Saturday, 28 March 2015

Learning through Films

Anyone who knows me knows that I am always interested in a good film, a good show. Of course,
'good' is a subjective term. But so are a whole lot of other things related to our lives, our interests and our learnings in life.

Over the last six months or so, we have spent many evenings at home watching a few good movies and some fascinating serialised shows. Some of these were mostly after-dinner entertainment (political thrillers or legal dramas), but some of these also served an interesting informative and educational purpose. In this latter category I include the following:

The Tudors:    British-Irish-Canadian historical fiction television series set primarily in sixteenth-century England. The series focuses specifically upon the reign of King Henry VIII, played by the intense young actor, Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

In my opinion, some of the key learnings to take from this show are -- the highly difficult relationship between Church/religion and the State as an important part of England's history; the hold that the Vatican had on the whole of Europe; the war-ridden history of Europe; the violent revolution that was Reformation and Protestantism and how it was crushed by the Vatican and rest of the Catholic Christian kingdoms; and a historical context for why the West, as in this case England and most of the Europe, because of its religio-political nexus had no other choice but to come up with what is now known as secularism - the separation of Church and State.  

The Borgias:     historical-fiction drama television series created by Neil Jordan. The series is set around the turn of the 16th century and follows the rise of the Borgia family, an Italian dynasty of Spanish origin, to the pinnacle of the Roman Catholic Church and their struggles to maintain their grip on power. It stars Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander VI.

I'll admit what drew me initially to this series was Jeremy Irons, an actor par excellence. But as I started watching it, it soon became obvious that through this show we also get a good glimpse of some of the serious problems that are bound to come up in an organised religion where the teachings of the religion are controlled by an all-powerful institution. We see some of the same historical context of the bloody revolution leading to Reformation, and also the greed for institutional, political and financial power corrupting an organised religion in almost unimaginable ways, all owing to the various imperfections, impurities and failings of human nature. We also get to understand how the ideas of secularism, rational enlightenment and individualism had to become critical necessities for the West in its journey toward a modern age.

Isn't it interesting that one can get a really good sense of some parts of the European history through fictional dramas? Of course, you have to be mindful that some of the details and specifics in such shows are either exaggerated or fictionalised, but that is immaterial if one is interested in the lessons regarding the larger themes of the times in which these stories were being played out.

DaVinci's Demons: historical fantasy drama series that presents a fictional account of Leonardo da Vinci's early life. The series stars Tom Riley in the title role. The show follows Leonardo as he is implicated in the political schemes of the Medici and Pazzi families and their contrasting relationships with the Catholic Church. These events occur alongside Leonardo's quest to obtain the Book of Leaves as he finds himself entangled with a mystic cult known as the Sons of Mithras.

A few key lessons to take away from this show are -- how the quest for truth is always burdened with many battles with falsehoods of various kinds; how an outer search for truth is actually almost always a search for an inner truth; how an outer journey is an expression of the deeper inner journey a seeker must always take, going through the deepest recesses of one's mind and its various parts.


Some of the movies which I have enjoyed lately and also found thought-prvoking and hence educative in some way are: (You may click on the titles to know more about the film's plot.)

Ustad Hotel (Malyalam)
How Old Are You? (Malyalam)
Detachment (English)
The Imitation Game (English)
Whiplash (English) - One line from this film really sums up its essence - There are no two words in the English language more harmful than "good job". (I laughed out loud when I heard this because it describes so well the cult of mediocrity that has taken over the mainstream popular culture, everywhere).
Still Alice (English)
The Theory of Everything (English)

There must have been a few more films, but I can't remember them right now. Or perhaps they didn't leave that much of an impact on me to remember.

Yes, there was no Hindi film that caught my fancy in the last several months, though last year there were a few interesting ones (though I wouldn't necessarily call them all 'good' films, based on my subjective view of course). I wrote about two such controversial films here and here (though in the second post, I didn't name the film, but Indian readers will surely understand which recent Hindi film compelled me to write that post).


