There’s a need to broaden those smiles! Random Forays

Are we smiling enough these days? I mean, on the whole, as a society?
If we happen to glance at people around us in a cafe, we would notice that most of them smile half-way, without really putting in much energy into those smiles. A grin nowadays involves stretching those smile-muscles a few millimeters less than in years gone by. Gone are the days when people were unconscious of those watching.
The uninhibited nature of happiness, reflected in amply glowing faces, seems to have been tempered by the stressful times that we live in.
Few people these days even seem to have the time to smile! It is as if our display of happiness has reduced proportionately to our span of attention.
Thus at a social “do” one spots several polite smiles being exchanged, but few guffaws and hearty laughs, or fulsome grins. A status conscious city like Chandigarh actually seems to encourage only the polite dignified smile and some people are loath to show the full repertoire of their teeth.
Indeed it appears that both the frequency and width of our collective smile have decreased. What is more, street urchins and labour folk still possess some of the broadest smiles, thereby debunking the theory that wealth can lead to happiness.
A report in Live Science magazine states that cultural factors, personality traits and even our genes affect our smile-ability.
And Shawn Achor, author of “The Happiness Advantage” argues that smiling more often can actually re-wire the brain into adopting positive thinking patterns more frequently than negative patterns.
Considering the fact that a smile is a direct indicator of happiness, what then are the inhibiting influences affecting our smiles? The answer seems to be that these days we talk more about problems and issues, which of course obviates the need to smile at all!
The Gross National Happiness Index adopted by countries like Bhutan as a true indicator of progress revolves around parameters such as education, healthcare and living standards. India ranks 118th on the global Happiness Index scale, but perhaps measuring the happiness of people across a country like India through surveys may not be indicative of the real mood of the nation. Research also indicates that development related factors may have nothing to do with our smiling and happiness.
It also appears that spiritually minded people feel greater inner peace which makes them smile more. Conversely, it is a well known fact that traders in a stock exchange have the biggest frowns in the business, closely followed by soccer coaches, when their team is losing!
A picture that most of us would recall from our history books in school showed Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru laughing with full mirth in each other’s company. The political leaders of today, just like most of us, seem to have lost that art. An exception is Barack Obama who obviously had more burdens on his shoulders than most of us but his smile as President was one of the broadest ever seen.
Charlie Chaplin famously said “I have many problems in my life, but my lips don’t know that. They always smile.”
It is thus the inner attitude to life that matters. The rich and famous are clearly not the most joyous people around. It is the steadfast determination to smile that clinches the happiness game.
Smiles cannot always be linked to friendliness though. Indians are not known to smile at strangers on the street. But we do go out of our way to show someone the way if they are lost. We will even accompany them to their destination at times!
On the other hand, many westerners smile and greet passersby every morning, but are not likely to take kindly a query regarding the route to a nearby place. Google maps have done away with the need for asking directions anyway, but some folks still like to follow the old method, and why not?
Human interaction should mostly be about smiling conversations, unless grave subjects like the cricket scores are being discussed! Ultimately, we would all love to be like Paul Simon, who once said “I’ve got nothing to do today, but smile.”

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Outwitting our stars is not impossible! – Random Forays

What do the stars really foretell for us? Is our destiny written in indelible words across the skies even before we are born, for us to live through a pre-ordained existence, condemned to play a role in which we have no say?
Astrologers would have us believe so, and they have a point, but perhaps not the whole point. Several contradictory theories abound about the veracity of astrology and whether there is a scientific basis to it. Being a greenhorn in the field, I have no analysis to offer in the matter, but I am certainly intrigued by the following conversation from the pages of the Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda between the author, when he was a young lad, and his Guru, Swami Sri Yukteshwar Giri:
“Mukunda, why don’t you get an astrological armlet?”

“Should I, Master? I don’t believe in astrology.”

“It is never a question of belief; the only scientific attitude one can take on any subject is whether it is true. The law of gravitation worked as efficiently before Newton as after him. The cosmos would be fairly chaotic if its laws could not operate without the sanction of human belief.”

