The cape of selflessness

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I pass by the road and see someone risk their life to help an elderly cross the road

I see a mother going hungry to save food for her baby

I watch at the bank office – a brother anonymously clearing off his spoilt sibling’s debt

I see the invisible cape

I see the hidden superhero

I see the selflessness

 

We all know him

Some as a parent, a grandparent, a sibling, a cousin

Or a teacher, a co-worker, a friend

We all have that one person in our life

Who wears the cape of selflessness

 

It’s the one person we can always count on

Someone you can always run to for help and will never be refused

Who doesn’t expect anything in return from you

Who will simply respect your needs and give you all that he can

 

This cape is not an easy one to carry

It’s not something that you can pretend to wear

It’s only real purity of heart and intent

That allows it to sit on your shoulders

 

Those who wear it are oblivious to what the world thinks or does

All they know is to help and give all that they have

To the needy, without any assessment of whether they deserve it or not

Without any judgment on their part

 

It’s these little beings

Those are nature’s best creations

They are the ones who maintain the earthly balance with their goodness virtues

Making them the real superheroes in our practical world

 

It’s almost impossible to ever repay them

For all that they do for us

And the ironic part here is

They couldn’t care less about the repay

 

I wonder what is it that prompts them to be so selfless

To never think twice when they sense need

To never fear their own resultant insufficiencies

To never bear the complex cost-benefit calculations of today’s world

 

And as you read these lines

I say think of all these superheroes with the selfless cape in your life

All that they have done to make you who you are today

And who have always done so unconditionally

 

Today as I thank all of them

The selfless superheroes of my life

I cannot help but ask God with overwhelming eyes

God, what did I do to deserve such gems in my life?

 

There is no quality that I respect more

And neither one that I idolize more

God give me the strength to incorporate at least a fraction of this virtue

I would then have a chance to believe that I at least partly deserve to share the same Earth

That these superhero beings live on.

 

Salute to the cape of selflessness

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Sunny side Up – Ande ka funda!

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I have been a fan of eggs since I can remember. My grandfather was the one to extensively introduce everyone in the family to the superb taste and nutritional importance of eggs. Be it the classic English ways of cooking it like scrambled eggs, poached eggs, sunny side up fried eggs or the more Indian ways of cooking it through maska omelettes, anda bhurji or various forms of egg curries, I am in love with each one of them. There is something magically enticing about the combination of proteinaceous egg whites with the fatty, more viscous egg yolk culminating in a nutrition packed healthy dish.

                Eggs are a rich source of essential proteins, fats and vitamins. It’s a healthy meal component for all age groups, as also during lactation and convalescence. The value of the nutritional importance of eggs has been recognized and documented in several ways in India. I remember seeing the National Egg Co-ordination Committee (NECC) advertisements on TV, with big sports stars like Sachin Tendulkar and Saina Nehwal telling the public the importance of eggs. My favourite one is the one with Devang Patel and his little kiddo companions singing the glory of eggs! This one showed many egg preps and had the ‘Sunday ho ya Monday, roz khao ande’ tagline!!!

Perhaps the more memorable TV appearance that eggs made was through Govinda’s song ‘Ande ka Funda’ from the Bollywood movie Jodi No. 1. An entire song having philosophical bearings attributed to the egg in a light hearted manner. The egg has humour, universality, health and philosophy in this song and it’s a nice perky one to listen to 🙂

                I have my own interpretation of the Ande ka funda which I wish to put forth here 😛 It is derived from the egg preparation that I have enjoyed the most since childhood – the Sunny side up form of egg fry 🙂 And the reasons for it range from the sophisticated yet philosophical name of the prep to its simplicity to its awesome taste.

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Sunny Side Up egg with toast

For those of you who have never seen or eaten it yet, it is a simple egg fry prepared in a fry pan by just plopping open an egg and allowing the egg material to flow out and cook with the egg yolk (yellow) surrounded by egg white. Due to the free flow nature of the egg white it often flows in different directions, making the egg white spread out and get shapeless at times. There are the artistic or obsessive cooks (yours truly included!) who fret over the spread of the egg white and often end up twisting and turning the fry pan to get perfect circular egg whites surrounding the yolk. The egg is allowed to cook to whatever extent you wish to, depending on whether you like the central yolk to be completely cooked or runny or somewhere in between. Then you season it with salt and pepper and you are done!!! It’s literally cooked with just these basic ingredients! It’s the first thing that I learnt to cook in the kitchen; even before Maggi 🙂 Grabbing a forkful of the slightly runny yolk with the whites that are crisp on the underside and softly cooked on top is the most heavenly bite of breakfast you can ever get!! And then you can eat it with toast, rice or even just by itself. This is Ande ka Funda No. 1 for me – Simplicity. You do not need elaborate ingredients or equipment or even a lot of time to cook this delicious egg fry. Just the basics suffice.

