Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Meaning Of True Wealth The Times Of India Mumbai; Date: Nov 6, 2010; Section: Editorial; Page: 16

Let us understand the difference between Lakshmi and money for money’s sake
Chetan Bhagat Happy Diwali to all readers. Since Diwali is a time we worship Lakshmi, or the goddess of wealth, i thought i would focus in this piece on the place of wealth in our society today. I also want to highlight the difference between Lakshmi and money, which may seem similar but are not the same. Before that, i start with an incident. Last week, i was in a session conducted by leading Hollywood filmmaker Oliver Stone, as part of a film festival organised in Mumbai. One of Oliver’s famous films is Wall Street (1984), which had its sequel come out recently. In the original film, Michael Douglas played Gordon Gekko, a crafty, unscrupulous, yet dashing financier. Gekko, with his signature line, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good”, became one of the most memorable characters in US cinema history. I asked Oliver why he thought Gekko became so popular. He said it was because Gekko is successful, especially in terms of money. It doesn’t matter that he is unethical, selfish, greedy, or a terrible human being. Americans became obsessed with material wealth in the 1980s. ‘Greed is good’ was just the validation they needed at the time. People didn’t care about a person’s values, people cared about a person’s money. At a time of year when we pray to Lakshmi, or the goddess of material wealth, it is fitting to introspect if we too are slowly becoming the same. Why else do our political leaders loot the very people who elected them? Why do they stuff their own pockets with hundreds of crores they couldn’t possibly spend in their lifetimes? Why would an army general want to pocket a flat meant for a soldier’s widow? Why do so many intelligent, educated, respected bureaucrats succumb to corruption? The answer is simple: money, or rather the importance our society has begun to attach to money. Don’t get me wrong. Money is extremely important. Poverty is a disease, and surviving well in the modern world does require a certain amount of material wealth. However, above this level, people don’t seek money to satisfy material needs. Beyond that, money has other uses. There are many reasons why our politicians and government officials steal it. I list some of them. One, money gives stature – the bigger your house, the more lavish your parties and the more high-end the places you shop – and gives you a certain place in society today that is above others. We have newspapers filled with ads of luxury goods, as if acquiring them is life’s ultimate aim. We celebrate rich lists and people who live in expensive houses. We make TV shows about expensive weddings and judge people by their residential address. Today, a woman decked in jewellery and with a designer bag and shoes may be seen as of a higher stature than, say, a schoolteacher in a cotton sari who teaches hundreds of kids. People who earn high salaries make more news than, say, brave journalists who expose scams or selfless doctors who help the poor. In such a societal set-up, the temptation to seek wealth irrespective of the means is especially high. Two, money gives a sense of security. This is a genuine benefit of money, as retirement planning is about building assets in your working life to be used later. However, politicians have a particular sense of insecurity owing to the innately uncertain nature of their jobs. They can be elected in and out of office. Money stolen by politicians is often kept for their party campaigns, to fight the next election. Being in power, and keeping that position is more important (and gets you more attention) than being a real leader and role model. So, you have elected MPs robbing citizens. Since the majority of Indian citizens don’t care about corruption issues and will vote on caste, religion or even factors such as dynasty over performance, the looting never stops. Stature and security are constructs of the mind. The irony is, no matter how much money you have, if you don’t fundamentally value yourself from within, you will never feel that status despite the crores stashed away. That is why corrupt people keep on accumulating money until they get caught. They hope the money will give them a better place in life. However, since they have stolen and not earned the wealth, the crime gnaws at them from within and they can never be at peace. They have accumulated money for sure, but they haven’t accumulated Lakshmi. Lakshmi is wealth accumulated through honest and fair means. Money can be stolen as well. Lakshmi brings peace and happiness to the person who earns it. Stolen money only brings emptiness to the soul. If you notice Lakshmi’s idol, she has gold coins around her, signifying wealth. However, she is also seated on a lotus flower, and holds lotuses in her hands. The lotus is a sign of purity and peace, signifiying spiritual well-being; of purity and beauty even in the muddy waters of the world. Without this peace, wealth has no meaning. This festive season, when you pray, ask not for money, but for Lakshmi – wealth attained through pure means that keeps the mind as peaceful and beautiful as the lotus. The corrupt who steal from us don’t know this difference, and are merely collecting money. No matter how big their Diwali parties or lavish their puja ceremonies are, true Lakshmi will never come to them. She only comes to those who are pure at heart. The writer is a best-selling novelist.

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