Recently, I had attended a Literature festival in Chennai. Day#1 was filled with interesting sessions with renowned personalities from the world of politics, media, literature and movies. For the initial sessions though seated closer to the back of the auditorium, we had an excellent view of the speakers – both live on the large TV screens for additional clarity. But then the post lunch session was a tete-a-tete with a leading filmmaker. I simply had to see him at closer quarters. So, the moment the lunch break started, I fought my way against the out coming crowd to get inside the hall and secured 2 seats right in the middle of the 1st row of the unreserved section. I could now view a better enlarged celebrity. Mission accomplished!
For those familiar with Tirupati, it is a very popular temple with more than 10 million pilgrim footfalls per day and excellent arrangements to manage the crowd, especially those queuing up for a Darshan or glimpse of the God ensconced in the inner most chamber of the temple. The wait for the darshan takes anywhere between 2 – 24 hours and the queuing behaviour of the devotees makes for an interesting case study. Some wait patiently in the line, with no complains or visible irritation and minds focussed on the God; some elbow their way into the crowd continuously pushing aside someone in a bid to move ahead and see the God closer and sooner and yet others belonging to the privileged VIP (Very Important Persons) class simply breeze into the front of the line and have an unrestricted close view of the God!
I have always wondered why people fight to get as close as possible to their heroes, be it a celebrity or the God in a temple. Did I enjoy any incremental gains from viewing/listening to the celebrity sitting a few rows closer to the stage or does the VIP praying to the Tirupati Balaji at arm’s length gain more blessings than a person having a fleeting glimpse of the idol from afar? Does inching physically closer to the idolized subject satisfy an inherent psychological need to be connected to a person of repute and bask in the reflected glory or is it an aspiration to really role model their core qualities and internalize them into ourselves? Quite obviously, it is the latter reason which really benefits a person and for that physical proximity is not really required.
A classic example is that of the 3 disciples of Drona, the renowned teacher of the Mahabharata – First is Arjuna, who can be classified as the VIP student, enjoying the privilege of being Drona’s favorite and thus the receptor of special personal and close attention. Second is Karna, who tried to elbow his way into the Guru’s attention and on failing sought another Guru in Parashurama albeit resorting to an identity untruth. Finally there was Ekalavya, who simply believed in the idea of Drona as a Guru, and became a proficient archer by simply praying to and practising in front of a clay image of Drona. He proved that there was no need for physical proximity or personal attention to gain the knowledge and desired qualities of an inspirational figure!
The first person who most likely comes to our minds when we are desperately searching for lost things is – God! Irrespective of how religious we are normally or how regular we are in our prayers, whenever we misplace something important and cannot locate it, we send out a cry for help to the divine powers. Sometimes, depending on the urgency and criticality of the situation, we add some perquisites as well – ranging from materialistic offerings to the lord to personal visits. In some Indian homes, its common practise to knot a coin in a cloth and keep beside the picture of their preferred God as a kind of reminder to fulfil their promises once they get back their lost stuff.
Question is, which God is best suited for praying to recover lost things? The answer is quite obvious in case of monotheistic religions like Christianity, Islam or Judaism. Hinduism being a Polytheistic religion offers a plethora of choices. It could be the family Deity, the most famous Lord of the seven hills, the eagle mount perched on the corner of the temple wall in the village etc. However, it is to the credit of Hinduism that the multiplicity of Gods & Goddesses does not really complicate matters. Rather, each Diety is assigned ownership and responsibility of a certain aspect impacting humans. We have a Goddess Lakshmi to pray to for financial benefits, Goddess Saraswati for knowledge, God Ganesha for blessings while starting a new venture etc. This can be compared to a well structured organization with clearly defined departments and respective heads.
It was while writing another post (The Runaway Brother), that I recalled the framed picture of a Goddess hanging in my maternal home, to which we would pray when we lost something important. I could not recall her name though and called up my mother to find out the same. When my mother told her name, Araikasu Amman, I was intrigued, as the name literally translates to – the Half Coined (Arai Kasu) Goddess (Amman). The Goddess, who looks similar to the seated four handed Parvati Deity in most Siva temples, is also known as Brahadambal. The original temple of Brahadambal with her consort, Gokarneswar (Siva), in Thirukokarnam (near Pudukottai, Tamil Nadu) is a rock-cut Pallava temple dating back to the early 7 century AD. Various inscriptions found in the temple provide a glimpse into its rich past and contributions of the Pandya, Pallava and Nayak rulers. Brahadambal was the also the guardian Diety of the Thodaiman rulers of Pudukottai (early 17th Century AD).
