I landed in Seattle very smoothly and thought wow, what a smooth landing! I went to pick the trolley for my bags and found that most of the people were lugging their bags. I thought people were saving their five dollars! I came out and was waiting as my son got stuck in in traffic. While waiting I thought let’s have a coke. I went the counter, I had a lot of change with me, from my previous trips. I gave the girl all loose coins. She counted those twice and had difficulty in counting. I told her don’t worry the amount is right. Finally I could drink my coke.

My son arrived he said there was a big rush at the toll collection and in the parking area. Luckily he had a stash of coins in his glove compartment. He said that I must be having cash? I was wondering what happened to him? Usually he takes away my wallet when I reach the US and returns it when I am being dropped back at the airport.

Again there was a big queue, arguments, somehow people were managing to pay the toll in cash. I thought probably something wrong with their electronic collection system. Reached home, freshened up a bit then I suggested to my son that we go out for dinner at my favourite Italian place. It was almost empty and I was wondering how this place is not crowded on a summer evening. We had our leisurely dinner, followed my practice back home, put the cash and paid; took a small drive in the mountainous area and came home. (Later on I wondered why my son did not object to my paying for the meal)

I put the TV on and saw President Trump just starting his address to the nation. America had decided to monetize itself as all the electronic transfer systems were under tremendous strain. With too many small transactions, internet was getting clogged. Hence the US government had taken a decision that all transaction below US dollars 100/ will be done in cash. Now I realized the meaning of things that I could understand on arrival! My son had about US $ 22.53/ in his home. These he would need for at least two days of travel toll. He was really not sure how long he may have to work from home as getting cash from ATM’s and bank had become a nightmare.. There were big lines all over US at ATM’s and banks. Majority of notes coming out from ATM’s were US $100/ as small denomination notes were in short supply. People had no use for large denomination notes as such. Mr. Trump said US Government had taken this action because a secret report showed that younger American generation could not count, they did not know number tables and they also could not do small mathematical calculations in mind; that is the reason they have started centers all over US to teach young generation to count notes and coins, quickly. Retired bank people, teachers and whoever was willing to help were drafted to teach people to count. At toll booths a lot big boxes were required to collect the small denomination notes and coins. People had difficulty in recognizing notes as many youngsters had hardly ever seen them. Calls were frantically made to Indian government to send experts to share Indian people’s knowledge of stashing cash.  Indian government had a ready list of such people; they were given visas to travel to US, no questions asked!! Large number of small notes were getting printed in the US but CIA was negotiating with counterfeit dollar printers world over, who could offer their presses to print genuine currency. Narcotics gang were also checked but they all had large stacks of high denominations notes. They were offered 20% clean profit for exchanging small currency notes but to no effect.

I was wondering does 12 hrs of time difference make so much difference. Or was it cultural? Or was it in DNA? How the problems of two nations were diagonally opposite? I started to explain to my son the experience of demonetization that we had in India. I was quite animated and moved my hands to explain a point and thud! Something fell down. Oh, I just woke up with a start and my wife said we have just landed at Seattle. She said you were very animated in sleep. We got down and saw our son waiting for us. We embraced and he removed my wallet from my pocket as was normal practice and said “Dad, Welcome to US”!


When I wrote the blog “Self-Development or Nirvana”, a friend Shrikant felt that I have over simplified Nirvana! He also said “My definition of modern Nirvana…….be balanced…be at peace….be happy…. be as good a person as you can possibly be….be thankful to Almighty for what you are!!!!!” I told him that when I wrote about leaving all whatsapp groups as Nirvana, I meant it is as a metaphor. In this blog there could a bit of repetition of thoughts as I am elaborating on Nirvana!

This exchange started a chain of thoughts in my mind. Hinduism is a very old religion, it is a way of life, and all the thinking, teachings and preaching prevalent today, are thoughts from a totally different environment which prevailed when these thoughts were expressed. Human society as we visualize today did not exist in olden days. It started developing today’s format as late as in 18th century when industrialization started taking place.

Earliest human societies were groups or tribes of people which consisted of hunters and gatherers. They would move around the areas surrounding but had limitations. Twenty thousand years back there were pastoral and agrarian societies. Pastoral societies depended on domesticated live-stock and agrarian societies grew crops, settled in certain areas as permanent residents. Life obviously was not easy and larger settlements started from 6000 BC. On this scale, large cities are very recent phenomena.

What must have been life when the Ashrams in Hinduism were defined? I am aware that the top creations/achievements in this world are done at a very young age. So it is possible that many of the brilliant treaties must have been written by people at a very young age. These were prodigies! Like Dynaneshwar wrote Dnyaneshwari at 18,  Mozart wrote his first symphony at the age of 5! My point is when these treaties were written, many things that exist in today’s life just did not exist. So a new interpretation of Ashrams, vis a vis modern civilization, is essential.

For this purpose, we must first understand the meaning of Ashrams as interpreted, based on old knowledge. I am taking the definition of Vanaprastha  & Sannyasa which I felt were reasonably comprehensive.

Vanaprastha – The Hermit in Retreat:

  • This stage of a man begins when his duty as a householder comes to an end
  • He has become a grandfather, his children are grown up, and have established lives of their own.
  • At this age, he should renounce all physical, material and sexual pleasures, retire from his social and professional life, leave his home, and go to live in a forest hut, spending his time in prayers.
  • He is allowed to take his wife along, but is supposed to maintain little contact with the family.
  • This kind of life is indeed very harsh and cruel for an aged person.

Sannyasa – The Wandering Recluse:

  • At this stage, a man is supposed to be totally devoted to God.
  • He is a sannyasi, he has no home, no other attachment
  • He has renounced all desires, fears and hopes, duties and responsibilities.
  • He is virtually merged with God, all his worldly ties are broken, and his sole concern becomes attaining moksha, or release from the circle of birth and death.
  • (Suffice it to say, very few Hindu men can go up to this stage of becoming a complete ascetic.)
  • When he dies, the funeral ceremonies (Pretakarma) are performed by his son and heir.

I will not discuss about Sannyasa as I feel that it is irrelevant and I don’t believe in it. Just because it is mentioned in Hindu treaties, I need not discuss it. So we will discuss Vanprastha.

In the definition of Vanprastha, first two lines are just statements of facts. The third line suggests what he should do at this stage. Next it said, he can take his wife along. But the question is does wife want to go?

To start with, something which does not include both male & female species is incorrect. This thought process “of he”, mentioned in definition is very old. It is suggested that he should renounce everything as his duties in life are over. His children are grown up, he has grandchildren and so on. Does reaching an age really mean that his duties are over? Has everything in life to do with duties?  Is life only about duties then what about pleasure? When this status is reached, I feel that he has the right to enjoy his carefree moments of life without any serious responsibilities. He may want to do things which he was not able to do, during his busy life. He may want to paint, he may want to trek, he may want to learn to sing, and he may just want to meet his friends once in a while for a cup of tea. He may want to read books. He may want to travel and see the places he has not been to. He may want go for a pilgrimage- what is pilgrimage? The definitions are changing. My friend Shrikant suggested that the recent Alaska Cruise that we took was a pilgrimage, to be with the nature for a week! Yes, I agree.

The system of ashrams is believed to be prevalent since the 5th century BC in Hindu society. However, historians say that these stages of life were always viewed more as ‘ideals’ than as common practice. According to one scholar, even in its very beginning, after the first ashram, a young adult could choose which of the other ashrams he would wish to pursue for the rest of his life. Today, it is not expected that a Hindu male should go through the four stages, but these thoughts still stand as important “pillars” of Hindu socio-religious tradition.

