Sunday, January 31, 2010

Lunch Meeting

I distinctly remember that day's lunch at the company Food Court. We had just started eating when we heard a gentle "meaow." In the midst of the lunch hour din that often made it impossible for us to hear ourselves clearly, this plea by a little cat didn't go unnoticed. We stopped our conversation and turned around. A beautiful white cat was looking up at us with soulful eyes. She was white as the moon, nearly camoflauged by the white floor tiles that she expectantly sat on, eagerly waiting for our hearts to melt.

For those of you wondering how a cat came to be in a company Food Court, let me clarify. It isn't uncommon to see stray cats in India. A couple of them live within the sprawling campus of the company. Every once in a while, they manage to sneak into the Food Court, which is this massive and airy building on ground level, with huge glass panels as side doors that, when left open, let the cats in along with the breeze.

As a chorus of "Aww she's so sweet" emanated from our group and others sitting around, some of us broke pieces of roti (Indian bread) and put them on the ground for her, much to the chagrin of the housekeeping staff who looked at us disapprovingly. Which one would it be, housekeeping policy or the cat? Uh... not much of a choice there. The cat of course.

She trod towards the roti pieces, sniffed them suspiciously at first, and then decided they would do. One piece at a time, she munched away, looking very content after each swallow. There's something about feeding animals that is so satisfying. Interestingly, when I see their thirst quenched, or their tummies filled, I feel so content myself that my own hunger and thirst seem to vanish. If I and the animal who just ate or drank were on a sunny beach, we'd probably lie on our backs and go to sleep, drunk on sweet contentment! 


Our moonlight cat wanted seconds. When she was done, she confidently strode off, leaving the last two roti pieces lying on an otherwise spotlessly clean floor. Housekeeping was not pleased. Nope.

I picked up the neglected pieces and threw them in the nearest trashcan. As I got back to my meal, a movement to my left distracted me. I turned around and saw moonlight cat walking back towards me. She came to the side of my chair, looked up at me with her soulful eyes, and let out a grateful "meaow." She then turned around and walked back, losing herself in the crowd of tables and chairs. She had come back just to say thank you! If she were a dog, I would have reached out and patted her on the back, probably given her a tummy rub too. But she's a cat. And I think cats like their space, and they like others to respect their space too!

So I smiled at her and said "You're very welcome!"

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Giving Thanks

As I watch India's tricolor being unfurled on a foggy Republic Day morning, I feel a rush of pride. The notes of the national anthem reverberate through my being. Tears well up in my eyes. As I watch the saffron, green, and white flutter in the mist, I feel uncontrollable waves of love, devotion, honor, and gratitude wash over me. Gratitude. To the land that I chose as mother in this lifetime. Perhaps in previous lives too.

My gratitude goes out to the soldiers who stand at the nation's borders and face bullets every day. Soldiers without whom this nation would cease to exist as we know it; without whom the fanatics across the border would have a free run. Each night, as I sink into a fluffy pillow and comfy mattress, do I give thanks to the soldier who at that very moment is standing guard in faraway Kashmir or Rajasthan, gun in position, alert and awake? Do I give thanks the next morning that I had a peaceful night, or am I too busy trying to beat the traffic jam and get to work on time? So much to be thankful for, yet so little time to thank.

I give gratitude to the rivers of this land, for quenching my thirst every day. For nourishing all life. For embodying the flowing aspect of life itself. For reminding me of the temporary nature of worldly existence.

I am grateful to the farmers of this land, who grow the grain that feeds me. Grateful to the network of people who make sure that the grain gets to me on time. So I never go hungry.

Gratitude also to the person who stands at the gas station to fill gas in my car, so I can get to work and back home, safely. To the mechanic who services my car every now and then, so it runs okay. To the gardener who waters my plants at home so that when I look out my window each morning, I feel rejuvanated. So that I begin my day with the sight of beautiful, healthy plants.

There are so many entities who make my life, as I know it, possible. Many of these persons work behind the scenes, I wouldn't ever know all of them by name or role. I remember a conversation I had with my Mom when I was only 8 or 9 years old. We were having lunch together, talking about exactly this - gratitude. She made me list out just a few of the countless number of people who had worked so hard to grow, transport, and sell the wheat that went into making the delicious bread I was munching away at. It opened my eyes to a whole new perspective. It's so common for us to complain about how the food tastes, looks, smells, feels. If we would only stop and think about what Mom asked me to that day, perhaps we wouldn't complain so much.

