This and that

THE SONG OF SELF – FIRST VERSE

Atma Shatagam—Adi Shankaracharya  788-820 BC

 

“Mano bhudhya -hankara chittani naham

Na cha shrotra jihve ,na cha ghranna netre

Na cha vyoma bhumir na tejo na vayuhu

Chidananda roopah shivoham shivoham”

मनो बुध्य हंकार चित्तानि  नाहम,

न् चा श्रोत्र जिह्वे न् च घ्राण नेत्रे

न् चा व्योम भुमिर न् तेजो न वायु:

चिदानंद रूपह: शिवोहम शिवोहम

Meaning:

I am not mind nor intellect,thought  nor ego, or some form of the supreme being; I  neither have ears , nor tongue and I neither have nose (nostrils) nor eyes; I am not the sky , earth , light or the wind;  Nor the reflection of inner self.

I am beyond that, I am not ether, nor the earth nor the fire nor the wind; I am fortunate, joyful, and Supreme Being who is the very emblem of truth, knowledge and eternal bliss.

I am indeed, that eternal knowing and bliss, I am the spiritual joy of pure consciousness – Shiva; I am love and pure consciousness.

Further elaboration:

When the world came into being, something must have existed before from which or through which the world happened, right?  It is the million dollar question we all ask; “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” If God did create this universe, then where was God before this universe got created and why the need to create this world at all? The popular belief is; only space existed and a stir was created, ‘Kshobh’; this stir brought the world into existence and with it space and time was occupied by creation, His creation.

The logical conclusion that we can draw here is that since we all are beings that came from the Kshobh, then we are a part of the initial stir, maybe a miniscule part, nevertheless a part of the Creator of the kshobh; the creator too by extension.  Thus, moving a little further with the same analogy, we being a part of the creator, we have it in us, each and every one of us, that potential to be Him, the Creator. So, if we are the creator ourselves or have the potential to become Him then we, our real core self, definitely is nameless and formless like the Creator.

This is exactly what Shankaracharya sung when he was merely eight years old!  He says that we are not the mind, intellect nor ego. The Self within us is He, the creator and the self, is so engrossed in the gloss on the outside that we miss mobile casino the Self and describe the self only. Thus, the Self, or the creator has become a mere spectator, probably like the ignition key in the car, when you start the car, once is all you need to click and turn. Then the driver and the machine take over. Similarly, God created the world and we human beings took over. He stepped aside. But the God within us is beneath all our human layers of differentiation and ego; as a mute observer.

Manduka Upnishad (III.I.I) has a small story about two birds sitting on a branch

“Two birds that are ever associated and have similar names,

Cling to the same tree.

Of these one eats the fruit of divergent tastes,

And the other looks on without eating.”

Meaning: The two birds are self and Self, the outer self and the inner Self. It is a beautiful allegory; where the Supreme Self is sitting on a tree, a witness, watching, not participating, and doing nothing in fact.  The small self or the outer self is eating fruit of divergent tastes and reacting, behaving according to the taste of the fruit just savoured; while the Self looks on.

The next verse in the same chapter, same Upanishad further says:

“On the same tree, the individual soul remains drowned (i.e. stuck), as it were;

And so it moans, being worried by its impotence.

When it sees the other, the adored Lord, and His glory,

Then it becomes liberated from sorrow.” (Manduka, III.I.2)            

 

Meaning: The tree is supposed to be the body or the human self and on the same tree the individual soul is supposed to be drowned, stuck, indulging in its divergent tastes mentioned in the prior verse.  Thus, very aptly put, it simply implies and explains what the Shankaracharya has sung in this verse.

I am that, your inner Self; and your self is so busy with the small things of life, it (the outer self) adamantly refuses to take time and look within, seek the answer to the profound question; “Who am I?”

When we do take time, and the occasion comes, to look at the higher Self within us that we adore His glory and come to believe that we can be liberated. And in due course with practice and sadhana we move towards our goal of Self- realisation.

Thus, the human being enshrines both the selves. The higher Self is the supreme Divinity, God, Lord and Creator, whatever we choose to call Him. The lower self is us, the mortal human being going on with the daily life, trying to give meaning and understanding to our true goal of life. And, one day it becomes imperative that we awaken to the inner Self, and realise the Supreme Being within us.

Thus, to conclude the first verse, once we are conscious and awakened to the inner Self, how can we be anything but that Supreme Being enmeshed and hidden Within? We are that Supreme Consciousness, pure love and Bliss and all else; the fire, water, ether; our senses, eyes, ears all fade into oblivion and lose significance. We suddenly realise we are not that, none of the above. We are indeed, that eternal knowing and bliss, We are the spiritual joy of pure consciousness – Shiva; I am love and pure consciousness.

 

Who Am I? – Introduction

Who Am I? – Introduction

This probably is the most ubiquitous question which has bothered everyone.  All of us at some point, stage, age wonder about the self; our real purpose or goal of life. Why we are here and what we have been sent to accomplish or achieve? During our most depressing moments we strive for answers and lean towards introspection searching for meaning; trying to fathom the reason why events are happening the way they are and what is the logic behind all this.

