Sunday, 29 June 2014

Music, Fast or Slow

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure and privilege of attending some amazing concerts by some of the leading lights of Indian classical music. These concerts were part of the the 2nd International Convention organized by SPIC-MACAY and held at Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.

While the whole experience of immersing into the vast and deep ocean of Indian classical music was magical, I wish to share through this and some follow-up posts a few key highlights that I personally found insightful and deeply satisfying.

Very briefly, founded in 1977, SPIC-MACAY (Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture amongst Youth) is a voluntary movement with a unique mission to provide Indian youth with a meaningful exposure to Indian cultural heritage through various forms of classical music, dance, theatrical arts, as well as a wide range of folk traditions in these art forms. They do this by organizing thousands of lecture-demonstration programmes throughout India at various colleges, universities, inter-college/university cultural festivals, as well as several higher educational institutions abroad. I have had the privilege of attending several such programmes in India and abroad.

A typical SPIC-MACAY lecture-demonstration is a bit more casual performance, with an aim to bring out some salient features about the particular art form for the specific purpose of facilitating some learning by the audience, especially the youth attending the programme. Before the performance, the performer generally gives a brief explanation about his or her specific art form and speaks directly to the young audience to engage them meaningfully in some of the nuances and unique aspects of the art form they are about to witness. Of course, each performer individualizes this approach based on his or her nature, style, the demands of the particular art form, the nature of the specific performance he or she is presenting, and many other factors. There is no one right formula. Quite Indian in a way :)

This time around, I attended only selected programmes at the SPIC-MACAY convention at IIT-M, as a member of general audience and not as a convention participant or delegate. But even in that very limited experience, I was very pleasantly surprised that each of the performances I attended brought home for the audience a unique aspect of Indian classical and folk traditions.

At the concert of Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, the great Mohan Veena player, we got to hear about the fact there is often a misconception among some Indian youth that Indian classical music is slow and therefore boring. Saying that while Indian classical music can match any other musical tradition when it comes to speed, Pandit ji made an important point that in Indian culture music has been considered a means to connect with the silence within. So its purpose is not to give the audience or musicians a "high" but rather to gradually facilitate a slowing down of their inner movements (thoughts, sensations, everything) and bring them to a place where they can experience a quietude within. And this led him to explain the role and significance of Ālap in a typical Indian classical music performance, both vocal and instrumental.

Accompanied by the noted Tabla player Pandit Ram Kumar Mishra, he then went on to demonstrate what he was explaining through his performance in which he mesmerized the audience, especially the young ones, by the great intensity and the high "speed" in some portions of his performance (after Ālap of course). If I remember correctly he played raag Maru Bihag for his main performance. But what I do remember very correctly is that the music was absolutely captivating and enthralling, to say the least.

He didn't seem to mind when the young audiences applauded and clapped in between to show their appreciation for the particular notes he played and the amazing skill with which he played them. This is an important point because such applause in the middle of Indian classical music performances is not considered appropriate, and there have been instances of performers getting very upset over such behaviour from the audiences. It seemed to me that he perhaps even played a bit to the young audiences when he saw them getting so enthused over his music.

But all this didn't take away anything from the key point he wanted to illustrate through his performance. That Indian classical music, despite its vigour and high energy, is primarily meant to help the listener and musician connect with something much more quiet within, more silent. And that's what this experience was for me. A few minutes into his performance, it seemed as if the audience didn't matter, the slightly uncomfortable chair didn't matter, and even the interruptions from the youngsters in form of applause didn't matter. The eyes were closed and it was only music. Only music.

Panditji concluded his performance with a track from his grammy-award-winning world music album, A Meeting By the River (with Ry Cooder). And of course the intensity of that piece enthralled the audiences, especially the younger ones who probably gained a new admiration, love and regard for their ancient heritage, their classical music which is as modern and new as anything can be. Timeless, really. What a great way to encourage youngsters to want to delve deep into the precious gems of their culture!

It is only appropriate to close this post with some music from the maestro. How about this? 

~ Pandit ji's photo by Suhas Mehra

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

An Extraordinary Moment

Top post on, the community of Indian Bloggers
August 2012. 

I stood there. In awe. In front of That. Couldn't move my eyes off That.

And in a few seconds it happened.

The tears started flowing. Tears that must flow when your heart is so full, so very full that it just doesn't know what else to do. It melts through your eyes.

These are the moments when the mind doesn't know what is going on. The mind just goes out of the picture. Thankfully. And you are there simply in that moment of oneness with That. With the Spirit of That which is in front of your eyes.

Like that afternoon of August 2012, when I stood in front of the bodhisattva Padmapani at Ajanta Caves (cave 1). What an extraordinary experience it was! There were many people in the cave, admiring, whispering, talking, taking pictures, strolling about. But all of them, all of that disappeared. Sort of.

