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Life Is One Wodehouse Story

with ups and downs and all…

This too shall pass, sweet soul.

I am in the middle of a meditation course at Tushita and am not really supposed to use any sort of social media till the course is over. Since I am not physically there at the centre in MacLeod-Ganj and have been attending virtual sessions, I have not been living a completely gadget free life for the duration of the course. And although I haven’t used social media for the last few days, I have been staying up to date with the news around. And it keeps getting worse.

EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Yesterday I read about a public servant who committed suicide because he was afraid he would contract Covid-19 and spread it to his family.

And day before another young actor from Bollywood committed suicide. They say he was depressed and on medication.

Before that it was a small boy of 12 in my city who committed suicide because his mother wouldn’t let him watch TV. That is what the newspaper reported.

The situation has always been grim but things have deteriorated really fast since the lock-down.

You can say, oh but so many people commit suicide every day. Why do you have to write a blog now?

Why?

Because it is important.

Because it gives me heartache to see people do that to themselves.

Because every time someone, especially someone who is a well-known personality, commits suicide, they are, unknowingly, setting a precedent that when things get too overwhelming and difficult, YOU CAN QUIT.

I really hope mental health issues receive the importance that they deserve. I wish our society did not stigmatise anxiety, depression, OCD and other debilitating disorders that make life a personal hell for people who suffer them. People who fight them.

Life is difficult, I know. I know. These days, and I will not lie, every day feels like a struggle. And I know for many of us, our anxieties have skyrocketed like never before. There’s insomnia, loneliness and a feeling of constant despair. Some of us have our loved ones working on the frontline. Some fear spreading the infection to their family members. As if Covid-19 wasn’t enough, there are cyclones and forest fires. There are tensions at the border. People are hungry and jobless. There are protests happening all over and then of course there’s climate change. And we don’t know what fresh hell will get unleashed tomorrow or in the next few months.

why am I mentioning this?

Because I know it is very easy to get over-whelmed by what is happening around. And when we are overwhelmed, our experience of things around us feels even more acute. Uncertainty becomes unbearable, fear starts to take over. And instead of wisely responding to things, we start reacting hastily.

If for a moment.. you paused and looked around you’d see, Life isn’t easy for any of us. We all have our ups and downs. And I know sometimes it feels like you cannot breathe due to all the negativity and pain that surrounds you, trust me when I say this, this too shall pass, sweet soul.

The Budhha said, be a lamp unto yourself. Be that lamp. Stand up to your fears. Stand up to uncertainty. Stand up to bad days.

If you need professional help, ask. Ask. Ask. Ask. There is no shame. You are not weak to ask for help. In fact it takes great courage to let someone know that you feel vulnerable and hence need help. It is okay to ask for help. No person in their right mind is going to judge you. This is your life. YOUR LIFE. And it is precious.

You are precious. Yes, you are. I know you are.

And you are not alone. There are 7 billion plus people on this planet and it has affected each one of them negatively. Okay may be not to sanitizer companies but you get my point, right?

Instead of being hard on yourself, show yourself some compassion. Do things that bring joy to the soul. Listen to that song. Eat your favourite meal. If you feel helpless, help someone in need. Do what brings you peace. There’s no competition. You are not in a race. Be kind to yourself. Indulge yourself in a healthy living. Breathe deeply and be grateful for the little things. If there is one good thing that Covid has made me realize, it is to never take the little things for granted. They are of utmost importance. Cherish your journey as you cherish the people in your life. Tell someone you see struggling that you are proud of them for not giving up.

Be a lamp unto yourself and unto others.

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There’s a quote in Les Miserables that think of every time things get too much.

Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.

Victor Hugo.

Take life one breath at a time and keep reminding yourself, this too shall pass, sweet soul. This too shall pass. I promise.

Also, if you see someone struggling, reach out to them. Help them seek help. These are difficult times, be there for each other.

 

Love,

Ashwini

WordPress just reminded I started my blog four years ago, today. What a coincidence? time flies. 🙂

Partition, Home, Covid19, Chai and more.

Hello all,

I’ve been deliberately trying to avoid writing about the pandemic for the last 40 days, mostly because a) I’ve been hoping it will end. Like if I procrastinate writing about it for long enough, a day will come when this nightmare called covid19 will be a thing of the past and we shall all be living normal lives again. And b) A lot has been already said and written about the pandemic, do I really have to pile on?

So anyways, two days back my entire city was declared a covid19 containment zone. Not an area, or a lane or a housing society but the entire city is a containment zone now. And with cases yet to peak in India, I know things will get worse before they get any better. Since covid19 is here for another few weeks, I might as well write about it. So here it goes..

In the second week of March when there were some half a dozen cases in India, a few of those in my city, we got calls from family members outside of town, asking us to pack a few important belongings and come live with them because things were about to get worse in major cities across India. I’d been following the coronavirus cases in Wuhan from mid-Jan and my mind brought back visuals of a city in complete lockdown with thousands infected. It sent chills down my spine. Surely nothing like that would happen here, I thought. No. NO. Although we brushed aside the thought of leaving home, for a minute or two I contemplated over the idea of leaving home. It felt scary. Leaving home with a few belongings for no one knows how long, the idea felt frightening and kept me anxious all evening. I know there is no comparison but for a fleeting second I thought of all those people who had to leave their homes with just a handful of belongings during the Partition of India in 1947 never to return back home. Ever.

If we’d decided to leave that week, because things did start deteriorating soon after as the city borders got sealed, we’d still be away from home. Our house is a small 2BHK flat in an apartment complex with no terrace or garden, so it does feel claustrophobic sometimes, but I am still glad that I am home. My heart goes out to the people who are lost, stranded, poor and hungry. Not just in my country but everywhere in the world. I wish you strength.. and I have you in my prayers. As Victor Hugo said, Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.