Every human being is unique and every event in the person’s life occurs for a reason or purpose. It is for the individual to figure out the reason and unravel the mystery of who he/she is and his/her real goal of life.

As kids we are so self – absorbed and self – centric that nothing outside of the self we bother to acknowledge, probably the core reason why children are usually happy and so self – assured. All they seek is immediate fulfilment of needs and they are smiling, innocent and in blissful state.  As we grow we begin to get enmeshed with relationships, identity roles, emotional game plays and the more we spread our web the further tightened gets the grip of the web.  Without any realisation, we find ourselves caught in the vicious grip of life, pathways in every direction, leading everywhere, purpose less; mindless and unending. This begins gradually with teenage and hits us as midlife crisis when we find ourselves stuck, unable to move ahead, doing everything right, yet continuously hitting dead ends and experiencing failures or setbacks.

Every lamp has the same potential to burn and emanate light, but it needs some external being, source to illuminate it once. Every seed has the potential to become a fruit bearing tree but again, it needs ideal soil, fertiliser and the tender hand of a loving, wise gardener who will nurture the seed and see it grow to its full potential.  Every stream, rivulet flows ceaselessly moving ahead washing different shores and merging with different rivers; in an attempt to merge with the ocean and become one with it. Every egg hatches into a beautiful chick with proper care.  The beautiful butterfly goes through a long drawn incubation period, in the very unbecoming and ugly larva, caterpillar stage. We all have the potential to become one with the divine or returning to our original state provided we know who we are, why we are here, and how we need to live our life so as to realise our true goal of life.

It is a very striking point to note that when the universe began it was in such a pristine pure state; science and spirituality were one, Religion was one, and we all were one. Every householder was a saint, enlightened and achieving the real goal of life. With time ominously dark clouds started to appear, wisdom became a restricted property. Religion became Religions, and Science and spirituality parted ways. Science looked for reason and doubted everything, Spirituality became the mute spectator. We have uprooted our own culture and heritage in our greed for wealth and scientific advancement. What every householder knew then is an enigma to almost the whole nation now.

 Adi shankaracharya could answer with such simplicity and lucidity then, in 788 – 820 BC; at the mere age of 8; we, today, are yet to decipher and capture the essence of those verses.  This realised soul knew the reason, purpose, source of his existence and the role he had come to play in the short life that God had blessed him with. He sings the beautiful ATMA SHATAKAM, the song of self,  Or NIRVANA SHATAKAM , illustrating and trying to answer the  fundamental question- “who am I?”

Adi Shankaracharya, wandering in Himalayas, seeking his guru, was asked by a seer, “who are you?” The sage the boy was talking to was none other than Swami Govindacharya himself, the teacher Shankarcharaya was searching for.  How the student introduced himself to his Guru is beautifully portrayed in these enlightening verses.

Deep contemplation and repetition of these verses with bhava Or the right attitude , is said to lead to the absolute and bring self- realisation to the seeker.  That is why the name Nirvana Shatakam; Nirvana is the complete equanimity , peace, tranquillity, freedom and joy. Shatakam are the count of 6 verses , the length of this poem. Similarly, atma shatakam; atma is the true self. These are the 6 verses which help one realise their true self, and lead to self-realisation or nirvana.

These verses date back to 788 – 820 CE and speak of non- dualism in the Hindu philosophy and teachings. They form the basic core of Advaita philosophy and find a space in Mandukya upnishad also.

 

In the forthcoming articles, in this series, the writer makes a humble attempt to rewrite a verse at a time; making an attempt to explain and also understand the essence of this most enlightening verses by this unparalleled great seer.  Hopefully, the reader and the writer can take a small step forward on the path of freedom and self-realisation.

 

Devil – Angel ? Angel – Devil ?

Devil – Angel ? Angel – Devil ?

Throughout our growing up years, we have been taught to listen to the Angel within. Ignore what the Devil says and focus on what the Angel prays for us, because what the angel says is correct or virtuous for us. And throughout growing up years each one of us seems to wage this war, trying to listen to the Angel, or ignore the Devil’s voice and follow the dictate of the Angel. Personally, I was never able to figure out from the pictures of the Devil and Angel, as shown in books and comic strips, why the Angel always appeared sad, despondent, and miserable or near tears! And on the other hand the devil seemed to be enjoying, making merry, jubilant, and always very enthusiastic! The expression of the Angel, sombre and serious was forever a mystery and discouragement to me. And the Devil, with his cheeky, challenging, taunting smile with all the wickedness in the eyes always seemed tempting!

