The Bondage of Debt

Recently I read a story from an old Indian children’s magazine called Chandamama. I was so impressed by it that today I want to share it with all of you.

Long time back, there was a night watchman. His job was to roam the streets of the village at night and look out for thieves. Every now and then he alerted the villagers to be on their guard. He was married for several years but was childless. When he approached a wise, old sage about his problem and asked for blessings. The sage explains:
“Runanubhanda Rupena Pashu Patni Suta Aalaya ,
Runakshaye Kshyayaanthi Tatra Parivedana.”

It means that cattle, wife, children and home (such attachments) are bondages that result from one’s previous birth. The relationship with these attachments ends once the debt is cleared. It can be settled in the form of service to these attachments. Enjoyment of these attachments ends the pain and suffering.

The watchman decided that to have a child, someone needs to be indebted to him. Thus, he made a pair of slippers and secretly left them on the roadside. He hoped that someone will accept them, and thereby a debt-bond is created. The same sage was walking down that street one day, and his feet were burning due to the heat. When he saw the slippers, he wore them. He inquired the whereabouts of the owner to pay for the slippers. But no one knew anything about it and later the sage died.

Due to this debt, the sage was reborn as the watchman’s son. He was aware of the debt, as he was a wise and holy man. The watchman was also aware of this. Out of fear of losing his son, the watchman and his wife never accepted any benefit from their son.

Several years later, the watchman fell sick one night and requested his son to do his job for that night. The son accepted it gladly. While on duty, he alerted the villagers with this verse:
Mata nasti pita nasti nasti bandhu na sahodhara
ardham Nasti gruham nasti tasmat jagrata jagrata.

This verse means, not mother, not father, not relatives, not siblings, not wealth, not house nothing lasts forever. Nothing follows you after death, these are bondages of present birth. All these relationships, wealth and property are merely worldly attachments, hence be careful.

After a few hours, he alerted the neighbourhood once again with another verse that spelt wisdom:
Kama krodascha lobhascha dehe thishtanthi taskarah
Jnana ratnopaharaya tasmat jagrata jagrata.

This means desire, anger and greed that reside inside the body are thieves that steal one’s precious knowledge. So, be careful.

Finally, in the last part of the night, he alerted the people with this verse:
Janma dukham jara dukham jaya dukham punah punaha samsara sagaram dukham tasmat jagratha jagratha.
This verse means that our birth into this world is one filled with pain suffering. Old age is torture. This entire life is an ocean of struggles. Hence be careful.

People who heard these words of wisdom were astonished by the sagacity of this simple night-watchman. They wondered how he acquired so much knowledge at such a young age. Anyhow, the young man returned home with his wage. Although the watchman refused to accept it.

One day a fire in the neighbourhood was engulfing all the houses. One after another all the houses burned, including that of the watchman. He and his family, quickly started to salvage whatever they could before the flames destroyed everything. While his wife and son brought things out of the house and handed them to him, he set them down, at a safe distance from the burning house. During that commotion, the young man handed everything to his father, and the last thing he gave is the bag of money he earned from the night shift job. The watchman grabbed it absent-mindedly and hurried. The son walked back into the house, never to return.

As realization dawned, the watchman collapsed to the ground in despair and agony over the loss of his beloved son. By the next day, the flames died down, while he stared at the ashes carried by the gentle breeze, he remembered the wise words uttered by the old sage and his son during the night shift. He understood that the debt was repaid.

This story touched my heart, I was moved by the philosophy it teaches. The Sanskrit verses in this story are taken from Vairagya Dindima by Adi Shankaracharya.
Adi Shankaracharya was the great Indian philosopher from the 8th century. His works enlighten our mind and show us the path to moksha or freedom from this cycle of birth, death and rebirth.

It’s Not Yours Unless You Take It

The first time I heard my manager say this to me, I thought he meant to encourage me to reach for my promotion. The next time he said that to me, we were discussing my team’s poor performance. The team was performing poorly due to the willful actions of a particular member of the team. This was dragging the entire team down. I felt that since I was the team leader, it was my responsibility. I tried to correct, teach, chastise even threaten that particular member, but to no avail. My manager felt that the person was a lost cause, and I should not waste time on him. In both situations, the same advice taught me to work for my ambitions, and let go of the dead weight.

