Sometime back (a time made to feel perceptibly like an eon by the pandemic which has engulfed the world and turned it topsy turvy) I had written on the need to identify, characterize and define individuals not by their caste, colour, region, religion or any such seemingly diverse characteristic but by their abilities, core competencies and skill sets. The underlying theme being that such divisive characteristics, mostly perpetrated by vested interests for their, invariably ulterior, if not nefarious objectives, only serve to create and deepen fissures in society and sully the thought processes of human beings who are otherwise simplistic, logical, God-fearing and on their own would care two hoots about such differentiating factors.
Sadly, even the spread and level of education, mostly leads to such differences getting accentuated and magnified, manifold. In fact many times, and rather unfortunately at that the forces unleashed by access to knowledge and enhanced intellectual capabilities seem to be channelled towards fostering and propagating even more of such nefarious and divisive thoughts rather than acting as a unifying balm. In the process the very purpose of education which is to develop an enlightened mind and foster a harmonious and stable societal network gets severely under-minded, if not entirely defeated.
In my last piece I had also mentioned about some aspects of human behaviour which I encountered on my recent trip to the pristine and idyllic Andaman and Nicobar Islands — how people nestled in the lap of nature and in tranquil surroundings exhibit simplistic thought processes and uncluttered behaviour, not yet been vitiated by devious minds, with the society maintaining a delicious equilibrium more of which I had promised to write later, which resolve I propose to fulfil here.
During the course of the almost two week long trip, we encountered human beings representing a vast cross-section of society, not just socially but also occupationally — from people engaged in seemingly ordinary yet critical jobs to sophisticated, intellectual and somewhat more complicated jobs, from bureaucrats, defence forces personnel, professionals, self-engaged entrepreneurs, forest workers, students, cooks, cleaners, helpers, drivers, private tour operators, tourists etc — a wide swathe and seemingly diverse yet critical cross-section of society. And mind you they belonged to diverse economic backgrounds — from lower income to the affluent and covered a wide spectrum of social strata, religious and ethnic backgrounds.
In fact, a large part of the local populace comprises not only of the natives but immigrants from different areas resulting in the Island representing a diverse milieu and an expansive canvas of ethnic cultural and religious backgrounds — seemingly a fertile ground for religious/social strife –a phenomenon, which happily and most propitiously as yet, seems not to have reared its ugly head and hopefully, if the same sense of sanity and equanimity prevails and is perpetrated will only survive and become ingrained or to use in the current COVID ridden scenario, a somewhat politically incorrect word, endemic.
What was phenomenal was their devotion to their chosen or even fortuitously granted vocation, which in many cases was the result of overarching and uncontrollable external factors since tourism was and still represents the backbone of the economy and largely fuels its sustainability (the absence of any organized industry and relative inaccessibility only serving to accentuate its importance to the local economy) whereby the level, nature and delivery of service becomes important for its economic sustenance. Happily, on this ground, while we interacted with a host of people representing a wide microcosm of society, the experience was largely extraordinary with only the name to reveal their identity, they were scarcely bothered about our backgrounds — the sole aim being to ensure that the task that they were ordained to perform was more than satisfactorily accomplished. Of course, out of sheer curiosity they did engage in conversations about where we had come from, our work and may be even how life in the big cities was organized but that was primarily to whet their curiosity and not to be quizzical about our ethnic, religious, regional or socio-economic background and to be judgemental based on that — the absence of any ulterior motive was ever-present in our interactions with them.
For instance, take the case of the forest worker who acted as my guide during the trek to Kalapathar on Mt. Harriett Peak. Having been forced to give up education due to factors beyond his control, a chance exposure to life in the forests led to him discovering his calling and a life full of enjoyment, fulfilment and satisfaction arising out of a perfect blend of his dreams with occupation. Happily, cheerily and with childlike transparent innocence, enthusiasm and excitement he worked in the forest department assimilating knowledge about the flora and fauna and the animals that inhabit the area and, of course, occasionally guiding travellers on the trek, taking care of their safety and engaging them in incessant yet informed chatter — the simplicity of the thought process and innocent charm became indelibly ingrained in my memory.
