Give them memories

Give them memories

Who is your Role Model? Think of someone you know or knew personally, not a public figure. For how many of you is that a parent or a teacher? If I asked your children the same question, what do you think they would say? Who would they be thinking of you? How do you know? What about you inspires your child? How do you know?

 My own association with schooling goes back to 1958 when I was enrolled into St. George’s Nursery & Primary School as an inmate. From there in 1961, I was shifted to Hyderabad Public School from where I graduated in 1970. Several decades later, I was correspondent of the Arunachalam Higher Secondary School, Thiruvattar, near Marthandam in Kanya Kumari District for three years, as part of my main responsibility of being the Manager of New Ambadi Estates, Kulashakharam. This school had 1200 students and 75 teachers and so was a fairly substantial assignment. We took it from being the worst school in the State of Tamilnadu to being one of the best. That is a long story which along with other stories of my life is in my book, ‘It’s my Life’, which is available for all of Rs. 230.00 from Amazon.in. That is the value of 60 years of living; Rs. 230.

I used the term ‘inmate’ for a reason. It is because most, if not all, our schools are run like prisons. The school is owned by an entity, maybe the state or private; most American prisons today are privately owned and run for profit. Prisons have a set of professionals who run them, called Jailors. In the case of schools, they are called Teachers. Children are admitted into the school just as prisoners are admitted into prison. And their entire existence in the system is characterized by one overwhelming reality; lack of autonomy. Just like the existence of prisoners in a jail. They enter at a designated time and must serve their term and can’t leave until that time is over. The gate shuts behind them and they can’t open it. What they do is totally regulated and this is informed to them by bells or buzzers. We believe that young adults including their teachers can’t be trusted to keep to time limits but must be rudely awakened by ringing bells. Students can’t eat, sleep, play, talk or even go to the toilet without asking permission. I can go on, but I won’t because we were all fellow prisoners in the system, while some of us have been elevated to jailor status.

Another enigma and mystery – the Parent Teachers Association. Ask yourself one question: Who is the school, any school, for? Then ask why it is that those who the school is supposed to be for, have absolutely no say in any meaningful decision that affects them? Yet we believe that we will be able to form discerning, responsible, ethical citizens by ensuring that they never take a single decision in the entire time that they spend at school. We fill their heads with random information and grade them as passed or failed on their ability at random recall within a specific time frame. We don’t test knowledge or understanding, much less application. We simply test memory.

Ask yourself how you define ‘Good student’? Regurgitation of undigested food is called vomit. Regurgitation of undigested information is called passing exams. If you don’t believe me, tell me when was the last time you gave a prize for dissent? What happens to a student who tells you the truth; i.e. that what he is being taught makes no sense? What happens to a student who understands what you taught but not why you taught it or why she should learn it or where to apply it, because none of that is taught? And finally, if the child fails in the exam or more importantly, fails to learn, whose failure is it really? But who gets punished? Whose career can be in jeopardy? And who takes home her full salary without any problem? Schooling is the only system in society where product quality and customer satisfaction have no relevance. To use Mikel Harry’s definition for quality, he said, ‘If you want to see what people value, see what they measure.’ Ask yourself if you measure the quality of your parenting and teaching and if so what is the price you pay when you don’t come up to the standard. That is why you need to define the standard first.

Finally, the last nail in the coffin, the issue of life skills. In our current system, it simply doesn’t even exist. As an experiment, which I do not suggest you do, ask one of our near and dear ones who graduates from Grade 12, to leave home and take care of herself or himself for one month without going to anyone they know. I don’t think I need to describe for you, what will happen. That this happens at the end of 15 years of full time ‘education’ which you paid for and from which everyone involved benefited materially, is to put it politely, tragic. Ask yourself what you would call someone who studied something full time for 15 years? Ask yourself what you call your graduating 12th grader. Then ask yourself why?

This is not a litany of grief nor a doomsday scenario. It is a snapshot of what exists today. I can assure you that it is changeable, curable and that too without too much pain, provided only one thing; that you should want to do it. I am happy to show the way, but like the doctor, I can’t eat the medicine on your behalf.

My first set of questions to you, parents and teachers, is, ‘What does education mean to you? Why do you teach? What do you teach? How do you teach?’ These are three fundamental questions that you need to answer in a way that is convincing and inspiring. Don’t get bogged down by matters of syllabus and curriculum. These are fundamental questions that relate to your whole belief about raising children.

My second set of questions therefore is, ‘What kind of person are you trying to create in your child?’ Do you have a clear definition? Who is your role model for that? Does that inspire you? Does it make you lose sleep in the night? Do you measure yourself against a standard with respect to that definition? Do you stand before Allahﷻ and ask for His help in enabling you to achieve that goal?

It is a design issue first. Then we come to the tools and environment. You can’t build a plane in a train factory. So also, you can’t create leaders in a system designed to produce obedient slaves.

And most important of all, ‘Does your child share this dream with you?’ Because the reality is that unless he or she does, nothing will happen.

I remind you of what I said earlier: Children listen with their eyes. They don’t care what you say, until they see what you do.

 My dear friend Advocate Shafeeq Mahajir sent me this story which illustrates what I mean very well.

“I was waiting at a traffic light to cross the road with Haruki, a Japanese friend. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon in a small town on the outskirts of Tokyo and there was not a vehicle or soul in sight. So, I turned to Haruki and said, “Hey, I know it’s a red man but should we just cross?”

Haruki looked at me and shook his head. “No, we wait for the green man.”

I was a bit perplexed – it did not seem to me that it would make any difference whether we waited or not. “There aren’t any cars. Why do we need to wait?”

Haruki smiled, then asked me a question in return: “What if a child is watching?”

That is why in Africa they say, “It takes the whole village to bring up a child.”

Today we are facing a crisis. A crisis of youth. We have the youngest population in the world. We have 526 million people under the age of 25. Out of that we have 272 million between the ages of 10 & 19. That means that for the next 30 to 40 years we will have the youngest population of any nation. This makes us ideally suited to become the workforce for the world. But that is conditional upon two things: a high-quality skill training system and high-quality infrastructure. On the first, statistics of 2016 tell us that we are producing engineers of which 3.7% are employable. That means 96.3% are not. So, even if jobs are created, who will do the work? And remember that this 96.3% failures are of those who made it to engineering college. What about the millions who don’t get beyond school education itself? They still exist, they still need food, shelter, housing, medical care, employment and happiness. What will happen when all they come up against stone walls at all these thresholds?

I was driving in rural Madhya Pradesh, barely an hour out of the capital, Bhopal when I noticed in every single village we passed through, young boys (no girls) wearing trousers (some in jeans) and shirts, standing idly on street corners. Believe me this is the situation in almost every state in North India. South India is marginally better.

When I saw this for the Nth time, I asked my driver, ‘Why are they standing here? Why are they not in school or college or at work?’

He said to me, ‘Sir school khatam ho gaya, college ja nahin saktay, kaam nahin hai.’

I asked him, ‘Kheti kyon nahin kartay?’

He said, ‘Sir, school jo gaye hain. Ab kheti nahin kar saktay. Kheti karna bey izzati samajhtay hain. In kay baap khet mein kaam kartay hain. Betay pant shirt pahen kay nukkad par jama hotay hain aur time paas kartay hain.’

Me, ‘Khatay kya hain?’

He, ‘Jo in kay bapu kamatay hain. Ya phir kaheen majdoori kar laytay hain. Par ummeed bahut oopar ki hai. Wo tho nahin mil sakti. Tho dil udaas hain.’

