Of Forest-bathing

“The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness…
Keep close to Nature’s heart and break clear away, once in a while….climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
~ John Muir

Our mountain retreat

Most of us know intuitively about the rejuvenating and restorative benefits of being up close with nature in the wild. The Japanese have a name for it~’Shinrin-yoku’, that simply translates to ‘forest-bathing’. It’s an idea that the Japanese government first propagated in the 1980s and a concept the people readily took to. This nature therapy has subsequently been backed with research and scientific studies and now forms an important part of their preventive health care. From Japan the practice has found its way to many other countries where organised groups promote this eco-therapy as a de-stress technique that improves your overall feeling of wellbeing.

Our escape to the Himalayan mountains from Delhi’s searing heat took us to a property where there was literally nothing else to do but spend time walking around among the surrounding cedar and pine wood forests. And so we discovered the “tonic of wilderness!” Our walk on the very first day took us on a track—an abandoned road to another village—that meandered through a thick forest of stately deodars, pines, sal trees with their fresh green leaves and rhododendrons in full bloom peeping in here and there. The hotel staff had assured us there were no wild animals in the area; and except for a dog and a calf on one occasion, we actually came across none! A car rambled past on that track one day and on a Sunday a big group of environment-enthusiasts from the city descended on the trail for a nature walk. For the rest of the time there was only silence broken by bird calls, some high-pitched trilling and chirping of insects, the wind rustling through the pines and the rhythmic stomp of our footsteps. And so every day of our stay, morning and evening we walked through this beautiful canopy of a living forest…soaking in the atmosphere and letting our senses enjoy this wondrous ‘forest-bathing’.

Pristine forest trails…


Hoping now to tackle the city-madness with renewed vigour…

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Tales From An Ancient City ~ III

(This concluding piece on the Allahabad-story is an exploration of what makes Sangam special~)

Rituals of riverside bathing find mention in almost all our ancient texts and scriptures. From our parents, specially my father and mother-in-law who had spent much of their childhood in rural Himachal Pradesh, i have heard narrations of many an auspicious occasion when people from surrounding towns and villages would convene around the shores of the River Beas for a mass-bathing in the river waters. However, a dip in the holy Sangam at Prayag has been accorded a special status.…a dip here is said to wash away all sins, wipe out even the bad karma of previous births and free one from the karmic cycle of birth and death. Every year these river banks are host to the Magh-Mela, a fair considered one of the greatest annual religious rituals for devout Hindus. The festival derives its name from the lunar month of Magh during which it is held and which roughly corresponds to the period of mid-Jan to mid-Feb. Hindu mythology considers the origin of the Magh-Mela to date back to the beginning of the universe. Braving the winter chill, lakhs of pilgrims arrive here to participate in one of the six communal ‘holy-dips’. Every 12 years, the Magh-Mela becomes the Kumbh-Mela and Allahabad transforms into the most crowded place on earth!

It is the Kumbh-Mela—said to be “the world’s largest congregation of religious pilgrims”— that has made the city and its confluence world famous. They say the numbers have to be seen to be believed. It is perhaps difficult to precisely ascertain the number of people who participate in these rituals but according to some guess-estimates nearly 120 million pilgrims visited Sangam during the 55 days period of the last Maha-Kumbh in 2013. Over 30 million alone are said to have congregated on these river banks to ritually bathe in the sacred waters on “mauni-amavasya”~one of the six auspicious days. That’s like the entire population of a city like Shanghai (or on a more dramatic note one and a half times the population of Australia!!) assembling on a river-shore in one single day! An acquaintance who had “bravely” participated in the holy dip told us that no vehicles can be seen in the vicinity of the river for miles. He and his friends were up at the crack of dawn at 3 am and had to walk for nearly 15 kms jostling along with the crowd of lakhs of pilgrims as they made their way (or were rather ‘propelled’ by the moving mass of humanity!) towards the sangam for their holy dip. A knowing nod from one who had seen a documentary of that day elicited a smiling response ~ “The assault on your senses as you live that experience is impossible to put in words or be captured as a visual!” was all that he said. The logistics of administrative arrangements required for such an exercise are mind-boggling. Successive governments from the days of British rule have consistently worked towards improving infrastructure and making elaborate arrangements for the Kumbh to improve sanitation and prevent stampedes. Civil administration, the army and the police force besides thousands of others, all participate in the Herculean task of making the entire affair incident free.

The event has its own share of detractions. During the British era, the Kumbh was a time for cholera outbreaks and other pandemics. Post Independence there have been cases of stampedes and people dying in the pandemonium. One such incident of the 50s has been recreated vividly by Vikram Seth in his novel A Suitable Boy. In fact there was even a time when the Kumbh-mela was an important part of Bollywood movie plots with siblings getting separated in the milling crowds being a hackneyed theme! One would think that such stories about the ordeals to be endured would act as a disincentive for people. On the contrary the multitude of pilgrims just keeps swelling from one Kumbh to the next! By any stretch of logic it is difficult to explain why innumerable devotees forego normal comforts of life and take a dip at this holy confluence (that appears more polluted than holy during those days!) to purify their soul. Let alone the devout and the curious, the event now even attracts foreigners fascinated by Hindu culture and its mythologies. Where else would they find such a colourful spectacle of faith—a faith neither dampened nor discouraged by the trying demands of the ritual. The spectacle-aspect of the last Kumbh has some great documentaries, in particular BBC’s “The Greatest Show on Earth” and “World’s Biggest Festival” by National Geographic…both easily available for viewing on YouTube. What i was looking for was an understanding of the belief that draws people to the confluence. What exactly is hard-wired on a subliminal level that makes a billion Hindus of the world (they constitute 1/6ths of the world population!) consider Prayag to be so significant. It is, you soon realise an elusive quest!

To begin with there is just a tradition passed down the centuries, there are no historical records to go by. The exact age of the festival is unknown. Perhaps the earliest surviving historical record is a ritual described by the Chinese traveller Xuanzang (Hieun Tsang), that dates to 644 CE where he mentions how hundreds of people took a bath at the holy-confluence (identified with Prayag) to wash away their sins. Scholars of course are divided over whether this was a Hindu or a Buddhist celebration. What everyone tells you is that the genesis of the festival derives from the myth of the Samudra-Manthan — the churning of the Ocean of Milk to obtain the nectar of immortality. A very popular myth in our scriptures, it has a host of parallel stories that circum-narrate this basic myth, replacing characters and shuffling episodes but the essence of the story remains more or less the same. The two most commonly narrated variants are first, the one where the Devas (god-like beings) enfeebled by the constant and unremitting onslaughts of the Asuras (demon-like beings) approach Brahma the Creator for help. He in turn asks them to seek Vishnu’s counsel. On Vishnu’s advice the gods make a pact with the demons to undertake the task of churning the Kshirsagar—Ocean of Milk— together and dividing the nectar of immortality equally between them. The churning was an elaborate process. A hill, Mandara was used as the churning stick, while the king of Serpents, Vasuki was used as the rope. Vishnu himself took the form of Kurma, the tortoise on whose back the stick rested. After ages of churning, fumes and gases and a deadly poison emerged. As no god or demon was ready to come forth and risk their lives by drinking this, Lord Shiva was prevailed upon to drink the poison and spare the world of its ill effects. Thereafter 14 precious gifts emerged, among them a flying horse, a legendary cow, a priceless jewel, the magic moon, a sky chariot, Rambha (the beautiful apsaras), Lakshmi (Vishnu’s divine consort), and Vishwakarma (the divine architect). At last Dhanvantri, the divine healer surfaced with a “kumbha” or a pot containing “amrita”~the nectar of immortality. Once they had the nectar, the gods (as they had secretly decided!) declined to share it with the demons. Quarrels broke out. Vishnu took the form of a beautiful woman Mohini to seduce the demons and divert their attention from the nectar thereby allowing Jayant, the son of Indra, to escape with the kumbha. During his journey that spanned twelve human years, (one day of the gods is said to equal one human year) Jayant rested at 12 places, of which 4 were on this earth (Prithvilok) and 8 in the heavens (Devalok). The earthly stops were at Prayag, Haridwar (where the Ganga enters the plains from the Himalayas), Nashik (on the banks of the Godavari river) and Ujjain (the banks of the Kshipra river). Some drops of the nectar fell on each of these spots sanctifying them. That is why the Kumbh is held by rotation once every 12 years at each of these tiraths.

The second story narrates how sage Durvasa (also known as the angry one!) once offered a garland to Indra, the king of the devas. Indra committed the unforgivable offence of crowning his elephant Airavat’s head with it. Airawat tossed his head, threw the garland to the ground and trampled upon it. The enraged Durvasa cursed the world with drought and colossal natural disasters. Hence the Samudra-Manthan became necessary. In this version the Asuras cheated and ran away with the pot of nectar They hid it in their serpent domain beneath the world and it fell upon Garuda to retrieve the pot and carry it back to the gods. He too spilt nectar at the same four places which became sites for Kumbh Melas.
Many research scholars maintain that though the samudra-manthan legend is included in several ancient texts, the part about the spilling of the amrita does not find any mention there in. They believe the legend has been simply applied to the Kumbh Mela in order to show some scriptural authority for it. Some say the myth was adopted as late as the 18th/19th Century by local Brahmins of Allahabad; others advocate that the festival as a ‘Kumbh-Mela’ was started by Adi Shankara in the 8th Century during the Hindu Renaissance. None of the claims are really conclusive so the debate continues, even though it is restricted to an esoteric few.

