Monday, December 1, 2014

Do you allow others to speak?

Conversations between two or more people are increasingly becoming one-sided. Everyone is talking and no one is listening. We no longer listen to what others are saying because we are too busy listening to our own voice. When we appear to be listening, our attention is already elsewhere, thinking what we are going to say next and waiting to cut in.

Why is it that what we say is always more important than what we hear?

When someone is talking, it is necessary and courteous to keep quiet and listen. When we don't listen to what the other person is saying, it shows our lack of good manners, our self-centeredness, our indifference towards that person, and our cavalier attitude. 
Talking more and listening less is a compulsive disorder.

Those who don't listen to what others are saying and are in the habit of interrupting while others are talking are obsessed with themselves. Many don't even realise they are being annoying or anti-social, especially at official meetings and conferences, where setting a time limit for each speaker will allow everyone to speak his or her mind without interruption.

Good listeners make good leaders. The more we listen, quietly, calmly, attentively, the more we put people at ease and the more they are drawn to us.

Moral of the story: Listen, listen…LISTEN!

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Jon believed in miracles because his father did. He believed in them because they happened in his life and he told his son about them. As Jon grew up he saw miracles occur in his family, usually when his mom and dad thought they were down on their luck. Miracles came to their rescue at the most unexpected times and in the bleakest moments of their lives. It seemed so at the time. His father wasn't surprised for he knew miracles were always round the corner, waiting to step in, take hold of their lives, and set things right.

“That’s what miracles do. They set things right,” Jon’s father told him. “And you won’t even know when they do.”

Jon learnt about the power of miracles very early on in his life even though sometimes he saw them and sometimes he didn’t. For example, the new clothes his sister and he wore on occasions like birthdays were bought on shop credit. How his father managed to pay back each time, out of his meagre income, was a miracle. The children were never deprived of anything.

“Do you know why miracles happen?” Jon’s father asked him one day. “They happen because of faith. There is divine hand behind every miracle. If you don’t have faith, you won’t believe in miracles and neither will you see them.”

When he was very young, Jon’s father told him a true story about himself.

When Jon was a tiny tot, his father went out of the city on an assignment which took him to a small town. It was night and the streets were dimly lit. The 34-year old man entered a restaurant and ordered food and while he waited at his table, he asked for directions to the toilet. A waiter pointed towards the rear door. Jon’s father stepped out into pitch darkness and assuming that the toilet was some distance away, as was common in those days, he began to walk, feeling the ground beneath his feet. 

After what seemed like a long time, he halted and looked over his shoulder and saw the lights of the restaurant in the distance. He was a little afraid. Instinct told him not to venture further. He stood there, unzipped, and started to pee, when he suddenly heard the waiter's frantic voice somewhere behind him.

“What the hell do you think you are doing, sir?” he demanded of Jon’s father. “You are peeing in our well!”

The waiter stood beside him and flashed a torch on the ground except there was no ground, only a yawning black hole. Jon’s father was standing on the very edge of the well, level with the ground. He staggered behind. One step, just one more step, and that would have been the end of him.

Jon never got bored of hearing the story and his father never tired of telling it. They were on the same miracle wavelength.

He told Jon, “Miracles are God’s way of telling us that he is watching over us and that we have nothing to fear. They are like blessings. Count them every time they occur in your life and never forget to send a silent thank you.”

Thanks to the valuable lesson his father taught him, Jon is mindful of miracles in his life, and they happen all the time.

Monday, October 20, 2014

#2 Five ways to measure your worth

1. Height: You are only as tall as you stand in your own eyes.

2. Width: You measure your heart by the breadth of your compassion and your capacity to understand others.

3. Length: The length of your reach is measured by the lives you touch.

4. Time: The time you spend on earth is calculated by the hours you put in service of others.

5. Feet: The steps you take are counted by the distance you cover on the path of righteousness.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Alphabet Quotes: K is for Kindness

"Guard well within yourself that treasure, kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness."
— George Sand (Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin)

"Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind."
— Henry James

"I feel no need for any other faith than my faith in the kindness of human beings. I am so absorbed in the wonder of earth and the life upon it that I cannot think of heaven and angels."
— Pearl S. Buck

"Be kind, because everyone is having a really hard time."
— Plato

"You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late."
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The face in the mirror

What is the first thing that you do after you wake up in the morning? You curse, stretch, yawn, squint, and scratch your way to the bathroom. As you prepare to brush your teeth, you peer into the mirror and you do something that isn't the most charming way to start your day with—you look as gloomy as the mirror will allow you to look.

