Civil Society

The first time I attended Sunday morning Church was when a colleague invited me to spend a weekend with his family up in Catskill Mountains, New York. One passes through the venue of Woodstock though the destination was a quiet farming community up in the hills. A Walmart was not too far in a town called Delhi & plenty of weekend cottages in the picturesque surrounding woods owned by Manhattan Richie-richs.
It dawned upon me how the church played a role in community building, every one who attended was attired in formals wearing a smile & the best conduct. Later I saw quiet a few of the same faces at the Ball game & even though the demeanor was sporty, the aura of mutual regard evidenced at church was carried over. Church was the invisible binding force. Purportedly, it is required to instill morality though, in my opinion, it was more than adequate that it perforated the community with observation of etiquette.
The dominant religion in India, Hinduism, is so very different in this regard. It focuses on building individuals not societies. We have a one to one relationship with the ‘God’ & at one time had almost as many Gods as people, everyone can choose their own God or Guru – options are aplenty still though we have collectively outnumbered Gods manifolds. When we wish to pray in a group, we have the option of summoning the temple priest to our homes. Religion, to us is not a binding force in the social context of etiquette but a personal growth practice. Each individual is free.
VS Naipaul had observed that left to its own, concepts of statehood, governance & such would not have evolved from Vedic or Hindu thought. I know the myriad of objections that can be cited to such a statement – in general – it is true that whatever one states as a fact about India – its exact opposite also turns out to be true. The intent here is to isolate fundamental building blocks that have influenced the way we as a nation have evolved.
Years later, while consulting for a oil company in UAE, I used to hang out with a US educated Arab whose family had a share in the company & thereby he had an executive position. We had fun times together, he had lots of fancy cars & going to clubs with him was sheer indulgence, with him bankrolling the outings. Inevitably, couple of months later, the topic veered to religion. He proudly proclaimed that his religion teaches him to love God & be in his service on call. That explained to me the rushing screeching cars heading to mosque when the call came everyday twice/thrice a day. But more than the dictum, it was peer pressure – not responding to call was blasphemous with the fellow follower having the option of blowing whistle on you. Once again religion provided the building block to glue communities together though love & regard was perhaps substituted by fear. And I have little doubt that it is the fear that breeds fundamentalism but I digress.
The point of this posting is merely to portray that we are FREEEEEE , perhaps a bit too much. With each element going its own way, entropy is bound to breed. Thus far on the Indian journey, the binding forces have been freedom movement, Gandhi, Pakistan, Cricket & Bollywood. We have to devise a common thread that ties up our diversity. And it has to be at grassroots. I propose – Civility.
Ego divides, Love unites. Though Spiritualism – the essence of vedantic & Hindu thought – leads to love – its practice is ‘I’ centric. As much as we must evolve individually – we owe to our nation in building our society. Civic Sense can be a good beginning as the rules are simple & easy to follow. Litter not, stare not, smile instead, give way, shout or honk not, extend our cleanliness concerns from private spaces to public spaces, appreciate that natural resources belong to all, waste water & bijli not, etc, etc.
I hope that you all shall contribute. I urge you to do so. For God’s sake or Despite your God.

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