Victim to victor

There are many things we just ignore and push under the carpet. One of them is that of social evils like child abuse. This is an issue all of us usually ignore as we somehow think it happens to others and never in homes that seem to be educated. There are some like Harrish Iyer, however, who have moved from being a victim to a victor.

harishiyer“My uncle was giving me a bath when I was 7 years old, and that’s when it first happened. At 12, I began to get gang-raped by his friends, and I would bleed but keep quiet as I felt I would not be considered ‘man enough’ to not bear pain?”, he says. As it was his own relative, he did not know what to make out of this seemingly regular event.

Harrish decided to make the motto of his life to be the protection of other children from sexual abuse. He has become a mentor to many and is guiding them on how to take care of themselves.

Throwing off all poisons

Carrie Fisher, the late actress and writer said. “Resentment is the poison you swallow hoping the other person will die.”

This did not mean he wanted to punish and take revenge on anyone. “Though I have been through 11 years of hell I don’t think the world is a bad place. I thank my bullies, because they got me to a place where I have the opportunity to touch other’s lives. I believe that hate only destroys the person who indulges in hating, not the person being hated so I don’t wish to spend my energy in hating my uncle.” Thinking about life and its ramifications in general, he continues “If I could, I would send a therapist to help my uncle. He also needs to be helped, after all”.

We can see that he has indeed grown as a person in all areas, always focussing on what he can do and NOT making his life that of victimhood.

 

No justifications, only harmony

One of my favourite stories is that of a Zen master who had a beautiful young lady as his pupil. She became pregnant and falsely named her teacher as the father of her child. When the child was born, her family indignantly brought the child to the Zen master and accused him of taking advantage of his beautiful young pupil. His only reply was, “Is that so?” They left the child with the Zen master, who enjoyed caring for it and had many beautiful hours playing with the child. After about a year the young lady was very ill, and not wanting to die with this false accusation on her conscience, she told her family that the real father was a young man who lived in a nearby town. Her mother and father immediately went to the teacher and profoundly bowed and apologized and asked for the baby back. The Zen master gave them the baby back with grace.

When they first accused him, the rational mind of the Zen master did not get caught up in a big chain of ego based arguments indignantly denying that he was the father, protesting that he was unjustly accused, threatening to tell people about the lie that was being perpetrated upon him, etc. He realized
that a mother and father are not likely to believe the word of a man against the word of their pregnant daughter. He simply saw that they were not open and did not want to hear his side of it. They did not ask him whether he had done it , they accusingly told him he had done it. So the Zen master simply flowed with the drama being enacted and did not agree or disagree.

He stayed in a peaceful state and simply enjoyed what was going on and  was able to have the fun of living with the child for a while. When they came back and apologized for their false accusations, his rational mind did not say, “I could have told you, but you wouldn’t have listened.” He simply peacefully saw that they now understood and there was nothing to be said. He could continue to enjoy the new act in the drama.

This story does not tell us that we must never give our side of things in any situation. It simply says that when you are conscious, you have a choice as to whether to get in a discussion when you know in advance whether the argument will bring you and the other person into a closer state of love and oneness or whether it will separate you. Under the circumstances, the Zen Master’s reply, “Is that so?” was the best reply to produce the closest harmony that could be obtained in that situation. Later he willingly and lovingly gavethe child up without recriminations.

We think we do not face such situations in our life but the fact is, most of us do. Most of our lives are spent in justifying ourselves who are anyhow not be ready to listen. Whatever our response may be, let us know that we can create harmony only by remaining at inner peace ourselves.

 

Connect with understanding

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive,” says the Dalai Lama

connectwitheveryoneThis is indeed true for humanity and all human beings in general. The fact is all positive emotions are interlinked and hence when we connect, love increases and therefore our world seems a much better to live in. This is a fundamental truth of life itself.

We do need to know here what to take seriously and what not to. Most of the problems in life itself is because we do not work on understand all kinds of people in the world. The world does indeed consist of different types of people but it is entirely in our control to see how we handle each kind. This is indeed one of the primary tests of life. One of the stories that I still remember in this context is that of a heap of skulls.

A Sufi mystic was passing through a cemetery and he came upon a heap of skulls. Out of curiosity he took one skull. He had always been of the thought that all skulls are almost the same, but they were not the same. There were a few skulls whose ears were joined together; there was a passage. There were a few skulls whose ears were not joined together; there was a barrier between the two. There were a few skulls both of whose ears were joined to the heart but not joined together; there was a passage running to the heart. He was very surprised. He prayed and asked God, “What is the matter? What are you trying to reveal to me?” And it is said that he heard a voice. God said, “There are three types of people: one, who hear through one ear; it never reaches anywhere — in fact they don’t hear, just the sound vibrates and disappears. There is another type, who hear, but only momentarily — they hear through one ear, and through the other ear it is lost into the world again. There are a few souls, of course, who hear through the ears and it reaches to the heart.”