When you frown, the face in the mirror frowns right back at you. If the poor guy had his way, he would probably have smiled at you, instead. But you won’t let him because you won’t change your scowl into a smile, your grimace into a grin.

If the fellow in the mirror doesn’t like your frowning face, how do you expect anyone else to? He has to live with it because he can’t do a thing about it. Others can run away from you. Nobody likes a sour puss.

Your facial expression, particularly the expression you wake up with, is the one you will carry with you all day long and it will decide how your day goes—good or bad or, worse still, ugly. It is not a very pleasant sight. With a face like that, can your negative aura be far behind? Not only will you ruin your day, you will spoil everyone else’s too. Wouldn't it be better if you stayed at home and not showed your face outside?

So the next time you wake up in the morning and look into the mirror, smile, and the face in the mirror will beam right back at you—and see how good you feel and how well your day goes. This is a fact of daily life.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Alphabet Quotes: J is for Jealousy

"Jealousy is a disease, love is a healthy condition. The immature mind often mistakes one for the other, or assumes that the greater the love, the greater the jealousy - in fact, they are almost incompatible; one emotion hardly leaves room for the other."
— Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

"What is jealousy but a reflection of your own failures?"
— Michael Connelly, The Last Coyote

"The thermometer of success is merely the jealousy of the malcontents."
— Salvador DalĂ­

"Jealousy in romance is like salt in food. A little can enhance the savor, but too much can spoil the pleasure and, under certain circumstances, can be life-threatening."
— Maya Angelou

"Jealousy isn't a pleasant quality, but if it isn't overdone (and if it's combined with modesty), apart from its inconvenience there's even something touching about it."
— Milan Kundera, Laughable Loves

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The internet is the new magic mirror

Blogging is an ego trip, says my better half. To which I’d like to add: a lot of things we do on the internet is self-aggrandisement in one form or the other. We mean well and we are being genuine, of course. Fortunately, most of it is harmless and often downright banal. For instance, the stuff we write and the pictures we post, the feedback we hunger for, the secondhand products we market in cybershops, the qualifications we peddle on job sites, the gossip we indulge in chatrooms, the mindless emails we forward, or the souls we sell on social media. I have only scratched the surface, but you get the drift, don’t you?

While it seems like it is about the collective good, it is actually about the individual bad. Much as we refuse to admit it, what we do on the internet is largely about ourselves brought on by our keen and reckless desire to be heard, read, seen, and felt the moment we “connect” and go in search of personal glory.

Self-aggrandisement is defined as “an act undertaken to increase your own power and influence or to draw attention to your own importance.” Nowhere is this truer than in cyberspace. The next time you enter the bowels of the internet, keep one eye on your activities and you’ll know what I’m harping about.

The internet is the new Magic Mirror and we, its multitude of users, are the new avatars of the Evil Queen, begging for answers to the question—“Google at my fingertips, who is the most popular on the internet?” And, like the queen in Snow White, we long to hear the internet always reply: “My dear surfer, you are the most popular in cyberland.”

The irony of it all is that, no matter what we do and how much time we spend on the internet, we only have a superficial presence and not a real existence as we’d like to think. The moment you “disconnect” you cease to be, as I will the minute I log off after posting this self-promotional piece.

This is my point of view.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Denying yourself can be a source of joy

Strange as it may seem, there is quiet satisfaction in denying oneself. It is self-control or self-discipline in its purest form. It means relinquishing our selfish wants and desires, the capacity to say no to the things we think we need or want.

Not surprisingly, our mind is trained to do just the opposite—crave for things, hanker after stuff that we don't need or use. We do this almost every day of our lives, whether it is in a restaurant where we order more than we can eat or in a shop where we buy more than we actually need. Anything in excess is harmful. It bores a gaping hole right through our psyche and our pockets.

Mahatma Gandhi was perceptive when he said, “There is enough for everyone's need but not enough for everyone's greed.” What he meant was that, while we have enough, we never have enough, do we? He is telling us to deny ourselves and learn to say no.

Let’s take a familiar scenario. The next time you go to a buffet dinner, don’t tuck into every dish that you see, like it was your last meal. Serve only as much as you are going to eat. Don't heap your plate with food. Chances are you will waste it and if you don't feel like a glutton, you will certainly look like one.

Saying no to ourselves can be a good thing, and profitable too, as this real anecdote shows.

A young man once went into a bookstore and came across a hardbound book he had been planning to buy. The price was Rs.450, around $8. He picked it up and was about to pay for it when he asked himself, "Do I really need this book? Won't I find it in an used bookstore at a much lower price?”

