Aug 3, 2010

Photo courtesy Varsha Panicker
Last Sunday, I attended the Sopanam sponsored program on music and dance. Kathakali music has a haunting, melodious quality. It was mesmerizing and though my knowledge of its intricacies is a big zero, it was a treat to get lost in the music as it traversed a wide range with slow and fast, high and low notes ably supported by the accompanists. Mohiniattam that followed was initially played by the junior students including Pramila whom I had primarily gone to watch.

It was 8.30 p.m. People were eager to go home. Sunanda Nair, the Mohiniattam teacher came on the stage and set it on fire. Her hour long performance bowled people over as they sat riveted indifferent to everything else. It was a test of physical and mental stamina as the dancer moved vigorously all over the stage for more than an hour embodying the essence of the mythological characters.  It was an unparalleled experience-pure aesthetic pleasure.

So, what was the dance all about? The dancer, dressed in off white sari embroidered with bright golden brocade, gracefully moved all over the stage. One of the scenes depicted was Sita’s swayamvar where the assembled kings had to lift the bow. Initially, she acted out the arrogance of the king as he flexed his muscle and overconfidently moved towards the bow. He tried to lift it putting in all his energy. As it refused to budge, the expression on the face changed from grimace at the effort to a false smile at the insult- then anger then frustration alternating with a mask of all is well. Different kings came forward, each of them arrogant in his own way, forced to retire with heads bowed. And, then it was Ram’s turn. A humble yet confident approach and he had lifted the bow with effortless grace.

Another scene I remember is that of Jatayu, the eagle. A slow movement of the stretched out arms, muscles rippling across and we could imagine the giant bird ready to take off. The arm movement’s increases as the bird gains height and slowly the dancer raises herself on her toes depicting the majesty of the bird. The arm movements and the entire body in tandem settled to a relaxed pace showing the bird in flight. Further on, the bird’s arm is cut off and all the agony and the courage to carry on were reflected in the dancer’s face and body language.

As I mentioned earlier, the dance was an experience of pure aesthetic pleasure. Aesthetic pleasure can be distinguished from sensual pleasure and intellectual pleasure. It is the emotional component of our response to works of art and natural beauty. Sensual pleasure, primarily body based, for example, loud music, raises the heartbeats and as one indulges further, it has undesirable consequences. It leaves you drained of energy seeking rest and recuperation. Intellectual pleasure is a mind based activity that is a self confining event and rarely touches another person.

Aesthetic pleasure is more all encompassing transcending the senses and touching somewhere deep in the soul. As I watched the performance, there was a pure sense of joy, for want of a better word, a feeling of being transported to another world, time hanging still and all encompassing peace and fulfillment. The experience is actually energizing as I felt a sense of power throbbing within me. At the same time, it was also a total sensual experience as the haunting music, the beat of the drums and the song kept perfect rhythm to the action on the stage. I had forgotten or rather my attention had shifted from the fact that I was sitting in a hall watching an artist. I was watching the bird in all its essence, the energy coursing through its veins, its majesty. I was the king who was humiliated, forced to hide the discomfort. Nothing and no one else mattered. It was scenes that were dance, painting and melody rolled in one filling the frame called the stage.

Mohiniattam is based on the Natyasastra, according to which the goal of any art form is to invoke rasa in the audience. Rasa is not easily translatable, an approximation would be aesthetic appreciation or enjoyment but then, this meaning leaves out the spiritual and philosophical aspects of the term. It is like that glorious moment when there is no other reality except that of the art; when the audience and the artist becomes one in spirit, you get the full experience of the rasa.

It was not me alone who experienced the magic. The audience sat through the performance with rapt attention, no one appearing bored or ready to leave. As the audience filed out after a thunderous applause, there was a palpable energy in the air, a sense of awe and reverence. The mood was best summed up by a housewife who spontaneously remarked, “I am lucky to have watched this program. It is a once in a lifetime chance.”

Jun 12, 2010

Car Seva

My love for cars is more utilitarian than for the prestige of owning a famous brand or other intangible factors like driving pleasure etc. No wonder my first car was a Maruti Omni, the cheapest car available with maximum capacity in terms of passengers. Even then it invited envy because of its unique Army green colour.

I used it extensively traveling to office at Kanjur from my home at Thane. I had an arrangement with 5-6 colleagues who were picked up from various spots on the way and dropped back in the evening. Apart from good company, this arrangement also took care of my petrol bills.

I liked the clear, unobstructed view as there was no projection in front.  I could stop so close to the vehicle in front that if I wanted, I could reach out and touch it. During a Crompton party, a senior manager wanted to try driving my van. He made a round and then commented that he felt like he was driving a truck. Incidentally, he drove a company owned Esteem. In those days, at Crompton, you got a Maruti 800 when you became a Manager, it is airconditioned when you become a Senior Manager. Another level up and you get a chauffer. Further up, the car is traded for an Esteem. You had to drive around with that Esteem till GM level when you can trade up for an Indica.

After the van, I got an old Maruti 800, unbelievable 20 years old- all my protests about how good the condition is etc. didn’t have much effect when people learnt of its age. With its powerful Japanese engine, it served me well for a couple of months. And then, one rainy day I had just crossed a narrow check naka when it refused to move from the middle of the road. There was a beat chowky in front and two poor policemen drenched in the rain started pushing it from either side while I sat inside steering it to the side. I had to foot a steep repairs bill.