And there I was, frozen at the spot, right in front of the over-life-size Padmapani, painted on the wall of the cave. And the tears wouldn't stop. What I felt was and still remains indescribable. But that's because describing is the task of the mind. There was no mind involved in what I was feeling. Or at least that's how it feels even after two years.

The only word that comes to mind when I recall that experience is - Gratitude. For that Experience, that Moment. For those Artists who have given us such Works of Art.

Art that has the potential to take you into Silence. To give you a taste of that rare Joy when you connect with something Beyond, something Higher than yourself. Art that expresses an aspect of Divinity through Matter.

Art that is not only to be enjoyed on the surface. It can't be because it doesn't reveal itself fully on that level. It has to be felt, experienced in a different way.

I feel blessed to have had that moment when I could experience the Padmapani in that way. Sort of.

Painting is naturally the most sensuous of the arts, and the highest greatness open to the painter is to spiritualise this sensuous appeal by making the most vivid outward beauty a revelation of subtle spiritual emotion...
... the unique character of Indian painting, the peculiar appeal of the art of Ajanta springs from the remarkably inward, spiritual and psychic turn which was given to the artistic conception and method by the pervading genius of Indian culture. 
Indian painting like Indian architecture and sculpture appeals through the physical and psychical to another spiritual vision from which the artist worked and it is only when this is no less awakened in us than the aesthetic sense that it can be appreciated in all the depth of its significance. 
~ Sri Aurobindo, Indian Art, CWSA Volume 20, pp. 302-304 
~ Photo by Suhas Mehra

Linking this post with ABC Wednesday, X: X is for Extraordinary. 

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Renew and Refresh

A new post in the series - When a Picture Leads

This picture speaks to me of Renewal. Refreshing. Rekindling of hope.

This picture was taken by me in Auroville a few months after the mighty destructive cyclone Thane hit Pondicherry and Auroville area on December 30, 2011. According to some estimates, about 40% of the trees in Auroville were uprooted or destroyed because of the devastation. (And if you know anything about Auroville, you must know something about its thick green cover, its massive trees and vegetation and its red earth. And you perhaps also know about the 40 years of hard work and great effort put in by the dedicated Aurovillians and local villagers to convert what was once a barren land into a green paradise.) After the cyclone, it took several days to clear up the roads and streets of this international township, and power was restored only after two weeks to the whole area in and around Auroville. My own little garden at home (near Auroville) suffered some loss because of the cyclone.

But I am not interested today in that memory of loss and destruction, or that memory of nature's fury and chaos.

I want to think of the new beginnings instead. I want to think of new life that comes after death, new growth after destruction. That is the story this picture tells.

I clearly remember the day when I took this picture. I had gone to Auroville Visitor Center with my husband, and my niece who was visiting us from Delhi. We were planning to do some shopping and have lunch at the cafe there. I saw this tree stump in the parking lot itself, and was pleasantly surprised to see the new tender green leaves sprouting at the base and the top. What a sight of hope, new life!

While a reminder of what this tree once was was still there nearby in the form of an uprooted trunk of another big tree, the new growth was a proof positive that life doesn't stop. It only takes a little pause now and then, to recuperate its strength, to rejuvenate itself with fresh energy and soon it bounces back. Full of vigour, full of new energy, full of hope and new beginnings. That's what I remember feeling when I witnessed this sight.

The timing was also important because my niece was visiting with an objective to study Economics with me for a few weeks as part of her preparation for her senior secondary examinations (12th grade). She was feeling a bit doubtful about this subject and needed a little boost, a sort of a push to regain her confidence and will to study well for her forthcoming examinations.

She is an intelligent young woman, but it is just that her kind of intelligence is not always recognized or valued by the kind of examination and grading pattern we have in the mainstream Indian schooling system, especially at the level of "board" examinations. And the system is such that if a student doesn't score well in these public examinations, her further education including admission to a good college may become very difficult.

She knew she needed to do well, at least reasonably well, in the examinations, but just needed some gentle push and some one-on-one guidance for at least a little period of time. And of course I was extremely happy when she chose to come and stay with me and thought that I could be the person to give her what she needed.

I can't say what, if any, help I was for her at that time. But all I can say is that the visit provided me an opportunity to bond with my lovely young niece and renew myself with that youthful energy. I also got an opportunity to recognize and realize what an important asset a healthy sense of self-confidence is, especially for the youth preparing themselves for the big world out there.

A renewal of this confidence in oneself, in one's capabilities and unique intelligence is necessary from time to time. For all of us. We all go through times when a refresher dose of hope and optimism is required. This rekindling of hope, this constant renewal is what gives us the persistent strength to go on pursuing our dreams, walking toward the unknown-to-us future.

That, I believe, is life. A journey, a seeking, a promise of renewal. Sort of like a promise of re-doing, a rebirth almost. In renewing and refreshing ourselves we rediscover ourselves. And perhaps that's how we also re-dedicate ourselves to our goals, dreams and aspirations.