After all, Rs.450 was good money that could be used to buy something more valuable. He put it back on the shelf. A week later, he found a near-mint edition of the book in a secondhand bookstall for Rs.125 ($2). Sometimes, self-denial pays off in more ways than we know.

Life provides us with enough opportunities to exercise restraint in the face of temptation. Saying ‘no’ is not just about sacrificing or rejecting something, like eating one slice of cake instead of two or buying one shirt in place of two or taking public transport instead of the car or offering the only empty seat on the bus to a fellow passenger. It is also a good habit, not to mention a healthy and positive way of life.

Saying no is winning the battle. Saying no and having no regrets later is winning the war. The mystics assure us there is more peace and contentment in self-denial than in self-indulgence. The latter invariably results in excess and regret. It is a sort of renunciation that helps us regulate our life and for our own good.

Bottom line: first learn to say no to yourself before you say no to others.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How long? A poem by Ramabai C. Trikannad

Ramabai C. Trikannad, my late grandmother, was a writer, columnist, poet, and a deeply spiritual woman. She read a lot. Classics were her favourite. She wrote about family life and parenting in newspapers in the mid-20th century. One of her columns was called Cat 'N' Bells. She also published a book of short stories called Victory of Faith and Other Stories, 1935. I have most of her published and unpublished writings including a hardback of her short story collection. Once in a while I read her poems and stories and what she said more than half a century ago resonates with me even today. How Long? is one of her poems that I like very much. 

Inconsistent, changing — weary yet restless —
We dance to the rhythm of nature.
Hoping, fearful — lest we lose them —
We try to hold and keep the things
Our fancy rests upon.
We strive and strive — not towards the Eternal —
But for the empty shows of life.
Thus, while in silence Mother smiles and watches over us,
We jostle and struggle on.

In some quiet hour
The heart draws back from all the world.
Whence — to where? To what purpose
This fruitless, aimless hurry and rush?
How long before delusion is destroyed and freedom gained?
For a moment, for a single moment,
Before the mind drops again
Into the ever intricating web of fancies and desires,
From the solitude of the heart
Comes the cry: “O Mother! How long?”

© Ramabai C. Trikannad

Friday, August 22, 2014

#1 Five ways to beat stress and anxiety

1. Every now and then let out a deep sigh, loosen up your muscles, and let go. As you do this drop your head and rest your chin on your chest, slump your shoulders, and let your arms hang freely by your side. Breathe slowly and effortlessly. You will soon feel relaxed.

2. Let your words and thoughts be positive. The best way to ensure this is to immediately substitute every negative word and thought with a positive one. As Norman Vincent Peale says, “I found that the best way to eliminate them (the little negatives) was deliberately to say a positive word about everything.” It is not easy but it can be done. There is joy and satisfaction even in practice.

3. Go for a long drive but make sure you are behind the wheel. Contrary to opinion, driving relieves stress because you are so busy concentrating on the road ahead that you have no time to think about yourself or your problems. It works for me. Just drive safely.

4. Have an obsessive goal. Making a pot of money is an excellent objective. The more you see in the bank, the better you will feel. But don’t let your obsession come between you and your other priorities, like your family.

5. “To hell with it. Whatever happens, happens!” Say this to yourself loudly and with conviction every time you feel stressed or anxious. It will help you shake off your worries and move on to something that truly deserves your attention. After all, what has to happen will happen in spite of your best efforts to prevent it. This is what mystics tell us.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Alphabet Quotes: I is for Integrity

"Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what's right."
— Isaac Asimov

"My grandfather once told me that there are two kinds of people: those who work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was less competition there."
— Indira Gandhi

"Goodness is the only investment that never fails."
— Henry David Thoreau

"Before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."
— Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

"Integrity is not a conditional word. It doesn't blow in the wind or change with the weather. It is your inner image of yourself, and if you look in there and see a man who won't cheat, then you know he never will."
— John D. MacDonald

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Excess baggage

Your life is so little and insignificant in the infinite and unfathomable scheme of the universe that there is just not enough space for the excess baggage you lug around with you, as if your very survival depended on it. You insist on taking it with you wherever you go. Each of your bags has an ominous tag—anger, rage, hatred, resentment, pride, greed, insensitivity, selfishness, apathy, and insecurity. There is just one problem: there is no one around to help you carry them. You know why? Because nearly everyone else is carrying the same amount of excess baggage as you do. And no one wants to dump them and become truly free.

The ten extra large bags do you so much harm you scarcely realise it, each one pulling you down into an abyss, causing you the mental equivalent of physical paralysis. This is no life.