Speaking of films and learning....I thought I will take this opportunity to highlight one little but important section of this blog.

If you have been exploring and reading this blog for a while or even off and on, you might have seen a section on the blog, titled  "Thought-provoking films". You haven't? Well, then scroll down to the bottom of the page and you will see links to some of the educational films that go with the spirit of this blog. Some of the videos included are actually talks given by well-known academics, thinkers or intellectuals. Most are documentaries, a few are animated films. None of them are commercial feature films.

Of course, there are many, many more wonderful films out there to explore and learn from, and I keep adding to my list as I go along. When I started the blog, almost two years ago, I had only listed two films. Since then I have added one every few months.

But in order to keep the list manageable and not overwhelm the interested reader or a casual visitor or explorer of the blog, I try and keep the list short by reshuffling or deleting links as needed. Not everything that appeals to me or catches my attention gets added to the list. Of course, the list, at any point of time still reflects the topics and themes I am interested in learning and exploring.

As of yesterday the list of beautiful dozen looked like this:

Barefoot College and Dalai Lama
Bishnois - A Religion for Environment
Faith Revisited
Hindu Nectar: Spiritual Wanderings in India
How societies can grow old better
Infinite Vision
Ken Robinson - Do schools kill creativity?
Living Stories of India
Myths about Sanskrit
Sacred Economics with Charles Eisenstein
Sanskrit - A Tryst with Modernity
The Empathic Civilization
The Truth about What Motivates People

(Click on the titles to go to the films).


Today, to mark the special occasion of Ram Navami, the day celebrated in whole of India as the birthday of Lord Rama, I have added two more films to this list. To bring the number to 14. (Anyone familiar with the story of Ramayana would understand the significance of the number 14.)

A film (less than half an hour) which has been one of my favourite educational films about Indian culture, appropriately titled The Genius of India is added.

Another one, which I have yet to watch, called The Quantum Indians, is also added today. It is the first time I am recommending a film without watching it but somehow the title is inviting enough and I feel certain that it will be an informative 52 minutes spent on watching this one.

Well, so now you all know which film I will be watching tonight!


Linking with ABCWednesday, L: L is for Learning
Image source

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Do We Know We Aren't Really Thinking?

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.

This post is partly inspired by an interesting Facebook status update by Suresh Chandrasekaran who blogs here.

It is also partly inspired by a sense of unease I am beginning to experience when I read some of the stuff that appears in the mainstream media discourse. Some of which is then spilled out onto the social media. And the cycle of non-thinking continues. I first wrote about some of that unease here. But I wanted to go a bit deeper into some of the real reasons for why we aren't thinking. This post helps me do that.


I remember when I was in school and my mother when helping me with my studies, especially during the exam preparation days, would often say: 

- बुद्धि का इस्तेमाल करना सीखो, बिना सोचे समझे जवाब मत दो, पहले कई बार ठंडे दिमाग़ से सोचो, बुद्धि से काम लो , और फ़िर जवाब दो।

- Learn how to use your intellect, don't answer without thinking properly, first think deeply with a cool mind, think many times, use your sense of discerning intellect and then answer.


Sound advice, very sound I would say. Mothers know best! Don't they?

But we don't always follow our mother's wise advice, do we?

How often we tend to forget this sound advice in our rush to answer something that is asked of us? In our rush to express our view, our opinion. I am guilty of doing that more times than I would like to admit. I am guilty of rushing to form an opinion without thinking through the various sides of the issue, without digging into the details, without remembering that an opinion is just that -- an opinion, not the truth, perhaps not even a truth. This happens both in our personal interactions in our narrow domains as well as in the wider context when we are engaging with larger issues related to our communities, societies, nations and the world.

Perhaps this tendency to form an opinion without thinking is exaggerated today thanks to the 24x7 information-overload we all experience through mass media and social media. But perhaps there is a bigger reason for why we don't really think properly, why we believe we are thinking when we really are only experiencing thought-sensations.

