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Reflections on the Six Week Trip to India and its Personal Significance

Even as we (my wife and I) arrived in India on December 21, 1978, it was not clear to me why we were going. The stated and objective reasons were clear enough: we needed a long “vacation”; we’d been invited by Radha Krishna of the Gandhi Peace Foundation who had arranged an extensive travel and visit for us; we’d been working in the nonviolent movement for almost 40 years but had never gone to “the source” (as my wife jokingly commented to friends who asked us about the trip). Aside from these reasons and urging from our colleagues, who thought we “deserved” the trip, it was not at all clear why we were going at this juncture when both of our jobs seemed to be demanding more of our attention than ever.

Nevertheless, the real reason for going to India seemed to emerge rather soon after our arrival. It was true, of course, that there were many contacts and past connections with India. Besides the influence of Gandhi, other Indians had played important roles in shaping the direction of our lives. Tagore, for example, whose poetry and writing first attracted me at the age of nineteen– even before I knew much about Gandhi. And then, in 1962 I met Jayaprakash Narayan in London at the meeting which launched the World Peace Brigade. Then again I met J.P., as he is called in India, in 1969 during a trip he made to the U.S., at which time he invited me to India. And it was at a meeting in India between J.P. and Ralph Borsodi in 1956 that the ideas which the International Independence Institute promotes today were first discussed, and when Ralph returned to the U.S., the Institute was launched by him with my help. But even then I was not aware of J.P.’s influence and significance in India. Only during this trip did it become clear to me that next to Gandhi himself, J.P. had made the largest impact on India and the shape of its politics and movements. Even today, when we visited J.P. in Patna where he is under doctor’s care for kidney problems and not able to move about, he continues to make a major influence on India and the government, of which he could have been Prime Minister many times if he had so chosen. More than anyone else, he is responsible for the election of the present Janata party and the unexpected defeat of Mrs. Gandhi.

In fact, it is the election of the Janata and the return of the Gandhians to a position of political strength which made, in a certain sense, our trip possible. This is true because during Mrs. Gandhi’s “emergency”, most of these Gandhians were either in jail or under threat of jail and underground. The entire Gandhian Peace Foundation which J.P. and Radha Krishna founded, and which sponsored our trip, was closed down while J.P. and Radha were in jail. Had not the Janata party won the last elections, it is difficult to say just where the Gandhians would have been today. It is also true that the “emergency’ was a traumatic experience for the Gandhian movement. It was the first time since independence that members of the movement had been faced with the necessity to confront and resist their own government. The internal conflict within the movement which this created is still having its repercussions. While we were there, a conference was called in Panau at Vinoba Bhave’s ashram to discuss current issues (primarily cow slaughter) but also to try to heal the cleavages which had developed during the emergency. (During that period Mrs. Gandhi had claimed support for her policies from Vinoba. Several of his followers with whom we raised the question denied this and pointed out how Mrs. Gandhi had distorted Vinoba’s statements and manipulated them for her own purposes). Reports on the conference varied, although our sense of it was that the cleavages still remain, but at the same time we noted that some Gandhians who had been in jail for supporting J.P.’s movement, were also taking action to support Vinoba’s demands for an end to cow slaughter.

What became clear fairly soon after our arrival, was that while the election had brought a return of Gandhians (Prime Minister Morajai Desai is a veteran Gandhian who spins on his Charka every morning in traditional Gandhian fashion and wears only Khadi cloth, a mark of most older Gandhians in India), and there is a kind of resurgence of Gandhian ideas and ideals in India, much of this is only lip service, and there remains underneath the homage to Gandhi the same drive towards westernization, or “modernization”, which characterized every government from Nehru to Mrs. Gandhi.

