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Thursday, 24 January 2019

I am only one....but still....

As I enter the house with my sister, I’m greeted by a frail yet clear voice reciting the Vishnu Sahasranaamam. I wash my feet, then sit next to my mother, and join in her recitation. A few minutes later, my husband and another sister and brother-in-law return, and they too sit down and join the chanting.

By the simple act of doing a thing herself, this 77-year old woman has ensured a few people around her also do the same. No force, no coercion – all she has done is set an example by her own action.

Even as we chant, it strikes me that just by this very approach, my mother has succeeded in bringing up her daughters with the right values. One person doing all that she can to the best of her ability has influenced the path of 6 lives and - indirectly - the lives of all these 6 touch.

I’ve recently been grappling with the magnitude of certain tasks I’ve taken up, wondering about what impact the small things I do will have on the immensely larger picture. This epiphany has come at just the right time for me. 

I step aside for a moment, and click a photo of Amma because I know I will write about this on my blog.

Her frail voice fades away as we come to the end of the chanting. 

This event has served to remind me of a quote I’ve read somewhere long, long ago. Google attributes it to Edward Everett Hale.


I’ve been meaning to write this post since Sunday. Somehow, I’ve been putting off the moment. 

But just this morning, I stumble on a picture my sister’s friend has put up on Facebook, with a very fitting caption. 

Dr. Sunayna Padbidri Rao is a pro at not just medicine, but also at photography, and as I discover today, at giving them the right captions. 



As I read, and re-read her caption for this picture, this blog post has somehow written itself.

Here's to hoping this post has a ripple effect of inspiring each ONE who feels "I'm only one...." to do the smallest "something" that they can....

Monday, 31 December 2018

You know you are content when......

I'm blessed to have friends who send me uplifting messages every day. One such message I received on 27th December, 2018, was a quote of Swami Chinmayananda, and it said:

“They are rich who are content with what they have. Even a king is but a miserable pauper when he feels his vast kingdom is not enough for him.”

I put this quote up as my WhatsApp status and after a few hours, someone who saw this responded with a question…


“But when is the time you realize that you should be content with what you have?”

For once, I had no glib reply.

But I wanted to give the asker of the question an answer. So I thought I’d poll my ever-obliging set of dear readers. Replies came in thick and fast, and within two to three hours of asking, I had about 50 replies.

I sorted through them and  picked the ones that were clear to understand. I’ve edited some of them for typos/brevity. Here they are:

 

   

                    












You may also read this blog post written about his encounter with a barber that gave him some insight  
Here are a couple of more detailed replies.

Dr. Shreyas, Pharmacologist, wrote:

In the initial days of my career I too aspired to get promoted, incentives etc. But I used to be very stressed all the time and not happy. Then I started thinking why do I work? How much do I need? I realized that at the end of one year I was paying 1/3 my earnings to the government. Plus there were only so many investment options without risk so at some point we had to invest in risky options which as you might have guessed is quite stressful. I also realized that a clerk could also live decently within his means. So this meant that we were slogging hard for money which was surplus and which was also a cause of stress. So we both decided to slow down a bit and enjoy our earnings in travel. But I have always been content with few materialistic things and I really don't feel the need for any expensive things in my life. But my quest for improvement in self, art, and skills is always ongoing but whereas in my younger days there was some amount of stress involved, now I just do as much as I can and don't bother about the outcome so much.
This is an ongoing process since last 8-10 years.
Now I firmly believe 1)everything happens for the best. 2)Nobody receives either more or less than they are destined to. So we should do our best and let be.


Smt. Shailaja, Pharma professional said:

As life unfolds with its twists and turns, the priorities change and there comes a time when we seek beyond the materialistic goals. This shift or realization will be different for all people depending on the situations /circumstances we are faced with ...life , books we read, learnings from epics, history, near death, suffering, disease humbles us, trivial nature of wants and basic needs of pure joy, love warmth of being human and gratitude makes one appreciate LIFE! Being alive is a celebration in itself!


These thoughts are a true representation from the experiences of people in the real world. 

They come from different backgrounds, and have different personalities, and have faced different experiences. 

So, I’ve offered the asker of the original question – and all of you reading this post – a wide range of responses to illuminate the path towards finding your particular answer. I’m very thankful to all those who responded to my question – even though they may not have figured on the blog, they’ve helped me gain insight and grow.

A little footnote. Generally, when someone asks me a question, I always have a ready answer. Why not this time? I wondered at my behavior of not giving an outright answer. And I realized that this being stumped for an answer came from a truly deep acceptance of the fact that my answer would not be the one that’s best for the asker. Now, I always knew this at the intellectual level, but that day, the fact that I didn’t jump up to give my answer indicated that finally, the learning of all these years had translated into actual action – or, rather, inaction in this case!