Many years later, I heard the same advice from my friend when I complained about an insulting situation I had to face. She advised me that the insults were for me as long as I took them. Once I stop taking them, they are just words that hold no meaning to me. I thought that she was being just philosophical and not practical. Now I see the true meaning behind the words.

It is not yours till you take it, be it a promotion, responsibility, insult or praise. Be it happiness or sorrow, it can only affect us as long as we let it do so. A problem is ours to solve, only if we consider it as our problem. Responsibility is ours to carry only as long as we choose to fulfil it.

These words can be understood in two ways. It can be used as a way to either shirk responsibility or get rid of an unnecessary burden. To ignore good advice or to undermine praise. To brush off insults or to seek out blame. Which option we choose shows our attitude in life. When you feel burdened or stressed out in life, or if you lack direction and purpose, then maybe it is time to change your attitude.

2020: The Crocodile’s Feast

The first time I ever heard a Telugu proverb was from my grandmother. And every time she used one, my cousins and I broke out into giggles. Her choice of adages was quite funny, and when any of us stared at her with an expressionless face, she would immediately jump into explaining the story behind it. 

2020 has been such a bleak year. I am hoping 2021 will be better. Hearing about the vaccine, I was optimistic. However, I read a few stories about the adverse reactions and the virus mutation in some countries. Now, I feel the proverb that fits this situation best is:

“ముందుంది ముసళ్ల పండగ”

(Mundhundhi mussalla pandaga)

When translated into English, it reads: 

The road ahead is going to be a feast for the crocodiles.

In other words, it just means that there is more trouble brewing and what you have experienced so far is nothing compared to what lies ahead. 

This proverb always reminds me of the comic strip Asterix. In Asterix and Cleopatra, Cleopatra’s catchphrase is “…if not, I will have you thrown to the crocodiles”. Towards the end of the story, the narrator says that nearly everyone is joyful except the crocodiles. I guess the crocodiles were waiting for their festival to begin, but the promised feast never arrived. 

Despite all that the world has been through, there are still people who ignore the protocols of wearing a mask, physical distancing and hand sanitizing. They are inviting trouble.

Their fate can be described using the Hindi proverb:

“आ बैल मुझे मार!”

(Aa bail mujhe maar!)

It talks about inviting the wrath of the bull.

I think the crocodiles have feasted enough in 2020. They should go on a diet in 2021.

Being Straightforward Vs Diplomatic

This topic has been a pet peeve of mine for many years. Growing up, while in college, I always considered it better to be straightforward as against diplomacy. My friends and I were proud to be called a forthright person and proudly proclaimed it. So what changed now??

Well, life happened, and we realised that being straightforward is not suitable for everyone. With limited exposure in college life, we did not see the pitfalls of this attitude. As we were among equals, we spoke honestly, and there was a limited range of responses to expect. We either appeased the group, or we angered them. We either hurt feelings, or we invigorate people. Whatever was the reaction, we knew the response that we could expect. Things were simpler.

In the present day, I see people being straightforward and notice the same set of reactions as before. However, what has changed now is that I have become conscious of the emotional toll it takes on the listener. It is a different thing when you hurt a person and make them cry, the ones to take special notice of are those who get hurt and not express it. Either, they have accepted our remarks as truths and diminished their self-worth, or their hurt is getting pent up. It will express itself violently at a later time.

The same applies when we freely express our discontent and dissatisfaction. It causes the opposite person to become demotivated, disheartened and lose faith in the process. This would not matter earlier because there was much less stress in the society and the youth. Nowadays, everyone is so high strung that a small remark is enough to start an avalanche of emotions.

As compared to being straightforward, a diplomatic person manages to soothe or appease the fragile mind of the opposite person. Such a person is not necessarily a liar or someone on the fence. They just don’t forcefully express their views as compared to a straight talker. It may appear that a diplomatic person is not firm and steadfast in conveying their point of view or that they are people pleasers. However, I feel that there is nothing wrong with softly and sweetly relaying one’s opinions rather than being forceful. I believe that it is not worth hurting a person just to make a clear statement by straight talk.