These are the raw material for the drug trade, for crime. They are the cannon fodder for those who want to gain political power by invoking all kinds of divisiveness and violence. They have no job, no education, no nothing but they have a vote. How do we reach them? How do we help them? We are sitting on a timebomb which is ticking. As I said, I have a solution, so please bear with me.

Infrastructure development means becoming energy sufficient, making world class ports and transportation systems. Without these four things; clean, reliable energy, good transportation, ports and a highly employable workforce, no major investor will invest in this country. I won’t go into a probability analysis of all this, but I think the writing on the wall is clear for anyone who can read. The only way out is high-quality schools which can produce ethical, moral citizens, who are trained as entrepreneurs. Governments can’t help us. We must help ourselves or get prepared to perish.

My solution is implementable by every school and the results will be visible within a few years. It has three interlinked parts:

  1. Vocational/Skill education in all secondary and high schools. Every child must learn a skill and must be able to work with his/her hands.
  2. Entrepreneurial training
  3. Venture Capital Fund to incubate young entrepreneurs

The best solution to combat crime is to give people something to lose. In addition, tough zero tolerance for crime, which means that criminals must pay, not crime.

On top of that we have a society where corruption is not just acceptable but aspirational, people have an entitlement mentality, compassion has vanished, oppression is the law of the land and crime pays instead of criminals. So, teach values before you teach anything else. And remember that values can’t be legislated. Values must be inculcated. You must practice what you preach, or it will fail, and you will lose respect to boot. Your job as parents and teachers is to give them memories. It is those memories that will come to their aid in times of emotional and moral dilemmas. It is those memories which will become their touchstone, their criteria for making their own decisions in their lives. Give them memories thoughtfully because you are giving them memories anyway. Make sure that you give them memories that they will honor you for and remember you by and pray for you and seek forgiveness for you from Allahﷻ when you have long gone into your grave. Let me share with you some memories that my parents and teachers gave me.

During the years that I was in school, Hyderabad Public School, the principal was Mr. K. Kuruvilla Jacob. Mr. Jacob was a legend in his own lifetime. A man who taught me about leadership before I knew the word. Let me tell you one story about his leadership style as I experienced it.

It was 1968 and I was in Grade 8. I was sitting in class waiting for the morning recess bell to go off. My seat was by the window looking out over the courtyard across which were the toilets. To my amazement, I saw Mr. Jacob walking into the toilets with a bucket with cleaning brushes in it. A word about how Mr. Jacob looked and dressed is necessary to appreciate the reason for my surprise. Mr. Jacob was a tall and dark man who always wore white on white. He wore a white bush coat – patch pockets, half sleeves on white trousers and shining black shoes. His clothes were always sparkling white, starched and ironed to a knife-edge. You could cut yourself on the crease of his trousers and look at your face in his shoes. Here was this man in those clothes walking into our toilets with a bucket and toilet cleaners.

I dug my seat mate in his ribs and gestured but before his eyes popped out of his head, the bell rang and we all trooped out silently and stood before the toilets. What did we see? Our toilets, like I suppose the toilets in most boys’ schools, had their walls festooned with rather smelly poetry and prose, to put it politely. What we saw was Mr. Jacob, cleaning the walls of the toilets. He worked silently, ignoring us, spraying the cleaner on the walls and then brushing them clean and washing them down with water which he had carried in the bucket. When he finished a few minutes later, he picked up his bucket, finally looked up at us, smiled, and walked away. He didn’t say a word. Not one word. He just smiled at us and walked away, back to his office. We simply stood in silence and watched him disappear. I was in school for four years after that incident and can vouch for the fact that nobody ever wrote anything on the toilet wall again. Interestingly, the phenomenon of writing on the walls of the toilets was universal – all toilets had this graffiti. Mr. Jacob washed only one toilet. But suddenly all toilets were clean, and no graffiti was ever written on them again. And remember, as I said, not one word spoken. I realize today that what he did was as much theatre as it was cleaning, maybe even more theatre than cleaning, but the impact was powerful and permanent. Leading by example always is. Such were my teachers.

Let me tell you about my memories about my parents.

My father Dr. Mirza Anwar Baig was a medical doctor who worked for the Government of Andhra Pradesh, Mysore and lastly with Hyderabad Allwyn Metal Works in the 50’s and 60’s. I have many memories about him but one of the most powerful is of him in his private practice as a doctor. He started it very reluctantly, mostly at my insistence. But strangely he never broke even. I was perplexed because he was one of the best doctors that I have ever known. His clinical diagnosis was like magic. He saw signs in people that today it takes multiple scans to unearth. His patient manners were superb, and people loved him. He had a long line of patients waiting daily and didn’t finish his clinic until 1030 pm. Yet his practice made a loss. I decided to go and see for myself, what he was doing. What did I see? I saw him checking an old lady and then prescribing medicines for her. She said to him, ‘How much will these cost Doctor Saab?’ He said, ‘Ten rupees.’ She said, ‘I am a poor woman Doctor Saab. I don’t have ten rupees. Please prescribe something cheaper.’ My father put his hand in his pocket, took out ten rupees and gave it to her and said, ‘Go and buy the medicines.’ Obviously, there was no question of taking a fee from someone you just gave money, to buy medicines. This seemed to be more the rule than the exception and so a very busy medical practice made losses.

When we got home, I pointed this out to him and told him that if he is not going to take a fee, I could understand. But if in addition he was going to give people money for medicines, how could his practice make a profit? He said to me, ‘What is the good of prescribing medicines, when I know they can’t buy them?’ In a last-ditch stand, I asked him, ‘How do you know they are all in need? Maybe they don’t deserve your charity.’ He replied, ‘I don’t deserve what Allahﷻ has given me. So, I am not going to see who deserves and who doesn’t. If anyone asks me for help, I will help if I can. Let Allahﷻ judge who deserves and who doesn’t.’

In conclusion, I would like to state categorically, that the situation is far from hopeless. But for us to change our destiny we will have to redefine the meaning of ‘citizenship’ and start acting like citizens of an independent nation, instead of subjects of a foreign government. Our problem is that we have not got out of the colonial mindset. That is why we call our elected representatives, ‘rulers’. And we consider ourselves passive, helpless beings to whom things are done. Our only recourse is to train our children to become active participants in society and create a culture where dissent is not just accepted but encouraged, people have fora to voice their opinions and actively participate in societal development. Schools must play a critical role in enabling this by becoming laboratories of citizenship where children learn to own responsibility and take decisions for the general good. Care of the commons must be a major factor of concern and a change of mindset from entitlement to contribution, the criterion on which we must judge our success. There are many examples from the world of societies which operate on the values of honesty, mutual respect and harmony and a focus on contribution and not entitlement and consumption. The trick is to inculcate these values in our society.

On that depends our future. Not only our development but our very existence.

Babari Masjid dispute – or is it?

Babari Masjid dispute – or is it?

In the drama called India we are about to open a new scene. Actually, a new episode of an old story – the so-called Babari Masjid dispute. The attempt by the spin doctors is to make it sound like the usual, ‘We Hindus are being reasonable, peaceful, non-violent and accommodative as usual. You Muslims really must get your act together and stop being a hindrance to development, fulfillment of Hindu aspirations and general goodness all around. You need to accept that you guys in 2017 are responsible for what your ancestors did in 1600.’

‘But they were not our ancestors.’

‘Ah! Who cares? A mere matter of detail, which spoils the story line.’

