Thursday, September 13, 2018

Gays and colonial brainwashing: Learn from India’s open, exuberant past and respect those who differ from us

Times of India | September 12, 2018 - 19:41

My son is gay and i no longer feel reluctant to admit it. He has been in a loyal, happy relationship with his partner for 20 years and my family and close friends have accepted it gracefully. I didn't dare speak about it in public, however, for fear of bringing him any harm – that is until 12.35pm on Thursday when the Supreme Court (SC) decriminalised homosexuality. My wife and i suddenly feel as if a great burden has lifted. The chief justice's wise words continue to ring in my ears, "I am what I am. So, take me as I am."

For 157 years, Indians have lived under a tyrannical colonial law that was contrary to our country's ancient spirit. Meanwhile, the English realised their mistake – that "sexual orientation is natural and people have no control over it" (as the court's judgment said) – and they discarded the law in Britain long ago. Tragically, the colonial brainwashing went so deep that this un-Indian imposition remained on India's statute books for 71 years after the colonisers left.

I was too young in August 1947 to understand what it meant to be politically free but i was certainly old enough to celebrate our economic independence in July 1991. And on September 6, 2018, i was not too old to applaud our ‘emotional independence’. India is a country in transition from tradition to modernity and it is just as important to speak and act freely about our emotional life as our economic and political lives. For too long we have repressed emotions and lived with patriarchal stereotypes. Secrecy is unhealthy for a wholesome society.

Although the judges quoted great Western writers in support of their historic judgment, they could also have cited classical Indian texts, which show remarkable tolerance for gender ambiguity. The epics are full of stories about men turning into women and vice versa, and they are told matter of factly without guilt or shame. There are plenty of examples in Vanita and Kidwai’s book, Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History.

India’s is the only civilisation to have elevated kama or desire and pleasure to a goal of life. Along with the three other aims – artha, ‘material well-being’, dharma, ‘moral well-being’, and moksha, ‘spiritual well-being’, we are expected to cherish kama’s ‘emotional well-being’. We are constantly reminded about dharma, our duty to others but the thought escapes us that kama is a duty to ourselves. The extreme pleasure of sex is, perhaps, recompense for the loneliness of the human condition.

In the Christian tradition, in the beginning was light (in Genesis). In the Rig Veda, in the beginning was kama and the cosmos was created from the seed of desire in the mind of the One. Desire was the first act of consciousness and ancient Indians called it shakti, the source of the sexual drive and the life instinct. In contrast, desire was associated with ‘original sin’, guilt and shame in Christianity.

We blame the Victorians for the prudishness of today’s Indian middle class but lurking deep in the Indian psyche is also pessimism about kama. More than 2,500 years ago in the forests of north India, ancient yogis, renouncers and the Buddha were struck by the unsatisfactory nature of kama. The yogis sought ways to quiet this endless, futile striving. Patanjali taught us chitta vriti nirodha to still the fluctuations of the mind. The ascetic god, Shiva, burnt the god Kama when the latter disturbed his thousand-year meditation; hence, desire exists ananga, ‘bodiless’ in the mind. Bhagavad Gita’s answer is to learn to act without desire but it is difficult to achieve it when ‘man is desire’ according to the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.

Opposed to the pessimists were optimists, who thought of kama as a ‘life force’, a cosmic energy that animated the cell and held it in place. Since kama is the source of action, creation and procreation, their optimism culminated in the first millennium in Sanskrit love poetry and an erotic text of manners, the Kamasutra, which is not a sex manual but a charming, surprisingly modern guide to the art of living. In the clash between the optimists and pessimists emerged kama realists, who offered a grand compromise in the dharma texts, stating that sex is fine as long as it is within marriage.

Into this pre-modern world entered the British with a pessimistic overhang of what George Bernard Shaw contemptuously called ‘Victorian middle class morality’, and they enacted laws such as Section 377. Fortunately, a more optimistic age began in India in the 1990s when the minds of the urban young began to get decolonised, reaching a peak in 2009 with the landmark judgment of Justice AP Shah of the Delhi high court on same sex relationships.

There was a regression for a while after 2013 when the higher court reversed course, but after Thursday’s SC judgment, a new era of kama optimism has begun. It will take time for a court ruling to overcome prejudice in society, especially at a time when right-wing vigilantes appear to lose their rational faculties over ‘love jihad’, Valentine’s Day (which should be renamed ‘Kamadeva Divas’, as Shashi Tharoor has suggested) and ‘Romeo squads’ run amuck.

The SC judgment implies that to be civilised is to say: I prefer the opposite sex but I do not object to you preferring the same sex. In a free, civilised country we must learn to respect those who differ from us. The state should stay out of the bedroom and let us learn from our open, exuberant ancient traditions, where the secret to a rich, flourishing life lies in the harmonious equilibrium between the four goals of life.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Amazon vs Walmart: Take advantage of the coming battle of giants by freeing India's farmers

In the uproar surrounding last week’s acquisition of Flipkart by Walmart, the true significance of the world’s largest e-commerce deal escaped everyone. Headlines screamed about the coming battle in India between two American giants, Amazon and Walmart. News channels narrated a Cinderella story of two youngsters who started selling a few books from their two bedroom flat in Bengaluru and created a company that was worth $21 billion ten years later, making a hundred of its employees dollar millionaires.

Nationalists moaned about the takeover of an Indian by a foreign company. Economists saw it as a coming of age of India: following China’s example, India too would now join up with one of the most powerful global supply chains, giving a major impetus to our exports, accelerating foreign investment and jobs in the country.

India’s young start-up community was excited that the deal was a role model of how an Indian entrepreneur could be handsomely rewarded for the hard work in building a company. And our tax department was salivating over the bonanza in capital gains from the deal.

All this is true but none of it captures the full story. Yes, May 10, 2018 was a historic milestone in India’s economic history when Walmart, the world’s largest retailer announced a $16 billion acquisition for a 77% stake in Flipkart, India’s largest online marketplace. It was a lot of money to pay for a company that was losing money and not expected to break even in the next five years; some had even predicted the demise of Flipkart. When the deal was announced, the price of Walmart shares fell in its home country and investors lost $10 billion.

What most observers failed to grasp are the true benefits to India, which emanate from Walmart’s competitive advantage over Amazon. It is able to deliver fresh, high quality vegetables, fruits and other farm produce via a legendary cold chain which it has perfected in 28 countries. Neither Amazon, nor Flipkart has this.

