We Are All Strong Until We Face The Test

They say that in the face of adversity, our true self comes forward. Some of us stand up and take the lead, while some step back and follow a leader. Some of us crumble and break down, while some of us straighten our back and weather the storm. It is hard to predict with certainty how one will turn out.

Just because we are timid and avoid conflict, it does mean that we will crumble in the face of hardships. A faint-hearted person may not stand up and fight, but they know how to survive. Avoiding conflict doesn’t mean that one cannot face disagreement. It merely means that one does not like it, they do not believe that quarrel resolves problems.

Most people judge and conclude on our strengths based on our everyday behaviour and attitude under normal circumstances. I learnt this the hard way. I believed that I was a very patient person, and counted it was my strength. The truth came out when I faced my test. Here is the whole story by which I came to the realisation.

Before joining my job, I considered myself patient because I could deal with a few difficult people in my friends’ group. While my friends would get flustered, I was able to stay calm while dealing with them patiently. When I joined work, I realised that my patience magically evaporated in front of my manager. That person was my test of patience. I realised that I got very irritated when he picked on my work, every comment he made grated on my nerves. Though I did not lash out at my manager, I took out my irritation on my colleagues.

My sister gave me a bit of wise advice, and I realised that my manager’s influence is limited, only to my work. If I say yes in that minute and keep calm, he will move away. This advice helped me replenish my reserves of patience and believe in myself again. That was until I met my niece. My niece is a bundle of curiosity and energy. She likes to play and has a short attention span. This was another test of my patience, unlike my manager, my niece did not have limited working hours. I can’t say for sure if I passed this test. I just bid my time and waited for my niece to grow up. Now that she is in school, I can recharge my reserves again.

The point is that one can never take our strengths or weaknesses for granted. Until we face a test, we cannot be sure how strong or weak we are. We can not say with a guarantee when our strengths will abandon us or our weaknesses show an alternate technique of survival. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Keep Faith And Do Your Job

I know I am being irrational,
But I can’t seem to form a rational thought
I can see that I need to be brave,
But I can’t seem to find the courage
I know the problem is small,
But I can’t help finding it insurmountable

How do I overcome this state of mind?
How can I find a way past this hurdle?
How can I see past this fear that is blocking my sight?

Subconsciously I asked God for help.
Subconsciously I chanted his name asking for guidance.
Subconsciously I heard his answer to keep the faith and do my job.

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.

Welcome 2021!!

I wish all my readers, fellow bloggers and friends, A Very Happy New Year!!

In the past, I would have wished everyone for an exciting year ahead, that was filled with travel, adventure and parties with friends. Considering what happened in 2020 and the new social norms, I have updated my new year wish for everyone.

I wish everyone good health, a safe home, company of your good friends and peace of mind.

For this New year, let us make a resolution to take care of our health. Be patient and tolerant with everyone around us. Stop judging people before we know the complete story.

Here’s to wishing everyone a Happy New Year and a Joyous year ahead.

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.

My Budding Love For Photography

They say A picture is worth a thousand words. We can easily convey our emotions and moods with images in situations where words fail us. This thought motivated me to take up photography as a hobby. I imagined that I could capture the complete mood of the scene through my lens, and I only needed to aim and shoot.

I bought a few books to learn the art of taking great pictures and practised with an old SLR camera that we had.  I diligently learnt about focal length, aperture, shutter speed etc. Read about how to use filters, different lenses for different effects. Tried to practice taking pictures. I encountered only limited success and became disillusioned by the process.

Call me daft, but the science involved behind a good picture flew over my head. I ditched the SLR and picked up a DSLR, thinking that it would make things easier. I was initially met with limited success, and my shots were average. The lenses and filters needed to take great pictures were very expensive. I did not invest much for expensive equipment due to my weak photography skills. I tried to practice more with my existing equipment for as long as I could. Despite my shaky hands and limited knowledge of light and photography, I took amateurs pics like the ones below.

With the latest smartphones, I feel like a professional photographer now. They come filled with a wide variety of features and settings that do not require any filters and knowhow. Here are a few photos I took with my smartphone

It is safe to say that for me, photography is more of a skill than an art form. A talent, I am not able to master, yet I needn’t give up on my love for it as long as we have smartphones.

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 Festival Of Lights

There are many festivals in India, some are specific to a region, some specific to a community etc. Different people celebrate different festivals with varying degrees of enthusiasm and pomp. But there are a few festivals that are celebrated throughout India and the most important among them is Diwali, the festival of lights.

There are different mythologies associated with Diwali in North India and South India. However, the importance of the day is constant. One group celebrates the day as the return of Lord Rama back to Ayodhya after his victory over Ravana and his subsequent coronation. To another group, it marks the defeat of the evil king Narakasura at the hands of Satyabhama. Anyway, I am not here to give mythology lessons on Diwali. I just want to reminisce fond memories from my childhood.

The day before Diwali, it is a tradition to wake up before sunrise, have a bath and get ready for puja. We all gathered at our grandparents’ house for the aarti to pray for our siblings. It was also a time to collect gifts from them. As children, this was the best part that we all waited for, The Gifts. Next all of us cousins could pool our money and buy extra crackers for the evening and start bursting them. On the day of Diwali, since my grandfather and my uncles are all architects, we did special pujas at the office and then started to burst crackers. This is where all the fun happened.

I remember that I was a wuss when it was time to burst noisy crackers. I just enjoyed the sparklers and flower pots. The minute anyone lit up Laxmi bombs or rockets, I would run and hide behind the next tallest person. I had to bear the brunt of ridicule from my cousin’s for it. But we forgot all about it when we saw the bright colours light up the sky. Though it has been a few years since we consciously stopped bursting crackers, we spend that time on our terrace safely watching the fireworks at others house.

Here are some snaps of Diwali this year: