The enlightened call a person wise when all his undertakings are free from anxiety about results.

— Krishna in The Gita

The mind is everything. What you think you become.
— Buddha

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

How do I look?

My daughter is coming home for vacation and I have my job cut out for a month. Apart from watching films, eating out, visiting bookshops and art galleries, shopping and socialising, listening to endless prattle about her boarding school, I’ll also have to be the Glamour Girl.

Because in the one month that she’ll spend in Dubai she’ll subject me to scrutiny like “a blue scarf with a blue shirt?”, “Ma, you need to urgently lose 5 kg, you’re looking F-A-T,” “oh God, not pink lipstick at your age!”
At 15, she’s a young woman in her own right, who thinks she can teach her mother a thing or two about fashion. It’s fine by me, all this newfound confidence or sense of fashion or whatever. It’s also a fun way to cement the mother-daughter bond. At her age I remember handing a few tips to my female relatives about the right sari or jewellery.

But there is a difference, isn’t there? While we all took interest in looking good, the present generation seems to be rather preoccupied with it. Mercifully my girl is no airhead and has a lot of meaningful interests to keep her grounded and well-balanced (hopefully), but in general I do see a trend among the young people that is tilted heavily in favour of looking good, whatever it takes. Shopping, primping, gymming, dieting…And if you are older and can afford, it’d be chemical peel, botox, surgery…

There is this young Lebanese girl in the gym I’ve joined. She has an hourglass figure and oozes fitness. She’s also the one who works out the hardest. The other day I asked her casually why she needed to put in so much effort. “My stomach is fat, my arms are fat,” she said. I was like which stomach, which arms? To convince me she lifted her T shirt a bit, pinched her stomach, which was flat and hard like an orthopaedic-mattress, and said, “See? All this has to go.”

What has to go? The skin? Give me a break!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

In praise of Rumi

The day I've died, my pall is moving on -
But do not think my heart is still on earth!
Don't weep and pity me: "Oh woe, how awful!"
You fall in devil's snare - woe, that is awful!
Don't cry "Woe, parted!" at my burial -
For me this is the time of joyful meeting!
Don't say "Farewell!" when I'm put in the grave -
A curtain I tis for eternal bliss. _ Rumi

While cleaning out my office drawers the other day I came across an old write-up of mine on Rumi, a personal favourite. I had written it on the occasion of his 800th birth anniversary three years ago. Anybody has read him?
To the uninitiated he’s the best-selling poet in the US, apparently more popular than Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson!! He’s the one who founded the order of the whirling dervish, which is considered a mystical order, despite their song and dance routine, a no-no in Islam.
Jellaluddin Rumi was a 13th century Persian sufi poet, but he was actually a preacher, a Moulânâ to the Persian-speaking communities of Iran, Afghanistan, and parts of India and Pakistan.
Although Rumi had found a captivated audience in the West since many years, thanks to the translation of his poetry by Prof Coleman Barks, his relevance has grown manifold post Sept.11.

It’s because despite being a preacher of Islam, he speaks of universal love. In his own words: "I am not a Jew nor a Christian, not a Zoroastrian nor a Moslem." Writing prolifically in an era savaged by battles and conflict, he spoke of nothing but love in his poetry:
The outcome of my life is no more than these three lines:
I was a raw material;
I was cooked and became mature;
I was burned in love.

He was born in Afghanistan and was a traditional Muslim cleric until he met Shams of Tabriz, a wandering dervish. Shams is said to challenge Rumi's religious perspective. One account says: On an autumn day, Rumi was sitting by a pool along with his disciples and books. Shams, whom Rumi didn’t know till then, came along, interrupted his discourse, and pointing to the books asked: “What are these?” Rumi replied: “This is some knowledge you wouldn’t understand.” Shams threw all the books into the pool and said: “And this is some knowledge you wouldn’t understand.”

