Democracy & the Corporation – Corporatizing the Globe

 

“The two greatest obstacles to democracy in the United States are, first, the widespread delusion among the poor that we have a democracy, and second, the chronic terror among the rich, lest we get it.”      Edward Dowling

We’re seeing a sudden surge of dictatorial fascistic leaders around the globe. Here’s something I wrote several years ago, trying to explain what’s happening especially when people give the example of good governance as Singapore, or Malaysia under Mahatir, or Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew, or India under Indira Gandhi by saying that the national leader was a CEO.

My point is that yes, they were great CEO’s and that’s precisely what was wrong with them and their style.

The fault of the rest of us was that we accepted this situation without understanding what was behind it and were happy that the trains ran on time in exchange for our freedoms which were quietly taken away. I think that in today’s political scenario where totalitarianism is sought to be passed off as the price for efficiency, it is particularly important to reflect on what we are giving up for what and ask ourselves whether it is worth it? Remember that social change is more or less permanent. Once it is done, it is almost impossible to undo. A change of government will only change the bottoms in the chairs; not the chairs or the mentality that comes with them. Let us choose wisely because our choice is about ourselves, not anyone else.

Every time anyone protested the State-Corporation reacted like its business model; put down revolts mercilessly; interpreting dissent as treason and punishing it accordingly. That’s why I don’t see Occupy Wall Street, Arab Sprung (not a typo) and the latest Women’s Protest in Washington after the Inauguration of President Trump and similar things as winds of change but as incipient rebellions which will be crushed. Sorry for the jaundiced opinion but I don’t like to fool myself or anyone else. The Arab Spring is a case in point.

Those who want change will have to do a lot more than marching in the streets.

Today the biggest crime is not what The Empire commits daily, openly and blatantly but to criticize the Empire. The saddest/funniest thing is to see this new morality being enforced; not by agents of the Empire but by stupid little slave leaders who don’t even realize what they’re doing. The victims are enforcing their own victimization. How convenient for the oppressors…you get what you want without the bad name that should go with oppression.

Of late we have been seeing many articles lamenting the role of the Press and Media in today’s society and complaining how it is no longer objective and principled but seems to be more a propaganda machine than anything else. I thought it therefore necessary to try to put things in perspective so that we can recognize what is really happening to our world. That way we will either take the trouble to change matters or at least see how entirely expected and appropriate the role of the media and press is, under the circumstances.

The play Mouse Trap is the longest running play in history. It has been going on since 1947. But strangely the ending is always the same. Now isn’t that very peculiar? Or is it really quite understandable because though the actors have changed since 1947, the script is the same and so no matter which actor comes, he or she is forced to speak the same lines and so the play begins in the same way and the ending is the same.

I would like you to remember this analogy while I recall a quick history lesson. Once upon a time there was a multi-national company, run from a warehouse in London where its Board sat. It sent out its managers at first to trade with Indian kings. They took permission to build trading posts, then permission to recruit a small force to secure their goods. Gradually these trading posts metamorphosed into forts, the security guards into a private army and the country managers into Governors. The enslavement of India was well on its way, before the Indian leadership such as there was, even woke up to the fact. That India was more a geography than a political reality at the time was no doubt helpful to those who had a more global view. Robert Clive, Country Manager, British East India Company, became the Governor General (notice the title and its implication) of India, annexed independent states and assassinated their legitimate heads and installed his own Agents to administer what had been in effect independent countries in their own right. All with the knowledge and tacit approval of the British Crown.

It was the so-called ‘Mutiny’ of 1857, which only the last of the Great Mughals, Bahadur Shah Zafar had the courage to call by its real name, ‘The Indian War of Independence’, that forced the British Crown to take a more active role. The slavery of India did not end however; we just changed our owners. Bahadur Shah Zafar was accused of treason and banished from the land of his forefathers. His three sons were shot dead in cold blood and their bodies stripped naked and left in the street with orders not to be buried for three days. So much for the great justice of the British Raj. Bahadur Shah Zafar defended his position and pointed out that it was he, who was the king of the land, not the British East India Company and so he couldn’t possibly have committed treason against himself. It was the Company Sahib (note the address of respect, enforced on India) which was the intruder into a land where they came to trade and stayed to rule. Of course, the plea fell on the deaf ears of the British East India Company’s judge and Bahadur Shah Zafar was banished from the home of his forefathers forever.  That is when he wrote his famous couplet:

kitnaa hai bad_naseeb “Zafar” dafn key liye
do gaz zamin bhi na mili kuu-e-yaar mein

(How unfortunate is Zafar that even to be buried, He couldn’t get two yards of earth in the land of his love)

He was banished to Burma and died in Rangoon; even his grave there today is all but forgotten.

