Swami Narasimhananda

“The journal does not focus on circulation. It is perseverant in maintaining high quality,” Editor, Prabuddha Bharata

A monk of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, Swami Narasimhananda is currently the editor of Prabuddha Bharata, an English monthly journal of the social sciences and the humanities, started in 1896 by Swami Vivekananda. He is a visiting faculty in the Department of Sociology at the Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He regularly speaks at institutes of national importance like the IITs and interacts with the youth in various fora. He works in the fields of philosophy, religious studies, Vedanta, and Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Studies. He has edited a volume of Swami Vivekananda’s teachings titled Vivekananda Reader. He writes in Sanskrit, English, Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, and Malayalam.

Prabuddha Bharata or Awakened India, was started in July, 1896 by Swami Vivekananda’s Chennai admirers. The journal has been serving as a meeting ground for science, spirituality, and philosophy since then. Read more about the journal here. As the journal enters its 125th year of publication, we had the pleasure of speaking with the editor.

 

We are stepping into the 125th year of Prabuddha Bharata in publication. How do you look at the journey so far and in what ways has the journal changed over the years?

Prabuddha Bharata has been mirroring the cultural, philosophical, and historical aspects of India keeping the spirit of the name Swami Vivekananda gave to the journal, Prabuddha Bharata or Awakened India. The most important thought currents of the country and their influence on the world have been analysed through the pages of this journal. The journal has kept pace with technology both in the final output and in how the editorial team works. The language has been always current and social issues have been commented upon. The core values of the journal remain the same as they were at the time of its inception.

Prabuddha Bharata March 1897 Front Cover
Prabuddha Bharata March 1897 Front Cover

Has there been any impact of the COVID-19 and lockdowns on the circulation or subscription for the journal? Since Advaita Ashrama already had the journal online, has it helped the publication avoid such hiccups?

The printing and the despatch of some numbers of the journal have been delayed. However, all issues have been uploaded to the Advaita Ashrama website on time. After the lockdown is over the pending issues will be printed and despatched.



The journal has had articles from some of the greatest thinkers of their time, including Swami Vivekananda himself, Sister Nivedita, Carl Jung, Romain Rolland, Sir Jadunath Sarkar, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan and others. Such names must have helped the journal create a benchmark for itself in the initial years. Do you see it that way?

Prabuddha Bharata has always carried great thinkers on its pages. This was not just in the initial years. We remember only the old thinkers because they are taught in history books! Even the current thinkers are published in the journal. The journal did not create a benchmark by publishing great thinkers in the initial years. The journal only publishes insights that are great. Many of the great thinkers became well known much after they were published in the journal.



The journal was in circulation for about 50-51 years of the British rule in India before we got our freedom. I have seen articles ranging from the spiritual development of individuals to economic development of Indian villages in the issues of those times. As such, one cannot help but wonder how the journal became a constant source of inspiration and strength for Indians. We have heard of Gandhiji being a regular subscriber and reader. 

Prabuddha Bharata has always been a platform for voicing innovative ideas and reflecting on ancient Indian heritage. This is done by engaging with the current global thought. Many ideas of social development were printed in the journal during the pre-1947 decades. The journal was never hesitant to question difficult issues of the country.

 

The journal starts with an invocation, a hymn from our scriptures with translation. That seems to have been a conscious design choice from the very beginning. Are there other elements in the journal that have been kept as they were envisaged by the founding editors and Swamiji himself? What parts have remained constant and what have changed?

Focusing on current issues of the country, engaging with various philosophical currents, critiquing various perspectives, presenting Vedantic ideas in a more accessible manner, presenting path-breaking scientific discoveries that intersect with spirituality are some of the themes that have remained constant. The layout of the journal and the language keep on changing with times.

Prabuddha Bharata March 1897 Back Cover
Prabuddha Bharata March 1897 Back Cover

 

Prabuddha Bharata has maintained the highest standards year after year. How do you balance the equation of circulation versus quality? Has the demand for such content diminished or has it only gone up?

The journal does not focus on circulation. It is perseverant in maintaining high quality. There are insightful readers and the online version has seen more and more readers.

 

How difficult it is to be the Editor of a journal that is revered as the gold standard in its domain around the world? What’s your work like? Please take us through a bit of your day as the Editor of Prabuddha Editor.

Unfortunately, the journal is not considered as the gold standard by some groups, who have an agenda to denigrate everything Indian. In spite of this, the journal has been considered an unavoidable read, even by such groups, right from its inception. My work as the editor of Prabuddha Bharata involves identifying writers and publications that are of high quality around the world. Rejecting substandard work by many highly-placed writers, many of whom plagiarise, is almost daily routine! Most of the articles are solicited. Asking publishers for books for review to be sent is another work. And much time goes in reading the latest in culture, philosophy, religion, history, and psychology.

 

What are you reading presently? Who are some of your favourite writers?

I am reading several books now. The life and teachings of Swami Shankarananda in Bengali, the work by Vedanta Desikan titled Paduka Sahasram in Sanskrit, Karman by Giorgio Agamben in English, Budhini by Sara Joseph in Malayalam, Kaval Kottam by S Venkatesan in Tamil, and the plays of Jaishankar Prasad in Hindi. My favourite writers are of course Swami Vivekananda, Sister Nivedita, Swami Ranganathananda, Swami Ashokananda, Fyodor Dostoevsky, James Joyce, Charles Dickens, Humayun Ahmed, Saratchandra Chattopadhyay, M T Vasudevan Nair, Anisuzzaman, Narendra Kohli, Kalki Krishnamurthy, and Kalidasa.

 

What advice would you give to writers who aspire to get published in Prabuddha Bharata?

Focus on an area of expertise and develop your knowledge and insights in that area, and write regularly. Post all your writings on the web and if you are really good, Prabuddha Bharata will reach you even before you send your writing to the journal!

 

You can subscribe to the journal here – Subscribe

Amar Gautam-Image interview with TheSeer

What, Why, and How CEOs Read – Amar Gautam

Amar Gautam is the CEO of HyperLinq Inc. HyperLinq brings institutional-grade software with superior technology for cryptocurrencies traders. Their desktop app, HyperTrader, makes price discovery, technical analysis, trade, arbitrage, and portfolio management easy. Their mobile app, HyperFolio, is a simplified portfolio manager for cryptocurrencies and digital assets.

We spoke with Amar with questions on his reading lists, favourite books and more.

What’s the book you’re reading at present? Tell us what the book is all about.

I just finished reading Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss. Tim has done an excellent job of creating a collection of interviews of very successful people in their respective fields. These interviews are very insightful and give you an inside look into the lives of these leaders. The answers to straightforward questions Tim asks each of these personalities give you tons of life tips.

 
Physical books, Kindle or just your mobile device – where do you spend most of your reading time?

I like physical books, perhaps because that is how it was when I was a kid. Reading on Kindle or Mobile devices is very uncomfortable for me. But in the interest of saving trees, I am now inclined to start reading books on Kindle. I am currently reading a few books on my wife’s Kindle, and it looks like I might get used to.

 
How many books do you read in a year on an average?

It is hard to estimate as it depends on a lot of things. I used to read at least 2 books a month, but now my time is split between family and the company. it becomes increasingly difficult to grab a book and sit down. I still read but in parts. So given that, I read about 12-15 books a year or so.

 
Who are your favourite authors?

I have many. Not in any particular order – Ruskin Bond, J. K. Rowling, Tim Ferris, Malcolm Gladwell, Jhumpa Lahiri, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, Munshi Premchand, Emily Dickinson, R K Narayan, Rabindranath Tagore, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, Amish Tripathi.

 
A book you wish you had written.

First of all, I am not much of a writer, so it is out of the question that I would ever write a book. But hypothetically considering I had written a book, I wish to have written Coincidence by David Ambrose. I read this book back in 2001. I say this because it is an intriguing book that has a twisted plot but an abysmal ending. I would have had a very different closing if I had written this book. Regardless, it is a good read.

 
How does reading help you?

Not many people realize that I am an introvert. It is hard for me to start a conversation, and so most of the time, I am just by myself. I had very few friends when I was a kid. When I started reading, my father gifted me with a book and wrote on the cover – “Books are your best friend”. Since then, I read books, and I feel like being part of a conversation and exchange of ideas which I do not have in the physical world. I feel like myself, and it gives me a lot of peace.

 
From all the literary characters you have read, whom do you relate to most and why?

It is hard to say, as I do not read too many fictions or biographies. But if I still have to answer this question anyway, it would be Harry Potter. I am very much like how he thinks and some aspects of his personality match mine.

 
Are you waiting for any book to be made into a movie? Any favourite film adaptation from the past?

I personally do not like books turned into movies because in most cases, it does not do any justice. But there are some books made into beautiful films such as Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and A Beautiful Mind.

I do not read much fiction or biography; there is nothing in my mind as of now, which I would like to see as a movie.

 
What’s your favourite time of the day for reading?

Very early morning, like 4 am. I am an early morning person. I like reading books when it is quiet and peaceful.

 
Suggest a book that every business leader should read.

Design a Better Business: New Tools, Skills, and Mindset for Strategy and Innovation by Patrick Van Der Pijl, Justin Lokitz, Lisa Kay Solomon, Erik van der Pluijm, Maarten van Lieshout.

Dr. Nonita Mittal - Interview with The Seer

In Conversation with a COVID-19 Warrior and Survivor

Dr. Nonita Mittal pursued her medical education from Armed Forces Medical College in Pune, India. After graduation, she worked as a research scholar with the pediatric hematology-oncology team at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh for a year. She was involved in development of a decision aid website for patients and caregivers with Sickle Cell Disease. She went on to pursue residency in general pediatrics at SUNY Downstate Health University Center in Brooklyn, New York. 

Brooklyn was one of the worst affected areas by COVID-19 pandemic. The positive test rates for COVID-19 in central Brooklyn have averaged from 63%-78% with a disproportionately higher mortality rate amongst its population as per preliminary data from NY DOH. Dr. Nonita Mittal is currently in her final year of residency and was closely involved in taking care of COVID-19 patients in this area. She got infected with COVID-19 while taking care of one of such patients early in the epidemic and recovered from it successfully. We spoke with her about her time during self-quarantine, her work, and other matters related to COVID-19 with twin intentions of expressing our gratitude to her and making our readers more aware.

DisclaimerPlease note that the medical details discussed in this interview are not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

 
Healthcare professionals face a bigger risk of getting infected by COVID-19 because they are active on duty while many of us can work from home. We are so relieved to hear that you have recovered from COVID-19. We would like to hear from you some details of your own journey to recovery. 

For the first seven days, I mainly had severe headaches and sore throat that evolved into fever and chest congestion. I took Tylenol round the clock for fever and muscle aches. For my sore throat and congestion, I drank lots of water with hot lemon ginger tea 3-4 times a day. On the 8th day, I started having difficulty breathing. I was in touch with the physician over the phone who recommended monitoring oxygen saturation using a portable pulse oximeter and albuterol inhalation every 4 hours. I was instructed to come to the emergency if my saturations dropped below 92% or my difficulty while breathing was not relieved even with the albuterol. Thankfully, I responded well, and by day 10 most of my symptoms resolved. I monitored my temperature closely throughout, and once I stopped having fevers, I returned back to work. COVID testing at the time was only approved for hospitalized patients, and hence, I was not able to get it.

 

You are back to work. When this disease is evoking such great fears and shock in even unaffected people, what makes you go back to work after having seen it so closely?

Being affected from COVID-19 made me realize how scary it can be to go through something you have no clue about. It actually strengthened my resolve to go back to work and help those inflicted from COVID-19 as much as I could. In addition, when I was quarantined, my colleagues were covering my shifts and putting their lives at risk, so it was only fair that as soon as I recovered, I did the same for them. I became a physician to help those in need and now when the situation demands it, I felt I had to step up to my cause. 

 

This is a disease that is not yet properly understood by people, and perhaps statistics is the last thing a patient wants to understand. The emotions must be running high. So, what are the questions patients are asking their doctors?

Most of the patients and their families want to know about treatment options. There is a lot of curiosity regarding the effectiveness of Hydroxychloroquine and Remdesevir. There are no randomized clinical trials to prove their efficacy, however, the prelim data from certain institutes shows Remdesevir to be promising. Patients do ask regarding outcomes, but the course of COVID is so variable that it is hard to predict the outcome in any one. The only thing we can say with surety is that patients with comorbid conditions like obesity, kidney disease, or diabetes have worse outcomes. 

 

This, of course, is bringing mental trauma to patients and family members alike. What are the steps being taken by medical authorities and governments in the US to provide adequate support to the affected. Is there anything specific you would like to mention?

The government support has been very slow and inadequate. Center and state have been giving mixed messages which makes it difficult for people to follow the quarantine guidelines. In a pandemic, it is vital to build the trust between the leader and the people, and the leader has to walk the walk too. 

At the medical level, despite all the chaos, the healthcare teams have been trying to update the families with the daily progress. Many people who tested positive for COVID antibodies are donating convalescent plasma. Steps have been taken to provide telehealth and remote pastor services for those affected. Many local philanthropic organisations like World Health Kitchen have risen to the occasion to provide food for everyone working at the hospital. And there have been many anonymous donations for PPE for the healthcare worker and family members alike.  

 

How are you protecting your family during the present crisis? What are the precautions or steps you are taking to see that the family members remain untouched by the disease? Also, how are they responding to your decision to go back to work after recovering?

Me and family make sure that we practice social distancing and frequent hand washing. We have also designated a dirty area and clean area at home. Every item from outside is first placed in the dirty area, and only brought inside after being sanitized with bleach/alcohol wipes. After returning from the hospital, I immediately take shower, wash my clothes, and sanitize any article that I carried with me. Wearing a mask is mandatory in New York now, and we abide by it. 

I stay with my husband. Luckily, I don’t  have anyone vulnerable staying with me like our parents or elderly, so I can get by without quarantine at home. My parents and in-laws are in India, so they were worried about me going back to work which is understandable. My husband refused to leave me alone when I got COVID, and he ended up getting it too. So, he has been very supportive of me going back to work as we both agree that it is our responsibility to help others who are dealing with it. 

 

What are a few misconceptions you have come across about this disease through the course of your work with patients? 