It seems to me that most of us aren't even aware that we are not really thinking when we believe we are. It is perhaps because we don't know how our mind works. We don't know what it takes to truly think without allowing any interference from other parts of ourselves. For the most part we don't even know what those other parts are, parts which have a tendency to interfere and influence our thinking process.
The mass of humanity has not risen beyond the bodily needs, the vital desires, the emotions and the current of thought sensations created by these lower strata. This current of thought sensations is called in Hindu philosophy the manas or mind, it is the highest to which all but a few of the animals can rise, and it is the highest function that the mass of mankind has thoroughly perfected.
Beyond the manas is the buddhi, or thought proper, which, when perfected, is independent of the desires, the claims of the body and the interference of the emotions. But only a minority of men have developed this organ, much less perfected it.
Only great thinkers in their hours of thought are able to use this organ independently of the lower strata, and even they are besieged by the latter in their ordinary life and their best thought suffers continually from these lower intrusions. Only developed Yogins have a viśuddha-buddhi, a thought-organ cleared of the interference of the lower strata by cittaśuddhi or purification of the citta, the mind-stuff, from the prāa full of animal, vital and emotional disturbances. With most men the buddhi is full of manas and the manas of the lower strata.
The majority of mankind do not think, they have only thought-sensations; a large minority think confusedly, mixing up desires, predilections, passions, prejudgments, old associations and prejudices with pure and disinterested thought. Only a few, the rare aristocrats of the earth, can really and truly think. That is now the true aristocracy, not the aristocracy of the body and birth, not the aristocracy of vital superiority, wealth, pride and luxury, not the aristocracy of higher emotions, courage, energy, successful political instinct and the habit of mastery and rule,— though these latter cannot be neglected,— but the aristocracy of knowledge, undisturbed insight and intellectual ability. It emerges, though it has not yet emerged, and in any future arrangement of human society this natural inequality will play an important part. 
~ Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 1, pp. 435-436
(Emphasis added)

Image source: Wikipedia Commons

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


Linking this with ABC Wednesday, K: K is for Know

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Sounds of Silence

A new post in the series - Light and Sound
When a picture searches for its music, or a piece of music finds its right picture...the result is a magical experience of Light and Sound. 

I think at various points in our lives we have all heard the sounds of silence. But have you heard silence speak like this? 

Jon Hassell,  Album: Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street
Tracks: Blue Period and Light on the Water

Jon Hassell, the American trumpet player and composer, gives a whole new sound to the silences in this piece of music. Don't you think so?

I was first introduced to his music through a World Music collaboration he had done about 15 years ago with the noted Indian bansuri player Pandit Ronu Majumdar and American guitarist Ry cooder. That album, titled Hollow Bamboo is a must-listen for all world music lovers. Two tracks from Hollow Bamboo were also featured on this blog, here and here.

But let's come back to the music for today. Listen to the sounds of silence in this piece of music. 

Listen to it again. And again. Can you feel the silence entering into you, deep? Doesn't it smoothly take you into that silent space where you are alone with yourself? Does it sound mysterious, hypnotic, a bit haunting even, but in a positive sense of the word?  
"...what I mean is that there is an inner condition in which the external form is not the most important thing; it is the origin of the music, the inspiration from beyond, which is important; it is not purely the sounds, it is what the sounds express." (The Mother)
What do the sounds of this music express for you? 

For me, the sounds also express what I see being expressed in this picture below: 

Photograh by Marataeman, Source

I can't tell you how many times I have looked at this picture in the last year or so, ever since I stumbled upon it on the net. There is something so inviting in this, something so quietly and silently inviting. Perhaps an invitation into the world of silence, into the sounds and sights of silence. 

Kind of like the music by Jon Hassell.

This one image made me curious enough to look up some more work by this brilliant photographer, and I find almost all of it so amazingly beautiful in its quiet grandeur and embracing vastness. Take a look, here and here.

I am always awed by the beauty of the experience, of the moment when sounds and sights come together in such perfect harmony. Such perfect silence.

