Emptiness and Infinity…

Is there anything like emptiness? Conceptually and sensorially may be, to denote the sense of vacuity, barrenness, or the state of containing nothing. The infinite void of akasha or ether, and fathomless blue of the ocean do not lead to emptiness but is indicative of a fullness defying quantification. According to Upanishads, infinity is endlessly divisible without being diminished, “Om Poornam Adah Poornam Idam / Poornaat Poornam Udachyate / Poornasya Poornam Aadaay / Poornam Evaa Vashishyate” meaning, ‘You are the fullness. There is fullness, here is fullness. From fullness, the fullness is born. Remove the fullness from fullness and the fullness alone remains.‘ To put it differently, Brahman, or the universal consciousness, is full; the Atman, or the individual consciousness, is full. One fullness proceeds from the other fullness. The invisible Brahman that remains continues to be in fullness.

Nagarjuna, the second century Buddhist master, posited that emptiness resides at the heart of everything. Grasped wrongly, emptiness is like picking up a poisonous snake by the wrong end. We will be bitten. Even though all phenomena are existentially empty, it does not mean they are empty. Viewing emptiness only as complete nothingness, or in emptiness of essence, would be nihilistic and destructive. What it really means is that things do not exist the way our perceptions define it to be. While emptiness is the true nature of things and events, it should not be construed as an absolute reality or an independent truth. Nothing we see or hear ever stands alone; everything is a tentative expression of one seamless ever-changing landscape, existing inter-connectedly, bound by love and compassion. In other words, emptiness, as Thich Nhat Hanh would have it, is a state populated by‘inter-beings’ who not merely are but ‘inter-are’. The concept clarifies itself to the discerning mind capable of visualizing a cloud afloat in the day’s newspaper, as without the cloud there is no rain, without which there are no trees and without trees no paper whereby the cloud and paper are inter-are. Looking more deeply at the newspaper, the holistic mind is able to see the sunshine, without which neither forest nor life itself can sustain; it is able to see the grain fields, the farmer and the logger, the one inter-being in a long chain causing food to reach the table and the other inter-being responsible for cutting trees and consigning it to the paper-mill.

Taking the larger view of Nature and its composite beauty, it can be seen that the five elements of space, air, fire, water and earth are foundational to the entire physical world. These same aggregates comprise all forms, animate and inanimate; in human beings these elements flow like a river multiplying into tributaries of form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness. Thus to be, is to inter-be, integrated vertically and horizontally in the vast ocean of emptiness stretching infinitely into maha shunyata or grand void.

Nothing, therefore, exists in isolation. But everything exists in emptiness. An empirical statement that an object is empty, must mean that it is empty of something. A cup of water is said to be empty by divesting it of its content. Yet in its deemed emptiness, it is still holding air and the sum total of its constituents rendering its form. Hence to say an object is empty is merely to mean it is empty of a separate, independent existence, yet sustaining in its interconnect with everything else. It is only empty of a separate self or beingness, which means it is full of everything. Likewise form is empty of a separate self but full of everything in the cosmos. Form, therefore, is emptiness, and emptiness is form as exemplified by the waves in the sea which are forms caused by play of wind and ocean currents on water and existing in the emptiness of water permeating it all, in just the same way as Universal consciousness or Brahman permeates all inter-beings. Even the tiniest speck of dust is a portal to the divine, as, if it does not exist, the entire cosmos becomes non-existent and vice versa. The enormity and interconnectedness of all beings bloom forth powerfully in the poetic outpourings of John Dryden, “From harmony, from heavenly harmony, / This universal frame began: / When nature underneath a heap / Of jarring atoms lay / And could not heave her head./ The tuneful voice we heard from high:/ Arise, ye more than dead”. And William Blake, “To see a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour”, pointing to underlying harmony that serves as the great integrator, clarifying that notions of existence and nonexistence are just created by our minds. The entire cosmos can be put on the tip of a finger and the sun and the moon can be seen in a mustard seed. These images depict that one contains everything, and everything is just one.

Such thought processes had its resonance in the Pythagorean synthesis of religion and science, in the definition of ‘music of the spheres’, and the theory of numbers, which postulated that the numbers one to ten are not merely mathematical numerals but manifestations of diversity in a unified continuum, with one signifying the dominant Oneness wherefrom all things emanate, whereas it emanates from nothing. It is indivisible and it is everything in power. It is immutable and never departs from its own nature through multiplication (1 x 1 = 1). Everything that is intelligible and not yet created exists in it; the nature of ideas, the Cosmic Power, Truth, Beauty, Goodness and every intelligible essence, for each of these things are conceived as One and existing in itself. The essence and power of the vision lies in its all-embracing, unifying character that sweeps in religion, science, mathematics, music, medicine, cosmology, body, mind and spirit in an inspired and luminous synthesis.

The Pythagorean view is that kosmos is a ‘world-order’, as an ‘ordered-world’. The Greek word kosmos means both order and ornament. In saying that the world is ornamented with order is the statement that the universe is beautifully ordered with every part maintained by the hierarchical principle of harmony, with multiplicity of its phenomenal realm merging into fabric of the whole in the Oneness of the cosmos.

It is despairing to ponder over the disparate and highly fragmented situation of contemporary life in spite of the treasures of wisdom in the Upanishads, Buddhist teachings and its many resonances in later religions and philosophies, in the insightful observations of sages and savants, and in the masterly synthesis of Pythagoras over two and a half millennia ago. Cosmic wisdom would elucidate that humanity progresses through integrated approach that takes into perspective the many-sidedness of life and experience, relating to both the universal and the particular, with true nature of parts being determined in relation to the whole, understanding that all things are essentially inter-dependent, bringing together the eternal and temporal levels of being so as to be at home in the universe. It is interesting to speculate whether the process of fragmentation started with compartmentalization of science, religion and philosophy and, if so, if it pre-dated the industrial revolution as a cause, co-existed with it as a collaborator or triggered as a consequence of specialization, quantification and commodification of life. At some point, the concept of worldly life as mechanical prevailed over the organic, technology domineered over political, ethical and social control and initiated the divide of human knowledge and experience into multiple domains.

Delinked from the ethical and philosophical aspect which tempers knowledge and belief, science narrows in perspective, transforming into a servile instrument of technology, aiding development of mechanization, eventually leading to deleterious consequences of fracturing the integrated approach. The scientific revolution turning nature into machine occurred concurrently with the industrial revolution resulting in mechanistic conceptualization of the natural order, organic life, and of human beings. The end purposes were economic imperatives of capital formation and augmentation. The enhancement of material profit witnessed a diminution of human spirit. Free market economies raised millions of people above poverty line. The question whether increasing material riches can usher in happiness is often posed but seldom answered as, in the given context, happiness is the satisfaction derived from material comforts.

