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Diving in the World Ocean

On April 1995, I had a
chance to visit the Mumbai High oil drilling site, about 200 km away from the seashore. It takes almost an hour to reach there by a helicopter. From the engineering point of view, the whole operation is amazing. The fixation of the drilling rigs and platforms is an engineering feat. The foundations of these structures are very deep in order to keep them stable. I met some engineers who had worked there in the initial days of construction and they narrated their experiences with great pride, expressing the thrill of achievement. They also told me that the foundation construction of these structures was the most difficult stage and to carry out this task, expert divers were called from other countries.

I was told that deep-sea diving is a difficult job and a good amount of training was required for it. As the pressure of water increases proportionately to the depths of the sea, a diver has to take precautionary measures to withstand the stress. I was told that in earlier days, the training process took a long time as the divers were subjected to gradually increasing pressure before they could venture deep into the sea. Now, there are special equipments which create sea conditions
artificially and the process of training is expedited. However, the principle of training remains the same, which is to create enough internal resistance or pressure to withstand the external pressure. If the diver does not do this, his
body could collapse. I have drawn some very interesting inferences from this fact.

The world we live in is also like a sea. The deeper we go into it the greater are the disturbing forces we have to face. If we are not trained or used to bear these pressures, we collapse and fail to achieve the goal of our existence. We forget the nature of the world and the fact that there is no use blaming external circumstances. We should, on the other hand, train ourselves to withstand the pressures of the world. For this, we have to develop enough internal strength so that the two neutralize each other and we are able to dive into this worldly sea like professional divers.

In real life it means that one’s development should be appropriately integrated. The bigger is the external growth the
greater is the need for internal growth too. That is why people with high positions, greater riches, greater fame, or power should be much more balanced than ordinary persons. If they are not so, the outer trappings may become the cause
of their disaster. A balanced growth of personality makes us good divers, plunging confidently into this worldly sea.
The world will then cease to be a source of danger or trouble for us and we can enjoy living in it, as well as performing  our duties well.

By Rakesh K Mittal IAS on 18-09-2017

The Mathematics of Life

I remember an incident in early 1979 when I was posted as Additional District Magistrate at Meerut. Once the Commissioner of
the Division visited the district and I accompanied him on his tour. The visit went off very well and he was quite happy with the work done. In the evening, we were returning in the same car on our way to Meerut. The Commissioner was a very good man and the success of the tour gave me some courage to speak frankly during the journey. At that time I was a young officer with only three years of service and was unaware of many realities of public administration. However, I was aware of the interference of vested interests in administration, as a result of which most officers were not able to work fearlessly.  So I asked him certain questions about this aspect, curious to know whether it was possible for an honest and sincere civil servant to work fearlessly despite outside pressure. The answer was, naturally, not that simple but he said that though it was definitely possible to work fearlessly it required a lot of wisdom and other virtues like ability and perceptiveness, for an honest and sincere civil servant to reach that stage. The matter ended there but the question occupied my mind for a long time.

As far as I can introspect, I have always tried to work sincerely and honestly. I was not troubled by people who had vested
interests, as most of the time I could get my way through them. Having completed over thirty five years of service and reaching the age when one should acquire enough wisdom to look at life in its true perspective, I feel that life is like mathematics and the problems of life are similar to the problems of mathematics. If the fundamentals of life are understood, then life’s problems can also be faced easily. In that case, life becomes a pleasure and its difficult problems only add to the pleasure of living. In brief, I would say that life is a wonderful opportunity for elevation and it should not be wasted on mundane affairs only, just as the purpose of mathematics is not merely to pass the examination but to understand and apply its principles in life.

The purpose of life should be understood in its true sense and it should be taken as an opportunity for achieving its goal.
With that clarity in the mind, the difficulties attached to life become very small and add to the pleasure of living. Such people score high in the mathematics of life without much difficulty. In worldly terms, there may be more prosperous persons around them but when it comes to the examination of life, it is they who secure the highest marks. And all this happens effortlessly. Let us first accept the simile of life with mathematics and feel the urge to understand its fundamentals. Once we have the urge, we will find the way and help will come from unexpected sources. No doubt, a sustained effort is required on our part, but once the process of understanding is over, life becomes scoring as well as enjoyable, like the subject of mathematics. We can then easily aim to score cent per cent marks, no matter how difficult the paper is.

By Rakesh K Mittal IAS on 06-09-2017

False Ceiling

I served as Managing Director of the UP Handloom Corporation during the year 1987-88. At that time, this job was considered to be important as well as glamorous. The turnover of the organisation was almost one hundred crores and it had a large number of showrooms all over the country.  It was quite a challenging and interesting job to run them efficiently. Every year, a good number of showrooms were renovated and it involved a huge expenditure. One of the expensive items in the renovation was the ‘False Ceiling’.  This term always amused me and I often wondered why such a beautiful piece of work was called ‘False’.

Once I inspected a showroom during its renovation when the work on the false ceiling was in progress. I could, therefore, see the inside of the false ceiling and I found it in bad shape. The wiring, pipe-fittings, ducting, etc., were done badly, probably in the knowledge that they would not be visible after the false ceiling was fitted. The quality of wiring was also poor, which I learned, was done deliberately in order to increase the frequency of repairs. While I took the necessary steps to correct the situation in the process, I also understood the significance of the word ‘false’.

Subsequently, I held many important posts which took me around the country and abroad frequently. I like meeting people and have had an interaction with a large cross-section with widely varying backgrounds. I can modestly claim that I have been able to understand human nature to a great extent and do not get upset easily when someone hurts me or behaves in an unexpected manner. I have found a large number of people who are apparently very well-behaved and project themselves as our
well-wishers, while the reality is different. Initially, such a situation used to upset me, but now it is no more so.
The incident about the false ceiling also helped me greatly to understand this aspect of human nature. Most people try to hide their faults with false behaviour and a disguised appearance. The reality is known only when we see them closely. Unfortunately, in today’s fast world, such opportunities are rare and whenever one tries to do so, the result is a clash or conflict. The only option, therefore, is to watch oneself closely and remove those faults, which we dislike in others.

There is a need to behave well and decently, a desirable quality of a good human being. Good behaviour becomes undesirable only when it is false, but sincerity and genuine goodness will reap rich dividends not only for oneself but for others too.
Unfortunately, most of us feel that it is more important to appear nice than to be really nice. It may be true for a short while but it is not so when life is seen in totality. Sooner or later, the false appearance and poor contents inside are exposed and there is no option left but to discard the object in totality. Someone has rightly said, ‘It is good to be important but it is more important to be good’. If we believe in this, there would be no need for any
‘False Ceiling.

By Rakesh K Mittal IAS on 31-08-2017

Being Like the Sea

Once I stayed in Madras for about a week with my family. We stayed in a guest house located on a beach near the sea, which added to the charm and pleasure of staying there. We had very pleasant morning walks along the mighty, surging sea, and its vastness touched our hearts. During our stay, I contemplated deeply on the nature of the sea and how it helps us to develop our own personality.

The first great quality of the sea is its vastness. It is so vast that the other shore of the sea is never seen by an ordinary person. We require magnitude in our personality too. Our vision should enlarge with our physical growth so that our personality becomes pleasant. An ordinary person may not think beyond himself, his family or a close social circle. Such vision needs further expansion and one should ultimately think of the whole creation. With such a vast vision, we start
loving the whole creation of God and there is no room for lower tendencies like hatred, anger and jealousy.

The second quality of the sea is its depth. The vastness of the sea would be meaningless without its depth for this quality enables the sea to gain stability. Similarly, for the true development of our personality vast mundane knowledge is not sufficient as it may not give depth to our personality. This depth is acquired by developing wisdom which gives stability to our personality.

The third quality to be learnt from the sea is ‘absorption’. It absorbs whatever is merged into it. All mighty rivers ultimately merge into the sea and it accepts all of them. Not only this, these rivers carry away with them all the filth created by human beings. The sea accepts that too. In turn it returns pure rain-water, retaining all the dirty water received by it. The sea water itself remains saltish though it is the ultimate source of all sweet water. This amounts to returning goodness in exchange for evil, a quality which should be part of the personality also, giving us mercy, kindness and compassion.

