Prague – A Historic City

My office business took me to this beautiful city about 10 days back. This is a city built from stone and lime (the old town). As you walk around, you can experience the old-world charm.

Many would not know that Prague was the capital of the Holy Roman empire during the 14th century when Charles 4 the Czech prince was crowned as the Roman emperor. It was during this period that Prague was transformed into a beautiful city. The old 10th century castle was rebuilt and the famous cathedral St Vitus and other cathedrals were built in grand Gothic designs. You ask anyone in the city about the places of tourist attraction and pat comes the reply: “If you have time do visit Charles bridge and the Castle”. So, it was easy for me to decide what to do in the limited spare time.

The iconic Charles Bridge was built in late 14th century at the behest of the Roman emperor Charles 4 who literally laid the foundation stone. Yes, this is a stone bridge and the first stone was laid by the emperor himself! It’s a lovely walking bridge built across the river Vitava. The walking path is all built of stones & lime. As you can see in the picture below, at the entrance of the bridge, there’s a grand tower.

 

 

Charles bridge is a bow bridge supported by several arches which you can see in the photo below:

 

 

The picture below is another view of the bridge as seen in the night with the castle as the backdrop:

 

 

From the bridge, one can have an exquisite view of the famous castle which is even more ancient than the bridge (it dates back to 10th century). The river Vitava separates the castle from the old town of Prague. The bridge was built precisely to provide a land route to the castle from the old town.

 

Here are a few pictures of different portions of the Castle taken from the outside. I did not have time to visit inside the castle.

 

The castle saw several battles in the ancient past. There is an interesting story that Germany invaded Czechoslovakia and captured Prague during the second world war. Apparently, Adolf Hitler came and stayed in the castle overnight to experience and enjoy his prized possession.

There is a bell tower built inside a cathedral in the castle. I believe the bell in the tower is the biggest in all of Europe. There are several myths surrounding the bell. Apparently, it predicted the catastrophic flood disaster which occurred in Prague in 2002.  According to the myth, if any part of the bell gets cracked and falls, it signals an oncoming disaster. Yet another legend has it that when the emperor Charles 4 died, all the bells in the tower started ringing led by a funeral toll by the biggest bell. Well, true or false, myths are myths and one should not probe too much into them!

The old town square is famous for its astronomical clock. It has a huge astronomical dial showing the sun, the moon and various other astronomical details according to the primitive understanding of those times. The clock also has a Calender dial indicating months and a dial showing hours. The highlight of the clock is the “Procession of the Apostles”. At the beginning of each hour, the windows above the dial would open and one could see a procession of the apostles. A skeleton representing DEATH would strike every hour. This is interesting. As in many theologies the world over, Time is identified as the god of Death here too.

 

 

 

The trip was not without its surprises. On one occasion, during our lunch break, I was looking to grab a quick-lunch to get back to our meeting venue in time. I was ready to settle for a simple Italian restaurant to have some pasta. As I was looking around, in one corner of the road I seemed to see a display board  with Govinda written over it. For a while I thought I was hallucinating. Govinda in Prague? No way! I was very sure I read it wrong but had a good second look. It was indeed Govinda and when I approached the place to find out, it turned out to be a vegetarian eating place run by Hare Krishna devotees. Men & women dressed in traditional dhoti & saree respectively and  wearing their characteristic “tilak”(mark) on the foreheads were running the show. I found out they were indeed part of the Hare Krishna temple in Prague. Feeling at home, I bought myself a simple meal for 120 Czech kroner equal to six euros. The meal was very fairly priced, simple and tasty. That was a big pleasant surprise for me.

 

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Published in: on December 3, 2017 at 12:17 am  Comments (1)  
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17Artists and 21 hours Of Non-Stop Music

How many hours of music can one listen to without feeling mentally fatigued? Well, the answer depends on the person. If you are a learner, there is perhaps no saturation. You may like to keep listening for any length of time. On the other hand, if you are merely a music lover, you may have some limits to your ability to listen and absorb music after several hours. I used to be a crazy enthusiast in my younger days and used to attend concerts all day. Chennai offers such opportunities during December music festivals. The concerts are distributed over several sabhas (halls) and one often does sabha-hopping.

