Thursday, February 15, 2007


A while ago the bank officer put in papa's name as my middle-name, in spite of my efforts to convince him otherwise. It's tradition hereabouts. In some parts of India, a middle name is mandatory. The middle name may be the village of origin of the family, the name of the father/spouse. The thing is, a middle name is not necessary now that a family-name/surname is.

Not too far in the past, there was a time when travelling for a day meant a distance of perhaps 100kilometers at the most. For a long period of time travel by horse-back, cart, and buggy were perhaps the quickest means of travel. In such a time, living in relatively small communities most people would know each other by name. A surname was not necessary. Indeed, in some parts of India it was only after the East India Company, and later HMG were well established that it was made mandatory for a person to have a surname. Hence some persons selected a surname descriptive of their occupation, their city of origin, and so on.

As soon as we started to explore our surroundings, and to travel we discovered we were not alone. One name alone was often enough to identify us. A name, and a surname OTOH was not duplicated quite as frequently. Thus any community which used a name/surname to identify a person was probably governed more ... pragmatically than it's contemporaries. Governance aims at the community, but deals with individuals. Anthropologically, we may even assume that a community which used surnames was more advanced in terms of economy, and probably technology.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Practical Programming II - Community Development

Traditionally, the life of a Hindu is divided into several phases. These are, in order

Brahmacharya is the phase from infancy to childhood. During this period the youngling learns how to live in a community, is educated and probably apprenticed into trade.

The second phase, Grihastacharya, sees the child, now an adult, settle down professionally and in the community. He makes his contribution to the economy, and science of the community. In this phase of life, he also attends to the well-being & education of his children, mentoring them for their roles in the future. The children are now in the Brahmacharya phase. This phase typically closes after the children are themselves ready to move into the Grihast/Householder phase.

Vanprastha is a combination of two words - Vana[= Forest] + Prasthan[=move ]. The word means Move to the Forest. Traditionally, this means that the the Grihast, having fulfilled his active obligation to keep the community alive, and prosperous distance themselves to a remote location, purportedly to meditate. The phase is typically spoken of as meaning Retirement & Exile.

The final phase, Sanyaas, is that of oneness with the elements. I confess the phase is beyond my understanding.

Seen objectively, the 4 phases represent an orderly procession through life; at all times there is a generation in training for the next phase. The most obvious example is the Brahmacharya-Grihastacharya phase where the parents are in the Grihast phase and the children in the Brahmacharya phase.

The rules were obviously defined for the benefit of the community. Therefore to remove the invidual at what may be the peak of their professional life, when they may most contribute to the community seems counter-intuitive. Vanprastha however, is not only about retiring into seclusion. The description, passed down through generations, speaks not about seclusion, but about moving to distant places, and meditating. Seclusion although it may be considered as a passable synonym for moving to a remote place isn't quite the same. This, I believe, is the Key. Meditate means to think/dwell upon in the mind. Change the presently accepted definition from 'go to secluded places' to 'relocate to places remote from the present location' and the picture changes quite a bit. A person is irreplacable, the role fulfilled by a person is not. A person may fulfil a role even in places other than his own. This seems sensible, but it still raises the question about _why_ a person must leave from the place where his roots lie.

To relocate to a remote place is not the same as being alone. A remote place may still be a community but perhaps less evolved, for instance- a tribe. Even today, atleast 5000 years down the line from when the Vedas were composed lifestyle in urban centres is very different from that in hamlets, and villages. In a form of existence where there is little mechanization, the first person to move to a place proves that it is habitable, the others who appear fill requirements to form a community. When a person moves to a remote place, irrelevant of whether a community is already present his lifetime of experience acts as a solid bulwark. If a community/tribe is already in the vicinity, both the newcomer and the community stand to gain from the relationship. The former from the existence of the community and all that a community represents [companionship & help]. The latter from the experience which the newcomer brings with him - knowledge, and technology. Over time, a remote tribe may become a community centre if there are enough persons with experience in the vicinity. It is then on the way to become an urban centre.

The press of tradition, community, and peers can only make a person do so much. Every one of us has a desire to create something memorable. An urban community with all the ready resources it provides, is also an extremely crowded place.. one where time and creative thought are difficult to come by. Vanprastha was the research labs, and Community Development Center of the ancients, not Retirement & Exile.