December 2014 By Shivi Verma When people pick up the gauntlet thrown by life, they change the course of their lives and that of their community indelibly, says Shivi Verma Many years ago when Doordarshan was the only channel on TV, a science-based programme hosted by actor Naseeruddin Shah called Turning Point became the talking point of the nation. It premised that if Indians, who were largely tradition- and custom-bound, explored their scientific temperament, the nation would emerge from sloth and inertia, embarking on the road to dynamic leadership. And prophetically it has happened so. India, the youngest nation in the world today, is bursting with a youthful vigour which is unprecedented. Turning points are those crucial shifts that change the course of human life and history. Big or subtle, sudden or a result of piecemeal engineering, they help to propel the evolution of man and his society. Apparently it is the ever-evolving soul of man, its aching pursuit for enlargement, expansion, knowing, and self-exploration, that generates a tipping point from where a new chapter unfolds both for the individual as well as for the collective. These shifts happen with or without our collective engagement, almost with a will of its own, signifying the unfolding of the human race’s destiny. Turning points are not always spiritual in nature, but are spiritual in essence. The greatest of scientific inventions and discoveries, which have driven human evolution, were impelled by man’s quest for freedom and knowledge. Edward Jenner discovered the power of inoculation and saved the coming generations from the deadly smallpox virus. Smallpox has undoubtedly been one of the deadliest diseases in the history of human kind. It was greatly feared, as one in three of those who contracted the disease died, and those who survived were often badly disfigured. During the 18th century, smallpox killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans per year, and was responsible for an estimated 300–500 million deaths during the 20th century. With the arrival of European settlers in America the outbreak of smallpox wiped out 80-90 per cent of the Native-American population. A cure was imperative. Desperately seeking a solution, Englishman Edward Jenner forcibly inoculated eight-year-old James Phipps with cowpox virus against his will and loud protests. Jenner had observed that milkmaids who had suffered from cowpox remained immune to the attack of smallpox. Thankfully, the experiment succeeded and from there on it eventually led to widespread vaccinations. To this day, smallpox remains the only human infectious disease to have been eradicated. The progress of humanity has largely been orchestrated by the birth of such progressive ideas, as well as by overthrowing societal oppression and injustice. When soldier Mangal Pandey rebelled against the British Empire by refusing to bite the bullet filled with cow fat, he gave voice to a suppressed and seething nation. Though the mutiny was crushed, it gave birth to the irrepressible spirit of independence and self-rule among Indians who had largely resigned to their servile fate. When Swami Vivekananda captivated the audience of Chicago with his rousing speech, it forever changed the manner in which Indians thought of and perceived themselves. It was one of the finest turning points in Indian history. Currently, the world is locked in a battle of the sexes. While on the one hand women are embracing opportunities for self-growth and empowerment…on the other hand they are facing a terrible backlash of rapes, murders and mutilation, brought on by a resistant male sex. The resultant outrage and outcry will gradually lead to a more egalitarian space where men and women will coexist with dignity, freedom and mutual respect. How they occur Mostly turning points are rooted in tragedy, suffering or prolonged injustices. Still others are orchestrated by encountering an influential idea or a person. “The best things in life cannot be seen or touched…they have to be felt within the heart.” -Helen Keller As a young girl, Helen Keller was visually, audibly and verbally impaired since infancy. A most painful condition for any human being. Her autobiography, The Story of my Life, gives a detailed description of her thirst to speak, express, know and see, and her futile struggles to achieve that which comes naturally to all of us. This yearning finally attracted a teacher called Anne Sullivan who understood her angst, and patiently helped her decipher the world. Helen’s life took a wondrous turn afterwards. But her return gift to the world was much greater when she said after learning to speak, “The best things in life cannot be seen or touched…they have to be felt within the heart.” She proved indisputably that inner beauty gave meaning to the physically visible and tangible things in the world. Coming from Helen, these words acquired a soul which even powerful poets would not have been able to evoke. She became the hope of millions who thought of themselves as lesser than those born without any handicap. When the Wright brothers began to build an aeroplane, the world laughed at them. Today if two boys were to attempt to create a time machine, people would call them fools. But the Wright brothers determinedly changed the way human beings travelled…shrinking distances covering days and months to a few hours. That was a turning point after which human life never remained the same. When Christ allowed himself to be publicly humiliated and crucified…it proved to be a huge turning point for people living in state of perpetual spiritual darkness. Those who had throttled their conscience were rattled to the core of their being, and a new epoch in human evolution…an era of the compassionate human being …emerged after that. When a frail 72-year-old, Anna Hazare, sat on Jantar Mantar in the year 2011, protesting against corruption in politics, the nation converged around him…shouting for transparency and ethical governance. And the Lokpal Bill which had been gathering dust since decades finally got passed in Parliament. Similarly, turning points are historical moments in an individual’s life when an incident, a person, or an idea changes their lives forever. When such a change takes them one level higher in their growth, it serves the purpose it has appeared to fulfil. However, it can also happen that the individual does not rise to the challenge. That a job loss, an accident that deprived them of their sight, or the presence of an oppressive person in their lives, sends them sinking into despair or despondency. Either way, it remains a turning point. However, in this article, the focus is on those who respond to the challenge given to them; when the person decides that what she has is not enough. That her belief in her limitations is illusory. Instead of succumbing and giving in to despair she confronts the challenge and emerges stronger, wiser, kinder, bigger. Why turning points occur Life is ceaselessly looking to balance itself. Even in the deepest state of inertia and inaction something is churning and taking shape. The velocity of time forces people to change, shift and take leaps in evolution. The fearful may try and delay the turning points for several lifetimes… but they cannot completely evade it. The turning point can be huge as in the case of Columbus discovering America; or as small as a meek and oppressed wife firmly saying no for the first time to her abusive husband or in-laws. But the changes that take place after that affect not only their lives but that of those around them. When my aunt got married into a big but a highly conservative household, she was openly derided for wearing salwar kameez instead of the traditional sari with a pallu around her head. But she did not cave in. This resulted in finally other daughters-in-law following suit, and comfortably moving around the house in clothes other than a sari. Turning points are nature’s way to help you discover or balance yourself. For an extremely practical left-brained person, his turning point may be finding his emotional, sensitive, and creative side. For an excessively emotional person, finding his calm and objective side. For a fearful man, it may be finding hidden sources of love and courage. For a daredevil it may be respecting life…either his own, or that of others. All the progress in the world has arisen by those who successfully responded to an adversity or an opportunity. Says sociologist Nirupama Gandhi from Mumbai, “Turning points are the conclusive proof that all of us have a destiny which the Divine ceaselessly directs us towards. Many turning points are sudden, surprising and catch us totally unaware. Only later when we look back do we realise that it was a turning point. Some turning points are self-induced such as getting married out of the community, or shifting from the rat race to a vocation that calls to you, but mostly it is the universe that engineers it through opportunities and challenges. A turning point is a kaleidoscopic change in your life. A new pattern emerges which is different from the old. The best turning points are those created by God.” Though the lever of change is always rotating on its axis certain incidents or people do help to trigger this process. From the very beginning I was an inquisitive child who raged with unanswered questions from within. The incongruity between the ideals I read about in books, and the harsh outer world, tore me apart. Nothing made sense to me. Finally, when I was 23, a friend suggested with great conviction that God was real and I should talk with him. Intrigued, I began to meditate and sure enough the Divine responded in tangibly undeniable ways. I was surrounded by miracles! Life began to
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