The best way to know the self is feeling oneself at the moments of reckoning. The feeling of being alone, just with your senses, may lead you to think more consciously. More and more of such moments may sensitize ‘you towards you’, towards others. We become regular with introspection and retrospection. We get ‘the’ gradual connect to the higher self we may name Spirituality or God or just a Humane Conscious. We tend to get a rhythm again in life. We need to learn the art of being lonely in crowd while being part of the crowd. A multitude of loneliness in mosaic of relations! One needs to feel it severally, with conscience, before making it a way of life. One needs to live several such lonely moments. One needs to live severallyalone.

Monday 24 August 2009


Avibhajit Aakash (Undivided Sky) is a poem of my Nanaji, Brahma Shankar Pandey, written in 1990. I offer my sincere apologies to post this Hindi work in Roman script. My inability to type in Hindi and my realization of linguistic and sensory limitations to do justice with feeling of words and hence the author while translating this verse, which I felt when I tried a hand on it, had left me with this option only. But I hope ‘sms’ culture would be a bit of saving grace for me as most of us, sometime, use Hindi words in Roman script for exchanging short mobile messages.

Avibhajit Aakash

Ek Acche Mitra Ki
Meri Talash
Abhi Jaari Hai

Zaahir Hai,
Woh Ek Achha Aadmi Hi
Ho Sakta Hai
Jis Jati Se Samuday Se
Aaya Ho
Mard Athva Aurat
Jaanvar Mein Bhi To Maine
Ek Achhe Aadmi Ko Paya Hai
Ise Aap Kyon Bhoolte Hain

Yahan Par
Main Baat Karta Hoon
Aasman Ki
Yani Aakash Ki Tarah Ka Aadmi
Na Thoda Kam
Na Thodi Besi
Unchai Utni Ki
Chhuvai Na De, Kintu
Nikatata Itni Ki
Doori Naam Ki Cheez Na Rah Jaye
Hamare Beech

Meri Or Dekhiye
Mera Aakash Vidyaman Hai
Har Jagah
Har Ghadi
Himalay Jaisi Unchai Par Bhi
Patan Jaise Gart Mein Bhi
Mere Saath
Rahne Wala Aakash
Kabhi Nahi Chhodta Mujhe

Raaste Bhool Jane Par
Path-Pradarshak Sa Saamne
Khada Ho Jata Hai
Meri Viral Aakankshaon Mein
Jo Tal Bikhra Hai
Woh Usi Ka Hi To Hai

Jab Bhi,
Hamein Aavashyakata Mehsus Hui Hai
Ek Nyaypriya Sakshi Ki
Maine Use Hi Sambodhit Kiya Hai
Sakshya Mein
Logon Ka Aitbar
Mujh Par Se Uth Gaya Hai
Mujh Se Bhi Ghanishtha Woh
Mera Aitbar Ho Gaya Hai

Nih-Shwason Mein
Tumhe Najdeek Maine
Isliye Bulaya Hai
Ke Mere Hisse Ka Aakash
Tum Le Loge
Aur Apne Hisse Ka
Mujhe Chhod Doge
Ek Naye Aakash Ke Neeche
Padosi Ki Tarah Rah Lenge
Santati Priya Aakash
Kshamasheel Hota Hai

--Brahma Shankar Pandey

Sunday 23 August 2009



Till my 5th standard, I used to visit a pond near my school. It was called ‘Kabir Mutt’ but had a ‘Shiva’ temple but during those days I never tried to why it had not any Kabir temple. I knew about Kabir from the DD serial on his life but my knowledge was limited to the curiosity of a small child and my visits to that place were propelled by childhood inquisitiveness. Later on, I graduated to college and then to higher education. All this while I never tried to revisit the place though it was always in my memories.

It was after my graduation. On a day like this, I was walking on the terrace. I noticed a huge dome of a temple that was being elaborated with shining white stone sheets. I had not noticed the structure earlier though it was pretty big in size. Probably the shine of that white granite caught my attention. For next many months watching the masons working on the dome with white granite sheets was part of my walking moments on the terrace when I used to think about all ‘the possibles’ that would come to my mind giving my own logics and then producing counter logics. I came to know the dome was part of a temple being constructed by the Kabir Mutt. Knowing this was a sheer disappointment for me and it formed a chunk of my reasoning and logics when I used to watch the erected structure being ornamented.

We know about Kabir, at least this much, that he was a weaver and how he struggled even to find a ‘Guru’. But an enlightened soul he was and he went on to have ‘Ramananda’ as his ‘Guru’ and went on to become one of the greatest seers of all the time though he was unaware of the chemistry of words. A saint of frugality with unlimited wisdom of life and beyond. So it was disappointing for me to see such a stupendous structure being erected for someone like Kabir who would never have approved such action. But why Kabir followers only. History is replete with followers of luminaries; followers who went on to modify, differentially interpret or distort the ideologies propagated by their Gurus. Organized business of ‘sect cultures’ is direct outcome of this. Sects and cults of gurus have created multi-million dollar empires today. The trust in wisdom of sages was never in crisis as is the case today.

Spending millions on constructing temples is injustice to millions who do not have time to follow any sage or guru. When I say guru, I quote figures like Kabir and Sai Baba and likes and not any so-called guru of the day. To say economically, a Kabir would deny this honour to utilize resources for the masses given the widespread destitution that is prevailing today. I cannot forget the long discussion that I had with caretakers of Lucknow Ramakrishna Mission. It was about 8 years ago when I was in Lucknow for a day. I used to visit Ramakrishna Mission mutt of Varanasi and when I came to know the Lucknow mutt was holding an exhibition on Swami Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda I knew I had to visit there. The exhibition was realty informative but what caught my attention and perhaps left me reasoning was the multi-crore temple that was built in the mutt premises. I appreciated the architectural brilliance but I could not appreciate the intention behind the huge structure. Apart from other social missions, Ramakrishna Mission also runs chain of well established hospitals. I was just calculating the opportunity cost of this temple for a hospital when most of the country’s population could not afford even the basic health care expenses. I went on discussing this with caretakers. They could not buy my statements, neither could I their.

