Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Heart of a Woman - Maya Angelou

Finally a Maya Angelou (1928-2014) book, thanks to Sagar. The Heart of a Woman is the fourth in a seven book series of her life, immensely popular autobiographies and one can get a sense of why they are. There is tremendous energy and honesty as she tells her life story between the years 1957 and 1962. A time when she is living as a single mother with her son Guy who she is trying to bring up to question and never accept anything as a given. And for the record, Maya is black, and champions black causes, was a civil rights activist, and writes so powerfully about the black people tat when I saw a bit of a movie last evening and saw the white actors, I wondered how much of history has been subverted by movies. How we associate notions of beauty and power, fairness and justice with whites. Maya builds a black world that is so beautiful and honest and real with all its imperfections.
Bantam, 272 p
Maya is then making a living as a singer and a dancer. The book opens to a sudden visit to her home by the famous jazz singer Billie Holiday and how she and Guy survive Billie's mood swings and bouts of alcoholism. It's a delightful beginning and one can see Maya's honesty, spunk and before the chapter ends. Billie of course tells her that she will never get anywhere as a singer, stands up and shuts Maya down in a public performance saying she cannot bear to hear her and moves on after breaking Guy's heart with a scathing account of how racism is in reality.

Maya moves on to New york, after a small tryst with her mother, another incredible scene, described with tremendous energy, as the two ladies walk regally into a whites only hotel and Maya's mom teaches her how not to show fear - with a gun in her purse and intent to shoot of course. In New York she joins the Harlem Writers Guild and they tell her to write and when she reads it, tears her apart. Maya survives them and continues writing, finds a place to sing to pay bills and even finds a man, Thomas, a bail bond guy. She is unapologetic about her sexual appetite and about how she steps back for her security and sexual needs.

Guy is growing up, picks up fights with gangs but tries to be what Maya brought him up as - honest and brave. A stint with the SCLC where she and another friend promise a play, enact it (Cabaret to Freedom) written by the over-promising and always-delivering Angelou, a play watched by Sydney Poitier himself and applauded by him standing on the tables. She works for the SCLC, meets their leader Martin Luther King, and puts in so much of work. She also meets Malcolm X, describing his radiant energy and also puts up a protest in the UN which goes horribly wrong as hundreds show up where they expect fifty. Black anger is real and bubbling and Maya does not know how to channel it.

Maya then falls in love with the enigmatic African freedom fighter Vuz Make and breaks off her engagement with the staid old Thomas. Vuz has notions of how African women should be and Maya falls into line, and puts up with all that Vuz imposes on her, an African code of sorts where wives merely nourish their men despite their infidelity. Vuz stops her form working in the play, 'The Blacks' and as the man of the house fails to pay rent so they are evicted. But still Maya is hopelessly in love with the man who is so good to her in every way, including the bed. There is a line which goes something like - Intelligence gets my pornographic mind working.

Then we move on to Cairo where Vuz takes Maya. Once again he provides a rich house where he has paid small advances and people start coming to collect stuff back. Maya starts working, their marriage starts cracking and finally they separate. Guy finishes school, and Maya wants him to study in Ghana University and before he joins the university he is involved in a serious accident. Guy survives, goes to college, and Maya moves on with her life.

Fabulous writing. Angelou's six feet frame, her intelligence, her passion, her anger, her pride in being black, her many talents, her courage and her fears, her raw sexuality all shines through in her writing. Only few people can do that - those who know themselves well and those who are themselves with nothing to hide. There can be nothing but respect for such people and whatever they do. Poet, singer, dancer, actor, playwright, music composer, writer, activist and a big voice for blacks, its a pleasure to know a person like Maya Angelou (through her work). Of course one cannot forget her presence when she recited her poem 'On the Pulse of Morning' at the 1993 inauguration of President Bill Clinton. 

Daring Greatly - Brene Brown

Brene Brown is a Houston based research professor at the Houston University. She has researched courage, vulnerability, empathy and shame and had authored four books 'The Gifts of Imperfection', 'Daring Greatly', 'Rising Strong and 'Braving the Wilderness.' She says "I believe that vulnerability and willingness to be 'all in' even when it can mean failing and hurting - is brave. Brene Brown's TED talks on shame and vulnerability have been widely watched. She is on a mission - the Wholehearted Revolution.

The phrase 'Daring Greatly' after which the book is named is from a Theodore Roosevelt speech, sometimes referred to as 'The Man in The Arena'. Here's the bit.
'It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly , who errs, who comes short again and again,

because there is no effort without error and shortcoming, but who does actually strive to do the deeds, who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;

who at best knows in the end of the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly...'

The Culture of Not Enough
Brene talks about the 'Never Enough' syndrome. But we can say 'Enough' - which also means Enough of that and also I am Enough.

Shame categories - Appearance and body image, Money and work, Motherhood/fatherhood, family, parenting, mental and physical health, addiction, sex, ageing, eligion, surviving trauma and being stereotypes or labeled. From bankruptcy, to boss calling us an idiot, infertility to flunking etc.

Our source of scarcity (not enough) causes - Shame, Comparison and Disengagement. Shame leads to fear. Fear leads to rick aversion. Risk aversion kills innovation.

Culture and Shame
Shame - Is fear of ridicule and belittling used to manage people and keeping them in line? Is self worth tied to achievement, productivity or compliance? Are put downs and name calling rampant? What about favoritism? Is perfection an issue?

Comparison - Is there constant comparing and ranking? Has creativity been suffocated? Are people held to a narrow standard rather than acknowledged for their unique gifts and contributions? Is there an an ideal way of being or one form of talent that is used a measurement for everyone else's worth?

Disengagement - Are people afraid to take risks or try new things? Is it easier to stay quiet than to share stories, experiences and ideas? Does it feel as if n one is really paying attention or listening? Is everyone struggling to be seen or heard?

The Disengagement Divide
Disengagement is the issue underlying many problems in schools, families, organisations. We disengage to protect ourselves from vulnerability shame, and feeling lost and without purpose. We also disengage when we feel like people who are leading us - bosses, teachers, principal, clergy, parents, politicians, aren't living up to their end of the social contract.

Value Gap - Disengagement Divide
The space between our practiced values and our aspirational values is the value gap, or what we call the disengagement divide.

Aspirational values - Honesty and Integrity, Practiced values - rationalising and letting things slide
Aspirational values - Respect and accountability, Practiced values - fast and easy is more important
Aspirational values - Gratitude and respect - Practiced values: teasing, taking for granted, disrespect
Aspirational values - Setting limits - Practiced values - Rebellion and cool are important

Culture questions
What behaviors are rewarded? Punished?
Where are how are people actually spending their resources (time, money, attention)?
What rules and expectation are followed,enforced and ignored?
Do people feel safe ad supported talking about how they feel and asking for what they need?
What are the sacred cows? Who is most likely to tip them? Who stand s the cows back up?
What stories are legend and what values do they covey?
What happens when someone fails, disappoints or makes a mistake?
How is vulnerability perceived?
How prevalent are shame and blame and how are they showing up?
What's the collective tolerance for discomfort? Is the discomfort of learning, trying new things, and giving and receiving feedback normalised, or is there high premium put on comfort and how does that look?

Signs that shame has permeated the culture
Blaming, gossipping, favoritism, name-calling and harassment. A more obvious sign is when shame becomes an outright management tool. People in leadership roles bullying others, criticising subs in front of colleagues, public reprimands, rewards that shame and belittle people.

Shame can only rise so far in any system before people disengage to protect themselves. When we're disengaged, we don't show up, we don't contribute, and we stop caring. On the far end of the spectrum, disengagement allows people to rationalise all kinds of unethical behavior including lying, stealing and cheating.

