Better Know Before Talking

Better Know Before Talking
S Gurumurthy
First Published : 07 Aug 2009 11:34:00 PM IST

‘We have in our country a long but uneven tradition of philanthropy’. Thus lamented Sonia Gandhi at the function in Delhi to give the Indira Gandhi Prize to the American philanthropist Bill Gates. That was on July 25. Two days later, the Wall Street Journal printed, unusually, her whole speech. On July 29, Paul Beckett, a WSJ columnist, taking his cue from Sonia, mocked Indian businessmen for not being even remotely close to matching Gates. He pontificated: “India’s rich, open your wallets”.

Beckett used corporate India to dent the image of India itself, courtesy Sonia. Had she not spoken the way she did, he would not have written the way he did. What Sonia did not know — therefore, Beckett, who borrowed from her, could not — is what differentiates India from the US. American corporates, which almost exhaust America, are co-extensive with it; they account for over 80 per cent of its GDP. Bill Clinton had nicknamed the US ‘America Inc’, namely, the US as the aggregate of its corporates.

US corporate endowments aggregated are highly visible, like their brands. This is to emphasise their nature; not undermine their worth. The US market cap is some 40 times the Indian. Corporate India is insignificant in contrast. Some 400 top private Indian companies account for under six per cent of India’s GDP. This includes all Sensex members.

Sonia is understandably unfamiliar with the practices of traditional India. Indian charity, widely practised at the lowest unit levels down to every home, is socio-religious, not secular, in construct. Traditional India has high charitable propensities and deep philanthropic impulses. Indian religions do not convert others; their charity is therefore less known. Here are some examples of charity where the religious power is manifest.

Look at the charity run by Bhagwan Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi. His work for the poor is unmatched; yet equally unknown. Here are just two illustrations of his work. Anantapur district in Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh was known for water scarcity and water salinity and high fluoride levels in drinking water. Moved by the suffering of the poor, Sathya Sai Baba decided to do what the government could not for 50 long years; provide potable drinking water to the whole of Anantapur — yes, for the whole district.

He declared in November 1995, “Today it is ‘Raatlaseema’ (rocky region); it must be transformed into ‘Ratnala Seema’ (land that glitters like diamond)”. It took just 18 months. The work involved laying some 2,000 kilometres — yes 2,000 km — of water pipeline; building 43 sumps of 1.5 lakh to 25 lakh litres capacity; constructing 18 balancing reservoirs of three to 10 lakh litres capacity — where? — on top of hillocks; erecting 270 overhead reservoirs holding 40,000 to three lakh litres; installing 1,500-plus concrete pre-cast cisterns of 2,500 litres capacity, each attached with four taps for people to draw water.

This is how the 9th Planning Commission document describes the initiative. The Sathya Sai charity ‘has set an unparalleled initiative of implementing on their own, without any state budgetary support, a massive water supply project with an expenditure of Rs 3,000 million to benefit 731 scarcity and fluoride/salinity affected villages and a few towns in Anantapur district in 18 months’. Sathya Sai Baba’s trusts repeated this feat in fluoride-affected Medak and Mehboobnagar districts. They provided water to some 4.5 lakh poor in 179 villages in Medak, and to some 3.5 lakh poor in 141 villages in the next. The drinking water projects in these districts covered more than 1,000 villages with some 20 lakh people.

Then, he saw the poor in Chennai struggling for water. Sai Baba declared on January 19, 2002, “Today I have made a new resolve. Madras is suffering from acute shortage of drinking water. The rich can buy water. What will the poor do? I have decided to work towards bringing drinking water to Madras, no matter how difficult and how costly the task”. His central trust took up the construction of a 63-km stretch of the 150 km canal in the Telugu Ganga scheme, left incomplete for want of funds, thus denying water to Chennai. Thanks to Baba, Krishna water reached Chennai, irrigating some three lakh hectares of agricultural land on the way. These projects cost over Rs 600 crore.

