Friday, May 1, 2020

Poison, stupidity and schooling!


In February 2018, my brain went haywire! I wasn't able to think clearly. Even melodious music sounded like cacophony. I was unable to do simple tasks at home, step out on the road or process oncoming traffic information, have conversations in groups, process auditory inputs from the phone or any electronic devices. Many many days, I touched madness, shut myself up in a dark room and wept. I was completely home-bound for months.


Having no clue what it was about, I tried many things like chanting, meditation, singing, anti-depressants, time in nature, homeopathy and so on. Nothing really worked. Or may be all of them together worked over time! By October that year, my mind started clearing up and I became normal and resumed life. I attributed all kinds of fancy and divine interventions to this episode and left it at that.

In February 2019, there was a relapse of the exact same condition. This time, though there was familiarity from the previous year, it was just as bad. I went in for sound-based healing called Tomatis along with plenty of rest. This time, I took to cooking at home, which helped me quite a bit. (My healing with the kitchen is another story by itself, for another time). Around October, things started clearing up once again and gradually, I became more functional and resumed life, attributing the healing to Tomatis.

In February 2020, there was a relapse of the exact same condition for the third year in a row. I stopped to see what else happened around this time. This can't be just coincidence! Is it some planetary re-alignment, seasonal change or what? And discovered the cause: extensive pesticide spraying in cashew farms all around Auroville. For those who are not familiar with Auroville, it is not a contiguous piece of land. There are lands that are not part of Auroville right in its heart and all around. And these lands are 90% pesticide-sprayed cashew farms. The spraying starts in February every year and goes on until May-June.

A Richer Harvest”Union Carbide Ads: 1960s | The Pop History DigRecently, I joined a whatsapp group called 'cashew spray alert' where members were posting all kinds of symptoms from headache, nausea, fatigue and dizziness. These chemicals seem to especially affect women, who were perfectly fine until they moved into Auroville and later developed chronic conditions like thryoid issues. After I posted my story on the group, many others started sharing similar conditions. If this is the issue with residents living around, I can't even imagine what must be happening to those who do the spraying and spend time in these farms.

About twenty years ago, during my India travels I saw the crisis facing our agriculture. I also saw thriving biodiverse farms which did not use any chemicals. I was shocked out of my wits! How did humanity buy into the stupidity of accepting 'poisoning itself' to be Science?  I was both furious and amused. I choicelessly jumped headlong into safe-food, farmer-sovereignty activism for many years. After sometime, I felt ready to move on to other things in life. This seems to be a call to me to step in and see how we can transform the situation. Compassionately. Though conversation and collective effort. It is no longer the story of a family in far-away Khasargode. It's come to my doorstep.   

If we think this is an issue concerning agriculture, we're fooling ourselves. This is not even just an environmental issue. This is an issue about our system of education which brainwashes us all into thinking stupidity is cool, especially if it can increase GDP. And if you see this film Our Cashew Story made by a fellow Aurovilian as part of 'The Healthy Cashew Network' of Auroville, farmers do this in spite of knowing that they are being poisoned because it helps them pay their children's school fees. Why do their children need to go to school? To be brainwashed that their culture is backward, that chemicals are here to help humanity, and in order to be good students they should submit to the propaganda machinery and come out with no sense of their own. If they resist being stupefied, they will be punished and labeled as 'failures'. On the one hand we promote schooling, and on the other hand, we activists give our lives wanting to change the world.

If we continue to ask the question "How to convince our farmers to stop spraying?" we are not going anywhere. If we can instead ask "How do we transform our soul-stripping schools into living spaces of learning?" we still have some hope!

Related viewing: Schooling the World; the white man's last burden

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Privilege as Commons

The question of privilege has been staring at me most starkly than ever before. As I stay safe and comfortable in my home, I know millions are struggling for their mere survival. “Is this the time for me to stop doing and go inward? Is this the time for me to be out there doing something? What is the most meaningful way of showing up?” is a question that visits me many times every day. 

Talking of questions, I realise that they are of two kinds. The first kind needs to be pursued and answered. The second needs to be eternally lived with as sincerely and honestly as possible. To me, the question of privilege is of the second kind.

After many years of staying with this question, I realise that both feeling guilty / undeserving of my privileges and indulging in them, come from the notion that my privileges somehow belong to me. Whenever I am able to momentarily suspend that notion of a separate self and its ownership of its privileges, and step into the realm of inter-being, they transform into the commons I have been entrusted the stewardship of. My questions momentarily cease to exist. But that space also puts me in touch with tremendous responsibility of every privilege that I have been entrusted with.

Though I hardly stay anchored in this space, when I do touch it, it is both a relief and a call to live a more intense life. A call to be more aware of every moment and how I’m using my privilege to be in service of Life.

The Corona angel who has come down to break the tightly-held structures of fear so that more light can flow in, is calling forth all forms of warriorship to assist her. We need serving warriorship to be out there feeding people and taking care of the sick. We need watchful warriorship to keep track of how the threatened powers-be are tightening their claws in these times, calling out adharma. We need creative warriorship to see what new life-serving possibilities can be manifested. We need warriorship that can keep our essential services running, keeping everything from completely breaking down. And most importantly, we need a warriorship of enquiry “What just crumbled? Why are we in this mess? What is this a call for? What futures lie ahead of us? What are our choices?” and support others through this enquiry.

