My Gita by Devdutt Pattanaik

 

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One of my posts had to be about a book sooner or later, a voracious reader cannot but help herself. Books for me have been my friends, teachers, philosophers and guides. I love the written word and wouldn’t know where to turn to if I lost them, my faithful companions.

Why ‘My Gita’? I grew up listening to the stories of the Ramayana and Mahabharata retold by my loving Grandmother and then by TV series. The Gita is a name I grew up with, my Grandmother would give us advice saying this is written in the Gita and so forth but its contents were somehow obscure and continued to be a mystery to me. I have picked up ‘The Gita’ translated into English by various writers many times and tried to read it not getting beyond a few pages before leaving it. I could not relate to the language or the writer’s viewpoint in most cases. Probably because I was not looking to read the Gita to ‘find God’ but to understand the wisdom that I felt it had to offer. My search ended when a friend suggested that we read ‘My Gita’ by Devdutt Pattanaik for one of our Book Club reads.

I thought that maybe this way I would endure to read the Gita and tick it off my bucket list. Endure I did not, for I was hooked to the writing style immediately. He begins by explaining for calling it ‘My Gita’ and I discovered that he put into words exactly why I wanted to read it for so long. I too wanted to approach it like Arjuna, with curiosity, to understand. In my Grandmother’s tone as she spoke of the Gita I could always detect a note of self-realization which I found in Devdutt’s explanation “Krishna speaks of brahma-nirvana as an expansion of the mind.” He then explores the history of the Gita, even though you may feel that you know it I urge you not to skip over this portion there surely will be information you would have not known earlier.

Some of the truths that I have understood from the reading of ‘My Gita’ are that God lives in all of us, “that helps us cope with our own fears that disconnect us from society.” When we understand this we do not look for comfort from materialism thus we do not cling to them out of moha and when we learn to let go we attain moksha. “The God of Hinduism is no judge. Hence Krishna gives no commandments in the Gita.” A benevolent God that understands rather than judges, guides rather than moralizes. Standing on judgment on others and situations only limits us by obstructing our worldview. Being judgmental does not let the mind expand, how often we let our prejudices cloud our vision limiting our own spiritual growth. When we are blinded by moha living in fear and insecurity like the blind king. The fear of validation, the fear of not knowing our purpose on earth makes us derive our value from the property that we possess, the designations that we hold. Blindness on Dhritarashtra’s part is not so much physical blindness or “absence of sight as the absence of empathy.” The Devas and Asuras continue to struggle and fight as opposing forces rather than living in harmony as Vishnu intended them to in order to achieve the potential that we are capable of. These two opposing forces are within each one of us and when we do not reconcile them we only disrupt our own equilibrium, “The heroes of one plot turn out to be villains of other plots.”

“Rebirth takes away the sense of urgency and the quest for perfection.” This was probably the most important learning for me. We go through our childhood competing, striving to be the best. When there is only one lifetime to be concerned about the thought of achievement becomes paramount. The Hindu theory of rebirth makes the rat race irrelevant, why then do we make ourselves miserable trying to over achieve?

Having read ‘My Gita’ I have not understood it in its entirety but then I’m not supposed to “It is only in modern times, with a printed book in hand, that we want to read The Gita cover to cover, chapter by chapter, verse to verse and hope to work our way through to a climax of resolutions in one go. When we attempt to do so, we are disappointed.” The Gita was never supposed to be read in one sitting, it was supposed to be read again and again, it was to be understood part by part and that is the learning I have taken from “My Gita.’ I will read it many more times and discover myself in the process.

to be continued…

 

Live With Thy Neighbor

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Today’s post is in appreciation of good neighbors. The hammering going on, on my head brought this thought to mind that I have, till now, had amazingly understanding neighbors who have turned into lifelong friends.

Growing up in a small town one takes neighbors for granted, they have been around forever. My grandparents and parents had already forged relationships that had me calling some of them Chacha, Bua, Masi when they were in no way related to us by blood. Food bowls would be passed over boundary walls and festivals would be celebrated with each other. Gossip and recipes would be traded in the evenings over cups of steaming tea by the ladies sitting in one garden or another. And kids would be pampered by aunties or uncles and hauled by the ear to homes when caught making mischief.