The pages of this classic autobiography abound with such gems, and have uplifted the consciousness of many of us over the decades. The conversation quoted above is from the chapter majestically titled Outwitting the Stars. Yogananda writes lucidly in it about how we can alter our destiny by striving to make direct contact with God. Thus, while the cosmic law of karma (cause and effect) is precise and mathematical, as our scriptures tell us, it is possible through good conduct and efforts at meditation to actually outwit the stars!
The Yogoda Satsanga Society founded by Yogananda is celebrating 100 years this year, and simultaneously there is a surge in followers of yoga and meditation worldwide.
When Virat Kohli recently posted a picture with the same book, one realises that a section of the younger generation is making efforts along the right lines these days, much sooner than some of us did in our own life-journeys.
The fact of the matter is that while we go about tackling the frenetic nature of our lives, we race from pillar to post in order to seek peace and happiness, but we miss the point ourselves. As human beings, we are inexorably and intricately woven into a web of worldly activities that prevents us from seeing the bigger picture.
We follow our career and relationship paths to grow up, grow old, and make our exits, little knowing that we are not meant to be so boring and predictable! Those who spend some quiet moments every day attempting to connect to their true selves, or to a higher power, begin to realise that there is a way to defeat the series of ups and downs which life subjects us to.
Thus if an astrologer tells us that we cannot ever find happiness in love or in our jobs, we can tell him that we have the awareness, the energy, the wherewithal and the strength to reverse our fortunes. There is something about possessing unlimited will power and faith that can transcend all negatives and propel us to higher levels of pursuit.
As Yogananda wrote, the message of the stars is a rather a prod to pride; the very heavens seek to arouse man’s determination to be free from every limitation.
Thus, he who challenges his horoscope by dint of sheer grit and determination, and by drawing strength from the almighty, is mighty likely to succeed.
Yogananda himself was told by an astrologer that he would marry three times, but he became a monk and literally bypassed any such eventuality in his life!
And from the pen of William Shakespeare came these telling words: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in our selves!”
Thus when we wake up in the morning and scan the sun-signs column, we truly need to stop dithering and try to prove the soothsayers wrong by putting our best foot forward.
Arthur C. Clarke sums it all up thus: “I don’t believe in astrology, I’m a Sagittarian and we’re sceptical!”

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Six Ideas For Improved Public Service Delivery – Random Forays

“Public service is my motto”, said gangster Al Capone, for some mysterious reason!
Having had the benefit of viewing basic governance structures from both sides of the table, one has analysed some aspects of them that could do with an injection of fresh ideas. These tips are not earth shaking; they are easily doable and implementable. Organisations providing public service across the land may improve their efficacy greatly if they decide to adopt them.
1. Authentic databases:
Databases relating to the general public are often afflicted with multiple shortcomings and lead to confusion as well as erroneous decisions. A plethora of Data Entry Operators, those worthy individuals who are responsible for typing in details of applicants for services like Voter ID Cards and Hospital Cards, often get spellings and other details wrong. A monitoring system can prevent gaffes of the sort that many of us discover when our driving licences or even Aadhar Cards arrive. Simple software programmes can also aid in ensuring such corrections. Thus a Ram Lal can be saved from becoming a Sham Lal and a 30 year old from becoming an 80 year old in governmental records!

2. Streamlining application forms & procedures:
We have all been victims of having had to fill up unending forms with a dozen enclosures at times. Some countries actually specify on government forms that, for instance, is ‘likely to take about 8 minutes to fill up’. The value of a citizen’s time and effort is often underrated by departments. People are usually clueless about procedures and are easy prey for ‘agents’ who hover around public dealing offices promising to help unsuspecting ‘victims’.

3. Soft skills training for personnel:
The person on the ‘hot seat’ at a public window is often under unstinted pressure from the hordes of people who frequent railways stations, electricity billing stations, school fee counters etc. He or she is often untrained in public dealing even though it admittedly is more of an art than a science! Thus the need to smile at each visitor, to explain things to him lucidly, and to be cordial even in the face of fire from some raucous individuals, is usually overlooked. Even a day’s training is enough at times, though preferably a month would be needed, but organisations are loath to invest their time and money on it.