We have reached a time when, irrespective of whatever warriorship that we each are feeling called to embrace, alongside whatever we are doing, we all need to set aside time for this inevitable enquiry. And those of us who have the luxury of not feeling particularly called to be active warriors on the field, have the greatest responsibility of not indulging our privilege of time and comfort. If we can see our privilege as the commons, then on behalf of the collective, can we hold with the greatest intensity this question and prayer for healing, and birthing the New life? And calling forth and engaging with our own inner demons of lethargy, doubt, fear, insecurity, resentment, inadequacy and so on, cleansing our bodies (the physical, emotional and mental bodies) is an important part of that sacred work.

How peacefully I can sleep at night is usually my litmus test for how responsibly I have held my privilege, and acted on behalf of the collective. And my sleep has been quite disturbed of late.

Related Posts: Right here, right now
                        It's another wasted day!

Related Reading: On 'Frequency Holders' by Eckhart Tolle

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Women, take charge!

madi.naidu77Shri Mahisasura Mardini | Poster art, Indian art, Art
Corona has come to tell us many things. One of them is that it’s time more men stepped back from political leadership en-masse, took over home-making and child care (leadership roles in the home front) and let more women take on political leadership. I neither see this as a feminist statement, nor am I saying that women are better leaders than men. What I’m saying is this. We need well-integrated human beings to lead the world today. And at this time in history, more women have undoubtedly learnt to own their femininity and integrate their masculinity, than men who have learnt to own their masculinity and integrate their femininity. Look at these powerful young women political leaders who are changing the game with their power, grace, compassion, intelligence and diligence!

45-year old Katie Porter grew up in a small farming community in Iowa. She went to Yale where she majored in American studies, and did her undergraduate thesis on The Effects of Corporate Farming on Rural Community. Now as a congresswoman from the democratic party in the Orange County, she knows her stuff and is tough with corporate heads (Wells Fargo, Facebook), Food Stamping Admin, often rendering them speechless or consenting to cooperate with her reasonable, people-friendly demands.

31-year old spanish-speaking Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is the youngest woman ever to serve in the US Congress. As a bartender and waitress before she took office, she was struggling to pay back her student loan. A personal situation where she saw from up-close how attorneys ripped families who were clueless about bureaucracy, and interning with a US senator were her training grounds. She is a big champion of the Green New Deal and a sprightly youth who loves dancing and connects to the aspirations and struggles of millennials.

40-year old New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has served in the Labour Party from the age of 17, and eventually got elected as PM in 2018. The world is paying attention to Jacinda’s well-being budget, critique of capitalism and economic growth, and her close association with the Green Party and the indigenous Maori people. The most fascinating part was her announcement of her pregnancy, going on maternity leave, being the second female world leader (after Benazir Bhutto) to birth a baby while in office. It’s a joy to watch her beautifully embrace motherhood, bringing her baby to the UN General Assembly, with her spouse Gayford being a full-time, wholehearted caretaker. And I have much to say on this last point.

I see all around me, powerful women with such leadership potential, stuck at home in their kitchens. Now, this is not a judgment about home-making, kitchen or care work. They are highly responsible, special, honourable, irreplaceable roles. I love every bit of it myself. But only as long as it’s a choice. And civilisationally speaking, at this time of chaos and crisis which I know more women leaders can better respond to, what are we doing still only “supporting women” to work overtime in social roles, after they have cooked, cleaned and put their children to sleep? We should no longer be merely supporting women or asking for women representation. Women leaders need to be groomed and pleaded to lead.

Here is a brilliant talk by Alexis Kanda who is doing exactly this. As a woman, I deeply resonated with our conditioning that we were not made to be social / political leaders. It is hard-wired, and probably for a reason. In earlier times in history, women’s role was limited to the home, grooming and educating their children, of course exceptionally taking on social roles. Genders were probably wired that way back then to serve that context. But today’s times when patriarchy has wreaked havoc leading us all to such a mess, we need to urgently rewire ourselves as a society. It may not be easy for both men and women to wake up to this urgent need. In spite of decades of having engaged with that voice within myself and enormous support all around me, I still slip into that disempowering narrative. But it needs to be done.

When all the male Gods tried and failed at subduing Mahishasura, they finally turned to Durga, the invincible Goddess, who after a 10-day long battle, subdued the demon. This is clearly the time for Durga to take charge.

Related post: Letting the feminine lead the way

Choosing love over fear

Afghanistan: Gunmen attack Sikh Gurudwara, 11 killed | Indiablooms ...Crisis is a time when all human tendencies – based on both love and fear – intensify and come to the surface. Look at all the news about immense generosity and care across the world. Healthcare workers and people from all walks of life are rising up to the occasion to be in service! Alongside acts of aggression, hoarding, profiting and discrimination. While it is very tempting to curse the “bad guys”, it helps to pause and reflect on our own lives.

Let us take a few deep breaths and connect to a time in our lives when we hit a deep crisis.

Now let us each ask ourselves:

“What seeds of fear within myself did I come in touch with then? Which of them did I water and allow to sprout?

