Ramayana: The Game of Life

Source: www.amazon.in
Earlier this month, BlogAdda delivered a copy of the second volume of Shubha Vilas' translation of India's favourite epic story: The Ramayana. Titled 'The Game of Life', book two in this trilogy is ominously called 'Shattered Dreams'. Yet, it is not a tragic story. It is a story that exemplifies duty and honour over everything else; at the cost of anything else. That doesn't seem too practical in today's times; yet the story has lessons that are timeless in their relevance. I have read numerous versions and translations of this mega epic but this particular series stands out for its painstaking listing and explanation of spiritual and life lessons, drawn from the experiences and actions of the lead characters. Sometimes, the footnotes come in the way of the story but then, the Ramayana was never meant to be just an entertaining story. It was always meant to be an example of how we must ideally think, behave and live.

In terms of writing and flow, I have absolutely no complaints with Vilas's translation. Since the story is spread across three parts, there is ample time to dwell over every single dialogue and turning point in the story. I don't remember reading the tale in such detail before. In fact, I'd like to get my hands on the first volume of this trilogy as well. The third is yet to be published. However, the way I viewed the story as a child differed greatly from the way I see it now. Now, as an adult, there are certain aspects that do not appeal to me. For instance, why are all the chief Gods and characters male? Why are the female characters only assigned the status of secondary Gods or cohorts? Additionally, how can God, an attribute-less entity be ascribed with such human qualities? Indeed, I've always found Indra's depiction to be lustful, egoistic and a lot of other things that God definitely doesn't stand for. There are a lot of facets I admire in Hinduism; at some points in the tale, I got goosebumps as well. But to accept every teaching and word as the Gospel truth - that would be alien to my character and unacceptable to my logical capabilities.

My advice to you as the discerning reader, is to accept those parts that resonate with you and make peace with those that don't. The story reeks of the inequality and patriarchy of those times; at some points one wonders, isn't this taking the principle of sacrifice too far? Isn't it equally important to have self-respect and fight for one's rights? After all, women have suffered for centuries because they allowed themselves to be subjugated. What victory can there be in bowing to injustice? These questions did plague me when Rama and his faithful retinue of Lakshman and Sita calmly proceeded to their exile of fourteen years. If indeed such events actually took place and God actually descended on this planet, I wonder why He can't pull a repeat performance now, when the world is mired in the destruction of nature and morality.

The other major issue I have with The Ramayana is the clear demarcation of people as good and evil. Humans are built in shades of grey and every one of is capable of exceeding greatness as well as unscrupulousness. This truth when fused into literature; makes for a believable and relatable story. In the Ramayana, people are either perfect to the point of giving up their own lives to honour another's word or promise; or so utterly evil that they would be unaffected by the death of their spouse. I can neither sympathise nor despise characters who are so clearly unreal. I understand that it is easier to deliver certain lessons when there is no doubt about which side to support but I think the Mahabharata paints a much more realistic picture of man's desires, failings and redemption. In fact, the portrayal of self-sacrificing and angelic individuals suffering at the hands of plotting, scheming demonic ones reminds me in an unsavoury way of today's soap operas that thrive on drama and tear-jerkers.

Nevertheless, my problems are with the story itself'; and not with the content of this particular book. As far as versions of the Ramayana go, this one scores really well and if you're looking to refresh your knowledge of this massive saga, go for it by all means. I don't think there is anyone who doesn't know at least the basic plot line of the Ramayana. It is after all more a part of the Indian ethos than a religious text or sermon. If you've always wanted someone to extract the wisdom out of the tale and present it in an easily consumable format, Shubha Vilas's Ramayana will certainly do the trick. 

Craving new wheels? Try Quikr NXT

Source: www.indiblogger.in
This month, my dad managed to find a buyer for my sister's old bicycle through Quikr. He told me how he didn't have to give our his contact details and talk to prospective buyers on the phone. I asked him how that was possible and he told me about Quikr NXT, a feature that allows you to chat with buyers and sellers via the website itself! So only when you've clinched the deal do you have to share actual contact details.

I remember this one time when I posted an ad to sell a book. Seconds after the advertisement went live, I got a random message from a creepy guy I didn't know. I then realised the pitfalls of sharing one's personal details even for the purpose of trade. Back then, I had intimated Quikr about the same and advised them to introduce a platform wherein people could communicate through the website itself. I didn't get a response that time but I think, they were already working on this model because within a month or two, they had launched Quikr NXT.

Source: www.indiblogger.in
Let's walk you through Quikr NXT using an example of a car. Many of us would not want to shell out several lakhs of rupees for a brand new car, especially when you have the option of buying barely used cars at a much lower price online. So, let's log on to Quikr and look for a car that fits our budget. I'm going to earmark 2 lakh rupees for this purpose; double the price of a Nano. The first thing that you have to do is register yourself on the website. Once you do that, you can see a tab called 'My chats' on the dashboard. When I open mine, I see the messages that I sent to dealers of memory cards, hard disks, headphones and portable chargers as I had purchased a few of those items last year. That worked out pretty well, btw.

Now let's go through the listings in the cars section and shortlist a few, based on filters like price, used/new, car models and brands, etc. Earlier, when I sent a message to a seller, it would be a static affair and I'd have to wait for hours or days at times for the seller to check his inbox and respond. But now with Quikr NXT, a chat window pops up when I send a message and if the seller is online, he can respond at once. This is communicating in real time! With this feature, one can clinch a deal in mere minutes. I don't think car buying has ever been this easy or quick. What's more, if you have the app installed, you'll get a notification instantaneously, making the process even smoother.

Personally, my heart is set on this i10 for 2 lakh rupees. It was purchased in 2010 and the seller claims that it is in excellent condition. I decide to ping him and ask him if it has any dents or scratches and voila, he replies within minutes! I've also messaged another seller with a Maruti Wagon R for the same price. I'm pretty sure I'm going to have my new wheels on its way by Monday. Are you going to get cracking as well or not?

Does India have a green conscience?

Taken at Aarey Colony last year
This whole Aarey Colony business has left me feeling tired and hopeless. When I visited this cocoon of greenery last year, I was astonished that such a place had been allowed to exist in a commerce-driven city like Mumbai. I should have known it was too good to last. After all, we are talking about a city where the BMC sneaks behind our backs to chop acres of trees by night; where 90 per cent of the populace does not hesitate to chuck wrappers into the lap of nature and most trucks and vans have never had a pollution check done in years. This is a city whose authorities don't care about anything except 'development' and commerce. I have begun to think of development as a bad thing; because it almost always means the death of thousands of innocent trees and the birds and creatures that have their homes in them.

It beats me as to why such a religious country has so little reverence for the environment. Appreciating the world we live in is not philanthropy; it's a logical homage to the ecosystem that allows us to breathe fresh air, rejuvenate ourselves in beautiful places and reap the benefits of rich natural resources. Yet it seems that our government does not understand this simple truth and is only invested in hastening the collapse of the planet in the name of development.

They say they are going to build a park in Aarey Colony, on the lines of international landscaped gardens. Well I don't want your stupid manmade parks. I want glorious wilderness; so much more welcoming, free and pure. I want to ask the officials who drew up this soulless plan - have you never enjoyed a quiet evening surrounded by hills and endless patches of unmown grass? Would you really prefer spending your weekends in the midst of scalding grey concrete? Is that the kind of world you want to create for your children? But I'm being naive, am I not? It's all about generating more and more revenue and filling up the coffers until more houses can be bought; trips taken and cars ordered. It's all about material gains and golden words like employment and GDP.

I went to Europe for the first time last year and I was struck by the quality of the air they breathed; the parks around every corner and the absence of unseemly fumes from the oldest and the cheapest vehicles on the streets. Compare this with my gruelling bus ride yesterday from BKC to Kurla station; a distance of just 3 KM but it took me one hour in the evening thanks to the unyielding traffic. And I spent the entire time inhaling noxious fumes from my own bus and the surrounding vehicles. I don't know how much damage I did to my lungs in that one hour but I hardly had a choice in the matter.

