Influence without affluence

Heard a very moving story of our own great Sindhutai, rightfully known as “Mother of Orphans”. She was born in a village of Maharashtra in a poor peasant family. Instead of sending her to school, her parents asked her to take out buffaloes for grazing. At the age of 8, she was married off to a 30 years old man and by the time she turned 19, she was already a mother of 3, pregnant with the 4th. That’s when she raised her voice again a village strongman exploiting poors. This rattled him, leading him to Sindhu’s husband. He told him about his wife’s loose character that she was sleeping with many men around and that child in her womb was not her husband’s but the strongman’s. He advised the husband to kill such a characterless woman. Her husband beat her mercilessly , including kicking her stomach and thinking her to be dead, dragged her to the cowshed to concoct a story of her having been trampled by cows, buffaloes and oxen ! An unconscious Sindhu was protected by a cow, who stood over her to save her from being trampled. Sindhutai miraculously gave birth to a girl there and cut her umbilical cord using a piece of rock. Totally broken and with an infant in her lap, she started her journey of epic struggle. Totally distraught, she decided to commit suicide by lying on the railway track with her infant. That’s when she heard a cry from a totally disabled person in great distress. Taking it as a call from Lord Krishna, the supreme Godhead, she got up, helped the old disabled person and started taking care of him along with her baby by asking for alms. She realised that Lord Krishna had some higher purpose in life for her. That’s when out of the alms she collected, she started taking care of orphans and urchins. As it is said, rest is history, with Sindhutai earning the sobriquet of “Mother of orphans”.

The story doesn’t end here but has a twist! One day she saw an old, haggard, sick and almost disabled person at her doorstep asking for her help. With difficulty, she could recognise the man to be her husband. Being magnanimous and large hearted, she agreed to admit her husband into her orphanage, but as her son and not husband. Today she introduces him as her eldest son. Of course, a large number of her orphan children are today professionals and highly paid individuals, including her daughter born in the cowshed who is a Medical Doctor.

While Sindhutai’s story is now well known, hearing it from Swami Radhanath, the inspiration behind ISKCON’s free midday meal for 1.2 million school kids across India, and instrumental in founding the Bhaktivedanta Hospital in Mumbai, the story brought about a very different perspective of Lord’s wish and life’s higher purpose. His use of the phrase ” Influence without affluence” that so aptly applies to Sindhutai’s struggle and work clearly establishes superiority of compassion and purpose over money.

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare

Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare

Move aside Shakespeare Shashi Tharoor is here!

Earlier, the standard of excellence was Shakespearean English. However, the old bard is no longer a role model idolised by the connoisseurs of English language as he seems to have yielded way to our very own Shashi Tharoor and Tharoorian English seems to have replaced Shakespearean English.

The ideation for this blog came from a WhatsApp post forwarded by a friend of mine that beautifully describes a very humble food item, soup, in a highly embellished English that reads:

“Glutinous admixture of herbaceous viands, succulent meats and pulverised legumes daintily stewed over a benignly blazing flame.”

Whether the above is actually said by Shashi or not is a matter of conjecture, but what is almost certain is the presence of all the above in his vocabulary.

Much before Tharoor’s ornamental English caught fancy of the folks, I used to get enamoured by extremely artistic description of food items in the menus by elitist restaurants. A few examples that I readily recall are:

“Dumplings of farm bred tender chicken marinated in the choicest herbs and spices and then cooked in simmering heat in hand churned buttery sauce with fragrant ingredients.” – Butter chicken

“Organically grown okra in the green farms and cherry picked by our Master Chef and cooked in virgin oil with most luxuriating spices and tender slices of shallots and green chillies.”- Humble bhindi.

“Tender aubergine filled with most aromatic spices through a fine slit and curated for hours before shallow fried in a pan on slow fire to capture all its taste and essence”. – Poor brinjal or bengan.

It’s said that language has the power of creating magic from ordinary situations – ordinary stuff such as bhindi, bengan and chicken! While credit has to go to writers like Shakespeare, PG Wodehouse and now Shashi Tharoor to bring to the fore finer nuances of embellished language to commoners, this, though more evident in English, is not unique to it. Another language that has the capability of creating magic out ordinary is Urdu. It’s nazakat or finesse is such that it can connect you to the God almighty through most earthy things ! In a beautiful Urdu punjabi humour by ever dependable Anwar Masood that captures conversation between a gentleman and his cook, humble bhindi is beautifully described as “long and slim, fresh and crisp and stuffed with goat’s mince” making it a real royal dish in the imagination of the listener/ reader! Long live the power of language and linguists unveiling this power!

Happy Teacher’s Day

On this day i.e. 5th September of the year 1888 was born a great philosopher and statesman, who went on to become the second President of India, Bharat Ratna Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. Having taught philosophy in Madras Presidency College, Universities of Mysore and Kolkata and University of Oxford, he was appointed Haskell lecturer in comparative religion at the University of Chicago. His philosophy was grounded in Advaita Vedanta and he influenced worldwide understanding of Hinduism. He believed that “teachers should be the best minds in the country”. It’s for all these inherent strengths of his character that we have been celebrating his birthday as Teacher’s Day since 1962, the year he assumed the office of President of India.