                This egg dish is also one of the most beautiful looking egg preps. As in, it appears bright shiny yellow in the centre, surrounded by clear whites and seasoned with pepper. White with yellow is a very pretty colour combination to look at! Like they say, we eat food with our eyes before our mouths – this one completely stands this test with its beautiful and composed look 🙂 The Sunny Side Up dish is a very true representation of the structural composition of an egg, and I love it’s appearance for this reason as well. The egg components lose their structural integrity when we whisk and beat them to make egg scrambles or omelettes or French toast – but not with the Sunny Side Up egg fry! This is Ande ka Funda no. 2 – Beauty in true representation.

                The Sunny Side Up is made with several variations. For instance, sometimes two eggs are used instead of one, thus giving us two egg yellows and whole lot of egg whites around it. Many kid recipes give this dish the appearance of a cat, or mickey mouse by shaping the egg white around the egg yolk to represent two eyes! There are also variations where the egg is fried by confining it in moulds and different shapes, such as in sections of bell peppers, or inside holes carved in slices of bread or even in readymade moulds that are otherwise also used for cakes. Different shapes make it look even prettier at times! This is Ande ka Funda no. 3 – Flexibility. The dish is flexible enough to assume your favourite shapes whilst retaining its beauty and nutritional importance.

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Sunny Side Up egg cooked in bell pepper sections used as moulds

Now coming to a more zoomed out thinking about the Sunny Side Up dish. There is something about the name Sunny side up that makes me feel extremely positive. It’s probably the optimism that we associate with sunshine after a rainy day or the warmth of the sun during chilly winters that leads to this feeling about the name. Bright and sunny is our representation of happy warmth! And that is what the name sings to us. It’s something that tells us to put up our Sunny Side (happy side) up despite the endurance of heat and getting fried up on the bottom!!!!        And this is the final and probably the most important Ande ka Funda! Funda No. 4 – Perk up and get your sunny side up always 🙂

So in short, that is my version of the ‘Ande ka Funda’ derived from my favourite childhood breakfast. Simplicity, beauty, flexibility and a happy sunny optimism. Some of life’s refreshing lessons come from very simple everyday things and food is one important component for me in this case.  Food is an inspiration for thought (Food for thought literally!!). I am often criticized by many people around me for this quality of attributing a preaching personification to food– since it spoils the holistic taste-oriented pleasures that food gives them 😛  I’m sorry guys but I’m taking the whole ‘we are what we eat’ very literally as well as philosophically here 😛

Food that tastes well and also gives me positive vibes about it always earns a special place in my heart. Sunny side up egg fry falls exactly in this category. And after all this talk, I am hungry, and rushing to the kitchen to cook one right away!

Do you have any food items in your life that go beyond good taste and actually ‘talk’ to you about something? Not just philosophy or life lessons. It could be memories, relations, humour or just about anything. Let me know 🙂

 

The ‘why’ in biological sciences

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A little while back I saw a group of young students freshly out of school discussing their choice of subjects for higher studies post secondary school, on a table besides mine in a cafe. An unintentional eavesdropping led me to understand that most of them seemed to be science wiz-kids aspiring to join engineering colleges for their love of automobiles or computers. Not surprising then, that these people chose physics and math over biology as their primary subjects of interest. Having been studying biology for a while in life, this was one of those many moments where I strikingly sense a dwindling love for biology among the gen-next, and just smile to myself. I was almost losing interest in listening to their ongoing conversation when I heard something. ‘No but there is nothing new to learn or think about in biology. That’s why I am dropping it off this year. It’s just a descriptive science.’ I was alarmed. Now my eavesdropping became intentional and real. My ears were all tuned to try and see what the rest of the gang had to respond to this statement. And to my surprise, almost everyone agreed to this!! That their Biology textbook was only full of stuff to memorize and read descriptions about. That there is only ‘information’ that the book gives, and not new concepts to learn or think about.

