Rajni Bakshi: A Teller of Stories of Modern-Day Gandhians
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May 13, 2017
Guest: Rajni Bakshi
Host: Amit Dungarani
Moderator: Rahul Brown
Transcribed by: Prabha Nallappan, Kozo Hattori, Pavi Mehta
Amit: Today, we have a remarkable guest speaker with us Rajni Bakshi whose presence embodies the spirit of our calls. By her very nature and vocation Rajni is a story teller. For over forty years she's used the power of storytelling about her role as a journalist and an author to shine a spotlight on people, ideas, and actions that are often overlooked by today's media and mainstream publishers. For example in one of her books, Bapu Kuti, she explored the lives of twelve people who have turned their backs on lucrative professions to embark on a search for ways to evoke political and social transformation. And while these individuals may not call or consider themselves Gandhian, these activists have found ways and come to the same conclusions that Gandhi did over a half a century ago. Rajni's writings are profound journeys into the intellect and spirit. Her conversations reflect her deep search for truth overlaid on the breadth of her knowledge and experiences. Today we'll be diving into both her personal story and the stories of the incredible people she's come across and written about. We have the great pleasure of having Rahul Brown as our moderator, and I thought we could kick off this circle with you sharing some of your own thoughts on today's theme and on your excitement to have Rajni here as our guest today.
Rahul: Absolutely. Thanks for that introduction, Amit. I just think that the topic that I feel like Rajni has really devoted her life to is so live and so relevant for modern times where we see market forces dominating the world really. And even in places where market was predominantly the driving force, we see a creeping into every aspect of our lives. And this is juxtaposed with a world where many of us especially in the Service Space ecosystem are very much connected with, kind of, something that's moving in the other direction. A return to perhaps what preceded the market, and especially with the intrinsic desire to serve and involved in many experiments along the spectrum of what now might be considered alternative ways of doing things, whereas from another lens they might be the original way of doing things. So I just been on the edge of my seat to have this conversation with Rajni, and so delighted that she can be joining. Rajni, Amit did a phenomenal introduction to you, and I don't want to dive into that as much as use our time to to learn more about you and your work.
As I was reading about your life and work I get the feeling that it's been a rigorous search for sort of truth and meaning coupled with this desire to share your discoveries with others that's really animated your life. And I think that, you know, a lot of people have this intrinsic need for meaning, but it's often really heightened when people experience something difficult in their lives. I'm curious about whether this family trauma of partition played a role in catalyzing this quest for meaning and sort of reconnecting with grassroots in India and in your own life.
Rajni: Thank you, Rahul. Actually it was very much in the background. Of course we can talk about that later perhaps, because both sides of my family--my mother's family and my father's family did come at the time of partition from Peshawar and Lahore. My parents were married in forty nine, but actually my father was among the very lucky ones because he already had a master's degree and so he was part of that first generation that benefited the most from independence. And so for me actually I think the starting point was the realization, very very palpable realization, that I had a life of great privilege.
Because I grew up in different parts of the world when I was ten my father was sent to the Philippines to work with the Asian development bank, so you know for six months we were there and then a year later he was sent--he was in the reserve bank of India actually--but because he was an agricultural economist, he became part of what I used to think of as the international development bureaucracy. And so by the time I was eleven, I found myself in Jamaica, West Indies. So we landed there in seventy one when a man called Michael Manley was just coming to power in Jamaica and his slogan was "love is the word." And I know today it sounds impossible for people to believe that a politician with the slogan love is the word came to power in newly independent Jamaica, but it was a very big formative influence for me because I hope I do not know how and why I was interested in politics from a very young age. And so I grew up in a life of great privilege and, honestly, I think it must be or it's a kind of grace to have awareness of what this privilege was worth, worth in the sense that you know that it gave me a sense of feeling that very few people are given this kind of cushion in life, and so it must be used for something truly worthwhile and truly meaningful because I felt so grateful not to have to worry about physical survival or you know climbing a ladder in order to survive. So really that was my starting point.
Rahul: That is beautiful almost as if it was the gratitude for such an abundant life that made you feel like you wanted to really pay forward to everyone else.
Rajni: That's right. Also, in the mid seventies revolution was something that young people you know thought was necessary. I certainly did. And I knew that there was so much in India that you needed to be changed and that so much inequality and injustice that had to be changed. I mean made better. And so I was dying to grow up and come back to India and to jump into the fray. But by the time I got back which was in seventy five--I came back to do my bachelor's degree. I enrolled in college in Delhi, but I landed exactly a week after the Emergency had been declared.
