What the little sprig of grass says to me.

There is a sense of beauty in everything around you. Look at the flowers, the leaves, the little blades of grass… it is all fascinating. The one thing that always makes me smile at the most unexpected times is finding a little sprig of grass growing amidst concrete blocks on the road, or a cracked cement wall. I have seen it quite a few times, but each time it reminds me of the never-say-die spirit of nature and the nature’s ability to overcome all odds.

The happy green sprig of grass reminds me not to take my troubles so seriously, to take the challenges of the moment in my stride, and keep marching on. As human beings, we often tend to think of events, relationships and things as coming to an end. We forget that every year, spring is followed by summer, summer by autumn, autumn by winter and amazingly, winter by the sweetest, gentlest spring. If only during our days of autumn and winter we could remember that spring is coming, our struggles would be lesser, our pains more bearable.

The fact is, during the cold dark wintry days of our lives, we experience the pain so sharply that it appears that the dark night will envelope us and our entire world. I invite you to look around wherever you are… look for that crack in the wall, the old broken footpath, the dark shadowy staircase… in each of these you will find nature giving life a second chance.

Sometimes it is a sprig of grass that has popped out, at other times – a wild flower that is just happy to bloom or a tiny spider weaving it shiny sparkling web catching the stray streak of sunlight.

Let these sights remind us that ours is a beautiful world, that each of us here is a wayfarer, journeying along with others who have boarded the same train. Soon, people will go their own way, the dark tunnel that seems to have surrounded you will soon be behind you and the happy bright sunshine will light up your days. Don’t let things get you down too much, for remember, this too shall pass.   

~ Bharti Athray

Committed to create

There is an innate need to build… build assets, build a legacy. In a beautiful story shared on the difference between Valmiki and Hanuman’s Ramayan (link given below for full story), I realized that as creative people, we all wish to create something that will make us famous, that will win us accolades. And when these are not forthcoming, we stop in our efforts to create, and choose instead to live the mundane life. But the true creator is like Hanuman, a soul with a true passion for something he loves and believes in with all his heart, creates as a gift to his muse.

For Hanuman, creating the Ramayan was a way to simply remember Ram. It was a process of meditation, creation of something beautiful to be dedicated to his source of inspiration. Unlike Valmiki who wanted to create a piece of work by which he would be remembered, Hanuman did not seek appreciation, or fame, or money for his creations. He created simply because he was inspired to do so.

This story led me to re-look at my approach to creativity. I have often begun writing stories and stopped halfway, finding the exercise meaningless, convinced nobody would ever want to read my stories. The story of the two Ramayans made me realize the error of my ways, and I have realized, I must create simply because I can.

I love the world, the beautiful creatures and elements in it. I am awed by the beautiful sunrise that lights up the hills outside my bedroom window, I make it a point to check out the light display of the sun each morning. I love watching butterflies flit past in the October sun as I wait for the signal to change amidst the traffic. I wonder what transformation these beautiful creatures herald.

I watch a poor beggar boy at the side of the road, trying on a party cap he has found by the wayside and acting like a little stage artist. The mischief in his body, the joy he finds in the discarded party cap makes me realize it takes so little to be happy. All of these are instances of inspiration, one for which I have decided to write… just as an ode to the wonder and beauty that surrounds my life. It does not take much to create a work of art, and we can create endlessly and dedicate it to the Universe. The rest will take care of itself!

PS: If you want to read the story of Valmiki and Hanuman’s Ramayan that has inspired me to continue on my creative journey, please check the link below:

https://dropsoftime.com/2017/11/09/whose-ramayana-is-better-hanuman-or-valmiki/

I also want to thank a dear friend who shared this story with me, Sunita Ramkumar of the Chembur Kindle Life group (Chinmaya Mission). Thank you, Sunita for the

For working moms with 7-12 year olds

I am probably the wrong person to be saying this, but this one is a message for young working mothers who have children in the age group of 7-12 years.

This is the time when you find your child becoming a little independent and being able to finally manage without you. For most us, it is like being able to breathe in peace after 8-9 years of having a little creature constantly hanging around us.

Please don’t get me wrong, I have two boys, one 17 and the other 10 years old and I love them to bits. I look forward to sharing their world with them, their stories of their school hours, about the unfair treatment meted out to them when they don’t get selected for the school team, the insights they get while playing their favourite online games… I love all of it.

