Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A lesson in parenting

When you write, tell a story.

I was sixteen when I read my first erotic literature. Actually, it was more than just erotic. I borrowed it from a friend of mine. That evening, I came home holding the book behind against my back and guilt on my face. My dad opened the door and saw right through me. He was a very good reporter and could sniff a story, or scandal, a mile away?

"What are you holding in your hand?"

"Nothing," I said.

"Let me see." He held out his hand.

I handed over the book and waited for the gentle reprimand I knew would never come. Dad went into the next room and came back in less than a minute and, sure enough, gave it back to me without saying a word.

He never mentioned it again. No "Look son, we need to talk" or any of that. He had enough faith in me, to trust me. It was a valuable lesson in parenting. One I have never forgotten.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

God Intelligence Agency

On my way home by bus this evening, I saw a notice outside Holy Family Church that warned, "God is watching you and so are we. CCTV cameras on the campus." It also tells you to smile because you're on camera. I don't know who else is watching me, but I know He is, and not just inside the church. God Intelligence Agency is omnipresent and open 24x7. He is watching our backs all the time.

© www.mumbaimag.com
Earlier, when I stepped out of the station, I saw this long queue at the autorickshaw stand and lost all hopes of reaching home early. And then I saw the bus. It was almost empty and seemed to be waiting for me, because the driver took off as soon as I got in. You notice these things as you grow old. Little miracles we scarcely observe in our mundane existence. 

I'll sign off with one of my favourite lines on our maker: "Exercise daily—walk with the Lord." And as you walk hold your hand out.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Laughter

Life, without laughter, would be like stale bread. Charlie Chaplin once said, “A day without laughter is a day wasted.” God knows we waste enough. If laughter is contagious, then I don't mind being infected. Who needs a vaccine or a cure for laughter? 

Woody Allen creates vivid imagery when he says, "I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose." In spite of which, we can't help laughing till we cry or pee or snort. Who needs a doctor when laughter is the best medicine? 

Laughter is a prescription-less antidote for our fears, worries, and anxieties, as well as our physical ailments. 

I think it was Kurt Vonnegut who said, "Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward." If there was a PhD in laughter, few of us would've earned a doctorate. 

Nobody laughs. Why?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

At the end of the day

I step out of my air-conditioned coffin.
Street boys hammer drums, 
the devil knows why.
Roadside woofers, 
like black holes, 
blast distorted music.Fuckin' drivers leapfrog signals,
nearly knocking me down.
Crackers go off on my tail,
precursor to the advent of hell. 
I rugby my way to the station, 
past hawkers and jaywalkers
I sweat it out in a crammed local. 
I sweat it out in a snaky bus queue.
I sweat it out in drunken traffic. 
Two hours too late, 
I reach home, lose my head.
My pet wags her little tail.
I growl at her, sending her off. 
"How was your day, darling?" 
My face looks like burnt toast. 
A hushed silence descends.
The air-conditioner comes on.
I set off again,
this time on a guilt trip.



© Prashant C. Trikannad


Saturday, October 17, 2015

Life is like a boiled egg

I love boiled eggs but I can't make the perfect boiled egg to save my life. They are either soft-cooked, hard-boiled, medium-cooked or overdone. Of course, it depends on how you like your boiled egg. Whatever form it takes, I like spicing up my egg with a sprinkling of pepper and having it with buttered toast, golden brown (which I don't get right either). 

Learning to make the perfect boiled egg is a bit like going through the various chapters of life—you want it to be spot on but it isn't always so. You have to boil a new every day and hope that eventually it turns out just right. 

Photo source: www.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m9krxf96GN1qdei8m.jpg

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Misery can’t buy you happiness

Telling a relative or a friend "Don't worry, be happy" is as trite as telling them to "take care" at the end of a text message or email. You mean well even if your sentiment means little for the person it was intended for—the truth is it doesn't make that person any less worried or unhappy.

Let's face it. Most of us are discontented with our lot. Even when we have everything going for us—family, health, job, assets, and 
ambition. We are forever chasing something even though half the time we are not sure just what that is.

Picture this. The doorbell rings and standing outside your door are two very old friends—Happiness and Misery. You invited the first, the other tagged along. While they dislike each other, they both crave your attention.

Happiness walks in and you are about to shut the door when Misery puts his foot in the doorway. “Can’t I come in too? You have known me as long as you have known him,” he points a finger at his rival. “You like my company more than you do his. You said that yourself.”