I was completely taken aback. For someone who has spent some amount of time working on and thinking about biological problems in a science lab, this was difficult to take in. How could the youth of this next generation believe that there are no concepts to be learnt, no questions to be answered in biology when it is in fact, a science packed with some of the most exciting questions around us? It just suddenly put me in a very alarmed state!! I mean I certainly have no qualms in anyone having a greater inclination toward non biological sciences; but let misconceptions about biology not be the reason for it!
I was about to turn to that table and sit down and explain the philosophy of biology to these kids. However, before I could respond, I decided to step a gear down and think about what must have made most kids think this way about biology? Is there something fundamentally misleading about the way biology was being explained to them? Okay let’s go back in time. Did we have a similar approach when we were in school or college? Was this the general thought and perception about biology even when I was starting out in college? And sadly, I realized that the answer is yes.

I realized that the approach with which we were taught biology in school is a serious enough culprit in this. Somehow, the biology text book that we start out our studies with is full of diagrams and descriptions of different biological concepts. Articles in the book are written to describe different events and structures in the living body. In short, the how, where and which of different biological processes are detailed very efficiently. But wait. Is that all that is to it? What about the question ‘why’? Does that question even exist for this branch of science? What I now know, is that it certainly does. But I hardly remember discussing this element in biology classes in school. And sadly thus; among the long recitation of descriptive texts in biological sciences, I feel this is what is lacking. The question of ‘why’ in biology!
We have somehow never been taught to question the ‘why’ in biology very efficiently. At least that is what my case was. All through school or even in college to some extent. My first real introduction to thinking about the ‘why’ in biology started as late as post my bachelor’s degree. That was the time when certain questions started popping to my head about why are certain biological structures the way they are. Specifically in that stage when I was studying viruses and their life cycles; I was seriously bothered by the question of why does this virus exist/live in the way that it does!

I looked around and started realizing that there are a host of biological ‘why’ associated questions around us. Why something is structured the way it is? Why does a caterpillar respond to a particular kind of disturbance which we humans do not sense as a disturbance? Why is there so much diversity around us? Why do parents and off springs look similar? Why are some diseases more likely in certain areas of the world over the others? Why do some medicines work better for some people and not for the others?
These are just some mundane examples of the ‘why’ relevant questions in biology. There are many more out there. The problem with the way I was taught biology so far is, we were always taught to wonder about how something is executed, but not why it is the way it is. And that is why it took me a while to appreciate that biology is all about nature’s miracles, or the more scientific term, nature’s ‘creations’ and a thorough understanding of these comes through questioning why a particular thing is the way it is. A variety of paradigm shifting discoveries were made simply because those were the people who questioned the why of biology.

Perhaps the answer to the why question in biology is a bit more involved and non linear, and not always very easy to handle. Let me try and explain in the simplest of forms here. A thorough understanding of biology necessitates an awareness of the fact that it is an integrative science. The compositional complexity of biological units is quite high. To understand it in its entirety, you may need to apply principles of biology, physics, chemistry and mathematics to it. Yes. It is indeed something that you sometimes may not completely comprehend in isolation. In addition, the composition of biology (read life) is something that is highly variable. There are very few steady equations that you can apply to all of biology. Most biological principles have inherent exceptions and some serious context specificity to the rule. And that is where the so-called ‘other’ sciences come into picture. And that is why a holistic understanding of biology that includes several outliers necessitates an application of the principles of physics, chemistry and mathematics also to biology. Today, an interdisciplinary approach to biology is what has got several chemists, physicists to get interested in biological problems. Because they often find a manifestation of their rules and principles (that they have worked on in their respective sciences) in a fascinating manner in biological systems. For example, studying a living biological unit (cell) includes studying its chemical composition (chemistry), processes such as diffusion and transport and conductivity across its different parts (physics) as also say, its rate of duplication (mathematics).

It’s interesting that the ‘how’ of something often has a singular answer (though not always) since it is most likely built from direct observations of different things and their execution. However, what really gets our thinking center and creative imagination ticking is the why of living things around us. It’s unknown, unexplored, and in most cases, speculative. And this for me is the most enjoyable part of biology. Once you get into the groove of asking these questions around, you will start getting fascinated at every minute detail of biology that you discover. The sooner you sense this, the earlier the appreciation of biology comes to you. Like I said previously, this happened to me quite late in life. I had always been interested in biology, but this was mainly because self formation, self regulation and life processes were something I was always curious about. But to be honest, my curiosity was limited to knowing the ‘how’ of execution of biological phenomena. The realization that questioning the why of things gets us to the vaster and deeper meanings of biology and life came to me only after completing my first degree in biology. Sometimes I still find this funny and weird, that despite not getting a true appreciative sense of biology, we could essentially walk away with even a master’s degree in biology with ease. Now how pertinent is that? I often feel it’s a major limitation of the education system that we have here that we do not bother to infuse the real inquisitive spirit of science as a pre requisite for a degree, and that degrees are bestowed through a rather simple display of scientific information put across on a paper. It’s disappointing hence, that, very few core scientific career interests are sustained through from our degree colleges to professional sciences.

