Saturday, November 27, 2010

My Awesome Workplace

I think I am one of those few lucky people who have gotten a chance to work in ThoughtWorks. ThoughtWorks is a global consultancy firm that specializes in delivering excellent custom software solutions. But I am not going to talk about ThoughtWorks like I am delivering a sales pitch to a client. I am talking about ThoughtWorks purely from an employee perspective, based on my experience here for 3 months.
I began my journey here as a grad, fresh out of college. We had a 6 week training period in Bangalore. Before that, we had to undergo a month of online training. The first book I was asked to read was "From journeyman to master - how to improve your craft" Right at the beginning, ThoughtWorks trained me to look at my work of developing software as a craft- which requires knowledge, skill, creativity and patience to master. I was so happy while reading that - it felt like I was stepping onto the right path.
Then my 'ThoughtWorks University' began. I had a whale of an experience. 35 of us were completely pampered in Bangalore. We were put up in luxury apartments, had a whole bunch of parties, trips and other fun activities planned out for us, and were treated like royalty. At the same time all the training sessions organised were really innovative - essentially learning with fun. And then we spent 4 weeks developing an internal ThoughtWorks website in the SpringMVC framework and were taught all kinds of good coding practices.
After that I was sunning on the beach for a while, learning Ruby and Rails. Now I am in Gurgaon, developing an application for the iPhone in Objective C and Rails. What I really love about my job is:

1. The people- I work with some of the best brains in the industry. People who are serious about their craft and about writing quality software. People who actually have fun while working and who enjoy teaching and explaining things to others.

2. The attitude- Individualism is really respected in ThoughtWorks. Everyone is free to express their opinions and be who they want to be. No false barriers of experience, or position, or location or culture or race are imposed on us. Everyone is equal and everyone has a right to express themselves.

3. The work- I am getting to work on some real cutting edge technology and learn good industry practices and methodologies. The best part is the variety in technology and roles available and the freedom given to the employees to grow as they choose.

4. The social commitment- ThoughtWorks cares. We do a whole bunch of Social Impact Projects in connection with Unicef, World Vision, Grameen, and other social organizations. ThoughtWorks is a pioneer buisness oriented organization that is doing significant social work too.

5. The transparency- Everything is discussed with everyone. I still remember my first 'all hands' meeting in Bangalore where we discussed which projects should go to which office, why certain management decisions had been taken, employee views about changing the office location etc. etc. And it was completely casual. Some people were eating lunch, some were sipping drinks, jokes were being cracked(at the expense of the MD), and the speaker was being constantly interrupted with questions.
I remember thinking "Wow! I am so lucky to be a part of this healthy work culture"

ThoughtWorks has a work environment that prevents the breeding of 'politics' at the workplace. The way we deal with conflicts is different. The way we write software is different. The way we run our organization is different. The values that our company is based on is different.

I wake up every morning, really looking forward to going to work. I learn something new everyday.

I am a ThoughtWorker :)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Turbulence



Dark clouds amass,
Strong gales blow,
The waves surpass,
Rise high, fall low.

Uncertain,restless
The ocean roars,
Lightening flashes,
A lone bird moans.

Palm trees sway,
The old house shudders.
The world looks gray
A little boat struggles.

Ice waters pour
The rocks too glisten,
All must endure
This storm sudden.




Saturday, November 6, 2010

Spiritual life is similar to fighting a war

An excerpt from Srila Prabhupada's letter to Brahmananda Prabhu in Aug 1967. Srila Prabhupada had suffered a heart attack and had returned to India to recover his health.

"Don't be afraid of my being attacked by maya. When there is a fight between two belligerent parties, it is always expected that there will sometimes be reverses. Your country and the western world is mostly under the grip of Maya(illusion) and the modes of nature in passion and ignorance, and my declaration of war against maya is certainly a great battle. Maya saw me very successful within one year, so that I got so many sincere young followers like yourself and others, so it was a great defeat to the activities of Maya: western country youngsters giving up illicit sex, intoxication, meat eating and gambling is certainly a great reverse in the activities of maya. Therefore, she took advantage of my old age weakness and gave me a death dash. But Krishna saved me; therefore we should thank Krishna more than eulogize maya. So far as my present health is concerned I think I am improving; atleast I am taking lunch better than in N.Y. So as soon as I am a little fit to return to the field of battle I shall be again in your midst."

-From Srila Prabhupada Lilamrita

This letter inspires me to fight on against all the challenges(small and big) that I face as I attempt to practice Krishna Consciousness in this material world.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Recipe - Beetroot Halwa

Recipe:Beetroot Halwa
(A milk and beetroot sweet)

Ingredients:

3 Raw Beetroots - peeled and grated.
250 gm khava - (This is dried milk- will be available in any Indian sweet shop)
3 cups sugar - (Roughly the same amount as the grated beetroot. So you will mostly have 3 cups of beetroot after grating)
2 tablespoon ghee
A little milk
Chopped dry fruits

Method:

1) Put the ghee in a kadai or any aluminium/non- stick pan. Heat till it melts.
2)Add the khava and roast it on medium flame till it turns golden in colour. You have to keep stirring it, so that it doesnt stick to the pan and burn. The original colour of khava is whitish pink. It will turn deep golden in roughly 15 min. Keep aside.
3) Cook the grated beetroot in a little milk in an open pan, till the beetroot goes soft. (Not too soft- just well-cooked)
4) Add the sugar and the khava. Let it cook for 5 minutes more, so that the sugar and khava melt nicely.
5) Add chopped dry fruits and enjoy!












