Cinema – My Bodhi Tree

Graduation

Graduation

When I married my husband and moved to the US, my husband was in the last semester of his M.S. He used to go to the lab to work quite late in the night, and I would accompany him not wanting to be left alone in our apartment. I made use of the time there to study for my GMAT test, and then took the test two months later. But I actually enrolled in a college only five years later, and that too mainly because my GMAT scores were in danger of expiring!

My husband graduated from the University of Texas but work opportunities were slim pickings there. So we moved to San Jose, California. He got a job and we settled there. I could have joined a course immediately but we could not afford my education as we had my husband’s student loans to repay. Moreover the tuition fees are higher if one is a non-resident and without a Green Card. So we decided to wait. I started working in my husband’s friend’s office. My visa status did not allow me to work but he paid me in cash, though a little less than the market value.

Our next decision was about having children. We decided not to postpone that and so we had our daughter and then after two years our son was born. In the mean time we had gotten our Green Card and I was working part-time.

We decided that it was better that I do my course at San Jose State University itself as it would entail less of a commute. My son was two years old and very naughty. He was extremely annoyed that I was reading all the time and not playing with him. I still look back and wonder how I managed to finish my studies 🙂

I had enrolled in college six months earlier and done a pre-requisite course just to keep my GMAT score valid. Later when I enrolled in my MBA programme, I finished it in a year, just three semesters, fall, spring and summer. My GPA was 4.0. My husband graduating with me with the same MBA degree (Executive programme) from the same University on the same day was a very happy coincidence. Since he was travelling all the time he had breaks and though he had enrolled earlier than me we both graduated at the same time 🙂

When I was in my last semester all my classmates were frantically looking for a good job. I prepared my resume and passed it to many of my friends to give it in their offices. But in my heart of hearts I was not really looking forward to taking up a full time job. My in-laws had come to stay with us to help me out during my course but I was worried about how I would handle the situation of my children after they left. It was a crucial time for a serious job search and here I was wavering and worrying constantly of what I should be doing after I graduated.

It was very important that I took up a position soon after I graduated and any delay would only mar my chances of ever getting a good position. All my friends, very impressed with my marks, were pestering me to look for a job seriously as they were very sure that my chances of getting a good job was pretty good.

We had a Guru, Satguru Sivaya Subramuniya Swamy in Hawaii, whom we respected a lot. (http://www.himalayanacademy.com/monastery/lineage-philosophy/gurudeva) He was a white American and would freely answer any question posed to him either spiritual or otherwise. He had come to their temple in Concord, California where we visited him. I asked him about my quandary and sought his help. He said a mother’s place is at home. She is the anchor of the family. But what I say will not hold good in today’s world though that is my answer to your question.

Satguru Sivaya Subramuniya Swamy

Satguru Sivaya Subramuniya Swamy

It was imperative that I take up a full time job knowing our financial situation. I also looked around and saw all these awesome Indian women doing a fantastic job of balancing their careers and families very well, and yet here I was not wishing to do that. I had wanted to study, spent money on it, and then I could not handle the peer pressure that said once you get a good degree you have to work.

Then one day I happened to watch a film called City Slickers on the television. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_Slickers) It changed my life in a minute! It is a story about three friends facing different problems at that point in their lives and getting really frustrated. They go on an adventure sport which is to herd cows from one place to another. So these city dwellers from New York go to New Mexico to herd the cows to Colorado. There are others who also have come from other places to join in this game. An important character is Curly who is the trail boss. He is the one who makes them realise their potential.

City Slickers Poster

City Slickers Poster

The three friends encounter a lot of difficulties in herding the cows, given their inexperience and age. But finally they do it. The film falls under the genre of comedy. But the three guys learn a valuable lesson. We all love one thing the most in our lives, and that should be our primary choice and therefore our only focus. Happiness automatically follows! They go back to New York wiser and happier.

I then realized that my “one thing” was my family. I decided to only take up part-time positions and such jobs which would not hinder me in any way from giving my full attention to my family. I conveyed this to my husband. I took up a teaching position in an evening college in Santa Clara and also taught on weekends when my husband used to take care of the kids. After moving to India I have not taken up a job. Back here I had the additional responsibility of taking care of my parents and my husband’s parents.

Hats off to those women who can take care of their family and perform efficiently at work as well! I really applaud them. But I knew that I was not cut out for that. I do not regret my decision and in fact can honestly say that I am happy I did it. I absolutely have to thank my husband and my family for their support in this matter.

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தாய் மண்ணே வணக்கம்! A.R.Rahman concert

ARR1

What an amazing experience! It was both unbelievable and awesome. Today I realised why Rahman is God 🙂 He is so vibrant, energetic, full of love and a perfectionist!

