Psst – Read the BG

The daughter was probably five or six years old at the time. and the morning school going routine was enough to make athletes and event organizers shudder. 

  • Was the cereal done? 
  • Where’s the homework?
  • The shoes – don’t forget to wear shoes to school

One such morning, the husband saw her dawdle with her cereal and bowl of milk. His own sharp eye was on the clock, and he was trying to move her along without flustering her. He asked her if he can help her with the milk, but the already-too-big-to-ask-for-help daughter said no in a saucy voice and then proceeded to take the bowl and drink the milk from it with her lips on the upper side of the bowl.

Even without the grand influences of gravity that would have had an interesting outcome. With gravity, it meant that the milk poured like a beautiful white waterfall onto her light pink pants (her favorite at the time). 

Now, this set off an interesting train of events in the household. The husband saw that one word or raised voice would lead to a bigger drama and they would probably not make it to school on time. So, he pursed his lips and tut-tutted emitting a sound that sounded like (Pssskkk). He then charged upstairs, found another pair of pants, while I got her out of her dripping milky ones, and gave her a quick wash/wipedown. He threw the pants, I caught it, dressed her, and bundled her off to the car. The background music was now at a high octave and reaching a crescendo. If the signal is green they’d make it. If not, well….

A few minutes later, the husband enters looking like a warrior who’d won the latest war and beamed that they made it on time. We high-fived each other and on that high note of victory went about our day.

However, in the evening when the daughter saw us, her eyes brimmed with tears as she sat on her grandfathers lap. “You almost looked like you were going to yell at me. You said “PPSSSK” – waaah! “ 

The poor husband looked on helplessly as tears filled her eyes, and he almost looked like he was sorry for saying “PPSSKK!”

It has since become a joke in the house. You said “Pppssskkk! ” or “You looked like you were almost going to yell!” 

Where am I going with all this you ask. Bear with me.

I have a reasonable tsundoku pile as any book-lover would. The physical pile gives me a deploring look every now and then, and when particularly powerful, I yield. But there is another pile that is online, and that never gives me dirty looks. This pile, of course, is relegated to the let’s-see-when-we-travel lot.  Post-Covid – this pile has been particularly neglected. 

So, one day, a good friend of mine, was Bhagawad Gita-ing, and I asked in all humility whether I may borrow a copy of the book. A pained response came from him. 

He almost looked like he was going to say “PPPssskkkkk!” Waah waah! This poor friend had gifted me a copy of the book last year in the Kindle, and I had downloaded it dutifully. 

So, you ask what I have been doing. Remembering the almost-going-to-say-pppsssskkk look and reading the book.

I must say – it all seems simple enough in theory. Do your duty and leave the rest to the Universe. #Bhagwad Gita

It seems a good lesson in the current times of economic turmoil and companies announcing layoffs etc.

You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.

Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 2, Verse 47

I am glad my friend almost looked like he was going to say “PPSSKK” for thinking of one’s duty and not its results seems like good advice for a week like this.

Percy – The Enlightened Soul

Last night, I read a poem by Mary Oliver in the book, Truro Bear and Other Adventures, I got to the section where she writes about her beloved dog, Percy, and had a hearty laugh. Percy was named after an Italian poet, and as such was also wise in his ways. 

Take for instance, when he consumed the Bhagavad Gita.

Percy (One)

Our new dog, named for the beloved poet,

Ate a book which unfortunately we had

Left unguarded.

Fortunately it was the Bhagavad Gita,

Of which many copies are available.

Every day now, as Percy grows

Into the beauty of his life, we touch

His wild, curly head and say,

“Oh wisest of little dogs.”

Mary Oliver, Truro Bear and Other Adventures

Percy is indeed a wise soul, for she he seems to have an innate knowledge in the true things that matter in life. He has many friends, enjoys a romp by the seaside, polishes off good food, and is ever ready to provide companionship to his human friends. Show them a thing or two about living. 

I have several friends who dedicate a good amount of their time and energy to the study of the Bhagavad Gita.

