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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Grammar of good life

The Times of India
Friday August 28, 2009
Tarun Vijay

The feel of goodness often comes unannounced. This time it happened to me in the form of our dear Doctor's humble speech while he was giving away the Rajiv Gandhi Sadbhavna Award to an unassuming Vaishnav of Paunar, Gautam Bhai. Manmohan Singh's words, to change our lifestyles and take a lesson from our villages were like a fresh breeze. His exact words, "We should question whether our current lifestyles and value systems are sustainable if we are to live in harmony with nature and at peace with ourselves."

Our lifestyle, complete urbanization and gobbling the natural resources, has resulted in catastrophes for the earth.

Like what? Small things perhaps matter most. In 1968, my sister's village in Haryana had enough water at 85 feet below surface and just a three horsepower motor was sufficient to get full throttles of water through a three-inch pipe. Today the same place gets less water after digging 460 feet. That too, using a 15 horsepower motor.

In Silvasa, the former Portuguese colony with a 73% tribal population, the main river Pipariya's water has gone muddy red and completely unusable for any purpose because the government introduced a policy of industrialization ostensibly to "help" tribal people and give a fillip to their modernization. The result is, tribal population is fast dwindling, their land is vanishing from their hands, they are losing touch with their culture and language, incidents of thefts, rapes and murders have increased manifold, their leadership has gone nauseatingly corrupt under the influence of Delhi's parliamentary "friends" and Silvasa , once known for its rustic tribal beauty and natural splendour has turned into a "daru-dance-party" destination for Mumbaikars.

We have learnt the art of destroying our nature and culture under the somber guidelines of an alienated Planning Commission and an attitude that defines everything under the head of progress as westernization. Cut the jungles to make roads, build big dams and don't care about the devastated people and their rehabilitation, convert agricultural land into non-agricultural and build farmhouses and multiplexes, concrete jungles for maddeningly Americanized crowds which run crazy after advertisements promising acres of green in the middle of city.

This life doesn't give you time for the kids but ample space for business trips and nine-to-nine work schedules. The kids get drunk, are hooked on drugs, drive fast and kill poor people sleeping on the footpath that makes the urban successful father to spend millions to ensure he is not put to the gallows. Rajesh Kalra wrote in his blog how Punjab is losing water. It's not just the loss of water, the fast-track lifestyle has led Punjab and Haryana, once known for its "gabru mundas" (strong young lads) into the dark alleys of drugs and alcoholism. It has a devastating effect on the height and strength of the Punjabi youth whose martial prowess has always been a subject of folklore. But who cares? Manmohan Singh or Badal or his ever yielding partner?

Now, Gautam Bhai leads a different kind of life that made Manmohan Singh say something different and off track.

People like them represent the real core of our civilizational mooring which has taught us to have a symbiotic relationship with nature. "Earn, only to give" is Vedanta's message. Significance of Upanishadic messages like live to fulfil needs and control your desires is as simple as that. Dharma is righteousness and that must drive our desires and wealth. No individual can survive in isolation and a part of the society is an inseparable constituent of the whole hence what he takes from the society requires an obligation to return the favours. To understand the real meaning behind it Manmohan Singh or any other person interested in an alternative path, must read at least these two books, Gandhi's "Hind Swarajya" and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya's "Integral Humanism" to understand a lifestyle that would sustain the earth.

Gautam Bhai's Paunar is a place near Yavatmal, where the eternally famous ashram of Vinoba Bhave is situated on the banks of the river Dham. The ashram is better known for its Bhudan Yajna or the people's movement to give land to the landless, initiated by the great Gandhian Vinoba Bhave, whose treatise on Srimad Bhagwad Gita in Marathi is a household treasure named Gitai or the Mother Gita. His other masterpiece is on the Quran, as he was well versed in Arabic too.

Sometime ago, I was in Yavatmal for an RSS programme and when my friends Sudhir Pathak and Srinivas Vaidya, who accompanied me, told me that the Paunar Ashram was midway, I risked a delay for my scheduled programme and decided to make a stopover.

