A Holiday in Horsley Hills

Have you ever heard of this charming little hill station in Andhra Pradesh? It’s​ unlikely unless you’re​ living in Tirupati or Chittore district.  I never heard about this hill resort till I googled for info on hill stations in Andhra Pradesh. I was planning a summer get-away with my folks and considered the usual places like Ooty and Kodai at first. I soon realised that these popular tourist destinations are crowded and too far away from Tirupati requiring good planning well in advance. Therefore I decided in favour of a lesser known place Horsley Hills and made an online booking without even making enquiries about the place. When I later read the reviews, they were not encouraging at all. I gathered that May end is the very fag-end of the tourist season for this hill station . Desperately looking for some favorable news about the place we were going to visit, I inquired with a neighbour who knows the place well. But he didn’t say anything different. He said it’s as warm as Tirupati in summer.  I, therefore, forewarned my folks not to expect any great hill-station experience. I let them understand that we should be happy if there is no heat wave on the hills as in Tirupati or Chennai. With this background and toning down our expectations, we set out on our journey on one not so fine, warm day. We booked a well maintained Innova for our journey making sure the AC of the vehicle is in good working condition. That was a relief as we had a comfortable journey in spite of heat wave conditions on the way.

Travel always brings surprises – some pleasant and some unpleasant. In fact this unpredictability is what drives people to travel, I suppose. The first surprise was our stopover for tea. We stopped at a Rajasthani Dhaba for a much-needed tea break. Looking at the place and the ambiance, we did not expect the tea to be of any quality. To our pleasant surprise, though, the tea was excellent and beyond expectations. I would rank that tea on par or even better than what one would get in a decent 3-star hotel.

More surprises were in store for us as we reached our destination well before sunset. The place, it turned out, was much cooler than we expected. It was heavenly indeed. The guesthouse which is named as the Governor bungalow lived up to its name. Everything about the bungalow is posh – the size, the greenery around, huge corridors, clean & spacious rooms etc. I would highly recommend this bungalow for anyone planning a trip to this place. The huge corridors and a spacious sit-out made sure there was enough space to move around. This is especially important when one is travelling with kids. Besides, to our luck, there were hardly any other guests in the Bungalow which meant that we had the entire building at our disposal with an attender to take care of us. The only complaint we had for the bungalow was that the maintenance of the place was not up to the mark.

The sit-out was extremely cool as there was incessant breeze blowing across.  This was accompanied by a constant roar of the whistling wild winds making us wonder whether we were anywhere close to a seashore. It was an exhilarating experience especially because we were coming from Tirupati which was like a hot oven during this time of the year.

The following day we visited all the splendid view points. Here are a few pictures of the viewpoints:

I would venture to say that the view of the valleys and mountains around are comparable in their majesty with what one sees in Ooty or Kodai.

When we were not sightseeing, we had plenty of entertainment. My  7-month old grandson was our chief entertainer. He kept us company during his entire wakeful hours. Inspired, perhaps, by the ambiance, he showed splendid perseverance and picked up the technique of crawling for the first time even as we kept applauding. Here are a few pics of him entertaining us:

On the whole, the trip was memorable​ in several respects –  majestic viewpoints typical of any hill-station, a pleasant ambience with green vegetation all  around, a great bungalow to stay and finally a great entertainment centred around my grandson.

On the flip side, food was not up to the mark. As there was very little choice, we had to completely depend on the food served by the restaurant managed by the AP Tourism department. Needless to add it was lousy.

Published in: on June 7, 2017 at 12:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Smile that can make the day

Here’s​ my six months’ old grandson with a beaming smile without any provocation. (Click on the link below)

https://youtu.be/ObztIc5rV04

While smiling he looks at you fully focused and completely​ absorbed in the act. He invites a smile back and you have no choice but to oblige. You smile back as he gets even more ecstatic making all kinds of sounds. Then again you have no choice but to join him in the chorus or cacophony. It’s music set to no particular tune to all sitting around.  In fact it’s more than music as the infant weaves a magic all around and one quickly gets under his spell. It’s often said a smile is infectious but how about an infant’s smile? Won’t it launch a thousand smiles if not thousand ships? It’s a great blessing to start the day with an infant smiling innocently.

The enchanting smile of my grandson reminds me of a Shanti mantra which goes like this:

PoornaMadah poornamidam

poornat poornamudachyate

poornasya poornamadaya

poornamevavasishyate

This mantra is all about poornam. A simple translation of poornam is completeness. This mantra says everything is complete – this jagat, you, me. Each one of us is complete- as Rajaji says in his famous composition KURAI ONRUMILLAI. Yes, how can there be any regrets if you are complete by yourself. That is Poornamidam, the second line of the mantra. The first line says something which is easy to accept. It says Poornamadah – Brahman or Eswara or God is complete. The third line is reconciling the above two lines and says – Poornat Poornamudachyate, that is, from completeness is born completeness or completeness begets completeness. The fourth line says the obvious, that is, if you add poornam to another poornam, the result is also poornam. This is all pure Vedanta. A lot of  Vedantins have written commenteries on this. Here’s how this profound mantra applies to our interactions with a child.

I will replace poornam in the Shanti mantra with happiness or Ananda. This is acceptable because what is poornam is certainly ANANDA personified. With this substitution, the mantra, in its verse form, will look like this:

Happiness personified is the child – And so is the man, for, happiness begets happiness – Add happiness to happiness –  you still end up with happiness.

There is nothing like more happiness when you add happiness to happiness because there’s no scale for absolute, unconditional happiness. The child experiences this and transmits, as it were, to the elders. It’s unconditional because the child smiles without any reason or agenda and in turn we reciprocate by showing our happiness with an equally intense smile.

If only we can emulate a child, the world would be a very happy place to live in.

Published in: on May 26, 2017 at 12:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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Bahubali 2 – Full of Sound & Fury Signifying Nothing!

Last week I saw this film in Chennai . It’s a blockbuster no doubt considering that the theaters are running houseful even after more than two weeks of release. How does one classify this film? Is it a fiction based on history or a thriller spiced with romance or a film with special effects or about moral and ethical dilemmas or simply an entertainer? To me it’s none of these although it attempts or rather pretends to present all the above. Of course one thing it has common with all special effect movies is the high decibel noise. I’m always suspicious of the so-called special effect movies. They try to make up with big sets and big sound what they lack in content or a story line. This film is no exception to this rule.

We reached the theater well in time and even as we were searching for our seats, national anthem started suddenly without any notice. We instinctively stopped walking and stood like statues awkwardly in  the dark walkway. One wonders whether a cinema theater is the right place for our show of patriotism. The ambience is just not right for playing our national anthem.

After this ritual, we eventually found our seats and almost settled down before the movie began. But then will the movie allow us to settle down? No way – it starts literally with a big bang and there is no respite either for your ears or eyes as the banging continues all the way till the end. OMG, what an experience it was! May be I’m a little outdated in my views.  The noise was so unbearable that I had to run out of the hall for shelter towards the end of the film. I must have missed the last half hour of the movie – not that I missed anything worthwhile! I often wonder why people pay to get tortured like this. Well, it’s a philosophical question with no satisfactory answer. To each his own, I suppose.

Let me now turn to the plot of the film. In Bahubali 1, I’m told the heroin Ramyakrishna (who played the role of Rajmata) was portrayed as a strong personality with high moral standards. In striking contrast, in Bahubali 2, the same Rajmata was shown in a very poor light in ethical & moral conduct. While she commanded respect in Bahubali 1 for her strength of character, in Bahubali 2 she fell from grace as she failed to take morally correct decisions. Her decisions were clouded by her bias in favour of her biological son. To me this inconsistency in characterisation of the heroin is not convincing.

Two episodes in the movie stood out – one in line with women’s lib movement and the other completely out of line. In a commendable episode, Amarendra bahubali takes law into his hands as he hands out summary justice  by chopping off the head of a guy who molested several women in a public place. This scene was shown with much fanfare and melodrama. However the message is quite forceful in our present times when molestation and rape are everyday happenings.

If Bahubali showed courage of conviction in handing severe punishment to a sexual offender,  the powerful queen did everything to give just the opposite  message. The Rajmata orders the capture of a young princess on whom her biological son develops a crush. As it turns out, one wrong doing leads to another and yet another untill she finally gets Amarendra Bahubali killed. What a fall – a queen shown as a strong character in Bahubali1 is now shown in a completely different light and it’s not convincing.

If the movie shows any resemblance to a famous English film Lion King, be rest assured it’s only a coincidence! Don’t jump to the conclusion that the story writer or the director is guilty of plagiarism. The first coincidence is that in both the films there is an evil uncle who tries to outmonoevre and even kill the nephview.

The second coincidence is when Ramyakrishna, in the penultimate scene, lifts the baby bahubali(Mahendra bahubali)and announces to the public that the little fellow would be their future king. Here again, the close resemblance to a similar scene in Lion King is unmistakable. I will point out one more parallel and rest my case. The scenes where Mahendra Bahubali was brainwashed to fight back and win the kingdom is similar to Simba, the little lion being inspired by an old friend to take revenge for his father’s murder by his uncle.