4. Priority to the elderly:
Every retired person, especially one who has crossed 70 years of age, deserves and needs special attention and care, from banks, hospitals, post offices etc. All agencies providing services which necessitate visits by the elderly to their premises need to give such persons priority by introducing special queues, facilitation etc. The ‘Aadar Samman’ project launched by the Panchkula Administration a while ago provides a precedent whereby the time spent at a public office by an elderly person was grossly reduced.

5. Doorstep delivery:
Too much is made of asking people to actually present themselves at offices. If door to door census-surveys can be carried out, then many services can be provided at homes by mobile teams if they announce their plans in advance. Residents of the area would then be prepared and ready with the documents required to obtain basic certificates like senior citizen cards. Governments at times resort to such measures when voter ID cards (for instance) are to be prepared for a hundred percent of the eligible population. The need is to do the same for other services too.

6. Smartening up:
Even though websites and apps are now the norm even for government services, there is often a multiplicity of portals available and the public remains confused. Websites also do not provide clear-cut information at times thereby causing havoc in the mind of the citizen who tries to access their hidden virtues! They clearly need to smarten up.

In summary, it is easier today to streamline services by judicious use of technology than it was when for example the e-Sampark project was first launched in Chandigarh. But the intent is what matters, and the follow up.

What public servants will do well to remember is what Ronald Reagan said- “I am just a citizen, temporarily in public service!”

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The missing tribe of brilliant orators- Random Forays by Vivek Atray

Public speaking has never been a straightforward skill to adopt. Few have learnt it well, fewer have mastered it. It is no easy task to hold a room’s attention, especially in these fidgety, distracted times.
Thus the varied sorts of compulsive public speakers have necessarily to improve on the job, to find newer ways of putting their points across and to make their speeches count!
In this connected world where speeches of all kinds can be seen and heard on the internet, what is evident is the dearth of originality on offer. Most corporate honchos use hackneyed phrases, and power point presentations can often turn out to be real tests for our patience. Only a handful of those wielding the mike are able to carry off their talks with conviction and panache.
The first stirrings of the urge to stand before a crowd, to enunciate one’s ideas, start showing up early in childhood these days. Little boys and girls speak admirably before hundreds of parents at school functions, and many speak really well. But when we analyse the landscape of ‘grown up’ speakers available to mankind, very few names really excite us.
Londoners are known to test out their skills at the venerable Hyde Park’s Speaker Corner, perched atop a little platform before an audience of two and a half senior citizens accompanied by a dog. They rattle off speech after speech before these ‘burgeoning’ numbers and willy-nilly sharpen their oratory before long.
Union leaders are prime examples of newbies on the speakers list. A newly formed association of employees will install one of their own as ‘Pradhan’ and he will have to orate from Day One! His speaking skills will probably edge out other contenders for the throne, whatever else may form part of his bouquet of qualities, or the lack of them.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said ‘All the great speakers were bad speakers at first’. And of course Roscoe Drummond famously said ‘The mind is a wonderful thing. It starts working the minute you are born and never stops until you get up to speak in public.’
Thus most people freeze on stage and find it extremely difficult to hold the attention of their audience for any length of time. Very few are blessed with the gift of the gab as well as the ability to put across their points cogently and lucidly.
Politicians of course have to speak on stage as an integral part of their job description. And most of them are just shouters. They vilify the opposition with ridiculous regularity and tom-tom their own party’s virtues equally unstoppably. The only ones left wondering why they were made to put up with the whole ordeal are the poor listeners.
Former Prime Minister Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been among the foremost orators of this era. His pauses are the stuff of legends and he could in his inimitable style bring out effortlessly, smiles and even the goose pimples in his audiences. Emerson obviously concurred with his method for he said ‘The most precious things in speech are the pauses’. Mrs Indira Gandhi was equally comfortable in Hindi and English. It did not matter to her whether she was addressing a rally in the hinterland or the UN General Assembly.
Winston Churchill, for his wit and humour and Martin Luther King, for his power and passion, were amongst the most lauded speakers of all time. Even Barack Obama’s eloquent and sincere yet seemingly nonchalant style is an excellent example to follow for budding public speakers.
But rarely heard is the truly inspiring speech these days. Steve Jobs spoke memorably on ‘How to live before you die’ at Stanford in 2005 and Shashi Tharoor on ‘A well educated mind versus a well formed mind’ at a TEDx platform.
These are only drops in the ocean. There is a crying need for speakers and even pretenders to actually hone their skills and generate some passion within. The aim of a speaker on stage has to be to inspire onlookers, not just inform them.
Dorothy Sarnoff underlines the point thus: ‘Make sure you have finished speaking before your audience has finished listening!’

