Category Archives: Spiritual

A quote

What a wallop!

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Man, the destroyer

I am disturbed about the Manchester violence, who wouldn’t be?  It has been bothering me that had I lived in the UK, my daughter would have definitely wanted to attend the concert, and I would have chaperoned a bunch of teenage girls to it.   What quirk of destiny is it that I live in India?  And what cruel fate for my counterpart out there. My heart goes out.

Man is a weird species.  A dangerous and weird species.  Why is it that all religions preach love, but none in any religion gives it a damn?  And yes, I generalize on purpose.  I don’t believe one religion is better than the other.  Religion is not the opiate of the masses, it is a dangerous weapon.

I find myself not wanting to associate with any religion these days.  I don’t like talking about religion (and politics) in a public domain for obvious reasons.  But sometimes it bothers me.  Last week, a friend sent me a WhatsApp forward about how my sect is best because we pray to a particular god.    Her words were “A true vaishnavan is one who obeys Lord Narayana implicitly”. I was miffed because I don’t think Narayana, or whatever other name She is referred as, is petty enough to require obedience.  It is a mortal insult to the immortal grandeur of God, if you are a theist.  Besides I believe that a true Vaishnavan (or whatever religion you want to throw in there) is one who, like Abou Ben Adhem, loves his fellowman.  I replied to my friend’s WhatsApp message with the following YouTube video.  The meaning of the song is given below.

 

He is true Vaishnava who knows and feels another’s pain
Always willing to serve the unhappy without a shred of vanity
With humility of being and non-judgemental existence,
With pure words and deeds, blessed is his mother
Of tranquil and equal view
Bereft of lust
Seeing the mother in all women
Failing to utter a single untruth
And not a glance at another’s possession
The bonds of earthly attachment bind him not
With mind set to renunciation
And every moment, uttering the name of the Lord
His body is the home of every God that may be
Having conquered greed, anger and lust
Such a Vaishnava, says Narsinh,
saves a family through seventy-one generations

Friday Faloola

Why faloola?  Because I am too lazy to think of any other word to start with an F –
I’d rather kill my blog than call this post “Friday Fun”.  There are other F words that can only be used in the sanctity of the kitchen when you’ve burned the sambar AGAIN, because you were checking for wordpress post updates on your cell phone. I have no idea what Faloola means, or where I have heard that word – oh wait, Faloola is Monica Geller’s middle name, isn’t it?  Urban dictionary tells me that Faloola is non-sexual euphemism for body part that can’t be named in a public blog post without being rated X.  We have a dessert item called falooda in this part of the world.  The first and only time I tried it, I gagged.  I’ll have my vermecilli as payasam, thank you.

The weekend promises to be a welcome lazy one.  Partly because I will be home alone for most of the time.  The better half is away at his home town inaugurating something or the other as a “special guest” and wowing school kids with his oratorical brilliance (no, I am not being sarcastic here) while the in-house teenager may or may not be home depending on where another nondescript day of summer vacation takes her.  The best part of living in a closed community setting is that there are kids of all age groups around – they move as a hive to wherever their collective consciousness takes them at the moment.  So either there are fourteen kids of ages 10-16 trashing my house, or zero kids anywhere in the vicinity for hours on end.

The kitchen needs organizing.  The heat is putting me off.  Perhaps I will get to it sometime this weekend.  Gym-routine needs a slight up-grade, and I should, at least this week, work up the courage to check my weight.

This year marks the 1000th birth anniversary of Sri Ramanujar, the most important philosopher/theologian of the sect in which I was born . May 1st is the millennium across the Sri Vaishnavaite community, and many temples have been celebrating the event for many months now. This week, the celebrations seem to have reached a feverish pitch, with special urchavams (ceremonies) being conducted in all Sri Vaishnavaite temples in the south. Despite being born and married into fairly religious/gnostic families, I am a skeptic of sorts. I believe that the theologians of my sect (Sri Ramanujar, Sri Desikar etc.) were all scholars par excellence (Sri Desikar was, to put it mildly, brilliant), and head and shoulders superior to theologians of other sects in my religion (and this I say not as a SriVaishnavaite, but from a strictly impartial perspective, having been acquainted with the literature of many sects). I am, however, not a subscriber of the philosophy of Vishishthadvaita propounded by them and others because it raises more questions in my mind than provide answers and goes against my basic belief that we are all one, irrespective of which God you choose to follow, or not.  But no dogma ever allows that belief, so I doubt if I would subscribe to any existing philosophy.  Ramanujar probably came closest to the doctrine that everyone is equal before God.  Besides, having been born into the Sri Vaishnavaite sect and being an admirer of the intellectual/literary contributions of Sri Ramanjua to  the philosophy of my sect, I want to attend at least one urchavam before the millennial celebrations end.  I would probably visit the Parthasarathy temple over the weekend, get jostled by the crowd and tick my name against the “been there, done that” list.

