That Ghost In The Cupboard



Yet another suicide by a brilliant young man studying at a premier institute. I will no longer ask, why. Life has taught me enough to write the answer to that one. Because we are human. No animal would commit suicide.

At so many stages in life, at so many points of decision making, the dream of escaping it all easily appears: like a tantalizing mirage. If only, if only…It is that precise moment which one has to survive. Perhaps the faces of your loved ones will appear to caution against the decision. Or it could be a determined voice from within which stubbornly says: “I will not give up.” The survival instinct will definitely kick in, and one reaches for a way out. The instinct to destroy is unfortunately strong too; and it will resist that friend or help that is a call away.

One of the most ignored areas, at least in our country, is mental health. Depression, nervous disorders, eating disorders, suicidal tendencies- all are whitewashed into one heading: Needs Rest.

Some deny it actively, some mock at it aggressively, some escape into parties and alcohol, some become detached and cocooned, some pretend it is a ghost in the cupboard and occasionally face it in their privacy, and some kill themselves.


If there is anything which has helped me face different apparitions of intolerable pain (which sits within me and mocks that  I am better off dead at times), it has been a fierce determination to crawl out of darkness every time. I reach out for my quotes of Vivekananda and try to fill my mind with thoughts of power and service. Typically I visit Missionary sisters and try to talk to the poor and disabled that they serve so selflessly. When I see a five year old orphan child suffering from HIV, and who cheers up on getting a chocolate, I feel that my troubles are so pitiful and meaningless. Truly has Vivekananda said that the way out of your own troubles is to serve someone who suffers more than you. When “I ” become too much for me, I visit a hospital. By the time I return, the ” I ” is usually replaced by a sense of immense gratitude for the good health that I take for granted.

My mother often tells me that tears are a way to getting closer to Him. It shakes you out of whatever ennui and makes you go down on your knees, seeking help. And help has always, always, always come.

If I could tell something to the bright student sitting in some top institute, depressed and angry at himself and the world, it is this:

Stop thinking of yourself for the next half an hour. Get out as fast as you can from your room.  Go to the nearest hospital, or any place of pain and tears and helplessness. Please help by volunteering there: buy someone medicine, help a mother carry her sick child, read a prescription to an old man.  Visit an orphanage. By the time you return, my dear friend, you would have so much power within you that you will live for another day. Whether you choose to live that day well, will be a blessed option left to you.

The way out of your own apparently interminable darkness is the light you will be kindling in another unfortunate’s life. I do not know why it works every time, but it always works for me. Maybe by giving another a bit of your life energy, you have shooed off the ghost in the cupboard for yet another day. For the time being, it is a battle worth having won.




When I was twelve, my mother gave me a small book- it was so small as to be kept within one’s palm. It contained the inspirational quotes of Swami Vivekananda.

For me, it was wondrous: this handsome sage telling that it was better to build a pair of strong shoes as a humble mochi, than to spout nonsense as a professor who has long stopped learning!  He said that the best way to forget one’s own sorrows was to reach out to remove those of another. He reiterated that infinite energy flowed through one, as one tried to make a difference by service- it was a universal law of the spirit.

I spent many happy hours debating on his quotations with my best friend, my namesake. In fact during a school tour, our Physics teacher was perplexed to see us analysing ‘why playing football was better to build nerves of steel than by rot learning of religious studies.’An age of innocence- that is all I can reflect about it right now.

Why am I referring to that book again?If anyone were to ask me to name a book that has transformed my life- that little dog eared copy of Vivekananda’s quotes, published by Ramakrishna Ashram, would be it! So many times, when I had felt like giving up, lying down and just let endless sleep wash over all the travails, it has been his vibrant quotations that gave me new energy and focus.

Why do we need inspiring people? Why do we need to read motivational quotations? Because, not every day is sunny and shining with possibilities. More often than not, it is a dreary, dark wintry day of hopelessness. The dark news from around the world make you wish to stop reading totally. Yet, life is meaningless without action.

And then he says from beyond: Wake up, and stop not until the goal is reached. You set a new target and you toil on- knowing that the efforts will not be in vain. The universal law springs into action and you find yourself carried by a buoyant spirit, and sunshine trickles right back in!

May every parent put a book of motivational quotations into her child’s hands. Three decades down the lane, the memory of one would make some tired traveller take another step down the road of life-with grit and determination.


A Rebel Seeks The Truth


The scholar stared at the lines, again and again. It did not make sense to him- at least , not in the context of the presentation.

Here was Sage Markendeya, laughing and speaking, “Nese Balasyethy Chareda Dharmam,” to a set of bewildered Pandavas, languishing in the forests of self created oblivion.

The typical Sanskrit reading was, “Balasya Ise Ithy Adharmam na Charel,” which said, ” Even when you have strength in your side, do not do Adharma”.

But the examples Markendeya quoted, of an elephant listening to his mahout forgetting his own prowess, of the great Ram banished to the forests, of the seven Rishis shining as stars in the sky,of Bhagiratha who fought fates to bring Ganga to the earth…did not resonate with the conventional putting together of words. Besides, the Sage was laughing when he said it. Anything which is accompanied by laughter has to have a deeper secret within.

The night lamp burnt as Kutti Krishna Marar stared at the words again.

Can it not be interpreted as, “Accepting one’s fate like a weakling is against the Dharma. The fighting of fate with all of one’s strength is Dharma?’ Yudhistir had lost the kingdom to  his human weakness of gambling.

Could it not be read as, “Whatever is your justification,you have no sense of your own power and worth, and hence whatever you have done is not Dharma.”

There was Sage Markendeya himself, who rebelled against his destined death at the age of sixteen and won back life! Would he laugh and advise, a submissive living?

Did not Bhishma advise Yudhistir, “Adharmo hi mridu raja kshmavaniva kunjarah?”

(A soft king is as useless as a patient elephant?)

Have not people, across countries and ages, quoted something equivalent to “Nese balasyety chareda dharmam”, (” Oh I am so weak and helpless to fight the fates” )and moved back from doing their real work in the world, hesitated in taking the reins of their own destiny in their hands and justified it to a hundred stupid reasons?

Sage Markendeya’s laughter spreads over all such self imposed frailties, weaknesses, self proclaimed helplessness that does not recognise self worth and the power of one’s own effort!

Has not Vivekananda written about Yudhistir as someone who justified in the name of dharma and goodness, a lot of evil deeds triggered by a helpless approach to life? Someone who chose not to act, in the name of Dharma, at the time when action was most necessary?

The scholar went to his friend who was ecstatic at the interpretation..”Yes, whatever you do with a sense of helplessness, saying to yourself that you are powerless, is Adharma.”

“This is a call for action, for taking control of one’s own destiny, not a justification to bow down before the fates.”

The scholar started writing…a new chapter called, ‘Nese Balsyety Chareda Dharmam,’ in his book, ‘Bharata Paryadana,’ . A Sojourn through Mahabharata- a compilation of incisively brilliant essays.

The interpretation created waves of protest, with special meetings to debate on the play of words and context, but his head remained high. He elaborated the chapter more with the next edition of his classic.


The poem “Invictus” of Henley, epitomises the shloka in Mahabharatha. Every human endeavour, to excel, to create, to design one’s own destiny is an act of Dharma. When we bow down, meek and helpless, and then justify our defeated lives with quotes and interpretations, Sage Markendeya laughs from somewhere…Nese Balsyety….


With gratitude to my brother, who let me borrow his beloved Bharata Paryadana. The sketch of Krishna, exhorting Arjuna to act, is out of context, yet well within the spirit.I loved copying it from one the illustrations by my favourite artist Namboodiry, dotted across enchantingly, in this little treasure trove of a book.