Science is subservient to the military-industrial complex of the modern state and, in the process, conflated with technology. The ideal of a universal or inclusive science does not exist anymore. The problems of present-day societies manifest in the angst over a pervasive sense of looming crisis – gross materialism, hedonism, decline in culture, environmental degradation and the bigger threat of ecological disaster, rising philistinism through invasion of monetary values reducing everything to sensual immediacy.The far-fetched notion that machine can elevate and refine the human spirit reveals the incongruity at heart of the modern world, where means justify ends in a world with a plethora of means connected to instrumental purposes, not ends. The unity of all life has been broken up into its parts, quantified, priced and marketed. Failure to see the parts in its relation to the whole is resulting in lack of balance. If imbalance is the problem, it follows that restoration of balance is the solution, which lies in harmony, the linkage of all parts in happy hierarchy, affirming the potential of humankind to become a sacred steward of the earth as co-creator with Nature. In failing to recognize such co-creation as co-evolution, humanity is sliding into destructive separations, into a hell of its own making.

Stretching the enquiry further on the concept of emptiness and infinity, it leads to appreciation of the circle figuring as zero, and the endless cycle of Creation and Destruction occurring in circles repeating itself endlessly. Two circles placed horizontally symbolize infinity at the loci of two energies, spiritual and physical, converging at the still point in the middle which represents the source, the seed of all creation. The midpoint is the anchor, or zero-point consciousness, in turn representing two polarized opposites that balance each other, reflecting the parallel nature of all things in creation. As the smallest and the largest number, zero is nothing that contains everything, both empty and full at the same time. Zero-point is the connecting point, the point beyond measure in space-time connecting all that is, with all that could be. It is considered to be the gateway that connects the space-time of Mind with space-time of Brahman. Reality is made up of infinite zero-points radiating energy and information into the space-time of the mind. Among these, there is one special connecting point that affects consciousness and the human life experience. That point, or the gateway, is in the human heart, which is the first organ to form in the foetus. The heart’s beating creates an electro-magnetic field surrounding the foetus; within the field are signals, energy and information that interact with and direct the field of all other organs, cells, and tissues that will progressively constitute the fully formed baby, child and adult. The signals from the heart also shape the baby’s mind, preparing it to correctly perceive and function in the physical world into which it will emerge.

Emptiness and infinity are aspects of the Universal Soul in that it is infinite emptiness populated by inter-beings. Emptiness is an optimistic concept. It constitutes form; if I am not empty, I cannot exist. Every atom geometrically distributed in the infinity of space, and dancing and moving to the music of the spheres, is a nano aspect of emptiness.

From 1991 to 2016…

What is significant about a time-frame of twenty five years? Well, a quarter century is more than enough to experience a catastrophic slide to failure and extinction or a steady upswing in fortunes, resurrecting from extreme straits to unbelievable success and prosperity. As with individuals, so with countries.

The last quarter century has seen India scripting her success from virtual penury to phenomenal progress and prosperity. I was among the millions of expatriates careering in the middle east during the 1990s, as the country was literally scraping the bottom of the barrel as a cumulative consequence of inept management of an economy, that had to grow from scratch, linked to complexities of a highly diverse, largely illiterate, poverty-ridden populace at the time of attaining political freedom. The economic policy during independence was influenced by exploitative aspects of colonialism, and by exposure of the leadership to the redeeming features of Fabian socialism. Hence policy veered towards protectionism, with strong emphasis on import substitution, industrialization under state monitoring, intervention of the state at micro level in all businesses especially in labour and financial markets, a large public sector, and central planning under a highly restrictive regulatory apparatus.

India’s Five-year Plans resembled central planning in the Soviet Union. Major industrial sectors such as steel, mining, heavy machinery, telecommunications and insurance, and public utilities like water, and electricity, transport modes such as railways and airline were all under state management since the 1950s. Private enterprise remained mostly stymied under stringent licensing regime between 1947 and 1990. The Indian economy remained virtually closed to the outside world. The currency, the Indian rupee, was non-convertible; high tariffs and import licensing prevented foreign goods reaching the market, and labyrinthine procedures of a bureaucracy frustrated any easy endeavour at entrepreneurship. The government also prevented firms from laying off workers or closing factories. The lurking memories of colonial exploitation and championing of socialistic ideals coupled with belief that the country could rely on its domestic markets, and not international trade, for development, were the guiding factors. Central planning and the state, rather than markets, would determine how much investment was needed in which sectors.

The story continued on these lines till the end of 1990, till the country became mired in serious economic crisis due to mounting fiscal deficits and burgeoning balance of payments.  The government was close to default, with its central bank refusing new credit and foreign exchange reserves plummeting to a level where India could barely finance three weeks of imports. The government was constrained to respectively pledge two lots of forty seven tonnes and twenty tonnes of gold to Bank of England and Union Bank of Switzerland as collateral to get IMF to agree to bailout loan to discharge balance of payment obligations. The other negative fall-out was the string of conditions set by IMF as qualification for obtaining financial assistance. India had no option but to implement them and the same ranged from industrial de-licensing, sale of public sector equity, increase in prices of fertilizer and other regulated commodities, elimination of subsidies, to opening up of the economy to foreign investment, substantial devaluation of currency and easing of all controls. Being an expatriate, I was one of the beneficiaries of home currency devaluation but wondered how Indian agro products and industry would be able to counter the might and compete with the financial heft of multi-national conglomerates. It looked as if the country’s agriculture and commerce would be swamped by corporate behemoths from advanced economies. But later events proved that my apprehensions, as of thousands of others so used to a climate of state control and captive markets, were unfounded, as Indian commerce and industry not only flourished by competing quite capably with foreign products and registering its mark in world markets, but many Indian companies also scaled up to become multi-nationals themselves. While apples from Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir, and oranges from Nagpur and Punjab continue to hold their own against Washington Reds and Fuji’s crunchy apples, India’s Basmati rice and huge variety of mangoes and other agro products such as spices, tea, coffee and array of dry fruits command an impressive presence in shopping malls worldwide. The nation’s industrial successes  manifest in the form of world-class players in IT and Software, small cars, auto ancillaries, textiles and garments, gems and jewellery, pharmaceuticals and healthcare services. In e-commerce, India’s Flipkart and Snapdeal are competing quite comfortably against Amazon and Ali Baba, as are app-driven taxi services like Ola and others against Uber. The rise in commodity prices and general cost of living have been offset to a great extent by substantial increase in income levels. The entertainment and hospitality industry are riding an ever rising wave of success with Indian TV channels and movies, arts, music and festivals, chains of hotels and restaurants enjoying unprecedented popularity in many countries around the world. Constituting a ratio of one Indian in every global headcount of six people, the Indian diaspora is virtually everywhere. Many of the corporate multi-nationals have Indians at the helm.

For all its glory, has liberalization, and globalization, been an unmixed blessing? It is not, as like most things in life, it has come with much smooth and some rough edges cutting at sections of societies. The skeptics claim that it has benefitted only the upper crust. Facts, however, are otherwise. Concluding presentation of path-breaking budget on 24th July 1991 in the parliament, against the background of economically dire straits in which the country was in at that point of time, Dr Manmohan Singh, India’s then finance minister, commented, ‘India is now wide awake. We shall prevail. We shall overcome’. Those words rung true as, going forward from then on, statistics reveal that 138 million people have been lifted out of poverty line, a commendable record by itself. Yet it pales in comparison with China, which started the liberalization process way back in 1978; China achieved a more impressive poverty reduction feat by lifting 800 million people above poverty line between 1978 and 2012, also transforming itself into the world’s factory churning out goods at low prices, and making enormous strides in infrastructure development.

