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Gurcharan Das’s Journey to a More Compassionate Self​

What does it mean to understand ourselves and become more compassionate? In this excerpt from Another Sort of Freedom by Gurcharan Das, we explore these deep questions. Let’s think about who we are, how our identity changes, and how we can live with more kindness and empathy beyond the confines of egotism.

Another Sort of Freedom
Another Sort of Freedom || Gurucharan Das

***

‘When God is gone, how do you give meaning to your life?’ my mother had once asked. I had failed to give her a satisfactory answer. But I had an inkling that meaning emerges from pursuing something bigger than yourself. I had experienced it as a spirit of lightness. It usually happened when I was deeply absorbed in my writing. I wasn’t even there – the fingers just kept hitting the keys of my laptop and words kept appearing on the screen. Tendulkar had described the same feeling when he was approaching his last double century. He said the cricket ball had become so big that the bat just had to hit the ball. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist, calls it ‘flow’. The problem with this feeling is that it is temporary. The big question was: could I extend it to the rest of the day, to the rest of my life? Could self-forgetting become an enduring attitude of living lightly?

 

Such questions emerged early in my life when I first encountered David Hume’s Treatise on Human Nature at Harvard. I became aware of the stream of thoughts in my head. A decade later, the voices first appeared involuntarily in my early thirties. These mental experiments continued over the years, and they have convinced me that I could only be sure of the existence of momentary thoughts, not who was having them. Like Hume, I looked for an author but I could not find him. Was I then merely a fictional composite of my momentary selves? If so, how was I able to negotiate from one thought to the next one? What provided continuity between my individual moments, I concluded, were my memories, my desires, and my beliefs. But these mental entities also depended on the temporary roles I was playing, the masks I was wearing. They were, thus, not reliable sources of my permanent existence.

 

All this led to growing scepticism about my permanent identity. I concluded that my I-ness was a fraud of sorts, a sort of fictional narrator that held the story of my life together. I have been much influenced by Donald J, and by Nagarjuna’s Buddhist idea of anatta, ‘no-self’. When the ‘I’ got busted, I was hugely unnerved. I could not live without a concept of personhood. But I still needed to get on with my life. Of all the emotions I possessed, the most overwhelming was a deep concern for my own survival. I still needed an author, an object of my self-concern. If it didn’t exist, how would I be responsible for my actions? Not just in a courtroom but in my conscience. For all practical purposes, I needed a stable concept of a person.

 

As time went by, I gradually became resigned to the absence of a permanent ‘I’ and I underwent a subtle change. I began to view my identity as a useful fiction, a practical necessity, a minimal self. I became a little more detached, seeing through the many roles I was playing in my daily life. My day to day life, however, did not change. I did not suddenly become selfless or philanthropic. Self-concern still defined my attitude towards myself. But I felt less and less at the centre of the universe – I was just one amongst others. My minimal self, in other words, was able to extend the same concern a little more easily to others. As a result, I began to feel a continuum or sameness with other selves. I did not hanker constantly after premium treatment for myself.

 

It was this awakening that raised a hope. If my minimal self could more easily identify with the selves of others, could I become more empathetic, a more compassionate person? Could I overcome some of the worst, egotistical defects in my character, and liberate myself from bondages that had nagged me all my life? I had lived my life in the constant belief that my interests trumped everyone else’s. And my behaviour had been consistently egocentric. There were exceptions from time to time — a few early moments of awakening! The obvious one being the pencil box incident in kindergarten. When Ayan was about to be wrongly punished for stealing the rich kid’s pencil box, he had cried out, appealed to me. I remained silent. My feeling of shame was followed by profound concern for Ayan, which has never left me. A few months later, I had experienced this in a different way during the Partition violence. On this occasion, I felt a wave of empathy for the handsome Muslim policeman on the railway platform just as he was stabbed to death by two Sikh boys. I bumped first into Ayan and then into the Partition, both without warning, and they pulled me out of my egocentric self, at least for a while.

***

Get your copy of Another Sort of Freedom by Gurcharan Das wherever books are sold.

15 Books Celebrating India’s Nation-Making Icons!

Celebrate this Independence Day with a diverse and thought-provoking collection of books about India that will lift up your patriotic spirits. From riveting biographies of influential leaders to insightful accounts of India’s formative years, these books offer a window into our great nation and the visionaries who shaped its destiny.

Take a look!

Madam President The Biography of Draupadi Murmu
Madam President The Biography of Draupadi Murmu

Madam President is the first-ever comprehensive and authentic biography of Droupadi Murmu, the fifteenth President of India, by senior journalist Sandeep Sahu. Murmu’s long and eventful political journey is a story of true perseverance and inspiration. Having battled early years of struggle in securing quality education, being struck by a series of personal tragedies such as the loss of her husband and two sons in quick succession,
and suffering electoral victories and losses, Murmu has risen through her circumstances with grace, fortitude and resilience that make her the well-revered leader she is today.

 

1947-57 India Birth of a Republic
1947-57 India Birth of a Republic || Chandrachur Ghose

The first decade after India’s independence, 1947-1957, was probably the most crucial in the nation’s history. Opening a window to this period, this book weaves a story out of the complex ideas and events that have largely remained beneath the surface of public discourse. The transfer of power, the framing of the Constitution and the formation of the governance machinery; the clash of ideas and ideologies among parties and personalities; the beginning of the disintegration of the Congress and the consolidation of political forces in the opposition; Nehru’s grappling with existential problems at home and his quest for global peace; the interplay between democratic ideals and ruthless power play-all these factors impinged on each other and shaped the new republic in its formative decade.

 

Scars of 1947
Scars of 1947 || Rajeev Shukla

From the stories of figures like Manmohan Singh and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, to Gauri Khan’s grandmother and Avtar Narain Gujral, Scars of 1947 is a moving and nostalgic collection of a journey back in time, of an unforgettable period that left two nations scarred forever.

 

Court on Trial
Court on Trial || Aparna Chandra, Sital Kalantry, William H.J. Hubbard

The Indian Supreme Court was established nearly seventy-five years ago as a core part of India’s constitutional project. Does the Court live up to the ideals of justice imagined by the framers of the Indian Constitution? Critics of the Supreme Court point out that it takes too long to adjudicate cases, a select group of senior advocates exercise disproportionate influence on the outcome of cases, the Chief Justice of India strategically assigns cases with an eye to outcome, and the self-appointments process-known as the collegium-is just another ‘old boy’s network’. Building on nearly a decade of original empirical research, Court on Trail examines these and other controversies plaguing the Supreme Court today. The authors provide an overview of the Supreme Court and its processes which are often shrouded in mystery, and present data-driven suggestions for improving the effectiveness and integrity of the Court.

 

Middle of Diamond India
Middle of Diamond India || Shashank Mani

Middle of Diamond India proposes a revolutionary idea – that India has long ignored its largest and most talented segment, citizens in the Tier 2 and Tier 3 districts, its Middle.

The book reveals the hidden stories of those in its Middle who have been ignored owing to their location and language. By examining India’s revolutionary past, its culture, its citizens, its innovators, and its spirit, the book illuminates this Diamond shaped India.

 

Nehru and the spirit of India
Nehru and the spirit of India || Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee

As a second-generation refugee, Bhattacharjee argues for a ‘minoritarian’ approach to national politics. Breaking ideological and disciplinary protocols, he compels us to learn from the insights of poets and thinkers. Lucidly written, Nehru and the Spirit of India book offers an original perspective on Nehru and Indian history.

 

The discovery of India
The discovery of India || Jawaharlal Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru wrote the book ‘The Discovery of India’, during his imprisonment at Ahmednagar fort for participating in the Quit India Movement (1942 – 1946). The book was written during Nehru’s four years of confinement to solitude in prison and is his way of paying an homage to his beloved country and its rich culture.

 

Bhagat Singh
Bhagat Singh || Satvinder S. Juss

A timely antidote, Bhagat Singh, A life in Revolution meticulously researched biography is an expansive foray into the life of Bhagat Singh. The volume deliberates upon his family from before when he was born, examining along the way the role that various episodes, policies and people played in shaping the identity of a legendary revolutionary, while also delving into his opinions on important questions of the time. It shines a bright light on the oft-ignored personal influences that made Singh who he was, along with the issue of his contested identity in today’s politics. This is the definitive Bhagat Singh biography of our times.

 

Bravehearts of Bharat
Bravehearts of Bharat || Vikram Sampath

Narrating the tales of valour and success that India, as a nation and civilization, has borne witness to in its long and tumultuous past, Bravehearts of Bharat opens a window to the stories of select men and women who valiantly fought against invaders for their rights, faith and freedom.