We are still learning about the disease ourselves. Some of the few misconceptions are that this disease only affects the old and is limited to lungs, Physicians across US agree that COVID is a systemic disease. Patients have an increased tendency to form clots. These clots can affect any organ of the body including kidney, heart, nervous system or intestines. Both young and old have died due to this disease, and it is hard to say at this point what is the exact cause of the death in these patients. We will have to wait for the results of data analysis across the institutes to get some of these answers. Also, there is no miracle drug and if you do not follow social distancing you will get sick no matter how healthy you are. Hence, it is very important that emphasis is laid on prevention rather than cure.

 

There are already groups on the street demanding the resumption of business as usual. How does it affect the battle against this pandemic and does it hit your morale?

These groups have a good reason to protest. The lockdown has hurt the economy terribly and some groups are affected more than the others. The economic battle is part of the battle against the pandemic and does not affect my morale. However, it does signify lack of awareness regarding the seriousness of this disease. It will be hard to find the right balance between preserving health versus economy, but it is also an opportunity for everyone to come together and support each other to handle this situation in the best possible way.

 

There is news of discrimination against the medical professionals in several countries. India has already introduced an ordinance to prevent such discrimination and violence against the medical staff. Are you seeing such things happening in the US?

Yes, I have witnessed such instances personally too, although not at the same scale as in India. Once in a while a cab driver may refuse to pick you up from hospital or someone in the building may accuse you of putting others at risk by bringing all the bugs from hospital. But mostly, the experience has been appreciative towards the healthcare workers, and everyone has tried to help in whatever way they can. 

 

This pandemic has caught most of the countries unaware. Do you think we are going to be better prepared in the future, if such a thing happens again? What changes have you noticed in the medical fraternity’s own approaches and methods before and after?

Yes, definitely. The medical fraternity is more prepared to handle such crises in future. The resources and staff have been allocated to deal with any surges that may happen in the future. The hospital administrators communicate with the staff on a daily basis to educate regarding COVID management strategies, new developments, and dispel any false information. More funding is being diverted to public health initiatives and research pertaining to understanding and treating COVID-19.

 

What are you looking forward to most once the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us?

Of course, I am looking forward to enjoying the outdoors like I used to before. But this pandemic has also made me appreciate all the little things that I took granted for earlier. I make an effort to keep in touch with my friends and family, and I have learnt to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. So, once this pandemic is behind us, I hope all of us will not forget the precious lessons that it taught us, and bring a change in the way we see and live our lives. I thank God daily for what I have, and intend to live my life with gratitude in years to come. 

“I think I’m reflected in bits in several characters” – Rehana Munir

Rehana Munir ran a bookshop in Bombay in the mid 2000s, a few years after graduating with top honours in English literature from St. Xavier’s College. An independent writer on culture and lifestyle, she has a weekly humour column in HT Brunch, and a cinema column in Arts Illustrated magazine. She is also an occasional copywriter. Rehana lives in Bombay among food-obsessed family and friends. She is a local expert on migraines, 1990s nostalgia and Old Monk. We wrote about her debut novel Paper Moon here and had a little chat over her book and writings.

 

What is the most satisfying part of writing ‘Paper Moon’ for you?

The sense of having translated an actual experience into a work of fiction. Of crafting Fiza’s coming-of-age story out of my memories, but more importantly, my imagination.

 

What does it feel like when you finally finish writing a book?

An overpowering urge to share it with the world! At least that was how it was with my debut novel.

 

How much of yourself is in the characters you write about?

From personality traits to philosophical leanings, I think I’m reflected in bits in several characters. But more than them being literary stand-ins for me, I think I’m in dialogue with them.

 

Did you read all the books and authors who find a mention in ‘Paper Moon’?

One of the pleasures of writing the book was to squeeze in my favourite authors and their works. But there are way too many references, and not all of them appeal to me. They were names that suited the narrative.

 

How much research and travel did Paper Moon take?

A lot of time travel, since the book takes place in the early 2000s. I did visit some of the haunts that the book mentions, but mostly to check up on a name or a detail. A few of the pillars of the book still hold up my life in Bombay. As for the bits in London and Edinburgh, they too were etched in my mind but needed some research for reasons of accuracy.

 

How does it feel to have gone from a reader to bookstore owner to an award-winning author? 

Very fortunate. (Though, unlike Fiza in the book, I ran a bookshop but did not own it. It belonged to a friend of my father’s.) There’s so much to learn. As a bookseller, I largely interacted with book distributors. As a writer, I’m learning about the publishing industry. Paper Moon seems like such a quaint world in the era of digital marketing.

 

Who is your first reader?

My two sisters, Kausar and Mariam.

 

Did you have a “When I become a writer, I will…” list?

Not really, but one thing comes to mind, now that you’ve asked the question: Not to write prescriptive lists for other writers.

 

Is there going to be a second part to ‘Paper Moon’?

I have been asked this question on a few occasions, which is very encouraging. It’s certainly an exciting idea, a sequel. Or maybe even a prequel.

 

What is the best criticism that you received for ‘Paper Moon’?

One reader likened my book to a jazz progression. I found that analogy to be very satisfying, especially since the book borrows its name from a jazz song.

 

Do you feel pressure that your next book must be better than ‘Paper Moon’, especially after all the love that it’s been receiving?

I’m currently savouring the appreciation from readers. If anything, it’s encouraging me while I work on my next.

 

What are you reading currently?

Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul by Taran Khan. I read it a couple of months ago but I’m already drawn back to it. It’s a deeply thoughtful exploration of a city’s troubled history, through a personal lens. Zadie Smith’s Swing Time is next on my list. I love the energy and optimism in her writing.

 

Interview: Artist Heena Shaikh

Heena Shaikh is an artist hailing from the western region of the country, pursuing the art of painting abstracts on her canvas. Having met her personally and seeing her works, I noticed a discreet charm and passion in her voice, which makes her and her journey astounding to listen, and hopefully for you to read. 

 

Tell me about your journey, how and when you began? 

As a kid, I and my family used to stay in a community where we used to celebrate all the festivals. These festivals had the circulation of images of gods and goddesses in the form of calendars or posters, this was fascinating to me and I used to copy-paint these images. And this is how I started, and while I have tried other forms of art, I have always been most invested in paintings. 

I studied fine arts from Bharti Vidyapeeth, Pune and filled my form for the college through the 300 rupees that I won in a Mehendi (Henna plant) competition during the Ganesh Utsav festival in our locality. My parents were never supportive of my choice of arts as a career. They believed that God or Allah is the biggest creator and artist, and we humans hold no right to create or profess art, and thus, being an artist is considered shameful and wrong by them. But, I wanted to be an artist and could do it because of the bunch of supportive teachers that I always had, and I am grateful to them. Whether it was during school or college, it was because of their faith in me, that I could develop the confidence to follow my dream of becoming an artist. 

 

You started as a realist artist, then how did you reach to now painting abstract?