The last quality is 'stability' which can also be learnt from the sea. The sea level remains stable though universal forces cause some ups and downs in it periodically. That is why the Mean Sea Level is a standard benchmark and does not change with time.  Similarly, our mental variations as a result of interaction with the world should also be to the minimum and the effort should be to maintain it at the same level. This little variation of sea level only indicates that as long as we live in the world, absolute calmness may not be possible. That state can be achieved only when we firmly control our reactions and responses, both mentally and physically. However, while living in the world, stability can be maintained and the variation can be reduced to the minimum. This is the quality which brings serenity to our personality.

Thus four qualities of the sea, namely,vastness, depth, absorption and stability are to be adopted in our personality.
If we can do so, we may be as useful for the society as the sea is to the entire creation on the earth.

By Rakesh K Mittal IAS on 26-08-2017

Do It With Calm

When I was the Principal Secretary of an important public utility department, I had a secretary who was a very honest and sincere officer. We both joined the department almost simultaneously, he being only few days senior to me. The department was known for corruption and inefficiency, but the acuteness was a secret for us till we joined the department. My younger friend discovered it soon and was baffled.
Few days after I joined, he gave me a call one evening asking if he could meet me immediately. Incidentally, I was also relatively free and had no visitor or officials around. So I asked him to come immediately so that we could talk at ease. His body language revealed discomfort and he appeared to be in a state of confusion. Going by his sincerity and reputation, it was an unusual sight and I also became curious. Then he told me about a call which he had received a few hours earlier from a vendor who used to supply posters for a certain health programme. The caller sought instruction from him with regard to his commission, which fell due on account of the last campaign, held soon after he had joined. The amount was about three lakh rupees and the manner and place of payment had also been discussed. This was a situation he had never come across before and was confused about his response to such a strange call. He appeared to be quite angry at the vendor and wanted to take strong action against him. He sought my advice in this regard. Apart from the real problem which would be dealt with separately, my immediate concern was his agony. Here was a person who was honest and sincere but was suffering on account of the misdeeds of others. This was the last thing I wanted for him.
With a touch of humour, I then told him that there were only two options before him. Either he calmly accepted the money or calmly refused it. Instead, he was choosing a third option, that of refusing the vendor with anger. In this way, he was going to be a double sufferer. He got my point and felt somewhat relaxed. Then we discussed the matter from the administrative point of view. I advised him to understand the whole process and take necessary steps to stop the malpractice for all times to come. I also assured him my full cooperation.
He took my advice seriously and soon worked out a plan, which could address the problem at its root. In the very next campaign, there was a saving of about forty percent, much more than the cut that was being offered to him. Incidentally, the vendor also appreciated his initiative as this removed his dilemma too. This was made possible only because the whole chain of events was carried out with a calm frame of mind.

By Rakesh K Mittal IAS on 14-08-2017

Joy of Ignorance

Life is a cycle of joys and sorrows. Most of us are carried away by them and feel happy or unhappy accordingly. Our seers have contemplated a lot on this subject and have advised us to rise above both of them. They say that there is no absoluteness about them and both are fleeting moments of life. In other words, joy and sorrow are only external happenings and affect us only when we come to know of such happenings. If we are ignorant about them, they create no effect on us. Also, the same event creates a different feeling in different persons. It depends upon our relationship with the event at that point of time. If they were absolute, they would evoke same feelings in all of us even if we didn’t know about them. In addition, the impact of any event, good or bad, fades with time and we remain affected neither by a good event nor by a bad event in due course of time.
I am narrating a personal experience here to support the above. It was in May, 1983, when I was posted as District Magistrate in Basti. At that time, one of my close friends was posted as District Magistrate in Almora (at that time Uttarakhand was a part of UP). He invited us to visit Almora, which is one of the most beautiful hill stations in India. Those days, my father-in-law, who was in Delhi, was not well and there was a risk to his life. However, after being assured that there was no immediate danger, I decided to undertake the trip with my family. My friend had made good arrangements for our stay and travel within the district.
There were several places worth visiting including Ranikhet, known as the ‘Queen of Hills’. Overall, we enjoyed our stay and had a nice time. At that time, communication by telephone was not very advanced. Hill districts, in particular, had poor services and it was very difficult to get in touch even with Delhi. As a result, we had no information about the condition of my father-in-law. As we were returning to Basti from Almora, we stopped briefly at Lucknow, and I contacted Delhi from there. I learnt that my father-in-law had passed away two days back and by that time he had also been cremated. This came as a great shock to us and I, with my wife, travelled to Delhi the same evening and observed the mourning period there.
While all this was being done, the philosophical thoughts about our joy at Almora and sorrow after learning about the death kept occupying my mind. This contemplation made me believe that our joy is nothing but our ignorance and by the same logic, our sorrow is equally our ignorance. A wise person neither gets elated with joy nor gets depressed by sorrow. Since then, I have been trying to imbibe this wisdom.

