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Monday, 27 April 2015

5 Lessons from a Sunday outing

My last week was packed with classes on psychotherapy, learning about psychotic and neurotic disorders and how they are to be dealt with. A distinguished professor repeatedly stressed that reinventing oneself periodically is the key to positive mental health. Inwardly, I have my own doubts of how feasible this is in today’s fast paced life.

After what seems like ages, I've planned a Sunday outing with my son and my sister-in-law’s daughter. We set out and our first stop is to see my sister’s one-month old baby. “Is it a girl baby?” my niece asks breathlessly and I nod, watching her face light up in joy. She watches the little one with wonder – gently brushing the baby’s cheek with her finger. She wants to know why the baby’s tiny hands are covered with seemingly large gloves. And I unexpectedly home in on the fact that there is something to be learned here.

Lesson number 1: Look at things with a sense of wonder and you are sure to find immense joy in the smallest things. Never be afraid to question what you don’t know. Don’t worry about what the people around will think of you…just ask.

For a moment, my sister has to search for words to explain that the gloves prevent the baby from scratching her face or pulling her own hair. I listen to my sister and smile, anticipating how a few years down the line, the subject of this discussion is going to be driving her mom crazy with questions that do not have such straightforward answers. Baby-gazing over, we head to our destination for the day – the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium.

There is a long queue in front of the ticket counter. I send the kids off to play in the adjoining park and stand in line wondering about how long it’s been since I last stood in a queue.

Lesson number 2: Be grateful for all the facilities you enjoy – even things like online bill payments and banking and home delivery of groceries and vegetables that make life that much easier for you.

Being a Sunday, the place is pretty crowded as expected. But wonder of wonders… an additional show has been scheduled to ensure people don’t have to wait for two hours for the next show or go away disappointed. The person manning the counter is efficient and courteous and the queue moves quickly, busting my prejudice that all government-run institutions are lax and not consumer-friendly.

Lesson number 3: Don’t let stereotypes cloud your eyes and you will find yourself being pleasantly surprised.

Within 10 minutes I have our tickets and we move off towards the sky theater. We are told there are 30 minutes to go and so, we spend a little time in the science park adjoining the theater. 

Image source:
We try out the musical pipe and create transverse waves, check which color plate feels the hottest, listen to echoes, read about the sundial and find out why one of 2 cylinders rolls down an incline faster.

Lesson number 4: Practical demonstration makes theory so much easier to understand. Action is so much more effective than mere words.

Soon, it’s time for the show. We are ushered into the sky theater and it is like stepping into an entirely different world. Kids on a school trip occupy seats near us and one of them asks me if I've been to the show before and what I think of it. The dome presents the dark night sky lit up with stars; the mellifluous background music and the curiosity-evoking commentary evoke a unique sense of wonder. 

Although they don’t comprehend some of the content, the kids are well and truly awed by the whole experience. Every time a new image comes up, I am engulfed by a collective sense of amazement expressed through spontaneous clapping, a few excited low whistles from my enthused son and unending gasps of “wow.”

Lesson number 5: Keep yourself open to new, awe-inspiring experiences and let yourself “feel” even though you may not fully understand the logic behind it.

Our trip ends with a sumptuous meal and relaxing in the calm ambiance of the restaurant, I realize that the professor was right. 

The past four hours have been a revelation, helping me learn something new. Without my knowledge, I've gone through some level of reinvention. My experience today has shown me it is possible; it does not take a lot of time or effort – all it requires is a deliberate awareness and mindfulness of everyday experiences and the willingness to learn from them.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

What type of brother do you want?

Last month, I received a forwarded message on WhatsApp that was disquieting. I’m sure that quite a few of you reading this post will recognize it. I’d like you to read it again before going further.
A pregnant mother asked her daughter, “What do you want – a brother or a sister?” Daughter said, “Brother.”   Mother, “Like whom?”     Daughter, “Like Ravan.”
Mother, “What the hell are you saying? Are you out of your mind?”
Daughter, “Why not Mom? He left all his royalship and kingdom, all because his sister was disrespected. Even after picking up his enemy’s wife, he didn’t ever touch her. Why wouldn’t I want to have a brother like him? What would I do with a brother like Ram who left his pregnant wife after listening to a Dhobi though his wife always stood by his side like a shadow? After giving “Agni Pareeksha” and suffering 14 years of exile. Mom, you being a wife and sister to someone, until when will you keep on asking for a Ram as your son?"

