Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Ode on Solitude by Alexander Pope

The English poet (1688-1744) was best known for his satirical verse and translation of Homer as well as for his Essay on Criticism, The Rape of the Lock, and The Dunciad.

© Wikimedia Commons
Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air
In his own ground.

Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.

Blest, who can unconcern’dly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day.

Sound sleep by night; study and ease,
Together mixt; sweet recreation:
And innocence, which most does please
With meditation.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown,
Thus unlamented let me die,
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.

Interpretation: This is how I felt in the spiritual retreat where I spent many a childhood and growing up years. At the time, of course, I didn't know the true value of that experience. Now as I grow old and complicate the hell out of my life, I yearn for the simple and carefree joys of youth, when neither worry nor sorry meant anything. Nothing is lost, though, for Alexander Pope is telling us how we can regain paradise, and with it, a bit of our past innocence. Mystics have been showing a similar path to lasting peace and happiness.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Alphabet Quotes: P is for Parenting

“All of us have moments in our lives that test our courage. Taking children into a house with a white carpet is one of them.”
— Erma Bombeck

“Everyone should have kids. They are the greatest joy in the world. But they are also terrorists. You’ll realise this as soon as they’re born, and they start using sleep deprivation to break you.”
— Ray Romano

“If you have never been hated by your child, you have never been a parent. ”
— Bette Davis

“Our children need your presence more than your presents. ”
– Jesse Jackson

“When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.”

— Nora Ephron, I Feel Bad About My Neck

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Here's the thing about being positive and happy

A few years ago, I had joined a yoga class to get over a particularly stressful period of my life. One evening after class, the yoga teacher drew me aside and said, “Drink plenty of water, at least 10 to 12 glasses a day.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked her. We were sitting on the verandah of a building overlooking a maidan where groups of boys were playing cricket in the mud. The skies were overcast and rain was imminent.

Although I knew why she was telling me to drink more water, I wanted to hear it from her. I wanted to feel assured that this most basic of all remedies would help solve my problem.

She said, “Drinking water boosts serotonin levels in our brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for our sleep, mood swings, depression, and even memory. Water helps maintain the balance of this chemical which in turn makes us feel positive and happy.”

Later, I read about serotonin on the internet and found that drinking more water, regular exercise and meditation, and lowering intake of caffeine and sugar increased production of the chemical and had the exact same effect as swallowing antidepressant drugs, minus the side effects. It also helped to cut down on alcohol, quit smoking, and eat more veggies and greens.

I also learnt something else—serotonin was the hormone that regulated moods and made people happy, and that’s probably why it’s called the happiness hormone.

Now that’s a hormone we can never have enough of.

Besides adequate hydration, there are other ways in which we can try and stay positive and happy at least most of the time, if not all the time.

Take clothing, for instance. The clothes we wear to the office or to a party makes all the difference between our self-confidence and self-doubt. Personally, white and blue shirts work best for me—they boost my mood and morale and make me look good and feel great.

Turns out I’m not the only one who thinks that way.

Some years ago, researchers from University of Queensland, Australia, found that people, and especially women, “use clothes to improve or mask emotion.”

As lead researcher Dr Alastair Tombs told Australia’s, “We demand many things from clothing. Quite a few people talked about using clothes to change their mood. If they get up and aren't feeling great, they would put on something that would brighten them up.”

When our day doesn’t go too well, or if we feel less confident than usual, we tend to blame the clothes we wear. Dr Tombs termed this attitude as making a scapegoat out of clothes, which the health, happiness and wellbeing site labelled as “scapegoat fashion.”

Our comfort clothing does more than increase our confidence and lift our spirits. It also reflects in our posture, the way we move and sit, our enthusiasm for the day's work, talk to our colleagues, shake hands with a firm grip, make that crucial presentation to clients, and convince the boss.

Thought substitution is another important lesson in positive thinking. In my opinion, it’s the most challenging one. Renowned spiritual teacher Eknath Easwaran, who founded the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation in California in 1961, was a great advocate of substituting a negative thought with a positive one without a moment's hesitation. He said, “All we are is the result of what we have thought. By changing our mode of thinking, we can remake ourselves completely.”

Of course, thought change is not easy. It requires a great deal of practice and perseverance, and it doesn’t work in every situation. For example, people who have just had an anxiety or panic attack would be in fear or flight mode to even contemplate a thought reboot. At that moment they would likely be hyperventilating and their minds would be in overdrive, as they desperately seek to calm their nerves, remove the sense of foreboding they cannot fathom and ease the physical symptoms convulsing their bodies.

At such times mystics like Easwaran tell us to be constantly mindful of our thoughts when we are physically healthy and in a better frame of mind—so that we’re well prepared whenever dark clouds threaten to break over our heads.