The start was not great. It was raining the whole day making us wonder if we will even attend the concert. But with some relief from the rain in the evening, we went to the concert with great hopes that it will not rain. We stood in slushy mud for an hour before a commotion started by the restless ticket holders and eventually we were allowed to get in. There were not enough chairs. To add to all this woe it started raining, initially lightly and then quite heavily. But I saw how undaunted Rahman fans are. Not one budged. Then Rahman arrived on the stage as to the recital of the poem உடல் மண்ணுக்கு  உயிர் தமிழுக்கு இதை உரக்க சொல்வோம் உலகுக்கு!  and the audience burst into a frenzy and all was well 🙂

He had picked such lovely numbers that made the show a grand success. All songs were in Tamil. He started with the patriotic song from Swadesh. The second number itself was from Kadal, Elay keechaan! All songs from Kadal were sung, every one of them beautifully rendered by the original singers. Mr and Mrs Mani Ratnam were present as also Rajeev Menon and director Shankar. Hariharan and Mano sang a medley of his hit songs. Unfortunately Hariharan made a faux pas. He forgot his Tamil lines for the Roja song and switched to the Hindi words 😦 Through out Rahman was present on the stage either singing or playing a musical instrument which was such a joy to behold. Every instrument that he handled, he handled with ease and poise. His wardrobe was exceptionally good. Who ever designed them did a good job and he did a costume change five times I think.

There was an unplugged session with a new instrument which sounded like the Veena but was like a synthesiser. He played beautifully, though he said he was just learning to play it  and Chitra was awesome with him. There were a host of singers including Karthik, chinmayi , Benny, Neeti Mohan and others. Rahman belted out each song with so much enthusiasm and joy that the whole one lakh audience were just enthralled. The dancers in the background were very good, quality of production to be really applauded. People just sang along with the singers for Mustafa Mustafa , Adiye, Jai Ho and Vande Maataram.

The ads in between were quite annoying and the concert seemed a little short but I felt it was worth the money spent! I haven’t enjoyed this much in any event in recent times 🙂

Marriages are made in heaven!

Marriages are really made in heaven. It is so surprising how we each find our own partners in life whether it is through falling in love or accepting a partner through an arranged marriage. My father was a very distant relative to my mother. He arrived from Calcutta by a train which was twenty four hours late due to heavy downpour in Madras. So his friend who was supposed to pick him up had gone back home after an indefinite wait at the station. My mother’s brother was in the railway station to pick up his friend who’s train was also delayed but met my father instead who was stranded in the station. Being a relative known to my uncle he picked him up and brought him home. He was to join a new job in Chennai and hence stayed for a couple of days in their house before he could find an accommodation of his own and moved out. My grandfather became mighty impressed with him in the two days that he stayed with them and decided to give his daughter in marriage to him. My father has also told me that he had liked my mother very much when he saw her for the first time and was blown away by her aristocracy 🙂

My uncle and aunts marriage is another story. My uncle, an exceptionally brilliant man could not use his right hand due to polio attack at a very young age. He was avoiding getting married as he was not sure about a woman’s reaction to marry him willingly. But of course my grandfather was trying to find a girl in the usual channels that was prevalent in those days. My aunt’s family received his horoscope and wanted to proceed but my aunt was not interested.  After a period of six months her uncle went through my uncle’s horoscope and told her that he would make an excellent match for her and that she would live like a queen! 🙂  This did impress her and she agreed to see my uncle who was in Delhi then. She in fact went to meet him in Delhi with her brother which was not a common protocol then.  My uncle removed his shirt to show her his hand and asked her if she did not mind living with a man with this handicap. My aunt was so touched by his gesture that she immediately said that she would be his right hand as long as she lived 🙂

Of course my marriage to my husband was decided by us with a short meeting of minds in just over an hour and we got married within a week of meeting each other. I moved to the US trusting my husband whom I barely knew 🙂 Then there are my two friends who fell in love and got married, one after a long courtship starting from the school days and another meeting her husband in her work place. The former’s wedding was conducted by her parents and the latter eloped with her boyfriend.

One cousin of mine married his high school sweetheart who was a girl from another caste as always love is beyond colour and creed. He was such a quiet and proper boy that we were surprised when he made the announcement. There was opposition from the girl’s family and the girl tried to commit suicide (a doctor herself by profession) and to prevent any further heart ache my uncle arranged and conducted the wedding. Her parents were gracious enough to attend the function.