This post is about the way it’s organized in Bombay. In Bombay there is an organization called PANCHAM NISHAD which is known to organize marathon concerts in one location. This year it was organized yesterday (on 11th November) at Shanmukhananda Hall. It’s called Eight Prahar concerts. Each Prahar corresponds to a particular time interval of the day – approximately a 3-hour interval. The programme started at 6.30 am and ended at 3 am on the following day practically covering almost all Prahars.
I wanted to test myself and see how many hours of non-stop music I can endure before saying – enough is enough! (I tried this out about 4 years back and managed to stay beyond 12 midnight. At 12 midnight the famous musician Kishori Amonkar started singing and I could not resist the temptation of sitting through her concert. But then she was a complete disappointment as her Sruti kept slipping consistently. Obviously old age was catching up with her voice and she was no longer in control of her voice. So I just left the hall).

The experience this time was somewhat different. I reached the hall around 11am as Ronu Mazumdar’s flute concert was in progress. He was playing the beautiful morning Raga Bhupali Todi which is pretty much similar to Carnatik raga Subha Pantuvarali. There is no doubt he is a great artist. However, after a slow alap, he picked up unbelievable speed exhibiting his mastery of the instrument. But speed cannot be equated to melody. In my opinion, there is no place for super-speed when you render a very sober raga like Subha Pantu Varali. I also had a problem when he went to very high pitch. Somehow, my ears cannot take kindly to such high frequencies. It was comforting to know that I was not alone in feeling the discomfiture. At least a couple of others exited from the hall closing their ears when the artist was elaborating sangatis at very high pitch. Well, this is not a criticism of the artist. Several others seemed to enjoy the proceedings.

As if to compensate for this, at noon, the stage was set for the great musician Pandit Jasraj. This was an unbelievably ecstatic experience. There are no words to express the quality of his music. He presented the Raga Shudh Saranga. I think the equivalent Raga in Carnatik is Brindavan saranga. (At least that was how it sounded to me). Before his concert Jasraj made one very profound comment. He said: “Early in my career, before every concert, I used to get tense thinking about the ragas I was going to sing. Nowadays, I’m completely free from that thought. I feel completely free because I know that I know nothing. When I sing, I realize I ‘m not singing – it just happens. Neither I’m singing nor are you all listening. I see only Eswara everywhere”. He is echoing what is said in Bhagavadgita: I’m neither a karta nor a bhokta(I’m neither a subject nor an experiencer). If one is in such a spiritual state and sings, it’s bound to be a divine experience!

This was followed by Sabir khan on sarangi playing the same afternoon raga Sarang. What a contrast to the earlier performance. Poor artist felt very small playing the same raga after a maestro. He stopped in between and said: “After listening to the great singing of Jasraj ji, I wanted to change my raga. But the organizers insisted I should play the same raga on sarangi”. The audience could not help sympathizing with his plight.

The early-evening session started with Sanjeev Abhayankar (a disciple of Jasraj) followed by Devaki Pandit. Both gave commendable performances. They are both considered to be upcoming artists.

Then we had a great display of Dhrupad singing by Uday Bhavalkar. He took Rag Puriya for elaboration. Dhrupad style is perhaps the most ancient tradition in Hindustani classical music characterized by very slow pace of presentation. The musician literally spends a long time on each and every note and produces subtle variations to bring out beauty.  It was amazing to see Bhavalkar cover the lowest to the highest octaves with equal facility and stay in those uncomfortably  low and high pitches for a long interval of time. The style is aimed not to entertain but create a feeling of peace and meditation. One just has to sit back, relax and enjoy Dhrupad style of singing. At the end of this concert, Pandit Jasraj himself came on stage to shower encomiums on this great Dhrupad artist.

This was followed by yet another great treat from Rahul Sharma on Santoor. Playing the Raga Jhijhoti, he proved himself to be the chip of the old block ( He is the son of the great Pandit Shivkumar sharma).