And God said, “I have brought you to this heap of skulls just to help you remember it when you are talking to people. Talk only to those who take whatsoever you say to their hearts — otherwise don’t waste your energy, and don’t waste your time. Your life is precious: you have a message to deliver.”

This tale shows us that though there are different kinds, we need to know how to handle each one of them. Essentially, it is our attitude we need to try to improve. After all, we all have messages to deliver and this is exactly what we need to focus on.

Say goodbye to worry

As long as we are alive, we have two options, either to live in fear or live fearlessly. To live fearlessly, we need to work on driving it away, thinking there is no other option. In fact, long ago, the when success and failure were the only options, the leaders of ancient Greek armies burnt the boats upon landing on shore so there was no going back. With no way to make it home besides victory, the resolve of the soldiers was strengthened. Similarly in our case, as the only option is to live, let us follow through and face our fear.

I used to be worried about falling down and hurting myself after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  then slowly began climbing starts one floor at a time and was soon able to combat this terrible fear of falling and moved on in life. It then felt like no big deal at all. After overcoming my fear, I suggest the following steps to everyone –

  1. Start facing the fear daily – Once we have awareness of the fear the most effective way to knock it out of your life is to face it. Start off with small steps and build up your confidence until the fear is more manageable and you are ready for the big action. As you work with the fear more, you’ll also gain more and more awareness of how you can tackle it.
  2. Repeat – Don’t stop taking bold actions until the fear is minimized. The more the action is repeated, the more negligible it becomes. The fact is when we handle fear, whatever it may be, and later realise we actually survived it, many things in life you may have feared previously seems to shrink. Those fears become smaller. They might even disappear. We start thinking that what we thought was a fear before wasn’t that much to be afraid of at all. Everything is relative. And every triumph, problem, fear and experience becomes bigger or smaller depending to what you compare it to. The fact is to gain a wider perspective of human experience and grow we really have to step up and face our fear. In this context, facing our fear can be surprisingly anticlimactic. From a distance and in our mind things may seem very difficult and frightening. Most of the time, it is not true at all..
  3. Take action and get busy -‘Worry gives a small thing a big shadow’ says a Swedish proverb. We can’t sit around think and waiting for courage and confidence to come knocking on the door. If we do, you may just experience the opposite effect. The more you think, the more fear we build within.The reality is that 80-90 percent of what we worry about never really comes into reality. If we combat fear, then more than half the battle is won.

If fear is the enemy, who or what can combat it? The answer is surprisingly simple. Fear can be combated only by its arch enemy, love. Love of all that is wonderful in the world and love for every little event we come across in the world and indeed love of all that is present in life,

Ultimately, the one and only thing that can improve our chances of becoming better is actually in our control, as fear can never be cured by anyone else but our own self.

 

Power of positivity

In most areas of life, all positive traits are interlinked just like negative traits are. For instance, we can never feel sorry for ourselves if we accept reality, focus on gratitude and most of all focus on love.

Some techniques that I suggest everyone as it has helped me are

Accept your Feelings

Don’t question whether your problems are fair, or convince yourself if you have suffered more than those around them. The best way to deal with any feeling of discomfort is to just get through it.

Be active

The combination of negative thinking and inactivity fuel feelings of self-pity. We need to recognize when in  a trauma that we are at a risk of becoming caught in this downward spiral and  take action to prevent ourselves from living a pitiful life. The control as always is with us.

Question what we perceive as luck

We need to ask ourselves questions like, “Is my luck always bad?” or “Is my entire life really ruined?” Asking ourselves these types of questions allows us to recognize when their outlook isn’t realistic. This allows us to create a more realistic perception of the situation.

View all experiences as experiments in life

Do not allow their negative thinking to turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, when if in a challenging situation, let us deal with it in the best possible manner.

Reserve energy for productive activities

Instead of leading life in a self-pity mode, devote your time to productive activities that may perhaps improve the situation.

Be grateful

Gratitude is a common factor in all positive emotions. It’s impossible to feel self-pity and gratitude at the same time. While self-pity is about thinking, “I deserve better,” gratitude is about thinking, “I have more than I need.” Mentally strong people recognize all that they have to be grateful for in life – right down to the fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink.

Reach out

It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you’re helping those who are less fortunate. Rather than ruminate on our own inconveniences, let us strive to improve the lives of others.