Many things in life are followed as “Pratha” (a way of life followed as a tradition). Many a times we follow these as God’s directive. We don’t try to discuss traditions in reference to modern society and modern way of thinking. Some of traditions may not withstand analysis of modern way of thinking as these were decided when world itself was totally different. My friend Ramesh said that Pratha becomes tradition, Tradition becomes faith and faith turns into blind faith due to fear of God! Very appropriately said!

Why were thoughts like Ashram suggested, like giving up everything in Vanprastha? First scientific point that needs to be discussed is the life expectancy of those times. I don’t think many saw their grandchildren, maybe many died even before they produced children. That is the reason population was not increasing rapidly in those days. In fact societies were wiped out by diseases like plague and cholera! Now those people who saw their grandchildren must have found life irrelevant as not many people of their age were around. So what else do you do? Give up everything, maybe die quietly one day! There was nothing else to look forward to, for such people, maybe it was very easy to give up everything when there was nothing.

What is the meaning of life? What is reason to live? What is the purpose of life? To be born and to die are two things on which we have no control. It is the life in between that matters. Based on these discussions on life we can try to arrive at definition of Nirvana! Our definition of Nirvana should address these three questions.

I do not think anyone will be able to give you an answer unless we know a person who has attained nirvana. We as humans probably do not understand this completely. This is similar to a color blind person from birth, will never able to explain what red and blue is. The person will be able to talk about the wavelength of the color, how it’s used in the human world, it’s speed, through education but will never really can explain the look or feel of the color.

If you are in the state of nirvana, then you will not be having attachments to anything. No greed, no wants, no lust, no fear, no temptations. Nothing. Zero. That is when you know you have attained nirvana. ( As per older thought process)

Some people think that they have let go of these worldly things, so they have attained nirvana. It’s not easy, but not impossible. Can everybody attain it?

My take on Niravana, similar to thoughts Shrikant’s mentioned at the beginning and bang opposite of old thinking.

  • Always keep your humility and empathy for others
  • Keep your faith intact and believe in divine power, some people may call it God
  • Let the child within you be always alive
  • Be keen to learn something new, it could be technology, art, religion
  • Don’t lose your ability to keep smiling
  • Enjoy your passions, it could be watching movies, reading books, travel
  • Do something which you were never able to do in your life
  • Don’t feel bad to enjoy materialistic things but never go after them
  • Be thankful to Almighty for what you are- (as my friend Shrikant said)
  • Last but not the least be in touch with family and friends, always

I feel that if we achieve 70% of above we have reached Nirvana! This my friends is my definition of Niravana!! What is your take?

Developed or Developing?

Whenever there is a discussion about different countries, on any forum, countries are either referred as developed or developing. I have never been sure how such definitions evolved. India became independent in 1947 and became a sovereign country. We were under British rule for a very long time. We evolved as a nation slowly from socialistic thoughts of 50’s where we wanted everybody to be equal. 60’s evolved differently with humiliating defeat by China in 1962 war and stalemate war with Pakistan of 1965. 70’s made us a proud nation with victory in war against Pakistan but emergency and Indira Gandhi’s ego pulled us back leading to various things like bank nationalization. With Amitabh Bacchan the angry young man and Sunil Gavaskars subtle arrogance on the field with his bat, started evolving a nation which was less afraid to deal internationally. 80’s were experiments with democracy and beginning of Khalistan movement. During all these phases our economy grew at the rate of 2.5% which came to be known as Hindu rate of growth. 90’s brought forced liberalization due to severe economic setbacks but things started moving in a positive direction with emergence of IT industry and yes, Sachin Tendulkar! These two started making India more confident and rest as they is history!

In 2016 when rest of the world is struggling to grow, our economy is growing around 7% and that too for quite a few years. We see a lot of technical improvements, modernization, highways and vehicles and so on. With these changes India should be changing into a developed nation. But are we? Does the country become a developed nation with strong sustained economic growth? I don’t think so. Technology and modernity do not make a nation developed. According to me a society becomes developed when it evolves as a good matured society. A person can be a professional but person also needs to be a good human being. Otherwise that professional can be compared with India of today. Developed and backward at the same time.

