Category Archives: Philosophy

Hindus, Deluded by their own rituals

अन्धं तमः प्रविशन्ति ये अविद्दामुपासते

ततो भूय इव ते तमो य उ विद्दायां रताः

 andham tamah pravishanti  ye ‘avidyam upasate

tato bhuya iva te tamoya u vidyayam rataha

 Into blinding darkness proceed those who are attached to ignorance (darkness- heedless, lost pursuing materialism)

Into greater darkness, as it were, sink those who are wrapped up, steeped in and revel in ‘knowledge’ (ritualistic letter of the Vedas/repetitive spiritual process/activity/rituals)

 –The Isha Upanishad

This confusing verse appearing in the Isa Upanishad is a riddle. How can absorption in knowledge be seen as worse than absorption in wealth? Has it not been the case of wisdom literature to prefer spiritualism to materialism? This is a question the student of Vedanta may raise.

Knowledge; is an amalgamation of seeking, learning, rationale, disciplined practice and experience coming together in the form of wisdom or intuitive understanding. But individually none of these constituents by themselves, amount to knowledge.

Therefore revelling in any one aspect assuming it to be knowledge is misguided.

Many Hindus today see the religion as a mere collection of rituals which have to be intensified in their visual, public and volume form to achieve material or spiritual benefit. This verse states that ‘reveling’ in knowledge is worse than material pursuit. Indeed this is so. It is easy to see that our attachment to a car is less abiding than our attachment to a loved one, which is less abiding than our attachment to an avowed principle or ideology.  It is easy to deduce that greater the attachment, lesser the chance of our being able to operate objectively

It is difficult for a human being to be freed from attachment altogether and it is therefore important that that one examines with care what one is attached to.

Hindus have been a ritualistic people.  They still are. Despite warnings by their primary philosophical texts- The Upaniads, the indulgence of people in rituals and superstition has been endemic. The Bhagvadgita too, points to this disease (Ch 2- 42, 43)

The highest tenets and philosophical underpinnings of the Upanishads and the brahm sutras have been ignored while other dated rituals have been cast in stone by ritualistic Hindus. This behaviour has worsened in the light of pop nirvana made possible by larger disposable incomes. More education has curiously led Hindus to sink more than ever before into rituals, superstition, fortunetelling and wasting their precious time and money in unfocussed ritualistic activity.

This attachment to religious rituals as a panacea for ills or as a path to acquisition of more wealth is dangerous because it leads to failure in achieving the very objectives that the practitioner sets out to achieve. He will certainly fail and will sink deeper into a world misapprehended by a distorted mind. Human potential is realised by progressing from the gross to the subtle. This noisy and garish public display of rituals is just the reverse. If at all this is culture, instead of deepening its significance we are magnifying its meaninglessness.

Blindly following rituals brings neither fame, nor wealth nor Moksha.  Personal growth requires a keen intellect and a sharp mind and a commitment to a higher ideal.  A ritual can serve as a regular reminder of an objective but is useless in the absence of an objective.  Ritually numbing the individual mind and intellect with noise and high intensity optics is nothing but a waste of time, resources and mental ability. The Bhagvadgita insists that human beings employ their intellect (Buddhi) to move from knowledge (information/empirical) to wisdom (applied, intuitive). In other words, use sight and tuition, to arrive at insight and intuition. (Chapter 8 – Jnanavijnana yoga)

A brief examination of incessant whatsapp messages, social media posts, and nonsensical TV programmes highlighting silly folklore pulled out of discredited or non – existent ‘ancient’ documents is keeping people’s minds occupied without any sensible purposes in mind. Concocted occult practices are advised on social media on a daily basis and an aspiration filled people are not applying reason or logic and instead allowing them self to be led by the nose into wasting their time and money. What is worse they are wasting their own true potential.

This is a culmination of what has been building up for some time and over the years Hindus have become extremely noisy and disruptive in public space. Not a month passes without a mass and hysterical display of religion and not a day passes without some local noise filled religious function.

For days on end kanwarias disrupt the highway.  Every year, hordes of people on foot, cycles, motorbikes & loaded on trucks, play loud music, go rampaging across the countryside and make trouble for fellow citizens and travellers. Fetching Gangajal is only an excuse for this raucous jamboree.

While no one can argue with the right to be privately superstitious, a heedless public display through the entire year is a tamasha of visarjans, jagratas , mata ki chowki , chatt puja , holi, diwali, dahi handi , and whatever other noisy public expression one can find of in an ‘in your face’ display of mass ritualistic behaviour

Scores of other festivals have delirious crowds blocking traffic, sullying the rivers, bursting crackers, making noise till late night and screaming on loudspeakers forcing the unwilling to suffer this idiotic and medieval behaviour.