Legend has that, a Thodaiman king once lost an important document and could not find it even after a lot of effort. He then prayed to the Goddess Brahadambal for getting the back the document. When the document was found, the overjoyed and grateful king had coins minted with the image of Goddess Brahadambal on one side, which were then distributed to his subjects on important occasions and festivals. these coins were in a semi circular shape (Arai Kasu) and the Goddess thus came to be known as the AraiKasu Amman. People continued to pray to the Goddess for recovering lost objects and missing people and have reported having their prayers answered.
While the Goddess is mostly associated with recovery of lost materialistic things, she most likely has the power to also restore lost peace, tolerance and love. Only, people don’t pray for such things!
Disclaimer: The following story is 98% fictional built on 2% facts and hopefully be received by all in good humor!
On seeing more than the usual crowd of gentlemen gathered on the pyol (entrance porch of traditional Tamilian homes comprising of a raised platform supported by pillars)of our home, Paati(Grandmother)quickened her pace, which was brisk even in normal times. I lived with my Paati in my Athey’s(fathers’ sister) home and we had rushed out on receiving the message that there was some trouble brewing at my parents’ home. My father seated with a resigned look, was listening to the babble of the crowd, which made way for us to enter the house. Nataraj Mama(uncle), the unofficial news collector cum distributor of our locality called out from behind “Jaya (my name), good that you have come! Can you make and send out some hot piping ‘A’ degree coffee? It will help recharge us for this important discussion.”
My parents’ house, which even on normal days was crowded enough with a veritable cricket team sized family (Including all brothers, sisters and our parents, we totaled 12!), looked as though it would burst into the neighboring house, with whom we shared a common wall. Nearly all the women and children of the street were gathered inside around my mother, who sat against the wall, alternating between crying fits and angry words berating my father and elder siblings. My Paati, with her tonsured head and ochre colored saree, having been widowed early and with the experience of raising her children single handedly, was the symbol of calm and fortitude. She pushed aside the crowd and asking someone to get my mother something to drink, said “Now tell me Sarasu, what exactly happened?”
“Raman is missing again!” wailed my mother.
“So why are you getting so worked up? He will turn up again in a couple of days as usual” said Paati.
“You don’t understand, I think this time he has been gone for longer!”
“What makes you say so? When was he last seen” asked Paati looking around and fixing her eyes on my siblings, who were keenly observing the drama being played out.
“I have started to go to office, managing the little ones is not my job anymore”, Brother’S’ said shrugging his shoulders.
Sister’L’ pitched in “I have my hands full delegating and managing the duties of all the youngsters. I do not have the time to micro manage an 8 year old”
Down the order, Sister’B1′ said – “I am in charge of Brother’J'” and Sister’B2′ added “and I take care of the little Sister’P’ very well!”
Paati then peered down to Sister’K’, who was the only one sitting down and observing all goings on with a bemused air “What about you? Were you supposed to take care of Raman?”
“Who me? Not at all, I am too busy taking care of myself right now and will consider taking up the responsibility if there is another one after Sister‘P’! What about Jaya? Why couldn’t she take care of him” Sister‘K’ queried.
“Why ask me? You know I don’t stay here! And just to let you all know, I have my hands full managing the antics of Brother’N’ at school! We should ask him what he knows, after all Raman follows him around most of the time” I replied indignantly.
Brother’N’, higher up the order of siblings, was the street-smart, know-all town news one in the family. With all eyes now zoned onto him, said nonchalantly “Don’t you people worry, I have asked the gang to spread around and gather news on Raman. We should be hearing from them soon! But as I understand, he was last seen bathing in the Kaveri river, seven days back”.
“Oh my God, maybe he drowned in the Kaveri” exclaimed Kamalam Mami, who seldom ventured to bathe in the river. This immediately triggered a violent wail from my mother who shut up when my Paati said “Are you out of your mind Sarasu, this is the month of Agninakshitram (a period usually in the month of May, when summer is supposedly at its peak in South India and the Sun shines down particularly harshly). Even a rat cannot drown in the waters of the Kaveri, which now flows as a mere trickle!”
“I think we should immediately go to the police and gives his details”, suggested my uncle who had joined us now with my father and his friends.
“Why don’t you offer a prayer to AaravaAmudhan(another name of the reigning deity of the Sarangapani temple, one of the oldest in Kumbakonam). In fact, you should go and offer a prayer to all the temples in our town, I am sure one of the Lords will take pity on you and give back your son!” suggested Ganesh Mama, our local priest.
“But, it will take so much time to do that. You know we have hundreds of temples in our town and even if we distribute the task amongst ourselves, it will take a couple of months to complete the rounds” my father said in a dismayed tone.