The last concert I listened to was that of Rakesh Chaurasia on flute. He played the Raga Behag which is one of my favourite ragas. Most would know he is the nephview of the veteran flutist Hariprasad Chaurasia. He is a true successor to Hariprasadji to carry forward the great tradition.

At this point I came out of the world of music to attend to my mundane existential problems of hunger and sleep. I managed to get some decent south Indian snacks in Matunga which is known as mini-Madras and boarded a train back to my Mulund residence.

Published in: on November 12, 2017 at 4:24 pm  Comments (1)  
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Interesting Story of Yaksha in Kenopanishad

Did you know that the very first Avatara much before the famous Dasavataras was that of a Yaksha? I did not know this until I studied Kenopanishad. Here’s the story of this avatara from the Upanishad itself:
There was once a fierce fight between the devas and the asuras in which the asuras were thrashed. Having won decisively, the Devas had a great celebration. Devas congratulated and praised their leaders Indra, Vayu and Agni who stood out as the main architects and heroes of the victory.This victory had gone into their head as they seemed to believe that it was all their glory.They forgot that there was an invisible hand of Eswara behind and  the victory in fact belonged to Him. So, Eswara decided to show them their place. He took the form of a Yaksha(a celestial being)and appeared before them. Indra, Agni and Vayu saw the Yaksha and were captivated by the beautiful form. They could not take their eyes off the beautiful Yaksha. Before they could approach him to find out who he was, the Yaksha vanished.

Indra, intrigued by what happened, became curious to know who the Yaksha was. He asked Agni to go and find out. Agni went in the direction in which the Yaksha went, found him and asked: Who are you? The Yaksha just smiled and without bothering to answer asked Agni:”Who are you?”. This was the first slap on Agni’s face since he is famous all over the world. He replied: I’m Agni. Yaksha asked: What do you do? This was the second slap on his face. He replied: I’m capable of burning the whole world. Then as if to supplement this information, Agni added: I’m also known as Jataveda – I’m responsible for blessing people with wealth and knowledge.( As Jataveda, Agni is privileged to  receive oblations from devotees and pass it on to the respective Devatas. The devotees, in turn, are blessed with the benefits of the rituals). Clearly, this was an attempt, on the part of Agni to display his pride and salvage his ego.

Unimpressed, the Yaksha placed a kucha (a dried piece of grass) in front of Agni and said casually: Oh, you can burn anything and everything! Great. Then, Please burn this kucha (a dried piece of grass).

This is like adding insult to injury. It’s like asking Mohammad Ali, the great boxer to fight with a street urchin. Unperturbed by insults, Agni tried to burn the grass. However, he could not burn it even when he sat on it.  Humiliated thus, Agni retreated and reported to Indra that he could not figure out who it was.

Indra then sent Vayu on the same mission. He was also asked similar questions by Yaksha. Vayu also tried to impress him with his impressive biodata consisting of his alternative names, his capabilities and achievements.  As it turned out, Vayu also faced the same ‘Kucha’ challenge. That is, he was asked by the Yaksha to blow away a dried piece of grass. Expectedly, Vayu also failed the test and it was now the turn of Indra himself to find out who this stranger was.

As Indra went near the Yaksha, he simply vanished. Agni and Vayu could at least see him and even had a chat with him, although they could not make out who it was. Indra was intrigued by the turn of events. Undeterred and not accepting defeat, he just sat there meditating and praying. His prayers were answered soon as Uma appeared before him at the same place where the Yaksha stood before. She explained to Indra that the Yaksha was none other than Brahman itself. Enlightened thus, Indra went back and taught this knowledge to Agni, Vayu and all the other Devatas.