And so that was then the next big event in my life. It didn't physically or emotionally touch me in any direct way, but simply to live in that atmosphere of fear and restraint and anxiety that, you know, you are not any more living in a free country. That had a very very big influence, and I think gave me a kind of, in my teens, a sense of resolve and commitment to what only later I learned to call the open society.
Rahul: Interesting. We can talk about Emergency perhaps a little bit later, but I wanted to get back to this question of partition again because it is really interesting that for many people that event was sort of part of the collective or individual trauma of their families. And yet in your case, it seems like as a result of your father's education, it was almost a gift that created another lifestyle for you, which was the foundation of this gratitude. So I'm curious if that is how Gandhi ended up becoming an inspiration in your life and if it wasn't that how was it that he became an inspiration for you?
Rajni: Ok so just to clarify, our lives may have been just as privileged even if petition had not happened. I think that because of my father advantages, he was very placed to survive the experience better than a lot of people who had to struggle much harder. It was very much part of our childhood consciousness, I would say, for all the people young of my generation, all my cousins. But see, the most important thing in our family, and I think it was so for many families, I have many friends who came out of similar personal histories, is that we grew up being told it was an enormous human tragedy on all sides and only Gandhi was right. That Gandhi alone understood what a horrific mistake the whole conflict was. Not just the fact of partition, but all that built up to it. The idea that we were two separate nations and then the fact of becoming two separate countries. And so really Gandhi-ji was just part of the air we breathed. And in the way that whenever my father explained to me that it was a terrible human tragedy both sides were to blame and Gandhi-ji alone would see that the only way out of this was love and nonviolence. So really, in a sense, I suppose I owe that connection to my father.
For example, I was 9 years old when my father told me the Holocaust. I knew about the holocaust in Europe, the Jewish holocaust, long before I read history books, but in the same spirit of sharing his anguish that such things had happened and they must never happen again.
Rahul: So you mentioned that in the 70s was the first time you made your way back to India. I'm curious if you ever ended up visiting your ancestral homes in Lahore or Peshawar.
Rajni: No, unfortunately it has never happened. My father very much wanted to go back, but unfortunately it never is a train she and maybe I sometimes wonder that he had a conflicted view of this: a part of him wanted to go back and a part was afraid to go back and find how much it would have changed. My mother, on the other hand, has never wanted to go back. She still feels the trauma and the hurt from which we have recovered and we have now moved on in life, but it is something that is still associated with so much sadness that she has never wanted to go back. and so the opportunity has never come up and I must confess that I clearly have not worked very hard to make it happen.
An uncle of mine did it recently. He actually has a Pakistani friend who was able to create a phone connection for him with the ancestral village not just our urban bases. And then because that friend the friend in Lahore had a wedding, whose son who was getting married, on the basis of that wedding invitation my uncle was able to get a visa. And he went, and he shared the photos of how that village welcomed him back. They lined up at the entrance of the village with flowers and incense. It was incredibly beautiful how these people who had no connection with him--he was three years old when he left Pakistan--but the memory there were two enders still in the village who remembered our families. And so because of their memories, many people of the village turned out to welcome him like a long lost brother returning home.
Rahul: It truly is remarkable how ordinary people everywhere just don't really identify with the kind of boundaries and barriers that we've erected in our political dialogue and our maps. Beautiful to hear that story. So Rajni professionally you occupy what you call this sort of fertile ground between journalism and activism, and I get the feeling that the industry of journalism itself sort of prevents people from being both passionately involved and then also storytelling around the work that involved with. Can you talk a little bit about this tension in the field and how you seem to have managed to overcome it or sidestep it?
Rajni: Could you explain that tension a little more?
Rahul: We tend to think of the standard of journalism as being one that is sort of impartial and removed, and that seems to be at odds with kind of being an activist and of being part of a movement that you're chronicling. And yet I feel like you have inhabited that space and managed to not only bring forward tremendous contributions in your work and your scholarship, but also done it in a way that's not been kind of counter to either of those fields. You've managed to remain in integrity with both the journalism side of this and the activism side. So I'm just fascinated with how you've managed to pull that off because it seems like it's the sort of holy grail of what anyone who wants to be a journalist would really go after.
Rajni: So I was trained as a journalist in the US. I went to college at George Washington University at the Columbia School of Arts and Sciences, where they have a journalism school. And it's absolutely right that in journalism 101, they beat you about objectivity. But one of the first exercises that I remember we did was that we were all sent out to cover something, and inevitably the teachers know a course that when people come back all ten people will come back with a different story. They've been to the same event, but you will come back with ten different versions of it. Which of course, Gandhi-ji used to talk about very evocatively with his metaphor of the elephants. That if you have ten blind people who are you know given different parts of the elephant to touch everybody think it something else.
