The Moral Dilemma of Standing by your loved ones

Have you ever experienced this? That feeling of confusion when you are in a situation where someone you really love and care for is involved in a somewhat unpleasant situation and wants you to stand beside him or her? Do you try to be objective and actually try to ascertain who is wrong and who is right in such a situation? Or do you just say to yourself “So what if my friend maybe wrong, I will support him or her any way”?

It is indeed a very difficult situation. I think there is actually no wrong or right here. Whatever you do, you stand to lose in some way or the other. If you support your friend knowing that he/she is not right, you are not being true to your values and if you do not support him/her, you might end up feeling guilty for not standing by someone you really care for.

I have faced this kind of a situation very recently and it made me question what kind of a person I really am. A friend of mine was involved in some kind of business transaction and the other person was making unusual demands. Again, I did not whole-heartedly support the condiions that my friend was talking about. But, the other person was being very assertive (and let’s say quarrelsome). My friend though usually a very eloquent speaker and more than competent of taking care of himself, was unwell that day and not able to argue his point. Now, I am generally a very easy-going person but I don’t know why I just jumped into the argument and taking my friend’s side, I more or less blasted the other person. Both of them were rendered speechless because it was the last thing they expected me to do. Anyways, let’s just say that I won the argument on behalf of my friend.

But, later on, I just could not help thinking to myself why I did it. Maybe it was a feeling of being protective of the people I care about, maybe it was the fact that I felt there was an imbalance in the situation due to my friend’s incapacity to defend himself, or maybe it was just a momentary case of insanity on my part. It could be anything. But here’s the pertinent question that made me lose sleep for quite some time: How far would I really go to protect the people I care about? How far would you?

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Writing 101: Day19 – Free Writing: Walking through the Corridors of the Past

Recently, I visited the state of Tamil Nadu for an official tour. I was stationed in Madurai for a week. I have been to Madurai earlier as well but never managed to visit the Meenakshi Temple which is a famous tourist as well as religious place in Madurai. People from all over the world come to see this amazing work of art and appreciate its timelessness and beauty. So, this time I squeezed out enough time from my meetings and managed to visit the temple on the last day of my stay in Madurai.

As it is a religious place and as is common in Hindu religious places of worship, I had to submit my shoes at the entrance. The security also kept aside my mirror and a pack of chewing gum. Then I entered the temple campus. There are two shrines in the same campus. First, there is the one dedicated to Lord Shiva, the “Mahadeva” (Supreme God). I have never been a very religious person but I am a big follower of the Lord Shiva and the constant chanting of “Om Namah Shiva” calms my nerves as nothing else in this world. The moment I crossed all the checking and security, it was like entering into a different world.

Meenakshi Temple

Meenakshi Temple

The entire temple is made of stone which has withstood thousands of years. It was built somewhere in between 1623-1655 A.D. The sculptures were so intricate and beautiful that it made me marvel at the powers of perception and depiction of the artists who created them. The colorful crowd all moved around with the purpose of offering their prayers and at one side of the door was an elephant. Not a sculpture but a live one. And it was a showman. It lifted up its trunk to greet every passer-by and then demanded money by making sounds and extending its trunk. It is unbelievable how well animals can be trained. But, somehow even with an element of modern day consumerism, the presence of the elephant added to my feeling of being transported back in time.

At the entrance to the inner temple was a ticket counter. I could go and stand in the “free” line without paying any fee but the queue was longer there or I could buy a ticket of Rs 20 or Rs 100 and become a part of the shorter queue. The amount of entrance fee is, of course, inversely proportional to the length of the queue. Finally as soon as I entered the inner temple of Lord Shiva , the “aarti” (evening worship) started. The people around me said we were lucky to be able to witness it. In the darkness the idol of Lord Shiva could hardly be seen but the rhythmic sound of the bells and the thousands of oil lamps created a magical atmosphere.