Here’s my bottom line on the film: Overall, the film is full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

 

Published in: on May 21, 2017 at 3:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Well begun is half done

Someone asked me recently how long I would take to recite Vishnu Sahasranama. I said: Hardly 2 seconds. He thought I was kidding till I explained my logic which is the following: Vishnu Sahasranama starts with: Viswam Vishnu……, Right? If we understand the meaning of this properly, where is the need to recite the rest of the mantras? These two words capture the quintessence of Vishnusahasranama and even Vedanta. Here’s the explanation: These two words mean that the Universe is Vishnu. Once we say the Universe is Vishnu, nothing else needs to be told. The universe with all its diversity, the living & the nonliving, the sun, the moon, the planets, the entire cosmic order , the mind & intellect, the psychological order etc  are all manifestations of Vishnu. So evidently, the rest of the Vishnusahasranama is merely a matter of detail. You can check it out.

This is the beauty of our scriptures. The beginning lines of many of our scriptures are so well written that it becomes easy for any reader to follow the rest of the text. Here are a few more examples:

Consider Bhagavadgita, for instance. It starts with the lines: Dharma Kshetre Kuru Kshetre……It’s so beautiful. The field of an epic battle is being described as Dharma Kshetra. This is where Dharma will win and get established eventually. Entire Mahabharata is about Dharma and Gita makes a bold statement of this fact in the opening line itself. The rest of Gita deals with Dharma & Karma in all its dimensions and explains how it can be a vehicle for attaining the ultimate Purushardha, namely, Moksha. What a brilliant  beginning to the sacred text!

Consider yet another brilliant work of Vyasa – Bhagavatam. Here’s how it starts: Satchitananda Roopaya, Vishva Utpathyadi hetave, Tapatraya Vinasaya, SriKrishnave Vayam Namah. This opening verse contains the essence of the entire Vedanta. Krishna is described here as Satchidananda roopa.  The same terminology is used in Upanishads also to describe the formless Brahman. From this it’s clear that Hiduism, while preaching worship of form(idol worship), emphasizes the basic formlessness of the God. Itself being formless, It accommodates all form. In other words, It manifests as diverse forms in the Universe. The Sloka quoted above says precisely the same thing in the first two lines. The third & fourth lines reveal the Lord Krishna as the manifestation of Satchitananda Brahman who alone can rescue us from the sea of Samsara or bondage. To me, this is yet another brilliant beginning for an epic which is all about Lord Krishna.

I will take a couple of more examples from Upanishads and rest my case.

Let us take Taitriya Upanishad. It starts off with the line: Brahma Vit Apnoti Param. Tadeshabhyukta. Satyam Jnanam Anantam Brahma. It says: One who knows Brahman attains the highest Goal(Param).Then it goes on to describe what is the attribute of Brahman. It says: Satyam Jnanam Anantam Brahma. Volumes have been written to explain just this statement alone which defines Brahman.  If one understands this one line properly, entire Taitriya Upanishad is as well understood and assimilated.

Esa vasyopanishad is another great example of a great beginning. The opening line of the opening verse is: Esa Vasyam idam Sarvam.… It declares straight away that Eswara pervades the entire Universe. This statement is similar to Viswam Vishnu of Vishnusahasranamam which we saw in the beginning.

I suppose one can go on and on with several examples from our scriptures on the importance of a good & insightful beginning to any great work.

The title of the post is an old saying attributed to the Greek philosopher Aristotle. Not satisfied with this proverb, the famous poet John Keats, in one of his letters, points out that a more appropriate saying is: ‘Not begun and yet half done’. I think this applies to Upanishads in a sense. All Upanishads begin with a Shanti Mantra or an invocation. These mantras, with their very profound meaning, set the tone for the main Upanishad text. The Shanti Mantra puts the student in the right frame of mind to absorb the Upanishad message. Thus the teacher’s job is already half done.

More on the Shanti Mantras in another post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on May 1, 2017 at 11:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Self-Deception and Cognitive Dissonance

Can you hold two completely opposing or conflicting thoughts in mind at the same time and still be in peace. Not a chance. Human mind needs a resolution of conflicting points of view to maintain equilibrium. Otherwise it will be under tension. This is true of important existential issues as well as trivial day-to-day issues. To take a trivial issue first, consider our current political discourse. People who supported PM Modi after he took over as PM go all out to defend him even on an issue like demonetization which is hardly defensible. When you already have a mental picture of Modi as a pragmatic PM, you cannot entertain another conflicting idea of the same man taking politically motivated decisions. How does the mind resolve this conflict? It will ignore all facts of the case and defend someone who cannot be defended. Likewise, people who supported AAP in the beginning have every reason to feel disgruntled later based on his performance. However, they resolve the conflict in their minds by inventing new meanings to his actions. Basic point here is that the human mind can function in peace only when opposing points of view are resolved. If this happens without a proper inquiry this is self-deception?

