born in the mid-to-late 1970s are the last generation of humans on the planet
to have grown up without the internet. Social scientists call them the Last of
the Innocents. In his book The End of Absence, Vancouver writer Michael Harris
calls people who grew up prior to the popularisation of digital culture
“digital immigrants” — they have lived both “with and without the crowded
connectivity of online life.”
no person on earth will remember what the world was like before the internet.
There will be records, of course (stored in the intangibly limitless archive of
the cloud), but the actual lived experience of what it was like to think and
feel and be human before the emergence of big data will be gone.
demise of the Last of the Innocents will mean the loss of an entire plane of
human experience — the time when, faced with long hours of nothing to do, our
attention was allowed to wander; when there was time for reflection and
introspection and devoting attention to people we were actually with; when idle
summer nights could be spent in the yard catching fireflies and days would be
spent lying in the grass looking for faces in clouds. – The Guardian”
God! How true that is!!! I am so grateful that I am one of the ‘Innocents’. And
I can still recall what it was like to lie in the sand of a riverbed on a dark
night, looking up at the stars and wondering if what I was seeing was still
there. I didn’t even have a wristwatch because those were rare and, in any
case, I was too poor to afford one. Such beautiful days. I recollect this when
today, thanks to big data my words are transmitted all over the world to places
that I have never been to and probably never will. I have seen both worlds.
a disclaimer: Nostalgia alert: Not everything old is or was good. Not
everything new is or was bad. But nostalgia feels so good. Enjoy and keep the
the world before plastics, glasses were made of glass, or copper or silver and
water tasted better in them. Bottles were transparent glass or opaque ceramic.
But both were breakable and did. Plates were ceramic beautifully painted. Also,
breakable and did. We also had steel plates which didn’t break but were less
classy. Buckets and tubs were unbreakable, made of copper or galvanized iron
and made a loud clang when you put them down and dropped the handle. So, you
were careful to put the handle down gently.
bags were cloth, washed and reused until they wore out and then served as dish
and polishing cloths until they vanished. Chairs were wooden or metal – some
foldable, some not. All heavy and unstackable. So, when plastic bottles,
plates, cups, buckets and tubs and above all plastic bags came to be, we were
thrilled out of our minds. Transparent like glass but doesn’t break? Buckets
and tubs lifting which didn’t break your back? Chairs that could be stacked and
put away when you didn’t need them? Shopping bags that you could print your
label on and which the customer could use for other things or simply throw
away? No need to wash and dry and reuse. Truly a vision of convenience heaven.
were wooden cots without springs with cotton mattresses on them. Every year a
man would come with an instrument that resembled a great bow and would be shut
into a room with all mattresses. He would unstitch one side, pull out the
cotton, prong it with his bow until it was fluffy once again and then stuff it back
into the mattress. When you entered the room to give the man a cup of tea, you
had to look for him in the white cloud of cotton fluff and dust that he
generated. The drumming sound of him working was like an out of tune sitar.
What it did to his lungs breathing in the cotton fluff, is not something that
either he or we were conscious of but thanks to spring-less beds and firm
mattresses we didn’t have backaches. PUF was unheard of. Foam was on soaps, not
mattresses. And soaps were in the bathroom, not on TV. There was no TV.
home had resident wildlife – sparrows in the rafters making an infernal din
every morning belligerently defending their nesting sites from intruders. In
Urdu they are very aptly called Khana Chidiya (Khanchudi in Deccani) – house
bird. Their feathers and at nesting time, all the grass and other tidbits they
brought and then allowed to fall – they are incredibly messy nest builders –
meant that the house had to be swept twice or three times a day. Occasionally a
sparrow would get brained by a lazily rotating fan because they never seemed to
realize that trying to perch on a moving fan was a bad idea. We would pick up
the dazed bird and revive it and put it on a windowsill so that it could fly
away when it wished. It never occurred to us to de-sparrow the house.
Sweeping was preferable to an aseptic house devoid of the chirping of
the sparrow. Today with all the concrete and glass and pesticide sprays in
the fields, sparrows are gone.
water came when it came so everyone had storage tanks in bathrooms. If those
ran out there was the Bi-hish-ti (literally: man from heaven) who came with a
leather sack slung over his shoulder and topped up the tank. More usually he
would water the garden and simply sprinkle water in the yard after sunset to
cool the place down before our cots would be set out for us to sleep under the
stars all through summer. Those who didn’t have gardens had terraces or flat
roofs used for the same purpose. How did it feel to lie in bed and look at the moon
and stars through your mosquito net, secure in the thought that your house was
not being burgled while you slept? I don’t think I can even tell you to try it
out today. The world before plastics was different.
that world we had no computers, but we had time. We had no TV, but we had
friends. We had no cell phones, but we spoke to people face to face.
Conversation was an art, taught and learnt and grunts didn’t substitute for
words. Language had value and was acquired and husbanded – new words tried out
to see how they worked – phrases repeated, shared and appreciated. Poetry was
an actual form of self-expression that underlined the thought and the ability
to quote the right couplet at the right time was a mark of a person’s
education. Conversation didn’t simply revolve around politics or controversial matters,
but we talked about thought leaders, exemplars of our past and shared their
thoughts and writings, often verbatim – memorizing and quoting them being a
sign of our own worth. An hour or two passed in this way, drinking tea and
reciting poetry and marveling at the turn of phrase, expressing thoughts that
touched the heart was something to be looked forward to and back on with great
worked in the home or for our families for love or duty but never for money. We
were never offered money and would have considered it an insult to be offered
payment for doing something for our family members, no matter how distant. The
concept of paying children to work in the home was unheard of and considered
deplorable. Money was called ‘dirt on the hands’ – we dirtied our hands for the
experience. The dirt came as a result – we didn’t work for it. Mentioning what
anything cost, what anybody earned or what anyone had spent on a gift, meal or
any other form of hospitality was considered insulting and crass. Hospitality
was a value, not an industry. The guest was someone you invited home to a meal.
To take him to a restaurant was considered a lapse in the standard of
hospitality. Even if you did it, it was done under duress. Never as a choice.
If some family member informed us that he or she was arriving from another
city, it was the standard for us to meet them at the station and bring them
will never forget the picture of my great-uncle Nawab Ruknuddin Ahmed standing
on the platform on Chennai station with garlands when I arrived there in 1985
with my newly wedded wife Samina. He was staying with his daughter, Aunty
Jahanara, who we would be transiting with on our way to the tea gardens where I
worked. Even though it was not his home that we were going to, Mamujaan honored
us by personally receiving us at the station. But then what am I saying? How
can the daughter’s home not be his home? Just as my aunt’s home was my home. We
learnt from the actions of our elders. Tradition was to keep those memories
alive – not only by talking about them, but by emulating the actions. For a
family member to stay in a hotel instead of at home with us, was an insult to
our honor. The thought that elderly parents could be sent away to a ‘home’ was
unimaginable. Home was where we lived – not some place to shunt old
inconvenient elders to, to be taken care of by strangers. They were our elders.