Why are you reluctant to offload your excess baggage? What are you afraid of that you should cling to the very things that make you unhappy and self-destructive? What are you trying to prove? More importantly, what are you hiding under? A false sense of security, perhaps. If that were the case you would have been happy with yourself and at peace with others, but you know you are not.

So why not replace these bags, which are draining out all your mental and physical energies and making you a bitter and nasty person that others run away from, with a new set of bags that take you in the other direction, where you are a better person and where others like being around you.

The new tags on your ten brand new bags should ideally read calmness, understanding, love, acceptance, humility, generosity, concern, selflessness, compassion, and self-assurance.

Unlike the negative baggage you carry about with you and which absolutely no one wants, anyone would be willing to give you a hand with your new bags. Just try passing them around and see what happens—you will be surprised how many people come forward to take them out of your hands and carry them for you, happily and cheerfully—because that is how they see you. Get a real life.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The way to healthy sleep

One of the things that should come naturally to you but often does not is sleep. Not sound sleep, just sleep, something you take for granted as soon as you rest your tired head on your pillow. But at times sleep can be as elusive as the sight of a wish-making falling star in the night sky. You lie awake in bed tossing this way and that way, your anger and anxiety at your inability to fall asleep mounting with each dreadful minute. You wish the clock would stop ticking for it is like a time bomb, a reminder of the approaching dawn that you don’t want to see. Every few minutes you reach under your pillow and look at your watch or reach for the alarm clock on your bedside table. In both dials, time is flying and so is your frustration. As you lie awake in the dark, you envy the rest of the sleeping household. You want to wake up someone and share your nocturnal misery. At one point you feel like getting out of the bed and starting your day really early, actually feeling good when you think about it, but you know you can’t do that at 2 am. Everyone is still fast asleep—lucky people. 

Your problem is that the more you worry about not getting sleep, the more you are fighting sleep and the less likely you are of falling asleep. As with most things in life, resistance is futile when it comes to sleep. The key is to accept it and to remember you are not the only one who is having a nerve-wracking sleepless night. Most people agonise over sleep and the lack of it, some more frequently than others. For a lot of people sleeplessness is a serious and chronic issue. It can ruin your night and make your next day worse even before you launch into it.

Can you do something about it? Yes, you can. Something can be done about almost anything if you set your mind to it. 

The best place to start is to let go of your restless, wakeful situation. Accept that you are unable to sleep. It is not as if someone is torturing you with sleep deprivation. Be positive, however insensitive it may sound in the circumstances. Tell yourself that your day has stretched just a bit more into the night and that you are going to nod off eventually. The fact is you do nod off eventually, even if it is in the wee hours of the morning, out of sheer exhaustion than anything else. If your mind won’t put you to sleep, your body will sooner or later.

The rest of these hints to help you to sleep, even sleep well, can be applied without any order, depending on what suits you, and how comfortable you are with it. 

My own preferred remedy is a yogic posture called Shavasana, in Sanskrit, which means Corpse Pose. It is a relaxation technique, a state of rest, and is the culmination of all yogic asanas, or exercises. It is always done in the end. I like to think of it as dropping dead. 

Lie flat on your back with your eyes closed. Rest your head on a flat pillow. Keep both your hands straight and a little away from your body, palms upward. Likewise, keep both your legs straight and apart, toes pointing upward. In so doing, if your fingers curl up or your toes twitch, naturally, it means you are beginning to relax.

For some time breathe normally but gently. Don’t hold your breath or keep count. Let your thoughts come and go. Don’t resist them or react to them. Don’t chant any mantra or spiritual word or phrase. Try and keep your mind still. 

Shavasana always begins from the feet up. So first turn your attention to your feet, one at a time, and mentally loosen up your toes, your sole, your feet, and your ankle. Tell yourself that you are relaxing each part. Picture it as you go along. Wiggle your feet and toes slowly, if you like.

In this way slowly work your way upwards, to your shin, your knee, your thigh, your hip, and eventually to your entire leg. Mentally picture the stress and stiffness leaving both your legs and your feet. 

Don’t rush through it.

You then move upwards, to each part of your body, again one at a time, all the way up to your head, your brain, and your mind. Follow the same process as you did with your feet. Don’t forget to picture yourself relaxing every part, every muscle, and letting go. Say it in your mind.

Finally, relax your whole body in exactly the same manner. See clearly, in your mind’s eye, the tension slowly leaving your body. 

As you come to the end of the asana or yogic posture, which should take no more than fifteen minutes, you will feel relaxed and sleepy. If you don’t fall asleep instantly, don’t worry. Just turn on your side. Over time and with practice you will drift off into sleep. 

