Sunday, July 5, 1998
|This weekly Books page was published on July 5, 1998|
and how to use it wisely
Dying Wisdom Rise, Fall and Potential of Indias Water Harvesting Systems A Citizens Report edited by Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain. Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi.
Science + spirituality = peace
The Masterplan Paradigm for Human Survival and Excellence: The Science of Life by Sampooran Singh, Kanwaljit Kaur and Paramjit Singh. Faith Publishers, Chandigarh.
country forever at war with itself
Afghanistan and Asian Stability edited by V.D. Chopra. Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi.
7 wreckers of ideological super Titanic
The Seven Leaders Who Built the Soviet Empire by Dmitri Volkogonov. The Free Press, New York.
Wanderers in the wide world
Separate Journeys edited by Geeta Dharmarajan. Published by Katha, New Delhi. Pp. 201. Rs 175.
and how to use it wisely
A country forever at war with itself
|Science + spirituality = peace
The Masterplan Paradigm for Human Survival and Excellence: The Science of Life by Sampooran Singh, Kanwaljit Kaur and Paramjit Singh. Faith Publishers, Chandigarh. Pp. XXIV+264. Rs 400.
EINSTEIN once reflected: The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we used when we created them. Does this statement give any insight into the working of our minds and our incapacity to solve problems which demand immediate attention? How far we have been successful in bringing order and stability to our world? What is the cause of our failure? Do human beings lack in physical strength, intellectual power or an advanced technology is needed to transform our societies?
Man has tried many variants of political and legislative systems, social reforms, but we see widespread violence and unrest in the world. This is a cause of much concern and many thinkers have predicted a catastrophic end to this world. Will we prove to be indeed a supreme creation which has in it the seeds of self-annihilation? The authors of this book sincerely share this concern. They perceive an unprecedented global crisis, with the humanity faced with terrorism, corruption and violence on a global scale.
The external conflict is not different and independent from internal conflict, which is comparatively difficult to handle or solve. The thinking mind suggests the way out of this conflict to be suppression or compensation through a pleasure-seeking escape. This has become the activity of the human mind. It does not know how to be itself and is caught in much dissipative activity. The authors see that a radical transformation in the human psyche is the only way to resolve human problems.
Seers through the ages have urged us to concentrate on the individual, on the self, rather than seeking to transform the system. The rationale here is that the system is a construct of the mind that is already conditioned and has little capacity for innovation or even perception of the real problem. So any reform will be a modified continuity of the past. It may appear to solve our problems temporarily, thus giving the illusion of progress, but simultaneously it will create other problems.
The truth that a transformation of the inner has the potential to bring about a transformation of the outer is not new. Different cultures in different periods of history have had their prophets, saints and mystics, who espoused what is primarily called eastern philosophy as contrasted to western philosophy which lays chief emphasis on logic and reason. Logic is seen in eastern philosophy as a mode of dualistic thought. The thought process oscillates between opposing choices, desires and thus generates conflict. It has to choose and decide. The two opposites are always in conflict. The failure of man to tame conflict lies in his inability to reconcile the two opposites or extremes. We always think of choosing one out of the two (to say the least about the number of choices).
Eastern philosophy makes a radical departure in the matter of choice, for it urges man not to choose but be aware of the process of choosing. The apparent conflict between the two extremes is an illusion which gathers energy when we try to suppress or cling to one and escape from the other. Only when there is a choice-free, motiveless observation, a transformation is possible. Transformation implies the understanding borne out of such observation. Awareness or attentiveness is the keyword. J. Krishnamurti reiterated throughout his life, that this is the only way to resolve conflict within oneself, this is the first and the last freedom. Only when inner conflict is understood, can anything be done about the external world.
Although the basic idea of eastern philosophy is about unity and wholeness of all life, different techniques depending upon cultures have been developed (yoga, meditation, Zen, to name a few) to facilitate the realisation of this integrated perception. Also depending on the people being addressed to, various symbols and tools of language have been used from time to time. With time, the old symbols start evoking a conditioned response, which, although giving the illusion of understanding, may cease to generate fresh insights. The educated man of today, with deeper roots in the culture of science will acknowledge something which is vindicated by scientific thought of the day. Science provides us with workable models of the natural phenomena; but it also provides a picture of physical reality. There is a grain of truth in the scientific world view and remarkably enough, there is a close analogy between the scientific interpretation of nature at a deep level and the visions of mystics and men of spirituality.
In recent times, a convergence of different scientific disciplines has been observed. This process is gaining momentum and humanities are also joining hands with sciences. Thereby, a unified world view is emerging even in science. The authors of this book being specialised in different disciplines of science, see a single dynamic flow in the whole scientific enterprise.