In our school, Teacher’s Day meant a day of rest and introspection for teachers. Senior students used to double up as teachers and teach junior classes. Other activities such as debates and dramatics also used to be a feature of Teacher’s Day celebrations.

Today, when westernised way of thinking and life dominates our day to day existence and Google knows it all, the importance of Teachers is becoming understated. In any case a Teacher is more of a source of information on subject matters rather than a messenger of worldly wisdom that earlier stood by an individual during the thick and thin of his or her life. But I am firmly of the opinion that if we aim to produce next generation of law abiding, cultured, tolerant and achieving youngsters, the institution of school and teachers teaching therein must be strengthened and projected and not understated. Teachers will have to assume the mantle of Guru to get back that respect from pupils and status in the society. A guru goes beyond the subject knowledge to inculcate virtues of truthfulness, honesty, respectfulness etc to produce a pupil who is not only subject matter expert but a life expert!

Teacher’s Day, which is different from Guru Purnima, has its origin in Dr Radhakrishnan’s birthday and importance bestowed by him on education and teachers whereas Guru Purnima has its origin in our shastras and is part of our culture and tradition. Now that we don’t have Gurus of yore, the onus is on modern day teachers to take on the mantle and help producing next generation of top class citizenry that takes our nation to newer heights!

I bow as mark of respect to all my teachers who contributed to making ma what I am today! This blog is dedicated to all the teachers of this world! Happy Teacher’s Day!

Afterlife

This blog is not about the mystical afterlife – near death experience (NDE), journey to heaven or any such thing that we are all always eager to know about! This is inspired by an article about how one is put on a high pedestal posthumously and all the terrible flaws and vices one is panned about in his or her lifetime are all forgotten after one’s death. As they say, epitaph and obituary contain lies and more lies and nothing but lies! The article very deftly captures how the shortcomings of a person suddenly become his strengths once he ceases to exist physically on this earth!

Nasty disposition becomes no nonsense attitude refusing to be taken for granted, overindulgence in food and liquor responsible for person’s heart ailment and liver cirrhosis become epicurean and connoisseur of good things in life and the evilness of scandal mongering becomes the quality of need to connect with society. It’s not all. One’s reservedness becomes choosiness about the company the dead man kept and miserliness becomes rare type of generosity making those rarest occasions very precious. Lastly, he won’t be missed becomes forever present in our hearts!

And though death is a permanent parting of company, this eulogisation is actually true in all sorts of parting. Once while bidding adieu to a colleague who had superannuated, people paid glowing tributes. This person in his farewell address very uncannily mentioned ” I am sure this is a gathering of most brilliant, virtuous and honest people, but I am yet to come across an occasion when the whole set of such distinguished people are all speaking lies at the same time!”

As another view goes, death being synonymous with end of a person, it’s an occasion of great relief and joy for the people to have gotten permanent ridden from a pest! No wonder it entices the best of oratory filled with most fervent passions for it’s said that obituaries are generally the finest speeches!

Down Memory Lane

There is an article in Readers Digest latest edition on the cinema theatres of yore. It makes a mention of Kolkata’s iconic Metro there at Esplanade. There was a mention of a grand chandler that adorned the central foyer of the theatre. Responding to the article, several readers got nostalgic about their respective childhood. A reader made a mention of Mayfair theatre in the heart of Lucknow in Hazratganj.

Such articles take a reader to a journey down the memory lane. I remember the days when going to a movie was actually a big event that used to be planned well in advance. Generally, fathers, whose offices used to be either in central business districts ( Connaught Place in Delhi or Fort in Mumbai or Esplanade in Kolkata) or close to it would book tickets in advance for a weekend show. Iconic theatres such as Regal, Odeon, Plaza, Rivoli ( all in Delhi), Regal, Eros, Sterling (in Mumbai), Metro, Globe ( in Kolkata) were all located in city centres and going for movie meant visit to a fine dining restaurant and shopping as well.

Then there were some unforgettable events. Delhi’s and probably the country’s best theatre Chanakya opened with the premier show of Raj Kapoor’s classic flop Mera Naam Joker! People would just visit the theatre to see it and salvaged the flop movie to some extent. Then there was all time favourite Sholay released in 1975. The booking plans used to open on Monday and fill up within an hour for the entire week! Plaza in Delhi used to show CinemaScope and stereophonic sound version of the movie and I remember managing to see the movie only after 6 months of its release! Those were the days when the movies used to run for weeks and years celebrating multiple jubilees unlike present day when all that matters is the first weekend! Almost all the names mentioned above are either closed in converted into multiplexes, last surviving theatre being Regal bang on the circle at the beginning of Colaba!

