Saturday, June 24, 2017

Life's Arithmetic

Many aspects of life can be expressed using formulae to enable easy comprehension. Is it possible to express the essence of life itself using a formula? Can the life span of a human being explained through an equation? Has any attempt been made to explore Life's Arithmetic? Many people may have attempted this before. There may be many methods of explaining life's purpose. Everyone desires to be happy. Whatever may be one's pursuit; whichever may the direction in which the efforts are made, the ultimate aim is to be happy. Thus life's multiple goals ultimately lead to paths to find happiness. Hence the entire life span of a person is spent in chasing happiness. Life span and running behind happiness are two faces of the same coin. Finally there should be sufficient time to enjoy that happiness achieved with lot of efforts. We see many people around us who procure all the tools required for a happy life, after rigorous efforts. But when the time for enjoying the fruits of those efforts arrives, life itself ends.

Poet-Philosopher Bhartruhari has given a wonderful interpretation of Life's arithmetic. In his "Vairagya Shataka" he sums up the the relation between life span and finding happiness through a beautiful arithmetical formula. Bhartruhari takes the span of human life as one hundred years. Why only one hundred years? Human body has its own limitations. Even with best efforts it is difficult to preserve the body in working condition for a hundred years. Better health care facilities are no doubt increasing life span, but still very few live to celebrate their 100th birthday. A study has shown that 50 years ago, one in 67,000 people reached this milestone. One in 6,000 is able to celebrate 100th birthday now. In percentage terms it is less than 0.02%. Even in respect of these centenarians, very few are active and live by themselves at that age. Global life expectancy as per WHO reports is about 72 years. Let us accept Bhartruhari's stipulation of 100 years to start with.

Bhartruhari deducts half of this 100 years spent in night and sleep. It was true in his time, more than two thousand years ago. Activities then started with sunrise and ended with sunset. Not so in these times we live. Electricity has ensured that life goes on 24x7. Even then human beings require sleep for rest and recuperation. 50 years calculated by Bhartruhari as active life span can be accepted even today, considering the average life expectancy of 72 years. 

Human life can be broadly divided into three phases; childhood, adult and old age. Bhartruhari deducts half of this 50 years for childhood and old age. Why is it so and is it right? It stands to reason as he explains. Childhood is a phase when one does not know what to do and old age is a phase when one cannot do what he wants to do! A deduction of 25 years allowed for these two phases is also fair and the real productive life span thus further gets shrunk to 25 years. 

This 25 years is the core life span for being happy. But Bhartruhari says it is not that simple. Further deductions are required from this 25 years for sickness, separation from loved ones, and serving others. You cannot be happy when you are sick. You cannot be happy when you are away from your loved ones. You cannot be happy when you are serving others because you are not living for yourself! Ultimately, there is not much time available for being happy and enjoying fruits of one's hard labor during the productive years. Bhartruhari concludes by saying that there is no time left to be happy in one's life.

Bhartruhari's formula for life is this:  

आयुर्वर्षशतं नृणां परिमितम् रात्रौ तदर्धं गतं |
तस्यार्धस्य परस्य चार्धमपरं बालत्व वृद्धत्वयोः ||
शेषं व्याधि वियोगदुखभरितं सेवादिभिर्नीयते |
जीवे वारितरङ्ग चञ्चलतरे सौख्यं कुतः प्राणिनाम् ||

Ayurvarsha shatam nrunaam parimitam ratrou tatardhamgatam
Tasyardhasya parasya chardhamaparam baalatva vruddhatvayoh
Shesham vyadhi viyogadukhasahitam sevaaadibhirneeyate 
jeeve vaaritaranga chanchalatare sowkhyam kutah praaninam?

Life span is hundred years, half of it is gone in the night
Half of the remainder is lost in childhood and old age
Rest of the period is spent in sickness, separation and service
In life, uncertain like a wave on a water body, where is the time for happiness?


All this leaves us to ponder over a very important issue. Is it never possible to be happy? Then does it mean that Life's arithmetic leads us to conclude that the very purpose of life is futile? It is not so. Real happiness lies in enjoying the process of life. It is not at all separated from other aspects of life. Happiness is to be found in the hard earned rest at the end of a tough day's work. Happiness is to be found in childhood innocence and old age maturity and wisdom. Happiness is to be seen in the service of others one receives when he is sick. Happiness is to be identified when one reunites with the loved ones after long separation. Happiness is to enjoyed while serving others selflessly or even while serving for earning one's livelihood. 

If and when we understand this secret of life, we have solved the problems of Life's Arithmetic. Do we not find happiness everywhere now?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Bots, Drones and Driverless Cars

Creation of jobs is a promise that every political party makes to its voters. This is so all over the world and no political philosophy is an exception to this. Creation of jobs apparently refers to creation of additional jobs and thereby increasing the number of jobs already available. The discussion and focus on jobs has gone beyond this in the last few years. There is a heated discussion on preservation of existing jobs. Communities are happy if the existing jobs are protected and pink slips (an euphemism for job loss) are avoided or at least reduced. There are arm twisting rules and regulations in many countries that force employers to ensure intake of local workforce. There are instances of people working in other parts of the world thinking of and actually doing "homecoming"; getting back to their own countries for good. More capable and talented workers are able to job hop or start their own start-ups. The average level workers are struggling between job searches and job losses. Younger generation is indeed facing a crisis situation. Unemployment was a big problem forty years ago. Growth of service sector ensured that there was some job, even if economists called it underemployment, for anyone who wanted to work. It appears the cycle is complete and unemployment is again taking center stage.

The heading in a newspaper screams that Bots have taken over 12,000 jobs in just one company, WIPRO. A recent report in a newspaper mentioned that work done by Robs is on the increase and more and more categories of work are taken over by them. Robs is the short form for "Robots". They are also called "Bots". Whether Robs or Bots, even half the name is sending shivers down the spine of employees in big companies. It is not known whether SMS language has reduced "Robots" to "Robs" or they are called so due to their robbing of human jobs. Job losses estimates due to deployment of robots instead of humans differ from one source to another. It may probably require a sophisticated robot to come up with the exact number of jobs that will be lost due to deployment of robots. One calculation believes that 50 million jobs will be lost globally due to robot deployment in the next five years. Indian IT industry alone fears loss of several million jobs due to various factors, one of them being use of robots for basic jobs. IT minister denies that there will be loss of jobs. He states that the fears are exaggerated. But doyens of IT industry are clearly lamenting about job losses due to higher level of automation. Growth of IT industry brought in informal culture, calling first names and T-shirts into office atmosphere. It led the dissolution of trade union movement in various industries by making them irrelevant. Today, there is talk of formation of unions in IT industry to protect the jobs and emoluments!

