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Monday, 27 June 2016

Don't be like Dhritharashtra

One of my sisters who is a doctor recounted a recent experience with a well-to-do family. The young daughter had to be hospitalized for a day or two for a minor ailment. There were no single rooms available and therefore, they would have to manage with a twin-sharing room. This was so unacceptable to them that they finally worked out an arrangement, paying for the entire room to ensure that no one else would occupy the other bed and “disturb their privacy.” My sister tried to explain to the patient how this meant another needy patient would have to be turned away for lack of space. The girl just gave her a condescendingly polite smile even as the parents looked on indulgently.

Hearing this reminded me of a term I have heard my dad use to describe a particular parenting style.

“Dhritharashtra Vyaamohaa”

Just as Dhritharashtra’s intense affection for his sons (and especially his first-born Duryodhana) blinded him to the fact that they were in the wrong, so also some parents choose to ignore the inappropriate things their kids do. No parent would want a child to be hurt because the child’s pain is ours too. But in this rush to avoid pain, we deprive our children of a valuable opportunity to learn some of life’s most important lessons.

If you look back over your own life, you cannot help but realize that your most significant learning came after the most painful experiences. Hurt is painful, but undoubtedly, it is the most effective teacher because it makes a deep impression on your mind unlike the fleeting shadow cast by joy.

As parents, we strive to give the best to our children to keep them happy. But isn’t it equally our duty to equip our children to deal with unpleasant circumstances and situations where things go against their wish? Aren’t we the ones who must help them grow their moral compass that lets them put the greater good above petty personal interests? Doing this will often mean pain for the child and therefore, for the parents, too. But isn’t this a small price to pay for the service you will be doing to create a kinder society?

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Super Saturday

There are times when life brings incredible experiences your way. For me, yesterday was one of those.

Just two days before, I had received a phone call from the Principal of a small school. One of her mentors had suggested she invite me to speak at an event the school was hosting. So, although it was at such short notice, would I please consider making it to the occasion? Gamely, I agreed and we exchanged a few emails to work out the details.

Nothing had prepared me though for what I saw when I reached the school.

A portion of the road outside the school had been cordoned off. About a 100 men and women were seated there. Lots of kids were running around. Some people were standing by the sides and several others peeping out of the houses on either side of that road to know what the hullabaloo was all about. A sound system was set up towards the front of this assembly, with a lamp ready to be lighted and a board display of some charts setting the tone for the event – Father’s Day celebrations. 


I felt my heart sink. In this type of a setting, how would I get these people to not just fill out a questionnaire but also pay attention as I handed out tips on being a ‘Fantastic Father’? Clearly, I would have to speak more in Kannada than in English. The Principal had already indicated that I came highly recommended by her mentor as someone who spoke extremely well in a way that touches people. That impression had been formed during a previous talk I gave in the solemn environs of a seminar hall with a snazzy PowerPoint presentation. I wasn’t sure if it would sustain in this festive atmosphere and an audience that seemed more jovial than introspective. 

As we lighted the lamp to inaugurate the event and my mind focused on the invocation to Ganesha, I was hit by a humbling realization. Carried away by my astonishment when I reached the venue, I had lost sight of the truth I remind myself of before every event – that it is He who is speaking through me and saying that which is most essential for the listeners. Nothing is impossible for the Omnipotent One and all I had to do – like always – was surrender to His will.

The Principal then introduced me and we got things started by handing out the questionnaire (and pencils too, for those who needed them) and giving instructions about filling it out. I then went on to speak about how fathers need to be role models for their kids and gave out some parenting advice. 

The event was going to continue with games for the dads and would take much longer to complete. I had taken permission from college to attend this event, so I said my goodbyes and left. The Principal and a few of the other teachers said my talk had covered all they wanted to convey to the parents. As I wound my way through the audience, a few parents came up to thank me for having opened their eyes to some particular aspect; others said that they would do their best to adopt a certain tip.