We remembered what they did for us when we were little. To do the same for
them, was not only our duty but not even something we considered remarkable.
that world we played real games on real earth not virtual games on a gadget. We
ran, sweated, yelled ourselves hoarse, tore our shirts, fell down, skinned our
knees, got covered with dust and when it was raining with mud and considered
all this as having a whale of a time. In these games we learned leadership,
sharing, standing up for our friends, being done in by those we trusted and
learnt lessons from all of them. We learned to work as a team, strategize and
see the result of that strategy. We stood up for each other, never reneged on
our friends, even when we sometimes had to pay the price for that loyalty. We
settled with our friend in private but stood by his side in public. You didn’t
turn your back on your friends. It was as simple as that. It didn’t matter to
us what the color, religion or social status of the friend was. It didn’t
matter what car he drove because we all rode bicycles. It didn’t matter
what brand of clothing he wore because we all had clothes custom tailored by
the Darzee (tailor) in our Muhalla (neighborhood). Bell bottoms were in fashion
and we wore them. So were pointed shoes, and Brylcream in the hair. It didn’t
matter whether the friend was rich or poor because at the end of a good
football game, we all looked the same – the color of mud. It didn’t matter if
he was tall or short, handsome or ugly. What mattered was that he was my
friend. That was all.
that world manners were everything. Manners meant that you showed respect to
elders by greeting them first and standing up for them. By anticipating their
needs and running to fulfill them. Manners meant that if an elder had to carry
a chair to a place where he wanted to sit, it was an insult to you as the
youngster who stood by and watched. Manners meant that you spoke politely after
asking permission and listened more than you spoke. ‘That is why you have been
given two ears and one mouth’ – we were told. Manners meant that when guests
came home you served them, not servants. That you were in the middle of
studying for your exam meant nothing. Guests were more important than exams.
When the guests left you went back to studying and still got straight A’s. No
compromising on results.
that world, we read books. Not occasionally but every single day. We had our
favorite authors, but we still had to read the classics mandatorily. Books were
(and still are) our best friends, opening doors into worlds unexplored. We saw
the scenes as we read about them, laughed with the actors in those stories,
shared their joys and sorrows.
opened for us doors into the hearts and lives of the writers and their times
walking through which we discovered ourselves. We read everything. J.R.R
Tolkien, Ayn Rand, Alvin Toffler, Iqbal, Ghalib, Ibn Al Qayyim, Louis L’amour,
George Orwell, Romila Thapar, James Herriot, Gerald Durrell, John Steinbeck,
Munshi Premchand, Jakata Tales and many others, all spoke to us. They
influenced us and shaped our thoughts and values and taught us to question,
critically analyze and choose intelligently. Above all they taught us that we
are not unique or more special than anyone else. That others also cry tears and
laugh their way through difficulties and that in many cases our worst
complaints are the dreams of others. We read and we learnt to write. We saw and
we learnt to show by drawing vividly colored pictures with words. We dreamt and
learnt to deal with the reality that some dreams are simply that – dreams. But
that even the most unrealizable of them, opens vistas to that which might have
been and leads to that which can become a reality. We learnt the value of
philosophy and the solace it gives to a sore heart. We learnt to choose –
sometimes painfully – but learnt the lesson that we could and must make
choices. Sitting on the fence invariably gives you a sore crotch.
had never heard of recycling, but we always wore clothes that had graced the
bottoms of our elder siblings. We used and reused them until the thing simply
fell apart. Only then did we get anything new. Clothes covered our bodies, not
our egos. Manners, not possessions were our statement. Not to say that we were
always good mannered – one of the things we prided ourselves on was the ability
to describe another’s ancestry in colorful terms for ten minutes without
repeating ourselves. A skill that comes in handy when one needs to de-stress.
The secret is to do it alone facing a wall. Otherwise it increases stress
levels instead of de-stressing.
we didn’t have copy paste or auto correct, we learned spelling and wrote
clearly in longhand. Ah! The joy of the feel of a fountain pen gliding smoothly
across the page – these were the days before ball pens came into being. You
chose your pen depending on the width of the nib. Sat with an inkpot and
medicine dropper, filling the pen. Then screwed the top back on and carefully
wiped the residual ink on your head and you were good to go. We wrote letters
not only to give news but poured out our thoughts and feelings. Sometimes you
would get a letter with a circle around a suspicious stain labelled ‘tear’.
Then we waited days and sometimes weeks before we got a reply.
couldn’t see the face, didn’t get instant responses and had to struggle with
translating emotion into words – so we learned to write properly. Our
vocabulary was a lot more than, ‘Ugh!, gr8, Like, youknowwhaimean? LOL. We
didn’t explore – we checked. We didn’t reach out – we contacted. We didn’t try
to reach – we reached. We used shorthand to take notes and short forms only for
telegrams. We learnt to imagine, anticipate and adjust. We learned patience and
we learned to write legibly because the addressee had to read what we wrote. We
learned to write concisely because we didn’t want the reader to get bored and
throw the letter away. We learned to write correctly and grammatically because
not to do so was a sign of ignorance and a poor education. It still is.
this world without instant coffee or tea bags we learnt the value of process –
warm the tea pot before you pour in the hot water – and the reward of a
properly done job – drink a cup of freshly ground coffee and you’ll see what I
mean. And the lesson that everything had a use – used tea leaves are excellent
mulch for roses. Drinking tea was also about demonstrating upbringing – hold
the cup by its handle between three finger and thumb with the little finger
(pinky) sticking out and you don’t slurp or blow on the tea to cool it. And god
forbid, never slurp it out of the saucer. Not to say that doesn’t have its own
pleasure but you didn’t do it.
that everything in the plastic-less world was hunky dory – we had power cuts or
to put it more correctly, we were delightfully surprised when we had power. But
we had candles and lamps. We had no cooking gas and so our rotis came with a
wood smoke flavor. Corn was always on the cob, roasted on live coals, rubbed
with half a lemon dipped in salt and eaten hot. What all this cooking on wood
did to the forests is another story. We had no refrigerators, so we gave away
all leftovers and always ate fresh. Milk would be stored overnight in what was
called a Hawadaan (literally: air container) – a cupboard with a wooden frame
and mesh sides. If it still turned, we converted it either into a sweet or into
ghee. As I said, we recycled out of necessity and it was very enjoyable.
My generation is a generation that straddles times and change. We have seen more fundamental change than both our predecessors and successors and we love it.
friend said to me, “I am with you. But how do we get this back?”
out into the open. Go sit on the grass. Don’t worry about your clothes. Get them
dirty. Sit under a tree, in silence and listen to the tree. I mean that
seriously. Listen to the tree. Trees talk to those who listen to them.
Sometimes it sounds like the rustling of leaves in the breeze. Sometimes, it
sounds like birds talking to each other. Sometimes, when the breeze turns into
a wind, it sounds like a tired man straightening his back. Sometimes, you can
hear what sounds like rain drops, but there is no rain. That is the water that
the tree sends back to earth from transpiration. If you are in a forest, you
will hear it, sometimes making you wonder if it is raining. It is, and it isn’t.
The key to all this is to be totally silent. Silent as in absence of sound.
Silent as in absence of movement. Sit still, breathe gently and take deep breaths.
