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Wisdom to Sustainable Journey

The Change Trails – In Conversation with Nirmal and Nilendu – Co-Authors of Wisdom to a Sustainable Journey

GDP stands for gross domestic product, which means the sum total of everything we produce over a given period. All the pens, paper, food, furniture, cosmetics, laptop, mobile, cars, airplanes, services, and the list goes on. 

In the last 50 years, the global GDP has grown by six times, and the average per capita income has almost tripled. 

But, how about the jungles which have been deforested, damages caused by pollution, ocean clogged with plastics. 

While development is important, but it should not come at the cost of environmental damages.


Wisdom to a Sustainable Journey

A recently launched book, Wisdom to a Sustainable Journey talks about the responsibility of the present generation and the adoption of sustainable practices towards economic prosperity and personal happiness. The book provides examples, facts, research, on the importance of following sustainable practices, which is beneficial to society and nature.

We got the privilege to interact with the co-authors of the book, Nirmal Mandal and Nilendu Mukherjee. Both are accomplished professionals, with years of experience in fields of rural development, education, and social impact. 

With their extensive travel to far-flung areas, interactions with people from diverse backgrounds, and visits to historical and religious sites provided them all the necessary arsenal to write Wisdom to a Sustainable Journey.

Tell us about your journey, your background

Nirmal Mandal :

I am a veterinary doctor, then I joined the Indian Institute of rural management (IRMA) in Anand under Dr. Kurian’s (white revolution fame), in the 1992-94 batch. 

Nirmal Mandal - Wisdom to a Sustainable Journey

After completing post-graduation from IRMA I joined the National Cooperative Dairy Federation of India. It is based in Anand, the milk capital of India.  Over there I worked extensively for farmers’ welfare especially dairy farmers, coordinating for the inputs needed for the dairy industry.

After that, I joined Mott MacDonald, a management consulting agency, where I worked as a consultant in the social sector – agriculture, health, and education. I was there for about two years. 

Then I shifted to the World Bank-funded project. Worked on one of the largest poverty eradication projects of the world funded by the World Bank and implemented by the government of Andhra Pradesh. I worked as a project manager, extensively working with the grass-root people from the interior areas of Andhra Pradesh. The extensive exposure we got in areas of livelihoods, collective marketing, health, education, changed our thought process

Then I shifted to the National Institute for Smart Government, as a part of it I joined a UNDP funded project called ICT for development. How Information Communication Technology can help in the development of people. There also I got a lot of exposure and a lot of learnings happened. 

I traveled to 33 out of 36 states and union territories in India. Went deep into the many interior and rural areas and interacted with the community to understand their problems. I worked on a number of mission mode projects under the national e-governance plan

  • e-health project for Ministry of Health, Government of India 
  • Employment exchange mission world project of the government of India with the Ministry of Labor and Employment
  • Public distribution system (PDS) reforms 
  • I was also involved initially in the online Passport project with the Ministry for corporate affairs

With this started getting a lot of experience and understanding of the real problems, what are the issues and gained a lot of wisdom also over time. 

Then I shifted to Academics and joined KIIT (Kalinga Institute of industrial technology) University as a professor in rural management. I am teaching public policy, innovations for development,  agribusiness management, and governance and policies.

I came in contact with Nilendu about 15 years ago, we were working on a project for the government of Andhra Pradesh. We became very close and then we also were part of the same team where we were developing livelihood and resources for the National Institute for Rural Development. 

We also visited various places like heritage places, spiritual places like in Sikkim we visited a lot of Buddhist places. In the process, we also visited the Art of Living foundation headquarters in Bengaluru and Isha foundation headquarters. Our perspective got changed and I also got it into spirituality, meditation, and yoga.

During this CoVID time, we had enough spare time so we thought let us do something, and the various challenges we saw provoked us to write a book.  

Nilendu Mukherjee :

I am from the North East from a very small state of India, Tripura. I started my journey in the 1990s  when I left my home for higher studies and completed my education in 2001.