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Let’s Foster Some Creative Dangals! Random Forays by Vivek Atray

The nascent phase of a new year is an appropriate time to think differently and venture into unchartered territories. One major aspect that is almost totally missing from our lives strikes me as being doable and even must-doable. In our society, the lack of emphasis on creative pursuits is not only galling, it is appalling!
Whatever else we busy ourselves with in life, it is imperative that we take out time to notice and appreciate the arts, music, writing, photography, calligraphy, culinary skills, et al. Every human being has some genes within that aid and abet such creativity. But very few are able to hone their talents and emerge as pall bearers of their craft. Some secretly long to perform on the big stage, having nurtured for years their art, but having faced scepticism and even unjustified opposition from their families.
Somehow our society has not taken to the creative world with open arms. This despite the fact that India possesses a truly rich spectrum of tradition, customs, art, culture and music. We have been bogged down by poverty, inequality and confrontation as a nation, over the decades. Yes, all these issues, along with their nuances, need meaningful tackling and sustained efforts to be effectively countered. However, as a people, we have to realise that life is not just about the Dangal of challenges that we all have to enter into. It is also about entertainment and laughter as well as the finer aspects of human life.
Tribes of all kinds, with their folk music and dances, are prime examples of communities that do not wait for their problems to be solved before delving into the arts. Those of us who are more fortunate than them certainly have no excuse to dither when it comes to participating in or encouraging musical fiestas or street theatre for instance.
European countries, with all their problems, recent and age old, have never lost sight of their creativity. Their populations as a whole spend much more time and energy in organising or being part of festivals and sports events etc. than we do in India.
Amir Khan’s blockbuster, ‘Dangal’ has what it takes to shake up and inspire young and old to shed inhibitions and go whole hog into sports. For me, one of the most memorable moments from the film is the impromptu bout between father and daughter, as well as the one between two ‘sarkari’ babus! To think of clerks or even bureaucrats acting as wrestlers or musicians in their spare time may seem preposterous, but it is a fact that many people with staid lifestyles possess hidden skills that they have had to brush under the carpet, somewhere down the road.
As a young SDM at Kalka I recall witnessing a few wrestling Dangals in the foothills that were well organised and well attended.
But on the whole, in the northern States, we seem to lay even less emphasis on creativity than in some other parts of India. The states of Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana are home to a wonderful variety of cuisine and art forms. But we do not get to see or hear enough of our region’s folk music and dances, though we do get to eat a lot of rich food that tantalises the palette!
As mentioned in these columns earlier, the whole mindset of our society needs to undergo a serious amount of transformation in order for young people to be able to express themselves in their chosen arenas. We have to, as parents and well wishers, realise that fixated ideas are not going to be beneficial for anybody, when it comes to choosing careers and pastimes.
Creative outlets need to be established by the State as well as by private enterprise- centers of excellence for the performing arts, for example. These new types of Dangals will then be able to provide the platforms that the youth needs to express their skills. And by concentrating on creativity as a pursuit of some importance, we will as a nation, be able to tone down our cynicism and our negativity.
Let’s bring on the creative Dangals then. Let the fun and games begin!

