LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL


Amidst the dark and grey shades increasingly engulfing, invading and piercing deeper and deeper, let me try to enjoy the little smiles, genuine greens, and the gentle breeze. Oh! Creator! If you don't exist, my life...in vain!
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Thursday, October 27, 2011

“If anybody wants to see us, you have to break open the door”!





    This was the note written and pasted on the door of their house in Bangalore city by a mother and her son. Don’t think that they pasted the above note and went out. Their lifeless bodies were very much inside. Police and neighbours found a sixty five year old mother and her thirty two year old son hanging from a ceiling fan. The son was an Engineer in a private company.

    Police found a four page suicide note in the shirt pocket of the son, Sreenivasan. It was written legibly in English that they took this step because they could not bear the loss of the elder son of the family, who died a few days before due to cardiac arrest. He wrote: ‘My brother, Kumaresan  was our hope, strength, love and everything for us’.

   Kumaresan was a government employee (Office of the Accountant General) and all the three of them were staying in the quarters of the Central Public Works Department. He had got this job on compassionate grounds as his father who worked in the same department died two years back while serving the same department.

   The police found the television and several household articles trashed. Following was reportedly written in the suicide note signed by both mother and son:
“We are damaging a few things (precious) to us. We have already dumped some things in the Cauvery river along with Kumaresan’s ashes. We don’t want anybody to use these goods. Please destroy these damaged items. Our recently purchased ‘Tata Nano’ car, a bike, chit fund investments and other house hold items may be donated to orphanages or for charity.” They requested the authorities to repay the loan of Rs 50,000 taken from Canara Bank by drawing the money deposited in the Vijaya Bank. It was also written in the note: “We have kept some money on the table for our final rites. Please take it. Treat us like orphans and perform the final rites just like the way we did my brother’s. Take our bodies directly to the graveyard after the legal formalities.”

The day after
   There was nobody to claim the dead bodies. No one was rather interested to give homage to the two departed souls  in their neighbourhood. Finally Police had to depend on the President of the Residents Welfare Association to get the final rites done. Where were the friends and colleagues of the company where the son, Mr Sreenivasan worked? Where were the officials and colleagues of his brother Kumaresan, who was a government employee? (Remember, they were staying in a government quarters!) Where were the neighbours? Where were the relatives? Even newspapers carried this report just because it was a case of suicide by a mother-son duo. What would have happened if they had a natural death living in continued depression and mental ailments? Of course, no ‘news value’.

Some statistics


As per statistics of the World Health Organization, every year almost one million people die from suicide. That is one death every forty seconds. And 10 to 20 times more people attempt suicide worldwide. There is an increase of 50% in suicide deaths in the last half a century. Number of suicides are on the rise across various countries. See the WHO report.

As per latest statistics from India, an average of 15 suicides take place every hour in India. 1,34,599 persons committed suicide in India in 2010 (Report released in October 2011). And there may be cases where suicides are reported as natural death to avoid legal complications and social stigma. There is an increase of 24% in the number of suicides in the last decade alone.One in every three suicide victims were in the age group 15 to 45. Bangalore city recorded highest number of suicides across all cities in India. 41.1% of suicide victims were self employed. 7.5% were unemployed and 11.3% were salaried employees. Government servants were only 1.3% of the total suicide victims. (Source: Reports of Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India in 2010, National Crime Records Bureau (India) (October 2011), Ministry of Home Affairs).



Social Pathology

   The above incident clearly points towards the Social Pathology in the current techno-society. When relationships are managed by the keyboards and the emotions are expressed the form of emoticons, the relationships get blurred and can be wiped off by a momentary pressing of the button. The  interactions are never face-to-face but through cams and albums, the happy and sad events are shared through status updates than personal visits, and the personal and sensitive aspects of our life are shared  with people living in diverse locations. The boundaries are really permeable and life revolves around one or more sparsely knit social network groups. We live in a virtual platform free of any commitments, expectations and real life obligations. All is well.


   The excitement over increased friendship requests, vicarious satisfaction by seeing the profiles and snapshots, and obligation free contacts cannot bring in the warmth of a well-nurtured friend or relative,  living in the vicinity. It is equally necessary to have friends and relatives in real life who are physically proximate to us, who listen to us, share with us and support us in ‘real time’, face to face. There is a need to have a ‘network neighbourhood’ and the local social network should overtake the virtual social network. The deleterious impact of overdependence to the virtual friend network is the decreased time spent with friends, neighbours and relatives who stay nearby. Indeed, we become ‘isolates’, though claim to be a socialite in the cyberspace.
(Picture courtesy: impulse.org.in)
  The above happening is also a strong indication of the highly artificial relationship structure and interactions in the organizations we work. Colleagues need to build relationships of mutual sharing and support. Employers should not forget that they can play a crucial role in building healthy ties within the organization and they need to extend their support to activities that can make employees more active socially in a society plagued by selfishness, unhealthy competition and professional jealousy.

