CONDONE COMPARISONS


PUBLISHED IN DECCAN HERALD 16TH NOVEMBER 2020

Parents want the very best in the world for their children. They do mind working very hard and trying beyond their means to pave a wonderful future for their children. They try to motivate their children in many ways. Sometimes they draw comparisons with a successful child hoping to urge their child to perform similarly or even better. It is during these times they inadvertently sow a lot of negative qualities in the psyches of the young minds. Instead of driving the child to do better they end up teasing their wards to rise their ugly heads. There are other times when they manage to kill interest or develop aversion towards the set goal.

The problem seems to be as old as mankind itself. A tale from the Ramayana deals with a similar case. Kubera and Ravana sons of sage Vishravas were half brothers. When Ravana was a young boy, Kubera the king of Lanka flew in his Pushpaka Vimana to meet his father. Ravana’s mother Kaikasi eyed the grandeur and style of her stepson and brought it to her son’s notice.

In addition to it she earmarked the prosperity and position of Kubera as a benchmark to be achieved by Ravana. Young Ravana made it his life’s ambition to acquire the same. Ravana was accomplished in every way to achieve all that and more with some effort. Instead of trying to work hard and attain a similar summit, Ravana coveted Kubera’s place and possessions. He fought tooth and nail to usurp everything that belonged to Kubera.

Story of Kubera, Ravana and Kaikesi - Rakshasa swabhavam

The lord of wealth appealed to his father for intervention. Vishravas felt it exceedingly difficult to make Ravana see good sense. Hence he suggested to Kubera to explore new grounds far far away from Lanka and start afresh from scratch. Since the Yaksha  was intelligent, talented and capable, he decided to follow his father’s advice. He built Alanka famously known as Alakapuri, recreated prosperity and steered clear of Ravana.

Ravana for his part ruled over Lanka, the ill-gotten asset. Kaikasi had goaded her son to tread the unethical path by sowing seeds of jealousy in his psyche.

Like Kaikasi parents seldom take into account the side effects of their erroneous notions of motivation. Though parents think that they are not guilty of partiality, prejudice, unrealistic expectation or comparison most often they are responsible for these very drawbacks.

Vijaya Dashami 2020


Vijaya Dashami has been a day earmarked for enterprise and new beginnings from times immemorial. So, I made an earnest attempt to transform our Kutthu Vilakku into the Mother Goddess with laces, beads, baubles and other knickknacks available in and around our home. She is seen towering over the Veena, the divine musical instrument which is representative of us Homo Sapiens. Let us wait for her to pick us up, tune our souls, strum the strings of our being and evoke music in our souls.

Vengeance Breeds Violence


Published in today’s Deccan Herald

रोचक बातें: भगवान परशुराम ने क्यों किया था 1 हजार भुजाओं वाले कार्तवीर्य  अर्जुन का वध? | Interesting things: Why did Lord Parashuram killed  Kartavirya Arjuna KPI

When people are wronged, they do feel violated. This being the case, people find it all the more difficult to digest an injustice meted out to them for no particular fault of theirs. The moot question in such situations happens to be, “How to deal with the situation?” Though forgiveness is the best solution, our reaction is mostly one of dejection, seething anger and sometimes revenge.

A story from the Bhagavatha Purana can serve as a case study on the subject. There once lived a powerful king called Karthaveerya Arjuna who ruled over Mahishmathi. Once he ventured into sage Jamadagni’s Ashram. He was rendered a warm and royal hospitality. The king wondered aloud how the sage was able to rustle up such a great fare. The Rishi told him about the divine cow Kamadhenu who was in his possession. Karthaveerya Arjuna promptly coveted the divine animal. Jamadagni was reluctant to part with her. Karthaveerya Arjuna’s ego was offended by the categorical refusal. When he realized that persuasion would not work, he killed the sage in a fit of rage and walked away with Kamadhenu.