 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Chinese and Me

At Thoughtworks, we have a 6 week training session where employees from all over the world land up at Bangalore, called ThoughtWorks University. I have been here for a week now, and this time round we have around 10 Chinese grads too. I am really having a whale of a time with them :) They are all really simple hearted folks, with a lot of  'wide-eyed' innocence and all of them are really intelligent. And I just love their features. Atleast the girls' in my batch are exotic beauties, all petite and full of charm. And the guys? Totally cute ;)
The first day, I barely got their names- and it was seriously impossible to communicate. Apparently, the Chinese find it very difficult to understand the Indian accent. Besides, all the current grads are from Tenzing and other Chinese small towns, so they dont really know English that well. So most of the time, no matter what we said, they just laughed and nodded. All the Chinese have such smiley faces, and they are so thrilled to simply be in India that you feel happy just being around them. Anyways, on day 1 I actually had to resort to writing some sentences down. I could understand what they were saying, but not vice versa :(. But then eventually, I got the hang of it. All you gotta do is talk slowly, and throw in a few guestures, and you really have to simplify your sentences. Oh and repeat words a few times. And one or two of them are better at English so they rapidly translate to the others.
                Anyways I discovered that Chinese say their last names first. So Sha Biyen( a girl) her name is Biyen and family name is Sha. So I figured out why we have three Yangs' in our batch! And their names have beautiful meanings. Like One of my friends' name means 'Green Jade'- How cool is that!
               Then on saturday, They all gathered in a friend's apartment to cook and have lunch. So they go and come back with all kinds of vegetables( Without evening knowing their english names) and slice them very thinly, and stir fry them in batches, and dish up a yummy meal for 15! Oh and the best part was that they have no pressure cookers in China- so I kinda told them to trying making rice in one. The first time the cooker whistled-you should have seen their faces. Once done, one guy removed the cooker and kept it on the floor- He said he was feeling as if he was around a Bomb :)
                  The Chinese Language is very complex. The word and the tone, both convey different meanings. Besides all the sounds are removed from deep within the throat. So there I was, surrounded by 10 Chinese all talking rapidly in various sing-song tones- and I wasnt in India any more.
                   I have learnt some words too. "Chao Shama mitz"- What is your name? I had to struggle for days to get the tone though.'Toi' means yes and 'Poo'-is no. How apt is that?!
                  Three cheers to the Chinese!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Contract of Immortality - The Conclusion

continued from here

NARSIMHADEV

From the ruins of the pillar, out stepped a gigantic being. His upper body was that of a lion while the lower portion was of a man. Extremely fearsome, with angry eyes  the colour of molten gold,motionless ears that stood erect and a shiny mane, the being towered over Hiranyakashipu. His jaw was parted fiercely,like a mountain cave, revealing rows of deadly teeth and a razor sharp tongue that moved like a dueling sword. His neck was short and thick, his chest broad and his waist narrow.  In his numerous hands he held the conchshell, the disc, the club and other weapons. This was Lord Narsimhadev, neither man nor lion.
              Just to keep the word of his devotee, Lord Vishnu had appeared  from a palace pillar, in this wonderful form. Such is the power of  faith. Neither Hiranyakashipu's heinous crimes, nor his foolish plan to achieve immortality, nor even the destruction of the sacrifices had bothered Lord Vishnu. It was only the faith of the little boy Prahlad, that had caused the Supreme Lord Himself, to descend into this mortal realm.
               Hiranyakashipu was terrified. But he consoled himself, "This is only Vishnu's trickery! After all who can defeat me in battle?" Fool-hardily, he charged towards the Lord, like a moth to the flame. So bright was Narsimhadev's effulgence, that the demon simply dissappeared from sight. He attacked the Lord with powerful blows from his club. But Narsimhadev just laughed and captured Hiranyakashipu in his powerful arms.
               All the homeless denizens of heaven, were gathered in the skies, watching the divine battle. Seeing their nemesis captured, they applauded wildly. But  the wily demon just turned and very swiftly slid out of the Lord's grasp. Seeing this all the demigods were disturbed. But Narsimhadev was just playing with His prey, as the divine eagle, Garuda would play with a snake.
                Hiranyakashipu now took his sword and shield. He moved skillfully around the Lord, sometimes flying into the air and sometimes landing on earth. He tried using all his battle experience to save himself. But his eyes were closed in terror as the terrible laughter of death echoed in his ears.
                Lord Narsimhadev grew tired of the sport. Finally the time was right. It was neither morning nor night, but twilight- the sun had set, yet it was not dark  He grasped Hiranyakashipu in his hands and sat on the doorway of the palace. They were neither inside his house, nor outside. The Lord laid Hiranyakashipu across His lap. The demon was now neither in sky nor on land. The Lord flexed his long nails, as sharp as swords, as strong as thunderbolts. These nails were neither weapons to be wielded nor weapons to be thrown. They were neither living, nor dead- For nails are made of dead cells but yet they grow like living organisms.  The Lord was neither man, nor beast, nor demon, nor heavenly God. He had not been created by Brahma.
                 The contract of immortality had not been breached. Lord Narsimhadev plunged his nails into the demon's stomach and tore him apart. Blood sprayed all over. So angry was the Lord, that He pulled out the demon's intestines and garlanded Himself. The Gods in heaven cheered loudly and started showering flowers. Drums and trumpets were played and divine hymns were sung, glorifying Him. But the Lord's anger could not be appeased. He roared wildly and even Laxmidevi, His eternal consort, was afraid to approach Him.
                 Finally, Brahma turned to little Prahlad. Unafraid, the little boy went towards the Lord, carrying a garland of flowers. He offered them to the Lord and glorified Him with many prayers. At last, Lord Narsimhadev was pacified. He asked Prahlad, "Dear child, I am ready to give you anything you desire. Simply ask."
           But what did Prahlad care for material prosperity? He had his Lord Vishnu and he wanted nothing else. Humbly he said, " Grant me, my Lord the benediction to always remain the servant of Your servants."
Narsimhadev was even more pleased. "So be it." He said and dissappeared.
         