It was again this feeling when I heard about the Kabir temple at Varanasi’s Kabir Mutt for I was sure Kabir’s soul would be in discomfort on this act of his followers. It sent me to know more about Kabir Mutt and the followers’ patrons. Kabir Mutt is nearly one kilometer away from my house on Lahartara-Mandudih road. When I decided to visit the temple and the Mutt then only I came to know that the place I knew as Kabir Mutt near my initial school was not linked to Kabir in any respect. When one approaches the Banaras Hindu University through Lahartara-Manduadih road, the iconic ‘pond’ and the new temple lie on the left while the mutt lies on its right. These are within 100 meters of Lahartara crossing.

I still don’t know much about the sect though it draws big number of followers regularly for annual functions. I intend to complete my primary and secondary research about it during next trip to Varanasi. But what is ironic is the ‘iconic pond’ associated with Kabir is almost dead, silted, full of discharge from adjoining houses in the area, and remains almost dry for most part of the year. The temple has been built in premises of the pond and now it is so imposing that the dejected pond is bound to find its nemesis. I am sure a much lesser sum of money would have assured the restoration of the pond and the area where this big temple has been erected could have been used for purposes like hospital or educational centre.

Kabir, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda are just few names. We can easily draw a long list. Latest of the Delhi landmarks, the imposing and grand ‘Akshardham Temple’ is probably the contemporary culmination of cult of ostentation and opulence, the most ‘Ungodly’ act when millions are bound to live in misery. Would “Sai Baba’ be happy with the controversy surrounding his ‘Charan Paduka’ being taken to America? How would have Kabir reacted had he been alive to witness all this?


I’ve always been a bit squeamish about dying. I’m probably a bit British in that respect. But in Varanasi, one of the oldest and most spiritual living cities in world, and set against the backdrop of the River Ganges, death is deeply ingrained in everyday life.

Locals will tell you the city was founded 5,000 years ago by Shiva, the Hindu god whose role is to destroy, thus balancing out the work of Brahma the creator and Vishnu the maintainer. Hindus from across the sub-continent and beyond have long yearned to be cremated here, out in the open, when their time in this life is up. Leading to the release from the cycle of re-birth and straight to Nirvana, this is the place to exit.

It isn’t all about the end of life however. With more than a million devotees visiting every year to bathe in the holy waters and wash away their sins, the city is a hub of living and one of the most sacred Hindu pilgrimage sites worldwide. Deeply revered as a goddess and mother, The Ganges is believed to have descended from the heavens several millennia ago to infuse the earth with goodness, thus making a dip in her waters the way forward.

All things considered, my excitement about visiting Varanasi was tempered by apprehension. I needn’t have worried though; I was to be eased in gently and luxuriously.

Taj Hotel’s Nadesar Palace, which opened in January this year, has raised the bar for luxury hotel offerings in the city. It is a ten-suite wonder set in acres of mango orchards and jasmine fields. Hardly diehard backpacker stuff.

Built in the early 19th Century, the palace was taken over by Maharaja Prabhu Narain Singh during his rule between 1889 and 1931 as his city residence. It has since played host to royalty and heads of state including the likes of King George V and The Dalai Lama.

The name Nadesar stems from the Goddess Nadesari, whose shrine sits proudly in the grounds of the hotel; naturally, another spiritual link. On arrival, it was explained to me that the colour scheme throughout is bright, depicting the marigolds, jasmines and pink lotuses offered to the River Ganges. This was good news as flowers remind me of happy things.

The rooms, being just ten of them, are very large. Decorated in part by the Maharaja’s art collection, mine had a four poster bed fit for any princess, a role-top bath, oversized of course, and views to the orchards outside. It felt slightly like I had reached Nirvana already.

Wrapped in a fluffy white bathrobe, I made a pilgrimage of my own to the hotel’s Jiva Spa, to try out their signature treatment, Abhisheka. This is a welcome adaptation to purifying oneself with water from The Ganges – a practice that, spiritual cleanliness aside, is akin to bathing in the filth of the river Thames.

The therapist poured some holy water over my body, then a paste of five of the purest food stuffs was applied (milk, clarified butter, curd, sugar and honey). The experience was completed with a soothing Indian massage – the type that made you feel as if you could float away when finished.

I left the oasis of the palace utterly relaxed – a state of mind at odds with Varanasi proper. This was a city with an unrelenting ability to overload the senses. As I dodged rickshaws, street sellers and even the odd cow, my docile, post-spa self was assaulted by the sounds and smells thousands of people going about their lives. But like many other tourists, this buzz was secondary to what I was visiting the city for; The Ganges.

With the help of my guide, Prakash, I navigated through the medieval labyrinthine layout of the city to the banks of the river. There are over a hundred ghats (steps leading to the water), each with a designated purpose. Some are used for washing, others for yoga and of course some for cremations. My morbid fascination drew me to the latter.

Sitting silently I watched body after body being taken down to the riverside pyres, men wrapped in white and women in red. Here prayers were said and various rituals carried out, including submersing the shrouded figures in the holy water, before they were to be set alight. As flames engulfed the canvases, gradually more flesh was exposed and they were reduced, little by little, to ash. I winced when I saw an arm fall down out of the fire, but after a good half an hour of sitting transfixed, I was surprised at how my usually squeamish self started to feel a little desensitized to the process. This was certainly a bizarre experience.

Further along the river, there was a group of Saddhus (holy men) performing pujas (rituals) in the sun, giving offerings to the Hindu gods and goddesses. But there did not seem to be many mourners; only a gaggle of locals soaping up before dunking their bodies into the river, against the backdrop of housewives beating colourful saris on the ghats and a couple of water buffalos, clearly with not a lot on their minds.

Before heading back to my luxe retreat, I took a boat downriver. As the oars plunged eerily into the water, the evening aarti, a ritual of light and sound, at Dasashvamedha, the main ghat, was underway. While the bells clanged and the fire danced in front of my eyes, the oarsman lent over, mid row, to take a sip of river water; I tried to suppress my horror and asked him politely whether it was a good idea to drink such evidently filthy liquid. He responded that it was holy and clean. The murky brown, river water looked to be neither of these things – but he looked fit and healthy, as did most of the riverside dwellers. There must be something in the power of their belief.

Back at the hotel, lying on my four-poster, I mulled over my Varanasi experience. I had known even before I stepped foot in the city that my attitude towards death was alien here. But not for morbid the reasons I had expected. Understanding India has always been about leaving your comfort zones – always easier from the ultimate comfort zone of the Taj – so to miss out on seeing death in this city is to miss out on ever truly uncovering its rich culture of living.

by Clare Rowan-Black

Friday 21 August 2009



Jumping into the Ganges water near the edge in the ashes to get some mints – a common scene at both cremation ghats of Banaras, Manikarnika and Harishchandra. A sheer contradistinction to the wave of spiritual awakening that engulfs one while sitting on those steps watching the total physical annihilation of a life that roamed across somewhere here and there. The ‘wave of irrelevance’ that makes everything seem illusionary that I mentioned in my last write up on ghats of Banaras has yet another ‘then and there’ paradox apart from many other material and worldly obligations. After all the flesh reincarnation is supposed to transcend, if at all, experiencing hues of trivialities and necessities of the existence here.

The boys care for nothing for they belong to the section of our society that is entitled to carry out cremation activities. They are known as ‘Dom’. They have their own lifestyle and culture typical to the work they carry out. Their cultural patron ‘Dom Raja’ is considered as important as the ‘Kashi Naresh’ for certain traditions and customs of the city. I will come to that later on.

So the jumping boys care for nothing, be it the scene of cremating bodies, cries of relatives, be it sun in the sky or the pouring rains on the ground, or be it ashes mixed filthy water. They get it from their upbringing as it survives on demise. These ghat dwellers do react like others on demise but for the routine day and the days of their lives, their stiffness in handling their work baffles and so creates the dilemma of presence and demise. Demise is the primary road to their livelihoods and the regular contact to the scene probably makes them much more insular to thoughts of empathy. And, it is a must for them to go. Those boys just jump regularly into the Ganges water at these ghats. The number and frequency increase when some more ash is added to the upstream water for the soul to get the ultimate peace.

While the boys jump everytime to get the possible ultimate deal. Normally, the ornaments that are their on a body, are left as such. So they try to catch a bounty when any of them gets a hold on any moulded precious metal from the ashes gone deep down the descending steps. For them the material worth of body is important even after the demise. For relatives, this material worth belonging to that person has no relevance for the time being. During those moments, some feel dejected, disillusioned, disinherited and detached while some like these ghat dwellers find supporting moments for their lives.

Probably this ‘paradox of proximity’ is inherent to the human evolution of super-sense and sub-sense perceptions, something beyond our somatosensory modalities and we seldom go to that required threshold of standard introspection while we are sitting at any of these two ghats and once we are off it. This paradox of behaviour, of ghat dwellers and visitors, acts as a factor in bringing the visitors out of that momentary detachment, when they feel lost sitting on those steps. But do they realize it? No. And they need not. It has been framed like this only. The fulcrums represented by dwellers of these ghats and their subjects represent a spiritual dilemma. The mysticism of this dilemma has a connotation that most of us feel to understand.

Simultaneous existence of the fulcrum of life and the fulcrum of demise at these ghats tells us to introspect. An introspection towards a spiritual mysticism. It tells us to find the mystic in us to align our sensory priorities to construct and deconstruct the moments that we already have lived on. We do it for a bit while sitting on those steps but then we are brought back. Once we are off of the ghat presence, we totally forget that awakening. Here we fail to go on the introspection that may lead us to relive a rejuvenated life. The understanding and learning of character of detachment of a person while sitting at any of these ghats and the ghat dwellers who are born and brought up there is probably the greatest spiritual dilemma and represents the ‘mystic of the existence and annihilation’.

Thursday 20 August 2009


Somewhere I have gone to those extremes
That I never welcome dreams
Somehow I felt agin something breaking inside
I got back to my shell
My soul scrambled to get my calm
This fleeting calm,
In those unperturbed moments,
Moments stuck to the handicap of the frivolity,
Is worth it,
As it led me back to my eternal chaos
This beauty of chaos,
To bury me inside,
Has a beauty of its own,
To connect me to that fleeting calm
Taking me far and wide,
For a ride,
To revisit all those extremes,
To remind me of the foreplay of the dreams

Saturday 15 August 2009


Its another day when Nehru’s tryst with destiny phased through its unending travesty once more thanks to the continued legacy of the post-independence India; it is yet another day when a conscious Indian needs to ponder more and escape more to the indignation he often finds herself or himself mired in; it is also a day when the soul of the father of the nation would be feeling slightly more stressed-up, for he has been made irrelevant and forgotten. His teachings and he himself are no more than ceremonial memories.

If we have some reasons to believe India is progressing, we have more reasons to believe India is stagnating somewhere on growth and development of its human asset. PM rightly said today that ‘India is on the path of glory’, for it partially represents a growth story that is there but is yet to transform itself in a development story. His vision, political compulsions and his position tells him to be positivist at most, at least in public eyes, but a poor monsoon just for one year has shown what we are incapable of and it is his sixth straight year in the office. The gap in the economy growth and growth with development can be seen in negative inflation figures and skyrocketing prices.

We continue to perform poorly on almost of human development indicators. Constitutional rights to the individual freedom continue to be more in ‘black and white’ with still ‘much much larger than India’ literacy figures and ever increasing cases of human rights violation. This is ‘Bharat’; that is ‘India’, a theme much discussed and debated on.

There is India story that a foreigner eye sees, and that is true. There is yet another India story that is basically about this ‘Bharat’, even that is true in the same essence. The India of the day being written and presented by the national and international media is more about its economic growth. True it has brought some changes but much more is needed to be done and that needs representation too. For outsiders, India of the yore was more about snake charmers, thugs, a horrible cauldron of cultures, religions and castes, antiquated industrial laws, a so-called ‘iron-curtained’ protectionist economy, its illiteracy, its poverty and burgeoning population and what not. It was the widespread perception for most who knew India somehow. We all know about George Bush’s awareness of India when he assumed office. India’s perception as spiritual guru was there but limited to some seekers of the knowledge only.

The India of the day is more talked about but it fails when it comes to the representation of the larger India that is still awaiting for its claims to be met. The represented growth story of India is about hard crunching figures, about it embracing an economy model that has put it on sustainable growth and curve and moreover that has brought it out of socialization veil. It’s a growing market and producer of goods and services and we proudly claim to be delivering the ‘cheap’ and ‘efficient’ labour. We do that in India, we do that overseas when we export our talent to work for the same output but at a much less cost. Yes but it produces growth and probably our appetite is still not mature to add ‘quality of human life’ to it. We accept the growth story here and an outsider comes to believe the ‘rosy’ India for its growth if it becomes a factor in growth of that economy.

There are many underpinning to the India growth story. If there is one aspect, we do not need to dig in more to find its counter-aspect. India @ 63 needs to find the balance between the ‘smaller but much portrayed India’ of the day and the ‘much larger but not at all portrayed India’ of the day.

Watch out this space for some incisive analysis on the same.


Going through the sea-side
When I had seen the winding light
I had seen the slipping delight
For it had taken away some shades of twilight

Going through the road-side

When I had heard the screaming night
I had heard the waning light
For it had added some darkness to the might

Going through the clear blue sky
When I had seen the words go fly
I had heard the letters go cry
For it had made their destinies go wry

Going through the circle of life
When I find the unreason go ripe
For oft I find the wisdom go rife
For unreason and wisdom often be at strife

Friday 14 August 2009


That was just a moment
When I felt that spontaneity
Though the first time
It was there with certainty
I tried to be shelled-in, as usual
But it jolted my thoughts of singularity
For the first time
It pushed my thoughts into the realm of plurality
I tried to hold me back
It took me beyond precincts of my necessity
I caved-in, given to this foreplay
I came to love the moments’ audacity
I started to walk and just walked
It took me to the shore of new reality
I walked and I walked
It saddled me with thoughts of alterity
I caved-in even more
To be in harmony with this actuosity
For the first time
I felt at ease with thoughts’ play of this absurdity
For the lost moments of absurdity
I came to realize their alamodality
The moments seemed somewhat not so strange
I came to be comfortable again with the abstrusity
When I came to be spontaneous again with my anonymity
For that was not just a moment..

Sunday 9 August 2009


I have been frequenting Delhi since 1998 and for past 27 months, it has been my transit stay that has more to do with my professional obligations. I never felt connected to this city. I do not feel connected to this city. I can't foresee the future but my senses tell me my stay here cannot be more than transitory in nature.

So it was in 1998 May or June when I was coming to Delhi by Kashi Vishwanath Express, the only direct train to Delhi then, Shiv Ganga Express has a very recent history. My father had got me a seat reserved in AC-II and mine was the lower berth. I had to stay at my uncle's place who happened to be one of the best friends of my father but how that brief stay came out to be totally unforgettable, I will come to that later on. So I was in the train and if my memory goes right, it left the platform at 2:15 PM. If my memory goes right, I can properly recollect thoughts about two of my co-passengers and why so we will find in next few lines. I do not remember their names and faces but I do remember most of the conversation that I had with them during the train trip.

One of them was from Banaras, say Mr B. He was a teaching faculty in IT, BHU and was going to Delhi to bring her daughter, married in Delhi, back to Banaras for few days. Other was a merchant from Delhi, say Mr D. He was returning to Delhi after one of his usual business trips. As my nature goes, I was sitting there, silent, while discussions and raging debates from polity to entertainment, to corruption, to sports, and to what not, were incessantly on. I was not at all willing to participate. Also, I found myself not equipped enough to be party to that intellectual parley. So I was there, sitting, silent, listening to them little, talking to me more. I don't know how and why but it was around 5 in the evening when Mr A first approached me to begin a conversation. It was always the most usual thing. Who was I? Where was I going? Was there some examination to take? Where did I belong? What did my father do?, and so on. I never feel irritated in answering such questions though I seldom ask them in return. One of my answers, to 'where was I going?', attracted Mr D's attention when I said I was going to Delhi and it was my first trip to that city. At this answer the communication became tripartite. Slowly and gradually I started talking more actively in the conversation when I could find something of my thinking. Probably they customized it and that was really so nice of them. Mr B and my conversation was basically centered on Banaras, education and students while conversation with Mr D was more about Delhi and its people.

Mr B and Me: We went on discussing Banaras, its pollution, dirty roads, crater lakes on roads, BHU, DLW, nothing political. We extended our communication to education, career alternatives, how BHU was again regaining its sheen, how Banaras was emerging as a preparatory centre hub for medical and engineering entrance examination. Another extension was orientation of my age students, on how time was changing and it was changing the way 'we the generation' used to behave. During all this, on something, I used the word 'shuchita'. It is a Hindi word and its English equal is 'purity'. On this he reacted like he came across something so genuine. He was of the opinion that I already had gone through an enlightening revolution in my life and he reasoned himself by saying that someone of my age who could have used that word, was bound to experience something different, something enlightening in life. I could not accept his reasoning. I still do not accept it, for, I used to use such words even much before that 1998 trip and I am still looking to find a way that could lead me to that enlightening revolution.

Mr D and Me: Mr D was like an elder who taught the crash course on Delhi in just few hours. Among many things he told me, information about pre-paid booth was really useful. When he came to know I was totally uncomfortable with abusive language and related decorative words, even if I was not speaking, his advice was to give a deaf ear to a particular Delhi slang, 'behen ke' attached even with normal conversation by most of Delhiites. He told me to avoid taxis and autos and advised me to use DTC buses as I was bound to be taken for a ride in an unfamiliar place.

So the train trip was a nice one. But stay in Delhi was not the same.

My maiden stay in Delhi: I was there for two days. Mr D led me to the pre-paid booth and I got a slip for Kingsway Camp. My uncle was a senior level official in All India Radio and had got a sprawling bungalow to stay there. But I had to speak to a traffic police person to catch an auto as no one was ready to go there, I still don't know why. So I reached there. And this was it. I cannot write what happened there. It hurts as it hurt my dignity then, as it breached my trust in relations once more then. All I can say, I called back home and left uncle's place in the evening. I managed to stay in a hotel in Paharganj though I ended up paying much more. The day experience at uncle's place and the subsequent hunt for a hotel, in a city like Delhi that was totally unknown too, squeezed me out and the first thing that I did after checking-in was a long and deep sleep, a rarity now. Next day, I woke up, got ready, took an auto, reached my centre, took the examination and came back to the hotel room. I was free by 2. I again took a nap. I woke up late in the evening, went out for a while to call home, had my dinner out, came back and slept again. I don't why, probably by the bitter experiences, I did not take the city, its people, well, and so had no desire to go out to explore it even a bit. Next day I had my train, the same one at around 1:30. I woke up early in the morning but spent the time with books. When the time came, I caught the train, to home. This time I didn't venture into any communication. I was occupied with thoughts and I was feeling relieved that I was going back home.

So the train trip back to home was there, with me, with my thoughts. I liked this too. I liked the train journey to Delhi too. But there was nothing positive I could think about my maiden Delhi stay. It was an aversion to this city. Probably it had to more to do with my age and my life experience then. Later on there came many occasions when I had to frequent Delhi with varying periods of stay. So the feeling of aversion gradually receded. But this maddening place has something which never allowed me and doesn't allow me to accept it as a permanent place to stay.

Saturday 8 August 2009


The media have come to stay as an integral part of a variety of social institutions. Nothing is left untouched. Individual lives, families, schools, hospitals, workplaces, political and military systems, even religions, and their real and virtual assemblies, all have got its glare, and more so, are more than willing to face the glare. The age old cliché! - ‘Publicity is not good or bad, it is just publicity’ so publicity is replaceable with propaganda now. Is it safe to say so? I think so.

Media shape the ways; ways of news gathering and transmission, advertising, political processes and campaigns, wars, diplomacy, education, entertainment, and socialization. The pervasive effect of media can be seen in every walk of life. But media is not the only gatekeeper. Indeed, we are living in a set-up with layers of gatekeepers, tightly gripping the information dissemination process. Media is not the lone player in this blame game now.

Priming is more rampant than ever. Agenda setting is more in vogue than ever. The partnership is getting more and more reciprocating. Several ‘Truman Shows’ of different colours but almost similar hues are the most talked about buzz words. But where is the debate?

The air waves come at a price. The aerial pipeline has to be filled with the stuff that could convert this modicum into a sustainable medium. Survival instinct pushes us to fight alone first, then seeking partners who can be a party and here air waves create the duet of priming and agenda setting. Soon the duet attracts the chorus. Soon the chorus attracts the audience. Priorities are skewed, priorities are revisited. Sometimes they make, other times they break.


Communication through Media is primarily a form of mass communication with implicit corporate interests but with social implications. Most of the Media content today, presents us before, this corporate perception of the society with one point agenda to generate profits. In words of Karl Marx, most of the media content today can be projection of centre, the base, to maintain its hegemony over the periphery, the superstructure, or to maintain the capitalistic/ industrial dominance. The pattern of media habit in the country can relate itself to Cultivation and Hegemony and not to the Uses and Gratification and Dependency. Agreed, there are grey area where we can find some patches playing different tunes, some times being treated as outcast, sometimes as outlaws, they fall in line, tomorrow, or the day after, when the treadmill threatens to choke them out. We fight till we find us in a situation where we need to face the fight to keep pressing the ebony buttons to a different tune. We do not fight, rather we feel more and more reasonable in playing the ongoing opera as the grinding teeth becomes more and more canine. We live this illusion that we fight. Therefore we live this illusion that we exist. We seldom trace the fulcrums of this illusion and existence. Most of us fail to communicate with us and we are communicators for the world.

I AM..

When I am lonely,
I feel complete
When I am alone,
I feel obsolete
When I am with me,
I feel replete
When I am not with me,
I feel deplete
When I am with You,
I feel the lonely discrete
When I am with You,
I feel compete

Tuesday 4 August 2009


Yesterday, Ramon Magsaysay was announced for Deep Joshi, that comes as celebration for an 'Idea'; today, thousands of Bundelkhandi women voices were heard across the world, when UNESCO announced its King Sejong Literacy Prize to go to Khabar Lahariya, the community newspaper, run by rural women, for rural women, and that too in one of the culturally most orthodox and backward areas, the Bundelkhandi belt. Two days, two great feasts for Soul. Let's crave for many more..

UNESCO's Press Release

UNESCO Literacy Prize winners for 2009 are announced
París, 3 August
A newspaper produced entirely by women in rural India is among the winners of the UNESCO International Literacy Prizes* this year. Innovative literacy projects in Burkina Faso, Afghanistan and the Philippines have won the other three awards, while a programme in Bhutan received an Honourable Mention. The laureates were proclaimed by the Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, on the recommendation of an international Jury.

One of two awards of the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize, supported by the Republic of Korea, goes to Tin Tua’s Literacy and Non-Formal Education Programme in eastern Burkina Faso. The NGO’s name means “let’s help ourselves develop” in the Gulimancema language. It has achieved excellent results by using participants’ primary language, producing reading material locally, and focusing on gender and sustainable community development.

The second award of the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize goes to the NGO Nirantar’s project “Khabar Lahariya” - “news waves” - in Uttar Pradesh, northern India. It has created a rural fortnightly newspaper entirely produced and marketed by “low caste” women, distributed to more than 20,000 newly literate readers. Its well-structured method of training newly literate women as journalists and democratizing information production provides an easily replicated model of transformative education.

An illustration from the newspaper

The UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy, supported by the People’s Republic of China, also has two awards. The first is being given to the Pashai Language Development Project implemented by SERVE Afghanistan, a British NGO. The community-owned initiative provides meaningful literacy, livelihood, public health and nutrition education to about 1,000 Pashai ethnic minority men and women annually. Despite the conflict in Afghanistan, the project has managed to maintain its emphasis on education, especially for women and girls. Participants learn to use written material in their local language and in Pashto, one of the country’s two official languages.

The second award of the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy goes to the Municipal Literacy Coordinating Council, Municipality of Agoo, La Union, Philippines, for its Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning Programme, which makes available a vast array of education and training opportunities to the entire population, including the neediest. The municipal authority’s leadership in coordinating activities is a key factor in eliminating illiteracy and sustaining lifelong learning in the area’s 49 villages. The Jury commended the project’s joint funding by the government, NGOs, the private sector and international donors as exemplary.

Finally, the Honourable Mention of the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy is awarded to the Non-Formal and Continuing Education Programme of the Ministry of Education of Bhutan, for its holistic approach to literacy and its success in reaching remote areas. The Jury welcomed the programme’s emphasis on literacy as an integral part of the country’s “Gross National Happiness”, as well as its focus on adults and out-of-school youth, particularly women and girls.

The UNESCO International Literacy Prizes are awarded every year in recognition of excellence and innovation in literacy throughout the world. Complying with the United Nations Literacy Decade (UNLD) thematic calendar, the theme for this year’s Prizes was “Literacy and Empowerment”.
The award ceremony will take place at UNESCO in Paris on the occasion of the celebration of International Literacy Day, 8 September.

Source:Press Release No. 2009 - 89

Monday 3 August 2009


I had heard about PRADAN and therefore about Deep Joshi for the first time when I was in BHU for the Mass Communication course. PRADAN was visiting the University for campus placement from the Social Science faculty and they had signaled they would like to visit Dept of Journalism and Mass Communication too. They did visit us. It was during my first year so I was not entitled for it but if I am not wrong, no one from the Dept went on to join though some of the seniors had fulfilled the preliminary placement requirements. One possible reason could be the PRADAN’s clear talks that its training procedure was based in rural India and was highly vigorous and required great commitment and tenacity by the applicant as most of the candidates used to leave the training in first three months only facing their inability to continue with the required commitment. I am not sure about this as it was mostly the word of the mouth publicity, but I would say a positive one. But I was attracted by it, by work of PRADAN and was rather fascinated with PRADAN’s founders, the highly qualified professionals, who introduced social entrepreneurship in India. PRADAN has maintained the credibility of being a thoroughly professional organization that hires professionals from top-notch institutions like IIM and has been one outstanding contributor to the Development sector in the country.

Deep Joshi

So it was just a confirmatory news when a Ramon Magsaysay was announced for Deep Joshi, the humble identity who already has spent 30 years working to bring positives to the real India. A Magsaysay to him is also a revisit to the thought process that was initiated in me after a Magsaysay to Sandeep Pandey. Pandey belonged to the most elitist institutes in its class, Florida Institute of Technology and IIT Kanpur, and then moved on to rekindle his spirit for an ordinary Indian. Deep is in the same league. A Masters in Engineering from the MIT and a Masters in Management from the Sloan School, MIT, Joshi has worked for the Ford Foundation, and is a known name in rural development, sustained livelihoods and poverty alleviation works. Development sector in India has very few names like Joshi and Pandey and it raises the natural question, what is stopping them? Probably most of us, the furnished professionals, are not ready to understand or realize the intellectual challenge that one would face if she or he decides to take a dip in these turbulent waters as most of the time she or he would be facing the state to be acting like an opponent. And probably this is the biggest reason, excluding a hoard of others, to choke flow of the intellectual capital to the Development sphere. But fearlessness is the only supplementary virtue that one needs to have if someone has to work for a ‘process of change’. What we need is a synergy of such a fearlessness with intellectual capital and commitment to a ‘cause’. Joshi says, "Development work is considered intellectually inferior, unlike high science, industry or diplomacy. We want to prove that it is both a challenging and a noble choice.”

Sunday 2 August 2009



If Banaras is said to be older than tradition, its ghats are eternal. The Banaras of antiquity is the notion that still works as potion for this confused Banaras of the day, when it is struggling to maintain the harmony between antiquity and modernity to retain its identity that it has acquired over the ages by its association with the Ganges, ghats, Lord Shiva and a culture fed by this combination, a culture embedded in spirituality, spirituality pivoted in mysticism, a mysticism transformed in cultural ethos. A septuagenarian man had come to Harishchandra Ghat for last rites of his wife. As he approached the ghat, he seemed like a broken person who just had lost his best friend of life. While sitting there performing the rituals, slowly he graduated to a calm. It was after some time, that he made a statement. His quote, "while we are sitting at this doorstep of God, we come to realize everything is just an illusion, everyone will go, everything will be lost, its better that we realize it as soon as possible, so that we can seek the God in more and more manifest ways. Once we turn our back, we forget all this realization, this illumination about illusion and existence, to get soaked again in our relation, our existence", was not a unique thought. My friends and I had realized it many times when we used to take a halt at Harishchandra Ghat or Manikarnika Ghat during any of our exploratory trips to Banaras ghats. I do believe that there are innumerable others who have felt this feeling while roaming across these Banaras ghats.

Blade sketch of a Banaras ghat by Ragini

This is mysticism at its most pious illumination for it shadows the prevailing culture of all other ghats and a micro cosmos that thrives-on in lively serpentine by lanes of these ghats. This mysticism has found its harbingers right from the beginning, from Raja Harishchandra to many present-day faceless proponents of its spiritual mystic. It has nurtured the likes of Shankaracharyas, Tulsidas, Kabir Das, Ravidas, Bhartendu and they have imparted this mysticism its all possible hues. So the mysticism of these ghats is just not nondualistic, it is very well dualistic too. If Harishchandra was in pursuit of nondualistic mysticism devoting his all to the pursuit of truth denying every existence, be of his own, or others who he could have affected, Tulsi, Kabir and Ravidas chose a path mostly dualistic. Their pursuit of life on one way was to find the ultimate, the connect to the God, on the other hand they worked to engage and liberate masses through works like Ramcharit Manas, Kabir Panth and Ravidas Following.

All the Banaras ghats are different stories and each has a mystic of its own. The narrow habitations have an atmosphere dominated by aura of temples and a social configuration that feeds on it. If these temples have devotees seeking just some time to be in vicinity with the God, these are also places that attract those seeking answers from life mainly drawn by its mystic tradition. If its mysticism teaches about complete detachment with external world in pursuit of communion with the self in order to find illumination, a type pf mysticism explained in 'Kaivalya', 'Shankhya' or in Chassidic Schoold of Judaism, it is also known for pursuit of knowledge intended to find an intrinsic connect within this world to realize God and hence self through His creation. Pursuit of knowledge in order to realize a blissful human nature or pursuit of a knowledge to realize supernatural transcendental powers as practiced by Tantra Vidya and similar outlets widen the horizon even more. And such practices are spread across Ganges ghats and its habitations. Teacher and pupil tradition is still surviving here and it largely owes to this mystic of ghats. The flow from physical establishments to spiritual confusion gets a place of solace here if the seeker is pure in heart for her or his pursuit. This solace transforms in a metaphysical state of mind and flow becomes more and more regular in the course to the pursuit. The journey adopts a lyrical character with micro cosmos, macro cosmos, meso cosomos and their transcendental dimensions interweaved in the pursuit to the metamorphosis of a soul into a mystic. The mystic that may be detached from the world or may be deeply intrinsic into the world. Ghats of Banaras teach us to construct lyrics of this divine cosmic transcendental dimension along with other lessons to life that seem to make it a vibrant, lively and colourful Banaras that is manifest from every inch of stoned surface of ghats embodying a great soul lyrics of eternity.

Saturday 1 August 2009


While sifting through updates about development initiatives by the government, either by itself, or in collaboration with the civil society, I came across some positive mentions about Mitanin, an ambitious project of Chhattisgarh government with aid of the civil society. I had lost hopes about it after Binayak Sen, who was one of the founding pillars of this concept, was incarcerated in 2005 by the state government, and so about its relevance and appropriateness in a society where state itself is playing divisive politics. Dr Sen had written a critically negative analysis about Mitanin programme in 2005 focusing on increasing state intervention and dilution of conceived approach when it all had started. So the Forbes mention of Mitanin and The Health Ministry’s Accredited Social Health Workers (ASHAs) cadre in line with ‘Arogyadoots’ of Dr Abhay Bang’s Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health (SEARCH) and his famous ‘Gadchiroli Model’ and some other similar positive reports was reloading of thoughts about Mitanin which can be paralleled with NREGS in its scope and outreach at state level.

Mitanin means ‘friend’ in local reference. Mitanins are community health workers working at first level interface of health facilities of state for child welfare and their beneficiaries, women in hamlets. The beginning lies in Dr Sen’s work with mine workers of Dalli Rajahara which later on came up in form of ‘Shaheed Hospital’ which is separate case study. After establishing the hospital, Dr Sen and his wife Ilina moved on to work for health care of local tribal people with NGO ‘Rupantar’. To reach tribal women, they came across an innovative idea, where village women, ‘Mitanins’, where trained in primary and preventive health care aimed at checking harmful orthodox practices. These practices were largely responsible for high rural Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) and maternal deaths in the state. In one such practice, women were used to starve for five-six days after they deliver while the newborn was fed with cow or goat milk in a cloth. The initiative served its purpose and that led the state government to recognize it as a government-civil society partnership in 2000.

The Mitanin concept at a large scale was born after extended discussion involving network of community health practitioners which later on went to form State Advisory Committee (SAC) to the Chhattisgarh government on health sector reforms. This 2002 initiative was aimed at bringing about fundamental changes in state’s health infrastructure focusing mainly on rural areas as 3,818 health sub-centers each with one nurse were unable to provide outreach to around 18 million rural population of the state spread across 54,000 tribal habitations. Anganwadi system virtually failed, infant and maternal deaths and malnourishment were living stigmas. In 2003, the state government decided to appoint one Mitanin in each village.

A well laid system was put into place that envisaged selection, training and delivery modules under an autonomous State Health Resource Centre parallel (SHRC) parallel to the Health Department. Initially 54,000 women volunteers were appointed under this European Union aided and state government funded project. Also, an MoU was signed between the government and some civil society organizations like Rupantar, Jan Swasthya Sahayog, Zilla Saksharta Samiti (Durg) and Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samithi, Raigarh and Ambikapur Health Society and Ramakrishna Mission. The programme stressed especially on selection and training of Mitanins as the conveyor of the message to change was the most important link in the whole process. Mitanins were conceived to be women representatives of their respective hamlets and not villages ensuring the advantage of immediate familiarity and hence a positive note to begin the process to bring about some sort of openness among the rural and tribal women. Mitanins are trained in a unique way with aid of colours and symbols for first aid drug dispensation; for identification of dangers and risks and conveying them to upscale health care facilities for proper treatment. Emphasis is laid on to mindset change of the Mitanins so that they can bring about orientation and awareness to make their subjects willing to use public health care facilities and to do away with orthodox practices like starving women after giving birth. The training process is multilayered and runs from the top, the State Training Team of programme coordinators and subject experts, under the SHRC. The chain in between has trainers at block/sub-district level, district resource persons at block level and a field coordinator between every five blocks. All trainers and more than half of the senior trainers are women. It ensures the cohesive message flow down the line in the training hierarchy as most Mitanins belong to the orthodox and illiterate sections and hence may feel repulsive with the opposite sex, especially at the sub-district level.

