children are so full of energy all the time. Their creativity, lack of inhibition and zest for life are qualities even adults would like to emulate. While on the one hand, these traits make them extremely receptive, on the other, they make them vulnerable to vices. As children are highly impressionable during their formative years, they are at a greater risk of developing harmful habits that might affect them in the long term.Addiction is one such habit. It begins with ingesting a substance or engaging in an activity that one finds pleasurable. But this habit can quickly progress to a stage where one feels a strong compulsion to do it, to an extent where one’s health and life is affected. Addictive substances, as we know, could range from something as simple as paint thinner to serious narcotic drugs like cocaine. There are also activities–from overeating to gambling to sex–that work on the human brain the same way as these substances.With the advent of internet and technology, today, children are exposed to things that are considered highly inappropriate for their age. There is also an alarming increase in the availability and accessibility of psychoactive substances, pornographic content and other forms of ‘adult’ indulgences. As a result, children are at risk of developing an addiction towards one or more of these substances or activities. In this article, Soulvedaattempts to get to the root of addiction in children, explores its many kinds and shares experts’ insights on the subject.What exactly happens in the brain when an individual develops an addiction? Indulging in an addictive substance or a rewarding activity triggers the pleasure centres of our brain. A chemical called dopamine floods the organ, and this incredibly good feeling is stored in our memory forever. This makes us crave it more and repeatedly, making us indulge in these substances or activities again and again.Now, here’s the tricky part. Dopamine is a substance that the brain produces– even under normal circumstances–every time we experience pleasure. But, as the addiction progresses, the brain loses its ability to release dopamine and becomes dependent on the addictive substance or activity. This is what makes addicts desperate for their fix. They feel it is the only way they will ever feel happy again.Addiction is an illness that wreaks havoc in people’s lives. They get hooked on to a substance or activity, and before they realise it, they are spending all their money getting their fix. It ruins their health, their relationships and ultimately, the very ability to live their lives. The effects, as we can imagine, are much, much worse in younger individuals. Their vulnerability makes children develop an addiction faster, reckons Executive Director of Abhayam Foundation PJ Albert. “When it comes to drug addiction, the early age limit has dropped to 12 in the recent years. It is easier to get people hooked when they are younger. This is why drug dealers target school children now,” he says.Sometimes children might be overindulging in their video games or food or other substances to cope with problems like bullying at school or depression, or worse, abuse.There is no denying that whether in adults or in children, the first step towards addiction is often a choice. In some cases, however, children may have a genetic predisposition to develop an addiction. Says Dr Ashok Rau, psychiatrist and CEO of Freedom Foundation, “A natural deficiency in the dopamine levels in the brain may make an individual more vulnerable. So, when presented with an opportunity to try a drug or an addictive activity, they might just take it up.”Peer pressure is said to be another reason children end up experimenting with drugs. The need to appear ‘cool’ and fit into their social groups, may lead them into the fatal trap of addiction. In the lower strata of society, children may engage in drugs to disengage from pressing problems like hunger, poverty or abuse. Children who come from dysfunctional families may attempt to seek comfort in the dopamine rush induced by such activities. Most of the time, lack of love is at the heart of the problem, saysmay be safe to say, however, that not every child may be at risk of developing a drug addiction. There are others forms of less-severe addiction that are quite common. Says Dr Hemant Mittal, a psychiatrist, “Children of ages 10-14 generally tend to develop an addiction to food or gadgets. This could be because of their lack of socialising skills and the comfort they derive from eating and staying glued to their devices. Ages 15 and upward, they start mimicking adult behaviour by watching pornography, smoking cigarettes and consuming alcohol.”Some of us may feel that such experimentation and indulgences are a part of the phase of growing up. And they may be right. But that does not mean children can be given a free rein. The danger lies in the fact that things can quickly spiral out of control. This is why understanding the child and figuring out what is making them engage in these activities makes all the difference. As Dr Mittal points out, sometimes children might be overindulging in their video games or food or other substances to cope with problems like bullying at school or depression, or worse, abuse.Perhaps, the solution is to become your child’s best friend. And in cases where that is not possible, a trusted therapist may be brought in to untie knots and create ease of communication. Talking to the child in an honest, non-judgmental manner may help them open up about their problems and seek help. And the earlier this is done, the better the chances of recovery and rehabilitation. As Albert says, “If the addict is willing to make a change and do what it takes, there is a 100 per cent chances of complete rehabilitation.”By sorting out the underlying problems that made the child develop an addiction in the first place, we can gradually wean them off the habit and restore normalcy. The silver lining may just be that, irrespective of the problems they get into, children have the strength and resilience to recover and make a fresh start. By replacing unhealthy habits with healthy ones, we can help them chart a new course for the rest of their lives.