Afterword:
The appearance of Lord Narsimhadev is celebrated even today, in the month of May. Devotees all over the globe, fast till sunset, and pray to the Lord for protection from the 'Hiranyakashipus' of the heart- lust, greed, pride,envy, anger and attachment. In ISKCON centers, Lord Narsimhadev is worshiped daily, and in the main Mayapur ISKCON we have a beautiful deity of Lord Narsimhadev stepping out of the pillar.(Picture below) Many miraculous events have taken place in relation to this deity. You can read some here.
  Thank-you for reading this far and giving me a chance to glorify the Supreme Lord and His devotee.
In Ahobilam, in Andhra Pradesh(south India), the remains of Hiranyakashipu's palace, the nail marks of Lord Narsimhadev and many other evidences are found, proving this story to be true. For you, this may be mythology, but for me this is history. I shall keep my faith. :) 

Sri Narsimhadev(Mayapur ISKCON)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Contract of Immortality-Part 2

continued from here.....


PRAHLAD

 While Hiranyakashipu had been away performing austerities, his wife, who was pregnant, had gone to stay with Narad Muni in his ashram. Out there, the divine sage had glorified Lord Vishnu and described in detail the method of worshiping him. More than the mother, the little child within her womb, heard the sage attentively. He began to meditate on Lord Vishnu before birth itself.
         Eventually, Hiranyakashipu returned, and the queen, too, came back with the little boy. His father sent him to school, where his teachers- Kshand and Amarak, attempted to train him in demoniac politics and economics. They spoke about  back-stabbing, taking others' wealth by force and controlling  subordinates.
            But all of their words were wasted on Prahlad. He always remained silent, meditating on Vishnu. During his playtime, Prahlad taught the other little boys the importance of Vishnu worship. So influential was he, that his classmates, the children of the demoniac ministers of Hiranyakashipu, also began to join him in his prayer.
         Initially, Hiranyakashipu was blissfully unaware of all this. One day, he called little Prahlad and made him sit on his lap. He kissed him affectionately on the forehead and inquired, "How is school, my child. Are they treating you well there? What did you learn today, my boy?"
         Prahlad smiled innocently. Hiranyakashipu's heart was melting with affection. Prahlad replied, "I learned today, father, that Lord Vishnu is the greatest of all beings in the universe."
        Hiranyakashipu froze. He could not believe his ears. Who had dared to poison the mind of his own son in this way? "Kshand! Amarak!", he screamed. "What have you been teaching my boy?"
        The teachers came there trembling. They fell at the feet of the King. "Forgive us. Forgive us." They implored. They then proceeded to narrate, how Prahlad seemed to know all this from before and how he was poisoning the minds of other students too.
         Hiranyakashipu became more and more surprised. Surely some messanger of Vishnu was sneaking into the school and corrupting his son. He ordered the security around the school to be tightened and sternly instructed his son, "Look Prahlad, I am Supreme. Vishnu is a fraudster, the murderer of your uncle! You must forget all this nonsense and concentrate on real education. Go now! Get out of my sight! Learn the right things and then come back!"
             Prahlad was calm throughout this outburst. His faith was unshaken. He went back to school but continued with his activities. He refused to even talk about anything other than Vishnu, what to speak of forgetting him. Infact, he even advised his tyrannical father, "Give up your enemity with Lord Vishnu and approach him with love. He will accept you with open arms!"
              Hiranyakashipu became more and more frustrated. The whole universe quaked in his presence, but this little five year old boy, continued to defy him. Finally, his demoniac ministers advised the king, "If there is an infection in the arm, it is better to cut off the arm, then let the illness spread to the whole body. It would be best if you destroyed your son right now, before he grows up and destroys your entire kingdom!"
              Hiranyakashipu relented. This was the only way. He ordered his warriors to throw the boy of the nearest cliff. Prahlad was undisturbed. He meditated on Lord Vishnu as he was thrown, and surely, the kind God stood at the bottom to catch him. Prahlad was unharmed.
             Hiranyakashipu tried various other methods to kill him. He immersed him in boiling oil, but the oil turned into soft flowers at Prahlad's touch. He threw him in front of mad elephants, hungry lions and poisonous snakes.But all these creatures simply bowed down in front of the boy. Demons attempted to cut Prahlad to little bits. But their weapons refused to touch the boy. Prahlad remained steady and calm, like an island amidst the raging sea.
            Finally, Hiranyakashipu handed Prahlad over to his aunt, the king's demon sister Holika. She had a special cloth, it prevented its wearer from being burnt by fire. Holika covered herself with the cloth and entered into blazing fire with the child. A mystical wind flew that lifted up the cloth and covered little Prahlad. Holika burnt to ashes, while not even a hair on Prahlad's body was harmed.
           Now Hiranyakashipu was really angry. He grabbed his son and threw him on the palace floor. "You Insolent boy! From where do you get your strength? Answer me!", he raved.
           "The source of my strength and yours is the same father," answered Prahlad. "The Supreme Lord Vishnu."
         Hiranyakashipu roared. "How dare you! Where is your Vishnu? Where is he? Let him come here to save you if he can. I shall kill you today with my own hands."
         "Vishnu is everywhere  father. He is in you, as he is in me. You only need the eyes to see him", replied Prahlad, unpertrubed.
"Is he in this pillar? Is he in this Pillar?" screamed the King, insane with rage, pointing at one of the palace pillars.
"Of course father"
"Then now he shall die!", thundered the demon and struck the pillar a powerful blow with his mace.
There was a loud explosion. The pillar shattered.

To be continued......