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological state where two conflicting thoughts trouble the mind. This is often resolved by self-deception.
In a way one buys peace, however temporarily. Let me give an everyday example. Traditionally we are all conditioned from childhood to believe in God. But then as we grow up, our education makes us doubt this belief. This is a classic case of cognitive dissonance. I went through this phase. Every time  I went to a temple, my doubting mind which is educated would tell me: “Can’t you see how you and many others are wasting time in the name of a blind faith?. At the same time if I skipped any ritual enjoined by religion or  tradition, my innocent mind would quip: “Hey, you’re missing out on something important in life. Don’t be misguided by your science education”. The resolution came late  in my life after setting up a proper inquiry into all issues. Now whatever I do, I do with clarity and awareness. The point I’m trying to make is very simple. Can we resolve conflicts without self-deception? If we can’t, we end up leading lives without any direction. To resolve conflicts, we need to set up an inquiry and study all points of view objectively. The inquiry, in the particular example cited above, can either lead one to becoming an atheist or a firm believer. It may be right or wrong. But at least the internal conflict is resolved and one lives in peace and without cognitive dissonance.

Here are a few more interesting, if trivial, examples of self-deception and Cognitive dissonance in our daily lives. Let us say that our dietician convinces us to take a low-fat, low-carb diet. But then when we see a spread of yummy cakes and ice creams on a table in a wedding party, our mind is in a state of conflict or dissonance. How do we resolve it? We eat it anyway and justify that saying things like: “We live only once. Let us live it up. In any case, exceptional violations of diet rules should not matter”. This is a classic example of post hoc rationalisation. That is, you do a forbidden act and then find ways of justifying the act.

The other day I was reading an article on American history (after the 2nd world war) which provided the following interesting case of post hoc rationalization: Franklin Roosevelt, after the second world war, uprooted hundreds of Japanese Americans based on a mere suspicion that they would indulge in sabotage. Having committed the atrocities, a govt spokesperson says: the very fact no sabotage has taken place strongly justified the action against them.

Here’s a trivial example of post hoc rationalization: let us say you have missed your favourite music concert you wanted to attend badly. After the event is over, you will perhaps look for every bit of news which will minimise your disappointment. For instance, you will be pleased to hear someone say: “The artist was not in his elements this time….. Also, there was a big traffic jam on the route to the concert hall and it’s good you didn’t attempt to go”. And finally an irrefutable philosophical justification will ensue: “Whatever happens is for the good”.

After all, human mind, in spite of evolution over millions of years, still has several limitations. Let us accept that the human mind is still a work in progress. But an awareness of its limitations helps us to recognise instances of self-deception at least on serious existential issues and take corrective actions.

 

Published in: on April 22, 2017 at 4:05 pm  Comments (1)  
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Crystal-gazing into Future

Human beings are fascinated by thoughts of future. A part of the reason for the fascination is that it triggers one’s imagination on the exciting possibilities and scenarios. This explains why have we so many books dealing with future. In this post, I’m going to introduce you to a young and upcoming author, Anirudh Chakravarthy, who has dealt with this topic in a unique and daring way with a narrative of his own in his book titled Kalki’s coming.  It’s daring because the author is able to visualize a future scenario when India becomes a super power. Well, more on that later in the post. Let me give a very brief review of the book:

Sometime in the far future, in a world ravaged by third world war, India becomes the number 1 super power with China at number 2 slot. While I like the idea, I would have liked to see more thorough and logical explanation of how this happens. Super power status is not a game of mere numbers or of demography.  However, granting that, the author certainly spins a nice web of plots and subplots around a few key characters. Through these characters, the author forcefully presents a case for banning science and technology as the twin evils out to destroy humanity. The ethical and moral dilemma for and against such a ban was discussed & well presented – Can one individual decide what is good for humanity? Does he know enough? What about the ethics of means adopted to keep out technological literature out of reach of the common man? Also having denied the humanity this knowledge effectively, is it sustainable?

It’s not clear to me, though,  how anyone can own all knowledge for himself and ban it for the rest. Further, will any one person along with his cohorts, be in a position to oversee the banning after a devastating world war? One cannot also expect an imperialist China to abandon technology and then steal the knowledge of weapons from India.  These are some of the grey areas which have to be addressed in an otherwise well-written book.