Another cousin met his wife in his MBA class and she happened to be of the same caste and hence the wedding was conducted with all the fanfare! Then there is this cousin who refused to find his own match how much ever his parents pushed him to. He said amma please find me a girl to marry! But they did not. The girl found him instead. She happened to travel to the US and meet him there and fell in love with him and also told him of her interest in him. But of course he said my parents have to approve. So she waited patiently for a year before he came to India and formally met her with his parents and officialized the wedding.

There is a cousin who married his neighbour but within our community. Yet his parents refused to attend his wedding as he made his choice without giving his parents a say in the matter! But again I have a cousin who married out of community and a boy from a different state. My cousin’s parents went to the boy’s house in Calcutta to seek their blessings for the wedding. The boy’s father outright refused his consent for the wedding and politely bade them goodbye. It was a big shock to my uncle because he held a super post in the society and was really bewildered that somebody in this day and age would refuse his brilliant daughter citing caste and community as a reason.  But the boy prevailed on his parents or so to say faught with them. The father agreed for the union if they would not meet or speak to each other for six months period after which if they still liked each other he would give his blessings! Mind you, the parents lived in Calcutta and the love lorn couple was in the US.Yet the father trusted his son with this condition. Six months passed with out incident and the father gave consent as promised and they are happily married now 🙂

My baby cousin has just announced that he is marrying a politician’s daughter, who is of a different caste, from a different state. Well, this combination is a first for our family 🙂 He met her during his graduate studies in the US.

Now I am waiting for my children to get married. But my above narration is only a reassurance to myself that matches are made in heaven. Don’t know from where my son and daughter in law will come but that surprise element is what keeps our lives interesting!

Life throws a curve ball at you

 

An expectant mother (model)

I graduated from San Jose State University with a MBA degree in 1991. It was an adventure by itself. My daughter was four and my son two when I went back to school. Luckily my in laws stayed with me through out the duration of my studies. I finished in three semesters with a 4.0 GPA (not bragging please) My son would bang on the door and would create a real ruckus when I tried to study or do my assignments. He would hide my books under the bed so that I would spend time with him and not with the books, but that is not the point of this post.

This post is actually a eulogy to a dear friend of mine named Krishna. My classes were in the evening between six and nine. I used to park my car in one of the side streets as getting a parking spot in that part of down town area was very tough. When I was in the first semester Krishna was in his last. He was my friend’s brother. We were in different classes, but after class he would accompany me to my car, wait for me to start the car before he left as he was always concerned about my safety since that part of the down town was not well lit and not a safe neighbourhood either.

He was a very soft spoken person and he had come to US through the sponsorship of his sister, so already had the coveted green card. Even before he finished his degree he found a good job and very soon got married to a lovely girl from Chennai. When we moved to Singapore he took most of our furniture as he was newly set upping his home. His wife was a very sweet person. When we left for Singapore they were expecting their first child.

Six months later we get a phone call from San Jose informing us that Krishna is no more. He had drowned in his apartment swimming pool. On that day both of them had attended the Seemantham of one of their fiends. He had picked up his wife from office during lunch time to attend the function. After lunch when they returned home he complained of heaviness and told his wife that may be a swim would help and went down to the pool. He was found floating in the pool minutes later by somebody. Being a working day and late afternoon there was no body else in the pool when he went for a swim. So there was no way of knowing what happened to him in his last minutes. He was a fairly good swimmer. His wife was due in two weeks. Post mortem revealed that he had died due to drowning.

One month prior to his death he had told his wife that when he was doing the internal audit in his company he had found out that his colleague had embezzled money. He wanted to inform his superiors but his colleague was begging him to give him some time to make good the theft. He was a Middle Eastern guy. I do not know how an American would have acted during such a situation. But Krishna being the compassionate type and may be in India we tend to bend the rules a little to help others, probably felt that it was okay to wait for a few days before informing his superiors.

No money was coming from that fellow and the day he was going to inform his boss about it was the day of the Seemantham. Unfortunately his boss was on leave that particular day and he could not have the meeting with him. The same morning this fellow came to his desk and offered him coke in a glass, not a can, not a bottle but a glass which he brought from his cubicle. Krishna was in no mood to drink anything offered by him. But his colleague had told him that he was really sorry for what he had put Krishna through and was ready to face the consequences.He said that he did not object to him informing his boss about the embezzlement. He had apparently told him that he would be happy if he drank what he offered and so Krishna did and left office a little before lunch time. Once he reached home he had told his wife that he was not feeling very well. He also told her about the soft drink he had in a glass offered by his colleague.

So during police investigation the wife told all this to the investigating officer. His sister also vouched for his swimming abilities and felt that no way he could have drowned in an apartment swimming pool. But the post mortem results did not reveal any kind of poison in his body and the case was closed shut.

