All Alike

We live in a world, and in a time, of confrontation and conflict, a continuous battle for proving our might; so much energy poured into dividing rather than synergising.

At a time when “what makes us different” is more important than what binds us as human beings I remember a poem by one of my favourite poets that reminds us that we are really not different!

No Difference

Small as a peanut,

Big as a giant,

We’re all the same size

When we turn off the light.

 

Rich as a sultan,

Poor as a mite,

We’re all worth the same

When we turn off the light.

 

Red, black or orange,

Yellow or white,

We all look the same

When we turn off the light.

 

So maybe the way to

To make everything right

Is for God to just reach out

And turn off the light!

Shel Silverstein

 

If only something could make everything right!

Let’s take a minute to pause and ponder as the International Day of Peace is observed around the world on 21 September.

–Mamata

Man and Machine

On 22 August our land line phone (yes, we are perhaps the few remaining dinosaurs who still have a land line!) went dead. My husband in whose name the number is registered, called the complaints number and after being taken through the usual route of Press 1 for___and Press 2 for ___ , and so on finally made contact with a human voice to register the complaint.  He was told that someone would come to our home the same day by midday. In the meanwhile, I received at least four automatic messages on my cell phone (not in any way connected with the landline provider, with various offers and deals.) My husband has innumerable times told the landline providers that he should be contacted on the landline number only. But that is another story!

Back to this story! We waited at the stipulated time, and well beyond, for the person to show up. Towards evening we got a call (on the landline, at least!) from the engineer to say that he would be arriving shortly. When he finally did arrive and we told him that he was to have come at least 6 hours ago, he said that he had got the message about his call, just an hour ago. The gentleman, (one from the not-quite-all-tech generation) himself expressed anguish at how the mechanised ‘auto-response call systems’ were so out of synch with the human work force that was meant to execute the work.

During the same period that he was at our place I received three messages on my cell phone saying that “Your service request has been assigned to engineer _______. He will be visiting at your premises between 23 August 2018  09.30 am-23 August 2018 10.30 am.”

By the time the many messages were received, the engineer had solved the issue. Now he had to report to the ‘authorities’ that the task had been successfully completed. This too through the automated number system. However, try as he might, his completion report was not registered. The engineer tried patiently for over half an hour, through whatever means he knew to simply report  ‘task completed on 22 August’, to no avail.  He was quite at his wits’ end, and finally left befuddled, (and worried about how to account for the visit and the task).

On 23 August at precisely 09.40 am, I received three messages on my cell phone confidently informing me that “Dear Customer. Our engineer ________just arrived at your premises to attend to your service request.” !?!

–Mamata

 

Business as Usual

 “Business history gave me the opportunity to look at the experiences of individuals. Individuals who built organizations; individuals who built companies, individuals who responded to situations and responded to change. Then I began to have some kind of understanding of what Indian society is like. What are the forces in the Indian society that egg people on to certain things” said Prof Dwijendra Tripathi, Kasturbhai Lalbhai professor of Business History at IIM Ahmedabad, and the founder of the discipline in India.

Like any historian, he believed that studying the past led to a better understanding of the present. Today, India wants to ‘Make in India’. It wants every graduate and school dropout to be an entrepreneur, a job creator rather than a job seeker. There cannot be a time when it is more critical to study Indian business history.

India was fortunate to have a pioneer like Prof Tripathi who laid the foundations of this discipline way back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. But even today there are few Indian Business Schools which teach the subject. I wonder if there are any pure history departments which teach it at all!!!

His passing away on Sept 5 this year has led to a flurry of articles and pieces (including this one). Maybe it will also lead to serious debates on the place of the study of Business History for the development of Indian Business.

Some things change, some don’t! It is up to us to learn from the past to plan for the future.