It is a time of questioning and ideological struggle among many different trends of thought in India. But the two dominant trends are the Gandhian emphasis on village development and appropriate technology for the small farmer (the “Kisan”) and Marxist thinking that tends to dominate the colleges and universities and which advocates “modernization” under socialism. As one former Marxist, who is now on the National Planning Commission and a converted Gandhian, told us, “90% of all intellectuals in India are primarily influenced by Marxism”. I came to feel that this drive for “modernization”, which largely dominates the younger college educated class, is motivated by both Marxist and capitalist thinking, but is largely the result of a hardly concealed admiration for western affluence and technology. This was not a surprise for me. I had anticipated such an attitude from all that I had read, but it was confirmed early in our visit and thus it became clear to me what my “mission” in India was. I jokingly said to my wife, “I have to try to convince the Gandhians that Gandhi was right”. For the Gandhians are struggling over many questions such as whether to concentrate their work in the village, on political work to influence the government, or what level of technology is appropriate for India, and most importantly, whether Gandhi’s concept of Trusteeship is the right course for transformation of capitalism or “shouldn’t the government take a more active role in the process?”. For example, on almost the last day which we spent in India, a leading member of the National Planning Commission, Dr. Raj. Krishna, giving the annual Gandhi Memorial Lecture at the Gandhi Peace Foundation asked the question: “How long should we wait for the main industrialists to transform themselves and their companies into Trusteeships before we invoke Gandhi’s statement that ‘If the capitalists do not transform themselves into Trusteeships after a reasonable amount of time, then it will be necessary for the State to use a minimum of violence to accomplish the purpose’? Isn’t thirty years a reasonable amount of time?”

At the very first meeting when I was asked to explain about the work I was doing, I discovered what my role in India would be. This was at the Banwasi Seva Ashram in Govinpur, a small village in Southeastern Uttar Pradesh. The Ashram is a remarkable place which, in perspective, after visits to many other somewhat similar Ashrams, remains outstanding because of the effective village development work accomplished here by Prembhai (Brother Prem) and his wife, Ragini, a medical doctor. Over one hundred villages are involved in the work with intensive development in at least 20 of them. This is an area referred to as “tribal” where only ten years ago tigers roamed in the “jungle” (“jungle”, we learned, is synonymous with “forest” in India). Now, after ten years of village development, irrigation systems abound, a school for small children, several small industries developing, a dairy, a demonstration farm growing all kinds of fruits and vegetables, and a hospital, all make visible the intensive work carried out in a short period.

So when I was asked to speak to a group of the workers at the Ashram, several of them from the villages, themselves, I felt honored to be accepted as a fellow “peace worker”. I decided to speak about the work of the Institute for Community Economics, particularly the land trust work, and relate it to the Gramdam village work there. But I also went on to describe the dilemma of the U.S. as an overdeveloped country; how our very high technology was now the greatest threat to our security (with the atom bomb), how farmers were driven off the land and ended in crowded cities without work, and finally, how our dependence on fossil fuel energy, and particularly oil, left us so vulnerable. I said that in my opinion, we would have to change very rapidly, learn from countries like India, and somehow learn to do with far less than we have now. Moreover, I pointed out that this would be much harder for us because we had been living so high and must come down so fast (since oil was running out). On the other hand, India, if it didn’t follow our mistaken course, could raise up its level of material living without threatening the very survival of its people.

My listeners seemed much impressed with this point of view, and afterwards I began to adopt it as a standard part of whatever else I had to say. In Bombay, I was amazed to find a newspaper report  about an impromptu statement I made at a meeting of leading Bombay industrialists. The meeting had been called to discuss India’s role and policy in a forthcoming UN/NGO conference in Science and Technology to be held at Vienna this summer under UN auspices. It was purely by chance that my wife and I happened to be invited to the meeting. One of our hosts, Arvind Deshpande, of the Trusteeship Foundation, was a close friend of the convener of the meeting (also a member of the Trusteeship Foundation) and he had invited Arvind. Arvind asked if we could come along and was, of course, accepted. We had not anticipated in advance (only hearing of the meeting the night before), that we would make any statement there– in fact, we felt ourselves to be merely observers. But, as we were about to leave, the chairman invited us to speak. I took advantage of the opportunity to make a brief statement along the lines of what had, by then, become my stock in trade. But what amazed us was the newspaper report the next day which gave so much prominence to the brief statement itself. When I asked my Indian hosts how to explain this, they responded by saying that even at this high level of prominence western ideas and people were given some deference, a residue of the Indian inferiority complex, but also perhaps because what I said was so unusual that the editor may have felt it rated prominence. At any rate it helped to confirm my growing conviction that a westerner, like myself, was given more credibility than most Indians, even prominent Gandhians, who were critical of Western technology and civilization. It explained in part why Schumacher gained the ear of Mrs. Gandhi’s government, committed as it was to “modernization” through the western world.