“Yes, it doesn’t make sense to be going to all temples in such a time. But, we can be smart about it. Why not visit only the Arakasu-Amman temple near Pudukottai? After all, she is known to be the deity for recovering lost things?” suggested Lakshmi Mami, a practical lady.
“Yes, Yes that’s a good suggestion” a common voice of approval went around, prompting Lakshmi Mami to say “In fact, I have a picture of the Goddess in my home, let me get it for you right away”.
With a potential solution now in view, the talk moved on to general topics on police efficacy in tracing lost or stolen goods and children, the upcoming temple festivals and ask for coffee to be served, till Kitta Mama, my father’s school buddy entered with an announcement “Look who I have brought with me!”
All eyes turned to the entrance and we caught sight of Kitta Mama, with his hands on an 8 year old boy, whose eyes twinkled over a shabby dress. My mother at once ran over and hugging him tight, cried “Raman, where have you been? We have been so worried”.
“I found him waiting to board a ship in Madras city and thought he looked like your kid. So, knowing his penchant for running away, brought him along with me” beamed Kittu Mama reflecting pride at a job well done.
“The city, that’s so far off, how did you get there and what were you doing there?” asked Brother‘N’, looking at his erstwhile acolyte in wonder.
“Oh, it’s a long story” said Raman struggling out of my mother’s grip, though enjoying all the attention on him – “You remember the cinema announcer who had come to our streets a few days back? He told me that there is a role for me in a movie and I went along with him. There I did the role of a young priest and I was so good that they said I can go to Malayapradesham (Malaysia) and be a priest there! So, I went to the port and was trying to get on a ship when Kitta Mama found me and dragged me back home!” he said glaring at Kitta Mama.
“What you deserve is a good spanking for all the trouble you have given us” said my father pinching his ears hard. “So, you want to be a priest? A traveller? I know just the place for managing naughty boys like you”.
“Leave him, I know the chief of the Patashala (vedic school), we can admit him there. It’s not an easy place to escape from” suggested the local priest. “No No, there is a place in Pattukotai which is more ideal for such boys” suggested another Mama and others started pitching in excitedly, eager to contribute to deciding Raman’s fate.
The animated discussion broke up on arrival of hot coffee and pakodas, post which the crowd slowly dispersed. As we started to leave for my aunt’s home, my Paati looked around for Raman to give him a few words of advice but could not see him. When there was no response to the cacophony of voices calling out his name, my mother said in a dazed manner “He is missing again!”
“It’s too early to worry about it now? Let’s start the search after 5-7 days, if he is not back by then!” My father said getting back to his resting place on the Pyol.
“That was my point exactly!” Shankar shouted into his phone as he vehemently pushed the lift door open, “I am so fed up with this guy, he is bloody weak on the fundamentals and tries to play politics in every situation” moving towards his flat and ringing the bell. “I tell you, PeeKay, one of this days, I am going to escalate the state of affairs to HR and then we will watch the fun, …arey yaar…how much time do they take to open a silly door” ringing the bell again impatiently.
The door opens to an excited cacophony of children’s excited voices. Veda is playing with the neighbor’s kids boisterously and Sneha continues chatting with the neighbor after opening the door. Seeing Shankar enter, Veda runs up to him excitedly and starts saying “You know what happened today, Appa….” Shankar cuts her short, shouting while still on the phone simultaneously “What are you doing? Playing even at 7 pm in the evening? Don’t you have any homework? Stop this noise at once and go to your room. Start studying”. There is silence in the room as the neighbor and her kids watch awkwardly. “Actually, we have to leave now, Ray will be home anytime, come on kids, say bye to Veda” says the neighbor and starts moving towards the door, even as her kids whisper a hushed bye to Veda. Tears swell up in Veda’s eyes and Sneha rushes to console her. “Come, let’s study for some time and then we can play a game of carrom”, leading her towards the kid’s room while wiping her tears.
Shankar moves towards the bedroom, continuing his conversation with his colleague on the phone “My problem is I know I can make a difference, but do not have the authority, and those who have the authority do not want to take any action… they are so shallow” another phone rings in Shankar’s pocket. He takes it out and looks at it “hey PeeKay, the Big B is calling on the other phone, let me see what the bugger says now”, switching of the conversation with PK and speaking on the other phone “hello… yes, Sirji tell me… I am fine, boss, you know best, what can I say… no no… lets discuss this right now… why wait for tomorrow to be in office… I think we need to resolve this right away”… pacing up and down in a stressed manner in the bedroom.
