Thriving Mindfully

Tag: Pedals and Perspectives

A tale of three friends

Once upon a time, three close friends went for an outing to an ancient city. Being avid architecture enthusiasts, they roamed all around the town square, looking at the remnants of a once-thriving civilization. The meticulously planned city was a sight to behold, even centuries after its prime. Everywhere they went, they saw rubble and bricks holding together the skeletal form of old houses, castles, and temples. It was fascinating for them to imagine how this place would have looked like in its golden age. After walking around all day, each of them sat at a nice spot overlooking an old temple, soaking in the day’s experience.

One of them mused,

‘How glorious would this city have been in its heyday. While only disintegrated parts of the construction remain, the architecture commands such glory and respect. I will build something like this in my lifetime.’

Later on in life, he went on to become a great builder. He designed a state-of-the-art township near the capital city that was celebrated all around the Kingdom. It was the architectural highlight of the era.

The second friend was ambitious as well, but he wanted quick success. He thought,

‘No matter how well one builds a city, it will inevitably turn into rubble in a thousand years. And while I can see that everyone celebrates the remnants of this ancient capital, the person who designed it is not alive to see his work being appreciated by the future generations. Perhaps I should build a township that turns into rubble in just a few decades. At least, I will be alive to witness how people laud my achievements.’

He went on to build a township a few miles away from the first friend’s township. While it looked majestic from the outside, it was designed to perish within a few decades to fulfil his desire to be exalted while being alive. 

The third friend was an observant man. He looked closely at the remnants of the grand old temple that stood in front of him. On one of the walls, he spotted a little sapling growing out of the crevices between the bricks. Then, he looked around, and almost everywhere, he saw little plants trying to grow similarly. There was a statue of the Buddha in the old temple that was completely entwined in the roots of a Bodhi tree. That statue was believed to be a symbol of the union of nature and divinity. It was universally revered as a living sermon by the Buddha.

The third friend had an epiphany. Later in life, while his friends were busy erecting monuments in their respective townships, he devoted himself to the humble act of planting saplings all around their city. Driven by an unshakeable faith, he dedicated his life to sowing seeds for posterity. 

Unfortunately, in a couple of centuries, their civilization was wiped out by a natural calamity. 

A thousand years later, in the new millennium, their city has become a popular tourist destination. People come to see the ruins of the glorious ancient civilization from faraway places. 

The township designed by the first friend draws in a lot of crowd. Archaeologists study the architecture of the remnants with deep interest. Even if most buildings do not hold on to their functional use anymore, they still represent a magnificent past. The spirit of a great ancient civilization is still alive in each withering brick. 

The township designed by the second friend had turned into rubble within a few decades of building. Contrary to his expectation of being lauded as a great builder, he was castigated by the community for his sub-standard workmanship. After all these years, the land where the township once stood, is barren and bereft of any life. In stark contrast, the township built by the first friend stands right next to the barren land, in all its glory, despite the deterioration dictated by time.

And, there is something else as well, in this ancient town that teems with life ­­– the third friend’s work.

A thick cover of vegetation has been thriving through the times, all around the ancient city. The forest has been serving as an arena for Mother Nature to choreograph the delicate dance of life. The wise man had managed to plant only a few thousand trees in his lifetime. But he had invested his time and energy in something that would self-replicate and sustain itself through millennia. The flora all around the township is growing steadily. In a few centuries, the forest will entwine the whole city in its embrace, just as the roots of the Bodhi tree had entwined around the Buddha’s statue in the ancient temple. He left behind such a flourishing legacy.

Today, no one remembers the name of any of the three friends. But their karmic fingerprint is alive in the quality of their work.


Today, in the ancient town of Ayutthaya, under the shade of a resplendent tree in springtime, as I look at the Buddha’s statue entwined by roots, I have a feeling about what I should do with my time, life, and work.

Excerpted from my book ‘Pedals and Perspectives
Illustrated by Marine Tellier

Whispers of a Bodhi Tree

On a pleasant summer afternoon, I was riding my bicycle in a lush green park in the city of Bangkok. In an upbeat mood, I was humming my favourite songs while breezing through a tunnel of towering trees. The birds perched on the canopy were at their poetic best, as they sang with unbridled enthusiasm about all things beautiful. Yet, even in such a happy moment, I noticed something in the vicinity that made me stop and ponder. All around me, while the leaves on the trees swayed gently to the cool breeze, the trunk stood still, with no avenue to move about in any way. I could tell that the trees and I shared the same merry mood, yet I had an advantage that my friends in the flora did not. I could move about, sing, dance, and express my happiness, while the trees could only sway to the ebb and flow of the wind. After all, they were firmly rooted in the ground.

‘How I wish that trees could also walk. Wouldn’t it be nice to see them sing and dance when they are happy?’ I lamented.

Engrossed in this wishful desire, as I stopped under a mighty Bodhi tree and rested myself against its trunk, I heard a deep, comforting voice emanating from nearby.

