Wednesday, August 12, 2015

....if not, we are fucked!

Social media is great because it has made complex, deep emotions so easy to express. Death of loved ones with RIP messages and we shed some emotional load. A birthday and pictures of our friend, our deed is partly done in showing how much they are loved. Dog killers and posts are shared at the speed of light, people uniting in hate.

Sharing at the convenience of a click is taking away reflection, contemplation, passion. Users are robotically propagating their agendas, their rights, their voices, their ideas. We click and then move onto the next thing.

Social media is also creating a lot of misconceptions. Uninformed, vehement people are igniting the fires of other half informed people across the world. A mob physically dispersed across the world is congregating, burgeoning and bursting on the electro-plasmatic spaces of facebook and twitter.

What does it mean to share, to sign the petition, to post, to like, to comment, to update the status?

What does it mean as a responsibility we have as human beings?

Because we have started living more on the internet than temporally. Because we are sharing more pictures of toes in the sand and azure waters with “Keep calm and xyz” instead of really waking up to see the sunrise or digging our toes into the earth. We have begun to believe that life can only be enjoyed momentarily, compartmentalized between holidays and work. We see a a walk in the woods or a drive through the countryside as something we do on holidays. 

 Frankly, I'm so sick of these senseless "keep calm and ..."
And then, the check-ins. We are wasting precious seconds of magical life to tell the world where we are at the moment. Checking into airport first class lounges, into suites at Six Senses, the hip bars in New York and shopping at PlaceVendome. Why does the world need to know? How does it enhance the experience? Have we become so dependent on sharing such mundane information that without it, our experience becomes incomplete? Do we really need to “check in”?

And the life we aspire to have. The photos of beautiful sunsets with a few profound sentences along the lines of how life should be lived, about meditation and acceptance and letting go. Juxtaposed by an upload of pictures of last night's conquests.

Maybe we are a bit of everything rolled into one complex philosophy that defines each individual. But my point is, what is this ease of sharing our thoughts really doing to us? And is it affecting society and humanity?

By expressing what we feel, what we want, what we think on social media, we are essentially shedding an integral part of us. Our passions. We feel that by sharing our thoughts with the world, we have made the journey, half way. We are expressing what we feel with such an ease and nonchalance that it begins to mean nothing.
Our minds feel good. Our egos better. We are good people. We do care. We are righteous.

And this is where the problem begins. We begin to feel that by expressing ourselves, we are showing the world who we are. Good people, that is. We are finding it incredibly easy to place the blame on others, to scream at lion hunters, to attack governments, to shame assholes.
We are conveniently removing ourselves from the problem equation.

We have become couch activists, screaming for human rights, animal rights, global warming, anti-terrorism, etc. Spreading information and opinions with a click. Igniting fires on the internet that may burn our capabilities to do something in the real world.
Something about social media is taking away responsibility from us and conveniently placing it on others. The minute we share or update our status,s we move on. Sharing on social media is like an emotional outburst that is needed to help people move on. When you NEED to cry to move on, when you NEED to scream to forget. By sharing, we are stopping. We are no longer questioning deeply, the implications of what we are saying on the internet.

Cheap online journals and websites by the score are not helping either. False information, tacky web content, shamefully low quality research is propagating web hysteria. “15 reasons to live abroad”, “7 ways to achieve inner peace”, “15 unbelievable photos of earth”, “10 places to see before you die”. Since when did it become so simple that we began to quantify some of the most profound questions of humanity like how to live, the meaning of life and a balanced living? Where are we going if we are sharing content that is giving us 12 ways in which we can improve our lives to become who we are meant to be, to realize our untapped, unbound, human potential? What does it mean when 1176 hours of meditation by Buddha gets a very hip, shiny, attention caching wrapping so that people on the bustle can decipher the profound truth he was trying to propagate in 10 effective snap-points and in 2 short minutes? If this is what we are into, aren't we sinking slowly into a shit hole of stunted intellect and emotional or spiritual questioning?
What is WITH the numbers? How ridiculous is this becoming?

Take the case of Cecil, the lion who was recently shot by an American hunter. All the sites that confuse the hunting with poaching and then the signatures to ban hunting. What are couch activists doing and what implications do their actions have on the future? Also, how is it that they are so easily distancing themselves from their own responsibilities? Is hunting the biggest threat to lions or are there other issues that are putting the species at risk? We can safely say that the biggest threat to lions is loss of habitat and subsequently human-wildlife conflict (attack on cattle and people resulting in retaliatory measures like spearing, poising etc). Do we not have a big role to play in habitat loss – do we not see that our consumption and the economic mechanisms of the world are pushing less privileged people or societies constantly into protected areas? Global warming and unpredictable weather patterns are accelerating desertification, flash floods, etc. These things affect forests and wildlife. And we are affecting the weather.

Frankly, when it comes to numbers, we are a far greater threat to lions than a bigoted, egocentric hunter. He even pays and his money is sustaining entire habitats that would have otherwise been encroached upon and depleted for meat, illegal logging and supplying east Asia with animal parts.

Sure, social media is very powerful too. I am just concerned about how we are steering the course of our future and the world by our nonchalant and ill informed one-click petitions or support and by doing so relieving our responsibilities.

On a personal level, what is it doing to our reasoning and the pains we should be taking to reflect on the most important questions of living. Is everything really meant to be so easy? Aren't some journeys just meant to be hard? Are these articles and posts damaging our intellect and the amazing human gift we have to question and reflect? Because sharing or expressing on the internet has become such an integral part of our lives that when we do anything on the internet we are beginning to subconsciously project it into our “real” lives. Whether it is becoming friends with someone, blocking a friend you no longer like or in this case, activism. And the danger of that is, because we see the action as so complete because we have done it on social media, we tend to deem it, finished in the real world. We have a sense of achievement.