The important thing to remember during practice is not to exert pressure or become tense or feel burdened. It defeats the purpose the moment you do. 

Shavasana can be practiced any time, even if you don’t have a problem sleeping. It simply helps you to relax. It is nothing but meditation in a reposed state.

This is my way and it works for me. You can devise your own variation of this asana. Do what suits you best. You may consult a yoga teacher if you like.

There are other remedies that can help you to sleep, like taking a walk after dinner or supper, drinking a warm glass of plain milk before bedtime, taking a hot bath or shower, reading a funny book or watching a funny movie, listening to soothing music, giving up smoking, exercising or gymming, reducing caffeine and alcohol, hugging a loved one in bed. These are mostly short-term measures and while they may sound commonplace, they can be effective. 

More specifically, Shavasana should top a twelve-point list of sleep cures that will last longer, perhaps a lifetime. The other eleven are: 

Never go to bed angry. Never have a fight or an argument before bedtime—swallow your pride and make up. It is worth the effort.

Don’t think or brood about how your day went or what happened in the office or wherever—it is never really that important. 

Meditate or chant a mantra either silently or just loud enough for you to hear—it works as well as Shavasana.

Spend time with your family and feel loved and secure in their company—no one else will make you feel as good as they do.

Take LOL out of your SMS and actually Laugh Out Loud—it is still the best medicine around.

Put your mobile phone away. Switch off your computer. Stay away from the internet—cease to be a gadget man at least an hour before sleep time. 

Try not to worry over your past and your future—you have enough going in your present.

Don’t read or watch depressing news in the papers or on television—it can actually make you feel depressed and even give you nightmares. 

Take a few slow or deep breaths before hitting the pillow—it will help take a load off your mind and loosen up your muscles. 

Always pray before you go to bed—you could do a lot worse than underestimate its healing power.

Utter a deep sigh, as many times as you like—and just let go.

If you don’t like any of these, you can invent your own ways, so long as you learn to sleep, and sleep really well.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Alphabet Quotes: H is for Happiness

Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.
— Abraham Lincoln

Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.
— Nathaniel Hawthorne

Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste.
— Charlotte BrontĂ«

Happiness is a warm puppy.
— Charles M. Schulz

Learn to value yourself, which means: fight for your happiness.
— Ayn Rand

Thursday, June 19, 2014

What's not in a name?

Do you murder names and surnames? Not your own, someone else's. It's bad enough when you misspell or mispronounce a name, it's far worse when you do that to a surname, and smear the good family name. No matter how tongue-twisting a name is, it can and should be spelt or said correctly. All it requires is a little tact, a little patience, and a little sensitivity.

Writing or pronouncing a name wrongly can be hurtful though most people at the receiving end won't say anything or show they’re annoyed. They'll grit their teeth and bear it quietly, and damn you to hell.

I speak from considerable experience as would nearly everyone on my father's side. So far we've survived through it and, no doubt, future generations too will. I've seen and heard at least six fantastic variations of my surname and none of those match up. The mutilated forms are all I hear mostly so much so that sometimes I wonder if one of those might not actually be my family name. At such times I take out my birth certificate but what difference will it make if people don't know how to pronounce it.

Conversely, less than ten people have uttered my surname correctly during twenty-eight years of my life as a career journalist. I tip my hat to these thoughtful people.

In my opinion, wrong name-calling is worse than failing to remember a name. There, at least, you’re keeping mum and not opening your mouth and putting your platypus foot in it.

So what prompts one to butcher another’s name? I’m assuming its plain ignorance and indifference. While the first denotes one’s failure to get facts right, the second smacks of callousness and an I-couldn’t-care-less attitude, which is sadly but increasingly becoming the social template of the 21st century.

There is a solution but I wouldn’t wager my good family name upon it. Next time you want to call out to me, a simple “Hey you!” will do. Just keep the finger down. I can't promise that I won't turn around and glower at you.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Alphabet Quotes: G is for Giving

I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.
— Maya Angelou

Behold I do not give lectures or a little charity, when I give I give myself.
— Walt Whitman

No one has ever become poor by giving.
— Anne Frank

I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.
— C.S. Lewis

It is every man's obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it.
— Albert Einstein

What goes around comes around

In The Pursuit of Happyness, Chris Gardner, the character played by Will Smith, is desperately trying to fix appointments for the broking firm where he is working as an intern. During one sales call he manages to get a twenty minute appointment with a potential but a very busy and important client. What is striking about the scene is that the decision-maker at the other end of the line agrees to give Chris, a struggling salesman and a complete stranger, a few minutes of his precious time. There is no need for him to entertain Chris in the first place, and yet he does. Now this is only a film.