You look over your shoulder and find Happiness glaring at Misery. “If he comes in, I walk out.” And usually, you let him walk.

At heart, you know Happiness is right for you. By habit, you feel good being with Misery. And so you let him into your home and into your life—where, in a twist of irony, you rest content in the false sense of security he offers you. A paradox of life, isn't it?

When they say “Misery loves company,” they mean your company.

In reality, misery is like dreadful vice. The more you know it’s bad for you, the more you want it, and the less likely you are to shake it off and embrace happiness.

But there are literally hundreds of ways you can avoid being miserable. I discovered four the steadfast practice of which should make anyone happy, or, at the very least, pleased with themselves.

Anticipation is a twelve-letter synonym for misery and one of the main causes of our unhappiness. The moment we anticipate something, we invite uncertainty into our lives, and with uncertainty comes worry and fear of the nonexistent. The moment we stop anticipating this, that and the other, we experience a calmness that gives us a sense of wellbeing. Today, one of the chief causes of generalised anxiety and panic attacks is anticipation of the worst. Nothing bad ever happens. The less we anticipate, the lower our anxiety. Therein lies a simple but effective remedy to a malady that isn't one.

Mystics have long been telling us that slowing down, in thought, word, and action, creates a sense of balance in our life. It helps us to think straight, talk less and listen more, and do all our activities at an unhurried pace. According to the renowned spiritual teacher, Eknath Easwaran, when we give our undivided attention to someone or something, “We enrich our life moment by moment.” Don’t let your life be a roller-coaster ride of meaningless deception. Learn to take things easy, learn to take situations in your stride. Apply the brakes now and cruise along slowly. What’s the hurry?

Thinking too much about everything we see and hear often results in our overreaction to situations. It gets us nowhere. In fact, overthinking drains our mental and physical energies and affects our power of reason—we fail to make the right inferences and decisions and reach hasty and improper solutions or judgements. Just as we look before we leap, we need to think before we speak. When we think too much, we are more likely to say something banal and useless or say things that should have been left unsaid. Taking off our thinking cap helps us to collect our thoughts and say the right thing at the right time. When we think less, we speak less, and when we speak less, we become wiser and more receptive to others. A mind in overdrive is an accident waiting to happen.

No one is without expectation and, naturally, no one is without disappointment. A life based on the principle of no expectations, no disappointments is a life well-lived. Often, when we wait with excitement for something to happen, and it doesn’t happen, we end up disappointed. And when our hopes—usually as high as the Himalayas—are dashed, we become disillusioned and bitter, which gives rise to other problems, like low self-worth. While there is no harm in having expectations, it is important to ensure they are realistic and doable. Expect, but not before a little introspection.

Being miserable is like having pebbles in our shoes. Just as pebbles slow down our walk, misery retards our progress in life—and prevents us from being carefree and happy. In the end, each one of us is responsible for our own happiness or misery. It’s up to us which one we choose.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Five lessons of life

If ever there is a five-point lesson for a happy, deeply meaningful, and contented life, it is this...

1. Just be.

2. Nothing is permanent.

3. No expectations, no disappointments.

4. Thinking is dangerous.

5. Live and let live.

...and now to put them into practice.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Make no mistake about your mistakes

Thirty years in media has taught me a few things, none more valuable than this simple truth: you cannot be a conscientious worker if you don’t have a conscience. To which I will add three more personal attributes—integrity, honesty, and transparency. I’d like to call them “personal choices” because deep down only you know what is right and wrong. No one can dictate moral sense to you. Either you have it or you don’t. If you do, it sets you apart from most of the rest. You raise the bar of your character not so much in the eyes of the world as much as in your own, and that’s what counts in your life. Your character.

© Wikimedia Commons
One of the first things I learnt early on in my career was the necessity of owning up to mistakes, whatever the consequences. In fact, you should be feel like a fish out of water until you do. If you have done something wrong or something you did wasn't quite right, own up to it straight away. Don’t hesitate or cower in fear or hide behind a lame excuse or, worse still, wait for a devious colleague to squeal on you and get you into trouble. Go up to your superior and freely admit your fault, say that you will try and set it right, and assure it won’t happen again. Your chances of losing your job are one in a million. I once knew someone who made a blunder, told her boss she was to blame, and offered to resign. Her offer was rejected, of course. In fact, she notched up a few brownie points which did wonders for her morale.