What are your opinions on this matter? Do you agree with me, or do you oppose?

Are We Reading Too Much Between The Lines

Reading between the lines is a phrase that loosely means, to grasp what has been left unsaid, to uncover the truth behind the half-truths. In the past, it was an intelligent trait that only a few wise people possessed. The ability to read between the lines was a highly respected quality, people flocked to such wise ones for advice. By closely observing the body language, past history on the matter, the attitude of people involved and other socio-economic situations at that given point, one would make an educated guess about the intended meaning and unsaid story in a message.

The reason that I have raised this point today is that I have noticed that nowadays, we have stopped listening to what is being said. We see social media platforms abound with crazy conspiracies and theories that are based on seemingly innocuous interviews, discussion and press tours etc. Even mainstream media has stopped reporting facts and started producing conjectures and their analysis of what is said rather than giving us a chance to decide for ourselves.

We are so busy looking for the underlying message that we have stopped listening to what is being said. When we listen to someone speak, we closely observe every minute change in expressions, variation in pitch, tone of voice, line of vision of the speakers etc. Every time we see any fluctuations, we scramble to decode its meaning. We argue and debate to find an explanation. When we find it most of the time, it is the most perverse and unreasonable explanation we can think of.

As a result of all this ‘reading between the lines’, simple conversations are a thing of the past. Slowly reading between the lines got transformed into conspiracy theorizing. This intelligent quality got morphed into the petty and unhinged babbling of a conspiracist. You can visit any of the social media platforms and get 10 different versions and analysis of the same interview. While one site reads the meaning behind the message as a prediction of doomsday, another theorizes it as a ray of hope, and someone else says something totally tangential to both. Everyone tries to connect the dots to create different images while the viewer is left with a headache.

I miss the good old days when news channels only reported news and left the analysis to us. They stated only facts and the storytelling was left for grandmas. I miss the days when only a few wise souls could ‘Read between the lines’.

The Tricky Job of Disciplining Children

Disciplining children is a tough job that not many of us can master. Correcting them can go wrong even if our attitude is critical or laid back. The problem with this task is that you do not know what went wrong until it is late. While one style of disciplining works in the present but leads to a fractured future, another ensures a better future but does not seem to work in the present. I have never needed to correct or discipline children, but I have seen some interesting ways of punishing them.

As I have mentioned already, I do not have much experience managing children on my own. I have tried to babysit my nieces and nephews, but it is not the same. If things get out of hand, we can always leave it to the parents to handle the fallout. I remember an instance when my niece refused to eat lunch. There was no one at home to convince her. I convinced her that she became invisible. And no one could see her or hear her unless she ate food. She was petrified at the thought of no one giving her attention. Luckily for us, she did not think of misusing the situation.

Of all the elders that I have observed around me, each had a different style of managing children. While my aunt would give her kids a free rein and not correct them at all, my mother was quite strict. Another aunt of ours micromanaged her children in such a way, they did not get a chance to misbehave. On the face of things, it always appeared that both my parents were strict and rule-bound. Yet, they both had a very different approach to checking and correcting children. They did not tolerate indiscipline or mischief and punished us in unique ways with psychological games. Nothing sinister about it, but let me give you a few examples.

As a child, I always daydreamed and never concentrated on studying. As a result, my grades were either inconsistent or low. My mother did not have time to sit with me and coach me every day on every topic, so she took a different approach. She sat me down and explained to me that since I was not studying well, I would not get a cushy office job. I would have to either work as a daily wage labourer or a municipal worker or a vegetable vendor. She then ticked out daily wage labourers from the list of potential jobs stating that I was not physically strong enough and also lazy. Thus, it was not a viable option. She moved to a municipal worker and explained that even those people require a certain level of educational qualification. And I had to work just as hard on the job. She told me that seeing my current situation, a vegetable vendor was the best I could manage. She then went on to explain the maximum earning I can expect and all the luxuries that I would have to forego with that job. You can safely guess my reaction to that talk. I was scared for my future, I even observed a few vegetable vendors in the following weeks and imagined myself in their shoes. I was too scared to daydream after that because all my dreams were of me pushing vegetable carts, or trying to hawk cheap goods.

