Spiritual Tree by Vardhan V Dharkar

Many of us have a hobby of growing plants. No matter how small the area may be, we find a place to grow the plants. We have a good understanding that to grow a plant we need

  • Good soil
  • Good seed
  • Ample Sunlight
  • Adequate Water and
  • Good Fertiliser

If any of the above ingredients is missing or is not available in sufficient quantity at the right time, then the plant’s growth will suffer. To make sure that the plant grows well, we go to great lengths to ensure that we prepare good quality soil, we procure good quality seeds. We find a good spot where there is ample sunlight. Every day we water the plant adequately. We nurture the plant with good fertiliser. In addition to above, we also make sure that weeds do not grow along with the plant. At frequent intervals we remove the weeds. We also know that for a plant to grow, lot of patience is required. It cannot grow overnight. We watch the progress of the plant every day to make sure all the above ingredients are available in right quantity at the right time. When all of the above is done then the plant grows and rewards us with good quality fruits.

Similar to the physical plant, there is a spiritual plant. Just as physical plant needs many ingredients to grow, the spiritual plant also needs many ingredients to blossom into a beautiful tree. The ingredients the spiritual tree needs are

  • Swadharma
  • Pure thought
  • Guru
  • Reading scriptures
  • Bhakti and faith

To grow spiritual plant, we need to identify our swadharma. Bhagwad Gita, Chapter three, verse thirty five says “Performing ones natural duties, even if tinged with faults, is far better than performing someone else’s duty perfectly”. Swadharma is the first step in starting our spiritual journey. The second step is to ensure that we have pure mind. Just as we take great care in selecting good quality seed, we have to ensure purity of thoughts and mind. The mind should have only positive thoughts, love and affection at all times. Having identified our swadharma and made sure our mind is pure; the next important step is to have a guru. The word “Guru” means “Someone who dispels the darkness from your life”.  He will guide us and will provide the guidance so that our journey of growing spiritually remains on right track. Guru’s role is vital and very critical. Once you have a right Guru, your journey to grow spiritually will progress unhindered. To water the plant of spirituality, we need to read the scriptures, listen to discourses of the gurus, understand and assimilate the philosophy of life. Bhakti and faith are the two fertilisers that will provide a right stimulant to the growth of the spiritual plant. They need to be given at frequent intervals to ensure the consistent growth. Just as we remove weeds from the plant, we have to do the same thing with our spiritual plant. Here the weeds are the negative thoughts, hatred, lack of self-belief and attachment to senses. We have to be on constant guard to ensure that these negative thoughts do not enter and pollute our mind. These negative thoughts stunt spiritual growth

We give enough time for physical plant to grow and blossom, similarly we need to give sufficient time for the spiritual tree also to grow and blossom. We have to remember that growing a spiritual plant is not a 20/20 cricket match; it is a test match of five days. It is not one hundred meter sprint; rather it is a marathon race. We can win this marathon only with patience and time.

 Our growth in spirituality is assured when we sincerely and consistently follow the above path.

Happy growing spiritually!!

वर्धन वसंत धारकर
०६ मार्च २०२३


Musings of a Pioneer: Au Revoir!

It has taken me more than a month to gather strength and pen my thoughts about the eventual truth that we all know about, but are too scared to face, till circumstances force us to look it in the eyes.

How do you bid farewell to people whom you have known your entire life! Words are not enough to put a lifetime of memories on paper. It has been a difficult and trying winter for me, as I look back and reflect on the times that I spent with those who have now merged with the eternal.

The first to go was the one with whom I was connected for more than my life on this mortal earth – 9 months or so more. Yes, she was my mother. There are myriad memories, but the uppermost in my mind are those of her possessive protection – which was never stifling – and the bridge that she was between us children and our father. I took her love for granted, hoping that my gestures were enough to convey my love.

The next to go was my maternal uncle, my mother’s younger brother. I do not know what his feelings were as he might have held me in his arms when I was born. He would have been only a 17 year old young boy at the time. In fact, I also never felt the urge to ask him about the emotions that might be going through his heart at the time. The reason was simple – he never treated me as a child. We spoke as equals. He made me feel special without overtly talking about it. Now we will talk no more.