But certain questions are questions of a lifetime. Certain inquisitions are the reason why human beings are who they are, an unique animal that evolved an amazing ability to introspect and be profound.

Our trends on the internet are determining our lives on earth. It is ok to protest, to rebel, to be senseless now and then but we need to understand the implications of our protests and rebellions. When we make choices for those who are far and different from us, we may feel that we are serving the cause of human rights but our choices could be destroying their world. Similarly for wildlife.

Can we let content just make us deeply question, instead of simply act? Won't a reasonable outcome be the result of a complete understanding?

Can we stop quantifying life and spirituality and stop pretending that there are 5 or 7 or 10 easy steps to achieving balance?
If we reject this lie and stop demanding and consuming this heap of cleverly packaged and utterly disrespectful nonsense, we will be doing the world a far greater good than professing our intent and righteousness on the internet. Because, then, we will be taking a leap in the real world.

This “social” web, what we think connects us is also what is destroying very real social connections. Yes, we are reaching out to people across the world more easily. We are connecting with our “clique” more easily. It is true. But we are simplifying the process so much that we are forgoing essential learning, our social skills. We are turning into demanding little trolls. This ease of access is killing the chance discovery, the mistakes. We aren't stopping on the way any longer. We are made to believe that we just don't have the time! Why read a book about the strange and wonderful world of the world's tribes when we can see it in a shoddy, ramshackle representation that sets it up in 5 glossy pictures. By doing this for so much, we are rejecting those who have dedicated their lives to the furthering of humanity – historians, philosophers, writers, spiritual figures, anthropologists, musicians, linguists. People who have or had dedicated their lives to understanding these subjects are replaced by barely-out-of-adolescence youth who are churning out content by the giga byte for uninspiring, intellectually defeated websites like buzzfeed and their contemporaries. We no longer want to delve deep, just skim the surface and know enough to be able to “share” it.

Magazine subscriptions for journals like the National Geographic have been dramatically cut. 73 million dollars lost in subscriptions in less than a decade. Newsweek and Life don't even exist anymore.

This means lower funding to scientists in the field, 30 days instead of 6 months for photojournalists on a story.... everything that we are protesting against on the internet! Let's save the lions from hunting, lets halt global warming, lets give rights to the tribes!! How can this be done without understanding absolutely about the lions or global warming or the at-risk tribes? How can the scientists and journalists understand what they need to, with reduced funding, quick turn-arounds on stories, etc ? Instead of helping societies and establishment that have existed for over a century, bringing into our lives news of discovery from far corners of the earth, we are aimlessly logging onto buzzfeed and validating ridiculous content that satiates nothing but our demand for low quality information and engaging our surprisingly shortened attention spans and worn curiosities.

We are conveniently blind. Always blaming others for the atrocities, the twisted acts of cruelty, the political motives etc. But we are playing the game, we are the leaders. Our mediocrity and futility, our satisfaction with uninspiring content, demand for immediate and easy, is killing quality. Quality that requires effort and time and engagement.
We are the oxymorons.

Being right is difficult. Finding your chord in life's harmony can be daunting. Looking deep inside ourselves beyond sunlight needs special vision. Acquiring compassion needs acute awareness.
To change takes tremendous energy. To disagree takes courage. There are no easy steps or “5 quick ways”. There aren't just “20 amazing beaches” and “15 spectacular roads to travel on”. There are hundreds, even countless. You may even be on one right now.
We just need to excise ourselves from this psychology that has established such a keen grasp over us.

Don't check-in to tell us about the paradise you are in. Don't be foolish enough to waste that second. You are not pathetic enough to need validation from social media spies to have a good time.

Leave a bit to imagination. Talk about it with friends over dinner. Take time to understand the world. Read a book. Remember what it was like to discover something you never knew? Now, we know about everything, everywhere, but never really well enough. Isn't that sad?

Demand quality. Demand intelligence. Demand ingenuity.

If not, we are fucked.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Chemistry of Memories.

As we know, a photograph is chemistry. Chemicals develop the image onto the paper. And once, the image appears you can not reverse it.
What happened to me 10 years ago was similar. I stood in front of the Ngorongoro Crater and I was just awe struck. When I arrived 20 minutes later at the Malanja Depression I saw that the volcanoes slowly gave way to the busiest plains in the world.

I swore to myself that I would come back. And live here.

Two and a half years ago, it happened. I had the chance to live and work in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. It is a land declared as a World Heritage Site, dubbed often as the 8th wonder and always featuring in the "top 20 places to see before you die" lists. It is a place with the highest concentration of wildlife on earth, a place of volcanoes, rolling hills, mysterious forests and the open savannah. The Serengeti National Park is just on the other side. It is without exaggeration, a land of superlatives.
I was going to live here and a dream from almost a decade ago was coming true.

In the two and a half years Ngorongoro provided me with many privileges. I have seen the most beautiful skies, the most breathtaking vistas and wildlife has visited my doorstep, literally. I've had elephants scratch their backs on the walls of my house, lions that have slept outside my verandah and buffaloes have munched their way through the night on the patches of grass outside my bedroom.
I have seen the sunset over Ol Deani that has painted the sky in the most warm, soul stirring hues and rain that has traveled from the clouds just above in a vengeance.