A clear conscience is like a clean heart. So clean that if someone throws mud at you, it won’t stick. It’s a sort of self-cleansing, self-healing, ego-busting process that can have immense gains in your personal and professional life. You will notice them and learn to value them as you continue to walk on the path of right, instead of wrong as so many of us often do.


In my long career, I often heard of reporters stealing stories and story ideas from other reporters; of senior journalists, even editors, sponging on a junior reporter’s story and byline, and taking credit where none was deserved. That is so not right, nor honest. There are dishonest elements in every field of activity, in every walk of life. The important thing is to do what you think is right and not do unto others what they did to you.

The thing is...

Mistakes, even bad mistakes, are seldom made intentionally. If they happen, don't worry yourself to death over them. The situation will pass.

There is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about making mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. The moment you admit yours, you are in the clear, and you begin anew.

Work on your mistakes. Rectify them. Try and avoid becoming a repeat offender. Even if you do make a mistake again, put up your hand and boldly declare, “I did it!”

Owning up to your mistakes will come as a huge confidence booster. You will realise this no sooner you step out of your boss’s cabin.

So the next time you make a mistake, atone for it, and see how you come right on top of the situation. “Mistakes," as they say, "are stepping stones to learning.” You can't go wrong.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Have feet, will carry

© Prashant C. Trikannad
The man with the large red metal trunk on his head is a familiar sight at Marine Lines in South Mumbai where I work. He takes the train from the distant suburbs every morning to deliver chicken and mutton patties to a restaurant close to my office, some 20 km from his bakery. From there he goes to other eateries and delivers more of the same stuff. Obviously, his trunk is heavy but I have seen him walk with a steady gait and without a misstep. This morning, when I took this picture it was raining but our man was oblivious of it. He continued walking, his trunk shielding him from the rain; seemingly, without a care in the world.

I don't know what the city would do without its vast army of porters and carriers. They are mostly unorganised and earn no benefits. But they bear our burden, usually for a small price. If you ask them why they do it, they will tell you, "For our families back home." Every month, they send most of their meagre earnings to their parents and their wives and children living in villages across the country. They lead simple lives but they make a big impact in everyone else's.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Alphabet Quotes: M is for Mindfulness

"The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it."
— Thich Nhat Hanh

"Do every act of your life as though it were the very last act of your life."
— Marcus Aurelius

"Be happy in the moment, that's enough. Each moment is all we need, not more."
— Mother Teresa


"Few of us ever live in the present. We are forever anticipating what is to come or remembering what has gone.”
— Louis L'Amour

"Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it."
— Eckhart Tolle

Saturday, April 25, 2015

‘Thy will be done!’

The last scene from Bruce Almighty. 
Praying is easy, what to pray is a dilemma. Most of the time we play safe and pray for things that are mundane and transitory in nature. Just the same they’re important to us. The most difficult prayer, in my opinion, is this divine entreaty: “Thy will be done!” I can’t imagine anyone saying it with absolute faith—trusting him enough to know and do what is good for us and being happy with the outcome. I have tried it and so far it has been a halfhearted effort, because I’m scared that what he decides for me may not be good for me. The great Indian sage, Ramana Maharshi, has said: “Leave it to the Lord to do what he likes with you.” Always, easier said than done. For now, “surrender” remains a nine-letter word that I merely understand but am still not brave enough to put into practice.

Putting others first
Traffic jams on the roads, especially in the suburbs, are a blessing. For they slow down reckless bikers and autorickshawallahs who ride with such speed and urgeny, you'd think their bowels were coming loose. Honkers gone bonkers. Sometime back the traffic police launched a campaign called “Pehle aap” (you first) which I have been following in letter and spirit, often to the irritation of vehicle owners on my tail and occupants in my car. "Why did you allow him to cut you? This way we will never reach." Oh yes, we will, all of two minutes late." I think “Pehle aap” is a novel idea but how can you put others on the road first when you don't put others in your life first? A matter of opinion.


Renovation is change
Why is home renovation in India so complicated and messy? Once the contractor walks in with his masons, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, and painters (have I left anyone out?), you don't know when he is going to walk out again. There are no guarantees either on your time or on your money. Both move only in one direction - up, up and usually away. By the seventh day you're so fed up with all the dust, the debris, and the disruption, you swear loudly, "Never again! Not as long as I'm alive." Whom are you kidding? You know there is always going to be a next time.

The thing is once you take up renovation, where your only meaningful role is to inhale dust and serve tea, there is no backing out. Effectively, it means you are done for, trapped and caged in your own home, and at the mercy of the ringmaster and his labourers who are experts in their field in spite of their total lack of skilled training and safety standards. They work in their banians and with their bare hands and do a damn good job with their drill machines and their granite cutters. You can't help admiring their handiwork. By the end of it all, you're singing a different tune. "Am I glad we did this? What can we do next?" You look around the house and then up at the loft. "You know, I have always wanted a library, one where the bookshelves swing out at the press of a button. What do you think?" Neat, huh!

Happiness or misery?
Two spiritual and self-help authors I always keep close at hand are Indian teacher Eknath Easwaran and Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thích Nhat Hanh whose books and ebooks on the power of the Name and Meditation are a panacea for a restless mind and a listless soul. Their books are an excellent tonic for the ills of everyday life, particularly our fears, anxieties, and insecurities, which are often more than the sum total of all our possessions, both in number and intensity.

Easwaran and Hanh tell us, in clear and simple language, how we can make happiness a better and more lasting state of mind than misery, which in addition to our own loves other company too. I have been following their teachings for the past two decades and while I have understood everything they are saying, I have so far absorbed and applied just 1% of it and I'm already the better and wiser for it. Imagine if I run the distance! The other 99% will happen when I let it. What are the odds? One in a million. I still have a chance.


The view from inside my train.
© Prashant C. Trikannad
Shared parenting
I took a fast train from Andheri, the suburb where I live, to Churchgate, the central business district where I work, in Mumbai. Inside it was hot and sweaty and sticky. It won't be anything else till mid-June. The first thing I saw inside was a small white and blue poster on the wall that said, YES FOR SHARED PARENTING. There was no anonymous mobile number beneath the printed graffiti. I assumed it had been put up by a disgruntled single parent or maybe a kid feeling orphaned by estranged parents. It reminded me of an interesting film I saw many years ago, Irreconcilable Differences, starring Ryan O'Neal and Shelley Long whose little daughter, played by Drew Barrymore, took her warring and career-minded parents to court in order to divorce them. I wondered if it caught on in the West and I also wondered if copycat Bollywood remade it with song, dance, and tears.

What goes around comes around
There is a saying in Hindi, “Jaisi karni, waisi bharni,” which means "As you sow so shall you reap," or "What goes around comes around." I believe in this well-known dictum and I also believe that it works even if I don't always come to know when, though how I wish I did. Too many people are unkind these days and for absolutely no reason other than the fact they are stripped of human feeling and understanding. People who are complete strangers, people you work with, people who are passing acquaintances, people you couldn't care less about, people who couldn't care less about you, people who have no stake in your life or you in theirs. To such worthies I ask what makes you so hurtful and nasty and humiliating? Don't you know every time you point a finger at someone, four fingers are pointing right back at you? Just what is it with you?! It'd be simplistic to say "Get a life" but how do you say that to one who has a life but doesn't know how to live it.


Source: Adapted from my writings on Facebook

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The flight of the library

As a kid I borrowed books, mainly Hardy Boys, The Secret Seven, and Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, from Flamingo Library located in the foyer of Hotel Sona in Panjim, the capital of the popular tourist state of Goa, then a union territory. 

Later, when we shifted back to Bombay (now Mumbai), where I was born, I read all kinds of novels and comics from Abbas Circulating Library, a landmark at King’s Circle. This was in my teens. One particular title I read is still stuck in my head. It was called The Importance of Peter Harley. I remember the cover vividly. I have no idea who wrote it or what it was about. Some books do that to you.

Not long after I took up my first newspaper job, at nineteen, I joined the American Centre and British Council libraries because I suspect most new journos did. The collection of books at BC was considered superior to the one at USIS. Both libraries have since moved north, from their traditional bastions in South Mumbai.

With private circulating libraries almost extinct and the American and British libraries more or less out of reach, I have resorted to borrowing books from footpath vendors, scrap dealers, old papermarts and the internet. Of course, there are still the old institutional libraries south of the island city, like the Asiatic, David Sassoon, and J.N. Petit, but for some reason I have never thought of becoming a member.