The Sathya Sai trusts in Puttaparthi and Bengaluru run world-class speciality hospitals. They have performed some 24,000 cardiac surgeries, 34,000 cardiac cathertisations, 7,000 neuro surgeries, 40,000 eye surgeries, and 600 orthopaedic surgeries and treated millions more — all free. What is absent in these two hospitals is a billing department. The bill for these services might exceed Rs 1,000 crore. Sathya Sai Baba’s trusts also run free educational institutions, cultural centres and music colleges. Secular India generously released a stamp to note the charity in Anantapur. Compare it with the Indira Gandhi award to Gates and the encomiums at the cost of India.

Take another religious charity, the Ramakrishna Mission. It runs 197 hospitals and its health-related work serves 85 lakh people annually, including 25 lakh in rural areas; 1,186 educational institutions serve 3.4 lakh students including 1.24 lakh in rural areas.

Take the Swaminarayan movement. Its 14 hospitals serve over six lakh patients annually; it runs 10 schools, eight colleges, 14 hostels; it has built 55 schools in disaster-hit areas; it aids 20 schools financially; gives 5000 scholarships annually. In Punjab, not a single man, woman or child would have gone hungry in the last three centuries, thanks to the langar in Gurudwaras feeding millions every day. Jains run huge charities all over the country. So do religious Muslims and Christians. Even the freedom movement was sustained by philanthropy. Lala Lajpat Rai gave all his properties to the movement; Chittaranjan Das and many others went bankrupt funding the movement. They never expected any Indira Gandhi Award. That is real philanthropy.

Traditional Indian business communities allocate a fixed share of their turnover for charity. The mahamai, an informal charity tax among the Nadars in Tamil Nadu has funded hundreds of the community’s educational institutions. The Nagarathars in Tamil Nadu too, through their mahamai, run huge charities. The Marwaris and others do so through the dharmada. Even today this informal system prevails in non-corporate business in India. So charity is by the community as a whole, not by individuals. But corporate India is unfortunately neither Indian nor American.

This is India, about which Sonia is singularly ignorant even after 40 years of domicile. When she said India has an uneven tradition of philanthropy it only exposed her ignorance, besides exporting it to the WSJ. The result? The WSJ is preaching to Indians about charity; the Indian media reports this nonsense without challenging it.

QED: To talk about Indian traditions, she first needs to know about them.

Express Buzz Reference

The Chief Minister’s Own House Of Commons

The Chief Minister’s Own House Of Commons
TNN 27 July 2009, 03:37am IST

CHENNAI: Cricket on the street corner part of every child’s growing-up years. And MK Stalin and MK Azhagiri’s childhood years were not that different. As boys, the brothers, sons of chief minister and DMK president M Karunanidhi, played countless games of cricket outside their house on the corner of Gopalapuram’s fourth street, a corner now swamped with policemen and patrol vehicles.

“It’s more crowded now but even when we were young, our house was always crowded with party men,” recalls deputy chief minister Stalin. “Thalaivar rarely found time to spend with us. We used to long for the Pongal festival, the only time the whole family would sit together and dine with him,” he says.

Karunanidhi recently announced that his Gopalapuram residence, the epicentre of political activity in Tamil Nadu since he first became chief minister in 1969, will become a charitable hospital after his and his wife Dayalu Ammal’s lifetime. The 85-year-old politician has formed five cabinets and met countless dignitaries in his book-filled study in this simple house, which he bought in the 1960s.

“Though the house has witnessed many crucial events, the days of the Emergency were the most hectic. Kalaignar conducted meetings with party functionaries here daily as the police had crippled democratic rights and it was impossible to hold public meetings,” says Murasoli Selvam, Karunanidhi’s son-in-law.

The DMK government had refused to arrest leaders and impose the Emergency, despite threats from the Centre. The top DMK leadership was behind bars and Karunanidhi was the only one who could direct action to counter the Emergency. Authorities laid siege to the house; visitors were checked, and vehicle numbers recorded. “It was a dark period. Party functionaries would tonsure their heads, disguise themselves as Tiruthani Murugan temple devotees and come home,” he says.

The Centre finally dismissed the DMK government and on the night of January 30, 1976, the police came knocking at Karunanidhi’s house. They were looking for Stalin. The house was searched. “I was at Madurandhagam that day,” says Stalin. “As soon as I returned the next day, Thalaivar called up the city commissioner. The police came to the Gopalapuram house to arrest me under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act,” he says. A couple of days later, it was the turn of Karunanidhi’s nephew Murasoli Maran, who lived there with his family.

