When Novak Djokovic won his epic semi-final against Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros a few weeks ago, I was thrilled no end, but on exchanging notes in my IIT Madras’72 batch WhatsApp group, my good friend Ramakrishnan (Ramki) responded: “Sad! Nadal winning French Open was one constant and reassuring event in a turbulent world.” I doubt whether Ramki stated thus as he was not a great fan of Djokovic or to dampen my spirits or in humour to provoke a debate; there was a philosophic intent written all over the statement as he repeated this in another group and therefore set me reflecting on constancy, change and turbulence.
Constancy and change
Nadal winning the French Open was a constant, like the new moon ( Amavasya ) occurrence once in 28 days or the full moon ( Purnima ) once in 29.5 days. The sun rising every day in the east and setting in the west; mountains remaining stationary; plants inhaling carbon-dioxide and exhaling oxygen are nature’s way of maintaining equilibrium in the universe which is indeed commendable and gives us so much assurance and comfort signifying that things are normal and so symbolically was Nadal winning the French Open.
But human beings don’t like constancy, they want excitement and look forward to acquiring new objects, new relationships, new comforts, new status, new champions, so much so that they are constantly yearning for change; and so we say, ‘Change is the only constant’. If there were no change, forests will not be denuded beckoning no climate change, farm lands will not go arid resulting in droughts and food deficit; and probably there would have been no Corona virus and the resultant pandemic. In the same breath one would have to say that if there was no change, man would not have gone to the moon, there would be no computers, internet, robots and artificial intelligence and people would not have been able to work from home and been able to handle the Covid-19 pandemic.
So, change is both good and bad. In the corporate world change is eulogised, a leader in the 21st century is synonymous with someone who can create change, if he does not bring about change he is said to be bereft of leadership qualities.
Change and turbulence
Change causes turbulence and turbulence causes change. The desire to consume more and more be it food, consumer durables, or entertainment, has led to a consumerist society that demands higher production volumes, necessitating corresponding increase in raw material inputs be it iron ore, coal, oil/ gas or gold and the resultant competition creates turbulence in established manufacturing processes leading to changes in technology to bring down production costs. This, in turn, has created greater turbulence in society through job losses and rising unemployment.
Passive acceptance of one’s fate is a thing of the past, as education, rapid communication, and increased mobility have led to a vast number of the downtrodden population in a position to comprehend their ‘fundamental rights.’Their desire to change and better their lives have been further stoked by a whole industry of NGOs, human rights groups, social service organisations, and lobbyists, many of them well funded and connected to political parties, power brokers and organisations under the UN umbrella of the United Nations leading to ‘Turbulence’.
Change has also led to turbulent geopolitics leading to wars fought for oil rights and acquisition of businesses in foreign lands for mines. The population increase and pressure on land have triggered border transgressions and wars. Added to this are the hegemonistic ambitions of nations displaying unbridled power that cause turbulence and reactionary cultural changes in impacted countries. To counter these forces, the individuals in countries at the receiving end should change as eloquently expressed by Mahatma Gandhi when he said “be the change yourself.”
Answers to the questions,
(i) Is constancy reassuring? and
(ii) Are constancy and change necessary, as well as a necessary evil?
This may appear paradoxical but probably represent life’s reality as eloquently captured by ‘Life itself is a ceaseless change till death.’ Nature’s constancy is reassuring but human selfishness demands change that infringes on nature leading to turbulence. Change in the sporting arena, for instance, is not turbulent; limits of human endeavour will constantly evolve and expand, so change will happen through records being broken — the 100 metres sprint speed has steadily come down to 9.7 seconds; Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have raised the bar to 20 Grand Slam titles each and Djokovic may well soon be alone on the summit; these changes bring so much joy. Technological changes on the other hand are a double-edged sword, often an evil especially when livelihoods are adversely impacted. Geopolitical changes of expansionist regimes threaten other nations and cultures.
So how does humankind overcome these inherent contradictions to minimise turbulence? It calls for an entirely different outlook to life. Global turbulence and misery is caused by collective human selfishness emanating from corrupted minds and thoughts; ego that pursues personal and group aggrandisement at the cost of fellow-beings and transcends boundaries.
However, just like the world has come together to fight the coronavirus for the benefit of humankind (barring instances of vaccine nationalism), if in the normal course, every human being looks at another human as well as plants and animals with compassion, and leaders, society and nation states leverage the universal commonalities, whether in agriculture, commerce, industry, or services, the differences erupting from caste, colour, creed, state and nationality, would minimise and there will be no class conflicts; flora, fauna and the environment would be preserved, human health conditions will improve and overall turbulence will be minimised.
In some sense, the Vedanta philosophy propagates this and hence we need to look at life from an entirely different perspective.
(The writer is retired Founder-Director, NMIMS, Bengaluru, and Advisor, Rajagiri Vidyapeeth.)