Nonetheless, India’s progress post liberalization carries considerable lustre given the country’s size and diverse polity set amidst the demanding pulls and conflicts of a parliamentary democracy. All through the 1960s, 70s and 80s, India was probably the world’s biggest mendicant, a bottomless barrel for foreign aid, soaking up forty percent of the funds of International Development Association, the soft-loan window of World Bank. A major feature of my earlier career years in shipping was having to handle relief ships, vessels carrying food-grains donated by international relief agencies such as CARE (Co-operative for American Relief Everywhere) and CRS (Catholic Relief Society). I recall my school years in the 1960s, when India faced successive droughts in 1965 and 66. The country literally sustained on steady supplies of grain from America. It would be no exaggeration to say that those years meant a ‘ship to mouth’ existence for the country. In sharp contrast, India was in a position to successfully tackle drought years in 2014 and 15 drawing from buffer stocks of grains generated through high-yielding farming practices developed by India’s agro-scientists. In 1991, India was a member of G77 group of developing countries. In 2016, India is a proud member of G20, the group of most powerful countries in the world. Even though India is still a recipient of international funding, borrowing on commercial terms, it is also more of a donor to world’s financial institutions. The country was a net food importer earlier but today it is a net exporter of food-grains. Where the country was hardly an economic entity by global reckoning in 1991, today India is the world’s third largest economy in terms of PPP (Purchasing Power Parity), with only the USA and China ahead of it. It is also the world’s fastest growing economy.

Many challenges still remain in a country of 1.25 billion people deriving strength from the unique diversity of its culture, and the almost absolute freedom constitutionally guaranteed to all citizens of what is authentically the world’s largest democracy. It is also the youngest democracy, both as a nation  riding its seventh decade of independent sovereign status and in terms of demographic component of nearly 800 million people below the age of thirty years. Hitherto, the private sector was the main engine of growth in a market driven economy, averaging a GDP growth of 7.7% per annum over last thirteen years. The social impact across all sections of societies has not been to the desired extent, which is indicative of failure of successive governments in the form of tardy implementation of appropriate measures, bringing about policy changes and speeding up pace of reforms. India holds the potential of a USD 20 trillion economy if committed and strongly dedicated leadership can deliver efficient governance to productively tap the capabilities of her 800 million young citizens. With right effort, the world will see a USD twenty trillion economy emerging in the next twenty five years. It is not really necessary that it should happen only under a democratic system of government. It may even be a benevolent dictatorship, as in Singapore. The end result matters regardless of the type of government. As Alexander Pope observed in an earlier era, “For forms of government let fools contest; / Whate’er is best administer’d is best: / For modes of faith let graceless zealots fight; / His can’t be wrong whose life is in the right”.

Such passionate espousal of liberalization and globalization may appear to be a little inconsistent especially in the context of recent events playing out in various parts of the world arising from Brexit and the resultant convulsions across Europe and America, creating a backlash against easy movement of goods, services and people. There is regressive leaning towards conservative policies, protectionism, right-wing ideologies and a mindless fetish with identities, all of which are bound to balkanize and destroy societies. Irrespective of the value attached to identities and traditions, the hard fact is that growth is not possible by operating within its confines or blindly clinging on to it, as it is not viable in a strongly interconnected, interdependent and globalizing world that will keep growing through trade, travel and migration. Societies and communities opting to remain cloistered do so at their peril. There is no stopping, or even regulating the speed of cultural fusion and economic interconnection, the juggernaut of technological innovation and global communication. These are, as generally believed, not driven by the forces of capitalism or the momentum of progressive and beneficial change. Actually it is merely a socio-economic phenomenon that has been relatively dormant at certain times and hyperactive at other times throughout history. Presently we are witnessing an acutely volatile phase of the aforementioned recurrent phenomenon, which, on the whole, has led to decreased poverty and increased prosperity over the last quarter century of its hyper-active phase around the world, as exemplified by the progress of China, India, South Korea, Singapore and other Asian economies. The velocity of events across regions ultimately trends towards expansion of a cosmopolitan culture, tolerant and accommodative, eventually enveloping the globe in its sweep.

The Widening Gyre…

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned. / The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity”.  Describing the atmosphere of post-war Europe, these prescient words were strung in poetic form by W B Yeats in 1919 in the aftermath of first WW and beginning of the Irish War of Independence that followed the Easter Rising, at a time when  British government was preparing to send in the Black and Tans to Ireland. The nickname ‘Black and Tans’ arose from the colours of improvised uniforms initially worn by a hastily conscripted group of soldiers, composed of mixed khaki and rifle green uniform parts of British army’s RIC contingent.

The Black and Tans became infamous for their attacks on civilians and civilian property. Due to ferocity of the Tans’ conduct in Ireland and numerous war crimes they committed, feelings about their atrocities continue to run high. The term Black and Tan can still stir bad memories because of the beastly brutality associated with it. One of the best known Irish Republican songs is Dominic Behan’s, Çome out Ye Black and Tans. The Irish War of Independence is sometimes referred to as the ‘Tan War’ or ‘Black-and-Tan War’, a term preferred by those who fought on the anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War and is still used by Republicans today. Modernists read the poem as a dirge on the decline of European civilization in the mode of Eliot, but later critics have pointed out that it expresses Yeats’ apocalyptic mystical theories, and it is thus the expression of a mind shaped by the 1890s. The gyre, a historical cycle of about two thousand years in the given context, denotes a doomsday vision predicting the anticipated anarchy that would be let loose around two millennia after birth of the Saviour. The gyre also hints at the image of a world spinning outwards to such an extent that it cannot recall its own origin. These anxieties are closely tied to traumas of a continent at war, and the rise of industrialism and militarism on a global scale. The beastly nature of traditional ruling classes of Europe, who were unable to protect European traditions from materialistic mass movements, comes into sharp focus in the concluding lines, “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”, underlining Yeats’ belief in cyclical nature of events in history, with his age representing the end of cycle that began with rise of Christianity.

Fast forward to the gloomy scenario ninety seven years later where, in a dramatic turnaround on 23rd June 2016, the rough beasts reversed, apparently with nihilistic fervour, the integrity of a unified Europe, assiduously built up across a period of over four decades. I clearly recall the euphoria over UK and continental Europe emerging as a unified entity in the mid 1970s in the form of EEC, a glorious precursor to fall of the wall of shame that subsequently paved the way for reunification of Germany. It signified the convergence of a splintered world, where bits and pieces of diverse hues were harmonizing into artistically graceful forms on the stained glass of unity and inclusiveness. Brexit heralds not just Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU); it probably marks the shattering decline and fall of carefully nurtured ideal of a liberal and globalised world. It opens the lock-gates to draw in the destructive ethos of ultra-nationalism and racist xenophobia, mindlessly blaming foreigners and minority communities for all ills, and claiming, against every logic and humanism, that turning your insular self on the world will somehow usher in a golden age of prosperity.

What next from current events looming like an Armageddon that certainly appears to be an inflection point in the global geo-political situation? From grand contours of a unified and expanding community of nations born out of the ashes of two world wars, sans borders and squabbles on lines of control, the discordant note sounded by Grexit (Greece) earlier, which though still hanging in the balance, continues as Brexit. Adding to the growing clamour for separation, are demands for Nexit (Netherlands), Frexit (France), Swexit (Sweden), connecting to secessionist moves in Italy seeking to break away from, and majority swings in Scotland and Northern Ireland desiring to continue in, the European Union. On other side of the Atlantic, there is electoral rhetoric aplenty and cacophony trumping up to such a crescendo that no one is quite sure which way the dice will roll.

What went right and what went wrong? For sure, there were several rights and few wrongs. Prominent among the rights are passing of the Human Rights Act by UK in 1998, ostensibly under pressure from EU; open borders facilitating free flow of people and investments, accompanied by freedom to work, study and live anywhere in Europe, and financial stimulus packages for backward regions of every member country. Ironically, it is these very well intentioned measures that ended up becoming expedient tools in the hands of exit hawks. Whereas globalization has benefited the well-heeled in the upper strata of societies, successive governments have grossly failed to ensure that the advantages of free trade and liberalization percolated to the lowest denominators and economically vulnerable class consisting of factory workers, farm labourers, and the unemployed. The unskilled, unable to keep abreast of a technically advancing economy, the uneducated, up against those with university degrees, the outlying underdeveloped provinces versus the developed metropolitan areas, all constituted a social time bomb ticking away and capable of detonating without warning. Regardless of the type of government, it takes enlightened leadership coupled with consistent dedication to address these problems. Unfortunately the only thing that is obtaining is a steady supply of short-sighted politicos solely targeting winning the next election riding on whatever discontent on which a campaign can be mounted. Lopsided governmental policies over last several years saw huge cuts in welfare spends, resulting in reduction of jobs, depleted allocations for schools, hospitals and housing, and allowances for the elderly disabled. Instead of putting in place corrective measures in these areas and creating more employment opportunities, the demagogues exploited the situation by laying entire blame on the EU for job losses and declining public services. To hell with EU, if the situation could be flogged for rabble-rousing to secure a quick access to # 10, Downing Street, may have been the thinking in all likelihood.

If the reports on post referendum events in Britain are anything to go by, it appears that Brexit politicos are already reneging on many of the promises made to an unsuspecting and beleaguered multitude of people who voted in favour of leaving, while the politicos are now happily celebrating their victory playing cricket with glitterati and dancing in discos till wee hours of the morning with hardly any regret about the state of the country that once was one of the largest colonial powers on earth, now fast set to dwindle to a tiny fraction consisting of England and Wales, which can still regressively attenuate if Cymrophobia and Anglophobia are allowed to further tear the fabric asunder.

One of the glorious objectives of the EU was to create a unified market, rendering it a borderless region within which wars were impossible, and thereby setting itself as a shining template for smaller nation states in rest of the world to consolidate into larger confederations, enabling free flow of trade and greater interaction between communities, reducing borders through lesser number of countries and thereby potential for internecine conflicts and warring regions. For the time being, it looks as if all these goals are taking an unexpected beating. At this juncture, it may be desirable to shift the focus to Juno, the spacecraft launched by NASA in 2011, set on the new frontiers mission en route to planet Jupiter. Programmed to orbit Jupiter on the 4th July 2016 after traversing a distance of 2.9 billion kilometers, Juno is tasked to unravel hitherto unknown facets of planet Jupiter by continuing its orbit for a period of twenty months. The name Juno derives from Greco-Roman mythology; the god Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to conceal his mischief, but goddess Juno, his wife, is able to peer through the clouds to see Jupiter’s true nature. The name Juno also inspires the backronym, JUpiter Near-polar Orbiter. As the mission attains a successful completion up there, down here on terra firma the fervent hope is that countries will emerge stronger from temporary frustrations, with bigger resolve to steer towards directions leading to uplift and ultimate progress of humanity.


In an old song in my native language, the lover describes the girl of his dreams to be as glitteringly beauteous as a fanciful celestial city beside a milky ocean at night hours, bathed in  silvery light of vaishakha full moon. What is so special about a full moon night in vaishakha or vaishakha pournami, as it is called in Sanskrit (Vesakha in Pali)? The sun and moon assume extra brilliance in vaishakha, more than other times of the year. Corresponding to April-May in the Gregorian calendar, vaishakha is the second month of the year in the Indian almanac. In Nepal, and in the regional calendars of Punjab and West Bengal, where it is respectively called baisaakhi and boishaakh, it is the first month of the year and ushers in the arrival of summer. Considered to be one of the holiest months, it heralds the cyclic beginning of sathya yuga, or the pure age of truth in Vedic timescale, marks the birth of Karthikeya (Ganesha’s brother), features three avatars of Vishnu in addition to the births of Hanuman and Shani (Saturn); at  lower end of the scale, an array of luminaries embarked on their earthly journeys in the month of vaishakha, from Shankara in the 8thc to Rabindranath Tagore and Chinmayananda Saraswati in the 19th and 20th centuries.

It is also considered to be the month in which holy river Ganges materialised, as a manifestation of goddess Ganga. The seventh day of vaishakha is known as ganga sapthami or gangotpatthi, the day holy Ganga flew out of sage Jahnu’s ear and thenceforth came to be known as Jahnavi, or Jahnu’s daughter. When Ganga descended to earth after being released from Shiva’s locks, her torrential waters inundated Jahnu’s fields and disturbed his penance. An enraged Jahnu, in retaliation, drank up all her waters. At this juncture, the gods pleaded with Jahnu to release Ganga so that she could continue on her mission to quench the thirsty land and release the souls of king Bhageeratha’s ancestors, as the king had earlier carried out a thousand years’ penance for transgressions of his ancestors; whereupon Jahnu relented and released Ganges through his ear.

It is by far the most auspicious time of the year, as Akshaya Tritiya, the birthday of Parasurama the sixth avatar of Vishnu, falls on the same day. On this day sage Vyasa is deemed to have commenced the writing of world’s largest epic ‘Mahabharata’, as a series of dictations to  Ganesha, who documented it. It is the day of Ganga’s earthly descent, also signifying the cyclic beginning of Treta Yuga (treta means three, as the yuga or epoch accounted for three avatars of Vishnu, viz., Vamana, Parasurama and Rama), following Satya Yuga in the Vedic sequence of time. It was on this day Shankara composed and recited Kanaka Dhara (meaning shower of gold), hymn in praise of goddess Lakshmi, while he was seeking alms from an impoverished family who could only offer him a gooseberry. Lakshmi responded to Shankara’s hymn by profusely showering down golden gooseberries as a blessing on the poverty stricken family. It was on this day the penurious Sudama paid a visit to his childhood friend Krishna with compelling purpose of seeking aid but eventually returns after the meeting without disclosing his actual situation to an omniscient Krishna, only to find his modest dwelling transformed into a palace with all riches. The Sanskrit word akshaya means never diminishing; the day is thus considered auspicious for all ceremonies, acquisitions, and starting new ventures. I moved into Grale Haven, my newly constructed house, on Akshaya Tritiya day in the year 2004.

