The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakis

Warning: This blog may offend those who were offended by the book and/or the movie

I do not know the nature of the controversy surrounding the movie or the book. Probably not knowing really helped as I read this book with an open mind. But having read it, I can see why it may have generated controversy!

The Last Temptation is an extraordinary depiction of the inner struggles and temptations Jesus goes through before he succeeds in answering his true calling – that of the Messiah. Not just any other Messiah who leads on Earth through preaching, but the Son of God who has to give up his Life so others can believe.
Nikos Kazantzakis writes simply and elegantly of the harsh life of the Jews under Roman rule, especially in the country side. This fictitious account seems to arise from his own search for inner truth which led him from Freud to Nietczhe to Buddha. One cannot but sympathize with Jesus (and the author too) as he tries to make sense of his visions and inner voices and reconcile them with what his disciples yearn for.
In one of the most telling conversations where the Disciples struggle to come to terms with Jesus’ preachings, John asks in response to his Masters exhortations that the old commandments are no longer large enough – “Does God’s will change then, rabbi?”

Jesus’ reply – “No, John beloved. But man’s heart widens and is able to contain more of God’s will.”

This widening of heart to contain more of God’s will is, to me, the essence of spiritual growth, no matter what religion, faith or dogma we believe in. As human beings, we constantly struggle to understand what God expects (Sometimes demands) of us. God does not ask for a lot – He simply asks we open our hearts to His love.

All in all, a must read for those of you who are looking to expand their horizons, and widen their heart!

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God’s Own Country indeed

During the last 3 weeks I visited three unique tourist spots in Kerala, my home state. Family and friends accompanied me as our road trip took us across the length and breadth of Kerala. For those of you who think I have way too much time on my hand (my boss for example!), these trips happened over 3 different week-ends.

And for those of you who have never visited this state shelved between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats in the southern tip of India, this blog will not make any sense whatsoever! Kerala’s Tourism Department touts it as God’s Own Country and has successfully marketed it to the world. And to give the devil it’s due, they have been endorsed even by National Geographic. The National Geographic Traveler Magazine has named it “one of the top ten paradises of world” and “one of the fifty must see destinations of lifetime”.

Now for the places I visited – Kumarakom (backwaters), Kuttikanam (hill range), and Guruvayur (temple town). Kumarakom is verdant land surrounded by the backwaters near Kottayam. Famous for its bird sanctuary, Kumarakom is touted as the Venice of the East. Row boats, motor boats and house boats – I let life slide by as I watched the coconut trees and the paddy fields disappear from view. 

An hour to the south of Kottayam is Kuttikanam. We stayed in a resort at the top of one of the hillocks and the view was absolutely divine. The mist that surrounded us muted the tribal drums that came from the temple at the base of the hill and gave it an eerie and other-worldly feel. As the power outages were frequent, we were as close to nature we could wish for.

I literally came back to terra firma with a bump as we jolted across the real bad roads of Kerala (Detroit was heaven compared to this) to see my Guruvayurappan. For Krishna devotees, Guruvayur is one of the divine shrines that vies only with Tirupathi for its sanctity. In fact I think this is the only temple for Krishna devotees, but i have to admit I am biased and you may beg to differ. This temple town, with its roadside vendors and vegetarian eateries will delight any tourist, devotee or not. The four entrances to the temple is lined with shops that you have to pass through to see the Lord and many a time you end up spending more time (and money!) at these shops than inside the temple itself. I know my kids did!

How in God’s name did Kerala get such a wide and diverse greenery? What did we do to deserve this nature? Now the monsoon is upon us, and if you want to see nature in her overpowering glory, you have to visit the clean and scrubbed Kerala that the monsoon unveils during the next 3 months. 

What sheer joy to see the heavens open up, the earth soak up the water, and give off a unique smell (“manvasanai” in Tamil) that evokes memories of childhood when you willingly jumped in puddles of dirty water in your new shoes and uniforms on your way to school. I always loved the first day of school (usually during the first week of June) which coincided almost always with the first rains of the monsoon.

Mountains, hilly terrains, rivers, waterfalls, backwaters, temple towns, beaches – all in one State, all reachable within 6 hours of car travel. Yes, God’s Own Country indeed.

PS: If you have not heard of these places, go ahead and google them. And then visit them. You will thank me, right after you have danced in the monsoon showers, cruised slowly  in a houseboat, polished off  crispy vadas and cardamom tea, and counted 15 hues and shades of green.

