North East India has a certain calling for me. My first tryst with it happened in Nov 2009, when I ventured into Eastern Arunachal Pradesh, the district of Lower Dibang Valley. Since then I have been to NE 3 more times, to Assam, Meghalaya and Arunachal again.
Each visit to Arunachal, has been fascinating in its own way. If you love nature, there’s plenty of it, in its pure raw form. You have the mighty Brahmaputra cutting through the towering Himalayas. The bio diversity is amazing. It is said that 80% of the Forests of Arunachal are untouched by humans yet.
If you are into Anthropology and Social Sciences, Arunachal is an unending library. Here, every hill has its own unique tribal culture, which is still vibrant and alive. This has been the most fascinating aspect of Arunachal for me. It is just 30 years since they started developing contact with the rest of India, so the first school educated generation has now come out. Mass media has reached every home which has brought the world to their living rooms. Consequently, Arunachal is going through a rapid transformation. Some of the age old traditions are being lost, some are being adapted to the modern lifestyle etc. With each elder passing away, lot of ancient wisdom is being lost. This is because the tribal culture follows the oral tradition, there is no written knowledge. In fact there is no script for their languages.
There is an urgent need to understand, preserve and promote the native traditions. It is in this context that ICCS (International Center for Cultural Studies http://www.iccs.org) initiated a project called RIWATCH (Research Institute for World’s Ancient Traditions Cultures and Heritage http://www.riwatch.org) in the tribal belt of Arunachal.
Along with this, Arunachal shares our Nation’s sensitive borders with our aggressive neighbor China. This land has seen the 1962 war with China. China now claims Arunachal to be it’s part. This adds a political dimension to the story.
The stories Arunachal are unending and I am said that the attention span of readers is less than 5 minutes. So I keep this post short and leave you with a curiosity to know more :)
Aamir Khan made his debut on the small screen recently with Satyamev Jayate, a TV series through which aims to sensitize people on various social issues in India. Interestingly the first issue taken up was Female Foeticide. It happened to coincide with Mother’s day, celebrated on May 8th this year.
Looking at the startling statistics presented in the program, one wonders why female foeticide is on the rise in India. The Hindu tradition is the only ancient tradition left on this planet which worships the feminine as divine. How can one worship the feminine as divine and at the same time look down upon its human manifestation? This contradiction is glaring. Here is my attempt to understand this from an socio-economic angle.
When survival becomes important, the masculine becomes dominant. Once survival is taken care of and the society wants to flower, the feminine aspect gains prominence. It is analogous to a tree which first fights for survival by growing big and strong roots and then bears flowers and fruits. In societal terms, Masculine represents economic growth and political expansion, and Feminine represents the subtler aspects of arts, music, research, spirituality etc.
Historically, India was under foreign rule for more than 1000 years. The political, social and economic subjugation made survival a key concern. Naturally the feminine factor diminished in society. One can see this in the limited scientific achievements, spiritual literature, artists etc from the 18th century onward, compared to the period before 1000 CE. The females in society also took a back seat. Recently, although we have overcome the foreign rule, we are now struggling for economic growth. It is a different struggle for survival, which both the rich and poor are fighting for. Each have a definition of survival, for the poor it could be 2 square meals a day, for the rich it is getting more expensive toys. Once again the feminine is pushed to the background. Today even the female has to give up the feminine to become dominant. So, though we have a lot of female CEOs and political leaders, they had to suppress the feminine aspect to reach where they did.
Bringing the feminine back to the center stage is important. Else all our efforts are a waste. If the roots hold the tree strong, the flowers add beauty to it. In fact, the very purpose of the roots is to bring about the flowers and the fruits. The feminine is about enjoying the finer aspects of life and not getting more and more – else life is an endless struggle for more and more.
Yesterday I had the fortune of watching a free screening of ‘The Artist‘ at a French training institute in the city, the only screening in Hyderabad. It is the highest awarded French movie in history winning the several awards in all film festivals including the Best Movie, Best Director and Best Actor award at the Academy Awards 2012.
I have always found European cinema to be very captivating. It doesn’t have the melodrama of Bollywood or the extravagance of Hollywood, yet is very charming. The plot lines are simple, the characters are few and the special effects non existent. The focus is on involving the viewer in the life of the characters on the screen.
The Artist is another classic from the same genre. It is a silent film, shot in Black and White. The film takes us back to the era of the silent movies of the 1920s. It recreates the magic of the movies of that era. It is the story of silent movie star who refuses to accept the new era of talking movies. His cynical ego destroys his life. On the other hand, on of his female fans makes it big by riding the new wave of talking movies. The two lives, one fading and one rising, meet in interesting ways.
The movie is engrossing and the acting brilliant and deserves every award it got. Don’t ignore this movie, because it is silent and shot in black and white. Without sound and color, it makes you laugh and cry at the same time. It is a tribute to the silent movies and a must-watch this year.
Hu Shih, (1891-1962), Chinese philosopher once said: ‘India conquered and dominated China culturally for two thousand years without ever having to send a single soldier across her border‘.
I got to see a glimpse of this soft power of India during my recent visit to Sarnath – the Birthplace of Buddhism. People from all over the world arrive here to pay homage to Gautama the Buddha. This was the place where Buddha gave his first sermon after attaining enlightenment.
Sarnath is about 13 Kms from Benares. The city of Benares has pathetic public infrastructure, totally ignored by the successive Governments. It is the oldest living city in the World, and it hasn’t got the attention it deserves. There is little attempt to preserve the cultural heritage. The road to Sarnath is broken, with illegal encroachments all over. While the Japanese Govt has offered to preserve and promote the ancient monuments at Sarnath, the State Govt has shown little will.
Swami Vivekananda said more than 100 years back, that Spirituality is the reason for India’s existence and it’s contribution to the World: ‘Touch him on spirituality, on religion, on God, on the soul, on the Infinite, on spiritual freedom, and I assure you, the lowest peasant in India is better informed on these subjects than many a so-called philosopher in other lands… We have yet something to teach to the world. This the very reason, the raison d’être, that this nation has lived on, in spite of hundreds of years of persecution, in spite of nearly a thousand years of foreign rule and foreign oppression. This nation still lives; the raison d’être is, it still holds to God, to the treasure house of religion and spirituality.‘
Unfortunately we have ignored the powerhouses of Spirituality in India, places like Benares and Sarnath are just an example of that.
Several spiritual Gurus from India have spread the message of spirituality around the world, starting from Swami Vivekananda, Paramahamsa Yogananda, Osho, J Krishnamurthy, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Mata Amritanandamayi, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, Baba Ramdev etc, who have millions of followers world wide and continue to grow each day.
We have something the world needs today more than ever before. This is our soft power. We need to recognize it and wield it in the right way.
‘In religion, India is the only millionaire – the One land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for all the shows of all the rest of the globe combined‘ – Mark Twain
North East India is cut away from the mainland India, both geographically and emotionally. It is connected to India through the narrow Siliguri Corridor, which is about 30Kms wide. Media ignores this region and so does most of India. We have little knowledge of their culture, their language, their food, their way of worship etc.
I had the fortune of visiting this pristine land twice in the last 2 years. Here is an account of one service project I came across in my last visit to Assam – Arogya Mitro run by Sewa Bharati Purvanchal
North East India is a difficult mountainous terrain. Many Govt facilities have not reached the people living in remote pockets in the Hills all over North East. This is due to the terrain, the insurgency and of course rampant corruption. Several people die of simple health ailments due to lack of basic medical support.
Realizing the need to provide basic health care to the remotest villages, Sewa Bharati has trained 5740 community health workers (Arogya Mitro) in the past 13 years (since 1998). Each Arogya Mitro has a minimum 10th pass educational qualification, is trained by Sewa Bharati on basic Health care which includes Homeopathy medicine, Yoga, Exercise, Stethoscope and BP apparatus usage etc. He then goes back to his village and caters to the primary health needs of his community on a voluntary basis.
Homeopathy medicine was chosen as it is (1) Cheap (2) has no side effects and (3) symptom based. Each year about 10lakh patients are served through this program. Most of the work is currently in villages of Assam. The target is to expand to 10,000 villages in next 3 years.
North East India is an enchanting place, beautiful and tranquil and yet torn apart by insurgency, forcible conversions, illegal immigration and corruption. We have not seen India, until we see the North East and its little known Health Workers – the Arogya Mitros!
