Wednesday, December 15, 2010

William Dalrymple's 'Nine Lives'


I was waiting to catch my plane back home from Singapore when I caught sight of William Dalrymple's latest book, 'Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India', at a bookshop in Changi Airport. Interesting, I thought. Perhaps what grabbed my attention was the picture of a theyyam dancer on the cover. I felt that Appa would find it to be a good read and so conveniently, decided to 'gift' him the book. :D

The book certainly did not disappoint me. Revolving around the lives and faiths of nine different people across the country, it revealed several aspects of religion in India, which I wasn't even aware existed. The first 'life' is that of a Jain nun, who decides to undertake the sallekhana or ritual fasting to death. Other 'lives' include that of a Tibetan monk at Dharamsala, an idol maker at Swamimalai, a devadasi at Saundatti and a singer at Pabusar, dedicated to preserving a medieval Rajasthani epic. Dalrymple also covers various aspects of tantra at Tarapith in West Bengal and gives us a glimpse into the lives of 'Bauls', the nomadic singers of the state. However, two of the 'lives' that I was most drawn to were that of a theyyam dancer in Kannur and a Sufi saint in the city of Sehwan in the Sindh province of Pakistan.

In the 'Dancer of Kannur', Dalrymple portrays the life of Haridas, who earns a livelihood by playing three different roles: A jail warden during weekends, a laborer constructing wells during the rest of the week and a theyyam dancer during the season of this dance, unique to God's Own Country, between January and March. Being a Keralite myself, the sensitive portrayal of Haridas' life revealed a lot about my own land, which was hitherto unknown (or perhaps unnoticed) to (by) me. For instance, Dalrymple writes that Haridas as a laborer would dig wells at Namboodhiri households. Once the well is dug, he would be asked to leave the premises immediately. Being a Dalit, he is forbidden to drink from the very well he helped bring into existence! What's even more ironical is the reverential behavior of the same so-called upper caste people during the dance season when Haridas gets possessed by the gods as he begins to perform the theyyam. The brahmins who refuse to acknowledge his presence otherwise, bow down to his performance at the theyyam and even seek his blessings. Haridas confesses that he finds the life of the theyyam dancer to be the most rewarding, in terms of monetary compensation as well as mental satisfaction. What struck me about Haridas was the way he accepted things. Accepting circumstances as mere fate is one thing; acceptance and doing one's best to change unfavourable circumstances is another. At the end of the chapter, Haridas says, ' The other ten months are hard. But there is no way around it. That's reality, isn't it? That's life. Life is hard'. Haridas is just one amongst a million other people who struggle for a livelihood, day in, day out. But he's a true inspiration in the sense that we need to put in our best efforts, no matter what!

In 'The Red Fairy', Dalrymple narrates the story of a female Sufi saint in the Pakistani city of Sehwan. Lal Peri, as she is known, speaks about Sufism and a Sufi pir by the name of Lal Shahbaz Qalander. I discovered how Sufism combines the best of both Hinduism and Islam, and was struck by how Sufi saints are revered by Hindus and Muslims alike. Lal Peri's story once again reminded me that all faiths are essentially the same. Like my dad always says, 'If you're truly spiritual, religion doesn't matter'. What is disheartening is that most people refuse to recognize this fundamental truth.

Lal Peri narrates a powerful anecdote at the end of the chapter: One day, Lal Shahbaz Qalander was wandering in the desert with his friend. It was bitter cold, and there was no wood available to build a fire. So his friend suggested that Qalander turns himself into a falcon, so that he can get fire from hell. An hour later, Qalander returned, but with no fire. He said, 'There is no fire in hell. Everyone who goes there brings his own fire, and their own pain from this world'.

Heaven and hell are both within us...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Why is Obama's Christianity Such A Big Deal?

I recently read an article on CNN's Belief Blog which stated that only a third of Americans believe that their President is Christian. Nearly one in five Americans think that Obama is a Muslim. I have been pondering over this issue for quite some time now.

The White House asserts that the President is indeed a Christian, emphasizing on Obama's relationship with his church. The article from the CNN blog concluded with an opinion from a Florida evangelical who is frequently in touch with the President -The Rev Joel Hunter suggests that perhaps, "the White House should be a little more public about what the President does to be an active Christian."

I wonder why religion is such a public issue. After all shouldn't it be a matter of faith between you and your Maker? What is the need for someone, the President included, to convince others of their faith? Why is religion the eye of many political storms today? I simply fail to understand why such a big deal is made about religion. Sure, my faith in my religion is what keeps me going. That doesn't mean I need to convince everyone that I am a good Hindu. And on a different note, what exactly is the problem if Obama is indeed a Muslim? Does that make him in any way less qualified for the White House? Does that make him a terrorist? Does it make him unfit to be President? Does it mean he ceases to be 'American'?

It's high time people realize that faith is a deeply private issue, something involving only you and your trust in God, whatever name you call Him by. It is not meant to be made into a spectacle. It is not something to fight over. And it certainly isn't something you convince others about your identity...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Humility

A dear friend of mine always says, "There's a thin line between self confidence and arrogance". Although the difference between the two is subtle, it is not difficult to analyze whether a person is just self confident or simply over confident. Through the years, I have realized that whilst confidence is a sine quo non for success, it needs to be tempered with humility. Clichéd as it may be, pride indeed goes before a fall.

Humility doesn't mean that you become meek and submissive. It means that you are willing to listen to other peoples' points of view. It means you are willing to acknowledge that you could be wrong. It means that you can treat success and failure just the same. Humility enables a person to accept defeat with grace as well as acknowledge success without conceit. Above all, it shows strength of character. I am reminded of a beautiful verse I read from one of the many 'Our Daily Bread' booklets at home:

"Blessed Saviour, make us humble,
Take away our sinful pride;
In ourselves we're sure to stumble,
Help us stay close by Your side." -- D. De Haan


Monday, November 15, 2010

Little Things in Life

Well, I am supposed to be hard at work. But I couldn't resist blogging about this ;so I'll keep this post short and crisp. I just received an email from Sadhana, about whom I've written quite a number of times. It was a sweet message, written with all the innocence of an eight year old. The main purpose was to inform me that her birthday falls this week. Haha! And then she says, "Keep smiling". I am so touched that she still remembers me!
I don't know why but suddenly I feel as if there's a solution to any problem. Optimism is so infectious! I know it sounds terribly naive. But then I guess little things in life do count! And they definitely make a huge difference! I cannot believe that I am actually grinning as I return to my world of studies, studies and even more studies...
Thank you Sadhana for the little things in life! Thank you for inspiring me! :)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Free at last!

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is free at last! The military junta in Burma finally agreed to release Suu Kyi after 15 years of house arrest. 15 years of being cut away from the rest of the world, 15 years of struggle. She refused to succumb to pressure from the junta and held steadfast to her dream for her nation.

Yes, her dream and that of millions in Burma hasn't been fulfilled yet. But this is surely a harbinger a hope. Once again the world has proved to us that struggles are not futile, although it may seem as if it's never going to be realized. Moses and his people struggled for forty years in the wilderness before they reached the promised Holy Land. India struggled for nearly a century before she achieved independence from the traders-turned-invaders. Nelson Mandela struggled in Robin Island for 27 years before apartheid was abolished and his dream became a reality. History teaches us time and again that no matter what, struggles always win at the end of the day.

Forgive me if I sound naive, but it's just a matter of time before the light of democracy replaces the darkness of dictatorship in the land of the Shwedagon. As the poet says, "If winter comes, can spring be far behind?"

Monday, November 8, 2010

Dawn



Dawn. The most splendid time of the day. The glittering stars of the night slowly fade into the backdrop of the vast unconquered skies. A new day stealthily makes its way across the dark horizon. The pitch black of the sky slowly turns dark blue...purple. Slowly, it fades into pink, till the birth of a new day is marked by the sunrise, declared by the chirp of the early birds... And so it goes... dawn to dusk. Dusk to dawn... Dawn represents new hope for me. The beginning of a new day, a fresh start. Optimism and zest for life.

According to Hindu belief, dawn is brahmamuhurtha, a time of immense spiritual significance. No wonder I always found it easier to concentrate on work during those wee hours of the morning! I started this practice quite a number of years ago. Having spent nearly seven years in the Middle East, dawn for me was always marked by the call of the muezzin, calling the faithful for the fajr prayers. It's funny but this is one of the many aspects of life that I miss now.

I soon discovered that it wasn't easy to wake before the sun at a place like NUS. No matter how many alarms I kept, I always seem to sleep through them! Today was an exception. I finally beat not only the alarms but also the sun. Yayyy!! More than being able to utilize my time in a more productive manner, watching dawn made me more optimistic. Reminded me of the song "When you believe" from The Prince of Egypt. "Though hope is frail, it's hard to kill...". Looking at it from a grander level, I also think of our own insignificance in this universe. As the poet Rumi would say, "Who are we in this complicated world?".

Here's to dawn and hope! :)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Of Happiness and "Happons"


I just attended the last leg of lectures for this semester. My macroeconomics prof was explaining to us about shifts in the concepts of the Production Possibility Curve. While explaining the different combination of products that could be manufactured, his discussion moved to which combination is more prosperous, thereby making the economy happier. In order to make it easier, he told us to assume that happiness could be measured in terms of "happons".

Later I began thinking about what is happiness. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I am becoming slightly disillusioned with the idea of worldly success. Oh yes, graduating top of the class and getting a top job that gives you a six figure salary is indeed a good idea. Not that I wouldn't want that, of course! It's just that am wondering if that is what happiness is all about? Surely there is more to it?

Like all other things, they also come to an end one day. In our tradition, after prayers, we have a custom of wearing holy ash (vibhuti) on the forehead. Just to remind ourselves that everything will perish one day. Fame and friends, kith and kin, wealth and riches... simply everything. I realize that this does sound pessimistic. But then how can we be happy with our existence in such a temporary world, where everything is teased by cruel maya? I think the key to this issue is to just remain happy throughout, regardless of the circumstances. Abandon this mad chase for something that you believe will bring you happiness.

I think we should just learn to let go. Not think about achieving happiness. Instead spend every moment believing that you are indeed happy. I recollect an incident where I forgot to wish my uncle on his birthday. So the next day I called him and apologized for missing his birthday. He said, "Every day is a celebration! So why apologize?". (Vasantha valiacha, if you're reading this, I want you to know that I truly cherish that conversation :)) Thus the moment is now, I guess. Just be happy, wherever you are, whatever situation. Life's so short anyway. It doesn't make much sense to do anything else, haha!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bumblebee, hold on there!


It's been a kind of depressing week. Mountains of work, not making much progress. Things haven't worked out the way I wanted them to. I built magnificent castles in the air, castles with no bases whatsoever. They crashed a few days ago. I felt weak, hopeless and lost. Angry and devastated. I spent a few hours crying, moping and cursing over my fate. As a result, I achieved nothing but red eyes and a terrible headache. Lesson 1 learnt (yet again!)- there is nothing worth crying over. What has to happen will happen. There is probably a divine will behind it. Who can challenge the power of the Cosmos?

Lesson 2- Life is not meant to be spent building on expectations. Once again, I realized the essence of the Gita- "Karmanye Vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana, Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurmatey Sangostva Akarmani". Literally translated, it means "You have a right to perform your prescribed action,but you are not entitled to the fruits of your action." I am reminded of a beautiful comparison of our roles in this universe with that of a puppet. We, as puppets, have to play our parts. But the Puppeteer alone knows when to move the puppet and how to do it.

Lesson 3- Learn to be like the bumblebee. Scientists say that the bumblebee cannot really fly because of its heavy wings. (OK, I never was a science person, so I really cannot explain this stuff, but I've heard this somewhere, so yeah...) But the bumblebee doesn't know of this fact and so it keeps trying to fly! We all have our limitations. Just ignore them and keep trying. Bumblebee, hold on there, the Puppeteer will not let go of the string!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Chat with Sadhana


I wrote about my experience of volunteering at Isha Vidhya, a school for children predominantly from the rural background in Tamil Nadu earlier. Thanks to today's technology, I have been able to keep in touch with some of those wonderful kids. It always makes me feel optimistic and cheerful- their happiness is infectious!!

Just a few hours ago, I chatted with Sadhana, a smart little third grader who would frequently call me at home when I was back in Coimbatore. I had spoken to her aunt a few weeks earlier and she told me that Sadhana was doing very well at school. So today I congratulated her for her good academic performance. She told me that she now has a new pet- a cuckoo! Then she told me that all her friends- Sowbarnika, Srimathi, Pradeesh and Mouli are fine. I was really touched when she said that they all miss me. It was such a simple conversation, but it brought me immense joy.