            

Friday, July 23, 2010

Contract of Immortality-Part 1

I have been wanting to write this post for some time now, but never seem to have got the time. Anyway, here goes....

Basically, what I am going to do is narrate the story of Lord Narsimhadev in 3 parts. Part of ancient Hindu Lore, this is essentially a tale of faith and the wonderful relationship between God and his devotee. Like all good tales, it has a hero and a villain (but sadly, no heroine :) )This part focuses on the villain, from whom the story began and on whom the story ends :)

HIRANYAKASHIPU

Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu were the sons of the sage Kashyap and his wife Diti. They were not ordinary mortals. Originally, they were Jay and Vijay, the door-keepers of Lord Vishnu's immortal planet Vaikuntha. Once the four kumaras, four sages who look like 5 year old boys, came to Vaikuntha to meet the Lord. But Jay and Vijay, arrogant of their position of authority, refused the Kumaras entry, mocking their child-like appearance. To teach the brothers a lesson, the sages cursed them,
"Three times you shall be born as demons in the mortal word, and three times Lord Vishnu will Himself have to appear to destroy you!"
           Jay and Vijay realized their folly and begged for forgiveness. No one in the immortal land, ever wishes to come to the mortal realm. But a curse is a curse. The sages were the epitome of virtue, and their words must come true. Jay and Vijay appeared as Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu in their first birth as demons.
            "But they were the sons of a sage?" you may ask. "How  could they be demons." Ah well, this story simply reiterates the fact that it is your deeds and not your birth, that determines who you are. Hiranyaksha, the eldest, began to wreak havoc on the masses. So intoxicated was he by his strength, that he lifted up mother earth(the earth planet) and carried her to the lowest regions of the universe. Lord Vishnu, then incarnated as a wild boar, killed Hiranyaksha, and restored the planet to its correct position.(This is a story in itself and must be reserved for another blog)
          Angered by his brother's death, Hiranyakashipu swore enmity with Vishnu, and began rigorous austerity. He retreated into the forest, stood on one leg and controlled his breathing, meditating on Lord Brahma, the creator of this universe. 36,000 years passed, Hiranyakashipu's body was covered with anthills, and the power of his austerities generated great heat that began to burn up the universe. The other Gods approached Lord Brahma and begged him to appease Hiranyakashipu and restore the balance of the universe.
         Brahma finally appeared before the demon and sprinkled him with sacred water. His body, which had decayed to mere bones, was restored. Hiranyakashipu regained his youth and vitality. Falling at Brahma's feet, he prayed, "Great God, if I have pleased you with my worship, please grant me immortality."
           Brahma frowned, "Anything but that, my child. I cannot grant you immortality, for I, too, am mortal. All beings, within this mortal universe must die. That is the law."
           Hiranyakashipu thought for a moment. Then he spelled out, what he thought was the contract for immortality. "O Brahma," he said, "Then grant me that I should not be killed at the hands of any creature created by you. No god in heaven, no man, no animal, no serpent,no demon should be able to kill me. I should not be killed by any weapon that can be thrown or any weapon that can be wielded. I should not be killed during the day, nor at night. I should not be killed on land or in the sky. Death should not come to me inside my house or outside it. Grant me invincibility in battle and undisputed lordship over all beings. Let me have unfailing powers and the same glory as you." 
           "So be it!" smiled Brahma and vanished.
          Hiranyakashipu returned to his kingdom. He wasted no time in launching a battle on the heavens and capturing all the Gods. Defeating them, he assumed total control of the universe. There was only one law in his land. "No one should worship Vishnu. Anyone found even chanting the name of that God shall be immediately killed!"
          Hiranyakashipu, the original tyrant, began to persecute all the brahmins and vaishnavas engaged in worshiping Vishnu. He falsely believed, that sacrifices(yajnas) done in the name of  Vishnu increase the Lord's strength. He destroyed such sacrifices and brutally destroyed devotees, cows and all object dear to the Lord.
          So complete was his power that if he demanded, "Let there be rain on my garden, but let the sun shine on my porch" it would be done. He had total control on nature. He could enjoy whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. He had strength, beauty, wealth, fame, everything that most of us aspire. You would expect him to be happy.
          Was he happy? Nope. He wasn't even the 'I have had an average day-not too bad, not too good' happy. He was miserable. He was frustrated. He had one thorn in his side. His son, a little 5 year old boy, Prahlad.

(To be continued...)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Wonders of my world

I read a list of 7 wonders of the everyday world somewhere. It contained top 7 'popular' everyday events- stuff like 'fixing a machine by hitting it' and 'turning your pillow around'. So I observed my life for 2 weeks and here is:

Everyday wonders of my world:

1)Taking a shower after a long day. (Absolutely nothing beat this)
2)Drinking fresh water from the 'mataka' (esp after coming in from a long drive in the afternoon sun)
3)Walking outside on a cool, breezy night (esp after it has rained)
4)Aroma of wet soil
5)Eating chilled mango ice-cream, right out of the freezer.
6)Mom oiling my hair
7)Aroma of ripening mangoes.

This list is biased because it relates to the summer season in particular and cant be called 'everyday' but summer season is my favourite so this list will top my all year 'every-day wonders' list too.

God's creation is beautiful! The last 2 weeks were so wonderful! I was consciously finding joy in all these little things... I feel we just complicate life.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sweet Krishna


"Madhuram madhuram vapur asya vibhor
madhuram madhuram vadanam madhuram
madhu-gandhi mridu-smritir etad aho
madhuram madhuram madhuram madhuram"

"The transcendental body of Sri Krishna is very sweet and His face is even sweeter. But his soft smile, which has the fragrance of honey, is sweeter still."