For the vast majority of ardent devotees what is important is the planetary conjunction that decides the timing of the Kumbh Mela once in every 12 calendar years. The transition of Jupiter, along with the positions of the Sun and Moon are the most important factors according to the Hindu Almanac in deciding the timing of the festival at the four tiraths. As explicated in ancient texts:
Magh Mesh Gatey Jive
Makare Chandra Bhaskaro
(when Jupiter is in Aries in the month of Magh, while the Sun and Moon are in Capricorn…the Kumbh occurs at Prayag)
Those who believe, wait for this auspicious mythological moment when a passage to the celestial space opens up at the confluence and the river waters turn into “amrita”. A dip in these energised waters, even in the freezing cold, would purify their body and cleanse their inner being of all bad karma not just of this birth but even those of the past seven ‘janams’. And in the Hindu faith only when your karmic slate is wiped clean can your soul attain the ultimate goal of ‘moksha’~ liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth to achieve the state of being one with the One Supreme Being or Brahman.

And so the faithful await the next Kumbh of 2025…

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Tales From An Ancient City ~ II

“India as a country,” wrote Shashi Tharoor many years ago “manages to live in several centuries at the same time”. Sangam~the river-confluence~ that lies on the outskirts of Allahabad is a living example. Mythological time, historical chronology and this hi-tech 21st century~all seem to overlap here. All year round you find pilgrims rowing out in boats to where the rivers meet for the ritual of a sacred dip whose origin goes back millennia, even as they capture the process on their smart phones and promptly upload it on social-media sites!!

And so we too got into our motor-boat (courtesy the Indian Army) from Saraswati Ghat and sped down the swiftly flowing greenish Yamuna to where it meets the more sedately flowing silty-white Ganga and the invisible, ethereal Saraswati (Is it just a mythical river or one that has dried up or an underground stream…that debate continues!). Once our boat crossed the Allahabad Fort wall, we could see preparations on full swing for the upcoming “Magh-Mela”(more on that below) on the far bank. Our local friend pointed out the mini tent-cities taking shape on the river banks. From those banks boats loaded with pilgrims were rowing in towards or away from the “sangam-point”. The most enchanting sight was undoubtedly the specks of white that suddenly dazzled on the sparkling waters of the rivers. A closer sight revealed them to be birds…dozens of them bobbing on the waves.

Winged visitors at Sangam

We were told they were flocks of migratory birds that come at the onset of winters, flying across thousands of kilometres all the way from Siberia! The confluence specially attracts what is commonly known as the Black Headed Gull. These winged visitors from a far away land happily mix with the tourists and pilgrims almost as if they too are here for their annual holy dip! You find a flock of them rushing and hovering around a particular boat as the humans scatter some food for them. Cashing in on the tourist craze to feed the birds are small boatmen who appear alongside your boat selling small packets of eatables to feed the birds with. We bought some and soon had our very own flock following our boat and captivating us with their flapping wings as they dived into the water for the tit-bits thrown. Once our stock of morsels got over they promptly flew away to another boat!

Swooping for the food!

Swooping for the food!

Meanwhile our boat reached the ‘sangam-point’, the confluence of the river waters clearly visible. The Yamuna which is almost 40 feet deep near the point of convergence appears greenish in colour, while the Ganga only 4 feet deep is muddy. For the faithful the invisible Saraswati too merges with them, her hidden presence felt only underwater. Those who study classical texts tell us that the corpus of ancient and medieval poetry has many a lyrical description of this confluence, the most famous being the much-quoted lines from Kalidas’ epic poem “Raghuvansham” where Ram gives Sita an aerial perspective as he points out the confluence from their Pushpak-Viman (flying chariot) on the way back from Lanka. In a prosaic translation of these metaphorical lines from the mahakavya the colours of the merging-rivers are compared to
“a necklace of pearls set with sapphires,
a chaplet of lotuses white and blue,
a row of snowy and dusky swans on the Mansarovar lake,
the moonlight dappled with the shade of leaves”.
Once you see the sight for yourself you know exactly what the poet is referring to.


The merging waters–even through the winter haze the disparate colours of the two rivers are clearly visible

To identify the ‘sangam’ wooden platforms are erected from where pilgrims take a dip in the holy waters. For those interested in performing rituals here (specially in honour of their ancestors) there are vendors selling flowers, diyas, milk for pouring as an offering and a host of other items, as well as pundits spewing mantras—all ready to help with the ceremonies for a price (a price you can negotiate to get a good bargain!)

