Friday, October 31, 2014

Man's search for Meaning - a transforming account of Existentialism by Dr Viktor E Frankl

"Man's search for Meaning" - a book by Dr Viktor Frankl
Most of us float through life without an existential crisis. In a way, it is a boon; for not many can survive the pangs of being stripped bare of all possessions - material, social and psychological. Biologically, a species is built for survival. An organism will persist in preserving its cellular integrity as far as it physically possible; but once that threshold is crossed, it gives itself away to mutation and irrevocable obliteration. But with Man, evolution is experimenting with a new way of being. There is a self-conscious element within him that is both a participant and an observer in the world he lives in. Over thousands of years of gradual and catastrophic changes, the inner life of a Human being has assumed several roles in different dimensions; to the extent that the proverbial “ghost in the machine”, as Arthur Koestler, phrased it, is now stands viscerally divorced from the physical self to a point that it is inconceivable to think of him as mere biological specimen in the flotsam and jetsam of genetic mutations. His identification has leaned more towards his persona - that self which accumulates, aggrandizes and is fiercely possessive of its diaphanous existence encapsulated within one's skin.
The Concentration camps of World war bought to the forefront the crisis of identity faced in the wake of complete deprivation of this “Self”. Doctors’ psychiatrists and sociologists were challenged by the utterly unnerving phenomena of survivors from gas camps, who had lost all sense of their individuality and relapsed to a primitive state of being, where there was no meaning beyond rudimentary survival of the physical. All known, understood and accepted tenets of Human behavior were challenged by the severe stress and dehumanization that happened within those dreaded walls. The entire wave of existential thinking that began with Kierkegaard in the eighteenth century, found its voice yet again in Satre, Kafka, Camus, Heidegger and Hannah Arendt who questioned the basis of Man’s self, its objective reality and the validity of its outward manifestations. And, one of the significant books on this subject written after the Jewish Holocaust- that maddening, insane period of modern history when Gas chambers, starvation, extreme degrees of pain and intolerance were perpetrated on millions in the name of racial cleansing and dehumanization – was by Victor E Frankl; a Doctor condemned to Auswitzch ; miraculously survived its horrors; came of the ordeal not only unscathed, but inwardly transformed and spread his message of optimism and meaning of Man’s innermost essence in that wonderful book with a beautiful title “Man’s search for Meaning”. Never before and never after will the depth of suffering, poignancy of depravity and optimism under direst of circumstances be portrayed with such lucidity and honesty as in this little book. It is neither a voluminous account of sadistic mechanisms of torture, nor a root cause analysis of unpardonable brutality of Nazi Germany; it is merely simple pages of a man who lived every moment of his two years in an atmosphere completely stripped of his identity and bearings; witnessing the slow depersonalization of Man to a state of biological neotony; the pulverization of Human spirit and all that it stands for; and the raw palpitations of life that hangs on perilously to a bundle of flesh on decrepit bones.
When life depends on slightest of chances; then it takes a different hue and texture all together. Victor writes about how the fate of captives depended on a simple “right” or “left” signal by an ordinary Army official. Left lead to Gas chambers; right to a life of venal degradation and a postponement of the inevitable. How judgments need to be suspended when well-meaning men start acting in most inhuman and immoral ways under loss of identity, dignity and any last vestiges of personal possessions. How even a glimpse of the majestic Bavarian mountains and its lush green verdure can look celestial when looked though a peep hole of a moving train. How Men show extraordinary kindness and resilience when everything is lost and nothing remains but a faint hope of a quick annihilation. Victor echoes the deep insight of Dostoevsky who wrote “…Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately, in love with suffering...”; this is the quality of a man who faces existence in all its naked truthfulness.
Dr Victor came out of the camps a changed man, and the result of his ordeal, understanding and observation of Human behavior led him to spread the word - as long a Man has a meaning to his life; and can detach himself from outward circumstances; none can take away anything from oneself. Pushed to the limits, the men and women in camps started finding joy in the simplest of pleasures, the strangest of relationships; and his ability to act and not react to every challenge giving him a power that no other species has. The Platonic idea of “Logos” or Meaning and the eastern discovery ages ago that the fundamental reality of Man lies in beingness - finds its consummation in Victor Frankl’s work.
This book is required reading for all adults. Written with no pretensions; no trace of condescension- every sentence leaps out with candid truth. For our generation, there can be no better education in rooting oneself to reality than this short book of hundred odd pages. Used as we are to living so very superficially, taking our needs, wants and relationships to be granted; it is important that our awareness be turned inward – a little bit; not in the religious sense as we know it; but to enquire into that state where life takes on a meaning that is untouched by the mundane mechanical world.
I would like to conclude this essay with a deep observation from Dr Victor’s book on judging the acts of fellow Human beings. He writes: “...No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same…” Only a man who has touched the deepest chords of his being can arrive at such a position. Reading him, we are elevated to that level.
God bless…

Sunday, October 26, 2014

"This property is condemned" - A Tennessee William Play and a Sydney Pollack Movie

American railroad has played an important role in the growth and prosperity of the United States. The founders of the nation realized very early that an effective system of transportation across the vast breadth of this continent is indispensable to preserve economic, social and political stability. The History of American railways is a saga by itself, and it is not the purpose of this essay to get into its details. The movie I am about to review is based on a period in Railway history, when a paralyzed economy was cramping its growth; and more so - throwing people out of work.
Tennessee Williams wonderful play "This property is condemned" was turned into a movie by Sydney Pollack in 1966. Pollack is one of my favorite directors. His ability to direct and produce stories with a Human touch and sensibility without too much of fun fare or drama; capturing the essential essence of a relationship and explore its nuances without prejudices and opinions is the hallmark of this great artist. "The way we were", "tootsie", "Out of Africa" are works of sheer beauty and perfection. He loved casting Robert Redford in his movies. That young debonair actor has had the privilege of working with some of the most accomplished movie makers of his time. I wouldn't really place Mr Redford as a consummate actor. but he invariably found himself in the right place at the right time. And once he settles down to a role , he makes the best of it.
This movie is set in the depression of the thirties, when railroads were affected , especially the southern states; and lot of jobs had to be cut to keep the railways financially afloat. Owen (Robert Redford) is the man who needs to dole out pink slips in a suburban town of Mississippi. He checks into a boarding house run by a frivolous lady with two daughters; trying to please the discontent Railway workers with Wine and pleasure. Alva (Played beautifully by Natalie woods) , her elder sprightly, charming and vivacious daughter dreams of living in big towns, away from the squalor and moral apathy of her suburb;, falls in love with Owen in wonderfully constructed screenplay , where Alva gradually moves from hating the man who puts people out of work to admiring him for his honesty, integrity and free life style. She eventually runs away to New Orleans from her dominating mother and finds solace. love and peace in the arms of Owen. But some lives are doomed to remain in shadows and Alva's short tryst with happiness ends when her past confronts her with blunt factuality.. The movie ends on an unsatisfactory note. That was the intent of Tennessee Williams as well. His plays always climaxed with an ambiguity; an end that could mean different things to different people..
To me, apart from Pollack's wonderful adaption and screenplay, it is Natalie wood as Alva, who stands out , virtually living the role of young girl with dreams in her eyes. She often reminds me of Vivian Leigh, who had the same intensity and passion on screen. In fact, It was Sydney Pollack, who gave the best tribute when he said "When she was right for the part, there was no one better. She was a damn good actress..."
This is a low budget movie, but in the hands of a great master, it does not matter. These are masterpieces of cinematic history. And any aspiring director would do well to study them to appreciate that the art of film making is not dependent on extravagance, or imposing locales; but essentially lies in finding a way to tell a human tale with intensity and depth.
Its available on Netflix.. watch it if you like tasteful movies...
God bless..

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Marriage - a rumination..

Before you read this, I would want to make my point very clear that I hold the institution of marriage in highest regard. Not only has it been one of our spectacular evolutionary successes to adopt monogamy (as far as possible), and nurture strong ties as a family; but the very tapestry of man cultural history is woven with this fabric of genders collaborating and fostering a long standing relationship between themselves. Man’s transition from a Hunting battlefield to a settled agrarian community needed this paste of marital union to hold together the insatiable energies that could potentially be let loose in a growing economic, political and cultural climate that a stable life entails. Except for a few stray stunted communities around the globe, almost every known human habitation has a custom that resembles the ties of marriage. And that by itself, is a testimony to its universal archetype.
However, a young lady in England married herself a few weeks back. Yes, you read me right! She invited a group of fifty close friends and relatives to a hall, went through the paraphernalia of a normal wedding, erected a full length mirror to see herself as the lovable other-half, and when it was time to kiss the bride-groom; she kissed her reflection on the mirror. And thus, her marriage was consummated. As a part of the ceremony ,she hosted a "Shakti tantra" programme to understand the implications of sex with herself and with others. I cannot think of a happier union than this. And to me, this raised some deep philosophical and historical questions.
Historically and anthropologically, marriage has always been a male thing to do. When the male wanted to satisfy his sexual proclivities, he took a woman as his wife; when he wanted to have children and somebody to take care of them -he needed a wife; and in established and settled communities, where there was a distinct necessity for stability of property, periodicity of living and territorial integrity, a female as wife was able to provide that support to a family. In fact, the notion of a marriage as a means to meaningful intellectual companionship and reciprocal respect is relatively new in history. Probably, two to three years hundred years old. And the notions of equality of sexes is even newer idea, and is still a developing thought in many societies. If we cut through the debris of history, one almost inevitably finds that a deep relationship - physical and emotional, can be achieved between any two members of Human species, and not necessarily a male and female. The Greeks, the Romans, the Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Babylonians and almost the entire Middle East practiced homosexuality with great aplomb. It is not unusual to find an Alexander spending copious personal time with his bodyguard Hephaistos, or the verses of Sappho glorifying the pleasures of homosexuality, or even the works of Plato turning a blind eye to it. In fact, it was never considered a taboo for a majority of recorded history for such relationships to flourish. The rigid boundaries of monogamy; the hellish sins of adultery; the need to curb rising vapors of physical passion found its stringent sanctions in organized religions world over; and the union between a Male and Female began to assume roles and characteristics that were not biologically ordained. When marriage became a matter of one’s psyche, its compatibility, acceptance, independence, moral possessiveness and all the rest of it – it gets complicated.
In modern times, the entire institution of marriage is becoming quite redundant in many ways. We don’t really require a physical union to make babies anymore. We could choose sperms of a mathematical genius and have it fertilize an ovary of a beauty queen. It is also not necessary for economic sustenance, as both partners are largely becoming financially independent. Children are now getting used to a Single parent, or multiple parents, and again, that is no more an emotional bargain or a talking point in deciding the fate of a married couple. Sex has always been available outside of one’s home, and add to it the various forms of self-gratification available today – the need for two bodies to touch each other is systematically being wiped away. And lastly, education and globalization has given every one a complex inner persona which is ripe with intellectual, emotional and moral expectations of the partner that it become difficult to live in close proximity to each other for a long period, unless one is lucky or reconciled to a compromising existence.
So, in a way, the young lady’s decision to marry her own image does seem a sane thing to do. After all, no can love anyone more than themselves. The beautiful Greek myth of Narcissus finds a modern consummation in her act of forging a legal relationship with her persona. If one cannot find love, stability and passion in any other relationship, it would seem reasonable to be satisfied with one’s own self. But the question is: Why go through the motions of an organized wedding to prove this point? It is pushing the “idea”, the concept of “marriage” to its utmost limit. The yearning social need for companionship, solidarity and most of all acceptance - physically, intellectually and emotionally becomes so overpowering that we need to prove a point by getting into a publicized relationship. It is a symbol of achievement - a reaching somewhere, so to speak.
When I was writing this short piece, I came to my notice that thirty one states in the US have made single-sex marriages legal. The latest to pass this legislation is Arizona. From here, to marrying oneself (in principle) is but a small psychological step away.
God bless…

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Principles of democracy - a musing..