Too much to do as a working mother
Yet, being a working mother, I have responsibilities at work, meetings to attend and deadlines to keep. At times, the endless trips to the school for PTA meets, open days, prayer performances can crowd my schedule to no end. When my first son was growing up, I often put his school performances and activities as a second priority, telling myself I would make it the next time.

“Will definitely make it next time!”

During his later school years, I realized the performances and calls to the school become few and far between. There are activities that you want to be a part of, but the school does not feel the need to have parents involved. Also, as children cross the 11-12 years mark, they prefer to hang out with their friends more than with you.

High school is a different ball game
They don’t want you interacting endlessly with their teachers, or friends. In high school, I barely knew my son’s friends, and had a nodding acquaintance with their parents. It is a different phase then. Your focus as a parent gradually begins to shift more towards your child’s academic performance and while in the early years of high school – sports and theatre are fun, you find yourself consciously shifting tracks towards academics.

Things will change soon!
The simple joyous relationship you have with your children while they are under 12, when you are still taking care of their studies, monitoring their books, having a close communication with their teachers – all undergoes a change in the higher classes.

Keeping these changes in mind, I strongly recommend that you attend as many of your child’s programs and events in the primary school as you can. It is the time you will see your child shine on stage, perform with no inhibitions, enjoy every moment of the activity without worrying about the fact that someone else got a better part to play than him. The years of primary school are precious, and if you have a single child, please do make time for your little one. If you have a second child, you will learn from your experience the first time around, and try and make up while the second one is growing up. I know I am doing that and loving it.

Why involvement is important
Your child will soon be a teenager, set out to define his / her individuality; and will begin the journey to being an adult. Sweet innocent moments of early school years are what will remain in your heart for life. So collect as many memories as you can, cherish them and celebrate them.

On occasions when you can’t make it, wear a smile, hug your little one and wish him / her luck for the Big Day. Remember for you, it may be one more leave from work, for the child, it could be his biggest performance till date!

Cheers.  

~ Bharti Athray

Why are the popular Hindu temples a scene of chaos?

I was part of an interesting discussion recently during my spiritual class: why is it that the Hindu temples are usually marked by crowds rushing, pushing and crushing each other, especially when the same crowd cam behave in a thoroughly civilised manner at a gurudwara, at a metro station and overseas. This discussion went on for quite a while, with most of us in the group accusing the Hindu devotees of being undisciplined.

Later in the evening, as the conversation continued to run through my mind, I remembered an interesting fact about historical and specifically religious architecture that I had read during the course of my newsletter writing work.

A look at ancient religions and architecture
In a paper published on religion and comparative architecture, I remember reading the distinction the researchers had made between the architecture of ancient cultures like Aztec and Mayan civilisations of Mexico, and the later Christian and Islamic architecture.

The paper stated that Aztec temples were built as tall towering mounds of stone, that were imposing from the ground level, and these temples had a special place at the top that was reserved for the priest and / or the royalty. Many of these ancient civilisations tend to trace the genealogy of the ruling family / priest directly from their gods and powerful spirits. These were civilisations that ruled with an iron hand, where the masses were usually poor farmers and were dependent on the king to protect their land and cattle. Here the places of worship made a clear distinction between the ‘chosen ones of god’ and the ordinary man. No ordinary man dared to cross these lines and climb up to the pedestal reserved for the king and the queen, the blessed ones.

Temple architecture creates space for the elite
The architecture of these civilisations clearly depicts the select elite and the masses. This distinction can also be seen in the structure of Hindu temples, where the sanctum  is separated from ordinary devotees. At the heart of the temple, where the holy consecrated idol of the presiding deity is placed, only the appointed priests, the local nobility or trustees are allowed.

For the rest of us, the darshan has to be taken from a distance, with the area for the gods clearly cordoned off. In many ancient temples, the idols are placed in tiny, dimly lit spaces and the idol can only been seen in sections during the aarti (showing of the lamp to the god).

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Basic Floor Plan of Hindu Temple Architecture

Church and mosque architecture: more democratic
In contrast to these places of worship, the Churches and mosques are more democratic in architecture. They typically comprise of tall entrances that open onto  vast halls where large number of worshippers can pray at one go. In case of the Church, a large cross is usually placed at a height and can be viewed by church goers easily from all corners of the church. There is no need for them to rush to the front and queue up to see their Lord.

