Saturday, March 27, 2010

Encounter with Spirit

I had walked down a certain path for very long. During my journey, I had traversed various landscapes, some were desert, some lush green forests, yet others were rolling meadows that made me want to gallop on them like a jubiliant horse. Then, one day, deep in the middle of a forest, I came to a fork in the path. I wasn't sure which way to go. I could go either ways, it would be my choice. In a state of confusion, I stopped and stared down both paths. From where I stood, they seemed fairly similar, but I knew that far ahead they would take me to very different places.

I felt a panic grow within me as I realised that for once, I had no idea which way to go. What if I went down the wrong path? What if I made the wrong choice?

As my confusion grew, I heard the sound of footsteps in the distance. My first reaction to the sound was one of fear. Who could that be? The "crunchy" sound of fallen leaves being walked upon is mysterious, especially when you can't see the person! I looked in the direction of the sound, and eventually saw a man walking towards me. He was old but radiant, wore a yellow robe, and walked with an air of confidence about him. With a flowing beard and a slender form, he resembled what I thought Christ must have looked like. As he came closer, I looked into his eyes and saw a light in them that warmed my heart instantly. I was not scared anymore. The forest around me began to glow as his presence drew near. He was not of this world. He was a man of the Spirit. A Holy One.

As he stood before me, I was stumped for words. I didn't know who he was, how he knew me, and why he had come to meet me. I bowed to him in reverence, my reflex reaction when I encounter a being who radiates the light of the Spirit. He put both his hands on my head, looked up at me with the pride of a parent who is seeing their child after a long time. I was taller than him, much taller. Yet his light was far brighter than my mortal eyes could bear. The extent of his aura was far beyond my reach. I closed my eyes.

"My child, you are here at last," he said.  I began to cry. Tears flowed down my cheeks as I sobbed for no apparent reason. Every burden, every anxiety, every disappointment I had ever faced in my life began to melt away in those tears. I cried like a baby. He wiped away some tears from my cheeks, then embraced and held me as my tears streamed down his yellow robe. With each tear shed, my heart felt lighter. Not a word was exchanged between us. Only the sounds of the forest in the background, interrupted by my steady sniffles.

As my sobs subsided, we sat down on the stones under an oak tree. "Where have you come from, and more importantly, where are you going?" he asked me, lovingly. I felt like saying, "That's exactly what I was hoping you would tell me!" But I didn't. However, the smile on his face told me he had already read my mind. "Son, it doesn't matter which path you choose. The path you choose will take you where you must go. But first, you must love the path. Then trust it. Finally, let go, and just walk it. The more you love it, the more it will bring you to where you should be. Learn to love the path. However difficult it may seem."

"But what if I spend my whole life on the wrong path?" I retorted, anxious and fearful as usual. "Right and wrong is in your head. The path is just that... a path. Your judgement says it is right or wrong. Nothing you do can be wrong, it is only a choice you have made," he explained.

He pointed towards the fork ahead. "Each of those paths ahead is very different. The one on the left takes you across scenic valleys. The sights are lovely, I must say. There are lakes, ponds, and palaces to feast your eyes on. You can be very happy if you enjoy each moment along the way."

"And what's on the other path?" I asked, eager to make my decision.

"At first, it's forest on either side, but very soon, the path ends at the edge of a cliff."

I was relieved. "Okay, so that's settled then. I'm going with the scenic valleys."

"Before you make your decision, though, I must tell you something." He pointed towards the sky and continued, "At night, I've seen angels hovering over that cliff. One night, as I looked closer, I saw an angel holding the hands of a little boy as they both glided across the night sky. The boy squealed in happiness. She was teaching him how to fly."

My eyes were wide with wonder.

"Only when you trust the path, son. Only when you trust it. When you do, happiness awaits you at the other end. It doesn't matter which one you choose."

He arose and put both his hands on my shoulders, gave me a reassuring look, and told me to continue on my journey. As I picked up my things, I felt a pang of sadness. "Will I see you again? Where do you live? How can I find you in future?," I asked him all at once.

He laughed at my questions, shook his head, and said, "Always eager to know the future. What do your people call it? Planning! Ah, yes. You like to 'plan' for the future. My child, in Spirit terms, there is no such thing as a plan. There is no future, no past. Only this moment. So how can there be a plan for a time that does not exist? We are here now. It is beautiful. I am happy to see you."

With those words, he walked away into the forest. The crunchy sound of fallen leaves being walked upon faded away into the distance. I put my backpack on and made my choice.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Tryst with Chanting

Ever since I was little, the sounds of chants and mantras have captivated me! As a teenager, I remember seeking out audio tapes on Veda chants and listening to them over and over. Each time I heard them, I felt renewed, reconnected to the Universe. Plain and simple, I just felt happier!  

As a little boy, when I learnt to chant in Sanskrit, I knew I had found a way to feel closer to God anytime, anywhere. It was the one thing that could take me to a happier place, instantly. Talking of relative degrees of happiness at that point in my life, I would say I considered chanting a means to something more delightful than my battery operated cars that, well, I totally LOVED! My sister will vouch for my unsurpassable passion for driving my cars all over the house floor, creating traffic jams that now, 20 years later, I struggle to get OUT of each morning!

All those years ago, one evening, after driving around my stately cars, clearing the traffic jams they got themselves into, and calling in my treasured police car and ambulance just for effect, I picked up the Bhagavad Gita. I chanted some verses from it, and then couldn't put it down. For the next few evenings, I had a date with this eternal "Song of the Universe."

Fifteen years later, Dr. Tom Egenes, a Professor of Sanskrit at the Maharishi University of Management in the U.S., invited me to his class to chant for his students. What followed was many hours of blissful chanting during the years I was pursuing my Art degree at the University.

