A Journey beyond sanity

The luggage was arranged and the seats occupied; all ready for the journey to commence. Usual stories from elders about how time had flown and the three-day long toil was reduced to a 24 hour activity were to be heard. Despite going through the same many times, the idea of yet another train journey still didn’t fail to excite me. After all it had a bit of everything one wanderer could ask for; the ever-changing scenery; those few exciting minutes through a tunnel or over a bridge; and even the childish attempt to get a look of the train’s tail. Not to forget how the change in culture could be seen in small packages as the locomotive passed through various states of our culture rich nation. And definitely how unknown people would turn into buddies long-lost by the arrival of the destination – it had it all.


As the railway platform slid behind sight and a quick retrospection was about to be completed, from the corner of my vision I saw Him; with a trunk of a behemoth and a face of a child, He sat there in absolute blankness.

He was different. Or at least the ‘humane’ society of which I too form a part had made him different. With classifications and categorisations as a special kind or the less fortunate, we the self proclaimed normal, rather sane humans have developed superiority for ourselves. The ever sympathetic looks or the ‘we are so fortunate’ comments did no good to bother Him. ‘Special’ is a good usage, for He is actually special.

The traditional large lunch boxes which had gone through akin journeys a large number of times and their new accomplices – disposable plates and spoons were out soon. A meal is a great happening during a train journey. Not because of the food but; the setting up of the plates and careful serving of food by the elders so as to not spill any and the clichéd ‘eat less while you travel’ all made the occasion an interesting one. It looked that He didn’t find it interesting. But He certainly was.

The afternoon was silent, with only the rhythmic ‘chuk chuk’ of the train to disturb it. I lay on the top tier thinking about Him. Something was intriguing about Him, probably because it was the first time I thought about ‘Them’. We have always felt that They are the ones with a lesser mind. Little did I know that we were criminally mistaken.

The changing scenery makes you forget how time flies by. A few hills, a couple of bridges and half a dozen tunnels were all what it took for the evening to arrive. The evening however was long; long as the scenery didn’t change. The giant locomotive had come to a standstill in the middle of nowhere. He was about to do something drastic and none of us had a clue.

The train which was far from moving any time soon, became a breeding ground for curiosity. The first couple of minutes were speculative, “Why did the train halt?” “There must be a signal issue”; “There might be a crossing.”  The chatters grew louder. As another minute passed curiosity was overcome by impatience. There was movement and commotion within the train; it didn’t move though. The traditional and tested method of men getting down the train and inspecting the surroundings gave no new results. They peeped out the window, leaned out the door, many got to the tracks but none got the desired result. Idiosyncrasy was at its best.  Time crawled along like a sloth, impatience turning into frustration. Could not blame anybody for that; close to 45 minutes in obscurity would get the better of any normal individual. As few beads of perspiration trickled down my neck I saw something drastic – it was Him. He sat there as if He wasn’t there, unfazed by all the commotion going around Him; caring not even little for what was happening around Him; He sat there with a familiar blankness. He seemed normal; His normal that is.

As the sun bid adieu and the darkness approached, the relief finally arrived. The deafening honk was heard and the scenery changed slowly. We could sense the train picking up pace. The chatters began soon, obviously this time the essence was different. “What a relief. It is so frustrating to sit in the middle of nowhere and be able to do nothing.” “The train is catching speed. We will make up for the delay”. He crossed all limits. He still sat there with the same absolute blankness, the way I first saw Him.

The dinner wasn’t interesting for me; it couldn’t be for I was somewhere else; mentally. He did nothing until then, later He made me think. On one side were we, the ‘sane’ who got curious, impatient and later frustrated about an uncertain happening beyond our control. On the other side was He, who remained unaffected by what was going around Him. On one side were we, the ‘sane’ who got ecstatic at the sight of something favourable. On the other side was He, who still remained unaffected by what was going on around Him.

If all that we could do is act slave to any uncertain happening by losing our composure, the sanity which we boast is nothing but a misnomer. A simple question occurred to me – who here is actually sane? The few hundred odd ‘normal’ intellectuals who made great speculations about the reasons for the halt, who hurled abuses for the delay, who cried in impatience for nothing; the opportunists who were overcome by ecstasy on fulfilment of a negligibly relevant happening? Or Him for the way He was; He is?

We were all happy being sane. He probably experienced an unearthly bliss, for He was no less than a saint. I turned left to catch a sight of Him. For the only time He smiled. He spoke a million words without getting his lips apart.

I sat by the window, basking in my own mediocrity of being a ‘self proclaimed’ sane and acting likewise. The cold December wind ruffled my hair as if sympathising me; and unlike Him, it did bother me. The only star in the sky twinkled as if laughing at our helpless existence. The train didn’t halt anywhere other than where it should, the journey went on, and it goes on; beyond sanity.

Jack- The Master

Despite living my whole life in the ‘City of dreams’, a strong connection with the ‘God’s own country’, my native land, still prevails. Although such a connection is quite evident from basic elements like language, the most prominent impact is seen when it comes to food. Any international cuisine from the best chefs in the world can only be ranked second to the ‘sadya’ (feast) served on the banana leaf. Such is the nature and obviously the taste of Kerala food. While there are numerous dishes emphasising the plethora of the Kerala cuisine, personal preferences still exist. And among such preferences lies the undisputed King of gravies- ‘The Jack Fruit Sambar.’

Jackfruit, which forms the essence of this beautiful work of culinary, is an interesting fruit. I call it interesting not solely considering the variety of ways in which it can be consumed- directly as the fruit or as a jam popularly known in Malayalam as ‘chakka varattiyathu’ or in the form of the jackfruit sambar. While the variety of ways in which it can be consumed definitely contributes to the tag I give it, I call it so, mainly considering the manner in which it must be cut for consumption.

Image result for jackfruit

In modern times, the cutting is done through any common knife we find in the kitchen. The traditional approach however is definitely better. A knife vertically mounted over a wooden board comprises the jackfruit cutting equipment. The fruit is systematically passed through the knife to slice it. Considering the size of the fruit, it is initially sliced into two by passing it horizontally through the vertical knife. This step is again followed with the two halves to reduce them to four quarters. Each quarter is now further reduced to smaller parts. The rind is separated through a similar process and the seeds are removed to render the jackfruit ready to be eaten or cooked.

One may feel what is so interesting about these straightforward steps. One won’t, if one has ever cut or at least witnessed someone else cut the fruit.

The Jackfruit contains a thick layer of latex on its inner side. The challenge aggravates as this layer is not only thick but extremely sticky. A knife if passed through a jackfruit would definitely cut it but the latex remains stuck to it. It becomes extremely difficult to get the latex off the knife. Not only does cleaning the knife becomes a tedious challenge, it can no longer be used for other items as despite the best of efforts, some part of the  secreted latex stays back on the knife. Not to forget mentioning the fact that the latex also prevents the smooth flow of the knife through the fruit thereby leading to further problems. If this sounds a great problem, one would definitely not want one’s hands to get sticky, cleaning which would be an equally tedious job. At the same time, the remains would be even more undesirable.

Every problem has a solution and so does this. The best part about nature is she herself provides us with solutions to the challenges she offers. We only need to identify them correctly. A jackfruit problem is resolved with a coconut solution.

In order to avoid the latex from sticking, coconut oil is applied to the hands and knife. While this does not completely prevent the latex from sticking, it greatly reduces the amount as well as the stickiness. Moreover, cleaning also becomes easier.

Our world too is just like the jackfruit; filled with the latex of delusional clinging and desire motivated thoughts and actions which obstruct the smooth flow of the knife of our lives. It all depends on how well we lubricate ourselves with the oil of wisdom that determines the fruit we reap.

And just as you reap your fruit, don’t forget to sow the seeds too.

What’s in the name?

It was one such day when you have nothing to do. A day for which everyone craves and when it finally arrives, we understand how better it is to be involved in some work. After an unsuccessful attempt at burning daylight with my cell phone, I ended up on the couch flicking through the channels of the TV. With nothing eye-catching in the sports section and my limited tastes for movies, the Discovery and the National Geographic were the only rescue. At the end of an hour long documentary on the lives of tigers, I had a ridiculous question in my mind. “Why are tigers called tigers?” Although the question was as lame as one can be, the answer definitely wasn’t.

