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)


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


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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Musings on Honour – An Anecdote

Here is the famous quote of Falstaff, a character in Shakespeare’s drama Henry IV, on Honour:
Can honour set to a leg? no: or
an arm? no: or take away the grief of a wound? no.
Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? no.
What is in that word honour? what
is that honour? air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it?
he that died o’ Wednesday. Doth he feel it? no.
Doth he hear it? no. ‘Tis insensible, then. Yea,
to the dead. But will it not live with the living?
no. Why? detraction will not suffer it. Therefore
I’ll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon: and so
ends my catechism”

Yes, detraction will not suffer it. Yet, we conduct our lives everyday as though our very lives depend on this. It’s honour which propels us to become something other than what we are. A guy who is not famous wants to become famous and a guy who is already a celebrity wants to become anonymous. I did not believe the second part till I heard this interesting anecdote about the famous film actor Rajanikant. He is believed to have exclaimed in an interview: “How I wish I could revisit my good old days when I used to enjoy a leisurely walk on railway platforms during long distance travels. The hustle and bustle of stations with vendors selling eatables, the sight of passengers rushing in to occupy their seats, chatting away for hours with co-passengers on every topic under the Sun – all add up to make travel a lively experience to cherish. Now that I’m a celebrity, these experiences are lost for ever”. Evidently,fame comes with a price tag.

Here is another story of honour of a taxi driver whom I met in Chennai last month. His story is interesting as well as enlightening. Early in his life he started a business in textile garments with a partner. He made good money and expanded his business and started exporting garments. At one point, he borrowed more than 50 lacs to service an export order. He incurred heavy losses in the transaction as his partner cheated him.(He didn’t give me further details of how he lost nor was I interested). This is where his story gets poignant. When he was in deep debts, everyone deserted him. He had to face humiliation by his friends and relatives. He said: “I lost my name and fame with money. Everyone started ridiculing me. Even my daughter and son-in-law kept a safe distance from me”. According to him, he lived in ignominy for a few years and then started driving a taxi. He says:”This car doesn’t belong to me. I’m only a driver doing airport duty picking up passengers to and from the airport”.  He then adds significantly: “I’m the happiest man today. I work, get paid, eat well and sleep peacefully”.

One doesn’t know how much of the story is made up, but then there is a lesson in his story. It shows that for many of us it takes a big calamity to understand the secret of happiness. Take the case of the driver. He was seeking happiness through money, name and fame. His life, his honour and his happiness depended on it. He struggled and made money. He got name and fame. He continued to struggle to multiply his wealth and to protect his reputation. Finally when he lost his wealth, he lost his honour and self-respect because he equated wealth with honour. Now he became wise and started driving a pre-paid taxi and surprisingly found himself extremely happy. He realized that the simple formula to happiness is to keep life very simple and uncomplicated. As J Krishnamurthy says: Happy is the man who is nothing!

Published in: on April 8, 2016 at 11:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Of Family tree and Quality time

My daughter & her little son were on a short holiday for 10 days in Bombay recently. Thanks to my grandson there was not a single dull moment. Ten days that she spent with us felt like 10 minutes and before we realized, it was time to leave for the US. I told my daughter: It looks like we did not spend much quality time together since I was all along playing with my grandson. She disagreed and said: No, how can you forget about the story sessions we had about our ancestors? I nodded in agreement.

We, indeed, had a couple of great sessions recollecting a few old stories of the family. When she first suggested that we draw up our family tree, I was reluctant saying it would be a boring exercise to dwell into the past. But she prevailed upon me to go through with the sessions. To my surprise, it proved to be an invaluable experience in several ways. For one thing, we did not limit ourselves to merely drawing up a family tree. We literally relived the past with a number of interesting stories. There are stories within stories, histories within histories, plots and counter plots. There were stories of love, passion, happy marriages, unhappy marriages, anger, jealousy, joy, misery, brilliant achievements, stories of vagabonds – you name it and you have it! It’s up to the narrator to make the narrative interesting and spicy.

Normally such narrative sessions get more interesting if one of our siblings is present to add or subtract to our stories. In my case I missed the presence of my sister who is definitely better informed in these matters.

