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Thursday, October 1, 2015

That Magical Feeling Stories Bring

 My 9 year old son and I have a "secret" bed time routine. 

Before he goes to sleep every night, I tell him a story.  But wait, I don't simply tell a story. During dinner, I build up some excitement and give him a clue here and there to keep him guessing about the stories I am going to tell him. 

Sometimes, I tell him two stories and a third one, if he hasn't slept by then. He loves mythological stories, especially of Arjuna and Pradyumna. Devarishi Narada has also become a recent favourite.

When he wakes up the next day, he loves to discuss those stories. 

You can imagine how that delights me.

Signing off now but I'd love to know about the routine you have in your life that makes moments more memorable.

Do write in. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Book Review: Solider and Spice - An Army Wife's Life by Aditi Mathur Kumar

I was always curious about Army wives. 

You see, I had heard stories. Whispers and rumors, more like. 

But I had no clue that Army wives had a strict dress code. No showing skin, legs. That kind of thing. And the golden rule is - Hierarchy rules! Never ever say 'No' to a request by your husband's superior's wife. 

When I mentioned this to my always-logical-and-practical husband, he scoffed, " That cannot be true. Its just your imagination. You are talking about the Indian Army, for god's sake. Not some kitty club." 

Well, after I read Aditi Mathur Kumar’s novel "Soldier and Spice," I knew it wasn't my imagination at all! 

What to look forward to while reading Soldier and Spice 

Soldier and Spice is a full-of-life book. It keeps you informed about the life of Army wives in India. 

When you finish reading the book, you will be wonder, "Is all of this (examples: the memsaab part and men standing up every time a lady stands up in the Officer's Mess) really happening in independent India?"

The protagonist is a newly married girl called Pia, who comes from a "civilian" background and is clueless about the Army life. She loves her handsome Army man and is willing to adapt to the new life ahead though she doesn't know how to cook, throw a party or live by the Army code of life at the time. This novel captures the nuances of what the life of an Army wife can be like. 

Something unexpected happens. Pia’s world falls apart for a while but she sifts her way through the trials, the sorrow, the grief and even the issue of dealing with gossip of some idle minds. She provides emotional strength to her husband and supports him at every phase.

Teaches you one powerful fact: Even the strongest Army man gets injured and it's the wife who can get him to be back in action! 

Aditi Mathur Kumar’s novel Soldier and Spice is a thought-provoking read that tells you everything you want to know about an Army wife's life.  

Friday, September 25, 2015

Worry is a waste of time, and waste of time is waste of life

Do you often worry about things going wrong? [Do read: What's the best spiritual lesson you learned from dealing with anguish?]

Throughout the years when I had the opportunity to observe Swami (my Guru), there is one remarkable trait that I saw in Him. No matter what the situation is, Swami is always in harmony and absolutely free from worry. 

Swami often says, "Worry is a waste of time and waste of time is waste of life." [Do read: How to find the peace within you when your plans go for a toss! ]

                                                [Image: Unsplash]

A year ago, I saw a video of Swami visiting Delhi, Rishikesh and other places when he was in his early 20s - at a time when the world around probably looked at him with a mixture of disbelief and criticism. There was also a special musical programme where Swami  addressed the 'Who's who' of Delhi - the leaders from political, business and elite community. 

Knowing the 'elite' culture in Delhi very well, I can say that I'd get the shivers and worry endlessly about the whole thing. And I am nearing my 40s, so to speak and I have 'ample' experience with Delhi's so-called elites!

But in that video, young Swami exuded a radiance, a rare luminosity, that lit up the entire evening. His body language was that of flowing confidence. 

That video shows Delhi's top folks turning up in their most expensive, finest clothes - they looked intimidating with their presence and their looks, occupying the finest seats in a posture of ultra-rich sophistication.

I looked at Swami's young, beautiful face. Swami wore his simple saffron robe, his bare feet peeked out of the robe. His eyes were filled with light and he sat simply on the floor of the stage - watching, observing and looking like the beautiful Lord Krishna Himself.

What amazes me still is the absolute peace that his face exuded.

