UPAII : A Lesson In Destroying A Booming Economy

A few years back a joke used to do rounds during cricket matches that India played. Joke was about how “India snatched defeat from the jaws of victory”. Time and again India would squander away significant advantage and concede a game. Over a period of time, our cricket team apparently has learnt its lesson, three world championships may bear testimony to that. In the process, however, our governing political formation, read congress lead UPA, have caught the disease of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
When UPA came in power, economy was growing, inflation was down, people had aspiration and dreams. During good time, UPA did not undertake reforms. May be it can be argued that left parties, on his support government was surviving, did not let government undertake reforms. However, at the same time 2G spectrum scam was being hatched by UPA governments ally. At the same time, government did what it wanted to do, at the cost of ditching left parties. That is signing Indo-US civil nuclear agreement. Government also promulgated MGNREGA, an employment guarantee scheme for rural poor. The gesture costed government around 70, 000 crore rupees per year. Many believed, UPA came back to power riding on MGNREGA.
Second term of UPA was minus left. Many thought, reforms will take off. Instead, government was caught in the quagmire of corruption and socialist policies.  Scams after scams- 2G spectrum scam, CWG scam, coal block allocation scam, land allocation scam hit headlines at regular intervals. Instead of acting on errant ministers promptly, government went on to shield them until and unless the highest court prodded them to act. This gave an impression government is party to corruption. Many genuine purchasers of 2G spectrum had to forfeit their purchase because of government’s inaction and inability to act in time to protect investors wealth.
Infrastructure projects like road, power plants etc did not take of because of lack of environmental clearance. Land allocation for infrastructure projects, like road, airport, industrial houses became a very contentious issue. Again government could not create an amicable middle ground for industrialists to invest and operate. Prolonged impasse in land acquisition made POSCO, one of the largest investor in India, to withdraw. The same happened with Sterlite Industries. Rupee started losing value against dollar somewhere in the middle of 2013. On top of infrastructural roadblocks, government decided to impose retroactive taxation law, further dampening investor confidence. Gradually and slowly, Indian investors started investing not in India but abroad.
On top of corruption and indecision, government decided to bring Food Security Bill. Cost of the bill was estimated to be upwards of 100, 000 crore to public exchequer. Market reacted very sharply and rupee touched 68 to 1 dollar. Today Indian economy is in tatters. Our currency is losing value, our foreign currency reserve is reducing, we are importing more and more goods to support national need, nearly three times more that what we were doing six years before. Our short term debt is increasing, because country is borrowing heavily. There is doubt, if India will be able to fulfill her debt commitments. Many investors are taking their money out of Indian stock market. As a result stock market is crashing.

India today with grappling issues between collective economic growth and individual right. Can a government take away land from an individual in the name of growth? Can a country grow yet a bulk of people live in utter poverty? These are complex issues. However, it is clear to me that by giving subsidised food to people, parties can win election but nation cannot come out of poverty. Government must serve needy as the same time must create environment to stimulate growth. Only a strong nation can serve her people. India has been traditionally poor as long as I can remember. Yet all along we have been following pro-poor economic policies. How come, bulk of India still remain poor after 67 years of independence? Some one must answer.
To be fair to UPA government, it can be argued that government faced one of the most gruesome terrorist attack. Anna Hazare’s civil disobedience movement started during this government’s tenure. Parliament did not function because of chief opposition party’s boycotting and filibuster tactics. But responsibility for this mess fell squarely on government because of its inability to run parliament by taking opposition into confidence and following a strategy of give and take.

http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/ndtv-special-ndtv-24×7/the-rise-and-fall-of-india-s-economy/287650?from_most_emailed

In a televised discussion conducted by NDTV, Dr Prannoy Roy, with Ruchir Sharma and Arun Shourie, explained the problem India is facing (please see the link above). Recovering US economy is sucking up resources from emerging markets..  However, it is important to note that countries like Mexico that had done necessary reforms, have contracted least by resurgent US economy. Countries like India, that have not done her homework when needed, have seen near melt down of their economy. So much said about our economist Prime Minister and his dream team. It can be aptly said now that India has snatched defeat from jaws of defeat.