Reliance also tried to do a Walmart in India in its foray into ‘Reliance Fresh’ but it failed. It is also good news for kirana stores. Walmart has been operating a chain of 21 Best Price wholesale stores, supplying to over a million retailers in India. It now plans to convert many of them into ‘partners’ for its last mile delivery to the Indian home.

It will upgrade the kirana store’s skills in inventory management, digital payments, and logistics technology. Thus, it has neutralised the earlier hostility from the trade. The real story in the emerging e-commerce battle is the potential transformation of India’s agriculture and kirana store.

A respected management consultancy firm has estimated that the Walmart-Flipkart venture will require infusion of significantly more capital – Walmart has already announced $5 billion – and this could create roughly a crore new jobs over time. It has already made a strong start by sourcing 97% of its goods from Indian medium and small enterprises, exporting $4-5 billion each year.

This trend will accelerate. In line with its global practice, the new Walmart operation will source 95% of its goods locally. Plus, the jobs it will create in logistics, cold chain, warehousing, distribution and delivery, add up to 10 million jobs.

I sometimes wonder why i pay Rs 20 per kilo for potatoes when the farmer receives only Rs 5. My potatoes travel some distance, i realise, from the farm to the mandi to my kirana shop, and each person in the chain takes his cut. Still, the Rs 15 gap seems excessive. Analysis shows that in countries where large supermarkets operate, the gap is smaller because farmers have long term contracts with large retailers and they invariably receive higher returns because of eliminating middlemen.

Yes, it is arthiyas and wholesalers in the mandi who will lose. But i refuse to shed tears for them since they operate a corrupt cartel which exploits the farmer. A typical farmer harvests his crop, loads it on a bullock cart, travels 30 km to the mandi, where he is often forced to sell at distress prices fixed by the cartel. The arthiya knows that the crop is perishable.

Aware of this corrupt system, the central government has created a model reform act, scrapping the ‘agricultural produce marketing committees’ (APMC). But only a few states (like Maharashtra and Bihar) have implemented it. The reason is that the corrupt APMCs provide black money to politicians to fight elections. The e-NAM portal was supposed to provide online information to farmers in surrounding mandis, but like most government programmes it has been a flop.

In contrast, global retailers like Walmart invest in cold storages, airconditioned trucks and grading facilities, and connect the farmer to food processors; this saves post-harvest losses and increases farmer income. Given the pervasive APMC cartels, the benefits of Walmart’s entry will thus only be confined to a handful of states. This is a great pity since a third to half of India’s food crop rots.

If he is serious about doubling farmer incomes, Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces a choice. Will he pick up the phone and tell chief ministers of BJP ruled states to abolish APMCs, or will he accept the corrupt cartels that finance his, and other parties? If he is true to his election promises to end corruption and double farm incomes, he will free farmers to sell their produce to anyone they choose, freeing them from the clutches of the ‘APMC Raj’. Only in this way will India take the full advantage of the coming battle of the giants.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

गुस्से के युग में अपनी जीवनशैली को श्रेष्ठ न मानें

संदर्भ... देश के हर वर्ग में बढ़ता रोष व असंतोष और रोजगार बढ़ाने पर पूरा ध्या न केंद्रित करने की जरूरत

प्रत्येक नए वर्ष पर मेरे पड़ोसी महोदय बहुत प्रयत्नपूर्वक संकल्प लेते हैं और उतनी ही फुर्ती से जनवरी खत्म होने के पहले उन्हें तोड़ भी डालते हैं। हम आमतौर पर साल के पहले हफ्ते में मिलकर एक-दूसरे को अपने संकल्प बताते हैं लेकिन, मैं जनवरी मेंम्यांमार व दक्षिण-पूर्वी एशिया में था तो हम पिछले हफ्ते ही मिल पाए, जब मेरी पत्नी ने उन्हें एक मग मसाला चाय के लिए आमंत्रित किया । 'तो बताएं इस साल आपका इरादा कौन-से संकल्प तोड़ने का है?' मेरे पड़ोसी ने कबूल किया कि उनका एक संकल्प तो राजनीति और धर्म पर कम गुस्सा करने का है।

पंकज मिश्रा की गहरी दृष्टि देने वाली किताब 'एज ऑफ एंगर' के मुताबिक हम क्रोध के युग में जी रहे हैं। राष्ट्रवादी राजनीतिक आंदोलनों के फिर उदय ने भारत सहित पूरी दुनिया का ध्रुवीकरण किया है। हम हमेशा मौजूद हिंसा से गुजर रहे हैं, जिसे अल्पसंख्यकों के प्रति नफरत और राष्ट्रवाद के विषैले रूपों से ईंधन मिल रहा है। दक्षिणपंथी अतिवादियों की हिंसा के बराबर ही उदारवादियों का अहंकार है, जो सहिष्णुता के नाम पर उन लोगों के साथ ठीक वैसा ही असहिष्णु व्यवहार करते हैं, जिनकी आस्थाएं उनसे अलग हैं। खामियां दोनों तरफ हैं और 2018 के लिए मोदी के श्रेष्ठतम संकल्पों में से एक यह होना चाहिए कि इस विभाजन को भरें, सोशल मीडिया में अधिक सभ्य बहस लाएं और हमारी ज़िंदगियों को अधिक शांत बनाएं। भारत आज उपद्रवग्रस्त और असंतुष्ट राष्ट्र है। बुद्धिजीवी वर्ग मोदी पर गुस्सा है कि वे देश का ध्रुवीकरण करने का प्रयास कर रहे हैं। वमपंथ अब तक 2014 में उनकी विजय को पचा नहीं पाया है और यह देख स्तब्ध है कि उनकी लोकप्रियता बरकरार है और 2019 के लिए कोई विकल्प नहीं दिखा ई देता । हिंदू क्रोधित हैं, क्योंकि बुद्धिजीवी वर्ग ने उनकी हिंदू पहचान को उनके लिए शर्म का विषय बना दिया है।

हिंदूत्व पर सतत जोर देने से मुस्लि म खुद को असुरक्षित महसूस कर रहे हैं। दलित और ओबीसी गुस्से में हैं, क्योंकि वे भाजपा के उच्चवर्गीय पूर्वग्रह के कारण अपमानित और बहिष्कृत महसूस कर रहे हैं। मध्यवर्ग क्रोधित हैं, क्योंकि भारत की आर्थिक नीतियों ने हमारे देश को पूर्वी और दक्षिण-पूर्वी एशिया के देशों से बहुत पीछे कर दिया है। इन सारी वा स्तविकताओं के भारत के साथ आम आदमी की नाराजगी है कि अंग्रेजी बोलने वाले श्रेष्ठि वर्ग ने 'आधुनिकता के श्रेष्ठतम फल' हथिया लिए हैं। वंचित नाराज हैं कि मोदी ने रोजगार और अच्छे दिन के वादे पूरे नहीं किए। इन सारे लोगों के गुस्से को पहचान पर जोर देने का तैयार औजार मिल गया- गुजरात में पाटीदार, हरियाणा में जाट, राजस्थान में गुर्जर, आंध्र में कापुस और असम में अहोम आंदोलन इसी के लक्षण हैं।

गुस्से में आमतौर पर कि सी प्रकार का बदला लेने की इच्छा अंतर्निहित होती है, यह इच्छा कि गलत करने वा ले को तकलीफ पहुंचनी चाहिए। बेशक यह तर्क हीन है, क्योंकि गलत करने वा ले के कष्ट भुगतने से शिकार हुए व्यक्ति की तकलीफ खत्म नहीं हो सकती या जो हुआ उसे उलटा नहीं जा सकता। गुस्से का जवाब यह है कि या तो इस पर तब तक हंसा जाए जब तक कि यह चला नहीं जाता अथवा कोई करुणामय उम्मीद जगाने वाला नेता खोज लिया जाए जैसे महात्मा गांधी, मार्टिन लूथर किंग या नेल्सन मंडेला, जो लोगों को क्षमाशीलता का महत्व समझाए। क्रोध का विरोध करना न सिर्फ हमारी मानवीयता बल्कि विवेक को भी रेखांकित करता है। भारत जैसे महात्वाकांक्षी देश में तो यह और भी जरूरी है। राजनीतिक गुस्से का एकमात्र फायदा यह है कि यह हमें बाहर निकलकर वोट देने को बाध्य करता है।

फिर क्रोध की राजनीति की सही प्रतिक्रिया क्या हो? महाभारत में युधिष्ठिर का जवाब था क्षमा और सहिष्णुता । उन्होंने दुर्योधन को जुए में चालबाजी के जरिये उनका राज्य छीनने के लिए क्षमा कर दिया। द्रौपदी चाहती थी कि वे सेना खड़ी करके बदला लेकर राज्य वापस छीन लें पर उन्होंने जवाब दिया कि जुए में हारने के बाद उन्होंने निर्वासन में जाने का वादा किया है। इसी तरह युद्ध के बाद उन्होंने धृतराष्ट्र को भी माफ कर दिया और उन्हें सिंहासन पर बैठाकर उनके नाम पर शासन करने का प्रस्ताव रखा । विद्वानों का मानना है कि चूंकि महाभारत 500 वर्षों में विकसित हुआ है तो युधिष्ठिर का पात्र बौद्ध सम्राट अशोक के अहिंसा के आदर्शों से प्रभावित रहा है, जिनके धर्मस्तंभ 'सभी नस्लों के लिए सम्मान' का संदेश देते हैं। लेकिन भीष्म ने युधिष्ठिर को कहा कि शासक का काम क्षमा करना नहीं बल्कि न्याय देना है।

भारत में सारी सरकारें धार्मिक व जातिगत पहचानों को पुचकारने के कारण समूह के ऊपर व्यक्ति की प्रमुखता पर जोर देने में विफल रही हैं। धर्म दुधारी तलवार है। जहां यह हमारी भ्रमित, अनिश्चित निजी ज़िंदगियों को अर्थ प्रदान करता है वहीं यह एक विशिष्ट पहचान भी निर्मित करता है और यह जल्दी ही सार्वजनिक रूप से खुद को व्यक्त करने लगती है। प्रतिस्पर्धात्मक लोकतंत्र में धर्मनिरपेक्ष राजनीति अपने आप सामने नहीं आती। पश्चिम में राजनेता ओं को राजनीति से धर्म को पूरी तरह हटा ने के लिए प्रेरित करने में सदियां लग गईं। इस्लामी जगत अब भी इस समस्या से संघर्ष कर रहा है। भारत में सहिष्णुता की परम्परा रही है, जिसे महात्मा गांधी ने फिर जागृत किया । मोदी लोगों को याद दिलाएं कि साधारण भारतीय देश को हिंदू पाकिस्तान नहीं बनाना चाहते।

समस्या तब शुरू होती है, जब धर्म राजनीतिक क्षेत्र में प्रवेश करता है। किसी धर्म में विश्वास करने वाला तो स्वाभाविक रूप से यही मानेगा कि उसकी पद्धति श्रेष्ठतम है। धार्मि क विश्वासों से दूर रहने वाले धर्मनिरपेक्षवादियों को भी धार्मि क नागरिकों के दृढ़ विश्वासों को महत्व देना चाहिए और भारतीय राजनीति को मुस्लिमों के लिए हिंदू घृणा के लेंस से देखना बंद करना चाहि ए। हिंदुओं को नीचा दिखा कर वे उनके रोष को मजबूती देकर उन्हें हिंदुत्व में और गहरे धकेल देते हैं। सबसे बढ़कर तो यह है कि हर किसी को यह मानना छोड़ देना चाहिए कि उनकी जीवनशैली ही श्रेष्ठतम है।

मोदी को साम्प्रदायिक हिंसा जरा भी बर्दाश्त न करते हुए अपना पूरा ध्यान जॉब पैदा करने पर लगाना चाहिए। अर्थव्यवस्था में जान आते ही इस्लामी और हिंदू दोनों तरह के धार्मिक कट्टरपंथी अपने जॉब में डूब जाएंगे, अपने बच्चों को अच्छे स्कूलों में भेजेंगे और सामान्य मध्यवर्गीय जीवन जीने लगेंगे। चूंकि युद्ध की बजाय शांति का आकर्षण अधिक होता है, व्यापार-व्यवसाय उपलब्धियों की राह के रूप में धार्मिक श्रेष्ठता व विजयों की जगह ले लेगा।

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Giving while living: India’s new rich lose the stingy tag

Two events in the 1960s had a deep influence on my life. When I was 17, I got an undergraduate scholarship to Harvard. I was able to go only because an anonymous American family gave money for the scholarship — I never knew the family and would never know them. When I was abroad, I felt ashamed because newspapers called India a “basket case”.
A ship from America laden with grain used to arrive at an Indian port ‘every ten minutes’ during the drought years. Soon, however, the situation changed spectacularly. Norman Borlaug, an American scientist, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, helped discover a miracle, hybrid variety of wheat, which created a ‘green revolution’ in India, making it agriculturally surplus in many crops.
What unites these two events is the great tradition of American private philanthropy. On an individual level, it made my liberal education possible. On a national scale, Rockefeller’s philanthropy led to a scientific breakthrough and brought prosperity to India. My purpose in recounting these two tales is to report that something similar is happening today in India — a quiet, philanthropic revolution is under way.
According to the respected annual Bain-Dasra India Philanthropy Report, private individual donations in the past five years have grown faster than either foreign donations or corporate donations via CSR or government welfare funding. They rose six fold from Rs 6,000 crore in 2011 to Rs 36,000 crore in 2016. Government was still the largest contributor at Rs 150,000 crore in 2016 but if this trend continues, private philanthropy could play a major role in improving education, health and alleviating poverty in the future.
This news is surprising and destroys a few myths. Wealth accumulation is a recent phenomenon — only after 1991, did Indians begin to accumulate serious wealth, after the ‘license raj’ went away with its 97% tax rate. Philanthropy usually begins after a few generations of family wealth. Typically, the first generation makes the money and flaunts it, as Laxmi Mittal did with his daughter’s famous wedding in France. The second generation doesn’t want money; it wants power, which explains why the Kennedys and Rockefellers joined politics. Born into money and power, the third generation seeks respectability and dedicates itself to philanthropy and art.
Thomas Mann, the Nobel Prize-winning German writer, makes this point in Buddenbrooks, my favourite novel about a business family. In his saga of three generations, the scruffy, astute patriarch makes the family fortune; his son becomes a senator; but his aesthetic, physically weak grandson devotes himself to music. But every rule has its exceptions. Even during the American ‘robber baron era’ in the late 19th and early 20th century, Andrew Carnegie, the steel king, gave away 90% of his fortune mostly to create public libraries in American cities.
The dramatic change today is that most entrepreneurs are giving away money during their lifetime. Just as the money-making cycle has shortened in the knowledge economy, so has philanthropy. Inspired by Chuck Feeney, Bill Gates famously broke the three generation cycle to give away his money in his lifetime. Warren Buffet followed suit. And they are role models today for the young rich. Gates is inspiring young entrepreneurs around the world with his ‘giving pledge’ to give away half their wealth in their lifetime. He has inspired Azim Premji, the Nilekanis, Shiv Nadar, Sunil Mittal, Ashish Dhawan, and many generous others.
They are not only writing cheques, but bringing the same passion to philanthropy as they did to their business. In Dhawan’s case it has meant creating a world-class liberal arts university, Ashoka, with several like-minded founders. If you get into Ashoka, like Harvard, you are guaranteed a scholarship from an anonymous donor. The Nadars are creating a world-class museum.
The Bain report has broken another myth propagated by the Indian Left — that Indian businessmen are callous and stingy. The Panchatantra has a wonderful story which suggests that the spirit of giving always prevailed in India. An older merchant is advising a younger one that a successful life requires four skills. First, he says, you must learn to make money. Next, you must learn to conserve it. Third, you must know how spend it — don’t be mean or extravagant. Finally, learn to give it away — and that too is a skill. With India ranking 130th on the Human Development Index, the wealthy have their work cut out, although obviously they can never replace the government’s role.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Here’s tangible proof of minimum govt, maximum governance

In this winter of our discontent — as we try and cope with a toxic smog enveloping the northwest, declining growth, job losses and a cumbersome GST — there is finally some good news that should lift our spirits. India has risen 30 places in the World Bank’s global ranking in the Ease of Doing Business (EoDB). More significantly, it has improved on all 10 criteria — no other country has achieved this.
Reading this report alongside the study by IDFC/Niti Aayog based on an enterprise survey of over 3,200 companies, gives tangible grounds to believe institutional reforms on the ground have finally begun. This is the first tangible proof of Narendra Modi’s promise of ‘minimum government, maximum governance,’ and in upgrading India’s rating, Moody’s has also underlined that only through institutional reforms will India realise its potential.
India is a bottom-up success; China is a top-down success. A purposive Chinese state has built the most amazing infrastructure at breakneck pace and converted China into a middle-class nation within a generation. India’s is a story of private success and public failure–its rise is due to its enterprising people rather than the state. Our red tape and bureaucracy breaks the spirit of small and medium enterprises that create the most jobs. The World Bank has been pointing this out for 15 years but every Indian government till now has ignored the EoDB, preferring instead to pick holes in its methodology.
This is the first government that has taken EoDB seriously, according to the World Bank. When Modi set a target to reach rank 50 from 142, everyone thought it was a pipedream; it now appears achievable. Our success is due mainly to the gradual shifting of state-citizen interface online; the second reason is the competitive spirit engendered between states. Once glitches in the GST and the insolvency law are overcome India’s ranking should improve further.
In the states assessment, Andhra/Telangana share first place, followed by Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh. The five worst performers are Delhi, Kerala, Assam, Himachal and Tamil Nadu. The IDFC report confirms that states with improved EoDB have been rewarded with higher growth.
The greatest indictment is of the Indian judiciary. India still ranks among the lowest in the world in the time taken to enforce contracts. Business depends critically on settling disputes between buyers and sellers but India still lacks district commercial courts manned by judges with commercial training; nor, do we employ e-courts, allowing judges to read documents on-line prior to hearings and thus speeding judgements. Contract enforcement in China takes less than one-tenth of the time as India.
EoDB is a great corruption fighter. Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal were so obsessed with the Lokpal Bill that they did not realise that EoDB would do far more to eliminate corruption. Corruption is like malaria — you need to clear the swamps to prevent it. Lokpal is like quinine — you take it after you have fallen sick. It is better to prevent corruption than to catch crooks. Not surprisingly, the top ten EoDB countries have little or no corruption, but they also have a lokpal-type ombudsman to make high officials accountable.
EoDB can improve the aam aadmi’s life. The same process change that reduced the time to issue a construction permit by Delhi’s municipality (MCD) has also resulted in reducing the number of days to get a birth certificate. Renewing your driver’s licence in Delhi now requires half an hour without a pay-off and you receive the new licence by post within a few days.
At rank 100, India still has a long way to go. The IDFC report has highlighted many gaps between intent and reality. Most enterprises are still not aware that their states offer single-window clearance. Employment-intensive sectors still have to put up with corrupt labour inspectors. Land acquisition is mired in red tape. It is a reminder to the government to pass the pending labour and land acquisition bills as soon as it has majority in the Rajya Sabha.
But imagine if we had implemented the EoDB reforms in 1991! India would be twice as prosperous today with far less corruption.
The cost of this delay is a tragedy, reminding us that India’s socialist era which claimed to deliver growth with social justice, delivered neither. When Shakespeare said in Richard III, ‘Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this son of York’, he was suggesting that the time of unhappiness is past. I wish we could say that about our country. Only when our economy’s growth rate crosses 8% and jobs come in droves will ‘achhe din’ truly arrive. Meanwhile, this is a great step forward.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