It was worth it. The ashram is like poetry in nature's lap. Vinoba represents the best in Hindu mind. Sauve, gentle, all encompassing and an epitome of total dedication to the Brahma, the creator. He might have been a misfit for the present politically charged society; yet he made his mark on the times he traversed with unflinching faith in reforming society through "bhakti". His ashram bears the name Jai Jagat, salutation to the world. The room where he breathed his last has his samadhi now and the only two words inscribed on the marble structure are Shri Hari, the name of Vishnu. A couple of years before he bid adieu to this mortal world he had stopped signing his name and instead would write Shri Hari, signifying that all is merged in one supreme identity of the Lord, everything belongs to Him, hence what's the use of having a name for the mortal body?

Gautam Bhai who knew me through my articles welcomed and took us around the ashram. It's more like a Vedic seer's hermitage than a social reformer's work station. Gautam Bhai personifies the Vinoba spirit. He hails from the highly motivated family of Bajajs, who were ardent Gandhi devotees, most famous being the father and son-duo Jamna Lal Bajaj and Kamal Nayan Bajaj. Did the Bhudan movement succeed? Yes and no, but it definitely kindled a spirit of sacrifice among the wealthier Hindus. One of them, Ashok Ruikar, whose father Nagoraoji Ramchandra Ruikar donated 600 acres of land to Vinoba's Bhudan was my host and he said: "Vinoba inspired our family though we had always been close to the RSS. Vinoba once wrote that he was a non-member member of the RSS, meaning though not active in the organization he finds an affinity with it."

This is a glimpse of the Bharat we hardly know about in our India. Someone inspired with the spirit of giving, feeling the pains of others and having a lifestyle which is synchronized with nature. The people in our villages have done much more for the nation, yet their concerns, worldview and lifestyle hardly find any echo either in our media or in the academia.

What's there if there are no air, water and earth? Clubs and politics and glamour? The grammar of good and sustainable life comes through self-control and respect for nature and not through the policies of the "whiskey drinkers" of Delhi. Those who take immense pleasure to wear fur coats and relish the meat of those poor animals who were brutalized before getting finally slaughtered must reap the results of their inhuman barbarism.

Subhash Sharma, a farmer in the drought-hit Yavatmal area and Devaji Tofa, a rebel rural worker who disapproves the interference of any state apparatus in his village to live happier, are two such examples that sustain the earth.

(Subhash Sharma of Yavatmal explains his philosophy of respect for Mother Earth)

I met Subhash Sharma recently when every newspaper was writing about farmers' suicides and parched farmlands in Vidarbha. He says: "We have lost the respect for Mother Earth, hence gets cursed." His is the only island of hope and happiness with green acres spread with no harvest loss even when the region is reeling under severe a drought. The reason? A new indigenous technique of water conservation and recognizing that beyond limit humans do not need much to store. Hence his first harvest is for the ants and insects that people his land. He always allows the "moong" crop to be "wasted" so that earthworms, ants and millions of other life forms which thrive on "moong" can have a full meal.

(Ant houses on Subhash's land are respected)

He has dug hundreds of staggered pits along the boundaries of his farmland that work as water reservoirs for crops. That's the main "secret" of never having his land parched even in a bad season. He has about 50 farm labourers working on his land and every year after Baisakhi, he takes them along with their children for a pilgrimage. This year the count was 80, including all family members of the labourers. All at his own cost. Last year they went to Mata Vaishno Devi. This year was the turn of Dwarka and Somnath.

(Green Acres of happiness in Subhash's farms in times of drought elsewhere)

That's Bharat. And that's a lifestyle perhaps Manmohan Singh was thinking of when he awarded Gautam Bhai.

And now a few words about Devaji Bhai Tofa.

I was fortunate enough to hand over the coveted Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Award to him, though frankly I felt too small and dwarved listening to his achievements and seeing his humility.

He is working against the government.

He believes wherever the government has interfered the people have been belittled.

And he makes sense.

He showed it in his area of influence.

He works in the Naxal-infested area of Gadhchiroli, in a Gond village Mendha-Lekha, in Dhanora Tehsil of Maharashtra. He asks: "You people say that in our villages, it is our government. Then whose governments are the ones in Delhi and Bombay?" The workers had no answer and the old man then told them, "The governments in Delhi and Bombay are ours because we elect them. But in our villages, we do not have a government. We are the government."

Most of the development work in his village has been undertaken and executed by Gond tribals.

And their happiness index has increased.

Is this the lifestyle Manmohan Singh tried to support. Really?




Ramesh said...