Tag Archives: Books

Terra Incognita

“Between words is silence, around ink whiteness, behind every map’s information is what’s left out, and unmapped and unmappable.”
“… Terra Incognita spaces on maps say that knowledge is also an island surrounded by oceans of the unknown. They signify that cartographers knew they did not know, and awareness of ignorance is not just ignorant; it’s awareness of knowledge’s limits. To destroy false notions, without even going any further, is one of the ways to advance knowledge. To acknowledge the unknown is part of knowledge…”

– “A Field Guide To Getting Lost”

These paragraphs on terra incognita and the nature of the unknown have captured my imagination and fantasy and thoughts associated with these 2 words.

Terra Incognita.

Growing up and living in a world where knowledge bombards, where not to know is frowned upon, where admittance of not knowing can be a source of shame – terra incognita suggests a world so refreshing and light.


In the world of terra Incognita, it might be more accepting, more embracing of ambiguity. Of the need for exploration, both externally and internally. Such a world might view learning for the beauty of it, rather than learning as the means to an end. The lack of knowledge, and the awareness of lack of knowledge, being acknowledged as a form of knowledge in itself. Being liberated from knowledge.


Terra Incognita.

Places and Emotions

“The places in which any significant event occurred become embedded with some of that emotion, and so to recover the memory of that place is to recover the emotion, and sometimes to revisit the place uncovers the emotion. Every love has it’s landscape. Thus place, which is always spoken as though it only counts when you’re present, possesses you in it’s absence, takes on another life as a sense of place, a summoning in the imagination with all the atmospheric effect and association of a powerful emotion. The places inside matter as much as the ones outside…”
‘A Field Guide to Getting Lost’, Rebecca Solnit
These lines very concisely sum up why I feel the way I do towards, in and at certain places.
Sydney, for me, will always be associated with a sense of hope and potential, the place I came to to embark on my dreams and aspirations. The place which gave me the opportunity to experience a life I never thought I could lead.
India, more specifically, Amritapuri – will always be the Home I can return to, as long as I’m there with the ones who mean the most to me.
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Then there’s the Home of all homes, the country where I was born and raised. So many layers of emotions associated with it, that I can’t even begin to think of where to begin. Within that place there are more places and infinitely intricate emotions, as expected from a place you have spent so many years with – all making up who I am and continue to be.
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And so I realize it is true – emotions have their landscapes, and landscapes have their emotions. And it is through these relationships that we grow and develop unfathomable depths of human emotion, some of which we might not even be aware of until we come face to face with those places.

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The Beauty of Abandonment

“What is a ruin, after all? It is a human construction abandoned to nature, and one of the allures of ruins in the city is that of wilderness: a place full of the promise of the unknown with all its epiphanies and dangers. Cities are built by Man, but they decay by nature, from earthquakes and hurricanes to the incremental processes of rot, erosion, rust and microbial breakdown of concrete, stone, wood and brick, the return of plants and animals making their own complex order that further dismantles the simple order of men.”
– “A Field Guide to Being Lost”
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From the time I got hooked on  photo taking, I became aware of the innate attraction to things of old, abandonment, ruin, or just things which could have been typically overlooked in a normal person’s daily life, hence relegating that object to the realms of abandonment.

Examples would include lone fire hydrants in the middle of green fields, or in the midst of towering office buildings. Clock towers. Cracks in the wall. Weeds growing out of those cracks. Old windows. Back alleys. Crates and boxes. Faded curtains. Places soon to be demolished.
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Why do these objects and scenes hold such charm? What is it about the beauty an object or scene of abandonment holds?

These days, the word “vintage” has become somewhat of a brand name. Goods and apparel with that word attached to them can sometimes fetch prices higher than brand new counterparts. Again, it seems to be a testament to the beauty of abandonment. And interestingly, it seems to be characteristic of the developed world. We wouldn’t see (or imagine) a villager from rural areas hankering after that which has been labeled “vintage”, would we?

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Perhaps, bombarded with a landscape which changes too quickly, and a mass of affluence everywhere, that desire to explore things which fall outside the shiny and new, outside the facade of perfection, becomes awakened. And that awakening manifests in the wearing of vintage apparel, in the decorating of one’s house as it might have been in the 60s, in the capturing of scenes of abandonment through the lens of a camera.

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“Ruins become the unconscious of a city, it’s memory, unknown, darkness, lost lands, and in this truly bring it to life.”

The shiny and new certainly have their own allure and charm, but perhaps what is most charming about them is that they serve to highlight the soul of ruins, the beauty of abandonment, the lost potentials of what could have been.
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The Little Prince Espresso

“Indeed, as I learned, there were on the planet where the little prince lived – as on all planets – good plants and bad plants. In consequence, there were good seeds from good plants, and bad seeds from bad plants. But seeds are invisible. They sleep deep in the heart of the earth’s darkness, until someone among them is seized with the desire to awaken. Then this little seed will stretch and begin – timidly at first, to push a charming little sprig inoffensively upward towards the sun. If it is only a sprout of radish or the sprig of a rose bush, one would let it grow wherever it might wish. But when it is a bad plant, one must destroy it as soon as possible, the very first instant one recognizes.