Did I agress on anyone with action or words?

Did I utter or think the words “I just don’t care about you! Get lost”?

Did I tell myself or others “If only you knew what I’ve been (I’m going ) through…”?

Did I cause any physical hurt or damage to things around me?

Did I utter sarcastic or hurtful comments, feeling "Take this! You deserve it!”?

What are all the things that I have a tendency to accumulate and hoard, out of fear of scarcity?"

I have felt / said / done many of them (and continue to) during times of personal crisis. And I continue to watch for the seeds that I haven't yet identified within. I also have many memories of rising above my self and being kind in ways that I never knew I was capable of!

I believe that Life is organised in fractals. At every level, from the personal to the collective, this is the same pattern. In times of crisis, Love will rise up to be immensely generous. Fear will go down to become terrified and violent.

Dose of positive: Pouring out love, light & healing | Coryelle ...Crises are also 'Inflection Points'. The one we are witnessing now seems like a massive portal with the possibility of a planetary shift.  Depending on whether we choose to act from love or from fear, consciousness can either rise or fall. Alienating the agressor saying“I hate you! How could you?! You are disgusting!” is like food for the fearful mind and will further energise the dark field. Seeing the deep fear and pathos behind all aggression by first connecting with those deeply-hidden dark caves within ourselves, embracing them with compassion, will invite light into them and heal. I choose healing.

This will be my 10-minute meditation today at 9 pm (IST). If this speaks to you, you are welcome to join in from wherever you are.

Related posts: I'm waiting
Related reading: Please call me by my true names

Monday, March 16, 2020

Reclaiming the Swadeshi from our economists

In the previous dialogue, you mentioned ancient Indian design principles for us to take inspiration from. Did you mean to draw from texts like the Arthaśāstra?

Yes. Where did you hear of it?

Ever since our conversation about tapping into our cultural memory, I have been listening to some Indic scholars like Rajiv Malhotra and the Swadeshi economists like Gurumurthy and Kanagasabapathi. They all talk about the Arthaśāstra being the oldest economic doctrine of the world and take great pride in it.

 Yes, indeed it is. I have been following the so-called "Swadeshi" economic discourse too. It is very disturbing to me. I find it to be so unIndic in its essence.

 UnIndic? I thought they were the voices of our soil and culture!

 So then let us examine the Swadeshi economic discourse in this conversation. Now, to give credit where it is due, they are definitely calling out and resisting some of the most explicit forms of parasitism. Like the official front-door entry of genetically modified crops, of international retail giants like the Walmart, Intellectual Property Rights over our own traditional knowledge systems, foreign direct investment (FDI), Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and so on. All this is good.

 But....?

 But the real problem goes much deeper than these. Before we talk about what is unIndic, let me share about what I gather to be the essence of ancient Indic economic thought.

1. Firstly, the Indic mind considered all matter and wealth to be sacred. Annam was considered to be brahmam. Indic economy would consider all matter as sacred gifts belonging to the Divine. We are all mere trustees as long as we are alive. In a real sense, nothing can be owned.

2. Secondly, ‘spiritual realisation was considered to be the primary purpose and end goal of life’ as it clearly lays it out in the four puruśārthas dharma, artha, kāma, moksha’. A dharmic pursuit of artha (means of living / material pursuit) and kāma (enjoyment) are steps along the way of spiritual realisation. They were all considered to be part of a larger journey. So, economics was not an objective study of ‘goods and services’. The human being was at the centre of it, and wealth was only a means to well-being. All our ancient economic doctrines like the Arthaśāstra (300 CE) and Dharmaśāstra (200-700 CE) (and there were several more)- were simultaneously political and philosophical doctrines.

3. Thirdly, dharma was at the core of Indian life, economy and polity. Dharayati iti dharma. Dharma is that which holds, sustains and enlivens me, the other and the larger context, simultaneously. This, to me, beautifully sums up the ideas of Swaraj & Sarvodaya. A dharmic economic system takes care of the material needs of individuals and communities, values and preserves nature and all forms of life, keeps us safe, healthy and together, nourishes and enriches our cultures, builds unity while honoring diversity without resorting to uniformity.

 This is beautiful!

 Isn’t it? It evokes a sense of sacredness to the whole thing. Indic economics was Sacred Economics from its very conception.

 Yes indeed. But I have one question I’m dying to ask before we proceed further. In ancient times, our economies were all really small and local in scale, with potters and builders bartering among themselves and probably some inter-civilisational trade. It’s often hard for me to think of how their practise could be really applicable to us in today’s times when everything has expanded and grown. I mean, it might have been easier to uphold dharma in that scale. But in today’s scale, it’s hard for me to imagine the same.

 Recently, there has been a lot of research about ancient guilds or Śreṇi, organisations that resemble modern corporations. They existed across India from 3,000 years ago up until 300 AD, when they disintegrated. Śreṇi were highly complex organisations and were of two types. There were Trade Śreṇi & Craft Śreṇi, some of them with up to 1000 members.
Industry in ancient India
 1000 members in one Śreṇi? We are talking about scale now!

