Dear friends on Word Press
I was invited by Dignity foundation, Bangalore and Mumbai to give a talk on Zoom
as against my regular talks which I give from time to time on their premises.
I thought that I might as well archive the same.
I have uploaded a recording of the same here. It may sound stuttered and staggered for the first two minutes. If you are able to plod through those one hundred seconds then the sound bytes get clearer.
Since the talk runs to an hour, some of you who may not have that kind of time can
Listen to it in bits. However the choice is yours.
Laughter is the best medicine. A good laugh can help us view life in a new perspective. However we must make sure that we enjoy healthy humour. Teasing or deriding someone certainly can by no means constitute merriment. On the other hand it is an expression of one’s arrogance. When we try to lighten our minds by making conceited and supercilious remarks, little do we realize that we are inviting bad Karma.
Ravana the anti hero of the Ramayana was erudite, talented, brave and powerful. But, he was also extremely arrogant. He was supremely confident about himself and never really bothered to be careful about what he said or did. Once, he was flying towards Kailash to meet lord Shiva. Nandi, the doorkeeper of Kailash, stopped Ravana’s entry as his master was busy. Ravana puffed up with self importance and blew his own trumpet. Nandi scoffed at the mighty monarch and refused to change his stance.
Ravana was amused to see Nandi who appeared like a midget, refuse him entry. He simply barged forward. He was surprised to see Nandi hold a trident in his path. Dashanana felt he was watching a comedy. He burst into peals of laughter. His boisterous mirth reverberated among the mountains. To add insult to injury, Ravana compared Nandi to a monkey. Nandi’s patience was tested sorely. In a fit of anger Nandi cursed Ravana thus, “So, you think that I am a monkey, is it? I could decimate you right now. But, I will not do so. Let the course of life make you commit more and more such sins. Mark my words; you will meet your maker because of the very monkeys you have ridiculed.”
Ravana did not attach any importance to the curse then. Ravana failed to correct himself. His haughtiness had made him hot headed and incorrigible. He continued being a megalomaniac with boundless ego. Therefore he paid a price for his misdeed.
Nonetheless, those of us who know the Ramayana know that Hanuman set fire to Lanka and the great army of Ravana was defeated by the simian forces of Rama. Eventually, Ravana paid a price for his misdeed.
All of us are entitled to have some fun in life. All the same we must steer clear of mockery and contempt lest we become the laughing stock at a later date. The world of humour must definitely undergo a spring cleaning.
We live in times when people can gain visibility by updating their status constantly. Their actions and achievements however big or small are showcased with great felicity. It is a pity to note that in the age of web connectivity, we have lost sight of the invisible strands of bonding that connect us and reflect on our personalities. Each of us has been helped by one, some or many people to have attained the status that we have arrived at. Of all human follies, misplaced pride happens to be the most common one. When we are blinded by this failing, we can be sure that the green signal for the impending fall will be flagged sooner or later.
The Shiva Purana captures the consequences of being conceited. Once, Narada Rishi performed rigorous penance in the Himalayas. Indra the lord of gods felt very insecure. He commissioned Kaamadeva to distract the sage. Cupid used several tricks up his sleeves by creating a verdant spring and injecting romantic feelings into Narada with his magical arrows. His attempts went in vain. Narada happened to be practicing austerity in the area which had been immunized by Shiva. The lord had burnt Kaamadeva to ashes when his penance was disturbed by the latter.
In such a backdrop, Indra realized that Narada was indomitable. He acknowledged the sage’s spiritual power. Narada was elated. He promptly went to Lord Brahma, Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu one after another and boasted about his piety. Though the trinity was aware that Narada was able to receive admiration from Lord Indra, because he could not succumb to temptation in Shiva’s zone, they appreciated him warmly. The praise made Narada very conceited. He always made sure that everyone he met was apprised of his ability to have complete control over his senses. When Narada turned into a complete braggart, Lord Vishnu was requested to make the Rishi come to his senses. In due course of time, Lord Vishnu created a set of circumstances where Narada fell in love with a princess called Shrimathi and wanted to marry her. The fact that Narada could not do so is another story. All the same this experience taught him that no feat, however great could sustain if one lost sight of humility.
If this episode manages to remind us that self-praise is donkey’s praise, we can use the time utilized in self-advertisement towards enriching our personalities.