-Sri Bilvamangal Thakur
Krishna-Karnamrita(92)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Life's lessons from engineering

My four years in engineering taught me a fair bit about life too. Here's some of them:

  1. Making mistakes may not be the easiest way to learn something, but these lessons last longest.
  2.  Somebody knows the answer, you only need to ask.
  3. The sanest people lose all rationality when swayed by emotions. Try not to let your emotions rule you.
  4. People change. If you can change like them, great- else move on.
  5. Your efforts will not always be tangibly awarded. The process matters more than the end.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Recipe-Veg Bhuna

Veg Bhuna-Vegetable balls in tomato curry
(Serves 4)

Ingredients:


For Bhuna
:
cabbage 3/4th kg
carrots 3
Beans Handful
(Basically after grating, quantity of cabbage should be 3 times that of carrot and 3 times that of beans)
turmeric powder-1.5 tsp
red chilly powder-1.5 tsp
garam masala-2 tsp
Salt to taste
(Adjust the spice measures to suit your tastes too)
Oil for frying

For Curry:
Cashew nuts 5-6
Khuskhus 1 tblsp
Tomatoes 5-6 (Chopped)
Ginger(grated) 2 tblsp
Hing(Aesofotida) pinch
Garam Masala(4 tblsp)
red chilly powder, turmeric powder(1-2tsp)
Salt to taste
Oil- 1 tblspoon

Method:

For Bhuna
:
  1. Soak the khuskhus and cashews in water.
  2. Grate the cabbage and carrots and chop the beans finely. Mix them all, add salt(as much required for the Bhuna balls), and set the mixture aside for 30 minutes. Keep the mixture in a tilted plate. It will leave water, which will flow towards the tilted part. Tip: Dont leave any pieces of the vegetables(like cabbage leaf pieces or the end of the carrot which you could not grate). This could cause problems while frying. Chop everything finely. Also, In this 30 min gap you can proceed to make the curry
  3. Throw out the water. Add Gram flour, red chilly, turmeric powder, garam masala to the grated vegetables and mix. It will become a semi-solid lump.
  4. Heat oil in a kadhai. Make small balls and fry them on medium flame till golden brown. This is the bhuna. Tip:The smaller the size of the ball the better. Keep the balls in a newspaper so that the paper absorbs the excess oil. Improves the health quotient :)

For Curry:

  1. Grind the soaked khuskhus and cashews.
  2. Heat 1 tblspoon oil in kadhai.
  3. Add rai(sesame seeds). Let them pop.
  4. Then add the jeera, hing, grated ginger and chopped tomatoes. Fry this on medium flame, till the mixture starts leaving oil. The tomatoes should become fairly dry and start curling. (But be careful- not too dry !) Tip: You can add the salt at this stage to speeden the process.
  5. Add the other spices and salt (if not added already). Fry them into the tomatoes.
  6. Add the water and the cashew-khuskhus paste. If you wish to thicken the gravy make a paste of 1-2 tablespoon cornflour in a little cold water and add it.
  7. Add chopped coriander and a small lump of jaggery. Allow the mixture to boil.
Add the bhuna in the curry, just before serving. This is because the bhuna dissolves quickly.
You can repeat the above process with grated dudhi to make kofta curry. The curry is a standard for dishes like paneer masala( Add fried paneer into the curry) and mutter paneer and any other punjabi vegetable I guess. If you wanna make the curry thick, like they serve in hotels, try adding maida instead of the cornflour- But maida is not healthy and I havent tried this myself.

Enjoy! :)

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Real Master

"A hardworking man thinks himself the lord of his family and estate, but actually he is a servant of desire and the employee of anger. Such service of the senses is neither pensionable nor terminable, for desire and anger are masters who are never to be satisfied. The more one serves them, the more service they exact, and as such the false overlordship continues until the day of annihilation. As a result, the foolish living being is pushed into degraded life and fails to recognize the Lord as the beneficiary of all activities, the ruler of the universe and the friend of all entities. One who knows the real Lord is called a brahmana, but one who fails to know him is called a kripana, or number one miser."

- Srila Prabhupada
[Purport- Mukund-Mala-Stotra- Verse 1]

Friday, March 12, 2010

Man Vs Beast


The more I learn about animal behaviour, the more I am struck by how many remarkably human qualities they have. Hippos mourn for their dead, hyenas and wild dogs have amazing team working skills, and in foxes the female fox has to leave her pack and find a mate in another pack( and win over the other members). Chimpanzees have been known to paint and there are dogs that can even spell! More interestingly, there is a particular species of lizard who mate for life and sometimes even starve for days in grief if their mate dies before them! Life in the animal world has everything from authority hierarchies and cruelty, to cunningness, emotions and even fun!

This made me wonder, what really differentiates human beings from animals? It is unequivocally claimed that man is on top of the food chain and he is superior to all species. We claim to be more intelligent than them, but I do believe that all of the above examples are a clear display of intelligence. Yet intutively everyone agrees that man is superior and I really wanted to know how?

Turning to the scriptures I found this beautiful verse:
'aahar nidra bhay maithunamcha
samanyam etat pashubhir naranam
dharmo hi tesham adhiko vishesho
dharmena hina pashubhir naranam.'
Eating, sleeping, mating and defending are 4 activities common to both man and animals. It is only 'dharma', that makes a human being special. Without dharma, man is no better than an animal.

The verse explains that both human beings and animals have the necessary intelligence to perform four activities- eating, sleeping, mating and defending. All species know how to fill their bellies, how to obtain a safe shelter for resting, how to raise their young and how to defend against enemies. But what makes human beings special is Dharma.