The story begins with the introduction of a self-styled messenger of God who is the ruler of India after the 3rd world war. He happens to believe strongly that as a ruler his primary responsibility should be to purge all evil represented by knowledge, science & technology. He justifies several sins and atrocities he commits in  the name of  protecting the human race from self-destruction in the future. It’s a case of just one man claiming to know what is good for everyone. One is reminded of what one witnessed in the communist countries after the 2nd world war. The ruler of India, in the present story, kills several who oppose his ideas. He projects himself as the saviour of people and a messenger of God. He resorts to exhibiting carefully orchestrated magical powers to impress gullible people and to convince them about his divine status.

The story takes an interesting turn when an alien is introduced. The alien with his supernatural powers is in a position to swing the balance of power in the ensuing conflict between good and evil*

While the story is simple, it’s handled well. The pacing of the story with rapid fire dialogues in some places, a fair amount of suspense till the end and a bit of romance makes it easy to read. The style of the language is very good and quite consistent. The dialogues are purposeful, have depth and offer insights into the questions of human nature, morality and ethics.  Here are a couple of examples: Kalki, the ruler of India, puts on the mask of a God’s messenger to hoodwink people into believing he has the divine right to rule. To counter that, we have another character who puts on a real mask and declares himself as an angel. A character in the story exclaims: “Don’t we all put on masks of one kind or the other in our daily lives?” How true!

To give another example of an insightful statement, a character in the story says that time is the ultimate winner after all. One may think one has achieved the ultimate good hiding technology away from people. But then, over time, another equally crazy guy would appear and undo what has been done before. Not to be outwitted by this logic, Kalki, the ruler says: I believe that God gives each one a certain role. We play the role as best we can, leave the stage and don’t worry about what happens later in time.

But then what is the final message of the story, I wonder. Is it that Human beings are stupid collectively but brilliant individually. This is perhaps implied in the story but has not been made clear. The stupidity of human beings arises out of the weaknesses like, envy, greed for power, perpetuation of power by any means and a condescending attitude to the common man. And these collectively cause the downfall of human beings.

Greed for power, revenge, one-upmanship​, love, hatred, compassion – virtually every emotion is on display in the story. The plots and subplots are nicely woven together and the author manages to bring to light certain profound facts about human nature.

 

*Portrayal of magical powers through Alchemy is perhaps avoidable considering that Alchemists involved in transmutation of base metals to gold were historically regarded as pseudo-scientists, counterfeit artists or quacks. Moreover, gold cannot be considered as a strategic resource to swing balance of power. One can perhaps think of more imaginative ways in which aliens can influence matters on earth.

Published in: on April 15, 2017 at 9:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Business of Busyness

Recently I received a ”forward” in FB which says: “Being busy is the secret of happiness”. Look at the logic put forth. “The busiest people are the happiest people(really?). Being busy gives one self-esteem and confidence. The flow of adrenaline when one is busy gives a feeling of  exhilaration, purpose and achievement. Being busy means you are bettering yourself and pushing your boundaries. You don’t get time for negative thoughts. It’s indeed the only solution to all human maladies”. Isn’t this complete nonsense? On the face of it, it sounds great and who ever reads will get carried away and instinctively pass it on to others as if it’s a great discovery. In case you are wondering why I disagree with this completely, here’s my defence:

Let me start off on a lighter note and quote  Ronald Reagan ( American president during 1980s) who was known for his ready wit and wisdom. Well, I’m not too sure about his wisdom but I have no doubts about his ability to come up with witty one-liners like the one below. Some one asked him why he shuns hard work and gets away to his ranch to relax every week-end. He said: Well, I know hard work doesn’t kill. But why take a chance?”. I’m sure you will dismiss this defence and laugh it off. That’s the power of witty one-liners, though. The interviewer would laugh it off and move to his next question.

Let me now go to the other extreme and quote a serious thinker and philosopher Albert Camus. He says: Of all the ridiculous things on earth, the most ridiculous thing is to keep oneself busy all the time. In his book titled The myth of Sisyphus, he dwells into his philosophy of the absurd. He compares the present plight of the common man with that of Sisyphus, a character from Greek mythology. The story goes that the gods condemned Sisyphus to a worthless task of lifting a rock from the bottom of a hill and carry it all the way to the top of the mountain only to allow it to roll back again to the plains. Sisyphus would have to go back again to the foot of the mountain and start all over again. The punishment was meted out by the angry gods since he apparently leaked out the secrets of the gods. There was no escape from this punishment​ until his death. Albert Camus says this is the plight of the entire humanity today.

We seek happiness through purposeless drudgery. We are busy like a bee the whole day. When we come back home, we are too tired to do anything except watch TV. We then go to bed only to get up and start all over again. This is the curse of the modern civilization. Isn’t this dehumanizing? The comparison with a bee is perhaps not appropriate since bees are busy for a purpose.

The tragedy is we don’t get time to reflect on our plight unlike Sisyphus who gets time to reflect on his fate the moment he completes the task of carrying the boulder to the top of the mountain. That’s his period of introspection and awareness. For, when he is busy carrying the rock, he has no time to think. But alas, a guy working in a city today doesn’t get any time for reflection on his pathetic condition!

Coming back to the FB forward I received, there is a complete misunderstanding between excitement and pleasure on the one hand and real happiness on the other. The flow of adrenaline gives one temporary excitement and pleasure which dissipates within a short time and reality of boredom bites once again. Therefore, one is compelled to keep chasing more excitements for more adrenaline flow and pleasure and the show goes on and on ad infinitum. You are, in other words, escaping from reality which you cannot face. This was precisely the sad plight of Sisyphus in the Greek mythology and this is the tragedy of the modern man too.

Let me share a secret. The glorification of ”busyness” is a historical conspiracy of the intellectuals. Plato and Aristotle set the ball rolling when they declared that drudgery or hard work was meant for the slaves. It seems that in Athens, during 5th & 6th century B.C, 30000 aristocrats had nothing useful to do since 200,000 slaves were being driven to do all the hard work (The slaves were called the Barbarians by the Greeks). The intellectuals had nothing to do except​ to indulge in arm-chair philosophy besides activities like hunting. The influence of these philosophers could be seen almost until medieval times in Europe. People from affluent families, the so-called aristocrats, were not expected to do any hard work while the poor worked hard. But all this changed abruptly after industrialization to such an extent that even the richest billionaire today cannot afford to relax. Being busy is a matter of prestige and status in the industrialized societies irrespective of whether one is rich or poor. Today, Busyness is being eulogized as a virtue. By whom? Ironically by those who are not busy themselves  – the intellectuals who have plenty of time in hand and have nothing useful to contribute to society. They condition everyone into believing that hard work is the only way to succeed in life and success is again defined by them.  The net result is that  everyone else takes it as the gospel truth and keep working hard without any respite or purpose like our tragic hero Sisyphus of the Greek mythology.

This is not a thesis against hard work or being busy per se.  Life has many dimensions and one needs to appreciate that the leisure time activities are as important or even more important than just being busy for the sake of some imaginary concepts of success.

Social media “forwards” are often very misleading and the gullible fall for it. These “forwards” perpetuate myths by insisting on the readers to forward to all their contacts.

Published in: on April 1, 2017 at 10:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Drug (Ecstasy) without Side effects

Yes, as you might have guessed, I’m talking about Music for sure. A good divine music is indeed like the drug Ecstasy except that one doesn’t experience its side  effects. It’s addictive like a drug but  a good addiction without any hangover. When   you are exposed to it,  it slowly takes you out of the sea of samsara or bondage to the sea of ananda (ecstacy)and before you realise you will feel completely liberated and free from all the  a worldly worries. This is especially so with Hindustani music. The magic begins the moment a maestro introduces a raga from its lower octaves at a very leisurely pace. There’s  absolutely no hurry as the artist stays on each note for a long time. (In contrast, in Carnatic style the musician shows a sense of urgency in moving  from one set of swaras to another).

However, for the magic of music to unfold, one needs a special ambience and special performers to do the job. Here is an account of my recent experience.

It is said that the path to paradise begins with hell. The path  is strewn with obstacles which the faithful should overcome.  This was indeed my experience yesterday when I decided to go for an evening Hindustani concert at Nehru Centre in Worli. It’s an unusual programme in the sense that it started early in the evening at 5pm and ended at 11pm (A full six-hour programme). The programme is titled Teen Prahar. Teen Prahar literally means three quadrants.  Hindustani tradition divides 24 hours of a day into 8 quadrants of 3 hours each and Ragas are classified according to the time of the day. For instance there are early morning Ragas, morning Ragas, afternoon Ragas, early evening Ragas, late evening Ragas, night Ragas and so on. The notes of Ragas play an important role in this classification. For instance, Ragas with shudha madhyama  are normally preferred in the morning like Bhairav, for instance. This was okay in the olden days when people had plenty of time on hand to listen to music throughout the day. But in the present day scenario there are two problems: Firstly, most of the programmes are arranged only in the evenings. Secondly, people have no patience to sit for more than a couple of hours. The net effect is that one gets to hear only a couple of repetitive evening Ragas like Yaman, bhairavi or bhageshri which specifically cater to the mystique of the twilight hours. Teen Prahar is an initiative to cover at least three quadrants of a day and present Ragas which are normally not heard in evening concerts. When it started a decade ago in Bombay, the programmes used to start early in the morning and end only at 11 or 12 midnight. The programme itself was called bhairav se bhairavi Tak by people who are musically savvy. That is, you start with bharav raag,  say, at 6 am and end with bhairavi raga at 12 midnight. Nowadays, the same programme is compressed to 5 to 6 hours – from 5pm to 11pm.