काम ही खुशी है, जॉब देने का वादा पूरा करें

मेरे सारे परिचि तों ने पि छले माह डोकलाम में भारत-चीन गति रोध खत्म होने पर गहरी राहत महसूस की थी। हफ्तों तक हवा में युद्ध के बादल मंडराते रहे, जबकि भारत-चीन को अपने इति हास के इस निर्णा यक मौके पर युद्ध बिल्कु ल नहीं चाहि ए। हम में से कई लोग भूटान के प्रति गहरी कृतज्ञता महसूस कर रहे हैं कि वह भारत के साथ खड़ ा रहा और हम अन्य पड़ोसि यों से भी ऐसे ही रिश्तों की शिद् दत से कामना करते हैं। हाल के वर्षों में भारत को बि जली बेचकर भूटान समृद्ध हुआ है।

बेशक, राष्ट्रीय सफलता के पैमाने के रूप में सकल घरेलू उत्पा द (जीडीपी) की जगह सकल राष्ट्रीय प्रसन्नता (जीएनएच) लाकर भूटान दुनि या में मशहूर हुआ है। पहले मुझे इस पर संदेह था कि सरकारें लोगों को प्रसन्नता दे सकती है, क्योंकि प्रसन्नता मुझे 'भीतरी काम' लगता, व्यक्ति गत रवैये तथा घरेलू परिस्थिति यों का मामला। हम में से ज्या दातर लोग नाकाम वि वाह, कृतघ्न बच्चों, प्रमोश न न मि लने यहां तक कि आस्था के अभाव के कारण दुखी हैं। लेकि न, अब मैं अलग तरह से सोच ता हूं। भूटान ने दुनि या को बता दि या है कि ऐसी राज्य-व्यवस्था जो स्व तंत्रता, अच्छा शासन, नौकरी, गुणवत्तापूर्ण स्कू ल व स्वास्थ्य सुवि धाएं और भ्रष्टाच ार से मुक्ति सुनिश्चि त करे, वह अपने लोगों की भलाई के स्त र में व्या पक सुधार ला सकती है। भूटान का आभार मानना होगा कि अब वर्ल ्ड हैपीनेस रिपोर्ट तैयार होती है, जि से संयुक्त राष्ट्र की मान्यता है। 2017 की रिपोर्ट में हमेशा की तरह स्क ैंडीनेवि याई देश वर्ल ्ड रैंकि ंग में सबसे ऊपर हैं। अमेरिका 14वें तो चीन 71वें स्था न पर है। 1990 की तुलना में प्रति व्यक्ति आय पांच गुना बढ़ने के बावजूद चीन में प्रसन्नता का स्त र नहीं बढ़ा है। वजह चीन की सामाजि क सुरक्षा में पतन और बेरोजगारी में हाल में हुई वृद्धि हो सकती है। दुख है कि हम बहुत पीछे 122वें स्था न पर हैं, पाकिस्ता न व नेपाल से भी पीछे।

हमारे पूराने जमींदार मानते थे कि बेकार बैठे रहना मानव की स्वा भावि क अवस्था है। इसके वि परीत मैं मानता हूं कि जुनून के साथ कि या जाने वाला काम प्रसन्नता के लि ए आवश्यक है। वह व्यक्ति भाग्यवान है, जि सके पास ऐसा कोई काम है, जि से करने में उसे खुशी मि लती है और वह उसमें माहि र भी है। मैं मानता हूं कि जीवन का मतलब खुद की खो ज नहीं है बल्कि खुद का निर्मा ण है। फि र कोई कैसे अपने काम और जीवन को उद् देश्यपूर्ण बनाए? इस सवाल के जवाब में मैं कभी- कभी मित्रों के साथ यह थॉट गेम खेलता हूं। मैं उनसे कहता हूं, 'आपको अभी-अभी डॉक्टर ने कहा है कि आपके पास जीने के लि ए तीन महीने शेष हैं। शुरुआती सदमे के बाद आप खुद से पूछते हैं मुझे अपने बचे हुए दि न कैसे बि ताने चाहि ए? क्या आखिरकार मुझे कुछ जोखिम उठाने चाहि ए? क्या मुझे कि सी के प्रति अपने प्रेम का इजहार कर देना चाहि ए, जि ससे मैं बचपन से गोपनीय रूप से प्रेम करता रहा हंू?' मैं जि स तरह ये कुछ माह ज़ि ंदगी जीता हूं, वैसे ही मुझे पूरी ज़िं दगी जीनी चाहि ए। बचपन से ही हमें कड़ी मेहनत करने, स्कू ल में अच्छे अंक लाने और अच्छे कॉलेज में प्रवेश लेने को कहा जाता रहा है। यूनि वर्सि टी में कि सी अज्ञात क्षेत्र मंें खो ज करने की बजाय हम पर 'उपयोगी वि षय' लेने पर जोर डाला जाता है। अंतत: हमें अच्छी -सी नौकरी मि ल जाती है, योग्य जीवनसाथी से वि वाह हो जाता है, हम अच्छे से मकान में रहने लगते हैं और शानदार कार मि ल जाती है। यह प्रक्रिया हम अगली पीढ़ी के साथ दोहराते हैं। फि र 40 पार होने के बाद हम खुद से पूछते हैं, क्या जीवन का अर्थ यही है? हम अगले प्रमोश न के इरादे से लड़खड़ ाते आगे बढ़ते हैं, जबकि ज़ि ंदगी पास से गुजर जाती है। हमने अब तक अधूरी ज़ि ंदगी जी है अौर यह बहुत ही त्रासदीपूर्ण नुकसान है।

जब हम छोटे थे तो कि सी ने हमें ' जीवि का कमाने' और 'जीवन कमाने' का फर्क बताने की जहमत नहीं उठाई। कि सी ने प्रोत्साहि त नहीं कि या कि हम अपना जुनून तलाशें। हमने मानव जाति की महान कि ताबें नहीं पढ़ीं, जि समें अपनी ज़िं दगी में अर्थ पैदा करने के लि ए अन्य मानवों के संघर्ष का वर्ण न है। हममें से बहुत कम महानतम संगीतकार मोजार्ट की तरह भाग्यवान हंै, जि न्हें तीन साल की उम्र में ही संगीत का जुनून मि ल गया। आपको जुनूनी काम मि ल गया है इसका पता इससे चलता है कि जब काम करते हुए आपको लगता ही नहीं कि आप 'काम' कर रहे हैं। अचानक पता चलता है कि शाम हो गई है और आप लंच लेना ही भूल गए हैं। खुशी का मेरा आदर्श , गीता में कृष्ण के कर्मयोग के विच ार के अनुरूप है। कर्म से खुद को अलग करने की बजाय कृष्ण हमें इच्छा रहि त काम यानी निष्का म कर्म की सलाह देते हैं। यानी काम से कोई स्वार्थ , व्यक्ति गत श्रेय अथवा पुरस्का र की कामना न रखना। जब कोई काम में डूब जाता है, तो मैं पाता हूं कि उसका अहंकार गायब हो जाता है। जुनून के साथ, खुद को भुलाकर कि या गया काम बहुत ऊंची गुणवत्ता का होता है, क्योंकि आप अहंकार के कारण भटकते नहीं। जीवन कमाने की यह मेरी रेसि पी है और यही प्रसन्नता का रहस्य है। इस में प्रसन्नता के दो अन्य स्रोत जोड़ ना चाहूंगा : जि स व्यक्ति के साथ आप जीवन जी रहे हैं, उससे प्रेम करें और कुछ अच्छे मि त्र बनाएं। जहां तक मित्रों की बात है तो पंचतत्र भी यही सलाह देता है, 'मि त्र' दो अक्षरों का रत्न है, उदासी, दुख और भय के खिलाफ आश्रय और प्रेम और भरोसे का पात्र। भूटान ने चाहे वर्ल ्ड हैपीनेस रिपोर्ट का विच ार लाया हो पर 2017 की सूच ी में यह 95वें स्था न पर है। पि छले साल के मुकाबले भारत चार पायदान खिसककर 122वें स्था न पर पहुंच गया और जाहि र है यह उस राष्ट्र के लि ए बहुत ही हताशाजनक है, जो 'अच्छे दि न' का इंतजार कर रहा है। भारत की कम रैंकि ंग के लि ए जि म्मे दार है जॉब का अभाव, निच ले स्त र पर भ्रष्टाच ार, देश में व्यवसाय करने में परेशानि यां और कमजोर गुणवत्ता की शिक्षा व स्वास्थ्य सुवि धाएं, जि नमें शिक्षक व डॉक्टर प्राय: नदारद होते हैं। भारत ने समृद्धि में रैंकि ंग सुधारी है, क्योंकि यह दुनि या की सबसे तेज बढ़ती अर्थव्यवस्था अों में शुमार हो गया है और समृद्धि फैल रही है।

वर्ल ्ड हैपीनेस रिपोर्ट का एक पूरा अध्या य काम पर समर्पि त है। चू ंकि हममें से ज्या दातर लोग अपना जीवन काम करते हुए बि ताते हैं तो काम ही हमारी प्रसन्नता को आकार देता है। रिपोर्ट बताती है कि सबसे अप्रसन्न लोग वे हैं, जो बेरोजगार हैं। इसीलि ए प्रधानमंत्री मोदी यदि 2019 का चुनाव जीतना चाहते हैं तो उनके लि ए जॉब देने का वादा पूरा करना इतना जरूरी है।

ખુશીઓના માપદંડમાં મોદીનું ભારત કથળ્યું

મારા તમામ જાણીતાઓએ ગયા મહિ ને ડોકલામમાં ભારત- ચીન વચ્ચે ની ખેંચતાણ પૂરી થતાં રાહતનો દમ લીધો હતો. અઠવાડિય ાઓ સુધી હવામાં યુદ્ધનાં વાદળાં છવાયેલાં રહ્યાં, જ્યા રે ભારત-ચીને પોતાના ઇતિ હાસના નિર્ણાય ક તબક્કે યુદ્ધની બિ લકુલ જરૂર નથી. આપણામાંના અનેક લોકો ભૂતાન પ્રત્યે ઊંડી કૃતજ્ઞતા અનુભવી રહ્યા છે કે તે ભારતની સાથે ઊભું રહ્યું અને આપણે અન્ય પાડોશીઓ પાસે પણ સંબંધો નિ ભાવવ ાની કામના કરીએ છીએ. તાજેતરનાં વર્ષો માં ભારતને વીજળી વેચીને ભૂતાન સમૃદ્ધ થયું છે.

નિ :શંકપણે, રાષ્ટ્રીય સફળતાના માપદંડ તરીકે કુલ ઘરેલું ઉત્પાદ ન (જીડીપી)ના સ્થા ને કુલ રાષ્ટ્રીય પ્રસન્ન તા (જીએનએચ)ની અમલવારી કરીને ભૂતાન દુનિય ામાં જાણીતું થયું છે. પહેલાં મનેએ વાત પર શંકા હતી કે સરકારો લોકોને કેવી રીતે આનંદ આપી શકે, કારણ કે પ્રસન્ન તા-આનંદ એ 'આંતરિક બાબત' છે, વ્યક્તિ ગત દૃષ્ટિકોણ અને કૌટુંબિ ક પરિસ્થિતિ ઓનો મુદ્દો છે. આપણામાંના મોટા ભાગના લોકો નિષ્ફ ળ લગ્નો , કૃતઘ્ન બાળકો, પ્રમોશન ન મળવું અને આસ્થા ના અભાવના કારણે પણ દુ:ખી છે. પરંતુ હવે હું અલગ રીતે વિચારું છું. ભૂતાને દુનિય ાને દેખાડી દીધું છે કે એવી રાજ્ય વ્યવસ્થા જે સ્વતંત્રતા, સુશાસન, નોકરી, ગુણવત્તાપૂર્ણ શાળાઓ અને સ્વા સ્થ્ય સુવિધાઓ અને ભ્રષ્ટા ચારથી મુક્તિ અપાવે, તે પોતાના લોકોની ભલાઈના સ્તરમાં વ્યા પક સુધારો લાવી શકે છે. ભૂતાનનો આભાર માનવો પડશે કે હવે વર્લ્ડ હેપ્પિ નેસ રિપોર્ટ તૈયાર કરવામાં આવે છે, જેને સંયુક્ત રાષ્ટ્ર ની માન્યતા છે. 2017ના રિપોર્ટમાં હંમેશની જેમ સ્કે ન્ડિનેવિયન દેશો વર્લ્ડ રેન્કિંગમાં સૌથી ઉપર છે. અમેરિકા 14મા, જ્યા રે ચીન 71મા ક્રમે છે. 1990ની સરખામણીએ વ્યક્તિદ ીઠ આવક પાંચ ગણી વધવા છતાં ચીનમાં આનંદનું સ્તર નથી ઊંચું નથી આવ્યું . કારણ ચીનની સામાજિ ક સુરક્ષામાં પતન અને બેરોજગારીમાં તાજેતરમાં થયેલો વિકાસ હોઈ શકે છે. દુ:ખની વાત એ છે કે ભારત ખૂબ પાછળ 122મા ક્રમે છે, પાકિ સ્તા ન અને નેપાળથી પણ પાછળ.

