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Friday, 22 September 2017

Unleashing the Goddess Within

A friend sent me a set of pictures on the theme of Modern Goddesses. The pictures are created by Penguin India (I assumed from the logo, and later confirmed it from their Facebook page). I sent it to another friend and we swapped thoughts on how we felt some of them were based on a shaky premise. One thing led to another, and so, Tilottama and I thought we’d come up with our own version of captions for each of the Goddesses in the picture series. This post is what we came up with. 

The intent is not to deride what Penguin did; rather it is to go a little deeper into the essence of these Powerful Women/Goddesses. Read our captions carefully, and you'll find the facet to which they connect.

We’ve kept the basic image the same and are acknowledging that they are the creation of Penguin India; the new wordings are our own.

Praying that Devi Mata bless and protect us all ….and specifically protect me and my friend from charges of plagiarism and perhaps, even, “Sanghism”!😉



या देवी सर्वभुतेषु शक्तिरूपेण संस्थिता । 
नमस्तस्यै नमस्तस्यै नमस्तस्यै नमो नमः
To that Devi Who in All Beings is Abiding in the Form of Power,
Salutations to HerSalutations to HerSalutations to HerSalutations again and again.

- Tilottama and Anusuya

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Crisis and Character

Crisis can strike anyone, anytime, anywhere. You can never anticipate it and that’s the reason why your reaction to it is an instinctive one. Some people think that crisis can serve to build character and maybe it’s true, but that happens much, much later, after the crisis has passed, and only if one is inclined to learn by introspection and insight. At the moment when catastrophe strikes, you can only exhibit the character ingrained in you. 

Seen someone panicking when things go wrong? That person is likely to be of an anxious temperament. The people who stay calm when disaster strikes? They’ve probably spent a lifetime cultivating that composure. And while it is true that moments of crisis can cause one to find unknown reserves of strength, it is extremely rare for ordinary people to be moved to superhuman efforts to save more than their own skin. 

Imagine you were in a remote place out in the wilderness.

You get bitten by a venomous snake and need immediate treatment to survive - Crisis 1

An ambulance comes to evacuate you to a medical center. Your ambulance meets with an accident - Crisis 2

One nursing assistant dies; another is badly injured and the Medical Officer, who was supposed to take of you, is caught in the wreckage and himself in need of medical aid - Crisis 3

What would you do?

We may have different responses to this, based on the kind of character we’ve cultivated throughout our life.

But for someone who’s been educated and trained in the Indian Army under the motto of “Service Before Self” and attached to a unit (Rashtriya Rifles) that is driven by the spirit of “Dridhta Aur Virta” (Determination and Courage), the answer to that question would be a no-brainer. Despite probably realizing that his course of action would leave no chance of a happy ending.

Naik Vijaya Kumar S. was awarded the Sena Medal (Gallantry) posthumously.

Take a look at the citation in this picture. Notice that “beyond the call of duty”? Let's imprint that on our minds. Every time we find a petty thought cropping up in our mind, telling us, “But that’s not my job,” let us remember that there are so many people helping make life easier for us without our even being aware of it. Let us allow this realization to guide our actions so that if and when some crisis strikes, we’re ready with the character required to face it.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Spirit of Sacrifice

She sank into the seat with a sigh, leaning her head back and closing her eyes, seeking respite from the exhaustion of the past few days, as she waited for the bus to leave. After what seemed like ages it was finally Friday evening, and time to go home. Time to revel in her mother’s cooking and sisters’ excited patter and the complete “at-home” feeling that only someone who lives in a hostel during the week, can truly appreciate.

The rocking movement of the bus must have lulled her into a light doze, for she was startled awake a little later when someone standing in the aisle suddenly lurched into her. Looking up, she found it was an elderly woman who was finding it difficult to stay balanced as the bus driver blustered through the sharp turns of road.

The young girl was very tired and reluctant to spend the rest of her 30-minute journey standing. Yet, something within pushed her to stand up and offer her seat to the senior citizen. By the time she reached home, the girl was even more tired in body, but felt a tiny glow deep within, that perked up her spirits.

Later that night, she narrated this incident to her older sister, and in conclusion said, “I was feeling so tired myself and yet, I made a sacrifice for the sake of that old lady.” As she basked in the glory of her selfless action, the older sister told her something. A bit of advice that she found deflating at first, but, which, in hindsight, turned out to be one of the most valuable lamp posts, guiding her throughout life.

Even today, I remember my older sister telling me:

“If, doing something to help someone else gives you a sense of superiority because you’ve made a sacrifice, it is better you don’t make that sacrifice for it will lead you to become egoistic and that kind of an ego is the worst thing you can possibly have.”

In her own way, my sister had cautioned me against falling into the trap of what is one form of “saatvik ego” – the feeling of pride and superiority one gets from being good or doing good. After having used that advice since the past few years as a lifeline to try and stay humble, today I’m able to fully appreciate the wisdom of her words.

The realization has also dawned that whatever one does must flow naturally, as the very nature of one’s being, not as an effortful action done by keeping a probable future outcome as the goal to be achieved. 

