Compassion – Where art thou ?

This above all; to thine own self be true,
And it must follow,as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

- William Shakespeare

Everyday reports in the newspaper of barbaric killings by ISIS, Boko Haram and other terror organizations have jarred our sensibilities by the sheer intensity of their violence.And every time, I am plagued by the apparent ease with which a human being is able to transgress into such perversions. Are political,religious or economic inducements sufficient to bring out this horrendous aspect in a man? More often than not, I could only view them as maniacal and in the process, classify them as sub-human. Until I realized that this was perhaps the same emotion which controlled them too.

Compassion

History has been replete with instances where human beings have descended to such barbaric acts that humanity can only shiver in its grave. It is the process wherein a human dehumanizes the other so completely that no conceivable relation to the other can then be established.This formed the basis for nearly all the genocides in the world.

An ability to establish oneness and connection with another, forms the basis of compassion. Compassion – the singular emotion which is direly needed in today’s world.Different religions espouse this central thought in their philosophies. Keeping aside the inherent mis-interpretations that each religion has given rise to, compassion is a salve for humanism – where being ‘human’ is far more critical than being religious.Compassion encompasses empathy along with action.It differs from altruism where emotional attachment is not mandated and neither is it comparable to empathy, where despite the emotional involvement, it needn’t translate into action.Nonetheless, rather than splitting hair on these variations, any proclivity towards altruism or empathy is only to be appreciated and viewed as a stepping stone to attaining true compassion.

The ability to be compassionate can be intrinsic to an individual,but interestingly, it can also be consciously developed.In this age of bloodshed, the ability to be compassionate to oneself and to others is the one gift we can give ourselves and our children.

Haile Selassie says “It is much easier to show compassion to animals. They are never wicked.” Everybody’s latitude for compassion would vary and so would it also be undeniably linked, to the object of compassion.But even that residual innate quality would succumb to the everyday onslaught of inconsideration that we show, not because we deliberately intend to but because many a times,we even forget to spare a thought to the existence of an alternate way.

So prior to become ‘compassionate’, lies the state of being ‘considerate’. Its akin to learning A ahead of Z.

Are we considerate with ourselves ? – When we constantly disparage ourselves on our looks, our achievements and our capabilities. When we are overly harsh with ourselves for not living up to our standards, when we take our achievements for granted and our failures as our scars.

Are we considerate at home ? With our family ? – While demanding and taking our family for granted. When we place undue burden on our children as we try to mold them in our cast. When we fail to appreciate a spouse as a person who could have independent needs and desires.

Are we considerate at work ? With our colleagues ? - When our demands are unfair. When we absolve ourselves for our failures and steal someone’s limelight.When our subordinates become ‘resources’ in the true sense of the word.

Are we considerate towards the place where we live ? – When we unabashedly litter our surroundings because it’s not ‘my’ headache.When we play loud music in the dead of night.

Are we considerate on the road ? – When we constantly get overcome with road rage.When we don’t abide by any traffic rules.When we forget that the five minutes we save on traffic is not a life-changing deal.

And finally,

Are we considerate towards people ? – When we encounter people with differing views, different religious practices, different sexual orientations. When we sit on judgement on every differing view.

It is said that to practice tolerance one needs to put oneself in another person’s shoes.It’s facile to ridicule another based on their beliefs and value systems, but it’s much harder to introspect and understand the context. This is not to condone unlawful or antisocial behavior, but simply to acknowledge those, that are different to ours. Social transformations are not ushered by people who are judgmental, instead it is by people who are compassionate and yet,steadfast about their causes.

Our children will become who you are.So be, who you want them to be. – Anonymous

In being who we are, we determine our future generation.The answer to the question of whether humanity will survive the onslaught of intolerance and hatred, lies with us.We can choose how we wish to answer it.


–oo–

This post is written for ‘1000 Voices of Compassion’ where 1000 bloggers from across the world decided to lend their voices for Peace and Compassion on Feb 20th.

Further Reading :
http://tinybuddha.com/blog/6-ways-to-deepen-your-compassion-to-help-other-people/
http://zenhabits.net/a-guide-to-cultivating-compassion-in-your-life-with-7-practices/

ASUS Indiblogger Meet

Indiblogger announced the ASUS meet,
I too rushed in to reserve my seat.
We got off to a rocking start,
With ear splitting music , my drums threatened to part.

Then waiters came laden with goodies,
A treat to all the foodies.
But vegetarian fare far and few,
I finally spotted some and got my due.




A game we played of sharing personal stuff,
People gave all things, including their fluff.
Some gave a key chain and some, a chocolate,
But some, over a ginger and clove too, met.

Old friends I met and some strangers too,
Shared laughter and banter flew.
When Bloggers meet, they wait to spring,
At slightest hint, their blog and writing.

ASUS3

Then came Asus Product Manager Mr Chu,
Who gave a presentation of all features new.
PC ET2040 and EeBook 205,
ASUS promises to be a competitive buy.

ASUS4

Fun and games again for a bit,
Showcasing blogging in a skit
But finally it was time for the awaited event
Minor obstacles were not a deterrent.

Off we ran towards the food
To be in time before the brood
Heaped plates and conversations collude
Spreading bonhomie with every morsel chewed.

1-ASUS5

Finally I too headed back satiated,
And hope you will not leave this post unappreciated.
And forgive me these cheesy lines,
For bloggers come in all shades and kinds.

An oil slick amidst the Hungry Tide

Just a short while ago, I hadn’t the remotest clue of what an Orcaella or the Irrawaddy Dolphin was.But within a span of two months, I encountered it twice. Two days ago, I glanced at the papers and it jumped out at me.A huge oil slick off the coast of Sunderbans had endangered several lives including that of the Irrawaddy dolphins.Somehow,this struck closer home as I had just finished Amitav Ghosh’s book ‘The Hungry Tide’. Human activities continue to threaten the fragile ecological balances existing worldwide as we doggedly pursue our blinkered journey towards self-annihilation drowning out the few dissenting voices of naturalists and environmentalists. Piyali Roy, the main protagonist of the book is one such lone voice.
The_Hungry_Tide
Fiction set in rich contexts exploring a historical setting or those examining the uniqueness of a particular locale is always an intriguing read.But it transforms into a magical journey in the hands of adept authors like Amitav Ghosh when the characterization takes on a different dimension altogether.’The Hungry Tide’,set in the Sunderbans, brings to life all the magic, mystique, intrigue and perils of the place that one could possibly associate it with. The lives of people for whom change is enduring, living is indeterminate, survival – a daily odds; those who are aware that the very ground they stand on, could be swallowed up the very next minute. It portrays the psyche of such people who encounter death on a daily basis but nevertheless, life elsewhere is unthinkable. They are the inhabitants of the tide country. And with such a narrative, not only are you riveted by an engaging plot but also absorb the essence of a place and time painstakingly sketched by an author’s extensive research.

The protagonists of ‘The Hungry Tide’ are as unlikely a bunch one could envisage. A young cetologist, Piyali Roy, whose life’s ambition is to study the habits of the little known Irrawaddy dolphin.An illiterate rustic fisherman, Fokir.And Kanai, a suave city-bred translator, who is summoned to Lucibari – a remote,unreachable and hostile island in the Sunderbans, for a very curious reason.In typical Ghosh’s style, each of them is very expansively portrayed.Piyali comes across as a resilient woman; passionate about her scientific work and single minded in her pursuit,enabling her to overcome the harsh extremes that her work imposes.She also happens to be a woman, who’s still searching for her identity and discovers her answers in the remote Sunderbans amidst the congregations of the Irrawaddy dolphins.Fokir, though an illiterate fisherman and a man seemingly so far removed from the scientific and highly educated Piyali, still remarkably congruent in his passion for the flora and fauna of the mangroves.And hence, it comes as no surprise that when fate throws Piyali and Fokir together, they connect. A primal bond that renders language superfluous, barely acknowledged yet resilient enough to withstand a storm. And finally there was Kanai.Out of all of them, it is his mutable character with the shades of grey which would have been the trickiest to portray.At one instant, his character smacks of superficiality and conceit but at the very next, it also manages to elicit sympathy for the struggles of a reasonable mind against the prejudices that form the bedrock of his upbringing.Confident to the point of arrogance,but also possessing a remarkable sense of intuition, Kanai rises above himself when he’s put to the ultimate test.He arrives in Lucibari on a strange mission – that of reading his dead uncle’s diary which chronicles his last days before the massacre of Morichjhanpi,when the government of West Bengal forcibly evicted thousands of refugees.And in that dairy,he again encounters his childhood friend,Kusum, who is an ephemeral presence throughout the novel, entwining the past with the present.