In the previous decade, this house was where DMK founder CN Annadurai decided to give up his separatist demand for Dravida Nadu’ in response to Jawaharlal Nehru’s call for national unity in the face of the 1962 Chinese aggression. And it was where Anna’s ascension as the first regional party chief minister in the country was formally announced in 1967.

“It was at the Gopalapuram house that my early political career was shaped,” says Stalin. “As students, my friends and I collected funds from my father’s visitors to celebrate Anna’s birthday. We formed the youth wing of the DMK at a saloon near the house,” Stalin says, smiling as he recounts memories of the house and its many illustrious visitors.

If rationalist social reformer Periyar E V Ramasamy and his ideological foe but personal friend, C Rajagopalachari, were regular visitors decades ago, recent times saw corporate guru Bill Gates and spiritual guru Sathya Sai Baba dropping in for a tête à tête. Leaders who have walked its corridors include former prime ministers Indira Gandhi, VP Singh, AB Vajpayee, IK Gujral and Deve Gowda, former president VV Giri, long-time friend MG Ramachandran, and veteran Congress leader K Kamaraj. Industrialists, actors, bureaucrats, party workers and citizens coming to present petitions have also made their way up to Karunanidhi’s study.

Structurally little has changed in the house since he bought it. An outhouse was connected to the main house when the grand joint family grew too large. Karunanidhi’s nephews the late Union minister Murasoli Maran, his brother Murasoli Selvam, Amirtham and others lived here for years, along with his wife Dayalu Ammal and own children MK Muthu, MK Alagiri, MK Stalin and MK Tamilarasu. They moved out only after marriage. Stalin lived here till 1996 when he became Mayor and the house could no longer accommodate the visitors for the CM and Mayor.

The thatched roof over the veranda outside was replaced with a tiled one after the Kumbakonam fire tragedy five years ago. When Karunanidhi developed knee pain, an elevator was fitted, but most visitors still use the flight of stairs which, legend has it, a former governor had to struggle up sideways as he was rather too large for the narrow staircase with a sign that reads: Time is Precious’.

Times Of India Reference

TN To Take Sai Baba’s Help To Clean Up

TN To Take Sai Baba’s Help To Clean Up
11 Feb 2009, 0416 hrs IST, Ajitha Karthikeyan, TNN

CHENNAI: The Tamil Nadu government has decided to knock on the doors of Sri Sathya Sai Trust once again, seeking help to clean up the Cooum river
which has been reduced to a drainage from a fresh water source.

Local administration minister M K Stalin and public works minister Duraimurugan will call on godman Sathya Sai Baba at Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh next week and request him to fund the much-awaited project. Their visit, planned this week, had to be postponed in view of chief minister M Karunanidhi’s surgery scheduled for Wednesday.

“We’ve already made a written representation to Sai Baba in this regard and he has assured us that he will consider the proposal. The public works department has prepared a project report which will be submitted to the godman,” Duraimurugan said.

“We will seek maximum fund from the Trust but it is for them to decide on the quantum of assistance. If approved, they may implement works through L&T,” he added.

This is not the first time that the DMK government has sought the help of Sai Baba for infrastruture development. The Sathya Sai Trust has already upgraded the 25-km-long Kandaleru-Poondi canal to facilitate a free flow of Krishna water to meet the water needs of the city. In fact, chief minister M Karunanidhi, a self-professed atheist, has even publicly shared dais with Sai Baba for the Krishna water project in 2007, raising many an eyebrow in the political circle.

Official sources said the estimated cost for the execution of engineering works, involving river channelisation and catchment restoration, alone amounted to Rs 140 crore. As the Cooum clean-up project involved multi-disciplinary activities, including handling of sewage and solid waste and the removal of encroachments from the river bank and rehabilitation, the total cost of the project could be arrived at only at a later stage, the sources added.

Once a fishing river and boat racing arena, the Cooum flows to a distance of about 65 km of which an 18-km stretch falls in the city limits.

