Friday, January 24, 2014

Positivity Weekly - Vol 9

Hey there, friend. Thanks for dropping by. And thank you for bringing two delightful companions: your enthusiasm and your compassion.
As always, this is a power-packed volume. A couple of times, you might be forced to ask yourself: “Is this really true?” Yes, it is. We verify stories before giving them a pedestal here. Rest assured, each story is as real as it is extraordinary.
So, without further ado, enjoy!

News in the public domain

Have you heard of Mountain Man?
Dashrath Manjhi used to be just another poor landless labourer of Gehlour in Bihar. But in 1962, tragedy struck: his wife died as he was ferrying her to the nearest hospital in the town of Vazirganj which was 70km away by road. Today, the distance to the same town has been reduced to a fraction. How come? Well, Manjhi decided to tame a 300-foot hill situated close to his village and create a motorable road for everybody. And he did this singlehandedly by working on it for 22 years! His mantra during this mission: break one stone at a time. His vision: if one man toils well, thousands will benefit.
This brief news documentary begins with a comparison of the Taj Mahal with Mountain Man Manjhi’s road. By the time you finish watching this clip, you’re bound to agree that the comparison isn’t fair. To the Taj Mahal, that is!
Few of us can transform a personal romantic love into an all-pervading compassion for humanity. Manjhi’s desire to ensure that no other person suffers his wife’s fate is rare and extraordinary. Is it any wonder that Bollywood is making a movie on his life?
Delivering possibilities
Is it possible to create a viable enterprise in which around 95% of the workforce is differently abled? Of course it is. And here’s the story of how Dhruv Lakra of Mirakle Couriers made it happen with the help of some amazing young talent.
A message from the world’s oldest Holocaust Survivor
“Every day, life is beautiful!” 109-year-old Alice Herz begins and then keeps you hooked through 11 minutes of cloyingly satisfying footage.
Despite experiencing the cruelty of Nazis firsthand, she has refused to lose trust in humanity. “I’m in love with people,” she says. And with music.
While writing Bangalored: The Expat Story, I learnt that a European Jew lady, a survivor of a concentration camp, lived in Bangalore. I tried my best to get her interview, but she refused. All these years, I have felt a tinge of regret at not being able to discover that lady’s story. Today, that regret has vanished, thanks to Alice Herz.
Meditation transforms roughest San Francisco schools
What can a little “Quiet Time” achieve in neighbourhoods where “gunfire is as common as birdsong”? Well, according to this report in SFGate, schools in and around San Francisco are discovering the many benefits of meditation. Every since its implementation, every indicator of academic performance is on the rise.
Shall we declare that here’s another positive idea whose time has come?
Then a convict, now a writer
A couple of weeks ago, we learnt about a domestic help who is also a bestselling writer. On the heels of that story comes the saga of Manoranjan Byapari.
He began life as a vagabond and petty criminal and reformed himself to become a rickshaw puller before a chance encounter gave him the opportunity to write. I found it endearing that Mahasweta Devi has a role to play in this tale.
Polio-free for 3 years
Earlier this month, India completed three years as a polio-free nation. Despite extreme odds, our administration has done it. While congratulating the campaign’s brand ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, let’s not forget the tireless work done by lakhs of minions who ensured that we reached this proud milestone! How cool are we?!?
Social media also fosters miracles
Before blaming social media for robotizing our lives and other evils, please… do have a look at this amazing young woman’s story. She has a voice so unique… well, let me not reveal anything more. This one is for you to unwrap!

In conclusion

So many of you – my friends – send me links to stories that feature in this newsletter. Thank you so much! It’s your enthusiasm and support that drives this small mission. And I want to thank two people in particular: Priyamvada Muddapur and Ashish Chaturvedi. Both these friends have, without fail, contributed at least one story idea to every volume of Positivity Weekly. Thank you, dost.
With friends like these, is it any wonder that I have a problem of plenty? Each week, I eliminate or postpone the appearance of stories. This development tells me two things. One: the world is filled with that much goodness. And two: I am surrounded with such reliable friends!
Till next time, take care. And I hope you will find many reasons to stay positive.