 Yes. And just like our doctrines were political, economic and philosophical simultaneously, a Śreṇi was also many things at the same time: a democratic government, a trade union, a court of justice, a technological institution and a charitable endowment. Though it was not mandated, it was honorable to belong to a Śreṇi than to operate by oneself. And Śreṇi, with their rules and regulations which were arrived at democratically, regulated the pursuit of individual aspirations while balancing it with the well-being of the collective. There are many interesting lessons to learn from them about how, at this large scale, they strived to uphold dharma.

 I know that now may not be the time for it. But I’d love for us to have a dedicated conversation on this topic another day, soon.

 Definitely! Now that we have seen the essence of the Indic conception of economics, let us examine the following three problematic issues in the “Swadeshi” economic discourse.

1. Pretty much all of their discourse begins by stating how India used be an economic superpower from the pre-historic times until a few centuries ago. She was the largest exporter contributing to 33% of the global GDP. After colonization, it came down to 1% in 1900. So, they say, let us revive the strength and glory of ancient India by ‘Making in India’.

2. The Swadeshi economy values relationships and is built on the family and the community as the primary unit. It is a savings-based economy, unlike the western model which is a consumption-based economy that thrives on individualism. This means that a very high percentage, i.e. 35% of all our GDP goes into investment, the highest anywhere in the world. India also loves to save gold. We are the largest buyer of gold in the world (buying 32% of the global production) and have about 20,000 tonnes in our savings.

3. We are a culture of creative entrepreneurship. We have thriving small and medium enterprises. Only 3 crore people are employed by the formal economy. 10 crores are employed by small businesses. Tiruppur in TN, Surat & Morbi in Gujrat are touted as the success stories.

 Connecting back to the strength of ancient India, promoting small enterprises, valuing relationships and savings over consumption all seem to be great ideas to me. Wonder what you see as problematic in them!

 And for that, I want us to look at the ideas of ‘wealth & money’, ‘savings’, ‘trade & export’ and ‘entrepreneurship’ in the current and ancient Indian contexts. Let us start with the idea of wealth.

In today’s society, when we say wealth, we mean three things: money, gold and land possession. But ancient India looked at wealth in multiple forms – whether it is the aśtalakśmi representing eight different forms of wealth, or the 16 forms of wealth that are mentioned as part of a blessing in the Tamil culture even today. Roughly they represented social, cultural, health, natural, knowledge, spiritual and material wealth.

The growth of money was never the object of ancient economics. Money was seen only as a means to exchange, circulate and increase all other forms of wealth. But all our economic discourse today, however alternative and Indic they claim to be, are only focused on growing money, which is extremely problematic.

 Why is it problematic to grow money? Why is it alien to India?

 What does it mean to grow money? Firstly, money is tied to the idea of debt. So, growing money in a way means growing debt in a very direct sense. It is also tied to debt in another, and more important way. Growing money actually means increasing extraction and conversion of all forms of wealth into tradeable commodities. For instance, if we let the trees and mountains be, allow families and communities to take care of our young ones and the elderly, stay healthy, share knowledge freely and turn to spirituality and become content with very little, we will not have economic growth. But, if we fall sick, cut down our trees for timber, blast our mountains for the minerals, break down families and outsource the care of children and the elderly to the industry, remain addicted to external means for our own sense of validation, money will grow! And the moment we commodify an aspect of life, it has lost its sacredness. It is interesting to note that, in ancient India, vaidyas were paid based on how healthy the people were, and not how sick.


 A total reversal of the logic!

 And GDP is a unidimensional number that represents quantity and says nothing about anything else. And when we use it to describe the prosperity of ancient Indian economy, we are basically signing up for a game that is fundamentally alien to us.

The green revolution, a subject I have studied, is an excellent example to illustrate this. With it, we lost our crop diversity (we once had about 2,00,000 paddy varieties in India!), fodder for our cattle, nutrition and health, our soil and water. Farmers lost their sovereignty over seeds, which are the very basis of life. All of this for the unidimensional ‘quantity’.

 I remember what we discussed in the previous conversation about how multidimensional the Indic understanding of ‘abundance’ was.

 Let’s now take a look at the idea of the savings-based economy. Apart from eroding all other forms of wealth by design, money is the only one that can be accumulated infinitely. Our śāstra did talk very highly of frugal living and saving, and celebrated well-endowed treasuries. But saving money without any limit in a consumeristic culture, amounts to hoarding. It blocks the circulation of wealth, concentrates political power and creates excellent breeding ground for corruption, greed and mistrust.

 But just a while ago you said our sastra talked highly of saving. How did they ensure it remained dharmic?

 To prevent this kind of a situation, the Arthaśāstra has laid down certain rules. It stipulates a cap for how much every community can accumulate, the lowest cap being for the Brahmins, the guardians and upholders (in those times) of knowledge, both secular and religious. To ensure that money does not corrupt the purity of knowledge, Brahmins were allowed to save only for the next three years of their lives. And whatever was in excess had to be donated to building temples, stupas, creating water harvesting structures, educational institutions, and so on. So, being in circulation was considered to be the primary dharma of wealth. And excess money was periodically released to invest in creating other forms of wealth. It was not allowed to grow itself.

 Interesting to see how our current society’s design encourages and rewards hoarding (i.e. saving in banks or as property). Especially the Brahmin caste has also become the upper class, hoarding enormous amounts of money. And you say that in ancient India, hoarding was discouraged!