The story is symbolic. It encapsulates the teachings of Keenopanishad beautifully. The story starts with a statement that Brahman won the war for the Devas in their fight against the Asuras. However, in the moment of victory,  Indra, Agni and Vayu felt the victory was theirs. This is typical of all human beings. When we succeed, we forget the invisible hand behind. On the other hand when we lose, we blame Him(Eswara). The Devas are no different. Therefore, a lesson had to be taught to them. Brahman manifested in the form of a Yaksha. The fact that Agni and Vayu could see him but could not recognize who he was is also symbolic. Agni is the Devata (presiding deity) for speech whereas Vayu is the Devata for  the sense of touch. There is no way anyone can recognize Him(Brahman) through one’s speech or sense of touch. Taitriya Upanishad declares unequivocally that speech (words) cannot comprehend Him.

Then how come Indra could not even see Him. Indra is the presiding deity for the Mind and it’s impossible for one’s mind to enclose Him in thoughts. Taitriya Upanishad says: Even Mind retreats having attempted to enclose him in thoughts. How can anyone enclose infinity in one’s mind?

What, then, is the significance of the Yaksha appearing one moment and vanishing the very next moment when Indra tried to approach Him? Adi Shankara likens this act of Yaksha to lightning. The analogy is very apt. One cannot miss a lightning and at the same time one cannot see it too. Likewise, we might, at times, feel his presence under certain circumstances, albeit, fleetingly, only to lose the experience instantly. Intuitively, one might realize there is some force over and beyond what is visible to our senses. But that intuition will instantly yield place to our sense of ego.

Finally, Uma, in the story, represents Brahma Vidya or Sruti. Study of Sruti alone is capable of removing our ignorance. Uma appeared before Indra only when the latter sat there in meditation with a passion to know. Thus knowledge is given only to passionate seekers.

Thus the Avatara of Yaksha conveys the main theme of Kenopanishad which declares that there is an invariable presence of Brahman in every experience and cognition. Nothing ever is accomplished without His presence.

 

Published in: on November 5, 2017 at 4:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Vienna – An interesting City

Vienna means different things to different people.

To lovers of western  of music, it’s the place to spend an evening listening to  classical music, orchestra or operas.To those interested in paintings, it’s the city where you’re sure to find museums with brilliant and unusual collections of Picasso, Monet and Braque. To those interested in architecture, this is the place where old Gothic style architecture mingles freely with daring modern innovations in architecture. To men of science, this city offers plenty of opportunities for learning. Historians and chroniclers of the city have a lot of stories to share of the past empires, monarchs and the palace intrigues while businessmen meet here to clinch deals.

What does it offer to me who is a mere casual tourist with just half a day to spare after a couple of days of mundane technical meetings? This is my second visit to this nice city and so had some idea of how to go about in the city. Like many European cities, this one too is tourist friendly. Moving around from place to place is easy, fast and more importantly cheap. One could buy a ticket for a dirt cheap price of 7 euros for traveling anywhere through the entire metro network for 24 hours. So, I first bought a one-day ticket after deciding on the places of interest. I took a metro to Stephenz Platz and as I stepped out of the station, I saw a magnificent cathedral ( Saint Stephenz Church) built during the 12th century. The Gothic style architecture presents eye-catching pointed arches and ribbed vaults. The grand architecture of this style can be seen clearly in the pictures below:

(more…)

Published in: on October 29, 2017 at 12:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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A Birthday Celebration in Chennai

We celebrated our grandson’s first birthday last week in Chennai. The religious function is called AYUSH HOMAM meaning a Homam (fire ritual)performed for longevity, health and prosperity of the child. Among several religious functions celebrated in South India, this one can, perhaps, be rated as the shortest & the sweetest!  It’s sweet for more than one reason. For one thing, it takes hardly an hour and a half to complete the ritual. Secondly, the atmosphere is completely informal and light. Also, there is no time pressure for anyone – neither for the direct participants nor for the guests. Once started, everyone knows that events will move smoothly on autopilot mode which means all of us can completely relax.

Physicists theorize about several parallel universes. Here, under one roof, one can actually experience many worlds.