A vast majority of people believe this indulgence in rituals to be a spiritual activity or dharma. This notion is misguided and silly. There is nothing spiritual about superstition, noise and sullying the neighbourhood and destroying hundreds of productive hours in noisy public rituals. All religions define the spiritual quest as one meant to seek out the truth. That journey cannot begin with or be sustained by andhavishwasa

The argument that Hindus are a religious people and therefore this behavior should be found acceptable is the height of laziness. This is not religion. This is voodoo culture & zombie-ism.  This behavior must be challenged for the sake of religion.

Rituals are meant to set the stage, to establish a state of mind and collect mental energy and focus it towards a higher goal, a nobler ideal and objective. The ritual is a means to an end. It is not an end in itself.

The Bhagvad Gita’s doctrine of committing oneself to performing obligatory duties and choosing a higher ideal is very useful. Hindus can use rituals, even create new ones or discard the old ones and commit themselves on religious occasions to their personal growth, their environment, seek education, follow the rule of law, be sensitive to public health and hygiene. These are all noble goals that Hindus must commit themselves to, and act dynamically to achieve, in a spirit of sacrifice towards a higher ideal. Even if the goal is unalloyed personal gain, then too, the ritual can only play a limited role and the aspirant has to commit himself to proper action directed towards a pure material goal (Bhagvadgita Ch-8)

Each festival can be converted to a larger human purpose in actuality and not merely symbolically. It is then that Hindus will live up to the tenets enshrined in their highest spiritual texts.

Lao Tsu the famous Chinese Philosopher once said that ‘If you do not change direction, you will end up where you are headed’.  If Hindus do not consider this seriously they will become a populous community of the pompous. They will be treated casually & with disrespect, and the phrase ‘Proud to be a Hindu’ would have no meaning even among the faithful.

Ashutosh Dikshit 2015

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Too early to Talk

Too early to talk

Every now and then an article appears by columnists on describing the ongoing conflict between left and right in the social sector as well as in universities and other democratic institutions

Some articles are a passionate expression of feelings with an advice for a sane dialogue between different ideologies and beliefs.

The writers seem to have little direct knowledge of how vicious battles are fought between power hungry contenders & to negotiate between such clashing sides. All they are doing is using these events to vent their ‘feelings’.

A colder& less emotionally involved look is therefore important:

The events we are witnessing are not a battle for freedom of expression & tolerance.

The ongoing conflict is a battle for controlling the structures of power. On one side are people, inside forts, determined to retain their hold, and on the outside, are those who want to wrest control. Expecting a discussion is naive This is a fight between two factions, fueled by greed for power, money, and the trappings it brings. It is not a battle of ideas . Ideas are only being employed as weapons.

Political party cadre traditionally have had access to the spoils of war. Which is why it is the cadre which is at the forefront of all such battles. There are those, who are less obvious in their politics,  but are closely networked and plugged in to the power hierarchy. They too will fight albeit surreptitiously.

‘The idea of India’ is not at stake. At stake is; control over the Bureaucracy, Police,Military, Institutions of learning, Corporate houses, State &International Funding etc, through which money, influence, power, and pleasures are acquired.

This conflict will get more bloody minded, down and dirty and ‘anything goes’ will be employed righteously by both sides. 

At this point of time, lectures on being ‘nice and talk it out’ will not help. This battle will rage for some time. It is only after some of the spoils are re-distributed, will the two sides begin to see any sense in having a conversation. That’s not happening anytime soon.

To those who are in politics and are a part of the political cadre, just go for it! There are returns.

But those who are not, don’t froth too much and don’t mess up your heads over this battle. Most of all, don’t become cannon fodder.

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ज़रुरत में गधे को बाप बनाना

“zaroorat mein gadhe ko baap banana”( ज़रुरत में गधे को बाप बनाना)

This is a peculiar Indian Idiom. I have researched much but not found a similar saying in other parts of the world. I have come across literature where ‘making a donkey out of your father’ is practiced by some rascals , but ‘Making a donkey your father’ is like taking it to another level altogether, and is nowhere to be found except in India

I have been reflecting much upon this. I have been thinking, if this is what we have been doing for very long in the past, that has gotten us where we are. I mean the total collapse of urban infrastructure, traffic,health services and the environment. And this is not about politicians so nobody need get all pompous, petulant and upset. I am like talking generally about society.

