Spiritual Gurus have long been a bane of many religions around the world.
Their (largely) negative impact has been felt severely in India for a very long time.
Some gurus have positive impact overall. One of them is Jaggi Vasudev, the other is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who runs the famous Art of Living (AOL) Foundation. There are thousands of others, but my simple view has always been that there is no need for an intermediary between God and I, or God and anyone else for that matter. Unfortunately, Hinduism, one of the most enduring religions of the world with over 800M followers, encourages the adoption of gurus to facilitate a communication with God. I do not agree with such a philosophy, though there are other major religions which follow similar philosophies, putting man over man. Humans look for a guide to help them navigate the world, and it is not at all a surprise that a Pope arises to guide Catholics, for example. The plethora of gurus in India does not follow any systematic approach, they crop up anywhere and everywhere where the gullible would fall at their feet and worship them. There are thousands of “magical” episodes when these human gurus have generated simply impossible manoeuvres which continue to fascinate their followers.
However, none of these “humans” are above the law of the land.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, his Art of Living Foundation, and his spokesman accuse the government and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for giving permission to conduct the World Culture Festival in March 2016, which has completely destroyed the river bed of the Yamuna River which most Hindus consider as a holy river. Sri Sri is a charismatic guru, who is close to powerful politicians and the wealthy folks of India, and so it would be interesting if the expert committee’s findings would indeed find their way to justice in the current dispute between the government/NGT and Sri Sri/AOL. I don’t think it was appropriate for Sri Sri to accuse the NGT and the government for having granted permission to him for conducting the Festival.
Where is accountability and humility on the part of the famed Sri Sri?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and his AOL are not exempt from the law of the land, and have to abide by the rules and regulations. Being close to God does not exempt him from the rule of law. It would be interesting to see how his ardent followers react to the findings of the expert committee.
It is clear that spiritual gurus cannot run a government, a court or the environment. They should focus on God, not make Hinduism a circus philosophy. It is always good to hear some of the lectures of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, but the wisdom of his speeches does not make him God. He is after all, an ordinary man, like all of us. If he commits a mistake, he has to pay for it. There cannot be an excuse. If a fine is levied (as it has been), then his organization has to pay it. Damage done to the Yamuna riverbed will take 10 years to fix, as per the expert committee. Who caused the damage? Not the government, nor the NGT. They merely granted permission, may be misguided, may be under some sort of pressure. But Art of Living Foundation and Sri Sri are entirely responsible for what happened. Who can contest this assertion?
Again unfortunately, most of us are emotional, and wish to kick folks who do not conform to whatever is the general trend of belief or philosophy, in this case of Sri Sri. If there is a variation to that thinking, then the people who think differently would be termed as traitors to the cause. Nothing can be farther from the truth.
Time to think on environment, time to think about Yamuna River, which has recently been designated as a “legal person” by the courts of India.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar should apologize, desist from repeating such extravaganza, and indeed pay the INR 5 Crores fine. We should all respect the law.
22nd April 2017
Without going into the historical significance of each bas relief or carving that we saw in Angkor Wat and other temples in Cambodia, I wish to show the pics of the same for my readers. Again, I would like to mention that each carving has a historical and religious meaning behind it, and there are many scholars who are experts in deciphering the same. There is still serious ongoing work in Angkor Wat, and I even bought a guide book “Ancient Angkor” by Michael Freeman and Claude Jacques.
Here are some of the pics that you might find interesting (please note that most of these carvings are approximately 1,000 years old and demonstrate the skill sets of the sculptors of that era as well as their understanding of history and religion).
Hope you enjoy the carvings !
3rd January 2015
Airports are generally boring.
Well, almost all of them.
The one airport which has consistently stood first in engaging with passengers is the Singapore Changi Airport. Afternearly three decades of operation, it still remains the best in the world. There are just so many things to do in the airport, including preparing for your exams (yes, students come to the airport and work on their studies, you can see them in the food court, McDonalds’, KFC, et al).
The other airports in Asia, including all but one in India, do not offer passenger engagement in a designed, concerted manner. The one exception in India is the Delhi International Airport (GMR), which is good but still has a long way to go.
In the U.S., there is virtually no airport which would tickle your senses. They are all the same – automated, people pushers and transporters. They are large and inhuman.
There are however some exceptions. One such exception is the Denver International Airport.
It is, by area, the largest airport in the U.S. It also has the longest runways in the U.S., though it may not be the busiest airport. It has been voted as the best airport in the U.S. several times.
This airport is so well organized (like Changi) and well laid out, that there is first of all, no confusion in the minds of the passengers as to where to head out. All signs are prominently and clearly positioned. The one downside is the distance to walk – but it will only make you fitter, I guess.
I liked the art displays in the airport and the layout of the shopping areas. Nicely lit, with broad aisles, this airport is never going to run out of space. My personal vote goes to Denver International Airport as the best one in the U.S.