To read the previous volume of Positivity Weekly, please click here
To read the next volume of Positivity Weekly, please click here.
Want to contribute a story or an insight? Please do so at

Friday, January 17, 2014

Positivity Weekly - Vol 8

Hello friends!
This volume of Positivity Weekly is going to be short and sweet. I don't have to compile and curate stories this time because the Huffington Post has done it for us!
Which means that the stories I had collected can be rolled over into the next week, giving us more goodie good goodies for later. I like that.

So here's the article that Huffington Post has called These 14 Unexpected Responses To Hatred Show That Humans Do Sometimes Get It Right
This article is an endearing collage of the Never-Say-Hate instinct that exists within each of us, even if it sometimes lies dormant. There is only one problem with an article like this: you'll be hard pressed to determine your favourite story. Seriously, every one of these 14 stories deserves our salute and gratitude.
But then, don't take my word for it. Be your own judge!

In conclusion

Now that you are feeling better about yourself and the world, let me wish you a wonderful week ahead. And please keep those stories coming.

For the previous volume of Positivity Weekly, please click here.
For the next volume of Positivity Weekly, please click here.
Want to contribute a story or an insight? Please do so at

Sunday, January 12, 2014

1000 unsmoked cigarettes

At what point does one call oneself a non-smoker? I myself have been guilty of premature declaration!! I was told that I must publicize my attempts to quit smoking, thereby putting my reputation at stake. My ego would then kick in and do the needful. So I was told. That's why, the last fourteen times I tried to quit, I told the world about it. Initially via email. And then, as social media took over our lives, I posted and tweeted my way into shame and ignominy.
However, this time feels different. Because it is different. Today, I reach my 1000th unsmoked cigarette. Meaning: had I not quit a while ago, I'd be lighting up my 1000th since that moment right about now. And having put these 1000 unsmoked wrappings of crapolla behind me, I declare myself to be a non-smoker.

My closest friends know this to be a loaded statement. If you asked them to list out three actions that defined me, they'd say:
He writes.
He talks; well, he sometimes pontificates.
And he smokes.

These friends have held front-row seats to my addiction. Understandably, they stopped taking my resolutions to quit seriously. And each time I fell off the wagon and they shook their disappointed heads, I took refuge in my favourite rationalizations. Here are the Top 4:

1) Cigarette is my constant companion - when I smoke, what I'm actually doing is introspecting, getting in touch with my deepest parts. In other words, I'm conversing with my soul!!
2) Smoking enhances all other joys. Alcohol becomes more enjoyable. So does food and company and good news and birdsong. When I want to make a moment fuller, I smoke.
3) I can quit whenever I want.
4) I am bulletproof. I'm blessed with excellent genes and great luck. Smoking won't harm me.

What's funny and scary, simultaneously, is that I always knew these thoughts to be excuses. I even acknowledged this aloud. Yet, I held on to the rationalizations because I was terrified of the possibility that I might never ever be able to quit smoking.
Which brings me to the reason behind writing this post. To talk about a lesson learnt.
Behind every piece of negativity or negative behaviour is a deep-rooted fear. When the fear is addressed, the negativity will disappear. I believe this to be true. In the presence of a great teacher who graced my life last year, many of my deep-rooted fears got addressed substantially. This included the fear that initiated and sustained my desire to smoke. Which is why this time around, quitting feels different.
This time, I didn't wait for inspiration, nor did I set an "auspicious" date or insist on throwing a party to signify the "final sign-off flare". Additionally, I didn't worry about gaining weight, stocking up on sugar-free chewing gum, drinking 5 litres of water everyday etc. I woke up one morning and told myself that I won't smoke anymore. And haven't since.

Do I feel tempted? Well, of course. On many occasions, I have felt the pull of the fire-tipped devil. I acknowledge the pull and say, "Yes, Eshwar, it is fun to smoke. But that fun is fleeting. Whereas the many gains you are experiencing right now are long lasting."
These gains are becoming more evident each passing day. Pinker-softer lips, more lustrous skin, deeper lungfuls of air, a body that suddenly feels and behaves ten years younger, enhanced ability to sing longer and higher notes, sustained focus on tasks, more time to indulge in my favourite pastimes - such as imagining fresh storylines and starting new initiatives.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I made two major changes once I quit smoking:

1) I was mindful of the vacuum the cigarette would leave behind. I filled it with:
  • A joyous fitness regimen that includes treks, jogs, bicycle rides, weight training, free hand exercises, stomach crunches, stair-climbing and just plain simple walks &
  • The Positivity Weekly, a newsletter that helps me stay focused and grinning.
2) I felt the need to perceive myself differently. So I grew a thick, deep handlebar moustache. The kind you might have seen in south Indian movies and labels of Mexican tequila bottles. So when I look at the mirror, I no longer see the moron who nurtured such an irresponsible habit for such a long time. I think, in the short term, having a different physical perspective helps. In the long run, of course, the mind makes up the games as we go along.

