taught. What is important is that an entirely different experience of breathing appears in a state of Yoga. “Then,” Patanjali tells us, “the breath transcends the level of the consciousness.”

PRATYAHARA, the restraint of the senses, occurs when the mind is able to remain in its chosen direction. The senses disregard the different objects around them and faithfully follow the direction of the mind.

DHARANA is the ability to direct the mind toward a chosen object in spite of many other potential objects within reach.

Once this direction is fixed, the mind establishes a linkage with the object. This is DHYANAM, a state in which mental activities form an uninterrupted flow only in relation to the object. While at first our understanding still is influenced by misapprehension, imagination, and memories, a fresh, deeper understanding occurs.
Dharana and dhyanam lead the individual to SAMADHI – an involvement with the object so complete that nothing except its comprehension is evident. It is as if the individual has lost his own identity and achieved complete integration with the object of understanding ….Through sustained discipline…each individual can refine and adapt the mind for sustained direction without difficulty. In this way, the mind reaches the highest state of Yoga – it is simply transparent, devoid of any resistance to inquiry and free from past impressions of any sort.

If, at the end of a program of exercise, the student is breathing hard or the pulse is accelerated, the rhythm and sequence of movement has been too energetic.
The practice of asanas prepares the body and mind naturally for pranayama.

asanas are needed to open the nadis; pranayama is what brings prana into contact with apana, or dirt, and so removes impurities

….the ancients taught that each individual is allotted 21,600 breaths per day in a lie span intended to be one hundred years long. We can draw upon our allotted breaths like a bank account. Through anxiety, short breaths, and unnecessary exertion we may overdraw our account – and so shorten our lives.

Let me emphatically clear up one widespread misunderstanding. Nowhere in the Vedas or in the ancient teachings is it said that you must be a strict vegetarian. Westerners, in particular, seem to believe that to seriously study Yoga it is imperative to adopt a vegetarian life-style. This is not the case, and for some individuals may even be unhealthy… is not a commandment embedded in Yoga.

In his ninety-eighth year, my father ….a young doctor ….told him he would die very soon …… “Nonsense!” my father said. “I am not going to die now. It is not in my breath … and I know my breath.”
It is one of the most remarkable things I’d heard him say…..

From ‘Lost & Found in India’ by Braja Sorensen

Not all who wander are lost

I was in the land where transcendence had been living for thousands of years as everyone’s next door neighbor. Everything about my surroundings drove me towards introspection, depth, and the beginnings of peace.

…..a tradesman…… showed true resourcefulness and a unique trait often lacking in Indian village tradesmen: he started to clean up after himself. In the West, this is a given: a workman comes in, does his job, cleans up, and leaves …. But not here. It’s not part of the job description and, if you really want to get into the details, it’s sometimes got something to do with sheer brute laziness, and often something to do with caste……because his caste doesn’t clean up after people….

According to Eastern philosophies, there are seven mothers: (1) the real mother, (2) the wife of the guru or spiritual guide, (3) the wife of a sage, (4) the wife of the king, (5) the cow, (6) the nurse, and (7) the earth.

….The facilities at Bombay airport…like many public facilities around the world, they charge you a small fee. No problem.
Only they wanted to give me a ticket.
A ticket.
To go to the toilet.
Even worse, I kept it.
This is what India does to you: you end up succumbing to its ways, you accept its little rules. And it doesn’t make sense. So you find yourself hanging on to a 2-rupee toilet tickets, because you know if you don’t, you’ll just wish you had.
And that’s what I love about India: it makes you do what it wants…

…..India really does have a unique slant on death: they are definitely not in as much denial as the rest of the world. None of the things that disturb the delicate sensibilities of Westerners are hidden in India: poverty, the lack of cleanliness, disease, and death – things that, in the West, are not absent, but just hidden away with the disinfectant of denial, decontaminated and sterilized to maintain the mecca that is advanced Western civilization, where even death is kept quiet, tame, well-behaved behind the sound-proofed doors of funeral parlours and softened by the thick, lush carpets that line their halls.

