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Life Is One Wodehouse Story

with ups and downs and all…

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. 🌸

Moong Over Microchips

You know, before I started writing this post, I went online and typed, ‘How to write a good book review’ and pressed enter. I opened the very first page, read the first two lines and… closed the page! I can’t do book reviews. I don’t want to. Because book reviewing also involves, amongst other things, analysing a book. And how do you analyse something you love?

I tried that when I wrote Nanak 🌸 and I can tell you I wasn’t really happy with the end product. So this time, just think of me as a friend telling you how much she loved a book she read, okay?

So a few months back I came across an article in the newspaper about a man, a techie in fact, who left his lucrative job with IBM to take up farming in rural Maharashtra. His name was Venkat Iyer and he’d published a book called ‘Moong over Microchips’ about his journey from working with IBM to being a farmer in India. Now for a country plagued with agrarian crisis for decades, we know how remunerative farming in India can be, right? And to make things worse, there’s always the uncertainty of Southwest Monsoon and the shortage of agricultural credit in the country.  So what made this man quit a stable job with a multi-national company and become a farmer in India?

I had to find out.

And so I started reading his book ‘Moong Over Microchips’.  (Moong, by the way is the Indo-Aryan variant for green gram and was Mr. Venkat Iyer’s first successful crop when he started farming.)

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The book is an honest account of his extra-ordinary journey, which is both, at times inspiring and at times funny. It talks about why he chose to quit IBM, his search for a healthier way of life, his struggles with finding the right land and dealing with corrupt government officials and red-tapeism at lower levels of bureaucracy. It talks about him and his wife adjusting to the village life with no mod cons of a modern household. The ecstatic feeling of having a successful first crop and being able to grow one’s own food, the heartbreak of his first failed crop, his experiments with organic farming and a strict no to chemical fertilizers and pesticides in spite of everyone around him using it to their heart’s content.  His efforts to make organic farm produce reach more and more people in cities and his take on the present agricultural scenario in the country.

The last chapter is my favourite and it talks about happiness and contentment. The author says he often gets asked if he is happy with his life.

He says, “For some people (and  till recently for us too), earning lots of money, travelling trapped in a tin box with air conditioning and an FM radio, sitting in a superb office, getting a six-figure salary, going on holidays to exotic places, owning the latest gadgets, shopping at the mall every weekend… gives them happiness.”

“For us, it is different. The open sky, the beautiful scenery, our pets, the crisp vegetables, the fresh fruits and eating what we grow gives us happiness. The joy of seeing the seed you planted push out of the soil and in a few weeks turn into a huge plant is something that can never be experienced in a city mall.”

He says, “farming is not demeaning nor is it unremunerative. It is just that it does not generate the huge incomes that most people feel is needed to live a satisfied life.”

When I finished the book, I wrote Mr. Venkat Iyer a long letter telling him how much I loved his book. The letter never reached him. How do I know that?

He told me.

I emailed him the contents of my letter and asked him if he ever received my letter. He was kind enough to reply that he’d never received any letter but said he’d still enquire about it with the postman.

In case you are wondering why did I snail mail him the letter when I already had his email id, well, because  letters 💌 and because Daydream 🎤. In fact I wrote the same in my email and Mr. Venkat Iyer said he agreed that letters do have an old world charm to them that is missing in emails. He even shared an anecdote about a hand written letter he once found. I think it was really nice of him to reply in person to my fan-mail. Who does that today, right?

I think when you read about people like the author, you know that there is more to life than just a good job and a big house. There is more to happiness than wealth and luxury. Happiness is very subjective and means different things to different people.

You should do what makes ‘youuuuu’ happy.

That’s what matters in the end, right? 🙂

If you’d like to know more about the author and his amazing journey,  Here’s a link to his interview!

Have a nice day everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nancy and Plum 🏡

I realized something today as I finished reading Betty MacDonald’s Nancy and Plum, a book I chose to read over Marcel Proust’s ‘Days of Reading’, Paulo Coelho’s Aleph, Margaret George’s ‘Helen of Troy’, Perumal Murugan’s ‘Poonachi’ and Wodehouse’s ‘Piccadilly Jim’, all wonderful books I’ve had on my TBR pile for months but could never really find the time to read. I realized that while I was reading Nancy and Plum, I was home. That I could read all the books from all the genres but still come back to children’s books when going through a rough patch in life. It’s like you know when you want to travel the world and you do, you go places, you have a splendid time, you learn a lot through your travels and yet there comes a point where you are tired and you want to go home. You miss home. You miss your family. You miss your bed. You miss your evening tea. So let’s just say, reading Nancy and plum felt like I was Bilbo Baggins coming back to Bag End after his long audacious journey with the dwarves.

I was home after a long, long time.