The lockdown was very overwhelming initially. What with all of social media telling you how to make the most of your free time. What to watch, what to read, what to cook, what to learn. I mean why?? So much unnecessary pressure to be productive. Come to think of it, for most of the people the nationwide lockdown came as a shock. People were not thrilled. Nor had they anticipated things to escalate so fast. Instead of actually trying to process all that was happening, there was all the hullabaloo about doing this and doing that and then letting other one million people on social media know how you are passing time and how happy and productive you are in quarantine. Especially the ones who’ve been regularly showcasing their culinary skills after having hoarded food items from the market or still going out to get something to make an exotic dish they need to share with their friends. Defeats the entire purpose of a lockdown, people. We are in a crisis here. Life may be a joke to some but it is precious to most of us.

By March last week we had no milk in the house and no fresh vegetables either. Even wheat flour was just enough to last two weeks. All of these are essentials and I was allowed to go buy them but I chose not to. Instead we replaced chai with black tea and veggies with sprouts. Rice replaced rotis. A lot of friends suggested I was acting out of fear and that I could go out and come back and that it was no big deal. As much as I appreciate your concern, it is this casual attitude towards the pandemic that has deteriorated the situation in the country, people. I have a father who is a public servant working on the field some 150kms away whom I haven’t met in more than 50 days and I know what a nightmare it is to be working right now. It is for him and for others like him who still have to work every single day, the police officers, the paramedics, the bank employees, the grocery store owners, the sanitation workers, people in the administration, etc that I choose to strictly follow the lockdown.

Two weeks back I saw visuals from London where people were out for evening walks like everyday routine. Even in my area I saw at least 5-10 people go out for evening walks everyday until the entire city was declared a containment zone two days back. It is really frustrating to see this attitude of some smart-alecky citizens endangering other people’s lives. I’ve realized that I cannot control everybody else so I’ve stopped trying. I can only do what is my duty as a citizen of my country. I can only hope that people will recognize the gravity of the situation and not give in to every urge and go out. We are better than that. This one time I was contemplating whether I was being unnecessarily fearful and that whether I should go out to get something (okay, that something was cheese!) I found this quote by Georgia O’Keeffe on Brainpickings.org’s page that said..

Anyone with any degree of mental toughness ought to be able to exist without the things they like most for a few months at least.

-Georgia O’Keeffe

So long story short, I think of this quote every time I feel like I need to go out and get something that isn’t something very essential.

How do I spend my time? Nobody asked but I am gonna write it anyway. 😉

Unlike lots of other students, my exam has not been postponed yet. Initially I did spend some of my time feeling overwhelmed and anxious due to the sudden onset of the pandemic, so right now I am spending all my time studying. My online classes have not yet resumed so it has been just me and my books lately. A few friends suggested I should really control the news I consume everyday so I only check for news twice daily and make a point to not google, ‘Coronavirus in India’ every few hours.

When I am feeling low, I listen to my favourite songs.

And I rewatch snippets from my favourite feel good animated movies : Zootopia and Brave and Moana etc. Oh Btw, I watched Onward, you should too.

I read a light novel or a short story.

I talk to a few friends.

I video call my father.

I look at my bookshelf.

I write my gratitude journal.

I sit in my balcony.

I haven’t meditated or done yoga in a while so may be I’ll get back to it too.

I’d like to imagine that the way we miss the outdoors, the outdoors miss us too. As Khalil Gibran put in ‘The Prophet’..

“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair”

Wherever you are, I hope you remember that this is not permanent. Summer is almost here and it brings with it the fragrance of hope. And I hope that you find it in your heart to see the silver lining too.

Stay indoors, stay safe.

with love and hope,

Ashwini

P.S. – went out a few days back to get arthritis medicine for my mom and bought milk on my way back. Would never take the humble chai for granted ever again.

P.P.S. – I am truly grateful for all the people who’ve called to check on us. Little acts of kindness is all that matters in the end. Thank You.

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This was in response to our Prime Minister’s call to light lamps to stand in solidarity with everyone who is out working on the field. Wish you all strength and unfailing courage.

Of books and mood..

The other day a friend of mine asked me if I could recommend her a few books she could read in her free time. Oh, don’t you just love it when someone asks you to recommend books? I wish it was a full time job. If only. (; So anyway, when I asked her which genre she’d prefer? She said, and I quote her verbatim, “Anything, bro! Anything.” She is just out of college and a lot younger than me so I chose to forgive her for using the word bro. Sorry, without digressing any further.. Since I didn’t know which genre she’d prefer, I went on to recommend lots of books from different genres and asked her to read any depending on her mood. After I’d typed a long message (messages, actually!) I realized I had a favourite author and a go to book for every mood of mine. I thought I might as well write a blog about it and hope someone somewhere will find a book they just need. After all, books tend to find their readers too, nai?

#1 When you seek adventure : Jules Verne’s ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’ or ‘Journey To The Centre of the Earth’. Writing in the1800s, Verne was a man way, way ahead of his time. I hadn’t really tried sci-fi adventure till I read him. And I was awe-struck. I haven’t finished reading all his books because I don’t want to live in a world where I don’t have any more of Jules Verne’s books left to read. How very dull. Talking of adventures, I cannot move ahead without telling you about ‘The Hobbit’ by J.R.R. Tolkien. The Hobbit promises an adventure of a lifetime. I can write an entire blog about its impact on my life but to keep it short, let’s just say if someone held me at gunpoint and asked me to name my five favourite books, ‘The Hobbit’ will be one of them.

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#2 When you feel heartbroken and want to give up on love : Persuasion by Jane Austen. Everyone keeps talking about how great Pride and Prejudice is but honestly, I love Persuasion more! I read Pride and Prejudice when I was 17 and I loved the story and like everyone else I loved Darcy (a little too much) and Lizzy. Then I grew up and life happened. When I read Persuasion at 24 I realized what a beautiful story it was, more real, more relatable and far more better than Pride and Prejudice. It warmed my heart to the core.

Anne and Wentworth, you two have my heart.

#3 When you need a good laugh : Wodehouse! Wodehouse! Wodehouse! This blog is called ‘Life Is A Wodehouse Story’ for a reason. Because I love how I laugh when I read Wodehouse. Also I love how everything turns out just right in the end of every Wodehouse story. Again I haven’t read every Wodehouse story there is for the same reason I haven’t read all of Jules Verne, but if I had to choose one favourite, I’d pick ‘Adventures of Sally’. Piccadilly Jim comes close but Sally’s story is the best.

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#4 When you feel miserable : ‘A house for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul’. It is a lengthy novel but worth reading anyway. TIME magazine included it in its list of 100 best English language novels of the 20th century. It is the story of Mohun Biswas, a man who has had a not so significant life but hopes to one day own a house and hence find his happiness. It can be interpreted in a lot of different ways but to me, it is about relentlessly striving for your dreams no matter how many times life knocks you down. Part funny, part poignant, read it if you feel you are stuck in a rut. It has a happy ending, I promise. 🙂

#5 When you feel you’ve taken your life for granted : Happy realization, btw!

‘A thousand splendid suns’ by Khaled Hosseni and ‘The book Thief by Markus Zusak’. A thousand splendid suns is set in Taliban era Afghanistan and is about love, hope, friendship and survival in the war-torn country, also known as the heart of Asia, Afghanistan. I need not say much about ‘The Book Thief’ because assuming you’ve not been living under a rock, you’ve already read and heard a lot about it. Set in Nazi Germany, it will really make you appreciate the life you are living and cherish the people around you a little more. It will make you believe in friendship but will also make you cry. Sorry.

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#6 When you feel the need to calm down, take it slow : I am pretty new to the mindfulness scene. I haven’t read much but I really loved this book called ‘The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down’ by Haemin Sunim. Polly, my friend from Tushita recommended it to me and I must say, it is a lovely book indeed. It really made me slow down and reflect on my journey. Go for it if you feel you need some self-care and love. It will make you smile and leave you feeling happy and content. Oh, You can also read anything by His Holiness The Dalai Lama, especially on topics like happiness and sorrow. They are short reads but are helpful nonetheless.

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#7 When you feel lonely : I know I should be recommending a really happy-happy novel but no, The general in His Labyrinth’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is anything but happy. I don’t remember precisely why I chose to buy this book but I am glad I did. I read it on a particularly bad day, the kind where everything goes wrong and you are sad. Just plain sad. Reading this book was very, very cathartic. It’s comforting to know that pain, suffering and loneliness are real and that you are not alone. Somehow it changed my perspective towards life. Suffering? okay a lot of people go through a lot of bad things in life. You can either spend your life feeling sorry and miserable for yourself or you can do something about it before you run out of time. Choice is yours. I hope you choose wisely.

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#8 When you are a feminist and feel like you are giving in to patriarchy : ‘The liberation of Sita’ by Volga is the book for you.Oh, isn’t Volga a beautiful name? Volga is the pen name of Telugu feminist-poet-writer Popuri Lalita Kumari. If you are well acquainted with Indian mythology and culture you already know why Sita’s story needed to be retold from a feminist perspective. For those who don’t know Sita’s tale, Sita is the female protagonist of the Indian epic Ramayana. And somehow for me, Ramayana is more about the unfair unjust treatment meted out to Sita (like to most women in our epics) than it is about the triumph of good over evil. After everything that happened to Sita in the epic, her story did need a retelling. A closure of some sort. Volga gave me that closure. READ!

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#9 When you wish to time-travel : Can’t believe I’ve almost reached the end of the blog and haven’t talked about Charles Dickens, whose ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ was the first novel I ever read. An abridged version to be honest. :p but that book got me reading and I am truly grateful to Dickens for it. I loved all his books till I read Hard Times, which is horribly depressing so I’d say don’t read or rather start with that one. Read David Copperfield instead or rather Oliver Twist. I love them both. Oh and also A Christmas Carol! I have friends who find Dickens boring. Yes, I am still friends with them but they made me realize Dickens is not for everyone. You need to be patient and you need to have a soft spot for resilient characters who go against all odds. Most novels are a commentary on the Victorian society.

Dickens taught me life is hard. But it is also good. So hang in there!

#10 When you love daydreaming and can always find that one silver lining no matter how dark the clouds : ‘Anne of Green Gables’ by L.M. Montgomery. The day I read Anne’s story, I knew I had found a true friend in her. Or as she would say, a kindred spirit! It is a little difficult to keep it short here considering I’ve always wanted to write a blog about her. Everything about the story is just so beautiful. The story, the setting- Avonlea, Prince Edward Island(heart) and all the wonderful characters Montgomery painted.

Anne taught a generation of girls to follow their heart and never stop dreaming.

Thank You Anne.

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If you are a book lover, I am sure you’ve read all or most of the books mentioned above. In case you haven’t and find any of these interesting, Happy Reading my friend!

Namaste 🙂

Reflections

You know, every time I come back to WordPress after a long break, I feel a little nervous to start writing again. I struggle to put my thoughts into words and I struggle to put those words into coherent sentences that make sense. To top all of that a small voice in my head keeps telling me that everything I post just goes into a giant void. May be no one really reads my blog and that my writing does not really matter. So every time I feel this voice getting stronger, I remind myself of what I told myself when I wrote my very first blog on Life is One Wodehouse story three and a half years ago.

It is okay if just one person reads my blog and finds comfort in my writing. And it is still okay if that one person is just me. The point of writing is to bring comfort to the reader. The number of readers shouldn’t really matter.

If someone reading this has felt the same at some point, I’d say, write. You matter, what you have to say matters.

Oh, now coming back to writing reflections. Can’t believe it is 2020 already. At the start of the last decade I’d just graduated out of high school and now, after three degrees and different certifications later I realize I still am not where I want to be in life. I am still poring over books and waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel. Oh, cheer up! This blog is not about the ups and downs of my life. This is about the 10 things I learnt during the last 10 years. I hope you will find some value in them.