Newly married I set out to establish my own household in a new city. A lot of things were on my mind, neighbors were not. Moving into condos in Delhi the first few days were very busy in the hustle-bustle of settling in, I smiled at the people that I would cross on the stairs and received friendly greetings in return. In the flat opposite mine lived the Gupta family and Aunty who would soon become my guide to the then unknown world of housewifery knocked on the door the very first day offering help, advise, gossip and so much more. Over the next few years we became great friends and when I shifted from that house to another, copious tears were shed and promises to keep in touch exchanged.

Over 19 years I have lived in different homes in different places. I’ve had a neighbor celebrate my son’s 5th Birthday in Bangalore as I had just shifted into a new home three days before. I’ve knocked on the doors of a newly married couple who shifted into the flat next to mine and been friend, guide, counselor to them. I’ve gone on numerous holidays with another. I’ve partied into the night with some and talked for hours with others. I’ve been sent numerous meals for my family when I’ve been laid up in bed sick and I’ve cooked numerous such meals and sent them forward to others. I’ve cooked and baked and pickled and shared. I have laughed with many and I’ve cried while leaving their company. I have given numerous farewells and been fare-the-welled many times.

What has been my biggest learning from all these people is that to live in harmony one must extend cooperation and consideration to each other. As the hammering above my flat continues I try to convince my new, yet to move in neighbors, that my son appearing for his decisive college entrance exams is affected by the noise. And my husband who works US timings needs to sleep for just an hour more. I bargain for asking for just a two hour delay in their work starting and hope that they will understand. At home I explain to my son and husband that the new neighbors too have to work towards a timeline that allows them to shift into their dearly bought home as soon as possible. I have already received a few offers that my son go and study at their home from neighbors who I have discussed this situation with. I also know I will receive dozens more after this piece of writing is read by friends and family and my neighbors who know the value of living in harmony with thy neighbors.

Kargil Memorial: A lesson in Humility

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Photo Credits : Namish Gulati

I had not heard of Kargil till it made the headlines in the summer of 1999. Like everyone in India we followed the news in those days and debated the whys and wherefores of the conflict between the Indian and Pakistani armed forces. We all heaved a sigh of relief on July 26, 1999 when the war came to an end. Slowly the headlines changed to whatever was the burning issue of the time and barring a few mentions Kargil became another name stored away in memory.

Last summer when planning a road trip to Ladakh, Kargil became a destination on our itinerary. A nondescript hill town with a swollen, muddy river flowing down the center was my first impression as we pulled into the town late in the evening. A river in a rush were the last sounds I heard before I dropped into a tired slumber. The next morning was bright and sunny, looking out from the hotel window at the snow covered ridges surrounding Kargil was a treat in itself, the Suru River was still muddy, but now in the daylight the town looked charming.

We did not linger long there and headed towards out on the Srinagar-Leh Highway towards The Dras War Memorial. Do take a local guide to point out the various points of interest along the way or you will miss out on a lot many details. Our guide pointed out the towering wall that the Engineering Corps of the Indian Army built in a single night to protect from shelling the road that is the supply lifeline of the rest of Leh and Ladakh. We stopped to gaze in wonder at the Indus that starts its journey in India and the Saru as it flowed into Pakistan. There was no barrier and the unbound waters danced on unaware from my country to the other. As I gazed across the landscape the guide pointed out to bunkers on ridges that belonged to Pakistan, I was struck by an oft heard abstract thought that became so real there that nature does not create barriers, humans do. The land on both sides of the LOC is the same, similar flora and fauna, even the people including the soldiers and yet the divide is so great that so much of our human potential just goes into drawing up lines of demarcation.

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Photo Credits : Namish Gulati

The landscape as we drove towards the Kargil War Memorial in Dras on both sides was breathtakingly beautiful with snowcapped mountains visible in the distance and rolling hills of soft green grass, rivers flowing on one side and fields being tilled on the other. Signposts along the way ominously remind you of the area being under temporary ceasefire. Then from a distance the guide pointed out Tiger Hill, the decisive 11 hour battle here had turned the tides in our favor on July 4, 1999, after which the Indian Army had regained control of Dras and soon managed to drive the insurgents away. There was silence in our car after that. Soon we were at the Memorial, Vijaypath built by the Indian Army in Dras with Tiger Hill overlooking it.