‘But how can I be responsible for something that allegedly happened (no evidence that it did – temple destruction and masjid construction on top of it) 400 years ago, when by the Law of the Land, I am not even held responsible for a crime committed by my biological, genetically verified father?’

‘There you go again. Facts, evidence, proof. We are talking mythology, belief, faith. Agh! Can never have a rational conversation with a Muslim. In any case this is one of the several things wrong with the Law of our Land. Anyway, why don’t you be reasonable and see it our way. We want the land. We helped you by removing the mosque. All that remains is for you to be reasonable and let go. What’s so difficult about that?’

Indeed, what is so difficult? Being Muslim and addicted to facts, let me state what I know about the so-called Babari Masjid dispute. I am not going to write about its history. Those who want to know can ask Google. Here are some links which make interesting reading:

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/1990-L.K.+Advanis+rath+yatra:+Chariot+of+fire/1/76389.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ram_Rath_Yatra

Our story begins in September and ends in October, 1990. The famous Rath Yatra of L. K. Advani, which was intended to make him the Prime Minister of India, but which gave us someone much more powerful, N. D. Modi. Not quite what Mr. Advani would have wished, but it is all about the plans of men and mice etc. Advaniji’s Rath with a Toyota soul, made a Yatra culminating at Ayodhya at the Babari Masjid accompanied by the freed souls of uncounted innocents. It was also accompanied by souls still chained to their mortal existence in bodies of Kar Sevaks, infused with boiling emotion, boundless enthusiasm, enormous energy and murder in the heart. A very powerful combination that is guaranteed to propel any politician to the top. You may object to the fact that it did the job but on the wrong person. Advaniji will no doubt agree with you. But I say to you that reality is what counts, not what you intended to do. Masjid came down, BJP went up and the rest is history.

Then stepped in the spin doctors who have been doing their best to cast a fog over the facts and put Indian Muslims again in a spot, not of their own making. But those who define the language, own the debate. In the language of the spin doctors of the BJP, Muslims are always cast as the villain and, so it shall remain until Muslims decide to break out of the cycle and write their own definitions. Let me therefore define what the problem is:

  1. It is not a dispute between Hindus and Muslims.
  1. It is a case where a protected property belonging to Muslims which the State was responsible to protect was destroyed and the State failed in its duty to protect it.
  1. The Supreme Court is now supposed to examine what happened and pass judgement based on the Law of the Land.
  1. Public opinion has no place in the equation and can’t affect the ruling of the Supreme Court, one way or another because Court rulings are according to the Law of the Land and not according to whatever may be popular or acceptable to the public.
  1. There’s no question of mediation by anyone (SS Ravi Shankar is trying to get into the act) as there’s no dispute to mediate. But that is why they say, ‘You can never keep a godman down.’ ‘Not godman but good man’, you remind me. I say to you, ‘All godmen are good men in our modern mythology.’ Same difference.
  1. The Court is expected to interpret the Law and the Executive is expected to implement and if necessary, enforce it.
  1. QED, as we were taught to say in school and were told that it meant, Quite Easily Done. I am not sure if that is the right meaning, but in this case, it may not prove to be quite so easy.

I am all in favor of standing by a decision of the Supreme Court which is made on the basis of the Law of the Land. After all, that is what Rule of Law is supposed to mean, right? That is what differentiates civilization from barbarism.

We should know. After all we have been civilized for the past 5000 years. Or so we claim.

 

Why did Hyderabad die?

Why did Hyderabad die?

The Hyderabad Public School where I studied. A symbol of the Nizam of Hyderabad

This is not a history but an attempt to understand what probably happened in those last years that led to the demise of Hyderabad as an independent country and its annexation by the newly independent India. It is speculation; perhaps informed speculation; I hope, intelligent speculation, but speculation nevertheless.

I am not speaking chronologically or relating incidents but attempting to understand why the Nizam of Hyderabad took the decisions he did, which led to the calamity called Police Action (Operation Polo of the Indian Army). Calamity not because it was the end of the Asif Jahi Dynasty because all dynasties end. But calamity because, as is reported, thousands of innocent people died as a result of Police Action. They died in what we would today call, Collateral Damage; killed not by the Indian Army but by their opportunistic neighbors who used the period of transition to grab their land, by making them vanish. Entire families were murdered, entire villages were depopulated in a massive ethnic cleansing before the term was invented. I know that the figures range from 15,000 to ten times that and more. The reality is that exact figures are impossible to get. And the death of even one innocent person is highly deplorable and tragic, so numbers mean nothing. Whether it was 15,000 or 150,000 is immaterial when the truth is that not a single one deserved to die.

I am saying this because I don’t want you to get mired in discussing incidents, numbers of dead, who killed whom but try to look at why all this happened and what if anything can be learnt from this to be applied today. What is clear is that we are a nation which seems to be cursed with internecine conflict, brother killing brother, with or without pretext. I am saying to you that it is time this stopped. Stopped totally and completely. It is not difficult to find examples of how such things were stopped. Until 100 years ago, there was blood in the streets in Europe. Both World War I and II were essentially European wars, with Europeans killing each other. Yet out of that emerged a universal, silent, shared and solid pact, that European blood will not be shed by Europeans ever again. One wishes that this could have been extended to non-Europeans also but be that as it may, the fact remains that today in Europe, even the thought of a mob lynching an individual or attacking a neighborhood in which a certain religious or ethnic group lives, is simply unthinkable. It is high time we in India changed our direction 180 degrees and walked the same path before we reach a point of no return on our present path. We like to talk about India’s potential. 

The reality is that if we want that potential to be translated into actual development and economic growth, we must deal with social strife and lay it to rest. If we use religious and ethnic difference to constantly fan the flames of communalism and xenophobia and have our nation embark on periodic bloodletting sprees, then the result can only be one thing; civil war and total collapse. It is amazing how otherwise intelligent people seem to fail to read the writing on the wall.

1.      My assessment of the situation at that time leading to the demise of Hyderabad as an independent country was that India had just become independent paying a huge price in human life in the partition of British India into India and Pakistan. That resulted in India having a hostile neighbor on two sides, East and West Pakistan and Kashmir, still in a state of limbo in the North. It simply couldn’t afford another independent state in its center, ruled by a Muslim king, even though he was not hostile and even though the majority population of the state was Hindu. Hyderabad had to become a part of the Indian Union, come what may. Also since Hyderabad was the biggest, wealthiest and most influential of the Princely States, what happened to it would be salutary for the others. If Hyderabad retained independence and sovereignty, then it would open the doors for similar aspirations of many other ruling princes. If Hyderabad joined the Indian Union, then others would also fall in line.

2.     So, if Hyderabad didn’t join the Indian Union willingly, it would have to be made to do so, unwillingly. Attempts were made to persuade the Nizam to accede to the Indian Union but when these failed, covert attempts to subvert his government were undoubtedly made by encouraging communal elements to create unrest. Religion is a very easy way to gain mass support and in an atmosphere where the Hindu-Muslim equation was badly vitiated after the formation of Pakistan, this was easy to do. Flames were fanned and new fires were set and in time, they did what all fires do – burn everything they came into contact with. Three hundred years of common Hindu-Muslim history was reduced to ashes. No doubt it helped some people to come to power, but at the cost of a great many. But history is written by victors, while those who die, tell no tales and the world goes on.