Of late, I have been thinking about what exactly is the meaning of this life- Is it just a mad, mad rush for good grades, good jobs, pride, power, position? I sometimes feel disillusioned when I think of the futility of this rat race, a sense of disappointment, a nagging worry that everything will one day go. But then I remember these simple chats with Sadhana- there are certain things that do last a lifetime. Maybe, I should follow my passion for teaching- is that the meaning I'm looking for?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Remembering Lena's

Well, today's one of those days where I just cannot get to work without having blogged about something, anything that I'm thinking about right now. So I decided to blog about the very first school I attended- Lena's School, Lovedale. Lena's School, tucked away in the village of Lovedale (dare I call it a village?) on the outskirts of Ooty, will always remain special to me. In my mind's eye, I can still see the school, set against the picturesque backdrop of the Nilgiri Hills, mist floating everywhere in the vicinity. I haven't read Edmund Hillary's "Schoolhouse in the Clouds" yet, but the image of Lena's always pops into my mind whenever I think of the book, making me want to read it all the more.

My parents used to work at the Lawrence School, Lovedale, which is just a stone's throw away, so I guess it was quite convenient for them to leave me at Lena's. I remember my first day at kindergarten. Mom and dad took me to the Principal's office- Sister Ann Joseph. Stern yet kind, always smiling, always ready to help us. I also remember Sister Sheeba who taught me math in grade 2. I think it was she who scored out two pages in my notebook where I had eagerly written down my even and odd numbers, anxious to be the first one in the class to complete the task. I was dismayed when she pointed out to me that I had labeled the pages wrongly! So Sister Sheeba was the one who first taught me the virtues of "looking before leaping".

Then there was Shyamala Miss who taught us Hindi. Oh!! I remember the agony of reading my Hindi answers out to Mom so that she could write it down in English. Weird? Yes, there's more to it- Neither Mom nor dad are experts at Hindi . Come to think of it, after all those years, neither am I. Our education system is like that. What to do? But I digress. So before every exam, there was a little ritual followed at home. I used to rattle off all my answers to mom who used to check with my notes to see if I had learnt well. So that was how mom learnt some Hindi- jotting down my answers in English!

I recollect an incident where Lena's suddenly decided to use question papers for examinations in grade 3, instead of the old system of having them written on the blackboard. This was introduced so that we wouldn't be surprised when we did get in to Lawrence for grade 4. My teacher wanted to give us a dictation and by mistake those words were printed on the paper, and then hastily blackened out! I remember going back home and laughing over the whole episode.

I remember with fondness, my first friends- Monica and Kaumudi. Joyous days spent on swings and slides, squabbling over the silliest of issues, laughing while on the merry-go-round, singing Christmas carols in December...It's been a long time from then, but I still feel the warmth in my heart when I think of those days. Thank you Lena's for all those precious memories...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Universal Prayer

"May the whole world be happy
May our compassion increase.
May we all sing in one voice together
May the world find peace.

Lead us from untruth to the truth,
Lead us from darkness to light,
Lead us from death to immortality,
Lead us from blindness to sight.

Lokaha samastaha sukhino bhavantu!"

P.S: I came across this beautiful prayer in a video of the Hugging Saint ( my guru Amma) titled "Embracing the World". I thought it was such a simple message, yet so powerfully written! A harbinger of hope indeed :)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fighting over Faith

I've been thinking quite a lot about faith these days. (Maybe because am doing a module called Introduction to World Religions?) I am once again amazed at how faith has, rather ironically, become such a divisive factor in our society today. The recent incidents of the Qu'ran burning plan at a church in Florida and the Australian lawyer who "smoked the scriptures"(to put it in my lecturer's words) are probably just reminders as to how intolerant and insensitive our world has grown to be.

Just yesterday I heard that the island of Bahrain had revoked the Bahraini citizenship of a top Shiite cleric. The media guesses that there have been subtle traces of unrest between the Shiites and the Sunnis in the region. Having lived in Bahrain for three years, it came as a surprise to me at first. The island is predominantly Shiite but the ruling family belongs to the Sunni sect. The country has always been open to religious freedom and I remember visiting quite a number of temples on Bahraini soil. Funnily, I understood more about my Hindu faith in an Islamic nation, thanks to the spiritual classes I attended every Friday (which wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for religious tolerance). Thus learning about strife between two faiths in a country whose main charm used to be interfaith harmony was rather disturbing.

Not that Bahrain has now become a center of unrest- I had to remind myself that we have seen it everywhere. Vaishnavites against the Saivites. The Catholics against the Protestants. The Sunnis against the Shiites. (It was interesting to learn that this rift has been in existence for the last 14 centuries). These are just examples of divisions within one religion. At a macro level, we have also seen battles among faiths- The crusades. The fight against "kafirs" which many misunderstand to be "jihad". Demolishing a mosque because it happened to be built on the birth place of one of Hinduism's most popular gods.

Such examples of fighting over faith make me question the very essence of it. Isn't faith supposed to strengthen humanity as a whole? Surely the purpose of faith was not to divide society right? Maybe in such a world being an atheist is less troublesome? As an atheist would say, "I'm an atheist. Thank God."

But looking at the scene from a rosier window, I am convinced that all's not lost. Right now, I'm reading a book titled, "A South Indian Journey" written by the English journalist Michael Wood. The book covers details of Wood's visits to numerous temples in Tamil Nadu. Writing about his trip to the shrine of the Lord Murugan at Palani, Wood describes his meeting with Selwyn, a Protestant Christian at the shrine. He writes, "Selwyn, in fact, goes happily between the Catholic shrine at Velankanni, Murugan of Palani and Muslim Nagore". If only we all had the foresight to accept that all faiths are the same! After all, the essence of each religion is the same. I for one am sure that God doesn't mind what name we call Him by. And it's just plain silly to fight over which name or form is the best. May we have the wisdom to realize that.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Tribute to Cutlet


Being an absolute "quote hanger" can definitely trigger me to blog! One morning after a particularly grueling session with macroeconomics, I decided to google up quotes on dogs while drinking my first cup of tea for the day. (Yes, I do random stuff like that). I came across this quote: "A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself." The moment I read this, memories of Cutlet flashed across my mind.

My parents and I spent one year in the beautiful city of Dehra Dun, right at the foothills of the mighty Himalayas. We stayed that year at the house of a senior colleague of my dad's. The only problem was that his dog also stayed in the same house. But we decided that it would be a very minor inconvenience. As time passed by, it became clear to me that Cutlet wasn't an inconvenience- she became a part and parcel of my life. In fact if someone mentioned the word "Cutlet", all that we could remember was her, not the snack! I would play with her before going to school, take her for long walks after homework and purposely irritate my mom by ordering her to jump on the bed (my dad was my co conspirator in this game). This became a part of our routine every Sunday. My dad would call for Cutlet the minute mom went to the kitchen. As soon as Cutlet would enter the room, dad would signal for her to jump on the bed. The minute she heard my mom's footsteps, she would just bounce back on the floor, knowing that mom would be angry about it. The day my dad got our first car we took her also for a ride in town. Sitting in a comic position in the rear seat along with me, as regal as a queen on her throne, she seemed to be looking down at the stray dogs on the street. It was as if she was almost human! Each moment spent with Cutlet remains etched in some distant corner of my mind.

However one incident remains crystal clear. I had a bad day at school (I don't remember why, but I guess it had something to do with being a non-Hindi speaking South Indian in a place where almost everybody spoke Hindi) and I came back home in a nasty mood. Instead of talking to Cutlet as I usually did I threw over my knapsack on the bed and started to cry. The tears soon gave way to rage and I refused to talk to anyone. I moved to the sofa and when Cutlet came towards me, I nudged her away. But a fifth grader cannot be angry for long. The anger turned to tears again... But this time, Cutlet came back to me and slowly placed her head on my lap, as if to say "All's going to be fine!" (She had never done this before to me.) Looking back I realize that apart from my mother, Cutlet was truly my first best friend.

One year passed by quickly, and we moved on from Dehra to the Kingdom of Bahrain and later to the United Arab Emirates, and now university in Singapore. It's been a total of nearly eight years so far! I don't know whether Cutlet's still there and if she is, will she be able to remember me. All I can say is that I feel blessed to have had her at some point in my life! I know she loved me unconditionally and thought the world of me, her human friend. I hope I live up to her vision. As someone erudite once said, "My goal in life is to be as good of a person my dog already thinks I am!"

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

At Isha Vidhya- "Educating Rural India"


Ikkarai Boluvampatti. A quaint little village, buried in a remote corner on the outskirts of Coimbatore. What makes it special to me is the presence of the Isha Vidhya school. Established by the Isha Foundation, there are 7 such schools in Tamil Nadu, the sole mission being "educating rural India". The school has nearly 475 students, from kindergarten to grade 6, offering them a rare opportunity to learn in those areas. Most of the kids come from rural backgrounds; some of them being first generation learners. I volunteered at the school library during my summer hols, helping students develop their vocabulary and improve their English language skills. Interacting closely with the kids was almost like revisiting my own childhood. I was touched by their affection, innocence and simplicity (Much as I hate to say this, it's rare to find such traits in their urban counterparts.) At the end of a fortnight at Isha Vidhya, I don't know whether I have taught the kids, or they me. I am sure of one thing though: They brought me a lot of happiness and hope; a definite meaning and mission to my life. Whether it was talking to them about "The Princess and the Pea" or singing the latest Kollywood songs with them on the bus ride back home, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. As I work on this blog post, I realize how geographically distant I am from them. Yet they continue to inspire me with my memories of their love, enthusiasm and laughter.

Little Santhosh from grade 2 is an absolute sweetheart. I remember going to the arts and crafts lesson in his class, since it provided more room for interaction with the students. At the end of the class, Santhosh came up to me with a little piece of paper on which he had drawn two pots of boiling rice along with sugarcane sticks: His idea of celebrating the Pongal festival! He said to me, "This is for you, miss". The very next day, he came to the library searching for me. I was shocked when he handed me a poster which he had painstakingly worked on the night before. A cute picture of a squirrel was drawn on the poster and he had clipped his photograph onto it! I asked him why he wanted me to take it. To this he replied that I'd be working in the school only for a few more days and I shouldn't forget him when I went back to my college in Singapore! Needless to say, I took the poster back with me and it hangs on my wall. From Santhosh, I realized that "Each little thought that's filled with love becomes a special blessing!"

One must learn from Manju, a smart little third grader who was given the "Student of the week" award when I volunteered at the school. She was given this award because of her persistent efforts of speaking in English at all times within school. I listened to her chatter away with her classmates. Yes, there were grammatical errors. Yes, the pronunciation was not correct. Yes, the sentence constructions were awkward. Yes, there were people laughing at her. But hey, she PERSISTED in her efforts! Hats off to Manju's courage! She reminded me of the bumble bee: "Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn't be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn't know it so it goes on flying anyway." If only we all had her courage to pursue success, unmindful of our own limitations!

Whenever there were children in the library, I would go up to a student, give him/her a book suitable for their level of reading and sit beside them as they read. My objective was to help them read difficult words, learn new ones and talk to them about the story they just read. It was during one of these sessions that I met Srinithi. I had given Srinithi a book, but I was told by her teacher later that the kid couldn't recognize most of the letters. Realizing that reading the book would be a futile exercise, I decided to test her on the alphabets. While writing the letters, she would invert most of them; she also would get confused with 'b', 'd' and 'p'. So I spent more time with her, teaching the very basics of the English alphabet right from scratch. On my last day I asked her whether she would forget whatever I had taught her. She looked up at me and said, "I'll write it out 10 times miss, so that I'll never forget!" I was reminded by Srinithi that enthusiasm is the magical ingredient which makes every task successful.

I realized that stars needn't
always twinkle in the sky when I met little Anu, another adorable second grader. With her green and white striped scarf and two missing front teeth always posed in a smile, her eyes shone like the stars. Whenever I think of Anu, I remind myself to smile more often. It not only brings more joy to others, but you feel more joyous yourself!

Although I worked with the children for hardly a fortnight, I was able to connect on an emotional level with them. I try to keep in contact with them, thanks to today's mobile technology. I think of all of them quite often: Sadhana, Srimathi and Sowbarnika (The troika of 'S') from third grade, naughty Naveen, sweet little Sivanesan, Aravind who would always share his murukkus with me during break, joyous Jayashree Powrika who gave me a cute tiny purse the day I met her, Santhosh's elder sister Gowri and her classmates, a smart group of fifth graders, just to name a few.