Remember that you are sitting under an oxygen generation plant. Take the
benefit of that. Let the buzzing in your ears, subside. That is the noise of
the city that came with you into the forest. It will go if you let it go. Then
you will start hearing the forest and its own sounds, which are not the
discordant, disruptive, distressing noise of manmade things and lifestyles. These
are the sounds of nature, before man came on the scene and which will remain after
the earth has rid itself of yet another pestilence. These sounds are soothing,
calm, peaceful, relaxing and eternal. Be prepared to feel like a chain-smoker
on a sixteen-hour long haul flight. That will give you an indication of what you
have done to yourself. Essentially, it will tell you how sick you are. I mean,
the stress you will feel by your self-imposed ban on using your mobile phone. The
best thing is to leave it in your car or home. Don’t bring it with you. Feel the
lack of it. You need to know what you have done to yourself, so that hopefully,
you will be inspired to free yourself from your voluntary enslavement.
in the rain. Don’t carry an umbrella or even a hat. Feel the water on your
face, head, trickling down your back (it tickles). If the rain is light, it
will be very pleasant. If it is heavy, you will get soaked and it will feel even
nicer. Don’t worry, you are not made of salt. You won’t dissolve and flow away.
I am saying this to people living in the tropics. Those living in Europe and North
America must not do this because thanks to colder climates, you may catch a
cold or worse. But even there, in summer? All power to you. I hope you don’t live
in a place where the rain is acid. How tragic that we have polluted our world
so badly that we must fear even the rain!
you are wet enough, find a nice tree with thick foliage and shelter under it.
Just sit quietly and listen. There is nothing more relaxing than the sound of rain
on the leaves overhead and in the surrounding forest. Some rain will drip on
you but that doesn’t matter because you are wet already. That is why I told you
to walk in the rain first. Then go under a tree. Otherwise you will spend your
energy trying to stay dry instead of enjoying the rain.
I can tell you a lot more but let us leave it at this. When you have done this
and start enjoying it, then tell me and I will tell you what the next step of
the detox process is. And remember, it all starts with your phone. Or more correctly,
Have you ever been in the shower
in a 5-star hotel, nice and wet all over and you reach for the shampoo bottle,
only to find that there are three? That is not because you are drunk and are
seeing triple but because you are faced with three identical bottles but with
totally different contents. What is in the bottles is not a mystery of course.
It has been helpfully printed on the label. However, the label was designed by
a 20-something design engineer sitting in a sweatshop in India or Bangladesh,
who has never seen the inside of a 5-star hotel shower and won’t until he gets
old enough to need glasses to read and the money to pay for the hotel. Then he
will realize what he did all his life when he is forced to play Russian
Roulette with the shampoo, body lotion (complicated way to say ‘soap’) and
conditioner. If you think this is funny, put conditioner on your head instead
of shampoo and you will think that is even funnier. That is perhaps the reason
why I had to decline a haircut recently which was for Rs. 350 on the plea that
I refuse to pay more than Re. 1 per hair, aforementioned number being an
optimistic hair-count of my head. The refusal of hair to adhere to my scalp may
be ascribed to the times that I used conditioner instead of shampoo. No
self-respecting hair can stand such treatment and so they decide to part
company with me forever.
“What’s the big deal?” you ask
me. “Why can’t you read the label?”
“I need glasses to read but I
don’t need glasses to shower. So, I don’t wear glasses in the shower, which is
where I need glasses to read the labels on the bottles.”
What is the solution?
Take all shower bottle label
designers to a 5-star hotel, blindfold them, strip them naked and shove them
into the shower.
Why blindfold them?
How else will they understand how
it feels to hold the bottle in your hand and not know what is in it?
Customer Satisfaction and
Customer Delight can be condensed into one phrase and that is, “See with their eyes.” The keyword being ‘Their’.
As they say, ‘When you gotta go
you gotta go.’ But then the question arises, where does he go? And what’s more,
what if he had to do more than just irrigate the tracks? And even more
critical, what if the ‘Motorman’ was a ‘Motorwoman’. Incidentally for those who
may think that I am being facetious, let me assure you that I have seldom been
more serious in my life. This, lack of facilities to do it decently and in
private, is a major problem with Traffic Police Constables also, especially
women Constables. Maybe the fact that we don’t have a distinct word for a
woman police constable is an indicator of our blindness to their
To return to our ‘Motorman’ video
and the lessons from it, the reason the man has to do what he did is because
the designer of the engine driver’s cab, never drove an engine in his life. If
you think I am exaggerating, let me tell you another story.
In 2000 I was invited to teach a
series of leadership courses, which we called From Managing to Leading, for the
design team of one of the two major truck manufacturers in India. There were
totally two hundred engineers who would take this 3-day residential course at
their training facility. They were all graduates from the IITs (Indian
Institutes of Technology) with a sprinkling from REC’s (Regional Engineering
College); some of the most highly qualified engineers in the country. The IITs
have an entrance test about which someone asked one of the professors of MIT
what he would do if he had to write that test. He said, ‘I would leave, in tears.’
In short these were very smart people with arrogance to match. I asked for a
meeting with the Head of the Division, the Head of HR and a cross section of
the design engineers to understand their issues so that I could design a
program that suited their special needs. This is how that went:
Me: “Many thanks for agreeing to
meet me. I am hoping to understand from you, what you see as the special
leadership challenges that you face and what you see as being the key
deliverables for this course. So, let me begin with a question to all and each
of you; Do you have a heavy license (license to drive a truck)?”
They: Thinking: Total silence.
Odd looks. “Looks like we made a mistake. This guy looks like he’s flipped it.
Heavy license? Why on earth would we, IIT grads, have a heavy license? Do we
look like truck drivers to him?” But then this is India and he is older than we
are, so we can’t just tell him that he is crazy. So, we remain silent.
Me: “Hmm! Does this mean that you
don’t have a truck driving license? Nobody has one?”
Me: “You mean that you design
these trucks but none of you has ever driven what you designed?”
They: Thinking: “Now this is
getting uncomfortable. How do we answer this?”
Me: Thinking: “Expressive
“Okay, let me ask you another
question; How many of you sat with the driver in one of your trucks as he drove
from Chandigarh to Chennai?”
Eyes roll, silence is now so
heavy that it is oppressive.
Me: “Okay, Chandigarh to Chennai
is long, though your trucks are being driven on that route. But let me make it
simpler; has anyone sat with the driver as he drove from Chennai to Bangalore?”
Eyes roll again. More silence.
Me: Now I am twisting the knife: “So,
you are telling me that you design trucks that you have never driven or ridden
They: Sheepishly: “Yes.”
Me: “Let me ask you another
question: Who makes the buying decision in the case of a truck?”
They: “The owner of the trucking
Me: “Right and wrong. The owner
‘decides’ but he is totally influenced by his drivers. If the drivers like a
certain brand of truck, the owner will always buy that brand unless there is a
huge price difference between that brand and its competitor. No owner wants
unhappy drivers who are constantly complaining about the truck which results in
slower turnaround time, directly translating to lower profits. The owner wants
the best, most efficient transport and his driver decides. Who is that driver?