I was reading in the Newspapers today about Obama’s credit card being invalidated during his visit to a restaurant with his family, and how he had to ask Michelle to pay through her’s. This is an extraordinary instance in the practice of democratic values that makes the United States of America one of the truest representatives of democracy as a form of enlightened governance. The fact that the President had to pay for his dinner is a tacit acknowledgement that he is a citizen like anyone else there; and secondly, the freedom of the system to block his Credit card for non-usage, and the restaurant conveying that information to him without fear of retribution is an acknowledgement of mutually agreed laws; and thirdly, the President , taking no offence , requests his wife to pay – shows the character of his Presidency and tacit acknowledgement that he is as much a citizen as he is the President of a powerful country that values its integrity and honor.
The concept of democracy is a fragile thing. What does it mean to mankind to be democratically organized as a society? When the City states of Greece, ensconced in their little valleys, buttressed by oceans and Hills all around; declared themselves to be a free society of independent states of not more than fifty to hundred thousand strong - they realized the genuine need to create an order that will elect a few statesman to lead them, but never without the concurrence or opposition of its people. The Acropolis was not a politician’s podium to voice irrelevant promises, make irrational decisions or compromise the integrity and moral values of its constituent members. They were as accountable, as subservient to established laws of governance as anyone else in that assembly. That is the essence of democracy.
Alexis de Tocqueville, the Frenchman who visited America in its formative years, condensed what he found in his wonderful book “Democracy in America”. One of the important observations that he makes is: “...Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use that freedom”. And democracy is all about using ones freedom - to willingly abide by common laws without clipping the wings of Individual freedom and expression, yet acknowledging a deep need to live by consensus, accepting responsibility, and understanding that such a political system is not a license to unbridled power and privilege; but merely a caretaker of a very precious intangible commodity called “social equilibrium”.
The other important principle is that Democracy is way of living, and not merely a system to be followed. It has to be renewed in every bosom afresh each time. Each act of social interaction should be tinged with a feeling that one lives in an egalitarian community, where every individual- no matter what his profession – is equally important in the order of things, and one’s social rights are only reflections of a common code of ethics and conduct. And especially, the governing class should be the most refined breed of people who can rise above the entanglements of power and orient their lives in fulfilling their individual destinies, and in the process help in creating and preserving a polity that generates enough freedom, opportunity and say for every member of it. The original democratic city states of Greece overflowed with Men like Socrates, Plato, Sophocles, Pericles, Aristophanes, Aristotle’s and many others – simply because the fertile ground of democracy was prepared and preserved through a common pact of enlightened citizenship.
I have always said this in a lot of my conversations. Democracy or democratic values are to be developed from within; they cannot be imposed from without. It really wouldn’t work if its citizens do not feel, experience the need and opportunity to be free and participate in society. Today, in the Middle East and elsewhere, we are witnessing the horrors of imposing democratic values on people who are simple not prepared for it. America was born free; its founding fathers and all those who migrated to this country, knew what they were looking for and understood the true meaning of creating a democratic republic. Whereas, a country like India, while wrenching itself from foreign dominion in an act of defiance, giving to itself a constitution with lofty ideals ; forgot to educate its people on what it means to living in a spirit of freedom and responsibility. After over seventy years of this experiment, all that we find is that the political establishments have usurped or rather abrogated all power, laws and opportunities leaving millions with dry hopes of equality, education and participation in their social organization ; and with each passing day, the rift between various sections of society is getting deeper and wide. I am hoping that this imbalance will be corrected soon. Unless, we raise the common denominator of living quality in a society, democracy will prove to be a sham or a compromise – at best.
Will Durant, My favorite historian writes: “Nature has never read the Declaration of Independence. It continues to make us unequal...”
But, in my opinion, it is the unique privilege of self-conscious Human species to honor inequalities, and yet provide for an order where the most talented and least endowed can stand together and shake hands; knowing that one cannot exist without the other, and common code of conduct is required to preserve both of them in a shared communal life. This is the bottom line of democracy…
God bless…

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The passage of the Dead....

On my way back from the health club , I was tuned into a NPR podcast, where a Trained Mortician and embalmer was being interviewed on the nature of her profession. She was asked on what should change in the 'Cremation industry' today; to which her answer was quite extraordinary. She replied :" I wish families would be there when I push the body into hot fire. Most of the time, I do it alone with no family members around. They are either uncomfortable, or at best pay mechanical lip service to the dead. What I would want to see is more personal involvement in the ritualizing of death, and not delegate it to a professional company to do the job.."
As a species, we have an unique attitude towards death. The fact of the matter is that we frankly do not know how to treat a dead body. Do we bury it, cremate it, throw it to the vultures, allow to it rot - there is absolutely no unanimity on this fundamental truth of life. None of our animal cousins seems to have to this confusion, unless we wish to anthropomorphize their deaths. While it is true, that Humans beings are self-conscious, capable of objectifying and abstracting the word outside , and have built for themselves a civilization based on powerful contraptions of thought, emotions and dependency,; it is but natural that we would want to deal with the finality of death with more care. love and a deep sense of solemnity to the departed. But the point is do we really give our beloved ones a fitting farewell, based upon the life they have lived, the wonderful moments shared and a joyous adieu for crossing the bounds of mortality. Death is a beautiful moment. I mean the natural process of dying, not the grotesque deaths caused by maddening violence these days. And to lovingly bid farewell, with deep sorrow, immense love and gratitude; ritualizing it with great splendor and art - is a wonderfully human gesture. It does not matter which faith one belongs to, or what is the prescribed method of disposing the dead; it is more of the attitude that we bring to this final act of bidding farewell. We really don't know, if there is an afterlife, or a heaven or a hell or both; all that we see is the finality and cessation of a once living, breathing, thinking, loving and emoting Human being, who has now ceased to be.. To be remain with that truth, to acknowledge and and embrace it - is a cathartic experience, a revelation into our own impending temporality.
In the East, especially in India, I am glad we spend a good quality time with our departed loved ones. The very fabric of our religious rituals have woven into itself the need to remember and celebrate the transition of life to death. These custom typically run in to many days, and during that period , the family gets ample time to reflect upon the nature of the departed individual, their contribution, memories and a general appraisal of meaning of life and death. Though the significance of rituals have been distorted or lost in Modern times, there is still a social obligation, a taboo , that ensures that the specified formalities are consummated. Years ago, I had noted down a wonderful observation by Elizabeth gilbert in her book 'Eat, pray, love' ( a movie with Julia Roberts was also made of the book) where she writes about the need for ritualizing powerful, portent moments in Human life. Read her beautiful words:
"...We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don't have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn't have the specific ritual you are craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet.”
Wonderfully summarized.. Nothing can be more healing than personally ritualizing death. It may be a door to our awakening...
God bless....

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The present , the only reality we can live in.. - A conversation with a friend

We were walking back from the library. He is a psychiatrist living in an apartment (a posh Condominium...) very close to my community. Both of us keep bumping into each other in the same aisle, looking for books on medieval Christian theology. That’s how we got acquainted. He has a pretty decent practice including a couple of celebrities as his clientele. A simple man, very well read with a deep interest in Eastern mystical traditions. Many a beautiful Saturday have been spent, if I am in Atlanta, having lunch together and talking about the evolution of Man’s vision of Godhead, its transition from Polytheism to Monotheism, and the heretic traditions of Western philosophy.
He said “Bala, one of the things that intrigue me about mystical writings is the emphasis on: “Don’t live in the past or the future, live in the present”. Whether it be Boethius, Aquinas, Eckhart, Boehme, Shankara, Buddha or Rumi - all of them seem to stressing this point. But you know, as a psychiatrist, I find this slightly hard to digest. After all, Man is nothing but his past - genetically, inherited traits, upbringing, schooling; and without a future, there is no meaning in Human existence. Civilization, as we know it will crumble to pieces if we take this ground from under its feet... What do you think...?”
“Well, that’s interesting Mike. But I think, it is our interpretation of this statement that has gone a bit awry. Can we ever live in the past or the future? Is it ever possible at all? You see, one can remember the past in the “present”, think about the future in the “present”, but to call it “living” in the past or future seems a distortion of what these mystics were trying to point out. Without “I” being present, there is no past or future. The misunderstanding arises, I guess, from the fact that we attach this “I” to our thoughts presenting themselves as our past or future, forgetting that without an immovable present, there can be no canvas on which such thoughts can be painted. To perceive movement, there must be something relatively immovable, isn't it? Before I can be my past or my future, “I” must existentially be. This is the law, and linear language doesn't help much either in intuiting this truth. On a lighter note, when a boy caresses a girl’s thigh, or vice versa, it is the movement of one’s hand against a seemingly immovable thigh that gives the feeling a sense of reality and love. My ‘I’ness is the eternal, immovable present, and it is against this undeniable sense of being that thought vacillates between the past and future. The Mandukya Upanishad talks of the waking, dreaming and deep sleep states as mere beads woven around the thread of “beingness” or “presentness”, which is constant. The only means to be anchored in that state to “be silent”. Jacob Boehme, Whom you referred too earlier, writes “"When you remain silent from the thinking and willing of self, the Eternal hearing and seeing and speaking will be revealed in you, and God will see and Hear through you...” Spinoza’s vision of nature also points to this ground of being. You see, it’s the same experience from diametrically opposite traditions. Also, the reason why no method or practice can get us to that state, is because, we are already in that state of “being”, we have to let go of identifications and not hold on to fragmented memories and frenzied anticipations that lulls and masks the inner organic self that hums constantly in the background. “Tat tvam Asi, Svetaketu” - “That thou art” is the final pronouncement of Vedanta. It is ridiculously simple, once we shift our existential orientation …”
God bless….

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Stephen king - the darkness in a writer..

There are only two kinds of readers for Stephen Kings books - There are some who love him; others hate him. I find myself vacillating between the two. I have never been a real lover of any fiction that does not pay its due regard to language, structure or fails to sensitize the reader to something beyond mundane emotions. The typical pulp fiction that ones finds proliferating all around (especially in airports) have never attracted me; and if it did, I have never got beyond the first twenty pages of such a book. I would have read around twenty of King's novels, and I must say, not all of them have held my interest till the end. Apart from occasional flashes of brilliance here and there, most of them are pretty pedestrian in execution, written with clear eye to achieving quantity than quality. To some, however, Stephen's king's works are masterpieces of supernatural and dark literature. Well , I have to agree that his sense of the abnormal is unique in that genre; and the sheer magnitude of his output in churning out eerie tales is mind boggling - fifty five novels, six books of non fiction and two hundred and odd short stories - is as prolific as any writer can ever hope to get. Between the years 1975 and 2000, he literally wrote a couple of books each year..
I read King more for his psychological undertones than for his writing style or language. I think some of his stories are not only deeply disturbing, but in a perverse sort of way presents the Human heart in all its deviousness. For instance, I enjoyed reading "Carrie", "Misery" or "The shining" - some of his initial works; brilliant in its conception of evil as a manifestation of physic degeneration in a world that has become extremely alienating. I especially like "Carrie" for its blend of religious superstition, the darkness of being shy and an outsider in modern society, the need for self esteem and acceptance, and the transformation of the psyche into schizophrenic behavior - are bought quite beautifully in his 1974 novel. It was made into a movie as well - in fact it was remade three times; the last one releasing last year featuring Julianne Moore and Chloƫ Grace Moretz as Carrie. The 1976 adaption of Carrie was made legendary Brian de Palma, in which Sissy spacek played the lead role to perfection, It won her an Oscar nomination.
I just finished watching 2013 remake of this book. It is now available in Netflix. For those of us, who haven't had the chance to read the book or see the original film; this is a good opportunity to enjoy King's oeuvre at its best. It is certainly not a movie to be seen with family, but it does bring out a very interesting angle to the darker side of human nature..
God bless...

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Women in Adi Shankara’s life - a perspective…

The Women in Adi Shankara’s life - a perspective…
In the annals of Indian mystical tradition, the name of Adi shankaracharya stands almost unique, resplendent as a beacon light that shines with gleaming intensity among the vast heap of superstitions, beliefs, commentaries and religious faiths, which have found fertile soil in the excruciating heat and other worldly attitude of the Indo-Gangetic plains. Eighth century India was a teeming mess. Centuries of oppressive priestly class misinterpreting philosophic insights of Vedanta; propitiated by a kingly regimen who needed the active support of its priesthood to maintain social order (read as a class distinctions…); thousands of varied sects, only different from each other in verbiage and dialectical nuances; and a growing sense of atheism and iconoclastic undercurrents – almost stultified any progress in thinking and advancement expected out of such a glorious cultural heritage as India had. When religion becomes mechanical and bereft of inner significance, and an inner odorous rot sets in; the stage is then ready for a new invigorating dose of life giving energy, fresh interpretation of decrepit dogmas - and a voice that sounds clear, flowing and penetrating as a clear stream that gurgles its way through a deep foliage and thundering down as an abundant waterfall. The time was ripe for an incarnation called Shankara…
Like Jesus, the life of Shankara is replete with legends and myths. The written traditions of India failed as a biographical medium, unlike the Greeks, Romans and others who had their Homers, Tacitus’s, Procopius’s, Livy’s and the Boswell’s to chronicle the minute details of their principal players. All that we know of this great young mystic is from subsequent loose commentaries and episodes collated much after his time. But what is clear from all varied accounts of his life is the fact the women played a very important role at critical points in the Saints journey. His father died when Shankara was a child, bought up by his mother with all the doting love possible, she stepped over the first bounds of tradition by performing the “sacred thread” ceremony for her son, in the absence of his father. For a Brahman boy in that age and time, this would have been a real eye-opener - that a lady had taken into her own hands the hoary sacred rituals and chose to bend it to suit the times and need; Shankara would have learnt his first lesson in radicalism right there, from his own mother…The second time when his mother stood for something more deep and symbolical than merely being a parent was - when the time was ripe for him to relinquish the world of boyhood and enter into asceticism, he makes an inner promise to return to her when the last rites need to be performed. It is always the wish of a parent to be cremated or buried by their progeny; it is a distinctly human need and a social bond. However such a vow was diametrically opposed to established rules of sanyasa, but Shankara ripe in his sainthood duly kept his promise; he returned to this native village to cremate his mother despite vociferous voices of disapproval from the conservative Brahmin society around. His singular act of defiance was not born out of rebellion but from a deep well of understanding that spirituality need not be divorced from social life, and illusory dictates of custom fade away when the font of eternal life within is touched. Then, in the cool mountains of Himalayas, he debated with the renowned Mandana Misra - a man known for his razor sharp logical skills and dualistic philosophy; with the wager that the loser would relinquish his position on metaphysical tenets and follow the victorious for a life time. The debate was mediated by Misra’s wife - intelligent, beautiful, canny and practical lady Ubhaya Bharati. Not surprisingly, Shankara’s rational virtuosity, native brilliance and convincing Insights into the nature of self and universe, held the great debater at bay for weeks before the Mishra conceded defeat. But the justice of Bharati would not allow Shankara to be declared a winner unless he could talk and answer questions about conjugal love and pleasures of physical relationship. The entire historical edifice of ascetic life stood with bated breath to hear Shankara’s answer to such a verdict; but in an epochal moment in religious history of mankind, he understood the deep import of this demand by this saintly lady, and accepted her ruling; acknowledging the indispensable need to experience the pleasurable aches of physical love before transcending it. Legend has it that Shankara entered the body of a deceased king to learn the art of love making and then came back to his original body to face sharp questions from Bharati. But that may be a myth that commentators have enforced upon reality to spiritualize an act that did not have the sanction of moral code for brahmacharyas. Shankara, in my opinion, could have had more direct ways of learning the art of lovemaking than such calisthenics of mind and spirit. Anyways, the point and essence is, Bharati had ensured that Shankara would not raise philosophy above social order and basic human needs, and chastened him enough to expound life’s deepest truths in a language and paradigm that common man would appreciate, and not turn away from it because of its stringent artificially imposed restrictions, or impossibility. Nowhere in world literature of religion would one find an episode akin to this - the inversion of Adam and Eve story, only that in this case the depth of Indian mysticism triumphed over the ‘crime’ of eve by making duality of sexes an essential part of man’s psychological growth. And lastly, shankara sang and wrote one of the greatest philosophical poems of his legacy, in lieu of a charity by an impoverished , unnamed lady, who gave him in alms the last morsel of berry that she had in her humble household – “Kanakadhaara Stotra” - the sensual, mystical and almost erotic series of verses symbolically couched as a dialogue between himself and Goddess of wealth (Lakshmi), stripping away at ridiculous human made rules of goodness and sin, destiny and freewill, temporal life and its relationship with world outside. Seldom would one find such an intimate fusion of poetry and prose espousing the cause of religion. Legend has it that as shankara spontaneously sang out these verses, the heavens opened and rained gold. And by a foolish tryst of fate, many, even today, in thousands of Indian households chant these verses hoping for a repeat of this miracle; and in the process completely abnegating or conveniently forgetting the deep underlying wealth of Vedantic meaning embedded in this poem. So much for superstition in Modern times.
So in four different seminal moments of Shankara’s brief life, Women have acted as the pivotal point in carrying out his world mission of halting the atrophy of philosophical thought on Indian soil. In thirty two brief years, his indelible life work consisting of commentaries, spiritual centers, poems, prayers and debates revitalized the shriveling sinews of Indian life and thought - the repercussions of which are still felt in every household, every philosophic school of thought, and every book on Vedanta and philosophy around the world. After the life defying, tired systems of thought that emanated after Buddha and Mahavira - Shankara’s vibrant, youthful and poetic flights of sarcasm and innuendos woke India from its sloth and ushered in its Golden era of literature, art and science. If not for his work, the ten centuries that followed his death would have seen the nemesis of Hindu thought triggered by Cultural invasions from outside. The great Indian resilience that we so much brag about is largely because of the strong pillars of truth and eternal values that Shankara’s erected through the length and breadth of this country that still nourish the roots of intellectual enquiry into the nature of Human existence, its purpose and redemption..
God bless…

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The confluence of Mind and Matter - the creative spark of software