On my last day at school, Dilpreet, a talkative student from grade 4 came to me and gave me some advice- "Miss, when you finish your college in Singapore , join our school as a permanent teacher!" Sowbarnika didn't say "Bye miss!" as she got off the school bus on my last day. Instead she said, "See you in December miss!". As for me, I cannot wait to go back to her wonderful school! :)








Friday, July 30, 2010

Life is a bed of roses!


Well, I know life isn't exactly a bed of roses, but once you meet Ammukutty Amooma, you are inclined to believe that it really is. Ammukutty, whom I affectionately call "amooma" (meaning grandmother in my mother tongue), is a flower vendor who comes to our house in Coimbatore every evening. Petite in frame, graceful in nature, always smiling, she reminds me of a benign fairy (similar to the ones I used to read in Enid Blyton's books as a kid.)

Announcing her arrival at the household with a chirpy "Molukutty!!!" (That's what she calls my aunt), I am amazed at her simplicity and humility. Greeting everyone at home with a smile, she quizzes each one of us about our well being. At the same time, she thrusts strings of jasmine flowers into my hands. The first string, she says is for "Swami". In our culture, it's considered auspicious to offer flowers to the gods at twilight. At this time of the day, the air is filled with the fragrance of jasmine flowers mixed with the sweet scent of the incense sticks offered at the altar. The next string, she instructs, is for all the women in the house. The third string is for the next morning.

As she makes her way slowly to the other houses, I cannot help but ponder over the joy with which she does her work. I believe she truly is a "karma yogi". According to the Gita, a karma yogi is one "who performs action by body, mind, intellect and the senses without a trace of ego". A perfect inspiration for all of us! With her attitude, life is really a bed of roses!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Headmaster's Daughter

I slowly walked into the ninth grade classroom, an awful feeling of apprehension pounding hard in my heart- Would I be able to cope with the new environment? Will my lessons be easy? What if I could not make any friends? I had always been weary of moving to a new school, although I had shifted schools nearly five times before.

My mother coaxed me into adopting an optimistic approach, but a scintilla of skepticism emerged in my mind- the spark grew into a fire and all positivism in my mind was erased…. But, I was in for a pleasant surprise. My classmates were really friendly and I did not feel like an outsider. Then, a teacher came to the class. ”Ma’am, there is a new student in the class!” shrieked my excited classmates.

“Yes” the teacher replied “and she happens to be the new headmaster’s daughter. So unless you want trouble, better keep quiet!” The cat had been let out of the bag! This was the moment I wasn’t exactly looking forward to. I winced inwardly, due to a mixture of emotions- pride for my dad’s position, but also, the agony of being identified by this tag.

The days flew by quickly. By the grace of God Almighty, I began to carve out a niche for myself. My peers and teachers soon recognised me for who I was, not whose daughter I was. Nevertheless, I guess the tag always remained. There have been numerous instances where junior students would come up to me and ask if I really was the Headmaster’s daughter. I would nod, not knowing really what to say. After all, it was just coincidence that my dad was the Headmaster, right? Such questions would leave me annoyed because I felt it was not a big deal.

Whenever there was a problem for us students, some of them would say “Can’t you speak to your dad? He’ll surely listen to you!” These comments would make me indignant- As if each problem could be solved just by me speaking to dad! Once, on the occasion of the Headmaster’s birthday, a group of student leaders presented him a birthday card. Later at home, dad joked that he would be the first person on earth to pay for his own birthday card! Thus, my schooldays passed- I tried to move away from the “Headmaster’s Daughter” title and groaned whenever people referred to me by the same. Before I knew it, my schooldays came to an end –I had to pack my bags and move on….It was the first time I ever saw my dad break down.

Now, I am far away from home, from school, from the cosy familiar world. I think of the good old days- Dad teaching me to ride my bike, comforting me over a bruised knee, cracking jokes to make me laugh. He would say, “Inch-me and Pinch-me went for a walk. Inch-me died, so, who’s left?” “Pinch-me” I would say, and he would promptly pinch me, leaving me only to yell away. Dad is primarily responsible for my avid interest in reading- He gave me my first book when I was three. It was the Ladybird Book for Three-Year-Olds. A string of numerous other books followed. We used to squabble over games of Scrabble. (Mom used to be the referee) - On one rare occasion when I won; he got me an abridged version of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle” as a reward. I still remember asking dad how wonderful it would be if we all dozed off for twenty years- free from trouble and tension ; an awesome, stress free period. Dad would take us for long walks in the deep green woods of Lovedale and the troika comprising dad, mom and me would spend the evenings that ensued reading contently beside the fireside. Those were serene days of sweets and stuffed toys….

Then, the scenario changed. Simple, innocent pleasures of childhood vanished into thin air. But dad continued to be with me. We would have myriad debates and discussions, ranging from democracy to diplomacy; from Tamil autonomy in Sri Lanka to the trauma of global terrorism; from communism to communalism. He would always leave a powerful impression in my mind, constantly egging me to read and keep myself informed about happenings across the globe. He would tell me, “Read as much as you can and read discerningly so that you will be able to separate the wheat from the chaff.”

He supported me all the time- consoling me over lost marks and lost competitions, advising me to ignore petty comments made by peers, encouraging me to put my best foot forward in all my endeavours. There have been times when he would stay up late at night, just to ensure that I had company while I studied. I remember the quiet disappointment on his face when I did not do my best, and the equally quiet triumph when I made him proud….Dad, I love you so much!

As I try to make my way through the new, unfamiliar, at times turbulent environment, I think of the Headmaster and I realise that I have always been proud to be the Headmaster’s Daughter….

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Waltzing into the World of Work

Well, it's been a long time! I haven't blogged for nearly two months!! So before my blog fades to rust, I decided to intervene finally and brush away the cobwebs. It's ironical that I started this blog on a whim, in the middle of a huge muddle- my semester exams; and chose to ignore it during a major chunk of my summer holidays!
I reached home in Dubai in early May. I spent my May days with mom and dad, pestering my mom to get us a dog. (Mom, if you're reading this, I am still heartbroken over Henry.) Henry, the perfect dog whom we
nearly got, whose eyes melted your heart, who seemed to grin almost like a human...
But I digress.
Towards the end of May, I got an opportunity to do an internship with Deloitte & Touche M.E at their Sharjah branch. And, thus, I took my first step into the world of work. On the first day at work, I was introduced to all my colleagues and the Deloitte audit procedure was explained in detail to me. I was completely awed by the professional ethics, thoroughness of work and simply being a part of the Deloitte team! The next day, a mentor was assigned to me and I was told to proceed to a client's office. I slowly began to put into practice what I have learnt so far at high school and college. Some tasks were simple enough and yet, I found myself making errors. Imagine my embarrassment when my mentor told me that I hadn't punched in the working papers to be filed properly! And thus, I learnt that there is a proper method for doing anything, even if it is just punching working papers to be filed. Most important of all was understanding the huge world of difference between what is taught at college and real practices in the industry. But I shall not bore you with those details. (Partly because I'm still trying to understand!!)
What I find so fascinating about Deloitte is the diversity of the workforce. On a typical day, one can catch snatches of conversations in Arabic, Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil and even Tagalog! I learnt a few Tagalog words from my Filipino mentor and was utterly surprised when she spoke to me in broken Malayalam!
Most of my co workers at Deloitte refer to each other by their first names or their initials. Being probably the youngest at the workplace, I found it quite awkward to do the same. Not surprisingly, my conversations were peppered with thank yous and pleases to a point that I began to wonder if I was being exceedingly polite. A senior at work told me once," Kochu valare formal aa." (This girl is very formal). I guess, I'll learn as I travel further!!
They say "Experience is a great teacher. It teaches you after conducting the test". Never has this been truer than in my case! My mother must have drilled it into me a hundred times: Never drink your coffee when you're sitting close to the laptop! But, I learnt only the hard way.
It was a normal afternoon at work in my client's office. I was waiting for a few documents from the accountant before I could perform the test of details, so I was relatively free that day. The office bhaiyya came to give us our coffee. I thanked him and had barely taken in a sip when.... The handle of the cup broke and all the coffee seeped into my laptop! And what's worse, it wasn't even mine; Knowing that the duration of my internship was only a month, I was given a laptop belonging to a colleague who had gone on vacation! At that moment, I wished the earth would open up and swallow me. It was one of those excruciatingly embarrassing moments. A few days later when I went to the office to return a few files, I met the senior partner. He asked me, quite jovially, " I heard you gave coffee to your laptop. Is it feeling the Dubai heat too?"
Well, lessons learnt the hard way will remain etched onto one's memory forever. Apart from this unsavory episode, I thoroughly enjoyed my first waltz with work. I may just be 18 and I still have a long way to travel, but I have once again understood that perseverance, preparation and enthusiasm
never fail!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Lesson from Gale

As I take a walk down memory lane, the day still remains vivid in my mind’s eye. It’s like it happened just yesterday; it actually occurred nearly eight years ago, when I was a tiny fifth grader.

A close family friend, Michael Uncle, had a German Shepherd named Storm. Storm was just as magnificent as his name- fierce, loyal , smart and simply adorable, he was capable of following instructions in three languages! So when Storm had a pup, what better name to give her other than Gale!

I remember watching Michael Uncle feed Gale with drops of milk from a baby’s bottle. And when Gale began to barely open her eyes, I would wonder at the beauty in play before me- God’s inexplicable mysteries. And when she would yawn, showing her small budding canine teeth, I was simply convinced that divinity still exists in our lives.

I remember skipping home from school, a happy-go-lucky child, looking forward to a weekend to be spent reading Ruskin Bond and playing with Gale. And that’s when Dad greeted me with ..... the News.

Gale, hardly six weeks old, had caught an infection and.... died! Just like that! In a fraction of a second, all gone! A life completely sniffled away! It was probably the first time I experienced facing the death of a loved one. I was baffled, angry, and upset at the injustice in the world. In all my fifth grader innocence, I scribbled down my thoughts in a battered old diary, hot angry tears pouring onto the pages, and I blamed God for the blatant cruelty.

Today, when I think of that day, I wonder how precarious life is, how perilous. Like a child perched onto a see saw, trying to maintain his balance. No wonder the fourteenth century Indian philosopher Adi Shankaracharya wrote in his work “Bhaja Govindam”, “ Life is just like a droplet of water on a lotus leaf...”

We hardly have any control over things that apparently stretch into the future. It’s just a mirage in a desert, but we mistake it for an oasis. One never knows what happens in the next second. We need to focus our attention on things we can do at the present. NOW is the only time we can afford to invest in. Let’s take time off our busy(?) schedules and focus on the finer aspects of life. Turn “scars into stars”, replace frowns with smiles; substitute the dark with spark! Because... “You’d better slow down, don’t dance so fast, time is short, the music won’t last...”

P.S The above verse is from “Slow Dance” , a poem written by a terminally ill girl at a New York Hospital. I wrote this article, partly as a reminder to myself, so that I count my blessings and invest in NOW, instead of drifting away into the world of cribs and complaints.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Strength of Surrender

"Jesus, Moses and an old man were playing golf. Moses hit a ball that passed through a huge pond. The pond gave way. The ball fell on the other side. Then Jesus hit a ball that passed through the pond. Here again the pond gave way. There was a small hillock after the pond. Even the hillock gave way and finally the ball landed on the other side of the hillock. Now it was the turn of an old man. When he hit a ball, the ball got stuck on a huge tree. There was a strong breeze, which made the ball to fall into the pond. A frog in the pond caught the ball. A snake caught the frog. An eagle watching from the tree top, caught the snake and flew away. In between the eagle dropped the snake from its clutches… the snake in turn released the frog… the frog released the ball. The ball fell right on the 18th hole of the golf course. Moses looked at Jesus and said, ‘Never play golf with this old man’. The old man was none other than Jesus’ father Jehovah, the Lord."

I came across this wonderful anecdote quite a while ago. On one of my rounds of contemplation, I suddenly remembered this and so, pestered my mom to send me the exact anecdote from the book where I first read it in. (Looking at Life Differently, by Swami Sukhabodhananda.) Reading this story again just helped me realize once again that, (clichéd as it may sound), all one needs to do is his/her best and surrender the rest . In the story, when Jehovah, the Lord played, all the forces of nature helped mysteriously. Likewise, when you really want something with all your heart, the powers of the cosmos will somehow or the other make you realize it. And that is the strength of surrender :)

Monday, April 26, 2010

On the Frankincense Trail

Note: This trip took place last December during my winter break. I promised dad that I would write about it as soon as possible, but ah… procrastination ruins us once in a while. (Wait… or maybe, always?) I had actually started on this piece as soon as we came back home, but soon forgot all about it. Well, five months later, trying to battle out exam blues and motivating myself to look forward to the golden promise of my summer vacation, I decided to take a break from books and complete this article. Clichéd as it might be, better late than never!