And I have to say that one of the satisfying aspects of the trip was that people everywhere, from a member of the National Planning Commission, a group of college professors in Ahmedebad (and also Bombay), young women in teacher training courses, to the people in villages, all wanted to hear from us and seemed to value our ideas as well as to listen with great interest to what we are doing.

All of the foregoing is a preface of what came to be a growing conviction that in fact the trip to India was not merely an incident, a strange holiday to a romantic far off land, but that perhaps a continuing role and responsibility were attached to the experience which would in the future affect my life and its directions. This conviction is not based merely on the incidents which I have recited already but much more on a number of concrete proposals which grew out of meetings and discussions with various people and groups while there.

The first of these proposals grew out of discussions with Prembhai at Govindpur. It was the result of strong statements by Prembhai which indicated that he, at least, is committed to building what Gandhi called “a village republic”, an independent economy of the villages (village swadeshi) which could not be controlled and manipulated by the central or state governments no matter which party or ruling group was in power. To Prembhai the present Janata government, while preferable to Mrs. Gandhi’s (he was also threatened with jail during the “emergency” and avoided it only because he had such strong local support that local officials were afraid to arrest him) is still just another name for the vast bureaucracy which stifles all creative village work in India and is largely the legacy of the British. As another Indian put it, “when the British left India all that happened was that an Indian elite assumed power at the top echelon of the existing, mostly Indian, bureaucracy. But virtually nothing else changed. The bureaucracy only understood what it had been taught by the British, and so it has simply followed policies laid down by the British ever since.”

An absurd example of this came to our attention at every place (hotel, ashram, or whatever) we stopped. Here, by decree of a law enacted by the British in 1930 (or thereabouts) every foreign traveller is required to fill out a form stating his or her name, birthdate, passport number, date of issue, date of arrival, leaving, etc. There may be some obscure reason for all of this but no one was able to explain why it was still enforced. Another irritating example is furnished by the number of forms which must be filled out at virtually every point where one comes into contact with officials such as railroads and airlines, banks under state control. All of this is endlessly time-consuming and, as far as we could see, merely seemed to provide an excuse for some bureaucrat’s job.

For westerners these onerous bureaucratic requirements are particularly irritating but for most Indians, who have had to live with them all their lives (first under the British and now under their own government), they are more or less an accepted part of life. Therefore, it was particularly significant to sense the strong resistance which Prembhai expressed for this external control. “The government”, he said “has usurped all of the primary resources and expects us to pay its taxes without giving anything in return. I look forward to the point when I can tell the government to stay out of this area and refuse to pay taxes, because it is really doing nothing for us—except, on occasion, repaving a road or two.”

It was at this point that I suggested that if he were to introduce an independent money system based on local production and using wheat or rice as its standard (somewhat as in barter exchange which is still very common among villagers) then he could free himself from one of the major dependencies which the villages now have on the central government. He said that in fact he had given a lot of thought to such an idea and that it had been discussed by a number of Gandhians particularly at Wardha, where he had studied under Annasaheb, an older strategist of the Gandhian movement at the Institute for Village Development. I agreed to draft an outline proposal for discussion, which I did before our leave taking. But there wasn’t much time to discuss it since we were only there for three days and I didn’t get time to write it until the day we left. Nevertheless, he wanted me to discuss it with Annasaheb and pointed out some of the problems he could see with it.

But he clearly felt that, if it could be made workable, it would be the best way to resist the stranglehold which the illegal money lenders had on so many villagers, a stranglehold which kept many of them in virtual bondage. This practice of charging 10% interest (or more) per month on borrowed money, a rate which can never be repaid and puts workers in “bonded labor” is so widespread in India that a study made by the Gandhian Peace Foundation (not yet published) shows that over 70% of the villages in the several states studied are affected by this illegal, but time-honored practice.