There’s a scene in the Hindi movie Namastey London in which the protagonist Arjun Singh sets a British man straight when he attempts to shame India. “We come from a nation where we allow a lady of Catholic origin to step aside for a Sikh to be sworn in as prime minister, by a Muslim president, to govern a nation of over 80 percent Hindus,” he tells the man. This scene paints India as a harmonious nation with diverse cultures.Our country has long been described as ‘a melting pot for cultural diversity’. But I wonder how a country like India, with innumerable cultures sharing a land, is one country. It’s practically a hotspot for all kinds of differences! Some believe we aren’t a melting pot. Sociologist Dr Malathi Venugopal says, “In India, we have several diverse cultural groups, each standing next to one another, acknowledging, tolerating, and perhaps, even appreciating one another’s differences. But we are not a melting pot; we are a salad bowl.”The ‘melting pot’ and ‘salad bowl’ are not as similar as we might think. Dr Slawomir Magala is a Professor of Cross-Cultural Management at the Rotterdam School of Management at the Erasmus University in the Netherlands. In one of the ‘One minute education’ videos by the college, he talks about how a melting pot shouldn’t be confused for multiculturalism, which is more of a salad bowl. In a melting pot, people–no matter how diverse the cultures they come from are–are expected to become standardised members of the society. In a salad bowl, people retain their diverse identities and behave more like vegetables in a salad, wherein their diversity and creativity are preserved, he says.We live in a multicultural society, but perhaps it’s time we turn to what sociologists call ‘radical multiculturalism’. It’s neither extreme nor negative as it might sound, though.Going by that, I’d say India might be more of a salad bowl than a melting pot. Only trouble is, as Dr Magala explains, some of the vegetables might stand out more in the salad bowl than in the melting pot, giving rise to discrimination. The ingredients of the salad bowl might not always gel well. Where there’s a fusion of several cultures, there’s bound to be a sense of ‘the other’, as political scientist and historian Benedict Anderson writes in Imagined Communities, a treatise on the nature of nationalism. Perhaps, in the face of lack of cultural uniformity, it’s easy to ‘other’ people from different backgrounds, simple to create an ‘us’ and ‘them’.We live in a multicultural society, but perhaps it’s time we turn to what sociologists call ‘radical multiculturalism’. It’s neither extreme nor negative as it might sound, though. As researchers of cultural studies Jyotirmaya Tripathy and Sudarsan Padmanabhan write in their book The Democratic Predicament: Cultural Diversity in Europe and India: “The core principle of radical multiculturalism is the idea of respect for cultural, racial, and ethnic differences. The principle is far more extensive than mere toleration of the ‘other’.”Maybe we are a melting pot–in a metaphorical sense, if not a sociological one. We have an uncanny knack for assimilating parts of different cultures into our own.What Tripathy and Padmanabhan discuss in their book is the idea of going a few steps beyond toleration and respecting the differences between cultures. This doesn’t really need us to look at our country with rose-tinted glasses. There are people who’re not only tolerant of and open to diverse cultures, but also adopt certain aspects of the other cultures into their own, in small ways. I have a friend who makes biryani for Eid, plum cake for Christmas, and mithai for Diwali. She celebrates any and every festival she is aware of, irrespective of which culture or religion it’s part of. It’s not just certain individuals like my friend; there’s a Rajasthani tribe called Manganiyar, which is largely a Muslim folk musician’s community that sings in praise of Hindu gods. South Indian weddings these days feature a sangeet and mehendi ritual which were–until the 20th century–part of only north Indian weddings.These might seem like small instances of inclusivity and open-mindedness, but I believe it is such acts of integration that can actually make a big difference. Maybe we are a melting pot–in a metaphorical sense, if not a sociological one. We have an uncanny knack for assimilating parts of different cultures into our own. Maybe that’s how we’ve created a unique multicultural vibe worthy of national pride.