Today, six years later, my chanting of the Gita is recorded on a Website that is part of the Vedic Literature curriculum at the University. Tom shared a YouTube link with me that has a few verses on it. I'd like to share the link with you too.

Chanting brings me peace, even if I don't know the literal meaning of what I'm chanting. That's the beauty of Sanskrit, a language in which merely the sound of every word exudes power, affirmation, and melody.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Excel Blues... by a Word Fan

Some months ago, while working on a training project, I received an Excel sheet from our client and was asked to add in some information to the sheet based on my recent work. It was a pretty regular sheet with columns extending indefinitely to the right so you had to scroll sideways to get to the ones that resided over in the eastern hemisphere. The trouble with me is that when I scroll to the right, I forget what was on the left. So then I scroll back to the left. But then what about that stuff over on the right? So then I scroll... never mind. You get the point. In all of that scrolling back and forth, I reach a point when I want to tear my hair out. Strand by strand. Why can't people just use Word? And why did there ever have to be such a thing as a sideways scroll?

I wonder if this happens to any of you too. When I open an Excel sheet that has more columns than I can see at one glance without scrolling all over the place, I start to freak out. I feel disconnected from all the information. Like my eyes need to be at too many places at once. The elasticity of my comprehension abilities is severely tested. So is my patience.

I like to be able to see all the columns of a table on ONE page, just like I would if they were printed in a book. Now's about the time that the Excel experts would give me a pitiful stare, with that look of "thou shalt never see the light" written all over their wide eyes. Sympathy. That's what I usually get from Excel whiz kids. And that's what I used to get from the Math geniuses in high school Math class when our teacher assumed that the speed of a train as it passed another was 'X,' and the speed of the other train that was passed was 'Y.' I, however, hearing the word 'train,' began to think of what the x and y trains might have looked like. "Were they like luxury 'palace on wheels' kind of trains? Or just regular, ordinary sleeper coaches? Ah! when will I next be on a train? We should go somewhere for a holiday."

"Sai Ganesh - can you tell us what the length of the second train is?"

Know that feeling of coming crashing down to earth? Yup. I felt it. I stood up to answer, totally blank. If I could, I would have said "I couldn't give a rat's a%$ what the length of the train is! Heck, that's not even a real train. Can we draw two trains instead? That'll make them more real for me. Please?"

I consider it God's benign grace that I scored over 80% in high school Math.

Back to the point on Excel sheets. Interestingly, I had just about made up my mind to write this post about my distaste for Excel, when I was assigned a task at work to scan through a humungous Excel sheet and gather data from it. Okay. So the Universe has a sense of humor. I laughed with, did the whole data gathering thing, and now I'm back to the post.

I've met some people who swear by Excel. They create Excel sheets at the drop of a hat. Hat drops - Excel sheet created. No seriously. Left to their devices, they would write an entire book in Excel, and make you scroll down to the depths of the netherworld to get to Chapter 6. Excel lovers. Take them to a courtroom to testify and you can begin proceedings by having them place their hand solemnly on... well... an Excel sheet. Soft or hard copy, either will do.

It's another matter that printing these things out is a feat in itself. To be attempted at the risk of glaring at a bunch of columns chopped across pages, with no header in sight. A blood bath unleashed upon what seemed like a decently constructed table on my computer screen like five seconds ago. As I stare at the printer helplessly, it spits out one last page that finally has the table header on it. Only the header.

Printers sometimes have a dark sense of humour.

When I was working on the sheet I referred to at the beginning, the one that my client sent me and asked me to add onto, I did what few would have dared to do. I converted the Excel sheet into a Word document. Beautified it too, with soothing header colors. I heaved a sigh of relief. Now I could finally READ what was in there. Thrilled with myself, much to the annoyance of my supervisor, I sent the Word document back to the client. When she reviewed it, she didn't have much to say except "It all looks great. I just can't imagine why you converted this into Word. Please put it back in Excel."

I meekly obeyed. I was fighting a lost cause.

In the corporate world, there's no escaping these nasty sheets. No matter how much you try and run away from them, they catch up with you. A lot like your sins, or bad karma.

To me, the Excel sheet is a symbol of a boxed world. Where everyone and everything has to be "formatted" and somehow "fit in." Well, perhaps that's stretching it. They're more like jails, where words are held captive. Rows and columns of prison cells. The words all screaming out to be rescued from their hell holes.

The Excel formatting experts will tell you to hit the Wrap Text button to stop the words from spilling over onto the next cell. What they really want to say is, "If 'em words try to peep out of 'em cells, wrap 'em into submission."

But today I say, let 'em words out of 'em cages, for God's sakes! Let them reclaim their space and take up as many lines as they want. Let them roam free on plain backgrounds and feel the exhileration of flowing over and beyond, onto the next page. Woohoo! see them go. Atta word. You were born to rejoice in Word, however did you stray into Excel?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


A voice echoed
across the valley of silence.
over the lush green trees.

the steep mountain slopes
along with the delicate beams
of the rising sun
that began their ascent
at the start of a new day.

For him.

Her voice echoed
across the valley of silence.
Melodious. Like the sounds
of the gushing stream that
she splashed across.
Weary. Tired.
From the journey she began
so long ago.

Yet her eyes gleamed
with the brilliance
of a hope
that only a lover would know of.

She knew he had walked among
these trees.
Knelt down and drunk
from the waters that now
bathed her feet.
He had quenched his thirst
yet his heart

For her.

He had looked across the lake
at the tresses of the willow tree.
Like her hair
that cascaded down her shoulders.
Intoxicated with the memory of her fragrance
as she surrounded herself
by his embrace,
his heart had skipped a beat
and filled a moment
with silence.

That could only be broken
by the sound of
her voice.

 © Sai Ganesh Nagpal