The more we can open ourselves to the Light and Force, the eternal source of all that hope and energy and optimism, the more alive and living we begin to feel. Ready to begin anew.

For the previous post in the series, click here.
For all the posts in this series, click here.

Linking this post with Write Tribe Wednesday Prompt - Memory triggered by a photograph.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

"All Art is Quite Useless": What a Wild(e) Idea!

A new post in the series - Satyam Shivam Sundaram
A series featuring inspiring words from various sources, words that speak of timeless truths, words that remind me of the deeper and hidden truth behind surface events and phenomena, words that shine light when all seems dark, words that are just what I need - for this moment and for all times to come.

One Monday afternoon. Around 3:30 pm. I thought of taking a little nap to rest my eyes after some long hours of staring at the computer. But of course, there was no sign of sleep anywhere.

Without even looking I picked up a book (yes, I still read actual printed books, not the kindle kinds) from the pile of books on the bedside table, thinking maybe reading a page or two might make me tired enough, and sleep would then bless me.

It was Oscar Wilde's classic 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' - something I had read years ago. But a few months ago my husband bought a new copy of this thinking he would like to read it. Of course, he didn't and the book had been taking a good rest on the bedside table.

Until that Monday afternoon.

Those who have read the book may recall the famous "Preface" to this book. I admit I had forgotten most of it, except for a couple of sentences which I have seen quoted in many other places in the last several years.

I am not an artist, but I have close family members and friends who are - painters, photographers, musicians, dancers, poets. And when I read Oscar Wilde's Preface that Monday afternoon, my thoughts went to all those artists I know and those I don't. And I didn't read anything beyond that Preface. I still haven't.

Here is the Preface.
The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim.
The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.
The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography.
Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.
Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty.
There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.
The nineteenth century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.
The nineteenth century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.
The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium.
No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved.
No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.
No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.
Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art.
Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.
From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor's craft is the type.
All art is at once surface and symbol.
Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.
It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.
Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.
When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself.
We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.
All art is quite useless.
What a collection of witty aphorisms here! So Wilde-like.

By sharing this Preface here, I am not declaring my complete agreement with all the things Mr. Wilde says. For example, I am not convinced that "All art is quite useless." Of course, one would need to first figure out what is meant by Art. And what is meant by Usefulness? Does a beautiful piece of hand-made pottery, say a vase or a bowl, made by a studio potter qualify as art?

But I think I somewhat follow the line of argument that Wilde is making here and see the value of his point and accept its partially and contextually relevant truth-value. And certainly, when one situates the Preface in the larger controversy that surrounded this particular book, the author's words become hugely significant and very apt.

Wilde added this Preface to the book, along with several other changes, after the first, 1890 edition of the book was highly criticized. He used it to "address the criticism and defend the novel's reputation." The collection of statements in this Preface also "serves as an indicator of the way in which [he] intends the novel to be read." 

But the main reason why I became fascinated by this Preface is this: It serves as an excellent illustration of what Sri Aurobindo refers to as the conflict between Aesthetic and Ethical tendencies of the human mind. In his major work on social philosophy, The Human Cycle, he writes: 
There is in our mentality a side of will, conduct, character which creates the ethical man; there is another side of sensibility to the beautiful,—understanding beauty in no narrow or hyper-artistic sense,—which creates the artistic and aesthetic man. Therefore there can be such a thing as a predominantly or even exclusively ethical culture; there can be too, evidently, a predominantly or even exclusively aesthetic culture. There are at once created two conflicting ideals which must naturally stand opposed and look askance at each other with a mutual distrust or even reprobation. The aesthetic man tends to be impatient of the ethical rule; he feels it to be a barrier to his aesthetic freedom and an oppression on the play of his artistic sense and his artistic faculty; he is naturally hedonistic,—for beauty and delight are inseparable powers, —and the ethical rule tramples on pleasure, even very often on quite innocent pleasures, and tries to put a strait waistcoat on the human impulse to delight. He may accept the ethical rule when it makes itself beautiful or even seize on it as one of his instruments for creating beauty, but only when he can subordinate it to the aesthetic principle of his nature,—just as he is often drawn to religion by its side of beauty, pomp, magnificent ritual, emotional satisfaction, repose or poetic ideality and aspiration,—we might almost say, by the hedonistic aspects of religion. Even when fully accepted, it is not for their own sake that he accepts them. The ethical man repays this natural repulsion with interest. He tends to distrust art and the aesthetic sense as something lax and emollient, something in its nature undisciplined and by its attractive appeals to the passions and emotions destructive of a high and strict self-control. He sees that it is hedonistic and he finds that the hedonistic impulse is non-moral and often immoral. It is difficult for him to see how the indulgence of the aesthetic impulse beyond a very narrow and carefully guarded limit can be combined with a strict ethical life. He evolves the puritan who objects to pleasure on principle; not only in his extremes—and a predominant impulse tends to become absorbing and leads towards extremes—but in the core of his temperament he remains fundamentally the puritan. The misunderstanding between these two sides of our nature is an inevitable circumstance of our human growth which must try them to their fullest separate possibilities and experiment in extremes in order that it may understand the whole range of its capacities. (CWSA, Volume 25, pp. 95-96, emphasis added).
A lot is packed in this one paragraph. It may require a slow and careful reading. Perhaps a few times to fully appreciate the point being made here.

