Last night, my older one sat me down to explain the principle behind the idol of Lord Nataraja and why it is present in CERN, as told to her by her Tamil teacher. Since I am a dancer, he wanted her to explain it to me.
Though I decided I will blog about it, it slipped my mind this morning. But a speech I saw by Sri Narendra Modi on feeling pride in Indian technology and how idols and statues code some of them symbolically, reminded me of this.
"Today my friend became emotional when I tried to motivate her," my older one told me, eager to share the details.
"What happened?" I asked.
The school is gearing up for sports day this Saturday. "We had hurdles practice today and twice she toppled the hurdle. She felt bad that she was not contributing to her house's success... But she had crossed it the third time! I told her to focus on that."
"That's nice," I said encouragingly.
The PT sir does not take the girls seriously - this has been my sports-loving daughter's complaint for long. But she used that to her advantage. "I told her that PT sir has no expectations of her. So when she toppled it, it didn't bother him. But when she crossed it, he was so pleased! That made her think!"
I smiled, happy about her insight.
"I remembered what you told me when I was upset two years ago with my previous PT sir, and I told her the same things."
"Oh really?" I was piqued.
"In football, he used to keep the girls in the background and I would get frustrated. But you told me that I must be alert and take every chance to prove myself even there... I told my friend not to worry about what the PT sir or anyone thought. I gave her tips on how to improve her running and how to compete only with herself, bettering her performance every time."
She elaborated this some more. "I told her to remember how she was when she was younger. She has come second in running and hurdles! I gave her tips on how to improve her performance by setting targets for herself."
That night, my daughter dug out old sports day photos where she stood first and her friend second and sent it by whatsapp to her friend to encourage her further. Her friend posted her own progress that evening in the team sports coaching she goes for.
Meanwhile, my son, not to be outdone, told me, "My friend also used to be slow and asked me for tips. I made four of them improve their speeds by setting time for them and giving them tips."
The two started sharing details of the tips - some of which they have learnt in Karate and have practiced at home, motivating each other to improve their timing.
I was dazed as I sank into a self-congratulatory mode. But their conversation brought me back to reality. I sat up alert. "Hey, if you share all the tips with your friends, they are going to defeat you in the races!"
"That's okay, ma," they replied in unison. "They are our friends. We don't mind their winning."
I recently received this forward:
In 'Three Idiots', Aamir Khan said we must allow children to pursue their dreams.
In 'Taare Zameen Par', he said children need not pursue any dreams.
In 'Dangal' he says, make your children fulfill your dreams.
The horrible videos of the suffering of children in Aleppo makes one wonder about the perpetrators of such crimes. Whatever be the cause of the fight, is it so much more important than lives? Is it just the piece of land, or the politics or the fragile ego that is more important?
Suddenly, my older one burst in on me with this theory - that Mars will be the next earth.
Photo courtesy: Srikant Ranganathan
In her words:
"Kalki avataram is the last of the incarnations after which the earth will be destroyed. Mercury and Venus are going to merge with the Sun, and earth is becoming the next Mercury - hot - as it is getting closer to the sun. Mars will come to Earth's position. Already snow capped mountains, underground water and atmosphere conducive for life have been found on that planet. So that will be the next earth. Then after sometime, that will also move closer to the sun and the next planet will become the earth, and this will go on till all are consumed by the Sun."
I listened with a thoughtful smile, thinking how close she is to the theory of expanding and contracting universes. I quoted:
Meaning: THAT (BRAHMAN) IS WHOLE, THIS (CREATION) IS ALSO WHOLE FROM THAT WHOLE (I.E. BRAHMAN ONLY), THIS WHOLE HAS COME OUT (CREATION) BUT EVEN THOUGH THIS WHOLE HAS COME OUT OF THAT WHOLE YET THAT WHOLE REMAINS WHOLE ONLY In 'Vashishta's Yoga', the idea that the whole cosmos begins from a mustard seed - a complete circle, that expands in creation and contracts in dissolution - seems to be indicated. What she told me, not based on any scientific fact or even with any understanding of what is given in the scriptures, seemed to reflect this same thought. Though this will mean that the sun will also move and so the relative cosmic distances with other stars, planets and galaxies will change, it is quite possible that in a contracting world, earth will eventually go back to its progenitor - the sun. We will not live to see this, but I was pleased to see the radiant smile on her face when I explained what little I understood to her. And I was glad of the opportunity to give this self-generated nascent thought a direction.