The world of priests chanting away enchanting Samaveda is complete by itself. A rare breed of six priests, well versed in Samaveda, went about their task of singing the musical Vedic mantras gloriously, unconcerned about the audience. The mantras are derived from Rik Veda and one can actually describe Samaveda as Rigveda set to a certain musical tune. Samaveda, according to one interpretation, was sung by our Rishis, when they were in a trance experiencing Brahman (Brahm-ananda). Sama, by the way, is considered the foremost among the four Vedas. That’s why Lord Krishna declares in Gita – “Among Vedas, I’m Samaveda”.

While almost none from the audience was following or listening to the musical mantras being chanted, there was one knowledgeable octogenarian who was listening intently. He pointed out later that one important section of the Veda was not chanted by the priests!

Men & women belonging to generation X formed their own groups and were seen chatting away in clusters.

The middle-aged and somewhat older adults got together in separate groups.They were also completely relaxed pulling each other’s leg and  engaged in hot political debates. Yes, if you’re debating GST or DeMo, it has got to be hot.

The chef and his team formed yet another world who were busy serving hot beverages, special delicacies and lunch. This group is perhaps next only to the priests in importance in the successful celebration of the function.

Amidst all this, children were having fun all by themselves running around.

And last but not the least, it’s the  world of the infant all by himself in whose name everyone gathered. He was the cynosure of all eyes.The little one seemed to be completely confused and was perhaps wondering what the fuss was all about. With so many strangers trying to hold him or cajole or coax him, making all kinds of noisy gestures, humour him, feed him, kiss him, he was looking completely nonplussed. When he smiled by default, everyone laughed in chorus. He was, however, unusually calm and well-behaved in spite of  the fact that his privacy was being invaded right, left and centre. Here are a few pics of the little hero:

 

And finally, what does the little fellow say about the celebration? Here’s a beautiful video shot which captures his reaction. Isn’t he saying: Please…Please….. leave me alone….Enough is enough?

Published in: on October 1, 2017 at 9:21 pm  Comments (1)  
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Riddles in Vedanta(Upanishads)

Zen masters are well-known to use riddles (or Koans) as a preferred method of teaching. However, the origin of riddles dates back to Vedanta or Upanishads much before Zen koans came into existence. In this post I will try to present one such riddle straight from Keenopanishad. Here the riddles are presented in the form of seemingly contradictory statements. The resolution of the contradictions leads to understanding.

The Upanishad starts with a question from a student: Willed by whom or prompted by whose presence, do the sense organs perform their functions such as seeing, hearing, speaking, thinking or breathing?

The teacher says: “It’s the self (Atman or Brahman) which is indeed the ear of the ear, eye of the eye, speech of the speech” etc. The implication is that the ear, eyes, mind, organs of speech etc perform their functions merely by virtue of the invariable presence of the self, the Atman. He elaborates further saying that eyes, ears, organs of speech or the mind cannot objectify the Self or Atman. The student is confused. He wants to know if nothing can objectify the self, how does one arrive at this knowledge? The teacher says in exasperation: We do not know how to impart this knowledge except to say that Brahman is different from anything known or unknown! The teacher elaborates further: Brahman(Atman) is that which is not revealed by speech, eyes, ears or the mind but it’s that because of which all these organs function.

Just as some clarity seemed to be emerging, the teacher bowls yet another googly: “If you think you know Brahman very well, then you know very little of Brahman’s nature”. The implication of this statement is that Brahman is not an object to be known.

Now it’s the turn of one smart student to respond. He says: “I consider It known to me”. The teacher was taken aback by this bold statement. Therefore, the student explains himself: “I do not consider that I know Brahman well – Nor do I not know.  I know and also do not know”. Then the student makes a final remark: Whoever understands my statement above also understands Brahman.

As the dialogue between the student and the teacher ends, the Upanishad, picking  up the thread, sums up thus: Brahman is known to him who does not consider it an object of knowledge. He who considers it as yet another object of knowledge will never ever come to know Brahman. For those who really know, it’s not known (as an object of knowledge) and for those who do not know really, it’s known (as an object of knowledge).

This entire dialogue and even the summary of the last paragraph will surely drive anyone mad if it’s not taught by a competent teacher. The student surely needs a teacher who has himself studied under a tradition-bound teacher. It’s the way in which the words of the Sruti are handled by a teacher that makes these mantras meaningful.