Another time, while I was driving, the car forgot that it had to stop when I braked. It kept on moving and I kept on guiding it trying to be in a position where I didn’t have to stop. It was not easy but luck was on my side as I drove it as usual for a couple of kilometers towards my destination.  Not wishing to try my luck too often, I traded the 800 for a Santro with all bells and whistles- power steering, power windows etc.

I am a little scared of these big cars- my friend has this Accent and just thinking about it I wonder with its huge protruding bonnet, as to how he is able to see what is on front, left and right. It would be a pleasure driving on the highways but to think of maneuvering it on the narrow city roads gives me nightmares. Thanks to a generous friend, recently I got a chance to drive a Honda City for 5-6 hours, mostly on the highways.  It was a great experience, though thanks to my inexperience with the 5th gear, I would often slip into 3rd gear.

I would be a little ashamed of the 800, especially when I had to give rides to others. However, I had my moment when once, we took another family friend to a school sports event. After the event, the number of members had increased by two. I reluctantly mentioned that maybe some of us will have to take an auto. The lady, who herself owned an Indica, said,

“All of us will not fit in.”
“Who said? The old Maruti 800 is the best vehicle, better than all these modern vehicles. Everyone will definitely fit in. I will show you.”

She proceeded to give instructions on who should sit where, who should sit on whose laps with due consideration to age, gender, weight and X factor. Unfortunately, being the driver, no one was allowed to sit on my lap. Once all the doors were firmly closed, we zoomed ahead with a triumphant roar.

At least for a day, the Maruti 800 had made my day.

May 16, 2010

Nirmal Lifestyle mall is a landmark in Mulund. With plenty of spaces open to the sky and designed around huge trees, the mall is unlike the typical closed cut off artificial architecture of most malls. There is also a huge residential complex behind the mall.

Nirmal Lifestyle was conceptualized and born of the vision of one man, Dharmesh Jain.  During the real estate slump, he wrote a book titled, ‘There is a winner in you’. Most of the book is filled with homilies such as ‘Work hard’, ‘Be quality conscious’ etc. However, there is one interesting chapter on his father, the late Mr. S.P.Jain, the founder of the company.

Mr.Jain Sr., although diabetic, was a fitness freak. He was Dharmesh’s best friend and could discuss all matters freely and frankly. Apart from encouraging his son to think big in business, he also guided him on personal matters. Dharmesh was in love with a girl called Anju but there was no positive response. The father gave various tips over a long period with the result that finally, Anju consented to marry Dharmesh.

On the day of the engagement, his father, in his excitement forgot to take his regular medicines. He suffered a brain haemorrage and his movements were severely restricted. Typically, there were murmurings that the girl has brought bad luck to the family. A few days later, Jain Sr. called all his relatives to his room. He then mentioned that Anju has brought good luck to the family with her arrival. If it had not been for her, he would not have survived. From that day, Anju replaced him as his father’s best friend.

May 6, 2010

A couple of months back, my wife Rita, was hurrying down the steps with luggage at Thane railway station when she fell on her back. She still carried on as she had to catch a train to Nagpur on a 2 week official tour.

She told me about it only after she came back. There was a lemon sized swelling on her lower back but there was no pain. I insisted that we show it to a doctor and took her to a lady doctor, whom we shall call Mrs.A.  We didn’t know her personally, but she ran a full fledged mini hospital. After examination, Mrs.A said that it has to be operated upon.  It was a Saturday and she said that it had to be done soon, on Monday itself. She asked us to see a surgeon, Dr.K, then and there, who will do the operation on Monday and it can be conveniently done at her hospital.

We went to the surgeon Dr.K, who got the call from Mrs.A when we were sitting with him. Now, Dr.K was attached to another hospital and preferred doing the operation there but we could make out that Mrs.A wanted it done at her hospital only. Some blood tests had to be done before the operation and since the next day was Sunday, Mrs.A specially arranged a pathologist to take blood samples at her hospital.

I started doing some research and found that unless it was painful, such swellings are simple collection of dead cells with the technical term 'haematoma' and would often go by itself. We also visited an ayurvedic doctor, who without even an examination, prescribed some ointments and tablets.

Meanwhile, we bought time for a week from Mrs.A, citing work pressure. The ayurvedic medicine began working and the swelling started shrinking. After a week and a half, we informed Mrs.A over the telephone . She insisted that it be shown to her as it could develop complications. We didn’t go.

Over the course of time, the swelling disappeared completely.

It is pathetic to see the greed of doctors like Mrs.A, who schedule an operation without doing any preliminary studies. There are people who point a knife at you and ask for your money. I feel they are better than people like Mrs.A who unnecessarily drive a knife through your body and then ask large sums of money for cutting you up.

Apr 28, 2010

Generation gap is characterized by wide divergence in views and approach between members of two generations. When you consider these views, there is no right or wrong or, in other words, both are right depending on the viewpoint. For instance, when I was in college, I sought my father’s permission to buy a scooter. I had visions of an affordable and quick private transport, easy parking etc. My father consented but asked me to buy one with a side car. His concern was about safety, speed limits etc. The gap was there but each of us was right in his own way.