The upper reaches of the river, running for a length of 35 km, will be restored under the World Bank-assisted Irrigated Agriculture Modernisation and Water Bodies Restoration and Management (IAMWARM), while the remaining tail-end part may be restored by the Sathya Sai Trust.

Times Of India Reference

Prisoners To Get Programmes On Spirituality

Prisoners To Get Programmes On Spirituality
2 Jan 2009, 0214 hrs IST, M Ramya, TNN

CHENNAI: Lectures, bhajans and plays related to spirituality that’s what the department of prisons has lined up for the inmates of Puzhal prison.

The volunteers of Sri Sathya Sai Organisations put together a programme for inmates of the prison to celebrate the New Year. “The volunteers staged a play on Buddha’s life, which showed how love can transform a person. The play had a deep impact on the inmates, so we thought that if Sri Sai Baba could talk to the prisoners, it would have a greater impact,” said R Nataraj, director-general of prisons. Sai Baba is expected to visit the state in a couple of months and the department is planning to invite him to the prison.

Sri Sathya Sai Organisations had earlier conducted similar programmes before the prison was shifted to its present location in Puzhal. “We realised that if we introduce spiritual ideas into the human mind, it brings about a change in any person. So we organised this programme for the inmates of the prison,” said N Ramani, state president of the organisation. People in the age group of 18-35 years were involved in the programme at Puzhal, which included a one-and-a-half hour bhajan session. The organisation also distributed 4,500 laddoos to the inmates of all three prisons on the Puzhal campus and donated a set of books on Sai Baba’s life and principles to the prison library.

“The department showed interest in having regular programmes. We are ready to prepare the agenda if they send us a written proposal. We know that they wouldn’t want to be lectured, so we would be conveying messages by staging plays and screening movies,” Ramani said. The programmes would first be conducted at Puzhal. Later, volunteers from other centres would be asked to attend these programmes to learn how they are conducted and take them to other jails and sub-jails in their areas, he said.

On December 31, the inmates also got to listen to Swami Amarananda, a yogi from Ranchi associated with the Yogadha Sathsanga Dhyana Kendra, who spoke on meditation. The centre also donated 135 books on meditation in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Gujarati to the Puzhal prison library.

On December 25 in a first-of-its-kind initiative the department allowed inmates of all eight Central prisons, sub jails and Borstal schools to meet their family members between 9 am and 4.30 pm. Being a national holiday, the prison is usually closed to outsiders on December 25.


Sathya Sai Baba School Inaugurated – Arts Club


“Music always enthralls, elevates and produces a feeling of ecstasy. Music is the grand road to mukti,” says Sri Sathya Sai Baba. It is with this in focus that ‘Divinity’, the new arts club of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Educare, Chromepet, was inaugurated recently at the school. The inaugural function, aptly named ‘Sai Sunad’, was hosted by former students of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, Puttaparthi.

The three-hour programme was chaired by renowned Carnatic vocalist O S Arun and Sowmiya Madhangopal, renowned Hindustani singer.

The programme commenced with the lighting of the traditional lamp by O S Arun. He later spoke about music and his experiences as a singer. He said music was the easiest way to reach God. Emphasising on its beauty, he stated that it was as serious a subject as science. He sang two popular Sai Bhajans, much to the delight of the large audience.

O S Arun is a postgraduate in music. He was awarded the Kalaimamani award and Music Academy’s Best Vocalist Award. He hails from a family of illustrious singers.

He then distributed prizes to Bal Vikas students who had won the Tamil Nadu state-level music competition.

Later, Sowmiya Madhangopal enthralled the gathering of students, parents, and Sai devotees with nine heavenly bhajans sung in typical Hindustani style.

As a fitting finale, the young Bal Vikas students, who won the Tamil Nadu state-level music competition, rendered five beautiful songs on Sai Baba in various languages that mesmerised the audience.

School principal K Sai Meera proposed the vote of thanks.

The programme concluded with the school’s correspondent P Kumaraswamy performing the mangala aarathi.

Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Educare is a CBSE-based school situated in the rural environs of Nemilicherry, off Chromepet. It is run on the principles of the Sai system of education. The partially-residential school provides quality education totally free of cost.