My first letter to Prime Minster Narendra Modi responding to his invitation for sharing ideas on Mann Ki Baat.
Dear Modi ji,
While scientists are evolving many ways of carbon sequestering for countering Climate Change, the simplest and most cost effective way remains growing forests.
There is an estimated over 16 million hectares of degraded forest land (see image) in India.
Why not create schemes for corporates to grow forests in these lands under the 2% of profits allocation of CSR mandated by Company Law (under Section 135 and Schedule VII of the Companies Act 2013)?
Large corporations would have the money and wherewithal to monitor and act in remote areas of India.
However, smaller corporations could get together and form a ‘collective fund’ via formation of a single-purpose non-profit trust for growing forests in an allocated degraded forest land. Since this is ploughing of CSR funds, there will be no ownership of the forest, the degraded forest land or the forest produce – by the non-profit or the corporations. All non-wood forest produce could be accessed by local villagers for their livelihoods.
A template for this is offered by the Gurgaon Biodiversity Park (via an association called “I am Gurgaon”) where citizen groups alongwith corporates are re-creating a forest in over 500 acres of degraded forest land (degraded due to mining).
Looking forward to your co-operation in this matter which can create a win-win situation.
Once human settlements began to come in place, such as the one in Indus-Saraswati (Harappan Civilization), it was perhaps curiosity combined with a search of a more prosperous life, that led humans to take risky sea voyages to trade with other civilizations.
The point i am making here is that it is not consistent with the innate nature of human beings to settle down and live peacefully ever after. On the other hand, there are groups among human beings who do exactly that, seeking to expand (if i may) their inner experience. It is difficult to expect the human species to be contained and defined by any one idea of how things are meant to be.
Gandhian views on industrialization — the need for self-reliance via the Charkha over industrial manufacturing, and the philosophy of natural living, practiced by ever increasing groups of conscious communities living around the world, manifesting as organic food and slow-food, home-schooling and un-schooling, permaculture and natural farming — have both influenced my thinking, ideas as well as purpose of life for years.
That influence has not receded. And yet i feel appalled when “development” is criticized mindlessly.
Crony Capitalism? Okay, show me the better model!
Images such as this one, describing trickle-down economics are virally spread on facebook, and hundreds join the rhetoric using terms such as crony-capitalism to express their dissent of modern economics, capitalism and trade. Modi-haters are particularly vicious in their criticism of Modi’s development agenda.
This is downright irresponsible. And the reason i say so, is because these folks have no clue of another form of sustainable and just models of economics. Gandhian philosophy of minimal industrialization — of a bicycle being good for human-kind, but railways having an opposite effect on civilizations — are the models that are talked about by those living in conscious communities. They long for creating village-like communities which barter, volunteer to serve needs of the collective, grow their own food, solve their own family and social internal conflicts, live in rural/semi-urban areas, and so on.
They call themselves “Swavalambi” (people who think independently and choose their ‘own path’). Even as i admire such independent non-mainstream thinking and agree with with many of their core ideals — i disagree wholeheartedly with their alternative-less criticism of current economics.
They forget that the essential human curiosity, which led to human migrations out of Africa, is the same that invented fire and the wheel, made the bullock-carts, attempted to observe and understand the stars in the skies, made ships to voyage across the seas to seek unknown lands (risking their lives), the humble bicycle, as well as the railways and the aircraft. It is the same human curiosity which causes human beings to have sleepless nights over solving mathematical problems to find a ‘unified theory of everything‘, or to dedicate their lives to sending humans to Mars — and while doing so, living uneasily with abject poverty around them.
Urbanization is inevitable
India is destined to become a urban majority country by 2040. Horrible, as it may sound to people calling out Modi’s “crony capitalism” (generally Aam Aadmi Party well-wishers), this is destiny unfolding. While i am not by a great distance an AAP well-wisher, i too used to be horrified at this by this idea.
What would happen to our home-grown ‘Panchayati Raj system‘ that devolved local governance down to grass-roots in a true “For The People, By The People” spirit, instead of abdicating in the hands of a centralised judiciary and bureaucratic structure?
These are questions i have been troubled with as well. An urge to life a purposeful life constantly brings me back to questions of equity and social justice — a basic level of dignity for all. Naturally, i then get attracted to organisations that work in villages, and philosophies like that of the ‘Hind Swaraj’. Just like the ‘swavalambi’s’ i openly crticise materialistic living and ideals, and continue to get deeply inspired by movies like ‘Avataar‘ — with the native populations living in deep harmony with its forests and natural environment. Secretly, i long for a life like that.
