Basking in the sunshine

BaskingInTheSunshine

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Pre-determinism

If this moment was already pre-ordained,
That I would write these words,
That I would smile thinking that thought,
That in some corner of the globe right now,
There is a person laughing out loud,
Another crying out loud,
Someone ranting mindlessly,
Someone giving the most inspirational speech,
If it were all pre-ordained,
What do you and I have to worry about?
Ah, you might say that this worry too is pre-ordained,
But isn’t it your mind that is worrying?
What are you doing?
Just watch your mind,
Following its pre-ordained course,
Rushing through the forest of objects,
Streaming its incessant emotions,
Carrying along the boat of thoughts,
Unto that unknown destination.
It’s just a beautiful picture – let it be.
You go on, not worrying about the past or the present or the future,
It’s the mind’s job.
You go on,
For thou art that not.

Mahabharat

I have been hooked to this latest series on Star Plus. It ‘looks’ great – the sets, costumes, camerawork. The graphics could have been better at some places though. Great performances by most of the actors. The superhero images for all the warriors are built very well. Catchy music and fitting theme songs for each character. The chorus really elevates the visuals. Most of the music sounds ‘modern’ as well. The show seems to be very popular on youtube. Doesn’t drag much like other mega serials except for some parts. On the whole, it maintains a good pace, though I wish some of my favourite parts like Yaksha’s conversation with Yudhishthir were a little longer. Great idea to bring on Krishna right from the beginning with his thought-provoking words. There have been some changes to the story to add to the dramatic effect, but it sort of stays true to its own version.

That was more about the ‘cosmetics’. How does it all come together and create an impact? Dharma seems to be the link throughout. We are reminded time and time again of the oaths that people take (Bhishma’s is of course most impressive), their Dharma which sometimes is apparently conflict with their oath, and the idea of Tapasya. Krishna guides us through the whole process of trying to understand what Dharma is.

I am impressed by the way the female characters (in fact almost all the characters) have been developed. I doubt if it was this way in the original version also. For instance, after Draupadi’s Swayamvara, once Kunti asks the Pandavas to share the ‘alms’ they have received, Vyasa comes and tries to clarify the situation and help them discover their Dharma. Given the unusual decision, there are also extra oaths that the Pandavas and Draupadi have to take during their marriage. The translation of the original text only seems to refers to the fact that Draupadi will regain her virginity after being a wife to only one of the Pandavas every year. In the very well written book, The Palace of Illusions, by Chitra Divakaruni Bannerjee, where we follow the story from Panchali’s point of view, this aspect is explored and Draupadi feels how it’s a convenient thing from a patriarchical point of view that she becomes a virgin after every year, but what about her feelings and memories? This issue has been addressed by the version shown on Star Plus (of course, the whole idea of Adharma with respect to Draupadi’s marriage to the five Pandavas comes about only because kings were allowed to have multiple wives but a woman could have only one husband). Both Draupadi and the Pandavas take the oath that they will do Tapasya at the end of every year to detach themselves from the bonds and memories that were formed and start anew. A very balanced view is thus shown and Draupadi also speaks her mind in every situation.

In fact, at every difficult situation, the discussions keeping Dharma as the focus is what makes this version very appealing. The back stories with how someone in their previous life did something and that’s what is affecting them in the current life are avoided for most parts. Somehow, when there is the awareness that given any situation, we can take a decision based on Dharma that is appropriate for that situation rather than trying to find a reason from previous lives and previous Karma that we seem to be unaware of, gives more strength to the arguments and decisions. Anyway, at every moment in life, there is always a non-zero probability that a disaster strikes us. There is no point thinking why the disaster has struck. The more important thing is how we react to that.