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


Linking with Blog-a-rhythm, Wordy Wednesday, prompt: Shadows of Silence.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Current Events 8: Perception and Propaganda in the Discourse about India

A new post in the series - Current Events

First, a disclaimer:

By sharing what I am about to share in this post, I do NOT mean to suggest in any chauvinistic, jingoistic manner that Indian society is some 'perfect', glorious society with no issues or problems. I also do NOT mean to suggest that we shouldn't face our problems squarely and openly. I also do NOT mean to suggest that we should shove our problems or all that is negative and wrong in our society under some sort of rug and pretend that we are 'holier than thou'.

These are some of the criticisms we Indians often hear, especially from our fellow Indians, whenever one of us tries to speak of something that is NOT critical of India. It is as if it has become some type of a litmus test to be judged as a 'good' and 'progressive' Indian only if we criticise India and speak of or write about all that is wrong in Indian society. Going by this post, I will probably fail that test badly! But seriously, I don't care about such tests. I think nobody should.

What I care about is that I write what I feel I must write. I write for my fellow Indians who are more open-minded and willing to engage with diverse points of view. I write for my readers -- from whatever part of the world -- who are willing to engage with a point of view on its own merit rather than a pre-conceived notion of what is right or wrong, what is good or bad.

Second, a clarification:

By sharing what I am about to share, I do NOT mean to generalise about all people living in the West. I also do NOT intend to offend, in any way, any of my readers from different parts of the West. I studied, worked and lived for many years in the US, and fondly look back on my life there and deeply cherish the lifelong friendships I made with people from different parts of that amazing country and also various other parts of the world.

But my personal experience of living for a decade and a half in the US is NOT the only reason for this clarification. I also say this because I do NOT believe that the content of this post is about the attitudes of people in the West in particular or in general. Rather it is about a certain tendency of the collective mindset that is influenced and often unknowingly shaped by forces larger than an individual or even groups of individuals.

Third, an explanation:

Most of the points I am about to share are not really new. Many serious thinkers, Indian and others, have written about these things, in much extensive detail, with much deeper analyses and numerous examples.

I believe, however, that some of these points are worth reiterating, and perhaps require regular reiteration -- in as many different ways and voices as possible -- because the underlying issue is indeed very significant. And also, because there is always a different set of audiences that are reached with each new reiteration. In this post, I present the issue in a somewhat simpler and personal way, with a hope that my readers will engage with the points shared here in a constructive manner.

(These three points have added to the length of this post, but I believe it was essential for me to write these points before beginning my main argument.)


A little more than two years ago, a friend and former colleague of mine from the US was planning to visit southern India, particularly Pondicherry and Auroville, and possibly a few other places in Tamil Nadu. One of our common students, another woman of approximate our age, was also planning to travel at the same time for her own research work. This would have been their first visit to India.

The three of us had some email exchanges about possible guest houses and hotels, places to visit nearby, and other necessary details to consider when preparing for travelling to India. In one email the issue of safety came up. And naturally they were concerned about all the news in the media about the horrendous 'rape problem' of India. This was just after the Nirbhaya tragedy.

These are highly intelligent, well-educated women with very open minds, who can not be easily taken in by all that appears in the media. Yet, this concern came up.

It must be emphasised that when my friend wrote to me about this she was indeed very sensitive and careful about expressing her concern. She clearly stated that she fully understood that one such news story doesn't say anything about a vast country like India or even a particular region or city of India. Yet, this concern came up.

I wrote back to her saying that I completely understood her concern and respected her for bringing it up with extreme sensitivity. And shared with her a few articles that had appeared at a few places which challenged all the negative portrayal of India's 'traditional rape culture.' A few of these were written by Western women who had travelled and stayed extensively in different parts of India, and these writers had made some excellent points about how generally positive their experience had been with Indian people, including Indian men. These pieces also emphasised the dangers of stereotyping a whole people based on a few negative stories -- no matter how terrible they are -- that end up getting world-wide coverage for days and weeks.