Isidor Isaac Rabi, a nuclear scientist and a Nobel Prize winner for physics in 1934, as a student was sent by his mentor Leo Szilard to talk to Enrico Fermi at his home about the possibility of using nuclear fission to split neutrons. Fermi replied with a caustic “Nuts!!!” it’s a Remote and risky possibility with chances of less than ten percent…” Leo Szilard never forgot Rabi’s quiet reply to this dismissal by the Great Fermi: “Ten percent is not a remote or risky possibility if we may die of it….” Rabi went on to assist in splitting the atom.
                                                                                                                   From Leo Szilard’s papers....
“There is hardly anything for me to do in office, I reach my desk at 9 A.M sharp, work on a few bugs, or develop a minuscule part of a code for some time, attend conference calls at regular intervals, make my presence felt with a few perfunctory and reasonably intelligent remarks, take regular breaks; and at the stroke of five, check out for the day and head home. I don't have to do anything new, challenging or bring in fresh perspectives to my work.. My boss is happy with my productivity and I am happy with this risk free software job and my role in this huge organization…” With this remark, the young group, in the adjacent table dipped into their beers and let out a loud round of laughter. It was a beautiful afternoon in Atlanta, temperature around 75 F, subdued sunshine adding that little bit of warmth to an otherwise chill crispness in the air. I was with my laptop working on my book, sitting outside a French restaurant eating a sandwich, when this conversation drifted to my ears. Coincidentally, I was writing about mediocrity, and when I heard these words, I stopped typing and started reflecting…
What this young man said smacked of truth. There is no doubt about it. One of the adverse effects of industrialization is the compartmentalization, specialization of work into indivisible discrete units, smothering creativity in the majority, and delegating it to a handful- who by some stroke of luck happen to possess the necessary genius to innovate. It has happened with every major industry and professional work over the last two hundred years. In our generation, we have seen it happen to software as well. The relatively young history of computers is replete with episodes, personalities, products that oozed with passion and individual excellence. Every little step from large sized processing machines to microcomputers, synergy between Boolean algebra and circuit boards, transition from 16 bit processing to 32 bit, allocation of memory and its contiguity, evolution from frozen assembly board instructions to microcode and then to High level programming languages, the startling discovery of backward compatibility for better customer experience, the revolutionary idea of decoupling hardware from software and kicking off unprecedented race to write sophisticated, humanely decipherable instructions, the overwhelming risks of data, its security and ingenious ways of protecting - all of these were great leaps in understanding made possible by engineers who looked upon the computer machine and its possibilities with awe stuck wonder and childlike passion, obstinacy and creative madness. If one cares to read the history of software, one would find scattered across pages, the names and lives of numerous individuals, whose faces are forgotten; but their contribution, as a part of large and small organizations have laid the platform for this revolutionary phenomena of Information technology and its widespread use today. Their individual dream, work, commitment to create something new - despite low pay, incredible challenges, unhealthy work places, unsympathetic managers, troubles personal lives, - to make that paradigm shift from the world of electricity to programmable machines- is a saga that most youngsters have not been exposed to at all. The spark of creativity is no more visible in the world of software. In thirty years of growth, this industry has matured to such an extent, that it does not need passion any more. All that it needs is a mediocre set of minds that can do an assigned job over and over again with unswerving precision. Individuals do not feel the need, or the urge to allow their flights of imagination to take shape, because they really do not know what is that they are developing or creating. They are like the archetypal assembly production system where each of them turn a screw and wait for the next batch for repetition. The segmentation of such a creative field as software into design, architecture, development, testing, quality assurance and a myriad other pieces, has robbed this fascinating field of its joy - orgasmic pleasure of creation. There are no more individuals applying their thought and instinct to solving or discovering something new; but merely “resources” allocated to a project to complete a predefined task with documented processes in place. But I guess, that is price we pay when a scientific art gets commoditized and becomes an “industry” driving social, economic and personal behavior.
When youngsters are inducted into software companies, rarely do we set the bars of excellence for them in terms of original thinking, except for a very few companies (Google comes to mind...) It merely boils down to a rigmarole of static process and unbendable rules that does not set the right tone for an intellectually stimulating endeavor. Many years, I used to teach a small organization, whose CEO was a tech whiz. He recruited people only when he sensed a spark of madness in them. His induction programs were fifteen minute affairs. He would briefly speak about market opportunities for ten minutes and then hand out a Tracy Kidder’s marvelous book “The soul of a new Machine” to each new recruit, and tell them “Read this book, absorb its feel and drive – this is the only induction I can give you… if you can bring a quarter of the madness, intensity and purpose the protagonists in this book bring to their task, you will not only be very useful to my organization, but also grow into a pure breed of satisfied software geeks..”
I wonder how many of us working in the software industry have read this book? It was published in 1981, and went on to win the Pulitzer award and the national book award for Non-fiction that year. What is this book about? The late 1970’s were a phenomenally interesting time in software with IBM ruling the roost, and fifty to hundred other odd companies working with zeal to achieve breakthroughs in a nascent, vibrant computer market. Data general, a New England Massachusetts, based company was a pioneer in innovation. Their NOVA range of 16 bit computing machines were bestsellers at that point. The Management of Data general, led by the legendary De Castro then decided to build a 32 bit machine, with backward compatibility and clear segregation between inner software and outer hardware. The stage was ready when two teams within the organization; one based out their state of the art facility in North Carolina, the other working out the basement of their old office - set out to build such a machine in record time. Tracy kidder in this phenomenal book, chronicles the travails, joys, pain, humiliations, brilliance, tenacity and singular devotion of the team working in the basement, almost fifteen hours a day for a year, to build what came to be known as “Eagle” project. Led by eccentric Tom West, architected by mercurial Wallach, developed by brooding Alsing and his team of new kids of the block - their baptism through fire, the intangible, unwritten trust that they expected to reciprocate, the nerve wracking pressure of creativity with a deadline looming, the out of the box thinking that defied all sensible rules of management – is captured with all the vivid details that makes a racy novel. The book and its subject is a study in the art of sustained creativity. It informs us on radical discoveries and innovations (that all of us take so much for granted...), and the maniacal drive and ambition that made them possible. It is not a story of a few leaders, but a story of an entire team who stood up to the challenge: arguing, disagreeing, placating, cooperating with each other with all the intellectual and creative meat they have got. Those were the virgin days of computers, when every morning is a beginning of a simulating day, and every thought was a bubbling breakthrough at the boundaries of an esoteric relationship with a machine. Anyone, who reads this book will begin to appreciate the quality of minds that made this industry possible, and also sadly, contrast it with the utter mediocrity that we find in most organizations today.
Well, it is not my intention to cast any judgments on IT professionals today, but it there for all of us to see that there is a glaring dip in the quality of people entering this industry. It has become the last refuge when nothing else works out. Having broken down the creative, individualistic process of building software in lifeless units of work, it now becomes possible to anybody to get into this profession with least drive and passion for it. And therein lies the tragedy… Nobody is to be blamed; it is the very nature of Industrialization that increases the spread of wealth and knowledge but averages out quality. For many youngsters, an IT job is a dream come true. Lots of Money, security, social status and all the rest of it; but the key question is, what do we do with all this leisure and money. Are we indulging or participating in realizing the human potential that is inherent in all of us? Or, are we frittering away lives in boredom, conformity and mediocrity? Again, excellence does not mean discovery or path breaking genius, but an attitude of giving the very best of oneself to whatever we undertake to do, exploring new dimensions and possibilities within the sphere of our work, attempt to comprehend a holistic picture of what we do and what is being achieved; try and push the bars of excellence a little bit in whatever we do - and above all to do something out of sheer joy and not boredom or escapism, and not be happy that we have beaten the system by sticking to it and unwilling to be a bit adventurous and risky. After all, it a little risk and insecurity that makes live worth living…
God bless…

Friday, October 3, 2014

Resurgence of India - the tryst at Madison Square Garden...