So the bottom-line here? Dear Students, do not dismiss off biology as a science that involves mere recitation of facts. It is indeed a science where the ‘why’ is just as important. Waiting to be answered, waiting to be discovered. A slight difference from other lines of science may be the fact that answering the ‘why’ in biology is often an amalgamation of principles that come from various fields outside ‘classical’ biology. And that exactly is the fun of it. A holistic and integrative approach which can account for the ‘why’ in a branch of science with as much variety as biology. Biology is very much a science of the why. In fact, it’s the science of one of the biggest ‘why’s in this world – the why of life 🙂

Looking beyond

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Look beyond the fence. You will meet the scared little kid who longs for a playmate. Go play with him.
Look beyond the border. Make friends with equally beautiful humans who live a different life.
Look beyond countries. They all contain humans who need understanding, compassion and love.
Look beyond religion. Everyone has the right to have their own beliefs. We can still be good and kind to one another.
Look beyond the colour of skin. Every human being is beautiful.
Look beyond the barriers of States. Don’t we belong to the same country?
Look beyond gender. We are all equally capable individuals.
Look beyond language. We don’t need words to communicate most of our thoughts.
Look beyond age. Sometimes the best wisdom comes from little children.
Again look beyond age. Do not underestimate the power of experiences from the old man.
Look beyond money. The best things in life are priceless.
Look beyond the false compliments. Beware of fake individuals.
Look beyond criticism. Your well wishers do that for a purpose.
Look beyond profession. Dedication and hard work is what matters.
Look beyond makeup. The beauty of the soul makes all the difference.
Look beyond gadgets and wifi. The look in the eyes of your loved ones will speak volumes more.
Look beyond Instagram and Snapchat filters. The original picture is the more real one.
Look beyond Facebook. Noone lives a life as secure as the one that they post.
Look beyond the quirkiness. The woman’s past will explain her idiosyncrasies.
Look beyond the shyness. An introvert often has the most elaborate stories to share.
Look beyond the words. The poet’s mind will open up an avenue to you like none other.
Look beyond the words. Get a glimpse into the author’s life.
Look beyond failures. Learn and rise high from them.
Look beyond your own past. What you do and are today is what matters.
Look beyond. Open a new world. Do not be scared of updating your concepts.


In the end, look beyond looking beyond. Interpret, think and then perceive 


We are all forming opinions too strong and too fast these days. We could do with some more openness of mind what say? 

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Udaipur city as seen from the city palace (Rajasthan, India)

The Buddhist Prayer Flags

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Buddhist worship places (monasteries) as also homes are characterized by the presence of Prayer flags found tied to rooftops. They bear the mantra ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ written on them, and are considered to bring good luck, peace, health and harmony. These appear extensively in photographs and movies. The sight of these colourful flags fluttering against a clear blue sky, always makes for a very soothing and positivism inducing photograph. I have had a fascination for these since a long period of time.

I always wanted to hang these at home for all the positive vibes and good luck that they bring; and of course for the beautiful colour filled sight they create. There are several Buddhist regions in and around India and many of my friends who have visited these places have gifted me these prayer flags as souvenirs from their trips. However, something always stopped me from putting these up at home. I always felt that I needed to experience the sight of these flags in person to really bring back a part of it home. And so, despite having many sets of these flags, I decided that I ll hang them up at home only when I get an opportunity to truly experience the sight of these and have a memory to go back to, upon looking at these at home.

I was fortunate enough to visit the Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh earlier this year. Spiti Valley is a cold desert area in the Himalayas, composed of small Buddhist villages. The place is home to some of the highest villages in the world and has very old monasteries that have tremendous historical significance in the Buddhist culture. And thus I finally got to witness many pretty sights of the prayer flags at the Buddhist villages in Spiti! Through discussions with the local people, I learnt a lot more about these flags and the Buddhist prayers on this visit, making it one of the memorable aspects of this trip.

To briefly update on the prayer flags and the mantra written on them, these flags are in groups of 5 flags; with either the format Om Ma Ni Padme Hum or Om Mani Pae Me Hum. Each alphabet is written on one flag and bears one of the fixed colours blue, white, red, green, yellow (symbolizing the five elements of Nature). Some flags may have more elaborate descriptions written as well. These sets of 5 flags appear in repeats along the string which is used for hanging/tying these to doors or roof tops. Sometimes these are also present in a vertical way, arranged one below the other along a rod/stick. These vertical kind of prayer flags are often found at monasteries, stupas and places of worship.