Have a good weekend folks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Song of the day – 5

Rob tagged me to this:

The rules are to post the lyrics of a favorite song five days in a row, explain what they mean to you (if you like) and add the video if available. 

I am also supposed to nominate two bloggers to carry on the meme, but I would like to leave that open.  Anyone who blogs, reads this post and wants to take it on, please do, and link back to this post so we can all read about your choices of songs. You may also leave your choice in the comment section here.

I enjoyed doing this series.  Thanks Rob, for the tag.

**

Author of the song: Sri Chandrasekarendra Saraswathi

Set to music by: Sri Vasant Desai

Popularised by MSS, who sang it at the United Nations in 1966, receiving standing ovation for the rendition.

Meaning:

Serve the world with friendship and humility, to conquer hearts
Look upon others as yourself.
Renounce War
Renounce fight for power
Give up aggression towards others

Mother Earth is generous enough and gives us all that we desire
God, Our Father, is compassionate to us all
So, Restrain yourself
So, Be generous
So, be kind
Oh People of the World
May All People of this World be Happy and Prosperous.
May All People of this World be Happy and Prosperous.
May All People of this World be Happy and Prosperous.

Voice in the video: Ahem ! (Interestingly enough, “Aham” in Sanskrit means “Me”.  The out-of-tune falsetto in the last line shows you the lack of practice)

Song of the day – 2

Rob tagged me to this:

The rules are to post the lyrics of a favorite song five days in a row, explain what they mean to you (if you like) and add the video if available. 

I am also supposed to nominate two bloggers to carry on the meme, but I would like to leave that open.  Anyone who blogs, reads this post and wants to take it on, please do, and link back to this post so we can all read about your choices of songs. You may also leave your choice in the comment section here.

**

People born in TamBram (which is short for Tamil (language), Brahmin (caste)) households in South India during the last few decades of the past century, grew up listening to the honeyed voice of M.S. Subbulakshmi singing the Suprabatham, Sahasranamam, Bhaja Govindam etc.  Her perfect pitch, the way her voice blended with the background tambura (pitch setter), her accurate diction in any language, and that blissful face that comes to the mind’s eye the moment one hears her voice – for many of us, MSS’s voice flows through our veins, and triggers an automatic “coming home” reflex in the brain.  At least in me.

My favourite of MSS’s pieces is “Kurai onrum illai“.   “What regrets have I in this world , when the Lord gives me everything”, to me, is the essence of “Bhakthi yoga” – unquestioning devotion and faith. More recently, I read that the composer, Dr. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) , faced many adversities in life, and yet had it in him to sing that he had no regrets. I read that

As Rajaji lay dying in General Hospital, Madras, in December 1972, all his regrets must have crossed his mind, all his sorrows. But also, all his reconciliations of those emotions with his faith in the “rock”. The last words spoken by him from his death bed, when asked how he felt were simple: “I am happy”.

That upped my love for the song a bit further.  I reproduce below, the translation made by Gopal Gandhi and Gowri Ramnarayan. And of course, the immortal voice of MSS singing it.  The video is of a rather aged MSS singing it, I could not find a video of a younger MSS singing Kurai onrum Iillai.

No regrets have I
My lord,
None.
Lord of the Written Word,
My light, my sight,
My very eyes
No regrets,
None.
Though you stand
Where I behold you not
My light, my very eyes,
Protector of all earthlings
I know you sustain me
Lord of the Venkata Hill so pure
You meet my hunger, my thirst
My hope, my prayer
You keep me from harm,
Lord of the Sparkling Gems,
I need naught else
Father of the Seven Hills,
Naught else.

* * *

You stand — do you not? —
Veiled by a screen
Only the learned can part
For they are the learned
Which I am not
But no, no regrets have I.
Crowning this hill
You stand as rock
Giver of Boons
Immutable God
Father to these hills
No regrets have I
Govinda !

