Pay it forward

Purple hibiscus

Purple

It was a rainy evening, a little girl in school uniform, fully wet and drenched, walked into my office. She wanted my help to do a short film on ‘child abuse’. She was pursuing her 12th std at DAV Gopalapuram in Chennai. She would meet me and my colleagues for couple of weeks. She wore only school uniforms when she came to meet us.

Preethie went on to become the Horlicks Wiz kid that year.

She lost her mother in a freakish accident. Her father had deserted them many years earlier.

It was six years ago.

She could not join BITS Pilani after securing admission because her uncle who was now her care-taker refused for whimsical reasons. Using her mother’s savings she joined BE at Shastra University in Tanjore. She was a topper in academics and an excellent dancer but her uncle repeatedly threatened her to throw her out of his house if she continued dancing. He continued being emotionally abusive and unreasonable.

Preethie kept in touch with me through the troubled years. I was her mentor.

One day her uncle in a fit of mindless anger assaulted her. She was shattered. She had reached her breaking point and moved out of his house. She was only nineteen then.

What astonishes me till date is that Preethie has never even once cried or had a breakdown during her conversations with me. She always came across as a playful, optimistic, free-spirited and independent girl. We met regularly. She continued to drop into our office, joined us at office parties, did movie marathons, enjoyed pop corn and pizza. And discussed life sometimes.

“Can I call you dad?” she asked me a few years back.

I said yes.

After graduation she joined the marketing team of the much successful start-up, Freshdesk after turning down offers from TCS, Cognizant and Accenture.

I met her recently and gifted her the book “Purple Hibiscus” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This is a book about the promise of freedom; about the blurred lines between childhood and adulthood; between love and hatred, between the old gods and the new as viewed by a young girl.

“Do you miss your mom? Do you envy your friends whose parents are supportive of their dreams?” I asked her.

“Sometimes, but before I get psyched and pulled into a whirlpool of self-pity, I hit the gym and pump up the volume,” and she laughed out loud.

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Pay it forward

Very good lives

JK rowling

“I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless,” begins Rowling in her book ‘Very good lives.’

J.K. Rowling gave a lecture to the graduating students of Harvard in 2008 but it is a speech that everyone needs to hear. This book has this lecture along with beautiful and evocative art. She talks about trying, about failing, and trying again, and about being a human being and living a good life. It is a beautiful gift for anyone, both young and old.  So this will be my 13th book that I have gifted after I started this “gift a book” project. I gifted the book to Madhavan who is organizing the very interesting Coovam Art Festival. Read about the festival here (http://coovumartfestival.in/)

Here are my 10 favourite quotes from the book.

There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.

I am not dull enough to suppose that because you are young, gifted and well-educated, you have never known hardship or heartbreak. Talent and intelligence never yet inoculated anyone against the caprice of the Fates.

I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution.

Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.

We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.

Many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are.

Those who choose not to empathise enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: ‘What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.’ That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people’s lives simply by existing.

As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.”

 

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Art

Search

Elisa Talentino

“What should I possibly have to tell you, oh venerable one? Perhaps that you’re searching far too much? That in all that searching, you don’t find the time for finding?”

~ Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha | Art by Elisa Talentino

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In medias res

The Bliss Catchers

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Last Saturday I was invited to speak at “The Bliss Catchers” conducted by Avis Viswanathan in association with the Odyssey book shop. The event brings people from all walks of life who have managed to catch the elusive bliss. Avis and his partner Vaani Anand lead the event series. I have known both of them for several years. He is the author of the book “Fall like a rose petal.” The book is a series of letters to his children, which are a set of confessions dealing with the raw aspects of living especially the situations when one faces financial losses and bankruptcy. Both in his book and when you meet him, you will never find a person gunning for your sympathy, but someone who is happy, warm and always seeing the sunny side to every racquetball thrown at him.

“The Bliss Catchers” event is about sharing our insecurities, challenges, moments of bliss and sources of inspiration. Avis is an able moderator who keeps the conversations focused on these topics firmly on the rails and strictly adheres to wrapping the evening within 90 minutes. With the support of Ashwin T S of Odyssey the event has now become a hit. My session on Saturday was a full house inspite of the rains.

The event is organized normally between 7 and 8:30 pm on the last Saturday of every month at Odyssey Bookstore in Adyar, Chennai. Do follow him or Odyssey’s page for future events.

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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.

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Pay it forward

The Road Less Travelled

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I was going through an emotional turmoil after my personal experience during the Gujarat riots in 2002. The incident and the stories of victims and perpetrators troubled me immensely. I searched for answers about fear, violence, love, justice, dharma, acceptance, empathy, compassion. There were many books that helped me clarify my doubts and anxieties. I have gone back to these texts over the last decade again and again to get clarity. I am still troubled by many questions. “The Road Less Travelled,” by Scott Peck is one such book that I refer to regularly.

These are the opening lines of the book.

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult–once we truly understand and accept it–then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

The book has helped me accept myself with all my inadequacies. And because I have accepted my imperfections, my attitude towards pain and disappointment has changed. I have been able to love people better with less judgement. I am able to sense that I have become more patient and grateful to life.

I met Nurul in Neemrana in Rajastan. We were part of a consultation organised by UNESCO on Youth Leadership. Nurul is from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and has been a champion of issues that concerned the youth. During the workshop she mentioned to me that she was getting married in a few days. I always carry few new books in my bag and I gift it to anyone whom I feel like giving it.

Nurul, congratulations again on your wedding and I hope this book inspires you to lead a life of love and gratefulness.

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