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Typical Floor Plan of Church

Blue Mosque Floor Plan Luxury Floor Plan Blue Mosque

Typical Floor plan of a Mosque

Here’s is what the Encyclopaedia Britannica says about the architecture of different places of worship.Temples, churches, mosques, and synagogues serve as places of worship and as shelters for the images, relics, and holy areas of the cult. In the older religions, the temple was not always designed for communal use. In ancient Egypt and India it was considered the residence of the deity, and entrance into the sanctum was prohibited or reserved for priests; in ancient Greece it contained an accessible cult image, but services were held outside the main facade; and in the ancient Near East and in the Mayan and Aztec architecture of ancient Mexico, where the temple was erected at the summit of pyramidal mounds, only privileged members of the community were allowed to approach.Few existing religions are so exclusive. Beliefs as dissimilar as Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam are based on communal participation in rites held inside each religion’s place of worship. The buildings have even evolved into similar plans, because of a common requirement that the maximum number of worshippers be able to face the focal point of the service (the mosque’s “point” is the wall facing the direction of Mecca, the city of Muhammad’s birth and therefore the most sacred of all Islamic religious sites).

Data Source: https://www.britannica.com/topic/architecture/Religious-architecture

The traditions continue into today
The architectural differences are telling remarks in stone how these different lines of worship have been conceptualised and not surprisingly, continue to be followed to this day. Today, the modern Hindu temple goer approaches these ancient temples and their ways of worship with his ideas of modern equality and a more liberal approach to gods and religion. Not surprisingly, here the process of waiting in the queues for the darshan, and the near chaos that follows in many popular temples, are unappealing to him. The fact is, these temples and their priests follow the traditional Hindu concept of religion and temples – where the god was for the elite and the chosen ones.

The rush, the pushing and pulling, the brief glimpses of the idol, the sense that we have had a beautiful darshan despite the crowds – all of these notions and ideas arise from the very initial idea of what the Hindu religion became during the brahmanical era – the religion of the learned few.

An insight, not a defense
This article does not aim or seek to argue whether this stance of the Hindu temples is correct, or otherwise. The purpose is to take a more analytical look at the customs and traditions that have been handed down through the generations, and better understand why certain things are done in a certain way.

Our traditions, mythologies and methods of worship emerge from our stories of origin and how we relate to our Gods. There can be no right or wrong way in doing that. It is merely a matter of understanding the relationship and being at peace with it. Comparing it to some other religion or some other way of worship is like your child coming home one day and saying, ‘Mom, you are too strict with me. I like the way K’s mom behaves with him. I wish you could be the same.’

It’s the child’s opinion based on what he has observed, he definitely has not stayed in that home or seen how that parent behaves under pressure. Each parent is usually right in their perspective of how they are bringing up their children: they seek to provide security, love, food, care and a better tomorrow for their family. Some parents are strict, others are liberal. And both of them can bring up equally beautiful and well-adjusted children.

In my opinion, religion, with its leaders and prophets are pretty much the same. They all want the best for their followers, they just have different rules and methods of discipline.

So the next time you are amidst chaos at a popular temple for a darshan, please don’t blame the other worshippers for being undisciplined. It is how we have been taught to relate to our gods – that we are being blessed to receive the darshan, that it is a gift to be cherished, and it’s not freely available. No wonder, there is a rush to receive the darshan.

~ Bharti Athray

A morning with Sherry

The fresh morning sunlight glided into the office and there was a pleasant buzz around the space. The clock showed 9.30 am and slowly the staff started walking in. It is going to be a busy day, but a satisfying one, thought Sherry to herself. She loved this office, she has always been one of those people who was proud of the work she did. She was happy when there was loads of stuff to be done, articles to be written, poems to be composed.

She breathed in deeply of the fresh air as she looked out at the sea that waved to her from beyond her window. The sea took her back to memories of her earlier life as an advertising writer. It brought a wry smile to her face and she wondered why it has taken her so long to shift to creative writing. She could have done it at any stage in her life, and yet she had wasted so many years writing ads, and brochures – often rehashing some old content of clients. At the time, she believed that was what being a writer was all about.

But then slowly as a sense of disappointment, a sense of lack lustre routine began to gnaw away at her, something within her pushed her to create something new and she did. She began writing short stories as she had during her college days, she committed to creating a book of poems, a book of well researched articles on teenage suicides and why the teens are such a highly criticized species of the human race.