 

The sandstone wall in the open has the names of all the army personnel who laid down their lives during the Kargil War. Your breath will catch in your throat as your eyes skim over each name. Walking into the Manoj Pandey War Gallery you will experience the war recounted with every step that you will take melting even the most hardened heart at the ultimate sacrifice of our soldiers. As tears flow down your cheeks the epitaphs on each tombstone will humble you. The freedom that we enjoy comes at a price that the soldier pays to protect us. I did not lose any loved one in the Kargil conflict. I was not affected by it in any way till that day that I stood at this monument of bravery and courage of the Indian soldier and my heart was full of pride and my eyes full of tears. The silence here was palpable, what a contrast to those days and nights of the summer of 1999 when guns thundered and patriotism bloomed in the hearts of those brave men who laid down their lives while I slept safe in my bed.

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Photo Credits: Namish Gulati

Junagarh Fort, Bikaner, Rajasthan

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The Glorious Anup Mahal

 

Sometimes you visit a place and it lives up to more than your expectations. Junagarh Fort for me was one such place. I enjoy reading History and visiting monuments wherever I travel. Somehow, with my very active imagination, these places come alive to me. On a road trip around Rajasthan last year, our second stop was at Bikaner, the erstwhile capital of the Rathore’s of Bikaner. Founded in the year 1488 AD by a Rajput prince Rao Bika the younger son of Rao Jodha of Jodhpur, the state of Bikaner played an important role in the History of India.

The Junagarh Fort at Bikaner is an excellent peep into the History of the Rathore’s who trace their ancestry back to the Gahadavala Kings of Kannauj. The sixth ruler Raja Rai Singh built a new fort called Chintamani during 1589 to 1593 AD. It was renamed Junagarh or old fort in the early part of the 20th century when the royal family moved out of it to the Lalgarh Palace.

Junagarh fort is one of the few forts in the world that is not built on a hill and the modern day city of Bikaner has grown around it. When one walks into the Suraj Pol (Sun gate) of the fort you leave behind the hustle and bustle of modern life to take a leisurely walk down the annals of History. The fort is a composite structure, the result of building efforts of a number of rulers through four centuries. An audio guide accompanying you with its soothing rendition of the past brings alive the various palaces created by every ruler making the fort a vibrant jewel in the middle if the Thar Desert.

One walks into the sandstone structure into a white and pristine Karan Mahal, built in classic Mughal style, this was the Public Audience ‘Hall.’ The Anup Chowk that the next few palaces are built around has been featured in many movies and as one walks into it images of peacocks and bustling maidens come to mind.  The first palace to visit is the Phool Mahal, motifs of trays, flower vases, and rose water sprinklers stucco work and glass inlay is reminiscent of the Jehangirian era. Then into the glorious Anup Mahal or the Privy Council Chamber, breathtakingly beautiful to which no words can do justice and should be seen to be believed. Bikaner is famous for this kind of gold vermillion varnished work and you may have seen some of it earlier.(See Picture Above) Then onto the Badal Mahal, reflecting the longing for rain in an arid landscape. The room is soothingly blue with clouds and rain drops depicting the Monsoon.

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Badal Mahal

 

Then onto to the Gaj Mandir and Dungar Niwas with their white walls decorated with elaborate niches and mirrors in the Mughal floral designs and style.

Here the past ends and the British influence begins to be seen the rest of the fort was built in the Indo-Saracenic style and houses the first lift installed in India and the Durbar Hall and Vikram Vilas. It is here that one finds the ancient sandalwood throne of Kannauj and various war souvenirs, howdahs and the famous Nalki, one of the honors conferred by the Mughal rulers.

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Honors Conferred by the Mughal Rulers

 

This is but a short synopsis of the many treasure that the Junagarh Fort houses. I have visited many heritage sites in my country, a lot many are more popular; this fort however provided to me the best insight into the grandiose living style of the rulers of Rajputana. So if you like to tread down the annals of the past as I do, do visit the Junagarh Fort.

 

 

His Mother & Her Mother

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His Mother

Nine months of reading, planning, organizing. Focusing completely on myself as the books said to have a healthy baby eating right, thinking right and reading right I did it all. Now planning in advance and doing things on time is my OCD. So with two weeks left for our ‘due date to meet’ I was taken aback to say the least when my son decided to take matters into his own hands and arrive to be his father’s birthday gift. “How could I be left out of the celebrations?” he seemed to think.