* * *

In this benighted Age of ours
Lord —
The worst of all the Four —
You have entered
The sanctum
A shaft of granite
Where though I see you not
No regrets have I.
Boulder of strength
With the Ocean,
Heaving on your breast,
Of the purest compassion —
My Mother,
My very own, who grants
Anything I ask of her
Can I possibly have regrets?
The two of you, I know,
Stand there for me
Eternally
No regrets have I my Govinda
None, none whatsoever
Govinda! Govinda!
Govinda! Govinda!

The law of karma

I used to be religious.  Not any more. My spirituality waxes and wanes.  The philosophy I have subscribed to over the years has changed from “Vishishtadvaitam” (“special oneness”) to “Advaitam” (oneness) to nihilism to the current I-don’t-care-a-dang-about-philosophy-ism.  However, there is one philosophy I have always believed in fanatically – you may even say rabidly – the law of karma.  The law of Karma is beyond human intervention in that the only human touch to it is is the action, the returns of which are guaranteed at the time of the action itself.  The returns may be immediate – I eat a meal, I feel good, or distant – I do bad, I get bad.  All my life, I have seen the law of karma in action – both good and bad.  My subscription to the law of karmic returns has given me a lot of balance in one aspect of my life.  I now fully believe that I am only responsible for my actions and thus try to focus only on actions, because I know the returns are inevitable , whether or not I expect them – I fail sometimes, but the realisation counts.

Sometimes the karmic returns are unexpectedly immediate.

Somewhere in my last post, I had briefly mentioned the 3-year old niece of a co-parent in school who (the kid) asked me for cake.  That is not how the story began.  A couple of days back, attempting to engage the kid, I asked her what she liked most, and she said “jelly” (which is the Indian equivalent of jello available elsewhere in the world). The next day, I made some jelly (or jello) in a box and gave it to the friend to give to the child at home.  The day after, the child asked me for cake, and I baked the cake and delivered it to her today.

A small digression.

For the past two days, I have been craving for grapes – the seedless green variety.  I don’t buy grapes because it doesn’t agree with my kid, my husband is not a great fan of grapes and you don’t get anything less than 250 g of grapes in the market – If I got 250 g, I would have to eat it by myself and feel a little sick afterwards.  When I was in the grocery store on my way to school an hour back, I ogled at the grapes but didn’t buy it after deliberation.

Next digression.

I go to school, give the box of cake to the friend to be  given to her niece, and she returns the box in which I had given her jelly (or jello) a couple of days back.  I put the box in my bag and return home.

At home, I open the box.

Grapes.

Some memories that need out

Part 2:  Snapshots

I am ~2 years old. My grandmother carries me to the playground and puts me atop a rocking horse. Patti swings near and far as I rock on. It gets dark, we have to go home.  I don’t want to stop .  Paati lifts me onto her chest as I heave and sob.  I rest my head on her shoulder.   The cloth on her shoulder is soft and smells of Ponds powder. I feel better.

I am ~2 years old. My grandmother is in an animated conversation with my mother, and has me on her lap facing her.  I attempt to catch that speck of light that is reflected off her solitaire nose stud, on her alabaster-skinned  cheek.  When I touch the speck of light, it disappears.  I take my hands off her chubby cheeks, there is the speck again.  I squeal and my grandmother laughs along.

I am ~4 years old. I am seated in the first row of concentric semicircles of children of all ages, facing a man with paan-stained lips and pattai on his forehead and the drone of a sruthi box in the background.  I turn to see paati sitting outside the semicircle, in her trademark 9-yard saree and white blouse, smiling at me – the teacher had just said to her that I have inherited her singing voice – she is so proud.  I sing the second sarali varisai with the mob.  Next thing I remember, paati is waking me up after the class to take me back home. “Its ok if she sleeps”, I hear her voice through the sleep-addled brain, “she’ll still be exposed to music”.

I am ~7 years old. My mother is chiding me for not getting full marks in Math.  My grandmother scolds her “let her be. Its only marks, not life.” and drags me away to give me Bournvita.  I can’t decide which is worse – my mothers scolding or having to drink Bournvita.

I am ~9 years old. I return from school.  Mom is away at the old-age home in which she volunteers.  Paati brings a plate of hot rice upma and coconut thogayal.  I throw a tantrum about how much I hate rice upma and why can’t I have something better to eat when I come back from school.  Her face falls.

