Archive for October, 2011

A train journey

Rolling landscape passed by the breezy windows. It was only when the train halted that we realised the importance of breeze. A 13-year-old girl sitting beside was soon feeling sleepy. Unknowingly she rested her head against my shoulder and slept. We realised the importance of the cushion of security for our young ones.

 The democracy of choice reverberated throughout the compartment, with several passengers playing any music on their mobile phones, sans headphones, for all to hear. We realised the importance of tolerating diversity, for no one uttered a word of complaint. The jesters came and went. From the boy who performed magic tricks, to the blind singer, to the transvesites who made it a point to touch passengers, and out of this created discomfort, earned their living.

A journey in a second class compartment is certainly more entertaining than Colours TV! But in the end, we realise how far the two Indias still are. Is anybody really listening?

How pure is love?

Just as evil is a prerequisite to sensing goodness in all its fullness, so too love cannot be experienced without some amount of pain. After all, it is only when you love someone that you feel the gnawing pain of separation. Children catching a flight to return to their boarding school, a lover who has to go abroad to study for a year, or even the death of a loved one. Those who do not experience love also do not understand pain.

How can love be defined? There is the tender love of mother and father for a new- born child, the love of a friend, or brotherly and sisterly love.

As for couples, Meryl Streep in “Falling in Love” defined this as “the first person you think of in the morning and the last person you think of at night.”

A journalist friend of mine recently came up with a succinct definition: “It is mutual respect and passion.” How true. One without the other is incomplete.

But how many of us can love unselfishly? Does the parent not expect respect from the child, or does the lover not expect to be doted upon by her partner?

Even when we love God, do we not expect some deal in return? Perhaps yes. But there was one sufi seer, Rabia al Basri who lived in Basra in Iraq in the second half of the 8th century AD, whose love was pure and selfless. Here is one of her prayers:

 “O Allah! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,

and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.

But if I worship You for Your Own sake,

grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.”

 

The Karma conundrum

Karma is the only doctrine that explains suffering. Why is it that good people suffer? According to karma every deed has a direct repercussion, which may be immediate, or may be transmitted to a future rebirth. It is as if God has a master excel sheet upon which our deeds – good and bad – are being tabulated!

If one buys this theory, the karma doctrine certainly encourages an activist faith. Several western scholars have claimed that Hinduism is a religion in which the followers believe that everything is predetermined or fatalistic. But if you look at it more closely, if every action has a reaction, then this doctrine puts a lot of impetus on each one of us to act with free will and create our own destiny. Thus, our future is in our own hands. Or is it?

How much of our own destiny can we actually create? The doctrine of karma seemingly does not seem to take into consideration the power of the networks around us. The conundrum is: to what extent does the karma of those around you affect your own karma and thus your destiny? After all, in the words of John Donne “No man is an island.”

 

Is life about living or about learning too?

We consider ourselves to be a highly evolved species, perhaps because we seem to have cracked the code to survival. But is life only about surviving, or rather, existing?
Some questions I would perpetually bombard my mother with, to which she was not able to respond suitably (probably because these were weird questions coming from a 14-year-old), was, “Why is it that we all have to do the same thing? Everybody goes to university, gets married, has children, then grandchildren, and then dies. Why does everyone have to fit into this pattern?).
I seem to have found some sort of answer from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which explains that some people at the bottom of the metaphorical pyramid are fine with meeting basic level needs, and that other people who are higher up in the pyramid have higher needs for self actualization.
But surely this is not the complete story. I met up with a friend after a span of seven years and found that he had made no progress in his life whatsoever, in terms of professional growth or personal growth. Just stuck in a time warp. My question is, no matter where we may be placed in Maslow’s pyramid, should there not be some effort to lift ourselves up?
Is life only about living or about learning and bettering ourselves too?

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