My findings were quite startling. I found that the word tiger actually originated from an old Iranian word ‘tigra’ meaning ‘sharp’ or ‘pointed’ which is used as the Persian counterpart of the English word ‘arrow’. Tigers are extremely swift for short distances which they employ efficiently for their kills. This sudden burst of speed for their kills; just like that of an arrow is what connects them to the old Persian root and gets them their modern English name.

The day no longer was the same. It was extremely fascinating to know how the big cat was named. With over a few million species on the planet, I just had sufficient of them to explore the rest of my life. It was turning out to be an interesting activity. When I felt that I was done with every possible creature visible within the circumference, I decided to concentrate on the centre. Why am I called Rishikesh? This time around, the answer was as lame as the question- Because my parents decided to call me so. This was going to be the most interesting findings of them all.

Etymologically, the word ‘Rishikesh’ derives from its Sanskrit root ‘Hrisheekesh’ which means ‘Lord of one’s senses’. It has direct references to Lord Krishna who is always a master of his senses irrespective of the surroundings and circumstances. Senses like touch, taste, sight, smell and sound. “Well I am definitely a master of my senses!” I exclaimed. “Or am I not? I have to be. After all I control them. Or is it the other way around on occasions?” A proper understanding of the entire issue thus becomes very crucial.

I find great parallelism between the concept of ‘Hrisheekesh’ and few verses of the 11th chapter of the Srimad Bhagavatam wherein Krishna goes on to describe the 24 gurus.

The elephant which is one of the gurus contributes greatly to understand the entire concept. The elephant as we know is the largest creature on land. Despite this, a human is able to exploit it to his benefit because of a single weakness – the sensation of touch. In order to hunt elephants for domestication, hunters use a cunning strategy. They employ trained female elephants to lure the tusked giant by her body into a nearby ditch prepared to trap him. Mesmerised by the female touch, the elephant loses his control and he falls into the ditch. It is a classic example of how dangerous the situation can be when an individual is driven by his senses and not the other way around.

If touch happens to be the elephant’s weakness, sound is for the deer. Deer are immobilized by melodious music. Hunters in olden ages used to play the flute to attract the deer to their vicinity. Unaware of the danger along with a strong urge to enjoy the music, the deer has a bad ending. Similar is the case with a fish for whom, the taste of the bait tangled in the fishing hook is irresistible. It is ironic how the inability to control your taste buds could lead you to please someone else’s.

We humans consider ourselves to be the most complex of organisms on the planet. Such a consideration is mainly because of our ability to think. Although this claim is more related to mental supremacy, we do not fall back even in the physical aspect. One of the main reasons for such claims is the fact that all our systems and organs are highly developed unlike other creatures. The bat has a great sense of hearing but lacks in visions. The eagle has unmatched eyesight but lacks in the other senses.

Humans boast of having equally well developed senses. This claim makes me think – ‘If creatures like the elephant, fish and deer have  horrifying endings because of an over affiliation towards one sense, how dangerous a life is a human being living who has all the senses well developed, intact and more importantly each having their own pleasures to be satisfied’. Hence, the concept of ‘Hrisheekesh’; having mastery over ones senses becomes extremely crucial.

The ones who fall prey to their senses experience misery and get tangled in the spiral of pseudo pleasures gained through the fulfilment of sensory affiliations. The greatest hindrance in getting out of such a tangle is the fact that an individual gaining such temporary pleasures is unable to identify the underlying greater problems as he is mesmerized by the lower pleasures he gains.

Everyone is aware about the message carried by Gandhiji’s three wise monkeys- ‘See no evil’, ‘Hear no evil’ and ‘Speak no evil’. Although this concept of the wise monkeys carries a great philosophy in itself, in light of the aforementioned discussion, I am able to find the supreme level of ‘Hrisheekesh’ in it. When can someone see, hear and speak no evil? Only when he has supreme mastery over his senses. Not to forget mentioning that it doesn’t mean one should ignore or overlook matters of concern.