  One of the worst quotations I saw in my office entrance the other day. “Pressure in Work brings Perfection in Work”. My sympathies to my organization!


   Read the following poem. Written in 1883. Still relevant!


“Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow it's mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air.
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.

Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go.
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
Be sad, and you lose them all.
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
But alone you must drink life’s gall.

Feast, and your halls are crowded;
Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a long and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.”

(Poem ‘Solitude’ by Ella Wheeler Wilcox    
Published in 1883 in New York Sun for which she received $5 for her effort)

Sibichen K Mathew

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Aleph, Paulo Coelho and my Friend: The Journey Within


Aleph, Paulo Coelho and my Friend: The Journey Within
Book Review : ‘Aleph’
(A novel from Paulo Coelho)
By Sibichen K Mathew
                                                                  

       Thousands of years have passed.  Still, life is a mystery for human beings. The creator and the creation are beyond the comprehension of the created. Philosophers like Aristotle and Plato searched for meanings. Theologians like Thomas Aquinas  and St. Augustine delved deep into the subject. Scientists from Einstein to Stephen Hawking had to satisfy themselves with incomplete information while dealing with unresolved mysteries about life. None could provide any valuable insight about what was before life or what is in store after death. But the universe continued to bring miracles in the form of lives, each one of them unique in many respects.
Croatian Edition

          Here is an autobiographical book by Paulo Coelho that would take readers through an eventful journey where life is reincarnated. Those of you who have read ‘The Alchemist’ by Coelho should definitely read this book too. The Alchemist, translated into 72 languages and sold close to 65 million copies, had brought in radical transformation in the lives of many readers.  The Alchemist is a magical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure and ultimately discovers that life is indeed generous to those who pursue their destiny. Aleph showcases a long journey where lives transcend centuries to rediscover and fulfil the unfinished tasks and unrealized dreams. In fact, the story depicts the encounters all of us face in this world with our fears and our shortcomings. And it points to the fact that only love and forgiveness can make our life meaningful.

                                                                
           We all face crises, conflicts and disappointments in life. Even when everything goes well with a good career, family and friends, we would still feel a sort of vacuum in life as years pass. Even though we have firmly believed in certain ideology or faith all these years, there are moments when doubts emerge from within about those deep-rooted ideology or faith. The consequences are disturbing and sometimes devastating. The author also experienced similar confusion and unhappiness amidst the routine. And the teacher tells him: ‘Go and experiment. It’s time you got out of here. Go and re-conquer your kingdom, which has grown corrupted by routine. Stop repeating the same lesson, because you won’t learn anything new that way.’ And Paulo starts his journey, taking the readers along.


          Faced with the grave crisis of faith, he sets out on another journey, this time not to find the treasure in the pyramids of Egypt, but to a series of destinations to seek a path of spiritual renewal and growth.  J., the teacher says: ‘Our life is a constant journey, from birth to death. The landscape changes, the people change, our needs change, but the train keeps moving. Life is the train, not the station.’  The author experiences the same as he undertakes the long journey in the Trans-Siberian railway. For him it was not just a travel to meet publishers or participate in many book signing functions, but to experiment and to reconnect with people and the world. It was a trip to his soul, past, present and future. The story underscores the need to re-conquer one’s lost kingdom, a journey within.


        He meets the young violinist Hilal and identifies her as his ‘past love’, dates back to more than five centuries. The awareness culminated in Aleph, which is the right place where the entire universe is present and provides for a new incarnation in order to finish something that was left incomplete in the past. And the author discovers his past love precisely at this point and a great Aleph occurs. He asks: ‘Where is my first kiss filed away? In some hidden corner of my brain? In a series of electrical impulses that have been deactivated? My first kiss is more alive than ever, and I will never forget it. It’s here, all around me. It forms part of my Aleph’


           Author very vaguely describes Aleph as a point in the universe that contains all other points, present and past, large and small. Jorge Luis Borges wrote in ‘The Aleph’ that it is the only place on earth where all places are – seen from every angle, each standing clear without any confusion or blending  .  This is a point where time and space converge. Coelho was really excited but confused at the same time as he was faced with another chance to fulfil his dream.
Serbian edition 

            On the one hand he faces an ardent and uncontrollable desire to tread on the path to the body of his rediscovered love of the past. On the other hand he feels terribly guilty to commit an act that would disturb his bond of the present. But the mind justifies the desire as it was aimed at a process of purification and healing of a young girl who was severely hurt by an abuse of her childhood innocence by a neighbour, whom everyone thought of as gentle and helpful. She said: He touched my body; but distorted my soul.