So really I have known there is absolutely no such thing as complete objectivity. But what I think true journalism means to me actually is a complete integrity with as much as you can the totality of the picture which is never really humanly possible, but that's why I mean as much as is humanly possible to try and give a range of the emotions and the power plays and the aspirations--all the dimensions of the story as much as you can. But inevitably it is still from a vantage point, and so as long as I am not artificially or wrongly misrepresenting any aspect of it. And that's often very difficult. It is a struggle because that's a very big risk because you can only see anything from a particular vantage point, you may inadvertently misrepresent either an idea or a person or a situation or a position on an issue. So it is a constant struggle, and I've only tried to do that by always remembering that there isn't a truth--there are multiple truths and to try and keep, if you may allow me in the language of Star Trek, keep all hailing frequencies open in the hope that you pick up as many of the signals and many of the messages of multiple truths that are coming your way. I don't know if that makes sense.
Rahul: Absolutely. I feel like that's a great response to the journalism side of it. I'm curious about how the activism spirit then got ignited, and what the framework of guidance was around remaining in integrity with the activism when you also have to inhabit this world of journalism.
Rajni: Yeah, so there were times in the late eighties, when I was involved on the periphery of the Narmada Bachao Andolan and other such struggles. There were certainly moments when this raised awkward and difficult questions for me, on both sides. You see in the journalistic circles I was treated as an activist and in the activist community I was treated as a journalist. And I must say I more or less muddled along. I didn’t have any clear answers except to be clear in my own mind and heart that I was at no point pushing any vested interests I was not there to push or promote any sectarian interest. But to try and work for the core values of democratic participation, justice, fairness. But it was a struggle.
Rahul: Would it would it be fair to say that there was a hunger or a desire around this concept of nation building that was perhaps a bridge between these two worlds of journalism and activism and in particular your own drive to be at that intersection at the grassroots in India.
Rajni: Yes except that in this case nation building was very much in the kind of internationalist sense. By that I mean not necessarily the Communist Party version notion of international, but universalist in the way that Gandhiji was. By the mid-80s I began to get drawn into the whole stream of action in India which like Gandhiji was critiquing the dominant development model and the notion of civilisation that it is based on. So more and more the work that many of were doing through the late 80s and ninety's were focused on those more fundamental civilizational issues and at that time we used to call it alternative development. And then of course in 1992 after the Rio summit it became a mainstream global term and is now called sustainable development. But a lot of the activities I’ve been engaged with have a local, regional and national focus because that’s the immediate theater of action. But the vision and perspective is planetary. Because we know that these issues will either be resolved on a planetary scale or not at all.
Rahul: Right. So with all of this a backdrop you wrote of the rising of Sevagram as one of your inspirations. I’m really interested in what happened when you showed up that was so moving for you.
Rajni: It's very difficult to describe. I must also add that I really seriously got drawn into the historical Gandhiji only after reading Louis Fischer rather late in life at 23 or so. Around the same time I read an article by Claude Alvares who had been to Bapu Kutir at Sevagram. And it was one of those inexplicable feelings that I just have to go there. Something called to me. It was like such a feeling of coming home. And at that time there was no thought, it was not at the level of thought it was much more visceral. I just wanted to be there. And it wasn’t that there was a very active community. There were some friends and different people doing things that I then became friends with. But clearly there was something almost at a metaphysical level which drew me there and it was much much later some almost 7-8 years later that it struck me while I was at Sevagram that there is a linking thread to many of the people I know and whose works I admire and that’s how Bapu Kuti the book happened
Rahul: Right and so you know in your book you're chronicling the lives of these modern activists to kind of reach the same conclusions about social economic problems that Gandhi did and that of course was ultimately the inspiration for the film Swades as well. I'm curious about whether there was an activist amongst these dozen that really stood out for you and why?
Rajni: Well there were many. But 2-3 people were very key in that project one of them was Vibha Gupta who is still looking at Magan Chandra Lay in Wardha the other was Vinoo Kaley, an architect my training but had given that all up to become an activist on the issue of bamboo, and the third person was Anand Bapat and together they were part of something called the Academy of young scientists and it was actually at Vibha's house that the idea of writing Bapu Kuti I articulated for the first time.
