By Suma Varughese March 2007 Having emerged from tamas, India is in a fever of rajasic activity – achieving, creating, and consuming. However, to achieve its destiny as world guru, India will need to move from rajas to the bliss and joy of sattva From Commercialism to CommunionA seeker’s perspective on present-day India by Prabhath P India is fast getting assimilated into the economic liberalization and globalization paradigm that is sweeping through the world. This framework is based on anthropocentric pancapitalism which sees the earth as a mere material resource to be commercially exploited for the consumption of humanity. Monetary value is ascribed to everything and everything is seen as a commodity to be traded. Such a narrow view smacks of a use and throw mentality which aims to colonize even other planets after the earth’s resources are irreversibly consumed. The fundamental premise of economic fundamentalism is the concept of competition where one’s gain is always another’s loss. It is a win/lose dog-eat-dog struggle fuelled by extreme separative individualism where those who defeat and deprive the competitors are considered to be fit to survive. This automatically ensures the domination of an oligrachy of economic elite who dominate the rest of humanity, other living beings of earth and the planet itself. It must be noted that communism and socialism were on the other side of the same materialistic coin, the only difference being that in the pre-liberalization world, it was state capitalism which was the engine of exploitation. Emerging transnational corporations driven by materialistic profits are now colonizing India, targeting the consumerist greed of the growing Indian middle class. In such a worldview, even spirituality is either dismissed as irrelevant or assimilated as part of a spiritual supermarket where different sects compete for market share. The negative results can be seen in rampant corruption, violence, white-collar economic crimes, commercialization and politicization of religions, the rat race to possess the latest ‘cool’ products, lifestyles and jobs and the increasing stress triggered by this frenzy of restless competition. This economic elitism has resulted in an outbreak of social Darwinism where the lower castes, the poor, the underprivileged and women are getting increasingly marginalized, and the ecological balance and environmental aspects of the country are being degraded. Situations like the recent angry outbursts of dalits in Maharashtra, the protest of tribals and farmers affected by development and industrial projects in different parts of India, suicides of farmers, the commoditization and objectification of women, point to the danger of a materialist focus tearing the fabric of Indian society. Indian companies might be taking over foreign companies and the software industry might be booming. But there are millions of Indians who still live in penury who aren’t even aware of this global Indian economic misadventure. Standards of living of a rich minority rise but the standards of life of the majority nosedive. Even the materially well-off eventually are left with a sense of dissatisfaction since greed never pays. India needs to evolve more compassionate and sustainable modes of economic activity rather than aping the industrialized countries in the rape of the planet. Alvin Toffler, the American futurist, pointed out that the future will see “Gandhi with satellites” implying the adaptation of some of Mahatma Gandhi’s economic ideas integrated with appropriate environmentally friendly technologies. Tamas is made of inertia or ignorance while rajas is passion and action. The people of India will have to direct their passionate action in tune with sattva, the most crucial guna. In the Mahabharata Aswamedha Parva, Brahma, the Prajapati, says, “Sattva is beneficial to all creatures in the world, and unblamable, and constitutes the conduct of those that are good.” Sattva is made of enlightenment, light and faith and it is enshrined in the ancient Indian saying, “Vasudaiva kuttumbakam” meaning the whole world is one family. In the context of the materialist orgy endangering the survival of humanity and earth, sattva will mean ways of living based on manifesting a sense of communion with co-operation, co-creation and co-evolution in tune with the human collective consciousness, all beings of the biosphere, the living earth and the Transcendental Spirit. It is such a civilization whose essence is communion rather than separative competition, India needs to evolve. As deep ecologist Joanna Macy rightly said, “For peace, justice, and life on earth, fresh ways of seeing arise, and ancient ways return.” Survival of the fittest should mean fitting into the web of life of Gaia, the living earth, without sacrificing individual uniqueness, but using individual potential to enhance