(next week…in conclusion)

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Tales From An Ancient City ~ I

Some words, some names, even some places draw quirky flash-cards from your memory. So it is with the city of Allahabad. Every time i hear or read that name, a memory of a childhood pencil and paper game pops up. It was a simple enough activity where in a given sentence, we had to look for and circle adjacent words/parts of a word that formed the name of a city. For some strange reason, of the dozen or so sentences that were probably to be solved, the only one i clearly remember is ~
“Allah! A bad man is after me!” (the first three words there being the solution ~ Allahabad!)
An irreverent memory for a name that evokes only reverence and devotion from millions in our country! Allahabad is an ancient city that for millennia has been a spiritual metropolis of the Hindu world. It finds mention in our revered scriptures (the Vedas and the Puranas as well as the two grand epics—the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha), by its earlier name, Prayag. Puranic legend has it that Brahma (the God of creation) landed on earth here after creating this world. He chose this land where three rivers flow into a quiet confluence to perform the supreme Vedic ritual sacrifice known as “Ashwamedha Yajna”. Hence the name Prayag‘pra’ meaning superlative and ‘yag’ deriving from ‘yajnas’. Brahma is also said to have referred to it as ‘Tirathraj’ (i.e. king of all pilgrimage centres)—a name many in the city still use.

Allahabad on Google Maps As one description says ..

Allahabad on Google Maps As one description says ..”on a relief map of India it is like a mustard seed placed exactly where the hairline-blue capillaries of two rivers meet”

Geographically the city is situated on an inland peninsula surrounded by the waters of the river Ganga and Yamuna on three sides. The confluence in ancient times had a third river, the Saraswati, which has since dried up. This fact finds mention in the Rigveda and was the reason the place is also known as the holy “Triveni Sangam” (a confluence of three). The confluence remains the city’s defining feature, the waters having scripted the story of the various civilisations and settlements that have gone towards forming its present day avatar. For lovers of Indian history it is a must visit place as every area in the city is rich in historical evidences. From archaeological excavations of Pre-Harappan period to monuments that bear testimony to recorded history, the city has them all. A couple of visits may not be enough to understand its varied and vibrant history but we did try and imbibe two facets of the place—one ancient and the other more recent.

A view of Allahabad Fort from the Yamuna

A view of Allahabad Fort from the Yamuna


Our sojourn around the city began with an exploration of the historic Allahabad Fort, the starting point of what has formed modern day Allahabad. During the medieval period the city had a chequered history being controlled by different dynasties and rulers; thus neglected it had shrunk to a just few human settlements. It fell upon the Mughal Emperor Akbar to build a new city here. His biographer (Abu’l Fazal) records that it was the emperor’s fervent wish to locate this city beside the confluence, a spot sacred to the sadhus and sanyasis. (On a more pragmatic level he probably realised the strategic importance of this land feature as a landmark waterway in North India!). Built in the 1580s, it remains the largest fort built by Akbar and in its prime was unrivalled for its design, construction and craftsmanship. Akbar gave it the name ‘Illahabas’ (which translates to ‘blessed by God’), and this name probably got anglicised to the present Allahabad.

An interesting spinoff of exploring a place with a local guide is the privilege of listening to their “local-history-narratives” (’sthal-kathas’ as they are called in the state of Uttar Pradesh)—territorial fables that are replete with every kind of poetic license and convenience. One can be a skeptic and dismiss them as ‘pseudo-histories’. Yet it is these very tales born out of a fertile folk imagination that add a certain charm to these places. At the fort too our guide had some interesting stories to narrate, all woven around the persona of this great and popular muslim emperor. Indeed local Akbar-lore here seems to go beyond known history to form its own separate popular mythology! Two Akbar-stories we found to be particularly interesting. The first is the legend of a famous ascetic Mukund Brahmachari who lived on the banks of the Yamuna near the ‘Akshay-Vat’ (more on that famous tree later). The story goes that one day he inadvertently swallowed a cow’s hair while drinking milk. For the sanyasi that was tantamount to eating beef and he agonised over his defilement and his irreversible descent into the ranks of the ‘mlechchas’ (a term used in early times for one who was non-Vedic, a barbarian or a person of foreign extraction, specially Persian). To atone he leapt from the ‘akshay-vat’ into the river and in his final moments expressed the desire to be reborn as a ‘Mussalman Badshah of Hindustan’. One of his most loyal disciples also followed suit to express his solidarity with his guru. Our local ’historian-guide’ told us in all earnestness that one was reborn as Akbar and the other as Birbal; and that is why obeying the promptings of their transcendental memories, their souls guided them to the place of their previous lives and they landed up in Allahabad! The second was a local tale about how Akbar first met Birbal here. Like every Indian kid one has grown up reading countless stories of Akbar and his famed witty minister Birbal, but i confess this was a new one! We were told that when Akbar visited the city in 1580, the local ‘rajas’ brought ‘nazranas’ or gifts in his honour. One particular ruler of a small place did not have anything of value to offer the emperor. At the behest of his young and wise minister (Birbal) he arranged a silver tray with some sand from the banks of the Ganga, tulsi leaves, some flowers and presented it along with a small silver sledge-hammer to Akbar. The perplexed emperor wanted to know what these strange gifts meant. The witty Birbal told him that his ruler was obliquely suggesting that he should use his lands for building a fort, the items being the traditional sacred-items used for a foundation laying ceremony! And that’s how we were told the idea of the fort came into being as did Birbal’s joining Akbar’s court! Ingenuous narratives that show you how the great Akbar still rules popular imagination!

