pippala leaf

April 25, 2008

Gang Leader For a Day

Filed under: Books — MBN @ 12:03 am

SudhirVenkatesh The gulf that exists between life and facts about life is vast. The facts about life seldom reveals the real. It gives a different perspective, a perspective that carved out from tones of statistical data and complex mathematical methods. After being squeezed out the real essence: the human life with all it’s situations, struggles, aspirations, dreams and emotions; this quantified version seldom has soul of it’s own. However for all practical purposes, business as well as political , such perspective is indispensable. But to see and experience the life of a community in all it’s essence, the above mentioned perspective is grossly inadequate. Researchers, when they study a society, often fail to see both perspectives. This could be either of inaccessibility or the restrictions imposed by the scientific method they adopted. But Sudhir Venkatesh was courageous enough to take a different route that most of the researchers dare not even dream about.

This young Chicago university student broke conventions and flouted the established rules to learn and experience life in the most violent, dangerous communities of Chicago gang world. As Stephen Dubner phrased, with “an overdeveloped curiosity and an underdeveloped sense of fear” Sudhir walked into the crack gang infested  life at Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago. Under the protection of gang leader J.T. he spend his next seven years living, observing and documenting life in the ghetto; Or to put in his own words: “how does it feel to be black and poor ?”.

The harsh life he witnessed there made him realize how inadequate and out of touch were the standard tools and social policies that  sociologists had been employing to prevent hardships of the poor and unemployed. He found life in the projects were “too wild, too hard and too chaotic for the standard prescriptions that the social scientists could muster”. He observed how scarce resource availability pushed people to believe in the principle ‘end justify means’.

During his life at Robert Taylor Homes project he faced other problems as well. Once in the middle of a gang shootout he had to dodge bullets to save the life of a gang member. On another occasion he joined other gang members beat up one of it’s member. The legal implications of his association with gang members, his knowledge of their activities, wrath of corrupt cops, his fall out from the community’s trust when J.T. double crossed him,  made his life altogether extremely risky. His luck was very strong. Undoubtedly it enabled him to complete his research work and came out of there without getting hurt.

The book provides great deal of insight on how such communities function, their social structure, their power hierarchy and economics. A good read.


October 8, 2007

The Legend of Santiago

Filed under: Books — MBN @ 12:17 am

alchemist.jpgPaulo Coelho’s Alchemist tells the story of Santiago, the shepherd boy, who set out to discover a treasure that would forever keep him happy. In his dreams Santiago was told about that treasure – hidden somewhere in a very distant exotic and mysterious land. But the journey would not be smooth. The great desert, where danger lurks around, had to be crossed. Local ballads sung stories of brave souls who attempted and never returned. Then there are bandits who would rob and kill anyone who cross their path. But those challenges did not deter him for he knew such a treasure could make him happy forever. He sold his sheep and began his journey. On the way he met people, did business, fell in love, fought war and found the Alchemist, who holds the key to that secret. Finally he reached the mysterious place only to found out, after much digging, that there was no such treasure. The realization dawned on him. The treasure was never kept hidden in the caves of Egypt or in the busy streets of Cairo. That kind of treasure did never really exist. This world could never have such a treasure. He could never found it outside because the treasure, the source of his happiness, lay buried within himself. He always had it within himself. He only needs to know how to dig within himself. And no Alchemist could do that for him. He had to do it himself.

In fact, in a way, all of us are Santiagos..searching for that ‘Treasure’ outside among names and forms, travel in great length, encounter troubles and hardships, in the hope to get hold of that ‘thing’ which would wipe out our miseries and relieve us from our painful existence forever. Searching for something permanent and everlasting in this transient world. Sometimes we come across, on the way, a bright glittering stone. We grab it with frenzy and hold it so dear to our heart, convinced that this is indeed that Treasure which will quench the thirst of our heart for everlasting peace, pleasure, happiness and satisfaction. We start to enjoy it’s warmth, the pleasure it invokes in our senses. It begin to sooth our troubling mind with peace and tenderness. We push back, into some remote corner of our mind, that ever lingering sense of uncertainty, insecurity. We feel at the top of the world and we sleep soundly. Then one morning we wake up with a heavy gloomy heart realizing that familiar sense of uncertainty, that insecurity has returned. The stone has lost it’s brightness, it’s glittering has gone.

In desperation and hope we start our search again. On the way we come across many who claim themselves as “the Alchemist”, the one who possess the secret knowledge of the treasure. Some of these wise looking ones dressed in three piece suits and carry laptops. Some of them have long white beard, adorn beads around their neck, hands and carry a bundle of books. They confidently map the way for us and offer their expertise, most of the time with a price tag. We buckle up and travel through their way. We trek through Wall streets, climb the peaks of mighty Himalayas, looking inside every glass doors and caves for the treasure. Then somewhere in the middle of the desert, under the fire star, when every one feel tired, thirsty and lost, they tell us, “ ….sorry I thought this was the way, at least that was what my computer calculated for me…that was what I read from my ancient book of wisdom….I am not very sure now”.

February 21, 2006

The Book of Tibetan Elders

Filed under: Books — MBN @ 3:17 am
When the iron eagle flies and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered over the earth and the dharma will go to the land of the red man – Tibetan prophecy of Padmasmbhava (eighth century ).

In the course of Time the things that are destined to happen happens. The prophesy fulfilled in 1950 with the Chinese invasion of Tibet. It marked end of an ancient-wisdom culture. The red-robed people of the east lost their land and scattered over the earth. In 1991 writer Sandy Johnson was assigned, by her editor, to wrote a book that records the life stories and wisdom from the existing spiritual masters of Tibet. She traveled to India, Tibet, Europe and America to meet Tibetan elders – the ones who are the embodiment of the ancient wisdom, power and practices. In this book the reader gets a glimpse of that lost world that strived to attain the highest state- the buddhahood and it’s current struggle to preserve it’s valuable traditions.

From the book:
“I hear that people in the outside world live comfortable lives with tables and chairs and carpets in their homes, and have everything needed to be happy sugar and rice and all that. I have only tsampa and tukpa (soup) to eat, but I am happy; I have no teeth in my mouth anyway. I see you in your fine clothes, and I am in rags. Yet I hear there is much unhappiness in the outside world. Can you tell me why that is ?”

“No I can’t”, I admitted. “Do you have some thoughts about why that is so?”.

She shrugged. “Maybe your fine clothes and all your furniture and riches take up too much of your time and leave you no time for prayer. May be your riches have taken more away from you than they have given. But I don’t know about these things…” She yawned, bringing the conversation to a close.

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