The definition of Connection and Belonging:
Connection:Connection is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard and valued, when they can give and receive without judgment.
Belonging: It is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are hollow substitutes for belonging and are often barriers to belonging. True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world.

"I see the insidious nature of race, class and privilege playing out in one of the most historically damaging ways possible - the server/served relationship. When we treat people as objects we are dehumanising them. We do something terrible to their souls and to our own. "When two people relate to each other authentically, God is the electricity that surges between them.' I am suggesting we start looking people in the eye when we speak to them."

"Nothing has transformed my life more than realising that its a waste of time to evaluate my worthiness by weighing the reactions of the people in the stands. The people who love me regardless of the outcome are there within reach. This realisation changed everything."

Vulnerability Myths
Brene debunks the Vulnerability Myths and behaviors such as - It is weakness, I want to experience your vulnerability but I don't want to be vulnerable, I don't do vulnerable, vulnerability is letting it all hang out and We can do it alone

Combating Shame
To understanding and combat shame Brene says, watch out for the same tapes in your head that keep playing messages of self doubt and self criticism. Stop the tapes and replace them with some better tapes. Also, Brene says shame hates having words wrapped around it - so when you talk about your shame, it withers. Shame is pain.
Brene differentiates between guilt and shame as
Guilt - I did something bad
Shame - I am bad

"People believe they deserve their shame, they do not believe ther deserve ther humiliation - Donald Klein"

On the low vibrating emotions we have Guilt/ Shame/ Humiliation/ Embarrassment.
Brene talks about building shame resilience by recognising shame and its triggers, practicing critical awareness, reaching out, speaking shame. She says practice, courage, reach out. Own your story.

Women and Men on Shame
Her research on women on shame reveals this - stay small, sweet, quiet, pretty and modest. While for men shame is - Do not be perceived as weak.

Vulnerability Armory
Our Vulnerability armory consists of - Foreboding joy (imagining bad scenarios beforehand), Numbing (completely numbed to the experience with no feelings), Perfectionism (it is an armor against being vulnerable).
Practicing gratitude is an antidote to foreboding joy. There is a definite connection between joy and gratitude. Be grateful for what you have and don't squander joy.
Perfectionism is a shield against vulnerability and we disguise it as striving for excellence, self improvement. It is not. You are better off practicing self kindness/ common humanity/ mindfulness.
Numbing yourself to emotions is another way of shutting out vulnerability.

Shame and Innovation
"If we want to reignite innovation and passion, we have to rehumanise work. When shame becomes a management style, engagement dies. When failure if not an option we can forget about learning, creativity, and innovation.
The secret killer of innovation is shame. You cannot measure it, but it is there. Every time someone holds back a new idea, fails to give their manager much needed feedback, and is afraid to speak up in front of a client you can be sure shame played a part. That deep fear we all have of being wrong, of being belittled  and of feeling less than, is what stops us from taking the very risks required to move our companies forward.
If you want a culture of creativity and innovation, where sensible risks are embraced on both a market and individual level, start by developing the ability of managers to cultivate an openness to vulnerability. in their teams. And this requires first that they are vulnerable themselves."

"I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure."

10 Guideposts to Cultivating Culture
To cultivate
Authenticity - let go of what people think
Self compassion - let go of perfectionism
Resilient spirit - let go of numbing and powerlessness
Gratitude  and joy - let go of scarcity and fear of the dark
Intuition and trusting faith - let go of need for certainty
Creativity - let go of comparison
Play and rest - let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self worth
Calm and stillness - let go of anxiety as a lifestyle
Meaningful work - let go of self doubt and supposed to

Power of Vulnerability - Example
A great example of the power of vulnerability - is an approach taken by Christine Day. In a video interview to CNN Money she explained that she was once a very bright executive who majored in being right. Her transformation came when she realised that getting people to engage and take ownership wasn't about telling but about letting them come into the idea in a purpose-led way. That her job was about creating the space for others to perform. The shift was from 'having the best idea or problem solving' to 'being the best leader of people'.

Vulnerability Check
We can tell about vulnerability when we hear people saying
I don't know / I need help / I'd like to give it a shot / I disagree - can we talk about it? / It didn't work but I learned a lot / Yes, I did it / Here's what I need / Here's how I feel / I'd like some feedback / Can I get your take on this? / What can I do better next time? / Can you teach me how to do this? / I played a part in that./ I accept responsibility for that / I'm here for you / I want to help /Let's  move on /I am sorry / That means a lot to me / Thank you

"Leadership is scarce because few people are willing to go through the discomfort required to lead.  This scarcity makes leadership valuable...It's uncomfortable to stand up in front of strangers. Its uncomfortable to propose an ida that might fail. Its uncomfortable to challenge the statu quo. Its uncomfortable to resist the urge to settle. When you identify the discomfort you have found the place where the leader is needed. If you are not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, its almost certain you're not reaching your potential as a leader."  - Seth Godin, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

Wholehearted life
Practice wholehearted living - by learning how to feel. staying mindful about numbing behaviors/ learning how to lean into the discomfort of hard emotions

Wholehearted Parenting

  • If Wholeheartedness is the goal, then above all we would strive to raise children who
  • Engage with the world from a place of worthiness
  • Embrace their vulnerabilities and imperfections
  • Feel a deep sense of love and compassion for themselves and others
  • Value hard work, perseverance and respect
  • Carry a sense of authenticity and belonging with them, rather than searching for it in external places
  • Have the courage to be imperfect, vulnerable and creative
  • Don't fear feeling ashamed or unloveable if they are different or if they are struggling

Parents are called upon to

  • Acknowledge that we cant give our children what we don't have and so we must let them share in our journey to grow, change and learn
  • Recognise our own armor and model for our children how to take it off, to be vulnerable, show up and let ourselves be seen and known
  • Honor our children by continuing on our own journey towards wholeheartedness
  • parent from a place of 'enough' than from scarcity
  • Mind the gap and practice the values we want to reach
  • Dare greatly, possibly more than we've ever dared before

Childhood experiences of shame can change who we are, how we think about ourselves and our sense of self worth.

It is very interesting work. The idea of putting oneself out there and failing, and worse, dealing with the shame and its brothers and sisters, can be an obstacle for our growth. But Brene says that its ok to be vulnerable, it makes you stronger to be vulnerable, that shame withers away when we speak of it and when we don't, it stops our growth. Being wholehearted, being gentle with oneself and others, being comfortable with progress and not perfectionism and most importantly knowing that we are perfect as we are, and a little improvement is fine.
I liked the analogy to innovation and how shame blocks all innovation. Insecure leaders will breed more insecure leaders, use shame as a management tool. The greatest leaders are secure - with their imperfections - which is what makes them great.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Owl and the Sparrow - Movie Review

A Vietnamese film. Three lonely and separate lives, each with their own set of problems, come together and find closure and happiness together. The movie spans five days.

A young orphaned girl Thuy, lives with her uncle who makes her work in his factory. She runs away to big city Saigon and sells roses for a living, sleeps near the riverside. She meets Lan, a flight attendant in an unfulfilling affair with a colleague, at a  noodle shop. Lan takes her home. During the day Thuy meets Hai, a young zoo keeper who is about to lose one of his favorite animals, a baby elephant, months after he lost his lady love. The three meet and it is a happy family. But Thuy is taken to an orphanage by the police who catch her in the streets without a license and is reclaimed by her uncle. Thuy runs away from her uncle, with money enough to keep the baby elephant and goes back to the zookeeper. Hai returns the money, makes a deal with the uncle and arranges to keep the young girl with him. All they need is to woo back Lan who is all set to fly out of Saigon to complete the family again. In the airport, Lan sees the gift given to her by Thuy and turns back.