This proposal was revised slightly during our visit. I discussed it at a number of the centers which we visited, including Wardha (Sevagram, Gandhi’s famous Ashram) and the Center for Science for Villages (which is doing the most significant work on village level technology) and in the south at Maderai near which are Gandhineketan and Gandhigram, both famous centers for teaching Gandhian ideals of village development and village industries. I have written a background discussion of the proposal and linked it to the international problem of declining currencies in all western countries as well as developing countries.

On my return to New Delhi, where we spent the last week of our visit at the Gandhi Peace Foundation, I completed the draft and it was sent to some nine or ten places where it had been mentioned during our trip. I hope to get some “feedback” from these places soon and will revise and refine the proposal accordingly. At any rate it provides a strong continuing link with the movement in India where, perhaps of all places in the world, the concept is most harmonious with the decentralized philosophy among Gandhians and where implementation is most likely to begin. Since I consider the initiation of such a decentralized money system, along with trusteeship in land reform, the most important alternative economic institution needed in order to bring about genuine community self-reliance, I am naturally very much drawn towards continuing this relationship with these contacts in India.

Of equal importance regarding the future role and demand on my time and interest are the continuation of contacts and follow through in India as a result of meetings in Bombay with Govindrao Deshpande and his colleagues (Arvind Deshpande, Indira Doktor, and members of his Trusteeship Foundation board). Perhaps of all the people we found in India, my wife and I came to feel the closest relationship with Govindrao and Indira, both of whom are remarkable people who have been carrying on the struggle to put into operation Gandhi’s ideal of trusteeship among the leading industrialists of India many of whom are located in or near Bombay. It is amazing to see the affection which many of these industrialists have for Deshpande who is not married and spent 14 months in jail during the emergency.

In spite of their general support for Indira Gandhi, they feel so close to Govindrao that he is a constant guest in their homes and, in many cases, considered virtually a member of the family. He can, if he should desire, virtually conscript their resources, including money, time, and even the family car (one of which he did conscript for us along with a driver). However, so far not a single industry has been converted to Trusteeship.

On the night I spoke before a selected audience of such industrialists invited by the Trusteeship Foundation and held at an exclusive sports club, the chairman of the meeting Mr. N.S. Rao, announced after my speech (reported in the newspaper clipping) that he had to count himself among the “hypocrites” who supported the Trusteeship ideal but did not put it into practice. And yet, despite the obvious feeling of guilt which many of them exhibit, Govindrao has an easy, almost breezy, way of putting everyone at ease with his always ebullient sense of humor and genuine love for everybody no matter how great their “sin” of capitalism. He laughingly tells them when they offer money, cars, or whatever, “I won’t thank you for your offer, because you’re only giving to the people what belongs to them anyway.”

The focus of our continuing relationship with the Trusteeship Foundation is its central role in spotlighting the Gandhian alternative to capitalism and communism, not only in India but its efforts at internationalizing the movement. I have been invited to attend and coordinate the U.S. participation in the first international conference on Trusteeship which is being planned by the Foundation for next October, and will be held in Bangalore, India. Leading groups in Europe have already been invited with ICOM (Scott Bader group) in England and others in Germany, France, and Yugoslavia. They also want to invite people from the Mondragon movement in Spain, but do not have good contacts (I promised to help on this). Govindrao hopes that by internationalizing the movement, new beginnings can be made.