I lay exhilarated yet exhausted with the ordeal, yes, ordeal, the process of natural child birth is not the most beautiful feeling as the books and my well-meaning Aunt’s conned me into believing. In discomfort and in pain I discovered that this tiny little being had come in to turn my world on its axis. I was a mess in those early days, too used to thinking only about myself, putting the needs of my child before mine was a learning I had to go through. Tired, bleary eyed, emotions that seemed to be out of my control and loss of independence are some of the things that I remember of that time. My mother-in-law and then my mother (God bless those ladies and their patience, I did drive them crazy) got me through the first forty days and I learned to feed, massage, change diapers and clean drool, bathe, sooth and rock to sleep my child who was full of beans from the get go. I would often just stare in amazement at the attitude of this 20 inch human being who could send a bunch of normally sensible adults into a tizzy of anxiety when he bunched up his face turned red and let out a bawl or had them in raptures oooooing and awwwwing as he smiled contentedly in his sleep.

Well the ‘holiday’ was soon over and it was time to take my tiny human and get myself back home to another city far from the doting crowd. I was ***t scared, my biggest worry being that I would do something wrong and harm my child. Despite my mother assuring me that I was ready and I should trust my instincts I was not convinced. Life goes on and one learns to adapt, I struggled and persevered and loved, my son got me through it all. He taught me to be patient and to be less compulsive with time and routine. He taught me to put the needs of others before mine. He taught me how to love unconditionally. I learned to cook healthy meals disguised as treats. He taught me to get down on my knees and play in the dirt and blow bubbles again. He asked me questions that had me scrambling to read Encyclopedia’s. He is calm and sensitive, every mother’s dream child yet with a mind of his own. He inspires me with his commitment and  makes me laugh with his humor.

Her Mother

My daughter came into this world much less dramatically than my son. She took her time and did not upset her OCD mother’s plans, staging her entry keeping to the timeline exactly to the day she was supposed to. (That was the only thing she did that was undramatic, the rest of her life continues to be a series of dramatically inspired events with her parents and sibling as audience.) The oooing and awwwwing all were the same and again we had adults making themselves silly over an infant. This time though, I did not read any books and I was far more confident with myself and her, in fact I was a pro and on my feet within hours. I did not drive anyone crazy and handled both my children with aplomb. I had already learnt the ropes from my older child, I thought.

Well yes to a certain extent. But then you tempt fate when you decide to be over-confident. I thought I knew it all but didn’t. My learning began in earnest again with this bundle of energy that could not hold still to discover the world, she was in a tearing hurry. Turning over at 13 days, crawling at 3 months and walking at 6.5 months. Babbling from the earliest and talking at 9 months she was a whirlwind that had me in a daze. She was sunshine in the tinniest frame, who had to be WATCHED constantly. In the blink of an eye she could turn an entire cupboard inside out, hang precariously out of the balcony railing, climb up on anything that she thought needed to be climbed upon and be off to her next escapade gleefully. I learned that the world was one interesting place that needed to be explored fast before the mysteries escaped to God only knows where. Food for her was an unnecessary complication that needed to be avoided and I had to learn to be ingenious about making things for her hiding nutrition with chocolate. I learned patience again and I learned laughter with her. I learned that every shop housed a treasure that she was just ‘dying’ to have and the world would stop spinning if she didn’t. I learned to walk away from her tantrums in crowded places even if people thought I was a bad mother. I learned to negotiate from her not losing and not winning either.

She continues to twist everyone around her little finger and dance to her tunes. Ever since the day she was born I haven’t taken a breath and the world doesn’t seem to want to slow down. She makes me young again.

When I was a student and a working professional, I thought in terms of degrees and in terms of designations. These were the labels that would define my worth. How things change. Today nothing makes me happier than to be called His Mother or Her Mother, these are the labels that are worth having. For from them I have learned the true art of living.

Gender Bender

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Two conversations are to be credited with for today’s post. The first this morning was a rather serious one and the second later in the day lighthearted and fun. I will share the second first.

This afternoon, I met up with a group of fabulous neighbors, who share my passion for reading and constitute one of my two book clubs (the other being equally amazing.) After we dissected ‘The Sense of an Ending’ and found our own closure to Julian Barnes’ Man Booker Prize 2011 winning novel, that almost all of us began by hating and then while discussing all changed our opinion of, well again almost all. The discussion then veered off to the craziness of parenting, we laughed at our foibles and our successes. Till one mother of a 3 year old shared her worry that her daughter hates wearing dresses so much that at parties she would pout and sulk if taken in a dress. “She only wants to wear jeans and her circle of influence is only male, she only ever plays with boys,” the mother shared. Now before all the feminists get their knickers in a twist, let me set the record straight the mother who said this has broken far many gender stereotypes than you could even think of. She like every mother is concerned that she is doing right by her child. Some other mothers and I too shared with her that there is nothing to worry, all our girls were the same. My almost teen daughter hates wearing dresses, skirts, and any attire feminine, if it were not for her shoulder length hair and love for nail art she would easily pass off for a boy, so ‘tom-boyish’ is she. Pretty princesses are passé, make way for the girls of today, who are pretty kickass (pun intended.)