Sweet little movie. A nice uplifting touch with little of the fears that movies that involve runaway children normally have. Thuy was brilliant. Lan is beautiful.

The Magic Drum - Sudha Murthy

This Puffin book sold over 1 lakh copies which makes her one of the biggest selling authors in India.  'The Magic Drum and other stories' are a collection of 37 short stories that the author's grandparents told her when she was a child and some that she heard from her friends.
Penguin, 200 p, Rs. 250
I loved the stories. 'The Supermen' is about a bunch of lazy men boasting about their greatness until they are reminded that nothing gets done without hard work. 'The seed of Truth' is about the king choosing between his four sons and picking the honest one - thanks to the roasted seed. 'Haipant the Wise' is about the danger of suppositions. 'The Nine Questions for a Princess' is about an intelligent man getting the better of an intelligent princess. 'The White Crow' is a about how communication gets distorted and how it is better to keep one's mouth shut. I loved 'The Very Expensive Coconut' which is about how a miser tries to save money by going further to buy a cheaper coconut and instead pays a heavy price for it. 'The Bottle of Dew' is about how a wise man teaches a greedy man that the route to riches is through hard work. 'Nakul's First Lesson' is about presence of mind. 'Where did it go?' is a fine story about outwitting a cheat. 'The Tired Horse' is about how we get misled by others opinions. 'A Cure for Laziness' is about doing one's own work to stay healthy. 'The Magic Drum' is once again about outwitting a cheat.

A fine collection of stories and one of the more diverse and engaging collections for children and adults alike. Stories that can be told to children easily. There are three more books by Sudha Murthy in Anjali's collection and I plan to read them.

Weekend Cricket Lessons - Aarav's Fighting Spirit

'Sir, Aarav cannot play to day sir,' said Hardik. 'He is badly hurt.'
Young Aarav had apparently been pushed by someone at school and his elbows and knees were badly bruised. So badly that he was in obvious pain while walking or throwing.
He looked forlorn. I thought maybe it was because of the pain.

'I told him not to play today,' said Bhupinder who was coaching them. 'But he wants to play.'
That was what he was sad about. That he could not play despite his willingness to endure the pain. What an opportunity for him.
'Can you play? Do you want to?' I asked.
His face lit up.
'Yessir,' he said.
'Then play,' I said. 'Do as much as you can.'
Bhupinder was intrigued. I waved him on.
And so Aarav played the entire session, bowling with a straight leg, hobbling around and even wanting to take dive catches. Finally it happened that the bruise got rubbed against something and it bled. But it meant nothing to young Aarav while all other boys were running about shouting 'it's bleeding sir'.
But not a peep from the young hero who merely winced and smiled and took it in his stride.
Unbelievable spirit.

GN is one of the older boys. While Aarav is in his fourth class, GN is in his eighth. GN is a very talented cricketer with lots of time to play the ball and an easy action while bowling. He was a natural and his basics were in place. In fact I had told Baig sir to watch him and take him under his wing. Now, GN was bowling a nice long spell when Baig sir nodded to me.
'Tell him to pad up,' said Baig sir and I told GN to pad up.
'Sir I cannot bat today sir,' he said.
'Why? Didn't you get your kit?' I asked.
'No sir,' he replied.'But my leg is hurting slightly. I cannot bat.'
He had bowled for the past 45 minutes with no sign of discomfort. He walked normally. What was wrong?
'Pad up,' I told him. 'If you can bowl, you can bat.'
He padded up and batter completely normally.
After his stint I told him to look at Aarav struggling to walk but bowling in the next net for juniors.
'Know why he is walking like that?' I asked.
GN shook his head.
I explained. I told him to bear some pain if he wanted to be a cricketer, a hero. We looked for that kind of a spirit in champions.

It is not about talent finally. If GN has ten times Aarav's talent, I would still pick Aarav in my team first. No two ways about it. So many talented cricketers lose it because they do not have the guts to spill, the courage to stand up and bear some pain. They want to return to the pavilion when the team most needs them. And then there are cricketers who stand there with broken legs, hands, noses and give their all for their team. The choice is easy.

I remember playing with a broken nose, a fractured finger, with a nail sticking up my shoe that drilled a deep hole in the eight overs I bowled in that pain, bowling with a back condition gritting my teeth knowing that my spell with the new ball was important, staying on field with a torn hamstring and bowling my quota and helping my side win - it gives such pleasure to recount those stories. And of my many mates who performed such heroics - Suresh batting with a broken nose and scoring 97, Vidyut taking a taking straight on his chest while fielding in a tight game, Tony batting with a stitched up eye.

In the end when I told the rest of the kids that this is what we look for in champions - they all clapped for Aarav today. We voted him 'Hero of the week'. He was mighty embarrassed and pleased with the idea.

The Sunday Hans - The Honest and Transparent Political Party

Friday, November 24, 2017

Things to Watch For - How I Lost It For a Moment

Story 1 - Today
I was driving Anjali to school. At Srinivasa Nagar I saw one lady who was trying to cross the road on her bike. She had got into an awkward position and I stopped to let her pass. There was loud honking behind me and in my rear view mirror I saw a youngster, perhaps thirty years old, urging me on impatiently.

In all likelihood he could not see her and once she passed, I let him go on. He passed me and I thought that was it until I suddenly realised he was cutting into my path, letting me know that he did not appreciate my stopping ahead of him. I have seen many people do that, and I do that back to them, but this time, it needed a sharp cut to avoid a collision.

In that one moment, I lost it. The fact that this guy almost put me in danger just because he could not see why I stopped, blew my fuse.

I hit the accelerator and tried to overtake him. He weaved to cut me off again. This way and that. I have to give it to him, he was good with his car and did not let me sneak past him. The madness lasted ten seconds and luckily I had to go right and he, straight. Even more luckily he had a green light and I had a red. I don't know what would have happened if it were both red.

'Why are you driving like this Nanna?' asked Anjali, oblivious to the dynamics outside.

I felt ashamed. At losing it. At putting myself and many others in danger just because I lost it. I could have let him go. He made a mistake, fine. We were still ok. Until I started my revenge story and the big desire to prove myself right. And him wrong.

It would have been so pointless if something had happened.

Never again, I vowed, will I get drawn into these one-upmanship fights on the road. I will step back even if it is not my mistake. The road is no place to do these stunts. I was also very ashamed at the way rage coursed through me.

Meanwhile I am thankful to the young man in the car for giving me this experience and cautioning me for the rest of my life about this kind of behavior and its possible repercussions.

Story 2 - Last Month
We were waiting at the Tibetan clinic. I was only the driver and Ranjan went in and found out when the doctor was expected. Some six or seven people were waiting before us including two elderly ladies. It appeared that they were waiting outside because they were cleaning the waiting room. Since the room was ready we walked in. The lady at the reception took our details. Meanwhile the others came in.

The ladies protested. 'We came much before they did. We have been waiting here since 8'O clock,' she complained. The receptionist lied and told her that we had come the day before also. All these things were going on before my eyes.

All I needed to do was to step in and tell the ladies that they could go first. That everyone could go in the order they had come. We were in no hurry. But I let the receptionist take the call. After much argument and heartburn we finally went in - in the correct order.

I wonder why I did not speak up.

Anyway, reminds me to speak up next time and assure them that all will happen in a just and fair manner. It nags my mind.

Once again, thanks to the two elderly ladies I am now aware of what has to be done next time. No more. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Anjali - Too Much Stuff, I Want to Give It Away

One evening while talking about this and that, Anjali suddenly said 'I have too many things Nanna. I keep asking for stuff and people keep giving me. I have so many things and then lots of people don't have many things. I feel bad.'
She was silent.