You can imagine the plight of the wife. She had no will to live even. She was unconsolable. My husband and I visited her in San Jose just before she went into labour. Her sister in law and another dear friend were her coaches and begged her to co operate and made her have a normal delivery. Krishna and his wife did not want to know the sex of the child before the baby was born though there is an option in the US to know before hand. She was blessed with a baby girl and was given the name chosen by her husband.

Krishna’s mother in law stayed with her daughter after attending the funeral but her father had to go back immediately to India. On reaching Chennai he went to Vellore to meet a “medium”. He was quite naturally very upset about what happened to his daughter. But he was more upset about the possibility of  foul play in his son in law’s death and the irreverent attitude of the local police department in the US regarding their doubts. So at the behest of one of his friends he went to meet this person who was able to talk to the spirits who had died of unnatural causes. I believe Krishna’s spirit came on to that man and started telling his father in law about what happened prior to his death. He told him that he felt very dizzy in the pool and swooned and eventually drowned. The spirit told him that definitely he was drugged by his colleague. It must have been some kind of slow reacting poison. It also told him that they would be getting a girl baby (the child was not born yet) and also requested his father in law to get his wife remarried.

The father contacted his daughter in the US and told her about this experience. Her friends and relatives dissuaded her from giving this kind of information to the police which they would not in any case believe and would in no any way help in the investigation.

She came back to India after a year and after a few years got remarried. She has a good family life. But to this day she believes that her first husband did not die of natural causes.

Singapore – A Model City/Country!

Classic Singapore

Singapore is a small country. In fact the size of Singapore is almost the same size as the Chennai metropolitan city. What struck us most when we moved to Singapore from the vast land of the US was the tiny size of the country. We lived in Singapore from 1993 to 1996. In the US the residential suburbs were filled with sprawling single storey houses. But Singapore was a vertical city 🙂 The high rise buildings housed the population. Being a small city there is not much to see in Singapore. The main entertainment is shopping. They have amazing shopping malls which carry everything under the Sun. The creativity of the government is revealed in the way that they have turned the Sentosa Island into a top notch entertainment centre like Disney land!

The highways and roads are not broad but the quality and cleanliness of the roads will make you fall in love with that country at first sight. The economy of the country is very much dependent on tourism. Hence the government gives importance to any and all things related to encouraging tourism.

I have read stories of writer Sujatha where he would talk about incidents happening in the year 2512 (or so) in futuristic cities which were very robotic in nature. We saw the shades of such a city in Singapore in those days itself 🙂 I am certain that the government has fine tuned its activities to make life simpler and easier for its citizens than before and the people have everything delivered at their door steps now!

It is a very safe country. A woman could go out alone at 2 am in the night wearing jewels and yet be have no fear for her safety. I speak about this out of experience when I had to go out alone one night out of necessity. In my opinion, fear of severe punishment if caught while committing a crime is the main reason for such good behaviour. Caning is a very common form of punishment along with jail sentences and fines. I have heard that a mere two strikes by cane on the buttocks of those found guilty will be remembered by them with fear for the rest of their lives. When we were there an American teenager was caught and found guilty for painting graffiti on some public property. If the same thing had happened in the US he would have been slapped with a fine and some hours of community service. But in Singapore he was to be caned for this crime. The American family tried their best to take him away from the country before he was caned. I remember Bill Clinton appealing to the Singapore government. But the government did not budge and he received his share of caning as ordered by the court and only then was he allowed out of the country.

Taxi car’s registration numbers, driver’s licence numbers and their mobile phone numbers are all registered with the concerned government departments. So if we lose something in the taxi or if the driver misbehaves we can lodge a complaint and the authorities can easily track them. Hence the taxi drivers also behave nicely towards us. Metre rates are only paid and the balance change duly rendered! The government stipulates the rate per kilometre which is reasonable enough tube accepted by the taxi owners. The night time taxi travel is one and a half times the rate that we normally pay during day time. The drivers are well trained and the city is so well planned that all you have to do when you get into the taxi is to give the address and we will be dropped in the right place. Ninety percent of them speak English and even the remaining ten percent do understand and follow instructions.

We used to have two cars when we were in the US. The three years that we spent there we did not buy a car, due to two reasons. One was that, Singapore had a wonderful public transport system, air-conditioned busses, speeding metros and reasonable rates for a comfortable taxi ride. Trains and busses and taxis were clean and functioned efficiently. The other reason was the exorbitant prices of cars. If the cost of the car was Sing$30,000, there was an additional tax called COE which varied anywhere from Sing$20,000 to Sing$70,000 or so as it was based on a demand and supply model. This was imposed by the government to restrict its people to curtail the purchase of cars and they were able to have a control on the number of cars on the road every year. This COE was also valid only for ten years after which you have to pay again. That way they made sure that old cars were not on the road thus controlling the pollution levels in the atmosphere. The payments for car parking in CBD(business districts, equivalent to down town area in the US) was also very high making it a deterrent to office goers to own a car. If the government wanted to increase the sales of cars they would lower the COE. They ran the country in the same way a CEO would run a company.

My children weren’t very happy over the fact that we did not have a car, especially my son 🙂 The moment we stepped out of our house he will extend his arm to hail a taxi on the road! They both had school van/bus to pick and drop them. It was such a breeze to get admission in schools for them. All we had to do was to submit an application to the education ministry and they allotted the school that was close to our home address. When we were there a shift system was followed. First and third standards had the afternoon shift and second and fourth had the morning shift.

Everything and everybody has to follow a regimen there. The government was a benevolent dictator. It provided its people with all the needed comforts. Their housing board which was called the HDB provided flats at a very reasonable rate to permanent residents and their citizens. A taxi driver and a street vendor would be a house owner in that country. Additional benefits were allotted to citizens of the country. They had the right to buy brand new HDB flats that came into the market and loans at lower interest rates etc, to name a few.

It is very common there for both the husband and wife to hold jobs there. Another special feature of that country is the availability of live in maids. They are mainly hired from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia and Pakistan. They have a separate visa. This has its plusses and minuses.

High rise buildings!

The country is devoid of any natural resources. Even water is imported from Malaysia. But the government functions with a superior visualisation of its future needs and makes provisions for every conceivable contingency. It is such a tiny country but it makes military training compulsory to all boys who finish their high school there. They are allowed to continue their college education only after they have completed the three years of mandatory military training. But once you finish that in flying colours, the government provides the students with financial aid to study in their own top universities or even helps them go abroad for their higher studies. But if you do not take up this training you are thrown out of the country. Your PR(equal to American Green Card) is revoked and have to leave the country immediately. If in case you want to visit the country later you may get a visitor’s visa for two weeks at a time. So many Indian parents living there who do not want their sons to under go such training leave the country when their child is in the ninth or tenth standard and move to US or Australia or back to India.

Schools are equally restrictive. There is no room for creativity. Further, they even monitor the weights of the students. They are paranoid about having a future generation which is obese. So such kids are given counselling by doctors to eat less and they are forced to jog several rounds in the school playground before or after class.

My daughter is a very creative and sensitive person. She became stifled by the rules and regulations in school. More so by the racial discrimination that she felt was shown towards the Tamils/Indians by the majority there, the Chinese. Moving from a place where there was enough freedom to a place that was claustrophobic she decided to move to India to live with her grandparents and go to school there.

We had no option but to follow her 🙂 I was quite happy in Singapore during the days that I lived there. But it is highly doubtful if I would have been happy if I had continued to live there and made it my home. I am too averse to interference in personal freedom and thrive only in a unrestricted society.

Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple

There are plenty of Hindu Temples in Singapore. Perumaal Kovil and Vatapathra Kaliyamman Kovil on Serangoon Road, the Chettiyar Murugan kovil are quite famous. Thai Poosam is celebrated with so much fan fare and devotion. It is a sight to behold to see the Chinese and the Malay people side by side with the Indian devotees carrying Kavadi and milk pots on that day.

Serangoon Road, Mustafa, Kalyanasundaram mega marts, Komalas restaurant and Little India are all so much part of our Tamil culture that we will really not miss India that much and it is only a four hours flight to Chennai as well. The best part is the three races of Indian, Malay and Chinese do co exist and live in harmony there. The government has to be commended for that.

It is a very peaceful and comfortable life there. But do people have a life there? That is my question!

Co-existing races

Bhagavad Gita, a simple guide!

Divine Discourse in the Battlefield

Lord Krishna, in His infinite love and wisdom decided to give us Gita. In His perpetual drama, with the Universe as a stage, Gitopadesam is nothing but a single scene! He chose Arjuna to be the recipient of His teachings. He knew that all sorts of doubts will spark from his mind which would in fact be the doubts of any layman in this world. They were both friends from childhood and first cousins. So He knew that Arjuna would not hesitate to ask Krishna any question that cropped up in his mind be it ever so silly.

The venue of the lecture is unique. It is a battlefield! The timing of the lecture is also extraordinary. It happens when Arjuna appears despondent and confused, amidst the two armies of Kauravas and the Pandavas standing ready for action. That is when Krishna gives His revelatory instructions and removes all doubts and fears from Arjuna’s mind.

