Saturday, April 30, 2011

Journey

A journey- isn't that what life is eventually? A journey between two destinations- birth and death. Numerous rebirths, numerous bodies, and the cycle of samsara continues till the atman attains moksha. I am reminded of a story where a person asked Sai Baba, the revered fakir from the blessed village of Shirdi the way to go home. Baba replied by stating that there are many ways, but they are susceptible to the perils of wild animals. The disciple asked, 'But what if I take a guide with me?' And Baba said that there wouldn't be any danger then.

The anecdote is laced with metaphors, hidden meanings that need to be decoded. The way to go home is the way to moksha. The numerous paths are representative of the different ways to attain good karma- serving mankind, righteousness, prayer, good deeds and so on. The wild animals are symbols of our 'inner enemies' like greed, pride, ego and jealousy- all of them obstacles that could hinder the progress of the journey. And lastly, the guide is a symbol for an anchor; a guru who can support you in the quest for moksha, because only He is Self Realized.

For me, my journey has always been guided by the fakir from Shirdi, who took a second birth, after attaining mahasamadhi, in the form of Sathya Sai Baba in southern India. I don't remember exactly how it all began- When I try to think back, walking down Memory Lane, I realize that 'Swami' has always been a part of my journey, come what may. Appa tells me that when I was barely a month old, he wanted Swami to bless me before we went back to Ooty, where Appa and Amma used to work. But it wasn't to be since Swami was in Parthi and we were traveling from Delhi to Ooty, via Coimbatore. And then it happened... A huge crowd had gathered on the ghat roads that spiraled upward to the Nilgiri Hills. Appa went to inquire and someone told him that Baba had come all the way from Parthi! Wonder of wonders, Appa's wish was fulfilled and that probably would have been my first darshan.

I remember our daily prayers offered to Swami. My earliest memory of Swami is an old dog-eared prayer book, consisting of the 1008 names of the Lord, smeared with specks of vibhuti and the fallen ash from incense sticks at the altar. Appa would recite the 1008 names almost every evening, me sitting by his side, trying to make sense of it all. Our altar was decorated with beautiful photos of Swami, along with other pictures- and I remember my favorite used to be the smiling picture of Swami, in His distinct saffron robes, raising His hand in the abhayahastha, a symbol of refuge. Swami was (and is) a part of our lives. New clothes are first placed before Him, new books and jewelery aren't used before they are blessed at the altar; in fact when Appa uses a new pen, the first words written are always 'Om Sairam'. As an eager third grader, who returned home from school, ecstatic at having clinched the elusive first rank, even my report card was placed before Him. I have vague memories of a Christmas spent at Parthi; standing in the morning queue for darshan at Whitefield. When we shifted to the Kingdom of Bahrain, I had the good fortune of being able to attend Swami's bal vikas classes that helped me to anchor my life further in Him.

Of course, I had my moments of 'school girl atheism'. There were times when I questioned the basis of my faith, ignored my prayers and thought that it was ridiculous to worship someone as God. And each time I tried to do that, my faith always returned, shattering all my skepticism. He answers sincere prayers, no matter what. All that needs to be done is trust Him.

Today, Swami is no longer with us physically. That doesn't mean He is no more. The Almighty transcends everything after all, even death . As Swami says, sometimes 'we see and yet do not see'. We can still see His presence everywhere- in the sunrise, the sunset, the clouds, the rain, the stars, the birds, the fragrance of vibhuti, the prayers... Swami, make me an instrument of Your Will and guide me as always in my journey. Let me live my life the way You would want me to!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Instrument of Thy Will

Plans have been thwarted
Dreams have been chased.
Never from my goals have I departed
And yet, troubles I have faced.
Everything has a cause
Mysterious reasons.
Birth and death; gain and loss
Changing seasons.
Sometimes things don't go my way
Sometimes it isn't just hard work and skill.
Make me on that day
An instrument of Thy Will.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Calicut Halwa

I don't know why but I have this sudden unexplainable craving for Calicut Halwa. As a child, I remember looking forward to my vacations back in ende Keralam, so that I could gorge on 'benana' chips, Amooma's unniappams and elaiaddas and of course, my favorite halwa. I know I sound gluttony, but good food is a gift from God of course. Especially this halwa- shiny, gleaming slabs in orange and yellow, sprinkled with cashews and the slight aroma of coconut oil. Or is it ghee? I don't know, and I don't care. It's yummm and that's what matters.