My dad had a different approach. One summer, all of us kids were gathered at our house for a sleepover. And one of us scribbled all over the wall. We did not know who it was. No one would own up. My dad decided that we should play detective and try to recreate the scene of the crime. I walked us through the incident in a dramatic way about how a person stealthily scribbled on the wall without anyone noticing and almost made them appear heroic. He then conducted mock interrogations and acted out how the perpetrator committed the crime. As he expected, one of us slipped up and corrected my dad on the sequence of events and how they actually scribbled. The best part was that we did not even realise that one of us confessed to the mischief. He went on to embarrass the ‘perpetrator’ with all the loopholes in the plot. He even got the elders involved in a fun way. He made the whole incident appear like a game and made us point out all the mistakes made thereby, making my cousin who did the mischief appear like a fool. No one made mischief at our house again.

Both my parents used different tactics to correct us while making it seem like we chose the right way ourself. It is all fun to recollect now, but I wonder how they thought up the idea during those incidents. I can only hope to be half as smart as them while handling children. Do you have any such fun stories to share? You can put them in comments and have fun.

Image courtesy Canva.com

Do Not Judge Based On Appearances

Near my house, an old lady lived in an old house. That house was the ancestral home of her family, so she wanted to keep up the tradition by living there. The problem was, the house was old and ugly. The backyard was overrun with shrubbery, the front yard was not well kept either. The main building in itself was strong, but it needed urgent repairs. The windows were broken and needed replacement, the paint was peeling, and the house had an eerie look to it. The old lady of the house added to the weirdness of it all.

Growing up, we called it the Haunted House of the neighbourhood. We told stories of strange movements and sounds from the house. We were all scared to pass by the house on our way to school and back. If any of us dared to get closer to that house, to check what was wrong, the old lady from the house would shout at us, and we would scramble from there. We lost many cricket balls, footballs, and toys in the yard of that house. Sometimes the balls accidentally fell into that yard, or sometimes a stay animal ran away with our toys and hid in that yard. It is safe to say that as kids, we all hated that house. We wished for it to be torn down, we prayed it would be demolished. Yet, nothing of that sort happened, we grew up and learnt to ignore that ugly house.

Recently, on a bright and sunny morning, there was a flurry of activity at the house. We were all surprised to see life and movement in that house. Nobody bothered about it for all these years until now. Over that week, we saw movers come in and remove furniture and objects from there. Later construction crews started to demolish the house. All the trees in the yard were cut down. All the waste from the yard was set aside to be disposed of. In that waste, we saw many of our old toys and more than a dozen balls too. We were all relieved to see the house go, but at the same time, we wondered why it was being brought down now.

Later we got to know that it was because the old lady had died. As long as she lived, her children did not demolish the house out of respect for her. Now that she passed away, they were free to remove this old building and build a new and swanky bungalow. We were all happy to see the change, but we also felt sad to see the old house go. Our joy was dampened after getting to know that the old lady of the house died. That was the reason for demolishing the old house. We wished for that house to be torn down without realising its significance to that family. To us, the house was just an ugly old building that was a nuisance and eyesore. But to the family, the house held a whole world of memories, heritage and nostalgia. Just because we did not like the building, it did not mean that the building has no value.

Isn’t this the case with life in general? Many times, we disregard, shun, or insult people, things, books and such, just because they do not live up to a certain standard. We refuse to dig deep to find their importance, we just discard them as waste. By doing this, we lose many people, things and items of value, we recognise their worth only after it is lost. In the story that I narrated up here, the house did not have any importance to me. Just because the house was in a dilapidated state and looked ugly, I was quick to judge its value. I have learnt my lesson. Don’t let this happen to things and people that are important in your life.

Image Courtesy Of Canva.com

The Way You Make Me Feel

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.Maya Angelou

I have never heard a more profound statement than this. The words a person says can hurt us or console us for the time being. But the emotion they generate or the feelings they create, stay with us forever. Every time we watch any old videos or film footage of an event, it amazes us that we remember the event differently. It is because we reminisce the event through the emotions that it generated though, the words spoken might imply something else.

One embarrassing memory of mine involved getting insulted for my dress by a cousin at a wedding function. When I revisited the old wedding video, I saw that my cousin only said that the colour of the dress was gaudy. My memory painted a different picture of me getting insulted. Based on that memory, for the longest time, I thought my cousin hated me. I avoided her everywhere I went.