In the way Swami looked, He looked like the King of the Jungle. He looked like the Leader - in his unassuming saffron robe, with his bare feet peeking out - sitting on the floor!

My heart surges every time I recall Swami's beautiful, divine simplicity - a message in itself - to be free from worry always.

So whenever I find myself worrying, I recall Swami's young, radiant form that always shone with the light of absolute confidence. 

And I inscribe His divine words again and again in my heart, "You may face many ordeals. But do not pay too much attention to them. Lead your life happily till the end." [Do read: How to never ever give up on the spiritual path]

When faced with worry, how do you overcome/tackle it? Share it here so that others can learn too. I'd love to know too!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Life is pretty short, do what makes you happy!

Life is pretty short. So, just do what you love.

Do what makes you happy. There's nothing like it!

Tell me: What makes you happy? 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Mammootty-Kamal Movie: Utopiayile Rajavu, a fictional place called Kokrankara & a Hero called CP Swathanthran!

Some movies flop at the box office and often I find myself wondering why. 

I read an old interview in Vanitha magazine about Malayalam film directors analyzing their movies that flopped. 

Director Kamal talked about how 'Azhakiya Ravanan' flopped at the box office and reasoned that it had a futuristic vision that Malayalis probably were not ready for at that time. He mentions specifically about the heroine depicted as having submitted herself to the anti-hero and then being accepted by 'the hero.' 

I disagree with Kamal's statement - that may not have been the sole reason for the movie becoming a flop. 

Padmarajan's movie 'Nammuku paarkaan mundiri thoppukal' depicted the heroine being raped by her step father and the hero carries her away - literally and cinematically - off her feet. Even today, the average Malayali loves that film. 

The same goes for the unconventional character of the main female protagonist  'Clara' in yet another Padmarajan starrer 'Thuvanathumbikal.'

Malayalis don't have a bias against the cinematic depiction of heroines who are depicted on screen to have lost their "virtue" before they reach the loving arms of the hero. But the script and execution has to be brilliant for it to be accepted- and not all directors succeed.

Don't get me wrong. Kamal is a director whose movies are thought-provoking and sometimes, trend-setting.

Utopiayile Rajavu: Criticism about depiction of women
I read many film reviews about Utopiayile Rajavu, criticizing depiction of women as sex objects. I disagree. 
The portrayal is neither obscene nor vulgar, it mirrors the changes in our society.
                                           (Source: Google Images)
Utopiayile Rajavu: A Fictional Place called Kokrankara
Most Malayalam films show real places. In Utopiayile Rajavu, the plot unfolds around a vibrant fictional place called Kokrankara. I also loved the funny song that is shown at the beginning of this film. It's very peppy!
If you think the name of the place is funny, wait a sec. 
The 'hero''s name is.....CP Swathanthran!
Utopiayile Rajavu: This Funny Story is told by.....Statues!

The statues of a dead Gandhian and that of Jesus Christ (with an unusual sarcastic look on his face) are dumped together in a sculptor's backyard. 

The Gandhian tells Jesus about his son CP Swathanthran (starring Mammooty) who lives in Kokrankara, is in love with an activist girl (starring Jewel Mary)  and also waging a legal battle to get back his property from the clutches of a scheming landlord cousin. The actor who plays the role of the cousin is a very talented actor, especially in portraying mean roles! 
Utopiayile Rajavu: This Funny Story is told by.....Statues!
In Utopiayile Rajavu, the local activist Uma Devi is portrayed brilliantly by Jewel Mary. I liked the scene where a bunch of friends and the hero come to "bride-see" her and she says, "I am an activist. I work in the nights, travel a lot, most of my friends are males and I don't intend to cut my connections or my priorities just because I am getting married."
Think of Bangalore Days, where a girl who has great ambitions, toes her parents' way of thinking by rushing into a marriage because the family astrologer insists. I still struggle to understand the logic of glorifying this. 