Yesterday I ventured out to attend this annual programme held at Worli which is about 30 km away from where I live. I left home at 3.30pm with packed dinner in hand. The first question was whether to take my car or take public transport. There are pros and cons and I finally decided on public transport since it was a week-end. I got down at Dadar station.  But then, as I came out of the Dadar platforms on the west side, I saw a sea of humanity  eating roadside junk food from Vada pav to pizza, spitting merrily everywhere, buying and selling readymade clothes etc. There was filth and dirt all around all the way till I reached the taxi stand. There I hopped into an old fiat – the so called kaali peeli cabs (yellow & black cabs) – which are perhaps 40 years old with worn out and corroded body and the interior perfectly matching with the shabby exterior in all respects. God knows whether they clean or replace the seat covers ever. As soon as I got in, the driver from UP (who else, on earth, can toil so hard in filth!) turned on the metre and to add to my disgust spat out paan and tobacco which he was chewing all along. The entire scene took me back to Mumbai of 1980s.  So, has nothing changed ever since then in these parts of Mumbai? Our PM Modi should visit this place at least once to see the ground realities and understand why Swatch Bharat doesn’t work. It’s not about spending money, it’s about changing people culturally.

In any case, meandering through several lanes and bylanes, my taxi got out of this messy place. We then passed through more decent localities such as Prabhadevi, drove through posh buildings of Worli and eventually reached my destination.

Yes, indeed, I did realize that the path to paradise is strewn not just with obstacles but lots of dirt and filth as well. And faithful as I am to Music, I managed to reach my destination which is even better than paradise.

So, did the evening fare prove to be as good as I expected? Yes, it surpassed all my expectations. It started off with Rahul Desh Pande’s Vocal recital in Shri Rag which one gets to hear rarely . This was followed by a great Santoor performance by Rahul Sharma who is the son of Pandit Shiva Kumar Sharma. He equalled or even surpassed his father. Towards the end of his concert, he attempted an innovation to bring in folk music. A Rajasthani folk musician came on stage and led the proceedings. He would sing a couple of lines and Rahul Sharma would follow it up with his own improvisations. It was a great contest to watch. This also showed how rich our folk culture is.

The grand finale to the evening was provided by Ustad Sujat khan on Sitar. Expectedly, he presented two great night Ragas, namely, bhageshri and bhairavi (bhairavi is the equivalent of sindhu bhairavi of Carnatic). Bhageshri is a night Ragas associated with the emotion  of a woman pining for her lover. There are a number of old film songs based on this raga. Here is one very popular Hindi song  from the film Anarkali based on this raga.

 

Published in: on March 19, 2017 at 11:27 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Flip Side of Social Media – A First hand experience

I had the first taste of the cost of social media during my recent trip to Singapore. I reached my hotel around 8pm on one evening and wanted to have a quick dinner as I was hungry. I didn’t have the patience to pick and choose a restaurant  nor did I have the time to travel to go to a place where Indian food is available. The hotel I stayed was in a place called Clark Quay Riverside, obviously a place meant for upwardly mobile Singaporeans. Nevertheless I decided to explore the place in search of an eating place. I walked around the Riverside which was great and refreshing but I had to cut it short as hunger pangs hit me hard. I looked around for an Italian restaurant and soon found one. I settled down in a cozy corner and waited for the waiter. The waiter came and gave me a menu card. I scanned through the card but needed some advice from the waiter.  ‘Firstly’, I told the waiter, ‘please understand I’m a vegetarian’ and added by way of abundant caution that I don’t even take eggs’. Strangely in many foreign countries egg is not considered as a non-vegetarian. The waiter nodded his head in appreciation and offered to bring pizza as his first option. But then I came to know  pizza size was too big for one person. I was, therefore, advised to take Pasta instead since the portions were small enough for one person. I settled for Pasta and started relaxing. Just then I heard a ping from my smart phone and I was curious to know who it could be from among my whats up groups. In retrospect, this was the beginning of my problem. Here’s how it unfolded.