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India Needs a Strong Leader

In Dec, 2012 a girl went out with her friend to watch a movie. She did not return home. She was found under a flyover raped, brutalized, disemboweled and barely alive. It came out that five men and a boy had lured the couple in a bus, assaulted and raped them. Outraged nation protested. There was debate on television. Government enacted anti-rape law, some said a pathbreaking tough law. Government promised a fast track court. More than eight months have passed since brutalization of the girl, court has not yet passed judgement. If this fast track, we can imagine what is regular and slow track. No wonder most people do not want to go to court. The verdict of Delhi case is not yet out, when another girl was raped in Mumbai while she was attending her duty.
One of the most brutal of the Delhi attackers happened to be less than six month before he turned adult. Child rights activists argued that the juvenile attacker has to be treated like a child. Direct consequence, he will get maximum of three years, if convicted. Remember, this is the person responsible for disemboweling the victim. In other mature and civilized democracies, a criminal is judged on the crime and its magnitude, and not by age of the criminal. If a person is adult enough to commit an adult crime, yet he can take refuge behind a provision of law where he should be treated as a juvenile inspite of committing most heinous crime. It this is not travesty of justice what is?
After Delhi brutalization, many rapes have happened. A minor girl had glass bottle inserted in her private part as part of being raped. Army personnel rape women in the name of national security. A police woman was gang raped while bringing body of her dead brother-in-law home. Several, foreign nationals have been raped in different parts of India. A Swiss national was raped in Madhya Pradesh, while touring India with her husband. A British woman had to jump out of hotel window on being attacked. Most recently, a photo journalist was gang raped in Mumbai, by five people. These are high profile cases, that come to mind. Countless women are being raped, assaulted, brutalized everyday. We have not even broached the topic of acid attack on women.
There are many explanation for social turmoil that we see all over in India. Social barriers are breaking down. More and more women are coming out and going to work. It is not possible to put a police after every woman that goes out. However, it is possible to improve policing. It emerged that in Maharastra state, out of 47000 police men, only 23000, less than 50%, are available to serve common public. Rest, serve our political leaders and important people. It is our money, but we have no say how our lives can be made secure. Same is the story all over India. Police only serves political masters, read ruling party. Common people comes very low down in police’s priority. In stead of preventive policing as we see in US or UK, our police comes only after crime has happened. I think large scale police reform is the dire need. Because, our politicians use police as their personal militia to suppress inconvenient people or issue, they do not want to give up control over police. Recommendation of police reform is gathering dust. I think police must be given autonomy, so that police commissioner of city / state can be held accountable for police performance and removed as and when needed. Police boss should create his budget, bring right people at right place and run a modern educated force.
Our justice delivery needs to be speeded up. If a fast track judgement cannot be delivered in eight months, what can we expect for cases in slow track. Why does powers that be not create more courts, bring more judges and settle cases fast? It is important that India must follow constitution. However, we need to come down from the high horse of idealism. Many people that are coming to big cities and small towns, do not subscribe same degree of idealism, attachment and awareness to constitution. Otherwise, not one will insert a bottle in the private part of a five year old girl. Unless a serious punishment is meted out to these criminals in a speedy manner, it beats the purpose. We always have debates about death penalty everytime a grotesque crime happens. However, I think certainty of punishment is more important than death sentence. It is also important to realise that a person losing his / her life and liberty for life can be more unbearable compared to one time loss of life.
At times, it appears that general public is so helpless. We cannot do anything once we have elected our ruling party. Many of our leaders themselves have rape charge against them. Yet, in worlds biggest democracy, we cannot even recall our leaders. We have no say who our political parties field. If we want certain political party to rule at the centre, we may be forced to vote for their corrupt face in our constituency. I think we need to have a relook at our political system. Either we bring change in constitution to bring Presidential form of government. Where a president once elected, chooses his / her team. If this is not acceptable, then we must create smaller constituencies. We should be able to communicate and approach our representatives, and recall them if necessary.
Next general election is round the corner. Please use the opportunity to choose a decisive leader. I think in the name of democracy, India is slipping into anarchy. Our leaders are uncommunicative, indecisive and opportunistic. To remain in power, our politicians will do anything no matter how much detrimental those are for country’s health. Because of mollycoddling and poor enforcement of law and order, there is no respect for law. Everyone knows they can get away committing a crime. Time has come to elect a no nonsense leader, that has long term vision for the country, and administer this country with an iron fist.

Unruly Mob and Soft State

I fail to understand how on earth anybody can be run over by a moving train. A train on the move makes enough noise, besides whistle of a train is shrill enough to awaken a dead person from grave. Yet in Bihar, it happened close to hundred pilgrims came under the wheels of a moving train. Thirty seven people died and close to eighty people were injured.


Two trains unloaded passengers on two platforms of Dhamara station in Bihar. The middle track was used to allow passage of an express train, Rajya Rani Express, that does not stop at the station.

Question is why were these passengers not getting off on the platform, but on the wrong side? Were these people brain dead, deaf and dumb that they could not hear, see or understand that a fast moving train is approaching? Somewhere I read, people expected the train driver should stop seeing people crossing the tracks. Only in India, read north India, people expect fast moving trains, buses and cars must stop on their tracks if they see a group of people crossing road or railway track.
What is more disturbing that people beat up the driver and other railway employees, torched a few coach and caused generalized damage to railway property. Total estimated cost of damage is around 100 crore rupees. Who will fund for this damage. What is the fault of the driver of express train?
I read our prime minister has expressed grief at the incidence. Bihar chief minister has thought incidence was unfortunate. I think the incidence should be dubbed foolish. All people engaged in arson must be jailed and penalized to recover the cost of damage to railway property. I am sure, some politicial leader of some party must have mobilized the vandals. Catch hold of the goon and disbar him from parliament or assembly or whatever his affiliation.
May be on the hindsight, railway should have advice people to use foot overbridge. To compensate some people that lack commonsense, then go on to damage public property, I think it is outrageous waste of taxpayers money. Again shows our priorities are on the wrong place. Instead of disciplining unruly mob, we try to mollycoddle them and give an impression everything is alright. All, at the expense of public exchequer. I am certain few days later it will be claimed these were poor people, so government must help. But what has poverty got to do with foolishness and lack of common sense?

Indian Poor Needs Service not Dole

India has many people that are very poor. For close to 50 years India has practiced state controlled economy. Government issued ration for people. Government gave people job. Government ran industries. Government ran railways, bus service and airline. Government did all these without caring for profit. Government did everything by spending her own money. Slowly and gradually, government went bankrupt. In the absence of inflow, and only outflow, even bottomless pit one day runs dry.
Strangely, our government did not have imagination or inclination to pump profit into different organizations it was running and improve quality of service offered by them. Look at Indian railways. One of the biggest network in the world. Look at platforms, look at trains. Platforms are dirty, tracks are filthy. Standing on a platform in New Delhi, capital of India, one can smell feces. There is no imagination to put escalators in each platform. For aged, inflrm and sick there is no wheel chair facility that can be accessed easily. Once you get a wheel chair, it has to be pushed all the way out of the platform, cross railway tracks to reach the exit gate. Imagine a sick person being pushed through rain or midday sun. Imagine this station was refurbished spending hundreds of crore to make it a world class station.
Look at our trains. They are slow, crowded and dirty. Most of our trains look so ugly and cheap, Once you are in the compartment, toilets are unusable. Especially so in long distance trains. When luxury buses use modern technology to disopose human waste, Indian railways let human waste be dumped on the track. Food that is served, look so unprofessional. In good trains, if one sees how food is unloaded and then stored in the train one will lose appetite. In this day and age, Indian railways could not use trolleys to haul food. Indian railways haul them in plastic trays. These trays are first rested on the dirty platform, and then next to the toilet of train. 
There are other factors ailing Indian railways like most other sectors that government has put her hands on. Very clearly, managers and leaders do not have a forward looking vision. Despite crying need to modernize, despite desperate need to generate profit, our leaders discourage raising rail fare. There is no imagination to earn profit and plough back the profit to modernize the organization and infrastructure. In the name of poor, our leaders discourage raising fare. Has any one asked or tested if railways give better service, people will not avail them? There are nearly six superfast trains, by Indian standard, between Delhi and Kolkata. Seats in all these trains are booked three month ahead of departure date. Has anyone thought about, if we have a fast train between Delhi and Kolkata that takes 6 hours to travel instead of 18 hours, why would anyone travel by plane? There apparently no such plan or no such vision.
What we see is one railway minister from a particular party cancels railway budget, that many hailed as progressive. Another railway minister was alleged to be arranging plum position to railway executives in exchange for bribe. Is it realistic to expect a modern platform, clean compartment and fast train!
Less said about other transport system is better. Roads are broken, buses are fuel inefficient and non user friendly. Bus terminals are disorganized, dirty and lack even a decent toilet. All in the name of poor! Has anyone asked poor if they enjoy travelling the way, it is being offered? Air travel till recently was considered domain of privileged, read rich and politicians. Our national air carrier remains most of the time off work. Because they go on strike at simplest pretext. Some people say, our national carrier was deliberately made dysfunctional to favor a private carrier. This of course, must have happened at the exchange of undisclosed favor.
Any where government has put her hands, we see an ugly imprint. Beautiful architecture of Rashtrapati Bhavan, Parliament house, Lutyens Delhi, Connaught Circus all made during British Raj. What Delhi Development Authority has done is to build ugly eye sores like Nirman Bhavan, Udyog Bhavan, DDA flats and other similar structures. All bereft of imagination, poor quality and a proof of poverty of vision. Delhi government has dug up Connaught place in the name of beautification. Connaught circus is an ugly mess today in the heart of Delhi. 
Our leaders, read politicians, have tried to get personal benefit at the expense of common people like us. Many have made huge sum of money by manipulating their proximity to power. All the while, common people have suffered and deprived of their legitimate right, all in the name of poverty alleviation.
It is time, India separates government from running business. Government should create system that will allow people to run business in a fair and equitable manner. Government must oversee rules of law are followed and guilty is efficiently punished. Cost will come down when there is competition, not by giving dole. A typical case in point in mobile phone revolution, where a poor and rich have equal opportunity to choose the handset and choose the service they want at the price they can afford.

In the Name of Indian Poor

For the better part of sixty years of her existence, India has practiced a socialistic model of centralized economy. In early 1990s, India could not sustain her economic model any longer and went almost bankrupt. India opened her economy up partially. India responded by high economic growth for more than a decade. Jobs were created, general public became ambitious, there was hope. However, there was also clamor that not everyone in the country were benefitting from open economic model. Poor were becoming poorer, while rich were becoming richer. UPA government came to power for two successive five-year terms, based on the assumption that high economic growth does not matter. Giving dole to poor is more important. So at a time when economic growth has slowed and come down close to pre 1990 era, government want to win election by giving subsidized food to 66% of country at the cost of more than 100, 000 crore.
A reflection of our pro-poor policy can be seen in our highways and public transport system. The other day I was driving through Rajasthan. The moment I entered Rajasthan, condition of roads started to deteriorate. At many places, huge craters had roads. There was never any prior warning of impending danger. Any person unfamiliar with road conditions, or unfortunate enough to be driving in darkness, these roads can become a deathtrap. Surprisingly, these craters have been there for last 6 – 9 months. No effort has been made to repair them. Is it because shortage of funds on part of government, or government believes poor really enjoy travelling on broken roads?
I passed thorough small towns. Small townships had very poor road. Big water filled craters  had replaced roads in many places. There was absolutely no sanitation, no drainage system and no garbage collection and disposal system. Plastic bags, and sundry waste material remain strewn by roadside. It is strange that these townships have no municipalities or similar system to manage their towns. Does poor people in small townships relish living in such appalling condition?
I saw interstate bus terminals in two small towns. These bus stations deal with travellers, moving to distant parts of state and country. The entrance to both terminals was filled with water. Passengers had to haul their luggage, their family and themselves through ankle deep water. Terminals were organized in a haphazard manner. The appearance of terminal was shabby. There was not even a decent clean toilet. Public transport buses are not passenger friendly. For infirm, ladies and aged, these buses are very difficult to avail. I wondered, if I an in 2013 or in 1947. Do poor people of India not deserve a better bus terminal and better public transport for their journey?
There is no doubt there was corruption during economic growth. People close to power bagged plum contracts. There were many corruptions. However, solution to this problem is not going back on economic reform, but second generation reforms. Solution is bringing transparency in mega government deals. Solution is to bring in completion, so that people have more choice.

A clear instance of private sector success story that has benefitted common public is mobile telephony revolution. Before 1995, for every Indian owning a telephone used to be a luxury. One had to wait for years to own one. Once you have your phone, one had to beg and bribe telephone company technicians to fix your line from mal functioning, cross connectivity and improper billing. All these changed, when mobile phone became affordable. Now one can pickup a handset directly from market without government involvement. One can get connection in a day or two, without government interference. Difference between me, my driver and my employer lies in our handset price, but not in the quality of our connectivity. Earlier, only select elites had access to telephone, nowadays, every Indian who wants to own a phone can have one at his convenience and choose a service depending on his economic ability.

Time To Look At Our Political System

Another independence day is round the corner. India has been practicing democracy for a good part of her 65 years of existence. India changes government at regular interval. There exists an independent body to oversee free and fair election. Question, however, remains is voting alone is a sign of a matured democracy? I think, democratic principles may have taken root in India, as a nation we are far behind compared to any matured democracy. My benchmark here is United Kingdom, United States, Canada and European countries.
We routinely choose our leaders. We have limited choice about whom we sent to parliament and state assemblies. Many of our representatives have criminal backgrounds. We choose them either out of fear or out of lack of alternative. Our electoral system recognizes party with maximum number of seats overall and allows it to govern India. In order to put our favored party to get large number of seats, we may be forced to choose a history sheeter to represent us.
It has not dawned upon majority of us that in a democratic system, our leaders actually represent us. Once elected, our leaders behave like arrogant despots and treat us people with contempt. Our leaders are least interested in delivering anything other than promising subsidized food and reservation in education and job. Subsidized food is sold in black market by politically well connected people. Reservation in education and job are given with an eye to vote bank politics. Many such promises are not implementable.
Our leaders do not talk about creating infrastructure that would facilitate movement of people. Our politicians do not talk about creating educational institutes that can train and educate our students. There is no effort to create a system that encourages ability of our students to compete without caste creed and religion. Our leaders do not want to encourage a system that give financial assistance to students rather than giving them reservation. No effort is made to create a system where students become leaders and enterpreneurs that create job rather than beg for jobs.
Our leaders have understood weakness of our system very well. That is why they work without fear. Our leaders can transfer upright and honest officer like Ashok Khemka 40 times in a career spanning 20 years. Our leaders have become brazen enough to suspend honest administrative in the name of democracy. Leaders have acquired audacity to suspend efficient police officers from their post. Some facilitate embezzlement of public fund in the name of creating unusable and/or non existent public property. Some leaders create draught, by diverting drinking water from common Indians, to favor their friends in sugar industry. A few other leaders incite communal violence to protect their sand mafia friend.
It is time we Indians wake up. Let Durga Shakti and Ashok Khemka be our symbol. Like mother Durga took on and destroyed Mahisashura, who was making unbearable common peoples lives and being, Durga Shakti Nagpal took on Samaj wadi Party government and sand mafia in Uttar Pradesh.
This independence day, let us pray for more Ashok Khemkas, more Durga Shakti Nagpals who will discharge their administrative duties without fear or favor. Let us pray for more educated people with commitment, desire and vision join our political parties and take India forward.

Higgs Boson, God Particle and Vedanta

Higgs Boson, God Particle and Vedanta

A fundamental question that has been asked time and again, “is there a deeper purpose to life?” is there a common principle that is fundamental to all existence? Seekers, scientists, philosophers have been trying to search answer following different methods. 
Practioners of modern science have analysed material world in search of the truth. Scientists discovered atoms, thought to be the most fundamental principle. It turned out, atoms consist of proton, neutron and electrons. Subatomic particles were further split into six quarks and six leptons. It is believed that quarks and leptons are indivisible. Quarks and leptons gain mass, it is believed, by association with Higgs Boson. Higgs Boson was discovered recently. Higgs Boson was called god particle. Some say, because it is so elusive, exasperated scientists named  it goddamn particle. From there, the name god particle has stuck. A second possible reason why Higgs Boson is called god particle could be, like god is responsible for creation, Higgs Boson helps other massless particles gain mass. Thus formless and form becomes different states of same matter.
Hindu philosophers have looked within, in their quest for the truth.  They reasoned, every observation is influenced by mind, the instrument. So it is important to understand the mind. The study of mind lead seekers beyond mind. Something that mind cannot describe. Because, it is limitless any description will make it limited. Hindus call it “abangmanasgochara” Something that is beyond speech and mind. Sri Rama Krishna, gave an analogy, a salt doll went to assess depth of ocean. In the process he became one with the ocean. There was no one left to explain what / how was the ocean. 
One can arrive beyond mind, by negating answer to question, “is this me?” In Upanishad Shwetaketu, the seeker, was told by his guru, “Thou art that, oh Shwetaketu!” Disciple kept on asking the question within is his mind, who am I? I am not the body? I am not the mind? Ultimately, when he exhausted all possibilities, disciple realized his true state, that is “Brahman”. 
Vedanta says “Brahman” is our true nature. It is our right to realize it.  For everyone of us, it may not be possible to grasp the concept of abstract “Brahman”, as the concept of reality. So, Hindus deviced the concept of meditating on forms. By forming relationship with the idol of an imagined god, as father, mother, son, daughter etc, a seeker attempts to establish connection with the universal force. Sri Rama Krisha use to say, the all pervading force, “Brahman”, can be shapeless and formless for a Vedantin, but assume form for a devotee. Like formless water   and solid ice are identical. By meditation, it is possible to realize this all pervasive force. If we call her mother, she may be reveal herself more easily. That is why Shri Rama Krishna worshipped the force as mother Kali.
In the end science and Vedanta arrive at conclusion that suggest that truth transitions between form and formless. Truth cannot be described in conventional sense, Truth can be experienced through experimentation. 
Categories: Lifestyle