Cut to 2017; a century and a half later and what do we see? The names have changed. The actors have changed but the script is the same and so the play continues. The objectives are the same and so are the methods; grabbing raw material, fuel, land, labor, power and markets in any way possible using any means at one’s disposal and treating any attempt by the rightful owners at self-defense as rebellion, to be crushed mercilessly with overwhelming force. The foundation of this method is of course even more ancient. The industrial-military complex and its methodology for global domination is first recorded more than 2000 years ago, in the annals of the history of the Roman Empire. The Empire is long gone, but ideology outlasts its proponents and so the lessons have been learned and are being practiced. The centurion replaced by the present-day soldier performing the same role; following orders from on high, crushing all attempts at exercising local freedom.

The world however has changed in some ways, in that public opinion does have a bigger say in things, than used to be the case with the Romans or the British Empire. So, thought-steering evolved to a fine art. That and the art of influencing others by means of repeating a lie over and over. Lessons once again learnt from a master, the head of Hitler’s Propaganda Ministry, Goebbels. Only, we are not silly enough to actually call it Propaganda Ministry. Instead we call it the Free Press. So, the lie becomes the truth. The victim deserves to die and the law is a handmaiden of the tyrant, designed to give his every action the veneer of legitimacy.

The New World Order is well on its way to achieving its aim of global domination, called by yet another harmless, even benevolent sounding name, Globalization.

Just reflect a bit on this: what differentiates a Corporation from a Democracy?

Corporation

  1. Hereditary or nominated head
  2. Absolute authority of leadership
  3. If people don’t like the leader, they must leave
  4. Attempts at asserting equality, freedom or questioning decisions are seen as Opposition = Rebellion = Treason = Punishment = ‘Death’: Firing from the job
  5. Master plan for everyone. Others must align to it
  6. Freedom is anathema except for the top leadership. Everyone else is free only to follow orders, couched in nice language.
  7. Test of success = alignment to values
  8. Mark of a leader = Can break unions
  9. Mark of a trouble maker = represents the people = Union leader
  10. Inequality is accepted even expected
  11. Corporations seek to influence consumers
  12. Media/Press = the PR Agency. It sings the official tune, its success lies in its ability to influence minds by interpreting (not reporting) facts, it invents language to ensure that all official actions appear good and all opposition to them appears bad
  13. Freedom fighter = insurgent/terrorist; dead civilians = collateral damage; genocide = ethnic cleansing; murder = encounter. Its job is to ensure that the establishment always appears to be noble, good, pious   and kind; no matter what it does. It can never be objective

Democracy

  1. Elected head
  2. Participatory authority
  3. If people don’t like the leader the leader must leave
  4. Collective bargaining and decision making is encouraged. Citizens participate in leadership. Questioning and Opposition: Signs of a healthy democracy
  5. Participatory master planning open to change as necessary
  6. Equality and freedom are sacred; supported and defended by the constitution
  7. Constituents are citizens, equal participants in the future of the collective
  8. Citizens are equal free and encouraged to influence the government
  9. Democracies seek to consult citizens
  10. Media/Press is the agent of the people. It gives them a voice, it encourages debate, it provides a space for national debate/dialogue, it encourages divergent ideas and ideologies, it reports facts and it questions authority and official decisions. It is the interface between the government and citizens and by its role it tells the government what the people really want or what they think of one policy or another. It keeps authoritative tendencies in check by its ability to expose them and redresses the wrongs committed by those in power.

Corporations see people as consumers. Democracies have citizens

I can go on but I won’t. I will leave you to add to this list as you wish. Those of you who have read Collins and Porras’, Built to Last will read with interest the reasons for greatness that they cite for what they call ‘Visionary Companies’. Among them; Total Alignment to a Core Ideology and Cult-like Cultures are most critical. The single most critical need for a Cult-like Culture is a profusion of mindless followers, who will do what they are told, without question. That is what alignment is all about. And incidentally that is what the fascist state also needs. The success of the corporation is measured by how it can increase shareholder value. This is a direct result of high profits through good margins or high volumes or both. Everything else is subordinate to that goal.

That is the reason why in British India, the British rulers forced the farmers of North India to grow indigo instead of food and precipitated a famine that resulted in more than one million deaths, but of course, not one of them British. But the commercial success of the venture justified the cost in human lives. Especially when they were not British lives but those of some nameless poor black people in ‘that colony of ours’. Similarly, to create a market for the produce of the cloth mills of Yorkshire, the vibrant textile industry of Northern and Central India was deliberately destroyed including the smashing of looms. Millions of small weavers were reduced to penury overnight. And the inferior cloth from Yorkshire had a free entry into the huge Indian market. After all, one must wear clothes, no matter their origin. It is not an accident that Gandhiji took Swadeshi as his slogan, burnt his British clothes and donned the dhoti. He used the spinning wheel as his symbol and spun thread and made khadi cotton cloth.  Unlike many today, he knew his history very well and was a master at putting his finger on the nerve that hurt the most.