Spending some time in Denver Airport is not a boring proposition – this is my second time and I enjoyed it, though this time the duration available before catching my next flight was much shorter. No confusion anywhere, no need to ask guidance from anyone, simple to navigate, good food/drink options all around, and decent shopping. And enjoy the views of the famous Rocky Mountains while you are at the airport !
2nd December 2012
When a young cartoonist was arrested in Mumbai last week for his ugly and punching cartoons, India erupted with condemnation, especially over the fact that the sedition law was applied in his case.
This guy really did a few of these cartoons in bad taste. They are really ugly, and in my opinion, insults key Indian institutions like the Parliament and the national emblem. While it may be true that he was trying to convey a harsh message around corruption to his readers, there may not be unanimous agreement with his methods.
There was many, many arguments over the national TV news channels and in the cyberspace, for and against him.
I did not like the government response – instead of taking a measured view of the situation, the government spokespersons tried to justify the arrest on the basis of the sedition law, which is a legacy of the British and should have been repealed long time ago (right after India’s independence from the British). The government view has always been whatever they do or planning to do cannot be wrong in principle. And, cannot be bad in law. On both counts, they went wrong. The Bombay High Court lambasted the police and the government yesterday for arresting the cartoonist on frivolous grounds, and I did not see any response from the government !
However, you would be surprised to learn that I do not support the cartoonist either. I think he used bad tactics probably to get attention, but the attention has already been secured by the government on the various corruption scandals. There was no need to denigrate national institutions, to drive home a point. Artists and cartoonists can cry on their freedom to create what they wish to, without legal or governmental interference, but they should also understand that there are limits to freedom.
What happens if someone takes offence on the desecration of the Parliament and the national emblem ? Even the Parliament’s Speaker can file a case against the cartoonist. In the eyes of natural justice, the cartoonist cannot and should not be completely exonerated. Can he not communicate his viewpoint in some other catchy, elegant manner without offending the sensibilities of people ?
So, while he is out on bail (which he said he would not claim), I think he should be tried – may be the Court would let him go free, but I would be happy if they can issue a warning to him. India is surely not the freest country in the world – many of us living in India think it is freer than even the U.S. But that may be a flawed thought. It is always a balance in the final count. Democracy and freedom of expression are not absolute rights of any man to do whatever he wishes to do under that pretext, he needs to stop and think where his freedom actually ends and the next guy’s freedom starts.
Artists and cartoonists and other so-called creators cannot claim absolute immunity just on the basis that they are a unique bunch of people who have been allowed to do whatever they wish, irrespective of any potential harm that their actions might cause. Just look at what a film made in the U.S. has caused in terms of damage to U.S. interests around the Middle East region over the past few days – can the film maker claim total immunity ? Think about it for a moment – why cause damage to an already fragile world ?
15th September 2012
Courtesy : Shyam, my IIM-B Classmate
In the 15th century, in a village near Nuremberg , there lived a goldsmith named Albrecht Durer, who had eighteen children. In order to keep food on the table for them, he had to work long hours at his trade, and at any other paying chore he could find.
Despite their poverty, two of Albrecht Durer the Elder’s children had a dream. They both wanted to pursue their talent for art, but they knew that their father could never afford to send either of them to Nuremberg to study at the Academy. Their names were Albrecht and Albert
Finally the two boys made a pact. They would toss a coin. The loser would go down into the nearby mines and, with his earnings, support his brother while he attended the academy. Then, when the brother who won the toss completed his studies, in four years, he would support the other brother at the academy, either with sales of his art work or, if necessary, by laboring in the mines.
They tossed a coin and Albrecht Durer won and went to Nuremberg . Albert went down into the dangerous mines and, for the next four years, financed his brother, whose work at the academy was an immediate sensation. Albrecht’s etchings, woodcuts, and oils were even finer than those of most of his professors, and by the time he graduated, he was earning considerable fees for his commissioned works.
When Albrecht returned to his village, the Durer family held a celebratory dinner to mark his homecoming. After dinner, Albrecht raised a toast to his brother for the years of sacrifice that had enabled him to fulfill his ambition. His closing words were, “And now, Albert, blessed brother of mine, now it is your turn. Now you go to Nuremberg to pursue your dream, and I will take care of you.”
All heads turned to where Albert sat. He shook his lowered head and, holding up his hands, said softly:
“No, brother. It is too late for me. Look what four years in the mines have done to my hands. The bones in every finger have been broken at least once, and I now suffer from arthritis so that I cannot even hold a glass to return your toast, much less wield a brush. No, brother, for me it is too late.”
Some years later, to pay homage to Albert for all that he had sacrificed, Albrecht Durer drew his brother’s abused hands with palms together and thin fingers stretched skyward.