Now giving Maan Sammaan (मान सम्मान) is a part of our culture, we touch feet, we supplicate, we venerate and we do chamchagiri(चमचागिरी), but I suspect that the long term effect of several people doing all this, by making Several Donkeys their Fathers, is now taking its toll.

We need a new strategy (or would it be a new narrative?) where donkeys are required to be positioned differently in our lives.

 

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Photo of an injured woman- the freedom of confusion

There is this article going around on social media, with the picture of a woman airline staffer, an injured and obviously traumatized victim of a terrorist suicide bomb attack in Brussels. The correctness of putting up the photograph and questions of whether it is right or wrong are doing the rounds, with each click showing her picture and with people offering several views.

Never mind the hapless victim.

This question would not have arisen if this picture was of a mother breast feeding her child or tribal women in their natural attire. I am sure, this question has not arisen because a woman is injured but people are confused if a picture of her exposed in public, needs to be ‘talked about.

The writer in the article laments “yet we wear that responsibility lightly, clicking and sharing promiscuously’. This writer is also confused.

My point to the confused– And this includes the random ‘clickers’ on social media, who are sharing their confusion or commenting on such posts thereby knowingly or unknowingly spreading them.

If you are so confused, f*****d up and far from home in your head, do not put that picture up or share it, while you rely on the ‘freedom of confusion’. Wait till you get some clarity.

And if you are sure that it is correct, then have the balls to say so, and be thereby open to legal action that the victim may choose to take against you for your ‘freedom of expression’.

 

 

 

 

 

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From the Katho Upaniṡad

The Great Vājashrava Gautama decided to offer in sacrifice, many of his possessions to obtain heavenly pleasures. The Sacrifice sarva dakshina means giving up everything.

His son Nachiketas observes that his father is giving away only that which he can spare, and that which is of less use. The child disturbed by his father’s actions questions him thrice ‘Who will you offer me to?’ The enraged father says ‘To death I give you’

Legend has it that the little boy, Nachiketas, leaves home in that search and arrives at the door of Yama the God of death. Yama is not in his abode so Nachiketas waits for three days without food and water.

Yama is mortified on his return to see a young Brahmin boy waiting patiently for him. He apologizes profusely and asks the child to ask for 3 boons as compensation for keeping him waiting for three days. The first boon Nachiketas asks of Yama is for his father to be pacified and free from anger towards him, and that he is welcomed warmly on his return home. Yama grants him the first boon happily.

As Nachiketas asks the remaining two boons and his questions follow, Yama the lord of death, is bewildered by the child’s genius and the profundity of his intellect. He offers all the wealth in the world, riches and power but Nachiketas refuses. He only wants knowledge of the supreme Brahman(The word Brahmin comes from that)


Yama speaks thus:

अविद्यायाम्अँतरे  वतर्मानाः स्वयं धीराः पण्डितम् मन्यमानाः

दन्द्रम्यमाणाः परियंती मूढाः ,अन्धेनैवा नीयमानायथान्धाः( 1.2.5)

Steeped in ignorance, colossal fools living in darkness, who consider themselves wise and knowledgeable; thinking themselves as having an understanding of everything, run hither and thither like the blind leading the blind.

This phenomenal verse from the Katho upanisad is a reminder of the state of confusion we exist in. We are bound to our egos and unwilling to learn, and we do not see it. Dedicated to our fixed ideas and notions we go on and on discussing our problems, opinions and attitudes with our peers who are equally pompous and misguided. This makes our condition no different from the blind being led out by the blind lost in a maze.

Everyone is on the same level of thinking and at a certain age, having finished formal education, assumes that no further learning except that which we obtain through experience is required. The world appears to us through our senses and our understanding of it is limited to our own experience. We are microscopic as compared to the cosmos and we are microscopic as compared to billions of events yet we construct the worlds’ truths based on our experience

This of course is silly. Our minds are conditioned by sanskara ( metal impressions and brain patterning)to receive information not as it is but as we are!

The lenses that we view the world with colour the information coming in. This is only too obvious as we fail to have the ability to look at anything anew and go on and on believing falsehood.

Faced with turbulence we fail to examine, if at all, there is indeed another way, and take solace and refuge in blaming others or in another faulty assessment of our situation and lamenting our fate

How often have we ‘not noticed’, that when we talk to our peers and blame our circumstances for our problems our friends faithfully nod their heads and advice us accordingly and if any friend does not accept our faulty reasoning we abandon the friend instead of abandoning our faults. We seek confirmation and validation of our fixed ideas and not advice even as we sound like we are seeking it.

