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Mentor Blog

Monday, February 8, 2010

coping creatively with climate complexity

Scarcity of resources often makes people despondent. People learn to adjust, adapt or just succumb. But, sometimes they transcend the adversity through a creative innovation. Let me share one story in which the scarcity of water triggered a very interesting innovation in cotton.

Vikas Shinde and his wife Pramila own nearly half a hectare of land in a village named Pingalwada in dry part of Jalgoaon, Maharashtra. The water table is low and they cannot afford a submersible pump. Vikas has many innovations to his credit, one of which was a very interesting way of extracting groundwater from a bore of eight inches. He made a stand, attached a pulley and developed a contraption using motor cycle. A pipe of 6 inches diameter will descend in the bore and with the help of motorcycle based pulley system it will be lifted up containing 15 litres of water. The pipe had a one-way valve such that when it was lifted the water will not drain out. He designed an arrangement having a hook on hich a pipe will rest, the valve will open and water will drain into the irrigation channel for irrigating cotton crop. There was one problem which this method will not address.

In the month of May, when water is very scarce Pramila got an idea. She took nursery bags and grew cotton seedlings in those bags. These cotton seedlings were irrigated with limited water.When the rains came in June, every farmer will sow the crop at that time, but in Pramila and Vikas’s field cotton seedlings will be transplanted. Not only water requirement went down, but the productivity of the crop increased. Complementary innovations by husband and wife generated a new hope for overcoming uncertainty of rains, shortage of water and increasing production.

In the wake of climate change uncertainities are going to increase. One would need many more innovations of this kind, all over the country, to widen the choices despite limited resources. Innovations borne out of constrained environments are not only frugal, affordable but also sustainable. But, neither this Copenhagen summit took note of grassroot innovations, nor the Indian government ‘s climate study team thinks of learning from such creative people and communities. While governments can remain indifferent, local commmunities will develop their own ways of dealing with climate complexities and uncertainities. Honey Bee database has a huge reservoir of such coping strategies waiting to be tapped.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Letter to farmers in north dakota suffering from the monopoly of monsanto in agriculture

A response to blog posts like this one.

Well, you have an alternative. Read up the Honeybee database on sustainable agricultural innovations available at sristi.org and honeybee.org.

You can use the open source example of farmer-based solutions to your problems. Please try these out and write to us.

For example in cotton growing, you can plant okra around the cotton crop as a border crop. It belongs to the same family and will attract pests and save the cotton. If the problem persists, spray one kilogram of jaggery (raw sugar mixed with 15 litres of water). Black ants will come and eat away the eggs of harmful pests. This remedy costs so little even if you fail. But if you succeed, your blessings will be our reward.

In Gujarat, farmers made their own Bt cotton by crossing the parent lines with local varieties. In India, there is no patent on genes and hence nobody can do anything about it.

- Anil Gupta

Prof. Anil Gupta is our latest addition to the Mentor Blog.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Vinoba Bhave on Gandhi

Here is Vinoba Bhave sharing his thoughts on Gandhi:

When, still a child, I was drawn by Bengal and the Himalayas. I cherished dreams of going to these places. In Bengal it was the upsurge symbolized by Vande Mataram that called me, in the Himalayas it was the Jnana-Yoga. When in 1916 I left home I wanted at the same time to go both to the Himalayas and to Bengal. The city of Kashi was on the way to both and chance took me there.

Gandhiji was present at the inaugural function of the Banaras Hindu University. I saw the newspaper report of the spirited speech he had made on the occasion, to an audience consisting of renowned scholars, Rajas and Maharajas, and above all the viceroy. I was deeply affected. Here was a man, I felt, who wanted at once to achieve for the country political freedom as well as spiritual progress. That was after my own heart. I wrote to him, asking some questions. When he answered I asked more questions. This time Gandhiji enclosed the rule of his ashram and said, "Nothing much will be gained by correspondence. It would be better for you to come over."