So many times, i have had the privilege of seeing the largest mammalian migration on our planet. I can not even begin to describe those days on the plains. The smell of moisture, petrichor, the grunting and soft bellows of the wildebeest. The horizon with rain approaching from a distance. Lemakarot, the ancient mountain looming over the grounds.
How many times I have adventured myself to recreate in my mind the place 2 million years ago when our ancestors walked the plains. I have driven past the spot on so many occasions where some of the most important paleo-anthropological discoveries were made by the Leakey's. Footsteps of hominids preserved in earth from 2 million years ago. I have imagined these people, so different in physical form yet having the same fears as a man on an open plain. I envisioned them moving with the volcanoes regurgitating that orange phlegm from its belly that had been brewing for so long. Large predators and other animals walking in the same areas where I was, then.
I have been raptured by the sense of openness, the sight of nothingness and the air that has swirled around me has, each time, carried with it a piece of my soul. And I gave it to this land so willingly, like a martyr. I have never felt so alive with no purpose, except to live and breathe and then so fulfilled in just that. I have never lain my eyes on a part of earth so pulsating with miracles. I have never, ever, ever… been so overcome.
I have walked in a sea, yes a sea, of wildebeest as they starred with their silly faces at this bi-pedal animal. I have been stuck in the mud, the dust, the rain and I have wished that it wouldn't ever end.

In spite of more than half a million visitors annually, the land has always invited me into it's secret garden. I have found myself alone so often and taken previews of wonders with not another person around(except for Gilles). We have lunched under the acacia with a lioness and her very young cubs just a few 100 meters from us. We have slept under the open skies and around the most beautiful yellow barked acacias as giraffe, lions and leopard have all slept not far from us. We have driven through the Serengeti night looking for an odd hyena like creature called the aardwolf and then spotted it (thanks to a friend). We have been alone for miles on end and in retrospect, it has been the greatest privilege.

It has also been very hard sometimes. Working in a patriarchal society, being taken seriously as a woman has been so challenging. Being seen as the mtoto (child) and then trying to explain that you are serious, has been hard. I have also been very hurt sometimes, too hurt to wake up and start another day at times and for the first time, it hasn't been a boyfriend. I have felt so abused and betrayed and my anger has often vented itself in uncontrollable tears. I have made very few local friends. Most people have just wanted to "receive" something for the friendship. Favors in the form of jobs, advances, loans, recommendations. But then I have been to their homes, little mud huts surrounded by thicket to keep their livestock and children safe from the hyenas, leopards and lions. I have seen the incredible hardships of their lives as the perch precariously on the pivot of then and now. Maasai that dress in shukas (traditional red cloth) and carry spears. The young, fierce looking boys with moram (red earth) in their hair and the extravagant displays of their beaded jewelry yet carrying a cell phone in their hand. A people left so vulnerable by the rich tradition of their culture and moving into modernity with its tantalizing temptations of the many possible acquisitions.
It has helped me in my lowest ebbs, to reconcile this truth with my feelings. The people that I work with are the first generation of their kind that have received any (if any) abysmal education. They are still pastoral and yet they are looking for something more. I have found that they have hearts of wanderers which is far from romantic, hearts hardened by the harsh travails of their existence yet they have imbibed from what they see and make contact with, the need to settle and acquire.

I have lost my optimism in my workings with the government, the administrators of this jewel. Their commitment to their job, sincerity, capability is really non-existent. The corruption, the frivolity and nonchalance regarding pressing issues has amazed me. In this dark cellulose of administrative hell, the few (and i mean perhaps 2-3) have stood out like angels and I have great respect for them.

My job has also put me in contact with more than 15,000 people that have passed through the lodge and I have hosted them fortunately and unfortunately.
It has taught me an incredible amount about people, their bonds, relationships and the human mind. I have seen love that's still ignited, love that has turned to comfort and dislike. I have met teachers, bankers, politicians, bureaucrats and gods people. Designers, sportsmen, artists. I have met crooks, racists, assholes. I have also met people that had a light. I have seen just as much beauty in people I never knew, as I have seen in the plains. And I have seen just as much repulsive behavior.

I have made a few good friends....a nurse and a sports teacher, lion researchers, a photographer and lodge managers. I can count them on one hand but I have been enriched by these relationships. They have all taught me so much and I know that we will always be friends. We are tied some how through our experiences and fundamental understanding of the place. They know what its like and then, when you recollect your horrible story, somehow you can still sit around a camp fire and have a roaring laugh.

So then why am I saying goodbye?
Because, it was hard too. Because, I would've become too comfortable…. in the dysfunctionality, the mess, the routine. I felt settled. I felt I could handle and become used to the chaos to the point where I would forget it existed. Because life is for exploring. Because there is beauty everywhere and adventure is really breaking out of your secure zone. Life's most beautiful gifts are just out of view, but also just on the other side.

The person I have to thank most is Gilles. My friend, my other soul, my reflection. I have cried myself silly with anxiety and fears as he reassured me. He has protected me from abuse and he has loved me at my most impossible. He has helped me to look inside with the most critical analysis and to look outside with love and gratitude. I don't know if I could have done this without him. He has been the baobab that has rooted me as I grew higher.

The only thing I have missed is sharing this immense beauty and the peculiarity of the place with people that mattered the most. But I am also so thankful that I have been loved in absence and I have loved, remembered and missed them. That I have had the passion to share this experience, the opportunity to carry them with me in the most spectacular, the most breath-taking, the most religious of places. They have been with me in the most spiritual moments.