      As I read the above passage, I remembered a mail received by me from a friend of mine a few months back. She wrote:

   
                        Dear Sibi,

I had told you about  my childhood abuse by a person close to my family.
As far as I can remember, I was angelic, calm, quiet, and innocent as a little girl. Moreover, highly intelligent too. I stayed at home till I was 7 and then cried to go away to another place,(may be to escape from my abuser) I never used to talk and so never had friends, never needed one. Though I am not from a prayerful family, somewhere along the way, a person called God became real in my life. He became my everything in my secret world, and I used to predict many things out of instinct, which was, to a little girl, told by Him. The more such things happened, I became happy with His companionship. I stood first in class, without much efforts, I didn’t feel proud of that first rank either. Nothing mattered at all.


But later on, I knew that someone did something WRONG to me and I was so sad about that. I started feeling bad, deceived. Gradually I became alone, I left my companion, I never spoke nor prayed to Him personally for many many years. 
I thought I was used as I was so innocent and ignorant. So I wanted to help and protect myself. I became my god and guardian. I thought I was doing me a big favour. But it resulted in losing my innocence, my character, behaviour, all that was originally created. My world collapsed and went out of my control and I realised about ten years back, what the problem was.
It took many years' struggle to deal with the abuse, as an adult. First I had to confront him, which was easier than forgiving him. I had to forgive him, as I wanted to get rid of the feeling of his touch which I could feel even after years. I finally looked into his eyes with God's power of forgiveness and shook hands with him and made peace. Then came the most difficult part, to forgive myself. Years and years of efforts didn't make it possible, till God did it His way.


When I thought my life is going to start again, there came the worst shock of my life. I identified a small little girl, inside me.The original me. She was there, around three years old, asking me to let her free. I suppressed her as I was scared to lose my self-created personality. I ignored her cries all these years. It turned out to be an urge to have a girl to love and care for. But she never came. After years I understood that I was the girl who needed love and care.
Things which happened recently in my life were weird, but all had a reason. With all the boldness and confidence in me, I was just a slave to many hurts and humiliations.  Nothing that I created worked out. 
The girl inside me lived all these years, as my suppressed ignored personality, and I never derived any good feeling from my artificial personality. The night I told myself and God that I hate myself, I understood that there is more to it. I prayed over it and found out that I hate my artificial personality, which I wore for years around that little innocent girl.
The little girl cried for herself and I cried along with her. I knew what she suffered all these years, what she was asking me constantly.  The moment came, that her cries came to the point of her liberation either through death or life, and I had no other choice but to take heed of her sobs. That was the time of the highest realisation in my whole life. INNOCENCE IS THE GREATEST POWER IN THE WHOLE UNIVERSE. Nothing that I thought or the way I lived could ever make a slightest change to the thought or life or the little girl inside me. She stayed and waited decades, to win her battle, through the power of her innocence. I decided to liberate her to life by taking away all I had created around her. With God, and only God, all things are possible.


I saw her, the innocent little girl, her smile, her joy, near her stood her childhood companion, who proved faithful all through her journey.
I wanted to know more about my childhood. So I called my aunt who loves me as her own. She told me that I was an angel. I asked her to show me one girl like that in the family or outside. She told me that she has till date never seen such a special child or person who even resembles me. These were the exact words I used to describe my childhood. I used to watch and search everywhere for a kid like me. But I could not find anyone like me.


I thanked God for keeping that angelic personality of mine live in me (though she was a constant cause of inner conflict, many times I thought of killing her, or giving her to God).
Now that little girl gave me back my lost identity and life. I have that strongest desire to go to Heaven after total purification on earth, and  to be called a saint, by God. And I am sure that if I had to live in my real self, I would've been so close to God and lived in His power as His instrument.
Anyway my life is not over and God doesn't need time to do miracles and fill the blank of all these years. 
In every story, God appoints characters. There is a father, a mother, a teacher, a friend, many more, in mine. But among the few main characters, there is a friend, only one, who played a very direct part towards my return to myself, and that friend is Sibi, you. And very surprisingly, I used to call only you by the name "friend". 