By Rakesh K Mittal IAS on 07-08-2017

Positive Revenge

Akbar was the greatest Mughal emperor and ruled over India during the sixteenth century (1556-1605).  He is known for his liberal approach towards religion and for his competence in administration.  He had a team of nine competent ministers called Navaratnas (Nine Jewels), who looked after various departments of his administration. One of these Navaratnas was Raja Birbal, a very interesting personality. In addition to helping the emperor in administrative matters, he also entertained him by his intelligence and wit.  The emperor would often test the
intelligence of his minister by asking him some seemingly strange questions which were always answered cleverly.

Once Akbar drew a straight line on a piece of paper and asked Birbal to shorten it without erasing any part of it. Birbal contemplated for a minute and then drew a longer line by its side.  The emperor and everyone in the court were greatly pleased and amused to see how Birbal had tackled the problem. I have viewed this incident with philosophical interest and have drawn an important lesson from it. The approach adopted by Birbal indicates a very positive approach. In real life we come across many situations which have to be overcome without hurting anyone, including ourselves. Someone may have insulted us or hurt us, or some problem may be troubling us. A common man’s approach may be either to suffer silently or to react destructively. This helps no one, least of all the person himself. When we think of destroying someone, we create negative impulses and in the process, harm ourselves.

The same situation can be dealt with in just the opposite manner. Instead of spending our energy in destruction, we may utilize it in construction. By adopting this approach, we raise ourselves above the person or the situation which has been troubling us. This automatically dwarfs them and in the process makes us bigger. From a worldly point of view, this may be called revenge on the person or the situation which troubled us.

Instances abound of greatness being the result when a person or situation has hurt someone. Gandhiji had to face humiliation from time to time and that made him more determined to secure Independence. Vivekananda passed through a phase of stark poverty and that made him so rich spiritually that he spread the message all over the world, calling upon people to eradicate poverty in order to be truly religious. Jamshedji Tata found no decent place in Mumbai to stay in when he decided to build the Taj Mahal Hotel there. Raja Ram Mohan Roy took a vow to fight against the ‘Sati’ system when he saw his sister-in-law being forced to burn in the funeral pyre of her husband.  After facing humiliation and destruction in the Second World War, the Japanese constructed a new nation with
greater determination and surpassed even the nations which caused them such humiliation and destruction. All these examples show that people did not surrender or act in a violent manner when a person or situation upset them. They overcome them constructively and in the process raised themselves above the person and the situation.

By Rakesh K Mittal IAS on 29-07-2017

Refuse to Dislike

Once I went on an official tour to Assam and Meghalaya. In Shillong my colleague and I had some spare time and so we decided to drive up to Cherrapunji. The drive was very beautiful and we came across some rare natural beauty on the way. We ate our packed lunch on the way, sitting on a parapet wall on the roadside. The sight of the hillock on the opposite side was superb. So much so that despite being a steel man, I started thinking how beautiful the earth would have been without any steel. Anyway it was a momentary thought and after sometime we drove further. At Cherrapunji we sat in a small restaurant, looking at the surroundings and tasting some local sweets. There we met a person who must have been in his fifties.

By his looks and expression, he appeared to be an educated man hailing from North India. Perhaps he was the owner of or a frequent visitor to the restaurant. When asked he told us that he was from Punjab. One of our colleagues asked him how he had decided to settle down in Cherrapunji and how he liked the place. He did not like being asked all these questions saying these were personal matters and required a long time to explain. However, he told that he had retired from the BSF and most of his family members were settled in Canada. Since he did not like going there, he decided to stay back at Cherrapunji. He also said that he did not dislike anything except dishonesty and fraud. Though he did not hold a very good opinion about the locals, on the whole he liked the place. This attitude of the man impressed me a lot. Obviously the matter was not so simple. He must have had deep wounds within him. Yet he had adopted a positive approach to life by refusing to dislike his environment. While driving back to Shillong we talked about him and we all appreciated his attitude.

The whole thing set me thinking that there was a great lesson to be learnt from him. I, myself, believe in the same approach to life. When I decided to come to Calcutta, many friends and well-wishers asked me whether I liked the place. My answer had always been that I had never thought of disliking the place. And believe me I meant it too. I do not mean to say that there is nothing to dislike in Calcutta. In fact, there is plenty but what is the point in dwelling upon them? One can always identify so many likable things in any given situation and need not pay attention to others. If one can adopt this approach to life, life becomes much more beautiful. To be fair in my assessment of the person we met at Cherrapunji, I would say that though he was apparently happy, there appeared to be some bitterness within him. That is why he did not like being asked about his personal life. This dislike was against his claim that he did not dislike anything. He also said that he did not like dishonesty and fraud. While he was correct from a worldly point of view, going a little deeper would reveal that even this dislike is negative. While things like dishonesty, fraud, ugliness, etc., are to be opposed, there is no point in disliking them. The thought of disliking adversely affects us and creates disharmony.

This way we become the victim for no fault of ours. It is like saying, ‘hate the sin, not the sinner.’ If we follow this advice, peace will never be lost. There is one more way of looking at things. The whole creation of God consists of opposites. In fact, without opposites, there will be no existence. For example, we can talk of the good only so long the bad also exists. Similarly, there is no meaning of pleasure without pain. This logic can also be extended to all other things. Beauty has to co-exist with ugliness. Piousness is to coexist with wickedness. Honesty is to co-exist with dishonesty, so on and so forth. If we accept this fact of life, we have no reason to dislike anything. All things have to be accepted as they are. The only freedom we have is to play our own role in the best possible way in given circumstances. Whatever way we approach, there is no point in our disliking a situation and by refusing to dislike it we can turn every situation into something we like.

By Rakesh K Mittal IAS on 17-07-2017

When You Keep Your Word

I often recall a small event of 1983 when I was posted as Collector of a district, where in an old Sanskrit college a function was being organised. The management of the institution had approached me before the function to be the Chief Guest. The institution was located at a distance from the district headquarters and I was not sure of being able to spare sufficient time for the programme which meant a long journey too. Moreover, I did not consider myself to be the appropriate Chief Guest for such an institution. However, on insistence from the management, I had agreed.

Soon the day of the function arrived. It was in the afternoon and I had some very important papers to see at the headquarters. I was in two minds about whether to go for the programme or not, knowing that a collector can always excuse himself on some pretext or the other. That temptation came to my mind also. But in the meanwhile, one member of the management had come to my office to accompany me to the institution, so I reluctantly went with him. In my mind I was not sure whether the time spent on the function would be worthwhile or not. At that time I had become a life member of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and its fortnightly journal used to reach me regularly. Usually, I read it while travelling, and on that day since the latest issue was with me, I went through the Bhavan’s journal. Apart from the text, this journal contains some sayings and thoughts from various sources written prominently in spare spaces. These thoughts are normally very inspiring. That day, soon after we started, I came across a thought which was like this: ‘Fortunate are those who keep their promise, be it good or sinful’. This single sentence removed all my hesitation and I became enthusiastic about the programme which was organized very well. We all felt very happy about it.

This incident made me contemplate. All of us face situations when we find it difficult to keep our word or promise. Those who are sensitive face a conflict in the mind, particularly when sufficient reasons do not exist for not keeping one’s word or promise. Quite often even such persons give untrue reasons for not keeping them, doing this mainly to satisfy themselves rather than others. Gradually, this becomes a habit; no wonder today we find many responsible persons whose word or promises have no meaning and who keep others in uncertainty even without sufficient justification. My contemplation in this regard has led me to the conclusion that for a sincere and truthful person, situations of such conflict hardly arise. Once we are firm in our resolve that we shall always keep our word or promise, events occur in such a manner that they are kept effortlessly. After the above-mentioned incident, I made it almost a sadhana to keep my word unless a situation arose when not keeping them became my duty. In that case, there has been no feeling of guilt or uneasiness. Gradually, a stage comes when we speak only those words which we are able to abide by effortlessly. Nature also creates circumstances accordingly. Personally, I have experienced many situations where I was surprised by the turn of events which made it possible to honour a commitment. The same situation then extends to our thoughts and we entertain only those thoughts which are actually converted into action.