So, photographs are chemistry. So is something beautiful. I know that I may not remember the pictures I have seen, forever. I may forget the sunset I said I would always remember. I may forget the African full moon. But the chemicals in these events have been my catalysts. They have transformed me, exhilarated me and perhaps, they have implanted me with their beauty. So even if I do forget these images, their effect has been etched on my existence. It has been a reaction that can not be reversed.

And thank god for that, because if I had to die tomorrow, I have felt alive.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Mkomazi National Park trip. (Oct 2012)

It took us less than half an hour to fall in love with Mkomazi. The dryness, the harshness, the solitude. Driving along the mountains of the Pare in the bush of Mkomazi, we were content to spot what wanted to be seen. The first thing we saw were Ostriches in the grasslands near Dindira and behind them a Gerenuk, identified by it's long neck and forward arching horns. They were in the distance and were spotted thanks to a powerful pair of binoculars.

Mt Rada and the horizon streching into Tsavo NP, Kenya

On the circuit around Dindira Dam, there were signs of Elephants aplenty. We saw a large herd of Eland and zebras now and then. We stopped at the hill that overlooked Mt Rada and into the vastness stretching into Kenya. Lake Jipe was to our left and stretches of wild, small bush for miles and miles. It was a breath-taking view! We went on over to the observation point and took our lunch on the rocks there over looking the Pare and Dindira area. It was an afternoon warm with the sun and birds and little lizards scuttering around the rocks. A soft, cool breeze echoed solitude and suddenly, I was over come with a feeling of absolute contention.

Lunch on the Kopje! Cheese, Crackers, Avocado and Tomatoes  - Bush Gourmet!

As we came down a rocky slope, our land cruiser cautious on the path, we saw a bush buck prance away into the thickets and upon reaching the bottom, a herd of Impala does guarded by a beautiful, horned male. It seemed that upon traversing that rocky slope and coming down the mountain on the other side, we were really on our own. The sun slowly sinking towards the horizon cast beautiful light on the mountains and the ground glowed ochre. Roads diverged, unsigned and we only relied on some sense of direction and the sun to guide ourselves onto the right one, leading us to the Moare special campsite. After driving about 1.5 hours we saw a skittish group of Fringe Eared Oryx. We drove on, ultimately lost and arrived at Kisima. Ofcourse, we should've been left of Kisima but we never saw a road that turned left where it was indicated on the map!

An askari at the GAWT (George Adamson Wildlife Trust / Tony Fitzjohn) based in Kisima, put us onto a small path that he said led to Maore. We wouldn't have placed a bet on that one. It was unsigned, narrow and after the luck we had it seemed that it would lead us nowhere!
Luckily, past 6pm on the same road we met a TANAPA car that told us we were on the right path and should arrive at Maore in half an hour. As the sun set behind us, we drove through some very dusty/sandy roads and arrived at Maore ranger post one hour later. It was already dark and disappointedly we set up camp at the SPECIAL CAMPSITE which was hardly special owing to its very close proximity to the ranger post. (which could be seen from our tent) The campsite itself was barren and very windy. At night we heard an aardvark while we were already in the tent. I wish i had gotten out to see it! I missed my first aardvark sighting by 1 meter and a few winks.

Maore Special Campsite - Not very special for 50USD pppn. Ranger house at the back!

The next morning we dismantled our humble camp and reloaded the car as we drove to Komakota. We started early and intended on making a long circuit via Kifukua to Njiro and then by evening to Dindira. At Komakota we climbed the boulders and caused a frenzy in the hyrax society. A lesser Kudu remained oblivious to our presence until a herd of Impala below us suddenly became aware of our towering presence over them and ran for cover giving alarm calls. It was the most beautiful vista I had seen in a long time!
Driving on we passed turns that existed only on the map but never appeared until suddenly we came across a man on a bicycle and then a few. As usual, when we asked for directions they pointed us in the direction and told us we were on the right path. Nobody in Tanzania tells you they don't know. So eventually we reached a village and were out of the park. No exit sign, no post, no gate, no ranger. We drove past Mzina village for 60kms onto tarmac that led us to approach Same from the south 77kms later. A long and wasteful detour. Luckily, our 48 hour permit allowed us to re-enter through Zange entrance. We stayed around Dindira and made a short circuit around Babu's camp. By late afternoon we were at Dindira Special Campsite, nestled in tall acacia land. There were signs of Eland, Elephant and Aardvark. This campsite was definitely more special than Maore. A few beers, Martinis and fresh mangoes later we slept through a silent night.

The next morning, we stayed close to Dindira, visited Babu's Camp and then exited early to go towards Lake Chala.

All in all, Mkomazi is a great park to be away from the crowds of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro. Don't come here to see the big five. We saw plentiful signs of Lions and hyena but did not see them. This is a great park for seeing different antelope species. In 2 days we saw :

  1. Fringe Eared Oryx
  2. Gerenuk
  3. Bush buck
  4. Bush Duiker
  5. Lesser Kudu
  6. Grants gazelle
  7. Eland
  8. Dik Dik
  9. Reedbuck
  10. Impala
  11. Waterbuck
  12. Hartebeest
  13. Steinbok
The problem is that this is a new park and the infrastructure is not fully developed. The roads and circuits in the north west area close to the park entrance are well developed and signed. As you go deeper into the park the roads are not signed and the roads that exist on the map do not exist on land. This obviously poses a problem to self drivers. For eg: we saw roads that were not on the map and then didn't see roads that were on the map. At one point after leaving the campsite at Maore we went on to Komakota which is a beautiful place with large boulders and rocks. We went over them to get a view of the park and it was a lovely morning!
As we drove on south from Komakota on the road that should have led us to a right turn that would take us to Njiro via Kifukua - the right turn never came (as shown on the map) so we continued driving south waiting for the turn to appear until we began to see people on bicycles and slowly entered a village.
So we had a 150km detour and wasted time and fuel which could've been spent in the park!