The tendency when speaking about any monarchy is to speak in terms of its king alone. Usually this is a mistake because whatever the king may think of himself, he is a man and is influenced by his times and the people around him. Some of this influence is overt but a lot of it is hidden and covert. Included in this are his own feelings, aspirations, anxieties, insecurities. At a time of transition which may result in a fall of the monarchy all these fears are hugely enhanced, because in most cases, a fall of the monarchy usually means death for the king or at least life in enormously reduced circumstances. To be able to still think with a cool head and take decisions that are morally and ethically right while being strategically wise, is no mean task. For this it is not only essential for the king to have the guidance of wise people around him, but even more importantly, for him to listen to them.

In the case of the Nizam of Hyderabad, Nawab Mir Osman Ali Khan Bahadur, I believe we have a case where, to put it mildly, things went awry.

My understanding of the factors at the time, from my reasonably extensive reading of different books on this subject as well as having known some of those who were present at the time of Police Action, and were close to the Nizam, is as follows:

1.      The Nizam of Hyderabad was an absolute monarch. A very good one, who never took a single day’s vacation in his life and not given to the playboy lifestyle of his other counterparts in the Princely States of India, but still an absolute monarch. The hierarchy was feudal, which meant that, as in any other feudal system, the only way anyone aspiring to high position could get it was by birth into the right family or by special Royal Dispensation. This in turn would necessitate the attention of and promotion by one of the high Nobles so that one would get noticed. Needless to say, the number of positions at the top are very limited and usually taken.

2.     The ‘evils’ of a feudal system, even a very benign and benevolent one like the rule of the Nizam of Hyderabad was, can’t be overemphasized. Its biggest evil being the death of aspiration of youth. This was one of the major reasons for the migration of the youth of Europe to America and the eventual break with Europe altogether. A new nation was born, not because people in the old country were being physically tortured or murdered, but because their hopes and dreams were still born in a system that didn’t permit them to live and grow by their ability. That is the problem with all feudal systems and the reason why democracy, with all its faults, is the best form of government that human kind has created for itself, to date.

3.     Any ordinary young person not born into a noble family but aspiring for high office in Hyderabad (the country), especially political power, had little chance of attaining it, except through exceptional circumstances and luck, irrespective of his qualifications. For such people, a time of turmoil and turbulence is a godsend. It shakes the foundations of the structures of society and briefly opens a window of opportunity to change the rules of the game. What added to this was the fact that the State was the biggest employer. Though there were businesses and industry, rather more than in other Princely States or British India, their influence and the opportunities they presented were still very limited, especially at the managerial level. Opportunities of realizing one’s aspirations outside the State’s influence were therefore very limited. This always leads to frustration for which a situation of turmoil which shakes the foundations of the State and official hierarchy is a great opportunity.

4.     To give the time its due, this was not due to any backwardness of Hyderabad but because that was the nature of the world at the time. The industrial boom of manufacture and later of IT was still about a century away. Opportunities for careers in the corporate world were limited because the corporate world as we know it, didn’t exist. There were traders, small manufacturers, almost all of them family owned, who followed in effect the same feudal rules of employment and career development. If you were born into the family or related to it in some way, you could never get into top management.

5.     With Indian Independence looming on the horizon and in effect inevitable, there was an atmosphere of change in the air. An atmosphere of high political aspirations, of ambitions of power and influence. Feudalism in India was dying, in its formal sense of hereditary rulers and nobles and leadership positions would fall vacant, ready to be occupied with those who had the vision to see the writing on the wall and the grit to work for it. Sad to see that seventy years after this time, feudalism in terms of attitudes, which really deserved to die, remains alive and well, with the new elected leaders having taken the place of hereditary rulers on the throne. But that is an aside. For our story, the world was changing and fast in which like in all times of change, you either change or die. Incumbency is the single biggest crime in a revolution as you become the logical target of attack. If you change your stripes and start running with the hounds, like the British monarchy did very successfully by converting the ruling family into Hollywood stars, then you survive and prosper. If you remain static, like the Nizam did, you become a statistic.

6.     The other factor that was in play in these times was the anxiety of the Nizam and his nobility about their own fate in the new world order which was dawning. In this context they had Jinnah’s divisive rhetoric on one hand and the assurance of the British Empire on the other guaranteeing the Nizam that the territorial integrity of his kingdom as well as his sovereignty as a monarch would be defended and maintained. In my opinion, the Nizam and his nobility’s biggest mistake was to believe both these narratives. It raised their anxiety to a level where their minds stopped working and had them grabbing at straws (promises of the British Empire) to save themselves from drowning. Ask anyone if a straw can save a drowning man and you know what happened to the Nizam and Hyderabad State was inevitable.

7.     The third factor was Qasim Rizvi and his Razakars. Qasim Rizvi was an opportunist who took advantage of a nebulous situation and tried to play ‘King Maker’. The fact that he ran away when things didn’t go as planned and left those who allowed him his time in the sun to face the music, is proof that he had no commitment either to Hyderabad or the Nizam. He was in it for himself and escaped when things fell apart. What he had going for him was demagoguery that capitalized on the anxieties of the ruling class as well as the Muslims in Hyderabad who were already affected by the demagoguery of Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Add in a heady mixture of fantasy, distorted historical references and people’s own ignorance of history as well as their inability to critically analyze what was being presented to them by QR and you can see how and why his rhetoric was remarkably rabble rousing. Religion as they say is the last resort of the scoundrel, an analogy that fits QR like a glove.

8.     Finally, the demise of Hyderabad was also the most colossal collective failure of leadership that one can imagine. If you look at the nobles and notables around the Nizam, you have a list of luminaries that can hardly be bettered. Yet they failed as a group to guide their king and country in a direction leading to safety and progress. Instead they all seem to have collectively become victims of Qasim Rizvi’s crazy rhetoric either actively or passively to a point of no return. The fact that the Nizam was himself in QR’s thrall, would have, I suppose, stopped many from openly disagreeing. All these are the price of a feudal, autocratic system wherein dissent is dangerous and severely restricted. All autocratic systems fall prey to this and so did Hyderabad State.

What should the Nizam have done?

I think that is fairly clear and I don’t really need to write this but am doing so in the interest of closing the loop as it were. Here is what should have happened:

1.      The Nizam and his advisors should have realized the reality of Hyderabad and its future in the context of the Indian Union. For details please refer to Point No. 1 above i.e. my assessment of the situation at the time. They should have seen that remaining independent was out of the question and so should have bargained for the best deal and joined the Indian Union. That single action would have avoided all the bloodshed and turmoil.

2.     They should have realized that the British have a very famous history of telling lies to those they rule and work only with one interest in mind; their own. The history of the British in India was no secret to anyone with eyes to see. As it was, the British were leaving India in a great hurry and really didn’t care a hoot about what happened to India or Indians. What value can the assurance of such an ally have? Once again, that meant, the joining the Indian Union was the not just the best option but the only one.

3.     Qasim Rizvi should have been shown the door. His kind of rhetoric was so alien to the history of the Nizams of Hyderabad and their treatment of their subjects irrespective of religion that it is almost impossible to believe that not only did QR get a foothold but that to all intents and purposes, he became the defacto ruler. Furthermore, especially given the recent formation of Pakistan and the massacres that happened as a result, it was suicidal to allow the very same rhetoric to become dominant in Hyderabad. To allow Hyderabad’s long history of harmonious relationships between the two major communities of Hindus and Muslims to be destroyed was totally tragic and inexplicable. It was like an onset of momentary insanity from which a man awakens to witness the destruction that he had wrought while insane.