Veda’s rotund face slowly peers into the bedroom and she calls out softly…”Appa..Amma wants to know…”. Shankar turns around grimacing, cutting her short and points to her to go out of the room and Veda retreats quietly. Shankar goes and locks the door from inside and continues his terse discussion… which goes on animatedly for some time with the sound of a clock ticking in the background….finally Shankar winds up his call “Sure, sure… we can discuss this again tomorrow morning in the office… I didn’t realize that its 10 pm… bye then, goodnight”… and throw the phone in exasperation on the bed, exclaiming… “#%&*!~… this idiot will never understand the other person’s perspective… no point in trying to explain!”… Takes a deep breath and moves to open the bedroom door when he notices a small note with something handwritten on it slid under the door.
He bends down and picks it up and reads it… (Veda’s voice over) “Appa, please do not be angry, I hope you are ok! I am very hungry (sad smiley)…but will eat with you only….I love you, (heart-sign)!” Shankar’s face softens and he feels all tension easing out. A small smile comes to his face and his eyes moisten!
He opens the door to see Veda and Sneha reading a book quietly in the hall. As Veda sees him, she smile and eagerly comes forward, but then hesitates, unsure of his temper. Shankar rushes towards her and hugs her and says softly, caressing her gently “Sorry, my baby, I love you too, come let’s eat, you must be very hungry!
He moves towards the dining table with her, and Sneha looks at them and shakes her head with a slight meaningful smile!
One day, the Sun was very happily shining on the village. But suddenly, the naughty clouds came and disturbed the Sun. The Sun went back home crying. His friend, the Moon who came to meet him asked – “Why are you crying my friend?” The Sun said – “When I was happily shining on the village, the clouds came and covered my sunshine.” The Moon said – “No problem. Drink a glass of milk and you will get a lot of energy.” The Sun said – “Ok, I will drink a glass of milk.” After that, it got a lot of power. It went back to the clouds and said – “Move or else I will send you back crying to your house.” The clouds started laughing. The Sun got very angry and showed its power. The clouds got scattered and the Sun shone bright again on the village.
Moral of the story – Do not fear, be brave and you will Win!
This tale reminded me of the mythological story of the great churning of the ocean by the Devas (the good folks) and the Asuras (the bad eggs) aided by Mount Meru as the churner, the great serpent Vasuki as a rope and Lord Vishnu himself as the base in the form of a tortoise. After several years of churning which gave rise to various divine things from the ocean, finally the divine physician Dhanvanthri emerged carrying a golden pot of Amrith (nectar) which would bestow immortality on the consumer. The greedy Asuras snatched the pot and refused to give a portion to the Devas. As they started fighting amongst themselves, Vishnu assumed the form of Mohini, the enchantress and approached the Asuras. The bewitched Asuras stopped fighting and offered her the pot of nectar for distributing amongst themselves. The Devas and Asuras seated themselves separately and Mohini started distributing the snectar to the Devas first, without any intention of sharing any with the Auras. However, one Asura named SvarBhanu realized Mohini’s intentions and disguising himself as a Deva crossed over to the other side. Even as he received and drank his dose of nectar, the Sun and the Moon, the luminary gods saw through his disguise and alerted Mohini. Immediately, Vishnu took his original form and cut off SvarBhanu’s body into half with the Sudarsan Chakra. But since he had already drank the nectar, he did not die. Lord Brahma made joined SvarBhanu’s head and body with a snake. Thus, the upper half with the head and a snake’s lower half was named as RAHU and the lower body of the Asura with a snake’s head was named as Ketu. Rahu and Ketu were then granted a place with the 9 Divine planets, known as the Navagrahas in Indian astrology.
Rahu & Ketu supposedly continue to hold a grudge against the Sun and Moon for exposing them and periodically get their revenge by causing Solar and Lunar eclipses. The Sun & the Moon are the most powerful luminaries amongst the nine astrological planets representing our Soul and Mind respectively. On the other hand, Rahu and Ketu are shadowy planets without any physical existence and yet shed a cloud over person’s happiness by blocking consciousness and mental prowess. Rahu, the head separated from the senses signifies worldly illusions and makes a person obsess over materialistic matters, while Ketu, the body without a head, restlessly seeks enlightenment. Both are thus Karmic planets, offering illusory temptations or cause humiliation restlessness and depression to the natives, which is eventually indicative of losing of the Sun’s brilliance or the Moon’s mental peace.