 

India Rising
India Rising || R. Chidambaram, Suresh Gangotra

Ruminating about his interactions with the scientific community and the political leadership, Dr Chidambaram describes key events in India’s journey to self-reliance in nuclear energy. India Rising is not only a memoir of one of India’s eminent scientists, but also a fascinating account of India’s ascendance in the world of science and technology.

 

Bose
Bose || Chandrachur Ghose

There are not many Indian heroes whose lives have been as dramatic and adventurous as that of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. That, however, is an assessment of his life based on what is widely known about him. These often revolve around his resignation from the Indian Civil Service, joining the freedom movement, to be exiled twice for over seven years, throwing a challenge to the Gandhian leadership in the Congress, taking up an extremist position against the British Raj, evading the famed intelligence network to travel to Europe and then to Southeast Asia, forming two Governments and raising two armies and then disappearing into the unknown. All this in a span of just two decades.

 

Nehru & Bose
Nehru & Bose || Rudrangshu Mukherjee

Had relations between the two great nationalist leaders soured to the extent that Bose had begun to view Nehru as his enemy? But then, why did he name one of the regiments of the Indian National Army after Jawaharlal? And what prompted Nehru to weep when he heard of Bose’s untimely death in 1945, and to recount soon after, ‘I used to treat him as my younger brother’? Rudrangshu Mukherjee’s Nehru & Bise traces the contours of a friendship that did not quite blossom as political ideologies diverged, and delineates the shadow that fell between them-for, Gandhi saw Nehru as his chosen heir and Bose as a prodigal son.

 

Missing in Action
Missing in Action || Pranay Kotasthane, Raghu S Jaitley

Questions are rarely asked of the Indian State-the institution that makes rules, bends them and punishes others for breaking the laws it creates. The privileged can afford not to think about the State because we have given up on it. The not-so-privileged have resigned themselves to a State that provides short-term benefits. Either way, we seldom pause to reflect on why the Indian State works the way it does.

Missing in Action aims to change such perceptions through sketches from everyday experiences to illustrate India’s tryst with public policymaking. It acquaints the reader with some fundamental concepts of the public policy discipline. It explains the logic (or the lack of it!) of the Indian State’s actions, shortcomings, constraints, and workings.

 

Madam Sir
Madam Sir || Manjari Jaruhar

After an unexpected turn of events upended the homemaker role her parents had planned for her, Manjari Jaruhar overcame extraordinary odds to become the first woman from Bihar to join the country’s elite police cadre.
A masterclass in courage, resilience and leadership by a woman who broke new ground and thrived despite being viewed with disbelief and derision by her colleagues, Madam Sir is a stirring account of a sheltered girl’s rise to the top echelons of the Indian Police Service.

 

The people of India
The people of India || Ravinder Kaur, Nayanika Mathur

In The People of India, some of the most respected scholars of South Asia come together to write about a person or a concept that holds particular sway in the politics of contemporary India. In doing so, they collectively open up an original understanding of what the politics at the heart of New India are-and how best we might come to analyse them.

From Concept to Reality: The Birth of the Constitution of India

The Birth of the Constitution of India was a momentous journey, led by the visionary Dr. B.R Ambedkar and the Constituent Assembly of India. In the book, 1947-57, India: the Birth of a Republic, author Chandrachur Ghose offers a glimpse into the various criticisms and debates that ensued and how Dr. Ambedkar eloquently defended the federal structure of the constitution as it was adopted on 26th November 1949 and come into force on 26th January 1950, bestowing upon the people of India the responsibility of ensuring its success and upholding its democratic principles in the years to come.

Read this insightful exclusive excerpt to learn more.

1947-57 India Birth of a Republic
1947-57, India: Birth of a Republic || Chandrachur Ghose

***

Ambedkar further elucidated the relation between the Centre and the states as a number of criticisms had been hurled at the draft constitution, claiming that the powers of the states had been reduced. Answering the criticism that the Centre had been given the power to override the states, Ambedkar clarified that although the ‘charge must be admitted’, ‘these overriding powers do not form the normal feature of the Constitution. Their use and operation are expressly confined to emergencies only.’