The universe has conspired to make sure I’m filled with contentment, but that does not give me any right to say that my way has to be the best way – I can only say my way is best for me, based on my situation; so it naturally follows that there will be as many paths as there are individuals.

But I don't want to disappoint those who wanted to know my answer to this question. 

The famous poet Kahlil Gibran wrote:

"And what is fear of need but need itself.
Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?"


So, here's my standard operating procedure to decide when to be content. 

First, I check to see if I have a well. 

If I have one:
 
1. I check how much water it contains.

2. I estimate if that quantity will satisfy my needs.

3. If it will, I leave it at that...

4. If it won't, I find ways to ensure sufficient water in the well.

If I don't have a well:

1. I think about whether I need one.

2. If I do, I go about digging one and letting it fill.

3. If I think I don't need a well, I leave it at that...

At every stage, I pray that God guides me in the right direction...and keep reminding myself that He is ultimately the provider of the water - well, or no well...

Writing this blog post, I’m reminded of that famous Leo Tolstoy story – How Much Land Does a Man Need? A poor peasant is told he can walk around to purchase all the land he wants provided he reaches back to his starting point by sunset. He sets out, covers a huge area and then, realizes he’s very far from the starting point, begins to run, reaches there just as the sun is setting and then, his heart fails, and he drops down dead. All that’s needed to bury him is 6 feet of land.

Perhaps setting up our major life events in the context of this story will help us decide when it is time to be content.


On a lighter note….I recently read an anecdote that spoke of a king suffering from some grave illness. The astrologist said the king would be cured if he could be dressed in the shirt of a contented person. After a thorough search of the full kingdom, a contented man was finally found.....and....he didn’t have a shirt…..


Saturday, 22 December 2018

Fleeting Moments.............

December 12, 2018

I receive a call from Vidwan Shri. Ganapati Bhatt, the Samskruta teacher at S. Cadambi Vidya Kendra, where my son Sanath did his schooling. Just the previous day, we have received the school’s letter inviting us for the annual day to be held on 21st December. Sanath is to receive a merit prize for being the school topper in the May 2018 SSLC exams.

I assume the call is to confirm that we received the letter. And then, the unimaginable happens. I’m asked a question that leaves me flabbergasted. In my shock, words tumble uncensored from my mouth. “Why me, Sir, I’m sure you can find someone really good to come as Chief Guest!”

Pat comes the reply, “It’s because YOU are really good that we’re asking, Madam!”

Things move very fast after that. I’m asked to send my biodata. Within the hour, Bhatt Sir and the Principal Smt. Jayalakshmi Sharma turn up at my college with a letter of invitation, requesting my presence as the Chief Guest. There’s another request they have – I must keep this news a secret from Sanath. They want to surprise him on that momentous day.

“A student getting the prize from his own mother will be a historical moment,” they gush.

I agree because I don’t want to deflate their enthusiasm. Deep within, I wonder if this whole setup will be an intrusion on his moment of glory because teenage is a time when you want to establish an identity that’s independent of your parents. Because, although I don’t let it go to my head, the fact remains that people get impressed by me and my talk.

Anyway, there’s no point in worrying, so I do what I usually do when I can’t figure things out – leave it to Krishna.

On December 21st, I make up some story to avoid accompanying Sanath to school. I reach there alone and am given all the honour due to the Chief Guest. I do all the things someone in that role is expected to do – lighting the lamp, garlanding the founder’s statue, giving away the merit prizes, and addressing the gathering.

Sanath receives a hero’s welcome when he comes on stage. 


The ‘historical moment’ passes in a blur, but I notice that the kid who usually touches the feet of the guest from whom he receives a prize, hasn’t done that this time. Did he think, perhaps, that after all, the Chief Guest is Amma only?



By the time I get off the stage, he’s rushed off somewhere with his old school friends who’re now spread out across different colleges. They’re going out somewhere, and although he does call a few times during the rest of the day, it’s only to ask me to make some Paytm payment at an eatery/for the autorickshaw.

Later at night, we finally get to actually talk. Yes, it had been a surprise for him. But he doesn’t seem to be affected by it in any way – he is neither gushing with joy, nor does he feel I’ve intruded. He’s basked in his moment of glory and is happy about it. His friends have stayed back to listen to me speak and told him, “Your mother is superr!! Her speech was very informative.”