I also shared with her some of my personal opinion about a few sensible things we all need to consider -- women, men, children, everyone -- when traveling to new places, especially in a foreign country. I told her that just like she would avoid going alone late at night to some 'dangerous' places in many cities in the US, the same consideration would be necessary when traveling in India. I also shared with her a few pointers about cross-cultural sensitivity so as to avoid getting any unnecessary gazes triggered mostly by curiosity and not necessary bad intent.

The whole email exchange was very pleasant and in the spirit of sharing and learning, no bad feelings or ill-will on either side. But this was a conversation between friends who had known each other for many years.

It just so happened that my friend had to cancel her travel plan due to some health concerns. But her student did visit India. She stayed in a guest house in Auroville for two weeks, engaged in her research work and explored a bit of this part of the country. She also visited me one evening and we had a nice long conversation over tea, about many things. She shared with me how positive her whole experience had been, and how much she had learned by just talking to the people. She said she could have used better wi-fi facility at her guest house, and we laughed over that, because that is a concern I completely share with her. Indians living in metro areas have no clue what we in rural India struggle with! But I digress.

Fast forward to 2015.

Recently a German professor declined admission to an Indian male student. Reason? We should all be able to guess by now. Yes, it is a fallout of the infamous BBC documentary, India's Daughter.

She stated the presence of an Indian male student in her programme could be a potential security threat for her female students. The professor later apologised about her stated reason when the German envoy in India intervened, chiding her that it is simply wrong and extremely unfair to stereotype and falsely generalise about all Indian men.

Some doubt the authenticity of this story. Be that as it may. The fact that the story circulated in the media says something. Something very serious.

What can NOT be doubted is the authenticity of the fact that there is a very real war of civilisational narratives out there in this media-crazy world where truth takes a backseat to propaganda and perception. Nations, cultures and peoples are 'constructed' through their images and portrayals. In the minds of the people, in the minds of the governments, in the minds of the international community.

If we think that highly intellectualised minds are not victims of such propaganda-frenzy, we should think again.

A highly respected, internationally famous intellectual recently tweeted something about India's traditional culture of rape and misogyny. After getting some virtual beating from other twiterrati, especially some of his Indian followers, he was forced to explain, several times, about what he really intended by his original statement.

But the damage was done. The drama continues.

There is no point denying that in today's age perception and branding matter. They matter a lot. We live in strange times when people are quick to harshly judge their politicians simply because of what they wear or don't wear. We easily ignore the message of their speech, but we remember and write columns after columns about their fashion sense. Never mind the real intent behind a certain policy initiative, as long as we can criticize it using a certain fashionable 'slogan', we have won the battle of perceptions. Such things are common occurrences in today's socio-political climate, even within a country's own media discourse.

Imagine the impact perception and propaganda can have when a certain issue becomes the hot favourite of global media, for weeks, months and years. A quick look at the headlines across all the western media outlets over the past few days will reveal how the rape problem in India has been reported and analysed.

(Before anyone accuses me of being chauvinistic, of avoiding the real problem of sexual violence, let me point out to the disclaimer at the top of the post).

In today's globalised and highly inter-connected socio-economic climate, a developing nation like India which is trying to position herself in the world to attract larger foreign investments, more tourism, greater leverage in the geo-political dynamics is now forced to fight another battle of perceptions. An unfortunate fallout of the recent controversy around the BBC documentary. Some of the reasons for this may be government's own doing, because of their hasty and ill-informed decisions. But the larger blame for this renewed battle of propaganda must squarely rest elsewhere.

If some of my fellow Indians still believe that we should not be concerned about our 'image' but only the 'real problem,' I would say that the solution to the problem, any problem, can never be found in media discourse. Instead, the propagandic nature of today's media discourse actually discourages serious problem-solving by simply provoking more momentary sensationalism rather than facilitating a sincere and sustainable awakening and introspection. (I am almost certain that some of my readers will disagree with this last point, let us agree to disagree).

If we still deny that there is no war of propaganda out there, or that there is no such thing as power of branding, I would only say that we are probably living with our eyes and ears closed. Or we are wishing to go back to some long-gone golden age when everybody loved everybody and the world was a much nicer place.