 Not just discouraged, but looked down upon and severely penalized. And there is a whole other dimension to banking these days. International banks are heavily investing in fossil fuels and weapons deals, in a way funding the wars of our times. So, our money that we think is quietly sitting in there reproducing itself, could be fueling enormous suffering in ways that are not visible to us. And gold mining is one of the most inhumane and destructive industries employing child labour in appalling working conditions, many of whom die in the mines, or are severely affected by mercury pollution.

Children working in a gold mine



 This is sad and revealing! I had never thought that the simple benign-looking currency note or the beautifully crafted gold had so much violence built into it! Talking of all this, a quote by Gandhiji that I had heard earlier is suddenly making sense to me. “We are dazzled by the shining lustre of our chains and look upon them as symbols of our freedom. This state (of mind) bespeaks of slavery of the worst kind.” 

 Yes indeed.

 Ok, now what is unIndic about trade and export? It seems like ancient India did a lot of that.

 Trade in modern India is fundamentally different from trade in ancient India on three counts. One, what was/is exported. Two, how much was / is exported. Three, How it was/is exported.

What? In ancient India, usually our unique products, crafts and items of luxury (like the fine Bengal muslin and spices) were exported after satisfying local needs. So, exporting actually meant ‘sharing one’s gifts and surpluses’. Today, we are exporting essentials like grains, fruits, vegetables and cotton. Common people are made to believe that generally, we export our surplus and import what we don’t have enough of. But today’s international trade has almost nothing to do with any of this data. It depends on ‘export’ and ‘import’ subsidies, which are manipulated by those in power. And when we export things into an economy where it is already being locally produced, we are destroying the local economy there. Precisely what was inflicted on India by the British destabilizing our economy, we will be paying forward in the name of ‘Swadeshi’ if we became successful in the game.

How much? In ancient India, things were soulfully made by hand using simple tools and machinery. Today, we have massive machinery unstoppably producing things that have been stripped of their souls, and looking to ‘capture’ markets outside the country. How is this different from what the British did? Think about it. It is only during the industrial revolution, when their machines started producing excessive quantities of cotton textiles, that the British needed to forcefully create a market in India by destroying her own indigenous textiles. I personally know of a sales manager of a leading biscuit company in India, whose primary job was to go into small pockets of rural India and close down local biscuit-making units so their biscuits could be sold there. Gandhian Economist J.C.Kumarappa calls this model of growth-based modern economy, an economy of war. It is extremely violent by its very design.

How? In ancient India, products were carried mostly in caravans by road or boats and shared with other cultures in a mutually respectful way, and in the process both enriching and being enriched by the cultures we interacted with. Look at all the rich stories of the Silk Road. Today, we have mass-produced products, being shipped far away in large containers and airplanes which are adding to the climate crisis. Instead of enriching cultures, we are only destroying them! 



 Wow, this is indeed so fundamentally adharmic! So, were ancient Indian people so evolved to not be greedy?

 I doubt that! But what I know is that the norm in the society was to aspire for collective well-being. And our rishis and knowledge creators who were looked up to and authored these śāstra, had a very nuanced understanding of the nature of money, trade, asuric tendencies and so on, and created checks and balances in the design. For instance, Arthaśāstra prohibited and highly regulated the entry of non-local Sreni in order to safe-guard the local economy. It also prohibited and penalized the export of essential products like grains and cattle. Sreni were allowed to issue their own currencies, apart from the state currencies issued by the Kings, in order to keep wealth circulating locally.

 There are many local currency experiments across the world today. I wonder what we can learn from the Sreni-issued currencies as well.

 Now, let us come to the last point about entrepreneurship and the leading examples touted by the “Swadeshi” economists as success stories. Tirupur, Surat and Morbi.

Tirupur is a leading textile manufacturer and exporter with an annual turnover of Rs.40,000 crores. But the groundwater there has turned toxic. The people there are sick. Noyyal river is a dead river with dead fish floating on its surface! 

Tiruppur garment factory

Dead fish  floating on Noyyal river water

Noyyal river

Surat is where 90% of all the diamond traded in the world is cut, with a turnover of Rs.70,000 crores. But these very enterprises are witnessing an increasing rate of suicides among workers, due to really poor working conditions and low wages.

Pollution from coal gasifiers in Morbi

Diamong cutting unit in Surat
Are these the small enterprises, which are pushed to externalize their social and ecological costs so that they can compete in a market of imposed scarcity, what we need?

 Well to me, it does not even make sense to call them small enterprises, if they have no real freedom to create something out of their will and creativity? They sound like outsourced sweatshops.

 Now there is another dimension to it. When the entire population of a town mass-produces a single product catering to a non-local need, the industry and economy become extremely vulnerable. For instance, in Morbi which is celebrated by the “Swadeshi” economists as having the highest per-capita income in India, when companies had to cut down production due to reasons beyond their control, 75,000 workers went jobless at one stroke. Like monoculture farms, where one pest can knock down the entire crop overnight. This design goes against the law of nature! 