Mastery of one’s senses in its true sense would thus mean to employ ones senses to identify, analyse, understand and imbibe the most appropriate facts so as to gain knowledge which would enable one to act in the most appropriate manner.

On gaining insights to the magnanimity of the 9 letter word I carry along to describe myself, I actually doubt if it is appropriate to call myself the same. An honest and totally unbiased self introspection gives me several examples wherein I have failed to employ the qualities which my name preaches thereby leaving myself and Rishikesh to be two separate entities and not one.

It is when such a doubt crept in my mind that I returned to square one. I happened to think about Hrisheekesh only because I was named so by my parents. And also when I doubt if it is appropriate to call myself so, since I fail to fully live up to my own name on occasions, I remember that my parents are humble people. It’s not just the name that they gave me; they gave me this birth; this life; the opportunity to live such a great name. In fact, they have given me an opportunity to convert my name from being a noun to an adjective to my individuality.

Just remember one thing. We all have beautiful names. Know your name, love your name, live your name.

Its beyond puffs and pegs.

One morning, I was at my uncle’s for breakfast. I asked my ten year old cousin, “What do you understand by the word ‘addiction’?” The innocent child could respond with only two words “Cigarette” and “Alcohol”. On my way back I saw a group of young boys and girls mostly in their late teens, some in their early twenties, smoking. With the hangover of the morning incident still very fresh, I walked up to them and asked, “Friends, what do you think about addiction?” The response was similar and definitely ironic. Only that the language was more polished and flamboyant. “Alcoholism”; “Chain smoking”. ‘Drug abuse’ was an addition to the list. “Dope” screamed a fat guy in a forceful broken accent which I reckon was supposed to be black American. Out of great curiosity I asked them, “You yourselves tell me that these are all sources of addiction. Then why do you commit yourselves to the same?” I just couldn’t resist running away when I was told, “It’s SWAG bro! You too have a puff.” Later that day I ran into a man who I assumed to be somewhere in his early forties. Needless to say the same sequence of events followed. After a long advice on how I should stay away from such addictions he made a very interesting statement. “Addiction is an ‘obsession’ towards things like alcohol, narcotics and drugs.” I had a new word added to the discussion. I was satisfied with the response.

Though back home with other jobs in hand, I simply couldn’t let the thought go off. After gazing at the surprisingly beautiful ceiling for an hour and a half, I left the couch with three questions in my mind. What is obsession? What is addiction? Why does addiction always seem to relate and restrict it to alcoholism and narcotics? I was back on the couch in no time flipping the newspaper in an attempt to find something which could have been half as interesting as yet another Virat Kohli century. And soon I had one. The article was about a European lady who had resigned from her job to ‘devote’ more time exploring a recently launched mobile application. It went on to say that the lady uses the application for 18 hours a day. Ridiculous was my first response; Eureka the second. All of a sudden, I had an answer. “Isn’t this some kind of an addiction? Or obsession? Or something akin?” It had to be. I never came across any article stating ‘Man resigns job to drink 18 hours’. Something phenomenal was to take place in my mind.

With further contemplation on the topic along with studies and discussions, some really eye-catching facts occurred to me. Obsession and addiction are two adjacent checkpoints in the race to misery. But then, what is the starting point? A curiosity towards something may turn into a liking towards it. Liking when practised habitually gives rise to love. ‘Love’ is one of the most interesting words I have ever come across. Everyone has a different definition for love. Gautam Buddha stated one of the most beautiful descriptions of love.

According to Buddha, “If I like a flower I pluck it. If I love the flower I water it daily.”

Such is the nature of love. The greatest surprise is that no one really understands it even though explained. Romantic novels and movies have been personifying the concept of ‘immortal’ and ‘eternal’ love wherein a lover is ready to die himself at the loss of his beloved. A concept which continues to mesmerize young and old alike, a concept which leaves people in a state of awe, a concept which leads people to shed tears, a concept I could never understand, let alone withstand! A person has his whole society to deal with, interact with. Then why does an individual cling on to a single person or thing to find happiness? Movies have never been my first choice of entertainment. But a movie really inspired me to think about love. I heard the protagonist telling his beloved “how much he loved her and he was afraid to lose her.” Now the interesting bit. Love is supposed to be a pleasant state of mind, an emotion which is pacifying both to the person feeling it as well as to the people around him. If an emotion breeds fear in the mind, how can it be a healthy one?

