Categories
Personal Writing

End of an Era

My maternal grandfather Sri R.V.V. Rajan left Bhoolokam (our planet) this week. Significantly, he had turned 100 last year and we believed he was going strong. His Acharyan had predicted many decades ago that he would live to be a centenarian. It was quite prescient. 

I loved my Thatha (aka Sithi). He was a fun person to have a conversation with and to just hang out. 

A conversation matters and sticks with you when the other person is genuinely interested in what you have to say. My grandfather had mastered the art of showing such genuine interest. It came to him naturally. He would ask me about other people. He would ask other people about me and my family. I think it was his way of getting a 360 view. 

He experienced the Indian Freedom movement as a youth.He participated with zest in electrification schemes in rural Tamil Nadu. That work took him to various locations. He would recollect his work at Tamil Nadu Electricity Board with fondness and pride. 

His family owned classy cars and he came to see my grandmother with style in one of those cars for the pre-engagement meetup.

He was a good looking and active man. During most of my middle and high school days, he would bike 3-4 kms daily to visit his eldest daughter (my mom) and bring vegetables from the market. I would steal his bike to take “jolly” rounds around the neighborhood. Initially protective, he gave up on locking the bike.

The challenges of raising a family of seven children didn’t seem to faze him. He went about his life tactically, enjoying the daily rhythm of life. The daily requirements of our sampradaya kept him active and engaged. 

Innately curious, he developed a great memory to people and places. Relationships between people was his strong point. He nurtured and built his own social graph and used that to power his interest and empathy. In a gathering, he was the natural ice breaker.

He visited the United States once and was in admiration of this country. When I landed in New York, he was there and I got to spend a week with him. That was such a pleasant experience. 

In later years, he didn’t let his physical discomforts suppress his positive outlook and continuous engagement. He accepted being taken care of by a non family member.

As I reflect, the change in the last 100 years in this world is mind boggling. As I hold my grandfather’s ever present smile, some human qualities are forever comforting. 

Thank you for everything Sithi.

Categories
Personal

Fearlessness

(this article inspired by a discourse by one of my Gurus today)

In our life, we are afraid of many things.

More recently, we fear that we may contract COVID.

We fear the extremity of the seasons and weather.

We fear the repercussions of not being able to organize an event smoothly.

We fear that our travels will not be safe. 

We fear the results of an exam ; about not getting admission to our desired university ; we fear poor job performance. 

There is no end to fear in our lives. Even our last breath can be fearful. 

Our guru Swami Desikan has written an entire work called Abheetistavam dedicated to dealing with fear and how to eliminate it from our lives. It’s in praise of fearlessness. 

In it, he says that utmost faith in God (Lord Ranganatha in my tradition) is the only way to remove fear. He welcomes everyone with his eyes. He is waiting for us. He welcomes everyone. His vow (Sankalpam) is to make everyone lead a life without fear. 

If one sings in praise of Lord Ranganatha, one can become fearless.

If one says that one doesn’t know how to sing, one can just bow down to Him. That makes one fearless.

If one says, “I don’t reside in the same town, how can I go and bow down to Him?”, then one can just face his direction and utter His name. That makes one fearless.

Barring all this, one can do just Vakthi, which is just an impulse of saying God’s name. That’s enough to become fearless.

So, go ahead. Believe and trust in your God. You can become fearless.

Categories
Life People Personal

Carrom Bonding

The Carrom Board is a rite of passage for Indian families. To write this article, I looked up the origin of the Carrom game. No surprise, there is strong evidence that it originated in the Indian subcontinent.

For many of us, Carrom is not only a game. It is a family and friends bonding platform. A game can go on for hours with lots of interspersed small talk, jabs and pokes of the mental type, tantrums, taunts, distractions, exhilarations, near misses and a captive audience waiting for it’s turn to play. 

I remember one annual game that started at 10 PM and went on until 3 AM. At 3 AM it was time to get showered and head onto the temple for the Vaikunta Ekadasi festival. The twists and turns of the game were so exciting that no one bothered to get a shut eye for the night. 