 I’m reminded of what happened in Bengal in colonial India, when all the farmers growing food crops were forced to cultivate indigo for the British textiles. When the chemical dyes were invented, indigo couldn’t be sold, and thousands of farmers lost their livelihoods and died of poverty. Isn’t this the same phenomenon?

 The exact same.

 How are these decisions made? Don’t people learn from previous experiences in history?

 This is where polity and propaganda come into the picture. We all know that today polity is more about power than governance. And our entire modern education system and the mainstream media serve as the machinery of propaganda of this economy-polity (or, as we call it today, the military-industrial) complex! Look at this Vedanta ad. “The answer to youth’s aspirations may lie with India’s bountiful unexplored natural resources” and the message of the youth of Dongria Kondh, for whom the mountains are not resources to be ‘explored’ but their soul as they call it. And when they stand or speak up to protect the mountains, they are met with brutal police firing! All in the name of Vedanta. Can there be a worse form of sacrilege?


 
 

 Very sad and infuriating! I am reminded of Ramdev claiming exclusive rights to the use of the name ‘Patanjali’. This sacrilege comes very close to, if not equals, this one.

I agree. From the micro to the macro, political manifestos are full of promises to the people about making everything bigger and faster, and GDP stands as its symbol. Our schools seem to be preparing young minds to believe that, in order to be happy with little means is to be unsuccessful. To be ahead of the rest in this adharmic game, is to be successful. Adharma has become the norm in this yuga. So, what were ancient Indian polity and education like?

 Those are topics for another day. For the purpose of this conversation, the following piece of information might be relevant. According to the Arthaśāstra, an ideal way to divide a farmer’s production is as follows: 70% was to be kept aside for the village consumption, 25% was to be given for village administration, and only 5% was to be sent outside the village to the King to either create infrastructure or into the treasury. Now, this means a very high level of decentralization in governance.

 The reverse is what seems to be the case now! Only 5% probably remains in the village and 95% leaks out, partly to be doled out back so poorly to the farmer through the PDS, midday meals scheme and so on, making it all seem like some act of charity by the Government. Why centralise all these in the first place?

 Why centralise? Because that’s when corruption and plunder become possible!

 Then, if we can dismantle the economic system where hoarded money has no value and only money in circulation and all other forms of wealth have value, will our politicians lose interest in their positions and will anarchy naturally restore order? Just thinking aloud!

 That’s an interesting thought. And yes, very likely! There is another extremely important Indian concept that is relevant to us today. All economic and political decisions that affected the people in ancient India were made within the context of kaala (time) and desha (place). This means that though there were principles and guidelines in place, the more specific things like taxation rates were decided contextually, based on the condition at that time and at that place. This kind of contextual decision-making can happen only if there is a strong local government which intimately knows the local context. In the truly Indic spirit, we then cannot have a uniform number imposed on an entire country as was done for GST or anything of that nature. And naturally, it triggered a nation-wide protest demanding exemption for certain vulnerable sections of the economy.

 I am feeling really intrigued and curious to read our śāstra to see how to run our economies.

 Please do. But I must also tell you that there is much in it that doesn’t resonate with me at all, and in fact, evokes strong reactions. For instance, its allegiance to the varnāśrama (the degenerated version of it that was in practise at that time), patriarchy and its prescription of severe capital punishment in its attempt to uphold dharma, etc. are absolutely unacceptable to me. But there again lies the beauty of the Indic way. The Indic psyche looks at tradition also from an evolutionary lens. Kautilya mentions at least 14 authors who have written previous versions of the Arthaśāstra. Kautilya is supposed to have disagreed with them on certain things, which he updated based on his own experience and wisdom, and the need of his times. We also come to hear of an ancient Indian practice where scholars and practitioners came together periodically in large numbers to debate, update themselves with cutting-edge knowledge in their fields.

 And that means, we can rewrite Arthaśāstra?

 We can, and we must. A new Arthaśāstra that is aligned with our yugadharma (the dharma of our times), where gender roles have been redefined, laws are firm yet flexible, and gentle in dealing with lawbreakers, and where all humans are urged to integrate the qualities of all the varna. Most importantly, a śāstra that understands and responds to the urgency of the climate and other ecological crisis challenging our very survival.

 I can sense the urgency!

 And in that urgency, we need to be extremely careful not to dilute and compromise on our values. Like Aurobindo’s third point about the role of Indian Renaissance in the world says “an original dealing with modern problems in the light of the Indian spirit and the endeavour to formulate a greater synthesis of a spiritualised society is the third and most difficult.” I really like that he stressed on the words ‘original dealing’. If we do not really understand the svabhāva of India to discover her swadharma, we will end up making cosmetic changes like this advertisement brilliantly captures it. Vāstu Śāstra and the hundreds of other forms born from this sacred land will be commoditized, co-opted by capitalism and sold in the global market. 


 You mean that Indic knowledge wealth will be converted into money to be accumulated in the most unIndic way!