He is the one whose reality you have not even tried to understand. You were
looking at me like I was crazy when I asked if you had a heavy license. What do
you say now?”
Sadly, this inability to see with their eyes is widespread and is the real reason behind bad design and
Try an experiment. Walk down a
street that you usually walk down. Notice how it looks and try to remember the
details. When you get to the end of the street or if it is a long street, then
when you have walked a few hundred meters, turn around and look up the street
you just walked down. How does it look? Does it look like it had been a few
minutes ago when you walked down it? Or does it look different? This is a good
way to understand how perspective is a factor of position. What you see depends
on where you look at it from. The same principle holds in life. One of my
friends, a senior police officer was talking to me about human trafficking,
which is a very big issue in India. She talked about how her subordinate
officers seemed to have become calloused about it. She asked me for ideas about
how she could get them inspired to solve human trafficking cases and bring the
perpetrators of urban slavery to book. I told her, “Ask them to give the victim
a name. The name of their daughter.” Simple as it sounds, it worked. Things
change complexion when we put ourselves in the shoes of the ‘other’. The other
is no longer a stranger to be ignored at best or at worst, maligned and hated.
We see the other, and in him, we
This is the origin of the Golden
Rule: “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” Or as someone else
put it: “Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you.” Or as yet
someone else put it: “People may forget what you did but they will never forget
how you made them feel.”
Before I end, let me assure you
that this is not about business or winning customers. The biggest lesson I learnt
in this context was one week after I got married. I married when I was thirty
and had been living alone since I was eighteen. We got married in Hyderabad and
left the next day for the Anamallais (where I was an Assistant Manager in the
tea gardens) we arrived in Madras at my aunt’s place. Jahanara Aunty and Mohammed
Uncle were absolute gems whose hospitality was legendary and recalled to this
day by everyone who was fortunate enough to enjoy it. Two
days later we boarded the train for Coimbatore from where we drove up the
Aliyar Ghat of forty hairpin bends. Samina was violently sick all the way up
the Ghat. Being prone to motion sickness anyway, the Ghat road was not doing
her any good at all. I was very concerned because this Ghat road was a given if
we lived in the Anamallais and with Samina being so sick on it, it didn’t seem
to portend well for us. The prospect of a repeat performance every time we
traveled was definitely not something to look forward to. But as it happened
after a couple of trips Samina got over her motion sickness altogether. Maybe
the Ghat road shocked it out of her system.
a tradition that estate workers welcomed the Assistant Manager when he returned
with his wife. But it was not something that happened always. The workers
decided who they wanted to welcome and who they didn’t. In our case as our car
rounded the bend off the Sholayar Dam and came towards ‘Black Bridge,’ we were
stopped and requested to alight. Samina and I came out of the car, glad for the
chance to stretch our legs. The road was lined with girls who sang a welcome
song and showered us with flower petals as we walked through this guard of
honor. We were taken to a pavilion which I realized had been made by tying the
best sarees of the women to the poles and decorated with lots of flowers. Tea
garden workers can be the most loving people in the world and if you were good
to them, they appreciated it and reciprocated. I saw many examples of that in
my decade long career. We were garlanded and sat at a table on the two grandest
chairs that they could find. Then we were served tea and biscuits and sweets.
It was then that a depressed fly decided to end its meaningless life in my
wife’s teacup. But Samina, being the perfect lady that she is, merely fished the
fly out and drank the tea without batting an eyelid. An amazing performance
which saved us from a lot of embarrassment.
speeches were made, and the women danced and sang a song in our honor in which
we were mentioned repeatedly in sometimes a humorous way and sometimes with
great respect. The amazing thing was that this song was made up then and there
and they sang about various habits of mine, including singing while I rode my
motorcycle. People observe you and remember and respond to you the way they perceive
you. People listen with their eyes. They don’t care what you say, until they
see what you do. I have seen this in my life more times than I can possibly recall.
All the more reason to ensure that whatever it was, remained good and
the end of all this song and dance there were some speeches by the local union
leaders and one supervisor and then I was asked to speak. It was permitted for
the manager to speak in English and the speech would be translated. But I had
learnt Tamil for occasions such as these and spoke it well, much to everyone’s
delight. When I had finished and thanked them for all their trouble and
expressed our gratitude for the honor that we had been granted, they gave my
wife a gold ring as their gift as a mark of their love and honor for me. I was
floored. These were poor people who had collected money for this, something
which was not expected of them at all. What could I say? As I mentioned
earlier, Managers and workers in the plantations form bonds that are more like
family than anything else.
story was the background for the lesson I mentioned earlier. A lesson in seeing
with ‘their’ eyes. It was about a week later when one day I was saying something
to my wife about my car and so on when she stopped me and said, ‘If you keep talking
about everything as my-this and my-that, how will I ever feel that I share it
with you?’ I was flabbergasted. I didn’t realize the effect of my perfectly
innocuous speech on my wife. I had lived alone since I was eighteen and was
used to thinking of everything as being mine. Sharing didn’t come into it as I’d
had nobody to share with. But now I did. I realized that I needed to change my
outlook. I needed to see with her eyes. Today, thirty-four years later, I am
very happy that I learnt that lesson.
did things get so bad?” I am sure you must have heard, asked or thought about
this yourself. So have I. Many times, over the years whenever I saw a
badly-behaved child being fed with the help of an iPad, a spaced-out teenager
who seems lost in his electronic world where Facebook friends are more real to
her than real human ones or when I read reports of rapes and murders being
filmed on smart phones by stupid people. And my instant reaction is, “It was
not like this 40 years ago. What went wrong?” And there would rest the case;
until the next episode. This is 2019 and so when I say, ‘40 years’ we are
talking about two generations; that is the 1980’s. It is not to say that
everything was hunky-dory until 1980 and suddenly in 1981 it all collapsed. But
it is a live demo of the truth of the ‘Boiled Frog Syndrome’.
uninitiated, this has nothing to do with cuisine, but with gradual social
change which suddenly becomes starkly visible, having been unperceived for a
long time before that. The parable is that if you put a frog into a pot of hot
water, it will jump out. But if you put the frog into a pot of water at room
temperature and allow it to get comfortable in it; then you light a fire under
the pot and gradually heat the water, the frog doesn’t register that the water
is getting hotter. It continues to feel comfortable in the water which is
getting hotter and hotter until it reaches a point when it does register that
things are not the same but by then it is too late, and the frog gets boiled.
That is what happens to people and to societies. That is what I believe has
happened to us in India.
Let me do
a flashback to the time that I was growing up, which was in the 60’s and 70’s.