My parents tried to instil in me the importance of listening to the angel;  to obey the angel and it was arduous for me to resist the Devil, the angel always looked so defeated and lost and impoverished! On the other hand the Devil always had this gleeful, exultant smile showing all the tempting goodies and treasures forbidden by the angel! As a child it was impossible for me to listen to the pathetic whinging, whining angel and required a lot of determination, will power to ignore the tempting goody laden devil by the angel’s side. Probably, the key reason, why I was always so mischievous and up to pranks, was getting into messes and scrapes. All the lectures my parents gave fell on deaf ears the minute my eyes fell on the images of the sad angel and happy devil. If the devil was happy doing what it was, life is too short and precious to be sad and do forced good all the time. I preferred to do bad, play pranks, join hands with the devil and have fun!

It was very disheartening for me later, when the mistakes needed to be undone and I was reprimanded, punished or derided for my devilish behaviour. When I entered my college days and the choice of career came; I realised that the temptation or the advice the Devil gave was always positive! And whatever the angel said, poor soul, it did beseechingly pray that I make the correct choice; seemed negative to me! And my personality development classes, self- help books I used to read, always emphasised on positive affirmations, and here the angel perpetually seemed to beg, “Don’t go there, don’t do this, don’t eat that, don’t, don’t, don’t…” Not a single instruction seemed positive. On the other hand the devil always gave positive instructions, goading and challenging and urging the inner voice to, “ Do this, Go there, eat that Go on, jump, run, steal, all are positive” Never a single negative instruction. Spontaneously I would heed to the devil, after all it was asking me to  do , good or bad then made no sense and probably it would still have not made any sense, if I had not begun meditation and took my time to ponder, ruminate and mull over my actions, consequences and the voices in my head.

The thought that crystallised is; God created this world, which is about it. Then He decided to sit back and enjoy. God does not register duality nor does nature have duality in it. It is the way it is. It rains, if we want to get wet we soak ourselves and enjoy the rain, else we shield ourselves with an umbrella. Thus, we created the duality, till things were in His hands all was one. We took over, exercised our brains and duality began, the concept of good, bad, negative positive, Angel Devil and it goes on, confusing us, challenging us and forcing us to make choices which are contradictory always. The sun simply shines, that is what it does, if one does not want the sunshine, the concerned person does not venture into the sun! The sun simply shines, rain falls, and trees grow. We mould ourselves, do or not do, depending on what we want and don’t want.  And to make the run more enjoyable to Him and tough for us dumb nuts, God designed, so that the devil gives positive instructions, and the angel sadly always gives us a constant drone of negative instructions. When we meddled with His will, He decided to sit back and enjoy whilst we made fool of our selves juggling this devil angel , angel devil thought process for every decision , and choice to be made.

If only we all begin to meditate it would be easier on all of us, or definitely change the pictures of the Angel and devil, please. Teach the angel to smile and give positive instruction, tempt us to do the right and show the devil as a loser, struggling to make his voice heard. That role reversal and instruction change will hopefully give the mind only positive instruction which is good and beneficial too! The devil be damned and the Angels will dare, smile and win.

My epitaph

My epitaph

“To live in the hearts you leave behind is not to die” – I read this line when I was probably 14 years old and it simply stuck; I could never forget it, I don’t know who coined this line, where I first read it or why I remember it even. It simply is there and keeps popping up now and then. This line has always come to me when I have a doubt or if something dissatisfactory is happening with me, around me and I am groping in the dark seeking a way out, searching for a ray of hope; light.

Most of my youth I frittered away aimlessly searching for a goal and my true calling. I joined courses thinking this is what I wanted to do, and this would be my last, I had finally arrived. And very soon boredom would sweep in and I would be searching again. Then for some time I would do job hunting take interviews and start working.  After marriage, my husband, poor soul, would be on tenterhooks whenever I used to get into one of these job hunting frenzies! He could not reason with me and I used to be like a woman possessed, just stomp off, step out and get a job.  I realise now that it took nerves of steel on his part to be able to cope and endure a spouse as crazy, wilful and dominating like I! I worked as an audit assistant for some time when my son was a toddler. My husband was on an easy timeline at that point in life and used to be home, cater to our child and see that one of us was always available for him. Probably one reason why my son dotes and idolises his dad so much till date, even though, nowadays they barely exchange a few words whereas I spend every waking minute with the kids!

When our son was 3 years or so, we both got busy with work and careers. My husband dissuaded me from getting into fulltime work; but my madness inevitably crept in and then nothing worked. One fine day I simply went, marched into a college, met the chairman and sought a demo session for the post of lecturer. I went on Friday and Monday I started working, appointment letter in hand! My poor husband said nothing at all, with great reluctance and heavy heart he agreed that our son would be dropped off at the crèche after school, and I would collect him in the evening on my way home from work.

This continued for a few months and my new job was taxing me, I was an excellent lecturer but the subject was not to my liking. Again my sense or boredom was approaching and I was getting irritated with the students, their lack of interest and easy going attitude towards the course. B.Com students are usually there just for the degree and most of them have a business waiting for them or are already pursuing MBA on the side. So this course and class, lectures are for them just a chance to have fun, be with friends and play mischief. It is very draining and discouraging teaching such a bunch. Invariably, I used to start fresh every day with a new resolve of gaining their interest and every evening my hopes would plummet. I used to be a very grouchy person when I picked up my son and in no mood to play or give him any good company. I was too full of the dismal day and simply needed a rest. Playing with my son, spending some quality time with him became rare, very rare.

One day I took an off and we spent the whole day together, just the two of us, my son and I and we were playing, happily laughing and enjoying every moment. During the course of the day he innocently made a remark, “Ma, I would always like to remember you like this only, laughing, and having fun with me.” I burst into tears that night, what had I turned into, I was not a good mom, I was so busy working that I had forgotten how to be a loving person. My son was cherishing this moment, imprinting it in his memory to remember me by! He has no good memories of me! I came home to him every day and got him what? My share of irritation, frustration, anger and spite! When did I become like this I don’t know, and that line came back to me, simply popped up – ‘To live in the hearts you leave behind is not to die’. And with a sinking feeling I realised I was dead already, and my son was hanging on to some shreds of the good me, to desperately continue to love his mom, remember her with some long lost good memories.

I never went back to being a full time working woman after that night. If that line was to be my epitaph, I was long way off the mark. Many messy memories needed to be cleansed and fresh loving ones were to be reinstalled. I would have to work really hard to make that line come true. I did work and I can humbly say I have achieved success too. My son is still very close to his Dad but I am his darling mom too, and he has many things to remember me by, in case I cease to be tomorrow. I am sure he will miss me and always feel my presence whenever he may need me.  He has been such a beautiful gift from God to us that I feel totalled humbled and grateful. He has taught me many lessons and helped me become a better person in his own simple, unassuming, innocent way.

Check-checkmate

Check-checkmate

Udharet asmana atmanam na atmanam avasadayet I

Atma eva hi atmanah bandhuh atma eva ripu atmanah II sloka 5”

 

उद्धरेत  आस्माना आत्मानं न आत्मानं अवसादयेत्  ।

आत्मा एव हि आत्मनः बन्धुः आत्मा एव रिपुः  आत्मनः ।। श्लोक ५

Translation:

“Let a man raise himself by his own self; let him not debase himself. For he is himself his friend and foe.”

 

One is oneself responsible for one’s distinction or debasement. The contributions that others make in these respects are secondary. It is but usual that one complains that one’s enemy has done havoc to one. But no one can hurt without oneself contributing to it. It is possible for a sadhaka (aspirant) to avail himself of a wrong done to him by his enemy for self – purification. Because of misunderstanding and maladjustment man paves the way for self-debasement. And by doing so, he becomes his own enemy. On the other hand, by right understanding and right conduct he elevates himself and thereby becomes his own friend.  One is one’s own arch friend or arch foe. The person who understands this fact; learns an invaluable lesson for life. 

No one courts enmity; friendship alone is sought by all. But one needs to learn to be victorious over self, first.

 

This particular shloka from Bhagwad Geeta always conjures the image of a chess board in my mind. I never really connected to or understood this shloka in its real essence, though is used be repeated very often by my dad during our growing up years. It was one of his favourite shloka. Similarly, chess also was one game I preferred to stay away from, a game my dad excelled at and challenged all his progeny to learn and master.

In retrospect today I can make the connection between the Shloka and the crafty game; both are very individual and pass on the same message to the person playing the game of chess or to the person living the shloka. A game of chess is a very individually uplifting game and tells the player every time that he/she is the sole reason for upliftment or down fall.

The whole Game of chess vests and depends on the King, protecting the king and defeating the opponent King. The king himself has very restricted mobility, yet is the most cherished piece on the board,  the sole piece on which the life and death of the game depends, it is either check or check mate depending on the King. The human nature is also much the same; heart is the king; cocooned and nestled inside the deepest recess of the human anatomy. Surrounded and protected by a plethora of other organs, playing the visibly useful role. The heart only responds if the owner is willing to listen! Else it rhythmically beats and the person is alive only as long as the heart continues to beat, any other organ collapses; life continues. The heart stops, it is game over.

The second most powerful piece on the board is the Queen; the maker or the breaker of the game, she moves with ease deftness and dexterity all over the board. She commands and marshals the other forces and aligns them in a way that she protects the King and also leads the king towards victory, step by step, listening to the king and acting in accordance to the wishes of the king. Same is the mind, the upliftment of the person or the curse which brings the downfall of the person. Mind works the way the owner controls it, controlled by heart it never goes wrong or strays but independent and dominated by its own will and by the other acting forces, external and internal, the mind plays great havoc and in no time reduces the human being to cinders. The heart is a mute spectator watching life slip away, step by step, leading up to death and decay.

Only if the Queen is balanced and powerful can the king be protected and work well with the other forces in the kingdom; march ahead and defeat the opponent. Similarly, if the mind is in the right place, well balanced the person leads a successful life in control of all the other senses. The emotions, reactions, aspirations and ambitions are balanced and lead the individual towards a victorious content filled life winning against the enemies within. And, this person successfully defeats the opponents or contenders in the outside world also.