Some of us women and I will stress on some, straddle both worlds with complete confidence. We follow our dreams working in any field that we want to and are successful at it. We multitask and can maintain a work-life balance that is the envy of the men in our lives. We dress as we please and travel where the wanderlust takes us. When we sit at home to nurture, we do it on our terms and with complete conviction. A friend of mine who works with large groups of Graduate students once told me that in his fifteen years he has seen girls evolving in confidence far more rapidly than the boys he teaches. He said that he worried for the boys and the kind of men they would become.

This brings me to my first conversation of the day, with someone who is very precious to me. I caught him on a day that was even in at the beginning of it was proving to be yet another in a series of stressful ones. I may ruffle some feathers here, but then I’m a self-proclaimed bad feminist. While we women are breaking the shackles that centuries of gender stereotyping made us wear, the men are struggling stuck under the yoke of theirs. While we endorse a girl’s right to be a ‘tomboy’ and find her wings and soar, the boy that wants to play with a doll is frowned upon and it would send his parents into a tizzy of anxiety if he ever asked to wear a dress. The expectations on men today sometimes to me appears harsh. He continues to be (in most cases) the primary bread winner, he continues to be expected to be emotionally the stronger one, to be tough, to be protective and to defend himself. Then why is it so wrong that he should want to come home to an atmosphere of love and support after a tough day and unwind with the love and laughter of his family rather than come home to an angry parent or a spouse waiting with their own expectations weighing heavily against him? I’ve made my own share of demands, yet I have learned from my mistakes and what they cost.

Some women would say that after centuries of dominance they deserve it. I pose this question to them, should the sins of the father be held against his son? While we celebrate our emancipation let’s also have some compassion for our men, only then can we hope for true gender equality.

 

 

 

Failure of Fear

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An open letter to my children.

Dear Kids,

We live in the same house but as you have grown older the time we spend together has slowly dwindled. We run about in our busy lives, you in your pursuit for excellence and me in mine. Our paths crisscross through the day, we share mealtimes and bedtimes, we talk about your day and mine, we laugh and tease, we hug and squeeze, you share and vent, I advise and caution. There are so many things that I want to say to you that get left unsaid in the days that roll. Today I’ll take up one of them. Failure.

When you were little people and learning to walk you never thought that you couldn’t and as I watched, you stumbled and got up again never giving up till you mastered the art that was so easy that you looked at me in wonder as I applauded at your success. Over the years there have been many battles that you fought, that to many may seem not so significant, yet, for you they were hurdles that you had to cross. And cross you did, with two people who stood by watching, with our hearts beating wildly, your father and I applauding quietly. There were many you avoided, you said they were not worth the pursuit. We prodded and pushed, but, we couldn’t convince and so we silently acquiesced. The pain of failure though hard to bear, is a reality that we all live with, but never, never fear it, my children. The desire to succeed should exceed your fear, for that will be the turning point of your lives.

There are many people that you admire and hope to be like, you feel that they had it easy and achieved fame because they were lucky. They had their own share of struggles and hurdles both large and small. Let me share some examples. I smile as I anticipate the rolling of your eyes, there she goes again with her examples you will think. Bear with me a bit more, I shall not share too many.

Your heroes of innovation Jobs and Gates did not success at the first go and despite the pressures they faced to give up they did not stop till succeed they did. Einstein, Newton and Edison all faced failure in school yet their names today are synonymous with genius. JK Rowling was jobless, penniless with a dependent child and her success story is your favorite book series. Trained as a Barrister he failed when he couldn’t cross examine a witness in court yet went on to lead our country into freedom, hailed a Mahatma by the world and an iconic symbol of Peace, our very own Mahatma Gandhi.

Like I promised I’ll stop here, for now. Your dreams are big and you will learn to take risks. Many times you will succeed and at other times you will fail. It’s when you fail that you must find your second wind and push on for that is when you turn the fear of failing on its head and make it the Failure of Fear.

Love always,

Mama