We hardly get any doubts in any subject matter while being taught by a teacher in a classroom. But we are plagued with doubts while leading our life in the real world, out of the confines of a classroom. That is when we actually need a guide and a teacher. Bhagavad Gita is that great teacher which helps us overcome our trials and tribulations we face in our day to day life. The universal teacher Lord Krishna has offered this ready reckoner which we can refer to at all times, to win the obstacle race that is our life!

Looking at his teachers and grand-uncles and cousins and hoards of other relatives and friends on the opposing side, Arjuna drops his weapon and decides not to fight the war. He laments to his charioteer. He tells Him that he does not have the heart to kill the elders who were his teachers and revered relatives, and so justifies his decision to withdraw from the war. He says that no kingdom is worth the sadness earned through killing his relatives and making thousands of women widows. He stands like a coward, cowed down by feelings of guilt.

We too face a similar situation on several occasions. We refuse to act when action is required. In our childhood, we find excuses to not study. Later in life we refuse to take up several job opportunities saying they are not what we are looking for. Married life again has lot of responsibilities which one tries to evade as much as possible. All one cares for is a carefree life 🙂

Initially Arjuna treated Krishna as a friend. But when he found himself in dire straits, he surrendered himself to the Divine. He stands before the Lord, his mind filled with fear and confusion. He looks up to Krishna as he realises His superiority in every area. We do the same in our everyday life. We often seek the advice of a knowledgeable person or a well wisher when we are unable to make an important decision in our lives. At that moment we are without any ego and willing to listen. That is also the opportune time for a guru to give instructions that will be eagerly listened to and implicitly obeyed. Arjuna was exactly in that stage.

Acknowledging Arjuna’s plight, Krishna starts His divine instructions. They are not simple philosophies. Hence understanding the teachings requires deep knowledge, dedication and humility.

We outgrow our childhood and become a youngster. Pretty soon we lose our youthfulness and become old. We do not grieve during those stages of changes. We consider it a part of life. The final stage of change is death. But cursing and blaming oneself for the death of another is utter foolishness says Lord Krishna.

He then explains the difference between the body and the soul “atma”. The atma is different from the body though the body functions due to the presence of this subtle atma. The atma is connected to the Paramatma and functions through its connection to this higher soul. What can be destroyed can be reproduced. So you are after all going to destroy the body which is any way going to die and decay. This will again be reborn. Hence march forward towards the enemy and destroy them says the Paramatma.

That which is connected to the Paramatma will live forever. So the atma stands witness to every birth. The atma is ancient, but renews itself in every new birth. We discard worn out clothes to drape ourselves in new attire. Similarly the atma clothes itself in new bodies through new births. Krishna tells Arjuna, you are only going to destroy something that is going to be destroyed, so fear not and fight.

The atma is indescribable. It is next to impossible to visualise it. It is extremely subtle. It is beyond birth and death. Lord Krishna uses another approach to explain the situation in an easier way. He says to Arjuna that if he is not able to differentiate between body and soul, then your assumption will be that the soul will die along with the body. In that case the soul is also going to be reborn along with the body. So he asks him not to fret. A pot is made from clay. Once it breaks it becomes clay again. But again is mixed with water and made into pot. One who understands this process will not be saddened by death.

According to tenements of Kshathriya Dharma it is the duty of a soldier to fight against injustice. Courage, steadfastness, commitment, protecting those under his fold and fighting against evil are the required noble qualities of a leader. If such a leader were to die in war, the gates of heaven would any way be kept open for him. A prudent leader will only make use of such an opportunity to fight for justice. If he failed to do so he would be ridiculed as a coward by his own kith and kin. Krishna also says that nobody would believe that he backed out because he did not actually want to fight his teachers and relatives to get back his rightful kingdom, but did so out of fear. According to Him embracing death would be a better alternative to withdrawing himself from the field.

The teachings to Arjuna by Krishna are not just advice relating to warfare. They are in fact lessons on fair social living. In our day to day lives, we too have to perform our duties and fight through innumerable obstacles. We face conflicts in our lives very similar to what Arjuna faced in the battlefield. How in fact do we conquer them?

Let me explain this from a woman’s point of view. As a daughter, a girl’s first duty was to satisfy her parents. Suppose she had fallen in love with a guy who her parents disapprove of, their first reaction would be to make her feel guilty. Oh, how much we sacrificed for you and now all you have done is to bring shame on us. What is a female to do in such a situation? Her first step is to analyse objectively if her decision to marry the boy she loves is the right one. Next try to understand why her parents oppose this marriage. If she is madly in love with her boyfriend she can never see his faults. But if she saw the situation in a detached fashion she will be able to weigh the positives and negatives clearly. After such a clear analysis, if she still believes that her decision is right she has the responsibility to explain her point of view to her parents in a manner that they understand. Maturity and intelligence is required to fulfil this function. After her marriage she also requires the wisdom and capacity to make her new married life a success. This is just a simple example. Knowingly or unknowingly we do follow what is stated in the Gita in our everyday life.