These days, when I visit a beautiful natural spot, I commit it to memory, I take as many pictures as I can and I write about it in minute detail because I cannot be sure that I'll be able to visit that spot again, in a few years time. This is a country where natural beauty is a disposable commodity and why shouldn't that be the case when we have wonderful, 'educated' citizens who use the world beyond their windows as a vast garbage bin? How many more fights should I pick up with people in the local train for teaching their children to throw orange peels on the floor? How many more instances where the tea tastes bitter after reading a report of more trees being murdered? Even if we do save Aarey this time, what when another heartless, brainless fool comes up with an even more lucrative plan to commercialise the area?

I don't know who deserves more condemnation - the government or people like you and me, who are content to witness the ruin of our city and eventually, the ruin of the country and the planet. It is a hopeless and a Godless world where people don't have a green conscience.

The top 5 wishes on my bucket list

Watch this video and take a moment to reflect over whether you're prepared for all the years that lie ahead of you. Will you be living your later years worrying about how you're going to rake up money for the next day or will you be travelling the world and doing everything that you've always wanted to do? The latter obviously requires some planning, because a restful future is not easily attained.

Do you have a bucket list full of things you wish to accomplish before you die? Isn't that the defining factor of a wish list - that there's a clock ticking on them? And yet, living life with the thought of an imminent death simply robs it of its zest and spontaneity. Wouldn't it be great to live as though you'd be here forever? What if you could truly be #BefikarUmarBhar?What would your bucket list constitute? Here are the top five picks from mine.

1. Travel the world with my beloved

I know everyone says this but by travelling the world, I don't mean a hectic world tour with no time to breathe in between. It means that I want to do a leisurely trek of the globe, pausing whenever I want, staying in places for weeks together and absorbing newness everyday, in the company of the one I love the most. Things mean so much more when you can share them with someone you love. I discovered this while travelling solo and I know that if I ever pack my bags to be a nomad, I wouldn't want to do it alone. Loneliness can be tiring.

2. Write novels that people love to read

When I no longer have to do a nine to five job, I'll have all the time in the world to put pen to paper and record all the stories that have germinated in my mind and heart, over the years. These will be stories I've experienced and imagined; stories that make the reader feel something they wouldn't have otherwise. I don't want to be a bestselling novelist or someone who sells their books for 99 each. I want to be the kind of author people remember fondly years on, as someone who affected their lives with insightful writing.

3. Involve myself in saving the environment

It always burns my heart to read about trees being hewn to make way for more soulless 'development'. I've been involved with Greenpeace in the past but it wasn't the same as actually petitioning for local issues and ensuring that I'm doing my part in conserving what little green cover we have left. My heart aches to think of a dry planet with just a few sorry remnants of the majesty of nature. I've wondered if I couldn't turn back time and return the world to a time that was far kinder and more aware of the need to be attuned to all the beings of the Universe,

4. Learn to play the piano and violin

I already own a piano but I haven't made much headway in learning to play it with finesse. If I could live #BefikarUmarBhar, I'd definitely invest time and money in learning my favourite musical instruments. I've always loved to sing and it brings me deep pleasure to lose myself in the tunes of a soulful melody. How wonderful it would be if I could create the accompanying music myself, without waiting for karaoke tracks or a kind guitarist who'd be willing to play along? How wonderful it would be if I could recreate the classical legends of yore through my own fingers?

5. Spend time with my grandkids

And by spending time I mean taking them on camping trips and teaching them the nuances of speaking French, I would want to relive the passions of my youth in their innocence and spiritedness and I know my life would have meant something when I see them smile at something I say or do. It is our duty to leave a positive legacy in whatever way possible so that we may not have lived in vain. Our lives may be transient but they can mean as much as we want them to because their meaning is defined by our actions and intent. And if I work towards living #BefikarUmarBhar, I know I can fulfil every item on this bucket list.

This post has been written for the Indiblogger and IDBI Life Insurance activity

Moral science for adults

A week ago, I was asked to review this book called 'Back to Basics - Transforming Life' by a first-time author, Murali Nandula (his thoughts have however been penned down by Anuja Surve). Now there are three main genres of self-improvement books: moral science/religious, spiritual/mystical or self-help/transformational. This book tries to draw upon insights from major works and authors in all three genres and present a handbook of kinds, for living one's life well.