Sadly, that time never existed. Certainly not since some ambitious and adventurous kings, sailors, and religious missionaries in some countries of the West discovered that there is a whole big world to explore, exploit, conquer and rule.

"Barbaric Others" -- that's the title of a book that comes to my mind. I read it many years ago, but I still remember the impact it had on me. On my understanding of the colonial history of last several centuries, starting with 1492, the year with which the analysis presented in this book begins. This book explains how 'Otherness' is constructed, how xenophobic equation of Other with Barbarian has endured in Western civilization’s relationship with the rest of the world, from colonial times till the present. I highly recommend this book to my interested readers because it can give a very real sense of the larger issue under discussion. Published in 1993, the book is highly relevant even today. And will probably remain so for many many decades to come.

(The full reference of the book is:  Barbaric Others: A Manifesto on Western Racism. Ziauddin Sardar, Ashis Nandy and Merryl Wyn Davies. London; Boulder, CO: Pluto Press, 1993. Read a review of the book here. There are many more thoughtful analyses, many such books that I have read and can recommend. But this one will suffice for now.)

The 'others' are being constructed in newer ways, and perhaps today the problem has become much more serious because of the global reach of mass media which are often being used as convenient tools for propoganda and branding. Serious thinkers and analysts are writing about the problem of such 'constructed otherness' and also about the cost-benefit analyses of such propaganda, branding and the battle of perceptions. (Yes you read it right, cost-benefit analyses, because there are actual, tangible costs and benefits that result from the propaganda wars).

Before I close this piece, let me share something that I just read last night. In a recently published piece regarding the whole controversy around the BBC documentary, Prof. Jakob De Rover, from Ghent University, Belgium writes:
The fallacy of hasty generalisation is commonly used in propaganda and the politics of fear. Now, it is part and parcel of the discourse about rape in India. No wonder then that many Indians have the sense of an international conspiracy against their country. However misguided the calls for banning films and books may be, they are expressions of feeling powerless in the face of a centuries-old discourse about Indian culture that continues to dominate international public opinion. In insidious ways, this discourse misrepresents India as the very embodiment of immorality: a culture that programs its people to follow immoral rules as though these are moral.
India and the West could together look for solutions to the problems that we share. Instead, Western commentators reproduce old colonial stories about India as an immoral culture. This gives them a twisted relationship to the Indian people. On the one hand, they keep turning towards the same class of Indian journalists, activists, and intellectuals for ‘local knowledge’. But these native informants merely talk the talk of the West to the West. On the other hand, more and more Indians are disgusted by the West’s condescending attitude towards their country. And this is then dismissed as hurt pride. If we want to bring our two peoples and cultures closer together in this new age, reason and empathy are our only hope. The madness of the current discourse about India must end. (Emphasis added)
I highly recommend to my readers to spend a few more minutes reading the full article by Jakob de Rover. Readers may also like to read another important analysis by Prof. Vamsee Juluri, a professor of Media Studies at the University of San Francisco.

Addendum, dated March 16: In a commentary published in Telegraph Christopher Booker writes:
Those who saw the preview of India’s Daughter in Delhi have testified that the original version did make comparisons with the rest of the world. One, Anna Vetticad, praised it as a “balanced documentary”, because it ended with “worldwide statistics highlighting violence against women from Australia to the US”. But when the final version emerged, all this had been cut out. India was shown standing alone, as a country where rape is an exceptional problem.
Makes one think, doesn't it? Read the full commentary here.

To read two more pieces I recently published about this controversy, click here and here.

To read my previous post in the series Current Events, click here.
To read all posts in the series Current Events, click here.

Linking this with ABC Wednesday, I: I is for India

Sunday, 8 March 2015

India's Daughters: They Make it Happen

Top post on, the community of Indian Bloggers
Sometimes you don't need too many of your words. You just need to be an instrument to spread the words of others. No, not just the words, but the works, the really good, noble and inspiring works of others. Today's post is like that. 