Many of the controversies that we witness around art and literature can be understood in the light of this psychological basis, this misunderstanding between the two sides of human nature and mentality. It certainly explains much of the criticism Wilde's book received, the plot of which also interestingly deals with similar themes of aestheticism, hedonism, morality, virtue and beauty.

Is there a way to move beyond or reconcile these two sides of our human nature? That is an obvious question. But in life there are no quick or obvious answers. The only answer I can give now is - read the full chapter at least, if not the whole book :)


Click here for the previous post in this series.
Click here for all the posts in this series.


Linking this post with ABC Wednesday, W: W is for Wilde

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Village Temple

On her evening walk Ramabai noticed a big log, all around which were strewn the sacred yellow flowers.

On a closer look, the wise and saintly woman recognized the log to be from a sacred banyan tree. But there wasn’t a single banyan tree in the entire area. Seeing this as a Divine Grace she started meditating at that spot every morning and evening.

Soon the villagers passing by began sensing a change in the aura and energy of that place.

A village temple was born, one with no walls, no murti, no pujari. Only She, the Shakti, Cosmic Energy.

An Indian temple, to whatever godhead it may be built, is in its inmost reality an altar raised to the divine Self, a house of the Cosmic Spirit, an appeal and aspiration to the Infinite.
~ Sri Aurobindo

Image courtesy:


Also linking with ABC Wednesday - V: V is for Village Temple

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Change, Beauty and Truth

Change is the only constant, it is often said. But nothing in the world is as simple as a cliche.

We must dig a bit deeper if we want to get closer to the truth.

What kind of change are they talking about who speak of constant change? Is it only an outer change? Or only an inner change? Or both? Who or what makes the change possible? Does it happen on its own? Or does someone or something compel or force or push for a change? Is change a natural phenomenon? Or is there another master-plan working behind the surface phenomenon of Nature? 

What is the outcome of change? Is it always for the better? Can change also be for worse? What distinguishes a good change from the one that is not? Who decides what is a good change and what is not? Who decides what is good, period?

So many questions. And I am not done yet. There is also the question of why.

Why does change occur? What is the need for change? Why can't things stay the same? Is there a  plan being unfolded through all the changes we see happening around us? Can we ever know that plan? Or even get a glimpse of it?

I am not sure I or any of us can have the complete answers to any or some of these questions. I am not even sure if I have all the questions yet. 

But sometimes you don't need to have the answers. Or at least not right away. You just need to keep asking the questions. More questions. So that you don't believe anything just because it is told to you by an authority, by your textbook, by your teacher. 

Change maybe a constant. But perhaps so is Beauty. So is Joy, and so is Delight.  

This may not make any sense the moment we start looking around and see all the horrible stuff happening. In our lives, individually and collectively. In our homes, in our communities, in our worlds. Where is any Beauty in all the gross, all the terrible, heart-breaking, horrendous human behaviour that we witness all around us? Where is the joy, the delight in any of that? 

And that's when we begin to want a change. We begin to lose our innate joy, our innate delight in the world, in life, in existence. We begin to question Beauty. We begin to question whether any of this madness makes any sense. We begin to feel restless. We begin to wonder if we can do anything to change something. We begin to ask what changes we need in the system out there so that some of this madness can be stopped. We begin to get angry, more angry when we don't see any changes happening. We get more restless. And so it goes on....

But where does it all take us? Do things ever change? Does the system become better? Does the horrible stuff stop? Or does one kind of terrible replace the other? 

And a time comes when we start using another cliche - the more things change the more they stay the same.

If all change leads to only more of the sameness, why change in the first place? 

So we are back to not really knowing anything. Not really having any answers. 

And yet we must continue. Continue asking the questions, continue living the questions. With the hope that someday we will be able to "see" the truth, not in a book or in a system or in a religion, but within.

Change, but not for the sake of changing. Change, for evolving, progressing, transforming. Change, for constantly discovering beauty, joy, and truth.

We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, 
but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.
~ Maya Angelou

This reflection was triggered after a conversation I had with my 20-year-old niece studying Sociology, trying to make sense of this thing called 'Society.'

Linking this post with Write Tribe Wednesday Prompt: Write a post inspired by a Maya Angelou quote. The quote I have chosen is not exactly a quote on writing, as per the prompt guideline. But on some level, everything in life has a connection with writing, including a butterfly's beauty and change. 

Image source: Google

Sunday, 8 June 2014

That Late Night Chat

P: Listen, I have something to tell you. I was thinking that here we are, almost a couple. People speak of us as if we are made for each other....

S: But aren't we? I mean, do you even doubt that?