Robots are already doing their jobs in many spheres of life. They are said to be leading in 21 different areas of production and servicing units. Surgical robots have performed over two million procedures so far and the number is increasing day by day. They are able to do their jobs with perfect motions and without emotions. Retail sales, security, journalism, receptionist, telephone sales, construction work, accounting, tour guides, librarians and teachers around us could be robots. Make no mistake, we are not talking about sales people, receptionists and tour guides who behave like robots. We are indeed talking about real robs here. Cow milking robots are deployed in animal farms. The milk we used in the morning could have been milked by a robot, processed by a robot and packed by another robot before being sold by yet another robot. 

A study by McKinsey & Company suggests that robots will eliminate some categories of jobs altogether. But more than that it will affect portions of almost all jobs to some extent. Health care and finance are among the sectors to be affected most. Job content and focus is also changing. A finance director who worked more on arithmetical calculations four decades ago is now working on financial strategy and investment. More than 75% of predictable work and nearly 25% of unpredictable physical work will be taken over by robots during the next ten years. Robots are already working around us without our realizing their presence. Many robots do not move and hence the illusion. Coffee vending machines and self-service kiosks are indeed an extension of robots stealing human jobs. Routine customer problems are also solved by robots. A higher level of intervention is still in human domain. Advancement in robotics may lead to a day when robots themselves create further robots! predicts that in future humans will find themselves working side by side with robots, rather than being completely replaced. Due to growth in robotics in cognitive computing and computer tasks, some jobs will disappear but some other new categories of jobs will be created. Soft-skill professionals are now conducting human relations programs and leadership skills program to build human teams. They may have to now branch out and design programs on human-robotic relationship and building men-robots teams. Laws may have to be amended to bring in dealing with robots at work place and regulating human-robot interactions.

Drones (unmanned moving objects including small airplanes) are becoming more and more common in commercial and defense usage. Amazon mentioned about use of Drones for delivery of items to customer doorsteps within 30 minutes of order, four years ago. China is already using it and its drones are delivering boxes to customers at their doors. You need not be surprised if a drone with a parcel flies on your head when you are walking on the road there. A day may come when an item delivered by a drone may be received at your home by your robot assistant, cooked by another robot to be served by a third robot.

Driverless cars or autonomous cars are the next in-things. They are already around us in test conditions. We are told that driverless cars will be around us shortly. The only impediment is that humans have to develop confidence in such cars. It is indeed a pleasure for many to go to sleep when someone else is driving. A day may come when one can get all the sleep for the day while traveling in a driverless car! Cars with cruise control are already in use for over a decade now. Driverless cars are coming in different levels. After cruise control, next would be hands-on cars which give warnings but do not have control on the cars. Such cars are already in use. They give a warning noise when the car comes close to another moving vehicle. The next generation cars will be hands-off cars, where the driver need not hold the controls, but can take over when the need arises. Next would be Eyes-off cars that would enable the driver to take off his eyes from the road while the car keeps moving as usual. Mind-off cars would be the ultimate ones. A couple who had a fight at home may get into to the car and continue their fight without bothering about traffic rules and on-coming vehicles. It may not end there. Flying cars may come that drive on the road but fly in case of traffic jams. Only they could cost more!

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a famous novel by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson that was published 130 years ago. Dr Jekyll discovers a serum by drinking which he gets converted to a evil character by name Mr Hyde. Initially this transformation is temporary and reversible. But it becomes regular and ultimately irreversible after some time. Dr Jekyll disappears and Mr Hyde's crimes and murders increase. One of the ingredients used for preparing the serum is exhausted. Further purchases of the item used in serum preparation do not work. Finally Dr Jekyll commits suicide to bring an end to Mr Hyde.

Frankenstein is another story written by English author Mary Shelley. She wrote the story when she was only 18 years old. The book was first published exactly 200 years ago. It deals with the story of Victor Frankenstein who creates a monster in an unorthodox scientific experiment. The story deals with the evil acts of the creature, also known as Frankenstein, in the same name as its creator. The evil creature harasses its creator and kills his newly-wed wife. The creator also dies while trying to kill the creature. The end is indeed tragic.  


Creation of these Robots, Drones and Driverless cars may help improve quality of life. They may also bring misery in the form of job losses and sorrow due to their misbehavior in due course. Whether they would be the next generation Mr Hyde or Frankenstein, only future can tell.  Creation of something which the creator cannot control is dealt in many scriptures and literature of different languages. Bhasmasura is a well know character in Indian mythology. He got the boon of burning anything or anybody by merely placing his hand on the head. After getting the boon from Lord Shiva, he wanted to test its effect first on Lord Shiva himself! Mohini had to intervene and prevent the disaster.

The picture given at the top of this post is indeed self-explanatory. Man-created robots may ultimately control its creator. Whether there would be a Mohini to save that day is a secret shrouded in the future.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Tools, Teacher, Process and Practice

As defined by on-line dictionary, a scholar is a learned or erudite person, especially one who has profound knowledge of a particular subject. It also refers to a student or pupil who is still learning and is expected to complete his pursuits. However, the generally accepted meaning of the word scholar refers to someone who has attained a high level of mastery over a particular subject. Of course, there are a few personalities who have mastery over many subjects. They are a class by themselves and deserve highest respect from the communities.

Google translation gives "Pandita" (पण्डित) as the Sanskrit/Hindi equivalent of the english word "Scholar". Who is a Pandita? What are his characteristics? When can a person be called a Pandita? Is there any definition of Pandita in Indian texts? What should be the vital components of learning to make a person a scholar or pandita? What are the important stages of learning? Can we get a clear-cut definition of the word Pandita somewhere? Is there any modren learning method that corresponds to ancient definition of this type? These questions are indeed worth pondering over.