Today's post is about India's daughters who make me proud to be one of their sisters. I share about only a few such daughters, but there are countless others. All across the length and breadth of this vast country.

Come, listen to their stories.

Photo by Suhas Mehra

Daughter # 1: Neelam, Haryana

Thirty-one-year old Neelam is the sarpanch of Chappar village in Haryana. She ran in the village elections for the post of sarpanch because she wanted to see a positive change in her village. The state of Haryana has been notorious for having a highly skewed sex ratio owing primarily to neglect of girl-child and sex-selective abortion.

Under the leadership of Neelam, this has begun to change. Chappar villagers now distribute sweets and welcome every newborn girl child. She has been encouraging girls to continue their education. More women are now actively participating in the village matters.

Watch a video interview with Neelam to learn more about her work here.

Daugther # 2: Sindhutai Sapkal (Mai), Maharashtra

Sindhutai Sapkal is an Indian social worker known particularly for her work for raising orphan children.

Born in 1948 in a very poor family, she attended school only until 4th grade. As was the custom in those times in her village community, she was married off at the age of 10. Her abusive husband abandoned her when she was 20 years old and pregnant. Her personal struggles became her inspiration for her life-long work which has given her the title of Mai (mother), Mother of Orphans.

As of 2012, Sindhutai Sapkal has nurtured about 1,442 orphaned children. Many of her adopted children are well-educated lawyers and doctors.  Some, including her biological daughter, are running their own independent orphanages. One remarkable fact about Mai's life is that she donated her biological child to a trust running an orphanage in Pune, only to eliminate the feeling of partiality between her daughter and her adopted children.

Mai has been honoured with hundreds of awards. All the award money goes to create and maintain homes for her ever-growing family of sons, daughters and grandchildren.

Read more about Mai's work here.

Daughter # 3: Kudumbashree, Women's self-help group, Kerala

In September 2014, the state of Jammu & Kashmir faced its worst flood in 100 years. The disaster took the lives of more than 200 people, and left thousands of people homeless.

Indians from across the country came forward to extend their support. Food packets, clothes and medicines and other supplies were sent across. But there was one essential woman-specific requirement that was ignored by all – sanitary napkins.

Enter the women of Kerala’s biggest women’s self-help organization, Kudumbashree. In association with Get Closer, a CSR management company, the women manufactured thousands of sanitary napkins in just 2 days, and were able to transport them urgently to their “sisters” in Kashmir.

Read more about this story here.

Daughter # 4 and many more: 

I can't end this post without highlighting once again the stories of five more brave daughters of India. I spoke about them in my recent article in Swarajya.

Theirs are the stories in which we will find lessons for not only finding one's strength to fight back, stand up for one's honour, self-respect and rebuild one's life. Theirs are the stories in which we may also find some powerful lessons for how to fight against social evils such as violence toward women. These are the daughters of India who have shown the path of courage and self-respect to countless other women.

How I wish we will make films after films about their courage, about the way they inspire so many women.


Such positive stories are all around us. Of women who make it happen.

On the occasion of International Women's Day, I salute these daughters of India. And all those unnamed billions of women all across the length and breadth of India and in the world, who have in their own little or big ways made a difference to the lives of people around them. law can liberate women unless they liberate themselves; likewise, men too, in spite of all their habits of domination, will cease to be slaves only when they have freed themselves from all inner enslavement.  (The Mother)

Women AND Men: To read this blog's IWD special post from last year, click here

Linking this with Blog-a-rhythm's IWD Linkup.

Linking this with ABC Wednesday, H: H is for Happen


Friday, 6 March 2015

Two Lazy Mornings and A Way to Be More Conscious

A new post in the series - "All Music is Only the Sound of His Laughter"

Photo by Narayan Dravid

On a lazy morning last week I felt this deep urge to listen to some music of the legendary Ustad Amir Khan. After quickly going through a small list, I zeroed in on two pieces -- one Rāg Malkauns and one Rāg Bairagi

I don't know why, at least I am not yet fully aware of the real reason why I felt this deep need to hear this music. But I kept listening to these two pieces one after the other, for almost the whole day from late morning till about 5pm in the evening. For some part of that day I got occupied with a few minor tasks -- eating lunch, answering a few phone calls and a couple of doorbells (and the music was playing in the background). But other than that I did nothing except immerse myself in the music.