Much has been said about India’s demographic dividend. 66% of the country is under the age of 35 and the median age of India is 22yrs. As a result our economy has potential to grow faster than any other country including China. We will hold this advantage for the next 2 decades. Can we really benefit from this demographic advantage?
A young population is just the raw material. Unless we have systems to nurture the raw material into a quality finished product, there is no value in it. Most important is the educational system. We need to develop our educational system from bottom to top or we will miss this opportunity.
The state of Andhra Pradesh is a case in point. There are 500 engineering colleges producing about 1.5 Lakh engineers each year. Less than 20% of these engineers are employable and less than 10% are placed immediately after graduation. The rest form the tsunami which hits Ameerpet, a locality in Hyderabad which hosts hundreds of training institutes to train these engineers to find jobs.
Cashing in on the students graduating from the pathetic education system, an entire industry has spawned in Ameerpet where students from all over the country come to get trained on various courses, shelling out Rs 60k – Rs 1.5L for each course. It is like a treadmill where you feel you are getting somewhere and yet get nowhere. Several years pass. Meanwhile agents are paid to get an interview, experience certificates are faked, HRs in companies are paid kickbacks etc. All this for a job in the IT sector, it is just mind boggling. Frustration of an IT job and the increasing suicides of IT employees is a story for another day. As the famous quotation goes: ‘The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat’.
So what is the recourse, while we wait for the education system to improve and the industry to offer more jobs? Entrepreneurship. Combining the private and public sectors, India can offer jobs to only 7% of its population. It has always been like that. What this generation needs to see is that most of India is self employed, right from the farmer to the street side vendors. India has always been a country with a high entrepreneurial spirit. Unfortunately the IT glitter has blinded the youth and misled most of them.
It is time this generation steps down from the Ameerpet treadmill and looks in the direction of entrepreneurship. There are several options and nothing beats the satisfaction of making it big on your own. Work hard, have fun, make history!
About a month back, I was in Delhi to start the Youth For Seva Delhi Chapter and I got to use the famed Delhi Metro service. I used it extensively for the 4 days I was there and made some observations which I thought I should share with others.
I have used metro services in Europe and USA, and I was always fascinated by their punctuality, maintenance and of course the civic sense of the passengers. I always wondered if such a service can ever enter India. Unlike the homogeneity we see in the west, we deal with a much bigger and diverse population base. Designing a metro service for India would need to consider the different economic backgrounds of the passengers, diverse language backgrounds, cultural issues, security issues etc. I was pleased to see that the Metro service was carefully designed keeping all this in mind.
Trains operate at a frequency of 3 to 4.5 minutes between 6:00 and 23:00. Trains operating within the network typically travel at speeds below 80 km/h, and stop about 20 seconds at each station. Automated station announcements are recorded in Hindi and English. Many stations have services such as ATMs, food outlets, cafés and convenience stores. Eating, drinking, smoking, and chewing of gum are prohibited in the entire system. The first coach of every train is reserved for women. About 5,200 CCTV cameras have been installed, which cover every nook and corner of each Metro station.
Tickets are very reasonably priced. A single journey costs between Rs 8 to Rs 30 depending on the travel distance.
The Delhi Metro has won awards for environmentally friendly practices becoming the second metro in the world, after the New York City Subway, to be ISO 14001 certified for environmentally friendly construction.
What makes the Delhi Metro Unique?
Delhi Metro recorded the highest ever ridership figure of 2,066,925 on 20 August 2011. The diversity of the 2 million passengers is anybody’s guess. The apathy towards public infrastructure in India is well known. How does Delhi Metro cater to such diverse clientele and yet maintain the highest standards? There is one key point which I think the master E Sreedharan has achieved in his design of the Delhi Metro: The public feel they own the Metro. They are proud about it. They feel, it is their property not the Government’s. It has been made an integral part of their life. Just like you would not litter your house nor scratch its walls, and respect the inmates, the same behavior is replicated in the Delhi Metro Service. Apna Metro!
I am sure the lessons learned from the Delhi metro can be replicated in other services provided by the Government. By the people, of the people, for the people!