A few months ago, I was at a café, getting dinner after an excruciatingly long day at work. I was exhausted, and I ate my sandwich without enjoying it very much. Just when I decided to pay the bill and leave, the waiter came to my table with a plate of delicious chocolate tart and a note. ‘Looks like it has been a hard day. Don’t worry, it’s going to be okay’, it said. Pleasantly taken aback, I looked around for familiar faces, but there were no other customers at the café. The waiter told me that the person who sent me the note and the tart had just left. Hurriedly, I picked up my bag and ran to the door, but the person had disappeared into the crowd on the street. All exhaustion from the day had vanished, as I stood there holding my note and smiling.I never found out who the stranger was or why they had decided to write me a note. But I realised the power of a simple act of kindness. I realised that something as simple as smiling at a stranger on the metro can make a difference. It’s like motivational speaker and author Steve Maraboli once said: “Smile at strangers and you just might change a life.”Perhaps, this is what London-based artist Andy Leek had in mind. Leek has made a habit of leaving strangers handwritten notes to bring a smile on their faces. Drawing from his own struggle with mental health issues, the artist wishes to help people like him by sharing the lessons he learnt on his journey to recovery. I have no doubts about the power of the positivity that Leek attempts to spread with his initiative. Imagine you’re feeling lost and nothing is going the way you had planned, and you find a handwritten note in a phone booth that says, ‘Always keep in mind that when you’re sad, there will be a time when you’ll be happy again’.Leek isn’t alone in his mission to spread smiles. In London, there is a mystery man who leaves flowers and motivational notes in public places with the simple aim to make people feel extraordinary. Among the many who were reported to have loved the gesture was 26-year-old Ruth Clark, who found a handwritten note and flowers at a bus stop and said they ‘made her year’.Such noble deeds work beyond our comprehension. One may begin doing such activities with the simple aim of spreading happiness and joy in the world, without realising that their own life is transformed in the process.Of course, when you read such positive messages, you feel inspired. Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg and communications expert Mark Robert Waldman, in their book Words Can Change Your Brain, throw light on how positive words work on the brain. “Positive words and thoughts propel the motivational centres of the brain into action, and they help us build up resilience when we are faced with the myriad problems of life,” they write.Through his work—Notes to Strangers—Leek has been doing an incredible job of spreading positivity to hundreds of people. And turns out, this act of leaving notes to strangers benefits both parties—the one writing the note and the one reading it. Leek calls it a ‘positive cycle’. Along with the reader who is inspired by the positivity, the writer is also inspired by the act of coming up with the message. Newberg and Waldman write: “Certain positive words—like “peace” or “love”—may actually have the power to alter the expression of genes throughout the brain and body, turning them on and off in ways that lower the amount of physical and emotional stress we normally experience throughout the day.”Such noble deeds work beyond our comprehension. One may begin doing such activities with the simple aim of spreading happiness and joy in the world, without realising that their own life is transformed in the process. Perhaps, every good deed starts a positive cycle. And in a world that is full of reasons to be negative, the initiatives of people like Leek and the stranger who left me a note are a blessing.