It was in these projects, these assignments that she discovered her voice, found the person she had lost touch with decades ago. She didn’t quite recollect when that last time was, but the more she wrote and easier it became to have conversations with this inner being. Silence was the secret. That was a huge challenge to Sherry; in her earlier advertising life, she was used to chaos and phone calls all day. She longed for a few moments of peace when her mind was not jumping around looking for things to do or say.

search-for-truth

But over time, as she opted increasingly to write for herself, to create in the true sense of the word, she began to find peace. She could work for hours at end without feeling the need to exchange words with her colleagues. There was a stillness around her, within her. She felt she had even begun to move slower afraid of disturbing the inner stillness that had been gotten with so much difficulty.

Slowly, her thoughts came back to her room, to the sea. Having had her fill of the lovely visions of nature, she got her cup of filter coffee, sat at her machine and began her day’s work.

~ Bharti Athray

Write your own script

Shakespeare said it, the Gita says it: All the world’s a stage and we are but actors here.
I think an important aspect of this saying that often gets left out is the fact that as actors, we get to write out our own role. You can choose the characteristics, the script, your response as you enact the role. What you do not have control over is the plot, so don’t worry about the plot. Just focus on how the character you are playing will respond to the various incidences and events in the plot, for what happens next in the plot will really be defined by your response.
Amazing thought, isn’t it? Talk about interactive movies and films, it does not get better than this!

The problem with this play of life is we get too hung up on the plot, we try to pre-empt the events in the plot and when things do not unravel as per our thinking, we get upset. We forget we are not in control of the plot, we are in control only of our character and how that character will interact and respond to the situation and to the other actors in the scene. We cannot influence the other actors in a very serious way either. They all come with their own ideas of how they want to play out their characters, and how they want to write their script.

When you come on the stage, you are a little lost and you look for someone to guide you on what needs to be done in the play. So you get to choose your mentors, these people become your parents, your siblings, your teachers and your friends. Slowly, you get a grip and perspective on how that play works, how it moves forward, and gradually you move away from their influence and their way of looking at the world. You form your own opinions and define your own script. And then you are on a roll, looking at experiences your way, responding as you see fit and so on.

We are but actors here.

The problems in the play begin when we forget that we are actors, we get attached to the props on the stage, especially when the plot defines that the props must belong to someone else in a given scene. Then we want the prop, and if the plot does not allow this, we get upset again.

When you are performing you need to keep reminding yourself that the things that you see on stage are merely props. Maybe in the next scene, you will get that pretty prop, or may be you never will. If you are able to successfully distance yourself from the elements on stage, get into character without getting entangled, play out the emotions well, you would have lived a rich life that also feels satisfying. But for those of us who mistake our roles for the reality, we are in for a bad time. It is like going to watch a tragedy and crying all through the film and continuing to cry even after you have returned home. Somewhere you have forgotten that this tragedy was merely a film and nothing more.

Every time you feel like you are in the midst of a situation that you can’t handle, remember it is just a scene and it will change soon. As for defining your character, pick characters from Shakespeare, Gita or history, find someone you resonate with and play out your role as your role model would. It just makes life so much simpler.

~ Bharti Athray

How to get your child off digital entertainment.

There is so much discussion these days on children being over-exposed to television and digital entertainment. There are constant discussions on how we need to stop our children from excessive consumption of these devices. I have found that if you clearly define the timings when your child can use the digital devices, and control your own consumption of these devices, it is not that difficult to reduce their usage of digital devices.
Give your children and their friends games that will keep them engaged, give them a challenge, and it seems they don’t really miss the idiot box. That was a pleasant surprise for me on one of the recent rainy evenings. Three young boys, full of energy sitting together building towers out of Jenga blocks, and not once did they mention the TV.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This incident made me wonder whether the fault lies in us, not giving them enough opportunity to play together, fight with each other… make amends, upset each other. May be when you put children together they no longer need other devices to entertain them!
May be instead of enrolling them for endless classes and tuitions, we should just let them hang out together, play with real friends, and build bonds that will last them a lifetime.
That short stint on a weekend evening revived in me the hope that all was not lost, and that our children are not really that different from us. They too, like we did at their age love being together, playing the fool, ganging up and enjoying each other’s company. To more such unplugged evenings and indoor playtimes!

~Bharti Athray