There is something about difficult times that sends me scurrying back towards the comfort of Children’s books. The memory of Sara Crewe alone in her attic, from Burnett’s ‘A little Princess’ can get me through the darkest of nights. Then there’s David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Mary Lennox, Liesel Meminger, Anne Shirley and so many more, all of whom, at some point or the other have helped me get through the bad days of my life.

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One might wonder why Children’s books?

After all there are a lot of inspiring books meant for adults out there and God knows there’s no dearth of self-help books in the market. So why children’s books?

Honestly, I don’t know. Except that I love going back to being a twelve year old who is full of hope and life in spite of life’s troubles. I still am full of hope and life, I know every reader is. But we all have Jonah days and sometimes you really have to look hard to spot that one silver lining. So every time I read a children’s book, I know it in my heart that sooner or later everything will be alright and that I am going to be okay in spite of my trials.

There is something about children fighting their way to good times in these novels that inspires me to go on too. As adults, it is expected from us to face challenges head on, but for kids in these books… it is way more difficult and yet they do it with such grace and beauty that most adults in their place would fail to. Their ability to trust life, to dream bigger and to love life regardless of the circumstances they are in is worthy of admiration, isn’t it?

And you know, you cannot read a children’s book and still despair. It goes against the entire essence of the ritual of reading a children’s book. To despair is to turn your back on every children’s book you have ever read and who wants to do that? Not me.

Not me!

God!

You know a few years ago, a dear friend and I were having a conversation about books and she told me she was reading ‘Crime and Punishment’ and I said, ‘but you were reading the same book the last time we talked. What’s taking so long?’ (note : I had never read Dostoevsky in my entire life so I had no idea) and she said I wouldn’t know since I read a lot of children’s literature.

I was offended. Mortified even.

Of course she was pulling my leg but it hurt nonetheless. Firstly because I read a lot lot lot of stuff other than kids’ books. And secondly because I felt like I was being looked down upon because I was 21 and I still read kids’ books.

Today I am 25 and I still read kids’ books everytime I have to look hard to find that one silver lining in the sky. The only difference is today I don’t really care if somebody’s going to judge me for the books I read. Because honestly, I’d be 50 someday and I’d still come reread Roald Dahl at the end of the day, because for me, as I said earlier, it is like coming home. And who doesn’t like the comfort of home? ☺️

 

Daydream 🎤

To everyone who has read Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’, remember there’s a very beautiful quote in the book that goes something like.. ‘When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.’ Of course in life, not everything you want, you get. But sometimes some dreams do come true, and unexpectedly so too. Today’s blog is about one such fangirl dream of mine that recently came true.

So last year I came across this song on T.V. called ‘Suit Suit’ (from the movie ‘Hindi Medium’) and you know how sometimes you listen to a song once and the moment it ends your immediate thought is to listen to it once more. And this doesn’t happen everyday, especially for someone who’s as finicky as me. Nonetheless, I found out the song was a remake of a Punjabi song (by the same name) by singer Guru Randhawa, of whom, sadly I’d never heard of until suit suit happened. I googled him and found other songs by him which were equally good. The best being ‘Yaar Mod do’ which is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard on friendship. ❤

I remember in the following months, study breaks for me was watching Guru Randhawa’s live concert videos on youtube. Listening to his songs when working out in the gym, when traveling, when bored, when happy, when sad. So may be what I am trying to say is, I was a fangirl. I still am. A proud one that too. So you know every single time Guru would upload his concert videos on youtube, I wished I was attending one and since my schedule wouldn’t allow it, I’d always promise myself that I would attend one when I was done with my exams in June. Also during this time I had to leave Pune, my hometown and move to another place with my parents as my father got posted to a new city nearby. So chances of attending his concert were next to zero. So I kept telling myself, after the exams girl, after the exams.

And then one day, the kind of day where no matter what you do things keep going downhill and you are feeling particularly low, I get a call from my father who says.. There’s a concert in town..by some Punjabi singer.. Guru something. All I could say was ‘Guru Randhawa? Are you kidding me? Don’t do this to me, it’s been a rough day already.’ BTW, he wasn’t kidding and he had called to ask if I’d find the time to go? Time to go? God! I’ve been dreaming of this day for the past ten long months. Of course I’d like.. No I’d love to go.

So the next day, just an hour before the concert.. I get this insane idea. Now people who have been following Life’s One Wodehouse Story would know how obsessed I am with the written word. For words said are lost, but the written word, it always stays with the reader. That’s exactly why I still write letters to my most favourite people, mostly friends and authors. So the fangirl wins over the realist and I write Guru Randhawa a fan letter with a tiny possibility of it ever reaching him. I mean what if I am too close to the stage? I know what you are thinking, a hopeless fangirl. 😉 Well, I am.