Now, I’m a life member of the global ebook fraternity and I borrow hundreds of books, download actually, from dozens of libraries in the public domain. But I miss the good old circulating library of my school days, when I borrowed just one book, read it over a couple of days, and then went back for another. In those days I felt like I read a book, and never before smelling the pages.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Lake on a hilltop

This is a picture of Charlotte Lake in Matheran, the popular hill station located 800 metres or 2,625 ft above sea level in Raigad district of Maharashtra, a large state located on India’s west coast with Mumbai as its capital. The lake is the major source of drinking water.

On the other side of the lake, the part you see here, is a sizeable and formidable population of our distant cousins, the Bonnet Macaques and Hanuman Langurs, who don't hesitate to come charging at you, whether you're a kid or a grownup. The monkeys on the townside are more guarded in their approach probably because they're outnumbered by people and horses.


Charlotte Lake in Matheran.
© Prashant C. Trikannad
I think of Matheran as an ideal setting for a fictionalised murder mystery, where a monkey is trained by the bad guy to terrorise and eventually kill the victim. I'm thinking of a solid motive and once I get it, I'll sit down to write the story.

Not that I’ll actually write one. But Matheran, where no motorised transport is allowed, serves as an inspiration every time I visit the hill station, which was discovered by the English in 1850 during their occupation of India. We usually spend time walking through nature, seeing various scenic spots called “points,” riding horses, eating good food, and most of all reading books. I carry a couple of them with me. It’s not much fun reading ebooks on a holiday.

A trip to a place like Matheran infuses one with positive feeling and energy, probably because you’re far away from the daily grind and the hustle-bustle of urban life. The only way to enjoy these short excursions is not to think of the realities awaiting you back home—and to live in the moment.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Life is good again!

There is a scene in the American sitcom Friends where Chandler is upset because he watches an old home video of a couple making love. He thinks the woman is Monica whom he has married. When Monica tells him that it’s not her in the video, he exults, “Life is good again!”

When is life good again for you? For me it is whenever a loved one, a member of my family, recovers from a brief illness, even something as common as the flu—that is when life is good again. Everything else pales in comparison.

The good doctor advises a routine test and you’re like, “What? Why the test? You said it was only flu.”

“Yes, it is,” the doctor assures you. “But I want to rule out a couple of things.”

“Like what?” You’re frantic and about to burst a blood vessel. “You said it was nothing, doctor!”

“Don’t worry. Give me a call tomorrow.” I think doctors get sadistic pleasure from saying that.

The next few hours are hell. The test is done next morning but you don’t wait till evening for the report. Instead, you call the lab mid-afternoon and insist on the results over the phone.

“Your reports are normal,” the technician says.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Every one of them?”

“Yes.”

You feel like a balloon going whoosh. You feel like you've just had a rebirth. That’s when you know life is good again. I can’t think of any other time.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Who would have thought?

Churchgate Station then...
That Churchgate Station in South Bombay (now Mumbai) looked like this over a hundred years ago. In fact, it hardly looked like a railway station; it looked more like the entrance to a market where you could buy fish and vegetables.

The station, which got its name from Church Gate Street (now Veer Nariman Road), extended up to Colaba until 1931, the year it was terminated at Churchgate, as it is today. It was part of the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway which is now called Western Railway and which I have been using for the past thirty-five years.


...and now.
When I saw the vintage picture, the first thing I noticed were the men in white shirts and pants—the sleeves rolled up above the elbow and the pants rolled up in a single pleat, a distinctive fashion in those days. My father wore these in 1950s & 1960s. Then, I think, it went out of fashion to be replaced by gaudy shirts and flares and bellbottoms with absurdly wide hems that you could sweep the floor with. I didn't have my father’s dress sense for I wore them for a brief while.

Today, the new Churchgate Station building is an eyesore, a metal and glass monstrosity that I refuse to look at whenever I enter and exit the terminal. Even its previous avatar, a yellow-painted concrete building, looked more inviting.


It feels nice to be able to identify with the generation that belonged to my parents and their parents. They suffered more hardships than we do now and yet they led simple and happy lives. Sometimes it feels like I have been there. I think of their era as a generation bridge rather than as a generation gap.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Good things of life

Colette (to Linguini): “How do you tell how good bread is without tasting it? Not the smell, not the look, but the ‘sound’ of the crust. Listen (she presses the bread between her hands).

Colette: “Oh, symphony of crackle. Only great bread sound this way.”

