Sunday, December 26, 2010

Monday Musings 106 - Mystery in Opposites

106- Mystery in Opposites
Much of life is spent in oscillating between opposites. Some swing from one extreme to another in utter helplessness, put into this oscillation through a complex and mostly inexplicable web of circumstances, often described as destiny or luck; and others refuse stubbornly to be a part of extremes and they live on the fence, either out of intellectual lethargy or out intellectual inability to chose or simply because they realize the futility of rigid positions.
 In fact life finds its description only in two ends of the spectrum (good or evil) – meanings gets expressed only through extremes (centripetal force or centrifugal force), emotions are understood through opposites (joy or sorrow, happy or sad, elation or depression), concepts unfold in diametric opposites (hot or cold), human body acts as a physiological entity in harmony only on the taut balance of opposites (hyper-hypo viz.  hypertension-hypotension etc), the world reveals itself to sight between extremes (light-darkness), ideologies are expressed as extremes (socialism or capitalism), consequences are expressed as opposites (hell and heaven, victory and defeat), so on and so forth. One would most likely conclude that life is binary, expressing itself only as the ubiquitous 0 or 1, suspending possibilities of anything else or anything in between.
We make sense of the world within the broad framework of these extremes. Our mind is able to rank in its own peculiar way, our experiences only on this scale between the extremes. Simultaneously dawns the realization that, we all search our balance, our sense of proportion through the construct of these extremes. Some who are able to find that proportion find it easy to deal with the vagaries of life – for they understand that the extremes are cognitive constructs – created only to understand – but reality always lies somewhere in the middle. Life may be understood in the hard colors of black and white, but is always experienced as shades of grey. It is this dilemma that flummoxes some and intrigues others. Those who succumb to the dilemma find it hard to negotiate the huge chasm between the philosophy and practice of life – and those who do, discover poetry in the ambiguity of life, enjoy its multi layered yet nuanced meaning.
Each one of us has our own way of dealing with strife that this pull of extremes puts us through. Kabeer lamented many years ago –
‘Chalti chakki dekh kar, diya kabeera roye
Dui paatan ke beech me, sabut bacha na koye.
(Kabeer cries on seeing a moving flour stone; No one escaped the crush of being in the middle of two)
And so did Ghalib,
‘imaan mujhe roke hai, to kheenche hai mujhe kufr
Kaaba mere peeche hai, to kaleesa mere aage’
(Conscience and crime each pull me towards them; like two different places of worship)

It is amazing to see individuals, teams, societies, communities and nations to desert their ideological positions because the utopia it promised never really materialized – and it is equally amazing to see them flirt with diametrically opposite ideological positions in search of their utopia. It is also not uncommon to see them settling for the amorphous and the so called impure middle.
So as we bid 2010 goodbye, here is toasting to the mystery in opposites and to the human quest of finding its sweet spot.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

105-Searching redemption in the past

105-Searching redemption in the past
There is this eminently memorable sequence in the brilliant Clint Eastwood movie ‘Invictus’, where the white captain of the South African rugby team is trying to motivate his all-white team to go out and give their best and win – inspired also by the newly elected black President, one Nelson Mandela, who wants to showcase this victory as a symbol of hope and victory to a nation trying to come out of the oppressive memory of apartheid. The captain takes his team to the prison where Mandela spent 27 yrs of his life imprisoned – breaking stones, doing odd jobs, undergoing the traumatic experience of a prisoner in his own country, fighting against an autocratic regime and yet keeping his dignity intact and his hopes alive. The sequence is brilliant as the captain tries of imagine the 27 years of Mandela in prison – and in this imagination of that painful past finds inspiration for his present.

In another incident a few months back I was talking to someone from my own faith- Sikhism, in the course of a discussion on the concept of religious identity in a fast homogenizing world. In the course of that discussion, he commented that he would want to witness that historical event when the Khalsa Sect was born, on the Baisakhi of 1699 in Anandpur Sahib, a town few hours from Chandigarh. His desire was to first hand experience the formation and mass baptism of a massive congregation by the tenth Guru of the Sikh’s, Guru Govind Singh–and be a part of the profoundness of that moment.

While these are two isolated examples, I am sure our past has great moments – and each one of us, depending upon our own sensibilities is attracted towards some or other of them. We find the mere thought of being present there as surreal, romantic, thrilling or hair rising – or a strange concoction of feelings that makes us want to be there and witness the action-Live. In wanting to be a part of it we seek either redemption from the mundaneness of everyday living or salvation from the guilt of the past or liberation from the ordinariness of our present.