This event made a strong impression on me for several reasons besides my personal experience. A school that is still not big enough to have its own auditorium did not let its enthusiasm to be confined by practical considerations; instead, it went on to achieve its dreams by some out-of-the-box solutions for hosting the event.

The Principal had noticed that most of the fathers usually pass on the school responsibilities to their wives and strongly wanted this trend to change. So she had decided to celebrate Fathers Day to drive home the fact that they must be more involved in their childrens’ upbringing.

The audience was largely made up of what we call “aspirational India” – a class that is in the process of rising up the social and financial ladder. For me, the emotions they expressed seemed more genuine than those of social high fliers who make polite noises about your wonderful presentation.

Perhaps the biggest learning of the day was that when determination meets Divine will, nothing is impossible.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Learning From the Lotus

Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) has been studied in great detail by botanists and chemists. Their research led to the coinage of the term, “Lotus Effect” that refers to the self-cleaning properties of the lotus leaf. This effect is a result of several unique features of this leaf – a superhydrophobic surface, a distinctive contact angle and the presence of a particularly dense layer of robust wax tubules on the upper epidermis.

The preceding paragraph is a complicated, scientific explanation of an effect that every common Indian knows. The lotus leaves are used as an analogy in many Hindu and Buddhist scriptures to drive home several significant points.

Just as the lotus leaf floats above the surface of the water without allowing itself to get wetted by it, so also humans must live in this world, untouched by the sorrows and joys it may bring their way.

Another explanation is that like the lotus leaf stays dry despite being in water, the karma yogi who performs actions steeped in awareness of the Divine, stays untouched by the fruits that accrue out of such action.

Yet another message is sought to be conveyed through the lotus leaf analogy. Our lives are as ephemeral as a drop of water on a lotus leaf. Just as the water drop may fall from the leaf at any moment, so also this life may suddenly end; so, do what good you can at the earliest.

Pankajam is the name for the lotus flower because it arises from the mud. Despite growing from the mud, the lotus flower rises above it and the water of the lake to blossom towards the sun. So also a human must rise above worldly considerations and journey towards the Divine, retaining his inner purity.

Elsewhere, the scriptures exhort us to choose our actions with wisdom. A raindrop that falls into the water of the lake becomes indistinguishable from the rest of water; a raindrop that falls on the lotus leaf has a shine akin to that of the pearl.

Let me go back to that scientific explanation of the self-cleaning properties of the lotus leaf. When scientists studied this effect, they found that the leaf surface has developed certain microscopic architecture that prevents the water droplets from adhering to it. Similarly, if we wish to truly evolve on our human journey, it is vital to develop certain mental architecture that allows us to stay unaffected by the experiences life throws our way.

Sadly, most of us act like the lotus leaf in the opposite way. Despite attending lectures and forwarding videos of the teachings of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar or Sadhguru or Mahatria Ra, we stay untouched by their meaning. Ensconced as we are in the attractions of this world, these teachings are like the ephemeral drop on the lotus leaf of our minds.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Rush Towards Ramanuja

The early morning sunlight filters in through the trees. Occasional shouts from kids practicing at their basketball coaching session break the silence. There is an increasing hum of voices as the crowd swells in size. Some people have lined up in a queue that is snaking its way to the tables set up near the stage. Others are standing in small groups, interspersed all over the playground, talking of this and that.

 It is 6.30 am and already, several hundreds of people have gathered at the Malleswaram playground opposite K. C. General Hospital. Surprisingly, there are as many elderly folks as there are youngsters; and a sizeable proportion of the crowd is in gear that is not conventionally considered suitable for the purpose of the event. There are even two guys sporting a bizarre look, drawing more than a fair share of stares that later, turn into smiles of awestruck approval.

There is the usual enthusiastic set of young athletes, looking for the challenge of a run. There are formal-looking representatives from the Athletic Association who tell me they are there to flag off the run. To me, it seems like they look a little bewildered at the motley crowd gathered there, unlike anything they’ve seen before. The fact that someone like me – who has no history of participating in a walk/run before – is there at the venue, is proof of the motivation that has driven most people there – devotion rather than physical prowess.