The definition of a Pandita is available in many ancient Indian texts in different places. Saint Jagannatha Dasa (1728-1809) who lived in Maanvi town of Raichur district of Karnataka is an acknowledged scholar in Sanskrit as well as Kannada languages. He is an important member of the "Dasa saahitya" that propagates Vaishnavism. His "Harikathamrutasaara" is a scholarly work that deals with various aspects of life and teachings of the "Dwaita School of Philosophy". It is spread over 32 sandhis (chapters) containing 988 verses in Kannada language. There are many sanskrit works that have commentaries in sanskrit and other languages. This is a rare Kannada work that has many commentaries in Kannada as well as a commentary in Sanskrit. In the sixth verse of the third chapter of this work, titled "Vyaapti Sandhi", he gives a clear definition of "Pandita" (scholar) and the stages that one has to pass to reach that level. He defines four stages that a person has to pass through before becoming eligible to be called a scholar or pandita.

What are these four stages for a person to cross before being called a scholar? They are defined as Vidyaa, Buddhi, Siddhi and Prasiddhi (विद्या, बुद्धि, सिद्धि, प्रसिद्धि). Translated to English, they correspond to Tools, Teacher, Process and Practice. What are their characteristics?

  1. Vidyaa or Tools is the first stage for a scholar that comprise of collecting all the necessary tools to start his pursuit. What are the tools for a scholar? They comprise of necessary books and allied study material. There is no use in collecting all the tools unless the pupil makes some effort to get familiar with the tools so collected. He should necessarily do some amount of work with these tools so that he can use them when required in the next part of the studies. It is not proper to search for the tools when he sits before the teacher to learn. Preliminary work done before attending classes helps the student scholar to quickly pick up the thread when a reference is made by the teacher. This is the same as pre-class study or pre-read practiced in the present system of learning and training.
  2. Buddhi or Teacher is the second component of scholarly pursuits. Mere amassing of learning tools and pre-class study would not be sufficient to open up deeper thoughts and inner meaning of learning. In order to have a clear understanding of the tools and their usage, a proper guide who is well-versed in the subject and its multiple dimensions is required. A teacher or trainer does this job. It may be noted that a teacher is even today referred as "ಬುದ್ದ್ಯೋರು" (Buddhyooru) in rural Karnataka. The combination of Vidyaa and Buddhi can now lead to the next two stages.
  3. Siddhi or Process refers to the completion of learning efforts before the teacher. This involves the joint efforts of the student/trainee and the teacher/trainer. There is an element of face-to-face learning here. The word siddhi is commonly used to denote completion and culmination of something. (Some medicines are called "Siddhoushadas" and another common usage is "Mantra siddhi). This Siddhi or Process is the same as In-class study as practiced in the present day teaching/training.
  4. Prasiddhi or Practice is the fourth and final stage in a student transforming into a scholar or a pandita. The word "Prasiddhi" is commonly used to indicate "Fame". In fact this is actually the second meaning of the word Prasiddhi. The first meaning of this word is "Attainment or Accomplishment". This is the ultimate test of a scholar or pandita. At this stage he will be able to quote, explain, answer, perform, demonstrate and show the real learning or training he has received. This is akin to the post-class activity or repetitive exercises used in modren teaching/training.
We have all experienced ourselves as well as we know from the experiences of our youngsters that many students study very hard when the examinations approach and leave no stone unturned in their preparations. Yet, when answering the question for which they have prepared so hard, in the examination hall, they forget the answer and suffer emotionally. They many times remember the answer as soon as papers are handed over to the invigilator and come out of the examination hall. Why does it happen? At the same time we know many who can quote and bring in the learning precisely when the need arises without even preparing for such situations. The secret for both these situations is in Siddhi and Prasiddhi, meaning the learning process and practice thereafter. This underlines the need for giving due importance to learning process followed by repetitive practice of the application of knowledge and skills. In essence, Siddhi and Prasiddhi explains these quite well. 

There is an interesting background to the verse 6 in chapter 3 of Harikathamrutasaara referred above. As the verse covers the vital stages of learning and transforming a student to a scholar or pandita, there is a practice of starting "Aksharaabhyaasa" (starting learning process of a child) on the first day by reciting this verse before actual starting of learning in some families, especially in North Karnataka. It is further believed that the four forms Lord Mahavishnu presides over the four stages; Aniruddha for Vidyaa, Pradyumna for Buddhi, Sankarshana for Siddhi and Vasudeva for Prasiddhi. These forms are worshipped on the first day of learning with the fond hope that the child would evolve into a scholar or pandita in due course.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

I Suck Your Blood

Some four decades ago, a group of friends decided to go to Mercara (Madakari) for a weekend outing. The days spent in the Westren Ghats of India are indeed memorable. The morning part of the picnic was a wonderful time with visit to Abbey falls and playing in the river waters below the waterfalls. At lunch time one of the group members made a reference to a very old tree standing in the nearby forest. The group suddenly decided to go over there after lunch. Nobody knew the exact location of the tree but youthful enthusiasm does not care about it. We walked around for nearly two hours and finally saw a very big tree in the forest. The tree was standing tall on the banks of a small rivulet. The land around the tree was wet and slippery. Those who had come with sandals were able to remove them and hold in the hands and manage. Those with leather shoe and socks were finding it difficult to maneuver in the slippery surroundings. There was not much to see except the big tree and the other smaller trees around it. It was getting dark and time to get back before we lost our way in the forest. 

One of the group members suddenly observed that there was a black spot on the leg of another in the group. Someone in the group shouted "Jigane". Jigane is the word for "Leech" in local language, Kannada. Naturally others also checked their feet. All those who had removed footwear had leeches clinging to their feet and legs. Those wearing shoe and socks were fortunately spared. We ran from that place to the nearest dry area and helped each other to get rid of the leeches. When we checked later with the guest house manager, he said that there was nothing to worry and leeches are not poisonous. He also said that it is always advisable to go in the forest with the feet covered. 

To be immortal and live forever is probably a dream for all living beings, especially humans. The two cousin groups, Devas and Asuras also wanted this and desired to find a solution. They were advised that by churning of the milky ocean (Ksheerasamudra), they can obtain nectar by drinking which they can become immune to death and live forever. Churning the milky ocean is a long story. Many items and valuables came out of the churning. In the end, Lord Mahavishnu himself took the form of "Dhanwantari" and emerged from the milky ocean with the nectar. Mahavishnu took another form now, one of Mohini, the most beautiful female of all times, mesmerized all and ensured that only Devas got the nectar. 