He was very interested in my paper on the World Resources Trust concept and feels that the conference could initiate the beginnings of such a trust. At the meeting which we had with the Prime Minister Desai, he brought up this concept and pointed out that it was a new approach to Trusteeship which had not been put forward before. Since he sees the Prime Minister quite often (the two of them being old co-workers) he promised to discuss it with him further. But he asked my advice on whether we should invite the Prime Minister to the international conference. “He wants to come but I don’t think we want him there, do you? He might only dominate and get some publicity,”

A further concrete proposal for follow through and work with the Trusteeship group relates to the introduction of appropriate technology, such as the Quadractor, the pyrolytic converter, and organic fertilizers, such as seaweed (Plus 4) into India. I discussed all of these technologies with Govindrao, as well as with several other Indians and discovered a great deal of interest and very little information. While I discussed them with a number of people, I agreed with Deshpande that I would channel the contacts and discussion for setting up Indian manufacturing plants (or distribution) through the Trusteeship Foundation—at least to the degree that I am influential with the people and companies over here in the U.S. My reasons for doing this are:

I feel the Foundation, Govindrao, Arvind and Indira Doktor, in particular, who really run the Foundation, have the resources, personnel, and interest to do the planning and analysis which will be required in order to establish such plants not only on a trusteeship basis but also with great sensitivity to their potentially adverse effect on the village economy if they are not properly distributed and managed. For example, tractors currently have a largely negative impact on the village economy because they tend to only give further advantage to the rich and push the poor, smaller farmers out (as they have in the U.S.). It is not necessarily possible to solve this problem with tractor cooperatives as have often been advocated by voluntary agencies from other countries, but Indians, like G. Deshpande, who comes from the village where his father was a farmer, are sensitive to how a village controlled structure could be established which would provide the necessary responsibility for maintenance and care of the machines, and also provide equal, or better, advantage to the small and poor farmers. Deshpande promised to send such a proposal, which I can then discuss with the principals of Quadractor who seem also to be sensitive to this problem.

Another reason for wanting to work through the Trusteeship Foundation in order to establish new industries such as the Quadractor, or the Pyrolytic Converter in India, is that structuring new industries as Trusteeships from their very inception will offer the test opportunity to make a breakthrough and establish new models. It will offer some of the industrialists who comprise the Trusteeship Foundation board an opportunity to think through and lend their very sizeable resources and management know-how in bringing this about. As a result of being involved in this process, it may encourage them to think more seriously, at least about their own industries, and could just be the catalyst to begin the process of transformation itself, a process which seems to be close but waiting for some such outside force to move it towards realization.

In addition to the above responsibilities and commitments which I bring back with me, I want to write an article or series of articles on certain aspects of the nonviolent movement in India which seem to be particularly important and interesting to the U.S. movement and the public in general. The most important of these developments with which we came into contact is the unique and amazingly successful “Chipko Movement”, which offers nonviolent resistance to ecological damage (the destruction of tree cover in the Himalaya Mountains) but also utilizes “reverse nonviolence” in the sense of Danilo Dolci’s work in Italy, through voluntary afforestation and public works to save the Himalayas from destruction. This movement has nationwide significance for India in that the perennial floods which inundate northern India (the most recent in 1978) are caused in large part by the destruction of the tree cover and consequent soil erosion in the Himalayas (another example of policy adopted from the British which has been carried on mindlessly by the Indian bureaucracy).

This movement, I believe, has worldwide significance because of the recognized importance of forests to the ecology and to human existence. It also, of course, links directly with my proposal for a World Resources Trust Fund (when I mentioned this to an assembly of young members of the Friends of the Trees organization during our trip to the village of Gopeshwar, where the Chipko movement had its beginnings, it was met with great enthusiasm and appreciation). It also links directly, or could link directly, with our efforts to establish forest land trusts here in the U.S. and particularly in New England and Appalachia (Appalachia has a great deal of resemblance to the problems of the Upper Himalayas). And, incidentally, the technology of the pyrolytic converter could have great significance to the Chipko movement, or the ecology of the region. This is because one of the primary problems which the villagers have is that the cutting of trees for lumber (mostly by contractors from the plains) deprives them of the only major source of fuel for cooking and heating since they depend on “scraps” from the forest for this purpose. In theory, at least, with 85% efficiency, the converter principle could increase the energy value of their wood supply by three or four times. They were much interested in the converter concept.