However, what is significant is that at the end of the day, Rahu-Ketu are mere shadowy planets, and the troubles caused by them can be overcome by sheer will-power and strength of the mind, as in the case of the Child’s tale. Also, Rahu-Ketu are not always necessarily always the negative characters they are made out to be and are rather harbingers of change which a person needs to face and overcome in his karmic existence. They push a person to challenge himself, move out of his comfort zone, face uncertainties, look beyond the deceptive attractions and eventually give up materialistic possessions for final enlightenment. The person thus grows richer by experiencing hurdles and difficult situations and learns to leverage his mental prowess and will power to be successful in the true sense. Thus, the brilliant life enabling Suns, the cool and creative Moons and the refreshing rain bearing clouds (Rahu-Ketus) come together and co-exist to complete a persons life experience.
The mythological story goes thus – A relatively minor character in the Mahabharata, Shishupala was born with three eyes and four arms and an accompanying heavenly prophesy foretelling that he would lose his additional arms & eyes when placed on the lap of his future slayer. His parents invited all kings of the world to Chedi and placed the child on their laps, but nothing happened. Finally, Shishupala’s cousins, Krishna and his brother Balarama came to visit. Shishupala’s extra arms and eyes fell off as soon as he was placed on Krishna’s lap. Realizing that her son would be killed by his own cousin brother, the terrified mother secured a boon from Krishna that he would pardon a 100 offences of Shishupala even when he deserved to be killed. Shishupala’s parents, in an attempt to provide him security, then placed him under the care of Krishna’s sworn enemy, the powerful Jarasandha. As he grew up Shishupala found a way to commit a 100 offences, the last one being at Yudhistra’s Rajasuya yagna and finally Krishna killed him.
All very well! But, was constructive feedback ever given to Shishupala?
On the one hand he had his well-wishers – his parents, his mentor Jarasandha and his close friend, Rukmi, the brother of Rukmini who hated Krishna and on the other end of the spectrum were his perceived enemies – Krishna and Balarama. His parents tried to protect him by pushing him into the arms of a person with his own personal agenda against Krishna and who naturally groomed him with similar views. His friends kept telling him that he was on the right track whenever he committed an offense in the eyes of Krishna. And Krishna too, just let him off after each offence, without taking the effort to make Shishupala understand what was wrong and what he could have done better. This was very much contrary to the amount of time and effort he had invested in Arjuna in the great war to shape his thought process. So, appears like a combination of lop-sided feedback – all positive from friends and all negative from adversaries contributed to Shishupala’s death. This is very much the corporate scenario today. Well-meaning feedback mechanisms have been instituted by organizations to help employees improve their performance and eventually contribute to the organization’s holistic growth. But, it often translates into a forum skewed by bias extremities leading to either flowery comments or petty personal attacks and eventually provides little opportunity for growth and education in their roles as against the original objective of the whole process. Hence, it’s very important that feedback needs to be constructive and corrective rather than simply positive or negative. Every person in the system has a responsibility towards the other in ensuring that he has a clear picture of his performance from the inside out, to help create a culture of positive reinforcement. Finally, it’s essential that that this process should be consistent, continuous and actionable.
So, probably Shishupala would have lived longer and been an effective king, had he received timely Constructive Feedback.
First, the mythological tale of King Dilīpa, the ancestor of Rama. Dilīpa was childless for a long time due to the curse of the divine cow, Kamadhenu. Sage Vasistha advised him to worship and protect Nandini, the daughter of Kamadhenu and earn her blessings for progeny. The king and his wife served Nandini faithfully. They personally cleaned the cow shed, bathed Nandini, took her out to graze and ensured that she was safe and well fed. One day, a ferocious lion appeared and attacked Nandini. The king tried to protect the cow, but the lion argued that as a king he was duty bound to protect the interests of the lion as well, since he too was his subject. If the lion was not allowed to consume his prey and natural food he would die of hunger and would hold the king responsible for his death. As a solution, the king offered himself as food in lieu of the cow. Pleased with the king’s sacrifice and fairness, Nandini revealed that the lion was a just illusion created to test him and blessed him. In due course, the king begat a son, Raghu, the grandfather of Rama and thus began the Raghuvamsa.
The year 2017 saw the rise of another mythological king – Dileep Raja, President of MaGoMa Rakshak Enterprises. A reporter from a leading daily managed to get an interview after a long wait. In his palatial office, he is told that Rajaji would meet him on the ground where he was personally supervising operations. Forehead streaked with vermillion, designer sunglasses, traditional turban and parked on a Harley Davidson, Dileep Raja is a modern GenNext entrepreneur. He is humility personified in welcoming the reporter and making him comfortable. The interview begins –
Q. You have set up a huge and successful enterprise in such a short time, who do you credit your success to?
A. I owe all this to the grace and blessings of Gomata, I am after all a humble servant and just fulfilling my natural duty by protecting her. We are the pioneers in this domain. You can call us an NGO due to our selfless facilitation of the GoRakshak initiative. And think of it, we have solved the unemployment problem by recruiting youths in large numbers. We are proud that we are a successful example of the DesiBanao Abhigyan.