Lord Dhanwantari did not bring nectar alone with him from the milky ocean. He carried his Shanka (Conch) and Chakra (weapon in the form of a Disc) in two hands. Nectar (Amruta) was held in the third hand. What did he carry in his fourth hand? (Please observe the picture of Lord Dhanwantari given above closely) He carried a Leech in his fourth hand! Leech is called "Jalauka" in Sanskrit, the name coming from the word Jala or water as they live close to watery lowlands. Thus Leech came from the milky ocean along with nectar. Hence Leeches are used in therapy for treatment of certain diseases and bodily ailments. They are used to suck bad blood from the blood vessels and help flow of good blood in affected parts of the body! 

Dhanwantari is credited with beginning the practice of Indian form of medicine, known as Ayurveda. Dhanwantari is worshipped by practitioners of Ayurveda as well as those believing in the Indian form of worship and medicine. There are pictures of Dhanwantari showing him holding books instead of Leech, but the one with Leech in the hand is said to be the original one. "Dhanwantari Jayanti" is celebrated every year on "Dhanteras" day or "Dhana Trayodashi", a before "Naraka Chaturdashi" during Diwali or Deepavali festivities. There are many temples dedicated to Lord Dhanwantari, especially in Kerala and Tamilnadu, where Ayurveda is practiced in large measure. The temple in Thottuva in Ernakulam District (picture given above) is believed to be more than 1000 years old. Fresh unboiled milk and butter are offered to Lord Dhanwantari here. There is a Dhanwantari temple inside the famous Srirangam temple where a herbal decoction is given as prasadam to visitors. Another Dhanwantari temple can be seen inside the Kanchi Varadaraja Perumal temple also.  

Many patients develop accumulation of blood and blood clots in lower limbs. Leeches are used to suck the infected blood from the blood vessels of patients with such disorders. This method provides an excellent way of removing blood clots and improving blood circulations. Ayurveda practitioners say that this is very useful for diabetic patients where surgery may result in complications due to delay in healing of surgical wounds. Leech saliva is also used nowadays in cancer treatment. It is said that it has now found way into beauty treatment as well!  

Leeches can suck blood up to ten times their weight. One full eating for the leeches sustain them for several months. It is also said that they drop off on their own once they had their full meal of blood. The leech bites heal quickly and aid in therapy due to this quality.

Many scriptures and Puranas explain how big and diamond-hard Jalauka (Leeches) suck the blood of sinners in the hell, as punishment to the way in which they harass the poor and weak in this world. There is a more humane way in which the Jalauka also suck blood from humans as a part of treatment and therapy, in this world!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Don't Ask That Question, Again

The young bank manager was greatly influenced by his previous branch manager, who was his mentor. He had learnt from him about the theory of Hunting and Farming as tools for business development. He believed that building long term relationships was the key for his success as a branch manager. He had seen his mentor giving top priority for mixing with and talking to customers. He would make frequent rounds of the banking hall and satisfy himself that all the customers are being attended to promptly by his staff. He would keep aside all internal work and issues whenever he saw a customer or prospect walking into his branch. He would exchange pleasantries with them and enquire about the purpose of their visit to the branch. There would be some small talk about the happenings around, on some thing that would be of interest to the customer. The topic would differ with the age, gender and background of the customer. It was sports with some, literature with some others and politics with someone else. Music and price rise would also figure with some oneelse. If the customer appeared to have some extra time, he would invite him or her for a cup of tea in his cabin. His shrewd brain was always analyzing what the customer said and attempted to spot some business opportunity all the time.

The branch was located in an upcoming extension of the city and there were some educational institutions around. Many teachers and non-teaching staff had their accounts with the branch. Branch manager was particularly interested in this segment of customers as a good share of his branch's business came from these people. Their requirements were limited and often uncomplicated. They would recognize good service quickly and were also sensitive to delays and uncourteous behavior. Staff members were aware of this and attended to them promptly and efficiently.

The two lady teachers of a nearby school would always come to the branch together. It was so even if only one of them had some work at the bank. The other would just provide company to the one with some requirement. Their accounts were well maintained and transactions were also simple. Branch manager would greet them during their visits and they would reciprocate the gesture. 

One day both the teachers walked into the branch manager's cabin and took their seats before him. The elderly teacher took out two checks from her purse and handed them over to the branch manager. They were for substantial amounts and she told him that they were the fruits of her long service at the school, being retirement benefits. She wanted to deposit them in her account and desired to invest a part of them in fixed deposits in the branch. She said she would decide about investing the other part later on. Branch manager called out the dealing staff member and gave appropriate instructions. Tea was ordered and the teacher duo waited for preparation and handing over of the fixed deposit receipts. 

The branch manager had to keep them engaged during this period. "What are your children doing?" he asked. She replied that the elder one, a daughter, was working in a private company. The younger, a son, was pursuing his post graduation. "What is your husband doing?" was the next question that was asked as tea was brought in and placed before them.

The teacher got up from her chair abruptly and told him in a stern voice, "Don't ask that question, again". As she was walking out of the cabin, manager requested her to have tea and wait for the fixed deposit receipts. "I do not want tea and I will collect the fixed deposits later", she said and walked out of the cabin. The other teacher also followed her dutifully.

The manager was perplexed with the happenings and tried to gather his thoughts. The assistant manager who saw this from outside the manager's cabin was also flabbergast. There was nothing wrong with the question. It was a normal and usual question that is asked to many around us. There was no need for such response, he thought. What should be done next, he wondered. He decided to keep quiet for the time being.

The other teacher came to the branch alone after a couple of days. Manager tried to raise the issue with her. "It is not proper for me to say anything on this. She is not coming to the school as she has retired. She has also not spoken to me since. She may come to you to collect the fixed deposit receipts. Let us see", she said and left after her work was done.