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Falling in love with cricket again! Random Forays by Vivek Atray

Those of us who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and generations before ours, did not have access to many sources of entertainment. India and Indians were rather besotted by cricket as a result, with cinema being the only other option on offer. International cricket matches were few and far between in that era and much looked forward to. We would discuss animatedly with our school mates each straight-drive that Sunil Gavaskar played and each wicket that Kapil Dev’s out-swingers claimed. We were eager to savour the performances of our cricketing greats even if our team mostly lost.
The 1983 World Cup victory was like a manna from heaven and ‘Kapil’s Devils’ rocked the collective imagination of a nation thirsty for success and accomplishment. We as a nation started believing in ourselves a little more. India then claimed the 1985 World Championship of Cricket, Down Under, under Gavaskar’s leadership, and Ravi Shastri was declared the Champion of Champions, with a spanking new Audi car being the handsome prize.
Our own confidence surged to great heights when we saw our heroes do so well. It was as if the Indian cricket team carried with it the aspirations of millions, and it did. Defeats were common too in those shaky days and we would spend many evenings brooding at their failures.
The advent of Sachin Tendulkar, a cherubic looking young man with a blade as broad as the Marine Drive, made us sit up and rub our eyes in disbelief. The manner in which he belted the likes of Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, Curtley Ambrose, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath was simply mind-boggling.
We lived our dreams with Sachin and worthy compatriots like Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, Virender Sehwag and Saurav Ganguly. They made us proud when the Indian team scaled the pinnacle of the ICC Test Match rankings. Then came MS Dhoni and his men who made winning a World Cup seem like a walk in the park!
Something changed after the 2011 World Cup high though. The IPL took over all too soon. And it became too much for us. Though the IPL attracted newer fans who had not hitherto understood the nuances of the game, it killed the freshness that cricket used to have.
There was hardly any time to cherish and relish international successes. We were bulldozed by a plethora of cricket matches of the pyjama variety and very few matches remained memorable. They were held with such alarming frequency that a sense of ennui overtook even die-hard cricket lovers.
Human beings tend to be captivated more by that which is difficult to attain. World class cricket became available to us to view at our beck and call. The click of a TV remote would display the pyrotechnics before us of global giants like Chris Gayle and Brendon McCullum, along with our own superstars. We fell out of love with the game when we were presented with it on a platter in our living rooms every day.
Other entertainment avenues had opened up in the country by that time. The social media galloped into our mindsets and cricket was not a passion for most of us anymore. We lost sight of our first love, even though we delved sporadically into watching quick highlights!
Tendulkar’s brilliant retirement speech was as if our own. All our heroes had faded from the firmament. We too tucked away our figurative willows and moved on.
But now comes a man called Virat Kohli, a true swashbuckler, with his band of brazen and ‘disruptive’ youngsters who do not believe in the word ‘defeat’. They play with sheer joy and grace as well as astounding skill. Whether they turn up to play for India in Test Matches, or ODIs, or T-20s, these boys are plucky and fiery, zesty and feisty.
And we have started to take notice again. Our hearts are throbbing once more. We jump up and down in front of our television sets as we did back then.
Kohli has publically vowed to bring unbounded joy to our hearts with his team’s performances in the years ahead. And we have fallen in love with cricket; once more.

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Are we leading fulfilling lives? Random Forays by Vivek Atray

