A Sri Sri evening in chennai…..

Yesterday I was faced with a peculiar dilemma. I could stay back home and watch tv – a pretty interesting t20 cricket match was on – or I could stroll down the street and partake of a satsang organized by the “the art of living. And yes, the foundation’s very personable guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was himself leading this meet.

I decided for the satsang and ambled down to the open grounds to see what Sri Sri had to say – feeling that it being a cloudy day, we could have the meet much to ourselves. Imagine my surprise when I saw that more than 500 folks had turned up as well braving the weather.

The program started with a few songs – extremely well sung I should mention. They also had a short video of 5000 musicians rendering an effort that was truly transcendental. You can watch an encore here.

Sri Sri arrived looking immaculate a half hour later and sprinted up the dias. He flashed his evergreen smile and waved to the crowds. I was pleasantly surprised to see the crowds receiving him like they would a matinee idol. Considering this crowd had old men and women, middle aged folks and youngsters in equal proportion – this was unbelievable.

There followed a quick talk where he asked us “are you happy?” It’s a question that had many folks reflecting – happiness he seemed to indicate ought to come from within and not from outside (so your new car cannot make you happy forever, a sense of self worth can!).

He then asked us to reflect on the fact that while we liked everyone around us to be authentic, were we authentic too?

And why is it so difficult to be authentic? It’s because we are mostly operating out of fear. Operate out of a sense of love and gratefulness, and you’ll be living a very authentic life indeed he seemed to say.

He then led the crowd into an effortless meditation, post which he urged the folks present to spare a thought for the Srilankan refugees in India. The art of living was planning to petition the Indian president to help the refugees reclaim their life and the whole crowd rooting for him. And he did this all in Tamil, the local language (of course with English translation as well). A brief q&a, a couple of “honoring chief guest” sessions and a couple of songs later, we were done.

Thinking about it – the short meet led us to understand ourselves better, provided takeaways on what we should focus on in life and suggested a very pressing social challenge we could help address. Time well spent I figure.

The subjects discussed weren’t new but the charm, the laser like logic and the care for a social cause that the crowds identified with ensured it left a lasting impression on everyone.

2 hours, open grounds, a pinch of spirituality, some music – made for a perfect evening. And yes, I got to see the moon in her pristine glory as well – something I hadn’t noticed in a long, long while – so certainly worth a blog post and a heartfelt thanks to Sri Sri and the art of living team.

Thoughtfulness – and flight travel!

You learn a lot of good things doing the most mundane things. I travelled yesterday on Indigo, one of the several so called no-frills airplanes yesterday, and I was very pleasantly surprised by the amount of thoughtfulness and innovation they embraced.

It started off at the check in counter. She looked up my name and asked me if I would like the same seat as I had requested last time (Aisle, front rows). I asked her if she had a window and she said, there’s one – but at the very end – would that be ok? The transaction if you note leveraged analytics (history of my earlier transactions), personalized recommendations (and with a default option – you can choose but if you prefer not too, there’s an informed choice available) and when I had a clarification. she provided some insight into the pros and cons of that decision. Very simple you feel – and I agree – and this was one of the best check in experiences I had had combining efficiency and personalization.

The flight started on time (big deal in India!) and interestingly the airline had bundled complimentary meals for all corporate flyers. Very simple if you think about it – but its a win-win really – and for a commercial traveler hurrying to catch his flight after a long trip and looking to get home at the earlier, these are big plusses indeed.

The surprises didn’t end there – just ahead of the landing, there was the usual communication on please switch off your laptops etc. However there was a simple twist (or maybe it was common, but I noticed it for the first time!) – the hostess reminded all those working on laptops to “remember to save their work” before switching them off. Thoughtful.

And the best part came right after. The last part of every flight ritual is where the hostess comes to collect any bottles/ packages etc. and is preceded by the usual announcement that the flight is about to land and hence this ask. The Indigo folks however told us they wanted their customers to enjoy the experience, and one of the ways they could best do was by “turning the flight around well in time – so could we please hand over any bottles etc. to make this possible?”. Great messaging.

Most business think cheaper, better (as in higher quality, not necessarily quality of experience!) and faster. I’d feel if they added “thoughtfulness” to the list of desired attributes, they’d end up making more of their customers smile in appreciation. You agree?

Now its an ode to a very affable God…

Let’s start with an exercise, close your eyes and imagine (don’t ask me how you can read this sentence if your eyes are closed though!) a plumb largish figure seated on a small mouse (yes, you got that right!). Sweets of numerous kinds are placed at his feet (yes, it’s a he). You are surprised to see he has multiple hands – some holding weapons of destruction (a trident for instance) while one hand is raised in a blessing. You move your gaze upward – and you are astonished to see an elephant’s face looking back to you – with large flapping ears, trunk and tusks (albeit one is broken). There’s a serene smile on his face, a sense of prosperity all around him and his wisdom envelops you. Here’s an image that may help with the visualization.

I dare say it’s a touch tough to imagine this – but if you have done so, congratulations – you have just been introduced to one of our most beloved gods, Ganesha. Note that I don’t say feared – but loved – for this is a god that is comforting, generous and loving and today is the day he is worshipped all over the country (and indeed the world) – so what else can be right but to pen some perspectives (as usual reaching for perspectives as opposed to scripture – which are plentiful on the internet and more authoritative too.

A visual tale – breaking down the barriers

The most interesting thing to me is how his image immediately breaks down reservations about believing him. People may break into laughter, they may feel like cuddling the odd-shaped baby god or playfully pulling his ear. The image does not command undue courtesy or formalism, there’s really no “holier than thou” image at play here. No censure, no rules, no long faces, no qualifications – if a god can come and meet you in this format – he really should be accessible you feel. And before you know it, you like him and if you are lucky, you can move on to discover the amazing nuances of this affable god.

