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Showing posts from October, 2009

Teacher as the Creator, Teacher as the Destroyer

I have been talking to teachers and teacher trainees for years now in the context of teaching and training, and during these talks, I have always loved telling them stories. While a few of these stories are born of my own personal encounters with life and people, many others are by authors from across the world. Here is a story I love deeply for its profound wisdom as well as for its immense power. A story like this works silently with us, transforming us with its magic. No one goes through the story – and allows the story to go through them, as my guru used to say – remains the same, so beautiful is it.


Jean Thompson stood in front of her fifth-grade class on the very first day of school in the fall and told the children a lie. Like most teachers, she looked at her pupils and said that she loved them all the same, that she would treat them all alike. And that was impossible because there in front of her, slumped in his seat on the third row, was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard. …

How Stanford University Was Born

I do not know whose words these are. But when I read them, I knew I had to have the story on my blog so that I can share it with others. Initially I thought of adding a few words at the end, relating this to a few other similar stories, but then I thought, no, I’d just let the story speak for itself. Here is the story then, without any more words from me.


A lady in a faded gingham dress and her husband, dressed in a homespun threadbare suit, stepped off the train in Boston, and walked timidly without an appointment into the president of Harvard’s outer office. The secretary could tell in a moment that such backwoods, country hicks had no business at Harvard and probably didn’t even deserve to be in Cambridge. She frowned.

“We want to see the president,” the man said softly. “He’ll be busy all day,” the secretary snapped. “We’ll wait,” the lady replied. For hours, the secretary ignored them, hoping that the couple would finally become discouraged and go away. They didn’t. And the …

Masters Who Wear Masks: 3. Pakkanar, the Pariah

Stories about Pakkanar, the legendary pariah saint of Kerala, were among the most beautiful stories I grew up listening to. Like Lai-Khur [] and many other masters, Pakkanar too lived wearing a mask all his life: a mask of ordinariness, and at times a mask of stupidity and ignorance, a mask of being limited by the caste and class that society had ascribed to him. In spite of these, though, at times he allowed the world glimpses of his spiritual wisdom and powers, and the stories are mostly about these moments.

The birth of Pakkanar is a legend in itself, part of one of the most popular legends of Kerala which every one born in Kerala hears as a child. In my case, it was from my father that I first heard the story as a child and then subsequently I read it as a teenager in Kottarattil Sankunni’s Aitihyamala [Garland of Legends], the collection of myths and legends about Kerala.

Pakkanar, the legend t…

The Pariah Woman and Her Twelve Children 2

Continued from part 1

Vararuchi’s world stood still. A thousand memories rushed chaotically through his mind. A whirlwind of memories. Memories of that long ago night under the tree when he had overheard the dark spirits. Memories of the court. A day that was at once bright because he was a winner celebrated by the king and everyone else and at the same was the darkest in his life. He had lied on that day for the first time in his life and lied to destroy. Destroy the life of an innocent baby. How cruel and heartless he had been. Years of wandering across many lands. Was it the first time he became a wanderer? No, the first time was when he had wandered in search of an answer the king sought. That was only forty days. And then there was the second round of wanderings. What was the answer he had sought during those wanderings? To questions about sin? About destiny? About acceptance and surrender? About purushartha? He knew it was not one question, but several questions. He had himself b…

The Pariah Woman and Her Twelve Children

Among the most beautiful stories I grew up listening to was that of the pariah woman who gave birth to twelve children, who grew up belonging to twelve different castes. Legends were told of each of the twelve children – so great did each of them become. Malayalis know her story as the legend of parayi pettu pantirukulam – ‘the parayi-begotten twelve castes.’ Translated that way, it could be slightly misleading because the legend does not say that the twelve castes or kulas were begotten by the parayi [pariah woman], but that her twelve children belonged to twelve different castes.

Hers is one of the most popular legends of Kerala and every child born in Kerala hears it as a child. In my case, it was from my father that I first heard the story as a child. Subsequently I read it as a teenager in Kottarattil Shankunni’s Aitihyamala [Garland of Legends], the collection of Kerala legends that was at that time available as an eight-volume set and has since been combined into a large, si…

Masters Who Wear Masks 2: Lai-Khur

Lai Khur was a Sufi saint who lived with a mask on his face all his life. Rather than narrating his story, let me quote here Osho, who, if I understand correctly, too lived part of his life with a mask on his face. Osho speaks glowingly of Lai-Khur in his talks published as Unio Mystica, Volume 1. The following is an abbreviated version of what the master says of Lai-Khur:

The Sultan of Ghazna, Bahramshah, was moving with his great army towards India on a journey of conquest. Hakim Sanai, his famous court-poet, was also with him, accompanying him on the journey of this conquest. They came alongside a great garden, a walled garden. They were in a hurry; with a great army the Sultan was moving to conquer India. He had no time.

But something mysterious happened and he had to stop; there was no way to avoid it. The sound of singing coming from the garden caught the Sultan’s attention. He was a lover of music, but he had never heard something like this. He had great musicians in his court …

Masters Who Wear Masks

The Man in the Iron Mask [1998 version], is a movie I saw again on TV recently. It is a movie I love much for many things, including the invaluable lessons it gives in leadership, a subject I have been teaching for the last few years at XLRI School of Business, Jamshedpur. These lessons the movie gives us are both in the best kind of leadership, which I have been teaching as Daivi Leadership, and the worst kind, which I have been taching as Asuri Leadership. The two models of leadership are based on the Daivi Sampad and the Asuri Sampad that the Bhagavad Gita speaks about.

In the movie young prince Philip is the man in the iron mask, having forced to live with an iron mask on his face practically all his life, locked up in a dungeon in the notorious Bastille. However, towards the end of the movie, Phillip tells a dying D’Artagnan, “It is you who have been living under a mask.” Phillip is right; D’Artagnan has lived all his life wearing a mask on his life, in fact more than one mask.…

Minister’s Job

I was watching a program on Asianet, the Malayalam TV channel, yesterday. The young girl who was singing the song on the stage was doing a brilliant job. She seemed to have become completely one with her singing. It looked as though the audience and the judges did not exist for her. And yet she was aware of the live background music – a slight disharmony, and she showed she had noticed it.

The song she was singing was a charming folk number with an interesting plot. The female monkey asks the male monkey, her lover, I believe, or maybe her husband, to bring a paan for her. He goes and comes back with a paan leaf – a betel leaf. Just the leaf. She asks for the betel nut to go with it – It is only then that he realizes his mistake. You don’t chew paan without the betel nut. He goes and gets the betel nut. She now asks for the tobacco to go with the betel nut and the paan leaf. He has to make another trip to get it. And then she asks for the last item – the lime paste to go with it. Of c…

Draupadi: The Day of the Jackals 3

Continued from …2

Krishnaa could not believe this was happening. She the sacrifice-born princess, the pet of King Drupada, the adored sister of Shikhandin and Dhrishtadyumna, the darling of the entire Panchala, the wife of the five Pandava brothers, the queen of Indraprastha, has been brought into an assembly of kings and nobles dragged by her hair. She who had faced a similar assembly of men only once before in her life during her swayamvara, was now in the middle of these nobles, while in her monthly period, clad in one cloth. And Dushshasana was pulling even that cloth away from her!

Was it really happening? Or was this all a mere hallucination? Was this a nightmare from which she will soon wake up to find that nothing has changed, everything was as before, that she was still the queen of Indraprastha, that her husbands were still masters of a rich and powerful kingdom, that the dice game had never happened?

But she knew the answer. Dushshasana’s powerful hands were pulling her cloth …