Now there were some terrible seeds on the planet that was the home of the little prince; and these were the seeds of the baobab. The soil of that planet was infested with them. A baobab is something you will never, never be able to get rid of if you attend to it too late. It spreads over the entire planet. It bores clear through it with its roots. And the planet is too small, and the baobabs are too many, they split it in pieces.

“It’s a question of discipline,” the little prince said to me later on. “… You must see to it that you pull out regularly all the baobabs, at the very first moment when they can be distinguished from the rose bushes which they resemble so closely in their earliest youth. It is very tedious work,” the little prince added, “but very easy.”

I have never doubted why this tale of a little prince has lasted for so many centuries and remain the source of inspiration for the many of us seeking insight in life’s experiences.

Truth is always simple and clear, it is our minds and egos which complicates matters.

For some reason, on that Sunday in Brisbane, this segment of the story jumped out at me. It resonated a lot with what I’ve read over the past few years, about the positive and negative seeds within us, and about how if we are not mindful about which seeds we water (or which wolf we feed), we could end up living with the less than desirable consequences.

The path to happiness is also a path of mindfulness.


Last Semester // New Project

This week, I embark on the last semester of my course.

Before I know it, 2 years – a length of time which once stretched into the (blue) distance, will come to an end. And a new beginning beckons.

In a possible attempt to slow time down, or at least retain whatever fragments of time I can, I’ve started a new personal project: To take regular pictures of the scenery outside my window.

Inspired from the book ‘The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere‘, I also wanted to see how placing focus on something seemingly unchanging could affect my inner world.

Just slightly less than a month into this project, and already I sense a difference in how I feel towards the view I’ve been blessed to have.

I now keep my blinds open for longer hours each day, eager to see what Mother Nature has in store for us with every passing moment. No two sunrises or sunsets have ever been the same. No cloud of the same shape or density have crossed the same space twice. Even the shadows which fall across the houses seem to hint at different characteristics each time. These subtle yet distinct variations of a same place, from behind the same window pane, could be used as an analogy to show how our inner selves are never the same from one moment to the next, as we glide through life, from one fragment of time to another.

Yet, a sense of familiarity is always there. Just like the prominent tree, and the stoic houses which anchor the ever-changing landscape, the entity which we know to be the Self is always constant, there within us.

The Self I am now is vastly different from the Self I was 2 years ago. Yet, I am still Me. And I feel it is only in moments of (sometimes self-imposed) stillness, when I can reach closer to that never-changing Self, the Self I long to return and anchor myself to, as I make my way through this accelerated and motion-filled world.

“The need for an empty space, a pause, is something we have all felt in our bones; its the rest in a piece of music that gives it resonance and shape.”

– Pico Iyer, ‘The Art Of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere’

The Secret Life of Bees

It took me a long while to get started on this novel, even though I’ve had it in Kindly (the Kindle) for awhile, and part of the reason was because, well, I don’t like bees.

Despite knowing how important and integral they are to the ways of the world and life, I just can’t bring myself to love them as I would a cat or dog. Result of social conditioning.

But that aside, I truly Felt this novel. Good writing does that to you, I think. It makes you feel. Not just for the protagonist, but for all the characters. For the context (Summer 1964, South Carolina – Civil Rights upheavals), landmarks (the Pink House), even the “bad” guy (Lily’s father).

“There is nothing perfect,” August said from the doorway. “There is only life.”
“Drifting off to sleep, I thought about her. How nobody is perfect. How you just have to close your eyes and breathe out and let the puzzle of the human heart be what it is.”

Above all, this novel spoke of the universal affinity within us for that aspect of universal motherhood, the forms and qualities associated with it.

“You have to find a mother inside yourself. We all do. Even if we already have a mother, we still have to find this part of ourselves.”
I think here, August, already like a surrogate mother to Lily, was speaking about the qualities of motherhood / femininity which we need to cultivate within us: Forgiveness, compassion, selflessness, the ability to love all beings as one’s own.

This book gave me lots to think (and cry) about.

Body Scan and Mindfulness

I first heard of the phrase “body scan” a few months ago at a mindfulness session. It’s not unlike yoga practice, where we are taught to be aware of our body and breathing.

Then I recently I read this in a book by Thich Nhat Hanh, and feel much clearer about the approach, nuances and benefits of such a practice.