Because I started painting at a very young age, so I had sort of mastered the realist and copy painting, and then later I shifted to landscapes, understating and painting the nature around me. This helped me master the two dimensional and three dimensional methods of painting. And to learn more and gain more knowledge, I would spend most of my time with older people or with people, who could guide me, help me improve and provide more knowledge for my growth. And during my trial and error of external learnings, somebody asked me a question ‘Who are you? Your name has been given to you by your parents, but as a person and as someone who is experiencing world through a varying lens, Who Are You?’ and that stuck with me throughout. And then when I started to create my own self or my experiences it came out as abstraction and thus, began my journey as an abstract painter. 

 

What are the challenges that you have faced and still face in the profession?

My gender and my faith have been the source of the challenges that I have faced, and this is very unfortunate. I have never been taught to discriminate, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been discriminated against. A lot of people have asked me wrong favours because I am a woman and that does affect my approaches and even the numbers of offers I am made. I haven’t sold any painting yet, but I have done many commercial works like murals or portraits, etc.  Currently, the market itself is in an all time low, and it is tough out there.

Right now I am pursuing Masters in Fine Arts in Mumbai University, and am also working. This does get tough. The life here is too fast and is still trying to cope up with the pace. And in the past month I had to get a surgery done for my elder brother and his son who were both suffering from brain haemorrhage and nerve damage. Since my time was distributed everywhere, I couldn’t gather enough money through my work so I even had to ask from strangers for money in the form of donation.  

Things are better now and I hope the conditions will improve. 

 

Have you tried selling your art online?

No, not yet. I do not trust the marketers online and neither am I aware much. So, I haven’t tried that platform.

 

Tell me about any of your work.

When I first moved to Mumbai, it was the peak of monsoon and I was stranded in heavy rains. During the time, all I could notice was the kai (algae) on the tall buildings of the city. They had accumulated, over perhaps years or months at various buildings and that was astonishing to me. And that was my first painting that I made when I first got to Mumbai. The kai gave me a weird sense of the place, and that is what I put on my canvas, in abstraction. 

 

Which Artist has been your inspiration? 

While studying, I have been fascinated by the story and growth of Artist M.F Husain. I think a bit of his influence has been a part of my journey as a student. But I personally believe that one must know about the others, but never follow them. As artists or as creators we must know ourselves and move as and how we want to.

 

Where do you see yourself heading, in the future?

I want to find myself, have varying experiences and bring them out on the canvas. I have this innate desire to create my own identity as an artist. Post my Masters, I would like to represent my beliefs and my good and bad days on the paper and hopefully everyone will appreciate how far I have come. 

 

 

 

What Indian CEOs/Founders are Reading – Arun Jagannathan

Arun Jagannathan is the founder of CrackVerbal (GMAT / GRE coaching for MBA / MS) and English for India (Corporate English training programs). At CrackVerbal, he is responsible for academics (content & delivery), marketing, and new product development. “English for India” is his second entrepreneurial venture, in which he helps businesses meet their business outcome through clear and effective communication. When he is not at work, Arun likes to read about his twin passion: digital marketing and productivity. He also mentors some startups on pro bono basis. As part of our new initiative to map the reading habits of Indian business leaders, The Seer spoke with him about his reading rites and more.

 

What’s the book you’re reading at present. Tell us what the book is all about without giving out any spoilers.

The book I am reading right now is sort of nerdy. It’s Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. You might wonder: why would an English teacher be reading this book. You know that English is the primary form of communication in today’s world. And I believe that it is vital that you have an in-depth understanding of the language–more so when you are a teacher.

 

Physical books, Kindle or just your mobile device – where do you spend most of your reading time?

I want to add Audible to the list. You know, I noticed something funny about my reading! I actually use multiple platforms/sources. On Audible, I probably hear a book when I am working out, and then when I’m in the car, I look something up to read and mark it on my Kindle. Then there are the tangible, physical books. You might ask why books. Sometimes, after a long day, you just want to get away from all your digital devices. Flipping through a book is a different kind of pleasure.

 

How many books do you read in a year on an average?

Now I really wish I could say a 100 books because I come across like I have this hack on how to read multiple books (laughs). But I get to read about 12 to 15 books. I am very conscious of the kind of books I read. So I use the Blinkist App, where I can read the premise of a book, and only if it appeals to me do I go out and get it. I also buy books if they come highly recommended by my friends. A friend who works at Amazon recommended this book I am reading right now. He said, at Amazon, English language skills are so important that if you can’t express yourself with clarity, after a point, you are probably not going to be promoted.

 

Who are your favourite authors?

Malcolm Gladwell and Dan Ariely come to mind. If I were to pick one, I’d go with Dan. He is probably my favourite.

 

A book you wish you had written.

I definitely wish that I had written some of Gladwell’s books! For example, Blink and Outliers. I love reading them. What interested me most about these books was how the author compiles all this data, analyses them and gives meaningful insights about the world around us.

 

How does reading help you?

I don’t read cover to cover anymore. I pick up a book, and I usually read it in bits and pieces. Whenever I find a compelling part, I reflect on it to see if there is anything that could be done with it – if I can implement it in my business or day-to-day life.

 

From all the literary characters you have read, whom do you relate to most and why?

Okay, I have got some bad news for you (laughs). I don’t read fiction. I usually read non-fiction! I tend to read books on language, business, etc.

 

Are you waiting for any book to be made into a movie? Any favourite film adaptation from the past?

You know, when you think about the kind of books that I read, you probably don’t want to see a movie based on it (laughs). But I also read biographies. Then again, not like ‘Super 30’ or anything jingoistic. I prefer movies that portray the truth about a person. A good example of this is ‘Steve Jobs.’ It showed Steve Jobs in all his complexity, you know–as a visionary, but also revealing his slightly eccentric side.

 

What’s your favourite time of the day for reading?

To be honest, any time of the day. But, I would probably pick sometime in the evening or at night because I’m just more relaxed at that point.

 

Suggest a book that every business leader should read.

This is a book that came out a very long time ago. It’s a short book, and you can just read it in one go. The book is called Who Moved My Cheese. The book is very simple, but it’s a metaphor for something a lot larger. It says you have to keep moving and what you did yesterday may not be good enough for today.

 

Do you write? Where can we read your writings?

You can read a couple of articles that I wrote on LinkedIn –
Executive MBA New Year Resolution
3 Life Lesssons before you seek an MBA

In conversation with Jasmin Waldmann | Part 2


Is Natalie Kofman your own reflection?

Yes.

What brought you to India? Also, you’ve got a lot of Indian things right in your book. How did you manage to do that?

Sportsfit by M.S. Dhoni asked me for my services in early 2012, to come and work with them in India. Developing and training the trainers, bringing up a new system, educating personal trainers and bringing up my own product Pilardio® here.

I agreed and after press release and the opening of Sportsfit, I relocated to India.

I am here since mid 2012 in India. I learned all about the north Indian culture, including the food, music and the typical habits.

I also give cross cultural difference programs for foreigners coming to India or Indians relocating abroad soon. When it comes to writing I have in my team a few Indian writers who support me. When I started writing on Change Me in 2014 I had a lot of interaction about Indian families and cultures with one of my writers. That gave me again a different add-on to know about the culture even deeper.

You’re now equally an ambassador of India to Germany as you are of Germany to India. German writers and philosophers have been taking keen interest in India since long. What do you think is the reason behind that?

That is true. Well, Germany is the land of thinkers, as we know. No wonder that they are interested in the spirituality from the east. And the home of spirituality was/ is India.