It’s a novel which explores many facets – about human bonds that transcends barriers, about rising above oneself, about life in the Sunderbans but above all, I felt it was a novel about exploring one’s identity and the human spirit. Finding that elusive purpose divergent from materialistic pursuits. It also poses several thought-provoking questions when environmentalism comes into conflict with humanism. Does the plight of the Sunderban tigers far outweigh the plight of human refugees ? Though the novel is a good 400 pages, my interest hardly flagged even through the arcane descriptions the author provides on the habitat and the etymology of the Irrawaddy dolphins.

And thus it was, that I came to know of the existence of the rare Irrawaddy dolphin and of the wonder that is the Sunderbans and of the remarkable people of the tide country. In light of my almost personal acquaintance with the animal through the eyes of the cetologist, it was even more distressing to read of the oil slick off the Sunderbans that threatens to disastrously tilt the scales.The need of the hour is to join forces to save the last of the wonderful creatures that depend on these fragile eco-systems. The hungry tide has risen and it shall not be stopped by the narrow confines of national boundaries.

File Photo: Irrawaddy Dolphin

File Photo: Irrawaddy Dolphin

Footloose in the hinterlands of Goa

Goa.

The sun, sands and the sea? Nah. Not by a long shot.

Those were the images on our mind as well till we glimpsed a different Goa. A rustic and virgin Goa. A Goa that promised to be more alluring than its famous alter-ego. We booked our vacation through India Untravelled and got a chance to stay at one of the most amazing locations ever.

Our homestay “Cancio’s House” was located deep in the hinterlands of North Goa – in the tiny village of Aldona located on the banks of the Mapusa river. “Cancio’s House” also known locally as the Amaral’s house is a 500+ year old Goan-Portugese property owned by the beautiful family of Roberto Amaral, his graceful mom Maria, his wife Raquel, their three lovely kids – Harrison, Antonio and Rafael, their two beautiful dogs – Donut and Jess and the cat which has adopted them – Floss Boy.

Cancio's House, Aldona

Cancio’s House, Aldona


The Amarals

The Amarals

The house, which is believed to have been built in the pre-Portugese period, has undergone several restorations over generations but still retains its old world charm with lovely rooms overlooking a central courtyard. We listened avidly as Roberto recounted his rich family history in the charming dining room where black and white photos of his ancestors line the walls, lace curtains adorn the windows and the lilting strains of music floats in the background.The house is surrounded by dense foliage consisting of native trees, shrubs and creepers inhabited by a plethora of creatures.

Malabar Pied Hornbill

Malabar Pied Hornbill

1-IMG_3901-001

Roberto and Raquel welcome their guests warmly not only into their homes but also their hearts. I was overwhelmed by their amazing hospitality in spite of them being in the midst of a personal tragedy. My 9 year old was elated to have found such endearing friends and dogs to play with and had to be literally dragged out for any outings! As Roberto regaled us with his inexhaustible supply of anecdotes, Raquel served us wholesome home cooked meals. Her home-made chocolate brownies and jams are something to die for. We tasted several locally made breads like the Katro (Butterfly bread), Poi (Wheat flour based bread) and even had the good fortune to taste the Bol (A traditional goan bread made for distribution during marriages). Roberto took us to visit a local bakery where we had the opportunity to see the breads being freshly made. Piping hot Pois’ straight from the wood fired earthen oven tasted heavenly!

Raquel's delicious spread

Raquel’s delicious spread


Bread straight from the oven !

Bread straight from the oven !

The Traditional Bol

The Traditional Bol

Aldona is a biker’s delight as the narrow but incredibly well maintained roads crisscross the entire village. We rode past lush fields, small water bodies, local churches, old Portugese styled homes and through some interesting stretches that led nowhere. It’s a place where one can keep driving forever. We did stop at times to listen to the call of the Red Wattled Lapwing or to gaze at the beauty which a serendipitous turn on the road would reveal. We stopped by an old stone bridge with wooden sluice gates (Teen Mansher) to see an angler gathering his spoils for the day. Around 4 Km from Aldona are the ruins of the old Corjuem Fort built around 1705.A military fortress used for the defense of Portugese India, the ramparts of the fort were an excellent place to watch the sun set over Aldona.