An elderly gentleman sat on a park bench and folded his newspaper with a sigh after a long session of delving into each of its pages. His thoughts were somewhat on these lines:
‘I spend my days reading about the world and its goings on. I discuss politics, economics, sports and films with my friends. I eat, sleep and walk each day. Yet, something is missing. What is it I wonder?’
He shut his eyes and soaked in whatever warmth the weak winter sunshine had to offer.
Thousands of elderly persons spend hours ruminating about what they have gained from life’s journey. It is evident from one look at their countenances that they are pensive and at times pained.
What then is that one thing that most lives miss and overlook? What is it that gives joy to a few even in their evening years, when their health gives way, and the body is not the same anymore?
Spiritual thought tells us that it is the continuous thought of the Almighty and the endeavour to connect with Him that makes us find true fulfilment in life.
If we dive deeper into this subject we find that those who adopt an ‘attitude of gratitude’ in their early years find life’s obstacles easier to overcome; those who do not, simply keep searching for that extra bit of money or fame or power that keeps eluding them.
These are not my thoughts. They are universally known. It is just that we forget to adopt them and implement them in our lives.
Thus many people reach the ‘sunset boulevard’ of their lives blaming themselves for lost opportunities and ‘what could have been!’ Several good human beings spend years after they retire lamenting at their misfortune in the years gone by. Retirement comes easy only to those who take the rough with the smooth, do not feel wedded to their positions, and simply bear a sunny mien.
A life of fulfilment is probably the result of continuous positivity and constructive thought. There are few who can be super-human and live totally despondency-free lives, but some do manage to do so, at most crossroads along their pathway.
Thus it does not seem that material success or accolades from the world make us feel fulfilled. It is more the goodwill that we earn by being cheery and helpful to others, that does.
Building a life’s work that is fulfilling comes from doing one’s best in whatever profession one lands up with in life, and maintaining that inner attitude of cheerfulness alongside.
When we are in the thick of things they often seem complicated and vexing. But when the knots unravel themselves, and if we keep pegging away, life finds a way to reward us with happiness.
A well known fable goes something like this:
Two travellers went to the mountains. When they neared the half-way mark, the beginner looked exasperatedly at the undergrowth and began to crib:
‘And where is the beautiful scenery, which you were talking about all the time?’
His experienced companion smiled and answered:
‘You’re in the centre of it! But you will be convinced only when we reach the top of the mountain.’
If we look around at our society in the present era, there are not many who are enjoying the scenery that little hillocks allow us along the way. They are so busy combating the challenges that the thickly formed bushes of difficulties present before them, that they lose perspective. These challenges keep coming in droves of course, and no one is bereft of their company, but the visionary man or woman is the one who knows that there is a bigger picture to be savoured.
At a recent alumni meet, some of those relating their success stories to an admiring audience were the ones who admitted to have been back-benchers and under-achievers in their student days. One of them even spoke about the time when he was almost rusticated from college! Today he is the owner of a successful entrepreneurial venture and has funded four other start ups.
A life of fulfilment can thus be ours if we keep at it and remain thankful for what we have!

vivek.atray@gmail.com

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The challenge before our millennials- Random Forays by Vivek Atray

‘Millennials’ is a term increasingly being used to define those who are now aged between 18 and 35. Thus those who attained adulthood in the year 2000 or later are qualified to be called millennials. More importantly, the challenges that lie before this set of human beings are tremendous.
Upon this Generation Y lies the onus of steering the planet ahead through uncertain years of climate change and cooling down the warring communities that dot the planet. They will also have to set right the current wave of politico-economic travesties that worry the denizens of earth.
India’s millennials will carry the additional burden of trying to make a success of their careers in an ultra-competitive landscape. They will have to jostle with millions of compatriots to make a mark for themselves. Yes, India remains a land of opportunity and newer jobs in fields like data mining and research are emerging. And all the way across the spectrum, service-intensive fields like security and catering are providing thousands of avenues for lesser qualified youth.
However, there are bound to be increased stresses in the coming years as our young ones seek to find breathing space in the sea of humanity that co-inhabits our land with them. And therein lies an even greater challenge that will accost Gen Y as it strives to find its feet.
While pacing themselves on the forever moving giant treadmill that life in the modern era is proving to be, millennials will have to maintain a semblance of calmness. There will be innumerable technology-driven and career-propelled forces that will seek to dominate the mind of the young professional. Very little time will be left for mindfulness, family, love and those sort of things.
The quickly shifting goal-posts of life and the ever strained relationships are already leading to heartburn and anxiety. Reading a book at leisure in a park has already become a pastime that is passé. The chance to spend quiet moments with oneself has become a rarity.
Recent developments in the lives of some bright youngsters have turned their world upside down. Undergraduates from a leading college of the region were apprehended while smashing car window panes to smithereens. And a youngster who was awarded at the national level for his entrepreneurship skills some years ago, has been arrested for printing counterfeit currency notes.
There are cases of extreme depression and even suicide among the brightest of talents. The sustained pressure to succeed in every race of life has culled their verve and laid them mentally low. The only way to embalm such minds is to inform them that life is not just about material success or chasing one milestone after another. Life does not need to be a never ending roller coaster ride.
Several young people stay quiet and remain in their shells, and a pressure cooker situation keeps building up. It is the parents and teachers who need to spend more time with their wards and actually listen to their woes. They need someone to look up to.
Classes on positive energy, and sessions on emotional intelligence can help the cause. The more I address youngsters across the land, the more I am convinced that even a little insight into ‘What really matters in life?’ can change the course of their thoughts.
Presently, the millennials are being told that they’d better succeed in landing highly paid jobs and cushy careers. Nothing else matters. This trend is leading to mental suffering amongst the majority as there are only a limited number of top-of-the-ladder slots available.
We as a society need to invest time in preparing these millennials, though many of them are already mature adults, for what is to come. The future will hold promise only if these young human beings are able to cope with the demands of the frenzied future.
Many young ones are turning to meditation and yoga to find solace. Some are actually spending their weekends volunteering with NGOs that care for the underprivileged. Creative pursuits like music and sports are also providing succour.
Millennials who are balanced and even-minded are bound to lead more successful lives. The others better take a reality check quickly!

