Conversations on Living, In medias res

A prayer for quietness


The hospital lobby was chaotic as usual. Anxious patients, family members, nurses, doctors at the Sundaram Medical Foundation hospital crisscrossed without banging into each other. I always wonder how as Indians, we comfortably melt into crowds in public spaces naturally without any training.

In the middle of the choreographed chaos, a piano was placed on an elevated platform with some chairs around. Anil Srinivasan, pianist was about to give a performance, a poster announced. “How will you play in the middle of the hustle and bustle?” I had asked him earlier.

The seats filled up slowly. A father who had a small boy in bandages sat next to me. He held his son tight but affectionately against his chest. The boy looked tired of crying, but comfortable and secure in his dad’s warmth.

An older lady in patient clothes inched slowly towards the chairs. Within few minutes she began crying, looking down, silently. There was no one next to her.

“Kaatrinile varum geetam..” Anil had started playing. The soft music floated without getting polluted in the din.

Nurses and hospital staff stood in groups behind the chairs. Some took deep breaths in silence, the next few minutes were precious for them, a much needed breather before the madness begin again.

“Senthamizh then mozhiyal..” Anil punched in a yester year magic of a song, which brought in some energy and the flowing audience joined along. Two elderly gentlemen in crisp white veshti and shirt in the front row listened in rapt attention, while their feet tapped along.

As soon as Anil played “Unnai ondru ketpen….” a golden song by Susheela and composed by MSV, the elderly lady began to cry again, perhaps the song reminded her of something from the past. A nurse came her side and held her hand tightly. The nurse asked if she wanted to go back, she nodded against but continued to cry in silence.

Someone tapped my shoulder from behind. It was a friend whom I had not met in ages. “All well?” I ask and quickly bit my lips. An inappropriate question in a hospital I thought. He looked anxious. “My father-in-law has been rushed to the ICU. Heart attack. I just came, don’t know what to do,” he stared.

“Kurai onrum illai…” a song immortalised by M S Subbalakshmi brought the much needed peace to the place and people yearning for some quietness.

Anil, thank you.

Conversations on Living


Scene 1:

An old person approaches my car near a traffic signal.

“I think he is acting, he looks dodgy, his limbs are moving unnaturally synchronous for a disabled person. And he is too dirty, maybe he rolled in grease paint and muck. What a miserable way to make a livelihood?”

He comes close to my window, I look straight, unmoved. After few minutes he leaves.

Scene 2:

An old person comes close to my car.

“He possibly is hungry, his children could have thrown him out. It is criminal of this society to make old people suffer like this.” I give him a tenner, both of us exchange smiles and I feel good.

He goes to the car behind. The driver doesn’t give him money.

“How can he be so heartless? I hate these kinds.”

Conversations on Living


You get into your car. The windows are closed. Ignition has not been fired yet. Everything around you is silent, quiet, no one is asking, looking, judging, questioning, there is no noise, it is sterile. There is no rush. No one is giving you advise, no one is asking for suggestions. You are disconnected from every living organism. You stay in the bubble for two minutes. Everything is still. There is absolute peace. Have you experienced this? Isn’t it the most precious two minutes?

Conversations on Living


Some mornings an elderly van driver guides me while I reverse my car out of the parking lot. After helping me, he would eagerly wait for my eyes while I settle down. I would then smile at him, hand-signal my thanks and ‘vola,’ he would return an open toothy smile like a million watts bulb. ‪#‎Happiness‬ #‎Gratitude

Conversations on Living

Mediocre life

“What if I embrace my limitations and stop railing against them. Make peace with who I am and what I need and honor your right to do the same. Accept that all I really want is a small, slow, simple life. A mediocre life. A beautiful, quiet, gentle life. I think it is enough.”

Conversations on Living

Moral bucket

About once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all. When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day.

How do they do it? What’s their secret?

Conversations on Living

What if I die tomorrow?

“What if I knew that I would die tomorrow?”

I asked myself when I watched the movie “The Walk” earlier last year.

“Would I be sad? Would I be disappointed? Or feel satisfied and happy?” I pondered.

The year 2015 was a year filled with deep introspection and reflection for me. Many of my life’s decisions in the past have had inspiration from movies. But this time this thought was also fuelled by two other incidents.

First, I reached forty in August.

Second, the acquittal of Salman Khan and Jayalalita.

I was happy about what I had accomplished with NalandaWay and hopeful about her future. I was happy in my relationships. But can I do better in life with what was left?