‘Another disincentive to movement was a network of customs barriers. According to Moreland, these barriers–chowkies, as they were called-existed in 1600 and later. Most likely, they existed even earlier. As a result, the cost of transportation over a distance of 200 or 300 miles doubled the price of the commodity. The harassing and corrupt practices of the customs authorities added to the trials and tribulations of the situation’.

Indian Entrepreneurship in Historical Perspective: A Re-Interpretation Author(s): Dwijendra Tripathi Source: Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 6, No. 22 (May 29, 1971)

–Meena

For me, Prof Tripathi was a gentle presence on the IIM-A campus, a ready smile for anyone he met.

The Race to be Wise: A Ganesha Tale

With Ganesh Chaturthi wishes!

‘Narada is here, Narada is here’, called Murugan to his elder brother Ganesha.5F27BFBF-2569-4CCB-9260-42B589B98DF0Narada’s visits were always exciting.  He travelled all over the three worlds and he had a nose for gossip and scandal.  He picked up news from here and there, and made sure people at the next stop got to know it.  He spoke so wittily, and sang and joked…there was never a dull moment when he was around.  And he brought such interesting gifts too!

Ganesha and six-headed Murugan rushed over to the main reception hall, where their parents Shiva and Parvati were receiving Narada.  The first greetings and exchanges were already over when the two boys arrived, and they could do their share of talking and asking and answering.

When the excitement and the decibel level had come down a little, Murugan the impulsive one asked Narada: ‘Narada, have you got anything for us?  Any new toy? Any wondrous weapon?  An interesting book?  A playful pet?’

‘Oh! I had almost forgotten!’ said the mischievous Narada, who had probably been waiting to be asked.  ‘Of course, I have something for you!  Something rare and precious, one of its kind’.

‘What, What?  Tell me quickly.  Is it for me or for everyone?  Must I share it with Brother?  Tell me!’ implored Murugan.

‘Well, I don’t know whom it is for.  There is but one piece.  I shall give it to your parents and they must decide as they think fit’, said Narada, looking forward to the trouble this was going to lead to.  He handed over a luscious, rich yellow-orange mango to Parvati.  The fruit was obviously no ordinary mango–it shone with the lustre of gold and smelt divine.

A mango?  Is it a very sweet one? Asked Ganesha, a little confused.

‘Not only the sweetest, tastiest and most flavoursome mango in the world, it is also the fruit of wisdom.  He who eats it will be the wisest among gods and humans,’ said Narada.  ‘It is indeed a special fruit, for there is no other like it in the world.  So I thought, who else to give it to but Shiva and Parvati?’

Murugan got down to business.  ‘Ma, I think you should give me the fruit, I am the youngest and so I must get it, if there is only one.  Anyway, you always give Ganesha everything.

‘That is not true Kartikeya’ said Shiva.  ‘You get an equal share of everything–often more, for you throw such tantrums.’

‘I do NOT throw tantrums’, said Murugan, promptly losing his temper.  ‘Ma always favours Ganesha.  She is always making modaks and laddus for him.  For me, nothing.  And you also.. you always praise him for being intelligent and for knowing the scriptures.’

‘Enough Subramania.  You know both of you are equally dear to me–my two eyes.  Vinayaka is the older, so he gets more of some things.  But you are the younger, so you get the preference in certain other things.  That is how it has to be ‘, said Parvati.  ‘But in this case, I am not sure who should get the fruit.  You are both brave boys, intent on doing good in the world, proud and intelligent.  The wisdom this fruit will give you, I know both of you will put to good use.  What shall we do?  Let your father and I have a talk so we can decide.’

Shiva and Parvati conferred while everyone waited, impatient but silent. Murugan paced up and down, while Ganesha sat quietly by, playing with his pet, vehicle and companion, the shrew.

At last Shiva spoke: ‘We have decided to set a test for the two brothers, to see who deserves the sweet fruit of wisdom.  Both brothers shall set out immediately, and he who circles the world three times and comes back here first, shall get the fruit.  Is that agreeable with you, Kartikeya, Ganesha?