#1 Be Kind and Compassionate : This is the most important lesson I’ve learnt and have learnt it pretty late I feel. You know, during one of our lectures at Tushita, our teacher Ven. Khadro told us an anecdote about these Tibetan Buddhist monks who’d come to India. These were monks who were tortured by the Chinese and had endured great suffering at their hands. When His Holiness The Dalai Lama asked one of these lamas whether he was scared when he was at one of those torture camps, he said the only thing he was scared of was, was losing his compassion for the Chinese. That night I went to my room and cried my heart out because I never knew what true compassion was until that day. It is easier to be compassionate towards people we like and admire. But it is difficult (and more important) to be kind and compassionate towards people who are not necessarily kind towards us.

They need kindness the most. I hope we find it in our hearts to be nice to everyone, especially the ones who are not so nice to us.

#2 Do not be ashamed of your Failure : Oh, I had to learn this the hard way! Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. It truly is as simple as that. You can always try again. There is no point losing your sleep or health over your failure. It is your life, not somebody else’s. Act like it is yours and don’t let other people’s bitter comments (inspired by their own failings) bring you down.

#3 Never stop learning : learn something new everyday. Even if it is just a new word or a phrase you learnt today, you are better than what you were yesterday.

B.B.King said, ‘The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you.’

You can lose all your material and physical possessions but what you’ve learnt will always stay with you. So if there is something you’ve wanted to learn, be it anything, go learn. GO!

#4 Get rid of toxic people : We owe this to ourselves. Period.

Do not hold on to people who drain your energy fearing you’d end up alone.You won’t. If the world is full of mean and bitter people, it is also full of kind and generous and honest people.

Btw, alone is a good place too. Alone is where you know yourself, alone is where you become your best friend. And when that happens every nice person that comes along is just like a bonus because you’ve already found the best.

#5 Peace is possible : In spite of one’s pain and fears and insecurities and all, peace is possible. For me peace is a feeling where every memory, every person, every event that once caused me pain stops having that power over me. Peace can mean different things for different people. All I want to say is that peace is very much possible. Do not give up on peace.

#6 Passion is vital : Everyone is passionate about something and it is important to follow and nurture one’s passion in life. If you are fortunate enough to find something you love, you go for it with all your heart and go with full speed.

Like Roald Dahl says, ‘If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.’

Having said that, let me tell you one more thing, having a passion and following it does not necessarily guarantee great success in life. But we follow our passion anyway. Because? Because it makes us happy.

#7 Physical beauty is overrated : Oh, so overrated! I’ll give you an example. I’ve had acne on my face ever since I was 13. Growing up (for quite some time) it did affect my confidence, some days it still does. But I realized quite early in my life that my worth was not in how pretty I looked or how flawless my skin was but rather what qualities I choose to imbibe and what I do with them in my life. Physical beauty means a lot if you are a teenager or if you are in your 20s. The more you age the more you realize how ephemeral physical beauty is and that what really matters in the long run is what you did with your life rather than how you looked when you were doing that. :p Choose to live a healthy life and exercise regularly. That’s all there is to it, really.

#8 Hypocrisy rules social media: I am sorry to say this but social media is full of hypocrites. I know not all of them are hypocrites but sadly the majority of them are. Last week I reactivated my facebook and I had friend requests from people who in real life wouldn’t smile back at me if I smiled at them. Oh, the audacity! Hardly 10% of people on these sites share stuff worth sharing. Most of the others are arm-chair activists and big time show-offs. There’s no dearth of such people, You don’t have to be one of them.

#9 Small acts count : They do. They do. They do. Regardless of what the world has convinced you of , your actions matter. your voice matters. Not just from an ecological point of view, but in life in general. Small acts with good intentions can help heal the world. Be nice to mother earth. She’s been sustaining us for ages, we do not want the future generations to miss out on a healthy planet.

#10 Life is beautiful : It truly is! In spite of the rough days and the ups and downs, in spite of the lows and the days that make us want to question the purpose of it all, Life indeed is beautiful.

Life is beautiful because of all the lovely people I have in my life (including me, haha).

It is beautiful for I get to see the sea and feel the ground with my bare feet.

For I love the wind in my face and the chai during the rains.

I love window seats in bus/car/train/airplanes and I love cumulus clouds more than I love some of my friends, sorry 😉

I love the Mountains I get to climb and the roads I walk.

I love the peace of the countryside but I also like the city.

Because I love the happiness of meeting a best friend after a year and realizing nothing’s changed.

I like the smell of old books and I love hugging trees.

I like when I say hello to animals and they kind of acknowledge my greeting with kind shiny eyes.

I guess I can go on and on. The point being Life is beautiful. Don’t give up on believing that. If I can say that with my not so perfect life, I am sure you can too.

Love,

Ashwini

Also huge shout out to Shruti K. for regularly reminding me that I have a blog and I need to post on it. Thank You! Tuch! 🙂

Tushita, a place above clouds.

Tushita actually means ‘The place of joy’, the land of Maitreya Buddha, who according to Buddhist tradition is a future Buddha, yet to take birth on Earth.

For me though, Tushita is a place above clouds. Why so? Well, I hope you’ll find that out by the end of this post.

After I failed at the CSE this year, I was no longer sure I could continue doing what I was doing. I wasn’t sure I had the courage to walk the same uncertain road with the same uncertain destination. I was exhausted. Both Mentally and Physically. But somewhere in my heart of hearts, I knew I was not willing to give up altogether. There was a tiny, very tiny voice that asked for some time. Some time to think. Some time to breathe. Some time not just to heal but to gain perspective. Not just to start anew, but to just start.

At that time if someone I knew was in my shoes, I would have told them to pause a bit. To take a break. To get back to a state where the little things bring joy to life.

Yet somehow at that point in time I felt selfish to even think of a break. Let alone take one. It felt like I was trying to run away from everything and everyone. Instead of facing my failure head on, I was looking for a way out. Some sort of Salvation. Some sort of answer.

I realized talking to friends and family, unlike always, didn’t bring any comfort. There was no excitement for all the books I thought I’d read once the exam was over. I could feel that tiny voice inside me fading away. And I did not want it to get lost. I had to find a way to get away from all the noise, the clutter. Do something outside of the four walls of my room. I knew there were meditation retreats happening at various places in India. My best friend had attended a 10 day Vipassana course some two years back and I remembered her telling me what a life-changing experience she had. Having been a Yoga student for four years (and having dreaded meditation classes for those four years) I knew my mind needed some training, some discipline. A simple google search for meditation retreats in the Himalayas found Tushita Meditation centre. I realized it was the same retreat centre Megha Arora, one of the UPSC toppers for the year 2017 had recommended in her blog. In many ways I could relate to her journey. I knew it was a sign.

Tushita is a centre for the study and practice of Buddhism from the Tibetan Mahayana tradition. It is located in Dharamkot, just above the town of Macleod Ganj (the seat of His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama in exile) in Dharamshala, District Kangra in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.

From where I stayed, Tushita was just 2000kms. Just enough for most Indian parents to lose their sleep over their daughter’s saftey. I knew they wouldn’t let me go alone. Not by public transport anyway. Plus to simplify things, my sometimes just way too smart brain kept on reminding me geographical facts like, ‘Hey, but the Himalayas are a seismic zone-category four, I mean shouldn’t you be travelling to some place safe? And there are landslides all the time. Are you sure about this? I mean you do read the newspaper every day. You know about the landslides. And what about the incessant rains? August is the wettest month for most of the Himalayan states. Do you think it will be safe to travel by road through the mountains during this time of the year? Also since we are talking about safety, is this Tushita place safe? Does it even exist? I mean what do we really know about it, Aashu. Also, did you register? Was the registration successful? What if you actually travel 2000kms to finally know your registration wasn’t successful.’

Most days I listen to my brain. Some days I don’t. I think I like myself better when I don’t.

Mum and Dad were fine with the idea as long as my brother dropped me to Macleod Ganj. And I was fine with my brother as long as I got to go.

I reached Macleod Ganj on day three of my journey. Day four I checked in at Tushita. ‘It exists, Brain. Also My registration was successful. How about that.’ 😛

Day one was all about getting to know Tushita, its history, the retreat environment, our daily routine, rules of conduct, our teacher for the course : Venerable Khadro, Our meditation trainer Maya and our Karma Yoga jobs.

So Tushita is a no gadget zone. When you commit to a retreat at Tushita, you commit to spend your days in silence. (In hindsight, what a blessing!) Oh and the Karma Yoga jobs, To quote Tushita’s website verbatim, Karma Yoga is a Sanskrit term which means ‘Work which is done to benefit others.’ We were allotted our Karma Yoga jobs on the check in day. These Karma Yoga jobs can be anything from cleaning toilets, sweeping floors, saving little insects from being stepped over (❤), cleaning dishes to cleaning the dining room. Anything that can help you practice mindfulness and selflessness. I got to be a Dishwasher! We were also divided into discussion groups, so everyday for an hour for six days in a row, we could talk and discuss everything that was taught in the class. We then had to make a short presentation on whatever the topic of discussion was.

A typical day at Tushita comprised of both Lectures on Buddhist Philosophy and meditation sessions. First session of the day began at 6.45 a.m. The last session of the day got over by 8-8:30 p.m. In between we had breaks for breakfast (7.30 a.m. ), Lunch (12 p.m.), tea (3 p.m.), and dinner (6 p.m.).

If I am to be completely honest, by day three I was questioning my decision to have come to Tushita. The silence wasn’t making any sense. The little bit of what Buddhist Philosophy I learnt in class brought no solace. The dish-washing gave me back ache. On top of that the food I ate was bland. There are very few things I can’t eat with a happy face. Bland food tops the list. And most importantly I found my mind wandering during the meditation sessions. Exactly why I dreaded the meditation sessions with my Yoga teacher back home. What was the point of coming here?

As I was contemplating all of this, something happened. During a guided analytical mediation class, the teacher said something and things fell in place. Just like that. A line and everything made sense. Peace, after all. She talked about taking refuge in the self. Not in people, not in things. Just the self. Because salvation lies within.

I realized I had come to Tushita thinking it could solve my problems, I had expectations from the course. I realized this is what I’ve been doing all my life. Looking for answers outside of myself. Taking refuge in everything that I thought would bring long lasting, true happiness. That meditation session gave me the courage to look within. The voice that was timid before, it grew confident. It craved to be heard.

Once I realized that the answers to my confusion, my so called dilemmas lay within, I knew I could find the answers and through that process may be my peace of mind.

That session was a turning point of my stay at Tushita. I was back to my positive state of mind where the little joys of life made me happy and content. Tushita, then became a place that provided me with the much needed silence I required to look within. Once I let go of my expectations from the course, the meditation sessions started helping.

I found joy in everything I did.

The silence made sense.

The Gompa, which is Tibetan for a meditation hall, became home.

The library, no matter how small, felt magic.

Sipping tea while looking at the valley downtown with small cumulus clouds became meditative.

Smiling to fellow meditators became the norm.

Not having a mobile phone or a camera to capture everything beautiful had its own beauty. I could just be in the moment and breathe in the beautiful.

Looking at the monkeys going about their day in a way was fun too.

One thing that a lot of us did at Tushita was to save little beings from being stepped over. As they say at Tushita, they are small but sentient. Little lives matter. They are worthy of life too.

Learning became fun. And although I did not agree with everything we learnt in class, I truly believe that whatever I learnt at Tushita is valuable nonetheless. Especially the anecdotes about His Holiness The Dalai Lama. They’ve taught me more than all the philosophical concepts combined.

I looked forward to discussing the philosophical concepts of Buddhism with my discussion group friends every day. Bodhichitta, you guys! 😉

I became grateful for the bland food I ate. (I still ask Mum to put a little less salt in food and preferably no onions and garlic.)