To return to the Fort, this imposing structure stands on the northern banks of the Yamuna at what is known as the ’sangam-nose’. With the decline of the Mughals, the fort was annexed by the East India Company and a British Garrison was stationed there from 1801 onwards. After Independence the Indian Army continues to use the premises and so only a limited portion is open to civilian visitors. Thanks to my husband’s army antecedents we were able to go around most places inside. The fort has three galleries flanked by high towers. The outer wall is still intact and rises above the water’s edge.

Among the more engaging sights inside are the Ashoka Pillar that dates back to the 3rd Century BCE. It lies in front of the entrance to the fort at the centre of a roundabout. Made of polished stone it has edicts of Ashoka inscribed on it. Later inscriptions by Samudragupta and the Mughal emperor Jahangir are also attributed to the pillar.

Images of the Ashoka Pillar at Allahabad Fort

Images of the Ashoka Pillar at Allahabad Fort

Inside the fort the splendid ‘Zenana palace’ or ‘Rang-mahal’ (as some call it) still survives.

The 'Zenana Palace'

The ‘Zenana Palace’

Then there is the ’Saraswati Koop’~ a well where you can ‘see’ the third river. As per our guide the moving water that you see indicates an underground current and it has been proved that the river now runs underground and joins the Sangam some distance away.

There is also the “Patal-puri temple”, said to be one of the oldest temples in the area that even Lord Rama had visited. With Akbar building the fort over it, the temple now lies underground and is crowded with all sorts of idols.

The most magnificent of course is the much revered Akshay-vat, or the immortal tree. Mentioned repeatedly by foreign travellers from Xuanzang (7th Century ) to Al Biruni (11th/12th century) this ancient Banyan tree just outside the Patal-puri temple has many legends and myths associated with it.


The famed ‘Akshay vat’

It is said to be the only thing that survived the last cosmic dissolution or “Pralay”. Another claim states that Lord Rama rested under this very tree and blessed it with immortality. A third legend is about how sage Markandeya once asked Lord Narayana (Vishnu) to prove his divine power. In response the Lord flooded the entire world for a moment and only this tree stood erect above the water level. During the middle ages another belief gained ground claiming that anyone who jumped from this tree into the river below attained immortality—the reason for this being quite unclear! The practice probably died out once the fort was built around it and access to the location of the tree was restricted due to strategic and policy reasons. There is also the controversy that this is not the original akshay-vat. Historical records actually show its location at the centre of the fort. The Britishers possibly closed the original temple and shifted it to the periphery of the fort for security reasons. As our guide realistically pointed out the Banyan tree (incidentally it is our National tree) is known for its aerial prop roots which become indistinguishable from the primary trunk with age. The akshay-vat of Puranic lore would have spread over a wide area through millennia so who can claim which trunk is the original? With a philosophical shrug he quoted a saying popular among the locals…
“Maano to mai Ganga-maa hoon, na maano to behtaa paani
(simply translated…”if you believe, i am the holy mother-Ganga; if you don’t, i am just flowing water!”

Faith is indeed paramount in this place, and as a testimony you have the site of humanity’s largest mass pilgrimage…the Kumbh Mela. And so we move on to the sacred confluence~

(next…more about the ‘confluence’)

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Thoughts for another trip-around-the-sun…

This year gone by ain’t been a piece of cake
Everyday’s a revolution
Pull it together and it comes undone
Just one more candle and a trip around the sun

I’m just hanging’ on while this old world keeps spinning
And it’s good to know it’s out of my control
If there’s one thing that i’ve learned from all this livin’
Is that it wouldn’t change a thing if i let go

No you never see it comin’
Always wind up wondering’ where it went
Only time will tell if it was time well spent
It’s another revelation
Celebrating what i should have done
With these souvenirs of my trip around the sun…

From the lyrics of that song sung by American country singer Jimmy Buffett and Martina McBride probably comes the much popular phrase for another year gone by ~ our “trip around the sun!” (And thanks to Facebook this time many of us even had picture-souvenirs of our 2016 trip around the sun!) Yes it’s the New Year! Our social media accounts are witness to a superabundance of messages and wishes from friends and family. Suddenly the entire advertising world too seems to up its game bombarding us with offers and commercials playing upon the human desire for ‘newness’, for ‘a fresh start’. And then there are the New Year Resolutions…so much pressure to make a unique resolution, so little will-power to follow it through beyond the first week of January!!
Different cultures around the world may mark the New Year at different times yet everywhere it is manifested through joyous celebrations. The human spirit looks forward to the New Year with renewed hope ~ new dreams, new aspirations, new expectations, new desires ~ an optimism, an anticipation, a promise of better things to come. Some hopes may be belied, some dreams may never see light of day, some aspirations may bear fruition, some desires may be fulfilled beyond expectations…it’s all forms part of the venturing forth on this new journey of the earth’s timeline.
In the last week or so, among  the innumerable readings of articles, posts, messages, blogs et al, two stood out for me ~ the first by Paulo Coelho on “closing and moving on”, the second by Sadhguru on “being joyful and knowing the fulfilment of making all you touch joyful.” For me they embody the spirit of the coming 2017 trip around the sun…