Something very unusual is happening outside and down the road a little to the right, just past the barber stand. I know I’ve mentioned some strange goings-on here in the village before, but right now I’m listening to a noise that seriously sounds like an absolute riot and I have no idea what it is. And since it’s 9.30 at night I’m not about to wander around out there to find out, either.
This place has an incredible knack for sounding like war-torn Beirut for a period of time, then just as suddenly it stops and a drop-dead silence engulfs the village. Seriously. It just ends. X-Files could film an episode here.

My guru once wrote, “Ritual practice is the art of making life sacred.”

…Marx Brothers saying—“Everyone has to believe in something. I believe I’ll have another drink.”

If you want to read possibly the greatest dialogue that was recorded about decision making, it is called the Bhagavad-Gita As It Is: “Do I kill all my relatives and thus fulfil my duty (seriously!?), or do I back out and make it look like I’m a good guy seeking peace?” That’s the synopsis in a nutshell.

And now in a total departure from beggars ……we went to the Taj Bengal and spent the evening in 5-star luxury. The absolute polar opposite nature… is what makes India what it is: abject poverty and overt opulence mixing like dirty unwanted street debris and blessed wanted rain, leaving crappy muddy puddles of obscure contents that you don’t know whether to dodge or dip your toe into. It rips your heart out and drowns you in all its riches in one dose, and I love it and hate it.

….should come as no surprise that cows are as different in India than they could possibly be compared to anything else in the world. I met one named Shyam at the cowshed the other day. He is a huge boy, young at only four years, and a sweeter and funnier bull you’ll never meet. When I walked into the gated yard, Shyam came running at me. I hightailed it back out the gate, only to have the cowherd laugh and tell me that Shyam was actually a big softie. I came back through the gate a little hesitantly, but Shyam turned out to be as gentle as a puppy dog. He took a liking to me and followed me everywhere, nudging me for tickles whenever I stood still for long enough, and sometimes blocking me from walking away. When I gave him my full attention he was like putty in my hands. I kissed his cheeks and nuzzled his neck and he melted. I’ve met bulls like that before but you forget that when you see one running towards you. They’re not the kind of creature you take chances with…..
I’m glad I grew up and moved here where all the bulls are happy and friendly and eat out of your hand, lick your back when you’re not watching, and run at you because they’re just plain happy to see you.

A mother understands what a child does not say
- Jewish Proverb

Friday, October 17, 2014

From ‘Gurudev Dr. Ranade's Life of Light’ by M S Deshpande

“According to the law of Spiritual Gravitation, the experience of a worthy Spiritual Teacher automatically descend to his disciples. As water at a higher level must descend to a lower level, so the experience of a Spiritual Teacher must descend automatically to those who are walking on the path he has trodden.”

Continuous soulful meditation fills the brain of the sadhaka with spiritual energy which enlivens all the centres of perception in it and makes them active. As a result of this they get direct experience of the spiritual energy in the form of light, sound, flavor, odour and touch…… They arise in the brain and issue from it…..
…The spiritual experiences, thus, need no aid of the sense organs. They can be had even when the sense organs are inactive or out of order……in this sphere “intercommunication can take place between different sense-functions, through this unity of apperception.” …. Sri Purandardas could describe his unique experience like this: ‘I could hear with the eyes, see with the ears and see as well as hear with the nose.’

From ‘One Soul's Journey’ by Leni Matlin

God is positive. Man is negative. If contact is made, the Divine current flows from positive to negative. For this reason the Indian tradition of touching a Divine person. But without some form of discipline and limitation, people would be touching face and body. Hence, the custom of touching the lotus feet.

In India, the most auspicious times to meditate are when the moon is in its dark phase, or waning, and is therefore least disruptive. Let Baba explain it:

Shivaratri is observed every month on the fourteenth night of the dark half; for the Moon, which is the presiding Deity of the human mind, has only just one night more to be a nonentity with no influence on the agitations of the mind. In the month of Magha, the fourteenth night is named Maha (great) Shivaratri for it is sacred for another reason too. It is the day on which Shiva takes the Linga form, for the benefit of seekers.