P: You never let me say my thing....the moment I begin you cut me off. What's the point, really? I better not say anything. And simply do what I must do.

S: Okay, okay, I won't interrupt now, go ahead and tell me. Tell me all that is running through that pretty little head of yours. And what about this thing that you must do?

P: I was thinking that while it is true that we are a couple and yes, maybe we are made for each other as everyone says, but we are still two individual people. Very different.

S: So? Everyone is different.

P: But that's not what I want to say really. You see, there is this thought that has been bothering me for a while now. There is this urge in me, sort of like a deep wish, a deep desire maybe, I don't know...that I should venture out in the world on my own, alone, find out what more I can be. Not as one part of the "couple", not as one piece of the "made for each other". Just me, by myself.

S: Hmmm....

P: Don't just "hmmm" me, tell me how you feel about this. About what I have just told you.

S: I don't is all a bit sudden. I need to think about it.

P: But still you must have some initial reaction to it.

S: Well, yes I do...

P: So what is it? Out with it!

S: Are you sure you want to hear? And you won't mind whatever it is that I say to you?

P: No. I won't mind, tell me. I am strong enough on the inside.

S: Well, if you say so, sweety! I think it is a foolish idea.

P: What?

S: See, I told you you may not like it. Why are you pricking me?

P: Okay okay, I won't react, just go ahead and tell me why you think it is a foolish idea.

S: Well, for one, how will you survive out there? It is a big bad world out there, my dear! You need me.

P: Need you? Why?

S: Don't you see, there is danger out there. People with daggers, razor-sharp instruments ready to pounce upon you the moment you become vulnerable, the moment you begin to become dull.

P: I have been living with you so for long, you have your sharp teeth too, that razor-sharp blade of yours always ready to shape me into form.

S: Yes, but I do that out of love, my love for you, baby.

P: Love? Is that love?

S: Yes, do you have any doubt? Don't you see that the whole world thinks we are made for each other?

P: Well, the world says it because they are afraid of your sharp bite. And anyway, it is only "our" little world that says so. The big bad world, as you say it, out there doesn't care, we are nothing for them. I can very well manage without you, you know.

S: Even with those daggers, swords, blades out there!?!

P: No, not with them. On my own. But of course from time to time I might, I know I will need some help. But if I am strong enough and learn how to take care of myself, I can work with others as partners for the time being, and manage myself very well. Thank you very much!

S: Aha! So you are really hell bent on this "being on my own" thing. You have made up your mind?

P: Yes.

S: And what, may I ask, will you do out there "on your own"?

P: I will write.

S: What else can you do? That's the only thing you know.

P: But what else do I need to know? That's my thing, my dharma as they say!

S: And will you be taking up a job somewhere as a writer to make your ends meet?

P: I might, for some time. So what?

S: Wouldn't you be giving up a part of your "own" self when working for another?

P: That will be just to earn my bread. My other or bigger work will be for myself.

S: What other work?

P: To write my own story.

S: Ha....your own story? Who would want to read that?

P: Doesn't matter. But I need to write, write for myself.

S: Write for yourself....what notions you have!

P: You will not get it, you see. You are just...

S: I am just what? Say it...

P: You with your sharp teeth, your ever-readiness to bite me, to make me smaller....

S: Listen girl, I don't make you smaller, I make you fit for your work, your dharma as you say!

P: I know I know, you make me ready. But that's your work. Yes, your dharma! You don't do it for me, you do it for yourself, to fulfill the very purpose of your existence. Otherwise why is there any need for you at all? Nobody really needs you.

S: You do.

P: I do, because you are here. But if you weren't I can find other partners to help me get ready. It is I who is the real thing in this partnership that is going on between you and me. Not you. So get that straight, okay!

S: See, how edgy you have already become. That's because of my constant support to keep you fit and working. Otherwise how will you get all these big ideas about being on your own!?!

P: Whatever....I am not going to argue with you, I have made up my mind. And I am going to go. Out there, to find myself, as they say in all those books I have been marking.

S: Yes, you and your books and those markings! All those big big words!

P: Why are you jealous? Just because you are not really needed by me, is that it?

S: Whatever....

P: So that's it then. It is settled. I am getting out of our relationship, out of this confinement, and am ready to explore the world on my own. Ta-ta!

S: What? Right now? You are leaving me right now?

P: Right now is just as good a time as any. So why not now?

S: I know you can survive without me. It is I who needs to think what am I good for anymore.

P: I am sure you will figure something out. Like I did. When I realized that I needed to reinvent myself. To find my true purpose, as all those books say.

S: Aren't you forgetting something? Who will lead you, out there? You have always been an instrument, not the real doer of things. You are not the 'real' writer. You only assist.

P: You are right. But you are also not right.

S: What? How can both things be true at the same time?

P: They can. They can when the instrument realizes that she too is just as real as the real doer of things, the real writer. When the instrument becomes her real self, so to speak.

S: You and your big words! Must be all those big books you have been marking!

P: But don't you see? There is some great stuff in those big books as you call them. You should stop being so rigid and sharp-tongued and have some flexibility.

S: And how am I supposed to be flexible?

P: I don't know. But that is your problem, no? You should figure it out. Maybe sometimes one has to break oneself open completely in order to fully see oneself in all one's parts and pieces. Maybe there are some parts in you that you don't need anymore now that the world is changing so fast. Maybe you will find that only some parts of you are worth keeping, and maybe just maybe, there might be a new you as a result of all that breakage and reassembly.

S: There you go again...with all those big words from those big books....

P: Whatever....I am willing to do all that it takes to reinvent myself fully, to write my own story, even if it requires me to break myself fully open. If you don't want to reinvent yourself, I can't force you. I can only offer advice, that too because we have been together for so long. It is your choice to listen to it or not.

S: Well....Anyway, you better get going is already nearing the time when the owner of this house comes knocking to look for that USB he left here yesterday. What a crackpot of a name it is - USB!


The above conversation between a sharpener called S and a pencil called P was recorded on a rainy night a few years ago, by a reliable micro-recorder hidden in the top drawer of a writer's desk. Ever since the writer had started doing all his work on the computer, the two ex-lovers S and P had been feeling unappreciated and unnecessary. This led P to some serious introspection, and she finally decided to move out of the confines of the desk and do her own thing. Write out her story. Reinvent herself.

"The Story of a Smartpen formerly known as P" will be out in the book-market soon.

And what happened to the poor, dejected fellow S, you ask? To find out, stay tuned!

Original image sourced from here

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda. The prompt this week is -- Stationery Chats.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Light is All You Need

Top post on, the community of Indian Bloggers
A new post in the series - Reminders to self

Note: This could be seen as a sequel to my earlier post on Why Should I Write, in which I share some writing advice from Sri Aurobindo, advice that speaks to me personally at this point in my writing and in my life. The words below may be seen as a response to another one of my questions - How Should I Write.

When all feels dark, kind of lost

Thoughts are all better-off tossed
Ideas don't work, no fix in sight
All you need is one little Light.

Light in the heart, Light in mind
Go seek, and ye' shall find
Light in action, and inaction,
Stillness of one moment's fraction.

In this Light when all feels changed
Remember to shine it on those estranged
Feelings, thoughts, words repressed
Lest they rally to make a protest.

A moment speaks, a truth revealed
Only that rigid mind won’t yield
Slave of habits, oppressor of a kind
Don’t force it, slowly make it refined.

Linking this post with Write Tribe - 100 words on Saturday 2014 #16: The prompt was to imagine a conversation with a favourite author on writing. 

I realized that any questions I could think of had already been answered as seen in the excerpt shared above from Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo, Volume 27, p. 599. The light of his guidance however inspired me to pen down the 100 word-poem to further dispel the darkness of my doubts.

Image source: 1: mine; 2: Google

To see previous post in this series, click here.
To see all posts in the series, click here.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Do I Feel Rich Today?

Top post on, the community of Indian Bloggers
Today on this World Environment Day, I certainly feel rich! 

I feel rich when I see the beauty and blessings of Mother Nature in my little garden. 

Today I remember the little sapling of Rangoon Creeper that we had planted in a little corner of the garden a couple of years ago. I also remember how just a few weeks later, it accidentally got pruned while digging out some of the intruding weeds that had shown up nearby. I remember how sad I felt when I noticed that only a little bit of the root and a couple of leaves of the sapling survived the 'accident'. 

I remember how we nursed it and took care of it for the first few days after it was replanted. I also remember that once the plant was firmly rooted, we basically left it alone to do its own thing. Just gave sufficient nutrition but not too much. Gave enough love, enough space, enough support for the vine to climb up, and then let it grow at its own pace, to blossom in its own time.

Today I feel rich when when I see how profusely it is blooming. Those bunches of mildly fragrant blossoms drooping over the garden wall, those little red-pink-reddish-pinkish blossoms which have been a special favourite since childhood. 

Today I feel rich when I remember how fun it was to make beautiful flower garlands with these blossoms sticking one tender-light-green stem of a blossom into another.  

Today, I feel rich when I see Pasiflora (Passion Flower) blossoming next to the Rangoon Creeper. I have written here and here about the work we have had to do to allow these two vines to find a comfortable harmony with each other. 

Today I feel rich when I realize that some of those "lessons" in harmony are bearing fruit. Or flowers, I should say. 


Today I feel rich when I see the tender leaf-like pink blossoms of Mussaenda (Bangkok Rose) swaying gently on the shrub which had almost half-died under its own weight one evening which brought heavy rainstorm and furious winds, almost a year ago. 

I remember how we tied together some of the drooping limbs of the bush, giving it enough support with bamboo sticks till it was strong enough to stand on its own. I also remember how just a few months ago part of the bush was beginning to show serious insect-damage. I remember how sad I felt realizing that I had ignored the plant and not given its necessary fix of the neem-oil-water-mix spray to get rid of those pesky little insects. 