Confidence can be a powerful virtue and a true friend during times of doubt or crisis. Heroes have overcome obstacles and disasters by the sheer strength of self-reliance. Some admittedly great men who chose to be arrogant paved way for their downfall and defeat.
The Ramayana shows the contrast between the two sides of this wonderful quality through the character of the king of Lanka. Ravana was a staunch devotee of lord Shiva. He wanted to spend all his time in the company of the lord. His royal duties and ambitions came in the way of his deep desire. Therefore he decided to take a middle path that would allow him to have the best of both the worlds. Accordingly, he performed a vigorous penance. When Shiva manifested himself in front of him, he expressed his prayer. Shiva was amused by the naiveté of his devotee who seemed to take him for granted. All the same Shiva did not want to disappoint Ravana. Hence Ravana was given an Atma-Lingam which housed the Soul of Shiva. Even as the king of Lanka reveled at his blessings, and was ready to leave for Lanka, Lord Shiva cautioned him to be careful about handling the Atma Lingam. The lord said that, if the Atma-Lingam was ever placed on the ground during the transit, it would be rooted to the spot. When one observes this clause closely, it will not be difficult to see that Ravana was being tested on two counts – his devotion and determination. Ravana accepted the condition without any hesitation for he saw no threat to breach the stipulation. He proceeded towards Lanka in wind speed.
The gods became apprehensive about the potential power of the already potent king. Ganesha was commissioned to intervene and abort his venture. The elephant god manifested himself as a Brahmin boy and offered to be Ravana’s assistant and hold the Linga while the king completed his ablutions. When Ravana was doing his job, Vinayaka tarried a while, called out to the king and then placed the idol on the ground and vanished. The angered devotee had to garner all his demoniac strength to break off a portion of the Atma Lingam.
If only Ravana had substituted self confidence instead of over confidence he would have been able to retain his hard earned blessings and remained indomitable with all his wonderful talents and qualities.
A couple of years ago a small house was rented out in our locale to two women. Within a matter of two weeks, eleven women started living on the premises. The ladies belonged to different age groups, religions and sects. They seemed to be from a neighbouring state. They did not look well off. That explained why they had decided to share one home. The neighbourhood was not exactly pleased with the idea of having such a large population of women amidst their midst. Everyone was on the vigil. After all one needed a concrete evidence to evacuate them from their rented property. However it appeared as if the women were way too decent and busy to take cognizance of the resentment that enveloped them.
There was a total absence of the much expected clamour, chaos and criminal mindset among the ladies. A month passed by. Whenever a maid availed leave, a desperate homemaker would rope in one of the ladies to help her out with her chores. Slowly but surely each one of the women was absorbed as a domestic helper.
They blended seamlessly as indispensable hands in almost every household. Their hardworking and non interfering nature made many of us curious to know more about them. Nevertheless they maintained a stiff upper lip contrary to their tribe.
When we celebrated a festival at our home, we invited the women to offer them the traditional Haldi Kumkum. The women seemed to be taken aback. One of the younger women called me aside and said, “Akka, do not offer us the Haldi Kumkum.” She thumbed out the sacred yellow thread from her blouse furtively and whispered, “All of us are either widows or abandoned women. The yellow thread each one of us wears does what our drunkard husbands did not do; — it protects us from the probing eyes of wicked men. We have come here to work and earn for the upkeep of our families back home. We do not expect anything else. ”
She walked back to her friends who were ready to leave. They reminded me of Wordsworth’s Solitary Reaper. Almost immediately, similar sentimental words from a famous Hindi song came drifted past. “Na main sapna hoon ya koi raaz hoon ek dard bhari awaaz hoon.” ( I am neither a dream nor a secret but a voice filled with melancholy).
I realised that these were worldly wise and independent women who had fenced themselves off intelligently and effectively. I appreciated the way they camouflaged their despair and forged ahead in life and invited them again with renewed fervour.