And my feet turned towards Gandhi. Seemingly I had gone neither to the Himalayas nor to Bengal. But in my heart I had arrived at both the places simultaneously. With Gandhiji I found the peace of the Himalayas and the resurgence of Bengal.

I saw Gandhiji for the first time on June 7, 1916, at his Kochrab Ashram. God in His infinite mercy placed me at his feet. When I examine my heart and my life today I find that both are firmly established at Gandhiji’s feet. I cannot say how far I have been able to put into practice his teachings, his training. He himself would not know and neither would anyone else. Only God knows. This much, however I can say without hesitation: what little of his teaching I could make my own, whatever specially appealed to me, I have been incessantly striving with great care to practice - indeed with much greater care than when Gandhiji was alive. I always have the feeling of Gandhiji’s presence before me, behind me and above me.

I often recollect Shankaracharya’s saying that the greatest boons a man may have are three: being born in human form, a craving for mukti and patronage of a great man.

Thinking of this utterance of Shankara my heart leaps with joy. I am indeed blessed that I was born a man, was bitten by the bug of mukti and was privileged to enjoy the company of so great a man as Gandhi. It is one thing to read in books the word of saints and mahatmas and quite another to live in companionship with them, to work under their guidance, to watch their life. It was my great fortune that this was granted to me.

I do not know whether Gandhiji ever put me to test. But I did, without his knowing it, test him thoroughly; had he been found wanting I would not have stayed with him. But if he tested me, whatever shortcomings he might have noticed in me, he kept me with him.

Bapu was never tired of saying that he was imperfect, incomplete. It was true. He did not know how to say an untrue thing. He was a votary of truth. I have come across many great men who imagine that they are muktas, perfect men. I was never drawn to any of them. But the pull that Bapu, who considered himself imperfect, exercised on me, was unique. I have never been influenced by anyone the way I was by Bapu.

I met Bapu and at once fell in love with him. That was because of the unity of his inner and outer state. Then again, it was Bapu who initiated me into the philosophy of Karma-Yoga. True, it is explained in the Gita. But I saw it’s applications only in Bapu’s life. It was here that the karma-yoga of the Gita was most clearly illustrated. The Gita enumerates the signs of a man of steadfast intellect. How many are there whom the description would fit? Bapu had all the characteristics of such a man.

It was my privilege to work with him and live with such a man. It is said that those who live under the shelter of the great become stunted in their growth, even as plants under the shadow of a large tree become crippled for want of nourishment of which the trees deprives them. But the analogy of a tree does not fit great men. Those living under their wings are like calves in a cowshed. While a tree sucks up the nourishment that would otherwise sustain the vegetation under it, a cow, herself subsisting on grass, provides milk to her calf, which grows and prospers under her loving care. This was the experience of those who placed themselves under the wing of Bapu. If one was bad, one became good on coming to him; if one was timid, one became fearless. Through him thousands earned glory, yet he considered himself the humblest of all.

When in 1916 I went to him I was stripling of twenty-one. I went as a boy eager to learn. All those close to me know that at the time I was sadly lacking in what is called manners or polite behaviour. I have been by nature a sort of wild animal. It was Bapu who put down the flames of anger and lust that raged in me. His benedictions continuously rained on me. Whatever I am today I owe to Bapu. He turned an uncouth person like me into a servant of the people.

What I saw of the mode of life at the Ashram taught me a great many things. I realized that life is one and indivisible. Bapu never conceived himself in the role of a guru nor did he consider anyone as his disciple. Similarly, I am neither anyone’s guru nor anyone’s disciple, although I attach great importance to the institution of guru. One can conceive gurus who can transform their disciple by a mere look, a word or a touch. But still it is only a possibility. In reality, I know of no such guru. Without dwelling at greater length on the guru disciple theme I shall only say that what I learnt at the feet of Bapu is all that is still serving me. My bhoodan and Gramdan wanderings have behind them the sadhana I carried on long ago at the Ashram. The Sadhana I did before joining the Ashram was purely emotional. Then came the Sadhana at the Ashram and I acquired new eyes. This was a blessing from Bapu.

