Favorite Poems

This post is just an effort to put some of my favorite poems at one place. I will list some lines from the first two poems and leave links for other poems so that everyone can take a look.

1. Robert Frost’s memorable lines “… miles to go before I sleep from Stopping… have always inspired me. These lines have a message of hope, enthusiasm and vitality. The natural imagery, description of sounds and the rhythm create an almost magical effect.

Frost’s Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

2. Another all-time favorite is Rudyard Kipling’s If. Although Kipling’s opinions and overall legacy are a matter of debate, there is no denying the beauty of precious wisdom that he managed to convey through If.

If – Rudyard Kipling

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

Other poems that I’ve liked a lot include:

3. The Road Not Taken — Robert Frost

4. I’m Nobody. Who Are You? — Emily Dickinson

5. Hope — Emily Dickinson

6. If You Forget Me — Pablo Neruda

7. Haiku (Frog) — Basho

8. Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines — Pablo Neruda

9. Risk — Anais Nin

10. Auguries of Innocence — William Blake

When it comes to humour, one must take a look at the works of Ogden Nash and Spike Milligan. Milligan has also written some cute, mushy verses like this one:

If I could write words
Like leaves on an autumn forest floor,
What a bonfire my letters would make.

If I could speak words of water,
You would drown when I said
“I love you.”

Are there any writers that you especially like? Which poems are your favorites?
P.S. — To conclude, below is the first stanza of hope:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all…

— Emily Dickinson

P.P.S — Recommended by Vidya: Poems of Margaret Atwood

Recommended by Dhaarini: Desiderata
http://www.fleurdelis.com/desiderata.htm &
Considering the Snail


Book Review: The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

Why do we want to have friends? Why do we want to make money? Why do we want to travel, or explore? A lot of these whys trace their beginnings at the quintessential human search for happiness. Happiness — the great motivation behind so many of our actions — who to call a friend, what to eat, where to go, what to read etc etc.

The Theme:  Happiness — Where is it?
In his book The Geography of Bliss, Eric Weiner explores the world to find the happiest places (if there is any such thing!) and further, the reasons behind their bliss. He travels to places like the Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, India, Britain, Thailand in his attempt to understand what makes a place more or less happy than others. The book offers quick snapshots of the cultures of these places, interspersed with the author’s timely and humorous references to psychological literature and philosophical insights.

The Stuff: Switzerland, Iceland, India and More…
I read the book with great excitement because it combined two of my main interests — travel, and understanding of human joy. The author traveled to some exciting places, and did a reasonable job to give a flavor of the culture that he saw. No place is all homogenous, but the author did not hesitate to provide generalizations. He picked up what he saw as common patterns of attitudes and threw them up for judgement. For instance,

The Swiss are as fond of attenuated lives. They hum along, satisfied, never dipping below a certain floor but never touching the ceiling, either. A Swiss could never describe something as awesome or super, but only c’est pas mal, not bad. Is that the secret to happiness, a life that is c’est pas mal?

And then, he talks about the Mai pen lai (never mind) attitude of Thai people. They do not give anything too much importance. Could that be a secret behind their happiness? India, the author finds (not surprisingly), is a land of contradictions. People are comfortable with allowing differing points of view to co-exist, both within the society and within themselves.

Iceland, where nights are unusually longer, is still a happy place according to Weiner.

The Icelandic way is: Everything in moderation, including moderation. It works for them.

The Icelandic people would not touch alcohol during the weekdays, but drink heavily over the weekends. The prolonged darkness has perhaps been made beautiful by the way they weave their lives around it.

Statement, and Limitations
Of course, each country is a confluence of people with different thoughts, however the author’s endeavors to identify common undercurrents and then reflect on them are the essence of the book. The book also has its limitations. In his efforts to travel to so many places in a fixed span of time, the author seems to have missed some important points. For instance, you cannot sum up a country by spending a couple of days in its hotel (he did it with Qatar).  Similarly, India is not about an ashram or a conversation with Bangalore kids. India is much more about a closely-knit family system, uncountable festivals and rituals which form a strong force behind the Indian sense of belonging and happiness. But of course when a person is traveling to so many places over fixed amount of time, there is only so much that can be done.

I like how Weiner summarizes his lessons toward the end of the book. The humorous, objective tone of the book naturally evolves to a logical recognition of the little, subtle things that ultimately drive happiness.

I am no philosopher, so here goes: Money matters, but less than we think and not in the way that we think. Family is important. So are friends. Envy is toxic. So is excessive thinking. Beaches are optional. Trust is not. Neither is gratitude.

… Happiness requires livable conditions, but not paradise.

mai pen lai on my lips. Never mind. Let it go. I am more aware of the corrosive nature of envy and try my best to squelch it before it grows. I don’t take my failures quite so hard anymore. I see beauty in a dark winter sky.

… Happiness is not a noun or verb. It’s a conjunction. Connective Tissue.