Murugan was quite happy.  He knew he was much faster and more skilled at physical activities than his brother.  The test was set up so that he could win! ‘ Its fine by me.  How can I have a problem when my parents have decided?’ he said.

Ganesha smiled his slow smile.  ‘I agree‘ he said. ‘My wise mother and father have decided it is to be so.  I know that it must be the right way.’

Murugan went into a flurry of preparations.  He called his trusted peacock who flew faster than the winds.  He sharpened his spear and unfurled his flag.  Ganesha stood quietly, a thoughtful look on his face.

’Come Brother, get on with your preparations.  Nothing ventured, nothing won,’ called out Subramania, just a little mockingly.

‘I will see you off, little brother, before I leave on my journey.  A minute here or there will not make a difference to me,’ said Ganesha calmly.

‘Yes, that is true.  Well, I am off now.’  Kartikeya mounted his peacock, and in a flurry of flapping wings, he was off.

Hours later, weary and sweaty, dusty and damp, but sure that he had won the competition, he approached Mount Kailash.  He could see the crowd of people gathered there, looking up at him.  He could see his mother and father, Narada, all the minor gods, courtiers. But what was this?  Sitting at his parents’ feet … could it be Ganesha?

There was no way he could have come back ahead of him! His peacock had flown faster than ever before.  The winds had aided him.  He had used all his skills to steer the easiest path.  No, it just was not possible that Ganesha could have been faster than him.  Then what was it? Had he not gone at all, knowing that he would not be able to beat his younger brother?  No, that could surely not be true.. his brother would not give up without even trying.  Confused, Kartikeya landed back.

‘Welcome, my son.  We are glad to see you back safely,’ said his father as he rose to greet him. ‘And you have really been fast.’

Shiva turned to the waiting people.  ‘Now the time comes to declare the winner,’ he said.

Subramania was still confused.  What was going on?  Ganesha looked so calm and tranquil, he could make out nothing from his face.

‘I congratulate both of you, my sons.  Subramania has performed a wondrous physical feat.  He has gone around the world three times, faster than any God, human or demon has ever till date.  He is indeed incomparable.  I wish I could give him the fruit, but I cannot.’

‘Why,  why? You said I was the fastest,’ said Murugan, turning in confusion to his father.

‘Because my son, your brother went around the world much faster.  No, not the globe, not the physical world,’ explained Shiva.  ‘He went around us, his parents, three times, and it took him but a moment.’

‘I don’t understand.  What is this all about?’  Subramania was vexed and perplexed.  Was it some kind of a joke?

‘I will explain, little brother, why I did that.  For dutiful children, their parents are the world.  Moreover, with parents like ours, the mighty Shiva and Parvati, they are the greatest of Gods, they are indeed the world.  They are the repositories of all knowledge, all wisdom, all power.  What need is there to go any further?  If I go around them, I have gone around the world.’ said Ganesha.

The crowds cheered.  For indeed, was there a world without Shiva and Parvati?  Was there a world beside Shiva and Parvati?  Ganesha was indeed wise and deserved the fruit of wisdom.  Even Subramania was convinced. He could win any race against his brother, but when it came to racing minds, it was another matter!

And so Ganesha became the wisest of the Gods.

–Meena

From ‘Elephantasy’. Centre for Environment Education.

Totum maior summa partum

Six blind humans once encountered an elephant. Each of them tentatively approached the unknown form that they could neither see nor hear, and each happened to touch a different part of the great beast. They moved their sensitive fingertips across what their hands could reach, and curiously explored.

Meeting together again, each was excited to exchange notes. For what a curious thing this was! What was it called and what purpose did it serve?

The first one said:

“What tree is this that we have chanced upon?

Its trunk just seems to go on and on.

Or is it a pillar thick and round

Solidly planted in the ground?”

 

The second one shook his head to exclaim:

“Oh no, you are mistaken, friend

It is simply a wall without end.