I am ~10 years old. We are at my uncle’s wedding.  My grandmother makes me sing “Bhavayami Raghuraman” to some random relative, sitting on a stair that leads to the groom’s room, away from the crowd.  I am embarrassed about her bragging, but I sing the long-long song to the relative, who, for some reason, is paying attention.  “She has purity of notes and perfect rhythm ..she is your grandchild after all” the relative says.  The same proud look on grandma’s face that I caught in my first music class.

I am ~12.  I panic at the red in my underwear and bring it straight into the kitchen to show it to my grandmother.  My mother is taking a shower.  My grandmother is ecstatic and hugs me, then realises what she has done, asks my mom to get the hell out of the bathroom to shower herself.  I feel irritated that she needed to bathe for having touched me.  And my stomach hurts.

I am ~13 years old.  My mother is throwing up in the sink.  My grandmother is straining to hold her head.  I can see the worry on her face.  “You’ll be ok you’ll be ok” she repeats to my mother.

I am ~14 years old.  My mother is in surgery for eight hours.  Not a sip of water passes my grandmother’s mouth as she sits  on a hard bench outside the surgery and chants “Sai Ram, Sai Ram” continuously.

I am ~14.  It is 3 AM in the morning.  My mother is gasping for breath.  My grandmother runs to the backyard, picks Tulsi leaves (Basil) to put into my mother’s mouth and chants “Narayana Narayana” into her ears as her soul departs.

I am ~14.  “How can you leave your mother and go, Malathy?” my grandmother wails as my mother’s body is borne away.  The only time I have seen her raise her voice and cry.   I shed my first tear at that moment.

I am ~15.  Grandfather is on life-support.  Grandmother has to make the decision to take him off.  “Tell me what I should do, LG”, she looks up at me, “I will accept whatever you say”.  I ask her to send off my grandfather with dignity.  She complies without another word, and does not mention this ever again.

I am ~20. My father is out of town on business.  I get a call from IIT, accepting me to the Masters’ program that is difficult to get in.  I drop the phone, hold on to patti’s shoulder and dance a jig.  “I am going to fall down” she yells.

I am ~22.  I can’t wait to get out of home.  Out of the country.  To new life, new lands.  Grandmother waves me goodbye at the airport with the same trademark smile.  I wave, turn and walk away to my new life.

I am ~26.  I return to India after roughing out terrible economic depression in America.  She is at the airport to receive me.  She is hunch-backed and wrinkled.  But her seven diamond ear studs and solitaire nose stud wink at me, as she smiles her welcome smile.  I bend deep to lay my head on her shoulder.  The cloth on her shoulder is soft ad smells of Ponds powder. I feel better.

I am ~30.  I have had my first date with my now husband, in Washington DC.  That night, I call home to tell my grandmother “he is just like you, paati. Slow, steady and calm”.  “You need someone like that to ground you”, she says.  She is right.

I am 31. I wake up from anaesthesia, as new year breaks, to a howling child.  I turn to the direction of the noise.  A really old woman is seated in a plastic chair with a wrinkled, screaming little banshee held on her lap.  She croons endearments to the baby as the baby calms down.  For the next many months, the baby stops crying instantly when paati carries her. It bugs me at times, but I am largely happy to get a crying baby off my chest.

I am 35.  My four year old sings “varaveena” completely out of tune.  The great grandmother is in throngs of ultimate joy – “how beautifully she sings”.

I am 38.  “Why don’t you talk to me more often?”  She asks. “I talk to you thrice a day, paati…what more do you want?”  I scold her. “You are always scolding me”, she tears up.  “Stop it paati.” I scold more.  This repeats often for the next few years.

I am 41.  “Buy me a nightie that I can wear easily.  I am unable to wear saree any more”.  I can feel my heart break.

I am 43.   “Your brother-in-law had come”   she says of my uncle.  “Paati, he is not my brother-in-law, he was your daughter’s brother-in-law – he is my periyappa”, I am exasperated.  She does not get it. Her dead daughter and live granddaughter have merged in her consciousness.

I am 44.  She is semi conscious in the hospital. I ask the nurse to remove her breathing mask just long enough to smear some chakkarai pongal that I made for Pongal festival.  Her lips are dry and chapped  but she licks the morsel of chakkarai pongal from her lips.  She was never one to refuse sweets.  She is my grandmother after all.

I am 44.  I am asked to drop a handful of rice over the face of the dead woman. I remember the times she has fed me, the dishes she has made, the upma for which she has been chided innumerable number of times, the kashayams she has forcefed me when I was sick.The dam breaks, I double up right there and cry for the woman, who would never make me Bournvita or rice upma ever again.