We have two kinds of occasions/ stories we would want to witness – On one hand we have the stories of struggle, creation and resourcefulness, of gumption, dare-devilry and  foresight, of tenacity and perseverance – that provides us the inspiration to go beyond our limitation. On the other hand we have stories of agony, trails and tribulations, of sheer darkness of human persecution and oppression, of tragedy, ache and melancholy - that provides us catharsis in the recognition of the universality of pain. History is such a great balm – I wish we apply it more often.
So, which are the events in history that you would like to witness the most? Make a list and in making this list revisit what touches/inspires you in them the most. This list will reveal a lot about you.

Here is my top 5 in no particular order.

1. Witnessing Ghalib write verse: I wish I could witness him writing and his expressions. I want to know if words came effortlessly to him or did he struggle for it. I wish I could live in ballimaran – the area in old Delhi and figure out how an iconoclastic like him, in the most tumultuous phase of modern Indian history suffered so much personal tragedy, received so little recognition while he was alive and yet  lives on as the greatest of urdu poet ever.   

2. Partition – Nothing in the modern Indian history has left a more powerful impact than the gut wrenching experience of partition of India, leading to the worlds largest human displacement, that left million bodies homeless and a million souls scarred for life. I did not understand the anguish behind the words when my dying grandfather mumbled in his delirium –‘I want to go to Lahore’ or the longing in the reminiscence in the words of grand parents of a friend of mine (Sahil – hope you read this). Ah! That pain – too much price and yet priceless!

3. The day Gandhi was thrown out of a train compartment in South Africa- I want to enter his heart for those five minutes as he would have picked himself up – What would he have lived in those 5 minutes – that would make an ordinary Mohandas into a formidable Mahatma.

4. Travel with Guru Nanak once. It is said in the Sikh pantheon that Guru Nanak along with his two disciples Mardana and Bala travelled around the world(majorly Asia) four times. I want to travel with him at least once to understand how did he see the world around him, how did he assimilate the social practices that he witnessed and how did he convert this meaning into a new way of life that one day would take the form of a new religion. I want to witness the transformation of an ordinary householder into a revered Guru.

5. One day in the life of Victor Frankel- who wrote a book called ‘Man’s search for Meaning’. Victor wrote this book after and on the basis of his experiences in the Nazi concentration camps for close to five years and he lived to tell the tale. I want to be in his mind and soul as he bore that soul crushing experience but never lost his hope. I want to be with him every time he went through a near death encounter, every time he experienced the agonizing and inhuman treatment and yet hoped to live through it. And he did.

Make twain once said – The trouble with life is it goes on. Sorry Mr Twain,The beauty of life is that it goes on.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

104 Monday Musings

104 Monday Musings The tale is in the telling.
The other day I had the fortune of listening to the maverick and extremely talented film maker Sudhir Mishra. For the un initiated, Sidhir who cut his teeth with a film like ‘ Jaane bhi do yaro“ has in the recent times directed films like Hazaron Khwahishen Aisi and Khoya Khoya Chaand. 
I recount for you two thoughts from what he had to say that day. First – film making is simultaneously an act of arrogance as well as an act of humility. Arrogance in the sense that hundreds have told their stories since decades and one still believes that he can say something more and something better. Humility in the sense that the product speaks to you after it has been made. It tells you how good or bad it has been.
Let me pick up where the last strand thought leaves. Each one of us are creators of something or the other – of performance, of creativity or teams or culture  - irrespective of whether we are film makers or managers. Each day we churn out our ‘produce/product’. We may have a self image of selves in which we might have a certain view of our capabilities, mostly good and sometimes exaggerated, but reality is revealed only once we analyse our product. The soil may believe a thing or two about its fertility but the crop is its ultimate expression.
Our product/produce is our signature, the ultimate expression of our worth. The wise one will compare his self image with the quality of his produce and check for differences, deviations and disparities. What we create talks to us – sometimes softly but mostly it shouts. The strategy we weave, the portrait we draw, the managerial decisions we take, the teams we lead, the culture we have built – talks to us. Do we listen and do we respond?
The second thought that I brought back from that event was when Sudhir said – ‘The tale is in the telling’.  As a training professional in a life insurance company I have always wondered what is that I will add to the universe of life insurance selling – that has not already been said or talked or taught. My friends in other walks of life may be asking similar questions. I guess much of greatness and much of genius will be revealed in telling the tale differently than in telling a new tale. Most of live and work in familiar spaces – which have been walked on by millions before us, worked on by thousands before us, impacted and affected by hundreds before us. Our glory and our redemption lies not in getting burdened by the history of those hundreds, and thousands and millions, but in the audacity of our own abilities to tell the tale differently.
So irrespective of whether you are a film maker or a manager, go ahead and tell it the way you see it – you always had different eyes, now is the time to have a different vision.