After going to Bapu I spent thirty-two years in Sadhana. My thinking and reading continued to be spiritual but the sadhana was not divorced from activity. I observe political events. I kept myself informed of the developments in the social field. Whatever Bapu wrote served to guide me. I studied his ideas with minute care and endeavored as best I could to act according to them. Thus I found the subtle way of ahimsa.

There is a beautiful sloka about Bhagavata Dharma, which applies equally to the way of ahimsa discovered by Bapu. The sloka says: The Bhagavata Dharma is such that a man pursuing it with faith, will never fall into error. It is a way on which a man may walk or run with eyes closed and will not fall.

This is the beauty, the simplicity of the way Bapu has showed us. If we are to establish a Sarvodaya social order, this is the way we have to take.

[Excerpt from the book, 'Vinoba on Gandhi']

Friday, October 2, 2009

Gandhi's Higher Standard of Leadership

It's Gandhi's birthday today. In perhaps a statement of our times, I was first reminded of him when I saw him on the homepage of Google. :) Then, I thought of my dear friend Jayesh Patel at the Gandhi Ashram, who is an exemplar of Gandhian values; and at some point, I happened upon an unread book sitting on my desk -- A Higher Standard of Leadership: Lessons from the Life of Gandhi, by Keshavan Nair.

In so many ways, Keshavan Nair's first chapter really articulates all that I am feeling today ... so here it is:

In putting forward a path to a higher standard of leadership, there is no greater exemplar than Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Gandhi spent more than fifty years in public life and is best known for leading hundreds of millions of people against one of the greatest empires in the history of the World.

In contrast to the other political leaders and military commanders of his time -- men such as Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt, de Gaulle, Eisenhower, Montgomery, Patton and MacArthur -- Gandhi wore no resplendent uniform, commanded no armies, and held no government position. Instead he preached and -- more importantly -- lived the gospel of truth and nonviolence and demonstrated through his life of service the oneness of humanity. He reminded the world that the human spirit is indomitable and that courage and love are more powerful than force. The world acknowledged his special place when the United Nations flew its flag at half-mast when he was assassinated. He is the only individual with no connection to any government or international organization for whom this has been done.

Gandhi had many of the qualities we associate with a successful leaders. In addition to courage and determination, he could sustain high energy level for extended periods, he was decisive, he had great interpersonal skills, he was thoughtful but action oriented, and he paid great attention to the details of implementation.

Gandhi's life was not governed by policies; it was governed by principles and values. The best political leaders have their country as the source of passion. Business leaders have as their passion the organization, whether it is through customers, products, or technology. Gandhi's life was driven by his religion: truth and nonviolence and life of service to others. When a journalist asked Gandhi for a message for the United States, especially for African Americans, Gandhi responsded, "My life is its own message."

The lessons from Gandhi's life challenge our beliefs about the standard of leadership -- beliefs that many of us have come to accept as necessary for success. While most leaders identify with symbols of power to elevate themselves above the people they lead, Gandhi symbolized the people he was trying to serve. He tried to be like them with his lion cloth and his commitment to voluntary poverty. He symbolized service rather than power.

Gandhi believed in a single standard of conduct in public and private life -- a standard founded on integrity derived from the absolute values of truth and nonviolence. He believed that individuals must have ideals and try to live up to them, and he demonstrated that an idealist could be practical and effective. His claim, however, was to integrity, not infallibility. He made his share of mistakes but was not afraid to acknowledge them. He did not strive for consistency except in his quest for the truth.

As all policies, strategies, and laws ultimately have an impact on people or the environment, Gandhi believed moral principles had to be included in setting goals, selecting strategies, and making decisions. He worked for the betterment of all people so they could enjoy freedom from fear and exploitation.