What is this Dharma? An external meaning of dharma is righteous duty. But in the ninth chapter of the Bhagvad Gita, Lord Krishna says that spiritual knowledge is dharma. Infact, Srila Prabhupada explains that the duty of man is to acquire spiritual knowledge. This is the dharma that is being referred to in this verse.
If we think about it, we can understand that animals cannot inquire. They cannot ask questions like


Only as human beings, we can ask questions. However if we use this ability to inquire only to increase facilities for eating, sleeping, mating and defending then we are no better than animals. Instead, by inquiring about the spirit, one can live upto the true potential of being human, apply what we learn in our life and achieve eternal bliss.

[P.S- This article and the links within it summarize the entire Vedic Philosophy of life as given in the Bhagvad Gita. If you are interested in knowing more and experiencing spirituality for yourself do visit your nearest ISKCON center.(Just Google ISKCON [Name of your city] :) )

Monday, March 8, 2010

A perfect woman


This woman's day, I would like to take the opportunity to glorify one of my favourite women, a lady who was a perfect daughter,mother and wife and one of the greatest devotees of all time-Queen Kunti.

Queen Kunti was the daughter of Kuntibhoja, and King Vasudev's cousin sister. As a young girl she was very humble, patient and obedient. When Durvasa Muni visited her father's kingdom,accompanied by his 10,000 disciples, she served him personally and pleased him. Durvasa muni had a very difficult nature. He was highly eccentric and short-tempered. For eg. He would demand that food be cooked for them all, at very short-notice, at odd hours and then not eat it. Inspite of this, Queen Kunti took it upon herself, to personally serve him, and succeeded.
Durvasa Muni blessed her with a mantra, by invoking which, Kunti could obtain a child from any demigod. He had great foresight, and knew that Kunti would require this mantra in the future.

Queen Kunti was beautiful, intelligent and well-versed in all the fine arts. Hence she was chosen to be the bride of King Pandu, the ruler the earth. However, Pandu was cursed by a sage, that he would lose his life if he ever begot children. The throne was now in jeopardy as there was no heir. So Kunti invoked the mantra and was blessed with Yuddhishtira, the son of Yamraj, Bheema the son of Vayudev, and Arjun, the son of Indra. She was so compassionate and non-envious, that she taught the mantra to her co-wife Madri too, who begot twin sons, Nakul and Sahdev from the twin Ashwini gods.

Unfortunately, by the plan of the Supreme Lord, Pandu lost his life in a moment of weakness. In ancient times, if a woman felt that the pain of living in separation from her husband is greater than the pain of death then she would voluntarily commit sati. But Kunti was so self-sacrificing and strong that she chose to live as a widow for the sake of the children. Madri committed sati, and Kunti accepted even Madri's children as her own and loved all the five Pandavas equally.

Kunti raised her five sons in her brother-in-law, Dhritrashtra's house. She instilled in them all the virtues that the Pandavas are famous for. She taught them to be just, selfless, courageous, tolerant, equinamous, compassionate and truthful by her own behaviour. But most importantly, Kunti taught her sons about the glories of Lord Sri Krishna, and ensured that they too loved Him and served Him as deeply as she did.

Externally, Queen Kunti was Lord Krishna's aunt(His father's cousin). Yet she was fully aware of His true identity as the Supreme Father, the cause of all causes.
At the end of the Mahabharat, when Lord Krishna is about to the leave the Pandavas and return to his own Kingdom, Kunti Maharani offers some beautiful prayers to Him. These prayers have been immortalized in the Bhagvat Purana and are studied and recited by scholars and devotees alike.

These prayers reveal the depth of her spiritual understanding as she glorifies Sri Krishna and deeply regrets his leaving them. For eg. in one prayer, she describes how the Lord has been with the Pandavas through all their difficulties and then she says, "May we face these sufferings again and again so that we could see You(Sri Krishna) again and again". She shows us how problems only take us closer to God. In another beautiful prayer, she attributes the success of her entire family to Krishna. She says,"If you do not look upon us, all our fame and activities will end at once." She reveals, that success comes if there is both, endeavour on our part and the grace of God.

Queen Kunti, through her life and teachings, reveals what it means to be a true instrument of the divine. She inspires me to remain firm about my principles in all of life's different situations. What I have described is but a tiny drop of her many glories. I can only pray that I am able to follow the path shown by her.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Relativity

Once, I was feeling really low when I went to the gym. A whole lot of negative stuff seemed to be happening to me. I was feeling really burdened and depressed with all of my life's problems.
In the locker room, I was morosely wearing my shoes, a thousand thoughts whirling in my head. Thats when I heard this conversation between two of the cleaning ladies.
Lady1: "Did you have breakfast".
Lady2: "No"
Lady1:"Why?"
Lady2:"If me and my husband both have breakfast, the food available at lunch is less. And, you know na, one feels more hungry in the afternoon after working. So I just skip breakfast and eat lunch nicely."

The conversation moved on to a different topic, leaving me stunned. I could suddenly see my problems in a very different light. Atleast I dont have to choose between breakfast and lunch.

My world view changed.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Gratitude

I was chatting with a friend once, about God and prayers and stuff and he said one sentence that completely shocked me-
"What is there to thank God about?"

God is the Supreme Father. He is always there with us, not symbolically, not in thoughts, not allegorically or metaphysically but actually. He is right there, through all our so-called joys and all our very real sufferings. No matter how many sins we do, or whichever body we are in, no matter how much we neglect Him and how self-absorbed we are, He loves us and always tries to guide us on the right path. In fact He is the only person, who loves us unconditionally, all the time.
Isnt this enough to thank Him?

Every day is a blessing from God. He has given us a healthy body, food, and a loving family. There is at least somebody who cares about us.
Isnt this enough to thank Him?

God guides us through all situations. Even the negative events that happen, happen by His will to teach us something. He is helping and guiding us even in difficult times.
Isnt this enough to thank Him?