The author has identified six 'universal principle's based upon his study and experiences of various theories and writings and according to him, these principles govern every stage of life, and reflecting upon them can provide a solution to any of your problems. These principles are:

  • Design and purpose
  • Order and rhythm
  • Abundance
  • Freedom
  • Oneness
  • Responsibility

Apart from this unique idea that the author has propounded, the book also contains cursory descriptions of known psychological theories such as Maslow's hierarchy of needs and Freudian psychoanalysis. Additionally, one chapter is devoted to rituals and ideas associated with major religions. If you are already well versed with these subjects, then these chapters will not add much to your knowledge base. However, the six principles are an interesting read; whether or not you are familiar with theology and spirituality.

'Back to Basics - Transforming Life' reminds me of the moral science textbooks and workbooks we had in school because many of the chapters ask you to answer numerous questions and fill in boxes. Now, this kind of guided introspection may work for some people but I prefer to reflect on concepts in my own way. However, one is free to ignore the exercise sections of the chapters or perform them mentally if that suits them better. Nevertheless, this technique makes me regard the book as a sort of moral science textbook for adults.

The author has targeted all age groups and segments with this book; with advice pertaining to children, teenagers, adults and senior citizens. This means that you may want to skim over sections that are not entirely relevant to you (such as the child rearing section if you're unmarried and single). I believe the book may come in useful for a reader who is new to the genre of spirituality and self-improvement and does not have the time or inclination for reading several different books and forming conclusions of their own. Basically, the author invites you to benefit from the conclusions he has himself drawn from his studies and research.

According to Nandula, going back to the basics; that is the six universal principles of life can help transform your life easily and effectively. Whether this is true or not can only be known upon long-term application of the principles. If you'd like to try, you should pick up this book. The writing style is conversational and cites the author's personal experiences at times. Incidentally, Nandula is a senior management executive at a financial services conglomerate. Stephen Covey's seven habits of effective people make a frequent appearance in the book as well.

The book offers broad-spectrum advice on a variety of subjects which is both a pro and a con. If you're looking for in-depth advice on one particular subject, you will be disappointed. But if you want generic advice that you can apply in various areas, then this book may be helpful for you. A bonus chapter at the end of the book offers inspirational affirmations that you can repeat during your meditative sessions at the start of each day. The author also narrates stories that may benefit MBA aspirants and working professionals.

The simplistic nature of the writing may appeal to a wide section of readers; especially those who do not prefer verbose tomes. There is also a definite Indian perspective to the ideas; which is refreshing at a time when most of the bestselling self-help titles are by foreign authors. However, the price of the book is a little steep, unless you're buying the Kindle edition.

The citations and quotes are sometimes more inspiring than the ideas in the book itself! For instance the poem 'Crabbit Old Woman', written in 1966 by a nurse named Phyllis McCormack provides a touching perspective into the psyche of an old person who only has memories of a youth well lived. Masculine and feminine characteristics also make an appearance in the book. The author provides examples of how to relate the six universal principles to different scenarios to aid the reader.

The author would have done well to expound further on his own principles and minimise references to existing religions and theories; much of which is common knowledge to those who are fond of reading. Nevertheless, this is a decent first attempt at a motivational guide and I can imagine that writing it must have been a spiritual exercise for the author as well.

Details for purchase:

Title: Back to Basics - Transforming Life
Author: Murali Nandula and Anuja Surve
Publisher: Patridge India
Pages: 212
Price: Rs 414 (paperback) | Rs 873 (hardcover) | Rs 161 (Kindle edition)
Buy it on Amazon or Flipkart


When I hear a really beautiful song, I want it to sing it too. As when I read a truly lovely book, I am inspired to write as well.

The truly great works of art inspire emulation. Creation begets creation. As we were created, we too create. And our creations are not inanimate either - they create laughter, tears, happiness, pain and all the rainbow of sensations, emotions and experiences in the senses of the recipient.

So what will you create today? A smile, a poem, a report? Remember that you hold in your hands a power akin to that of God, and treat it with the reverence it deserves. Be an architect of magic; not emptiness.