Tag Archives: goodness

The Venus Flytrap: Original Instructions

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In the small town of Gudalur, two and a half hours downhill from Ooty, there is a coalition of NGOs that, through serendipitous circumstances and sound intentions, run a school and a hospital for the tribal community. I’m visiting with my friend the American Badaga, tagging along on an Ooty-Gudalur-Coimbatore-Palani-Perumalmalai-Kodaikanal trip completed over just five nights, sleeping in a different place on each one. We’re there to look into alternative education systems; after the tribal school is an international school in the forest. Mostly, though, I’m there on impulse, just to get away.

The week before, I’d attended a lecture in Chennai by Vandana Shiva, the renowned physicist and activist. Dr. Shiva had spoken about the country’s agricultural crisis, encouraging the audience to “violate the contracts” that gave undue power to governments and organizations that contribute to the deterioration of the environment, and to suffering among the poor.

Yet, sitting by a window overlooking the filthy Cooum river later that rainy afternoon, coming down from the high that listening to an inspiring speaker brings, I was saddened to think that the only phrase that still haunted me was something said in passing as Shiva was introduced. Another world is possible. I so much wanted it to be.

It came to me again in Gudalur. I’d never expected that just a few days after the lecture, I would find myself reading on a rock under a tree on the far west of Tamil Nadu, wet earth under my bare feet, adivasi children singing nearby, a cow to my right and a chicken to my left. My troubles very, very far away.

I’m reading Cait Johnson, who posits that spirituality is essentially rooted in the elements, the same notion that had me head for the hills to hide among trees, and attend Shiva’s lecture. Whenever I lose my connection to my elementals, I seek to replenish them in nature. Johnson writes about “Original Instructions” – intuitive knowledge kept alive by people, like the adivasis, whose ways of life honour the sacred interconnectedness of all life.

Watching the good people of Gudalur – the teacher who speaks openly and without prejudice to a classroom about gay and transgender people, the Ayurvedic doctor seeking to both learn from and better equip traditional healers, the professionals who set up the Ashwini Hospital and Vidyodaya School and gradually ensured that autonomy over them returned to the adivasi community – my heart remembers its own Original Instructions.

Watching them, I remember that there are good people in the world, who do good work for its own sake. I had forgotten.

I have been heartsick for what feels like a long time, but isn’t. I have been disillusioned with my own journey. I have wanted to count to one hundred and bow out, like the poetess in Ana Enriqueta Terán’s mysterious poem. What I did because I thought it was in my blood, I’ve watched others do with a bloodthirst I cannot muster. I have felt time and again that I can barely co-exist in a world so cutthroat, let alone compete.

But this is what I know, after Gudalur: another world, in all the many variations Vandana Shiva may or may not have meant, is possible. In fact, it may already exist. All it takes is to get back there.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.

The Venus Flytrap: Hoping For A Revolution

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A friend of mine says you either have a soul, or you don’t. It’s a dispassionate way of looking at compassion, as contradictory and yet as perfectly truthful as when Tori Amos sang, “I believe in peace, bitch”.

Faith in humanity, in the face of the obvious proof that some people really are that irredeemable, is hard to maintain. Real faith, not what we profess at fashionable fund-raisers and through email signatures. Anonymous altruism is the real test – can you send love out into the world, with no expectation of acknowledgement?

Take it a step further. Can you send love out into the world without knowing who its recipient will be?

The love I speak of here is not romantic, but love in the Buddhist sense of metta (loving-kindness). Love that comes from the wish for the wellbeing of the world. Impersonal, all-encompassing benevolence that takes within its stride the fact that to hate and to be hated are inevitable, but that compassion for people beyond their actions is an achievable ideal.

A woman in New York decided to do exactly that earlier this year, initiating what she calls The Hope Revolution. The idea is simple – leave “love notes” in public places. Notes that say kind things to complete strangers, because in the times we live in, a little more thoughtfulness could go a long way.

