Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Nicholas Effect

October 1, 1994 was a very tragic day for the Green family.
While holidaying in Southern Italy, their seven year old son Nicholas was killed by highway robbers in a gunfire! What followed was one of the most compassionate act that humankind possibly ever witnessed, when the Green parents decided to donate the slain boy's organs to save the lives of seven people who went on to live healthy lives with the legacy of Nicholas Green. This was the beginning of what came to be known as The Nicholas Effect (l'Effetto Nicholas).

I first read the story many years ago in Readers Digest while spending vacation time in Kannur, Kerala and was immensely moved at the glorious spirit of the Green parents who at a time of terrible personal tragedy chose to remember their Godsend child by coming to the aid of seven Italians who mercifully clung to dear life while meekly oblivious of their fate with every passing moment.

At a time when organ donations were not readily heard of in Italy, this noble act came as a huge booster to prospective organ donors while adding to widespread growth of awareness. As a result, the stigma and lack of knowledge related to organ donation stemmed drastically and Italy alone witnessed a tripled rate in organ donation since the event, ranking it second in Europe, only after Spain, in the volume of organ donations conducted.

Five years later, in 1999, Reg Green, Nicholas Green's father authored The Nicholas Effect which was an instant bestseller in the United States and Italy while also having been translated in a number of languages for print across the world. Subsequently, a movie by the name of Nicholas's Gift was made casting Jamie Lee Curtis and Alan Bates. With time the young boy's name and legacy found place in many a charitable event that was associated with education, organ donation and sports.

At this juncture, I'd like to quote a message from Reg Green which talks about the seven recipients and the motivation behind The Nicholas Effect.

"These seven people are not rich or famous and their lives are marked by the struggles we all have to face. But they feel they have been reborn. Few potential donors realize what a mighty gift they have in their hands. By one action they can save other families from the devastation they themselves face. With such momentous consequences, donor families often wonder how there could be any other choice.

None of this takes away the pain. The sense that life is missing a vital ingredient is there all the time.

But donating does put something on the other side of the balance. For the rest of our lives we donor families can feel proud that our loved ones saved someone in desperate need when no one else in the world could."

It has been 14 years to the date since the incident and a couple of years since I first read about it. I get the same lump in my throat while remembering the story and have to stealthily wipe off the sometimes spontaneous teardrop that strays down my eyes! I recommend that you read this extremely moving chronicle by sourcing a copy of the Digest that published it. (It is many years old, now)

At a time when we deem it difficult to rationalize how best we can help our fellow beings while alive, this story is a remarkable account of how one boy, all but seven, made a massive difference even after he departed!

I will conclude this post with perhaps the most apt description of the Nicholas Effect.

“Do all the good you can, By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can, In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”

(John Wesley, English Evangelist & Founder of Methodism, 1703-1791)


Do visit the The Nicholas Green Foundation
Photo Courtesy: The Nicholas Green Foundation.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

From Krypton with love!

As a kid, I've always loved this simply superb character whom I regarded to be the King of celluloid. I must confess, that there was indeed a time not very long ago, when I refused to believe that Superman was nothing more than a product etched out of a creative mind portrayed purely for thrill and entertainment.

My fascination for this Krypton Character who landed up in Smallville began at a time when satellite television had not gained a fast pace in our lives. Had someone mentioned the name of Christopher Reeve then, I would have almost certainly dismissed it as being someone from the forgotten pages of overloaded history. It did not matter then, if I knew the name of that macho guy who flew around in blue and red overalls.

I still recall the sometimes (mostly) ugly squabbles I had in front of the Television yearning to be part of the privileged 30 minute airtime which belonged to Superman. Probably my ideology to uphold the truth in my own manner and right could well be credited to this screen icon, who I would learn years later, existed merely in print and film.

When the news of Reeve's freak accident in an equestrian competition came in 1995, I was not sure how I wanted to react. But from then on, I would rarely miss an article that featured Christopher Reeve. His marathon effort to champion the cause of the physically disabled has certainly been one of true merit and unsurpassed dedication. Today we relate to the names of Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, HealthExtras, The Creative Coalition and The National Organization on Disability because of this luminous personality.

It is indeed tough to come to terms with the fact that a man who made action portrayal a mission of his life had to be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Even difficult is to comprehend how this man who suffered so much could move the world for a cause, a very good cause that is.

Not long after his disability, he was asked to be part of the honorary jury of the Academy Awards where he moved an entire audience to tears and I couldn't help shed a tear or two even though the context of his words remain unclear to me this very day.

On October 9, 2004 after attending a game of hockey participated by his Son, he slipped into coma. The end came on October 10th when he succumbed to cardiac arrest.

While America and the rest of the world would remember him as an actor par excellence, and a social reformer at best, I'd like to see him as someone who possessed in him a superhuman quality of human excellence.

Christopher Reeve is indeed an exemplary model of how one person can make a difference. He is a legend not merely for his remarkable portrayal of a Kryptonic character who never existed, but because he did what could never be done at a time when merely a thought of doing it was impossible. As he too leaves this planet, I find myself in the crowd, as one who cannot help but think of this remarkable childhood inspiration that was so much a part of my life.

I'm gonna miss him a great deal. The world is terribly short of superb people.

Little wonder they called him Superman!!!


Originally written on October 12, 2004 on Oblivion Redefined

All those Superman fans out there, do visit Caped Wonder for a stellar collection of Superman imagery.

The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation

Friday, October 17, 2008

The real Jonathan Livingston Seagull (within all of us)

Thirty Seven years after it was first published and after considerable recommendation from friends and folks, coupled with very superior reviews I read Jonathan Livingston Seagull last year after I bought the book from a store in Connaught Place, New Delhi on New Years day in 2007.

Barely into a page, I noticed the ease with which Richard Bach introduced the subject whose only purpose was to deeply inspire the reader while helping to take the person deep within the self and understand that being extraordinary was not after all a state limited to the (so-called) extraordinary alone! We have long been conditioned to believe that it takes a superhuman effort to excel and hence become contented with the idea of mediocrity! As children, wide differentiations between the brilliant and the average were imbibed in us, coupled with poor direction and support as a result of which many of us lost trust in our potential and undermined ourselves a great deal only to be condemned to the belief that despite efforts, all results were a direct result subject to the intervention of fate! We have consistently failed to draw inspiration from within and around to make ourselves better, and yet strained hard to achieve the unimaginable only to be violently thrust into dismay in the event of failure.

The story of Jonathan apart from being very simple is a must read. It teaches the most important lesson that one can learn in life, that the individual is unique, whose capability is almost always decided by the manner in which that person looks within and relates to the world outside.

But Jonathan Livingston Seagull, unashamed, stretching his wings again in that trembling hard curve - slowing, slowing, and stalling once more - was no ordinary bird. Most gulls don't bother to learn more than the simplest facts of flight - how to get from shore to food and back again. For most gulls, it is not flying that matters, but eating. For this gull, though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight. More than anything else, Jonathan Livingston Seagull loved to fly.

This is perhaps the case with many of us (me included)! We deem it not in our purview to try what we ought to and seek the help of yet another when the time of judgement arrives, in the bargain immensely compromising not only our will to do what we could have otherwise 'easily' done, but also shatter the mind's confidence while creating a pseudo support system aimed at momentarily calming ourselves. Hence we have come very hard on ourselves and confined our abilities within a boundary out of which we will dare not venture for the fear of failing! Does this sound familiar? I'm sure it does. It is called 'staying within the comfort zone.' Which is why this book does wonders to teach our psyche and the inner self that the first lesson to learn is to be boundary less and unconfined.

The mind does exactly what it has been trained to do, tell it to sleep and it does just that and so, before embarking upon anything it is imperative to train the mind to believe that a possibility can be made a reality by the sheer act of conceiving a thought and executing an idea.

And that is exactly what Jonathan did! He believed with all conviction that he was ace flyer, more than any other fellow gull and flew higher and higher to reach a realm unknown to his kind.

He climbed two thousand feet above the black sea, and without a moment for thought of failure and death, he brought his forewings tightly in to his body, left only the narrow swept daggers of his wingtips extended into the wind, and fell into a vertical dive. The wind was a monster roar at his head. Seventy miles per hour, ninety, a hundred and twenty and faster still. The wing-strain now at a hundred and forty miles per hour wasn't nearly as hard as it had been before at seventy, and with the faintest twist of his wingtips he eased out of the dive and shot above the waves, a ray cannonball under the moon.

It is quite a thing to seek inspiration from within and learn alone! It requires courage, conviction, effort, consistency and belief!
What it certainly does not require is being 'extraordinary.'

I will leave you with the lyrics of one of my favourite numbers ever, from the animated movie - The Prince of Egypt, sung by Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston.
It is called 'Believe.' Do spend a few moments reading the lyrics, since it conveys a very strong meaning and speaks of a thought that is very relevant to every single one of us despite who we are!

Read on......

Many nights we've prayed
With no proof anyone could hear
In our hearts a hopeful song
We barely understood
Now we are not afraid
Although we know there's much to fear
We were moving mountains
Long before we knew we could

There can be miracles
When you believe
Though hope is frail
It's hard to kill

Who knows what miracles
You can achieve
When you believe
Somehow you will
You will when you believe

In this time of fear
When prayer so often proves in vain
Hope seemed like the summer birds
Too swiftly flown away
Yet now I'm standing here
My heart's so full I can't explain
Seeking faith and speaking words
I never thought I'd say

There can be miracles
When you believe
Though hope is frail
It's hard to kill

Who knows what miracles
You can achieve
When you believe
Somehow you will
You will when you believe

They don't always happen when you ask
And it's easy to give in to your fear
But when you're blinded by your pain
Can't see your way safe through the rain
Thought of a still resilient voice
Says love is very near

There can be miracles
When you believe
Though hope is frail
It's hard to kill
Who knows what miracles
You can achieve

When you believe
Somehow you will
Now you will
You will when you believe

You will when you believe
Just believe
Gotta believe
You will when you believe

Friday, October 10, 2008

Somewhere far away!