 

Ambedkar told the Assembly:
As to the relation between the Centre and the States, it is necessary to bear in mind the fundamental principle on which it rests. The basic principle of Federalism is that the Legislative and Executive authority is partitioned between the Centre and the States not by any law to be made by the Centre but by the Constitution itself. This is what Constitution does. The States under our Constitution are in no way dependent upon the Centre for their legislative or executive authority. The Centre and the States are co-equal in this matter. It is difficult to see how such a Constitution can be called centralism. It may be that the Constitution assigns to the Centre too large field for the operation of its legislative and executive authority than is to be found in any other Federal Constitution. It may be that the residuary powers are given to the Centre and not to the States. But these features do not form the essence of federalism. The chief mark of federalism as I said lies in the partition of the legislative and executive authority between the Centre and the Units by the Constitution. This is the principle embodied in our Constitution. There can be no mistake about it. It is, therefore, wrong to say that the States have been placed under the Centre. Centre cannot by its own will alter the boundary of that partition. Nor can the judiciary.

 

On 25 November 1949, closing the debate on the adoption of the Constitution, Ambedkar made some incisive comments defending the work done by the Drafting Committee and the Constituent Assembly, and putting the onus of working the Constitution on the people of the country:

I feel, however good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot. However bad a Constitution may be, it may turn out to be good if those who are called to work it, happen to be a good lot. The working of a Constitution does not depend wholly upon the nature of the Constitution. The Constitution can provide only the organs of State such as the Legislature, the executive and the Judiciary. The factors on which the working of those organs of the State depend are the people and the political parties they will set up as their instruments to carry out their wishes and their politics. Who can say how the people of India and their parties will behave? Will they uphold constitutional methods of achieving their purposes or will they prefer revolutionary methods of achieving them?

 

He had argued equally strongly while introducing the Draft Constitution in November 1948:

No Constitution is perfect and the Drafting Committee itself is suggesting certain amendments to improve the Draft Constitution. But the debates in the Provincial Assemblies give me courage to say that the Constitution as settled by the Drafting Committee is good enough to make in this country a start with. I feel that it is workable, it is flexible and it is strong enough to hold the country together both in peace time and in war time. Indeed, if I may say so, if things go wrong under the new Constitution, the reason will not be that we had a bad Constitution. What we will have to say is, that Man was vile.

 

Rajendra Prasad referred to widespread public interest regarding the framing of the Constitution in his closing statement. He pointed out, ‘53,000 visitors were admitted to the visitors’ gallery during the period when the Constitution has been under consideration.’
The Constitution of India was finally adopted on 26 November 1949 and came into force on 26 January 1950.

***

Get a copy of 1947-1957, India: The Birth of a Republic by Chandrachur Ghose wherever books are sold.

What was it like to be a child during India’s freedom struggle?

From our school history textbooks to historical fiction and non-fiction, we have been exposed to the history of our country’s past quite often. But whether we were reading factual accounts of the people who fought for our country’s independence, or it was authors reimagining what it might have been to be alive in that reality, the one thing common amongst all these books was adult protagonists.

Nobody really thought what it would be like to be a child during the time when our country was on the brink of its freedom!  

Until Lubaina Bandukwala and Aditi Krishnakumar came up with similar ideas and wrote two beautiful books talking about exactly that!  

 

The Chowpatty Cooking Club by Lubaina Bandukwala
The Chowpatty Cooking Club || Lubaina Bandukwala

 

The Chowpatty Cooking Club 

Lubaina Bandukwala

 

With Mahatma Gandhi’s call to the British to Quit India, the city has become a hotbed of revolutionary activity-student protests, secret magazines and even an underground People’s Radio which broadcasts news that the British want concealed.Sakina and her friends Zenobia and Mehul desperately want to be part of this struggle for freedom. But there is little that they are permitted to do. But at least, they are trying to do something useful, while their mothers are only running a cooking club …

 

 

 

 

That Year at Manikoil 

Aditi Krishnakumar

 

While World War II rages in Europe and the Japanese army draws closer to India, Raji and her sisters are sent off with their mother to stay in Manikoil, her mother’s family village. But with her brother now a soldier in the British Indian Army and refugees fleeing from Malaya, Burma and other eastern countries back to India, Manikoil is no longer the peaceful haven it once was.  And while there is hope of Independence in the air, Raji is uncertain whether it will come to pass-and what it will truly mean for her and her family.

 

Pick up one of these books today and let your child step back into British India!

7 Quotes by Famous Authors That Will Make You Cherish Freedom

What do we understand by the term ‘freedom’? The liberty to make our choices, the liberty to lead the life we want, the liberty to speak the language we choose. But does freedom mean the same thing to everyone?
Here are 7 quotes by famous writers with different meanings to ‘freedom’.
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Tell us which idea of freedom do you agree with!

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