Who hasn’t heard President Obama’s 2008 electoral pitch – “Yes, We Can”? Although I’m not planning on contesting an elections any soon,I firmly believe in the power of the “Yes, We Can” attitude – Yes, We can, but only if we want it; Yes. We can, only if we persist. Yes. We can, only if we strive for it..

I am reminded of a Samskrta subhashita of Bhartrhari which classifies people into three categories -The people in the lowest rung, who never try because they are scared of failing. The mediocre people who start off with their task, but stop when faced with hurdles and finally those excellent men and women, who despite of being hunted and haunted by troubles and hardships, do not stop in their endeavor, and work towards achieving their goals.51kmxl9EkjL._SL500_SS500_

On March 8th, the world celebrated the International Women’s Day.That day, I remembered, Nagamani, a very remarkable woman. Nagamani was born about a century ago in a middle class family in village in south India. As a young girl, she was trained in Indian classical music along with regular schooling. However she wasn’t encouraged to be a performing musician and was married at an young age. To her sorrow, she wasn’t allowed to take the Veena, the musical instrument she was trained on with her because it was considered a family heirloom, one that could only pass to a son. Nagamani moved on to join her husband. Since her husband was a forest officer, that meant she would now live in extremely remote locations, surrounded by the wild and the beautiful but without the music a town life could offer. As a remedy, Nagamani decided to make some of her own, got herself a harmonium and taught herself playing it. She played hours on end, just for herself, and perfected the art.

Life wasn’t a bed of roses for Nagamani: 12 childbirths out of whom 4 did not survive; one of the children became a victim of brain fever and ended up being disabled and needing constant care. But Nagamani did not let go of her music. As the children were growing, she kept playing the harmonium, for herself, and for her kids, and to instill the love of music among them. Years rolled by, and some of her children indeed become performers, something she herself could not do earlier. And her addiction to Indian classical music was passed to many of her grandchildren and great grand children too. She was an example of the “Yes, We can” spirit to engage in activities that are close to our hearts even if there are obstacles on the way.

It’s almost three decades since Nagamani passed away. I was very young then, but I still remember glimpses of her mastery over the keyboard that created wonderful music; and I still carry the love of music that she made a family heirloom. Nagamani, was my grandmother.

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Now, let me switch gears to something more contemporary. Susan Spencer Wendel, a journalist left her job as a legal reporter when she was diagnosed with a serious condition called ALS in 2011. The disease left with her muscles dying and now she can barely talk and move her fingers. With her health fast deteriorating, she decided it was time to live the last couple years to the fullest. Last year, she went to the Yukon territories up North to see the northern lights with her best friend. She started writing her memoir typing only with her index finger on her iphone as that was the only functioning finger by then. This memoir, titled “Until I say Good Bye” goes on sale today, March 12th, 2013. Susan is a living example of the “Yes, we can” attitude doing things that we love to do, about in spite of the most grueling hardships.

How many times have we told ourselves that we don’t have time for things we wanted to do or wanted to do better, and blame external factors? “Only if I have more time” – “only if I had more money”, “only if the weather was not so cold” , “only if the neighbours dog didn’t bark so much” – Oh well. I made that last one up. But you get the idea!

Come on, let’s stop making lame excuses and move on! To do things that we really love. To do things that we care about. To do things we enjoy. And to say with pride and satisfaction , “Yes, We Can”.

-neelanjana

(This is the text of a speech I gave at my Toastmaster’s club contest today: March 12th, 2013)

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