Aldona

Aldona


1-Roads
A serendipitous turn

A serendipitous turn


Teen Mansher

Teen Mansher


Corjuem Fort

Corjuem Fort

Amidst the small hamlet, the white washed walls of St.Thomas Church rises imposingly. A 400-year old church, its ornately decorated biblical murals were captivating as I attended the mass with Roberto and Raquel on All Soul’s Day.

St. Thomas Church

St. Thomas Church


'Aiz-Maka-Falea-Tuka' - Today Me Tomorrow You : Inscription on the cemetry

‘Aiz-Maka-Falea-Tuka’ – Today Me Tomorrow You : Inscription on the cemetry

The adjoining villages of Aldona boast of some breathtaking lakes and waterfalls. Mayem lake, around 10 kms from Aldona and located among sleepy villages, is a sparkling and serene water body enveloped by lush vegetation. As our boat glided in the crystal clear waters, we seemed suspended in a tranquil space as the greens above merged with their shimmering green reflections.
The Arvalem Waterfalls around 20 kms from Aldona, is located near the village of Sanquelim. Located in a small cove nestled amidst dense vegetation, the waterfall is pristine as the white foam cascades down the sheer rock cliff.
Adjacent to the waterfall, the monolithic structure of the ancient rock cut cave of Arvalem, which dates back to the 5th-6th century, stands striking with its laterite stones. As one absorbs the stillness of the chambers inside, one can almost travel back in time.

Mayem Lake

Mayem Lake


Arvalem Waterfalls

Arvalem Waterfalls


Arvalem Caves

Arvalem Caves

One cool morning before sun rise, we set off for Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary. As we floated in the estuarine mangrove habitat located along the Mandovi river, we spotted several types of Kingfishers, Egrets, Redshanks, Cormorants, Brahmini Kites, Sandpipers and the more rarely seen Lesser Adjutant Storks.

Birding along the mangroves of the Mandovi

Birding along the mangroves of the Mandovi

And at long last, we did go to a beach ! Morjim beach – one of the lesser known and hence, lesser populated beaches in Goa, it also serves as the nesting site for the Olive ridley sea turtles.

Morjim Beach

Morjim Beach

My post cannot be deemed complete if I were to omit mentioning one of the most endearing aspects of staying in Aldona. And that is the people of Aldona. Extremely amiable and helpful, simple and unassuming, they unreservedly share their laughter and tears. Our cab driver, Deepak, a happy-go-lucky man was an archetypical Goan as he chattered loquaciously and prevailed on us to have home-cooked snacks with his family. Happy and contented with all that life had to offer and his uncomplicated way of looking at life, he could have given a run to many of the so-called-successful but stressed out folks. Maya Angelou’s words came back to me – “We need much less than we think we need.”

Deepak

Deepak

Au Revoir Aldona ! We leave a part of us with you and take breathtakingly beautiful memories back home.

Will to Will

Life is not predictable and neither is death. We encounter innumerable reports of freak accidents occurring everyday in the newspaper.But more often than not,we don’t foresee a similar situation befalling us. A lot of folks plan their life to the minutest detail, but strangely enough, only a handful plan for death.No, its not a morbid statement and neither is it anything to do with mental conditioning,which while definitely, is a wonderful goal to achieve, is not the object of this post.

Pic Curtsey: Smartasset.com

Pic Curtsey: Smartasset.com

Imagine yourself dying today. This minute. Who is aware about your financial assets & liabilities ? Who will be the beneficiary to your assets ? Is the person(s) who you assume to be the beneficiary, also the beneficiary under law ? If you have kids and if you and your spouse were to die today, who will be the guardian to your children ? Who will ensure that the money goes to who it is meant for ?

Imagine the hassles for your family of you dying intestate.

A sudden fatality occurring in the family can leave everyone emotionally devastated.While dealing with the emotional turbulence is everyone’s personal struggle, the practical aspects can be sorted out to a great extent with proper planning. Having been exposed to circumstances which led me to appreciate this much more, I wanted to highlight some of the key things to do.

Nominations
– This is the most basic and something many people forget to do.Many a times, an account is created after which a person undergoes a status change in his/her marital relationship.In such a scenario, the possibility of missing out naming a nominee or having a wrong nominee on the records, increases several fold. The accounts on which one can specify nominations include savings accounts, fixed deposits, mutual funds, demat accounts and insurance policies.Certain demat accounts might facilitate single authorization of a Nominee for all fund holdings but may still require a fresh nomination for new funds.

