She could continue to dance.

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She was dressed in embroidered clothes and long earrings. Her eyes and her lips were coloured. She didn’t look like herself any longer. She was painted and attired to represent an idea of beauty and glamour. She had been nominated for a prestigious award. She was young, a woman, and her origins could be traced to an underdeveloped nation. She was a minority, and she was crossing the chasm—the chasm in history. They celebrated her. She went along.

On the big award night, she sat in anticipation. Expectations had been built. Even as a child, she had lived up to expectations. She kept everyone happy. Disappointing others was not something she could bring herself to do. Guilt made her give endlessly.

There was excitement in the air. Every nominee, held in the clutch of hope (the deceptive face of desire) could feel the churn of doubt and anticipation. The award was a mark of distinction. Many aspired to it, while others dreamed. Few were known who did not care for an award, especially this one: A gold-plated statuette of a knight with a crusader’s sword, standing atop a film reel. Really, a male, a knight, and a crusader’s sword as recognition of creative excellence?  

They announced the winner. It wasn’t her. Nor was it three of the other nominees. Only one among the five received the award, while all were deserving. The jury had picked a fit. The mark of distinction was assigned.

Doubt and anticipation ended. That’s it; it all changed in a minute. No one noticed the change. Words of encouragement touched the ears. Solidarity found expression. And what about the doubt and anticipation that had made its churn felt? Did it leave without an imprint?

She could exhale again and continue to dance, even without the glass shoes. She didn’t need glass shoes to dance. She needed her bare feet.

And the award goes to...
An award with a sword.

Another way—another story

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All / Between the lines / Coexistence & Harmony

Respect-Care-Include: The story of another book.

I was lifted out of a box that smelled of sawdust, and was placed on a shelf. I sat awkwardly, self-conscious of my difference. A book next to me asked, ‘why are you shy?’ I wasn’t sure of what to say, but it looked friendly, and so I said, “I don’t fit in. I look and feel different from the others.” ‘Different, isn’t a bad thing, look at me I am thinner than the others, and look at that book there, it’s smaller than everyone else, and that one has no cover. We are all a little different.

I wasn’t reassured. I sat quietly. It smiled and said, ‘let me tell you about how you were made.’ “How would you know?” I asked. ‘I heard the lady who put you on the shelf tell your story. You have been made from recycled cotton paper. Cotton waste was collected from apparel factories, and was shredded and mixed with tapioca.’ I interrupted, “Waste, I was made from trash! Different isn’t very special, is it? I do not want to be different.”

It smiled and continued. ‘Tapioca is a starch extracted from the cassava root, and starch is a polysaccharide that has many molecules of sugar or glucose. Plants produce it to store energy.’ “Oh, the cassava plant had to lose its store of energy so that I could be made?” Again it smiled (it smiled a lot).

‘The pulp of shredded cotton and tapioca was dried in the sun and pressed into paper on a large cylindrical press that runs on solar electricity. And then rows and rows of paper were hung on a clothesline to sunbathe. Your paper was born of the sun and the plants. You have no wood pulp and no chemicals and no tree was cut to produce you. Your ink too contains soybean oil and other vegetable oils. These oils do not trap heat in the atmosphere, and they do not add to global warming. ‘

I was embarrassed. Who was this me, who felt awkward?
“So…, I said, you’re telling me that I am the cotton tree, the sun, the cassava root, and the soybean plant.
I am a little of many?” ‘Yes,’ it replied. I smiled. 

One page stories

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All / Between the lines / Coexistence & Harmony

There’s more than one way to do something, and the way we choose becomes our story.

The story of a book.

When I was made, the elders told me that trees were uprooted, they were stripped off their bark, and cut into small pieces known as wood chips. The wood chips were cooked, and lignin was dissolved. Lignin is what makes trees stand tall and look dignified. Scientists—those folks in white coats—call it an organic polymer, a large molecule that has many small molecules of the same type. But the elders said the trees didn’t want to lose their large molecule, they liked to stand tall and look dignified, that’s what let them cast their shade, it made them who they were.

Without lignin, the wood chips became soft and pulpy, then they were re-coloured with bleach. What’s wrong with being brown in colour, I asked? I would have liked my pages to be brown. However, here I am with white pages.

Then the bleached pulp was pressed into paper that was ready to be inked. I was told that the planet sighed, while I was being inked. Really, why, I asked? The elders knew the answer, they had seen a lot. The planet sighed because carbon compounds were being released in the atmosphere, the planet knew that this would be disastrous over time. Now these carbon compounds have collected in the atmosphere and have made the planet uncomfortably warm. How could it not sigh?

The story of another book will follow soon.