The Queen of Sheba must have been a happy woman. Oh yes, she had wealth, wit, wisdom and winsomeness to her credit, but she also happened to reign over one of the most beautiful places on the face of planet earth- Salalah. Sandwiched between the azure blue waters of the Indian Ocean on one side and the craggy Dhofar Mountains on the other, this picturesque city is nestled at the southernmost tip of the Sultanate of Oman. And so when dad, mom and I wanted a dash of adventure to brighten our otherwise mundane (but nevertheless enjoyable) winter break, we decided to drive the 1500km stretch from our home in Sharjah all the way to the city of the Queen of Sheba.

In anticipation of The Drive, I did a little bit of research on Salalah and learnt that the city is famed for its wadis, waterfalls, white sand beaches, castles and a lush landscape which bursts green with life during the khareef season. Technically, we were visiting Salalah at the worst possible time in December, but the streak of adventure in us wasn’t successful in dissuading us and sure… the trip never left us disappointed!

The first leg of our journey was from Sharjah to Muscat. Dad had already driven this 450km distance quite a number of times, so the perils of driving on unexplored territory did not exist. Starting from home at around 1 PM, we entered Omani soil through the Hatta border and drove on towards the town of Sohar in northern Oman. Having taken a short break for coffee at Sohar, we reached the capital city of Muscat at around 7.40 PM. We were tempted to break the journey at my cousin Adarsh’s house in Muscat, but a sense of urgency to reach Salalah egged us (or more precisely, dad) to drive further. One and a half hours later, we reached the city of Nizwah. Our original plan was to have dinner at Nizwah and spend the night there, proceeding to Salalah at the crack of dawn the next day. But it wasn’t to be… After dinner, we tried to book a room at Nizwah but thanks to the post Christmas-pre New Year bashes, all rooms were booked and we had no other way out. That’s when we decided to drive the 900km stretch to Salalah that very night!

Salalah, many historians believe, is also the place of origin of the Magi or the Three Wise Men from the East who brought gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold to the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. This belief is perhaps strengthened by the fact that the town is famed all over Arabia for the rare frankincense trees found in the surrounding regions. And so the route from Salalah northwards to Bethlehem is known as the Frankincense Trail.

Travelling on the Frankincense Trail was quite an experience. Once we crossed the town of Adam, 55km away from Nizwah, the roads were pitch dark thanks to the absence of road lights and it almost seemed as if we were back in the time and age of the Magi themselves. We sped on, a little prayer fluttering around the corner of our lips. Halfway through The Drive we ran into a bit of trouble at a tiny town called Hayma. We wanted to fill up on petrol and were just turning towards the Shell petrol bump when the car swerved over and got stuck in a patch of sand. Luckily, there was a truck that had also stopped for the very same purpose and God sent us help through the Ubiquitous Malayalee. The truck driver from Kerala used a sturdy rope to pull out the car stuck deep in the sand. Once we were safely back on the desert road, dad saw this episode as a cue for rest and pulled over to catch on a little nap. An hour later, we continued our expedition on the Trail. It was around 5 in the morning and we could already see the horizon lightening. At around 6 we could see bands of pinkish orange light spread its warmth across the vast stretches of the Rub al Khali. And so, we witnessed the beautiful break of dawn in the Empty Quarter. As the day wore on, the heat became torturous and we once again were stunned at how perfectly this entire cosmos has been created. The very same Rub al Khali which was freezing cold just the night before had become blazingly hot the next day!

We reached the city of Salalah at around 11 in the morning. The very same day we set out, wanting to explore the numerous places the city is renowned for. We visited the Anti Gravity Spot, which along with a similar spot in the Himalayas, is the only known place on the planet where the laws of gravity are defied. It was an awesome experience… I still remember how the car gently rolled uphill when dad put it on the neutral gear! Next we went to the Mughsayl White Sand beach- with its vast expanses of white sands and the mighty blue waters of the Indian Ocean it was indeed an exhilarating sight. Unfortunately we couldn’t visit the ruins of the Queen of Sheba’s castle. Also, since we had gone during the winter, there weren't any wadis or waterfalls. All the more reason for us to go again this July during the khareef!

The next day we visited the tomb of the Prophet Job. According to the Hebrew Bible, God tested Job by removing all protection given to him, thereby allowing Satan to take away his health, wealth, family and every other entity cherished by him. Despite his difficulties, never did Job curse God. And so Job became the embodiment of patience. Legend has it that God, pleased with Job’s patience, cured him of all his ailments by asking him to bathe in a stream. We had the good fortune of going to that very stream last winter. And that was the end of our stay in Salalah. We drove back to Muscat and stayed in my cousin Adarsh’s house where we welcomed in the New Year.

As I reminisce the moments of this beautiful journey, I realize that times are indeed difficult. I was just about to crib again when I reminded myself of this journey- with the patience of Job anything can be achieved! May we all learn from the story of Job!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Fighting Exam Blues

Well, here it is again- that season of stress, tension and trauma- the semester exams have begun! After a not-too-good first exam, I found myself depressed and so decided to blog, since writing always makes me feel better! :) So here goes...

I spent the first two hours following the exam, blaming fate and then wallowing in self pity. Then I decided to call my brother and speak to him. And what he said made things seem slightly better. And although it doesn't improve my chances of scoring better at the exam, I certainly hope I have learnt not to worry about things not in my control. My parents have always emphasized the importance of working hard in my academic career. For them, that's always the key point. The end result of whether I get good grades or not doesn't matter to them. (although it does matter to me!) So my parents would be mighty disappointed if I had fooled around and not worked hard. Hence, I have done my best and all that I can do now is surrender the rest to the One Above.

Also, grades are not the only things in life. As my brother told me, "Never grade yourself on the basis of grades." Hence, am just trying to constantly remind myself that it's important to work hard, and then forget about the rest. Which brings us to the issue of faith. As I mentioned in a previous post, what is life without faith?

A good family friend, Sudha Aunty, had once gifted us a book titled "Oh mind, relax please!", written by Swami Sukhabodhananda. This is one of my personal favorites from the bookshelf and I constantly refer to it when in need of inspiration. Aunty had written a beautiful quote inside the book and today my mom reminded me of the very same quote-
"Happy moment -Praise God
Difficult moment- Seek God
Quiet moment- Worship God
Painful moment-Trust God
Every moment- Thank God."

Now that I'm back to my cheerful old self, let me hit the books again for the rest of the exams! Jiayou everyone!! :)



Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Love you Amooma!

This one is for my dear maternal granny, whom I call Amooma. I just realized that it's been ages since I gave her a call and I know that she must be thinking about me back home. At the sudden recognition of the fact, I took a trip down memory lane, thinking about all the times I shared with Amooma.

As an eager 10 year old, I vaguely remember helping her out in the kitchen, when she used to make ellai adas, unniappams and numerous other scrumdiddlyumptious Kerala goodies. Erm, did I mention that helping out meant sampling the snacks? Going back home to Kerala once a year during the summer gave me so much to look forward to!! :)
Amooma, who even today spends most of her time reading the scriptures and chanting prayers, is an expert in answering questions regarding mythology, rituals and other aspects of religion. Talking to her in my slightly awkward Malayalam with specks of Tamil thrown in, I came to learn about the tradition of the "Velichapaddu" in God's own country. The Velichapaddu, literally meaning "Revealer of Light", is a person who acts as a mediator between the villagers and the village deity, which is usually a form of the Goddess. The medium strikes himself/herself on the forehead with a sword and, being possessed by the Goddess, thunders out advice to the villagers. We would spend our time together discussing such issues. She would also give me advice regarding prayers, often in the form of which sloka to recite for each purpose and to each deity.When my parents and I would make our annual pilgrimage to the family shrine , she would come with us too. And each holiday, when it's time for us to leave, her eyes will moisten and she'll promise to pray for me. I have never seen Amooma get angry. She displays a sense of detachment in everything- tears, laughter, disappointment, frustration, everything is surrendered to the One Above. Constantly praying for the welfare of everyone.
For me , Amooma is an embodiment of infinite patience and love. Even writing this piece makes me realize how much I miss her. Thank you Amooma, simply for the miracle of being in my life. I love you always!! :)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Rosewood Beads

Warning: This post is bound to be pretty philosophical :)

Having been initiated into a mantra by my guru, Ammachi, lovingly known across the globe as the Hugging Saint, I got myself a rosewood rosary for the purpose of helping me chant my mantra. I was able to get the rosary blessed by Ammachi and now I wear it around my neck whenever I am not chanting the mantra. Last night before hitting the sack, I was just reminiscing the magical moments I was fortunate enough to experience at Ammachi's devi bhava darshan and took out my rosary to feel Her touch. I couldn't help but admire the 108 beads strung around the center bead, called the guru bead. When in the process of japa, you should start chanting from the guru bead and move across all the other beads till you hit the guru bead again.

After I finished my chanting, I looked at the rosary for a while and it helped me recognize two important aspects of life. Each rosewood bead has its own place on the rosary. Likewise, each of us has a distinct place on the Rosary of Life. No one can take away that place from us. Secondly, all the beads on the necklace follow the guru bead. Likewise, when one follows a spiritual force, peace of mind can easily be attained. I am not saying that each of us should follow a guru or a spiritual master. All that needs to be done is... follow faith.

After all, what is life without faith?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

From Tears to Pearls

Hmm... With the exams showing their ugly faces just around the corner, it looks like I am in quite a philosophical mood. The numerous incomplete assignments, the unread lecture notes, the unfinished tutorials all seem to be piling up in front of me. Just as I am about to panic, (which is very normal and routine these days), I remember a small anecdote narrated in Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner. The protagonist Amir, whose deepest desire is to become a novelist, writes a story which he reads out to his friend Hassan. The story narrated by him revolves around a man who was given a magic wish. Each teardrop that fell from his eyes would be turned into a pearl. At the end of the story, the man is left with blood on his hands and a huge mountain of pearls beside him- He has killed his own wife and his tears are converted to pearls. When Amir looks to Hassan for his reaction, the latter just shrugs his shoulder and asks him in all innocence, "Why couldn't he just smell an onion?"
I just loved the movie (am yet to read the book), but I am sure that this is one scene I will never forget. Things in life are so simple. It's just that we human beings, with our egos, greed, desires and jealousies complicate things further...

P.S Happy Vishu everyone!! :)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bitten by the Blogging Bug

Yes!! Have hopefully overcome writers' block
Taken the effort, created my blog!!

If this sounds like an outburst of spontaneity to you, I can well assure you it isn't. When I was wrestling with a long bout of writers' block, nearly six months ago, I vowed to myself that I'd overcome it by creating my own blog, and in that moment, this verse popped into my mind. Sadly, it turned out to be a form of "soda bottle enthusiasm" and the bubble burst. The plan didn't materialize till today. Why, you might ask? Oh, the ubiquitous tests, exams, projects, deadlines... But then two factors led me to take the initiative finally.

I realized that no matter what happens tests and examinations will always be there, in some form or the other. It simply is not a good enough reason to avoid taking an initiative. Secondly I recognized the fact that I have simply been out of touch with this world. In my conversation with Dad a few hours ago, I was just ashamed to admit that I was unaware of things happening across the globe - because I have spent all my time living in my own little complacent sphere of life. As I lay on bed, tossing around, trying to get some sleep, I just couldn't take it anymore. I wanted to zap myself out of my own little world. And so, *sigh*, I took the plunge. I believe using this blog as a platform to express my views and opinions will help me stay connected with the real world. Also I will use it as a medium of relaxation from the stressful life that university is. This is the story of how I got bitten by the blogging bug :)

OK, now why is this blog called "From the Ashes"? A few years ago, when I still had the childlike spontaneity in me to write almost every week, I used the pseudonym "Phoenix". There were no specific reasons for choosing the name, except for the fact that I wanted a pseudonym as grand as my Dad's which is Obelix :) Having debated between Papyrus, Parchment, Pegasus and Phoenix, I finally chose Phoenix.

