By Charudutta Panigrahi
We have always chased short cuts in life, even in the early parts of history. Humans have an uncanny tendency to use their brains and find out ways and methods to beat a system which, curiously, is also of their own making.
Beating a system need not be read with any negative connotation here. What is being talked about is beating the monotony; the status quo. Whether it is taking the elevator instead of the stairs, making life easy with a remote control, automobile instead of manual mobility, SMS/WhatsApp instead of direct calls, Facebook “likes” instead of talking directly with someone and the list goes on.
But all of these sound more like scientific inventions and innovations. One strives to make life easier. It is only natural for the most evolved species on earth to use brainpower and IQ to make living smoother. As long as there is a human brain ticking, inventions would keep trickling in. That’s the flow of nature.
It has been noted that above his desk, Thomas Edison displayed a placard with a famous quotation from Sir Joshua Reynolds: “There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labour of thinking.” He jokingly put this idea as his motivator. Paradoxically, I can’t take this as a mere joke. If we keep inventing, keep questioning, then why is it that the greed for instant dhana and instant dharma (instant money and instant spirituality) bind us like the venomous snake of “weakness”. We don’t’ question Ponzy schemes and do not dare reflect on our blind faith in Godmen. If we believe in God, how can God be men and men God. They are two different entities. I am not questioning their hierarchy, but in plainspeak, they are different people.
Who are these Godmen, probably the hybrids? And their hold on us is total. Odisha has been extraordinarily secular and incredibly cosmopolitan. The state has experienced different waves of faith, from Buddhism to Jainism to Islam to Christianity and is home to the Lord of the Universe. The Lord of the Universe, Jagannath has no religion, no sector, and no rector. We grew up crying at the Sufi saint, Syed Abdullah Jalal Bukhari Pir Saheb, in trying times. Pir Saheb originally belonged to Bukhara, Uzbekistan and came to Khurda in 1731 via Mecca after his Hajj. The king of Khurda, Gajapati Raja Ramchandra Dev II helped him get established at Kaipadar. Then (in 1733 CE) he donated about 223 acres of land to establish his Mosque and Hujra.
Shanti Stupa on Dhauli Hills was constructed in 1972 by the Japan Buddha Sangha and the Kalinga Nippon Buddha Sangha and has lent continuity to the powerful Ashokan legacy of purging philosophies of sovereignty – from violence to non-violence and from no Buddha to Buddha or awakening. This is our DNA in “awakening”. How can we ever fall prey to the gimmickry of spiritual peddlers? No amount of chicanery has kept these “spiritual traders” immune from the law of the land. But in spite of the repeated crises of ‘easy spiritualism”, why are we so gullible each time?
We have the Lord of the Universe with us and yet we are swayed by the brokers of faith. Does this mean that our submission to the Lord is only perfunctory? We actually hold the Babas closer. If this isn’t hypocrisy, then what is? Is it that social security is so fragile that we get the protection (or at least the perception of it) from the “men-as-God”. Are we so rudderless that we completely surrender ourselves to the wily gatekeepers of spiritualism?
The newspaper readership in Odisha (both Odia and English) is well over 52 Lakhs and over 3 million people view TV weekly. News channels in Odisha have a viewership of over 2 million people weekly out of the 3 million TV viewing public. Digital viewing, which was one of the lowest in India at about 30 per cent a couple of years ago, is now racing beyond 55 percent. With growing digital penetration, the quality of niche content should increase substantially. Channels of communication, including the social media and hardware like mobile phones have never been so commonly used, diverse, well-stocked and far-reaching in India and Odisha.
And when the levels of information and knowledge are growing by leaps and bounds, why is that we tend to neglect or avoid the significant broadcasts and messages. And when shall we get adequately sensitized about the fraudulent activities in the “faith industry”, being exposed around the country with growing regularity? This is no more a cult following only. This is a high stake industry. There is nothing wrong in making this an industry but the danger lies in it being cloaked as the spiritual gateway, the Ashram, the repose under the “magic” of the Baba or Mata. We should not deceive ourselves. With more information at our disposal, we stray more. What an irony!
There is a big divide between the citizens and the system and this chasm often helps build an “unnaturally blind” faith in the cult. There is a sense of void in social bonding and in the Ashram (of the Baba or the Mata) one develops a commune and every human being needs a commune, a social backing, a social support system. If the social constructs are strong, these “witches’ brew” would stop thriving. “Bhagabata tungi” was a social construct where villagers under a tree/or in the precincts of a temple would gather in the evening and sing/eat/discuss and go back. It was a Club at a different setting. But no pendants, no stones, no honey, no scented milk and merchandising ever came out of the Tungi or were promoted in the Tungis.
Let’s learn from our mistakes and desist from seeking “instant Dharma”. Nothing comes easy. Let’s get independent… From spiritual fun to chit fund, the journey is quite similar and intertwined. Odisha is not new to Ponzi schemes. When our per capita income was the lowest in the country (Rs 16,359), the proportion of population below poverty level was highest in the country at over 46% as compared to the national average of 27.5%, people (mostly from rural settings) deposited over 10K Crores in Ponzy schemes. A Ponzi fraud is the most basic form of mutual fund, its simplicity untarnished by having to buy any actual assets: early investors get paid with the deposits of later ones, while later ones see their paper gains add up, but only till they attempt to cash it out.
Alas, the small depositors were wiped off their hard-earned income, savings and assets. And in desperation there was a widespread call for the government to underwrite the fraud. We chose to be independent citizens with all rights intact when it suits us, but in other times we rush to the government to bail us out for our own mistakes. This can’t be a prudent citizenry. Can any government ever guarantee individual/non-state promises? We also have responsibilities. We are allured by offers of higher returns than other investments, in the form of short-term returns that are either abnormally high or unusually consistent.
Ponzi schemes do not necessarily entice people only from low-income communities and developing economies. Even former NASDAQ Chairman Bernard Madoff masterminded the largest private Ponzi scheme in history in the US. But that’s no consolation for Odisha. No government can or should ever have a “man-made disaster” management agency. Literacy levels are increasing, the society is much flatter, the employment rates are increasing by an average 9- 12 per cent annually, the social infrastructure is well laid out, there is abundance of social security schemes (from rice to food, to dress for children to laptops) and in spite of all this why can’t we still reduce our gullibility?
It’s nothing but a reflection of our obsession with short cuts: to get everything quicker, faster and without any hard work. Immediate indulgence. Chit funds and Baba: it says something about the propensity of people to work hard towards making their own lives better. Does this mean that – there is a general lack of patience in us? Not really. But there is certainly an unwillingness to work hard. The targeting of social security schemes needs to be gauged. – Instant gratification. We need everything now, even honey from feet, honey from multiplying funds.
Let’s set ourselves free, and be satiated with what we have. If we are conscious of our own vocations and work then we would not be left with any extra time to look for short cuts so hopelessly. Independence from short cuts, abnormal avarice can help us take long shots towards growth and innovations.
Odisha is known for its patience and perseverance. Our Tourism catchphrase is ‘scenic, serene, sublime’ – which explains our soft skills. Soft power is true power and we have abundance of that. There are clear options – chose a life of self-esteem or wait for the next Baba/Chit fund to give us Darshan. Is being independent so difficult?