Nilendu Mukherjee Wisdom to a Sustainable Journey

I started to work in various corporate firms and soon after I started interacting with Nirmal sir. 

He is the only person who motivated me to get into the development sector. Though I have spent a lot of time in corporate but later I got convinced of the work they are doing. 

Then slowly I started to shift my work profile into the development sector. I was more interested in the livelihoods and entrepreneurship domain so I came into that nearly 15 years back. After that, I was working in various small and big projects working with many seniors in the sector of livelihoods. 

As Nirmal sir mentioned that we worked together for a long duration. Over the years we developed an understanding and values of not only in the subject matter but a larger understanding of people.

Respecting the families of poor farmers and their ambitions, respecting the heterogeneity of nature, and then respecting every religion. 

Having trust in what is happening is happening for the good and if it is not happening then it is our responsibility to come in and do something. To contribute from our little knowledge whatever we have.

In this journey, we wrote a few documents, a few books, and then we started thinking a few years back about this book, maybe seven-eight years back.

Then we started traveling across the country and I remember we went to Pondicherry to Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Art of Living, and many other pilgrimage places. Then suddenly while discussing these learning from people we came to know that there is something which we can provide together. 

Then this CoVID happened which is the biggest challenge in the last 100 years we are facing which nobody has seen. Moreover, we got some time to put together our 15 years of experience of what we have gathered around ecology, economy, and equity.

We thought to bring this into a model called 3S – Spirituality, Social development, and sustainability – that is what we have focused on in this book. 

We have discussed a lot of other things also in this book, which Nirmal sir will discuss. 

Nirmal sir is a very senior person to me and is guiding me in this entire journey so we thought of working for the nation, for the environment, for entrepreneurship and livelihood.

Right now I am associated as an NRP with the National livelihood mission. I have also worked at various levels with the organizations that are working in entrepreneurship, livelihood, consulting, and other education services.

 

Give us the background for writing this book

Nirmal Mandal :

Let’s discuss the issues:

We celebrated the 50th year of Earth Day on 22nd April and this time the entire world is under lockdown for the first time in the history of humanity. So this was the right time to come up with such a book.

Firstly, every country is in a mad race for economic growth even at the cost of society. In one month if cars are not sold, the country is in panic, our growth is getting diminished.

Secondly, the human values, the ethics are diminishing day by day with the culture of consumerism. Everybody wants to have not one mobile phone but multiple mobile phones and not one car but four to five cars. 

The government is also in a race to motivate consumers to purchase more goods. If you produce more goods – you need more energy and this energy will come from the cheapest source of energy which is coal and currently about 85 to 90 percent of global energy is coming from fossil fuels.  

No company will go for renewable energy because renewable energies are costly. To be competitive in the market everybody will go for the cheapest source of energy and in the process, you will destroy the natural resources.

The ultimate strategic objective of corporates is profit maximization. Then there is the dominance of technology companies, they are controlling our day-to-day lives.

Then the global corporations that are emerging as a very powerful empire. I will not tell you the name, there are three global corporations in the world that are controlling 85 percent of the seed, pesticide, and fertilizer market. So these three global corporations are controlling the entire global food production system.

There is rising income inequality, if you see the Oxfam report or a global wealth report, you’ll find that every year the inequality is increasing over time, so that’s a big problem.

All these are pertaining to – sustainability and spirituality. If we have the spiritual thought process automatically the corporate greed will not be there. The corporate leaders and managers should be oriented towards spirituality. 

The planet capacity, by 2050 the population is going to be around 11 billion people, which is currently around 7-8 billion people.  Even the earth has a limited capacity.

Especially CoVID 19 is giving us an opportunity to learn, do you need a new economic order, what are the principles of the new economic order we don’t know. 

Human beings need to work on an approach that brings about sustainable production, sustainable consumption, respect for nature, respect for individual values and ethics through value-based education bringing ethics to business and corporates.

Then coming to CSR, if you analyze all the companies focusing on CSR, they are doing just to enhance the brand image of their respective company. Rather CSR activity should be to promote the welfare of the people and welfare of the planet.