The generation gap doesn’t seem to have been a major problem in the past perhaps because life was relatively stable. You lived in the same house and generally retired from the same company you had joined. But, today, it  is the age of specialists and a single individual, whether it is father or uncle, cannot have updated information on all aspects of life. Tomorrow, if my daughter decided to become a clinical psychologist, for example, it is impossible for me to say a clear yes or no. At best, I can guide her to seek factual information from professionals in the field. If I use some incomplete sketchy information I have and come to a judgment, I may do more harm than good. A friend of mine with genuine artistic talent was dissuaded from joining the advertising line by his father. The father worked in the marketing department of a multinational company (with no direct responsibility for marketing) and his only exposure to the advertising world was through the glamorous client service girls sent by the agency.  He came to the conclusion that this was not a nice place for decent kids.

We are conditioned and brought up to respect elders and their views. This is often good because the elders have more life experience and can pass on valuable tips to the younger generation. Yet, things can go wrong when elders cross their areas of competency and pass on advice on everything under the sun. A friend of mine was planning to buy a second hand car. His usage was minimal and he saw no point in blocking a large sum and buying a new car. He informed his father about buying a second hand car (not sought permission).  The father made an observation that buying a new car would be better. He is now saddled with a huge monthly EMI and an almost idle fast depreciating car. This man is not some young, inexperienced person. He is approaching his 50’s and a senior officer in a bank, but was still considered incapable of taking such a decision.

In my view, while elders deserve respect and consideration, it is neither unconditional nor one way. The elders also need to understand the changed times and not live in an ivory tower. They also need to be able to figure out when to intervene and when to keep off.  I have some elders-distant relatives, who sometimes speak disparagingly about my choice of career, place of residence etc.  This would be acceptable if they had gone into the subject in depth or tried to understand the circumstances that led to the choice. Otherwise, it just appears like an ego trip.

As they say, God gave us relatives (elders), but thank God, we can choose our friends.  I have often got sincere, practical and constructive advice from friends, even though some of them are far younger than me. They do not dish out advice from a high pedestal but gently probe and understand the context with compassion. They are in tune with the changing mores of society and are not judgmental. I can ‘be myself’ with them and feel loved and understood, regardless of what I say or don’t say, do or don’t do. Sadly, except for an honorable few, I cannot say the same about my experience with elders.

Apr 19, 2010


On LBS Marg, just after you pass the left turn towards Kanjur station, there was a bar and restaurant called ‘Sadhana Palace’. It was one of those typical overcrowded, noisy, messy bar. The flooring was uneven and cracked, the furniture comprised of small, portable wooden chairs and plastic tables. Bricks had to be placed below the legs of the table to balance the liquid above. Waiters had to move carefully among randomly arranged furniture to cater to the loud, inebriated crowd that thronged the place in the evenings.  The air was filled with the stench of cigarette smoke. The owner, Manoj Shetty barked orders and moved among the crowd to ensure that everyone had their fill and that everyone who walked in is seated, however uncomfortably. The wine flowed freely, late into the wee hours of the morning.

Today, with the same owner, the place has completely changed. It is called as ‘Gopalas’.  The tables and chairs are of one of the best qualities with light blue predominating all around. They are spread far apart and there is an open, almost divine atmosphere. The divine ambience is further emphasized with chants of ‘Hare Krishna’ in the background from hidden speakers. The two walls on either side depict scenes from the lives of Krishna in floor to ceiling paintings. Of course, the restaurant serves pure vegetarian food. Although the dishes served are typical Udipi, it is referred to as prasadam and customers are referred to as Narayan.

Manoj Shetty owned two other bars in Kanjur Marg and Bhandup area.  He has opened a gym called Prime Fitness near Bhandup station and another gym called Body temple in place of those bars.

So, what brought about the change?

In Manoj’s Shetty’s own words, “Six years ago I met my guru in ISKON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness). He inspired me to lead a life that was pure and true. So, I decided to shut down the bars and start afresh. That’s why I opened Gopalas in place of Sadhana Palace. All my restaurants will have images of Lord Krishna. Customers are called Narayan because they are like the Lord’s avatar.  I have lost some amount of money. But I don’t think it’s important. For me, the divine and spiritual matters more than material pursuits.”

What about employees and customers? “Most of the employees still work with me but I have found replacement jobs for the others. Some of the customers have been put off by my change in lifestyle but many have returned, stopped drinking, and have become pure vegetarians.”

His lifestyle too has seen a marked difference. “My life has turned a new leaf after I shut down the bars. My family is happier. A bar owner leads a dangerous life and is surrounded by unwanted associations. But now, none of that remains. I sleep well at night as I don’t have to worry about what I do for a living anymore.”

Sometimes, real life can be stranger than fiction. 

Apr 11, 2010

I read about The Stockdale Paradox in the book ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins. Although in the book, it is mainly applied to companies, it has implications in our lives too. But, before that, what is the 'Stockdale Paradox'?

The name refers to Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was the highest ranking United States military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp during the height of the Vietnam war. Tortured over twenty times during his eight year imprisonment from 1965 to 1973, Stockdale lived out the war without any prisoner’s rights, no set release date, and no certainty as to whether he would even survive to see his family again. He shouldered the burden of command, doing everything he could to create conditions that would increase the number of prisoners who would survive unbroken, while fighting an internal war against his captors. After his release, Stockdale became the first three-star officer in the history of the navy to wear both aviator wings and the Congressional medal of Honor.

