Startups, Ecosystem and Empathy

This really happened. A young and inexperienced professional messaged a popular Startup founder that he needs help in finding a job. The founder did NOT respond in a way that showed any traces of empathy. Naming and shaming him is not my job because I think the message of empathy is more important than defaming the founder.

The reason that Startups are loved and the founders are glorified is because they create jobs (of course, apart from all the innovation and disruption jazz that we hear in those big talks). It is no big a surprise if multiple requests for employment hits a startup founder’s inbox every day. But Startups need an ecosystem. Ecosystem needs empathy. As a startup founder, what is your empathy quotient? Judge yourself by the picture below.

 

Empathy pyramid1

Note: Graphic created with inspiration from Graham’s hierarchy of disagreement.

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Book Review of Madurai Sultanate, a concise history by Sandeep Balakrishna

For a country that has been programmed to understand their history from a Delhi-centric perspective, books focussing on other empires give a refreshing point of view. It is not only about expanding the scope of the historical study, but also about understanding the chain of historical events from a grounded position.

The book about Madurai Sultanate piqued my interest, given my ongoing research on South Indian history. (Also, read my review of Gods, Kings and Slaves, the siege of Madurai where  Venkatesh Ramakrishnan gives a gripping prelude to the fall of Madurai to Islamic invasions).

Madurai Sultanate is a quick and short read that covers the history of Madurai from the rise of Kulashekhara Pandya whose rise is marked by his victory over the Cholas and elaborates on the fraternal conflict between his sons Sundara Pandya and Veera Pandya. The book also elaborates on the incessant efforts by the generals of Alauddin Khilji. We also get to know about the various bouts of resistance offered by different Hindu Kings. To my pleasant surprise, I found a good amount of detail about Veera Bhallala of Hoyasalas and Pratapa Rudra of Warangal.

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Picture source : Amazon

I rate the book 5/5 and here is why.

1. The topic deals with a region often ignored in the mainstream history. The importance of studying Madurai Sultanate is not about how long the empire survived. As the author rightly opines, the negligible run the Sultanate got was ridden with palace conspiracies, fratricides and continuous rebellions from all sides of the borders. But the topic’s significance has more to do with continuous resurgence offered by the Hindu Kingdoms, a point that many historians have consistently failed to highlight.
2. Detail covered. As a history enthusiast, I do start any history text with some amount of background reading. I was agile about any detail being left out by the author in packing so much information. Trust me, he impresses. The only detail he left out was probably the names of Telugu resurgents like Kapayya Nayaka and Vema Reddi when the narrative briefly touches the come back by Warangal after Prataparudra’s death.
3. Research. The author takes care to quote from a lot of accounts right from the records of ancient travellers like Ibn Batuta and Ferishta to the modern historians like RC Majumdar and Nilakantha Sastri. The quotations are diligently placed making the historian in the reader more and more thirsty for further research and reading
4. Flow and language. Pages keep turning effortlessly and a quick reader can finish the book in about an hour or two but is very much enriched. I got to know the names of so many kings about whom I have never heard. I could see the myriad problems faced by the Delhi Sultanate even as it tried to expand its course. It is really hard to believe that so much is stored in a 43 page short read. Any mainstream historian could have written the same information in two volumes in flowery language that takes a reader days weeks to complete.
5. Tone of the narrative. Let us face it. Some accounts by older historians about Islamic invaders are gory and disgusting. But the author’s dealing with these gory details of various invasions were dealt with an admirable amount of dispassion. The reader does not get to hear the voice of author till the final section he gives his takeaways from the account. Even there, not much is there to disagree with him.

About the author :  Sandeep Balakrishna is the Editor of IndiaFacts Research Centre. He is the author of Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore and the English translator of S.L. Bhyrappa’s Aavarna. He is also an active columnist on issues related to history and culture of India.

Buy this book at amazon. The author confirms that only a Kindle edition is available currently.

 

Of Asuras and alternate readings

First published on Myindmakers in February 2016

A big addict to old Telugu puranic films, I remember this film Bhookailas vividly. It had the story of Ravana Brahma’s attempts to acquire the Atmalingam of Lord Shiva. In the popular lore, Ravana is the antagonist. But this movie had him as the protagonist. I can’t help sharing one of my favorite songs from the film – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7voWulyF2mc

The scholar that he is, Ravana does deserve his share of tales and movies as a protagonist (especially when it is Sr NTR donning the role with Sri Ghantasala singing for him, the combination is deadly! :-)). Coming back to the point of the reverential attitude towards the titans in our Puranic lore.

Asuras fundamentally are not ‘hated’ in the Hindu Puranic lore like the ‘evil’ is despised in the Abrahamic lore. Rather, they stand as examples for the pinnacle of human achievement when it comes to Tapasya. They also exemplify scholarship.  They are ambitious just like many of the Kings revered in the lore (Like Bharata, Sagara and others too have undertaken conquests). They upheld the knowledge of Vedas. The conversation between Hiranyakashipu and Prahlada in Andhra MahaBhagavatam is a proof.

దువనివాఁ డజ్ఞుం డగు
దివిన సదసద్వివేక తురత గలుగుం
దువఁగ వలయును జనులకుఁ
దివించెద నార్యులొద్ధఁ దువుము తండ్రీ!

The one who does not pursue knowledge remains ignorant. The one who studies can acquire the ability and discretion to identify the ‘sat’ and ‘asat’.  To the one born as a human being, the pursuit of knowledge is a must. This is why I shall send you to study under the tutelage of Aryas (the noble scholars). Study well, my son.

Forget the demonic side of Hiranyakashipu, How many among today’s fathers tell their children that the aim of education is to acquire the discretion to deparate truth and untruth?

After the schooling, here is what Hiranyakashipu asks Prahlada

త్సాహ ప్రభుమంత్రశక్తి యుతమే యుద్యోగ? మారూఢ సం
విత్సంపన్నుఁడ వైతివే? చదివితే వేదంబులున్ శాస్త్రముల్?
త్సా రమ్మని చేరఁ జీరి కొడుకున్ వాత్సల్య సంపూర్ణుఁ డై
యుత్సంగాగ్రముఁ జేర్చి దానవవిభుం డుత్కంఠ దీపింపగన్

Filled with eagerness and joy about his son’s education, Hiranyakashipu welcomed Prahlada. Seated the boy on his lap, he asked, “Did your pursuit of Vidya encompass the Kshatra (warriorly) skills and endow you with the requisite  capability? Did you also pursue the path of knowledge? Did you complete the study of Vedas and Shastras?”

In response, Prahlada cites his devotion to Vishnu and we all know the story after that. But one of Prahlada’s noteworthy responses is about what his studies encompassed.

దివించిరి నను గురువులు
దివితి ధర్మార్థ ముఖ్య శాస్త్రంబులు నేఁ
దివినవి గలవు పెక్కులు
దువులలో మర్మ మెల్లఁ దివితిఁ దండ్రీ!

As the teachers taught me, Father, I studied the Shastras like Dharma and Artha and much much more. I studied the various books and also realized the essence of all that I studied.

Those of us looking down upon Asuras will have a lot to learn from the conversation about their passionate pursuit of Vedic knowledge and patronage of scholars who were well versed in these studies. This also counters the half-baked claims about Asuras being a race different from Aryas and that they denounced the Vedic system. Ravana’s compositions perhaps are another example.

But barring the exceptions like Prahlada, the Asuras drifted. Many of them who acquired powers of invincibility, lacked the discretion of using those powers. Some of them gave into temptations that made them lose discretion. Most of them asked for their destruction by violently stopping the offering of the havis by the Rishis to Suras (or Adityas headed by Indra). In a way, they interfered with the religious freedom of the Rishis, sometimes resorting to violence and even rape. (Wasn’t the whole scholarship and the power of Tapasya coming to a zilch here?).

This formidable combination of merit of Tapasya and antagonizing attitude often united the world against the Asuras and required the Supreme forces to manifest in order to eliminate them. To their credit, each of the Asuras has been instrumental in adding a deity to our Hindu pantheon. Tarakasura forced the reunion of Shiva with Shakti resulting in the birth of Kumara. Ravana forced Vishnu to manifest as an ordinary human being and the devas as Vanaras. Hiranyakashipu’s merit went ahead making Vishnu alter the manifestation to become Nara-Hari. Each of them disrupted the universal balance causing the universal forces to synthesize a counterbalancing force. The scholar Bhagavandas in his work, Krishna, A study in the theory of Avatars calls the disrupting forces as Prati-Narayanas who cause the manifestation of Narayana.

Those sympathizing with Asuras would be doing a great disservice, not to others but to themselves by ignoring this repeated lesson from the history. Revere their knowledge and celebrate their contribution like the Shiva tandava stotra of Ravana is sung today in almost all the Shiva temples and in popular media. Also, revere the valuable lessons that they left us (they did so at a high cost and we better respect that).

The patrons of ‘alternate readings’ better keep that in mind before propagating baseless theories about Rama being an invader and Devi Durga being a prostitute. Apart from being useless, such ill-intentioned theories only serve to cause animosity and don’t really add value to any knowledge system. There is no such thing as blasphemy in the Hindu eco system. Only point to note is that this universe can very well do this job of repeating the lesson with ease when the spirit of harmonious coexistence is threatened. As someone quoted, “Nothing in this world can do the job of repeating itself as history does.”

उत्तिष्ठत जाग्रत प्राप्य वरान्निबोधत। क्षुरस्य धारा निशिता दुरत्यया दुर्गं पथस्तत्कवयो वदन्ति ॥ – कठोपनिषत् १।३।१४

Can the Lutyens’ elite resolve the mistrust they evoke from an aspirational Indian? My response to @MalikAshok ‘s column.

The noted columnist, Ashok Malik in his very thoughtful piece opines that the Modi Government needs to over come its ‘Lutyens Paranoia’. He says that the under performance of the present Government in the last 18 months is a result of its dysfunctional relationship with Delhi and the institutions that constitute the political sinews of this city.

From an ideal point of view, a dysfunctional relationship with crucial institution is a no-no. One would not want to disengage from those domain experts and intellectuals who are expected to contribute their experience and insights for the good of the country and economy.

Before going further, let me admit that I have been a vociferous supporter of the Bharatiya Janata Party and of Narendra Modi. But that does not fix my identity. I am an average aspirational Indian who wants to have a better life than my father did and in future, give my children a better life than I have. I am sure that many share this aspiration and this was the crucial factor behind Narendra Modi’s thumping victory in 2014.

18 months down the line, it does feel concerning see lack of coherence and clarity from the government. (Yes, I am more than willing to give it time and I dearly want this government and the country to succeed.) I would even encourage the government to listen to opinions from all sides of political and ideological corners. However, a call to the government to start engaging with Lutyens’ gives me a sense of insecurity. While not against the engagement, I want to list down reasons for my insecurities.

The residents of Lutyens’ (Shall consciously use this term and not resort to rhetoric) are believed to be elites. Political opinions also paint them as loyalists of the Gandhi dynasty. Many times, I got a feeling that they shun the aspirations of an average Indian. While the country suffers from multiple problems, they are seen engaging in discussions and sensational issues that do not speak highly about their priorities. They feel that profit is a dirty word. They are seen supporting activists who protest infrastructural projects, but are not ready to provide workable alternatives.

What is sauce for the goose, is not for the gander. What goes for the elite and posh Lutyens’ Delhi doesn’t go for the villages in Haryana. For instance, trying to hold every village to their exalted standards of clothing and “freedom” where women get raped when they go out to the fields, smacks of elitist arrogance. Horror of horrors, we even hear some voices of the Lutyens’ openly campaigning to pardon the very heinous rapists. How can they love the criminal but then take a high ground and put the blame of the crime on the society?

Most of them are even inflicted with a compulsive obsession to speak against every nationalist initiative. Some of them from the media front even resort to cheap baiting on Social media just to suit their narrative. Some of them are thought to be sympathisers of hostile countries across the border than our own. In other words, their ability to solve the country’s problems in the last ten years came under extreme suspicion. Their elitist high headedness doesn’t help.

Yes I sound paranoid, because I am paranoid. Call me harsh and uncharitable. But the truth is that the mistrust is way too entrenched in me and I can say with reasonable confidence that many middle class Indians feel the same way. Considering the state the country is in, and the action it needs, I am not against Modi government taking a step in engaging them back in action but before that, can I as an average Indian have the Lutyens’ assurance that they care for me?

If they expect the government to warm up to them, they also need to come out of their cosy cocoons and engage with us, the common lot. No, the beef and intolerance dramas make me feel that they would rather see the country fail than let Modi succeed. Yes, this is the crux of the mistrust that I would expect the residents of Lutyens’ to address. They need to come clean with their priorities. They need to prove that they would like to see the country succeed though it is in the hands of their ‘bitter enemy’ Modi. I again repeat, they let their hatred and disdain for Modi show in every action of theirs than their intention to see India succeed.

They need to take a step forward and voice actionable solutions than while away time and money on theoretical flaws of the proposed solutions. They need to be seen openly engaging with constructive initiatives of the government (say Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao for instance) than sit and pass cynical comments about the regressive ironies of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or take pot shots at Hindu civilization. They need to stop nit picking if they cannot give saner alternatives and admit what is a wiser solution for any current issue.

Guilty of repeating. But my question to the residents of Lutyens’ remains. Are you willing to swallow your hatred for Modi and let your love for Indians show up instead? If yes, unfurl the white flag and prove it.

Easy To Mock Hindoos And Their Holy Cows, Difficult To Truly Revere Nature

First published on Swarajya Magazine on 15 October 2015.

Jaitirth Rao in his article, this matter of beef starts with making a right statement that the present laws protect neither the cows nor the dairy farmers. This post of mine is not just a reply to his article but a call to all those who think of themselves as truly liberal (on both sides of political ideologies) to examine their arguments about beef and environmentalism and yes, ‘economic viability’.

Before I proceed, please read my ceremonial disclaimer (written for those friends who have some special intellectual capabilities to assume otherwise).

—What happened in Dadri was a crime and is punishable by law. No less, no more and I don’t support lynching, beating up or murdering on taking law into own hands in any form, given any reason.

—I respect Mr Jaitirth Rao very much. The article is a counter to his arguments and is not to be taken otherwise.  

The inability of dairy farmers in sustaining the old cows which are not economically ‘useful’ is real. My deeply hurt emotions aside, let us accept that it is a problem that a farmer faces. The death of animals in stray accidents and by consuming harmful plastic waste (our precious gift to nature and our callous denial to think about recycling processes, lest we forget) is regrettable.

Ranjit Sinhji’s culinary choices don’t define my sensibilities, nor does Bhavabhuti’s supposed liking for veal. Not even the supposed verses of Rig Veda or whatever part of scriptures that mention cow meat define my sensibilities. As a Hindu, it is a matter of pride for me that the Hindoos (Continuing Mr. Rao’s advised spelling) have gone ahead and defied their Vedic references to beef and have stood against slaughter(assuming such references exist). I call this evolution of thought. We all evolved from cannibalism too. Just that there were no religious texts in that period. In course of evolution, we moved away from it and equated cannibalism with Rakshasatva or demonic nature. Agriculture is considered a breakthrough in human civilization. Why? Logically because we stop being predators and become creators, limiting the harm done by us to the environment.

Any asset (and a domesticated animal, since Mesopotamian times has been viewed as an asset) automatically becomes a less attractive investment if it loses its residual value.

This is the kind of statement that could hurt the sensibilities of a Hindu who claims to have even an iota of care for the nature and to any lover of environment. Cattle are the one main reason behind our evolution from predators to creators. A Hindu mind considers them as a partner in the civilization and not mere assets that exist to provide economical value. One can argue that cattle was considered as ‘wealth’ in any civilization and hence the argument. A Hindu heart considers even ‘wealth’ as worship worthy. In fact it owes its reverence to every animate and inanimate object that contributed to universal sustenance and the ‘holy cow’ is a symbol of this universal reverence.

Humane slaughter does sound like a desirable alternative to the otherwise painful death. But it does so assuming that the animal’s right to life is a function of its economic viability to the human being. Mr. Rao also feels that keeping the animals whose meat is protein rich at the cost of humans remaining protein deficient being a tad stupid is regrettable. No, the civilization and evolution we pride about, if it has just turned us into sophisticated predators, there is too less to be proud of being a human and lecture about humanity.

“Keeping alive surplus cattle which contribute to the dreaded methane in the environment (Dear Reader: I shall spare you the scatological details) is clearly a very very bad thing as far as Eco friends are concerned”

I shall reserve my reaction on this statement and it might just be a worthy task for each of us to contemplate on the multitude ways in which we release dreaded stuff into environment. May be we can make a case for humane slaughter of humans too! (I am not serious, but the logic suggests it this way).

Science is a great way to look at development. But looking at it from just a curious statistical evidence might not make case for slaughter. Slaughter to win a couple of cricket matches then makes it look like it is fine to kill a being for our sportive delight. I would rather prefer to lose a few matches or to come up with any breakthrough that could enable a sportsperson to depend less on height. Alternatively, can we think supplements?

The questions about the effectiveness of the law remain. But we need to choose how we would proceed to make them effective. Of course it is easy and tempting to mock at the Hindoo’s tailored protection of the holy ‘cow’. It is also sane to challenge the Hindoos to arrange for alternative protection centres as opposed to abandoning them on the road to die. (We can alternatively watch the way we dispose plastic unless we are fine with the thought that we are the blessed species with sole rights to pollute environment with plastic while the animals can be humanely slaughtered for their dreaded methane).

I know that it hurts the high egos of intellectuals to recognize the simple minded environmental symbolism of Hindoos. As a Hindu, I would look up at anyone taking this love for the holy cow forward to a stage of saner implementation where being a human does not mean coming up with ridiculous arguments to justify slaughter. If supporting slaughter makes me a liberal, the word seems to lose its sheen. Would prefer to be called otherwise for siding with life.

How united are we?

Had blogged this almost two years before. Might be right to call it my first formal blog post, thanks to the encouragement of Ratnakar Sadasyula (@Scorpiusmaximus on Twitter), the founder of https://mirrortoindia.wordpress.com/ and the author of “Inglorious Kweezerds” and “History under your feet”. Adding this to my collection today on my views on Caste system.

Politically Incorrect

I hear a lot of bigwigs in the mainstream media projecting a certain leader as ‘divisive’ and hence not suitable to lead this country. No prizes for guessing who the ‘divisive’ leader is. But what sets me thinking is about how united we are in the first place as the citizens of this country. Even a superfluous study of the political scenario in different states would tell us how castes and religious communities are treated as vote banks. Yes, there is no dearth of divisive leaders for we as voters have time and again proved that our unity is can easily be broken with the feudal caste card.

Caste has remained one of the the left wing’s favourite punch bags to bash Hinduism. Given their credibility, I would certainly not buy their rhetoric but this element of social classification is certainly worth a thought.

The first basis of caste had…

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Of Caste and Outcaste – Attempt to diagnose the roots of oppression

I am thankful to Rohini Bakshi didi for encouraging me to express my thoughts on caste boldly. This was published on her Learn Sanskrit blog. Rohini Bakshi (@RohiniBakshi on twitter)  is a Sanskrit teacher based in London and the founder of #SanskritAppreciationHour, a regular twitter chat led by her and other Sanskrit scholars that explores grammatical aspects of Sanskrit literature and delightful stories.