vivek.atray@gmail.com

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Change has to come from within! Random Forays by Vivek Atray

In these merciless, cashless, days with paltry sums of money being spent via currency notes, change has become a rare commodity. Thus recently when a customer asked for change in lieu of a sparkling new currency note, the individual at the cash counter gaped at him exasperatedly, wondering how the gentlemen could have such high expectations! Both gentlemen scratched their heads for a while; then the man behind the counter came up with a philosophical one liner:
“Change comes from within!”
All in the vicinity had a hearty laugh at this, but the point which was made is pertinent to us all.
Change is the only constant, they say. And it happens with unfailing regularity. Even those gems in our lives who promise undying love have to fade away some day. They then remain with us in the form of memories and little else. The saints say that God is the only one who stands by us everlastingly.
Life is verily a ceaseless series of alterations that occur just when we think that we have seen it all. To paraphrase what they also say, “Never-ever say never-ever!”
The moment we start fancying our chances against life’s challenges, it springs surprises upon us. Hence those worthies who had stashed away reams of ‘notes’ in various hiding places, suddenly discovered to their chagrin the galling fact that their booty had been declared utterly worthless!
Nowadays, hyper-flexibility is the need of the hour. Those who are ever on the lookout for modifications in the terrain upon which they ply will succeed in adapting to it with ease.
A bright young man in his twenties decided to quit his snazzy job and start-up a website that offers online counselling for stressed out persons. To his amazement, he had thousands of takers within the first few weeks. By not recruiting anyone else and slogging himself day and night, he makes quite a packet, just by willing to let users share their woes, and by offering some solace. But what intrigues him is the fact that most messages he receives pertain to the stress of having to combat frequent break-ups in relationships.
Patience is obviously a virtue that has been diluted to the extreme in this millennium. Very few people are able and willing to deal sensibly with the whims of their partners, even if they themselves possess similar traits.
At times it is perhaps better to be willing to change oneself than to expect situations and people to do so. But then human beings have to battle that relentless enemy, the ego, and most often find themselves at second place in the face of it!
On Day 1 of the ongoing Literati event at Chandigarh’s Lake Club, celebrated Indo-Canadian author, Shauna Singh Baldwin, spoke of Mahatma Gandhi’s wisdom in telling us to “Be the change that you wish to see in the world!”
She went on to say that the Mahatma obviously meant positive change whereas some people today desire “retrogressive” change. Hence such people defeat, by their nefarious designs, the positivity behind the great man’s intent to inspire us.
Indeed, by taking humanity back towards centuries-old divisive tendencies, perpetrators of such despicable movements attempt to nullify the concept of progressive development.
India is a land of such humungous variety anyway, that one experiences 180 degree astounding differences in life style, culture, language and outlook as one travels from one end of it to another. In fact if one transits even 20 kilometres into the hinterland one finds a world totally distinct from the urban behemoths that many of us live in.
Any sort of change in such a setting may seem slow, with buffalos still grazing in the grasslands and smoke still willowing from an earthen ‘chulha’. People seem to have more time and space to live in, and whatever happens anew is gradually assimilated, without the need to react with undue alacrity to it.
City folk have a lot to learn from their rural brethren, it seems. We seem to have let the breakneck speed with which the world is transforming itself affect us totally.
Perhaps it’s time to search within and make necessary corrections to our own selves!