The rest of the pieces and powers on the chess board help the queen dually, give power to the queen and also save the king from the opponent forces. The queen in turn takes their help and smoothly marshals her forces and defeats the opponent bringing victory and cheer to the king. Likewise, if one has overcome ones vices and effectively reign in the cantering mind, then the silenced mind listens to the heart. Such a person ultimately walks the path of contentment and fulfilment, unconcerned by the adversaries and competition of the world. The mind thinks with clarity and is in competition with no one on the outside. It is at peace within and without.

Thus, the person is responsible for one’s own upliftment and one’s own downfall. Till we do not overcome our own vices and convert those to virtues the chances of winning over any outside agent become negligible. The competition is always from within and the victory begins first with the victory over self and then transcends to victory over others.

Game of Life

Game of Life

As kids, the most popular game at home was Snakes and Ladders. Most of the games used to be for two players or four; Chinese checkers was the only game for 6 people. Snakes and Ladders could be played by any number; we simply improvised with the chess pieces if the players exceeded four. Apart for this, the other reason why we played snakes and ladders was that we were always more than one inching our way to the top, neck to neck, and the others used to be way below, praying that a snake bite us and we slip down to join them! It was more a play of human emotions all the time and it was weird and different to see friends become enemies, pray for their loss and be happy when a third person won, instead of the contending winners. As we grew up, studies took precedence, most of the school friends went different ways and in our busy lifestyle Snakes and ladders was lost and forgotten.

Things took a different turn after my second one, our darling daughter came along. Contrary to her brother, she loves board games of all kinds and she insists that the whole family sit and play! And to our dismay she was not an avid television fan either. Even if we did put her in front of the idiot box, she would barely sit for 10 minutes, even her favourite shows, she wanted one of us to sit and watch with her and she would be explaining the story!! None of us could endure the story of Thomas the Engine, or Oswald or Cee-Bee Bees on a consistent level. Very soon we were taking turns sitting with her and gradually we all started dreading our turn! So a new game almost every week became the new escape route for us, and that is how snakes and Ladders got reintroduced into my life.

She and I used to play for hours and she would be happy winning always, and since I was her only opponent I used to allow her to win, it made her happy and I had a chance to sneak in a few other quick chores, multi-tasking was a feasible option for me only if she won! She used to play with her brother and dad at times and both of them also quickly devised a way to let her win. They soon escaped seeking umbrage of repeated loss or that they were no match against her expertise. She grew up never being able to accept defeat and also overconfident that this was her winning game, she was victorious always.

My daughter’s sand castle crumbled when she began playing with her granny. My mother in law is a very ‘play it fair’ always, kind of a person. She plays to win, be it her grandchild or anyone else, and unlike us she was their putting her life into the game. This became a kind of a tug of war for my daughter and a deja’vu scenario for me. The first time my daughter lost she took it sportingly and hid her shock well in front of her granny; she came and cried her heart out to me saying, “Granny cheats!! She is not a good person, she does not know that in snakes and Ladders I am the only winner, she won I don’t know how!”…it was a stream of epithets and wails, engulfed by abysmal sadness due to her first ever defeat! This instance set me thinking, and I knew I could not approach my mother – in-law and ask her to lose! After all it was a child, her favourite grandchild she was playing against. And even if I did convince and coax my mother in law, what after that? How is my daughter ever going to learn to accept defeat? Is she ever going to learn to lose or will she grow up with the illusion that winning is her birth right?

Somewhere along the line I had made a mistake; in my lethargy and escapist attitude I had passed on something which my daughter may have to suffer with for the rest of her life! I was unable to really pacify my little one that day, just hugged her and kept thinking what my next course of action should be. She obviously did not go back to playing snakes and ladders with her granny, not in that trip, and in a way I was glad. It gave me a respite and time to think.

We sat down to play after a short hiatus and this time I was conscious about many things, my alertness, honesty in playing the game, win or lose accept both with equanimity, her spirit and attitude to the game! Marshalling my defences and strengths we proceeded; and at every step I started talking to her, if a snake bite her she immediately looked at me askance that would I overlook like I used to, and it broke my heart not to. But I was smilingly firm and gave her a new story for every ladder and every snake! A ladder came when she was honest, able to compete, play fair, not feel jealous, and think that this is a game and every game is to learn, enjoy, win some, and lose some too! She lost to granny and she did not like it, and similarly I lose every time I will also feel sad and may never play with anyone again! And a snake bite was when she was getting angry, ready to cry because I was winning, she wanting an extra turn so she could win or even she teasing me if she was on 98 somewhere and I was miserably stuck at some stupid 10 or so, a snake if she could not cheer my previous win and so on and so forth.

It took time, few very patient, long drawn, exceedingly intense games before it finally dawned to her that she had to learn to play, enjoy the game, win or lose a game; any game had a lesson and was fun if the lesson was learnt.