Where was he, I ask. Because he’s used to Amma’s talks at home, he had walked outside to catch up with yet another set of old friends – the security guards who’re standing outside the venue!

For the umpteenth time, I send up a silent ‘thank you’ to Krishna, for this cool teenager.




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Tuesday, 11 December 2018

My Complete Man by Gayathri Srivathsan

Gayathri Srivathsan (who is a cousin of my husband's cousin's son) sent me this write-up about her role model. There's much we can learn from this amazing person, and so, I'm sharing her writing here. 


All of us have come across the question of who is your role model? And the answer to that differs from one age to another. But once you gain maturity about life, your way of looking at life changes and that's when I identified my role model and I am blessed enough to be living with him. 

I once read that a person who can get up in the morning without snoozing his alarm can do anything in life, but I have never achieved it till date. But this man has never had an alarm clock but he has never got up late. 

Every morning 4 o'clock he wakes up with no alarm at the right time, and he has been doing this for years now. He is 92 years old but still is a working person and he has been serving a govt aided school as a correspondent for 50 yrs now. 

Every morning he wakes up with the same enthusiasm, walks to his school, and works there without a penny as salary. In a generation where people complain that work is monotonous, he stands apart to prove that if you're committed to a work, no matter what your age, you can still work hard. He has developed the school from a small thatched hut to a 2-storey concrete building now with help from others. The initiative he has taken is not an easy task at all. And yet, he is a definition for discipline and punctuality and the most independent person I have ever seen. 

Mr. V. Lakshmi Narasimhan
He is a man who taught me what life is. I remember him saying, "Gayathri whatever happens, remember to walk with your head up; right and wrong depends on one's perception and their attitude. Unless you feel guilty about anything you have done, nothing is wrong. Even when you feel guilty, put your head up, and say 'It's alright, I may be wrong this time, but not always.' Never try to be good to anyone and rather just be yourself - it's not necessary that people like you and praise you. If you are happy in your life, nothing or no one else matters. 

This complete man is none other than my grandfather, Mr. V. Lakshmi Narasimhan. I am blessed to have been living with him and now he is all set to inspire his 4th generation with my son. 

Gayathri, her husband and son with Mr. V. Lakshmi Narasimhan
Lots of love and respect to Thatha - my real hero and a role model.

A proud grand-daughter,
C.Gayathri Srivathsan

Friday, 30 November 2018

NaBloPoMo 2018: Day 30: A Humble Thank You

One day in November 2000, I sat inside a small temple near my house, with a mike in front of me, ready to deliver a discourse on the topic, “Spiritual practice for a blissful life”. 

The only problem – there was no audience! Not one person was sitting down, waiting to listen to me. When I turned questioningly to the temple personnel, I was told to just start, and that people who were interested would come and listen. 

An uncanny situation, one I had never encountered before in the 24 years of my life.

In that nerve-wracking moment, when every instinct made me want to run away, I found the strength to mentally surrender to the Guru. Praying that He take me through this weird test He had devised, I started.

I noticed some people turn to look at me and I hung on to their eyes. Slowly, a few of them came forward and stood around me. Some people sat down for a while. Even as I relaxed and got into the flow, some of them got up and walked away abruptly. The audience kept floating throughout the 40 –odd minutes.


Even as one part of my mind directed the tongue to keep talking, another part was trying to make sense of it all. Why was I being given this experience? Had I grown too egoistic from the praise I had got on previous occasions? Was this being done to teach me to be humble and realize that I’m a mere instrument and God is the actual Doer?


Overall, it was a situation that made me truly experience the meaning of the Bhagavad Geeta quote


Which means:

“You have the right to work only but never to its fruits. 
Let not the fruits of action be your motive, nor let your attachment be to inaction.”

In simple words – do what has to be done without having any expectations about the outcome.

                                xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Every night of November 2018, I sat in front of my laptop, keying in words, talking to yet another floating audience, this time in the blogosphere. 

Some readers responded regularly and some intermittently either on the blog, or through WhatsApp or in person or by a phone call – to them, I’m very grateful, for taking the time and making the effort to communicate. 

Because I learned my lesson of November 2000 very well; there is nothing more to say.

Every time I sit down to write, I send up a prayer, asking God to guide my words to be of some help to someone in some way. 

Whether I come to know what it means to someone or not; whether it even means something to someone or not, is, therefore, totally irrelevant.

Day after day, I’m realizing that all I can aim for, is to become an instrument worthy enough to be held in the hands of the Doer.

I thank all of you, dear readers, for coming along on this journey. 

NaBloPoMo 2018 is officially over.