I kept quiet.

'I asked Satish mama for pens and he gave me so many pens that I will never be able to use them all. I feel bad.'

'Do you want to give them away?' I asked. 'You could. Someone else could use them you know.'

'Hmmm,' she said. 'I think I will do that. I will give away pens to my class mates first.'

So she took 23 pens and gave them away to her class mates.

'We have too much stuff that we don't need Nanna,' she said next. 'Let's give it away.'

'Sure,' I said.

It's true we have stuff we don't need. We could give it away. Now to find that stuff.

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind - Shunryu Suzuki

Suresh gifted me yet another precious book. The number of precious books he had gifted me have changed my approach to life radically. This is the latest in the line. Thank you Suresh.

The Zen Mind is the Beginner's Mind. It is empty, non-judgmental and sees things as they are. It is about doing things with no gaining idea, doing for the sake of doing with the whole of the body and the mind. We become the work and forget ourselves. That is the true quality of Zen. And after it is done, there is no gloating over the work done or no feeling bad about it; it is over. It is just done. The book approaches the Zen Mind in several ways.

As I read it I became calmer, more compassionate, and tried to be in that state of no mind, or empty mind, immersing myself into what I was doing with no gaining idea. For example, when I write now, I write, I become the writing, with no thought of any gaining idea.
Shambala Library, 179 p

Divided into three main parts - Right Practice, Right Attitude and Right Understanding - it has wisdom that influenced my outlook. To just be. As I do with such books, I can only pick the lines which impacted me, lines I wish to refer to again, so I will make a note of those lines.

First things first. ..we are beginners, not experts. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's, there are few. The practice of zen mind is the beginner's mind. 

The beginners mind is the mind of compassion. When our mind is compassionate,  it is boundless.

Today we will practice compassion. Being true to ourselves,  in sympathy with all beings. In all that we do, say, feel and think.  Mindfully compassionate.

Zazen practice (the meditative discipline that is the primary practice of Zen Buddhism) is the direct expression of your true nature. For a human being,  there is no other practice; there is no other way of life than this way of life.

All self-centred thoughts limit our vast mind.

When the boss is sleeping,  everyone is sleeping.  When the boss does something right,  everyone will do everything right,  and at the right time.

Enlightenment is not some good feeling or some particular state of mind. The state of mind that exists when you sit in the right posture is itself enlightenment. That is the secret of Buddhism.

Left foot on right thigh, right foot on left thigh. Spine straight, ears and shoulders in one line. Relax shoulders, push up with back of head. Pull chin in. Press diaphragm towards abdomen.
In this posture the is no need to talk about the right state of mind.  You already have it. This is the conclusion of Buddhism.

In the realm of pure religion there is no confusion of time and space,  or good or bad. We should live in the moment. We do something we should do.  There is no confusion. 

To be quite independent, but yet dependent - this is how we live and how we practice zazen. When we are truly ourselves, we are purely independent of and at the same time dependent upon everything. If you have this kind of existence,  you have absolute independence; you will not be bothered by anything. 

When you practice zazen, your mind should be concentrated on your breathing. This kind of activity is the fundamental activity of the universal being. Without this experience,  this practice, it is impossible to attain absolute freedom. 

When we become truly ourselves, we become the swinging door, independent yet dependent on everything. In zazen concentrate on breath control. Control your breathing, concentrate on inhaling and exhaling.

To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him. 

To live in the realm of Buddha nature means to die as a small being, moment after moment. 

When we lose our balance we die, but at the same time we also develop ourselves,  we grow. 

The reason everything looks beautiful is because it is out of balance,  but it's background is always in perfect harmony.

To control people, first let them do what they want and watch them. To ignore them is the worst policy. To try to control them is the second worst policy. The best way is to watch them without trying to control them. 

Mind waves
To calm your mind do not be bothered by the various images you find in your mind. Let them come Let them go.  Then they will be under control.

Nothing outside yourself can cause any trouble. You yourself make the waves in your mind. If you leave your mind as it is,  it will become calm. 

Mind weeds
You should rather be grateful for the weeds you have in your mind,  because eventually they will enrich your practice.

Sometimes the best horse may be the worst horse and the worst horse can be the best one.

The Marrow of Zen
In the zazen posture,  your mind and body have great power to accept things as they are,  whether agreeable or disagreeable. 

No dualism
If it really does not matter,  there is no need for you to even say so. 

Bowing is a very serious practice. You should be prepared to bow, even in your last moment. Even though it is impossible to get rid of our self-centred desires,  we have to do it. Our true nature wants us to.

Before you determine to do it, you have difficulty,  but once you start to do it, you have none. 

It is easy to have calmness in inactivity, but calmness in activity is true calmness.

Nothing special
Before you attain it, it is something special,  but after you attain it, it is nothing special. 

When you give up, when you no longer want something, or when you do not try to do anything special,  then you do something.

Our way is not to sit to acquire something; it is to express or true nature. That is our practice.

If you lose the spirit of repetition, your practice will become quite difficult. 

If an artist becomes too idealistic,  he will commit suicide because between his ideal and his actual ability there is a great gap. But our way is not so idealistic. Actual practice is repeating over and over again until you find out how to become bread (using making of bread as a metaphor). There is no secret in our way.  Just to practice and put loaves into the oven is our way. 

In order to find out how dough becomes perfect bread, he made it over and over again, until he became quite successful.

While you are continuing this practice, week after week, year after year, your experience will become deeper and deeper, and your experience will cover everything you do in your everyday life. The most important thing is to forget all gaining ideas, all dualistic ideas. In other words, just practice zazen in a certain posture. Do not think about anything. Just remain on your cushion without expecting anything. Then eventually you will resume your own true nature. That is to say, your own true nature resumes itself.

When you do something, you should do it with your whole body and mind; you should be concentrated on what you do. You should do it completely, like a good bonfire. You should not be a smoky fire. You should burn yourself completely. If you do not burn yourself completely, a trace of yourself will be left in what you do

We must make effort but we must forget ourselves in the effort we make.

In this realm there is no subjectivity or objectivity. our mind is calm without any awareness. In this unawareness every effort and every idea and thought will vanish. So it is necessary for us to encourage ourselves and to make an effort till the last moment when all effort disappears.

To find your own way under some restriction is the way of practice.

For the beginner, practice without effort is not true practice. For the beginner the practice needs great effort. Especially for young people it is necessary to try very hard  to achieve something.

Our way is not to sit to acquire something; it is to express our true nature.

If you want to express yourself, your true nature, there should be some natural and appropriate way of expressing whatever you do, it should be an expression of the same.

When we express our true nature we are human beings even though you do not do anything. You are actually doing something. You are expressing yourself. You are expressing your true nature.

Forget all gaining ideas, all dualistic ideas. Do not think about anything. Just remain on your cushion without expecting anything.

Before you make your own way you cannot help anyone, and no one can help you. So when you try hard to make your own way, you will help others, and you will be helped by others.

The best way is to understand yourself, and then you will understand everything.

If you do something, you should be very observant and careful and alert.

Zen and Excitement
Zen is not some kind of excitement,  but concentration on our usual everyday routine. It is not gradual attainment, it is the sudden way, because when your practice is calm and ordinary, everyday life itself is enlightenment. 

Try to be always calm and joyful and keep yourself from excitement.

Right Effort
If your practice is good,  you may become proud of it.  What you do is good,  but something more is added to it. Right effort is to get rid of something extra.

Our effort in our practice should be directed from achievement to non- achievement. From achievement to non-achievement means to be rid of the unnecessary and bad results of effort.

Right effort in the right direction. Do something in the spirit of non-achievement - there is a good quality in it.

