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.

Tall Task of Taking Risks


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There are two kinds of people in the world. The ones who like to play it safe and the ones who like to take the road not taken. Both kinds have their own justifications based on their knowledge, experience and circumstances.

The pioneering lot can once again be classified into two groups.

The ones who are willing to explore the unknown for personal benefits and the rest who do not think twice about throwing in their lot if it can add value to another person, people or a commendable cause.

These are the Samaritans who do not mind working behind the curtains or toiling away without an iota of expectation.

The Devas and Asuras yearned become immortal. They were told that imbibing the Amrutha found in the heart of the mighty ocean could help them fulfill their desire.

Therefore, they churned the ocean with the help of Vishnu who manifested himself as a giant tortoise to form the base of the churning pole.

After a strenuous bout of activity, they were appalled to be enveloped by toxic fumes which emerged from the sizzling poison that was garnered from the ocean.

The Devas and Asuras choked over highly poisonous air and did not know how to take things forward. Vishnu prompted them to appeal to Lord Shiva for help. Accordingly, the cousins pleaded.

Lord Shiva manifested himself almost immediately and without further ado swallowed lethal fumes and liquid, much to the shock of his onlookers. That he saved them and helped them gain the treasures from the ocean including the elixir of life forms the rest of the story.

Shiva who came to be known as Neelakanta from then on, because his neck turned blue after the consumption of venom, became the torchbearer of the tribe of people who are willing to go to any extent to help those who seek no matter what the possible consequences could be.

Shiva’s selfless act also comes under the category of “Nishkaama Karma” prescribed by Lord Krishna in the Bhagvad Gita.

Ethics of Earning


Published in Deccan Herald dated 9th April 2019

Money is important in life. Our ancient philosophy, which subscribes to attaining the meaning of our lives through Purushartha consists of Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. Hence it has been established since times immemorial that one cannot discount the economic factor in life. However, the moment we allow the financial quotient to take over our lives it amounts to unconditional servility to the monster called materialism. Greed will consume us till we lose touch with ourselves and cannibalize on our identity.

An episode from the Ramayana teaches us subtly to handle this tricky issue in its narrative of sage Agastya’s tryst with wealth.

Once, a highly accomplished princess Lopamudra was struck by sage Agastya’s knowledge, wisdom and keen presence of mind. The sage was also impressed by the lovely lady and entered into a matrimonial alliance with the royal lass. Though the sage had access to all the riches he could ask for by way of dowry, he chose to live a life of austerity with his bride. Several years passed smoothly. Then the couple decided to start a family. They realised that they needed at least the minimum materialistic facilities to give a comfortable life to their wards. Since the couple had led a Spartan life, thus far, Agastya, decided to seek the necessary wealth from one of his contemporary rulers as per the customs of those days. However he followed a certain principle while doing so. He decided that he would take charity only from the excesses of the treasury’s exchequer. Accordingly, he approached the kings one by one. He called for the ledger and examined the income and expenditure of the kingdom at large. He found out that just about every king’s balance sheets tallied. He did not have the heart to accept the generous offers of the just kings because it meant taxing the people of the state. Then he moved away and found his own way to acquire some means to run his family.

The amount of concern, caution and discretion used by Agastya while endeavoring to fulfill his needs speaks in volumes about the code of ethics to be followed while procuring income. If we allow our conscience to screen the money that enters our purses we could squarely obliterate a whole lot of associated crimes by simply following the ethics of earning.

Quality of Mercy is Twice Blessed


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Many of us carry a mental baggage. Injustice and wrongs meted out to us at different points of life continue to bog us down. We either wallow in self pity or very simply crave to settle scores.

Both options can prove detrimental to our physical and mental health. Religion and psychology say that the only way forward is to forgive and forget. This lofty concept is easier said than done. This is because we are not as large-hearted as we believe ourselves to be. Secondly, we forget the times when we have been pardoned for our sins by generous souls. The sum and substance of the quality of mercy can be identified in one of the key episodes in the Ramayana.

Rama killed Ravana, the king of Lanka and the abductor of his wife in a gory battle. Hanuman hastened with the news to the Ashoka Vana where Sita was held captive.

The distressed princess felt elated. Hanuman told Sita that he could punish her offenders. Sita gave Rama’s messenger a long look. She looked around her at the faces that were no longer menacing. She simply told Hanuman to leave them alone. When Sita saw the quizzical expression on Anjaneya’s visage, she explained that the female ogresses who guarded her and intimidated her were mere instruments in the hands of their leader. They had been carrying out their assignment out of dread of their king. Hence they were not to be faulted or penalised for simply carrying out their duties.

Besides, her redemption from the clutches of her abductor happened to be a red lettered day in her life. She had no earthly possessions to give away to signify her joy. Her royal lineage prompted her to be generous. Her intrinsic nature chose to forgive the malefactors. Hence it was but natural for her to let bygones be bygones and carry on with life.

Shakespeare reiterated the same sentiment when he said, “The quality of mercy is not strain’d, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven, Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes: ‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes. The throned monarch better than his crown;—”

True Love is Immeasurable


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We promise God money, gifts and sometimes harsh penance as a token of our thanksgiving for fulfilling our wishes. We praise, clothe, feed and entertain God as we see fit.

A lot of us who go out of the way to please God simply forget that God – – our creator does not expect anything from us either in cash or kind. We are only expected to extend sincere affection towards our maker and he will take care of all our needs.

An incident from the Bhagavatha Purana reiterates this viewpoint. Satyabhama, the spouse of Krishna, once lost her husband to Narada in a game of dice. The distressed wife beseeched the celestial sage to let go of her husband.