I believe it's about inculcating an attitude of gratitude. It's about recognising that we take so much from our surroundings, from nature, from people. Yet, when it comes to giving back, there's not much we have to show. In the movie Avatar, Neytiri tells Jake about how we're all living on borrowed energy. Someday we will have to give it all back.

As I wipe away another tear, I look up at the tricolor towering over the gathering below. All I can bring myself to say is... Thank You.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

To a dear child... with love

Today I saw a little girl begging at the traffic light. Just as the light turned green, she came to the window of my car and looked at me with pleading eyes. As I reached towards the car's gear to change from neutral to first, she beamed expectantly. She thought I was reaching for the dashboard to pick up the two rupee coin that lay there carelessly. Petty change for me, a treasure for her. This is a letter to that little girl, and to all little children like her.

Dearest Child,

Today I saw you standing on the road, in the freezing cold. You weren't wearing anything warm, yet you managed a smile. An angelic smile. Weren't you cold, little one?

I want to tell you how strong I think you are. I don't know where you sleep at night. I don't know where you go when you're not at the traffic light. But I know that you have what it takes to go through each day with a smile. And that makes you a hero in my eyes. Many of us who drive away in big cars can go through an entire day without smiling even once.

Our world is very strange, little one. There's so much beauty in it. And yet there's plenty of sadness too. The other day, I saw you sitting by the road. There were tears flowing down your cheeks. Did someone hurt you, dearest, or were those just tears of despair? I wanted to stop my car and get out. I wanted to hold your hand and tell you that everything is going to be okay. I wanted to tell you that it's okay to cry. But I also wanted you to know that you must never give up hope.

And then there was this other day when you were playing in the sand by the road. With your friends. When you all laughed together, it made me smile. Were they your buddies? Someday perhaps, you'll tell me their names.

I'm sure you've met all kinds of people in your life. Some may be nice to you, but then others may be very mean. If there's something I want for you, dear one, it is to believe that no one is justified in being mean to you. You will need to be strong and ask for your rights, sometimes fight to get them too. But only fight when you believe it is for a just cause. Don't ever use your power to manipulate those who are weaker than you.

There are lots of kind people in this world, my dear. I've met some and I hope you meet some too. Perhaps you already have. You must know that for every mean person, there's a kind one too. Always believe in this.

Even though I drive away from you every morning, I think about you during the day and many days after that too. That's how special you are. I want you to know, little one, that I love you very much. God bless you, always.

Monday, January 18, 2010

In Search

Wandering in the crowd,
I see people. Lots of them.
Each one
is going somewhere,
walking purposefully down
a path.
Or so it seems.

There are people
all around.
Yet I feel all alone
As though out at sea
with no shore in sight.

Can my destination really be that far?
Or could it be that
I have set sail
In the wrong direction?

How long will it be before I know?
How long until
I adjust my sails?
So that when
I'm wandering in the crowd
I can look towards
the horizon
And know
that my promised land
is not far.

 © Sai Ganesh Nagpal

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Letting Go...

It's the hardest thing to do. To let go. I realised that since the past few years, I've forgotten what it's like to let go, to just live each day in complete trust that the Universe will take care of me tomorrow. I don't need to worry.

Part of it has to do with me joining the corporate world. Before I began working in a regular job, when I was sudying in the US, I never really thought too much about my future. Not that I think about it all the time now, but there was a lot more emphasis then on just doing a whole lot of interesting things each day - studying, creating class projects, singing.. a lot of it, organizing cultural programs, having awesome conversations with people from all over the world. And of course, travelling, whenever I could afford a trip somewhere. My choices were simple; the reasons why I chose things were simple. I did things because I enjoyed doing them. Not because I felt someone or society expected them from me. I don't remember ever asking myself the question: "where will the money come from?". Money never seemed to be a motivator or de-motivator, it manifested when I required it. Where it came from was immaterial. The fact is it was there when I needed it. Enough of it for me to be comfortable.