“One always has to know when a stage comes to an end. If we insist on staying longer than the necessary time, we lose the happiness and the meaning of the other stages we have to go through.
Closing cycles, shutting doors, ending chapters – whatever name we give it, what matters is to leave in the past the moments of life that have finished.
Did you lose your job? Has a loving relationship come to an end? Did you leave your parents’ house? Gone to live abroad? Has a long-lasting friendship ended all of a sudden?
You can spend a long time wondering why this has happened. You can tell yourself you won’t take another step until you find out why certain things that were so important and so solid in your life have turned into dust, just like that.
But such an attitude will be awfully stressing for everyone involved: your parents, your husband or wife, your friends, your children, your sister..
Everyone is finishing chapters, turning over new leaves, getting on with life, and they will all feel bad seeing you at a standstill.
Things pass, and the best we can do is to let them really go away.
That is why it is so important (however painful it may be!) to destroy souvenirs, move, give lots of things away to orphanages, sell or donate the books you have at home.
Everything in this visible world is a manifestation of the invisible world, of what is going on in our hearts – and getting rid of certain memories also means making some room for other memories to take their place.
Let things go. Release them. Detach yourself from them.
Nobody plays this life with marked cards, so sometimes we win and sometimes we lose.
Do not expect anything in return, do not expect your efforts to be appreciated, your genius to be discovered, your love to be understood.
Stop turning on your emotional television to watch the same program over and over again, the one that shows how much you suffered from a certain loss: that is only poisoning you, nothing else.
Nothing is more dangerous than not accepting love relationships that are broken off, work that is promised but there is no starting date, decisions that are always put off waiting for the “ideal moment.”
Before a new chapter is begun, the old one has to be finished: tell yourself that what has passed will never come back.
Remember that there was a time when you could live without that thing or that person – nothing is irreplaceable, a habit is not a need.
This may sound so obvious, it may even be difficult, but it is very important.
Closing cycles. Not because of pride, incapacity or arrogance, but simply because that no longer fits your life.
Shut the door, change the record, clean the house, shake off the dust.
Stop being who you were, and change into who you are.”
~ Paulo Coelho

“The Egyptian legend says that if one wants to enter heaven, at the point of entry you will be asked two questions. Unless you are one big ‘Yes’ to these two questions, there is no entry for you. The first question is: Have you known joy in your life? And the second question is: Have you given joy to those around you? If your answer to these two questions is ‘Yes’, i must tell you, you are already in heaven.
To become a joyful human being is the best thing that you can do for yourself and all around you. Especially when anger, hatred and intolerance are rearing their heads in hideous ways, joyful human beings are the only insurance. Only those who know the value of being pleasant will strive to create pleasantness all around.
May you know the fulfilment of making all you touch joyful.”

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“Kuch kaha maine, kya tumne sunna…?”

Week: 01 Sep to 07 Sep

A verse by Javed Akhtar

A verse by Javed Akhtar

For this week, a collection of some poems in the language originally written in…the beauty of words sans cold translation

# A poem by Piyush Mishra~

ऐ उम्र !
कुछ कहा मैंनें,
पर शायद तूने सुना नहीं…
तू छीन सकती है बचपन मेरा,
पर बचपना नहीं

हर बात का कोई जवाब नहीं होता
हर इश्क का नाम खराब नहीं होता…
यूँ तो झूम लेते हैं नशे में पीने वाले
मगर हर नशे का नाम शराब नहीं होता…
खामोश चेहरे पर हज़ारों पहरे होते हैं
हँसती आखों में भी ज़ख़्म गहरे होते हैं
जिनसे अक्सर रूठ जाते हैं हम,
असल में उनसे ही रिश्ते गहरे होते हैं…
किसी ने खुदा से दुआ माँगी,
दुआ में अपनी मौत माँगी,
खुदा ने कहा, मौत तो तुझे दे दूँ मगर,
उसे क्या कहूँ जिसने तेरी ज़िंदगी की दुआ माँगी…
हर इन्सान का दिल बुरा नहीं होता
हर एक इन्सान बुरा नहीं होता
बुझ जाते हैं दीये कभी तेल की कमी से…
हर बार कुसूर हवा का नहीं होता !!!

# Two short verses by one of my favourite poets~ Harivanshrai Bachchan

*** दोस्ती…!
ना कभी इम्तिहान लेती है,
ना कभी इम्तिहान देती है ।
दोस्ती तो वो है –
जो बारिश में भीगे चेहरे पर भी,
आँसुओं को पहचान लेती है ।

आज रब से मुलाकात की,
थोड़ी सी आपके बारे में बात की,
मैंने कहा क्या दोस्त है,
क्या किस्मत पाई है!
रब ने कहा संभाल के रखना
मेरी पसंद है, जो तेरे हिस्से में आई है

दिन बीत जाते है सुहानी यादे बनकर,
बाते रह जाती है कहानी बनकर,
पर दोस्त तो हमेशा दिल के करीब रहेंगे,
कभी मुस्कान तो कभी आँखों का पानी बनकर….