The beauty of the game is that one can bring in their own technique and personality. Some believe in precise geometry and physics and wouldn’t hesitate to crow about it when a coin was pocketed. Some play it quietly and can’t tolerate chit chats and distractions during their turn. The same kind do not reveal their techniques for fear of copycats. Some would lean back so far back on their backless chair to strike a coin that it was certain they crossed the international border to SriLanka.  A person’s true personality came through loud and clear.  

The carrom coins are of 2 colors – brown (white) and black. There is also a red one. The brown carries 2 points and the black carries one point. The queen (red) is valued at 5 points. You can note the color discrimination there too in the value system.

The powder is the substance that makes it all work. Boric Acid and Nycil are the two common ones. Without the powder, it is practically impossible for the striker to move smoothly on the  polished board made of plywood.

Last week, we received our new carrom board. We finally replaced our previous one that has gone missing for years. I feel like a kid again. To my horror, I taunted my wife to play and she gave it right back to me. However, we are spending more time looking at each other across the table than viewing the TV next to each other. 

Game on! What’s your Carrom story? 

Categories
Personal

Inexplicable

Sometimes you wonder how a certain event happened in your life. You run it through your head many times over. You analyze various probabilities. You brainstorm with friends and family. At the end of it, you accept that it happened and get on with life. If it’s a good event you reminisce and smile. You start believing in the Divine Hand.

One such event is my securing a winning spot in the National Talent Search Exam. This nationwide exam for 10th graders tested one’s skills in five subjects. You chose two of the five subjects and the three compulsory ones being General Knowledge, Mental Ability and Mathematics. I think I chose Civics and Biology as my optional subjects. I’m a little fuzzy on the exact details but you get the gist. The test is considered extremely competitive. I believe 2000 students are chosen from the Exam for an in person interview and 500 out of that get the winning spots. The prize is a 4 year undergraduate scholarship that covers tuition. Sweet indeed!

After the written exam, I looked forward to the summer vacation but my friend Sriram would have none of it. He insisted that we discuss various questions and assess our performance. I knew I had done quite poorly. There were so many questions that made me feel like I was all alone on Mars. With twenty minutes to go in the exam, I went into random mode and started guessing answers. There was no penalty for wrong answers, so guessing was a workable strategy.

With the end of summer vacation, I was glad to get back to school and resume normal life. A few days in, while getting ready for the afternoon session, a peon peeked his head into my class and signaled to the teacher. With a series of gestures looking at me and then looking at her, he conveyed the message. The Principal wanted me at the main office immediately.

With a racing heart, compounded by 2 flights of stairs, I staggered into the office. There, sitting at the table was Principal Miss Meenakshi and across him was a balding gentleman, whom I immediately recognized as my father. “What the heck is he doing here”, I gulped. He broke into a smile. That confused me even more.

“Congratulations, GK, your father has brought you good news”, said Miss Meenakshi with her enthusiastic smile. Before I realized it, I came to know that I had secured an interview spot for the NTSE. It was unbelievable. How could that happen? It was a terrible mistake, I thought. But, adrenalin got the better of me and I instantly erased my doubts. My friends were happy for me and I didn’t know how to process that.

The Dosa was hot and the chutney was fresh. A cool breeze blew in as we ate our tiffin at the Woodlands restaurant. Within the hour, I would be appearing for a group interview. A day earlier, my parents and I, accompanied by a close friend of my father, had driven to Madras for the interview.

At a large circular table sat three gentleman and a lady. They were very polite. They asked me about subjects I was taking for ISC. They asked me to cite a habit I was proud of. Without batting an eyelid, I said it was reading the entire newspaper quickly every day, thanks to my grandfathers. The questions came quickly. They asked me about world affairs. They asked me what I thought about India’s role as a non aligned country. I said it was a worthwhile role. They asked me what I wanted to do as a career. I had no doubts that I wanted to be a doctor. There were some topical discussions. The rest is fuzzy.

In a few months, I was the proud recipient of the NTSE scholarship.

To this day, I remain completely clueless as to how I passed the exam. The interview was however a success.