Having Dharma as the central focus, we get to see how different characters react to the notion of Dharma. Bhishma – how his one oath changes his whole life and the fate of Hastinapur. Yudhishthir – the son of Dharmaraja himself but he too gets caught in the technicalities of Dharma (he seems to have been painted in an even better light in this series). Duryodhan – who doesn’t care about Dharma but consistently behaves with his only goal of becoming the emperor in mind. Karna – constantly in conflict with his promise to his friend and his knowledge of Dharma. Shakuni – wicked and clever and knows how to manipulate the notion of Dharma to suit his plans. Krishna – clever and knows even better how to give strength to unusual (but appropriate for the situation) interpretations of Dharma. The presence of Shakuni and Krishna make for such a contrast.

On the whole, a very engaging series. Anyway, we can never tire of reading/listening to/watching Mahabharat. Epic indeed.

On Life

On Motivation
Doing a PhD, as many people have experienced and recorded, requires a lot of self-motivation which may seem elusive very often. Throughout the course of this period, I have been trying various tips and tricks, like the Tomato Timer, 30-day challenges, watching TED videos, and reading various stuff on the internet. The thing is you don’t know what will help at which point and you can’t but help become a little philosophical and a little distressed when things don’t go your way. The latest quote which I found very practically useful is the following: ‘The secret of work: Let the end and means be joined into one.’ That’s yet another representation of the golden mantra of ‘Living in the moment’ or ‘Carpe Diem’! The search to find motivation everyday shall continue. Thankfully, when the deadlines appear closer, finding the motivation also seems a little easier. The hardest challenge sometimes is to relish and do efficiently the apparently mundane things, but if one doesn’t have the determination to do that, it’s very hard to become a good researcher.

On ‘Transport’ of things
How much time do we spend in transporting things? Most of the mundane activities in everyday life involve transport. Moving things from the supermarket to home. Moving things from outside to within the body. Moving things from home to work. From work to home. From here to there all the time. Apart from basic necessity, we do this transport to maintain a sense of order as well. Does so much movement outside restore some order to the rush that’s happening within us as well? Shouldn’t we act in the same spirit when we move these objects in the external world as we would do when we want to move those parts within us and rewire those neurons as well?

On Music
Moving those parts within brings us to music. That inexplicable thing that effortlessly helps move those parts within. No matter what emotion the mind creates, it is also capable of creating the perfect piece of music that reflects that emotion. Is music something beyond exciting the intellect and moving the heart? It certainly gives more than it takes. It is not a mere permutation of the basic notes. Between those notes, there is so much to discover. Music feels divine.

On God
What is divinity? Godliness? Another secret of work is to feel like it is a form of worship. In religious rituals, whenever we offer something to God, it is supposed to be made with the best of ingredients, intentions, and purity. In that way, if every apparently mundane thing and every important thing is done with the feeling that we are doing it in order to worship God, it can give a little more meaning to life. As humans, if we can think of God as another being, then somehow we feel this emotional connect, but otherwise, in verifiable terms in the present, what is the notion of God that we have? When I try to do something, the purpose of doing that I think is God. For instance, with washing clothes, cleanliness is I guess Godliness. In this context, Dharma also appears. Dharma also seems like another notion of God.

On Dharma
What is Dharma? The question that Mahabharat tries to answer through various incidents. It seems to depend on so many things like place, time, the person concerned and the person in relation to whom it concerns. Invariably, with Dharma comes Dharmasankat where there appear to be multiple Dharmic ways ahead. Let us assume we sort out this problem and find out what the Dharmic way is. With that ends all confusion and there is no more the question of one’s desire. Coming back to how to find the Dharmic way, it seems like one should define one’s own Dharma and stay true to it. In other words, stay true to your own conscience. According to Sri Sarada Devi, ‘The mind is everything. It is in the mind alone that one feels pure and impure. A man, first of all, makes his own mind guilty and then alone he sees another man’s guilt.’ In other words, only when you impose your Dharma on someone else do you find that person to be guilty. Also, if, as individuals, we are clear on what our Dharma is, then no external thing can ever touch us.

