Stability, Unity and Progress

If there is any land on this earth that can lay claim to be the blessed punyabhumi (sacred land) … the land where humanity has attained its highest towards gentleness, towards generosity, towards purity, towards calmness, above all, the land of introspection and of spirituality it is India

-Swami Vivekananda

India has a unique culture and civilization which we should preserve with utmost commitment. Though
many civilizations have dwindled with the passage of time, our culture and civilization have been resilient.
Despite facing rough weather, they remained solid for several thousand years. This is because there is
something unique about our culture and civilization.
Ideas that influenced Indian culture the most– truth, justice, love, peace, harmony, and so on. Swami
Vivekananda believed that social changes should uphold Indian traditions and not hurt them. So long as India remained true to those traditions, she is safe.
As India celebrates Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, 75 years of independence under the yoke of British rule,
perhaps we may look at the past. Among the south Asian countries that emerged from colonial rule in the last 75 years, ours is a country that has maintained stability.
As the future is built on the foundations of the past, the successes and failures of post-independence has
provided an impetus to address the challenges of the days to come. There is no better time than today to
remember the brave heroes who sacrificed their everything for the nation. In the present issue, we offer the episodes of U Tirot Singh, U Sib Charan Roy and Mahatma Gandhi’s visit to Golakganj.
As we read about Khasi traditional home remedies (Khasi), Traditional Medicine: its importance and
protection (English). we feel that not only our history but even the customs and rites can instill the spirit of patriotism in us.
Hindi Articles display an array of authors, most of whom hail from a non-Hindi-speaking part of our
country. Again Hindi writing of North East India ‘Khwahishon Ka Asma’ is held in esteem by an author of
Gujarat Tulika Shree. Srutimala Duara in her compelling narrative takes us to the village of Arunachal.
Dr Jeffery D Long’s personal account featured in the Across boundaries section will leave a lasting effect
on the readers.
Let us accept and admire our past and create. Create bridges that bind past and future, bridges that bond
heritage and innovation

Shaking off Shackles

Come out into the broad open light of day, come out from the little narrow paths, for how can the infinite soul rest content to live and die in small ruts? Come out into the universe of Light. Everything in the universe is yours, stretch out your arms and embrace it with love. If you ever felt you wanted to do that, you have felt God.

  • Swami Vivekananda
    Is it a mere soliloquy that I hear in the breeze, rustling through the pines or does it echo the voices of thousands winding their way through Lum Sohpetbneng?
    We cannot say unless we delve deep into the annals of the vast peninsula that stretches below the Himalayan range into the confluence of three oceans. The land has been a home for thousands of races and fostered cultures for centuries together. The immense cultural diversity is evident from changing dialects or even the language in every couple of hundreds of kilometres. Scholars were left to wonder how despite this diversity the Indian nation thrived, whereas the Soviet Union was shattered to pieces. There were times when dark shadows hung over the land, bloodshed – with pen and sword – swept across it and burnt it to ashes. Internal rifts moved towards full-blown crises. Pandemics, just like the ongoing COVID-19, pushed the country into depths of peril. But again, the nation lifted itself just as Phoenix rises from ashes.
    This points to some elixir that the nation has dearly held to its bosom. What is that? Though it may sound paradoxical, it is nothing but religion, pure and simple, that has been running through the veins of this nation. Questions may arise, how can the element which has caused much strife in societies, be held responsible for breaking the barriers. We admit that what went by the name of religion has allowed differences to fester and divisions to run deep. In spite of that, we know that those will be regarded by posterity as mere aberrations than precedents. Religion, stripped off its non-essentials, is universal and is synonymous with spirituality. The innate human goodness cannot be buried eternally. The shadow that looms over human nature can only be shattered with the light of spirituality. In the times when storms blur our vision, threaten to uproot us from the holds, we need the light evermore, the light – that engulfs without drowning, cheers without inebriating and enlightens without burning.

Petrichor

Petrichor

“Change not thy nature, gentle bloom,
Thou violet, sweet and pure,
But ever pour thy sweet perfume
Unasked, unstinted and sure!”.

Among all the shades of nature, perhaps, rain is an enigma. In some it inspires awe, to some, it is an invitation to plunge into their souls, again to some it is nothing but gloom. Be it as it may, it never fails to tinge our minds. It enters us through the dazzles in the dark, soft rumbles, the pleasant chill and mostly through the unmistakable footprints of its arrival – the sweet scent of the earth – the petrichor.
People are inseparable from the land to which they belong. It permeates their beings in an unconscious way. It may be likened to the fragrance of a rose that is indissolubly connected with it or a silent scar that never allows them to forget it. History is never confined within a contour, yet it is always anchored to one. The saga of people’s struggles, failures and triumphs intertwined with their aspiration, passion and toil creates the warp and woof in the fabric of human life. And, when that land happens to be India, the distinctiveness of such a warp and woof becomes a force to reckon with. Indeed, with both its intrinsic plurality and connectedness, has come a long way from its ‘tryst with destiny’. Today, it has become a melting pot of the world’s cultures and languages. With more than 120 major languages, it is a wonder how it still continues to be a single Nation. The answer may lie in the linguistic freedom it enjoys in every stratum of its life. Research reveals that language has a deep connection with biodiversity. The more diverse the environment; the greater the possibility for more languages to evolve. The North-Eastern part of India and Andaman Nicobar Islands, having the largest forest cover, are home to varied languages and dialects. This brings us straight to an incontrovertible fact that no matter how cozy we feel being in our comfort zones of intolerance, nature abhors uniformity. Different languages have the same claim to the land, even for the fringe populace. This is the dictum of nature which we must obey or perish forever. To this Swami Vivekananda brings our attention in no uncertain terms, ‘Unity is before creation, diversity is creation. Now if this diversity stops, creation will be destroyed. So long as any species is vigorous and active, it must throw out varieties. When it ceases or is stopped from breeding varieties, it dies’. It is a warning and a deliverance. The passion for our language and the longing for the country should not be at the cost of the innate heterogeneity that nature wants us to enjoy. We may be at crossroads, but we have the stars to guide us – the elders, the scriptures and the way under our feet.
This diversity is the fragrance after the rain. When all the scum is washed away, the pristine water flows. When the barriers are shattered by thunder, we roam free.
Rain always rejuvenates. Let it rain, let the petrichor waft through the valley.

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Bizarre & Beautiful

“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder” – Plato.

Perhaps nothing has been more enigmatic in history than beauty. It has created and destroyed empires. Its charm allured scientists to explore new vistas. Art has crowned it as the goal to strive for and philosophy cringes if it loses this. Yet, we hardly know why a particular array of lines, shapes, colours or abstract ideas is more appealing to us than others. Why an ugly face suddenly becomes divine to us? For of most human history, these questions have been answered with logic and speculation, but in the last few decades, science steadily advanced to provide us with a better understanding; even a new branch called neuroaesthetics has emerged. It has paved the way to appreciate the underpinnings of beauty.
Most people never stop to think about why they find something beautiful. Because it is something, they just know. Maybe we find beauty in the same places, but do we process beauty in the same way even if we disagree? These things are pretty intuitive. But scientists have been working to see if there’s a universal way that humans minds analyse beauty. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but researchers have discovered that our brains all behave similarly when beholding. They found a pattern in certain parts of the brain that become more active when perceiving something beautiful. Having said this, we must admit that perceiving beauty is an intricate affair. Scientists may claim to have deciphered the mystery, but it hardly can explain the whole of it. While studying the response and the stimulus, we completely miss out on our mind, which tinges on an everyday experience. Sometimes a grotesque figure excites us; again, sometimes, we find an otherwise beautiful face insipid. This is quite bizarre. We know, there is more to the subject than breaking emotions into neurochemical signals or simply studying encephalograms.
What is the attraction? Why does an ugly face look charming, an old shabby street alluring, or the smell of grandpa’s books – torn and shattered, other-worldly? We who appreciate the beauty in some apparently outlandish things take, as it were, the idea of beauty, which is in our minds, and project it on those; and what we see and worship is not those objects but our ideals. These objects are only suggestions, and on that, we throw our ideals and cover it, and it becomes deified.
As Swami Vivekananda, points out, “All that we see, we project out of our own minds. A grain of sand gets washed into the shell of an oyster and irritates it. The irritation produces a secretion in the oyster, which covers the grain of sand and the beautiful pearl is the result…. The wicked see this world as a perfect hell, and the good as a perfect heaven. Lovers see this world as full of love, and haters as full of hatred; fighters see nothing but strife, and the peaceful nothing but peace.”
Appreciation of beauty is a journey. We grow with our experiences and finally reach the source from where all beauty springs.

Catch 22

Catch 22
All they kept saying was ‘Catch-22, Catch-22.’
“Didn’t they show it to you?” Yossarian demanded, stamping about in anger and distress. “Didn’t you even make them read it?
“They don’t have to show us Catch-22,” the old woman answered. “The law says they don’t have to.” “What law says they don’t have to?” “Catch-22.”
……..
If you are wondering what under the sun we are blabbering about, here it is.
Published in 1961, in the backdrop of World War II, Catch 22 is a satirical war novel by Joseph Heller. It was often conceived as one of the most impactful novels of twentieth century. It stripped open governmental loopholes that squeezed people to the last drops to meet its ends. Heller’s novel follows the exploits of a bombardier, and in doing so throws a light on the relentless and circular bureaucracy of war and wartime governments. The term is introduced to describe the apparent loophole that prevents a pilot from asking for a mental evaluation to determine if he’s fit to fly. A pilot who wants to be grounded, being unnerved by the inhumane war situation, finds himself in a catch. To ask for approval of his insanity is to establish his sanity. The conundrum continues.
Catch-22 appears several times in the novel, always invoked to explain a contradiction or an inescapable paradox caused by the rule itself. It has filtered into general English to refer to a dilemma, a confusing situation, or a problem in which the problem itself denies the solution.
It is not only in the surreal world of an author’s randomly firing neurons but also in everyday life that we find ourselves in such situations. Finding a solution is to embrace the problem, where the compulsion is presented as an option.
What do we do then, at an individual and a collective level?
While it is not under the purview of this discussion to provide solutions to individual ethical dilemmas, we can search for a general principle or a basis, sticking to which we, as individuals and society, can escape such situations.
Swami Vivekananda, gives the seed of the solution in just two words. Eternal self-abnegation. He adds, “Ethics always says, “Not I, but thou.” Its motto is, “Not self, but non-self.” The vain ideas of individualism, to which man clings when he is trying to find that Infinite Power or that Infinite Pleasure through the senses, have to be given up — say the laws of ethics. You have to put yourself last, and others before you. The senses say, “Myself first.” Ethics says, “I must hold myself last.” Thus, all codes of ethics are based upon this renunciation; destruction, not construction, of the individual on the material plane. That Infinite will never find expression upon the material plane, nor is it possible or thinkable.”
‘Good of the many, welfare of the many’ – is not mere rhetoric. A certain body part cannot be healthy, if other parts are not. When we get to the bigger picture of the world, we understand unselfishness is key to our survival, and learn to see the selfish actions as just aberrations.
From a collective perspective too – be it of any level of the hierarchy – we begin to appreciate what Kant had in one of his Categorical Imperatives, “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.”
‘Reich de Zwecke’ or the Kingdom of Ends, where everybody prioritizes others and treats them as ends in themselves, may sound elusive but remains a beacon to strive for. It can be a direction-point of our behaviour, for it is capable of giving order and integrity.