As its name suggests, the halwa traces its origins to the city of Calicut in the northern Malabar region of Kerala. But as time passed, I guess its popularity spread to all parts of Kerala, and today one can find it in any part of the state, even in the central regions and the southern backwaters. Indeed, it's representative of home for me.

My earliest memory of halwa- I was in grade 3 I think. My grandpa had made a trip to Ooty all the way from Palakkad. The minute I returned home from school, I realized that Thatha had come and voila! so had the halwa and banana chips. It was such a treat to eat halwa and watch the rain, the beautiful Nilgiri hills in the background, chatting with Thatha. Good times! Each time Thatha came home, he brought along halwa just for me. And each vacation, he ensured that I got my share of heaven. Thatha was always so thoughtful and loving...

Oh no, writing this post makes me so nostalgic. And of course, makes my craving even stronger. I even googled recipes of halwa and sent it to Amma, who promised to make it once I'm back home. Till then, I'll find some solace in chocolate cake. :) Okay, back to the books.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dusk

(Written while trying to derive some inspiration for an all nighter)

As the veil of darkness
Slowly hides the blue vastness of the skies,
As the first stars of the night appear,
Along with the slight silhouette of the moon,
A sense of loss engulfs me.
Loneliness.
Regret.
Silence.
And another day has gone by.
But the sun hasn't vanished yet.
It's spreading light in other faraway places.
It will return tomorrow.
Light.
Hope.
Joy.
The promise of another day.
The sun shall indeed return.

P.S The all nighter plan was a flop as usual. But the inspiration lasted. :)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Beginning of a New Dawn

Today is Vishu, the beginning of a New Year according to the Malayalam calendar. And 'celebrating' Vishu far away from home just doesn't seem right. But everything is for a cause, and I'm not grumbling. Instead am basking in the warmth of precious Vishu memories of the past. One of the most important customs of Vishu is the 'kani', referring to what needs to be seen first, on the dawn of Vishu.

As a child, I remember Appa and Amma chasing me to bed early the night before, so that they could arrange the Vishu kani at the altar in the pooja room. At 4 in the morning, Appa would wake me, cover my eyes and lead me to the pooja room so that the first thing I see is the kani. Even today, I recollect the splendor of the sight. Lit oil lamps for light, yellow fruit and vegetables for prosperity, Amma's pattu sari and jewelery for wealth, books for knowledge, and a mirror symbolizing the reflection of good luck in one's life. All this is arranged in front of a picture of the smiling Lord. What can go wrong in the New Year when you witness such splendor at the very beginning? For me, this truly is the beginning of a new dawn. :)

Oh, the next important aspect of Vishu is the kaineetam, where elders are supposed to give some money to everyone else in the household. Appa and Amma, are you reading this? :D

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Old Emails

I had a good laugh reading really really old emails today. Looking back, I realize I have come a looooong way! Two years ago, around the same time, I was worried about my grade 12 results, upset because I wasn't sure whether I would receive the 'joys' of a university life, and stressed out about the CPT exam in June. In one of those emails, Amma advised me to keep checking for email updates from NUS about the status of my application. Haha, I was so anxious to get into uni then!

Today, the scenario is not very different. I am just in a different place, but the worries are the same. Exams in a few days :S. and am super stressed. But those old emails reminded me that I have been through what I considered the worst two years ago. I will survive this also. I can and I most certainly will.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Embrace

Mother, bestow me with Your grace,
May I always be worthy of Your embrace
May I see You in everything around me
In the twinkling of stars
In the glimmer of the full moon
In the silent stillness of dawn
In the sunrise, a new day born
In the dancing of waves
In the smiles of little children
In the fragrance of the incense sticks
In the call of the muezzin to prayer
In the peal of church bells on a Sunday morning
In the Sanskrit mantras I try hard to chant
In the mirth of success
In the misery of disappointment
In the struggle for survival...
May it all remind me of Your grace
And may I always be worthy of Your embrace

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Journey

A journey- isn't that what life is eventually? A journey between two destinations- birth and death. Numerous rebirths, numerous bodies, and the cycle of samsara continues till the atman attains moksha. I am reminded of a story where a person asked Sai Baba, the revered fakir from the blessed village of Shirdi the way to go home. Baba replied by stating that there are many ways, but they are susceptible to the perils of wild animals. The disciple asked, 'But what if I take a guide with me?' And Baba said that there wouldn't be any danger then.

The anecdote is laced with metaphors, hidden meanings that need to be decoded. The way to go home is the way to moksha. The numerous paths are representative of the different ways to attain good karma- serving mankind, righteousness, prayer, good deeds and so on. The wild animals are symbols of our 'inner enemies' like greed, pride, ego and jealousy- all of them obstacles that could hinder the progress of the journey. And lastly, the guide is a symbol for an anchor; a guru who can support you in the quest for moksha, because only He is Self Realized.

For me, my journey has always been guided by the fakir from Shirdi, who took a second birth, after attaining mahasamadhi, in the form of Sathya Sai Baba in southern India. I don't remember exactly how it all began- When I try to think back, walking down Memory Lane, I realize that 'Swami' has always been a part of my journey, come what may. Appa tells me that when I was barely a month old, he wanted Swami to bless me before we went back to Ooty, where Appa and Amma used to work. But it wasn't to be since Swami was in Parthi and we were traveling from Delhi to Ooty, via Coimbatore. And then it happened... A huge crowd had gathered on the ghat roads that spiraled upward to the Nilgiri Hills. Appa went to inquire and someone told him that Baba had come all the way from Parthi! Wonder of wonders, Appa's wish was fulfilled and that probably would have been my first darshan.

I remember our daily prayers offered to Swami. My earliest memory of Swami is an old dog-eared prayer book, consisting of the 1008 names of the Lord, smeared with specks of vibhuti and the fallen ash from incense sticks at the altar. Appa would recite the 1008 names almost every evening, me sitting by his side, trying to make sense of it all. Our altar was decorated with beautiful photos of Swami, along with other pictures- and I remember my favorite used to be the smiling picture of Swami, in His distinct saffron robes, raising His hand in the abhayahastha, a symbol of refuge. Swami was (and is) a part of our lives. New clothes are first placed before Him, new books and jewelery aren't used before they are blessed at the altar; in fact when Appa uses a new pen, the first words written are always 'Om Sairam'. As an eager third grader, who returned home from school, ecstatic at having clinched the elusive first rank, even my report card was placed before Him. I have vague memories of a Christmas spent at Parthi; standing in the morning queue for darshan at Whitefield. When we shifted to the Kingdom of Bahrain, I had the good fortune of being able to attend Swami's bal vikas classes that helped me to anchor my life further in Him.

Of course, I had my moments of 'school girl atheism'. There were times when I questioned the basis of my faith, ignored my prayers and thought that it was ridiculous to worship someone as God. And each time I tried to do that, my faith always returned, shattering all my skepticism. He answers sincere prayers, no matter what. All that needs to be done is trust Him.

Today, Swami is no longer with us physically. That doesn't mean He is no more. The Almighty transcends everything after all, even death . As Swami says, sometimes 'we see and yet do not see'. We can still see His presence everywhere- in the sunrise, the sunset, the clouds, the rain, the stars, the birds, the fragrance of vibhuti, the prayers... Swami, make me an instrument of Your Will and guide me as always in my journey. Let me live my life the way You would want me to!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Instrument of Thy Will

Plans have been thwarted
Dreams have been chased.
Never from my goals have I departed
And yet, troubles I have faced.
Everything has a cause
Mysterious reasons.
Birth and death; gain and loss
Changing seasons.
Sometimes things don't go my way
Sometimes it isn't just hard work and skill.
Make me on that day
An instrument of Thy Will.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Calicut Halwa

I don't know why but I have this sudden unexplainable craving for Calicut Halwa. As a child, I remember looking forward to my vacations back in ende Keralam, so that I could gorge on 'benana' chips, Amooma's unniappams and elaiaddas and of course, my favorite halwa. I know I sound gluttony, but good food is a gift from God of course. Especially this halwa- shiny, gleaming slabs in orange and yellow, sprinkled with cashews and the slight aroma of coconut oil. Or is it ghee? I don't know, and I don't care. It's yummm and that's what matters.

As its name suggests, the halwa traces its origins to the city of Calicut in the northern Malabar region of Kerala. But as time passed, I guess its popularity spread to all parts of Kerala, and today one can find it in any part of the state, even in the central regions and the southern backwaters. Indeed, it's representative of home for me.

My earliest memory of halwa- I was in grade 3 I think. My grandpa had made a trip to Ooty all the way from Palakkad. The minute I returned home from school, I realized that Thatha had come and voila! so had the halwa and banana chips. It was such a treat to eat halwa and watch the rain, the beautiful Nilgiri hills in the background, chatting with Thatha. Good times! Each time Thatha came home, he brought along halwa just for me. And each vacation, he ensured that I got my share of heaven. Thatha was always so thoughtful and loving...

Oh no, writing this post makes me so nostalgic. And of course, makes my craving even stronger. I even googled recipes of halwa and sent it to Amma, who promised to make it once I'm back home. Till then, I'll find some solace in chocolate cake. :) Okay, back to the books.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dusk

(Written while trying to derive some inspiration for an all nighter)

As the veil of darkness
Slowly hides the blue vastness of the skies,
As the first stars of the night appear,
Along with the slight silhouette of the moon,
A sense of loss engulfs me.
Loneliness.
Regret.
Silence.
And another day has gone by.
But the sun hasn't vanished yet.
It's spreading light in other faraway places.
It will return tomorrow.
Light.
Hope.
Joy.
The promise of another day.
The sun shall indeed return.

P.S The all nighter plan was a flop as usual. But the inspiration lasted. :)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Beginning of a New Dawn

Today is Vishu, the beginning of a New Year according to the Malayalam calendar. And 'celebrating' Vishu far away from home just doesn't seem right. But everything is for a cause, and I'm not grumbling. Instead am basking in the warmth of precious Vishu memories of the past. One of the most important customs of Vishu is the 'kani', referring to what needs to be seen first, on the dawn of Vishu.

As a child, I remember Appa and Amma chasing me to bed early the night before, so that they could arrange the Vishu kani at the altar in the pooja room. At 4 in the morning, Appa would wake me, cover my eyes and lead me to the pooja room so that the first thing I see is the kani. Even today, I recollect the splendor of the sight. Lit oil lamps for light, yellow fruit and vegetables for prosperity, Amma's pattu sari and jewelery for wealth, books for knowledge, and a mirror symbolizing the reflection of good luck in one's life. All this is arranged in front of a picture of the smiling Lord. What can go wrong in the New Year when you witness such splendor at the very beginning? For me, this truly is the beginning of a new dawn. :)

Oh, the next important aspect of Vishu is the kaineetam, where elders are supposed to give some money to everyone else in the household. Appa and Amma, are you reading this? :D

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Old Emails

I had a good laugh reading really really old emails today. Looking back, I realize I have come a looooong way! Two years ago, around the same time, I was worried about my grade 12 results, upset because I wasn't sure whether I would receive the 'joys' of a university life, and stressed out about the CPT exam in June. In one of those emails, Amma advised me to keep checking for email updates from NUS about the status of my application. Haha, I was so anxious to get into uni then!

Today, the scenario is not very different. I am just in a different place, but the worries are the same. Exams in a few days :S. and am super stressed. But those old emails reminded me that I have been through what I considered the worst two years ago. I will survive this also. I can and I most certainly will.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Embrace

Mother, bestow me with Your grace,
May I always be worthy of Your embrace
May I see You in everything around me
In the twinkling of stars
In the glimmer of the full moon
In the silent stillness of dawn
In the sunrise, a new day born
In the dancing of waves
In the smiles of little children
In the fragrance of the incense sticks
In the call of the muezzin to prayer
In the peal of church bells on a Sunday morning
In the Sanskrit mantras I try hard to chant
In the mirth of success
In the misery of disappointment
In the struggle for survival...
May it all remind me of Your grace
And may I always be worthy of Your embrace