From ‘Guruji. A portrait of Sri K Pattabhi Jois. Through the Eyes of his students’ by Guy Donahaye and Eddie Stern

Yoga is showing where to look for the soul – that is all. Man is taking a human body – this is a very rare opportunity. Don’t waste it. We are given a hundred years to live; one day you have the possibility to see god. If you think in this way, it is giving you good body, good nature, and health
-          Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, 2001

Patanjali gives us three crucial ingredients for success in our yoga practice. The first thing he mentions is tapas, literally meaning to burn, to burn away impurities. Through tapas, one purifies the indriyas, the organs of perception, which lends itself to a greater capacity for discrimination and self-reflection.
The second aspect is svadhyaya [self-inquiry], and he says, through self-inquiry we come to recognize what he calls the ishta devata – our personal deity, our own individual connection to some aspect of the divine that we can come to know through self-inquiry. The predecessor to that is the process of purification. So it’s a process of physical purification and then mental purification through self-inquiry which ultimately leads to the realization that you have help from unseen forces. There is an energy or entity referred to as Ishvara, that universal internal teacher …..
The last part of that equation is ishvarapranidhana – literally, bowing to God or recognizing in awe and humility that there is a timeless eternal teacher working on our behalf, and that a way of connecting to that teacher is through the lineage of yoga teachers

The benefit of regular practice is the strength that comes from it ……Even Pattabhi Jois has said, minimum daily practice surya namskara A, surya namskara B, and the final three positions of the closing sequence

Ricky Heiman…..
Can you think of a favorite story about Guruji?
Well, I don’t know if I can use this language, and I don’t know if I’ll even quote it properly, but when he was here this last trip, visitors would come to the house ….just chatting ….i remember one young lady …started talking about what was wrong with the world ….Guruji very casually said to her, “You let God take care of world, you take care your anus.” That was brilliant to me….. you take care of your mula bandha.”

Deba Kingsberg
Repetition of the same practice daily brings some insight into behavioral patterns, our personalities, and the workings of the mind.
….Repetition is the key. We go back to the same place over and over without expectation or judgement again and again in both the practice and in the cleansing until eventually catharsis, either subtle or dramatic, occurs as some stubborn or trapped part of us breaks free. A grief, a fear, a trauma, a secret, a sadness. Once it settles, there is clarity or lightness, a freedom of movement or a breakthrough in the practice that was not there before. The illumination and transformation inspires faith in the wisdom of the method. Days, weeks, months, years pass and slowly the mind settles and the window of perception clears.

Rolf Naujokat
People in India devote themselves to a certain deity and worship that deity – for example, Krishna. They see it in the form [a physical representation] and in a certain moment that form melts away and it is just a devotion to the unmanifested aspect of divinity.

From ‘Off the Record. Untold stories from a reporter's diary’ by Ajith Pillai

When liberalization was ushered in during the early 90s, it left its impact on journalism as well. Reporting from rural India was suddenly discouraged, unless there was a communal incident or a crime that drew national attention. Issues like the concerns of farmers and health came to be labelled as subjects with limited readership ….Development journalism and rural reporting took a back seat and became an aberration in most publications

… Indian Post …… Vijaypat [Singhania] sent a note to Vinod [Mehta] which listed eight people he should not write against unless there was irrefutable evidence. The list included then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Satish Sharma, Murli Deora, Amitabh Bachchan and Sharad Pawar. Confronted by this ‘prohibitory order’, Vinod decided to quit…..

In the old days, corrupt journalists sometimes managed to sneak in a planted report or review for a consideration. Today, managements have got into the act and are cashing in on those who are willing to pay for coverage.
Paid news is now an organized corporate activity ……

The Riots …. Bombay …….
The mob rule that had taken over the city with the Shiv Sena blatantly targeting Muslims was deeply disturbing and depressing …In the days to come, it came to light that the Mumbai police were not only playing down casualty figures, but also looking the other way and allowing the rioters a free hand. The state government, it seemed, was also offering tacit support to the Sena-sponsored violence.
…..Tensions had begun to build among the two communities and journalists would learn later that there were several statements made which provoked Muslims no end. Among them was one by a Hindu Mahasabha leader who said that if he was UP’s chief minister, he would have razed the Masjid with a bomb and that the building of the temple was only the beginning – every Muslim would be driven out of the country in due course. Such provocations were hardly reported in the mainstream media but word went around among Muslims in the city.
…..killings of Hindus in the Radhabai chawls ……A Saamana editorial set the tone: ‘Hindus have been burnt alive in Jogeshwari and that is why they have taken to the streets …The people and police have been fired at from mosques using Pakistani weapons. Why are we protecting them? Muslims in India are behaving like Pakistanis. It is as if there are two countries within one. The police are waiting to shoot these people. Even they feel the anguish of innocent citizens … Hindus, open your eyes and see what is going on…..’

….had a common thread of violence perpetrated by armed mobs that came to their homes chanting ‘Jai Bhawani, Jai Shivaji’. They had witnessed horrific scenes of arson and bloodletting. Many said the violence would erupt after the maha-aartis organized by the Shiv Sena in response to the Muslim practice of offering namaaz on the streets. The aartis were said to be prayer meetings but were used as platforms to deliver hate speeches. ….The maha-aartis were finally banned ….
…The then-Congress government in Maharashtra failed to act throughout the violence, There were allegations that it was allowing the Shiv Sena a free hand. Whenever we would go to Chief Minister Sudhakarrao Naik’s residence for press briefings, he was the picture of calm…..

….a friend from Peddar Road called to report that Shiv Sainiks…. Were approaching businessmen and residents of the area for protection money …He even had a copy of one of the receipts issued by the Sainiks…

From ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ridiculous. Profiles’ by Khushwant Singh with Humra Quraishi

….Ali Sardar [Jafri] summed up his life story. ‘Mera Safar’, thus in a few memorable lines:
I am a fleeting moment
In the magic house of days and nights;
I am a restless drop travelling eternally
From the flask of the past to the goblet of the
I sleep and wake, awake to sleep again;
I am the ancient play on the stage of time -
I die only to become immortal

….Dom’s [Dom Moraes] verse …..One could ….detect a few themes that recurred consistently in his poems: he was obsessed with death …his mother’s insanity haunted him all his life; and he sought escape in hard liquor and making love. He summed it up in ‘A Letter’,
My father hugging me so hard it hurt,
My mother mad, and time we went awy.
We travelled, and I looked for love too young,
More travel, and I looked for lust instead.
I was not ruled by wanting; I was young,
And poems grew like maggots in my head.

When Dom was stricken with cancer, he refused to undergo chemotherapy. It was as if he almost wallowed in the prospect of an early end, with the ghost of his insane mother hovering over him.
From a heavenly asylum, shriveled Mummy,
glare down like a gargoyle at your only son.
…That I’m terminally ill hasn’t been much
There is no reason left for anything to exist.
Goodbye now. Don’t try to meddle with this.

Zakhmi huey jo hont toh mehsoos yeh hua
Chooma tha maine phool ko deevangi ke sath

It was the bruises on my lips that made me
With what thoughtlessness I had kissed the rose

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, ….fully answered the poet Allama Iqbal’s requirements of a Meer-e-Kaarvaan – leader of the caravan:
Nigah buland, sukhan dilnawaz, jaan par soz
Yahi hain rakht-e-safar Meer-e-Kaarvaan ke liye

Lofty vision, winning speech and a warm
This is all the baggage the leader of the caravan
needs on his journey.

….Sangh parivar …..They were men of polite manners, obvious sophistication and intelligence who cloaked their fascist ideas in sweet reasonableness, with impeccable etiquette ….Madhavrao Sadasivrao Golwalkar …. There were passages in his 1939 tract, We, or Our Nationhood Defined, that seemed to suggest that Golwalkar shared Hitler’s ideas about racial purity and approved of his methods to purge Germany of Jews. …..small room. In it sat a dozen men in spotless white kurtas and dhotis – all looking newly washed as only Maharashtrian Brahmins can manage.

I have been a regular drinker all my adult life. I celebrate sex and cannot say that I have never lied. I have not hurt anyone physically, but I think I have caused hurt with my words and actions. And sometimes there is no forgiveness in me. But I consider myself a Gandhian. Whenever I feel unsure of anything, I try to imagine what Gandhi would have done, and that is what I do.

Monday, September 29, 2014

From ‘Through Siberia by Accident’ by Dervla Murphy

…the passport officers eventually sauntered on to the scene, tired-looking young women with closed faces, replicating their Soviet predecessors. In a perverse way it cheered me that capitalism had not yet taught them to feign friendliness for the sake of the tourist industry.