God's mercy and guidance comes through various different forms. One must utilize ones intelligence to actively seek them out, atleast to recognize them.
Gratitude is the first step towards loving God.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Real Humility

A beautiful passage from the book The Journey Home by H.H Radhanath Swami

"True humility connects us to an inexhaustible power beyond our own, the power of grace. True humility is a universal pride in the greatness of God and a genuine appreciation for the virtues of others. Really humility does not mean I ought to be cowardly and shrink from challenges but propels me to strive with all my resources to overcome challenges with integrity, respect, love and gratitude, to be as much as possible an instrument of the divine.
Humility protects us from being envious towards those who are more accomplished. With a humble heart one can easily admit mistakes and open one's heart to learn. Becoming humble is not the act of killing the ego but of liberating the real ego, which is eternally vibrant with love for God and others."

Monday, January 4, 2010

Love Signs


Well I would like to begin the new year by detailing Linda Goodman's theory on love and its relation to your sun sign.
When I read her book- 'Love Signs' I found her theory really interesting. I felt that what she says is great from the point of view of understanding people and developing fruitful and happy relations.

Basically, she states that the 12 signs of the zodiac form a karmic wheel which begins at Aries and ends with Pisces. Each sun-sign represents a stage of 'spiritual' maturity.
The soul or 'astral self' (as she calls it) must learn a lesson of love that belongs to the sun-sign it is born under.
According to Goodman, the soul must repeatedly take birth under one sign until it learns that lesson and then it advances up the wheel. If at any point, it forgets any of the lessons learned, it is pushed back down the wheel. Thus the cycle continues.

When compared with the Vedic theory, the point that Linda Goodman misses is that learning to love God, unconditionally, at any stage can free you from this endless wheel. Also, karma and desires, combine to determine the next body for the soul ( which could be an animal's too)

However her analysis is still useful in understanding yourself and others and all the intricacies in any human relationship. I am specifying it in brief for each sign-

The first six initiations of love:

Aries-the infant
- "I am"

To teach that love is innocence.
To learn that love is trust.

Aries persons, like the symbolic human infant, are innocent, selfish and reckless. They are oblivious to doubts and the possibility of fears,miseries and cruelty on life's path. They are optimistic, believing that they only have to 'shout' to have their needs satisfied.

Positive - innocence, blind faith, raw courage.
Negative- selfish egotism, thoughtlessness, aggressiveness and impulsive action with no regard of consequence.

To Aries, love is a necessity of life, which is taken for granted.

Taurus-the baby
- "I have"

To teach that love is patience.
To learn that love is forgiveness.

The soul has now grown into a symbolically, chubby healthy baby. Unaware of the outside environment, the Taurean finds security and happiness in his home circle. They are comfortable with the familiar, possessions bring them happiness and understand affection only through feeling. They are fiercely possessive and refuse to share what they truly love. (like a baby with his toys)

Positive - strength of purpose, patience, steadfastness and conviction
Negative- obstinacy, blind prejudice, lack of reason.

To Taurus, love is physical affection, both given and received without question.

Gemini-the child- "I think"

To teach that love is awareness.
To learn that love is feeling.

For the first time the soul becomes aware that it is not alone in the universe. A child learns to communicate with words while the parents listen attentively. Similarly, Geminians are quick witted and known for their verbal agility and expect every body to listen to them. They are thrilled by knowledge and love to discover new things. Yet they must face the duality of their 'Twin selves'. Partly they long to run out and explore the world, while partly they are insecure and seek the familiar.

Positive - versatility, mental alertness,quickness of perception, deductive reasoning and flexibility.
Negative- restlessness, glibness, shallowness, double-talk, unreliability, self-deception.

To Gemini, love is needed, but restricting as there are more exciting things in the world for them. If they find love too restrictive, they may rashly discard it.

Cancer-the adolescent
- "I feel"

To teach that love is devotion.
To learn that love is freedom.

The moody, sensitive, 'adolescent' Cancer soul vacillates between childish dependence and the maddeningly enticing world of adulthood. Cancerians tend to have many apprehensions as they sense the 'pitfalls' they must face in life. They are secretive and dreamy, acutely perceptive of other people's emotions. They have a great sense of humor, using jokes to hide their own deep emotions believing they are fooling people by doing so.

Positive - imagination, tenacity, tenderness, sensitivity, care and caution.
Negative- stinginess, irritability, melancholy, clinging, cowardice, possesiveness and moodiness.

To Cancer, love is equivalent to emotional security.It is so strongly needed that it must be disguised behind Lunar laughter and moody tears.

Leo-the teenager
- "I will"

To teach that love is ecstasy.
To learn that love is humility.

Like a teenager, the Leo portrays great self-confidence and yet seeks reassurance in the form of flattery, cringing inwardly from self-criticism. Generosity of spirit is carved into the Leo from the souls journey through previous stages of insecurity and they tend to seek out and reassure the helpless. They enjoy social life and even responsibilities. Freed from the symbolic restrictions of parental guidance the Leo sees the world in cheerful light, enjoying a sense of adulthood yet seeking constant assurances.

Positive - warmth,generosity, nobility, strength, loyalty, leadership and soothing, gentle tenderness.
Negative- arrogance, false pride, vanity, tyranny, haughtiness, romanic promiscuity

To Leo, love is shimmering romance, the fulfillment of idealism and beauty. They give and demand affection generously.

Virgo-the adult
- "I analyze"

To teach that love is pure.
To learn that love is fulfillment.

The soul has now become an adult, forced to comply with society's rules yet submitting gracefully.
Like young adults, Virgo souls see much to criticize around them. They take life seriously and are extremely practical. They know that learning and competing is mandatory, surviving has now become an obsession. Their heart is still pure and filled with silent hope but the mind is now in control. Earlier leo enthusiasms have been replaced by resignations and quiet dreams.