The last was someone who I met 25 years ago – not a lifetime, but no less also. We met professionally, lived in the same complex and developed a healthy regard for each other. Our children grew up together. Our younger daughters developed a friendship that would be the envy of all. We moved on, but spoke occasionally. Every time that we spoke or on the rare times that we met, he would ask me to come home to reminisce about our times together over a glass of wine. That never happened.

Now there are unsaid thoughts and a regret that I should have made efforts to be more communicative. The three deaths have also brought home the fact that our time on the planet is limited, and there is a lot to be done, a lot to be said to dear ones. There would never be enough time; but I can try.

I do not know if there is a supreme being in the other realm who would judge me. I only hope that when I close my eyes, I do so with a satisfaction that I tried my best.

Au revoir my dear ones… Till we meet again… This time we will talk… And do the things that we wanted to do together.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Seashore at Twilight by Yudhajit

This is the story of Vivek and Lucy and their love for each other. Vivek is missing for two years, feared dead in a flight that could not land in Bhutan due to poor weather conditions and the plane is presumed to have crashed. Lucy is trying to pick up pieces of her shattered life as she is asked to travel to Sri Lanka for work, where she meets a look-alike of Vivek, who does not recognise her.

The above broadly describes the storyline, which should lead to a predictable happy ending, as Vivek makes an entry in the story somewhere in the middle of the book. It is the twists and turns in the story that make it interesting.

The language is simple and easy to read. My complaint is about editorial inputs – grammar and vocabulary. A fast read, which will appeal to movie buffs.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast and The Life and Times of a Common Man.

Contact sanjaychandra59@gmail.com for Book Reviews, Author Show, Guest Blogs, and Creative Writing Workshop.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Circumstances can bring out the worst or the best in us. We may endlessly argue about the bad in a person, but there is also good, which may manifest in adversities.

This Pulitzer award winner novel is about the best that a human being can be. Marie Laure’s father builds a model of their Paris neighbourhood for her to navigate the real streets when she goes blind at the age of six. German occupation of France forces them to flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast to live with a grand-uncle, with a national treasure in his custody. He builds another model of the new neighbourhood for his daughter.

In a parallel track, Werner, an orphan in Germany, is enchanted by a radio. He goes on to master the skills to repair radios, and joins the Germany of Hitler, as a tracker of radio signals by the resistance. Travelling through different countries with the German army, he lands in Saint-Malo.

Here, the paths of the two orphans merge. Here, they display the strength of character, that raises them beyond the ordinary.

This is a heart touching story that makes you believe in the good in you in the difficult times that we are living in.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast and The Life and Times of a Common Man.

Contact sanjaychandra59@gmail.com for Book Reviews, Author Show, Guest Blogs, and Creative Writing Workshop.

Let us understand our festivals! by Vardhan V Dharkar

Makar Sankranti मकर संक्रांती

Historical Significance

Sankranti means the movement of the सूर्य देवता, Sun God from one rashi (constellation of the zodiac) to the next. Hence, there are 12 Sankranti’s in a year. Out of these, the Makar Sankranti is considered the most auspicious. On this day, the Sun travels from zodiac of Sagittarius (धनू) to Capricorn (मकर). It is one of the few Hindu festivals that are aligned with the solar cycle, which means that every year it will come on the same date, fourteenth of January, excepting in leap year when it comes on fifteenth of January. It heralds a change in season, as from this day the Sun begins its movement from South hemisphere (दक्षिणायन) to north (उत्तरायण) hemisphere, signifying end of winter season.