The elderly teacher came to the branch after a few days. She seated herself before the manager. Manager was wondering how he should start the conversation. Before he could say something she herself started talking. "I am sorry about my behavior during my last visit. Your question is something that is often asked to me by many others. Unfortunately, that is one question I don't want to be asked. That is one question for which I have no answer", she said. The manager waited for a moment thinking as to what he should say. "I was young and beautiful and he was very handsome. He was a physical trainer in the same school. We fell in love and got married. We lived for five years together and they were the best days of my life. The daughter and son were born in that period and ours was a model family. But misfortune struck me suddenly. He left with his athletics team for participating in an event in a nearby city. He did not return from there. What happened to him is not known. All efforts were made to trace him. Nothing succeeded. Police closed the missing person case after sometime. I do not know whether he is alive or not. I have been living with this question since then. When you asked me that question, it touched a raw nerve in me and I walked off in a huff", she said and wiped the tears in her eye with her kerchief. 

She collected her deposit receipts and left. Her subsequent visits were rare, but as usual. 

There could be such instances when a seemingly innocuous question may bring a surprise response. But these are indeed rare and should not put us off. Talking to customers and looking for business opportunities should continue as always. Such instances provide an insight into the vagaries of life and its many dimensions. They help us to understand human nature and appreciate the joys and sufferings of people around us.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

"Pancharatram" and "Uttara Kaanda"

That was the 13th year after Yudhishtira lost his kingdom and all wealth, for the second time, in the game of dice due to the cunningness of Shakuni. They were banished to the forests to live there for 12 years. Having completed that part of the commitment, they were now untraceable during the year of living incognito. There was no trace of the five brothers and their one wife. How such mighty warriors and their beautiful wife vanished into thin air was indeed a question for which nobody had an answer. Duryodhana and Shakuni were very keen that they be traced so that they can be compelled to repeat the cycle of 12 plus one year all over again. All their efforts were in vain and they were totally disappointed.

Duryodhana was always jealous of the "Rajasuya Yaaga" performed by his cousin Yudhishtira. He wanted to do something similar or better and earn some good name for himself. He embarked on performing "Vaishnava Yagna" and succeeded in completing it. Abhimanyu, son of Arjuna and Subhadra represented Krishna and others in the Vaishnava Yagna. Abhimanyu and Subhadra had stayed with Krishna during the thirteen year period. Even though all kings were present during Duryodhana's yagna, Matsya King Virata was not present. At the end of the Yagna, it was customary to make an offering to an elderly and respected person as the last part of the ritual. Duryodhana decided that Guru Drona was the right person for this distinction. He requested Guru Drona to ask for anything he wants as Dakshina (sacred offering) to complete the rituals. Drona asks Duryodhana to return the kingdom and wealth to Pandavas. This is my Dakshina, he says. 

Shakuni is not for it. He wants to avoid this at any cost. He suggests to Duryodhana that he would do so if the whereabouts of Pandavas is found within five days. This is Pancharatram, meaning five days (nights). Just then a messenger comes and informs that King Virata could not come to the Yagna because someone killed the 100 Upakeechakas, brothers of his brother-in-law and chief of army, Keechaka. Bheeshma is now certain that this was done by none other than Bheema, one of the Pandava brothers. He urges Drona to accept the condition of "Pancharatram". Drona does so and Duryodhana agrees to return the Kingdom of Pandavas and all their wealth if their whereabouts are known in five days.

Kauravas decide to wage a war on Matsya desha, King Virata's country. They feel that it has now become weak due to the death of Keechaka and Upakeechakas. Abhimanyu who is present with them joins them in the fight and becomes a part of Kauravas army. Kauravas are defeated by Arjuna. In the meanwhile Kauravas come to know that a single man without weapons but bare hands lifts Abhimanyu from the battle field and takes him away. Bheeshma and Drona are now certain that such a warrior could be none other than Bheema.

King Virata offers his daughter Uttara in marriage to Arjuna. Arjuna says that she is like his daughter and hence can accept her as a bride for his son Abhimanyu. Kauravas also get invitation to attend the marriage function. 

The identify of Pandavas is now known within five days. Duryodhana honors his words given to his Guru Drona. He returns the kingdom and all wealth of the Pandavas. Mahabharata war is averted and Kauravas and Pandavas live happily thereafter! 

Rama has defeated Raavana in the epic war. Vibheeshana was crowned as king of Lanka. Sita was freed from her captivity. Rama does not want to accept her. She decides to immolate herself in the fire before the entire gathering. At that time Lakshmana intervenes and makes Rama accept her. Rama and Sita return to Ayodhya together, but life is never the same.

Rama once again decides to renounce Sita who is now in advanced state of pregnancy. Lakshmana was forced to take her to the forest on the pretext of visiting the Rishis there. He does his duty by taking her there and returns to Ayodhya alone. Sita finds refuge in Maharshi's Valmeeki's hermitage. Lava and Kusha are born. The son's take custody of the father's Ashwamedha horse. Rama does not want to fight the sons. Valmeeki tries to bring the family together. The sons join the father, but the wife does not. She insists that once renounced, the relation of husband and wife is done for ever. 

Rama becomes even weaker after returning to Ayodhya and cannot manage the affairs of the state satisfactorily. Lakshmana deserts him and goes away to live separately. Rama comes out as a very weak personality and extremely indecisive. He wants to retire from active life as he is no longer in control of things. The "Ramarajya" is nowhere to be seen. He goes to take bath in the river Sarayu one day and does not return. His body is later found stuck to a rock, downstream in the river. Whether it was an accidental death, suicide or natural drowning is not known. 

Those in charge of affairs want Sita to come to Ayodhya and lead the life of a widow. She does not want to that but does not show the will of living on on her own. She gets fully dressed up with all ornaments on and ends up in a deep pit in her farm land. Valmeeki checks and confirms the death. She has left the body on her own volition, he says.

Neither Rama not Sita find a satisfactory end. Nor do others for that matter. Other characters are very hazy and weak. Rama is weak and does not survive. Sita is strong and yet does not survive.

The first part above is a short summary of a play titled "Pancharatram" by the famous Sanskrit poet Bhasa. Many people are not aware of the existence of such a play with a very innovative idea. Bhasa lived much before Kalidasa and reference to his plays can be seen in Kalidasa's "Malavikagnimitra". Bhasa has taken the liberty of totally changing the plot created by Maharshi Veda Vyasa. His disruptive thinking has succeeded in averting an epic war and concluding with peace prevailing everywhere. Whatever may be the history or folktale, the idea is refreshing and brought out in a very novel fashion. We have to remember that this was probably as old as two thousand years ago!