She plays all games with the same ease and grit now, to win always, but willing to roll  a quarter over to the winning side and congratulate the opponent too! Snakes and Ladders had arrived with a bang in my house, teaching my daughter and I a game of life!:)

You are the one

Last month I visited a remote village outside of Ghaziabad, UP to conduct puja. We, the other volunteer and I were delayed, trying to find our way and by the time we reached there a small group of people were already waiting for us. 

I apologized for the delay and started the puja, before and after the every session I ask a few relevant questions like when was their last sitting, or how is their meditation going on, do they have any doubts regarding the practice and so on and so forth. I followed the same path here also but the responses I got were all very different from the usual anticipated ones. In addition to answering my questions with utmost brevity all of them cited some other problem or ailment of theirs in great detail. By the time I came to the 6th or 7th person I was kind of feeling low and eager to see a young chirpy smiling face. These women and men alike were all middle aged and could only complain and crib about their life’s inconveniences. I did not know when next I would visit this place and so I certainly was incapacitated as far as helping them in any way was concerned. The feeling of helplessness was settling in and I was slumping in my chair praying for some young face, and soon.

It is true that when you fervently wish for something to happen even the God’s conspire to make it a reality. And the next two that sat in front of me were a mother and her daughter! I must have really smiled for the first time that day, out of sheer relief. So, I started talking to the daughter, asked her name and what she wanted to do and this is the small conversation we had, her mother butting in at the right places:

Me, “Namastey, what’s your name? ”

Mother, “Archana, she is studying Law! She wants to become an advocate!”

Me, looking at the daughter, “Really! That’s great! Become an advocate and do what?”

Archana, “Do something for my country, do good”

Me, “Wow! That is really cool, so you have a plan in place? I mean you wish to do something for the country, so where are you going to begin? Country is huge! ”

Mother, “She will start from here; her native place, she will start here madam! Then she will go to the city and then country!”

The daughter nodded in agreement and I was kind of beginning to have fun, finally. So, I continued, “So, to start from here also you need to be aware of the problems they are having and the wrong things that are happening in your vicinity, right?”

Again before the daughter could open her online casino mouth the mother said, ‘No, no, she knows nothing! She is busy studying always; in fact she comes here for weekends, stays with her aunt!’

I probably had a very visibly puzzled look by now because the daughter softly said, ‘No, I think I will try and correct the things that I can correct at home first, then village, and then from there probably try and bring a change and serve the nation!’

This answer pleased me and I was happy that she was narrowing it down and thinking about where and how she could bring a change. I just had to push her a little more and probably I would get the answer I was angling for from the start of this conversation.

 I said, “Wow! Good, so home is the first place you think needs to be changed is it?”

Mother, ‘Home? What is wrong at home? And what do you want to change at home?!

And before the girl could begin to explain, the mother declared, “You change yourself first! Set things right with you, your time table, dreams and goals! The rest will fall in place. Change should begin with the concerned person, right sister?”

I was too speechless with the quick reaction and exchange, but the sweet and wise girl thought for a moment and said, “Yes, sister. What my mum says is correct. I will first change and then only can I think of brining a change, here or anywhere. You please start meditation.”

I had my answer; I smiled and started the puja with a smile on my face. A few simple exchanges and both, mother and daughter had hit some home truths on realising dreams and where change should really begin from.

Globally, the youth today is full of energy, enthusiasm and fire with the burning desire to bring the change. The path nevertheless is totally hazy and they are too impatient to wait, think and chalk out the path in the first place. They have envisioned a grandiose dream and are totally in the dark as to how to realise the dream. Frustration, anger sets in fast and they become aggressive blaming the system, parents and everything else. The famous quote of Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see” is forgotten or never understood in its totality.

To close this, here is another clipping sent by a friend of mine, another true anecdote with the same message.

 WORDS FOR TEENAGERS

Northland College Principal John Tapene has offered the following words from a judge who regularly deals with youth, “Always we hear the cry from teenagers, ‘what can we do, where can we go?”

My answer to this is. “Go home, mow the lawn, wash the windows, learn to cook, build a raft, get a job, study your lessons, visit the sick, and after you have finished, read a book, your town does not owe you any recreational facilities, your parents do not owe you fun.

The world does not owe you a living, you owe the world something. You owe it your time, energy and talent so that now one will be at war, in sickness and lonely again. In other words, grow up, stop being a cry baby, get out of your dream world and develop a back bone not a wish bone. Start behaving like a responsible person. You are important and you are needed. It is too late to sit around and wait for somebody to do something someday. Someday is now, and that somebody is you!”

 

 

My daughter says so…

My daughter says so…

My nine years old is very argumentative, wants a reason, logic and a viable ground to work with; it can be any topic from maintaining her time-table to the reason why I learn music at my age! There are innumerable incidents in our daily life and I can easily write a book narrating her thought process and logical conclusions. Every anecdote has some learning for me and I realised that I may have imparted very little of me to the kids whereas my learning from them has been unimaginable!

Their innocent, incessant cross questioning and maddeningly hair splitting examination of every word I utter has forced me to be vigilant and weigh my words with utmost care and caution; resultantly loose talk is out of the way completely in my house! It is full of intelligent humour, and quizzical play with words and topics.