MAP with Comments - click to view

We loved Mkomazi for its wilderness, isolation and the dry bush. You could be in the park and not see another vehicle for a long time. We found it particularly easy to spot large herds of Eland (90 individuals appx) near Dindira. Also Elephants were spotted in the distance. Ofcourse, our the big excitement was spotting the Gerenuk and the Fringe Eared Oryx ( Besia species) which was the first for me. I also saw other antelope I had not seen before such as a bush duiker and reedbuck. We did not really ask for permission to visit the Rhinos or the dogs. We were just happy to be away from the mad crowds of the NCA and the Serengeti.

However, all said and done – as happy as we would be to return to Mkomazi in a heartbeat, this is not a park for everyone. People with great expectations will be disappointed. I think it will appeal to those wanting to be in nature and having no demands to see the Big 5 or whatever else. This is not the park you want to come to, to see lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos, buffaloes in 24 hours. It does not have the concentrations of wildlife like some of the northern parks. However, it has great character and a feeling of true wilderness. TANAPA seem to be doing well in maintaining the park especially in the circuits near the entrance. I suppose in time even the roads in the central areas will be better signed and the problem of the map vs. Ground reality will be attended to. Tony Fitzjohn's biggest achievement, in my opinion, is not the Rhinos or the dogs.... it was his ability and perseverance after strong blows to their efforts, time and good will to have this Game Reserve managed by the Wildlife Division to be finally gazetted into a National Park and therefore ensure its continuity and the preservation of it's resources for every common visitor to experience.

Keep patience, expect nothing, live the peace, enjoy the isolation, listen to the birds, follow the tracks – Mkomazi then, will not disappoint.

Monday, September 10, 2012


I wrote this 2 and a half years ago, but reading about Kurien brought this back. I feel a sense of patriotism in this and I cannot say this is who I am today (a wholly different matter). I still feel equally humbled when i think about the story behind the white revolution and I think that he was a truly remarkable man in what he did for a thirsty land of 1 billion people. 


I remember reading in school about the Swadeshi Movement. I hear stories from many septuagenerians about how they or their parents burned their imported goods in support of Indian produce.
About Gandhi insisting on Khadi, or the institutionalisation of the village Gram Udhyogs....
About how they breathed new life into the dying backbone of a land that primarily lives in its ruralities.

One of the finest exapmles of a movement for the people, by the people, of the people and perhaps one of the only successful ones to have not been diluted by foreign ownership or interference, one that stands today, worldwide, as a prime example of co-operative success and ever-increasing growth, one that has achieved for India many feathers in her cap, one that is so large as an institution but is so diluted and insignificant in its ownership, one that is local yet is known nationally, internationally and has become almost synonymous with the common man of India as a brand that they can rely on for a commodity that India cannot do without. No matter how rich or poor you are in India everyone knows that in any household, in any far flung corner of my land, a guest is showered with hospitality (in its most humble form) with 'ek cup chai' (one cup of tea) and the main component in chai is MILK.

Think of the journey of MILK. In a rural land,somewhere in India, a cow feeds on grass and fodder. A poor farmer struggling with the education of 3 kids and the financial burden of marriage of his oldest daughter, MILKS his 4 cows (perhaps his only wealth) and hands over whatever amount of MILK he has collected to a local MILK collection centre. They weigh it, measure certain parameters (fat etc) and make a record against his name. At the end of the month, or week, (im not so sure) he is paid for the MILK he has supplied. That MILK is collected by the collection centre and then taken to a dairy, pasteurized, homogenized, etc , packaged and distributed all over India. That MILK reaches the man living in a hut, or the man paying well over 300RS for a creme brulee in a fine dine.
He is essentially what is keeping the poor farmer in the village able to continue the education of his children and marry off his daughter. The man of India is breating sustenance into the life of those who do not possess much.

So what makes it possible for the illiterate, poor farmer to market his good across the sub-continent? well to begin with, he owns a dairy complete with world-class processing and packaging machinery, has a marketing department, has an advertising campaign for his goods, that is the longest running ad campaign of any product in the WORLD, so .... its possible. Confused? Why is he poor then?

In 1946, a year before India became the largest democracy in the world, in a little village in Gujarat the situation was far from democratic. Marginal milk producers, who produced perhaps 1-2 litres of MILK in a day would carry their MILK to Anand, somtimes the MILK would go sour in the intense heat of the Gujarat sun and upon reaching, they were forced to sell their MILK to agents and middlemen of the Polson Dairy (the only butter available uptil a few years after independence) who exploited them by buying their MILK at low prices that the farmers couldnt afford. But Polson was a monopoly in supplying MILK products to bombay, so the farmers had no where to turn, but to live under exploitation.
Frustrated by a situation that had no soultion, the farmers of Kaira District (in which lies the town of Anand) took their grievances to Sardar Vallabhai Patel (who would be the first Deputy PM and Home Minister of free India). He adviced the leader of the farmers, Tribhuvandas Patel, to form a Co-operative and supply MILK directly to the Bombay Milk Union, instead of going through Polson. Thus the Kaira District Union was formed. Kaira Union has now become synonymous with perhaps one of Indias most recognizable and important brands, AMUL, the brand under which they sold their products. Similar stories followed in 5 other Districts in Gujarat. In order to simplify the marketing and selling of their goods, they formed the GCMMF; Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation. GCMMF became the apex body which owned brands like AMUL etc and marketed goods of all its Unions across the subcontinent and across the world.