So here we are. In just a matter of weeks, I feel that I have acquired the right to brag! Although I'm wary that one puff will send me back to SmokerVille, I have reasons to feel upbeat. The first reason is that I have breezed through the festive season without a breakdown. Even the heightened high of New Year's Eve did not entice me to smoke. (Well done, Eshwar.)
There's another reason as well.
A couple of nights ago, I and a few friends went to the Arab quarter in Singapore for some hummus-bread-felafel and sheesha (which is the fancy word for hookah). We reached a typical "Arab" joint. I say typical because it was run by Tamil-speaking Indians and a Malay cashier. Bangda music and fragrant fumes of sheesha-hosted tobacco filled the air.
I thought that the whole sheesha experience - which seems so much more refined, pardonable and civilized as compared to smoking a cigarette - would pull me in. Potentially, I could see it as a way to smoke and still claim non-smoking status. But despite repeated attempts, I couldn't enjoy the flavourful smoke. And I woke up the next morning to an itchy throat and a desire not to repeat the experience. I guess my body already sees itself as non-smoking.
Isn't that smokin' awesome!?! My chest is swelling up like a balloon. Must be pride.

At this point, you might be justified in wondering whether this post serves any purpose other than fulfill my need to brag. I'd like to argue that it serves two other purposes:
1) I might need to be reminded of some of the facts mentioned herein at a later date &
2) Somebody, somewhere might be triggered to quit this king of addictions.

Amen to that.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Positivity Weekly - Vol 7

If well begun is half done, then January is a key month of the year, right? So let's set the tone, the standards and the enthusiasm for 2014 right away. Let's begin by packing as much aliveness into this issue of Positivity Weekly as we can!

News from the public domain

14 reasons 2014 may be the best year ever
In this video, John Green rattles off countless statistics that make a case for optimism. What caught my attention was his joie de vivre. A bubbly, energetic, uplifting message delivered in less than four minutes.
IQs are always on the rise
Each generation has more ability to think about the hypothetical/abstract and solve analytical problems faster and better. What does that mean?
The possibility that we are getting smart enough to solve the problems we have ourselves created? You watch this video and decide for yourself. The way Flynn – the man who initially informed us that we were getting smarter all the time – describes the phenomenon, I feel quite hopeful about the future.
Domestic help turned writer
I don’t know much about writers, being one myself. But I’m told that they are snobbish, pretentious, pricey, standoffish (and so redundant with their words!).
In contrast,here’s the story of a lady who, despite being a bestseller and a much-translated writer, stills works as a domestic help for various reasons. She is not only creative but also humble and an excellent time manager, I suppose. Next time I suffer from Writer’s Block, I shall seek inspiration from her.
Science is Art indeed
Why should anybody 3D print a 3D printer on a 3D printer? Well, enthusiasm can make you do crazy things. Crazy, brilliant, brilliant things.
Here's a clip of a young boy who quit school so that he could hold on to his imagination and curiosity. Watch him in this video. And watch out for him in the future!
New hand on demand
From Marblehead, Massachusetts, comes the story of a boy who is partially human and partially a cyborg. And wholly cool. Because some fathers see their sons for what they can be and ask: why not?
Instructions for a Bad Day
Life is dotted with hard times and tough choices. There will be bad days. Every nightmare has a beginning, but every bad day has an end. Here’s what you can remember when things go wrong, as they sometimes will… you could call this video Instructions for a Bad Day.

As told to me

Chin Up equals Back Up!

I remember the day when my aunt was diagnosed with cervical spondylosis. It’s a condition that manifests as chronic pain in the upper back. In my aunt’s case, it meant that for every day for the rest of her life, she would feel this pain shoot up through her spine, numb her neck and then radiate out towards her shoulder blades.
 I was then a young lad and my aunt was not yet 26. She had, just a few months ago, given birth to her first son. As per the doctor, bad posture while feeding the baby was responsible for her condition.
What I remember vividly is the look of concern writ large on the faces of all family members. Anxious questions hovered over us all. How would she manage her life? Will she be able to fulfil her responsibilities as a mother, wife and daughter-in-law?
Being a tough nut, my aunt was far more relaxed about the future than the rest of us. Almost the first decision she took was to ignore the doctor’s directive to wear a neck collar.
‘I’ll declare my frailty by wearing it,’ she said. ‘I’ll look like a sick person and attract people’s sympathy. I don’t want that.’
So the neck collar became a chew toy for the household dog Sweetu.
Ten years after this diagnosis, she developed lower back pain symptoms to go along with the cervical spondylosis. Thus, she contributed to a rare statistic – she became a person having both upper and lower back pain.
For the past 28 years, she has lived with this pain. She seeks a wall to lean against while sitting down. She cannot, even for a moment, sleep on her side unless she wants unbearable pain for the next few days. Comfortable, soft mattresses have been a strict no-no for her. In the afternoons, she lies supine on a hard floor as she watches television. This gives her back and neck the rest they need and deserve. If she doesn’t find time for this afternoon lie-down, her evenings turn more painful.
What’s amazing is that in all these years, I don’t remember her even mentioning her ailment, let alone cribbing about it. And as for being stopped in her life, let me summarize the 28 years since that first diagnosis.
Two years after the diagnosis, she gave birth to another son. Since then, she has travelled to all parts of the world along with her husband, set up homes in three countries, kept these homes spic and span (doing all the housework herself), cooked three elaborate meals each day, raised her sons to be healthy, successful professionals and has been certified by her husband’s family as the most loveable daughter-in-law ever.
How did she manage her pain? How did she not let it affect her?
She says:
‘I didn’t allow my mind to dwell on the pain. I’ve always been a staunch believer in willpower. I knew I would not let the pain affect me because I had decided not to let it affect me. I am a productive person and even during pregnancy, I kept working in the kitchen till the day of the delivery. And one thing I realized – when I’m occupied with work, the pain goes away. The pain needs my mind’s full attention to become powerful.’
In other words, our thoughts energize our realities. What doesn’t exist in our thoughts ceases to exist out there. And like my aunt, can we also choose our thoughts with care?

In conclusion

Enough said. Have a lovely week :)

For the previous volume of Positivity Weekly, please click here.
For the next volume of Positivity Weekly, please click here.
Want to contribute a story or an insight? Please do so at

Monday, January 6, 2014

The species 6 feet under

Are we the most sapient species on this planet? Don't we already know of one species that's smarter than us, the species that we mutate into when we die?
We burn/bury ourselves and become "them" - energy forms 6-feet under. They don't need negativity to fuel their dark worlds; nor do they await the arrival of a moment that will finally define them. They just are. And they watch us from their cozy vantage points. What do they do with their time? I mean, other than breathing nutrients into the soil that will host the food we will one day eat...

I think they are entertained by us. They tune into our thought frequencies and spill our secrets to each other.
'The one I was married to is planning a facelift,' says one of them. 'Apparently, it's time to relive the trauma of intense expectations! The next five years are going to be a roller-coaster of fun.'
'Get this,' another says, 'The one I gave birth to is anxious about inflation and increments. Oh joy! Humans who think they are going to live forever are such bundles of joy. For us, I mean.'
A third quips in:
'The one who was my enemy is still fuming over my obnoxious personality! Somebody better save the adjacent plot for him. He's set to harvest a sixth crop of cancer cells this winter.'

In my imagination, when everything is taken away, what remains is the pure unadulterated joy of Accepted Reality.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Positivity Weekly - Vol 6

Perceptions determine our thoughts, emotions, speech and actions. Let’s spend the next few minutes reading amazingly empowering stories and rediscovering the positivity all around us.
Positivity Weekly will appear on this blog around the weekend. I will bring the best of news from any and every source I can access. I will include my own personal experiences, if they fit. And if you have any apt stories, anecdotes or insights to share, I will put them here with pride. In the long run, your participation will determine the quality of this initiative. Do write in with your contributions and feedback to And if you like this initiative, please share it widely.

Hola! Como estas?
No, my friend. This volume doesn’t have a Spanish theme. I just wanted to highlight the fact that this newsletter derives inspiration from the entire world and belongs to everybody, everywhere. Do peruse through this week’s collection of content and decide for yourself if this claim rings true.

News from the public domain

Weapons of mass protection
Meet Mechai Viravaidya. This visionary Thai gentleman will make you roar with laughter even as he inspires you with his innovative techniques and grit.
He decided to use condoms to fight poverty. Later, he leveraged on the same tool to combat HIV/AIDS. In the past three decades, the initiative he led has literally defused the population crisis of Thailand. Watch this video and be awe-struck by the man who wielded these “weapons of mass protection”.
Those of us who have embarked upon our own version of Mission Impossible will benefit from watching one such video each day, right?

Unusual but impactful Native American message
I won’t even attempt to explain the gist of this message. Suffice to know that it comes to us from a Native American. And it brims with attitude!

Can the Joy of Giving be seen?
Many of us claim that this Joy can indeed be seen. Narayanan Krishnan, an angel from Chennai, is certain about it. He feeds, bathes, shaves and massages the homeless, the destitute, the mentally challenged and other rejected souls of society. The simplicity of his message – as shown here – is equalled only by its profundity. It takes all kinds of people to make the world, eh?

Girl involves deaf parents in carolling
If you simply skim this video, you notice a girl being funny and weird. All she does is make faces while singing Christmas carols. What we are never shown is the fact that she is enacting for the benefit of her hearing-impaired parents.

Snarling leopard finds peace
Animal conservationist Olsen thought 2-way communication with animals was impossible. Man spoke to Big Cat, Big Cat responded. It could never be the other way around. That was before Anna Breytenbach “spoke” to an abused Leopard and literally brought him out of his shell. I myself am uncertain about this video. My rational, sceptical side isn’t fully convinced. But the possibility that animals too can experience catharsis – and such a powerful one at that – opens the cockles of my heart. Have a look for yourself and make what you want of this thought-provoking video.

As told to me

Angel with a briefcase
My dear friend Arup is the most balanced and calm (non-Dalai Lama) person you could ever hope to meet. Trying to provoke him is like trying to intimidate an oak tree with a puff of air. And yet, a few years ago, he experienced a personal trauma that shook him to the core.
He was then working in Ahmedabad, sticking to routine and responsibilities, when his mother called him from Delhi. His father had suffered a mild stroke and had been admitted to the Heart and Lung Institute. Needless to say, Arup and his wife rushed to Delhi as fast as they could.
They arrived on time to see the results of the angiogram. 80% blockage of two arteries. Immediate angioplasty was required. And the cost? “4 lakh rupees. Please deposit the amount immediately so that we can operate without delay.” The tone and message of the doctor was clear and urgent. And, no, delaying the operation was not an option.
In his own words, Arup felt “petrified, contempt, angst and helplessness.” It was a Sunday and the next day was a bank holiday (it was the Eid-Ganesh Chathurthi long weekend). His debit card had a daily transaction limit of 25,000. So did his mother’s. His uncle did not yet believe in debit cards. So, as a family, they could muster a combined liquidity of 50,000 rupees. Where could they arrange for the remaining amount within the next couple of hours?
His uncle called up a list of close friends and emerged from the public phone booth of the Heart and Lung Institute half an hour later, brimming with hope. A certain Mr Awdhesh had sold his Ghaziabad apartment just a couple of days ago. He had cash on him. And at that very moment, this sixty-something gentleman was commuting to the hospital all the way from Chandni Chowk.
True to his word, Mr Awdhesh reached the hospital like a divine apparition. The money he carried in a briefcase – despite threat to his physical safety in a city like Delhi – ensured that the surgery happened right away. And Mr Banerji – Arup’s father, the man with a stentorian voice, ramrod posture and a demeanour that commanded respect – was soon able to walk around and boss around again!
Always a man of few words, Arup conveys his gratitude to Mr Awdhesh by saying: “A friend in need is an angel indeed.”

In conclusion

In the last 30 days, our newsletter has received a viewership in excess of 2000. Sign of things to come? Perhaps. But what keeps me going is the hope that every volume makes a significant impact on at least one person somewhere. So long as the sum total of positivity in the universe increases, our job is done. To ensure that this happens, may I request you to share this newsletter widely? More viewers, more stories, more positivity. The math really is simple. Thankfully, it’s possible to keep Life simple too!

To read the previous volume of Positivity Weekly, please click here.
To read the next volume of Positivity Weekly, please click here.