Chaotic Dynamics Of Project-Based Professions

This article Dynamics Of Project-Based Professions by Anuradha Goyal, author, and founder of IndiTales.com was first published by the New Indian Express newspaper on August 03, 2020.

Nepotism, cartels, or even gangs of influential professionals have been dominating the media and hence our minds. People from different backgrounds and professions are coming out with their struggles in the immensely competitive but highly visible industries. Writers spoke about closed doors of the publishing industry; musicians spoke about the biases of music companies. I have my own stories as an independent content creator. I am sure lawyers, chartered accountants, freelancers, and consultants of all kinds would have their own tales to tell about the project-based professions.

Dynamics of Project-Based Professions

Let us take an objective view of professions that are project-based in nature. You typically come together as a team of independent professionals for a project. Once finished, you move on to the next project with another team. The overlap between different teams is minimal at the beginning of your career but it increases with time as your network grows and as you become part of more and more projects. This model is prevalent in most creative fields.
Sometimes, you may form a close-knit team that you repeatedly work with due to the rapport that you build over time, or a sense of comfort or simply a compatible working relationship.

When these close-knit teams get too strong, knowingly or unknowingly they create entry barriers for others, more often to get as much share of the business as possible. If they become monopolistic, deliberately blocking new entrants, they can harm the culture and overall quality standards of the industry.

Fair Play

Assume an ideal fair play scenario in such a creative industry, where anyone with the required qualifications and talent can come and work. How do people get discovered for projects? Most of the time these projects do not have clearly defined processes for selection, unlike the corporate sector. There are no organized sources to directly source talent like a bunch of colleges or institutes. Personal biases of decision-makers are bound to creep in. Add to this the fact that the work itself is short term, highly diverse, and demands a different set of skills or profiles every time.
So, to get work, people need to be visible, they need to hustle. To find the right people for their projects, project owners need to keep an eye on new talent, they too need to hustle.

Sometimes agencies step in to manage this hustling, but more often than not, it happens informally, in social gatherings and public events. You get noticed for your visible work, that is why most people end up doing their initial projects for almost nothing. Initial projects are like an investment in building your professional resume.

Pricing

Putting on the price tag on your work is tricky. There are no standards whatsoever. Price is a function of your standing, your credibility, your past record, and most importantly how desperately the client needs you. There has been umpteen number of times when I have worked for a price only to realize that I could have easily quoted 2-4 times that price. Since most of these professions demand one’s personal time commitment, price is also a function of how much work you have on hand. Once you are well established, your price is also well established, but till then it’s a topsy turvy ride. In fact, when you have enough work at hand, you end up quoting an exorbitant price to say no, or to test waters. If you are not good with your accounts, you need to budget in for leakages of all kinds.

Revenue flow in these professions is as erratic as it can get. By design, there is no regular income, it comes in spurts. Your payments may depend on when your client gets paid. There may be few agencies between you and your client, and each step takes its cut as well as time. Your remuneration may be linked to the revenue of the end product. Forecasting revenue is tough and accounting of receipts hardly transparent. Take the case of author-publisher teams. No one can ever predict the book sales. Once it is in the market, the author has no real visibility of the number of copies sold. A lot of things work on sheer faith, another reason why people tend to stick to people they trust.

Transparency in accounts in much needed, but because creators are not a community, they never come together to demand this. On the contrary, they end up competing unnecessarily.

New Entrants to Project-based Professions

Most new entrants in creative fields, with their eyes full of dreams, think life will be hunky-dory once they are successful. They see only the rewarding part of their dream professions. Nothing prepares them for the bumps on the road, the crowd they have to jostle through. Mentors can help but one has to be fortunate to find one. This makes me think about the artist guilds that worked in good old days that moved as a community for different projects. I can see a stark difference in the creation-creator relationship. Maybe we need to go back and study these models! Till then, being aware of what you are getting into can help you deal with it.

Chaotic dynamics of project-based professions article published copy

Original article published in The New Indian Express on August 03, 2020

Edited for this online publication.

Fragrant Opportunities In The Air For Indian MSMEs

This article Fragrant Opportunities by Anuradha Goyal, author, and founder of IndiTales.com was first published by the New Indian Express newspaper on July 07, 2020.

A trip to Europe used to have two mandatory stops – a winery and a perfumery. Perfume makers proudly showcase their fragrances new and classic. Back home one finds rows of colorful oil-based perfume bottles in the lanes of Chandni Chowk in Delhi, Charminar in Hyderabad, or Hazratganj in Lucknow. Connoisseurs visit these lanes to get custom-made fragrances for themselves. Time to consider Fragrant Opportunities for the Indian MSME!

Kannauj in UP is India’s undisputed fragrance capital since the time it was the capital of king Harshvardhan in the early 7th CE. Making of perfumes is mentioned in ancient texts like Charak Samhita and Gangadhara’s Gandhasara. Kannauj continues to produce Attar – oil-based perfume. That is extracted using traditional methods in 350 odd small scales units in the town. They have captured the smell of the first rains and the smell of the earth in their bottles. Deservedly they have a Geographical Indicator tag.

Fragrant Opportunities

Visit an upmarket mall and you would find it hard to spot an Indian perfume brand. I could only locate one brand from Titan among all the lists of best-selling perfumes in India. This too has been designed by French perfumers, positioned as a French perfume with even an advertisement in French. Then there are some niche brands. That would classify as boutique outfits, catering to a small niche audience in the luxury segment. Most of the mass consumption of ethanol or alcohol-based fragrances is that of popular international brands. Some of which are from multinational FMCG companies operating in India. The oil-based fragrances produced in the small-scale units in the hinterlands of India have a small market in India and the middle east.

As per the MSME website, the global fragrance and flavor industry is about $24.10 Billion. Out of this India’s share is just about $500 million. Of this, about 40% is home fragrance share. That includes scented oils, fragrant sprays, and scented oils.