‘’The significant problems we face today cannot be resolved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them”- Albert Einstein

This brilliant line by the great scientist is an astute understanding of the paradigm

In reality however we do not even think of ‘level of thinking’ and we do not question if there is something we need to learn. Even as we sometimes seek answers our brains trick us and all we get is old wine in a new bottle and we fall for it. We think we are ‘wiser’ when we have only replaced one faulty perception by another. We do the same thing differently and look for profound changes.

We are blind and so is our teacher.

Regardless of the level of our knowledge the intractable problems that confront us can only be solved by acting and practicing knowledge that is acquired from someone who can guide us out of the maze and not somebody who is stuck in the same maze

At every stage we must resist the arrogance of knowledge and be open to seeking a teacher. It is only the self realized sage who has no further need for learning.

The rest of us, living among the objects of the senses and buried under emotions, feelings and ideas, must never ignore the imperative of seeking higher knowledge.

SERIES ON VERSES FROM THE BHAGVAD-GITA

कर्मणयेवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन।
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि।  

karmany evadhikaras te
ma phalesu kadacana
ma karma-phala-hetur bhur
ma te sango ‘stv akarmani

Your right is in action alone and you have never any right to its fruit. Neither be (exist) for the fruit of action nor be attached to inaction

योगस्थः कुरु कर्माणि सङ्गमत्यक्त्वा धनञ्जय

सिद्धयसिद्धयोः समो भूत्वा समत्वं योग उच्यते

yoga-sthah kuru karmani
sangam tyaktva dhananjaya
siddhy-asiddhyoh samo bhutva
samatvam yoga ucyate

 Steadfast in yoga, commit to action renouncing attachment to success or failure O Conqueror of wealth. Evenness of mind is called yoga.

 

बुद्धियुक्तो जहातीह  उभे सुकृतदर्शते

तस्माद्द्योगाय युज्यस्व योगः कर्मसु कौशलम्

buddhi-yukto jahatiha
ubhe sukrta-duskrte
tasmad yogaya yujyasva
yogah karmasu kausalam

 United with knowledge one discards both good and bad deeds. Therefore commit yourself to yoga. Skill in action is yoga

Krishna’s advice to Arjuna follows when the warrior declares his intention of opting out of the war he himself had decided to wage. At the penultimate moment emotion takes over Arjuna’s intellect and he becomes incapable of fighting as a soldier and takes refuge in weakness and extols passive abdication as a virtue. At this moment of confusion Arjuna ceases to think of his objectives as a Warrior and a General and his focus collapses to dwell on his own emotions as a person. Dejected and demoralized he asks the Supreme lord to guide him out of this confusion.

Krishna says:

कर्मणयेवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन।
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि।  

Your right is in action alone and you have never any right to its fruit. Neither be (exist) for the fruit of action nor be attached to inaction

‘Your rights are limited to action alone, but not on the result.’ The focus is on the word ‘rights’ or adhikaar. ‘Do not ever occupy your mind with the fruit of your action.  And neither should you attach yourself to inaction.’

The word karma like dharma has several meanings depending on usage and context. Karma is in some cases all encompassing wherein it refers to cause and effect together, and in some cases, as in this, it is used in a very limited sense to mean immediate action.

Now Krishna makes a statement of fact. He Says, ‘your right is to action alone’. The right to results rests with the laws of cause and effect. You can only act in the immediate present and no matter what you do it is not possible to predetermine the consequences of your action.  The only mastery anyone can achieve is to attempt a perfection of his current action.

The fruit of an action will always be in the future. Whether seconds later or years. Thus anxiety for something in the future will dissipate mental energy.

Having chosen your course of life on the basis of your swadharma (deep inner nature) you work with a goal in mind, you fix objectives, you plan your actions, you think of several impediments that can come your way and accordingly plan out your action. You accordingly work out a strategy. Then why does Krishna say ‘do not be attached to the results of your action’.

Let us suppose an archer participates in a contest. Obviously he means to win. On his turn he focuses on the target, summons his skills refined over years of practice, balances the bow, senses the wind direction and speed, loads the arrow, and aligns it to the target and fires. This is the best he can do. If he were to start imagining the consequences of his success and failure in hitting the target, if he starts imagining the expressions of onlookers were he to fail, if he were to begin thinking of the prize money in the future, his attention will waver. That is all Krishna is saying. Do not ‘be’ for the fruit of action once you have decided to act. ‘Be’ only for the quality of action.

Examine further in a complex action such as a manager or a general.