As one grows older, one hopefully becomes wiser. And with wisdom, comes the philosophical meaning of things in life. Phoenix, the mythical bird, renowned for its immortality, rises from its own ashes, a totally new bird, each time it dies. Philosophically, it acknowledges the fact that each day is a new day. The past is dead and cannot affect the future in any way. The only thing we are in control of is today. Carpe diem!! Seize the day! :)

Well, I think I have written quite a bit for my first post. I feel much more optimistic, knowing that I have taken an initiative, finally. Really, once we take the first step, it's almost as if the battle is half won. One of my favorite poems, The Oyster echoes the very same thought:

"What couldn’t we do
If we’d only begin
With some of the things
That get under our skin."
Watch this space for more!! :)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

William Dalrymple's 'Nine Lives'


I was waiting to catch my plane back home from Singapore when I caught sight of William Dalrymple's latest book, 'Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India', at a bookshop in Changi Airport. Interesting, I thought. Perhaps what grabbed my attention was the picture of a theyyam dancer on the cover. I felt that Appa would find it to be a good read and so conveniently, decided to 'gift' him the book. :D

The book certainly did not disappoint me. Revolving around the lives and faiths of nine different people across the country, it revealed several aspects of religion in India, which I wasn't even aware existed. The first 'life' is that of a Jain nun, who decides to undertake the sallekhana or ritual fasting to death. Other 'lives' include that of a Tibetan monk at Dharamsala, an idol maker at Swamimalai, a devadasi at Saundatti and a singer at Pabusar, dedicated to preserving a medieval Rajasthani epic. Dalrymple also covers various aspects of tantra at Tarapith in West Bengal and gives us a glimpse into the lives of 'Bauls', the nomadic singers of the state. However, two of the 'lives' that I was most drawn to were that of a theyyam dancer in Kannur and a Sufi saint in the city of Sehwan in the Sindh province of Pakistan.

In the 'Dancer of Kannur', Dalrymple portrays the life of Haridas, who earns a livelihood by playing three different roles: A jail warden during weekends, a laborer constructing wells during the rest of the week and a theyyam dancer during the season of this dance, unique to God's Own Country, between January and March. Being a Keralite myself, the sensitive portrayal of Haridas' life revealed a lot about my own land, which was hitherto unknown (or perhaps unnoticed) to (by) me. For instance, Dalrymple writes that Haridas as a laborer would dig wells at Namboodhiri households. Once the well is dug, he would be asked to leave the premises immediately. Being a Dalit, he is forbidden to drink from the very well he helped bring into existence! What's even more ironical is the reverential behavior of the same so-called upper caste people during the dance season when Haridas gets possessed by the gods as he begins to perform the theyyam. The brahmins who refuse to acknowledge his presence otherwise, bow down to his performance at the theyyam and even seek his blessings. Haridas confesses that he finds the life of the theyyam dancer to be the most rewarding, in terms of monetary compensation as well as mental satisfaction. What struck me about Haridas was the way he accepted things. Accepting circumstances as mere fate is one thing; acceptance and doing one's best to change unfavourable circumstances is another. At the end of the chapter, Haridas says, ' The other ten months are hard. But there is no way around it. That's reality, isn't it? That's life. Life is hard'. Haridas is just one amongst a million other people who struggle for a livelihood, day in, day out. But he's a true inspiration in the sense that we need to put in our best efforts, no matter what!

In 'The Red Fairy', Dalrymple narrates the story of a female Sufi saint in the Pakistani city of Sehwan. Lal Peri, as she is known, speaks about Sufism and a Sufi pir by the name of Lal Shahbaz Qalander. I discovered how Sufism combines the best of both Hinduism and Islam, and was struck by how Sufi saints are revered by Hindus and Muslims alike. Lal Peri's story once again reminded me that all faiths are essentially the same. Like my dad always says, 'If you're truly spiritual, religion doesn't matter'. What is disheartening is that most people refuse to recognize this fundamental truth.

Lal Peri narrates a powerful anecdote at the end of the chapter: One day, Lal Shahbaz Qalander was wandering in the desert with his friend. It was bitter cold, and there was no wood available to build a fire. So his friend suggested that Qalander turns himself into a falcon, so that he can get fire from hell. An hour later, Qalander returned, but with no fire. He said, 'There is no fire in hell. Everyone who goes there brings his own fire, and their own pain from this world'.

Heaven and hell are both within us...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Why is Obama's Christianity Such A Big Deal?

I recently read an article on CNN's Belief Blog which stated that only a third of Americans believe that their President is Christian. Nearly one in five Americans think that Obama is a Muslim. I have been pondering over this issue for quite some time now.

The White House asserts that the President is indeed a Christian, emphasizing on Obama's relationship with his church. The article from the CNN blog concluded with an opinion from a Florida evangelical who is frequently in touch with the President -The Rev Joel Hunter suggests that perhaps, "the White House should be a little more public about what the President does to be an active Christian."

I wonder why religion is such a public issue. After all shouldn't it be a matter of faith between you and your Maker? What is the need for someone, the President included, to convince others of their faith? Why is religion the eye of many political storms today? I simply fail to understand why such a big deal is made about religion. Sure, my faith in my religion is what keeps me going. That doesn't mean I need to convince everyone that I am a good Hindu. And on a different note, what exactly is the problem if Obama is indeed a Muslim? Does that make him in any way less qualified for the White House? Does that make him a terrorist? Does it make him unfit to be President? Does it mean he ceases to be 'American'?

It's high time people realize that faith is a deeply private issue, something involving only you and your trust in God, whatever name you call Him by. It is not meant to be made into a spectacle. It is not something to fight over. And it certainly isn't something you convince others about your identity...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Humility

A dear friend of mine always says, "There's a thin line between self confidence and arrogance". Although the difference between the two is subtle, it is not difficult to analyze whether a person is just self confident or simply over confident. Through the years, I have realized that whilst confidence is a sine quo non for success, it needs to be tempered with humility. Clichéd as it may be, pride indeed goes before a fall.

Humility doesn't mean that you become meek and submissive. It means that you are willing to listen to other peoples' points of view. It means you are willing to acknowledge that you could be wrong. It means that you can treat success and failure just the same. Humility enables a person to accept defeat with grace as well as acknowledge success without conceit. Above all, it shows strength of character. I am reminded of a beautiful verse I read from one of the many 'Our Daily Bread' booklets at home:

"Blessed Saviour, make us humble,
Take away our sinful pride;
In ourselves we're sure to stumble,
Help us stay close by Your side." -- D. De Haan


Monday, November 15, 2010

Little Things in Life

Well, I am supposed to be hard at work. But I couldn't resist blogging about this ;so I'll keep this post short and crisp. I just received an email from Sadhana, about whom I've written quite a number of times. It was a sweet message, written with all the innocence of an eight year old. The main purpose was to inform me that her birthday falls this week. Haha! And then she says, "Keep smiling". I am so touched that she still remembers me!
I don't know why but suddenly I feel as if there's a solution to any problem. Optimism is so infectious! I know it sounds terribly naive. But then I guess little things in life do count! And they definitely make a huge difference! I cannot believe that I am actually grinning as I return to my world of studies, studies and even more studies...
Thank you Sadhana for the little things in life! Thank you for inspiring me! :)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Free at last!

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is free at last! The military junta in Burma finally agreed to release Suu Kyi after 15 years of house arrest. 15 years of being cut away from the rest of the world, 15 years of struggle. She refused to succumb to pressure from the junta and held steadfast to her dream for her nation.

Yes, her dream and that of millions in Burma hasn't been fulfilled yet. But this is surely a harbinger a hope. Once again the world has proved to us that struggles are not futile, although it may seem as if it's never going to be realized. Moses and his people struggled for forty years in the wilderness before they reached the promised Holy Land. India struggled for nearly a century before she achieved independence from the traders-turned-invaders. Nelson Mandela struggled in Robin Island for 27 years before apartheid was abolished and his dream became a reality. History teaches us time and again that no matter what, struggles always win at the end of the day.

Forgive me if I sound naive, but it's just a matter of time before the light of democracy replaces the darkness of dictatorship in the land of the Shwedagon. As the poet says, "If winter comes, can spring be far behind?"

Monday, November 8, 2010

Dawn



Dawn. The most splendid time of the day. The glittering stars of the night slowly fade into the backdrop of the vast unconquered skies. A new day stealthily makes its way across the dark horizon. The pitch black of the sky slowly turns dark blue...purple. Slowly, it fades into pink, till the birth of a new day is marked by the sunrise, declared by the chirp of the early birds... And so it goes... dawn to dusk. Dusk to dawn... Dawn represents new hope for me. The beginning of a new day, a fresh start. Optimism and zest for life.

According to Hindu belief, dawn is brahmamuhurtha, a time of immense spiritual significance. No wonder I always found it easier to concentrate on work during those wee hours of the morning! I started this practice quite a number of years ago. Having spent nearly seven years in the Middle East, dawn for me was always marked by the call of the muezzin, calling the faithful for the fajr prayers. It's funny but this is one of the many aspects of life that I miss now.

I soon discovered that it wasn't easy to wake before the sun at a place like NUS. No matter how many alarms I kept, I always seem to sleep through them! Today was an exception. I finally beat not only the alarms but also the sun. Yayyy!! More than being able to utilize my time in a more productive manner, watching dawn made me more optimistic. Reminded me of the song "When you believe" from The Prince of Egypt. "Though hope is frail, it's hard to kill...". Looking at it from a grander level, I also think of our own insignificance in this universe. As the poet Rumi would say, "Who are we in this complicated world?".

Here's to dawn and hope! :)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Of Happiness and "Happons"


I just attended the last leg of lectures for this semester. My macroeconomics prof was explaining to us about shifts in the concepts of the Production Possibility Curve. While explaining the different combination of products that could be manufactured, his discussion moved to which combination is more prosperous, thereby making the economy happier. In order to make it easier, he told us to assume that happiness could be measured in terms of "happons".

Later I began thinking about what is happiness. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I am becoming slightly disillusioned with the idea of worldly success. Oh yes, graduating top of the class and getting a top job that gives you a six figure salary is indeed a good idea. Not that I wouldn't want that, of course! It's just that am wondering if that is what happiness is all about? Surely there is more to it?

Like all other things, they also come to an end one day. In our tradition, after prayers, we have a custom of wearing holy ash (vibhuti) on the forehead. Just to remind ourselves that everything will perish one day. Fame and friends, kith and kin, wealth and riches... simply everything. I realize that this does sound pessimistic. But then how can we be happy with our existence in such a temporary world, where everything is teased by cruel maya? I think the key to this issue is to just remain happy throughout, regardless of the circumstances. Abandon this mad chase for something that you believe will bring you happiness.

I think we should just learn to let go. Not think about achieving happiness. Instead spend every moment believing that you are indeed happy. I recollect an incident where I forgot to wish my uncle on his birthday. So the next day I called him and apologized for missing his birthday. He said, "Every day is a celebration! So why apologize?". (Vasantha valiacha, if you're reading this, I want you to know that I truly cherish that conversation :)) Thus the moment is now, I guess. Just be happy, wherever you are, whatever situation. Life's so short anyway. It doesn't make much sense to do anything else, haha!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bumblebee, hold on there!


It's been a kind of depressing week. Mountains of work, not making much progress. Things haven't worked out the way I wanted them to. I built magnificent castles in the air, castles with no bases whatsoever. They crashed a few days ago. I felt weak, hopeless and lost. Angry and devastated. I spent a few hours crying, moping and cursing over my fate. As a result, I achieved nothing but red eyes and a terrible headache. Lesson 1 learnt (yet again!)- there is nothing worth crying over. What has to happen will happen. There is probably a divine will behind it. Who can challenge the power of the Cosmos?

Lesson 2- Life is not meant to be spent building on expectations. Once again, I realized the essence of the Gita- "Karmanye Vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana, Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurmatey Sangostva Akarmani". Literally translated, it means "You have a right to perform your prescribed action,but you are not entitled to the fruits of your action." I am reminded of a beautiful comparison of our roles in this universe with that of a puppet. We, as puppets, have to play our parts. But the Puppeteer alone knows when to move the puppet and how to do it.

Lesson 3- Learn to be like the bumblebee. Scientists say that the bumblebee cannot really fly because of its heavy wings. (OK, I never was a science person, so I really cannot explain this stuff, but I've heard this somewhere, so yeah...) But the bumblebee doesn't know of this fact and so it keeps trying to fly! We all have our limitations. Just ignore them and keep trying. Bumblebee, hold on there, the Puppeteer will not let go of the string!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Chat with Sadhana


I wrote about my experience of volunteering at Isha Vidhya, a school for children predominantly from the rural background in Tamil Nadu earlier. Thanks to today's technology, I have been able to keep in touch with some of those wonderful kids. It always makes me feel optimistic and cheerful- their happiness is infectious!!

Just a few hours ago, I chatted with Sadhana, a smart little third grader who would frequently call me at home when I was back in Coimbatore. I had spoken to her aunt a few weeks earlier and she told me that Sadhana was doing very well at school. So today I congratulated her for her good academic performance. She told me that she now has a new pet- a cuckoo! Then she told me that all her friends- Sowbarnika, Srimathi, Pradeesh and Mouli are fine. I was really touched when she said that they all miss me. It was such a simple conversation, but it brought me immense joy.

Of late, I have been thinking about what exactly is the meaning of this life- Is it just a mad, mad rush for good grades, good jobs, pride, power, position? I sometimes feel disillusioned when I think of the futility of this rat race, a sense of disappointment, a nagging worry that everything will one day go. But then I remember these simple chats with Sadhana- there are certain things that do last a lifetime. Maybe, I should follow my passion for teaching- is that the meaning I'm looking for?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Remembering Lena's

Well, today's one of those days where I just cannot get to work without having blogged about something, anything that I'm thinking about right now. So I decided to blog about the very first school I attended- Lena's School, Lovedale. Lena's School, tucked away in the village of Lovedale (dare I call it a village?) on the outskirts of Ooty, will always remain special to me. In my mind's eye, I can still see the school, set against the picturesque backdrop of the Nilgiri Hills, mist floating everywhere in the vicinity. I haven't read Edmund Hillary's "Schoolhouse in the Clouds" yet, but the image of Lena's always pops into my mind whenever I think of the book, making me want to read it all the more.

My parents used to work at the Lawrence School, Lovedale, which is just a stone's throw away, so I guess it was quite convenient for them to leave me at Lena's. I remember my first day at kindergarten. Mom and dad took me to the Principal's office- Sister Ann Joseph. Stern yet kind, always smiling, always ready to help us. I also remember Sister Sheeba who taught me math in grade 2. I think it was she who scored out two pages in my notebook where I had eagerly written down my even and odd numbers, anxious to be the first one in the class to complete the task. I was dismayed when she pointed out to me that I had labeled the pages wrongly! So Sister Sheeba was the one who first taught me the virtues of "looking before leaping".

Then there was Shyamala Miss who taught us Hindi. Oh!! I remember the agony of reading my Hindi answers out to Mom so that she could write it down in English. Weird? Yes, there's more to it- Neither Mom nor dad are experts at Hindi . Come to think of it, after all those years, neither am I. Our education system is like that. What to do? But I digress. So before every exam, there was a little ritual followed at home. I used to rattle off all my answers to mom who used to check with my notes to see if I had learnt well. So that was how mom learnt some Hindi- jotting down my answers in English!

I recollect an incident where Lena's suddenly decided to use question papers for examinations in grade 3, instead of the old system of having them written on the blackboard. This was introduced so that we wouldn't be surprised when we did get in to Lawrence for grade 4. My teacher wanted to give us a dictation and by mistake those words were printed on the paper, and then hastily blackened out! I remember going back home and laughing over the whole episode.

I remember with fondness, my first friends- Monica and Kaumudi. Joyous days spent on swings and slides, squabbling over the silliest of issues, laughing while on the merry-go-round, singing Christmas carols in December...It's been a long time from then, but I still feel the warmth in my heart when I think of those days. Thank you Lena's for all those precious memories...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Universal Prayer

"May the whole world be happy
May our compassion increase.
May we all sing in one voice together
May the world find peace.

Lead us from untruth to the truth,
Lead us from darkness to light,
Lead us from death to immortality,
Lead us from blindness to sight.

Lokaha samastaha sukhino bhavantu!"

P.S: I came across this beautiful prayer in a video of the Hugging Saint ( my guru Amma) titled "Embracing the World". I thought it was such a simple message, yet so powerfully written! A harbinger of hope indeed :)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fighting over Faith

I've been thinking quite a lot about faith these days. (Maybe because am doing a module called Introduction to World Religions?) I am once again amazed at how faith has, rather ironically, become such a divisive factor in our society today. The recent incidents of the Qu'ran burning plan at a church in Florida and the Australian lawyer who "smoked the scriptures"(to put it in my lecturer's words) are probably just reminders as to how intolerant and insensitive our world has grown to be.

Just yesterday I heard that the island of Bahrain had revoked the Bahraini citizenship of a top Shiite cleric. The media guesses that there have been subtle traces of unrest between the Shiites and the Sunnis in the region. Having lived in Bahrain for three years, it came as a surprise to me at first. The island is predominantly Shiite but the ruling family belongs to the Sunni sect. The country has always been open to religious freedom and I remember visiting quite a number of temples on Bahraini soil. Funnily, I understood more about my Hindu faith in an Islamic nation, thanks to the spiritual classes I attended every Friday (which wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for religious tolerance). Thus learning about strife between two faiths in a country whose main charm used to be interfaith harmony was rather disturbing.

Not that Bahrain has now become a center of unrest- I had to remind myself that we have seen it everywhere. Vaishnavites against the Saivites. The Catholics against the Protestants. The Sunnis against the Shiites. (It was interesting to learn that this rift has been in existence for the last 14 centuries). These are just examples of divisions within one religion. At a macro level, we have also seen battles among faiths- The crusades. The fight against "kafirs" which many misunderstand to be "jihad". Demolishing a mosque because it happened to be built on the birth place of one of Hinduism's most popular gods.

Such examples of fighting over faith make me question the very essence of it. Isn't faith supposed to strengthen humanity as a whole? Surely the purpose of faith was not to divide society right? Maybe in such a world being an atheist is less troublesome? As an atheist would say, "I'm an atheist. Thank God."

But looking at the scene from a rosier window, I am convinced that all's not lost. Right now, I'm reading a book titled, "A South Indian Journey" written by the English journalist Michael Wood. The book covers details of Wood's visits to numerous temples in Tamil Nadu. Writing about his trip to the shrine of the Lord Murugan at Palani, Wood describes his meeting with Selwyn, a Protestant Christian at the shrine. He writes, "Selwyn, in fact, goes happily between the Catholic shrine at Velankanni, Murugan of Palani and Muslim Nagore". If only we all had the foresight to accept that all faiths are the same! After all, the essence of each religion is the same. I for one am sure that God doesn't mind what name we call Him by. And it's just plain silly to fight over which name or form is the best. May we have the wisdom to realize that.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Tribute to Cutlet


Being an absolute "quote hanger" can definitely trigger me to blog! One morning after a particularly grueling session with macroeconomics, I decided to google up quotes on dogs while drinking my first cup of tea for the day. (Yes, I do random stuff like that). I came across this quote: "A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself." The moment I read this, memories of Cutlet flashed across my mind.

My parents and I spent one year in the beautiful city of Dehra Dun, right at the foothills of the mighty Himalayas. We stayed that year at the house of a senior colleague of my dad's. The only problem was that his dog also stayed in the same house. But we decided that it would be a very minor inconvenience. As time passed by, it became clear to me that Cutlet wasn't an inconvenience- she became a part and parcel of my life. In fact if someone mentioned the word "Cutlet", all that we could remember was her, not the snack! I would play with her before going to school, take her for long walks after homework and purposely irritate my mom by ordering her to jump on the bed (my dad was my co conspirator in this game). This became a part of our routine every Sunday. My dad would call for Cutlet the minute mom went to the kitchen. As soon as Cutlet would enter the room, dad would signal for her to jump on the bed. The minute she heard my mom's footsteps, she would just bounce back on the floor, knowing that mom would be angry about it. The day my dad got our first car we took her also for a ride in town. Sitting in a comic position in the rear seat along with me, as regal as a queen on her throne, she seemed to be looking down at the stray dogs on the street. It was as if she was almost human! Each moment spent with Cutlet remains etched in some distant corner of my mind.

However one incident remains crystal clear. I had a bad day at school (I don't remember why, but I guess it had something to do with being a non-Hindi speaking South Indian in a place where almost everybody spoke Hindi) and I came back home in a nasty mood. Instead of talking to Cutlet as I usually did I threw over my knapsack on the bed and started to cry. The tears soon gave way to rage and I refused to talk to anyone. I moved to the sofa and when Cutlet came towards me, I nudged her away. But a fifth grader cannot be angry for long. The anger turned to tears again... But this time, Cutlet came back to me and slowly placed her head on my lap, as if to say "All's going to be fine!" (She had never done this before to me.) Looking back I realize that apart from my mother, Cutlet was truly my first best friend.

One year passed by quickly, and we moved on from Dehra to the Kingdom of Bahrain and later to the United Arab Emirates, and now university in Singapore. It's been a total of nearly eight years so far! I don't know whether Cutlet's still there and if she is, will she be able to remember me. All I can say is that I feel blessed to have had her at some point in my life! I know she loved me unconditionally and thought the world of me, her human friend. I hope I live up to her vision. As someone erudite once said, "My goal in life is to be as good of a person my dog already thinks I am!"

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

At Isha Vidhya- "Educating Rural India"


Ikkarai Boluvampatti. A quaint little village, buried in a remote corner on the outskirts of Coimbatore. What makes it special to me is the presence of the Isha Vidhya school. Established by the Isha Foundation, there are 7 such schools in Tamil Nadu, the sole mission being "educating rural India". The school has nearly 475 students, from kindergarten to grade 6, offering them a rare opportunity to learn in those areas. Most of the kids come from rural backgrounds; some of them being first generation learners. I volunteered at the school library during my summer hols, helping students develop their vocabulary and improve their English language skills. Interacting closely with the kids was almost like revisiting my own childhood. I was touched by their affection, innocence and simplicity (Much as I hate to say this, it's rare to find such traits in their urban counterparts.) At the end of a fortnight at Isha Vidhya, I don't know whether I have taught the kids, or they me. I am sure of one thing though: They brought me a lot of happiness and hope; a definite meaning and mission to my life. Whether it was talking to them about "The Princess and the Pea" or singing the latest Kollywood songs with them on the bus ride back home, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. As I work on this blog post, I realize how geographically distant I am from them. Yet they continue to inspire me with my memories of their love, enthusiasm and laughter.

Little Santhosh from grade 2 is an absolute sweetheart. I remember going to the arts and crafts lesson in his class, since it provided more room for interaction with the students. At the end of the class, Santhosh came up to me with a little piece of paper on which he had drawn two pots of boiling rice along with sugarcane sticks: His idea of celebrating the Pongal festival! He said to me, "This is for you, miss". The very next day, he came to the library searching for me. I was shocked when he handed me a poster which he had painstakingly worked on the night before. A cute picture of a squirrel was drawn on the poster and he had clipped his photograph onto it! I asked him why he wanted me to take it. To this he replied that I'd be working in the school only for a few more days and I shouldn't forget him when I went back to my college in Singapore! Needless to say, I took the poster back with me and it hangs on my wall. From Santhosh, I realized that "Each little thought that's filled with love becomes a special blessing!"

One must learn from Manju, a smart little third grader who was given the "Student of the week" award when I volunteered at the school. She was given this award because of her persistent efforts of speaking in English at all times within school. I listened to her chatter away with her classmates. Yes, there were grammatical errors. Yes, the pronunciation was not correct. Yes, the sentence constructions were awkward. Yes, there were people laughing at her. But hey, she PERSISTED in her efforts! Hats off to Manju's courage! She reminded me of the bumble bee: "Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn't be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn't know it so it goes on flying anyway." If only we all had her courage to pursue success, unmindful of our own limitations!

Whenever there were children in the library, I would go up to a student, give him/her a book suitable for their level of reading and sit beside them as they read. My objective was to help them read difficult words, learn new ones and talk to them about the story they just read. It was during one of these sessions that I met Srinithi. I had given Srinithi a book, but I was told by her teacher later that the kid couldn't recognize most of the letters. Realizing that reading the book would be a futile exercise, I decided to test her on the alphabets. While writing the letters, she would invert most of them; she also would get confused with 'b', 'd' and 'p'. So I spent more time with her, teaching the very basics of the English alphabet right from scratch. On my last day I asked her whether she would forget whatever I had taught her. She looked up at me and said, "I'll write it out 10 times miss, so that I'll never forget!" I was reminded by Srinithi that enthusiasm is the magical ingredient which makes every task successful.

I realized that stars needn't
always twinkle in the sky when I met little Anu, another adorable second grader. With her green and white striped scarf and two missing front teeth always posed in a smile, her eyes shone like the stars. Whenever I think of Anu, I remind myself to smile more often. It not only brings more joy to others, but you feel more joyous yourself!

Although I worked with the children for hardly a fortnight, I was able to connect on an emotional level with them. I try to keep in contact with them, thanks to today's mobile technology. I think of all of them quite often: Sadhana, Srimathi and Sowbarnika (The troika of 'S') from third grade, naughty Naveen, sweet little Sivanesan, Aravind who would always share his murukkus with me during break, joyous Jayashree Powrika who gave me a cute tiny purse the day I met her, Santhosh's elder sister Gowri and her classmates, a smart group of fifth graders, just to name a few.