The dish-washing became enjoyable, mindful even. Although my dishwasher friends know what kind of tantrums I threw with all the, ‘I can’t remove the remainder of food from the plates, I need some change today, please!’. Thank You for being so patient and compassionate with me. I wish I was equally patient and compassionate with you all. Just know that in my heart, I am sorry if I was rude and inconsiderate. I miss you to three different countries and back. 💕

Above all, the meditation helped. At least I don’t dread the sessions anymore. I know if my mind wanders off, at some point it will come back. And when it does, it is important to smile at it and not be angry. The little exposure I had to Buddhism taught me how important it is to discipline one’s mind. Most problems disappear if we treat our mind as a friend instead of treating it as foe. I am practicing that now and I feel like I become friends with my mind a little more every day. We have our fights but we are still friends. (:

Tushita is etched on my heart. And even though I now know how important it is to seek refuge within the self, Tushita is in many ways my refuge. My corner of peace. My place above clouds.

Did I find the road?

Did I find the answers I was looking for?

I found some, some I am still trying to find. But I know I will find them.

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Here are my fellow Dish-washer friends. There’s so much I have learnt and I still continue to learn from you guys. 🙂
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Here’s a picture of some of my discussion group friends. Still not sure I’ve understood emptiness, people. :p
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Here’s a group picture of us all in the Gompa. Behind us is a statue of Lama Tsongkhapa, the founder of Gelugpa School of Tibetan Buddhism.

Huge shout out to everyone who made this trip happen.

Thank you Mum, Dad and Anuj for having faith in me and for recognizing my need for a break. Aakash, thank you for being Gandalf to my Bilbo Baggins, wouldn’t have been possible without you!

My Teachers at Tushita, Thank You for being your kind compassionate selves. Thank You for all the wise words.

My fellow meditators at Tushita, thank you for being your amazing selves. I wish you true peace and joy. Friendships forged in silence are indeed beautiful. His Holiness is right, “Deeper human values and compassionate friends are the most important things in life.”

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To the reader on WordPress. Thank you for finding the time to go through my blog.

I’d like to end this blog by saying what they say at Tushita.

“May all beings everywhere be happy!”

My Rainbow-Coloured Failure

If you know me personally, you already know that I’ve been preparing for the Union Public Service Commission’s Civil Service Exam for quite some time now. For those on WordPress who don’t know about the UPSC CSE, it is a highly competitive exam that gets you into the coveted Indian Civil Services. If you get through, you work for the government, for your country and her people. As simple as that. I can actually visualize some people I know saying, ‘oh but there are other ways you can work for your country and her people, right?’ Why UPSC? Of course there are other ways. And I am sure all of us are, in some way or the other doing something for our country, which is nice. But is it enough? Having seen and read about both the good and the not so good public servants in the country, I know what kind of positive drivers of change bureaucrats can be. I can go on and on but this blog is not about why I want to become a public servant. This blog is about my repeated failure at the CSE exam.

Every year lakhs of aspirants take this exam. And like a lot of these aspirants, I’ve day-dreamt and day-dreamt about passing this exam and telling everyone about my journey. I and my fellow aspirant friends have always joked about what we shall talk about in our speech. ‘We’ll say this, say that. We’ll be very honest about our journey. No bluffing like I studied for 16-17 hours every day.’ Sadly I never passed to tell everyone about my journey. But I’ve decided that I wont let my failure stop me from talking about my failure. So here it goes..

So before I thought of my failure as a rainbow-coloured phenomenon, it was everything sad and depressing. Crippling even. And I spent quite some, no, long actually, a very long time feeling ashamed of my failure. And somedays, thanks to my failure, also of my life.

Why did failure have so much power over me?

I want to say I don’t know. But I do. I do actually know why failure hit me the way it did.

All my life I looked at failure as something that could not touch me. And since I was someone who always scored good grades and never missed a distinction, I knew it in my heart that as long as I studied the way I studied, I could get through any exam. And I am in no way saying that like ‘oh, I am so smart, I can do anything.’ No. Not like that. I’ll give you an example. So everyone knows, there are two types of people in this world. The ones who are good at Maths and the ones who are not. All my school life, I belonged to the latter category. I scored an A/A+ in every subject except Maths. So during my last year in school, I realized if I wanted to get into the college of my choice, I had to conquer Maths. I went from 90+/150 in my first semester to 141/150 in my final exam. So you see my point, I knew, given the required effort and sincere practice, I thought I could pass any exam. I was confident of my abilities. I had faith in myself.

All of this came crumbling down when I failed at my first attempt. If you’ve read my blog Plankton 🌈 , you’d know what I am talking about. Honestly though, I knew I was going to fail even before I took the exam. I knew because I was underprepared. So so underprepared. To begin with, I was intimidated by the exam. I didn’t know what exactly to read and where to read from. When to finish what, when to revise and when to write tests. They say the UPSC syllabus is so vast, you are supposed to know everything under the Sun. And they practically convince you to believe that.

Secondly I was misguided by some coaching class people who I thought knew the ABC of UPSC. They didn’t. And they charged money for all the misinformation they fed me. Looking back, this horrible coaching class owes me both money and time. My heart weeps for all those months I practically wasted under their sub-par guidance and low quality lectures.

Thirdly I relied a lot on other people’s, especially UPSC toppers’ strategy to tackle the exam. Didn’t work for me.
works for some, for some it just doesn’t. A lot of trial and error happened during those first few months.

Fourthly, I was overwhelmed by the expectations everybody around me (including myself) had from me. For the first time in my life, I realized I was letting everybody down. And it broke my heart.

Fifthly, getting into the services was all that I wanted ever since I was in school. So I never made any backup career plan for myself. As the realization, ‘If this fails, what do I do?’ hit, I felt helpless and lost.