It is not just what people say, but also our home, neighbourhood, schoolyard and so on that get tainted by our emotions. When I think back to my childhood vacations, the park near my house was as big as a football stadium. My back yard had a jungle in it. When I revisited my old home, I was surprised to see the actual size.

Many times we reminisce on past events, big and small in terms of our feelings. Most of us narrate past memories by starting off with, ‘I clearly remember feeling….’ We do not even remember the correct sequence of events or exact words uttered, however, we can correctly relay the emotion behind the words. For some reason, our mind stores feelings and emotions more carefully than it does the verbatim.

Would you agree with me on this? Words and actions may be powerful, but at the end of it, our feelings are what create memories.

Let It Slide, My Dear!

There are times when you have several thoughts on your mind. You would like to share it with someone and feel lighter. However, at the same time, you don’t want to spill the beans. It’s such a paradoxical situation. While you go to great lengths to keep your secrets from your dear ones, you end up letting the cat out of the bag with a total stranger. What prompts a person to make decisions like these? I wonder. Do people take comfort in the fact that strangers have no contacts with anyone in your known circles while disclosing their worries? 

Have you been in a situation where you are desperate to get some help but at the same time, you want to be totally independent and manage all your matters on your own? At times like these, a person will ask for help but will not allow anyone to extend  help properly. They interfere and interrupt every step of the way. The end result is that frustrations run high for both parties.

Do I need to remind you of those times when you wanted to sink your teeth into your sinfully delicious junk food but instead ate a frugal meal? All the times you wished that burgers and pizzas were good for health. Or why it is that healthy food did not taste as good as junk food? 

Life has some paradoxes here and there. One time or the other, we run into them. We have to deal with them whether we like it or not. I don’t have any pearls of wisdom to share for these distasteful moments. All I can share with you is what my Dad told me when I was a child, “Let it slide, my dear!”. Take a deep breath. Do the best you can and let the frustration slide.

Make Sure Your Sacrifices Are Valued

A sacrifice means an act of giving up something of value for the sake of others. You can sacrifice your time, money, any possession etc, for the benefit of others. These ‘others’ that I refer to can be family, friends, siblings, co-workers, or obscure strangers for the purpose of a good cause.

When we give up something as a sacrifice, we look at it as a good deed, we don’t expect anything in return. However, in recent times, I have seen a transformation in the meaning of sacrifice. We are starting to expect something in return every time we sacrifice something. We expect intangible things like gratitude, loyalty, love and in some extreme cases, even servitude of our sacrifices. This shift in our expectations has adulterated the meaning and importance of sacrifice. People started viewing a sacrifice as a tool to bind someone to oneself, with a sense of duty and gratitude. Do I sound too dramatic?? Let me explain.

How many times have we heard the term; ‘after all the sacrifices I’ve made for you, is this what you give me?’; ‘is this your way of repaying us for our sacrifices?’; ‘don’t let my sacrifice go to waste’. I’m sure we have all said this at some point in life or had people say this to us. But, the response to these charges is what shows the importance of the sacrifice. When the opposite person says, ‘well who asked you to make those sacrifices?, I did not’; ‘You expect me to repay you for your sacrifice?’; then all our troubles appear insignificant and egotistical.

Neither do these accusations nor do the rejoinders make you a bad person. I am not trying to judge anyone here. It is only natural for a person to have expectations from loved ones. We love them, we want the best for them and we are ready to give up anything for them. In our rush to shower them with love, we forget what they need and want. We keep them guarded against all hardships, grief and loss.

When our loved ones do not know what we lost for them, how can they appreciate it? When they don’t go through the trouble of purchasing groceries, cooking a meal, maybe burn a finger or two, clean everything afterwards, how can a person appreciate the value of a delicious breakfast? We cannot blame them for not thanking us enough when they don’t know what trouble we went through.