Utopiayile Rajavu: What I Didn't Like
Kamal's Utopiayile Rajavu doesn't have much scope for an actor of Mammootty's calibre. The hero's role is of a village simpleton who becomes politically astute in tackling bigger issues other than installing his father's statue.
I didn't like a certain scene where a Muslim woman refuses to feed her baby unless her demand to meet Kerala CM. Oomen Chandy is fulfilled and then when CP Swathanthran tells her to feed the baby, she obeys. I can't think of any mother putting her new born baby through such hell for any reason and if she did, why would she change her mind just to obey an absolute stranger! It just didn't make any sense.
Kamal's Utopiayile Rajavu is a socio-political drama that shows us candidly everything that is happening in Kerala. It shows that every Malayali lives in an Utopian land and refuses to somehow take action when faced with reality.
A dialogue that got huge applause in the theater is when the hero barges into a Minister's office without appointment and is asked, "Who are you?," and CP Swathanthran replies, "I am a 'maramandan' like most of the janam in this state who are foolish enough to vote in elections for parties like yours so that you can prosper and we - the janam - can continue to suffer..."
That sums up an ordinary Keralite's helplessness!
And one more thing, do you know what's the latest weapon used by Kerala's local "quotation gangs" - this will blow your mind - it's stinky waste bin potshots!
Last but not the least, I love the dialogue that Lord Krishna's 'statue' tells Christ's statue when they pass by each other - that marks the finesse of a director who knows his job and his audience!

But ultimately, it's the people's verdict. And sadly, this film flopped at the box office.

Is there any movie that you liked but it flopped at the box office? Why do you think that it flopped? Do share your thoughts.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Happy Birthday, Brother!

This is Gopi Mohan Sundaram. 

I call him Muthettan – my adorable brother with the handsomest smile..... 

My earliest memories of childhood vacations begin with Muthettan – waiting for me at the gate of “Menons” – my grandmother’s home located right behind the Ernakulam Shiva Temple.

First glimpse and then Muthettan would break into smiles, I would be lost in bear hugs as Ettan and Mutthettan surrounded me – they are my mother’s brother’s sons and my “blood” brothers as I call them.                 

Those were the days when there were no iPhones or iPads to keep us glued to our seats. Bored way too often, one of our favourite child hood games was breaking and mixing bricks that used to lie around the road, putting it in water and pretending to sell “orange” juice in a bucket! It didn’t matter that it wasn’t even a proper game – it kept us busy on summer days and we ended up looking dirty with mud marks on our faces by evening. We loved it and enjoyed the fun, of course. Who cared about mud back then?

It goes without saying that cricket was their favorite sport but I didn't join them. There used to be a tamarind tree in my grandmother's house. I used to lean on the branches and watch them play. If I got the hunch that they want to drag me into the game, I would quickly disappear because I didn't like playing cricket. 

Shopping was a luxury for us back then but what I do remember is I loved to wear the new clothes that Muthettan got and he used to get so angry at me for that!

Evenings – sandhya neram – used to feel like a slice of heaven. Ettan and Muthettan sang Carnatic music like veterans. So, the evening lamp would be lit in the puja room, they used to sing and I used to listen, thinking that this feels like devaloka. It was the most beautiful moment, really. 

During my teen years however, I saw a different side to Muthettan. He was very protective about me, asked his friends who were mostly my classmates to keep an eye on my activities (that still irks me!!!) and he would scold me periodically about things that didn’t meet his approval.  He gave me advice, was extremely protective and caring. 

The memories and the love we share can go on and on.....

Even when we don’t meet up for years, when we do, we become like the kids that we always are at heart.

Today is Muthettan’s birthday. Years have flown, but memories

Happy Birthday to you.....love and hugs to my two brothers, Ettan and Muthettan and their beautiful families too! 

God bless you all, you guys are in our loving prayers always.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Success is about your capability to withstand pain, longer

When you come back home at the end of the day, there are some things that motivate you no matter how tired you are. That's exactly why Subroto Bagchi's books have a special place on my bookshelf. 

Often, I take my favorite portions from Subroto Bagchi's 'Go Kiss the World' and I share it as a kind of bed time story with my nine year old son. He waits eagerly for these stories!

[Do read: Subroto Bagchi's book 'Zen Garden: Conversations with Path Makers

'Go kiss the world' was his mother's advice to him as she lay in hospital, during her last moments with her son. 