4.     Hyderabad (Nizam and nobility and the State) should have invested heavily in industry and invited the Tatas and Birlas to set up manufacturing plants. Both were in operation having started in the 1800’s. This would have had three beneficial effects.

a.     It would have created massive employment opportunities for youth, the best way to deal with all kinds of social unrest, give them something to lose.

b.     It would have increased the personal wealth of the Nizam and his nobility and made them free from dependence on Privy Purses and State charity.

c.      It would have acted as a shield against any political adventurism, just as the presence of Trump business interest in Middle Eastern countries has kept them safe from his travel ban on Muslims. The travel ban as you know, applies only to countries where Trump has no business interests.

The purpose of this article is to encourage us to discuss this matter with the sole purpose of looking for lessons about living and working harmoniously together. With that end in mind, all comments are invited and most welcome. 
Of game drives and choices

Of game drives and choices

He was the king of the forest (or so he thought about himself). He stood over five feet tall at the shoulder, weighed over one thousand pounds, with a massive neck supporting a rack of magnificent antlers rising high above that. The antlers were very impressive to look at and very useful in battle when he had to defend his harem against uppity youngsters, trying their strength against him. They could however be a fatal liability in thick bush as they could get caught in it and become the cause of his demise, if had to make a quick dash to save himself from his only predator, the tiger. So, he had learnt to stay in relatively open areas of rocky slopes, dotted with trees and some bush. He knew how to stand or sit with his outline broken so that to the casual observer he became a part of the landscape, his body color merging with the earth and his antlers simply dead branches. Especially when he was aware of being watched but not yet alarmed to make a dash for it, he knew how to be so still that even a second look wouldn’t reveal him to the observer. What he had no control over was his ears. They had to keep moving to scan for sounds, which may spell danger from a direction he was not looking at. And they were what gave away his location to the observer who had patience. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sambar_deer
On this day, he had had good browsing all night and then just before dawn he had gone to his favorite rolling spot; a wide pool full of slush. His kind rolled in it until they were covered in liquid mud which later dried to form a coat impermeable to flies and biting insects which were the bane of his life. A good roll ensured that he would be able to rest up during the day peacefully. Sambar are active at and after dusk into the night and so spend most of the day, resting in shady spots. The only danger with rolling was that tigers also knew about this luxury of Sambars. So, rolling spots were a favorite ambush spot for the tiger. For the tiger, a Sambar rolling in the mud is almost a sure meal because it is impossible for the Sambar to rise from a prone position on his back and side and run before the tiger closes on him. So, Sambar are extremely cautious when they go to roll and spend far more time casing the joint, than in actually rolling. The roll is really a quick one, very like a horse rolling in the dust (for the same reason) and then he is up, all senses in high alert, trying to see if he can do another roll or must run for it.

For an animal this big, Sambar are extremely agile and gallop up and down steep rocky slopes as if they were flying. Having ridden horses, cross country I can vouch for it that there is no horse or horseman in the world which can chase a Sambar either up or down a slope without breaking a leg of the horse and killing himself. But Sambar do it all the time. As a matter of fact, their favorite escape tactic is to race downhill at full gallop, which even tigers can’t match them at. All this of course if they are alert to danger and get as much of a head start as possible. Awareness is their best defence and their best guarantee of survival. This stag had reached his prime because he had mastered the art of being alert. There were deep claw marks on his withers to show the only encounter with a tiger; a young male whose ambition exceeded his ability. But still his claws drew lines in the Sambar stag’s hide that healed but remained as a reminder to him of the importance of being on his guard all the time.


Today he had been sitting in the shade of a large, gnarled Babool tree halfway up the slope of the range of hills that rise from the waters of the Kadam Dam. After his browsing in the night, he had had a long and cool drink from the waters of the lake and climbed up the slope to his favorite spot under this tree. It was high enough to give him a vantage point. Before him was open land, very rocky and interspersed with stunted Seetaphal (Custard Apple), Lantana, Ber and young Babool. Behind him the hillside rose steeply and was covered with scree which meant that anyone coming down that slope would almost certainly send a few small stones rolling down, enough to alert him to possible danger. It was still fairly early in the day but it promised to be another hot one. Summers here tended to be extremely hot with temperatures in the forties. The sky was clear and blue which would take a steely hue as the sun racked up the temperature but for now, the breeze blowing his way over the water of the dam was still cool. All seemed right with the world but he was not happy. Something within him told him that today was not a day like all others. There was an ominous feeling inside him which he couldn’t describe but which his kind had learnt to trust. A feeling of impending danger which he couldn’t find evidence for but which he knew could save his life. He was uneasy but not yet alarmed enough to leave his cool spot in the shade and make a break for it.

I was nineteen years old and spending my summer vacation with Uncle Rama in Sethpally, a little village in Adilabad District of Telangana. Sethpally is close to the bank of the Kadam River which flows into the lake created by the Kadam Dam, from which rise the mountains of the Sahyadri Range. Rocky and sparsely covered with semideciduous forest and thorn bush but famous for Sambar. As it is open forest, the stags tend to grow a large head of antlers, a prime consideration for trophy hunters. The biggest stags are to be found further north in Madhya Pradesh, but the Sambar of this part of the world were nothing to be sneezed at either.

I used to spend all my vacations with Uncle Rama on his farmhouse which was on the bank of the Kadam wandering in the forest all day or if I was home, sleeping off the hottest part of the day in the thick shade of the three huge tamarind trees that grew between the farmhouse and the river. There is no air-conditioning to beat the coolness of the shade of a tamarind tree and no soothing sleep inducing music to beat the sound of the breeze rustling its leaves. The forest is never totally silent, though between midday and late afternoon, which is the hottest part of the day, is perhaps the quietest. Still you would hear the occasional barking of a dog from the Gond village on the other side of the river, or the cooing of Ring Necked doves roosting in the thick foliage of the tamarind trees I was sleeping under. Occasionally the alarm call of the Red Wattled Lapwing would sound its question, ‘Did-you-do-it?’ over and over until presumably it discovered who had done it. All this over the background of the ceaseless buzz of the Cicadas and the call of the Common Hawk Cuckoo (Brain Fever Bird), starting low and rising to a crescendo and ending only to rise again. Here is a recording of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bPqi5BcfETMBut all these sounds are part of the atmosphere of the forest and not only don’t disturb your sleep but soothe you into it. Today, over forty years later, I still remember the peace and tranquility of that sleep.

Last evening Uncle Rama decided that we should go on a game drive. Now these are things that I’d only known to have happened in British India with the Maharajas and their cronies the White Sahibs. To actually be one of the guns in a game drive is something that I had never imagined in my wildest dream. My excitement knew no bounds. I could hardly sleep that night. The next day there was a council of war, as it were. The head of the Lambada Tanda (Tanda is what a Lambada village is called) came to see Uncle Rama to decide on the number of men we would need for the drive. Plans were made for camping as we would be away for three days in all. These were the days when hunting was permitted and so all permissions were obtained and the local DFO (District Forest Officer) was one of the invitees. My single thought, however, was to get a big Sambar stag to my credit.

The place we planned to go to was some miles away from the farm, a part of the Sahyadri Mountain Range (Western Ghats) that bordered the Kadam River dam. These hills are thickly forested and very steep, coming down to the water’s edge on one side and rolling away, one into another on the other; ideal Sambar country. Also, ideal tiger and leopard country. The Sambar in this area is a large animal with the stags sporting a very respectable set of antlers, but not the gigantic racks of the Sambar of Madhya Pradesh. These are forest Sambar and an overly large head of horns would be a distinct disadvantage. Having said that, it is only in comparison that their antlers are smaller. By themselves they are very impressive indeed.