Stockdale had unshakable faith that he would get out, prevail in the end and also turn the experience into the defining event of his life. When questioned as to which prisoners didn’t make out, he replied that the optimists didn’t make out. He explained that the optimists would say, ”We’re going to be out by Christmas”. Christmas would come and go. Then they’d say,” We’re going to be out by Easter”. Easter would come and go and then Thanksgiving and Christmas again. They died of a broken heart.

He said, “ This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end- which you can never afford to lose- with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be”.

Life is unfair- sometimes to our advantage, sometimes to our disadvantage. We will all experience disappointments and crushing events somewhere along the way, setbacks for which there is no “reason”, no one to blame. It might be disease; it might be injury; it might be an accident; it might be losing a loved one; it might be getting shot down over Vietnam and thrown into a POW camp for eight years. What separates people, Stockdale said, is not the presence or absence of difficulty, but how they deal with the inevitable difficulties of life. In wrestling with life’s challenges, the Stockdale paradox ( you must retain faith that you will prevail in the end and you must also confront the most brutal facts of your current reality) has proved powerful for coming back from difficulties not weakened, but stronger.

Something to mull over, isn’t it?

Apr 2, 2010

The Body Massage

The day had begun badly. To put it more accurately, the week had begun on a sour note. A nagging shoulder pain was a source of bother every waking moment. I had to meet a client in town involving travel by the crowded local train. Since I had got up late, the only way to make it in time was by catching the super densely packed fast local.

There was enough crowd on the platform to fill up two empty trains. When the train rolled in, people were projecting out of it like over ripe fruits on a tree. I managed to wedge in one foot and, as the train started, the crowd behind me ensured that I was more inside the train than outside. With one hand on the handle, I tried to slowly drag my body forward. Part of me moved forward while the leg remained where it was. By the time I got my entire body in alignment, I lost the grip on the handle.  It didn’t matter as there was no space to fall. People behind me were shouting at us to move forward. Everyone was pushing everyone else in a bid to make space where there was none.

There was certain crush equilibrium between stations but as soon as a station neared, passengers who wanted to get down made superhuman effort to squeeze past rigid bodies. At any moment, my body was pummelled from all sides as I adjusted and readjusted my posture to either give way or close a gap. The smell of unwashed hair assaulted my nose as I tilted my head at an awkward angle to avoid their taste.  Even when there was just space for a hand, an entire body tried to squeeze past. It was all done in good spirits as people wiggled, pushed, pulled, resisted, turned, twisted, grimaced as needed to allow people to get in or get out.

Finally, the train reached its destination. Even before it could halt, people rolled on to the platform like tightly packed balls that are suddenly released.  As I regained my balance, I shook myself like a wet dog. I was supposed to have aches all over my body but somehow, strangely, I felt better. It took me a while to identify the reason until it suddenly struck me. My shoulder pain had completely gone.

Mar 26, 2010

Girls or boys

Our guest blogger today is 10 year old Samyukta. She is answering the question, 'Who do you think is better, boys or girls and why?'

Here is her uncensored, unedited response

I always feel that of course girls are better than boys. Girls are threatened so much, especially in India, but still they don’t lose their confidence or strength. Suppose, girls do some mistake they are shouted and sometimes beated also. It’s like a crime. But if the boys do the same thing people say there is no problem.

I am really against the systems like the sati system in which the women have to burn themselves in the funeral pyres of their husband. If the woman don’t go, then the relatives push them inside the fire and they get burned. After marriage the bride has to leave her family and friends and go to a new place. I can imagine how painful it will be. But people think girls are not at all intelligent and strong.

I like girls because most girls are sweet, beautiful, kind and sensitive. They also have the power to protect themselves from the atyachar (threatening) of the boys. There is an upcoming word- balathkar (rape) which I don’t like at all. In earlier days, girls could not go to school and had to work all the day and housewives have to hear a lot from the saas (mother-in-law). From all these things I can conclude that the way to the girl’s success is full of sharp needles.

I will tell you a poem:

Girls, jab life ho out of control
To saas ke data ko rok ke bol
I am the best! 

Mar 24, 2010

Small change

Here is a joke I read recently. The monk told the sandwich vendor to make him one with everything. The monk hands over a $20 bill in return for his deck sandwich and waits for the change. He waits for a long time. But, when finally, he asks for it, he’s politely informed that “change comes only from within”.

I remember an incident when I purchased some film rolls and handed over a 500 rupee note to the shopkeeper. He gave me the change and, as I was in a hurry to buy tickets for a train journey, I rushed to the ticket counter nearby. Standing in the queue, I leisurely counted the change given by the shopkeeper and realized that there was a mistake.

I rushed back to the shopkeeper and told him that there was a mistake in the amount of change given by him. His countenance changed, he became wild and started saying that he never makes a mistake, people like you are out to cheat us, you should have counted the notes before you left the shop, there is no way I am going to entertain you, you think you can easily fool me, I am not going to fall into your trap, what do you think of yourself and he went on and on. He paused only when he noticed that I was just standing there looking at him without reacting. I took advantage of the pause to tell him,

“But, bhaisaheb, you have given me 100 rupees extra”

It was a treat to watch his reaction as he had to suddenly change from a very angry victim to a grateful person. He did not know where to look and sheepishly accepted the note.