 Yes. And Being a student of yoga, I found the five yamā to give us an excellent framework to undertake the work ahead of us.

ahims(non-violence): Can we build a truly non-violent economy which doesn’t commoditise and destroy life for money?

aparigraha (non-hoarding): Can we build a society where wealth is in circulation, and banks are used to park our currencies for us to access them when needed, and not to accumulate our money?

astēya (non-stealing): Can we build a society where we don’t steal from nature; where we honour each other/s boundaries, and help, inspire and collaborate with each other, rather than compete?

brahmachārya (responsible engagement with and deployment of our vitality): Can we build a society which gives adequate space and opportunity for individual’s creative expression and enterprise, while making sure it works in harmony with the collective wellbeing.

satya (truth and integrity): Can we build a society were truth & integrity are celebrated, and all machinery of propaganda are dismantled and penalized. The basis of this would be to reimagine education based on the Indic approach of beginning with the student’s original questions, encouraging critical thinking and building it all on the foundation of spiritual enquiry.

I had never thought of applying yamā to our economic design. They indeed sound like a comprehensive framework for reimagining a dharmic economy!

 Not just economy. One can try to apply them to any form of organisation of life. They work great as a framework! And it’s really wonderful that we are having this important conversation in Auroville, because the Mother who initiated this human experiment, has given us the vision and guidelines based on precisely these life-affirming principles. She said

“All wealth belongs to the Divine and those who hold it are trustees, not possessors… Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole, its residents are only its caretakers. For a conscious use of matter, there is no need for the sense of personal possession… Auroville is the ideal place for those who want to know the joy and liberation of no longer having any personal possessions… All is collective property to be used for the welfare of all.”

“The spirit of competition is to be replaced par the spirit of cooperation based on a sense of mutuality, coming from a sense of inner unity. It is the responsibility of each individual to give sense in his life and work to the notion of “change of consciousness”.

“Work would not be there as the means of gaining one's livelihood, it would be the means whereby to express oneself, develop one's capacities and possibilities, while doing at the same time service to the whole group, which on its side would provide for each one's subsistence and for the field of his work.”

“Money is not meant to generate money; money should generate an increase in production, an improvement in the conditions of life and a progress in human consciousness. This is its true use… [Money won’t be used in Auroville] Auroville will have money relation only with the outside world. And one does not have to pay for one’s food, but one must offer one’s work or materials; those who have fields for example, should give the produce from their fields; those who have factories should give their products; or one’s labour in exchange for food. That in itself eliminates a lot the internal exchange of money… In reality, it should be a township for study and research in how to live in a way which is at once simplified and wherein the higher qualities will have more time to develop. Those who produce food will give what they produce to the town and the town is responsible for feeding everyone. That means that people will not need to buy food with money; yet they must earn it.”

She also asked us to figure out governance collectively; make space for individual enterprise and creativity, and collective well-being at the same time. She asked us to not make rigid rules, but to keep them contextual and flexible.

This reads to me like the Mother’s attempt at rewriting Arthaśāstra.

I feel that way too. She has given us a great starting point. We need to develop this further, drawing from not just our own śāstra but also all the experiments of the world cultures.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Climate Sankalpa #3: Let's travel more mindfully and meaningfully. Let's unplug from globalisation.

Flights and private vehicles together contribute to over 10% of global emissions. Ships, trucks, trains, buses and bikes do too, but their per person emission is way lower.
Though 10% might seem insignificant, if we continued with business-as-usual, they are expected to increase exponentially over the next decade.

I choose to not use any more numbers. I now choose to move into the yin-space of how I'm sensing into this whole transportation scene and its contribution to climate change.* And what we can do.

Firstly, when we talk about transportation, by focusing only on the emissions is a very narrow view 'we are missing the wood for the trees’, as they say! Here is more of the larger picture to be seen and acknowledged.


Airports and expressways are created by clearing vast forests or filling up wetlands and lakes amidst a lot of protest from ecologists and local communities.

Aeroplane and car factories too! 
Fuel for driving and aviation, and for running all the infrastructure (airports, manufacturing, etc.) is got from oil-drilling and laying oil pipelines further adding to deforestation and displacement. 


Mining for metals to make these vehicles, further cut down forests and scar the earth!




So, we need to look at the entire life-cycle of the transportation industry and estimate the carbon emissions and the destruction of carbon-sinks from every one of these links. There are so many more links than I have written about here. Like the global transportation of vehicles themselves. But, you get the drift!



***

In today's world, we travel long distances for both life-affirming and life-negating reasons. We fly to meet loved ones, heal cross-cultural wounds, create new economies, and create global networks of social-change movements. We fly as seekers and adventurers wanting new experience to expand our horizons. But my intuition is that this kind of flying is only a small part. Of course, I’d like to tell myself and my peers to be more mindful of our transportation choices even as we do this and choose driving and flying only as our last options.

What I'd like to focus on here is not private choices, but the larger systemic issue. I'd like to stay focused on how capitalism / globalisation is designed to only increase unsustainable travel. 

Globally, political interest is hugely subsidising the aviation & car industries to habituate people into driving private vehicles and frequent flying, taking away from investment in public transportation systems; and in fact, making it less and less accessible. This is capitalism by design. More vehicles on the road and in the air means a faster growing economy.


CLIMATE SANKALPA #3.1 Let’s join and support all movements to promote public transportation and create cycling paths. Let's resist all road-expansions, expressways and new airports. We already have more than enough! Let’s vote for those who have clearly stated this in their manifesto to come into power. 