Jamadagni’s son Parashurama came to know of the gory details of the incident. He was livid. He vowed to axe down Karthaveerya Arjuna. He marched out to Mahishmathi furiously to execute his vow. Somehow, the killing of Karthaveerya Arjuna did not satiate his vengeance. He vowed to wipe out the Kshatriya clan off the face of earth. The Purana records that he went around the world twenty one times axing down every single Kshatriya who came his way.

People who have been outraged and penalized unjustly may appreciate Parashurama’s act of violence. They may even feel constrained by the law of the land to mete out justice the way they want to do so. Yet a little reflection on the subject will reveal that the brutality served no purpose. Lots of innocent lives which had little to do with the abominable act had to pay with their lives. It bred animosity, insecurity and an animal instinct to be on the defensive at all times. In fact the result of every battle and war, act of terrorism and vandalism is invariably the same across time and space.

 As Mahatma Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”

Death Be Not Proud


https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/right-in-the-middle/death-be-not-proud-889673.html

The New Year  began with a bang, especially for the teachers, students and alumni of Sri Vidya Mandir Education Society. It was the golden jubilee year of the school and was being celebrated with much fanfare through a series of functions. The gala fete rolled from one day to another and gained new dimensions and momentum. The grand dame, responsible for this festivity thought like Robert Browning. “God’s in his Heaven—All is right with the world.” She enjoyed all the attention, acknowledgement and admiration from the thousands of lives she had helped to evolve. At the same time, the octogenarian became increasingly conscious of Robert Frost whispering to her that she had miles to go before she slept! She brainstormed for fresh ideas with renewed zeal to make her fifty year old baby more accomplished than ever before.

Leela Miss, as she was popularly known, was well known for her successful life and career. She seemed to be working Leelas – miracles!

Yet as all of us know, Rome was not built in a day! This extremely enterprising educationist, who came to Bangalore as a young bride, had the choice to lead a normal secure life. Yet she chose to take the road less travelled by and that made all the difference!

She dared to head a school with a grand total of three students. Her genuine love for children and learning inspired her to leave no stone unturned to make her dream school come true. She worked day and night, walked in and out of courtrooms to secure the rightful needs of her school premises. Over the last half century, she built an efficient like-minded team to cater holistic education for she was aware that the child is the father of man!

 Work was worship to her. She never slacked nor did allow anyone in her radius to slack. The thousands of condolence messages, nostalgic trivia, photographs and videos that flooded the social media within a couple of hours of her passing on held a mirror to her charismatic character and alluring accomplishment in her chosen field.  Even in her death, Covid restrictions could not thwart her ability to enable virtual bonding among the lives she touched.

I picture my beloved teacher who taught me to appreciate poetry in my formative years smiling from the heavens and reciting John Donne’s sonnet, enunciating each word in her signature style, coaxing the meaning out of the verse, “Death! Be Not Proud”!

Complacency Can Lead to Complications


Sometimes we become smug and complacent in life. This feeling descends on us when we have achieved our aim or when we are happy and contented in life. At such times, we tend to become arrogant and irascible. We turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the people around us and gradually lose sight of the power of mutual respect and interdependence. We preen our feathers and strut around till we stumble and tumble over.

The sum and substance of this process is depicted in one of the anecdotes that appear in the Upanishads. Indra established his supremacy over the three worlds. He became conceited. He forgot his basic manners. He disregarded his Guru Brihaspathi. The slighted Guru abandoned Amaravathi. The Devas weakened because, their Guru had stopped channelizing Havis or the strength of the oblations offered in the sacrificial fires to them. The Asuras, the natural enemy of the Devas recognized the chink in Indra’s armour. They harassed him. Only then, Indra recognized his need for his Guru. Indra hurried to pacify the preceptor in vain. He approached Lord Brahma for a plausible solution. The lord suggested that the Devas should have a stop gap arrangement. Vishwaroopa, the son of Thwastha was substituted in Brihaspathi’s position as an interim arrangement. Respite was restored. All the same Indra smelt something amiss. A little investigation revealed that Vishwaroopa was passing on the effect of the Havis partially to the Asuras. Indra was infuriated. He beheaded Vishwaroopa. Thwastha became distraught. He resolved to destroy Indra. He used his Yogic power to beget an invincible son who would be the nemesis of Indra. Vrithrasura was born. Indra was destabilized by Vrithrasura. He approached MahaVishnu. The lord told him that Vrithrasura was immune to all kinds of conventional weapons. Only a weapon made from the bones of sage Dadheechi could kill Vrithrasura. That was a tall order. There was no other alternative. Indra approached the sage and cited the case. Almost immediately, Dadheechi went into a state of Samadhi and gave up his life. Indra used the sage’s bones to construct the infallible Vajrayudha. Vrithrasura was duly killed. Indra  appeased his Guru apologized to Brihaspathi and peace was restored.