However, there was only one specific instance during the day when I felt very, very quiet after listening to the music. Perhaps it was because only during that particular instance I was consciously allowing the music to become a part of me, part of my inner space. Perhaps it was because only during that particular instance I truly became conscious of the act of listening, listening that silences you. 

Why am I reflecting on this experience today? 

Because in going through some of my computer files today I came across a piece of writing from several years ago. A piece of writing in which I had tried to explore the essential difference between "self-reflection" and "becoming conscious." And somehow re-reading that piece today reminded me of the experience from last week. The experience of consciously listening to the divine music of Ustad Amir Khan. And the experience of reflecting on that experience today.

The two things came together, as if to help me re-learn a lesson that everything can be learned again. 

So what was that piece of writing from a lazy morning several years ago? I paste it below.


I find myself pondering upon the essential difference between two word-phrases we often hear these days, what with the ever-growing popularity of a-religious spirituality – the ideas of “self-reflection” and the idea of “becoming conscious.” 

Checking in the dictionary, I find the following meanings for “self-reflection” – self-examination; careful reflection on your own thoughts, beliefs, behavior, and circumstances (Encarta). 

“Reflection” – careful thought, especially the process of reconsidering previous actions, events, or decisions. 

And “to be conscious” means – awake and responsive to stimuli; aware of something and attaching importance to it; considered and deliberate, or done with critical awareness; concerned with or relating to a part of the mind that is capable of thinking, choosing, or perceiving; the part of the human mind that is aware of the feelings, thoughts, and surroundings. 

It seems that when we reflect on our thoughts, beliefs, behavior, etc. we do so most of the time using the same very parts of our mind that generate these thoughts, feelings, perceptions. But to be conscious might involve self-reflection PLUS moving to a way of knowing ourselves – our thoughts, feelings, responses, movements and their causes etc. – that doesn’t necessarily rely on mind or at least not only on the ordinary mental data-driven ways of knowing. 

Self-reflection may not necessarily help us move out of the realm of our thoughts, beliefs, mental opinions etc. because by such an exercise we may be exclusively focusing our attention only to such mental movements within us, and that too after the thought or feeling has arisen within us or after the circumstance or event has taken place. 

But the idea of becoming conscious may involve becoming aware of and “awake” (this is a key difference perhaps) to the various movements within us and being in the know of where in us these movements may be generated, how they may be generated, and perhaps then what may be done to take control of and master these movements. The emphasis here is to be awake to the movement and its origins while it is happening. 

Perhaps by practicing self-reflection one does begin to get some practice in becoming conscious, but that may not always be the case. 


Today after reading this old piece of writing I went back to the music of Ustad Amir Khan. And after silently listening to Rāg Bairagi, I was inspired to write this.

What generally helps many of us become more conscious is when we are able to quiet down some of the incessant and extraneous noises that fill up our inner spaces. Because only in that quietude we may gradually become more aware of and awakened to the various pulls and pushes of the different parts of our being (our mental-emotinal-physical parts). 

Music has the ability to help us quieten down, but only if we know how to listen to music. 
 "...the best way of listening is this. It is to be like a still mirror and very concentrated, very silent. In fact, we see people who truly love music... I have seen musicians listening to music, musicians, composers or players who truly love music, I have seen them listening to music... they sit completely still, you know, they are like that, they do not move at all. Everything, everything is like that. And if one can stop thinking, then it is very good, then one profits fully... it is one of the methods of inner opening and one of the most powerful." (The Mother)
And now for the interested reader, here is one of the pieces of music that I refer to in this post. Listen to it, quietly. Very, very quietly. 

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

Linking this with Blog-a-rhythm Word Wednesday #7, word prompt: Essential