And I'm just trying to remember in a few sentences. I think it was their dogged dedication they had been asking some fundamental questions and doing so in the spirit of dialog not just involving people at the grassroots who were struggling with survival issues but at the other end of the spectrum with the elite in in metros. And this ability to stretch your work, thinking and action to the entire spectrum of society was a deep inspiration for me. It’s very common for people to work at either one or the other end. Either in elite or grassroots circles but this was a bunch of friends that was trying to work across the spectrum by taking the issues of one sector to the other.
Rahul: Almost like a cross-pollination between the two worlds.
Rajni: That’s right. They had moderate success and subsequently did do that with quite a great deal of success. I think that’s what is most dramatically manifest in ServiceSpace.
Rahul: Tell me more.
Rajni: Well because one of the key elements of the Gandhian approach to transformation is that the process of transformation must have room for everyone from the prince to the pauper and based on my limited contact with various ServiceSpace networks in India, I can see that a very wide range of people from very different dimensions and levels of society are engaged in the. And of course Nipun personally traverses many universes, and it’s not just personal, through his work in ServiceSpace. So that is very precious.
Rahul: Just as Gandhiji’s work seems very broad and has many strands, I’m sure many of these folks are like spokes from the center of a wheel. Beyond that element of Gandhiji and perhaps the determination that they had in cross-pollinating their various worlds, would you be able to identify any other common threads amongst the folks you have chronicled?
Rajni: I think the first and most important is they were all people who were seekers rather than knowers. They were not claiming to have all the answers. When you have one fixed vision then people have to comply with it, or you are so convinced that that one particular way will liberate human beings from their oppression and injustice -- so then the very people who want the better world become the enemies of the open society. I think all the people that appeared in Bapu Kuti had this quality of almost a kind of tentativeness. While their commitment to the fundamentals was completely unwavering and in a sense non-negotiable but a tentativeness and openness in the methodology and a refusal to walk down any path in which their behavior would become arbitrary.
Rahul: Would you say there is a difference then between these folks and the people who are identified as traditional Gandhians, who did grasp one of the many strands of self-development, or self-rule that Gandhiji had worked towards?
Rajni: That’s very difficult - and maybe not fair to frame it quite like that because different individuals have lived and practiced these ideals in many different ways. Yes it can be objectively said that many of the uniformed Gandhians, maybe became very routinized etc. But I met many of them who were just as inspiring and in fact more inspiring in some cases than my own contemporaries. So I think let’s beware of any generalizations in this respect and by the way you know that if Gandhi’s own journey remained incomplete and in many ways he was disappointed towards the end with his own journey in non-violence. So I would just say people travel in the best way they can and I try very much to avoid making judgment in either way.
Rahul: Sure. Certainly they all must come from a wholeheartedness about expanding well being for others. And you have written a book called the Economics of Well-being. I’m curious about what you identify as the key elements of the economics of well-being.
Rajni: So that was actually a booklet published by the Center for Education and documentation in Bombay and Bangalore. It was a prelude to the longer book I wrote later called Bazaars conversations and Freedom. Basically the journey began like this. For two decades the 80s and 90s, I had been part of various activist networks that were working for a more humane development, A more people centric, locally empowering development. And yet it was evident by the end of the 90s that these struggles were caught in a cul de sac. They were not showing signs of making any vast progress that would not only scale up but make a paradigm shift. And so that’s when I began to study this concept of the market. And of course many people have done tons of work on this, I was basically just chronicling that work. Herman Daly’s work was a big influence in this. As of course EF Schumacher much earlier, that it is only in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that in the Western word this idea developed that the political economy can be separated from ethical and moral priorities of communities. The two things can and should be separated. So one of the outcomes of this separation is the belief that as long as you put people’s material needs in place then the rest is for them to work on. That’s not actually how real life works. And the special spiritual moral ethical and moral dimensions are actually completely dovetailed. So economics for well-being is a very broad term for different kinds of ways they are schools of thought, there are models and areas of work that people are pursuing to reintegrate this entire continuum.
Rahul: So I'm curious about how those various elements are able to be integrated without a sense of legislated economy or morality. When you when you take in the broader considerations of what it means for wellbeing to be there across all the spectrums and then try to systematize it. Is it possible? How does it actually work?