‘No strategy survives contact with the enemy’ these famous lines were said by Helmuth Karl von Moltke , German Field and the chief of staff of the Prussian Army for thirty years. He is regarded as one of the great strategists of the latter 19th century, and the creator of a new, more modern method of directing armies in the field.

Once you have strategized to win on the battlefield, thinking of the spoils of war will divert your mind. Keep on with the struggle of completing the task at hand with constant focus on here and now.

As a politician, once the election campaign starts, strategize to win and not worry what comes after that. Why worry about your position when the results are announced. Give everything to the campaign and plunge into the contest.

Be mindful of action in the present at all times through total and conscious absorption. Do not give up on your objectives, keep trying and in that there is great joy. Never give in to inaction believing in fatalism and shun laziness to continue your struggle.

But how will this be achieved

योगस्थः कुरु कर्माणि सङ्गमत्यक्त्वा धनञ्जय

सिद्धयसिद्धयोः समो भूत्वा समत्वं योग उच्यते

Steadfast in yoga, commit to action renouncing attachment and being the same in success or failure O Conqueror of wealth. An evenness of mind is called Yoga

Krishna declares that to achieve this kind of absorption with the task at hand it is required to renounce or give up the attachment to success or failure. To treat them as if they were just two sides of a coin. Krishna refers to Arjuna as Dhananjaya meaning conqueror of wealth suggesting that this doctrine is useful in achieving material success too. No philosophy or methodology is all encompassing till it is useful in being applied uniformly.

It is natural for a student to question as to how success and failure be treated alike. Success is likeable and failure causes misery.

But the Gita is insistent and uncompromising on this. It is reiterated in several verses across the text. Renounce entanglement, attachment, preoccupation with success or failure and only then it is possible to be engaged in working effectively.

Go on and on with your work. Believe in yourself. Act with commitment and dedication. Why worry. Intense work is victory and joy and peace. Evenness of mind is karma yoga

Without evenness/equanimity sub optimal work will be produced.

A significant portion of time is wasted in brooding over past failure or indulging in past victory. The mind then proceeds to imagine the joys of future victory and thereby an anxiety about possible reversals. The present is ignored. S

The doctrine of karma yoga warns against this habit of the mind.

बद्धियुक्तो जहातीह  उभे सुकृतदर्शते

तस्माद्द्योगाय युज्यस्व योगः कर्मसु कौशलम्

United with knowledge one discards both good and bad deeds. Therefore commit yourself to yoga. Skill in action is yoga

Most people mistake renouncement as a display of disinterest while in fact it is a consequence of mastery. Nothing can be ‘renounced’ in a vacuum. When a larger ideal occupies the mind the lower ideal is renounced. As a CEO your large ideal is the success of the enterprise and not your personal victory or defeat. The larger picture requires you to set aside your exhilaration and dejection at small victories and defeats. The larger picture requires that you can put your ego and personal likes and dislikes aside and make the best use of available talent in the organization.

Go for the big ideal of taking the organization forward. Once free from preoccupation with your personal victory or defeat you will without stress do your job.  This evenness of mind, this calm and collectedness is karma yoga

 United with knowledge one discards both good and bad deeds. Therefore commit yourself to yoga. Skill in action is yoga

In the Gita United with knowledge is having attained self realization. That is the ultimate state of perfection for a karma yogi. As skill in action advances, as you become more consummate good and bad deeds (sanskaras or mental impressions) are transcended and nothing disturbs your calm and therefore the lord says’ Skill in action is yoga’

Examine this: A soldier returning from war after having killed several enemies will carry no imprint of having done a bad deed since his motive and intent was driven by a desire to live up to his job. On the other hand a criminal who kills people out of purely personal reasons will carry an altogether different imprint of that action. In the first case the ‘action ‘can be discarded as it were, and in the second it will be carried as baggage. This sanskara or mental impression is good or bad deed and not action per se

United with knowledge is not the same as learning or studying. When study and reflection result in intuitive, instinctive and effortless skill you unite with knowledge. This skill in action is in itself, joyful.

Enforce the Law

The tragic death of a union cabinet minister has once again brought into focus the state of road safety in India

 

Hundreds of families are devastated day after day as road accidents bring many emotional trauma, physical strain, and financial burdens. Sometimes the families are already impoverished; some others become so on account of fatalities and disabilities resulting from road accidents.  

 

On Indian roads -where there already is no margin for error – Pedestrians and cyclists are seen negotiating a common mobility corridor with motorists and other heavy vehicles. In such a situation, the plight of the cyclist and the person on foot is worse than ever. They clearly stand little chance of avoiding an injury when pitted against a mechanized four wheeler in the event of a collision.