Some of Gandhi's ideas may seem irrelevant today -- applicable only to his time and place. But on the fundamental values of truth, nonviolence and service, he had a message for the ages. He asked us to reject not only physical violence, but violence to the spirit. It becomes more self-evident every day, that if we do not embrace the ideal of nonviolence, societies all over the world will deteriorate to the point where life will be intolerable.

Today we talk about controlling physical violence with more violence and controlling spiritual violence with laws. Maybe its necessary. But I believe that the long-term solution is to put before us, especially the young, the ideal of nonviolence of the brace. We need a new heroic ideal: the brave, the truthful, nonviolence individual who is in the service of humanity, resists injustice and exploitation, and leads by appealing to our ideals and our spirit. Such a heroic ideal is embodied in Gandhi.

Gandhi's life point the way to a higher standard of leadership in which integrity based on a single standard of conduit is central, a spirit of service is imperative, and decisions and actions are bound by moral principles.

May we all be the change we wish to see in the world!

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Missing Celebrant on Independence Day

An article by Ramachandran Guha, on Aug 16, 2009:

It is well known that when India became free on the August 15, 1947, Mahatma Gandhi declined to join the festivities in New Delhi. While his follower, Jawaharlal Nehru, spoke in the Council Hall about India's tryst with destiny, and the crowds danced on the streets outside, Gandhi was in Calcutta, seeking to restore peace between Hindus and Muslims.

His refusal to join his colleagues in New Delhi has been interpreted by some commentators as a sign that he was in mourning. This interpretation is not entirely tenable. While Gandhi was distressed by the religious rioting that accompanied Independence and Partition, he did not gainsay the value and achievement of political freedom. But he remained concerned with what his fellow Indians would make of their hard-won, and somewhat belated, swaraj.

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi has seven entries dated August 15, 1947. The first is a letter written to his Quaker friend, Agatha Harrison, in London. Gandhi says here that "my way of celebrating great events, such as today's, is to thank God for it and, therefore, to pray". Agatha Harrison had apparently asked whether he followed the debates in the British parliament on the Indian Independence bill. Gandhi said he did not get time to read newspapers; in any case, he commented, "What does it matter, who talks in my favour or against me, if I myself am sound at bottom?"

tem four describes a visit to Gandhi's temporary home in Beliaghata of the new governor of West Bengal, C Rajagopalachari. When the governor congratulated him on the "miracle he had wrought" (namely, the cessation of violence in the city), Gandhi answered "that he could not be satisfied until Hindus and Muslims felt safe in one another's company and returned to their own homes to live as before. Without that change of heart, there was likelihood of future deterioration in spite of the present enthusiasm".

The fifth entry for the day relates to a visit by some communist activists. Gandhi told them that "political workers, whether Communist or Socialist, must forget today all differences and help to consolidate the freedom which had been attained. Should we allow it to break into pieces?"

Soon after the communists, a group of students came to the Haidari Mansion in Beliaghata to seek Gandhi's advice. The Mahatma told them that "students ought to think and think well. They should do no wrong. It was wrong to molest an Indian citizen merely because he professed a different religion. Students should do everything to build up a new State of India which would be everybody's pride".

The last item in the Collected Works for this day pertains to a speech made at a public meeting at the Rash Bagan Maidan in Beliaghata. As reported in his own journal, Harijan, Gandhi began by congratulating Hindus and Muslims for "meeting together in perfect friendliness". He hoped that this "was not a momentary impulse". From the theme of communal amity he went on to speak of the responsibilities of ordinary citizens. Earlier in the day, when the new Indian governor had taken over from his British predecessor, a crowd had invaded Government House, tramped over the lawn and flower beds, marched into the building and generally made a nuisance of themselves.

Hearing of this, Gandhi said "he would be glad if it meant only a token of people's power. But he would be sick and sorry if the people thought that they could do what they liked with the Government and other property. That would be criminal lawlessness. He hoped, therefore, that they had of their own accord vacated the Governor's palace as readily as they had occupied it. He would warn the people that now that they were free, they would use the freedom with wise restraint..."

In this narration, I have skipped one item, number three, in part because I think it the most important, and hence best dealt with last. This pertained to a visit to the Mahatma by the ministers of the new government of West Bengal. What Gandhi said to them is summarised in the Collected Works. But there is a slightly longer, and somewhat more vivid, account in Manu Gandhi's book The Miracle of Calcutta. This informs us that when the Bengal ministers sought his blessings, Gandhi told them, "Today, you have worn on your heads a crown of thorns. The seat of power is a nasty thing. You have to remain ever wakeful on that seat. You have to be more truthful, more non-violent, more humble and more forbearing. You had been put to test during the British regime. But in a way it was no test at all. But now there will be no end to your being tested. Do not fall a prey to the lure of wealth. May God help you! You are there to serve the villages and the poor."

His words made sense then, and they make sense now. At a time when many - most? - ministers in state and Central governments are consumed by arrogance and self-love, they need to be reminded that, as elected representatives of the people, they should be motivated rather by truth, humility and service. In a deeply divided polity, the political parties must recognize that in times of crisis, they should set aside their differences and work together for social peace. When populist notions of democracy stress exclusively on rights and encourage a cavalier attitude to State property, it is well to be told that citizens also have responsibilities. Finally, in 2009 as in 1947, a special role devolves on students, who, with their lives in front of them, can do more than the middle-aged or elderly in building an India worthy of the nation's founders and of their ideals.

Gandhi's words and warnings have a strikingly contemporary ring. Since they were uttered in Calcutta, those who live in that city, and in the state of which it is part, may read into them a special meaning. In the recent past, West Bengal has been peculiarly prone to political partisanship, State apathy and populist violence. However, these tendencies are manifest, in lesser or greater degree, in other states as well. Wherever we are this August 15, we would do well to remember, and take heed of, what a very wise Indian said and did on this day 62 years ago.

--Ramachandran Guha, 16 Aug 2009

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Gift That Changed Gandhi's Life Overnight

In March 1904, when Gandhi was about to embark on a 24-hour journey from Johnnesburg to Durban (in South Africa), his friend Henry Polak gifted him a book to read on the way. It was a small booklet of four essays that transformed Gandhi; in his own words, "I could not get any sleep that night. I was determined to change my life in accordance with the ideals of the book."

Unto His Last, by John Ruskin. The book said the good of the individual was contained in the good of all. This Gandhi knew. It also said that a lawyer's work had the same value as the barber's, as all had the same right to earn livelihood. Even this Gandhi had vaguely realized. But the third thing, that had never occurred to Gandhi, was that the "life of labor as a tiller of soil or the handi-craftsman, is the life worth living." After reading the book, Gandhi decided that he would live the life of labor and decided to publish his newspaper, Indian Opinion, on a farm where everyone would get the same salary, without any distinction of function, race of nationality -- which, for that time, was quite revolutionary.

Gandhi later translated the book into Gujarati and called it Sarvodaya (the well-being of all), which was translated back in English Valji Desai in 1951 as Unto This Last: A Paraphrase. Very clearly, the book had brought "an instantaneous and practical transformation" in Gandhi's life.

Most importantly, though, Ruskin's book influenced Gandhi's ideal of soul-force as a more effective substitute for physical force. This force, whatever name we call it, is the currency of the gift-economy work that CharityFocus has been manifesting. In fact, at a Gandhian conference once, I gave a presentation titled, "Soul Force of a Gift Economy". I don't know how well it went with the scholars, though, but when Somik pointed me to Gandhi's paraphrase, I was struck by a passage where he describes affection as a motive. Below is my paraphrase of Gandhi's paraphrase :) ...

In the term justice, I include affection -- such affection as one man owes another. All right relations between a master and operative ultimately depend on this.

As an illustration, let us consider the position of domestic servants. Suppose that the master of a household tries to get as much work out of his servants as he can; he feeds and lodges them in as poor a condition that they will endure. In doing this, there is no violation on his part of what is commonly called "justice". He is agreeable to the servant, whose hardships are modulated by the practice of other masters in the neighborhood. That is, if the servant can get a better place, he is free to move.