Never Complain

Venting to other people about the magnitude of our problems fuels feelings of self-pity.  We may think we are being listened to but this is only a myth. Most people either ignore the complaint or begin to avoid you after a while.

 Remain optimistic

 Focus on a positive outlook is the only thing that can make our own life better.

Some of life’s problems can’t be prevented or solved. The loss of loved ones, natural disasters, and certain health conditions are problems that most people will face at one time or another. Mentally strong people keep an optimistic outlook about their ability to handle whatever life throws their way.

Make friends with yourself

Learn to make friends with the person you are with all the time.  This is you. We often take the trouble to be nice to others but not to our own selves. This is one thing we should never do.

Give yourself a pep talk

Everyday learn to give yourself a pep talk saying the day would be wonderful and most often, it would turn to be so.

Convince yourself that you can overcome anything

Even if you are not perfect, you have overcome many more things than others have. You need to keep telling yourself you shall indeed be able to overcome everything.

Essentially, all of the above is about developing mental strength that is similar to building physical strength. If we wanted to become physically strong we would need good habits – like lifting weights. However, we would also need to get rid of bad habits, like eating too many sweets. Similarly, developing mental strength requires good habits – and it also requires you to give up destructive habits, like self-pity, jealousy and its cousin envy.

Everyone has the ability to build mental strength. By developing an increased ability to regulate our thoughts, manage our emotions and behave productively despite whatever cards life gives us, we all can  grow stronger and become better.

Last but not the least, pray. Whether we believe in a higher power or not, prayer is very helpful to us. We could call it prayer or anything else that resonates with us. In my case, One of the best prayers that I resonate with is The Serenity Prayer  written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971). It says,

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

In a nutshell, it teaches us how to lead a complete life by understanding ourselves and the life around us.

A Thousand Rupees

 

There is enough in this world to meet every man’s need

But not even one man’s greed – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

‘Could you give me a letter allowing a friend to stay for a month’, my maid, Heera, asked.  She looked uncharacteristically anxious.

thousandrupeesWe lived in a defence colony which had strict security guidelines for allowing outsiders to stay.  Heera was a verified member and lived in a small room close to our home.  She had worked with us from the time we had arrived in Mumbai, and I knew we would miss her a great deal when we moved to another city, something that could happen anytime.  Transfers were a part and parcel of an Indian defence officer’s family after all.

This was the first time Heera had asked us to give her this kind of letter.  It must be important to her, I thought, and completed the necessary formalities.

Her friend, Sona Bai, arrived soon after. I realized in a couple of days that she was partially blind.  Yet, I could see her doing her best to be helpful by cleaning Heera’s room.  The month passed and Heera asked for Sona Bai’s stay to be extended.  This was a little difficult, but we managed to get the required permission.

It was then that I found out more about her.  Sona Bai’s eyesight had gradually failed and she had been supported by her daughter, her only living relative, for a few years.  A few months back, her daughter had developed high fever and suddenly died.  Sona Bai now had no one to call her own.

It was then that Heera had met her.  Even with her limited means, Heera had not hesitated to immediately bring her home, though she was just a casual acquaintance.

Would I have been so large hearted ? I wondered.  So called ‘educated’ people like us tend to think too much about long term implications:  ‘How long can I keep her’, ‘What will I do later ?’ and so on, and stop ourselves from a natural, human response; simple folk like Heera have much stronger values and courage.

Soon after getting Sona Bai’s permission extended, I realized we needed to try and help Sona Bai settle down in a more permanent manner because of the colony’s restrictions, and also because, once we moved, Heera might not be able to ask her next employer for permission.

However, this was easier said than done.  Options were limited as blind homes in Mumbai could not take her in; they were already fully occupied and, besides, her case was weak as she was only partially blind.  She was not old enough for an old age home.  And her blindness did not allow her to take on the kind of job she could do earlier.

As I was pondering on what could be done, I got a call from one of the blind homes that I had approached in Mumbai. ‘We understand the difficulty of the lady and have just got information that there is an ashram for the blind in Surendranagar in Gujarat, which has room for Sona Bai.  Would you like to send her there ? the director asked.

This seemed suitable, but I wondered whether Sona Bai would want to move so far from her friends, and to a place where she did not understand the language.  I spoke to her hesitantly and was amazed at her equanimity. ‘God has opened yet another door for me’, she said calmly, ‘yes, I shall go’.

We completed the formalities.  Just before the social worker from the blind home came to take Sona Bai to Surendranagar, I gave Sona Bai a thousand rupees – a small amount, but enough to see her through for a couple of months at least.

When we got a call after three days from Sona Bai saying she had reached and was comfortable, I felt at ease and was happy that I could play a small role in making it possible for her to have a home.

There was one more surprise in store for me.  The social worked called me in a few days saying she wished to meet me.  Wondering what the matter could be, I went to meet her and was handed an envelope with a thousand rupees.

‘Sona Bai asked me to give this to you’, the social worker said. ‘And she asked me to write a letter to you on her behalf’. She opened up a sheet of paper, and read out:

‘I am very happy here.  We spend our time weaving and knitting.  Thank you for finding this place for me.  Please don’t feel bad that I have returned your money.  I took it thinking I might need it for travel or for some expense I might have in the ashram.  But I spent nothing on travel.  The social worker told me you had already paid for my ticket.  When I reached here, I found I am given food and two sarees every year.  What more do I need ? The money is probably more useful to you.  So, please take it back’.

The sheer courage of the woman and her perception of ‘need’ astounded me.

This remains the most precious thousand rupees I have ever received.

 —————————————————————————————————-

This was one of the first stories I wrote and it got published in Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul. It remains one of my favourite stories and  I feel truly proud to have shared it.

Cinnamon, the balancer

 

In all the research that is going on in the world, it would greatly benefit if the entire scientific community, particularly the doctors know  the power of spices. For instance, cinnamon is a spice that is not just aromatic but also has a lot of medicinal properties and has always been recognised for this since time immemorial.

cinnamonCinnamon is native to Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon and the south-eastern coast of India, while the closely related Cassia is native to China. Cinnamon and Cassia are both small tropical evergreen trees that grow up to 20 – 30 feet tall, with aromatic bark and leaves.It has been used as an ingredient throughout history, dating back as far as Ancient Egypt. It used to be rare and valuable, and was regarded as a gift fit for kings. In fact, even wars have been fought for cinnamon and the Taoists have called it the ‘food of the Gods’.

Coming to our body and health, a paradox in metabolism is that, while the vast majority of complex life on the planet requires oxygen for its existence, oxygen is a highly reactive molecule that damages living organisms by producing reactive oxygen species.

Consequently, organisms contain a complex network of antioxidant metabolites and enzymes that work together to prevent oxidative damage to cellular components such as DNA, proteins and lipids.

In general, antioxidant systems either prevent these reactive species from being formed, or remove them before they can damage vital components of the cell. Thus, the function of antioxidant systems is not to remove oxidants entirely, but instead to keep them at an optimum level. Here, cinnamon is supposed to be very good. Apart from this, it is  considered to be good in controlling diabetes, heart ailments and arthritis.

In my case, I did and do include cinnamon in my diet, particularly after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. For those who are not aware, multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disorder of the CNS (central nervous system in which myelin components are particularly targeted by the immune system resulting in demyelination of axons and associated debilitating symptoms, In spite of intense investigations, no effective therapy is available for this disease yet.

Personally, I have benefitted from various therapies (all natural) as I did not and doo not wish to be a guinea pig on all the scientific research going on in the allopathic world. Here, cinnamon has become a part of my life. The best thing of course is that this can be easily done by not making major lifestyle changes. Side effects, if any, are only positive.

Apart from the herbs, my entire journey on recovery has taught me that health and life in general is all about maintaining balance in all areas and yes, listening to what our body, mind and spirit is telling us.

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Means are as important as the ends

Very often, we justify all kinds of actions of ours by justifying it in various ways. In various ways, we point out a finger at others when we have done something wrong. We do know two wrongs don’t make one right but that is the most commonly used philosophy/ justification today.

moralcompassWhy just personal life ? Even in social and political life, the way we function is more or less the same.  Which is why it helps if we examine morally sound people and movements.

Many may deride Gandhi today still if we think deeply, he was one who  genuinely believed that a freedom won by bad means would be a bad freedom. He has been proved right by every other country freed from colonialism by adopting any means possible (Indonesia, Kenya, Algeria, to name a few).

“The guns that are used against the British”, Gandhi once said, referring to those Indian freedom fighters who saw assassination of British officials as a reasonable retort to British oppression, “will tomorrow be turned against Indians”. The need to build a group where the discourse of ideas, not the discharge of weapons, would win the day was evident to Gandhi, but was not evident to impatient but short sighted hotheads across the country. Here, Chauri Chaura is something we all need to note, remember and learn from, at least now.

When Gandhi’s Satyagraha movement was in full swing in 1921-22, a group of non-violent protesters was beaten up by some policemen in the small town of Chauri Chaura in Northern India. The instructions to the satyagrahis was very clear, they would take the beatings but not respond in kind.

In this instance, however, the protesters were provoked enough to chase the policemen who, finding they were outnumbered, locked themselves in their police station. The crowd then set fire to the police station, killing 22 policemen.

That the atrocity at Chauri Chaura happened despite Gandhi’s efforts to keep the movement peaceful, that such misfirings were rare in a huge national movement involving hundreds of thousands, made no difference to Gandhi. He took total responsibility as the leader of the movement, and staked his entire career upon it. What happened later, something everyone keeps taking about, is not as important as the fact that Gandhi never compromised on his principles and hence set a remarkable example for us.

Let us all strive to at least recognise people like Gandhi, whether they are leaders now or not.  This is the way morally sound movements are born.

For the world to survive, what we need now more than ever before, is a moral compass guiding us.

This shall happen only if we ourselves are morally sound. For this, change needs to begin from within. This can and shall happen once we recognise it as the right direction for us and the world.

Rays of hope

In an era where there is so much of confusion  and conflict in religions, there are rays of hope that do show us that humanity is still alive.

perspThere are some  who have struggled to restore balance and justice in society and some who have achieved this by just being who they are. These are not just famous people but ordinary, commoners who know what is right and wrong.

This reminds of the time I had spoken sometime back to Teesta Setalvad,  who was and is passionate about communal harmony and amity.

Teesta Setalvad had resigned from mainstream journalism only because she was keen on promoting justice and peace. She is the secretary of Citizens for Justice and Peace, the editor of Communalism Combat and runs an organization, KHOJ, www.khojedu.net, that encourages children to discuss and understand issues in society.

When I asked her what was her most memorable event in all the work she had undertaken, she shared, “In December 1992, post Babri Masjid violence  had made Bombay burn with the Shiv Sena-BJP leading the violence. I encountered an amazing story there. A building with entirely Muslim residents had been attacked on the night of December 6-7 and they survived only because of Vimla Tai Khaonekar the mother of the Shiv Sainik leading the mob set to burn the building.

She came out, fully clad in her nine yard Maharashtrian saree,and dared him to go past her. The aggressive Shiv Sainik confronted with the moral force of his mother, slunk away. The grateful residents narrated the story of their saviour, I wrote about it in The Sunday Observer and fortunately she received the Mayor’s medal for bravery. It is such acts of unsurmountable courage and conviction that need to be told so women like Vimla tai become our role models.”

I completely resonate with her and truly echo her sentiment of trying to focus on real courage and bravery.

On another note, we know Teesta has faced and is still facing a lot of travails but the hope that she still has in humanity is laudable.

Teesta and yes, people like Vimala Tai make me certain that we will surely overcome the malaise in our society of hatred of all kinds, slowly but surely.

A heartfelt review

dancingwithlifeThank you, Kanika Juneja for this wonderful review. It means a lot to me as the greatest reward for any writer is to give a wee bit of hope and inspiration to others.

“Although I tried to remain positive, I had wilted with worry by the middle of my visit. Would there be a quick deterioration in my condition? Would I also end up in a wheelchair? Would I need to use a walking stick? Would I be able to continue to speak properly, without slurring? Would I become blind? ”
A chill ran down her spine when Jamuna Rangachari pondered over these devastating questions. At thirty three, she seemed to have it all : a job she loved, a wonderful family and perfect health. Her world came to a stand still when the doctor diagnosed her with Multiple Sclerosis in 2002.

The questions were so many and the answers, uncertain.
However, one night she decided to take the charge of her life and started to wage a war with her auto – immune disorder. She went ahead to try all the possible alternative therapies to finally find solace in acupuncture, a therapy that changed her life.

From talking about various useful therapies to sharing about her changed life perspective and how faith and determination can help one in overcoming any challenge, this book is a must read for all the people suffering from this debilitating disease.

As an M. S patient myself, I could resonate with not only her fears but her life philosophy that talks about the importance of love and gratitude in one’s life. I would like to conclude by quoting my favorite lines from the book :
” On my M. S journey, I began to understand that every natural thing exists on several different levels at once. It is like a multilayered pudding that had a base, jelly and icing. Every layer is necessary for the pudding to be tasty and all of these layers when combined make it a thing of beauty. In this life, the gross level at which we can see and easily understand things ends at the tangible body…. Above these layers is another layer, which is even more powerful. This is the layer of what is called karma, fate or destiny. It is essentially acceptance of the cards that are dealt to us by life. We can communicate with this layer only through prayer, positive belief and gratitude for the small mercies God or the universe has bestowed on us. ”

When one has such a powerful view point, one can not help but ‘Dance with Life.’

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