Positive - clarity of thought, discrimination, courtesy, service to others, practicality and self-honesty.
Negative- criticism,crankiness, timidity, pessimism, inferiority and hair-splitting.

To Virgo, love is a surrender of the self, a mystery they prefer not to solve.

After repeatedly going through these first six stages the soul passes through the final six initiations of love to discover deeper spiritual meaning.
Libra-marriage- "I balance"

To teach that love is beauty.
To learn that love is harmony.

Experience has taught Libra men and women to judge fairly as they now become aware of the duality that exists within the universe. Decision making is difficult and painful- as they strive to seek a balance. Cold logic learned in Gemini and virgo is softened by the knowledge of value of persuasion. They have a quality of charm which they use to dazzle and confuse everyone around them. They are deeply aware of the harmony that lies in music and art and are sentimental and practical.

Positive - justice, intelligence, charm, gentleness and emotional balance.
Negative- laziness, procrastination, indecision, argumentativeness, pleasure-seeking, temperamental.

To Libra, love is a meeting of the minds and hearts, not too passionate, not too detached- a happy medium to be equally shared.

Scorpio-sex- "I desire"

To teach that love is passion.
To learn that love is surrender.

Scorpions seek the answers of the fundamental questions of life. They trust love only after it has proved itself, but once convinced are unswervingly loyal. They wish to fiercely protect themselves and the ones they love from hurt and hence are highly revengeful. They often wish to penetrate universal mysteries like death, God etc. Though passionate and ultra-sensitive, the scorpion soul has learnt how to completely disguise their true self from the world. They also discover their own will and the power of the mind.

Positive - loyalty, will power, magnetism, gentleness, insight and amazing self-control.
Negative- ruthlessness, fanaticism, revenge, sadism, suspicion and self-hatred.

To Scorpio, love is a consuming flame worthy of any challenge, and they must conquer its challenge.

Sagittarius-knowledge
- "I see"

To teach that love is honesty.
To learn that love is loyalty.

In Sagittarius, the soul has now become a skeptical philosopher and a reluctant prophet. He is once again aware of the duality of his own nature and varies between supreme optimism and blind faith to the depths of sarcastic cynicism. They are curious and funny, melancholy and critical. They have an irresponsible disregard for the future having reached the symbolic stage of retirement. They grudgingly submit to restrictions of duty and long to realize their inner dreams. They yearn to travel and discover new people and ideas.

Positive - optimism, candor, cheerfulness, logic, honesty, daring and enthusiasm.
Negative- recklessness, emotional confusion, carelessness, lack of tact, rudeness and fickleness.

To Sagittarius, love is an ideal and they are often wounded by love's reality.

Capricorn-experience- "I use"

To teach that love is wisdom.
To learn that love is unselfish.

The Capricorn Soul leads from his home, sure of his authority and feels no need to be constantly praised or admired. He has learned that true peace comes from within. The Capricorn's relatives assume marked importance because the 'symbolic old age' has arrived. Capricorns are willing to give advice, but only when invited to do so. The excitement of romance and the freedom of youth are not nearly as enticing to the goat as comfort and family contentment. They appear serious and unyielding to more liberal souls, but they have a subtle sense of humour with a tinge of irony. Gentleness of spirit softens the severity of the surface sternness commanded by Saturn.

Positive - determination, stability, wisdom, dependability, sureness and tranquility.
Negative- selfishness, narrowness, ruthless ambition, rigidity, snobbery, depression and loneliness.

To Capricorn, love is a quiet and undemanding exchange of personal gratification, not to be measured by excessive emotion.

Aquarius-idealism
- "I know"

To teach that love is tolerance.
To learn that love is Oneness.

The Aquarian soul feels that it must return to life much of what it gathered along the way. They are often a puzzle to family and friends because they are wise souls cavorting as the young and liberal. They investigate everything and delight in shocking those around them. They are highly eccentric and intutive and often get unexplainable, telepathic flashes of the future. They tend to flaunt law and authority because they exist in the future, knowing that todays laws must be compromised tomorrow. They are humanitarian, unprejudiced and often neglect personal relations in the pursuit of idealism.

Positive - vision, individuality, tolerance, friendliness, inventiveness, originality, genius.
Negative- eccentricity, neurosis, detachment, absent mindedness and refusal to cooperate.

To Aquarius, love is a detached and unselfish emotion, to be explored and enjoyed.
They understand love's scope and investigate all its dimensions, yet scatter it carelessly, confusing it with friendship.

Pisces-submission- "I believe"

To teach that love is compassion.
To learn that love is All.

The Piscean is an old soul and may either swim in waters dangerously close to hell as rise towards the goodness of heaven. Having glimpsed the beauty of truth through the previous 11 stages they may choose to retreat from the earthly plane through spiritual and religious persuits or avoid conflicts by swiming down the murky waters of alcoholism, drug addiction and insanity. They can become good teachers, monks, mystics, artists and musicians, composers, abstract mathematicians and highly intutive scientists. They have natural compassion and become the recipients of everyone's troubles and worries, yet prefer to remain aloof from others' complications.

Positive - humility, compassion, sensitivity, spiritual awareness, psychic comprehension, philosphic insight and healing potential.
Negative- timidity, apprehension, masochism, idleness, lying and weakness of will.

To Pisces, love is unselfish submission of the ego to the desires of the one needed to become Whole. They gain more pleasure from giving than receiving.

Disclaimer: This is just a condensation of what is given in Linda Goodman's book Love Signs. Please do not judge the topic based on this blog alone.
If you want to explore the topic in full, do read the book. It gives a detailed description of all sun-signs and the relationships between all possible sun-sign combinations in a humorous and allegorical manner.
I personally do not subscribe to her Karmic theory, I only agree with her analysis of sun-sign personalities.