I must admit that ever since I started getting a salary every month, my trust factor in the Universe began to erode. I began to be convinced that 'I' was the one earning the money because of 'my' hard work. Period. And that's not entirely untrue, except that at some level, I had carved out this rule in stone: the more the work (read as sleepless nights, for the most part), the more the money. That's how the equation began to pan out for me. I slowly started to forget that a benevolent Universe is constantly working through me, loving me, inspiring me, and willing me to be every bit of who I am. That if the job goes away, that if I don't get that promotion or raise, I will still be me - luminous, loved, and admired in a way that can never be matched by a salary increment. It's called unconditional love. Something that the business world knows little of.

It's only recently that I've starting working on getting my trust in the Universe back in place, bit by bit. Whoever coined the term "rat race" was genius, I must say. For that's what it truly is. The corporate world is a race no doubt, and everyone's in it pretty much for themselves. From being someone who did what I did only because I enjoyed it, I began to believe that "'I' earn money because of 'this job', and if I don't do 'this job' I won't have any 'money'." With this thought, I perpetuated the biggest myth that many of us continue to live each day. I'd like to clarify here that in no way am I implying that I should sit at home, sleep all day, and then hope that my bank account somehow fills up. I'm writing this knowing fully well that I am incapable of NOT doing anything, so the question of lazing around for extended periods of time doesn't arise. However, it's the notion of inextricability from the rat race, and the illusion that somehow that is the only way for me to make money, that I am questioning.

I am questioning the amount of importance that we place on these jobs, that we're willing to tear the others apart just to feel good about ourselves. That we're willing to back bite, manipulate, and otherwise cast apsersions on people's motives, just because they got a promotion that we didn't. That we're willing to ruin our health, our mental peace, and most importantly, our spiritual connection, just to be ahead in the race. I ask... to what avail?

I thought of this analogy the other day. Life is like a video game. Have you ever played those video games in which the player has to climb mountains, hop across valleys, do all kinds of supernatural stunts to move to the next level? And along the way, the player must grab little pieces of treasure to gain points?

The more the treasure, the more the points. The player acrobats across topographies with cartloads of treasure in hand and crosses the finish line, beaming. End of game. Life is a lot like that, and very different too. The difference is that in life, just before crossing the finish line, you need to dump all that treasure into a big pit. Relieved of all the baggage, you can then proceed past the finish line. Your treasure may have earned you numerical points, but guess what - the counter gets reset to zero just before you cross the finish line. Those points were for the fun of the journey. Just intended to spice things up a bit while you were at it.  Nope, the points ain't going along.

What's fascinating is that in life's video game, every time you stopped along the journey to admire a sunset, every time you stopped to help an injured animal, every time you stopped doing the acrobats and just stayed put for a few seconds, every time you felt really really happy even while doing the acrobats... each of these times, your inner light got a little brighter. And the beauty is that the more light you have inside, the more light you've also been able to leave behind. You've left behind a trail of light, and yet it's all there in you. It's going with you, finish line and beyond. End of this game. Beginning of a new one! That's life. As I have understood it so far.

So instead of getting obsessed with the treasures along the way, I'm going to focus more on the light within. But you know what, I love living the good life. So yes, I'll pick up the treasures along the way. I'll enjoy them too. But my happiness will not be because of them, it'll be inspite of them.

Here's to life! Here's to the trail of light we're going to leave behind!

I am the wind...

Today I'll go where the wind blows
I want to be a breeze.
Let me flow
Let me glide
Let me spread my wings
and fly.

I can be the gentle wind
on a sunny spring morning
Or charge ahead
as a mighty strong gale.
Today fierce
tomorrow calm.
One or the other
or both at once.

Today the weatherman
called me nasty.
Someone walking down the road
said I was too strong.
But I knew
that today
was for a gale.
Tomorrow, I'll be a breeze again.

I slowed down a tad
to help
a little bird fly.
Spread my wings
and let her hold on tight.

When she was safely home
I did the waltz
and then the salsa
with a polybag
I met
just down the street.

I whistled by a window,
happy tunes,
but inside the house
they didn't hear.
The windows were shut
real tight.
They were warned
of a storm that night.

© Sai Ganesh Nagpal