Here I am citing the latest anecdote. We are going to music class together; my daughter and I. she is an amazing singer more like a child prodigy and I am just the opposite. To be brutally honest, I really don’t know why I am still in the class, because my vocal chords still seem to be the same and my voice worse than ever. During my courtship days, I used to confidently sing for my husband and he used to never tire singing my praises and the crystal clear quality of my voice. And I always used to think I am a good singer, just in need of a little practice and of course a good tutor for formal training!

When I joined I thought I would soon improve and my teacher would definitely appreciate my hard work. But with the passage of time truth showed its ugly face and I knew that I was simply kidding myself. For some strange reason I continued to go and never thought of quitting. It is such a contrasting scene in the class, once ma’am asked us to sing a particular Raga and the teacher complimented her saying, “It is the teacher’s good fortune and good karma that they get a chance to teach such and gifted natural and exemplary student.” I was all smiles and feeling very proud when she smiling added, “Sharanya, you don’t feel bad, whatever you lack and can never achieve; God has bestowed on your daughter in a double doze!!”

I said nothing; simply smiled. My daughter chipped in on my behalf saying, “No ma’am, Mama wants to sings only for Her Master. She wants me to become a famous singer.” I was very grateful for her support and congratulated myself on raising such a loyal, devoted child, my good fortune and blessings of Almighty.

Recently, because of unprecedented guesting / hosting I was too over worked and decided to skip a few classes. The first 2 classes the teacher did not ask about my whereabouts and my daughter also never bothered to find out why I was not accompanying her. Third class the teacher asked her and she very innocently replied, “She just dropped me off and returned ma’am, don’t know why!!”

When she told me I didn’t know what to say!! What would the teacher think? I was returning from her door step the last 3 classes!! God!! This silly girl, she could have lied or made some excuses on my behalf!!

And as fate would have it I could not go for the next class either. But I carefully coached my girl and told her to ma’am, in case she asked, that I was unwell. That is why I am not attending the class.

I eagerly waited for her return that day, totally restless and praying that she would not mess up. The minute she returned I asked her if ma’am had enquired. She was very upset and took off like a rocket saying, “Please give me a complete reason next time!! What exactly has happened to you? I don’t know!”

I asked, “what exactly occurred, baby? What did ma’am ask?”

Daughter, “She asked me why you did not come and like you said I told her that you were unwell!”

I , “Then?”

“Then what! She asked what exactly happened to you! And I don’t know what is wrong with you, so what could I say?”

“Then, What did you say?”

All I could say was, I don’t know what is wrong with her, but I heard her taking an appointment with the doctor now and I know that she is going to a doctor in a while, and she continued very sweetly, Please give full details next!! I hate lyingL”

I felt very bad for her and totally ashamed that I was uselessly forcing her to lie. What was a casual habit for me, making excuses, became a grave lie for her and could not cope with it! I apologised to her and promised myself that I would never repeat anything like this again.

That incident actually brought a change in me; I am regular for class, no excuses. I practice at home with my darling and I have challenged myself that I will surely force the teacher to compliment my voice too, someday in the near futureJ. And my daughter loves my spirit and encourages me!

The change these little incidents have made in my life, the learning I receive from children, their innocence and purity is very humbling always.

Bad ad! Mostly..

Ads these days…

These days every house is infested with television and the 1000 odd channels that come with this biggest vice! Of these, half the channels are for children and what is worse is that they are full of advertisements. The influence of these advertisements on our children is appalling. They seem to know every new product that is launched.

The message these ads pass are totally misleading, in bad taste or send a whole assortment of undisciplined signals to the viewers. The biggest dupe master, I have already mentioned this in my health drinks hub, is the Bournvita health drink and its’ ridiculous claims. The others to join the club are Fairness Cream ads, Shampoo advertisements featuring renowned figures, dishwashing bars, detergents and after wash for clothes, I can go on and on; the list is endless. Advertisements are exaggerated and need to be understood and treated after removing the garnish and spice!

The kids and adults alike are so keyed in into these ads that we have gotten into the habit of indulging just for the heck of it! Let us give this new brand a shot, a beginner’s try and see if we like this product or not! There is no silver lining in this abysmal dark gloomy cloud of advertisement menace. To top it, some ads get away teaching bad manners too! The kids bribe the grandparents and get things done or in another ad the child is asked to share a chocolate and the child starts to whine and cry! The mother and the granny both console the cheeky, impudent child and get another bar of chocolate! The casino ad‘s tag line is “Let’s have some sweets moments together”! What in the heaven’s name are we trying to teach or impart to our children with such ads? They can get away with anything! There is one more where the mother is standing at the child’s beck and call and the child is playing ‘Emperor’, ordering the menu of choice for dinner! Goodness! Absolute blasphemy, these ads are!