Today’s multiplexes have latest projection systems, Dolby sound, push back plush seats, superb air conditioning, well stocked cafeterias and class gentry! What they probably lack is the soul that those movie theatres with well lit spacious lobbies, large auditoria and people throwing coins on the screen or dancing on the favourite number had! To watch popular movie Jai Santoshi Ma, viewers would go to theatre bare feet!

We all talk about technology and luxuries of the present times! What we miss is the spirit and soul when every small thing was a big event!

Ganpati Bappa Moriya

It’s time to welcome our beloved elephant god Ganesha in our homes and hearts! Tomorrow is Ganesh Chaturthi, the birthday of our favourite Lord and commencement of 10 days long Ganesha festival that will colour the entire country in its mood – more so our city of Mumbai! There’s festivity all around – Pandals are doing last minute finishing touches to be ready to welcome mammoth Ganesha idols, homes are being cleaned and decorated to bring the Lord home for a period ranging from 1.5 to 3 to 5 to 7 to 10 days and markets, which are witnessing an unprecedented recession, are suddenly flooded with hordes of buyers doing last minute purchases for the ensuing festival.

Actually, awareness about the festival and popularity of this elephant god sank in completely after we moved to Mumbai. Earlier, we knew that the festival was celebrated with special fervour in Mumbai, mainly through Bollywood, but after coming to Mumbai, we couldn’t resist but got immersed in great spirit of this hugely popular festival. This year we will be bringing Lord home for the 17th year in a row. This is a tradition that we became aware of after coming to Mumbai and we have been able to maintain for past so many years, notwithstanding come what may! This has all been possible because of Lord’s blessings and his willingness to be our guest.

And what a guest he is indeed! The moment he enters our house, things are not the same! There are other guests coming over to seek his blessings, variety of sweets and foods, chanting of mantras and a general all round gaiety. How the time passes is something very difficult to explain! And then suddenly it’s time for Bappa to go back to reunite with his mother, a folklore and faith this immersion of his idol is symbolic of ! And he carries with him all our sorrows, grievances and ailments and creates a new energy and hope to last till his arrival next year.

The festival is little akin to Durga Mahotsav celebrated with special fervour in Bengal. Like the efforts of Raja Ramamohan Roy, the efforts of Bal Gangadhara Tilak made celebration of this festival sarvajanik or public with group of residents/people coming together and celebrating rather than it being celebrated privately in individual households. This lends an element of community and social significance to this festival.

We are all agog at the very thought of Bappa’s arrival this year like we have always felt during all those last 17 years ! As we always discuss, earlier we would only wait the whole year around for Diwali; Mumbai and Bappa added Ganesh festival to the occasions we wait for!

Ganpati Bappa Moriya!

Are bosses monsters?

I wrote a blog on the leadership and whether leaders are proprietors or partners? An avid reader of my blogs has suggested that I should also write about the staff or team members and what bosses expect from them ?

I love cartoon strip Blondie and Dagwood is my favourite character because in a way he’s like me – understated, hard pressed, taken for granted but above all a simpleton to the core! In today’s episode his boss asks him in the morning whether he will handle contracts or reports? Dagwood doesn’t make a choice, leaving it to the boss, who dumps both the chores on him! Ask Dagwood whom he hates the most in his life and his reply will be “Bumstead”. Dagwood treats Bumstead like a real pain and treats him like a monster. Bumstead allows no raise, always feel that Dagwood is underworked and overpaid, doesn’t like his employees taking refreshment breaks and laments about the company’s ability to afford “so many” and “such expensive” employees. This beautifully sums up the expectations that a boss has from his team – do more work, come cheap, shoulder full responsibility, don’t ask for help or additional hands or promotions and be thankful for your job and salary as there are hundreds more waiting to grab your desk should you behave protestingly !

Jokes and comics apart, I have had the good fortune of working with the bosses of varied styles- some were very strict, a few other tough task masters, some very easy to access but a few very exclusive and reserved, some very generous while a few close fisted! However, I feel doubly lucky to be a part of an institutionally run organisation rather than a proprietary concern for this has given me an opportunity to work for the organisation rather than any boss! Also, my fair assessment based on donkeys years of experience is that people largely are not inhuman or unreasonable (though at times their expectations could be) and that if one does his chores sincerely, honestly and ably, one seldom hits a roadblock irrespective of the boss or his nature or his style!

No wonder Bhagvad Gita is now considered the best management book and in one sloka, it encompasses the gist of the work ethics and relationships that’s so oft quoted by me in my blogs but I can’t help but to quote it again for its purity and relevance that reads:

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भुर्मा ते संगोऽस्त्वकर्मणि

You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.

Bosses provide their vision and leadership but it’s also a fact that they come and go. Organisations survive generations of bosses and so do employees who give their best and take full responsibility and ownership. Lores shall remain replete with the marquee thoughts of boss- employee relationship and Dagwood-Bumstead saga will continue to tickle the funny bone of readers for generations, but seen in the light of Bhagvad’s teaching it’s not all that tough as it seems!