On Desire
Desire is the ultimate killer. The cause for disappointments, sadness, and all such emotions when it is not fulfilled and temporary thrills and joys when it is fulfilled. Again, it is the mind that creates those desires and it is not impossible to rewire those neurons and remove those unwanted desires. Despite life denying us time and time again so many things that we desire, the desire itself continues to flourish. Some desires do seem desirable, in the sense that without a basic desire to live and accomplish things, life can seem meaningless. Is real freedom then removing these desires that dissipate our emotional energy and only allowing our mindspace for the Dharmic desires? In other words, can we let our ego die every moment and give life to the things that truly matter?

On Beauty
Beauty is like a breath of fresh air whenever we encounter it, leaving us wonderstruck, emptying our minds of all other emotions and making us sit up and notice and focus on only that. What is beauty really? Beauty to me seems to be Focus. Why do certain scenes look so beautiful? Why do certain actions look beautiful, like Federer hitting that perfect forehand? When all matter is the same set of fundamental particles rearranged in myriad ways, why do only certain things appear beautiful? At the same time, why do photographs of even mundane things that choose to use the focus in a different way look so beautiful? The key seems to be focus. Beauty is indeed in the eyes of the beholder. Is it then maybe possible to focus deeply or widely enough on every single thing and feel its beauty? Furthermore, can we look beyond everything and focus on the One?

On Oneness
There is verifiable oneness in matter, as we see that all forms of matter are made of the same set of fundamental particles – already discovered or still in contention. There is oneness in the emotions that we go through as humans too. It is possible to connect with another person’s emotions expressed as words or music or when interacting with that person in other ways. When we connect with any form of Oneness, when we connect the parts and that becomes more than its sum, that leaves us with an extreme satisfaction – almost a desireless state. Is that then the goal of life? To connect those dots every moment? To find the motivation to work, irrespective of its nature, through divine music, or conforming to Dharma, or fighting one’s dissipating desires, and find the beauty that connects everything that is conceivable and is experienced by the mind? Is it only an intellectual exercise or something more that gives peace?

On Karuna
Are you searching for a reason to be kind? asks Rahman. Putting it a little differently, how do we so easily find a reason to be unkind? With the feeling of Oneness comes the feeling of kindness (apparently what makes us human) too. Dharma, which can become an intellectual exercise if we only analyse situations ‘rationally’, gains meaning only if it is guided by Karuna. And always thinking of others. Again, being aware of that Oneness every moment, can we discover more kindness in ourselves, Dharma that is guided by Karuna, and our capability to love infinitely?

P.S. What a combination of reading Swami Vivekananda and Rabindranath Tagore, listening to Swami Chinmayananda, watching Mahabharat, watching tennis, listening endlessly to A R Rahman and Sanjay, and doing a PhD can do is this.

Inspired

If you have the will
To persevere till the summit of the hill,
If you have all the conviction there is
To stop ruing missed opportunities,
If you have the consideration
To forgive yourself and others for every reason,
If you have the heart
To love all despite all barriers there art,

If you can let yourself be inspired

By all that is heard:
Chirps of birds in the early morning stillness,
Or words of compassion and kindness,
The touch of the piano or drums,
The violin strokes or the guitar strums.

By all that is seen:
The green leaves at spring,
The sunset or the sun rising.

By all that is felt:
Love, goodness, forgiveness,
Cleanliness, calmness, Oneness.

The Red Dot

I have a personal question, he said.
What is that dot, on your forehead?

Is that a hole? quipped another.
How gory, it made me wonder.

‘Did you draw it with a pen?’
I heaved a deep sigh then.

Then there is the usual ‘What does it mean?’,
So I wikied and prepared an answer clean.

Now, when I see those raised eyebrows,
And feel the stare between my eyebrows,

The auto-answer mode switches on,
It’s the yogic centre of concentration,
A Hindu symbol, I go on,
Showing off with resignation,

The Eyetex Pottu packet,
Tucked in my wallet,

Filled with no mean stickers,
But skin-pH-matching wonders.