…the new Moscow’s crime-ridden image.
To the casual visitor, poverty is more evident than crime, the sort of poverty never visible in Soviet times. Next morning, as I approached a skip ….. an old man, desperately seeking food amidst the household waste of this affluent district, seemed not to notice me. When he found a small plastic bag of stale crusts, discoloured lettuce leaves and chicken bones the relief on his face was harrowing to see.

……five-and-a-half day train ride to Tynda ….. How ……would a three-year-old react to five days confinement? …..I was deeply impressed by Dima. He never once woke up anybody, always peed in his potty at convenient times, was carried out to the loo once a day for more substantial matters, ate everything put before him, contentedly gazed out of the window for hours on end, his lips moving, inventing a game in his mind. When it suited his parents and sister they played with him but he never demanded attention though lacking all those diversions we provide for long journeys. In nearby compartments four other toddlers and small children were equally well-behaved and happy. Do the Russians have something to teach us about child-rearing?

Mrs Baranskaya volunteered to make up my bed, a touching gesture of welcome – characteristic, I was soon to realize, of the incomparably hospitable Siberians….

Because the multinational breweries’ advertisements give the impression that beer is almost a soft drink, it is now openly imbibed in circumstances where vodka would not be tolerated. Frequently I saw small boys swilling from cans, sold by most pavement kiosks, while awaiting their school buses. As Russia has been notorious, over the past thousand years, for off-the-scale alcoholism, it is hard to forgive those corporations now enticing young Russians to develop a pivo addiction

I had by then realized that the Siberians’ devotion to their domestic animals does not extend to guard-dogs who must endure a loveless life, forever chained, feared by all but their owners.

It is impossible to escape from any Siberian home ….Siberian hospitality is agreeably informal, strangers being absorbed into a family circle without ceremony, and no polite protests were made when I joined …..

……..Adam Olearius in the 1630s…made four journeys among the Russians and reported, in what became an international bestseller …..
After a meal, Russians do not restrain, in the hearing of all, from releasing what nature produces, fore and aft. Since they eat a great deal of garlic and onion it is rather trying to be in their company. Perhaps against their will these good people fart and belch noisily….. So given are they to the lusts of the flesh that some are addicted to the vile depravity of sodomy not only with boys but also with men and horses. People caught in such obscene acts are not severely punished. Tavern musicians often sing of such loathsome things, while some show them to young people in puppet shows.

….Russian bees have a long-established reputation for ferocity.

Feodor was one of those standard Muscovites ….who have missed out on the varied genetic contributions that make many Russians look interesting.

…Russian proverb: ‘We meet you according to your dress and see you off according to your mind.’

…Lake Baikal ….the lake’s emanations have influenced Severobaikalsk. I cant complain of unfriendliness anywhere in Siberia but this town’s relaxed amiability and spontaneity seem exceptional.

I like the Siberians’ tendency to congregate in their kitchens, invariably small but very much the centre of the home ….

A carefully conducted inquiry found that 67 per cent of boys and 46 per cent of girls regularly drank alcohol… comes from a 1901 survey of the recreational habits of rural schoolchildren, aged seven to thirteen, in Moscow province ….Alcoholism has afflicted Russians to an alarming extent since at least the Middle Ages …..

Sadly, it is not a sobering fact that today’s Russian adolescents are less likely to celebrate their sixtieth birthdays than the 1900 generation.

From ‘The Living Gandhi. Lessons for our times’ Edited by Tara Sethia and Anjana Narayan

‘So it comes to this that under exceptional circumstances war may have to be resorted to as a necessary evil …. If the motive is right, it may turn out to the profit of mankind, and that an ahimsaist may not stand aside and look on with indifference, but must make the choice and actively cooperate or actively resist’

For Gandhi, the drive to increase material wants is the essence of the modern West and its fatal flaw; it is the engine of imperial expansion, of economic inequality and exploitation, the seed of war and the cause of environmental despoliation.

…Gandhi admonished that ‘the test of orderliness in a country is not the number of millionaires it owns but the absence of starvation among its masses.’