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On Alchemists and Lost Symbols

It was sheer coincidence that I read both the Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown over the same weekend. I had 2 dental, 1 x-ray, 1 blood test, 2 pediatrician visits, and 2 gynec visits all in the space of 4 days and had plenty of time while waiting for the Doctor to read both of them end to end! No, we are all fine, but it was time for our annual family medical check-ups.

Now for the similarities – both are about searching for a treasure on a physical level and searching for inner meaning and happiness on a metaphysical level. Both dip into the vast wisdom of the ages – the Koran, the Gita, the Bible, the Vedas for infinite wisdom and to explain why things are the way they are. And finally both the books try to explain a complex and complicated concept in simple terms.

This is where the similarity ends. The Alchemist is pure wisdom, while The Lost Symbol is pure drivel! Dan Brown seems to have lost his creativity, his innovative research, and his power of persuasion. I have read every book he has written and while Deception Point and Digital Fortress appeal to me the most, some credit has to be given to Demons and Angels, and to the Da Vinci Code. But what in horror’s name is the Lost Symbol?

On the other hand, the Alchemist survives the test of time even after 25 years. The story is simple, the characters  human, the hero is heroic without any major antics or idiosyncracies, and the story setting is elemental. Each word leads to the next with nothing lost “in translation” and the story moves powerfully and magnetically to the right climax without any false moves. Everything is explained simply and correctly. The conclusion – if you have a dream or the power to dream, everything in the Universe will conspire to help you achieve it.

Wow. Double Wow. Sure, thousands of self-help books and gurus are telling us the same thing. But the Alchemist says it in a way that is deeply touching. And compelling. So go ahead and buy this book and start reading it. Often. It ranks up there in the “Top 100 books to have in your book shelf when you retire” list. As for the Lost Symbol, I would recommend you sell it along with your bunch of old newspapers and at least recover some of the money you wasted buying it.

Keep dreaming and stay the course.

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The greatest joke of all times

Last week my 8 year old dressed up as a witch for her class assembly and read out a bunch of spooky jokes.  I watched proudly from the audience and chuckled whenever the assembly broke out in laughter. After all, they were really good ones. My favorite from the dozen or so she read? Get ready to laugh – when do Ghosts go to work? On MoanDays and FrightDays!

This joke got me thinking. I think the greatest joke of all times is us human beings as we scurry to work, week in and week out. Imagine an alien landing on Earth on a Monday morning intent on invading us. He would see us scramble to get ourselves and our family ready, reach work after a crazy commute where we scream and curse, sit in the narrow confines of our cubicle, strategize on to-do lists and action plans, sit in endless meetings, consume unmentionable amounts of caffiene, fret and fume over deadlines while our blood pressure shoots up, get back home stressed out and physically tired…. In 12 hours,  we start all over again.

And we pride ourselves that we are the most intelligent species the good God made. Nope, as Agatha Christie states, (or more specifically my darling Detective, Hercule Poirot) men are creatures of habit. We love to do the same things again and again. So if the above-mentioned Alien watches the human race at work for a week, he would flee in boredom never to come back.  In fact, Nations should forget arming ourselves with nukes – just play a video of the human race going to work and back and see if the aliens don’t surrender in sheer boredom.

So what can we do about it? Well, practically nothing that would change things in the near future. In fact even in the Space Family Robinson, the father goes to work everyday and is faced with similar challenges as us humans in the 21st Century.

So is there a point to this blog, you ask. Hold your horses young lady, am coming to it. Yes, the point is that what we do daily is absolutely hilarious and not without much of a point. So maybe we should start taking ourselves less seriously. Maybe start treating this entire “work” thing as a joke and relax a little. Since this is something that we will be doing 70% of our life, let us learn to treat going to work as ONE BIG JOKE, reduce our stress, and just enjoy the work.

So from this week onwards we will stop treating our work days as Moandays, Sadderdays, Frightdays, Cursedays etc. and turn them all into Fundays. Who’s with me?

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The Greatest Player of all Times – Fedex

The Greatest Player of all times
Yes, he has done it

After January 31, 2010, there is no doubt in any one’s mind as to who is the GOAT of Tennis – the Greatest Of All Times. ROGER FEDERER.

