By Jamuna Rangachari March 2007 Fired with a love for the divine and with a focus on the larger whole, the hallmark of the Indian genius is simplicity, humility, selflessness and inspiration Indian Genius – Key Qualities The focus is always on the inner self Simplicity is its hallmark The self is merged with the work Efforts are dedicated to the supreme being and/or to the universe You Indians are absolute geniuses,” exclaimed Switzerland-born Sharon (name changed). As she was working with a group of programmers here in connection with a software project then, I assumed it was the Indian software prowess she was referring to. I soon learnt that I was way off the mark. Sharon, with her keen observation, was absolutely amazed at the roadside shopkeeper who had neatly stocked CDs, books, greeting cards and various gadgets, in a minimum amount of space and produced anything she asked for in a jiffy; at the driver who took her through complicated routes with poise; at the waiter in the hotel who balanced a phenomenal number of drinks and snacks in a tray and remembered who had ordered what without noting down anything; and most of all, the (now famous) dabbawallas of Mumbai who delivered thousands of tiffins in clockwork precision without a single written instruction. Furthermore, she was impressed with the sheer happiness writ on their faces that had no signs of stress or anxiety. While her use of the word ‘genius’ is perhaps not really the conventional use of the word, it certainly brings out some unique Indian traits, foremost among which is the capacity to integrate one’s work and one’s life and the ability to flow willingly with the tide of life. Who is a Genius? In the true Indian tradition, intellectual or artistic ability, no matter how immense, has never been considered adequate in itself. It is the motive behind the pursuit of one’s work and the manner in which it is undertaken that defines an Indian genius. “Genius” has no straight equivalent in the Indian language. “Vidyan” is a scholar, “pandit” or “ustad”, an accomplished artist or academician, but both of these do not capture the ‘superlative’ quality associated with a genius in quite the same way. Mahatma (great soul) perhaps comes closest. As one can see, the word itself clearly indicates that what India values most is the quality of the soul. Social Revolutionaries Pandurang Shastri AthavaleIn 1954, Pandurang Shastri Athavale, a Vedic scholar, gave a lecture on the concepts of Vedic ideals and the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita at the Second World Religions Conference, held in Japan. Though the speech was appreciated, many people were sceptical, wanting evidence of such thoughts being practiced. With this came his resolve to show the world a model community peacefully practicing and spreading Vedic thoughts and the message of the Gita. Thus was born the Swadhyaya movement that has galvanised more than 80,000 villages in Maharashtra and Gujarat. Swadhyaya literally means the study, knowledge or discovery of the Self or atman. With the firm belief that individual transformation inevitably leads to social change, he used the concept of devansh or God’s share, in his movement, advocating the redistribution of this share of both money and effort among the poor and needy. This manifested as Yogeshvar Krishi (divine farming) in farming communities, a scheme in which each family contributed to the purchase of land, and subsequently devoted one day a month for its cultivation. Seen as God’s plot, the income thus generated was consecrated in the local temple (called Amritalayam) and later disbursed to those in need as prasad or divine blessings. A larger version of the Yogeshwar Krishi was the Vriksh Mandir, where inhabitants of 20 adjoining villages devoted one day a month to cultivating a fruit orchard. The idea was not just to provide for those in need, but also to forge friendly ties among the villages, thereby creating larger circles of universal brotherhood. In fishing communities, this took the form of Matsya Gandha (floating temple) instead of land. The effect was stunning: fishermen in Gujarat and Maharashtra acquired 71 boats and a 600-tonne cargo ship; 5,000 community farms and 250 orchards – whose income was again used for the villages – were formed; and four hospitals, where 1,000 doctors converged to take turns in treating patients, began functioning. Athavale passed away in 2003, a worthy recipient of both the Magsaysay award and the Templeton prize, both of which he received during his lifetime. Vinoba BhaveAt the height of the Telangana revolt in 1951, in Andhra Pradesh, when many villages lived in an atmosphere of deep fear, occupied by government troops during the day and by communists at night, Vinoba Bhave, seen by many as the true spiritual heir of Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals, stepped