The occasion: Sri Ramanuja 5K Run 2016 on the theme of “Rush towards Ramanuja,” organized as part of the Ramanuja Millennium 2017 celebrations.

Participants have been asked to gather at the venue by 6.30 am; but the event only starts by 7.45 am and yet, there is no dampening of the spirits. There is a small inaugural lighting of the lamp, the customary address by the local MLA supporting the event and the asheervachanam by H.H. Sri Sri Sri Yadugiri Yathiraja Narayana Ramanuja Jeeyar Swami of the Sri Yadugiri Yathiraja Mutt, Bangalore. Jeeeyar Swami says that this event was conceptualized as a walk, but looking at the enthusiastic participation, he is feeling like running.

True to his words, once the run is flagged off, Jeeyar Swami sets a rapid pace for the crowd to follow. The marathoners then get into their stride and take off, leaving the rest of us to walk briskly along the right side of the road, chanting slogans of “Namma Nade, Raamanujaredege” and “Rush towards Ramanuja.”

We try not to affect the early morning traffic along Sampige Road. The trees provide a welcome shade as we walk. With the monsoon just around the corner, Bangalore has returned to her glorious weather and there’s a strong, cold breeze blowing that makes it an invigorating walk.

A bus driver slows down to ask what the run is about. A lady selling flowers on the pavement hurriedly stands up with folded hands and a prayerful look and bows to Jeeyar Swami from afar. There’s a couple who’ve come with their baby in a pram, and someone advises them to keep away from the centre of the road. A volunteer in a T-shirt with “Civil Defence” written on it, keeps people in line, making sure they don’t obstruct the flow of traffic.

The run is to pass down 16th Cross, to the TTD temple in Vyalikaval, to Sankey Tank, then Margosa Road and finally get back to the Malleswaram Ground where it all started.

I break off at the 16th Cross to head back home partly because I’m not sure if I can endure a 5 km walk in place of my usual 2 km one. Besides, samsaara and the duties of a gruhastha beckon. I bow silently to the mental image of Ramanujacharya and walk away from the devout gathering.

The image that sticks with me for long after is the sight of the Jeeyar Swami walking barefoot, with an agility that belies his age, with a steady benevolent glance that shows a spark of the Divine. He who has already found Ramanuja is guiding us to rush towards Him.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Think Positive

There are people around whom we feel good and there are others who seem to drain the energy out of us. These two sets of people have certain distinct traits that set them apart from each other. The biggest difference is their approach when things get unpleasant or uncomfortable.

For example, let’s assume that X makes a mistake that leads to a chain of events that make him unhappy. Say he spent days on preparing a report in painstaking detail. On D-Day, the boss takes just a cursory glance at it and at once, points out some errors in paragraph formatting and an image missing a caption and asks X to re-do that part.

There are several ways in which X can respond:
He may start feeling he is a failure because he didn’t get the report perfectly right – this is a type of thinking called as “all or none.”

He may feel hurt or offended because he’s just reacting emotionally without examining whether the boss is right.

He may say, “Why does this always happen to me?” and stow this event in his memory, ready to be dragged out the next time something unpleasant happens. This is called “over-generalizing” – you use one particular instance to start feeling that the same thing is going to repeat.

He may see this incident as proof that the boss doesn’t like him and is always looking for reasons to belittle him. This is called “catastrophizing” – exaggerating the importance of an unpleasant event to make it feel more significant than it actually is.


X can make a note of the errors the boss pointed out and take a re-look to correct them.

He can look at the incident in perspective – it was an error and the boss, being a boss, has to ensure there are no mistakes; so he was justified in pointing it out.

Let’s say the boss has been unduly harsh in pointing out what is a minor mistake. X may choose to realize that it is an overreaction that may have been triggered by something else and therefore, not take it personally to avoid feeling hurt over it.