“We got rid of the caste system, but not caste-ism.” This was an anguished admission of a dear friend of mine whose views generally clash with mine. Yes, in today’s world of hurried and forced labels, one can call him a ‘liberal’ and me, a ‘conservative’. The context of the conversation was based on the electoral dynamics where certain castes end up being the vote banks. I often wondered if I was among the finite minority that cringed every time electoral results are analyzed on TV screens with caste dynamics over riding the real issues. (May be, one could get philosophical and argue about what is real and what is not!)

My liberal friend and I share a view in common, that we would like to see these lines of caste disappear in our respective ideal worlds. Yes, discrimination is a disease, a disease which requires the medicine of social reformation.  But here I come to the point where I would differ from my friends on the other side of the imaginary line of liberalism. The point is about the diagnosis of the disease. Much of the literature on the social dynamics lays blame on the Hindu fourfold Varna system.  I find the famous line of purusha sukta being quoted with a lot of zeal to prove that discrimination existed right in Vedic texts.

The ones that lay the blame do conveniently forget the openness of the interpretation that the Vedic texts have. My spiritual guru, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba had advocated many times that service to the lowest strata of the society is the real ‘pada puja’ made to the universal Lord.

Interpretations and politics apart, I think that the much blamed chaturvarna system died a long while ago. I call it a dead system as the social dynamics of the Varna system had long turned porous and post the dark ages and before the invasions from the middle east, we do have many instances of new dynasties being founded independent of the ‘four-fold’ sanction. The Mauryas, the Guptas, the Shatavahanas, the Kakatiyas and many such empires made a mark in the history defying the much blamed sanction. May be there was no strict sanction and power dynamics redefined the sanction? I would leave it to the historians and period scholars to determine it. The founding of a new empire was often based on pulling down another empire where mostly the King had turned oppressive and unpopular. Empires used to reach the peaks of glory when they balanced the expansion of land with administrative reforms that left the citizens happy. They often reached their peril due to oppressive rule that galvanized a revolution or due to strategic mistakes which gave their rivals an upper hand.

Oppression in such cases in my opinion shifted to power dynamics. Those who wielded power (excluding the heroic kings and reformers who we all remember with reverence) oppressed those who were ideologically opposed to them or presented a threat. That is the reason why I feel blaming the purusha sukta for oppression serves no real purpose and is rather a lazy diagnosis of a serious social problem. The ones doing so probably are not accountable to give a solution so can command the luxury of such lazy diagnosis. But it is important for the ones looking for real solutions to get to the real roots of the problem. When I hear of inhuman practices that prevail among India’s lesser accessible areas, my belief is further strengthened. Though not proud of my knowledge of scriptures, I am yet to come across any such inhuman doctrines which forbid the ‘lower’ class from using the common wells in the village and advocate violent things.

Oppression is always the language of power maniacs and not of the system writers. As repetitive as I might sound with this sentence, I would want the readers to realize this and more. If one throws the blame of oppression on Hinduism, one has to realize that the defying discrimination also belongs to Hinduism more than the imported idealist theories. I refer to the Bhakti movement and the scores of reforms that were achieved by the likes of Mahatma Basaveshwar, Madhvacharya, the Nayanmars of Tamilnadu and the scores of composers who have denounced all forms of birth based discrimination. My personal favourite is the one in Telugu, “Brahmamokkate” by Sri Tallapaka Annamacharya. Those interested can find the complete lyric and meaning here (http://www.karnatik.com/c1107.shtml). There are more compositions of his decrying discrimination and oppression.

One needs to observe that Bhakti movement scored above the recent movements against caste in one thing – restoring the dignity and in preaching universalism that brought the people of various strata together. Sadly the modern movements though rooted in progressive ideals have done little more than casting the oppressed classes into political toys through reverse discrimination. This is the reason why we see clans and communities aspiring for ‘backward’ tag for reservations and other short term benefits. Sadly, this is the greatest harm that the social engineers of the last century have done to our system. I can only hope that the next wave of reformers would take inspiration from those movements which have advocated the oneness and inherent human merit across the divisions rather than those which have capitalized on mutual hatred and reverse oppression.