In addition to the species I mentioned, in these hills that we were going to beat, are wild boar, sloth bears, bison, and peacocks. No Chital or Nilgai as they prefer more open area. Also, many Grey Jungle Fowl with their familiar crowing in the mornings and at dusk. So, there was much expectation about all the different animals that we were likely to see. We had emphatic instructions from Uncle Rama that we were not to shoot a tiger, bear, bison, or leopard under any circumstances. Everything else was fair game. And the main quarry of course was a good Sambar stag. Shoot or not, the very thought that we would possibly see a tiger or leopard at close quarters was something to make the heart race in anticipation and not a little fear. As it happened, we did not see any of the ‘prohibited’ species.

But let me tell the tale in sequence for it is one in which I discovered something about myself. Something that I remember with happiness and pride to this day.

We started just before day break the next morning, having spent the greater part of the night in preparation. Guns to be cleaned, ammo to be sorted out and kept in order so that it was easily accessible. Food for the day plus cooking pots, condiments, some vegetables, rice, dal, sugar, tea, and milk powder for the next three days. Camping stuff; sleeping bags, small tents, and all the rest. And of course, knives. However, one major caveat – the word ‘knife’ was not to be spoken aloud in any language. Uncle Rama believed that if one said the word ‘knife’ (in any language – as we all habitually spoke at least 3 languages) it would bring us bad luck and we would not see any game. So, we made very sure never to say ‘knife’. Uncle Rama had a beauty, a medium sized switch blade knife with a tungsten steel blade, sharp as a razor. I was its keeper as I was also the official ‘Halaal’ guy, whose job it was to make sure that at least one of the animals shot was killed in the Muslim, zabiha way, so that I and Uncle Rama’s other Muslim friends would not go hungry.

By the time we reached Kadam River Dam, it was getting light. We parked the jeeps by the canal and started off in a single file up the forest track. The Lambadas were already at the site and we had many willing hands for the stuff we were carrying. Each of us only carried his personal weapon. Uncle Rama was a great stickler for safety and made sure that there was no cartridge up the spout of any gun and that all safety catches were on. Silence was essential as we didn’t want to disturb the game and it was prohibited to shoot anything on the way to the camp. We walked on as daylight grew stronger, harbinger of the heat of the day that was to come.

As we climbed the hills, I looked all around me hoping to see signs of the game that we had come to hunt. But apart from occasional droppings, there was not a sign that anything lived in these hills. The path wound serpentiously along through dry teak plantation forests, with the huge dry teak leaves crackling loudly if you stepped on them. This was almost impossible to avoid and it made me even more anxious that we were scaring all the animals away by our loud approach. Finally, at about 8:30 am we came to a clearing, a large expanse of open ground, very rocky and sloping down to the river on one side. All the trees in sight were dry and leafless so there was almost no shade and the sheet of rocks promised a very hot stay. However, we were not planning to stay in the tents that were pitched immediately and in any case, I was too excited to worry about anything other than the coming hunt.

After a hurried breakfast, and fortified by extremely sweet, milky tea, we set off to establish the shooting line. 

In any game drive, the positioning of the guns is critical to success. It is essential to do the positioning as unobtrusively as possible so as not to alarm any game that may be in the area and which would clear off if alarmed. Uncle Rama did it himself, making sure not only that each person was positioned strategically to cover a given expanse of ground, but that each person’s ‘territory’ overlapped the boundary of his neighbor but was still at a safe distance from him. This way, the two guns would have a fair chance of spotting an animal between them, but would not accidentally shoot each other.

As I mentioned earlier, this is hilly country with steep climbs and deep valleys and ravines. Positioning all the guns means to walk the entire line and in the growing heat of the day, it’s no picnic. The ‘Brain-fever’ bird and the always present cicadas were the only accompaniment as we were all sworn to silence on the pain of death. Once all were in place, and Uncle Rama was also back in his own station at the end of the line, he gave the signal and the beat started.

It is almost impossible to describe the excitement of waiting. First there is silence. There is no sign that anything is happening at all. Then slowly as some time passes, you start hearing the beaters. These are men who walk along towards you in a widely spaced line, simply talking to each other loudly, throwing stones into any likely looking thicket to raise any animal which may be hiding in it and occasionally shouting, especially if they wanted to alert the guns to anything special. The idea is to get the animals to move but not to scare them too much, otherwise they would come to the guns too fast leading to missed shots of worse still, wounded animals. The excitement is palpable and is the essence of the experience of being a ‘gun’ in a beat.

My own station was in the middle of a thick Ber (Ziziphus mauritiana) bush, very thorny and very uncomfortable even though some space had been cleared for me to stand in the center. Directly in front, facing a slope going down into the valley before me, a small section of the bush had been cut out so that I would have a clear field of fire. Yet to anyone looking at the bush from outside, I would be invisible. In this position, I stood, silently ignoring the flies and the dribbling rivulets of sweat going down my neck. It is important to remember that it is movement that attracts attention and makes one visible. If you are still and your body outline is broken up by the surroundings then you can be almost invisible even to anyone looking directly at you. But the moment you even blink an eye, you will become visible. I knew this very well and so stood very still listening to the sounds of the beaters.

His instincts were right. His uneasiness justified. He stood up and scented the air and could faintly smell man. The breeze was blowing to him from the lake below so he could scent them. He could also hear them talking to one another. He remembered an earlier instance a few years ago when he was not yet in his prime, when he was in such a situation. As he tried to flee from the men on that occasion, he almost came in the way of a tiger but strangely the tiger was more alarmed than he was and didn’t show the slightest interest in him. Then he heard loud bangs behind him and to one side, and he ran for his life. He had no idea what was happening but he was glad that he came out of that unscathed. Today once again, it seemed that it was something similar. Something that didn’t bode well for him if he didn’t get away. He was still not in a panic. But he was definitely fearful and extremely cautious. His senses were all at peak alert, trying to sense the slightest movement before him or scent on the breeze as he purposefully climbed up the hillside to get to the path he knew would take him down the other side to safety.

And then it happened! I saw some movement directly opposite me, coming up the slope. First, I saw the tips of his antlers, then the head and neck and then the full deep chested body of a full-grown Sambar stag, alarmed but not scared, looking over his shoulder occasionally as he climbed the hill, coming directly at me. I can never describe the majesty of his progress. He looked like the king he was, fearing nothing except the tiger and of course man. He knew that danger was behind him and knew how to get away. The wind was blowing up from the lake from him in my direction, so he had no idea how close he was to me. He was huge and as he came up the hill, he grew bigger in my eyes. In such a situation when you are either facing grave danger or high excitement, you live in the moment. Adrenalin is coursing through your veins and heightens all sensation. You see in vivid color, you smell all the variety of smells coming your way on the breeze and you feel the heart pounding in your breast and hear your blood racing in your ears. 

I could smell him, the rank smell of cattle. He had been rolling in mud and his coat was caked in it. But what I noticed was the deep raking marks of tiger claws on his withers. This was a stag who’d had a close brush with death. I wondered how he got away. But he had and here he was, facing death again but without the slightest idea about it. He had a big head of antlers, the ideal trophy for me right in the beginning of the drive. What phenomenal good fortune for me, I thought.

