A prescription for life| The Moral Compass by Hardayal Singh

An insight into the human psyche and response when morality is under question

A prescription for life| The Moral Compass by Hardayal Singh

By Amitabh Ranjan

Two young women, firebrand, articulate, both steeped in the core ideologies of their respective political parties find themselves in the eye of the storm. While Nupur Sharma has been a spokesperson for the BJP giving voice to its Hindutva nationalism, Mahua Moitra has been unrelenting in countering the saffron outfit by strongly advocating Bengali sub-nationalism. Both now appear to have bitten, albeit in their official capacities, more than what their parties can chew.

The fallout: both have been told, in a way, by their leaders that they are on their own. Why? Because the views they aired do not fit into the realpolitik of their parties. While there are obvious diplomatic and foreign trade implications for the BJP ruling at the Centre, it is the national outreach agenda for the Trinamool which seeks to grow beyond West Bengal.

At first, it may appear a long stretch of imagination to find a parallel while reading through the chapter ‘The Incredible Power of Humility’ in The Moral Compass authored by Hardayal Singh. It, however, helps understand what true leadership means.

Prof Satish Dhawan was at the helm of one of the earliest projects of its kind in India to put a satellite in outer space. He trusted his second-in-command Dr Abdul Kalam to lead a team of physicists and scientists from diverse fields to bring the mission to fruition. But when on D-day, the project fizzled out gobbling up years of effort, man-hours and money, Prof Dhawan decided to face an unforgiving media, standing up for his subordinates. Later, when the second attempt by the same team was successful, Prof Dhawan fielded Dr Kalam before the media to receive the applause.

For Prof Dhawan there was an option to take the road more travelled on both occasions: putting Dr Kalam in the front to face the brickbats in the first case and receiving the bouquets himself in the second. A man of humility, the former showed the trait of a true leader. Therein lies a lesson for the leadership of the two parties mentioned above.

Like Prof Dhawan, there are others from myriad walks of life—scientists, teachers, doctors, engineers, managers, business executives—who, in the course of acting out their karma, are confronted with moral choices, the urge to take the right path in consonance with dharma. Singh, with a varied experience in public life spanning four decades, offers a delightful array of real-life stories with lessons in ethics and morals. His book delves deep into human psyche and tries to find answers to why do people do what they do in a particular situation. He takes us to crossroads, dark alleys and choppy waters and comes up with solutions. The moral underpinnings are refreshing because they come through tales which are based on real life, the situations we are familiar with in our daily grind.

While Chapter 6 is a story of Venkitesh Prasad’s redemption, changing adversity into an opportunity, the next is about a life-changing journey in the hills that Hemant, a copywriter, went on with his friend and senior colleague Aditya. Then there is Captain CC Devaiah, an extroverted Army officer who strayed into the Indian Revenue Service despite being told by friends that he was not fit to be an income-tax officer. Over the years, however, the Captain with his generosity and inclination to help people made friends cutting across barriers of age, seniority, ranks, service loyalties and professions.

Singh’s protagonists are real. In their strengths and weaknesses, they remind us of ourselves and those with whom we interact in our daily lives. While they fight their own battles, adjust to emerging realities and grapple with ‘means and end’ dilemmas, they remind that all of us have a reservoir of goodness within us on which we can depend at all times to guide us. “It serves as a compass to guide us and protect us in this uncertain world.”

The introduction to the book by author and columnist Gurcharan Das is like an icing on the cake. Das, whose recurring theme has been the search of truth, provides an incisive moral and ethical background for each of Singh’s 17 delightful tales. He readies you to relish them.

Lucidly written, the book resonates with Brianna Wiest’s take on life: “Your life is not going to be defined by what went your way; it’s going to be defined by what you did when it didn’t.” For the reader, picking it up makes a lot of sense, for she would know what to do when life doesn’t go her way.

The Moral Compass

Hardayal Singh

HarperCollins

Pp 200, ₹399

(A former journalist, Amitabh Ranjan teaches at Patna Women’s College)

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