Finally, the  Upanishad gives clarity in the mantra 4 of chapter 2. In this famous mantra, the mystery is finally unravelled. It declares: PRATI BODHA VIDITAM MATAM.

The Upanishad says in this mantra:Brahman manifests in every cognition and every experience. One does not have to go after a special experience to experience Brahman. He is present in and through every experience! Indeed it’s the invariable presence of Brahman which makes the Jagat what it is.

This mantra, if properly understood, will dismiss all schools of philosophies which say that Brahman is beyond all thoughts and hence one has to dive deep within and wait for that special experience. On the contrary, this Upanishad highlights that with proper understanding, one can experience Him in every thought and cognitive experience. If one probes this statement further, it will lead to Advaita philosophy(non-dualism)

Towards the end of the Upanishad, an interesting story is presented to drive home the message.

 

 

 

Published in: on September 16, 2017 at 7:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Our Innate Gender Categorization

Here’s a confession that a good friend of mine made to me recently when our city went under water:

“As you are aware Mumbai is swimming in the floods of the Monsoon. This left my young grandson alone in his flat in CBD Belapur. His mother is in Jaipur, and his father is incarcerated by the deluge in his Prabhadevi Office. We have all been concerned, and have been in contact with Omkar constantly, more so his grand mother, my Lady Wife, through Phone, Messaging, WhatsAp and other devices.
Omkar and I use the German language for communication, to improve that of both of us . Omkar WhatsApped me just now saying, in German, which I translate “Don’t worry about my food, Grand dad. Lalitha Bai has just come in”.
My friend continued: “Frankly Doktor, I do not know this Lalitha Bai, but I guess from her name that this must be a woman. My first relief on hearing this information was great. Soon I bit my tongue in remorse and shame. Why do I assume that a woman MUST be competent enough to take care of such situations, in fact it is her duty? Would I have been equally relieved if somebody called Salman Khan ( the very name oozes masculinity!) had arrived at the Flat? In fact in my sympathy I would have said that makes two starving fellows! Omkar too is guilty of the usual Indian foible. He implies, Lalitha Bai is here, so she will cook me some food. He does not say she is here, so I do not have to be alone. Mea Culpa, Hr. geehrter Doktor!”

I wrote back to him saying: “Yes, this categorization of genders is deeply ingrained in the Indian psyche. Not many would even realize they are guilty of this. I added further:  I would have responded exactly like you under similar circumstances. I must also confess to you as I would have failed the test too. Thanks for making me conscious of this. As J Krishnamurthy says being attentive and aware itself can be a transformative experience”.

Later, I put myself a question – what accounts for this innate tendency of men in India to  categorize gender in terms of stereotyped roles? The answer came a few days later in the form of a Whatsup Post from my daughter. In her post she shared a lesson my granddaughter was taught in her preschool. Here are the questions and the dictated answers:

Q. Who takes care of the family? Ans:Mother

Q. Who earns money for the family? Ans:Father

Q. Who tells you stories at home? Ans: Grandma and grandpa

My daughter was furious. She wanted to know whether the female teachers teaching this lesson are working for free. Are they not being paid their salaries? She says rightly that even in India the society is changing fast and the roles of men and women are far more flexible today. Are the teachers living in 1980s?

It’s ironical that the very female teachers who are earning teach children a lesson which is completely out of line with the present day realities.

It’s perhaps this kind of teaching early in our childhood and our upbringing that makes us think in terms of stereotypical roles for men and women. Brainwashing children at an impressionable age goes in the name of teaching in India.

 

 

Published in: on September 9, 2017 at 10:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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An Inspiring Parable of a Songbird

It’s said that the hardest thing in one’s life is to figure out what one ought to do. Doing is relatively easier once we have clarity on what  to do. As the 19th century philosopher Nietzsche said:  No one can build the bridge on which You and you alone must cross the river of life.