Faves from Ghalib

I have been reading Gulzar’s book on the maestro of Urdu poetry recently. Need a place to keep some of the verses… may add translations later.

You have any faves of your own? Feel free to leave a comment.

Na tha kuchch to Khuda tha, kuchch na hota to Khuda hota
duboya mujhko hone ne, na hota main to kya hota ?

ragon mein daudte firne ke hum nahi kaayal,
jab aankh hi se na tapka to fir lahoo kya hai?


Khuda ke vaaste pardaa na Kaabe se utha zaalim
Kahin aisa na ho yaa bhi vahi kafir sanam nikale….

Hum ko maloom hai jannat ki haqeeqat, lekin
Dil ke khush rakhne ko, Ghalib yeh khayal achha hai.


Un ke dekhe se jo aa jaati hai chehre pe raunak
Wo samajhte hain ke beemar ka haal achha hai.


Jala hai jism jahan, dil bhi jal gaya hoga
Kuredte ho jo ab rakh, justuju kya hai?


Ishq par zor nahi, hai ye woh aatish, Ghalib,
Jo lagae na lage or bujhae na bujhe


Mat pooch ke kya haal hai mera tere peechhe
Tu dekh ke kya rang hai tera mere aage.


kahoon kis se main ke kya hai, shab-e-gham buree bala hai
mujhe kya bura tha marna agar ek baar hota


Ye masaail-e-tasawwuf, ye tera bayaan ‘GHalib’ !
Tujhe ham walee samajhate, jo na baada-Khwaar hota…


Nikalna khuld se aadam ka soonte aaye hain lekin
Bahot be-aabru hokar tere kooche se hum nikle


Hui muddat ke Ghalib mar gaya, par yaad aata hai
Woh har baat par kehna, ke yun hota to kya hota…


You have any faves of your own? Feel free to leave a comment.

A Short Story

Meet Smiley. She is seven years old, loves wearing red-colored frocks and dancing in the rain. To her, everything seems like a miracle. She smiles when she sees a tree, a flower, a moon, a horizon, a person, a thing.

It is raining lightly, a gentle tip-tap over the roof of Smiley’s little hut. As soon as she wakes, her eyes are lit and her smile curves more as she stretches her arms. Little footsteps trace the muddy path outside the hut, disappearing in to a distant forest. In the shade of trees, with the leaves whispering secrets about the rain, she finds a golden pencil, lying near the trunk of one of the trees.

At home, she gets herself a sheet of paper. She thinks of the moon, and begins to draw. The moon is on her sheet. She thinks of the stars, and they are on her sheet. Smiley picks up another sheet — this time thinking of a sunrise — and it is right there. The golden pencil actually has magic! Whatever she thinks of, she can draw, see, live.

Smiley wanders across landscapes, snow-capped mountains, oceans. She thinks of the Taj Mahal and finds it on the paper. The golden pencil helps her visit the Great Wall of China, the churches of Europe, the skyscrapers of New York, and the lakes of Tibet. Smiley then wanders further. She thinks of Venus and Saturn and stars and galaxies. By exploring the expanse, she immerses herself in the beauty of the cosmos.

As dusk draws near, she lays the pencil to rest and prepares to go to sleep.

Next morning, she has the widest smile she has ever had on her face. The first thing she does after waking up is to pick up the golden pencil. There is something special on her mind today. A dream that is the sum of all her dreams, and more. A thought that captures all her thoughts, and beyond. Today she wants to witness that thought. See it, feel it, live it. She thinks… God. The smile curves with greater joy.

The pencil on paper, her hands gently begin to move. One line leads to another, trying to unravel the most beautiful essence of it all. Smiley lets her pencil go, not wondering where it is going. She lets the lines trace themselves, without trying to figure out what it is, yet.

After a few minutes, the golden pencil is still. Smiley looks at the sheet of paper, and her smile turns in to an eruption of joy. She laughs, with her eyes wet.

On the sheet of the paper, she sees her face. And the smile.

Dedicated to the dreamy conversationalist. This needs to be kept lest I forget.

Lessons from Manveen Sandhu: A Student’s Tribute (part 1)

My role-model, my inspiration…. Manveen ma’am, the lady I’ve admired with growing respect and gratitude. She founded the essence of the modern Spring Dale School Senior School, one of the best schools in India. Unlike most other principals who are happy with a school generating annual score-cards, Manveen ma’am went a step beyond toward enhancing life experience through education.

Not only was she an enthusiastic reader of science, literature, history and law, she always picked up the best ideas from all fields and implemented them in practical life. She would read something as obscure as chaos (physics) and then share a presentation on how it manifests in everyday life and affects it. She would practice day and night before a meeting, a school function, a presentation… “Saurabh, I’ve always wanted everything associated with my name to be an outcome of best effort”, she would tell me. She read Shakespeare, she read Vivekananda, she read Gandhi, she read nietzsche… and gave her students a practical insights from all these streams of knowledge. Studying in her school was a great experience — one got to re-live and enact the history of the world, learn not only about Indian culture but also Persian, African, and Western.