Today I feel rich when I see the bunches of these leaf-like flowers in soft pink shades, with little centers of deep yellow shining through them. 

Today I feel rich when I realize that a regimen of proper care and timely attention does bear its fruit. Or flowers, I should say. 


Today I feel rich seeing the bluish-purplish blossoms on the just-over-two-year-old bush of Ironwood/Delek Air tree/Anjan (Memecylon umbellatum). 

I remember the day we had planted just a tiny little sapling of this bush. I remember how I had even forgotten that we had planted this, until my husband showed me the spot where it was. I remember how happy I felt seeing that it was doing well, slowly growing and becoming stronger. 

I remember how relieved I was to know that perhaps the best way for this plant to grow was to be left alone without much interference from the human hands. I remember how many times I have had to remind the gardener, who is less of a gardener and more of a water-giver, to not water that corner where this woody shrub was beginning to take its hold and show some progress. 

Today I feel rich when I see the leathery green leaves and the mildly fragrant beautiful blue blossoms. 

Today I feel rich when I realize that sometimes all that is needed is to carefully drain out and remove the excess life-energy so that a harmonious blossoming can occur. 

Today I feel rich when I realize that a garden can be one of the best teachers one can have.

Today I feel rich when I realize that a little bit of effort in our own backyard can go a long way.

Do something for our Mother Earth today. Celebrate World Environment Day!

Spiritual significance given to these flowers by the Mother:

1. Rangoon Creeper - Faithfulness: We can count on You; You never fail us when we need You.
2. Passion Flower - Silence: The ideal condition for progress.
3. Mussaenda - Mental Goodwill: Likes to show off a little, but is very useful.)
4. Iron-wood - Miracle (Air of Auroville): Marvellous, strange, unexpected

~ All photos from my garden, courtesy, Suhas Mehra

Written in response to the Indiblogger InSpire prompt - Rich: Write a post on your interpretation of this word.

Was inspired to write this after a dear friend reminded this morning that today is World Environment Day. 


Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Of Cracked Pots, Longing, and Impermanence
This post is a Spicy Saturday Pick by Blogadda, June 14, 2014.


The other day I passed by this roadside shop which sells terracotta pots, pitchers, vases, urlis, diyas, wind-chimes and all such beautiful earthen goodies. Seeing some new stock in the shop, I was tempted for a few minutes to buy another pitcher for my kitchen, for storing and cooling the drinking water. Realizing that I already have the necessary pitchers and containers, I walked away from the shop but the beautiful feel and essence of the earthen pottery remained with me for a while. 

There is something so mystifying, real and beautiful about the terracotta pottery, as if reminding us to stay grounded, to stay close to the natural earth and yet transform ourselves into something more concrete, to become individualized yet always ready to unify and merge with the original source, to face the fire and heat and become useful for a specific purpose yet always remain vulnerable to cracks and scratches.

So much the humble pot says, if we listen.

And what of the water that is stored in an earthen pot?

Like the pot, it too speaks. Of its fluidity and its impermanence, its readiness to quench the deepest thirst and its inability to stay in one place, its readiness to transform and its ever-present essence of being the source of life itself. And when the sounds of water in an earthen pot are heard and expressed through the pen of Amrita Pritam, the result is something that comes from another realm of knowing and being.

Give it a read, decide for yourself.

This is my first attempt at translating a Punjabi poem. I have in the past done a few Hindi-to-English translations, but only smaller pieces and passages. I have just now started translating a full Hindi book. Not easy at all, especially if the book is a dense one full of deeper feelings of devotion and love for the Supreme. I have only done 2 pages so far, God only knows how much time it will take! But what is life without a good challenge?

Back to Amrita Pritam and her lovely poem, speaking of cracked pots, longing, and impermanence.

Ve mai tidke ghare da pani
Kal tak nahi rehna

I am the water, as in a cracked pitcher
Will not last till tomorrow.

Ve mai tidke....

Es pani de kann tirhaye
Treh de hothan wangu
Oh mere thande ghut dia mitra!
Keh de jo kujh kehna

Even the drops of this water are thirsty
Like the lips of the thirst itself
O my friend, you who are like a sip of chilled water
Tell me all that you want to, speak now.

Ve mai tidke.....

Aaj da pani keekan lahve
Kall di treh da karja
Na pani ne kanni bajhna
Na palle wich rehna

How will the water of today
Quench the thirst of tomorrow?
Neither this water can be strung on the side
Nor can it be stored in a sari’s pallu

Ve mai tidke....

Vekh, ke teri treh vargi
Es pani di majboori
Na es teri treh sang turna
Na es aithay behna

Look here, like your thirst
This water too has its compulsion.
Neither will it go with your thirst
Nor will it stay back here.

Ve mai tidke....