Gandhi’s candour and integrity have the additional benefit of encouraging similar behavior among those around him: as Erik Erikson reported, ‘In his presence, one could not tell a lie.’

…..Macauley said:
the intellectual improvement of those classes of the people who have the means of pursuing higher studies can at present be affected only by means of some language not vernacular amongst them …..
a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia….
it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern – a class of persons in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect ….

Mahatma Jotirao Phule’s historic memorandum to the Hunter Commission in 1882 questioned the sociopolitical character of knowledge in education imparted by the British Raj. It lamented that almost all the teachers employed in the primary schools were Brahmins, not used to productive manual labour. Their students in turn imbibed ‘inactive habits’ and tried to obtain government service. Phule proposed that teachers of primary school should be those ‘who will not feel ashamed to hold the handle of a plough or the carpenter’s adze when required’ and who will be able to mix themselves readily with the lower orders of society’.

Gandhi asserted that:
The foundation that Macauley laid of education has enslaved us … [Was] it not a sad commentary that we should have to speak of Swarajya [Self-Rule] in a foreign tongue?

….Nai Taleem ….whatever be taught to children, all of it should be taught necessarily through the medium of a trade or handicraft …. The brain must be educated through the hand.

He warned that education through English medium has resulted in ‘a permanent bar between the highly educated few and the uneducated many’ and ‘made our children practically foreigners in their own land.’

…the social character of the occupations that Gandhi envisaged for introduction into the curriculum. These occupations included spinning, weaving,…..tanning …..pottery, farming, ….building and cleaning latrines … Without exception, all these occupations involved manual work and were undertaken primarily by the lower classes/castes viz. Dalits, tribals, Other Backword Classes and Muslim artisans, with the women among them playing a significant role.
The political message is inescapable: accord these occupations and the communities engaged in them a central place of dignity in the education system that was never their destiny in Indian history.

….educationist Krishna Kumar noted that ‘a low-caste child would feel far more at home than an upper-caste child’ in schools pursuing the Gandhian curriculum, thereby making ‘the education system stand on its head.’

When children learn through productive work, the Macaulayian practice of prescribing textbooks would become superfluous, just as Gandhi had passionately argued. Instead of textbooks, each school would have a reference library or resource material drawn from both local and global sources as well as texts, oral or written (now multimedia too), prepared by the community and children themselves. This radical concept of how children learn should enable the school collective of students and teachers ‘to seek answers to the questions that arise in their minds … queries would reflect the nature and the stage of their engagement with the physical and social world around them’. Expectedly, the ‘path to knowledge will thus become entirely open-ended, non-linear and contextual.’

At the end of the Wardha Conference in 1937, Gandhi said, ‘I have given many things to India. But this system of education …is, I feel, the best of them.’ Yet, what to Gandhi was his best gift to India is precisely what the Indian state negated. …..India continues to adhere to the Macaulayian framework instituted more than 175 years ago!

Gandhi realized that the knowledge that the constituents of the informal economy – that is, farmers, artisans, women, adivasis and small retailers – possess is found abundantly in society. However, this lokavidya (loka = people/world, vidya = knowledge/skill/art) does not have the prestige enjoyed by school and university knowledge. Ordinary life and work are not even considered knowledge-generating activities. Gandhi’s economic programme was intended to take full advantage of the knowledge found among the people in order to make economic development inclusive for all.

….Gandhi’s economic and political impulse was to decentralize rather than centralize. Village industries (or ‘dispersed industrialization’) and panchayats, two cornerstones of Gandhian economics and polity, are testaments to this fact.

…..Gandhi says
….we have to concentrate on the village being self-contained, manufacturing mainly for use. Provided this character of the industry is maintained there would be no objection to villagers using even the modern machines and tools that they can make and can afford to use.

Not only does small-scale and dispersed industry rely on a widely available knowledge base, but in turn the presence of a thriving industry itself creates the conditions for an intelligent populace. Thus:
Since the wanton destruction of this central village industry and the allied handicrafts, intelligence and brightness have fled from the villages, leaving them inane, lusterless, and reduced almost to the state of their ill-kept cattle.