Upon seeing the success of these Co-ops, in 1964 the then PM of India, Lal Bahadur Shatri asked the manager and the man behind so much of Kaira Union's success, Dr. Kurien to replicate such models all over India, to make her a self sustaining MILK producer. This project came to be called "Operation Flood". The implementation and the phenomenal success of Op.Flood resulted in India's WHITE REVOLUTION. A pivotal point in the history of a land of near 1 billion people, becoming self-sustained in the supply of an indespensable commodity.

When the first union of GCMMF (kaira) was formed India featured no where near the Top MILK producing nations of the world. Post the white revolution India has now become the largest producer of MILK in the world. And it's largest consumer. Just like Gold.
In 2009, India produced a staggering 110 Million Metric Tons (!!!!!!!!) of MILK and is growing at 4% each year. It still cannot meet the demand of MILK in the country. A recent talk of importing even 5% of shortage will casue MILK prices to rise Worldwide.

This was possible because a group of poor, wronged farmers decided they would take no more.
They struggled to fight oppression and unfair monopoly to become ONE OF THE WORLDS FINEST EXAMPLES OF CO-OPERATIVE SUCCESS!

It makes me think. The Milk that comes to me today is enriching the life of a poor farmer somewhere in my country, whose father 5 decades ago rebelled for justice. It is uplifting rural societies by making them self sufficient.

Not only does the farmer get a fair price for the MILK he sells, at the end of each year, ALL PROFITS ARE DISTRIBUTED in proportion to individual contribution, AMONGST THE FARMERS.
They really do own the Dairies, the Brand, everything!

Today it is a name worth 7000crores (1.5 Billion USD) owned by over 2 million farmers... This is true independence, true democracy!

It really makes me proud to be an Indian, because movements like this happen once in a long while, but it is possible only in India.

A land of hope, possibilities and dreams.

Kraft foods, is going to enter India in the near future.
The only one the fear is AMUL. The only Giant in their League.

This is a moment when I will have to make a conscientous decision. Will i buy Kraft products? AMUL makes everything Kraft does...!
Kraft does not belong to my people, nor does it benefit the farmers of my land.

This will be my time to be Swadeshi, a belief and commitment that the products of my land are the ones ill consume.

I will remember that the Unions never refuse any farmer no matter how much MILK they already have. The farmers can sell Half Litre or even a 100. It provides them with security. Dignity in bieng independent yet powerful.
AMUL makes it possible for the average Indian to enjoy ice-cream on rare occasions, to help spread butter on their pavs without having to compromise on price or quality.
It keeps the otherwise exploitive multinationals in check on their price.

But more than Anything, I remember that it empowers people by accepting on an average, 8.4 million lts of MILK a day. That its uplifting rural societies and as the farmer's son aspires to be a mechanic or an electrician, the Unions remain a beacon of hope, a legacy in work even today,reminding them that it will always be around, least their business fail.

I will most certainly keep AMUL my brand of choice, because I love my land and this is how i can be a patriot, without bieng violent; this is how i can enable progress, without doing much, this is how i can ensure that power stays where it should, in the hands of the people.
(and ofcourse above all, the quality is uncompromised, so why should i not!)

So, while i do not endorse that one must not buy Kraft, the next time you see AMUL products think of the journey of that product and how it empowers someone in a far away village. No choice is right or wrong. But one definitely empowers people who have little and it puts back a smile, a house, an education - a livelihood back where it is needed most. In the micro-plasma of India…. it's tiny villages we dont know of, it's rural homes we never enter, it's schools that we never sit in. 

The white revolution, with it's humble beginings is a story that still manages to infuse hope and inspiration at a time when our new enemy has taken a form slightly different than the middlemen of the Polson dairy. The need to act remains.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Indian Condition.

How modern are we? and what is modern?
Is being modern the same as progress? inward, intellectual, moral progress?

Indian people are a population of contradictions. An anthropological enigma.

The land of fertility, of the cascading ganges, from the robust himalayas, of the mystical dunes, of the southern damp rainforests, of the charismatic striped cat, of the elephant-human mind concoction, the land of rituals and beliefs, traditions and dogmas.

A land so rooted in ancient traditions and philosophy yet, skimming over modernity and its travails.
Like a tree extending its branches towards the sun yet pushing its roots deep into the bed rock of the past. But is this how we flourish? 

Is the brahmin holier than you? is he who presents me to God? Is he the only one who with his heritage of rituals and prayers capable of being the medium between my God and I. 
And who is this God? Is he the being half elephant half human, or the lady , an epitome of sensuality with her full bosom, minuscule waist and fertile hips with 4 or 6 arms? or the little blue boy? 

Is this our solace? 

Why do we pray when we must act? Why do we believe when we should see? Why must we ask the "gurus" when we must introspect? 

Why is respecting our elders more important than assessing what kind of people they really are? Why must we touch their feet when we do not even like them? We must somebody be given respect because he has walked this earth longer than I have… isn't it about the paths he chose to tread?

Why do we pray? We often pray for wealth. We even have a God whose job is to make sure people get rich. I would be bored as hell to be Lakshmi. I imagine her in a BMC sort of office with piles and piles of files and papers, assessing who should get rich! and what about all the assholes who are bathing and wiping their fecal matter on blood money? Do you think Lakshmi accepts bribes?