So is it actually love which such a person experiences? Or is it something different? It is actually an attachment which breeds itself into greater levels giving rise to such a line of happenings. The saddest part about all this is that it is easily and negligently misquoted as love. Sometimes even ‘pure love’. Funny isn’t it?

This maniacal attachment misquoted as love wherein a person associates his happiness or in extreme cases even his existence with someone or something is the starting point of this walk down to misery. Along the path it multiplies and takes different forms.

A man walking down this path experiences some involuntary changes in himself. The attachment he carries for someone or something, without his knowledge turns into the state which is called obsession. His mind is preoccupied with his source of obsession. It becomes the centre of all his actions and thoughts. “A man obsessed is a man possessed”.

Metaphor has always been my favourite figure of speech. And nature has always provided me with the best of them. Let’s recall a very common phenomenon everyone has observed. Post dusk if we light a bulb in an otherwise dark room, we observe that soon many flies and insects gather around it. They simply keep flying around it. Why does this happen? In a natural environment, insects and flies use the radiations emitted by the moon to find their way in the darkness. They attempt to do the same in an artificial dark environment as well. However, the bulb radiates light in all directions 360 degrees. The fly in an attempt to follow the light goes round and round the bulb. It is never able to figure the proper way and follows the light in a spiral which has no end. An obsessed man is just the same. The source of his obsession radiates and appeals to him from all directions. And as a clueless fly he follows this manic spiral which has no end.

Mind is always dynamic. It keeps on transforming. So are the thoughts borne by it. This maniacal behaviour transforms itself to a centric behaviour as well. For example an egomaniac is so obsessed with himself that he even exhibits an egocentric behaviour. He believes ‘he’ is the centre of everything.

While a maniac accepts his source of obsession as his King an addict is different in this context. He himself accepts slavery to his addiction. A fact which many fail to understand is that our minds are a part of us and not the other way round. Hence, it is we who should be channelizing our minds and not our minds controlling us. An addict miserably fails to understand this fact and falls prey to the unwanted attachments and desires his mind gives rise to. An addiction in my opinion is a physical inability of an individual to refrain oneself from something due to an extremely cohesive mental inclination towards it.  It is important to understand that the mind gives rise to thoughts. These thoughts are then analysed by the intellect and then finally performed by the body. We see that the body forms the last part of the chain and its role is limited to carrying out the act decided and approved by two other forces. Hence the focus to avoid such an unpleasant situation should lie not in limiting the body from dealing with the source of addiction but in redirecting the mind away from the source onto more productive channels. This is also the reason why we see that a patient undergoing rehabilitation from alcohol gets back to his dipsomaniacal nature once back in the same old surroundings. He tries to believe the fact that his long drawn addiction would come to an end with this ‘last drink’. For him one drink is too many, but a thousand not enough.

Another difference between an obsessed man and an addict is that an obsessed person tries to find his obsession in everything where as an addict tries to find everything in his addiction. Irrespective of the fact who is deeper stuck in quicksand, it is wiser to understand that either is highly undesirable. So! What is the way out? Maybe a couple of more metaphors may help the cause.

I recently attended the wedding ceremony of my friend. The food offered was just too delicious. For a moment then, I felt it was among the best plates of food I ever had. I told few of my other friends that evening how good it was. Four months later, today is the day I actually think about it again. I find it to be really interesting. I found something to be so good, so attractive someday and I wasn’t even consciously aware about it the next day. So why do we cling on to things, acts and people when we potentially can let them go off. In this case, I also found that the maximum joy I experienced was when I was actually eating the food and not when telling about it to my friends.

Dedication ‘to’ the act and then Detachment ‘from’ the act is the mantra. This when followed meticulously not only avoids harmful attachments but also leads to happiness. I believe it is a very delicate statement. Detachment should not be misunderstood with an unwholesome approach towards the act. It simply means unnecessary clinging on to people and actions is where the genesis of the entire problem lies. Any action should be done with utmost dedication and sincerity towards it. Abstinence from the action is what actually completes it.