The Vedic sage Vishvamitra is credited with initiating the celebration. It has been mentioned in the Mahabharat that the Pandavas celebrated Makar Sankranti while they were in exile. The festivities associated with Makar Sankranti are known by various names Magh Bihu in Assam, Maghi/ Lohri in Punjab, Maghi Saaji in Himachal Pradesh, Maghi Sangrand or Uttarain (उत्तरायण) in Jammu, Sakrat in Haryana, Sakraat in Rajasthan, Sukarat in central India, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Uttarayana (उत्तरायण) in Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh, Ghughuti in Uttarakhand, Dahi Chura in Bihar, Makar Sankranti in Odisha, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa, West Bengal (also called Poush Sankranti or Mokor Sonkranti), Uttar Pradesh (also called Khichidi Sankranti), Uttarakhand (also called Uttarayani) or as simply, Sankranti in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Maghe Sankranti (Nepal), Songkran (Thailand), Thingyan (Myanmar), Mohan Songkran (Cambodia), Til Sakraait in Mithila. Makar Sankranti importance isn’t just limited to its religious significance; it also has economic significance as the festival also marks the beginning of the harvest season when new crops are harvested bringing prosperity to farmers.

The deity Sankranti, after whom the festival is named, is worshipped as a God. According to Hindu legend, Sankranti killed a demon named Sankarasur. The day following Makar Sankranti is called Karidin, which is also known as Kinkrant. On this day, the Devi slayed the demon Kinkarasur, symbolizing the end of negativities whilst giving way to righteousness and good intentions to live well and prosper. While there are plenty of stories about Makar Sankranti and its religious roots, it is said that the Sun (सूर्य देवता) stands for “Pratyaksha-Braham” (प्रत्यक्ष ब्रम्ह), “a manifestation of the absolute”, bestowing knowledge, spiritual light, and wisdom, and hence Makar Sankranti is a festival where सूर्य, the Sun God is worshipped and offered gratitude and prayers. People take the holy dip in the river Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Krishna or Kaveri.

On this day freshly harvested food grains, are first offered to the Gods and then eaten. Ayurved suggests eating Khichdi since it is a light and easily digestible. The significance of eating Khichdi is that it prompts the body to prepare for the change in season, from the cold winter breeze to the forthcoming warmth of spring. As the temperature fluctuates from dry cool to warm, the body consequentially becomes susceptible to imbalances. Khichdi thus makes for the perfect dish to quench the appetite whilst providing the body with essential nutrition. It also symbolises unity as it is prepared in the pot by mixing freshly harvested rice, lentils, vegetables and various spices. Sweets made from sesame and jaggery such as laddoos is shared amongst people, symbolising a desire for unity, peace and harmony.

The festival is celebrated in different ways in different parts of the country, signifying Diversity in unity.


The festival is celebrated for two days, the first of which is dedicated to flying kites. Popular cries like “Kai Po Che” and “E Lapet” begin the occasion as the vast blue sky is filled with an array of kites. Kite-flying competitions are held across communities in the state, with each individual engaged in an intriguing kite fight against all others. Undhiyu and chikkis, a delicious combination of winter vegetables, sesame seeds, peanuts and jaggery, are cooked in Gujarati households to commemorate the occasion.


Associated with the harvest of winter crops, Makar Sankranti, called Lohri in Punjab, is an iconic event among the farmers here. On the night of Lohri, bonfires are lit across the state to worship god and perform rituals. The locals also perform the bhangra while eating the mouth-watering traditional dish of kheer (rice cooked in milk).


In Assam Makar Sankranti, called Magh Bihu, feasts last up to a week. The festival marks the end of the harvest season. Games like tekeli-bhonga (pot-breaking) and buffalo fighting take place on the actual day of the event. Rice cakes and laru, a sweet dish made from coconut, are popular delicacies. Meji, makeshift huts, are often erected from nothing by the young to host the feast after which they are burned the following day.

Tamil Nadu

In Tamil Nadu, Makar Sankranti known as Pongal is celebrated on four days: The day prior to Pongal is called Bhogi Pongal. The old items are disposed of this day.
The second day is Pongal, the main day of celebration, when prayers are offered to the Sun God for prosperity and wealth. In the early morning, milk is boiled in big mud pots kept over mud stoves. When the boiled milk spills over from the brim of the pot, people shout “Pongalo Pongal”, from which the festival got its common name of “Pongal”. Sweet Pongal, Salted Pongal, sambar, rasam, milk payasam (kheer), adhirasam, vadai, and curd pacchadi are prepared for lunch.