Let cycling be the first option for local travel. Bus and train for long distances. Let personal car driving and air travel be the last option. When we do need to drive or fly, let’s learn to acknowledge, connect to and stay with the ‘moral disturbance’ we feel about the destruction our action is causing.



Globalisation fuels long-distance movement of people and things! Let’s take the suit, one among hundreds of consumer products made by multinational corporations and sold in retail chains. This is how its manufacture criss-crosses the world twice before it can be worn! 


This story applies to grains, fruits, vegetables, meat, clothes, electronics; pretty much everything in today's global economy striving for standards-lowering competition. Apart from the movement of insane amounts of materials across the world, global trade also means people moving to their company overseas branches, meeting overseas clients to click a deal, to make sure all is well and for other reasons. Business trips and conferences are some of the most common reasons people fly with ease.

CLIMATE SANKALPA #3.2 Let's increasingly plug out of global corporations and plug into small and local businesses, with more local clients and suppliers. Strengthening the local economy is the only way to significantly cut down unnecessary travel.

The global economy habituates people into mindless consumerism of everything, including tourism. Cheap flying has increased rampant tourism not only releasing more carbon emissions, but also trashing the planet. Including the Mount Everest you see below. All of those are discarded tents! Watch this hard-hitting video.

CLIMATE SANKALPA #3.3
The best way to travel around to see and experience world cultures is by land, unless you can't get a visa for a particular country or you need to cross the ocean. Make a leisurely and long tour-plan and travel by bus and train. Join groups like the ‘Green Silk Road’ which are undertaking yearly long-distance travels, connecting across cultures and having an authentic experiences. 

Capitalists spend a lot of effort selling us carbon-offsetting, bio-diesel planes and electric cars, even if they naively believe that they are 'saving the world' by these actions. Aviation companies are now offering to accept payment from you to plant trees or support solar panels in a village to offset your carbon emissions. But the inconvenient truth here is that absolutely nothing can replace an ancient forest that has been cleared, killing all the life with it! And while these technological solutions do contribute to marginal changes, they keep us distracted from the real issue at hand here, which is the fundamental design of our economy. 


CLIMATE SANKALPA #3.4Let us plant trees and support renewable energy projects by all means. But let us not mistake these ‘good-traveler’ pacifiers for the solution and get distracted by them. Let us stay focused on the larger picture and see how we can shift the capitalist game!

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Climate Sankalpa #2 - Let's buy 'Palm-Oil-free' and source locally


Palm fruits may seem like these harmless cute things growing on pretty palm trees! Well, not if we are growing them on an industrial scale for export. 
Image result for palm oil exports by countryImage result for palm oil exports by country

Malaysia and Indonesia put together produce 90% of all palm oil used in the world. Over the past 70 years, look at what we have done to the Indonesian and Malaysian forests, home to some of the world's best diversity of life, as we clear them for palm oil plantations. 

Image result for palm oil deforestation Image result for palm oil deforestation

And these forests are cleared by burning them down with entire populations of orangutans, rhinos and elephants trapped and burnt in them without any way to escape!  

But none of us use palm oil at home! Where does it all go? And more importantly, what does it mean to boycott 'palm oil'? 

Almost all the packaged food and personal care products we buy from the supermarket use palm oil!

Image result for palm oil in personal care products

If the product has any of the following names in its label, then it most probably has palm oil in it.

Image result for other names for palm oil
Read here about how the palm-oil market grew explosively from the 1990s. 

CLIMATE SANKALPA #2

Let us buy from local stores which know their suppliers and what ingredients they use. Like reStore and OFMI currently buy all my cleaners from Probiotics House which uses zero-palm oil. You may contact them to supply to your stores / neighbourhoods too. You can also look for palm-oil free label on the products.


Finally, if it is not "practical" for you to avoid products with palm oil, a great place to start is to pause for a moment, connect to the sadness, grieve the immense loss our actions are contributing to, and continue to keep up our efforts.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Climate Sankalpa #1 - Let's eat local and wild

More and more of our food is now being produced, packaged and sold by large corporations through centralised industrial processes. And agribusiness is one of the biggest contributors to the climate crisis in the following three ways.

Deforestation

Image result for corporate farm india
Worldwide, large tracts of ancient forests are cleared in order to create farmlands. Any crop grown on a large scale, harvested by huge combiners and distributed solely for profits will slash down every other vegetation in its presence.
Food miles

When food is grown on a large scale, it needs to transported long distances for processing, packaging and selling. The fossil fuels they burn in the whole process is insanely enormous! 


Packaging waste
And what goes around comes around. 
This is a lettuce farm in Kolkata poisoned by leachates from the city's landfill right next to it. 
And landfills are a huge source of methane gas.
A centralised food industry means preservatives and packaging to increase shelf-life and ease transportation. Unlike the west, where "everything it taken away out of sight to give us a clean city" India thankfully has uncleared garbage piles everywhere reminding us of the mess we have made for ourselves.

CLIMATE SANKALPA #1

Let us learn to identify local, edible weeds that are tasty, nutritious and grow in abundance all around us with no care or maintenance. (I will be sharing more on this soon. Stay tuned!) 

Related image
Let us buy food without packaging from the local markets and community organic store that directly source from small and local farmers and producers. Here is a directory of responsible organic stores from across the country.