Season’s greetings!

Its really a special time of the year. The whole of India happily explodes – first in colour and then in light – as navarathri and deepavali follow in quick succession. Bakri Id lends gaity, sumptuous feasts and gaity. Friends in the US celebrate “Thanks giving turkeys” and Christmas and New Year follow suit. And how can we forget Boxing day?

The year’s countdowns, highlights and lowlights take over the media and the world prepares to take stock of the year past, chalk up the wins, meditate on the losses and prepare to face the new year ahead with optimism.

Perhaps its the best time of the year to wish everyone a very happy festive season – not too soon, not too late – just about right! Happy festive season everybody! And bring out the smileys!

Which economy do you prefer? Should we make a choice?

Tomorrow is a beloved grandmother’s death anniversary. Hindu customs require one to undertake certain rituals, prominent among them being to symbolically feed three generations of ancestors who are with us no more – as a means of gratitude for what they have done for us and wish them well. It is believed that these rites accrue them good fortune in their future lives – and that is a strong inspiration for the descendants to continue the practice.

As I reflect upon the Hindu life of old, I see that this “gratitude economy” was everywhere to see. Three times a day the sun was (and continues to be in many households even today) honoured for its generosity (at dawn, noon and dusk) – the sun you see just gives – it doesn’t exert itself more for either the millionaire or the saint, anyone can choose to bask in its warmth (or not), and either way it just goes on giving. Nature and the ecosystem were honoured in many ways (through worship of cows, the morning rituals of kolams which become food for the ants and so on), guests were revered and fed without preamble (the apartment culture and urbanization put brakes on this one) and the sages were remembered and thanked forever. The traditional meeting translates to roughly “I salute the divinity in you” (or so I think). Gratitude seems to have been the fuel on which society ran.

Today, we seem to be getting onto the “feel good” economy. We exercise to feel good about our body, meditation is done to make us feel more at peace with ourselves. The friends we keep, the titles we go after – they are all predominantly aimed at ensuring a high “feel good” score. No?

Now, there isn’t anything wrong with either – the gratitude economy seems to bring in a sense of awe for the world (and takes us out of the equation!). The “feel good” economy on the other hand is strongly focused on ourselves and how we interact with the world. We become “awesome” here.

Look a little deeper, and you realize that in the gratitude economy, we have nothing to lose really – it’s just a celebration of what is. Live to serve (and don’t go capturing matrices on how many you thanked or served). Pressure is zilch here but don’t go looking for a sense of personal fulfillment. If our eyes are turned toward a better body or a bigger title, make no mistake – following the gratitude economy alone will leave us unfulfilled.

On the other hand, the “feel good” economy perceives success as a series of milestones achieved – and more often than not these are milestones coveted by society at large. You are one among a million fellow runners in the marathon – and if we aren’t careful (or very good at running) we can start feeling very lonely in a crowded race. Its very easy to adopt someone else’s goals in the “Feel good” economy and feel low when we don’t succeed enough.

And this brings me back to the starting post. Perhaps, it’s best to have a bit of both – and we consciously need to choose the mix that works best for us. Are you more for being the guy who prefers doing “unremembered and random acts of kindness” or the guy who wants to be remembered for living and making a difference?

A hero returns

Imagine you are a soldier, returning home after a long and hard battle. As you near home, your heart swells with anticipation, your strides get longer and bells go off in your head. You instinctively touch the gifts you bear for your loved ones and your heart aches for the comforts of home. At this moment, your cup of fulfillment runneth over…

Now, put yourself in the garb of a lady, the returning soldier’s mother. You swoon with pride at the thought of your illustrious son’s bravery and look to make sure the grand welcome you have planned out for him befits a hero. The gods are in your good books today, they have safely returned your son from a treacherous war. You look around at his young wife and son – who is busy bursting crackers and enjoying the adulation of being a hero’s son. A miracle is about to ensue, and you are all for spreading sweet and light all over the world.

Your son appears on the horizon and the town erupts in joy – their hero has returned and the world seems more safer and meaningful. Gratitude is the chief emotion all around.

To me, this is what I love about Deepavali – arguably the most popular of festivals in India. It symbolizes the return of Rama, the prince of Ayodya from an unfair decade plus-long exile as a result of a devious maidservant’s advice to an emotionally charged stepmother. The festival has many more underpinning myths as well – but this is my favorite by far – a festival being celebrated to honor the long-awaited return of a son to his loving society and family.

An Indian festival cannot but not have a spiritual dimension, can it? Could this story also indicate the merging of the realized soul (the prince) with the ultimate (home) – of man becoming god as it were?

I’ll leave you with two wonderful links

1. Swami tejomayananda of the chinmayamission mission explains lucidly the genesis of the festival here

2. Jaggi vasudev brings in unique insight into why the festival is actually acelebration of clarity of enlightenment. We need no better endorsement now than this right?

A tale of 2 storms…

The last week belonged to sandy and nilam, no matter what Obama/Romney or the congress/ iac say. Sandy hit the east coast of the USA, while its cousin played havoc on the southern coast of India. And here’s what intrigues me – I cannot imagine where they got their names from.

Sandy wasn’t sandy, she was very water-y – as the journalists kept pointing out standing in knee-deep water – I guess to emphasize how water-logged the place was (and no, it was the real thing, not a bath tub).

Her Indian sister Nilam was windy, noisy and scary – but comparing her to a blue sapphire (which is what the wikipedia assures us Nilam means) boggles the imagination. A friend helpfully mentions there’s a species of mango named Nilam too – but then why would we name a storm after a fruit!

Ok we’ll let that go. Perhaps the weathermen had too much vodka the night before, or maybe someone asked the bureaucracy’s spin doctors to name them…

The relief efforts deserved a clap for sure. Removing fallen trees, dispensing food and aid, restoring power and bringing the city back to normalcy was done with express speed in Chennai. And the US is bouncing back with alacrity too – per the papers and the lady on tv (now on more firm ground – and we can’t see the water anymore – or anything for that matter though – perhaps because she’s now emphasizing that we have a power problem!).

The social media played a wonderful role too – sharing information on dos/ donts, location-specific information etc. – i’d think it was a god send for all those who lived through the storm – and allowed their loved ones across the world to stay in touch.

I guess it’s worth saying a special thanks to the efforts of our friends, support infrastructure and administration, media and the technology innovations that have helped get us through the crisis. Spare a prayer, a kind word and a penny or two for those who have been affected adversely by these storms(or whatever these “nature’s fury” acts are called). Don’t forget to have an extra helping of turkey this thanksgiving or a sweet during Deepavali for having made it through.

Anyway, we are back to normalcy now and the politicians can heave a sign of relief and get back to their business. Will it be Obama or Romney?

On the Indian side, we have equally heady affairs to be sorted out. We have an incumbent government that’s being accused of being corrupt and inefficient (so what’s new?), an opposition party being accused of being no better and a people’s movement which is suspected of harboring political ambitions (and hence making selective allegations..). If that doesn’t sound like a Len Deighton whodunit plot, I don’t know what does…