Fragrance & Flavour Development Centre

Fragrance & Flavour Development Centre (FFDC) was set-up in Kannauj in 1991 by the Government of India. There are two extension centers at Kanpur in UP and Berhampur in Odisha. It aims to serve as an interface between essential oil, fragrance, and flavor industry and the R & D institutions. Both in the field of agrotechnology and chemical technology. They provide training to entrepreneurs on areas like aromatherapy, on essential oils and perfumery. Making Agarbatti and dhoop. Setting up small processing units for the primary processing of raw fragrance.

Fragrances are an invisible part of almost every consumer product we use on a day to day basis. Right from our toothpaste to cosmetics to food on our plate, making them an important industrial input product. The wellness industry has products like aromatherapy that uses essential oils. The supply chain of fragrances comprises the cultivation of aromatic plants, primary processing at the local level. Secondary processing as per the need of the final product, and the incorporation in the final product. Perfumes are the simplest product that needs just the right concentrate mix and packaging, after which it is more or less a marketing game.

Colorful Perfume Bottles on display - Fragrant Opportunities

Colorful Perfume Bottles on display

Raw Materials

There are majorly 300 different types of fragrant raw materials. Of these, 50% are cultivated and rest are found in nature. A significant number of these are that can be easily cultivated. India is a leader in the production of raw materials of some of the fragrances like Menthol Mint, Spice Oils, Oleoresins, and some floral extracts. Immense untapped opportunities exist in the cultivation and processing of plants like basil, lemongrass, flowers, and spices that grow in India’s weather conditions. Setting up a primary processing unit is easy and not capital intensive. Many such units are being managed by self-help groups. A lot of government support is also available to set up such units as they fall under MSME.

In terms of trends, deodorants dominate India’s market. Though perfumes are slowly gaining share. Note that the difference between the two is just the percentage of fragrance oil they have. Working professionals, particularly women professionals are major consumers of fragrances in India. Globally ethanol-based perfumes are making way for new materials like the Cyclomethicone. A recent surge in the usage of sanitizers due to COVID 19 has added to the demand for fragrances.

New Fragrances

Consumers are always looking for fresh new fragrances. So the industry needs to constantly respond by concocting new ways to titillate the olfactory nerves. Consumption of local oil-based perfumes remains limited. Traditionalists say that for the hot tropical weather, oil-based perfumes work better and last longer. Will this awareness change the consumption patterns? Maybe.

When I asked Sh. Shakti Vinay Shukla, director FFDC, why do we not have homegrown brands of perfumes? He said the perfume choices are driven by the fashion houses and most of them are aligned to the European ones.

Is it not time to have homegrown fragrance brands for a large consumer market in India? Should Indian fragrances not carve a niche for themselves in the world? Should Indian consumers demand local fragrances? The industry is bound to respond to fragrant opportunities. Local for Vocal can be an umbrella marketing campaign for this.

Edited for this online publication.

Vocal For Local Needs A Global Push

This article Vocal for Local by Anuradha Goyal, author, and founder of IndiTales.com was first published by the New Indian Express newspaper on June 11, 2020.

Eat Local, Wear Local, Consume Local has been an emerging trend, in short Vocal for Local is an undercurrent that was waiting for a trigger to become mainstream. Can the Covid-19 induced global ‘Pause’ be the kick it so desperately required? Hopefully, Yes. We see a lot of debate about turning ‘Swadeshi’, for have we not just spent the last three decades trying to be global citizens. Was Swadeshi not what we read about in the ‘Independence Movement’ chapter of history textbook? In my opinion, this time going local is a global need. Every region in the world needs to go local, at least to a certain extent.

Leaders of a nation or state or district can only promote local consumption in their area of influence, but if all leaders around the globe promote the same principle, we may inch towards a much-needed balance between local and global production as well as consumption.

Vocal for Local

Along with this we need to re-visit the ‘Small is Beautiful’, and move towards having multiple smaller units spread across geography instead of a handful of big units catering to majority consumption. It may not be possible in heavy industries like steel, but it can definitely be achieved in most consumer products that can be built in smaller units catering to local needs.

Balance Index for the Vocal for Local

I propose a ‘Local Balance Index’ or ‘Santulan Soochak’ to be devised that takes into account the percentage of consumption from within the region and imports from outside. An index should take into account the distance covered by the product from production to consumption. At a more granular level, it should take into account the distance covered by the raw materials before they became a part of the product. This should be our indicator of the domains and verticals in a region that are good candidates for moving towards self-reliance.

Today when the big corporations declare their financial numbers, they talk about efficient cost structures and productivity parameters as inputs into their earnings. They hardly take into account the environmental and health cost that the society is paying for those efficiencies. We collectively pay for the price but no one holds the responsibility to bring them down, not in practical terms.

Read More – Innovative Ideas to Explore

Distance

So, if the ‘Santulan Soochak’ indicates that your region is consuming too much of the processed food sourced from more than 500, 1000, or 2000 KMs of distance. You can look at options like – Choosing to produce it locally. Choosing to produce and promote alternatives. Or at the very least campaign and encourage people to reduce consumption. Note that I am not proposing national boundaries but a parameter of distance to make these decisions.

The call by the prime minister Modi would definitely give rise to a sentiment of ‘Going Local’ and supporting local producers. If the MSME schemes proposed by the government do reach the desired audience, that should give a lot of open ground for the entrepreneurs to play around. However, they need more than just moral support and finance options.

Opportunities for Local Entrepreneurs

To spot the right opportunities for local entrepreneurs, governments need to provide a lot of trade data in the public domain. An average Indian, especially beyond the metros, does not know what are the consumption patterns and sourcing map of their region look like. It is nearly impossible for an entrepreneur to get data on potential products that can be produced locally. They obviously cannot invest in market research. Strong Industry-Academia research linkages can potentially help.

Clusters

Traditional Indian businesses operated in clusters. Where each individual business was not too big but collectively, they are an industry, concentrated in a small geographic area. This gave them the so-called economies of scale and collective bargaining power. Handicraft based small scale industries operate in loosely organized clusters. Like ceramics at Khurja or glass bangles at Firozabad or the weaving clusters across the country. New age industries too need to build their focussed clusters. Local governments can take a data intelligence-based approach to decide which industries work best for them. Based on parameters like availability of raw material, local demand, talent, and Samtulan Soochak Index.

Awareness to succeed in Vocal for Local

Awareness about the available local products in local markets is abysmal. Big corporations score high with their well-researched, high profile, targeted marketing, and cross-media campaigns. Local businesses do need focussed local campaigns to highlight their products and their local origin. Government agencies can also pitch in by public listing of local businesses and local products. A few years ago, there were strong local food brands in almost every region of India. Be it the Bhakarwadi of Pune or Pedha of Mathura. In the last 2-3 decades, they have all gone global with standardization of their products. Tweaking their recipes for global taste and longer shelf lives. Making them easy to replicate for global competition. GI tags can help in terms of protection. But they do not really help with new markets. Unless coupled with stronger geo-tagged marketing.

Data-driven soft infrastructure is as important in enabling local producers as easy access to capital.

Vocal for Local Needs a Global Push

Original article published in New Indian Express on June 11, 2020

Edited for this online publication.

Design To Drive The Return Of Tourism

This article Return of Tourism by Anuradha Goyal, author, and founder of IndiTales.com was first published by the New Indian Express newspaper on May 11, 2020.

Every time I traveled to a remote place with small shabby hotels only, I carried my own cotton sheets and towels. This was my way of ensuring my cleanliness bubble. I did the same on overnight train travels. Now, I will extend this to all the travels in the foreseeable future. Theplas and Khakhras accompanied me to all the places that are not too vegetarian friendly. Now, they may accompany me for all travels. The same goes for water – to minimize touchpoints with strangers. Sanitizer would be the new shoes; you can’t step out without it. Where possible, I would stay with family and friends, as homes seem safer than hotels.

Like me, as and when holidaymakers do come back, some of their habits would have changed forever and the businesses would have to respond innovatively and creatively to cater to them. The corporate world has more or less adapted to digital meetings. Business Travels would be restricted to a large extent to take care of their own balance sheets. Post lockdown, 3-6 months would see only emergency travel taking place followed by absolutely necessary ones.

Tourism/Hospitality Industry during Pandemic

The tourism and hospitality industry is not only the worst impacted by the ongoing pandemic but would probably be the last one to get back on feet. Capacity utilization would go down for airlines, hotels& restaurants, pushing the prices up, which in turn would act as a deterrent for leisure travelers, creating a kind of negative spiral. New hygiene and touchpoint protocols will add to costs.

People, stuck at home for months now, would need to work for some time to earn their next holiday. Fear of getting stuck in a distant land would keep them in the vicinity of their homes. Couple it with lack of public transport, travel would be limited to distances as far as their own vehicles can take them. Large events of any kind, personal, or professional remain out of question.

Read More –  Innovative Ideas to Explore 

Nature and wellness holidays are predicted to pick up first. I see a surge in learning holidays, where people travel to a destination in a small group, stay in one place to learn a skill. These could be yoga camps, spiritual retreats, writing retreats, bird watching sojourns, family gatherings, or anything where you stay in one place. This also means overall less travel but longer stays in one place.

A positive note for the Tourism Industry

On a positive note, we should see the onset of a much-needed balance. Between over-tourism at a handful of destinations and untapped potential at less explored destinations. This is the best time for tourism boards to revamp their destination maps. And promote geographically spread out destinations in their regions. Pro-active reach-out can place these destinations in the wish list of future clients. Especially for domestic clients. This can not only contain losses. But also create new revenue streams and expand the customer base.

International borders being closed is a great opportunity for the domestic tourism industry. To offer alternatives within the country to these 25 million-plus base of tourists who travel abroad. Destinations like Sicily are leading with incentivization plans for tourists who plan to visit them soon after the lockdown. By way of free entry to attractions or heavy discounts on flights and hotels. Every destination would need an ‘Ab Initio’ approach to re-establishing their destination branding.

Startups

Startups can look at designing products that expand the industry footprint beyond just selling rooms and flights. This includes curating and creating engagement opportunities for the visitors that encourages them to stay longer in the destination. India has a range of under-explored experiences. Right from culinary to cultural, from nature to adventure, to cities to tribal, from wellness to spiritual, sports to entertainment. Robust collaborations between tourism and handicrafts & handloom industry to design new-age souvenirs soaked in Indian ethos is need of the hour. Post the pause, these products would come handy when tourists would look for destinations that offer something to do for a longer duration.

Insurance Industry

The insurance industry needs to design new products around communicable diseases. Covid-19 free certification may become a requirement for crossing borders. However, one would still need to insure for any infections picked up during travel, to contain the financial and social risks it comes with. Governments would not do free evacuations forever. And the medical costs would be prohibitive with long cycles of recovery and isolation. Touchless interactions would have to be enabled using technology-led interventions.

‘Design’ would be the keyword. Public spaces would demand re-design. Public interactions would need new process designs. And it is an opportunity to design new local products.

It is heartening to see innovative brand management by a few jungle lodges. They are sending sights and sounds of jungle life to their regular and potential clients. It gives me hope that the industry has not lost hope. Let’s hope that the hospitality brands that lent helping hand by becoming quarantine facilities or running the food kitchens for those struck away from home will be amply rewarded by the travelers in the future.

Design To Drive The Return Of Tourism article in New Indian Express

Original article published in New Indian Express on May 11, 2020

Edited for this online publication.