 Indra learned the lesson of gratitude, generosity, humility, empathy and co-operation the hard way. If we imbibe these  values  from Indra’s experience we can enjoy uninterrupted, flawless success.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt


https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/right-in-the-middle/familiarity-breeds-contempt-876966.html

The facade of Milan central railway station (Milano Centrale Stock ...

 “Familiarity breeds contempt.”  I have observed this saying, which plays tricks on our minds, testify its veracity very many times in my life. For instance, a well-loved bedtime story is reduced to a recitation. Learning by rote becomes mindless repetition after a while. A beaten path to a regular destination makes us wear blinders to the surroundings. A regular visitor loses his status as a guest. The strains of a well-loved song lose our attention after the initial euphoria.  You get the drift…

Well, I did not expect the adage to come alive when I was in one of the most exotic destinations on my bucket list. When I flew into the Milan the fashion capital of the world, I was quite dazed. The colossal, well lit, and decorated space and the length of the queue at the immigration coupled with long wait, travel and the jet lag lent it a very ethereal quality. I stepped out, to be warmly greeted by a young cousin and later on joined by a very dear friend of mine.

I enjoyed my train ride to Milano Centrale taking in everything that I could see from the window. The place unfolded its magnetic charm in bits and pieces and culminated in the railway station which looked surreal with its archaic looks. I must confess, I spent more time looking up than watching my steps as I walked in the station towards the Metro station. We checked into a hostel and spent the next three days taking a Metro train to Milano Centrale and go around in different routes to see the cynosures of the city before buzzing back to our nest. Over time, the Station became familiar. This aspect was proved by the fact that instead of looking at the classical looking staircases and sculptures, I started spending a few minutes listening to random violinists and artists performing on the platform.  The shops, advertisements, the railway tracks, cobwebs and a mixture of old and new trains caught my attention by the sixth time I was there. By then I had figured out how to buy and use a ticket and was even able to guide somebody. When we went there for the eighth time, we indulged in window shopping to avoid stepping out into the rain. I remember crinkling my nose up in the air when I had to use a dirty washroom in the station.

On the day we left the place to our next destination, I recollect that I was making calls and looking at the digital notice board for information on arrivals and departures. It was only in retrospection I realized that that the truism had been rendered true. As William Hazlitt had put it, “Though familiarity may not breed contempt, it certainly takes off the edge of admiration!”

My Tryst with Mahabharata


 sm-s.in/Rg9HVF1

Published in Story Mirror.

“What is found in the Mahabharata can be found elsewhere, but what is not found in the epic can seldom be found in the universe.”

This line perhaps had me hooked to the epic for a lifetime. I have read it several times and listened to many great scholars who speak on the subject. I have marveled at the plethora of situations in the epic which have served as reference points to various aspects of life across time and space. My involvement with the epic grew to a point where I started sensitizing young and not so young audiences to the relevance of the classic. It began with a series of talks and later on I started conducting sessions where people would call out a random word and I would connect it to one of the episodes of the epic.

With each passing session, the words got quirkier and were mostly sourced from contemporary lingo. To keep it short I would like to recollect the ones that captured my imagination the most.

For instance, once a young man came up with addiction and I narrated the instances from Yudhishtira’s life where his love for gambling led to crisis every single time he succumbed to his addiction.