I will, of course, continue to blog ...........  as regularly or irregularly as possible.


Thursday, 29 November 2018

NaBloPoMo 2018: Day 29: God protects his bhakta

January 2017. It’s 6.30 am on the day before Vaikuntha Ekadashi. My husband is going to visit the temple at Tiruvahindrapuram near Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu. 



He’s running late - as usual - and still has to pick up relatives who're going along. As I see him off, I watch him hurriedly reverse the SUV out the gate. He miscalculates, and lightly bumps into the neighbour’s car parked behind. I shriek and tell him he’s dented it, even as I quickly sweep my gaze over the neighbour’s house wondering what will happen next.

No one comes out to fight. But I’m not comfortable and suggest we should tell them it happened and apologize, and offer to pay damages. He’s already late and has no time, he says. If they ask, act as if you know nothing about it, he warns me, and zooms off.

A little later, Aunty (elderly mother of the dented car’s owner) interrupts my rangoli routine. No usual chitchat of “Coffee aaytaa?” Cutting straight to the point, she accuses my husband of hitting their car. She saw, but couldn’t come out because she was going to the washroom.

Catch 22. Caught between my mantra of being truthful versus hubby’s instructions, I start to mumble something, then end up agreeing that it does look a little dented. I rush into a promise that he’ll come and talk to them once he gets back.

For the nth time in 17 years, I mentally berate my husband for getting into such entirely avoidable situations. For the nth time in 17 years, I pray that God bless him with punctuality and discipline.

Later in the day, he calls and the first question is about what the neighbours said. Good, I think, at least it’s pricking his conscience, so he’ll be more careful next time. But I don’t want to alarm him in that far-off place, and also don’t relish the thought of being scolded over the phone, so I give some vague answers and don’t breathe a word of my promise to them.

He gets back home late on the night of Vaikuntha Ekadashi. He’s been fasting the whole day, and driven non-stop for almost 8 hours, so I say nothing. Next evening, I narrate what happened and he goes over to the neighbour’s house.

To my utter shock, he comes back full of smiles. It seems Aunty had brought the whole thing to her son’s notice. Instead of agreeing with her, he told her not to bother, for the dent was a tiny one, and could easily be repaired. According to my husband, the icing on the cake was that he also chided her for wanting to trouble someone who was such a devout, pious, godly person!!

I couldn’t help asking God, “Whose side are You really on?”


Wednesday, 28 November 2018

NaBloPoMo 2018: Day 28: When things don't smell right...

In the pharmacy college where I studied, the Girls Hostel did not have a canteen. We managed breakfast and lunch in the college canteen, but dinner was the problem because there was no eatery close to the hostel, which was far from the college. We had the option of going over to the Boys Hostel canteen but somehow, we weren’t comfortable doing that every day. So, four of us friends decided to start cooking together.

I don’t remember the specifics but from my hazy memory, I think I provided the stove, and another friend would bring the kerosene from home about once a month or so. Every Monday, after classes got over, we used to go shopping, buy vegetables and provisions we needed for the week, and hurry back in time to catch the college bus that would drop us to the hostel.

On our first shopping trip, armed with the typical austere mindset of middle-class families of the late 1990s, and a shopping list (in that order), we trooped into the supermarket. Price was the sole criterion that governed the buying decision.

Reaching the oil section, we plunged into a collective dismay. All the cooking oils were so costly! 


But one of us with a sharper eye spied an oil bottle that was almost half the price of the others; immediately we scooped it up, congratulating ourselves on our smartness and good luck.

Back in the hostel, we poured that oil into a vessel and started frying onions for the rudimentary pulav (which was our staple dish). A peculiar smell spread around us – unlike anything we had smelt before. Eternal optimists, or perhaps too hungry and tired to care, we enthusiastically took the first mouthfuls of our first-cooked-by-ourselves-in-the-hostel meal and instantly recoiled at the flavour that assailed us.

But the austere mindset of middle-class families in the 1990s was too deeply ingrained. So, gamely, we persisted in finishing the meal and not wasting the food.

Stomachs filled, all of us started brainstorming as to what caused that yucky taste. Studying the label a little more closely, it hit us that we had bought MUSTARD oil instead of the recommended groundnut oil. We had been so lost in looking at the price of the oil, and grabbing the least expensive one, that we didn’t bother to see which oil we had bought!

Night after night, for almost a month, we ignored our screaming taste buds, until finally, the dratted mustard oil bottle was empty. What a testimony to our austerity!

But I still remember this episode because it gave me a sense of perspective – when something sounds too good to be true, it’s best to check again.