Why did he react the way he did? In my view, there are basically two kinds of people with two different basics approaches to people, mainly strangers. More about these two approaches in the next post.

Mar 19, 2010

Last Sunday morning, a small group of us went for trekking in the hills near our residence. It is a short 30-45 minutes trek before you reach one of the peaks. Later on, I sat down to note some parallels between the trekking journey and spiritual seeking.

We are at the base of the mountain and we can climb up from anywhere. There are many paths and we can even create our own paths.  We did both as we started at one place only to lose our path. We kept on climbing by instinct, negotiating steep rocks and treacherous footholds on the steep gravel, encouraging each other always ensuring that we were going higher and higher.

In the spiritual field too, there are many paths. While some swear by I Ching, others extol the virtues of the Art of Living. Some go for Vipassana while others make the annual pilgrimage to Sabarimala. Some are regulars for the weekly prayer at the Church and others try to copy Ramdev Baba on TV.

The path that we were on was unusually steep and filled with detours. Sometimes, the stone on which we kept our foot gave away or the branches we relied upon got uprooted. Nevertheless, we clambered on until we suddenly came across a clearing. Some minutes later, we had reached the top. A gentleman who had been watching us from the top remarked that we seemed to have deliberately taken the most difficult route to the top. Later on, it occurred to me that we had not chosen our path.

The path had chosen us.

In spiritual circles too, though we think that we are choosing a particular path, the fact is that the path is chosen for us. We are attracted to a path depending on exactly what we need at that particular stage in life. Certain colorful personalities make it through the Osho path, some get disappointed and move to the Krishna bhakti path or the way of Advaita.  Many jostle on the highways of temples and rituals, fasts and feasts.

So, in effect there is no better path, higher path or lower path. In fact, for many, the right path today may be to just drift along without any path. Yet, the characteristic of many paths is that people become attached to the path claiming that theirs is the only path to ultimate freedom. On our way back from the climb, we came across an acquaintance who insisted that the way he came up was the right way for us to go down. We ignored him and went in search of our own path.

A corollary of the above is that people try to lure you into their path. On the mountain, a gentleman filled with a spirit of holiness shouted ‘Bole re Bole’. We were engaged in our own unholy chatter and thoroughly ignored him. Somewhat offended, he stopped us and smilingly insisted that unless we repeat after him ‘Bum bum bole’, he will not let us proceed. Without any trace of holiness, we heartily complied. Such small advertisements are fine and fun but when someone insists that unless we do the Part 1 Basic course, we and our grandchildren are doomed to hell, it is time to run in the opposite direction.

It is difficult to say which is the best part of trekking. The slow, tough climb towards the top with parched throat and weary limbs or the swift, careful climb down with strategic application of brakes. Yet, one of the highlights is when you are sitting at the top with vast open spaces around, a lake in the distance, a gentle breeze all around and cold water guzzling down your throat….

I don’t know if there is any parallel to this in the spiritual field as I am still on the journey.

The only thing I can say with certainty is that, with good company, the trekking journey itself becomes a spiritual journey.

Mar 14, 2010

Our guest blogger today is the lovely Jasmine Koshy. She has done her MBA in Finance and lives in the suburb of Vasai. She recounts her recent experience with Vipassana Meditation during a 10 day retreat at Igatpuri in Maharashtra. During the retreat, she met Varsha Panicker (VP) and Krishnaveni (KV).

For a few wayward moments, a strange desire often surfaced deep within me to let myself lose in a serene secluded place on earth;  to roam around free in order to step into and discover a whole new world of tranquility.

That is when I came across a new term “Vipassana” meditation. It appealed to me because I love talking and it seemed like a challenge to not talk for ten days-Noble Silence. I also thought that Vipassana would be good detoxification - physically, emotionally and mentally. I read that Vipassana is an observation-based, self-exploratory journey to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion.

Contemplating all this, I decided to attend this meditation course conducted at Igatpuri-Nashik, Maharashtra which is the head quarters of Vipassana Research Institute started by Sayagi S. N. Goenka. This unique center provides a serene-sublime environment for a deep dip inside for the exploration of mind-body phenomenon. I wanted to stay alone as this is my own journey ; I need to walk alone on this path. Alas, this was not to be.

Nevertheless, the management team advised me to check out my room mate as she was quite sure that I will learn a lot from this room partner ; would enjoy the stay with her. I wondered why she told this to me…because it’s supposed to be a deep silent meditation technique without any communication with each other, then how am I going to learn something when we have to act dumb and deaf to each other.

I would like to relate my encounters with some of the people during and after the meditation course.

1. My room mate-VP: I stepped into my room with a conviction that; if nothing else, at least I’m going to learn to share a room with a stranger for 10 days. When I met my room partner, I really liked her at the first meeting itself. Felt some strange connection with her. From day one evening, we all went into Noble silence & stopped communicating. Days went by and somehow I felt that the silence is killing most of us around; as we are not used to making silence within ourselves ; that too for so long.

One day, I noticed many meditators wandering here and  there alone …some looking up to the sky, some to the trees and birds, some looking at the beautiful mountains. I saw VP rushing out - her prominent eyes looking up to the sky and a broad 70 mm smile displayed on her face …. I too ended up looking in the same direction and couldn’t believe my eyes “Omg!!! It was a helicopter….I mean just a helicopter”.