Prosperity – before spirituality

Man needs money, he needs hope. He needs his genuine desires to become realities. He needs these before he can set his sights on elevated spiritual truths.

This model is accepted by the vedas and they therefore describe us as each having seven chakras (or seven energy centers) which lead us from an earth-bound life to universal truths. The base chakra is called the root chakra (muladhara chakra) and when this flowers in an human being, he is able to realize fulfillment (and interestingly also aspire only the things that are essential!) and remove obstacles. And the lord for this particular chakra is none other than Ganesha.

In every Hindu temple, his is the first shrine people visit and he grants them the will and the skill to fulfill their key needs before moving further. So whether it’s a new bike, that condo, the private jet or the need to pass a tough paper – this is the guy you should go to.

Symbolism – for moving you to other planes

Most of us stop at the above level. We also prostrate to him in a unique way (holding our ears and squatting a few times) – something that the ancients say is a very beneficial physical activity. But some of us have a few unanswered “why’s”…
– Why does he have that mouse, and why does it look so obedient?
– Why does he have those sweets and gifts placed at his beck and call?
– Why does he have an elephant’s head and why is the trunk broken? And so many more…
This curiosity takes us into the very heart of the Hindu way of becoming a great man or woman. The mouse we are told represents the ego – its best to make it small and keep it at our control (unless you want to become an egomaniac – in which case we need another role model!). If your ego (and your desires) is under control, paradoxically all the riches of the world will be at your disposal too say the scriptures.

We are told the elephant uniquely possesses the strength to destroy as well as the finesse to pick a pin in its trunk – suddenly we are given clues on what makes a man successful – and fulfilled. We of course pick lots of very interesting trivia as well. And every aspect of the image thus enthralls us with grandmotherly, scientific and even scholarly truths.

And onto wisdom we move

That’s when they tell us about his wisdom. Infact he is considered the wisest among gods (another aspect we are celebrating this day) and has written the “mahabharatha” which was dictated byanother great sage( vyasa). We are told that the great sage and ganesha had an agreement that they would dictate and write – in one continuous cycle – and to slow down ganesha, the sage had said the god had to first internalize the truths expounded (and believe me the mahabharatha has multi-layered truths as well) and then write it down. This god is truly wisdom personified – but to only those who have moved beyond the need for desire fulfillment and have satisfied their intellectual questions (through an understanding of symbolism). To them there are several moving poems which illustrate the various aspects of this lord and move one to what seem to be calling “the present state of oneness” these days.

Turning the pages of history and mythology

For those who are interested in pedigree – ganesha is the son of shiva (one of the tallest, darkest, most-mystical gods who dwells among the lofty peaks of the Himalayas!) and parvathi (considered the fairest among her kin!). Shiva also epitomizes “the spirit principle”, while parvathy epitomizes “the matter principle” – and hence ganesha as their offspring also symbolically represents the earth and all of what we know.

So in this sense, he is all there is.

Like him for his looks, request him to fulfill your wishes (a year round santa claus if you will), spend time exercising your intellectual muscles and interpreting the symbolism or simply give in to the charm and internalize the wisdom – any which way it’s a win-win. Let’s raise a toast to this most popular of gods on this very auspicious day.

An ode to the rose

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.” – W.Shakesphere

 

Starting with a quote from the Bard is a good thing – it gets us all comfortable. And that’s not a bad thing since today’s rumination is on “the rose” – a topic that kept coming up several times over the week.

Interestingly each instance related to entirely different experiences as you will see, but they all brought out the common theme of enigma – how else can you describe a flower so beautiful yet endowed with a thorny stem that is so very prickly?

Available and yet not quite so…- memories of a walk in a park

I remember a stroll in India’s largest rose garden – the Ooty rose garden. It has hundreds of roses catalogued amidst a stunning landscape. It is painstakingly taken care of by the management who understand that along with “The Botanical garden”, it’s probably the tourist location’s golden goose. The terraced gardens are a pleasure to walk – as you take in the pieces of information displayed and the quaint names (most of them British – but then the rose is England’s national flower if I am not mistaken). Is there a catch – you bet there is. The roses are in full bloom in the summer but the crowds of admirers are so huge that you could scarcely catch a sniff of the rose. And if you were to come back later in the year, the crowds wouldn’t be there – but neither would the roses. So what does the discerning rose admirer do?

Seal’s masterpiece – “Kiss from A Rose”

I happened to listen to the wonderfully haunting song from “Batman” again yesterday. Soulful, dark, melodious, lyrical and even inspiring – the song depicts everything Chris Nolan showed us of his amazingly layered Batman – sample these starting lyrics, add Seal’s mesmerizing voice and really-  you couldn’t do better:

“There used to be a graying tower alone on the sea.
You became the light on the dark side of me.”

The genius’s labyrinth – “The name of the rose”

Umberto Eco’s first novel is the stuff of legend. It’s a murder mystery, a scholarly amble through medieval times – all weaved into one of the most elaborate plots you are like to encounter ever.

Wikipedia describes it best:

The Name of the Rose is the first novel by Italian author Umberto Eco. It is a historical murder mystery set in an Italian monastery in the year 1327, an intellectual mystery combining semiotics in fiction, biblical analysis, medieval studies and literary theory. 

Indeed this is not so much a book, but an experience to relish.  It was not my first Umberto eco book – and will certainly not be my last – it’s a book that will leave you willing this author to say more and to give you the appetite (and intelligence) to be able to digest – indeed savour it.

 

That kind of brings us to journey’s end – for today. A forgotten ramble in a park, a haunting song reaching its crescendo as I read through a novel that really is a work of art – sometimes memories and nostalgia can make you very, very happy indeed.