 

Over the years several sensitization and awareness programs undertaken by NGOs and the government have failed to deliver adequate results on the ground. Several think tanks and seminars have delivered studies and papers on the subject, yet people continue to face the brunt of a terrible road safety situation in India. Pedestrians and cyclist continue to risk their lives.

 

As a citizens’ collective, we have been grappling with this situation and carrying out community based discussions and ‘pavement walks’. We have invited the executive engineer of the PWD, we have invited the area MLA for these initiatives and we have made several representations to the Government to this effect. Not a single request, made on the basis of protecting the rights of walkers, walking as a healthier alternative, and reducing vehicular emission load etc has been heard, either by the authorities or by the occupiers of footpaths

 

I do not know of any neighbourhood in Delhi (the Lutyens building zone, excluded) which has free to walk footpaths – and this, despite several plans proffered by NGOs, architects, the DUAC and bodies like the UTTIPEC.

In my view a paradigm shift in thinking is required to deal with this issue. It has to move from an awareness based initiative to a strict law enforcement based system.  Illegal Occupation of public land is a criminal offense and should be dealt with as such.

 

When citizens are made to face the legal consequences of illegal activity they may prefer not to occupy the footpaths for personal use.

 

The expectation that  vehicle owners and potential car buyers will drop the idea of parking on footpaths out of the goodness of their heart,  concern for the environment and respect for the rights of pedestrians, has failed to the best of my knowledge and belief.  It has failed to deter buyers and it will fail in preventing the occupation of footpaths for parking.  Further the other instincts that cause people to occupy footpaths will also not stop through moral imperatives. The proclivity to grab public land for extending a room or a green patch is endemic in our society.  In our South Delhi neighbourhood, car mechanics, building material suppliers and the ‘very wealthy’ of Greater Kailash 2 have all occupied the footpath

 

The only way to stop this menace is a strict and persistent enforcement of the rule of law. When people realize that they cannot park at all on a footpath or in a no parking zone they will begin to consider other methods of transportation. When the strong arm of the law ensures that walking, cycling or taking public transport is an alternative to trampling over pedestrians or occupying footpaths, other means of mobility may begin to carry greater appeal.

 

As a citizens’ collective we know the daily harassment a walker or cyclist faces in our area, as footpaths have been occupied illegally.

 

The police are of the view that, given the number of cars, it is only natural that footpaths will be used for parking. It appears that the natural requirement of a resident to walk on the footpath is not seen to be quite as natural as the instinct to grab public land.

 

Needless to say society is complicit in this and the urge to occupy common spaces continues unabated.

 

Let the Children Play

Let the Children Play

The space provided for kids to play in Municipal parks in Delhi is less than 0.009% of the total park space available.

In what can only be called callous, inhuman, and utterly stupid, our planners have shown a total lack of foresight in this area. Land is expensive and the greedy have commercialized it.

In their absurd fixation of making more and more parks ornamental -which is to say that you can walk and relax there but playing is prohibited – they are forcing more and more children to take to online and digital gaming.

Not only that, in their thoughtless obsession to make all parks ornamental, the elderly and those in power have made sure that out of a total of 14000 municipal parks, there are only 126 parks for the young; unthinkable !

Common sense would indicate that large grounds should be lit up, fenced or netted to walk and jog on the perimeter and the ground itself is left for free play. For kids to run across, playing football, cricket, Frisbee, kabaddi etc. Logically smaller ones be earmarked and beautified/landscaped etc for people to sit on benches to socialize. Our planners have reversed that. Old people have large parks to sit and young people have small corners to play in!

What is worrisome is the current set of young parents who are completely oblivious of the natural requirement of growing children for informal and regular play. Running, jostling, pushing, falling, dusting themselves and standing up to run again, provides motor skill, resilience and muscular stability like no fancy gymnasium, or tennis coaching can. It also teaches socialization and negotiating skills like no air-conditioned, ‘human development,’ workshop can.

There is something very special about informal & unstructured play, full of screaming, sweating and laughter.

It is indeed disappointing that the current generation of parents have made no serious attempt to challenge the establishment in any significant way, to demand the right to play for their own kids.

The odd protest does not constitute a significant and persistent demand.

Whimpers don’t change entrenched inequities.

No amount of lip service to tree plantation, greening and ‘holistic growth’ will make any sense if our society is made up of young people who grow up without an affinity for the outdoors, and are forced to spending their time peering into screens; children who don’t go, “out to play.” India may be a signatory to the right of the Child to Play, but parents of teenagers have clearly abdicated a major part of their responsibility.