When I was a kid of twelve, I saw something which left a great impression in my mind. A bird in order to build her nest flew back and forth over a thousand times carrying small twigs in her beak. After hours and hours of such a dedicated effort the nest was built, built with great precision. She laid her eggs. The eggs hatched when they were ready. Again to feed her young ones she would actually fly back and forth countless times till they can do it by themselves. Once they were ready for their first flight, she would herself push them out of the nest. To take matters to next level, she would leave her nest and move on to another place.

Even a small bird can understand the concept so well. Can’t we humans do the same? Think about it…

Not so normal

Amidst a generic discussion, my friend stood up and yelled at me,” Are you abnormal?” Contrary to my own expectation I wasn’t annoyed at the comment. Today, I feel happy about it.

Squirrels are fascinating creatures. They sometimes bury seeds and forget about them. These seeds then grow into trees. An action in ignorance may sometimes be beneficial to all. My friend though, in ignorance brewed within my mind a thought, a thought which I believe carries the key to many locks.

Abnormal is a word which is very loosely used. Before understanding abnormal, a question arises- What is normal? ‘Normal’ by definition refers to a usual or a typical style of something. Here comes the core aspect of my thought. Why do we have a notion that a usual, a generic or a ‘normal’ approach is the ‘correct’ approach? Simply because 9 out of 10 people in a crowd follow a certain path, does it make the path the right one? We are always taught to act within the periphery of certain established guidelines. Such a forced and restricted vicinity of thoughts and actions gives birth to certain stereotypes. While certain guidelines have their own importance to boast about, I believe a more open minded spectacle is required for the others. So, if normal is usual, abnormal is simply unusual.

The prefix ‘ab’ generally portrays a negative concept. Abnormality is regarded as a deviation from the usual, the normal path; a deviation towards something unpleasant and undesirable. Normality and abnormality form the 2 extremities of the same thread. Though these two states of existence have a great bearing on any individual what attracts my attention is the path which joins the two ends. The ‘not so normal’ state of existence. It may sound a very vague ideology. It is nothing but a state of mind which inclines an individual to think and perceive matter without any prejudices, enabling him to respond to the stimulus in a creative manner. Important to note that such a perception is definitely different from the general but need not necessarily be the apt one. Then why is this mid way so interesting?

A kaleidoscope when turned every time shows a different image. One among them would be the best of all. However, it doesn’t stop the viewer to turn it time and again. Viewing and perceiving the same matter unfolds various aspects of the same thing. Pythagoras theorem remains the same. But if no one ever attempted to view it from another angle the world would still have not known the Converse Pythagoras theorem.

We as youngsters are always told to come up with ‘Out of the Box’ ideas. This is nothing but an attempt to induce a change in approach from the conventional methods to something which can be more productive. Here lies one of the biggest ironies of life. While we are asked to follow a pre-determined path on certain occasions, the same people on other occasions will ask us to do something different. The success of an individual in solving this whole maze of normality, abnormality and the middle path lies in understanding what the situation demands and then adhering to it. A constant salvation to anyone of the approach would be malicious.

A shepherd is a person who rears sheep. Though sheep are the source of his daily bread and butter, the shepherd dog is given a higher position in the entire hierarchy. Why? Sheep are gentle creatures, usually uncluttered by what is going around them. One may move as per his choice and all the others simply follow him without a purpose. It is the dog which is responsible for guiding the entire flock to the required destination. Hence, it is in our hands to decide if we want to be an aimless sheep following the flock or to stand apart and make the unconventional move. The risks are high but that’s when the fruit tastes better.

There lies yet another great dilemma in this discussion about being normal and abnormal. It is often misinterpreted with sanity and insanity forming the other end which again can be argued over without any conclusion.

Normal or not so normal and even abnormal- these are all states of mind. Just remember one thing- Do not preconceive your mind with any of them. Rather try to understand what is required. Once it is done, the approach becomes immaterial. The right one will automatically follow you.