Family history and stories are always fascinating. I’m reminded of what Salman Rushdie says in his book Midnight’s children: Memory has its own special kind. It selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates, minimizes, glorifies, and vilifies also; but in the end it creates its own reality, its heterogeneous but usually coherent version of events; and no sane human being ever trusts someone else’s version more than his own.” He adds further:”partial nature of these memories, their fragmentation that make them so evocative for me. The shards of memory acquired greater status, greater resonance because they were remains. Fragmentation made trivial things seem like symbols, and the mundane acquired numinous qualities.”

One specific story, I particularly relished telling my daughter was about my grand father’s brother-in-law. He fought court battles throughout his life trying to recover his huge landed property he lost to an unscrupulous distant relative. During his visits to our place in our village, he used to spend several hours every night after dinner narrating the story of Mahabharata. Narration of stories from Mahabharata was just an excuse for him to tell his personal stories of how he lost his property. Comparisons with real life characters were inevitable as he used to compare himself with Yudhishtira and the guy who usurped his property with Duryodhana.

I happened to listen to stories from my wife’s side next as my daughter wanted to draw up the family tree from her mother’s side. Amazingly, I found that the stories are more or less similar. One will find similar emotions and passions on display. The variations may be only in degree but in essence they are all alike.It’s perhaps in this sense that J Krishnamurthy said: You are the world and the world is you! How true. I also found in these stories a full endorsement of insights of Leo Tolstoy. He observed famously in his novel Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

I think the curiosity to know about one’s roots is innate to all human beings. In the West one hears stories of people using DNA fingerprinting to establish roots and understand their old cultural heritage dating back to several hundreds of years.

Published in: on June 27, 2015 at 9:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Happiness is a State of No Mind

This was my response to a guy who said happiness is a state of mind. He said: You are simply playing with words. I denied and explained my statement:

Just think about the moments when we experience happiness. We all have fleeting experiences of happiness. For instance, you sit in a music concert hall to listen to your favourite artist rendering songs you like. After the concert, can you recollect the highs and lows of the concert? Let us say the concert goes more or less on the expected lines with no surprises. Then you say to yourself: Looks like the guy is not in form today. But when he comes up with unexpected turn of phrases which are either melodious or rhythmic or simply brilliant, those are the ‘aha’ moments. right? Rest of the concert may be just ordinary and you sit through only because he comes up often with such brilliant and unexpected phrases. Have you ever wondered what precisely is that ‘aha’ moment? It’s the moment when your mind is completely knocked off. Or there is no mind to think and complain. You forget yourself and time stops for a fleeting second! There is ‘no time’ and there is no complaining mind and you experience a blissful moment!

It’s the same mechanism at work when one hears a joke and laughs out loud instantaneously. It’s true of all happy experiences. That is why people join laughter clubs and keep laughing mindlessly (pun intended!). In other words you are tricking your mind into not just silence but into a state of non-existence! When you happen to taste a well made sweet which you love, again the happiness is due to the same mind numbing experience. Alcohol, drugs also take you high for the same reason.

Vedanta has a phrase to explain this kind of bliss: VISHAYANANDE BRAHMANANDAH (A quote from Vedaranya’s Panchadasi). The happiness that one enjoys through sense enjoyments is the happiness that comes associated with the Lord. In those moments, as the mind forgets itself, one experiences Eswara or the Whole.

This is what makes us chase experiences so we can have those fleeting moments of joy. We escape to far away tourist places – the farther away the place is from home the better! It’s for the same reason that we invent so many special days to celebrate. Starting with a happy new year, we celebrate happy birth days, happy anniversaries, happy father’s day, mother’s day etc. After all, if you reflect, what is a new year? Isn’t it merely the time taken for earth to go around the sun once? Are we celebrating the successful completion of the journey of earth around the sun? Poor Earth doesn’t have the time to take a break for any celebration. It has to keep going if it has to keep up its place in its orbit.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against celebrations. By all means we should celebrate. Celebrate out of happiness but not for happiness! If we learn to enjoy every moment, this business of chasing experiences restlessly will stop. This is where Vedanta teaching comes in handy. It says every experience in life is a divine experience filled with joy, if only we see His presence everywhere. For such a person, there is joy irrespective of whether he knocks off his mind or not.

Here’s wishing you all a happy new year!

Published in: on December 30, 2014 at 9:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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