The Starry Heavens Above and the Moral Law Within

by | Oct 1, 2022

Worldview and self-view are the two poles between which the mind oscillates. What these poles mean to an individual is of vital importance. The difficulty is that these poles evolve throughout life – they initially develop and then grow, depending on the work and the people around, and eventually become fixed, so much so that people become restricted and even dysfunctional in their lives. I share here my worldview and self-view – what these are and how they were formed, with the hope that it triggers you to articulate yours. =

I will start with the worldview. It starts with chauvinism. Every child is a prince/ princess. The ego is the axis around which everything else must revolve. Children in poor families learn coping and adaptation a little earlier than those who are born in affluent families. But many people, rich and poor, never learn to deal with reality and live deluded lives, trying to change things and the people around them as per their likes and dislikes, wasting almost their entire life force in vain. Most addictions are rooted in this false sense of importance that people give to themselves.

I was born in the inner city of Meerut, the new world for the “old city.” I was the first child of my parents, with a doting paternal grandmother in addition. Even my maternal grandmother and her sister were kind to me, and I grew up as a pampered child. My illusions started breaking as I went to school. I was bad at sports – even the normal hand-eye coordination required to hit pebbles on target and fly kites was missing. I learnt cycling post high school, more out of shame than any enthusiasm. 

Academically, I excelled. Studying in the Hindi medium, I cleared every class in the “first division,” which meant 60% marks in the 1960s. I got admission to Engineering on merit, but my handicap of not studying in the English medium burst in my face without delay and with full force. My first year was more of a survival – I was quick to learn subjects, but spelling mistakes would mar my answer sheets like food stains on a tablecloth. It was only in Machine Drawing that I could secure my first ‘A’ Grade, because there was no language involved. I captured the first and third angle views of objects without difficulty.

Determined to learn English, I started reading novels – my first one was The Vulture is a Patient Bird by James Hadley Chase. I bought a second-hand copy for two rupees. It took me more than a month to finish the 160-page book. I had to consult Bhargava’s English-to-Hindi-dictionary at least once every page. It was the story of a safe-breaker, a beautiful lady, an expert young hunter, and an ace pilot with a shady past, who formed a team to steal a priceless antique ring from a millionaire’s closely guarded fortress in a remote place in Africa. 

As the story built up, my need to consult the dictionary came down. New words started looking familiar as the events unfolded. The team succeeded in stealing the ring, but three members died one by one, as the millionaire had laced it with poison. Whoever wore the ring, died. By the time I read The Godfather written by Mario Puzo, a year later, I replaced the English-to-Hindi dictionary with a Merriam-Webster English-to-English one, sold by the University library at a 50% subsidy.  

After graduating in mechanical engineering, I was hired as a Teaching Associate with an option to do Masters. I consider those the golden years of my life. I had a 1 BHK house given by the university, rode a bicycle, and spent a minimum of three hours in the sprawling university library. There was some esoteric attraction in the form of the books in the Humanities section and I would read about ancient Greek and later, Western philosophy for no rhyme or reason. As soon as I completed my Masters, I got selected to work in the DRDO and relocated to Hyderabad. 

I was fascinated by the large corridors of the Missile Laboratory where I was posted. The fortress-like gates, security guards, the pomp of the Military rank-holding officers moving around, and heavy-duty armoured vehicles, some of them with wheels as big as my height, were surreal. But I was not intimidated. I could speak English fluently and with a natural flavour of wit and sarcasm that I never knew when and from where I acquired. Maybe it was latent and finally manifested? I used to speak my mind, not very common for Junior Officers. I was spotted by Dr. A.P.J. Kalam, the director there, perhaps for that. 

He assigned me the task of developing a titanium air bottle for a surface-to-air missile. During this work, I interacted with metallurgists, visited the Bharat Heavy Plate and Vessels Limited in Visakhapatnam, the IIT, Madras, and finally, in August 1985, the Aérospatiale in France. This was my first air travel. One week in France, visiting Paris, Clermont-Ferrand, and Bordeaux, opened my mind. No one spoke English there. French people speak French and excel in their lives in every aspect without any difficulty, or rather, with ease. Later, when I went to China, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy, no one spoke English there either. 

So, I learnt that, in the world, strength respects strength. And all strong people, or nations, are proud of their language. Our biggest handicap is our disrespect for our mother tongue. Because English gives people a ticket to success in India, it is seen as a mark of superiority. In some families, parents converse with their children in English. The tragedy is that even the best education in English will not make you think in English, articulate feelings, and thoughts, and capture your intuitions. Your DNA will communicate to you through your flesh and impulses using the mother tongue and not in English. So, this is a tragedy of modern India that we think, feel and work in different languages while discarding our mother tongue, more out of necessity.     

The purpose of life is expanding your consciousness. Reading books and traveling play a very important role in this regard. Some fortunate people have mentors in their lives. I had Dr. Kalam mentoring me and consider it as my biggest blessing. Know yourself as your DNA. Live in sync with the environment around you, and eat food that is fresh, simple, and inexpensive. All exotic food that reaches you through long supply chains, processed with preservatives is, indeed, an assault on your autoimmune system. Oily and spicy food colour your temperament. And above all have an open-mind. 

The German philosopher and one of the central Enlightenment thinkers, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), famously wrote in The Critique of Practical Reason these words, also engraved in German on his tombstone, “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” Let your mind be anchored to the idea of your divine essence inside and your connection with the immense universe outside. Keep using your mother tongue as much as possible and read its literature, for it would resonate with the experiences of your ancestors embedded in your DNA. And be mindful that life is not about thinking alone; life is about feeling. Feel life and respond to the tasks it assigns to you and it will guide you to glory! That is what enlightenment is, if such a word must be there. 

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14 Comments

  1. In this thoughtful blog you have very nicely brought out the very special nature of the human mind as the meeting ground for the moral code embedded in our biology and the infinite universe where human life is placed and enjoy a perfect tuning of all necessary forces and conditions.

    I liked these lines most: “The purpose of life is expanding your consciousness.” It is indeed true that reading books and traveling are the two most important ways to expand your consciousness. When I look back, the years I spent in the United States contributed a lot to the way I think and feel.

    In our Indian culture, ancestral worship is mandatory. Every year we ritually remember our ancestors, on the lunar day of their departure from this world. Each one of us in essence is our DNA and living in sync with our temperament can’t be overemphasized. I take your word of caution about exotic food, mostly imported, seriously. It is true that regular consumption of oily and spicy food makes us emotionally prickly. Thank you for prodding us to the fundamentals.

  2. Simple yet profound. Your personal story is relatable in this lovely read. This simple two-parametric model presents all your pushes.

    Using the mother tongue as a way to be connected with our ancestors is a natural anchor. Feeling life and responding to the tasks assigned can guide us on the path to our enlightenment.

  3. Intereting insight into the intrinsic aspects of human mind, Prof Tiwariji !

    Your articulation on expanding human consciousness for enlightenment is superb !!

  4. Honourable Prof Tiwari Ji, this Blog was full of several messages to build our personality. Let it be language, which is the expression of our feeling; a message to be in alignment with one’s environment; or knowing oneself. Expressed so well to persuade the readers introspect themselves.

  5. Dear sir, a fine blog, which most of us relate ourselves to. Majority of us born before 1980s have gone through these phases in our journey. Especially people with village background like me always felt low in the post school phase for not being fluent in English. Most of us who have had non English schooling would be better in written English than spoken English. But that makes you feel inferior. But once you enter into professional institute your comprehension technical subjects matters more than your ability to speak. Unfortunately India being a country of multiple languages ,English automatically took the spot of common language for communication across the country. As a member and chairman of many selection committees I always encouraged the candidates to express and explain the answer in their language to take out the inferiority complex of the candidates. I totally agree with you sir that they can explain the concepts so fluently in their mother tongue. And I could see their happiness when I told them explain things in their language of comfort. Thank you once again sir for a simple and relatable topic by all.

  6. Sir, may I add this beautiful poem of Emily Dickinson, where she compares the “Brain” (really, the human mind) to the sky, the sea, and even to God, to this beautifully written blog.

    The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
    For—put them side by side—
    The one the other will contain
    With ease—and you—beside—

    The Brain is deeper than the sea—
    For—hold them—Blue to Blue—
    The one the other will absorb—
    As sponges—Buckets—do—

    The Brain is just the weight of God—
    For—Heft them—Pound for Pound—
    And they will differ—if they do—
    As Syllable from Sound—

    Thank you for making us reflect on these aspects.

  7. Where one is born is his Fate. What he does in those circumstances is a Choice. This fate X Choice = Destiny. This is a cross product of fate and choice as it results in a directional vector and decides which way your life heads.

    You chose to battle and conquer your inadequacies instead of giving into them. That is all that matters. Great read.

  8. Your thoughts and experiences, through school, college DRDO and on growing and excelling in life make a lovely read. Culled out from your life story is that beam of sun shine which seeps in through the opening of your life’s window, it per force makes us to ponder – Is it the basic knowledge of the subject and one’s intelligence which makes the mare go or the dressing of the language English ? By all means it is the knowledge.

    You are absolutely right. There is no fallacy about English to be superior in several of the world countries. In fact they dissent and desist talking or replying or even acknowledging if one speaks in English. My experience in France, to know the way to my next train station in absence of sign boards in English and people simply refusing to talk, their grimacing and walking away without helping when conversed in English brought tears to my eyes (This was 1990 – Alone, and stranded with time running out. To miss the train would have jeopardized the connectivity, bookings and the tour itself. On a shoe string budget then, only the male chauvinism didn’t let tears roll down.) It was then I realized English is not going to make me stand out in the crowd. My excelling in the language back home came a cropper. A jolt enough to realize life is simply to have the fundamentals clear. Our mother tongue indeed is the language in which we are most comfortable and comes as natural. English is just a dress presentation and that too in our and some similar countries.

    But alas…. much needs to be done to get this thought progressing. A systematic methodology to shove away several layers of covering to eat the basic corn needs to be adopted. The system needs to be evolved; several of the ‘wonder brains’ residing in rural India and deprived of the language, will get a kick – A kick to zoom ahead.

  9. Dear Sir, It’s true but unfortunate that everyone in India wants his children to be excellent in English language and they force their children. I remember I was very good in हिंदी literature and used to write some poems during my high school period, my friends always say you can be a good hindi poet in future.

    When I entered in college suddenly I faced that all the good science books are in English language and I had very less options. And that forced me to quit hindi and learn English to qualify for medical entrance examination. Since then English is behind me at every turning point of my life. Now, to get my PR of Australia I had to pass English PTE test with 70% marks. It is good to have multilingual but I miss my love to हिन्दी and used to listen hindi songs.
    Wish to have some relaxing time in future to write a book on my learning with you during my MBA period in HCU , as those are the days I enjoyed a lot in library while reading management books and books on organization behavior.

    Thank you once again for another motivational blog.

    Warm Regards

  10. In this very beautifully written blog – as Dr Girish Sahni has so aptly observed “the smoothness of the phrases as they clothe the underlying streams of thought, came out very well” the sentences are indeed flowing from one to another like a river. But more than that you have so brilliantly brought out human beings holding the unique position of at the cusp of an infinitely large physical universe – the starry heavens – and equally infinite mental universe inside the human body – the moral law within. I have always found the phrase that “God created man in His own image” a religious cliché, but you made it sound so scientifically true and credible a fact.

  11. “Some fortunate people have mentors in their lives”. I have you.

    Such a pure piece of writing. Each line connects with oneself. This blog is one of your best. Saved in my favourites.

  12. Arun ji. Great blog. Studying in mother tongue till Engineering and then learning English with the help of Dictionary resonates with me very well including the first foreign trip in 1985 and meeting Dr Kalam in 2005. Thank you.

  13. Dear Pro, Thank you for sharing with us part of your life’s journey. It is an inspiring piece.

    I sometimes wonder why mankind lives at odds with itself. One day, almost everyone goes to some place place of faith and worship, just to achieve inner harmony with the Creator and oneself. Then another day, the same person wakes up ready to fight the environment and fellow humans. On a bigger scale, nations one day are peacefully co-existing and on another they are at war, all caused by mankind.

    When I was at University doing medicine some 40 years ago, one African evangelist Bishop Festo Kivengere described humankind as a “moving civil war”. There is inner struggle and achieving balance appears elusive.

    Your story is encouraging – it is possible to achieve inner harmony and peaceful co-existence with other humans and the environment. Tell it on the mountaintops so that the narcissists of our present times hear it more and more…

  14. Dear Bhaisaab, I usually read up, or lap up is a better phrase, your blog at one breathless sitting!
    As usual, it was very readable, but even more so.
    The smoothness of the phrases as they clothe the underlying streams of thought, came out very well.
    Your own biographical references added the ring of sincerity and truth.
    At first, as I read the piece, almost as an unconscious thought it seems to me that the stronger emphasis on mother tounge might have been a bit misplaced.
    But almost as fast, I realised that the mother tongue fixes the primary ‘pegs’ of your mind or rather, tether it to your true substratum much like tent.
    Denying it, or overriding it by another language alienates your self from your self. Very best Regards, love and affection.

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