— From ‘Ratatouille,’ 2007


© Prashant C. Trikannad
This morning, the trains and streets in South Mumbai were relatively empty, maybe because of a crucial world cup cricket match between Australia and India where cricket is like religion. Fortunately, I have no interest in the game. As you can see, I had the footpath all to myself. I made my way from Marine Lines station to an Irani restaurant at Dhobi Talao close to my office and had Brun Pav-Maska and tea laced with cream I hadn’t asked for.

‘Brun Pav’ or ‘Kadak Pav’ is hard bread, a cousin of the French baguette, and ‘Maska’ is butter in Hindi. It is usually had with a morning cup of 
Chai or tea.

© Prashant C. Trikannad
The Brun Pav was a tease; it was no bigger than a saucer. It was squarish rather than round and not very crusty. Not like the ones I ate in my childhood, in the home of my maternal grandparents. Those were the size of cheese plates, and scrumptious and filling. Yes, even bread can be tasty, especially Kadak Pav, provided it is crusty, dripping with melted butter, and had with tea.

Brun Pav-Maska, as the term goes, is a popular morning delicacy in Mumbai and one of the few good things of life that’s still around.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

‘Chess is life’

The Chess Game by Sofonisba Anguissola.
© Wikimedia Commons
American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer, who wrested the world championship crown from Boris Spassky of Russia in 1972, famously said, “Chess is life.” I couldn't agree more. Chess is the greatest game or sport ever invented. It’s beautiful and brilliant, and very addictive. It has everything—action, mystery, and adventure, strategy and intelligence, conspiracy and murder, courage and cowardice, and loyalty and betrayal. A game of chess is both entertaining and educating; you can have fun on the board even as you learn tactics in management. All it requires is oodles of patience, nerves of steel, and a real passion for the game.

I have been playing chess for more than forty years and I have never been bored. If anything, I have only derived more pleasure from the game and grown wiser to its infinite possibilities. It is unfortunate that so few people play this extraordinary game today. One-on-one physical chess is almost unheard of. I don’t know what I’d have done if it hadn't been for computer and online chess. Playing the game with a complete stranger in some remote corner of the world is the next best thing to a face-to-face encounter.

Over the years I have discovered something else—chess is a terrific stress reliever; an excellent remedy for a tired mind and body.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Two sides of the same coin

Ardent followers of one spiritual teacher often face a guilt-ridden dilemma when they follow or listen to the teachings of another teacher. They feel they’re doing great disservice to their own spiritual preceptor.

One such anguished spiritual aspirant went up to his master and cried, “I have accepted you as my guide and teacher and while I chant the holy name you have given me, I also worship another who is considered a divine incarnation. Am I doing wrong?”

The spiritual teacher smiled at him and said soothingly, “Why do you think I and he are different? Look upon us as two sides of the same coin. To worship one is to worship the other. Take it that the name you have been given is also included in other names. All you need is purity of heart and strength of faith.” His doubt cleared, the young man went away happily.

Sometimes, the answers to our seemingly difficult questions are right in front of us.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Thank god for comic strips!

© Universal Uclick
Paramahansa Yogananda has been quoted as saying, to paraphrase the renowned Indian yogi, the worst thing that we can do as soon as we wake up in the morning is read the newspaper for nothing is more depressing than the front page. My advice: sip your cup of tea, or coffee, and turn to the comics page, or what's left of it, at least in Indian newspapers. The size and typeface of the strips is so small now that you require a magnifying glass to read them, leave alone enjoy them. 

Nonetheless, start your day with a smile, if not laughter, for modern comic strips are seldom funny. They are no patch on old comic strips like Agatha Crumm, Hagar the Horrible, Fred Basset, Andy Capp, Blondie, Peanuts, Mutt & Jeff, B.C., Dennis the Menace, and Beetle Bailey.

I have been reading comic strips out of newspapers since childhood. Now I mostly read them online. In between, I glance at the headlines, which is enough to suck the joy out of your beautiful morning and the rest of your day.

Identity Crisis

I think I'm having an identity crisis. A couple of days ago, I went to the bank to submit my internet banking form. The officer looked at it and frowned. She picked up my proof of identity and compared it with the name on my form.

“They don’t match,” she said.

“What?”

“Who is Laughing Jackass? A friend of yours?

“I have no idea.”

“Then why did you mention it on your form?” She turned the form around so I could see it. “Have you changed your name? In case you have, we’ll require your new proof of ID.”