Who is a Nominee and what are his/her rights ? – In very simple terms, a nominee is just a representative to whom the FI/Bank can give the money to, after your death.This eliminates the hassle of producing a legal heir certificate or a succession certificate. An important point to note is that a nominee is a NOT a substitute for a legal heir. In most cases nominees are people whom you also deem to be one of the beneficiaries.

The distribution of a person’s assets are governed by the Succession Act and it is critical to understand the several categories of Legal Heirs.Class 1 heirs are the ones who are first in the hierarchy and authorized to receive your monies after your death on an equal distribution basis. According to Hindu Succession Act, the legal heirs are different for males and females.Class I heirs for a Hindu male are sons, daughters, widows, mothers, sons of a pre-deceased son, widows of a pre-deceased son, son of a pre-deceased sons of a predeceased son, and widows of a pre-deceased son of a predeceased son.Class I heirs for a Hindu female are sons and daughters (including the children of any pre-deceased son or daughter) and the husband.

So how does the nomination and the Legal heir system work together ? – In a nomination, as previously stated, all one is doing is naming the person, who will collect the assets on your behalf.BUT, this does not give the person absolute rights over the assets.This means,that the money once collected by the nominee is to be distributed as per the legal heir beneficiaries.In the absence of a nominee, the bank will ask for a legal heir certificate or a succession certificate.

Why does one require a Will ? - A Will is a legal declaration of the intention of the person to distribute his assets.So lets assume that you intend your sole beneficiary to be your spouse and the sole beneficiary is the spouse according to law as well, then one could safely conclude that the Will would become a nice-to-have document which can do away with the hassle of creating a Legal Heir or a Succession certificate.

But now lets now consider other cases where a Will is absolutely required –

    1. If the beneficiaries you intend are different from the ones laid out under the law

    2. If the proportion of assets you want to go to the beneficiaries are different from the equal distribution clause laid out under the law

    3. If you have a clear mapping of your several assets to your beneficiaries – Say property in Mumbai to go to your spouse, property in Bengaluru to your mom, then this would not be possible without a Will.

A Will is a highly desirable document for distribution of properties as properties don’t have nominations.If your family needs to sell a property after your death, they would not be able to do so without a Will or legal heir/succession certificate. And for each of such sales, all the legal heirs need to be present for executing such transactions. Imagine a case, where a legal heir is living abroad and the hassle involved therein.Power of Attorney needs to be created in such cases if the remaining heirs agree to let go of the property in favor of one.

Now lets also look at other aspects of a Will, which are not fully financial in nature.

A Will can also act as a statement of intent. This, of course is left to the goodwill of your family members to act on it. This is typically true for guardianship.If you are a single parent or you want to make a joint Will, to be executed in the event of the death of both you and your spouse, then you can specifically state the guardian you want to nominate for your children. This takes care of unnecessary disputes among family members later.Imagine the peace of mind you would have in knowing, that if something were to happen to you and your spouse today , your child would still be taken care of, in the way you want. In the case of a Joint Will, it also aids a person who might not be an immediate family member, to have a record of all your assets and liabilities.It also enables you to bequeath certain specific possessions to certain people.You wanting to leave your precious stamp collection to a relative or a friend who’s equally passionate about it, is possible only through a Will.

For all this peace of mind, all you require is a piece of paper and some concentrated thinking. Yes, a Will can be written in a plain piece of paper in your handwriting. It should just cover that you are in a sound state of mind and should take into account all your assets and express your intent clearly.If you foresee disputes arising later, a Will can also be registered.

Life is not in our hands, but we can make things a bit easier for our next of kin by taking these simple steps.“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.” ~John Allen Paulos

Further reading :

1.Good information on Legal Heirs as per Hindu Succession Act – http://wealthymatters.com/2013/03/27/intestate-succession-as-per-the-hindu-succession-act1956/
2.Difference between a Nomination and a Will – http://www.moneycontrol.com/news/investing/legal-heir-or-nominee-who-will-inherit-your-assets_759921.html
3.Quick reference for terms of a Will – http://www.legalserviceindia.com/wills.htm
4.Good information on various aspects of a Will – https://indianwillmaker.com/pages/services
5.A format for a Sample Will – http://www.mywealthguide.com/making.htm

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