I just ran my hand from side to side

It is so solid, so firm, broad and wide.”

 

The third person was amazed at such tall tales:

“What do you mean ‘so high and strong’?

I assure you that you have got it quite wrong.

It’s quite simply a snake, soft, thick and long,

I could feel its breath as it swayed along.”

 

The fourth one was a bit confused now:

“It’s true it was long, but I have a doubt,

It wasn’t supple nor smooth as you make out.

It was surely a rope you felt my friend

Why, it even had long tassels at the end.”

 

The fifth individual thought the four were quite crazy:

“Imagine, imagining it to be a tree or a wall

Just what has come over you all?

Do snakes or ropes flap like sails on boats?

They were those giant punkhas, like ones in the royal courts.”

 

By now the sixth was convinced that the rest were mad:

“Why are we making wild guesses and playing foolish games?

I know not to what you give different names.

Firm to the touch, sharp at the end; nothing large or loose or long

How could it be anything but a spear sharp and strong?”

 

And thus each one ‘saw’ a different sight

And each was convinced that they were right.

Alas the six could only see a part, but never understand

That it all the parts together that made the whole elephant.

IMG_20180910_165057.jpg
Illustration: Roopalika V.

“The whole is more than the sum of its parts.” Aristotle

–Mamata

In a Word

When we were in school we were told that the Eskimos have a hundred or more words for Snow and forest-dwelling indigenous people have a multitude of words for Green. In recent years this information has been debunked by many linguists. While the numbers are not that important, to my mind this example is still meaningful as it draws attention to the fact that every culture and language has its own vocabulary to describe the nuances of a phenomenon or event or feeling.

In the past few years I have come across some really evocative words which I love to share.

Tsundoku A Japanese word which refers to the habit of accumulating books with the intention of reading them by and by, as opposed to obsessively collecting books just for the sake of having them. This word apparently has been used for over a century, and a person with a large collection of unread books was called a tsundoku sensei. This is something I have always done, and I was so happy to find a respectable name for the same!

Komorebi Another Japanese word for the delicate interplay of light and leaves when sunlight filters through the foliage of trees. How often we have been touched by this delicate and fleeting moment. Artists and photographers have tried to capture this, but this single word perfectly paints the picture.

Shinrin-yoku If you want to prolong the moment and immerse yourself in the experience—the Japanese have a word for that too. This word means ‘forest bathing’, a practice that includes mindfully experiencing the beauty of the komorebi while breathing the cool fresh air and hearing the leaves rustle in the gentle breeze.

Waldeinsamkeit If you were German and enjoying Shirin-yoku, a feeling of solitude, and a connectedness to nature, this is the perfect word to describe how you feel!

Mångata If you lingered long enough for the sunlight to be replaced by moonlight, this is what you would also see. A Swedish word for the glimmering, road-like reflection that the moon creates on water. Another luminescent word that paints a perfect picture.

Hygge Back home after a rejuvenating walk in the woods, what could be better that to curl up with a book from your tsundoku and get lost in the wonderful world of words! The Swedish have the perfect word for just such cosy comfort and contentment!

If only, we may say, our life could be a series of shinrin-yoku and hygge! The Japanese say that there is no reason why it cannot be. After all, is it not a lot about how you approach life? It is all about having a sense of purpose and meaning and a feeling of wellbeing–essentially ‘a reason to get up in the morning’, and to see the sunlight rather the clouds. They call it Ikigai.

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According to the Japanese, everyone has an ikigai. We just have to find our own.

–Mamata

A Register of Opportunity

BDB307A0-742C-4A7E-B7E0-18323D154F33As botanic gardens go, the Sir Seewoosagu Ramgoolam Botanic Gardens in Mauritius are not large. 92 acres to Bangalore’s Lal Bagh of 240 acres to put it in perspective (but of course we need to factor in the size of the two countries!).  We don’t need to dwell on the variety of flora, both endemic and exotic, on display there. Nor the few but interesting animals—specifically some deer and some huge tortoises. The only endemic Mauritian mammal, a bat, the Peropus niger, may also be spotted on the trees, it is said.

But it was not all this that really fascinated me. Let me tell you what did.

Little shelters dot the gardens. At the shelter overlooking the beautiful lily pond was2C9A861B-73C8-4075-9652-6A6A1E1591B9 a table. And on the table was a register. I sneaked a peak into the register. And this is what I saw: Several entries each day on the condition of the pond, the leaves, the flowers; the birds and insects seen. And a sketch of the pond, done at the same time every day, showing where flowers had bloomed and where there were buds. And it was not only the lily pond. There was a similar register at the lotus pond, and some other spots in the garden. As I flipped the pages, I could see that no day was missed, no entry casual

What seriousness of purpose and systematic application, to a job that may seem not to have any particular outcome. But the person behind the system and the people implementing it obviously know the importance.  After all, scientific method consists of : ‘systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.

The Botanic Garden in Mauritius is definitely doing its part! It is obvious that they know the value of keeping systematic notes and data. It may seem trivial, but who knows what it may lead to? After all, research is one of the stated objectives of Botanic Gardens, Zoos, Aquaria and all such facilities do. And keeping such meticulous notes may be the single most important contribution they can make.

Are we in India at all using such opportunities? I am not sure!

An excerpt from Darwin’s Beagle Notebooks. He observed and noted down everything around him—flora, fauna, geology, weather conditions, animal behaviour. And at the end of the day, changed human understanding of the world! Without his notes, he may not have reached his conclusions!

Extraordinary numbers of Turpin —

 drinking bury head above eyes — Will drink when a person is within 2 yards of them about 10 gulps in minute.

Noise during cohabitation.

Eggs covered by sand soil from 4 to 5 in number — require a long time before they are hatched.

Eat Cacti in the dry Islands

Yellow Iguana1 intestine full of Guyavitas & some large leaves

All morning descended highest Crater — Glassy Feldspar — red glossy scoriæ:

Iguana1 — shakes head vertically;, hind legs stretched out walks very slowly — sleeps — closes eyes — Eats much Cactus:

run walking from two other carrying it in mouth — Eats very deliberately, without chewing — Small Finc[h] picking from same piece after alights on back —

In the Tent generally 85-80˚ —

Trade wind & sun 77˚ or 78 —

On Rock out of wind 108˚ — —

http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?

A Seven Point Something Guide to Coping with the Big C

My friend Anita, who told her story in BRAVELY BATTLING THE BIG C had many people reach out to her after they read the blog, to tell her how much it had helped them. Hence she decided to share a few things which might help them further. Here goes…

–Meena

1.Do not panic. Take action as swiftly as possible. Time is of the essence. Once you have got the diagnosis, there is no time to be wasted. It is a disease which anyway presents itself very slowly and sometimes not very typically. That is why many a times, it is not diagnosed until last.  So don’t waste even a moment once you know.

2.Choose your oncologist with care. This is extremely important as you are going to stay with this doctor for a very long time, at least 4-5 months for sure! So it becomes imperative that you have a good rapport with your him/her. Believe me, that’s half the battle won ! Once you have taken the decision, have firm faith in your doctors.

3.Solicit help of your near and dear ones. It is hard to accept the situation any which way. But to face it alone without the support of your loved ones makes it that much harder. You need a lot of emotional strength during this period and there is nothing like having your dear ones encouraging you, looking after you, supporting you.

4.Take care of your nutrition and exercise. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation..all of this take a heavy toll on our body. The only way to throw out the toxins is to have good nutrition. Healthy fresh food during the entire period of treatment is an absolute must. This helps guard against secondary infections which can delay the treatment. So it is important to take good care of food. No eating out during this time should be the mantra. And of course, exercise is a must. I know the energy levels are depleted beyond imagination but half an hour of brisk walking is essential…if only to remind ourselves that we can walk! The hormonal treatment adds quickly to body weight. And don’t forget the chemo dose you get is directly related to your body weight. So why not reduce some weight and save money too, besides feeling fitter!

5.Cry buckets behind closed doors but put up a brave front when you face people. Crying is inevitable when you have such a big disease to tackle. The chemotherapy and its side effects only make it worse. You tend to become emotionally unstable and cry for no apparent reason all the time. It’s okay, cry it out. But wipe your tears when you are with people. For you get courage when you show courage..you don’t know how strong you are till being strong is the only option.

6.A s in pregnancy, with cancer too there are many old wives tales .People will tell you it’s your karma and blah blah. Or of some miracle cure. Do not listen to other people’s stories. You need only positive inputs and positive attitude. Surround yourself with people who can make you laugh and make the situation lighter. Concerted efforts of scientists are focused on understanding the disease and cure, and it is unlikely that some diet or herb or cure is likely to be the answer ! Listen only to your Doctors.

7. Have faith in yourself and modern medicine to combat the disease. Your happiness and wellness depend only on you. If you bravely, resolutely fight it out ,the disease will soon be on its way out! Just treat this as another challenge in your life which has to be dealt with and vanquished, and so it will be!!!

 

The Dodo and The Myna

The Dodo is the textbook example of man’s role in driving other species to extinction. This defenceless bird was hunted and harried to disappearance through the appearance of humans on the uninhabited island of what is now called Mauritius. Sailors on the high seas—the Arabs, the Portuguese and then the Dutch, discovered and re-discovered the pristine isle. For dodos, the beginning of the end was in 1598 when the Dutch discovered them on the island. Dodos were flightless birds, and also fearless because they had never encountered predators. So when humans appeared with their guns and weapons, they had no clue how to protect themselves. Moreover, humans brought along dogs, cats, pigs, rats—all which hunted the birds and raided their nests. Till there were none left.

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But if this is a story of man’s role in the loss of a species, what follows is an equally sorry tale of havoc cause by man’s deliberate introduction of a species into an alien eco-system. And on the very same island of Mauritius!

Sugarcane did and continues to play a key role in the economy of Mauritius. The sugarcane crop in Mauritius was beset by grasshoppers, which ate the leaves. In the 1780s, the French deliberately introduced mynas to the island to help control these. To a certain extent they did, but soon enough the mynas figured out the local lizards were easier to catch than the grasshoppers, and so made the lizards the mainstay of their diet. One consequence of this was that the insects that the lizards fed on multiplied, as they now had no predators! And even more seriously perhaps, the mynas themselves became pests to native species. Mynas are by nature aggressive and raid nests for eggs and newly hatched chicks. They compete with native birds for nesting sites. In Mauritius, they have been known to compete with an endemic species, the endangered Echo Parakeet, for nesting spaces.

Island ecosystems are very special. Human interventions can have disastrous results. To quote the IUCN Island Ecosystem Specialist Group:

‘Earth is home to over 100,000 islands, which support 20% of global biodiversity. The characteristics of size, shape and degree of isolation make many of these islands ecologically and culturally unique.

However, these same characteristics also make islands fragile and vulnerable ecosystems. Islands have the highest proportion of recorded species extinctions. Eighty percent of known species extinctions have occurred on islands and currently 45 percent of IUCN Red List endangered species occur on islands.’

Mauritius and all islands are beautiful and special! Let’s hope that we humans can preserve what makes them special, and leave the generations to follow this precious legacy.

An interesting aside:  A Mughal-time painting found in St. Petersburg  shows a dodo along with several Indian birds. The painting is believed to be from the 17th century and is attributed to the artist Ustad Mansur. The bird depicted probably lived in Emperor Jahangir’s zoo in Surat!

–Meena