Of Perceptions and Responses


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Many of us respond to a situation as we perceive it. Our perceptions are usually based on the situation, venue and our state of mind. We could be right most of the times, yet there are instances when we can go wrong horribly very simply because we have no clue about the other person’s circumstances.

The Mahabharata lays out one such instance which proves to be fatal to Parikshit the king of Hastinapura. Once, the Kuru king went on a hunting spree. He was lost and exhausted after an energetic chase. Soon he reached a clearing. There he found a sage immersed in a serene state of meditation. The royal scion bowed to Rishi with great reverence and offered the customary respects. Then he asked the Rishi if he could have some water. The Sage did not respond. The king’s repeated queries and request for some water seemed to fall on deaf ears. Parikshit was frustrated. The disgusted king looked around. He found a dead snake lying in the whereabouts. He picked up the carrion with one of his arrows and tossed it around the neck of the sage, mouthed some inanities and insults at the still silent sage.

When Parikshit self righteously turned to go away from the scene, another sage entered the scenario. He happened to be Shringi the son of sage Shamik. The virtuos son was infuriated to see his father insulted with a  dead serpent round his neck. He did not care that the perpetrator of this great sin was the king of the land. He pronounced a terrible curse on the ruler saying that the emperor would die of snake bite in a week’s time. Parikshit became jittery. He was aware of the potency of the curse. He hastened back to Hastinapura and got a royal quarters built on a tall column and moved in, in the hope of averting death. That he was overcome by death is another story.

This episode shows that each man did what he perceived to be right based on his experience and the given situation. It is easy to see that both of them did not act justifiably.

Most of us behave in more or less the same manner and end up wondering about what went wrong when matters turn sour.

Nourishing Neem


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It is impossible to pass an unworshipped neem tree, especially in rural India. Neem tree, also famously known as sarva roga nivarini, has proven to be a sure panacea for many physical problems. Here are the many benefits of neem:

Chewing a couple of tender neem leaves can deworm your stomach, help you recuperate from jaundice, and also help in regulating blood sugar. It can also treat mouth ulcers, bleeding sore gums, and can prevent tooth decay.

Regular intake of neem leaves after meals regulates your digestive system, and can also get rid of psoriasis.

Consuming tender neem sprouts or capsules for a fortnight to a month can detoxify the body and strengthen the immune system. A healthier immune system helps your body in fighting off many illness and diseases.

When a paste made of neem leaves mixed with coconut oil and turmeric powder is applied to the face and washed off after an hour, it can leave it glowing.

Regular consumption of tender neem leaves can help you deal with fever, cough, aches and pains, sore throat, fatigue and nasal congestion.

Make your own insecticide by making little cloth bags of dried neem leaves and leave it in your provisions, clothes cupboards and bookshelves.

Bacterial infections in the nasal passages and respiratory system can be decreased by inhaling steam from boiling the leaves with a drop of eucalyptus oil.

This neem tree was outside our home.

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Accomodating Our elders


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A random study of the civilisations across the globe reveals that mankind as a single unit has certainly recognised the fact that it is inevitable that man grows older and experiences a deterioration of his faculties and general health over a period of time.

In spite of this physical weakening, he grows stronger in spirit and emerges as a wise person which he derives from the various experiences of life.
Perhaps an African proverb which goes, “A library dies when a old man dies” speaks volumes about how the elderly were looked upon in the past.

As each day rolls by we grow older, little realising that old age will be taking toll of us very soon. Yet most young people have a firm belief that they will never age and hence become insensitive to the older people around them.

The ever-growing number of old-age homes in a traditional country like India is an alarming development that needs to be checked as early as possible.
At this point it will be of essence to remember an old fable where a man served his aged father gruel on a cracked plate day after day as he felt that he had no more benefits to reap from the old man.

One day, when the old man left home with disgust and melancholy because of the treatment meted out to him, the young grandson picked up the cracked plate, cleaned it and wrapped it up neatly in a brown paper. When the surprised father asked him to explain his action, the little boy said that he was keeping the plate safely so that he could serve gruel on the plate when his own father became old and infirm.