In real life how many actually listen to sales reps when they call leave alone give them appointments? Many do, often patiently, but most don’t, often showing their ugly side.

That ugly side can mean anything from shouting and abusing to disconnecting and slamming down the phone to accepting the call and putting it aside, to all of these.

When you watch the down-on-his-luck Chris Gardner putting the best smile on his face and doing the best he can to extract an appointment or two from a long list of names in front of him, you know life at his end of the line can’t be easy. You feel for Chris who dreams of giving his young son a good life.

But the irony is that while you want Chris to get a few appointments, you bang down the phone when the real Chris Gardner calls you and pleads with you to spare him a few minutes of your time. All he wants is for you to listen to him.

Every one of us is in some way or the other a Chris Gardner, begging, pleading, coaxing, cajoling, demanding…something out of someone.

Chris is doing his job, and so are you. He has a product to sell, and so do you. What happens to Chris can happen to you. And what goes around usually comes around.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Put life back into your years

When the years slip out of your life, it's time to put life back into your years, by making the best and the most of what is left. And the only way to make your remaining years truly count is to start living now. In other words, as has been famously said, live today as if there is going to be no tomorrow. Forty is the middle ground and a good benchmark to shed the old you and start anew.

If you are not forty yet, chances are you won’t notice the years breezing past. If you are over forty, chances are you will be reasonably obsessed with your balance years. This is why it is probably said life begins at forty. It is that mid-stage of life when you suddenly become aware of lost years, of time gone by, of growing old, and of the fact that there is no turning the clock back. You look over your shoulder and wonder where, at least, the last twenty years went and what you did with them. What have I been doing all these years? Did I waste all that time? Did I achieve anything significant? Where can I go from here? In fact, self-inquiry will be your starting point as you enter the fourth and the most decisive decade of your life.

Once you are forty and over you will also develop a philosophical view of life from which will spring your desire to start living your life as you were really meant to live it. There will be little place for frivolities.

What can you do to enrich your life and accomplish more than you ever have in the past? Plenty. However, before you get down to the nitty-gritty of living wisely, meaningfully, and productively, you need to do something else first—go back to the basics. You need to recondition your negative personality—your thoughts, energies, feelings, and emotions—into positive ones. Start with a clear conscience. Make a clean break from your self-centered past. For, without some form of inner cleansing, you will achieve little.

First and foremost, get over your past. Let go of the bad times, the barriers, and the bitterness. Cherish only the happy moments and memories. You’ll be surprised how many there have been.

Have no regrets over yours or someone else’s past actions and mistakes. What is done is done. The more you brood over it, the more you alone will be unhappy. You cannot put spilt milk back into the pitcher; all you can do is wipe the floor clean and have a fresh glass of milk.

Your past and your regrets are like excess baggage. There should be no room for them in your life. Offload them before they weigh you down more than they already have. Imagine what would happen if airlines did not restrict passengers to a maximum of 15 to 20 kg of luggage—planes might never take off. Neither will you.

Learn to forgive those who have harmed you. As Gandhi said, “Forgiveness is not the attribute of the weak. It is the attribute of the strong and the brave.” It takes a great deal of courage and compassion to forgive someone. It is also one of life’s great ironies that your own peace and happiness lies in your capacity to forgive others.

Life would be stale without laughter in our lives. Whoever said, “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; cry, and you cry alone,” was a wise person, speaking no doubt from personal experience. As was Charlie Chaplin when he observed, “A day without laughter is a day wasted.” Doctors admit that laughter has potential health benefits and nowhere more so than in our mental well-being. When you laugh it puts you and everyone around you in a good mood, which conversely, makes you and everyone else laugh more. It’s also a prescription-less antidote for our fears, worries, and anxieties.

Finally, the one thing that will help you make a smooth and peaceful transition through the second half of your life is an abundance of faith and prayer, which is the sum total of all the reconditioning you put yourself through. If you haven’t taken recourse to it, then it’s imperative that you do. When everything else fails, it’s only your faith and prayer that will see you through your trials and tribulations. Wear this life jacket and you will be able to swim through the most turbulent sea without fear of drowning.