Then there was this time when someone gave the word “Face Time” and I drew the attention of the seeker to the famous scene in a famous south Indian movie called Maya Bazaar where Abhimanyu and his lady love would have rendezvous by talking to each other on a mirror which would transform into a screen during “Face Time”.

When I was given the word “Deforestation” I had to narrate the entire epic, albeit briefly when I had to relate how Arjuna and Krishna set the Khandava forest on fire in order to construct Indraprastha. The prologue and the consequential aftermath of destroying the forest hold a mirror to the fact of how the spurned serpent king Takshaka turns tables on his assailant’s several generations down and stings Parikshith the grandson of Arjuna and thereby the rest of the world for decimating the forest and its inmates.

More recently during the lockdown, one of them wrote to me and asked me to relate “Self Isolation” with the epic. I jogged my memory a little and came up with the same tale of Parikshith who incurred a curse from sage Shringi to be dead in a week’s time from a snake bite. The petrified king thought out the situation pragmatically. He got a royal residence built on a tall tower and moved in. The food, drink, and even the very air that he breathed were scanned before being permitted into the premises. Takshaka (read novel coronavirus) managed to enter the premises in a lemon offered by a Brahmin and sting Parikshith. This episode speaks volumes of the power of Karma.

Everything is interconnected in the universe. Even if one strand of the web is violated, it can spell out doom to all its residents. We the denizens of our planet have more than violated the earth we live on and perhaps that is the reason why Mother Nature has manifested herself as the microbe Corona to make us realize our misdemeanors and blunders.

It is high time we learn this valuable lesson from the epic. So, I used the luxury of lockdown time to read my favorite epic once again in order to forage for more messages.

Time for Truth


https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/oasis/time-for-truth-873042.html

The universe has a way of checking the indiscreet and exploitative ways of mankind periodically. Of late, it has manifested itself as an invisible microbe and is taunting the uppity attitude of our race. Oftentimes, when the mind is riddled with fear and doubt; it resorts to various means to resolve its uncertainties. When rationale of science and medicine fail to provide answers, the faithful seek solution and solace through worship and prayers.

As far as India is concerned, the believers turn to one or many of the gods from the pantheon, each of them who have the special ability to alleviate specific ills. In such times as these, when bogged down by baffling illnesses and challenges devotees turn to lord Sudarshana to quell the obstacle and throw open the path of progress. Kings, leaders, communities and householders perform the Sudarshana Homam as prescribed by the Shastras in a view to seek relief.

History chronicles that about six centuries ago, Nigamanta Vedanta Desikar a Vaishnavite, scholar, seer and saint composed a powerful prayer in Sanskrit popularly known as Sudarshana Ashtakam. The seer disseminated the same among the local populace that was being bogged down by a pandemic. It is strongly believed that the continuous chanting of these eight potent verses ensconced not merely the essence of the ruling deity but also promised the one who chanted them liberation from the problems that perplexed them.

For those who are new to the subject, it will help to know that Sudarshana Chakra or the celestial serrated disc which is considered to be an integral part of Lord Vishnu was actually created by the divine architect Vishwakarma. It is said that he fashioned the disc using a slice of the effulgent sunbeam and gifted it to lord Vishnu who used it from time to time to behead the pestilences which harassed the earthlings in the form of demons.

The fact that this powerful weapon was granted the status of a god and act independently by the lord himself speaks about the supremacy of Sudarshana.

An etymological interpretation of the deity’s name will help us decode the mystery of life itself. When pursued in earnest, Su -Darshana will not only show us the way out of the maze but will help us to arrive at the supreme Truth or Goodness. The time for reckoning with the truth has arrived.

Covid Inspired Classrooms


COVID-inspired classrooms

Indian education was moving along at its usual pace when a microscopic virus hit the pause button. Indians, however, are an enterprising lot. The educational sector decided to cock a snook at the corona virus by simply going the e-way! Within a matter of days, many private schools were ready with a new strategy.