This answer struck the father like a lightning and he immediately set off to find his own father filled with remorse and guilt.

Even as the world is progressing, old-age homes mushrooming around the world are taking the role of a reliable support system.

Each of us will do well to remember that we must not let the golden chance of showing our gratitude to the elders who shaped our lives slip by. After all did they not spend the best part of their lives caring for us?

STRENGTH OF KARMA


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The law of Karma makes it amply clear that we will most definitely experience the consequences of our actions.

Largely, people do not have any objections about harvesting the benefits of their good deeds. It is only when we go through a rough passage of life we cringe and cower at the thought of bearing the brunt of our misdeeds.

A level-headed person will understand that when one lands a bad bargain, he or she should hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. By doing so, at least the quotient of regret of not having tried enough to circumvent the problem can be done away with.

An episode from the Mahabharata documents this nugget of wisdom through the predicament of Parikshit, the king of Hastinapura. Once, the sovereign succumbed to unreasonable anger. He humiliated a reverent sage Shamik by garlanding him with the flaccid dead body of a snake.

The sage’s son Shringi, who was outraged by the king’s misdemeanor, cursed him to be dead in a week’s time by a snake bite. The petrified king realised that no amount of penitence could salvage him from the imminent death. Nevertheless he 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. Now it was customary for Brahmins to offer a fruit to the king. That day also, it was given to the king after the usual security check.

When the unsuspecting ruler cut open the fruit, a worm fell on the ground and grew up manifold. Takshaka, the king of snakes, metamorphosed himself into a tiny worm and had reclined in the heart of a lemon. Parikshit recognised Takshaka – and he fell dead when stung by the reptile and the prophecy was fulfilled.

Though Parikshit could not save himself, the fact remains that he left no stone unturned to protect his life. His approach is worthy of being emulated, for while it is sad to fail in one’s mission, it will be a shame and pity for not having tried to decimate the problem. If a righteous sovereign could not salvage himself from the consequences of his misdemeanor, we must think twice before we err consciously!

An Ode to My Music Teacher


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S RADHA PRATHI, SEP 18 2018, 23:25PM IST UPDATED: SEP 18 2018, 23:26PM IST

When my music teacher taught me the Sargam when I was a mere child, she had asked me to visualize them as a set of steps, which I had to ascend and descend. Just like the steps, the musical notes would remain static in their designated places and if I needed access over them, I had to reach out to them. She probably said it just once and may have said it to put across the point, but somehow the image has remained with me ever since. I have always imagined that each step represented a Swara.  I would step, skip, linger or bounce over them in accordance to the lessons taught. Thus I practiced Sarali varase, Genti varase, Dhatu varase and Alankaras  mentally when I paced and hopped up and down the stairs without particularly going up or down. All the jumping left me breathless especially when I tried going through them in the second and third speed. Not to mention, that I would be reprimanded for being so very restless. Now I find it amazing that I had not divulged what was going on in my mind or explained all the ascending and descending. Though the exhausting exercise did not impact the quality of my singing then, I learned the basic difference between constants and variables at an impressionable age. I was able to understand the distinct distances between musical notes which helped me hone my skills as the years passed. However what fascinates me to this day is the fact that whenever I catch myself alone on a staircase, I immediately assign them the Sargam in a raga that catches my fancy at that point of time and  hum a pattern of notes in my mind and step accordingly. In other words, I can never go past a set of stairs without thinking of music.

Interestingly, it was my music teacher who had helped me understand Algebra several years before it was introduced to me in school when she explained the concept of octaves in music. She said in passing (again) that the first note of the Sargam determined the placements of the other Swaras. Whenever, I had to find the value of “x”, in an equation, I could not help thinking of it as the “Aadhar Shadja”. Learning sets and drawing Venn diagrams was cake walk to me in school because I had been taught about complete octaves which paved way to mini ragas with  a few notes, the similarities and differences in the notes between ragas which made them distinct . I could not shake off music when I was taught   the concept of 360 degrees around a point which can be segmented. I was well aware of the raga chart akin to a pie chart into the 72 major ragas were segmented. Sums to be solved on Permutations and combinations seemed easier when I converted marbles or balloons into musical notes. I have never been able to overcome the sense of déjà vu in the mathematics classes.