Rajni: You’re absolutely right. Unless the government structures through which power is flowing in societies across the world, unless they are changed, the kinds of efforts that are made at the grassroots can only have local and limited impact. And there my main emphasis for quite some time now is that nothing represents this problem than the worship of GDP and the very concept of GDP. The fact that the limitations of GDP were recognized long ago by the late 1980s even the World Bank acknowledged that the GDP is not the final word on the state of a nation or a society and so the human development index was created in the early 1990s. And then we have separate measures for Environmental well being. As long as these three dimensions remain separate there is no hope of reintegration. And so far the only country that has broken free of this is Bhutan with its Gross National Happiness Index. Of course there are many non-state entities, research groups, activist groups that have created these alternatives and integrated indexes -- the Happy planet index is one that’s worth looking at. There’s Redefining progress work that is done out of Canada. But unless governments change, and abandon the GDP as a measure, and create a new and integrated measure, we are going to have the pure materiality will continue to overwhelm all other forms of well-being. The quest for all other forms of well-being. And which is not to say that the material dimension is unimportant. Certainly not. Especially in a country like India where some 500 million people haven’t even got to the point where they can press their nose against the glass of the shop that they are locked out of. So I’m not underestimating or undervaluing the importance of fixing the material side of life, but we are not going to do it with this measure of success.
Rahul: Certainly. In Bazaars Conversations and Freedom you’ve written about the problems of the market system in contrast to the bazaar system. What is different about the bazaar system and does it have an opportunity to offer any sort of lasting change in the face of the dominant market system?
Rajni:So my journey began -- I began to look historically at how old market exchange was, and I found that other than hunters and gatherers, all other forms of social organization have had a marketplace. Even tribal societies have had floating market spaces. In many parts of the world there are indigenous people who are not hunter gatherers - they have settled agriculture etc. We know also from historical evidence that some form of -- first of all you’re right -- mutual aid, gift precedes everything. There is a 4000 year gap between the appearance of settled agriculture and anything like a commercial transaction. Even in Mesopotamia where we have the best records because we are able to decipher the script. Then for almost two millennia there is market exchange that is rooted and embedded in society. By that I mean society was dominant, social needs and mores and frameworks were the basis of deciding what and how systems of exchange would operate. This is not to suggest that by 21st century standards these were acceptable or perfect. Most of these societies were very hierarchical and there were all kinds of social inequities. But the difference is that capital was not dominant. The domination of capital begins roughly from the 16th, 17th century in Europe when money as we know it now was taking shape. So what I mean by bazaar is socially embedded systems of exchange that include gift and commercial in which there is room for and in fact celebration of notions of sufficiency, cooperation, co-creation, and the opposite of that is the market culture where greed and fear are seen as the drivers, and that is celebrated. Because it is believed that if it wasn’t for this great driving energy of greed and fear that we would not have enough economic dynamism and the whole world would wind down into everybody being poor, which is a completely wrong belief.
Rahul: Right and yet that wrong belief has become so dominant.
Rajni: Yes but so much opposition to it all along and I think we live in a time where maybe there is more creative energy in that opposition than ever before. Which is not to say that it is going to turn around in any definite way, but at least the effort is fully on and the struggle is fully engaged.
Rahul: Right. Rajni switching strains a bit in your bio you wrote that one of your inspirations was being found by the Ram Charit Manas. What is that? And what is the story of how it affected you?
Rajni: So the Ramcharitmanas is the story of Rama told in absolutely divine poetry by Thulasidas, who was a mystical saint who lived in Benares. He was a contemporary of Akbar. And I was found by it because it had actually be in my family tradition because my mother read it, I didn’t, until the great trauma of the Babri Masjid being demolished in 1992 December, followed by very brutal riots in many parts of the country, but in Bombay they happened in two phases, Dec 1992 and almost the whole of January 1993. The city came to a standstill there was so much rioting and killing. In this very traumatized frame of mind, I was advised by a cousin of mine that I should just actually read the Ramcharitmanas. And I did. I felt found by it. It was more like your drawing and suddenly next to you a life jacket comes along. So it was like that. I think i knew from page 4 or 5 that it was going to be a great life changer for me because Thulasidas begins y honoring the dosht, the dosht is the evil one, saying I also bow to those who do evil. Because they too are a form of the divine. And only by embracing the brutality can I fully honor the divine. And this embracing of both the sattva and the tamas, you know creation happens when these three gunas manifest themselves, sattva, rajas and tamas. So Thulasidas by bowing to the dosht -- to the evil, taught me that I was wrong to be suffering from this feeling of aversion and fear towards those who are rioting, those who are killing people. And instead, you have to find ways to see that they also are manifestation of the same divinity, at least, then there’s some possibility of reaching out.
Rahul: That inspiration means a lot to me and I know to many other callers especially given the light of the political climate in the United States right now. So thank you for sharing that. You know you also wrote about Swami Vivekananda and Ramakrishna kind of having an impact on you. Can you share a little bit more about that?