Here’s a sweet tale of a songbird in a book titled The Blue Songbird by Kousky which beautifully highlights this insight:

It’s spring time and a blue songbird in a golden island admiringly listens to the sweet singing of her siblings each morning. She desperately longs to be part of the singing group and makes repeated efforts. However, she could never get the tune right. This frustrates and depresses the songbird. She concludes pathetically that there is no song in this world which she could sing. So she goes to her wise mother and asks her : “Is there any song in the world which I alone could sing”. Her mother counsels her lovingly: Get out of the comfort of the nest, go and find that special song which you alone can sing.

Encouraged and inspired by her mother, she decides to fly across the great seas in search of her special song. Crossing oceans over several days, the bird finds a long-necked crane and seeks her advice and help to find the unique song which she alone could sing. The crane has no answer. However, she points towards a far off mountain on the horizon which is the abode of the wisest bird and tells her : Go and ask the wisest and the oldest bird.

With courage and determination, the songbird goes flying again in the direction pointed by the crane. She flies deep into the forest and finds an old owl who simply hoots and frightens her away. The bird continues her search once again. She flies far and wide crossing several mountains and oceans only to get nothing specific in answer to her question. No one could suggest what she may sing as her unique song. Eventually she meets a scary crow in a strange land unknown to her and begs her not to eat her off. As the crow turns friendly, the bird asks whether she has any clue about what special song she and she alone could sing. The friendly crow tells her to fly far into the west where she might find one.

Not giving up, the songbird takes off once again crossing several strange lands and oceans. Finally, she sees a glow of lights and an island. She could also hear soft beautiful music and thinks she has at last reached the right destination. Elated,  she swoops down…. only to realize she is, after all, back home!

Completely frustrated and in tears, she goes to her mother. Overwhelmed by emotion, she feels a great urge to tell her story of where all she traveled, her meetings with the crane, the unfriendly owl, the scary crow and numerous other birds. But as she opens her beak to tell her story, what pours out was a song – a special  song of her own!

This simple story is an inspiration to all – young and old alike – searching desperately to find answers to who they are or what they are.

 

 

Published in: on August 26, 2017 at 7:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

That mysterious extra ingredient —

What is it that made the soft Drink Gold Spot very popular for more than 3 decades? It is the ‘zzing thing’ as the advertisers say.
There are Colas and Colas in the soft drinks market. But what is so special about Coco Cola? It is the presence of something exotic in the concoction which remains a trade secret to this day.
What is the secret behind the runaway success of Fevicol? It is again the special formulation containing a few additives. One can go on and on with several examples including my wife’s idlis which are unbelievably soft because it is blended with a special ingredient – Flattened rice flakes known as Aval in Tamil or Poha in Hindi.
Food additives is a multimillion dollar business. An ice cream will not taste like one without the presence of that small amount of additive called emulsifier which gives it a smooth texture. Likewise cakes and several other delicious bakery products derive their taste and texture mainly due to the specialty chemical additive called GMS.
Even industrial chemicals and their processes critically depend the magical additives. One can not make phosphoric acid without a few drops of defoamer which suppresses foaming in Rock phosphate. Similar additives play a role in metal extraction industry.

Cosmetic industry affords a great opportunity for additives. Sunbathers could soon tell when to move out of sunlight and take shelter in the shade thanks to an early warning sunburn indicator. Researchers have developed a strip of plastic, containing ‘smart’ ink, which turns colourless from an initial blue colour just before exposure to too much ultraviolet light from the sun, prompting you to move into the shade before you burn. Obviously it contains a specialty chemical additive.

Even in music, the artist, who comes up with off-beat and unpredictable variations bringing in that additional punch, makes a mark. In all spheres of human endeavour, it is always that additional something that stands out and contributes to success.

On one occasion, my brother added a new twist and an interesting dimension to this during our family get-together. As my sister made her specialty item ‘Baigan bartha’ and served the same, he said it is exceptionally good and went on to have several rounds of servings of the same. Then,while appreciating the special dish, he wisecracked saying that it sure contains a very special extra ingredient which accounts for its exceptional taste. When we inquired as to what he meant by that, he quietly said: It is Affection(‘anbu’ in tamil) in abundance.
Perhaps, this is the most fundamental and somewhat mysterious ingredient which is missing in many things that we experience today.