‘Why do you seem so low all of a sudden, my friend? Just moments ago you were so joyous in your heart. Don’t you think it is a beautiful day today?’ asked the Bodhi tree, swaying gracefully to the wind.

‘Oh, dear Bodhi, it indeed is a beautiful day. But how can I celebrate this day alone? I wish you could also sing and dance, travel freely and enjoy the experience of the world beyond your vistas. While I am grateful I can move about, sing, and express my happiness; I feel sorry that you cannot.’

Moved by my concern, the Bodhi tree lovingly shed an old yellow leaf that came swirling down from its canopy. As it landed on my lap, the tree whispered,

‘My friend, thank you for your concern. You are right. I cannot sing or dance or travel freely around the world. But I choose not to feel sad about it. Instead, I grow with solemn devotion and faith. I completely trust the divine design of the universe. Do you know what happens when I do that?’

‘What?’ I inquired.

‘By growing with all my creative energy, a voiceless tree like me becomes an arena where the birds choose to sing symphonies with all their heart, every morning. Yes, I cannot sing, but I do foster a million mellifluous singers in my canopy.

Even though I cannot travel, I provide shade and shelter to every fatigued traveller that crosses my path. I get to hear of all the magical places on Earth from them. Yes, I cannot travel, but I foster faith in travellers and assure them that trees will provide a place to rest whenever they are in need. I do not let my limitations bog me down. I stay true to my nature, grow with all my heart, and encourage people to do things that I am not able to. There’s great joy in living like that.’

With the blowing wind, the birds sang merrily, assenting to the wisdom the tree shared.
Resting in the cool shade of the Bodhi tree, I made a big choice in my little heart­­ –

To sing with an open heart whenever I can. And if for some reason I cannot sing, I should become the arena that fosters singing. The stage that enables others to thrive.

Swaying gently, the tree flirted with the wind, celebrating a life lived fully. Resting in the shadow of the wise old tree I realised,

‘No wonder the Buddha found enlightenment while meditating under a wise old Bodhi tree!’

Once in a lifetime

‘Once in a lifetime. Once in a lifetime.’

Repeated my 72-years-young friend Pholung, as we trekked up a cliff on an island off the Andaman coast in Thailand. We were ascending to reach a point from where we had a chance of spotting a peculiar sea creature called ‘Dugong’, also known as the sea cow.

As Phulong took tiny steps up the coastal cliff, I could sense a silent determination in his spirit. His enthusiasm helped him tide over the limitations imposed by his body. I would help him out with my hand at difficult spots of the trek, but otherwise, for his age, he was supremely fit.

At a point on the way, when we stopped to catch a breath, he turned to me and said,

‘You know, I have lived in Thailand all my life, yet I never came to this island to see this beautiful creature. Now, as my age catches up with me, I realise I have limited time on earth. Sadly, the Dugong has limited time on earth too. This island is the only place in all of Thailand where you can hope to see this shy sea creature. I have grown up listening to stories about the Dugong swimming freely all across the coast of Thailand. Sadly, in the past century, their population has dwindled. We’ve hunted them down mercilessly. The few hundred Dugongs that remain, swim in the shimmering sea that lay in front of us. I hope I can see them frolic in these waters today. For me, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.’

He finished with a smile that a feeling of impending closure brings to the hopeful.

In a bid to encourage him I said, ‘And you are going to see the Dugong today for sure, Phulong. Something tells me that today is the day!’

He smiled, with a resolve you often see in someone who believes they can shape their destiny.

‘Once in a lifetime…once in a lifetime,’ he heaved under his breath as he walked up the cliff, one step at a time. The brittle sedimentary rocks crumbled gently under the determined stamp of his footsteps. The flowing wind ruffled his hair, inviting him to ascend further. A tuft of clouds screened the shining sun to light the sky up with hues of an arrival. All forces of nature seemed to be welcoming his resolution. His eyes shone bright, like emeralds in feeble daylight.

At that moment I wondered,

‘It is likely that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me too. Chances are slim that I will get to visit this remote island in the Andaman Sea again.’

I wondered why, despite it being a once in a lifetime experience for both Phulong and me, it held so much importance to him. I guess, that at his age, he understands the importance of time and the finiteness of existence much better than I do.

But, does one need to grow old to realise this fact? How most of the experiences we have in life could well be once in a lifetime experiences?

How many of us remember the last time we played in the school ground with our friends? Or the meal granny would cook for us whenever we visited her? The last time we cheated in a written exam? The last time we cried out of happiness? Or the last time we embraced a loved one we are not together with anymore?

How about the feeling you got when you received your first salary, the first time you held hands with someone you love, the first time you tasted an exotic fruit, the first time you heard your favourite musician…

All first times tug us to innocence, all last times tug us to nostalgia.