Rajni: So it was in the same period. Another friend suggested that I spend some time getting to know VIvekananda and my initial motivation for doing that was very political, because I knew that Vivekananda is an inspiration both to the secular activists and to the advocates of Hindutva. Two opposing forces. So I began first to read him for that reason. But very soon this reason seemed very superficial. And it opened up a whole new universe of understanding. I'm not saying I agree with every last word that Swamiji says. But the core inspiration was again very much like the reading of Ram Charit Manas. It was an energy charge that is still carrying me. And then of course once you’ve met Swami Vivekananda he is bound to lead you to his guru who is Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.
Amit: This is something you’d shared earlier in the call. You mentioned that your father had told you about the Holocaust when you were 9-years-old. On behalf of our callers many of whom are parents like myself or educators how did you process such a difficult topic at such a tender age? Obviously it stayed with you and am sure there are other lessons in history that he taught you but how did that even arise in how he approached that?
Rajni:I don’t remember what the context was. But basically I remember being told there was a place called Germany and at some point this thing had happened that people were crammed into rooms and they were gassed. And that it was a horrible mistake and how could it ever happen nobody has been able to figure that out, this kind of sense of disbelief and yet, knowing it to be true, you know when you say about parents and children and how much more difficult it seems today, I think that when I was a child, there was a very sense of what we thought children could handle. I think we live in a time now maybe because there is so much other sensory overload. See I am perhaps the last generation that grew up without television. I am now 58. So I grew up completely without television. And so maybe it’s because we live in an age with so much sensory overload that parents have to be more protective towards their children. But I grew up in a different age where we didn’t think children were so fragile.
Amit: So perhaps then this is the reason why storytelling is so natural to you because you didn’t have that overload from TV or computers that young children today do.
Rajni:I don’t know. I see my fifteen year old niece writing away and she’s on some internet group where she writes stories and they write stories, so I don’t know - I think technology may also be growing stories.
Amit: I’m curious - I know that you had touched on some of this earlier in Bapu Kuti and the individuals that you had covered, and their various stories, it’s been almost twenty years since you originally had written about them and I am curious if you are still in touch with them?
Rajni:Yes I am. Almost all of them actually. Except maybe Anil Prakash because Bihar is very far so I don’t see him. But otherwise I am in regular touch. Of course we very sadly lost CV Seshadri in 94 or 95. So that was a huge loss. There’s a whole chapter on him in the book. The people who became most famous in that book are Aruna Roy and MKSS who went on to change history by making RTI with the Right to Information. Such a powerful tool of democracy.
Amit: Absolutely. And I guess seeing all of these changemakers and I guess touching upon the differences, the evolution of technology, where the world is today - what do you see as the components of tomorrow’s changemakers? What do you see as you look forward.
Rajni: Oh I must confess that actually I'm very confused on the details of what all the change that we’re going through - what it means. Like many people I am completely puzzled about where this is taking us. Because I would say there are two or three major converging trends. One is that inequality and struggle for livelihoods is going to intensify very, very sharply. And only partly because of the artificial intelligence evolution. There are many other factors for it. And how much technology is now set to change the way we know life. Whether it is robots that will be almost like human beings, or this whole business of gene splicing and gene mixing and people being able to have a custom made baby. These are really things that I am not quite able to wrap my mind around and the third factor is the impending and accelerating ecological collapse. Not just climate change - climate change is just going to be the most obvious part of it. So my gut feeling about children and generally what to tell young people is that I think we have to cultivate and nurture resilience. People have to be much tougher. Tougher in the sense that - we have to have the strength to endure even in the face of physical hardship. And do so by building greater bonds of cooperation. If you go with the dominant narrative of the market, physical hardship, scarcity, crisis this will all accelerate competition make it more brutal and it will be a rat race etc. Yet those are very likely consequences. It can go that way. From our historical experience of communities that lived in great physical scarcity like the desert of rajasthan where they had just a few millimeters of water each year but they forged the most amazing structures of cooperation and co creation. So we have much to build on and that’s why I feel that these ServiceSpace endeavor is so crucial. And it’s not alone -- these kinds of networks.
Amit: We have an individual listener, Jyoti, from London who's asking that you know you said that the struggle against the dominant ideal of markets is driven by greed and fear is fully engaged on many fronts. So what are some of the threads of opposition and the alternatives to the market?