Imagine it: the discovery, the intrigue and the joy of finding encouragement. Something left on the seat of an auto, or tucked between the pages of a browsing copy of a magazine. Consider the thrill of finding a message that seems almost heaven-sent, written as though it was meant for no one but you, a marker on your personal journey. That reassurance is something we probably don’t get enough of ourselves, and how good it feels to be able to bestow it!

Of course, there is one practical limitation: not everybody can read. So here’s a thought – what if those who can read them are gently nudged about this reality when they stumble on a love note? Whether it’s a reminder about literacy issues (a more basic humanitarian concern than many people realise), or a simple line about taking a moment to be grateful for the opportunity to have the written word in one’s own life, it’s another way of setting into motion the ripple effect of the message itself.

Maybe I do believe too much in the inherent goodness of people, when there’s plenty of contrary evidence around. But is twenty seconds to scribble a line on a napkin and put it back in the stand asking for too much?

I have a theory I hold on to very naively, willfully ignoring the damage I have seen belief in it cause, but here it is: love is a boomerang. You get what you give, sometimes not for years, sometimes seemingly never. But it comes back.

So today I will go out and leave handwritten notes. I will tell someone I have never set eyes on that they are beautiful, and someone whom I may find insufferable that they are on the side of angels, and someone who may have a propensity to hurt me that they have the power to heal the lives of others.

Because sometimes all we need is a little reassurance to grow into that which already sleeps within us like a seed, dormant but alive. And someday, somewhere, at a moment when I need it more than ever, I could find the perfect love note too. The one that seems as though it was written for no one but me.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: Waiting For The Dawn

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Last week I went up to my roof and lay on my back to pray to the night sky.

I was praying because I had begun to feel desperate about an unresolved situation. Something I had worked on for years and seemed only weeks from completion had been snatched away without explanation, taking with it something newer and unexpected yet just as painful to lose, leaving me confused and frail of footstep. I prayed for a sign – something that acknowledged the darkness but showed the coming of the light.

I opened my eyes. Immediately, I saw a star falling.

If there’s anything I am, it’s a believer. And to me, there are no coincidences – only the exquisite synchronicities of the universe. I had asked for a sign. And I had gotten it – one that had proved to be auspicious in the past, in my experience.

But after the sign comes the waiting.

Ambrose Bierce wrote that patience is a minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue. I have more to add: patience is an expletive involving the person who gave birth to you and the act that produced that birth. You can definitely quote me on that one.

Still, despite a low tolerance level for enduring life as a spectator sport, I have absolute trust in the goodness of the universe. I know this not because I always believed it, but because time and again this has been revealed to be true. My life is either a series of disasters or a series of miracles (and for the juice on that, stay tuned, dig up, or wait for the biopic). These days, I am delighted by the idea that it is both.

Because while I will not forget the traumas, how else can I explain the extraordinary? Showing up in a different country with 37 dollars in my wallet and nowhere to go, but as a result of it having some of the most profound experiences I have known. Meeting by chance someone gifted with the sight who was so impressed by what he saw of my destiny that he gave me a laptop. Being forced to make the choice to sever myself from the only life I knew, but coming out of that farewell happier, luckier, wealthier than I have ever been, fresh from a time when I counted coins just so I could have dinner.

And those are only some of what has happened in a year’s time.

When I think over the events of my life, too dramatic and too convoluted to get into here, I smile inside, knowing that no matter what, I’m still here. Still here looking out for falling stars to put in my pocket, even if all they do is burn up. Because all I want from life is… everything.

Who am I to demand so much and believe myself deserving? And what nerve have I to speak to the sky and treat scientific vagaries as augury?

I don’t have the answers, and perhaps I never really will. But that’s what absolute trust is. It’s being able to wake up each morning after every breakdown, every new bullet to the soul, and not go straight back to bed, unable to face the day. I know this because I have been there. I know this because I am never going back there.

Over and over, I have seen the universe uncover its constellations – all those shimmering patterns we only have to connect to see perhaps not the whole picture, but something beautiful nonetheless.

All I know for sure is that I am still here.

My way is lit by angels. Even when it is too early to speak of them.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement.