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Sunday, 9 October 2011

New mantra: Stay hungry, stay foolish, stay wise

He had faded from our television screens, and except for the occasional whine, Anna Hazare was off the radar.

But here he is again, girding up his dhoti, Gandhi topi firmly in place, heading out to do battle, cameras lapping up his every move.

Now, which mantra does he profess - the Gandhian ahimsaic protest with which the ‘naked fakir’ moved millions into pulling the rug from under the British Empire or that of the new poster boy of our times — Steve Jobs, who may have pressed the exit button on his own Apple but whose ‘Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish’ has to be the defining catchword of our times.

‘Stay Foolish.” Does it mean what I think it must mean? That life’s a learning experience and the minute you get complacent, and think you know it all, that you’ve been there, done that and there’s nothing more that the world can teach you, or learn, that you are the last word on every subject...then, you’re as good as, well .. dead?

And death, as Mr Jobs said, deified for his acerbic putdowns as much as the i-world he created for all of us to escape to, was life’s best invention. The finale to beat all finales!

As for ‘Stay Hungry’ — as in stay hungry but always want more — it turns on its head, every tenet, every precept that has sprung from our ancient land where we revere Sri Rama for his renunciation of his kingdom and yes, a Sonia Gandhi who turned her back on the prime minister’s job, the political fasting that the likes of Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare conduct for political gain, the asceticism of the mendicants who choose sanyaas, going door to door begging for alms and food as a way of life.

It’s the path our religions lay down, preaching contentment as the ultimate goal, of being happy in your own skin and striving for excellence but not working towards a reward.

I cannot remember the number of times, the unworldly among the elders in the family who were bent on renunciation, would chant the relevant shloka from the Gita, point to their paltry worldly belongings that could be bundled up in an old newspaper as the path of the righteous; and watch the awe and admiration they evoked from the rest of the clan, for giving up the goodies that were essential must-haves for the rest of us.

“Thy right is to thy work alone, But never to the fruits of work; Let not the rewards of action be Thy motive; nor yet be attached to inaction.”.My petty little brain always went into overdrive when they said this, doing a rapid check-list of the many, many ‘fruits of my work’ I could get around to acquiring when the summer holidays and the enforced period of monastic deprivation ended !

Steve Jobs’ ‘Stay Hungry’ was to always want more from life, to grab it with both hands. More, in keeping with the conspicuous consumption of our times.

Two schools of thought, really. Two kinds of people who inhabit this universe - the ones who want to go out and change the world and amass wealth and power en route. (Or not). And others who seem happy enough with what they have, content to watch from the shadows, plod along as the world unfolds before them. One doesn’t know which one is the better of the two, which one to pitch for as the ideal and why the two worlds shouldn’t co-exist.

But without the ‘hungry’ we wouldn’t have a Nandan Nilekani and his innovative identity card idea which will put every Indian — and his needs - on a data base, making planning for the poor so much easier in a state which justifies the Rs 32 a day benchmark as the minimum requirement for the poor!

Even a cauliflower costs twenty-five rupees, Mr Ahluwahlia. Without the ‘foolish’, we wouldn’t have Rohini Nilekani’s innovative plans to provide clean, drinking water for all, and whose new book talks about how to create more jobs for the educated Indian (must get that).

Or the laudable new initiative by Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and others of her like who have pro-actively taken on the road building that government after government, civic body after corrupt civic body in our city have woefully failed to address.

At one level, our twenty-first century ‘Gandhians’ — Hazare and his trouble-shooters Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan — have stayed both hungry and foolish. Agents of change. And in pricking us out of our collective complacency, and in choosing to join issue during an election campaign rather than the confrontational street agitprop followed earlier, they have chosen a far more appropriate arena for their political jousting.

But it’s also a coming out party.

One word to the wise though — targeting one political party because it refuses to embrace your version of events (in this case, the Lokpal bill and its ramifications thereof) and leaving the rest of the tainted brigade out, raises questions about prejudice and bias.

If you have to clean up the mess that 60 years of politicking has thrown up, then, the Hazares of this world who want to bring in a cleaner political environment cannot attack one political affiliation — because it refuses to give you the time of day — and ignore the other, which has some pretty heavy skeletons rattling around in its own cupboard.

Fact is, if Anna is to be the face of a whole new political formation that seems to be gathering steam, and these early salvos are merely to test the political waters, then it would be politic to take us - watching and waiting in the shadows — into confidence. We, the foolish, would like to see what the alternatives are before we decide to join the ranks of this particular strain of the hungry.

One of the most evolved politician of our times, Mr Deve Gowda, may have retreated after the Koppal bypoll debacle and some say, is putting his long held plans of a third alternative into play for the coming showdown in 2014.

Gowda, the hungriest of them all, understands better than most, the limitations of his own party. Not so, the delusional but equally hungry BJP, bracing for a post-BSY world, and claiming victory when Koppal was clearly about the candidate, not the party, not the party bigwigs who loosened the purse-strings even as the Congress despite having an ace in Siddaramaiah, sits out yet another match.

As the far-sighted Gowda sends out feelers to the Nitish Kumars and Jayalalithaa’s, living up to Job’s mantra not to live life on anybody’s terms except his own and Anna seems to be easing his way into the straight-jacket of the leader of a third force on a grand scale, the world throws up the same conundrums and posers that set the men apart from the boys.


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