These words from his dying mother became the guiding principle of Subroto Bagchi's life.

In this book, Subroto Bagchi takes you through the humble beginnings of his life, with emphasis on his mother's influence on his personality and core values. 

Coming from a small town in Orissa, he tells you of a childhood that had no luxuries and how observing and learning from real life taught him to look at life - the challenges and opportunities it brings - with a sense of wonder.

His father had a transferable government job. He writes in Go Kiss the World: "When my father was posted to Athamallik, the only government quarter available was next to the morgue where dead bodies were brought in for post mortem.While digging the earth to plan saplings, my mother would find what would look like human bones..." Imagine that!

He cites a conversation in which he asked his father, "When will you buy a house?"

"I already have five houses, why do I need one more?" His father replied.

The five houses referred to his five sons.

About his father, Subroto Bagchi writes in Go Kiss the World,"Material success did not define my father. He taught me that success is your ability to rise above your discomfort, whatever be your current state of wealth. Success is not about building material comforts..."

It's the kind of book I love to wrap up my day with....motivate my son with as well.

From a spiritual perspective and packed with many practical insights for professionals, 'Go Kiss the World' is a book that is a must-read! 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Blue Sky, Blue Mountains

As a child, I was always fascinated by the bright, blue sky. 

I still love to look up to the sky. Watch the clouds pass by.  It calms me. [ READ: How we think about the choices we make ]

Some nights, I take a walk around outside just to see the inky dark sky. 

The night sky is lit up with stars that glitter like jewels. The luminous sky makes me feel that I am sparkling too - that when the stars shine down on you, some of their sparkle rubs off into you too. 

Like Ishmael Beah writes in A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier,

"In the sky, there are always answers and explanations for everything: every pain, every suffering, joy and confusion." [ DO READ: Strong is the NEW Beautiful ]

This snapshot just took my breath away after I clicked it. Even in my wildest dreams, I never expected to visit the Blue Mountains, in Australia. 

The name "Blue Mountains" comes to these  mountains aptly because of the oil exuded by the eucalyptus trees surrounding it across the deep valleys around.

It's a view that will take your breath away. I LOVED it.

Now it's your turn: Are you fascinated by your natural surroundings - it could be the stars, the trees, the ground that you walk on, the birds that wake you up with their morning song?

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Independence Day, Tri Color Lunch and Rice Cakes Rolling

Independence Day packs in an exciting, festive feel. You feel ready to look back at history with gratitude and look to the present with hope.

Life’s always on a great roll and here’s my yummy tri color lunch - which I absolutely enjoyed in the office canteen.

Ah, and that reminds me of a sweet Japanese story called ‘The Rolling Rice Cakes.’ It is about an old man and his wife. She packs delicious rice cakes in his lunchbox when he goes to cut firewood in the forest.

One day, one of the rice cake rolls down into a hole in the ground!

From the beneath the ground, he hears tiny voices sing:

"Rice cakes, rice cakes,
Nice, fat rice cakes,
Rolling, rolling, rolling – down!”

He loves the beautiful song and rolls down all the rice cakes to the tiny voices. Unexpectedly, he tumbles into the hole too, where he is greeted by hundreds of field mice. They had eaten all his rice cakes and thanked him. As a return gift, they give him a small bag of rice.

The Old Man goes home with the small bag of his wife. When he tells his wife about what happened, you can guess the earful she gave him for giving away all her rice cakes! She said, “Hmmph, this bag of rice wont even make more than than one or two rice cakes!”

But guess what happened?

No matter how much they used, the bag remained fully stocked with rice, more than they could possibly eat!  Now the old man and old woman had plenty of rice cakes to make as much as they wanted!

Lovely story and a beautiful message, don’t you think? I have always believed that goodness brings its own reward. And if you liked this Rolling Rice cakes story, do get a copy of Japanese Children’s Stories, edited by Florence Sakade and translated by Meredith Weatherby, a well known translator of Japanese literature. This is a book for children, but I loved reading every story in it. 

Now, it’s your turn. How did you spend Independence Day? What were the moments or thoughts that made it special for you?

Waiting to hear from you!


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