Even though you do not do anything, you have the quality of zazen always.

Try not to see something in particular. Try not to see achieve anything special.

Just to do something without any particular effort is enough. Get rid of excessive things.

By purity we just mean things as they are. When something is added that is impure.

When you think you will get something from practising zazen, already you are involved in impure practice.

Do not attach to the attainment. Just do it. The quality of zazen will express itself; then you will have it.

If your effort is in the right direction,  then there is no fear of losing anything.

It is the small mind which creates gaining ideas and leaves traces of itself.

In order not to leave any traces, when you do something, you should do it with your whole body and mind;  you should be concentrated on what you do. You should do it completely, like a good bonfire. You should burn yourself completely.

You become discouraged with your practice when your practice has been idealistic.  You have some gaining idea,  and it is not pure enough. It is when your practice is rather greedy that you become discouraged with it. Be grateful for the warning sign to show the weak point in your practice.
You must find some way up encourage yourself. That is why we have a teacher. With your teacher you will correct your practice.

The way to practice without having any goal is to limit your activity, or to be concentrated on what you are doing in this moment. If you limit your activity to what you can do just now, in this moment, then you can express fully your true nature, which is the universal Buddha nature. This is our way.
When you bow,  you should just bow; when you sit,  you should just sit;  when you eat,  you should just eat.

If you are attached to the teaching,  or to the teacher,  that is a big mistake.

You need a teacher so you can become independent.

You have a teacher for yourself, not for the teacher.

Strictly speaking there is no need to teach the student,  because the student himself is Buddha, even though he may not be aware of it.

Of the four ways of practice,  the perfect one is not to give a student any interpretation of himself,  nor to give him any encouragement.

To study ourselves is to forget ourselves. When we forget ourselves we actually are the true activity of the big existence,  or reality itself.

When you become you,  zen becomes zen. When you are you,  you see things as they are and you become one with your surroundings.

To solve the problem is to be part of it,  to be one with it.

When your life is always a part of your surroundings- in other words,  when you are called back to yourself,  in the present moment, then there is no problem.

When you are you,  you see things as they are, and you become one with your surroundings. There is your true self.

If you want to appreciate something fully, you should forget yourself.

Do not go seeking something outside of yourself.

Instead of gathering knowledge, clear your mind. If your mind is clear, true knowledge s already yours.

Accept knowledge as if you were hearing something you already knew. Sometimes we think it is impossible to understand something unfamiliar but actually nothing is unfamiliar to us.

Constancy- the unchanging ability to accept things as they are.

The natural expression of yourself, straightforward, true to your feelings and your mind, expressing yourself without any reservation.

If parents can manage to express themselves in various ways according to each situation, there will be no danger in the education of their children.

Without any intentional,  fancy way of adjusting yourself, to express yourself freely as you are is the most important thing to make yourself happy,  and to make others happy.

True communication depends upon our being straightforward with one another. But the best way to communicate may be just to sit without saying anything.

Big mind is something to express, not something to figure out. Big mind is something you have,  not something to seek for.

The best way is just to practice without saying anything.

When you do everything without thinking about whether it is good or bad,  and when you do something with your whole mind and body,  that is our way.

Practice without saying. When we talk positive, negative is missing. When we talk negative, positive is missing. Do everything without thinking about whether is it good or bad, with your whole body and mind.

Water drops, separated from the river, have difficulty to fall.

When you say something to someone,  he may not accept it, but do not try to make him understand it intellectually. Do not argue with him;  just listen to his objections until he himself finds something wrong with them.

Try not to win in the argument; just listen to it; but it is also wrong to behave as of you had lost.

Our life and death are the same thing.  When we realise this fact,  we have no fear of death anymore, nor actual difficulty in our life.

When we have no idea of ego, we have Buddha's view of life.

When we believe in our way firmly,  we have already attained enlightenment.

We should find perfect existence through imperfect existence.

Because we cannot accept the truth of transiency, we suffer.  So the cause of our suffering is our non-acceptance of this truth.

Teaching which does not sound as if it is forcing something on you is not true teaching.

Everything changes. Find pleasure in suffering. To find pleasure in suffering is the only way to accept the truth of transiency.

When you do something,  if you fix your mind on the activity with some confidence,  the quality of your state of mind is the activity itself. When you are concentrated on the quality of your being, you are prepared for the activity.

In calmness there should be activity;  in activity there should be calmness.

A wonderful painting is the result of the feeling of your fingers. If you have the feeling of the thickness of the ink in your brush, the painting is already there before you paint. When you dip your brush into the ink you already know the result of your drawing, else you cannot paint. So before you do something,  "being " is there, the result is there.

Don't entangle with someone else. Be natural.

Empty all preconceived ideas. Emptiness is true existence.

You are not resting at all. All the activity is included within you.

Because you think you have a body or mind,  you have lonely feelings,  but when you realise that everything is just a flashing into the vast universe,  you become strong and your existence becomes very meaningful.

When what you do comes out of nothingness, you have quite a new feeling.

Even though you have some difficulty,  when you want to have it,  that is naturalness.

True comes out of nothingness,  moment after moment.

When you do something,  you should be completely involved in it. You should devote yourself to it completely.

You have nothing. Although you think you have something, you have nothing. But when all you do comes out of nothingness, then you have everything.

What appears from emptiness is true existence.

Each one of us must make his own true way,  and when we do, that way will express the universal way. This is the mystery.

The best way is to understand yourself and then you will understand everything.

It is not after we understand the truth that we attain enlightenment. To realise the truth is to live - to exist here and now.

When our thinking is soft,  it is called imperturbable thinking. This kind of thinking is always stable. It is called mindfulness.

Wisdom is something which will come out of your mindfulness.

Love and hate are one thing. We should not attach to love alone. We should accept hate.
Attachment, non-attachment. Happiness in difficulty, difficulty in happiness.

A flower falls even though we love it, a weed grows even though we do not love it.

Trying to do something in itself is enlightenment. When we are in difficulty or in distress, there we have enlightenment.

When we are in defilement,  there we should have composure.

Teaching is in each moment,  in every existence. That is the true teaching.

When you have something in your consciousness you do not have perfect composure. The best way towards perfect composure is to forget everything.

In order to go beyond our thinking faculty, it is necessary to have a firm conviction in the emptiness of your mind.

On one hand we should attain enlightenment - that is how things should be. On the other hand,  as long as we are physical beings,  in reality it is pretty hard to attain enlightenment - that is how things actually are in this moment.

In the emptiness of our original mind they are one, and there we find our perfect composure.
Just to sit that is enough.

You have to be careful in the rules and the way you establish. If it is too strict you will fail, if it is too loose, the rules will not work. Our way should be strict enough to have authority, an authority everyone should obey.  The rules should be possible to observe.

Our true nature is beyond consciousness. Don't force. Let things be.

We cannot force anything. But once the rules have been decided,  we should obey them completely until they are changed. You just do it without question. That way your mind is free.

That you can do it in this moment means you can always do it.

Before you make your own way you cannot help anyone, and no one can help you.