I was reminded of this message yet again today evening. I walked into the garden outside our home and found two Brahmakamalams in full bloom. Emerging on graceful stems from the succulent leaves of the plant in a small pot placed in the corner of the compound wall, the blooms stood resplendent and beguiling with their faint fragrance.

Unconcerned by whether someone saw them or not, they dangled silently. Unfazed by the hectic activity of people and vehicles moving on the adjoining road. Simply being what nature had intended them to be. And, by their very presence, giving bliss and peace to anyone who happened to look at them. 

Friday, 1 September 2017

One Challenge Too Many

“Amma, I’m going to take the Blue Whale Challenge!”

I step out of the kitchen and search my son’s face for the emotion that accompanies this announcement. He’s at that stage where he says things for the sole purpose of getting a rise out of me. But I know his tricks and it’s a battle of wits between us, so I’ve developed my own intelligence-gathering mechanisms. A glint in the eyes is a dead giveaway, as is the impish laugh tugging at the corners of the mouth, waiting to find relief in the guffaw that ensues when I take the bait.

So, I respond to his statement with a mere smiling, “Hmmn…why do you want to do it?”

Deprived of prey, and yet, still trying to turn the exchange into a joke on me, pat comes the reply, “I mean, not all of it…just the part about waking up at 4.20 am.”

Now, it’s my turn to score. “Why do you need the Blue Whale Challenge for that? You could always come up with your own thing – maybe call it the ‘Brahmi Muhurtam’ Challenge, even!”

“And do what after that?”

“Oh, I’ll help you with suggestions. Let’s say, tasks like – 

  • Complete 108 Gayatri japams every day, 
  • Do trikaala sandhyaavandanam without fail every day, 
  • Learn the Bhagavad Geeta by heart, 
  • Watch the programs on TTD’s Sri Venkateshwara Bhakti Channel for 2 hours, 
  • Listen to Velukudi Krishnan’s upanyaasams, 
  • Read the Ramayana and Mahabharata………” 

He’s quiet, and I wonder why there’s none of the usual “No way” response. Perhaps, he’s learned too well from me not to take the bait? 😉

“And what will be the last task at the end?”

“Maybe you can go somewhere,” I say unthinkingly. Immediately, I pray, that in keeping with the spirit of the topic, he won’t come up with a quip like, “Yeah, somewhere like Vaikuntha.”

Quickly, I continue, “Maybe you can go to the Lord Ranganathar temple at Srirangam and post a selfie from outside near the gopuram?”

“Oh no….I can’t do that!”


“Because 50 days from now, I’ll be having my exams…how can I go to Srirangam in the middle of that?”

He doesn’t know it, but inside, I’m smiling. I thought he would refuse doing it saying those tasks are too boring or difficult but the reason he comes up with says he may not be averse to doing at least a teeny-weeny part out of some of them. Not bad at all for someone at the volatile age of 15, I think. Or, knowing the guy, maybe he knows an answer like this that leads me to such a conclusion will make me happy, and he’s playing me. 😐

Whatever the answer to that, I’m hopeful of one thing – that the communication channel we have going between us will preclude the need for him to take recourse to such horrendous ‘challenges’.

But then, I remember something he told me just one day before this discussion. A couple of guys he knows have actually downloaded the game out of curiosity and been doing the initial few tasks. When it came to the self-harming ones, they decided to quit and delete the app. On doing that, one of them received a few calls from the ‘curator’ of the game, asking why he quit. The boy has reportedly told that chap that he will file a police complaint and then, the calls have stopped.

I ask my son if these guys who tried the game, are in some kind of bad situation or depressed. He says no, they were just experimenting, because they were curious to see what the hullaballoo is all about.

And this is where I’m annoyed at the way the press chose to sensationalize the whole issue, without paying heed to the guidelines they’re supposed to follow when reporting about suicides and mental health issues. Tanmoy Goswami explains the nitty gritty of it beautifully in this post on The Health Collective and I strongly recommend you read what he’s written here.

I’m pretty sure many of you have received and forwarded the message that circulated on WhatsApp as a warning against the Blue Whale Challenge. However, as we all know, it’s not enough to merely point out a problem; it’s equally, if not more, important to provide a possible solution or at least an alternative.

Which is why, now, I propose a challenge for you, the ones reading this blog post. An online counseling platform, YourDOST has come up with a Yellow Dolphin Challenge to help our youngsters take control of their lives. Are you up to the challenge of making the news of this positive alternative go viral, at least in your circle of family and friends and colleagues? Just click this link 
to share on social media.
 And, may I also add, don’t be content with being a mere armchair do-gooder. Whenever you find the topic coming up in real-world face-to-face conversation, make sure you tell everyone about the Yellow Dolphin Challenge, then too! Even if the topic doesn't come up, go ahead and tell people about this.

Just as I was writing this post, I clicked on a friend’s ‘status’ on WhatsApp and found this image. It resonated with me because of the conversation with my son. 

For those of you who don’t get Tamil, “Vel” refers to the spear associated with Lord Karthikeya, also known as “Saravana” because He is believed to have been born amongst the reeds. 

Kudos to whoever came up with this idea of a “Blue Vel” challenge! Whether people take to it or not, it serves, at the very least, as a reminder, that when all else fails, He, the Supreme Lord, is always there to give us strength and succour!!