…Gandhi’s insistence on craft-based production by the masses (as opposed to capital-intensive mass production designed by experts) can be seen as not only a response to mass unemployment, but also as an attempt to preserve the link between the masses and science.

Gandhi’s criticism of modern science is that its supposed objectivity or value-neutrality (the so-called separation of fact from value) actualy hides a value system that can be just as easily anti-human as it can be pro-human. Similarly, knowledge gathered under the command of capital must submit to profit as the most important value. In contrast to knowledge gathered in the regimes of science and capital, lokavidya can be defined as a knowledge system that does not claim value-neutrality nor accords primary place to profit, but instead keepst at its centre the value of lokahita or sarvodaya

….Gandhi attacks ‘Western civilization’ not because individuals influenced by it are selfish and greedy – indeed individuals in any civilization can be so – but because this civilization makes greed and selfishness into ideals to be aspired to.

‘What I object to is the craze for machinery, not machinery as such. The craze is for what they call labour-saving machinery. Men go on saving labour, till thousands are out of work and thrown on to the open streets to die of starvation.’

Saturday, August 16, 2014

From ‘Inner Recesses Outer Spaces. Memoirs’ by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay

The Indian cow to me is the most beautiful creature, and I have seen cows all over the world…. When I talked to the cows, their eyes showed a quiet understanding…..through those extraordinarily expressive eyes they showed sympathy and invariably nodded their heads….

….Irawati Karve …………anthropologist ….she did intensive studies in remote rural areas….her partisanship for polygamy for agricultural families was strengthening with time …..She explained that it was traditionally accepted and no social ethics entered here to complicate the family harmony. So far as married life went, they were content. How many couples under monogamy really lived a full satisfied life, she queried? Here the woman had security, a comfortable home and a happily shared responsibility for care of the children…..

Before the advent of the British the rural scene was one of self sufficient communities. The peasants grew their basic needs. The skilled craftsmen provided the communities’ other needs.
In Bengal (the Bengal Presidency of the time included Bihar also) in particular with India’s defeat at Plassey, the entire scene started getting drastically transformed. The new rulers rushed across the fertile land stripping it of its crop wealth and stamping on the exquisite handicrafts, especially the superb home-woven textiles.
A new era of cash crop was forced on the region through the new plantation system, whereby the unwary peasant was pushed into the trader’s money-spinning orbit through plantation cultivation of opium, jute, tea, above all indigo. Indigo ensnared the cultivator into practical slavery, making him victim of a most hateful economic bondage…. The planters were themselves imposters, who had got themselves transplanted from the West Indies where they had worked with slave labour……After the 1857 war, the racial animosities of the planters increased, their assaults on labour sharpened with the free use of leather thongs known as Shamchands, for slogging. The planters retained their own armies to terrorise labour.

…Rabindranath Tagore …went on the explain the strong impact Western music had made on him. ‘It has an entirely different resonant richness that I am trying to catch and intertwine in a new music,’ he explained. Then to illustrate he sang the now famous ‘Ami Chinigo Chini’, which he explained was inspired by an Italian serenade.

Motilal Nehru seemed a person apart not just because of his political position but his superb bearing, of absolute self confidence, above all the unusually pleasant rapport he had with his arch opponents in the government who on occasions readily arrested and imprisoned him. Most English members in the Viceroy’s Council, confessed they found him delightful even though a formidable adversary in a political battle, and all of them characterized him as a clean fighter who commanded their respect.

However inance and formless the Salt Satyagraha may have sounded, the Dandi March, Gandhiji’s long journey on foot to the sea opened ….An old man with a large staff in his hand was accompanied by a struggling group of 71 of varied ages, indifferently clad ….As this motley crowd marched in disciplined silence, each foot fall seemed to echo and re-echo through the land. Each day the tempo kept rising. …was 240 miles, from Sabarmati where he started …..As the march progressed it were as though the millions of Indians were marching ….. I felt elated as part of one of the most spectacular dramas in India’s political history….