All ‘first times’ only happen once, so do all ‘last times’. This thought might bring a sense of wistfulness. But as we dwell on this thought, we’ll find gratitude gurgle out of the depths of our being, for to have the ability to experience these moments is, in itself, a gift of life. Beyond the notions of ‘first’ and ‘last’, we will dwell in the joy of being able to experience these moments. And once we come to that realisation, we will discover the inherent richness of every experience. You can read this story for the first time just once. And as you read these lines, you are coming to realise that this indeed is a once in a lifetime experience.

Realising this brings a gravity in every moment that leavens the sweet pie of life.

By being solemnly aware as these moments unfold, we present ourselves with the possibility of making the mundane memorable.

The next time we cross paths with a stranger, we may think of it as the only time we are going to see them in life. We may find the openness to offer a friendly smile to this once in a lifetime encounter. If destiny has it in store for us, that might mark the beginning of a lasting friendship. And we’d be glad to have chosen to smile.

I remember the first time I saw Phulong at Bangkok railway station, waiting to load his bicycle in the luggage wagon of the train. I clearly remember the smile he offered me from across the platform. It could have been the first and last time we got a chance to see each other. But look where that smile led us today! On the edge of a cliff overlooking a beckoning ocean, where the Dugong frolic to fulfil an old man’s dream.

What’s your age?

Seated cosily on a couch, Pinthipa and I were still sinking in the feeling of finally getting to meet each other. We had spoken over the phone many times before when she was helping me with my Thai visa formalities. But this was our first meeting in person. Both of us sensed a deep affinity towards each other, like long lost childhood friends. We effortlessly picked up the conversation from the last time we had spoken over the phone. Her deeply comforting energy made me feel welcome and accepted. Grateful to have finally met, we interacted with a great warmth and sincere intent.

At a certain point in our conversation, she fumbled a bit and asked,
‘Can I ask you a personal question?’

‘Yes, surely,’ I said.

‘How old are you?’ she asked gingerly.

It seemed as if she felt that the question might have made me uncomfortable. But I did not feel that way at all. I reassured her with a beaming smile and happily disclosed my age. As a courtesy, she revealed her age readily as well. Soon, we were conversing again, with the same openness and enthusiasm as before.

But this moment of inquiry got me wondering about the concept of age.

Why does disclosing their age make one feel uncomfortable? And why is asking someone their age such a taboo?

When one is confronted with a question about their age, deep inside, it feels like a moment of reckoning. One starts to evaluate their worth and wonders if they are the best they could have been at the present age.

‘Have I done the best I could with the opportunity life bestowed upon me?’ one wonders.

We all have a certain notion about our age. There is a societal checklist, so to say, of things one must accomplish before a certain age. Then, there are personal achievements one visualises in their ideal self, goals that one feels they must fulfil by a particular time in their life.

But aren’t these societal and individual checklists the best-case scenarios? An abstract version of an ideal reality? If one judges their worth according to these parameters, they would surely try to hide their age, because the perfect scenario does not exist in real life.

But, what if we re-imagine the concept of age altogether?

We have a particular, non-negotiable biological age. It is a fact. But do we represent our biological age at every moment of existence?

Think about it.

We are youthful and alive in the company of friends, carefree and childlike when around kids, a curious student in the presence of our old teachers, avuncular mentors for young students, and always a little child for our parents. We are four years old at one moment, forty-four at another. Our psychological age, the one we assume as a situation arises, is a function of the context and the company, isn’t it?

One can truly feel comfortable about their age only when they are aware and accepting of how age morphs from moment to moment. If one’s mind is malleable enough to assume roles of a child and an uncle, a son and a father, a carefree baby and a responsible adult within the span of a day, as the context calls for, they have a healthy age, no matter what the numbers say. And for someone with a healthy age, it will be easy to make peace with the number of trips they’ve made around the sun.

So, when a grandfather makes faces with his granddaughter in front of a mirror, notwithstanding his biological age, he is a healthy human being. Maybe the best way forward is in seeking a healthy age and not youth. That might be the secret to true longevity.

Later that evening, Pinthipa and I were having dinner together at her place. I was feasting on Thai mangoes, and she was slurping on a noodle soup. As sloppy eating a mango can be, so can be eating a noodle soup, and needless to say, both of us were making a complete mess on the dining table. Half-apologetically, we looked at each other. My lips were slimy with the mango pulp, and she had dripped much of the soup on her apron. At that moment, we let out a carefree laugh, at how messy and childlike our manner of eating was. Notwithstanding our biological age, I guess both of us were kids at that moment.

‘You know Sreenath; I lied to you about my age. I am six years old,’ said Pinthipa with a wink.

‘And I am two!’ I shrieked, banging on the table like a child.

Laughter echoed in the home, as we celebrated a new friendship, beyond nationality and age, revelling in the realisation of how childlike we all are deep inside.

Excerpted from my upcoming book ‘Pedals and Perspectives
Designed and Illustrated by Marine Tellier