The same approach resonated itself in our dealings and interactions with human beings all across- with their seemingly rustic yet deep-rooted and affectionate charm, a disposition reflective of an uncluttered mind with absolute devotion to duty. To take another example, I fondly remember the cooks and their helpers manning the kitchens and providing other services in the various guest houses that we stayed — mind you they again represented a wide ethnic and religious diversity (I do not wish to enumerate the same for that is not material), but without exception, their endeavour as evident again, in their enthusiastic approach, endearing smile and pleasant countenance was to make us comfortable- from finding out our culinary preferences to making sure that they were fulfilled — not just as to what was to be cooked but the manner of cooking — any dietary restrictions and of course, whetting my incessant need for endless cups of tea and coffee perfectly blended to suit my taste — all were met with a beatific smile and instant willingness. Not only that their knowledge of the local history, places to visit and its special hidden gems would put any experienced travel guide to shame — motivated as they were not by any commercial or ulterior motives but by a genuine, deep-rooted desire to serve their guests with utmost felicity- a true reflection of the ancient Indian Philosophy — “Atithi Devo Bhavo” (“Our guest is akin to God”).
They even shared with us some interesting anecdotes, including as to how when just before the Island was stuck by the Tsunami in 2004, the locals specially tribals upon seeing the sea-water receding drastically and exposing the sea bed, somehow foresaw the impending disaster and moved to higher points in the islands. They in their own way could foresee the movement of the tectonic plates in the reverse direction and to anticipate the consequential dramatic upheaval in the oceans which would leave behind a trail of wide spread destruction and tragedy in its aftermath. The preventive measures taken by them mitigated, to some extent, the loss of life which the Tsunami was capable of causing. Seemingly simplistic but this presence of mind was something which other supposedly more educated, informed and literate human beings could definitely learn from. Of course, this story is based only on my interaction with the local people and not based on any authoritative source and its authenticity remains unverified.
To sum it up what was on display was a reflection of the most transparent bonhomie, peaceful co-existence shorn of any visible or even any perceptible underlying conflicts — a reflection of the age-old Indian philosophy of “Vasudhaiv Kutumbkam” — the world is one family which in fact it is and which all cultures and religions espouse. All human beings belong to the same species, are endowed with the same biological characteristics and are united by the same goal — to provide a decent standard of living and security for themselves and their families — this being so why should any divisive characteristic drive a wedge between them. The differences arise mainly from the geographical region they inhabit or some other characteristic created over a period of time to serve some social purpose which by themselves cannot be the cause of any societal tensions and conflicts.
Sadly, the reality is something vastly different and sordid — with constant attempts being made by vested interests, motivated by self-serving and myopic goals to ensure that peaceful coexistence and societal equilibrium is always under strain, and if at all, balanced only on the precipice. Even the spread of education also sometimes works to undermine the societal balance with the forces unleashed by an enlightened mind in many cases being channelled in the wrong direction.
Having said that , a point I have emphasized earlier, it becomes imperative on the part of the conscience keepers of society and people in a position to chart its discourse — be it politicians, religious leaders, philosophers, intellectuals, persons controlling the media et al to do their own two bits to ensure a Global World Order which is socially equitable and interpersonally stabile. A close look at the teachings of all religions and thought processes of all ethnic communities would only reveal teachings which foster stability and tolerance. Such thoughts might not appear to be unique or novel and indeed have been espoused by thinkers all along the history of the human race, no amount of emphasis and reiteration thereof is enough. In the present day complex world, a need to go back to the teachings of these extraordinary leaders is all the more paramount — something which may sound utopian but which still does not in any way detract from its universal need and desirability. It is paramount to remember that only an embrace of differences — whether of cultures, thought processes, beliefs or way of life creates an inclusive environment with its consequential impact on the societal and economic framework which bulwarks human progress.
In fact, as a God-fearing person, moderately literate, but with oodles of practical wisdom told me, all religions, without exception, while regulating individual conduct and behaviour preach good virtues necessary for peaceful co-existence. The theosophical perspectives of all religions without exception do not suggest any other thought process — as he very wisely quipped, individuals should learn and be aware of to what extent religious leaders should govern their lives and should have the foresight to know where to draw a line — a prerequisite and necessity for societal equilibrium. One must remember that since the aim of all religions is to unite mankind spiritually they are essentially unifiers and it is the duty of our spiritual masters to facilitate such thought processes — the core of any religion is to build, sustain and promote peace and love throughout the globe.
Before I conclude, per habit, I reproduce the following quote of Albert Einstein which lays down the tenets and basis of a human beings’ ethical behaviour:-
“A man’s ethical behaviour should be based effectively on
sympathy, education and social ties and needs,
no religious basis is necessary”.
To me it seems humanity is omnipresent and all-pervading and brooks no barriers of Religion, Region, Colour, Caste and Creed or any other differentiating factor.