A Psalm of Life – #FridayFlashback #2

It’s been a minute since I announced the Friday Flashback Edition of my blog. In case you’re new to this space, you can read more about it here.

In short, on Fridays, as I put up my feet and sip on a well deserved glass of wine, I’d be curating some of my favourite poems for you. These will all be brilliant creations that have stuck with me over the years and I can, more often than not, recite them verbatim. For the sake of brevity of the posts, I’d be sharing one such poem a week. Every Friday (I plead guilty to the charge of not having followed this earlier but time has been a flighty mistress. I’m back on track now). They shall be shared in no particular order. I have always been bad at picking just one favourite. That might quite possibly be the reason why I love making lists!

Today’s poem is titled ‘A Psalm of Life’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It is a poignant narration of how life is meant to be lived to the fullest and not as a mere counting of days till the day we lie in our graves. I am absolutely certain that almost all of you must have come across this poem at some point in your life. It’s very famous and highly celebrated. So much so that first time readers would be able to identify a lot of verses as commonly cited inspirational quotes that they’ve heard more than once in their lives. Without further ado, here’s the timeless masterpiece –

A Psalm

of Life

What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist.

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,

Life is but an empty dream!

For the soul is dead that slumbers,

And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!

And the grave is not its goal;

Dust thou art, to dust returnest,

Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

Is our destined end or way;

But to act, that each to-morrow

Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,

And our hearts, though stout and brave,

Still, like muffled drums, are beating

Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,

In the bivouac of Life,

Be not like dumb, driven cattle!

Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!

Let the dead Past bury its dead!

Act,— act in the living Present!

Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,

Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,

A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,

With a heart for any fate;

Still achieving, still pursuing,

Learn to labor and to wait.”

I hope this poem inspires you in the way it has done for me all my life. I cannot possibly pick my favourite lines from this one because every single one of them is resplendent and overflowing with meaning. I hope each one of us is able to leave behind their footprints etched in the sands of time no matter how fleeting our lives might be. Here’s to not going gentle into that good night! (But I guess that’s for another post 😉)

I would like to thank you for your overwhelming response to the previous post in this edition featuring ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’. In case you haven’t read it yet, you can do so by clicking here. I’d be delighted to know your thoughts on this poem and would love to hear your recommendations for further posts.

Thank you for reading.

Love,

Varnika.

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Breaking the Mould of Peer Pressure

A question that sometimes drive me hazy: am I or are the others crazy?

Since as long as I can remember, I’ve been aware of the realisation that most of the time my likes and dislikes are quite different and distinct from the people around me. It would appear as if the whole world is obsessing over a certain fad at the moment while I’m unable to see any charm in that particular thing. More often than not, I absolutely abhor or despise it.

Time and time again, I’ve tried to ascertain the reason behind this discrepancy, because, like everyone else, I wanted to fit in or felt pressured to do so by peers. I failed to understand if I did not want to follow the beaten path merely because so many others were doing the same or was there some other factor involved? Would I have given the object/substance/matter in question a fair chance in vacuum without knowledge of the fact that people were going bonkers over it? It was baffling and somewhat disconcerting.

As of yet, I have no answer. Over the years it had become more and more difficult to define my own choices, to choose my own desires. It was easy to get swayed by popular opinion because of the tendency to be one of the flock. Any deviation from the ordinary is usually looked upon with scepticism and I really did not want to draw attention to myself. Was I being true to myself, however, was an entirely different question. All the lines had gotten blurry.

What I do know, today, is that it’s alright to be different. It’s alright to think differently, to choose differently and to decide differently. Peers are just that. Peers. They are not you. You’re your own person. It does not matter why your wavelengths don’t match those surrounding you. What matters is being unperturbed by their existence and concentrating on your own. So many children buckle under peer pressure. So many college kids get goaded into doing things they don’t like to the extent that it they end up ruining their lives. It is important to learn to say no. To put your foot down and draw the line between what is acceptable to you and what isn’t. No one can take the right away from us. All that’s needed is a simple assertion from our end. Within no time at all the notion of fitting in would look like the smokescreen it actually is. Sooner or later, invariably, everyone ends up finding like minded people. Thus, it is imperative to thrive in your individuality rather than to suppress it, to let yourself grow into what you’re meant to be and not what others would like to see you as.

At the end of the day, and also to answer the questions I posed earlier, remember the words of the good ol’ Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland – “We’re all mad here”.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

As I walk along the streets of my city, I see faces abound. Regardless of all their differences, I see them share a commonality. They all wear a harrowed, tensed and worried expression. It baffles me to see the time, energy and effort we waste in worrying over things beyond our control, since worrying in such cases can do no good. It saddens me to see people worrying over things that might very well be in their control – wouldn’t it do more good to expend effort into working towards solving the problem rather than worrying over it?

Now, I’m not religious by any stretch of imagination. However, I did study at at a catholic convent school and can sing hymns even in my sleep, if needed. A few words from one of those hymns learned during those wonderful, childhood years leap to mind in the hope that they might provide motivation, perspective or even some mood upliftment and, thereby, dispense with some of the worry doing the rounds.

Here goes nothing…

Do not worry over what to eat, what to wear or put upon your feet. Trust and pray, go do your best today. Then leave it in the hands of the Lord.

The lilies in the field, they do not spin or weave, yet Solomon was not arrayed like one of these.

The birds in the air, they do not sow or reap, yet God tends to them like a shepherd tends his sheep.

If you believe in a higher power, I needn’t say anymore. If you don’t, let me draw your attention to the lines “go do your best today”. Isn’t that all that we can actually do? Do your best, reap the results. Even if the benefits aren’t much, one would be able to sleep at night with the satisfaction that there was nothing more he could have done. Have faith in yourself. Trust your abilities. Push yourself and get ahead in life. Work towards what you want. When worry tries to knock you down, say “not today”. Live a happier life. Live a fuller life.

On a parting note, I’d like to leave you all a link to a wonderful song called Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin. It’s had a permanent spot on my playlist since I was a kid. It’s bound to lift your mood in its own funny, peppy way. Give it a listen! And a very happy Monday to you all! (Sorry for making it a motivational one).

A Way of Life

I came across a video on Facebook that gave me reason to pause and think. It was a commencement speech by the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Now, you can agree to disagree but we all know that Mr. Trudeau is the gift that keeps on giving. What struck me however, was how his speech was a departure from precedent. He did not ask the graduating class, which is all set to venture out on its own into the big, bad world, to go out and make it big, to do great things or to become big names. No, what he advised them was to do small things in a big way.

To elaborate, he told them to donate an extra ten bucks to their favourite charity, to send a bouquet of flowers to their mothers on a day other than Mother’s Day, to strike a conversation with someone who looks completely different from them, to switch their cars with a bicycle when the son’s down. Just very small, presumably inconsequential things. Yet, he stressed on how that donation might enable a young girl to study, how that bouquet might make a mother’s entire week, how that bicycle might just save the environment. 

I know what he said is not something completely new, but we forget to see how it can be a very nice way of life. It is true that in our quest to achieve as much as we can as fast as we can, we tend to lose track of the things that actually matter. 

It’s the small things. It’s the meaningful things. It’s the unrecognisable, or rather the things that might not get you recognition, that leave a smile on your face at the end of the day. 

We all have somewhere to reach, and we’ll get there, eventually. Some sooner than others. Some a tad differently than others. Some might change tracks midway. Yet, whatever journey one chooses to embark on, it is imperative to remember that the journey in itself is an experience. It is, in fact, a destination in its own right. Let’s make it worthwhile so that we can grow while we’re still on our way. 

I will take your leave today by citing Murakami. 

Spend your money on the things money can buy. Spend your time on the things money cannot buy”

In our rat race of a life, lets do small things in a big way!

Thank you for reading! I would love to hear your thoughts on this so please share your views in the comments section down below.

Of mountains and burdens

We’re six months into this year now. Phew! Time really does fly when you ain’t looking. I’ve been seeing a lot of people reviewing this time or putting up posts about what they’ve learnt during the first half of this year. This got me thinking. I recalled a little post I’d written in January and realised it would still be pertinent today. It is a piece of learning that is a continuous process so I thought of sharing it again with you all. It is a journey into self assessment with an empowering route to realising self worth. Please give it a read below.

Moonlighting Scrivener

“These mountains you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb” – Najwa Zebian

Who amongst us has not felt the weight of the world laying on our fragile shoulders? Oh Atlas, I wish you could see how many kindred souls you have!

It is time to jettison all the extra burden that we have self-imposed on ourselves. Yes, self-imposed. No, no, you heard me right.

I agree we live in a fiercely competitive dog eat dog world in present times. No one is spared from an ever present, all consuming pressure to perform. Right from toddlers participating in fancy dress competitions in pre-school, to high-school students scrambling to be popular and cool, to suicide attempts on failing entrance exams, to attaining promotions over all other colleagues, the list is endless. Expectations from parents, from the world, peer-pressure, everything demands of us to excel, to be beyondSuccessful. There…

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A Game of Numbers

The number sizes on your garment

Do not define the size or shape of your personality.