An unexpected statement, and my mind flared up. A root thought went round and round in circles, taking over my mind and emotions. My hands went about their work, but the thoughts - a thought, in fact - split into different hues like light passing through prism, scattering into a million other thoughts.
One hue resulted in a debate; another pulled up past offenses; a third imagined a friend to whom I poured out my heart; a fourth thought objectively and judged itself petty for the frenzy it was getting into.
These further splintered into a myriad subthoughts. And, oh, a part was getting bored and sought to distract itself. So wave dipped and peaked, dragging the mind down while another sought to remain neutral and a third tried to boost it up.
The thoughts fueled the morning chores, which got done early due to the anger energy flowing with the blood. A refreshing bath changed the direction of the thoughts. A brief yoga session later, the mind started singing a song and presto! the mood had changed. Like a child that saw a new toy and forgot its tantrum, the mind now easily flowed to other, more pleasant thoughts.
'Dil to bachcha hai ji' - suddenly this line flashed through my mind (the very same, the very same). The mind is indeed a child, pretending to be mature and adult-like, but really a child that sways with whims and fancies. It throws tantrums, becomes stubborn and clings to its views without any rationale sometimes. The ego stands like a guardian - a short-sighted parent - assuring the mind of its perspicacity and encouraging it in its rash and unreasonable behaviour that becomes self-destructive eventually.
A little bit of sugar can distract a crying child. A little focus on our breath can distract our child-like mind. But just like the child enjoys the tantrum, we enjoy our spiraling thoughts.
I bow to our ancestors who identified the gentle guide, the guru - our breath- that calms us, guides us, releases us from the vice grip of our thoughts and emotions without much effort.
The One who gave us problems gives us solutions too, it is said. Most of the times, problems are of our own making. And yet, we have been given a solution in anticipation. Let's at least use that well.
Do problems go away? No, but they cease to become a problem - just a situation that needs to be faced and will pass... A child needs its games. Let it have its fun. Like a mature parent, smile and watch but don't get too involved. The next fancy will change the direction of the thoughts in any case.
We reached Koodalur in the foothills of Kumily Hills near Thekkady for a bullock cart ride around the fields, looking for birds of different feathers. Two youth were waiting with cameras taking photos already. We got on to the cart and one of the boys enthusiastically pointed out the different birds flying around. It was his uncle's cart and he had already done the rounds of the farms earlier. He had seen 105 birds on an earlier trip, he said with pride.
As always, I started chatting up. The two men were from Mumbai, where they worked with Bhavan's rescuing snakes and spreading awareness about the need to protect snakes. "People used to kill snakes out of fear and I felt it was wrong so I joined Bhavan's which had started rescuing snakes," said Prabhu, a Tamilian who was born and brought up in Mumbai. His friend Hemant, was a Maharashtrian, and both worked in the same place. They had been working non stop for the last two or three years and so they were on a 15 day or one month vacation, going to different places in Tamil Nadu and maybe unintentionally focusing on the fauna around. They told us about the birds they had spotted in Kodai and Meghamalai, apart from Kudalur, of course.
"How did you get into snake rescue?" I asked.
I was stunned to hear that the two boys had done engineering, one of them in IT and the other in Civil. But as they matured into youth (they must have been in their early 20s), they were slowly drawn into rescuing the snakes, and their career path changed. They draw a salary, which they are happy with. They also do other work, but all around rescuing animals or working with children creating awareness about the need to protect the environment.
"How did your parents agree?" I asked.
"They were upset initially, but then they agreed," Prabhu, the outspoken one, said. I admired the parents who endorsed their sons' decision and are supportive. Maybe they had fights about the money spent on engineering education, but they came around and accepted it.