Finally, this or any article on positivity would be incomplete without mention of the most valuable aid to a positive outlook on life—sleep. Not just sleep for the sake of it, but a minimum of seven to eight hours of quality sleep. Daytime sleep can never compensate for night sleep.

There is scientific evidence to prove a direct correlation between proper and undisturbed sleep on one hand and a sense of optimism and purpose, and overall wellbeing, on the other. Conversely, lack of sleep has the opposite effect.

A good night’s sleep not only helps us look younger, feel healthier and live longer, it also has a positive impact on our performance at work and by extension on our prospects and success in our careers, not to mention in our personal relationships.

Ernest Hemingway is believed to have said, “I love sleep. My life has a tendency to fall apart when I’m awake.” Even if he said it in jest and in a different context, it still underscores the fact that if we don’t get enough sleep our lives actually run the risk of falling apart.

There is a growing list of steps we can take to entertain positive thoughts, experience positive energy, and be positively happy. I wrote about these four in particular because they work well for me, though I'm still my own student. You can draw up your own tailored list of things to do that will make you feel positive and happy. While no one size fits all, the underlying principle is the same—the practice of positive thought at all times of our lives.

Friday, September 2, 2016

What driving has taught me

Patience and acceptance come with age, and sometimes while you’re driving.

I learnt driving when I was well into my forties. Yes, it took me that long. It also took me a while to get used to driving on Mumbai’s bumper-to-bumper traffic and potholed roads, and alongside reckless drivers. When I finally mastered the skill, well almost, the first thing I told myself was that I’d never speed or overtake.

Four years later, I still enjoy driving and that’s only because I’m like a monk behind the wheel. I seldom honk and I overtake only if I have a wide berth or if I'm on a four-lane highway. But I allow others to overtake me. I let them zip right past. I don’t want their anger and stress and their curses and middle finger. That's not correct. Indian drivers don't show the finger; they only glower at you. I take Mumbai Traffic Police's Pehle Aap (You First) initiative seriously.

© Wikimedia Commons
Often, it so happens that a car overtaking me is stuck right in front of me. A reversal of wheels and bonnets. What was the point of honking and edging past? Nobody’s going anywhere. I manage to stay calm but I’m sure the driver of the other car has lost his peace of mind. His agitation gets the better of him as he desperately tries to overtake other vehicles in his pathruining the rest of his day, or night, and ruining it for others too.

Speeding and overtaking are akin to a mind in turmoil. You run the risk of losing control and crashing into someone or something and harming yourself and others as well. 

As the renowned spiritual teacher Eknath Easwaran has said, “A mind that is racing over worries about the future or recycling resentments from the past is ill equipped to handle the challenges of the moment. By slowing down, we can train the mind to focus completely in the present. Then we will find that we can function well whatever the difficulties. That is what it means to be stress-proof: not avoiding stress but being at our best under pressure, calm, cool, and creative in the midst of the storm.”

When you maintain lane discipline and obey traffic rules, you’ll discover that driving can actually be a pleasure and a useful aid to stay calm and in control of yourself. If this attitude behind the wheel can help you relax and proceed at an unhurried pace, imagine how much its practice will benefit you in your finger-on-the-tweet roller-coaster life.

My first driving lesson turned out to be a really good lesson in life.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Writing at three stages of my life

When I'm 20: "I put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger."

When I'm 50: "I put the trigger in the gun and pulled his head."

When I'm 80: "I put my head to his gun and the trigger pulled itself."

God help my readers!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Alphabet Quotes: O is for Opportunity

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work."
— Thomas Alva Edison

"To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities."
— Bruce Lee

"The ladder of success is best climbed by stepping on the rungs of opportunity."
— Ayn Rand

"I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one."
— Mark Twain

"Summing up, it is clear the future holds great opportunities. It also holds pitfalls. The trick will be to avoid the pitfalls, seize the opportunities, and get back home by six o'clock."
— Woody Allen

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Hanuman in the driver's seat

This morning I went to the west side of my suburb in northwest Mumbai on a personal errand. I took an autorickshaw in heavy rains and was soon caught in a traffic jam. Nothing new about that. Autowallahs don't take kindly to passengers getting off midway and walking the distance. They are stuck and they lose out on the metered fare. So I just sat there watching the rain, listening to the cacophony of horns, watching the back of the driver's head, occasionally fiddling with my phone.

© Prashant C. Trikannad
And then I saw Hanuman the revered Hindu monkey god and ardent devotee of Lord Rama with his mighty mace.

I wondered if India's Super-deity might not give us a lift and fly us to our destination. Hanuman, known for his great strength, heroism and veracity, can probably fly faster than Superman and the hammer-propelled Thor. Well, he didn't fly us out. Instead, he opened a tiny corridor between screaming cars, enough for my man to take a sharp right and deposit me in a lane close to my destination.