Relationships–one word that brings to mind love, laughter, tears, fun and jeers. But where there’s love, there’s also conflict. Conflict is almost intrinsic to relationships. Despite all the love, we find ourselves struggling in several of our relationships–especially those within our families. Even the art of storytelling uses it as a central motif. Fairy tales and mythologies have time and again demonstrated this recurring theme. For instance, Cinderella and Snow White had evil stepmothers, the Hindu epic Mahabharata saw the great war between Kauravas and Pandavas, and the Norse gods Loki and Thor could never see eye to eye.However, renouncing a legacy or setting up a huge war might not be the wisest thing to do today. Having a straightforward dialogue would be more like it. So how do we diffuse tense family conflicts? Let’s find out.Lend an earImagine this: At a family gathering, skeletons get dragged out of the closet. Issues that were considered insignificant before, suddenly stare you in the face.This can happen when people carry baggage from before. Maybe, if we let each other vent out our feelings–hopefully privately–an impending scene might be avoided. Initiate a dialogue and nip all misunderstandings in the bud before things get out of hand.Sometimes, an altercation or dragging a conversation can actually blow things out of proportion.Hold back a retortPicture this: It’s been a long, tiring day, and all you need is 15 minutes of solitude. Someone starts lecturing you on work-life balance, most likely with a good intention. However, the timing is not right and you want to snap.One way to diffuse the situation is to hold back a retort. Instead, calmly let them know that you are extremely tired and will be happy to have this discussion later. When the person sees there is no negative reaction from your side, they will back off too. There are times when you are at the end of your rope and a conflict is likely to arise, but on other days it can be avoided.Let it slideHere’s another scenario: Some in your family do not appreciate your life choices–often citing your pets or your travel expenses as examples. You keep overhearing gossip about yourself from someone or the other.While people might do this to seek attention at times, more often than not it is simply a difference of opinion. The trick here is to let it slide. Sometimes, an altercation or dragging a conversation can actually blow things out of proportion.Whether you like it or not your family is part of you and you are part of them. It is always easier to give up on people, but when we do that, we give up on much more. We give up on our memories, our identity and the warmth of having a, don’t quit on your family, because they certainly won’t.
We live in paradoxical times. We are born amidst nature, yet we live in concrete jungles; we have an endless supply of healthy food, yet we eat the unhealthiest kind; ever-evolving technology keeps us connected with each other, yet we remain emotionally disconnected; we have a rich culture, heritage, and religion to draw from, yet we are spiritually malnourished; we have an abundance of disposable income, yet we are poor as human beings; we have everything available at our fingertips, yet we don’t live a balanced life. Such a paradox robs us of the equilibrium of life. As people become more educated, work harder and longer, and earn more, stress levels soar, lifestyles become flawed and the peace of mind disappears.That’s when people look for quick-fix solutions to restore the balance. Ayurveda, which literally translates to science of life (ayur- life, veda- science or knowledge), aims to restore this, and the environment through lifestyle changes and natural remedies. This universal interconnectedness helps us lead a stress-free and healthier life.Soulveda spoke to Dr Ganesh Narayanan, a Kerala-based ayurvedic physician to know more about the relevance of this alternative form of medicine in the 21st century. Our conversation with him made us relook at the very definition of health. It helped us comprehend the underlying philosophy behind this ancient life science, and why following a lifestyle as recommended by this system of medicine can not only prevent but also reverse chronic illnesses.Recent advancements in the field of quantum science are proving that we are all interconnected; that we are not just part of the universe, we are essentially one with it. Ayurveda, too, is based on a similar premise, isn’t it? Can you shed more light on the same?Ayurveda is primarily based on the philosophy of Pancha Maha Bhutas. According to this viewpoint, our human body, like the universe, is made of five elements—Akasha (ether), Vayu (air), Agni (fire), Jala (water), and Prithvi (earth). So, whatever changes occur in the universe (the macrocosm), the same manifests within each of us (the microcosm). To explain, our bodies constantly interact with the universe; there is a continuous exchange of the elements between our human body and the universe to attain a state of homeostasis. As long as this interaction occurs in a wholesome and balanced way, we experience good health. When this harmony is disturbed, illnesses manifest.Just like Ayurveda talks about the connection between microcosm and macrocosm, it also talks about the synergy between the body and the mind. Can you explain this concept?Yes, indeed! The body and mind