The first set of responses are self-defeating thoughts that lead X to feel “I’m worthless.” This type of a thinking pattern can be overcome if X asks himself a few questions:

• Is what the boss saying, the truth? What is the proof it’s true? Would other people too agree he is right?
• Am I feeling bad because I think all my effort didn’t get recognized?
• Am I jumping to conclusions because I’m not feeling good about this?
• Is there any other explanation for such a response from my boss?
• How important will this be after a few days?

The trick is to catch yourself in this self-defeating thought pattern and then, work towards re-framing the negative thoughts in a positive way. However much we may want things to go our way, it is quite obvious that other people’s behavior is not in our control; all we can try to change is our own responses to situations to minimize the pain we undergo every time something goes against our desire.

Monday, 6 June 2016


There are moments, and there are MOMENTOUS OCCASIONS.

There are journeys, and there are MILESTONES.

There are goals, and there is PURPOSE.

There is change, and there is TRANSFORMATION.

There are some who curse the darkness, and there are others who LIGHT THE LAMP.

It is difficult to believe that there can be a common thread that links software engineers, corporate employees, teachers, lecturers, Ph. D scholars, journalists, NGO workers, social workers, counselors, healthcare professionals and housewives.

Yet, that is precisely what we discovered at DISHA’s train the trainer program on 4th and 5th June, 2016.

2 days. 14 hours.
8 trainers. 36 trainees.
A little theory, a lot of practice.
A training model based on the concept of listen and be inspired and also, do and learn. 
The feedback from the trainees about what the training program did for them is proof that
There are planned events, and there are DIVINELY SCRIPTED ones.

When you learn about the greatness of the land you are born in and reflect over where it is now;

When skepticism makes way for a sliver of hope

When the desire takes root to work together to uplift your country and countrymen;

When you determine to make a difference to how your nation shapes up in the future;

That is when a simple training program elevates into an inspirational turning point that motivates the trainees as well as the trainers to be more, give more and do more.

Because… realize….

There are countries, and there is BHARAT.

There are NGOs, and there is DISHA.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Of Questions and Answers

About two or three years ago, there was this advertisement for Bournvita that showed Kajol as a mother, struggling to keep up with her kid’s never-ending questions. The implication was that if kids drink Bournvita, it helps to develop their brains, spurring them to ask more questions. That ad ended with Kajol quipping to all watching mothers, ““Thodi mehnat to aapko bhi karni paregi.”
I remember watching that ad with mixed feelings.

First, there was a sense of feeling riled over Bournvita appropriating what is a natural state of mind for most young kids. Many children – yes, even those who don’t consume that health drink – ask questions.

Second, and stronger, was the feeling of envy towards the mother in that ad. I wished my kid would have asked questions about the shape of the stars and moon or why February has only 28 days. It would have indicated perhaps that he was going to be a scientist, studying the earth and the sky and the ocean to contribute to the knowledge base of geography or astronomy or oceanography, which are solid sciences, dealing with stuff that is just black and white, with no shades of grey.

I envied that mother in the ad because those questions, with just “thodi mehnat,” are easy to answer, because there are encyclopedias and the Internet.

What’s really difficult to answer is when your kid asks you questions about why people behave the way they do. That is one GREY zone. Especially when those “people” are the well-meaning ones in the family and friends circle. Not only do you have to give a satisfying reply, you have to also ensure the kid learns to view those people in a nuanced way. How do you teach a child – given to black and white thinking – to learn to accept the grey? How do you make him understand that most people are good, but with some idiosyncrasies that may not go down well with me because I look at things differently from them? How do you teach a child to continue to respect someone who is irritating?

Recently though, I realized that unknown to myself, I may have actually managed to answer at least some of my son’s questions right. I was wondering aloud at the exasperating behavior of someone and my teenager told me, “Amma, all things don’t always have a purpose. Just think that this is one example of an unpleasant part of his personality dominating over the other good qualities he has.”

My first reaction was that of amusement with his philosophizing. A kind of “Tirupati ke laddo va?” or “Meri billi mujhi se miaow” moment. Once that passed, I felt a kind of reassurance that if he’s able to say this to me, it means I did manage to get at least some of the answers right. 

Perhaps its really true that the apple does not fall far from the tree!