The sanctity and auspiciousness assigned to highly spiritual days of vaishakha is clearly attributable to it being the supremely favourite period of Vishnu, the presiding deity of the month,  also known as Madhusoodana. The names Madhava and Madhusoodana appear in Vishnu Sahasranama, a hymn glorifying Vishnu in a thousand names. Madhava means one who is the consort of goddess Lakshmi and the giver of all knowledge and prosperity. Madhusoodana denotes the destroyer of demon Madhu, a preserver as sweet as honey, directing an individual towards performing good deeds guided by true knowledge, overcoming negative karma of the past and attaining ayu, or longevity, yash, or fame, pushti, or sustenance, moksha, or liberation from worldly bondage.

The lustre of Vaishakha turns all the more effulgent in abundant grace, afforded not only by luminosity of Rabindranath Tagore and Chinmayananda Saraswati but also by the divinity of Buddha and Shankara. While Tagore is renowned as the renaissance man of India, imparting a uniquely musical dimension to poetry, notably in Gitanjali, a collection of his poems invested with undertone of pantheism, and going on to  become Asia’s first Nobel Laureate, Chinmayananda inspired audiences with Advaita Vedanta, the philosophy of non-dualism propounded in the Upanishads, as a missionary, and teacher of Indian philosophy in universities across Asia and America. Chinmaya in Sanskrit stands for pure knowledge, and ananda, bliss; conjoined, chinmayananda is bliss attainable on realization of pure knowledge. Tagore’s vehicle was music, as he considered it to be the most euphonious expression of infinity. In the poet’s own words, “Last night, in the silence which pervaded the darkness, I stood alone and heard the voice of the singer of eternal melodies. When I went to sleep I closed my eyes with the last thought in my mind, that even when I remain unconscious in slumber the dance of life will still go on in the hushed arena of my sleeping body, keeping step with the stars. The heart will throb, the blood will leap in the veins, and the millions of living atoms of my body will vibrate in tune with the note of the harp-string that thrills at the touch of the master”. For Chinmayananda, pure knowledge resided in the Upanishads, and he went about propagating it as precepts pointing to desirable paths in the forward march of life, not as empty rituals and dogmatic principles of good and evil, god and satan, or heaven and hell designed to instill fear, with ulterior motive of increasing numbers through proselytization and directing societies towards narrow concerns of vested agendas.

Going back two thousand five hundred sixty years from today, the world experienced the four noble truths and the noble eightfold path, as clearly defined by the master who laid no claims to sainthood or godliness; just that he was awake, to sorrows and sufferings of worldly life born out of attachments to people and possessions, to the impermanence of all things, prompting the need to strive for liberation from the cycle, or misery-go-round, of birth and death by practicing right living based on dharma. Several centuries down the line, Shankara put it forth as tat-twam-asi, exhorting humanity to transcend ego to realize the divinity within.

As yet another vaishakha full moon makes her resplendent appearance in the night sky today, May 21, 2016, to watch the slumbering earth shackled in darkness, may it awaken people towards higher realizations, as a day memorializing the birth, enlightenment (nirvana) and passing away (parinirvana) of the master, as a month profoundly blessed by coming into being, inter alia, of evolved souls like Shankara, Tagore, and Chinmayananda.


Sixty Boxing Years…

The words box and boxing have multiple meanings and associations. One of the most familiar images of the box is when it is dressed up in colourful wrappings for its contents to assume the form of gifts or presents on social occasions like birthdays and weddings, anniversaries and festivities. The day after Christmas is widely celebrated as the Boxing Day when boxes of gifts are exchanged between relatives and friends. In a larger perspective, the box is a preserver of values, bonder of relationships, facilitator of trade and connector of markets.

Flashback to the 1950s, when an American trucker by name Malcom Mclean, routinely transporting cargo from nearby industrial areas to the harbour, contemplated on the humongous expenditure of time and money involved in moving cargo from origin to port warehouses, whereafter, based on vessel arrivals,  transferring it again therefrom to the shipside for piece by piece loading on board the ship. The conventional process of handling cargo in different types of packing, loaded and unloaded by vast crews of dockworkers was unwieldy, unreliable and so slow that ships spent longer time docked in ports than they did sailing at sea. Pilferage of cargo was rampant with dockworkers, as it was spoken about in lighter vein, happily returning home after every eight hour shift work with moderate earnings and all the swiped Scotch and goodies they could carry home.

In a sudden epiphany, on one of his daily trucking loops between inland warehouses and the harbour, Mclean wondered at huge savings in cost and time if the entire cargo-laden truck or, optionally, cargo compartment of the truck could be detached and loaded aboard the ship. The concept of loading cargo-laden trucks into the ship’s holds was given up for the time being because of large wastage, in so doing,  of potential cargo space on board the vessel. He returned home to work on his vision and subsequently collaborated with engineer Keith Tantlinger to develop the marine freight container, container handling equipments and purpose-built ships for international carriage of containers.

Mclean’s efforts eventually bore fruit when he succeeded in loading fifty-eight trailer vans, later called containers, aboard a refitted tanker vessel by name ‘Ideal X’, sailing her on 26th April 1956 from the port of Newark, New Jersey to Houston, Texas. The rest, as they say, is history of how international transportation evolved in consonance with growth in world trade. Today, the container is at the core of a highly automated system for efficient movement of goods from anywhere to anywhere. The price of everything fell, starting with the cost of loading and unloading. When Mclean looked at the costs of his first container ship, he found that it cost $ 0.16 per tonne of containerized cargo compared with $ 5.83 per tonne of loading loose cargo. Shipments could be made in smaller lots in containers than the bigger aggregations of cargo required to qualify for space in conventional vessels, thereby reducing capital locked in larger inventories. Incidence of damages, inherent in multiple physical handling of cargo packages at various points, plummeted, and pilferage of cargo was practically eliminated because freight containers were packed and sealed at factories. Productivity surged at ports; where earlier the dock labour only moved a few tonnes per hour on to a conventional cargo ship, they were now able to load a few hundred tonnes per hour on to a container ship. As a consequence, ships became bigger in size and enhanced in efficiencies, spending lesser time at ports. Since the freight container was able to move on multiple modes of transportation, it could be switched from ship to rail car, or trailer truck, or a barge, and vice versa to traverse entire distances from farm to fork in the case of agro produce and, as far as manufactured products were concerned, from centers of production to interim distribution and final consumption locations.