*** आंसुओं को बहुत समझाया तनहाई मे आया करो,
महिफ़ल मे आकर मेरा मजाक ना बनाया करो !
आँसूं बोले . . .
इतने लोग के बीच भी आपको तनहा पाता हू,
बस इसलिए साथ निभाने चले आता हूँ !
जिन्दगी की दौड़ में,
तजुर्बा कच्चा ही रह गया…
हम सीख न पाये ‘फरेब’
और दिल बच्चा ही रह गया !
बचपन में जहां चाहा हंस लेते थे,
जहां चाहा रो लेते थे…
पर अब मुस्कान को तमीज़ चाहिए
और आंसुओ को तन्हाई !
हम भी मुस्कराते थे कभी बेपरवाह अन्दाज़ से…
देखा है आज खुद को कुछ पुरानी तस्वीरों में !
चलो मुस्कुराने की वजह ढुंढते हैं…
तुम हमें ढुंढो…
हम तुम्हे ढुंढते हैं.

# “Poora Din” (perhaps by Gulzar….)

मुझे खर्ची में पूरा एक दिन, हर रोज़ मिलता है
मगर हर रोज़ कोई छीन लेता है,
झपट लेता है, अंटी से
कभी खीसे से गिर पड़ता है तो गिरने की
आहट भी नहीं होती,
खरे दिन को भी खोटा समझ के भूल जाता हूँ मैं
गिरेबान से पकड़ कर मांगने वाले भी मिलते हैं
“तेरी गुजरी हुई पुश्तों का कर्जा है, तुझे किश्तें चुकानी है ”
ज़बरदस्ती कोई गिरवी रख लेता है, ये कह कर
अभी 2-4 लम्हे खर्च करने के लिए रख ले,
बकाया उम्र के खाते में लिख देते हैं,
जब होगा, हिसाब होगा
बड़ी हसरत है पूरा एक दिन इक बार मैं
अपने लिए रख लूं,
तुम्हारे साथ पूरा एक दिन
बस खर्च
करने की तमन्ना है !!

# And finally a verse by a contemporary and eminently quotable Javed Akhtar…

ज़िन्दगी के इस कश्मकश में
वैसे तो मैं भी काफ़ी बिजी हुँ…
लेकिन वक़्त का बहाना बना कर
अपनों को भूल जाना मुझे आज भी नहीं आता!

जहाँ यार याद न आए वो तन्हाई किस काम की
बिगड़े रिश्ते न बने तो खुदाई किस काम की
बेशक अपनी मंज़िल तक जाना है
पर जहाँ से अपने ना दिखे…
वो ऊंचाई किस काम की!

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The Fault In Our Stars

Week: Aug 18 to Aug 31

Penny: Okay – I’m a Sagittarius, which probably tells you way more than you need to know.
Sheldon: Yes – it tells us that you participate in the mass cultural delusion that the sun’s apparent position relative to arbitrarily defined constellations at the time of your birth somehow affects your personality.

Every time i watch that episode (yes, i confess i can watch re-runs of some classic comedy TV shows umpteen number of times!), Sheldon’s witty choice of words evokes an amused smile. It also brings home my own ambivalence on the subject for i can never decide which side am i really on. Do i wholeheartedly support Sheldon’s rational man-of-science approach or like Penny do i believe planetary configurations affect my fate?
Perhaps part of the answer lies in the environment i’ve grownup in. In our country every second person, regardless of whether rich or poor, educated or illiterate, villager or city-bred, is out looking for the “astrology-fix”. When you are born, some family-elder notes down the exact time and place of your birth for your natal horoscope to be made. ‘Doshas’ (i.e.malefic influences of some stars), if present, are appeased with special ceremonies. Astrological-compatibility before marriage is still worked out. Thousands of business men (even others for that matter) schedule their day’s work after ascertaining the inauspicious “rahukaalam” for the day. From my own childhood i can recall memories of my paternal grandmother who wouldn’t let us leave the ancestral home after our holidays if the time was not auspicious. My father would angrily complain and protest about the impracticality of it all, specially considering the fact that as an army officer he wasn’t really in control of his leave schedule. But i’ve seen him humour her sentiments and try and adjust his movements to and from his village home according to an auspicious time.