Speaking of the book Change Me, what made you do the self help through story when the norm is formulaic instructional approach?

I wanted to create an easy time to read and get guidance from my book. That means if my book would have been non-fiction, it would have been very factual. That would be for some people boring or soon tiring. Specially for people who don’t read frequently.

But everybody loves stories and through stories one learn and make almost automatically use of what was read. So I wrote this book for everybody who wants to change. My readers can enjoy reading and learning out of it, become self-motivate and to take action.

According to the book, it is possible to go inside our mind palace and heal old wounds. However, it may happen that we, in the process, inflict more wounds upon ourselves. Would you suggest a way to avoid that?

If you look inside and touch your wounds it can be healing. Of course it depends on how deep you feel hurt, sad, even numb because of this happening in your past. But if the first (big) step is taken- identify and allow that memory to come up into your consciousness – it is a sign that you can digest it mentally now.

Going then inside, you need to know what to do. Worse case is that you feel again the pain from that time without solving it. Means you simply live (experience) it again.

Going inside does not inflict more wounds. Here I can give you some inside. A way is to see happenings from the past dissociated, means from the point of view as an observer. In that way you see yourself in the past, doing, talking, listening, whatsoever was the painful scenario. And as an observer you look without feeling what you felt at that time. You learn out of this situation. In therapy the therapist would guide you far more in this.

Best is to get some support to make it as less painful as possible and as fast as possible. No need to invent the wheel yourself. It costs unnecessary some energy and power. You can get specialists.

Where do you draw your inspiration from? Do you like any particular self help coach or writer? What are you reading at present?

A lot of my inspiration comes from sheer observations. I sit with a coffee and observe people. Also I get inspired when I interact with a colleague of mine. He is a Life Coach in Germany. My inspiration comes also when I read philosophy and talk with some Coaches from my team.

I am inspired from biographies (last one I watched about Coco Chanel);

When it comes to writers, other coaches, therapists, and inspirational speakers, I have a few great people who I listen to. Like Les Brown, Swami Rama, John Bradshaw.

I usually read 3 – 4 books at the same time. As I am writing on my second book, I read a lot of literature related to nonviolence communication, about family therapy by Virginia Satir and John Bradshaw’s book “Homecoming”. I read some special books again and again. Right now I read Meditation, by Marcus Aurelius and a book from Gretchen Rubins.

The business makes us speak only of success stories. Failure is seldom spoken about. Have you had clients who you couldn’t help in spite of your best efforts? Did they have something in common?

I love that you point this out. The world is full of success, which lead not to the desired outcome. We call it failure. I don’t believe in this word. It demotivates and is simply wrongly used in most of the cases. I call it learning.

I had a client when I was a pretty inexperienced Coach, many years ago. She was a lawyer and wanted to reduce weight. I realized after two months that she wasn’t able to reduce weight as her problem was pathological. So I told her that she needed some other specialist and suggested her psychotherapy.

I learned a lot out of this experience. Mainly that we need to check carefully if we can really help this person or somebody else could help far better. From that day onward, I choose my clients very carefully and tell them to do the same.

‎Amit Malhotra Recognizes and Realizes through a couple of incidents in his life. Let me call them triggers. Did you have such triggers in your life where-from you started to change things for yourself?

I had many triggers/ happenings in my life. My grandmother who mainly raised me, as my mother was hard working, died when I was 12 years old. My father never lived with my mother, grandmother, and elder sister.

Then my mother died when I was 13 years old. I was alone from one day to the other. No proper guidance, no talks, no therapy. I struggled for very long – unnecessarily. To overcome those happenings I needed to find my way out. I started reading books, had behaviour therapy, turned then to a Life Coach and Gestalt and Family Therapist. The latter was the most helpful one. And I learned how amazing those work is for people – sometimes life saving. That was also the reason for me to become then a Life Coach myself.

Amit Malhotra is rich and successful in a conventional world. Was it an intentional device used in the story or was it a compulsion? A lower middle class or a poor Amit Malhotra perhaps couldn’t have afforded a personal coach. Is quality personal coaching the privilege of the rich and mighty?

The character Amit is an accumulation of my clients from the past 10 years. Usually my clients have a specific income and can afford Coaching and Training sessions.

My intention with the book is very simple. If you know you want to change, you need some guidance. And if the barrier is very high (distance and money) it would be a no-go for some people. A book can reach almost everywhere in India and is very much affordable.

Not only rich people need and want to change – actually almost everybody can utilize the services of professional Life Coaching as well as Personal Training.

Easy with a book. At least to start with!

Jasmin Waldmann is an International Life Coach, a Happiness Guru and a Mind and Body & Transformation Expert. She lives and works in Gurugram, India since July 2012. She recently published her first book Change Me through Jaico Publishing House. Bookstalkist spoke with her after reading her book.

Click here to read Bookstalkist’s review of the book Change Me.

Click here to listen to the first part of this interview.

Nationalism, Intellectualism, and Us – Makarand Paranjape

Makarand R. Paranjape, has been the Director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla since August 2018.  Prior to that, he was a Professor of English at JNU, New Delhi. Mr. Paranjape is a scholar, critic, poet, novelist, and columnist. He read English at St. Stephen’s College before getting an MA & PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (USA). He has published over 45 books, 170 academic papers, and 500 newspaper/periodical articles. His recent books include Cultural Politics in Modern India (Routledge, 2016), The Death and Afterlife of Mahatma Gandhi (Penguin Random House, 2015), and Transit Passenger/Passageiro em Transito (University of Sao Paolo, 2016), an Indo-Brazilian book of poems. Makarand is currently a columnist for Swarajya, DNA, and Mail Today. The Seer (formerly Bookstalkist) spoke with him on sidelines of the Bangalore Literature Festival, 2017. 

Tagore’s essays on nationalism are really about the dangers of ideologies and the people who get blinded and brainwashed.

 

 

Going through the works of Swami Vivekananda and then the literature of Tagore, do you think there is a conflict between them when it comes to the idea of nationalism?

593038-rabindranath-tagore

There is no conflict and that is because Swami Vivekananda did not write about nationalism. People aren’t aware of this but he hardly said anything directly on nationalism. He passed away in 1902 and by that time, the national movement had not yet really arrived at a tipping point. Bengal partition took place in 1905 and he passed away before that. He did see himself as a great awakener of the Indian conscience as well as the dormant force of the nation but he never made a lot of remarks about nationalism whereas Tagore really engaged with nationalism. However, even Tagore had a context, the context was the first world war. What people often do not understand is that Tagore’s comments on nationalism were actually a critique of imperialism and he had a different idea of Indian nationalism which he set forth in Swadeshi Samaj, an essay he wrote long before. There, he talks about, like Gandhi did a bit, about self sustaining communities which are able to look after their own needs  without the intervention of the state. One reason that he became a bit cautious about this ideology of nationalism is that during the Swadeshi Movement when Bengal was partitioned, some people think that it was the source of partition of India and that’s where the idea has come from. British wanted to partition India and Bengal was the first experiment. This experiment was done in Bengal and luckily it was also undone because there was a huge uprising  in Bengal. However, during that time, Tagore was disillusioned with the kind of nationalist ideologues or leaders he saw. He found that they were dividing the community’s unity and causing a lot of havoc. He wrote about this in a book called ‘Ghare Baire’  where the whole family gets destroyed because of the intervention of a demagogue. Tagore’s essays on nationalism are really about the dangers of ideologies and the people who get blinded and brainwashed. Then, they lose their humanity, they lose their sensitivity, and they lose their capacity to be human. For Tagore, as a poet, that was a disaster.
Vedata-Sacramento-Swami-Vivekananda-Photo-02

 

In his lecture on nationalism, Tagore mentions the conflict of nations. There is a reckless competition between nations for making profits and it works like a machine and has been successful in robbing humanity from people. So, when it comes to the subject of this whole capitalist idea of making profits for countries and organisations, is he on the same page or closer to Marxism?