Mitanins did wonderful job during initial years. Their family outreach activities targeting essential care of newborns, care of neonatal illness, nutritional counseling and counseling of mothers saw drop in negative values of major development indicators. Rural IMR came down from 85 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2002 (the second highest in the country) to 65 in 2005, almost similar to the national rural IMR of 64. The practice of starving the mother after giving birth saw a steep fall and breastfeeding for the first six months reported to be more than 80% in a 2007 report, which previously was as low as 35.1%.

But 2005 was the year of incarceration of Dr Sen and 2005 was also a year when Dr Sen seemed to be disenchanted with increasing government interference in this government and civil society partnered project. And it raised doubts for the future of the project then that still persists. He writes in his 2005 analysis of the project,

 “The civil society partnership in the programme was also sought to be formalized through the establishment of the SAC. However the SAC was quickly marginalized in the decision making process, and in fact, SAC meetings have not been held at all for the last 12 months. However, this assurance was breached early in the programme. Once the State Health Resource Centre (SHRC) was properly set up and the programme got properly into swing, performance indicators took over under the aegis of an agency that considered itself to be a ‘Para-statal Body’.”

 “Moreover, once the power elite in the government and outside it realized that the Mitanin was a handy new source of patronage within the village, they quickly took over and occupied all the vacant spaces in the implementation of the programme.”

 “Within a year of the establishment of the new state, a very large number of new NGOs crawled out of the wall to serve as vehicles for the hegemonic aspirations of the existing elites. This nexus exerted great pressure to rapidly expand the programme.”

 “As a result of this expansion, the focus shifted away from the rights based approach to one that concentrated on technical milestones. This destroyed whatever possibilities were left in the development of an approach based on a realization of the right to health care.”

 “The para-statal Body, which quickly became a “quasi-statal body” implemented this total perversion of the original concept of the Mitanin.”

This analysis cannot be dismissed as it comes from someone who, more than anyone else, has the ground experience of health care practices in a typical Chhattisgarh situation and who is one of the pioneering beacons of the Mitanin programme. It was enough to sadden anyone who believes in dynamism of state-intervention-free social projects irrespective of whether the government is funding it. Government at best can monitor it and that too should be done through independent auditors. Dr Sen’s observations came at a point when the Mitanin system was well in place and the need was to rope in more and more initiatives under it. Instead, what took place is a systemic problem. Main concern is the outcome in the long run now. A project of caliber of Mitanin has always the long term goals set on the wheel with short term intermittent sub-goals. If the project is still generating positive reviews and progressive results, it may have twin possibilities.

First, it may be that the rot just has started, and it will take some time for results and productivity to go haywire and whatever progressive outcome that is coming in is a result of the good foundation laid in initial days. This one is a detrimental scenario, as it would result in total collapse of the system once the rot has reached to a sizeable proportion of the centre point of the delivery process, the Mitanin, given the pathetic and chaotic state of rural and tribal population in the Naxal violence hit Chhattisgarh. A project like Mitanin can only succeed if it can ensure a sustained, smooth and direct communication channel between the Mitanins and their target subjects. It Mitanins become a pawn of political patriotism and therefore factionalism, it will not be long before they would loose the social confidence and respect they have earned in the process, and that would be the beginning of the dead end for this ambitious project.

The second case is: the political interference is failing in its goal to make a patronage base among villages by acquiring loyalty of Mitanins. Mitanins are unusual volunteers. These women are collective groups of mostly poorly literate or illiterate hamlet dwellers. They are not paid for what they do. It is again one of the innovations of the Mitanin programme. It insulates Mitanins from the underlying corruption that might have imbibed into the system owing to the political patronage proposition as well as acts as a bypass avoiding the possible recruitment and bribing racket that would have taken shape if the Mitanins were paid workers. This leaves Mitanins with what we can say a saving grace, something we would like to deeply believe in and fiercely promote, as a motivating factor to keep engaged in their work. It is that honour, the precious commodity for a poor rural woman, that she earns in the process and which leads to her ascension in the larger social sphere of activism and a recognition that might thwart any political interference as she will try to protect her honour, her independence, her social status, confidence of her social sphere at any cost. What Mitanins did in Koriya, can be seen as a precedent in this direction. Anganwadi and primary health centers were in poor state and child heath care was almost gone. Mitanins in the region sent complaints to the district collector. They approached Supreme Court commissioners and wrote to the state government when no action was taken. The result: action was immediate. And Koriya is not the standalone case, they are swelling in numbers. Mitanin officials maintain over 10,000 complaints have so far been filed by Mitanins against the erring public health centers. Moreover 5000 of the Mitanins stood in the Panchayat elections and got elected. No doubt, Mitanins have achieved a great feat in a small time frame. They have been a contributing force in improving major health indicators of child and maternal health in the rural Chhattisgarh. A report by the British medical journal The Lancet observes, “Much of the improvement in child survival rates in Chhattisgarh undoubtedly relates to better health-seeking behaviour and childcare practices. The initiation of breastfeeding during the first two hours after birth increased from 24% of live births to 71% of live births, and the use of oral rehydration salts in the management of diarrhoea in children younger than three years increased by 12% in the two weeks before the survey,”, it goes on to add, “Overall, the state has seen the number of underweight children fall from 61% to 52%. In addition to this, immunisation has increased from 22% to 49% in the 1-2 age-group.”

We all would like to believe in this second possibility case if the Mitanin programme is still delivering despite fears of Dr Sen. We would love to see the slogan of a Mitanin “Swasthya Hamar Adhikar Hawe” (Health is Our Right) echo just not in voices of present day 60092 Mitanins of the state but in many more voices of the subjects of the programme. We would like to have the popular radio programme ‘Kahat Hai Mitanin; again and again to spread the message. This violence torn state needs many more healings and a successful and sustained campaign like Mitanin would be nothing more but just one healing touch in the wave of many scars left by the Salwa Judum experiment. If Dr Sen’s mention of ‘para-statal’ and ‘quasi-statal’ bodies is acquiring a shape more and more regular with passing time, we would pray to see Mitanins out of their sphere of influence. Expecting this is a bit unusual, but, then, nothing else would do.