I was in a slum in Chennai when I learnt of Jayalalita’s acquittal. The slum had all the signatures of everything that is wrong with our politicians and governance. But its inmates were celebrating her acquittal by bursting crackers and distributing sweets. They did not care that she was corrupt and justice had been murdered. That she and every other criminal who run this country will never be punished for their misdeeds. The poor will always be living in a miserable urban hell and no one will do anything that would make their lives better.

Who am I judge the poor? I have never lived their lives. I don’t have to negotiate the corrupt police and politicians to survive everyday.

And people like Salman Khan will always escape the noose of justice. They will always go scot-free. They will never be punished.

I was disappointed. With my country. With my people. With myself, that my work with children will not even make a scratch in their lives who are sorrounded by these scavengers and looters. I was wasting my time. Perhaps I should get back to working for a corporation and atleast make money for myself. If things got worse, I will atleast have enough money to run away. Or should I kill them all? Become an extremist? I was angry.

I started reading Gandhi again. I met my mentors and asked for advice. I struggled to find sense.

“You are worrying from a place of arrogance,” a stranger told me. “What makes you think that you alone can end suffering? Do your thing. Do more of the same. We all have the key to a small part of a much larger puzzle. Let’s all come together to make a mosaic,” he said.

He made sense.

“What if I knew I will die but had to make everyday count?” The question looked different after this interaction.

I decided to write down a set of principles that I will follow for the rest of my life.

So this is my list;

– I will deal with every person with, patience, compassion and empathy.

– I will be speak and act against injustice without fear of retribution

– I will not manipulate, cheat, or be unethical in my dealings with anyone.

– I will consciously reduce consumption and reuse or recycle wherever possible.

– I will respect my body, and take good care of it.

– I will consciously look for beauty and goodness in every person, place, or thing even in the middle of overwhelming ugliness and vulgarity.

I told myself if I just continued to be usefull to children and lived with gratefulness, I will survive the madness.

Life is beautiful again. Death will not scare me. I will not let politicians and villains rob my optimism. And everyday is a gift and I will make it count.

Conversations on Living

Start living

I hear so much cynicism these days. There is fear of losing work, status, money, health and relationships. We are in hard unpredictable times. But a wise old lady at the corner of my street has a secret that might carry us through. “You have answers to all that’s troubling you. You have lived this life a million times and the cure to your problem will appear when you really need it. Stop fearing, stop thinking, stop comparing, start living,” she says. “Your muscle knows more than your brain.” Before I could grasp the prophecy, she takes a tenner from my hand and winks at me before she leaves.

Conversations on Living

People and Choices


“Is there any logic to the kind of people we attract?” I asked my friend Raghav.

“These people could just remain acquaintances; some become friends and a few closer as lovers,” I continued.

Raghav runs a technology startup but also moonlights as a teacher of Vedanta and other spiritual texts. Please read my earlier post about him here.

“Yes, you chose them,” he replied and smiled.

“Well I know that but some people just appear out of nowhere, you click like magic, some stay for life but some leave earlier much against your wishes,” I asked unsatisfied with his simple answer.

“Alright, let me explain it this way,” he began.

“All of us seek experiences in life, for the sake of understanding let us label them as happiness, pleasure, contentment, adventure, etc. That’s given, we all have motivations, and we cannot reject them or escape them. When we seek an experience, we are always presented with choices. For example, if you would like to be entertained, you may have to choose between playing a video game and watching a movie. You make a decision. Some choices might give you instant gratification while some might be slow but the happiness maybe sustained for longer periods.”

“Every decision pushes you to seek either the same or new experiences. And every motivation presents either the same choices or more refined ones. So if you like playing martial arts video games you might like to try more gory ones. If you liked reading a Sidney Sheldon you might like to try Jane Austen next time.”

“I want to clarify that lets us not confuse here with morals, dharma and other judgements. You make choices based on what appeals to you at that moment. No choice is inherently good or bad, better or worse,” he said emphatically.

“Every time you select the choice that does not give you instant gratification, you will slowly realise that the subsequent choices that present before you are getting subtler and more refined.”

“You are making the decisions but the types of choices appear very mysteriously.”

“While all this is happening you will become sensitive and aware of a certain kind of people around you. The more you go subtle with your choices you attract people with similar sensitivity.

“Am I making sense?” he asked.

I nodded my head slowly still assimilating all that he had just said.

“Like your choices, the people whom you meet will be various kinds. As you go subtler with the life’s experiences you will make deeper connections with people like you. These people always existed, but you have discovered them only now,” he concluded.

I was reminded of this quote by Rumi

“What you seek is seeking you.”