The elephant-human god of luck and auspiciousness. I must admit, he is adorable. In a pixar film. Not in the tons and tons of filth the sea regurgitates every year. And what about the millions of poor who dwell in shanties, who cannot afford nutrition or health, whose lives are a battle on the fields of misery and grimness…. This God must be pretty indiscreet, so obvious that he blesses so openly a few and leaves millions on the brink of an apocalypse. 

To see these issues in a fair light would only reveal that many of the 1.2 billion still suffer in abject poverty, social imprisonment, cultural bondage and cocoons of fear. Why then did God only bless so few and some of them so undeserving?
The problem is not with God. The problem is with the people. Indian's are born with an innate response to start praying to God when things go awry. They beg for mercy, ask for forgiveness, plead for more. All humility but no humanity.  This is because, deep down the tradition is of subservience to God and out of that is born a feeling of latent fear and helplessness. God is not the lady with 6 hands who has money trees growing in her backyard and brings it to some who she fancies. God is not the doe eyed elephant-boy who brings luck to people who he thinks are worthy. God is not a woman who blesses a few privileged with an education and leaves others in the shadows of ignorance. It is us.
Why is it that we turn to god when things go wrong? Why are most people living in fear of god when they do something wrong or shameful? 

The problem is that India has lost its conscience, the ability to listen to its inner voice that tells most people what is ok or not. We have outsourced that to God. He will decide that. He will give me. He will forgive me. He will bestow me. He will punish me. He will rectify. And we sit quietly. When we do something wrong, we are more fearful of what God will do, than what it means as a human being to do such a thing? Why are we more afraid of what the society will say or what implications that will have, rather than what the commitment of the act did to the receiver? Where is the conscience of this nation? We have created all these castes and sects that govern life. We have imprisoned life to follow our little rules. Curbed its greatness, the flourishing that comes from the magnitude of its strength and power. Even if we did not instrument these social creations, we follow them century through century without question or revolt. And no, do not say it doesn't exist. Even in so called modern societies of India, there is always judgement regarding who are your friends, who are you colleagues, who are your in-laws, how rich is the boy, what caste is he, how fair is the girl, how tall is she? Are these the markers that we restrict life to? What about judging people on the merit of their humanity, their holding as a person?

India is rooted in fear of many things. We are always proceeding towards more money, more things, better standing in society, recognition, power, security. And i don't know what for! In our acquisition of these things, our need of control over our life we have closed our hands to the fruit of life that falls from its tree of plentitude. We ask young boys, "what do you want to do now", "what plans do you have for your future", "What are you doing to get to this", boys of 17, 18, 19. Tell me you weren't asked this!!! and the girls are taught to be good at housekeeping, at raising her family, choosing the right boy, looking after her "home". When we earn we begin to save. For the future. We work hard and then harder. Talk about money and security. But what about living? I don't mean being able to buy expensive clothes and shoes and being able to travel first class to far flung destinations. I don't mean being able to afford staying in a presidential suite and having reservations at the newest, more expensive restaurant in the city. I don't mean buying the breguet or the jewelry from cartier. These are acquisitions that will perish. These are things that you can loose, these are things that loose their luster over time. But what about what really matters? What about the indelible mark we will leave as a society. Will it be just a mark of wealth and prosperity and nothing to do with humanity and the joy that it spreads? Will we never stop the caste killings or the killings of young brides and grooms from mismatched castes, or dowry, or bribes? Will we never stop and make sure that our environment is protected and saved for our children? Will we never enquire into ourselves and remove our construction of fear and traditions that have no meaning?

I know that sometimes one cannot individually stop all the horrible things that are happening in the remote or far away places in India. And the point is not to extend physical help. After years of providing tangible help, some horrible, unthinkable, unimaginable traditions still do exist. And the only way to help this is to firstly, not help. We are not handicapped. We are not mentally challenged. We are only handicapped by the power of conditioning and tradition. When this society evolves, singularly each person and the other, when there is an inward revolution, of the mind, of the state (of our being); when we prove that we have the intelligence to question, to investigate, to look, to seek, than we shall find that the answer is in the question. Then we will abolish this archaism, this society that dwells in duality of morals and ethics. We will see that the only morals that matter are the answers from a raised conscience. That will be the solution to a lot of our problems. 

And we will see that God does exist. And there is no need to live in subservience of God. We need no messengers, we need no gurus or sadhus, no maharajas or holymen to perform rituals and chants and that if we really understand life, how grand and unimaginably rich it is, what it holds for us and everything it wants to present to us, we will allow life to take care of us. Life holds the greatest energy, it enables the blossoming of flowers, the blooms of algae, the mutation of viruses, the evolution of human intelligence. It is what brings us here and then extinguishes us. So what can be more holy than life? What is more holy than love? Than the truth that lies in our faces but the truth that we do not see? If we remove these masks of fear we can find the strength to understand what is right or wrong and in that understanding we will abolish so many things that are a creation of our thought, the manifestation of our many fears. We will live with knowing that when you love life, you live the truth and that is what is most holy. It will give us strength to listen to the intelligence that has been dormant for generations in our emotional vaults. And then we will really progress and not just be a society known for their accumulation of wealth and prosperity but a society that breeds happy, conscientious and righteous people. A society that lives in accordance with the pitch and tones and life and not the rules and traditions, the conditions and dogmas that restrict it.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Importance of Being Naive.

The only way to live is to be naive. That is the only way in which you can truly live.
We must be naive to everything. In naiveté there is loss of fear. To be like a flower blossoming to the sun, to the rain, to the wind, to the bees. Unknowing of the next moment, of the consequence. Having no need to know how it will end. Living in the now is naive living. It is the only way to experience the richness of life, the plethora of its multitude.