To recap, the five key things that will enable you to live your life to the fullest, in your forties and beyond, are: one, getting over your past and not worrying too much about the future, which essentially means living in the present; two, having no regrets or recriminations and starting with a clean slate; three, a capacity to forgive, and forget if possible, and letting bygones be bygones; four, laughing more and weeping less; and five, an abiding faith in the power of prayer. Do this and the good life will be your biggest reward ever.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Alphabet Quotes: F is for Forgiveness

You can’t forgive without loving. And I don’t mean sentimentality. I don’t mean mush. I mean having enough courage to stand up and say, ‘I forgive. I'm finished with it.’
— Maya Angelou

Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.
— Oscar Wilde

Never does the human soul appear so strong as when it foregoes revenge and dares to forgive an injury.
— Edwin Hubbell Chapin

The best way to get the last word is to apologise.
— God's Little Devotional Book for Women

We are all full of weakness and errors; let us mutually pardon each other our follies.
— Voltaire

Monday, April 21, 2014

A holiday to Matheran

Text and photographs by Prashant C. Trikannad

Our short trip to Matheran, the smallest hill station in India, was exhilarating and depressing at the same time. The two contrary emotions reflected our mood just before we embarked on the holiday and just before it was time to return home, which came sooner than we thought it would. No one likes to see the last of a good holiday. You are never sure how soon your next one is going to be.

Nonetheless, the three-day holiday to the eco-sensitive region located 2,600 ft above sea level in the western state of Maharashtra, India, was as memorable as all our previous trips to the scenic hill station.

The rustic road to Matheran.
The charm of Matheran—which was discovered during British rule more than 160 years ago—lies in the complete ban on all kinds of motorised vehicles. Only a fire truck and an ambulance are allowed in. The two popular “modes” of transport from the base called Dasturi Point or Car Park, to the top of the lush green mountain, and within Matheran, are horses and handcarts, and your legs.

If you know horse riding, you can ride on your own; if not, the owner of the horse will hold the reins and walk beside you. You can ride at a trot if you like. The normal fare for a horse ride is between Rs.300 ($5) and Rs.600 ($10) though it varies depending on how far or close you want to go. Tourists often prefer to ride a horse to the various “points,” or places of interest, like Charlotte Lake or Echo Point or One Tree Hill or Monkey Point or Panorama Point. Others walk on uneven paths that cut through wild trees and brush on either side. There are no tarred roads in Matheran, only trodden paths of red mud. In fact, it’s a great deal more fun walking. The place is safer than a city.

Horses wait for riders.
The one-seater handcarts are manned by two men, usually of medium height and slight build, one pulling from the front and the other pushing from the rear. One man alone cannot pull a cartload of customer and luggage, unless the unpaved ground is flat. When you see the men panting as they pull and push their handcarts, especially up a steep incline, you cannot help thinking what some people won't do for a living. If you ask them about it, they say, “This is our bread and butter. We have been doing it for generations.” You are actually doing them a favour by hiring their services.

Panoramic view of Charlotte Lake.
Of course, the 107-year old Matheran Hill Railway plies toy trains on narrow gauge from Neral, the nearest mainline railway station, to the centre of Matheran, a journey that takes more than two hours. It winds up and around green hills and mountains and through some of the most beautiful scenery this side of the mighty Western Ghats, a mountain range. The train covers 12 km an hour and so slow is its momentum that you can walk next to it. The toy train service is closed during the rains, June to September, as is most of the hill station when its inhabitants come down to the plains in search of temporary livelihood.

There is more to Matheran than its horse-and-handcart economy. The hill station is popular for its patent leather goods, footwear, belts, and wallets, sold at nearly half the price than in the city. Shops selling these and other items like jam and chikki, a traditional sweet made from groundnut and jaggery, are lined on both sides of Victoria Road, the main thoroughfare. Matheran also has its own municipal council, a post office, a health facility, a fire station, a small public library, parks and gardens, and expensive and budget hotels and restaurants. 

Lord's Central Hotel on Victoria Road.
Some hotels, like Lord’s Central, where we stay every time, is one of the oldest and most charming. The hotel, run by generations of the Lord family, is quiet and comfortable and its owners make you feel at home. The hotel is probably the only one in Matheran with a spectacular view of the valley. It has lovely cottages and bungalows with columned porticos and large clean rooms. The hotel has a swimming pool, an informal library, a large dining room, a giant chessboard, a badminton court, and other games. Lord’s belongs to Matheran of yore, one of very few hotels that have kept the old charm and tradition of the hill station alive. Elsewhere, Matheran is being swallowed by commercial interests.

Our cottage at Lord's Central had a columned portico.
If Matheran is famous for its horses, it is notorious for its monkeys, particularly the Bonnet Macaques and Hanuman Langurs, which roam freely about the place. People, especially children, are warned against eating in the open as the monkeys snatch food right out of your hands. If shooed away, the big ones open their mouths and bare their teeth and are even likely to attack. They fear horses and stray dogs and the odd man wielding a stick or a catapult. Without its horses and monkeys, Matheran would lose its appeal. 