The tremendous strides in container movement across all modes of transportation coincided with a global reduction in trade barriers as a result of European integration and various agreements on tariffs and trade between countries. Ports such as Busan in South Korea, Charleston and Seattle in the USA, and, progressively, Singapore and Hong Kong moved into the front ranks of world’s seaports, and massive new ports sprung up in places where none had existed before, such as Felixstowe in England, Salalah in Oman, Jebel Ali in UAE, Laem Chabang in Thailand, Kaohsiung in Taiwan, Tanjung Pelepas in Malaysia, Nhava Sheva, Vallarpadom, Krishnapatnam and Kattupalli in India. Growing countries desperate to scale up in economic development were now hopeful of realistically becoming suppliers to wealthy nations situated across enormous distances. Huge industrial complexes mushroomed in developed countries leveraging on lesser cost of bringing in raw materials and turning them out as finished products.  Supply chain management companies were enabled to develop value-added services like JIT (Just In Time) deliveries, where spare parts to assembly lines or raw materials to production centers were delivered as close to actual requirement as possible, effecting significant cost savings in holding inventories. The scenario also facilitated multinational operations of industrial majors who could integrate isolated factories into networks facilitating competitive sourcing of production from available options. A study of 22 industrialized countries indicate that containerization has substantially boosted trade volumes and globalization, more than all the trade agreements put together in the past fifty years.

First containership in India, APL's 'ss.President Tyler' call at Cochin port on 23rd November 1973.

Not bad for the box that holds a greater significance in my life, dominating my career years in its revolutionized manifestation as freight container. What is so important about the freight container as to specially deserve its statement in glorified terms? By itself it is nothing. A soulless aluminium or corrugated steel box, held together by welds and rivets, with a wooden floor and doors at one end, the standard freight container has all the romance and allure of a world traveller. The value of this utilitarian object lies not in its form, but in how it is used. The freight container enables multimodal transportation of all types of packed goods, bulk dry and liquid, and perishable cargo, making shipping an end-to-end logistical operation in place of earlier port-to-port movement under conventional cargo vessels. A modern container terminal bristles with traffic, at a scale that strains the limits of imagination. Everyday thousands of containers arrive and depart by trucks and trains. Tractor-trailers laden with containers stream through terminal gates, where scanners read the unique number on each container and computers compare it against data in ships’ manifests before the trucker is directed to the delivery location. Tractor units arrive to connect trailers laden with containers that have been discharged from the ship by RMQCs (Rail Mounted Quayside Cranes). Trains carrying double-stacked containers roll into an intermodal terminal near the dock, where giant straddle cranes remove one container after another from rail-flats. Outbound container trains, bound to rail yards adjoining manufacturing and logistics hubs located a few thousand kilometers away, are assembled on the same terminal for loading containers by same straddle cranes. The totality of all these activities amounts to a nearly seamless system for intermodal transportation of freight around the world.

By the time I entered the scene in Bombay in the latter half of 1977, containerization was in its infant stages in India. Involved in diverse responsibilities ranging from operations, marketing and profit centre management of containership services and multi-modal logistics across major ports in India, the Middle East and Africa, I have been witness to the steady growth of containerisation in all these geographies. The first container ship to call an Indian port was of APL, with ‘President Tyler’ arriving at the port of Cochin in 1973, virtually pioneering the concept in India (see pics, all images courtesy private archive and google). It was soon followed by other major carriers operating regular liner containership services initially from Cochin, Bombay and Calcutta, and subsequently from all other major ports of India. Global trade is presently facilitated by the annual movement of close to a whopping 175 million boxes (measured in TEUs or twenty foot equivalent container units) laden with all varieties of agro produce, perishables, raw materials and finished products, a figure that is growing at an annual rate of 6 to 7%. If these statistics are considered in terms of total throughput at container terminals worldwide, the current annualized number would swell to around 600 million TEUs, as throughput includes movement of transhipmemt and empty containers.

Refinements in container types and features, container ships, container terminals and container handling equipments appear to be at a saturation stage, at a time when stakeholders are crossing the sixty year milestone of boxing with challenges of shipping and intermodal logistics. Where to, will international trade and developments in transportation advance from here? While international trade is poised for consistent growth in a globalizing world that is rapidly shrinking into inter-connected, increasingly compacted entities, where markets are expanding through steadily increasing demand and supply of merchandise, it is difficult to surmise future innovations and developments in transportation. As the world salutes the inventiveness of Wright brothers and Henry Ford, in regard to airplane and automotive assembly line, every freight container, on a tractor trailer, rail flat or aboard ship, is a celebratory reminder of the genius and pioneering endeavours of Malcom Mclean and Keith Tantlinger. The glowing testimony thereof is the by now ubiquitous box, and box-ship, constituting vitally integrating links in global transportation and supply chains.


Nationalism, Internationalism, or Universalism?

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, meaning ‘the world is one family’, (Vasudhaiva is a compound of Sanskrit ‘vasudha’,  meaning ‘the earth’, and ‘eva’,  meaning ‘indeed is’; ‘kutumbakam’ means ‘family’; conjoined, it translates to ‘the world is one family’) is a Sanskrit phrase occurring at beginning of a verse in the Upanishad exhorting humankind to live in the consciousness of oneness, as an extended family drawing on shared resources, devoid of discrimination and affording equal opportunities, nurturing all legitimate aspirations in the true spirit of universal oneness. The entire verse, engraved at the entrance hall of the parliament of India, translates to, ‘The world is a family / One is a relative, the other stranger, / say the small minded. / The entire world is a family, / live the magnanimous./ Be detached, / be magnanimous, / lift up your mind, enjoy / the fruit of Brahmanic freedom’. Such lofty thoughts guided earlier generations of leaders, not only within the country but across geographies, resonating in words such as Harambee and Ujamaa (Swahili, meaning ‘pulling together’ and ‘extended family’) in the African continent, in The Declaration of the rights of Man and of the Citizen, in the slogan liberte, egalite, fraternite enshrined as the national motto of France, and subsequently that of American revolution,  propelled by inspired visions of Lafayette, Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, Washington, and, nearer home, Mahatma Gandhi.

From the visionary heights of those revolutionary years that gave rise to newly independent democratic governments in several countries, with USA and India at two ends of the spectrum respectively as the world’s oldest and largest democracies, it may be worthwhile looking at current scenarios as played out in various parts of the world. On the one side is the burgeoning communalism, with organized religions ostensibly involved in the task of refining lives of people but actually machinating as power centers seeking to divide societies and exercise influence over as large swathes as possible. On the other side is the spectre of communalization vitiating and hijacking the democratic process, with political parties readily willing to appease religions by dispensing favours in return for votes. In the emerging situation, nationalism is not a glorious ideal as widely believed to be, but another garb of communalism when it is used as vehicle to advance a communal agenda.

Nationalism and communalism are thus turning out to be the ominously unpalatable flavor of the times, not merely in India but in many countries of the world, if the deep and atavistic passions that are being whipped up in the name of religion, politics, culture, ethnicity and regional affiliations are any indication.

Nationalism is the belief that one’s own country is better than all others. It sometimes leads people into a xenophobic disinclination to work with other nationalities to solve shared problems or pursue common endeavours.

It is important not to confuse nationalism with patriotism. Patriotism is a healthy pride in your country that brings about feelings of loyalty and a desire to help other citizens. Nationalism is the belief that your country is superior, without question or doubt. In some cases, nationalism can inspire people to break free of a foreign oppressor, as in India’s independence movement or in the American Revolution, but nationalism can also lead a country to cut itself off from the rest of the world.

