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Of Marauders and Mahatmas

-- By Dr Ramesh N. Rao

Bangalore is on the cutting edge of the digital age and on the bleeding edge of the stone age. Gleaming glass, chrome and concrete towers housing the newest of software corporations dot the landscape but you have no easy way of reaching them. The roads that lead to these chrome and glass towers are pot-holed, dug up, narrow and choked with traffic reflecting the "Boom Town" nature of this "Garden City". Sidewalks are paved with misshapen stones quarried from the nearby hills leaving the hills as eye-sores and the pavements as foot-sores if not death traps. Roads are divided similarly with chunks of these crude granite blocks. There are no earth-moving and road-laying machinery in sight. All you see are poor, tired men and women hammering away at granite blocks that have been dumped off trucks dangerously onto roads and sidewalks. This is the city that S. M. Krishna, the Chief Minister of Karnataka, claims he will make into another Singapore! Bah and nonsense!

Picture the young dot.com software engineer peering into her computer monitor and wondering how she will spend her 50, 000 to 100, 000 rupee a month salary and the hapless woman, just outside, with her naked little child playing in the dust hammering away at a piece of stone to make "jalli" for the road that is going to one day, may be, make it easy for the computer geek to drive her new Mitsubishi Lancer to work. Yes, this is Bangalore today. Oh, did I mention the overflowing garbage bins, the open sewers, the autorickshaws that sputter noisily spewing deadly smoke, city buses that are crammed full and careening into bicycle and scooter riders? Bangalore has the "distinction" of having the largest number of two-wheelers and the number of tragic accidents involving these vehicles are too many to count. Two weeks ago there was the fifth of a kind of accident: a young woman's dupatta got caught in the wheel of the motorbike she was riding pillion on and she got strangulated and thrown off the bike and died. She happened to be riding with her father to college. She was a senior medical student.

Karnataka's chief ministers have made grandiose plans for the city. There have been so many of these plans that they could fill the entire city library in Cubbon Park. Not one of those plans have been implemented effectively, or completely. Mr. Krishna is the latest dreamer. He seems to be a good man and he seems to mean what he says, unlike his predecessors J.H. Patel, Deve Gowda, or Bangarappa. But twenty years or more of misrule, corruption and sloth are difficult to overcome and it is very difficult to see a modern and clean Bangalore emerge in the next decade.

Bangalore is still the software capital of India. It is home to Infosys, that marvel of a company that is spearheaded by Narayana Murthy. Many know about this giver. Many know about his wife, Sudha Murthy who carts truck loads of books and equipment every month to different corners of the country and distributes them to schools in small villages and towns. Sudha Murthy and her husband live on Rs 8, 000/- a month! Yes, eight thousand rupees. That is as much my retired engineer father and mother live on. The Murthys live in a three-room house, do without a servant maid and say that they are creating wealth so that they can distribute it and share it. There are very few such Mahatmas in the country. Most Bangaloreans are scurrying around to buy another house, yet another site and eyeing the latest Suzuki Baleno or the Honda City or whatever car they think they "should" have. I saw fancy houses paved with the best granite available in the state and went into jewelry shops where people literally "sat" in queues to buy gold and diamonds. People seemed to have heard of the Murthys but didn't seem to care much for their ideals and their practice. Let me take that back.

I went to Mysore and met Drs. Ravi Shankar and Uma Ravishankar. A young couple, eye surgeons, who work six days a week and who devote three of those days working free for the poor. They manage and run the Usha Kiran Eye Hospital and Usha Kiran Charitable Trust and every Saturday they drive more than a hundred miles to Sravanabelagola to provide free eye care and do eye surgery at the Poonamchand Sethi Charitable Eye Hospital. Last year alone the doctor couple conducted over sixty outreach camps and treated over 12, 000 patients. Recognizing the service to the community, the Karnataka Government has allotted an acre of land for these doctors to build an eye hospital. You could donate to building that hospital. That's what I thought of telling my two good friends, a banker couple, whom I have known for more than twenty years. The couple earn more than fifty thousand rupees a month and are the proud owners of more than two thousand Infosys shares. They are the new "karod-pathis" abounding in Bangalore/Mysore. "Should we buy that apartment costing seventy-five lakh rupees or the cheaper one at forty lakhs?" one of them was fretting. "Buy that forty lakh rupee apartment, if you really need to" (They have a big house in Mysore anyway) "and give thirty five lakhs to the good doctors" I thought of telling them. But such advice cannot be easily given and is not easily taken. So, I kept quiet.