While going around the fields, I saw several kinds of birds and I learnt that mynah, owls and parakeets have their nests in coconut trees. I saw bee-eaters in certain kinds of fields, while some other birds preferred a different kind of greenery. They previous day, during a nature trail through Thekkady forest, the guide - a tribal whom the government had trained to be a naturalist and guide - told us about one kind of parakeets that went only for banana plantation. They had become rare to sight in between because banana cultivation had come down. But now again there was a revival it seems.
I was reminded of a story I had heard when working on a dance-play on bees - that bees in China were vanishing . I wondered if the farmers in the surroundings appreciated the rare birds that they sighted regularly. I wondered, when we cut forests to plant a particular kind of plant/crop, what happened to the birds that depended on those trees. When we replant in a different locations (if at all we do), then do we consider the need for variety? Because we cannot know which plant houses which bird and what will happen to a species if 'useless' trees are cut.
With these thoughts came the constant struggle between man and nature. Ironically, it is only men who can fight other men who destroy nature. And there will always be a conflict.
Meanwhile, we can only hope that more and more Prabhus and Hemants are created so that at some point, we can hope for the natural order to be restored.
I was probably 11 or 12. My friend and I were in a park in our neighbourhood in Delhi. I can't remember how suddenly we started talking about it, but I felt the south Indians were to be pitied more for the troubles they were facing in Sri Lanka, while she felt that it is the north Indians suffering at the hands of the Sikh terrorists that needed all the sympathy.
I am sure we did not understand the issues involved or the politics. But, we felt the need to support the underdog, to show solidarity with the sufferers, but most importantly, identify ourselves with the victims.
Today, I am sometimes worried, sometimes shocked when I see that even as adults, we seem to feel the need to take sides, constantly. That we maybe unfair to the other side be damned. That our own stance may shift with the winds is conveniently forgotten. That there are no absolute truths be overridden with one sweeping statement.
If perpetrators of so-called social crimes are evil, can taking the opposing stance be good? Isn't it only reversal of roles? Do two negatives become a positive, or are we simply tilting the balance?
If that is the way of the world, why should the past be judged? And if it is not right, why perpetuate it in a different form today?
Ironically, it also seems to be a time where everything Indian is either rubbished or elevated on a pedestal. "Oh I wish we were more like them," seems to be the tune of some, while the others seem to think "All that they know is because of us."
Education, access to technology, exposure to global thought do nothing to expand our views, open our minds. We will remain small and mean so long as it serves our purpose. So long as we can somehow show our superiority - either in aligning ourselves with the victims, or by negating our roots.
Forever, we will be forming teams to fight battles - either directly by throwing bombs or indirectly through the power of the pen.
"When I was growing up in a village, during weddings, the family would not have to buy much. Coconuts would come from whoever had a coconut grove, someone else would bring fruits, somebody would contribute with labour for cutting vegetables, etc." an octogenarian told me in some context.
I was editing a book on Rajasthani rituals, where it was mentioned that along with the invitation for the wedding, a request for the brethern to help in the preparation would also be sent.
In modern times, contractors and money play a big role. Even if friends have loads of turmeric and betel nut sachets going waste, we still go to the market to buy fresh stock. Forget about contributing materials, even the packing of the return gift, where younger cousins would sit together as they readied the bags, is being outsourced. Many close relatives visit like guests and probably are among the first to leave, yours truly included. Children don't know how they are related to the rest of the family, even the first cousins, sometimes.
When I bring up the image of the relaxed chatting and laughter of the men and women working together and children running around to bring a wedding to fruition, I feel we are missing something crucial in our lives. We go on holidays, but even there, we are "intent on having fun" rather than spontaneously enjoying simple joys. We have money, but we are poor in love and compassion. We have friends, but we rarely let our hair down.
We cannot turn the clock back. We cannot leave the rut we have fallen into. But at least on special occasions, we should drop everything else to be with people with the single goal of enjoying simple tasks that is made interesting because of warm company.
Disruptive, evidently bored and with loads of attitude, the 13-14 year old boy was a past master in evading activities the rest in his noisy groups were willing to do. Finally, when I realised that it was futile involving him in any activity, and better in fact to let others keep doing their tasks and engage him in conversation (I am a wannabe psychologist too) he asked me quietly, "Ma'am, how did you get your books published?"