We (me Muslim) lived in a multi-religious society, as we do now, but with a big
difference. Nobody had TV’s or smart phones (we didn’t even have stupid
phones), so our social life was with our friends. We played football and
cricket; yes, really! I mean in the maidan (open field) near our house. We went
to their homes and they came to ours. We participated in their festivals; not
the religious ceremonies, but the fun and games, eats and sweets. And they did
the same with ours. We knew them and their culture and religion, respected it,
understood their boundaries and adhered to them, took an interest in their
culture and they did the same with ours. We spoke about all this because there
was no football or cricket to speak of
and as far as I can recall, (cricket was a 5-day Test Match – a test of
patience for everyone), politics was a given (Panditji was alive after all) and
so there was hardly any discussion about that. We needed people and they needed
us. So, we appreciated each other.
in joint families, referred to our elders by our relationship with them or an honorific
in keeping with their age. So, it was Dadaji, Amma, Baba, Mataji, Dadiji,
Chachi, Chacha and so on. Hardly anyone was ‘Uncle’ or ‘Aunty’. There were some
but not too many. It was the job of all elders to discipline us, teach us, tell
us stories, guide us in our religious or cultural norms, customs and practices
and when they were doing that, if any of our friends was around, they would get
the benefit of this teaching, no matter which religion they came from. They
listened with respect and so did we. Our culture was distinct from that of
others, but I don’t remember anyone in my family ever referring to the culture
of others in any even remotely derogatory term. I don’t believe that my family
or elders were unique. They were ordinary people of the time. We learnt our
cultural norms, manners, taboos, customs and practices from our environment and
those around us and since we lived in joint families, there were plenty of
those. It didn’t matter that Dad was away at work, Mom was always home and even
if she went anywhere, one or both grandparents, an uncle or aunt or two were
always around to ensure that we ate, slept, were safe, studied, went out and
played and when it was time, prayed. Mom and Dad didn’t need to do these things
ate out because it was considered uncultured to eat in a restaurant. People
asked you, ‘Don’t you have a home?’ If you took a friend out to a restaurant it
meant that he was not close to you or that you didn’t really respect him.
Otherwise you would have brought him home. It was normal to eat at each other’s
homes, no matter that in some cases the food laws are very different and rigid.
But Brahmins, Marwaris, Kayasth and Reddy friends all ate regularly at our place.
When those we knew to be particular about their food laws were coming, strictly
vegetarian food would be cooked. Those that ate meat at our house did that because
they wished to. Nobody forced of even suggested it to them. Once again, this
was not unique. This was the norm. I recall dropping in at the home of my good
friend from school, Gurcharan Singh. I said, “Sat Sri Akal” to his mother
(Mummy), Dad (Dadji), Grandmother (Mataji) and “Hi” to his sister and brothers
and him. They all said, “Come and eat”, as they were having lunch. His mother
said, with a big smile on her face, “Aaloo paratha bana hai. Tujhe pasand hai
na!” because she knew how much I loved it. As I sat down, Guru’s father pointed
to a covered dish and said, “Usay utthay rakh do.” (Put that there; signing to
the sideboard); meaning, take that dish away from the table. Guru jokingly
said, “Dadji koi problem nahin hai. Yawar yahan kha lega.” His father was
distinctly not amused. He said, “Khana hai tho kahin aur ja kar khaye. Ithey
nahin.” (If he wants to eat, let him go and eat somewhere else. Not here.) What
they were talking about was pork vindaloo. I would not have eaten it anyway,
but for them it was not a joking matter. We respected each other’s traditions
and unless someone volunteered to break his own tradition, it was not broken
for him. Some Muslims went to their Hindu and Christian friends to drink
alcohol, but nobody forced them to do it. If they chose to do it, that was
their choice, just as it was the choice of vegetarian Hindus to eat meat in
their Muslim friend’s homes, if they wished. Needless to say, many Hindus are
not vegetarian and eat meat and fish.
were a very big thing. You never addressed an elder by name. Or even as Mr.
So-and-so. You either called him Uncle So-and-so or just Uncle. Same thing for
the Aunties. If a boy whistled at a girl, anyone older around would simply
thrash him right then and there. You asked permission, said ‘please’ and ‘thank
you’. The role models you looked up to or who were mentioned to you were people
who were known for their honesty, integrity, hard work, compassion; always for
their values. What people owned was not the subject of discussion firstly
because most people owned similar things, drove similar cars (if they drove a
car at all) and lived in similar houses. The differences were not major and it
was considered crass and highly uncivilized to mention money or the price of
anything. If someone asked you how you were, you replied, “Very well
Uncle/Aunty. Thank you.” You didn’t say, “I’m good”, because that is first of
all, not the right answer because the person was not asking about your moral
condition but your physical well-being and secondly because we thought it was
their job to tell us if we were good or bad. Not ours to announce.
in short supply though we never wanted for anything. We wore each other’s
handed down clothes. We wore shoes until they became holey. Our clothes were
hand-made to measure because that was the cheapest option. Readymade clothes
were expensive and jeans you only saw in pictures. Pocket money was unheard of.
You got money for the bus fare to school and that was it. Whatever else you
needed had to have a reason behind it, and “I want it” was not a reason. We
lived in bungalows on large plots of land because our parents had inherited
them from their parents. We didn’t go on holidays and looked very enviously at
those very few who went to Ooty for two weeks every summer so that they could
return to Hyderabad’s heat and appreciate it better. But then, at that time you
wore a sweater from November to February and the swimming pool (Public Swimming
Pool in Fateh Maidan – does it even exist anymore – where Jeelani Pairak was
the coach) only opened its doors in the middle of March because it was too cold
to swim before that.
were all of four career choices, medicine, engineering (mechanical or civil),
Civil Service or Army. You picked one or if you didn’t, it was thrust upon you
for all kinds of reasons out of your control and then you studied for the
exams. When you got 80% you got presents and gave a party. If you got 90%
people thought that you had cheated. Life was simple, uncomplicated and moved
on at its own pace.
the 80’s. TV came on the scene with its soaps, serials and news. The world
suddenly opened. Education changed. Multiple disciplines became available to
study leading to hitherto unheard-of career options. The Middle East opened up
for jobs, so did America and Canada. Young people left to make their fortunes.
In some cases, the wives and children remained behind. In most other cases, it
was only the elderly parents who saw off their children at the airport to
return to empty houses and loneliness. All in the name of money. Thanks to
repatriation of funds and the effect of the TV, suddenly money was easy and
material things, appliances, clothes, cars, motorcycles, all became affordable.
Rapidly these became not only nice to have but grounds for competition with
neighbors, friends and strangers. Suddenly we discovered that our neighbor’s
name was Jones and we had to compete with them (Keeping up with the Joneses).
sound like ancient history today in 2019 going on the magic number 2020. What
do we have today? Hatred. We hate each other and that sells, that gets you
elected, that gets you followers, it is chic, it is fashionable, and it works. It
is most preferable to hate Muslims, but anyone else will also do, if there are
no Muslims around. As long as you hate. That is the only thing that counts. So,
our world has shrunk. We meet people like ourselves, who talk like we do, eat what
we eat, like what we like and dislike what we dislike. We hate the same people and
in each other’s rhetoric, we find solace.
We live in our echo chamber and that has become our world. There are those
among us who were born in this echo chamber. They don’t know anything else. But
there are those who were born and lived in a world that was very different from
this one. A world where there were no echo chambers, like there were no mobile
phones, laptops, social media and even television. A world that was real. Today
in our echo chamber, we sometimes ask ourselves this question, “What happened
to that world?” Then we correct ourselves and ask, “What did we do to it?”