are interconnected in Ayurveda. Simply put, our mental and emotional states directly affect our physical health, according to Ayurveda. It is impossible for a physical body to survive without a healthy state of mind. This connection which Ayurveda purports is very evident in the present-day scenario wherein increased levels of stress and poor psychological health in the lives of people translate to the prevalence of metabolic disorders and cardiovascular diseases. So, to be healthy, it is important that we remain mentally happy and at peace.Many of us perceive Ayurveda as a mere herbal medicinal system. But, Ayurveda recommends daily and seasonal regimens as well. Could we then say that Ayurveda is more than just a system of herbal medicine, and is essentially a lifestyle?Ayurveda is a life science which takes the adage ‘prevention is better than cure’ quite seriously. If we analyse ancient ayurvedic texts such as Charaka Samhitha, Susrutha Samhitha, and Ashtanga Samgraha, we’d notice that they all begin by explaining how to lead a healthy life, instead of talking about the anatomy of the human body or the classification of diseases. From what time to wake up and how to clean ourselves, to how to cook and eat healthy food and how to conduct ourselves throughout the day, ayurvedic texts cover all the dos and don’ts to lead a healthy life in extreme quote an example, in Ayurveda there are references to Sadvrutha which essentially means ‘code of conduct’. This section explores how to have positive interactions with people in our day-to-day lives so that we can live a stress-free and peaceful life. In addition, ayurvedic texts emphasise yoga as a daily regime. Yoga helps control our mind, through postures called asanas and breath-control methods. So yes, Ayurveda is certainly a lifestyle—it is a lifestyle which can empower us to take charge of our own health and prevent (and cure) illnesses.Given that Ayurveda can enhance our wellbeing, can you describe a day in the life of someone who practices ayurvedic lifestyle? What would his everyday routine be like?We live in a fast-paced world where life is mechanised as we rely heavily on machinery to get things done. Automation, as it is called, is not a bad thing as it can save us a lot of time and increase productivity. But the only drawback is that, with the machines doing all the work, we are becoming more and more immobile. And, being sedentary impacts our health in the long run.This is because, our body is designed to not just ingest food, but also use up the energy produced as a result. With an inactive lifestyle, our metabolism gets disturbed. In fact, this is the root cause of several chronic illnesses. This is where a disciplined ayurvedic lifestyle helps. Ayurveda advocates a regimen called Dinacharya to be followed daily. Here’s what a day in the life of someone practising an ayurvedic lifestyle looks like:The person wakes up peacefully, early in the morning preferably during the ‘Bramha muhoorta’ which is between 3:30 AM to 5 AM. He spends some time in solitude and chants self-affirmative verses first, before ensuring the food digested the previous day is properly excreted. This is followed by Dantadhavana, which is essentially brushing his teeth and Anjana which is the application of a medicated eyewash.Post that, he does Abhyanga which is the application of oil. As per Ayurveda, the oil should be applied to the scalp, ears, and feet daily. This helps in achieving good eyesight, sleep, and wellbeing. The next step is Vyayama or exercise. We all know the importance of meditation and yoga—it is a proven fact that these practices improve not only our mental and physical health but also our spiritual wellbeing.After exercising he takes a bath or an ablution which is referred to as snana. Bathing helps in digestion and promotes longevity and vitality. Only after the ablution, does he have his breakfast.According to Ayurveda, he should eat two important meals per day—breakfast and lunch—unlike the conventional three-meal routine. And, it is better to have dinner before 7 PM so that he has adequate time to digest the food whilst spending time with family. He then falls asleep by 10 following these guidelines, one can expect to stay aligned with the macrocosm. And the more we’re in sync with the world around us, the more we can prevent and sometimes, even reverse chronic illnesses that have manifested within us.But, good health is much more than just the absence of illnesses. Could you explain what health is according to Ayurveda?In 1948, World Health Organisation defined health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Ayurveda purports something similar—that health is not limited to the healthy state of the body, but also that of the mind and spirit.The ancient ayurvedic text Susrutha Samhitha defines health as:Sama dosha, sama agnicha, samdhatu malakriya,Prasanna atma, indriya mana, swastha ityabhidheeyatheIn literal sense, the verse means, health is dependent upon the normalcy of the three doshas (biological energies), the agni (digestive juices), the seven dhatus (synonymous to tissues), and mala (excretions). An absolute homeostasis of all these factors is necessary to experience overall wellbeing—physical, mental, social, and spiritual. Incidentally, this can be easily brought about by strictly following the lifestyle Ayurveda practitioners prescribe.