Rajni: So the most the important but often underrated is what we are using now on the Internet. It is the consequence of the open source movement, the free software movement. And if Richard Solomon is listening, I apologize for using both terms in the same breath. He gets very annoyed because they free software and open source are two different strands. I think for our purpose here, Tim Berners Lee who created the World Wide Web and gifted it to the world. It is a more epochal gift to our civilization than all of the billions of dollars that have been made from the Internet since it was created and even today I am told that seventy percent of the world servers are running on Open Source software and that is one very big creative response that has changed things. The other is rapid acceleration of organic agriculture in the hands of communities not corporate organic agriculture. And at the very heart of Capitalism, in the financial corporate multinational world also there are people struggling to find answers. So there is talk at least of conscious capitalism and all trusteeship and greater responsibility. The problem is that nobody knows how to change the engine while flying the plane and that's what we are really required to do. Because nothing is going to stop. You have to change things while they're continuing to be what they are. So these are two, three major examples that I know off. I'm sure there are a lot more that we could discuss if we had more time. Community currency, is the other very important trend. Our own friend in Bombay who is very much part of service space, Siddharth Sthalekar, who started a company called Sacred Capital. So whoever is interested in this should should take a look at the website which is our own home grown neighborhood effort.
Amit: And how does that work?
Rajni: What Siddharth is able to do through this endeavor is that it is an asset management exercise but what he is saying is what is required now is not asset management but asset curation and he's saying he's trying to find ways for you to be able to invest in your local bakery for example. Why should you only invest anonymously in forms of businesses where you have no say over how they run the business, what they're doing to make the profit that they give you. So we have a little group going just now in Bombay which includes Siddharth where we are discussing the possibility of how the digital revolution now makes it easier to create complementary currency.
Amit: You know I'm curious because I'm not sure what you mean by complementary currency?
Rajni: It is an idea that actually has been tried during the Great Depression. You see in many situations there is scope for economic dynamics and we do love exchange of goods and services but the medium of exchange is lacking money OK. So what people during the depression, this happened on a large scale in the US and in many parts of Europe. People created local currencies. It is really like a mutual credit system or a Local Exchange Trading System (LETS) . The reason that it disappeared as soon as the New Deal came is that the government outlawed them because these kinds of currencies if they become prolific, they are a threat to the national currency. But now a lot of the work that is happening is not posing a sense as a threat to the national currency but saying that this is for local exchange. And it's not independent also are not in opposition to the national currency but a local complement. So for example if I'm a baker and one of you has hair cutting salon and the other person has a car mechanic shop. We have a token of exchange that circulates among us. The most current example in the U.S. but at least some years ago it used to operate in the town of Ithaca but much more had happened over the last five six years because of the Internet and the possibility of digital technology called blockchain technology has made it much easier for have such systems and they don't even have to be local geographically anymore because people could be anywhere in the world and they could have this kind of system of exchange.
Amit: We have come across some of those sites where they believe life is more than actually or traditional monetary systems and you receive credit for doing various acts whether teaching someone some kind of a course and you receive a credit for something else. Almost like a bartering system of sorts.
Rajni: Yeah except that is if it's not quite barter because in barter you're limited by the specific thing that you have. And in this the exchange can be multidimensional. It's not that you have to roam around with loaves of bread so you can exchange them with onions or potatoes or bottle of beer or whatever. There is one in Berkeley called Berkeley Bread but I don't know if it's still around. And I just want to add that it doesn't matter how raw, incomplete and unworkable many of these things are today. Let's look at this idea of complementary currency is like where the Wright brothers were on the day their plane first took off at Kitty Hawk. Do you know how long it lasted or how long it was in the air? Not more than a minute. It was barely a minute. But it it was enough to show them that they were on the right track so let’s keep some faith in some radical experimentation.
Amit: We have a we have another caller Joseph from Seattle and he says, “I'm a novelist and I like with you said about bowing to evil and seeing the divine in the other and you suggest some techniques for really stepping into the worldview of a character especially for characters that have very uncomfortable perspectives.
Rajni: Now that's a really tough one. I don't have a really a very satisfactory answer because your question is very deep but I will share with you something that we attempted in a group that I'm part of Citizens for Peace, where we have been working with the very core commitment of learning to listen that we listen for the hurt of the concern that life behind the complaint. Now the complaint you have can mean anything that something that may be may actually find at a very visceral level deeply offensive and hurtful. As you said that the other may be really doing and saying something that is utterly unbearable but if we can somehow get behind that but we cannot always -- I can tell you from my experience that it's very difficult, I know to overcome my sense of aversion but we did do a workshop of course in which it's not a very good test case because when you do a workshop like that only the people who share this commitment will listen but still it was one bad people from very different and opposing points of view were present and we listened deeply to each other only to find and try and open some sense of understanding for what is the hurt and what is the concern that manifests as that of complaints or that aggression. And it was very enriching for everyone who was present. I just don't know, I don't have a method for how we can do this at the societal level. I think we all know that we can do it in smaller controlled or contained group situations. I don't know if that is helpful.