Beautiful statue

Beautiful statue

After offering my prayers there, I went to the main Meenakshi temple. The name Meenakshi means fish-eyed (meena-fish and akshi-eyes). She is an incarnation of Shiva’s wife Parvati and the principal deity of this temple. Again here, there was a long queue and special tickets. So, I purchased one and entered the inner temple. Somehow looking at the architecture, the beautiful carvings, I was not at all concerned with the queue or crowd. I tried to take it all in as much as possible. After offering my prayers and coming out of this inner temple of Goddess Meenakshi, I wandered around and chanced upon a long corridor where strangely I found myself alone.

Walking though that corridor, I could not help but wonder how many different people from different periods of time, having different versions of “reality” have walked through this same corridor. I pondered over the frailty of this temporary human life as opposed to the permanence of the work we do and leave behind. This beautiful creation has transcended time itself. I was reminded of those beautiful lines written by my favorite poet John Keats in his “Ode on a Grecian Urn”:

“When old age shall this generation waste,

Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woes

Than ours, a friend to man,”

It was a truly spiritual experience for me.

Writing 101: Day15 – An Event to Remember

In this lifetime, I have come across many important events that have colored my imagination, chiseled my thoughts and shaped my personality. But when I think of one event without which a part of me would never even exist my mind takes me back to an evening of 16th August. I was too young to remember all the details but I do recollect that I had been waiting for that day to come, the day when I would hold him in my arms, the day when I would first see my little brother.

From the day my parents had told me that I would be having a little brother or sister to play with me, I was overjoyed. I had been the youngest member of a huge family and I couldn’t wait for someone to arrive who would be younger to me. However, once he arrived, I was a little disappointed. He was so small and weak. How could he be my playmate? Also, why had I never considered the possibility that I would have to share the attention of my parents and family with him?

But, as the days passed he became bigger and stronger. He started responding to my antics by gurgling with laughter and moving his tiny hands and legs. And I started loving him as I had never loved anybody else. I still remember the time when my Mom told me to watch over him and not lift him. But, telling me not to do something always has the equal and opposite effect. So, I lifted him in my arms when suddenly the telephone rang. I was so shocked by the sudden ringing that I almost dropped him but I myself took the fall and saved him from hitting the floor somehow. I think that is when I realized that my life would never be the same. It dawned on me that I had to protect that little being. That was the day when life and my little brother taught me about responsibility.

I cannot imagine how my life would be without him. Dancing in the rain in the monsoon, getting all muddy playing football in the front yard, fighting with each other and pulling each other’s hair out, all those unforgettable moments of childhood would vanish in a second. And then as we grew up, talking about our crushes and love life, discussing our jobs, having that occasional drink when both of us would get so philosophical that we would talk about everything from Plato to Tagore, all that would be gone as well. Of course, I have a sister too. But, she is so much younger to me that I didn’t get to spend much of my childhood with her.

I often think that the connection that we have with our siblings is elemental. Imagine no other people on earth are made of the exact same elements as you and your siblings. You share the same origin, parents, family and background. Life may take you different ways during your lifetime but you are like branches of a tree having the same root and however far away you are from each other, you got to come back to the roots some time.

So, had my parents decided not to have any more children after me, I would have missed out on a whole side of my life. Thanks Mom and Dad for not taking that decision.

Writing 101: Day2 – A View that has been imprinted on my memory..

They say that the best things in life are unplanned for. You just stumble upon something and you know that in some strange and unique way, it is going to stay with you forever.

It happened almost a year back. Taking a much needed break from our busy schedules and demanding jobs, my friends Arjun, Pooja, Sayan and me embarked on a 15 day trip to Ladakh. Ignoring the advice of a lot of people, we planned to take a road trip from New Delhi in an SUV. Our spirit of adventure started to wane when we left the plains and ventured into the mountains being on the roads for 14-16 hours every day in addition to the unease that we started to feel due to the scarcity of oxygen in the great altitude. That day on our way from Manali to our camp in Sarchu, we were all feeling more than a little dizzy when suddenly we came across a view that just made us forget everything. We stopped the car and got out.

