The Flame of the forest

Flame of the forest

This seems a pretty picture- it is of one of my favourite flowers- Flame of the forest (Butea monosperma)- a medium-sized dry season-deciduous tree, which grows in the tropics.  It is found in a forested part of Delhi, where I grew up and seeing these flowers reminded me of springtime.  In my native West Bengal, the poems and songs of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, likened its bright orange flame-like flower to fire. In Santiniketan, where Tagore lived, this flower has become an indispensable part of the celebration of spring. I used to love these flowers.

However, the same forest became associated with murder in late summer of 1978 when siblings Geeta and Sanjay Chopra were kidnapped and brutally murdered.  On their way to the radio station to present a youth programme, the children were kidnapped for ransom.  On learning their father was a naval officer, both were killed instead and the girl, Geeta, was allegedly raped before being murdered. Both were bright young people- Geeta was a 16 year old second year college student and Sanjay, was 14-year-old school student.

I was very young but I remember the impact of the murders.  Suddenly parents were cautious about where their children were going, suspicious of strangers and our world changed from being happy and carefree to fear and mistrust.  The city which had never experienced such a heinous murder was traumatised and all energy was directed to finding the killers. It was my first loss of childhood innocence- the flowers which I loved, grew in a forest where children had been murdered.  I came to associate these flowers with blood.  Years later as an adult, coming across these flowers accidentally, I wondered if I could change my fear to joy again.  So this was painted.

The ‘bark’ of the trees is made from newspaper cuttings about the murders and the stylised flowers, with their curved and spiky forms, represent my fear.  However by painting this, I have made my fear disappear and understand the sadness from those murders.  It may be because I am older and it may be because exactly 20 years later on the day when the culprits were caught, I had a son, who helped me to see the world in a different way.  So the painting is curiously sad but optimistic by its brightness and exaggeration.  Like these flowers that bloom in the spring and wither away in the heat, whose leaves fall in the winter, leaving a skeletal bareness, our lives are informed by sadness and joy, by gain and loss.  This painting connects me to my childhood and my adulthood and to that of my son.  The sadness of the loss remains but the fear has gone.  Art has become a therapy.


Inspirational words from a terminally ill architect

After watching this, as an architect who has suffered from stroke, it reinforced my desire never to miss a single opportunity to express gratitude, help others and be happy in every way that I can.  Also, very importantly it has taught me to follow my heart.

why money can’t buy motivation

I have been thinking about some past employments I have had and why I left.  I was earning good money, earned some awards and putting away quite a bit into a pension pot too.  So why did I leave?  Was it because I like to be self employed?  Perhaps, I thought.  But what did I like about being self-employed?  The main thing that came up was the sense of being self managed or autonomous.  I have always been motivated and did many things like research in my own time because I liked to do so.

What I did not like in my employments was a ‘line manager’ poking at my records, filing up forms stating how many hours of (self directed) research I had done and going for performance evaluations.  After all, I was getting external validations such as awards and grants, so I could see any reasons for being evaluated by someone.  Also, I could not achieve my best because I was continuously having to limit my creativity due to external circumstances. In short, I did not achieve mastery although I was getting awards. There were also no purpose to my work- I just had to follow some outdated and uninspiring guidelines. I could not use my creativity and resourcefulness in directing my time.

So there we have it, we need a sense of autonomy, mastery and purpose in order to do our life’s work, in order to follow our heart. This cannot be induced artificially by someone, by someone’s rules or by money.  This has been researched by many organisations such as Harvard, London School of Economics and others but not yet used in every day work.  So now although I learn much less, I have a sense of autonomy, mastery and purpose to my time and work.  I found this video, which describes best what I went through, so I am sharing it here. Enjoy!

the waste books


German scientist and man of letters Georg Christoph Lichtenberg was an 18th-century polymath: an experimental physicist, an astronomer, a mathematician, a practicing critic both of art and literature. Although he wrote and published a lot, he kept aside several notebooks  where he jotted down observations and aphorisms.  He numbered them by using the letters of the alphabet- all except ‘i’.  Surprisingly he never meant these to be published and therefore called them the ‘Waste Books’.