The mantra written on these flags symbolizes a way of transformation of one’s impure self to the pure self of Buddha. I love this underlying philosophy of the Buddhist way which acknowledges that no person is born without any flaws. Every person has his or her own impurities and flaws. All good qualities are also contained within us itself; which can be emphasized upon and built up to attain the pure self of Buddha. Chanting these prayers is a way of invoking our inner compassionate self, overcoming our impurities and connecting to Buddha.

The literal meanings of the mantra is as follows:

Om        :Body, speech, mind of self and of Buddha

Mani     : Literal meaning ‘jewel’. Represent a method of connection, of enlightenment

Padme  : Literal meaning ‘Lotus’. Represents wisdom required to rise above self

Hum    : Representation of invisibility. Signifies union of methods and wisdom for self enlightenment.

With this amazing philosophical message attached, the Buddhist prayer flags attain a special significance in these villages.  In my visit to the Spitian villages, I noticed that these prayer flags were a prominent feature. You see them adorning the rooftops of almost all houses, shops, and commercial buildings in this area. The composition of the village and settlement in general, has a very soothing and positive look due to these flags. It’s as if the prayer flags are caretakers of that region. With their positive vibes, good luck, and a command over the forces of nature, they make for a security force of the village. For me personally, this was the first experience of looking at so many prayer flags, full and rich with colour, all around me. And I experienced a serenity and peace like never before.  As these flags flutter with the wind, they seem to spread a beautiful sort of positivism towards you. They represent good luck, optimism and above all a path of enlightenment that you may have been searching for or were stuck at.

There are times during travel when all you want to do is pause, look around and soak in the place, close your eyes and make a memory. I call it the creation of a mind photograph. Generally, I end up getting this feeling primarily while being amidst nature. But with the prayer flags, it probably is the first man-made thing that made me stare at it for hours and build up a memory so quiet, so peaceful, almost meditative.

Needless to say, I was completely in love with these flags on this trip. I ended up clicking lots of pictures of these as they sat on every home, every stupa, every monastery, every construction site, every bridge. What will follow here is a photo series of these flags as I captured them at different locations in the villages. I hope through these pictures, I can manage to convey to you at least a fraction of the peace and excitement that I witnessed by looking at these.  I wish you all an opportunity to witness the fluttering of these flags in a native land!!

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En route to Spiti Valley, Kinnaur Kailash range, Kalpa

 

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Spitian home, Tabo

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A stupa at the Dhankar Lake, Dhankar

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Spitian home, Kaza, Spiti

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The Old Monastery, Dhankar

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A random click while driving through Spitian villages

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A bridge near Pin Valley

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A bridge near a contruction site

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Prayer flags at the Stupa at Langza

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Fluttering high above our heads! Komik, Spiti

 

 

 

Doodling to elevate my spirits!

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via Daily Prompt: Elevate

The need to elevate a lowered spirit in life is universal. Across ages, gender, countries, professions, ethnicity – we all face dejection and failures and disappointments and end up losing our positive moods at times. As we go through more of such experiences, we end up making our own formulas for mood elevation when needed. I have several different mood elevation mechanisms – watching a good animation movie, a cup of fresh strong coffee, a walk up the hill and doodle art. I have already written a post about one of these viz; My love for animation movies (https://thecuriouscrackle.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/my-love-for-animation-movies/). Today I will talk in brief about one more spirit elevation method which is doodling out patterns on a blank piece of paper. A blank sheet of paper is very soothing to look at. It’s clutter and mess free. So if I am feeling negative in my mind, looking at it gives me an ‘erasing’ effect on my lowered moods. Further on, it hands over to me a power to create and put up something on the blank sheet. I love to scribble on such pages with different doodling patterns. My favourite ones are the zentangle patterns which I use to either fill up or create new shapes. Most of the times I do this activity in an almost sub conscious way and allow the art to emerge on it’s own. Putting in concentration and focused energy on the zentangle structures acts like a natural and healthy mood elevator. And then after a while as the patterns emerge, it gives me a very satisfying feeling. It also somehow helps me feel ‘sorted’ and helps me gain a better control over my thoughts. Definitely one of the best spirit elevation activities ever.

Zentangle doodle examples

Some Zentangle pattern doodles drawn by me in the process of spirit elevation