Sakhi – Kabir Mann Nirmal Bhaya

Kabir Mann Nirmal Bhaya

Kabir Mann Nirmal Bhaya

कबीर मन निर्मल भया, जैसे गंगा नीर

पीछे पीछे हर फिरे, कहत कबीर कबीर

or

Kabir Mann Nirmal Bhaya, Jaise Ganga Neer

Peechhe Peechhe har fire, kahat Kabir Kabir

Clean your heart and mind, as River Ganga does

The world comes after you, chanting Kabir Kabir

This Kabir Saakhi has had an immense impact on me and every time I read it, it throws a new angle and new light to interpret it.

To understand this let us understand the word निर्मल  – it is made of two words Ni + MalNi means without or a prefix that negates. Mal means the excreta or the waste that the body throws out. So Kabir is talking about making your mann i.e. your heart and mind Nirmal i.e. without mal or without any filth.

Read More – Who is Kabir?

He gives an analogy with Ganga in this Sakhi – Kabir Mann Nirmal Bhaya. The inherent nature of Ganga is ( or maybe was) that it had self-cleaning properties. No matter what was thrown into it, it cleans itself. It does not do anything to others – it just cleans itself. It cleans itself of any filth that people leave in her. For this very reason, everyone runs to Ganga and chants Ganga, Ganga.

So, in essence, Kabir is saying – you clean yourself just as the River Ganga cleans itself and the world will come running after you. Not because you can offer them something, but because you can let them leave their filth at your doorstep and still be clean. Cleanliness can be taken literally as well as metaphorically where it can stand for strength of character.

Read More – Bhakti Dravid Upaji – Kabir Saakhi

It can also be interpreted as – irrespective of what you receive from the world – you should build the capability to clean yourself. The world will come and give you filth every now and then, your inherent character should not get impacted by that filth, at least not for a long time.

Read More – Man Lagyo Mero Yaar Fakiri Mein

When I look at all the great artists, scientists, scholars, achievers and observe their journeys, all they do is keep improving themselves and all otherworldly things like success, money, fame start piling around them. They are focussed on improving themselves – removing any flaws that exist in their craft one by one. In doing so, they create a magnetic power that attracts others to them. Think of the famous sportspersons or actors or even businessmen, all they are doing is improving themselves every day, bit by bit.

It also conveys that you focus on yourself, and let the world do what it wants to. It puts the onus of your quality of life on you irrespective of how the world is.

Word ‘Har‘ in the second line can also be interpreted as Hari – a word that Kabir commonly uses for God. Here he means to get Hari too, you need to clean yourself. Once you clean yourself, you would not have to run here and there searching for Hari, but Hari will come running after you – chanting your name.

If you have an interpretation of this Saakhi, please share.

Man Lagyo Mero Yaar Fakiri Mein by Kabir

Man Lagyo Mero Yaar Fakiri Mein by Kabir

Man Lagyo Mero Yaar Fakiri Mein by Kabir

 

मन लाग्यो मेरो यार फकीरी में            Man Lagyo mero yaar fakiri mein


जो सुख पाऊँ राम भजन में                Jo sukh paoon Ram bhajan mein

वो सुख नहीं अमीरी में                      woh sukh nahin ameeri mein


भला बुरा सबको सुन लीजो               Bhala Bhura sabko sun leejo

कर गुजरान गरीबी में                       kar gujraan gareebi mein


हाथ में तुम्बा, बगल में सोटा              Haath mein toomba, bagal mein sota

चारों दिशाएं जागीरी में                    chaaron dishayen jagiri mein


प्रेम नगर में रहनी हमारी                 Prem nagar mein rehani hamari

भली बन आयो सबूरी में                  Bhali bani aayee saboori mein


आखिर यह तन खाख मिलेगा            Aakhir yeh tan khaak milega

क्या फिरे मग़रूरी में                       kya fire magroori mein


कहे कबीर सुनो बही साधो               Kahe kabir suno bhai sadho

साहिब मिलेगा सबूरी में                  sahib milega saboori mein



I enjoy being a Fakir


The joy that I get in singing Ram Bhajans

I don’t get that in enjoying the riches of life


For being a Fakir, I would listen all good & bad things

and I would live in poverty


If I have my one stringed instrument in one hand, and my stick in another

All four directions are my wealth


I live in the land of love

and the good comes from being content


This body will finally merge with the earth

What is there to be proud of it


Kabir says – you will find HIM

right here in your patience


Fakir is a word that we need to understand here. This poem through various metaphors tries to explain what a Fakir is and what he enjoys and how once you start enjoying being Fakir – there is nothing else that matters from that point onwards.

Fakir is someone who can have or has everything but chooses not to have. He is detached from the material world in a way that it can not bind him. He can not be bound to one house, one person – as he believes that the whole world and everyone in this world belong to him. He is equanimous as his sense of being does not come from what he owns, where he lives and who he is related to. 

Read More – Who is Kabir?

In this poem ‘ Man Lagyo Mero Yaar Fakiri Mein ‘, he says that I am blissfully lost in the world of a Fakir. I enjoy my bhajans more than any riches. For this I can listen to anything good or bad that I have to, I am willing to spend my life in poverty for I enjoy the absolute freedom that Fakiri gives me. 

He says as long as I have my one-stringed instrument called Tumba in my one hand and my stick in another, all four directions are my kingdom. This reflects his inclination towards music or the need for music in life even when there is nothing else that’s required. Come to think of it when we try and possess small pieces of real estate or other materialistic things – in a way are we not giving up our claim to everything else, are we not saying – this is mine and implicitly imply that everything else is not mine. When you give up anything you have, suddenly everything becomes yours. 

Read More – Bhakti Dravid Upaji – Kabir Saakhi

He then reflects on the fact that this life is momentary – a theme that recurs in many of his poems. Since this body is momentary, what’s the point in being proud of it nurturing vanity for it. He is urging us to immerse in the eternal pleasures that come when you love and when you are content with what you have. 

Read More – Kabir by Hazari Prasad Dwivedi

Kabir says you will find HIM or GOD in this very contentment. Do not go looking out for him elsewhere, he resides right inside you – again a theme that repeats many times in his works.

Bhakti Dravid Upaji – Kabir Saakhi

Kabir - Bhakti Upaji Drawid Mein

Kabir - Bhakti Upaji Drawid Mein

 

Bhakti Dravid Upaji, Laaye Ramanand
Prakat Kari Kabir Ne, Saat Dweep Nau Khand

भक्ति द्रविड़ उपजी, लाए रामानंद
प्रकट करी कबीर ने, सात द्वीप नौ खंड

or

Devotion took birth in the South, brought here ( to Varanasi) by Ramanand
Kabir made it omnipresent, in 7 continents and 9 Khandas

9 Khandas – Sun, Moon, Stars, Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Sound and Mind

Anecdotes of Kabir and his Guru Ramanand are very popular. The story goes that Kabir wanted to learn under Swami Ramanand, but he was not willing to take Kabir under his wings. Kabir tried every trick but failed.

One morning he went to the PanchGanga ghat where his guru used to go for taking bath every morning. He lied on one of the steps of the Ghat and as his Guru was climbing the stairs after his bath, while it was still dark in the morning. His feet touched Kabir and Ramanand blessed him as a reflex action. Kabir got up and said – now that you have blessed me – I am your disciple. Ramanand was impressed by the young Kabir’s devotion and his eagerness to learn and he took him under his tutelage.

Reading more – Finding Kabir in Kashi 

When Kabir refers to Ram in his poetry – he is referring to Ramanand, his Guru usually and to the Nirguna Ram. He is not referring to the historical Ram – Avatar of Vishnu. The poetry of Kabir displays an inherent understanding of the Indian scriptures like Vedas and Puranas. We can safely assume that he learned it from his Guru, Swami Ramanand.

Bhakti Dravid Upaji – This particular Saakhi talks about Swami Ramanand, indicating that he came from Dravid or South India. He was obviously living in Kashi – which has been the most revered pilgrim place for saints, sages and devout people.

Read More – Kabir by Hazari Prasad Dwivedi

I wonder if they shared a common language to be able to communicate. Kabir obviously spoke Awadhi, the local language of Kashi, as is evident from his works. What language did his Guru spoke is a mystery we do not know.

Further, this Saakhi talks about how Kabir spread the knowledge that he received from his Guru in all directions – be it the 7 continents of the earth or the 9 khandas of the universe.

In a way, it also tells us about the role of a disciple in taking forward the knowledge that one receives from his / her Guru. Spreading the knowledge would not essentially mean preaching it and spreading it but would also mean building upon that knowledge.

As we see that most of what Kabir says is from his first-hand knowledge and not necessarily what was passed on to him by his Guru. He tests that knowledge that he receives, he adds his own insights and then tells you what he experiences first hand. He does not tell you to follow what he says, but merely shares his insights – it is up to you to use them either as it is or experiment with them and build upon them.

Bhakti Dravid Upaji, also tells us that there was a communication that existed between North and South India 500-600 years ago. Knowledge was shared across and built upon and probably pursuit of knowledge was a clear goal that people had. To achieve this, they overcame any obstacles that might have existed. It also shows that the two regions were bound by the threads of common scriptures.

If you have another interpretation of this Kabir Saakhi, please share.

What Is Ram Rajya? Let’s listen to Goswami Tulsidas

Ram Rajya is something we have heard of, but probably never explored what it means.

I spent 6 months reading Ramcharitmanas by Goswami Tulsidas. There are many things I learned from reading the original. A million interpretations, commentaries, extrapolated work could not have given me what investing a little time in reading the original did.

Read my post on – 5 Reasons to read Ramcharitmanas in original

The part that most fascinated me was the description of Ram Rajya. We have often heard this term, whenever politicians talk about good governance. I guess I can safely assume that most of us have not read about what it means.

What is Ram Rajya?

In Ramayana, Ram Rajya is established once Sri Ram returns to Ayodhya after killing Ravana in Lanka. As the king of Ayodhya, he creates a kingdom where everyone is happy. The description of this Ram Rajya may look Utopian to us today. Given the fact that this legend and phrase has survived for so long, this must have been a reality at some point in time, even if that period did not last forever.

Description of Ram Rajya comes in Uttara Kand or the 7th Canto of Ramcharitmanas after Sri Ram has sent back all his friends who came with him from Lanka, Kishkindha and Prayag. Through Dohas and Chaupais, it describes the different aspects of a Ram Rajya. The description is so fascinating that it inspired me to write this post.

I hope, we the people of 21st CE would read it and get inspiration to create our own Ram Rajya.

Elements of Ram Rajya

In this Doha, Tulsidas gives the abstract of what Ram Rajya is:

बरनाश्रम निज निज धरम निरत बेद पथ लोग

चलहिं सदा पावहिं सुखहि नहि भय सोक न रोग

When everyone lives according to the Dharma of their Varan and Ashram 0r when everyone does what they are supposed to do in their work and as per their stage in life as defined in the Vedas. When there is no fear, no sorrows, and no diseases – it is the essence of Ram Rajya.

How beautifully it sums up what we need to have a state that is perfect & to be honest how simple it sounds to achieve. Just do what you are supposed to do to the best of your abilities or as prescribed. Think of it, if we all did what we are supposed to do, 99% of the world problems would be gone in an instant.

After this verse, Tulsidas ji goes on to tell us in detail about Ram Rajya.

People & their behavior

He says in Ram Rajya, no one suffers at physically, spiritually and bodily.

Everyone lives in harmony with affection towards each other while performing their own duties as described in the scriptures. For our times, we can take it as per the law and ethically.

All the four limbs of the Dharma – Truth, Purity, Compassion & Charity are being fulfilled, and no one does a Paap or sin even in their dreams. Everyone does the Bhakti of Ram and hence earn the right to Moksha or liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Here Ram may not refer to the king of Ayodhya, and it may refer to the Nirguna Ram that Kabir talks about.

No one dies young. Everyone has a beautiful body free of diseases. No one is poor, sad or pitiable. No one is a fool or without Shubh Lakshana or auspicious signs.

No one is vain. Everyone is pious and busy doing their Dharma. All men and women are smart and talented. All are knowledgeable and respect those who have knowledge. Everyone is thankful and no one engaged in the deceit of any kind.

Everyone is generous, helpful and respect the learned. All men marry only one woman and women are dedicated to their husbands in their body, mind, and spirit.

Changed Meanings

In Ram Rajya, Dand ( a staff) can only be seen in the hands of Yogis, who use it to rest their hand on it while doing their Tapasya. Jati Bhed ( difference in different Jatis or castes) can only be seen in the dictionary of dancers who use it to define the difference between different rhythms & notes. Jeeto ( winning) only refers to the winning of hearts as there is no enemy left to be won.

Ecology in around Ayodhya

All the forests are full of flowers and fruits. Lion and elephants live together. All the birds and animals live harmoniously without the known animosity between them, with mutual affection.

Birds chirp & different animals live happily without fear. Mild, cool, fragrant wind blows and bees buzz as they collect honey from the flowers.

Read More – Ayodhya – the city of Ram & Ramayana

Vines and trees give you honey, and cows give the milk as soon as you ask for it. Fields are always full of crops. It looks like Satyuga in Treta Yuga. Satyuga preceded Treta Yuga of Ram, and it was a time when everything worked perfectly.

Mountains and hills are mines of precious stones or Manis. All rivers are full of cool, clean and sweet power that is the source of happiness.

Oceans stay within their limits, and they leave their treasures on the shore for humans. All ponds are full of lotus blooms spreading joy in all 10 directions.

Moon sends its cool rays to earth, the sun shines only as much as needed, clouds give as much water as asked.

The Behavior of the Royal Family

Sri Ram himself performs a million Yagnas, gives Daan to the Brahmans. Sita, despite having skilled Sevaks at her disposal, takes care of her home by herself including the Seva of her mothers-in-law. All brothers stay attentive for anything that they may be required to do. Sri Ram teaches them different strategies for statecraft.

Grandeur of Ayodhya

All the people of Ayodhya city are happy. All the mansions have walls full of precious stones. The city wall has colorful Kangooras or Balustrades. Ayodhya competes with Amaravati of Indra in its grandeur. The Kalash or pots on top of the buildings are competing with the shine of sun and moon. Jharokhas or windows of the mansions are lit up with Deeps or Oil lamps that have precious stone sones on them. Thresholds are made of coral, walls of gemstones and golden walls are embedded with emeralds. Courtyards are made of Sphatik or crystals.

Every house has a Chitrashala or paintings on its walls, depicting the Charitra or character of Sri Ram. They are so beautiful that even Sanyasis get lost in them.

Everyone has a garden full of flowers and plants that have perpetual blossom as it blossoms in Basant Ritu or Spring season. You can hear the bumbling of bees as the gentle wind blows. Even the kids have birds as pets who they play with as they fly.

Peacocks, swans, cranes, pigeons park themselves on top of houses and dance when they see their own shadows.

Kids chat with the Parrots and Mainas and talk about Sri Ram. The city has beautiful gates, streets, crossroads, and markets. Markets are full of things at no price. Cloth merchants, jewelers, traders sit in the market like Kuber – the god of wealth.

Saryu and its Banks

Saryu flows in the North with deep clean water. There are ghats along Saryu and there is not an iota of mud on its banks. At some distance horses and elephants drink its water.

All along Saryu are temples surrounded by gardens. Some sanyasis live near the banks of Saryu, who have planted Tulsi all along the banks of the river.

The city of Ayodhya looks beautiful even from a distance as it is full of forests, gardens, step wells & ponds. Later have lovely steps leading to the water. They are full of lotus and the birds invite there with their birdsongs.

Conclusion on Ram Rajya

Ram Rajya is a well-rounded definition of a state when everything works in sync with each other.

Ram Rajya as described in RamCharitManas by Tulsidas

What you admire is the sequence in which Ram Rajya is described. First of all, it is human behavior that has to be in place, then the ecology then comes the grandeur of the city or state.

Tell me what do you think about it in the comments below!

Who is Kabir?

Kabir - An Introduction

Kabir was a weaver poet who lived sometime in the late 15th early 16th century. This was the time of Bhakti movement in India. Politically the Islamic rulers were gaining ground across the country and Hindus were getting subjected to many atrocities. It led to the Bhakti movement when they all turned to God, singing his praises and seeking solace in him.

Kabir - An Introduction

Debate on whether Kabir was a Hindu or a Muslim will probably never get settled. Muslim couple Neeru & Neema who are buried in the Kabir Math at Banaras brought him up and Swami Ramanand was his Guru. His works show a deep knowledge of many disciplines including Vedic literature, anatomy, flora, fauna, philosophy and of course weaving.

Kabir’s poetry comes in various formats – Saakhis, Shabads, Ramainis, Ulat Bhashis, and Basant. Origin of the world Saakhi is Sakshi that means ‘as seen’. These are couplets that Kabir probably uttered when he saw something that sparked a thought in him. In most of these Saakhis, we see a visual and a thought or a pearl of wisdom combined together.