Politics of Poverty and Scarcity of Vision

I started enjoying reading books from an early age. My father and mother were avid readers. My father used to buy books, both Bengali and English. In his collection were books by many Bengali stalwarts of Bengal renessaince like Rabindranath Thakur, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhaya, Sharat Chandra Chattopadhaya, Bibhuti Bhusan Bandopadhaya among others. I grew up reading them many times over from my childhood to youth.
My exposure to Bengali literature further increased during my six years of school days in Bengal. In general Bengalis back the underdog. Most of the novels I read during my formative years depicted pain of poor and downtrodden. At the same time, there was oblique reference to villain, who happened to be local landlord or man with money. Bengali psyche is also scarred by the history of battle of Plashee. Two Bengali generals, Mohanlal and Meer Madan, fought East India Company forces and lost. While bulk of the army commanded by Mir Zafar did not fight. Mir Zafar the general was purchased by two business men from Marwar – Umi Chand and Jagat Seth.
No wonder, then Bengalis mistrust business and people that engage in business activity. No wonder Bengal had the first naxal movement, in post independent India. Among many ideological issues, naxals tried to take land away from landlords and distribute among peasants. Bengal also had the thirty six years of uninterrupted communist rule. Communists helped redistribute land among landless, albeit, taking from landowners. However, communists drove away big business systematically, communist could not bring prosperity to Bengal, communists could not increase economic growth in Bengal. When Mamata Banerjee took over, people thought here comes the change. But Mamata Banerjee, despite being virulently anti-left, became more left than the left. Mamata didi managed to evict Tata motors even before she came to power in Bengal. Afterall, our Bengali gene is more powerful than ideological differences.
It also should not surprise us when Prof. Amartya Sen, nobel laureate in economics, advocates India should give free food grains of sixty six percent of Indians. Prof. Sen is fighting for the underprivileged. We may not agree with his method, but we cannot doubt his intention. However, cost of Prof. Sen’s gesture, more than 100000 crore to national exchequer. At a time, when Indian economy is not doing well. At a time India needs investment in education, investment in health care, investment in infrastructure, is this the right way to spend taxpayers money? More so, when we know our public distribution system is leaky. Actual needy misses government goodwill. Whereas corrupt make money at taxpayers expense. Should our government not create policies that make us stand on our feet, rather than asking for dole?
Should we not think of growth, so that most people can take care of themselves. True some segment of our population may need help, can we not identify them? In last sixty years, if we have not been able to eradicate poverty by repeatedly pursuing affirmative action, should we not think differently? Only a prosperous nation can help her citizens with education, job and food, not a welfare state. We need a different vision. Unless we teach our people to standup on their feet, no amount of wealth of the world may be sufficient for one nation. 

My Association with Mataji

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It was a summer evening of 1980. My second year Pharmacy practical exams were over. I was agitated because I thought external examiner was unfair to me. With my friend, I went to Rama Krishna Sarada Mission, in Hauz Khas, Delhi. My friend was familiar with a resident monk in the mission.  We announced our arrival and were waiting in the lobby. I was still thinking about my test. In walked a saffron robed monk, now on I shall call her mataji. She had a straight posture, smiling face, penetrating eyes and closely cropped salt and pepper hair.  She was the principal of nursery school run by the mission.
After initial introduction, Mataji asked what was our problem. As if flood gates had opened, I emptied my mind of all bitterness. Mataji heard my wailings, but did not dwell on it. Instead, she kept on talking essence of Vedanta. Gradually mind quietend  and a strange peace desecended. All my problems, all my bitterness became so trivial, so irrelevant.
Since that day, my association with ashrama and mataji became more regular. I was initiated into japa yoga of Shri Rama Krishna Sharada school. Mataji taught me how to use science to understand Vedanta.I was exposed to the idea of a deeper purpose of our existence. Using examples from discoveries from physics and biology, Mataji would reason our experiences are essentially subjective. As most of us have similar constitution and similar instruments, we see the world in a certain way. However, this view point may be very different for a person that is an outlier from average. We call them a lunatic or a genius.