There are few arenas around the world, excluding the Manchester arena and O2 Arena (both in England) that can boast of the kind of glory that Madison Square Garden Manhattan possesses. Situated in the heart of Mid-town, the power nerve of New York, this 820,000 square feet facility has hosted some of the iconic personalities, Musical events and festivals of the twentieth century. It is in these hallowed enclosures that the legendary Mohammad Ali lost in fifteen rounds to George foreman - a fight that will be resonate in history as 'one that defined professional boxing, and assured Ali's immortality; it was here that John Lennon, performed to a resounding ovation before he was shot down by a mad man; it was here that Elvis Presley, the youth icon of the flower age, drove his high strung audiences to overwhelming waves of ecstasy in four house full performances; it was here that Michael Jackson celebrated his thirtieth year as a magical artist, when excerpts from his career were aired on gigantic screens, followed by a live performance and dinner with the legend - an evening when Jackson earned approximately $ 150,000 per minute; It is here that the muscled, sweaty and oiled men in World wrestling federation entertain the world with their pyrotechnics and exaggerated anger; it is here that basketball and tennis have found a fit podium to unleash some of their best celebrity performances- and it here that the Fifteenth Indian Prime minister Narendra Modi chose to display his raw charisma, flaming oratory , astounding confidence and indubitable sense of destiny to the world at large. It was for the first time in the history of the Madison square garden that a political voice resounded with such clarity, conviction and optimism. Even John F Kennedy’s famed appearance with Marilyn Monroe on his fortieth birthday, when the tragic queen appeared and sang a birthday song in a dress that still make us hold our breath- failed to evoke the rousing reception and adulation that this diminutive man, dressed immaculately in starched Indian costume got from this huge crowd that had gathered to see, feel and hear his presence. For at least a few brief moments, almost everyone there was proud to be an Indian.
If there is anything that a study of democracy across centuries will prove, it is this indisputable fact that a leader should not merely possess a vision, a drive, a passion to transform; but also should exude this rather undefinable, yet tangible and powerful sense of something that we loosely christen as ‘charisma’. Without this factor, it is virtually impossible to steer a country in a desired direction. The United States of America is perhaps the best example of enlightened democracy in the globe; and if one looks at the parade of Presidents who have occupied the white house – beginning with Washington, Adams and Jefferson to Lincoln, Grant and Wilson; followed by Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Kennedy and then in recent times, Clinton and Obama - the singular quality all of these heads of state was an appeal that went beyond erudition, pedigree and political ideology. It was their “presence” - that mattered. One of the conspicuously missing aspects of Indian democracy has been a lack of personality; barring Nehru and to some extent his daughter Indira, who unfortunately channeled it the wrong way; we have had no clear leadership who could walk up to a podium with consummate confidence, only with small note in their hands, mustering their fullest life force into their speeches and ideas- until Narendra Modi; who personifies this rustic appeal of a man who knows his business with undivided conviction. Like Alexander, who had a raw instinct for war and peace, friend and foe, Modi is carrying his new found India with a clear mission, demarcating and delineating his concerns, articulating in a manner that leaves no room for ambiguity. For a man with no considerable formal education, very minimal international exposure, new to etiquette and courtesies; he held himself with great stature and maturity both in the United Nation’s assembly, his dinner and subsequent talks with Obama. In all, this has been one of the most successful and highly visible trips made by any Indian Diplomat in ages. When mahatma Gandhi attend the round table conference in England, the world got to see the saint in action; and now when Modi walked the corridors of white house, it seems as though, a new era, a fresh chapter is unveiling itself in India’s political landscape.
But then, one has to be a little circumspect as well. For India is a very different kind of democracy, and it needs and aspirations are significantly different. The euphoria that Modi creating is wonderful, but to sustain it for a prolonged period to effect any radical changes it political, economic and social structure will be something that the world is looking forward to, and will posit a great challenge to Modi’s leadership. After many years of insipid political will, the giant in India is beginning to wake up again. The signs are all there; and the world is ripe for a new superpower to emerge in the east with all the right elements of democracy and moral citizenship entrenched in it.
Swami Vivekananda often used to quote this famous verse from the Katha Upanishad, a dialogue between the young Nachiketha and Lord of death – ‘Uttisthata Jagrata Prapya Barannibodhata Kshurasanna Dhara Nishita Dustayadurgama Pathah tat kabaya badanti’. It means: “Arise, awake and stop not until the goal is reached. This is treading a razor’s edge, and one needs all the courage and determination one can muster”. Vivekananda admired the freedom struggle of America and the way its people and leaders responded to the challenge of colonialism to build a true democracy on principles of freedom, education and growth. This ancient wisdom reflected his passion to see India emerge out its cocoon. Modi has this vision written in his office room, and he knows he is walking a razor’s edge.
I am only hoping that Modi’s personal fame does not supersede his work ahead to build a stronger and better India. History should not dismiss his political career as whimsically as King Ferdinand of Naples summed up Lorenzo’s (the man behind Italian renaissance in 16th century), when he said:
“He lived long enough for his glory, but to short a time for Italy...”
Hopefully, Modi would raise himself above personal ambitions and agenda and govern long enough to be the tipping point in India’s tryst with democracy…
God bless…

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Gleanings from the Geeta - I

Chapter 2 Verse 40 of the Bhagavad gita has an interesting sentence:
Freely translated , I means : " Even a little effort towards inward alignment and integration with ones vocation in life - leads to immense peace, harmony and relief from fear"
Now this word Dharma is a very rich, yet a very simple term in religious literature. The Egyptians called it "Maat" , or order, Chinese "Tao", Greek "Logos" - almost every seminal civilizations developed a term that spoke of one's inner disposition or nature. All of them point to an inner harmony of parts within the whole. Modern Psychology also emphasizes the need to accept one's role and position in society, and the less we strive to become somebody else other then what we are; happier and peaceful would we be. Curiously the division into castes or any other hierarchy was not originally based on inequalities, but merely recognizing the natural trait of a human being. It wasn't a matter of birth, but of inner disposition. Plato's "republic" was based on this principle of eugenics as well.
So the stress in this beautiful verse; early in the discourse of the Gita is the need to accept ones inner nature and live up to it as much as possible. If one is in the army, then you got to fight. There cannot be any moral compunctions to it. If there is, then Army wasn't the right vocation in the first place- the typical Orwellian Dilemma. This analogy extends to a every role in our professional lives as well. The surest way to insecurity and fear is to do something that we are not competent doing. Modern age places many of us in such a position, because all that we work for is money ; and we end up performing roles and duties that has no relevance to our inner potential or nature. This is the existential problem that 20th Twentieth century has thrown up - the moral and structural displacement of Human beings, and their search for harmony in a society where they don't live by their Dharma. If educational systems ever need a goal - it should be "assisting an individual finding his or her's inner vocation" and not assembly-line end products that we tend to churn out.
Let me now get back to my Dharma, which I enjoy - Learning and be able to teach what I learn...
God bless..