….to formally break the Salt Law in public in Bombay city …..we were filing out, taking the road to the sea…. Great sky-rending cries of ‘Jai’ filled the air. Heavy-scented flower garlands almost smothered us. From the balconies and roofs unseen hands showered rose-petals until the road became a carpet of flowers. Often our march was stopped and bright eyed women sprinkled rose water from silver sprays, tipped our palms with sandalwood paste and perfume and blessed us waving lights round our heads and faces for good omen…. The city seemed to have disgorged of almost its entire population onto the sands….breaking the Salt Law, …hundreds and thousands now filling the water’s edge….. The police who had looked onat this advancing avalanche of lawbreakers seemed almost stupefied…

…though Gandhiji himself was not a temple goer, he insisted on the right of every human being to have access to all public places, including temples

Gandhiji had on his delightful smile that lit up the air around… There was devastating charm about him and when he turned it on full, those around fell easy victims. Though loaded with problems and responsibilities, he was so jocular and hearty, many of his jokes being against himself. He thus radiated a light-heartedness, as though he had not a care in the world. None of his close colleagues had that gift, nay not many Indians.

They [Kasturba and Gandhiji] were up before the Ashram stirred. … I watched…the speed and deftness with which she got through her chores, showing a long experienced hand at them. It was a pleasant sight to see them busy together, an intimacy that is woven like a web, intricate yet simple, delicate but strong, pregnated with a personal warmth, like two halves of a single whole. The nights were truly romantic. Though they were out of my sight, they were within easy hearing. …I knew she was gently rubbing his feet. I was not sure whether she did it for her own comfort or his. It was obviously one of those intimacies they had adopted. From the words and phrases that penetrated my reading, I learnt she was recounting to him some of the events of the day to which he made some replies. The nights were their own, they were simple husband and wife like any other couple in the world. …..It was also known that they had had sharp differences. But somewhere down their arduous pilgrimage had been dawning on her slpwly but forcefully a conviction not only of his bonafides but also that he was a man of great destiny, he belonged to the world, to the larger humanity, her role was to strengthen and fortify him for this noble mission …..she rather reluctantly allowed herself to say: one may not always agree with a course he takes but one does finally find that it was the right one, in any event it was a straight one.

…Lord Mountbatten …was subtle, uncannily sleek and his one weapon to master the tangled scene was to convince everyone he was a sincere friend of India. He built up a phony façade with his handsome exterior and studied polished mannners, aided cannily, with furtive subtlety by his socialite wife Edwina…..

I have often wondered if anybody else had drawn as many foreign admirers as Tagore, except Gandhiji.

From ‘10 Billion’ by Stephen Emmott

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUON) – the world’s leading authority on biodiversity – estimates that, as of 2012, 41 per cent of all amphibians, 33 per cent of all reef-building corals,25 per cent of all mammals and 13 per cent of all birds are at imminent risk of extinction.

We are now almost certainly losing species at a rate up to one thousand times faster than we would expect from ordinary ‘background’ (natural) processes.
This means that human activity is almost certainly now set to cause the greatest mass extinction of life on Earth since the event that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Since 1900, the percentage of the world’s oceans either fully exploited (no fish left) or over exploited (fully exploited without significant action) has risen from less than ten per cent, to 87 per cent. We are harvesting ocean ecosystems at a rate which is completely unsustainable.

Right now, over one billion people are living in conditions of extreme water shortage.

….demand for land for food is going to double – at least – by 2050, and triple – at least – by the end of this century.
This means that pressure to clear many of the world’s remaining tropical forests – rain forests – for human use is going to intensify every decade. Because this is predominantly the only available land that is left for expanding agriculture at scale. Unless Siberia thaws out before we finish deforestation….If Siberia does thaw out … would result in a vast amount of new land being available for agriculture, as well as opening up a very rich source of minerals, metals, oil and gas. In the process this would almost certainly completely change global geopolitics. Siberia thawing would turn Russia into a remarkable economic and political force this century…..

It is now very likely that we are looking at a future global average rise of 4 degrees – and we can’t rule out a rise of 6 degrees….will be absolutely catastrophic. It will lead to runaway climate change, capable of tipping the planet into an entirely different state, rapidly. Earth would become a hell hole…..
But even if we’re lucky enough to fall short of anything like a 4- to 6-degree rise in global temperature, there almost certainly won’t be a country called Bangladesh by the end of this century – it will be under water.
Large parts of Africa will become permanent disaster areas. The Amazon could be turned into savannah or even desert.