We do not need technology revolution or economic revolution but we need a spiritual revolution. We need to respect the link between sustainability and spirituality is very important.

Tell us about the book

Nirmal Mandal :

The book – Wisdom to a Sustainable Journey, there are seven parts and each part has about four to five chapters and there are subchapters. The book throws light on the possible solutions to the present challenges humanity is facing.  

In the first part, we have talked about the purpose of life, who we are, self-interest versus egoism, sense of belongingness and oneness

In the second part, we have talked about the power of infinity consciousness, the law of cause and effect, law of karma, power of thought, power of love, and power of prayer. So Wisdom to a Sustainable Journey is not only about Sustainability we also talked about Spirituality 

In the third part, we have deliberated various understanding relations between science and spirituality, the importance of cosmic energy. We have discussed the conversation that happened between Vivekananda and Nikola Tesla, they had a very interesting meeting about cosmic energy. In fact, the free power which Nikola Tesla had conceived during that time he got that idea from Vivekananda.

We discussed holistic health, which is your physical health, mental health, and spiritual health. The aspects of ancient practices like yoga, the regulated breathing technique called Pranama. We have given facts and case studies of how the scientists have proved that regulated breathing can alter your physiological parameters, blood pressure, and heart rates.

In the fourth part, we are talking about sustainability, the negative impacts of the consumption-based economy. How the industrial agriculture system is impacting our health and impacting our environment. We are talking about the organized meat industry if we can reduce meat consumption how much global energy can be prevented?

We have also discussed how to harness natural resources in a sustainable way, which we can learn from tribal people. How they are harvesting non-timber forest producers in a sustainable way. We have talked about water harvesting since ancient times how they used to harvest water, groundwater recharging systems, step wells in Gujarat. 

We need to shift from GDP based economic growth to happiness economy. Recently other than Bhutan recently the government of New Zealand has come out with a budget they’re called wellness budget, which is focused on not on GDP but on human health and wellness.

The fifth part talks about invisible challenges in terms of global inequality where we have given examples of various countries. We have also discussed how data has become the world’s most important resource and how it is controlling our lives.

The nexus between government and business, how the media is hypnotizing us and the media houses being controlled by either political parties or business houses and their biased agenda.

We have also discussed that artificial intelligence does not have human consciousness. We have given examples of how technology has helped the communities and how technology can also have a negative impact – so we need to balance it.

In the sixth part, we have discussed the importance of innovations – both systematic innovations and also jugaad or frugal innovations. How they have fixed solutions for day-to-day problems of society. How we can encourage those frugal innovations we have given examples across the world, like 3M, regarded as the most innovative company in the world. The company comes out with about 100 new products every week. Google which encourages people to come out with innovations, they have a culture of investing about 25 percent of their time on Innovations.

In the last part, we have talked about value-based education. How ancient knowledge and wisdom can be blended with the modern education system leading to the prosperity of the people. How nature helps in creating or enhancing the creativity of students 

Nilendu Mukherjee :

In summary, this book is all about understanding the self, which is essentially an ancient practice and understanding the process of doing it. 

Then we discussed the friendship between spirituality and science. People think spirituality is somewhere else, scientists somewhere else. When our rishis and munis (seers and sages) used to talk about matter and particles or someone from ancient Egypt or Rome was talking about this, we have brushed it aside. Maybe they have not produced any paper but definitely they have given a direction and it is a continuous effort.

I would also like to emphasize spiritual socialism. There are a lot of ideologies – political or economic ideologies but spiritual socialism is the need of the hour.

The last part of what we have discussed is education. Without education, nothing will happen that is a thumb rule and it is a must for everyone. 

Can give us a very very specific example from within the country or a global example which you felt is really something very Inspirational which we can learn?

Nilendu Mukherjee :

The Godrej chotu kool refrigerator, was a rural innovation, and it happened because of a spiritual nature in an entrepreneur. Unless you want to give back to society these types of things will never appear to your mind.