Hanuman, who Hindus worship every Saturday, is one of the central characters in the great Indian epic, Ramayana.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Musings from my Facebook page

Jobs on the wall
June 25: Restaurant guards, babysitters, office boys and girls, bike riders, part-time and full-time workers...and while you're looking up these jobs, you can find someone to file your tax returns and fix your phones at a decent rate.

Meanwhile, the Met has issued a July 26-like storm warning over the next 48 hours, which usually means clear skies and bright sunshine and kite-flying, and dance and cheer... as soon as the rains let up.

Monsoon philharmonic orchestra

© Prashant C. Trikannad
June 22: The sky over Elphinstone-Parel in central Bombay at 7.30 am, hours after the Hindu god of thunder, Indra, led his Norse and Greek counterparts, Thor and Zeus, in the great Indian monsoon philharmonic orchestra. The inaugural concert was held in open air and was a sight and sound to behold. It was spectacular. But people were not impressed. Most had gone to bed at 3 after a heady night of revelry with Whatsapp.

Age loves a good yarn

June 22: At what stage of life are you when you hurriedly look at the time on your phone, forget it the moment you walk away, and go back to check again; when you turn the page of a book only to go to the previous page to see where you were; when you go to the grocer and buy everything but the one thing you were supposed to; when you log out of Gmail, come back after a while, and forget the password... Now if I can remember all of that then I guess there is nothing wrong with me. Or is there? I think I'll wear one of De Bono's "colourful" hats. Just in case I'm losing it. Now where did I leave them? Moral of the story: write down everything. Age loves a good yarn.

Copy desk or coffee desk?


June 21: This eye-catching news report, which appeared in an inside page of this morning's Times of India, should have been on front page, second lead or at least anchor. I guess, the copy desk—once the sanctum sanctorum of a newspaper office—is now only a coffee desk.

The dawn of thunder
June 21: 4.15 am — lightning and thunder woke me up and not my alarm. Watched rain dance and silver streaks in the pre-dawn sky. First day, first show. Back to earth station. Water-logged roads, crowded buses and reluctant autorickshaws, crawling and cancelled trains, a resilient and tolerant race. How bad will it be? Hopefully, not too bad. I'm hoping to hitch a ride to work with the Silver Surfer. Welcome, Mumbai Monsoon!

Songs we grew up with

June 19: Behind every father there's a wonderful mother. Bet you haven't listened to Scottish singer Neil Reid's famous solo "Mother of Mine," 1971, in a long time. It's one of several songs I grew up listening to but didn't know who sang. These were songs that brought the family together, in a melody of love and happiness.

What's in the egg basket?

June 18: I have no idea who's laying the eggs but at Rs.60 a dozen, almost a dollar, they are freakin' expensive. And it's summer too. Egg prices usually come down in summertime. Hen-flation! I suppose it's a good thing—the price and not the yolk is keeping my cholesterol in check. While you decide what to do when the "iddawalla"—or "andawalla" if you like—rings your doorbell, you might want to check out my review of Lee Child's Killing Floor on my other blog. Incidentally, eggs without yolk is like a pair of oxen without the yoke. The white of an egg tastes insipid no matter what you garnish it with, pepper, chilli, cheese or ketchup ("sauce" in India). Do you like egg white? Don’t forget to read my review.

Hell on wheels

© Prashant C. Trikannad
June 16: This is how an empty suburban train looks at 7.35 am. An hour from now the broad aisle that you see will have disappeared and only the red lines indicating first class will be visible. I took this picture from Platform 2 looking through to Platforms 1, 6 & 7 at Andheri station, a western suburb in north Bombay. Doesn't look like hell on wheels, does it? Let the hour pass and the place will be teeming with humanoids. I, Robot had an early start.

Eureka moments with books

June 14: I have had "eureka" moments with several of my books and comics. I found them in the unlikeliest of places, on broken footpaths in bylanes and hole-in-the-wall raddiwallahs, or scrap dealers. For example, I discovered a treasure of twenty secondhand Indrajal Comics at an old papermart in a suburban area I seldom visit. Then, a few years ago, I found two rare and near-mint editions of Sudden, the western series by Oliver Strange, in a bargain sale at Home for the Aged behind my house. I can scan any place for priceless books in a jiffy. I can actually sniff them out. If only reading were as easy and instinctive.

Men and sentiment

June 12: Not long ago, a friend and I were talking about old Hindi films set in Bombay in the 70s & 80s, our growing up years. We discussed several films and finally homed in on two that both of us instantly felt nostalgic and wistful about—noted director Basu Chatterjee's Chhoti Si Baat and Rajnigandha starring Amol Palekar and Vidya Sinha (above). I get goosebumps every time I watch scenes from these and other romantic films from that era, including Chhatterjee's Baton Baton Mein and Khatta Meetha. What we remembered most about these films were the clean and empty roads of Bombay, some very memorable songs, and the abundance of simplicity. Looking back now, I feel like I'm in another place and time—not one I particularly like. Just what is it with men and sentiment?

