|Dr. Bibek Debroy|
India has the second largest road network in the world, 0.66 km of roads per sq km of land. All of us are always travelling along some road or the other. I wonder what would happen if I asked you to name an Indian road. I suspect someone would name Grand Trunk Road, someone else would mention one of the National Highways, someone else would mention one of the more recent Expressways. Few would mention a village road, or a local road. A road network is actually built from below. It then aggregates upwards into those national highways and all-India level roads. I think there is a parallel with the way we approach dharma. एकम् सत् विप्राः बहुधा वदन्ति. Most people have heard of this. “Truth is one. Wise people have spoken of it in different ways.” Though this expression occurs in other Vedas too, the main source is the Rig Veda, 1.164.46. I do have a minor problem with the way shlokas, or parts of shlokas, are plucked out and used, independent of the context. For instance, this is a hymn to the Vishvadevas and the reference was to Indra, Mitra, Varuna and Agni, not quite the general sense in which we interpret the expression today. But that’s a minor point. In our pursuit of dharma, all of us walk our own individual roads. But in the process of upward integration, we often aggregate into a personal god, typically Shiva or Vishnu. I think a debate about a personal god is sterile and pointless. Down the years, our betters have speculated about this. A personal god isn’t necessary for pursuit of dharma, though it may help. Read Swami Vivekananda. However, if we make a fetish about a personal god, and confuse the means with the end, it isn’t sufficient either.
dharma. There is an exception when we approach the mountains or the oceans. Both of them have been around for thousands of years. When we visit either, we are struck by the transient nature of human existence and our minds turn to religion. Recently, I and my wife, and a friend and his wife, were on a visit to Nepal. We went to a hill near Pokhara. Phewa Lake, in Pokhara Valley, stretched out on one side. But on the other side, in splendid isolation as the evening sun set, we could see Dhaulagiri, Annapurna-I and Manaslu. For those who don’t know, these 3 figure in the list of the top ten highest mountains in the world. My friend remarked, “How can your mind not turn to religion?” Precisely. Getting away from the flatlands helps.