Mother was in tears…Now this is known as Rishta vahi…soch nayi… 

Moral: No one in the world is good or bad. It’s just everyone's interpretation about someone. Change your perception and you change your world.

I’d like to ask the daughter in this anecdote a few questions…and I request you to ponder over these questions, too.

1. Do you want a brother who supports you just because he cannot bear you being disrespected or insulted – even if you are clearly in the wrong? Because that’s what Shoorpanakha was – wrong in coveting a married man who refused to get involved.

2. Are you okay with your brother kidnapping the wife of another man as long as he does not touch her against her wishes?

3. Is it okay by you if your brother is willing to sacrifice his sons, brothers and people under his rule in a personal fight fueled by his lust?

4. When you grow older and have sons of your own, would you like to have a non-Rama like son? One who will NOT obey your wishes because it will cause him discomfort? One who will NOT want to be separated from his wife because she cannot bear discomfort?

5. Are you okay with supporting a Ravana-like son who fights for a Shoorpanakha-like sister who wants to fulfill her immoral desires?

6. Are you ready to accept a daughter in law who professes a brand of anti-Sita feminism? One who questions why she must stick to her husband and give up her personal comfort just because her husband has given a promise to his parents without even bothering to consult her in the matter?

7. Would you support a non-Sita like daughter in law if she wanted to separate from your son to find a more pliant husband?

I see this message as viewing the characters of the Ramayana from a narrow viewpoint, trying to insert a debate on feminism through the characters of Sita and Shoorpanakha. I am not an expert to be able to elaborate on these aspects. 

But I wish to draw your attention to my understanding of this message - that such type of distorted reasoning and propaganda disguised as “nayi soch” (new thought) are a malaise of modern-day India. An India that today stands sandwiched between traditionalists who advise restraint and an avant-garde brigade who shun it. And such
warped ideology where personal benefit is placed above the collective good is what is corroding the ethical fabric of this nation.

Through her scriptures and systems of philosophy, through her illustrious saints and their teachings, through her culture and traditional practices, India has always emphasized the greater good of society at large rather than a narrow individualistic perspective based on the emotion of personal insult.

Unfortunately, our society today is falling prey to this un-Indian concept of safeguarding one’s ego at all costs, without considering whether one is in the right or wrong, without a concept of whether one is treading the path of Dharma (righteousness) or adharma (unrighteous conduct). This indeed is one of the major factors that fuels conflicts at different levels – between spouses, between parents and children, between in-laws, between a boss and subordinates and then spreads to the next level as conflict between genders, communities, castes, races and religions.

What I’d like to tell the daughter in this anecdote is that individuals come as entire packages – you have to accept them with their good and bad sides. You cannot choose merely the protective aspect of Ravana towards his sister and ignore the other aspects. And similarly, you cannot dismiss the righteousness of Rama because of an incident, which, as scholars point out, has a deeper significance.

So I’m sorry, but this message is an example of Rishta vahi…..soch nayi…but soch is not sahi (correct).

And the moral? Good and bad are concepts that get conveyed through our actions; they are not just everyone’s interpretation about someone. Don’t believe me? Just ask Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan or Nirbhaya’s parents.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

What’s in a display picture?

I saw this image the other day and on an impulse, decided to download it to my phone. Today, I decided to put it up as my display picture on WhatsApp.

Now, I’m always very careful about what I put there because I’ve realized people (especially my younger friends and students – ex and current) do take the trouble of reading the words it generally contains. I’ve occasionally been told that the quote on my DP has been a timely message that helped someone to think from a different perspective, find a way out of a thorny issue or just served as a tiny source of inspiration. Having this knowledge makes me feel doubly responsible for what I choose to display. 

It also strongly drives home the point that a teacher’s role does not end once she steps out of the classroom but spills over into every aspect of life – personal and social.