I feel that the parameters that generally define a developed country is one where majority of people follow the rules and minority breaks them. Fear of law, good implementation, training from childhood, consideration about others are some of the reasons. The road discipline decides the developed status of a country. In a developed nation, there will be an odd motorist or two driving like crazy. But in our case it is totally reverse. A couple of weeks back I drove down to Mumbai. I was driving at the allowed speed limit within plus/minus variation caused by not having cruise control. In both my journeys not a single car stayed with me. All were above speed limit, between 25 to 50 km/hr. Mind you not a single car including Altos & Maruti 800’s of this world. Of course about 20% were zig zagging the lanes.

Queue anywhere in the world, is the standard method of waiting for your turn. We were at Frankfurt airport last year to board a flight to Mumbai with 95% desi crowd. As the flight was announced there was so much rush by passengers that five passengers who needed wheel chair support could not come forward to board. Staff had to literally push other people back to allow wheel chair passengers to go in first! Why? Why? Simple, as a society we are not developed. People knew that the plane is NOT going leave without them.

Pehle Aap, “you go first please” is supposed to be Lucknow nawabi culture. But try entering a train at Lucknow station. Is this due to fear psychosis of shortages that our society developed post-independence? We as a society feel that it is better to grab things before they are finished.

Wait at a signal anywhere on roads and you will find that Auto wallahs and taxi wallahs will use the stop to spit! Everybody knows that spitting in public places can spread disease.

In the year 2016, we have advertisements on our radios encouraging people to use toilets instead of defecating in open. In certain parts of our country it is considered “manly” to defecate in open rather than in toilets! How humbling and embarrassing it must be for ladies to use fields for nature’s calls! On one side we call women Goddess of the house and on other side we do not bother about life’s basic necessities. Sign of developed society? Poverty is one aspect but people just do not want to change.

In international flying, Indians are known to be notorious passengers. If free alcohol is served they will just keep consuming. They will keep on asking for some service or the other from staff. All these years, after so many flights, I needed additional service only once when I spilled a soft drink on my blanket. Otherwise I have never required any special service other than the standard ones offered.

Another way of judging developed status is by looking at the use of currency notes for transactions. In developed countries senior citizens still use currency instead of using cards, net banking etc for a simple reason that they find very difficult to switch over. Young generation almost never uses currency notes. My son may have a couple of dollars in his pocket at the most, at any time. I personally was required to use currency to pay for usage of a trolley at an automated machine at airports. In India, we pay in cash for SUV’s costing Rs.20/ lacs in cash. This indicates the corrupt practices used on a day to day basis. In developed nations corruption is of course there but it is usually in restricted areas; their money remains above board in tax heavens. Nobody buys a BMW paying $ 50000/ in cash!

We as a society should be proud of technical achievements, management achievements, and agricultural achievements and so on. We may have scored from B+ to A+ in these area. ISRO is a classic case of A+ on any scale and in comparison with the best in the world. But on social side we are from B- to F! Why is that so? I feel that it is simply because we don’t have empathy for others in our DNA. Add to that the sudden rise in income levels in the society. Handling sudden increase in income is more difficult than actually handling the money. Rich kids will throw notes at the policeman if they have broken some traffic rules. The policeman instead of charging him for both traffic rule breakage and trying to bribe the policeman, will just pocket the money.

We don’t want to change with times on social side. When population was small and there were no large cities and motorized vehicles, there were certain rules. We continue using the same thought processes in cities even today. We will just occupy space on road or a footpath and start hawking our goods. If encroachment team comes and takes away your stuff, we will do the same thing immediately or the next day, if we have money to procure goods again. Such encroachment is our birth right. Cars will stop in no parking zone with their drivers. I asked a policeman why these cars are allowed to be parked; he said it is ok to park as long as there is a driver in the car! Rules be damned. Buses will not stop close to bus stops because people come and stand on roads. Because buses don’t stop properly people stand on road. How to resolve such things?