On my last day at school, Dilpreet, a talkative student from grade 4 came to me and gave me some advice- "Miss, when you finish your college in Singapore , join our school as a permanent teacher!" Sowbarnika didn't say "Bye miss!" as she got off the school bus on my last day. Instead she said, "See you in December miss!". As for me, I cannot wait to go back to her wonderful school! :)








Friday, July 30, 2010

Life is a bed of roses!


Well, I know life isn't exactly a bed of roses, but once you meet Ammukutty Amooma, you are inclined to believe that it really is. Ammukutty, whom I affectionately call "amooma" (meaning grandmother in my mother tongue), is a flower vendor who comes to our house in Coimbatore every evening. Petite in frame, graceful in nature, always smiling, she reminds me of a benign fairy (similar to the ones I used to read in Enid Blyton's books as a kid.)

Announcing her arrival at the household with a chirpy "Molukutty!!!" (That's what she calls my aunt), I am amazed at her simplicity and humility. Greeting everyone at home with a smile, she quizzes each one of us about our well being. At the same time, she thrusts strings of jasmine flowers into my hands. The first string, she says is for "Swami". In our culture, it's considered auspicious to offer flowers to the gods at twilight. At this time of the day, the air is filled with the fragrance of jasmine flowers mixed with the sweet scent of the incense sticks offered at the altar. The next string, she instructs, is for all the women in the house. The third string is for the next morning.

As she makes her way slowly to the other houses, I cannot help but ponder over the joy with which she does her work. I believe she truly is a "karma yogi". According to the Gita, a karma yogi is one "who performs action by body, mind, intellect and the senses without a trace of ego". A perfect inspiration for all of us! With her attitude, life is really a bed of roses!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Headmaster's Daughter

I slowly walked into the ninth grade classroom, an awful feeling of apprehension pounding hard in my heart- Would I be able to cope with the new environment? Will my lessons be easy? What if I could not make any friends? I had always been weary of moving to a new school, although I had shifted schools nearly five times before.

My mother coaxed me into adopting an optimistic approach, but a scintilla of skepticism emerged in my mind- the spark grew into a fire and all positivism in my mind was erased…. But, I was in for a pleasant surprise. My classmates were really friendly and I did not feel like an outsider. Then, a teacher came to the class. ”Ma’am, there is a new student in the class!” shrieked my excited classmates.

“Yes” the teacher replied “and she happens to be the new headmaster’s daughter. So unless you want trouble, better keep quiet!” The cat had been let out of the bag! This was the moment I wasn’t exactly looking forward to. I winced inwardly, due to a mixture of emotions- pride for my dad’s position, but also, the agony of being identified by this tag.

The days flew by quickly. By the grace of God Almighty, I began to carve out a niche for myself. My peers and teachers soon recognised me for who I was, not whose daughter I was. Nevertheless, I guess the tag always remained. There have been numerous instances where junior students would come up to me and ask if I really was the Headmaster’s daughter. I would nod, not knowing really what to say. After all, it was just coincidence that my dad was the Headmaster, right? Such questions would leave me annoyed because I felt it was not a big deal.

Whenever there was a problem for us students, some of them would say “Can’t you speak to your dad? He’ll surely listen to you!” These comments would make me indignant- As if each problem could be solved just by me speaking to dad! Once, on the occasion of the Headmaster’s birthday, a group of student leaders presented him a birthday card. Later at home, dad joked that he would be the first person on earth to pay for his own birthday card! Thus, my schooldays passed- I tried to move away from the “Headmaster’s Daughter” title and groaned whenever people referred to me by the same. Before I knew it, my schooldays came to an end –I had to pack my bags and move on….It was the first time I ever saw my dad break down.

Now, I am far away from home, from school, from the cosy familiar world. I think of the good old days- Dad teaching me to ride my bike, comforting me over a bruised knee, cracking jokes to make me laugh. He would say, “Inch-me and Pinch-me went for a walk. Inch-me died, so, who’s left?” “Pinch-me” I would say, and he would promptly pinch me, leaving me only to yell away. Dad is primarily responsible for my avid interest in reading- He gave me my first book when I was three. It was the Ladybird Book for Three-Year-Olds. A string of numerous other books followed. We used to squabble over games of Scrabble. (Mom used to be the referee) - On one rare occasion when I won; he got me an abridged version of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle” as a reward. I still remember asking dad how wonderful it would be if we all dozed off for twenty years- free from trouble and tension ; an awesome, stress free period. Dad would take us for long walks in the deep green woods of Lovedale and the troika comprising dad, mom and me would spend the evenings that ensued reading contently beside the fireside. Those were serene days of sweets and stuffed toys….

Then, the scenario changed. Simple, innocent pleasures of childhood vanished into thin air. But dad continued to be with me. We would have myriad debates and discussions, ranging from democracy to diplomacy; from Tamil autonomy in Sri Lanka to the trauma of global terrorism; from communism to communalism. He would always leave a powerful impression in my mind, constantly egging me to read and keep myself informed about happenings across the globe. He would tell me, “Read as much as you can and read discerningly so that you will be able to separate the wheat from the chaff.”

He supported me all the time- consoling me over lost marks and lost competitions, advising me to ignore petty comments made by peers, encouraging me to put my best foot forward in all my endeavours. There have been times when he would stay up late at night, just to ensure that I had company while I studied. I remember the quiet disappointment on his face when I did not do my best, and the equally quiet triumph when I made him proud….Dad, I love you so much!

As I try to make my way through the new, unfamiliar, at times turbulent environment, I think of the Headmaster and I realise that I have always been proud to be the Headmaster’s Daughter….

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Waltzing into the World of Work

Well, it's been a long time! I haven't blogged for nearly two months!! So before my blog fades to rust, I decided to intervene finally and brush away the cobwebs. It's ironical that I started this blog on a whim, in the middle of a huge muddle- my semester exams; and chose to ignore it during a major chunk of my summer holidays!
I reached home in Dubai in early May. I spent my May days with mom and dad, pestering my mom to get us a dog. (Mom, if you're reading this, I am still heartbroken over Henry.) Henry, the perfect dog whom we
nearly got, whose eyes melted your heart, who seemed to grin almost like a human...
But I digress.
Towards the end of May, I got an opportunity to do an internship with Deloitte & Touche M.E at their Sharjah branch. And, thus, I took my first step into the world of work. On the first day at work, I was introduced to all my colleagues and the Deloitte audit procedure was explained in detail to me. I was completely awed by the professional ethics, thoroughness of work and simply being a part of the Deloitte team! The next day, a mentor was assigned to me and I was told to proceed to a client's office. I slowly began to put into practice what I have learnt so far at high school and college. Some tasks were simple enough and yet, I found myself making errors. Imagine my embarrassment when my mentor told me that I hadn't punched in the working papers to be filed properly! And thus, I learnt that there is a proper method for doing anything, even if it is just punching working papers to be filed. Most important of all was understanding the huge world of difference between what is taught at college and real practices in the industry. But I shall not bore you with those details. (Partly because I'm still trying to understand!!)
What I find so fascinating about Deloitte is the diversity of the workforce. On a typical day, one can catch snatches of conversations in Arabic, Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil and even Tagalog! I learnt a few Tagalog words from my Filipino mentor and was utterly surprised when she spoke to me in broken Malayalam!
Most of my co workers at Deloitte refer to each other by their first names or their initials. Being probably the youngest at the workplace, I found it quite awkward to do the same. Not surprisingly, my conversations were peppered with thank yous and pleases to a point that I began to wonder if I was being exceedingly polite. A senior at work told me once," Kochu valare formal aa." (This girl is very formal). I guess, I'll learn as I travel further!!
They say "Experience is a great teacher. It teaches you after conducting the test". Never has this been truer than in my case! My mother must have drilled it into me a hundred times: Never drink your coffee when you're sitting close to the laptop! But, I learnt only the hard way.
It was a normal afternoon at work in my client's office. I was waiting for a few documents from the accountant before I could perform the test of details, so I was relatively free that day. The office bhaiyya came to give us our coffee. I thanked him and had barely taken in a sip when.... The handle of the cup broke and all the coffee seeped into my laptop! And what's worse, it wasn't even mine; Knowing that the duration of my internship was only a month, I was given a laptop belonging to a colleague who had gone on vacation! At that moment, I wished the earth would open up and swallow me. It was one of those excruciatingly embarrassing moments. A few days later when I went to the office to return a few files, I met the senior partner. He asked me, quite jovially, " I heard you gave coffee to your laptop. Is it feeling the Dubai heat too?"
Well, lessons learnt the hard way will remain etched onto one's memory forever. Apart from this unsavory episode, I thoroughly enjoyed my first waltz with work. I may just be 18 and I still have a long way to travel, but I have once again understood that perseverance, preparation and enthusiasm
never fail!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Lesson from Gale

As I take a walk down memory lane, the day still remains vivid in my mind’s eye. It’s like it happened just yesterday; it actually occurred nearly eight years ago, when I was a tiny fifth grader.

A close family friend, Michael Uncle, had a German Shepherd named Storm. Storm was just as magnificent as his name- fierce, loyal , smart and simply adorable, he was capable of following instructions in three languages! So when Storm had a pup, what better name to give her other than Gale!

I remember watching Michael Uncle feed Gale with drops of milk from a baby’s bottle. And when Gale began to barely open her eyes, I would wonder at the beauty in play before me- God’s inexplicable mysteries. And when she would yawn, showing her small budding canine teeth, I was simply convinced that divinity still exists in our lives.

I remember skipping home from school, a happy-go-lucky child, looking forward to a weekend to be spent reading Ruskin Bond and playing with Gale. And that’s when Dad greeted me with ..... the News.

Gale, hardly six weeks old, had caught an infection and.... died! Just like that! In a fraction of a second, all gone! A life completely sniffled away! It was probably the first time I experienced facing the death of a loved one. I was baffled, angry, and upset at the injustice in the world. In all my fifth grader innocence, I scribbled down my thoughts in a battered old diary, hot angry tears pouring onto the pages, and I blamed God for the blatant cruelty.

Today, when I think of that day, I wonder how precarious life is, how perilous. Like a child perched onto a see saw, trying to maintain his balance. No wonder the fourteenth century Indian philosopher Adi Shankaracharya wrote in his work “Bhaja Govindam”, “ Life is just like a droplet of water on a lotus leaf...”

We hardly have any control over things that apparently stretch into the future. It’s just a mirage in a desert, but we mistake it for an oasis. One never knows what happens in the next second. We need to focus our attention on things we can do at the present. NOW is the only time we can afford to invest in. Let’s take time off our busy(?) schedules and focus on the finer aspects of life. Turn “scars into stars”, replace frowns with smiles; substitute the dark with spark! Because... “You’d better slow down, don’t dance so fast, time is short, the music won’t last...”

P.S The above verse is from “Slow Dance” , a poem written by a terminally ill girl at a New York Hospital. I wrote this article, partly as a reminder to myself, so that I count my blessings and invest in NOW, instead of drifting away into the world of cribs and complaints.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Strength of Surrender

"Jesus, Moses and an old man were playing golf. Moses hit a ball that passed through a huge pond. The pond gave way. The ball fell on the other side. Then Jesus hit a ball that passed through the pond. Here again the pond gave way. There was a small hillock after the pond. Even the hillock gave way and finally the ball landed on the other side of the hillock. Now it was the turn of an old man. When he hit a ball, the ball got stuck on a huge tree. There was a strong breeze, which made the ball to fall into the pond. A frog in the pond caught the ball. A snake caught the frog. An eagle watching from the tree top, caught the snake and flew away. In between the eagle dropped the snake from its clutches… the snake in turn released the frog… the frog released the ball. The ball fell right on the 18th hole of the golf course. Moses looked at Jesus and said, ‘Never play golf with this old man’. The old man was none other than Jesus’ father Jehovah, the Lord."

I came across this wonderful anecdote quite a while ago. On one of my rounds of contemplation, I suddenly remembered this and so, pestered my mom to send me the exact anecdote from the book where I first read it in. (Looking at Life Differently, by Swami Sukhabodhananda.) Reading this story again just helped me realize once again that, (clichéd as it may sound), all one needs to do is his/her best and surrender the rest . In the story, when Jehovah, the Lord played, all the forces of nature helped mysteriously. Likewise, when you really want something with all your heart, the powers of the cosmos will somehow or the other make you realize it. And that is the strength of surrender :)

Monday, April 26, 2010

On the Frankincense Trail

Note: This trip took place last December during my winter break. I promised dad that I would write about it as soon as possible, but ah… procrastination ruins us once in a while. (Wait… or maybe, always?) I had actually started on this piece as soon as we came back home, but soon forgot all about it. Well, five months later, trying to battle out exam blues and motivating myself to look forward to the golden promise of my summer vacation, I decided to take a break from books and complete this article. Clichéd as it might be, better late than never!

The Queen of Sheba must have been a happy woman. Oh yes, she had wealth, wit, wisdom and winsomeness to her credit, but she also happened to reign over one of the most beautiful places on the face of planet earth- Salalah. Sandwiched between the azure blue waters of the Indian Ocean on one side and the craggy Dhofar Mountains on the other, this picturesque city is nestled at the southernmost tip of the Sultanate of Oman. And so when dad, mom and I wanted a dash of adventure to brighten our otherwise mundane (but nevertheless enjoyable) winter break, we decided to drive the 1500km stretch from our home in Sharjah all the way to the city of the Queen of Sheba.

In anticipation of The Drive, I did a little bit of research on Salalah and learnt that the city is famed for its wadis, waterfalls, white sand beaches, castles and a lush landscape which bursts green with life during the khareef season. Technically, we were visiting Salalah at the worst possible time in December, but the streak of adventure in us wasn’t successful in dissuading us and sure… the trip never left us disappointed!

The first leg of our journey was from Sharjah to Muscat. Dad had already driven this 450km distance quite a number of times, so the perils of driving on unexplored territory did not exist. Starting from home at around 1 PM, we entered Omani soil through the Hatta border and drove on towards the town of Sohar in northern Oman. Having taken a short break for coffee at Sohar, we reached the capital city of Muscat at around 7.40 PM. We were tempted to break the journey at my cousin Adarsh’s house in Muscat, but a sense of urgency to reach Salalah egged us (or more precisely, dad) to drive further. One and a half hours later, we reached the city of Nizwah. Our original plan was to have dinner at Nizwah and spend the night there, proceeding to Salalah at the crack of dawn the next day. But it wasn’t to be… After dinner, we tried to book a room at Nizwah but thanks to the post Christmas-pre New Year bashes, all rooms were booked and we had no other way out. That’s when we decided to drive the 900km stretch to Salalah that very night!

Salalah, many historians believe, is also the place of origin of the Magi or the Three Wise Men from the East who brought gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold to the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. This belief is perhaps strengthened by the fact that the town is famed all over Arabia for the rare frankincense trees found in the surrounding regions. And so the route from Salalah northwards to Bethlehem is known as the Frankincense Trail.

Travelling on the Frankincense Trail was quite an experience. Once we crossed the town of Adam, 55km away from Nizwah, the roads were pitch dark thanks to the absence of road lights and it almost seemed as if we were back in the time and age of the Magi themselves. We sped on, a little prayer fluttering around the corner of our lips. Halfway through The Drive we ran into a bit of trouble at a tiny town called Hayma. We wanted to fill up on petrol and were just turning towards the Shell petrol bump when the car swerved over and got stuck in a patch of sand. Luckily, there was a truck that had also stopped for the very same purpose and God sent us help through the Ubiquitous Malayalee. The truck driver from Kerala used a sturdy rope to pull out the car stuck deep in the sand. Once we were safely back on the desert road, dad saw this episode as a cue for rest and pulled over to catch on a little nap. An hour later, we continued our expedition on the Trail. It was around 5 in the morning and we could already see the horizon lightening. At around 6 we could see bands of pinkish orange light spread its warmth across the vast stretches of the Rub al Khali. And so, we witnessed the beautiful break of dawn in the Empty Quarter. As the day wore on, the heat became torturous and we once again were stunned at how perfectly this entire cosmos has been created. The very same Rub al Khali which was freezing cold just the night before had become blazingly hot the next day!

We reached the city of Salalah at around 11 in the morning. The very same day we set out, wanting to explore the numerous places the city is renowned for. We visited the Anti Gravity Spot, which along with a similar spot in the Himalayas, is the only known place on the planet where the laws of gravity are defied. It was an awesome experience… I still remember how the car gently rolled uphill when dad put it on the neutral gear! Next we went to the Mughsayl White Sand beach- with its vast expanses of white sands and the mighty blue waters of the Indian Ocean it was indeed an exhilarating sight. Unfortunately we couldn’t visit the ruins of the Queen of Sheba’s castle. Also, since we had gone during the winter, there weren't any wadis or waterfalls. All the more reason for us to go again this July during the khareef!

The next day we visited the tomb of the Prophet Job. According to the Hebrew Bible, God tested Job by removing all protection given to him, thereby allowing Satan to take away his health, wealth, family and every other entity cherished by him. Despite his difficulties, never did Job curse God. And so Job became the embodiment of patience. Legend has it that God, pleased with Job’s patience, cured him of all his ailments by asking him to bathe in a stream. We had the good fortune of going to that very stream last winter. And that was the end of our stay in Salalah. We drove back to Muscat and stayed in my cousin Adarsh’s house where we welcomed in the New Year.

As I reminisce the moments of this beautiful journey, I realize that times are indeed difficult. I was just about to crib again when I reminded myself of this journey- with the patience of Job anything can be achieved! May we all learn from the story of Job!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Fighting Exam Blues

Well, here it is again- that season of stress, tension and trauma- the semester exams have begun! After a not-too-good first exam, I found myself depressed and so decided to blog, since writing always makes me feel better! :) So here goes...

I spent the first two hours following the exam, blaming fate and then wallowing in self pity. Then I decided to call my brother and speak to him. And what he said made things seem slightly better. And although it doesn't improve my chances of scoring better at the exam, I certainly hope I have learnt not to worry about things not in my control. My parents have always emphasized the importance of working hard in my academic career. For them, that's always the key point. The end result of whether I get good grades or not doesn't matter to them. (although it does matter to me!) So my parents would be mighty disappointed if I had fooled around and not worked hard. Hence, I have done my best and all that I can do now is surrender the rest to the One Above.

Also, grades are not the only things in life. As my brother told me, "Never grade yourself on the basis of grades." Hence, am just trying to constantly remind myself that it's important to work hard, and then forget about the rest. Which brings us to the issue of faith. As I mentioned in a previous post, what is life without faith?

A good family friend, Sudha Aunty, had once gifted us a book titled "Oh mind, relax please!", written by Swami Sukhabodhananda. This is one of my personal favorites from the bookshelf and I constantly refer to it when in need of inspiration. Aunty had written a beautiful quote inside the book and today my mom reminded me of the very same quote-
"Happy moment -Praise God
Difficult moment- Seek God
Quiet moment- Worship God
Painful moment-Trust God
Every moment- Thank God."

Now that I'm back to my cheerful old self, let me hit the books again for the rest of the exams! Jiayou everyone!! :)



Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Love you Amooma!

This one is for my dear maternal granny, whom I call Amooma. I just realized that it's been ages since I gave her a call and I know that she must be thinking about me back home. At the sudden recognition of the fact, I took a trip down memory lane, thinking about all the times I shared with Amooma.

As an eager 10 year old, I vaguely remember helping her out in the kitchen, when she used to make ellai adas, unniappams and numerous other scrumdiddlyumptious Kerala goodies. Erm, did I mention that helping out meant sampling the snacks? Going back home to Kerala once a year during the summer gave me so much to look forward to!! :)
Amooma, who even today spends most of her time reading the scriptures and chanting prayers, is an expert in answering questions regarding mythology, rituals and other aspects of religion. Talking to her in my slightly awkward Malayalam with specks of Tamil thrown in, I came to learn about the tradition of the "Velichapaddu" in God's own country. The Velichapaddu, literally meaning "Revealer of Light", is a person who acts as a mediator between the villagers and the village deity, which is usually a form of the Goddess. The medium strikes himself/herself on the forehead with a sword and, being possessed by the Goddess, thunders out advice to the villagers. We would spend our time together discussing such issues. She would also give me advice regarding prayers, often in the form of which sloka to recite for each purpose and to each deity.When my parents and I would make our annual pilgrimage to the family shrine , she would come with us too. And each holiday, when it's time for us to leave, her eyes will moisten and she'll promise to pray for me. I have never seen Amooma get angry. She displays a sense of detachment in everything- tears, laughter, disappointment, frustration, everything is surrendered to the One Above. Constantly praying for the welfare of everyone.
For me , Amooma is an embodiment of infinite patience and love. Even writing this piece makes me realize how much I miss her. Thank you Amooma, simply for the miracle of being in my life. I love you always!! :)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Rosewood Beads

Warning: This post is bound to be pretty philosophical :)

Having been initiated into a mantra by my guru, Ammachi, lovingly known across the globe as the Hugging Saint, I got myself a rosewood rosary for the purpose of helping me chant my mantra. I was able to get the rosary blessed by Ammachi and now I wear it around my neck whenever I am not chanting the mantra. Last night before hitting the sack, I was just reminiscing the magical moments I was fortunate enough to experience at Ammachi's devi bhava darshan and took out my rosary to feel Her touch. I couldn't help but admire the 108 beads strung around the center bead, called the guru bead. When in the process of japa, you should start chanting from the guru bead and move across all the other beads till you hit the guru bead again.

After I finished my chanting, I looked at the rosary for a while and it helped me recognize two important aspects of life. Each rosewood bead has its own place on the rosary. Likewise, each of us has a distinct place on the Rosary of Life. No one can take away that place from us. Secondly, all the beads on the necklace follow the guru bead. Likewise, when one follows a spiritual force, peace of mind can easily be attained. I am not saying that each of us should follow a guru or a spiritual master. All that needs to be done is... follow faith.

After all, what is life without faith?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

From Tears to Pearls

Hmm... With the exams showing their ugly faces just around the corner, it looks like I am in quite a philosophical mood. The numerous incomplete assignments, the unread lecture notes, the unfinished tutorials all seem to be piling up in front of me. Just as I am about to panic, (which is very normal and routine these days), I remember a small anecdote narrated in Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner. The protagonist Amir, whose deepest desire is to become a novelist, writes a story which he reads out to his friend Hassan. The story narrated by him revolves around a man who was given a magic wish. Each teardrop that fell from his eyes would be turned into a pearl. At the end of the story, the man is left with blood on his hands and a huge mountain of pearls beside him- He has killed his own wife and his tears are converted to pearls. When Amir looks to Hassan for his reaction, the latter just shrugs his shoulder and asks him in all innocence, "Why couldn't he just smell an onion?"
I just loved the movie (am yet to read the book), but I am sure that this is one scene I will never forget. Things in life are so simple. It's just that we human beings, with our egos, greed, desires and jealousies complicate things further...

P.S Happy Vishu everyone!! :)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bitten by the Blogging Bug

Yes!! Have hopefully overcome writers' block
Taken the effort, created my blog!!

If this sounds like an outburst of spontaneity to you, I can well assure you it isn't. When I was wrestling with a long bout of writers' block, nearly six months ago, I vowed to myself that I'd overcome it by creating my own blog, and in that moment, this verse popped into my mind. Sadly, it turned out to be a form of "soda bottle enthusiasm" and the bubble burst. The plan didn't materialize till today. Why, you might ask? Oh, the ubiquitous tests, exams, projects, deadlines... But then two factors led me to take the initiative finally.

I realized that no matter what happens tests and examinations will always be there, in some form or the other. It simply is not a good enough reason to avoid taking an initiative. Secondly I recognized the fact that I have simply been out of touch with this world. In my conversation with Dad a few hours ago, I was just ashamed to admit that I was unaware of things happening across the globe - because I have spent all my time living in my own little complacent sphere of life. As I lay on bed, tossing around, trying to get some sleep, I just couldn't take it anymore. I wanted to zap myself out of my own little world. And so, *sigh*, I took the plunge. I believe using this blog as a platform to express my views and opinions will help me stay connected with the real world. Also I will use it as a medium of relaxation from the stressful life that university is. This is the story of how I got bitten by the blogging bug :)

OK, now why is this blog called "From the Ashes"? A few years ago, when I still had the childlike spontaneity in me to write almost every week, I used the pseudonym "Phoenix". There were no specific reasons for choosing the name, except for the fact that I wanted a pseudonym as grand as my Dad's which is Obelix :) Having debated between Papyrus, Parchment, Pegasus and Phoenix, I finally chose Phoenix.

As one grows older, one hopefully becomes wiser. And with wisdom, comes the philosophical meaning of things in life. Phoenix, the mythical bird, renowned for its immortality, rises from its own ashes, a totally new bird, each time it dies. Philosophically, it acknowledges the fact that each day is a new day. The past is dead and cannot affect the future in any way. The only thing we are in control of is today. Carpe diem!! Seize the day! :)

Well, I think I have written quite a bit for my first post. I feel much more optimistic, knowing that I have taken an initiative, finally. Really, once we take the first step, it's almost as if the battle is half won. One of my favorite poems, The Oyster echoes the very same thought:

"What couldn’t we do
If we’d only begin
With some of the things
That get under our skin."
Watch this space for more!! :)