Luke loved singing as much as he loved his pet caterpillars. Every morning, he would pick up his ukulele, wear a big smile, and sing until he could sing no more. During breaks, he would eat whatever his fortune would allow—a slice of a pizza or a sandwich and spend time with his caterpillars—the only family he had. As soon as he would get his voice back, he would start singing again, as if he was performing live in Wembley for thousands of people.Funny thing is, his audience was the entire population of the city. Perhaps, it was one of the perks of being homeless and a music lover. Luke never had any complaints against life. He had found his purpose in the anthology of The Beatles and in the chorus of Over the Rainbow. And Luke was good—often people would stop in their tracks to listen to him, even drop a quarter or two in the gig bag. As seasons passed, and smartphones became a way of life, the crowd around him grew—he even got his street name ‘the homeless Lennon’. People would stop by, enthralled by his performance and.His video went viral with millions of likes and thousands of retweets on social mediaThe tables turned one day when a stranger uploaded Luke’s performance on the internet. Needless to say, he became an overnight sensation. His video went viral with millions of likes and thousands of retweets on social media. All TV hosts wanted him on their talk shows. Luke even signed a deal with a record label that finally got him a roof over his head and hot meals on his table. But there were a few things that remained the same—his passion for singing and love for his caterpillars—he never went anywhere without the big jar of those insects.During an interview, one curious journalist asked him about his fascination with the caterpillars. Lifting the jar from his side, Luke said, “During all my hopelessness and despair, they were the ones who motivated me to wake up every day with a smile and sing. There were nights when I thought my life was over, just like theirs, but in the mornings, I would wake up to see them turned into butterflies. It gave me courage.”
A delicate hoop, made of plastic or willow wood, woven with a web of yarn, adorned with colourful beads or feathers, is commonplace these days. Often found hanging on a wall or from tree branches, these intricate things are now part of contemporary cultures, and not just confined to closed tribal communities. Ever since I saw a dreamcatcher in a trinket store, I dug deep into its origin and legends only to become fascinated by the mystical tradition they represent. Here’s how the legends unfolded in my curious mind.Many moons ago, before the Europeans colonised America, the native American tribes Ojibwe and Lakota were fascinated with spiders. They believed that spiders protected them from bad omens. Ojibwe people often spoke of a spider woman called Asibikaashi, who possessed mystical powers. She was believed to be the protector of people, especially children.
Over time, as the tribe migrated to far off lands, Asibikaashi found it difficult to cast her protective spell on her children. She, then, created a talisman—the first dreamcatcher. Called asabikeshiinh by the natives, the word literally means ‘spider’ in English. And soon after, grandmothers and mothers started making dreamcatchers to keep their young ones safe.Also called ‘Sacred Hoops’, dreamcatchers were known to protect people from bad dreams and evil forces, while asleep. Ojibwe people believed, at night air is laden with dreams—both good and bad. When a dreamcatcher is hung above a bed, dreams get trapped in its web. The good dreams pass through its feathers and descend upon the sleeper. Bad dreams remain entangled in the net, only to evaporate the next morning like dew drops on the grass.When Iktomi was done weaving, it handed the hoop to the old man, explaining to him that the web was a perfect circle with a hole in the centre, which could help him and his people fulfil their dreams.A dreamcatcher may have been created as a talisman to protect children from nightmares, but it soon became an instrument to guide grown-ups. Author Bob Anderson narrates a well-known legend about the Lakota tribe in his book Grandfather Speaks Again. The legend goes something like this: A long time ago, when an old Lakota spiritual leader was up in the mountains, he had a vision wherein Iktomi, a sacred spider spirit, appeared in front of him. It spoke to him in a sacred language which only he could understand. As it spoke, Iktomi took a willow hoop from him and began to weave a web across it. It spoke not only of the cyclical stages of life (infancy, childhood, adulthood and old age) but also of the good and bad forces people encounter in their lives. It went on to explain that when people listen to the good forces, they are steered in the right direction. But, when they listen to the bad ones, they are steered in the wrong direction. When Iktomi was done weaving, it handed the hoop to the old man, explaining to him that the web was a perfect circle with a hole in the centre, which could help him and his people fulfil their dreams. The web would catch the good ideas and the bad ones would go through the interesting as these legends are, I must confess that the idea of hanging a dreamcatcher that could eliminate evil dreams seems implausible to me. This being said, what dreamcatchers stand for certainly seems profound. And the legends they carry with them have lessons and insights to learn from. To me, they teach two things—one, we are all capable of conjuring up both good and bad dreams consciously, and two, instead of harping on our evil dreams and nightmarish fears, we ought to nurture our hopes and passions. As author G W Mullins (of native American descent) writes in his book Walking with Spirits Native American Myths, Legends, And Folklore: “Dreams are not just for the young. They are for children of all ages. To dream is to live, without dreams, we will cease to live and merely exist.”