My gun was already at port and to gently bring it to my shoulder and my cheek to the stock was a matter of an instant and I was looking at the throat of the Sambar through the open sights. I took in the slack of the trigger and knew that if I just squeezed my grip one degree, this stag would become a trophy in my house. And that is when I discovered something about my own nature. I discovered that it was impossible for me to kill something as beautiful and majestic as this. I just stood there and looked, drinking in the sight of this fabulous animal coming up the slope, carrying his antlers as proudly as any king with his crown. When he came right to the top, I whistled. The change in his stance was magical. One instant he was looking backward concerned about the sounds of the beaters. Next instant, electrified, all his adrenaline pumping into his bloodstream, he honked in alarm and was gone in a flash.

That was effectively the end of the drive for me as I was no longer in a mood to hunt. I just sat and enjoyed the scenery and re-lived the experience of my Sambar again and again. To this day, I can see him walking up that slope, coming to the gun held by a boy who would not shoot. When we all collected after the drive to look at what the bag was, the beaters asked me about the Sambar which they had seen. Nobody was amused or impressed with my story of why I could not bring myself to shoot the animal. Uncle Rama kept silent in all the ribbing that I was getting. When the others had gone off, he came to me and said, “Yawar-baba, I am proud of you. What you did is true sportsmanship.” Such were my teachers. The lesson to follow my heart, notwithstanding unpopularity, is something that I have never forgotten all my life.


It’s not my fault

It’s not my fault


On April 13, 1919, the 9th Gurkhas, 54thSikhs & 59th Sind Rifles, on the orders of Col. Dyer, fired on an unarmed, peaceful crowd gathered to celebrate Besakhi at the Jalianwala Bagh in Amritsar. As a result, 1000 people died and perhaps three times that number were injured. Even though, the crowd was overwhelmingly Sikh, one of the platoons firing on them was the 54th Sikhs. The interesting thing is that Col. Dyer himself didn’t fire a single round. An even more interesting thing is that if one were to ask each of those soldiers why he fired, he would have given the same answer, “It’s not my fault. I was only following orders.”

The same thing happened to the Germans that led to the deaths of 6 million Jews and others on the orders of Hitler who personally perhaps never killed even a chicken. Stalin’s orders resulted in the deaths of 20 million Russians, not one of whom had the honor of meeting his Maker at the hands of Stalin. Today, as we watch in shameful silence, thousands of Rohingya Muslims are the victims of a genocide which is the latest in the long list of genocides with which the human race visits itself. Poor lemmings get the rap for being suicidal. Nobody is more suicidal than human beings. We are constantly engaged in attempting to send each other into the pages of history and so should be renamed from Human Beings, to Human-Were. That would also explain our inherent brutality and barbarism, which we have been taught to believe is an animal tendency and not worthy of humans. Mercifully no animals went to my school and so no loud protests were heard at this singularly blatant lie.

It is humans and only humans that kill for no reason, torture, rape and devise ever more innovative ways of causing harm to each other. I don’t think we should so easily give up this differentiator of our species to mere animals. No wonder that Hitler apart we have always glorified the perpetrators of genocide, like Alexander the Great (why The Great?) who slaughtered his way all the way from Macedonia to India. Julius Caesar who slaughtered a million Gauls fighting for their land, trying to keep it from being civilized by Rome and said, “Today was a good day.” Or Genghis Khan who did far more than these two genocidal maniacs put together, just for fun. Then we talk about the importance of peace. This is a bit of an aside but when you are writing your own articles which you publish on your blogs and don’t care who reads them, you can take this liberty without the fear of your article being returned by a recalcitranteditor.

To return to my theme, ask any of those who actually do the killing and you will get the same answer, ‘It’s not my fault. I was only following orders.’

You can observe the same attitude of ‘learned helplessness’, with those who fall into negative patterns in life, alcohol, smoking, narcotics or other addictions. They all have the same refrain, ‘It’s not my fault.’ But ask them who is suffering? Who is getting cancer and worse? Who is paying for it from his pocket as well as in more painful ways and you get reactions ranging from the sheepish look to anger directed at you, not recognizing that it is really directed at themselves. This is what leads to my hypothesis, which is that people don’t like to grow up.

We all follow the same life cycle. We are born, naked and helpless. If we were to be abandoned at that stage, we would certainly be dead in a few hours at the most. There is nothing we can do to help, defend or support ourselves. We are a piece of living meat. Nothing more. It is our external environment which protects us, sustains us, takes care of our every need and does so at its own cost. We learn to simply take it all as our birthright (sic!) without a word of thanks; firstly, because we are too little to say it and then later, because, well, it is my birthright, right? Our job as babies is to feel sad, glad, bad, mad and yell like hell if we don’t like it, content in the knowledge that someone will come to our aid. The fact that you are reading this is proof that they did. At this stage in life, that is the best strategy and frankly the only one as you are truly helpless. We also learn another lesson; that the external environment determines my happiness and so if I am not happy, it must have to do with the external environment. Also since the external environment is so critically important to my survival, I must obey, or I will perish. These are the lessons of childhood that we all learn.

I am reminded of the time when I went to an elephant training camp deep in the forest in the Indira Gandhi National Park in the Anamallais. There I saw an enormous bull elephant, tethered with a coconut fiber rope, to a stake driven into the ground. What I noticed about this animal, apart from his huge size and very dark color (I have never seen a bigger Asian elephant and he was almost completely black) was not only that it was tethered by this ridiculous rope which couldn’t possibly hold him, even if he simply decided to start walking away, but that the leg with which it was tethered didn’t move at all. It was as if it was paralyzed. The elephant, like all elephants, rocked back and forth as he stood, swaying to a tune only he could hear in his heart. In that process, he lifted his other feet. But the foot which was tethered stayed in the same place.

I knew the answer, but decided to check with the keeper, his Mahawat. I asked him if the elephant couldn’t rip out the stake or snap the rope and walk away if he wanted. The Mahawat laughed and said, ‘Of course Dorai. That silly rope can’t hold him.’

‘Why doesn’t he do it then?’ I asked.

‘Because he believes that he can’t. He believes that the rope is too strong for him to break.’

‘Why is that?’ I asked.

‘You see, when he was a young calf, we would tether him to the same stake with the same rope. At that time, he would fight with all his strength against the rope and squeal with rage when it wouldn’t snap and the stake wouldn’t yield. He was too small to break the rope then. Gradually over a few weeks, he learned a very valuable lesson. Valuable for us, otherwise we would never be able to train him. The lesson he learned was the rope is too strong to break and that we are stronger than he is. That lesson remains with him all life long, even when he is not a calf anymore. As I said, that is a very good thing for us. The day he realizes that his strength, which he uses to push down a full-grown tree to get at a succulent bunch of leaves on top can also be used against this rope and us, he will be free and we will have to run for our lives. But not to worry, he will never realize that. He will always be our slave.’

In the same way, it would have been no problem if our condition remained the same and we continued to remain one-year old all through life. But we don’t. We grow up physically, our environment changes, we change physically but the problem is that many, if not most of us, don’t change mentally and emotionally. So, we have forty-year-old bodies with four-year-old minds. That is why they say, ‘The difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.’ This is where the problem begins, not at forty years of age, but because we don’t learn the lesson that with a change in environment, new skills must be learnt, if you want to survive and grow. But our conditioning of decades comes in the way because we have learned to like this dependence on the external environment, the fact that we can blame everything on it, feel free to do whatever we like without taking responsibility for it and go through life imagining that as long as we have someone to point a finger at, we are not accountable.

Emotional maturity is the process whereby we break the cycle of infancy and accept the fact that we are adults. Not just physically but mentally and emotionally. This means that we accept responsibility for ourselves and our well-being as well as the responsibility for those whose lives we touch. We are aware of our strengths and of the fact that we are a fractal, the coming together of which, with others makes society whole.