Q. Please describe your operations.
A. In just a span of 2 years, we have scaled up our operations in 22 states and penetrate right down to the Tehsil level. Though termed unorganized, we have a strong network of volunteers who ensure smooth operations. Just like an MNC, we have high level Strategy, Information Cell, finance and Operation teams which work closely together to ensure success. We manage with the voluntary contributions made by the people caught for slaughter or smuggling and that is small compensation for the physical and mental effort we have to put in to ensure that we meet our daily targets of cow protection.
Q. But there have been accusations that you have only been paying lip service to cow protection by targeting certain sections of the society and do not really care for cow welfare.
A. All rubbish and this is a campaign promoted by the anti-nationalists. They do not want our country to progress by adopting our sacred dharma. What do you mean by saying we are not concerned about cow protection? We have been promoting GoShalas everywhere. We ensure maximum utilization of space in the goshala’s keeping in mind the space crunch in the nation. And for the non-milk cow, we have thrown open the streets. They are free to roam about anywhere they want and eat anything. Haven’t you read the WhatsUp and Facebook messages, where we have explained how the miraculous cows can digest anything including plastic? In fact, we have also opened a plastic department for solving the problem of plastic disposal in the nation.
Q. But, what about the causalities? Some people have been seriously injured and even lost their lives?
A. Have you not heard the story of Mother Earth, where she appeared as a Cow to Lord Vishnu and prayed to be saved from the torture meted by the unruly Kshatriya Kings? Lord Vishnu took birth on earth as Lord Krishna and was a major player in the Mahabharata war, which ended with the death of most Kshatriyas. It is natural that lives will be lost for a just cause. But, people can avoid trouble if they use their brains. The Mahabharata war was the doom of only the Kshatriyas, but other classes were sparred. So, people can avoid trouble by converting. Anyways, we have to end the interview now, as my team members have spotted a major incident and being a hands-on person, I need to be there personally.
But, before we part do make note of our Vision statement which is inspired by the Father of Our Nation – “I would not kill a human being for protection a cow, as I will not kill a cow for saving a human life, be it ever so precious. Cow slaughter can never be stopped by law. Knowledge, education, and the spirit of kindliness towards her alone can put an end to it. It will not be possible to save those animals that are a burden on the land or, perhaps, even man if he is a burden.”
Recently, I came across the news of the Supreme Court rejecting the plea of a couple to abort a 26 week old foetus with Down Syndrome. A seemingly routine rule book decision and probably one which I like most others would have normally overlooked. Except that in this case, it brought back extremely painful memories – It was 7 years back and I was expecting my child. Being a complicated pregnancy I was subject to multiple tests and medication right from the beginning and just when we had started breathing easy, a test in the 16th week indicated a very high probability of our child being born with Downs Syndrome. We were told by the consulting doctor in a matter of fact tone that our child is likely to be born with physical and intellectual disability and suggested another test for confirming the same, the results for which would be available in 5 days. And those 5 days were the most miserable ones of our life! I recall going through those days in a zombie like manner, too numb to think of what to do next once we get the results.
How did we feel and think – what did we do to deserve this? Is this due to some past negative Karma? Do we keep the child or abort it? If we abort, then how can we live with the guilt of having killed a child? And if decide to go ahead with the pregnancy, will we be able to accept it just like a normal child? And most important, who would take care of it once we are dead and gone?
By God’s grace and serendipity, the second test results were negative and eventually we were blessed with a normal & healthy child. And we moved on, only too glad to bury those dark days in the recesses of our memories. Till this headline made me think deeper about the judgement.
What is Downs Syndrome– It is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. It is typically associated with physical growth delays, characteristic facial features and mild to moderate intellectual disability. As adults, their mental abilities are typically similar to those of an 8- or 9-year-old. They also typically have poor immune function and generally reach developmental milestones at a later age. They have an increased risk of a number of other health problems, including congenital heart defect, epilepsy, leukemia, thyroid diseases, and mental disorders, among others.
What is the current support offered by the government?
The ‘Niramaya Health Insurance Plan’for the welfare of persons with autism, cerebral palsy, mental retardation and multiple disabilities.
Each state government in India gives a maintenance allowance for disabled individuals gives Rs. 500 per month.
Indian Railways offers a concession of 75% for a disabled person’s travelwith an escort. Bus concessions are given for travel between place of stay and School/Disability Center/Day Care
There are special provisions in the Income Tax Actfor persons with disability, that is also applicable to parents/legal guardians of persons with disability.