Gleanings from the Geeta - II

Yet another masterly verse from the Geeta - the Song celestial
uddhared atmanatmanam
natmanam avasadayet
atmaiva hy atmano bandhur
atmaiva ripur atmanah
Freely translated: "One can only understand and uplift oneself through the prism of one's personality. For all that one knows is but oneself, which is both a friend as well as a foe"
The seventh chapter, titled "Sankhya yoga" - the origins of Duality, has this rather enigmatic exhortation in its fifth verse. In chapters preceding this, the Master has slowly been churning the intellectual and emotional curiosity of Arjuna; and then, abruptly, in the middle of these important series of verses, he throws the ball back to Students court. His intention in this pithy verse is to say: All this talk of philosophy, morals, ethics are meaningless if one does not begin with the basic question "Who am I?", or put differently "who is aspiring to change whom?”. No matter how much indoctrination is accomplished, the mystery of life will remain a puzzle, an existential conundrum, unless one comes to grip with our own personality. The fundamental dichotomy of man lies in the fact that one of part of us attempts to control the other half; unless, we understand this self-binding structure of thought and reach a point of futility in fighting with it - we miss the point of all mystic religions. In fact, the Upanishadic method of dialectic, or self-referencing dialogues of Socrates, or bizarre Koans of Zen, or poetical flights of Sufism are means to bring a novitiate to such an inner understanding - a point when the intellect is stunned and dissolves in the very act of solving a knotty psychological issue; and a new dimension of understanding erupts from such a dissolution or fusion, whatever one wants to call it. The seemingly concrete entities of the “thinker” and the “Thought” must merge into an ocean of unbroken continuity; and that’s an effort that one can take only by oneself into oneself. Like a thorn that pulls out another thorn, one must use the equipment of our personality to dig deeper into ourselves; a point will eventually arrive when the blasted ego will stop struggling with itself, and in that crucial moment of let-go, the inner font of unity is touched forever. Modern Psychology will nod its head at this discovery ages ago. However, one has to be intellectually strong, intensely individualistic to be able to pierce through the veil of dichotomy. It is not for weaklings who believe in temperate piety born out of fear and insecurity.
There is an interesting incident in Vivekananda’s life, which illustrates this point well. The Master was approached by a pious, sickly looking lad who wished to learn the intricacies of Philosophy from him. He had just returned from his triumphant roar at the Parliament of religions and the entire world wanted to learn from him; so was this young boy. However, one look at him and Vivekananda said “You will be nearer to heaven playing football than studying the Bhagavad-Gita….” The intent here was not to be arrogant, but to emphasize that an inner journey into oneself demands tremendous energy, earnestness and intellectual and physical integrity; it can be very fearful, demanding and oftentimes nerve wrecking; but then it is such an individual who has the chance to reach the shores of peace; not others.
So it is important as part of our education and upbringing to fill our kids with self-confidence and individuality. Their intellect should be razor sharp; emotions full blooded; physically agile and energetic. Let them think with clarity and arrive at conclusions. They may be wrong, but they would stand a better chance of correcting themselves if their instruments of knowledge are well oiled and working with precision. As they mature, life will bring them enough opportunities to self-reflect and introspect (Like Arjuna on the battlefield...) - then, it will be easy for them to dive deep and find answers that have been hitherto eluding them. Wisdom grows with integration of ones being to the world outside; and may be fortunate enough to slip into that zone of everlasting oneness and happiness - which is the aspiration of Human species.
God bless….

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

An evening in Washington DC..

It was on a cold winter evening in 1764, when Edward Gibbon sitting atop the marshes of Capitoline hill; the citadel of Rome , pondered upon the greatness of Roman civilization - its rise, decline and fall; the faint chorus of evening vespers gently floating into his ears from a distant past - that helped him conceive his magnum -opus of six magnificent volumes on Roman history, "The Decline and fall of the Roman empire". The hill itself was the apex of Roman domination between 278 B.C to 468 A D; its pompous kings ruling a majority of the known world from its ornate palaces and gilded thrones; its laws were commandments; its morals, divine injunctions; its commerce, the bloodline of nations; its arts and culture, the standards against which non-Roman's judged themselves - such was the power, munificence and grandeur of Rome- the Capital, and the significance of Capitoline hill - its apogee.
As I stood before Capitol building in Washington DC, the epicenter of power, it is a sense of awe that overwhelmed me. Chosen by Thomas Jefferson to reassemble the famed power citadel of Rome, the marble house of Congress, stands majestically atop a hill spreading its fluted colonnades , symmetrical walls - that somehow from a distance looks as though its alluring dome majestically kisses the sky, dwarfing and imposing its authority on a divine order. Pictures do not justice to its spell binding presence. The air around it is pregnant with an ominous silence that hangs like a overripe fruit, infused with tremendous authority and aura of impregnability. Surrounding this surreal structure is the Lincoln and War memorials, innumerable museums including the legendary Smithsonian - that repository of world heritage, preserved and nurtured with a care that instills pride in being a part of his great Human drama. Almost every tree, shrub and street reeks of historic aroma, commemorating or edifying a momentous achievement in the nation's history. And of course, the Union Station - the hub of Washington's railway system : modeled on classical Baths of Roman emperor Diocletian, with Constantine arches that canopying its vast, spacious interiors.
Amidst all this profusion of historicity, the Presidential white house lies snugly ensconced in its greenery, offering tantalizing glimpses of its rooms that hosts the most powerful political family and their offices - the epicenter of decision making, whose ripples touch and affect lives across geographical boundaries. For the last two hundred odd years, starting with John Adams - all the presidents of United states have lived and worked out this building. The original architecture was George Washington idea, but over the years, different presidents have added their charm and grace to its evolution. There is a sanctity about it, that is palpable as one gazes at its sparkling white reflection on a fading twilight evening..
There is a sense of pride in people living in DC. Not surprising!!. Its ten square mile radius perhaps hosts the most number of power centers in known civilized world. There is an air of superiority in the way they walk, talk or sit - a formal demeanor that speaks of authority, confidence and knowledge in being part of that elite few whose daily work , ever so imperceptibly , alters the course of global citizenship.