vivek.atray@gmail.com

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The vanishing art of constructive dialogue! Random Forays by Vivek Atray

The movies these days often make us pull our hair out, whatever is left of it. The zip-zap-zoom nature of the flicks on display leaves one rather exasperated as to what really happened, to whom, and how! Bollywood, as also Hollywood, films hardly let us settle into any mode or mood. They just scurry to the next scene! They all resemble Bond movies these days, wherein dialogues are either foul or fleeting, the emphasis clearly being on visual scintillation and even titillation.
A lengthy high voltage dialogue between Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan in Shakti for instance, took our breaths away with its intense melodrama. Romance- whatever was left of it- fizzled out, after a semblance of it was noticed in films like Gadar, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham and Dil Chahta Hai, all of which incidentally premiered in 2001. For the last 15 years then, barring a few exceptions, viewers have been treated like robots with no hearts.
An actor with just four lines to speak will find special mention in the credits, and may even pick up the best supporting actor award. And those four lines may well consist only of abusive diatribe!
Take the latest Ranbir Kapoor and Anoushka Sharma starrer- Ai Dil Hai Mushkil, or ADHM, as it is more popularly known (even the titles have to be abbreviated, you see). Excepting a couple of scenes where Aishwarya Rai has an actual conversation with Ranbir, there is little romance on offer. There is much sparring and some chemistry between Anoushka and Ranbir, but really nothing of substance on display. There is no depth, no meeting of the eyes, no real love.
This is not to say that Ranbir or Anoushka have not performed well. Ranbir in particular is an amazing craftsman who brings out his character’s torments and highs rather well. Karan Johar’s film even manages to highlight certain important issues facing society today. But on the whole it is verily reflective of the frenzied genre of film making that has come to stay in this era.
The attention span that society exhibits in real life is usually not even a minute long. People at a restaurant or at an airport seem to be in a knee-jerk mode all the time. Those who are able to engage in quality conversations are few and far between. Texting has become more expressive than the voices we hear. A longish repartee between friends takes place only over a cup of coffee. Conversational skills have clearly been decimated by the lack of listening skills that we possess. Interruptions can abound in any form-digital or analogue! The television, the over-smart phones, laptops and tablets have collectively destroyed the art of conversation.
Substance has clearly given way to style. Society seems to be averse to constructive dialogue in any form. The shouting matches that occur with astounding regularity on TV and even in legislative assemblies provide little inspiration to onlookers. One does not even need to mention some of the examples in this column. They are so well known!
Thus very few people are able to sit down and mull collectively even on subjects of significance through a balanced discussion. Classroom attendees too lack the virtue of patience at times. They are either fiddling with their phones or nodding off!
Yet, there is a way out of this predicament. Our attention spans need not go back to the levels of eras gone by. We simply need to prioritise our daily schedule and give quality time to that which really matters.
Family members in particular need to shun the idiot box at times and focus on each other for a change. As it is, family time has reduced drastically these days, for a multitude of reasons. Several tensions and stresses can be avoided if a family simply sits together at dinner time or thereafter, and actually talks!
Paramahansa Yogananda, author of the Autobiography of a Yogi, wrote that life on this planet is akin to a cosmic motion picture drama, and we are all actors in a movie. Ladies and gentlemen, we’d better start performing our roles better, or else our film is surely going to flop!

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