Memories overwhelm me as I write this post! The pictures you see are that of my ancestral home Korajem (named after my late Grandfather Sri Kumaran) in Kannur (erstwhile Cannanore), Kerala. This was where I was born and 'kept' for 63 days before being 'shipped' off to Ooty which was my home for decades to come! Built in 1947, it has seen scores of births, weddings and stood mute witness to a number of deaths as well.

Back then, a typical day would begin with a dozen of us cousins foraging around the vast expanse of this behemoth while the women folk worked tirelessly in its massive kitchen to ensure that our perpetually hungry stomachs were addressed to without complaint. Considering the measureless plantation that grew around the place, it needed constant attention and upkeep, a job that required unimaginably superhuman efforts! Afternoons called for a quick siesta after which play resumed. Coming together here was a bonding like none other.

At dusk, exhausted after a days meandering, we were mandated to wash up and present ourselves for the evening prayers which were attended to religiously. The lighting of the Vilakku (lamp) while all of the family, young and old, gathered to pray, signified the human effort to connect with its Creator and call for peace, health and prosperity in a world that was steadily disintegrating!

Popularly known as Tharawads, across Kerala, these expansive edifices once hosted dozens of entire families who lived with each other without incident. Sadly, they are a passé thanks to the nuclear family culture that has caught up!

Kannur was always a source of immense pleasure to me. Come vacations, we were packed off to enjoy a two-month long sojourn with cousins. The lush green outers, the smell of mud when it rained, the endless supply of mangoes, jackfruit, guavas and pineapples to name a few, trips to nearby paddy fields to catch fish and a whole lot more cherished chores are very vivid in my mind to this day. I last visited here during the year 2006 and without any possibility of being able to do so in the recent future, wonder how quickly I have been overcome by the never-ending search for nothing that I continue to be engaged in day to day!

This post is a rich tribute to all my folks for having been such a wonderful lot and kept in touch all along and more importantly for having withstood the test of time and unconditionally supported each other. And Sandeep, thanks very much for these marvelous pictures!

In conclusion, I'd like to quote lines from Mahakavi Changanpuzha's famed poem Gramabhangi which aptly describes the beauty of the countryside in Kerala.

"Malarany kadukal thingi vingi
Marathaka kanthiyil mungi mungi
Karalum mizhiyum kavarnnu minni
Karayattoralasal grama bangi"

Friday, October 03, 2008

Nothing else matters

So close, no matter how far
Couldn't be much more from the heart
Forever trusting who we are
and nothing else matters

- Nothing else matters, Black, Metallica, 1991

Not a day passes without me looking at the night sky and wondering if we are really alone in this vast universe. My answer comes almost instantly and I stop to contemplate, the focus of thought being my purpose! Neither of these are easy questions to answer since there are no set ideologies upon which they are based and, worse still, they lack any proof to substantiate. I can affirm with a great deal of conviction that these questions dog our minds more than ever. The absolute truths of birth and death having long known and understood by mankind for centuries now, what remains is the causa-proxima of our existence which can better best be explained as the raison d'être (reason for being).

A few days ago, I read that the universe is at least 156 billion light-years wide, courtesy a 'measurement' done sometime in the year 2004. I wonder if we can ever imagine what it means to cross a light year let alone a 156 billion! Perhaps, that answers the big why of not being able to find life in places apart from the Earth! Simply put we are just another tiny system that has been created and placed where it is along with many many other such systems that may (certainly) exist across this colossal space.

While money, creature comforts, security, relationships and a ton of other things may take priority in our minds, metaphysically, they do not matter to the cosmic system since their importance stands nullified once the boundaries of Earth are surpassed. Why then, is it that we attach so much importance to ourselves and our never-ending list of belongings?
How important are we really as opposed to how important the system is to us?

Without wanting to drag you into a web of cosmic philosophy and metaphysics, I would urge you to mull over your thoughts as to what the purpose of us human beings is and rationalize our existence in this world to the best extent possible. It isn't a marathon task as many of us would see it to be. If you'd ask my opinion, I'd be emphatic to state that an individual purpose leads to a collective purpose to aid the system to be a better place, and us better elements. Now, how much that purpose is achieved is a matter of question, not because we cannot, but because we do not will to pursue it or perhaps attach due importance to it! And do remember, what we do or do not is only limited to the boundaries of our planet, perhaps a little more, but not very significantly outwards! We are mere human beings and look what a tapestry we make, reasons apart!

About two years ago, I posted an interesting set of pictures, here on my blog under the name Celestial Wonders. I keep visiting that post often, since it gives me a very clear idea of how small (or big, to some) we really are! I recommend you take a peek and feel the overwhelming sensation for a few moments.


There's so many different worlds
So many different suns
And we have just one world
But we live in different ones

Now the suns gone to hell
And the moons riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die
But it’s written in the starlight
And every line on your palm
We’re fools to make war
On our brothers in arms

- Brothers in Arms, (Brothers in Arms), Dire Straits, 1985