આપણા જૂના જમીનદારો એવું માનતા કે બેકાર બેઠા રહેવું માણસની સ્વા ભાવિક અવસ્થા છે. આનાથી ઉલટા હું માનું છું કે ઝનૂનપૂર્વ ક કરવામાં આવનારું કામ પ્રસન્ન તા માટે જરૂરી છે. એ વ્યક્તિ નસીબદાર છે, જેની પાસે એવું કોઈ કામ છે, જેને કરવામાં તેને આનંદ મળે છે અને તે એ કામમાં પારંગત પણ છે. હું માનું છું કે જીવનનો અર્થ સ્વની શોધ નથી, પરંતુ સ્વનું નિર્મા ણ છે. તો પછી કોઈ કેવી રીતે પોતાના કામ અને જીવનને ઉદ્દેશ પૂર્ણ બનાવશ ે? આ સવાલના જવાબમાં હું ક્યા રેક ક્યા રેક મિ ત્રોની સાથે આ થાૅટ ગેમ રમું છું. હું તેમને કહું છું કે, 'તમને હમણાં જ ડૉક્ટરે એવું કહ્યું છે કે તમારી પાસે જીવનના ત્રણ મહિ ના જ બચ્યા છે. પહેલા ધડાકે આઘાત પામ્યા પછી તમને ખુદને પૂછો છો કે મારે મારા બાકી રહેલા દિવસો કેવી રીતે વિતાવવ ા જોઈએ? શું ખરેખર મારે કોઈ જોખમ ઉઠાવવ ું જોઈએ? શું મારે કોઈના પ્રત્યે મારા પ્રેમનો એકરાર કરી લેવો જોઈએ, જેને હું બાળપણથી એકતરફી પ્રેમ કરતો આવ્યો છું? અથવા મારે મૌનનો અવાજ સાંભળતા શીખવું જોઈએ?' હું જે થોડા મહિ ના જિ ંદગી જીવું છું, એ જ રીતે મારે આખી જિ ંદગી જીવવ ી જોઈએ. બાળપણથી જ આપણને સખત મહેનત કરવી, શાળામાં સારા ગુણ લાવવ ા અને સારી કૉલેજમાં પ્રવેશ મેળવવ ાનું કહેવામાં આવતું રહ્યું છે. યુનિવર્સિ ટીમાં કોઈ અજ્ઞાત ક્ષેત્રમાં શોધ કરવાના બદલે આપણા પણ 'ઉપયોગી વિષય ' પસંદ કરવા માટે ભાર મૂકવામાં આવે છે. છેવટે આપણને સારી નોકરી મળી જાય છે, યોગ્ય જીવનસાથી સાથે લગ્ન થઈ જાય છે, આપણે સારા મકાનમાં રહેવા માંડીએ છીએ અને શાનદાર કાર મળી જાય છે. આ પ્રક્રિયા આપણે આગામી પેઢીની સાથે દોહરાવીએ છીએ. પછી ચાલી વર્ષની ઉંમર વટાવ્યા પછી એક દિવસ સવારે આપણે ઊઠીએ છીએ અને ખુદને પૂછીએ છીએ કે શું જીવનનો અર્થ આ જ છે? આપણે પછીના પ્રમોશનના ઇરાદા સાથે ખોડંગાતા આગળ વધીએ છીએ, જ્યા રે જિ ંદગી બાજુમાંથી પસાર થઈ જાય છે. આપણે અત્યા ર સુધી અધૂરી જિ ંદગી જીવી છે અને આ અત્યં ત મોટું નુકસાન છે.

જ્યા રે આપણે નાનકડા હતા, ત્યા રે કોઈએ આપણને 'જીવિકા' અને 'જીવન' કમાવવ ા વચ્ચે ને ફરક દર્શાવવ ાની જહેમત નહોતી લીધી. કોઈએ પ્રોત્સા હન નહોતું આપ્યું કે આપણે આપણું ઝનૂન શોધીએ. આપણે માનવજાતિ નાં મહાન પુસ્તકો નથી વાંચ્યા , જેમાં આપણા જીવનને અર્થ સભર બનવવ ા માટે અન્ય માનવો દ્વારા કરવામાં આવેલા સંઘર્ષનું વર્ણ ન છે. આપણામાંથી ખૂબ ઓછા લોકો મોઝાર્ટ જેવા નસીબદાર છે, જેમને ત્રણ વર્ષની ઉંમરે જ સંગીતનું ઝનૂન લાગી ગયું. પછી તેઓ મહાન સંગીતકાર બન્યા . તમને તમારું ઝનૂની કામ મળી ગયું છે. તેના વિશે એ વાત પરથી ખ્યા લ આવે છે કે જ્યા રે કામ કરતી વખતે તમને એવું નથી લાગતું કે તમે 'કામ' કરી રહ્યા છો. અચાનક ખ્યા લ આવે છે કે સાંજ પડી ગઈ છે અને તમે લંચ લેવાનું ભૂલી ગયા છો. આનંદનો મારો આદર્શ , ગીતામાં કૃષ્ણ ના કર્મય ોગના વિચારને અનુરૂપ છે. કર્મ થી ખુદને અલગ કરવાના બદલે કૃષ્ણ આપણને ઇચ્છા રહિ ત કામ એટલે કે નિષ્કા મ કર્મ ની સલાહ આપે છે. ઝનૂનપૂર્વ ક ખુદને ભૂલીને કરેલું કામ ઊંચી ગુણવત્તાવ ાળું બને છે, કારણ કે તમે અહંકારના લીધે ભટકતા નથી. જીવન કમાવવ ાની આ મારી રેસિ પી છે અને આનંદનું આ જ રહસ્ય છે. આ રેસિ પીમાં બે વધારાના સ્રોત જોડીશ: જે વ્યક્તિ ની સાથે તમે જીવન જીવો છો, તેને પ્રેમ કરો અને અમુક સારા મિ ત્રો બનાવો. જ્યાં સુધી મિ ત્રોની વાત છે, તો પંચતંત્ર પણ એ જ સલાહ આપે છે. એ મુજબ મિત્ર બે અક્ષરનું રત્ન છે. ઉદાસી, દુ:ખ અને ભયની સામે આશ્રય અને પ્રેમ તથા ભરોસાનું પાત્ર. અલબત્ત, અન્ય તમામ બાબતોની જેમ મેળવવ ાના બદલે કહેવું સરળ છે.