Since most of the works passed on in oral tradition, in various versions we find some her-pher of words. For example in poem Paani mein meen pyaasi – some people sing Mohe sun sun aave haasi and some people sing mohe dekhat aave haasi. Though the meaning and intention of the poem have not changed but the words sometimes change. While referring to himself Kabir often calls himself Das Kabir, but when he is sung now, Sant sometimes replaces Das.

When you hear the same poem being sung by Malwa and Rajasthani singers, common words are replaced by the local words and the same is true for urban singers who replace words by Sanskritized Hindi.

He is a Dhara or a flowing river– not a single person today. He started a thought process and many other streams have come and joined him. We would never know what he said and what was added to his poetry later, and that does not matter as long as the thought process is the same. His poetry is profound – but still folk and not classic.

Boond jo padi samudra mein, so jaane sab koi
Samudra samana boond mein, boojhe birla koi

Kabir – A Fakir

To me, first of all, Kabir is a Fakir. Now colloquially we understand Fakir as a beggar but the meaning of Fakir is really someone who is independent of anything he has or not has. Fakir is someone who in his capacity can have much but chooses to live with the bare minimum. He is not influenced by any societal pressures and hence is totally free in his thoughts.

Chah Gayi Chinta miti, Manuwa beparvah
Jinko kuchh na chahiye, wo shahan ke shah

Man Laagyo mera yaar Fakiri Mein…

What distinguishes Kabir from the rest of the poets is his Bhakti was Nirguna. All other poets were saguna poets, that means they saw God in some form or the other. Meera Bai and Surdas imagined God in the form of Krishna while for Tulsidas it was Sri Ramchandra. Kabir was potentially the only one who did not follow a form, his calling was without a form, but omnipresent in every human being.

Kabir constantly asked people around him to look inside them. He tries to introduce them to their inner divinity while they are always searching for it outside. This is nothing but the Advaita philosophy that says the Brahman is within you or you are Brahman. Do not go looking after the ultimate reality outside you.

Throughout his poetry, Kabir directly addresses the people around him, unlike other poets who talk to others through God. Kabir addresses the man straight and direct. He calls him Saadho – or a good person, Bande – or man, a friend, a brother – every time he established a relation between two human beings. He never addresses others as someone above him or below him except when he refers his Guru. He subtly through his address communicates the equality of everyone and it also comes across in many of his works.

He even looks at mundane things and establishes an equal relationship with them like when he says: Maati Kahe Kumhar se…he is saying it is just a cycle, today you trample the soil, tomorrow it will trample you and the cycle will go on. Today we may think we are powerful over others while it is just a matter of time that tables can turn and we may be on opposite sides. Equality of everyone and almost everything in the universe is a continuous theme in Kabir’s poetry. He also believes in the cyclic nature of relationships that keep changing hands but not many are able to see the cycle.

Maati kahe kumhar se, tu kya ronde mohe,
Ik din aisa aayega, mein rondungi tohe

Kabir garv na kijiye, ooncha dekh niwas
Kal paron punya letna, upar jamegi ghaas

Tinka kabhi na nindiye, jo paanv tale hoye
Kabhun ud aankh pade, peed gehri hoye

God is Inside Us

The biggest message that I could find in his poetry is that each one of us had God within us, and for every problem, the solution lies within us. He constantly and persistently pushes you to look inside you. He sometimes negates everything you do to reach that so-called God and then tells you that he is right inside you if you have faith in him.

Jaise til mein tel hain, jyun chakmak mein aag,
tera sayeen tujhme hai, jaag sake to jaag.

Bura to dekhan main chala. bura na miliya koi
jo man khoja aapna. mujhse bura na koi

Kasturi kundal base, mrig dhundat ban maahi,
Jyon ghat ghat raam hai, duniya dekhe naahi

Moko kahan dhoonde re bande, Main to tere paas mein….

Paani mein meen pyaasi…

As a corollary, he says to get Him clean yourself as Ganga cleans itself

Kabir Mann nirmal bhaya, Jaise Ganga Neer
Pacchhe Paachhe sab fire, kehat Kabir Kabir

Kabir’s poetry comes from his direct experience. Though he refers to Ved, Puran what he says is his own experience. He gives example from everyday life of his times. He lived as a worldly man, he worked and earned his living and he was a seeker. He did not live on the alms given by others so he understands the joys and pains of earning your own living. This indeed gives him complete freedom to say what he wants to say. He lives within the society so he can see it from within but at the same time, he is detached from it so he can be an observer also.

Tu Kehta Kaagaz ki lekhi, mein kehta hun aankhon dekhi…

Kabira khada bazaar mein, maange sabki khair
Na kahu se Dosti, Na kahu se Vair

Sai itna dijiye, Jaame kutumb Samaye
Main bhi bhookha na rahun, Sadhu na Bhookha jaye

Chalti Chaaki dekh Kar, Diya Kabira Roye
Do Paatan ke beech mein, Saabut bacha na Koye

Kabira teri jhompadi, galkatiyan ke paas
jo karega so bharega, to kyun bhaya udaas

kabiraa khadaa bazaar men, liye lakutiyaa haath
je ghar phookyaa aapno, chale hamaare saath.

Kabir on Guru

In a lot of his Sakhis and Shabads he asks you to go by your direct experience, to test what others are telling and not blindly believe what you are told, including the Guru – who he believes is the must get the Gyan.

Guru Gobind dono khade, kake laagoon Paon
Balihari Guru Aapne, Gobind diyo Dikhaye

Satguru mila to sab mile, na to mila na koye
Mata, pita, sut, bandhava, yeh to sab ghar hoye

Kabira te nar andh hain, Guru ko kehte aur
Hari roothe guru thaur hai, guru roothe nahi thaur

Bhes dekh na poojiye, Poochh lijiye gyaan,
Bina kasuati hot naahi, Kanchan ki pehchaan

Jaat na poochho Sadhu ki, Poochh lijiye gyaan
Mol karo talwar ka, padi rehen do myan

Efforless exploration of Self

He tells us to live effortlessly. Since he believes everything is within us, every force, every possible energy source, we need not make an effort to look for it. Sahajata – or effortlessness is another theme that repeats throughout his works. It shows that people were making the unnecessary effort even during the days of Kabir, but this is very relevant today as we are engaged in making an effort that we do not even understand why we are making. We are running even to stand in the same place. What we need is this sahajata in our attitude that would make our minds and hence our lives simpler.