Published in: on August 13, 2017 at 12:16 am  Comments (2)  
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Why Zebras don’t get Ulcers – An Interesting Book

Visualize a scene where a zebra is being chased by its predator, say, a lion. That is the moment of do or die for the zebra. Aided by its evolutionary instinct for survival, it will run like hell for its life. In a few minutes after the chase begins, it’s all over for the zebra – either it is chased down and killed by the lion or it manages to escape. Either way, it’s all over. During the chase, its blood pressure could peak to 180. However, once the chase is over and it saves itself, it’s back to its normal self within a few minutes. How does it get back to its normal state of health so fast? The zebra does not brood over the past nor does it get anxious worrying about another possible chase by yet another predator in the future. It won’t ask questions like – why did it happen to me? If it happens again, how will I face it? Will I survive another attack? etc. It knows only one thing, that is, to keep running if a predator chases. That’s because it doesn’t have a well-developed brain which is, in a way, a great blessing. This is the major difference between we humans and all the other primates. Unlike a zebra, the human mind would not rest after a traumatic experience. It will keep brooding for ever on the same episode. Add to this our anxiety about insecure future and you have a deadly combination causing chronic & continuous stress. It’s this chronic stress, according to the author, that makes human beings susceptible to a variety of diseases such as diabetes or hypertension.

This book reminded me of a story I read long time back in a scripture called Yoga Vasishta. The story goes like this:

Long time ago there lived three princes in a city which did not exist. Of the three two were not born and the third one was not even conceived. The princes having lost all their relatives started wandering.They arrived at the banks of three rivers out of which two were dry and the third one had no water. The princes had a refreshing bath and quenched their thirst in them. Then they arrived into a huge city which was going to be built. Entering the city they found three exceedingly beautiful palaces. Of the three, two were not built at all and the third one had no walls. They entered the palace and invited 3 holy men to be their guests of which two had no body and the third had no mouth. After the 3 men had taken food the princes ate the left over. They felt happy and happily lived ever after in that city….

What does one make of the story? One is likely to dismiss it as ridiculous and non-sense. However, tell me how is it different, for instance, from a typical Indian parent worrying about the marriage of their son or  daughter? Here’s an example of a parent agonizing over the delay in fixing his son’s marriage:  What will happen if his marriage is delayed — what if he doesn’t get a suitable bride.. he will end up marrying a girl who is not educated .. not belonging to our caste…or worse still, he may remain unmarried… in which case he will have no one taking care of him.. . when my son reaches old age he will have none to support him… so on so forth.

To my mind this is no different from the story from Yogavasishta.

I have an over-simplified explanation (a mere speculation) of how a complex mind functions. It is as if we have a circuit for creating misery and one for unnecessary excitement.  What is common to both the circuits is endless analysis of ifs and buts of any given situation. So the subject lives in a non-existent future feeling either elated or miserable. The story from Yogavasishta falls in the second category of an excitement-seeking mind.
Human mind thrives on problems and worries. If there are no real problems to solve, it will create imaginary ones to worry over.

Let me narrate one more story from YOGA VASISHTA which depicts the same phenomenon of mind inflicting misery upon the body. Here is a very short version of the story:

There lived in a dark forest a man with thousand hands. Terrified with the darkness all around in the thick forest, he was roaming about restlessly in the jungle. He was beating himself with all the thousand hands. Seeing this, a sane person meets him, tries to bring him to senses and gets him out of the dark jungle . But then he feels uncomfortable in the daylight, having lived in darkness of the jungle all his life. He runs back to the forest blaming and cursing the sensible man for all his problems.
The story again may seem ridiculous. It’s just symbolic. The thousand hands represent his miserable mind filled with negative thoughts inflicting injury on himself. Troubled by his mind, he can neither help himself nor be helped by others.