As a not so brilliant performer in college, everyone must have wondered how I became a NTSE scholar. Their guess is as good as mine. It’s the Divine Hand. Or the random answer fills! When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Categories
Life People Personal

On Friendship

This is a guest post from my long time friend. Diraviam Kannan (aka TDK aka tadukki). TDK lives near Salt Lake City, Utah. We became classmates at Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani. TDK writes mellifluously after researching Thiruvalluvar’s writings on Friendship in Thirukural. It’s a fascinating read and longer than my typical couple of paragraphs. Sorry, there is no TL;DR version.

TDK, take it away…

Greetings, Vanakkam!

Living with limited social interactions for awhile now, all of us wonder when this status will change. We look forward with hope, more of a disappointing longing, as to when we can freely meet and mingle with our friends and beloved ones. As social beings, we find this isolated lifestyle painful.

Constrained by this isolation, we have used social media to connect with our friends and extended families. In a way, it has been a blessing in disguise as we are able to have closer and frequent contact with them. It is a great pleasure to be able to connect with our school and college friends. Friendship that is unique and distinct. Friendship that allows us to be ourselves, providing an environment wherein we can share our thoughts freely and safely, without the fear of being judged.

Musing about friendship in this manner led me to wonder what Thamizh literature would hold about friendship. Thamizh is an ancient language but has stayed vibrant and kept up with changing times. A lifetime is not sufficient to know all that’s written about friendship in Thamizh literature. Hence, I decided to look into Thirukkural, revered as ‘Thamizh Vedam’, about Friendship.

The great Thamizh poet and philosopher Thiruvalluvar, in his epic work Thirukkural, has expounded about friendship in the ‘Porul’(‘Wealth’) section, in five chapters titled ‘Natpu’  (‘Friendship’), ‘Natparaithal’ (‘Investigation in forming friendship’), ‘Pazhaimai’ (‘Familiarity’), ‘Thee Natpu’ (‘Evil Friendship’), and ‘Kooda Natpu’ (‘Friendship not to be had’). He has written 10 couplets in each topic totaling 50 couplets on friendship and related aspects. Thiruvalluvar considered friendship to be quite important in our lives as he has written a lot about it.

Let’s explore.

செயற்கரிய யாவுள நட்பின் அதுபோல்
வினைக்கரிய யாவுள காப்பு.

What is so hard for men to gain as friendship true?
What is so sure defence ‘gainst all that foe can do?

Is anything dearer than acquiring friendship? Once we have friendship, are there any stronger things to guard us from evils? Thiruvalluvar treats friendship as a precious thing. Realizing true friendship is the ultimate protection for our lives, he says

உடுக்கை இழந்தவன் கைபோல ஆங்கே
இடுக்கண் களைவதாம் நட்பு.

As hand of him whose clothing slips away,
Friendship at once the coming grief will stay.

True friendship hastens to the rescue of the afflicted as readily as the hand of one whose garment is loosened before an assembly.

Most of us are familiar with this couplet. In the midst of others, if our dress slips, our hand rushes to catch it. Likewise when our friends are in distress, we should rush to help them. Akin to the involuntary action of our hands, true friends will help without being asked. Such is true friendship according to Thiruvalluvar. Not only that, he goes on to explain how good a true friendship is and should be.

அழிவி னவைநீக்கி ஆறுய்த்து அழிவின்கண்
அல்லல் உழப்பதாம் நட்பு.

Friendship from ruin saves, in way of virtue keeps;
In troublous time, it weeps with him who weeps.

A true friend turns one aside from evil ways, makes him/her walk in the good way, and, in case of loss, grieves with them.

and

முகநக நட்பது நட்பன்று நெஞ்சத்து
அகநக நட்பது நட்பு.

Not the face’s smile of welcome shows the friend sincere,
But the heart’s rejoicing gladness when the friend is near.

The love that dwells (merely in the smiles of the face is not friendship; (but) that which dwells deep in the smiles of the heart is true friendship.

Thiruvalluvar appears to relish, as he explains how true friendship feels.

நவில்தொறும் நூல்நயம் போலும் பயில்தொறும்
பண்புடை யாளர் தொடர்பு.

Learned scroll the more you ponder, Sweeter grows the mental food;
So the heart by use grows fonder, Bound in friendship with the good.

The pleasure that we get in our relationship with a true and noble friend is akin to the pleasure that we get every time we read a good book.

How amazing is this thought ! Even 2000 years ago a good book was considered like a good friend. If this were true, as this couplet implies, how Thamizhians must have been well read then!

நட்பிற்கு வீற்றிருக்கை யாதெனின் கொட்பின்றி
ஒல்லும்வாய் ஊன்றும் நிலை.

And where is friendship’s royal seat? In stable mind,
Where friend in every time of need support may find.

Friendship may be said to be on its throne when it possesses the power of supporting one another at all times and under all circumstances.

That’s how Valluvar defines the intrinsic nature of Friendship.

Moving on….

As Friendship is of such paramount importance, the ways to make friends must be treated with even more rigor. Accordingly, Thiruvalluvar stipulates the ways to make friends in the chapter ‘Natparaithal’ (‘Investigation in forming friendship’).

குணமும் குடிமையும் குற்றமும் குன்றா
இனனும் அறிந்தியாக்க நட்பு.

Temper, descent, defects, associations free
From blame: know these, then let the man be friend to thee.

We should know about a person’s character, their lineage, defects, and the nature of their associations prior to extending our friendship to them, As to why, he says below.

நாடாது நட்டலிற் கேடில்லை நட்டபின்
வீடில்லை நட்பாள் பவர்க்கு.

To make an untried man your friend is ruin sure;
For friendship formed unbroken must endure.

There is no way to forsake friendship that we form as a true friend and so there is nothing as harmful as extending friendship without adequate inquiry about the friend.

How true! Thirukkural is thus credited to be the “Code of Social and Personal Life”, one among the many acclaims bestowed on this great literary work. Though it has been written over two thousand years ago it is still relevant and applicable to our way of life.

ஆய்ந்தாய்ந்து கொள்ளாதான் கேண்மை கடைமுறை
தான்சாம் துயரம் தரும்.

Alliance with the man you have not proved and proved again,
In length of days will give you mortal pain.

The friendship contracted by one who has not made a thorough inquiry will in the end grieve one to death, Thus warns Valluvar!

In “Thee Natpu” (‘Evil Friendship’) chapter, Thiruvalluvar proscribes forming friendship with persons such as

உறுவது சீர்தூக்கும் நட்பும் பெறுவது
கொள்வாரும் கள்வரும் நேர்.

These are alike: the friends who ponder friendship’s gain
Those who accept whate’er you give, and all the plundering train.

Those who form friendship based on possible gains are equivalent to women of the streets and thieves.

Not only that, he goes on to caution about…

கனவினும் இன்னாது மன்னோ வினைவேறு
சொல்வேறு பட்டார் தொடர்பு.

E’en in a dream the intercourse is bitterness
With men whose deeds are other than their words profess.

The friendship of those whose actions do not agree with their words will distress (one) even in (one’s) dreams.

Though Thiruvalluvar has praised the greatness of true friendship he also details about unreal friendship in the chapter ‘Kooda Natpu’ (‘Friendship not be had’).

முகத்தின் இனிய நகாஅ அகத்தின்னா
வஞ்சரை அஞ்சப் படும்.

‘Tis fitting you should dread dissemblers’ guile,
Whose hearts are bitter while their faces smile.

One should fear the deceitful who smile sweetly with their face but never love with their heart.

இனம்போன்று இனமல்லார் கேண்மை மகளிர்
மனம்போல வேறு படும்.

Friendship of those who seem our kin, but are not really kind.
Will change from hour to hour like woman’s mind.

The friendship of those who seem to be friends while they are not, is like the mind of woman whose deeds are different from their intent.

This is the same idea that the great Thamizh Saint Thiru Ramalinga Swamigal aka Vallalar purports in his verse

உள்ளொன்று வைத்து புறமொன்று பேசுவார் உறவு கலவாமை வேண்டும்

We desire not to have friendship with those whose speech and deeds are different from their intent.

Thiruvalluvar even goes to the extent of preferring loneliness over friendship when the choice of friendship is with people who would forsake friends at times of critical need.

அமரகத்து ஆற்றறுக்கும் கல்லாமா அன்னார்
தமரின் தனிமை தலை.

