Thursday, November 14, 2013

Master of Art

The whole country and primarily the media have gone berserk and overboard in their attempt to give a befitting farewell to one of the most illustrious sporting personality of cricketing world. The festive season this year got prolonged due to one person’s swan-song. This all definitely appears excessive, obsessive and arrogant.

There was a time in cricket when winning matches outside one’s
home condition became the primary sign of success and dominance. The year was 1991 and India was just opening out its door to the world and liberalization was being ushered in. It was still struggling to find its foothold in the world. Unsure, uncertain it was taking baby steps towards larger objective and it looking for an inspiration on this unknown journey. Almost in parallel was an individual, similarly unsure, uncertain and taking baby steps towards a possible incredible career. That year Indian cricket team toured Australia. It was almost taken for granted that India would be wiped out, the question was how bad? Offering resistance to the much vaunted Australian attack was no mean task. One man managed to restore respect for the entire cricket team and became source of inspiration for an entire nation and all this at the tender age of 18. He went on to score two test hundreds on that trip. Two things happened after that; the Indian economy soared and so did this young man’s career.

 The nation needed a hero, somebody who they could identify with someone who was their own and, it found it in a diminutive young man. He personified in many ways what we collectively were, shy, reserved, talented and eager to strike it big. I would like to view this great cricketer’s career in 3 primary phases.

Giving the hope and encouragement that formidable quick bowling could be faced and one can make runs against hostile opponents, was definitely the first phase. This was also the time when India was being noticed and so was this individual for his performance and thus raising hopes of achieving his full potential.

Once the possibility was well established the next phase came when the attack was taken to the opposition. This was a changing phase for India, from being unsure, shy nation we were going towards prosperity and becoming a key player in the world stage. In parallel again was the little master, aggressive and prolific, attacking the best of bowlers and winning matches. Survival was no longer the motive, winning was. Nobody of my generation can ever forget the two matches played in Sharjah against Australia. One of the matches was interrupted by a sandstorm and the play had to be stopped for few minutes. Once the sandstorm stopped then came a whirlwind of amazing and devastating stroke play that the world had not seen thus far. Australian bowlers were ripped apart with disdain and the world acknowledged a legend.

The third and final phase comes when plenty of young talent came hurtling through, eager to carry the future of Indian cricket on their shoulders. This is the time when India had finally arrived and become a force to reckon with. These were those youngsters who rushed to coaching centers to become the next big name in Indian cricket, clearly inspired by the great cricketer’s performance and conduct. By the time these youngsters could play for India the great man had not only become the most priced wicket, the chief bête noire but also a legend and part of folklore. Needless to say the younger lot turned out to be fearless and never overawed. Someone had demonstrated day in day out to them, that every attack is vincible.  

There was a time when the hope of the entire nation depended only and only on one person. However, that person, silently but surely went about his task and inspired a whole new generation of sportsmen.  To such an individual who has done such great service tirelessly for almost 2.5 decades, what farewell could ever be befitting?


Monday, November 11, 2013

Walk of Life

When we talk about Hinduism there are many images that come flooding in our mind, millions of Gods, rites, rituals, sages and many more. Yet there are many people who would say it is not a religion, it’s a way of life that it doesn’t even have a name and the name that everything within the religion is symbolic. I wonder if there is any truth in these popular notions when like any other religion it is now institutionalized and riddled with malpractices, superstitions and shortcomings.
I present a short sequence of thoughts and findings to see what it could possibly be.

Universality of Caste System:

The moment discussion on Hinduism starts there are immediate questions raised about caste, caste system and the related oppression of certain class of people. I think these are misinterpretations that creep into popular practice and public psyche and develop strong inertia towards change. I quote two slokas or verses from the Bhagwad Gita and the Rig Veda, two books that are sacred to the followers of this religion.

In Bhagwad Gita Chapter 4 verse 13 Krishna says:

Catur-varnyam maya sristam guna-karma-vibhagasah, 

Which means, ‘the four varnas were created by me and they are divisions based on qualities (Guna) and actions (Karma) of a person’ the caste of a person will be decided on the basis of his character and action and not by birth! 