Coming back to the topic of the profile picture. Today was a rare occasion when putting up a picture set me thinking. I read and re-read the words, savouring the meaning of each sentiment it expressed. In so doing, I found myself moved with immense gratitude for having a sizeable number of people in my life who have been to me exactly what the DP describes. 

What’s more important, it spurred me into concrete action and I immediately dashed off a message to all these people, thanking them for being so. Judging from the responses I got, this small action seems to have generated a significant amount of warmth and positivity in quite a few of the recipients. One of my friends even said it reminded her of how you don’t need a reason to make someone feel special!

From my own experience over the years, I know I’m more likely to be good to others when I’m feeling good about myself. So, I’m quite sure that this little act, performed on an impulse, directed to a few of my friends, must have sent off ripples of joy and positive vibes in their respective circles of family and friends. Which just goes to show how easy it is to spread goodwill when you make a beginning in your own interactions. And I hope this blog post inspires you to find ways of your own to make the special people in your own lives feel …well, SPECIAL.

As I let myself flow with these thoughts, as the next logical step in this exercise, I then asked myself – how many people would believe me to be deserving of the same words? How many persons would say I was to them what the DP described? 

To be frank, the answer is – “I’m not really sure.” Even after discounting people with alexithymia and those who are really hard to please, the number may not be as large as I’d like to believe. Some of you may tell me I’m being modest but then, we all know ourselves best, right? At least, we ought to. And when it comes to self-improvement, there must be no room for complacency. I’m not advocating an obsession with self-perfection, nor am I in favour of running or winning a race in popularity. What I am suggesting is that we learn to look at our behaviour and interactions with clarity and humility because it is the first step towards growing into what Carl Rogers described as the fully functioning person.

Becoming a self-actualized person is not an end of life’s journey; rather, it is a process that involves constant becoming and changing into a better person from what I used to be.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Joy of Giving…Part 2

In response to the last post on Joy of Giving, here is what a few friends had to say:

Beautiful video
The joy of giving is the greatest joy
It inspired me to look for ways to give
I realized that we can give in small ways, too
It is the desire to give that is more important than what you give
Do a good deed and you will always get something good in return

Overall, the video appears to have generated a feeling of positivity. Hopefully, it has also inspired you to do your bit to give. 


Why giving is good for you
Often, we are full of what we want for ourselves – a better job, a bigger salary, a happier family, smoother relationships, a bigger house, a better car, a vacation to an exotic location….the list is endless. And as we strive and plod to achieve the next item on our wish list, it is so easy to lose track of the wonderful gifts we already possess….things that so many people are not fortunate enough to have. 

Helping someone has the obvious benefit of making a difference to them; but have you ever thought of how it can affect you?
  • It helps you appreciate your situation better. It makes you grateful for all you are lucky to have. You stop cribbing about your problems – real and imagined. Your focus shifts from what you don’t have to what you do have. 
  • As you begin feeling gratitude, the Law ofAttraction kicks in. The positive feelings generated in your mind draw in more positivity into your life, putting you on the path to greater satisfaction, joy and peace.
  •   Giving is a good deed; so it helps you build good karma. 
(If you find this last point contentious because Sanatan Dharma says the ultimate aim of human life is to attain liberation – Moksha – and not build good karma – Punya – you’re actually right, but talking of it here will be a digression from the main theme of this post, so I will reserve that for another time)

So, go ahead and give what you can

  • Be liberal with a smile, a compliment, an apology
  • Hold a door open, help carry a heavy bag, pick up a dropped item, help someone cross the road 
  • Teach a skill to someone who can use it
  • Donate money or food, toys, books, shoes, clothes and furniture (in good condition) to charity 
  • Lend an ear or a shoulder to someone in trouble or pain

   Stop wondering about what difference you can make. Every single one of your acts can make someone’s world a better place, one tiny bit at a time.

And as you seek to give, cultivate the right spirit in giving. As Swami Vivekananda writes, “Do not stand on a high pedestal and take five cents in your hand and say, ‘Here, my poor man’; but be grateful that the poor man is there, so that by making a gift to him you are able to help yourself. It is not the receiver that is blessed, but it is the giver. Be thankful that you are allowed to exercise your power of benevolence and mercy in the world, and thus become pure and perfect.”