The number scores on your mark sheets

Do not measure your worth.

The number of inches in your heels

Cannot determine your stature.

The numbers holed up in your bank account

Cannot increase your happiness.

The number of donations you make

Cannot diminish the darkness of your soul.

The number of times you’ve fallen in love and failed

Does not label you a slut.

The number of years in your age

Cannot limit the magnitude of your successes.

The number of times you’ve failed

Cannot prevent you from getting up and trying again.

Only the upturned numbers on a roll of the dice

Can make or break you.

Because life is a game of Russian roulette

Where numbers have no part to play.

 

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Tape A Tale – Let Stories Unfurl

[Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post]

In a world that is becoming exceedingly visual/image oriented, where CGI effects are taking over storylines, you get a more than nagging feeling that something’s lacking. Fortunately, the old world charm of books and stories can still hold its own. Our very much needed respite. 
Where books, on the one hand, leave a lot open to the interpretation of readers, the art of story-telling is so much more than that. Haven’t we all fallen prey to a misinterpreted text because someone did not get the intended “tone” and “tenor” of it, hence, resulting in major misunderstanding? Thus, the written word is somewhat more concerned with the perspective of the reader, which, in its own place, is invaluable.

Hearing stories, on the other hand, is not only a lesson in imagination, but the charm of experiencing feelings, expressions and emotions, in the way originally intended by the story-teller, accompanied by a voice that dips and rises, hums and croons, tremors and powers through is a pleasure that has no parallel. 

Aren’t our most favourite of childhood memories centred around listening to bedtime stories? Wasn’t “Do the voices, Daddy” our favourite exclamation?  Or is there any memory that fills more warmth in your heart than the beautiful remembrance of lying down in your grandmother’s lap while she serenaded you with fairy tales?

If stories are your preferred food for soul, I’ve got a treasure trove for you this weekend!

I recently came across a website, Tape A Tale. It’s an online platform where visitors can record their stories for everyone out there to hear (yes, even anonymously). So I got to listening to the recorded tales and I’ve been completely booked ever since.

It has a little something for everyone. Ranging from the story of a young girl who lost her father in the Kargil War, to that of 75 year old man recounting his first ever realisation that he was beginning to lose his memory. There’s a tale of a first date gone horribly wrong, there’s also a tale of a girl choosing to marry her own self. There are struggles of having overcome depression and domestic abuse, there are struggles of dealing with autism. There’s a girl narrating how she met her father for the first time in 24 years, there’s another girl narrating how she smoked up with her mother for the first time. Spanning across five categories, viz., Funny stories, Adventurous Stories, Emotional Stories, Thought-Provoking Stories and Different Kinds of Relationship Stories, the content on there is endless.

No more long, boring rides/drives to and from work for me. Even while doing any sort of work, I can let dulcet tones of stories give you a pleasant company. Restless nights of tossing and turning are done away with by letting a bedtime tale lull you to sleep. I’ve been listening to stories anywhere and everywhere!

So, if stories have a special place in your heart too, let Tape A Tale become your warm, cozy, nook. 

Head on over there, explore around a bit, record a few, hear a couple, then come on back here and tell me how you liked it!

Even I’ll be recording my story on it today, just need to find a quiet room first so that I can sit down with my phone’s voice recorder, mail it out and I’ll be all set. In case you happen to give me a listen, please give me your feedback in the comments section down below. For your reference, I’m copying the link to the website here as well: www.tapeatale.com

Just so you know, this is not a sponsored post, because, let’s face it, who’s even going to sponsor me! So the only payment I receive would be the smiles on your faces when you listen to something you really like. I think I can live with that quite well.

Thank you for reading.

Kind words and kinder souls

A couple of years ago, I was vacationing in Singapore with my family. I happened to notice a lot of happy faces around. Not only on the streets. Even the janitors at the the various tourist attractions wore wide smiles. I still remember visibly how a 70 year old lady, while carrying her cleaning supplies, smiled and waved at me and wished me a very good day. Something kindled inside me at that moment.
On getting back home, I started noticing people subconsciously. All I got to see were impatient, aggressive, angry and stern faces walking down the road. No one looked happy. I wondered what secret the Singaporeans were hiding. However, based on my limited knowledge of countries, I didn’t give it much thought once a few months had passed.

Then I happened to visit two more countries, Indonesia and the US. Although people responded warmly when you greeted them, despite being strangers, the general vibe emanating from faces wasn’t happy in these places either. When they thought no one was watching, their faces said it all.

I was completely baffled. Not able to bear the suspense any longer, I decided to bring about a change in myself. I decided to smile a little more, to be more warm and to greet everyone I come in contact with. Right from the elderly ladies and gents who were regulars at the nearby jogger’s park to the auto-drivers whose fare I was for the day, I smiled, enquired after their health and then bid them a good day.

A couple of incidents from those times have stuck with me over the years. Since my long working hours left me with almost no time to meet people, my interactions were mostly limited to the auto drivers who drove me to and from home. Thus, both stories relate to them.

Once or twice while going to work, I’d ended up hailing the same auto. The third time, the driver recognised me himself and drove upto me so that I did not have to wait for a ride. Hence, as a goodwill gesture, I paid him a tad more that day. Nothing significant. Just 10 rupees more and that too because I told him to keep the change. One other day, when a number of drivers were scrambling to get my attention on a very hot and particularly slow day for them, I had identified and chosen him (no, we don’t have a queue system for taxis at a lot of places in India). This was the extent of my relationship with him. If he was around when I had to leave for work, he’d silently come up to me and I’d slide into the backseat without a word.

Then one fine Monday, on reaching office, I realised I’d forgotten my wallet in the handbag I’d used the previous day and had not transferred it to my office bag. I apologized to him and told him to please take double the amount whenever he sees me next. Not only did he refuse to ask for the amount later, he expressed concern over how I’ll get through the day and back home without a wallet. He offered to lend me money and enquired what time I got off from work so that he can be there to take me back home. This was a poor man showing more care, concern and heart than most people I’ve seen. Of course, I didn’t take his money, I borrowed some from my colleague to pay him instead. Yet, I can never forget the kindness showed to me by a stranger. Some days later, I asked him indirectly what made him do so. He responded by saying that I always asked about his health, family and his day with a smile. The least he could do was make sure I wasn’t sad and inconvenienced that day.

Another time, I was traveling back home at night and my auto driver, a different one this time, was quite visibly sick. His skin was burning so much that I could feel the heat radiate from him till my seat. He was obviously suffering from viral fever. He also had the flu. I asked him if he was alright. He told me he’s been sick for two weeks but had to work that day because he won’t be able to pay his child’s school fees otherwise and he’d already spent a lot on medicines so he wasn’t taking any at the moment. I could not even begin to imagine the level of depravity a family had was enduring if they were forced to choose between school fees and medicines. Then he very politely asked me if it was okay for him to take a slight detour so that he could give his wife some of the money he had earned that day so she could buy vegetables and make food. I agreed, of course. While he went inside his house to change his sweat-stained shirt, I asked his kid how much his school fees was. Then I quietly slipped enough money to cover his fees, his father’s medical expense and a little more to make up for the loss suffered due to his illness. Then he dropped me home, oblivious to what I’d just done.

One night, I got off from work quite late and I had three pieces of luggage with me since I’d returned from my hometown that very morning and had gone in to work directly from the airport. So I could not walk far while lugging all that extra weight. The street was mostly deserted but was dotted with certain unsavoury drunks. Some men were letching and leering. I was scared out of my wits and did not know how to get out of the nightmare I was experiencing. Then, out of the blue, I heard brisk footsteps walking towards me. Just as I was preparing to ward off an unwanted advance to the best of my ability, I saw the man’s face. It was the same driver. Not only did he carry my luggage and safely escort me to his auto while throwing a menacing glare at every man who dared to look at me, he also dropped me home and refused to take any payment. I also happened to notice that he did not leave till I’d reached inside the gate of my apartment building and was safe from harm.

I am not sure how I want to end this narrative, my thoughts are slightly scattered on having recalled those encounters. However, what I’ve learnt is that a little politeness and kindness goes a long way and definitely comes back around. It’s the butterfly effect. Starting from when that Singaporean janitor passed a warm smile to me, it’s still continuing.

Be kind with your words and deeds and you’ll see so many kinder souls around you. Take some time out of the busy schedule of your life to live a little, to notice people, to care for them and to spread a little cheer. Even if it doesn’t come back to you soon (since every deed needs an incentive in the world we live in), I assure you that the warmth that ignites inside your heart when you treat people nicely and see them smile is its own kind of sweet reward.

Remember, my friends, that even the Grinch saved Christmas. Can’t we save some smiles atleast?