The second part above is a short summary of a Kannada novel titled "Uttara Kaanda", published recentlyIts author is a highly respected and prolific writer Shri S L Bhyrappa. Shri Bhyrappa is known for his qualitative and quantitative contribution to Kannada Literature. He has been conferred upon the prestigious "Saraswati Sanman" as well. He is known for extensive and painstaking research before writing his novels. 

Uttara Kaanda is his latest novel, but disappoints many readers. Nearly forty years ago, he came up with a similar novel on Mahabharata, titled "Parva". The main idea behind both Parva and Uttara Kaanda is to look at the epics by removing all supernatural things and view them from what could be from common life as we see it. The idea itself is refreshing and indeed appreciable. Nevertheless, execution falters and the language used in some parts is of poor taste. It is true that adultery is indeed a part of life; but that does not mean that it should be glorified. Life does have use of words that are not proper. They are better left there and need not be brought out in print. 
When Parva was published nearly forty years ago, a review by well known critic T P Ashoka appeared in a kannada daily "Prajavani".  When I was reading it, a well known author who had just finished reading it was sitting near me. He asked me what I thought of the review. I said the review was good. He asked me to read the last line again. Its rough translation was "Parva as a novel is a success even in its failure". When I read it again loudly I understood its import fully. It is no surprise if someone else now writes that "Uttara Kaanda is a failure even in its failure".

I have no qualms if you do not agree with the above analysis. You are, after all, as much entitled to your opinion as I am to mine!  

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Security Verification

The young Assistant Manager was eager to acquire the knowledge and skills required to make him an efficient bank manager and leader. His first posting as an officer was in a big metropolitan branch. He was one among the nearly hundred staff members in the branch as computerization was not heard in those days. He did not have any opportunity to work in loans department. His promotion as assistant manager and posting to a medium sized rural branch was personally inconvenient to him. But he was encouraged by the chances coming his way to learn many new things. He proceeded to the new place of posting with lot of hope and expectations.

The young man was welcome by his branch manager and given charge of the loans department. The well experienced branch manager started grooming the assistant in right earnest, to shoulder his responsibilities. He was first initiated into processing of loan applications, scrutinize information provided by the applicants, assess loan eligibility and sanction process. Analyzing and accepting securities offered by the prospective borrowers followed soon. Obtaining documents for sanctioned loans and method of disbursing the loan amounts was the next step. The young assistant manager was now confident of handling small and medium sized loan requests on his own and place the cases before branch manager with his recommendations.

The branch's annual inspection was due any day now and the branch manager was preparing the young assistant to face his first inspection confidently. All aspects of a branch's working were checked and verified by these inspectors and the process went on for two to three weeks. Inspection days were difficult for branch functionaries as they had to manage attending to inspectors in addition to the regular bank work. Attitude and working methods of the inspectors was also a cause of concern for branch managers. Some inspectors were indeed difficult to work with, while some others were more understanding and co-operative. 

Inspectors were deputed by the bank's Inspection Division at Head Office to various branches for annual inspections. Their programing was a secret affair and known only to Inspection Division and the concerned inspectors. This was required to keep the surprise element intact during audit and inspections. Inspectors usually arrived at the branch on a day of their choosing, an hour before opening of the branches in the morning. The branch would be opened under their supervision and all physical securities starting from cash would be checked first to prevent any manipulations. The inspectors would then proceed to verify the other areas of branch functioning. One of the important components of such inspection was visiting the borrower's place for physical verification as well as checking the records of the party. The places comprised shop, factory, godown, house or any such business place or location where securities charged to the bank were kept. Branch Manager or a representative of the branch would usually accompany the inspector on such visits. Inspection was a time bound activity and was expected to be completed in a specified number of days linked to the size and business level of the branches.

An inspector arrived at this branch one morning and started his work. After introducing the assistant manager to the inspector and exchange of pleasantries, branch manager called the assistant manager aside and advised him to assist the inspector during the inspection period. "This inspector and I are from the same batch and we have worked together earlier. It is no secret that we do not like each other. But he is a professional and does not mix personal things with official work. Same is the case with me. I will have limited interaction with him. You will be my representative during inspection. Remember that he is an expert inspector and highly respected for his skills. You can learn a lot from him in the next two three weeks", said the branch manager. The assistant manager did not understand this background initially, but slowly learnt the truth in those words with each passing day of inspection work.

Field visits and verification of securities started in the third week. As the branch had many villages surrounding its location, many agriculture and allied advances were to be inspected. The inspector and the assistant manager proceeded to one of the villages one morning. They went to a borrower's place (Borrower A) a little before noon for checking sheep and goats given as security for bank loan. There were no sheep or goat in the yard. Inspector noted his observation on his rough sheets. After checking some pump set and tractor loan accounts, they went to another borrower's place (Borrower B) around 3 PM for checking sheep and goats. The number of sheep and goats available in the yard were matching the number given in the records. Inspector made some noting again in his note sheets.

An inspector was required to give his observations to the branch manager for rectification of deficiencies or give his comments each day, before incorporating them in his final report. On the next day of the visit to above villages, inspector gave the list of observations on the findings of the previous day's visits. When the assistant manager saw the report he was surprised to find that inspector had erred in his noting. He had recorded that security was intact in Borrower A's place whereas it was noted as missing in Borrower B's place!  He immediately ran to the inspector and pointed out the discrepancy. 

The inspector smiled at the young assistant manager. "We went to the two borrowers on either side of noon. Where do you expect the sheep and goats to be at that time?" The assistant manager could not give a definite answer. The inspector explained further. "At the time of day when we visited the two places, sheep and goat are not expected to be at home. They have to be out on the hill side grazing and return only by sunset time.  In borrower A's place there were no sheep or goat, but there was enough evidence to show that the animals were kept there overnight. The wetness of the yard where the animals were kept and the pungent smell of sheep and goat in the yard clearly showed that he has the animals with him. In borrower B's place there was no such evidence. The land was dry and the air was fresh. Having realized that inspectors have come to the village, he managed to bring the animals from some other farmer's place and show it to us. I have also made enquiries locally from other farmers during the visit, when you were away checking directions to the next village. My observation as recorded in the sheets is correct", he said.