We have to perform our duties with utmost sincerity. Our efforts require total dedication. Only then will we be able to think clearly and execute effectively. But the catch here is that we should not be attached to the fruits of our action. This is the simple advice to us by Lord Krishna. The great sages and seers followed this principle in their lives. Mahatma Gandhi is one such person. If we attach ourselves to the fruits of our labour, then when the result is a failure it will lead to sadness, dejection and, as a result, lack of interest in carrying out our other duties. If we succeed in our efforts it will only result in jubilation and possible wrong moves due to over confidence.  But when our actions are not influenced by the results, then our efficiency improves as a result of undisturbed focus. This is not easy to attain. It requires enormous practice. But the moment we realize that this is very essential for a successful life, we begin to follow this right path of detachment.

To begin practicing this, we have to overcome our attachment to duality. Happiness and sadness are the two extremes of our mental pendulum. Our achievement lies in not getting elated by the emotion of happiness nor being bogged down by sadness. This is the state known as “sthithapragna” or equanimity. This is not an easy state to achieve. We have to have control over our sense organs. Eavesdropping and voyeurism are not easy habits to control and overcome. But if we divert our attention to the lotus feet of Lord Krishna and dwell on His amazing qualities, we can win over our weaknesses. With His grace we can conquer the evil qualities of jealousy, hatred, greed, selfishness, passion and pride, and turn victorious and virtuous in the battle of our life. Of course, His immense grace is required to make this a reality as is our intention and effort. Unbridled emotions only lead to our downfall and we will never be able to come out of the quagmire of unending births and deaths.

The combination of our longing to know God and pure and simple love is only “Bhakthi”. Bhakthi moistens the land which is our heart and makes it ready for cultivation.  Karma uses Swadharma as the plough and cultivates the land. Good thoughts and good deeds gained through knowledge are seeds sown in that land. After all this it is Lord Krishna’s grace which comes down as rain to make the crops sprout and lead too harvesting!

My Guruji states this in a simple manner. Life’s experience is Vedham. Vedham is nothing but our life. Life is Karma. Karma is experience. Through Karma there is every chance of purifying our actions. This in turn leads to an easy path to escape the cycle of birth and death and reach God!

Each man is at a different stage in his life. What each one wants out of life is also different. The paths chosen by each are obviously not the same. So how can one assume that the goal of every human being is to attain moksha or reach God? Hence, we cannot assume that each human being will try to understand God through knowledge and discriminating power. But one thing is certain and common to every human being. Nobody can live in this world without action. Even our bodies are active and functioning every millisecond without our conscious effort. We cannot be inactive even for a minute. We continue to act in this birth based on beliefs carried forward from our previous births.

Learning to follow the practice of not being attached to the fruits of our labour is really simple to understand and execute. This path is the chosen one, not just to attain God successfully, but also to excel in our profession and business. Though there are so many paths advocated in the Gita itself, Lord Krishna is definitely partial towards Karma Yoga which is easy and simple to one and all.

Lord Krishna in the first part of His avatar was a cowherd and a charioteer in the second half. As a cowherd, He drew the cows (us) to Him with His enchanting music.  Later, as a charioteer in the Kurukshetra war He controlled the horses by holding the reins, leading the Pandavas to victory, in turn teaching us to control our senses by using the reins of will power.

Krishna, the cowherd

The atma cannot be understood by someone lecturing you about it. It can neither be understood by speaking about it or meditating on it. It can be realised only by those chosen by the atma. Whom does the atma choose? It chooses those who use their discriminating power as their guide, those who are on the path to mastering their sense organs, and those who with deep love and devotion are aiming to be in the fold of God. The atma reveals itself to them.

“Chennai is the greatest country ever!”

…..a little boy squealed inside the plane as the flight landed in the Chennai airport. I turned and looked at him in astonishment. Here was someone like me! 🙂

Picture by Niyantha

I was born in Pondicherry and brought to Chennai when I was just five months old. I’ve been a Chennai-ite since then.  I was told that I was cranky and a cry baby when I was in Pondy and became all happy and cheerful once I landed in Chennai. I think my adoration for Chennai started even as a baby 🙂 I have visited many cities all over the world and lived in a few for several years. But no place has given me as much happiness as Chennai has!  Mid pleasures and palaces though I may roam, be it ever so humble there is no place like Chennai 😉

My parents used to live in Mylapore, but for some reason took me all the way to Vadapalani temple for my first birthday. The priest somehow immediately assumed it was my birthday and garlanded me, even before my parents could tell him anything. Perhaps it was destiny, as I became an ardent devotee of Vadapalani Murugan from a very young age, and even today I live close to the temple 🙂 I believe in those days there were only stretches of paddy fields all the way from where the present Kodambakkam flyover is to Vadapalani and beyond.  In fact the bridge came much later.