Wonderful, wonderful book. Read. Reread. Imbibe. Be. I cannot say anything more. Thank you Suresh.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Trust Me Not - Ankita Verma Datta

Ankita Verma Datta's debut novel 'Trust Me Not' delivers what it promises - a riveting, fast paced political thriller - set in Mumbai. The novel begins in an advertising agency, a familiar setting for Ankita, who has been an ad professional for a decade. Among the other interesting things Ankita does are - curating antique Portugal houses in Goa, hobby breeding exotic Tibetan mastiffs and indulging herself in another love of hers, nature.
Jaico Books, 375 p, Rs. 450
Reeva Rai, the beautiful, spunky protagonist of the novel, is offered a high ranking position in a PR Agency, a spin off of the advertising firm she is part of. She has to handle the political campaign of a major political party JBP, whose top man, Rishi Uttur is on the verge of winning the upcoming elections. She also has to deal with the attractive and dashing Kunaal Kaabi who is rich, handsome, has many skills and businesses, and who is also part of the PR firm, helping the political party gain points with the electorate. On the other side is young Nihaal, the handsome Creative Director of the Advertising Firm and Shalini who has stepped in to help with the PR arm. If working in a high pressure and volatile political environment is tough, things get doubly tougher when two high profile businessmen Thapar and Jaiswal get involved in the game for their own interests. The stakes rise.

Reputation, power, money and real estate are at stake for the bigger players while the smaller pawns have to deal with simpler issues like plain surviving. Some are battling for their lives, some for their homes and some for their love. Equations are made and broken, professional players brought in to gain an advantage and no inch is given easily. There is media capitalising on the situation, NGOs at the forefront and diabolical schemes that go way beyond what might be obvious. Obviously everyone is not what they appear to be and we find several masks falling off, lives being sacrificed until a startling truth is revealed in the end. The pace really picks up as the book draws to a close.

I liked the fact that Ankita set the story in familiar territory - advertising, Mumbai, political arena. She easily and credibly creates a world of high profile, power hungry and rich lives and it is easy to visualise all the settings she sets her story in. There are several twists and turns in the story right till the very end and she leaves it deliciously open ended. The pace is fast, characters credible, setting believable. The book leaves several images in the mind much after you read the book and I as the reader certainly empathised enough with the main characters to root for them. A couple of issues (or rather, one), perhaps deliberately left open by the author, keeping the end she had devised in mind, bothered me, but they are not really relevant as the story ends, in a most unexpected manner.

'Trust Me Not' is a promising debut in an interesting genre, socio-political thrillers, one which Ankita says she will stick to, and one in which not many writers are comfortable. Ankita can write, and undoubtedly will get better and better as she writes more and more books. I would not be too surprised if someone picks up 'Trust Me Not' and makes a movie out of it - there is a lot of action and drama happening to interesting characters. Madhur Bhandarkar for one, whose name appears on the cover with a comment.   

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Thought for the Day - There is Always Some Love in the Air

Like the picture says - there is always some love in the air.
You only have to look for it!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Weekend Cricket Lessons - Baig Sir's Birthday

Today we celebrated Baig sir's birthday. He must be well over 80 but has the same passion. He suddenly picked young Sandeep from the Under 12 kids and called him over to the older kids nets. 'Where did he learn to play like that?' he asked.

We cut the cake. He called me and gave me the first piece - very touching. All the kids enjoyed the cake, the chips and soft drinks. After Baig sir spoke, I spoke to the kids about what I learned from Baig sir.

I told them how I met Baig sir in 1982 when he came to coach us at All Saints High School. Though it was my first year at school cricket I played state and South zone Under 15 that year entirely thanks to Baig sir's coaching.

I told the kids that if they want to play higher cricket they have the most experienced coach in India with them. Someone who coached BCCI teams, the Under 19 India team and who had coached Ravi Shastri's famous Under 19 team of which almost 12 played for India later. He had coached over 200 Ranji Trophy players and 40 Test players and has been coaching for 50 years now.

But what sets him apart are these three qualities which I asked the kids to imbibe.

Discipline. I have never seen Baig sir late for a single session in the 35 years I have known him. How much ever I try to beat him, he is ahead of me. Almost the first at the ground. Not rain, not sun, not cold, nothing stops him. He is never shabbily dressed, always immaculately turned out. If they wish to go higher, they could learn this discipline, this punctuality.

Commitment. Baig sir still coaches well into his 80s and still as vigorously as he used to when I was in school in the 1982s. He will come at 630 int he morning and if he finds the players are showing some interest or the session is interesting, he will put away all thoughts of breakfast and lunch and keep on at the nets. I once saw him coach without a break from 630 to 3 in the afternoon with no breakfast just because he found the boys interest. If I tell him some boy wants to meet him and could he look at the boy, he will come without a second thought. And he is all the time trying to improve the state of the game, every hour, every minute. The nets are his temple and I have seen him on Ramzan's roza days, going through without a break. Even today, when I asked him if we should go out for breakfast he was like 'No, no, Aditya is here. Let me spend time with him. Let him bowl. We will waste half an hour.'

Learning mindset. Baig sir has this incredible capacity to learn. When I teach something in the mental side he listens carefully. He looks at my handouts and studies them. He comes to the workshops I do and sits and listens through them. So keen is his learning mindset that he will learn from anyone - even the youngest member if there is something to learn. He comes up with new techniques every time and does not teach the same old stuff. He improvises them. I have never seen him say 'I know' and shut out knowledge. He is always open.

To the boys then I told them that if they do not apply what he has taught them, they are not progressing beyond the same class. In which case they cannot be taught new things. It is not that he does not know - it is that they are not able to grasp and apply and show enough effort to move past the lesson. So if they wish to play higher grade cricket they are better off applying what he has taught them and getting ready fro newer lessons.

As always, he amazes me. 'The only reason I coach here is because of one man. A great man. My captain M.L. Jaisimha.'

Brute Force - Movie Review

It's a 1947 movie set in a jail bubbling over with unrest. A weak warden, a sadistic guard Munsey and an alcoholic philosophical doctor are holding the jail together tenuously. Cell R17, watches their mate Joe Collins return from solitary confinement after being unjustly punished by Munsey. There are orders from above that the warden must control the ship or else. The jail is about to explode.

Joe finds the informer who led to his solitary confinement and first arranges an accident which kills the informer. Next he plans a getaway. Meanwhile Munsey threatens another member of Cell R417 and forces him to commit suicide. Pressure mounts on the warden to quit. Munsey's ways get worse. As the inmates prepare for the big getaway, there is another leak. Munsey is waiting. Warden is sacked. Another inmate is beaten by Munsey to death. Joe is set on his path despite all warning.

There is a dialogue by the doctor who speaks his mind against Munsey and gets beaten up, perhaps in his drunken stupor. 'Not imagination. Not compassion (or something to that effect) Just brute force. Yes, brute force does make leaders it seems (he speaks with such contempt here). But remember, it also destroys.'.

The doctor always advocates softer measures against the inmates. In the end brute force meets brute force and claims many lives on both sides. The inmates of cell R17 share their stories - all of them are there for their women. They have a picture of a lady who is every man's woman.

Angry. Violent. Made with all the idealism and innocence of 1947. Burt Lancaster looms large as Joe Collins. Polishing off the old movies collection. They are the best human interest stories.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Stanley Kramer, Film Maker - Donald Spoto

Stanley Kramer can easily take that tag - Film Maker. His career in Hollywood spanned five decades - he is one of the top producers and directors with over forty films of high quality made during the period. He worked with some of the biggest names and gave some big names their breaks. The names include Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn Marlon Brando, Marlene Dietrich, Gregory Peck, Judy Garland, Sydney Poitier among others. Films include classics like "High Noon", "Judgment at Nuremberg", "Ship of Fools", "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" among others.
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 367 p, $ 6.95

What impresses one about this fine book is that Donald Spoto creates Stanley Kramer through his best films and worst films. Kramer's thoughts on each one of those, his beliefs and convictions, his ideas and weaknesses all come through. Coming from a tough neighbourhood in New York's Hell's Kitchen, Kramer worked his way up from menial jobs in the studios to actually producing them. His films had a strong social conscience, values and a willingness to take risks. One remark of his - "My grandfather once told me that friends are the most important thing in life. Nonsense. More important is believing in something and taking a stand on it.'