Next I imagined VP taking a scarf, waving, signaling and screaming out to the helicopter guys for help to save her from this deserted island where she has got lost perhaps due to some kind of shipwreck or plane crash.

On the tenth day, we broke our silence and spoke like chatterboxes on almost everything under the sun. She is really a sweetheart and we spoke till 2 a.m. Next day we had to bid goodbye, there were slight tears in my eyes, felt like giving her a hug, but then we need to be equanimous ….this is what we learnt at Vipassana. So we parted ways happily. I learned one thing “Silence speaks a lot”.

2. VP’s hubby (PP): I had a brief talk with him... he seemed like a very practical person kind of atheist at times I guess, but of course a genuine human being.

3. KV: The girl next door ….or the lady next door …an extremely talented person. With her deceptive looks I mistook her for a corporate lady but to my surprise she turned out to be a housewife. She always says she has the heart of a 25 year old & I am supposed to address her and her friends by their names; dare not use any add-ons for respect. After Vipassana I am also in regular touch with her and her hubby (SV): “An artist working at IBM”….this is what I refer to him. His artistic talent is truly commendable.

4. SN: -Last but not the least of course- the heroic entry of SN. I often heard compliments about him from VP and KV. I was curious to know more about this person. It so happened that SN turned out to be the expert CV builder who modified my CV and when I read the summary written by him in my CV, I couldn’t help but ring him up to thank him for his kind gesture. As far as I could understand him from his talks and through his blogs, I am sure Samu can always say one thing “The greatest gift I ever had, Came from God; And I call him Dad!”

Excerpt from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

“We are what our deep, driving desire is, so is our will. As our will is, so is our deed. As our deed is, so is our destiny.”

All in all, this entire journey was a very important and valuable time for me again! Rewarding in so many aspects....learning the technique of Vipassana meditation camp; at the same time my encounter with so many talented people. The bliss and tranquility that I got from it, I am grateful to the course and I must continue to practise it for the rest of my life and for that, I must continue to meditate daily.

Will it be a tall order? Only time can tell. At the end of the day when I look back, I can always say “All is well”.

No wonder the management team’s prediction came true.

May all beings be happy!

Mar 10, 2010

It is a cliché to say that children today are smarter than the earlier generation. It is seen to be true in most fields, but especially in technology. Children are exposed to a bewildering range of new devices such as the cellphone, computers etc. As a parent it is difficult and almost impossible to keep a determined child from being addicted to technology.

Thankfully, so far, Samu isn’t into video/internet games in a big way. She can search Google on her own. She can play music. She watches carefully and then intuitively picks up how to do most of the complicated steps. Now, she wants an email id. Some of her peers are said to have Facebook, Orkut and Twitter accounts.

Professor Susan Greenfield, specialist in brain degeneration, believes that given the time young people spend gazing into screens, small and large, about 6 to 9 hours daily, their brains are developing differently from those of previous generations. Her main concern is that computer games could be giving more importance to “process” as opposed to “content. The more we play games, there is less time for learning specific facts and working out how those facts relate to each other. Suppose, the purpose of a game is to free the princess from the tower, it is the thrill of attaining the goal, the process, that counts. What does not count is the content- the personality of the princess and the narrative as to why and how she is there, as in a storybook.

She says that process in isolation becomes addictive. It reduces activation in the prefrontal cortex, and, thus tips the balance away from awareness of the significance, the meaning, of our actions. So, games in which I kill lots of people with my sword, deals not with the significance of killing and injuring lots of villains, but with the process- the action separated from meaning and consequences.

The ultimate triumph of process over content, she says, can result in the Nobody scenario. Individuality could be eliminated in favor of a passive state, reacting to a flood of incoming sensations- a ‘yuck’ and ‘wow’ mentality. The importance is on momentary experience. The landscape of the brain shifts to one where personalized brain connectivity is either not functional or absent altogether. Scary, isn’t it ?

Coming back to Samu and her demand for an email id, all rational reasons were stoutly opposed. Finally, she was given access to one of her mom’s email id. It was thrilling to watch her as she shot off the first email in her life to her friend in the same building with ‘I am bored. What are you doing?’ followed by a phone call. She promptly got a response ‘ I am also bored’.

Seeing me blog, she now wants a blog of her own. To which I responded, Be my guest!

Mar 5, 2010

Which comes first- the chicken or the egg ?

This seems to be like one of those unanswerable questions. If the chicken came first, then didn’t it hatch from an egg? And if the egg came first, wasn’t it laid by a chicken.

Still, there are answers and it depends on what you believe in. If you believe in God and the Bible, the first chapter in Genesis says that on the fifth day, God created chicken with every other fowl. So, the chicken came first.

If you believe in science and the theory of evolution, eggs, those miniature incubators of life evolved more than 1 billion years ago, in the oceans of the earth. When land animals evolved about 250 million years ago, the eggs had a tough covering to retain moisture on dry land. Now, genetic material does not alter during an animal’s life. It does, however, change in the egg. Therefore, the first bird that evolved into what we would call a chicken, probably in prehistoric times, must have first existed as an embryo inside an egg. So, the egg came first.

However, which came first is not my concern. As you can see from the title of this piece, I am interested in how the chicken comes out of the egg. I mean one way or the other, the egg has to break for the chicken to come out. Now, it is risky for the mother hen to stamp the egg with its feet or break it with its beak. The chicken may be forced to undergo emergency surgery immediately after birth. The chicken itself is too tiny and helpless inside the egg to try and break it from inside. The question is who will break it.