I don’t think that he had anything to do with Marxism. Marxism is about collective ownership of land, goods, and of means of production.  It’s against individually owned property. It’s about the proletariat owning all the resources. So, I think it’s an entirely different ideology. If you want to create some kind of connection, you will have to say that in Tagore, we find some sympathy for the poor, for the underdogs, or for the oppressed. But again our Bengali friends don’t like it but Tagore is a very bourgeois writer and this is what exactly a leading Marxist critic whose name is György Lukács who was a Hungarian and at his time, the leading Marxist literary critic, denounced Tagore as being a charlatan, a minor and a sentimental writer. This is because in Tagore’s writing, the revolutionary impulse is viewed with great suspicion. Tagore was quite obedient to authority. Though he was critical of authority, he was not a revolutionary, he was not a Rebel. He didn’t have rebel characters in his novels in good light. They always came out looking really bad and Lukacs catches this. He says, “you know this Tagore, he is a petty bourgeois. He is not at all a progressive writer.” Our Bengali friends often don’t like this because they have deified Tagore. But there’s one thing, speaking about Bengal, Bengalis, and Bengal Renaissance, there is a major difference between the trajectory of Tagore on one hand and that of Vivekananda on the other. That distinction is clear and the reason for that is that while Vivekananda was definitely for pluralism and respecting diversity, he also wanted to make India strong and his idea of virtue was that ‘weakness is sin and strength is life’. So, this emphasis on  empowerment in Vivekananda’s literature is then picked up by people who are also looking for role models for a more muscular nationalism whereas Tagore is meeker and accommodative. The way that Vivekananda then gets picked up by different factions is essentially in the service of this sort of more militant Hindu self-assertion of identity. But what is interesting about Vivekananda is that love him or hate him, as it were, everybody wants to appropriate Vivekananda. Whichever political ideology you represent they all say that we considered Swami Vivekananda a Hero. So, there is something universally acceptable about him which is not true even of Gandhi because a lot of people don’t like Gandhi But go around asking who doesn’t like Vivekananda, you will find hardly anybody, even the Marxist and the communist have tried to appropriate him.

I would like to go to fundamentals here.  We see that currently most of the writers that we read on social media or otherwise, have boxed themselves inside the Right or the Left.  So, according to you, what is Left and what is the Right?

These are misnomers, specially in the Indian context because according to the more classical definition, if you look at the European context, the right authoritarians were the fascists and the left totalitarians were communists and in a way, both are highly avoidable. The experience of Europe has shown us that. So, you have Stalinist totalitarian regime.  In the east, you have Maoist and North Korea and other varieties of these. These  regimes don’t respect freedom, individual rights, liberties, and due process. Freedom is not very important for them. That is one extreme. In the other extreme are so called fascists, the Mussolinis and others who enjoyed power for sometime. Then, Nazis  were actually  nationalist socialists, that’s what the Nazi party called itself.  So, these are varieties of, you might say, the bad guys but after that the rest of the spectrum is broadly democratic in at least western democracies. In the Soviet sphere of influence again, individual rights and liberties were curtailed, there was no economic freedom or competition. That was the left. The right was capitalist. Now, most of the greater Indian intellectuals or thinkers have been telling us that none of this is suitable for us. They are saying that we should find another path and hence, for some time we tried a mixed economy model, then we tried for sometime other more dharmic economic model which may be they are still trying.  Long and short of this is the same thing –  we can’t be out and out capitalists, when making money becomes be all and end all. Capitalism without humanity or on the other hand, command and control of economy completely under the state can’t be our way. That’s why I am saying left and right in that sense have hardly any meaning. But the political configuration has become this – you are  pro current ruling regime or you are not, that is a very big divide. I think, not just social media but India I feel and I would say Hindu society is going through a huge civil war and some of the other communities are watering from the sidelines but they’re going through their own civil war and so the problem in India is not left and right at all. The problem is something different. It’s about two competing narratives. Which one is to capture the national imagination and through that capture and enjoy power, enjoy dominance, enjoy economic benefits is the question today. And that is why the battle is so vicious because so much is at stake and a particular elite which enjoyed  earned and as well as unearned privileges and benefits is now being pushed aside and when you get pushed aside you will fight, you will fight for your turf.

…I were a Muslim, would be a completely idiotic appeal. I would look what are you doing for education.

 

 

In your poem, Tipu’s Fall, have you referred to Tipu Sultan as the first Indian nationalist?

tipu-sultan-bookstalkist

I didn’t say that. That’s not actually what I have said. Tipu Sultan has a divided legacy and his own historical record is deeply divided. He fought against the British and that makes him from a modern standpoint,  anti imperialism but he did not see himself necessarily as an anti imperialism person. He wanted to protect his kingdom, a kingdom which his father had  usurped. So, the thing that we don’t want to understand about Islamic conquerors is that they are basically people who go and invade  areas and through the power, through the weapons, and the armies, they control and then  they rule. Then, they also use Islam as a  legitimating device. They present an ideological justification and the ulema is harnessed to  support them. This is the template and this is followed, we are talking 1790s and this is still followed, look at Bhopal, look at some of the recent examples, a few hundred thousand horsemen come in and invade and then they establish the Darul Islam, whether the population is 100 percent Hindu or 80 percent Hindu or 70 percent Hindu. And certain things are followed. Certain temples will be taken over, Khutpa will be read from there and all such things happen. So, this has happened for hundred times and hence, you can’t deny this either.  So, when the Indian nationalists were looking for some role models against the British, they went back to 1857. It was Savarkar whom the leftists don’t like who called it the first war of Indian independence. It was called the sepoy mutiny otherwise. He said that the British were the enemy, let’s make a common cause against them. This is something very interesting that we don’t know about Savarkar which is that he did not start off as an advocate of Hindutva. His book on 1857 was published in the same year as Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj in 1909. Hindutva comes much later  in the twenties because his thinking had changed and he found that the composite nationalism was not going to work.Finally Gandhi realized this same thing in 1947.  He is conceding that we tried and tried and tried.  So, what I wanted to say is that certain narratives were created to make a common cause against the British and in that process Tipu becomes an anti-imperialist force, that’s how he is taught  in history and elsewhere. The Sword of Tipu came, all this is done because of the state sponsored media. They are funded by the state and they don’t tell you that how many  people were converted, how many temples did he destroy, or what his policies were. Also, like all rulers, he also had to make compromises. He had to make a compromise with the Sringeri Mutt. That is also a fact.  So, there was some arrangements there but at the same time, little south of Sringeri in the Malabar, north of Kerala,  he was  totally vicious because those people went against him. In other words, we have to see these figures in the context of their own times and their own compulsions. We can’t superimpose upon them or project upon them or own problems. Right here in Karnataka, the problem is partly because they want to use Tipu to get the minority votes. So, every year they want to celebrate some Tipu Jayanti which is actually a way of dividing  the  voters into vote banks,  saying look we are doing Tipu Jayanti so the muslims who are at 10% , 12%, or 20% of the constituency, they should vote for us. Why? Because we will do a Tipu Jayanti which to me if I were a muslim, would be a completely idiotic appeal. I would look what are you doing for education. There’s no Muslim  road and Hindu road, no Hindu electricity and Muslim electricity, but yes they will say Hindu schools and Muslim schools. What I am trying to say is that to divert  from the real issues they do this.  So, the moment you have a celebration, the other guys will say but he was a tyrant, he was a murderer, they are also using the same figure divide and not just divide but to appeal to another bunch of people. This is what’s going on.

