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Roadmap for Change: Transforming India by Rebuilding Our Own Individual Character

Dear friends,

Today, I wish to let it all hang out. I wish to connect with you by sharing my deepest, most closely-held beliefs.

There is this shared dream of rebuilding India – of seeing a better India miraculously create itself. Rebuilding India is spoken of as an external task; we never think of ourselves as a part of the India that need rebuilding. For the betterment of India, we all want other people – mostly people in positions of power – to change their ways. Not even for a moment do we feel that we must change our ways. 

Don’t you feel that building India into the land of our dreams is an almost unimaginable project, too large to be accomplished? I feel that way. And it is. It is truly a project of mind-boggling complexity and magnitude! So is the task of rebuilding ourselves – almost like a brain transplant. 

India is a manifestation of our collective visions and actions. We give flesh to India’s history, mythology, philosophy, religion etc. Without ‘We the People’, India is just another place on the world map. The India that needs fixing is not this place on the map where we live. The India that needs fixing is You and I and all of us.

Today, we find that this India is a place of injustice, greed and corruption. That is because there is injustice, greed and corruption in our hearts and in our actions – yours and mine, and those of millions of rich, middle-class and poor Indians.   

Before 1947, we could blame it all on the actions of our British masters; today, we do not have that luxury. Because, flawed or otherwise, we really are a functioning democracy. We cannot absolve ourselves by hanging our failures on the necks of the nation’s founding fathers. Despite their personal limitations and tough circumstances, they did their very best in their lifetimes. That is more than one can say for you and me; we have not even begun.

We find that our governments and judiciary are bound up in blind, unthinking procedures and self-defeating routines. The people who work in courts and government offices are just like us — each one bound up in habitual behaviors that they refuse to reflect upon, each one steadfastly justifying his actions and refusing to change. We cannot change these people. But, by creating large and measurable changes in our own everyday lives, we can change ourselves and thereby start a chain reaction for changing those who are in governance and in judiciary. We must create the domino effect by changing our habits.

In recent years, my life has taught me that our deepest cravings are our only true prayers. The prayers that we say with our lips amounts to little, it is the prayers that we say with our actions that really count. Nature fulfils our deepest cravings – both sacred and vulgar – even those that we do not admit to ourselves. There is nothing mysterious or spiritual about this; our cravings manifest in every little thought, speech and action, everyday. Like little screws turning in their threads, they move us, millimeter by millimeter, towards our goals. Our speech and actions over decades have brought us to where we are in life today. This is not rocket-science. 

No man or woman is an island. Our lives are intertwined together; we magnify one another’s actions, or we nullify the actions of one another. My vulgar cravings may cancel out your sacred strivings. My years of greed may wipe out the results of your years of self-sacrifice. Therefore, to move forward and rebuild India, we must find more effective ways to communicate and  to collaborate. Today, India lurches one step forward and two steps back because we have not learned to communicate. We have not made ourselves whole; we are the proverbial house divided within itself, in a state of inner conflict. We are like a lobotomy patient whose left and right brain have been separated in the middle; even his two hands cannot coordinate together.

On my commute in Mumbai, I sometimes experience how our Us-versus-Them attitude shapes our lives. I board a crowded fast train coming from Virar at Borivli. It is already jam-packed, but I want the people at the door to squeeze inside a tiny bit and let me in. If they don’t, I feel angry with ‘them’ passengers for being uncooperative with ‘us’ who are trying to board the train. No sooner I set foot on the train, my perceptions change. Now I feel that there is no more space inside the train. I don’t want ‘us’ passengers to let in more of ‘them’ people on the platform, because ‘they’ will cause ‘us’ great discomfort.

Another instance: When this train rolls into Churchgate station, people charge in without letting us disembark. They stampede around looking for the best seats, while we wait impatiently for things to quiet down, shaking our heads and clucking in disapproval. The irony is that we have all have participated in such stampedes; somehow, things never look so bad to us when we are the ones doing the stampeding.

As it is with the suburban railways, so it is with our nation. What happens in my head translates into the reality around me. Confused people do things that they themselves do not approve of.

When a person says that he/she wants an India that is non-corrupt, what exactly does he mean? Each of us means a different thing. Some people only want an India that gives them promotions and privileges over others. Others want an India that gives them fame and recognition. Like swimsuit clad Miss India finalists talking about World Peace, we say nice-sounding things, but our real agenda is of self interest.

Is our cross-eyed vision harmless? We all believe so… but no. Saying one thing and meaning another is toxic. Our hypocritical cravings get translated into our collective actions. The results are all around us; we are living and wallowing in our own filth. 

Our vision of India is JUSTICE & EQUALITY FOR ALL, BUT EXTRA FOR ME. We say, “I want India to be a country where I can get a fair hearing and remedies to my problems without struggling endlessly.” Many of us who say this are living in ways that create conflicts and enmity with parents, spouses, siblings, neighbours and colleagues. Do we genuinely wish for justice for all of them? How can we, when our deepest desire to see our adversaries bite the dust?

Our vision is that GOOD PEOPLE (WE) MUST RULE THIS NATION i.e. RULE OVER EVERYBODY ELSE. When we say, “Good people should be put in power,” and even when we talk explicitly of empowering the poor, are we not actually thinking of empowering and enriching ourselves in the name of the poor?

When we wish that a MESSIAH-LIKE FIGURE MUST COME AND SAVE US, what we are really wishing for is to carry no responsibility for bringing about change. We want freedom to continue living our consumerist lives, while the messiah bears the cross and dies for our sins.

True, our politicians hug and kiss dirty-nosed babies in their constituencies for one month before the elections, and never come back afterwards. True, our ministers sell precious public resources – be it airport land or 2G bandwidth – at a fraction of their true value, and get paid off in Mauritius. True, our bureaucrats are servile with ministers and rude to the common man. True, our industrialists are in cahoots with bureaucrats and politicians to loot the nation. True, our judges look on benignly while their orders are flouted and the country is looted.

True, all of these people must change for India to transform.

But what about us – the so-called middle-classes who are really in the top two percent in terms of wealth and privileged access? Can we stay wrapped up in our aspirational cocoons – focused on enjoying a consumerist lifestyle, climbing the career ladder and giving our children a head-start in the rat race? Can we continue to pretend that we belong only to the metros, but not to the nation as a whole? We continue to cocoon ourselves in our comfortable urban reality and pretend that farmer suicides, land acquisitions, the widespread distress of India’s farming communities, droughts and floods have nothing to do with us.

And what about us – self-righteous activists? Many of us cannot draw the line between our own private grievances and matters of public interest. We try to delude ourselves and others that our private disputes are matters of great public interest, and try to further our own cause. 

Can we afford to continue to believe that ‘they’ are corrupt and ‘we’ are clean? The idea that transformation is about we ‘good people’ winning the war to dethrone them ‘bad people’ is the oldest delusion known to mankind.

There is much that I don’t know or understand yet. But this I know: the India of my dreams will materialize only if I am prepared to undergo a painful transformation, like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. I will have to perform major reconstructive surgery on my own character, personality and lifestyle. I will have to change who I am.

And so will you, my friend. If you really want India to transform, there is simply no other way.

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Posted in Activism, Economic Commonsense, Global stupidity, Governance & Administration, Philosophy, Politics, Practical Mysticism.

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