One in particular also possesses the rare quality of sharing and explaining his learnings without the mantle of self-righteousness. (I call it a rare quality, since religion and spirituality are different things, and few souls have the wisdom to unify them in the pursuit of knowledge and humility. )

I am not sure whether all those who have immersed themselves in the wise learnings of the Bhagavad Gita have truly digested its many layered teachings (definitely not in the way that Percy did!). But a few of them I know would’ve enjoyed the following poem also in the book after several pages:

Percy & Books (Eight)

Percy does not like it when I read a book.

He puts his face over the top of it and moans.

He rolls his eyes, sometimes he sneezed.

The sun is up, he says and wind is down,

The tide is out and the neighbor’s dogs are playing.

But Percy I say. Ideas! The elegance of language!

The insights, the funniness, the beautiful stories

That rise and fall and turn into strength, or courage.

Books? Says Percy. I ate one once, and it was enough.

Let’s go.

Mary Oliver, Truro Bear and Other Adventures

Percy! Oh wise soul!

The Queen of Espirit d’escalier

One cold January morning, I clutched at my tea for life giving support. I was sitting through the kind of gathering that happens across Corporate America when a calendar year rolls over. Executives suddenly pep up, and sit up looking important, and feeling purposeful. Like a pup in spring, who thinks he can play with the ball if only folks would toss it instead of gadding about.

aging

I sometimes like to watch these events. The actors change every so often, and the ones who remain have subtle changes in their motivations and ambitions too. The varieties of personalities we surround ourselves with is an ever fascinating experience, and we only really have the luxury of sitting back and watching occasionally. I suppose that is why the Dalai Lama is full of the milk of human kindness – he meditates, and observes.

Anyway, the gathering reached a place where credits were rolled and I noticed happily how people brightened when they were given credit for their work. It is true one should do the work without expectation of the reward, but how nice it was to see people get the credit where it is due. The meadow suddenly seemed spotted with frisking happy pups.

There was an amusing interjection when one team was accidentally left out of the credits, and claimed what was their due.

I smiled to myself thinking of this normal human tendency to crave recognition. We all do it. Just the other day, I bragged about how clean the kitchen floor looked: ‘gleaming like glass’ as I said, till I was reminded by the family almost gleefully that I had better stump it given that I had to clean up the glass I had broken, and therefore ‘gleaming like glass’ doesn’t really count.
“I am neither Jocelyn Bell Burner nor Alfred Russell Wallace. When I clean the floor, I want credit! “ is the quip that I would have liked to come up with.

But I didn’t.

I came up with the inelegant, “Well…I am eating the potato fry then!”, and stuck my tongue out at the children.

I am a queen of that phenomenon where you think of the perfect verbal comeback too late. I was delighted to note there is a word for that: Espirit d’escalier.(Wiki Link for the word, Esprit De Escalier) The link writes about the amusing origins of the word, please read it.

Where am I going with all this spirited Espirit d’espalier, potato fry stuff? One moment. Yes, Credit and Work and Meaning and all that.

Sitting there at the corporate meeting, and watching the team claim credit for their small part in the puzzle, I was reminded of Jocelyn Bell Burner and Alfred Russell Wallace.

Wallace, independently arrived at natural selection for the mechanism for evolution before Darwin did, but he jointly published the paper with Darwin. Darwin’s Origin of Species is vastly credited with the theory though. Did that make Wallace spout and keep the potatoes? No, he continued to travel the world, writing about injustice and social causes. He never stopped exploring or lost the joy of wonder or ceased writing on the causes that deeply appealed to him.

Jocelyn Bell Burner is another scientist whom I find admirable for this very reason. She was passed over for the Nobel Prize. Credited with detecting the first Pulsars in the universe ( she should have been a Nobel Prize recipient for Astrophysics in 1974). When asked how she felt that her Professor got the prize, and did not adequately exert himself to get her name on the nomination, she shrugged and said, “If you get a prize, it’s not your job to explain why you got the prize. ”

I read about these two stalwart scientists in the books, Lands of Lost Borders by Kate Harris and Black Hole Blues by Janna Levin. Every book teaches us different things. Even queens of Espirit d’escaliers can find a way to come back with Jocelyn Bell Burner & Alfred Russell Wallace and their phenomenal attitude towards recognition as it related to their work.

 

It makes me realize now what my stellar teachers were saying on those cold Assembly mornings when they dangled tantalizing pieces of wisdom in their morning speeches.

Bhagawad Gita on work without reward

Karmanye Vadhikaraste, Ma phaleshou kada chana,

Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurmatey Sangostva Akarmani

कर्मण्- ेवाधिकारस- ते मा फलेषु कदाचन।

मा कर्मफलहेतु- र्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्- वकर्मणि॥

Loosely meaning: Do not anticipate fruits while doing the labor, this was oft quoted by teachers trying to inculcate the importance of work.

Radiance of a Thousand Suns

The children and I were reading the Butter Battle Book, by Dr Seuss again: A marvelous book that never fails to enlighten : the bigociously atrocious weapons we are capable of creating, how littlyfully small-minded we are when we come to self righteousness,  and the idiotic ends to our means. It makes me want to take our brains apart to see where bravado and ego reside and short circuit them, to see if it results in a fuzzy ice-cream show in the pupils. 

butter_battle

 

Written in 1984 this book is a simple parody of the nuclear arms race, and is chillingly relevant today.

The book is about Yooks and Zooks: The Yooks eat their bread with the butter side up, while the Zooks eat their bread with the butter side down. This leads to escalating differences and a long curvy wall is built between the two lands.

butter_battle_2

Soon, both sides start fighting by using weapons of increasing grandeur and magnitude starting from the Tough Tufted Prickly Snickle Berry Snitch to the Eight Nozzled Elephant Toted Boom Blitz. The book finishes with the Yooks and Zooks sitting on either side of a wall threatening to drop the Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo, signifying the nuclear threat.

Around the same time that Dr Seuss came out with this brilliant book for children, another one of my favorite writers delivered  a series of Gifford Lectures. Titled ‘The Varieties of Scientific Experience : A Personal View of the Search for God’ , Carl Sagan goes on to explain in one lecture how we fail to comprehend the true magnitude of the nuclear problem ahead of us. 

The_Varieties_of_Scientific_Experience
By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28513011

Quote:

The bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki – everybody’s read about them, we know something about what they did-killed some 1/4 million people … The planet Earth today has 55000 nuclear weapons, almost all of which are more powerful than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki and some of which are, each of them, a thousand times more powerful.* Some twenty to twenty-two thousand of these weapons are called strategic weapons, and they are poised for as rapid delivery as possible, essentially halfway across the world to someone else’s homeland.

*By 2006, the world nuclear arsenals had been reduced to about 20,000 weapons-still roughly ten times what would be necessary to destroy our global civilization. the principal reductions since 1985 were due to the 1993 Start II Treaty between the United States and Soviet Union.

“Twenty thousand strategic weapons in the world is a very large number. For example: lets ask how many cities there are on the planet Earth. If you define a city as having more than 100,000 people in it, there are 2,300 cities on the Earth. So the US and  Soviet Union could, if they wished, destroy every city on the Earth and have eighteen thousand strategic weapons left over to do something else with.

These lectures were delivered in 1985, the numbers have definitely been revised from thereon. A number of countries have also harnessed the power of nuclear weapons, even though there have been treaties and agreements to restrict its use. 

Robert Oppenheimer, credited as being the ‘father of the atomic bomb’, when he witnessed the test of the nuclear bomb over the desert in New Mexico was supposedly reminded of a text in the Bhagawad Gita.

If the radiance of a thousand suns
Were to burst at once into the sky
That would be like the splendour of the Mighty One…
I am become Death,
The shatterer of worlds.

With the rise of autocracy the world over, what would it take for us to save ourselves this time around? For all our brilliance in developing the bomb, we have yet to develop sound defenses against it.

 

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