Finally, on a more general philosophical level, I want to say something about why it seems important and significant to maintain and develop these contacts with India. In the first place, India, unlike the U.S., is an ancient culture and like some other such cultures is fortunately more naturally resistant to too rapid change. I say fortunately because, unlike Japan and a few other cultures such as Brazil, the impact of modern technology has been blunted before it could do too great a damage or create too much vulnerability by becoming dependent on oil or nuclear technology. As I constantly told my Indian audiences, western civilization is threatened with decline or extinction, if not by the atom bomb, then simply by breakdown or entropy as the growing energy shortage begins to collapse our highly vulnerable system. India, therefore, I said, will endure with its bullocks as the major source of energy long after western civilizations have collapsed or been destroyed.

But Indians want and demand modern technology, and while I think the economic collapse of the west will come before too great damage can be done in India (such as with nuclear power, for example), nevertheless, it is important for westerners to lend their weight and knowledge (of the West’s mistakes) to help prevent a further mindless adoption of western technology. The best antidote for a mindless and nonrenewable source of energy and technology is to offer technologies which can appropriately fit into village life without destroying it. The west has some of these technologies to offer, such as the pyrolytic converter, and these are important to help provide.

But, if the west is going to survive, it also needs not only some of the small scale technology (such as solar gas plants) which India is developing, but it also needs more of the spirit or spiritual quality which is the contribution of India– the spirit which produced a Gandhi, a Vinoba Bhave, and many other leaders of the nonviolent movement which are never heard of in the U.S. or the west. In our discussion with Moraji Desai, he put it this way: “I’ve been telling your president, Carter, that we need some of your strength. We are weak and feel weighted down with our burdens. But you in the U.S. also need some of our spirit to renounce your greed and your desire for power, which only creates waste and ends in disaster.”

I think that both my wife and I feel that jointly we are in a good position, during the next few years, to make some contribution towards strengthening the mutual links with India which might reduce at least in some small degree the dangers which face both East and West. The Gandhians have some strength now in India, and as Radhakrishna put it: “We must take advantage of the time we have now to strengthen the movement and build for the future. We cannot predict how long our advantageous position will last.”

Another aspect of this difference between India and the U.S. is that I believe that, consciously or unconsciously, many of us working in the social change movement here in the U.S. feel somewhat demoralized by the knowledge that all of our efforts may come to naught, because when this vulnerable system begins to sink (or is blown up) there is great danger that whatever we have built, or tried to build, will “go down with the ship”. Therefore there is a real satisfaction in working with a country, or a situation, which will undoubtedly survive any disaster which comes along (my wife and I were amazed at how rapidly the areas affected by floods and cyclones had recovered) largely because it is already decentralized and not dependent on a high technology system. Anything, therefore, which can be done in India to improve the villages, providing it does not depend primarily on non-renewable resources, can be of permanent benefit. I had thought that Schumacher had coined the phrase, “Economics of Permanence”, but I discovered that it was a famous Gandhian economist, J.C. Kumarapa, who first used this phrase (in the 1930’s) as the title of a book (I have a copy now). There is a famous story about Kumarapa which many Gandhians delight in telling. Kumarapa, it seems, was invited to see Prime Minister, Nehru, and when he arrived at the gate in a bullock cart, we was told by the guard that he couldn’t come in on the cart. “In that case, the Prime Minister can’t see me”, he said, and left.

Two other proposals which we discussed towards strengthening these ties were:

  1. To bring young Gandhians, or potential leaders of the Gandhian movement, to this country for relatively long trips in order to link them with young people in the nonviolent movement here where both could have important exchanges. It was our observation that since Gandhi’s death, the young people have moved away from nonviolence (towards Marxism and modernization). It was our feeling that contact with young Americans in the anti-nuke movement, for instance, most of whom are disillusioned with both Marxism and modern technology, would be a good experience for many young Indians, most of whom know little about the West, except from the cinema and rock and roll music.
  2. The other proposal was to try to set up speaking trips to India for some of the scientists in the anti-nuke movement (Amory Lovins, Dr. Gofman, Dr. Tamplin, Dr. Helen Caldecott, etc.)