And stand he took by making movies about racism - he made four movies in all about black men and the prejudice they suffer including "Home of the Brave" and "Who is Coming to Dinner" when Hollywood practically banned the idea of making movies on such topics. He made movies about fixing in boxing and the downsides of it. After producing several he directed his later movies.

Donald Spoto's delightful commentary on 34 films with lots of pictures and comments by Kramer and others makes the book a lovely read. Especially after you have read some really bad biographies that are totally one-sided it comes like a breath of fresh air. I was lucky to read this rare book that Jayant gave me - You must read it, he said.

So the journey starts with "So This is New York" made in 1948. Then "Champion", "Home of the Brave", "The Men", "Cyrano de Bergerac", "Death of a Salesman", "My Six Convicts", "The Sniper", "High Noon", "The Happy Time", "The Four Poster", "Eight Iron Men", "The Member of the Wedding", "The Juggler", "The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T", "The Wild One", "The Caine Mutiny", "Not a Stranger" (which he directed), "The Pride and Passion", "The Defiant Ones", "On the Beach", "Inherit the Wind", "Judgment at Nuremberg", "Pressure Point", "A Child is Waiting", "Its a Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World, "Invitation to a Gunfighter", "Ship of Fools", "Guess Who is Coming to Dinner", "The Secret of Santa Vittorio", "RPM", "Bless the Beast and Children", 'The Wild Ones", "Oklahoma Crude" and "The Domino Principle". An impressive list for the sheer variety and scope. I saw five of them.

Many of his movies were made from plays and some from books. Certainly, he made movies to make a difference and the themes he chose stand proof of that. "You try to get the best collaborators but then you have to give them their own range since they are also artists in their own right. You have the annoying responsibility of curtailing their impulses and even standing against them as you try to achieve the painting you want. It never turns out the way you have foreseen. It can be better but never exactly as you visualised,"

"I am primarily concerned with the disintegration of values in our whole society."

"If a film doesn't make money there is something fundamentally wrong with the project. Either it cost too much in the first place or made at the wrong time or marketed poorly."

Lovely. I am so glad I read this book. Thanks Jayant and Suhita.

Thought for the Day - To Be Mindful, To be Present Is to be Compassionate

To be mindful of what I do every moment brings in a quality of being that is compassionate. I cannot be mindful and violent, hurried or thoughtless at the same time.

It is a good way to do good work - in all senses of the word.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Thought for the Day - You Only Get What You Are Prepared For

I believe that we only experience or encounter things that we are prepared for. There is nothing that we experience or encounter that we cannot handle because I believe it just would not come into our experience if we were not ready or prepared to handle it.

Most times we look at difficulties in life and wonder -hey, I cannot handle this. But I believe now that it has come into our experience only because we can handle it and because it will move us up the learning ladder. It helps to know that we are equipped to handle it. That awareness will give us a gap, a moment of calmness to engage with it head on. Not hope that something will happen to it and it will either resolve itself or go away.

To look at the big problems and difficulties then - and know that they have come as a test to graduate you into the next class - and to deal with it as only you can, is the way forward. Deal you can. Now engage. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Into the Wild - Movie Review

Based on a book written on the true story of Chris McCandless who leaves his home and shuns all society and its trappings - car, money, credit cards, identity to experiment on a life in the wild - the movie is a story of love and loss. Chris shuns all love and goes away - and along the way he keeps finding so many people offering him love - and shuns it all to be lonely until the final realisation that happiness comes only when shared.

First by car, then hitch hiking on the road, stealing rides on railroads, kayaking down the rapids against orders and finally finding the Magic Bus - an abandoned bus in the wilds of Alaska where he sets up his home in all loneliness for the last part of his life - Chris journeys not just geography but his inner space. But by the time the young man wants to return home to friends and family he finds that he has gone too far. Chris pays the ultimate price to know the truth about love, about happiness, about relationships, and family. He meets interesting people along the way and none as interesting as Ron Franz whose words - 'When you are grateful to open yourself to love and when you love, God's light shine on you' are as true as any.

Shot with great care and patience, the movie does the person Chris was and his memory and his striving justice. Great locales and a nice subdued energy. Slow, peaceful watch. Watch it.

The Free Book Stall - A New Initiative

Inspired by the VNR VJIET TEDx Event where they had a stall with a bunch of new books - all book suggestions by various people - to give away for free. People could go, pick up a book they liked, read it and pass it on. I found it incredible that someone would do stuff like this  and remember I actually asked the boys 'For free?' How difficult is it for us to accept the good that comes to us. But I can expect nothing less from the lads and lasses especially under the stewardship of Abhinay who comes up with some wonderful ideas and pulls them off. The boy at the counter suggested I read "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" by Jules Verne and I was glad I picked it up.
This is a bunch of books that Sagar gifted to me - what goes around comes around
I suggested the idea to our colony committee members - that I would like to give some books away for free for anyone to take away and read if they gave me some space in the committee hall. They took a lot of time to understand the idea.
'You will sell second hand books?'
'No, I will give them away for free.'
'You want to give books for the library?'
'No I want to give books away for free.'
'You want people to read and return to you?'
'No I want to give books away for free. Anyone who likes any book can take it away - no questions asked - and read it and pass it on. No obligation to return.'

That is when one of the gentlemen seemed to get the idea.
'Wonderful,' he said. 'I will give you space next function.'

So I was glad when I bumped into him recently and he said there was a function coming up on Sunday and he would give me a table. I said that's wonderful and we picked up some 25-30 books to give away. 'My Experiments with Truth' by M.K. Gandhi, 'Siddhartha' by Herman Hesse, a couple of Enid Blytons, Fit for life, A book on Yoga, 'Don't lose your mind, lose your weight' by Rijuta Diwekar, some National Geographics and several other books for all ages. Contributions came from my shelf, Shobha's and Anjali's.

Anjali then made a small poster that went like 'Books for Free' - Take any books you like, Read it and Pass it on. There was a trademark smiley at the end. We stuck it up on a pole near the table and spread all the books out.

A small boy came immediately and picked up the Enid Blyton. His mother came and told him to put it down. He put it back. I stepped in and told the mother that the idea is to take the books away for free and read and share. He could take ti if he liked it. She looked a bit stunned and surely was wondering what the catch was. The boy got his hands on the book and I hoped he would take it home.

Anjali and I got back home and went back to the function after an hour. Most books were still there. People were still wary if there was a catch. They would see the books and put them back on the table. I let them figure it out - I could see some young kids reading the poster and pick up books. But they put them back.

But suddenly one old lady went and picked up a couple and then someone else did and within a few minutes most books got taken. I was surprised that Gandhi's autobiography and Siddhartha were not taken. I suggested them to the young lady who stays in the flats opposite my house - it would have been appropriate because she was Abhinay's junior and is from VNR VJIET where I first saw this experiment.

Hopefully she picked them up. I told the committee members they could give the books away or put them in the library or do whatever they want to do with them. Nice!  

The Invisible Guest - Movie Review

Spanish. A successful, rich, young businessman is caught by the police on charges of murdering his young mistress. His legal team hires a well known lawyer to fight his case. She meets him ahead of time, citing the introduction of a new witness that could change the line the defence would take.

The man tells her how he met his mistress on the sly on the way back from a business meeting. As they drive back they hit a car and find that the driver, a young banker is dead. He goes to dispose of the car and the driver while the girl stays with their own car which does not start. She is helped by a man and that reveals another horrid story.

All clues point to the fact that someone came in to the hotel room and set up the young man. But is that really the case? And if it is not, then how does one get him to confess?