Startled, I turned to look at him closely. This was a workshop on writing for children, and though I wondered what I can teach kids of today, to talk of publishing even before writing seemed overly precocious. "Why do you ask?" I hedged.
"My friend and I have written a novel which is part fantasy, part mythology. One of our friend's mothers is a patenting agent and she has helped us patent it. We are trying to get it published."
I was silent and glad when a distraction caused us to break up the conversation. Patenting agent? I hadn't event heard the word till I had started working.
Then he showed me another novel he was writing based on the Wimpy series. I read through a few pages and could well understand why he would have found a workshop on writing a waste of time.
Not everybody had that standard in that class of 52, thankfully. But I wondered, what avenues did such children who were ahead of their age groups have? What coping mechanisms were they being given when they met with disappointments?
Your right arm cannot become your left; your head cannot become
the feet or vice versa, thus says Vasishta's Yoga.
No rocket science, that, we may well think. And yet, to remember
it at just the moment when we need it the most - when something we desire does
not bear fruition; when something we expect as inevitable proves evasive; when
something we aspire for goes beyond our reach - that is the real test.
When the hand that must pull you up tells you to stop instead,
when the person who is to open the door blocks the way, when the wind beneath
your wings clips it instead... Will anger, ranting and raving be of any use?
Will we overcome hurdles, pass through closed doors, fly on the strength of our
If the hand stops, the door closes, the wing is clipped, is that
the end, or do you find new ways, new strength, new purpose?
Maybe the roadblock is meant to divert you to a different purpose.
Maybe your purpose was only to go thus far and no more. Maybe the hand pushes
you down so that you may jump higher.
Some lines from 'Murder in the Cathedral' that I am trying to
locate but have not: Your destiny turns so that the ultimate destiny be
achieved. If we knew that, maybe we would remember the words from Yoga Vasishta
always. But it is the obscurity, the mystery, the uncertainty that is like a
rite of passage, a test by fire that can consume us like wood or strengthen us
When I think thus, I understand these verses from Bhagavad Geeta
better - Do your duty, do not worry about the results. With no expectations,
you are not affected by the consequences. And so, you take the next path that
opens up, that will open up...
And you will see it because anger did not blind you,
disappointment did not make you dejected. Because you will know that it is part
of the journey, a stopover to your final destination.
The seasons change slowly, gradually. The flower blooms at leisure. The waves crash or relax, determined solely by the will of the wind. The clouds drift at their pace, relishing the view of the earth, going where the breeze takes them. The seed sprouts if the conditions are right and grows into a tree enjoying the process. A dog runs either for food or to sleep. A cat forages furiously and spends the rest of the time languidly, its belly full.
"It's 11.33!" exclaimed my husband.
"Oh ok..." should have been my response. It is information that hands are touching specific numbers in the clock. But I reply with equal urgency, "What! Oh my god!"
Why? I ask myself. Why do we live with an eye always on the clock. And force our children to too.
"It is 7.45, and you are still not in the bath!"
"It is 8, eat fast!!!"
"Oh my god! It is 8.22 and you are still eating?"
Is this how life was always, or have we fallen victims to some disease, disease called deadlines that then slowly percolates all aspects of our lives. What are these deadlines anyway? Who decides when something should happen and what will happen if it did not happen that day, that moment? Will the world come to an end?
What does happen when something happens as planned? Does the world become a better place?
Am I in my dotage, or a slave protesting the iron grip time has on my life?
Well, my mind-block to cooking is known among my friends and family. I cook so that my family does not go hungry, and gets the required nutrition. But the moment there is a need for delicacies to be prepared in authentic way, I get jittery, need time to prepare myself mentally like before every interview call I take and sometimes I just drop out.
Corn in white sauce is one simple dish that I have made, not mastered, but my children get excited on seeing it. Lumpy or not, they happily lump it on the occasions I have made it so far. And yet, that maida component has bothered me for long. It is like a niggling problem that needs a solution.
So this week, when I decided to make it on a weekday - in itself an adventure for me - I decided to add some roasted and powdered almonds just to enhance the healthiness factor of the dish. And then I said, why not roasted gram powder? So a handful of roasted gram went into the wok. I ground the two to powder and noticed that it was sufficient to make the sauce, and added just a teaspoon of maida - more out of fear than anything else.