When the assistant manager shared this with the branch manager, he got further insight into various aspects of security verification. "You have to be watchful during field visits. One should not be carried away by what he sees during the visit. What is seen is to be linked to the type of business, local practices, details in the records and above all commonsense. Conclusions drawn based merely on what is visible at the time of the visit may often be erroneous. But that does not mean that you have to ignore what you see physically. Each of these should get due consideration and one should come to a proper judgement after careful analysis of the circumstances obtaining at the time of the visit", concluded the branch manager.

The young man had never thought of all these things. There is a lot more in security verification than a mere visit to a place, he learnt that day.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Saraswati's Son and Parvati's Daughter

Long long ago, Godess Saraswati, who is the presiding deity of all knowledge, desired to have a son. She went to Himalayas and undertook a long penance with this as the goal. After a long time Lord Brahma appeared and gave her a boon to have a son. She delivered a son as a result of the boon. The boy got up as soon as he was born and prostrated before her. He sang in praise of her in rhythmic and perfect meters; his utterance was the earliest poetry. Saraswati was extremely happy and told him that he embodied everything poetry represents. She also told him that there was only prose before him and he is the first person to bring poetry to this world. She blessed him wholeheartedly and named him as "Kavya Purusha" (काव्य पुरुष). As she wanted to have the pleasure of tending to her child for sometime, she advised him to go back to the state of a child for the time being, which he dutifully did. 

Saraswati lifted the child and proceeded towards the sacred river Ganga to take a holy dip in the river. She placed the child below a tree and went to the river. The child started crying after sometime. Maharshi Shukracharya who heard the noise came to the child and took him to his hut. Maharshi Shukracharya was mesmerized by the child's beauty and composed a poem in praise of Mother Saraswati. Saraswati returned from the river but could not find the child. Maharshi Valmeeki who was close by informed her about the child being taken by Maharshi Shukracharya and took her to the Rishi's hut. When Maharshi Valmeeki saw the child, he also composed a poem that led to his writing Ramayana. Later on Maharshi Vyasa also saw the child and composed Mahabharata. Thus Shukracharya, Valmeeki and Vyasa become earliest poets in history of development of rhythmic poetry.

As Kavya Purusha was growing up and Mother Saraswati was enjoying the growth process, a dispute arose between Rishis and Devatas on the interpretation of an important issue in the scriptures. Lord Brahma advised Mother Saraswati to proceed to heaven and mediate in satisfactorily resolving the dispute. Saraswati proceeded to heaven. Kavya Purusha also followed her. Saraswati told him that he cannot go with her without permission from Lord Brahma and he has to stay behind till her return. Kavya Purusha stayed back and grew into a handsome man. He became friends with Kumara Swamy, son of Lord Shiva and Godess Parvati. In due course of time, Kavya Purusha felt lonely, became restless and started wandering aimlessly.

Kumara Swamy could not tolerate the suffering of his dear friend. He went to his mother Parvati and requested her to help his friend Kavya Purusha. Parvati thought for a while and decided that the best way to bring Kavya Purusha on track was to tie him in the knots of love of a girl. She produced a beautiful girl and named her as Saahitya Vidyaa (साहित्य विद्या). She told the girl that her fiancee was going away from her and she should follow him and get married to him.  Saahitya Vidyaa started following Kavya Purusha and followed him wherever he went.   

Kavya Purusha wandered into different parts of the country. Saahitya Vidyaa followed him wherever he went. She tried different varieties of dresses and methods of beautification. Womenfolk of the respective areas also followed the same methods of dresses and beautifications. She tried different methods of music, dance and other allied methods to please Kavya Purusha. Kavya Purusha slowly took interest in her and started his own methods of dressing and appearances. The menfolk of the respective areas also followed him and therefore we have different methods of dresses and appearances in various parts of the country!

While moving around in the various parts of our large country thus, Kavya Purusha and Saahitya Vidyaa reached a city in Vidarbha called Vatsagulma, on the outskirts of Dandakaranya. The place got the name Vatsagulma as a Rishi by name Vatsa lived there. Saahitya Vidyaa and Kavya Purusha finally got married in this Vatsagulma city. (This Vatsagulma is presently known as Washim and is the headquarters of the Washim district in Maharashtra.) 

The newly wed pair went to Saraswati and Parvati and sought their blessings. Both the mothers were very happy and blessed the pair and gave them many boons. They created a special heaven for them and named it as Kaviloka (कविलोक). The mothers advised Kavya Purusha and Saahitya Vidyaa to reside in the minds of all poets and bless them by inspiring them from time to time. The couple are following the advice of their mothers and are thus a source of inspiration to all poets even today.

Mention of Kavya Purusha is found in many places in puranas and also in Mahabharata. However, the story of Kavya Purusha and Saahitya Vidyaa in the above form is given to us by poet Raajashekhara in his "Kaavyameemamsa", considered as an epic in the field of Poetics.  The story is indeed interesting and inspiring!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Man and The River

Emperor Yudhishtira came out of his room ready for the day's official work. As he came out of the main door of his private palace, he saw a line of priests standing with "prasad" and ready to greet him with the usual Vedic chants befitting his status. Such arrangement was common on some important days like his birthday or anniversary day of ascending the throne. There was no such occasion today and yet the priests had assembled in full numbers. He was perplexed and looked at Bheemasena, his younger brother who now also held the post of his senior most minister. Bheemasena just smiled and signaled to the priests to start their chants and offer prasad to the emperor. The emperor received all the prasad with reverence. Once all the priests had left the hall, he asked Bheemasena as to what was the reason of this special arrangement.

"I had ordered special pooja and offerings to all the deities in the capital today. The priests had come with the prasad after such special pooja in their respective places", replied Bheemasena.

"What was the reason for such special celebrations?" asked Yudhishtira.

"I was happy that you had conquered Death for one day" said Bheemasena.

"I do not understand what you are indicating" said the emperor.

"Yesterday an old man came to you asking for some gold coins for managing some function in his house. It appears you told him to come tomorrow and he will be given the same", said Bheemasena.

"What is special about it? It was late when the man came to me. Hence I told him to come tomorrow", said Yudhishtira.

"That is why I was happy and arranged the celebrations. One never knows whether he will be alive on the next day. But you were confident that you would be alive to meet the old man's request. Does it not mean that you had conquered death for one day?", asked smiling Bheemasena.