The concert was every bit as amazing as I’d imagined except that I couldn’t give him my fan letter even though I was very close to the stage. It broke my heart a little but I knew there was no guarantee of it happening anyway so it was okay. But then I thought, he’s come all this way, I need to find a way to give him my fan letter. I need to find a way. And just like that quote from the Alchemist, the universe helped me get my fan letter to him. I only wished for my letter to reach him but somehow Universe conspired and me and my younger sister both got to meet him.

I remember he was surrounded by his fans, each one clicking pictures with him. And when our turn came, I swear to God I don’t remember what happened. I was so mesmerized and so happy, I don’t remember anything except Guru’s warm smile that reached his eyes every time he smiled. I think that was the best part. 🙂 My younger sister tells me when we gave him the fan letter and when I asked him to read it, he said ‘Zaroor’ which is Hindi for sure. We clicked a photo (which is pretty much the only thing that reminds me it happened for real, otherwise I’d still think it was a dream.) and said goodbye to him.

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As for my fan letter, I don’t know if he ever read it (or if I even gave it to him, although my sister says I did.) and it’s okay I guess. I am just too glad that I wrote the letter and had the chance to give it to him in person.

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Thank You Guru Randhawa for being who you are! ❤ I am in awe of the grace and humility you possess. ❤

To more good songs, cheers! 🙂

Aar Nanak, Paar Nanak 🌸

The problem with book lovers is, most of us can never choose a favorite book. And honestly, out of the hundreds and thousands of books one reads in her/his lifetime, how do you expect anybody to pick just one. It’s unfair, isn’t it? But having said that, I do believe that there are a special few that we all hold closer to our hearts a little more than the rest. Books that we reread time and again, books..excerpts from which we read at night before doing something important the next day. Books that we read when we are sad or happy. Books that we carry in our bags when we travel, books we think of as our truest of friends.

One such book that happened to me last year was Haroon Khalid’s ‘Walking with Nanak’. In case you are wondering why am I writing about a book that I read a year ago..? It’s because I was afraid. A part of me still is. It’s because I get a feeling that no matter which language I use, no matter how many fancy words I put into writing this blog, I’d never be able to fully describe the beauty of this book. But I am willing to try.

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I chose this book because as a student of History, I remember we had nice long discussions on the lives of Buddha and Mahavira in class but never Guru Nanak, one of the most influential and inspiring personalities of medieval India and the founder of Sikhism, which has over 25 million followers today. The only time I read about him was in seventh grade and that was 12 years ago. So while searching for a book on Nanak’s life on amazon I came across Khalid’s ‘Walking with Nanak’. It was the very first book on the result’s page; I read the blurb and ordered it without even looking at the other results on the webpage. I think it was the title that spoke to me. And it isn’t everyday that you know you will like a book by just looking at the title. 🙂

Three days later I stepped into Nanak’s world, the world that the author had painted so beautifully. As the blurb aptly puts it, the book retells the story of Nanak, the son, the poet, the wanderer, the father, the friend. The story of Nanak, the man. The book is part fiction and it travels back and forth in time. We have Guru Nanak and his friend Bhai Mardana travelling the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent during the 16th century and in the present we have the author (and his mentor Iqbal Qaiser, another well known author from Pakistan, to whom the book is dedicated.) visiting places associated with Guru Nanak in present day Pakistan as part of his research for the book as well as for his love for Nanak.

From what I understood from Nanak’s story is that he was a non-conformist.

A rationalist who was at times misunderstood.

A reformer who had the courage to challenge the status quo.

A human being who could look beyond the superficiality of caste, class and gender.

A poet who wrote beautiful poems in a language that the common man could understand.

A man who followed his heart.

A saint who traveled on foot for over twenty-four years developing his philosophy and spreading the message of love and brotherhood.

And a Guru who taught the world that there is but one God.

It was while I was reading this book that I realized it wasn’t just Guru Nanak and his friend Bhai Mardana who were travelling. It wasn’t just the author and his mentor Iqbal Qaiser visiting the places associated with Nanak. I was travelling with them too. Learning new things, broadening my horizons with the four of them. Their journey, for sometime, was my journey too. I walked with them too. I felt spiritually connected to the four of them. I still do.

Another wonderful thing I realized about the book was that I was a Hindu in India reading a book on the life of the founder of the Sikh faith, by a Muslim author who lived in Pakistan. Isn’t it amazing how literature connects people from different walks of life? (Sometimes I wish there was no Radcliffe line separating India and Pakistan!)

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Here’s my favourite excerpt from the book, it taught me to find beauty in places I thought it did not exist.

I always say the right books find their readers at the right time. Thank you Haroon Khalid for ‘Walking with Nanak’. It found me when I needed it most. You inspire me and so does Guru Nanak. ❤

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