The National Trust Act passed in 1999, gives the right to “parents or relatives or registered organizations to ask for the appointment of guardian for the person with disabilities even after they are 18 years of age.”
But these measures are woefully inadequate –There is a huge requirement in our society for local support groups for parents and children of this condition, and most such groups in India have been formed by the parents themselves. The process has to start from the gynecologists and pediatricians themselves, who need to show more sensitivity and responsibility in helping the parents face the situation and accept their special children. Parents need counselling to help overcome the initial shock and disappointment, regain their emotional balance and accept the situation. The public needs to be made aware and sensitized about the characteristics and needs of such individuals so that the children are not viewed as freaks in public places. Inclusion within society is a must to help parents face the situation and improve the quality of life for their children, more so for those from the less affluent and socially backward classes. For a society which is still grappling with female foeticide and wellbeing of girl children, it is very essential that all kinds of emotional and psychological support is extended to these families to help them love their children abundantly and see them grow as normally as possible.
And the good news is that there are many success stories (like the case of Dr. Rekha Ramachandran’s daughter Babli), where both children with DS and their parents have fought against the odds to become educated and live normal lives. Rather, the families consider themselves blessed and feel themselves warmer, closer and more harmonious with better marital ties gained from the positive experience of the “Down Syndrome Advantage”.
Then, is the current anti-abortion judgement a right one?As per current law, abortion of foetus is permissible only when the mothers life is at risk and that too upto 20 weeks of pregnancy only. But, in these special circumstances, it is imperative that the law is not constrained to enforcement of the rule, but rather it should also create an environment conducive to support of the families and inclusion of such children in society. Please do not get me wrong here. I am a firm supporter of the right of life to all. But probably in this cases, the parents should also have a choice to present their case and be counselled sensitively rather than be forced to follow the law blindly.
It is International Downs Syndrome day on March 21st. As we are anyways given to celebrating so many nonsensical days, it would be good if we could give thought and extend support in any manner possible for this cause!
“Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.” – Annette Funicello
The perception of Guru is an ancient one in India, with a lot of emphasis on the tradition of reverence and consideration of the Guru as indispensable to the acquisition of knowledge and spiritual development.
In modern times, the word “Godman” is often used as a colloquial for the word Guru, who are seen as charismatic personalities, attracting attention and support from large sections of the society. Many establish religious, social or educational institutions with a view to propagating their legacy. They come cloaked in an aura of divinity, mystery and associated controversies. But the public struggles to identify with them as normal people who have had their share of challenges and failures before attaining the positions they are in today. This often happens because of limited awareness of the Guru’s lives as normal people and invariably leads to two very skewed perceptions – the rightists or so-called ‘devotees’ who put the Gurus on a pedestal and blindly follow their tenets and justify all their deeds, and the leftists on the other end of the spectrum, who are distrustful of all Gurus and denounce them as fakes with a highly personal agenda.
This story is about trying to strike a balance in our perception of Godmen/women!
I was fairly excited to be visiting my maternal uncle (Sethu Mama) after a gap of 6 years and a lot had changed in this period. As I reached his home on a typically hot Friday afternoon in Chennai, my Mama and Mami (aunt – Sethu mama’s wife) greeted me. After freshening up, I joined my uncle at the table for lunch, which Mami served while attending to her mischievous grandson simultaneously. Post lunch and an afternoon siesta, I woke up to be served the traditional south Indian filter coffee by Mami. She then got busy plucking flowers from the jasmine plant in the garden and asked me if I would be interested in joining her and Sethu mama in visiting the temple in the evening. I readily agreed and it was around 5.30 pm in the evening when we reached the Navashakthi Kamakshi Amman Temple in Madipakkam, armed with the traditional offerings of fruits and flowers.
The temple, consecrated in June, 2009 stretched lengthwise right on the banks of the Madipakkam lake. Entering the main temple, I was awestruck by the majestic 9 foot tall deity of the Kamakshi Amman (a form of the Goddess Parvathi), seated in the yogic Padmasana posture. The Goddess held a sugarcane bow and flowers with a parrot perched on top in her lower arms and a pasha (lasso) and ankusha (goad) in her upper two arms. The inner shrine was surrounded by deities of other forms of the Goddess and was flanked by idols Ganesha and Murugan on the sides.
We saw a group of around 35 ladies seated in front of the Goddess reciting shlokas, while some others stood in front of the deity, praying and awaiting the priest to accept their offerings and give them the Prasad. We squeezed ourselves in front of the group of women and sat at the head of the line, while Sethu Mama made his way to the temple office room. My Mami too started to chant aloud the prayers. Friday being considered an auspicious day for praying to the Goddess, the crowd gradually swelled as the evening wore till the entire sanctum was crowded.