I came across the New York Review of Books edition.  It is quite amazing to discover these waste books were written in the 18th Century- they seem so relevant and contemporary.  A typical aphorism reads- “Everything in a man must move towards the same end.”  How pithily put- we must live and act by our values.

I looked at my collection of diaries and re-read some of these.  I would like to think that these are my ‘waste books’ but these contain much personal material as well as my aphorisms (see photo).  I used to feel ashamed of writing these as if it was some kind of subversive act but now having been inspired by Lichtenberg, I shall continue to do so.  Lichtenberg probably did not regard these outputs too highly, calling them ‘waste’ and he never meaning to publish them.  Yet reading them, I find them intelligent, humorous, humane and futuristic.  These waste books have become his most popular writings.

Sometimes we don’t realise the value of our thoughts and words.  For this reason, we must write everything down.  Then leave it to posterity to judge.  Did Lichtenberg the sage that he was, ever think that three centuries later, people from all over the world would be inspired by something he called waste?

Living Lightly- Part II



From my last post, you will read that I bought two books after a lot of thought because I have been trying to decrease the numbers of books I have, not increase them.  These two books have turned out to be quite amazing, just right for me.  They go to show that when you buy something with thoughtfulness, then it truly is the right thing for your life.

I am writing about the first book- ‘Works of Henry David Thoreau’.  I love his writing- ‘Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.  I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.  I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars.”  Pure poetry in that prose!

However, it was not just Thoreau’s writing that captured my attention.  That book had been a gift to someone visiting India (I am from India!) from his parents. On the frontispiece which I have photographed above were these inscriptions and I reproduce them as they might be too small to read.  The mother had written, ‘I hope you will enjoy the readings of Thoreau and through his writing, gain a better understanding of his words, “simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.” ‘  The father had written, ‘Open the book anytime and read anywhere in it.  Just read a line or two; it is not necessary to do more than that.  Thoreau’s words are as timely today as when he wrote them.  If you do that you too will soon possess the more perfect Indian wisdom.’

Perhaps the son was going to India in search of spirituality and wisdom.  Perhaps his life was complex and difficult.  Perhaps he was nervous. Perhaps he did not like to read too much or he would not have enough time.  His parents were worried about the journey and gave him this book as reminder of their love and encouragement.  How beautiful!  Even more beautiful that this book came my way as a reminder, ‘Open the book anytime and read anywhere in it.  Just read a line or two; it is not necessary to do more than that!’  I am doing just that- thank you to the parents and the son who made this possible for me.


Living lightly- part I



I  am writing here after a long time- an eye operation, family upheavals and bereavement, illness and other things took up time.  But I did write elsewhere as a commitment to write everyday, although it is not as enjoyable as writing here.  For here, I write as myself and on whatever takes my fancy.  I am my own captain here.

I meant to write this post in the new year as I sorted out my stuff and seriously took up organising my life.  As I was getting rid of my stuff, mostly books- giving to charity, or people, recycling or selling, I came across this scene at my local library.  Not to let any moment go without buying books, this was so tempting for me.  So tempting until I learnt the story behind this pile of books.  They belonged to a dead man and were being sold to raise money for the library.  These books- new or second hand- were those he had bought, and never read- price labels intact.  Hundreds of boxes underneath the tables!  There were more apparently but the library ran out of space to take this generous gift.

I thought of how much this man had loved reading like I do and yet never found time to read them like I do.  I also have a big collection of books, but not as much as this.  Now that my eyes do not like the strain with the onset of glaucoma, I have started to read as little as possible.  I thought of a time, when I might have to do this or heaven forbid, my children might have to do this when I am gone.  No, no, no!  I felt the sadness of a possession that is never used.  Some people use things as a means of declaring their worth to the world.  Some use books to hide their nervousness of facing the reality.  I realised I read many books on organising and clutter and yet was afraid of actually tackling it.  I hung on to my self improvement books in the hope that I may improve just by reading them or reminding myself of their titles.  But life is lived in the reality, in the existence, in the mess of the world by learning, failing and trying again.  By holding on to a book, not only did I not have to take the action in the real world, I thought its existence on my shelf meant I possessed its qualities too.