Nationalism is a shared identity in the significance of a geographical and sometimes demographic region seeking independence for its culture and/or ethnicity that holds a particular  group together; it can expand as an expression of a belief or political ideology involving  individuals identifying with or becoming attached to a larger constituency of nationals and consequently a nation. Nationalism involves national identity in contrast with related concept of patriotism which involves the social conditioning and personal behaviors that support a state’s decisions and actions.

The political convulsions of the late 18th century associated with the American and French revolutions massively augmented the widespread appeal of patriotic nationalism. Ultra-nationalist parties sprung up in France during the French Revolution. Johann Gottfried Herder, the prophet of a form of this new creed, originated the term nationalism. Herder gave Germans new pride in their origins, and proclaimed a national message within the sphere of language, which he believed determines national thought and culture. He attached exceptional importance to the concepts of nationality and of patriotism  – “he that has lost his patriotic spirit has lost himself and the whole worlds about himself”, whilst teaching that “in a certain sense every human perfection is national”

From a political or sociological standpoint, there are two main perspectives on the origins and basis of nationalism. One is the primordialist perspective that describes nationalism as a reflection of the ancient and perceived evolutionary tendency of humans to organize into distinct groupings based on an affinity of birth. The other is the modernist perspective that describes nationalism as a recent phenomenon requiring the structural conditions of modern society in order to exist.

According to social scientists, the alternative perspective to both of these lineages comes out of Engaged theory, which argues that while the form of nationalism is modern, the content and subjective reach of nationalism depends upon ‘primordial’ sentiments.

There are various definitions for what constitutes a nation, however, which leads to several different strands of nationalism. It can be a belief that citizenship in a state should be limited to a single ethnic, cultural, religious, or identity group, or that multi-nationality in one state ought to necessarily comprise the right to express and exercise national identity even by minorities. The adoption of national identity in terms of historical development has commonly been the result of a response by influential groups unsatisfied with traditional identities due to inconsistency between their defined social order and the experience of that social order by its members, resulting in a situation of anomie, or social normlessness,  that nationalists seek to resolve.  Anomie results in a society or societies reinterpreting identities, retaining elements that are deemed acceptable and removing elements deemed unacceptable, in order to create unified and harmonious communities. This development may be the result of internal structural issues or the result of resentment by an existing group or groups towards other communities, especially foreign powers that are or are deemed to be controlling them.

“Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception”, opined George Orwell. Jiddu Krishnamurti expanded the thought further in stating that, “When you separate yourself by belief, nationality, tradition, it breeds violence. One who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind”. Elaborating the observation in greater clarity is Rabrindranath Tagore, “There is only one history – the history of man. All national histories are merely chapters in the larger one…. I am not against one nation in particular, but against the general idea of all nations. What is the Nation? It is the aspect of a whole people as an organized power. This organization incessantly keeps up the insistence of the population on becoming strong and efficient. But this strenuous effort after strength and efficiency drains man’s energy from his higher nature where he is self-sacrificing and creative”.  Almost echoing the sentiment nearer time is the statement of Daniel Fried, an American diplomat, “Nationalism is like cheap alcohol. First it makes you drunk, then it makes you blind, then it kills you.”

With such a multiplicity of profoundly perspicacious views overwhelmingly weighing against nationalism, it prompts the question as to why there are so many nations on the face of the earth? A hundred and ninety-five sovereign states, according to recent count of the UN. The list can expand to 201 if another six partially recognized states that include Taiwan are added. The obvious answer is it stems from the basest human lust for power and pelf, in addition to the primordial and modernist theories cited as causative factors giving rise to formation of nations, virtually ring-fencing planet earth into innumerable borders, enclosing nation states of various sizes, engendering the apparent feeling in smaller states of being stymied by larger countries.  With the end of Cold War a quarter century ago, the predominant feeling was that the world would trend towards greater coalition and unity, setting the stage for confederations and liberal democracies to flourish.  Glimmers of hope were seen in demolition of the Berlin Wall culminating in unification of Germany, and in the grouping together of disparate countries across Europe into EEC. The salutary effect of these developments started wearing out with parochial considerations  dictating division of few countries in eastern Europe and the air progressively filling up to gathering beats of Grexit, Brexit and other discordant sounds. The largest two democracies are witnessing surges of nationalistic passion and ‘trumped’ up demands in support of racial purity and supremacy, and protectionism. Large sections of population are feeling isolated, unable to come to terms with higher levels of competition in a globalizing world, unable to reconcile with mass migration of humanity from war torn regions to havens of safety, unable to perceive that real strength lies in inclusiveness and diversity. Some of the monotheistic religions are finding it difficult to reconcile with erosion in larger numbers of followers drifting away, disenchanted by too much ritualistic sermonizing and dogma and too little spirituality. Yet others are intent on wreaking havoc using religion as camouflage for nefarious activities of crime syndicates, calculated at building territories of power and riches.

A doctrine that a particular national culture and interests are superior to any other, or that nations should act independently, rather than collectively, to attain their goals, can only be borne out of divisive mindsets which over a period of time assume the forms of chauvinism, jingoism, super-patriotism and ultra-nationalism militating against the aspirational concept of a closely knit world of increasingly closer associations and information highways, where the need to work co-operatively on common goals assume greater significance than obsessions over narrow differences and vested interests. Today the world is on the cusp of what can really be considered to be the fourth industrial revolution, that is changing lives everywhere with all speed. Billions of people are already linked like never before through electronic devices enabling unprecedented connectivity and access to information. There is a staggering confluence of emerging technology breakthroughs, covering wide ranging fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet of things, biotechnology, 3D printing, nanotechnology, energy storage and quantum computing, to name a few. Many of these advances are reaching an inflection point as they build and amplify each other in a fusion of technologies across the physical, digital and biological worlds, resulting in profound shifts across all industries marked by emergence of new business models, disruption of incumbents and transformation of production, consumption and delivery systems. On the societal front, a paradigm shift is changing lifestyles, behaviours and attitudes where the only compulsion is growth, consolidation, and further growth. There is a steadily expanding tribe of global communities focused on driving growth and prosperity and building sustainable environments.