ભૂતાન ભલે વર્લ્ડ હેપ્પિ નેસ રિપોર્ટનો વિચાર લાવ્યું હોય, પણ 2017ની યાદીમાં તે 95માક્રમે છે. ગયા વર્ષની સરખામણીએ ભારત ચાર ક્રમ નીચે ઊતરીને 122મા ક્રમે પહોંચી ગયું છે અને સ્વા ભાવિક છે આ એ રાષ્ટ્ર માટે ખૂબ જરૂરી છે, જે 'અચ્છે દિન'નો ઇન્તે જાર કરી રહ્યું છે. ભારતના ઓછા રેન્કિંગ માટે જવાબદાર છે, રોજગારીનો અભાવ, નીચલા સ્તરે ભ્રષ્ટા ચાર, દેશમાં વ્યવસાય કરવામાં મુશ્કે લીઓ અને નબળી ગુણવત્તાનું શિક્ષણ અને સ્વા સ્થ્ય સુવિધાઓ, જેમાં શિક્ષકો અને તબીબો હંમેશાં નિષ્ફ ળ રહે છે. એ જરૂરી છે કે ભારતે સમૃદ્ધિ માં પોતાનો ક્રમ સુધાર્યો છે. આવું એટલા માટે કે ભારત વિશ્વના સૌથી ઝડપી વિકસતાં અર્થ તંત્રોમાં સામેલ થઈ ચૂક્યું છે.

વર્લ્ડ હેપ્પિ નેસ રિપોર્ટનો એક આખો અધ્યાય કામ વિશે છે. આપણામાંના મોટા ભાગના લોકો પોતાનું જીવન કામ કરતાં વિતાવે છે, કામ જ આપણી પ્રસન્ન તાને આકાર આપે છે. રિપોર્ટ અનુસાર સૌથી નાખુશ બેરોજગારો હોય છે. એટલા માટે વડાપ્રધાન મોદીએ 2019ની ચૂંટણી જીતવા માટે રોજગારીનું વચન નિ ભાવવ ું જરૂરી છે.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Will someone please tell North Block that pleasure’s no sin?

Diwali is around the corner and one of the few occasions when Indians allow some pleasure and joy to enter their lives. However, if you were growing up in a sombre and austere middle-class household like ours, you wouldn’t have known it. As children, we were reminded that ‘pleasure is a sin and sin is pleasure’, and ‘a life of pleasure’ was an expression of abuse. When I was a child I was mostly up to no good, and before I could even ask her anything, my mother had a standard reply: ‘No’. It became such a habit with her that for a while I believed that my name must be ‘No’. Later, when I began to read the daily newspaper, I discovered the same prejudice existed in the media. Our paper focused relentlessly on bad news — murders, rapes and wars — and the only pleasurable things, even today, are the advertisements.
Fortunately, my grandmother disagreed with the majority view in our family. She did not believe in suppressing desire but in ‘cultivating’ it. Cultivating pleasure meant that you were in charge and not the other way around. She was far more connected to our classical Sanskrit civilisation in which kama means both desire and pleasure. Our kama optimists, she told us, had elevated pleasure to ‘trivarga’, one of the goals of life. In fact, kama was the ‘first born’ in the Rig Veda and the cosmos was created from the seed of desire in the mind of the One. Alas, we also had our share of kama pessimists — yogis, rishis and other renouncers — who held that bodily pleasures were indisputably wicked. My grandmother drew a distinction between sensory and intellectual pleasures and she was a devotee of the latter — especially the delights of reading, thought, and beauty. Like all good things, she said, cultivating pleasure required education.
Before you could enjoy the singing of Kishori Amonkar, you needed to be trained in the basics of a raga. Before you could enjoy a painting of Tyeb Mehta, you had to be acquainted with colour, line and shape. Before you could enjoy Shakespeare’s Hamlet, you had to acquire an understanding of the human condition. One of the great sources of pleasure, she felt, lay in human friendship. With good common sense, she believed that physical pleasures were also a necessary part of the human life. What was bad was excessive indulgence, not the pleasure itself, which as Aristotle says, is essential to the good life.
Our family was divided among those who approved of Nehru’s socialism and those who opposed it. The kill-joys in our family supported a 125% excise duty on cosmetics which was levied by the government to discourage luxuries and encourage the production of necessities. My grandmother protested. ‘Even a village belle likes to look beautiful,’ she said, ‘why must she be made to pay for talcum powder through her nose.’ She called officials in the finance ministry ‘commissars who hate to see people happy.’
Old habits die hard. When India embarked this year on the goods and services tax, the most sensible tax reform in our history, the commissar mentality of the licence raj reasserted itself. Talcum powder, cinema tickets, cement, paint, furniture and a host of items of everyday use were placed in the highest (28%) tax category. Knowing that housing is the largest creator of jobs, it is senseless for a nation clamouring for jobs to tax housing materials as luxuries under the 28% tax bracket. In a rare confession, Mahender Singh of the Central Board of Excise and Customs and the GST Council admitted that the 28% rate was ‘unnecessarily high on items of daily use’. Pleasure is still a bad word in North Block and the finance ministry needs to be reminded that its job is tax collecting, not social engineering.
Finally, my grandmother introduced us to the Chinese ideas of Yin and Yang. She explained that the ‘doing energy’, the exerting, producing, and delivering results is associated with Yang. Our post-reform society wants us ‘do more, work harder!’ Because of this, she felt we have forgotten the Yin side of our lives — the joy of being alive and of doing things for the sake of pleasure and happiness. And so, on this Diwali, don’t succumb to bursting firecrackers, which are now illegal, but follow my grandmother’s advice and cultivate genuine pleasure.