Pothi Padh Padh jag mua, Pandit bhaya na koye
Dhai Aakhar prem ke , Padhe so pandit hoye

Mala kahe kaath ki, tu kyun fere mohe
Man ka manka fer de, turat mila dun tohe

Prem gali ati saankri, isme dau na samaaye
jab mein tha tab hari nahi, ab hari hai to main naahi

Challenging the Organized Religion

He denounces organized religion of any kind – he had the courage to speak against or question Islam when they were ruling the place and Hindus in their very Garh in Banaras. Sometimes he tells like a doting parent taking simple analogies and sometimes he hits you hard with his questions. He is always teasing the Pandits, Maulavis and all those who claim to be wise or gyaanis. His tone gets challenging most of the times as if inviting to prove him wrong.

Kaashi kaaba ek hain, ek hain raam rahim
Maida ik pakwaan bahu, baith kabira jeev

Sadhu bhookha bhav ka, dhan ka bhookha naahi
Dhan ka jo bhookha fire, wo to saadho nahi

Pani piyaway kya firo, ghar ghar mein hai vyari
Trishnavant to hoyega, aayega jhakh maari

paththar pooje hari mile, to main poojun pahad,
isse to chakki bhali, pees khaye sansar

kankar pathad jodi ke masjid leyi banaye,
ta chadhi mulla baang de kya bahra hua khudaye

Kabir refers to the human body as ghat or a clay pot again and again. It can be interpreted at multiple levels. Physically, it is made of earth and goes back and merges with earth. Metaphorically it is an empty pot and it is up to the human what he fills it with. What is a human is defined by what we will fill this pot with? He finally says for a human being everything is within this human body – the good, the bad, the ugly and even the God.

Jogi gorakh gorakh Karen, hindu naam uchharen
Musalman kahen ek khudai, kabir ko swami ghat ghat basai

Kabir soi peer hai, jo jaane par peed
Jo par peed na jaane, so kafir bepeer

Chanda jhalke yahi ghat maahi…

Kabir & Maya

Maya – is something Kabir calls the root of all evils, a dakini that can create illusions in which not only humans but even Gods get lost.  He says this world is nothing but the illusion created by Maya and to see the reality you need to get yourself out of the net of Maya or Mayajaal. While he talks about Maya, he also talks about each of us being all-alone and the need to understand this.

Avadhu, Maya taji na jaaye…

Ud Jaayega Hans Akela…

Kahat Kabir Suno Bhai Sadho

Kahat Kabir Suno Bhai Sadho

Finally, death is another theme in his poetry, but not as an end but as the only reality of human life. In fact, Banaras is called the city of death and a city that celebrates the death and we see the same thought process in Kabir’s work as well. He time and again talks about the momentary-ness of life like the water on an upturned pot…and hence no point in getting attached to it. He speaks of human nature with the perspective of death in place, of the futility of a lot of things that we do thinking we are going to live forever. He wants us to remember that ultimately it is the death that we have to embrace – like it or not and live our live keeping death in view.

Maali aavat dekh kar kaliyan kahe pukar
Phule phule chun liye, kaal hamari baar

Sadho ye murdon ka Gaon…

Come with me for an exploration of Kabir – a thought that is as simple as it can be and as profound as it gets.

Celebrating Failure? Really!

Celebrating Failure

Celebrating FailureCelebrating failure is a recurring echo that I get in many startups and entrepreneurship forums these days. It has become the new buzz word and everyone is looking for failure stories. It almost feels that people want to chase failure than success. Really? Have we over rated success so far? Has has psychology taken a you turn? Or is it the new age buzz word that we are chasing.

Celebrating Failure Hidden in Success

I agree that every success story has failure built into it. We all know that success is built on a series of failures and the will of the person to be not bogged down by those failures. Yes we need to know how the entrepreneur managed his failure, what she learnt from it and how did she maintain her balance in the face of failure.

But, do we not want to learn from people who eventually succeeded and told us that it is ok to fail and learn. A failure is not a full stop as the cliche goes.

Read this book – Why I failed by Shaweta Punj and you would see the brightest shining stars have a pile of failures they are sitting on. This books makes a perfect case of where to go studying failure.

What is understood of Celebrating Failure?

The sense I get of Celebrating Failure is that young men and women can fail and join a cheer brigade that gives them a failure batch with an applause and they can go out and proudly say ‘ I Failed’.

I know the intent may not be to do so, but this is how the youngsters are reading it.

I am not willing accept anyone who is still in 20s and has not tried his hands at whatever they are doing for at least few years as legitimate failure that can be studied.

Failure stories that blame the system, environment, politicians etc etc do not make the cut either as those environmental factors remain the same for every entrepreneur. The successful ones learn to deal with them or find their way through them. If you are facing a road block, you can safely assume that everyone else is too. You can go to the forums and learn how people circumvented these common problems. Using them as excuse for failure is not acceptable.

I hear that there are conferences happening with a theme to celebrate failure.I just hope that invite some successful people to share their failure stories and not just a bunch of failed people trying to go on an ego trip.

Eventually we all want to be successful. Does anyone want to live life as a failure, no matter how celebrated it is? Let’s get that clarity and define our goals.

What we need the most is the support for dealing with failures – those long periods that test our patience and when we are more often than not alone.

Failures are the roadblocks, diversions and course corrections on the path to success, let us not make it a Goal.