Open your arms to ‘cities’ and ‘development’
But living a ‘Pandora’ like life, here on Earth is a dream that needs to be kept aside for another lifetime. I’m ready for now to open my arms to cities and Modi’s development. What made this switch?
I started my career with Prasanna Lal Das, who over 15 years ago first challenged my doomsday thinking (as a conscientious kid, straight out of engineering college) about humanity and India self-destructing itself with climate change, crony capitalism (this term did not exist then, but i was a revolutionary like Arvind Kejriwal), destroying forests, over-urbanization of villages, and so on. I remember him talk about the ingenuity of the human race to invent and engineer a new future for ourselves. I learnt to begin to become comfortable with envisioning a future where instead of resisting change and idealizing about reversing industrialization of the world, we perhaps needed to ‘struggle’, leading to the next engineering leap. During this struggle, humanity as a race would continue to go through terrible suffering, death, disease, and all the worst things we can think of — just as it does now.
I remember writing an article on why the Delhi Metro’s introduction of the first coach for women only was a regressive idea. My basic argument was that with such segregation, Delhi’s men will never become comfortable with women and their clothing choices — while the reverse, even as it might continue to create harassment for women in the short-term, will lead to greater gender equality and acceptance, longer term. I remember Prasanna agreeing with me. On another instance, i remember arguing with him about his idea of DTC installing automatic ticketing machines. I was unhappy with the idea of so many jobs being lost to machines. To this his argument was clear — that ‘if machines do not replace ‘mundane jobs’, human beings will not invent/innovate new ‘creative ways’ of living their lives‘. I remember, head-fallen, thinking — and him retorting — “the spirit of my my argument is essentially the same as yours for not segregating women in the Delhi Metro“.
Then came Sanjeev Sanyal’s book. He talks of Hinduism as a complex adaptive system, which faced many tribulations with the Saraswati drying up because of climate change and change in course of the Yamuna and Sutlej, and yet it survived, continuing surprisingly to this day. Over 5000 years later it is alive with markers of its ancient society and traditions. He talks about the entrepreneurial spirit of the people of ancient India — to celebrate whose travels to Bali for trade (eventually with China) against odds of risky/violent seas — festivals like the “Bali Yatra” in Bengal were created. He talks about the cities of Indus Valley civilization not being confined to cities of the elite, but being dynamic evolving ecosystems with (what we now call) ‘slums’ all around them. He talks about the continuum of these slums existing in Mumbai and Delhi even today — once again in an ever evolving, adaptive ecosystems called “cities” which give rural populations a chance of a better life even while using the ‘living on the fringes of the city‘ as a means to wean themselves away from rural poverty.
Who are we to decide living in cities, that villages are better — and that we must preserve them as they are — for the populations to stay there. In fact, this is a constant dilemma my friends who have ejected themselves from city-life to pursue more conscious rural/semi-urban lives, express. In their interactions with rural youth, they nearly always come across younger folks who want to get out of villages to pursue a life of better income and more opportunities in cities.
“By almost any measure, the world is better than it has ever been”
We humans generally like to cling to romantic ideas of the golden past – life’s pace was not so killing, food was healthier, people had time for their relationships, they lived longer and healthier lives, and so on.
Prasanna Lal Das, Bill Gates and finally Sanjeev Sanyal have made my outlook of the world and humanity more positive. Ofcourse we have problems, vested interests to keep people poor, crony-capitalism, climate change, the threat of ever evolving viruses such as Ebola threatening our existence as a species.
But i am now a firm believer in our ability to adapt and give continuity in a positive way to not only our species but ensure a healthy survival for the planet as well. We’ll also offer a more dignified life, free of extreme poverty, to most among us.
And we’ll use our cities as our most potent weapon.
The chiefs of 3 armed forces (Army, Airforce, Navy) in India have a “consultative” say in procurement of defence equipment. Decision making authority lies with the Defence Minister and the Bureaucrats in the ministry.
Shocking, isn’t it?
NDTV on the 9pm show invited a debate reacting to comments by the former Navy Chief, Admiral Joshi citing his resignation and calling out the problems in the civilian-defence relationship in India. Abhishek Singhvi, spokesperson of the Congress, during the debate articulated the cause of this disempowerment of the armed forces and their chiefs quite well — “The Indian constitution necessitates complete civilian control over the armed forces.And we’ve come to implement this as complete ‘Civil Servant’ control over the armed forces“.
Ofcourse, even as he personally believes (and he said so) that this is a badly needed structural change required in the functioning of the armed forces and defence ministry relationship, he and his government for 10 years did nothing to change it. Just excuses of the bureaucracy being an “import of the British system“. Sigh!
If there is such a thing as sin, this would be it: to allow yourself to become what you are because of the experience of others. You do not await your own experience, you accept the experience of others as gospel.
If you did not do this, you might have a wholly different experience — one that might render your original teacher or source wrong. In most cases, you do not want to make your parents, your schools, your religions, your traditions and your holy scriptures wrong — s.o you deny your own experience in favour of what you have been told to think.
You are therefore to be obedient to God’s commands. Or else.
Above all, you are not to ask such logical questions as, “if God wanted strict obedience to His Laws, why did He create the possibility of those Laws being violated?”
Ah, your teachers tell you — because God wanted you to have “free choice”. Yet what kind of choice is free when to choose one thing over the other brings condemnation? How is “free will” free when it is not your will, but someone else’s, which must be done?
Those who teach you this would make a hypocrite out of God.
In the world, there are believers and nonbelievers – people who believe in God and people who disbelieve in God. There are people who believe in heaven and hell and there are people who disbelieve in heaven and hell. All these people are on the same boat. All of them are going on arguing about something that they do not know.
Your grandfather said so and your father said so, and it has always been said so, so you believe. It is convenient. It is a solace, but it has not liberated you in any way, and it will not liberate you in any way.
Narendra Modi’s government has been inviting ideas on http://www.mygov.in on a variety of topics such as Creting Jobs, Increasing Tourism, Cleaning the Ganga, etc. Under one such heading was a call for “ideas on making India a spiritual tourism hub“.
Well, i believe it already is. Just the sadness of it all is that India attracts a tiny proportion of the world’s tourists in spite of being a spiritual destination like no other, and having an unmatched architecture & history.
I wrote this presentation as a response to Modiji’s call for ideas. It’s all about toilets. Yes, we need to improve our railways, and roads, and electricity, and brand image, and safety, and on and on. But it’s going to take us a long time to solve all that. To have an immediate impact on inbound tourism to India — “clean up the toilets” is my plea and suggestion.
Sitting on a plane to Pune to attend a Drupal Camp that we have co-sponsored and on its sidelines to conduct interviews for a couple of Scrum Master positions, there is a gentle anxiety that I am sensing.
How casually we booked my and another colleague’s tickets couple of days earlier — and therefore at high prices; something I would have planned for weeks in advance to keep costs low some years ago.
Srijan is growing. Quite rapidly. Things have been looking up for a few years now. Our people have stuck with us. Our clients have patronised us and trusted us. And in spite of couple of top management exists we’ve done well. Our salaries have never been better, our sales projections are healthy, our profits are good, some good people have joined us — our delivery team is getting better & stronger, we have solid top coaches guiding, mentoring and enabling us, and finally most of our clients are happy.
For all this I am completely in gratitude. Gratitude for the ‘unseen force’ making this happen — people, projects, situations, opportunities — which showed up just at the right time. Gratitude to my Guru for the gift of meditativeness, which He gifted; which I believe has helped me get into greater balance and clarity, with over 4 years of daily practice, than I have ever known for myself. Gratitude for the belief and faith Avie and Darshan — our Agile and business coach respectively — showed in me during several lows during the last year; their unfailing commitment to help Srijan for reasons they only best know. Gratitude for several of my old employees who have stuck along for years of pain, pressure and sacrifice pursuing along with me a hazy vision of making Srijan a great company.
Overwhelmed, with wet eyes, I know way too much could have gone the other way, in spite of our hard work & perseverance. I constantly remind myself that I have, and continue to receive, way more than I am capable of.
I guess I need to put my anxiety at rest. Push the load that seems to be piling on my shoulders back on the Universe. And keep doing the small things that must be done, egged on by an insatiable desire to excel for my own self, for the sake of this wonderful ancient nation & its people, and the urge to live in a better world.