When I reflect over the deep seated influence on thinking that my music teacher had over me besides helping me to learn music I realise that teachers do have the knack of influencing you for eternity!

Ignorance is Bliss


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The omnipresence of divinity is seldom acknowledged in our day-to-day lives. It could be due to ignorance or simply lack of comprehension. However, our lives tend to become complicated when we do not grasp the lofty universal truths fully.

An anecdote from the repertoire of stories told by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa puts across this point succinctly. Once, a layman was enlightened about the omnipresence of god. The happy man left the Ashram with his newfound knowledge. As he was walking down the street, he saw a rogue elephant. The Mahout shouted instructions to the people on the road to get away from the path of the pachyderm. Everyone slipped away in double quick time except the newly edified man. The elephant handled him roughly with his trunk and flung him afar. The hurt man was taken to the Ashram and rendered first aid. Then he was questioned on his foolishness. The naive  man said, “I thought that the God in the elephant would not harm me.” To which, the philosopher replied, “But, why did you not listen to the God who warned you through the Mahout?”

This incident enumerates the fact that spiritually oriented people need a lot of discernment lest they come to foolhardy conclusions like the protagonist in the tale.

An incident in the Ramayana expounds the facility of being in the dark about matters beyond our ken to help us function normally and genuinely. When the exiled prince Rama came to the banks of river Ganga along with Lakshmana and Sita, the local chieftain Guha extends warm hospitality and assures unflinching support to Rama. He even offers his position to Rama without blinking an eyelid. When all his offers were rejected politely, Guha personally takes the trio across the river. If Guha had the slightest inkling about the divinity of Rama he would have been awestruck by the mere presence of the trio. His gestures would have been punctuated with nervousness or simply decimated into inaction. Conversely, his lack of consciousness on the matter not only made him offer all his earthly possessions to the creator, but made him take the celestial navigator who helps his devotees to cross the sea of life to cross the river!

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Unresolved Misery, Remorse Can Be Fatal


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There are moments in life when nothing seems to be under our control. An incident from the Ramayana enumerates one such situation. When king Dasharatha fixed the coronation of his beloved son Rama, he hastened to his favourite queen’s chamber to break the news to her personally. Little did the king realise that Kaikeyi’s mind had been poisoned by her maid Manthara. He was shocked beyond words when he heard her demands to redeem the two boons given by him long ago. He could not digest the idea of exiling his dearest son to the forests for 14 years after fixing his coronation. He was also not very open to the idea of crowning Kaikayi’s son Bharatha as the king of Ayodhya. Repeated pleas to his dear wife got him nowhere and he swooned from time to time. The king was truly caught between the devil and the deep sea.

On the one hand, he could not even dream of going back on his promise because he was a man of his word. On the other hand, he could not bring himself to inflict an undeserving heinous punishment on his faultless son. He tried to cajole and coax his beautiful queen. When she refused to respond, he berated her and even threatened her about her impending widowhood. When she refused to budge from her obstinate demands, he wondered if he was at the receiving end of his own Karma. He imagined that he must have separated thousands of cows from their calves, mothers from their sons and wives from their husbands to have merited such a state. He tried to recollect all the possible evil deeds that may have been perpetrated by him to reap such misery. He succumbed to his end without putting up a fight as he was depressed beyond measure.

Natural disasters, death of a beloved person or separation from a loved one can leave us devastated. Any amount of solace cannot reverse the incident. When misery and remorse envelop us, it will be better for us to accept the situation and contemplate on the next step forward. On the other hand if we choose to wallow in our despondency we might tumble into a bottomless pit of sorrow which can push us to a state of depression or death.