Government’s current demonetization drive has caused hardship to people to exchange currency notes. The way people have handled the situation indicates that under certain circumstances we behave like developed countries. I am told that in Metro Railways in different cities people do behave in a much matured way and gives a feel as if you are in a developed nation. I can say that in pockets, we as a society have started behaving as if we are a developed nation.

Friends this argument can go on and on! But if we want to become a developed nation we have to change socially and in a big way! Here is something all of us can do. Don’t go out and preach. But we can help people in our own eco system to improve. For example tell your driver never to park in no parking area. Tell your servants about cleanliness. Tell your colleagues about empathy. While passing through a door, it should not be courtesy only to ladies but to all! Teach your children or grandchildren to say thank you and most important teach them to say sorry, when required. Do the same with your colleagues too and lead by example. There are many things which we can do but we need to start today!

Self-development or Nirvana!

A dear friend of mine is going away from whatsapp groups in pursuit of self-development which I want to term as Nirvana! As per thinking in Hinduism there are four Ashrams; Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanprastha, Sanyasa. I am just trying to relate this in today’s times of superb communications. As per historians Ashrams are ideals to be followed in an Utopian world. First two Brahmacharya, Grihastha have been crossed long back by me and my friends. In olden days how many really reached Vanprastha, Sanyasa stage, I am really not sure, because average life expectancy for a male in India in the year 1900 was about 24 years. (Only men supposedly took path of ashrams, women even in those days followed “whatevermalesallowed” ashram)  Realistically these ashrams look to me more hypothetical.

In olden days say 2000 years back, life as we expect today did not exist. Ashrams were supposedly defined in that period. There was almost nothing from today’s world. Simple things like having fire to cook, clean water, basic travel were a big struggle. Every basic thing was a big, tough and difficult task. It started with gathering basic food on a daily as there was no organized farming. I can’t imagine how people must have handled basic illness like cough, cold and loose motions.  With such difficult times and people dying so early (I am sure a few survived and maybe reached the age of 80/90- they were called rishis and were of indeterminate age as they had seen more than 3 generations so nobody really knew their age- some rishis were said to be 2000 years old!) ashrams were really the imagination of writers. But these writers were correct between say 1950 to 2000 when the dawn of current century started with Internet. With proliferation of internet ashram theories are getting tossed out of window. Let me explain.

In my father’s time or before, you had Grihastha ashram, retired from service and if you did not die early you could think of Vanprastha because there was nothing else to do. Most of the people of your generation were either dead or sick or too old. They were practically surviving on day to day basis. They were never a part of social circles and would spend time doing Pooja, singing Bhajans and so on. Now when people born in 40’s started retiring e mails and better communication had just started. People had started communicating easily and better. With this, locating old friends had become easier. Add to this life expectancy improvement. They could now meet old friends; switch to 2016. Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter wow! Looking for old friends, and for that matter flames if you may, and classmates is just like looking into phone directories (who looks into phone directories now!)

With these tools you are pulled into so many groups on various tools. Then you have weekly tea meetings, monthly breakfast meetings, half yearly dinner and yearly jamboree! You are really in touch with a large number of people and inadvertently get into a lot of discussions, arguments and so on. Vanprastha ashram goes for a toss in such situations. But my argument is that true Vanprastha can be achieved only today when you have so many things open for you, as so many things are available at your fingertips. Life expectancy has reasonably improved, average health is also better. Going away from at least some of the things for some time or permanently is Vanprastha ashram. One has to be a bit careful here. Do you really want to go away from your friends? Do you really not want to travel and see the world? Do you really not want to taste different delicacies and wines? If you are able to achieve Vanprastha in moderation you are really achieving something! It is not necessary that old theory of giving up “Everything” was correct! When there was nothing to give up what did you give up? Yes but today I am sure you can really give up something and try to achieve Nirvana!

I wish all the best my dear friend and salute you!