It wasn't white sauce, it was yellow. But with salt, pepper and mixed herb powder for flavour, it was a healthier option that I didn't mind giving again during teatime as a snack.
Now, I will agonise less about making this sauce in this new format in the future.
'War is the last resort of desperate and foolish kings' Dasaratha's message to his sons, quoted by Lakshmana in Ashok Banker's 'Bridge of Rama'.
But it is not just the war in the battle field that I think of. People speak freely, uttering all nonsense that comes to them in a moment of despair and anger. They speak ill of others.
And the person being spoken of hears of this. Does he discard it as nothing? No! It takes root in his or her heart and starts becoming a poisonous tree. She awaits an opportunity to vilify the person who spoke ill, whatever the trigger, or confront and punch holes, leaving a crack that can never quite heal.
And this vicious circle goes on unabated, spreading unhappiness, not just among these two but everybody connected with them. Battle lines get formed, loyalties are sworn. With time, the original charge is forgotten, only the feeling of resentment prevails.
War mongers have field day, carrying tales, twisting words and adding spices to even inane statements. The ear still does not know how to filter out the noise and the brain laps up everything the ears hear to relish the moment, anticipate the 'enemy's downfall and somewhere feel triumphant for no rhyme or reason.
'How much is price of that reparation? When will our honour be sufficiently redeemed?' Rama demands of Lakshmana a few lines later. 'At what point does the cycle of revenge end?'
Never, unless we develop selective hearing, understand ourselves well and are beyond the touch of mere words. To gossip can be fun and entertaining, but like a movie or a game, should follow codes and have an end. Or else, like a serial, it will simply stretch, running into years! And you know how mindless that can be!
Contestants, judges and the anchor in a reality show shed tears remembering their parents and how the parents were their gods. Many of them are young children, so I can well believe it. But as I watched the elders, not that I suspect their sincerity, but I couldn't help remembering two incidents - one which I witnessed just a day before, and another, several years ago.
I was in the library, picking up books when one old lady walked up and asked the librarian, "Any new novels have come?"
"No, nothing new, all the same old titles are there."
"But why don't you get some?"
"Nobody reads Telugu novels except you."
"Okay, give me some books. I get bored at home."
The librarian turned to his assistant who said, "But her membership has been cancelled."
"Sorry lady, you can't take books."
The old lady took out a Rs 100 note. "Since you will anyway throw them away, give me those books. I will buy them from you."
"I can't, your son will shout at me," the librarian said. "Give me his number, I will talk to him."
"No, they are all busy at home. You give me those books, I will pay you, I am such an old member of yours. I have been coming here since you started so many years ago!"
"Give me your son's number," the librarian persisted.
"No, they will shout at me if you call," the lady said and left in resignation.
What could have made the son cancel her membership? She was probably in her late 70s but was mobile. She seemed sharp and her faculties still acute. Then why would her son deny her the pleasure of reading?
Years, ago, when I lived in a working women's hostel, a lady was brought to the only house-like building there. She was in her 70s or 80s. Her son and daughter in law were working and they thought this was a safe place for her.
It was. But it was filled with strangers. Though one or two of us dropped in out of pity, her repetitive conversations and whining and complaining kept us away after a while.
Yes, I could understand how she would be boring her son and daughter in law. But, wasn't she his mother? Hadn't she tolerated his repetitive babble when he was a child and a toddler? While her heart would have brimmed with pride at the gurgling nonsense, his son probably found it embarrassing.
Can we pass judgement on such children? Increasingly, I find myself wondering about vanaprastham and its significance in our lives. Elderly couple would often voluntarily leave the worldly life after their children had their own families to pursue higher knowledge giving up all material pleasures. Was this why this had been introduced as one of the four stages of our lives - because our ancestors had seen that not all children and their parents can live in harmony beyond a point. And so, instead of becoming a burden and in turn feeling neglected, they find their way out of this illusory lives when their faculties are still functional and then take up sanyasa when the time is right?
Otherwise, maybe we too need to go the Chinese way - legally binding children to visit their aging parents!