There is absolutely no argument that can justify stifling the adolescents, the teenagers and the young and grabbing open spaces for ornamental parks and exotic gardens.

There is every moral and logical argument to agitate for the return & restoration of open areas to the young for playing and sport.

Children are suffering a serious deficit of play.

100% unmitigated righteousness is on the side of the right to play.

 

Pavement! where art thou?

As I drove across GK2, Alaknanda and CR Park, I could not help noticing that all men, women, children and the elderly were walking on the road.

All pedestrians had to negotiate through moving traffic, sidestepping parked cars and other impediments; on some stretches, even forced to walking close to the center of the road.

There is no pavement to walk on. Vast stretches of pavements have been completely occupied for parking, ramps, flower beds and shrubs. They have been occupied by hawkers, mechanics, odd structures, cigarette vendors, fruit and vegetable sellers and make shift shops.  At places open drains and manholes, alongside the pavement, present a serious challenge to life and limb.

I noticed old ladies carrying bags laden with groceries looking hither and thither, over their shoulder and craning their necks to get a view across the parked cars. This is no doubt an impulse created out of self preservation against accidents.

I saw children, so young and often reckless, screech to a stop while walking or cycling.

Clearly we have learnt to live like this. We are adept at navigating through the chaos and the risk presented constantly.

The entire area of Greater Kailash II and Chittaranjan Park were originally laid out with proper sidewalks along all the major and minor roads. Infrastructure services like water supply, sewage, storm water drainage, etc., were laid below the footpaths, and trees were planted at intervals. The sidewalks were generally raised 6” to 7” above the road level. I am not sure whether similar sidewalks were provided along the roads in the SFS Housing and NRI Housing areas. However, with the increase in the number of cars in recent years these footpaths have either disappeared or been extensively encroached upon.  In most areas cars are parked all along the outside boundary of the house plots at right angles to the road. The level difference defining the sidewalks has disappeared. There is therefore no option, other than to walk in the middle of the road. With the steady increase of traffic and considering the fact that some roads have become major thoroughfares, this is a situation that has to be addressed and cannot just be ignored. It is true that attempts to resolve this will put the backs up of many people, but in the interest of long-term safety something has to be done. Solutions will not be easy to find but an attempt needs to be made.

As for land, we have devised a peculiar concept of use. Personal land is for personal use, Govt. Land is for Government use but public spaces are to be ‘misused’ by all.

We are oblivious to these issues, habituated as we have become in accepting that the roads and pavements are chaotic in nature.

There may be solutions to all such issues. The solutions must have a cultural fit. Importing western solutions will simply not work.  We will need to work out our own local indigenous solution.

The Background

Our proclivity for convenience and having everything next door does get in the way. parking, mechanics, provisions, retail, cineplex, stationary, grocery, fruits and vegetables must all be within, ‘walking distance.’ Funnily, there is no provision for walking easily!

The emotional idea of convenience is overpowering in our culture. Pitted against the strategic idea of planning and discipline, hankering for convenience has resulted in our city becoming inconvenient.

This matter, needless to say, is as highly political as it is cultural. The planned part of the city is western (only though in its basis of planning) and the unplanned part is a rural setting trans-located on to the urban landscape.

Despite Urban planners and environmentalists raising concerns, virtually nothing has been achieved in clearing the pavements for people to walk.

It is a pity that in all recent urban development we have largely adopted the Western planning approach and not looked at any of our traditional examples. Our traditional bazaars were all pedestrian oriented and planned around a system of moving on foot. Chandni Chowk and its attached framework of by lanes, were based on a pedestrian safety system. It is a pity that over the course of time, cars were allowed into this area and that has now resulted in total chaos. In such a situation, it is worthwhile to take a look at the market at Sarojini Nagar. Perhaps it was not consciously conceived as such, but today it is an absolute pedestrian space with all cars outside the periphery. Teeming with people and abuzz with activity, it is in many ways an amazing space. Unfortunately we do not emulate such examples, nor do we develop new concepts based on this kind of approach.

And here are the challenges:

The option of having a designated area for vendors and hawkers, with strict rules on their being responsible for cleanliness and waste disposal, can be met with resistance from many residents, who would, actually, want them close by!

All such activities need to be properly planned for. If space is properly organized with proper provision for movement, servicing, functional and suitably located toilets, proper garbage disposal arrangements, perhaps some landscaping, it would transform such spaces, and positively overcome resistance from residents.