Should there be no resistance?

My point is these fights are not at all about Tipu. Similarly, left and right is not at all about left and right. These are power struggles between competing claimants to both national and regional power. So, when we think it’s about Tipu we are so misled. And I think this is true of much of the debate that is happening in India today because we are not able to read them symptomatically. They are symptoms of something else. But we get fixated on these issues and then we started debating them.

If I  add to the same vein, a major portion of the history that is probably inconvenient to some people, has not been taught to students or scholars. What I see is that the entire Mughal tyranny has been whitewashed.  I also see that the partition pain has been whitewashed. It’s not there in history textbooks. All they mention is that India and Pakistan were divided in 1947. Do you think such sections of history should make an entry into the text?

Absolutely. We should have many many histories but I’ll tell you what I worry about and why this is again a problem which we don’t properly understand. The debate is not just over with what happened. I wish it was. The debate is what is the official history to be taught. So, again, it’s about mind control. They want to substitute one narrative by another but I am interested in finding the truth. Now why are they doing it once again? Seeing the potential to indoctrinate young people, from school you will be raised on a particular ideology, like they have already done in Pakistan, or like they did in India, everyone was raised on some kind of secular diet. Though I am in favour of corrective history, I am more interested in seeing that the power of indoctrination in schools and colleges is reduced through the plurality of sources. This requires deep thought which is that there are no simple truths in such subjects. However, these subjects are being taught in such a way that only one answer can be right. Because of this, you are going to force people. In other words,  what I am really so concerned about is the attempt by our political establishment to use the coercive powers of the state to influence our populace. Here, they are doing it now by making Kannada compulsory. I don’t think states should make things compulsory or not compulsory, it’s not their business.  And it has become their business because they are taking your money and my money, and deciding how to spend it. And because they are controlling the budgets, they are enforcing their own political ideology on the passive populace.

Imagine what would happen if governments let people decide, let communities decide, and this again this whole issue of one certification, SSLC,  so you’re controlling thousands of people. Why do we do this? Everyone knows this that SSLC doesn’t work, everyone knows this, but well CBSE is marginally better, but if you work for Infosys they will train you because they don’t trust your degree. So, the kind of reform that we need in India and the kind of transformation I am interested in Abhishek is not at this level, at the superficial level at which many of our debates are conducted. I am interested in deep change and for that you need a lot of smart people who really want to go into this and examine. You see the US, there is no central board of certification. Every High School gives its own high school leaving certificate and its own grades, there’s no one centralised system but people figure it out eventually, centralization comes during SAT,  that means if you score, that’s it. So, we should do that and forget these boards what are these boards anyway? That’s one way but they have at least got out of forcing everybody across US to study one textbook. Why not let every school decide?  So, I am all for decentralisation. You can’t  indoctrinate, but here both sides again, both sides want to use the power of state to control others. So, for us, unfortunately power is seen in how you can inconvenience somebody, how you can force your will on someone, not on how you can enable things. Even though so called assertion of the Hindu Right is often seen in terms of bullying or enforcing some notion of theirs on others, in not making many different narratives possible, I don’t blame them entirely  because because they have also been forced into this binary and I think it’s the purpose of intellectuals to  not succumb. I always tell people to resist, you may be drawn into either camp, it’s so much easier to be a camp follower  but at least intellectual shouldn’t function like that. We are not the sheep. I don’t know about the Dharma of the troll because I am not a troll or dharma of a party worker because I am not a party worker but I know a little bit about the dharma  of an intellectual, of an academic, of a writer, and of a citizen. All these dharmas require you to be critically aware, be well informed, be responsible, and to make decisions based on good evidence and not just on the basis of either populist measures or misinformation. Speaking of populism, it’s completely wrong to think that only one side is populist. All sides  are populists. Whenever you appeal to the sentiments of the people, often making them do things that are not there in their self interest including possibly Brexit, that is populism. So, how can you say only right is populist?  No, left is totally populist. Quotas, sops for women, all that is populism. It’s a way to hand out favours from the state. What I have been saying to people is , let’s create a system where you don’t need a quota because there are so many opportunities, hundreds of colleges; anybody can be a doctor. That is something the polity doesn’t want. They want to have a small set of goodies which they will control. You take 5, you take 3, I will take 10. Then, they distribute it. So, they just want to hoard and control the resources. But if you really want to see the potential of a country, let every society decide they need so many doctors and that’s the number they will support and the rest will fall by the wayside. Right now, it is the opposite and in the places you need doctors, you won’t find them. Where are the barefoot doctors? They are all in Bengaluru. Why? Because you make money here.  We have created the worst kind of combination of feudalism and heartless ultra capitalism. No person can get good medical treatment, no poor person can get their rights  and here we are, always speaking in the name of the poor. ‘Oh you are deprived, we are going to give you this!  O you’re underprivileged, take this!’  This is hogwash. So, what I am trying to say is for India to be, forget about India being a great country, I hope we are and we will be, but even to just live up to our potential, there is so much that needs to be done. One of the major changes needed is to get governments to stop interfering in all kinds of stuff.  You look after law and order. You are not here to tell people what to wear, what to eat, how to live their lives, or how to worship! That’s not your business. Your business is to make systems work,  maintain law and order, and develop infrastructure. You and I can’t build roads because they are big projects, but even that we should be able to build. In an ideal society, suppose we are a neighborhood, 20 neighborhoods can come together and make a road going through them. You don’t need some agency. These are deep changes and they can’t be sorted out immediately but here I think, the good news is we are in the process of a  huge churn and in this  churn, the creative energies of our people will be unleashed.

Coming to the question of intellectuals taking sides, intellectual’s being on the payroll of the king, it is a system that was there even in ancient periods of our country but I’ve also heard about examples where such advisors guided kings in the right direction in spite of the the payroll factor. Coming to later years during emergency, Advani made a statement, “..when the journalists were told to bend, they crawled”.  do you think anything has changed in the last few decades?