According to politico-economic scholars, this process yields the greatest average work from the servant and therefore the greatest benefit to the community, and through the community, to the servant himself.

That, however, is not so. It would be accurate if the servant were an engine which was powered by a mechnical, calculable force like steam or magnetism. But in practice, he is an engine whose motive power is Soul Force. This is a force that is not factored into any economists equation and hence falsifies all of their results.

The largest quantity of work will not be done by monetary compensation or through use of pressure. It will be done when the motive force -- the will or spirit of the creature -- is brought to its greatest strength by its own proper fuel, namely by affection.

Often, a strong master will be able to manifest much material work by use of pressure; if the master is indolent and weak, the servant may do some poor quality work. Still, the universal law of the matter is that, assuming any given quantity of energy in the master and servant, the greatest material result will occur not through antagonism but rather through affection for each other.

This is true even when the indulgence is abused and kindness is met with ingratitude; an ungrateful servant who is treated ungently will be revengeful and the man who is dishonest to a liberal master will be injurious to an unjust man.

In any case and with any person, this unselfish treatment will produce the most effective return. However, affection only becomes a true motive power when it ignores every other motive and condition of economics. Treat the servant kindly with the idea of turning his gratitude to profit, and you will get, as you deserve, no gratitude nor any value for your kindness; but treat him kindly without any economical purpose, and all economical purposes will be answered; here as elsewhere whoever will save his life shall lose it, whosever loses it shall find it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

When Gandhi Encounters 600 Thugs in Rajkot

A while back, I had heard a story from Gandhi's life that gave me goosebumps. "My greatest weapon is a mute prayer," he used to say.

I happened to be leafing through page 418 of Rajmohan Gandhi's biography of Gandhi and thought I'd post the full account as it appears in the book:

There was talk of threat to Sardar Vallabh Patel's life. Then, on 16 April, a 600-strong mob of sword-swinging and lathi-carrying Muslims broke up a prayer meeting that a barely fit Gandhi, some months shy of his 70th birthday, was conducting in Rajkot, a tried forcibly to disperse a cordon of unarmed volunteers around Gandhi.

Remaining at Gandhi side, Kalelkar's 26-year-old son Bal, who had been a Dandi marcher in his teens, 'suddenly noticed that Bapuji's whole body began to shake violently'. Bal Kalelkar thought that the shaking:

was not out of fear; his face could tell how free from fear he was. The physical reaction was his revolt against the disgusting atmosphere of violence.

Pyarelal, who was not far, wrote what we have already quoted. He would say that the shaking was set off by a sudden attack of sharp pain near the waist, 'an old symptom that seizes him whenever he receives an acute mental shock.' Added Pyarelal:

For a time he stood in the midst of that jostling crowd motionless and silent, his eyes shut, supporting himself on his staff, and tried to seek relief through silent prayer ... As soon as he had sufficiently recovered, he reiterated his resolve to go through the demonstrators all alone. He addressed a Bhayat, who stood confronting him: "I wish to go under your sole protection, not co-workers."

Bal Kalelkar's account suggests that this time the prayer was not silent, that Gandhi cried out to God:

Suddenly he closed his eyes and started praying. I could hear him saying Ramnam with an intensity of devotion that could never be surpassed. I join him in his prayer and to keep time to our chanting of God's name I started patting my hand on his back ...

The prayer worked. When Bapuji reopened his eyes there was a new strength that appeared then like magic. In a firm tone, he asked all volunteers to quit that place at once and leave him aboslutely alone at the mercy of the hired goonda (thugs) ...

Then he called the leader of the gang who was busy breaking up the congregation and told him that he was absolutely at his disposal if he cared to argue out his point; if not, would he tell what he proposed to do next? To everyone's amazement the hugs' violence melted like ice. The leader of the gang stood before Bapuji with folded hands ... That evening he walked all the way home with one hand on the shoulder of the leader of the gang.