Or they could give thirty five lakh rupees to the Prabodhini Gurukula project, started in 1995, at Hariharapura, a small village in the Chikkamagalur district in Karnataka. The Gurukula aims at educating 150 children from different socio-economic strata, combining ancient Indian traditional education (dance, Sanskrit, yoga, etc) with modern education. The Gurukula is asking for one lakh rupees per child, which deposited in a bank, would generate ten thousand rupees a year, enough to clothe, feed and educate that child. Thirty five lakh rupees could educate thirty five children a year, over and over and over. "Acquire some good karma and even get a decent tax break" I thought of telling my friends. I didn't.

I met a young Indian-American woman on the flight back to the US She got on the flight at London. She told me that she and her husband are in the insurance business, making lots of money and that she had spent a week at a friend's estate outside London. "Their house is a regular castle on ten acres of grounds", she told me. "There are white peacocks and deer roaming the grounds and everything in their house is an antique, including a dining table made in 1635 and which can seat twenty people", she told me wide-eyed. "What do these friends of yours do in England?", I asked. "Oh, they have three or four grocery stores and two pharmacies", she said. From Gujarat those folks are and they are generating all that money to splurge on themselves. The young woman told me she had shopped rather recklessly in London. "I love designer clothes", she told me reeling off well-known names. She sported a fancy Rado watch on her wrist. I wanted to tell her about the Usha Kiran Hospital and the Prabodhini Gurukula. I didn't.

I am telling them now, my friends and acquaintances. And I hope I can reach some Sulekha readers too. Here are some details, just in case you have some money to spare and want to acquire some good karma: The Usha Kiran Hospital has a number of donation schemes. 1) A thousand rupees will get a needy patient a cataract operation or a laser treatment (By the way, cataracts are the most common problems among South Indians. Dr. Ravi Shankar told me that the speculation is that sunlight is rather harsh in that area, especially in Tamil Nadu.). 2) Five thousand rupees will provide one cataract surgery or one laser treatment every year forever. 3) Seven and a half thousand rupees will provide one day service for all out-patients and investigations. There are other schemes where you can donate Rs 11, 000/- or Rs 15, 000/- or Rs 25, 000/- or Rs 75, 000/- and Rs 5, 00, 000/-. For more details and just to tell the good doctors that they are doing a good job send your e-mails to or write to Drs. Ravi Shankar and Uma Ravishankar at #4, 3rdMain, 5thCross, Saraswathipuram, Mysore 570 009, India. Tell them Ramesh Rao says "hi". Or, if you want your monies to go to an education project, write to Dr. K.V. Acharya, 300/16, 19th Main, 18th Cross, M.C. Layout, Vijayanagar, Bangalore 560 040, India.

There have been and continue to be grabbers and marauders in India. There are few givers and even fewer mahatmas. Support the latter, will you?

Postscript:I was not able to join in on the discussion and reply to the comments on my last piece. For those who found "mistakes" or "problems" in computing the costs and the expenses and the revenues, I want to simply point out that my article is not and was not meant to be a full and complete and final "blueprint" of a project. If that were to be so, I would not have presented it to Sulekha readers. For those others who took it as an attack on or criticism of IITs, I would like to say, as some have already said, "No, no, no. You are missing the point".

Postscript 2:I got married. Again! My "ardhangini" is Sujaya. She is from Mysore.

Bangalore is on the cutting edge of the digital age and on the bleeding edge of the stone age. Gleaming glass, chrome and concrete towers housing the newest of software corporations dot the landscape but you have no easy way of reaching them. The roads that lead to these chrome and glass towers are pot-holed, dug up, narrow and choked with traffic reflecting the "boom town" nature of this "garden city". Sidewalks are paved with misshapen stones quarried from the nearby hills leaving the hills as eye-sores and the pavements as foot-sores if not death traps. Roads are divided similarly with chunks of these crude granite blocks. There are no earth-moving and road-laying machinery in sight. All you see are poor, tired men and women hammering away at granite blocks that have been dumped off trucks dangerously onto roads and sidewalks. This is the city that S. M. Krishna, the Chief Minister of Karnataka, claims he will make into another Singapore! Bah and nonsense!

Picture the young dot.com software engineer peering into her computer monitor and wondering how she will spend her 50, 000 to 100, 000 rupee a month salary and the hapless woman, just outside, with her naked little child playing in the dust hammering away at a piece of stone to make "jalli" for the road that is going to one day, may be, make it easy for the computer geek to drive her new Mitsubishi Lancer to work. Yes, this is Bangalore today. Oh, did I mention the overflowing garbage bins, the open sewers, the autorickshaws that sputter noisily spewing deadly smoke, city buses that are crammed full and careening into bicycle and scooter riders? Bangalore has the "distinction" of having the largest number of two-wheelers and the number of tragic accidents involving these vehicles are too many to count. Two weeks ago there was the fifth of a kind of accident: a young woman's dupatta got caught in the wheel of the motorbike she was riding pillion on and she got strangulated and thrown off the bike and died. She happened to be riding with her father to college. She was a senior medical student.

Karnataka's chief ministers have made grandiose plans for the city. There have been so many of these plans that they could fill the entire city library in Cubbon Park. Not one of those plans have been implemented effectively, or completely. Mr. Krishna is the latest dreamer. He seems to be a good man and he seems to mean what he says, unlike his predecessors J.H. Patel, Deve Gowda, or Bangarappa. But twenty years or more of misrule, corruption and sloth are difficult to overcome and it is very difficult to see a modern and clean Bangalore emerge in the next decade.

Bangalore is still the software capital of India. It is home toInfosys, that marvel of a company that is spearheaded by Narayana Murthy. Many know about this giver. Many know about his wife, Sudha Murthy who carts truck loads of books and equipment every month to different corners of the country and distributes them to schools in small villages and towns. Sudha Murthy and her husband live on Rs 8, 000/- a month! Yes, eight thousand rupees. That is as much my retired engineer father and mother live on. The Murthys live in a three-room house, do without a servant maid and say that they are creating wealth so that they can distribute it and share it. There are very few such Mahatmas in the country. Most Bangaloreans are scurrying around to buy another house, yet another site and eyeing the latest Suzuki Baleno or the Honda City or whatever car they think they "should" have. I saw fancy houses paved with the best granite available in the state and went into jewelry shops where people literally "sat" in queues to buy gold and diamonds. People seemed to have heard of the Murthys but didn't seem to care much for their ideals and their practice. Let me take that back.

I went to Mysore and met Drs. Ravi Shankar and Uma Ravishankar. A young couple, eye surgeons, who work six days a week and who devote three of those days working free for the poor. They manage and run the Usha Kiran Eye Hospital and Usha Kiran Charitable Trust and every Saturday they drive more than a hundred miles to Sravanabelagola to provide free eye care and do eye surgery at the Poonamchand Sethi Charitable Eye Hospital. Last year alone the doctor couple conducted over sixty outreach camps and treated over 12, 000 patients. Recognizing the service to the community, the Karnataka Government has allotted an acre of land for these doctors to build an eye hospital. You could donate to building that hospital. That's what I thought of telling my two good friends, a banker couple, whom I have known for more than twenty years. The couple earn more than fifty thousand rupees a month and are the proud owners of more than two thousandInfosysshares. They are the new "karod-pathis" abounding in Bangalore/Mysore. "Should we buy that apartment costing seventy-five lakh rupees or the cheaper one at forty lakhs?" one of them was fretting. "Buy that forty lakh rupee apartment, if you really need to" (They have a big house in Mysore anyway) "and give thirty five lakhs to the good doctors" I thought of telling them. But such advice cannot be easily given and is not easily taken. So, I kept quiet.

Or they could give thirty five lakh rupees to the Prabodhini Gurukula project, started in 1995, at Hariharapura, a small village in the Chikkamagalur district in Karnataka. The Gurukula aims at educating 150 children from different socio-economic strata, combining ancient Indian traditional education (dance, Sanskrit, yoga, etc.) with modern education. The Gurukula is asking for one lakh rupees per child, which deposited in a bank, would generate ten thousand rupees a year, enough to clothe, feed and educate that child. Thirty five lakh rupees could educate thirty five children a year, over and over and over. "Acquire some good karma and even get a decent tax break" I thought of telling my friends. I didn't.

I met a young Indian-American woman on the flight back to the U.S. She got on the flight at London. She told me that she and her husband are in the insurance business, making lots of money and that she had spent a week at a friend's estate outside London. "Their house is a regular castle on ten acres of grounds", she told me. "There are white peacocks and deer roaming the grounds and everything in their house is an antique, including a dining table made in 1635 and which can seat twenty people", she told me wide-eyed. "What do these friends of yours do in England?", I asked. "Oh, they have three or four grocery stores and two pharmacies", she said. From Gujarat those folks are and they are generating all that money to splurge on themselves. The young woman told me she had shopped rather recklessly in London. "I love designer clothes", she told me reeling off well-known names. She sported a fancy Rado watch on her wrist. I wanted to tell her about the Usha Kiran Hospital and the Prabodhini Gurukula. I didn't.

I am telling them now, my friends and acquaintances. And I hope I can reach some Sulekha readers too. Here are some details, just in case you have some money to spare and want to acquire some good karma: The Usha Kiran Hospital has a number of donation schemes. 1) A thousand rupees will get a needy patient a cataract operation or a laser treatment (By the way, cataracts are the most common problems among South Indians. Dr. Ravi Shankar told me that the speculation is that sunlight is rather harsh in that area, especially in Tamil Nadu.). 2) Five thousand rupees will provide one cataract surgery or one laser treatment every year forever. 3) Seven and a half thousand rupees will provide one day service for all out-patients and investigations. There are other schemes where you can donate Rs 11, 000/- or Rs 15, 000/- or Rs 25, 000/- or Rs 75, 000/- and Rs 5, 00, 000/-. For more details and just to tell the good doctors that they are doing a good job send your e-mails to or write to Drs. Ravi Shankar and Uma Ravishankar at #4, 3rdMain, 5thCross, Saraswathipuram, Mysore 570 009, India. Tell them Ramesh Rao says "hi".

Or, if you want your monies to go to an education project, write to Dr. K.V. Acharya, 300/16, 19thMain, 18thCross, M.C. Layout, Vijayanagar, Bangalore 560 040, India.

There have been and continue to be grabbers and marauders in India. There are few givers and even fewer mahatmas. Support the latter, will you?

Postscript: I was not able to join in on the discussion and reply to the comments on my last piece. For those who found "mistakes" or "problems" in computing the costs and the expenses and the revenues, I want to simply point out that my article is not and was not meant to be a full and complete and final "blueprint" of a project. If that were to be so, I would not have presented it to Sulekha readers. For those others who took it as an attack on or criticism of IITs, I would like to say, as some have already said, "No, no, no. You are missing the point".

Postscript 2:I got married. Again! My "ardhangini" is Sujaya. She is from Mysore.

Originally published on Saturday, July 15, 2000.

 
     
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