The Koorma Purana chronicles a period when our country was deprived of rainfall for fifteen long years. As a result; our parched land became the face of death. Flora and fauna perished. Human race had even given up the process of disposing their dead, leaving piles of corpses rotting away. Kings and sages were flummoxed out of their wits. Amidst all this chaos and catastrophe, there existed an oasis of peace and prosperity. The wise men of the age conducted the survivors from all strata of society and arrived at the doorstep of sage Gautama. The Good Samaritan welcomed them warmly. He stretched out his resources to feed and clothe the few thousands who had descended on the Ashram. He prayed for some divine intervention to help him keep his refugees comfortable. Goddess Gayathri manifested herself in front of her magnanimous devotee and presented him with a Kamandalu (a water jug with a handle and spout) that was capable of providing the famished hordes their requirements. The distraught refugees who were replenished with their essentials celebrated their host’s hospitality. Although everyone was satiated, jealousy raised her ugly head in the minds of the sages who considered themselves as peers of Gautama Rishi. The envious lot got together and led a cow which was merely skin and bones to the altar of Gautama’s Yajna. The compassionate Gautama got up to lead the bovine to some water. Even as he touched the animal’s face, she collapsed and fell dead. The sages who were waiting to pin the grotesque sin of killing a cow on sage Gautama lost no time to censure him and lead him on a guilt trip. When Gautama recovered from the shock, he was able to see through the devious plot. He declared that it was shameful for the accursed to claim Vedic knowledge when they did not know the basic values of life like truth and compassion.
It is apparent that the drought was a result of mindless living which took toll of the balance in nature. When the victims were provided unconditional support despite their folly, they responded with heartless ingratitude. It is no wonder they were ostracized for their knowledge for it served them no purpose. If we pursue the path of exploitation of fellow living beings and the environment around us we cannot hope to escape extinction.
How do I love Thee? Let me count the ways.
I have always wondered why a poetess like Elizabeth Browning would begin a romantic sonnet with the lines “How do I love Thee? Let me count the ways.” Now I understand the emotion that underlines her seemingly mundane lines when I am trapped in a similar situation.
Recently I was asked to write about my experiences as a student at my school which will be turning fifty this year. I found myself fumbling for words even as I tried to encapsulate what Sri Vidya Mandir (That is the name of my school) means to me. When I first stepped into a sprawling house which was used as a school in the heart of verdant Malleswaram, in Namma Bengaluru, little did I know that it would become an integral part of my person and persona? I felt completely at home (pun intended) because we were just eight students in our batch and our teachers knew us like the palms of their hands.
There was never a dull moment at school, as we were constantly engaged in academics and extracurricular activities. The five years that I studied in this haloed place had a far reaching impact on my life. I don’t remember evaluating options when it came to deciding my primary career, it had to be teaching. My passion for languages, literature, social sciences, and the arts is nothing but the harvest of the seeds sown by my teachers out there. Perhaps that explains why I am still in touch with the teachers who inspired me. I met my friends for life on this campus. The list can go on.
Despite being the recipient of such rich bounties that populate my life to this day, I do have a pet peeve. Exactly two years after I left school to pursue high school education elsewhere, my alma mater decided to launch its High School wing. I will always be left wondering about how my life could have been further upgraded if I had spent three more years under its wings.
Today, when the school is stepping into its golden jubilee year, I realise that tens and thousands of students must have emerged as fully-fledged, responsible individuals from this mother ship. The mere thought of it is enough to set me off on new innings of pride, gratitude, humility, and inspiration. Long live SVM!
Which of us would not like to succeed and enjoy our name, fame, money and the status that comes along with it? The desire is but only natural and perfectly legitimate as long as we do not swerve from the path of truth and take to undesirable methods to achieve our goals. True, it is a tough proposition and sometimes it becomes very tempting for us to take up shortcuts to success. If we are under the impression that the said syndrome is the weakness of the human race alone, we must stand corrected.
The Markandeya Purana records a discord among the trinities on this count. Once it so happened that MahaVishnu and Brahma got into an unexpected argument. Each of them felt he was superior to the other. Shiva who was a witness to this altercation offered to find a solution to this issue. Accordingly, he metamorphosed into a linear flame and instructed the two discontented gods to find his beginning and the end. Brahma turned himself into a swan and flew upwards. Maha Vishnu bored into the bowels of the earth in the form of a tusked boar. Though both of them began zealously in right earnest, they were unable to reach their destination. After a considerable amount of effort and time, the two of them returned. Brahma said he had seen the tip of the Shiva Linga and handed over a Ketaki flower to lord Shiva saying that he found it on top of the Linga. MahaVishnu gracefully conceded that he could not fulfill his task.
Even as Brahma braced himself to be accolade for his achievement, lord Shiva pronounced a curse on the creator saying that he will not be included for idol worship on earth. He also vowed that he would not accept the Ketaki flower in his worship.