I am so thankful to God for all the people and incidents which changed my life. Thank you so much dear, for being God's instrument in my life. I can never repay you in any way and I must not do that for your Divine work. But the Lord who you obeyed, will bless and reward you from His abundant Divine wealth and make you prosperous in everything on earth and heaven. 

I love you so much friend.I am excited to share this joy with you. Take care.



Love,
G
   
   
          I read the letter again and found how real Coelho’s Hilal is. In fact there are many Hilals and G's in this world whose innocent childhoods were abused by devilish incarnations in shepherd’s clothes. The experience haunts their entire life. Hilal said the same way G wrote to me: ‘..because I carried all that guilt around inside me, because victims always end up considering themselves to be the culprits, I decided to keep punishing myself. So, in my relationships with men, I’ve always sought suffering, conflict and despair’.


          Author was on a mission to set her soul free of unwarranted guilt. She said: ‘The girl forgives you, not because she has become a saint, but because she can no longer bear to carry this burden of hatred. Hating is very wearisome. I don’t know if something is changing in Heaven or on Earth, if my soul is being damned or saved, but I feel utterly exhausted and only now do I understand why. I forgive the man who tried to destroy me when I was ten years old.’ She continued: ‘I also forgive myself. May the misfortunes of the past no longer weigh on my heart. Instead of pain and resentment, I choose understanding and compassion. Instead of rebellion, I choose the music from my violin. Instead of grief, I choose forgetting. Instead of vengeance, I choose victory’.


        A few are really blessed to get healed through the divine touch. And some are fortunate to have friends who are ‘imperfect’ angels. This is a story that depicts passions and struggles one face within oneself. This is a story about  one’s determination to complete the pilgrimage by living every moment.   
                                               
       It is rightly written as follows. ‘We human beings have enormous difficulty in focusing on the present; we’re always thinking about what we did, about how we could have done it better, about the consequences of our actions, and why we didn’t act as we should have. Or else we think about the future, about what we’re going to do tomorrow, what precautions we should take, what dangers await us around the next corner, how to avoid what we don’t want and how to get what we have always dreamed of’ 

   Author has quoted many interesting and meaningful stories. Following one is particularly interesting:

     “ …. ‘When he left the shop, Ali noticed that an icy wind was blowing. He felt afraid and decided to ask his best friend, Aydi, if he thought he was mad to accept the wager.
After considering the matter for a moment, Aydi answered, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll help you. Tomorrow night, when you’re sitting on top of the mountain, look straight ahead. I’ll be on the top of the mountain opposite, where I’ll keep a fire burning all night for you. Look at the fire and think of our friendship; and that will keep you warm. You’ll make it through the night, and afterwards, I’ll ask you for something in return.’
Ali won the wager, got the money and went to his friend’s house.
‘You said you wanted some sort of payment in return.’
 Aydi said, ‘Yes, but it isn’t money. Promise that if ever a cold wind blows through my life, you will light the fire of friendship for me.’ ”
Edition (Brazil)


        All of us might experience the ring of fire at some point of time in our life. The novel makes it clear that love always triumphs over death. And there’s no need to grieve for our loved ones, because they continue to be loved and remain by our side.


        The author thought he has re-conquered the lost kingdom. He rejoiced for being part of the healing process. Was Hilal really healed from the trauma? Was Paulo trapped between the forces from two lives in his experience of incarnation? Did the journey for a new experience up-rooted him from the bliss and blessings of present life? Was the happiness evanescent and ephemeral? To know the answers, readers are invited to complete the journey with Paulo Coelho in ‘The Aleph’.

     Book was published in India on Sept 10, 2011 by HarperCollinsPublishers Pages 300, Rs 325/-                    

Indian edition

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In my last birthday note I wrote:  ‘My assets are the occasions I made others smile and the situations I experienced inner joy and peace in these years. My liabilities are nothing but the opportunities I lost for excellence to become a world class citizen’. I am glad to find a similar thought in ‘Aleph’: ‘Hell is when we look back during that fraction of a second and know that we wasted an opportunity to dignify the miracle of life. Paradise is being able to say at that moment: ‘I made some mistakes, but I wasn’t a coward. I lived my life and did what I had to do.’ (p.21)


Please find time to read the comments below. Before that, do not miss the comment by Paulo Coelho (and many of his readers) about the above article. Click here
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