The example I have given is very small, although it applies to most things that we take for granted. You may ask me what the solution is? Obviously, we cannot go around enumerating what all we have forfeited, at every step of the way. At the same time, we cannot sit by and stay detached when our loved ones are having difficulty. Let’s give more importance to communication, speak freely about what is needed and how to get what we want. Stop assuming on behalf of others and then blame them for not valuing you. If you have any expectations from loved ones, state them frankly rather than disguise them as repayment for past sacrifices.

Let me know what you think about this. Is this a real problem or is this unreal? What do you think of my suggestion? Does it feel utopian to you?

Beauty Is Not Just Skin Deep

We have all heard the age-old adage, beauty is only skin deep. It is a way of saying that external beauty is superficial and true beauty comes from the heart. It was drilled into us when we were young and impressionable. It was taught to us, not to be deceived by the charm of a person, but we should learn to see the honesty behind the facade. We should all strive to be good-natured, hard-working, honest and loving to succeed. Then, why did I title my post as ‘beauty is not skin deep’??

As a child, I might have accepted this lesson, but in actuality, the matter is not straight forward. Beauty is not just about having lustrous skin, clear complexion, slim physique, glossy hair, perfect posture, excellent bone structure etc. These are the parameters used by many to decide on beauty standards. But, to achieve these standards of beauty, we require more strength and character than we realise. To appear beautiful and maintain this image over a while, a person needs to make an effort, both mentally and physically.

Our health and inner emotional turmoil can be kept hidden, yet they manage to find a way to reveal themself. Our eyes, appearance of wrinkles, pimples, skin texture, hair quality, weight, posture will give away our state of mind and impact our beauty. Lustrous skin that is free of acne and wrinkles is a dream for most women and men. Every time we have mood swings or stress, our skin ages by a year. Lack of sufficient water can add to skin problems. Hair fall, oily scalp, dull, lifeless, thin and damaged hair are a result of sudden stress, emotional upheavals, bad sleep and bad eating habits. While we correct our posture, the way we walk or sit can be controlled with exercise, yet close observation will reveal any tensions or depression.

With these indicators ready to give away our state of mind and body, can we honestly say beauty is only skin deep? Beauty treatments, spa sessions and cosmetic surgeries can only do so much to hide the truth. A balanced diet, stress-free mind, good exercise, proper water consumption can do more to our beauty than we imagine.

Drinking at least 4 litres of water every day keeps our body hydrated. Water flushes out most toxins and gives us glowing, clear skin. Rigorous exercise for 30 mins daily helps us sweat out toxins, burns the extra fat and tones the muscles while it gets rid of stress in the mind. Regular meditation and deep breathing techniques remove tension in the muscles and help us relax. A balanced diet with the right amounts of fat, carbs, protein and minerals goes a long way in improving our physique and posture.

The suggestions I have made are not revolutionary concepts. They are not novel concepts that we never tried. Yet, we often overlook the importance of such simple activities that make a vast sea of change. I hope that I have reminded you to get back into these habits daily. I am sure many of you have many more simple tricks that help you daily. Feel free to share them with us and help others too.

How True Are Our Prayers?

“Atmasuddhi leni acaramadi ela ?
bhandasuddhileni pakamela
chittasuddhileni Sivapujalelara ?
visvadabhirama vinura Vema !”

This poem was written by Yogi Vemana. Yogi Vemana is a famous Telugu ascetic. He wrote a series of poems that spread wisdom, morality, and ethics based on the social fabric of south Indian society in the 17th-century. His poems highlighted the flaws and inconsistencies in society in his times. Sadly, they are relevant in society today as well. The above verse is close to my heart, I hope you see the wisdom in it too.

This verse in Telugu, speaks about wholeheartedly understanding and supporting your beliefs. Vemana points out the futility of your faith when your heart and mind is not invested in it. He tells that there is no sense in following the ceremonies when the heart and soul are not invested in it. It is the same as cooking a fancy meal in a dirty kitchen with soiled utensils and impure ingredients. He questions you about the purpose of all your prayers when your intentions are not genuine.

This poem rings true in most of the current situations that the world is facing. We have laws, constitutional rights, being used and abused to serve evil intents and purposes. We also see god’s gospel is misused to spread the wrong message. People are following the rule of law in word, not in spirit. We see people offer insincere apologies, offer assistance that will only hurt you more than it helps or offer a helping hand while pulling the rug from under you.