Yudhishtira understood the lesson his brother was indicating. He nodded and said, "Yes. I knew that nothing is certain in this world., but had forgotten for a moment yesterday. Thank you for reminding this eternal truth. Change is the only certainty in life. But Life itself is uncertain".

Similar references can also be seen in philosophies of other parts of the world. "No man ever steps into a river twice" is a famous saying in Greek Philosophy. Why is it so? Can a person step into the river, come out and after sometime step into the same river? No, it is not possible. Because he is not the same man now. Nor the river is the same. The person is now older than what he was when he stepped into the river last time! Similarly, the river is also not the same. The water flowing at this moment is different from the water that was flowing in the river when he stepped into it last time. Therefore, No man ever steps into the same river twice. When he steps in for the second time, he has changed as also the river. This appears strange; nevertheless it is true!

Heraclitus (535 BC - 475 BC) was a Greek philosopher who lived before Aristotle, Plato and Socrates. He lived in Ephesus, then a part of the Persian empire and present day Efes of Turkey. He was known as the "Weeping Philosopher" and is credited with many wonderful expressions that try to explain the "Laws of the Universe". Heraclitus was the earliest known philosopher of the west who identified that Change is the essence of life. He believed in the Theory of unity of opposites and stated that "No entity ever occupies a single state at a single time". He believed that Fire was the basic element from which all other elements took shape. 

Some of the other sayings of Heraclitus are equally interesting:

  1. Men who wish to know about the world must learn about it in its particular details.
  2. If you do not expect the unexpected then you will not find it, for it is not to be reached by search or trail.
  3. It is hard to contend against one's heart's desire; for whatever it wishes to have it buys at the cost of soul.
  4. God is day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, surfeit and hunger.
  5. Our envy always lasts longer than the happiness of those who we envy.
  6. Good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day. Protracted and patient effort is needed to develop good character.
  7. Much learning does not teach understanding.
  8. Big results require big ambitions.
  9. Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.
  10. To God everything is beautiful and just; humans however think that some things are unjust and others are just.
and many more......

Many management experts conduct workshops on "Change Management". It is better for them to remember Heraclitus. And his saying: "Nothing endures but Change".

Saturday, February 25, 2017

I Salute You, Dear Mother

Each one on this earth, man or woman, is beholden to one's mother. "Maatrudevo Bhava"  is the first lesson for the young initiated, advising them to see the Lord first in their own mothers. There is no existence for any of us without our mothers. Some are fortunate to see their mother and live with her for several years. Some have the luxury of having her by their sides till their own ripe old age. A few are unfortunate to lose her at birth itself or before they are able to understand and acknowledge her presence. 

Many devout Indians go to Gaya in Bihar for offering Pindas to their forefathers. Pindapradan or sacred offerings is a way of remembering our elders and expressing our gratitude to them. Is there any place which is specially identified for remembering one's mother exclusively, the who makes innumerable sacrifices to give birth and nurture the child?

MatruGaya or Siddhpur in Patan District of Gujarat, located on the banks of the holy river Saraswati,  is the place for devout Indians to visit and make Pindapradan for the mothers. It is a two hour drive (110 KM) from Ahmedabad airport. Siddhpur has a very interesting history.

Kardama Prajapati was the son of Lord Brahma and chose Shristhal, earlier name for Siddhpur, for his penance. Pleased with his long penance, Lord Vishnu advised him that Manu and Shatarupa Devi will be approaching him for marrying their daughter, Devahuti. Lord Vishnu also told Kardama that he will himself take birth as their son in due course. Kardama and Devahuti had nine daughters and Lord Vishnu was born as their son Kapila later on. Sage Kapila is recognized as one of the main contributors of the Dualistic form of Indian Philosophy.

Kardama Prajapati renounced the world and proceeded to the forest after handing over the care of Devahuti with son Kapila. In due course of time, Devahuti approached Kapila to enlighten her about higher spiritual pursuits and reaching the Lord. The advice given by Kapila to his mother Devahuti is detailed in Bhagavata Mahapurana in the third skanda (canto).  Kapila lays emphasis on visualizing the Lord as a person and worshipping his lotus feet. As this discussion took place in Shristhal, presently known as Siddhpur, it has become an important pilgrimage center for those who remember their mothers and want to do Pindapradan in their honor and memory. While doing so, the sons remember the varieties of troubles they gave their mothers before, during and after their births. Sixteen pindas are offered by reciting a sloka for each of the pindas. The content of each of the sloka is indeed filled with profound feelings.

Siddhpur has some more history behind it. It is believed that Bramharshi Dadeechi gave away his backbone here to Lord Indra for making of "Vajraayudha" to enable him to kill Vrutrasura. There is also a lake here called "Bindu Sarovara" which is believed to have been formed from the drops of water that fell from the eyes of Lord Vishnu. Pindadaan is done around this holy lake.

What does the son tell his mother while offering the sixteen Pindas? Their rough translation is somewhat like this:
  1. I was responsible for the difficulty you experienced while walking on earth during pregnancy, when I was in your womb.
  2. I caused immense hardship for you while growing from month to month in your womb.
  3. I kicked you often with my legs without realizing that it would hurt you.
  4. I gave you trouble in the form of death-like pains while staying in your womb.
  5. I gave many other troubles till the tenth month, when you delivered me.
  6. I was the cause of all the suffering you faced as delivery date approached.
  7. You had to drink and swallow many bitter liquids and medicines before and during my birth.
  8. Your body suffered a lot after birth, while nurturing me.
  9. You were rendered miserable due my wetting the bed frequently, especially during nights.
  10. You always gave me food and water on priority even while ignoring your own needs.
  11. I caused pain and trouble while you breast fed me day and night.
  12. You suffered during summer and winter months due to my dependence on you.
  13. You suffered more than me whenever I was sick.
  14. You ate little and yet gave me full, always.
  15. There are no sons like me; I troubled you the most.
  16. As you cross the gates of heaven, I remember you and offer these Pindas.

While offering the sixteen pindas, the son mentions that it is for atoning for each of the sins mentioned above.

Kardama Prajapati, Devahuti and their son Kapila have become an integral part of the lives of people who remember MatruGaya or visit that place for sacred offerings.