The only good ad I have chanced upon lately is that of an Insurance company. The father encourages the child to say ‘Thank You’ to the help at home. It teaches the basic values and etiquettes to the kid helping him/her to grow up to be a good human being. My congratulations and thanks to this ad team. Why can’t we have more of these and do away with all those? Even though I am loathe to agreeing that the chocolate is irresistible, but if a good deed is done by doing away with such irrelevant advertising, I am all for giving up eating chocolates! In fact, I resist buying my daughter that chocolate from the time I set eyes on that foolish ad!

 

Writing for kids- Challenging?

Writing for kids- Challenging?

Really challenging

The present generation is a very smart and discerning brood. Boredom sets in within the blink of an eye and interest levels come and go at light speed. They want everything to be done in a jiffy, toddlers to adolescents alike. With studies, they can barely wait to finish a chapter, the last few sums remain unsolved forever, yet they are over confident and feel that they know everything like the back of their palm. Forget studies, even enjoyment and fun are in a very hurried state. They rush from one game to the other, one puzzle takes two extra minutes and they lose interest. They read a thriller backwards! They want to know the end first and then read the whole book. What exactly should we write about, so that the children stay interested, is maybe the million dollar question to be asked.

Secondly, Television plays the biggest truant and is the toughest competitor in a child’s world. Everything revolves around the television, everything is available on the television, and everything is taught on and learnt through the very same television these days. With this menace holding the centre stage every other form of recreation, learning and entertainment has the fear of falling short of expectations. Parents are so tired of seeing their children becoming couch potatoes, they are encouraging them to go out and play, any physical sport to expend their energies or they enroll them into some extra-curricular class to keep the child busy, occupied and away from the darn television sets.

Last but not the least, the area of interest is so diverse these days that to be able to write for children it becomes imperative that you really know children and what their likes and dislikes are. Picturesque books are accepted for one segment and yet another will want an educational kind, or maybe a science fiction. The parents may be keen to see their children read the mythological tales, the books and comic strips they grew up reading. It requires great imagination and creativity on the part of the author to correctly cater to their recreational needs. Moreover, the parents will want to see some morals and learning in each tale, otherwise the book holds no appeal or value for them. The affect needs to be positive; and also appeal to the child and parent both! It needs to something different, unique, not belonging to the mundane world. It must engage the fantasies of the child and yet and keep the child and the parent happy and satisfied. The writer will definitely have to have a very lucid imagination and enter deftly into the child’s world and be the child and the parent in the same breath. The book must have a world which can be drawn in the mind of the child; a very impossible thing for an adult to conjure; not to forget the persisting enigma.

your book being read!

Few tips to overcome the challenges

In the above scheme of events and happenings the habit of reading itself is fast becoming obsolete. The genre of parents’ that encourage reading or the children who are avid readers are in the antique segment verging on the extinct levels. With the scales dipping heavily in the author’s disfavor, it is definitely a challenge writing for kid’s these days. The readers are a mere handful ;to write something which keeps them enraptured, interested and longing to continue to read is a Himalayan task. Most of the fiction available in the market today are a onetime read and throw kind. If the author is being repeated it is purely because of suspense or a gripping mystery yet to be solved and being carried over in a sequel. These books are devoid of any value learning and offer out and out entertainment alone. How to keep the curiosity juices flowing and also add some value and learning with every new reading is a tricky task.

Am sharing the few tricks of the trade to stay on course and also win the race with self confidence and persistent efforts. There is a very famous saying, ‘Monkey see monkey do’, and this is exactly what the writer may have to do for sometime in order to become the next J.K.Rowling. First pick the age group that interests or tickles your writer’s instincts; it maybe in the age group of 2 to 6 or 7 to13 or even 13 to18, whichever is ideal to the writer’s comfort level. Writing styles for all the three age groups varies accordingly; from the content, design outlay to the pictures in the book. Once you have picked your group of interest, spend as much time as possible with them, observe them, their interest, mannerisms and the flow of conversation in that group. Peruse the successful books in that genre and try and summarize the common thread in all these books. This abets in inspiring the writer and a surge of ideas come. The writer also fathoms the fiction and non-fiction group and with which the writer is more comfortable. If any extra skills need to be honed for this purpose then that should be the next step for the writer to be. Since parents are the ones who buy the books for their children it is advisable to be conversant with the interest of the parents also. Some are very articulate about what they want their offspring to read and possess as a collection. This tit bit information enhances the chances of success for the writer. A writer may wish to rewind and dwell upon his/her childhood days and analyze what piqued their curiosity at that age. And what changes have occurred from then to now, the same fairy tale yet with robotic clothes maybe! Don’t allow a few rejections to bog you down. It is a big world and each receives their share of the sunshine.

Simply believe in yourself. As any wise person would say and believe, ‘For a willing heart even the impossible becomes possible.’ Similarly, for a person who wishes to write for children; writes in a way that the children relate to the author and the books are read and collected too, Harry Potter is the biggest example. So, success as a children’s book writer is still virtuosity, challenging though it may be. But again, what is the fun in achieving without a few challenges on the road to success, right?