The third day after Pongal is celebrated as Mattu Pongal when obeisance is paid to the cattle – cow, buffalo, ox, goat, and the sheep – that help in agricultural or laborious harvest works. The cattle are decorated with sandal paste, vermillion, turmeric, flowers and bells made out of grasses, “netti” shoots and flowers. In villages of Madurai, Tirunelveli, and Ramanathapuram, Jellikattu is an important event, which is a contest for taming the wild bulls. The sweet rice Pongal and the salted Pongal are served to the cattle as a sign of gratefulness.

The last day of celebration is called “Kannum Pongal” or Karinaal, the day when the people in the village meet their relatives and friends to thank them for their support during the harvest time.


In Maharashtra, the day begins with bathing in water filled with sesame seeds. Married women celebrate wedded life by anointing each other with scented waters, exchanging turmeric and vermillion and enjoying the haldi kunku. They also exchange Sugad which are earthen clay pots containing sugarcane, berries, carrot pieces, puffed rice, turmeric, cloth and cotton. Five married women distribute five Sugads to five other married women. This is one festival where the colour black is worn as it signifies the end of the black period and welcoming of a happy, new time. Maharashtrian women wear a special black saree called the Chandrakala which is embossed with starsand and small crescent moons. Another reason for wearing black is because Sankranti comes at the peak of the winter and wearing black helps to absorb heat and keep the body warm. Halwyache daagine or ornaments made out of halwa (a sweet pudding of sugar-coated sesame) are offered to the newly wed bride at the traditional Sunache Tilavan which is the first welcome to the daughter-in-law.

The best food items during the festival are til gul which consists of sesame and jaggery – both symbols of prosperity and gulaachi poli/bhakri (round thick rotis made of sesame and jaggery dusted with sesame and crowned with butter.


Makar Sankranti in Nepal is celebrated as Maghe Sankranti and like most regions, they too celebrate the festival with sesame seeds. One of the legends has it that aeons ago, a businessman had a sack of sesame seeds which never seemed to end. On digging through the bag, he found an idol of Lord Vishnu in the bag and hence, sesame seeds became auspicious. After Makar Sankranti, the auspicious period commences and all ceremonies are done in Nepal.

My Interpretation

Makar Sankranti is about movement, movement from ignorance to knowledge, from night to day. It teaches us that in this universe nothing is constant, everything is changing and evolving. It teaches us also to change, evolve, improve, accept and adapt new concepts, move from without to within, discard old thoughts and imbibe new thoughts and knowledge, become a better individual. It reinforces the mantra “Nothing is constant in this world except Change”.

Wishing everyone a very Happy Makar Sankranti

वर्धन वसंत धारकर

Happy New Year! by Vardhan V Dharkar

Human beings since time immemorial are in search of happiness, eternal happiness. That quest for happiness continues even today. Although we have made immense progress in material science and our physical life has become much more comfortable, same cannot be said about happiness. Today also we are far away from eternal happiness. It continues to elude us.

Causes of Unhappiness

Almost all of us are unhappy, the reasons could be many. Some of the reasons could be, I don’t have enough wealth, my health is not good, or my job is not good, I have family problems, I want better job or a better boss, my neighbour has a bigger car; his flat is bigger than mine. The list is endless. We believe that happiness is to be found in external objects, be it material things or human relations. As a result we keep chasing objects of desire or keeping searching for perfect relationships.. When one desire is fulfilled, we feel happy; however, that happiness is temporary and mind moves on to next desire and our happiness is gone. I would like to share a small story with you.

Two strangers were going from one town to another. The way to other town was going through dense forest. It took them a week to cross the forest. After crossing the forest they were to go separate ways. At the end of their journey, the first stranger told the other stranger that I am a small thief. While crossing through the forest I steal valuables from others and run away. I wanted to do the same thing with you. Every day when you used to be asleep or were away for some time, I used to search your belongings for valuables. However I could not find anything. I think you must be a bigger thief. The other stranger told him that he is not a thief but a big businessman and was carrying jewellery. He went on to say that the reason you could not find any valuables was because I used to keep it in your bag while sleeping or when I used to be away. If you would have searched your belongings of rather than mine, you would have found it. Saying so the businessman went his way.