As I stand here at the tail end of 2018, just a few days before the new year is due to come in, I ask myself how I would like to be remembered. And the answer, hands down is, as a Shameless Idealist.
In your life, if you want to achieve anything worthwhile you must do two things. Firstly, surround yourself with positive people or walk alone. Definitely don’t be around negative people, no matter what you do. The reason for that is because negative people drag you down. I am sure you have had this experience in your life where you are all charged up about doing something positive, about bringing about positive change, about changing yourself, your habits, your goals or initiating change in society and in your enthusiasm, you mention this to your good friend.
His/her immediate reaction is, ‘You can’t do this. It is impossible. It is impractical. There is no way that you can succeed.’
Your heart stops, starts again, you won’t give up, so you must say something, and you do. ‘Why do you say that? I think it is such a good idea. Why won’t it work?’
‘Believe me, take my word for it. I tried this ten years ago and failed. It can’t be done. Try it and learn the hard way if you want. But I am advising you, forget all this. You can’t succeed.’
Does this sound familiar? If you have ever tried to do something worthwhile in your life, I am sure you came across someone like this. If you still succeeded, it was because you did what I am going to tell you to do now. Delete that ‘friend’ from your list. And do it fast. Never, ever tell them any of your plans. As I said, walk alone or find someone who will encourage you.
In 1999, at the turn of the century, the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) did a survey to see what percentage of training sticks. They went to participants of a wide variety of training courses, three weeks after they had taken that course and asked only one question. ‘What do you recall about what you learnt in that training?’ Now, remember, they didn’t ask about application of the training. They only asked what people remembered. The assumption being that if you don’t even remember what you learnt, what hope of application? The result of the survey showed that only 15% of the people even recalled what they had learnt. That was not because the training was bad, or that people had memory problems. That was because there had been no attempt at putting the learning into practice. What we practice, stays with us. What we simply read or listen to, no matter how enthused we may be with it, is forgotten after a while. One of the major reasons people don’t practice is because their desire is killed in the cradle, by their cynical ‘friends’ who convince them that it is not even worth trying.
The reality of life is that everyone is born with the desire to do something worthwhile in life. Nobody wakes up in the morning and says to himself, ‘Today I am going to be the world’s greatest loser.’ Even if he did that, it would be remarkable because he would not be any ordinary loser; he would be the world’s greatest loser. Everyone wants to make a mark in life, to contribute, to change things for the better. If you don’t believe me, go to a primary school and ask those children what they want to become in life. You will find the greatest collection of pilots, firemen, kings and queens you have ever seen. My most inspiring moments are times that I spend with small children in primary schools. People think the kids gain something. I don’t know about that, but what I do know is that I gain more than all of them put together.
If you don’t have the time to do this, then just recall your first day, first job. What was in your heart? What did you want to do? Did you wake up that morning and say, ‘Ugh! Another Monday! Just let me get through the day.’ Or did you think to yourself, ‘Today I am going to do something that will be exemplary, something that will make a difference in life for me and others.’ I am not saying that you actually said this to yourself in so many words. Not many have that clarity of intention. But it was certainly in your heart, even if not verbalized or even felt clearly. So, I say to you that everyone is born an Idealist.
Then what happens? Life happens. You go to work and your boss tells you, ‘Welcome to this company. We are one big family here. If you need anything, my door is always open. Since you are new here and have a fresh perspective, I am going to ask you for a favor. Please shadow me for a week and give me your feedback about my management style. You are free to interview my direct reports also if you like. But I want you to be totally frank and open.’
You are thrilled. You came to the right place. Your boss is a man after your heart, so open, honest, humble. He is asking you, wet-behind-the-ears-first-jobber for your opinion about his management style. WOW! That is something to write home about. You are on to a great start in this company. You follow the man around. You shadow him. You take notes. You see things and hear things, many of which you wish you didn’t. But you persevere. You talk to others. You listen. Eventually the week is over, and you write your report which in one line reads, ‘Dear Boss, your management style stinks.’ Granted you didn’t actually write that. You are not that stupid. But in effect, that is what you said, because that was the truth and your boss had told you to be truthful, frank and open. You are an Idealist, remember?
Your boss takes one look at the report and while throwing it into the waste paper bin, says, ‘Thanks for the report. You have a lot to learn. I can see that. You can go.’
You are shocked, horrified. Your idol has feet of clay and they stink. But then as you walk down the passage, trying to ignore the glances of those ‘in the know’, you tell yourself, ‘Well, the report probably slipped out of his hand and fell into the bin. He didn’t mean to throw it in. After all, there is gravity. Maybe the poor guy had a bad night. We all do.’ You take a few deep breaths, grab a mug of coffee and carry on. But to your great surprise it doesn’t end there. There are other such incidents. Not only with your boss, but with others. Your Idealism is taking some hard knocks. ‘What on earth is going on?’ You ask yourself. Life is going on. That is what is going on. Your Idealism is strong, but the problem seems to be that the stronger it is, the more you get knocked. But you are still an Optimist and continue to look at the positive side of everything and refuse to believe the evidence of your experience.
But life is relentless. Things keep happening. People dump on you, they don’t keep their word, they make promises and break them, they claim to espouse certain values but do the opposite. They insist on being what they are, i.e. people. It is at about this time that you start becoming what we call a Realist. You are still enthusiastic but now more cautious. Nothing wrong with being cautious, you tell yourself. Especially on cold nights when the bruises hurt. But life is relentless. Things keep happening.
It is at about this time that you acquire a ‘wise’ friend. Someone who has seen life, has grey hair, maybe even a beard and wears glasses. He takes you to the cafeteria, gets you a mug of coffee and asks you, ‘Tell me, what are you trying to do?’
You look at him and don’t know how to say, ‘I am trying to change the world, because it needs changing.’
He says, ‘Look, we were all Idealistic when we were wet-behind-the-ears. But then we grew up. So, don’t feel bad, but you need to grow up. You need to get real. All this ‘always speak the truth; always stand up for the weak; integrity is the foundation’ stuff, sounds nice. But this is India, see?’
You don’t see. You don’t see what difference that makes to anything. How is integrity, truthfulness, compassion, fairness and moral courage any different in India or the US or Australia? These are universal values and good for all people, everywhere.
‘No, they’re not’, says your friend, the Cynic. ‘But Yawar says it differently’, you insist.
‘He has to. He can’t help it. What do you expect him to say? Will he tell you to lie and cheat? But let me tell you, he knows the reality just like I do. He says all this because that is his job as a leadership trainer. They all talk like this. Forget him. It is not his life. It is yours. Wake up or you will get knocked down again.’
Cynics are popular because they make sarcastic, cynical comments. But have you ever seen a monument to a cynic? Plenty to Idealists. But not one to a cynic. Ask why?
Now is your decision point. If you stay long enough in his company, you will become a Pessimist and then a Cynic and eventually both of you will come to the bottom of the pile and become Indifferent. You will stop caring. You will stop getting angry, passionate. You will stop shedding tears. You will pass by as if nothing happened.