One Across, Four Down

June 12: Suburban train travails—to each his own and all that. With the disclaimer out of the way, how can Temple Run, Angry Birds, and Candy Crush be a substitute for the good old crossword, or even Sudoku for that matter (I have a genetic hatred of numbers)? I can't imagine any mobile game offering the satisfaction that a beautiful cryptic crossword does. Yes, a crossword CAN be beautiful. It's such a gratifying diversion. There is a sense of elation when you crack a particularly tough but intelligent clue or set a 15-word anagram on its feet. You do a mental fist pump—"Yes!" I don't see myself doing that every time I twist, skid, turn, and jump my way through Temple Run. It has no instructive value. In fact, it's not even a game—it's an app! Up comes the disclaimer: Like I said, to each his own. I don't want to "cross-swords" with anyone.

Happiness, a synonym for family

© Prashant C. Trikannad
June 11: Here's a cliché to "rain in" the weekend. "The rains are here...finally!" Most people have nice things to say about the rains except when they have to take a crowded train to work. I like this quote by Kate Winslet: "One thing I love about being back is English rain. Looking out of the window now, it's raining, and the sky is dark; I love it. To me, those are reassuringly English things. I love it when it rains." It reminds me of the time my children were in school. There was something wonderful and reassuring about being at home with the family on a dark and rainy Saturday evening, knowing that next day was a holiday for everyone. The four of us watched the rains, snacked, and had fun. Happiness is a good synonym for family. Few things make you happier.

Autorickshaws, Mumbai's FI

June 10: I take an autorickshaw to the station every morning. As I near the station I instruct the rider, "Turn right" and he promptly veers to the left. This happens at least once a week. So now I lean forward and whisper into his right ear in the hope he'll get a sense of direction. Sometimes he jumps when I do that. Kidding. Maybe, it's the rear-view mirror: my right is his left. I hold on tight because most autowallahs ride as if they are competing in the Andheri F1. We have one for every suburb. Fortunately, the stretch to the station is less than 3 km and I usually emerge shaken but unscathed. From there it's a train, a bus, and a pair of legs to the office. In the evening, I take a bus home from the station partly because it's safer and I like to watch the driver towering in his seat bullying puny autos off the road. Bombay's famous red buses are Hulks on wheels.

A start to the day

June 9: Reading in the 7.35—a few pages each of a crime-mystery on my tab, an espionage-thriller on my phone, and a bestselling fiction of a paper book. A start to the day with someone else's imagination.

Alien giraffe

© Prashant C. Trikannad
June 2: This is what happens when a giraffe sticks his neck out in 34C—he's cooked. Maybe he's from outer space, a War of the Worlds type of alien giraffe. What is he doing outside Andheri station at 7.20 in the evening? Oh god, he's coming this way. Run!

Driving my way to a good story

May 27: Things to write this weekend: A newspaper article, short story, blog posts, spiritual newsletter, a nonfiction work, and a piece for LinkedIn. I know I can't do all that if I drive myself around like this.

Click here for more Musings

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit, Brexitism

I have been following Brexit. I read about yesterday's painful vote and this morning watched the shock results live on BBC News. My heart skipped a Brexit beat every time "Leave" widened its lead over "Remain." For some reason I found myself rooting for the pro-EU. I felt an affinity towards Londoners and the rest of the 48 per cent who voted "Remain." It felt like the proper thing to do. Nobody likes a deserter. In the army you are court-martialled if you run away.

Britain looked better inside the EU. Now it looks like a pariah, the black sheep of the family. Sad and lonely on the world map. An island of desolation. 

In spite of reading up on the issue, I only have a vague idea how Brexit will impact our world even as it threatens Brexit-like sentiments in Northern Ireland and among EU countries. Right-wing authoritarians in Europe are emboldened to try something similar. All we need is a Trump triumph in November, and we know where this right-wing circus troupe is going. Fortunately, things have a way of never seeming to be as bad as they are.

If I had to figure out why Brexit happened or narrow down Brexitism, Noun, it'd be this—fear, anger, frustration, pent-up fury, confusion, loathing, a means to hit out at something, anything.

Monday, June 6, 2016

A few stray crumbs

This evening I read a nice piece on the ephemeral state of things, the transitory nature of life. It's not a new thought, of course. Mystics have long said, "Nothing is permanent" to which Charlie Chaplin added, "Not even our troubles." But, there is one constant factor in life—our family. Everything else is a passing cloud, a parade of ghostly shadows. It's a wonderful and secure feeling to be able to return home every evening and be with people who will love you more than anyone or anything else. It's a privilege not given to many.