“To practice mindfulness of the body, you might like to lie down and practice total relaxation. Allow your body to rest, and then be mindful of your forehead. “Breathing in, I am aware of my forehead. Breathing out, I smile to me forehead.” Use the energy of mindfulness to embrace your forehead, your brain, your eyes, your ears, and your nose. Each time you breathe in, become aware of one part of your body, and every time you breathe out, smile to that part of your body. Use the energies of mindfulness and love to embrace each part. Embrace your heart, your lungs, and your stomach. “Breathing in, I am aware of my heart. Breathing out, I embrace my heart.” Practice scanning your body with the light of mindfulness and smiling to each part of your body with compassion and love.  When you finish scanning in this way, you will feel wonderful. It takes only half and hour, and your body will rest deeply during those thirty minutes. Please take good care of your body, allowing it to rest and embracing it with tenderness, compassion, mindfulness and love. 

Learn to look at our body as a river in which every cell is a drop of water. In every moment, cells are born and cells die. Birth and death support each other. To practice mindfulness of the body, follow your breathing and focus your attention on each part of the body, from the hair on your head to the soles of your feet. Breathe mindfully an embrace each part of the body with mindfulness, smiling to it with recognition and love. Identify the form elements in your body: earth, water, air and heat. See the connection of these four elements inside and outside of your body. See the living presence of your ancestors and future generations, as well as the presence of all other beings in the animal, vegetal and mineral realms. Become aware of the positions of your body (standing, sitting, walking, lying down) and it’s movements (bending, stretching, taking a shower, getting dressed, eating, etc.). When we master this practice, we will be able to be aware of our feelings and our perceptions as they arise, and we will be able to practice looking deeply into them.” 

Being aware of our emotions even as they are arising will drastically reduce the chances and frequency of us reacting to them without control. It’s definitely something I would like to work towards and cultivate in my work and life.


When a friend asked me what I feel I lack in my life and I replied: “I think I lack detachment”, she mulled over it for a while before saying: “What if a person becomes so detached that the person becomes unfeeling?”

I know that true detachment doesn’t mean being not compassionate and indifferent to the suffering of others, but at that moment I could not think of how to explain or reply to her statement. A few days ago I read this excerpt from a book:

“One of the elements of Love is Upeksha, which means equanimity,  non-attachment, non-discrimination, even-mindedness, or letting go. People sometimes think Upeksha means indifference, but true equanimity is neither cold nor indifferent. If you have more than one child, they are all your children. Upeksha does not mean that you don’t love. You love in a way that all receives your love without discrimination.

In a conflict, even though we are deeply concerned, we remain impartial, able to love and to understand both sides. We shed all discrimination and prejudice, and remove all boundaries between ourselves and others. We have to put ourselves “into the person’s skin”. When that happens, there is no “self” and no “other”.”

A person with true detachment is not one who lacks compassion or empathy. Rather, they are able to look beyond social castes, family backgrounds, personality flaws and all the myriad of differences we concern ourselves with, because they would see no difference between their Self and Others. This would make them naturally expansive, seeing the One in All and the All in One. When that state of true detachment, or Upekshsa, is achieved, compassion and the ability to feel what others are feeling will come naturally.

If I could have that conversation with my friend again, I might be able to explain myself better now.

The Guest Cat

Descriptively and poetically written. I thought the novel beautifully captures the essence of the relationship between Chibi and her humans, and humans and cats in general.

“Little by little, through the crack in the partially opened window, her tendency to visit subtly developed; her appearances were repeated until, as if a silken opening in a fabric had been continuously moistened and stretched, Chibi had entered our lives.”

And as some of us would know, once a cat has entered your life, things aren’t ever the same 🙂

Tiny Beautiful Things

I felt my heart soften, and harden, and then soften again… For innumerable times as I read this book. The stories and replies seem to reveal some of the deepest emotions and feelings human beings could experience. Reading the stories made me slightly pessimistic at first. Why is there so much suffering in the world?
But towards the end of the book, I felt a change. It was no longer “why is there suffering”, but more of “there is suffering, BUT..”

But there is always a choice. But there is always a way out, as long as we want it badly enough. But things will get better. But we will survive. But we will get there. But it’s ok!

As I introspect, I go on to realise that I myself, like so many of the letter writers to the column, suffer mainly because of the difficult emotions within, because we don’t know how to handle them, and allow them to manifest in dysfunctional thought processes and words and actions which end up harming ourselves and others more.

I am reminded of some wise words, that we need to learn how to embrace our difficult emotions as well as the “good” emotions. Because our difficult emotions are part of us too, and like everything and everyone else, all they want is to be accepted. Embraced. Validated. We need to learn how to take care of our emotions, instead of bashing ourselves up over them. This is one point of living “Tiny Beautiful Things” has highlighted for me. Only when we have accepted the presence and of our difficult circumstances and emotions without judgement, can we begin to move forward and make changes in the direction we want.