You can recall the quote of Henry Ford who said that ‘a business that makes nothing but money is a poor business’. Similarly, the great Einstein has once said “the intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant”.

Another example is water roller, in African countries people have to take water from a long distance. They cannot take water on their head so that brought an innovation, with a drum size water roller. They fill the entire drum with hundreds of liters of water and then they can push it so that their force requirement will be less and they can cover longer distances.

Innovation should come in education, we have been teaching our people – A plus B whole square is equal to A square plus B square plus 2 AB.  Nobody has drawn the picture of how a square is divided into A and B then subdivided and if you calculate the entire area as a square.

I think innovation in education is the foremost important thing, it should not be about certification or degree.

After doing engineering, I may not know many things but with my hard work and experience only I learned and it took a lot of time.

We have to bring innovation in education as a modern and traditional gurukul concept means ancient education has to be amalgamated with the technological part of modern education.

Why they should read the book so give me three reasons why people should read the book

Nirmal Mandal :

One is to understand the purpose of living on this planet and how we can live a happy and prosperous life. The thought process will be definitely changed by reading Wisdom to a Sustainable Journey. We would understand the insights of the invisible challenges and how we can address these invisible challenges.

There is a famous book “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramahansa Yogananda. In the book he mentioned a lady, her name is Giri Bala, that lady did not consume food and water for 50 years and she used to live just by receiving cosmic energy and by doing a particular breathing technique.

 

What inspired you to write this book?

Nilendu Mukherjee :

We thought of writing this book long back, but when this pandemic happened, we thought if we can advocate sustainable practices in the current times, people can live happily in any circumstances. 

 

Spirituality is looking within, while Sustainability is about our interactions with the outside world. How do you connect the two?

Nirmal Mandal :

It is about our thought process, if we are clear about the purpose of life, who we are – then we will strive for a sustainable way of living.

In our book Wisdom to a Sustainable Journey, we have given many scientific studies, for example, if we spend a few days in forests and with nature, that boosts our body immunity.

 

What advice would you like to give to young founders and entrepreneurs, who while starting their business, have to balance between profit-making and care for the environment?

Nirmal Mandal :

It is possible, without damaging nature, we can run a profitable business. In the book, we have highlighted green business and social entrepreneurship.

Nilendu Mukherjee :

If you talk about business, there are two kinds of profit – economic profit and accounting profit. People mainly speak about accounting profit, but we need to look at economic profit, which is making a continuous profit – economically.  

In addition, I would say, Change is the only constant. If we do not change our practices, then nature will destroy us.

 

Any inspirations?

Nirmal Mandal :

Swami Vivekananda is an absolute inspiration, his teachings is so relevant. I have gone through his complete work, the 9 volumes. Rabinarth Tagore, said, “If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him everything is positive and nothing negative”

Nilendu Mukherjee :

Even I am inspired by Swami Vivekananda. In addition, I would like to mention my grandfather, Dr. Shantiranjan, who was a disciple of Girjanand Ji Maharaj, who was one of the direct disciples of Swami Vivekanand. Even my mother is a disciple of  Vireshanand Ji Maharaj, and they are very renowned figures in Ramakrishna’s math history.

Even we have many people from our day to day lives, like other entrepreneurs, our family members who provide their valuable time and inputs.

In the end, I would also like to thank my team members for this book, the young students who worked hard with us to bring this book. We also got motivated by them, so getting motivation is a continuous process. 

 

Any final thoughts?

Nirmal Mandal :

Policymakers need to be cognizant of making policies that are for the benefit of society. In a recent example, we saw how few states allowed the delivery of alcohol, because it brings revenue. When people do not have food to eat, states are allowing alcohol, this is not how it should be. 

Nilendu Mukherjee :

Let us unlearn, let us re-learn and let us change

 


Let’s hope we learn from this book and apply the knowledge in our day to day lives. You can buy the Kindle edition or the paperback from Amazon.

Wisdom to a Sustainable Journey


 

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