Corporatizing of Democracy: The Totalitarian State

The ideal situation for the corporation is when the state becomes a corporation. Then the head of state is proudly called a ‘CEO’. Productivity is at the peak, trains run on time, there is no disruption of work, students study, workers work, teachers teach their subject exclusively, parents condition the next generation properly and all government is left to those who walk the corridors of power. Indeed, this is as it should be and all is right with the ant colony. It is not accidental that countries like China, Israel and even Pakistan have long had most favored nation status with the US/Europe but India (when we were part of the Non-Aligned Movement: what an appropriate name it was!) did not. Those were the days when the trade union movement was vibrant though for those who worked for corporations this was something of a problem. Then came the criminalization (totalitarian control) of trade unions by political parties who floated their own unions and eventually trade union activity became a memory.

The Corporation is interested in one thing only as I mentioned; maximizing profit. Social, religious or political ideologies are of no interest to it in any way except in terms of how they support its goal.

Above all the corporation needs order. It calls it by many names; peace, harmony, goodness for all mankind, but what it really needs is order. The fastest and surest way to create order is by the use of overwhelming force. Zero tolerance. All protest, debate, demonstrations, criticism and ‘confusion’ must be eliminated to get silence and order.

Corporations and corporate language finds immediate resonance in the military because many if not most of modern corporate thinking has roots in military command theory. That is the reason why if you read the history of the development of any fascist totalitarian rule, you will find that the first collaborators of fascist rulers are always industrialists, businessmen; in short those who run corporations. For it is they who understand and empathize with the fascist leader the best.

Corporations are the most undemocratic structures in the world and stand for the exact opposite of all democratic values. However now we have a problem. And that is, what do we do with public opinion if we express the truth as I have done? The solution is language. Say the same thing but differently.

So, the Voice of the Corporation (their Media/Press companies) talks of freedom (they mean freedom to obey), equality (you are exactly equal to the next man on the assembly line), meeting aspirations (provided you keep your head to the corporate grinding wheel for 30 years first), progress (corporate goals are being met) and welfare (good living conditions for the enforcers). Crime and patriotism are both redefined. Any action that seeks to slow down or change the corporate goal is a crime. Any opposition to official ideology is treason. Patriotism is not love of and loyalty to the country but loyalty to the government of the day. Criticism is defined as disloyalty. Curtailing of freedom and human rights are justified in the interest of security.

In order to get people to not just agree to their freedoms being curtailed and human rights being reduced and violated, terror is used by the state or its agencies so that fear crazed people will come running into the open arms of the police asking for protection and gladly ratify the most draconian laws which imprison their minds, tongues and actions. Security is inversely proportional to functionality. People are taught this valuable lesson so that they tamely accept hours of waiting for flights, strange security guards delving into their most personal belongings and their probing hands and eyes rampaging all over their bodies, ostensibly searching for hidden arms.

People who have learnt these lessons also learn to keep their mouths shut even if they don’t actively support legislation legalizing torture, murder, detention without cause and disappearances in the night. And those who don’t learn this lesson become examples whose fate enables others to learn.

Freedom of speech is a very well-rehearsed charade. The Corporate State allows you to say whatever you want and to hold demonstrations of as many people as you want. This serves two very important ends: it supports the illusion of freedom of speech and allows people a way of letting off steam so that there isn’t enough buildup to bring about fundamental change. This also allows the Corporate State the opportunity to identify potential threats to itself and to take care of them later once the noise has subsided and all the demonstrators have gone back to their TV screens and popcorn. Then the Corporate State does what it intended to do anyway. The Iraq war, the ongoing genocide in Gaza, Tiananmen Square massacre in China are all good examples.

There are many others but I will leave you to think of them. The same is the case of Judicial Enquiries where compliant judges sign on dotted lines and the case is always closed in favor of the Corporate State. Ask, when was the last time that the State was indicted in a Judicial Enquiry and its agents went to jail?

The last thing that a Corporate State needs is a thinking, questioning, middle class that has options. So, it seeks to remove them and to change their situation where the people are completely dependent on the state which then becomes the best way of controlling them. Financial meltdowns, whether they are deliberately engineered or the result of excessive greed are a very useful tool to bring the middle class down to earth. It is the middle class which loses the shirt on its collective back and has its homes repossessed and suddenly higher goals like freedom, liberty and human rights have to be subordinated to the immediate goal of putting food on the table or ensuring a roof overhead. After the meltdown, the Corporate State steps in with its bail-out plans, all neatly packaged with a veritable spaghetti of strings attached. All sensible people fall in line. Those who protest or worse, seek to show others the reality are struck down, often by their own badly frightened compatriots. If they escape that fate, the Corporate State removes them from circulation for the common good, silently watched by the mute majority.

Ask, in the latest meltdown who’s suffering the most? Corporate heads who are responsible for the meltdown or the middle class who were their faithful employees? Ask, how is it that heads of corporations which went bankrupt went home with multi-million dollar pay and bonus packages? What are these rewards for? Ask, who are the direct and immediate beneficiaries of the bailout packages? Ask, how many corporate heads lost their jobs or suffered pay cuts or lost their homes in the financial meltdown? Ask, where were the decisions that created the meltdown taken; in board rooms or on the assembly line? Ask, but who is the one who lost the shirt on his back and the roof over his head?