Amit: Perhaps that's what it takes to have you start somewhere and the only way that it's going to reach that upper societal level is it starts at the individual level. I mean I also feel that's sort of the message that Gandhi was saying and I'm sure many of the change makers that you come across where that transformation occurs at the personal level. And I guess sort of to that end, when you take a look at your life and you've covered all of these incredible people you obviously know when you take a look at the books that inspire you, or the people that inspire you whether it is Gandhi or being influenced heavily by Ram Charit Manas or Vivekanand I have to ask -- when you take a look at this idea of personal transformation in yourself how would you describe the journey over the last few decades?
Rajni: Slow and slippery slow. Mostly two steps backward, one step forward. Actually on the whole I feel very blessed. I am privileged and gifted with such wonderful inspirations and company and guides and mentors so really I feel very privileged. I have a long way to go personally and I have a tendency to get irritated very easily. I'm struggling with that a lot because I know that's a form of violence. I have impatience still in spades. And so just learning every day to recommit to watching without judgment is what I'm called to do and as long as I stay up at that course, I feel I'm justifying the carbon I am holding.
Amit: Have you picked up any tricks to the trade to overcome some of those personal challenges. Small things that you can do in your life that you have seen from learned examples from any of the change makers that you come across or in faith that you develop on your own.
Rajni: I think maybe just one thing. To slow down I know that all of my challengers actually are in some way connected in kind of haste and wanting things to move at a speed that may or may not be natural which is very strange because I actually love the slow life but I have the side of me which wants things to be done faster. So it's a strange paradox I must confess I haven't gotten to the bottom of that one yet. But in terms of tricks of trade, at any moment no matter what you are doing the ability to just watch your breath. I am not able to do this all the time. I mean leave the room and lock yourself up or something, it just withdrawing inward. I do have friends who have done that quite successfully.
Amit: And I find that to be a very helpful exercise myself of the so it is great that it is one form of practice that you do. So Rajni, we're getting close to the end of our call and I'm curious and I think you know we've had a chance to talk about some of the various things that you've done over the course of your vocation here? I won’t say career because that's too close to a profession. I would like to know what's keeping you busy these days and what's at the center of your focus today?
Rajni: So I'm just sort of commencing a pilgrimage to try and understand the many, many diverse efforts that are being made across the world toward non-violence. I'm fascinated and humbled to see how much has been done over the last seventy years since Gandhi has left us. So I mean I'm very keen to understand that more deeply and particularly in the sense that why after so much disappointment, how come there are people who are still diligently working for nonviolence in a very concrete, doable practices, actionable way. So I am trying to learn from them and understand their story. That's my current mission.
Amit: It sounds like a very large mission to be honest and I just want to know how are you going to have that pilgrimage. Are you actually going to or visiting around the world?
Rajni: At the moment I am meeting them through the written word. Because fortunately many of them have been writing. And there are some where I need to travel and meet actually many of them. So I haven't figured out how that's going to happen yet. I'm working on it and it will come, it will happen.
Amit: Wonderful. One final question is how can we serve as a larger service space community support the work that you're doing?
Rajni: Oh you are already doing that just by existing. I will be tapping into your diverse and wonderful network to learn because I think that the whole ServiceSpace phenomenon is a big manifestation of how ahimsa/ nonviolence is not just kept alive in some token, theoretical ivory tower sense but a living, breathing every day practice. So I'm going to be learning from all of you. I feel like I have the network of fellow travelers in this pilgrimage.
Amit: Well thank you for that and. Really I thank you for spending time with us today. It's really been wonderful hearing all your different insights and Rahul for the wonderful questions. You definitely go deep across a variety of different topics and you know I'm just thinking about what's some of the things that stood out for me during today's call and I think your question about me being able to sort of do that fluid dance between being an activist and a journalist and maintaining that integrity. The fact that being true to the fact that being totally human and recognizing that frailty to being totally human and that there isn't just one truth but there are multiple truths and I think that's helpful whether you know you're just approaching any situation or even in our daily lives and knowing that and that could even help with our anger or anything that we may be confronting in our life. I personally appreciate you sharing some of that.
Rajni: Thank you both for making all this possible and to Preeta for inviting me.
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