Given the trend towards higher scales and globalization, and the need for stable environments to sustain it, the ideal solution would be for the smaller nation states to dissolve their identities wherever possible by consolidating into lesser number of larger countries, resulting in reduced number of borders, facilitating easier movement of people between regions. It is indeed wonderful to visualize a prospect of the seven continents progressively reducing to lesser number of countries in turn distributing resources across wider arcs, dissolving more borderlines and minimizing prospects of skirmishes and warring across borders. Reduced conflicts enable diversion of huge resources towards development and welfare measures. Sustainability of such larger confederations over long term is dependent on governance ensuring that all communities across its jurisdiction are recipients of fruits of development, also enjoying equality of opportunities. Hence let boundaries be eliminated, let the small be abandoned for the vast, as life dwells in expansion, not in contraction. As long as the feeling of nationalism remains alive, conflicts are inevitable. There are heritage monuments in India carved out of entire mountains over several millennia, the construction of which is believed to have happened with participation of extra-terrestrial intelligence, lending credence to the possibility of civilizations in planets other than the earth, also pointing to potential inter-planetary conflicts in future, narrowing down the scope of nationalism and internationalism. Our perspectives, therefore, need to widen to transcend nationalism, resting not in internationalism but universalism. The cosmic power that permeates the universe did not envisage a divisive perspective. Every event and form of life in nature is all encompassing and sustaining of a larger order; the cosmic sentiment is the true unifying force that shall strengthen humanity to overcome bondage, tear down narrow walls of fissiparous tendencies. The cosmic ideology is based on the absolute truth, which is not confined to time, space or any individual. When the limited mind accepts the infinite principle as its goal, it undergoes a 360 degree expansion in a psycho-spiritual progress attainable through regular spiritual practice. The cultivation of a spiritual outlook will not reinforce boundaries between nations but will lead to the establishment of a universal state, a borderless world bound by a common thread of benevolence and unity.

A Leap Of Inspiration…

February is the shortest month, with 28 days in a common year and 29 days in a leap year. Yet it is the loveliest of all months, not only because of martyrdom connected to saint Valentine and the romantic celebrations spawned by the event in the centuries that followed, but also, in my case, on account of the multiple associations related to it. February happens to be my birth month. Symbolized by the violet flower denoting love and fertility, it has always been the month of new beginnings and take-offs in career that spurred my growth in newer directions. The name February derives from Latin februum, meaning purification, because the month is considered to be a time for purification.

A quick glance through the pages history reveals that I am in the distinguished company of some of the greatest leaders, scientists, writers, luminaries of cinema and modeling, and pioneering business magnates. The indicative list of Februarians include William Henry Harrison, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan; Nicolaus Copernicus, Thomas Edison, Galileo Galilei, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, James Joyce, Thomas More, Sinclair Lewis, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Steve Jobs, John Ford, Elizabeth Taylor and Cindy Crawford.

The relatively brief duration of the month finds its commonality in my short stature, physical that is. Whereas February leaps once every four years to denominate a cumulative span of time, my short frame necessitates continual leaps to make myself visible in a world of mostly tall and medium sized figures. Post superannuation since end 2014, I have been living out the past one year following my own routine, free from the trammels of career priorities and work pressures, ensconced in the comfort of my own world of meditative matutinal walks, books and music. Into this relaxed and unhurried pace of life, a new activity suddenly comes calling in the second week of February seeking me out to take up a teaching assignment in the local School of Shipping and Logistics Management. I was at once excited and apprehensive; excited because all I had to do was to dig into my domain experience of nearly thirty-eight years, and apprehensive due to the fact that I did not have any experience of teaching a formal class of university graduates. My only fall-back was the quarterly reviews and annual presentations in a corporate career. The syllabus was forwarded to me in advance. Gratefully remembering all the teachers who enlightened my path starting from preschool to university, and tweaking on my domain knowledge and delving into experience pool, I presented myself for the initial two hour session on the 11th of this month and managed to acquit myself creditably, gaining in confidence with every subsequent session thereafter. It is indeed gratifying to see the keen expressions on the faces of students immersed in the task of knowledge acquisition.

‘The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery’, is an inspired statement by Mark Van Doren. In teaching minds, one propels them with passion to learn more by going above and beyond, into a journey of discovery and exploration into one’s potential. Real learning and advancement takes place at the sparkle of convergence between learner’s curiosity and the teacher’s abiding interest to open vistas of knowledge. Easily the noblest of all occupations, pedagogy continues to be the most chronically underappreciated of all professions. Inadequate pay scales and taunting clichés like ‘those who cannot do anything else, teach’, reinforce the message that the world does not value those great souls who enlighten. Despite the lack of recognition, there is still a steady trickle of dedicated teachers pursuing their tasks with single-minded devotion. The trickle needs to swell into a huge wave if societies have to progress towards frontiers of knowledge and right values, which can happen if the best minds are incentivized into the noblest of all professions. It is high time the academy of Nobel prizes sets up a mega award to reward excellence in teaching. Aristotle rightly observed ages ago rather acerbically that “those who educate children well are more to be honoured than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well”. In other words, parents merely make babies; it is teachers who turn them into responsible citizens. Wherever they are, teachers are doing something that no one else can do as effectively, changing our view of the world and making us into better entities than we were before. What comes readily to mind in the given context is the expression ‘miracle worker’, to mean someone who gets results where others have failed. The phrase was coined by Mark Twain to describe none other than Anne Sullivan, the teacher of Helen Keller.

A miracle of a different kind was worked by Maria Montessori when she encouraged teachers to stand back and follow the child, allowing children’s natural interests to take the lead, and today those methods of teaching continue to ‘follow the child’ around the world. In an era where children were made to work in factories and treated as adults by the time they turned seven, Friedrich Froebel, a German educator, who discovered that substantial development of the child took place between birth and the age of three, invented what since came to be described as kindergarten. The essential procedures in the kindergarten and preschool stage owe a great deal to his work and vision. John Comenius was a Czech educator who was the discoverer of practical education, which is the most remarkable contribution to the education imparted at that time. He is famous as the “father of modern education”. He was the first educator to discover and implement the usage of pictures in textbooks and also perceived it as a universal concept of education. He believed that education should originate in the earliest days of adolescence and continue entire lifetime.Comenius also believed that every child, boy or girl, rich or poor, skillful or mentally challenged, was entitled to full education.

 In India, Dr Radhakrishnan was an eminent educationist and also the country’s second President. A great philosopher and famous teacher whose birthday is celebrated as Teachers’ Day in India, he earned a very high acknowledgement as an interpreter of the most difficult concepts of philosophy. He laid great emphasis on spiritual education, believing education that could not develop spiritual feelings in students was not real. Savitribhai Phule was the first female teacher of the first Girls’ school in India, and is also considered to be the founder of modern Marathi poetry. She is one of the incredible personalities who struggled against the autocracy of castes and other social evils prevailing in an India of over a century ago. With the support of her husband and her profound determination, she initiated the noble act of opening a school for untouchable girls at a time when even talking of untouchables was considered as impure. A highly respected Jesuit teacher from my own undergraduate days was Father T N Sequeira who, then in his seventies and with fifty-five years of teaching behind him, spoke of a dedication that took him away from work for a mere five days of other absolutely unavoidable engagements.

As February of 2016 winds up towards closure and as I complete the sixty first year of my life on the 27th February, I like to dedicate my foray into academia to the memory of all the great souls who kindled in me the flame of knowledge and showed the way forward. As the Vedic prayer goes, “Gurur Brahma, Gurur Vishnu, Gurudevo Maheshwara, Gurur Sakshaat Para Brahma, Tasmai Sri Guruve Namah” ( Sanskrit verse meaning, the Guru is Brahma, Guru is Vishnu, Guru is Shiva, the guru is verily the supreme Brahman, salutations to that Guru).