Photo by Keerthi

We moved near Ram Theatre in Kodambakkam shortly after. I am sure that was again through the grace of Lord Muruga as this enabled me to frequently go to the temple on my own even as a young person. I would go to all the nearby shops without any adult accompanying me. I used to be in and out of all my neighbours’ houses having fun playing with kids my age and with those older than me too.

Summer vacations used to be so much fun! We kids used to gather together in the street and make “kootanchoru”. We made a stove with three bricks, collected twigs from under the trees and cooked rice in an earthern pot. Mixing a little buttermilk with the hot cooked rice, we ate it to our heart’s content to the accompaniment of five paise pickle packets. No chef from any five Star Hotel could whip up something more delicious than that 🙂

We used to stage plays as well. Once we staged a play about Kovalan and Kannagi. I donned the role of Kannagi (I was 7 years old). The guy who directed the play was probably fifteen years or so. He used to efficiently manage us kids, make us learn our lines and conduct rehearsals during the hot summer afternoons. When I found out that his son was my son’s classmate in Padma Seshadri, it was such a happy coincidence.

My brother was younger to me by five years. He used to take part in every game of the season with full zest. He was good in carrom, “goli”, “pambaram”, an expert in flying kites and of course our national game cricket! There would always be a gang of boys in our home sharing the loot of mangoes plucked from neighbours’ trees or running in the streets to get hold of a loose “bana kathadi”. I am pleased to say that I am still in touch with his friends.

I did my schooling and my college in Kodambakkam. Going to movies was as great form of entertainment then as it is today. I have seen so many movies with friends especially in the Sathyam Theater. We learnt Hindi by watching the same Hindi movie repeatedly.  Standing in queue eagerly waiting for our turn to purchase tickets was fun by itself 🙂

I have a very strong belief in God. This helped me through tough times when my family encountered many problems when I was quite young.  I owe my strength of mind to Vadapalani Murugan. We have no control over many things in life. But a strong belief in God helps you tide over the difficult times with courage. My prayers are always conversations with God. I learnt a lot of my life’s lessons at an early age. I should say that this was indeed a blessing. I became a very responsible person, capable of judging people and situations. Patience and perseverance were the other by-products 🙂

When I moved to the US, I really missed my temple and my Murugan. But He is so compassionate that He showed me where He was housed In San Francisco as Palaniswamy. It was a small but beautiful temple. Life was great in the US. Lots of friends, a lovely place with all the comforts one could ask for, no interference from in-laws… yet I missed Chennai 🙂

Then we moved to Singapore.  It was the best of both worlds, the confluence of the east and the west. Every thing was available in Singapore that was in the US, and we could even afford hired help, and the temples there made you feel at home. But still it was not Chennai 🙂 There were too many rules and regulations and the government interfered in the private lives of their residents. They even monitored the weights of the school children and took action to make sure that they did not become obese. Above all one did not even have the freedom of throwing a single piece of garbage on to the street 🙂 At the first opportunity we moved back to Chennai. We owe a big thanks to our daughter for hastening our return.  She was just 9 years old, and told me and my husband that if we decided to move out of the US, we should not have chosen a place where we were again a minority. She in fact moved to Chennai first, even without us. All we had to do was to follow her!

People of Chennai are like the jack fruit. They may sound disrespectful when they speak but have a heart of gold in welcoming others into their fold. The medical facilities available in Chennai are unparallelled. Public transportation is great. Compared to other metro cities, Chennai is definitely an affordable place to live.

Photo by Niyantha

I love the Marina beach. Soon after the tsunami the sea was rough for quite some time. Now it is back to normal. Marina beach is such an integral part of any Chennai-ite’s life! The sea breeze and the salt water is sure to wipe away the restlessness of one’s mind. All that is needed is a single visit to the sandy beach.

My friends! They are the secret to my youthfullness and vitality 🙂 We owe it to Chennai for our frequent getogethers and interactions. We used to live in different places but all of us now live in Chennai. Now as a group we travel to different places together starting from Chennai!

It is not surprising for one to love the city one is born and brought up in. But it is really a joy and an honour that my husband, who was brought up in Bangalore, loves Chennai the same way I do 🙂

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