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Post-war blues nearly drove me to suicide: Anna
What are the spiritual and strategic forces that drive Anna Hazare's campaign? Writer Rukmini Shekhar had interviewed him in 1991;at that point he had already achieved major success in rural development. In this excerpt, he offers some glimpses into his inner journey.
How did the process of transformation began in your life?
Around 1962, during the Sino-Indian war, I was recruited into the army and posted in Punjab. There was fighting all around. I saw the hopelessness of it. I started thinking, what is human life? Why do we live? Overcome by depression, I wrote down two pages in my register. I wanted to commit suicide. But then, I had responsibilities too, I had to take care of my younger sister's marriage. So I decided to wait a little and took the train home on my furlough. On the train platform I saw a book by Swami Vivekananda. That book began to unravel for me a few threads of the meaning of life. It said that human beings were born to serve, that our souls needed that spirit of service to evolve. Swami Vivekananda's words that looking for happiness outside is futile began to take hold of me. I started looking inwards. All this was reinforced when I was caught in a neardeath experience at the age of 25. In 1965, in the middle of the Indo-Pak war, I was driving an army truck. Suddenly there was a rain of bullets that punctured the vehicle I was driving. Many died. Why did I survive? That moment, I decided to dedicate my life to the service of society. I also decided to stay unmarried so I could give my life to service.
What practical leadership strategies did you begin with?
I knew I had to make changes first within myself, then family, village, community and nation. My village, Ralegan Sidhi, was arid. Fifteen to 20 per cent of people went hungry. To supplement their incomes, they began to brew alcohol, resulting in at least 40 breweries. Alcoholism was rampant. I used the local temple as a rallying point because that was a sacred spot. Mosques, churches and gurdwaras are good starting points. I began to talk to various people. Soon a bunch of young people started dropping in. I saw that water was the most crucial thing to the development of this village and started enlisting their help to save every drop. I began to ask the youth if they had ever spared a thought for the state of their society and country. Slowly, the number of people increased.
How did you change people and gather them to hear you?
The key word is "leadership. " When you take on such a role, you are very carefully watched. Your speech and life have to be one. The next thing I realized was that nobility of thoughts alone doesn't bring about social transformation. People are always going to ask, "What's in it for me?" And the next thing was that I should have the moral courage to face opposition and detractors. Opposition actually fuels good work, but it's important not to combat opposition with opposition. Just keep doing the work you are doing. In good leadership, there is no question of expectation or gratification, as Bhagavad Gita says.
Do you see a disconnect between the essential spirit of those in the social service sector and the core issues?
Yes, absolutely. That accounts for the lack of moral stature even in those who work in the social development sector. They are not connecting spirituality and service. Our saints and philosophers never made this distinction. Sant Gyaneshwar wrote that to develop the society, you need to conserve water and plant trees.
Young people have always been drawn to you, though skepticism is a part of youthfulness. Why is that?
The other side of youthfulness is idealism. But they need direction. Our leaders are not paying enough attention to the young, concerned as they are with the political agendas. When people say: "Young people have no role models these days", I say, "Just be happy you were born in a country with such a legacy of the saints and philosophers. "
Are we losing the spiritual value of voluntarism?
Some amount of voluntary work is needed to lift the soul. When we began the shramdan in three villages, the government did support us, but we told them not to interfere. We were able to do in five years what the government could not in 44! And with much less money. The Dalits were neck deep in debt and couldn't even think of repaying it. The entire village rolled up its sleeves and did voluntary work in the fields belonging to the Dalits and repaid the debt in a short time. This is real service.
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