Fedex, as most of the banners scream out, is on a roll indeed. After winning Roland Garros in 2009, he completed his Grand Slam in Tennis – only one of the 5 players in the history of Men’s Tennis.

Then he went on to win the Wimbledon in the same year and beat Pete Sampras record of 14 Grand Slams.

Then as a new dad of two beautiful twins (Myla Rose and Charlene Riva) he almost made it as the first dad to win a Grand Slam in the US Open, but Del Potro had other plans.

You know what they say, you can never keep a good man down forever. Australian Open, 2010, became the platform for Federer to add one more to his record – the first dad in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam. He beat 5th seed Andy Murray in straight sets without even breaking a sweat.

Yes, he is the greatest tennis player of all times. Sorry Pete. Sorry Agassi. And Sorry Rod laver.

But what about Nadal? The mischievous imp sitting on my shoulder whispers. There is this niggling doubt in everyone’s mind (including mine sometimes) that the only reason Federer could do this is coz Nadal was out nursing his injuries (and his ego when he faced a shock exit in the fourth round as Defending Champion in Roland Garros 2009 against Soderling).

What about him, I ask? And I hold up Federer’s ultimate Ace up his sleeve. Something no player has or ever will be able to match anytime in my lifetime.

Yes, you know. A record 23 consecutive appearances in Grand Slam tennis semifinals or better since 2004. Simply put, no matter what his injuries, he has always reached at least the Semifinal of a Grand Slam in the last 5 years.

Ha. Double Ha. And he is only 28. And you want to know why he is the best?

Coz he is a Leo, with the traits of the Cancer. Watch him in action on the tennis court and you will understand. Like the crab, he moves sideways and forward constantly. He does not rush into anything quickly. He waits, he sidles, he dances, he side steps. And when the prey is assured, he pounces like the Lion. (Birthday -August 8). Like the Leo he has a Royal Confidence he will win. And in the likelihood of the match slipping away from him, he raises his game a notch. Just a notch.

So by the time his rival has matched him, Federer has already uppped his game, step by step like the crab. If he does not have to, he doesn’t. He lazes back like the Lion and lets the victim tires himself. If he has to, then he comes blasting out on all four cylinders (but mind you – like a crab, quietly and forcefully).

How do I know? Well, just Crab instinct.  (yup, am a Cancer/Leo cusp). So, celebrate Federer as the Greatest GOAT of all Times. Even if he does not win a single match ever again in his life (Ya, right!) in my books he is absolutely THE  BEST. It should be in yours too.

Hail Federer.

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New Year, New You and New Me

I am sure you have made your New Year Resolutions and have probably broken a few already. As I was pondering on my Resolutions, I decided to categorize them into 2 main categories. (Project Management skills die hard!). So here goes my resolutions for the new year and I hope you will adopt them too.

I have made resolutions on TWO fronts only – Hope & Health. Under each category I made 3 resolutions making it a total of 6 resolutions I plan on making or breaking this Year!

Hope –

  1. Read the Bhagavad Gita Everyday. By doing so I HOPE to draw from the Wisdom and Experience of all ages which should instruct me on how to live my today
  2. Drop my baggage. Jiggi Vasudev (of Isha Yoga) asks – Will you watch a boring movie or a sad book again and again? Then why would you relive your sad or bad memories at the drop of a hat?  I HOPE to carry forward happy memories everyday and drop those that burden me
  3. Laugh More.

Health –

  1. Will not wake up early! – Yes, NOT WAKE UP EARLY – Waking up early is a habit I have not acquired and do not plan to acquire starting tomorrow morning.  I will wake up when I want and if need be, will drive my daughter to school when she misses the school bus. So there!
  2. Will not DIET anymore – From now on I will only watch my diet, not DIET. A whole different way of looking at something you are going to do all your life. Incidentally the word DIET refers to what is eaten in a particular culture/region as in Indian Diet or Mediterranean Diet and not to removing all good taste and flavor from your food. Nor will I beat myself up for having literally inhaled “Death By Chocolate” as I watched Federer beat Pete Sampras’ record for the highest Grand Slam Singles Titles during last year’s Wimbledon Finals. It was worth every crumb.
  3. Will not watch TV anymore –  Except for Tennis and Indian Cricket of course. Every other show/program falls under the category of “crap”. At last count I have 142 channels on my TV. None of them have added even a modicum of knowledge or happiness to my life. Sorry Mr. President, Yes, you can fool all the people all the time. TV channels do it 24X7X365 ad nauseum

Sorry – did I vent too much? Am done. Now to “walk the talk”.