The Corporate State is a great supporter of technology. It funds and supports without limit all research that enables it to control the people better and more powerfully. The official line of course is that this is in the interest of the people themselves to better be able to protect them from harm. Anyone thinking of raising his voice against more and more invasive surveillance is silenced by his own people. Some truly amazing technological developments are being mentioned. Bugs with solar powered cameras which will transmit real-time images and audio to a satellite which will beam it back to a central console monitoring the doings of the target group. The term ‘fly-on-the-wall’ suddenly has a very different and sinister meaning. Satellite maps that pinpoint your home, car and yourself exactly and can track your every move. Cell phones, credit cards, ID cards, retina scans all to identify you positively and to track your every move. Once again, I won’t go on.

The point is that the vast majority of research and development that is currently going on is not in the areas of health, food production, environmental protection, education or economic development but in the area of what is euphemistically called ‘security systems. In fact, these are not security systems but surveillance systems, control systems and more sinister systems which all dovetail to focus on the overarching goal of enhancing the hold of the Corporate State on the world.

What can we do?

What the Corporate State can’t stand is the light of day on its activities. So accurate reporting of facts, shining the light of enquiry on shady deals, asking the unasked, speaking the unspoken and raising your voice against injustice right at its inception, are all necessary. Technology today gives us the ability to do all of this without depending on the Corporate Media to give us space. Thanks to the internet, camera mobiles, smart phones and the ability to upload images and text from almost anywhere, it is possible today to ensure that at least those who are interested can see the side of the picture that the likes of CNN, Times, Fox and other mouthpieces of the establishment have been hiding.

Ultimately to act or to sit and watch is the decision of the individual. We can’t force anyone to act. What we can and must do however is to ensure that people have access to correct information so that they can make good decisions. What we can and must do is to ensure that critical questions are asked and brought into the debate so that people can demand more and better information from the agencies of the Corporate State.

Whether they get that information or not immediately is not the issue. When they start asking the questions this in itself will generate positive trends where citizens will stop acting like consumers and start to exercise some of their rights. The right to information is one. The right to justice is another. Freedom of belief and speech is another. I believe that as citizens of democracies, no matter how flawed, if we can enforce accountability by sharing information and asking questions we will have achieved a great deal in ensuring that men and women can still walk free in the land, long after we are gone.

 

Reading, A lost habit?

Quick self-test:
 
1.    What are the books you have read until now? Please list them with the authors.
2.    What are the books you read in the last 3 months?
3.    How much TV do you watch daily? Can you write down what you learnt from the TV program you watched last night?
4.    How many books do you own? Do you have a library?
5.    Do you buy books regularly?
6.    What kind of books do you read? What do you learn from them? Can you list what you learnt? (Kind of books you read is critical. Not simply reading to pass the time from which we learn nothing.)
7.    Are you ‘allergic’ to reading? Do you take ‘pride’ in the fact that you can’t read more than 2 pages?
Numerous surveys have shown that children of parents who own libraries and who are habituated to reading tend to read more. Children who see their parents reading like to read. Initially they imitate the parents, they look at the pictures and later they get interested in reading on their own. They are in a print-rich environment, they hear conversation dealing with authors, thoughts and ideas and this produces a desire to read and acquire knowledge. Parents who want to encourage children to read have libraries of their own and encourage children to acquire books. They present them books, they praise reading, they encourage them to build their own libraries and they take the children out to bookstores and libraries as ‘entertainment’. They discuss what they read with their children, they give a book that they have been reading to their child and then talk about what the child understood from it. Such parents have scholars as friends and introduce their children to them and ensure that they spend a significant amount of time in the company of scholars. They encourage systematic learning, structured questioning and debate and focus towards application in real life. All these are tools of dealing with knowledge and understanding how to leverage it to advantage.
 