The story ends here, but for us actually our story begins now.

We also keep searching for happiness without, while actually we have to search it within! We keep aspiring for material objects. I should have a bigger flat, a bigger car or a better job. We keep comparing with others. Why is he wealthier than me, why is he healthier than me, how come he has no troubles in his personal or professional life.

In short, all the time, we want to be in shoes of someone else. Unfortunately that “someone” else also keeps changing in our mind all the time! Sometimes we want to be the richest person on earth, at other times we want to be most popular person or the best sportsperson!

We keep ignoring that others also must be thinking and doing the same thing. I am very sure that if we are really offered that choice to swap places, we will refuse it once we come to know the problems the other person is having!! We also have to remember that to gain something we have to give up something. If we want to become richest person on earth, we may have to give up our social life or our good health or our hobbies. As human beings everyone will have his share of good things and bad. Everyone will go through that cycle of ups and downs. God has given all human beings their share of happiness and sorrow. Each one of us is unique and cannot be compared with anyone else.

In short we search for happiness in

  • वस्तू (Object)
  • व्यक्ती (Individual) or
  • परिस्थिती (Situation)

We are looking for happiness in getting things or receiving something from others. We feel happiness is in receiving and hoarding. However the happiness that we get from above is temporary and transient.

Mantra for Eternal Happiness

The key to living happy life is to decouple our happiness from above three aspects. We have to change our search for happiness from objects, individuals and situations. We have to stop looking for happiness in receiving and hoarding. There is much more happiness in giving. We have to stop benchmarking our happiness against someone else’s happiness. The key to our happiness should not be outside of us and certainly not with someone else, it should, at all times, be with us and us only. We also have to remember that each one of us will have good times and bad times. It is not possible that any human being will have only good times in his life or only bad times. Life is like a sine wave, it will go up and down; it is like stock market, which goes up at some point of time and goes down some other time. The key is to take both ups and downs in our stride. We have to remember that “This too shall pass”.

Once we start believing in, accepting and practising this philosophy, we are in Eternal happiness, Eternal bliss.

To summarise, for Eternal Happiness

  • Look within and Not Without
  • Give rather than take and
  • Practice Equanimity

If we follow these three principals in our life, I am sure our life will turn for better; we will be on a path to “Eternal Happiness”.

Wishing everyone a very happy 2023 and “Eternal Happiness”!

Sanjay Chandra in conversation with Sandhya Borkar

Sanjay Chandra is the author of The Gymnast and The Life and Times of a Common Man.

Sandhya Borkar is the author of Shree’s Varah.

Sandhya had a filmi love marriage, made a successful transition from a vegetarian home to a non vegetarian Konkani marital home, and loves reading romance, our mutual mentor, friend, philosopher and guide Lalitha Ravindran from First Forays Literary Agency… And many more snippets about her.

Contact sanjaychandra59@gmail.com for Author Show, Book Reviews, Creative Writing Workshop, and Guest Blog.

Book Reviews by a Pioneer: Saat by Abhimanyu Jamwal

This is a collection of seven short stories. As you read one story after another, you move in a fantasy land of myriad emotions – ambition, passion, jealousy, love, anger, and many others.
And then it hits you, it is not a land of fantasies, the author is writing about our society, our lives.

A pigeon woos a hen with a solution to the Kashmir problem, a jilted lover would go to any length for revenge, an orator instigates his followers through poems, a writer gets her opening inspiration through blood and gore, a woman becomes a killing machine in her hallucinations in a Delhi of future – instigated by a charismatic leader, sibling bonding and envy, time travel for two minutes to realise your dreams.

The blurb of the book says it all – there is a thin line between reality and fantasy.

The review is by Sanjay Chandra, author of The Gymnast, and The Life and Times of a Common Man.

Contact sanjaychandra59@gmail.com for Book Reviews, Author Show, Guest Blogs, and Creative Writing Workshop.