I opened my What’s up chat groups and found that my family group was indeed active. I joined the group instantly to announce my arrival in Singapore. Just then the waiter came and asked me for my suggestions for toppings to Pasta. I said: put green vegetables liberally. I asked him to give me a list of vegetables available in the menu card. He said: Onions, sir. I said: fine and went back to my chat group. I texted a message to my daughter and son-in-law proudly announcing that my dinner had been ordered and it’s pasta in an Italian restaurant. The waiter in the meanwhile asked: Any other vegetable, sir?. I responded saying ‘Tomatoes’. As he noted down, I went back to my chat to reply to two comments already made – a wow from my daughter and one from my son-in-law with a hint of sarcasm. He said: yes, deep-fried pasta with a creamy cheese on top is indeed yummy! Defending myself feebly, I said: No, I’m told they only use virgin Olive Oil and returned to attend to my waiter’s next question on vegetables – do you want brocoli, Olives, cabbage and Brussels Sprouts too, sir?. I said: Yes, of course and went back to Whatsup chat.This time my daughter came to my rescue saying : Appa, don’t you worry. The vegetables and pasta are normally boiled in water for making pasta – not deep fried. My sister joined the chat and reprimanded my son-in-law saying: why don’t you allow him to have his dinner without feeling guilty about fat content or creamy layer and to encourage me added (more…)

Published in: on March 12, 2017 at 1:13 am  Leave a Comment  
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When Adharma becomes one’s Swadharma…

Last week I came across two bizarre stories. Here’s the first one. I happened to meet an old acquaintance and casually asked him  about his future plans. He said he is going to quit corporate life in 4 years from now. I was taken by surprise because he is close to forty, doing reasonably well in his career and has a family to support. Moreover he is generally cheerful in his disposition. I mean he is certainly not a cynical guy. So I asked him what happened. He said he will go back to his village. “And do what”, I persisted. To my utter surprise again, he said he wants to become a pujari or a priest in a temple. He, then, revealed a secret of his life –  he was once a priest in a temple before qualifying himself and getting into the corporate world. Perhaps, he now feels life in his village is more peaceful than the rat race in a corporate. I asked him who is going to take care of his wife and 7-year-old kid. He said casually that his wife is a CA and can take care of his kid and herself. Moreover, he is leaving behind a 65 lakhs worth flat for her. Well, one may or may not agree with his choice but he seemed bent on his decision. He may be following his Swadharma. (I’m using the term in the sense of one’s aptitude or natural inclination).

If the above conversation didn’t shock me or the readers, here’s a real shocker. This came from my driver on the following day. He said he met an old friend of his on the previous day whom he happened to meet after a gap of 6 long years. Where was he all these years, I inquired. He was in a jail in Thane for 6 years and was released recently. What was his crime? I asked. My driver explained further: He worked for a gangster or an extortionist in his area and we all know how they operate.  A self-styled  leader would crown himself as the badshah (king) of the area. Every shopkeeper in the area would pay up a monthly fees to the guy as protection money. Protection from whom? A badshah will explain succinctly: Well, I will protect you from myself! So, these badshahs demarcate their areas of influence and operate within that area. The problem starts when a badshah gets greedy and wants to extend his area of influence. In any case, to cut a long story short, my driver’s friend was hired by one badshah to kill another badshah. The poor fellow was caught by the police during the encounter, beaten up and jailed for 6 years.

I said to my driver: Poor guy, he must have got mentally depressed after 6 long years of isolation. My driver said: Sir, you are completely wrong. This fellow is in great spirits. He is in great shape physically as well. As proof of his statement, he showed me his photo on his smart phone. He went on to add: He is unrepentant and says he will definitely follow the same career – a career of violence, murder and the accompanying excitement. He is used to the excitement of living on edge and is lured by prospects of easy money. Now he has better network having met lots of criminals in the jail over the past 6 years. In short, he has a very well laid out career plan. He has plans to work as an apprentice under a politician who are always in need of thugs like him. And eventually who knows, he could become a badshah himself if luck favours him.

What a contrasting story. Both the guys are following their hearts. My wife says: to each his own.

Both are following Swadharma.

Once a guy is a criminal, it seems he is condemned to become only a more hardened criminal. A part of the blame for this goes to the society we live in. Is anyone ready to employ a guy with a criminal past except of course a politician? No way. So Adharma becomes his Swadharma. He finds his excitement only in immoral and criminal acts. If this is the psychology of most criminals (I hope not), this is truly dangerous. We urgently need rehabilitation programmes for ex-criminals.

On the other hand, it’s not surprising to find a person with saintly roots to seek opportunities to reset his lifestyle to suit his disposition.

Published in: on March 5, 2017 at 12:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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