Post prayers and the traditional aarthi, people started queuing up to receive the Prasad and Kumkum offerings from my Mami. I watched with amazement as many, even those older in age prostrated before her while receiving the offerings. Some spoke to her about their personal problems or aspirations as they sought her blessings, while yet others spoke about how they had benefitted from their prayers.
It was 9 pm by the time we returned home after performing all the closing rituals in the temple. Once home, my aunt went back to the household duties of serving dinner, tidying up the kitchen and playing with her grandson. Post dinner, I settled down for a chat with my uncle and the conversation ran thus:
Mama, my memories of Radha Mami is that of being a shy and slightly timid, typically focused on managing her household and dependent on you for all external affairs. Then, how did this transformation take place?
To be very honest, this is a wonder to me too till date. Like most Tamil ladies, Radha was also engaged in regular prayers and temple visits. In early 2005, she undertook recital of the Lalitha Sahasaranamam (a prayer dedicated to the Goddess Durga) for 48 days, which was accompanied by stringent fasting. It was during this period that she started feeling a strong spiritual connect. Her focus shifted from her homely duties and she started behaving strangely and her personality was totally transformed. People started flocking to our house to see her and offer homage. Now whether it was due to some divine intervention or an impact of her own austerities, we really do not know. It was around this time that, she single-handedly took up cudgels against the priest of another temple, who was suspected of indulging in mal-practices and mobilized the public against him. In another incident, when the holy seer, the Sankaracharya of Kancheepuram was in our neighborhood, she went to him and accused him of not paying her respect and visiting her home. Now, this was quite unthinkable of had she been in a normal condition.
So, what inspired you to construct a temple? Was it an easy thing to do?
Well again, I would attribute this to the insistence of Radha. She was like a woman on a mission and wanted to build a temple for Kamakshi Amman. Initially, I had laughed it off and tried my best to discourage her, keeping in mind the associated financial implications and responsibilities. However, your Mami was adamant and approached the local panchayat directly for support. On repeated follow-ups and support of the local councilors, she was offered a spot which was 5-6 feet below ground level near the Madipakkam lake. We managed to level the ground and set up a makeshift hut, wherein people started offering prayers to a picture of the Goddess. Then, there was a change in the local governing party and the new party started to oppose the temple construction and even initiated demolition of the structure. Radha opposed the move strongly and mobilized local support in her favor and forced them to retract. Coming to finances, most of it was self-sponsored and I had to dig into my personal savings. Gradually, as the public too started supporting the initiative, we had a team for garnering contributions and sponsorships. There were several other challenges during actual temple construction and deity installation, but thanks to the grace of the Goddess, we were able to overcome them successfully.
How do you manage the temple now? What are the key activities?
For the initial 4 years, apart from Mami spending time in the temple, I had hired a person for managing it and would also pitch in post office hours and on the weekends. However, I gradually started sensing that it was not being managed very well. So in 2013, when both my children had grown up and were working, I opted for voluntary retirement to dedicate my time completely to the temple. Today, both I and Radha are completely focused on managing the temple. We are continuously thinking of improvising on the services we provide. For example, other than the customary prayers and rituals we periodically arrange social welfare programs like child scholarships, feeding the poor, managing goshalas etc. The Annadanam program we conduct every year on 26th January is the largest in the area and this year we managed to distribute food to 10,000 people.
Does Radha Mami have any specific message?
She does not preach to people. We help people in offering their prayers to the Goddess and get a feeling of satisfaction when they are answered. People identify with her as a person of God, who is as normal as they themselves are, easily approachable and probably a facilitator of solutions to their problems. Other than that we conduct various programs which help in community building and spread a social message.
But, if it is social work that you want to do, why do you need to build a temple for that? Are there not already too many temples where people can go to pray?
Like I had already said, if someone had told me 10 years back that we would build a temple, I would have laughed my head off. We had never planned to build a temple or establish ourselves as Godmen. It just happened and now that we are involved in this, it is our responsibility to ensure we manage it to the best of our abilities. And think of it, people have only benefitted from the temple. It’s not only the devout, but also children and aged people who come here regularly and they do go back with peace in their minds. This effectively functions as a community gathering place. We did what we felt inspired to do and hope that we keep up to the expectations of people.
As we retired for the night, I felt the crux of the matter is that while religious Gurus may be exceptional or enlightened spiritual leaders, they are also normal people with lives like anyone of us. So good to understand and be inspired by their success stories, but not put them on a pedestal blindly, which only does harm to all in the long run.