I left India for my higher studies. I was skeptical if I would be able to stay grounded in myself in distant land and in different culture. However, something inside me told me that japa yoga is my greatest asset, that no one can take away from me. I kept alive my habbit of regular practicing of japa. Time to time, I had my doubts. Why am I doing this? Today, I realize the rationale of practicing japa. By repeated chanting, at a definite time and place, on a daily basis, it may be possible to channelize random neural activity in brain that manifests as thought processes. At the very least, it improves focus in daily life, for a seeker japa shows a way out of cause and effect relationships of our lives.  It is like conquering a set of habbits with another, and eventually go beyond habbits.

All my life, I have been more fascinated by the journey than destination. All journeys eventually come to an end. I learnt all achievements in life are transitory. Once you have been there and done that, there is a quest for more. External quests  are limited by age, health, finance among other things. However, only quest that is essentially in our control is journey inwards. All through ups and downs in our lives, only quest that no one can take away from us. Japa is a way to steer our journey into our inner quest.

As we go through our lives, we face turmoil. We feel insecure. We create friends and foes. We become victims of so many moral dilemmas. To quell our turbulent inner conflicts, Japa can be sheet anchor in our lives. Through Japa, I realised it may be possible to change perception and magnitude of a problem, by changing perspective. Like, from a high altitude, both a skyscraper and a hutment appear similar, by altering perspsective we may be able to tackle our perception of a problem better.

In the end, I think my association with Mataji has been the best thing in my life. She has shown path, that I would remain oblivious of, inspite of it being my inheritance. It is like a begger sitting on a box full of gold, but totally unaware of it. 

Memories of My Initiation to Education

Part of my childhood I had spent in Balasore, Orissa. In early 1960s, Balasore used to be a small town. We were staying in a big house. Local people called the house “rajbari”, a palace by implication. Some palace it was. We occupied the first floor. Floor had three rooms with wall to wall French windows. There was a large living room which was most likely designed to entertain guests. From the living room one could have a grand view of the play ground and distant highway. There was a terrace that was encircling the standalone palace. One could sit or walk on the terrace and enjoy the transition of afternoon into evening.
Our relatives from Kolkata, those days Calcutta, were not very excited coming to Balasore. My cousins thought it was boondocks. My uncles were concerned about cost of travel. In those days we were not well off. Family travel used to be considered a luxury. So one day, when I heard that my grand mother and my uncle, elder brother of my father, will be visiting us, I was really excited. In addition, my grand mother was also bringing her “guru dev”, I shall refer to him as dadu, from now on. My grand mother and my mother had been initiated in japa yoga by dadu. Dadu was coming to initiate my education, by offering a prayer to mother Saraswati, the goddess of learning. In our mother tongue, it is called “hate khari”, literal translation meaning introduction to pen. Since, not many people visited us, I was counting days before their arrival. My mother was also excited. She left no stone unturned to keep the household tidy and tiptop.
Puri passenger from Kolkata, used to arrive in the evening. By the time they arrived at rajbari, our home, I was fast asleep. I was hardly four that time. Also, rajbari had no electricity. So sleep used to be very inducing. Anyway next morning when I woke up, our home had taken a festive atmosphere. Spacious living room was transformed into a seat for dadu.
I was introduced into the room, after I had taken bath and worn new clothes. There were several people seated at the feet of dadu. There were relatives and neighbors. Everyone was meditating. Room had a divine atmosphere. Aroma of freshly cut flowere was mixing with scent of incense stick. Camphor was burning at the feet of deity.
That day, me and several other kids from neighborhood, were introduced to education under blessing of dadu. My uncle wrote a letter in my native language on a slate. I was asked to repeat it several times by running chalk over the alphabet. The morning ended for me with a sumptuous breakfast and blessing of dadu. It was long time ago, but the atmosphere and aroma still lingers.