A steed untrained will leave you in the tug of war;
Than friends like that to dwell alone is better far.

Solitude is more to be desired than the society of those who resemble the untrained horses which throw down (their riders) in the fields of battle.

Friendship involves minds of two people and it is impossible to conceive that two minds can think the same way, at all times. Hence, friends will land up having difference of opinions and altercations. Valluvar provides guidance on the ways to handle such differences in the chapter ‘Pazhaimai’ (‘Familiarity’).

பேதைமை ஒன்றோ பெருங்கிழமை என்றுணர்க
நோதக்க நட்டார் செயின்.

Not folly merely, but familiar carelessness,
Esteem it, when your friends cause you distress.

If friends should perform what is painful, understand that it is owing not only to ignorance, but also to the strong claims of intimacy.

பழைமை எனப்படுவது யாதெனின் யாதும்
கிழமையைக் கீழ்ந்திடா நட்பு.

Familiarity is friendship’s silent pact,
That puts restraint on no familiar act

Intimate friendship is that which cannot in the least be injured by things done through the right of longstanding intimacy.

Between two true friends if one commits a mistake that can harm the relationship it is important for the other to forgive, if not, the friendship may not survive. There is also a verse from ‘Naaladiyaar’ that reiterates this notion

இறப்பவே தீய செயினும், தன் நட்டார் பொறுத்தல் தகுவது ஒன்று அன்றோ?-நிறக் கோங்கு உருவ வண்டு ஆர்க்கும் உயர் வரை நாட!- ஒருவர் பொறை இருவர் நட்பு.

Even if a friend causes us much grief,

To put up with them is worth it; My Lord!

Bees buzz around bright flowers in your country’s tall peaks;

Patience of one saves friendship of two.

In the collection of poems famed as the ‘Naaladiyaar’, this poem is listed in the chapter ‘Natpirt pizahi poruththal’ (‘Toleration of mistakes committed in Friendship’) and illustrates

In spite of the grief created by the deeds of our true friend it is imperative to tolerate and forgive that O King, just as how the bees go in search of the blossom flowers at the mountain highs in your fair land so it is for one to be patient about ones true friend’s mistakes towards one in order to maintain that true friendship.

This is the same notion spelt out in the familiar proverb “ஒருவர் பொறை இருவர் நட்பு” . The below verse is listed in ‘Pazahamozhi Naanooru’ (‘Proverbs Four hundred’) and conveys the same idea

தீமை இல்லவர், நட்டவர் தீமையையும்,
எம் தீமை’ என்றே உணர்ப, தாம்; அம் தண்
பொரு திரை வந்து உலாம் பொங்கு நீர்ச் சேர்ப்ப!-
ஒருவர் பொறை, இருவர் நட்பு.

True friends would consider sorrows caused by their friend’s mistakes as sorrows of their own ill fate and forgive their friends. Thus, O Chief of the lands that are rich in water and where the waves rolls on the shores, one’s patience with their true friend’s mistakes will ensure survival of their friendship.

This poem beautifully illustrates the notion that tolerance and patience is essential to safeguard friendships.

All that I have shared so far about friendship is akin to grazing just the top surface of lush green meadows. In the vast literary swath of old and modern Thamizh literature there are lot more poems and verses embedded with thoughts and ideas about friendship. Of course, I am keen to know about all of that and will try my best. I will surely then share that with you all when time comes.

Long live friendship! Long live Thamizh! Wish you all a great life! 

Thanks for reading my post.

Note: It is imperative for me to record that the explanations about the various Thirukkural, Naaladiyaar, Pazhamozhi Naanooru poems that I have shared in this post are not mine but are based on the explanations written by various Thamizh scholars like Professor Mu. Varatharasanaar, Professor Solomon Pappaiaah, Thiru Sivayogi Sivakumar available in YTamizh.com website, Thiruvalluvar’s Thirukkural, Pulavar Saina Munivar’s Naaladiyaar, explanations by Thiru Thi, Su, Balasundaram Pillai, Pulavar Thiru Mundrurai Araiyanaar’s Pazhamozhi Naanooru, explanations by Thiru Puliyur Kesikan.