The book is divided into five sections and abstracts are given at the beginning of each section. There are 26 chapters. Copious references are given at the end of each chapter. The book quotes many distinguished scientists, political leaders, philosophers, mystics, social activists and other luminaries who have been concerned with the fate of humanity and the disastrous course it has taken.
The authors argue that mans evolution is not biological but psychosocial. The next great step which man is yet to make is from the psychosocial to spiritual evolution. The working of our mind is described in modern scientific terminology. At our present stage of evolution we live in what is called successive consciousness. It constructs time-space causation matrices in quick succession. This occurs at the immanent quantum energy potential and thus man is ignorant of the transcendent quantum energy potential.
Psychological mutation involves a quantum (discontinuous) jump from the present consciousness to what is called simultaneous consciousness. In the latter state, conflict and sorrow cease and a capacity for holistic perception arises.
The authors use of the concept of entropy to understand the psychodynamics is welcome. Entropy represents disorder in the system. It is a useful concept in science. The thought process with its conflict enhances the entropy of mind-brain-body system. In the non-dual frame of mind, there is low entropy and orderliness persists. As an example from daily life, after deep sleep we feel refreshed. Because in deep sleep the ego or I-consciousness is in abeyance and energy is not wasted in a dissipative pursuit of thought. After a dreamful sleep, we do not wake up fresh as the mind had been active even in sleep.
Consciousness as a proper scientific discipline has attracted much attention in recent years. It is being realised by men of science that some of natures deepest mysteries lie inside the head of man. The authors compare the notions about consciousness held by men of science and men of pure intuition. Various related issues like experience, perception, knowing and understanding are also treated in detail. New visions in the fields of cognitive psychology, transpersonal ecology and deep ecology are also presented. The authors do not offer any final opinions about ultimate understanding of consciousness. What they strongly emphasise is that the present methodology of science should incorporate subjectivity of man also. They feel true science will integrate the objective science of today with deep spirituality.
The authors express grave concern over global terrorism, violence, religious fundamentalism, ethnic conflict, corruption and pollution. According to them, world leaders have taken expedient measures, which means greater control and check in the external field, but they ignore the inner field. The solutions proposed treat the symptoms and do not touch the basic crisis of the polluted and conditioned psyche. This may lead to a postponement of crisis but cannot end it.
A section has been devoted to the teachings and vision of Mahatma Gandhi. The authors specifically appeal to the Indian mind to wake up from slumber and save India as well as humanity from annihilation. This faith has some rationale. The western mind though highly developed in manipulating material things, has weak spiritual roots. The eastern mind has the benefit of ancient spiritual heritage and the world can look up to it for guidance. India has to rediscover its spirituality and emerge as an effective force in moulding the future of humanity.
The authors vision is important, because it perceives the threats and challenges in both the external and internal worlds. It emphasises that inner transformation is a must, but work has to be done in the outer world also. Every human being is urged to take part in the psychological mutation process. A significant feature of this book is the inclusion of a modified version of An action plan for human survival, first published in psycho-science (USA) in 1995. If implemented with sincerity, it is the strong conviction of the authors that it may be a harbinger to the spiritual age.
The crux of the masterplan is the restructuring of science and education. This involves the integration of spirituality and modern science. A systematic study of consciousness should be initiated at higher centres for learning within the country. This will by nature involve experts from diverse disciplines. The new insights should be integrated in the curriculum of scientific as well as humanities disciplines.
Above all, the authors appeal to all men of learning to initiate a dialogue amongst themselves, realising the urgency to act in the present state of global crisis and try to understand ourselves at a deeper level. Only solutions borne out of these insights about our own nature will have a long-lasting value and the potential to lead mankind towards survival and excellence.
Ramandeep S. Johal
ideological super Titanic
The Seven Leaders Who Built the Soviet Empire by Dmitri Volkogonov. The Free Press, New York. Pp. 556. $ 32.95.
BEFORE his death in 1995, Dmitri Volkogonov published three biographies in quick succession, those of Stalin (1988), Trotsky (1991) and Lenin (1994). The present book is the last one to be written by him, and gives an account of all the seven general secretaries of the Soviet regime.
A former Colonel-General in the Soviet Army during the last years of his life, Volkogonov had unequalled access to the archives of the Soviet state in his capacity as Director of the Institute for Military Studies and then as Defence Adviser to President Yeltsin. His works represent an iconoclastic break from the writers own previously held positions, indeed each of his books is a break with, if not a contradiction of, the previous one.
While this reflects a growing realisation about the true nature of the Soviet regime as more and more archives are opened, critics have attributed this mental meandering to Volkogonovs changing loyalties, from Marxism-Leninism to Gorbachevs liberal socialism (Stalin, 1998), to Yeltsins populist democracy (Trotsky, 1991) to Christian Russian nationalism (Lenin, 1994). The present work falls in the last phase of the writers changing conviction.
Right-wing historians have acclaimed Volkognovs works since his numerous references to the Soviet archives support what these historians have been proclaiming all the while. Others, especially on the Left, have pointed not only to the contradictions referred to above, but have also accused him of mutilating facts. Trotskyite writers have termed him a court historian, representing the post-Stalinist school of falsification. Within Russia, however, Volkogonov has emerged as the first historian to write on Stalin, Lenin and Trotsky, barring the panegyrics of the Soviet school, or vilification in the case of Trotsky.
Most of the criticism of Volkogonovs works seems to be justified as one reads the book under review. The flow is disjointed and facts seem to have been collected with the sole purpose of driving home the writers convictions at the time of writing. This is not surprising since Volkogonov held an exalted position in the Soviet hierarchy, which rewarded those who toed the current party line, appreciated mediocrity and encouraged servility. Volkogonov was the product of such a bureaucratic system.
Yet, for all its lies, Soviet propaganda did carry a few grains of truth, the present book too brings out some revealing facts. It is a catalogue of the leaders misdeeds. Only for Khrushchev the writer has genuine praise and for Gorbachev, who too earns a few hesitant good words.
Lenin emerges as an unscrupulous power hungry politician, Stalin as the devil incarnate, Khrushchev as the one who tried to undo the wrongs of the Leninist-Stalinist system, Brezhnev as a lazy, slothful mediocrity who was happy to let events take their own course, Andropov was the most intelligent of all the seven leaders but unable to break out of the systems mould, Chernenko the least worthy of all a head clerk promoted to the topmost post and Gorbachev as the last communist who brought about the fall of communism
About Lenin, he says, he did not appeal to the higher instincts, to patriotism and civic mindedness, but rather to hatred, fatigue and unfulfilled expectations... thanks to Lenin, mankind has learnt that Communism is a road to nowhere. He quotes Lenin justifying terror: The dictatorship and take this into account once and for all means unrestricted power based on force, not on law.
Volkogonovs account of Stalin does not add anything new on Stalin, except the quotations from numerous archival material. One new fact that he does reveal, though, is the phobia Stalin had of flying. In his entire life, he made just one air trip!
There is one reference, a rather unflattering one, to the Indian communists.
He writes: A conversation between Comrade Stalin and comrades Rao, Dange, Ghosh and Punnaya, in fact it was a long monologue by Stalin. Sitting at the long table and turning their heads in unison as Stalin padded around the huge room, pipe in hand, the Indians absorbed his words of wisdom: Individual terror achieves nothing,.... Partisan warfare can be started wherever the people want it. Dont try to be too clever, just take the land from the landlords and if you take away too much, you can always sort out things later... you can make a fine regime in you country. The important thing is to renounce your personal interests.
There are numerous accounts of large amounts of money being sent to other communist parties, notably those of Italy and Spain. As more facts come out, it may not be too long before the Indian communists too are in the dock. They may have much to answer for.
Khrushchev was a typical leader to emerge from the Stalinist system, uneducated (two winters of schooling), energetic, expeditious, never doubting the correctness of party instruction. He was quick to understand that to survive, he had first to distance himself from, and finally discredit, his predecessor. The problems accumulated during Stalins years could not be tackled without drastically reforming the structures of Soviet power. This, however, was not carried to its logical end, indeed it would have been precarious for him to do so as the opposition even to his rather mild reforms within the Central Committee remained strong.
On his part, Khrushchev was not exactly above board for his role in the Stalinist terror. He, too, had played his part in whipping up hysteria, suggesting in 1936 that: We have to shoot not only this scum (the son of a purged party leader), but Trotsky should also be shot!. He was voluble and a rather unpredictable character, famous for his quotes as: My job is chairman of the council of ministers, so I can manage without any brains. His anti-American rhetoric came to be parodied as: The USA is standing on the edge of an abyss. We are going to overtake the USA.
He was not only unceremoniously dismissed by his own prodigy, the rather unassuming Brezhnev, making him the sole general secretary not to die in the saddle, his death too, was dismissed in a brief and inconspicuous report in Pravada.
Meanwhile, as the party organisation continued to sink in bureaucratic marshland, the power of the KGB to guide events inside as well as outside the USSR continued to grow. Andropov, then the head of the KGB, prepared the following document: The KGB residency in India has the opportunity (after the explosion in a Jerusalem mosque in 1969), to organise a protest demonstration of up to 20,000 Muslims in front of the US embassy in India. The cost of a the demonstration will be 5,000 rupees and would be covered in the 1969-71 budget allocated by the Central Committee for special tasks in India. Brezhnev wrote on the document: Agreed.
The chapter on Gorbachev is a little out of place in a book on the leaders who built the Soviet regime, for Gorbachev was the man who brought an end to this dinosaur like monolith.
|Wanderers in the wide world
Separate Journeys edited by Geeta Dharmarajan. Published by Katha, New Delhi. Pp. 201. Rs 175.
TRANSLATION of fiction from regional languages by various publishing houses has opened up new literary vistas, underscoring that human emotions and reactions are universal, transcending religion, region and culture. The range of emotions and reflections are strikingly similar but there is still freshness and give the reader a peep into the cultural mores, social patterns and trends.
A multi-religious, multi-racial mosaic of a land that India is, there is rich literature written since ages, and which can be read across the nation, thanks to the efforts of translators and publishers. Here is a collection of stories, "Separate Journeys" or milestones by eminent women writers in various regional languages. As Geeta Dharmarajan says in her preface, "Each separate journey takes us to places we have been in our own unexplored ways," and further, "A realisation of the self is what journeys are or should be all about."
Each story has its own undercurrents of reaction to dogmas, prejudices, gender bias and stereotyping. Mahashweta Devi in her story "The Bayen" brings out the pathetic plight of a socially ostracised woman in a community given to strict observance of customs, her heroic death and at the end of it all, her son coming forward to receive a medal in her honour. "Izzat" by Ashapurna Devi focusses on the hypocrisies of the middle class towards woman. The translation in both cases is smooth, deftly retaining the feel of the atmosphere and the pitch of the dialogue. The characters are full-blooded.
In "I am Complete" by Varsha Das nature is a key element of an allegory. "Today, when the judge, sitting on a high chair and wearing a black robe, announces that I am free, I feel as if two wings are growing on my shoulders... I feel like flying...Or like somersaulting in the open sky... Or, why don't I go and sit on the topmost branches of the innumerable trees around here?... Where should I build my nest? On a gulmohar tree? Or on a mango tree? A neem would be cooler, but isn't a banyan tree more dependable?... Or....why don't I enjoy each one for a while? Then I will be able to experience the comforts and security each has to offer..."
"But then, wouldn't I exhaust my entire life collecting experiences with no time left to build a nest anywhere?... Is it necessary to build a nest? I have not taken any vow to build my own nest with straws collected by me alone. So many birds have invited me to share their nests with them. And not just crows and kites. One is peacock and the other a pigeon. There is an eagle, and a parrot too... The choice is mind...At this moment, I am sitting on the tender branch of a drumstick tree. The whole tree is adorned with white flowers. It looks happy, almost as if it is drunk with the feeling. I, too, am infected by its intoxication... But here comes a cool and bitter-smelling breeze from the neem tree. Its light slap drives away my drunkenness...."
"My wings become smaller and smaller and smaller. They disappear."
The thematic content of women writers of all times tend to be the plight of women trapped in their custom-ordained cages, be it a repressive marriage or some social stigma. However, there are two stories which talk of the women's point of view on single men. In "Madhusudan Babu" by Mrinal Pande, a woman enters the life of an old bachelor and brings about a change. Mrinal Pande has portrayed his emotions crisply, implying that only a woman can bring alive the finer feelings in a man, so essential to realise his personality. "His heart, which was once closed tight like a narrow and dingy room, now seemed lit up and caressed by a gentle breeze. When he asked his barber to shape his sideburns carefully one morning, the poor man gaped at him. Madhusudan Babu wondered for a moment if he should pay him a quarter of a rupee more, but later dismissed the thought. That really would have been spoiling him. After years he got two new shirts tailored and also bought a pair of new slippers."
Unfortunately he is unable to express his love for her but when she is about to leave for a job elsewhere, he writes as anonymous letter casting aspersions on her character, the most vulnerable point of a woman. That is the depth of intense jealousy; he loves her and yet is ready to destroy her if he cannot possess her.
"It was a vile, vulgar letter. It alleged that Damayanti had been behaving like a harlot. It accused her of having an affair with one Madhusudan Babu. It described their intimacies in vulgar detail. The letter ended with a polite request that such a one who slept around with a man old enough to be her father should not be taken back into an honoured institution like theirs. It was signed 'A Well Wisher'."
"The Decision" by T. Janaki Rani, which is translated from Telugu, is the tale of a widower Ramakrishnaih, a virtual recluse, and how a mother-daughter duo takes advantage of his hospitality to stay for a while by posing as travellers but actually to let the daughter deliver an illegitimate baby and leaves him holding the baby! The widower grows fond of the child, raises her and does not want to part with her, when her mother comes 10 years later to take her back.
The author underlines the intense loneliness of a man without a family and his satisfaction in a child entering his life.
The editor has strung together well-written accounts of journeys. Among the writers are prominent names like Anita Desai, Kamala Das, Quarratulain Hyder, and Mahashweta Devi. The best thing about Katha publications is that they are affordable.