But remember one thing and remember it well. The flame of Idealism in your heart which was alive and bright, will still be there. It will keep pricking you from time to time and will tell you that the stories you are telling yourself are the lie. Idealism is the flame that our hearts come with when we are born. All of us. And no matter what we do to try to extinguish it, it will continue to burn as long as we live. We can dampen it, but we can’t put it out. The flame will finally die when we die. Not before.
So, why do people fight you when you are Idealistic? Why do they try to tell you that you are wrong and try to take you off your Idealistic stand?
It is because when they look into your eyes, they see themselves as they were, one day, a long time ago. That frightens them, because in the reflection they see what they did to themselves along the way. Now when you come into their lives and they see you taking an Idealistic stance, they have two choices. Either they kill your Idealism and drag you down to their own level. Then they will be able to live comfortably with themselves for a few days longer. Or they must face what they did to themselves and undo it. The second choice is very difficult and painful, and most won’t choose that, at least initially. But if you remain Idealistic, if you don’t allow your flame to be dampened, then you will find that you will start to light their flames again. And gradually you will find people standing with you, following you, and if you are lucky, going ahead of you. The only condition is that you don’t give up.
I am a shameless Idealist. Have been all my life. And I will die a shameless Idealist. That is because in my mind, if I am not going to do what needs to be done to bring relief, hope, joy and courage to people who need it, then what is the point of living?
It doesn’t matter what others do. They are not my teachers. What matters to me is what I do. For it is not about them. It is about me.
If you think that you are too small to make a difference, too weak to stand up for what is right, too isolated, have no friends and supporters and so are sure to fail, then look at the life of Muhammadﷺ.
About him and his life, the French philosopher, poet and historian, Alphonse de Lamartine said, “If the grandeur of the aim, the smallness of the means, the immensity of the results are the three measures of a man’s genius, who would dare humanly compare a great man of modern history with Muhammad?”
(Extract from Alphonse de Lamartine’s Histoire de la Turquie Paris, 1854, vol. II, pp. 276-277)
When Muhammadﷺ first stood on the hill of Safa and called out to his people with his message of justice, compassion, equality and human dignity, the instant reaction was opposition, anger, hatred and aggression. In one instant he lost all his friends and supporters. He went from being the most beloved to the most hated. If an analyst were to be asked, looking at him standing alone on the hill, what odds he would give to this message being accepted not only by his people present there at the time, but by people still to come in lands yet untouched by it; I am sure the analyst would say that zero was a big number. His chances would be maybe minus ten thousand. But as they say, the rest is history. Fourteen centuries later, today one and a half billion people respond to his message and believe in him.
That will give you the courage to stand up for what you believe in, ignore all analysts and predictions and do what needs to be done, to make this world a better place.
If you want to be successful, you must respect one rule: never lie to yourself.
~ Paulo Coelho
UP elections are over and the results are out. They are surprising for some of us who have become used to living our lives in slumber. But for those who had their eyes open, the result in UP was neither unexpected nor sudden. It is the result of 90 years of dedicated effort by countless people who will remain unknown but whose effort bore fruit beyond their dreams. We Muslims on the other hand, remained content with complaining and begging. The world changed but we remained stuck in a world that no longer exists. UP election result was (or should be) enough to wake us from the deepest slumber so that we learn to deal with the new world in which we find ourselves. Unless we do that, the results will be far worse than what we may imagine.
So, what must be done now that we are faced with this fait accompli?
The principles of resilience are three: 1. Face the brutal facts without mincing words or looking through rose tinted glasses 2. Identify critical aread of impact and work on them. Not everything is equally important 3. Make necessary changes, no matter how painful
This is the framework which I am going to try to follow.
The Brutal Facts
BJP won a landslide victory. All the analysts were wrong. More than being divided, the Muslim presence in politics and the way it was portrayed to others, resulted in the Hindu vote getting consolidated behind the BJP. Muslims have become the bogeyman of Indian politics and it appears that the mere presence of a Muslim candidate is enough to bring out the worst fantasies in the minds of others. That none of this is based on fact is not important. Rumors don’t need facts to thrive. I am not going to make a long list of all that is wrong with the situation of Muslims today. I think we have the intelligence to see that. I will suffice to say that if we don’t wake up and do what needs to be done, no matter how painful, we are going to enter an era of darkness that none of us has faced in living memory. Our fate is quite literally in our own hands.
The truth is not difficult to see but difficult to swallow.
~ Mirza Yawar Baig
Muslims must understand that their development and future in the country is not restricted to government largesse or elections. It is in our hands and depends on the overall sentiment about us as people, as neighbors, as fellow citizens. Today all this is at an all-time low. I don’t say that this is entirely our fault. A lot of it is the result of systematic propaganda against Islam and Muslims which our neighbors believed. However, our inward looking and exclusionist stances have facilitated the misunderstandings and stereotypes. When people don’t know you personally it is easy to believe the worst about you. This has happened to us and this must change.
Elections apart, we simply have to win the hearts of the person on the street, the person next door and the person sitting next to us at work. If we do that well, then the sentiment will protect us from those who seek to harm us. We need to be seen as beneficial for all people. Incidentally this is what Allahﷻ described us and our mission – selected for the benefit of people. We need to therefore redefine how we look at ourselves vis-à-vis others and decide what we need to do to change the negative image into a positive one.
“In order to change an existing paradigm, you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.”
~ R. Buckminster Fuller
All change is painful. Drastic change is even more painful. But the most painful is annihilation. That is what must be remembered when we want to complain about what I am about to propose. Annihilation, not literally but in every other way as productive, influential and important citizens of the country. We are facing a future where when the words of the Constitution are spoken, “We the people of India”, 200 million citizens will not be included in the term, ‘We the people.’ Once again, if that comes to pass, it will be with our active or tacit agreement. Nobody to blame but ourselves.
I believe that there are three areas we must address urgently. 1. Societal impact 2. Approach to religion 3. Politial presence
1.Changes for Societal Impact
Become beneficial and be seen as beneficial. The way to the heart is through the belly as they say. This means that people need to feel and taste the goodness of anything to believe it. Words are cheap and today we are looking at a society that has become intensely cynical and has no trust in anyone’s words. Action speaks; not just louder than words but it is the only thing that speaks. People don’t care what you say until they see what you do. The change must come within our community. We must shed our exclusivist image and communicate with others (non-Muslims). Talk to your neighbors, colleagues, customers. Just talk. Not talk theology but just normal everyday talk. Help them even if they don’t help you. Be good to them even if they are not. Greet them in their terms and thank them for any service; for example, thank the taxi driver, the bus driver, check-in and check-out person, the waiter, the doorman, anyone. Thanking increases blessing and changes hearts. This must be done such that people change their perception about us.
I know this is difficult especially in a society that has become very polarized and Muslims are denied housing and jobs. It is difficult but that is why it is even more critical to do it. As for polarizing society, it is good to remind ourselves that we are equally responsible for it with less justification because polarization is suicide for a minority, yet we did it and allowed it to happen. That is the reason we must change this perception by being genuine and approaching our fellow countrymen and women with love, respect, openness and acceptance. It is critically important to give this message to our children who mirror what they hear at home. Listening to the young ones of all communities tells you a sorry tale about the kind of psychological conditioning that is taking place in our homes. All of us, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Esai (Christian) – remember the song?? Today these are empty words. I weep when I recall my own childhood when a friend was simply a friend. His name wasn’t a flag to his caste. We lived in each other’s homes, ate each other’s food, called each other’s parents, Amma, Mataji, Dadji, Papa, Baba. Where did we lose it all?