TV watching is shown to be detrimental to reading because it is addictive and the pace of presentation is pre-set and is not in control of the viewer. Internet browsing is a little better but unless one is systematically searching for information, one learns very little. The best self-test is to sit with a pad and pen after having watched a TV program and to try to write down what the learning from that program was. Many people say, “I only watch Animal Planet or National Geographic.” But try to talk to them about global warming or ecology or environmental pollution or any of the many subjects that are aired on these channels and you will realize that they may as well have watched MTV or some other mindless program for all the good it did them. Simply sitting in front of the TV watching something potentially useful does no good. Most people watch TV for entertainment, no matter which program they watch. Not for learning anything.
And unlike in a book, the program is not there for you to replay and check out what you missed. I am deliberately not speaking about the vast, by far the majority of programs, which are purely made to help one to give up one’s irreplaceable life asset (time) free of cost so that others can make some serious bucks. If you don’t know what I mean, ask, “What is the definition of ‘Prime Time’?” Then check out what prime time TV advertising costs. Why do people agree to pay that kind of money? Because you are sitting there in front of your TV screen with your jaw hanging open, oblivious of the fact that it is your time/life that someone is using to make money for himself. I am also not talking here about the huge potential to corrupt moral and social values and the powerful force of social engineering that is at play in TV programming. All we have to do is to look at ourselves, our families, our cultures of which we used to be so proud and our moral values to see the effect.
Finally I have encountered several people who almost take pride in their ignorance and say, “I am allergic to reading. I can’t read more than 2 pages at a time.” It is strange for me to see how instead of being ashamed and working to do something to overcome this self-imposed impairment, they talk about it proudly. Ignorance really has no bounds. It is such parents who produce ignorant children who produce more ignorant children and so on.
That is why when we talk about the world today being in the ‘Knowledge Age’, I have to ask the question, ‘So what am I doing to gear myself to live in such a world?’ If I lived in a ‘Water World’ and I did not know how to swim, I would be seriously frightened of drowning. The same analogy applies. If I live in the Knowledge Age and I have no desire to acquire knowledge, no tools to deal with information, no means of understanding what to do with what I am reading or listening to, then I am in serious danger of perishing.
Lastly let me point out that all of the above that I have said about reading is really only the first step. Then comes understanding, conceptualizing, strategizing, planning, executing and measuring before one can actually see any results. But if one is unwilling even to take the first step of reading, then how on earth is anything else supposed to happen?

How to become an author

Someone asked Arthur Hailey (I think it was him) what the secret to his prolific writing was. He replied, “I wake up every morning and I write.”


Sixteen books later, someone asked me, ‘Tell me how to become a writer.’

I replied, ‘Write. Write badly but write now – right now.’

You become an author by writing. Not by talking about how badly you want to become an author. It is like drawing or singing – people hesitate to do it because they don’t think they are good at it. That explains the popularity of bathroom singing because you do it in what you think is isolation and so you are uninhibited. So tuneless though you may be, you still enjoy yourself. It is the same with writing. People worry about writing a best seller more than they worry about writing itself. Logically you have to write first to give someone a chance to like or dislike your work. And with the popularity of self-publishing today and even more in the future, unless you want to make a living out of writing, likes and dislikes are not really material. So stop reading this and start writing now – right now.

I have what I call my 7 – rules of writing which I have found to be very useful. I am sharing this with the hope that they are useful to all the potential authors who are waiting in the wings to be read. For the first requirement for being read is to write.

1.   Forget inspiration

The biggest block to writing is to wait for inspiration. That is not to say that you will never be inspired. You will be. There will be times when the words will flow faster than you can type. The right words will come. The sentences will form themselves and you will watch as if from the sidelines what is flowing from your fingers. But if you wait for that to happen you will wait a long, long time. So do what the famous author quoted above said, ‘I wake up every morning and I write.’ The big secret of writing is to write.

2.   Good research

Depending on what you are writing about, research may be a very important aspect. What’s worse than making a fool of yourself? Making a fool of yourself in writing. The protection for that is research. Another thing; research and quoting the sources adds credibility to your argument. It shows that you are not the only bright spark in the world and that others before you also thought on the same lines and reached the same conclusions. And of course, research may result in your changing your line of thought or argument altogether depending on what you find out.

What is good research?

·         Search honestly: Look at all sources; not only the friendly ones.
·         Don’t read selectively: Actively look for contradictory data. If you don’t, others will.
·         Don’t use data to ‘prove’ argument. Build the argument based on what the data reveals.
·         Data is supreme: Be willing to change your whole approach if the data warrants it.

3.   Create structure

Create an overall structure for the book. You can change this as you go along but a structure is a huge aid in writing. Structure also gives form to the story line and points you in the direction of information you need. Structure gives you ideas about the kind of research you need to do. Structure helps you to visualize the overall size and form the book will take.

4.   Allocate time

Make a time table and allocate time for writing. During this time don’t do anything else. No emails, chores, phone calls, browsing or anything else. Just sit there and write. Discipline is the key. If you can make yourself sit at your computer every day and write, you are well on your way to becoming an author. The time of the day is not material. With a little reflection you will realize which your most productive time is. For me it is the early morning and late nights. Midday is not productive for writing and so I go to the gym at noon. Nothing like adrenaline to get the brain working.

5.   Keep a notebook handy for ideas

Ideas are funny things. They come when they want and they vanish when you need them. Then you are left with a form of sublime torture; having that idea hovering just at the edge of your consciousness; a hazy memory that you can’t access. So don’t pretend that you have a photographic memory. Only a camera has it and cameras don’t write. So keep a notebook handy. That means next to your pillow at night and in an accessible pocket all day and jot down the ideas that come. I have a way of having my book idea floating around in my head 24×7. Then as ideas occur they automatically fit in or get rejected. What emerges I write down. Writing down ideas is very important.

6.   Delete is not a 6 – letter curse word

Never get wedded to what you write. If you think of a better way to say it, do it. ‘Rewrite’ is the best phrase in the book. Where practical get someone else to read what you have written and take feedback seriously. I am not suggesting that you must necessarily accept all feedback and change what you have written or change the way you have written it. But I am saying that reflecting on feedback is a very good idea and where the situation warrants it, make appropriate changes.

7.   Writing and publishing are two different things

Writing in the end is a form of self expression. It is about you. It is the pouring out of your heart. It is the closest that you will come to becoming immortal. So write. If it gets published that is great. If not, it does not matter. Writing will still give you satisfaction that otherwise you would never have got. Today with the internet and blogging and online publishing there are many alternatives to the standard publishing company. So you need not dread getting the famous editor’s letters which is the hallmark of all block busting authors. All of them were summarily rejected by several self important editors who couldn’t see beyond their noses until they found the one who accepted their work and went laughing all the way to the bank. Explore a way to get published by all means but whether you find a way or not, keep writing.

Where did it all go?

A very dear old friend, David Ramse,  a ‘lay’ person with strong religious convictions enough to make him a missionary; a scientist, teacher – sent me this picture taken in 1980 when he used to live in St. Lust on the Berbice River. David and Miriam had a house literally on the river with its feet in the water – a beautifully located structure which Miriam made into a lovely home. I was invited to visit them and spent a couple of days there, when David took this picture of me trying to resuscitate a young Toucan which had flown into the screen door.

When I sent this picture to my brother, he asked me, ‘Where did all those years go Jaan?’ He calls me Jaan – short for Bhaijaan.

Where did they go? 34 years as on date – 1980-2014 – and counting.

I recalled what we will say when we meet our Rabb and are asked, ‘How long did you stay on earth?’ We will reply, ‘A day or a part of a day.’ All our life – a day or part of a day – in the reckoning of time by the Creator of time Himself.

Mu’minoon 23: 112. He (Allah) will say: “What number of years did you stay on earth?” 113. They will say: “We stayed a day or part of a day. Ask of those who keep account.” 114. He (Allah) will say: “You stayed not but a little, if you had only known! 115. “Did you think that We had created you in play (without any purpose), and that you would not be brought back to Us?” 116. So Exalted be Allah, the True King, La ilaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He), the Rabb (Lord) of the Supreme Throne!

So what did this time give me? Memories – all lovely, positive, for which I am thankful. 

Duas asked; some accepted, some not accepted for which I am even more thankful – now that I have the benefit of hindsight to be able to see why AllahY didn’t accept those prayers. A sense of being guided, protected and nurtured. Of being brought back from the straying path without being allowed to suffer its consequences. Of being given the time to ask forgiveness and repent and even more for the good sense to take advantage of that time and ask forgiveness. How can I do anything but be thankful? So what memories, what lessons?

1.    Changed three jobs and learnt that happiness and job satisfaction is not in the job but inside myself.
2.    Lived in four countries, cheek by jowl with people of tribes, races, manners, values, concerns and history completely different from my own and learnt how similar we are to all people, even though we are different.
3.    Made friends – very deep and lasting friendships. Some I lost, to death, others to changes in lives. Learnt that the pain of parting is directly proportional to the depth of relationship. We pay for one with the other.
4.    Shared times, anxieties, dangers, hopes, happiness, grief and simply time with people on three continents and learned that our hearts beat to a rhythm that has nothing to do with the shape of our nose, the color of our skin or what we believe in.
5.    Shared thoughts, ideas, learning and sometimes a sunset or sunrise and learnt that the person I shared it with was more important than what I shared and that he/she enhanced that experience and was the reason I remembered it at all.
6.    Struggled for many goals. Some I achieved and some I didn’t. On the average my batting average has been far more positive than negative and I learnt that success depends on the color of our dreams, not on the color of our hair.
7.    Shared food, clothing, smiles and sometimes tears with many and learnt that it is possible to share both grief and happiness and strangely it decreases one and enhances the other.
8.    Shared silence and understood that companionship is not chattering like an insane magpie but like a pair of Golden Eagles, in sitting silently on a high mountain crag contemplating the world at your feet. Learnt that the best companions are those with whom a conversation is not a necessity. Learnt that telepathy is not fantasy. It happens. And it is fun.
9.    Built a consulting company with clients on three continents. Acquired property. Made profit. Sometimes loss. Learnt that the joy of hard work is more than the joy of achieving success easily. It is the danger, uncertainty and stacked deck which adds the spice of excitement to the win. Excitement is fear that anticipates a happy ending and both pump adrenalin into the system.
10. Ate dry bread, curds and pickle with poor villagers and listened to their dreams which to me were the stuff of normal life, taken for granted. Learnt the great secret of happiness, that it lies in the smile of another, whose dream you helped to come true. Learnt that courage is not expressed in the magnitude of the challenge but in the perspective from which it is viewed – for how difficult something appears is relative to where you stand. Learnt also that current circumstances don’t decide if you will succeed or fail, but only where you need to start. Learnt lastly that nobody ever knows the best that he can do – and still learning.
11. Spent time with myself, with real friends and with crowds and learnt that being comfortable with yourself is the most important thing. That companionship is a factor of respect which nurtures love. That loneliness is not the result of the absence of people but the absence of a particular person.
12. Slept under the canopy in the Amazonian rain forest, under the stars in the Arabian desert, beside a lake in a high mountain valley in the Himalayas and in a dry riverbed in the Aravallies. Learnt that sleep is a factor of peace of mind which comes from a clear conscience which in turn comes from never harming anyone knowingly. When we wish good or evil for another, we will it for ourselves.
13. Listened to many conversations. Participated in a few. Learnt that hatred is fire and its result is always ash. Learnt that it is possible for us to look for people’s faults or strengths and that we always find what we seek. The rest is its result. Learnt that being positive may be difficult in some situations but in those it is even more important if you want to get out of them. Negative thinking is quicksand; the more time you spend in it, the deeper you sink.
14. Through successes, failures, happiness, grief, beauty, ugliness; through anxiety and safety, through hunger and plenty; I learnt to recognize the hand of my Lord – to see, accept and look forward to His plan for me.
15. I learnt to recognize His Majesty, Mercy and Grace and to ask for His indulgence and forgiveness. I learnt to see His art in the forms that He created and to ask in great wonder and joy, ‘Why?’ The more I learnt, the more I marveled, the more I rejoiced, the closer I feel to Him and the more I desire to meet Him.