I found my answer in a standard fourth science book. The solution is so neat you want to salute the love and care of God if you believe in one or the practical intelligence of the power that drives us all.

Just before a chick is ready to hatch, a horny growth called the “egg tooth” develops on the top of its beak. The egg tooth is hard enough to cut the shell. The chick turns its body within the egg and chips the shell with the egg tooth until the shell cracks from the inside and finally breaks open at its broadest part. Parent birds just watch in fascination and do not help to break the shell, but they often carry away the pieces of shell when the chick is free. The egg tooth drops off a day or two after the chick hatches! So, you are provided with a built in tool just for the period when you need it most.

By logical extension, this intelligence of the creative force of existence would definitely take care of each one of us and provide us with whatever we need at the right time for our own good. So, maybe the best strategy is to just surrender and relax.

However, the hen does not have any idea about the future of the egg. Whether it will get life or tawe pe fry hoga!

Feb 28, 2010

I have always envied many of my friends who work late into the night. Typically, they go to bed by 2 or 3 in the night presumably doing more work than someone like me who dozes off latest by 11 p.m. Even office colleagues who play dandiya all night appear fresh the next day morning. I am wondering whether I am lazy or whether there is some genetics at work.

It is not that I never slept late. In college, last minute studying invariably meant studying till 3 or 3.30, by which time you don’t know whether you are asleep or awake. This night long study was often interrupted by endless cups of chai and often, a visit to the nearby 24 hours shop where they would start their first batch of fat samosas floating in oil at 12 in the night.

In one of my previous jobs, I often reached home after 12 but still had to be present the next day at 9.30 am sharp. I noticed that whenever there is external pressure to stay late, there was no option but to do so. However, given a choice, I would like to retire to bed by 10. Once, I was watching a movie on a video and while the night wore on, the screen became hazy and I completely lost track of the proceedings. Thankfully, no one asked me about the movie the next day.

Recently, I got a chance to check my capacity when I had to sit late and work. By the time I switched off the light, it was 1 a.m. In the quiet of the night, the work had gone very well and I was happy and peaceful. There was no feeling of sleep deprivation.

The next day I had to go to office. I dozed off in the bus in the morning. In the office, I walked around semi conscious. I couldn’t concentrate. I had become dysfunctional. My boss, while speaking to me was able to see the inside of my mouth as uncontrollable yawns forced my jaws open. I had no appetite. On the way back, my eyes started watering and became red. I was feeling nauseous and irritable.

After a sound sleep, I did some research and found that there are night owls and early-morning larks, sound sleepers and light ones, people who are perky after five hours of sleep and others who are groggy if they log less than nine hours. It explains why I can start work at 5 a.m without much problem.

Nevertheless, many factors can affect how a person sleeps. Aging is the most important influence on basic sleep rhythms — from age 20 on, it takes longer to fall asleep, you sleep less at night (!). A person who is 20% sleep deprived has the mental acuity of a person who is legally drunk. By the way, CEOs often brag about how "hard" they "work" and how little sleep they get—4 to 6 hours is common. Now you know why layoffs happen—a bunch of drunks run most of our corporations.

So, maybe the best strategy is not to lose sleep over more sleep…yawn.. but  to just let sleep…sleep…slee…zzzzzzzz

Feb 21, 2010

I enjoy cycling.

During my childhood, in Kerala, I envied the looks of the shining, well maintained black cycles with dynamo. During school days, we used to have this slow cycling race. However, it was a long time later till I learnt to ride one and hired them by the hour. It was thrilling to move around, do errands and generally, for the first time in life, enjoy moving from one place to the other at one’s own whim without walking. A cycle, with a girl in front, is a much more romantic experience than one behind you on a bike or besides you in a car.

I got myself my own second hand cycle while studying in engineering college. It was a very practical investment in the small town for moving from hostel to college and to just roam around in the evening. I didn’t have to depend on the only other means of transport, the cycle rickshaw. A man, usually in poor health, pulled you on a cycle while you sat behind comfortably, which seemed a little inhuman.

However, the cycle has a very down market status in Mumbai. When I got a job with a short commuting distance, I proposed to travel to office by a shining new bicycle. However, my folks reacted as if I had asked permission for going naked to office.

Things, they are a changing. A Bandra based HR manager of a coffee chain has been commuting daily to his office on a cycle for the last three years. He claims that this 25 minute ride has done more for his productivity than even caffeine. Many working professionals have started consciously commuting to their offices and client sites on a cycle. Not only can they save on fuel, feel carbon neutral and skip the boredom of gym but, more importantly, they can escape traffic jams. Dr. Anant Joshi, a famous orthopedic surgeon comes to the hospital in a foldable cycle. Aparna Roy, the 28 year old brand manager of an international energy drink, cycles from Bandra to Worli thrice a week. It is a sight to watch this backpack-and-laptop toting helmet clad woman in capris negotiating the morning and evening traffic.

A study by the US based Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion indicates that for an average weight person (68 kgs), leisure cycling burns more calories per hour (290 cals) than walking that burns 280 cals and weight training that burns 220 calories. High intensity cycling burns more calories (590 cal) than swimming that burns 510 calories, aerobics that burns 480 calories, and speed walking that burns 460 calories.

Cycling also offers a few advantages over other exercises. It exercises the heart better than walking without the pounding of jogging. According to Dr. Joshi, cycling is also softer on the knees than the treadmill. A bicycle can be used to get to work, perform errands or enjoy the outdoors. Cycling helps reduce stress, increases fitness levels, lowers risk of heart attack and lets you cut that extra flab from the body. It is a low impact activity and one of the safest ways to exercise without risk of over exertion or strain to muscles and joints. It is also easy to park and though it is easy to steal, it is a rare occurrence.

Apart from benefits to yourself, you are also doing the community a favour by not adding to the pollution and by not buying imported petrol. In fact, today, people will not be allowed to drive on Carter road, as local residents are promoting a car free day to cut down on pollution. Today, India’s biggest international cycling event, India Cyclothon was held at Bandra Reclamation. A cycle mall has come up in Pune, with cycles priced between a few thousands to few lakhs.

I am looking forward to disposing my trusted Activa to get a gleaming, new cycle with as much bells and whistles as I can afford.

Feb 17, 2010

Snake and deer

Recently, I happened to land on Discovery channel only to see a python preparing to devour a deer that was drinking water on the banks of a river. It was remarkable underwater photography but more than that there were many scientific explanations such as how the snake’s eyes are designed like the cross hairs of a long range gun to target its prey.

The snake has to lunge out of the water and a less than perfect aim would make the sure footed deer run away.  The snake precisely grabbed the throat of the deer with its backward curving teeth. The deer fell down. It then coiled itself around the deer’s body.

Unlike popular perceptions, the snake does not kill its victim by breaking their bones. It allows the deer to breathe and with each breath slowly tightens its hold and the victim dies of suffocation.  They don’t chew their food at all. They swallow it whole and then rely on the powerful stomach acids to do the job of digesting. This single meal would last it for several weeks.

Now, the common perception is that the deer is an innocent animal and the snake is cruel to kill its prey in such a manner. Any sane person would blame the snake for using its might to attack such a lovely creature. Yet, the same God or Consciousness created both the snake and the deer. Not just created but gave the snake a super size jaw, razor sharp teeth and powerful acids to digest a far bigger creature. Without all that, the poor snake would starve. If deers are not eliminated by an occasional snake or a lion or a tiger, the deer population would multiply and be deprived of sufficient food.

My point is that nature is perfect. Cruel, innocent, mighty are concepts that we have added to an activity that is going on fine. Not just fine, but in the bigger picture, it is the perfect activity for evolution, for all.

Nature is impersonal. The snake is not selfish- it is just hunting for its food in the manner provided by its instincts. The particular deer that has been targeted has not done some evil act to deserve its fate.

Indeed, all izz well.

Feb 13, 2010

Why Blog?


It’s over two years and three months since I blogged last ( This raises two questions- a) Why did I stop blogging? and b) Why am I starting blogging again?

As to the first question, laziness, procrastination etc. are the usual culprits. Another important issue was the privacy of those whom I write about, the near and dear ones. Even though personally, I may be willing to lay it all down in words, I do not have the right to assume the same about others whom I write about. They may resent the slant that I give or even resent the fact that it is out there for everyone to read. Many relationship warts are hidden behind a socially appropriate demeanor and life moves on.

If that is so, why am I starting to blog again? Privacy issues trouble me but I have thought of a way out. Ultimately, what matters is not who said or who did what but the lessons that we have gathered, our analysis and our thinking on the subject. So, I can still write what I have learnt without going into particulars, naming names or revealing what someone may want to keep hidden. The takeaways are important, not the story.

It is also because I believe that I need to flex my writing muscles. I am making a commitment to update this blog atleast once a week. I also strongly feel that clarity in thinking is brought about by clarity in writing. Even if there is no reader, I need to write to sort out issues that swirl in my mind. To quote ‘To write is to practise thinking new thoughts you didn’t anticipate thinking and it is to take your reader with you into that thinking, and so encourage that capacity to go beyond fixed ideas.”

I need to go beyond fixed ideas,  I need new perspectives, new ways of seeing the same things in the hope that such an exercise will give me that a-ha moment to sort out issues that I may be struggling with.

3 idiots has had a universal appeal and has managed to captivate a diverse section of people. As Varsha concludes her piece on the movie on her blog with "passion begets success, that running the rat race only helps create machines not humans, so go out and take the risk, to be different, to make your own path, to do what you dream and all izz well...".

As a parent, I had long back decided to let Samu make her own choice of career. As she has reached an age where these topics filter into her consciousness, she recently declared  that she wants to be a scientist. Although I have no idea how she came to this conclusion, it is fine by me. I also know that this decision of hers is likely to change as she is exposed to more information. My role will be only as a supporting person.

However, the other day, she came to me and with some hesitation about being a scientist, asked, "What do you want me to be when I grow up?"

"I have no particular preference"- (you can be anything from a doctor to belly dancer, I said to myself)

"But then", she persisted, "think like this, suppose you have a preference, what would you want me to be when I grow up?"

This was dangerous territory and the reverse of parental pressure. I managed to convey that I really don't have any preference because I really don't have any preference. But suppose I had a secret desire about her being Head of HR or Vice President of Marketing or a dentist or President of the Mahila Congress or whatever, it would have been difficult to hold back.

I could relate to the saying about child being the father of the man.