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It was a small lake in Jispa. There was a solitary yellow boat tied to the green shore. The blue water of the lake was as transparent as the glass. The undulating meadows on the other side of the lake seemed to be the mysterious lands where magical creatures abide. And then at the end there were the Himalayas, standing tall and magnificent, a force to reckon with. I have seen many other beautiful sceneries, a lot many on this same trip. But, for some reason, I have never felt such peace, such joy, such awe and such humility as I felt at that moment. I was at peace as I felt I am separated from all the worries of the world, I felt joy to be able to experience such magnificence, I was struck with awe that such beauty could exist without me being aware of it for so long, I felt humble that I had been given a chance to witness it.

We took a boat ride on the yellow boat to the grassy meadow on the other side of the lake, accompanied by the boatman and his young son, whose running nose was very much comparable to the running stream of water around us. There were some rocks which we had to climb and then we reached the grassy land. The greenery was punctuated everywhere with small flowers of almost every color. Even the mosses on the rocks seemed to have vibrant colors of their own. It was so surreal that I felt as if we were stealing our way into the virgin uncharted territory of a secret mythical creature. I opened my shoes and loitered around the entire space. Then I lay down on the grass and just looked at the sky above. Away from the noise and pollution, even the sky seemed to be bluer somehow. I don’t know how long we were there but numerous photo clicks later, we climbed back into the yellow boat and returned to the shore.

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The boatman also had a restaurant just beside the lake and we had a hearty lunch there. Hot steaming cups of tea and hot Maggie seemed to be the food of the Gods. And then we bid farewell to this beautiful place and ventured on to reach our camp in Sarchu.

But as our car started, I took one last look at the place. The frame seemed to be the exact same one as the one we first came across – the yellow boat, the blue water, the clear skies, the grassy meadow on the other end and the mighty Himalayas. And it struck me that in a strange way it defines the solitary human being who is not unlike a boat on its journey of the uncharted waters of life with the promise and hope of happiness like the grassy meadows co-existing with the numerous mountainous obstacles. And that is the view that has stayed with me and will stay with me forever.

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Writing 101: Day1 – Unlock the mind..

I stare at the empty page wondering what it is that I want to say today, what it is that I want to be heard. And then I start thinking, that the process of thinking is itself such a wondrous thing. In this day of action when life moves at such a speed that you hardly have time to catch your breath before moving on to the next important thing that needs to get done, where do you have luxury to actually just think, to let your mind guide you into new spaces as yet undiscovered?

As someone who has been part of an aggressive corporate culture in a developing nation where the new generation is an ardent believer in immediate action and instant gratification, it is difficult for me to even fathom how our ancestors actually spent their entire lives being thinkers and philosophers. That being said, I believe that the mind is the most powerful weapon that we have. So, whether we think about the mystery of human existence or about how our company can earn more profits in this financial year, it is the capacity of our minds that defines each of us.

Though it is a challenge to unlock our own minds and harness all its potential, it is an equally terrifying thing to actually come face to face with the darker sides of the mind. I think we never fully realize the basic instincts that are a part of our very nature. The instances of violence and immorality that we hear every day on the news may disgust us. We might even be condescending and think that we are above and beyond these things, but unless and until we are in a given situation with a limited number of options, we really do not know how we will react, how we will think in that given situation. The mind has the ability to spring nasty surprises at times.

The mind is much like the utensil that we use in India for holding all our spices. It is a big vessel with compartments for holding various thoughts which are like the spices. Use the right spice with the right vegetables and it will give a beautiful taste and color to your curry. Similarly, you put the right thought in the given situation and it can be a turnaround in your life. But, if you don’t know how to use the spices, you will end up making a curry that you cannot even eat. Likewise, if you don’t know how to control your thoughts and your mind, you may end up making a mess of your own life. However, there are no right set of spices for a curry. You have to use your own personal imagination and taste because what tastes good to you may not seem tasty to me. So there is really no right or wrong when it comes to the thoughts and ideas generated by our minds. It is all in our hands and always has been. Cheers!!

 

Too ordinary to be extraordinary?

It is said that Art is essentially Imitation. It is the imitation of life, of other great works of arts. So can we never create something that is original? It is a strange thought indeed. Whatever a writer, a painter or any other artist creates has been inspired that he/she has seen, heard or even felt. So, at least the conception of any great or not so great work of art is not from itself.

This basic debate is as old as time. But after watching the film “Kill your Darlings”, I was drawn back to it. The film traces the events of the life of the poet Allen Ginsberg, before he became a famous poet. The complications of having a mentally unstable parent, the self-doubts as to his true worth, the attraction he feels for a fellow student and friend, the frustration of adhering to the so-called traditions – all this has been beautifully portrayed in the movie. I was especially spellbound with the performance of Daniel Radcliffe as the young Allen Ginsberg. I will never again think of Radcliffe as “Harry Potter”. Also, watching Dane de Hann as Lucien Karr, I felt like I was watching a young “Leornardo de Caprio”. He was fabulous in every scene.

But the film impacted me not just for the brilliant performances of the actors. It brought me face to face with so many questions and doubts that have always been there with me, somewhere lurking in my consciousness, in my very soul.

  1. Is it really necessary to face certain complications in your own life in order to fully appreciate and understand all the aspects of life?
  2. Is it really necessary to adhere to the rules or regulations of life, what Yeats called “the circle of life”? Can we really break free of that, break the rhythm, go beyond the circle?
  3. Why it is that a little intoxication (alcohol or drugs or sexual attraction or even love for another individual) brings us closer to our essential and animalistic tendencies?
  4. And finally, am I too ordinary to be extraordinary?

I do not know all the answers. Indeed, I am a very ordinary individual with a limited vision. But then aren’t we all limited by our visions and perceptions?

Sometimes I feel that we are all trapped in our own bubbles. We carry these bubbles wherever we go. Your bubble may be bigger or more colorful than mine but you are as much limited in your bubble as I am in mine. But I wish that one day I can break free of the bubble and have a look at the world without any prejudice or limitation of any perception.

So, here’s to finding a bubble free vision. Cheers!!

Reveling in the Relevance

valentines-day-sale1Today is Valentine’s Day. And the first person I wished was my Dad. After all, a father is the first and biggest hero in a daughter’s life. And he wished me back with all the enthusiasm of a young college-going kid. It made my day.

The moment I stepped into my office, a chirpy voice called out “Ma’am Happy Valant Day”. I looked out and saw our cleaning lady with a huge smile on her face. She might not know how to pronounce “Valentine” but she knows that it is a day celebrating love.

It is weird how this custom has surpassed all the boundaries of religion, age or social status and penetrated into our daily lives. Does this mean that we have forgotten our “culture” and “upbringing”, as so many of the so-called “guardians of our culture and religions” allege?

It might seem so at the beginning. I remember how my parents used to worry when I used to sing “Haawa Haawa” or “Choli ke peeche” as a kid. Ditto 20 years later when my friends worry about their kids singing the songs of Yo YO Honey Singh. But does this really mean pollution of culture and corruption of our minds by the western culture?

I do not agree. I believe that what is relevant to the present generation will always live on. I am avid listener of Rock and Hip hop but I still sing Rabindrasangeet (songs by Rabindra nath Tagore). I sing those old songs because they are about human emotions and these emotions are at the core of every human being, no matter what the age. At the same time, every generation searches for its own unique form of expression. And that explains my addiction to the new film songs or the music by Green Day.

So, all the people worrying about our “Indian culture” should stop doing that. If they are relevant to the present and future generations they will live on. And if they do not, if they lose the relevance, then it is inevitable that they will fade away. Some customs will survive; some new customs will be integrated. That is the nature of life. After all, change is the only constant thing in life.

So, let us just sit back and relax. For all those people who believe in Valentine’s Day, go celebrate this day of love. And for those who don’t, well, just leave the others to celebrate it. HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY…Cheers!!