Thirty four years have gone by – all memories triggered by one photograph. It is highly unlikely that there are another thirty four to go. But then will begin a life that has no end. 

So final set of points to remind myself are:

1.    What more could I have done in these years?
2.    What did I earn that will benefit me in the life that will not end?
3.    What have I earned that I can present to the One to Whom is my return?
And most importantly – more important than all of the above – what can I do, starting right now?

For in the end we will be judged not by what happened but by what we decided to do about it.

Living your Message – Be the change you want to see ~ Mahatma Gandhi

If there is one thing that stands out with respect to Gandhiji, it was his willingness to live by his principles – irrespective of the consequences to himself. He was a classic example of what today we call, ‘Walk the talk’ and that was the secret of his enormous credibility. I recall a story that someone told me in Durban from Gandhiji’s South Africa days. He said that Gandhiji’s son narrated as follows:

 ‘I used to drop my father to his workplace and pick him back after work as we lived in the Indian area (Apartheid segregation) which was more than twenty-five kilometers away. One day I decided to go to the movies – something that my father didn’t approve of – and as luck would have it, I got engrossed in the film and forgot all about the time. When the movie finished I realized that I was more than an hour late to pick up my father. It was even later when I finally drove up to his office. He was waiting for me and asked me why I was late. I told him that the car had broken down and it took time while I had it fixed. Unknown to me however a friend of my father’s had seen me in the cinema and took the trouble to telephone him and tell him about it. So my father asked me, ‘I understand that you went to the movies and that is why you were delayed. Is this true?’
I knew when the game was up and admitted that this was the reason why I was delayed. My father then said something that has remained with me all these years – he said, ‘I have always tried to teach you to speak the truth. But it appears that I have failed. So I will punish myself for my failure. You can go home. I shall walk back.’ Saying that he walked home, twenty-five kilometers on a dark road while I drove slowly behind him. He never mentioned this incident again. And I have never lied again.’
If one needs proof of the power of walking the talk, this is as good as it gets.
I always tell this story when I am speaking to teachers and parents on raising children and ask, ‘What do you think will be the result of our placing responsibility for learning where it belongs – on the teachers/parents?’

In my view my life can be as valuable as I want to make it. It is not how long I live, but how I live which is more important. It is not what I do but the intention behind that action which determines whether that action is worthy of appreciation and emulation or an illustration of something to avoid at all costs.  A life that is lived creating value is a valuable life. One that is lived indulging oneself and one’s desires or worse, creating negative effects is a life wasted. After all animals also live and do whatever pleases them. But they leave no mark of their passing. They live, they reproduce, they die. Most humans do the same, with as much effect on their environment, society and time such that when it is mentioned that they once lived, one is tempted to ask, “So what?”
We only live once. During the course of that life, a large part of it is spent in growing up and growing old. Between the two is a brief period where a window opens. A window of opportunity where we have the chance to make a difference. Whether we are able to take advantage of this window depends on whether we anticipated it and prepared for it. Every one of us has this window in our lives. But some of us, when opportunity knocks, we complain about the noise.