This tale holds a fivefold message that can be guiding forces to help us lead a successful life. We must steer clear of the one-upmanship game. Honesty is the best policy. There is no shame in accepting our shortcomings or failure. Faked success can burst like a bubble at any time and damage our self esteem and our image forever. The expanse of any subject is infinite like the supreme soul Shiva; we can explore it to the best of our ability but never gain complete access over it.
Published in Today’s Deccan Herald
How often have we been told that God is One. It does not really matter which religion we profess, because ultimately we hope to realize the Truth that has the world functioning the way it is. Every religion aims at establishing peace and harmony in the universe using the same key ingredients. All streams of theology swear by the power of truth and compassion and urges man to become better than himself morally to attain spiritual fulfillment.
The Keshava Smrithi, clearly states that, just like rain water reaches the sea one way or another, so also the obeisance rendered to various gods reach Keshava. In other words, the import of the Shloka highlights the fact that there is only one God, no matter what we call him. While comparing prayers to rain water, the couplet gently points out the scientific principle of how the waters of the oceans evaporate, form clouds and precipitate as rains. The rain in turn contributes to the various water bodies on earth eventually flows back to the sea. So also, we could be worshipping the supreme power in many different ways. Yet the spirit of prayer, the intensity of faith and the awe we have for the almighty is the same. If our appeals are fervent and sincere we do not have to worry about the method for our prayers will surely be answered in one way or another.
When we analyze the idea pragmatically, it still makes sense. We know that water finds its own level. The concept of osmosis has proved the theory of equalization. Water helps life of all genres to emerge, evolve and sustain no matter how large, deep or pure it may be.
It is interesting to note that the very practical osmotic process has a very lofty philosophical connotation. If people understand that the underlying principle of every way of life is essentially the same, we can thrive in an integrated way despite the vast diversity.
Published in the Student Editon of Deccan Herald
We have been having erratic spells of rains this year. It is pouring cats and dogs at times, flooding our streets and sometimes our homes. And then as in all things the side effects follow. First of all there is a cut in electricity supply, elsewhere surging currents cause short circuits. Then old trees fall, sometimes old buildings give way. Storm water drains overflow, sewage pipes clog, potholes open up further causing incidental accidents. Television channels repetitively show gushing waters throwing entire cities, towns, villages, fields and roads out of gear even as the common man strives to get back to normalcy. Once the rains subside and the waters recede, illnesses take toll of men and animals alike. Mosquitoes breed and add to the chaos. These events have become a regular feature for a couple of years now. All the modern technology and scientific knowhow wring their hands helplessly, unable to help us out of the mess.
That was a verbal description of what all of us in the subcontinent are aware of. The reason why it has been narrated here is to help us understand the problem and find a permanent solution for it.
It is apparent that we are one too many people sharing space and amenities. All the same we cannot reduce the population immediately. The shared amenities can be multiplied, but that will also take time. There is hardly any space through which mother earth can absorb the rain waters to replenish her water table, but rainwater harvesting is quite an exercise and can be best done only in summer. Old buildings and roads can be repaired, but cannot be done right now. So you might be wondering what could be the point in discussing about things which cannot provide immediate relief.
For those of you who do not know it already, here is the story of the ant and the grasshopper. The two friends could not really see eye to eye about playtime. The grasshopper wanted to enjoy his summer to the maximum possible extent while the ant wanted to collect food and store them for a rainy day. Since the two of them agreed to disagree they went about doing their own thing. The grasshopper enjoyed himself thoroughly. The ant on the other hand scouted for food, picked it up and carried it to his nest. Soon summer flit past. It started to drizzle and gained momentum as heavy rains in the coming months. The two insects had nothing to do except stay back at home. While the ant and his extended family helped themselves to the stored food, the grasshopper almost died of starvation. There is a strong message in this story for those of us who care to identify it.
Spells of rain can cast a magical spell on our earth and evoke the poets in us. On the other hand rains can spell hell on earth especially in overcrowded and unplanned urban space. It appears that the rainy seasons of the past years have not taught us much, because we have still not been able to overcome the sudden chaos that is turned loose on us once the skies decide to open up. The reason for this is we have been behaving like grasshoppers hoping to cross bridges as and when we come across them. It is high time we start behaving like the ant and prepare ourselves for a rainy day. We can look around our homes, office and school spaces and make a list of all the things that need to be set right. Then we must start working on it at the earliest opportunity both individually and collectively. It is only then we can live peacefully and enjoy the rains at least next year!