Lastly, My brain kept on reminding me that out of the lakhs that take this exam, hardly a thousand get into the services. And out of those thousand only the top hundred-two hundred get the IAS.

And so I failed. And I failed and failed and failed yet again.

If somebody had told me I was going to fail again after that first attempt, I would have quit there and then. But I didn’t. Not even when I did fail again. I didn’t because some dreams are too dear to let go. And honestly, I don’t have many dreams. Just a few, and I want to see them come to life. I so want to see them come to life.

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Over the years I’ve realized that I’ve become friends with my failure. And It has in many ways helped me grow and shine.

The best thing that failure did to me was make me more of an empath. If I see someone who has failed at something, my first instinct is to tell them that it is okay. It is okay to fail. Don’t let it stop you from trying again. Smile at your failure, learn the lessons and try again.

My failure has in many ways helped me better myself. Not just as an aspirant but as a human being. I am more humble and yet more confident now than I ever was.

I realized Failure, no matter how big or how consistent, could not break my spirit. If anything it made me stronger and smarter. It helped me look at my weaknesses and flaws with a renewed spirit and gave me the courage to tackle them. Strange, right? failure being all motivating :p

By writing all of this I am in no way saying, ‘Oh failure, thou beauty, what did I do to have you?’ No. Not at all. I am not denying what kind of unpleasant experience failure is and can be. I am just saying, it is not so bad either, people. It really isn’t. I know this is going to sound clichéd but you’ve come so far, might as well keep reading 😉 There is no greater teacher than failure, there truly isn’t. I’ve learned more from my failure in these last few years than I did in my entire academic life and I say this having studied at some of the really good educational institutions in India. What my failure has taught me is priceless. Failure has its own colours. It is not just black and grey.

I am no one to advice fellow aspirants but I will say this. Don’t let your failure at the CSE define you. You are not your failure. You are more.

Don’t be intimidated by the exam. It is in the end just an exam. four letters, one word.

Keep the fire and the passion burning, okay? You’ve come this far, never forget that.

It is okay to feel overwhelmed by the booklist and the exam. It gets easier, I promise.

Don’t be afraid to take tests. It is only by scoring less and then working on those same tests and again scoring well is when you feel confident. Tests are here to help you, not to demotivate you. It took me some time to understand that.

Be patient with yourself. Be kind. Be your best friend in this journey uphill.

Hang out with the right people. Not the kind who continuously question your life choices and drain your precious energy. I know of some people who don’t care about keeping in touch all year but suddenly on result day they would text and call to enquire whether I passed or failed. Some people have nothing better to do than gloat. Let them go.

And last but not the least, don’t stop being happy because you haven’t reached your goal. Stay happy and may be you’ll reach there faster.

To people who are not UPSC aspirants but still need to hear this,

Failure can be crippling, I know. But it is still better to fail than to not try at all, right? Failure builds character. It makes you stronger. Failure is a friend here to teach you things, high-five your friend for now, learn your lessons and when the time comes and I know for sure it will, let your friend go with a smile. I choose to dwell in that possibility. It gives me peace. 🙂

As for the people who still wonder if I will ever give the CSE again, these are also the same people who’ve been asking me to quit since my first attempt..

One life, right? Why should I give up?

May be I won’t crack the exam Or may be I will. But at least I owe it to myself to try. Try till I am still eligible. Try till I still have my attempts left. Whether I will give the exam the next year or not, I don’t know. I am still out exploring new things as of now. But I will at some point get back because I’ve realized if you don’t fight for your dreams, nobody will. I hope you fight for your dreams, I hope they come to life.

Namaste.
P.S. – Not proud of this but this is the truth and needs to be told. Growing up I gave a lot of importance to good grades and I looked at people who scored less marks or people who failed with a sense of condescension. I am sorry for that. I truly am. I wish I knew better. I hope you find it in your heart to forgive me.

P.P.S – A huge shout out to Anudeep Durishetty, UPSC topper for the year 2017. I occasionally find myself reading and rereading his blog. Here is the link to one of his best articles, My UPSC Journey : from Despair to Destiny

Also, I know P.S. follows a letter and that this is not one, but hey! I am back on @LifeisOneWodehousestory after ages. I can get away with a blunder or two.

Thanks for reading. 🙂

Oh, Happiness!

I am not supposed to be writing this post at this moment. But I am afraid I’ll lose its essence if I don’t put it down somewhere. Not in my diary because I don’t usually reread my diary entries. But I do, sometimes, reread my WordPress posts. Also I’d really like to share this thought with my friends here on WordPress, so here it is.

So this morning something happened and it got me thinking about the old adage, ‘Happiness is not a destination but a way of life.’ To be honest, I am at a point in my life where adages like these bring no comfort. But I also know it in my heart that they have survived through the ages because they are true, right?

So I started thinking about the adage and I realized, I can’t, one fine day reach happiness and stay there forever. It’s not like, hey, so I’ve finally arrived here and here it is I will stay. NO. That has never happened to anyone. It never will.

Some say you should strive to achieve happiness every day. A few others say, happiness is a choice you make. Happiness is this, Happiness is that. All good, positive and motivating things that people throw at you like confetti. And I know the last thing you want to do is read anymore of that, but hey you’ve already read 234 words of this post. Might as well read the entire post, nai? (;

So the adage says, Happiness is not a destination.

Okay.

So maybe it is a road. Who knows? And like every road out there, there will be some rough patches along the way. There will be a lot of bumps in between. The weather may change, get worse even. It won’t be sunny every day. You won’t always see the rainbows. You may lose your way. You may get tired. And it is okay.

Allowed hai yeh sab.

But you stay on the road. Okay? Because that is important. And because you deserve it.

You deserve happiness.

In spite of your anxiety.

In spite of your failings. Your fears. Your insecurities. Your pain.

In spite of your worst days.

In spite of everything bad that has happened to you.

You, my friend, deserve happiness.

We all do. And we all find it every now and then.