Edge of the seat stuff.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Phantom Tollbooth - Norton Juster

This book features in all the lists that children should read but having said that, it is not necessarily for children. It's like 'Alice in Wonderland' a lot but with a lot more punnery and meaning and a map for life. Anjali got this as a gift for her birthday and insisted that I read it too. I am glad I did.

So we have a desultory and disinterested young boy Milo who feels like everything, especially school, is a waste of time. One fine day he gets a surprise present and finds instructions to build the Phantom Tollbooth. He builds it, gets on to his toy car and starts off with a map that is provided to him. It appears that he has to reach the Kingdom of Wisdom which has been split up due to the differences between the two brothers Azaz, King of letters and words and of the city of Dictionopolis, and Mathemagician, King of numbers and of the city of Digitopolis. Due to their quarrels the two princesses Rhyme and Reason have  been banished and the Kingdom is now occupied by the demons of the Mountains of Ignorance. Unless Rhyme and Reason return, the Kingdom of Wisdom is doomed.

Milo starts off by going past a place called Beyond Expectations, reaches a place called Doldrums and then to the Foothills of Confusion. He enters the city of Dictionopolis and meets many strange people there including King Azaz and his cabinet, a spelling bee, the watchdog Tock and a bug called Humbug. Tock and Humbug join him in his quest for Rhyme and Reason. Off they go into the Forest of Sight, meeting Chrome and her musical mornings, past a place called Point of View and another called Illusions and Reality before they jump into a place called Conclusions. Back from the Conclusions they movie into the Valley of Sound and of Silence and finally enter Digitopolis after going past the Numbers Mine where they have to dig for numbers. Finally the heroic trio rescue Rhyme and Reason and the Kingdom of Wisdom is freed from darkness and the demons who inhabit the Mountains of Ignorance.

It's so intelligently crafted and full of wit and good humour and good sense that it needs more than one read (and very carefully). Full of puns and wickedly twisted phrases and situations and people and a whole lot of meaning and good sense. Lovely read. Thanks Anjali and Miskil.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Anjali - What If There Was No Money

Anjali suddenly popped this question.
'What is there was no money Nanna?'

I did not know what to say except this.
'Then how will we buy anything? How will you buy pizza? He will have to make stuff right?'
Anjali had thought of that.

'He will go and take it from whoever has that stuff,' she said.

'But what if no one makes stuff and simply keeps taking from someone else?'

'But people won't sit idle no? They will make something. People will go and take those things and use them and then whoever needs it or something else will take whatever they need. People will make whatever they like and others will take whatever they need.'

Hmmm. Interesting idea. Certainly one that will prevent this mine and yours, one that will make people only take what they need and not all they want, one that will make people more secure. As an idea I love it. I'd love to see a world like that!

Anjali - Maya and Tintin and Lives that Have Entered Ours

Anjali adopted this scaredy cat Maya quite sometime ago. It happened gently and with great care and love. Maya slowly responded and over many bags of appropriately chosen Whiskas and milk and all sorts of other offerings she became part of our lives. Then she went off and became pregnant and came back with two small kittens. One vanished and the other -Tintin - now remains. The two cats - the scared mother and the aggressive kitten roam around freely in their domain which is in the backyard.

Maya and Tintin

So aggressive is Tintin that every morning when Anjali head straight from her bed to the door to feed them I can hear her saying - 'Maya, you eat something otherwise you will starve. Push Tintin away and eat.' But I don't think Maya listens to her despite all this.

Now every morning, every time they sense we are in th kitchen, the cats raise a huge cry. Meow, meow, meow they go non-stop in a manner that requires a response. Hmmm, says the human who is in the kitchen and they go Meoow in response. Hmm, says the human and so on with various voice modulations. it's incredible how long those conversations go.

What struck me was the manner in which Maya and Tintin ask for their food or milk - as if they deserve it. They completely believe that all they have to do is ask and they are entitled to it. I loved that aspect. That we can actually ask and ask and we will get. No strings attached. No need to work for it. No need to be loyal or wag your tail. Just ask in an earnest manner and make the other person feel responsible and useful and people love being that. It spreads some love and the cats are fully aiding that.

Today, while we were playing cricket in the front yard,I could sense the full extent of the kitten's playfulness. Tintin came running and sat in a corner. Whenever the ball was played it would chase it and then run away when we went to fetch the ball. It played like that for over half an hour before it gave up and sat in a corner, stretching itself langurously. All this while, Maya hid itself behind a plant and watched. Much to Anjali's mirth.

And so we learn from nature, from god's many creatures and wonder and the possibilities, at the fun and joy that life has. At the choices we make.

Thought for the Day - Gratitude Is the Doorway to Love

If life is to feel the immeasurable feeling of love - to love and to feel loved and to love all existence - then, surely gratitude is the doorway to love. One can love one thing, one person, one aspect, one feature with great passion but that may not quality as love as I understand it. It is perhaps only loving that part that you love - perhaps something one may aspire for or even want or like. It does not love that which you may not like, agree with - and that discrimination disqualifies that kind of a love from what one looks for when one is searching for that love that brings peace and joy and a calm and not anger, frustration and resentment.

It is then the love that loves each part as it is - the good and the bad and the ugly. Each part brings something new, something to wonder at, and mostly something to accept in ourselves. Once we see that, it is possible to love, to be patient with all around us including those who are messing up with what we cherish. To attain that state is to be in a good place. To love all parts of ourselves then is to love all parts in others.

The gateway to that state is certainly, I am convinced, gratitude. To be grateful to what we have, this life, this comfort, this capability, this access, this health, this love, this moment...suddenly makes us realise how connected we are to all of life. It makes us aware how we are really nothing without any of the things outside of us. How the outside makes us, completely, and how we make ourselves react with gratitude to the outside and make what we can to make the outside a more peaceful, loving place is our story perhaps.

And the doorway to that is to be grateful to all that is in our life directly, all that is behind that sustains our life indirectly, to all that gives us joy and all that grows us by throwing challenges at us. To be grateful for the good, the bad, the thought, the word, the deed, the gesture, the is that feeling that must certainly lead to that place that is filled  with love.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Right Ho, Jeeves - P.G. Wodehouse

There is a way a person breaks out into uncontrollable laughter that is signature Wodehouse. You can clearly tell that the person is afflicted by a case of Wodehousitis. I loved reading all his books and cannot have enough of them. So the other day when I was in a airport and had a long wait and a long journey ahead I went browsing for a book and I could find nothing better than a 'Right Ho, Jeeves' to up my mood. And it's been a long time since I laughed like that.
Arrow, 290 p, Rs. 299

Bertram Wooster (I know a couple of fellows who live life exactly like Bertie does) is unhappy with Jeeves because Jeeves does not like the new white mess jacket Bertie has brought back from a visit to France. Bertie decides that Jeeves has lost his touch and when two of his pals - Pongo Twistleton who is in love with his cousin Angela and Gussie Fink-Nottle who is in love with a poetess Madeleine Basset - run into trouble, decides to take it upon himself. Jeeves, he tells the man who has saved many a situation like the above, you complicate things. And when Bertie's Aunt Dahlia also summons him to her place where the entire party is now located, due to some troubles of her own, Bertie has his hands full. He manfully tries to find solutions to the rapidly disintegrating situation, gets the parties further asunder, gets the great cook Anatole to almost resign, almost gets married to the frightful Basset and in the end has to hand things over to Jeeves. It does involve some action and some blame taking by Bertie as always but all's well and that ends well and the right parties get hitched to the right parties . Except that despite all his precautions, Bertie finds that his white mess jacket has been burnt by an iron and Jeeves apologises for that indiscretion.

Anjali found it very funny to see me laughing uncontrollably. It is her first brush with Wodehousitis and I do hope she experiences it too. Loved it.