A knowledge-proud theologian was challenged by a mystic. Soon, Shams became Rumi’s mentor. The love in Rumi’s poems essentially speaks of his love for God. To him the entire universe is suffused with the spirit of God.
Those who are interested in reading him I recommend Deepak Chopra’s The Love poems of Rumi.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The great dumbing down

I’m reading Nightmares and Dreamscapes by Stephen King. I had tried to read Bag of Bones, but don’t even remember at what stage I had left it unfinished. This one is better though, quite absorbing, but not something you can call “literature”. I can well understand the uproar that was created when King was picked out for the annual American National Book Foundation's award for "distinguished contribution".

Critics had reacted in sheer horror: how can you put King in the same league as Edgar Allan Poe, Saul Bellow and Arthur Miller, the earlier recipients of the award? If popularity is the yardstick of literary achievement, why not give the Nobel Prize to JK Rowling, they suggested tongue-in-cheek.
In that context, haven’t the reference points in culture shifted globally in favour of the more popular as against what’s complex and original?

Sometime back I had an interesting conversation with Nisha Sudhir, a Bharatnatyam dancer living in Dubai. She said that her 12-year-old daughter Ruchi had been learning classical dance and was quite a fine dancer. Suddenly she lost interest. One day she told her mother in a fit of rage that it was “a waste of time"; that she’d rather learn something more "modern" like ballet.
"I was aghast," Nisha said. "I had never thought that my daughter would dismiss Bharatnatyam for not being modern.
"When I was growing up in Bombay in the 70s, almost everyone in my group was learning something or the other, be it dance, music or painting. But none of my daughter's friends is into anything serious. All they do in their spare time is to listen to pop music or do Facebook."
Nisha put her foot down. "If she had told me that she prefers ballet to Bharatanatyam, I’d have considered. But not ‘modern enough’?” And from where did she pick up this love for ballet? She might have seen a couple of programmes on TV, that’s all.”

Nisha’s experience isn’t isolated, I bet. Our children are beginning to look and sound more and more similar, and have (similar) aspirations shaped and moulded by the entertainment industry and the tabloid ethos. Can’t blame them really. They are growing up in an era when oversimplification of culture has resulted in the disappearance of the sophisticated and refined. Once there was a fine line between the arts and entertainment, between culture and carousal. Today the appeal of mass culture is so strong that the distinctive flavour of regional and national cultures are becoming marketable exotica.
Britneys and Beyoncés have their places in society, but haven’t they all but elbowed out Brahms, Bach and Beethoven?

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Daane daane par likha hai...

Sometimes the most ordinary situations can drive home profound truths. A friend, who lives in Bur Dubai, often walks about two kilometres in the evening to reach the creekside to feed atte ki goliyan (tiny balls made from wheat dough) to fish.
She claims it’s one of the most satisfying activities she can think of.
Last evening I decided to join her, never mind the choking humidity. She led me through the narrow corridors of Meena Bazar and the charming old souk. By the time we reached the spot, near Bank of Baroda, I was soaked in sweat. “Never mind,” my friend said brightly. “A little trouble to make the fish happy.”
She handed me some of the wheat balls that she had carried from home and instructed me to throw them one by one over the railing at the creek water below, where I could see shoals of small, black fish. Next to us was a Filipino gentleman, engaged in the same activity.
I was a bit worried whether it was illegal to feed fish with homemade atte ki goliyan.
But my friend pooh-poohed the thought by saying “we are engaged in a noble cause.”
So there we were, gently throwing the balls one by one at the eager fish that would gobble up the feed in the twinkling of an eye. It was a nice experience indeed, meditation-like, to stand quietly by the water feeding the fish and watching them glide and swim in the water.
Next I saw were some pigeons trying to scoop up the stray wheat balls that had landed on the wet embankment. But no sooner would the pigeons catch the balls in their beaks, the damp wheat would slip out and fall into the water to be gulped down by the fish.
When I pointed it out to my friend, she wisely remarked: “Daane daane par likha hai, khane walon ka naam.” You’ll get something only if it’s meant for you.
Truer words were never spoken.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Three cheers for Ratan Tata!

As a member of the much-maligned media today I’m indulging in a spot of “citizen journalism”.
Sometime back a friend had mentioned that he had received a wonderful chain-email about the yeoman’s service done by Ratan Tata for Mumbai blast victims. I had asked him to forward the mail but he had accidentally deleted it.
After doing a bit of research on the Net I found out that other bloggers have already been there, which means some of you might already be aware of it. Still, such inspirational tales must be told and re-told, and discussed about. So I’m pasting the entire post from the blog “Small Strokes.”
Spread the good cheer, the heart of India is still beating and Ratan Tata’s corporate culture has done us all proud. Wish other business houses would take a leaf out of him; philanthropy is sadly missing in Indian corporate scene.
Here is the post from Small Strokes:
Ratan Tata is the chairman of Indian Hotels who own the Taj Mahal Hotel Mumbai, which was the target of the terrorists last year. Hotel President a 5 star property also belongs to Indian Hotels.
The following is really touching.
* All category of employees including those who had completed even 1 day as casuals were treated on duty during the time the hotel was closed.
* Relief and assistance to all those who were injured and killed
* The relief and assistance was extended to all those who died at the railway station, surroundings including the “Pav- Bha ji” vendor and the pan shop owners.
* During the time the hotel was closed, the salaries were sent by money order.
* A psychiatric cell was established in collaboration with Tata Institute of Social Sciences to counsel those who needed such help.
* The thoughts and anxieties going on people’s mind was constantly tracked and where needed psychological help provided.
* Employee outreach centers were opened where all help, food, water, sanitation, first aid and counseling was provided. 1600 employees were covered by this facility.
* Every employee was assigned to one mentor and it was that person’s responsibility to act as a “single window” clearance for any help that the person required.
* Ratan Tata personally visited the families of all the 80 employees who in some manner – either through injury or getting killed – were affected.
* The dependents of the employees were flown from outside Mumbai to Mumbai and taken care off in terms of ensuring mental assurance and peace. They were all accommodated in Hotel President for 3 weeks.
* Ratan Tata himself asked the families and dependents – as to what they wanted him to do.
* In a record time of 20 days, a new trust was created by the Tatas for the purpose of relief of employees.
* What is unique is that even the other people, the railway employees, the police staff, the pedestrians who had nothing to do with Tatas were covered by compensation. Each one of them was provided subsistence allowance of Rs. 10K per month for all these people for 6 months.
* A 4 year old granddaughter of a vendor got 4 bullets in her and only one was removed in the Government hospital. She was taken to Bombay hospital and several lacs were spent by the Tatas on her to fully recover her.
* New hand carts were provided to several vendors who lost their carts.
* Tata will take responsibility of life education of 46 children of the victims of the terror.
* This was the most trying period in the life of the organisation. Senior managers including Ratan Tata were visiting funeral to funeral over the 3 days that were most horrible.
* The settlement for every deceased member ranged from Rs. 36 to 85 lacs [One lakh rupees translates to approx 2200 US $ ] in addition to the following benefits:

a. Full last salary for life for the family and dependents;
b. Complete responsibility of education of children and dependents – anywhere in the world.
c. Full Medical facility for the whole family and dependents for rest of their life.
d. All loans and advances were waived off – irrespective of the amount.
e. Counselor for life for each person
1. How was such passion created among the employees? How and why did they behave the way they did?
2. The organisation is clear that it is not something that someone can take credit for. It is not some training and development that created such behaviour. If someone suggests that – everyone laughs
3. It has to do with the DNA of the organisation, with the way Tata culture exists and above all with the situation that prevailed that time. The organisation has always been telling that customers and guests are #1 priority
4. The hotel business was started by Jamshedji Tata when he was insulted in one of the British hotels and not allowed to stay there.
5. He created several institutions which later became icons of progress, culture and modernity. IISc is one such institute. He was told by the rulers that time that he can acquire land for IISc to the extent he could fence the same. He could afford fencing only 400 acres. He also made a condition that the TATA name should not be used (ironical in a country where half the roads and buildings bear Gandhi tag although they may not even have seen them)
6. When the HR function hesitatingly made a very rich proposal to Ratan – he said – do you think we are doing enough?
7. The whole approach was that the organisation would spend several hundred crore in re-building the property – why not spend equally on the employees who gave their life?
This was not covered by any news channel. The channels are busy showing cast politics, Sania Mirza’s wedding, Shahrukh Khan’s wedding. But these stories need to be told to the nation.