I am not giving any specific events here because the intention is only to make a point. Here it is clarified that the point made is not as simple as it appears. The whole process requires a great deal of wisdom and maturity. To reach a stage when one’s words or thoughts are taken care of by nature, one has to undergo constant refinement and ripening. The first step is that words should be spoken after a great deal of thinking, and casual speaking should come to a stop. ‘Think before you speak and not vice versa’ has to be always kept in mind. It is better to keep silent if we are not sure of ourselves. One can always choose suitable words to deal with a particular situation in order to avoid further embarrassment.

Once we start doing so, our words have a weight of meaning and others take us seriously. The process starts from here. The second important step is that a promise or thought of action should arise as a result of duty, keeping in view the means available to us at a particular point of time. At times duty demands certain action on our part but means may not permit it. In such a situation, promises should be given accordingly. Thirdly, while giving promises one should be free from anger, envy, hatred or sentiments. Words spoken in such a state of mind normally create a difficult situation and disturb one’s peace of mind in the long run. Lastly, we must mean what we say and apply ourselves fully to keep our word. Nature helps us primarily through ourselves, and when we apply ourselves sincerely, conditions are so created that others also help. Once the above requirements are met, the process becomes natural and we are effortlessly able to keep our word. In fact, our will in that case becomes His will and we consider ourselves only the instruments. Even an apparently sinful act then becomes a part of our sadhana and leads to perfection.

By Rakesh K Mittal IAS on 09-07-2017

The Richness of Poverty

Over the past few years, television has made tremendous progress in our country.  Not only has the number of programmes increased manifold, but the quality too has improved greatly. Some of the programmes are really good and have given useful messages to the viewers. Two serials from which I drew important messages are Nukkad and Junoon, messages which I would like to share. The serial Nukkad was on the life in a street corner of a small town.  All the characters of the serial were persons who could barely make their living.  Some were not even employed and depended on the help of their colleagues. Some had developed the habit of drinking due to frustration. They were, at times, also exploited by vested interests.  Overall, they were miserable people and had no apparent joy in their lives.On the other hand, junoon was a story of very rich people who had accumulated their lakhs of Rupees by dubious means. Many of them were engaged in underworld activities and had intense rivalries with each other.  Outwardly they displayed affluence and moved around in the upper class of society.  But inwardly, they too were frustrated, and often resorted to drinking as a result thereof.When we look at these two groups of people, some interesting observations can be made.  In Nukkad the group as a whole appears quite cheerful and contented.  They enjoy every moment of life despite all the problems they face. They try to help each other beyond their means. They happily accept the shortcomings of each other and genuinely try to help. There is no tension visible on their faces. Overall, the group, though beset by problems, is quite happy and enjoys life to the extent possible under the circumstances. The opposite is the case in the serial junoon.  In this group, the characters are so busy amassing wealth that they have no time to enjoy life.  The unfair, illegal means of making a fortune further adds to their worries.  Not only this, they are always fearful of the police or of a rival or of their own men. This makes their lives very tense, rendering it totally joyless.  Almost all of them have great tension in their family lives too. This made me think about the very definition of richness or poverty.  I feel these are not at all absolute terms but simply the states of mind.  I find it difficult to say which of the two groups is richer. If one is richer outwardly, it is very poor inwardly and vice versa. The first group, despite being poor, is happy, while the second group is miserable despite all the riches. And if we go by the ultimate aim of living, which is happiness, it is the first group which achieves the objective and not the latter. For true happiness there has to be a balance between the outer and the inner growth.  But I feel that bliss, even if out of ignorance, is better than misery of any kind.  From this point of view, the state of poverty has more richness.

By Rakesh K Mittal IAS on 24-06-2017