“In the final analysis:
It all matters…
Everything that you do or choose not to do,
Communicate brand value and character.”
In my view there is one thing that takes precedence over all else when we look at the things that add value to human life. That is the establishment of justice. And that begins with speaking and living by the truth. This is what Gandhiji exemplified all through his life.
At all places and in all times, it is the establishment of justice that is the most critical underpinning to all other activity. A mother who brings up her children with a focus on establishing justice creates harmony in the home and brings up good citizens. A teacher who focuses on the establishment of justice in his or her teaching creates a society that is free from discrimination and which encourages merit. A manager who focuses on the establishment of justice creates a work atmosphere that rewards genuine effort and enables employees to find fulfillment in their work. A government that focuses on the establishment of justice ensures that the talents of all citizens are allowed to flower for the benefit of the nation and that strong groups support the weak instead of oppressing them. So the establishment of justice is the single most valuable goal that anyone can work for.
However as I mentioned, establishing justice is not easy. It never was:
“Cowardice asks the question – is it safe?
Expediency asks the question – is it politic?
Vanity asks the question – is it popular?
But conscience asks the question – is it right?
And there comes a time when one
must take a position that is neither safe,
nor politic, nor popular;
But one must take it because it is right.”
~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
And that is the key; one must do what is right, no matter what the cost. But then who said it was easy? I only said that it was the most valuable thing to do. Not the easiest.

(Credit for sketch belongs to the artist and NOT to me.)

Gandhi versus Kejriwal Challenges – similar and different

The developing political scenario in India is as interesting as it was unexpected and many are drawing parallels with India’s Freedom Struggle and the role that Mahatma Gandhi played in it. This article is simply to look at similarities and differences with the intention to draw some lessons.

Similar

1.    Both are/were mass based struggle where the leader projected himself as one of the common people – Aam Aadmi.
2.    Both bypassed the elite and addressed the masses of India’s population. In Gandhiji’s struggle the elite fell in line when they saw the trend and didn’t openly oppose Gandhiji.
3.    Both highlighted evocative issues and used unorthodox and unusual approaches – like the Dandi Salt March and Kejriwal’s Dharna against police inaction in Delhi.
4.    Both attempted to gain some quick wins especially at thumbing the nose at the Government – Swadeshi Movement and Gandhiji’s Charka (spinning wheel).
5.    Both attempted to include people of every faith – a very critical requirement in a multi-religious and pluralistic society like India.

Different

1.    Gandhiji’s struggle was for the Freedom of India from British Colonialism – a supremely evocative cause that can have no parallel. Freedom movements all over the world have a power of their own.
2.    The ‘enemy’ was clearly visible, was a clear ‘outsider’, was a symbol of oppression and there were clear personal gains associated with succeeding in the struggle.
3.    There was no media to highlight mistakes and egg-in-the-face and in any case the cause was such that followers were willing to forgive anything.
4.    In Kejriwal’s case, the media has been bought and are doing all they can to dig out every little mistake or fault and highlighting it to try to discredit him. The power of this constant barrage on the senses and people’s minds can’t be underestimated.
5.    There was no opposition to Gandhiji’s struggle – there was no counter movement to keep India enslaved. The British were also getting tired of ruling and this came to a head after World War 2 and freedom ensued.
6.    In Kejriwal’s case there is a clear counter movement from the elite who have opened all purses and are willing to do anything to ensure that he fails.
7.    Gandhiji didn’t have to worry about fighting an election or winning a majority in Parliament.
8.    Kejriwal is working to a clear timeline – both a benefit and a liability.
9.    Gandhiji didn’t have to bring about administrative reform – he was not the ruler and was not given the government in any form – so he didn’t have to take decision, pass laws or do anything to gain the commitment of his followers. They wanted freedom from the British and believed that he could get it for them, so they followed him.
10. Kejriwal has to prove that his promises come true right away.
11. Those who dissented with Gandhiji and his methodology – and there were many – thanks to the fact that there was no media to highlight their dissenting comments, simply fell by the wayside and Gandhiji grew bigger than all of them.
12. Nobody who was a part of Gandhiji’s movement spoke against him publicly no matter what they thought of him or may have said to him privately.
13. In Kejriwal’s case some of the high-profile recruits (like Capt. Gopinath) are proving to be a mixed blessing by criticizing him in public. Clearly there is no party discipline in place which leaves room for healthy dissent yet draws the line at washing dirty linen in public.

Having said all of the above it still remains to be seen as to what will unfold as we approach the 2014 elections.

Will idealism and the genuine desire to help this great nation of ours emerge from the morass of corruption that we have descended into be translated into visible action?
Or will we be delivered into the hands of the elite who have prospered at the cost of the masses – once again to be sold, manipulated, corrupted and silenced – so that the powers that be, become richer and more powerful?

I believe that the answer to the above will lie in how many of us are ready to rise to the occasion, bury their differences, keep India in focus and do what it takes to save our nation from slavery worse than the British ever levied on us.

Kejriwal is not perfect. Neither was Gandhiji. But what was different – what Gandhiji had which Kejriwal has to create – is people who believed in him and loved him enough to overlook his faults and idiosyncrasies and focus on his message. Gandhiji’s followers had bought into his dream – the dream of a Free India. What remains to be seen is if Kejriwal can also get his followers to buy into the same dream – the dream of a truly Free India.