the collective. For that India will have to renew her ancient wisdom and integrate it with radically new forms of social, political, economic, ecological and spiritual evolution. The spiritual wealth of India must be renewed, evolved further and applied practically to assert the truth that there is more to life than mere material acquisition and economic growth. Lilykutty, my sister’s walking partner, is ecstatic. Her 22-year-old niece has just landed her first job for Rs 70,000 and has got married to someone who has been transferred to Germany. For her, the new Indian dream is unfolding. Shashi Coontoor, a small scale industrialist in Bangalore, reflects, “My nephew is all of 22 years, and his first pay packet is equivalent to what I am earning now at 52 after 25 years as a business man. His annual income would be equivalent to the retirement fund of his father, a government servant. At his age I was talking about going to Lonavala (from Bombay) for a holiday – he talks of Mauritius and Hawaii. The first flight I boarded was at the age of 40 – he treats the airport like a bus stand. Soon, my son will be doing the same.” A local newspaper interviewed a bunch of teenagers on how much they intended to spend for New Year on clothes alone. The average amount they quoted, which comprised largely of branded clothes, was around Rs 5,000. Well may you rub your eyes in disbelief. Frugal, austere India, which aspired to simple living and high thinking, is embracing the consumer revolution with gusto. Ever since liberalization and globalization happened somewhere in the early 90s, the country has undergone seismic changes of such magnitude, that it is hardly recognizable any more. Seismic Change In the last 12 years or so we have faced a satellite revolution which brought world cable TV and multiple channels to a country fed on Doordarshan pap, and virtually exposed the whole of India to the West. Simultaneously, we also faced a computer revolution that changed just about every industry and challenged almost every white-collar worker. If you didn’t know how to type or use the computer, you either shaped up or shipped out. The biggest revolution was liberalization. The borders separating the world and us have crashed, and a Pandora’s Box of consequences, both good and bad, have assailed us. A country long used to pressing its nose against the windowpane of Western goodies like chocolates, cheeses, soaps, perfumes, beauty aids, electronic gadgets and vehicles, suddenly found itself free to buy them. Fortunately, the multinationals were also hiring. Salary rates spiralled in corporate India. And when BPOs streamed into India in search of cheap labour, the middle and lower middle classes hit the jackpot as kids with an American accent were hired for Rs 10,000 plus. The world came closer socially and culturally too. Writer-poet Arundhathi Subramanian says, “I’ve been invited to several international poetry festivals since 2000 – three in Italy, one in Spain, one in Holland, a writing residency in Scotland and a poetry tour of the UK. I was invited in 2003 to edit a national poetry website that’s affiliated to an international project entitled the Poetry International Web.” She adds, “For me the greatest personal reward of globalization is that it’s made it possible for me to turn ‘marginality’ into something meaningful, peripherality into a state of multiple citizenship. It allows me to belong to Bombay and — well, any place else I choose.” Media professional Aparna Jacob, now settled in Australia, speaks for most young people when she says, “As soon as we got our internet connection, I was chatting with people around the world every night, looking up things and reading up on subjects I’d always wanted to know about. It changed the way I looked at the world. It’s made me quick to adapt and equipped me with enough to go anywhere in the world and earn a living.” Choices assailed us. Not one TV channel but 100s. Not one breakfast cereal but dozens. Not one or two types of cars but scores of them. Not one entertainment option but numerous ones. Not one source of music but thousands. Not one information outlet but countless ones. The consequences have been both enriching and bewildering, forcing us to consciously prioritize. The Good Life? Today, urban India is a composite of mall culture, multiplexes, page 3, blonde highlights, straight ironed hair, botox, plastic surgery, obesity, booming real estate prices, skyrocketing sensex (up from 9,500 to 14,000 in 2006), millionaires and billionaires, owners of multiple cars and homes, multiple credit and debit cards, high-end vehicles, branded clothes, etiquette and grooming columns, events of megawatt glamour, ready-to eat meals, restaurants of every possible culture in the world, gyms, personal trainers and so on. At the
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