In things we love to do, in the goals we achieve, in people we love, in songs we love to listen to, in places we visit and in a lot of things like that. You get my point, right?

All I want to say is that maybe we cannot all be happy for every single day of our lives (we don’t ‘have to’ anyway) but we can find happiness every now and then and I think that should suffice. Expecting it to last forever is like asking life to have only good things happen to you. And we know that is far from possible.

Sending you some happy vibes today.

Hope you are having a good day. And it’s okay even if you are not. Tomorrow will be better. Stay on the road. 🌻

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I thought I’d crop the picture to hide that puddle on the right side but then again why should I? 🙂

Of Dreams and The Butterfly Street

A few years ago my family and I visited the Pench Tiger Reserve in the state of Madhya Pradesh in India. I knew it was the setting for Kipling’s Jungle book and I had always wanted to see what it looked like in real life. Also it was a lifelong dream of mine to see a tiger in its natural habitat and Pench seemed everything I could ask for.

Mowgli’s Jungle and Shere Khan too.

Sadly though, sighting a tiger these days is everything but easy. And given the few number of tigers in Pench (and in the subcontinent in general) I knew I needed a backup. So we booked an additional jungle safari in another tiger reserve nearby and went there first.

We couldn’t see a single tiger.

Twice in the jungle we encountered enthralled crowds who informed us that we’d missed a tiger by just five minutes. Luck.

But I knew all was not lost. May be I was supposed to see a tiger in Pench. Mowgli’s Pench.

And

I did not guys.

I was heart-broken.

Even when everybody in the gypsy had given up on seeing a tiger, I had not. I knew I’d see one. It had to be somewhere. Somewhere. Somewhere, please. The tiger is my favourite animal God, please.

But as I said, it wasn’t my day. I did not see any tiger. But what I did see was something I’d never forget.  I remember during the jungle safari, there was this one (and only) point in the entire forest where if we wanted to, we could get down from the gypsy and refill our water bottles. Since it was summer and the temperature had already crossed 45ºC, a water break was more than welcome. As I got down from the gypsy and looked around, I realized, there were hundreds and hundreds of butterflies around me on both sides of the paved road.

I was mesmerized.

In all my life I’d never seen so many butterflies all together in the same place. In the few minutes that I had, I tried to breathe in the magical moment. And no, I did not click any pictures. It was not a conscious choice. I just did not feel the need to capture the moment. Or maybe I was afraid that if I went back to get the camera the spell will break and the butterflies will disappear. So the few minutes I had, I spent them taking in the beauty of the place.

I’ll never forget how magical it felt to be there.

It was all very dreamlike and has been etched on my heart.

So anyway, when I got back to the gypsy and we started our return journey I realized there still were a lot of butterflies on both sides of the road. Not as many as I saw on the butterfly street (I named it so) but a lot still.  And I knew then that they were there all the time but since I was so, so hell-bent on seeing a tiger and only a tiger that I was oblivious to the presence of everything that was beautiful around me.

I think that is how some of us stop living in the moment, nai?

We are so hell-bent on achieving that one great something that we sort of stop appreciating the innumerable good things that come our way in between trying to achieve all the great things.

So may be the trick to live in the moment is to appreciate these innumerable good things that happen to us every now and then.

I am learning to do that.

Hope you are too.

Have a wonderful day.

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Dear Bapu Gandhi,

The last thing I want to be is to be someone who has her patriotic switch (in case you didn’t know, there exists one today) turned on every 15th of August, 26th of January and 2nd of October. I know it looks like I have already become one of those but the truth is I have not. I wrote half of this letter a fortnight ago when I was studying inclusive development for a test. Honestly though, I haven’t had a free day ever since, let alone a few free hours to write this letter until today, so here it is.

The reason I started writing this letter to you that day was because as I finished reading an article on Inclusive development, I realized almost every article on the topic had one common point. ‘We have some of the best social sector schemes in the world and yet the benefits of these schemes haven’t really reached the marginalized and the disadvantaged section of the Indian society.’ Why?

‘Good schemes, bad implementation.’

Clichéd, I know but sadly that’s what has been happening in India year after year. I am not saying every scheme is badly implemented but even if there’s just one scheme (and we know it for a fact that there’s more than one), I think it has to change. So as I was thinking about the points I needed to include in my answer on holistic development and challenges to the same, I remembered something you said all those years ago. ‘Your Talisman’, which I believe is more relevant today than it ever was.

You said, ‘Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and yourself melting away.’

Wow.

I think, Bapu, that it isn’t just public servants and policy implementers who need to be conscious of the Gandhian values today. It is the common man who needs it most. Because somewhere on this road to a faster economic development and a higher per capita income, a lot of us have lost touch with everything that you taught and stood for. Your values of truth, ahimsa, justice, equality, empathy, love and brotherhood may not be a panacea for all the ills that exist in the world today, but they sure do promise to make this world a little better than what it actually is.

So today, on your birthday, there’s something I want to say.

I promise you, dear Bapu, that I will never lose faith in the beauty and power of truth.

I promise that I will always cherish the values you stood for and have them scored on my heart.

I promise to try and get rid of the ‘I-Me-Mine Syndrome’, think a little less of the self and a little more of the world as a whole.

I cannot promise to reform everything that is wrong with the world but I can promise you that I will do my bit to make this world a little better.

I promise to be a better citizen. A better human being. Not worthy of calling myself a Gandhian but may be I can strive to be one someday, nai?

By the way I wrote this entire letter without once wishing you a happy birthday.

Happy Birthday Bapu! I feel blessed to have been born on the same soil as you.

Lots of love,

Ashwini

P.S. – Something for you.

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From a book by Ram Pratap called ‘Gandhian Management’. Got me thinking.. 🙂

 

For those who found some value in Gandhiji’s Talisman, you can watch the video on Youtube here. Credits : Samvidhan, Rajyasabha TV. I Love how Narsinh Mehta’s ‘Vaishnav Jana To’ plays in the background.

Good day, people. 🌸

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