Jun 3, 2018

Think, wait and fast

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"I can think, I can wait, and I can fast," claims Siddhartha in Herman Hesse's eponymous book when asked what he could do. With my enthusiasm for Kaizen and all things self-improvement, I wondered how I stack up against Siddhartha's advice. After all, he says one can make magic if one had the ability to think, wait and fast.

I can think, I am sure of that. I have always been a thinker; To be honest, I have had to watch for vanity seeping in on occasion about my ability to reflect on a topic. I could potentially be accused of over-thinking sometimes. So that is the easy one on the list. I just need to perfect my pose à la Rodin's Thinker. Let me hasten to clarify, I only meant the chin resting on the hand. Rodin's sculpture has abs and biceps and is muscular. He looks like he is about to sprint or lift weights or box after his bout of thinking. I am overweight and if pushed I might type up a blog.

Can I wait? That is a bit tricky. Time is the most precious commodity for me that I am quite choosy about how I spend it.  On top of that, I am so used to multi-tasking and stealing cycles from every task that I think the true meaning of the word 'wait' is perhaps lost on me. Easy for you to say, Siddhartha, you didn't have a mobile phone reminding you of the chores you can and have to do while waiting. Does it even mean 'waiting' really when you are simply busy while anticipating an event? If yes, then that kind of waiting I can comfortably do. Depending on the magnitude of what I am waiting for, and how fair and transparent the process is, I can be quite patient, not anxious, and not nag. I can save up for stuff, I can wait for my turn. If it is a test of patience then I score reasonably well. If it is also a test of detached acceptance of unfairness or lack of control, I could use some work. If it means close your eyes and meditate - well then I need a lot more work. Oh well, why don't we just chalk it up to 'reasonably good with waiting.'

The third one in Siddhartha's list is firmly in the 'not-going-to happen' territory for me. Masala peanuts and nutty chocolates [need those proteins] are my vices. Um... French fries too. And cashew Pakodas [again proteins]. Appalams. Mixture.  You get the picture. I can polish tubs of them in a matter of minutes. I do realize one can binge eat and also fast - at different times.  That one is not me.  My friends tell me their concentration is sharper, they feel good and that fasting is great for one's health. My concentration is fine as it is, and I feel better eating chocolates. Besides, like the diva in the Snickers ad I can be a total pain when hungry. Ramadan or Ekadashi or my friends bragging about their latest fasting success makes me wonder if I should try fasting. Then after a minute, I am back to eating my mangoes. My few and far between experiments with fasting have usually ended in about hour 5 with me irrationally yelling at my mom or SR. So there I am.

Full marks on 1, very good on 2, and a fail on 3. Not bad at all. It's time for dinner.

May 15, 2018


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No, this is not a post about Karnataka elections, although considering the season this is how close I might ever get to click-bait. The ads about the 'kamalada alaritu' got me thinking about names and symbols.

My grandmother's name was Kamala. For the uninitiated Kamala means Lotus. Uncharitable folks in the family would say that it was originally Kamalam and that she called herself Kamala to seem fashionable. Although very conforming in most aspects of her life, she was a free-thinking woman and the name Kamala, modernized from its traditional form, suited her. There were quite a few famous Kamala-s then. The dancer Kumari Kamala, writer Kamala Das, and Kamala Nehru among others. North Indians typically use the spelling Kamla and don't necessarily draw out the 'a' in the middle. The name seems to have died out in the last few decades. No doubt because it conjures up an image of an old woman with a big red pottu and her pallu around her head or shoulders. Only the name Mangala can beat Kamala in the old-fashioned meter.

Many writers have named their characters Kamala - Tagore in Wreck, Herman Hesse in Siddhartha. There is even a Star Trek character named Kamala [a metamorph if I remember right].

Kamala Harris the US Senator, and the Ms.Marvel character named Kamala Khan are making this name reappear in the media. I hope it catches on and becomes hep again. The senator has south Indian Hindu connections, but the origins of the name of the Pakistani American Muslim teenager has to be tied to the Arabic Kamal, meaning perfection. The Arabic Kamal sounds almost like Kemal but the Americans pronounce it as Kuh-mah-la. Sometimes it sounds like Camilla or worse Camel-ah.

Lotus is also somewhat oddly likened to feet and eyes in Indian literature. Kamalakshi, Padakamalam etc. I am guessing in the case of the eyes, it is the shape and in case of feet it is the softness.

Lotus, of course has a lot of significance in Hinduism. It is also the national flower of more than one country. It is certainly a masterstroke to have got that as a symbol for a political party. I wonder whose idea it was. Quite surprising when you think of it - that they gave the national flower as a symbol to a party.

As I write this, it does look like Kamalada alarittu [almost] in Karnataka thanks partly to operation Kamala.