A Concluding Summary

I have been trying to point out in this lengthy report that some of the same alternative or appropriate institutions and technologies, such as an independent money and banking system, industry and natural resource trusteeship, energy conversion from organic waste without pollution (pyro-lytic converter) and organic farming methods, all of which we (at the Institute) have been working to promote and develop, are the same institutions and technologies which could help prevent disaster in the West and are needed for improvement of the quality of life in India. We discovered a great deal of concern about not only the negative social impact of the “Green Revolution”, but also a growing concern about the dangers to the soil, animals, and people of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. We heard reports that many farmers were complaining about the fact that they were no longer getting good results from the fertilizers and that the soil was getting harder to work. Also, newspaper reports carried stories about agricultural workers being poisoned by pesticides– just as the farm workers in the West have been. I suspect that the soils of India are much more fragile than our own soils and, therefore, the results of increasingly heavier uses of chemicals is showing more quickly than on most of our soils. We heard stories that farmers would not feed their own families with rice grown on chemically fertilized soil (“because the taste is not good”) but would only sell this rice on the market.

Yes, India will have its natural disasters, floods, cyclones, tidal waves, but we discovered how quickly the villagers recovered not only from the physical damage which these disasters caused but also that they could not destroy the spirit of the villagers. We visited one of the villages in the recent flooded area where a number of families had suffered losses, as the floods swept eight to ten feet over the entire village. Here we were shown with great enthusiasm how they were now growing new improved crops from soil which had recently been covered by sand from the flood which had been removed by hand. They told about how the flood had taught them to cooperate with each other so that everyone could receive more and improve their lot. They pointed to trees where they had strapped women and children to keep them from being swept away in the flood. But all this was explained to us in a spirit which made us realize that such natural disasters, here in India, could only momentarily upset the life of the village– that it would go on as it had for thousands of years.

In several of my speeches, I had used a metaphor to describe the West: “Like a machine going downhill without any brakes and with no one at the steering wheel.” But it was on our last day in India, as we left for the airport in the early hours of the morning that we saw the fitting metaphor for India. As we passed through a normally very crowded shopping area, usually jammed with people, bicycles, auto rickshaws and taxis, but now deserted except for a lone bullock cart wending its way slowly along, we noticed that the driver was nowhere in evidence. But when we looked more closely we saw that a form was lying on the cart entirely covered by blankets in the cold of the morning, and we realized that the farmer was sound asleep, confident that the bullock would find its way to wherever it was going and peaceful in the knowledge that no accident would befall.


Some quotes from an address by Rabindranath Tagore entitled “Construction vs. Creation”:

—        Science is producing a habit of mind which is ever weakening in us this spiritual standpoint of truth which has its foundation in our sense of a person as the ultimate and innermost reality of existence. Science has its true sphere in analysing this world as a construction just as a grammarian has his legitimate mission in analyzing the syntax of a poem. But the world is a creation, not a construction; it is also more than its syntax. It is a poem, which we are apt to forget when, by exclusive attention, grammar takes complete possession of our mind.

—        The powerful races who have the scientific mind and method and machinery have taken upon themselves the immense responsibility of the present age. We complain not of their law and government, which are scientifically efficient, but of the dissoluting deadliness of their machine domination.

—        We feel the withering fierceness of the spirit of modern civilization all the more because it beats directly against our human sensibility, and it is we of the Eastern hemisphere who have the right to say that those who represent this great age of great opportunities are furiously building their doom by their renouncement of the divine ideal of personality; for the ultimate truth in man is not in his intellect or his material wealth; it is in his imagination of sympathy, in his illumination of heart, in his activities of self-sacrifice, in his capacity for extending love far and wide across all barriers of caste and color, in his realizing this world not as a storehouse of mechanical power but a habitation of man’s soul with its external music of beauty and its inner light of a divine presence.


Publication By

Robert Swann

Robert (Bob) Swann was the founder of the E. F. Schumacher Society, now the Schumacher Center for a New Economics. In 1974 E. F. Schumacher asked Robert Swann to start a sister organization to his own Intermediate Technology Development Group, but it was not until 1980, when prompted by Resurgence editor Satish Kumar, that Swann organized the E. F. … Continued

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