In naivete there is no fear. There is absence of rules and paths, you know nothing and that is what makes you fearless, like a bird plunging into the air on its first flight.
Sometimes there is failure but even that is beautiful and it is your own.

Conditioning destroys naivete and the possibilities of life. When we approach something with an idea, notion or knowledge we approach its past. We do not allow it to present itself in its full capability. But if we approach life afresh, we approach it intelligently, with heart. We have to unlearn too much. We know more than we should and that knowing kills the spontaneity of life. It kills the blossoming of intelligence. It stains love with fear, it aborts chance before it can be born, it blots the chastity of everything sacred and what is more sacred than life itself?

Forget what they told you about risk. Forget what they told you about living. Forget what they told you about love. Forget it all. There is nothing to learn about these things. These things are not learnt, they are lived from moment to moment, from second to second. To learn about life is to halt a stream. Fall into the abyss of the unknown, let the draft of life carry you. To live life is to surrender control and trust the current of its waters to carry you to the vast sea's of its richness. To live life in the knowledge of culture or traditions of society is to deny its gift to you. In being naive there is a feeling of understanding god. In the loss of memory of fear there is robust love and a beautiful curiosity. There is amazement. Amazement at the shape of a cloud, the colour of the water, the form of a rock, the feel of earth.
Forget who you are or who you will be. Live life spontaneously, humbly, unknowing. Surrender your conditioning and fears to the power of truth that life is.

Be naive.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Truth vs. Belief

I always had a questioning mind and since a young age I visited the theosophical colony and at its far end stared at the emblem and inscribed words "there is no religion higher than truth". While it sounded very profound and the sort of thing i would want to say to someone in an intellectual conversation when i was older, it took me 26 years to begin to understand what "truth" really is.

What is truth and how many truths can there be?

I felt that there could be many truths and it could be an idea or notion that you held in your opinion to be real. This meant that 6 billion people could have their own truths. The visionary his, the crusader his, the teacher his, the soldier his, the pauper his, the victorious his, the dying his, the rapist his, the repenter his. Is what they hold the truth or is it a belief?

What we perceive becomes our belief. Truth is independent of belief like the sun independent of earth, moon or venus. The sun shines unknowing and irrespective. Thus truth prevails, undaunted. 

A belief is the summary of our doubts and assertions. It is sometimes wavering and sometimes frigid. Belief changes with time and changes with perception. Belief is infact the antipode of truth. The truth cannot change with time or perception. The truth cannot be moulded or created. The truth cannot be planted in the subconscious or taught to the learner. Truth is only ever realized. But a belief can be planted or indoctrinated. Like the belief is santa claus when one is young. The belief in equality when one is older. And the world knows that these are lies. But they are beliefs to many. However, they are not the truth. To have a belief itself means, to have faith. Faith is only had in the unknown or the unseen. Faith is something we create to sooth our anxieties and fears. Faith is not real. The truth is real, because it exists. At one end of faith, on the very tip of faith lies the seed of doubt. Faith can be easily grown into doubt and we all have known this. Having the faith that an exam went well, having the faith that a business deal will be monetized, having the faith that god will answer your prayers; and then something turns this faith to doubt. It is because we chase beliefs and never inquire about the truth. Truth that is a certain as - itself. Nothing is higher than truth.

Love, compassion, humility are all synonyms of truth. When we truly love free from fear or ownership, free of pain or doubt, free of need or hurt we realize that we do not believe we love. We do not have faith in love. We come to realize love. And that is knowing the truth. When we really feel compassion not out of pity, not out of the need to become better people, not to redeem our sins, not to feel better about ourselves; but when we have compassion because that it the essence, the plasma of any intelligent being, because that it automatic and not planted like a belief or cause to be compassionate, we are truly compassionate. When we are humble, not to our elders or to the weak, when we are humble not in our mistakes or our success, but humble to the force of nature, humble towards the powerless fledgling or a delicate sapling, when we are humble to the the gush or a stream or the whisper of a breeze, not humble so that we do not seem rude or non appreciative, then we in our humility towards life have unknowingly realized truth.

Truth therefore is quite singular and steadfast. It is everything to those who know it and its idea non-existent to those who rely on beliefs. It is timeless and faceless, as liquid as the air yet as grounded as a rock. It is stoic and exists without the need for discovery. It exists just because. If there is one thing that is holy in our realms of understanding and realization, it is not our beliefs in Jesus or Allah or Krishna or Mahavir. It is the truth that is most holy. 
And no amount of chasing it or dreaming of it can bring you closer to it. But if we can love without wanting or have compassion without fear or self-soothing or be humble because we realize that the thread that ties lives is the same and no different for man or woman, the rich or poor, the hungry or the satiated we can live truly. 

I am not a theosophist because i do not follow a system or religion. I do not love other human beings or creatures because the religion tells me. I do not know somethings as a result of this religion asking me to believe. I know what i have realized and the rest is cast in belief. I am not so realized yet and I cannot say I have really accepted truth. But i do see it and I approach it shedding the years of beliefs and faith. And in every drop of truth is the sweet nectar of life. Life is truth. Love is truth. Compassion is truth. I do not see this because i am a theosophist, I am a theosophist because I see this. And somehow i have this profound realization, I recognize it because it is the sort of thing you recognize when you see it. I see that the truth is absolute and so is everything that stands for truth. Love, compassion, humility. The nucleus of truth is the matter from which explodes the infinite boundary of life.