The option of asking house owners to stop using the illegal occupation of pavements for car parking, construction of ramps and personal verandahs, and the planting of shrubs and flowers, will be met with howls of protest and severe resistance. There is a sense of ownership that has developed over years. There are problems regarding the parking of cars. Multiple flats on singular plots simply do not have parking spaces for all owners who own multiple cars.

Cars could be parked alongside kerbs but with multiple apartments to a plot, the decision on slots will result in ego based conflicts.

Parking is an issue that needs to be effectively addressed and systematically organized. This needs detailed planning area by area – there is no standard solution for all situations. In new developments parking should be part of the proposal within each site. The current solution in the form of a stilted floor for parking at ground level needs proper enforcement, with a clear check on the number of parking spaces sanctioned, and as actually put to effective car parking use. Currently stilt areas are being used for other utilities and cars remain parked outside

Not all existing constructions on pavements can be removed.

Kiosks have spilled onto the pavements; any regulations against those, will get the small trader seriously upset.

Any attempt at law enforcement will fail since a significant number is now trapped in a tradition of land misuse.

Very little history of community self regulation exists in urban settings, but this needs to change. Perhaps we need to begin by effectively organizing and cleaning up a small area and slowly extend it outwards to larger spaces. This could be one of the objectives of community groups and RWA.

Under these circumstances some very creative solutions will need to be devised bringing all stakeholders including the usurpers on board in a community initiative. That seems to be the only possibility under the circumstances.

Poster Magic takes over

Poster Magic takes over.

There is something magical about posters in our city. It’s as if all our problems vanish, when posters proclaim so. No matter what the problem is a poster makes it disappear. Appears poster, disappears problem!

Lack of leadership: No problem, just put a hoarding across the constituency or city, showing a photo shopped image with a beaming smile – a face plumped with collagen and reconstructed with dental artistry – who can challenge that.

The leader has arrived. Mortified competitors will respond with a barrage of posters, showing a bevy of supporters; this will be a bigger poster too! The bigger the better.

But the deed is done. The posters have a secret formula- Leadership is directly proportional to the formula:

L= {nlog( Ps+Lp+Psk)x log.e.Mcoma.x Nasp.}÷Rn

This is based on Intel reports. This code has to be deciphered before it’s too late.

Ps- poster size

Lp- location of poster

Psk- Photoshop capable support

Mcoma- coefficient of Municipal apathy

Nasp- number of aspirants

R- Number of residents

e- Natural log base 2.718

Here is a look at how posters are solving other problems:

Sewage/drainage problem: No problem. Poster on multiple project inaugurations will magically appear. Who cares if the roads are dug up endlessly and nothing happens. Poster to hai naa! Sub kuch theek hai. Such is poster power, that the public feels reassured even when it can’t get to work, when workplaces get flooded, and the fire-brigade and ambulances siren themselves into a tizzy.

Security problem: Thefts and break-ins, underpaid guards who look like they need more help than they can offer; beat constables, clearly not seen in the presence of the needy –  no problem yaar,  Posters on polices, ‘neighbourhood watch schemes,’ shall appear magically. All is well. Criminals, of course, are scared of posters.

Traffic jams: Arre why worry.  Poster on new connectivity project supported by another poster of minor leaders following the guidance derived from another poster of major leaders with even better Photoshop capability will show us the way

Health care and disease, dengue, exceedingly high levels of cancer causing pollution.  No new public healthcare. C’mon people don’t be doomsayers. Don’t listen to serious research. Look at the bright side of fancy hospitals offering discount schemes on clogged arteries and other miseries our city is being subjected to. Did you miss the life enhancing poster of the environment minister promising plantation and tougher emission norms? You must be an irresponsible citizen.

Hungry and deprived: No problem, posters on free meals will appear. The puri could double for a Frisbee, but why worry – just look at the poster – all the kids look well fed and happy.

Things have come to such a pass that posters have set up their own body. The posters clearly mean business.  The All Poster Power and Rights initiative (TAPPORI) has been set up.

Now the posters are discussing among posters!
Only posters can be members. They will have all the powers.

I am told that TAPPORI is now leveraging with US president Obama to not waste his time over war and resources on the Syria issue. They have offered posters all over US and Syria to declare ‘no problem’. Putin will be dealt with through posters in Moscow

As it turns out a public meeting between posters is taking place. The all Delhi Convention of Posters convened by TAPPORI is planned in our neighborhood. Their agenda is to decide how posters will have greater rights and powers over citizens in the future. A poster empowerment bill is in the offing to be tabled in the next session of the parliament

In hush tones people overwhelmed by poster power come and whisper. I receive missed calls and ghost e mails. Mystery is afoot.