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Mind and Body

So I haven’t posted anything in a while. I’ve been slightly busy with family engagements. However, today, during the midst of a family dinner, a thought struck my mind and I haven’t been able to shirk it off till now. So here I am, getting it all out.

As some of you might know, I was recently doing a regular feature on Mental Health Awareness. I discussed the importance of breaking the taboo surrounding such issues and to always get appropriate help in this regard. Then I proceeded to pen down my own interpretations of some mental health issues like depressionanxietyself-doubtMaladaptive Daydreaming. Today I realised how I missed out on a very important aspect of mental health. This is my rectification of the same.

This happens to be the physical aspect of mental health. No, no, hear me out. I get that common understanding dictates mental and physical health to be two different categories albeit that go hand in hand. What I’m trying to propose here is that they’re one and the same. You cannot have without the other. Hence, you need to strive to have both.

A case in point being my own journey in the past two years. Working long hours as a corporate lawyer takes its toll on not just your sleep, time and peace of mind but also your physical fitness. Most days I could not take out any time to eat and survived on black coffee. No meal was ever on schedule and we all know how harmful that could be. Late working hours also ensured that home cooked food became a luxury I could no longer afford. Ordering food to be delivered to my office became the go-to resort. Needless to say, all such food was very detrimental to health by virtue of being very heavy, oily, fried, unhygienic and nowhere near about fit for regular consumption.

Resultantly, I ended up gaining 20kgs. It didn’t help that I’m also short. Thus, there was nothing to prevent me from looking like a football. Thank god for gravity and friction or one strong kick would have had me rolling round the universe for eternity.

These two years have also been my lowest as far as mental health is considered.

Since the past six months, however, I’ve put my heart and soul into taking back control of my body. I’ve lost 12kgs and have 8 more to go. I feel fitter, lighter but most surprisingly, happier. My outlook has become more positive not just towards life but also things that invariably used to pull me down. So without even having to put an effort into bettering my mental health, improvements in my physical health led me to an unforeseen and way better emotional headspace.

Thus, I reiterate, even though mental and physical health go hand in hand, they’re not two sides of a coin. In essence, they’re much the same. A healthy mind would prefer to reside in a healthy body and make sure that happens. A healthy body will do all it takes to provide a mental workout to your mind. Either way, health will Triumph

It’s not mind over body, you all. Its mind and body. Be healthy, be happy, take back control of your lives and live long and prosper!

Also, if any of you need any motivation or tips to achieve fitness, mental or physical/mental and physical, I’m always available to help in any manner I can to the best of my ability. Please feel free to comment or drop a mail at varnikajain92@gmail.com. I promise to respond within a day with the best advise I can muster!

[P.S. – Wish me luck for the remaining 8kgs. A little support goes a long way 🙂 ]

Of mountains and burdens

“These mountains you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb” – Najwa Zebian

Who amongst us has not felt the weight of the world laying on our fragile shoulders? Oh Atlas, I wish you could see how many kindred souls you have!

It is time to jettison all the extra burden that we have self-imposed on ourselves. Yes, self-imposed. No, no, you heard me right.

I agree we live in a fiercely competitive dog eat dog world in present times. No one is spared from an ever present, all consuming pressure to perform. Right from toddlers participating in fancy dress competitions in pre-school, to high-school students scrambling to be popular and cool, to suicide attempts on failing entrance exams, to attaining promotions over all other colleagues, the list is endless. Expectations from parents, from the world, peer-pressure, everything demands of us to excel, to be beyond Successful. There is no scope for failure. One could ask what prompted me to call the burden self imposed when we are obviously straining under the impositions of parents, peers, society and the world at large. Well, the answer lies in the difference between your perception of success and failure.

If you have attempted something whole-heartedly and to the best of your ability, leaving you with no regret, no “oh I wish I had spent just one more minute on it”, then you, my friend, have not failed, irrespective of the result. Let no one tell you differently. You are more than the sum total of your accomplishments. You are more than what your parents dreamt for you or what your peers are doing. You are what you are.

Allow me to tell you then that all the burden and pressure you’re experiencing is just your fear of not appearing competent enough in the eyes of others, the fear of failing as per the definition prescribed by them. Let go of that fear. Trust in yourself. After all, you’re the person who knows you best.

Define your own success, define your own failures. Assess your own self. Because, the mountains that you’re Carrying, you were only supposed to be climb. Shed them off. Make the climb easier. Be the bear, from the popular children’s song, that went over the mountain to see what he could see!