So by releasing my ‘crutches’ of books, I found opportunities to engage with people and learn so much more than a solitary instruction of a book.  My life has become richer and my speaking and language have improved.  I feel more confident.  I have an important speech due in ten days.  Normally I would have felt nervous, but now I feel happy to welcome a new way of revealing my thoughts and communicating with people.  Life is experience, life is conversation!  In the moment.

PS- I did buy two books from that table but that is another post!

Thinking big

This post was actually written yesterday but did not have time to type it up.

Having written a book called, Architecture For Rapid Change and Scarce Resources and grown up in an impoverished family in India, the word scarcity is always on my mind.  So my challenge in following my heart is also about thinking big.  While we cannot deny the scarcity in many material things, things of the spirit are always impossibly big- love, compassion and kindness.  Scarcity of the spirit is about being mean, petty and grasping. Thinking big is about embracing, going beyond and giving.

Recently a colleague who I like and respect very much, reacted rather strangely to my intention of working in her former country- like as if I was taking away projects from her behind her back.    Interestingly, none of the organisations I had communicated with had mentioned her name and I was completely unaware of her involvement.  However from her reaction, I became aware of scarcity of a different type- where no one can even work without the permission of another, however ridiculous the whole concept may seem- where people are afraid to share, where competition instead of cooperation is seen as a way of life and where compassion is limited by the necessity to earn money and fame.  However, by letting go of any resentment and thereby refusing to be in her power, I felt lighter and stronger.  I know there is plenty of work around, so there is no need to be grasping of any thing.  I have read a lot about abundance (there is a lot on the Internet) and came up with these three things that seemed to very important in order to feel abundance and let go of scarcity-

1. Give, share and live freely

The Buddhist concept of ‘Jigyo Keta’ means to remove suffering and bring happiness.  This happiness includes your own happiness as well.  So don’t be afraid to share your happiness and good fortune with others.  Give and receive credit freely.

2. Hope

Hope brings about great benefit, it heals and restores.  In my Bengali culture, there is a saying, “If it happens, it is good; if it does not happen, then it is even better.”  There is always something bigger and better for you.  Let go of the small stuff!

3. Think big

There is another saying that spells it so well-“if you aim for the top of the tree, then you may get to the bottom of the trunk; but if you aim for the moon, then you will reach the top of the tree!”  Big and expansive ideas should be part of our personal ambitions-there is nothing wrong in going for the best, the most amazing and the most powerful- in terms of our spiritual development.

Give yourself the permission to think big!

Valuing oneself when following your heart

It is important to value oneself even when doing what one loves.  Unfortunately there exist people who will take advantage and more so, when they realise that you will do anything to pursue this work.  They will steal from you (ideas and more), patronise you, make you work to unrealistic deadlines, not respond to you- all while being satisfied that you will do your best in the circumstances.  What an irony!  So what can you do?

1. Balance your heart and head: do your sums- are you being exploited?  while following your heart, make sure you follow your head too.  It is your heart that feeds your soul but your head feeds your body- you need both to achieve your life’s work.

2. Find your limits- how far do you go?  What can you do when you follow your heart?  When do you give up?  When does it start to hurt?  That’s when you need to stop.

3. Be assertive- Ask for things you need- money, time and any other thing to accomplish your work.  There are many lovely people too who will help you- you need to ask!

4. Believe in abundance- the concept of going without is consistent with scarcity thinking, i.e. there is not much to go around and therefore YOU need to be the one that can do without- money, love, honour and respect.  In abundance thinking, there is enough for everyone, so there is no need to be a martyr to your cause.  You can follow your heart without having to go without.