She offered to give gold that equaled the weight of her dear husband. The sage agreed to alter his condition. Accordingly, Satyabhama sheepishly poured out the details of the awkward bet to the king of Dwaraka.

Then she requested him to sit on one plate of the balance. She placed all her jewellery on the other plate of the scale. The gold did not measure up to the weight on the other side. Then she ordered that the gold from the household and then even the treasury.

To her despair, she found that her best attempts failed. At that point of time Krishna gently told Satyabhama to seek help from his senior wife Rukmini. Satyabhama nurtured envy towards the said co-wife and generally steered clear of her. Yet, in the given circumstances, she approached Rukmini in order to redeem their husband.

Though the senior queen was aghast to hear what had transpired, she rushed to the spot. When she saw the scale in a state of gross imbalance, she quickly plucked a leaf from the Tulsi plant and placed it reverentially on the gold uttering the lord’s name.

Lo and behold! The plate holding the lord rose high immediately. Krishna helped himself out with a knowing smile that said it all. Immediately, Satyabhama felt ashamed but also felt enlightened. She realised that true love is immeasurable in worldly ways.

Strength of Strength


Published in Student Edition of Deccan Herald on 12th of February 2019

 Little Banta was watching the children play sitting on his wheel chair with a fractured ankle. He had gotten into a brawl with his younger brother Chintu and hurt himself in the process of pummeling the younger kid. He wished to goodness that he could become well so that he could play again. His mother noticed his helplessness. She felt sorry for him. Yet she knew that Banta had invited trouble for himself. She wanted Banta to stop bullying younger children. She was aware that he was likely to rebel, or submit grudgingly if she were to advise him. So she asked him what strength meant to him. Banta gushed with excitement. To him strength was synonymous with Bheema.
Even as he was uttered the name   Bheemasena his personal hero, Banta was filled with pride. To him Bheema was a symbol of towering strength and gigantic personality, the strongest amongst his brothers, besides he was talented and skilled too. Besides, his role model excelled in wrestling, wielding the mace and had amazing culinary skills too. Banta was never tired of listening to Bheema’s exploits.

So, his mother decided to narrate one of the numerous stories of his favourite hero from the great Indian epic The Mahabharatha.
While the Pandavas were in the forest, a Brahmin household gave them shelter for a short time. During this period, the Pandavas learnt that a demon named Bakasura who dwelt nearby had made a pact with the villagers that everyday a cart load of food would be sent to him for dinner. The demon would gobble the cartload of food and also eat up the driver as a part of his meal.
The villagers were angry with the demon’s cruelty. They hated him. They were terrified of his strength. They wanted to teach him a lesson. But unfortunately they could not bring themselves to confront Bakasura or in any way.

That day it was the turn of the host family to send one member of their family as lunch to Bakasura. The very thought of it made the family sad and depressed. The Pandavas felt very sorry for them. Even as they were wondering as to how to help the family,Bheemasena  volunteered to take the food cart to Bakasura.
The following day, Bheema escorted the cartload of food to the forest. When he reached the demon’s cave he dismounted the cart and spread out the food. He heard the demon snoring. He realised that he had not eaten a sumptuous dinner for a long time now. So he helped himself to the feast. When he was through with all the goodies, he belched loudly.

Bakasura woke from his slumber and came out of his cave. The sight of the empty vessels infuriated the demon. He pounced on Bheemasena with all his might. Soon they started wrestling. After fighting an equal battle for sometime, Bheema overcame the demon and swooped him up in the air. He used all his might to twirl the demon over his head and threw him to his death.
When Banta’s mother finished narrating the story, she gently pointed out that both Bheema and Bakasura were endowed with equal strength, but interestingly enough they both were looked upon differently by the people. While Bakasura used his strength to terrorise and destroy people, Bheema used his strength to protect and empower the weak.
Bheema was not merely strong. He knew how and when to use his strength. Soon Banta realised that he should not have displayed his strength on his younger sibling. He looked at his ankle in plaster and told his little brother to fetch his sketch pens. When Chintu did his bidding meekly, Banta asked Chintu to use his cast as a canvass. Soon the brothers were laughing and enjoying each other’s creativity while their  mother fetched them their favourite smoothies with a smile.

Test of Truth


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Sometimes, the truths that we know or believe in can be pretty hard to establish for want of witnesses or proof. The societal values, the situation, place and time eventually end up delivering a verdict which may or may not measure up to universal justice. Different places in the world have diverse religions, belief sets and values framed on the basis of the native environment. The person at the receiving end of the situation ends up with a raw deal because his contemporaries cannot see beyond their nose. The victims and martyrs of such situations have always had unique ways of ascertaining their stand.

Panditha Jagannatha, a Sanskrit court poet of Mughal emperor Jahangir, fell in love with a Muslim maiden who he called Lavangika. The Brahmin community was aghast by the affair. They could not dissuade the already married poet from having a relationship with the Muslim woman. Eventually, Jagannatha was excommunicated and exiled. The sad poet went to Kashi. He realised that he would not be able to make his contemporaries realise the genuineness of his feelings. Hence, he decided to launch his test of truth. He sat on the fifty-third step of Panchaganga Ghat and started singing the paeans to river Ganga. He emphasised on the power of the mighty river which could liberate the worst among sinners. It is said that with the composition of each stanza, the waters rose by one step and touched his feet. The poet felt vindicated by the divine touch. The people around him realised that he was earnest about his feelings though they did not acknowledge the same.

Even now, people swear by the truth by taking the names of those they truly love. When we wonder about it and question ourselves what makes us do what we do, we are likely to realise that we are trying to connect what we believe as truth in what we believe in as truth. Most of the times, we resort to this method to reiterate our beliefs. If we, who live in this technologically advanced world, adopt this method, imagine what it must have been like for the people who did not have the privilege.