Wishing you all a 2010 filled with Health, Hope, and Happiness.

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Get your daily dose of health and happiness

  How many of us read our Gita or the Koran or the Bible daily? How many of us place implicit faith in these time-tested books instead of turning outward for solutions? I recently attended the Gita Jayanthi function organized by ISKCON Kochi and was stunned by the simplicity of Bhakthi Vinod Swami Maharaj’s message – read the Gita everyday. If not an entire page, at least a line. If not a line, at least a word. Leave religion, and its myriad confusions and misinterpretations alone. Get into spirituality. Get into yourself.

 I still remember the fiasco over Varun Gandhi and his reference to the Bhagavad Gita. And Priyanka Gandhi’s rejoinder to it – if he has really read the Gita, he would not have spoken like this. For someone like me who is against politics and all politicians, this sentence conveys simply the power of the written word, especially if it is from our God.

 In summary, read your Gita. Or your Koran or Bible or the Granth. It does not matter which, but do read. Then start thinking how you want to apply the highest ideals laid out by your God into your life. Let the swamis and the preachers talk. And pontificate. You read. And think. And live your life the way your God wants you to – with love, patience and simplicity.

Come on – let’s get healthy and happy every day of our life.

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Religion religion everywhere, not a soul who thinks

I am sick and tired of the abuse of religion in our public life. Today religion is touted as the best and most succesful business around the world. And as I write this, another religious TV channel goes live; another Swami is offering the “moksha of life” for just Rs.695 plus tax.

And what do we do? We sing, we listen, we talk, and we discuss. Vehemently and passionately. In our lifelong search for salvation, do we really stop to think if these kriyas and yogas and mantras have the power to transcend our soul? Sure, most of it is faith you say. And blind belief – if this worked for my parents, this will work for me.

Instead let me ask you to think about this. Religion is an outward manifestation, a manual which helps us with our relationship with the outside world, including our God. How do I view my relationships, how do I deal with this situation, who will help me and so on. Spirituality is an inward turning into the divine spark that is within all of us. It teaches us to make that giant leap of faith (yes, faith) into an unknown world where only 2 people exist. You, and your God (or your concept of God).

Logically then, who and what you believe in should necessarily be between you and you! No other person can comment, coerce, convince you on what or who you should pray to. In fact, no one else has the right (or the ability) to tell you or teach you about your God. Everything you need to know is inside you already, awaiting your arrival.

Well then, how do I get there, you ask. Simple – meditation and reading your Holy Book – whether it is the Gita, the Koran, the Bible or the Granth. Read and then think. Reflect. Meditate. Read again. Try it out – it really works. You do not need anything, or anyone.

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Take a morning walk with me

Since I claim to be a health freak, I try to walk as often as I can. Seeing myself in the mirror every morning is enough to motivate anyone to get out there and burn some calories, so I head out once the kids are safely on their way to school.

So most weekday mornings, if you live in Kadavanthara in Kochi, KERALA (yes, God’s Own Country), you can see me power walk around 8 AM. For those of you who think walking is a safe and enjoyable routine, I beg to differ. Read on to find out why…

Walking in India is more hazardous than being a Christian Missionary in Taliban Afghanistan. If I can dodge the herd of cows as they amble past me, the fighting street dogs take over. One morning I had the dual pleasure of being chased by an angry bull and a snarling dog. Once you get past the four-legged animals, you run into the lady drivers who are learning to drive. Certainly not for the weak-hearted. As the instructor hurls abuse and curses at his students who can barely figure out left from right and the brake from the accelarator, I start praying and quickly start a jog that would put Usain Bolt to shame.

Hold on, my walk is not done yet. The neighboring construction workers start walking in and start staring at me as if they have never ever seen a human being. Some of the braver ones start humming old Malayalam songs from movies. Do these roadside Casanovas really think humming a tune created 40 years ago would melt our heart and turn us into instant admirers? Really?

Past the four legged and the two legged animals, I come now to the most dangerous part of my walk. These old men who are sitting and smoking beedis suddenly jump up and have this instant urge to pee as I walk past by. Enough said about that!

So why don’t you just go to the gym, pointed out my friend. Nah, too lame! For sheer adrenalin surges and adventure, give me a morning walk in India any day….

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