in. Refusing police escort, he and a small group set off on foot. Setting himself up in the courtyard of a Muslim prayer compound in Pochampalli, a communist stronghold, he soon started receiving visitors from all the factions in the village. Among the visitors was a group of 40 families of landless Harijans. The Harijans told Vinoba they had no choice but to support the communists, because only the communists would give them land. They asked if Vinoba would ask the government instead to give them land. Though Vinoba replied, “What use is government help until we can help ourselves?”, he himself was not satisfied by the answer and held a prayer meeting that afternoon. Presenting the case without really expecting a solution, he asked, “Brothers, is there anyone among you who can help these Harijan friends?” A prominent farmer of the village stood up. “Sir, I am ready to give one hundred acres.” Vinoba himself could not believe that in the midst of a civil war over land monopoly, a farmer was willing to part with 100 acres out of simple generosity. He was further astounded when the Harijans declared that they needed only 80 acres and wouldn’t accept more. In this, Vinoba saw a solution to the problem and thus began the Bhoodan movement. Over the next seven weeks, Vinoba asked for donations of land for the landless in 200 villages of Telengana. The Telengana march became the launching point for a nationwide campaign that Vinoba hoped would eliminate the greatest single cause of India’s poverty: land monopoly. He hoped as well that it might be the lever needed to start a “nonviolent revolution” – a complete transformation of Indian society by peaceful means.Soon Vinoba and his colleagues were collecting 1,000 acres a day, then 2,000, then 3,000. Several hundred small teams of Sarvodaya workers and volunteers began trekking from village to village, all over India, collecting land in Vinoba’s name. Vinoba himself – despite advanced age and poor health – marched continually, touring one state after another. The total land collected eventually reached over four million acres. There certainly were pitfalls; much of this land turned out to be useless, and in many cases landowners reneged on their pledges. Still, the Gandhians were able to distribute over one million acres to India’s landless poor – far more than had been managed by the land reform programmes of the government. Anna HazareWhen Anna Hazare returned to his village Ralegan Siddhi, in 1975, it was much worse than what he had left it as. A drought in 1972 had crippled its already grim conditions. Fist fights and vandalism throve around the liquor vendors and the bazaar. Wood work from the now crumbling temple had been ripped out to stoke the stills. Some relief work was being carried out by the Tata group and the Catholic Relief Society but it was hardly adequate. Prompted by his intuition and powered by the settlement funds from the army, he renovated the village temple and started living in two rooms there. Voluntary labour, or ‘shramdaan’, guided by his persuasion, showed the way out of this mess. Thus began small watershed works. As soon as about 60 small bunds, check dams, trenches and percolation ponds had been built, there was a dramatic change: water table rose throughout the village. Anna had changed a despairing mind set and set the pace for galloping changes. In 1992, the village built itself a school with its own funds and labour, where children from not just Ralegan, but from all over Maharashtra, attend. “As long as there is ‘my’ and ‘mine’, there is sadness,” says Anna. “When you define your family in narrow terms, the contrasts within it and without will be stark. So there will be sadness. But as soon as you define ‘family’ in inclusive, wide terms all sadness disappears.” Baba AmteSo it is with Baba Amte, one of India’s most revered social and moral leaders, who has devoted his life to the care and rehabilitation of leprosy patients after turning his back on a lucrative legal practice. Allowing even his body to be used for experiments to grow leprosy germs, the noble soul has devoted his entire life to the care and rehabilitation of leprosy patients, the physically disabled, tribals and homeless people. With indefatigable energy and dedication, Baba continues to empower the 2,500 strong community at his development project, Anandvan, near Nagpur. “I sought my soul, my soul I could not see, I sought my God, my God eluded me, I sought my brother, and I found all the three,” is a favorite quote of Baba Amte, displayed in the ashram. The great soul continues to live by its principles, embracing more and more people as his brothers. What is clear in all of the above is that the change has been enabled, not imposed or given. For only with inner tr
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