I can go on and on. My experience with ma’am, I say this with humble gratitude, has been truly a gift. Even years after I’ve graduated from school, she has been kind enough to share her insights with me. Today, even as she is physically no more with us (the unfortunate accident), it is time for me to share some of her lessons. I hope that they inspire others just as they have inspired me .

I will post these messages in a 2-part series. The first one, below, is part of an email I received from ma’am on Feb 27, 2007:

Dear Saurabh,

Thank you for such a lovely mail. At the end of the day what really matters to the teacher is the love and respect of the student. Your understanding of the mammoth task of taking the responsibility of the lives of the students and not impartation of the curriculum seems to have eased out the painstaking hard work of the years.

Let me share a few important things that I learnt in the last 20 years.
The road to success is actually paved with small obstacles that need to be overcome on a day to day basis. If not sorted they get magnetically bonded to form a big boulder that obstructs your passage beyond redemption.

Dream big but think small.
When you set your target on small goals even the bigger mission starts falling in place.
Whenever you are undecided about a task think-Does this harm me or anyone else? If not- do it. Don’t ask-Does it benefit me or not?

And the last golden rule:
Essentially you are alone in this world. Never have expectations from anyone else but yourself. Everything is transient. Change is the only constant. What you want today you might outgrow tomorrow but don’t deny yourself today because only then shall you outgrow tomorrow.

To come into the real world rather than the philosophical one. Money is very important. Earn it the right way- it will always be enough. Earn it the wrong way- it will never be enough. First earn it and invest it, then spend it and share it. If you use it wisely you shall be its master but if you squander it you will always be its slave.

So part one “Earn it and invest it” should be your plan one where in you provide for yourself and your family. The second part that will probably come 20 years later “Spend it and share it” will be your time for philanthropy and social responsibility. Yes, it is better not to depend on external avenues because you will have to do what you are asked to do and not what you want to do.

Keep in touch constantly.
With lots of love and best wishes

A List of Inspirations to Keep

When it comes to life, I think the more important thing is not having never made mistakes, but not having repeated them.

With every step in time, there are experiences and lessons. And just as important as it is to learn things, I think the more important thing is to remember them. This blog is about some highlights of lessons and inspirations that come to mind right now. Feel free to click on the links and see if these inspire you, too!

1. Upbringing with grandparents: Simple living, high thinking

2. The years in school: Slow starts can last long, anything is possible.

3. Manveen Sandhu (school principal): Hard work, planning, focus and the joy in work!

4. Steve Job’s speech at Stanford: Creativity, Courage and Resolve

5. Randy Pausch’s last lecture: Perspective, Passion

6. Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead: Belief in oneself

7. Devdas Menon (IIT Madras): Place of spirituality in life

8. Jim Collin’s ‘Good to Great’: Simplicity of thought, Disciplined Action, Tireless Resolve

9. The Bhagwad Gita: Nishkaam karma

10. Isaacson’s “Einstein: His Life and Universe”: Einstein’s joyful quest for deeper truths of nature

Of course, this moment does not comprehend things in entirety or make an exhaustive list. But it feels good to keep a moment, any time!

Why I admire Obama

This post is about the 46-year old leader who might be the next president of the United States.

Barack Obama is a paradox. He is a black boy who grew up in a white family. He is a Christian with the middle name ‘Hussein’. In politics, all these things can easily go against you. But like a good leader should, Obama has used his diversity to his advantage. He has been able to project himself as the symbolic realization of the American dream.

It is amazing to hear Obama speak. His tone is full of emotion, inspiration and passion. While speech alone is not enough, I think credit is due where leaders can communicate effectively.

Personally, I like some of the freshness and originality that he brings to politics. He has the ability to step back and offer a unique perspective. Obama has not been afraid to oppose the Iraq misadventure, or to express his willingness in meeting with the new Cuban president, even if those stands have been against convention. When political opponents have chosen to question his Christianity instead of debating on his political stands, he has used it to his advantage. This is not easy, and many politicians cannot manage it. Political opponent Mitt Romney – who had to suffer political losses for being a Mormon- is a recent example of how faith can be used to create an aura of suspicion around your personality.

I think it is time we had a young, popular and respectable political leader in India. We need someone to be able to stand up and show people that when a Raj Thackeray attacks folks from a different part of our own country, he is wrong and is destroying the very essence of our fundamental right to equality. We need a leader who can step back when politicians debate surnames and castes, and bring them together for core issues of national development. Is there even one forty-something leader in present Indian politics, whom we can so admire and respect?

I am reading one of Obama’s books: The Audacity of Hope. He is optimistic, but that is not contradictory to being a realist.

Life is not a bed of roses, but being hopeful and aiming for the better are not bad things either…