Athreya Smrithi Book 5 of Rig Veda says:

janmana jayate sudrah
samskarad bhaved dvijah
veda-pathad bhaved vipro
brahma janatiti brahmanah

Which means ‘everybody is born a Sudra (lowest caste), one who follows the samskaras or right action and thoughts one becomes re-born (dvijah), the one who reads the vedas becomes a learned person (vipra/vipro) and only the one who gains knowledge of the ultimate truth (Brahma or Brahman) becomes a Brahmin (brahmanah).
These two interesting verses from the two of the most sacred books indeed bring out a universality of the philosophical thoughts embedded in them

The Trigunas

Exploring further, there are three primary gunas or qualities identified –
Rajas – characterized by high energy levels, desires, passion, action, result oriented, industriousness
Tamas – characterized by indolence, laziness, lack of motivation, lack of desire
Sattva – Characterized by spiritual bent of mind, impassioned work, higher energy level, calmness, quiet confidence

I guess it isn’t difficult to see that men and women that demonstrate one or two or all three of such gunas, spans over all religious, geographical or political boundaries. 

Universality in the stages of human life:

Furthering the understanding of the human behavior and the needs scriptures identify the need for a balanced life. Both material well-being and spiritual well-being are given equal importance. Thus the life span of a human is divided into stages. 
Brahmacharya – the age of learning, accumulating knowledge, life-saving skills, and skills to assist in earning a living.  
Grihasta – the age to settle into a family life and experience the bliss of camaraderie, companionship and material well-being. 
Vanaprastha – the age to withdraw from active life and get into a reflective mode giving up material desire.  
Sannayasa – the final stage of life where one gives up all material desires and devotes oneself to the quest of finding the truth. It is not action-less it is only selfless action and service and penance that mark this stage of life.

Again the stages of life described above have a universal appeal. It isn’t surprising then to see many of the richest and most successful, turning to philanthropic and altruistic activities towards the end of their career or during their retired life. Needless to say that the desires of youth wane with age and different priorities take their place. 

I am no authority on this subject, however it is an effort to share whatever minimal I understood about why Hinduism is said to be ‘a way of life’ and why it is not a religion but an observation and recognition of human needs through various stages of life. The thoughts presented here are neither sufficient nor exhaustive to capture the complete essence of the subject.

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

PnP Legacy

Psychology over Physiology or Physiology over Psychology. This question has always intrigued me. Man is a sum of his Physiology and Psychology, however the question is whether both are important in equal proportion or does one dominate over the other.

Modern history of mankind is full of instances where some obvious physical shortcomings were overcome by strong psychological resolve. Yet during moments of physical illness we must have observed its impact on our mental health.  Again, many doctors indicate that recovery from illness varies from person to person due to difference in respective psychological make-up. The one with strongest psychological resolve demonstrates capability of not only recovering fast but sometimes even recovering from a hopeless terminal illness. Louise Hayhouse is one such example. This sort of tilts the balance in favor of Psychology.

Hellen Keller was born with some very severe physical disabilities because of which she suffered from severe psychological issues. Yet it was her psychological resolve that helped her overcome her disabilities and become an icon that she eventually became. There was also the case of Dr Roger Bannister who for the first time in the history of mankind ran a mile under 4 mins. One could possibly argue that his particular physical disposition made it possible to do so; however the fact that after him people have continued to break that barrier till it stopped being a barrier anymore indicates something that happened beyond the physical realm. 

At this stage Psychology seems to be asserting its dominance over physiology. Let me see if we could even things out. Physical damage to brain has been known to have severe impact on a person’s psychology. Genetics also has been found to have its say and no amount of psychological resolve has been effectively proven to have any impact on it. As the physical health fails through life the psychological resolve also demonstrates a similar decline. Yet there have been many instances where perfectly healthy and physically fit individual go through phases of deep depression and psychological disorder. One could argue that a person who does rigorous physical activity or exercise aids release of a certain hormone that helps in keeping depression or stress at bay. Yet suicide among Indian farmers is so common. Nobody could possibly be working physically as harder as a farmer yet some seemingly insurmountable barrier pushes him to suicide. Also the moment a physical exercise or activity to improve psychological well-being is proposed it sort of points out which is the means and which is the ends. Then again physical exercise is prescribed just for physical well-being as well.

Roman poet Juvenal wrote the famous words mens sana in corpore sano which translated to English means Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body. However he didn’t indicate which the pre-condition is. Even Vivekananda, a person known to have delved the depths of psychological world advised people to maintain a healthy body as 'that' he says 'is the essential instrument provided to man through which one could exert control over mental faculties'. Much like the chicken and egg question this debate about dominance of psychology or physiology suffers from a circular argument. The only conclusion that I am able to draw is that Psychology is dominant and has the power to overcome obvious Physiological shortcomings only if the physiology is at a certain optimal level. Best of physical conditioning fails to prevent psychological imbalances or disorder. The balance seems to be firmly shifting in favor of Psychology.


Random: November 2013