In most schools the in-house knowledge bank on matters of technology, networked with corporate experts in the field and teachers were trained briefly online on how to conduct meetings, classes, setting and accepting assignments and evaluation. Teachers worked from home conducting and attending meetings with their colleagues on lesson plans and practising to teach online with technical support for a couple of days. Then they networked either with a student’s parent or guardian and soon e-classes were launched. A regular timetable was charted out and schools slipped into a routine sans assembly, prayer, uniforms and marking of attendance.

Initially, most parents, teachers and students were cynical about the effectiveness of the new methodology. Sudarshan Kasturi, Head, Department of Mathematics at Greenwood High, Bangalore said, “I was not game for the idea in the beginning but constant experimentation with online teaching has made me explore new ideas.” Ramamani, Sanskrit teacher, Jnanodaya High School, Bangalore averred, “Online teaching can never be compared to the dynamics of classroom interaction, but we can adapt if we must.”

The private education sector realized that life must go on and when the world bounces back to a state of normalcy, one should not be left behind. When this line of thought became the guiding mantra, differences were ironed out and everyone accepted the new norm.

When a few members of the management, heads of schools, teachers, parents and students were consulted on the matter, all of them seemed to be speaking in one voice on the various dimensions of “Covid-inspired classrooms”. It was interesting to note that all of them, even the ones who had batted for online classes said that the online version was a pale comparison to the vivacious and cacophonous atmosphere of a school campus. Meena Shivam, homemaker and mother of three school going children in Coimbatore observed, “When one considers plying through heavy traffic in abominably hot Indian summers swathed in formal clothing, uniform, tie, shoes and socks to a hot, stuffy classroom, the alternative of learning from the comfort of their homes saved a lot of time, energy and money.”

This summer however, teachers had to give up their annual vacation. Similarly, children too who enjoy “me-time” to rejuvenate as their parents plan trips and summer camps had to stay at home with the uncertain lockdown prompting extended academic activity throughout the vacation. While the freshly promoted 10th and 12th grade students had regular classes sans practicals and field trips, students of other grades were also kept occupied for two to four days of the week as against the usual norm of having a complete vacation. Various school authorities explained that this step was being taken because it was better to be safe than sorry.

Mini Sreedharan, principal of Shiksha Sagar High school, Bangalore says, “Parents are very happy to see their children studying even through the vacation and we are happy too because the children will not forget their lessons during the holidays.”

It is a well-known fact that several boards of education are working on cutting down the syllabus, which is a sure sign that schools are likely to be given the go-ahead to reopen a couple of months after the usual dates. The existing space, teacher-student ratio, available infrastructure in terms of restrooms, audio-visual rooms, seminar halls and laboratories cannot construe to the new “social distancing” norms immediately.

All the same, if “social distancing” has to be followed for a long time to come, it may pose a lot of practical problems in any school environment. Leelavathi Narayan, founder and principal of Sri Vidya Mandir, Bangalore sharing her thoughts said, “If most doable aspects of various subjects can be covered in online classes, then a certain number of students can be asked to come to school to complete the rest of the portions in a leisurely way without compromising their health.”

Children, who are generally averse to “studying” during vacations are unanimously thankful for the e-lessons during the lockdown, for it gave them something to do. They are happy about the palpable decrease in classroom writing and have a legitimate reason to meddle with their smart phones.

In the beginning some parents were hesitant about these classes because they did not know how to operate the gadgets or use the apps, but when the schools helped them, they learned the ropes. Some parents had to install alternate power facilities to help their children have uninterrupted lessons. At the end of the day they find the e-classes to be a breather which introduces an element of being engaged fruitfully at least for a few waking hours.

In this scenario, no one seemed to be complaining and everyone seemed to be grateful to be conducting or attending online classes because they were involved in a productive activity. Yet the acceptance comes with a caveat —-  almost everyone I spoke to said they were yearning to get back to the madding crowd at school in the near future.

The author is a professor  of English and Sanskrit, Jain University, Bangalore. She also freelances for the print media, is a radio artist, writes scripts for television shows. She can be reached at prathi2000@rediffmail.com.