Mar 5, 2018

Echoes of lost faith

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My memories of the Kanchi Acharyas are faded and creased. But, when I saw the news of Jayendra Saraswati Swamigal passing away, I realized the residual feelings were still alive. My grandmother who steadfastly refused to revere anyone living, made allowance when it came to the Kanchi Acharyas. Especially the one who just needed to be mentioned as 'Maha-Periyava.'  Chandrashekara Saraswati commanded that sort of deep respect with his quiet dignity, wisdom, and majesty. 

Back in the eighties, when I was a young school girl, holy men had not yet started appearing on TV and YouTube channels commenting or tweeting on sundry matters. I only got to read what they occasionally wrote on staid print media or dry pamphlets mostly on philosophical or mythological issues. Or I saw them in one of the seasonal assemblies.

I don't remember ever hearing a sermon or a speech by the elder Acharya, just of him raising his hand and saying a word or two in blessing. Aunties and uncles in their madisar and panchakacham jostled about for darshan, there was the scent of jasmine flowers and incense and the sounds of chants. The mystique of the whole scene called to me. There was something unimpeachable about the way 'Maha-Periyava' conducted himself. There was a prick in my heart when my grandmother, a widow, said convention prohibited her from coming face to face with him. But my otherwise questioning and critical adolescent self, still could not denounce him.

Jayendra Saraswati came on to the scene, adding a personal charisma, a benevolent smile, fresh energy and a seemingly more secular face to the old age institution. That appealed to my young self. He talked of inclusion, of charity, of alleviating poverty. He seemed to have no issue with my widowed grandmother visiting him. We even traveled to the Kanchi mutt once as a family and the taste of a simple free meal that we partook with other visitors, a pungent rasam and rice, is still seared in my mind. 

The day the unprecedented news broke of the Acharya leaving the mutt, it was mainly sympathy that I felt for him. Identity conflicts between the self and the perceived can be deeply troubling.  Like the Dalai Lama, the Acharya took on his position before he became an adult. Is it a life of unequivocal calling? Or a life of constant struggle to reconcile? No one outside can tell, can even begin to guess. But people in positions of power do not have the luxury of airing their internal conflicts. 

He eventually came back to the mutt; the eighties gave way to the media fuelled nineties.  I gave the Kanakabhishekam telecast a pass as a first step on a path of already fading faith. Under the glare, almost no holy man, irrespective of their religion, could any longer hold up to our projected hopes of who they should be. They no longer had the luxury of seclusion and unflinching trust. They were now mired in this material world, stripped off their mystery. As the years wore on, many were routinely exposed for their involvement in all sorts of horrific activities. It was only a symbolic last breach for me when Jayandra Saraswati was arrested on murder charges. 

I broke the news of his passing away Wednesday morning to my mother who was busy in the kitchen. She asked if he had attained Samadhi, unable to use an earthly word like death. I replied firmly that he had died, but a part of me wished I could tell her that he did indeed attain Samadhi.

Feb 26, 2018

Not so new resolutions

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I am almost morbidly introspective. And to add to that, I have a fascination for techniques and concepts like CBT, Kaizen etc. Naturally, irrespective of the outcome, I happily come up with resolutions every new year, every birthday, whenever I change residence, jobs, heck even when I change devices.

In the past, these resolutions used to be erratic, and somewhat of a wishlist of things to do. It'd range from learning how to bake a cake [which I never did] to making tie-dye shirts for the family [succesfully made rag cloths] to finishing 'Gone with the Wind' [by skipping a considerable number of pages].  They were often indicative of my wide range of, also somewhat capricious, interests. Over the years though I have managed to narrow, shorten and sharpen my resolutions list. Let's face it I am never going to grind my own lens for a Newtonian telescope; I still think it's quite cool to do it, but have outgrown the need to sort my list by coolness factor. Coming up with the right resolutions these days turns out to be an exercise of prioritization.

I notice I have been fairly successful with going from zero to some minimal achievement. For example, until a couple of years ago I had never meditated. I had set a modest goal of meditating a few times over the year which I achieved. [Let us not detract the success story with details like I started sometime in October and I have meditated only for 10 mins at a strtech]. I don't seem to go from reasonable knowledge to expertise. [I can hear my friends and family chortling - 'that's a character flaw, not a problem of resolutions].

With these two data points, the last couple of years I have been a bit tougher on myself. The resolutions of late require persistent action over a period.  Apart from that, I have picked up a new fad of tracking myself obsessively as well. I have spreadsheets that pull all kinds of data from sundry apps and trackers. Good news is I know exactly where I stand with my goals. The bad news is it's not looking that great at the end of two months. Good news is I don't give up that easily. The bad news is I need a lever.

So here's to some success in March.