So special

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All / Coexistence & Harmony

Have you seen a Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean–wait there’s more–Chinese and Tibetan temple co-exist? In Bodh Gaya, Bihar (India), they do. Spread over 249 square kilometres is the village of Bodh Gaya, where Siddhartha Gautama practiced meditation under the Bodhi or Bo Tree (ancient fig tree), till he acquired complete freedom from all fetters–to live in enlightenment as the Buddha, and help others acquire their freedom.

These temples are clustered close to the Bo Tree. I call them Temples Without Borders: unprecedented, isn’t it?

So special
Many branches, same roots.
Image credit: Wikipedia

If we remove the modifiers–state names–we are left with temple as a descriptor. And a temple is no more than a form of architecture, religious and emotional associations apart. What happens when we do this with people? Remove the nationality, and all we have is 7.7 billion humans. And a human is no more than an anthropoid. Where then is the distinction? Is it in you and I? Both are a common noun.

To a year as common as you and I: no nationality, no distinction. Welcome 2020.

Sound of silence

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All / Between the lines / Coexistence & Harmony

When words lead, truth recedes.
When words follow, truth precedes.
And we hear the sound of silence.

After a month of silence, and negligible eye-contact with fellow humans, the first thing that struck me, like a gong in a quiet room, is the reverberation of words in the body: Words are formed in the brain, and yet their vibrations are felt in the body. Caring and thoughtful words are accompanied by gentle vibrations, and harsh, condescending, and angry words are accompanied by bothersome and uncomfortable vibrations.

What comes first the words or the vibrations? I realised that vibrations lead to words. But these vibrations can’t be heard; they can only be sensed—in silence. Words that tell inspiring stories and words that create negativity, fear, and hatred, have the same source: vibrations. When we start to sense these vibrations, we can choose the kind of words we would like to use.

Walk, to bring to a stop.

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All / Between the lines / Coexistence & Harmony

On the second Sunday of September 2019, I woke up, made two placards and walked to a park near my home, with my mother. A friend joined us there, and we circled the 2 kilometre (approx.1.24-mile) circumference of the park, expecting to join a large gathering of people, coming together to remind the government of the need to preserve 2,700 trees, and the life that depends on them.

To me this initiative wasn’t about Us and Them: the ones who care and the ones who do not. To choose between ecological preservation and scientific progress has always seemed foolish. I am acutely aware of my own fragility and the privilege and responsibility of having a cognitive presence in an organic ecosystem. To hand over both the privilege and the responsibility to corporations and the government, would be an act of ignorance, and a dishonour to my freedom. And so I circled the park, holding the placards with my friend and my mother, trying to locate the others. One joined us and then another, and that was it. We were five cognitive beings, coping with our fragility, and walking silently, because how could we not. 

Five is not a crowd, not in a city of nearly 19 million people, yet we drew attention. People walked up to us and asked what we were campaigning for. They wished us good luck and told us not to feel dejected even if we were a mere handful, because like them, others would notice, become aware, and would pledge their support and solidarity.

I thought of Gandhi, and the power of the salt march—Gandhi and a few companions walked 241-miles to the coast of the Arabian Sea, to nonviolently oppose the salt tax. This act of Satyagraha—revealing truth and opposing injustice through nonviolence—gathered thousands of supporters and transformed the status quo.

Trees in a forest don’t need us to survive. We need them. We are part of the biodiversity—the life—that depends on them. Forests are critical for the planet’s survival, and one large tree for the survival of four people. A large tree in a neighbourhood can provide a day’s supply of oxygen for four humans—that may be you and your family.

A metro alone won’t take care of the air pollution problem, but trees do! Choice isn’t involved, perception is.

(A report in Science, and an interview in National Geographic calls forests our life support system)

A rare specimen, it survived mass extinction
Take a stand.
Visit us to see a tree. Once it stood in a forest.
Living trees make great street art.

She trembled.

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All / Between the lines / Coexistence & Harmony

Her waters came to us—they quenched our thirst and brightened our homes.
Her bones warmed our hearths.
We expected more.

She began to shiver.
Seas soared. Winds howled.
Trees shuddered, birds became silent, animals paused.
We expected more.

Upside down.
Silent Skies.

What could we do, we were too far away to feel her shiver—Our senses numbed by high-rises and virtual worlds.

But those that could feel, ached. They covered her so she would be warm. The covers were insufficient; she had a large body, and she had given birth too many times.

Her nutrients she had given to her offspring. Now was her turn to receive. We her progeny—her offspring—had forgotten reciprocity. We were busy chasing ungraspable desires. We were digging her soils, and creeping through her crust. She rumbled.

She rumbled often.
One day (as all things must).
Some day (because it is inevitable).
Soon (triggered by our actions).
Sooner than soon (the warning is out).
She will quake.

High-rises will tumble. Virtual worlds will go dim and dark. Seas will rise and soil will fall under. Too bad we took her for granted.

What’s in-sight?

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All / Between the lines / Coexistence & Harmony

Sanchi Stupa, a UNESCO Heritage Site in Madhya Pradesh was part of the Middle kingdoms of India, but that’s not why I went there. It is the oldest man made stone structure in India and probably one of the oldest in the world, built in 3rd century BCE. That’s not what took me there either.

Unesco Heritage Site
What’s in(sight)?

When I read that in 1850, British archaeologist Alexander Cunningham, respected for his meticulous work, had excavated from one of the three Stupas the relics of Sariputta and Mahamoggallana, the two chief disciples of the last Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, I had an instant wish to go there and meditate. The relics were sold to the Victoria and Albert museum, and were returned to India in 1949. The journey of the relics is outlined in The Wire, by researcher and professor of history, Shashank Sinha. Here’s the link for your interest.

A weekend trip, over which a friend and I sat at the Stupa, while many footsteps crossed us by: some paused and commented, some didn’t miss a step and ignored us, and some hesitated and fell silent as soon as they saw us. It felt like the world around us moved, while we did not participate in its motion. We were not engaged in life’s stream and yet were part of it.

I heard a man’s voice say that there is hope of finding buried treasures at some of India’s ancient monuments, but what can one hope to find here, in these barren stone structures that have episodes from the life of the last Buddha etched on them.

I had the answer but my eyes were closed, and I was too busy looking within, at the immense treasure that lay therein. Come sit, take a look, and know for yourself–said Gautama Buddha. Because treasures are passed on, what’s buried is what is plundered and decayed.

Relics of Sariputta and Mahamoggallana
Inspiration inscribed.
Photo credit: Shashank Sinha

When you need a friend.

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All / Coexistence & Harmony

Hello Umang Tiwari.

When my feisty, multi-linguist, revolutionary aunt, Laxmi Krishnan, who is a retired English teacher and who at seventy can do the half-split like a teenager, told me about 16-year old Umang, I was both touched and joyful. Umang has had severe learning difficulties since he was a child. He finds it effortful to do sums, write sentences correctly, and to remember names, and yet when my aunt showed him my book (Kyo and Obi), and started telling him about its making and production, he asked for my address, so that he can write me a letter. He said, in Hindi, “This is very creative, please give me her address. I will write to her”.

Lucky Aunty (Laxmi Krishnan) is going to read Kyo and Obi to him and will try and explain its message about self-acceptance—a slight challenge since Umang speaks Hindi. That said, he is trying to learn English, and makes brave attempts at it. Hope that reading Kyo and Obi will be a fun attempt, Umang.

Umang’s condition was diagnosed only a year back, and he continues to go through the rigours of formal education that is challenging to his intellect and demeaning to his self-esteem. The Indian Right to Education Act had a no-detention policy that only recently got revoked.

Umang is being read to
More than words.

An isolated teenage boy, who has faced neglect and ridicule for his intellectual incapacity, Umang might be inspired (or so I hope) by Obi’s journey of self-transformation: A journey in which an undeveloped identity matures into an accepting sense of self.

Like Obi who found a friend, his only friend in Kyo, and could go through the process of self-transformation because of Kyo’s patient and loving presence, Umang too has a compassionate friend—one among his few—in 70-year old Lucky Aunty.

That’s all it takes. Thank you Lucky Aunty.
Good luck Umang. I look forward to your letter.

Umang and Laxmi Krishnan with Kyo and Obi
That’s all it takes. Thank you.

Against the grain.

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All / Between the lines / Coexistence & Harmony

If you had to choose between a foolish mind and a manipulative mind, which one would you pick? I, for certain, would pick the foolish mind. It is easier for a fool to accept guidance and gain wisdom than for a manipulative mind to come out of its dark recesses and develop humility.

This is what the democratic vote has come to. Majority of us are under-informed and biased voters, choosing between fools and charlatans.  

When the democratic system silences opinions, instills hate and fear, and promotes individuals over virtues and qualities of leadership, then trouble has arrived!

What if representing democracy was to be the responsibility of a qualified group of people—not chosen by the people, for the people, and not chosen because of their allegiance to a party or a set of views—Chosen, however, for their virtues, emotional maturity, and service to the global ecosystem* through their particular sphere of knowledge?
(ecosystem: a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment. Not Silicon Valley’s definition: a complex network or interconnected system )*

Intelligent by Design

And chosen based on intelligent sieving of empirical data gathered over time using biometrics, social media, national identification cards, and brain scans—A good application of intelligence gathering mechanisms to supersede human bias.

The data can belong to a global intelligence system and not to a particular nation or to an intergovernmental organisation (aka. UN). How do you protect the data from hackers? Simple. Develop superior autonomous intelligence to protect data-fed intelligence: Because, it is easier to develop intelligence than to develop our own strength of character.

Inspiration Sources:
Prof.Yuval Noah Harari- panel discussion at the WEF 2018
Conversations with a friend: Neesha Noronha, community developer, and an active aspirant to idealistic social structures.