To do this there is a critical step that one needs to take which is to understand his/her autonomy i.e. freedom to act according to our will. Simply put, that is not such a big deal. We are all happy to consider ourselves free to act according to our will. What some of us have trouble with, is to recognize that we are free to choose but every choice has a price tag. If we make a choice, we automatically pay the price. In the Vietnam war, American soldiers committed all kinds of horrific atrocities, napalmed entire villages and burned the inhabitants alive, dropped bombs like confetti at a party and did other things, too horrible to be written about here. All following orders. But the tragic fact is that it was not only the Vietnamese who suffered, but that after safely returning home, almost the same number of American Vietnam War Veterans died of PTSD, Agent Orange and other war stress related problems and suicide, as the number killed in Vietnam. The Vietcong didn’t kill them. They paid the price of obeying orders in Vietnam. A price which they didn’t consider when obeying those orders. But a price that was rung up at the till nevertheless. We must pay for what we buy. Always.

Autonomy is to understand this and to be very careful about what you buy, because sometimes the price is far higher than we can afford.

Truly it is said that all wars are the poor of one country killing the poor of another for the benefit of the rich of both. Only when soldiers understand this, will we have a world without war. The ‘excuse’ I am usually given when I say these things is, “Well if they shoot you and use their army to kill you, what choice do the poor people have?” I say that poor people, including you and me still have the choice of standing up and dying. Not lying down and dying. For dying, we will all do one day. The choice is how. It is not important whether you win or lose a battle. What is important is which side you fought on. The reality is that if enough of us choose to take positive, courageous stances this world will change.

Oppressors can’t function without supporters. Those fighting oppression, can. 

Even one person standing up for justice inspires a million others. Recall the iconic pictures of the one person standing before the tank in the long-forgotten Tiananmen Square. Yes, that still didn’t stop the massacre which the US, UN, U&Me have all chosen to forget. Yet that image lives on and inspires me at least. And I am sure many more. It is a tribute to people of courage that this was not the only such instance, photographed or not. So, to repeat myself, ‘Oppressors can’t function without supporters. Those fighting oppression, can.’

Autonomy is to understand that we, each one of us individually, is incredibly powerful. That all change begins with the individual person, man or woman. It is only when one person stands up, that others join. As in the case of Spartacus the Hollywood movie about the slave who fought the Roman Empire and eventually lost. When the slave army was defeated and surrounded, the Roman Commander announced, ‘If you give up Spartacus, your lives will be spared and you can go back to your former jobs (as slaves). If not, every one of you will be crucified.’ There was silence.

Then one man stood up and said, ‘I am Spartacus.’

Then another stood up and said, ‘I am Spartacus.’

Then a third and a fourth until the entire slave army stood up together and proudly shouted, ‘I am Spartacus.’

That is because Spartacus had changed, from being a person, to being an ideal, a goal worth dying for, a legacy worth leaving behind.

That is the power of autonomy.

I know that what I described above is Hollywood’s rendering and a liberal dose of imagination, but nevertheless it makes the point of what I am saying here, that when people choose to exercise their autonomy, good things happen, change happens, human dignity is restored and the world is a better place to live in.

And the alternative?

Keep blaming the world for your failures, your laziness and your inertia. Keep watching as someone just like you, is dragged off a United Airlines flight and tell yourself, ‘It’s not my fault. I am helpless. It is not the fault of those dragging him off either. They are only following orders. Nothing will change even if I stand up and walk out. Nobody will stand up with me. I will only miss my flight. Etc. etc.’

And United is not the only one. Other airlines are not to be left behind in ensuring the best customer service. https://tgam.ca/2fDfnAz
Stand in a queue at a bank in India and watch as an old man standing in the same queue ahead of you, falls dead. As they take the body away, move one place ahead. Do it quietly as if nothing happened. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Just move forward. After all, what can you do if someone just drops dead? What can you do when you also need to get into the bank to get your money out because your government decided to play games with your life’s savings? What can you do when you finally do reach the teller, he tells you, ‘Sorry we have no cash. We have run out of notes.’ It is not his fault, is it? It is certainly not yours. So, whose fault, is it?’ Stop asking stupid questions. Go home and come earlier tomorrow. After all you can’t rely on someone to conveniently die every day to give you a place ahead, can you?

Sit on your sit-upon, in your nice seat in the UN General Assembly and listen to the soul stirring speech of the President of the United States (no less) declaring that he is prepared to evaporate North Korea and wipe it off the face of the map. Try to imagine what the world map will look like with a blank space where North Korea used to be. Try to imagine what the world map looks like today with North Korea where it is. North who? Try to imagine the effect of nuclear weapons today that make the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, look like party crackers. Remember that they were dropped also on the orders of another President of the United States of America – not ISIS. Try to imagine what will happen to Japan and China and Russia if North Korea is the target of a nuclear strike.

Ignore the voice which is whispering in your ear, “What do you think you should do now?”

“Who? Me?”

“Yes, you.”

“I have no orders from my government to do anything. Do you know who this is? This is the President of the United States of America. Even more importantly, it is Donald Trump, Esq. What will I do? Nothing. It is not my fault. I have to follow orders. I need my job. I am not here to change the world.”

“Then why are you in the United Nations General Assembly?”

Ignore it. Say nothing. Do nothing. Gradually it fades away. Gradually it dies. You will feel it in your heart. You will feel the dead weight. But not to worry. You will get used to it.

Just like those who sent children to gas chambers in Nazi Germany got used to it. Just like those who shoot a pregnant Palestinian mother in the belly and say, ‘Two in one’, got used to it. Just as those who are raping pregnant Rohingya women, then ripping open their bellies and throwing their unborn children into the fire, got used to it. Just like those police officers in India who shoot under-trial prisoners and call it an ‘Encounter Killing’ and are extolled in the Indian press and media as ‘Encounter Specialist’, got used to it.

That killing an innocent person is murder according to the IPC and CrPC which the same police officers are sworn to uphold, is a mere detail, best ignored. More important to ‘solve’ cases and save the State time and money which otherwise would be spent in tedious investigation, collecting evidence, producing it before the judge, arguing the case and waiting for the judgment; anxious all the while that it may go against you because your evidence was manufactured and not discovered. Meanwhile, the State pays for the prisoner’s housing and food (so what if that is in prison?). So much easier and cheaper to use one single bullet in the back of the head. And announce the next day to the ever-ready press, ‘Prisoner was killed in an encounter.’

After all, just like you, Mr/Ms. UN Delegate, all these people are also following orders. They also need their jobs. Strange, that they also have their own wives who they love very much. They also have children they dote on. Yet they don’t see the faces of those they love in those they oppress, rape and murder. To them, it is only their own flesh and blood who have names. Others are merely numbers, labels and objects of hate. If you don’t believe me, raise a chicken as a pet, give it a name that it responds to and then one day, try to slaughter it for dinner.

The very meaning of autonomy is to take a stand. To stand up and say, ‘No matter what orders, no matter that I need the job, no matter what anyone says, I will not be a part of injustice.’

It is to stand up and say, ‘There is a price to pay for standing up and a price to pay for keeping silent. I will stand up because I know that the price to pay for remaining silent is far higher.’

Remember the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller (14, January, 1892-6 March 1984)

“First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Living is about choosing. To take a stand is a choice. To do nothing is also a choice. 
And all choices have price tags.

That is why I ask myself, “If not now, then when? If not me, then who?”