Things have changed in last 1000 years. You see, these things that we talk about belong to another era. Many of them are only in story books, legends and myths.  We don’t have very good historical records but yes, even if you in more contemporary times, we have seen the role advisor (Madhava Rao) to Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad played. Even in those times, there were a benign set of advisors who were very competent. Sir Visvesvaraya is an example from Karnataka. Sir Mirza Ismail is another example. So, the point is that obviously throughout the ages, the priests and the Kings were always the collaborators. That’s how power was maintained but the domains were well demarcated. However, that should not really worry us. The real point is this – every person needs to understand what their job is,  like today, we had a lovely session here on the Governor of The Reserve Bank. It’s an office which is obviously subordinate to the finance ministry. It’s a government office but it has its dignity. That is the point. How is democracy destroyed? It is destroyed when all these institutions are destroyed and that’s exactly what has happened in the last 60 years. Emergency is the classic case, but the gradual erosion of these institutions was already in place. Now when we come to the intellectuals, intellectuals traditionally and even today in the western world, they are not statists, they should not be statists. They should be independent. Statist intellectuals should be directly hired by the state and they should work on Niti Ayog or other government think-tanks but otherwise, intellectual should be independent. Sad thing is, in post-independence India, intellectual as a class was so degraded that they became either aligned to some foreign mission or foreign network of patronage or they got aligned to the state. They were patronized by the ruling party and very seldom were truly independent. That is true for regional ones as well.

Now, we have to recreate an ecosystem where intellectual competence is recognised, is rewarded, and independence of intellectuals, writers, journalists, thinkers is safeguarded and encouraged. We don’t want an ecosystem where everything is politicised and everybody has to fall in some political camp or the other. This is what happened even in Bangalore Literature Festival. It went through a huge churn because people said it was hijacked and used as a forum for Award Wapasi. So, what I’m trying to say there should be space for not just debate but to some extent dissent and the plurality of views that is supposed to emerge from these spaces.  We have seen that there is a systematic attempt to capture, control, and  infiltrate these spaces through well networked ideologically committed groups. And they work together because in solidarity there is strength. Everything is like match fixing,  everything is like an echo chamber and this we have to change and that is why we are coming back to to the Civil War. It’s very important to participate in this ‘uncivil’ war in a very civil way and take issue based positions and instead of blanket positions. This is for good intellectuals, there will be party intellectuals also, it’s important to maintain that autonomy because it is the autonomy of certain group of people who are sincere that is really Satyagraha. Satyagraha is the insistence on truth. It is not the ‘belonging to a particular political ideology’ at all.

You spoke about the Civil War in the Hindu community itself.

Just to clarify, it’s an uncivil war. In a civil war, people kill each other, so I’m just playing on the word here.

 

hindu-2628776_1920I see three kinds of Hindus right now. One is all for the strengthening and flaunting of muscles, there is another set which says no this is not my Hinduism, my Hinduism is more spiritual,  it is about my soul and introspection,  reflecting and knowing myself,  and then there is one more which is unaffected by this entire debate, they are immersed in their own lives carrying on their daily worship and rituals. Where do you see harmony between these?

This is very interesting. There have been different ways to try and define this. Some people say that there are secret Hindus, for them Hinduism is a private affair. In public sphere, they may be completely secular or non religious but they may also be marxists or scientists, nothing to do with their faith, that’s living like schizophrenics. You live in two worlds. That’s one Hindu. There is another kind of Hindu which is Hindu inside but is afraid to be Hindu outside. They say, ‘No, I am not a Hindu. I am secular’ or ‘I am just spiritual but not Hindu’. Then, there is a third kind of Hindu that says I am Hindu inside and from outside too, I want to be recognised as a Hindu. The third kind of Hindu has become a huge threat to certain other kinds of Hindus. Why? Because this third kind of Hindu, by flagging his identity in the public sphere, has also created the possibility of capture of power which is very threatening. So, this political Hindu is the biggest threat. All the other kinds of Hindus are not an issue. It’s only the political Hindu which everybody is criticising from left, right, and centre for the fear that this this political Hinduism will capture power, will displace all other people. That fear is expressed in the terms of fear of one religion, one language, one god, or one deity. This is what I would call a ‘spoiler’s mentality’. It’s not like look we ruled, let’s give them a chance, they have won. It’s like this, these are different from us. These are like the Nazis, once they takeover, that’s the end of democracy.  This is the kind of argument that was made even for Trump. The losing side never accepted him as the President. Here it’s not as bad. In a sense, Narendra Modi enjoys a widespread support . It’s only the intellectuals who don’t like him. That is partly because nobody cares for them anymore. So, it’s much more complicated than it seems and you’re right, I don’t know how this civil war will be sorted out but I suspect that it may be sorted out if this political party can continue to rule for a certain number of years. Then they are going to, I would like to think, bring in some lasting changes. But it will not end the basic issues which are endemic to Indian democracy – issues of pluralism and  freedom. I think they will just find out another way of saying yes we accept your views but don’t denigrate Hindus or we accept everything but Hindus will be a little bit superior because we are the majority.  So, they will come up with some kind of package which some people may not like. You ask many muslims, under the Congress as well, they did already feel as if they were second class citizens. To be the first class citizens, you had to be secular or you had to go to right colleges, speak good English but then they say they are not muslims at all. So, the problem that we’re going to face is definitely the dominance of certain classes or communities over others. In other words, if you consider a state to be something you want to enjoy, then certain sections seem to have a prior claim on the state and the other communities are already marginalised, and they are used only as vote banks. So, now you’re going to say well there is huge difference between official marginalisation and not so official marginalization, then you can make those arguments, if you like. But you know in any democracy the Demos which means the mob or the numbers will matter. How can you just evaporate the numbers? You evaporate them by saying no no, they are hindus only in name, but they are Lingayats, they are somebody else. That worked for a while, okay, but after a while for the sake of voting they will also come together. Now, they are caught with the same twist that they were trying to catch the other guys with. You create a Sikh vote bank, you create a Dalit vote bank, now, by the same logic, you have got a Hindu vote bank which is majoritarian and if you don’t like it, too bad for you. You’ve got to suffer the consequences, because it’s a logical corollary of exactly what you did for so long.

 

 

makarand-paranjape

After the Kanhaiya Kumar episode, and even before that, people have a certain kind of perception of JNU. Are you a minority at JNU?

Yes, of course I am a minority at JNU.

The book that came out from the JNU, ‘What the nation needs to know’, you look at all the talks there. You will see that I am certainly an exception. There may be two or three talks that are saying slightly different things but mine is in a way most different. So, definitely in that sense, I am in minority there. But JNU is also changing. The administration is now more aligned to the present government and the student unions, of course the left unions have won, but the right students are gradually gaining and who knows, things at JNU may change drastically, and then, the narrative that’s going around about JNU might also change once that conversion takes place. But I think the demonisation is also a little excessive because it’s based on a misrepresentation. Only those things are highlighted which are bad. The good is not highlighted and when the change happens, I do hope that all the good things are not lost.

In Conversation with a Neighbourhood Hero

Have you ever wondered how mysterious the game of life is? How something nice happens to you out of nowhere making you feel all charged up and excited. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. As I walked through the Church Street of Bengaluru hunting for food, my legs stopped involuntarily in front of this beautiful place. It had a long inviting rack of books put up on display, a sight too tempting to not yield to especially if you are a BookStalkist. The name on the board  read “Bookworm”.

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