When the truth must be spoken, silence is culpable.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
We must set up a fund to create the following institutions open to everyone:
Legal Aid Cell
·Establish Legal Aid Cells in every city and take up cases of all those who need legal aid – not only Muslims
·Make a list of cases that need to be tackled in order of priority and ease of winning
·Make Law a primary study focus for students
·Ensure that no attack on anyone goes unchallenged
·Because injustice to one is injustice to all
Focus on education
·Set up high quality English medium schools which teach vocational skills
·Open them to everyone – not only Muslims
·Make it compulsory for every child to go to these schools until the high school level
·Make Madrassas only for higher education – graduation and above. Not for primary and secondary education
·Make every child a potential entrepreneur
·Set up a Zero Interest Venture Capital Fund and an Advisory Council to help startups
·Open both to everyone – not only Muslims
·Send our youth into the army and police both at officer and serviceman levels. This will inculcate discipline and a sense of belonging to the nation, both of which are missing today
·Teaching, judiciary, journalism & media are professions of choice
·Zero unemployment is possible with entrepreneurship
Social Development Fund
·Set up a Social Development Fund to help anyone in need – not only Muslims
·Focus on prisoners who need bail, hospital expenses, clean water, sewage, housing, vocational education, entrepreneurial development, orphans, widows
·Focus on women’s economic and educational development to ensure empowerment of women
·Demonstrate the real face of Islam to the world of helping everyone to be well
Funding for all the above
·Central collection of Zakat Funds.
·Capitalizing of Awqaf (Religious endowments).
·Voluntary contribution of Rs. 100 per person per month.
·Additional charitable donations.
2. Approach to religion
Change our ways
The change must begin within us, individually, within our families and within our community. We need to clean up our lives of all forms of disobedience of Allahﷻ and ensure that we spread goodness all around us. Islam doesn’t distinguish between Muslim and non-Muslim when it comes to justice or welfare. Neither must we. Our presence must be seen as a blessing in the community we live in, our cities and villages. This message must be spread by all of us in our different capacities. The major share of this lies on the Ulama who have access to the Friday congregations. Their message must be about distinguishing ourselves through service, bringing hearts together and against every form of divisive thought, ideology and message. We need to root out the social evils that our society is plagued with, chief among them being alcoholism, gambling and ostentation. Our ostentatious weddings are a case in point. To celebrate weddings the way we do when our own people are as poor and deprived as they are is immoral and criminal. To participate in such functions is to aid and abet the crime. These are destroying us at all levels and must be forcibly stopped if persuasion doesn’t work.
We must not only consciously not propagate differences and divisiveness but we must forcefully do the opposite. Preach and promote by word and action, inclusiveness, acceptance and brotherhood. Universal brotherhood, because that is the way of Islam. Universal brotherhood is a message that is unique to Islam. That and mercy and forgiveness from one person to another. These two must be revived urgently because our lives are currently desolated and deprived of both. Today, let alone preaching divisiveness with respect to non-Muslims, we preach it with respect to Muslims who don’t belong to our particular cult, juristic order (Madhab), culture or region. This is completely Haraam. It is not in the scope of this article to quote from the Qur’an and Sunnah to prove my statement but there are plenty of lectures of mine with all references that you can listen to.
Secondly on the national front the following actions must be taken with respect to our Madrassas and the AIMPLB. Our Madrassas are a symbol of great dedication but very poor quality. The result is that graduates are maladjusted and incapable of being productive members of society and are looked down upon and treated with disdain. To change this, we need to change what we teach and how we do it.
·Set up a Central Madrassa Board to ensure the following:
·All Madrassa teachers must be qualified to teach & have a teaching degree. Our Madrassas are perhaps the only schools where teachers need not be trained to teach. This is so incredibly insane that I feel ashamed to write it.
·Corporal punishment to be banned and punishable if practiced.
·Madrassas only for higher (college) education. Not earlier.
·Centralized curriculum, syllabus and examination system. Present curriculum and syllabi to be redesigned to make them current, relevant and effective. Please see my paper on this.
·Centralized management of funds by the Madrassa Board so that funds can be allotted to those who need them and not be squandered by those who happen to have the ability to raise them.
·Transparency in all matters and merit being the only consideration.
·Establish the Maktab system to educate children in Islam. This is very successfully practiced in South Africa, the UK and elsewhere and can be replicated in India.
·AIMPLB to abolish triple Talaq and not oppose UCC. Let the government introduce the UCC which will be debated nationally in which we can also participate. No need to say anything until then. The image of being regressive must be changed.
·AIMPLB membership must be democratized and operations made much more efficient and relevant.
·AIMPLB to be the sole dispenser of Fatwas on any matter. All random Fatwa dispensers to be stopped.
·No knee jerk reactions and no working in slow motion.
Subsidies & Reservations
·Demand that the Hajj Subsidy be abolished. It is a subsidy to Air India, not to Muslims. Refuse to take it.
·Hajj is not Fardh on anyone who can’t afford it. We don’t need to give our detractors another stick to beat us with.
·Any travel agent can get us better fares than Air India.
·Demand that Hajj Committee be abolished. It gives little benefit and with the removal of the Hajj Subsidy its purpose will vanish.
·Ditto for all Reservations. We don’t need them. Nobody respects beggars. We need to become self-sufficient. Reservations have never solved anyone’s problems and they won’t solve ours. They are yet one more stick for our detractors to beat with.
Leave politics as contestants
UP elections have proved that as things stand Muslim presence in politics as contestants only serves to drive everyone into the arms of the Hindutva brigade. Their absence will enable those who stand for principles instead of caste to have a voice to try to steer Indian politics away from a purely caste-based contest. This may sound drastic but I believe our situation today has reached such a desperate state that we need to consider drastic changes. Like invasive surgery and chemotherapy despite the pain and evil after effects become acceptable when life is at stake, I believe we have reached a stage today where our survival as viable, functioning members of society as Citizens of India seems to be at stake.
As I mentioned earlier, it appears that in the future, when the words of the Constitution are spoken, ‘We the people of India’, somehow 200 million citizens will not be included in this definition. So, we should not stand for election any more at least for a five-year period. If you are not there, you can’t become the bogey man. Muslims must break out of it. We must reject all extremist talk and ideas. Polarization may help some individuals but it is suicide for the community. We must partner and cooperate with all those who stand for justice, human rights, dignity and solidarity of the nation.
I believe the time has come for Indian Muslims to rethink their very existence in this country. We are Indians by choice. We love our country and want to contribute to its development. Therefore, it is time to stop living in isolation and start participating in every aspect of life in our country as CONTRIBUTORS. Not merely whine and complain about negative things that happen to us but do nothing positive to help others. Nobody can harm us – unless we allow it. All this will take time and effort. All this will be painful at least to some. All this needs serious investment of funds. But without it, we will cease to exist as relevant and significant members of this society.