From my father i’ve also learnt my most valuable lesson about these planetary influences on our lives. My mother often recounted for us how when he had first told his parents that he wished to marry her, there was an absolute uproar in their family. One, choosing your own life partner was unheard of in their community; second as per his horoscope he was a very strong ‘manglik’. Most Indians can relate to that term, for a “mangal dosha” in your horoscope is believed to be highly unfavourable for marriage, unless the other person is also one, in which case the negative effects are supposed to cancel each other out. An astrologer was consulted and he was told that if the wedding went through my mother would not survive for more than four years. My father stood his ground and insisted that if his Hindu faith had shown what the problem was, he was confident it would also give him a solution. So he figured out that observing a fast on Tuesdays and performing some special prayer-ceremony whenever the malefic influence of his ‘mangal’ was strong should provide the necessary counter-balance. My mother’s father was an atheist who didn’t believe in any of this ‘mumbo-jumbo’ as he called it, so they got married. There were years when my mother would be critically ill and i’ve known my worried father offering special prayers for her recovery. Something did work out for they remained married for fifty-one years till she passed away some years back. Their story of how individual positive energy can thwart what the stars may foretell has remained the most defining influence on my views towards fate and destiny.

The quest to discover if planetary energies dictate our cycle of life on planet earth has been with me forever, now in the background, now to the fore. Beyond childhood impressions, one also discovered Cheiro, his ‘Book of Numbers’ and his famous book on ‘Palmistry’ And then there was Linda Goodman, her ‘Sun signs’ and ‘Love signs’ providing much fodder for giggly-teenage-chatter during college days. The thing about her writings is that the rational part of you knows that a whole group of millions of people born under a particular zodiac sign cannot possibly share the same characteristics. Yet the lure of her words is such that you are mesmerised into wanting to believe that she writes for you and you alone! Another example of the wizardry of words!
So do the stars actually map out your entire life for you? As an individual do you have no say in how your life should be shaped? Where does the fault lie…in our ‘stars’ or in our ‘underling- selves’?
These and many other questions were partly answered for me during a tea-time tête-à-tête with a neighbour many years back. A post-graduate doctor and a Professor of medicine in a medical college, she surprised me one morning by expressing her belief in Vedic astrology. We were having a good neighbourly chit-chat over a cup of tea when talk veered to the ‘Bhrigu Samhita’ someone had spoken of at a party the previous evening. It was another story from my childhood…a town near my fathers ancestral village was supposed to house a famous astrologer who, it was said, had in his possession some original ‘bhoj-patras’ (pages made of tree-barks) of the astrological treatise written by the sage Bhrigu during the Vedic period. I told her how i had heard of some distant relative visiting the ashram in search of their ‘bhoj-patra’, the belief being that if your page could be found therein, it could predict your past, present and future, as well as tell you about your “karma” from previous births and how it is affecting your present life. Instead of the scepticism i had expected, she provided a deeper understanding and awareness of the subject. Her father was a renowned Vedic Scholar and she had herself seen him studying transcribed copies of some of these ‘bhoj-patras’. Apparently the original treatise contained possible permutations of horoscope-charts running into crores (can’t remember the exact figure she had quoted!). The original ‘patras’ were divided amongst his pupils and over the centuries many were lost. She confirmed the story that if you found your ‘patra’, a task only a scholar in ‘jyotish-vidya’ was capable of, then the accuracy of the predictions was guaranteed.
However, what has always stayed with me is her further insights into what astrology actually is all about and what it is perceived to be. To make accurate predictions requires years of study but instead of true scholars what you usually find are charlatans out to make a quick buck. From her father she too had imbibed a lot of this ancient wisdom. She confessed that she had even dabbled in horoscope reading in her younger days but then gave it up because, in her words, “people expected her to provide treatment!” Using terminology from her doctor profession she compared the horoscope-chart to a blood-pressure monitor…it can tell you what the pressure is, it can point out anomalies when they occur, but it cannot “treat” the issue. Your horoscope is not the illness, your ‘karma’ is. Your fate can only be modified by your good “karma”. As per astrology, there are always two forces at play: ‘Daiva’ and ‘Purushkara’, fate and individual energy. The individual energy can modify and even frustrate fate. Moreover, the stars often indicate several fate possibilities; for example the horoscope may indicate that one may die early, but either because of your own karma or through the destiny of someone close to you, that may change and one could live to a ripe old age. In that sense astrology does not say that events must and should happen, but gives the benefic and malefic tendencies that can be directed or modified through conscious effort. It cannot be called a ‘science’ in the sense in which we understand the term; rather it is the philosophy of discovering and analysing past impulses and future actions in the light of planetary configurations. The stars merely record a destiny that has already been formed. The planets do not dictate, but indicate the energies that are influencing a situation in a given time.
To quote one of my favourite lines on the subject~

Cassius (to Brutus):
Why, man, he [Caesar] doth bestride the narrow world
Like a colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates;
The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
(From Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”)

It’s an important lesson i’ve imbibed over the years…your future lies in your own hands, in the ‘karmic path’ you decide to walk upon, in the choices you make.
The fault lies not in our stars.

(NB~The above is a re-blog of some ideas spoken about in my earlier posts.)

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