Saturday, April 25, 2015

‘Thy will be done!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Adapted from my writings on Facebook

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The flight of the library

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 6, 2015

Lake on a hilltop

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 3, 2015

Life is good again!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your reports are normal,” the technician says.

“Are you sure?”


“Every one of them?”


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