He called his powerful drawing simply “Hands,” but the world opened its hearts to his great masterpiece and renamed it “The Praying Hands.”
More than 450 years have passed. Today, Albrecht Durer’s portraits, sketches, watercolors, charcoals, woodcuts, and engravings hang in every great museum in the world, but chances are that you, like most people, are familiar with one of them above all others: “Hands”
The next time you see a copy of that great creation, take a second look. And let it remind you that no one ever makes it alone.
Courtesy : Shyam, my IIM-B Classmate
2nd June 2011
Many of my old colleagues and friends are avid fans of exotic watches, I remember one friend who had at least couple of dozens – all from famous brands, primarily Swiss made.
I was not that seriously interested, having changed my watch just about 3 times. But in the year 2000, my wife presented me with the Breitling Transocean blue-dial watch. Till that time, I have never heard about Breitling, though I have seen some ads in lifestyle magazines. There was and still is, an association with aviators for the Breitling watch, and that memory had stuck with me. I liked the watch, not for the least reason that it was a bit masculine and heavy-set. The battery lasted for nearly 3 years the first time and it kind of attracted some attention, though I did not see any of my friends using Breitling. The most famous watches in that circle were Raymond Weil, Rado, Omega, or Rolex or Tag Heuer (struggled to spell), or Longines – I am referring here to Singapore friends in late nineties. Very heavy watches were just coming into vogue at that time, and Singapore being a consumer-friendly and international city, had many watch shops all over the island.
So, Breitling, though not expensive and not in the same class of Rolex, etc., was a unique brand. I do not know the situation now, but I am sure it would have retained that charm of being different, being a watch worn primarily by pilots and aviators.
My other watch was of course, a Titan – the Indian brand which has seriously surprised me by their range of models, their classy showrooms, and their lifestyle approach to marketing. Today Titan is almost like a global brand, is available outside India, and has such a variety and quality to offer that it would be surprising for any international shopper to believe that Titan actually is made in India.
I like these watches to have three dials and three time/day/chronometer-setting screws, so both the Breitling and the Titan have such features ! And, both are works of art !!
Over the past 5 years I have almost forgotten to look at watches. Recently, one of my Australian friends introduced me to a new brand called Panerai, an Italian watch brand, made famous by Sylvester Stallone. It is a real big one, with a unique closing lever on the side protruding outside which needs to be pulled open before one can set the time or date, and it is completely mechanical. This watch was fascinating as it took me back to very old times. You have to shake your hand vigourously to start off this watch, and then it keeps going for the day. The usual body movement is more or less enough for it to keep going, an occasional vigourous shake-up may be needed !
Panerai came with the usual rubber strap so I am not wearing it that often except may be on weekends. Further the shake-up was a bit strange. Nevertheless it is a good-looking watch. I have forgotten to mention here (rather deliberately), that this watch costs just about INR 2,200 – are you shocked ? Unlike my other watches, this one is made in China, and is an absolutely delightful fake ! The original could cost several thousand dollars !
In any case, watches are a fanciful accessory to a man, as I hardly ever look at my watch for time ! I am invariably inclined to look at my cell phone face to get the time, and I have seen that cell phones are taking over people in ways not imaginable a couple of years ago. Cell phones masquerading as watches are already available in the market, though they look a bit unwieldy on one’s wrist.
So, my watches to watch still remain as my original two – Breitling and Titan – one is famously Swiss and the other is truly Indian. I am sure you have yours as well, and some of my friends will turn cold if their brand-name watches stop telling time for want of the battery, and that happens once in a couple of years for sure.
Cheers, and have a good weekend,
27th November 2010
When I was visiting Bangalore last week, I met an ex colleague, who is a wine aficionado and generally a well-tested and sophisticated drinker. He mentioned about the new “Art Collection 2009 Nandi Hills” from the Grover Vineyards, and strongly encouraged me to pick up a couple of bottles.
I did. It was the Sauvignon Blanc 2009. It could not have come from India !
Simply an outstanding wine, you might mistake it for a lighter variety from the Marlborough Region of New Zealand. But this one is made at Nandi Hills in Bangalore District of Karnataka. The pity is that it is available for sale only in the State of Karnataka. And, the price ? The MRP inclusive of all taxes is INR 445 (almost exactly USD 10).
As described by the winemaker, the Sauvignon Blanc has “a pleasant refreshing mouth-feel and shows intense floral and grapefruit aromas.” This is true, the wine feels light and dry, and is sophisticated enough to deliver the aromas in an elegant, subtle manner.
Apart from the wine itself, the “Art Collection” depicts an art piece on the bottle, which is an interesting development. Wine should go with art. Both are works of individual creativity. The Wine Maker and the Artist are not that different. The canvas is based on nature, and the work displays a complexity and sophistication, and appeals to complex tastes.
Cheers to Grover, but make it available elsewhere !
9th May 2010