Aaj de pinde pani lishke
Treh de moti warga
Par aaj de pinde nalo kall ne
Chippar wangu lehna

Today this water shines on the body
Like the pearls of thirst itself
But tomorrow in place of this shining body,
All will remain is a clump of dry clay, dry thatch.

Ve mai tidke ghare da pani
Kall tak nahi rehna

I am the water, as in a cracked pitcher
Will not last till tomorrow.

Ve mai tidke....

A poem has to be read aloud to be felt, to be taken in. And when someone like Gulzar reads it for us, the effect is....well, I can't think of words to say what kind of effect it is. Let the listener decide for himself/herself. I simply share it below....

This video is courtesy of youtube, the poem 'Ve, mai tidke ghade da paani' is recited during the first 2.20 minutes, the second half of the video features yet another poem of Amrita Pritam recited by Gulzar. Maybe I will translate that some other time, if inspired!

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Why Should I Write

A new post in the series - Reminders to Self

Drawing hands, by M. C. Escher, Source

Any reader of this blog or even an occasional visitor must have noticed that almost all of the writing here finds its inspiration in, or a connection to the words and thought of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. So when it comes to writing itself, it is obvious where I would look first. And last.

Many aspiring poets, sadhak-poets and writers in the Ashram and elsewhere used to ask Sri Aurobindo for advice and help with their writing and writing process. And Sri Aurobindo would painstakingly write back to each one of them, giving suggestions, making corrections to their drafts, guiding them. In many of his letters and talks we find great lessons on process of writing, inspiration for writing, role of concentration while writing, deeper purpose of writing, use of English language, writer’s block, and even place of humour in writing. And yes, a reference or two on plagiarism too. His own voluminous writings - prose, poetry, drama - serve as incomparable examples in various styles of writing including literary, philosophical, mystical, sociological, political, satire, polemics, you name it.


For many years in my professional-academic life I learned about and facilitated learning of others in this thing called academic writing. Yes, that genre of writing with all kinds of quotes and data! And jargon too. Though I was never really fond of the latter. I was also fortunate enough to work in a non-conventional stream of higher education where academics for the most part have not bought into the model of “publish or perish.”

As a result, my writing - other than what I did based on purely academic research like my doctoral and post-doctoral work - was mostly inspired by or influenced by topics, themes and issues that were of interest to me at that time. Some of these may be read here, here and here. My expression, voice, and style in most of these writings would not really qualify as “academic writing” in the most conventional sense. Yet there was an undeniable influence of the years of training in and exposure to a certain style of writing that is common to academic circles.

When I started this blog last year, I wanted to follow no particular “style” or “voice” or “objective” but just express whatever was inspiring, interesting, important, relevant, and meaningful for me at that moment of time. I have written at length in another post about one simple criterion I follow when deciding whether to post something on this blog.

And when it comes to “how” to express, there too I haven’t put any limits. It can be words, music, images, inspiration gathered from various sources, mixed up with my meanings, my words, my silences.

Today my inspiration comes in the form of a reminder. A reminder for why I should write or rather why I should NOT write.

I can not not write. But I must remember why I write. This blog, or anything else. Especially now, at this point in my life-journey.

Why I should write, why I shouldn't write

Someone once asked Sri Aurobindo:

I cannot deny that along with my urge for acquiring a fine style etc., there is hiding some desire for fame as a good writer which, however, one can reject, at least one can hope to.

He replied:

Better not force the inspiration. You have some literary gift and can let it grow—but no desire for fame, if you please. (4 October 1933)

In another reply, I find this advice:

There should be no “desire” to be a “great” writer. If there is a genuine inspiration or coming of a power to write, then it can be done but to use it as a means of service to the Divine is the proper spirit. (14 May 1934)

And this:

Every artist almost (there can be rare exceptions) has got something of the public man in him in his vital-physical parts, which makes him crave for the stimulus of an audience, social applause, satisfied vanity, appreciation, fame. That must go absolutely if you want to be a yogi; your art must be a service not of your own ego, nor of anyone or anything else, but solely of the Divine.
(14 September 1929)

And this too:

It is your aim to write from the Divine and for the Divine—you should then try to make all equally a pure transcription from the inner source and where the inspiration fails return upon your work so as to make the whole worthy of its origin and its object. All work done for the Divine, from poetry and art and music to carpentry or baking or sweeping a room, should be made perfect even in its smallest external detail, as well as in the spirit in which it is done; for only then is it an altogether fit offering. (11 November 1931)

~ Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo, Volume 27, pp. 600-601

Today I feel grateful for this reminder.
Today I remind myself to remember this advice. Today, tomorrow, the day after, and after.
Today I remind myself to practice this advice. Today, tomorrow, the day after, and after.

For previous posts in this series - Reminders to self, click here.

Linking this post with Write Tribe Wednesday Prompt 2014 - #17  The prompt is to write a letter, or a poem or non-fiction giving advice to a novice writer. I am writing this letter/reminder to myself.