“But I haven’t changed my name,” I insisted. “I'm perfectly happy with it. In fact, I'm proud of my name.”

“It doesn't seem like it, does it?” She leaned across her desk and peered at me over her glasses. I think she was trying to figure out if I looked like a donkey or a kookaburra. She reminded me of my math teacher. I backed away. She picked up something from a dusty file and slammed it in front of me. “Here’s a new form. When you make up your mind, fill it up and bring it back to me.”

“Okay,” I scowled at her and walked out of the bank. As I made my way back to the office I heard a ping on my smartphone. I looked at the screen and slapped my forehead.

‘Laughing Jackass’ was my eBay login.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Meditation

Every time I sit to meditate, I remember what the mystics say, "Witness the flow of your mind. Let your thoughts come and go." Thoughts come and go, all right, only to be replaced by newer and more robust thoughts. They are a formidable lot, these thoughts of ours. They play musical chairs in our head. This morning, for instance, try as I might, I couldn't remain immune to my thoughts, particularly one nagging thought that just wouldn't go away—"what shall I post on Fb today?" I found myself very eager to answer the question.

I know the mystics mean well but sometimes I think they mystify more than simplify matters of faith and spiritual practice. Becoming a silent spectator to our thoughts, leave alone reaching a state of thoughtlessness, takes years and years of practice and perseverance, but I believe it can be done.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A little piece of light

This morning I read an interesting article titled “A little piece of light” by the late writer and essayist, Thomas Sugrue, in The Reader’s Digest New Pocket Companion. Sugrue, himself the victim of a crippling disease that left him bedridden or bound to a wheelchair for several years, writes about a brave woman he knew when he was a kid.

Married to an inept man and with children prone to accident and disease, she had “more troubles than anyone else in town.” But she never showed it. She told Sugrue that she managed her difficult life with a smile on her face and a spring in her step with the aid of a “secret helper” whom she met through her mother.

Actually, the secret helper is a scene in her kitchen where, as a small girl, she and her mother had a cup of tea together, where for a few moments they forgot all their troubles. It was enough to infuse her with courage and fortitude to see her through the day, one day at a time, every day of her life.


The woman told Sugrue, “That is my secret helper—that scene in the kitchen. Whenever I feel discouraged or very tired, I think of it, and I begin to laugh, and then to cry a little—it’s good to cry now and then—and I sit down and make myself a cup of tea. When it’s finished I’m read to pull my apron tight and get on with what needs to be done.”

I thought it was a beautiful story. We all have a secret helper, even if most of us don’t know who or what it is—a wonderful memory, or a little piece of light, that guides us through life.

I particularly liked the following lines from Sugrue’s article:

“Memory has always been man’s true friend. Yet in our age of psychology, memory is regarded as a hiding place for the hurts of childhood, a jungle in which the psychologist hunts for wolves of fear and snakes of anxiety.”

And, “Actually, most of any man’s memory is a record of his mediocre efforts to be a better and more admirable human being. There are painful incidents he does not want to face; but there are also, if he looks for them, happy memories.”

Friday, February 27, 2015

The teachings of Eknath Easwaran

Referring to people who claim they’re happy to carry on as they are, minus even the rudiments of a spiritual way of life, renowned Indian-born spiritual teacher and author Eknath Easwaran responded with these memorable words, “ ‘I don’t like to think about such things,’ (people) may say. ‘I’m happier carrying on as if nothing is going to happen.’ For such people, the mystics have a penetrating question: If you are truly happy inside, why do you feel the need to go looking for happiness outside? This is spiritual logic at its deadliest.”

The above quote is from Love Never Faileth by Eknath Easwaran (1910-1999), who founded the Blue Mountain Centre of Meditation in California some fifty years ago. I recommend this book and every book written by Easwaran starting with The Mantram Handbook: A Practical Guide to Choosing Your Mantram & Calming Your Mind as well as his Eight-Point Programme for spiritual growth.

Eknath Easwaran gives you the freedom to pick what you like from his inspiring work and apply it as you see fit. You can read more about his life and work at www.easwaran.org.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Alphabet Quotes: L is for Leadership

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”
— General Dwight Eisenhower

“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.
— Bill Gates

“I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?”
— Benjamin Disraeli

“No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it.”
— Andrew Carnegie

“Lead me, follow me, or get the hell out of my way.”
— George S. Patton Jr.