Valley view from the hotel.
Even a short holiday to a quiet place like Matheran—which means ‘forest on the head’—is rejuvenating. The three days were spent happily and without mundane distractions. The thought of returning to city life was painful. As we left our cottage behind, my wife said, “Look over your shoulder before you leave so that we come back again.” And we always do. 

Municipal garden in Matheran.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Alphabet Quotes: E is for Experience

Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.
— C.S. Lewis

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
— Eleanor Roosevelt

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
— Chinese proverb

The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.
— Muhammad Ali

Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.
— Paulo Coelho

Friday, February 28, 2014

Spring-cleaning the mind

Everyone spring-cleans once or twice a year, usually just before a festive season like Diwali or Christmas. You get rid of a lot of old and unused stuff, even stuff you didn’t know you had. Bags and clothes, books and compact discs, kitchen items and furniture pieces, you give them all away, mostly to charity, to people who can’t afford them and would actually use them. After cleaning up your house, you feel a sense of satisfaction, even relief, as if a load has been lifted off your shoulder. In fact, you feel so good about it that you look for more stuff to dispose off.

If a task as mundane as housecleaning can make us feel pleased with ourselves, think of how much we will benefit from de-cluttering our mind and our life in that order. Unlike our material possessions, we can’t put all our thoughts, particularly negative thoughts, into a basket and throw them away. Most will refuse to budge and the ones that do will soon be replaced by other more unpleasant thoughts.

Challenging as it seems, the solution is actually quite simple: weed out unconstructive thoughts as soon as they come and they come in the first place because you invited them. Throwing out stuff from your closet or attic is at best a half a day’s job; emptying your mind of undesirable thoughts can take much longer, perhaps even a lifetime. This is because you have conditioned your mind to receive and nurture more negative than positive thoughts almost throughout your life.

It sounds almost impossible but it can be done. Every time an unhelpful thought rears its head, don’t try and brush it aside; instead, push it away firmly and permanently. Initially it will be reluctant to go, finding ingenious ways to enter the portals of your mind and digging its heels in like before. With perseverance and practice you can bit by bit, inch by inch, take control of your mind, guarding it like a gatekeeper and deciding which thought to allow in and which one not to. This will require tremendous effort backed by an iron will and spiritual discipline.

You can start the transformation of your thought process this very moment—by becoming aware of your mind and thinking one good thought, say, for every five bad thoughts and taking it from there. Change won’t happen overnight but it will eventually and when it does, your mind will be the first to let you know. 

Friday, January 31, 2014

Alphabet Quotes: D is for Decision-making

Do something. If it works, do more of it. If it doesn't, do something else. 
— Franklin Delano Roosevelt

A "No" uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a "Yes" merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble. 
— Mahatma Gandhi

Why do we have to listen to our hearts? Because, wherever your heart is, that is where you’ll find your treasure.
— Paulo Coelho

It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.
— J.K. Rowling

Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.
— Napolean Bonaparte

Triveni Sangam

On January 28, I visited a serene and beautiful place called Triveni Sangam situated at Alandi about 25 km (15 miles) from Pune, a vibrant city located some 150 km (93 miles) from Mumbai where I live. The place is set amongst hills, rivers, and greens and is considered holy by Hindus.

Triveni means ‘three rivers’ and Sangam means ‘confluence’ hence Triveni Sangam refers to the meeting of three sacred rivers—Bhima, Bhama, and Indrayani. In Hindu tradition, a bath at the confluence of all three rivers helps wash away one’s sins and frees one from the repetitive cycle of birth, death, and rebirth until one attains moksha (salvation).

Triveni Sangam is also considered sacred because the ashes of the departed are immersed at the confluence of the rivers, thus liberating the soul from earthly and material bondage. A local boatman takes you to the point of convergence where you submerge the ashes in a brief ritual. He charges Rs.30 (about 50 cents) per head for the ride and guides you if necessary. It is an affecting scene.

The place is also the samadhi or final resting place of Sambhaji Maharaj, son of the brave Maratha warrior king Shivaji who fought against Mughal rule in the 17th century, and is dotted with many temples and deities. Clean and wholesome vegetarian food is available at the site. 

There are similar Triveni Sangam in other parts of India. While the Triveni Sangam I visited is also a tourist destination, it is first and foremost a holy site for religious rites. A few moments spent in the tranquil environment can alter one’s outlook on life for the better.

© All images by Prashant C. Trikannad